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Small Business Saturday

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.

Getting Started with Your Business Plan

Thursday, 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!

My 100-Day Marketing Challenge

Thursday, 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!

Think Big, But Execute Small (and Fast!) in Marketing

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

One of the things I teach is how to think big and then come back down to earth and quickly prioritize and execute the small marketing steps that will put a business on the fast track to success. After you brainstorm and determine some possible marketing activities, you then need to make some quick decisions as to what to focus on, based on what you think will give you the greatest chance of meeting your goals. Usually, there is no perfect or right answer. Most often, you will take a trial-and-error approach. You just need to implement your marketing goals as quickly and inexpensively as possible. You also need to define your financial boundaries, which is how much you can afford to risk financially on this marketing project should it not generate revenue.

For example, I was speaking with a student who had just created a new product. She had leapt in immediately and begun manufacturing. As it turned out (as I often hear about), she did no research upfront. This research would have determined what information is required on the product box such as a bar code, if she decided to sell through a store. She could have also factored in other costs into the retail price, such as shipping and handling (if she sold direct) or a resellers’ markup.

Very understandably, her goal was to take action and not procrastinate. However, her challenge might be that this first go-round with this product could be a somewhat costly lesson, if she needed to go back and make changes to the design of the box, so that she could include a bar code or a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP).  In this case, she managed to come up with a backupplan which, if needed, is to shrinkwrap the boxes and attach a label containing the bar code.

Of course, the reason that we want to take action is that it feels more like real work than planning does. Also, for a task we have never done before, it sometimes seems easier to summon ourconfidence just enough to leap in and take action, rather than take a chance on getting discouraged by looking at what might go wrong.

Ideally, what I recommend is that you try to find a balance between both—getting yourself to take action and trying to minimize costs during your learning process.

How do you do that? Use these five basic steps:

  1. Quickly draft an action plan. Consider your long-term goal, your planned short-term steps, and the aspects of your decision process.
  2. Set up a support system as soon as possible. This should be no more than a couple of other entrepreneurs whose opinions you respect and, if asked, will give you their honest input, not just what you want to hear. 
    You could do this as a one-time meeting with more experienced entrepreneurs who are willing to act as mentors. This could even include free counseling from the volunteer counselors at the Small Business Administration (SBA) and/or its partner organizations. (See the SBA website for more information.) Alternately, you could look for a couple of other startup entrepreneurs with whom you could set up frequent meetings (perhaps biweekly), who will each hold the others’ feet to the fire if they do not take action. You might even want to do both.
  3. Review the plan with your support system as soon as possible. Get input on possible short-term and long-term issues you might not have initially considered. (Obviously, the short-term issues have greater priority.)
  4. Quickly make a final decision on your short-term activities, but do so with the knowledge of where the pitfalls might be and what your contingency plan is.
  5. Execute your plan. Do not be afraid to make revisions if you encounter any serious issues. Remember that it is usually less costly to change things now, rather than later. For example, for an additional fee, my student might have been able to add a bar code during the course of the manufacturing process. That option would have probably cost less now than needing to reorder a few thousand product boxes with a bar code later.

When you have discovered the right support system, you will no longer feel like you are stepping off a cliff without a net and that is what will keep you moving forward quickly (and within your budget) with your marketing plans.

Why Another Small Business Marketing Blog?

Monday, May 14th, 2007

Many small businesses struggle with various aspects of marketing, e.g. determining their target market niche, deciding which marketing activities to pursue, etc. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough specific advice about how to work through these obstacles — inexpensively.

The heart of the business plan is arguably the marketing plan, since you have to figure out how to sell your products and/or services to make money in order to stay in business. In turn, the heart of the marketing plan is market research, i.e. how does the small business determine the changing needs of their target market on an ongoing basis — inexpensively. This is critical because the small business owner typically needs to address how to stretch their budget dollars as far as possible while they are figuring these things out.

My mission is to demonstrate how, using no-cost or low-cost methods, the traditional marketing path can be quickly tweaked to the unique needs of each small business owner.