Small Business Toolbox: September Twenty Third

Nelson Mandela Quote on Dreams

Each week I like to post links to some useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.

The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.  I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, you can contact me here and let me know.

Canva – If you weren't blessed with design skills and you're not familiar with PhotoShop, Canva is as close at it gets for creating great graphics without design experience.  It's a free tool with a few options to purchase premium images.  Fantastic if you want to create graphics for social media or your website.  They also have a business version for a small monthly fee, but the free version has most of everything you will need.

ClicktoTweet – Free Twitter tool that lets you insert Tweetables inside you own content.  Instead of users manually Tweeting something, you can pre-craft the message and insert if for visitors to “Click to Tweet”.  If you use WordPress, there is a plugin called Tweet This that is free and awesome.

 

How Create Operations Manual for Business

How To Create An Operations Manual For Your Business

 

Having a written plan is important to any business, big or small.  Putting the standards you set for yourself and your business on paper will not only help you create consistency for your business, it will help you to avoid a pitfall that many small business owners face;  Being able to maintain the quality the business owner has set for the business as they grow and hire new employees.  

Operations Manual Template

Operations manual

Too many times a business with a rock solid level of service starts to slowly degrade as they grow and new employees are added to the mix.  A written operations manual will help give you the discipline to stay on track as your business grows.

A Business Plan is Not an Operations Manual

Most likely when you were first starting your business, everyone was telling you that a written business plan is a must. You need to get your vision, your plan and financials on paper so you (and your bank) can see that you have thought things through and have a clear plan of how your business will make money.

Once your business is actually up and running, how many times do you think you will refer back to your business plan?  If you are like most people, the answer is somewhere between rarely to never. A business plan is just that, a plan for your business.  It's an overview of what your business is about and how it will make money.  It's your vision of how you see your business now and in the future.  While this is very important, you also need a written plan on how you will run your business, day in and day out.  This is where a written operations manual becomes so important.

The Entrepreneurial Model has less to do with what’s done in a business and more to do with how it’s done. The commodity isn’t what’s important—the way it’s delivered is.  – Michael Gerber, The E-Myth Revisited

What is an Operations Manual?

An operations manual is something different for every business.  For some it may be a 1000 page, phone book sized manual, detailing every little detail of the business in a step by step guide.  For others, it may simply be a series of checklists that are stored in a binder or as an online document. The only requirement is that you have some sort of written plan that you and your employees can reference when they need to know something. While many operation manuals will be chock full of details such as the company's mission statement, values, organizational charts and sections for each key component of a business, you do not need all of that.  At least not when you are just starting out.  I think this is the misconception that many people face when it comes to writing an operational plan for their business, it does not have to be large and comprehensive, it just needs to be useful.

“Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression” (Sir John Harvey-Jones)

Why Do You Need an Operations Manual?

Purchase our 300+ page Operations Manual Template for only $29.99. Originally sold to franchises for over $1,000. Instant download. Click here to learn more or add to cart now.
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There are lots of reasons for having a written operational plan for you business, the ones I feel are most important are:

Create a standard for your business.  For the most part, customers would prefer consistency from a business over random and inconsistent acts of awesomeness when it comes to customer service.  If the owner gives a customer one experience but your employees give that same customer (usually not as good) another experience, it will confuse and diminish the quality of the business in the eyes of that customer. A written plan will make sure everyone knows what expectations you have set for your business and employees.

Better trained employees.  If you are like most small business owners, you probably walk new employees through every step personally, explaining what needs to be done and what you expect from them.  Do you do the same exact thing for every employee that you hire?  Probably not.  What will happen if your manager needed to start training new hires? Would the training be the same? A written training plan will ensure that all new hires are given the same information to help create consistency among all of your employees.  It will also allow you to delegate some training responsibilities to other employees without diminishing the impact of that training.

Easier to scale your business.  To take a quote from Michael Gerber in The E-Myth Revisited, “How is it that McDonald’s can deliver on it’s customer promise in every one of it’s 20K plus restaurants, each and every day, when a small business owner can’t do it with a single location?”  You can say alot of things about McDonald's but the one thing you can't say is that they are inconsistent. When operating multiple locations, or even franchising your concept, it's impossible to deliver on your brand promise without a comprehensive operational plan in place.

Make your business more valuable.  One day, for various reasons, you may need to sell your business. Telling a prospective buyer “This is the way I do it” and “This is what I tell my employees” is much less valuable in the eyes of a prospective buyer than “Here is the way we operate our business”. Nobody is going to want to buy the ideas in your head, they want something tangible, proof that your business is an actual business, not you running around telling everyone what to do. An operations manual will be proof that there is an actual business going on here, something that can run with or without the owner present.  Now that is valuable.

