business

Why the Time to Innovate is Always Now

Let’s pretend you are standing in the middle of the train tracks… and you see a very slow moving train that is going to hit you… in ten years.

What do you do?

From what I can tell in some companies, the answer is to sit and complain about how no one stops trains anymore.

Not exactly proactive.

I’m looking at some of you, publications.
Some of you, malls.
Some of you, chambers of commerce.
I’m also looking at you grocery stores, electronics stores, and basically anyone affected by Amazon, which is pretty much anyone that does retail (and increasingly services).

So the train is coming at all of us in some way… and we can just stand there and watch it, try to stop the train (good luck with that), or get ourselves out of the way.

The last choice is clearly the most logical. It is also the one we literally have the most control over.

And the great news? We have a lot more lead time about the train these days. The beauty is with the internet, because we are getting instant feedback, we can also see subtle shifts a lot sooner (and a lot less expensively) than we could otherwise. 

So not only can you know sooner but we also have more tools than ever to get out of the train’s way.

I’ve seen people get really creative in a few ways:

  • Using space in different ways, whether it is letting people sleep there or changing the rent model to something like shared revenue or making pop up stores or workspace. I recently ran into a movie theater that is also a coworking space in a town I recently visited. A bit odd? Yes. But does it keep the theater economically viable while also filling a community need? Definitely.
  • Shifting away from memberships/subscriptions to other (and complimentary) revenue streams like events, conferences, and information, “vaults”of valuable niche information that can be searched/accessed anytime. Talking to the Bucksport Bay Chamber of Commerce, who operate in the black, I learned they saw the train coming and decided they would start hosting events to compliment their work with members about four years ago. They even operate their own small business as part of their revenue streams.
  • Offering different versions of products, like web ads that go with print ads or dividing large spaces into smaller ones for lower rent. So if no one is buying your thing, you gotta give them a different thing. At Anchorspace when we noticed our $350 membership was not working our first six months of operation (nothing like making $1000 a month when your rent is double that), we created a $100 membership where people could come in during regular office hours. This kept us from having to increase staff demands and kept desks open while meeting a need. We now have as many people at the $100 level as we do at the $350 level.
  • Changing business models from a business one to a non-profit or community owned model. I’ve seen this more with newspapers but there would be nothing wrong with looking at changing out your model if it fills a need in your community, region, or cause… which I think most businesses do. By being shareholder, government, or non-profit run, this could allow for additional funding sources, volunteer support, and other ways to sustain.
  • Offering value added services, whether it’s a personal shopping service with curbside pickup or even selling gift certificates on behalf of businesses. Our local grocery store chain is pioneering a shopping service where you can give people your list and pick up your groceries for a $25 fee. Amazon isn’t picking out your avocados yet so our local grocery store is filling the need.

This may sound harsh, but consider it a bit of tough love. But in a world of:

  • endless possibilities/ideas you can try for cheap or on a small scale
  • people that can get behind what you are trying to do if a) they know what it is and b) how they can help.
  • ways to take the pressure off having to earn income from your business like side hustles (for a moment or two anyway) while you solve the problems

…we have SO MANY WAYS to get out of the way of the oncoming train. 

And while I am compassionate about people in the middle of the tracks at any given moment, I feel excitement seeing people getting out of the way and coming up with an even better scenario than previously imagined. I am the kind of person who needs a problem in my face to innovate and I don’t think I am an exception in that.

So if you see a train coming at you, very slowly, what are you going to do in 2018 to get out of the way?

Marketing a Piece of Cake

I have always had a bit of a sweet tooth. In fact, I’m pretty sure all of my adult teeth are actually “sweet.” Unfortunately it’s not possible for me to physically be at all the bakeries I’d like to (and there are so many to choose from around here), so that’s why I follow them all on social media.

The benefit is that I get to see delicious cupcakes and other goodies on a daily basis, even if I can’t physically make it into the store. Another benefit, which we’ll get into more in a bit, is that I’ll sometimes make a special trip to a bakery if I know in advance that they’re going to have a certain goodie there.

Based on some of the bakeries I’ve seen online, I’ve noticed a few things that bakeries do in their marketing to get people in the door.



