Thursday, January 28, 2010

5 free ways to attract customers

I just watched a great report on Good Morning America from Tory Johnson, the CEO of Women For Hire, the workplace contributor on ABC's "Good Morning America" and the author of "Fired to Hired."

Click on the link below and see some FREE ways to get the word out about your business or service that you may not have thought of before:

5 Free Ways to Attract New Customers to Your Small Business

For additional information, read my latest post entitled, "You gotta spend money to make money".

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

You gotta spend money to make money

So, how's business?

Have you been affected by this wonderful thing we call a recession? Are you trying to reinvent yourself? Think you have a great product or service but wonder why clients and customers aren't banging down your door?

Well... do you advertise?

I'm talking more than just an ad or a brochure. I'm talking about a PLAN.

What's your plan?

If you're like many businesses, you're consumed with the day-to-day operations. Running your business. Taking care of your employees. Looking ahead to the future. Often, advertising and marketing fall to the bottom of the list.

Really, it's time to re-prioritize.

If you don't market your business, no one will know you exist. No matter what you do, there's an untapped market out there that you just don't know how to reach.

Some of these ideas may or may not apply to you. But think outside the box, and you may find that the marketing tactics you've poo-poo'd in the past may just be your ticket to business success.

Traditional media
Again, I'm not talking about a newspaper ad here or there, or a two-week radio campaign. I'm talking about a media plan. It can be over a course of months during your busiest seasons (think lawn care services, tax preparation, or floral shops) or an overall campaign that changes during the year, just to keep your name in the forefront of potential customers. Traditional media encompasses a well thought out collaboration of print, radio, TV, billboards, direct mail or a combination thereof. For example, a car wash in town has strategically placed billboards directing traffic to their site. Their radio ads complement the weather forecast, and offer discounts during the dirty snows of winter and the rains of spring. Print ads have coupons to clip: a great way to track their marketing. Direct mail strategically "finds" customers within the areas they serve.

Online presence
If you have a business, you need a website. It's just that simple. Research shows that most customers are no longer letting their fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages, but are clicking to the web - either directly or via search engines - to find what they need. While informational websites are the best, with multiple "pages" showing who you are, what you offer and what makes you different than your competition, a simple placeholder showing a brief description and location is sometimes just enough. My website, Kennard Communications, tells a little about me, the services I provide, portfolio examples, and a link to my blog. It's everything you want - or need - to know before you make that call.

Non-traditional media
I categorize this as non-traditional, but these mediums are gaining headway in our technologically-advanced times. There are a host of ways to "think outside the box" with your advertising. Online advertising - beyond websites - is a great way to get your name out there and allows customers to click directly to your site. Using sites like pjstar.com or ciproud.com, you can often pick which "page" in which you want to appear - sports, community, weather, financial, etc. If you're a restaurant, try peoriarestaurants.com. If you're a small business, look to the community websites such as Peoria.com, Upgradeyourlifestyle.com, or Explorepeoria.com. Off the web, many businesses find success with little-known advertising opportunities such as the back of grocery sales receipts, shopping cart advertising, or even bus boards.

Social networking
Ah, that vague phrase. What does that mean? With more than 321 million people on Facebook alone, this networking site is a great way to get the word out. Make a page for your business; update your status with business tips, special offers and special events, and start gathering "fans" for your following. Join Twitter for even more up-to-the-minute news. And if you want to position yourself as an expert in your field, blog your ideas and opinions and showcase yourself as the go-to business.

The written word
Finally, no matter which medium you choose, use the written word to your advantage. Above and beyond a prosaic brochure or a catchy radio jingle, seek out those opportunities to get those words out. Many magazines like InterBusiness Issues, Art and Society, Healthy Cells and Midwestern Family Magazine take submissions from local contributors on a regular basis: some require an ad contract, others do not.

If you have a specific market for your business, start a newsletter with helpful tips and short, to the point articles that will keep you in the forefront of your customers' minds when they find they do need services such as yours. And don't forget press releases: the cheapest way to blanket the market about your latest newsworthy topic.

I've covered a lot of ground here, but there's so much more. While this information may seem daunting, you don't have to do it all. What you DO need to do is formulate a well-thought out plan of a combination of mediums that will optimize your business success. It doesn't have to break your budget, but it does have to be included in your budget. Spending money on advertising and marketing is one of the surest ways to increase not only your business traffic, but your overall revenues as well.

