Small Business Saturday

November 29th, 2014

The last Saturday in November is known as Small Business Saturday. Here are a few ideas on how you might participate, just in case you are at a loss.


  • For your morning coffee, try an independent coffee place or even grab a coffee at a local diner. Better yet, have breakfast or at least a pastry. If you are in a rush, you might discover a coffee stand like Caffino in Campbell. Or, if you want to make your own coffee at home, try the blends from independent resellers, such as Tico Coffee Roasters.

Holiday or Gift Shopping

  • Check your local media coverage of holiday shopping, especially the alternative weekly newspapers, such as San Jose’s Metro. Many times the media coverage is also available online.
  • Also, look for stores, or even online vendors, which carry designs from artisans in your area. Sometimes there are local associations, such as SF Made or San Jose Made in the San Francisco Bay Area, which can help direct you to local artists. They may even have a pop up store nearby. Local crafts can also be carried within larger retail establishments or even at an independent store like Made in Santa Cruz.
  • You can give make your own gifts, such as art glass at Bay Area Glass Institute.


  • Try a new deli, local restaurant or even a food truck. Check online or your phone app to see what is located nearby or look for a food truck association, such as Moveable Feast. (See additional ideas under the Dinner heading below.)


  • Consider getting your hair cut at a local salon or barber shop.
  • Splurge and get a manicure or pedicure at a local nail salon, such as Campbell Nail Salon. Or, visit a full service salon for a spa day, such 1240 Salon & Spa in Willow Glen.


  • Been postponing having some clothing alterations done? Find a small alterations shop or ask your local dry cleaners.


  • Start off with a cocktail at a local bar. (If you are driving, just remember to have a designated driver.)
  • Make it a special occasion by trying a restaurant, which you’ve never been to before. This year the Small Business Administration (SBA) has partnered with the National Restaurant Association to promote #DineSmall on Small Business Saturday. (If you run a restaurant, check out the promotional suggestions on the SBA website.)
  • Maybe go to a separate location for dessert, such as an independently owned ice cream or yogurt shop.


  • If want to watch a movie at home, look for an independent movie rental store or minimally choose an independent film maker. Bring home a new snack from an independent food artisan, such as cheese from Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes.

For more Small Business Saturday ideas, follow the conversation on Twitter using hashtags #SmallBizSat, #ShopSmall, #DineSmall and #ShowUsYourMoney. Learn how you can support local small businesses on Small Business Saturday, as well as throughout the year.

Crowdfunding Tips

June 25th, 2014

These crowdfunding tips will help you begin to understand the process.

Crowdfunding definition: “Crowdfunding is a method of raising [non-equity] capital in small amounts from a large group of people using the Internet and social media.” (Source: Techopedia)

  1. Platform: all-or-nothing (fixed) or partial (flexible)
  2. Payment system fees
  • Understand crowdfunding vendor guidelines
    • Kickstarter requires you to apply. Typically, Kickstarter does not support on-going social causes, it requires prototypes for design and technology categories, and it prohibits certain products.
  • Campaigns are typically run for 30 intense days, although it can run longer
  • Key promotional components: inspirational video, creative thank you gifts, influential media and blogger relationships, viral leverage from social media (and email), backers and customers who contribute and promote, and fundraising goal and campaign duration determined.
  • Crowdfunding process:
    • Frequently, a U-shaped campaign
    • Funding source statistics
      • 30% – family, friends, and friends of friends
      • 30% – find through other sources, e.g. media coverage
      • 40% – varied sources
    • Ideally begin campaign on Mon., Tues. or Wed.
    • First, 72 hours usually critical to fundraising momentum
  • Average campaign donation: $71
  • Most popular campaign donation level: $25
  • Efficiently prepare by analyzing similar (product category) crowdfunding campaigns
  • Become active on social media at least a month (or preferably six months) before the campaign begins, especially if you don’t already have a large database of contacts

8/22 Crowdfunding for Fashion Designers (Macy’s Fashion Incubator of S.F.)

August 18th, 2013

Learn how to run a successful fashion apparel crowdfunding campaign from Bay Area entrepreneurs and experts.

WHEN: Thursday, August 22, 2013, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm

6:00pm – 6:30pm Networking and FiSF facility tours

6:30pm – 8:30pm Crowdfunding Program

8:30pm – 9:00pm Networking

WHERE: FiSF, 50 O’Farrell St., 7th flr., San Francisco!/FashionIncubatorSF


COST: $25 General admission; $20 students/interns


CONTACT: Call Cheryl Downing at 408-257-1049


Trying to start a fashion business, but just don’t have the money to manufacture your clothing line? Think crowdfunding might be the answer for you, but not sure how to get started? Join us for a panel of entrepreneurs and an Indiegogo rep as they discuss the “do’s” and “don’ts” of running a successful crowdfunding campaign.

