5 Strategic Planning Models for Design Firms

The 5 Strategic Planning Models - Which is Right For Your Company?

Strategic planning can be very important to the success or failure of a company. However, there is no one model that can be used for every for every company. When choosing a strategic planning model, companies need to take into account which model fits best with what they are trying to accomplish, then modify if need be to better suite their specific needs. Here are the five strategic planning models, as well as what they are best used for.

Basic Strategic Planning
This basic process is often utilized by small companies who are simply too busy to engage in other kinds of strategic planning. It is also common with companies who have not engaged in this kind of planning previously. Basic strategic planning involves identifying a purpose, often referred to as a "mission statement," then identifying the goals that must be met in order to achieve this mission. Strategies are then put in place to achieve the goals, along with action plans that can be followed. The overall plan is monitored and updated as needed, until success is achieved.

Goal-Based Planning
Goal-based planning is often the second step a company takes after initially working with basic strategic planning. This kind of planning explores specific goals in a more in-depth fashion, and is often used to identify and prioritize some of the major goals within an organization. Strategies and action plans are then devised, and the necessary roles and responsibilities required for implementation are established. While similar in many ways to basic strategic planning, goal-based planning is generally more formalized and structured in its approach.

Alignment Model Planning
The alignment model is often by companies in order to fine-tune and adjust strategies that are already in place. It can be very useful for determining why certain strategies are not working for a company, and what should be done to remedy the situation. This method can be very effective when dealing with internal efficiency problems. The process involves outlining the overall mission, evaluating the programs that are already in place, the resources that are currently available, and the need for any additional support. The existing problems are identified, then adjustments are devised and incorporated into the strategic plan as needed.

Scenario Planning
Scenario planning can be very useful to determine "what-if" situations. This kind of planning is often utilized to evaluate the effect that external forces may have on an organization. For each possible scenario, strategies are developed which can be used to help a company respond to the potential changes.

Organic Planning
This style of planning is more ongoing in nature, as it focuses less on specific methods and more on "lessons learned." Using this planning method, an overall vision is determined, then there is an ongoing dialog about what processes may be necessary in order to achieve the vision. By its very nature, this style of planning often returns slower results, but it can also be quite effective when used properly.

By Eric Douglas
Photography by Adam Borkowski

Eric Douglas is Leading Resources, Inc. principal consultant with expertise in strategic planning, leadership development and change management. Eric has authored two books. The first is Straight Talk: Turning Communication Upside Down for Strategic Results. The book, a main selection of the Executive Book Club, offers a powerful approach to communication, decision making and leadership. His newest book is titled Leading at Light Speed. Eric, who has been recognized by the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC) for his work, serves on numerous boards of directors and devotes considerable time to charitable and community projects. He lives with his wife and family in Northern California. Eric Douglas can be contacted at efdouglas@leadingresources.com


Brand Management Tips for Designers

Everything You Need To Know About Branding and Brand Management

Let's find out more.

If we want to understand what brand management is, we first need to understand what branding is. Anytime a company or business brands a product, they create a promise to their customers. Nike, for example, brands their products with the slogan "Just Do It". It is simple, it is memorable, and it communicates a message to the audience as to what their product is all about. In creating their brand, they have given their audience something to remember them by - and remind them what they do! Branding is much of the reason why large companies such as Nike, McDonalds, and Hallmark are so successful. Your company may not be as big as these ones, but small business branding is still just as important.

Understanding what a brand is, we can now understand what brand management is. When it comes to small business branding, developing a good brand can capture your customer's attention and make you memorable. It is important to remember that people can have positive or negative memories. Just because your business is memorable, doesn't mean that people have a positive memory of it. It is your job as a business owner to make your brand name memorable in a positive way. This is where small business branding management comes into play.

Brand management, as the name states, involves the management of the brand. It involves managing both the tangibles and intangibles. The intangibles are usually related to the emotional connections that people have with your product or service and can usually be related back to your branding tagline or logo. Hallmark's tagline, for example, is "when you care enough to send the very best". A tagline such as this develops an emotional connection between the customer and the product. And when you have an emotional connection, you have a loyal customer.

Aside from the intangibles, brand management also involves managing the tangibles. If you want people to associate your brand with positive memories, you need to create positive memories. You can do this by providing excellent customer service, ensuring timely delivery (if applicable), offering fair prices, providing high quality products, and simply doing anything that you can to ensure your customer is happy with your business.

Small business branding is extremely important in gaining and maintaining customers. Through branding and brand management, a business can convey a message, establish an emotional relationship with customers, and establish connections with loyal customers. Keep in mind, however, that a successful brand is only as good as your management techniques. If your management techniques are poor, a negative memory will be associated with your brand - and a negative memory can be even worse than no memory at all.

