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“The Lean Startup” has become a book that every tech entrepreneur has read and quotes regularly. Eric Reis, the author of the book, coined the term “lean startup” to reframe what it means to be a startup and the process that a startup should follow to ensure success… or at least to take a good stab at it. The main premise of the book is that a startup is simply a
series of experiments. Experiments that have a hypothesis (an idea to test), limited variables to test (test certain aspects of your idea, not the whole idea at once), and success measurements (how you know when you succeeded or failed).
By executing and completing these experiments, you are continually refining and defining your product and target market. Through the experiments, you might find out that no one will buy your product, or that a completely overlooked demographic is actually your target market. In the long run, testing small aspects of your idea will save you time and money because you will be forced to focus on the product that will sell and not on superfluous
aspects of your business that do not contribute to your bottom line.
While “The Lean Startup” is written specifically for tech startups, the principles can be and must be applied to small start-up business and social ventures. Here are some examples on how applying the lean start-up principles might look in a small business.
Business idea: Car mechanic Hypothesis: People want a car mechanic in a convenient
location.
Experiment: Find a neighborhood that has to travel 5 miles to get to a car mechanic. Go door to door and offer to provide basic services at their residence.
Measurements: Get 30 percent of car-owning neighborhood residents to pay for services.
Why it works? You will be able to determine if a convenient location is a problem. You will start to build a customer base before making the capital investments into a building.
Business idea: Organization services
Hypothesis: People want to get organized because it makes them calm.
Experiment: In the same time frame, send out two sets of marketing materials. One that uses words and colors that reflect calm, peace, tranquility, etc., and the other that uses words and colors that represent efficiency, time-saving, productivity, etc.
Measurements: Record which marketing materials created the most interest.
Why it works? You will be able to see what motivates people to get organized and develop a customer-centric marketing strategy.
Using the lean startup principles can be intimidating and might be counter intuitive to traditional startup thinking. The fact is you can plan as much as you want but in reality business plans reflect the world that’s in your mind, and not the world that actually exists. To start a successful business from the beginning, you need to be in the trenches with your
potential customers.
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For some businesses, particularly those in the retail sector, the holiday season can be an important period. By now, most businesses owners already have thought about the inventory side for the season. But here are a few added things that might need to be on your planning list.
• Make sure you know your target market. Has your customer base shifted over the years or does it shift a little during the holiday season? Do you need to adjust your marketing to include a slightly different type of consumer or focus?
• Get social. The holidays will be busy, so plan ahead on how to handle social media. Make sure to check online reviews so you can take action if it appears a problem is brewing. Do you need to add a festive picture or let people know you have this year’s “hot” item in stock? Do your product descriptions need a little fine-tuning? How are you going to communicate specials? How and when are you going to allocate the time to update Facebook or Twitter?
• Evaluate your staffing needs and have a staffing plan. Decide whether you will need some temporary help. Know how much a new hire really costs when you take into account hiring, training, employment taxes, etc. Is it better to pay some overtime? This also may be a busy time for your existing employees, and being forced to work a lot of overtime might lead to a disgruntled staff.
• Give great service. It is all about customer service at the holidays, and here is where a small business truly can excel. Go out of your way to provide a personal touch. If you are hiring extra help, look for friendly people who won’t get rattled by tired and stressed-out customers who may not be exhibiting the season’s joy.
• Get found. Check your website, Facebook page, Google Places, Yelp.com and other online places where your company information can be found. Does it still show the correct address, telephone number, store hours, etc.? If you have satisfied customers, you can subtly encourage them to do online reviews — but don’t be pushy.
• Get ready. Create a warm and welcoming atmosphere in your store that encourages customers to linger. Use creative window displays to lure people in, and music, scents and décor to keep them browsing inside. “Read” your customers — providing good customer service doesn’t mean being overly pushy or always looking over the customer’s shoulder. Some people find this annoying and will try to rush out rather than leisurely lingering and looking.
• Think safety and convenience. Try to keep sidewalks clear from ice and snow, both for your customers’ and your employees’ safety and convenience. Think ahead and plan on who will be responsible for snow removal.
With the shorter daylight hours, make sure outdoor lights are working.
• Get involved with Small Business Saturday. Started in 2010 and sponsored by American Express, this nationwide initiative is aimed at encouraging consumers to buy local and support small independent businesses.
Occurring on the Saturday after “Black Friday” (November 24th this year),
promote this event and concept at your business. Over one hundred million people were part of Small Business Saturday in 2011, and the initiative is supported by President Obama and SBA Administrator Karen Mills. Find out more about this event at www.smallbusinesssaturday.com or www.facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday
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By Chemeketa SBDC
If your business (bricks and mortar or virtual) is going to be successful in the long run, you must focus on serving your customer’s needs and desires. The essence of marketing rests on your clear understanding of your customer and delivering a unique product that he or she cannot get anywhere else.

