Starting A Business? Consider Your Exit Strategy Part I

We’ve covered nearly all elements of a business plan and we are approaching our final destination—the exit strategy. You may wonder why someone who has just begun to map out a business building strategy, filled with excitement and determined to create a business that represents all that he/she has worked hard to learn, would want to contemplate ending it all?  The answer is,  every journey has a destination.  How else can you know which path to take unless you know where you want to end up?


If you have tangible assets and a desirable customer base,  you might want to sell the business eventually and give yourself either a retirement nest egg or start-up capital to create yet another business.  Keep your options open and start the preparations early. Whatever you decide, these actions will be beneficial for the business.

Maintain detailed and credible financial records: demonstrate profitability; show good cash flow; keep your debt to equity ratio low.  Expect to show a prospective buyer 5 years of data.  If the business owns property and/or equipment, ensure that all is well kept and in good working order.

To sell your business at a price that accurately reflects its value,  it is recommended that you consult first with your accountant and attorney, next with a business valuation expert or an appraiser and then with a business broker. Your accountant or attorney may even know the right buyer for your business.  There are four sales strategies to pursue:

I. SELL TO EMPLOYEES.   One, or several, of your employees may be interested in buying the business.  Don’t be shy about raising that possibility.  What better way to boost confidence and morale than letting valuable employees know that you trust them enough to place your treasured achievement into their capable and caring hands?  Selling to employees can be a great exit strategy.  The employees are able to invest in a business that they know and trust.  They know the challenges and opportunities that the business may encounter.  They know the customers and the customers may also know them.  They know the history of the place.  They know how things run.   If you’re thinking of moving on, why not offer those who you can see would be good candidates either a buy-out or an employee stock option plan (ESOP)?

II. SELL TO A COMPETITOR. Target one of your larger competitors as a potential buy-out prospect.  What better way to decrease competition and gain market share quickly than to absorb the entity that’s been eating your lunch? Position your business as attractive, financially healthy and possessed of a customer base that will align with the competitors’. Some entrepreneurs start a business aiming to be bought out. They believe they can grow their business fast enough to compel an industry leader to buy them out and end the battle.

III. SALE THROUGH A BROKER.  If you are unable to persuade someone whom you know to buy your business,  contact a business broker.  It’s like hiring a real estate agent to sell your house. There are brokers who represent sellers and those who represent buyers.  Be sure to get an independent appraisal on your own,  so you can be confident that the broker prices the business appropriately and that you understand the likely market value of what you are selling.

IV. LIQUIDATION.  In this instance, you are unable to find a buyer for the business, so you hold a “going out of business sale” in advance of closing your doors.   Whatever business assets exist are sold;  creditors are paid off;  the business owner keeps the net profit.

When selling your business it will be imperative to obtain an accurate appraisal. There are three methods to use and you may want to do them all:

I. ASSET VALUATION. The value of the inventory and equipment, business property, the client list and even the company’s reputation (best practices and good customer relationships are worth money in more ways than one!).

II. INDUSTRY VALUATION.   Based on the sale prices of similar businesses in your industry and geographic locale.

III. CASH FLOW VALUATION.  Based on the expected future cash flow of the company, as demonstrated by past performance.

Remember that the best time to sell your business is when both you and it are healthy! I’ll be back next week with a couple of more exit strategy options.

Thanks for reading,


Starting A Business? Consider Your Legal Entity Part II

The type of business that you are in will guide your choice of legal entity.  If you are a solo Freelance consultant, then operating as a Sole Proprietor is most likely appropriate. However,  if your business exposes you to liability, then it is highly recommended that you spend a few dollars and protect your assets by establishing a separate legal entity. Many business entities evolve as they grow, transforming from Sole Proprietorship to Limited Liability Company to Corporation.


The  LLC is a relatively new option.  It creates a separate legal entity and may be used by a solo entrepreneur or a multi-owner business.  It is required that an EIN be obtained for the business and a certificate of organization be filed with the Secretary of State, along with a fee of about $500 paid annually.

