How to Google like the Boss that You Are

Google.  That is how I started my first venture — a nonprofit organization.  I used Google to find a free course taught by the state.  I then used Google to find, download, and complete the 501(c)3 tax exemption application.  I Googled to learn about building a Board of Directors, how to structure the Board, what documents my Board should sign, and to read lessons learned by those that had come before me.  Finally, I used Google to build my first volunteer / mission trip — from contracts, documents, orientation, best practices, legal issues, safety, and organizations that we could work with.

Google is the cornerstone of the savvy business owner.  The big secret to starting a business you love isn’t having an MBA and years of experience with shiny titles from the corporate world.  It’s having the passion to drive you forward, and the ability to find the answer to any question you have.  Having a Coach to help you is definitely the most comfortable way to go, but Google is always available and can help you do anything.

Just this morning at a coffee networking event, I heard someone say, “I was up late working on my project because I’m not good at Googling”.  It’s not the first time I’ve heard this, but it reminded me that I take my ability to Google for granted.

So here’s my quick guide for getting good at Googling.

Strip It Down

The people I see struggle with Google give it too much information.  Google, like the library search system you may have learned in elementary school (am I aging myself?), doesn’t care about transitional words like “and” or “but”.  However, it loves “or” to help you compare two things.

Don’t try asking Google a question.  Just enter the keywords of what you’re searching.  The person I was instructing this morning was looking for help on coding a form which wasn’t working.  I told him to definitely include the main subject — C# (the coding language) — and the action he was having an issue with, forms.  From there, I told him to describe the issue in as few words as possible.

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Use Synonyms

Using the above example in a search, I further instructed the person to start rotating words if he wasn’t finding what he was looking for.  The constants in your search are the main subjects — in his case, the coding language and the action he was having issues with.  Everything else can be swapped.

Let’s use my nonprofit as an example.  I needed to know how to file for tax exemption.  Finding the form was easy enough — I knew it was an IRS form and it was labeled “501(c)3 application”, so those where the words I entered.  But I work best by example, so the next thing I needed were other nonprofit examples of the different sections within the form, specifically for organizations specializing in my field.

This is where I started rotating words.  I didn’t care if the examples came from the IRS, so I left that word out.  I could have searched “501(c)3 application examples”, but I probably would have gotten a lot of really general examples, some good, some bad.  So I changed my wording to “501(c)3 applications disaster relief”.  It’s not an actual sentence, but just a bunch of keywords.  That’s how Google operates, and that’s the most important thing for you to learn.

If the results weren’t quite what I was looking for, I could have tried changing “disaster relief” to “relief organizations” or “humanitarian aid”.  This is where the synonyms work great.  My constant would always be “501(c)3 application” because that’s what I was working on, but the rest could swap out until I found what I was looking for.

Hack Google’s Search Options

There are several other things you can do within the search bar of Google, but Google doesn’t publicize them well.  I call them hacks, but they’re actually refinement options that make your search even more specific.  If the subject you’re researching is very narrow due to your nice, business structure, or innovation, then narrowing your search is a bad idea.  However, the internet is vast, and narrowing is usually very useful.

Here is Google’s fabulous guide for using their search refining hacks.  You can search specific sites only, exclude words that seem to come up in the options Google gives you but don’t fit your goal, and even force Google to focus on a certain word within your search.

Get Into Other’s Heads

My final tip is to try to get into other people’s heads.  This can be hard to do, but this is how I do it.  I think about the topic I’m searching, then consider every way I have ever heard it referred to by others.  That might include in-person experiences, television shows, conferences, radio, and dialectal variations.  Living in the United States means I have heard many ways to refer to everything.  In doing so, my mind doesn’t actually remember specific moments, but it pulls up a rotation of ideas and words.

I also try to dumb down my searches.  Not only am I stripping them of extra words, but I am using the simplest words and phrases.  Most web designers and copy writers suggest your online content be at a 5th Grade reading level.  If that’s the case, then the words you’re searching for are also at a 5th Grade level (because all Google is able to search are the words put online).

