Rhonda Abrams, Travel Blog Series: Smart Small Business Travel

September 3, 2014
Increase Your Return-on-Travel on Your Very Next Trip

This blog post first appeared on 06/30/14 on Visa Business

To increase orders from your current customers and find new clients, plan a business trip. Travel, an important tool in your small-business tool kit, is an investment in growing and sustaining your business. And as with any investment, you want to get the highest return—in this case, your return on travel.
Businesses get an average return of $9.50 for every travel dollar they spend, according to a study the U.S. Travel Association sponsored, which Oxford Economics conducted. And it’s clear why business travel makes sense.

In-person interactions close sales and deepen relationships.
People do business with other people. Unfortunately, in my own business, I’ve seen that the reverse is also true. A few years ago, after losing a significant customer, I asked why they stopped doing business with us. The head of the company said, “Because we hadn’t seen you in a while, and your competitors kept coming to us.”
It was an expensive lesson.

Increasing your return on travel takes a bit of planning. Before a trip you’re busy taking care of pressing things, but carve out time to consider ways of increasing the value of your upcoming travel.

Define your wins. The purpose of your trip might be to exhibit at a trade show. But a win could be to meet with a specific prospect, get 50 new leads, or generate a certain amount of sales. Clarify what a win would be for you.

Think one trip, multiple wins. Focus on the primary purpose of your trip, but identify additional opportunities. Are important customers nearby that you’ve never met or haven’t seen in more than a year? If so, even if you have to stay another day, arrange to see them.

Build your local intelligence. Before you go, what research can you do on other prospects, potential strategic partners, or additional suppliers? You can even assess a competitor. You never know. You might learn something to improve your business.
Use your hotel as a second office. The more you center your life at the hotel, the less time you spend in transit. Smarter hotels make it easy to stay productive. Many have transformed their public spaces into inviting meeting and work spaces with good lighting and free Wi-Fi. They have flexible conference rooms you can book online.
And you don’t have to stay at a hotel to take advantage of its facilities. Some hotel companies, like Marriott, welcome small-business owners to use their lobbies and free Wi-Fi.

Take advantage of loyalty programs and benefits. Frequent business travelers can reap many rewards through loyalty programs. Sign up for these programs for every airline, hotel chain, and car-rental company you use.

You probably have benefits you don’t even realize. Many credit cards include not only an auto-rental collision damage waiver, but provide extended warranties and 90-day protection against loss or damage to new products.

Think of travel as an investment—rather than an expense—and plan trips that have a big payoff for your small business.

Download my Smart Small Business Travel Guide here for more travel-savvy tips and worksheets to help you plan your high return-on-travel trip. 

Recognized as one of the foremost experts on small business, Rhonda Abrams writes USA Today’s small business column and is the author of 19 books on entrepreneurship. Rhonda’s books have been translated into over 30 languages, and adopted by more than 1,000 business schools. Her books include the bestselling business plan guide in the U.S.: Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies.

To receive Rhonda’s free email newsletter on starting and growing a successful business, sign up at http://www.planningshop.com/register/register.asp

