Effective Crowdfunding Techniques

Written by: Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter And author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column Published on 5/22/18, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Business, Community, Crowdfunding, Economy, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Small Business

Source: When it comes to raising money for your business online, there are several platforms available depending on your business’s value proposition, but getting an audience to review and take action in becoming a donor is the more difficult goal. Here are a few of the most effective techniques that will assist your business with its crowdfunding goals.

Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe are three of the most popular fundraising platforms for pre-launching a unique value proposition online. The most popular campaigns consist of book projects, market disruption technologies, and other products designed to satisfy a need or solve a problem. Hundreds of entrepreneurs have utilized online crowdfunding platforms to get their offering to market. Not every campaign launched is a success. Some of the latest and greatest well thought out ideas sizzle out due to the lack of integration of methods in promoting the campaign itself and/or lack of audience engagement. Here are a few of the most effective crowdfunding practices that can enable your campaign to be a bigger success…

1). Set reasonable goals. Not every crowdfunding campaign will be able to sell out every perk and end up with millions of dollars at the end. It is better to set reasonable and obtainable financial goals based on your current business audience and following. It is always better to set a lower financial goal, offer many perk packages, and over shoot the expectations. When a goal is considered unrealistic, most campaign contributors will skip over and move onto the next campaign in fear that in the event your campaign does not reach its goals, it will not be in a position to deliver on the perks it offers.

2). Maximize the term of the campaign. Crowdfunding campaigns need plenty of time to be marketed, showcased, and shared with an audience of potential contributors. Setting the length of the term of the campaign to at least sixty days will allow for your campaign to be seen by more people. The longer a campaign is open, the more opportunities you have to update the campaign, and adjust posts and project progress with your following audience. As the number of contributors climbs, more people will be open and willing to contribute to the campaign. A campaign that has attracted traffic, has more reach and draws even more attention. Allow yourself enough time to work out the formula for success.

3). Don’t be afraid to tell your story. Crowdfunding is an opportunity to share your “why” behind the project and the “what” the value proposition is.  It is wise to share how you came to the idea you did (your motive and intention); and a clear description of the deliverable (the what). Contributors like to feel like they are helping someone out that has lent their struggle to solving a problem with their value proposition. Contributors want to believe in the people behind the perk as much as they desire to believe in the value of the perk itself. It is fine to be passionate – this is where you also get to pitch you.

4). Be clear in describing what is in it for the contributor. Any time a potential consumer contemplates to part with their money, they analyze a series of self-discovery questions. “How will this change my life?” “Do I really need the perk?” “Will this product-book-technology really help people?” “Will they (the campaigner) be able to deliver?” And most of all, “What’s in it for me?”  Ask yourself, if you were the potential contributor, do you really need this in your life? And then ask yourself, if you do purchase the perk, what will the perk really do for you? Your perk packages should be something everyone wants or can appreciate. A true and clear representation of the value of your perk will often determine how much risk a contributor is willing to take. Is it something anyone can get in a local store, or is it unique and limited?

5). Engage the crowd. Crowdfunding was designed to have two functions:

  • To raise money for a cause
  • To collect feedback from potential consumers

The more engaging a campaign with a group of followers is, the higher the probability is that your campaign will have more contributors. Crowdfunding allows for both the inventor/entrepreneur and for the market to have an early conversation about the product offering. This should also give the campaigner valuable data to improve the make and model of their concept when necessary. Don’t be afraid to answer questions, provide test results, and make changes according to the positive feedback you receive. The more information you can share in an open dialog the more willing a contributor will be in supporting your cause.

6). A great marketing strategy drives every well-funded campaign goal. Effective marketing and advertising methods can assure that a larger audience views your campaign. Your marketing strategy should employ a mix of marketing tools, many of which have little or no cost. Make sure the marketing of your crowdfunding campaign includes a mix of social media, blog content, press releases, video content, photo content, search engine optimization, articles, testimonials, endorsements, product-book reviews, back link integration, and some use of traditional advertising. You will need to monitor and update marketing metrics, so you can adjust your marketing mix according to how potential contributors respond to your message.

7). Perform your due diligence. There is nothing new under the sun, and the same goes for crowdfunding. Even if your product is the first of its kind, there may be a similar market solution or competitor in your industry space. Research the “problem” and review the “solutions” other entrepreneurs have offered to the market. Then research how many of those entrepreneurs employed crowdfunding to upstart their enterprise. Chances are that there will be a number of campaigns that were very successful and some campaigns that were an utter failure. Make a list of the techniques that were most effective and the mistakes made that caused a campaign to flop. Compare these techniques against the list of practices you desire to employ in sharing your campaign.

8). Have a complete understanding of your potential audience. You must have a clear understanding of the audience you desire to enroll in your campaign. The demographics of the audience and the geographic location of potential campaign contributors can have an effect on whether your campaign is a success or failure. For instance, most digital or complicated electronic devices are more popular with younger generation donors. In contrast, if you have a very traditional product offering, then you need to identify, and target your campaign to, the audience that will have the most interest in your value proposition.

