Week 4 : Bringing it all together…and Keeping the Energy Flowing
- Leslie Crews, President of Kombuchick: A Kombucha Bar & Microbrewery Co.
Businesses are a lot like life. They are born; they live their lives, and then they die or are reincarnated in a different form (mergers, buyouts, etc.) Birth, life, and death are the realities of our universe, and are no different in the business world. This is reality, and the aim is to prolong the vitality of that life for as long as it lives.
In my first article, I discussed how giving birth to a business, is much like giving birth to a child; and in my second and third installments, I discussed how-now that we have this child, we can tap into the resources available to us to foster it's growth and development. Lastly, I would like to close this blog series with a discussion on bringing it all together: how to keep the energy and life force flowing through your business, even when times seem tough.
Grow Complacent...and Stop Growing
To believe that business operation and ownership will reach a point of smooth sailing is naïve at best. Sure, there will be points along the continuum wherein less work is required to maintain equilibrium and a manageable threshold; but to grow complacent, is to stop growing completely. What I mean by this, is that when we as business owners grow comfortable with our sales revenue, with our business CRM (Customer/ Client Relationship Management), and with our output, we begin to cut back on our marketing dollars. We start to cut staff hours. We do other skimping and skimming measures, instead of pouring ourselves completely into achieving more. I say this, because I too have become guilty of this at times. Complacency is dangerous for small businesses. Think about it: before beginning your business, did you hesitate at any point? Did you think, 'Perhaps, I'll wait until the opportunity is just right' or 'I'll wait until that promotion happens and I have more money.'? That complacency that kept pushing your groundbreaking day farther and farther into the future...is the same procrastination that can (and does) stifle many businesses. Complacency is the foe of innovation, is the sedative for determination, and the catalyst for impending pain. We as business owners must keep the energy flowing, so that we continue growing.
The Brink and The Breaking Point
Often business owners reach roadblocks which all but destroy the morale of the team. Perceived brinks and breaking points fuel that little flame in the back of our minds that says 'failure is eminent'. For some business owners, it maybe delinquent tax issues; for others, it may be off-season sales slumps. Perhaps the recent government shutdown had negative implications for contractors and support services- oriented businesses. However, there is great courage in embracing our brinks and breaking points; they are our opportunities to embrace reality. To no longer live in the illusion that a Magic Tomorrow can rise out of a Broken Today. For brinks and breaking points allow us the revelation that we ourselves are not in control at all-which, rather paradoxically becomes the only point at which we can begin to gain control. These brinks and breaking points allow us to once again become innovative and propel us to the forefront of an even greater opportunity for business growth and development. First, we assess our actual problem at hand. Then, we develop a solution with the assistance of the resources in our arsenal (many of which are discussed in the third blog installment). Next, we set this plan into action, and work tirelessly until we have brought ourselves and our businesses back from the brink. Lastly, we fully absorb the lessons learned. Often, the fear of the unknown merges with our loathing for vulnerability, and a situation of paralysis is created. It is this paralysis that is the biggest threat to the life and vitality of our businesses-just like complacency. To push through this paralysis with a plan of action keeps the energy flowing.
Now that our time together is drawing nigh, I would like to say thank you for taking the time to peruse my experience and strengths, and I trust you will gain hope from them. It was my intention, from the first blog, that you will gain a loving, alternate perspective on viewing your business (or business idea). I hoped you might embrace your business/ idea with open, loving arms and nurture it to maturity. In my second blog, I wanted to present you with many resources for getting yourself out there, for building your brand and your presence so that once your business has been born you can keep building the momentum to get it off the ground. In my third blog, it was my aim to arm you with tools for handling various needs as they may arise. Finally, with this blog, I wanted to part you with a very real approach to the subtle (and not so subtle) challenges that arise independent to any industry, sector, or service and offer a perspective on meeting said challenges with a healthy, forward- driven approach to keep the energy flowing in your business. Though our time here was short and sweet, I would like to continue the discussion with you on how you are utilizing these tools and the information presented to navigate your business. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to continue the discussion.
Week 3 : Are You Well Connected? - Key Relationships Small Business Owners Need to Establish
- Leslie Crews, President of Kombuchick: A Kombucha Bar & Microbrewery Co.
