Best Resources for Small Businesses

Being a successful small business is not easy. The five core challenges most small business face are time management, pricing, cash flow, managing growth and marketing / client acquisition. In order to succeed, you must arm yourself against these challenges. The good news is that there are a number of fabulous resources to help you with these issues.

Actively seek out the right small business information.
Many small business owners are so over-extended that they neglect staying informed about business trends. This is a fatal error. In today’s modern marketplace, you simply cannot succeed if you run your business on intuition alone. You may stay afloat in the short run, but you will eventually lose out to better informed competitors.

There are a number of incredible online resources that are both free and invaluable. Sites like and provide tips on just about everything from starting your business to navigating advanced legal issues. They feature in depth information on running your business, leadership / management techniques, sales & marketing tips, small business technology and finances.

Helpful Tip: Set aside at least 1 hour each week to review these sites. If you find that you prefer to read in bed, consider subscribing to a few of these magazines. This information will make you and your business stronger.

Know your industry and target market in real time.
In our modern age, trends shift at break-neck speed. It is important to stay abreast of developments in both your industry and your target market’s microcosm. After all, more often than not, what concerned your target market 3 months ago is now ancient history.

Subscribe to industry related publications and consume the same media as your target market. If you sell jewelry for eco-friendly women in their thirties and forties, spend an hour each week reading news and publications that are relevant to that market. Likewise, be sure to check industry news every week. For example, using the same eco-friendly jewelry analogy, you might read up on green product developments, new fashion trends or even ecological political issues.

Helpful Tip: Set two separate Google Alerts – one on your industry and one for your target market – to send you period updates on relevant news. Google will send these news stories to you automatically, making it easy to skim over the headlines and read through the meaningful stories.

Find the right on-line partnerships.
The proliferation of online office supply stores makes economically and efficiently stocking your office a lot easier than it was 10 years ago. Buying office supplies online takes less time and makes price comparison easy. Because of online competition, online suppliers are eager to earn your business. The good ones will provide a wealth of free information on their site and happily take your calls to field questions and offer advice. For example, if you are looking for discounted printer ink cartridges but are a little confused about toner versus regular stores like compandsave not only provide free yet invaluable printer cartridge information resource center but they also eagerly accept calls and offer advice on how to save on office supplies.

Helpful Tip: When you find a supplier with great prices and customer service, hold onto them for the long-haul. A good supplier relationship can save you thousands, streamline your operations and free up your time so you can focus on growing your business.

10 Tips Small Businesses Can Use to Avoid Viruses, Spam and Spyware

Viruses, spam, spyware and other malware cost small businesses billions of dollars each year in lost productivity, stolen identities and IT support costs.

What small businesses need to understand is that these gremlins are easy to avoid when common sense and some simple precautions are applied. And ‘avoid’ is the key word; your strategy should be to stay as far away from these things in the first place so that you don’t have to experience the lost time and cost associated with cleaning up the mess they leave.

So how can a small business avoid viruses, spam, and spyware?

The following is a list of 10 best practices for small businesses:
1. Use antivirus software that is automatically updated on all machines
2. Use a hosted spam filtering service that filters the spam before it ever makes it to your local network
3. Make sure employees know that you have a policy that work computers are only to be used for work purposes.
4. Don’t give your business email address to a non-business source
5. Don’t forward jokes, chain mail, etc. to other employees
6. Never open an attachment from an unknown source
7. Never open an attachment with an unknown file extension
8. Don’t download free toolbars, shopping assistants, weather bug, etc. on your work computer
9. Never give your information or download information from an unknown site
10. Never update banking or other sensitive personal information using a link sent to you via email – always navigate directly to the site and log in there.

As you can see, most of these tips don’t require you to buy anything or use any special technology. Viruses, spam and spyware prey on human nature – curiosity, laziness, etc. – to get past technology-based defences, so you must educate yourself and your employees to know what to avoid.

One last tip: if you do feel like you have a virus or something else attacking your computer, unplug it from your network immediately. The last thing you want to do is give it to everyone else in your office – that’s when things get really expensive.

Marketing Tip – Small Business Owners Need a System to Keep in Touch With Contacts and Build Sales

Many small business owners know keeping in touch with their contacts is an important part of their marketing plan. However, all too often, keeping in touch is a sporadic effort. Sending birthday cards or an e-mail newsletter is something that can be done “later.” The problem is “later” never comes. 

Small business owners need to build a marketing calendar that includes when and how each person (or group of people) is going to be contacted.  The best way small business owners can keep on top of their contact efforts is to have some type of system in place.  The system should be as easy and as automatic as possible.
There are many software tools you can use to organize your contacts.  Microsoft Outlook and Excel are great programs.  With either of these, you can merge with Microsoft Word to create phone lists, mailing labels and personalized letters. More sophisticated contact management programs you can purchase include ACT! and Goldmine.  
Marketing Tools for Keeping in Touch
There are a variety of different marketing tools small business owners can use to keep in touch. Here are just a few ideas.
E-mail newsletters are a great way to communicate with a large group of people. There are a number of great on-line resources available for e-mail newsletter creation and management. Use e-mail newsletters to provide product information, announce sales, and promote special events. 
Real greeting cards (the kind that come in an envelope with a stamp) are great marketing tools to use at Christmas, birthdays and other times of the year.  In fact, the best time a small business owner can send a greeting card is when there is no real reason to send a card! A card sent in August will be remembered much more than one sent in December.

Savvy business owners know that phone calls, personal visits and lunches are always appreciated. The key there is to remember the marketing message when scheduling those calls or visits. Yes, having coffee with a long-term client is great. But be sure to let the client know that you have a great new product that can dramatically help him or her. Too often business owners get wrapped up in the social aspect of personal visits and forget to ask for more business!

The most important part of any system is using it regularly.  If you are very busy, or have a hard time working with schedules, you are better off delegating or outsourcing.  If you have an assistant, that person can print letters, write e-mails, even sign Christmas cards for you.  That leaves you free to work on other areas of your business.

If you don’t have any help in your office, outsourcing is the answer. There are a number of local and on-line services that help business owners with their marketing. Or, try using a virtual assistant.  The marketing money you spend to outsource these routine tasks will be repaid many time over with the new business you get.

Remember — the key to a successful system is to have it automated as much as possible. The less work you have to do, the more likely it is to be done on time, and the more likely you are to get referrals!