Instructors to Bring Wealth of Real-World Experience to Innovative Program
August 7, 2012
Inforum announces the first ACTiVATE® Michigan class will kick off on Aug. 28 at the University of Michigan - Dearborn. Click the following link for more details:
Battle Creek 2012 Twilight Gathering
August 1, 2012
The event will be held on August 7 from 5:30pm - 8pm at the Greencrest Manor Bed and Breakfast, 6174 Halbert Road in Battle Creek. Click the following link for more details:
Rules for small business success
December 15, 2011
To grow your start-up or small business, and to grow as a person and professional, you will need to take all of the challenges that come your way and turn them into opportunities. The success of your business depends upon it. The following are some rules for successfully operating your small business:
- Know your product and target market. Focus. Your company cannot be all things to all people. Decide on your niche. If your competitors are doing it, don’t do it unless you are a lot better at it than they are. Decide what makes your company stand out in a crowded marketplace where customers are bombarded with constant messaging from the Internet, media, publications and your competitors.
- Be ethical and truthful. Always tell the truth. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say you will do your research and get back to the customer with the correct answer.
- Be timely. Time is a precious commodity to most people. Return emails, text messages and calls immediately. Follow through when you say you will.
- Say thank you. You cannot thank people enough. Give the team credit. Remember there are many who have helped you along the way, be they customers, staff, mentors, family or friends. Tell them how much you value them and their support. Remember, or discover, the power of the handwritten thank you note.
- Attitude is everything. Be positive, confident and optimistic. Believe in yourself and your company. Smile. Remember that all business is people and relationships. People do business with people they like.
- Ignore the distractions. These are always there in the form of naysayers and others who have their own agenda and do not have your best interests at heart. They probably don’t even know you. Don’t give them credence or waste your time and energy on them.
- Balance your life. Especially as an entrepreneur or owner of a small business, you ARE the business and the face of the business in public, at all times. Take care of yourself. Manage your stress. Get enough sleep and exercise and eat properly. Make time for family and friends and activities you enjoy.
- Focus on the customer. Ask a lot of questions and listen to the answers. Help them solve their problems. Satisfy and exceed their wants. Follow through. Do what is truly best for them.
- Be consistent. Make sure your business has a consistent look and feel. Manage your brand, including your products, communications, marketing materials, website and staff so that customers always get the same feel about your business.
- Forget about your comfort zone. Innovate and be bold and courageous. Never accept the idea that “this is the way we’ve always done it.” Never discount a new idea, process or technology out of hand. Look for good ideas and let people know you are looking for them.
- Be organized and thorough. Maintain a good calendar and organized files and work areas. Be able to find things. Follow through.
- Be a leader. Build a team and lead by example. Don’t just hire an employee to fill a vacant position, hire them to be part of a team with a strategy and vision to build your business. Invest in yourself and your employees through training and development. Set clear goals and hold people accountable for their work.
- Don’t try to do it all. Listen to and hire the experts to help you if you need it: financial, legal, and technical. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and focus your efforts where your strengths and talents lie.
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Becoming your own boss has its challenges
October 27, 2011
In my 32 years’ experience at the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the Battle Creek Area Chamber of Commerce, I worked with thousands of businesses and entrepreneurs including many start ups and potential business owners. Some were successful and some not. Generally, those who were most successful had a vision and plan for the business, and were cognizant of the risks, demands and dedication that starting a business require.
A common theme among would-be entrepreneurs is: being your own boss. Self employment is being your own boss and being personally responsible for your success. Especially starting up, it is not all about six-figure incomes, taking lots of time off, and working the hours you please. But, beyond that, do you really understand what being your own boss means?
When you work for an employer, the employer makes many decisions for you. And, the employer pays for a lot of things. As a self-employed person, you will either make all of these decisions, and pay for them on your own, or you will pay for someone else (either an employee or an expert contractor) to do these things for you. Your employer had a job for you. When you work for someone, they know what you are supposed to be doing at any given moment. When you work for yourself, you have to create and invent your own job.
Here are some of the decisions and investments an employer may make for you, and what you can expect to decide and finance on your own when you are self employed:
- Information technology: Appropriate computer equipment and software purchase and maintenance, website design and maintenance, data safe guarding and networking.
