But We Just Got Here! Developing an Exit Strategy

Welcome to our class on “How to Start a Business”, our first topic is on “Exit Strategies”! This opening never fails to get a class full of raised eyebrows, but I’m convinced that considering your exit strategy is an exercise every small business should start with and periodically review.

Starting with your company name…

…most of your decisions will be affected by your exit strategy.  Let’s say you want to build your plumbing business over a few years and then sell.  Using your name as the brand will detract value for a new owner with a different name.  The legal entity; C-corp, S-corp or LLC, that you choose is another big decision made early in the start-up process that can be dependent on your exit strategy.  Hiring employees, the value model, buy or lease decisions – your exit strategy may effect all these decisions, which is why I encourage every small and medium business to have one.

Controlled Dissolution

In a controlled dissolution exit strategy the business stays in operation as long as the owner is working.  When the owner decides to stop working the business is done.  This exit strategy is typical of many professionals who are the primary revenue generator for the company – a consultant who bills all the hours or a plumber who does all the labor.  There is no passive revenue and the value of the business is basically zero without the owner’s daily involvement.

There is nothing wrong with this exit strategy, as long as it is a conscious decision and the owner plans the rest of the business around it.  For instance, the value model is that you pull out as much cash as possible and invest in outside resources, which means the marketing strategy should maximize profitability and cash flow.

Ownership Transfers

An ownership transfer exit strategy is one in which the owner plans to sell his ownership to another party in whole or in part.  The most common transaction for smaller businesses is a complete sale to another person or another company.  For a few entrepreneurs with the right business concept, “going public” is a valid strategy where the “sale” of the company is to many outside investors on a public stock exchange.

In an ownership transfer exit strategy the value model is about building “transferrable” value.  This is the kind of value that can be realized even in the absence of the owner.  With this exit strategy the sky is the limit for your return on investment.  The value of the company can be a passive revenue stream, typical of insurance agencies, or the potential for growth from a new technology, a high value customer mix or demand for a specific product or process that you own.  In general owners with this exit strategy should always be looking for ways to make the business less dependent on them through solid processes and a strong work force.  That will make the business much more valuable to any potential outside buyers.

Transition to Passive Investment

This exit strategy is used very often in family businesses.  As the kids are able (and willing) to take over the business, ownership is sold or gifted to them over time.  The owner either sells them the business and finances it over a number of years, or maintains a diminishing ownership stake as they buy ownership through the transition process.  The passive income for the owner is in the form of principle and interest payments on a long term loan, additional sale of their ownership and distributions from the profit of the company over time.

This is a solid strategy when done correctly.  First of all, it is imperative that the owner ensures the transition of operations is to someone competent, because if the business fails, the passive income source is done.  Also, if you are dependent on distributions or dividends as an income source, make sure the new ownership is planning to make those.  If they decide to put everything back in the company, your income source could dry up quickly.

Pick One and Decide Accordingly

Picking an exit strategy is not about predicting the future and yours will probably even change over time.  The important thing is to have one in mind so that when you make daily decisions they are based on a long term vision, not just a gut feel for what’s easiest at the time.

Of course there are many variations and nuances to exit strategies and I’d love to hear about your experiences or struggles in deciding on and implementing an exit strategy.  If you need help in this area give Sigma College of Small Business a call and we can help.

“Like” Your Page?!? What’s in it for Me?

“How do I get more people to…

…”like” my Facebook page?

…join my Constant Contact email list?

…follow me on Twitter?

…subscribe to my WordPress blog?”

This is a question I get in nearly every workshop, webinar and consultation on social media.  I was reminded of this common marketing concern yesterday, when I saw an emphatic post in my Facebook feed demanding that I like a friend’s fan page.  My first thought was:

What’s in it for ME?

So you set up your fan page and your family and close friends are happy to join in your little social media experiment, so you have your first 25 fans – enough to get your own custom Facebook username!  After a time of networking, posting a few things, maybe even creating an event or two, other business friends and acquaintances become fans and you break the 100 mark.  At some point you reach the plateau of people willing to join the cause just because they know you, and this is where it gets challenging.  You see, at this point you actually have to show your value!  That page, post and tweet have to start earning their keep and providing your audience with something they need.  If it doesn’t, there is nothing in it for them and they will not join or will quickly leave.