A Must-read To-do List for Anyone Looking to Start A Crowdfunding Campaign

August 7, 2014
As the crowdfunding industry continues to explode around the world we still find too many campaigns failing and people desperately seeking help once they see no funds appear in their coffers after launching.
People need to know that it’s hard work to be successful at crowdfunding, but if you’re willing to learn (and get prepared ahead of time), you can make incredible things happen with the right knowledge and tools, some of which are found here:
“Win the crowd and you’ll win your freedom.” – Gladiator.
You and your business will need to attract followers, fans and positive awareness. This is not “If you build it they will come” scenario, but more like “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a sound?” In this sense, you’ll need to make a lot of carefully calibrated noises in the presence of many receptive people
Get a Crowdfunding Education
Don’t even think of starting to crowdfund if you have no idea about what it takes to succeed. Talk to experts and ask questions. Read everything you can find on how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign and then do those tasks. Take classes especially if you want to sell securities. Take trusted courses such as Crowdfunding College and attend educational crowdfunding conferences (which are also great places to network and build your crowd from like minded people) such as http://crowdfundingroadmap.com/bootcamp.
Build a Team of Committed People for the Duration of Your Campaign
Make sure your crowdfunding campaign thoroughly explains your business to all potential backers. This will help spread the word further, increase your marketing reach and is an effective way to engage with current and potential contributors or investors.
Campaigns run by 4 or more people increase their chances for success by 70%.
Hone Your Elevator Pitch
It’s essential that you’re able to explain who you are, what you do, and why someone should invest in you – in 15 seconds or less. Be honest, concise, interesting, share it with people everywhere you go, and remember to ask for money & support. In some cases people get so excited about their own ideas that they forget to ask for the money. It also helps to frequently call into live radio shows such as Crowdfunding Radio Live and get interviewed as much as possible.
Create a Task Schedule & Calendar
Compile a list of necessary tasks and organize them by date on your calendar. Keep track of everything you will need to do before, during and after your campaign and assign tasks to your team. Make sure time is focused everyday on your campaign and on building a crowd.
Do Your Homework
Before launching your crowdfunding campaign, establish your costs for the entire campaign. This way you’ll be able to adjust your goals to know how much you really need to raise in order to finance all expenses including the cost of running your campaign, distributing rewards or selling equity in your company.
Do the Crowdfunding Math: How many contributors or investors do you need to land on your profile and review your campaign in order to reach your funding goal.
Figure out how many people you will need to contribute or invest to complete and raise your total desired amount. For example if you want to raise $10,000 that is 200 people at $50.00, 100 people at $100.00, 500 people at $20.00 or basically some combination of this. Whatever that number is you will need thousands of eyeballs to see your campaign for that smaller combination of investors or donors to take action and put their money in your deal.
Build Up Your Social Status and Social Capital
Make sure you have developed a strong presence on the Internet via social media networks as an expert in your field. Become an expert and authority in your field and blog about it, promiscuously.
Historically 80% of crowdfunding dollars will come from one friend away from you.
Send out press releases on the exciting things you and your company are doing. Get testimonials and put them on your website.
Comment on articles, other related blogs and articles in major magazines that get lots of traffic. Provide invaluable information that will demonstrate your skills and talent to build confidence in your potential investors or donors. Remember that your crowd will become your community, your advocates and promoters. Give them something of value to identify with.
Share, Share, Share