There is no limit on the number of owner–partners in an LLC.  A certain degree of protection from liability is granted, as in an S Corporation.  It is highly recommended (but not required) that in a multi-owner LLC an operating agreement be written that names a managing partner and other specific partner roles and responsibilities.

Single owner LLC tax filing is similar to the Sole Proprietorship.  On April 15  you file schedules C and SE and form 8829 if claiming a portion of your home as an office. Quarterly estimated taxes are due on the 15th of January,  June and September reported on form 1040–ES.

Additionally,  an LLC with 2+ members must file form 1065, the informational Annual Return of Income.  Owner–partners file form 1040 with schedules E and SE,  plus estimated quarterly taxes on form 1040–ES.

Be advised that an LLC is dissolved in a bankruptcy or upon the death of a partner.  Include contingency plans in the partner’s agreement so you don’t find yourself in business with the spouse or children of the deceased, for example.


A partnership is a non-corporate legal business entity that is formed by 2+ people (or entities) who desire to do business as co-owners.  GPs can be formed by individuals, corporations, estates or trusts.  This classification also includes joint ventures and syndicates.

A GP is not a separate legal entity,  so there is no requirement to register the partnership with the state.  Partners will be on the hook for any business liabilities, including unauthorized actions by partners who acted on behalf of partnership business interests.

Absolutely, write a partnership agreement.  Include the purpose,  goals,  partner contributions and responsibilities.  Management duties, decision making power, permissible and restricted business activities outside of the partnership and financial matters such as access to financial records and expense authorization should also be specified.

Moreover,  spell out how profits and losses will be distributed, the penalties for failing to fulfill responsibilities and contributions and the procedures to follow should a partner die.

Partners are taxed on the income/losses of the partnership on schedule  C, filed with their personal 1040, along with form 1040–SE self employment tax.  The partnership as an entity must file form 1065 Annual Return of Income on April 15.  Quarterly estimated taxes are due on the 15th of January,  June and September.


This format is similar to the GP, with the exception that a partner(s) agrees to contribute resources to the business entity without becoming involved in its day to day affairs.  These are “silent partners”, often investors.

LPs have a share of ownership but neither operate nor manage the business or act officially on its behalf.  They have a liability to the business and its creditors that is proportional to what they have invested.  LPs and GPs receive a share of business profits/losses based on percent of ownership.  Again, it is recommended that an agreement for LPs be written.

As with  GP, form 1040 with schedule C and form 1040–SE will be filed on April 15 and quarterly taxes reported  on 1040–ES and filed on the 15th of January,  June and September.

More next week and thanks for reading!


Starting A Business? Consider Your Legal Entity Part I


The default legal identity for the vast majority of Freelance business consultants, the Sole Proprietorship is an extension of the owner and is not a separate legal entity.  It is possible to use a separate business name (dba = doing business as) when operating as a sole proprietor—registering with the state and /or city can be a good idea—and it’s also possible to obtain from the IRS a separate business tax ID (Employee Identification Number, or EIN) and open a business bank account, both of which are recommended.  Sole Proprietorship offers no liability protection.

The tax return filed is your own.  Since there will be business expenses,  you will file schedule C along with 1040.  Deduct the portion of your home used for business on form 8829 Use of Home for Business.  See your P & L for the numbers to use for schedule C business deductions.

Quarterly estimated taxes must be paid on the 15th of January,  June and September along with the annual filing on April 15.  Remember to file the self employment tax schedule SE in April.


To form an S Corporation is to create a separate legal entity for your business.  You must file articles of incorporation;  write by-laws for the corporation;  and elect a board of directors and officers.  It is furthermore required that annual meetings of corporation shareholders and directors be held and  official minutes for all corporation meetings be written and retained.

