When I was little, I use to tag along with my mom as she would pick up things for her garden. My favorite stop was Agway, because, in the spring they had brooders full of baby chickens. Although my mother never, ever, indulged my childhood need to snuggle an arm full of chicks, now that I’m the Mom it’s a different story.
In the spring of 2009, we took the plunge and purchased 8 chicks from a local farmer. Like any other venture, we needed more than a box of peeps, but, while the birds were only slightly larger than the egg they hatched out of, they didn’t need many of the things a fully grown hen would.
So, instead of rushing out and buying loads of stuff that would just sit in storage until the gals were big enough to use it, we adapted to their needs and only invested more into their care when it was the right time to do it. While they were small and still needed the heat lamp to regulate their body temperature, they lived in a large cardboard box in the family room. When they got large enough to jump/fly out of their box and poop on the carpet, we built a coop and moved them to the back yard.
This spread the expenditures of time and money out, over time, so that we could better absorb the costs.
We also learned as we went along. I got a great book, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, and picked up a few tips and tricks from the internet and even learned a few things the hard way, but now we have all the eggs we can eat and a self-sustaining supply of new laying hens. When we had hens go broody after their first year, we were given some fertile eggs for the ladies to hatch. From those fertile eggs, we kept a Rooster. This year we just welcomed our first batch of home-grown babies.
I could keep the process going, if I wanted, and allow my hobby of back yard chickens grow to the point I could start selling eggs to my neighbors. Then grow to enough hens I could get a stall at the farmers market. I could then let the dream grow to certifying as organic and winning a contract with Whole Foods… Or not.
The formal term for this process is bootstrapping, but the process works equally well in small business as it does with back yard chickens. When considering how you want your next business to unfold, consider the slow build as a way to gain both resources and knowledge you need to ensure a successful venture.
Our scheduled moving day is less than 3 weeks away but were not ready, and barring a miracle, there’s no way we’ll be ready. Even with the blog and non-essential business activities on hold since April, we’re just not going to make the deadline and it’s one of the most unpleasant feelings in the world. I made a goal, set a date, and the process isn’t going to plan.
I knew moving to Michigan would be a major undertaking but I hadn’t considered coming down with two significant colds in May and June. I think we’ve been picking up exotic cold viruses while making the 350 mile trek between houses since both colds struck within days of the trips. (There will be a bottle of hand sanitizer in the car before the next jaunt!)
Most people, when faced with a deadline that can’t be met and an overwhelming number of OTC medications, would simply give up on the whole process. Admittedly, the easiest thing for me to do right now would be to crawl back in bed with a box of tissues and my cocktail of decongestants, and expectorants but there might be one or two things I can do today. Things that, in some small way, would bring us a little closer to completing the move.
The point is I’m trying desperately to avoid stagnation or worse, loosing ground on progress. So while I’ve been laid up for more than a week and won’t make my goal of July 1 to move, I have still taped boxes together and even packed a few things.
Progress may be slow at times here and in your own ventures, but as long as we find a small ways to move forward on our most unproductive days, we create the success we want to have in our lives.
Not all entrepreneurial ventures need to be grandiose, million dollar money makers. In fact, many of the successful entrepreneurs I’ve worked with over the years are moonlighting in small businesses to help fill gaps in their family budgets. A part-time business might be just the thing you need to bring in a few extra dollars for your family too.
Starting a business for your spare time also has some major advantages. For one, you don’t have to quit your day job so your regular paycheck and other benefits aren’t going anywhere.
Second, starting a small business in your spare time allows you to bootstrap the business. If your goal is to earn extra money, starting with a small amount of seed money, allows the business to grow at a pace that is equivalent to the money you earn so you invest in the business instead of making loan payments. Plus any money you don’t pay the bank for interest on a line of credit is money you get to keep.
When thinking about what kind of business you might be able to bootstrap in your spare time, I would suggest you start by evaluating your current hobbies. My guess is that you probably already have a basic kit of tools and know a little about the industry which will make the jump from hobby to business easier. For example;
- Festivals – If you love going to festivals in the summer time, consider becoming a vendor. Since you know what events are planned and what is usually offered, you could find a niche novelty food or product and set up a table. (Like the Kettle Corn tent in this articles masthead)
- Second-hand items – If you simply can’t pass a good pile of junk without picking up a few treasures, consider re-selling. Options include selling vintage items on Etsy, eBay and other sites online or getting space at your local flea market.
