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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Small business and Technology

I've written about this before, but I had a conversation with a friend this past weekend who is starting a new business and thought revisiting the topic has value. That is, the competitive advantage you can gain by using technology to help your small business. Examples and, well, cliche's are abundant when discussing this topic. "Make a $5,000 a month business out of your house appear to be a multi-national conglomerate by utilizing a website, 800 number, and fancy email addresses." It's possible that this is what your business needs. If your selling on-line across the country, looking like a seasoned, well established company has its benefits. If you're a coffee shop, you're probably better off staying as grass roots as possible.

So let's look at our options to use technology and try to gain a better understanding of what each one entails.

Website: Ten years ago, everyone wanted a website. Fancy ones as well. The Website was your portal for the outside world. You could communicate anything you wanted and reach as many people as possible. As long as they visited your site. The reality was, and still is today, that getting visitors is expensive, time consuming, and a full time job if you want to do it right. Websites are relatively cheap, if you're looking to just throw a page or three up there and manage it yourself. To do it right, or at least in line with competitors, you're looking at $3000 minimum. Graphic art work, HTML, Code, URL registrations, hosting, and a plethora of other things all add to this cost.

Email database: To build a database of customers in a relatively small time frame is paramount to getting your kids to eat their peas. It's frustrating, time consuming, and expensive. Unless you know what you're doing. Even then, it becomes at least two of the aforementioned pain points. A local business can use tactics to make this easier, such as asking for an email address at the point of purchase. But you can never really validate if you're getting good info until you send out the first email.

Social networking: In contrast to my statement above regarding websites, today, everyone wants a Facebook page. That statement holds a lot of merit as well. Social networking has gotten so mainstream that even the media uses it to provide coverage. How many people get their news from Facebook? You'd be surprised. I remember taking a nap after the Eagles were down 24-3 at the half versus the Giants. When I woke up at 6pm, I asked someone what the final of the game was. "I don't know but I think they won. GO Eagles and stuff like that is all over Facebook". So the message, or news, was relayed to me via info gotten off of Facebook, not ESPN. Facebook isn't the only form of social networking. Twitter and Foursquare are also valuable tools that allow you to communicate with potential customers as well.

Learning how to use these tools is imperative. Traditional advertising, such as print, TV, and radio have their place in delivering your message, but social networking is proving to be just as potent. If not more. Some take the thought process a little further... Why pay for traditional advertising if I can get the same results via a free social media site? Some just say, why not throw the book at everyone. Utilize every single tactic available to us that fits within our budget.

How I went about this was very simple. How much do I want/ have to spend on marketing? Once I knew that number... what tactics are available... one I had that list... Sort the list out from highest cost to lowest cost. Then another sort of time commitments on each tactic. From there you just keep asking yourself questions to determine what is the best fit.

The reality is, in order to be successful, you have to utilize something. Your competitors are using it. Your potential customers are finding their products and services via these outlets. So how do you go about it? You already own a business, or are in the process of starting one up. To have gotten this far, you already have the skill sets to figure this out. Planning out your strategy isn't going to be easy. You will ask questions. You will research and find answers. You may even seek help from professionals. What is the cost of doing so? And what benefit are you getting by approving those expenditures?

Case studies on this topic are abundant. Look at newer businesses in the area. They utilize Social media before they are even open, and have basically forgone websites, because, well.... Why bother? I'll reach more people via social media in a much shorter time frame than any website would be able to accomplish. So why spend the money. They're not ignoring the need for a website. They're just recognizing that the cost of the website is better put off down the road until they start realizing some revenue.

There are tons of articles on this as well as agencies and firms that can help you figure all of this out. My suggestions are to learn as much as possible before hiring someone to do the work. Educate yourself on what social media can really do. What type of website do you need? How do you go about gathering emails for an email campaign?

Set yourself on a plan of action. Talk to your friends, customers, family. Find out how they use social media. What are there preferences when shopping or looking for products or services. Social Networking sites can be used as almost a website in and of itself with the use of fan pages, etc...

Do the research, write the plan, and follow the plan. You'll find your business doing better for it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Years Resolution!