Friday, January 22, 2010

“Although I cannot lay an egg, I am a very good judge of omelettes."

I don't know what this quote by George Bernard Shaw means to you, but it speaks volumes to me.

Since I've bypassed that magical age of 40, I seem to have a much better understanding of judgment. I'm not talking the Day of Atonement or anything... though sometimes I think some people struggle with that day more than once in their lives.

I'm talking about judging others.

It's easy to do. I've done it many times. Did you hear about so-and-so? What was she thinking? How could he do that? I can't believe it! We almost relish pointing out the wrongs of others because I think it makes us feel less conscious about our own foibles. I'm totally guilty.

Do people screw up? Yeah, every damn day. Some are little bungles, some are life-changing messes. And if we're on the viewing end, we watch and offer commentary like it's a one-armed boxing match.

I suppose it's to be expected. Over my lifetime, I've heard stories about people who have done this-and-such, and I've been quick to judge. It wasn't until I found myself in similar situations that I could empathize for all of those who had once been in my shoes. Enlightening, to say the least.

I know this is going to be a very unpopular example, but take Tiger Woods. Now, I certainly don't condone what it is alleged that he did, in any way, shape or form. But it occurs to me that given the reaction of the public to this "god" that perhaps we set him a little too high on that pedestal, then judged him mercilessly when he fell. Again, what he did was wrong, but WOW, the public sure let him know it, didn't they?

"Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone."

Thank God for family, right? They are the ones that are supposed to be at your side with no question. Unconditionally. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen. Family members judge each other sometimes more harshly than friends or colleagues. Know what I think? I think family loyalty should be mandatory. A no-brainer. A given. A package deal.

If you do something wrong, if you screw up, if you make a bad decision, you're going to pay... somehow. And you probably feel like crap about it. And people around you that you thought cared about you may all of a sudden just disappear. But when all is said and done, and all those people have been filtered out, you should be able to count on your family. Sometimes for advice. Sometimes just to talk to. And sometimes just to know that they are there with unconditional love.

We're all human. We all make mistakes. We all pay in one way or another. So maybe it's time to chill on the judgment calls, and just try to be there a little more for each other. Remember, we're all in this together.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ain't no sunshine when it's gone...

So I'm paraphrasing Bill Withers.

Is it just me, or has it been awhile since we've seen that big, round ball in the sky that provides us with warmth and vital Vitamin D?

It's definitely having an effect on me.

I'm a go-getter. Once I'm up and had my coffee in the morning, I rarely sit down until I lay my head on the pillow at night. If I do sit, I'm typing. And thinking.

But for the last few weeks, it's as if my body and mind have just completely checked out. Laundry piles up. Dishes remain in the sink. The to-do list remains virtually untouched. And I've watched more Lifetime specials than I even care to mention.

I've been here before... and I know it will go away. I know all about depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder, "the blues", whatever you want to call it. I hate it, and I want it to go away.

One thing I have found is that succumbing to it - just for awhile - is OK. Watching football on a Sunday afternoon - not like I usually do when it's just on for background noise while I'm doing something else - but REALLY watching it... lying on the couch with popcorn in hand... IS OK. Giving yourself a day or two to give in to that numb, blah feeling... IS OK.

But then it's time to kick ass and take names.

Here's how I do it:

1) Exercise. Thank God I actually enjoy it. I've been going to the gym nearly every day, no matter how hard it is to get my butt in gear. Once I'm in the car, it's all good. It's just getting there. And how I feel when I'm done is, well, amazing.

2) Get out of the house. When I don't have my kids, it's easy to just lay low and putter. When they are under my roof, I'm more of a shuttle service than anything else. But getting outside is good for all three of us - whether it's admiring their snow fort, taking them ice skating, or just walking around the outdoor mall.

3) Use others as motivators. I have a business to run, and though it's easy to sit here and conduct matters via email and phone, nothing beats having to get gussied up to go to a meeting, a workshop, or a networking event. I say "yes" to all of these.

4) Eat right. I find I crave carbs during these cold, dreary days. Carbs do not love me, nor do they love my body. Best thing is not to have that crap in the house at all. I find that Charms Blow-Pops do the trick in avoiding the junk. At least for 20 minutes or so. By then, I've moved on to something else not food-related.

