Business Owners Toolbox Blog Discussions and articles to help the small business owner solve the challenges they face as they grow their business.

May 20, 2013

Are You Having Growing Pains?

What’s keeping you from growing your business to the size and profitability you want? Has your growth been slowed by things that keep dogging you? How can you smash through those barriers and move to the next level?

Here’s what I hear all the time from owners:

— You’re a solopreneur, and you want to grow beyond what you can handle by yourself.entrepreneurial vision

— You have a handful of employees, but everybody’s reporting to you, driving you to a frazzle.

— You’ve got managers, but you’re still running day-to-day operations, and you’d love to hand this off to a trusted top manager, to free you up to focus on growth—and a vacation!

If you’re nodding your head yes to any of these, check out our free webinar, Smash Through the Top 10 Barriers to Growth, on June 4.

I’m doing it jointly with two other small business experts: attorney Nancy Lewellen and productivity consultant Rosie Aiello.

Here are the details.On that page, scroll down to see the 10 barriers we will cover.

I will focus on three areas:

1. Management style for growth. Make sure you’re not the bottleneck to your company’s growth.

2. Profitability. See how you stack up against the 12 Principles of Profitability.

3. Marketing & Sales. Make sure your Magic Chain of Marketing has no missing links.

This free webinar will be an exciting tune-up for you, to help you quickly discover ways you can overcome your own growth barriers.

Check it out and sign up now while you’re thinking about it.

Call me at 415-491-1896 if you want to find out if it would be right for you.

January 30, 2013

Presentations for the Non-Presenter

I invited Elaine Love to do this guest  post for my blog.

41% of 5000 people in a 2011 management association survey listed their #1 fear as public speaking.  In the same survey, 19% listed their #1 fear as death.  Even though more people fear public speaking than death, I guarantee, the experience will not be fatal.

You have been asked to deliver the opening remarks for your professional association’s annual meeting.  It was easy when you were sitting around a table with the five people in your management team.  Standing on stage speaking to three hundred people is totally different.  You know your subject, but you have never thought of yourself as a public speaker.


Facts First

How long have you been asked to speak?  Once you know the time parameters, you can organize your thoughts.  If you have ten minutes, break it down into an opening, body and conclusion.

Opening:  On a ten minute presentation, one minute for an opening is ideal.

Body:  The body of the presentation is seven minutes.

Conclusion:  Wrap up your remarks in two minutes.

Granted, this is a simplification.  I can hear your brains saying, “Easy for you to do.”  You will amaze yourself how well you will do.  1 + 7 + 2 = 10 minutes and you are off the stage.



Open with something interesting.  Your audience decides in the first seven seconds if they like you and in the first thirty seconds if they want to hear what you have to say.  Make your first seconds count.

Boring speakers open with the unpleasant pleasantries of “It’s nice to be here” “Thank you for coming” “Glad to see you.”  Don’t waste your precious opening seconds.  Boring openings send the audience scurrying to check their smartphone for messages.

Open with a shocking statistic, a quotation, something humorous or a quick story.  The opening is designed to create attention and interest. When you open with something interesting, you create the impression that the meeting will not be a waste of their time.

Just as a beautiful woman catches the eye, captivates the attention and inspires the interest to want to know more, so does your opening.


The main part of your message includes the information you want to convey.  The easiest way to think about the body is by answering the question, “What do you want them to think, feel or do?”

If seven minutes feels like a long time, consider that the average cell phone call is three minutes and 15 seconds.  Conference phone calls run slightly longer.  Mentally think of yourself as making one video conference phone call.

The easiest way to organize the main portion of your message is to state your central point and back it with statistics, a story or by highlighting a benefit to them.

Tie your message in to the purpose of the meeting.  Make a point and support it.  The more they know the value they receive by following your idea, the more buy-in you will receive.

Seven minutes gives you enough time to thoroughly cover one point.  The temptation is to hint at several topics and not really cover any of them.  If you attempt to cover too many topics in a short period of time the audience becomes confused or overwhelmed.  As you know so well, the confused or overwhelmed mind does nothing.