By Silvia Pencak
Photography by Michael Ransburg

Silvia Pencak is The Magnetic Look Expert and Mentor. For over 7 years Silvia kept building successful venues in Europe and Canada. She became known as the expert in building a powerful brand and is often asked for advice in management, marketing and organizational areas of building a personal and business brand. Over the years she started to notice that power of branding, authenticity, relationship building and marketing efforts can make or break a successful business. Silvia shares her expertise online at http://MagneticLook.com to help other women entrepreneurs build successful brand and extraordinary lifestyle and to support those who don't settle for a mediocre business and average lifestyle. Join Silvia and others for the Stand Out and Thrive Teleseries http://standoutandthrive.com


7 Signs That It's Time to Fire a Client

It's an issue faced by business owners worldwide -- having to let go of, or "fire" a client. When I started my business, it's not a situation I ever thought I would face, as I was happy to take on almost anyone that wanted to hire me. However, over time, my client scrutinizing skills became more acute, and I began to realize that not every client is a perfect client for me. In fact, more than 50% of the people I speak with are not a good fit for one reason or another. Just like Donald Trump in "The Apprentice", sometimes you just have to say, "You're fired!"
What happens to your business when you keep clients that are PITA (I'll let you figure out that acronym) clients? All of your time and energy is drained in serving these clients, you lose any enthusiasm you ever had for your business, and you no longer have the time or desire to go out and market yourself and continue to fill your client roster. You become angry and resentful of the clients that are dragging you down and begin to question yourself about why you started a business in the first place.
Disengaging from a poor client choice can be painful, and often it's not easy. However, given the alternative, letting go of that client is a healthy route to follow. I found a great quote on the topic of "letting go" by author Benjamin Shield in his book, Handbook for the Soul: "Letting go is one of the most difficult challenges human beings ever face. I've always pictured letting go as transformation moving from a closed fist to an open hand. As we take an open-handed attitude toward life, we can be free of the self-made obstructions that litter our path. This process requires a willingness to shed our persona--those inauthentic trappings we hold onto for identity but that no longer serve us. The choice to let go frees us to follow the pathway to our soul."
I can very much relate to this quote -- freeing yourself from a bad client choice does provide the pathway to follow your soul. Finding the perfect clients with whom you resonate will bring joy back into your life and business once again, thus putting you back in touch with your business and life vision and reconnecting to your soul. Life is too short to work with PITA clients. Check your client roster against these 7 signs -- is it time for you to shake out your client roster?
1. You dread every phone call from the client. If you're constantly ducking someone's call because you find it painful or exhausting to speak with them, or the conversation invariably makes you angry or resentful, it's time to take some action to remedy the situation. How much more would you enjoy your day-to-day client interactions if you looked forward to taking your client's calls?
2. The client nitpicks every single expense and insists that tasks should take anyone else as long to do. I've had clients who "knew" I was shortchanging them and insisted that what I was doing for them wouldn't take others in my field as long to complete, and I should adjust my bill accordingly. I've discovered that this lack of trust is about the client, not about me, and that I'm more than competent and skilled in what I do. Don't let a "nitpicker" make you doubt yourself --there are other client fish in the sea.
3. Emergency requests are the only type of requests your client makes of you. No one likes to be under the gun, and trying to do something quickly and under pressure stifles all creativity and thoroughness. Some people are addicted to adrenaline and like to stay in the urgent all the time. However, living the urgent is a high-stress way to live your life, and the toll it takes on body and spirit is substantial. A better client choice is someone who adequately plans and prepares his time, so that emergencies are rare.
4. Lack of client follow-through prevents any progress from being made. Do you spend all of your time with a client in review of plans and what's supposed to be done, yet seldom ever get to the point of completion so that you can move to the next stage? Nothing is more frustrating than a client who says she wants to achieve a certain result, but seems to be immobilized in the planning stage. Consequently, you spend all of your time with the client in review rather than in action. Perhaps you're able to put on a "coaching" hat and help the client see the roadblocks she's facing. However, if she's unwilling to discuss what's stopping her and your frustration level is growing at her lack of action, it's probably time to cut her loose and let her go.
5. Your client loves to micromanage. Typically, when I'm hired by a client, they have a problem to solve and I offer the perfect solution to their problem. However, I've had clients who don't let me solve their problem in the way that I think is best. They insist on having to approve every step along the way and must be involved in every single detail. In many cases, they are accustomed to having employees and erroneously believe that good management entails micromanaging each step an employee takes. A great client is someone who hires you to solve a problem and doesn't really care how you resolve it -- they are willing to give you the room and latitude to bring your experience to the table and help them resolve their issue.
6. Delegation is a skill completely foreign to your client. Most business owners know that in order to be successful in your business, you can't do it all alone. A successful business owner has a great team to which she consistently delegates tasks that she doesn't have the time to do, while she is out there looking for new business opportunities. If your client refuses to let go of anything and insists on doing the very things you were hired to do, your client hasn't grasped the notion of "lost opportunity costs". Sometimes it's simply easier for a business owner to work "in" the business rather than "on" the business, as the latter usually means that you have to be in the marketing and sales mode -- a mode that many business owners hate. A great client does what she does best and delegates the rest.
7. Money issues plague your client. Can your clients really afford to hire you? Sometimes they're in a start-up phase, or they're just experiencing a cash flow crunch. They obsess over your fee in every conversation that you have, and are usually slow to pay your invoices. The time and energy you spend in chasing their payment is very draining. A better client is one who understands your payment requirements and is easily able to afford and pay your fee.