9). Be transparent with how you plan to spend your campaign funds. Campaign contributors want to know if you have a financial plan in place for spending or saving the money in which they have pledged. Most campaigns have best succeeded by using the campaign contributions to fulfill actual product orders. Most campaign contributors want to pre-pay for the unreleased product or book before everyone else in the neighborhood has it. Be prepared to plan to give back all of your campaign contributions in the event you do not meet your goals.

10). Set a reasonable timetable of delivery. Truth is your value proposition should be almost market ready. Crowdfunding should not be the only source for funding your project, nor should your campaign’s success or failure determine if your product is going to ever be manufactured. Set a reasonable delivery date that campaign contributors can expect their perk. In the event your project takes longer than expected, it is important to share with your contributors about the delay and updates of progress until the project orders are fulfilled.

11). Show that you are willing to invest into yourself. Most campaign contributors want to see that the entrepreneur has some of their own risk involved. There are two basic types of investment you are going to be required to make in your own project. The first is monetary. You must have some of your own capital at work. Having the ability to share with potential donors the actual amount of hard cash investment you have at stake before asking for outside financial resources always strikes a positive cord. The other investment you will have to make is sweat equity. Provide detail with contributors how much time you have invested and how much work you have put behind the project. You can share with the audience the functions and tasks you are personally responsible for. It is also good to provide some back story of your experiences and regarding your abilities to deliver upon those said tasks.

Each crowdfunding campaign has its own unique value proposition, and brings with it each entrepreneur’s story. The more thought you invest into each of these areas of your campaign, the greater the probability that a larger audience will take notice and interest in your campaign.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

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Crowdfunding Options for Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses

Written by: Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter And author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 5/8/18, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Business, Community, Crowdfunding, Economy, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Small Business

Source: Many small start-up businesses and tech ventures in search of capital turn to popular online platforms for crowd fundraising of financial resources to get their concept off the ground and launched into market. Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and GoFundMe, to name a few, offer solutions in generating cash to fund new ideas. How do you get people to contribute to your cause?  We take a look at some of the most effective crowdfunding techniques.

In the last decade, there have been a number of crowdfunding platforms that offer a menu of fund raising options, including the launch and growth of Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and GoFundMe. A potential campaign contributor can find a variety of crowd fundraising campaigns that range from an inventor who is in search of a few thousand dollars, to a large, corporate-backed venture that is accepting pre-market orders for their new value creation. Each platform specializes in their own niche offering, and provides a formatted recipe for what works in getting campaign contributions.

For instance, Indiegogo mandates that campaigners build and maintain a very aggressive plan that engages with multiple audiences from the campaign’s inception. As a part of the Indiegogo playbook, campaigners must make weekly posts and provide monthly updates for campaigns that have transitioned from either a 30 or 60 day campaign to their long term product called InDemand.  Indiegogo shares that campaigns must include video and photo content as part of their message in sharing their offering with potential contributors.

Kickstarter is also a leader in assisting with the introduction of innovative products and new books, music and other forms of art to market. What makes Kickstarter so successful for some entrepreneurs are the tools available that Kickstarter offers to promote their campaigns. Crowdfunding campaigns that have the highest rate of success with Kickstarter are those that offer something that is new, solve a problem, and offer something practical that people are willing to buy. Most products presented on Kickstarter are beyond concept and are ready for manufacturing and delivery. Kickstarter has helped products get more traction online, and has served as an interim online e-commerce site for product sales while entrepreneurs are setting up a permanent place to market their value proposition.

Most people use GoFundMe as a social cause donation site. For many individuals and groups needing only a few thousand dollars of funding for a personal project, GoFundMe has become the crowdfunding platform of choice. From setting up and taking donations for a funeral, to sponsoring a local sports team which is trying to obtain funding so they can travel to an event, GoFundMe has provided millions of individuals and non-profits the ability to quickly gather up a few extra dollars in a time of need.

So what are some of the most effective practices for marketing your crowdfund project? When marketing to potential funders, social media has become the mainstay platform to inform your audience of close friends and connections about your cause or value proposition. Facebook gives you an opportunity to spread the word to your friends, family, and extended connections. To get a better reach of your program, you can ask and encourage your network to share your post, and provide feedback about the reason why they chose to help your campaign. If you desire to connect with professionals in a specific industry, Linked-in provides the ability to syndicate and share your post with people from several related market segments. You can also promote your campaign through Twitter and Instagram, redirecting raving fans to your campaign page.

So what will donors get for their money? A donor should have the ability to choose perks in return for their donation, especially if the campaign is not solely philanthropic. “Perks” are the benefits that an individual can expect in return for the donation. The more creativeness and value you can squeeze into each perk package, the more you can request per perk level. By adding in a free copy of a book or promotional materials, you can provide additional added value for your donors. “Perks” are generally pre-orders for the specific market product you desire to launch. You can, however, provide add-ons for each level of donation.

Two methods you can employ for increasing how many people see your perks are:  1) holding a contest for most shares of your post with friends on social media, and 2) asking people that are not in a position to contribute to your campaign to help by spreading the message about your campaign story with people they feel would be interested in your project.

