Say the word franchise at a dinner party and, depending on your company, you’re apt to get either nods of appreciation or blank stares and a few “Mhm, yes, that sounds like an interesting plan”s. Chances are the conversation will shift gears soon afterward.
But starting your own franchise isn’t nearly as intimidating or confusing as the average person assumes it to be. You don’t need millions of dollars, a completely novel and irreplicable idea, an award-winning retail space in the heart of a large city, or any other expensive items that would make most people turn and run.
Starting your own business can be as simple as finding suitable space in your own home: clearing off a desk in the basement, dusting a bit, throwing open a window for some air, and buying a file cabinet.
Think you can’t afford a small business? Think again …
Don’t let the masses fool you into believing that it takes millions of dollars, or even several hundred thousand, to start a small business. Though there are up-front costs that will require a bit of the spare cash in your wallet, the chances of your small business requiring such a large sum of cash to get rolling are slim.
In the end all you need is a space to make/prepare your product, the ability to network, the drive to succeed, and a market to sell to — and most of those items are cost-free!
Recently, Entrepreuneur magazine published an article about franchises that you can start up for $50,000 or less — in other words, the layman’s guide to franchising. Examples include estate sale companies, house cleaners, tutoring services, cellphone and wireless accessory carriers, small weekly newspapers, fitness classes, mobile DJ services, and many more.
A great tool for ideas about starting a small franchise, the article listed a range of start-up costs, all of which bottomed out at below $50,000, and some less than $5,000!
In the long run, all you need are some basic business smarts, an idea you know can make money, and the drive and management skills to get it going.
And while it’s true that not everyone is born with the innate ability to manage a company successfully, it just takes an open mind to learn the tools that will help you stay afloat as a small business in today’s economy.
Getting started: business classes, research, and a will to succeed
Most people have the customer service skills to understand what it takes to run a business. Even if you haven’t worked directly with customers, you know the old mantra: the customer is always right.
That being said, unless you plan on starting out behind the scenes and staying that way, it is good to have some customer service experience before you try to launch a business. Customers can tell when you’re comfortable and know what they need, and that will improve their buying experience exponentially.
In the end, business management is about knowing what you are good at and sticking to it. If you know you have the people skills, consider hiring a financial advisor or taking on a partner that can crunch the numbers.
If you are more of a number-cruncher yourself, consider asking your wife, your daughter, your son, your father, your neighbor — anyone who has good people skills — to join you and work on the front lines while you take care of the technical stuff.
Remember: nobody can do everything alone, and everybody needs help sometimes. Starting out your business with someone you trust and can work well with is a great way to make sure that you stay afloat; and having complementary skills to draw upon will boost your productivity and increase the likelihood of your success.
And if you’re nervous about the prospect of running a business, check a book out of the library and brush up on your management skills, or consider a free online business course from a site like Open Culture or Coursera.
Blogs to guide you along the way
There are a number of great small franchise bloggers that discuss their business experience. These can help you anticipate the hardships to expect along the way, and can also be a great morale booster. It’s uplifting to see others’ successes, and to learn how gratifying it can be to be your own boss, despite some of the struggles that await you.
Among the great blogs you might follow are:
1. The New York Franchise Law Blog
Run by attorney Charles Internicola, this one is great and steadily getting better. Some posts that might interest you on this blog are written for those in the more exploratory, dip-your-toes-in stage of starting a franchise. Those tips may help you move from “maybe I will” to “when can I get started?”
2. Franchise Pundit
If you are thinking of starting up a food-related franchise, this might be the right blog for you. It follows primarily existing franchises, and provides images of the delicious foods they serve! A great place to see where you can be in a few years if you work hard and can cook up some delicious treats.
3. Rush On Business
This man started blogging long before social media was called social media, and it shows: he knows his stuff. He’s an attorney who posts primarily about business law, which is something you should certainly become more familiar with if you want to start your own company.
4. AllBusiness.com Franchise Blog
A former editor of Entrepreneur magazine runs this blog. If that isn’t enough reason to check it out, I don’t know what is. Need to do some research? Check out their article on the top 300 franchise prospects, and many others of a similar nature.
