Grow Smart BusinessUMDNetwork Solutions

Small Business Success Index 4

Index Score*   Grade
73 marginal
Capital Access 67
Marketing & Innovation 65
Workforce 76
Customer Service 88
Computer Technology 73
Compliance 92
*Index score is calculated on a 1-100 scale.

Search Articles

Posts Tagged ‘networking’

10 Reasons to Attend the GrowSmartBiz Conference on November 5

October 19th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

If you didn’t make it to last year’s GrowSmartBiz Conference, you absolutely must make it a priority to go to this year’s conference, which will be co-hosted by the Washington Business Journal and Network Solutions on November 5.  The conference was expanded to include a trade show, and it will take place once again at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC.

Based on my experience at last year’s conference, here are 10 reasons to attend this year’s conference:

10. Great networking opportunities. Last year, I got to meet a lot of interesting people (here’s one), as this event attracts hundreds of executives from various industries throughout the region.

9. You will learn a lot from small business owners. All of the small business owners and executives who spoke last year shared their knowledge and experience on issues that affect us as we try to grow our businesses.  And some of them are very funny (especially Ramon Ray of SmallBizTechnology, who said he thought Shashi was Network Solutions for the longest time).

8. Meet the vendors you’ve been meaning to contact. The trade show aspect is a really great opportunity to meet product and service providers who can help you grow your small business.

7. Pick a conference track. Last year, all attendees heard great presentations on a handful of topics, but with only an hour for each session, the surface was barely scratched.  This year, you get to immerse yourself in one of four topics to gain a much deeper understanding of that area. Choose from Marketing & Innovation; Government, Small Business Finance, and Non-Profit; Technology as a Tool for Your Business, or Entrepreneur Bootcamp.

6. Breakfast and lunch. The food was really good last year.

5. Meet the NetSol bloggers! All of us bloggers (yes, including Shashi) will be at the event.  Because I work remotely, I loved meeting everyone last year, including some of NetSol’s marketing people. 

4. It’s not expensive. The cost to attend is only $79 per person this year, way down from last year’s rate.

3. You get out of the office for the day! Last year’s conference was on a Tuesday, and because of the simple fact that this year’s conference takes place on a Friday, it’ll be more fun.

2.  This year’s event is bigger. More vendors, more speakers, and more topics.

And the number one reason to attend this year:

1. You will leave inspired. Sounds a little too Oprah Winfrey, I know, but when I left last year, I had learned a lot, and I was honestly excited not only about being a small business owner, but confident that I could grow my small business (and I have!).

Can Your Business Benefit From an Incubator?

June 23rd, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Joining a business incubator has, in all honesty, never even crossed my mind.  Many young businesses rely on a hodgepodge of networking events, memberships in groups like Business Network International and chambers of commerce, and the advice and counseling of a business coach to facilitate growth.  The more I thought about it, the more I wondered how beneficial a business incubator could be.  More importantly, what have I missed out on?

To pique my curiosity, I looked up the incubator closest to me: INC.spire in Reston, VA, which is part of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce.   I already knew that business incubators basically serve as a convenient one-stop-shop for growing companies, though many have restrictions on company age, industry, location, financing in place, etc., including INC.spire.  

Let’s start with these interesting stats from the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA):

Number of business incubators in North America, 2006: 1,400.
Number of business incubators in North America, 1980: 12.
Companies still in business five years later: 87%.
Non-incubated companies/startups still in business five years later: 20%.

Based on those stats alone, I’d have to say, yes, your business could probably benefit from an incubator.  Aside from a high rate of success, incubators offer a comprehensive list of services, including a lot of advice from experts in various fields, to support a company’s growth and success.  INC.spire’s services include:

Mentors.  Each client is matched with a personal mentor selected from the incubator’s Advisory Council

Advice.  One-on-one legal, marketing, public relations, human resources, government contracting, and finance advice.

Networking.  Networking events with other incubator clients, incubator alums, Reston Chamber boards and members, and business leaders in Northern Virginia.

Public Relations.  INC.spire press releases about its clients, incubator client profiles in INC.spire and Chamber newsletters, and introductions to the local press.