Having a few endorsements either by written or video testimonial will provide additional credibility to your offering. You can ask satisfied customers to give testimonials, or, if you know a celebrity, sports figure, or public figure, you can ask them to share a few words about your project, edifying the project and the product.

Lastly, you must monitor your results on a daily basis and make campaign adjustments accordingly. Having the ability to tweak your project’s campaign as you obtain feedback from donors will help you make changes to your campaign and provide updates that may increase traffic to your campaign’s page. Most crowdfunding campaigns can extend as long as 60 days, thus giving you time every few weeks to add to your campaign content and promote it online.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently  lends his expertise as a Consultant firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

Money Saving Tips Any Business Can Put into Practice

Sam-Burlum-logo3 (2) Resized Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author, Published on 3/22/18, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Barter, Business, Community, Currency, Economy, Finance, Free Enterprise, Small Business

Source: There is an old saying, “To be profitable is to save money.” A small business needs every advantage it can get when it comes to trimming expenses and unnecessary cost. Here are a few savings tips for every business.

During tough economic times and a very competitive business climate, Small Business Owners are doing all they can to conserve cash and increase accountability of the best use of their working capital so that they avoid watching their margins of profit from slipping away in between the floor boards. “A penny (or dollar) saved is a penny (or dollar) earned,” so here are a few tips a small business can adopt in order to save on fees, interest payments, and other bills that seem to cut into an owner’s profit margins.

1). Do away with debit/credit card use-switch to a reimbursement system. Banking institutions have switched their business model to a fee based revenue generation machine; which is different from when banks mainly profited from interest payments and fees attached to loans and loan servicing. Every time you use your debit/credit card, there is a transaction fee, either at the merchant and/or at the bank, and sometimes both. Ever use an ATM that is not affiliated with your bank? You will find in those cases multiple usage and service fees from ATM Vendor, the bank it is associated with and your own bank. Some of these fees range from mere twenty or thirty cents upwards to three or four dollars.

To avoid watching these fees and service charges cutting into your profits, stop using debit/credit cards for every little business transaction. Also if you have multiple employees you will want to limit their usage of these cards as well. Use a draw of petty cash that is withdrawn from the bank in person. Use cash on smaller transactions under $100 when applicable. As it relates employees, you can set up a system in which they front the initial expenses they incur on behalf of the business, such as tolls, parking, gas, lunch or dinner meetings with clients, postage, and other purchases that make up the vast amount of small transactions. Once a week, have each employee submit their receipts to the company accountant for reimbursements and issue them a check for these expenses. Less usage of debit/credit cards means less fees you are charged.

2). Pay your vendors and/or suppliers early. Many of your vendors and/or suppliers may be on 30, 60, or even 90 day payment terms with your business. This allows for your business to have the time it may take to sell inventory or service a client account before you have begun covering your cost of goods sold. Many distributors, vendors, and/or suppliers do offer a discount if payment is received before the 30 day window. Usually the offered amount is 2% discount if a bill is paid within 10 to 15 business days. If such terms are offered, pay your bills early to take advantage of these discounts.

If your business has a burn rate of say $10k per month, 2% is $200 saved per month ($2400 a year). That is $200 that is found money which can be applied to other parts of your monthly budget, such as marketing and advertising. If your vendor and/or supplier does not yet offer you early payment terms, negotiate this upfront with them. This is a small concession they will be glad to offer in keeping you as a client. It is of no risk to them. Most vendors or suppliers are accustomed to not receiving payments until 30 days after they are due.

3). Pay your credit card balances on time and/or in full. Most Small Business Owners utilize credit cards as a form of business credit to keep their business afloat in between getting paid by clients. Most small business owners and managers often take credit card offers that provide “interest free,” or “low interest” on credit that is borrowed. Many of these deals are contingent on payments being made on time and/or in full. When only the minimum balance is paid, a small business owner now loses the low interest deal they first had when they acquired the card. To avoid these increases in interest rates and service fees, pay the balance off in full and on time.

Another practice you can try in saving money when using credit cards, is to call the credit card provider themselves and negotiate a “one time balance paid in full” when you have a high balance and are looking to close your account. Credit card companies would rather receive payment on an account that is closing than have it sent to collections. Usually if you get a manager or supervisor on the phone, you can ask to negotiate a final settlement offer. This saves you money in fees, interests, and charges, and clears the credit card company of the account.

If you are using credit cards to make purchases for business growth needs, consider joining a barter exchange that has a multitude of businesses connected to their network in which you can engage in. Barter is interest free.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.

 

The World’s Demand for Alternatives to Traditional Currency

Sam-Burlum-logo3 (2) Resized Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author, Published on 2/5/18, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Barter, Business, Community, Currency, Economy, Finance, Free Enterprise, Small Business

Source: With technology ten steps ahead of the market, even more options for paying bills have become readily available for both the consumer and for the merchant. We explore the many options payment options a business may choose to accept.

