Archive for July, 2007

Field Trip Friday: Ultimate Home Office

Topic: Helpful Ideas, Projects| 11 Comments »

Note: Welcome to Startup Students. If you enjoy this post, don’t forget to Stumble, comment, and subscribe to the RSS feed!

Today I’m taking you into my home office to show you how I’ve set up shop. I work out of my room (like lots of college entrepreneurs), but I make the best of it.

First a quick tour, then I’ll go into more detail on two projects you can implement for your home office.

I’ve got a corner desk, with room for writing, working on the computer, and organizing my belongings. You’ll notice two monitors and a WACOM tablet – essential tools for a web developer. Under the desk you’ll find a dual core desktop – perfect for running photoshop, flash, and dreamweaver at the same time as I often do.

I carry a laptop and my T-Mobile Dash everywhere I go, very convenient for staying in contact with my clients while on campus or around town.

Off to the right you’ll notice my filing cabinet and above that my whiteboard, and that’s the first project I’ll be discussing. I got the idea from Dave’s post over at Mind Petals and decided to put the plan into action. Click below to keep reading. Read the rest of this entry »

Dealing with Client Concerns

Topic: Competition, Market Intelligence, Startups, Strategies| 4 Comments »

I was rummaging through my old lecture notes, and came across one that I really wanted to share. It’s a great bit of information that will be very useful once the customers start rolling in. Below is a list detailing customer objections along with an appropriate response to keep the gates open. It’s much more difficult to make a sale once you’ve been shot down, but by keeping the dialog going, you’re more likely to come out on top.Calling

Just to note, these can be applied to current customer’s as well as cold calls. And, before we get started, I wanted to point out a great article I stumbled across entitled The Fine Art of Telephone Prospecting over at Freelance Switch.



“I had problems with a similar product before, and I don’t want to go through that again!” “Yes, I understand your attitude, but have you considered…”
“I’m too busy.” “That’s why I’d like to explain how I can save you time [and money] by…”
“The last salesperson I dealt with caused me all kinds of problems.” “That is a regrettable situation. It’s a shame that all members of my profession aren’t honest, but…”
“I like what I’m hearing, but I need to hold off for now.” “Let’s figure out how much you can save by acting now.”
“Your product sounds just like your competitors.” “There are similarities, however we have… and at a better price.”
“I’m not sure if I can risk a changeover to your product.” “Let me tell you how one of your competitor’s successfully made the switch to my product.”

That’s all for today startup students. Remember, tomorrow is Field Trip Friday so be sure to stop by. I’m putting together a great post about my home office. Class Dismissed.

The Importance of Backups

Topic: Helpful Ideas| 4 Comments »

I recently had some computer issues and lost a big chunk of my emails. For a small business, data loss can be devastating. For this reason, it is paramount that you implement a data protection policy now – before it becomes too late.

There are a few options, including online backups, backup servers, and external hard drives. For my money, an external HD is by far the best way to go. I purchased a 400GB USB drive from and have had great results.

All it takes is a couple minutes a day to transfer important files to the hard drive before you go to bed to ensure the survival of your crucial data.

I also recommend printing hard copies of things such as invoices, contracts, proposals, and login and passwords for you and your clients various accounts.

Sorry for the short post, but I am slammed with deadlines – trying to implement some of the things I discussed yesterday! Class dismissed.

Tuesday Top 10: Improving Your Workflow

Topic: Strategies, Top 10| 2 Comments »

I almost didn’t post today because I’m feeling pretty sick.  But I figured it would be easy enough to put together a quick top 10 on ways to improve your workflow and overall organization.

  1. Plan your day out the night before.  I just use notepad and outline the core responsibilities I have for the next day.  Too many people don’t have any idea what they should be working on because they don’t take the time to write down what it is they need to do.
  2. Use a calendar like sunbird, google calendar, or iCal to do more long term planning.  It’s easy to set reminders and keep yourself on task this way.
  3. Knock out the more tedious tasks like cleaning your workspace or organizing your filing cabinet before moving onto the more interesting things.  Otherwise the boring stuff never gets done.
  4. Brainstorm or Mind Map once every two weeks.  You don’t have to make a ritual out of it, but this helps you to think long term as opposed to living in the moment all the time.
  5. Build your own whiteboard.  I did and it has helped me out a ton already.  I’ll have a post on Friday showing off my home office along with steps on how I constructed everything.
  6. Utilize online services for keeping up with your contacts.  High Rise by 37signals is perfect.
  7. Carry a day planner with you.  I scribble down notes and todos between classes and during boring lectures, then transfer them to my computer when I get home.  It’s also a nice place to store a stack of business cards and other essentials.
  8. Set aside time for sidetracking.  It’s all too easy to hit your Stumble Upon button or check your RSS feeds.  I’m not saying don’t do it, but I am saying plan ahead because it does happen.
  9. If you’re like me, you check your inbox constantly.  When I’m away from my desk, I still check constantly from my smartphone.  Checking and responding to emails is incredibly unproductive.  I’m trying to limit myself to 4 times a day – and even that is too much – when I wake up, lunch time, 5ish, and before bed.
  10. I’m leaving number 10 open to your suggestions.  I’m looking forward to your comments to see what other methods you use to increase productivity.

