Could Celebrities Be Cutting-Edge Marketers – Leading Online Business Entrepreneurs?

“Where is The Future of Online Business –
Could Celebrities be showing mainstream business the way?”
Have Your Competitors ‘Caught On” and already Talking to Your Customers in this latest marketing evolution for Web Success? (And are they doing it Auto-matically and VERY Cheaply!) SO MANY Crucial Questions to answer… please read on.The following Report is the Cover Story for “Australian Business Solutions” magazine”YOU WILL DISCOVER HOW CELEBRITY MARKETING STYLES ONLINE LEAD ‘AUDIENCES’ TO WANT TO BUY RATHER THAN THE CONVENTIONAL BUSINESS APPROACH OF SELLING AND CLOSING. YOU WILL DISCOVER VALUABE, IN FACT ESSENTIAL INSIGHTS AND IDEAS THAT EVERY MARKETER, ENTREPRENEUR AND BUSINESS OWNER MUST NOW EMBRACE!”(WARNING: THIS REPORT MAY FRIGHTEN YOU… IT WILL DEFINITELY ENLIGHTEN YOU!)
There is a buzz around on the television news, radio, in the print media, at business networking groups and meetings and especially on the internet right now. There seems to be a shift of focus for how people look for products and services and then decide how they spend their money.In terms of influence and power, the new way people search for products and services and make their buying decisions online could even rival the search engines. And it’s been said that this buzz could be the single biggest thing to happen in business since the industrial revolution!Sounds over the top, but is there enough evidence (for you) to be a part of it too? And is this buzz a fad or could it be here to stay?If you’ve watched TV news or listened to radio or brought a newspaper in the past 2-3 years, you will have noticed references to websites in both stories and advertising, where you can find out more – including how to get more information about a product or service and/or how to buy instructions. In more recent times nearly every news presenter, TV show host, journalist and celebrity are also promoting how you can ‘follow’ their lives, interests and activities online too – and it all seems to be centred around websites such as Facebook.com, Twitter.com, YouTube.com, Digg.com and more, collectively known as Social Engines.Celebrities are using these sites to raise their profile, build their brand and most importantly, solidify their popularity and [hopefully] longevity in their profession and industry. AND, these sites enable their audience (loyal army of fans) to talk directly back to them. And this is at the heart of the buzz and current shift – and why it’s so very important you read on and learn more.On the Social Engine Twitter.com, Ashton Kutcher and Ellen Degeneres have more followers (fans) than the entire populations of Ireland, Norway and Panama. Their brand awareness and popularity building is personal, although as that increases, so too does their value to corporations looking for product endorsements to drive their market penetration and increase their market share.Sporting stars like celebrities have broadened their talent base too, becoming more entrepreneurial and business savvy, seeing their name, brand and product value increase, in many cases, to a higher income level than the actual core sporting talent. In other words, acting, playing a sport, being a comedienne or whatever is their core talent is no longer their only talent. They have embraced the concept of brand building (and protection), marketplace communications and conversations – opting for direct contact via sources like online Social Engines. Here they can touch far more people quicker and easier than say a traditional autograph signing exercise.A true business woman, leader and entrepreneur, celebrity Oprah Winfrey instantly connects and updates a loyal army of over 2 million+ people that follow her on Twitter. Her power and influence is no surprise or revolution in itself, but her army of followers are able to directly provide instant feedback and ideas to her too -and marketplace feedback is a life blood to your business growth and long term sustainability. (Try ignoring it and see where your business goes.) Everyone wants to be heard and Social Engines give you, your business and your customers a voice.A loyal army of followers can also provide a viral effect to disseminate information quickly too, meaning they can ‘spread the word for you’ if you ask them to – this can be particularly useful if you want to spread good news and conversely if your brand comes under attack via other mainstream media mechanisms or on the Social Engines themself.Although it might be hard to fathom, could celebrity entrepreneurs like these be showing more traditional businesses how to connect, behave, build our brand, increase our marketplace value and build our business too using these Social Engines?Is this a valid idea and model for mainstream business or not?Firstly, the power of Social Engines extends far beyond Twitter.com alone. Some of the other leading Social Engine sites sprout some pretty impressive visitor and member statistics, as well as services.Facebook.com – If it was a country rather than a website, it would be the world’s 3rd largest after China and India.On Facebook there are more than 250 million active users and more than 120 million of them log on to Facebook at least once each day and more than 5 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day (worldwide). The fastest growing demographic is 35 years old and older and within that, the fastest growing segment is 55-65 year-old females. Do people 35+ and women influence the buying decision for your products and services? This is worthy of your attention.And there’s more… more than 1 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) are shared each week on Facebook alone and more than 2.5 million events are created and advertised each month. More than 45 million active user groups exist on the site and more than 50 language translations of that content are available on the site. The people supplying all this content include business owners and professionals, some of whom are surely in your industry and probably your competitors. And if you think because you’re a localised business that this doesn’t count, you’ll find this statistic most enlightening- 70% of Facebook users are outside the United States.All of those statistics are just for Facebook alone (source Facebook.com/press/statistics).You can also purchase Pay Per Click and Pay Per Impression advertising on Facebook (and other Social Engines). They take your spend to a whole new level of value and ROI with their member data allowing you to display your adverts for keywords AND additional, specific demographics of the member base. For example you can display your advertising message to women, 55+ in Melbourne who are single. You can even target people specifically on their birthday with a relevant offer.YouTube.com – take a look at YouTube (which is owned by Google for good reason) – People are watching hundreds of millions of videos a day on YouTube and uploading hundreds of thousands of videos daily. In fact, every minute, ten hours of video is uploaded to YouTube -including promotional videos, education, product consumption/direction videos and client testimonials for business. Plus every video you add to YouTube includes a spot on the webpage where you can put a link back to your website. PLUS you can add these videos to your blog posts, making them more interesting to your blog readers on other Social Engines too (more about blogs in a moment).YouTube’s user base is broad in age range, 18-55, evenly divided between males and females, and spanning all geographies. Fifty-one percent of users go to YouTube weekly or more often, and 52 percent of 18-34 year-olds share videos often with friends and colleagues.And could this be the good reason Google brought YouTube? It’s the 2nd largest search engine in the world today, 2nd only to Google.com. If you want to connect with your marketplace on volume, this is worthy of your attention.Twitter.com – let’s take a statistical look at that quickly too. Twitter’s footprint has expanded impressively in the first half of 2009, reaching 10.7 percent of all active Internet users in June with 83.1% of users over the age of 25. In July 2009, the Twitter