Two factors have changed the way we conduct commerce and financial transactions in the world over the past fifty years. The leading factor is the faith that people now have in traditional currency. Many countries, their money supply is based on one factor: faith; the belief that the value of the piece of paper or coin is a true representative of the value of good and/or services they wish to purchase.

Prior to what is known as “fiat currency,” money supply that is backed by no hard good, commodity, or tangible asset, that is widely accepted as a mark of trade, such as precious metals like gold or silver; Most countries would back their value of their currency on tradable commodities which had a real market value.  In recent years, crude oil and petro chemical fuels were used to support currency, while these same currencies were used as the preferred measuring stick against oil. Such is not the case anymore, now that even tying the US Dollar to fossil fuels has become volatile.

With such conditions changing, more individuals are sharing their concern, vocalizing how they have less faith in a piece of paper, which is backed by nothing.

Another trend that is leading people to explore other currency options is the development of technology. Today there are more options on how to make a financial transaction for a good or service. Beyond credit and debit cards, e-wallet and electronic paying systems such as Pay Pal, Apple Pay, and Android Pay. Crypto-currencies are also on the rise. Bitcoin and One Coin have become the top ranked electronic currencies, and merchants are racing get their business into the fold into accepting these new forms of payment.

However one form of a financial transaction that is as old as men and trade itself, is also still on the rise. Barter is growing at a faster pace due to advancements in technology, organizational set ups, wide spread networking, and oversight from two leading barter-industry trade organizations.

With the improvements into accountability and infrastructure, barter has never been so much easier. Traditionally one business or individual would trade services or products with another party that may too have a product or service to offer in the actual exchange. This limited barter, because if one party did not need the other party’s offering, then the exchange could not take place. Today the use of a credit system has widened up the scope in the barter arena. Barter exchanges have made it easier to use barter for many business to business purchases.

Exchanges such as Badger Barter, located in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Badger Barter offers a barter exchange that includes well over 600 business; range from auto repair to graphic design; from legal counsel and services to website creation. These types of exchanges have evolved over time to include many member benefits in which traditional barter did not offer.

As a small business, you should be exploring all payment options, in addition to traditional payments of debit, credit, cash, and check. Barter is a viable way to conduct business to business transactions and opens the door for new business relations to develop within barter exchange networks. Some retailers are now accepting Apple Pay, Android Pay, Pay Pal, Bitcoin, and Onecoin. However barter is considered one of the best options since most barter exchanges offer a credit system, allowing you to use the barter on a wider selection of products and/or services.

Barter is not only a form of payment; it is also a marketing tool. There are businesses that seek out other businesses that offer Barter payment options. You should notify your clients about all of the payment options you offer in multiple touch points. Including but not limited to a placard at the cash register/counter; logo of the barter exchange on your website, social media, and e-mail newsletters; logo on store front window, print advertising, business cards, invoices, and other forms signage a client may see at your establishment.

Bloomberg Business had researched and found that over $12 billion dollars in goods and services were traded without any currency changing hands in 2012. Research showed that not every transaction conducted was on business essentials however the barter was still utilized. Even when the most obscure product or service was offered, the bartered item eventually would find a relative home. Another part of the study revealed that Small Businesses mainly spent their barter in exchange for: marketing and advertising; legal and professional services; facilities maintenance; office supplies; and construction/renovation services; which are many of the same expenditures a small business might use proceeds from a working capital loan for.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.

History of the Barter System

Sam-Burlum-logo3 (2) ResizedWritten by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author, Published on 3/2/18, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Barter, Business, Community, Currency, Economy, Finance, Free Enterprise, Healthy Living, Small Business

Source: As the world of commerce changes, and businesses look to keep up with the vast menu of developing electronic payment systems, one form of payment between small businesses has made a comeback; its called barter.

Barter has been around well before national or worldwide currencies. Prior to organized economic systems that instituted paper money as the representation of the value of one’s goods or services, under the control of banks and governments, there were only a few ways to purchase products. One of the most common practices of commerce exchange was to trade goods and services for ounces of gold, silver, copper, or precious gems. Not everyone had these commodities at their disposal, and so barter became very popular with the common man.

Barter is the exchange of a good or service directly for another good or service of that of equal or greater value, without using a formal method of organized exchange such as money. This simple process allowed for merchants, farmers, hunters, fur traders, transit providers, and traders along the ancient spice routes, to conduct business for items they needed yet could not afford with gold or silver. This exchange was extremely popular in trading for goods from Far East versus goods which were popular in the west, since the exchanges were immediate, and each party could then return to their respective homeland to sell their new rare commodities for more localized needs.

Barter has also assisted to keep economic trade afloat during times of financial crisis. When either money was valued as to low (deflated) or to high (inflated) individuals would trade product for product, depending on their own agreements between them. When currency was unstable, barter always became the preferred method exchange since goods and services were always available when money was not. In times of hyperinflation the commoner could not afford to keep a money supply in “savings” so barter became the best way to get the things you needed.

The earliest of barter was the “silent barter” which occurred between individuals from separate nations which did not speak each other’s native language. The silent barter where simple volumes of goods and services were used as the measuring stick for working out the value of the exchange. Eventually, language barriers were broken down via the consolidation and unification of lands, making barter even more effective and precise during the times of the “old world.”