- Human resources: Compliance with state and federal employment and unemployment laws, employment records, employee compensation and related policies.
- Government relations: Compliance with state, local and federal laws including but not limited to business structure, permitting, taxes, and codes. Expertise on government procurement procedures and policies if you are a vendor or supplier to government.
- Financial and investment decisions: Banking, financial services such as accounting and bookkeeping, pricing your product or service, re-investment in the business, taking a salary, purchasing, memberships, publications.
- Training: Outside or on the job training on numerous topics to keep your and your employees’ skills current and relevant.
- Record keeping and record retention: Storage and filing, and expense deduction documentation. (Remember that you are losing money if you are not properly documenting and taking these tax deductions.)
- Marketing, sales, and communications with customers and potential customers: Development of outreach and sales call protocol, talking points, and follow up; all materials such as company brochures and stationery; marketing plan and potential customer list.
- Legal services: Obtaining qualified legal advice on business structure, taxation, and human resources issues.
- Building, space and location: Appropriate space to locate, operate and grow the business in compliance with local codes and zoning.
- Office equipment and inventory: Purchasing decisions on phones, computers and software, furniture, machinery, and all other supplies needed to operate the business.
- Protocols and processes: Documented processes for financial controls, banking and bill paying; record retention; customer service and intake; hiring and firing; dress codes; office procedures and use of equipment; and contracts, bids and RFPs.
- Benefits such as health care coverage and other insurances: Requires review and understanding of many options, including the costs, for you, your family, and your employees.
Keeping in mind that your employer currently makes these decisions and incurs at least some of these costs for you, you must plan and determine whether you (and your family) are truly and realistically prepared and motivated to take on the risks and costs of self employment and starting your own business.
The rewards of being your own boss are many; it’s a big hill to climb. Do it right, and it is certainly worth it.
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Promotional materials 'a major consideration' for new businesses
October 20, 2011
Promotional materials are a huge consideration for new business start-ups and entrepreneurs may find it difficult to know where to start when it comes to their direct marketing campaigns.
As a general rule, Business Review writer Kathleen Mechem suggests businesses may wish to consider developing promotional materials including business cards, brochures and flyers - as well as professional invoices - right from the outset.
If you are unsure of what kind of materials you might need or are feeling challenged to come up with a good design, you may wish to consult a printing service - many have templates and other tools to help you come up with something that suits your firm.
You may also want to spread the word about your new venture online - social media resources such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are all useful for getting your message out and about, while developing a website, composing a blog and setting up an email distribution list can all attract new business and keep your customers engaged.
Personal networking is another useful tactic that should not be underestimated. Arm yourself with a stack of business cards and sign up to local events, where you may be able to meet useful industry contacts and potential clients.
Organizational Solutions Supports Women’s Caring Program
August 10, 2011
Roses and many thanks to our sponsors and donors who assisted in making our second annual Women’s Caring Program (WCP) Battle Creek Twilight Gathering a tremendous success: Kerrie Redner, Petra White, Grand Rentals, Don Worthington Photography and Video, and Karen Benson. Thanks also to our attendees who supported this event for WCP’s Childcare Commitment program. Your contributions and efforts are appreciated, and help Michigan’s disadvantaged children prepare for kindergarten by providing financial support for quality childcare and early childhood education. The WCP, a non-profit foundation, supports disadvantaged children to yield major returns in a child’s life, including strong academic performance and future work-life success.
- Kathleen Mechem, Organizational Solutions LLC and Laura Walters, Laura’s Gourmet Catering
Marketing challenges and opportunities of starting a small business
June 22, 2011
As an entrepreneur, you have started your business planning to provide a product or service you most likely are passionate about. That is why you got into business: To do what you love, know and do best.
Of course, you have already prepared your business plan, which defines the market for your services and your potential customers. Now, how do you get the word out to engage them? Some of these ideas may depend on your type of business. As you consider marketing, it will be helpful to focus on:
Goals: You should be able to set some quantifiable goals for your business, such as number of widgets sold, percent sales and revenues increases over a specific time period, and so on.
Strategies: Your business strategies and your marketing strategy are long-term plans of action designed to achieve your particular goal or goals.