Online Order or Inquiry Forms. One simple thing bakeries can do is set up a form on their website to take orders. For instance, if you get a lot of pie orders around Thanksgiving, you can create a simple form to let people know what your flavor options are. You can also use it as a way to filter out what you do and don’t offer (i.e. you only do chocolate, vanilla, and carrot cakes and nothing else) as a way to cut down on inquiries. Obviously, for those that do custom ordering, it’s difficult to implement a form to cover the infinite options, so instead you could do a general, initial contact form so that you know the person is looking for a marble cake for their cat’s 5th birthday. Sweet Sensations Bakery/3 Dogs Café  has a good system on their Specialty Cakes Page.

Galleries/Albums. I remember going to Hannaford and flipping through their birthday cake album that they had on the stand by the bakery and planning pretend birthday parties (…for myself). While it’s a little trickier if you do a lot of custom work, you can offer galleries of your past work to showcase what you’re capable of doing so potential customers can get an idea. For instance, Cakes Downeast showcases cakes after they’re made on her Facebook page.

Price Points & Offerings. Another idea for offering people as much information as possible before they contact you is to create a page of price points and offerings on your website. 3 Dogs Café is a great example of this on their website. For instance, on their bakery page they have a table of cake flavors, sizes, and the prices (with information about how many each size typically feeds).

Marketing Scarcity… “Limited supply” is one way to make people flock through the door FAST, especially when it comes to cookies. One thing that I’ve seen bakeries do (that totally works on me) is announcing when they’ve made something that they don’t usually make, AND letting people know that there is a limited supply (i.e. one batch/one cake etc). It also works as a way to test a new product. For instance, after seeing this cake, I considered driving to Bangor to grab a slice (tragically my schedule didn’t allow it).

…And Regularity. Most places have at least a few staple products that are always available, like coffee, bagels, etc. While getting people in the door for goodies you make occasionally is a good tactic, it also helps to let people know what they can expect on a daily basis. Of course it can be hard to keep up with posting social media while you’re also trying to run a business. A Slice of Eden in Bar Harbor has an interesting solution-by posting their soup and bagel of the week, and anything else to expect.

Speaking of regularity, making sure business hours are up to date on social media is key. Many bakeries are early to open/close, and people are more likely to stop in on their way to work if they know you’ll be open during their commute.

And whatever you do, remember to have fun, like our friends at Mount Dessert Bakery!

Whether you run a bakery (or just stalk them online like I do), here’s hoping this post gave you some ideas… and maybe an excuse to get your favorite carb at your favorite local bakery.

Note: If you are on or near us, Gift MDI has a very useful blog post about the best $5 carbohydrate you can get at every local bakery.



Networking for Small Businesses

Our theme for July is “Independence Doesn’t Have to Mean Alone,” and in our last post, we shared a few ways business owners can delegate their work rather than spread themselves too thin. This post is about making connections as a small business owner, or, as some like to call it, networking.

For introverts like myself, networking can be a bit of a challenge. But I know the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Networking has a few different purposes. First, it’s a tool for expanding your business and gaining potential customers. Second, it’s a way to meet and share experiences with other entrepreneurs. When networking, I find it helpful to think, “I’m about to meet some people who are in a similar boat as me. I bet some of them have cool stories and I could come away from this with interesting, new connections.”



Here are four helpful guidelines for successful networking:

Set a Goal. Plan to attend a certain number of events per month and talk to X number of people at each event. Or, reach out to a specific number of new people every week via email. These goals can make the whole networking experience a bit more fun, too. Remember to follow up with your connections — that’s just as important as meeting them in the first place.

Remember to follow up with your connections — that’s just as important as meeting them in the first place.

Have Something Ready. One of my greatest weaknesses in networking — and meeting people in general — is that I can become easily flustered. Something as simple as “So what do you do?” will result in me doing a lot of mumbling and rambling — “ramumbling,” if you will.

Know that at any networking event, at least one person is going to ask you what you do. Be prepared with an answer. This may also be a good reason to work on your elevator speech. You don’t need to sound like a robot, but you should sound prepared.

Also, keep your business cards at the ready for anyone who may ask for one.



Participate in Groups. Online groups can be found via social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or even Twitter. Participation can occur in a few different ways. You can create your own post within a group in which you share a cool resource, ask a question about something you need help with, or seek opinions on a challenge you face. Also, read posts made by others and respond with comments that are helpful and/or pertinent.

Stepping away from the internet, you can join the local chamber of commerce, Rotary, or any other business-oriented or volunteer organization. It’s a great way to meet local people who do business within your community.

A warning: Don’t approach these groups with a sales pitch. Growing your business is a good goal, but networking is more about fostering relationships.