Delivering Value

I recently saw a list of the top 10 reasons people like a business fan page.  Potential discounts, brand loyalty and new product information were among the top reasons in the study.  Here are some ways we guide small businesses to add value for their audience:

Use a 30/30/30 Content Mix

If your goal is to just repeat your advertising copy into your Facebook business posts, don’t expect a huge return on the time invested!  My recommendation to most clients is that less than 30% of social media posts be straight advertising promotion.   Another 30% should be industry news, product tips, research and other information that establishes your company as credible experts.  The third 30% should be less business focused and can consist of community news, promoting charity events or entertainment.  For all those keeping score at home, use that last 10% however you like!

Make it Shareable

You know those posts that you can’t wait to comment on and share with your friends?  Try to be the person who makes that post!  Think through your media calendar and post schedule from your audience’s point of view.  Are the things you post something they will want to see and share with their friends?  When you are not only valuable, but also shareable, your fan base will grow quickly.

Post Consistently

My Facebook friend base combined with the business pages I like totals about 300.  Not a large number, pretty average in fact.  But, for me to see one day’s worth of posts I have to scroll back through about 8 screens – and I hide Farmville posts!  That means if you are a business posting once or twice a week in the morning, it’s likely I won’t even see your posts for months at a time.  Social Media is more tolerant of short, valuable posts multiple times a day than email.  In fact, if you are on Twitter and only tweeting a couple times a day, most people who follow over 500 people (not uncommon) will forget they are following you.

Social Media Calendar

It’s tough to sit down and in the moment you have to post, think of something creative and valuable to say.  Create a social media calendar to help organize, schedule and mix your post content.  My social medial calendar includes Facebook, Twitter, WordPress blog posts and Constant Contact email marketing.  This provides an integrated, consistent approach to my online marketing (when I have the time to implement!)

Having trouble with your social media or email marketing?  Sigma College of Small Business has business classes, webinars and services to help you get started and be more effective.

Would you like a Social Media Planning Calendar?  We developed an Excel spreadsheet that we use at Sigma College.  Use the comments below to let me know if you are interested.

The Economic Impact Of “March Madness” from The Vantage Weekly

As I was enjoying the first couple rounds of this year’s NCAA Tournament and thinking up a great blog topic using basketball as a metaphor for business, Monday’s issue of The Vantage Weekly came to my inbox.  My good friend John Stewart gave me special permission to repost the Management Impact from this week.  Thanks John!

Subscribe to The Vantage Weekly for a practical perspective of the economy and great advice for business and investors.

The Economic Impact Of “March Madness”

The Madness in March extends well beyond the court action of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. We chuckle after hearing reports on the losses in worker productivity from time spent on all things “tourney”. In fact, Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates the losses in productivity to be between $1.8B and $4.0B, but it’s nearly impossible to confirm and weigh against generated revenue.

One offset to lost productivity is the revenue from added consumption. The economic impact to the hosting cities for first weekend games is estimated at $4M to $6M each. The Final Four weekend is worth an estimated $13 million to it’s host city, though there is variation depending on the city and the contestants.

In their 2003 study, “An Economic Slam Dunk or March Madness?”, Matheson and Baade did the math and found that the men’s NCAA Division I tournaments since 1970 actually provided only a slight economic gain to host cities in opening rounds while the final four lost money. However, this seemed counterintuitive so we took a quick glance for ourselves. Estimates from the Indiana Department of Revenue show that 2006 Final Four host Indianapolis (Marion County data) had average annual tax revenue growth of 45% in March and April of 2006, which slowed to about 10% in 2007 and was -1% in 2005. They also hosted in 2010, but it’s very hard to control for economic conditions. In other words there was a clear and significant direct economic impact from spending. Also, indirectly more people would be hired temporarily and revenues would be raised by local government on local projects in preparation, which would also boost local economic activity. Of course this is much more difficult to measure but does help.

It’s not just the basketball that’s competitive. One estimate states that 70 cities bid for the 39 spots to host the 2011, 2012, and 2013 tournaments. Being competitive requires cities to invest 100’s of millions for facilities and other NCAA standards for hosting. Amortizing these expenses and accounting for the losses in productivity shows a quick offset to the aforementioned gains. We may never actually know with any precision the real economic impact, but we do know it’s arguably one of the greatest annual sporting events. And, although productivity might fall briefly, the happiness it brings may just be better in the long run! Enjoy.