Crowdfunding allows you to campaign for smaller donations of money, leveraging friends, family and even people you don’t know, in order to help bring your dream into reality.

It is very challenging to raise over $10K using crowdfunding, especially in fashion design, as shown by Kickstarter’s own category statistics. Of Kickstarter’s 1,085 successfully funded fashion projects, only 161 raised between $10K to $20K, while only 147 raised between $20K to $100K. (The majority of Kickstarter’s 635 fashion projects raised under $10K.)

The four fashion designers on our panel have not only raised over $15k, but three of them have achieved the even rarer crowdfunding accomplishment of raising from $48K to over $58K.

  • Sonnet James – over $58K
  • Thread Council – almost $51K
  • Artful Gentleman. – over $48K
  • Sonas Denim – almost $17K

along with Ben Bateman of Indiegogo, who recently assisted with the history-making Ubuntu campaign.

In this session, you’ll hear from a representative of a crowdfunding platform (Indiegogo), as well as from these four fashion designers who have raised money through crowdfunding campaigns on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo. They will share the ups and downs of running a campaign, the intensity of the campaign process, what they did right, what they would do differently, what happens after the campaign ends, and more.

Our designer panelists’ work represents a broad cross-section of the fashion industry from T-shirts (Thread Council) to denim (Sonas) to play dresses for moms (Sonnett James) to bespoke suits (Artful Gentleman).

We expect this to be a highly interactive session, so bring all the questions you’ve been eager to get answered.

This event is sponsored by The City of San Francisco, Macy’s and FiSF.


FISF is a non-profit incubator committed to turning fashion apparel designers into successful San Francisco entrepreneurs and employers. Each year FISF provides six Designers in Residence with premiere workroom, showroom, classroom and office space at Macy’s offices in downtown San Francisco and offers yearlong business operations training from experts in the San Francisco fashion and economic development communities.

For more information on FISF and to learn how to get involved, visit or!/FashionIncubatorSF


  • Ben Bateman, Campaign Specialist for Design, Technology and Hardware, Indiegogo

    Ben focuses on developing strategies and tactics to help campaigns more effectively raise funds. He has been with Indiegogo for over a year, and has worked with many of Indiegogo’s largest campaigns, such as the Scanadu Scout and the Ubuntu Edge. He has a background in Journalism, and received his B.A. in English from Lewis & Clark College, where he honed his skills and passion for community building and entrepreneurship. Launched in 2008, Indiegogo was the first site to offer a global crowdfunding platform accessible to anyone, and has hosted over 100,000 campaigns funding a wide variety of projects. (

  • Ed Bernstein, CEO and Founder, Thread Council

    Ed has launched companies that did customized apparel for stores nationwide (and was also one of the guys behind Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?). His other team members, Eduardo Del Balso and Fermin Mata, have significant experience in apparel merchandising and e-commerce on a national level. Thread Council is building an “Artist-First” apparel brand, with the main focus on T-shirts. Ironically, the most successful graphic artists are mostly unknown, despite their talent and the millions of merchandise sales they generate for musicians such as Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, and Prince. In the past, these graphic artists were bound by the creative restrictions of the brands they were working for. Thread Council will give the designers the chance to do original work in the genres and cultural areas they are most excited by, as well as facilitate name recognition and greater financial rewards. Kickstarter goal: $50K; Pledged: almost $51K. (;

  • Gerry Kelly, Founder, Sonas Denim

    Gerry is an Irish entrepreneur, who came to the U.S. intending to stay a few weeks, after traveling the world. Instead, 13 years later, he is married to a beautiful California girl with a new baby boy. In 2011, Sonas Denim began when Gerry wanted a comfortable, yet sexy, pair of jeans for Burning Man and could not find any. He and his wife, Christine, created the first three pairs. The jeans are a unique patchwork of over 50 individual pieces, which create a curve-hugging, thigh-slimming fit. Their goal is to build the sexiest, best-fitting, and most popular denim brand in the world, which are cruelty-free with a reduced carbon footprint. Legendary supermodel Janice Dickinson supports them because 10% of the net profits on every pair sold is donated to animal welfare. Their ultimate goal is to fund an animal sanctuary in the S.F. Bay Area. Indiegogo flexible funding goal: $20K. Final: almost $17K. (;

