Small Business Tips

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A small business blog featuring tips to help entrepreneurs succeed in the small business world. Topics include family business, human resources, marketing, money, networking, operations, ownership, startup, taxes and technology.
Tips for Running a Successful Seasonal Business

Spring is in full swing and summer isn’t far behind. Seasonal businesses such as landscaping and swimming pool cleaning are beginning to see a huge boost in sales. As the seasons change, their sales will creep downward, while businesses like ski resorts and Christmas stores will have a large upswing.

When you own a seasonal business, it’s important to know how to maintain an income year round to support you and keep the business alive.

Budget, Budget, Budget
First and foremost! What’s coming in and, more importantly, what’s going out? Know your capabilities. Don’t only budget for the months that business is good, but budget for the entire year. There are bills that have to be paid all 12 months, whether business is good or bad, such as utilities, taxes, maintenance, and rent.

You also need to consider how much you depend on the seasonal income for your daily life – food on the table and a roof over your head. If the seasonal business provides enough income for you to live off of all year, know what you need to get by each month and set that amount aside as soon as you can when the cash flow begins.

The Off-Season
Some seasonal entrepreneurs just take the off-season as an opportunity to have an extended vacation, and I bet it’s really nice. Others are busy bodies and need to have something to do all the time (like me). Unfortunately, however, some seasonal businesses don’t provide enough income to sustain the whole year. If you’re one of the later, then consider expanding the products or services your business provides.

If you own a Christmas store, consider selling decorations for the other holidays throughout the year. In landscaping, a job that sees little to no work in the winter? How about putting your decorative skills to use and offering Christmas decorating and lighting services. If you own a farm, expand your crop to include spring, summer and fall crops, and maybe even consider building a green house to grow crops in all year.

Another option, if you own a camp, ski resort, or theme park and enjoy your time off but need the extra income, is to have registration deadlines that include registration fees, a couple of months before the camp opens (or incentives to buy season passes several months in advance). This helps to distribute your income over a longer period of time, making it easier to get by without giving up the vacation period.

Use Time Wisely
If you have the opportunity to keep your time-off, use it wisely. Take the chance to provide regular maintenance or repairs to the equipment you use, without dipping into your work season. Also, use the down time to budget for the next season and year ahead. Another great use of the off-season is marketing your business, whether it be through fliers, direct mail, or phone calls. Whatever you choose to do with that time, be sure and budget for it.

If you own a seasonal business, do what you can to enjoy it. The off-season can provide a great opportunity to spend time with your family and pursue other passions. Do what you can to preserve that by running your seasonal business efficiently and successfully.

Related Reading:
• Running a Seasonal Business

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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, February 25th, 2019 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations, Ownership |

Direct Mail Marketing Tips (2 of 2)

Okay, so you’ve decided to use an advertising letter to reach out to the community and get them to use your product/service. Yesterday we covered the basics on the appeal of the envelope and letter itself in order to get your mail opened and read. Today, we’ll talk about what the letter should say to stir an interest in what you have to offer.

1. Background Information
Typically, most potential customers that will receive your advertising letter will not have heard of your company. So, give a little background information about your business – when you got started, why you got started and the goals you have.

2. Your Market
You may want to consider briefly stating who your market is. If everyone can use your product or service, say so. If you’re specifically targeting stay-at-home moms, then say so. If your market is specific, this will help to narrow the field a bit. Also, you may want to encourage those that don’t fit into the specified market to pass the information on to someone they know who does.

3. The Product/Service
The most important element of your advertising letter is, of course, the description of the product or service your business provides. And though you definitely want to mention the features your product/service provides, be sure that you mention the benefits of those features – the desired outcome that using your product/service will produce.

4. Testimonials
If you have them, use them. The best way to do this is as an insert. This draws more attention to the individual review, showing that it’s important. And, if available, consider adding a picture of the client who provided the review. A real face always makes what is said more trustworthy.