Summarize your main points and leave them with your “walk away message.”  In a sales presentation you give a call to action.  Here your call to action is what you want them to think, feel or do after you speak.

Bring your remarks full circle by summarizing your main point, your call to action and tying in your opening.

Just like that beautiful woman leaves you wanting more, you are leaving your audience wanting to hear more from you.

In a Nutshell

Have confidence in yourself.  You are probably the only person who knows that you are nervous.  Public speaking will not be fatal.

Give an interesting opening, one well supported point, and a conclusion with a “walk away message.”

Elaine Love writes for, Small Business Examiner and  Her expertise is in small business, marketing, mindset for business and speaking coaching.  Her credentials include Masters Degrees in Communication, 35 years of entrepreneurial awards including “International Innovator of the Year,” World Class Speaking Coach, and author of 3 books.  Contact Elaine on Google+ at +Elaine. 

A Presentations Skills Quiz, Effective Openings and Panic to Power presentation guides are an email away.  Send Elaine your contact information and one speaking challenge you are facing.  You will receive the guide and

December 18, 2012

The Power of Negative Thinking

Filed under: Planning — Tags: , , , — Mike Van Horn @ 9:32 am

Why bother planning? There’s so much uncertainty!

Good article in Wall Street Journal! Will make your blood boil! Or maybe you’ll say, “Hmmm, I see the value in that.” A few key ideas that excite me:

“Many successful business people reject the idea of setting firm goals.” They reject the value of setting big, audacious SMART goals—“specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, and timely.”

Things are too uncertain for this. Instead of choosing a goal and then making a plan to achieve it, look at the means and materials at your disposal, then imagine the possible ends.

Use the “affordable loss principle.” Instead of focusing on the spectacular rewards from a venture, ask how great the loss would be if it failed. If the potential loss seems tolerable, take the next step.

Use “defensive pessimism.” Just thinking in detail about worst-case scenarios can sap their anxiety-producing power.

Since I lead planning workshops, why would this excite me? We try to accommodate these ideas in our planning:

— Get your plan done on just one sheet of paper. If you can’t write it on a page, you can’t do it in a year anyway.

— Focus on your toughest challenges, uncertainties, dilemmas, choice points. Any plan that ignores these is bound to fail.

— Balance between business and the rest of your life is a key goal. Build it into your plan.

— Plan for how you will deal with uncertainties. The more uncertainty, the more flexibility.

— Be steadfast pursuing your goals—until it’s time to shift. When a goal has been left behind by events, change it. It’s deadly to stick with it.

Our Small Business Success plan workshop helps you get your plan for the year done and presented to others for their feedback.

December 11, 2012

Planning for Small Business Growth

Filed under: Planning — Tags: , , — Mike Van Horn @ 10:38 am

5 Tips for Getting Your 2013 Plan Done

Business owners have a love/hate relationship with planning. We know that regular planning Small business success workshopboosts our chances of success. But it’s hard to carve out time to get it done. Here are five tips for getting it done without making a big deal of it.

Tip #1. JUST DO IT! Get it down in writing. “I’ve got my plan right here in my head” just doesn’t cut it.
Too many business owners let planning slide. Do it every year, or more often if need be.

Tip #2. Be concise. I tell people in our plan workshops that if you can’t write it on a page, you can’t get it done in a year anyway.

Tip #3. Be practical. Write a plan for yourself, that you can follow and achieve. Don’t write a plan to look good for others. Don’t set blue-sky goals just to “push yourself.” Set no goal without doable action items that will get you there.

Tip #4. Tackle your biggest dilemmas, choice points, uncertainties–not just the positive stuff. Any plan that neglects how you will handle these challenges is bound to fail.

Tip #5. Follow up. Build in a plan to review your progress periodically. And it’s best to involve others in this, so you can’t fool yourself. My clients present their action plans to each other and get feedback. This forces them to think things through and clarify their assumptions, so they can defend their goals. Thus, they achieve their goals!

