Steps to Starting a Small Business: #1 – The Idea

The topic of starting a small business is ALWAYS a popular one.  If you are a small business owner and you meet someone who is toying with the idea of starting a small business, you’ll probably hear the question asked, “How did you get started?”

Too many times, this question leads to a very dry discussion of accounting methodologies and business structure issues.

YAWN!

Here it is from someone who has “been there, done that”  I’ve not only bought the T-shirt but I’ve worked with HUNDREDS of people in helping them to achieve the dream of marketing and promoting their own small business.

  • The first step to starting a small business is NOT deciding upon a legal structure for your business.
  • The first step to starting a small business is NOT performing a SWOT analysis, a competitor analysis or any other kind of “analysis”.
  • The first step to starting a small business is NOT creating a logo,  ordering business cards or creating a website.

Are you ready – [drumrollfinger on desk]

The first step to starting a small business is the birth of the idea!

“Money never starts an idea. It is always the idea that starts the money.”Owen Laughlin

Starting a small business with the idea that you’re going to make a LOT of money is a piss poor reason to launch a business.   As a matter of fact, if there’s a BETTER way to achieve failure, I can’t think of it.   Some Of The Best Business Ideas begin not with a passion for money, but a passion for something other than money.

There are certain inalienable truths which you should know as you begin the exciting journey of starting a small business.

  1. You’re going to need more money that you thought to launch this business.
  2. You’re going to need more money than you can beg, steal or borrow to launch this business.*
  3. You’re going to have to work harder than you ever have in your life to launch this business.
  4. You’re going to have to turn a deaf ear to the people who think you’re crazy for pursuing this business.

* There is an exception to the “you’ll never have enough money” truth.  You may gain access to venture capital, in which case you’ll have too much money – which surprisingly can be WORSE than not having enough.  Read Monitor110: A Post Mortem, which digs deep into the reasons (hindsight is always 20:20) why Monitor 110 didn’t rise to the ranks of legendary success – one reason was the access to too much money!

By the way, I’m not saying that you WILL NOT make money with your small business, I’m just saying if that is your primary motivation, you probably won’t make it.

So if money isn’t a good reason to start new business, what is?

In a nutshell – it’s an idea.  An idea that keeps you up at night.  An idea that permeates your every waking moment. An idea that has hold of your brain and won’t let go.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. People who implement them are priceless” – Mary Kay Ash

If  you want to start a small business in order to improve the balance of your checking account – for heavens sake, go get a JOB and don’t even think about starting a small business!

What’s your passion?  What’s keeping you up at night?

Once you’ve found your passion – then begins the process of bringing your business to life.

Strategic Marketing: Using Deadlines and Discounts

Strategic marketing means promoting your products and services with a clear cut plan. Like most small business marketing consultants, I do a MUCH better job of doing this with my clients than I do in applying strategic marketing practices to my own stuff.

If you didn’t know it before, you should learn this now; it’s HUMAN NATURE to procrastinate! It’s why coupons have expiration dates, it’s why businesses have limited time SALES. There’s not better way to motivate buyers to ACT NOW than to impose a deadline! Putting a deadline on a discount is essential.

A discount without a deadline is simply a price cut.

Creating a deadline is a good marketing strategy. So, when I offered my Fast Track to Blogging Success for free, I put a deadline on that discount. The deadline has now passed – and the 100% discount is now over.

However, as I went in to remove the code, I remembered how I HATED it when I wasn’t able to get Naomi’s report when I missed the boat.

It was time to “enforce” my own deadline – and I was faced with a dilemma. If I didn’t remove the 100% discount, I’m a liar. If I remove it, then someone’s going to try to use the discount because they got here late and it won’t work. Then, forever more, if they ever think about “Virtual Impax,” it will cause “bad vibes”.

Talk about a “no win” situation!

So, instead of REMOVING the discount, I just reduced it. The discount code “CathRocks” now takes $10 off the $24.95 price.

Add to Cart

If you got it for free – then you still got a bargain, however if you’re late to the party – you can still pick it up at a discount.