So to recap, we have discussed an analogy to which we can compare our business experience, and we have also discussed tools for getting our brand 'out there', in order to generate more business. Now that your baby is expanding its customer network base, let us discuss professional relationships that will assist you with getting through the rough periods of business ownership.
Any new mother knows all too well the experience of handling her sick child, or a child with needs that must be addressed by a specialized professional. There are times when outside help must be consulted. Often in business, there are community resources which are needed to help with problems that arise with the company. It is important to establish relationships with these entities.
If possible, establish accounts with a local bank. Most are familiar with the needs and dynamics of your community, and may be able to offer incentives and programs that national chain banks may not have access to offering. If this is not possible, at least establish a relationship with an individual banker or teller at the banking institution through which you do choose to establish your account. Your banker may be able to reduce fees or issue credits to your account in the event of an overdraft or other mishap.
Business Mentors and Advising
There are entities within the community who exist for the purposes of helping entrepreneurs and business owners get on their feet. They offer classes, seminars, and many have mentors on hand to meet with you and look at your business in detail, to formulate a solution for your problem. Such organizations include the SCORE Foundation, the Small Business Administration/ Small Business Development Centers, and at ODU the WBC through the Business Gateway. These resources are meant to help you with your needs; be sure to take advantage of the programs they offer.
Local Raw Material Suppliers & Vendors
If you are involved in a retail or manufacturing business, there will undoubtedly be raw materials necessary for generating your products. Establish a relationship with as many local suppliers and vendors as possible. Find out what discounts they offer; many will have a tax- free program for resellers. This means that any goods you purchase with the intent to prepare for resale, you may qualify to purchase at a tax- free rate. Additionally, many offer random deals for businesses that have a storefront; or are member of a local club or organization with similar interests, etc. You might find sourcing goods locally cuts down on shipping and freight costs, allowing you to save in the long run.
Your Department of Taxation likely has a local branch or field office. Get to know who your local taxation representatives are; doing so may end up saving you with reduced penalties or other breaks. Working directly with a local tax rep will help your business establish a healthy relationship with your Department of Taxation. This is very important, as taxes can make or break your business.
Building relationships with local authorities can help your business run smoothly, and will assist you with working smarter, not harder. This list of potential, powerful resources is only a brief compilation; there are many more that have not been discussed. Once you start seeking out other resources to help with your business needs, you will be surprised at what you may find.
Week 2 : The Seven Best FREE Ways to Promote Your Business
- Leslie Crews, President of Kombuchick: A Kombucha Bar & Microbrewery Co.
Let's face it: no matter how you slice the small business capital pie, there is not always enough to go around...and when there is, the portions are very tiny. Capital is not easy to come by these days, so entrepreneurs must do what they can to stretch their dollars. Yet small business owners know marketing and promotion are essential to getting the product or service 'out there'. How can we reach our target market, if we can't afford expensive advertising budgets? Simple. We get clever, and we do it for free.
Sure, there is much effectiveness in expensive television, radio, and magazine advertising. However, those tools can become available to us further down the road once we've generated more revenue and do not have to put all of our greenbacks into one basket. Until then, let's explore the best ways to promote your business...for free.
1. Social media promotion
By far one of the most strategic methods for generating buzz around your product, social media promotion can be as inexpensive or as grandiose as you choose to make it. Create your accounts, and be sure to post beautiful pictures with catchy captions or taglines; call-to-action status updates, and even post deals and promotions that bring your customers in the door. Social media promotion is most effective when the individual business owner is able to identify the best niche use for each specific platform. Take for example, our company Kombuchick: A Kombucha Bar & Microbrewery Co. We use Pinterest to post our drink pictures; Twitter (Username: Kombuchick) to post updates concerning what's on draft and what's selling out; we use Facebook to post what's available at the bar, our events, where we'll be and to interact directly with customers; and we use Tumblr (Kombuchick.tumblr.com) to create a buzz within our niche community through pictures and poignant quotes. Each of these outlets is utilized based on what the platform was intended for, and because of this each platform offers leverage to the others. Keep this in mind when setting up your social media accounts.
2. Mailing list
If social media draws customers in to your business, having a mailing list keeps them coming back for more product or services. Having a mailing list is a key tool for maintaining a flowing relationship and consistent communication with your customer base, thereby presenting a significant opportunity for residual sales down the line. Some programs are costly, but there are a few free mailing list services.
