As a longtime entrepreneur and business owner myself, I can confidently say that starting a business can be one of the most exciting and empowering moves you’ll ever make and absolutely doable, even in today’s highly competitive marketplace. It takes more than a great idea to sustain a business, though. To be successful, you’ll need to first focus on building a powerful brand identity. Here are some tips to guide you on your way.
Be Sure of Yourself.
It’s important to know what your brand stands for, what makes it special and its benefit. You also need to know who your target audience is and make that benefit clear and obvious to them.
Create a Distinctive Identity.
Branding is about perception and the most powerful brands are built from the inside out on differentiation. Creating a distinctive logo and tagline that captures the essence of your brand can increase your visibility. A quality website can also help differentiate your business while also introducing you to online customers and boosting credibility.
Get Connected and Be Memorable.
Creating a brand voice and social media strategy is essential, so it’s important to create a profile for your business on select social media platforms where your customers congregate. Next, create compelling communications that emotionally connect with and motivate your customers to love your brand and buy from it! Powerful brands are great at listening so be sure to respond to online comments and questions.
Be Consistent and Congruent.
Maintaining consistent, congruent messaging makes your business easier to remember and trust. Ask yourself: Does your website look like it belongs with your business card and your social media channels? Is your messaging consistent with your brand?
Consider Leveraging Cause Marketing.
Whether you support a homeless shelter or donate services to a local charity, giving back can increase your brand power. Take Dawn dishwashing liquid, a great example of effective cause marketing -- its promise, to donate one million dollars this year for rescue efforts to save wildlife. Not surprising they're the best-selling dishwashing liquid on the market. Who wouldn’t love, and buy from, a brand that rescues wildlife from oil spills?
Deliver on your promises.
Strong brands possess credible, relevant and distinctive brand promises. That said, create a brand promise, deliver on it and provide an exceptional customer experience. You’ll end up creating brand advocates who will sing your praises and help build your brand.
There comes a point in every business when the owner realizes they need advice and wonders, “Should I hire a consultant?”
And, as with most things in life, the answer is, “It depends.”
Whether you’re starting a new company or growing an existing business, hiring the right consultant can be a cost-effective way for your small business to leverage specialized knowledge. Conversely, hiring the wrong consultant can cost you more than money—it can cost you a lot of wasted time and energy.
So, the challenge for a small business owner is to understand the role of a consultant in their business, and to learn how and when it is cost-effective to hire one.
What Does A Small Business Consultant Do?
A business consultant is simply an outside expert you hire to solve an internal business problem. A good consultant is a great source of specialized knowledge. A great consultant brings knowledge, skills, experience, and process to improve the client’s condition.
Unlike in-house employees, consultants have independent schedules, may have multiple clients, and are hired on a contract/project basis. Depending on the consulting firm, consultants may work alone or may bring their own team, which typically includes one project manager and two analysts.
TIP: It is always important to clarify who the primary contact person will be in order to prevent miscommunications.
A consultant can help with marketing and sales development, business expansion and improvements, and even execution of their ideas and recommendations.
The following is a quick snapshot of the consulting process:
Pre-consulting: Prior to beginning work, you and your expert set out the terms, parameters, and agree on the “consulting agreement”.
Consulting period: The consulting period typically includes a discover, research, and final presentation of recommendations that completes the project.
Post-consulting: You and the consultant may choose to extend your agreement or move towards implementation on your own.
Why Do People Hire Small Business Consultants?
Small business owners hire consultants as a cost-effective way to bridge a gap in knowledge and skills within their company, or a as a way to bring a fresh, objective, and professional perspective to the company.
Here are the three most common reasons why our clients turn to consultants for help:
Where To Find Consultants
Finding consultants—I think—is the easy part. You can always search online directories such as elance.com or ask for recommendations from friends or service providers like your accountant or lawyer.