5. Franchise Business Opportunities webblog
This blog is great because it’s large, incorporates a number of writers who are all excellent at what they do, and is global. That means you enjoy the advantages of looking at what other companies are doing in the world, not just local companies in the U.S.
The moral of the story … ?
Starting your own business isn’t nearly as unimaginable as you might think. You can create your start-up with the money you have in your savings account — if your sweetheart will give you the account code, of course! — or with a small business loan that will pay itself off if you work hard and put in the hours it takes to start your franchise.
And, if you’re nervous about starting something brand new, you can always take a slightly different route: editing what’s already there. Buy up a franchise and make the changes needed to keep it afloat.
Change the name if you have to, but keep the supplies. If you’re operating on a small budget and you see the opportunity, snag it; you might not get another chance to be the guy or gal that turned a franchise around and made it successful again!
5 Ways Freelancers Work Hard But Aren’t Productive
There are many great reasons to be a freelancer. Unfortunately, there are also some challenges you must be prepared for as well. Knowing how to manage your time well is one of the biggest issues you will need to figure out.
Being good at the services you provide isn’t going to be enough to make a steady income being self-employed. You must also know how to manage your time wisely. You don’t have the luxury of having a boss provide the structure you need to meet your goals. This is something you’re going to need to figure out on your own, which requires you to identify ways that you are using your time inefficiently.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always clear when you are wasting your time. Many freelancers spend a lot of time on tasks that keep them busy, but don’t help them reach their long-term professional and financial goals. They often rationalize dedicating time to these tasks, since they keep them busy.
One of the biggest lessons that you were going to need to learn is that your priority should not be keeping yourself busy. You need to focus on improving productivity and meeting your milestones.
Here are some ways that you may be wasting time without even realizing it.
Marketing to the wrong potential clients
There are two types of potential clients that you will run into:
- People that will eventually have a decent amount of paying work for you.
- People that will never actually hire you, but like to talk a big game and waste your time.
Sadly, the second category of potential clients is a lot more prevalent than we would like. These people may not genuinely intend to waste your time. A lot of them are simply in denial about how fast their business is growing and how much they are going to need to outsource. You may also want to focus on clients that you know have money, or are already in a profitable niche.
Otherwise, you may end up dealing with potential clients will sit down with you for a couple of lunch meetings and talk about how great your relationship is going to be in the future. Some will boast about how fast their company is growing. Others won’t have even officially launched their company yet, but will be convinced that they will have lots of customers and need to outsource a lot of work for you as soon as they open their doors.
Here are some things to look for during your conversations to avoid this mistake:
- Avoid clients that talk too much about their success. They are usually overcompensating for the fact their company really isn’t growing as fast as they would like.
- Talk to clients that have projects they need you to start working on right away.
- Get clients from referrals that you trust. If one of your contacts has a good track record for referring paying customers, you should put those referrals at the top of your list.
You need to keep in mind the 80/20 rule. This means that 80% of your business is going to come from 20% of your clients. You will have a lot more time when you avoid working with people that waste your time with endless meetings and email exchanges without delivering any paying work.
Avoid networking events that do not pan out for you
I don’t mean to knock networking events in general. They can be a great way to drum up business. However, they are not equally beneficial for your business. Some of them will be a great investment, while others will be a total waste of your time. Also, just because they work well for some professionals does not mean they are appropriate for your business model.
A number of self-employed professionals have said that they get over 70% of their business from BNI networking groups. They have a proven track record of helping people get high quality leads. But does this mean they are worth your time?
One freelance writer was invited to review a couple BNI groups, but found they wouldn’t really help with their business goals. This freelancer primarily worked on retainer for large marketing agencies. They had enough clients to stay busy for long periods of time. It didn’t make sense for them to invest so much time and money in BNI when they already had as much work as they could handle.
You also need to keep in mind that many networking groups are really more focused on building social connections. Rotary and 20-30 our groups don’t typically have a great reputation for bringing in paying customers. It is fine to join them if you want to make social connections, but you are likely to be disappointed if you sign up solely for growing your business.