Make sure that your Twitter, Facebook and other social media links are clear and present on everything you do so you can constantly build those numbers up as people read all of this great material you are creating. Write a series of emails that tell a story that you and your team can send out every few days before and during your campaign that draws people into feeling connected to your vision and mission.
Promote It and They Will Come
Build personal connections. Get out and meet people; think of it like a political campaign. Target your core constituencies, make new (often real) friends, and kiss any babies on offer.
Use practical tactics, but remember you’re also playing long ball and building an actual business.
Look for Influencers
Influence people and keep influencing them. Seek strategic or affiliate partners with complimentary or related customer (crowd) bases – promote each other. Keep expanding to build your crowd as well as your business.
Be Prepared for Competition
Remember you are crowdfunding on a public platform with thousands of other campaigns. If your campaign does not grab people’s attention the moment they land on it, guess what? They will leave and check out your competition instead. Now you’ve just spent all of this time driving traffic to someone else’s crowdfunding campaign.
Have non-biased outsiders review your video and campaign page and help fix your mistakes before you make it public.
Is Your Campaign Really Ready for Prime Time?
If you were going to pitch on television in front of millions of people would your campaign really sell it? Do you have all of the components beautifully written and fully flushed out along with photos and a killer video? Review other campaigns that are similar to yours that really nailed it and were fully funded. Then, create components for your campaign that showcase what you are offering in the same way.
Pre-Funding a 30% Commitment Can Make or Break Your Fundraising Efforts
It’s key to have 30% of your total campaign dollars committed ahead of time from people you know. If you’re offering isn’t compelling enough for your real friends and family who love you and want to support your vision or company then why should complete strangers?
Learn How to Ask for the Money
Monitor the comment section of your campaign page and respond to calls and emails quickly during your campaign, in real time, as people will have lots of questions. If you’re not prompt in answering those questions they will quickly loose interest and this could cost you lot’s of potential funding.
Have a Crowdfunding Task and Action plan
It provides you with instructions on what to do and works as a placeholder for you to create a step by step action plan with timelines for launching and running a successful compliant campaign. Learn more here: http://www.crowdfundingroadmap.com/crowdfunding-task-and-action-plan/
What Happens if After All of This Effort You Still Miss Your Goal?
Whether you reach your funding goal or not, none of this effort will have been wasted. You’ll reflect on what worked and what didn’t work and build upon what you’ve already done. Your existing fans will still be your fans, your visibility will put you on the map and may even bring conventional funding and support once they see how prepared you are for long term success.
And… you can always relaunch your crowdfunding campaign – this time more educated & prepared for more rewarding results…
Get started now – sign up today at http://www.crowdfundingroadmap.com
Ruth Hedges is the Co-founder and CEO of Crowdfunding College and the creator and key architect of Crowdfundingroadmap.com. She has been responsible for pioneering a new and innovative virtual system for business planning, crowdfund compliance and due diligence reporting on the cloud. Ms Hedges also taught the first course on equity based crowdfunding at UNLV, the first university in the United States to teach this very important information.   The JOBS act was signed into law on 5 April 2012 and supported by overwhelming bipartisan support. Ms. Hedges has been active in pioneering this new industry and from the beginning of 2010 helping the Startup Exemption team to move the bills passage through Congress. She has since been building awareness through her flagship global event for the industry in Las Vegas http://www.crowdfundingroadmap.com/bootcamp and development of best practices, compliant technology and educational material. As a leader and industry expert Ms hedges has been interviewed or quoted in over 40 major publications.              
– Learn more in person at The 3rd Annual Global Crowdfunding Convention and Bootcamp: http://www.crowdfundingroadmap.com/bootcamp

