Revamp Your Business

Start 2015 off right with strategies from business and industry experts on how to get more referrals, how to save time and money, up your cash flow and more.

Save Time at Work

Decorating shop owners and salespeople can easily fall prey to time-consuming detail work, from product research and placing cold calls to filling out purchase orders and chasing payment. Here are 10 tips to master your time so that every minute is maximized profitably.

1. Clean the client closet. Rid yourself of deadweight clients so that you’re devoting time to those current and potential customers who are most profitable. Expert John Mariotti, CEO of The Enterprise Group, recommends comparing your clients in terms of annual sales and gross profit dollars. Keep the clients who are in the top 25% for both factors. Lose the bottom 25%.

2. Analyze product profitability. Know which wearables and imprintable product categories yield the most profit for your business. Focus your energy on those goldmines.

3. Make the most of market expertise. Look to your client base to see if there are clear areas of expertise that you’ve created rather than spending time on learning a completely new market. If you’ve focused previously on hospitals, for example, you might be able to leverage that knowledge for home-healthcare providers and dentists. This would be a quicker way to expand your client base than picking a market about which you know very little.

4. Encourage repeat business. Cold-calling to snag that initial order is one of the most time-consuming of sales activities. Leverage the sales you’ve made successfully to create more orders. Provide a discount coupon, for example, along with your client’s invoice or purchase receipt. Recommend continuity campaigns or suggest products (like calendars) that repeat annually.

5. Create a time cushion. Even the best time managers can be thrown a curve ball that sets a project spinning into overtime. Therefore, it’s wise to create a time cushion. For example, when planning a big order with a critical deadline, set a pre-deadline for at least a couple of days earlier than required. This allows for a finalization period to manage production errors or delivery snafus, if they arise.

6. Example, don’t waste time calling your accounting clients during the height of tax season. Analyze your clients to pinpoint their busy season. Then plan your contact/pitches for several months preceding or soon after their crazy period ends.

   7. Learn on the run. Download podcasts from suppliers and industry educators that can educate you while driving to a client’s office or while jogging.

8. Purchase quality equipment and software. Whether you’re selecting a heat press to expand your services to include transfers or selecting a new desktop printer and computer, spend a little extra to get the right quality equipment. Cheap versions frequently require repairs or are slow to process/print. Choose reliable equipment, etc., to stay on track.

9. Be accurate from the start. When submitting orders to a factory, have all the pertinent details and artwork in order and clearly explained. The fewer times you touch the order, the more profitable it will be. Ideally, have a pre-set form that you can use for most purchase orders, tailoring it as necessary for the garments selected.

10. Think quantity and repetition. When clients have ongoing needs for a particular product, secure a blanket purchase order for the year and pre-schedule shipments at regular intervals. Your client receives price breaks for quantity, and you’re eliminating the time it takes to regularly resell or refill the order.

Get More Referrals

Referrals are one of the most powerful tools in your sales arsenal, and cyber space has spawned new and innovative ways to request and leverage them. Despite this, few companies have formal systems in place to take advantage of customer goodwill. “I am amazed at how many companies do not ask for referrals,” says Kevin Kowalke, a Waukesha, WI-based business strategist with a focus on marketing and sales. “You must give your customers reasons and ways to refer.”

   Here are seven tips to help you generate more referrals:

1. Use LinkedIn strategically. Mike Beckman, owner of Proforma BPM in Atlanta, calls LinkedIn “a digital business card that never gets tossed.” He connects with potential clients on the site, and then asks that person to make digital introductions with anyone else who might be interested in working with him. It’s led to more than $200,000 in sales over the last year and a half, and is now the only way Beckman prospects. “Any cold-calling, you’re just spinning your wheels,” he says. “By using LinkedIn, you’ve already been introduced, they just don’t know it yet.”

2. Leverage other social media sites. Facebook provides the perfect opportunity for low-stakes referrals. Brian Carter, digital marketing consultant and author of The Like Economy: How Businesses Make Money With Facebook, suggests simply creating a Facebook post asking customers to tag a friend they’d like to refer in the comments section. Incentivizing the post by awarding a prize to a random recommender will increase responses, he says.

