Tag Archives: small business

16 Penny-Pinching Ideas to Keep Your Small Business Afloat.

Are you struggling to survive in these tough economic times? I’ve been self-employed for 30 years and know what it’s like to keep going through lean years. If I’ve one key piece of advice, it would be to watch the small stuff. You’d be surprised at how a few dollars a week can add up over a year.

Here’s are 16 penny-pinching ideas worth trying:

1. Check out thrift stores and garage sales. Don’t spend a fortune on office furnishings. Local thrift stores and garage sales are a good bet for desks, chairs, and filing cabinets. Even better get stuff free through organizations such as Freecycle.

2. Buy used equipment. I’ve used refurbished computers for years and been very happy with them. The savings are considerable. Make sure you buy from a reputable dealer who has a warranty on parts and labor.

3. Meet over a coffee rather than lunch. A few business lunches a year can add up.  Your local coffee shop is  a more practical alternative.  Better yet,  invite a client to your home. The coffee’s cheaper. ;-)

4. Save on gas. Consolidate your car trips. If you’re driving to pick up groceries, combine it with a trip to the post office, office supply store, or library.

5. Use VoIP. Don’t  spend money on long distance calls. Use a VoIP service such as  Skype . It’s free and easy to set up and use.

6. Become friends with your library. Stop buying books and magazines and renting DVDs. They’re all free at your Library.

7. Go online. Before spending your hard earned dollars, check out the wealth of excellent free resources available on the Internet. To get you started, here’s a previous post I wrote 100 Free Resources for Personal Historians.

8. Only buy what you absolutely need. It might be fun to have the latest iPad and smart phone but are they essential items in your business? I’m still using a cell phone I bought 5 years ago. It suites my needs just fine. Don’t be seduced into spending money on electronic devices and software that’ll do very little to help your business.

9. Be a savvy shopper. Clip coupons, check out sales, and compare prices. And find out the best time of year to buy things. Here’s a start: The Best Times to Buy Anything, All Year Round.

10. Negotiate a good deal. Whether you’re dealing with a salesperson or a subcontractor, don’t be shy to ask for a discount.  I always ask salespeople if that’s the best price they can give me. Sometimes paying by cash rather than a credit card will lower the price on an item.  With a subcontractors,  pointing out that you’ll be using their services regularly  might lead to a reduced fee.

11. Market on the cheap. This is not the time to be producing glossy brochures and business cards. I’ve written about some low cost or no cost marketing ideas here.

12. Try bartering. This involves trading goods or services with another business. For example, you might arrange with a web designer to create a website for you. In return, if you’re a personal historian, you could organize her photo collection.

13. Monitor your energy consumption. Shut down your computer when you’re not using it for a few hours. Turn off lights that you don’t need.  And avoid phantom energy loss by literally pulling the plug on all equipment that operates in standby mode such as computers, monitors, computer speakers, and cell phone chargers. Phantom loss can add hundreds of dollars to your yearly electrical bill. To make it easy,  plug these standby mode items into a power bar that you can shut off with the flick of a switch.

14. Tax deductions. Don’t forget that if you’re home-based, you can deduct a portion of your rent or mortgage interest. And keep in mind that some of your utilities and home services such as security, cleaning, and yard maintenance are eligible for tax deductions.

15. Use recycled printer cartridges. Printer ink is hugely expensive. Check for a recycle dealer in your area or go to an online source such as Whole Toner.

16. Consider free web hosting. It’s not perfect but the price is right! For a list of some of the best, check out Best Free Web Hosting.

What are some of your penny-pinching favorites?

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Photo by Alan Cleaver

5 Essential Marketing Approaches You Need for a Successful Personal History Business.

Not all marketing approaches are equal when it comes to your personal history business. Traditional print advertising, for example, isn’t that effective. Few if any of us could sustain the major expense of an ad campaign. And we engage our clients at a very intimate level which requires that they know, like, and trust us before buying our service.

So if not all marketing approaches work, what does?

The collective wisdom of personal historians  who’ve built successful businesses suggests that these 5 approaches are essential.


Having  satisfied clients sing your praises to their network of family and friends  is pure gold. A colleague of mine gets most of her clients by word-of- mouth. If you’re starting out, it’ll take some time before you’ve built a critical enough mass to ensure a steady flow of clients.