5. A Special Offer
Give the potential customer an incentive to respond quickly by provided a special offer with a deadline. Otherwise, they will set your advertising letter aside to “think about it” and might actually end up forgetting about it. Give a discount if they contact you within a certain amount of time, provide a smaller product or service free with the purchase of another, etc.

6. Keep it Short
Try to keep the advertising letter as short as possible. One page is best, even if you make the font a bit smaller than usual to accomplish it. Anything more than that could seem overwhelming and a waste of time to the potential customer. I can attest to the fact that I never read the advertising letters that are more than one page… it is not appealing at all.

Remember that not every person you send a letter to will respond. In fact, the response rate for direct mailing is usually less than 20%. But, if done effectively, more business than you had before, no matter how small the number, is always a good thing.

Direct Mail Marketing Tips Part 1

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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, February 24th, 2019 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Marketing |

Direct Mail Marketing Tips (1 of 2)

These days, mailboxes contain more junk mail (also known as direct mail) than anything else. Clearly this marketing strategy works to some degree, otherwise businesses wouldn’t keep doing it. As a small business owner who is just starting out myself, I am able to combine the need for marketing with a still apparent consumer perspective. And, if you plan on marketing through the US postal service, here are some things to keep in mind:

Letters are the most effective way to personalize your advertising enough that the consumer at least looks at what you have to offer. Postcards get glances before they hit the wastebasket, and catalogs usually just get set aside for a time to thumb through that may never come along. Advertising letters are the happy medium that may mean increased success.

Though the body of your letter will obviously need to be typed in order to mass produce and insure ease of reading, there are still great ways to add a personal touch. Take the time to chose letterhead that is appealing. Stick with earth tones for the color of the paper, staying away from plain white and colors found in the crayon box, especially bright ones. Basically, you need something classy, yet trendy and modest, yet attention grabbing. And of course, a great logo and your business’ contact information.

Hand-written touches are the most important element. First, hand-write the addressee’s name. That way the consumer knows you thought of her personally and thought she would enjoy hearing about the product/service or special deal you are offering (even if she has no idea who you are).

Next, sign your name personally (with the typed version underneath, of course). Don’t use a stamp or an electronic signature, but actually take the time to sign each letter your business sends. Not only does it add a personal touch, but it aids the consumer in believing that you personally stand behind the product or service described above your name.

If you’re sending the letter as a special office for previous customers, write a “P.S.” at the bottom of the letter, in your own hand-writing, asking him how the cordless drill he bought last month is helping him with the new deck he’s building. Let the customer know he’s important to you by remembering him and aspects of his life specifically.

When adding these personal touches, do so in blue ink so that it jumps out at the customer and emphasizes that you actually wrote it. Many larger companies will use a script font for these personal touches and simply change the text color to blue… in an attempt to add the appeal of a personal touch without the actual effort to do so… and potential customers can see right through it (I always do). So I would recommend you don’t do that, if it can be avoided.

When sending advertising letters, your envelope makes the first impression. It will make or break whether the potential customer actually opens your letter. First, make sure the envelope matches your letterhead. Avoid simple No.10 white envelopes or window envelopes (which are synonymous with credit card offers), but take the extra expense to have the return address pre-printed just like your logo and use the same color paper.

One way to practically guarantee that your advertising letter will be opened is to keep the envelope free of clutter. Just stick to the mailing address, return address and a stamp/postage mark. The extra phrases some businesses put all over the envelope, such as “Act now!” or “Open immediately for a great offer!” are a dead giveaway that what’s inside is advertising, which means many of them will likely end up in the trash without the seal even being broken.

If possible, hand-write each mailing address on each envelope. A tedious task indeed, but this provides an added personal touch that piques the curiosity of the consumer about what may be contained inside. And if you get them to open the envelope, you’ve won half the battle.

Now that you know what may help you to get that “junk mail” actually opened, what should you do with the text of the letter that turns it from “junk mail” to quality advertising? Tomorrow I’ll cover some tips for getting the potential clients to consider buying what you have to offer.

Direct Mail Marketing Tips Part 2

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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, February 23rd, 2019 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Marketing |