Finding the right consultant is the hard part. This is why I cannot stress enough the importance of the “mutual consulting interview”. Whether you talk to your consultant in person or by phone, a live interaction will tell you more about that consultant than any website or review will. Trust your gut. Is the person excited about your business, and about working with you? Do you believe they can achieve what they say they can achieve in the timeframe they quoted?
Now, having said all this, even with the best intentions there may be some consulting relationships that end up just not working out. When that happens, it’s usually a mutual feeling. In other words, don’t feel bad for parting ways with a consultant if things aren’t working out—chances are, they know it’s for the best, too.
Contracts are typically for 3-6 months, with the option to renew the contract as necessary.
TIP: Design your consulting agreement in phases that give you natural stops in the workflow, so that you can part ways with your consultant amicably if it ends up being a bad match.
Setting the optimal time period for your project is important to ensure your consultant has enough time to provide results, and it is also helps to ensure timely progress.
A typical consulting contract includes consulting parameters, names of the responsible parties, payment schedules, and any relevant deliverables and deadlines.
How much should you pay?
This is one of my favorite questions because the answer is quite simple:
Price is determined by value.
Giving you the statistics on fees alone is not very valuable to you when consulting fees can range from $200-$10,000 per hour and projects fees can range from $1,000-$250,000.
How To Determine A Budget
Ask yourself: How much is this worth to me? And: How much can I afford?
Here are three tips to help you determine the right budget:
A small business consultant can help you run your business, by planning your business strategy and in some cases even executing it. I’m a big believer in small business consulting, because I see the positive effects of it every single day!
But not all consultants are created equal, and not all businesses or business projects are created equal, either. You’ll need to consider why you’re thinking about hiring a consultant, and how long you’re willing to wait before you see results, and how much you can realistically afford to pay for their counsel. Then, you need to find a consultant that you really click with. When all of that comes together, you’ve positioned yourself for success.
What type of skills do you need to build a great company?
You may have them before you even start, but also one can start their own business and develop them as they go. However, the quicker you build these skills, the quicker they will inject more business and potential energy into your company that will enhance and drive your business success.
Be able to sell anything
This is one of the most important qualities an entrepreneur can have. As an entrepreneur you are selling a lot. You will have to sell your ideas to customers, investors and potential employees. You sell your skills to these same audiences. You sell your leadership, your confidence, your vision and the importance of the values you promote. Aside from these things, you have to sell your products and services. Being a good salesman can be more difficult than it sounds. Are you able to step in front of a venture capital firm or a bank and defend that your idea is not only great, but is logical, convincing, and better than any other business who is seeking funding out there? You must be very convincing. If you are second guessing your idea back and forth, your idea is not ripe to take action, or you are not cut out for it. Don't waste your time and money on something you can't dedicate your whole heart to.
Don't leave things undone
If you have a problem finishing things, entrepreneurship is not for you. You cannot leave a business almost complete. Halfhearted attempts at starting a business will result in a business failure. If you are the person that people want on their team because they know you won't put your stamp of approval on a project until it is excellent, you should pat yourself on the back. Have you heard of entropy? Entropy is the tendency that things have to move from order to disorder. Businesses are no different. Businesses, without constant direction, can move from order to disorder if not appropriately shepherded in the right direction.
Vanilla, chocolate, or twist?
You must be comfortable with your gut instincts. There is a lot of information out there, and the truth is, you can't gather every bit of information possible before making decisions. You have to be able to have the judgment to know when to decide that you have sufficient information to make a decision and when you need more. If it takes you an incredible amount of time to make decisions, you need to find a way to change that before jumping into business as an entrepreneur. It is great to think things through, but if you think about it too much, you will still be on decision number 3 when you should be on decision number 5. Time is a finite resource, making it very valuable. You cannot repurchase or reproduce time once it has been used. You must understand and be ready for the actual volume of decisions you will be making as an entrepreneur. Are you ready to make dozens of big decisions on a daily basis?