To set up an S Corp. choose a name for  your business (check the name availability on your state website),  get an EIN number and call the Secretary of State’s office to receive filing instructions.  The fee is about $275, paid annually.  It is recommended that you trademark your business name.

This is a relatively new form of corporate status.  As in the standard corporation, called the C  Corporation, owners and shareholders in the business are issued stock (of one class only).

To operate as an S Corp., certain conditions must be met:  the business must be a small business, must be based in the US,  may consist of 1 to 100  shareholders only  and no shareholder can be a nonresident alien.  Business owners and the business will have limited protection from liabilities, providing that no owner has been proven to be negligent.  If an owner is proven to be personally negligent, the owner will be held personally liable.

The tax return filed is the owner’s  form 1040, along with schedule E (due April 15) plus form 1120S (due March 15).  As with any business, quarterly estimated taxes must be paid, in this case using form 1120W.  Shareholders file schedule E along with their form 1040. There is no separate corporate tax.

If this is the business entity that you elect, be careful to meet and maintain all of the conditions.  Meaning, even if you are the sole owner, you must still hold annual meetings and write and retain minutes.  Failure to meet these conditions can cause you to lose the tax advantages of  S Corp. status and the business will be re-classified as a C Corporation.


Known as the C Corporation, this is the granddaddy of separate business entities.  C Corp. status offers more protection against liability than any other business entity.  If you run a large business, if your business has locations in more than one state,  if the business is expected to be very long lived  and/or if the business could be subject to significant liability,  it is worthwhile to operate as a C Corp.

Stock will be issued (of any class) and stock options can be offered.  It is generally easier to raise investment capital, as stock and/or options can be made available.  On the downside, a C Corp. has comparatively larger administrative expenses, is subject to more regulatory scrutiny and is taxed at a higher rate.

To do business in this fashion select a name for the business, obtain an EIN number and file articles of incorporation with the Secretary of State for a fee of  about $275, paid annually.  It is recommended that the business name be trademarked.

Corporation by-laws must be written and a board of directors and officers must be elected.  An annual meeting must be held for directors and officers and meeting minutes must be written and retained.

The corporation  must file the annual tax form 1120 on March 15,  plus estimated taxes on form 1120W on the 15th of  April,  June,  September and December.  Business owners file form 1040 with schedule E on April 15 plus estimated quarterly tax payments on the 15th of January, June and September using form 1040–ES.

Next week, I’ll be back with 3 more options for your business legal entity.


Starting A Business? Consider Your Financials Part III

Investors and lenders require significant demonstration of your ability to repay money that will be extended to your business.  Lenders will want to know when  your business can be expected to  make a profit,  so they can be shown in yet another way that you will have the ability to repay the  loan.  Investors will want to know when they can expect some ROI.

Both groups will also want to know the rationale for your financial calculations and for what purposes loan and investment capital will be utilized.  The following three statements will answer those questions.


The point in time when sales revenues generated equal business operating expenses is called the break even point. This is an important calculation for a new business,  perhaps  more so for those who seek funding. The Break Even analysis is also useful for established businesses that will launch a new product or service.

The B-E analysis demonstrates how much product must be sold at a given price for the business to stop losing money.  The business owner can then think about the road to profitability.  Investors will be able to think about getting paid back and eventually receiving their ROI.

Refer to your P & L  2 or 3 year projections and get the data for fixed and variable expenses and  gross revenues. Use an Excel spreadsheet to set up your B-E analysis. You will be able to experiment with different product/service prices to learn how much product must be sold at each price point to bring your business to B-E.  So now you have yet another way to help determine pricing.  Excel will also create graphs for the analyses.


When you have completed each of the five financial statements,  it is customary to explain your rationale for calculating things the way you did.  In a new business so much is an educated guess and in an existing business past performance points the way to the future.

Events beyond your control may occur,  an extreme example being the tanking of Lehman Brothers in September ’08 that set off our global financial crisis.  That ruined a whole lot of financial assumptions, that’s for sure!

