5 Principles of Successful Leadership in Small Business

When we think about leadership-especially in regard to building and growing a successful small business-it’s easy to envision the traditional top-down leadership that so often goes along with the term. We often think about leadership along the lines of being a major political leader or being the chief executive of a major Wall Street company. And while this certainly is a respectable vision of leadership, when it comes to small business, we’ve got to see beyond this traditional view.

Following are the top 5 principles of successful leadership that I’ve found make THE difference in whether your business flies or flops:

Principle #1:  Leadership Means Having People Skills.

Let’s face the facts-most small businesses don’t have scores of employees to lead. Instead,  leadership revolves around building successful business relationships with clients and friends of the business. Whether it’s negotiating the next big deal or selling the product or service represented by your business, your suppliers, customers, and all parties in between are who the small business owner must strive to lead.

Principle #2:  Leaders Must Be Adept At Solving Problems.

Being a natural leader makes it that much easier for a small business owner to be able to reach outside the box and come up with creative solutions to the problems and dilemmas faced by any business. It should come as no surprise that the list of qualities found in leaders corresponds very closely with the list of qualities found in problem solvers.

Principle #3: Leadership Requires Building Confidence.

Inspiring confidence in others when it comes to the capabilities of your small business is something that’s essential to success. Without this leadership trait, it would be quite difficult to handle the necessary business operations like securing financing and developing a strong sales plan. Remember, healthy confidence begins first with the leader, only radiating outward from there.

Principle #4:  Leaders Depend On Big Picture Vision.

Because the small business entrepreneur must successfully manage so many different facets of a business when leading it from inception through the growth stage, having “20/20” big picture vision is an essential leadership quality. Without this keen sense of vision to serve as a guiding light through the ups and downs-and ultimately to success-a business will gradually lose its course and drift off path.

Principle #5: Leading A Small Business Demands Boundless Energy.

It’s not always easy to keep plugging along no matter how overwhelmed you might be, but maintaining a constantly enthusiastic aura of energy is key to developing a business from the ground up. Most proven leaders will tell you that they only found major success after hitting rock bottom first. Boundless energy makes bouncing back from inevitable lows possible.

In small business, effective leadership goes well beyond the scope of leading employees alone-in reality, reaching goals means leading every single aspect of a business to success.

Running Out of Leads? 3 Lead Generation Secrets For Your Small Business

Lead generation can be expensive and kill a small business marketing campaign before it even gets of the ground. You can tie up vital dollars in buying lead generating mailing list compiled together by outside companies. You can pay employees to collect data from each customer that comes thorough your doors. Then with all this data you still have to buy stamps to mail ads or post cards. And with most states enacting the no call list how good is the telephone data.

But don’t despair your marketing strategy is still safe and at hand, because of a little thing called the net. Here are three lead generation ideas for your business:

1) Ask and ye shall receive. Do you like T Shirts? Well I sell T Shirts! And yes it is that simple. The new wave of social networking has made it possible to build connections with customers and then create a forum to ask them what they like and don’t like. You can even go deeper as to ask them what they like and don’t like about your company, service and or product. It seems that we are more likely to speak our mind through email or social networking post then we are face to face. This type of arena is very helpful in marketing your business.

2) Yelp for help. Customer service sites like yelp are making it possible to ease drop on your customers. Although we are more likely to say things on the net we would not say face to face does not mean your customers will say it on your site. Companies like Yelp encourage customers to come to their websites and lay at the good, the bad and the ugly of other companies. You may find it worth while to visit these sites to find customers that are satisfied with your company and reward them or find customers unsatisfied and try to make them happy again. Trolling these sites should defiantly be part of your market strategy.

3) Follow the lead to a lead. Even the old school marketing strategy consists of networking. You got to know your client and you had them bring in a friend or two and as a reward they received a gift. You can use your social networking fan base in the same way. Take your list of fans and then look at those that are connected to them. We all put way to much personal information on our profiles. A quick glance of your fans friend’s profiles will generate leads that you can use in marketing your business.