3. Timing is everything. Experts say the best time to ask for a referral is when your client is happy, but the sale isn’t 100% complete. “They need to still feel slightly obligated and enthusiastic about referring you,” says Julia Angelen Joy, a communications and marketing consultant with Z Group PR. Make asking for a referral a regular part of your sales script.
    4. Condition your customers. It’s crucial that your customers understand how important referrals are, Kowalke says. “Create the culture that giving referrals is how they got to you and is part of doing business,” he says.

5 Practice reciprocity. Show your clients you’re willing to give them referrals so they’ll be motivated to send their trusted network to you. “Become the connector of people to position yourself as an extremely valuable person to know,” Kowalke says.

6 Follow up. Stay in contact with your customers and prospects so you’re top-of-mind when they’re interacting with their own networks, whether online or off. “Even an informative email newsletter can trigger a referral when the timing is right,” says Joellyn Sargent, author of Beyond the Launch: The Practical Guide to Building a Business That Thrives.

7 Be worthy of referral. Focus on providing great customer service and high-quality products to inspire word-of-mouth marketing. “If people see immense value in working with your company, they’ll enjoy the opportunity to help others by introducing them to you,” Sargent says.

Smart Accounting Strategies

Cash flow is an issue that plagues many small-business owners, even shops that are expert at recruiting and retaining clients. Many business managers simply assume their cash flow is satisfactory, if the business is earning a profit, but that’s not always the case, and poor cash flow can easily drown an otherwise successful business. Read on to learn how to manage your finances and make 2015 the year of the cash flow reboot for your business.

1 Respect and understand financial statements. According to some surveys, 25% of businesses don’t even maintain accounting records (let alone produce financial statements). The bottom line for small business owners is simple: If you don’t make an effort to prepare, review and understand your financial statements, then you need to ask yourself why you’re in business in the first place. And this especially holds true for the statement of cash flows because an abundance of invaluable information is available from this most commonly overlooked and mismanaged financial statement.

2 Plan, run projections, and plan some more. Proper planning is essential to the launch, growth, management and ultimate success of your business as measured by the ability to generate profits and, just as important, to avoid running out of cash. Having access to sound financial plans structured for different operating scenarios is an absolute must.

3 Focus on capital and cash – the lifeblood of your business. One of the most common reasons small businesses fail is that they lack adequate cash or capital, not only to survive difficult times, but also to prosper during growth opportunities. Remember, one of the greatest losses a company can realize is that of lost opportunity, which has its roots in not being prepared to capitalize on market opportunities.

4 Understand your selling cycle. The selling cycle is often much longer than company executives want to believe. It spans from the time a product or service is developed to supporting customers after a sale. If not properly managed, the selling cycle becomes one of the largest consumers of cash in a business, with almost every business owner experiencing frustrating delays at one time or another.

5 Manage your disbursements cycle. To counteract the selling cycle cash consumption machine, businesses need to understand that the disbursement cycle (managing expenditures and cash payments to vendors, employees and other creditors) can be leveraged and managed to be a primary source of cash for your business. Invoke what’s called the matching principle. That is, similar to properly matching revenue and expenses to ensure that an accurate measurement of a business’s profit or loss is obtained, you should be able to match cash inflows and outflows.

6 Be creative to generate cash. Turn your assets over more quickly, in order to convert them into cash more quickly. Leverage your vendors, suppliers and financing sources. They don’t want to lose your business, so placing just the right amount of leverage on these groups can result in enhanced cash flow because liabilities offer a source of cash. Manage external sources of cash – with banks, leasing companies and even the federal government – to ensure that cash is made available when needed.

7 Balance the balance sheet. Your business needs to strike a proper balance between making sure that current assets are financed or supported with current liabilities and making sure that long-term assets are financed or supported with long-term sources of capital such as a five-year note payable or equity. Every business should strive to achieve a financial condition that ensures constant maintenance of adequate levels of both solvency (the ability to pay all just debts) and liquidity (the ability to quickly access cash to support business operations).

8 Always think of CART. Your company’s financial and accounting information system needs to produce Complete, Accurate, Reliable, and Timely financial information, reports and data, so management can make informed business decisions. When you have the proper systems in place and know what to look for, you can keep cash flowing, helping you to grow a successful business.