  • Whitney Lundeen, Founder, Sonnet James

    Whitney got hooked on fashion while interning for a wedding dress designer in Manhattan when she was 20. However, her career began by working at an architectural firm, followed by owning her own interior design firm, Match Interiors. As a mom of two active boys, she could not find clothes designed to be fashionable, indestructible and comfortable. In February 2013, she launched Sonnet James, an online boutique that features 12 original “play dresses for playful moms.” Whitney sketches and pattern-drafts the dresses she designs–inspired by her love of fashion, her passion for motherhood, and her search for simplicity and comfort in everyday life. Kickstarter goal: $48K. Final: over $58K. (;

  • Jake Wall, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Artful Gentleman., and FiSF Designer-in-Residence

    In 2010, on a trip to Hong Kong, Jake had a career epiphany after having a classic bespoke suit made. Soon after, he founded Artful Gentleman., a luxury apparel company that specializes in customized made-to-measure fine suiting, tailored shirts, separates and tuxedos for ALL. Jake’s mission is to inspire others to express themselves through a well-fitted, stylish wardrobe. He has creatively used his marketing and business development background to form strategic partnerships, as well as get publicity through press and events in 2013, such as: suits worn by The Lumineers to the Grammy Awards; style curation for a Chivas Regal “Brotherhood” lifestyle event; and sponsor for “SUIT UP for EQUALITY: A Benefit for Human Rights Campaign” which is a fundraiser and marriage equality celebration occurring in August. Kickstarter goal: $30K. Final: over $48K. (;

  • Moderator: Cheryl Downing, President, Cheryl Downing & Associates

    Cheryl is a small business marketing and crowdfunding consultant. She advises and coaches small business startups and product developers/inventors how to grow their businesses quickly, specializing in raising money through crowdfunding. Cheryl spent the early part of her career in corporate software product development and marketing. Since 2001, Cheryl has volunteered as an SBA marketing trainer and been an active supporter of the Inventors Alliance association. (

3/16 Open Make Events in the San Francisco Bay Area

March 15th, 2013

Two Open Make/Young Maker events will be held this Saturday, March 16, 2013 at San Francisco Bay Area museums:

  • The Tech Museum of Innovation (San Jose) is focused on Wearable Tech
  • Lawrence Hall of Science (Berkeley) is focused on Bikes

From 12:30pm-1:30pm in San Jose, there is a Meet-the-Makers panel (bios online):

  • Grace Kim, wearable technology designer,
  • Shelten Yuen, Director of R&D, Fitbit, Inc.
  • Team Folktails (Young Makers): Sydney Murphy and Ksenia Medvedev

There will also be two Young Maker events from 10:10am-12pm and 2pm-3pm. Registered Young Makers get into the museum for free on Open Make days (registration info online).

In Berkeley from 10am-2pm, workshop presenters will discuss bicycle hacks, like pedal-powered electronics and art, or learn how to fix your own bike. (See the full list of presenters online.)

The Open Make events are being sponsored by MAKE Magazine, Pixar Animation studios, and the respective museum where the event is being held.

2/16 Open Make events in the San Francisco Bay Area

February 15th, 2013

There will be two Open Make/Young Maker events being held this Saturday, February 16, 2013 at San Francisco Bay Area museums:

  • The Tech Museum of Innovation (San Jose) is focused on Flight
  • Lawrence Hall of Science (Berkeley) is focused on Games & Toy

From 12pm-1:30pm in San Jose, there is a Meet-the-Makers panel (bios online):

  • Dale Dougherty (moderator), Founder of MAKE Magazine, Maker Faire, Maker Education Initiative, and Maker Media.
  • Chris Anderson, author, CEO of 3D Robotics and founder of DIY Drones, and former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine
  • Rick Schertle, middle school teacher, MAKE Magazine contributor, and Young Makers South Bay Region Coordinator
  • Team Viper, a team of Young Makers who, for last year’s Maker Faire, raised funds on Kickstarter and built The Viper, a full-motion flight simulator based on the Sci-Fi TV series Battlestar Galactica.

There will also be Young Maker events from 10am-12pm and 2pm-3pm. Registered Young Makers get into the museum for free on Open Make days (registration info online).