These are more lead generation ideas for your business out there; these are just my three favorites. A successful marketing strategy can be fun as well as effective. I enjoy logging on each day to see how much my fan base has grown and then searching out other possible connections through my connections. The growth of the internet will only simplify small business marketing more and more.

Effective PR For a Small Business on a Budget – Get Local and Get Online!

If yours is like most small businesses, you can’t afford the luxury of a PR department, much less a dedicated PR agency or even one employee responsible for external communications and PR. However, this business function is critical as the world of communications continues to expand with new applications, demands and opportunities like social media networks. The thought of a concerted PR strategy and execution can be overwhelming for a small business owner, but it doesn’t have to be. There are two primary elements of PR for a small business to engage upon – leveraging online and local offline outlets. The old world of face-to-face will continue to be critical in building your PR strategy and overall business, but let’s face it – the environment has changed, and you simply can’t ignore the power of the Web, particularly social networks. Proactively getting your business out in the community while leveraging the Web will ensure the success of your PR strategy. And, these tactics are not expensive; in fact, many present opportunities for free PR for your small business.

These PR strategy tips are designed for those small businesses that simply don’t have budget allocated toward hiring and retaining a communications expert. If you are a smaller company, hopefully you can take a few tips below to integrate PR into your small business to help build a brand and generate leads. Utilizing informative, valuable PR about your small business gives you the opportunity to influence people and lead them to your destination – your website, your store, your offering. Take advantage of what’s out there! Get online and get local – it’s that simple.

Growing Your PR Strategy

Grow Online

If you don’t have a website, you need to get one immediately. Today, you can get a starter site for free or within your communications packages from your voice and data provider. If it’s in the package, then it’s a no-brainer. If you have a website, then make sure it’s dynamic (video, blogs, and communities) to ensure your target audience comes back and builds a relationship with you and your brand. It’s a requirement in today’s online world; the days of stagnant sites are over. Then, once you have your interactive site, make sure you optimize your website and everything you say about your business online to ensure your potential customers are finding you online when they search. This is a key part of your online PR strategy. Don’t you search Google or Bing to find what you need a pinch? It’s called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and it can be an affordable way to create additional PR for your small business — and it’s often found in your communications and IT packages. At the very least, getting a URL allows you to be FOUND online and that’s key. Google now provides maps when visitors are looking for a specific service in a specific area. By simply having an Internet address – you can be found online looking professional with a map to your location and link to your business, which is pretty cool.

The Wild World of Social Media

You have probably heard about “social media” and you may already be taking part. For many, however, the world of Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, blogs, vlogs and status updates may be a bit unsettling. Suffice it to say – these are powerful tools to help you carry out your PR strategy, especially when used properly to connect, communicate and yes, to sell.

As a small business, you can’t afford NOT to take part. It’s easy and affordable, so don’t waste anymore time. Of course, you do need to understand how best to engage before you jump in. Here are a few quick ways to start creating more PR for your small business:

1 – Create a Twitter profile and gain followers by “Tweeting” about your business, surrounding businesses and community topics that map back to your business. Build buzz about what you provide – can you Tweet special coupons? Can you give advice? Can you share relevant information to your community? Do you have an event you want to invite local prospects to? Twitter, an emerging PR strategy with an increasing audience, is a great way to quickly (140 characters or less) get a message out and position yourself as a leader. Remember, it’s not all about you; you must talk about the world around you to make an impact. Start off Tweeting about your business, but quickly begin integrating Tweets about your customers, your community, and your industry – and the most important part is to provide some kind of value or benefit in your tweets. Be respectable as well. And if you see someone comment about your business online (good or bad) – respond online for all to see. It’s a great way to show you are committed to your customers. The cost to you? It’s essentially free PR for your small business.

2 – Create free profiles on Linked In and Facebook. All you need for Linked In is a profile of you, and from there, you can create a group where you can share stories, news, and other PR about your small business. People can ping you for questions which positions you as an expert and, you can join interest groups that will help you track what other potential buyers in your community do, say and think. For Facebook, simply select “business” on the homepage to create a business “fan” page. Local residents, family and friends can then become “fans” of your company, which is an easy way to highlight the most recent PR about your small business. All you have to do is commit to posting news, updates, coupons, photos and other interactive content to get people engaged. Remember – provide a benefit – a reason for your “fans” to come back for more.