Office space.  A fully furnished office with high-speed internet and access to the Chamber’s meeting rooms for a small monthly fee.

I don’t know about you, but I could definitely use mentoring and operational advice every once in a while.  No matter what industry you’re in, no matter how young or old your business is, having someone guide you, answer your questions, act as a sounding board, share best practices, and help you solve a particularly vexing problem is invaluable.  All that free publicity INC.spire offers is pretty awesome, too, though I’m sure not every incubator offers that service. If you’re interested, NBIA can help you find a business incubator near you. 

Have you used an incubator to jump-start your business?  I’d love to hear from you and perhaps profile you in an upcoming blog post.

Women in Business: Turning a Layoff into a Golden Opportunity

May 17th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

I first met graphic designer Margo Wolcott in September 2009 at a weekly meeting of the Business Network International (BNI) group that she belongs to in northern VA.  Though I disappointed her a bit by not joining the group, she and I have collaborated on several projects together, and it has always been a pleasure.  She is creative, responsive, versatile and flexible, so it’s no wonder that her company, MW Studio, has been growing at a quick clip for over a year now.  She started her company during a recession and has weathered this recession very well. A key to her success? Networking! 

Margo Wolcott

Margo Wolcott

I was part of a layoff in mid-2003 – another recession. I started freelancing while I was looking for a full-time job and after a few months realized that I really enjoyed working for myself. So I made a website for my business and printed up some business cards. By the end of the year, I stopped looking for full-time work. My husband realized that I was doing well with finding clients, and told me “If this is what you want to do, then I’m behind you 100%”. That’s all I needed. I officially launched MW Studio in January of 2004.

Being my own boss is very rewarding and empowering. I am able to talk directly to my clients without having to get feedback filtered through an account executive. This allows me to provide better service and design. I can do things the way I want to without having to answer to anyone other than my clients. However, being the only person responsible for the success or failure of this business is intimidating! The key is to use that fear to drive me to do the things that scare me, like public speaking.

[I have grown my business through] networking, word of mouth and referrals from clients, friends and my network group members. I have done very little print advertising, only a couple of ads. I’m starting to get into social media and will be volunteering with some organizations to get my name out there to new markets.

Lessons Learned

There are plenty of things that I could have done better, but in doing them, I learned, so I don’t regret any of it. I do wish that I had sought out more mentors though. Many times, I felt as though I was in this all on my own.

Looking Ahead

MW Studio is entering a major growth mode. I want to grow the business so that it can provide the sole source of income for my family. Then maybe I can convince my husband to come work for me! I see the company expanding into new target markets and taking on larger projects.

Advice for a New Business Owner

Figure out what you want, stay focused and don’t give up!

As told to Monika Jansen via email.

Money, Money, Money! Profit Planning for Your Small Business

March 17th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

At every networking event I go to, I feel like I meet a coach of some sort, whether it’s a business coach, sales coach, elevator speech coach, speaking coach, etc.  After a while, they all kinda blur together into one big bunch of dark suits.  I always think, “Coach?  I don’t need a coach!  I am doing just fine, thankyouverymuch.”    


From DavidDMuir on Flickr

Last month, I met yet another coach, but he stood out.  He was totally low-key, easy to talk to, and interesting (meaning, he didn’t talk about himself the entire time).  I told him about the Grow Smart Business blog and how I needed to come up with finance-related topics to write about.  He said he had lots of experience with finance and would be happy to share some advice and ideas.  So we set up a meeting, and on a cold, rainy afternoon, I learned the basics of profit planning.  For someone who hates numbers, I must confess that I was fascinated by the whole process.

In his pre-coach life, David MacGillivray had quite the career.  He founded, operated, and sold a $7 million import/../../css/rtner_with_Ernst___Young. _Obviously__he_knows_business_finance. _He_is_now_affiliated_with__a_href__6k8jtzkvd38foe6pwvps2w.css”” onclick=”javascript:_gaq.push([‘_trackPageview’,’/yoast-ga/outbound-article/’]);” target=”_blank”>ActionCOACH business coaching.   