However, in order for this discount to be “motivating” it still needs a deadline. Otherwise, it’s simply a thinly veiled attempt at a price cut. So the deadline is now moved to November 1 for the “CathRocks” discount code which was originally offered to readers of Cath Lawson’s OUTSTANDING blog.

If you haven’t checked out her blog, you should.  She definitely offers business advice from the “been there, done that, bought the T-shirt AND the factory which produces the T-shirts”  point of view.    Cath is a serial entrepreneur – and honestly, I don’t think there’s any other kind of entrepreneur.  She shares her wisdom with a healthy dose of wit via her blog on a regular basis.    In other words, she’s the’s the real deal and it shows!

Best Kept Internet Marketing Strategies Secrets

One of the best kept internet marketing strategies is cross promotion and one of the best ways to illustrate this best kept internet marketing strategy secret is to illustrate it  in a case study.

The basics of cross promotion are really quite simple. First, you determine your target audience. In this case study, the company in the spotlight is iThemes, founded by Cory Miller.

Cory’s company sells WordPress Themes to bloggers. A WordPress Theme allows a blog owner to quickly and easily change the appearance of a blog with the click of a mouse. To make something that EASY for the user takes a LOT of work behind the scenes.

Now, you might be wondering why ANYONE would PAY for a WordPress theme when there are hundreds of thousands of FREE WordPress Themes floating around.

Remember when I said that to make something easy takes a lot of behind the scenes work – well, a lot of times those “free” themes are full of “bugs”. Some of those “bugs” will make it so the theme doesn’t display properly. I had a case with one free theme where the pages wouldn’t display properly. The client loved the look, but the code was such a mess it wasn’t usable. There are other cases where the “bugs” on those free themes means an outbound link from your blog to a blog in a less than desirable neighborhood on the internet.

After a typical blogger tires of fighting the good fight of trying to find a well coded, non-spam free theme, the next logical step is to is to move into the realm of PAID themes a.k.a PREMIUM themes.

This is the arena within which iThemes competes.

So, iThemes target customer is someone who is already a blogger. In many cases, they’re bloggers who have done the free theme route and are ready to make an small financial investment in their blog. (All of iThemes single use themes cost less than $100 which makes them very affordable.)  Most of these customers are familiar with the concept of FTP AND the basics of blogging.

The best kept internet marketing strategies secret for iThemes is to cross promote their business with a popular blog that writes about issues related to blogging.

This is the point where most people will stop reading and run off to find a blog to use for a cross promotion strategy.  This is the virtual equivalent of a small child running into heavy traffic.

STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!!!

This best kept internet marketing strategy is not quite that simple. If it were, then THIS wouldn’t be a BEST KEPT internet marketing strategies secret.  Here’s the SECRET part of the equation – and Daniel over at Daily Blog Tips delivers the secret in his post Drop A Comment if You Want to Win an iThemes Premium Theme

Pretty much every week someone emails me to offer some kind of free product or service. Most of the times, however, you can see that it is a blatant promotional effort, where the other side is just interested in getting some exposure for his stuff. On those cases I just ignore it. (emphasis is mine)

Sometimes, however, the freebies do have a good value for my readers, and on those occasions I am glad to cover them.

Did you catch that?   He told you the best kept internet marketing strategy secret of all time.  Did you see it?  It’s right there in the last line in the quote above,

Sometimes, however, the freebies do have a good value for my readers, and on those occasions I am glad to cover them.

Daniel knows his readers.   He knows who they are and what the need from him.  That’s why his blog is so successful.   (If you don’t know who yours are or who you want them to be, then pick up a copy of the 8 Week Power Blog Launch)  Daniel’s readers are ESTABLISHED bloggers seeking information on promoting and improving their blogs.

The secret is, when someone contacts him with a win/win/win proposition, Daniel – like every other successful blogger- is happy to oblige. In this case, offering a free WordPress iThemes theme is truly a win/win/win situation.

