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    Monthly Archive for February, 2011

    Do you know how customers are finding you?

    In the old days, when someone would call or come in the door of your business for the first time, you would ask them how they found you. And since it’s not your customer’s job to catalog such things for future retrieval, you probably had to help them a little by reciting examples of where you might have spent your marketing budget: an ad on the radio, TV, newspaper, Yellow Pages, a Little League uniform, etc.

    Here in the second decade of the 21st century, asking how customers find you is still important, but with one new element: For the past 10-15 years, you should also include, “or did you find us online?”

    Not too long ago, saying “our website” instead of “online” would have been appropriate. Today, online is best because customers can find you in other places on the Internet, including the social media and customer review platforms, even if, Heaven forbid, you don’t have a website.

    The question is not whether your company is “out there” online today, but rather to what degree and – this is so important it will be on the test – what is being said about your business.

    We wanted to know how much small businesses are attributing sales performance to the Internet, so recently we asked our radio and online audience this question: “How much of your 2011 sales do you think will result from some kind of Internet activity, even as simple as people just finding your business mentioned online?” The results made me very happy. About 90% of our respondents said they would be able to attribute some sales in 2011 from the Internet.

    Breaking the numbers down, over 50% said less than half of 2011 sales would be attributed to online activity. The next number is really exciting: About one-fourth said they would see more than half of their sales from the Internet. And finally, the bookends: Those who said all of their sales would come from the Internet were almost the same – around 10% – as those who recorded a goose egg because (read this with a nasal whine), “We don’t have a website.”

    As the Age of the Customer™ becomes the marketplace norm, your customers are increasingly demanding more connection and support from you with online resources. Any company that is not making at least some effort to meet the growing online support demand will experience the painful death of irrelevancy.

    You don’t have to win the online race to be successful, but you do have to show up and compete.

    Today on The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked more about the Age of the Customer and why you should have an online presence. Click on the link below to listen and, as always, leave your comments.

    Do you know how customers are finding you?

    To participate in this week’s Small Business Advocate poll, go to SmallBusinessAdvocate.com.

    The Middle East revolutions and you

    The potential for revolution in the Middle East has been brewing for many years. One of the reasons includes differences in ideology between those who want a more secularism and those who want more fundamental theological influences. But the main motivation for popular unrest and revolt is lack of opportunity for the younger generations. Regardless of which country you consider, this last reason cuts across all borders and forms of government.

    So the die is cast and the revolts, which began in Tunisia, have now cascaded to Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Iran. Some of my experts say this could become a global issue. The question seems to be not whether the revolts will continue or be successful, but rather will the result be positive or negative.

    Last week, before the outbreaks in Bahrain and Yemen, we asked our radio and Internet audience what they thought would be the outcome of the Egyptian revolt. Here’s what we learned:

    About four out of ten respondents were optimistic and said they thought a new democratic government will be created to represent all Egyptians. But more than half took the other side of the issue and voiced their concern that Islamist influences would prevail, causing Egypt to become more like an Iranian theocracy. I’m happy to report that a tiny percentage of our respondents reported that they “just don’t care.”

    My friends, what is happening in the Middle East right now should concern everyone. From the price of oil, to control of major shipping lanes, to potential problems in Europe, to the war on global terrorism, what happens in the Middle East in the next six to 12 months will directly or indirectly influence our lives and businesses.

    Once again, we continue to live the Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.

    I have been covering the evolving events in the Middle East on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. To listen to these conversations, please click on any of the links below and leave your thoughts.

    To participate in the current poll question, visit SmallBusinessAdvocate.com and vote.

    Potential paradigm shifts from the Eqyptian revolution, featuring futurist, Joel Barker

    Will the Middle East unrest cascade around the world? featuring trends expert, Gerald Celente

    Could Egypt’s unrest impact the global economic recovery? featuring David Adler, high-net-worth writer for Financial Planning magazine

    Could the Egypt revolution have been predicted? featuring Gene Griessman, author of The Words Lincoln Lived By and The Achievement Factor

    It’s the Age of the Customer - get over it!

    Markets were born when humans chose to acquire what they needed by trading with each other rather than producing it themselves or taking from someone else by force. The moment of proto-market conception was when the first seller offered to trade with the first customer, and that offer was accepted.