- Teach a class – Maybe you’re a world class knitter or have another special talent you can share with the world. Sites like Betterfly and the lessons section on Craig’s List can help you find customers.
- Hunting and Fishing – Since you already know all the best spots in the area, why not let someone tag along?
- Repair services – take all those pleas for help you get from your family and friends and set up shop repairing computers, small engines or anything else you know you can fix.
Of course the list is only limited by your imagination.
One pitfall of turning a hobby into a business is to change your mindset about what you’re trying to do. One common mistake most part-time business owners make is treating the business like it’s still a hobby.
Learning business basics isn’t limited to those who want to quit their job and start a new career. If you want to keep what you earn, and grow the business you’ll still need a plan, know how to keep your books and keep your fledgling business from faltering along the way. You might also have to get insurance, permits and collect sales taxes.
The good news is that most of this can be learned in the Hard Knocks Business Academy. I’m also here to help you along, so don’t hesitate to contact me or schedule an appointment (the first appointment is always free)
Every break my children have from school, we make the trek from Rochester NY to Clio Michigan and spend our vacations working on projects that will bring us closer to our eventual move. This week, we finally brought the first load of our belongings and in between wind and snow storms, we managed to get our internet connection installed.
While talking to Mike, the Comcast installer, about our need for bandwidth so we could keep up with business tasks in between trips to Goodwill and cleaning the gutters, he mentioned that he liked working for a big company because he had benefits like Health Care.
While it might seem like a casual comment, it speaks volumes about the state of our economy.
Small Businesses account for more employees and a larger portion of the US GDP than all large companies put together. When it’s hard for people like Mike to leave health insurance behind, health care becomes a barrier to economic growth.
Now I’m not saying that Universal Healthcare is a silver bullet for the economy, because losing a steady paycheck and is also an important consideration, but what if health care wasn’t one of the barriers to entry into small business ownership?
Yesterday, I had an opportunity to attend a workshop just for SCORE counselors where we went over the Financial Projection model that we use as part of our Simple Steps workshops. It’s not that I or any of the other counselors can’t “run the numbers,” but I, hadn’t used this particular tool and wanted to be sure I could use it if asked.
My first impression of the projection model was that it was probably overwhelming for most would-be small business owners. Running the financials are scary enough without seeing 21 sheets of calculations. Though now that I know more about it, I see that 21 pages isn’t 21 pages. A lot of the sheets are the final numbers and you just need to fill in the blanks, where required, to have a Financials section for your business plan that will knock your bankers socks off.
It couldn’t be easier to get started with. In fact, if you start on the first sheet, the basic directions are given then, there’s only one box to fill out.
The template also has a convenient color code for you to follow. Color within a cell means you should add or modify information. The white areas are where the auto-magic calculations occur and those area’s are protected so you can’t accidentally foul things up.
Yellow cells are the areas where you should put something in the box. It’s loose requirement since you might not always have a number to enter. For instance, you might not need any money for business travel, so it’s alright to leave it at zero.
Green boxes are areas where you can add modifiers that will ultimately give you a more accurate projection. If you know the interest rate on your loan or the life expectancy of your equipment, or have other insights, feel free to add them.
The trick of creating an accurate Financial Projection is knowing that you don’t just sit down and fill it out. It’s a work in progress and could take more than an afternoon to complete. Expect to find items that you don’t fully understand.
There will be some things you know and can easily add them in the right spots, but you’ll probably stop after each addition to research the number for the next cell. You should also be prepared to ask questions when you’re stumped or don’t understand the relevance of a particular portion of the financials.
This Financial Projection model can also help you determine your profitability and avoid too many losses by easily modifying your numbers. As the counselors ran through the projections for a faux bakery yesterday, we initially budgeted $15,000 for a delivery van. Later on though, we began questioning the need for a van when our profitability looked slim. Then again, all of our numbers were made up, so we had a little laugh about showing positive cash flow at all.
