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How to Grow your Business without Spending a Fortune

The great recession of the last 2-3 years has made many small business owners skittish about spending money even if it can help them improve sales in the future. Many of the small business owners are hunkering down to survive till the sky is cleared. They are happy with maintaining current sales and making reasonable profit. While we agree that these are difficult times for all small business owners, you should not have to sacrifice long-term benefits at the expense of short-term survival.
We believe, there are ways to satisfy both the needs of conserving cash and growing your business at the same time. The key is to utilize low-cost marketing techniques to improve sales combined with flexible operations to control cost. We have covered several of these techniques in previous posts. Below we summarize them for your convenience.
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Small Business Lessons from $100,000 Salt and Pepper Shaker

I am reading this fascinating book “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch, who used to be a professor in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. The book is a compilation of his thoughts and experiences he delivered as a last lecture to the students after he found out that he had a terminal pancreatic cancer with only few months to live. It describes many of his experiences in life – from childhood to the end. I highly recommend this book for summer reading.
One of the interesting incidents he describes occurred during their family visit to Disney World when he was a 12 year old. In that he and his sister buy a salt and pepper shaker for $10 for their father with all of their pocket money. However, before they can give it to him he drops it on the ground and breaks it. Very disappointed, they go back to the store with little or no hope of getting a replacement. To their amazement and disbelief, however, the store employee happily gives them the replacement without any charge even though he explains that it was all his fault and Disney had nothing to do with it.
When his father hears the story he becomes a devoted fan of Disney. He continues to take not only his kids, but people from his volunteer group to Disneyland for many years, spending approximately $100,000 according to his estimate.
There are two important lessons to be learned for small business owners from this incident. First has to do with customer service and the other with employees.
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Are you too old to start small business?

When hearing the term entrepreneur most people think of a 20-something, smart looking kid who has just completed high-school or college and is eager to change the world. The images of Mark Zuckerberg or Google founders come to mind. While it is true that many of the famous companies were started by folks when they were in their prime, there is certainly an argument to be made for starting small business by people who are in their 40’s and 50’s.
Popular belief is that many of the people in that age group like to settle down and enjoy their steady lives. But there are number of “old” people who want to try their hands at entrepreneurship and small business ownership. We like to call them “experienced” as opposed to “old”.
So why do we think it is perfectly alright to start small business in 40’s and 50’s? There are number of reasons and they all have to do with what you have collected along the way.
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5 Additional Personality Traits Small Business Owners Need

In the previous post we discussed 5 personality traits small business owners must have to succeed in small business. To recap, they are – risk taker, decision maker, organized, delegator and responsible. Those who do not have these qualities should think long and hard about getting into small business or at least find a way to mitigate them.
We think there are 5 additional qualities small business owners need to become successful. In the following we describe what those qualities are and why they are important.
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5 Must Have Personality Traits for Small Business Owners

Small business ownership is not for everyone. It takes a special human being to own a small business and be successful at it. However, many people jump into small business without giving much thought to what is required to succeed. Their decision is based on the myths that exist out there about owning a small business.
Before you start down the path of small business ownership you need to think long and hard to see if you have what it takes to be a small business owner. While Some people consider online MBA programs to gain business knowledge it also helps to have these personality traits for success as small business owner. We regularly talk to number of colleagues and clients who themselves are small business owners to understand what personal traits make a successful small business owner. Based on this as well as our own experience as small business owners we have come up with 5 traits every successful small business owner needs. Here they are:
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How to Convert Free Samples into Sales

Having free samples as part of a marketing strategy is a must for all small businesses irrespective of size or industry. The reason is simple – free samples allow them to reach new customers and introduce new products at lower cost. In an earlier post we showed how small businesses can go about running a successful free sample program.
The ultimate goal of giving out free sample is to convert those customers into paying ones leading to improved sales and profit. That’s why it is important not to work out a plan to achieve this goal as you roll out the free sample program. Here are some tips to make the program successful.
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How to Run Successful Free Sample Program

In the previous post we discussed why giving out free samples needs to be part of marketing strategy for every small business. There are number of benefits small business owners can obtain by giving out samples to existing and new customers. The key to achieving these benefits is to execute the program well. You have to ensure that you reach out to target it to the customers you want to attract. Give out free samples to anyone and everyone and you will waste your money without reaping proper benefits.
To successfully run the sample program you should aim to reach maximum number of potential customers in your target market. You also need to look into getting recommendations from influential people that your target customers admire. Here are some suggestions to make that happen.
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Why Free Samples should be part of your Marketing Strategy

Free samples are everywhere! Walk into any mall or store and you will find people handing out samples. Go to a grocery store… There are samples of coffee, cookies and many other things… Go to a mall department store… There are samples of perfumes for you to try… Even technology companies that do not have physical stores have got into the game with the so called “freemium” business model. They provide “samples” in the form of limited functionality product for you to “try”. If you want additional functionality you need to pay for it. Apple store is constantly buzzing with people sampling their latest gadgetry.
Samples are everywhere because they work. Customers love samples. It gives them opportunity to “try before they buy.” They don’t have to spend money on something new before figuring out if they will like it or not. It also lets them find new products that they didn’t know existed. With the number of product choices available to consumers increasing every day they do not have time to research all the new products before buying them. Samples provide them a way to uncover something new.
As you can see samples provide companies with an interesting marketing avenue to reach their customers. There are several ways small businesses can use free samples for effective marketing. The list below shows how you can use free samples for low-cost yet effective marketing.
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Ductz – Champion of Customer Service and Marketing

If you have been a regular reader of this blog you know that we are strong proponent of customer service and “non-traditional” marketing to improve sales and customer loyalty. We strongly believe that by paying attention to customer service and marketing with emphasis on fundamentals of products and services you can not only significantly improve sales but do so with lower marketing budget.
We are always on the lookout for companies that follow this approach and came across one such company last month at a customer service seminar at IKEA in Canton, MI where I was presenting. I met Dayn Benson, who is Director of Operations at air duct cleaning and HVAC restoration franchise called DUCTZ. Ductz has garnered number of accolades and experienced rapid growth in a short time after being founded in 2002. It was ranked No. 1 in its category by Entrepreneur magazine’s recently released 30th Annual Franchise 500.
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What do Running a Marathon and Small Business have in Common?

I am raising funds for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) by running the Chicago Marathon on October 9, 2011. The money raised will help with the research and support for Leukemia patients. You can find my fund raising page here, where you can also contribute money for Leukemia patients.
My conversations with the running coach and fellow runners have made me think about the similarities between running a marathon and operating a small business. Based on my past experience with owning and operating multi-unit franchise, I can see that there are number of things in common between the two. Both require significant up-front planning, both need persistence along the way and both need support group to cheer you to the finish line.
Let’s look at each of these similarities in detail.
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