“Reduce your plan to writing. The moment you complete this, you will have definitely given concrete form to the intangible desire”  Napoleon Hill

What Should You Put In Your Operations Manual? The most important thing when writing an operations manual is for it to be useful, otherwise it won't get used.  Start with the information that you will need to reference the most and would like to keep handy.  Whenever I help to create a written plan for one of my clients, I usually start with the following:

  • A contact list for all employees, vendors, emergency numbers, insurance company, landlord (if you have one) and anyone else that may need to be contacted in case an issue arises and the owner is not present.
  • A series of checklists on the basic functions of the business.  Create checklists for cleaning, opening/closing the business, supplies and any other task that requires easy and repeatable steps to follow.
  • How to guides.  Create simple “how to” guides that you and your employees can reference in various situations.  If the POS (Point of Sale) machine crashes on you in the middle of the day, do your employees know what to do?  Create a quick guide outlining the steps on what they should do if this should happen.  What if an employee needs to call in sick?  There is an injury in your store?  Write simple 1-2 page guides on what needs to be done in each case.
  • Policies.  While i'm not a huge fan of policies (i know they are needed, they are just not always used for the right reasons), outline your customer policies (or promises if that's what you call them) so all of your employees are on the same page. Refund, exchange and payment methods are all good policies to start with.

Once these sections are complete I like to concentrate on the daily operations of the business.  I start here because this is (hopefully) the first part of the business that you can start delegating to others.   Just like in the “how to guides” above, start creating “mini guides” of your daily operations.  It may include ordering procedures, daily tasks that your manager must ensure is completed every day or anything else that is relevant to your business that needs to be done on a daily basis. If you only created the above sections for your business and stopped there, you should be proud of yourself because most small businesses will go their entire existence and never even get that far.

As you can probably see by now, a written operations manual is made up of a series of short sections that are strung together to create a bigger manual.  It's actually very easy to start creating one, just start with the sections outlined above and you will be on your way to having your own written plan for your business.

Purchase our 300+ page Operations Manual Template for only $29.99. Originally sold to franchises for over $1,000. Instant download. Click here to learn more or add to cart now.
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Resources

Creating your operations manual.  There is no easier way that I know of to create training guides than with Screen Steps. One of the biggest headaches in creating a training manual is inserting screen shots and images, if you use Microsoft Word you know what I'm talking about.  Having to take a screen shot, download the image, insert it in the document and then re-size it is a major pain and consumes a lot of time. Screen Steps let's you  snap a screen shot of your computer screen and automatically inserts the image into your document in about 3 seconds without having to download the image first.  Screen Steps is the reason that I actually enjoy creating how-to guides for this blog.

Hosting your operations manual online.  I'm a fan of Google Apps and use it for all of my businesses.  What I do is upload the finished documents to my Google Docs account and then create a password protected intranet site using Google Sites to host the manual. It can then be easily accessed by any employee from any computer.  Both products come free with a Gmail or Google Apps account.  I hope to come out with a video tutorial shortly outlining exactly how to set this up so stay tuned.

Three Ring Binder.  After I upload each document, I print a copy to place it in a three ring binder which is left in a spot where employees can easily reference it when needed.  I use page inserts to keep the pages from tearing and use tabs for easy reference.

Start Creating Your Manual

I have outlined why and how to start creating your own operations manual for your business.  As you can see it's easy to get started, you just have to start. Making it relevant to your business and employees is the key. Your operations manual will never be complete, it will always need revising so don't think of it as something you need to do all at once.

When you find things that work for your business, take the time to write them down and add them to your manual a little at a time.  It should grow and change over time,  just like your business.  I usually take a few hours quarterly to update and revise my manual. If you have questions about getting started, you can contact me here.

Annual Marketing Tiemline Excel Download Free

An Annual Marketing Timeline For Your Business [Free Download]

Annual Marketing Tiemline Excel Download Free

Creating a marketing plan for your small business is a must.

Unfortunately most business owners go year after year without a formal marketing plan.  Each week they make “gut decisions” on how to market their business, and most experience poor results.  This sort of reactive marketing opens you up to poor decision making, deceptive sales practices from friendly ad salespeople and leaves you without a clue as to prepare for each of your selling seasons.

Every Fall, I sit down and review what worked and what didn't in terms of the current year's marketing efforts.  I then sit down and create the next years plan, hopefully doing a little better in terms of marketing efficiency than last year.  Because that is what marketing is, small improvements made over time.