The profit planning strategy he uses with his clients is called 5 Ways to Super Profits, which helps you plan numbers and identify strategies to achieve your goals.  First you look at what you made the previous year, starting with the number of leads you generated.  Then you work your way down to your profit.  To figure out your goals for the current year, you work backwards:  You figure out how much you want to make and work your way back up to how many new leads you need to generate. 

Here’s the formula, which is normally written down the page, but to save space I wrote it across: 

# of Leads x Conversion Rate = # of Customers 

# of Customers x # of Transactions/Customer x Average Sale = Revenue

Revenue x Margins = Profits

There are five things in the above formula you have control over: leads, conversion rate, number of transactions, average sale, and margins.  If you want to make more money, you need to increase one, some, or all of these things. 

Your target conversion rate should be 70-80% (didn’t know that), as it can take a lot of time and money to generate new leads (did know that).  Once you improve your conversion rate, you can decrease the number of leads you need.    

If you can believe it, there are over 300 strategies to help implement your profit plan!  I asked David if he put this all together, and he laughed and said no.  This is based on the book Instant Cashflow by Brad Sugars, who founded ActionCOACH. 

David and I finished up our conversation by talking about social media and social networking, which he doesn’t know much about.  We decided that I would help him with LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, and he would help me refine my profit plan.  Seems like a fair deal, especially since we figured out I could make $108,000 in profits this year by making a few tweaks to what I am currently doing.  For someone in their second year of business, that number sure looks sweet!

Follow-up: The Secret of Networking

February 18th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

Networking is crucial to any small business. Whether you’re looking for clients or vendors, who you know will make a difference in the deals you can find. That can translate into attending a lot of networking meetings. Just showing up, though, isn’t enough. If you want to make the most of your networking efforts, you need to follow up with the people you meet. Whether you send out personal emails after an event or pass along opportunities, you’ll get the most out of introductions if you follow up with a real relationship.

The Importance of Follow Up

Phelan Riessen knows networking. Not only is he a serial entrepreneur, but he runs RefreshSD and has helped bring together events like BarCampSD. He can attend more than fifteen networking events in any given month.

Riessen points out the importance of follow up: “Chances are you’re not the only person they met at a networking event. They‘ll forget you soon after unless you’ve made a grand impression on them. People need constant reminders you even exist. The sweet spot used to be six interactions with someone before they may even consider buying from you. Now days it’s up to ten times or more. And don’t even think about getting any business directly from a networking event. Longevity, consistency, reminders and rapport are what will eventually drive the business back to you.”

A Follow Up Method

In order to follow up on the stack of business cards you take home from a networking event, you have to have a process in place. Riessen’s process is relatively simple:

  • He marks an ‘X’ on cards during the event to note warm or hot leads. Riessen points out, “In some cultures you should not write on their card so be careful about doing so in their presence.”
  • After he leaves, Riessen writes the date and event on the front of each card he received, so that he remembers where and when he met that person.
  • He gets the data into a format he can use. While manually adding information to a spreadsheet is an option, Riessen suggests either using a service like CloudContacts or a virtual secretary so that you can spend your time on actually making calls or sending follow up emails.

Once you’ve got your information in to a format that you can more easily handle, it’s time to actually reconnect. If you made a point of saying that you could send your new connection specific information when you met, you may already have a reason to do so — but even if you don’t, you should still reach out.

“Don’t be afraid. Pick up the phone. Set up a meeting or lunch date. Follow up and build that rapport,” says Riessen. He points out that even if your new connection doesn’t buy from you, he may introduce you to your next sale. Even something as simple as emailing out a report on an important topic affecting your industry to each person you meet can help spark the conversations that turn someone you met at a networking event into a connection who can help your business grow.

Image by Flickr user Locomotive Stillstand

Creative Networking: The Owner Who Gets Out, Grows

February 1st, 2010 :: Erica Knoch

Photo by Getty Images

To even start, let alone grow a business, you need to get out of your workplace and meet the right people.  With all the time constraints I am under, this post is very close to my heart!  I am a working mother living outside of the city,  who is trying to balance two active kids, a home, husband, four dogs and have the time to grow my business.  Because of this, I end up missing out on many networking functions that could help me get new clients, education, and grow my business.