5 Steps To A Rock Solid Promotional Plan

Topic: Analysis, Startups, Strategies, Top 10| 2 Comments »

Good morning Startup Students. While we have not yet explored the core aspects of a bullet proof business plan, I’d like to take today to discuss with you the benefits of your promotional plan. Without marketing and promotion, the idea, management, and financials of a business plan won’t take you anywhere. Here’s a quick list of 5 easy steps to rock solid promotional plan.

  1. You must first determine your sales and marketing objectives. Utilizing a matrix is ideal for this type of analysis. I discussed using a matrix analysis to select your opportunity, but the underlying techniques still apply.
  2. Develop strategies to achieve your goals. Brainstorming and mind mapping are ideal solutions for coming up with these goals.
  3. Create a well defined method for carrying out your strategies. Use your best judgment for now, but we’ll explore this a bit more at a later date.
  4. Determine a budget and then enact a program to assure the success of your promotion.
  5. Continuously evaluate the results of your promotional objectives and adjust your strategy as needed.

A variety of promotional strategies exist, some more mainstream than others. Here’s a few to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Traditional media advertising – Not recommended for startups
  • In store displays – expensive yet effective
  • Creative packaging – High quality, memorable, and fun works best
  • Guarantees – Low cost and effective
  • Trade shows and conventions – Expensive, but professional
  • Direct mailings – Creative, memorable pieces
  • Catalog sales – A dying breed
  • Press releases, news stories, and other “free ink” – Holds more value than ads
  • One on one personal selling – Great for bootstrapping startups
  • Industry specific trade magazines – Every industry has at least one
  • Mailing lists – Utilize your web site or a paid list
  • Networking – Online and in person
  • Top notch customer service – Model after some of your favorite companies
  • Paid search results – Find low cost, effective keywords
  • Top quality web presences – A necessity these days
  • Adwords campaigns – Varying results
  • Stumbleupon campaigns – Highly recommended

If you have any additional suggestions you’d like to share, please comment! That’s all for today students, see you tomorrow.

Field Trip Friday: Free Resources for Young Entrepreneurs

Topic: Analysis, Startups, Strategies| 5 Comments »

With an entire web of information out there, it’s tough to sift through and find the things you need to really get your business off the ground. We’ve talked extensively about ways to hone your idea and gather valuable data to ensure your opportunity’s success. Today it’s time to put those ideas into motion with some top notch FREE resources to take your business from idea to fruition.

  1. University of Central Florida’s Venture Lab: You might call this a plug for the school I attend, but these guys have got some really incredible information and resources available to everyone. My favorite aspect of this site is the vast amount of free templates for the creation of your business plan. From market research tools, to financial pro formas, term sheets, employee documents, and of course business plans. This place is an absolute treasure trove of information for the development of your next great startup!
  2. Google, that’s right Google. But not just the typical search interface – we all know how useful that is. I’m referring to the University Search. Many major Universities offer Entrepreneurial programs and degrees these days, and the resources these colleges offer online is astounding. I recommend starting out with the University of Colorado which is one of the premier Entrepreneurial programs in America.
  3. Already got your business off the ground? I just came across this site yesterday from my friends over at Mind Petals and I’ve already put it to good use by sending out invoices worth over $2,000. Blinksale offers a free subscription if you send less than 3 invoices per month, which is perfect when you are just getting your feet under you.
  4. The Small Business Administration is terrific as well. Most of you are probably familiar with these guys. They specialize in guaranteeing small business loans. In addition to this valuable service, they offer tons of great information such as templates, sample plans, and other startup assistance.
  5. Since many of you are still students, you can gain access and benefit greatly from this cool site. It’s called the Business Plan Archive and it is an extremely valuable resource. They host hundreds of tried and true business plans submitted by companies who wish to help out aspiring Entrepreneurs
  6. Blogs. And lots of them. There are an astounding number of bloggers these days, and many are out there to help young entrepreneurs. Start with a search of the Mind Petals blogger network and start exploring some of their blogrolls. Be careful though, you might spend all day doing this one!

There are a ton more, but since I post every day I will save the rest for next week’s Field Trip Friday – so if you havent done so already, subscribe to the RSS feed and stay tuned!

And now startup students, it’s time for show and tell. First up comes from my brother Blaine. He put together a custom entertainment center for our 52” HDTV. It really turned out pretty awesome.

I’d also like to take a second and introduce you to a buddy of mine’s blog. He’s definitely got the entrepreneurial spirit and works at New York based startup Confabb: The Conference Community so be sure to check it out.

See you on Monday students, have a great weekend!