By Donna Gunter
Copyright 2006 Donna Gunter
Photography by Leloft

Discover how to stop the client chase and create an online service business drives traffic to your web site with free instant access to 7 proven internet marketing strategies that separate the top 1% of online businesses from the rest by visiting http://www.TurbochargeYourOnlineMarketing.com


6 Red Hot P.R. Strategies to Use Right Now!

How to Make Publicity Work for Your Business:
Six P.R. Strategies to Use Right Now

Public Relations (or P.R.) is a wonderful, yet often overlooked marketing tool. P.R. is an intangible - making it a tough sell for many P.R. professionals. It is our job to sell the concept and show the client how it will enhance marketing efforts and, in many cases, replace costly or one-off advertising. Public relations is just that - relating to the public. Every outward communication should be carefully executed and the mission of the company should never be compromised. How do your customers find you? How does the public perceive your business? These points can be incorporated into a P.R. strategy that maintains consistent messages to your customers, thereby keeping your company top of mind and, in turn, growing your business.

Below are six P.R. strategies that can be implemented today. Whether you hire an outside professional or keep your publicity in-house, these strategies should be a part of your marketing plan.

1. Brand Building: It is very common for businesses to use advertising in brand-building strategies, however publicity can be less expensive and much more effective in establishing a brand's identity. One complimentary news piece in a publication read by your target consumer can produce significant results. Publicity, whether performed by an external company or executed in-house, can also be cost-effective.

Several online distribution services are available making the cost to send out a press release affordable, and sometimes even free depending on desired reach. It is important that any news release is informative and factual. Many of the online distribution services even offer templates to assist in the development of a release for a small fee. Before paying for such a service, however, be sure to identify hidden talent in your organization - there may be a great writer in your midst.

2. Generate Press Releases: Press releases are for announcing newsworthy information to the media only. If the information is not news, it should not be announced. In addition to news, a press release should contain only facts - not hype. Business as usual is not news. Celebrating a milestone such as a ten-year anniversary, one-millionth sale, or appointing a new CEO is newsworthy. In many cases, a newsworthy story can be developed with some creativity.

For example, if your company manufactures comfortable walking shoes you can create a "Walk to Work" day. Provide fun facts about the health benefits of walking and why the right walking shoes are so important. This can be pitched to your local media outlets and may get picked up nationally. Many times current events will also create an opportunity for a press release (see #3.) Remember to always include your company's website at least once and be sure accurate contact information is listed.

3. Tap Into Media Trends: Many times businesses can tie into current events and trends in the media. For example, if the evening news is covering storm damage to an area in your town and your company sells a product or service that would benefit people living in those areas, you have a topical news announcement. Call, fax or email the news desk and tell them about your product and why their viewers need to know about it. Be sure to mention that your story idea is time-sensitive. Watch your local news for one week and take notes. Identify what types of stories the local reporters are covering. Chances are at least one of the subjects covered was a direct result of a recent news story. Listen and learn how one led to the other then be ready to pitch your service or product when future opportunities arise.

4. Increase Awareness by Increasing Search Engine Listings: Each time a release is distributed over the internet or a story is written and posted online, be sure your company's web address is included. The more links to your site, the better the exposure your site will receive in search engines. In addition to press releases, link swapping, article postings, quotes, and endorsements are great ways to generate links online. Google your company and your competitor's company daily. If your company is not as prominent as your competitor's, read their results listings and learn what they are doing to generate links.

5. Website Improvements Produce More Traffic: Optimize your company's website often. Be sure keywords on the website are targeted toward your consumers. Ask customers what words they would enter in a search engine when looking for your products or services and add those to your keywords. Small adjustments can mean a big difference in traffic to the site and subsequently increased business. Constantly updating web content is an easy and effective way to generate better search engine results. Be sure to update news and information at least once a month. Always add press release announcements to your website press area - and be sure your press area is easy to find, easy to read, and easy to print.

6. Highlight Expertise: One of the best ways to generate publicity is to establish expert credibility with the media. Do competitors continually get quoted in industry trade publications and you don't? They've probably done a good job of alerting the media about their expertise in your field. Don't worry, however, all journalists want to have more than one expert in any field. Begin to define yourself as an expert by writing articles, including the word expert in press releases, biographies, announcements, and descriptions. If you make a living doing what you do, you are an expert. If you are having trouble determining your area of expertise: ask friends, family, and colleagues to help identify your strengths and start spreading the word. Update the company description on your website right now by including your newly identified expertise and you've accomplished #5 and #6 already!

By Angela Garcia
Photography by Lisa Mckown

Angela Garcia is a founding partner in Starfish Public Relations, a Los Angeles based public relations and marketing company specializing in personality driven strategies. Garcia has held several positions in the entertainment industry including HITS Magazine, Warner Bros. Records, Maverick Records, MCA Records, and House of Blues Entertainment. She credits her success to her creative and enthusiastic approach to work and life. For more information about Angela Garcia and Starfish P.R. please visit: http://www.starfish-pr.com


Helpful Suggestions For Managing Difficult Clients

(and...How to Avoid a Client Turning Difficult in the First Place!)

Every [design] consultant has had to deal with a difficult client. The nice thing about being a consultant - you just need to get through the project and you will be able to move on - you don't necessarily have to work with that client ever again. But really, that's not what you want, is it? Ideally you develop a strong working relationship with a client so that when another project comes up, the client thinks of you first. You become a partner with the client, not just a one-time deal.