website recorded 23,284,395 unique visitors – who else wants to be ‘front-of-mind’ to an audience of that size? Does your target market include people 25+? This is worthy of your attention.Twitter has been described as the “Pulse of the Planet” given its instant, viral spread-the-word-to-the-world-instantly nature. It has boosted box office numbers and it’s killed them too, just ask the makers of the movie “Bruno” – overnight ticket sales dropped by more than half thanks to the frank and instant feedback from those that had just seen it. It was so quick too because 80% of Twitter usage is on mobile devices. People update anywhere, anytime – imagine what that means for bad customer experiences and you!Do you let your customers walk away with a bad experience, only to stand out the front of your store or hang up the phone and blast their frustration and disappointment to hundreds, thousands maybe millions of people -in the ‘heat of the moment’?The true power of Social Engines is not to be feared, it is to be embraced and when done well, you can influence large numbers of people in the ways you want them to know and represent you. This is worthy of your attention.Understanding the nature of Social Engine participation is important and the question to answer is – What are people doing on these Social Engines? They are looking for ideas, insights, invites, offers, information, inspiration and conversation.Savvy business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals are providing it all to them and at the same time, in a more passive or softer way than conventional advertising, promoting their business, building their reputation and ultimately getting more leads and customers to their web sites. These business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals are using resources within services like Facebook that include a Personal Profile Page, Business and Product Pages, Fan Clubs, Groups, Time-sensitive Events/Promotions, Classified Advertising (PPC) and more… and the really smart ones are sharing content direct from their website blog feed too (more about that in a moment).Then there are sites like LinkedIn, a professional social network and directory of business owners and professionals who can communicate quickly and easily with one another. In a 2009 survey, 80% of businesses and companies who are members were using LinkedIn as a primary recruitment tool to find new employees. This is worthy of your attention.On these Social Engines, people can say what they want about you and it’s uncensored. What do you do about it? Ignore it and hope the customers and prospects that really matter to you don’t see it? Should you take a proactive approach and start by monitoring what’s been said about you and then start providing your brand of information, insights, ideas and inspiration to your marketplace and control the information flow you want through them?We are living in an era now where what happens in Vegas goes ON and STAYS ON YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and more.”Because of the speed in which social media enables communication, WORD of mouth has become WORLD of mouth.”Love them or hate them, social engines are here to stay simply because ‘the people’ love them and trust others on them. Facebook and MySpace are among the most popular destinations on the web. And even though they can be extremely annoying, there is one inescapable fact: the most irritating thing about Facebook is the 200m-strong army of people who use it.And here’s the final enlightening point- Social Engine participation has overtaken pornography as the #1 activity on the Web.SO Do you get involved or not? And if so, how do you do it easily and cheaply but still ‘play the game’ like a Celebrity with a 2m+ loyal army of followers?The reality is that even if you’re not involved, your customers and prospects AND competitors probably are – and they’re talking to one another, perhaps about you and without you so the sooner you start, the better chance you have to becoming both a part of the conversation and then lead it.The answer for businesses, entrepreneurs and professionals is automation – this is the single biggest break-through strategy and tactic that very few people have worked out, including many larger corporations who are successfully using Social Engines but they are not leveraged with automation, also known as things happening ‘auto-magically’.In many cases, businesses are employing specialist online staff on top of web masters and advertising/SEO experts. With automation, you can do a whole lot for very little extra time and virtually no money.HOW DOES IT ALL WORK?At its essence or core are six words that will transform the way you generate leads and make repeat sales online – those words are YOUR WEBLOG FEED PLUS SOCIAL ENGINES. A Weblog or blog as it’s more commonly known is a type of website or part of an existing website that allows you to add content as blog posts or articles and display them on your website – content like information, ideas, insights, offers, news, invites, images and more and you can create blog posts quickly and easily without ever needing to get a webmaster to do it for you.There are over 200,000,000 Blogs online today and that number grows every day. Again, not all blogs and blog owners are equal, many are neglecting to include automation and leverage and integration with Social Engines so there are many nay-sayers about blogging, but that attitude is changing as more people are enlightened.A Feed or RSS Feed as it’s more commonly known will distribute your blog posts well beyond just displaying them on your website. Feeds permit subscription to regular updates of your blog posts, delivered ‘auto-magically’ via a web portal, news reader, or in some cases good old email. Feeds also make it possible for your content (information) to be packaged into “widgets,” “gadgets,” mobile devices, and other technologies as shortened or full length messages, which Social Engines happen to LOVE. Your Feed makes it possible to display blog posts just about anywhere on the web or web connected device and most importantly directly to the millions of people online every day.That means a Blog with an RSS Feed can ‘auto-magically’ distribute information you create about you, your business, your products and your services quickly and easily across thousands of sites on the web. And you only have to create your pieces of content once!A blog is a powerful code (invisible to the human, non-techie eye) and every time you add content to an existing or new blog post, like you would add content to a word document, it is distributed around the web in seconds and is fed directly into the biggest marketplaces and communities of people online every day.What makes a blog with a feed even more powerful is that it reaches the biggest sources of people (leads) online – who by the way are not just using Search Engines anymore to find out about products and services, they are also using the “Social Engines”. PLUS your Blog Feed can also ‘auto-magically’ update Google and Yahoo about your site too, so you still stay connected with the Search Engines for no more extra work, or money.Now if you’re anything like me, when I first heard about these Social Engines, I dismissed them as not being a viable business and marketing channel because they appeared to be for personal networking and friendship (and they are indeed used for those reasons). Whilst many businesses, entrepreneurs and professionals are using these engines and winning new business – only a handful are doing it easily and quickly, because most of them do not know about the power of connecting your Weblog RSS Feed and how it fits in with using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Digg and hundreds more Social Engines.In my own experience, I was wrong to not get involved with Blogs and Social Engines sooner (like many business owners and professional managers still are) as my competitors began to build an edge I did not have with my marketplace, simply because I did not understand and connect these two key points about connecting your blog directly to Social Engines. If you want to find new customers quickly and easily and build better sales from existing customers:

