Business Tips

5 Seasoned, Local Business Owners Give Advice on What It Takes To Run a Business

Building a business is tough. As SBDC consultant Steve Imke says: “It’s not for everyone. There are easier ways to make money.” It can also be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. The Pikes Peak SBDC is committed to helping businesses of all sizes in the Pikes Peak region grow. So we decided to tap the experts, asking them for advice on what it takes to run a business in this current Colorado Springs environment.

We feature an all-star lineup of successful business owners in the Colorado Springs area. We tried to include a variety of businesses: businesses from the trades, digital, law, and education. If you are thinking about starting a business, or growing your business through the SBDC’s free consulting and affordable workshops, take notes from the pros.

Here are the 5 pieces of advice from successful, long-standing businesses in our area:

There are a number of factors in running a successful business. First you must identify the market for your business. Are your products or services needed? If so, by whom, what and where? Once you identify the need for your business you must do basic market research in order to build a business plan. Creating a business plan helps clarify your strategy, gives you key areas to focus on and a road map to follow. This plan will allow you to understand your gross margin, cost of goods and your end game, net profit. From these vital areas you can identify your KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators). Just like the gauges in a car tell us if the battery is charged or the engine is running hot or cold. KPI’s allow us to monitor the strategic indicators of a businesses’ health. Finally, one individual characteristic that I noticed with nearly every successful business person or individual that is great in their field…discipline! Learn the art of self-discipline!! This will help you push through the challenges a business brings.

Succeeding in business in today’s climate is challenging. Most industries are saturated with other businesses with the same target market and are offering the same product or service. A business owner should determine early on what makes them special or unique and focus on those areas. As with most things in life, this can be a very experimental and frustrating task. Define what your core values are and then decide how to translate those values into the business. Being a female attorney in a formerly male dominated profession, it has taken some time to determine what makes my business different from the many other law firms in the area and determine what value I can offer my clients. Find your niche to stand out among your competitors and provide extraordinary customer service, some days will not seem like good days, make the good days count.

Build your reputation with communication: Word-of-mouth is a powerful lead generator – or lead killer, and it’s all based on how your client perceives their experience with your company. Great communication can mean the difference between a happy and an unhappy customer, and it relies on these three things: method, timing, volume.

Method: Choose the method of communication that best fits your customer, whether phone, email or in-person. Don’t know what they like? Ask them. Skip email for sensitive conversations. You can always follow up with an email summary if you need it in writing.

Timing: Proactive communication builds positive impressions. Touch base on a regular basis with clients, even just to check in. It’s better for your business than waiting to hear from them.

Volume: Particularly in a high-tech field, we work hard to keep clients informed but not overwhelmed. Pay attention to how your clients react (or don’t) to your efforts, and calibrate the amount of detail they get accordingly.

Quality communication is art, not science. Try new things. Admit when you didn’t hit the mark. Don’t let imperfections get you down. Like most things in business, your communication reputation is a long-term game.

Being a company that has been in business since 1955, we have seen our fair share of volatility in our industry. The key to our success is having the ability to pivot to the need of our consumer based on the current economic climate. In the most recent housing crisis we focused on building our service department as new homes declined. To keep our business running we kept our costs and prices low which attracted and retained new clients. The focus with new clients is maintaining a sterling reputation, which is accomplished by employing qualified candidates that have the same passion to provide consistent quality service that is expected of us. To separate ourselves from our competition we encourage our employees to be creative and provide us with recommendations on how to improve our current processes. As a management group we always think long term but focus on what is necessary to be successful each and every day.

The definition of small business success is debatable; however, there are some undeniable desired qualities. Successful business owners identify quality products/services that the community wants or needs, even if the community does not realize it yet. Next, the entrepreneur creates a detailed list of the reasons the “why” is more important than the “what”. This list/plan maintains the passion, excitement, dedication, and honesty necessary to be a successful business owner that community members will recommend. If a small business owner is not passionate about his or her product or service, how can he or she expect someone else to be enthusiastic about it? Successful small business owners are positive risk-takers that provide the best product or service at a reasonable price. A few additional necessities of a successful business are making smart hires, focusing on what the company does best rather than spreading too thin, and mastering the budget to avoid going into debt.

Remember, the SBDC is committed to helping you grow. If you’d like guidance or help growing your business—sign-up for our free consulting and affordable workshops.

We’d love to meet you.

Citation? Blacklink? Whaaa? 4 SEO Tips from COS Locals


Hello Small Businesses!

As you know, marketing is an essential part to owning a small business in Colorado Springs. However, as we all know marketing has expanded past traditional mediums (billboards, radio, television, etc…) and encompasses a variety of newer, digital methods (Facebook Ads, Adwords, Snapchat, etc…).

At the top of the digital marketing realm is search engine optimization, easily the most important… arguably the most confusing. We’ve assembled a team of the top SEO experts in Colorado Springs: Kainen Braun from Kainen Braun Marketing, Allan Todd from Page Cafe, Tyler Noe from Page Canvas, and Craig Mount from Classy Brain.