Give an overview of the financial picture and then discuss the P & L,  Cash Flow,  Balance Sheet and B-E Analysis.  Let’em know you did your homework.  Explain and defend your decisions.


If you seek funding for your business, then you must document for investors or the bank how you will use their money and when you will need the infusions of cash.

Will you use the loan to finance an expansion of the business? Must you buy new equipment, hire employees, increase advertising expenditures or obtain larger office space? Provide detailed info on the costs associated with making it all happen.

Creating a timetable for the roll-out will make you look very prepared, as will including references to the sections of your plan that discuss these actions.  Be convincing as you discuss how these actions will increase revenue and profits and bring in the money needed to repay the loan on time.

There are categories of financial needs:  Working Capital–money you’ll need to keep the cash flow healthy so you can do business as you should; Growth Capital–money used to expand the business and increase profits; and Equity Capital–money to be used for permanent needs, it is offered to investors who will take a risk and receive a piece of the business or dividends.

Next week we’ll take a look at options for the legal structure of your business.


Starting A Business? Consider Your Financials Part II

Learning to create the financial documents for your business  is a worthwhile endeavor.  Make yourself do it! You will gain a significant understanding of your business.  You will learn the art of financial analysis.

Retaining a bookkeeper and accountant to produce the monthly statements and prepare the taxes is not enough.   In most cases, they don’t know your business well enough to make important decisions.  They can tell you when to cut expenses, but they lack the hands-on overview that effective decision making requires.

That responsibility (and privilege) is yours alone.  Little by little, even those who may be intimidated by numbers can become comfortable with the process.  Every business owner is the company CFO.


This statement demonstrates whether or not the business is making money.  It will be useful to generate  a P & L statement every month, to chart your progress and help you pay attention to what the numbers are telling you.  It is an excellent analytical and decision making tool.

Many entries from the Cash Flow statement will also be listed in the  P & L:  sales revenue generated from each product and service;  variable selling expenses such as raw materials, labor, equipment rental and advertising;  and fixed costs such as rent, office staff salaries and utilities.  When you’re financially able to do so the owner’s draw,  i.e. what you pay yourself, will be listed here as a fixed expense.

At the top of this statement, enter gross revenues (sales). There are also lines for beginning and ending inventory and cost of goods sold.  Subtract COGS from gross revenues to reveal the gross profit.

Fixed and variable  expenses are tallied and subtracted from gross profit earnings to give you the EBIT: earnings before interest and taxes.  Loan interest payments and all taxes are then entered and subtracted also, to reveal in the bottom line of the statement the net profit or loss.


The Balance Sheet shows the financial picture of your business on a particular date.  It demonstrates what the business owns and owes on a given date, usually at the end of the fiscal (or calendar) year.

The Balance Sheet is divided into 3 categories:  Assets,  Liabilities and Net Worth (owner’s equity).  All business assets such as cash in the bank,  equipment owned,  inventory, property owned, office furniture and accounts receivable are considered assets and are entered in the plus column.

Business debts and obligations, e.g. loans and loan interest payments, accounts payable and taxes owed are entered into the minus column.  Net worth emerges when liabilities are subtracted from assets.


The Pro Forma Cash Flow statement, which provides a projection of what cash can reasonably be expected to flow into and out of your business in a given month (or quarter), should be validated by a Quarterly Budget Review.   Also called the Cash Flow Statement, this document gives the actual cash flow numbers for your business and is created after the fact.

Now you can compare your best guesses to reality.  Are you over or under budget? What has been over- or underestimated? Do you need to trim or stagger certain expenses in order to pay the bills every month? How accurate were your sales projections? Moreover, how much are you spending to make the sale?

Needless to say it will benefit you to trim expenses wherever practical and control COGS by locating the lowest cost wholesalers and raw materials sources, to free up cash so you can comfortably pay the bills each month,  pay down business debts and  perhaps  allocate money for useful promotional and advertising campaigns. You will also want to take that owner’s draw as soon as possible!