A better alternative to this might be to simply run your own online webinar and connect with potential clients through more detailed and longer one-on-one sessions. When you think about webinars, you likely think of the ones you commonly see on Facebook that are always pushing products and sales. However, there are actually several webinar meanings and how each of them can be setup and used to a freelancers advantage.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before joining a networking group:
- How well is this networking group working for people in a similar line of business? If your colleagues aren’t able to get paying clients from them, then they probably aren’t worth your time.
- What types of clients are you looking for? If you specialize in serving companies in a specific industry, then you are going to want to find a networking group that caters to them. For example, some web designers specialize in designing websites for wineries. It might make more sense for them to spend time at networking events for wine professionals than other web professionals that have never talked to a winery owner.
- How many long-term clients do you already have? If you are already on retainer with enough clients to keep you busy for the next few months, then you shouldn’t waste your time going to networking events to meet potential clients that you don’t have time to serve.
Joining a networking group may or may not be a good use of your time. Don’t be afraid to walk away from one that isn’t worthwhile.
Reading all emails in detail
Poor email management is one of the biggest times sinks for any business owner. According to a survey by OfficeTime, the majority of business owners spend over an hour a day going through emails. Nearly a quarter of them spend at least two hours a day.
You need to have a sister to minimize the time you waste with emails. It isn’t a good idea to read every single word in every email you got. Know how to categorize them and delete any that clearly aren’t worth your time.
“Marketing” on social media
You have probably read statistics about how great social media can be for expanding the reach of your business. While these statistics are certainly on point, you can also spend more time than is necessary on social media.
Its not just about how much time you are spending on social media, it’s also about how effective your content is as well. For example, if you are marketing on Twitter, it’s best to focus on their current trends. With Instagram, it’s all about using popular hashtags.
You may find that you only need to spend half an hour a week composing posts and replying to social media replies. If you are spending more time creating too many posts or commenting on feeds that don’t get any visibility for your business, then you are simply wasting your time.
You also need to be objective about how many leads you are getting from social media. It can be great for some freelancers, but others find that almost all of their business comes from face-to-face marketing. If engaging with people on Facebook or Twitter isn’t paying dividends for your company, then you may not want to spend any time on it at all.
Writing daily blog posts
When you are a professional blogger, your blog is obviously your business. You should be creating a blog posts every day to increase traffic to your website. However, you don’t need to be a business to have a profitable blog. Take a look at any of these success stories and you will be amazed at how some individuals have found success through blogging.
That same rule does not apply for freelancers. Freelancers often don’t make money from their blog itself. They are going to see diminishing returns from additional blog posts. It may be worth writing a post every other week or even once a month just to keep it fresh.
When looking at your options with content creation and blogging, you need to decide if you want to write and build a blog for the long term, or write for others and make your earnings up front.
Be Productive. Not Busy.
We live in a very fast-paced society. People pride themselves on working long hours and even boast about how much time they invest in their business. The problem is that clocking long hours doesn’t necessarily bring you in more money, especially if you are self-employed and wasting your time on non billable work. You need to recognize tasks that turn out to be a waste of time and avoid them like the plague.
The world of freelance writing is a fun, exciting, and profitable one — but you need to make sure your content and writing is better than the competition, and that you are putting in the time and effort to acquire new clients. With so many freelancers in the world today, it’s way too easy to fall into the crowd and find your side business suffering in the process.
3 Steps to Remember Before Launching a Digital Product
I used to work with a bootstrap startup that was launching a new dashboard that would be used for remote teams needing to coordinate across international lines. It was a solid final product, with great features and no noticeable bugs. It had been UX tested, AB tested and performance tested. Early release users had been thrilled with it and were already looking forward to the next version and what new features might be coming along in the future.
Everything sounds perfect, right? Sadly, no. It wasn’t the product itself that had a problem, it was the digital marketing strategy that was poorly planned and hence weakly executed. The result? Obviously, the launch went largely unnoticed and hence the tool enjoyed little to no attention and coverage.
It’s sad when a great product doesn’t get the exposure it truly deserves.
My client could have really benefited from double checking that particular step, but he was too focused on the primary product. Had he put more attention onto the digital marketing strategy he could have avoided a disaster.