    For millennia, this marketplace dance was as beautifully simple as it was exquisitely effective, having at its nucleus three primary elements:

    1. The product, controlled by the seller
    2. Information about the product, also controlled by the seller
    3. The buying decision, controlled by the customer

    From that first transaction, when shells were the reserve currency, to about 1995AD, the marketplace dance was performed zillions of times with little variation. I’ve termed this period “The Age of the Seller,” because the Seller controlled two of the three elements.

    Then something happened that had not occurred for 10,000 years: A new age – I call it The Age of the Customer™.

    This new Age was born as micro-computers and associated innovations converged with high-speed Internet and associated applications. As this convergence shifts marketplace paradigms, it conveys the balance of power from the seller to the customer.

    The millennia-old marketplace dance is still beautifully simple. But when the dancers come together in the Age of the Customer, a new leader emerges, because control of the three major relationship elements has changed:

    1. Products and services are still controlled by the Seller.
    2. Information – including customer experiences – is now easily and abundantly available to the Customer without being controlled, filtered or distributed by the Seller.
    3. The buying decision is still controlled by the Customer.

    The Age of the Seller is succumbing to the new Age as customers resist the restrictions of the former Age and embrace the empowerment of the new. During this transition period, Sellers are operating in parallel universes, but not for long.

    Your small business is now operating in a new age where customers rule. They like this new-found empowerment, and increasingly expect sellers to connect with them on Age of the Customer terms. Sellers that transition to the new Age with their customers will be successful. Hidebound sellers, nostalgic for when they had control, will become irrelevant and perish.

    It’s the Age of the Customer – your world has changed.

    Recently on The Small Business Advocate Show I talked more about the Age of the Customer and how you can avoid becoming irrelevant. Take a few minutes to click on the links below and listen. As always, leave your comments on what is working for you in the 21st century marketplace.

    It’s the Age of the Customer - get over it!

    Avoiding irrelevance in the Age of the Customer

    Ask where your business is going

    One of the best ways to find out where a small business is going is to ask its owner. So, get a mirror, sit down in front of it and start asking.

    You’ll be amazed at how much this owner knows but just hasn’t taken the time to document. That’s what we’re going to do now.

    John Dini is the president of Business Performance Network, Inc., and one of the best management minds I know. Recently, on my radio program, John revealed the best questions to ask as you conduct this exercise. Here are some of his questions, written as you should ask them, followed by my thoughts.

    Question One: How much sales revenue do I plan to achieve next year?

    The typical way to arrive at this number is to blend history with expectations, based on existing evidence and what you think about future conditions and organizational capability.

    Question Two: What gross profit – the number and the percentage – do I need to achieve my sales revenue projection?

    Gross profit is revenue minus cost-of-goods-sold. It’s the number from which you subtract operating expenses to determine net profit.

    Once you’ve arrived at answers to these two questions, if you’re not happy with either one, ask the next question.

    Question Three: What are the most important things I can do to achieve this performance?

    Better marketing? More advertising? Better sales training? New products?  Better online capability? Expand market penetration?  Start with the one that delivers the most bang-for-the-buck.

    Question Four: How will my personal role change by the end of the coming year?

    Every year, business owners should fire themselves from jobs they no longer have to do and promote themselves to jobs only they can do. Delegation and professional growth is the key to management success.

    Question Five: What is the most desirable personal goal I would like to make for myself?

    If a Genie gave you one wish to make your personal life more fulfilling, what would it be?  More family? More golf? More bridge? More fishing? More whatever-the-heck-I-want-to-do-whenever-I-want-to-do-it?

    The reason the foregoing is long on questions and short on solutions is because only you have the correct answers.  My job, and the purpose of this exercise, is to help you climb out of the trenches long enough to ask the owner of your business where it’s going.

    Get that mirror, ask these questions, write down the answers and make it happen.

    I talked with John recently on The Small Business Advocate Show about the steps you can take to successfully start your year - and it’s never too late to start! Take a few minutes to listen to our discussion and leave your comments. Listen or download.

    What is your big concern for 2011?

    Since the last third of 2008, as our world began spinning into what we now call the Great Recession, when talking with small business owners I’ve asked them what is their single greatest concern. Almost every time the answer has been, “More sales.”