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.  ~John Wanamaker

When I'm done creating my annual marketing plan, I add key dates to my Google Apps calendar to remind me when it's time to take action.  While this method works well for me, as a visual learner, I wanted something where I can visually see all my marketing activities in a single timeline and to share with my team members.

A visual timeline of my marketing efforts helped me see a entire years worth of marketing at a single glance.  I find it helps me to see when my busy marketing periods are, which activities overlap, and if there are time periods where I need to ramp up my marketing efforts.

Below is the link where you can download it free of charge.  It's one of many useful tools I have as part of my Small Business Operations Manual.  Feel free to use it, share it, customize it, or use it as a guide for creating your own.

I hope you find it useful for your business.  If you find yourself struggling with your marketing efforts, contact me here.

Annual Marketing Timeline (Download)

Visualize your small business marketing plan

Best PLaces To Advertise Online

The 7 Best Places To Advertise Your Business Online

As a small business owner, do you feel like you're constantly wasting your marketing dollars?

Join the club.

Although print advertising, direct mail, tv and radio still have some relevance for some industries, for many, it's a giant waste of time and money.  Consumer attention span is getting shorter, coupled with an ever increasing amount of advertising, you can see why people go about their day with blinders on.

One area of marketing that is growing though is online advertising.  According to a study by Zenith Optimedia, the current global display advertising market is predicted to reach $25.27 billion this year(2012), with a 36% growth to $34.4 billion in 2013.

If you aren't advertising online yet, or are looking for new avenues to pursue, below are 7 places you can market your small business online.  While I'm a huge proponent of optimizing your website so you can get found in the search engine results for free (SEO), the reality is that it takes alot of time, patience and persistence to rank high in the search engines.   While you're slowly and methodically building up your organic search rankings, why not spend your advertising dollars more efficiently online right now?

Note:  Many of the programs below offer a free credit for new advertisers.  If you don't have one or see one on their website, do a quick Google search online to see if you can find an offer code you can use.  If not, I would call them directly and ask for one, competition is fierce for advertising dollars and most will give you a credit for trying them out.

Google Adwords

The grand daddy of online advertising.  Since Google owns the lions share of the search engine market, it makes their advertising platform Adwords the biggest platform for Pay Per Click (PPC) marketing.  Adwords lets you create text, image or video based advertisements targeting people who search for specific keywords (you bid on keywords in an auction type market) and terms in the Google search box or through demographic and behavioral targeting via their Display Network.  You can also get very specific in when your ad displays, making your marketing dollars very efficient.  Setting up a campaign can be a bit complicated for beginners, luckily Google offers an easy way for small businesses to get started with Google Adwords Express.

Some options available to you via Google Adwords:

Search Ads – These are traditional ads you see when you perform a Google search.  There are usually 2-3 ads above the organic results as well as several ads to the right of the organic search results.  Here you target specific keywords people are typing in as they search and compete in an online auction with competitors for top placements.

Display Network – These are ad placements outside of the traditional Google search.  Google owns dozens of properties such as Gmail and YouTube where you can place text, image and video ads across all of their networks.  They also partner with thousands of 3rd party websites giving Google Display Network the biggest reach out of any online advertising platform.

Remarketing – With a remarketing campaign, after someone has been to your website, you have the ability to advertise to that individual person as they surf the internet.  Between Google's own properties and their 3rd party network, you have the ability to reach that person almost anywhere on the internet.  Remarketing is available for both Search and Display Network campaigns.

Bing Ads

Similar to Google Adwords, Microsoft uses it's Bing search engine to serve ads in it's search engine results as well as partner networks.  The Bing search engine has a much smaller audience than Google, but this typically makes bidding on keywords less expensive and could save you money as it extends your marketing dollars a bit further.

 

Over the past few years Bing Ads has made great strides in improving their ad network as well as making it easy for business owners to run their own campaigns.  Bing Ads offers free advertising credits but they can be hard to come by.  If you go to the link below and submit your site to their search engine, they will offer you an advertising credit for trying it out.

Submit site to Bing

7 Search

A smaller player in the paid search industry, 7 Search uses smaller, niche search engines to display your Pay Per Click (PPC) ads.  They claim a better ROI than their bigger competitors and bidding on keywords is cheaper than both Google Adwords and Bing Ads.

I have had limited experience with 7 Search so far but their customer support has been really good and their Cost Per Clicks are definitely cheaper, though you won't get the same click volume as Adwords or Bing Ads.