Today, barter platforms and systems have become very sophisticated and offer much more variety then the days of the old world. During the era of the old world, one would have to search specifically for another individual whom had what you needed, and in turn, they would have to have a need for what good you had to offer. This made barter very limited since if you did not have some good or service that was high in demand, you were often left without an ability to purchase other goods and services.

Today’s barter platforms and systems have organized groups and genres of businesses, products, and services, assuring that one would have a high probability of barter exchange. Barter has one of the most comprehensive working models, a prime example of how trading services or products in an organized system can still be very highly effective in a world dominated by so many other choices of exchange, especially when it is an exchange between two businesses.

Barter is gaining in popularity since it is immediate upon the exchange. With faith in other national or electronic currency begins to dwindle, barter becomes a great alternative to exercise purchasing power.  With the help of modern exchanges for barter, your barter offering has the potential to reach a wider range of audience, a far cry from the old days of trading on the old spice roads in the old world.

According to the International Reciprocal Trade Association, more than over 450,000 businesses transacted near $10 billion dollars globally in 2008 based on barter. This continues to grow, as it was estimated that in 2010, over 450,000 businesses in the United States alone participated in barter trade, with an estimated 400 barter platforms and companies operating around the world.

If you’re a small business in search for a strategic business advantage, barter can provide options to share your businesses products or services without additional risk to your working capital.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.

How the Internet Has Affected the Interstate

Source: Right after World War II, in the 1950s, America was on the move. With the completion of the Interstate Highway System, and more families owning more than one vehicle, families took to the open road to explore, connect, and become educated. Six decades later, fewer families see their vehicle as the expression of their freedom; and find access to the world through the internet.

How amazing it is that in just 60 years, how far we have come in declaring our expression of what gives us the tools to feel mobile and free from the confines of our own zip code?

Six decades ago saw the golden age of the auto industry in America; with the Big Three—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler-Dodge dominating the majority of the vehicle ownership sales; where machines and men made America a country that became completely mobile.

Fast forward 60 years and you find the digital technology revolution is helping families become mobile again, and is changing how people define their mobility.

Now in the palm of your hand, one can access information from almost anywhere in the world. They can learn how to cook a specialty dish on Youtube, or read about historical event by “Googling it,” or even watch their favorite movie or television show on the go via an app on their cell phone. One can even shop for a new pair of jeans, pay for it, and have the jeans delivered to their door in less than 24 hours. The interstate has fallen to the internet.

America use to be completely reliant on their vehicle for everything; to go shopping, to pick up the groceries, to go downtown to see a movie, or to go visit a friend. An entire culture was developed around the premise that Americans identified mobility and freedom to travel with their cars. A variety of business models even developed to cater to the rise of the interstate. Service businesses were built around the idea of a driving culture behind the wheel. Drive-in movie theaters, the drive-through fast food take out restaurant window, the roadside attractions all were a reflection of the pride that many had as vehicle ownership.

Vehicle ownership also allowed for the shaping of modern-day suburbs to flourish. The commuter was born. Individuals were no longer relegated job opportunities as far as their local metro transit system (if any even existed) would take them. Vehicle ownership allowed for a person to live in the countryside where homeownership was less costly; as more people found it more affordable to live outside the city, but yet still work there; the car became a vital tool in developing personal wealth.

The family car, the extra car was also seen as a sign of status. At the top, luxury brands of the likes of Cadillac, Mercedes, Jaguar, or Lincoln, would echo and reflect where on the social economic scale an individual would rank. Today, that hasn’t changed, but the vehicle is no longer viewed as the pride and joy as it once was. Today it is treated and viewed more like an appliance; with an expected shelf life and is disposable.

The new status symbol of mobility is the very mobile device that many carry in their pocket. The digital era and the convenience of the mobile device (cell phone, tablet, kindle, etc.), has allowed for people to stand in their living room access the world. With this tool, the internet superhighway is the road that is most traveled over any other physical road in our current society.

Apple, Samsung, and LG are now the Big Three that offer the vehicles that provide access for people to get information, connect with people, and experience life in a way never thought of. The development of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, allow for people to connect with a click of button without having to put an ounce of fuel in the tank or drive not even a mile down the road. Just about any book once found in the library is now found in a digital format that can be read on a screen.

Programs and services like Skype, Google Hang Out, and Go to Meeting, have given people the ability to have one-on-one communications, seeing each other on a screen and hearing their words, where people can be as physical distant as the other side of the world. These services allow for people to communicate and build relationships beyond the boundaries of how far a car can take them, and are limitless to the boundaries of continents.

New businesses that cater to the new form of mobility include a host of app, ranging from apps that allow you to download coupons and deals from your favorite retailer to keeping track of your steps and physical fitness, are downloaded by the millions each day. There is even the business of add-on hardware to keep your mobile device in shape (cases, ear phones, etc.). Not to mention all of the tech improvements that has made the mobile device more functional, integrating camera, internet, video capabilities.

