Becoming a Thought Leader

Looking to increase sales? Become known in your industry? Find more paths to revenue?

The answer to all of these is demonstrating your expertise, or thought leadership, to potential customers. How do you do that? You spend a lot of time writing, speaking and answering questions. The more people find you online, the more they realize you’re an industry expert. That’s when you begin to build trust with potential clients and move them into the sales pipeline.

In Think Write Grow, Grant Butler explains what a thought leader is, and dives into the channels you can use to become recognized as one. Blogging, book writing, essay writing, speaking at events…all of these help build you up your reputation as a thought leader. The key is being in as many places as possible.

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Search Engine Optimization All-in-One For Dummies

I like reading about topics I’m weak in. For me, that’s the more technical side of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. So when I picked up the behemoth book, Search Engine Optimization All-in-One for Dummies, by Bruce Clay and Susan Esparza, I knew I’d learn a thing or two. This is actually 10 books in 1, which explains its 700+ pages. I recommend using it as a reference book and picking the sections you want to work on as you go.

If you’re new to using SEO as a way to be found by search engines, the first book, How Search Engines Work, will demystify SEO and the terms it uses. It’s not complicated, actually, and Clay and Esparza do a great job of breaking it down for newbies. If you’re ready to move on to more advanced tactics, read Keyword Strategy and Optimizing the Foundations. The authors provide the tools you need to see where your keywords currently rank, as well as determine what you can do to improve your search engine rankings.

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Should I Start or Buy a Business?

If you’re considering starting a business, you might be trying to decide between starting one from scratch or buying an existing business. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks, so let’s take a closer look.

Starting from Scratch: More Work and More Control

If the idea of starting your business with a blank canvas appeals to you, as well as the vast amount of work that’s required to establish and grow a new business, starting from scratch might be right for you. As the owner of a newbie business, you’ll have ultimate control over the direction you take your company. And while having a large marketing and operations budget would be nice, you can get along on a shoestring budget, since you’re the one setting the rules.

Want to work from home? Or Iceland? It’s your call. You can start or move your new business anywhere in the world you want, as you don’t yet have established employees in a specific location to worry about.

On the flip side, a lot more work goes into starting a business from scratch. You’ll have to do plenty of R&D if you’re going to sell products, and until you have the capital, you’ll be taking on a lot more than just the role of CEO. Speaking of money: if you don’t already have plenty of it, it may be hard to take out a loan for an unproven business.

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Are You SURE You Want to Start a Business??

Many people daydream of breaking free of the 9 to 5 to “be their own bosses.” But is entrepreneurship as glamorous as all that? If you think running a small business means leisure time and big paychecks, think again. There are few things as difficult as getting a business off the ground, let alone running it long-term. Read my 10 reasons you don’t want to start a business, and if you don’t run off screaming, keep reading this post.

Thinking RFID

How Can I Be Sure?

My advice to you is to read and do as much research as possible before you dive in to a new business idea (and burn the bridge to your comfortable day job). A few books that will help you ask yourself the right questions are The Entrepreneur Equation and Making the Jump into Small Business Ownership. Rather than sugarcoating entrepreneurship, both books take a hard look at what is really required day to day.

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4 Resources for Small Business Loans

If you’re considering taking out a loan for your small business or startup, here are some resources that can help you find the loan program that works best for your business needs.

SBA

Naturally, the place to start for anything related to small business is the SBA. The Small Business Association’s website will educate you on different types of SBA-backed loans and grants (if you’re a minority, a woman or live in a rural area, there are special programs you may qualify for), and help you find an SBA lender. Its resources also provide advice on meeting with a lender, including what you need to know, and what you should expect from the process.

Articles of Interest:

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How to Start a Business

If you’ve already thought about the reasons you shouldn’t start a business, and haven’t been deterred, you’re probably mentally ready to take the plunge. But here are a few things to consider before going full-time as a small business owner.

1. Get Your Finances Straight

You know you need money to start a business, but have you calculated how much you’ll need? Ideally, you’ll have enough saved to pay for your first a year of expenses, which include:

  • Startup costs (equipment, rental, utilities)
  • Overhead (salaries, office rent)
  • Your salary

If you have a healthy bank account and can afford all of these, kudos to you. Otherwise, you’ll need to look at other financing options, like taking out a small business loan or finding investors. If you’re ready to start your business, but don’t have the capital, consider continuing to work at your day job while you slowly grow your business until you can quit to run it full time.