In addition to these PR strategy tips, there are local meet-up groups in every community that often originate from the Web, and then meet offline to have a real interactive discussion. Check out Meetup.com in your area to find one.

Confused about this new world of social media? Read Groundswell by two Forrester Research analysts, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. This book will set you straight and get you excited about the opportunities out there in terms of online PR for your small business.

Grow Local

Much like how consumers like to buy from locally grown farms, small businesses tend to buy from their peers – other small businesses. An effective PR strategy is all about supporting your local communities, and these days, that’s more important than ever. Keeping this in mind, focus on your community by generating PR for your small business at local events. Depending on your business, there are often specialty groups for different types of businesses such as professional service specialty groups. Often these groups gather monthly or quarterly to share best practices and to network. There are certainly general small business groups in your community such as your local Chamber that meet regularly as well. Beyond networking events, you can get ink for your business. Most Chambers have monthly newsletters or emails. Do you have something to say? Could you contribute twice a year with a special promotion to drive people to your business? Take advantage of these opportunities to fuel word-of-mouth marketing through PR for your small business. Hand out business cards, build relationships and follow-up. These opportunities are right outside your door.

Think grassroots.

Shake hands with other small businesses owners, refer each other and grow your business. To improve PR for your small business, think about what events are taking place this weekend where you could set up space, hand out collateral, serve up some hotdogs, and generate solid leads. Is there an art show or “Taste Of” type of event? Don’t take it all on yourself; partner with other local businesses right in your area to split costs and cross-sell to each other’s customers. A hand-shake goes a long way towards an effective PR strategy. Add a coupon and see the results. Most communities have annual events that bring hundreds/thousands of people – target those. In terms of PR for a small business, the best thing you can do is to connect directly to your audience by showing your personality and your value – get out there!

Leverage Local Media.

Another important element of your PR strategy involves local brand development, which means building relationships with local media. Yes, there is still benefit in reaching out to traditional media when it comes to PR for your small business. Take a moment to find out who your local reporters are and introduce yourself. Share with your new media contacts areas of expertise that you would be able to discuss if requested. If you create a relationship with your local media and have something compelling or contrarian to say, chances are they will call you when they need your input. Consider a quick email to your local reporters with an introduction, a quick reference of your expertise and what you could comment on. Being timely and relevant is critical to your PR strategy. Offer a cup of coffee. Those relationships can go a long way when you really want to make noise in the community. It’s important to know that if you want coverage and/or additional PR for your small business – you won’t get it with a cold pitch. You must: 1) – establish a relationship; 2) – have news to share that’s relevant, unique or at least different; and 3) – have a product/or service that is remarkable. These rules ring true for influential bloggers as well. For more on being remarkable, read Seth Godin’s Purple Cow – a great, quick read that will get you thinking about how to stand out from the rest to grow your business.

Blending Old and New: Building PR for a Small Business

Hopefully these PR strategy tips will help you build a brand for your small business and generate new and recurring business via PR. Communicating to customers and enabling them to communicate back to you is essential in today’s social world of media. However, what remains important today as it did 100 years ago is the face-to-face interaction. Nothing will replace it, so make sure you show your face and personality in the community. Coupling the old with the new will ensure a successful PR strategy for your small business.

Small Businesses Turn Leads Into Sales by Responding Quickly

The key for a small business to turn leads into sales is speed. When people look for information, products, or solutions on the internet, they want instant gratification. If they have to wait for you to send back an email or wait for a phone call from you, you’ve probably already lost them. If they have to wait for you to send them something in the postal mail, you never had a shot anyway.

The first time that I realized just how critical this was, I had been in business for a few years, and my company was a preferred vendor for a training website. Every day, people would visit this website, and because it was so comprehensive, it was very difficult to navigate. As a result, a lot of people would just fill out the form on the website requesting whatever type of training that they were looking for. As soon as someone filled out the form, it automatically got posted on the secure side, so if you were one of these preferred businesses, you could login at any time and see what had been posted.