For your projection, using real numbers, it should be much easier to spot the weak points and determine if they can be overcome. If they can’t, be glad that you know that before you sink your life savings into a business that will never earn it’s keep.
If you have any questions or comments about using the spreadsheet, feel free to leave me a note, below that way we’ll all learn more about the process. Otherwise a tweet, Thumbs up or sharing on your favorite service would be greatly appreciated. ~Karlie
If you’d like to run some numbers of your own you can download SCORE’s “Simple Steps Financial Projection Model.” And don’t worry, you don’t need Microsoft Office for the template to work. I used OpenOffice.org which is a free download for Windows, Mac and Linux users, or if downloading isn’t your thing, you can order Open Office on a disc.
I recently sat down with a client who was trying to build a new website based business. They hired a local gal to do the site and had the shell of a site layout to look at, but the process was stalled so they called me in. As I sat in their office listening to all the features and functions the site should have I asked one little question – Is she a web designer or a developer? To which they replied, “There’s a difference?”
Yes, a big one.
For most businesses, it’s possible to find a currently available software suite and put it to work driving your functions. For instance, this site is powered by WordPress which means all the fancy features of creating a blog post are in my browser window, search functions, plug-ins and lots of other bells and whistles are part of the programming that makes my life easier. I don’t have to code pages by hand, upload HTML pages using FTP, or re-upload them when I need an edit. All of the functions are part of the software running on the server.
The graphical component, or the part that you’re looking at right now, comes together because of a template I added to the site using the WordPress Admin’s Appearance Menu (another software development gem). The template gives me the overall aesthetics of the site. Color scheme, menu placement, fonts, and on and on. It’s the reason this site has a conversation bubble on the right rather than a tag-line under the big “KarlieRobinson.com” on the left.
The thing is, the very analytical thinker I need to create or modify the software that runs my site isn’t always the same person as I trust to pretty things up for my visitors. The process works the other direction too because it’s rare to find someone who’s good at everything.
My husband and business partner, Todd, is a hard core website developer, I trust him completely when it comes to database modifications, payment service integration or any other modification to sites that generate our income. However, when it comes to aesthetics, sites he designs usually have orange somewhere in the color scheme. Not that his sites are unpleasing, but not everyone likes orange as much as he does.
In the case of my client’s new website, they hired a designer hoping to develop a custom database and other software functions that were obviously out of her league. I don’t doubt she could have made the site look good (though the 5 second load time of her own site has me wondering what she’s thinking), but she didn’t have the programming skills to create an efficient software solution, from scratch, to recreate the clients wants and needs as a software solution.
The moral of the story is to know what it is you need before you ever hire someone because you need to know what type of hire you need to make. If aesthetics are more important, then a Designer is probably the best choice to lead the project. If the functions, like ability to accept payment are more important, than hire a developer. Even if this person can’t fulfill every aspect of the project they should, at the very least, be able to act as the project manager and form a team to ensure the requirements of functions, delivery date, and budget are met.
I plan on continuing my trek towards 10,000 twitter followers, but I think I’ve gained as much as I can from this experiment and don’t really see the point of continuing. In fact there are so many polluters of my tweet stream that I just can’t take it any longer and need to begin unfollowing. (You’re first, @cellband)
I can confirm the methods I’ve been using do increase your followers, but, it doesn’t seem to be an effective way to promote yourself. Followers alone aren’t enough to boost your revenue and while I was clicking away, trying to reach my limit of 1,000 daily follows, I didn’t have much time to read along or interact with many people.
Early on in the process I did mention quantity vs. quality and I still think that’s the key with twitter. Groups like TeamFollowBack and others create lots and lots of followers for each other, but in most respects the tweets from this group have very little value to a small business owner. Lots and lots of tweets about following so-and-so and plenty of use of their hash tags, but I found I was more likely to have a real conversation and real impact with someone who followed just a few hundred people.
Yesterday I was fed up with the MLMs, SEOs, and other so-called social media gurus and tweeted that I was going to find some Knitting folks to hang around with. I immediately had a response and was able to start a series of conversations – more than I’d had on any single day since starting the experiment. Because even with the lists I started and other tools that might be available, it’s just too hard for me to have meaningful relationships on twitter with thousands of people.