Dude, What’s My Brand?

November 11, 2013
Your glowing red tie that everyone can see from across a busy city street, the gleaming white smile, the perfectly pressed suit or designer pumps, the fancy name badge you always wear to try and stand out, the robust strides you take when you enter a room that creates an air of confidence are just not enough to build your personal brand anymore. There will certainly always be a place for the Fuller Brush salesperson approach and some may be fooled by pomp and circumstance, but today’s buyers are savvier than ever and they want substance.
I remember buying my first business suit at Today’s Man when I was 21 and being so proud and confident that I could actually look the part of a successful person. I felt like a million bucks, but in reality I looked like $124.95 off the sale rack. No one was impressed. I quickly learned that playing the part was not nearly enough. I needed to be able to deliver for my prospects and clients to earn the respect and credibility I needed to grow my business and advance my own skills.  
So I hit the streets.
Cold calling, telemarketing, and getting to every networking event and industry gathering I could humanly make it to. Within a remarkably short period of time I realized that more and more people knew who I was and they were recommending me to their friends, clients, and colleagues. Without much thought, in these early days I was building my personal brand of excellence and people were taking notice of my prowess in the heavily trafficked payroll services industry. It was nice to be in demand and even better to have folks calling me for a change.
Fast forward 17 years: I’ve built my own successful company with 35 employees and thousands of clients, founded a bank, invested in various industries, got married, had two kids, bought a commercial building, become a regular on Fox Business as a small business expert. And all the while building the skills and knowledge that helped shape my personal brand; the motivated, entrepreneurial go-getter that wants to help others succeed to live their American dream. That’s my brand….oh, and my suits are a little snazzier now.
Brand is defined by Wikipedia as “the set of emotional and sensory inputs a consumer associates with a particular product or service in their episodic memory system.” A personal brand can be similarly expressed, except YOU are the brand, not a product or service. So how do you craft whatever it is that you want your brand to be? It took me a long time and I did not really think of how it impacted my businesses and life up until about five years ago. You can do it more expeditiously if you use a formula that fits your personal ethical, spiritual, and business desires and beliefs.
Ask yourself these questions:
Who do you want the world to see?
Tough guy, sporty lady, brilliant thinker, the best-darn lawn mower repair person. Whatever it is pick a direction and don’t deviate unless you have to.
Why should anyone listen?
Presumably you are really what you portend to be and you are good at what you do and others will WANT to hear what you have to say….that always works best.  Absent of real talent, drive, or ability this becomes a lot more difficult, but not impossible to have your personal brand work.
How do I get it out to the world?
No one has unlimited time and resources. Start small. Use the social media outlets including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others to build your voice and imagery in a consistent manner. Comment regularly on highly read blogs in your industry. You physical presence is necessary for this to work as well; don’t hide in the virtual world. Get out in there and become knows as a leader in your industry by actually BEING a leader. Think Tony Robbins, Gary Vanynerchuck, and Seth Godin. (will link to articles here)
What do I want my personal brand connected with?
What should your brand be synonymous with? Make sure you steer your brand in the right direction. For example, when you think of George Foreman, do you think of the boxer? Probably not. The first thought that comes to mind is his heavy marketed grill that has become a kitchen staple. Brand, connection, success!
Does your brand compliment your mission statement?
Make sure that your brand aligns with your personal mission statement.  Mine is inspiring the entrepreneurial spirit to get American businesses back on their feet.
Hey, who are you anyway?
Build your credibility. You may have the coolest brand in the world, but if no one knows who you are it will not help much. Attend industry conferences and become a sought-after leader in your field. Become a fixture on the speaker circuit. Take advantage of every opportunity to practice and hone your speaking skills. Host lectures for clients, partners, prospects, and the general community, contribute to articles both in print and online, and help out members of your local community.
Formulas and tactics are meant to be morphed, twisted and turned on their heads. Don’t be afraid to try something different to get the attention you need to move forward. You can make your brand like nobody else can; because you’re just simply YOU.
Republished by permission, FreeEnterprise.com, in agreement with NY Enterprise Report. Copyright© is owned by the author of this article.FreeEnterprise.com is your home for free market news and ideas.
Small business expert Rob Basso is the founder of BassoOnBusiness.com, a web-based community dedicated to inspiring the entrepreneurial spirit and getting American businesses back on their feet. He is the president and owner of Advantage Payroll Services, the region’s largest independently owned payroll provider, and the author of The Everyday Entrepreneur. He can be reached at bassorob@bassoonbusiness.com and make sure to purchase your copy of The Everyday Entrepreneur today!