Your website must be a Blog with a Feed and/or include one as part of your website
Your online marketing mix and strategy must include sharing your blog post information with people on Social Engines like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Digg etc.
And here’s why…Your competitors have possibly already figured out that social engines are where they can connect with people who include your customers and potential customers because the Social Engines are where your customers and potential customers are going online – and they’re going to these Engines regularly and for long periods of time. And people are making buying decisions based on the conversation they are having and the feedback they are hearing.Even if you [believe you] have no competition, you’re not connecting with your marketplace as directly and as easily as you can, if you are not using the true power of Social Engines. These online sources or marketplaces attract people 24/7/365, who stay for a while each time. How could you NOT promote you, your business and your products and services there?Every time you add content to your blog, it is circulated out to many Social Engines, once you set up a FREE account with them… people at these Engines who have an interest in what your business offers then come to your website to find out more.Here’s an example of how your website Blog, its Feed and these Social Engines work together. (Note this diagram also includes the two largest Search engines -let’s not forget them. Using your Blog and RSS Feed, you can ‘auto-magically’ update them too.)At the centre of this relationship are your website blog and its RSS Feed. Every time you add content to your blog, the Feed distributes it out to the Social and Search Engines with a link back to your website. People on the Social Engines instantly see a summary of your blog post and a link back to your blog/website. If they are interested in you, they click on the link and follow it back to your website to find out more about you and move forward with you.”Although we like to feed information to the Search Engines for free listings, the Social Engines outperform them in providing INSTANT, FREE traffic (people) to your website… meaning Social Engines host millions of people live online at any given time who are exposed to your blog post instantly… and not only will they follow your link back to your blog/website if they are interested, they also have the power to make your Feed ‘viral’ – voluntarily passing it on to their friends who in turn pass it on… and so on. The Social Engines and the people on them help you grow your prospect and customer base quickly, easily and cheaply – you can’t get any cheaper than free!”The Social Engines are places where people go to and stay at; whereas Search Engines are places people only pass through ‘in search of’ a final site destination. This is the major difference and the significant extra power you’re missing out on if you are not involving your business in the Social Engines. Remember though, the Blog Feed is vital to ensuring your participation is mostly ‘auto-magic’ otherwise participating in them could over run your day, your week and your life!The Blog Feed allows you to ‘auto-magically’ update the Social Engines, minimizing the ‘air time’ you personally allocate to this.So, who’s already taking this seriously and using Social Engines as a powerful, quick, cheap and easy tool and media to generate free leads quickly too?Firstly, no matter your business, products and services, you’ll find prospects and possibly existing clients already participating in these sites on a regular basis. You are bound to find your competitors there too, it makes good business sense to be present on an Engine where millions of people congregate, converse and seek out people with the products and services they require – someone in your industry is probably joining them and being ‘front-of-mind’ and it should be you.Everyone that gets it commits to it. These world-wide companies, brands and industry leaders have dedicated resources to connect and cultivate relationships with prospects and clients on the Social Engines with reportable, measurable results:Motor Vehicle Industry: Chevrolet, Ford, General Motors, HondaTravel and Tourism Industry: JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Luxor Las Vegas, Marriott International Hotels and Resorts, Carnival Cruise Lines, Hertz Car HireSporting Teams: Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Portland Trail Blazers, San Diego ChargersEntertainment: 92Y, The Travel Channel, ComCast, Marvel Entertainment, Direct TV, Pop Caps, TV GuideFinance: Wachovia, H&R Block, IntuitRetail: Best Buy, The Home Depot, American Apparel, Rubbermaid, Whole Foods, Zappos.comFood and Beverage: Starbucks, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, Popeye’s Chicken, Tastidlite, Kraft Foods (see Vegemite Case Study below)Other Global brands: Dell Computers, EMC and Kodak – all benefitting by directly connecting with their target marketplace – whether that’s existing customers and/or potential customers.Case Study:Kraft Foods have taken an interesting Corporation-Consumer collaborative approach to product promotion and development using Social Engines. Here’s what they say about their social engine strategy:For many of our strong brands such as Vegemite – we acknowledged that we are simply (proud) brand custodians and that the brand is owned by ‘the people’. We focused our first two years of social engine participation on simply listening and asking questions.Two of these questions were:

How do you individually like your Vegemite?
If there ever was to be a Vegemite variation what would this be?
Recently Kraft launched their latest product “Name me” a vegemite plus cream cheese experience. Here’s how they are using Social Engines to develop it.”This is a work in progress; we spent two years listening and now with the product on shelves the Kraft Communications team is engaging with Vegemite loyalists and cynics alike on the 12 top social engines. They are engaging and getting samples out on and off line- and encouraging debate on the new products. There are a number of Facebook groups sitting in the following camps: pro original, pro new flavour and anti new flavour.”This is just one way Social Engines are helping businesses already to grow brand, product and corporate awareness. There are many other ways to use it too that can and do lead to direct and immediate sales. No matter the size of your business and marketplace, Social Engines, like the internet at large give you a level playing field with industry leaders like Kraft Foods and the others mentioned here.Your website with a blog and feed will provide regular content to the Social Engines ‘auto-magically’. You need to support that by also visiting the main Social Engines and engaging people on a weekly basis, as it forms part of your marketing, CRM and all the other pay-offs mentioned previously.Adding content regularly to your Blog Feed, ‘auto-magically’ keeps you in touch and front of mind to millions of people around the world, on the Social Engines (and Search Engines) so they can access your business, products and services quickly and easily.The buzz appears to be more than a fad so for your business it becomes not a question of ‘if’ these Social Engines are going to be a valuable marketing tool for business. Rather, the question now is:”How quickly will you get your business on the Social Engines… to Capture Your Competitors Clients too?”HOW TO GET STARTEDHere’s a checklist to help you get started with your new, exciting and FREE Social Engine Strategy:1) Get a Blog website with a domain name of your choice OR if you already have a website, get a new sub domain or folder added called blog2) Open an account with at Google, Feedburner, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Digg, and LinkedIn.3) Install an RSS Blog Feed and set up a Pinging list on it then add your Blog feed to the Search and Social Engine accounts you created in the step above.4) Create content-rich education videos that can be added to your YouTube account and your Blog – that is then ‘auto-magically’ added to your Search and Social Engine accounts.5) Actively participate in or create new Facebook Groups, Events and Pages.6) Make promotional videos about you, your business, your products, how you help and support people and upload them to your YouTube Channel then add them to your blog posts.To really make this all work well for you, you need to know there is a big secret in succeeding with growing your business using Social Engines. You’ve read this far, so here it is: Social Engine success rest largely with you getting to grips with:

Being a ‘face’ of your business and allowing people to connect with your ‘authenticity’ as a person ahead of a product, and
the need to ‘listen’ to your marketplace, innovate with change to meet their ever-changing needs and then share information that will help them, rather than push product.
Millions of dollars are spent monthly with pay per click advertising on these sites and more millions are paid to ‘search engine specialists’ who supposedly help you reach number 1 ranking on keywords relevant to your business. It’s a fierce fight between serious players for top spots on search engines, both free and paid listings. An entire industry is built on it and around it. But you now know how to become a leader in your industry on the most powerful Social (and Search) Engines online today and how to do it Quickly, Cheaply, Easily and Auto-Magically.In some cases, target market demographics may not be using Social Engines; therefore it would not be worthwhile. Consider these statistics when making your evaluation:78% of consumers trust peer recommendations. Do you rely on 3rd party endorsements to build buyer confidence? If this is not a necessary part of your marketing and sale process, you may be able to ignore Social Engine Marketing.Successful companies in social media act more like Dale Carnegie and less like David Ogilvy – Listening first, selling second. Would your competitors be prepared to connect and listen to your prospects and customers directly to discover what they want, and then give it to them? If not, then you may be able to ignore Social Engine Marketing… and least for a little while.The worst part is the first part. When you start, your ‘following’ could be small but that is far better than not monitoring what’s been said about you at all! The only way to change that is to get in the game!Get started right now, before your competitors do -it’s the future of marketing your business online, because that is where the people you want as your customers are going online. It’s only a matter of time before someone in your industry emerges as the leader on the Social Engines – get you and your business front-of-mind first. Enjoy the experience and I’ll ‘meet and tweet you’ on the Social Engines of the World!