The internet has most certainly captured the imagination of the youth. They have grown up with the idea that the internet is as much as part of their lives as vehicles once did to our parents. Modern generations don’t know any other life but that of the one in the digital age. With the press of a button they can reach people in other countries, find out information on any subject, and view a video related to any interest.

Such technology has even entered the classroom. Virtual learning, by way of connecting by video over the internet allow for students to attend classes and seminars or view lectures from anywhere in the world. The internet has demonstrated it offers mobility to all those young and old regardless if they qualify for a driver’s license.

It once was said, “Mobility is life,” and so when there is a traffic jam on Interstate 80; remember you could have chosen to route yourself by way of wi-fi.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.

Community Benefits of Barter

The collateral damage of big-box retail invasion into Main Street USA can been seen from coast to coast. All one has to do is get off any major interstate highway exit and head into a historic small town, and you will find a number of empty store fronts, empty parking lots, and “for sale” signs in the windows of buildings. If you travel past the Main Street, usually on the outskirts of town in between another adjacent town, you will find a big box retailer. These stores which might employ a few local people to fulfill the jobs necessary in running a large retailer operation still send its profits out of the community, back to corporate headquarters.

As Main Street businesses struggle with the new normal, it searches for other ways to stay competitive and in keeping those spending dollars in the local community. Many local business owners also live in the same town in which their business services, so it is by no surprise their passion for local pride and wanting to preserve a local economic system. One way of preserving local value creation is with barter.

Since most large big box retailers are only interested in cash, credit, or debit transactions; barter is a unique way for local businesses to capture local and regional clientele, both direct to consumer, and business-to-business in helping them meet their needs. Barter for a local or small business can benefit a community because it’s a system meant to encourage localized trade in one geographic location. It keeps the economic value close to home, direct to those who will use those products and services.

Barter allows for an individual and/or a business to realize real value for their time. With barter, no one ever has to discount their services or products to obtain new clients. Barter allows for your business to gain exposure to new audiences, without the need to spend outrageous budgets on advertising. Being a part of trading network allows you to target specific needs within the network and offer your services to those niche clients. Barter also allows for a business to strengthen relationships with other bartering businesses, keeping both small businesses strong.

Bartering provides flexibility for a small business and/or an individual, such as the ability to get the things they need while conserving hard cash for other business expenditures outside the community. Barter is still a financial contract, so both parties involved in the mutual exchange need to adhere to the agreement. To do otherwise would be no different from not paying for a service or product. Make sure when you do barter, all details of the barter are clearly communicated.

Barter is a simple system that devoid the complex inner workings of a controlled monetary system, allowing for the sense of freedom to conduct commerce between two parties without experiencing the restriction of value on their goods and/or services. When using barter, both sides usually find economic advantages, such as wasting less to get the job done, and provide more of a concentrated effort toward meeting the need of the service, rather than trying to extract more from the other side.

With barter, there is an absence of common measure of value, meaning that there usually is a void in understanding the true value in one good for another as a set standard; for instance, how many eggs must be exchanged for a gallon of milk? Also the inability to divide up a parcel of a commodity presents a challenge. Unlike money, goods cannot be divided or subdivided. This makes for unique situations when trading a larger good for a number of smaller goods. A platform such as Badger Barter, where barter is composed of a trade credit, eliminates this sort of issue.

Barter, without some sort of third-party credit system, makes for other logistical challenges such as deferred payment and transportation an issue, since in a direct barter, everything is an instant exchange. However, in the setting of a tight-knit community where people trust one another, individuals and small businesses can make agreements with each other on time of delivery, and deadlines in which a barter exchange must be realized. Barter keeps a community and its merchants close, and most of all, the community can enjoy the complete benefit of having the true wealth of the exchange stay within the confines of the borders of the community.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.

Growing Your Network

Source: Every business needs a support network it can turn to for advice, to help grow its market presence, and provide referrals. Every step in growing your small business network will require you to invest into relationships with potential clients, vendors, employees, and community advocates. So, where do you start?

It is critical to your business’s growth and health that you establish a network of support around you. Every small business needs to have a legion of community advocacy on its side when the business environment becomes hostile. Some of your flow of client referrals may come from other business owners you have developed a relationship with over time, who do not offer the same services as your business. In the event your business experiences a disruption, who are the fellow colleagues in the business community that you can turn to in order to keep your business on track? It’s vital to establish and maintain positive relationships within the industry or business community, for two things will come out of it: resources and opportunities.

A business grows and thrives on building relationships with people. It is very important to join or be part of a business or community network. Joining either a trade organization or a local chamber of commerce will allow your business to outreach towards experienced mentors who have “been there and done that” in the business world. This provides you the luxury of learning from their mistakes and successes.

Joining a business or trade organization will lend your business instant credibility. Most consumers view the lone wolf as such that, a predator out to take their money. However, when a business joins an organization, it usually must qualify under a vetting process that deems the business and its owner credible. You can make personal connections with people, some who may offer client referrals, and in turn you may have clients you cannot serve, and will need to send them somewhere.