There are many examples of what might be considered a difficult client - refusal to pay for services rendered (certainly sometimes with good reason), frequently changing the objectives of the project, not signing off on documents to move a project forward, avoiding responsibility for their component of the project (e.g., not making needed decisions), pressing for solutions before analysis is completed, etc. These are just a few examples - no doubt you have many more!

Let's look at how to best handle difficult clients. One thing I have found to be most beneficial is to develop strong client working relationships right from the very start - this builds trust and credibility and makes the difficult conversations with the client a bit smoother and easier. I often find that difficulties with clients arise when things are not agreed upon in the first place or are not well documented.

Difficult clients sometimes look for an "out" of their agreement with you. To avoid this, I recommend documenting all conversations with a client right from the beginning of the first contact with them. I do this and it seems to be quite effective. I share the information with them as follow up to a phone call or a face-to-face meeting we have had. This helps to ensure I understand the client's needs and have not forgotten anything. It also provides the client with the opportunity to add to the status report - correcting what I may have misunderstood or to add in some new piece of information he/she may have forgotten during our conversation. It always includes a "next steps" section with due dates and roles and responsibilities.

This document also serves me well if there is a misunderstanding or expectation from the client once a project is underway. I can always refer back to this documentation, and refer the client back to it, to clarify something or correct any misperception. When working with a client on developing the scope of the project, be sure you are working with the right person at the client site. You want to be working with someone with the authority to make decisions and sign off on documents (such as the project charter and project scope statement.) Don't just assume the individual working with you is authorized. I have seen this get many consultants in trouble with the client and gives the client an out in paying the invoice.

When working on a client project, I update the client, at least weekly (sometimes daily depending on the project) on the status with a formal report. My status report will include at least this information:

  • What should have been accomplished in the week
  • What was actually accomplished in the week
  • Any variances and why (root cause of variances)
  • Activities to be accomplished in the following week
  • Any issues identified and corrective actions planned or preventive actions taken
  • Any questions or issues I need the client to address

I follow up the status report with a phone call or a face-to-face meeting. This keeps the client in the loop regarding the project's progress and lets them know of any issues right up front and how they are being addressed or if I need the client's support in addressing the issues. No surprises this way and the client can't state later that no information has been shared with them or that they didn't know about an issue. A client who is kept in the loop feels better about the project - even if there are issues arising - because you are not hiding what is going on and you are being responsive by addressing issues immediately as they occur. During the phone call or face-to-face meeting, I ask the client about how things are going from their perspective. If they come up with issues, I document that and send that information to the client to be sure I have captured the information correctly. I also include a plan for addressing the issues that the client has brought up. Being responsive helps to further strengthen and develop the relationship with your client.

As the main client contact (and head of the project) I always take responsibility for what goes wrong. Don't pass the buck or blame your team, a subcontractor, or someone else for the problems. You are the key person - it is your responsibility. And I never go to the client with a problem unless I have some potential options for resolution. I also tell my team that I don't just want a problem brought to my attention - come with some options for fixing the issue.

In speaking with Sarat Varanasi (a fellow blogger), he offered the following information concerning clients who don't want to pay an invoice. From his perspective, and many other consultants I know feel the same way, this is likely a sign of poor project and relationship management. Bottom line - you did something wrong! A good project manager or relationship manager stays in constant communication with his/her client. He/she shows tangible progress to the client, knows the clients concerns and addresses client issues proactively on a regular basis rather than waiting until the client is angry or until the end of the month when the invoice has arrived and the client refuses to pay. A good project or relationship manager is well aware of how the client will react to issues that occur. If a mistake is made, he/she will admit to the mistake and have a plan in place to remedy the issue. By owning up to the mistake, good will and trust is retained with the client. This will help you turn around a tough client and certainly make for a better working relationship. According to Sarat, ignoring the mistake in the hopes that the client will not notice and/or will forget is never a good choice! Once the project is done and the client refuses to pay the invoice, or even a part of the invoice, because he/she is unhappy with the work, your options are limited. You can try pushing back on the client and providing a discount for the work, but likely you have limited your ability to do future work with this client. An unhappy client will remain an unhappy client.

I'm OK with clients who want to change something on the project (let's not assume this is necessarily a difficult client.) But I make sure there is a formal change process in place - and the client knows what that change process is and how it works. This protects everyone and avoids a client turning to a difficult client. Changes are natural - things occur that makes a client rethink what they need. I don't outright tell a client changes are not possible. By letting them know the impact on the project cost and the timeline for the project, they can better make a decision as to whether that change is really necessary. If there is a possibility of making the change with a "second release" of the project, and that may be more cost effective for the client, I let them know about that option. Work with a client who wants changes to the project - putting your foot down and saying "no," or worse yet agreeing to everything doesn't benefit anyone.