Four Reasons Why Small Business Fail To Plan and Why They Need To Think Again

It is so widely acknowledged that a robust business plan is one of the key ingredients in small business success, it seems remarkable that anyone serious about their business could considerable it optional. For example, Business Link say, “It is essential to have a realistic, working business plan when you’re starting up a business”. A recent survey showed that small businesses were twice as likely to be successful with a written business plan as compared with those without one. The Times in their annual round up of 100 up and coming UK businesses suggest that “poor business planning” is a key reason for failure. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to find an authority that would advocate the opposite idea, a clear signal that this idea is accepted wisdom. Despite this, a recent survey shows that two thirds of small business owners run their businesses on gut instinct alone.I had a very interesting discussion about this a couple of days ago with a good friend of mine who has run several successful small businesses in which he posited the idea of a “planning gene”. He felt that the only possible explanation for the lack of proper planning in small business was genetic.According to his theory, the majority of people are born without the “planning gene” and this explains why so many people don’t have any written business plan, despite the overwhelming evidence of a high correlation between a robust and vigorously implemented business plan and business success. The majority of us are simply not biologically and genetically wired to plan.This is certainly one explanation, although I have to say I have a few reservations as to the validity of his theory. I talk with small business owners about planning every day. I’m part of a small business myself. I’ve owned several small businesses over the last ten years each with varying degrees of success. In all those conversations and all that experience, this was the first (semi) serious discussion I’d had about the planning gene.If I was to aggregate the results of the conversations I have had with actual and prospective customers on this topic, four distinctive strands emerge explaining why small business owners fail to plan. Whilst I have heard a few other explanations for the lack of effective small business planning, I am treating these as outliers and focusing on the most significant.I’m Too Busy To Plan – More often than not, the small business owners we talk to tell us that proper planning is a luxury that only big business can afford. For them, business planning, if done at all, was a one-time event that produced a document for a bank manager or investor which is now gathering dust in the furthest recesses of some rarely opened filing cabinet. There just aren’t enough hours in the day and if forced to choose, they would do the real, physical work and leave the mental work undone, which seems to be the poor relation at best, if it is even dignified with the status of work at all.Traditional Planning Doesn’t Work – The “I’m too busy to plan” excuse is often supplemented with this one. I’ve heard the stories of the most legendary construction overrun of all time, The Sydney Opera House, originally estimated to be completed in 1963 for $7 million, and finally completed in 1973 for $102 million, more times than I can remember. Sometimes, this idea is backed up with some actual research, such as the fascinating study by several eminent psychologists of what has been called the “planning fallacy”. It seems that some small business owners genuinely believe that mental work and planning is a bit of a con with no traction on physical reality.My Business Is Doing Fine Without Detailed Planning – A minority of small business owners we speak to are in the privileged position of being able to say they’ve done pretty well without a plan. Why should they invest time and resources into something they don’t appear to have missed?Planning Is Futile In A Chaotic World – Every once in a while, we hear how deluded we are to believe that the world can be shaped by our hopes and actions. This philosophical objection to planning is perhaps my favourite. It takes ammunition from a serious debate about the fundamental nature of the universe and uses it to defend what almost always is either uncertainty about how to plan effectively or simple pessimism. This is different from the idea that planning doesn’t work as these business owners have never even tried to form a coherent plan, but have just decided to do the best they can and hope that they get lucky as they are knocked hither and thither like a steel ball in the pinball machine of life.As with all of the most dangerous excuses, there is a kernel of truth in each of these ideas and I sympathise with those who have allowed themselves to be seduced into either abandoning or failing to adopt the habit of business planning. Most small business owners feel the same dread in relation to business planning as they do to visits to the dentist, so it’s unsurprising that so many simply don’t bother. However, by turning their backs completely on planning, they are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Taking each idea outlined above in turn, I’ll attempt to show why business planning is critical, not just despite that reason but precisely because of that reason.I’m Too Busy Not To Plan – Time is the scarcest resource we have and it is natural that we would want to spend it doing those things that we believe will have the greatest impact. Of course, we want to spend most of our time producing, but we should also invest at least some time into developing our productive capacity. As Stephen Covey pointed out in his seminal work, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, we should never be too busy sawing to sharpen a blunted saw. Planning is one of the highest leverage activities we can engage in, as when done effectively it enhances the productive capacity of small businesses, enabling them to do more with less. Nothing could be a bigger waste of precious time than to find out too late that we have been using blunt tools in pursuit of our business goals.If we as small business owners weren’t so busy and time wasn’t so scarce, then we wouldn’t have to make choices about what we did with our time and resources. We could simply pursue every opportunity which presented itself. However, for the busy entrepreneur, the decision to do one thing always has the opportunity cost of not being able to do something else. How can we be certain that our business is going where we want it to go without pausing regularly, scanning the horizon and making sure not only that we are on track but also making sure that we still want to get to where we are heading? I believe more time is wasted in the single-minded pursuit of opportunities that are not right than is wasted by over thinking the opportunity of a lifetime.In short, small business owners are extremely busy and their time is precious. So much so that to waste it doing the wrong things with the wrong tools would be tragic. Small business owners that cannot afford the luxury of making expensive mistakes simply must regularly sharpen the saw through continuous business planning.Traditional Planning Doesn’t Work, So We Need a New Approach That Does – There are some fairly large question marks over the effectiveness of traditional business planning techniques. In an age where business models are becoming obsolete in months rather than years, a business plan projecting five years into the future cannot be viewed as gospel. Nobody has a crystal ball and if they did, they probably wouldn’t be writing business plans but using their remarkable predictive powers to some more profitable end.Dwight D Eisenhower said “plans are useless, but planning is essential”. Whilst producing a document called a business plan is far from useless, the real value lies in the process by which the plan is created in the first place. If this process can be kept alive in a business then the dangers associated with traditional planning can be minimised or avoided all together. In an environment of continuous business planning, small businesses can be flexible and adaptive to the inevitable changes and challenges they will face. Rather than quickly becoming obsolete, their plan will simply evolve with the changing circumstances.Accepting that the plan is a living thing that will evolve necessitates a change of approach to business planning. An effective business plan is the response to the repeated asking of the questions what, why, how, who and how much. It is not a 20 – 30 page form to fill in for the benefit of a bank manager or some venture capitalist, who will probably never fully read it. A business plan should help you, not hinder you, in doing business. If traditional business planning doesn’t work for you, it’s time to embrace the new paradigm of continuous business planning.My Business Could Do Even Better With Effective Planning – If you are one of the lucky few whose business has thrived despite an absence of traditional business planning, then I say a sincere well done. I hope that you can say the same thing in five years time.Business life expectancy in Britain and across Europe and indeed the world are in rapid decline. A study done at the end of the eighties and then again as we marched into the new Millennium showed that life expectancy had more than halved for British businesses in those ten years, from an average of 9.7 years to 4.1 years. Just because a company once enjoyed market leadership does not mean that its future is assured. Many high street institutions have fallen victim to the recent recession. Five years ago it was inconceivable that UK retail institutions like Clinton Cards, Game, Borders, Barratts, T J Hughes, Habitat, Focus DIY, Oddbins, Ethel Austin, Principles, Allied Carpets, Woolworths, MFI and Zavvi/Virgin Megastore would all be either out of business or teetering on the brink of oblivion in 2012. Yet that is exactly what has transpired.Any business from the smallest to the greatest is not impervious to the winds of change. A new competitor, a technological breakthrough, new laws or simply changes in fashion and consumer preference can all re-write the future of a company regardless of how bright that future once seemed. It is precisely because these risks exist that business planning is critical. To survive in business is extremely hard, but failing to effectively plan for the future or adapt to current realities surely makes it impossible and failure inevitable.Of course, it is not necessarily the absence of plans that did for these companies but the quality of their plans and most especially the quality of their implementation. Even a poor plan vigorously executed is preferable to the finest planning and research left to rot in a drawer. Continuous business planning is effective business planning because it emphasizes implementation and regular reviews of real results as part of what should be a continual process of improving company performance rather than simply attempting to predict the future and wringing our hands when our prophecy fails to come true. We believe, like Peter Drucker, that the best way to predict the future is to create it.Planning Is Essential In A Chaotic World – We sometimes feel small and insignificant as we try against all odds to translate our dreams into business reality. It’s easy to feel all at sea when we consider some of the challenges we face. However, whilst it is true that we cannot control the direction of the wind, we can adjust our sails and change the direction of the rudder. Difficult and challenging circumstances may come in our lives, but we can control the outcome of these circumstances by choosing which path to take.The truth is that we are fundamentally achievement orientated as human beings. When this is taken away, we lose much of the energy and motivation that propels us forward. There have been numerous studies carried out on life expectancy rates after retirement, which show that when clearly defined goals and daily action moving in the direction of those goals are removed from our lives, the result is literally fatal. The individuals studied who failed to replace their career goals with a new focus for their retirement simply shriveled up and died. The implications for small business owners are clear. Those business owners with clear goals who take action daily that propels them in the direction of their goals are far more likely to thrive and survive than those who take any old goal that comes along or move from day to day with no defined objective other than survival.It seems to me that precisely because life is so chaotic and challenging that effective planning is essential. Without continuous business planning, our businesses and the small business owners that work in them may find that bit by bit they are atrophying and on their way to becoming another business failure statistic.There undoubtedly exists an antipathy for business planning felt by many small business owners. Clearly, this cannot be fully explained by the lack of a “planning gene”, but it equally cannot be fully justified by the reasons most commonly put forward by small business owners to not engage in the business planning process. These reasons must be critically re-evaluated and a commitment made to a continual and never ending process of improving the condition of their small businesses. Without such a commitment, the future for small businesses in the UK is uncertain.