Stay in Touch. Congrats, you’ve met a ton of new people through your networking! But, how are you staying in touch with them?

Nicole has a favorite app for staying in touch, which lets her know when it’s been a while since she has reached out to someone. Or, you may create a system (spreadsheet, flowchart, sticky notes) just to reach out to people, follow up about something from your conversation, maybe invite them to grab a coffee.

As a shy introvert, I find that following up with others can be just as difficult as making the first contact. But I try to keep in mind that comfort zones equal stagnation. It’s like the advice on water sources found in the wilderness: Drinking running water is usually okay, but standing/stagnant water … you gotta watch out for that stuff. (Sorry for the digression — I’m ramumbling again.)

For those who need help with networking (like me), check out this video I made last fall about networking for the shy introvert:



5 Things Every New Business Should Know

Starting a new business? There are probably some things that you find uncertain, and others you just don’t have the hang of yet. While there’s no cookie-cutter approach we can offer budding entrepreneurs, there are some general tips to keep in mind. Here are five:

Failure/Rejection (on small scales) are probably in your near future, and that’s a good thing. There are more lessons to be learned in rough waters than when it’s smooth sailing. Remember Newton’s First Law: An object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. A little adversity here and there will not break your business — depending on how it’s handled, it can actually help your business grow. There’s something to be said for a healthy amount of risk-taking, too.

The first 2 years are usually the hardest. This is a good stat to keep in mind as you develop your business plan, especially budget-wise. Remember — if things don’t go the way you planned, don’t worry. It’s fairly common for businesses to struggle in their early, formative years.



Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As a small business owner, you’re probably used to doing things on your own. However, that doesn’t mean you need to isolate yourself. There are lots of resources for small business owners. Remember to ask people in your network for advice.

Take a look at our post on Automating, Delegating, and Outsourcing to develop ways to include others in your day-to-day work life.

Show, Don’t Tell. To build both your business’ trust and reputation, showing is better than telling. Marketing and advertising are important to spread the word about your business, but performance and delivering quality products and services are more important. No amount of advertising makes up for a poor product, and there’s no substitute for trust.

Learn to be efficient with your time. It can be easy to become a martyr for your business. But isn’t it better to work smarter, not harder? Part of this involves delegating and outsourcing as mentioned earlier. Take charge of your schedule in a way that’s productive but keeps your sanity intact. Develop systems, stay organized, and jettison anything that doesn’t serve a purpose.

Here are some posts we’ve written regarding efficiency, including systems and getting organized.



Automating, Outsourcing, & Delegating

Being independent means you are in charge of doing it all, right? Sure…if you want to go crazy and lose sleep/hair over it.

The truth is, you may think of yourself as a “one man show” but this kind of attitude can a) get pretty lonely when things get tough, and b) can actually hurt your business rather than help it. Here are three ways you can let other people/businesses/services help you, so you can keep doing what you love and help your business thrive:

Automating

Automating is for the truly mindless things that no one needs to do in a real way. There is a love/hate relationship with automation in the content marketing world, but I think there’s room for compromise. You can’t automate everything, but you should automate some things.

Some non-marketing things you can automate for your business include:

  • recurring bill payments (i.e. utilities)
  • frequent orders (if you’re running a restaurant and go through a certain amount of napkins, salt, avocados, etc every month)
  • scheduling/booking
  • accepting payments
  • tracking purchases

Online, you can automate your social media content. We use social media scheduling software to get content ready for posting ahead of time. However, it’s really important to update/refresh content and log in to these accounts to stay up to date on activity. What if someone comments on one of your scheduled posts and no one has answered them? Every now and then you might want to update people with something time relevant like specials, recent orders, seasonal things-whatever you can think of. For more tips on automating social media, take a look at one of our old blog posts When Automated Marketing Goes Wrong. There are also tools like Zapier and IFTTT which can help you connect things up (ex: when someone fills out your contact form and opts in for email updates, they automatically are added to your email marketing list).



Delegating

Delegating is for something you’d like to keep ‘in the family’ but don’t want to do yourself. If you have employees or even part time/freelancers that you work with, delegating can be a great way to move some work off your plate so that you can focus on other things to grow your business. Going back to the social media updates, you could delegate the logging in and responding to inquiries to another person entirely.