3. Press Releases
Make friends with news media editors, staff writers, and photographers. Pitch ideas to them about new products your company plans to release; a new methodology you plan to implement, or a service you are just beginning to offer, and have them publish your story. News media attention is a great way to strum up business and build clientele...but make sure it's positive!
4. Word of Mouth
Quite possibly one of the most surefire ways to get customers in your door, word of mouth advertisement and recommendations by your fans and customers helps generate organic customer flow into your business. Make sure your product is top quality or that your service is up to par with your industry standards, because negative word-of-mouth can also break your business.
Are there local businesses with complementary products or services? Perhaps you could present the idea of developing a co-product to generate even more revenue and pool your customer base. For example, our company sells kombucha, a fermented nonalcoholic probiotic tea. Kombucha is great for yogis, athletes, and virtually anyone seeking a simple way to enhance their healthy lifestyle. We have partnered with different holistic studios (and even health clinics) to do sampling events and seminars. They introduce their customers to a wonderful new product, and we introduce our customers to amazing services offered in the community. It has always proven to be a win-win situation, and we're still reaping the revenue benefits of cross-promotions held three years ago.
Setup a blog to post cool pictures, random thoughts and musings, and other business-related media but through a casual, informal lens. Blogging is a great way to step outside of the professional sphere and mesh a little personal life with your product or service. Love traveling? Why not take pictures of your friends drinking your product while vacationing in the South of Spain? I certainly did while visiting family in Palma de Mallorca. Having a blog is a great way to let your customers see your life outside of the studio/ shop/ storefront by enabling them to see you with your 'guard down'. If you aren't blog- savvy, network with bloggers promoting products in your industry. Offer to give them samples of your product in exchange for written reviews. Either way, the blogosphere is a resource that should not be left untapped.
7. Community Networking
Get involved with your community! Get to know your neighbors, other neighborhood stakeholders, and fellow business owners, as these are all potential customers. Join the business association for the geographic location where your business is located. Offer to donate product or services in exchange for allowing you to talk briefly about your company. Volunteer to host a neighborhood trash pickup, in exchange for official sponsorship by your company name. IE, "The Kombuchick 1st Annual Neighborhood Litter Pickup Day'.
Now that you've learned what free marketing tools to implement, pay close attention to how these will generate repeated revenue for your business. Do not let the connections you make through these channels fizzle and die...nurture them. When you get the customers in your door, invite them to join your mailing list, and add them to your CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) software or database. Maintain a consistent communication with them, so they'll keep coming back for more product or other services. Soon enough, you will find your revenue has grown such that you can slowly add more costly marketing tools to your arsenal.
Week 1 : Giving Birth to a Business vs. a Baby: Yea, Theoretically One in the Same
- Leslie Crews, President of Kombuchick: A Kombucha Bar & Microbrewery Co.
It's an undeniable fact that being a business owner is no small feat: the number crunching, the relentless customer relationship management measures necessary to keep the revenue flowing, and chasing to keep up with bill payment schedules (assuming the revenue is solid enough to pay them in a timely manner). No wonder the statistics concerning small business startup failures are grim. Yet every year, a surprising number of budding entrepreneurs open their doors to their new business ideas and hope for the best... and you, my friend, want to be one of them?
Congratulations! By saying to me, 'Gee Leslie, I have this really awesome idea for a business...' what you're really saying is "Gee Leslie, I think I want to give birth. I want to have a baby, and that baby is a company.' Let's delve a little deeper, in order to gain a healthy perspective on how starting a business and giving birth are theoretically one in the same.
1) Whether you jumped in without thinking, or had a solid family plan, you're never really ready until the bundle of joy arrives.
For some, the decision to have a baby was a well planned choice with lots of preparation before the ultimate deed was done. For others, the baby was a surprised, unplanned bundle of joy. The same realities exist within the small business sector: many entrepreneurs go into business after much planning and deliberation, while others find themselves jumping right in and hoping for the best. Either way, the result is the same: before you lay a bundle of joy (ideally) that is the direct result of passion, sweat, tears, emotional ups and downs, and hard work. So... what's next?
2) There will always be skeptics. No one will love your baby like you love your baby. Let that passion carry you through the rough times.