In Berkeley from 10am-2pm, workshop presenters will include:

  • Jay Silver, inventor of MaKey MaKey,
  • Ignacio Zulueta, East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse – floppy-disk derby cars and pinwheels
  • Ace Monster Toys – speedy mouse trap cars
  • Young makers Elsa Rudolph-Swanson and Annabel Dudash of MUTANTS – hybrid-toy sculptures
  • Alice Brooks and Bettina Chan of Roominate – how to wire your dollhouse
  • Craig Hansen – demonstrates his finished Giant City-Bot Man X-3!
  • Young Maker CamDAX (aka Cameron Mira) – demonstrates how to generate high frequencies using his audio-modulated full-bridge Tesla coil

The Open Make events are being sponsored by MAKE Magazine, Pixar Animation studios, and the respective museum where the event is being held.

My thanks to the Exploratorium’s “The Tinkering Studio Blog” for the link to the MAKE blog article: “Two Bay Area Young Maker Events This Weekend“.

The Marketing Power of Thank You

November 21st, 2012

One of the most frequently overlooked tactics in small business marketing is providing thank you’s—both in words and in actions.

Most often, when a thank you is provided, it is to your customers, who provide you revenue directly. However, most often overlooked, is your business partnerships (both formal and informal), as well as your suppliers. These folks are also instrumental in your business success.

For example, has someone:

  • Referred a prospect to you, which turned into a sale?
  • Delivered supplies in time for you to deliver your products on time?
  • Made a personal introduction to someone inside another company, so you did not have to make a cold call?
  • Helped connect you to a specific LinkedIn contact so you could talk directly to the right contact within a corporation?

If so, it may not be enough to just say thank you, especially if you are hoping those same folks will help you again in the future. Instead, you might want to recognize their contribution to your success, ideally in some way that is commensurate with the amount of revenue they helped you to generate. In other words, if someone brings you $100,000 worth of business, a $25 gift card as a thank you probably will not make them feel appreciated. Although it is certainly better than doing nothing at all.

There are numerous ways you can do this:

  • Gift baskets
  • Event tickets, such as to a concert, play or sporting event
  • Dinner at a upscale restaurant
  • Movie outing, including dinner and/or refreshments
  • High-limit gift cards

Some small business owners do spend time thanking their customers, usually around the holidays, and many times using a thank you card (either in print or digital). Occasionally, gifts are given to customers.

As you may already know, sometimes gift costs need to be within the expense range defined by the gift recipient’s company, so that they do not risk the appearance of trying to unduly influence future business. In other words, you might not be able to give someone a very lavish and expensive gift, because that gift could potentially be misconstrued as a means of bribing someone to ensure landing future contracts or product purchases. That is why many companies restrict the value of the gift, which can be received by an individual employee. Sometimes that constraint can be as low as $25.

In those cases, you might need to get creative. Maybe you give small gifts to everyone at a supplier’s company. Or, perhaps find a way to customize an inexpensive gift, such as mugs, pens and pencils. Or, maybe you make a charitable donation in honor of the person, which is to a charity special to that person. (Note: During Dee McCrorey’s podcast interview of me on this same subject, she gave a great example of how one of her corporate vendors creatively got around this limitation. Click on the link below.)

Using social media, you can certainly also thank another business owner by doing things such as “liking” their business Facebook page or endorsing them on LinkedIn. That is certainly a gracious gesture, but might not fully demonstrate how much you appreciate their contribution to your business.

On the other hand, crowdfunding sites, such as Kickstarter, typically suggest you offer a rewards system, in order to both attract and thank backers. You might reward someone with things like your soon-to-be-manufactured product, branded widgets, or a party to celebrate the launch of your new film or artistic performance.

The most important thing is to let those people, who contributed to your success, know how much they are appreciated. Otherwise, those same people might think twice before offering to help your business again. Personalized help in extending the reach of your marketing is one of the most cost-effective types of promotion there is.

For additional ideas, check out Dee McCrorey’s podcast interview of me for “The Reinvented World.”

Your Marketing Trust Factors™

July 12th, 2012

One of the topics I typically mention in my classes is your Marketing Trust Factors. These factors determine why your prospective customers will trust that your product or service can truly deliver on its promised solution.

I have had small business owners ask if the real issue is whether your prospective client likes you. Certainly, if a prospect both likes and trusts you, that is ideal. However, think about how you shop for products or hire someone. In my experience, the majority of people will opt first for a person or company that they trust.

For example, if you are interviewing plumbers and you like a guy but are not convinced he can do the work, are you still going to hire him? Usually, the answer to this is no. You are more likely to opt to hire someone you are convinced will get the job done properly, even if you are not entirely thrilled with his or her personality.

