Archive for the ‘Entrepreneurship’ Category

Many small businesses are doing what they can to keep things going in the face of one of the worst economic downturns in our lifetimes, but with so many elements of uncertainty many are loathe to make full time hires or resume their pre-recession growth trajectories. And yet, there is still work to be done. While we wait to see what will happen with health care reform, labor laws, tax changes and other variables, it is important to keep moving, stay focused, and explore other ways to get things done.

One way to keep projects moving and stay on track is through the use of virtual teams and the thousands of freelancers around the world who are eager to ply their craft, often for a fraction of the cost of a full-time employee in the US. Inevitably, the question arises:

Isn’t that taking jobs away from people here in America?

Maybe. Maybe not. It really depends on how you look at things. I see a tremendous opportunity through virtual outsourcing to gain access to global talent that was simply out of reach until this century, and to re-focus the efforts of the US workforce on high-end innovation and development rather than fixating on what is inevitably a “race to the bottom” in trying to compete on price with people who often market their services for about $3.50 per hour.

Since I started my business in March 2010, I’ve tested a number of these online resources, such as oDesk, Guru, 99designs and several others. In many cases, you will find very capable US-based freelancers registered on these sites as contractors and service providers. And in many cases, using these services is not the cheapest option. I have had some projects go very smoothly, and others that (four months later) are still not complete. And in that timeframe, I have learned some things that I am going to share with you.

  1. Have a plan. This would seem pretty obvious, but in the US workplace we’re so used to ambiguity and lack of specificity in job assignments that it’s tempting to apply the same approach with virtual team support. Don’t! If you cannot create a “paint by the numbers” plan for the project that spells out the goals, elements and deliverables then you are kidding yourself if you think the person on the other end is just going to figure it out for themselves. It is up to you to spell it out, and be as specific as possible in defining the scope of work and what the finished product should look like.
  2. Use specific questions to narrow the field. Many times, freelancers and virtual teams will simply bid on every project that is posted, and they will decide later (once they’ve made the cut for interviews) whether they can actually do the project. Eliminate these pikers right up front by putting questions in the original job posting that they need to answer in their response. No answers, no need to pursue further. If they won’t pay attention to details when they are eager to win your business, how attentive will they be once you’ve paid them?
  3. Set a price for the project, don’t go hourly. It is very tempting when you see the hourly rates that are posted on services like oDesk to just create an open-ended project … after all, for $3.50 an hour or sometimes as high as $11.00 an hour you can get lulled into the sense that you are getting “cheap labor.” And that’s true to a point. However, what you will find is that there’s a pretty significant delta between our expectations in US business (including research, writing, marketing, etc.) that doesn’t necessarily resonate in other parts of the world. What that means is that you will end up paying someone for 20 hours to learn what it is that they need to be doing, when you could have hired a US-based “VA” (virtual assistant) or an intern to perform that same task in a couple of hours. So, bottom line: set a price that you are willing to pay and make it a project price not an hourly rate. You will weed out the people who don’t have the ability to get it done, AND you will create an incentive for fast delivery because the project is only fully paid upon completion.

More tips later. Like”Keep an open line for communication.” and “Check the work in progress and be specific about changes.” What questions would you like to ask? What tips would you share based on your experience?

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I recently joined a “Goal Achievers Group” in Orlando, and I think it is an excellent idea to bring together small business owners, “solopreneurs” and others who have decided to forge their own path. The group is not your typical networking group, but rather a “board of advisors” that serves as a sounding board, resource or voice of reason in helping to make smarter business decisions, network more effectively, focus on the value proposition and market services in a challenging market.

The basic premise is this: We all face way too many tasks and feel pressured by all of the responsibilities that are involved in owning and running our own business. And with a team of similarly situated business owners, we are not alone.

Here are the things we’ll be covering over the next several weeks:

  • – Marketing action plan
  • – Mastering rapport skills
  • – Building powerful connections and first impressions
  • – Setting you apart from your competition
  • – What to say to influence potential customers
  • – Discover your client’s buying strategies
  • – Designing your office space for success and productivity
  • – Streamlining your day
  • – Learning to serve not sell
  • – Creating power questions to impact your target market
  • – Creating powerful presentation and speeches
  • – Optimizing your website success
  • – Article marketing
  • – Utilizing webinars and teleconferences for profit and exposure
  • – Creating enticing intro’s that speak directly to your ideal client
  • – Develop your personal brand
  • – Building a sales cycle process and program
  • – Using social media so that it work for you
  • – Learn to influence to action your target market, without having to sell

It’s an ambitious list, and we’re going to cover quite a bit of ground in just 1 1/2 hours each week. I have found it to be a great way to start out the week, as we meet on Monday morning and it’s a nice detour before heading in to the office.

If you’re in the Orlando/Winter Park area you should check it out! Just look on MeetUp for the group called “Goal Achievers Group” and sign up. Special thanks to Athenee and Jenn for getting this group off the ground and for your leadership!

Today’s post is inspired by an article in the Wall Street Journal that talks about the importance of keeping track of financials when you are running a small business. The article, “Starting Up and Conquering the Numbers,” is an excerpt from a WSJ publication called: The Complete Small Business Guidebook.

The article accurately points out that many people start a business to support themselves doing what they love. And too often they neglect to focus on the numbers side of the business.

If you want to be successful, you’ll need to ramp up your accounting knowledge. While you can certainly rely on an accountant, bookkeeper, or trusted employee to provide advice on your company’s finances, it’s critical that you gain a comfortable understanding of the numbers. As the owner, you’ll need to make important decisions concerning the purchase of inventory or equipment, expansion into new markets or the hiring of more employees. To do so, you’ll need to have a handle on your company’s finances.

The article tells the story of Wendy Goldstein, who opened up Costume Specialists in 1981, selling custom-made costumes to corporations, schools and theater companies.

After some major setbacks, Ms. Goldstein rolled her sleeves up and got to work.

First priority? Getting to know her company’s finances—something she’d made the mistake of never doing before. At the time, she had an eighteen-year-old college student working part-time on the books. She called him into her office and said, “Okay, I need to know every Friday these three things: how much money we have in the bank, how much people owe me and how much I owe people.” She remembers him laughing and saying, “You mean you want cash flow, accounts receivable and accounts payable.” Her response was: “I don’t care what you call it. I just need to know it!”

It is that simple, and it is that important … when you are running a small business it is amazing how quickly those fees and charges and expenses add up. Good record keeping is absolutely essential, as is always having a clear picture of how fiscally healthy the business is.

For more advice on good financial practices for small business, check out this article on the About.com Entrepreneur’s section.