I probably could effectively keep up with 15000 people on twitter if all I did was marketing, but as a small business owner I wear many hats and it’s just too easy to devote too much time to twitter. It’s clear to me now why big companies have made room in their marketing budgets for a Social Media specialist, because you could do this full time. In fact it might be extremely cost effective to hire someone just to manage new follows, Tweet and interact full time.
As far as hard data, along with this chart, I’ve been keeping track of the time I spend hunting for followers. The red square on 2/19 is a note about resetting the timer. You might remember from my Day 1 update that I was having trouble with my time tracker skills.
All in all, 4313 followers came in as the result of 22 hours 40 minutes of work over a 14 day period. That averages out to:
190 new followers per hour
308 new followers per day
1 hour 36 minutes of work per day
Though you can see from the numbers that there wasn’t an average day. In fact March 8 is 10 followers lower than the day before. I started the morning of March 7 with the count, and flushed those who weren’t following me back, but as soon as I tried to follow, Twitter told me I was already at my limit of followers for the day. As a result, I show negative growth on the 8th.
There are also days when the follow cap was much lower than others. The difference being as many as 600 follows. On days where I spread the process out, I was able to get to my cap of 1000. On days where I was busy and trying to get it done quickly I wasn’t able to follow as many people.
I think that’s the reason why I was surprised that I was only spending about an hour and a half per day working on the 10k. Because the timer only counts when I’m on desktop 3 where I keep my 10k applications, and not when I’m doing other things. This time is real and actual working time you’re seeing, but what that number doesn’t show is that the process was tedious and took all day to complete. Take it from me, a gal who knits blankets by hand, that this has been the most tedious thing I’ve done in a while.
I’d still like to test who’s most likely to follow me based on the number of followers they have and the ratio of followers to following and such, but I’m running out of time for the experiment. I had hoped to be finished by now, but I took a week off so I could be with my husband at his Grand Father’s funeral and now I need to devote the next week or so to filing taxes and other business goodies. Though I suppose that’s the way small business works. Doing what you can, when you can and above all else knowing that each day you might have a new priority.
In my adult life and with my small business, I’ve had to constantly worry that I might miss an important anniversary like a birthday or a contract renewal because I had no frame of reference for the last time said event occurred.
If you ask me about an event, I can tell you who was there, the topic and even small details that usually go unnoticed, but I won’t be able to tell you when it happened and in most cases I’ll probably have the order of events out of sequence too. In fact, it use to get me in a lot of trouble as a child because I was “telling stories” if I didn’t quite have my details in a nice neat package.
Since it’s obvious that my brain just doesn’t work when it comes to dates, I’ve worked to find ways that my other odd traits could pick up the slack. Since that’s a cumbersome way to put it, I like to think about it as tools.
Whenever I’m faced with tasks that are naturally difficult for me, I put in a little extra effort so that I can create a work-around for the next time the problem comes up.
It’s safe to assume a Calendar is a tool I use a lot. I use it to remind me of upcoming events, and as a journal so I can look back and refresh my memory. I also leave myself little clues so that I can deduce the dates of important events. You might even think my collection of conference badges as a bit odd, but the ones I have hanging on the wall in front of my desk all have dates on them.
These little routines and trails of bread crumbs may seem like the failings of weak mind, but the reality is that it allows me to focus on the things I can do well. I don’t panic because I don’t remember, instead I’m confident that I can find the answer quickly.
As a small business owner, you should also be thinking about the tools that will help you be more efficient and reduce your stress. Do you need tools for time management, Email management or something else? No matter what it is, putting in the time now to create a tool you can use again and again is well worth the effort.
I’d love to know about the tools you use to keep on track or solve problems in your small business. Please leave your suggestions or questions below.
I was able to bring in 2151new followers in the first week. My biggest daily gain was 740 followers and I averaged about 307 per day. Pretty good considering I didn’t follow anyone over that first weekend so I could see what flushing would do to my gains.
I’ll admit there are still some frustrations, but all-in-all, I seem to be on track to making the 10k in 21 days.