HOW TO: Five Free Ways to Get Your Business in the News

November 5, 2013
The truth is you don’t really need a public relations firm to publicize your business. I realize that as the owner of a boutique public relations firm that’s probably not my best sales pitch. And yet, it’s true.
A PR firm will have experience and connections. They’ll also spend significant funds on media databases, memberships to various organizations, and a ton of magazine subscriptions. But as an entrepreneur, you already have the skills and passion you need to handle your own press outreach. Whether you’ll want to or not, well, that’s a different story.
If you’re looking to cut costs and invest time, here are five completely free ways to get yourself and your business in the news.
Know the Players
Players? What players? The journalists. Create an email account just for alerts, e-newsletter subscriptions and blog feeds. Then go to: www.google.com/alerts and www.alerts.yahoo.comand set up alerts for terms related to your business, e.g. if you run a pizza shop, set up an alerts for your business name, pizza, Italian food, and alerts for your key competitors. Next, using your new email address, sign up for related content that can help your business grow, like relevant emails from business journals, marketing gurus, etc. At least once a week read through your inbox and compile names of writers who’ve written about a topic similar to yours – it’s best to do this in Excel, so you can create columns. Once populated with journalist name, outlet, and link to the actual story, you’ll need to comb the web for email addresses. Take a peek on: www.everyonewhosanyone.com and also Google the writer’s name; it helps to include words like contact and @nameofpublication.com to narrow the field. You’ll need this information when you’re ready to send a press release and if you’re doing this for free, it will take a while to accumulate. To speed things up, register atwww.listbuilder.bulldogreporter.com, click on create a media list and follow the prompts but when you’re asked to buy the list, find the “preview” tab and jot down the outlets and titles of the journalists. This will help you target your Google search more quickly. With a trip to your local library, you can flip through current magazines and gather even more information.
Become a Source
Surely you know a lot about something, which counts to register for free as an expert atwww.helpareporter.com. Nearly 30,000 members of the media have quoted sources they found through Help a Reporter Out (HARO) in their stories; this includes The New York Times,The Wall Street Journal, and many others. Once you sign up, you’ll begin to receive a few emails each day with a list of stories journalists are working on for which they need an expert to comment and/or interview. Another clever, free, site is www.BloggerLinkUp.com. While this one isn’t a media pool, once you register it provides you opportunities to write a blog or exchange content with another blog, which in turn promotes your business and boosts your Search Engine Optimization.
Toot Your Horn
Did you just write a stellar blog post? Great, now chop it up. Find at least three things you can tweet from your post and funny ways to call attention to it via Facebook and social platforms. Whenever possible, post a photo. People are most likely to engage with branded content that contains images (44 percent), according to a 2012 study by marketing firm Performics. But what if you don’t have any photos? Go to a royalty free photo stock website, likewww.freedigitalphotos.net; just make sure you follow to rules on attribution. If you don’t have photo editing software, go to www.picmonkey.com and use the free text editor to insert a photo credit to your pic.
Send a Press Release
Think of this as one sheet of paper with all the pertinent information you’d need to give someone who’s writing about you, your product, or service. As a former reporter I can tell you, simple is better. You’ll find a wealth of sites online with free advice on how to write a press release; you could also head over to www.prnewswire.com and read through releases to use as samples. Once you’ve finished your pièce de résistance, you’ll want to send it in a blind carbonated copy email to that list of press you compiled earlier. It’s crucial that you bcc the media. No one wants to receive an email with other recipients in plain view. You’ll also want to send your release using some free press release distribution services, such as: www.prlog.orgwww.pr.com, and  www.i-newswire.com.
Be Ready
Create a free account with www.dropbox.com and upload a copy of your press release as well as any photos you may need to share with the press so that you may access these files from any computer if needed. Keep properly labeled low-resolution 72 dpi, web-friendly, images in one folder and high-resolution 300 dpi, print-friendly, images in another. Public relations is a mix of creativity, strategy, persistence, preparedness, and luck. Sometimes, something will happen in the news that provides a golden opportunity for you to approach your contacts. In those moments, you need to be ready to jump.
Republished by permission, FreeEnterprise.com, in agreement with NY Enterprise Report. Copyright© is owned by the author of this article.FreeEnterprise.com is your home for free market news and ideas.
Maria Coder is a former journalist and the founder of Bed & Brunch PR, a boutique public relations firm that creates strategic media campaigns for travel and lifestyle brands. She can be reached by email at info@bedandbrunchpr.com.