Thanks John for a great post!  I forgive you for kicking my butt in our bracket competition.

8 Tips to Boost Your Email Marketing

Last week I presented a “Hands-on” seminar for the Greater Warrenton Chamber of Commerce to help small businesses use Constant Contact email marketing to help grow their business.  The seminar was based on these 8 Tips to Boost Your Email Marketing.  Sigma College of Small Business chose to be a Constant Contact Partner and Certified Local Expert last year because of the ease of use for developing professional emails and their support for social media channels.

1.  Add Value

Bottom Line – people will only open, read and act on emails they find consistently valuable.

  • “Email special” discounts, sales and insider info
  • Industry and community news – edited to highlight the value to your audience
  • Opportunity to interact and share

2.  Keep it Opt-In

Maintain a conservative definition of “opt-in” and manage your list to keep it that way.

  • Sending to people that don’t want to hear from you can be negative
  • Building a relationship they started is always better

3.  Subject, Subject, Subject (and headline to Match)

You have a split second to catch their attention, don’t waste it! And confirm their “open” decision with a clear, related headline.

  • “Our Monthly Newsletter” = “I can read this later” = “Will read when I have more time”
  • YOUR AUDIENCE WILL NEVER HAVE MORE TIME!
  • “Your Back Will Thank You”, “Get the CEO off Your Back”, “Are You Giving Your Profits Away?”
  • Use a txt headline at the top of the email to confirm it’s not a trick

4.  The Length and Frequency Principle

Keep frequent emails short, with one or two timely key points.  Less frequent emails can be longer.

  • A daily newspaper doesn’t publish each day with news from last week – if you are sending daily or weekly, have content that changes daily or weekly.

5.  Using Lists

Using multiple lists gives your audience choices on content and frequency to match their needs.

  • Monthly Newsletter, Weekly Specials, Daily Tip OR Engaged, Recently Married, With Children
  • Tell each audience what they should expect and then deliver!
  • Consistency – Delivery, Content, Format, From

6.  Keep your emails consistent

Deliver at promised times with expected content that matches subject

  • Consistent format will help brand recognition and using a recognizable email will help

7.  “Join My Email List”

Ask people to join your email list – tell them why they should and then deliver.

  • Put “Join My Email List” on web sites, Fan Pages and in email signatures

8.  Social Media Promotion

Use the Constant Contact social media tools, but don’t stop there!

  • “Look for ‘Your Back Will Thank You!’ in tomorrow’s monthly email newsletter.” Join Now!
  • Connect your social media to Constant Contact and use the share and tweet functions.

Email marketing can be especially useful to small business owners because it can convey a personal message to clients on a consistent basis at very little cost.  If you have questions about getting your email marketing working better, post a comment or contact us at info@SigmaBizLearning.com or (703) 468-1465.

Would the REAL Time for Social Media Please Stand Up?

I attended a great seminar Wednesday presented by Gina Watkins of Constant Contact and hosted by the Greater Warrenton Chamber. (Sigma College co-sponsored with CC) The topic was social media and Gina mentioned that a business owner could be effective at social media spending about 15 minutes a day! There are a lot of us spending more time than that, so I thought I would walk through where the time goes when you make social a part of your marketing mix.

Social Media Calendar

Start Here!

The first slide of my social media classes is this picture of a calendar as a way of telling my students that, although social media is cash cheap, it can be time expensive.  One of the first decisions in determining the role social media plays in your marketing plan is how much time should be spent building your network.

Pure Posting

Once you are all set up with your accounts and have a goal of 5 or 10 posts per week on a couple of social media sites, then 15 minutes a day is likely enough time.  But don’t get your expectations up!  You will likely get fans and followers from your current network, but it will be slow going building that network over months.  Mixing in some time to monitor and comment on some blogs, share some posts with your network and start some discussions will be time well spent.