  • Daniel wins – he’s decided to use the freebie to increase comments on his blog post.
  • Daniel’s readers win – they get a chance to win a free premium  theme which is something many of them want.
  • Cory wins – Daniel’s readers have to say WHICH iThemes theme they want to win.  In order to do so, they must VISIT THE iThemes SITE!!!  They visit the site, see the tasty selection of beautiful themes and are asked to “fall in love” with one and post that preference within their comment.

Oh, Daniel and Cory both score additional “wins” on this promotion.  Cory wins AGAIn in the fact that not everyone who comments will be a lucky winner. Those who aren’t lucky winners are now classified as “hot prospects”.

Daniel wins again as well -because when new readers find this post after the promotion is over, they are likely to subscribe to the RSS so they’re sure to be ready for the next big give away!  So promotions like these help to build Daniel’s blog and help him attract new readers.   Oh, and Daniel wins a THIRD time on this -because other bloggers – like me – will write about his brilliant internet marketing strategy, which means more incoming links.

So the best kept internet marketing strategy secret begins with knowing your target customer.  Once you know who your target customer is, then you can find win/win/win cross promotional opportunities for your product or service.

New Business Development Process

I have been having new business development process issues coming up in consultations with clients lately so that’s usually a sign that I should write about it here.  This morning I saw that other blogs were talking about the new business development process, so this issue is obviously “bubbling up”for other people as well and not just my clients.

Mark over at Court’s Internet Marketing School leads the parade with his post, Money Always Flows to the Solution.

What problem does your website solve for its users?

Does the answer to that question fly off your lips? Did you have to think about it? Can you answer it even after thinking about it?

How about this – fill in the blanks in the following statement:

“I give my users _________ and I get ________ in return.”

In a few lines, Mark hits the nail on the head. His post kinda makes me embarrassed that I devoted an entire book to that very subject.  (Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results)

Then Naomi Dunford over at Itty Biz tells why this is a GREAT time to start your home based business.

Sell the right thing. Sell it to the right people. Hit the right trigger buttons. Do those things and you’ll be the richest person you know.

Ah – there’s the rub!  Sell the right thing.

Last week I told 2 different people to come back and talk to me when they have something to sell.  Their enthusiasm is high but they don’t have a product or a structured service to offer.  In essences, they couldn’t fill out Mark’s fill in the blank statement above.  It’s not just websites that have to fill in the blanks in the statement below, it’s a burning question for business owners as well:

“I give my users _________ and I get ________ in return.”

That is the hard part.  Developing a systematic way to fill in those two blanks in that sentence.

I’ve worked with small business owners for over a decade now on filling in those blanks.  I had one client who offers nutritional coaching services.  Her business wasn’t growing like she knew it could, so she and I spent three months working on her business model.  She had the generalities in place -she could fill in the blanks with the basics, ” I give my clients nutritional information and I get money in return.” However, she was a bit fuzzy on the process – something that she wasn’t clear on until we began working together.

Her business positively EXPLODED after we created a road map so to speak of her process.   We set up a “step one, step two, step three, step four” in her coaching process.  Even though she knew those steps in her head, it was positively AMAZING how quickly her business grew once she was able to outline for her potential clients the process.  In other words, she created a LABEL for the process – “A Four Step Process to Better Health” which helped her prospective clients wrap their brains around the service she provides.  As a result, her practice filled to over flowing, drawing clients to her Michigan based practice from as far away as Japan.

Lately, when I’ve been getting “HELP ME!” emails, I’m seeing a common thread.  People want to break free from the bondage of their 9-5 job and they’re desperate to break free.   That’s great and I agree with Naomi – there’s no better time than now to do so.  However, you have to be able to fill in the blanks if you want to make money – either online or off line.  The common thread is the desire to break free is there – but there isn’t a product or service to back desire up.  They can’t fill in the blanks in Mark’s statement –

“I give my users _________ and I get ________ in return.”

Skellie over at Problogger.net offers 10 innovative blog business models which can serve as inspiration for the ways others have created products and services which they use their blog to promote.

Developing a product can be as simple as creating an ebook or a membership site.   However, sometimes that’s easier said than done.

What product or service do you sell with your blog?  What process did you go through to create that product or service?