A Customer Analysis helps you predict which items will appeal to your customers and make a dramatic impact on how you spend your advertising dollars. Do you have answers for the following checklist?

1. Who are your target customers and what are they seeking from you?

2. Have you profiled your customers by age, income, education, occupation, etc.?

3. Are you familiar with your customers’ lifestyles?

4. Should you try to appeal to the entire market or just a segment?

5. Are there new customer segments or special markets that deserve attention?

6. Do you know where your customers live?

7. Do you use census data from your city or state?

8. Are you aware of the reasons why customers shop with you? (Convenience, price, quality products, etc?)

9. Do you stress a special area of appeal such as lower prices, better quality, wider selection, convenient location or convenient hours?

10. Do you ask your customers for suggestions on ways to improve your operations?

11. Do you know what products your customers most prefer?

12. Do you know what seasons and holidays most influence your customers buying behavior?

13. Have you considered using customer questionnaires to help you in determining your customer’s needs?

14. Do you know at what other types of stores your customers shop?

15. Do you visit market shows and conventions to help anticipate customer wants?

And, finally, what do you do with this information? Just gathering data is not enough. The answers to the above questions will now give you the opportunity to make true management decisions about your business. You now need set your business goals based on the analysis of your customer. Reminder — make all goals SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, responsible (person), and with a timeline).
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Right after your customer buys something from you is the perfect time to give them love and attention. Don’t let them fade away. Be sure to remind them how great it was to buy from you (and not from someone else) and how pleased you were to have them as a customer. Here are five ways to do that, how many more can you add to this list?
• Congratulate them. Better than thanking them, a congratulatory “wow, you made a great choice!” or “congratulations on your new membership” lets them know not only that you appreciate their purchase, but that you approve of their decisions.
• Send a thank you that’s interesting and different. Instead of a regular thank you card, use something else that can be sent through the mail such as an envelope containing puzzle pieces. Or a small box with a surprise in it. Make the thank you memorable in some way.
• Ask another staff member to come over and thank the customer at the point of sale. A manager is best here, but any other staff member will do. This lets the customer know that the whole team appreciates the purchase.
• Create ways for customers to let their friends know about the purchase. This is easy these days with social media. But you can go beyond that by having a wall (a real one or a virtual one) where customers can post pictures of themselves with your products. Or space on your website for customers to pose with you and your service providers. Think of ways you can make your customers the stars of their own shows (and yours).
• Have exclusive events that only your best customers are invited to, and make sure they know that not just anyone has been invited. Offer tasty snacks and entertainment.
Please email me your great ways to keep contact with your customers post-sale, and I’ll write them into another column soon.
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1. The Basics of Government Contracting
Topics:
• Who is GCAP and how can we assist your small business to succeed in government contracting
• Understanding the federal codes NAICS and PSC
• Finding leads FedBizOpps, FedConnect, GCOM
• Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR)
• Federal contracting set-asides HUBZone, 8(a), SDVOSB, VOSB, WOSB, EDWOSB
• Registrations SAM and DSBS
Date: February 13, 2014
Time: 9 am to 12:00 pm
Instructor:  Marta Clifford
2. Understanding Federal and State Small Business Certifications
Topics:
• FEDERAL-Understanding Small Business Certifications
• Understanding Small Business Goals|• Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB) Certification & 8(a) Program
• Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business Certification (SDVOSB)
• Woman Owned / Economically Disadvantaged Woman Owned Small Business Certification
• HUBzone Certification
• Veteran Owned Small Business (VOSB) Certification
• STATE-ESB- Emerging Small Business, DBE- Federal Disadvantaged Business Enterprise
• WBE-Woman Business Enterprise, MBE- Minority Business Enterprise
• What are the benefits of state certifications?
• How do I market to state agencies? Do any agencies set aside contracts for certified small businesses?
• What are the requirements for state certification?
• How to leverage your small business certifications
Date: February 20, 2014
Time: 9 to 11 am
Instructor:  Marta Clifford
3. Marketing Materials and Methods
Topics:
• Capability Statement what it is, how to write one and how to use it to market to the Federal government
• Websites: why you should have one and what should be included on your website
• BUSINESS cards what do they say about your business
• GCOM GCAP’s Government Contracting Opportunities Match how to make it work for you.