Some things you can delegate include:

  • tasks you are inefficient at (ex: scheduling meetings)
  • tasks you need regularly
  • tasks that have little to do with your business (ex: cleaning the office bathroom)

Some business owners tend to feel a bit guilty and/or bottle-neck when it comes to certain tasks of the business. The tough love answer for bottlenecking is, unless you’re okay with limiting growth of the business, it’s not going to serve you well. For new hires and relationships with freelancers, you should definitely have a trial/training period, and set up some sort of annual (or other frequency) review process. When it comes to the everyday tasks, though, it’s better to hand over the ropes and be available as a resource without limiting the flow of work that gets done.

And if you feel “guilty” about delegating, think back to the early days of your business when it was you performing the gruntwork AND trying to grow a business. You’ve been “in the trenches” before, and I’m going to assume you’d be willing to jump back in if you needed to. The thing is, in order for you to take your business to the next level and keep growing, at some point you have to hand those things off to someone else (and be okay with it).



Outsourcing

Outsourcing is for things you either can’t efficiently or shouldn’t logically do in house. There are some things that are generally a pain, and that you’ve probably had to handle on your own in the early days of business. But at some point, there are certain tasks you can straight up outsource so that you don’t have to be in charge of them anymore. Some things you may want to outsource include payroll, logo design, bookkeeping, etc.

Think of the things you can do but maybe don’t enjoy doing or maybe just don’t love doing. Is it possible to hire someone else to take care of it for you? Again, don’t let guilt or the feeling of “well, I’m the business owner so I should care/be doing this myself…” stop you from outsourcing. It’s one of those things that will free up your time, which can go into other areas of your business. Outsourcing, just like delegating, prevents you from spreading yourself too thin and stunting the growth of your business as a result.

Stay tuned for our other posts about Independence and Business this month!



Cross Selling With Others

So you’ve been reading our posts about selling more and I know what you’re thinking: “I want to make more money without creating the complimentary product/service myself; what are my options?”

The good news is, you can sell more online without the responsibility of creating a whole new product/service! Here are a few ways you can cross sell while working with other businesses or non-profits:

Figure Out Referrals

Looking through your contact form inquiries, social media comments, and email inbox, I’m sure there are some things that people are asking you for that you are unable or unwilling to do.

Let’s say you are a greenhouse but you get lots of comments asking where people can get sod. What you could do is contact companies and get their information and make it available on your website. “Hi Debbie, thanks for asking us about sod. We don’t sell it but Company X and Company Y both do. Here is a link on our website about their services, price points, and more: thewebsite.com/faq/all-about-sod.”

You can create a more formal relationship with a complimentary business in the way of an affiliate relationship, partnership, or joining a referral networking group like BNI.

No matter how formal or informal, working with complimentary businesses means you can steer your customer (or potential customer) in a good direction so they still feel taken care of by you and hopefully, that other company appreciates and reciprocates, either with a portion of the sale you generate or by sending referrals your way, too.



Consider The Subscription Box

Let’s say you sell something that goes well with other somethings… but you don’t necessarily want (or need) to carry it in your retail shop. Consider making a subscription box, where customers subscribe for a monthly price (or slightly lower quarterly/annual) price to get a box of stuff around a theme.

An excellent example of this is Willie Wags right out of Bangor Maine. They send out boxes of stuff collected from different businesses celebrating women entrepreneurs (they’ve recently moved to a retail location in downtown Bangor too but they could have kept it subscription box only if they wanted I’m sure).

Maybe you sell stationary and have connections with others who sell cool pens, stickers, etc. You could probably make some boxes including the products of your business friends (and yours) at a price that is lower than retail but allows you to get in front of new customers. (Aside: I’m not sure why no one has done a ‘Bar Harbor Box’ yet, I think that would kill!)


Host an event together

Events take a lot of bandwidth but they are good ways to attract new customers whether it’s an open house, a workshop, or something else.

Finding a complimentary business to help you host an event is a great way to not only divide the work but make the event more fun. For example, if you are a hardware store but you don’t do party rentals, it may be cool to have a cookout/block party with sales going on while you have a few rental pieces of equipment (bouncy houses and slush machines anyone) set up too. There’s also a likelihood of more attendees because you get the draw of two (or more) businesses- customers of one business may show up and decide to become customers of the other business, too (especially if there’s a bouncy house involved).

In other words, cross selling doesn’t just have to be your stuff. It actually works well when it isn’t. By figuring out ways to work with other entrepreneurs in a complimentary space, you can all win together.


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