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12/16/2010
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Michele Warren
Michele Warren
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Building Your Small Business--Block By Block

Whether you have a handful of employees or hundreds, you could always use some guidance now and then, couldn't you? That's why I share tips with you whenever possible--ideas and suggestions from entrepreneurs who are in the trenches every day and have learned a thing or two about running a small business.

Whether you have a handful of employees or hundreds, you could always use some guidance now and then, couldn't you? That's why I share tips with you whenever possible--ideas and suggestions from entrepreneurs who are in the trenches every day and have learned a thing or two about running a small business.Today's blog is part 1 of a three-parter that comes to you courtesy of Clate Mask, co-founder and CEO of e-mail marketing company Infusionsoft. I share his tips with you often, and it's not because I'm an Infusionsoft aficionada or an e-mail marketing maven. It's because he offers his tips, and lots of them, freely, and because, at some gut level, they make a lot of sense. Oh, and because he's an example of a small-business owner that's taken his company from struggling start-up to successful enterprise. That alone is reason enough to pass along what he has to say, don't you think?

A few weeks ago, Mask started reviewing what he considers to be the 9 building blocks of success. He wrote about them in 2008, in an e-book called "The Edge of Success," and now he thinks it's time for a refresher course. After all, the principles still apply; in fact, they may be more relevant now than ever. Today we'll talk about three of the building blocks, in no particular order. In parts 2 and 3, I'll share the others. Mask writes: "The building blocks are interrelated strategies which, when collectively implemented, produce phenomenal results."

Building Block #6: Sell Stuff Online This may seem obvious, now that we're living in the Digital Age and all that, but according to Mask, there are plenty of services-centric small businesses--real estate companies and investment brokers, for example--that aren't peddling their wares on the good ol' information superhighway. Why? Since they have no tangible product to offer, they don't think they have anything to sell online.

Mask suggests that they reconsider. He says that every small-business owner has something to sell on the Internet. "If nothing else, your knowledge is a precious commodity," he writes. "You know more about your business than almost anyone. Why not put together an e-book, manual, or some other publication that you can sell at your site?... [How about] a subscription-based membership where you share your knowledge in a forum or in another community setting? … People need what you know, and they're willing to pay for it."

Building Block #1: Supercharge Your Website Speaking of the Internet, maybe it's time that you took your company website "to the next level," as Mask puts it in his book.

Mask says a website should do three things: attract viewers, provide an interactive experience, and provide customer leads. Many websites fail to do all three--or even one, he adds. The exec is a proponent of Web 2.0, which allows site visitors to interact and collaborate with each other via communities, forums, social networks, and the like. With Web 2.0, website visitors are no longer passive viewers; they're active participants and generators of content.

Here are the four things you need to know about the people who'll be visiting your website, according to Mask:

1) People are egocentric. They're thinking, "What can you do for me that nobody else can?" 2) People love being entertained. 3) People want their opinions valued. (This is why it's a good idea to incorporate blogs and forums into your site.) 4) People want to do something (at your site), so keep them occupied doggonit! "Give them something free to download. Offer a free report or white paper. Ask for their opinion on a blog entry," Mask suggests. "Do something--anything-- and once the visitor responds, make sure you require them to give you their name, address, phone number, and e-mail address [to continue]." Guess what that gives you? A qualified lead.

Other content that's bound to enhance the appeal of your website: pictures and descriptions of your product (or service), benefits of your product (or service), interesting facts/statistics, high-interest stories, customer testimonials, and forums. If nothing else, make sure you do two things: make your website interesting and capture visitor information.

Building Block #8: Grow Through Partners "I'm talking about giving your business additional reach," Mask writes. "You don't want to have partners just for the sake of having partners. The purpose needs to be clear. They need to be individuals that will significantly add to the success your small business is already experiencing."

According to Mask, traditional referral programs, whereby customers spread the word about your business, don't really work. Many customers are too wrapped up in their own lives to be a steady source of referrals. And what about employees? Well, even the involved ones will probably never care about your business the way you do, Mask says.

The key is recruiting affiliates, people or companies that have a vested interest in your company. They send in referrals and get paid in return. "It becomes a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship," Mask says. Then, equally as important, you have to manage all those partners once you've got them. You have to decide how payment agreements will be handled, how those payments will be tracked, and how productive and valuable each of your partners is turning out to be. Mask suggests you use technology to automate all of this. "Software programs can make affiliate management a snap," he says.

Stay tuned for more on the building blocks of small-business success.

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