Attention Small Business Owners: Get online NOW!

According to the latest information from Internet World Statistics, there are 3 Billion + people in the United States; out of all of those people, over 2 Billion are Internet users and over 64 Million have broadband (high speed) Internet connectivity.Now tell me again why your business is not online?  I have heard them all or at least most of them, and here are my favorites:I do not sell products online. That’s okay, your website, your online presence can serve as a 24×7 advertisement for your products and services. It can also serve as a way for consumers to research your business at any time; this can include reading positive customer testimonials.I do not know where to start.  Again, that’s okay.  There are professionals out here to help you.  Get online and do some research, ask family and friends as well as trusted business associates.  If you want to set up your website and online presence correctly, hire a consultant.  Again, be sure to ask around and ask for referrals on people that you intend to hire, just like you do for every aspect of your business.  Want a personal recommendation?  Contact the professionals at tba-The Thomas Becher Agency, these folks know what they are doing!I have a high school kid working on my site. Nothing against high school kids, some are very talented and can design a terrific website; BUT do you have high school kids doing your taxes and advising you on legal affairs?  I didn’t think so.  A website or your online presence is part of your business; treat it as such.  Plan for it, budget for it, put someone in charge of it!If you are a small business owner, your time and your resources are too valuable to chance on a poorly designed or poorly performing website.  The online presence you establish is a reflection of your business just as an advertising campaign is; but unlike an advertising campaign, certain elements of an online presence can cost little or no money.Where to start?  THINK.  Think what you want your online presence to be, what you want the reflection of your business to be and how much money do you intend to spend.  Take some time and get professional advice, this is important.Sign up for accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or others.  Many of these social media sites are free to use and you can start by getting your name or your businesses name in the online community.More on the social media aspect of being online in my next post.

What tools do you use and why?

In today’s online world, we have many tools to chose from, whether you are a teenager connecting with friends or a business owner marketing your business; or any niche in between.So I pose the question; what tools to you use and why? How do you use the tools and what experiences can you share?For my personal and professional use, I mostly stick with three:LinkedInFacebookTwitterLinkedIn is my professional online appearance to the world; it provides visitors with a summary of who I am and what I do, but it also highlights testimonials and recommendations from colleagues. This is vital in an online social environment where you may deal with people that you never meet face-to-face. I use LinkedIn for both Consulting Business as well as the company that I work for: Professional Network Services, Inc.Facebook is a combination of a personal and professional tool in my opinion. As one of my colleagues, Monty Williams with Video Ventures described it, “when I see a comment from John on Facebook, I tend to think more about how I can help him today!”Twitter is a great connection tool that enables more people to learn about you and then connect to you. You only have 140 words to make your point, so it teaches you to have brief conversations. This can be useful when you are making initial contact, but also as you further develop these relationships or future business opportunities.I have personally developed business opportunities from each of the tools described above; but what about you?You will never hear me promote online tools over face-to-face meetings and networking, but social media and online tools are here to stay; we all need to learn how to use them. In today’s challenging economy, can a small business owner afford to NOT use these tools; many of which are free or cost very little?Leave a comment and let me know what works or doesn’t work for you and let us know what advice you would give to new online users.

Support Roanoke’s Clean and Green Business Coalition

With thanks and compliments to my friend Patsy at Biz Talk.                 

The Clean and Green Business Coalition will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. on Friday, November 21, at Orvis on Campbell Avenue to announce the emissions target set out by its members. The Coalition has set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from each business’ operation by a total of 20 percent over a period of five years (at 4 percent per year).”The purpose of the Business Coalition is to provide leadership across all sectors in the region. By setting goals that are double the community standard, we are making a significant commitment to the greening of the Roanoke Valley,” says Stan Breakell, president of Breakell Inc., one of the Coalition’s charter members.In March, a number of Roanoke’s top employers and businesses joined efforts to create the coalition. Co-chaired by City Council Member Gwen Mason and Stan Breakell, the Coalition’s mission is to identify and implement environmentally sound business practices, including the development of sustainable business plans, the tracking of carbon emissions, and recycling.”As an employer in the Roanoke Valley and a provider of a green energy source, natural gas, we believe it is important for our company to take a leadership role in protecting the environment. Not only are we taking steps within our company, we encourage our employees to be conscious of the environment in their personal lives as well,” says Dale Lee, vice-president and secretary at RGC Resources.By joining the city in monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging green planning, and practicing conservation responsibly in business routines and processes, the private sector isdemonstrating true leadership in environmental stewardship.Member companies of the Coalition include:Berglund ChevroletBreakell Inc.Carilion ClinicFralin and WaldronGentry Locke Rakes and MooreHSMM AECOMJ.M. Turner CompanyLanford Brothers Co. Inc.OrvisRGC ResourcesSunTrust BankSteel DynamicsVirginia Western Community CollegeFor more information about the press conference, please contact Faye Gilchrist in the City Manager’s Office at 853-5801.Watch this video to see Roanoke’s Carbon Footprint.And here are 8 Simple Steps to make your business environmentally friendly.

Customer Service

Is customer service dead or is it just on life support?I ask this question as both a consumer and a business owner because as the economy becomes more challenging, customer service becomes even more important! Voluminous studies have been done that highlight the fact that keeping a current customer is easier and less expensive than attracting a new customer. One of the hallmarks of retaining customers-great customer service!So why do we have so many companies or businesses that are so bad at customer service? I think one reason is that we have become accustomed to settling for less than we deserve. As a society we have accepted the “buy it all in one place for the cheapest price” pitch. I think this leads to poor customer service. If you are always looking for the cheapest price, you typically will find the cheapest service to go along with that price.If you want to have a great customer service experience, work with a custom clothier. The Tom James Company specializes in custom clothing for men and women plus they do an exceptional job at customer service. My personal clothier, Randy Womack, could write a book on customer service. Tom James trains their employees very well, but Randy takes it to a new level of service.Do you pay more for this service? Of course you do, but it is worth the price. Too busy to go shopping or just want to make the right impression, this is the BEST option!If you would like an introduction to Randy, just let me know!John

Cold Call or Referral?

When the economy weakens; how do you get more business?  If you are in sales, the choices are narrowed down to making more cold calls or doing more business by referral.  As a salesperson, you typically do not have the money to pay for advertising, so normally you make more calls or work your network.If you know me, you know that I prefer to do business by referral.I was having a conversation with an otherwise intelligent business owner recently and he stated that his sales people should be concentrating more on cold calling than on building their business by referral in groups like BNI.  I asked why.  He stated that BNI requires too much time during normal business hours.I was stunned.Why in the world would you want your sales people to spend more time and more expense for less results? I know that cold calling can work; if you know your cold call numbers and can consistently reach those numbers, then it will work for you.  But at what expense?Personally I would rather be referred in by a someone that is a trusted referral source. The referral source can provide a warm introduction as well as an opportunity for you to walk in the door with instant credibility. When was the last time you cold called a business and walked in the door with instant credibility?Now, doing business by referral costs something too; TIME.  It takes more time to develop relationships and to educate a referral source than it does to cold call.  I prefer to invest my time in developing my referral sources.  Want to know why?  Once you have a well educated referral network, you can and will gain more business in less amount of time, with less effort. Oh, and your closing percentage increases!I am a member of BNI and an Assistant Director for the BNI Southwest Virginia Region.  I am also a student in and a Trainer for the Referral Institute and the Referrals for Life Program. I also build my network, my sales and my consulting business through various online and social resources such as LinkedIn.How do you gain more business; cold calls or referrals?John Lusher