Similarly, if you are buying a product from a company which you have never heard of, you are likely to consider other factors, such as how well you communicate the product or service’s capabilities on your packaging, your brochure or your company website.

You need to take into consideration what I call your Marketing Trust Factors. You need to remember that, while these factors are what you have to offer, they are only significant if your prospect considers them important to their decision making process. Or, if we flip this around, what your prospect considers important information could help you determine which prospects are better fits for your business than others.

In fact, your homework assignment is to begin watching how you make decisions when you shop, whether you are looking to buy a toaster or hire a contractor. This will allow you to begin to learn how you do research for bigger ticket items and what factors you take into account when making your decision. This can be a significant part of your market research because your ideal customer usually shares some of your decision making patterns.

The Marketing Trust Factors are:

  1. Word-of-mouth referrals or testimonials

    If you are like most people, you prefer to buy through a word-of-mouth referral simply because a personal recommendation of a product or service, especially from someone who knows you, increases the likelihood that you will be satisfied with what you buy.

    However, in this day and age, where family and friends do not live nearby and more purchases are done after searching on the Internet, we cannot always get a personalized recommendation. So, what is the next best thing? Reading, hearing or seeing a recommendation by someone else who seems credible. Hence, the use of testimonials.

    If you are not already familiar with them, a testimonial is most often thought of as a positive quote from one or more of your customers singing the praises of your product/service, you and/or your entire business. In reality, a testimonial can also represent someone’s negative comments about those same things. You will see that happen more frequently when customers review and/or rate a product or service on a site such as or Yelp (or Angie’s List), as well as on retail sites, like Macys.

    Of course, some people are skeptical of testimonials, especially when the person quoted only gives their initials. One of my students, whose business was auto body repair, did not believe most testimonials were legitimate. In his case, since he was using photos of the before and after car repair work (which is the next Marketing Trust Factor on our list), I suggested that he could use testimonials specific to each set of photos. In other words, the quote might say something like:

    “ABC Auto Body Repair fixed our bumper and made it look brand new.” — Joe Schmidt

  2. Audio/visual

    For certain products or services, there is a visual or audio component, which helps the customer to trust in what is being offered. For example, as mentioned above, the auto body shop owner used before and after photos to demonstrated the quality of his work. Similarly, you might see before and after photos used by a professional organizer.

    The more obvious examples of how this can be used are an artist’s portfolio, a restaurant or bakery’s pictures of food products, a hair stylists showcase of clients’ hairstyles, and a musician’s album of digitized songs.

    However, let us look at a less obvious example from your perspective as a small business owner. Perhaps you are a yoga practitioner who has been praised for your calming voice and demeanor. Although a testimonial from one of your clients might mention this, a brief talking-head video would better demonstrate this, if your voice was part of your competitive advantage. Prospective clients can get a sense of your personality simply by watching your video.

    If you are a product developer or inventor, there might be a passionate story behind why you chose to pursue this particular product idea. The story could be told in writing, however your passion would likely be better communicated in a video.

  3. Track record

    Sometimes prospective clients value your track record of quantifiable results and/or achievements.This can be particularly true for financial consultants and sales professionals. If your client was hiring you as a independent contractor, your prospective clients might want to know that you have delivered results. For example, if you were in sales, a prospect might want to hear that you have achieved 125% of your quota. On the other hand, if you sold cosmetics, the client is probably more interested in the quality of your cosmetics brand, as opposed to your sales track record.

    Another form of a track record is winning an award. The award could be for your current work, such as in a graphic design competition, or even for your past work. One of my clients was a technical writer. In creating her brochure, Reva was reticent to mention that she had won several awards for being on time and under budget, when she was a corporate employee. I told her that not mentioning those awards would be insane. As a corporate employee, where money is more plentiful, Reva was focused on saving her employer time and money. Therefore, why would she not treat an independent contract in the same manner?

    If you are a product developer or inventor looking for funding to manufacture your product idea, your potential investors (who are a form of a client, in that they give you money to create your product) may want to know if you have ever manufactured anything successfully before or that you have someone on your advisory team who has. The reason is because what the investor wants delivered is their original investment amount, plus a certain percentage of return. That means the investor will tend to have more confidence if they know you have successfully managed a manufacturing process previously or you have someone on your team who has.