Do you have challenges that keep you from getting to the functions you need to attend?  How do you stay “connected” and meet the people who will help you grow in your field when so much is keeping you from that valuable networking time?  You have to be selective, be creative and get out!

A Few Ideas: (please comment to share yours!)

  • Be “on” in your everyday life: Since you have to run around in your daily life anyway, combine it with an opportunity to network.  Print and bring business cards too!  Keep in tune with the conversations around you, you might just overhear someone say they are looking for what you can deliver.  I was talking to my yoga instructor who found out I market small businesses in the area, and she connected me to a potential client!
  • Use your expertise to network with an audience: Instead of going to events as an audience member and vying for the attention of the speaker, why not be the speaker and have the audience want to get to know you?  You could start with the association in your field of business.  Find the event planner and ask if they need a speaker with your speciality and offer your services.  A non-paid speaking engagement can turn into valuable contacts in the future! (not to mention possible paid speaking engagements down the road).
  • Throw an event:  Don’t you hate wasting time going to events that, for whatever reason, weren’t what you thought they would be? (didn’t have the contacts that could help you grow, lessons were too below your level or parking was horrific)  Organize your own event and be in control.  It doesn’t have to be time consuming, but can be as easy as meeting with a targeted group of people for a drink to discuss similar projects they are working on, learn and partner with each other.  Using social networking tools like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook can help you find those people, or you can use some of the other resources below.

Resources to Start You on Your Way:

  • Local Chamber of Commerce: Find your local Chamber of Commerce and find out where you can offer to speak or attend an event. Tons of great resources at the US Chamber of Commerce page as well.
  • Association Involvement – ASAE:  Sign up to speak, volunteer, search for your association, and use other resources to help you to grow your business skills and network.
  • MeetUp: This is such a great site to find or lead a local group/event.  Start an account now.  Try a search on “Small business” and you can see all the groups in your chosen zip code.  I joined a DC Blogger group where I meet with fellow bloggers who exchange experience and inspiration.
  • Twitter : I can’t say enough about the value of Twitter. (check out my past blog).  You need to sign up for Twitter for your business to not only market it, but also to network for its growth!  Use Twitter to find fellow small business owners to exchange information, find out about local meetings, and meet for business.  With Twitter search, you can narrow down folks in your field and area by using the hash tag symbol (#).  I found someone who does graphics work that I admired, she was in my area, and we are discussing upcoming projects!
  • Twellowhood and Yelp: These are sites where you need to get listed, find other local listed businesses, resources and people that list themselves.  Follow them, network and eventually partner to grow your business.

Have any other networking ideas for business owners with limited time?  Please share below.  I wish you much success in growing your network and business!

Network Like You Mean It: 4 Ways to Make it Work

January 29th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

If you’re shy, the very notion of networking is paralyzing.  If you’re like me and not shy at all, the idea of networking is fun and challenging and an opportunity to meet a lot of cool people.  If you work at home alone, it’s also the chance to actually talk to someone in person.  And if you are a small business owner and/or just starting out, it is a great way to spread the word about your business quickly.

When I first started networking, I thought I would instantly pick up new clients.  As I learned, though, networking is not about sales, it’s about building relationships with people.  I have learned three other key things as well: have an engaging elevator speech, talk to as many people as possible, and, if it’s an evening event, don’t drink.

But first, you need to find events that work for you.  I have been to a few events that were packed to the gills with network marketers (you know, Mary Kay sales people and the like).  They are only interested in selling to you, so every conversation with them is about their product(s).  I avoid them like the plague now.  The events I do attend and enjoy are populated by small business owners, CEOs, and executives.  Rather than spending a lot of money and learning through trial and error like me, ask people you meet and like which events they attend and why they like those events.