Does this help?  Share your experience below to help others and ensure I give you the best advice!

How to Choose Your Social Media Platform

Remember what business was like before social media?  No?  Oh…

Today, starting a business includes being online.  This is the number one way your clients and customers get to know you.  Even customers of brick and mortar stores check out their website first 80% of the time.

In addition to your website there is social media.  It’s easy to get lost in the noise.  There are so many to choose from and it can be extremely time consuming.  So often do I speak with small business owners and entrepreneurs who are driving themselves crazy managing five or seven different accounts.  Don’t do that!

I developed an awesome Workbook for people just like you:  Entrepreneurs who are growing their business and want to leverage an online presence to support that growth.  I take you step by step to help decide where your people are and what platforms to use.  The only social media platform that is universal is Facebook (yeah, sorry), but luckily it’s easy to link to others.

In addition to choosing which platforms to use, my Workbook help you streamline so you’re editing only one source.  That’s right — you don’t have to jump from Facebook to Twitter to Google Plus in order to be able to manage multiple platforms.

Love this idea?  Want to get started?  Head over to the Resource Library to download the Social Media Workbook.  Not a Resource Library member yet?  It’s free!  Just sign up below to unlock the tools to help you start your dream business.

Starting When You Have Too Many Ideas

What happens when you have too many business ideas?  This is one of the best and worst problems to have.  It’s the best because you have endless options in your career as an entrepreneur.  It’s the worst because it usually creates a stall.

I chronically have too many ideas.  That’s why I’ve introduced myself as a serial entrepreneur in the past — I wasn’t sure what else to say!  While intriguing to the person I’m meeting, it also is vague, which means my networking game was a bit off.  I needed to sort through and prioritize my ideas so I could focus on one at a time and grow into the next.

As a wise panelist said at the EntrepreneurYOU Conference put on by the Michigan Women’s Foundation last week, “Start with the idea that will generate income first.”  There’s a lot more to it, so let’s start sorting through your ideas to find the best one to launch.

 

One of my coaching clients has this very problem.  She has too many ideas, and doesn’t know where to start.  She knows she wants to be a serial entrepreneur, too, but which one is realistic as a beginning?

I started by asking her about her.  I wanted to know what her passion is.  It’s easy to see when a person lights up during a conversation, and I kept notes as she spoke.  Sometimes too many ideas confuse one’s passion — I help sort through all that.

We then talked about her work experiences.  What aligned best with what she wants to do?  Some entrepreneurial ideas are passion based but not experience based.  This is when I say they need to ‘cook a little longer’.  Potential customers, investors, and referrers will trust an entrepreneur with more experience in their chosen business area than those that don’t have it.  Thus, if you really want to start a interior design studio, but you have no experience, you’ll have an uphill battle.

I also asked her about known startup costs.  It’s hard to be 100% sure of the cost of starting until you’re deep in the research, but one typically has a general idea.  For example, a brick and mortar business automatically takes greater investment (and likely a Small Business loan) than an online company.  Cost of supplies, transportation, and marketing are also all factors.

Finally, we took a look at which business ideas are foundational to the rest of the work she hopes to do.  That is, most business ventures have a similar theme that can be built off of, but some (like my web company) are a little off base to the other proposed work (like my nonprofit).  Any business experience can be extrapolated to support another business, but the more closely tied one is to the next, the better.

That’s the formula.  Passion + experience + cost + business ties = your order of operations.  Sounds easier said than done, right?  It is, so I created a worksheet to help you.  Writing (or scribbling) out your thoughts is one of the most helpful things one can do to sort out their thoughts.  Enter your email below to gain access to my Resource Library to print the Business Pathfinder worksheet and browse several other tools!  If you’re already a Passion Posse member with access to the Resource Library, use your password to download the worksheet.

If you’re still not sure which business is best after you’ve used the worksheet, I’m only a phone call away.

 

 

How to Start a Nonprofit

A good deal of what I write about pertains to businesses.  These tips and tricks can be used just as well for nonprofit organizations, too.  What I haven’t done is help you start a nonprofit organization — something that I did back in 2010.  Since then I’ve served on three nonprofit boards and helped several people start their own nonprofit organization.  It’s about time I write a blog with instructions to help you get started.

