We all want to be the masters of our own destinies. So what better way than to start up your own small business? So what does it take? What kind of person do you have to be? What are some of the personal challenges that you can you expect to face?You will have wear multiple hats, many at the same time. You will have to do the selling, the marketing, handle the customers, take care of the finances, perhaps produce the products and a variety of other tasks. This would be OK if they were each going on in separate time frames, but for the small business owner they need attention almost at the same time.The demands placed on a small business owner are very much like those of a CEO of a large corporation. You have the final responsibility for everything. The exception to the CEO, is that he is not expected to perform the majority of these tasks, but as a small startup, you will have very little choice but to carry out many of them yourself. You will need to be able to think tactically and strategically almost at the same time. Our large Corporate CEO spends most of his time planning for the future and determining the overall direction for the corporation. He provides the strategic vision for his corporation. He spends very little time thinking about how the operation should run on a day to day basis, down in the trenches. Again this is where the small business owner differs. He must be able to perform at both levels, tactically day to day, hour by hour as well as strategically defining where he would like the business to be next year and the year beyond that.The small business owner must also be able to adapt to change as fast as possible. The product mix may be wrong, suppliers may let him down, customers may not have paid on time for goods and services rendered. The end result of any of a number of issues and crises is that the small business owner must be able to adapt to changing circumstances constantly. The idea of going to work and performing the same tasks day after day with very little variation would be a foreign concept to the small business owner.Taking this one step further, the small business owner must be able to be very flexible and be able to deal with uncertainty. As an employee one thinks that just by showing up and doing whatever your job description is, you will get your pay check. You expect lunch at noon or whatever the company rules state. You expect to work from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, from Monday to Friday. You expect to have so many sick days and vacation days. These are not the expectations of a small business owner. He can only expect an ever changing environment.So far this seems like I have painted a tough picture. The new small business owner must be resilient, flexible, have the mind of a computer, the skills of a CEO, and be able to work very long, stress filled and tiring days. This is true on all counts! The difference is the independence, being the captain of your own ship and being able to build something potentially huge up from nothing. The financial rewards can be gigantic for you and your family. Furthermore, this has been done tens of thousands of times before. So it’s not just an impossible dream, but something that is achievable.
From smoke signals and carrier pigeons to smartphones and their ubiquitous apps, the way people interact across distances has drastically evolved. With each passing year, innovation appoints a new form of communication as revolutionary while decrying another form as passé.During the past six months, you’ve probably learned what a “tweet” is and what it means to “friend” someone. Though both are interesting new forms of interaction, their applications to small business communication are less clear.Twitter and Facebook are, at their most basic levels, additional channels aiding in small business communication. Like print or broadcast advertising, these social media initiatives allow a company to directly communicate with consumers. Though unlike advertising, these services allow for two-way communication where your audience – which includes customers, prospects, advocates, government entities and the general public – can respond. It is this engagement where many companies fall flat.Kicking Off Your Social Media InitiativesSimply setting up a Twitter handle and Facebook page does not plug you into the social media ether. Managing these accounts and consistently updating them is vital, so much so that many large companies are hiring full-time employees to man their social media initiatives. For entrepreneurs with limited time, there are many applications that can help you manage content for both services in one place, like Digsby (which has instant messaging integration as well), Brizzly or TweetDeck.For entrepreneurs new to Twitter or other social media initiatives, the best approach is to do a few searches on words that are relevant to your business and try to find a handful of experts in your field to follow. Then, spend your first few days just “listening” to the conversation from these experts, resisting the urge to start singing the praises of your product or broadcasting your message. Once you get a feel for the kinds of things people talk about and how they do it on Twitter, start with the 2, 2, 2 rule. Post 2 original things, re-tweet two posts you find interesting or useful, and reply to two people about something they tweeted. This is a good way to be a valuable participant and to increase your “followers” number as people find the things you have to say to be useful.For most entrepreneurs, a significant investment of time and