I always make sure the client is actively involved in projects. This also helps avoid difficult clients who like to have "plausible deniability" about what is going on. I ask a client to assign a project manager from the client-side to work with the team. This means the client also takes ownership of the project. It also enables me to transition ongoing project maintenance to the client. My goal is to provide the client what they need to make sure this project was a success and not feel like they have to call on me each time they want to do something. Let me provide you an example, if a client wants me to develop a new process for something, I make sure to provide them all the information they need to update or "tweak" that process at a later date and not feel like they need to call on me to do so. Clients feel better about working with you when nothing is a mystery to them. They are involved in the project also and learn from you. Transitioning your knowledge to the client should be part of your responsibility. Believe me - you aren't losing a client. Another project comes up and they are calling on you!

So - I think you must have enough examples by now of the benefits of working closely with the client and being transparent. This helps to tone down your difficult clients. Here are a few brief bullets to help you avoid having to deal with a difficult client.

  • Make sure you have a clear project charter and scope statement for all projects that have been developed with and signed off on by the appropriate level contact at the client.
  • Have the client sign a project manager from their side to be involved in the project.
  • Be sure to develop a written status report on a regular basis and share that information with the client.
  • Have regular client meetings - whether by phone or via conference call - to update the client and get answers to questions, resolve issues, etc.
  • Don't hide anything from the client - bring up issues immediately along with a proposal for solving the issue.
  • Develop and stick to a change management plan. If changes come up - even if minor - stick to the processes for managing change requests. No exceptions here! Make sure everyone on the team knows the process and follows it.
  • Develop a detailed contract or agreement for the project that specifically includes what the consultant (that's you!) and the client expect from each other and how you are going to work together.

These steps will help you to keep a project moving in the right direction and avoid a client turning into a difficult one.

And once you have a difficult client, take these steps:

  • Set up a face-to-face meeting with the client to address their issues and concerns.
  • Develop a plan, with the client, on how to get back on track.
  • When necessary, refer back to the documentation (such as status reports, write-ups of meetings and/or conference calls, etc) and your contact with the client (see bullets above on how to avoid having a client become a difficult one.)
  • Most important - keep your cool with the client. Come to a consensus on what will work for both you and the client. Don't look to just "win." There is no real winning here if you can't remedy the situation and come to agreement.

A great resource for all consultants - whether new or you have been consulting for a while - is Peter Block's book: Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used (2nd edition).

What are some of your stories? How have you managed difficult clients? Or...better yet...how have you managed a relationship so the issue of a client turning difficult does not arise?

By Gina Abudi  
Image by Dana Bartekoske Heinemann

Gina Abudi has over 15 years consulting experience in a variety of areas, including project management, process management, leadership development, succession planning, high potential programs, talent optimization and development of strategic learning and development programs. She is the president at Abudi Consulting Group, LLC ( http://www.abudiconsulting.com ) in Amherst, NH. Gina blogs at http://www.GinaAbudi.com.
She has been honored by PMI® as one of the Power 50 and has served as Chair of PMI®s Global Corporate Council Leadership Team. Gina is currently President-Elect of PMI® Massachusetts Bay Chapter Board of Directors. She has presented at various conferences on topics ranging from general management and leadership topics to project management. Gina received her MBA from Simmons Graduate School of Management.
Copyright © 2009 - 2011 Gina Abudi - All Rights Reserved Worldwide


Best Business Bank Accounts: Top 7 Questions to Ask Before Committing

Every successful company needs an equally successful bank that offers adequate financial support to ensure a steady foundation upon which that company can build. It is vital to have a well-suited business account tailored to a company's individual needs; this helps to keep business and private finances separate while minimizing incurred fees. There are many things to consider before becoming a business customer and finding the best business bank account can be difficult.

What to Consider?

Depending upon a company's size and profitability, requirements to attain and retain a business bank account vary across financial institutions. It is crucial to choose an account that suits your business and offers incentives pertinent to your business goals. Small businesses do well to begin with a free business account and upgrade to an account with a high interest yield and low fees once the business has established good earnings.

It's a good idea to make a list of your business goals and match these with the available financial institutions in your area to determine the best business bank account for your company. Don't be fooled by flashy gimmicks and up-front offers; these may appear glamorous on the surface but fail to serve all your business needs. Compare banks to determine basic costs and available features so that you are well prepared to ask questions specific to your situation.

Questions to Help Choose the Best Business Bank Account

1. Are free business accounts available in my area? If so, do the services provided and applicable fees mesh with my business plan and available revenue?

2. Are business debit cards available? Are business credit cards available? For each type of card, be sure to ask how many cards you are allowed to have and what are the transaction fees and limits for each.

3. Is there a limit on withdrawals or will the account be charged for each withdrawal after a preset limit?

4. If I cause an overdraft, am I required to cover the applicable charges? If so, how much are these fees?

5. Is there an option to freely move monies from one bank account to another? If so, what are the estimated delays before the transferred monies are made available?

6. Is there a savings account option that accrues interest?

7. Do physical banks have branches in my area? Does this bank offer on-line banking, telephone banking, and/or mobile banking options?

Once you've determined your company's goals, and depending upon your answers to these questions, finding the right financial institution with the best business bank account for company should be fairly uncomplicated.

Free Business Checking Accounts

The word free is subject to interpretation within the financial district. Most accounts are free up to a certain point; once preset limits are surpassed, banking fees begin to accrue. If you are considering a free business account, be sure to ask about limits on transaction volume, minimum balance requirements, and maintenance fees should these limits be exceeded.