Building a Board

This post is assuming that you will do some business planning (perhaps using a tool like the Business Model Canvas) before you get to this step.  You’ll need to be able to present a cohesive idea to potential board members — a vision they can identify with that also fits their skill sets.  After making your business plan, this is the first great leap to getting a nonprofit started.

You only need three board members to file with the state.  However, you may want more involved, depending on the size and reach of your goal.  I always went with odd numbers so a tie couldn’t happen during voting.

Make sure your board consists of many different skills, even if some overlap.  This is especially important in filling the skills you don’t have yourself.  A board will provide the support you need to get things off the ground and running smoothly before you hire your first employees.  If they don’t compliment your and each other’s skill sets, you’ll find this a tiresome process.  Nonprofits already have a high burnout rate; don’t set yourself up for failure before you even begin (like I did — doing it all by myself!).

Filing

Filing your nonprofit corporation papers with the state works much the same as filing a LLC or corporation.  The difference is the cost of filing and the structures needed in order to take this step.

In the state of Michigan you need at least three board members in order to file your papers.  When I put together my board I just asked some trustworthy friends with big hearts to be my board so I could get past this step.  Over time it became clear that, while they totally believed in me and the cause, they didn’t have the skill sets that I needed to be successful.

You may, eventually, want a lawyer involved to refine your state paperwork.  However, if you’re starting from scratch, I recommend saving the cost for the first six months until you have a proof of concept and benefactors.

Once you have the papers from the state, you can file for your EIN number just like with a for-profit business.  You need these two documents to both open a bank account (most banks offer free checking to nonprofit organizations) and file for tax exemption from the IRS.

Becoming Tax Exempt

At this stage you and your board should know what kind of 501(c) organization you wish to become.  The IRS classifies nonprofits in several groups, and it is critically important you understand the requirements for each (ie. a 501(c)3 organization cannot be involved in political affairs).  Make sure you do your research and choose accordingly.

Most states offer classes about 501(c)3 organizations.  You may wish to consider taking a class on filing for your IRS paperwork since it is a long process.  In short, the IRS application is a minimum of 40 pages.  You’ll also need to submit your organization’s bylaws, board member profiles, codes of conduct, and conflict of interest clauses.  I realize it sounds like a lot (and it is), but this is when your board members should step up to divide and conquer.

My biggest recommendation in all of this is to not do it like I did — alone.  It was a stressful time, and while I learned a lot and am stronger for it, it’s always better to have help.

Getting Ready for 2017

Last week’s Facebook Live Q&A focused on getting ready for 2017.  This can be an overwhelming time for many entrepreneurs as they close things for the year and get ready for the next.  Let’s have a look at the three major spots to hit, and simplify them so you can get them done.

1) Financial Planning

I know I just made you squeamish.  I’m sorry!  Does it make it better if I provide you with a super awesome spreadsheet that allows you to simply fill in the blanks?  Yes?  YAY!  Go to the Resource Library to download it (or, if you’re not a Resource Library Member, fill out the form below to get access).

Financial planning is simply using this year’s numbers to predict next year’s budget.  This way you can plan for savings and growth.  By savings I mean your savings so, when you hit that yearly dry spell (that everyone has), you’re not stressed.  By growth I mean hiring that new superstar to make your business dreams come true (don’t we all want one?).

Start by downloading the spreadsheet below.  You’ll see some numbers already entered in — they’re to show you how the spreadsheet works.  Delete a number and see how everything else changes.

From there, start by entering real numbers into the spreadsheet.  Start with the cash you  had on hand at the start of last year.  You’ll only need to add it in Month One — the rest will auto-generate (though you can make changes).  Begin entering monthly income as well.  Finally, enter monthly expenses near the bottom.  Watch as the numbers auto-generate to predict the flow of your year.