Confidence is an important skill to have. You should have confidence in your ideas, in yourself and in others. You have to trust others to do their job and to do it well. No matter how amazing you may think you are, you cannot work everyone else's job along with your own. If you are confident in the abilities of others, you can allow them to shine. Your ideas are not always the only ideas or the best ideas. By showing confidence in the abilities of others, you allow for new ideas to emerge into the business. Also, in my experience, people try harder to do a better job when they know people trust in their abilities and can count on them. Being confident in your own abilities is critical to your success. Confidence is not only an attribute, but a skill to be mastered. Many people can show confidence when certain things are going in their favor, it takes a great leader to have confidence even when things are not going well.
Time management & planning skills
As mentioned earlier, time is a finite resource. If you let time get away from you, you will have a hard time starting a successful business. Your planner should be your best friend. Learn to prioritize and plan. I suggest setting aside several hours each week to plan for the entire week and to make daily adjustments. I also suggest having quarterly and yearly planning sessions. Just like diets, most people know they should do it, but there are few who actually are successful at it.
Communication & Persuasion
It is a skill to be able to express an idea in a clear and concise manner. You should be able to pick out the most important concepts of your ideas and speak about them with clarity. You will also need to understand thoroughly the business industry in order to be persuasive. If you are talking to a potential investor and you get asked a hard question, be prepared to be asked an even harder question if you are unable to answer the first question. If you don't have an answer, it shows a gap in your knowledge. Too many gaps and you are out of a deal. You should also have enthusiasm. If you are not enthusiastic about your idea, it is hard to persuade others to believe it is good one.
Being a daredevil in high school or college does not guarantee that you are going to be a great entrepreneur, though it may help. A person can be fearless and stupid. When you have courage, however, you recognize the risks, but take action regardless. You accept the risk before you start and try to do what is possible to mitigate the risk while moving forward. There is a lot you can be fearful of when starting a business. As an entrepreneur you need to be able to overcome your fears and ensure they don't keep you from reaching your potential.
Learning is a skill. As an entrepreneur you need to be a quick learner. You have to be willing to learn new skills constantly. One business owner I know is a great example of this. He has set aside the first hour of every work day to read about the current things happening in his industry. I know many other successful entrepreneurs who continually set aside time to learn new skills. You will need to learn how to gain understanding and find meaning that is deeper than the surface. You must learn to make your own arguments (not just those made by the media), synthesize new knowledge, memorize information, gain new relevant skills, and be able to utilize all this knowledge to create new things and make old things more efficient.
Good luck to all the new entrepreneurs, the world needs your enthusiasm and your new ideas.
At a time when there are over 120 million U.S. smartphone users (which represents about 40 percent of the population) and with as much as 50 percent of all searches occurring on a mobile device, small businesses that ignore mobile put future growth at risk.
When your small business is deciding whether to invest in purchasing, customizing, or developing a mobile app, your current business approach, your call-to-actions, your competitors, and your team's mobility are all part of the criteria. Here's a look at several ways your company and its customers might benefit from a mobile application.
Potential Uses And Benefits Of A Mobile Application
Target local customers and provide special offers
Customers who are on the go seem more likely to engage with brands if they are localized. For example, if you operate an IT consultancy that serves a local community, you are more likely to get more leads from the people in that region if you have a mobile strategy.
Provide better customer support
Good customer support is crucial to keep getting new referrals, and a mobile app is an excellent channel for delivering support instantly and efficiently. It is also a great way to scale your customer support by introducing new channels of communication and delivery directly from the app.
Collect feedback and data about customer behavior
If you want to learn how customers are using your products and services and what they like (and possibly don't like) about them, a mobile app can be a simple method for collecting this sort of information.
In addition, with a well designed app, you can learn more about your customers, from their locations, job roles, ages, spending limits, and much more. This data could be useful when you're tailoring communications and potential offers to them.
All these are valid reasons for investing in a mobile app. When you start to look at mobile as an opportunity to create better solutions for your customers (and for your business), then you are on the right track.
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