We’ll conclude the money portion next week with a look at what investors and lenders will also want to see.


Starting A Business? Consider Your Financials Part I

So now we do the math. You will attach actual numbers to those sales projections, advertising strategies and monthly operating expenses. You will add up the items on your wish list and learn what you can and cannot afford to do.

You will see where adjustments must be made. You will develop a budget for the project,  devise a plan to finance it and greatly improve your chances of launching and sustaining a successful business. You will make your dream come true!

We’ll examine five financial documents:  Pro Forma Cash Flow;  Profit & Loss;  Balance Sheet;  Quarterly Budget Review and Break Even Analysis.  We’ll also take a look at the Financial Assumptions Summary and the Summary of Financial Needs, which are required for those who seek investors or a lender.


This is the monthly (or quarterly) budget for the business.  If you run a household,  you already know how to do this.  The statement documents the expected ( projected) money that will flow into and out of your business. You as the entrepreneur will learn how much capital investment your business will need to keep the doors open and the products available for customers to purchase.  Investors and lenders will know if there is enough money to operate the business and if your business is worthy of a loan.

Accounts receivable are what customers owe you as payment for services provided by your business or payment for products sold.  Invoice= paycheck—with the important caveat that some customers will not pay you on time and a few will not pay you at all.  Accounts payable are the bills the business must pay each month.

At the risk of sounding painfully obvious, make sure that you have a very good chance of bringing in enough money each month to cover the bills, at least after doing business for 18-24 months.  Maybe this means you can’t give up your day job just yet.

If your day job is gone, then expect to dip into savings or convince friends and family to help you float the venture.  I will caution you that when it comes to friends and family, money can change the relationship, sometimes not for the better.

Refer to your marketing plan before you begin the cash flow statement.  Look at your advertising calendar and your desired ad campaigns, products that must be shipped, required travel to see clients, etc.  Determine the selling, or variable,  expenses.  These change whenever sales volume increases or decreases.

Labor is a variable expense, as it is tied to the production of what will be sold.  If you plan to open a restaurant and hire a chef, that employee is labor since he/she produces  the product.

Get a firm grip on your Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), meaning the wholesale price or the cost of raw materials needed to produce your product.  An intangible product or service also has a COGS— time and talent.  Knowing COGS helps you determine a mark-up, or profit margin, that guides your pricing strategy.  The objective is to not only cover production costs but also to generate money to sustain business operating costs and you as well.  COGS impacts pricing, which impacts  sales projections.

Fixed expenses are administrative.  They don’t change much month to month.  Rent, utilities, insurance, office supplies and wages to non-production employees (e.g. the sommelier at your restaurant) fall into this category.

New businesses producing the first few months of Pro Forma Cash Flow statements will be documenting start up costs.  If start up costs are too heavy, trim or stagger expenses wherever practical.

Quarterly tax payments,  loan payments,  loan money received and planned inventory purchases  are also documented in Pro Forma Cash Flow.  In other words, whatever you expect to spend that month and whatever you expect to sell that month,  document in this statement.

At the bottom of Pro Forma Cash Flow there is a line called Ending Cash Balance. Your mission is to have that number be positive and greater than zero.

If the numbers show that expenses will be very heavy,  do not even think about increasing your sales projections to disguise a cash shortfall! Unfortunately,  many entrepreneurs inflate projected sales revenue.  That practice will take you straight to cash flow hell when the projected accounts receivable do not materialize.  I can assure you that the accounts payable will materialize.

Your best option is to dial back on certain costs.  Consider less glamorous product packaging,  lower cost advertising,  lowering the COGS by finding another source or using less costly raw materials, or renting cheaper office space.

Nest week, we’ll examine the P & L and the Balance Sheet.