2)  Set Some Goals

I know everyone is telling you to set new year goals.  So is pretty much everything else in life — that’s what the new year is all about, right?  Well, I’m sorry you may feel pressured, but I’m not sorry you’ll be setting goals.  Here’s an easy way to break them down, as seen in the Passion Planner (my favorite planner… which I talk about so often I probably should buy stock).

Goals could be as simple as ‘finish that course’ or as complex as strategy for growth.  Consider partnerships and community involvement as you brainstorm.  Once you have a single goal broken down, add its milestones into your calendar for next year.  If you’re ambitious, add more than one goal and its milestones!

Check out this handy goal-setting Roadmap from Passion Planner!

3) Get Ahead

Now is the time to get ahead.  We shut down halfway through December in order to stay sane, which makes it the perfect time to work on the things I never have time for.  What could you be doing to set things straight for 2017?  Get ahead on blog posts, make those phone calls, have coffee with people you met at a networking event.  Everyone’s list is different, but I know there’s at least one thing on yours.  Take care of these things now so you can hit the ground running in January (instead of faceplanting).

2017 is just around the corner!  How are you getting ready?

How to Pivot Your Business: Part Three

This is the second installment in a three-part series to help you pivot your business.  Check out the first article on planning, the second on launching, and subscribe to get more great articles like this!

Part Three:  Marketing

Just because you made announcements and informed your customer base doesn’t mean your work is done.  In fact, there are a lot of people that probably missed your launch event, many more who will continue to think of your business in its former form, and an entire new target market that hasn’t heard of you yet.

Here are some methods for marketing your pivot.  Expect to market your pivot for at minimum of six months after launch.

Facebook Ads

Facebook is everywhere — which is why it is such a powerful marketing tool.  Even if this is not your #1 marketing platform, I still recommend using it.  Marketing on FB means you’re able to narrow down to your exact demographic, and even to those who have already liked your Page or been to your website.  This is a good way to stay in front of ‘your people’.

Business Associations

Do you have a LocalFirst association in your area?  What about a Chamber of Commerce newsletter?  If you’re a startup, what incubators or organizations might cover your pivot?  What about your Alma Matter’s graduates newsletter?  All of these are fantastic places to make an announcement of this caliber.  Lay out a calendar of organizations that will promote the pivot so you don’t use them all at once.

Email Newsletter

Don’t forget that you have a captive audience that already loves you in your email list.  At least, you should.  Even though they already have been privy to the pivot survey, pivot announcement, and launch party, not all may have gotten the message.  In fact, an average of 25% opens and views for an email campaign is considered really good.  That means at least 75% of your customer base may not even realize the pivot happened!  So remind them at the 90 day mark and the six month mark.  Frame it as a curtesy update, and invite them to get involved to check out the new system / product / etc.

Talk To Your Vendors

If you have a physical product, then you have vendors.  Or if you make a physical product for someone else (ie. brochure design), you definitely have suppliers to talk to.  Did you think to update them on your internal changes?  If not, get on it.  It’s never too late to fill in the picture.

Talk To Your Colleagues / Partners / Friends

I have a lot of entrepreneurial friends in my life.  We tend to find each other.  Guess what my biggest mistake was when I pivoted my business:  not telling my friends and colleagues.  Seriously.  Halfway through the year I had a conversation with a buddy and colleague who owns an IT company.  His business doesn’t necessarily interact with mine, but he does bump shoulders with business owners who need website support.  Except he didn’t know that we’d switched from website design to website support.  I’d lost out on the new kind of business I’d been hoping for!  That’s a lesson one only needs to learn once.

Mention It When Networking

Don’t assume that you’ve said it enough.  When you shake hands with someone at an event — old acquaintance or stranger — and they ask you what you do, or how it’s going, be sure you mention your business’ pivot.  You can be vague:  “Oh, good.  We went through a pivot three months ago, and it’s been fun.”  Their response will inevitably be a question about the pivot’s direction.  If you know you’ve mentioned the pivot to the person before, then make an update statement instead, still jogging their memory that the pivot happened.  Everyone is dealing with their own stuff, and even someone you see often may forget.  Heck, I think my partner has even forgotten.

What else has worked for you?