To help us all out, though, the owner of the website would send out a summary at the end of the day, so every evening about 8:00 PM or so, we’d all get an email with a list of all of the leads that came in that day.

I responded to hundreds of these leads without any turning any of those leads into sales. Then, one evening, there was a lead from someone wanting a public speaking class in Dallas. I thought, “Oh, I got this one.” And I responded to it. The next morning, I called the person and introduced myself, and she was the most cold and distant prospect I think I have ever talked to. She just said, “We’ve already chosen someone else,” and hung up. I was totally confused.

So I thought about what I should do to try and close some of these leads, and I figured that I really needed to know what everyone else was doing. I went onto the site and created a posting of my own. It was about 10:30 AM, and I put into the posting that I would only accept email proposals.

By 11:00 AM, I had already received three proposals. The first was just a generic email with a HUGE attachment that took quite a while to download. It was about 20 MB of brochures in eight separate attachments that I never really went through. The second was just a simple email saying, “If you still need help, call me.” (Okay it was a little more involved than that, but not much.) The third, though, was a beautiful, professional looking proposal. After glancing at it, I had pretty much decided that if I had really been buying a public speaking class, I would have hired that company.

By 3:00 PM, I had about 25 proposals.

By 6:30 PM, I had received almost 50 proposals.

By 8:00 PM, the time that I was typically receiving the summary email from the website, I had received over 72 proposals.

The next morning when I woke up, I had received 143 proposals. After the first 20 or so, I didn’t look at any of them – not even out of curiosity.

When new proposals kept coming in the morning (less than 24 hours since I posted the listing,) they just ticked me off. I was thinking, “What a loser! You’re number 150 on the list.” But remember, that less than 24 hours prior, I was consistently number 73 or 74 on these lists every single time. (I was the late guy that was ticking everyone off.)

I met with my team that day to share what I found out. We made a commitment to be the first to respond to every request. We only had six people working for the company, but we decided to assign one person every day just to wait for the phone to ring, one person just to wait for individual email leads to come in, and another just to wait for corporate contract requests to come in.

Our goal was to call any email inquiry back in less than five minutes. The most common comment that we started getting when we made those phone calls was, “Wow! I just hit send. You guys are really fast.”

That year we went from a small half-million dollar company to almost one and a half million dollars in sales. The next year we doubled sales again. The only thing that really changed was the speed at which we were following up with potential clients.

Typical Web Surfer

Typical web surfers will usually do something like this. They have a question and quickly do a Google search. They will scan the first page that pops up looking for a listing summary that most closely relates to what they are looking for. If they find one, they will click the link to see if an answer can be found.

Not finding the answer right away, they might fill out a web form requesting additional information.

Then they will go back to Google and look at the next listing. This one has an FAQ page, and they read a few of them and feel comfortable enough to fill out another form to get a second opinion.

Then they will go back to Google and look one more time. This time, the website has a blog with dozens of helpful articles and a few videos that look really nice. They now pick up the phone and end up getting a voicemail.

They might look at a few more listings, but most will not likely to fill out any more forms. No one wants to be bombarded with spam from a lot of websites, so they will probably be cautious about filling out more forms. They will probably only call additional listings from here on out and only if the website is very compelling.

So here is the big question…

Who is most likely to get the business?

If the owner of the third website had answered the phone instead of having the call go over to voicemail, then that person would have had a tremendous advantage over the other two companies. In fact, if the person replies to the voicemail right away, that owner still has an advantage.

In reality, the person who makes contact with the prospect first and builds rapport with the prospect is always in the driver’s seat.

However, if you respond to the email the next day, the person will answer the phone saying, “Huh? Who are you again?” The web surfer typically forgets entirely that he/she requested the information in the first place within 24 hours or less.

If the person gets a brochure in the mail a week after sending the email, well… you get the picture.

Speed is your friend in online sales. If you can’t personally follow up on the requests, then hire someone. If you can’t hire someone, then at least invest in a good email follow up system.

Don’t make your good prospects wait for you.

Move quickly. Move nimbly. And make a ton of people happy and a ton of money in the process!