Tools and tactics: These are methods and activities you can use to support your overall marketing goals and strategies. These include:
- Social networking. Subscribe to and use resources such as LinkedIn, Facebook and more to inform the public of your business and services.
- Developing promotional materials such as brochures, stationery, panel cards and business cards. This should also include professional-looking invoices. (That’s important!)
- Developing a website.
- Developing a blog.
- Letting everyone you know what you are doing. Create e-mail distribution lists and mailings, and inform your family, friends, past and present colleagues, potential clients and vendors.
- Remembering (or discovering) the power of the handwritten “thank you” note to the people and organizations that help you along your journey.
- Personal networking. Join local and statewide professional, trade and business organizations. Be active, attend their events and make sure you have plenty of business cards and promotional materials when you do.
- Taking advantage of marketing support services and benefits offered by these organizations. Many offer cost-effective services such as website links, publicity and advertising/access to their members.
There are many challenges in marketing your new business. These challenges are common to many types of organizations, even those of long standing. They include:
- Keeping your message current and relevant to your customers. Ask for feedback on your promotional materials and website. Ask for volunteers to beta test your website during its infancy and before you go live. Constantly review and evaluate your materials yourself.
- Being extremely careful to control your brand. As the entrepreneur, you are the brand. Remember you are always marketing and selling your product, services or concept. This includes how you present yourself and your business when you communicate in writing, e-mails, sales calls, meetings and presentations.
To grow your startup business, and to grow as a person and professional, you will need to take all of the challenges that come your way and turn them into opportunities. The success of your business depends upon it.
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The challenges and opportunities of starting a small business
April 06, 2011
While the rewards and satisfactions of starting and owning your own small business are many, there are equally as many challenges to be confronted at first and along the way. It is hard and demanding work.
First in the minds of many business owners: Financing. How do you get it, and in the right amount and terms? Next is likely product delivery and your market.
Who wants your product or service, where are they located, and how do you reach out to them and engage their interest and, eventually, purchase or investment? How do you develop a sound and reliable client and customer base? Then, there is pricing. How do you determine the correct pricing structure to cover your costs, attract a sufficient number of customers, re-invest in your business and also make a profit?
There is also the challenge of determining the legal structure of your business and any licenses, certifications and permits you may need for the type of business you are starting. How do you determine which paperwork to file with the appropriate units of government, and how do you go about it?
A thorough business plan will help you address these and other issues and questions. This should include: Market analysis, company and organization description, services or product description, financial statements and cash flow projections, and attachments such as testimonials, references and visuals.
Once you thoroughly consider research, analyze and describe in writing your solutions to the challenges noted, you will have a business plan and an action plan. There are many resources available online and through locally based entrepreneurial classes, counseling and training programs that can assist with this process.
One challenge many startup business owners underestimate is isolation. As employees, most people are accustomed to operating in a team environment where you depend on others for input and assistance of various types.
As a startup, you may operate as a staff of one with no employees. Apart from the physical isolation you may feel, how do you make all the difficult and crucial financial, marketing and administrative decisions on your own without the input and expertise of teammates?
This challenge is addressed in several ways.
First, by networking and getting to know others in business. Attend professional conferences in your line of business. Join local and statewide professional, trade and business organizations. Be active, attend their events and make sure you have plenty of business cards and promotional materials when you do. Through these organizations, make acquaintances and get to know other business people and professional service providers who can mentor or otherwise help you.
Second, many of these organizations offer cost-effective services from marketing to referrals to discounted business services that can help you with the hard decisions you will need to make for your business.
Also, if you are working on your own, get out and make at least one professional or social contact every single day. Keep in touch with friends and business associates to keep updated. Stay active!
Use social networking and the Internet as means to keep in contact with colleagues and to research current thinking and business issues and solutions in your line of business. It is also important to keep up with current events through the media and online sources to keep abreast of political, economic and social issues that may affect your business and customers.
To grow your startup business, and to grow as a person and professional, you will need to take all of the challenges that come your way and turn them into opportunities.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION OF BUSINESS REVIEW
Considerations for starting a home-based business
March 16, 2011
Recent data suggests that more than 52 percent of new small business enterprises are operated out of the owner’s home, and this trend is growing. Types of home- based businesses range from services such as consulting, day care and technical writing, to personal shopping, pet care and more.