How To Incorporate a Business

The first and most important step to starting a business is filing papers with your State, the IRS, and opening a bank account to ensure your financial security (we don’t like to think about a threat like bankruptcy or being sued when just starting out, but separate accounts are a necessary precaution).

As someone who has been through this process many times, I can say this is the easiest part of starting a business.  Yet in talking to mentees and co-mentors, I realized that if you don’t know how to take these steps, it may seem daunting to get involved in legal forms.  So I made this guide.

Step One:  File Articles of Incorporation

This is the part in which it would be good to talk to a lawyer and / or CPA.  I have completed this stage with and without the advice of a lawyer, but it’s helpful to know some things before you start.

The most important decision here is whether or not you want to incorporate as an LLC, S-Corp, C-Corp, or B-Corp.  This step also has the option of filing as a nonprofit corporation should you so choose.  I personally filed for an S-Corp because I knew the structure of my business would take advantage of its taxation structure.  If you’re planning to include altruism in your company, a B-Corp may be appropriate.  I can’t advise you on this since it’s a legal matter, but you can probably find a free resource in your city that will help (in Michigan, the SBDC and Michigan Women’s Foundation are good options).

A lawyer will also help you decide if you want to include a board of directors.  Regardless, the incorporation papers provided by your state are ‘fill in the blank’ style and easy to follow.  Michigan’s fee is $60 for filing a for-profit corporation, and you can expect to receive a validated copy in approximately one month.

Step Two:  Get Your EIN Number from the IRS

This also sounds daunting, but it’s even easier than filing your state papers!  Plus, it’s free.

Once you receive your incorporation papers back from the state, you’ll need an EIN Number from the IRS to do pretty much anything.  You can’t open a bank account without, nor can you take online payments or file taxes.  Even nonprofit corporations need an EIN, so don’t skip this step!

With your incorporation papers in front of you, head to the IRS website and begin the process of applying for an EIN Number.  The site will walk you through a series of questions you will need to answer, including your business state ID (should be at the top of your state papers).  You will receive a PDF to download at the end of the process that officially states your EIN Number and IRS status.  Print this immediately and save the file.  The IRS will also mail you a copy, but that takes a while and multiple copies is always safer.

Step Three:  Open A Bank Account

So why was I talking about bankruptcy and suing at the beginning of the article?  There’s a business best practice called “piercing the veil”.  Essentially, by keeping your personal finances and business finances separate, you not only make things easier on your CPA (which is good because s/he’ll bill you hourly) but keep your personal savings and assets safe from any business mishap.  I say this not to scare you but to start you on the right foot.  If you spoke with a lawyer at Step One, you may have been told this already.

You’ll want a bank account for other reasons, too.  It makes tracking your business’ progress much easier since it’s not mixed with anything else.  It also makes business purchases more clear and easy for tax write offs.  Finally, it makes you look official, so when someone writes you a cheque or pays you online, they get a transaction notification and receipt from your business, not you.

With your State Papers and your EIN Number documentation, go to the bank of your choice.  I find it easiest to use the same bank for everything.  It’s one number to call, one system to memorize, and some banks charge you for digital transfers outside their system.  When at your bank, wait to sit down with an official, not a teller.  They’ll walk you through the paperwork and get you set up.

One last note, here.  Please oh please do not buy personal items from the business account, or vice versa.  This would ‘pierce the veil’ and blur the lines for any legal action.  Bad.  Instead, pay yourself by making a bank transfer from the business account to your personal account and annotate the transfer as income or owner pay.  Talk to a CPA to get even more advice about this (I’m not able to provide more because I’m not legally certified and can only tell you from my personal experience).

That’s it!  If something’s missing, please let me know in the comments below so I can help.

How to Pivot Your Business: Part Two

This is the second installment in a three-part series to help you pivot your business.  Check out the first article on planning, and subscribe to get the final installment!

Part Two:  Launching

Why am I jumping from market research to launching?  Every business is different, which means I can’t tell you how to implement your market research.  I can suggest that you will want your mentors (if that’s me, great!) and staff involved in processing the information you gather and setting it in motion.  In between week one and week two comes a lot of planning, strategizing, and developing new systems.