    Here we are, almost two years into the not-so-great recovery, and we wanted to know what small business owners’ big concern is today. So we asked my radio and online audience this question: Which one of these four areas will be the single most important thing you will work to improve in your business for 2011: grow sales, improve profits, get a bank loan, or find qualified people.  Here’s what we were told:

    Once again, sales came in on top at more than 40%. No surprise here because, as one of my mentors once told me, “In business, sales cures all ills.” Clearly, with unemployment at almost double-digit levels, a big chunk of small businesses are experiencing weak demand that is slowing delivery of the marketplace medicine of sales.

    In second place, one-in-four of our respondents selected profit improvement. This group probably represents small businesses that have achieved sales recovery at a level they can service with the resources they have, and now want to find a way to keep more black numbers on the bottom line.

    Perhaps the big story in our survey is the response that came in third – 17% said their big concern was finding qualified employees. The good news is they anticipate hiring. The bad news is concern about the applicant pool not producing qualified prospects for increasingly precious positions.

    As ugly as the current 9.6% unemployment statistic sounds, the human fact is uglier: We may have 17 million people either unemployed or underemployed. Structural unemployment – unqualified for 2nd decade of the 21st century jobs – is our most challenging economic headwinds, and the longer this problem persists, the longer it will take for a small business’ first concern – sales – to be solved.

    At fourth place was credit availability, with about 14% selecting this option. This response helps dispel two media myths that have been around since 2008: 1) As our survey – and every other one I’ve reported on for the past two years – will attest, most small businesses are not interested in a bank loan; and 2) If a small business wants – and qualifies for – a bank loan, they can get it. Independent community banks have never stopped making small business loans.

    Have you decided what your big assignment is for 2011?

    This morning on The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked more about this survey and the results. Click on the link below and take a few minutes to listen, then leave your comments on what’s most important to you in 2011.

    What are your biggest small business concerns for 2011?

    The powerful practice of networking

    Having moved his law practice to Chicago in 1896, Paul J. Harris missed the friendly relationships he knew growing up in a small Vermont town.

    One fall day in 1900, while walking with his friend, Bob Frank, around the Windy City’s North Side, Harris noticed how Frank had made a connection with many of the shopkeepers they passed by. This kind of interaction was not only what he longed for, but he believed it would also appeal to other professionals (men in those days) who, like him, had emigrated from rural America to the big cities.

    The question Harris mused to himself over the next few years was: Could such connecting activity be organized among professionals and business people? Today we know the answer to Harris’ question is civic groups. But at the dawn of the 20th century, this innovation had yet to be invented.

    Then on February 23, 1905, Paul Harris put his connection question to the test when he and three friends founded the world’s first civic club. They named it Rotary because they planned to rotate weekly meetings between each member’s office. Now an international success story, 33,000 Rotary clubs are still based on Harris’ founding principle of “Service above Self.”

    Harris’ original dream was to connect people for the benefit of all parties. He probably didn’t use this term, but Harris’ 1905 connecting formula is the modern definition of networking.

    Three-quarters of a century later, Ivan Misner had a dream of creating a structured networking model when he founded Business Network International. Misner’s goal was very much like Harris’ but with the specific purpose of business people meeting regularly to help each other grow their business.

    Though not a civic organization, the motto of BNI’s 6,000 chapters worldwide is, “Givers gain.”  In a sentence it sounds like, “Let me help you first.”

    The significant international success of Rotary and BNI has revealed two important things: 1) networking is an essential professional skill and practice; and 2) putting others first is powerful.

    This week, February 6-12, is International Networking Week. This month Rotarians will celebrate the 106th anniversary of Paul Harris’ dream-come-true. Whether you participate in a civic club, a BNI chapter, your local chamber of commerce or other gathering, become a more frequent, accomplished and selfless networker.

    Face-to-face is the original social media and it’s still important.

    Today on The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked with Ivan Misner about successful networking. Take a few minutes to listen and leave your thoughts and best practices on how networking has helped you in your business.

    Celebrating International Networking Week with Ivan Misner
    The educational component of successful networking with Ivan Misner
    Two more networking core competencies with Ivan Misner