Aaaah New Years! What promise! What hope! A redo if you will. Everyone gets to celebrate the ending of the previous year, relax from a hectic month of Holidays, and perhaps, set new goals for the upcoming year.

It's all about promise! This is why New Years Resolutions are so popular. It's a starting point. A time that is globally defined as a new start. So let's look at some of the ones I've read....

Spend more time with the family, start a new business, learn more, be more patient, quit something like smoking, soda, candy, or some other bad habit. Get organized, or revisit some old relationships. Of course, another of the most common New Years resolution is to lose weight.

The reality is that most of these resolutions never get off the ground for several reasons. An inability to realize the time, financial, and sometimes, emotional commitment puts a damper on most resolutions before they even get off the ground. This all comes from a lack of planning. "Let's lose weight", is an easy statement to make. The actual task of losing weight gets lost because of all of the work needed to research the way that will fit your schedule and budget puts a damper on it before you even get off the ground! So much for that resolution!

Losing weight means changing your diet, adding exercise, and having the discipline to follow through. Here are a few sites you can check out to help build a better diet...



Dieting help

The next part isn't so easy. Actually, it is, but exercise is a funny thing. Running down the road all by yourself when you haven't attempted to run at all, ever, is boring and demotivating. Trying to build a weight lifting program without help and knowledge is useless. I once read a weight loss story which I thought was the best I ever heard. A father of three was over 300 lbs and did nothing but sit on the couch after getting home from work. One day he decided to do something about it. So he got up off the couch and ran til he couldn't run anymore. He would then walk back to the house. His first run went for two blocks. Everyday he would increase his distance by a little more than the day before. In a year he ran a marathon and had lost over 150lbs.

That is a very simple plan and seems to be achieved very easily. The reality is, most of us don't have to lose 150 lbs., nor would we have the sense of urgency OR the discipline to do so. Another reality is that we humans are social creatures and gyms are plentiful for a reason. We need interaction, so working out in a gym with other people is comforting and even motivating.

But Gyms are hard to find. Well, the right gym is hard to find. Not everyone feels comfortable in a body building gym or a larger type gym where they have to compete against 20 year old Gods and Goddesses. Other gyms are for women only, and some seem like they are more geared to rehabilitating geriatric patients. No offense! :) So where is one to go? Have you researched all your options?

Well, in East Norriton, Jeff and Megan Sweitzer are opening Retro fitness. Expected to open in the next month, Retro Fitness is a new gym offering memberships that should fit everyone budgets!

They make it easy to join with memberships that are almost half of traditional gyms. Their facility in East Norriton is going to be over 16,000 sqft. with everything imaginable. Including, what I think is brilliant, a movie room with treadmills and other cardiovascular machines inside of a huge movie theater which they call the Retro Theater. You can watch the daily movie while running, walking, or stepping. Truly a unique idea. Free weights, nautilus, and personal training classes fill out the offering for their members in order to be as efficient as possible in their obtaining their weight loss goals.

Jeff and Megan weren't looking for a business opportunity. Jeff was a member at a Retro fitness and loved the idea. Week after week memberships kept rising. "We decided to look into the opportunity to open our own franchise with an open mind. We decided we would pursue the idea until we saw a red flag. That red flag never came", said Megan. And here they are today. They have a pre-sale office opened up next to where the gym is going to open and you can pop in for a quick tour, info and even sign up.

The gym, a franchise that started about 5 years ago in New Jersey, is seeing unprecedented growth with over 70 locations already in operation. The benefits are a huge gym atmosphere with a very colorful atmosphere, juice bars, massage and chiropractic area and even child care room for the cost of half of competing gyms.

The energy the owners bring is sure to rub off on their members and the staff is there to help you reach your goals. They're also there to help you reach your goals in a realistic way. I like this gym so much, I joined myself!

If you're serious about losing weight, or getting in shape, do the work you need to before undertaking this most difficult task. Research eating right. Research what type of exercise and what frequency you will need to obtain your goals. Research how to go about defining your goals. See a doctor to be sure of what kind of program you should be pursuing, and look into this location as a solution for your gym. Head over to their pre-sales office where Megan will be more than happy to show you the benefits of Retro fitness and how it can fit into your lifestyle.