2. Identify Your Product or Services

To be an entrepreneur, you need to have passion for what you want to sell. That could be pools, or software, or consulting services. Whatever it is, be prepared to love it for the foreseeable future. And find a niche. The more you can differentiate yourself from your competition, the more likely you are to succeed. Ask yourself:

  • What makes my product better than the others?
  • What needs are not being addressed by my competitors?
  • How can I market this in a unique way?

3. Hire Smart People

Realistically, you may not be ready to hire employees for a while if you’re just starting out, but have it in your head from the start that you will hire smart people as soon as you can afford to, and you will delegate to them. You will inevitably try to do everything yourself to save money, but trust me: you’re better off having people more competent than you handling the tasks you’re not great at.

4. Learn. Every Single Day

The great thing about the Internet is that it gives you instant access to knowledge. With blogs, webinars and social media, you’ll never be able to complain that you didn’t know about an industry trend or new tool that could grow your business. But it’s up to you to dedicate time each day to learning. Attend industry conferences. Subscribe to blogs. Read. Watch videos. Learn.

5. Know that It’s a Long Road

If you want to start a business because you dream of wealth and lazy days by the pool, you’re in for a rude awakening. Entrepreneurship is about caring enough about something to take the time – often years – to see it culminate into your dream. It can’t be about the money, at least not initially. Running a business has to be about passion and dedication. The money will come later.

Photo: Stock.xchng user ambrosjo. Royalty free.

7 Predictions for Startups in 2012

Everyone else likes to wax on about what we might expect in 2012, so I thought I’d throw my hat in and give you my two cents about what I think we’ll see in 2012.

1. Businesses will continue to ignore the economy. If you haven’t noticed, we stopped whining about the down economy about a year ago, yet conditions haven’t really improved. That shows that the startups and entrepreneurs who have survived the recession are finding ways to trudge on, despite financial conditions. In 2012, I think we’ll see more of that. More businesses reporting profit, more startups launching.

2. Freemium products will grow. A few years ago, no one had heard of MailChimp. Now the email marketing provider is seeing 2,000 or more signups for its free accounts, and has increased paying customers by 150%. Clearly the freemium model works. Small businesses are abandoning companies that charge in favor of free services that offer more. (see my post about why I switched from Constant Contact to MailChimp for that very reason)

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Clearing Clutter for the New Year

Now that Christmas is over, let’s shift gears and think about 2012. What better time to clear the digital, physical and mental clutter you’ve racked up in your business than right before the fresh start of a new year? Here are some tips to get you a clean slate for January.

I is cluttered.

Digital Clutter

You know the stuff I’m talking about: those files you save to your desktop and never need again. Those random items shoved in folders all over your computer. Those documents and photos that you can never find because they’re saved in odd places. Take an hour today and move items to folders that make sense and delete those you don’t need. Or if they’re rarely opened files, move them to your external hard drive so that you can access them, but they’re not taking up space on your computer’s hard drive.

  • Use sharing tools like DropBox or Google Docs to keep all documents digital.
  • Back up important data with cloud storage like Carbonite or Mozy.
  • Organize folders based on work/client/project to make it easy to find them.
  • Save documents and photos so that you can search for them.

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Gen Y Fund Aimed to Help Young Entrepreneurs

The Young Entrepreneur Council recently announced the launch of its Gen Y Fund, an early stage venture accelerator aimed at entrepreneurs 35 and under. The fund’s goal is to support selected startups (30-50 each session) through mentoring, providing access to entrepreneurial resources and funding (each startup receives $250,000 in exchange for equity). But what makes the Gen Y Fund even more unique are a couple of unusual features:

1. Participants can have their student loan obligations covered for up to three years.

2. Participants can live rent-free on one of several participating college campuses during their incubation.

The White House recently announced that its Income Based Repayment Program, which in the past enabled people in low-income jobs to stretch out their loan payments, would also cover entrepreneurs so that they have more cash flow to get their businesses off the ground. The Fund will pay for 2/3 of the loan that is due during the incubation period, while the other third will be removed through the IBR program.

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What Startups Can Learn From Steve Jobs

If you’re like most startups, you’re busy focused on doing what your competitors do, only better. How can you make your product or service faster, cleaner, cheaper, better? Steve Jobs would tell you you’re wasting your time.

After the iPod came out, companies clamored to come out with a cooler, tinier MP3 player. Then the iPhone came out, rendering all MP3 players, the iPod included, useless. The cycle continues with the iPad.

Steve Jobs for Fortune magazine

If you were one of those MP3 companies, you would have wasted time, money and energy trying to beat out the competition…only to have your entire product like become obsolete.

Steve Jobs and Apple zagged while others were zigging. Instead of focus on how they could do better than their competitors, they didn’t even see that they had competitors. After all, how can anyone compete against true innovation?

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