When that’s all complete, it’s time to implement and publicize the pivot.  Just as when you founded your business, you need to publicly launch your pivot.  Many of the tactics new businesses use to launch will be useful at this stage.  Here are a few ideas for getting the word out.

1 – Throw A Party

Parties set the public stage for a pivot.  Though internal company changes can be scary, a party says you’re excited, and your customers should be, too.  If you are a brick and mortar location, this is a great start.  Provide some sort of raffle, test station, or maybe just treats if you don’t offer a physical product.  Everyone likes free stuff, and if you give away product that is involved in the new business model, your public has the opportunity to check it out without risk.

2 – Digital Launch Week

Whether you’re a digital company without a physical space for an event, or you’ve done the event but want to carry on the momentum, a digital launch week can make a great splash.  This is where your email list comes in handy.  On the Thursday or Friday before Launch Week, announce it via email and social media.  Send a reminder on Monday / the start day, and the morning of the last day.  Why would they care?  Well, Launch Week can involve giveaways, discounts, or a slow roll out of features that your following will want to take advantage of.  If you have a physical product, the holiday season offers a special advantage for this kind of launch strategy.

3 – Get Them Involved

Your customer base follows you for a reason.  They are happy to support your brand.  Thus, if you’re making a visual decision (brand design, paint colors, etc), offer them the chance to further voice their opinion.  Facebook polling is useful in these cases, but you can also use a system like Typeform to gather longform input.  Make sure you track who is involved so, at the end of the month, you can pop some virtual champaign, say thanks, and show them the final decision.

Note that each of these suggestions keep your audience involved.  That is critical to a successful pivot launch. Stay tuned for the third installment of this series — the post-launch work.

How to Pivot Your Business: Part One

Over the next three weeks, I’m going to help you pivot your business.  Make sure you subscribe to get the final two installments!

Week One:  Planning

Let’s start by talking about what it means to pivot a business.  Eric Ries, the author of “The Lean Startup”, says,

“The hardest part of entrepreneurship is to develop the judgment to know when it’s time to change direction and when it’s time to stay the course… One such practice is to pivot from one vision to the next.”

My Pivoting Experience

I had to pivot my business a few years ago, and I did so alone (as I did most things in my early entrepreneurial days and the reason I built this site).  In short, I had too many ventures, which spread my efforts too thin.  By pivoting, I was able to maintain the integrity of the original company, while growing its offerings and customer base.

I also hired employees for the first time, which made the pivot slightly more complicated.  Hiring may sound simple based on what you know, but without any sort of employee handbook or guide, it’s really easy to dilute or lose the vision of your company.  More on that in a future post.

The hardest part of the pivot was the rebranding process.  I chose to rebrand because I were adding so much to what we already did.  I basically doubled my services.  Through that process I worked hard to convey to our clients (leads, current clients, and past clients) that we were the same company that would take care of their needs as if they were our own.  You don’t have to rebrand your business if you pivot, but you do need to ensure your customer base knows that the pivot isn’t changing who you are (see Part Three).

Why do you want to pivot?

The first step in pivoting is becoming clear as to why you want to pivot your business.  If you can’t explain it simply and clearly, your team won’t know how to follow you, and neither will your customers.

A local business in my city pivoted a few years ago.  They chose to stop selling soft products like clothing and instead focus on selling hard products like statuettes and multi-use items.  When asked, they stated they needed to downsize due to rising real estate costs and chose to specialize in the items that sold the best.  As a customer, I was disappointed by the downsize, but I also understood their reasoning and so felt comfortable continuing to purchase from them.

Start by clarifying your why.  Talk to your mentors about it, but also talk to people who know nothing about your business.  While it may be dangerous to ask family for business advice in most situations (they’re probably not entrepreneurs like you), this is a time when you need that general public opinion.  If they’re anything like my family, they don’t ‘get’ what it is to be a business owner, but they do get what it means to be a customer.  If they can’t understand why you’re making a change, you need to think it over.

