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Kenneth W. Keller: Advice for a small-business owner

Brain Food for Business People

Posted: March 2, 2010 9:51 p.m.
Updated: March 3, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Dear Ken,
I have been reading and saving your articles for years. I take your advice. In talking with other small-business owners, we discovered we are all burned out! We are working and working and being creative and slashing our overhead and still hardly any customers are coming in.

I have cut my costs to the bare bones and reduced my prices to less than what they were 10 years ago. We are finding that people are not spending money unless they absolutely have to. I am exhausted and burned out and sad since my small business is not making it.

I have been in business for 17 years. I have eliminated all employees except myself since I cannot afford anyone. We are all using our savings to stay afloat but that is running out.

Please write an article that could apply to this type of situation since so many of us are in the same boat. What can we do?
Signed, Small Business Owner in Santa Clarita

Dear SBO,
Thank you for writing; I appreciate your long readership of The Signal. I will do my best in the limited space available to address your issues.

The first thing I would do is purchase and read the best-selling book "Who Moved My Cheese?" by Spencer Johnson. The book is applicable to you specifically because the "old cheese" is quickly disappearing and you need to find "new cheese."

The second thing I recommend is a trip to the local Small Business Development Center. This organization can provide you with free assistance to help you develop the tools you need to find the "new cheese." You can reach them at (661) 362-5900.

Third, I would sit down with a pad of paper and a pen and ask: What is working and what is not? Review every aspect of your business, from administration to merchandising to worker's compensation insurance. Take the time needed to carefully consider how you spend your time and money and your results.

Every thought, no matter how small, should be written down. Something either works for you or not - there is no middle ground.
Fourth, make a priority list of what you need to do to improve your situation. I would start with the "what is not working" list first by determining what is sapping time and energy and not providing a proper return on investment.

The act of physically writing this list on paper in your own handwriting is powerful. Keep the list visible to remind you of the priorities to move forward.

The fifth thing I would do is change my mindset from reactive to proactive. In your e-mail you state: "hardly any customers are coming in," which sounds as if you are opening the doors and waiting for people to come.

You must become a marketing whiz in this economic environment. As the owner you have to create and do whatever magic it takes to attract and retain customers. Many of those customers will be new ones ("new cheese") and that will take more effort.

How do you do that? You take the time to start reading and learning everything possible about marketing. I recommend Jay Conrad Levinson, author of the "Guerrilla Marketing" series of books. All of his books are fun and easy to read. The books are for the owner with limited funds for marketing.

From that reading and perspective, the seventh thing I would do is to create a simple yet action-oriented, results-focused marketing plan that is a single page. Keep it visible and work from it every day.

Eighth, I would surround myself with successful people who want to grow their businesses. If you want more revenue, better clients, stronger cash flow, bigger profits and, most importantly, are willing to work for those things, consider yourself successful.

Most successful people in business are members of a peer group. Such groups don't exist for therapy, but for accountability, perspective and insight. Hallmarks of a peer group are that it ends the isolation of the owner and helps the owner from drifting into a group of naysayers. I know that the Small Business Development Center has such a group and I recommend it to you.

Finally, be open to the fact that your "old cheese" may be past the "sell-by date," which means that it is no longer consumable. You may have to reinvent, repackage and remarket "new cheese" to get the customers and revenue you want.

Ken Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, which brings business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Brain Food for Business People" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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