Having a network will increase your purchasing power. You can get better group rates if multiple business owners come together to join in using a shared services model to source things like health care or office supplies. Many business organizations or trade groups have preferred vendors which they refer to for business liability insurance, financing, or other business to business services, which may cater their expertise to a specific industry or geographic area.

When building any business relationship, the goal in mind should be to create a mutual or greater value exchange. Whether it is the exchange of ideas, or client referrals or vendor referrals, keep in mind, time is money, and to waste a person’s time without an equal or greater value exchange is to also waste their money as well as your own. Business relationships should be reviewed as long-term. Just because you met someone today or had a discussion with a new business contact today, does not mean they are obligated to you in any way, unless of course you and the other party sign a contract. You must approach each relationship with a pure intention that what you offer will uplift or enhance their life or business in one shape or form.

So where do you go to join? There are local business organizations and trade groups which are a good place to start. I suggest researching your local Chamber of Commerce. This is the place where business owners, politics and community all come together. Chamber of Commerce offers several opportunities to network with other businesses, which is also your audience if your business sells to other businesses. The Chamber of Commerce is an educational resource for your business as they will be able to connect you to information on how to acclimate your business within the local community. Also, the Chamber offers opportunities to connect with the community though a myriad of local events open to the public, giving businesses an opportunity to showcase their products or services to the general local public.

Organizations such as the National Small Business Association, National Federation of Independent Businesses, and National Small Business Association are small business trade organizations that blend solving industry issues with community advocacy to leadership in government. These organizations allow for businesses to network with each other and provide a voice for small businesses collectively, as well as on behalf of small businesses concerning regulatory matters and legislation that will either help or hurt the small business owner.

So how do you build a relationship with the community around you? Community outreach should be a priority when mapping out your marketing and advertising campaign and budget. Not all community outreach costs money. Sometimes it involves investing your time. Rotary Club, Kiwanis, Elks Lodge, and the VFW-American Legion are staples in the community. They are organizations led by local business owners and community leaders that perform good works aimed at uplifting the community. Through your service in one of these organizations, you will get to develop relationships with other people who will recognize your dedication to help others.

Some businesses take the lead by organizing a community activity. 5K runs are a very popular way to get people to gather together for a good cause. The money raised can be donated to charity, and you have plenty of opportunities to get your business name in front of people, leading up to, during, and after the event. As the host and main sponsor, your business name and contact information would be placed on all the event’s marketing materials, sign up forms, social media, and mentioned during the event. You can have a team staffing a booth or table of information made available to racers and supporters.

Another role your business can play in growing its network is becoming a member of a community activist group. This can be tricky because some community activism is driven by political agendas, and so it is important to not push an agenda or get involved with any group that requires you to vacate your personal values or alienates your clients. If you’re a business that caters to female clientele like a beauty parlor, you may choose to help a community activist group that supports women who are victims of domestic violence. If your business is in the environmental industry, you may want to take up cause with a group that advocates for better environmental practices.

Wherever you choose to build relationships, make sure that you are joining because in your heart you want to make a difference, want to help others and effectively uplift the community around you. If you volunteer or join a business organization or trade group with the intent that it’s all about what you can get out of someone else, your actions, words and mannerisms will speak out for your wrong intentions and people will take notice. Building a community and network goes hand in hand in lending your time, expertise, and sometimes financial resources in serving others. Remember, you get back what you give.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.

Essential Must Have Marketing Tools for Most Small Businesses

Source: Quick to gain a cult consumer following and loyal customer base, most businesses begin to advertise their product and/or service offerings without a plan, which can cause the business to spend valuable dollars in advertising which may not have been the right fit in attracting potential clients from specific targeted audiences.  In order to reach any group of potential customers effectively, every small business needs essential marketing tools that will help them better direct their advertising budgets towards better use while reaching more clients for potential deal acquisition.

A quality marketing plan, which includes an advertising campaign, and an ongoing on-line presence, is the best place for every small business to invest their focus financially. Yet most small business owners say they cannot afford it. I tell them that they cannot afford to be invisible and allow for their competition to gain all the potential customers. A small business can invest tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising and see absolutely no results. The reason for this is that in order to know what types of advertising will best suit your business reach, you need to understand your goals and targets, your ideal clientele, and a defined budget you have available to allocate towards marketing and advertising.

With the plethora of choices, where do you begin? It can be a daunting task and it can be easy to get overwhelmed, however there are some tools that every small business must have to keep them on point and remain actively focused on their goals.

A business needs a quality marketing campaign.  Notice I said, “quality?” There are folks out there that will charge you thousands of dollars on a marketing plan, without taking the time to understand your business. The most complete marketing exercise is where an outside marketing and branding firm takes the time to research your business goals, your personal goals as the business owner, your vision, and your core values. They then take all of this data and compile it into a report that is the foundation for the road map in the most ideal client acquisition for your business. The marketing plan aligns your value proposition product or service with the ideal demographic of potential client within a geographic territory.