If you look closely, the dates in the graph jump from February 23 to March 1 because I was in Michigan cleaning my Grand Father-in-law’s house and there is no internet connection there. Also, I work from home and am usually at my computer, so I don’t have a data plan or fancy apps for my phone – heck, my cell phone barely makes calls, so I didn’t tweet much or follow while I was there.
At first I was going to get the daily numbers to see if there were any ups or downs to record, but decided to go to my original plan and simply record numbers on the day’s I’m actually working at getting 10k.
My next observation is that you don’t need someone with more than 10,000 followers to find a good list to mine. 2,000 is good enough for most cases. My reason for this is because I’m seeing there are a lot of people on Twitter in the same quantity vs. quality race that I’m in. I’d eventually like to use my lists for interactions and I haven’t seen the value of #TeamFollowBack just yet. There is a lot of following going on, but I haven’t watched these Tweeps long enough to form an opinion on their marketing value. So while they may be helpful in my goal for 10k, I’m not jumping on their bandwagon just yet. If there’s something I’m missing, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.
The opposite end of the Follow-back spectrum are those that don’t follow back at all. I’ll be moving to Michigan this summer and spent March 1 following people who used the #Michigan hash and followed a prominent newspaper. Since these folks are interested in Michigan news and/or using the pound sign to create searchable terms, I thought they’d be good folks to follow and perhaps follow me back as I attempt to bring my Small Business expertise to a state that could use an economic boost.
I was wrong and for the 78 followers who did come on board, I flushed 919 people on March 2 who didn’t follow back. OUCH!
Now maybe this is just a Michigan thing, or maybe it’s because my tweets were dull, but when @SocialMichigan doesn’t follow back, I’m thinking it’s not all me. Though from SocialMichigan’s following/followers ratio of 51/488 it seems they’re missing the social aspect of Twitter and simply trying to broadcast.
I was also very disappointed that the local Chambers and Downtown Development Agencies (DDA) didn’t follow back either. These are precisely the people I could help as I set up my Small Business consulting firm and want to learn more from, but I won’t actively search and follow Michiganders in the remainder of this experiment. Maybe after I reach 10k and begin to pare down the list, but for now, they just end up in my flush list the next morning.
While I’ll admit to turning off my followers notifications right now, in the past I looked at every new follower. If you want to use Social Media Marketing for your business, looking at new followers should be priority number 1. Twitter, Linked-in, and facebook are all about the ability to interact and network with people you wouldn’t always have a chance to meet and talk with. If you don’t have time to peek at profiles, you shouldn’t bother with Social Media. Work on other areas of your business instead.
If you have any questions or comments about my Twitter 10k, feel free to leave me a note, below. Otherwise a tweet, Thumbs up or sharing on your favorite service would be greatly appreciated. ~Karlie
I now have 5 days of data and observations recorded and I am starting to see some interesting trends. How about we get to the numbers first and then my observations of how my experiences so far might impact a small business?
The first change you’ll see is that I’ve added a column for Reciprocate. I can only manipulate numbers in the following column, and the data might give me a little insight into what other people are doing and how it effects my ability to reach 10k followers. I’ll be looking to see if the reciprocate number grows organically or if it might be people I’ve flushed before they had a chance to follow-back. I may not know which is which, but I’ll keep it in there just in case a pattern forms.
In my last post I also wondered how flushing might effect my numbers and since the 19th and 20th were a weekend I was able to leave everything as it was to see what might happen. It would seem that some people came on board and I’m now wondering if just the act of sending a following message might be enough to trigger a follow-back from some. If so, it shouldn’t matter when I follow and flush as long as that notification ends up in their in-box.
On the topic of organic growth, I didn’t see much happen with the numbers as of Monday morning so I think organic growth is going to be limited to finding relevant followers and not just the crop of Social Media Marketers I have so far.
The weekend also meant that I didn’t prowl the lists adding followers. I did update my spreadsheet with the morning numbers and spent 30 minutes on Sunday watching the tweets come in faster than I could read them.
The reduction you see on the 20th (reflecting the previous 24 hours) and then again this morning are because I unfollowed people when the post was in a language I couldn’t read. That may not stop them from continuing to follow me, but I can’t justify keeping them around if there’s no possibility that I’ll respond to something they’ve said.
