Posted by: Julie Mierau | July 1, 2010

Here’s your chance to win $1,000

Yes, you read that right. Here’s a chance to share your business idea and possibly get a $1,000 grant. The team at MyEntreNet has created a monthly contest for those of you who want to start a business. Each month, MyEntreNet will give away a $1,000 grant for the best business idea, as voted on by site visitors.

More information can be found at The contest is limited to Iowa residents only.

What’s your dream?

Posted by: suepitts | May 12, 2010

5 Tips to Heat Up Your Summer business

Summer is coming.  Really.  I can feel it in the distance.  Sure, it is unseasonably cold right now in Southwest Iowa, but summer is right around the corner and it is time to add a bit to your marketing regimen to your Iowa small business.
Having a marketing strategy is key and every business should  have one and make sure that all efforts work together. That being said, there is always room to add something unexpected or unconventional  to drum up new business.
Here are some ideas.

1. <strong>Hire some help!</strong> – School is out and kids are smart. Especially with computers and the internet.    Hire one for the summer and have them help you set up that social marketing campaign you have been meaning to start.  Have them set up a Facebook Page, Twitter Account and even a blog.    Join the conversation with your customers online. 
ONE WORD OF CAUTION! If someone is helping you set up Facebook or Twitter account make sure that you own the profiles and that you learn how to manage and update them.  Afterall, school is back in session in the fall and you will be on your own and you don’t want someone else no longer affiliated with your business having the control.  The idea here is to get you started so that come fall you will be ready to roll and will be able to seamlessly update the profiles without spending the time to get them set up.
2. <strong>Create Some buzz </strong>– In the summer people go OUTSIDE.  They are out of the house and in the great outdoors on bike paths, walking paths, parks, highways, sidewalks,  etc. Think outside of the box and figure out where your customers go and how you can get people talking about you.  How about sponsoring a bike ride? Or simply put a sidewalk table or bench outside of your business (if the city allows it).  Hang some signs on the bike path  (“This Way to  a Cold Drink”) or use some sidewalk chalk for the daily deal of the day. 

3.Get Involved!  Summer is the time for neighborhood picnics, community events, parades, garage sales, festivals and fundraisers.  Volunteer your time to these events and get involved.  Make sure that you choose events that involve your target market. Also, Remember that these are fun events.  Your customers are relaxing. They don’t want a sales message tossed at them.  Think of ways to join in on the fun and make their experience more enjoyable.  They will remember you for it.

4. Nurture Your Customer!  We all know that existing customers are very important to our business.  Summer is the perfect time to tell your customers that you appreciate them.  By Holding an ice cream social outside of your business or hosting a good old fashioned BBQ in the backyard you tell your customers that you appreciate them and will have them talking you up to their friends for weeks.   

5. Do Good! – Times are tough for businesses and even harder for non-profit and service organizations.  Choose a cause that is close to the heart of your target market and/or community and sponsor or host a fundraiser to help the cause.  You will be helping others while staying visible in the community.  Collect clothing and food for homeless shelters, furniture for habitat for humanity or help the local community group raise funds for the latest community project.

Posted by: Julie Mierau | May 6, 2010

What we know about health care reform

While the media, the public and even Congress continue to discover all the details about the recently passed health care reform bill, we can share a few things that we know will affect small business owners. (The information shared here originated from The Harry A. Koch Co.)

Companies that employ fewer than 50 workers are not required to offer health insurance, and they will not be penalized if they do not do so. Companies with 25 or fewer employees, with an average wage of up to $40,000, can qualify for tax credits to help purchase insurance. The tax credits this year will be up to 35 percent of the premiums. The credits will increase to 50 percent in 2014.

Companies that employ more than 50 workers will be fined if they do not offer affordable insurance. The penalty will be based on the number of full-time employees.

Insurers will face tough new regulations that affect employer-sponsored group insurance plans. Insurers will not be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions or drop coverage if an individual gets sick. Further, they will be limited in the amount they can vary premiums based on age or health status.

While the reconcilitation bill continues to be debated, we know there will be additional modifications and adjustments to these requirements. We will do our best to keep you posted on how these changes affect small business owners.

Posted by: Julie Mierau | May 3, 2010

Don’t pass over your current customers to get new ones

Maybe it’s just me, but I get really annoyed when a business or organization I do business with offers special deals for new customers but nothing for existing customers. Just this morning, a business association announced that if you join during May, you can be entered into a drawing for $7,500 worth of free marketing materials. Well, silly me, I joined back in February. I’m not eligible.

I understand trying to draw in new customers. I do the same in my own business. But while you’re pondering how to best get new business, never forget the loyal customers who’ve been with you before now. Offer them a discount, or a loyalty rewards program or something of value to let them know you care about their business as well.

You can never get enough new customers to make up for lost customers. This is a no-brainer. If you’re doing a give-away, make sure everyone can benefit.

Posted by: Julie Mierau | April 22, 2010

From the mouths of our customers

Lest we forget, small businesses only succeed if they meet the needs of their customers. Here’s a first-hand account, a cautionary tale, from a colleague of mine in Dallas. Read it — and remember.