    I have had some clients express concern that listing their achievements feels like bragging. In fact, when I first started my business helping clients with their promotion, I arranged for one of my clients Tisha, who was a CEO, to speak at a conference. After her presentation, I mentioned that she should have discussed her company’s online training services a bit more. Tisha told me that doing so would make her feel more like a used car salesman. Yet, ironically, her company’s online service offering was totally paid for by advertisements. In other words, their services to their clients was free. So, the real issue here was that people could not make use of their services, if they did not know they even existed.

    My philosophy is “Inform, don’t sell.” If you have an achievement that might help your prospects make a informed decision in your favor (or even clear out the ones that are not a fit), then that is something you need to share.

  4. Proof of expertise

    Although sometimes having quantifiable results or displaying a portfolio of your work can be used to demonstrate your expertise, at other times your expertise is more subjective. In these cases, you might highlight your industry expertise through a written document, such as a book, a blog, a case study or perhaps a description of how you work with your clients.

    For example, in a blog, you can share your perspective on your industry. It allows prospective clients to get to know the way you think, so they can determine if working with you would be a fit for them.

  5. High-profile or well-known connections (past or present)

    Sometimes prospective customers are impressed by your credentials and/or high-profile connections, which in turn inspires them to trust you. For example, you might have gone to an Ivy League or Big 10 college or previously worked at a Fortune 500 corporation. This type of information might be mentioned in a biography or in an “About Us” website section.

    In some cases, high profile connections do not want their information used for promotional purposes. In this case, look for ways to indicate the types of experience you have in more general ways. For example, you might simply list that you have worked with Fortune 100 companies in a certain industry. Or, mention that you have worked with the mayor’s office or government officials, instead of listing individuals by name.

  6. Skill set or training

    Perhaps you have a unique skill set or possess a special certification. Maybe you studied at a school well-known for specialized training in your industry, such as medical, web design, culinary, or holistic. Sometimes that training school will be well-known in your field, so its name can inspire trust in your prospects.

    That can also be true for receiving certification training in certain skills. Your prospect might want to know that you are certified to provide shiatsu massage or you studied with a well-known practitioner in your field, such as a high profile chef.

    For example, I sometimes mention that, in my former corporate life, I attended Xerox sales training, which is well regarded. To be honest, I approach selling a bit differently than what was taught. However, if  mentioning this fact helps me get my foot in the door, I am happy to mention it.

If your business needs funding, especially if you are a product developer or inventor, you might also need to consider the following additional Marketing Trust Factors:

  1. Proof of financial fitness

    Your investor may want to be sure that you know how to manage your own finances, before they allow you to manage their money.

  2. Well-rounded management team or advisory board

    If you do not have any experience in the industry you are going into, your investor will undoubtedly want to make sure that you have one or more people on your team who does know what they are doing. Again, the investor’s objective is to ensure their loan/investment is well managed.

Consider which of these Marketing Trust Factors is relevant to your business. If numerous ones apply, then focus on the top three factors.

Getting Started with Your Business Plan

February 23rd, 2012

When you decide you want to launch your first business, you typically pick up a book on how to write a business plan.

Since business planning books are written in a linear format, it might give you the impression that planning will be a neat step-by-step process. In reality, planning is a messy process with lots of bouncing back and forth.

Over the years, I have read many business plans from small business startups. What I find is that people have a tendency to write a more fluffy, promotional document. In other words, their business plans seem to want to sell the reader on their product or service, instead of logically presenting a case for why their business will be one of those that succeeds.

Outlining the Basic Business Plan

It does not help that there is no single business planning format. If you look for examples of business plans, the structures you will find generally contain the elements outlined below.

  • Business description (or Executive Summary) – Overview of what problem you are solving or need you are filling and, at high level, what your plans are for this business
  • Target Market – Outline the characteristics of the types of prospective customers, whether individuals or other businesses, which your business is pursuing
  • Product/Service Description – Describe what products and/or services your business will offer, how they will be offered, and how much they will cost
  • Marketing Plan – Describe how prospective customers will find out about your products/services and then locate them
  • Competition – Discuss what type of competition your business will face in the marketplace and how you intend to withstand it, also known as your competitive advantage
  • Appendices – This section can include financial projections, founder resumes or bios, etc.

Given my own business focus on marketing strategies, it is probably obvious that I believe marketing is the heart of the business plan. This is because typically products or services have to be marketed and sold in order for the business to exist.

Decreasing the Length of Your Business Plan

As I mentioned in “Reducing Your Business Planning Fears,” a business plan is simply a snapshot of whatever information you have gathered up to that moment in time. The means that any business plan is essentially out-of-date as soon as you put your pen down (or stop typing). As you move forward with your plan and you learn more, you can always update your business plan.