As long as we’re talking about unfollowing, I had to resist the urge to unfollow tweeps posting annoying or repetitive posts. To keep from unfollowing I made a pact with myself and vowed to unfollow many of these offenders as soon as my experiment was over. In the mean time I’m going to create my first lists so that the people I do enjoy reading along with won’t get lost in the shuffle.
In some ways, the vast number of annoying people made me really sad, but then I suddenly knew why there were so many fail-whales in my life. Seeing the same post more than 6 times in less than 3 minutes is probably the reason Twitter is always going over capacity. The reason might also have something to do with the giant circle of SMM that’s been created. If someone has thousands of followers who are also following thousands of tweeps, posting the same pitch and URL over and over again might be the only way to ensure that the tweet will be seen.
To test this hypothesis – About an hour ago (writing time, not real time) I included a URL in a tweet. Since Naturesoundsfor.me keeps track of how often a custom sound composition was listened to in the past 10 days, and I hadn’t been there recently, I had a quick and dirty way check for a response.
Now that I have 4 times as many followers, surely there would be someone willing to check out my link?
Nope – “In last 10 days this sound composition has been listened to by 1 listeners.” That’s me, the one lonely listener.
Social media, in a pure marketing sense, was suppose to be about pulling people in by becoming attractive and someone enjoyable to hang around with. That’s in contrast to traditional media which pushes out messages that are largely ignored by… well… everyone. So far I’m not really seeing pull marketing by anyone claiming to be SMM experts.
Bad Habits of Push Messengers on Social Media- AKA don’t do this – EVER!
Bad Habit # 1 – On day 1, I mentioned Direct Messages, but what I didn’t mention was the style of most of them. Usually they had the same crappy pitch and URL combination I mentioned above, which was, and always will be, ignored. Though they must work to some very limited extent, but I think I have a hypothesis that I’ll share in a moment or two.
To boil it down – If you can’t write a decent headline, why should I click your link? If nothing else, please try to sound sincere.
Bad Habit #2 – I did have a few DMs that looked a little less like they might be auto generated, or at least were a less crappy auto generated DM. In fact some even asked me a question, to which I attempted to reply.
Attempted being the key word here. Some of these folks weren’t following me so I couldn’t send them a DM in return – bad, bad, bad. Why would you miss an opportunity to engage with someone especially if you’re the one who started the conversation? Isn’t engagement the whole point of Social Media?
In the future, I’m only going to respond to DMs with @user mentions and will only use DMs for private information like my mobile number.
Bad Habit #3 – Just because you saw the same technique more than once, doesn’t mean that you should jump on the band wagon. I know this flies in the face of my “Rule of Two,” but there’s a difference between spotting a trend and knowing if it’s a good trend to get in on.
I see that there is some sort of Information Cascade effect where people justify bad habits because lots of other people are doing the exact same thing.
Twitter might have become less about lots of people having conversations, like chit-chatting with the mom behind me in line at the grocery store , and more like being on a street where everyone is wearing a sandwich board like the guy in this article’s mast head.
While talking with my husband about my observations so far, he said it sounded like I was describing the FFA pages of the past.
In case you never had the pleasure of Free For All pages, the idea was that lots of links boosted your hits, and lots of hits meant lots of sales and lots of sales was the way to get rich quick. I suppose it did happen once in a while, but not because you posted a link. The site owner always asked for an email address in exchange for posting a link and those emails were then used for SPAM email marketing campaigns.
People listed with FFA because a long time ago, in internet years anyway, the search engines didn’t automatically crawl your site and placement was dependent on regular submissions. It was a necessity of the time, and luckily for us, the Engines have evolved past the stage of irrelevant links.
So when Todd reminded me about FFA and I was able to recall it’s rise, and fall, I began to think about how the process has been recycled into Tweets. Frankly it has me a little worried about the longevity of Twitter – will it get so fouled up that everyone abandons it like they did with MySpace?
I am optimistic that I’ll be able to eventually find a list that works well for pull marketing on Twitter, but for now, I think I’m going to have to deal with the barrage of bad marketing messages.
If you have any questions or comments about my Twitter 10k, feel free to leave me a note, below. Otherwise a tweet, Thumbs up or share on another service would be greatly appreciated. ~Karlie