Becoming an Entrepreneur – Toolkit for Your Start-Up Home Business

This Toolkit for your Start-up Home Business outlines all the basic guidelines you will need to get your home business up and running. The goal is to ensure that you have all the relevant information and a structured approach in getting your business off the ground as soon as possible.Step #1 – Determine what type of business you want to get into.Business ideas and suggestions may come from many sources. You may have some ideas of your own based on your passion or you may recognize that there is a need based of discussions you have with others. A case in point, I recall when my children were younger we needed transport to pick them up from school (there was no school bus service). After discussing with a friend, he assisted us with picking up the children, and soon realized that there was a demand for such a service. There and then his new business was born.Step #2 – Research the business ideaIn the school transportation service example given above, my friend conducted an informal survey by speaking with other parents, he was quickly able to determine the demand for such a service and the potential revenue to be generated. Depending on your business idea you may be required to do a combination of both informal and formal research, but the goal is to gather as much information as possible that will help you to make an informed decision on the business idea.You may have several business ideas in your head and would have to make a choice on which one to implement. In making your choices consider the following:

The size of the market – in terms of customers, revenue and growth potential

Competitiveness of the market -how many businesses are already operating in that space?

Who is your target audience? If a market is very competitive, as a new entrant, you may want to probably look to see if there is a particular niche that has needs that are not being met by the existing suppliers and get into it.

What are customers looking for? (demand)

Where are the customers located?

How do you plan to reach them and serve them? (Your marketing strategy). More on this will be discussed in a subsequent article.

If you are not producing your own product or service, who will be you supplier? I will suggest that you identify at least three suppliers to give yourself more room to negotiate and get the best deals.

If you plan to import or export then you would have to enquire about licences with the relevant authorities within your jurisdiction.
Tip – Focus on the business idea that you are most passionate about. Because when things get challenging, it is your passionate that will give you the strength to stay in the business.Step #3 – Decide on your Business StructureSince the focus of this article is on home based businesses, the assumption is that your business structure will be one of either a sole proprietorship or a partnership. Notwithstanding that, I will still provide a brief description of the three typical business structures for setting up and registering a business.