Four Ways to Make it Work:

  1. Build relationships. As I said above, networking is about building relationships, not generating sales. Of course, if you meet someone who needs your service/product, awesome!  But that is not the point of networking.  I look for two kinds of people at events: those that are expert networkers and know tons of people and those who are in complementary businesses.  If I find an expert networker, I develop a relationship with that person.  They are most likely to be able to refer me business and introduce me to people I do need to meet.  I also like to meet those in complementary businesses: graphic designers, web designers, and those who work in marketing, public relations, and advertising, as we need each other’s services.
  2. Have an engaging elevator speech. If you and I met at a networking event and I told you I was a marketing communications consultant, well, so what?  That doesn’t tell you anything about how I can help you (and most people don’t even know what marketing communications is!).  So I tell people, “I am a writer and editor, and I help my clients articulate who they are, what they do, and why they’re better than the competition via blogs, email marketing, newsletters, direct mail, brochures, press releases, and website content, among other things.”  Then I’ll ask the person I’m talking to what sets them apart from the competition, but usually people will ask questions about my services.  The point is, you want your elevator speech to clearly state how you help your clients, and you want it to prompt questions.  If it doesn’t, work on it!
  3. Talk to as many people as possible. Sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at the number of people I meet who hang out with people they already know the entire time.  Almost as bad are the people who settle into conversations with one or two people and don’t bother mingling.  When I go, I say hi to the people I know, but mostly I walk right up to strangers and introduce myself.  If I see someone hovering nearby with no one to talk to, I invite them to join in the conversation.  If a conversation seems to be going nowhere, I say, “Well, it was great meeting you, but since we’re here to network, I better go network!”  No one has taken offense to that yet.  After all, isn’t that why they’re there as well?
  4. Don’t drink. Another no-brainer, but lots of people have no brains once they start drinking, so I figured it ought to be said.  I personally do not want to do business with someone who does not know how to handle liquor or themselves once they’ve had liquor. I also prefer to be fully cognizant of what I am saying to people and what they are saying to me.  If I want a drink, I have one when I get home.

One other thing to mention: be careful about the amount of networking you do.  It can get expensive and turn into a time-suck.  I try to go to one to three events a month, tops.  Anymore than that, and I am losing too many billable hours!

5 Tips for Building Long-Term Vendor Relationships

January 14th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

3571507885_9cb2681442_mGetting the best deal from your vendor may not actually be a matter of getting the best possible price today. Instead, building a long-term relationship can offer you better prices over time, as well as benefits like flexible payment plans, your choice of delivery dates and other factors that can play a key role in how much you really wind up spending with a vendor. The secret to building the sort of vendor relationships that give you access to these benefits is to work with your vendors to find the best deal for both of you.

  1. Ask your vendor for help: If you’re working with an individual sales person, he or she can act as a major resource for you — as long as you ask. Sometimes that can mean asking questions that duplicate research you’ve already done, but as long as your sales rep knows that you value the advice and information you get, he or she is more likely to give you a heads up when new opportunities are available.
  2. Communicate with your vendor: While telling your vendor right off the bat that you plan to put in huge orders after this first one isn’t generally a great idea, once you’ve done some business, it can be a good idea to talk about your plans. Your vendor may be able to provide you with some options for moving forward, especially if they already know that you’re serious about your business.
  3. Treat your vendor as a partner: Especially if you’re working with a vendor who provides retail merchandise, your successes do help out your vendors. The more you can build your business, the more products or services they can sell you down the line. If you treat your vendor as a partner, you can find solutions that help both your business and his.
  4. Network with your vendors in mind: As you network to build your own business, you’ll often run across businesses that have similar needs to your own. Sharing the name of your vendors can benefit you in a variety of ways. You’ve made a new contact for yourself, but you’ve sent a new client in your vendor’s direction.
  5. Know the market: Before you ever sit down for some serious negotiating, it’s important to have a good idea of just what the average price for the product or service you need is, along with what you get for that money. Based on that information, you can work with your vendor to get a fair price — one that works for your company but doesn’t lead your vendor to wonder if it’s too expensive to do business with you.

It’s always important to remember that vendors are people, too. They want to turn a profit and grow their businesses. If you can keep that thought in mind even during bitter negotiations, you can build a vendor relationship that will be helping your business to succeed for years to come.

Photo — Valerie Everett