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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Create Your Own Economic Stimulus

Strategic planning combined with positive action can take your business to the next level, even in a downturn.

By: Pattie Simone, 04/15/2009

Now more than ever, the time is ripe for intrepid entrepreneurs to take their business to the next level. Here's what you need to know to deal with assorted growing pains and develop a strong, achievable expansion plan.

"The best managers and the smartest people hire people who can replace them," says Sandra Fathi, 38-year-old president and founder of Affect Strategies, a New York City PR and marketing firm specializing in technology. Business owners seeking stability and growth can take that advice to the bank. Fathi's firm went from a solopreneur-run resource to a company with more than 10 people in fewer than eight years--all while she juggled mommy duties for a growing family (she has two children, ages 8 and 3).

Of course, Fathi did a few other things right along the way, including creating a professionally designed website and collaterals, mining her industry connections and sourcing projects (paid hourly) to other talented, senior-level women who were putting family first. Fathi also was prudent with expenditures, subletting space from another woman business owner only when she had the business in place that required hiring more people.

She also mapped out a business plan that included a proposed budget and timeline, as well as a strategy detailing the types of clients she would seek out and how she would go after them (through her website, blogging, social media tools and industry organizations).

Here are Fathi's top six tips to take your business to the next level:

1.Know how to run your business and how to build your own financial reports.

2.Get your team in place, including: an accountant, lawyer and key service providers, along with independent contractors and part-time help.

3.Prune your work force. Fathi says some people have issues you can't resolve. Knowing your limits and their limits can help you make the right decisions.

4.Concentrate on your core business.

5.Get lines of credit in place before you need them. When Fathi started out, that included raising the limits on several credit cards, using them strategically as a last resort to make payroll.

6.Invest in marketing. Fathi recently rebranded her firm and has several significant campaigns running so that her company is top of mind when prospects are ready to do business.

Although Fathi has never wanted to own a large company, she considers it a great time to build her firm. "There are a lot of opportunities in a down economy; it's about survival, but it's also about planning for the future. What people don't do now will put them six months behind (their more aggressive competitors)."

You Need Passion and Planning

Nikki Hardin's journey to success started with the vision of a new kind of magazine, one that was a little literary and a little feminist, with a lot of style. So the then-50-year-old South Carolinian (a native of Kentucky) created Skirt! magazine with $400 and a dream--working hard with a friend to sell ads until they had enough to fund the first printing. She didn't take a salary for two years and didn't have health insurance.

Expand Your Business Here are seven tips to get you where you want to go:

1.Watch your cash flow.

2.Make a strategic action plan.

3.Work your networks.

4.Gather smart team members.

5.Seek out a mentor.

6.Invest in systems, polish procedures.

7.Market your business with gusto, especially in a variety of online and social networking platforms.

No matter what business you're in, it takes strategic planning and positive action to get your business on the expansion track, and keep your bottom line healthy in any economy.

"It was a crazy, stressful time, but I had a very creative designer, and I traded with her to create the brand and make up an oversized layout, " says Hardin, who admitted it took several years before her rates were high enough to make any money. Thinking ahead, she formed an S Corp and trademarked the name statewide and nationally. Hardin and the designer worked out of home offices, and a commissioned salesperson soon took over selling ads.

When it appeared she was onto something, Hardin reached out to two friends: investors who kicked in $12,000 apiece for (at that time) almost worthless stock. In 2003, this pioneering publisher sold her company for a tidy sum--netting her investors a huge return.

Hardin's ultimate success did not happen overnight and most certainly didn't happen by accident.

Here are Hardin's four suggestions for building momentum in your business:

1.Make sure you have enough money. Hardin suggests a two-year cushion.

2.Choose a business that not only you love, but that other people love as well. To do that, thoroughly research what you are going to provide.

3.Hire professionals. According to Hardin, not scrimping on that area of her business kept her on the straight and narrow.

4.Have some sense that you are filling a niche.
While Hardin and Fathi's paths are different, their accomplishments came about because they share two critical components: They have a passion for what they do, and they took action to move their dreams forward.

If you've got the passion and a product or service people need, you can achieve similar results, even with limited resources. Be authentic; engage in meaningful conversations with prospects, peers and clients; and go the extra mile.

As president of Write-Communications.com and Marketing-Advantage.net, and founder of WomenCentric.net, Pattie Simone empowers execs and entrepreneurs around the country, sharing her sales and marketing savvy and communications expertise as a mentor, speaker and writer.

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Cathy Harris is an Empowerment and Motivational Speaker, Non-GMO Health and Wellness Expert, Self-Publishing and Business Coach.