The best business bank account for your company depends mainly upon its size and business objectives. Use these as a guide to determine which business account is right for you.

By Michelle G. Woods
Photography by Mellissa King


How to Make Your Design Firm the Talk of the Town

Word-of-mouth Advertising - Spread the Word!

What is word-of-mouth advertising? Remember that great movie your friend saw or the amazing Christmas gift that your sister bought - didn't you go see that movie or shop at the same store that your sister did? Well, that, in essence is word-of-mouth advertising! To put it in simple terms, it is what goes from person to person - if you like a product, you are sure to tell your friend about it.

Word-of-mouth is second only to strong branding when it comes to building consumer trust. It is so powerful as to almost create an awareness campaign about your business. For a new business, word-of-mouth marketing is often the best and most effective advertising method. There are many things entrepreneurs and business professionals can do to generate positive word-of-mouth for their business.

Read through the list we've created for you and go ahead; make your business the talk of the town!

o Recruit friends and family: Who better to support your cause than your family and friends? Talk to friends, family and neighbors about your business. Give them pertinent information about what it is you are doing. Invite them over to your office or store so that they can see for themselves how the business is shaping up.

o Create visibility: Be active in your local community by participating in various networking groups and/or professional associations. By increasing your own visibility, you are drawing attention to your business.

o Generate referrals: Develop relationships with businesses that have clients with overlapping or similar needs. An example would be the case of a lawyer, an accountant, a financial planner and a banker all working together and referring each other as need be. This also ensures that they don't encroach upon each other's territory.

o Leverage your website: Get on the Internet! Create a website for your business. Zero in on what it is you want the viewer to do - purchase a product from you, read information, gain knowledge - and design your site accordingly. Make your website user-friendly and easy to navigate through and keep the information updated.

o Give freebies: Who does not like to get something for free? Small take away items that people can use work as a wonderful reminder of your business. For example, if you are a real estate agent, you can give away calendars designed on the theme of homes and interior design, with your business information printed on it.

o Distribute promotional literature: Use brightly colored fliers and brochures to publicize your business. Leave them where your prospective customers are likely to find them. For example, leave fliers for a floral business in restaurants and beauty parlors or brochures about your landscaping business in nurseries and garden supply stores.

o Focus on customer service: Ultimately, it is how treat your customers that will determine if your business will be a success. There can be no better advertisement than a satisfied customer. If you want your customers to spread great word-of-mouth, the entire customer experience encompassing the products, service, interaction and follow-up, must be a source of delight. Remember, a happy customer generally talks to three people, whereas an unhappy one talks to eleven!

In a nutshell, word-of-mouth advertising is about building trust and cultivating relationships. The more referrals you get from those who know and trust you, the bigger the customer base you can build.

By Akhil Shahani
Photography by © Franz Pfluegl

About the Author: Hi, I'm Akhil Shahani, a serial entrepreneur who wants to help you succeed. If you like to work smart, check out http://www.SmartEntrepreneur.net It's full of articles and resources to help you start and grow your business successfully. Please visit us & download our special "Freebie of The Month" at http://www.smartentrepreneur.net/freebie-of-the-month.html


3 Benefits of Television Marketing for Your Interior Design Firm

Television Marketing Made Simple And Easy

Marketing your business via television may prove to be a long standing venture, or a venture that most people simply ignore.

 When marketing on TV, your ad has to get the attention of the reader and do so in a timely fashion. Make sure your TV ad has the ability to get prospects' to stop what they're doing and focus in on the detail of your ad.

Television advertising used to be cheap to run in the old days, but because it has become so popular prices to do it have skyrocketed. It used to be easy to approach a news source and ask them if you could run an ad on their news station. However now, to advertise, it can easily cost you thousands of dollars.

If you still want to run a television ad, then good for you! I will give you some tips that you can use to take your business to the next level. All of these tips are easy to do, and some are actually benefits that you'll gain from running these ads. Here's the first tip that I can offer you:

1) You'll gain credibility
When people see you on TV, and then finally meet you in person, they will think of you as a celebrity. This is something that you should be happy about because celebrity status can help to boost your sales. The more your TV ads runs, the more people will know you, and the more people will visit your business.

2) You'll earn more money
Because of the broad nature of television advertising, your marketing message will reach millions of people. With this prospect base intact, it's almost easy to make more money using television advertising. The more your ad runs, the more response you will get, and the more money you will make.

3) Results are fast
This is direct response marketing at its finest. You will know quickly whether or not the TV ad is working for you. Hopefully you have a tracking system in place where you can measure how much response your TV ad is pulling. If it's not pulling in the way that you want it to, then you may want to scrap the medium altogether - because it can be quite expensive to do another test for your ad.

Television advertising has progressed over the years and because of its popularity, the costs to do it also have went up. If you think that you can profit from using television advertising, then give it a shot. For each customer that you get, make sure you have a strong marketing plan in place that will allow you to follow up with your customers in a timely manner.

By Daniel Kanuck
Photography by Florian Ispas

From Daniel: FREE BOOK Get your hands on a FREE 69-page marketing book [http://www.renegade-billionaire.com] that you can use to take your offline business to the next level. To download it today, simply visit here now: [http://www.renegade-billionaire.com].