Sole proprietor- this a business where there is a single owner. It is sometimes referred as a “one-man” business. You are the business and the business is you. As the owner of this type of business you have the responsibility for making all decisions. You receive all the profits and accept all losses.

Partnership – this is an association between two or more persons who joint themselves together to form a business. You can partner with relatives or friends or whoever. You and your partners contribute to the business equally and share equally in the profits and losses. A limited partnership may have some different arrangements in terms of contributions and profits and losses.

Corporation – a business structure, where the business has a legal identity that is separate and distinct from its owners. The owners of a corporation are referred to as shareholders. In some countries a corporation can be started by a single person. A key distinction between a corporation and the other types of business structures is that the owners (shareholders) have limited liability, in that they are not personally liable for the debts of the corporation. They share in the profit of the company through the receipt of dividends and stock appreciation.
Step #4 – Register your BusinessHaving decided on your business structure you will need to register your business name with the relevant authorities in your country. If you are a sole proprietor and you are using your name as the business name you do not have to register yourself, since you and the business are one. However, apart from that all business names must be registered.When you have a name in mind, you will be required to do a search of the data base of registered companies to ascertain that the name is not being used by anyone or company. Once your chosen name is available then you can go ahead and register it with the relevant government authority.Step #5 – Calculate your start-up costThe guidelines used here are focused on a home based business that may not have some of the typical expenses of a business operated outside the home. Calculating your start-up cost will certainly assist you in deciding how you will finance your business.

Start-up expenses- examples- business cards, flyers, promotional expenses etc.

Assets to be purchased- examples could include- desk, chair, filing cabinet, computer, software licences, printer, inventory etc.

Ongoing monthly expenses- example website hosting fees, other online fees and charges, subscription services fees, business telephone, advertising expenses, distribution cost etc.
Tip – multiply the monthly expenses by six (6 months), since it may take approximately six months to breakeven or realize a profit.

Add the figures in 1+2+3 to get your total start-up cost
Step #6 – Forecast your RevenueTo calculate your breakeven revenue – divide your ongoing monthly expenses by the number of business days to get your daily revenue. Anything in access of that is your profit.Step #7 – Prepare your Business PlanIt is good to prepare your business plan before seeking financing, even if you are self-financing. Your business plan is your road map showing your business vision and how you will get there. The key elements you want to cover in your business plan are as follows:

Business Concept- Description, vision and mission, goals and objectives

Operations and Management- Owner background, location, staffing, inventory, suppliers, delivery and distribution etc.

Marketing – products and services, customers, competition, pricing, promotion and advertising etc.

Financing- assumptions, operating expenses, asset requirements, operating expenses, sales and revenue forecast etc.
Step #8 – Get Financing for your BusinessJust to re-state the focus here is on the sole proprietorship and partnership business structures. Depending on your business structure and the size of your business, there are many ways that you can secure financing:

Personal Savings- you may have adequate personal savings set aside to start your business. In a partnership, partners would contribute to the financing of the business based on the partnership agreement.

Line of Credit- you may have a decent line of credit from you bank which you can use to finance your business.

Credit Card- depending on your credit limit, your credit card could be a good source of short term financing. The interest rate on this could be very high.

Borrowing from friends- to supplement your personal savings you may borrow from relatives or friends

Institutional Borrowing- you may approach a financial institution (bank or credit union) for business financing, and this is where your business plan will come in handy. Your financial institution would only lend you money based on a solid business plan.
The above are the basic tools required to get your home business started. Have fun utilizing you toolkit and best of luck with your business venture.Additional note for those who are getting into Import and ExportGet familiar with these shipping terminologies

Free on Board (FOB) – The quote reflects the cost of the goods plus the cost of loading them on the ship or plane. The supplier handles all customs export formalities at the loading port. No insurance or freight is included.

Free Along Ship (FAS) – The seller is responsible for delivering the goods alongside the vessel at the agreed port of shipment. It is the buyer’s obligation to clear the goods for export and must also absorb all costs and risks of loss or damage from that point on.

Cost and Freight (C&F or CFR) – The price quoted include the cost of the goods and the cost of the ocean freight to transport the goods to the agreed port.

Carriage Paid To (CPT) – Seller absorbs cost of freight for the carriage of the goods to the destination. The seller clears the goods for export.

Cost Insurance and Freight (CIF) – The seller pays for the insurance coverage of the goods up to the time they reach the designated port of entry.

Delivered Duty Unpaid (DDU) – The seller is obligated to deliver goods to the named place in the country of import. The seller absorbs costs involved with bringing the goods to that point (excluding duties, taxes and other charges)

Delivered Duty Paid (DDP) – The sell absorbs all the DDU costs in addition to the duties, taxes and other charges of delivering the goods to the destination.