Carbonite Online Storage Review

customer serviceBack in April, I got an email from my FTP software people offering a free 30 day trial of Carbonite Online Storage. I signed up and when 30 days was up, my backup still wasn’t complete but I signed up anyway. I had worked during the backup and hadn’t noticed any drag at all of either my system or my online experience.

On May 8th, I signed up for 2 years of Carbonite service. On May 22, I entered my office, turned on my computer and was greeted with the dreaded blue screen of death. My hard drive was dead.

I packed up the beast and dropped it off at my local computer repair shop. (C&W Computers in Stuart, Florida but the link provided to their website now loads some spammy site trying to get you to run an online virus check. UGH!)

Mark (my favorite tech at C&W Computers) went to work diagnosing the problem and I went home to a business that was now officially “on hold” until I could access my files.

But I had Carbonite! YEAH! I also had purchased an Alienware computer to serve as a business backup, so I installed my software onto the beastly monstrosity. Once the software was installed, then I tried to transfer my Carbonite backup to the new PC.

The process of transferring the subscription was fraught with problems. The password I set didn’t work… so I tried to retrieve my password using their system. They sent the password recovery email, but it included a code that wasn’t needed on the password recovery page… and didn’t send the code that was required.

PLEASE NOTE:  I TRIED TO NOT “BOTHER” CARBONITE AND USE THEIR AUTOMATED CUSTOMER SERVICE OPTION.  IT WAS NOT FUNCTIONAL AT THE TIME.  IT IS MY SINCERE HOPE THAT THEY HAVE WORKED THAT “KINK” OUT OF THE SYSTEM.

So, finally, I pick up the phone and call. I am greeted with a message that tells me

a) I am the first caller in line and

b) for another $20 a month, I can get my calls answered immediately.

I then spend the next TWENTY MINUTES on hold listening to beg notices to upgrade to VIP customer status which also lets me know that I’m the “first” caller in line.

IF I HAD NOT HEARD THAT THERE WAS NO ONE ELSE WAITING… I MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN UPSET!!!

In the end, I did get through, I did get my password reset and I did backup the files to my other PC. However, I still have a really bad taste in my mouth over the whole VIP customer service deal.

A little more than 2 weeks earlier, I had paid a fee to use their service for 2 years. I had tried to use their “hands free” password reset option. I picked up the phone as a last resort… only to find I was being asked to pay MORE for customer service.

Carbonite, you should have offered me the priority service information BEFORE I purchased. Heck, better yet, why not include PRIORITY SERVICE for ALL of your customers!!!

Carbonite did a great job of backing up my files. Carbonite DOES NOT back up your software though. It doesn’t back up your email either. However, it did restore the backup of my data files to my new pc over the course of a week.

IT WAS – IN A WORD – A LIFESAVER!!!

In all fairness, the guys at C&W were impressed by the amount of data I have on my PC… which is why they set me up with an external hard drive AND Symtantec Backup Exec. It’s backing up EVERYTHING I need, not just the data files.

It cost $500 to have the guys at C&W Computers in Stuart, Florida replace my hard drive and set up the new backup option. Carbonite cost less than $90 for two years of service.

However, in the end I’m happier with C&W Computers in Stuart, Florida than I am Carbonite…why? Because C&W Computers in Stuart, Florida included VIP customer service in EVERY sale!

I want to be clear – I understand that customer service is a bitch!!!  Customers are unreasonable at times in their demands.  However, I don’t think I was being unreasonable in expecting to be able to retrieve my password without calling customer service.

POST SCRIPT NOTE:  This blog post is an example of “the internet never forgets”.  The date on this review is June 21, 2008.  Carbonite has had more than a year to address the problems outlined above.

It’s now more than a year later and I’m still getting comments and page view on this post.

Carbonite was johnny on the spot responding to this review and I hope they’ve “fixed” their automated password retrieval problem in the meantime.

I’ve left comments open on this blog post so that if you’ve had a GOOD experience with Carbonite, you can leave it here.

However, if you want to leave comments about this review, you MUST include a VALID email address to get your comment approved to appear here.  If you don’t use an email address that I can use to contact you – then your comment won’t see the light of day.