And one bonus tip:

Tip #6. Stick to your plan–until it’s time to change it. Things change during the year, and you need to shift your targets and strategies to accommodate. Balance steadfastness and flexibility in your planning.

Get Your Plan Done in one day at our annual planning workshop. Get 2013 started off right! First session is coming up–Monday, December 17, in San Rafael. More sessions in January–including a virtual session available to people anywhere.

Save 50%! If you’ve taken the workshop before, you get a 50% discount.

Recruit a colleague and both you and they get 25% off. Please forward this to your friends.

November 21, 2012

Crowdfunding for a business venture

Filed under: Finances — Tags: , , , , — Mike Van Horn @ 10:26 am

Q. Have you used crowdfunding sites to raise money for a business project. Asked on LinkedIn by Brandon Schaefer

I see potential problems with doing this. A business project is meant to make a profit, and earn a return for the investors. If the investors are crowdfunders, how do they ever benefit other than feeling good about supporting a business they like?

I see four ways to view such a contribution:

1. It’s a gift. I don’t expect to get it back. I’m giving it to you because I believe in what you’re doing.

2. It’s a loan, with no recourse. If you do well, I’d like my money back, with interest. If you go belly up, so be it.

3. It’s prepayment for services. I’ll put money into your business in the expectation that when you get going, you’ll provide me with product or services of comparable value. Perhaps a plaque with my name on one of your cafe tables.

4. It’s an equity investment. I expect to own a piece of your business, have a share of the profits as dividends, and to benefit on the upside if you sell it later at a premium. I want oversight on how you’re running the business.

If I’m a crowdfunder for you, several things would really irritate me, perhaps to the point of lawsuits:

1. You squander the money, just out of lousy planning and management

2. You divert the money to other uses, such as fancy offices or expensive travel

3. You make a bundle and ignore me. With my $1k investment (among others) you grow your company and Google buys you out, making you rich, then you won’t take my phone calls.

How are these potential situations handled on crowdfunding sites? What are the obligations of the person receiving the funds? What are the rights and recourse of the contributors? This is why we have contracts. The crowdfunding deals I’ve heard of sound kind of loosey goosey.  Fuzzy agreements now = lawsuits later.

If it’s for a good cause–say, you’re raising money to go plant trees to restore the rain forest–then I view my contribution as a gift, and expect nothing back.

But if I’m investing in a business that expects to make a profit, then I want some contractual accountability.

So when you look at Crowdfunding sites, see how they address all these questions and others


November 12, 2012

New Entrepreneurs’ Biggest Mistakes

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tags: , , , — Mike Van Horn @ 3:20 pm

Asked on MosaicHub by IcanNY

I see several big mistakes by entrepreneurs that can cut either way. Or even three ways:

1. Spending money before it is absolutely necessary–especially on overhead.
Or, on the other side . . . Failing to go all in, not spending as much as you need when the window of opportunity opens wide.

2. Plunging ahead too quickly before you are ready. Going to market with beta.
Or . . . Hesitating, waiting too long, so that others pass you by. Striving for perfection instead of good enough.
Or . . . Beating a dead horse. Sticking with something long after you should have written it off and moved on.

3. Being the Lone Ranger. Taking too much on yourself, thinking you’re the smartest, and that you know all the answers.
Or . . . Being indecisive. Listening to too many voices and viewpoints, trying to satisfy everybody.

4. Micromanager. Hiring good people but always looking over their shoulder, telling them how to do their job.
Or . . . Laissez faire. Hiring good people then turning them loose, giving too little guidance and feedback.
Or . . . Switching back and forth between these two. That REALLY drives your people crazy!

We all do these things. I’ve probably made every one of these mistakes! You can recover.

In my book, How to Grow Your Business without Driving Yourself Crazy, I show how to avoid these errors, and how to recover once you commit them.


November 6, 2012

How to Name Your New Company

Asked on MosaicHub by Jackie G.

Here are 10 rules for naming your new company.