Why Focusing on Key Target Clients is So Important

Niche Marketing: Why it is Important to Focus on Your Key Target Clients

Many small businesses are set up to serve a wide range of potential clients. For example: a website design company could help many, many businesses. After all, everyone needs a web presence, right? While that may be true, it isn't helpful in marketing terms for several reasons.

1. People focus on their own issues - everyone is concerned with bettering themselves and by extension, their business (if they have one). They also have a list of challenges facing them on a day to day basis and are looking for solutions to those challenges. Your message needs to connect with those issues. If it doesn't, it will be ignored or quickly forgotten. Broadcasting to a wide audience causes you to be general in your message (e.g. we can get any business on line fast) and the generality is where you will fail to connect with your target audience

2. People like to work with a specialist - Why? Well, specialists have a much deeper understanding of what you are going through and are less likely to be distracted by all the other things they are doing. Focus on one area. Becoming world class at that service is attractive and people will want to work with you. Again, generalist messages and spreading yourself too thin do not establish you as a specialist

3. General messages sound the same - marketing's first job is to grab attention. If you are listing similar services to your competitors there is no differentiation, no connection with your prospects and therefore nothing to make you stand out.

4. You may get clients you don't want - OK, that sounds strange. Who gets clients they don't want? Actually it happens a lot! As a small business owner time is perhaps your most valuable asset - don't spend it on clients that you don't care to work with or who drain your energy however much they pay you.

So why do small businesses so commonly put out a general message? There are a couple of reasons but most commonly it boils down to a fear of missing a client when you meet them. By keeping the message general, the thinking goes, you are more likely to catch their attention. If you get too specific, they won't recognize that you can help them. That is a genuine fear, but for the reasons above, it is self defeating. A general message DOES NOT connect with your target audience even if they hear it. They simply won't realize it is meant for them

Defining your niche, and your ideal client profile is an essential pre-requisite to effective marketing strategies. There are a number of reasons why this is so critical but the primary benefit is that this allows you to:

a) Focus on who you REALLY want to work with. Taking the time to define who your service is really intended to help, and with which issues will allow you to work with people you are passionate about helping. When you are in this space the message is always more vibrant and attractive. You can't fake passion for your business for long

b) Concentrate your efforts on marketing where these people are. This will save you huge amounts of time and energy over trying to cover all the bases. Focusing your efforts in fewer, more productive areas will yield more results and be more fun - you'll be mixing with the people you love to help. Location can be physical, or where they are concentrated on line

The following typically results from such focus:
  • You will get more clients, and not always in your ideal niche. When it is clear who you work with, people will ask you if you can do something similar for them, even if they fall slightly outside your identified target market. BY understanding your client profile you will be able to decide whether to follow up on that or not.
  • You'll know a client when you find them. More importantly, they will know when you find them. They will recognize your targeted message as intended for them and identify themselves to you. It is much more rewarding than trying to persuade a reluctant prospect to work with you.
  • Referral business will rise - when it is clear who you work with, others can bring those people to mind. For example it's far easier to think of people you know who own their own franchise business than it is to think of a more generic "businesses". The more specific the better.

There are some mindset issues around this. It is a challenge to focus as it seems as though you are cutting out options. In reality you will find the message much easier to deliver and with far more favorable, less frustrating results.

By Jerry N. Smith
Photography by Britvitch

Jerry Smith is the co-founder of Marketing Action Club, focusing on small service based businesses and independent professionals who struggle to attract quality clients consistently.Visit http://www.30SecondElevatorSpeech.com for a step by step, online program to lead you through producing an effective, attention grabbing introduction for you and your business.


Get More Clients Tips: How to Get the Clients You Need To Sustain Your Business

It is not uncommon for me to see requests come through on my website every single week with different versions of "How and where do I find more clients to keep this business running?"

Some business owners are exhausted with countless attempts to create a successful business where they're no longer worried about revenue. Others have not quite gotten the business off the ground to begin with, and are wondering if they should throw in the towel.

Both those stories are difficult to read at times, because I've personally walked in those shoes. If you're in that place, here's what I did to get on the path to consistent revenue:

1) Embrace the System that creates revenue
The system is quite simple yet, like many who seek my help, I grappled with "getting it." Randomly trying different things to get clients rarely ever works to create a sustainable business. There is an equation that works for you in your own business to generate the revenue you want, and that equation is this:

• You must have a clear and repeatable way to get leads/prospects to your door.
• You must have a clear selling process for converting those leads into paying clients.
• You must also be clear on your own conversion rate. This means, given a consistent and repeatable lead-generation and sales process what % of your prospects are you able to turn into paying clients/customers (either offline or online).

With the answers to the 3 above, you're now equipped to create a repeatable system for generating revenue in your business. Without these answers, you're likely to be shooting in the dark in your attempts to grow your business and living on "hope-ium" (simply hoping things will turn out OK). To get more clients and to create a sustainable business, you must have a reliable, repeatable, systematic method for doing so.