Starting A Business? Consider Your Marketing Strategy Part III

Even if you will not seek financing for your business and the marketing plan is for your eyes only, you will thank yourself many times over if you take the time to thoroughly research and account for all aspects of marketing, especially sales expectations for your products and/or services.  Make sure that you  understand  exactly how you will  make sales contact with prospective customers.  In your plan, note whether your business will sell primarily  B2B,  B2C  or  B2G.


Sales is the tactical manifestation of marketing.  The theories of marketing are brought down to earth to make contact with the customer and will be validated (or invalidated) by the sales revenue generated.

When planning a new business venture it will be necessary to make sales projections (also called forecasting), ideally for 36 months into the future, to give yourself an idea of the revenue potential of your business.  It’s sort of like fortunetelling, but there are resources available to help you make a reasonable estimate. gives current industry profiles and other data, covering 16,000 lines of business in 300+ markets. You’ll need to become a registered user;  some (but not all) info is free.  Another excellent source for business data is Boston Public Library’s Kirstein Branch. You can access certain info online at and most is free.

Example:  in your business, you are the only sales person during the first year.  If sales are promising, you may decide to hire 1-2 sales people in year two and maybe another 1-2 more sales reps in year three.

There is data that gives the average sales revenue per full time sales representative in nearly every industry. That data will allow you to chart your expected gross income for the year, based on the number of people selling for you.

However, bear in mind that a new business is unlikely to achieve the benchmark figures during the first 3-5 years of operation.  Remember also that gross revenue is not net revenue—there are expenses associated with selling like salaries, product brochures and office supplies.

Competitive intelligence data can help confirm the accuracy of your sales projections.  However,  Freelancers and those competing with privately held companies will not be able to ascertain how much revenue is historically generated yearly by those competitors since the data is not public.

What I’ve discussed here is known as the Comparative Method of projecting sales.  It is generally more useful to project for new businesses using this method. There is also the Build-up Method, where the entrepreneur identifies all likely revenue streams and then estimates the dollar volume that can be extracted from each source in a given month (or quarter).  The Build-up Method tends to work best for businesses that have been up and running for a few years and therefore have a sales history and documented revenue streams.

Finally, consider the impact of  sales trends for your industry (meaning consumer demand) and the relative strength of the local and regional economies on your products/services.   Sales projections will never be 100% accurate.  It will be wise to keep your forecasts conservative.


How the business owner makes contact with prospective customers will be governed by a number of factors, one of the biggest being is this an online business or is it in real time?

If  you expect to sell online, be sure to have a website with a good shopping cart set up and secure credit card processing.  Your website will function like an ambassador and an employee,  so create  it with respect. The site must communicate your brand very well, must download quickly every time and must be user friendly.  A content management system will allow you to keep the site updated yourself.

Driving traffic to the site will be your #1 job and search engine optimization will be critical.  As was suggested in a  comment to last week’s posting, internet discussion groups are a very useful way to connect with customers and create buzz.  They are a great way to drive traffic to your website.

Catalogues do double duty, allowing customers to order by telephone or the website. They are expensive to produce (product photography is costly) and print, but they still catch the customer’s eye and are widely used by the likes of LL Bean and Staples. To the customer a good catalogue is a keeper, so you don’t have to print more than once a year.  Get a toll free phone number for customer convenience.

Next, decide whether the best way to sell to customers will be face to face or by telephone.  What is traditional for your business, meaning what do competitors do? Of course, you can create your own style.  Your sales may occur primarily by telephone, but a visit to prospects to introduce yourself to decision makers and gatekeepers can be a wonderful way to separate yourself from the pack and develop relationships.

Other selling methods include bid submission (e.g. the trades or selling to the government), referral arrangements and inclusion on preferred vendor lists (e.g. caterers and florists  at a function space).  For some businesses, two or more customer contact methods will be used to generate sales.

Next week we’ll start talking about money.