Here are the steps to take prior to launching your digital product, be it an eBook, a course or an online tool:
1. Research Competitors and Their Weak Points
You may have already done this (prior to deciding to create the product), but don’t stop there. Monitor your competitors, identify their weak points and adjust your future marketing strategy based on that.
Use BrandMentions to get alerted whenever your competitor is mentioned on the web. It is an awesome tool that looks at every single corner of the web and pulls out even more obscure mentions that you might have missed the first time around with other tools. For small businesses that only need to mention a single brand they start at $49 per month. As you grow you can escalate to new plans with more features.
Another great tool to use here is GoFish which is a custom Google Search Engine allowing to search 40 (and counting) complaint websites at a time. Run your major competitor’s name through the search and see if there’s a marketing opportunity for you. What problems does your future product solve that are being most actively discussed by your competitors’ customer?
MeWe is a great example of the launch with solving major competitor’s problem at the base of their marketing. Being launched right on the wave of Facebook privacy scandal, the startup talks about privacy on all their social media channels:
2. Set up an Effective Landing Page
Set up your landing page in advance, prior to the actual launch. Think of how your best selling points will be clearly explained on it. Avoid the clutter but make sure you can answer the question: “Why would anyone want to download / give it a try?”
Let’s take a look at some statistics:
- A survey found that 92% of marketers asked found landing pages to be at least somewhat effective, and around half of those found them to be very effective.
- The Whole Brain Group has reported that they see sustained conversion rates of around 45% monthly from their landing pages.
Sadly, getting landing pages built is one of the top challenges faced by B2B marketers and most businesses are finding it hard to optimize their content on landing pages, which means most aren’t seeing the benefits they want to through these handy tools.
Get inspired by an example: Take a look at this landing page that is very minimal while bringing several important points across. It distinguishes between three actions very effectively:
This site is a great example of a content-based landing page that does a good job engaging customers:
Note: While CTAs are important, don’t forget to optimize your landing page for search engine traffic!
One of the most effective ways to generate more leads from your landing page is to generate more search engine traffic to it.
You need to do a basic SEO inspection to make sure you are getting the most out of your optimization. Has it been created to really attract search engine results?
Keyword usage is especially important on landing pages because there is less content for it to attract people with. Just look at a blog with its constant update of new posts, each of which can be optimized to draw in traffic. A landing page is a single page that has to utilize fewer words that are updated far less often.
Get your SEO planned, then make sure your landing page is following it.
3. Plan Your Marketing Strategy after the Launch
All of the above is about that time just before launch. What happens after that has been done? These are the beginning and middle periods of your launch and they are just as important as the preparation for it. You could do everything perfectly and still fall flat if you don’t keep up your momentum.
You need to plan your budget, time investment, delegation tactics and overall team schedule before the launch, because after that you are hopefully going to be too busy for that!
Some tips for getting through those beginning and middle bits include:
Think which additional platforms you’ll be using to sell your digital product
Your own site must be all set at this point but how about additional channels that may bring in extra sales? There are platforms like E-junkie and ClickBank that aim at helping you reach wider audience.
Follow up with new customers
Your product has been bought and too often the buck stops there. You shouldn’t leave them alone… follow up! After a few days send an email (or provide an in-product message if you have a system in place) asking them to fill out a small survey of their experience so far.
Not everything will have run smooth for everyone. If your follow-up brings on concerns from the customer make sure you address them personally. That personal touch can make all the difference in how your brand is perceived and your ability to build loyalty from the very beginning.
Search social media for mentions of your product
Reputation management is crucial at this stage. You have been hyping up your product for weeks, you don’t want word of problems to get out. But beyond that, it is a chance to thank people for saying good things, as well as offer the curious a chance to try your product themselves (this is a great time to offer influencers free access).
Give them something unexpected
I knew a founder who had created fifty small gift baskets. After the launch he took the first fifty sign-ups and sent them a basket as a thank you. It didn’t cost that much, was full of promotional material and it got a fair bit of buzz on social media because the first twenty of those adopters had been individually invited influencers. No one expected the baskets so they had a real impact.
Have you ever launched a digital product? Share your experience in the comments!
