Think back to your startup days. Chances are, when you first started your business, you were in search of as much information as you could get your hands on, and you actively sought it out by attending networking events, joining industry associations, and visiting conferences. But now you don’t get out quite as much. When you’re leading the hectic life of an actual business owner, it’s hard to find much free time. Perhaps you don’t even think there’s more to learn?
Well, you’d be wrong about that — there’s always something new to learn, not just about your industry, but about general business practices and innovative new strategies. In the past two weeks, I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of lots of great new information, and I hope I’ve given as much as I got.
I’ve just returned from the Grow Smart Biz Conference sponsored by Network Solutions, and while I did play a small role by giving a presentation on what it takes to be an entrepreneurial leader, I learned a lot from the other speakers. For instance, according to the Small Business Success Index [PDF], a survey conducted by Network Solutions and the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, nearly 60 percent of small businesses in the U.S. that were failing had cut prices in the past 12 months, while less than a third of successful companies had. So, if you’re thinking about lowering prices to attract or retain customers, you might want to reconsider this tactic and offer something of value instead.
Conference keynote speaker Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and author of The Long Tail and Free: The Future of a Radical Price, discussed how giving away something for free is a great way to both make the sale while also creating long-standing customer loyalty. According to Anderson, giving away freebies enables business owners to let potential consumers sample your products or services and (hopefully) decide they’re willing to pay for a premium version. “Freemiums” can include consultations, white papers, samples — you get the idea.
Did you know the “About Me” page is one of the five most visited pages on many Web sites? What does yours say about you and your business? Rohit Bhargava, author of Personality Not Included, told the crowd to “talk like a real person” on those pages because it’s a great way to convey the authenticity of your business. And he shared a tip I’ve long advocated: “Write as if it’s going to be said, not read.”
The Marketing and Innovation panel had a lot of great tips as well. Marketing consultant Bob London reminded us not to make the all-too-common mistake of thinking our logo is our brand. Instead, he said, “Branding is how you execute as a small business.” He added that entrepreneurs should A.B.E. (“always be eavesdropping”), which translates to being “aware of what’s going on around you.”
One common mistake many entrepreneurs make is to oversell. Constant Contact’s John Arnold warned us that “Not everyone is ready to buy all the time.” In other words, sometimes your marketing is not about selling, but rather about educating and informing potential customers about what’s going on in the marketplace. This helps to establish real relationships with your customers, which, thanks to today’s technology, is easier than ever. But, added entrepreneur and marketer Marissa Levin, business owners should not rely solely on technology to stay in touch, but “need face-to-face, person-to-person interactions.”
Business consultant Denise O’Berry, a regular blogger here at AllBusiness.com, discussed how important it is, especially in these challenging economic times, to create a cash-flow budget. She advised us to look out over the next six to twelve months and project sales, create a marketing plan to help reach that sales target, and also establish a “cash target,” which is the amount of money you need in the bank to maintain your business.
I learned so much at this conference that I couldn’t possibly share it all. But let me wrap it up with these final bits of financial wisdom. Jodi Keenan, head of the Virginia Small Business Development Center, warned that “knowing your numbers” is critical to business owner survival. And Anita Campbell of SmallBizTrends.com cautioned us to watch what we spend on technology. Never buy anything without looking for discounts, make hardware last as long as possible, and buy the best when it is time to upgrade.
For my part, I reminded people about the futility of “trying to control the uncontrollable” and the importance of continuously pursuing your dreams.
My point here is that, by taking just one day off to attend this conference, the attendees benefitted from a wealth of valuable information they can put into practice immediately. So get out of your office and attend a conference, class, or seminar. As much as you think you know, there’s always so much more to learn.
Visit the GrowSmartBusiness.com site to watch recorded highlights from the conference.
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