This is why you want to try to keep your business plan brief, between one and five pages. (Note that critical supporting documentation, such as financial projections, can be added as appendices.) The shorter it is the more likely you are to keep it updated as you move forward. Most people would not want to constantly update a 50-page business plan.

This means that the business plan needs to describe things at a high level. Consider it practice in developing what will eventually become your 30-second elevator pitch.

Please note that I referred to the length of the business plan. This is different from the amount of paper you might create or collect while gathering information to fill in all of the gaps of what you do not know before your write the business plan.

In other words, the most important part of this process is the planning. The written business plan is essentially a high level summary of what you have learned about your new business as of a specific moment in time. Even if you do not need outside financial investment to start your business, writing the business plan will help you step back and view the business from a higher level perspective (and hopefully given you some objectivity in moving from your dream into your new reality).

Marketing Your Business Plan to Investors

However, if you do need external financial support in starting your business, the business plan needs to market your business (as if it were a product) to your prospective lender or investor. The plan represents your business case as to why investing in your company is a good investment. Therefore, put yourself in the lender’s shoes and structure the business plan so that it answers their questions (before they have even asked them). How do you do this? Just think about what questions you would want answered if someone with this same business idea approached you for a loan. What would you want to read in the business plan that would give you confidence that your investment would be paid back in a timely manner, hopefully with a profit.

Taking Action

Finally, get yourself in motion. The real business planning actually begins on the fly. Start testing your ideas locally (even if this will be an Internet business) and on a smaller scale, wherever possible. Make mistakes as quickly and as cost-effectively as you can and learn from them. Make course corrections and then scale up as you move forward.

Let me know what challenges you faced in writing your own business plan.

Best wishes on launching your business!

Reducing Your Business Planning Fears

February 16th, 2012

Business planning can be scary for small business startups. This is because the planning process forces you to begin to examine the dream of your new business idea in the cold reality of daylight, which could burst the dream bubble or minimally cause you to see its imperfections.

Additionally, most people believe that once the business plan is written that it will be set in concrete, never to be changed. This is partly because they dread the prospect of revising their business plan, especially if it is a lengthy document.

The Business Plan Psych-out

I once had a client, whom we will call Becky, who was taking a multi-week business planning class while she was working with me on her marketing strategy. Her business planning class was structured such that any student who finished the class would be reimbursed their registration fee of approximately $250. The logic behind this offer was to motivate the students to complete their plans. The business plan for the class did not have to be perfect or even the final version. It just needed to be completed and presented to the class. The reimbursement offer was simply to compel students to go through the process of writing the business plan from start to finish one time, given that a business plan will typically need to be modified multiple times.

However, even with this reimbursement offer, at least half the students would drop out of the class without completing it. This is at least partly due to the fact that facing the reality of actually launching your business idea can be pretty intimidating. (Undoubtedly, students were also nervous about making a presentation, especially if they were concerned that their business plans were not “perfect.”)

In fact, Becky freaked out just before the last class and was about to quit. This was not a great idea, partly because Becky was on a very tight budget, so she really needed to have that class fee reimbursed. I had to explain that the business plan was simply a snapshot of whatever information Becky had gathered up to that moment in time. In her presentation, Becky could clarify what she still needed to find out and then modify her plan again later after she had gathered more information. As to making the final presentation, Becky had an added advantage. She had worked in sales. I explained how making this presentation was similar to making a sales pitch to prospective clients, especially when she did not have all of the data she needed. Becky calmed down once she understood that things did not have to be perfect. She made her presentation and got her class fee reimbursed.

However, in her class, over half of the other students dropped out. Obviously, Becky was not alone in her fears.

Reframing the Business Planning Process

If you feel extremely challenged by the business planning process, you might want to start with a business plan format that is a bit less intimidating. Some examples are given in The Right Brain Business Plan book by Jennifer Lee and The One Page Business Plan book by Jim Horan.