Featured image source: Pixabay
5 Ways to Improve Your Print-On-Demand T-Shirt Design
As bloggers and content creators, we all have likely seen the massive growth in the world of online t-shirts, printing them, and also making some money in the process. It doesn’t matter if you are an affiliate marketer, a brand, or even someone who is considering the idea of printing and selling tshirts online, it’s a great business and market to be in.
However, just because you have an idea or concept of a few shirt designs, it most likely won’t be a straight line to success. Starting a business online is tough and more often than not, it’s harder than you thought it would be, right? There’s so much competition out there that you really have to stand out to get those sales.
You need to make sure that you have a top-notch product. Your t-shirt designs can’t be just okay, they have to be amazing. But how can you make people go “Wow!”?
#1 Know who your target audience is
You are an artist, but now you are running a business, and therefore you have to think as an entrepreneur.
Your first impulse probably is to create t-shirts that appeal to the broadest possible audience. That’s a big mistake. Things that are supposed to appeal to everyone usually appeal to no one.
That’s why it’s important to clearly define your target audience. What is their gender, age, and interests? What kind of a person would buy your T-shirt? How can you reach them? Knowing all these things is the key to selling a lot of t-shirts.
#2 Explore each t-shirt concept in-depth
Creating t-shirts that sell well is hard work. You might be tempted to just quickly sketch something, put it on your website, and call it a day. That is not the right way to approach it if you want to actually make money with this.
First, brainstorm potential t-shirt concepts, and write them all down. Then go through the list with your ideal customer in mind. Remember, you are not creating t-shirts for yourself, you are creating t-shirts for your customers, so you have to always ask: “Would my ideal customer like this?”
Then, once you narrow down to concepts that you think your ideal customer would like, start sketching them out. Don’t put too much thought into the first drafts, just get them out on paper or on the computer screen. Once that’s done, take a break, or even better, sleep on it.
Then, come back to your sketches with fresh eyes, and try to refine them. Are the colors right? What should you add and what should you remove? Is there a way to improve your concept? Don’t be half-hearted about this. Really push yourself to create the best t-shirt designs that you can. Treat it like art.
#3 Get feedback on your t-shirt concepts
You might guess what your customers want, but that is all that is, guesswork. In order to know for sure you must go to them and ask them what they think. You need to validate your concepts before you start selling the t-shirts.
So go where your customers hang out, show them your t-shirt concepts, and ask them what they think. Which one do they like the most? Which one do they like the least? Why? Really listen to their feedback. Only sell those t-shirts that got approval of your customers.
Keep in mind that it’s very important to collect the feedback from your customers, not just from friends and family. I know, you love your grandma, but her opinion on your black metal t-shirts is useless, unless she’s a metalhead herself. So don’t be shy, go out there, and ask questions. This will help you make t-shirts that people love!
#4 Follow the latest trends
T-shirts are often impulse buys. This means that they have to catch someone’s attention and be relevant to them somehow. The easiest way to do that is to ride a trend.
So observe your customers. What is popular among them right now? For example, if you are targeting atheists, then t-shirts with Christopher Hitchens’ quotes will never go out of fashion. However, at the moment Rick and Morty is a show that’s popular among them, so you can capitalize on that by creating some Rick and Morty t-shirts. Always keep your eyes open for the latest trends among your customers.
Keep in mind that trends fade away quickly, and if you are too late, it will be a waste of your resources. So once you have noticed a trend, act fast, and get few designs out there asap.
Photo by Felix Russell-Saw on Unsplash
#5 Use a reliable print-on-demand service
There are a lot of print-on-demand services out there. However, not all of them are made equal, and some of them are better than others.
I recommend you to go with reputable companies like Printify that provide best print on demand services at reasonable prices.
Do your research on this, and find an option that works for you, because going with the wrong service might lead to low quality t-shirts which will cripple your business.
How to Create and Sell Your Own TShirts Online
Selling print-on-demand t-shirts is not as easy as it looks. You can’t just quickly sketch something out, slap it on your website, and expect the sales to roll in. It takes a lot of effort to get a business off the ground.
So be willing to put in the work. Take time to understand your customers, develop winning concepts, and market your t-shirts. Only then you can expect to make decent money.
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