In order to stay in front of people, you need a quality advertising plan that properly represents your message to the public. Again, I mention the word “quality.” Any sales representative can give you an ad buy kit with the list of prices for ad space in the newspaper or on radio. However, a quality advertising campaign is going to take into account all of the audience you desire to specifically reach (based on demographics and geographic region), and provide you multiple avenues with which you can gain an audience with these potential clients. Your advertising campaign should be a mix of traditional advertising and online campaigns, with a detail of expected reaches. Advertising results should be measurable so that new client acquisition ratio can be properly assessed. This would look like, “x number of advertising dollars spent = x number of new clients,” and then broken down dollar for dollar with the return on the investment into advertising. Utilizing this plan will allow you to also gauge the most effective advertising medias for your business.

Living in a digital era, you must be able to have an effective website that is mobile friendly. Your website is your business card to the world. As technology continues to evolve, so should your website’s abilities to be searched for and found on multiple types of devices. There are 80% of individuals under the age 40 who use their mobile device for email, internet searches, and financial transactions. If your website is not mobile friendly, then your business will not be seen. Your website should also be able to support video, audio, as well as have multiple placements for a call to action that excites the viewer and engages them into wanting to know more or even make a purchase.

Keep an open mind to alternative forms of payment. Paper money, coins, and debit/credit cards are just a few ways people pay for things today. You need to expand your horizon to be able to accept crypto-currency, electronic wallet payments, and barter. Once you have decided on which platforms of payment your business will accept, you need to include it in your advertising materials. There are folks whom are loyal to one payment preference over another, and you need to let them know you are in a position to service their needs.

Cause marketing must be a part of our overall marketing strategies if you are going to have community brand value. Younger consumers do take notice of businesses that donate to local community causes and charities. They will patron those businesses that offer back something to a non-profit cause, especially when it is a cause that the consumer can identify with. Your plan on giving back should be consistent year to year. A business can build out an event around their contribution to the good cause, which gets noticed by local media.

Have an alliance with a freelance news reporter associated with local media. With the consolidation of newspapers and media outlets across America, most news stories, articles, and press releases do not get published unless someone with press credentials submits it to the reporting news wires. Most newspapers and publications have cut their staff and pluck from the news wires to save money on hiring dedicated reporters as well as the time required for getting content ready for print. Most freelance news reporters, journalists, and/or investigate reporters have credentials to submit content to news wires. When a reporter or journalist submits the content, it is deemed more creditable since the reporter has to vet the facts.

Hard physical marketing takeaways are still relevant, especially when you are marketing your business at a trade show or at a special buying market event.  Business cards are still the number one marketing tool when you are making an introduction to another party for the first time. Many folks fail to carry a business card on their person. Other marketing materials such as brochures, sell sheets, and post card mailers, are take away items that a client will have in their hand as a reminder to consider making a purchase. Letter head and thank you cards are also a must.

Branding your business is more than selecting a clip art logo. There are many generic logo designs to choose from in clip art or online. Today, the attention span of a consumer is less than 15 seconds, and if your logo is not dynamic enough, you will fall into the trap of getting lost in the sauce. Your logo should be the beacon of your brand, the message you wish to share, and explain what it is that you do without a lengthy conversation. You can take the time and make the investment to have the right logo crafted that will last for decades for your business or you can waste time and money on getting a generic logo design. In the end, if you choose the later route, you will also create channel confusion with your customer audience because they may stumble through in the transition from one branding to the next.

Many sales do not generate from social media, however positive social engagement about your product or service is now mandatory in a world where good news is noticed, but bad press moves at lightning speed. Social media business pages should not just be a bull horn for shouting to potential audiences to purchase your goods/services; it should be a platform of education. One where your business provides informative, engaging material and interesting facts to folks about your field of practice that they may not otherwise be aware of. Social media business pages on Facebook, Linked-in, and others are not the place to tell your business’s story, but just provide snippets of information which will peak the potential client’s interest.

A small introductory video about your business is an extra step that assures you someone will take notice of your business. You Tube is the premier platform for hosting video content for marketing your product and/or service, regardless how big or small your company may be.  The best part is that it is a free service for you to use, and the step-by-step upload process, gives your video additional search engine optimization so your video will rank higher in more relevant searches. Over time you can add to your video library content that can be re-purposed and shared in social media campaigns, or videos that can be sent to potential clients as part of your dribble marketing practices. It is suggested the shorter the introductory video the better. This takes some practice in trying to fit in who you are, what your business does, where you are located, what your value proposition is, why you are better than your competitor and what’s in it for the viewer of the video – all in less than 30 seconds.

Search engine ranking has become more and more competitive as the race to capture command over key words and ad word phrases intensifies on the internet. You will need a SEO plan that is phased in over time and that will stay relevant as your business expands in products and/or services offered. This will take careful consideration as you prepare a set of words and phrases that are unique to your business and industry situation, while being relevant to the common consumer. This is so that your business shows up on their radar, preferably on the first or second pages of their internet search.

The more upfront time, resources, and thought you invest into your business’s marketing tools, the more productive your results will be in staying in front of potential clients and while retaining top of the mind awareness with your current clients.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.

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