Set-up and Design

Setting up and designing social media pages can seem like an unending task.  Every time I turn around there is a new tool, or a new app that I just have to try.  And even though they are all “one-click” installation, they typically take me a bit more time.  Most of the sample sites we see have had some work done.  An extra tab here, a customized page there – it all adds up to extra time or paying someone.  Make sure you schedule some time to keep up with the latest apps and keep your sites up to date.  It’s part of being relevant and it will take a couple hours a month.

Blogging

I recommend to most of my students and clients to do some blogging.  It’s a great way to show your expertise in the industry and adds great content.  When you decide that blogging is a part of your social media mix, make sure you plan the required time.  Depending on how often, your writing skills, the amount of research required and the pictures and links you add, you may need to schedule a couple hours per post as you get started and 30 minutes to an hour if you really get efficient.  But the payoff, if you are good, is that you are putting up good content that will draw readers that will subscribe, share, etc… and build a better network, quicker.

Interacting

I have yet to read a book, article or blog on social media that didn’t stress how critical it is that to be successful in social media you need to read and comment on other people’s posts.  In fact, here’s one from Techipedia | Tamar Weinberg that I read yesterday.  It’s part of establishing your online presence and building credibility – really it’s being part of the community, part of the network.  Plan to spend at least an hour a week just interacting with the online community.  Read, comment and share the content of others.

Planning

Now, to be more efficient and add the most value with the time you have will require a plan.  I give my students and clients a media calendar to pre-plan their posts.  We work through a plan for their posts over the next month or so, determine the topics they should post on and even write out the posts ahead of time if possible.  Spending a couple hours planning every month will make you more efficient and improve the quality of your posts.

In Summary

So the answer to the question of how much time do I need for social media is a pretty wide range.  Someone who uses social media for a high percentage of their marketing mix may spend a couple hours a day, whereas, a beginner may only spend about 15 minutes a day.  The important thing is that you pull out that calendar and schedule the time it will take to meet your social marketing objectives so you aren’t suprised.

Social Media Marketing Starts with “Networking”

Recently, I had the opportunity to present a Career Building event at Strayer University in Manassas, VA.  My friend Amelia Stansell, a VP with BB&T, joined me in presenting a topic on professional networking and using social media to leverage your network.  My next few posts will work through that presentation, highlighting Amelia’s principles for networking and then relating those principles to techniques for social media marketing.

Thanks to Jennifer Durand at Strayer University for inviting us to speak and to the students who participated with some great comments and questions!

The Enigma We Call “Networking”

Amelia begins her presentation by defining the enigma we call networking as “person to person relationship marketing.  She emphasizes that it is taking the time with each individual to know them as a person and build a relationship.  It’s these relationships that can help lead to either closing a sale with that person or getting a referral from them.
Social Media is a new technology that leverages proven networking techniques.  The resulting value is that you can grow and manage a much larger network.  Use tools like Facebook and LinkedIn to follow the lives and careers of your network, interact with them through posts and comments, and refer them through sharing and recommendations.  These methods make it easier to interact with each person in your network between the meetings and phone calls.  Try it and notice how your face-to-face conversations change from “how have you been” to “did your son get off to college ok?”.  It’s a much deeper start to what will be a more productive conversation.

It’s About Getting More Referrals

Professional networkers will tell you that it’s all about the referral because it is more likely that you will get new business from a referral by your network than directly with someone in your network.  Therefore, it’s important that your network trusts you, sees you as an expert and understands your business enough to recognize situations where they can make the referral.  In traditional networking the process begins with the “elevator pitch” and initial meeting, then continues with follow-up meetings, networking groups, phone calls and promotional materials.

Social Media leverages these techniques by enabling you to post your basic information in online “profiles” and “info” pages.  These provide the base background information about you and your business.  Build trust and credibility online is a continual process of listening to your network by reading their posts, interacting with comments and questions, and consistently posting valuable and informative content for your audience.

Relationship Selling, Not Broadcast Advertising

Many business people approach their social media marketing as a broadcast advertising channel, a free way to reach more people with their message.  For some businesses that have a huge fan base, it can certainly be used in that way.  However, for most of us who count on sales through personal relationships and word-of-mouth, the approach needs to mirror solid networking techniques more than basic advertising principles.

Sigma College of Small Business Social Media Services help customers use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Blogging to promote their business and themselves.

What are some tips and recommendations that you have for how to leverage social media to build your professional network?