Starting A Business? Consider Your Marketing Strategy Part II

The marketing plan integrates all activities that are required to reach the customer,  from defining the position,  image and promise of  value that form the brand identity, to the style of  product packaging, to where and how the product or service is sold.  It can be argued successfully that the marketing portion of your business plan is the most important.  Investors and lenders will surely take an in-depth look.  Let’s float some ideas on how to create some buzz for what you’re selling.


The time tested way to get the word out to broad swaths of potential customers about the debut of your business and the advantages and benefits offered by your products and services is through advertising. The advertising methods that you choose will depend upon the customer, the business you will enter and your budget.  Think carefully about how you can reach customers in cost-effective ways.

Be prepared to do an advertising roll-out, step by step, to introduce your business to potential customers.  You’ll start with business cards and a brochure or contact sheet (for Freelancers). You may also have a website, or you may wait a few months until you can budget that project.  Depending on your business, you may do a leafleting campaign to announce your opening and place promotional fliers in selected locales.

You might do an open house. You might offer discount coupons. You might give away an inexpensive branded promotional item to your first 50 customers. You may take out a small ad in a local newspaper or in a business group newsletter, or place a banner ad on a website that is popular with your target customers. You could start a blog! Brand identity will guide your advertising and promotional activities.

If you have some money to work with, you may decide to hire a PR firm.  If you can find a PR person who 1). has contacts in your industry and 2). will actually produce the results they promise, then by all means sign on.  Getting articles written about you in print and online publications or even a coveted guest spot on local TV is a wonderful way to spread the word, establish credibility and expertise and bring in clients.

But be advised that PR people often oversell.  In all likelihood, if you sign up for the economy plan, they’ll do nothing for you except take your money.

So create your own PR.  Networking will be a big part of your promotional activities, so read the article in this blog and work on your Expert Elevator Pitch. You would be wise to join a few professional and business organizations like the chamber of commerce and at least one or two others. You need to get the word out about your business and start filling your sales pipeline with clients.

You need info on happenings in your industry and business environment. You need to meet colleagues and yes, competitors. This latter group can be very helpful. They can tell you pitfalls to avoid. They can tell you the backstory about suppliers and vendors.  They know your customers better than you do.  If they’re nice, don’t be too proud or too shy!

Social networking will also be an important part of your promotional strategy.  Depending on your business  MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter and/or Facebook will give you an online presence in addition to your website.  See the article Your Personal Brand Part II for tips on creating the right online presence.

Finally,  developing an advertising calendar will be very helpful.  It looks good in the plan and is a practical way to budget advertising dollars and ensure that you include all advertising options that both reach your target customers and make sense for you.  It will remind you to place seasonal ads when appropriate and meet advertising deadlines.

I’ll be back next week with Part III of Marketing, the final segment.


Starting A Business? Consider Your Marketing Strategy Part I

Once you have identified your customers, done some detective work to check out your main competitors and positioned yourself relative to them, thus claiming a niche for your company, you are ready to devise a marketing plan for your business venture.

The marketing plan supplies the road map that you will use to reach the target customers.  Sales strategy, pricing, product or service positioning, advertising and distribution channels must all be accounted for in relation to what target customers will accept.  The idea is to convince customers that buying your services or products will give them benefits that are worth the cost.


Describe how your products or services offer more advantages to the customer than what  is offered by competitors.  What’s the hook that will bring customers to your door?

Research the product features and attributes that are important to target customers and what they are willing to pay for them.  Dig a little deeper and brainstorm the benefits—those unspoken and often emotional motivators that will drive customers to buy from or hire you.

What is the challenge or need that customers  face, what is the “pain” that they’re in? Your company must provide solutions that customers determine to be useful. Think about what customers might value in the long run, but remember that tastes and perceived needs are fluid and therefore subject to change


Pricing is a tricky issue, especially for consultants and professional service providers.  It may be difficult to find out what competitors charge,  so there is no framework for  comparison.