These individuals deal with search engine optimization and the Google algorithm daily. This means that they have a first-hand look at what they’ve seen drive rank for local search so far in summer 2016. They have kindly provided the top 4 SEO techniques that are currently working… just for you. 

Tip #1- Long-Form Content

Kainen Braun- Kainen Braun Marketing

Every day you use a billion dollar tool and you didn’t even realize it. Google Search is a savvy monster when it comes to information and the ability to deliver it in the form of results. Search engines are built for the user (so Google can sell ads to the user of course!), but with that in mind… Google is becoming very knowledgeable. It has data from every industry and every market in every nook and cranny of the United States. It knows what keywords and topics that make users happy because it can see results across markets and industries.  Bottom line: Google wants to make Google look good, so it's entire algorithm is built around one goal: connect users with the content they crave in one click.  If Google can do that, then people keep using Google and they make googles of money. 

This means that if you are a small business owner and you aren’t showing the search engine that you know what you are talking about with your business, it will never know! You can quickly establish relevance within search engines by creating web pages, blog posts and social media posts that describe your business and address your customer’s questions.  Better yet, create content that anticipates what users are, and will be looking for. A plumber, for example, would do well to create content via blogs and social media in the Fall about how to prevent pipes from bursting.  This approach places the plumber top of mind when people begin winterizing their homes as it gets colder. It's not enough to be awesome at what you do, you need to publish content that proves it. 

Pro-tip: Once again, search engines can only see what you show them. Take the effort to describe your services, as well as provide tips to show the bots you are an expert in your industry - 500 words minimum on each page. Having trouble coming up with ideas? Try using Buzzsumo, Quora, Reddit, Google Trends, Auto-suggest data on Amazon, or even your competitors content. 

Tip #2- Backlinks

Allan Todd- Page Cafe

A backlink” is a link to your website from another website.   Backlinks are a key factor in improving the visibility of your website in online search.  Google views backlinks as a "vote of confidence” in the creditability of your website and the more credible your website the higher your website will rank. However, not all backlinks are valuable.  Google looks at the creditability of the website sending the backlink and assigns a value to backlink.  If the website sending the backlink is not credible in Googles eyes, then the backlink is essentially worthless.  

If a backlink is from a highly creditable website then this one backlink can be much more valuable that hundreds of backlinks from low quality websites.  So the goal is to get backlinks from the most creditable websites possible.  

In addition, it really helps if the backlink is from a website that is in a similar category to your website.  For example, a lawyer should seek backlinks from other local attorneys or related legal services like investigators, mediators or court reporters.  A backlink from a travel blogger to a lawyers website is got going to impress Google. 

Pro-tip: Seek out links from customers, vendors, partners and even friends who have websites that are related to your business.  One more thing... NEVER purchase links.

Tip #3- Citations

Tyler Noe- Page Canvas

Citations are a listing of your name, address, and phone number on any website. For the most part, they live in online directories.  Ensuring that your business information is correct and that you are listed in the proper category for your citations is a positive indicator to Google Maps specifically that you are relevant option for your targeted keyword phrase. To check which NAP listings are most important for your industry, simply Google your primary keyword phrase and look at the top 20 directories that appear in the search results.  Begin going to each, try to find if your business is already listed, and either edit / correct the existing information or create a new profile and listing including all important business information.

Pro-tip- having trouble finding the right category? Look at whomever ranks on the first page for your keyword phrase and find them within the top 20 directories you just Googled. Copy their category and edit your business! Also, try using tools like Moz Local or Whitespark to help!  Researching your competition and where they succeed can help you find success within your own business.

Tip #4- Google Reviews

Craig Mount- Classy Brain

Make sure your online reputation is congruent with your offline presence. If you give dynamite customer service, ask people to share their experience on Google. Reviews are a great way not only to show other people interested in doing business with you how great your business is, it’s also a great way for you to show the search engines that you are a great business.

I see a lot of business owners confused about the multiple review platforms available– start with Google. Often, this will be the entry point people use to see your business online.

If you get a bad review, don’t worry! If you respond to the review in a professional manner it can actually benefit your business. You show other users you care about your customers and their experiences in your business.

Pro-tip- Use Whitespark’s free review handout generator! It is a flow chart that shows customers exactly how to leave a review at a business on Google Maps.


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Citation? Backlink whaaa? If any of this was confusing we apologize! If you need help with the basics feel free to attend one of the SBDC’s regular digital marketing workshops or take advantage of our free consulting and meet with one of our SEO specialists. Otherwise, there you have it– the best SEO techniques currently working for local business.

We look forward to your success!