Don’t rush it. A bad company name is tougher to dump than a bad spouse!

Brainstorm to start with. Bring in a few savvy allies and start tossing out both sensible and crazy ideas. Write ‘em all down. The most outrageous suggestion might later spark the most practical name. Listen to yourself as you explain to people what you do, or when they then paraphrase what you do.

After you narrow down the candidate names, run them by people who might be your clients. If you get blank stares, scratch that one. If their eyes show recognition, you’re getting close. Listen for the one that clicks. I bought my company, and retained the (so-so) name, The Business Group. But my slogan, which is my top selling tool, just popped out of my mouth when I was explaining to someone what I do. (It’s “Grow Your Business without Driving Yourself Crazy®.”)

Try to find a name for which the URL is available. If not exactly, then very close. I failed at this, because my company name is too generic. But I got the “dot biz” version. (Your URL must be something you don’t have to spell for people. No hyphens, underscores, abbreviations, or cutesy made up words.)

Can your company name actually tell what you do and convey a benefit to the desired customer? If you can come up with one that does, use it. Even pay for it if you have to

Select a name in conjunction with clarifying your brand and designing your logo. Also choose your tagline or slogan this way.

What about clever made-up names? If people don’t get it instantly, it’s no good. The companies that successfully use made-up words for their name have a million dollar promo budget to drum it into the public consciousness. You don’t have that. For every Google and Xerox, there are dozens of failed names that just evoke a “Huh?” response from people

If you need to launch and don’t yet have a name that clicks, operate under your own name. Then when the right name pops out, register that as a DBA.

If you decide to use your own name, use your last name, not first. “Jackie’s Resume Service” sounds small; “Turner Executive Job Placement” sounds corporate.

If you use your name, is this a problem when you want to sell? Not necessarily. A client of mine just sold her company for $1 million, even though it had her last name. The buyer plans to retain the name.

There’s a trade-off between being too specific and too generic. You could be “The Turner Group,” which says nothing but allows you to diversify. “Turner Executive Placement” is specific, conveys a benefit, but could get in the way if you diversify.

But the less generic and more specific, the more likely you can register the corresponding URL. E.g., “” may well be available.

November 5, 2012

Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tags: , , , — Mike Van Horn @ 3:35 pm

From LinkedIn question by Ayoola Stephen Efunkoya: “Do we all have what it takes to be entrepreneurs?”

It doesn’t matter if everyone has what it takes to be entrepreneurial. Enough do. Let them create jobs for the rest.

Do YOU have what it takes? That’s all that matters to you. Sounds like you already have several qualities needed by entrepreneurs. Here are the basic qualities. How would you rate yourself?

Profit drive. Do you have a strong drive to make a profit from your entrepreneurial efforts, in addition to serving others and getting satisfaction and pleasure?entrepreneurial vision

Market sense. Secondly, do you have a good sense of what you could sell that people would pay for–and pay enough so that you can make a profit and provide yourself with a good living?

Organizer. Third, are you good at organizing resources–ideas, capital, people, equipment, vendors–needed to build and manage an efficient and productive endeavor?

Visionary. Fourth, do you have a vision of how all this could unfold, and where you could take it? It’s okay to start out with a fuzzy vision–most of us do.

Risk taker. Fifth, are you willing to take a big risk, and go for it even when it’s all very uncertain?

Planner. Finally, can you pull all this together in a plan that you can follow and that others can understand?

If you can do these things, you can be an entrepreneur. You don’t have to be at 100% with all these; we all start out small and inadequate. But we go ahead anyway–because we WANT it.

Or maybe because we are forced into it, and have no option. Necessity is the mother of entrepreneurship!

One other thing. Not all entrepreneurs go into business. You can be entrepreneurial in a non-profit, in an educational or scientific or artistic organization, in an NGO. You can even be entrepreneurial working in a large corporation, if you pick your place carefully.