This doesn’t mean you can’t begin the process with your very first client. If that person is really pleased with your work, don’t forget to ask for referrals. Check out my previous post Lousy at Getting Referrals? Here’s Some Help for more help.

If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful. ~ Jeff Bezos, founder Amazon.com

engage your community

Because our profession is a very personal business, potential clients want to be able to see, hear, and be inspired by us. So put yourself in the middle of groups  where you’re likely to meet face-to-face with potential clients. You can do this by volunteering, agreeing to sit on boards of community groups, and networking with business associations like BNI. I’ve written more about this in What Do Fishing and Personal History Clients Have in Common?

public speaking

I know this can strike fear in the hearts of the bravest souls but don’t pass up a great opportunity to promote personal histories. I’ve some help for you in  How to Get Control of Your Pre-Presentation Jitters.

Remember that your presentation isn’t about soliciting business but about educating people on the wonderful world of personal histories. Work up a variety of presentations that can fit a 15 or 30-minute time slot. You can read more about honing your presentation skills in my previous article Do You Want to Bolster Your Presentation Skills?

Next, contact groups in your community who might be interested in personal histories such as church groups, genealogical societies, book clubs, and service organizations.

build referral partners

There are a number of businesses which serve some of the same clients as personal historians. These include life coaches, wedding planners, financial planners, and eldercare transition specialists.

Over time you can  extend your reach by cultivating such referral partners. Read more about this in  You Can Do It! Get Referral Partners Today.

talk it up

Don’t underestimate the value of mentioning your work whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. Don’t be shy. Always carry a few business cards.

See your supermarket, bank, library, dentist office, and public transit as full of potential clients.  Chat with a stranger in a line up or with a receptionist or librarian. It works.  I’ve been asked for my card by a cashier at our local grocery store and by my dentist.

You just never know where your next client will come from.

Make it happen!

Don’t turn the chance to go anywhere. Join clubs, do anything you can to get out there and meet people. You are your product. Advertise it.
~ Max Markson, Australian marketing expert

Image iStockphoto

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Warning: Avoiding the Digital Universe Will Hurt Your Business.

Let me begin by saying there are legitimate reasons to be wary of the ever expanding digital universe – a glut of junk information, loss of privacy, time wasting, and addiction. But there are also irrational fears at work based in part on our inherent resistance to  change.

Change happens. And a good thing too. Lucky for us there was the invention of the printing press. Monks no longer toil on illuminated texts for a select few.  Manual typewriters have a certain aesthetic appeal but quite frankly I was happy to throw out the rolls of correction tape.

Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.  ~ Popular Mechanics, 1949

There are those for whom the world was a much better place when we read “real” books, wrote in longhand, and used manual typewriters. There’s a wistful longing for a slower paced, more genteel life.  And while I sympathize, I can’t help but feel that these people are missing a richness of experience that’s just a click away.

Television won’t matter in your lifetime or mine. ~ 1936, Richard Lambert, broadcaster

If you’re not running a small business, it probably doesn’t matter if you’re digitally savvy. But if you want to create a successful personal history business,  you’ve got to stick more than your big toe into the digital stream. This doesn’t mean you have to be sucked under and drown.  But it does mean that you need to be familiar with what’s out there to be able to pick and choose the digital tools that’ll help your business.  Sticking your head in the sand and ignoring the wealth of resources that are available will hurt your business.

Here are a few digital resources worth considering. What would you add to this list?

  • E-books:  add a whole innovative and interactive realm to life stories with text, videos, photos, maps, documents, and more. Read more here and here.
  • Webinars:  increase marketing reach using such services as GoToWebinar.
  • Blogging: build conversations and credibility with clients using a free service such as WordPress or Blogger.
  • VoIP: extend interviewing reach world wide with a service such as Skype .
  • Podcasting: reach a wider audience with information and support using such services as BlogTalkRadio.
  • Booklets: turn a PDF file into a handy information booklet using BookletCreator.
  • POD: print a sample copy of a book using a print-on-demand service such as Blurb.
  • QR Codes: print these codes on your business cards and send clients to a URL site where they can access more information about your services, get discount coupons, access video, and more. You can create a QR Code here.
  • Project management: find a list of 10 free project Management applications here.