While business ownership brings many satisfactions and rewards, it’s not for everyone.
Here are some issues to consider.
Commitment: You will commit more of your time, energy, creativity and money to your business than you would to most jobs. While you may initially think that you are operating “part time” out of your home, you need availability for your clients, customers, vendors and suppliers.
If you have employees, partners or subcontractors, you also need to be available for them.
Starting out, you will most likely: create your own business, marketing and financial plans; do your own demographic and product research; conduct your own sales calls and develop your customer base; answer your own phone and schedule your own appointments; design your own marketing and collateral materials; set up your own business bank account and do your own banking; and develop your own cadre of vendors to assist you with printing, a website, and legal and financial services.
All of these things take time and commitment, and some will cost you money.
Your product or service: Do you have a product and service that can be successfully marketed to a demographic sufficient to support (and grow) the operations of your business? Does it make financial and administrative sense to operate your business out of your home?
Business skills: You may have a product or service that you enjoy creating or providing to others. However, you will also need to have basic business skills to assist with planning, costing, financing, delivery, marketing and selling.
If you do not have these skills (or don’t have access to someone who does), there are many resources available for small and emerging businesses both through local entrepreneurial training programs and online.
Your home: Does your home physically lend itself to creation of an office or other suitable work environment, where vendors or customers may visit if necessary? Do you have sufficient space and a dedicated area for your office or business, including files and supplies? Is it legal and in accordance with local zoning and other ordinances to operate your business out of your home?
Discipline and focus: Is your personality suited to working on your own, at times in isolation from a team environment? Are you a self-starter? Can you manage a “flexible” schedule without wasting time and energy, or depending on others for detailed direction? You will need a high level of discipline and focus on your work.
Your family: You will need the cooperation of your family to understand that when you are working at home, you are working. Can you balance your family’s needs and distractions with operating the business at home? Can you prioritize and maintain a balance between the demands of operating a business and maintaining a harmonious home environment? Do you have good time management skills? Can you envision integrating your work and business into your home and family life? Is your work space or equipment use encroaching on family members?
Cash flow: A home-based business can be a cost-effective alternative to leasing or owning other building space. Do you have sufficient resources, personal or otherwise, to capitalize the business? Are you accustomed to having a steady paycheck and fringe benefits from an employer that you may not have on your own?
Your business plan: A sound business plan is absolutely your first priority and will help you address these and other issues and questions. Your business plan should include a description of the business and its goals, products and services, demographic and marketing plans, and financial needs and projections.
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Organizational Solutions Receives Inforum Award
March 6, 2011
Battle Creek Enquire Business Notables
Inforum has named Kathleen Mechem of Organizational Solutions LLC in Battle Creek an Inner Circle Honoree for being one of Michigan's top female executives.
Mechem is a founding member of Inforum's Southwest Michigan chapter and a member of its Regional Council.
Inforum is the leading business women's networking organization in Michigan with more than 1,800 members.
Organizational Solutions Receives Inner Circle Award
February 22, 2011
Organizational Solutions LLC, of Battle Creek, announces its President and Owner, Kathleen L. Mechem received the prestigious Inner Circle honor from Inforum at an event in Kalamazoo on February 17. Inner Circle honors Michigan's top woman executives. The event provided women with leadership potential the rare opportunity to meet and have meaningful, small group discussions with these powerful business leaders named to the Inner circle.
Mechem is a founding member of Inforum’s Southwest Michigan chapter and a member of its Regional Council.
Inforum is the premier women's networking organization in Michigan, with over 1,800 members representing a broad cross section of the business community. The association was founded in 1962 as the Women’s Economic Club.
Inforum Southwest Michigan Regional Council Members
Kathleen L. Mechem, President and Owner of Organizational Solutions LLC, has been named a member of Inforum’s Southwest Michigan’s Regional Council for 2011-2012. Its mission is to strengthen the business environment in West Michigan by fostering a diverse group of executive and professional women who share a passion for business growth and success. Inforum is the premier business women's networking organization in Michigan, with over 1,800 members representing a broad cross section of the business community.