2) Realize that not all marketing is created equal
There are countless marketing strategies out there. When a particular form of marketing isn't working for you, you have 2 choices - ditch it in favor of something else, or tweak it to create better results. Sadly, I see entrepreneurs simply repeating the same things despite it not working. Usually it's because of:

• Not measuring the results of those marketing efforts to gauge whether it's actually working (measuring is critical to your success)
• Not knowing what else to try (see #3 below)
• Simply being committed to using free or low-cost marketing options only

I've tried (and still use) a few different free marketing methods in my business - both online and offline. But I will be transparent in sharing that I get the best results when I choose to invest in my marketing. Free methods are often the slowest paths to new clients and revenue.

It is important that your marketing attracts highly qualified leads not just random prospects or you waste a lot of time. It is also important that you find these highly qualified prospects in large numbers or you are likely experience very slow business growth. To get the clients you need to create a sustainable business, you must be willing to invest in high-impact, highly leveraged marketing strategies.

3) Choose to get off "I don't know how" island
When I struggled to attract clients and create revenue in my own business, I was in a place where I honestly did not know how to change that. But I had a choice - stay on "I don't know how" island, or do whatever it took to get the strategies and tools to create the success I wanted.

Some things I tried worked well to attract clients, others not so much, but I persisted. I was a single mom. Failure was not an option, so I had to know. I was at a conference this past weekend where my mentor said something I'll never forget. Those words were "Some of you are just doing the best you can, but you've got to realize that just beyond best-you-can is whatever-it-takes.

Those words resonated with me because, for me, not knowing how to create the revenue I wanted was an unacceptable place to be. I decisively moved from best-I-can is whatever-it-took. I made heart-thumping decisions to in myself and get a mentor when I barely had the cash to do so. I invested in executing higher-impact marketing strategies even when free options remained readily available.

I chose to make decisions based on what those decisions had the potential to create in my business vs making decisions based on what might be left in my bank account afterward. When I made decisions that way, I quickly got off "I don't know how" island. To create a sustainable business, we must decide to know and to regard "I don't know how" as unacceptable.

4) Follow the right leader
In closing, I'll share that my path to success wasn't easy and was often scary. And to be quite transparent, I continue to make what feels like scary decisions regularly. It's how I stretch, learn, and grow. I've also noticed that it's far easier to stretch and grow when I hang around with folks who are more successful than I am. One of my mentors shared a very true statement the other day... if you're the smartest person in the crowd you hang out with; don't be proud of that fact because it's probably time to find a new crowd that would challenge you and to help you get to the next level.

Over the years, many of my mentors have been multi-millionaires. Having had the privilege to get behind the curtain of success, I quickly discovered that none of them got to where they were without making many scary decisions. None created that level of success without investing in themselves and in strategies and tools to get there. None chose to stay on "I don't know" island very long. All had a clear and repeatable system that created their success. I figured... might be a good idea to follow just that.... if I wanted to get the clients and revenue I needed to create a sustainable business.

By Allison Babb
Photography by Stuart Miles

Allison Babb Phillips is internationally recognized for her keen ability to reveal untapped revenue opportunities in professional service businesses. Allison delivers powerful strategies for consistently attracting new clients into your business in the shortest time possible. After over 20 years in the corporate world, Allison left her Senior Management position and put her talents to work as an entrepreneur. Her success has been featured on many shows including CNN Radio News and the Niche TV Show. Featured in news articles, Allison is an award-winning author and the creator of the Get More Clients Faster System™, where she teaches business owners around the world, how to create a client-magnetic business. That's a business where customers are chasing after you vs you chasing after them. Known for her upbeat and down-to-earth style, Allison consistently provides a rich source of unique, revenue-generating insights on how to create the success and freedom you want in your businesses.


The 7 Deadly Sins of Press Releases

A press release is often your only chance to make a great first impression.

Newspapers, magazines and trade publications receive them by the truckload. That means sloppy, inaccurate, pointless releases are the first to hit the newsroom wastebasket. To make sure yours isn't one of them, avoid these 7 Deadly Sins:

1. Providing insufficient or wrong information on your press releases, particularly telephone numbers. Releases must be complete, accurate and specific. (Note: A news release is the same as a press release.)

2. Writing too long. They should be no longer than a page.

3. Sending it too late. Mail or fax it to local media at least two weeks before an event, preferably three or four. Major magazines work four to six months ahead of time.

4. Sending a release with no news value. News is what happens that is different. If it isn't different, it isn't news.

5. Blatant commercialism. Avoid hackneyed words and phrases such as spectacular, incredible, the only one of its kind, breakthrough, cutting-edge, unique and state-of-the-art.

6. Omitting a contact name and phone number. At the top of the first page in the left corner, let editors know who they can call if they have questions. Include day, evening and cell phone numbers.

7. Calling after you send a release and asking questions like "Did you get my news release?" or "Do you know when it will be printed?" Don't follow up with a phone call to see if the media got your release, unless you are absolutely sure that someone will check for you. Most reporters and editors don't have time. If you do follow up, make sure you have a reason to call. Suggest a particular angle to your story, or ask the media people if they need any other information.

By Joan Stewart
Photography by SugarFreeSk

Publicity expert Joan Stewart publishes the free ezine "The Publicity Hound's Tips of the Week," packed with valuable tips on how to generate thousands of dollars in free publicity. Subscribe at her website and receive free the handy cheat sheet "89 reasons to send a press release." Contact Joan at JStewart@PublicityHound.com.