I know this weather is temporary. I know the days of waking up to the birds singing and feeling that bright sunlight on my face is right around the corner. (OK, maybe not right around the corner, but it's getting closer every day). Until then, I'll keep pressing on until I'm walkin' on sunshine once again.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What did YOU look like as a kid?

It's apparently "Retro" week on Facebook.

Like Pavlov's dogs, we see a status post request and immediately start drooling and running for the food bowl. I don't do them all... I passed on "If you believe sarcasm causes cancer, post this for at least an hour" and "If you think Tiger Woods is being framed, cut and paste this as your status". But some are kind of fun.

This week's bandwagon was to post old pictures of yourself. Now, I know some people aren't for the whole "posting pictures" thing. As far as profile photos go, they either have that weird, bluish, non-gender silhouette thing going, or some out-of-focus photo of their dog/cat/gerbil/fish.

I like to mix it up a bit.

My favorite photo (and believe me, it took me awhile to really laugh at this one) was taken on my First Communion. I had just spent like 70 hours in church, my dress was itchy, and my halo thingy was making my head hurt. I was pissed, and the last thing I wanted was to smile for some lame family picture. Thinking back, I think at the time my mom was pretty ticked, too.

Now, that photo has gone down in family history. I'm so pleased I could oblige.

But what I find fascinating about seeing all these retro photos of my friends is the amazing resemblance their children have to them at that age. I guess it's to be assumed, but seeing it firsthand is really quite uncanny.

My youngest son is a dead ringer for me when I was his age. The eyes, the mouth, even the hair. We both have the curly, unruly mop, and at the time I think my mom was cutting my hair with the dog clippers to save money, so until I got out from under her Carole Scissorhands, pegging me for a girl or a boy was a crap shoot.

My son freaks out when he sees those photos. Poor kid.

It's actually pretty cool to look back at those snapshots, and to share them with people you may or may not have known during that time in your life. They bring back some good memories, some bad, some embarrassing... but it's the life and times, and your mother didn't save them all for nothing, so don't disappoint her.

Take some time to look through your old pictures. Connect with yourself, and share them with other family members and friends. Above all, take the time to remember where you came from, and how you came to be who you are today.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's all about the climb, Baby.

So, I climbed to the top of a grain silo yesterday.

My kids and I spent the day at Upper Limits, a rock climbing gym in Bloomington.

Although the boys were beside themselves with excitement and itching to climb, they were not down with the whole two-hour safety class that they had to endure. For me, it was prolonging the inevitable, where I pictured being what seemed like thousands of feet off the ground, losing my footing, and smashing to the cushioned but pretty worthless floor below.

The class was invaluable, not only for my own personal safety and that of my treasures, but to learn the host of knots, safety checks and climbing commands that we would be using as we put our lives in each others' hands.

Our instructor was patient, especially with me, as the mom fear kicked in and I insisted on practicing my knots several dozen times, looking at him for approval like an eager puppy. When I was finally ready for my belay check, it was my oldest son on the other end. At one point, he was to perform two surprise "takes", where he would "fall" off the wall to see if I could stop him from plummeting to the ground.

This was not cool. But I did it. And I'll never let him forget it.

Then it was my turn. It took me a good 10 minutes to remember my commands: "On belay." "Climbing." Real tough, right? But not words I use in my everyday life.

Actually, the climbing part was the least stressful, and the most enjoyable. I found that I do have strength in my legs, buried underneath those layers of wintry, pasty fat. And it is all about the legs. My chicken arms managed to hoist myself up a bit, but it was my legs that did all the work. Which is good, because halfway up I felt as if my forearms were going to burn right off my body.

Oh, and here's a tip - don't look down. At one point, I was told my rope was in the wrong place. Uh, thanks. So as I'm struggling not to a) choke myself with said rope and b) perform a surprise "take", I looked down momentarily and noticed that the people below looked remarkably like ants. "Don't think," I said. "Just climb."

I made it to the top, slapped the ceiling, then prayed that I could get down without incident. Luckily, my belayer was experienced, and provided me with a smooth ride, with only a few random bumps against the silo wall.

I made it to the top twice. It was exhilarating. But what I found was that it wasn't so much the challenge of slapping that ceiling with my calloused hand, but the strength and strategy of getting up there at all. And I thought to myself (because I had the time), this is kind of what life's all about. It's not being at the top, because you're only there momentarily. It's learning how to climb, then doing it to the best of your ability.