Photo by wecand

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

My favorite article in this week’s Monday’s Link Roundup is Belongings.  You won’t want to miss it! For an item that’s  quite wonderful in a strange sort of way take a look at The Happy Cemetery. And something we can all work on is covered in  Can You Say It In One Short Sentence?

  • Belongings. “There are three million immigrants in New York City. When they left home, knowing it could be forever, they packed what they could not bear to leave behind: necessities, luxuries, memories. Here is a look at what some of them brought.” [Thanks to Lettice Stuart of Portrait in Words for alerting me to this item.]
  • From research to story. “A bevy of biographers gathered in May in Washington, D.C., at the second annual Compleat Biographer Conference to discuss how to chase down subjects and make their lives into great stories…Today, we have highlights from the panel on “Turning Research into Narrative.” Speakers included Anne Heller, John Aloysius Farrell, Jane Leavy and moderator Amy Schapiro.”
  • The Happy Cemetery. “Originally begun by a peasant grave carver named Stan Petras in the 1930s, and carried on today by the Pop family, the cemetery has become one of the most popular tourism attractions in rural Romania, with tour buses pulling up and unloading foreigners hourly.”

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Want to Know What Betty White Can Teach You About Your Personal History Business?

1989 Emmy Awards

Who doesn’t  love Betty White? I’m a huge fan, first encountering her as the sugar-coated tough cookie  Sue Ann Nivens on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. This past weekend I was reading an interview with White.

I was struck by the fact that her life has lessons to teach those of us who run personal history businesses. I’m not for a moment suggesting that we can all possess the good health and talent of a Betty White but we can certainly learn from her example.

Keep going

Betty White has been working hard for over  six decades. She’s done it all, constantly reinventing herself. She started out in radio in the 1940′s. Her first television appearance was in 1949 with Al Jarvis on Hollywood on Television which she later hosted.

Through the 50′s she created, co-produced, and starred in the syndicated comedy Life With Elizabeth for which she received her first Emmy Award.  Through the 60′s  and early 70′s she appeared regularly as a celebrity panelist on game shows.

Her big break came in 1973 with The Mary Tyler Moore Show where she was a regular until the series ended in 1977. Her next starring role, for which she received her second Emmy Award, was on The Golden Girls from 1985 through 1992.

Through the 90′s, White guest starred in numerous network television programs. She also lent her voice to a number of animated shows. Most recently she’s hosted Saturday Night Live and is starring in the comedy series Hot in Cleveland.

LESSON: Success doesn’t happen overnight. As a personal historian you’ll need to put in many years of hard work. You might have to take on a second job to pay the bills. Like Betty, who continually reinvented herself, you’ll need to learn new skills such as public speaking, book  production, blogging, or workshop design. Doing all this with determination and a positive attitude will help you through the tough times just as it did Betty White.

celebrate your uniqueness

Betty White embraces her age. She makes no apologies for being old. From the Golden Girls to Hot in Cleveland she’s demonstrated that you can be old and still be funny, smart, outspoken, and sexy.

Receiving a lifetime-achievement award at the 2010 Screen Actors Guild Awards, she gushed sincerely about how lucky she’s been to work with so many in the room, and then seamlessly added, “And I may have had some of you, too.” Back on that podium again in 2011, she stroked the statuette’s bare bottom and smiled lewdly.

~ from the Globe and Mail  The Betty White tornado

LESSON: Be yourself. As a personal historian, I bring decades of experience as a documentary filmmaker. I value my graying beard and wrinkles. I see my “advancing years” as a plus in this business. Age suggests experience and a life lived – all valuable and marketable traits for a personal historian.  Look hard at what makes you special and unique. This will be a selling point with your potential clients who are not only looking for competency but also authenticity.

Embrace curiosity and learning

“You have to stay interested in things.” White said in her Globe and Mail interview. “There’s so many things I want to know more about that I’ll never live long enough to do. But it’s something to reach for.”

Betty White is a marvelous example of life-long learning. Starting in radio, moving to television, then becoming a producer, starring in feature films, hitting the quiz show circuit, and now releasing her fifth book  If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won’t).