Implementing a Niche Stategy

Topic: Exploration, Startups, Strategies| Comments Off on Implementing a Niche Stategy

Good morning Startup Students, today’s post will discuss ways to implement a niche strategy, regardless of the industy. The days of “build it and they will come” are over (think manufacturing industry of decades past). What you should really be thinking is,

“Find your customers and then build exactly what they want.”

If you intend to dominate, not merely compete in a market, you must develop a niche strategy. Here are some quick pointers.

  • Focus on a single market segment, don’t try to take down the 300 pound gorilla!
  • Emphasize a single product or service, you’ll have time to become the global conglomerate sometime in the future.
  • Focus on a tight geographical region withing your market. Even if you run an internet business, you can benefit from having a clearly defined audience in a clearly defined locale.
  • Make your product or service superior to that of the competition. If your competitors are focusing on a larger segment of the market, determine the needs customers in your, more clearly defined, market require and cater to them.

I’d like to offer a quick example. I am currently developing an online solution for the management of full and part time event staff such as those employed by arenas and stadiums. Now, this solution would be perfect for a large spectrum of companies that employ hourly staff, but by narrowly targeting a certain set of facilities I am increasing my chances of success. As the business grows, there is no doubt I’ll begin to tap the secondary markets – but to start off it’s absolutely key to define your niche.

Checking Out Your Competition

Topic: Analysis, Competition, Market Intelligence| Comments Off on Checking Out Your Competition

Good morning Startup Students! Today we’ll be discussing ways to gather intelligence on your competitors. This can be useful in a variety of ways such as identifying cutomer habits, picking up on competitor workflow processes, and so on. With such fierce competition in todays market along with ever changing consumer opinions, it’s imperative that you stay one step ahead of your competition.

Quickly, here are some things to think about when checking out your competition.

  • Remember that your competition is not necessarily who you think it is
  • Your customers determine who the competition is by patronizing those establishments
  • Be sure to broadly define your competition at the start, and carefully move inwards through the industry to determine all competitors.

And now for a few pointers on checking out your competition:

  • Pretend to be a customer
  • Talk to the business owners and find out as much as you can from them
  • Talk to their customer’s and get a feel for why they utilize your competitors service or product
  • There are tons of great resources out there, so use them! Internet, public filings, local libraries, etc.
  • Go to industry trade shows, seminars, and conferences
  • Complete a competitive matrix, similar to this

That’s all for today, if you have any questions or comments, don’t forget to post them. Class dismissed.

Tuesday Top 10: Customer Analysis

Topic: Analysis, Top 10| Comments Off on Tuesday Top 10: Customer Analysis

Quick post today because I’m feeling a bit under the weather. Identifying the buyers in your target market is critical to the success of your new business. Today’s Top 10 focuses on the questions you need to answer about the customers in your target market.

  1. What types of customers are you trying to attract? What are their habits and demographics?
  2. What problems are your customers facing with their current solution?
  3. What needs of their’s are not being met?
  4. Which segments of your market are being ignored, and how can you capitalize on them?
  5. Who are the traditional customers in this market? How can you expand your reach into secondary markets?
  6. Again, how is the market further segmented?
  7. What motivates their buying decisions? Needs, resources, etc.
  8. Can you identify the channels of distribution being used? See if you can find which channels are being ignored and figure out how to capitalize on them.
  9. In what ways are customers dissatisfied with the current offerings in the marketplace? Again, how can you capitalize on this?
  10. Not a question but a call to action. Get out there and talk to your potential customers! Use the techniques we’ve discussed in previous posts and just make it happen.

Again, sorry for the quick post – but I’m really not up to par today. And folks, I know you are out there, so how about starting to leave some comments! Class dismissed.

Developing a Target Market Strategy

Topic: Analysis, Characteristics, Market Intelligence, Startups| Comments Off on Developing a Target Market Strategy

Good morning startup students! Today we are going to discuss how to define your target market. You’ll find some overlap from my post on Friday about Marketing Intelligence, but it just goes to show how important these things are for young entrepreneurs.

You really want to identify the market niche you intend to serve. It’s always better to be too specific at this point, you can broaden your target in the future. Take a look at what benefits you bring to the table.

  • What problems are you solving for your customers and the market in general?
  • What specific needs to you fulfill?

When looking at the benefits you bring to the table, keep in mind there are two generally accepted types of benefits.

  • Emotional
    • You convey hope, you massage fear, you instill love, or merely provide convenience.
  • Financial
    • You assure increased profits, offer lowend pricing, save customers money, or offer extended payback periods.

Remember, the above are just examples and aren’t meant to be the only benefits.

Once you’ve defined your niche, you need to get out there and talk to your customers, similar to what I talked about Friday.

  • Take part in casual conversation
  • Conduct interviews and surveys
  • Enlist the services of focus groups

They key point here is to just LISTEN and identify their needs. That’s all for now, enjoy the rest of your day and I’ll see everyone tomorrow. Class dismissed.