Tap Into a New Niche

You might think it’s best to have a book of business in every possible market, but niche-based selling has plenty of perks. By establishing yourself as an expert in specific fields, you establish yourself as a consultant rather than solely a product provider. Here are two niches worth exploring:

Clean energy. Thomas Rector, CEO of Rector Communications (asi/305623), dove into the clean energy market about five years ago. A good friend from college worked for the state of Indiana’s Department of Energy office and that contact put Rector in touch with a number of clean energy accounts. Most recently, Rector starting working with IND Solar Farm, the largest solar farm in the country built at an airport. That unique positioning lent itself to a number of promotional opportunities, beginning with the farm’s groundbreaking.

It was early spring in Indiana and still cold outside, so the easy promotion resolution was to supply volunteers, sponsors and staff with shell jackets and long-sleeve polos embroidered in three locations. “In addition to apparel, we supplied the traditional groundbreaking materials such as hard hats, commemorative shovels, giant scissors and ribbons,” he says. They also supplied solar cell chargers, silicone iPhone speakers, luggage tags, pens, lanyards and water bottles to community leaders, press and supporters.

Following the groundbreaking, Rector Communications was asked to help with a number of ongoing promotions. “Many were used for outreach as staff would travel the state and country representing the pioneer work that was happening at the Indianapolis Airport,” he says. “We tried to be creative, but also responsible, as this is a green project so our promotional products should be as well.”

Rector researched and talked with a number of reps finding their best and most popular recycled, biodegradable, sustainable or refurbished products. At the end of the day, the IND Solar Farm used slap-type can coolers (made of recycled car tires), pens (made of recycled plastic and biodegradable ink), drawstring cinch bags (made of recycled plastics), notepads (made of recycled paper), carabiners (made of recycled aluminum) and wooden airplanes (a biodegradable product). “Our big-ticket items included solar backpacks, solar cell chargers and additional shell jackets,” he says.

The clean energy niche fits in well with the mission at Rector Communications: to change the world by finding inventive ways to use traditional products. “Our involvement in this niche is allowing our team to support a project that is changing a culture and lessening the world’s reliance on fossil fuels,” he says.

Overall, Rector Communications generates over $200,000 in annual sales from the green energy niche. The IND Solar Farm project itself generates between $75,000 and $100,000.

Gaming. Play means serious business for Scottsdale, AZ-based Pulse Marketing and Apparel. The company does $25,000 annually with one major client that provides poker gear and works on tournaments. As a result of that relationship, Pulse has been introduced to and completed projects for other major poker-related organizations. These referrals have turned poker into a $50,000 annual category for the company.

That revenue is likely to grow. Adam Wright, owner of Pulse, says the company has what he calls “an awesome relationship” with the original poker-related client. “They were a startup that we got involved with since day one,” he says. “A former client changed jobs and brought us with him to the new company. Poker was just starting to be televised and had become very popular and they harnessed the television audience and our imprinting methods and apparel for even more visibility.”

The players’ apparel was well-thought-out. For TV purposes, Wright pitched certain imprint methods and locations to the client. First, it needed to be easily picked up by the cameras. Other considerations: “It can be cold in poker rooms, so we created a hoodie for the players to keep them warm,” he says. “When they look down at their cards, the logo is visible on the top of the hood. We also put logos on the cuffs because the camera shows the players hands a lot.”

He did his research before presenting options by watching a few poker matches on TV to find out the players’ habits and the camera angles that were used to make televised poker compelling. “Using that knowledge, we recommended large imprints and multi-format methods (screen printing combined with embroidery, 3-D patches) and put them in the locations we knew would get picked up.”

The products were intended to drive traffic to the client’s website. Seeing the name and URL of the company on TV drove the audience to visit the site. While the orders from the client are relatively small, they are high dollar. “They want these players in top-quality, comfortable garments so that they’ll want to wear them and get use out of them voluntarily,” Wright says. “The extra expense is justified by the exposure.”

That exposure is also a perk for working in this niche. “Seeing your product on TV is probably the most fun,” he says. “And seeing the players who you’ve outfitted win the whole thing is also really exhilarating.”