The instructor will assist you with the form while in class.
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It’s a question as old as business itself: How can a company be sure it’s spending the right amount of money on the right kind of marketing so that it can sell more products or services to increase profitability and, ultimately, enhance shareholder value?
Advertising dollars without an evaluation plan are dollars wasted. You must know BEFORE you spend one dime what you expect to get as a return on your investment, or ROI, and you must have a plan for knowing whether or not the expenditure was worthwhile.
ROI is a measure of the effectiveness of your advertising. How much you made compared to how much you spent or invested.
First you must be specific. Set your goal. To start down the path of marketing/advertising without knowing what you want to achieve is easy. Most everybody starts that way. The problem, you will never know if you got where you wanted to go. More specifically, you will never know if the marketing strategy worked!
If you spend $1000; attract 10 new customers who each spend an average of $50 dollars — this is not good: $50 x 10 customers yield $500. You just spent $1000 to earn $500.
Measure your investment. Your ROI is calculated by dividing your sales by your advertising costs. Example above $500 / $1000 = 50 percent. Not good. Bad investment. You must have a minimum of 100 percent simply to break even.
“Oh”, you say, “they will come back”. Okay, then your strategy simply for breakeven must be 10 new customers spending $50 each and returning a second time to spend $50. ROI: $1000/$1000 = 100 percent. Okay, but still not good enough. Why all the effort and energy just to break even?
The most effective advertising gives you a high ROI. You get a high ROI if you spend very little to advertise and still get sales.
The second critical step in ROI is how do you measure the effectiveness of the ad? Be sure to collect data so that you can calculate your actual ROI. If you are using multiple advertising methods, you will need to track sales or income as a result of each type of advertising.
• Ask prospects that contact you how they heard about your business. (Write it down, keep a tally – you cannot remember in your head and measure effectively).
• Include a code with your advertising and ask prospects to include the code with their order or inquiry. (Codes work well to track results from multiple advertising campaigns that are occurring concurrently.)
• Keep advertising campaigns separate from each other to test new markets.
• Feature a new product / service and market it exclusively in multiple media.
To know if a marketing strategy is effective you must a) know your costs (easy enough) and b) know how many customers responded to the advertising strategy ( more complex but critical). Be creative.
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Every business owner is busy and has limited time and money for marketing, but it still needs to be done. Here are a handful of low-cost ways to spread the good news about your business.
  • Ask family and friends to help market your business. Educate them on the products and services you offer and tell them how they can help bring in customers — after all this close group of people wants to see you succeed.
  • Build a business referral network where you can find other business professionals who work within the same target market as you.
  • Attend meetings, events and trade shows to connect with other business professionals and attract new customers.
  • Offer to speak at an event. There are always groups who are looking for speakers that will interest their attendees. This does not have to be only to groups in your own industry but other businesses that can benefit from your expertise.
  • Volunteer in your community, or volunteer to be on the board of a local charity. You will meet a variety of people and attain a positive image for your business.
  • Use the press. Write a publicity article about your business or a local cause in which you are involved. In addition to the newspaper, there are several smaller local publications in which to advertise. Offer to write an article for them.
  • Put up posters and fliers on local community bulletin boards, at local businesses and in meeting places.
  • Offer informational brochures to educate your customers about your industry and the products and services you offer. Write a blog and become an expert in your field.
  • Collect email addresses from your customers. Produce a monthly or quarterly e-newsletter and use this as a way to stay in touch with your customers.
  • Give something away for free — have a contest or drawing to attract customers. Sponsor a local event by offering your product as a prize in a local contest.
  • Never run out of well-designed business cards. Give each person two, one to keep and one for them give away to your next customer.
  • Advertise on local websites not just on your own.
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A basic marketing class that focuses on:
  • What is your target market?
  • How do you determine your target market?
  • How do you reach your target market?
  • How do you know if your marketing is working?
Date: Thursday, June 22
Time: 12:30 to 2 pm
Location: Chemeketa Center for Business & Industry, 626 High Street NE, Downtown Salem
Cost: $49
Registration and Information: 503.399.5088
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