How to Generate Referral Business

Asked on LinkedIn by Shaun Caldwell

Referrals and introductions from clients are still our #1 source of new clients. Introductions from referral sources are much more likely to become clients than, say, cold calls. Here’s the approach we use. Just a few steps:

1. Provide excellent service to your clients so they will talk you up.

2. Ask them for referrals. Tell them who you want: “I want someone as good as you are, who has . . . . (list the desired qualities).” And ask for an introduction, not just a name and number, so that the prospect will expect your call.

3. Follow up! Don’t drop out these referrals and introductions. Sounds obvious, but this happens so often.

4. Let your client know the outcome. What happened with the person they introduced you to? New client? Not interested? Could never reach them? Doesn’t matter–just tell them.

5. Thank them. Doesn’t have to be monetary. I have tried both the reward and no-reward approaches. Most of my clients do not care about getting a money reward. But some do, and I give them a discount off their next month’s services with me. All of them get my profuse thanks!

6. GIVE referrals. The best reward for an excellent referral is giving one back. I notice that when people offer me money for a referral, I’m not interested. But I will drum up business for them if they give me good referrals in return!

So take the lead in giving referrals to those you’d like to get referrals from.

On the other hand, I have taken people off my list who are always asking for referrals but never give any back.

7. After a suitable time, ask for another referral.

8. All referral sources are not the same. Keep track of what quality referrals you get from different sources, and take particularly good care of your take referral sources. I’m talking dinner for two at the best local restaurant.

If someone makes a so-so referral to you, pass them along to a more appropriate person. Then thank your source and tell them what kind of referrals you can really help the most. You can convert a so-so source into an excellent source in this way.

Other kinds of referrals. What else do you want referrals to? I’m always looking for informal speaking gigs, so I ask people what small business organizations they know of that bring in speakers. All the above rules apply.

Marketing funnel for developing referral sources who aren’t already clients is shown in the diagram. Look for professionals who offer complementary services, are not competitors, and who work with the kind of people you want as clients. In my case, this includes CPAs and bookkeepers, IT consultants, web designers. Also people who work for small business support organizations.

Get testimonials. By the way, when asking for a referral, also ask for a testimonial statement, and be ready to record it right then when it is given. The first words out of their mouth will be the best. If you say, “Let me get some paper and write that down. Now, can you say that again?” They won’t be able to recreate it. Testimonials and referrals go together, since the person referred will first check your blog, website, and LinkedIn profile.


October 23, 2012

Has Small Business Marketing Changed Completely?

Filed under: Marketing — Tags: , , — Mike Van Horn @ 11:23 am

For growing small businesses, is marketing today completely different? Many say yes. It’s all about social media.

But this is not the whole story. Despite all the effort I put into social media, I still get 80% of my business the “old fashioned” ways:

— referrals from existing clientsmarketing priorities

— former clients coming back

— public speaking

— networking at small business venues

— my website

People I meet via LinkedIn and other forums, from ezines, via selling ebooks on Amazon, etc. account for the other 20%. So getting my face out there is still #1 by a long shot.

An example: Last Friday at a birthday party for a friend, I got to talking with a woman whom I learned works for chain of schools for massage therapists. When she heard what I do, she said, “We should bring you in to teach our soon-to-be-graduates how to run their practice as a ‘real business.'” Now I could get more business from this one dinner conversation than from all the social media I’ve ever done.

Also, there are the eternal verities of marketing that are just as true with online marketing. Things like:

— Your branding has to be consistent and appealing

— You have to know what your targets want, what message will appeal to them, where they hang out, and how to reach them there. You must know who is NOT your target, so you don’t waste time on them.

— You must take people through the stages of marketing, not try to ram your product down their throat, build relationships, address their concerns.

— You’ve got to ask for the sale!

— You must give excellent customer service.

etc., etc.

These rules are just as true for Facebook and Twitter as for people walking in through the front door of your brick and mortar.

This doesn’t mean you can ignore social media and web presence. Even people you meet face-to-face immediately check you out on the internet. But you must view your online presence, including social media, as an integrated part of your broader marketing strategy. More on what this looks like next post.








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