If you have relationships with those who hire for similar services,  inquire as to what they pay so that you can set your price points.  Competitors are unlikely to help you with pricing, but colleagues who offer similar services may give some guidance.  If you plan to sell a tangible product, canvass the marketplace and learn how similarly positioned products are priced.

Be advised that  it is risky to underprice.  In general, it is not a great way to rapidly build a client list or gain market share.  In services especially, clients may wonder why your rate is so cheap—are you unqualified?  You don’t want to give the impression that you’re less than first rate.  Moreover, raising prices in the future may be met with customer resistance.

Underpricing will also negatively impact your cash flow.  You could find yourself spinning your wheels like mad, overwhelmed with lots of orders, but losing money overall because you have not fully accounted for the cost of goods sold, be it product production and marketing costs or the time and creative energy it costs you to fulfill a contract assignment.

Unless you’re in the grocery business, where profit margins are traditionally thin, make sure that your pricing strategy builds in a profit margin that will sustain the business and eventually you too.


Think about how your products or services will flow from their source and reach the target customers.  Examine how customers currently buy your type of product.

Do they buy primarily online, from catalogues, from a physical location, by referrals from trusted sources, by contract bids or at trade shows?  Can you access the preferred distribution channel?  How much will it cost you?

Service providers and Freelance consultants must also develop a distribution strategy, so that potential clients and referral sources can be reached.  If you work in professional services, you are on the coattails of the firm’s marketing efforts.  However, these days even junior associates are expected to bring in clients.

Networking and other relationship building strategies will be helpful here.  Put yourself in the places where clients and good referral sources can be found.   Work an expert elevator pitch and see who you can meet.  Visibility counts, so speaking opportunities and leadership roles in business groups will also be important for self promotion.

I’ll be back with Part II of Marketing Strategies next week,

Starting a Business? Consider Your Customers and Competition

Once you’re clear on the difference between an intriguing idea and what may be a genuine business opportunity and you’ve chosen what product or service you will offer,  it is then time to carefully consider who your customers will be.

The entrepreneur must define the customer well,  by using demographic and psychographic (lifestyle) data. The more specific the customer profile that is created, the better the ability to deliver what the target customer wants and will pay you to obtain.

When an entrepreneur fully understands who the customers are,  then he/she can understand what compels them to buy,  how to sell to them (on line or bricks and mortar?),  how to market to them,  how to price the product and how much time and money it will take to win those customers over.

This is why it is always preferable to enter a business in which you have experience.  The best way to know customers is by talking and interacting with them.  That allows you to tailor your services to meet their perceived needs and expectations.

If you’ve already done business with your target customers,  you will have a significant advantage and are better positioned to create a profitable venture.

Be sure to flesh out your customer info by speaking with others who do business with your target customers.  Suppliers and Freelance vendors  can provide lots of useful info. Speaking with your competitors will likewise be very helpful.

Visiting conferences and trade shows that are frequented by your target customers is a smart move,  as those are forums where information is shared.  Competitors may be more forthcoming in these settings.

Analyzing the competition will be a key success  factor for the business.  This is how you’ll find out what customers want from businesses similar to your own,  what benefits they think they’re getting and what price they’ll pay to have what they want.

A thorough competitive analysis allows the entrepreneur to refine the market niche and identify additional competitive advantages.  Good competitive info sets the stage for your marketing and sales strategies.

Visit the stores,  the restaurants and the websites of your direct competitors.  Check out where and how they advertise.  Study their message and methods of interacting with target customers.  Are your competitors making money? How do they make that happen?

Make sure that you have a critical mass of advantages that will improve your chance of success,  be it a hot product,  strong relationships with target customers,  experience in the business,  influential friends or a healthy budget to spend on start up costs.

You probably don’t  hold all of the cards, but before you take the leap  make sure you have enough to give yourself a good chance of winning the game.

More later,