resources strictly for social media initiatives is not feasible. Depending on a company’s level of commitment to increasing its small business communication efforts, social media may not be the right channel, right now. But, for those companies that can invest resources to examine the social media landscape, determine if it is right for their business and actively engage in dialogue, Twitter and Facebook can be powerful tools to grow their small business communication strategy.Though Twitter and Facebook are good starting points, if these social media darlings are where your social media knowledge ends, you need to know about the many other small business communication technologies that allow entrepreneurs to interact with customers and engage prospects.Oldies but goodies…The social media landscape has significantly changed the face of small business communication, but it does not mean previous technologies have been rendered useless. “Old” technologies, such as e-mail newsletters, instant messaging and message boards are still active and can still increase productivity (and sales!). Many entrepreneurs already have a strong understanding of these technologies and have probably used them in the past. Consider dusting off that old e-mail newsletter you belong to – you know, the one you haven’t read in 2 years – or do a quick search of what message boards are out there. You may be reminded of and surprised at how useful these seemingly out-of-date services can be.Some you’ve probably heard of, but may not know the full power of…LinkedInLinkedIn has become the platform for business-focused social networking. By setting up a LinkedIn profile, users are able to post their work history and professional profiles for others to see. This tool presents opportunities for generating new business, reconnecting with old colleagues, and finding a job.While many business users may have a LinkedIn profile, they may overlook the other small business communication tools LinkedIn provides. For example, LinkedIn Groups are a simple way to create an online forum where customers, prospects and industry insiders can exchange ideas. Similar to an e-mail newsletter, the Group allows invited LinkedIn users to interact with one another and for a company to communicate key messages. With some simple work on the front-end to get the group moving, an entrepreneur can then take a back-seat to let the patients run the asylum – while still maintaining his or her position as the group leader.WikiA wiki (rhymes with tricky) is a website that allows users to edit the content that is posted on the page; the trick to wikis is ensuring the edits are accurate. Wikipedia, for example, is an editable online encyclopedia in which users can edit the content. The reason the information remains accurate is Wikipedia has designated individuals to monitor updates.From a business perspective, a wiki is a great small business communication tool for companies with geographically distributed offices or teams. Users can post a document or other materials on an internal wiki and allow a group to review and edit the material in one place. Beyond the team collaboration, the wiki also helps with “version control,” a problem that occurs when some users do not have the most up-to-date version of a document. Microsoft’s SharePoint offers companies the ability to make internal wikis, as well as discussion boards.Some small business communication tools you may not have heard of…YammerYammer is an enterprise microblogging service – think of it as Twitter for internal business communication. The service allows businesses to create their own internal communication channel and limit use to those who have a valid company e-mail address.Yammer allows users to post questions, share news, ideas and documents, and post status updates to the entire group. This service allows short messages to be sent and for users to filter the messages they receive so they aren’t bombarded with information that is not relevant to them. Much like a wiki, Yammer allows distributed companies to communicate in a private community, only in shorter bursts.NingNing lets users create social networks around topics about which they are passionate. Do you love cheese? If so, you can create a cheese lovers community. Do you fear bunnies? Then you can connect with others who share your phobia. With Ning, you create the network that matches your life.Why should an entrepreneur care about all these different social media initiatives? If your company produces gourmet cheese, that cheese lovers group is a new business goldmine. Are you a psychiatrist just out of med school looking to build a client base? The bunny-phobic network is a breeding ground for potential patients. Whether setting up a targeted social network or joining one already in existence, Ning can connect your business with others that share your unique passions.What’s more, Ning has one of the more quantifiable ROI models of all social media. Ning’s premium service allows the administrator to run ads on its network (this service does require a fee, though). Not only could you run your own ads, you could potentially run ads from other members of your community, creating a quantifiable revenue stream from your network.When it comes to social media initiatives, there is no magic bullet to grow your business. But there is a unique combination that is right for every entrepreneur. By balancing time and resources, and examining the social media habits of its customers and prospects, a business can develop a small business communication strategy that will accelerate growth.