I was told: 'Leslie, you're not ready...you're not responsible enough' or 'Leslie, Leslie...you're too young. You don't know what you're getting into...' Yes, they were right to a certain extent; I had no idea what I was getting into, but the fact remained: I chose to have the baby, so it's my responsibility to take care of her. For me, giving up on my baby was never an option. I was more than a fit and competent business owner, and knew that after enough sleepless nights of making ends meet, and ensuring she had enough raw materials (read: formula) to keep her growing, I would start to see her grow. This determination and passion kept me through the rough times, and allowed me to hold my head high, with my baby on my shoulders, despite the odds and in spite of those who doubted my abilities.
3) Then there are the logistics... if you don't feed it, change it, and keep it insured...your baby very well may die.
Any decent parent knows a baby without food will die. Think of your raw materials (the products that go into generating a sellable, profitable output resource or service) as your baby's formula. If you don't feed your baby, it can't grow, thrive and prosper into a productive member of society. If you don't keep your baby insured (in our case, backed by the security of industry-relevant insurances, licensure, and certifications), then your baby could fall flat on its face and send you into a downward debt spiral. Covering your bases as a parent and as a business owner are the logistics that keep your baby stable as she grows and develops.
4) Babysitters...because you can't take care of your baby every second of every day.
Ah, now you've reached the point where you need to get out of the house (or shop, or storefront) to start bringing in the bacon, and must leave your baby in the hands of someone else. You do NOT want to entrust your precious little one with just anyone, so make sure your babysitters (read: employees) are well- qualified and have the credentials necessary for taking care of your baby. It has been my experience that it's best consulting a legal expert when it comes to preparing the applications for, interviewing, ultimately hiring, and (as needed, firing) your employees. Different laws dictate employment practices for different municipalities, so know your rights...and those of your intended babysitter(s). Additionally, babysitters are expensive, as any parent would agree. Make sure your budget is solid, and you can commit to paying what you say you're going to pay. The key is to find the perfect balance: no one will love your baby like you love your baby, but you'll want to surely pay your babysitter a comfortable amount as to where you trust they will love your baby enough while Mama Bear's away...but not excessive to the point where your payroll budget is too top-heavy in proportion to your revenue. This does involve a bit of trial and error, so start small then grow into your healthy balance. The right amount of babysitting will be a strategic tool for growth, but the wrong amount can destroy mother and child.
5) Crawling, walking, and then running: the beautiful stages of growth from baby to child. The moments that make any parent proud: watching your baby taking her first steps.
She may stumble a bit, but she hops right up, and keeps going until eventually, she's walking then running. These momentous occasions are just as special for a business owner: perhaps it's the moment where you realize you can afford to quit your day job and work your company full-time. For other business-mamas (and papas), these moments come when you have the opportunity to schedule yourself less and your employees more; when vacation time becomes a reality and not just a tack on the vision board. For me, this moment came quite recently, when I was able to have my staff run my business for a full week while I took a cross-country trip. I was able to check my email from the airport terminals, and watch as the sales poured in and my staff rose to the occasion of meeting business demands. I was able to handle client calls from the train, and delegate orders to my staff. Somewhere along my journey, I had envisioned myself being successful when I reached the point where I could work from home, work while traveling, or go on vacation without having to be physically present for my business. I reached that self- set strata of success, and indeed I was one proud mama.
Whether your 'baby' is a running and jumping toddler, or whether she's still a twinkle in your eye, the best advice I can give, is to never give up on her. Stay the course, for the fate of which is not yours necessarily to determine. When you decide that failure is not your option, independent of whether or not your baby lives to see the teenage years, the entire process is a beautiful and the lessons to be learned as a parent last a lifetime.
Leslie Crews is the President and Owner of Kombuchick, and manages the Brew Crew on a day to day basis while Rebecca manages the Bar Crew. Leslie is a graduate of Virginia Tech's Urban Studies program, with a degree in Public and Urban Affairs and minor in Political Science.
Currently, Kombuchick is the ONLY locally produced kombucha bar and microbrewery company east of Charlottesville, Virginia and is one of three female- owned kombucha companies in the Mid-Atlantic Region. She is the first licensed and certified kombucha production company in Tidewater, and wears that honour proudly.
Leslie was also named '2013 Outstanding Young Entrepreneur' by the SCORE Foundation. She spends her free time doing community- building projects and programs as Membership & Marketing Coordinator on the Park Place Civic League Board, is an esteemed member of the Hampton Roads Green Building Council, and gives motivational talks to youth and community groups.