The Hidden Value of Crowdfunding

By Steve Imke, SBDC Consultant and Small Business Specialist

Traditionally, entrepreneurs had 2 options to raise funds to start their business. They could either get a loan or give away ownership to investors. Because of the risk involved in the early stages of a small business, founders had to give up large blocks of equity to entice an early stage equity investor. On the other hand, having to make interest and principle payments for debt financing can, at best, slow growth or even cripple a company during it’s fragile early stages. Enter crowd funding, a viable option to preserve equity and eliminate the need for debt.

In a real estate deal a few years ago, a builder I know needed to raise capital to build a new residential tower in downtown Denver. With a mock-up of the finished building, some computer generated images, and some floor plan layouts, he pre-sold many of the units at a discount to come up with the seed money he needed to get the project off the ground. Crowd funding shares many similarities to the strategy used by the builder to raise capital and validate the concept.

In many cases, a product based crowd sourcing campaign allows people to pre-order the product before anyone else. This campaign accomplishes several vital steps for a company still in its early stages.

1. It provides the company with the capital it needs to build the first wave of products without either giving away equity, or pay back principle, or pay the lender interest. These benefits occur when equity is most under valued and capital preservation is most needed.

2. It validates the hypothesis that consumers are willing to exchange cash for the product. Proving the value of the product is a major tenet of the business model canvas and for business that employ the lean start-up methodology.

3. It can raise to the surface demand for new and innovative products that might be hidden without a large number of investors actually seeing the product.

4. It attracts early adopters who become social activists, evangelizing the product to their networks and raising product awareness.

5. Tiered raises create excitement. Excitement can create a valuable feedback loop to further product improvement by exposing the product to early adopters, the people who are most likely to provide feedback.

6. It provides funding for a particular product and not the company. It is like a direct investment in a single oil well rather than buying the diversified portfolio of an oil company, such as Exxon.

In addition to pre-order campaigns, some crowd funding campaigns allow for micro ownership of an early stage company. This creates a whole new class of investors who can buy into companies before they become large and go public.

Before crowd funding, only accredited investors (investors with more than a million dollars in net-worth or investors that earn over two hundred thousand per year in wages) could get involved with ground floor investments. Prior to crowd funding, companies who tried to raise money from unaccredited investors would run afoul with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Crowd sourcing allows small investment levels that bypasses SEC oversight, opening the opportunity for micro investors wanting to buy into early stage companies.

These micro investors hope these businesses will grow substantially. They hope that these businesses will then give them a significant return on their investment when the company experiences a exit event such as being acquired or going public. Before crowd funding, even accredited investors would have to either invest large sums of money in only a few companies, which is very risky since there is limited diversity in invested capital, or find a venture capital fund to invest in and lose ultimate control over the specific investment allocations in new companies. With crowd funding, a small time investor with only a few thousands dollars can invest in dozens of hand picked companies and achieve investment diversification, a domain only previously available to venture capital principle investors.

Setting up a crowd funding campaign generally requires a good video demonstration of a sexy new product. Need a little help getting your idea from conception to a point where you are ready to begin a crowd sourcing campaign? No problem! Companies, such as Quirky can help get you there in exchange for micro equity stakes.

However, the funding of your venture may be the easy part. The real work comes when the new company or product gets funded. Now the owners must produce the product. To do that, they must now manage a long supply chain and learn to run a real business.

For more articles like this, visit Steve's Blog here!



Turn Your Financials into a Powerful Management Tool

How many of you have seen the ”Dave” Staples commercial? It shows “Dave” serving in all the positions of his company, asking “Dave” when “Dave” needs help.

As business owners we serve in so many capacities, it is difficult, if not impossible to do everything well. When we get pressured, we get stressed. Negative stress (yes, there is positive stress) can cause exhaustion and illness often follows. Most of us have experienced that sinking feeling when we realize we are “in over our heads.”

When it comes to our financials we try really hard to get everything not only in the system, but in the right bucket. Time is often our enemy. Invoicing gets behind which can cause a cash flow crisis. The ‘taxman cometh’ and we might not be ready.

Whether we do our own books or have them done, we are ultimately responsible for the result. Although responsibly managing the ‘books’ was probably not the reason we started our business, it will be one of the primary reasons we succeed in business.

It all starts with organization. Chaos has no place in a financial system. It starts with a Chart of Accounts that actually matches the business and more importantly you, the owner. The second step is imputing good information and most importantly getting the data in the right place. Once these steps have been taken, you can then produce various reports on a regular basis. Those up-to-date reports can provide the information needed to find the answers to the following questions and more:
  1. Are my products/services priced to make a profit?
  2. What is labor actually costing me?
  3. What are my true production costs?
  4. Are my overhead costs under control?
With this financial information, you are now empowered to make key strategic business decisions based on fact not hope. Having access to these answers put you in the driver’s seat of your business. That control alone can bring down your stress level. Take action today to get control. If you need outside help, get it. Make sure if you get help with your financials, you stay involved in the process. Learn what you need to know about financial management, so even if you choose not to do it yourself, you can inspect what you expect and know it is being done correctly.

This week’s tip brought to you by Nancy Barnett and the Denver Metro SBDC.