Given her six decades in the entertainment business she could have easily succumbed to its changing technologies and tastes as many did. But she rose to the challenges, got even better, and survived without any bitterness. As she says, “Sickeningly optimistic.”

LESSON: To survive in the personal history business we need to adapt or be swept aside by the the digital revolution. E-books, print on demand, social media, and HD video all require learning new ways of doing our work. Sure,  it’s not easy at times but sticking our heads in the sand or complaining bitterly won’t work. Grab on to your inner “Betty White” and just do it!

look Fantastic

Have you noticed that throughout her career Betty White always looks fabulous and stylish? She’s not afraid to show some flair and sassiness.

LESSON: Hire a designer to ensure that all of your marketing materials – business cards, brochures, and website are first class. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone to come up with a design that speaks to your uniqueness. And don’t forget your own appearance. Looks do speak volumes whether we like it or not. You want your business attire to read confident, impeccable, trustworthy, and appropriate.

Photo by Alan Light

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Want to Start a Personal History Business? Here’s How.

Interest in personal history as a career is growing.  When the Association of Personal Historians was formed in 1995, it had a handful of members. Today that membership has swelled to over 500.

Increasingly people track me down and ask if they should start a personal history business. In order to help you decide if this is your kind of work, I’ve pulled together these articles I’ve written over the past 3 years years.

If there’s a topic you don’t see here and would like covered, please let me know and I’ll address it in a future post.

  1. What You Need to Know About Becoming a Professional Personal Historian.
  2. Three Crucial Steps to Starting Your Personal History Business.
  3. The Best Advice Ever for a Personal Historian.
  4. 12 Key Tips for Successfully Working Alone.
  5. The 10 Best Things About Being A Personal Historian.
  6. The 10 Worst Things About Being A Personal Historian.
  7. How Much Should You Pay a Personal Historian?
  8. What Makes a Personal Historian a Professional?
  9. Are You Doing a Good Job of Conveying the Value of Personal Histories?
  10. 12 Ways to Ensure Your Personal History Business Fails.
  11. When Should You Quit Being a Personal Historian and Move On?
  12. Six Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Personal Historian.
  13. More Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Personal Historian.
  14. 10 Commandments for the Professional Personal Historian.
  15.  How to Start and Run a Personal History Business.

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The Costliest Personal Histories in the World!

How many of you would have the nerve to proclaim, “We will NOT be oversold”? Yet that’s just what designer and retailer Bijan Pakzad did.  For thirty-five years he reigned over his exclusive Rodeo Drive establishment in Los Angeles. Bijan died last week at the age of seventy-one.

From his by-appointment-only boutique to his claim as “the most expensive clothing designer in the world”, Bijan was an unapologetic promoter of exclusivity.

You might be asking yourself, “But what does opulence and exclusivity have to do with personal histories?” Good question and here’s where I see the connection.

People buy products for their perceived benefits not for their features or functions.

We purchase a computer not for its technical specifications but for its benefit to us – namely fast research capabilities, entertainment, communications, marketing, and so on.

Bijan wasn’t selling clothes. He was selling celebrity, exclusivity, and glamor.

As personal historians what are we selling? If you said books, videos, or CDs, you’d be wrong. Those are the products of our work. What people are buying are:

  • Time. People are busy and don’t have the time to document mom or dad’s story.
  • Satisfaction. People feel good honoring someone through a life story book or video.
  • Expertise. Generally people  aren’t skilled in the many aspects of producing a personal history and need our help.
  •  Closeness. People perceive that a personal history will bring families closer together.
  • Understanding. Participating in the recording of a life story gives people a better understanding of who someone is and how that person got to be that way.

people will pay a premium price for specialty products and services.

The truth is that while  Bijan’s clothes are priced at the high end of the designer market at $1,000 for suits, they are hardly the most expensive in the world. His clients are drawn by the cachet of exclusivity and pampered service.

On a more pedestrian level, Starbucks pioneered the brewing of premium coffee in North America.  Before  Starbucks  opened in Seattle in 1971, a cup of coffee was just a cup of coffee and could be had for 10 t0 15 cents.  Many a skeptic would have questioned the wisdom of charging 10 times that amount for a “fancy” coffee. They were proved wrong. The story of Starbucks success is now part of pop culture history.