Advertise.com and InfoLinks are two other smaller players that offer paid ad placements.

Facebook Advertising

Advertising on Facebook can be a gold mine for small businesses and their ad platform has come a long way the past few years, both in effectiveness and ease of use.

Facebook ads work similar to traditional Pay Per Click advertising (pay only when someone clicks on your ad), but the great thing with Facebook is that you can add an image or video along with your text.  Even if people don't click on your ad, you're still getting lots of great exposure to a targeted audience for free.

While platforms like Adwords and Bing Ads typically target user behavior (searching for a product or service), Facebook lets you target according to demographic makeups and user interests.  Their platform is unmatched in this respect and if you know exactly who your target market it, can be a powerful advertising platform.  Their video ad platform seeks to rival even YouTube and they seem to be pushing out new advertising features every week.

Twitter Advertising

While Twitter has allowed advertising for quite some time with promoted tweets and trends, it has been way out of the budget for small business owners (unless you had a min of 10k to spend a day!).  Twitter since launched a small business advertising program that will make it much more affordable for businesses to advertise on Twitter.

While I do not know anyone currently using it that is getting a good ROI with Twitter Advertising, it still has many possibilities as they are still trying to figure out how to make advertising work on the platform.  Some interesting features that have come out are Twitter Cards as well experiments with e-commerce, where users can buy items without having to leave Twitter.

Stumbleupon Ads

Still relatively unknown to most people, Stumbleupon is a neat social service people use to discover (stumble on) new websites they never knew existed, related to their interests.  It's simple to use, create a profile, select your interests and start stumbling!  Stumbleupon has an advertising platform called Paid Discovery where you pay between .05 cents and .25 cents for every person that stumbles on your site.  You can select the interests you want your website to be included in and pay according to how targeted you want your stumbles to be.  There are no advertisements here, the website page you select becomes your ad for visitors.  They also have a traditional advertising platform with paid placement opportunities.

While I love Stumbleupon, I would only consider using it if you have a product or service that has general appeal as it's not nearly as targeted as PPC or Facebook advertising.  I also wouldn't use it to drive sales, but to get content you have created out in front of people fast.

LinkedIn Ads

If you're in the BtoB or professional services industry, LinkedIn Ads may be exactly what you're looking for.  Linkedin can serve highly targeted ads to other professionals and businesses on Linkedin.  The Cost Per Click (CPC) is higher than pretty much any other platform listed here, but you can target your ads to very specific people.

I would recommend this if you are BtoB or offering professional services and you are looking to acquire high value clients.  The advertising platform is pretty easy to use and with so many highly detailed user profiles, offers incredibly detailed targeting choices.

Bonuses

Pinterest Ads

Pinterest is a very interesting platform, driving more traffic and sales for many businesses than other social ad platforms.  Pinterest an advertising tool called Promoted Pins.

You can buy Promoted Pins for all of your marketing goals:

  • Awareness
  • Engagement
  • Traffic

.  If you have a business that targets women and you can create visually appealing graphics, Pinterest can be a a top performing ad platform for you.  They also offer social analytics to measure the success of your ad campaigns.

Instagram

Ever since they purchased Instagram, Facebook has been trying to figure out a way to monetize the platform.  They have been experimenting with different ad formats and will be opening advertising to everyone in the near future.  Advertising was originally reserved for big brands but has since opened up to everyone via a self-serve platform.

You can also create and run your Instagram ad campaigns directly inside the Facebook Ad manager, where one of your targeting options is now Instagram.  The great part about it is that you do not actually need an Instagram account to target Instagram users via the Facebook Ad platform, though I suggest you do.

 

Online advertising works

Relative to traditional advertising like newspaper ads and direct mail, paid online advertising is very efficient.  The thing I like best about advertising online is that you can see exactly where your money is going and if it's generating an ROI that makes sense for you.  I also like that fact that it's usually a pay for performance scenario, where you only pay when someone actually clicks on your ad and visits your website.  Image if you only paid for your newspaper ad if someone called or walked through your front door?  The newspapers would go bankrupt!

Final note, paid advertising should coincide with your organic marketing efforts (Search Engine Optimization), you should really be doing both as the two of them working together can bring awesome results for you business.  Have questions about paid advertising online and how to get started?  Contact me here to learn more about how we can help.

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Small Business Toolbox: September 14th

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

Uber Suggest – A free keyword suggestion tool that lets you enter a keyword and get dozens of suggested related keywords.

Synup – Online tool that lets local businesses keep track of their business listings across the net.  Free and paid plans available

Paulo Coelho Quotes

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here