The Big Challenges for Small Businesses

small businessA lot of first time small business owners face sometimes insurmountable obstacles in their inaugural year because they don’t address some of the basic fundamentals that are vital to long-term success. The most frustrating part of it all is that these problems can be avoided with some careful planning and learning to identify how or when you’re going to run into trouble well before you encounter it.

Some of these stumbling blocks are common; I experienced a few of them myself as I started my consulting firm. There are others that I was hired to help clients negotiate around in order to save their fledgling businesses from falling apart completely. Allow me to share with you the most typical difficulties that small businesses face and some advice on how to solve them before they do you in. (more…)

What Does Running a Christian Business Mean?

christian businessSome clients often wonder what I mean by running a Christian business. They’re sometimes concerned that I’m going to try to force my religious beliefs on them. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I say I run a business with Christian beliefs, it’s my commitment to honoring the principles set forth in the Bible in every facet of my daily life; and of course, that includes my business practices.

Any other way of doing so would be hypocritical. I certainly refuse to relinquish my beliefs just to make a buck, but I also understand that my clients come to me for a specific service – consultation – and don’t want to be lectured on Heaven and Hell. More often than not I find myself walking a very thin line between staying true to my self and trying to cater to my clients with the dedication and compassion they so richly deserve.

What it all boils down to is really three core beliefs that every Christian business owner strives for and works tirelessly to meet day in, day out. We don’t always succeed, sometimes we come up a bit short. Such as in life. None of us are perfect. But it’s important that every business decision I make adheres to the standards that God has set forth for each of us. Standards that are important to any business owner with a strong faith. The first of these is service. First and foremost, a dedication to give my clients the best service I am capable of offering. (more…)

Using Social Media to Your Advantage

social mediaEvery small business should be utilizing the power of social media in all of its forms. There are so many different ways to connect, to go “viral”, to get the word about you, your company, your products; you really have no reason not to tap into this power.

But as I’m hired to consult for entrepreneurs who want to increase their web presence, it’s becoming increasingly evident that most business savvy folks just don’t know how or where to begin. They’re well aware of sites like Facebook, Twitter, Digg, and LinkedIn; but they’re not sure how to use them effectively. Social media can be a confusing place and I’m here to help my clients negotiate it successfully.

In order to do that, you need to strategize. Analyze the objectives of your business. Consider how social media can help you reach those objectives. You want to use it to drive awareness and create buzz. But what exactly do you want to post for the world to see? Consider the very information that most consumers include in their research when they’re shopping for a product.

Price is first and foremost. How much does it cost? Comparison is also an important subject. Shrewd consumers will always shop around and compare their options. Reviews. How many times have you been on Amazon and read the user reviews and ratings before you added that product to your shopping cart? I’m betting you’ve done it every time. You’re not alone. Your customers want to hear what other customers think of your product. Well, tell them.

Twitter can be a challenge for a lot of people. It was for me. 140 characters? How do I get my message out there in such a small space? The best advice is to, once again, strategize. Devise a game plan behind your Twitter account. Don’t just slap any such thing on there, define it with your content. Keep it straightforward and, most important, simple. Spotlight your strengths and make people want to follow you. Give them something easy to grasp and make it strong. Memorable. Now if you’re going to post messages on Twitter, there’s one very important thing to keep in mind. It’s all in how you compose your Tweet.

Don’t start it with a username, that cuts down on the amount of people who can see the Tweet. Starting with a username only allows the followers of BOTH you and the username to see the Tweet. Let me explain that again – if someone follows you AND the person who’s username you started the Tweet with, that means only they will see it. Any of your other followers who do not follow the person who’s username you used will not see the Tweet. You could be seriously minimizing the amount of eyeballs that read your message. Instead start your Tweet with a period, then add whatever username you want to include in your Tweet. That way all of your followers will see your headline.

These are just a few of the basics to get you started on the road to a successful social media presence.

What Does a Consultant Do, Really?

consultingWhen I tell people that I’m a consultant they aren’t quite sure how to react so I usually get a nod and a blank stare with an “uh-huh” at the end. What does consulting really mean? It sounds vague but it’s a very specific job that requires a specialized approach to a particular business practice. It requires bringing your A-game to every client and, in keeping with my personal Christian beliefs, striving for excellence in everything I try to accomplish.

The truth of the matter is; just about anyone can be a consultant. You just have to choose the right field. They say that everyone is an expert at something. The question is, can you make a living consulting on the thing that you claim to be an expert about? What is your particular skill set?