Finally, get the opinion of your employees.  Do this after you’ve clarified with other parties — your employees need to walk this path with you, and if they feel that you’re just slinging around ideas, they may not trust you to pivot well and start looking for other career options.

Time For Research

You didn’t think I’d let you pivot your business without having done market research, did you?  No way!  Pivoting is already a stressful endeavor, so we need to be sure it’s the right idea before we do anything public.  Not only will research give you more confidence in the move, but it will give your business the best chance at doing it right.

What do I mean by Market Research?  This could mean a lot of things, depending on your business and its current base, but the simplest form is a survey.  The easiest place to start getting answers is the captive audience of an email list (crossing fingers that you have an email list).  These are people who have signed up to stay informed about your business via newsletters, blog updates, coupon alerts, and more.  Personally I feel I get too many emails, but when someone asks for help in the form of my opinion, I’m game – especially if there’s a prize.  My favorite digital survey program is Typeform.  It can be embedded or linked to for ease of sharing.  If you’ve ever worked with me, you’ve probably filled out a Typeform survey.

Another place to gather information is social media, but you’ll probably see a smaller response unless there is a prize or reward.  Social media doesn’t allow us to ask a specific group of people what they think, at least not for free.  When your customers are surfing social media, they probably don’t have the time or attention span to focus on a survey, so cut it down to a couple yes or no answers.  Even better, do a week long campaign of single questions at peak times — one at 8am and one at 6pm.  Yes or no questions are great, “like this if…” questions are even better.

Talking To Strangers Is Ok

If you don’t have an email list and your social media following is either too small or unresponsive, it’s time to talk to strangers.  This is the scariest thing for a lot of us, but if you love your business, you’ll do it.  There are two ways you can do this.

The first is in-person surveys.  The best time for these is on weekends when people are least likely to be rushing to or from work.  Put yourself in a crowded location with a clipboard to record the answers, and tailor your survey to two versions — short and long.  Your opening questions should be the same on each, and the person’s response will tell you if they are willing to talk for more than 30 seconds.  Smile, state right off that you’re not selling something, and let them know that you are looking for their help.  Most people like to ‘help’, most people hate soliciting.

The second survey method is over the phone.  You’ll be surprised how little you’ll be hung up on when you’re not selling something.  Again, most people want to help.  With phone surveys you have to be quick — folks are almost always in the middle of something else and have limited time.  Introduce yourself, say why you’re calling, and dive right into the questions.  Keep a spreadsheet.  Don’t call during dinner.

So what should your survey say?  The basics are this:

  1.  Introduce yourself, your business, and the reason you’re asking questions in one or two sentences.
  2.  After the intro, do not talk about yourself again.  This is the time to ask about THEM.  Your biggest concern is your customers, and people love talking about themselves.
  3.  Keep questions simple.  If you can frame them to accept ‘yes’ or ‘no’, do it.  If not, try to simplify as much as possible.
  4.  Determine what the essentials are — what do you absolutely need to know in order to confidently move forward with your pivot.  If this is a Typeform or other written survey, you may be able to get away with more questions, but don’t overdo it or people will stop halfway through.

Next week, find out about making the pivot happen — all the way through the launch!

Cheap or Free Apps

This is an ongoing repository.  If you have any suggestions for subjects or resources, leave a comment below and I’ll add it!

When starting a new business or venture, your budget is really tight.  The most important thing to know is that you should not feel bad for penny pinching.  I personally feel there is too much pressure to spend in our society, and sometimes it can feel weird to not get the latest and greatest.

I’ve worked hard at discovering hacks so I retain the freedom to grow my business in the right way.  Businesses, like children, take a lot of love and attention – and money.

Below are the hacks that I’ve used, either in the past or currently.  I hope they make growing your business easier!

Surveys & Forms

typeform

Typeform // Free

Typeform is my absolute favorite form and survey builder.  It’s super easy to use, with a drag and drop form builder, and it has a friendly interface for even the most tech illiterate user.  There are some paid options, but 80% of your needs will likely be met with the free app (I haven’t paid for it, yet).

googleforms

Google Forms // Free

If you already love Google, then you’ll love Google Forms.  It’s also very easy to use, easy to share, and comes with a lot of options.  The nice thing is that all your forms will exist in your Google Drive, as will the answers you receive.