In an announcement from Governor Chet Culver, we learned today that Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa  is among 44 Iowa recipients of grants designed to create jobs by helping businesses get started or expand in rural areas.  Governor Culver highlighted these awards from the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

IWCC Entrepreneurial Center and Economic Development will use these funds for a revolving loan fund.  Low interest loans will be available for small business expansions and start-ups in rural southwest Iowa. Counties covered include Cass, Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Page, Shelby and rural Pottawattamie counties. To qualify, the community needs to be under 50,000 population. 

We keep hearing that the best time to start or expand small businesses is during economic downturns. That has been a difficult pill to swallow when financing a new venture or expansion is nearly impossible.  This new revolving loan fund will offer businesses a small boost to help them start or grow. The fund will be only $112,000 to start so we are not talking about huge business loans.  We expect loans to be under $10,000. But with a carefully planned business plan, $10,000 could go a long way. 

The IWCC Entrepreneurial Center and SBDC just found out about this award today so no details have been ironed out.  Keep tuned to this blog and the IWCC E Center website and Facebook Fan Page for details.

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Posted by: Julie Mierau | January 21, 2010

Branding boiled down to three simple questions

Everybody’s talking about branding these days. Marketing consultants want to charge companies to create brands — and sometimes rightfully so. Website consultants want to charge to create an online brand — again, sometimes rightfully so. Image consultants want to charge you to create your personal brand.

But is that money well spent?

At a seminar this morning, Celann LaGreca, principal at the LaGreca Group, offered three basic questions for creating your personal brand. As small business owners, our personal brands and our company brands are tightly intertwined, as you see in the following three questions:

  1. What are you passionate about?
  2. What are your skills and talents?
  3. What does your organization need and value?

Answering these three questions creates a simple personal brand statement. For example, in my bed and breakfast business, my brand statement might be, “I offer comfort and rest to travelers on their journey.”

That simple statement can then be used to create a 30-second elevator pitch, such as: “I am Julie Mierau, and I own Omaha’s only bed and breakfast. We marry the elegance of yesteryear with the conveniences of today. Call me at The Cornerstone Mansion when you need to create a momorable event or celebrate a special moment.”

The pitch statement includes who you are, what you help people with, what sets you apart from others, your company tagline and why someone should contact you. Working through this simple exercise can help you more clearly define the image you want to present to others, whether in social settings or professional ones. It can make those sometimes-awkward networking sessions a bit easier to dive into — which in turn can drive business through your doors.

What’s your personal brand statement?

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Posted by: Julie Mierau | January 12, 2010

Your mama was right

Remember when your mama told you there was no such thing as a free lunch? Turns out, she was right. Imagine that.

Now, repeat after me: There’s no free grant money out there to start or expand my business. That’s right, boys and girls, there is no free grant money out there. No matter what you’ve heard or seen online or been promised by a company that will find you those grants.

Here it is, in black and white, straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were: “The federal government does not provide grants for starting and expanding a business.” Check it out on The site includes information specific to small businesses, including the types of businesses that might qualify for some kind of local or state funding.

Read through the site carefully to see if there are any grant programs that apply to your business. Don’t believe the hype about the government pouring money into small businesses and expecting nothing in return. Honestly, you know better.

Now bundle up, because it’s cold out there, and don’t forget your hat. Mama was right about that, too.

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Posted by: Julie Mierau | January 5, 2010

Do you love what you do?

On my drive in to the office this morning, an NPR reporter was quoting a report, due out today, that says most Americans hate their jobs.

The report, based on a survey of 5,000 U.S. households conducted for The Conference Board by TNS, found that 45 percent of those surveyed are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61.1 percent in 1987, the first year in which the survey was conducted.

Most unhappy of all were workers younger than 25. Which makes sense, given the restricted job market right now and, well, just the unhappiness that many young people have early in their careers.

But what does this mean for business owners? Are your employees happy? Because if they’re not, in all likelihood, your business will suffer. The start of the new year might be the best time to find out how your employees feel about their jobs and about your business.

It might also be the best possible time to be thankful that you own your own business so that, for the most part, you can love what you do. Isn’t that really the American dream?

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Posted by: suepitts | December 31, 2009

Optimize For Mobile Users

I have been on vacation for the last week and a half in Minnesota visiting family and it is amazing how much I relied and used my Blackberry.  Sure, I am pretty addicted as it is, but with no office computer and access to wireless for the laptop I used it for everything from email to shopping after Christmas sales.

The one thing I noticed is that on email, texts or websites, phone numbers that are viewed on a smart phone are automatically  activated by a simple click.  If a number is listed correctly on your smart phone device you can click it and it will automatically make the call.  This is very nice when you want to make a call and don’t have a great memory or a pen nearby.

The problem I kept having is that many websites or individuals emails  list their phone numbers incorrectly.  It needs to be listed with the area code and in a very standard way.

 This is the correct way to have your phone numbers listed: 888-888-8888. 

 I ran across numbers listed without area codes: 888-8888, with extra symbols like ()  or / in them: (888) 888-8888 or 888/888-8888, or worse of all, websites or emails with no phone numbers at all.

More and more of your customers are using their mobile devices to find you.  Make sure that you take a quick second to make sure that your number is listed correctly on your signature for your email and on your website and any other directories that you are listed in on the internet.

photo from Flickr Creative Commons:

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