For some it’s accounting, computers, publishing, even gardening. There are a wide variety of consulting jobs out there, and I’ve been lucky enough to have a strong skill that other businesses find useful and my specialty is in social media and online marketing. I help businesses improve their web presence and I’m usually hired to enhance their social media outreach strategies. But I didn’t just leap into this career willy-nilly.

It took a lot of hard work and preparation before I was able to start a successful consulting firm. I had to become highly qualified enough to offer my services as a social media consultant. Networking is also a very important component of my job. These are where your customers are going to come from, identifying your target clientele and building a large network of contacts is vital. If you think you’re just going to sit by your phone and wait for it to ring, you’re going to be sitting and waiting for a very long time and you’re not going to make any money either. You need to get your name out there and you have to meet as many people as you can.

First things first though, identifying that target clientele. Step back a second, consider who you’re going to offer your services to and in what capacity will you do them the most good. I consult for small businesses that are based out of store-fronts as well as online. It didn’t start out that way, I created a business plan first and analyzed just who would benefit most from my expertise.

I then began to target those companies and business owners who fit in my plan. Your plan may be very different than mine and you may target a wider client base than I did. Just keep in mind there are various reasons why a company hires a consultant; and you can design your consulting service with some of these in mind. Companies big and small will have different motives for hiring you.

In the past, I’ve been brought on for my level of expertise and reputation in my field. I have strong Christian beliefs and that has also gotten me hired by like-minded business owners who share my principles and are actively seeking help with their social media presence. Other companies have brought me in to identify the problems they’re having in that department, some have brought me on as active staff.

Still other companies just needed a fresh voice and an objective pair of eyes to help them get out of the rut they currently found themselves unable to escape.

So what does a consultant do? A consultant just consults. That’s all. Sounds easy and it sounds vague but I hope you understand that there are some very specific guidelines that you need to follow if you want to pursue this kind of work. Serving other members of my community is very rewarding work and I offer my services to both non-profit and for-profit organizations. You can use my story to help get yours started and I wish you the best of luck.

Go Fishing Day

go fishing dayWhat is Go Fishing Day you ask? Well, it’s a made up holiday, an unofficial celebration to take part in that wonderful pastime of fishing. There are all kinds of stories about the history of Go Fishing Day and most everyone has their reasons why such a day is important to them. For me, it’s a day where I can spend time with my family and take stock of what God has given us and be grateful for the things I’ve been blessed with.

The most famous story about the origin of Go Fishing Day is pretty simple. They tracked down the person who created this wonderful pretend holiday and they were going to ask him all about it, but when they got to his front step there was a sign on the door that read: “Gone fishing. Be back later”.

There are some other well worn tales about the origin of National Go Fishing Day. Some believe it was chosen for June 18th because that was the day of the very first American Fly-casting Tournament held in 1861. I don’t know if this is an accurate assessment of the reasons behind the origin of the day and it’s specific date because I don’t recall anything particularly noteworthy about this tournament in 1861. For me, personally, there’s more to this day than just a fly-casting competition.

As I said above, this is a day where I choose to reflect on my own life. Think about the things I’ve been blessed with and get a better understanding of the world around me. We all have hectic schedules that keep us from our loved ones, the people who truly mean the most to us. I think the day was really created because it offers us an opportunity to re-connect with friends and family.

But it also gives us a chance to behold God’s green earth. The water, the wildlife around us. The fresh air and the blue skies. These are all things that we take for granted each and every day. It brings us back to a simpler time before technology took us away from the Great Outdoors and kept us tethered to our work. It’s all too easy to be connected through social media and our fancy little devices that offer us everything in the world, except perhaps the world itself. Nature is one of God’s greatest creations and as much as I try to get out into it and go fishing, I find myself putting it off because there are other responsibilities I have to meet first.

But Man used to consider fishing a primal necessity. Without it he did not eat. Obviously, we have come a very long way since then, we can go to the store to buy a fish now. Yes there are other men out there sailing and fishing commercially, but when was the last time you caught your own fish and enjoyed its taste and nourishment from your own act of catching it? There are some people on this Earth who have never caught their own fish.

Maybe that’s the real design behind Go Fishing Day. It’s a day where you can leave the busy world of commerce and technology behind and just go catch yourself a fish. It’s one of the simplest things ever in this complicated world of ours and I am thankful for it.

With all of the complexities of life, I think we all need a day to re-visit the basic fundamentals of mankind. June 18th sounds as good a day as any to me.