Storage Solutions

dropbox

DropBox // Free (up to 3GB)

I love DropBox.  I love that it syncs to all devices, it looks like my other file structures, and I don’t have to worry that it’ll be there.  I also love that it’s free!  If you need to take work with you, or show something off to a client, this is an easy solution.

drive

 

Google Drive // Free (up to 15GB)

Google Drive is also free – yay!  It also provides more storage for its entry level and typically sync’s well across devices.  I sometimes feel its storage structure is clunky, but it could just be me.

evernote

Evernote // Free

Evernote offers storage and documentation options.  It’s a little more complicated than the others because it was developed to ‘save’ rather than ‘store’, so explore it well before you choose to use it in this manner.  The upside is that it is fantastic for note taking and keeping track of tasks, inspiration, and system development.

Accounting

wave

Wave // Free ($15/mo for payroll)

Wave Apps is a great little accounting program.  It’s cloud based, and they have several iOS and Android apps that allow you to manage some (but not all) of your affairs.  It’s structured like Mint, and can send invoices and receive credit card payments.  However, I’ve noticed I have to really stay on top of it for my CPA to find it useful.  I don’t have a lot of time, so I use it mostly for invoicing.

bank

Your Bank // Free

This sounds really obvious, right?  Since Wave got to be a mess for me, I ended up pushing everything in and out of one bank account, then exporting a spreadsheet on a quarterly basis.  I annotate it manually for my CPA, and he is able to use it to run taxes (yay!).  If you’re running a physical business or selling products, you will need balance sheets and profit / loss margins, so Wave will be a better bet.

spreadsheet

The Ol’ Spreadsheet // Free

I’m not numbers minded, so this sounds insane to me.  But if you’re a sole proprietor, you can probably get away with keeping track of things via a spreadsheet.  There are a lot of examples on Google, so I would search around before setting yours up.  Oh, and make sure your CPA is ok with this before you make him/her go insane.

Phones

fi

Google Fi // $20/mo unlimited talk and text – $10/mo for each GB of Data

This is my current love affair.  I actually sold my iPhone to do this (gasp).  I was really sick of paying $60-90 a month for cell service.  Google Fi utilizes TMobile and Sprint towers (as of now) so you have better coverage.  They also include international data in your plan so you don’t have to buy ‘special’ data.  Calls are made on wifi when possible, and there is no term limit.  It’s just fantastic!

gvoice

Google Voice // Free

Before there was Google Fi, there was Google Voice.  This is akin to an ‘internet phone’ and works through your Gmail account.  You can make calls and text from your computer, have calls forward to a physical phone, and use their app to text.  It’s not a perfect solution, but if you want a separate number for work this definitely is a great first step.

Email

gapps

Google Apps // $5/mo./user

Google Apps for business used to be free.  Now it’s not.  Sadface.  But, it’s still extremely affordable.  Why would you use this over a Gmail account?  One reason is the power of managing a team’s set of emails from an easy to use platform.  Beyond that, you can manage your domain through Google Apps.

zohomail

Zoho Mail // Free(ish)

Zoho is a knockoff of Google Apps.  Its email function is free, but some of its other modules are not.  It’s nice to be able to utilize different programs from one place, so it may be worth the extra cost to use them.

CRMs

zohocrm

Zoho CRM // Starts at $15/mo./user

As I alluded to above, you may prefer to use multiple programs curated by one company.  Zoho’s CRM integrates into their email, so you can have everything organized.  And we love organization.

streak

Streak for Gmail // Free(ish)

I use Streak.  It’s a very simple, very configurable CRM that integrates into Gmail.  You can set up pipelines for different organizations, and boxes in those pipelines for different clients.  I have four pipelines, all color coded and organized differently (I meant it when I said ‘serial’ entrepreneur).  There are some things Streak tries to upsell you for, but if you don’t have a large team, they’re not needed.

Share what’s worked for you!