And if you're like me, you find that you are stronger than you thought.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"A tree never hits an automobile except in self defense."

Is it just me, or are we all in some sort of unspoken winter driving competition?

Take this snow. (Please.) In hearing from friends and reading Facebook comments, it seems as if it's some sort of contest to prove who can actually make it in to work, and who "wimped out" and stayed home.

Like there's supposed to be some crazy award for being the better person for risking your life for a nine to five job, while making the smarter ones who opt to stay home feel like idiots.

Disclaimer: Some of you have to be out there. Some of your livelihoods depend on whether you show up or not. I get that. So don't get bent out of shape.

But those who can stay home, should. Especially if you're a parent. There have been a few times - only a few - when I have been out braving the weather for some stupid reason and it hits me: if something happens to me, my kids are in a world of hurt. Why would I even chance it?

Maybe we all have a tinge of invincibility from our teen years. Remember that? When everything tragic that happened was to someone else? Nothing bad would ever touch us? As we aged, we may have had a first-hand view of tragedy, or felt the pain of loss from someone close to us. And maybe, over time, we came to realize that silly risks weren't worth it to chance not being there for the ones who love us and need us.

I'm just saying - you can tell me it's "not that bad" out there, or "my car is great in this stuff", or "I only have to go across town"... whatever. But seriously, there's no prize for braving the elements just to say you did it. There's no special certificate for being one of the few that made it into work. Nobody is going to think you're the better person for risking life and limb to run out to the store. Above all, your kids don't care. They just want you home. And alive.

So next time you look out the window and feel that competitive spirit kick in... that desire to challenge Mother Nature with your four-wheel drive... put a sock in it. It's not worth it.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Thinking of starting your own business? Read this.

It may be a new year, but the recession remains the same.

For many who find themselves out of work, trying to meet ends meet, or returning to the workforce, starting a business can be the evolution of a dream, a lifestyle necessity, or in some cases a last resort.

If one of your resolutions for 2010 is to try to make a go of it on your own, you're not alone.

In 2008, there were 29.6 million businesses in the United States, according to the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy estimates. Those businesses have generated 64 percent of net new jobs over the past 15 years.

So if you want to start your own gig, how do you get started? It depends, of course, what you want to do. What many budding entrepreneurs don't know is that there are some outstanding resources available right here in the River City so they don't have to feel like they're a little fish drowning in a big small business sea.

Here are a few places to start:

SCORE (Peoria)
Peoria SCORE provides free and confidential business counseling tailored to meet the needs of the entrepreneur or small business and your personal objectives. It is sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration in cooperation with the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois, Inc. and the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce.

Novus
Entrepreneurs connecting with entrepreneurs. They meet every other month at the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center (unless otherwise indicated). Their networking events include an information component provided by either a guest speaker, usually an entrepreneur, or a panel discussion, with plenty of time to make connections with others and share ideas. No membership necessary; networking events are $10.

Area Chamber of Commerce Organizations
Chambers of Commerce are membership organizations of area businesses that strive to cultivate a striving business environment through networking, strategic business advisory services, and a commitment to government and community.

Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce

East Peoria Chamber of Commerce

Morton Chamber of Commerce

Pekin Chamber of Commerce

NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) - Central Illinois Chapter
The National Association of Women Business Owners, Central Illinois Chapter, meets monthly to discuss current events and provide business support to area women business owners. They offer exposure for your business, development of you and any staff you may have, in-person and online social networking opportunities, and a wealth of other information.

BNI (Business Networking International)
BNI is a business and professional networking organization that allows only one person from each profession to join any chapter. There are a number of chapters in Central Illinois that meet at a variety of dates, times and locations.

Bradley University Small Business Development Center
Turner Center for Entrepreneurship

A not-for-profit organization that provides business counseling, technical assistance, training, and educational activities for individuals interested in owning their own businesses.

LinkedIn
LinkedIn is an interconnected network of experienced professionals from around the world, representing 170 industries and 200 countries. You can find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals that you need to work with to accomplish your goals.

Groups to consider within LinkedIn (after you join, search Peoria, IL Groups):
-Peoria Illinois Businesses
-Peoria Illinois Work Group

These organizations are truly dedicated to helping entrepreneurs get the ball rolling, and are a great way to network with fellow small business owners. Anyone reading this who has groups or organizations to add to this list, feel free to comment below.