Great Marketing That Makes Money

November 4, 2013
For most companies, there are ways to turn marketing efforts into profit centers. Of course, every situation and every company is different. Creative marketing solutions do not apply across the board.
But in all cases, it pays to think outside the box. I like racking my brains to think of ways to turn marketing efforts into profit centers. And I have found that it is usually possible.
Here are some examples from the days when I owned an industrial equipment manufacturing company building specialty machinery for the polymer industry.
I have since used the same type of thinking in financial services, publishing, and other companies I have owned or consulted with.
The Demonstration Lab
As a cost center: Customers came to our factories to use demonstration equipment to see if it could handle their processing and new product development requirements. The hope was that if they had a successful experience then they would buy our equipment. Every trial session required our staff to be available. As our company’s reputation grew, demand for our lab services grew exponentially. It was a moneyspending sinkhole that occasionally led to equipment sales.
As a profit center: We created a new, separate company to provide expanded laboratory facilities to target customers. We relocated it 10 miles away so that the separation was clear. When potential customers called looking for lab/testing/trial services, they were directed to the new company. We charged for testing, but because of the facility’s state-of-the art capabilities, prospects were more than happy to pay. The beefed-up facility became an important new profit center, plus served as our R&D eyes and ears for our own future equipment development efforts. Equipment sales resulting from successful lab experiences boomed.
The Trade Show
As a cost center: We participated in the major industry trade show held in Chicago every couple of years. Buying booth space and display equipment, plus flying, housing, and feeding our staff for the multi-day event, cost a ton of money. Because we were a smaller company in the industry, we felt a need to purchase large, high-traffic booth locations, which only added to our expenses. These shows were a major cost center.
As a profit center: Looking to get greater bang from our trade show exposure we reduced booth space, took a slower traffic location, and sent fewer people for the week. To compensate for this, we organized a 5K race through the streets of Chicago early one morning during the trade show. To participate, runners paid to register and get their t-shirt (with our logo all over it) at our booth in the days leading up to the run. On race day, we had over 5,000 runners wearing our branded t-shirts running along the lake shore. The Chicago papers and the evening news picked upon the story. For one day, our little company was quite prominent in the city. Despite the sharp cutback in our marketing expenses, we had the best sales result from the show we’d ever seen.
Industry Conferences
As a cost center: We used to send our staff members to conferences to learn and to network. The travel expenses and fees increased every year.
As a profit center: Organize our own conferences. Three or four times a year, we’d come up with a theme for a two-day event, usually centered around a technology topic that we wanted to learn about. We charged people to attend—typically $1,500— and of course they paid their own expenses. We attracted industry leaders to speak. Their exposure was significant, plus they marketed the event to their clients. Our team members would give several of the presentations, further strengthening our brand. To top it off, we hosted a wine and cheese reception in our factory the first night of the conference. Attendees were seeing some of the exciting things we were doing. Every conference we did was a profit center. We also sold millions of dollars’ worth of equipment as a result of these events.
Advertising to the Trade
As a cost center: We spent heavily on print advertising in the leading trade journals.
As a profit center: We reduced outside advertising and developed our own quarterly postcard pack mailings, which included several cards advertising our own equipment, lab services, and conferences. We also sold card insertions to complementary companies targeting the same customers. On balance, our annual advertising efforts became a profit center, and with much better equipment sales results.
Raising Our Profile Internationally
As a cost center: We wanted to penetrate the Latin America market. If we had used traditional thinking, this diversification effort could have become a huge cost center and it would have taken a long time to bear fruit.
As a profit center: We tackled the opportunity in two stages: First, we contacted US embassies in various countries and asked for help in organizing and promoting one-day conferences in the various key cities. The embassies did a fabulous job in every country including Mexico, Venezuela, Panama, and Columbia. We quickly established connections and credibility with industry and association leaders in all the countries, which led to a flood of requests for equipment sale proposals.
In phase two, we worked with the country’s industry associations to offer their members opportunities to pay to attend four-day technology work shops that we held in our factories in New Jersey and Florida. To motivate the trade associations, we gave them a piece of the workshop fees collected from their members. When participants returned home, they became our “sales representatives” within their organizations and in future organizations as they changed career paths.
We offset a portion of the costs of hosting these workshops by inviting other, complementary companies to participate as speakers and financial sponsors of the training events. These workshops became a profit center, more than offsetting the relatively small amount of marketing dollars we spent in the various countries.
Republished by permission, FreeEnterprise.com, in agreement with NY Enterprise Report. Copyright© is owned by the author of this article.FreeEnterprise.com is your home for free market news and ideas.
Jack Killion is managing partner of the Eagle Rock Diversified Fund, an 11-year-old fund of hedge funds. He is also the co-founder of Bluestone+Killion, a firm dedicated to helping professionals and their organizations sharpen and develop their networking and client development skills. Killion’s 35 years of business experience includes consulting with leaders of Fortune 500 and emerging companies as well as owning and managing successful businesses in venture capital, publishing, manufacturing, and real estate development. He can be reached atjack@bluestonekillion.com.