While developing your plans for your business, consider the following to help you reduce your fears:

  • Business planning can be a wonderful journey of discovery about both your business, as well as yourself. It is a bit like a treasure hunt, where you are searching for hidden gold nuggets of valuable information to help you prove that your business can be profitable. If you uncover any unpleasant surprises while digging for information, it is much better to discover those before launching your business. That is because it gives you the opportunity to modify your plans before you begin to spend your money.
  • Most experts nowadays recommend that the written business plan be brief, between 1 to 5 pages, even if you are pursuing investors. Please note this is in contrast to the mountain of papers you may gather while doing your research. The written business plan should be a high level summary of what you learned, plus appendices for important details such as financial projections, staff bios, etc.
  • Remember that the written business plan overviews what you have learned so far. In other words, it is a snapshot of a particular moment in time. As I mentioned earlier, as soon as you put your pen down (or stop typing), the business plan essentially becomes out-of-date. In other words, don’t sweat the minutiae. Focus on creating a high level overview of your idea in the written business plan.
  • Once the business plan is drafted, reread it as if you were a potential investor in this new business and knew nothing about it. Consider what questions you would want answered if someone else approached you about investing in this business idea. Most of the time, you will discover key facts that you accidently left out of the plan, such as forgetting to describe the contingency plan if your one and only supplier gets hit by a natural disaster. *
  • Since the business plan is a snapshot of a moment in time, that means you should periodically consider updating it. Obviously, when the business plan is shorter in length (under 5 pages), this is much easier to do. Updating your plan allows you to quickly revisit the assumptions you made initially and determine whether any changes need to be made.

How Much Business Planning is Needed?

My clients and students ask all the time about what is “enough” planning for launching a business. The reality is that planning is an ongoing process, especially when the business is up and running, because that is when you will learn the most. Essentially, your business is a big project, which needs to be planned and managed as you move forward.

Therefore, you need to strike a balance between the list of what you do not know today about your business and the amount of your savings which you can afford to put at risk. In my experience, no matter how much planning you do upfront, small business owners will typically change one or more things about their business within the first few months. This might include their business direction, the product or service they planned to offer, their target market, their messaging and the list goes on. This is simply because you cannot fill in all the gaps before you start. You need to accept that you will learn as you go.

Try to produce at least a draft of your written business plan, if not the final version, within a few days or a couple of weeks just to get you started. If your initial business idea does not appear to be viable, then see if you can transform it into another business idea and keep moving forward.

Let me know what techniques you have used to reduce your own business planning fears.

Best wishes on joyfully creating your business plan!

My 100-Day Marketing Challenge

February 9th, 2012

My friend Deb Dawson-Dunn of Get It Dunn began her annual 100-Day Challenge this past Monday, February 6 (; It ends on May 15. Deb has inspired me this year to participate with her on my own 100-Day Challenge.   My challenge objective is to write at least one blog post per week about marketing-related topics. This works out to approximately 14 posts over the 100 days. Although it does not sound like much, writing consistently has been an issue for me. The underlying challenge here is going to be writing almost daily in order to create even one blog post per week. Publicly making this commitment is intended to help hold me accountable during the challenge.

I invite you to join Deb and I by taking up your own 100-Day Challenge. Obviously, I would encourage you to do it around a marketing issue with which you might be struggling and want support. However, any area of your life–personal or business–is acceptable.

There is no “correct” way to take this challenge. You can customize it in any way that supports you. You might choose a different aspect of your business to work on, such as finance. Or, you might choose something personal, like getting more exercise. Or, perhaps you are tired of tolerating something, like a cluttered workspace or home.

Although it is true that the purpose of having the challenge last 100 days is to better support you in making a lasting change, you might not be fully prepared for that right now. In that case, you can even redesign the timeframe, so it works best for you. It might be shorter or longer. My only suggestion is that you choose a timeframe which will provide you with the maximum support and accountability. If you want to join Deb and I in this virtual endeavor, you might want to choose a timeframe that parallels the 100 day structure. In this case, examples of shorter timeframes might be three separate 30-day challenges (for 90 days) or 14 different weekly challenges. Examples of longer timeframes might be a quarterly (or 120-day) challenge, a 6-month or even a year-long challenge. If you decide on a longer timeframe, make sure you put together a supportive group of friends, family, and/or business associates to help you continue to move forward after the 100-Day Challenge concludes.

No matter how you structure this you will run into obstacles along the way, which will slow you down. One of the roadblocks most of us have is admitting when we feel stuck and then reaching out to ask others for constructive help and support. You want to choose people to support you who can also be your cheerleaders. When you have a group of people supporting each other, such as we are doing with the 100-Day Challenge, you will get to see how each person deals with their own obstacles. You will have the opportunity to help support them, as well as having them support you. If you need time to consider this, you might even join us part of the way through the 100-Day Challenge. Or, simply start your own challenge when you are ready.

I hope you will consider joining us. Best wishes on pursuing your own (marketing) challenge!