In a previous post  Are You Charging Hamburger Prices for Gourmet Work? I wrote:

Something else to think about. A  Stanford University study showed that when subjects were given the same wine and told that one bottle was $5 and the other $45, people unfailingly found “the expensive wine” tasted better. “So, in essence, [price] is changing people’s experiences with a product and, therefore, the outcomes from consuming this product.” said Baba Shiv, a professor of marketing who co-authored the research report.

What do these studies  say about how you price your personal history services? They show that pricing too low can be perceived by your potential clients as you’re offering an inferior product. People still believe the old adage – you get what you pay for.

Personal historians provide a specialty service and product. Like Bijan and Starbucks, we need not apologize for charging a premium price.

I’m not suggesting that every personal historian should  sell exclusive products at eye-popping prices. What I do want to emphasize is that we  need a shift from seeing ourselves solely as “craftspeople” toiling away in obscurity for the love of our work. That’s okay if you’re into this as a hobby. It’s not okay if you want to build a successful business.

So, who will proudly proclaim that they produce the costliest personal histories in the world?

Photo iStockphoto

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From the Archives: 12 Ways to Ensure Your Personal History Business Fails.

12 Ways to Ensure Your Personal History Business Fails. [A tip of the hat to Laura Spencer at Freelance Folder for inspiring this post.]

Ever get a “teensy” bit tired of all those gung-ho blogs dedicated to productivity and success? It’s time for some balance. Let’s talk about good old-fashioned failure. For all you personal historians who are  run off your feet with  clients’ demands, here’s your escape plan. Follow these 12 tips and you  can’t help but fail successfully. Do you have some great … Read More

How to Start and Run a Personal History Business.

Disclosure. I’ve contributed one small item to this book but I will not be receiving any renumeration from its sale.

I’ve just finished Jennifer Campbell’s recent book  Start and Run a Personal History Business published by Self-Counsel Press. If you’re thinking of making personal histories a business, you owe it to yourself to get this book. Jennifer knows her stuff. She’s been a professional personal historian since 2002 and prior to that had a 25 year career as an editor, writer, and interviewer.

This 180 page book is packed with the kind of information I wish I had when I was starting out. The 16 Chapters cover:

  • the world of personal history
  • the business of personal history
  • getting started
  • business foundations
  • pricing
  • producing a sample
  • a guide to producing a personal history
  • interviewing
  • marketing
  • an online presence
  • publicity and promotion
  • sales
  • client relations and customer service
  • time management and project management
  • growing your business
  • accelerating your success and managing growth

In addition, the book comes with a CD-ROM which includes all of the sample templates used in the book as well as resources to help you in your business.

If you buy Personal History Business for nothing else than the chapter on pricing, it’s well worth the investment. For personal historians who are starting out, determining what to charge clients is a challenge. Jennifer’s detailed step-by-step approach will give you the help you need to ensure that you keep your business profitable.

What struck me about the book is that Jennifer makes it clear that running a personal history business takes more than just a love of people and their stories. Her book is like a splash of cold water.  After reading it, if you’re still enthusiastic about establishing a personal history business, you’ll  go into it with your eyes wide open. A word of caution. Don’t become overwhelmed by the content. There’s a lot to digest. Read it through once for an overview and then come back to chew on smaller portions.

I like Jennifer’s candor. For example, on business plans she says, “Like a lot of small business owners, I resisted doing a business plan for a long time. I think it was a psychological block…I finally got some serious business coaching…”  In my eyes, her honesty makes her more credible because I know that she’s writing from personal experience.

The book is also sprinkled with useful tips. They’re terrific. And I wish she’d included more of them and highlighted them so they stood out from the surrounding copy. This brings me to my only real concern and that’s the overall layout and design of the book.

My personal preference is for some breathing space around blocks of text. I found the information on the pages visually congested. I longed for more white space, bolder titles, and little sidebars with tidbits of information, like her “tips”.  I would have found it easier to absorb the wealth of material with more visual help. Having said this, I’m aware that there are production costs to consider when designing a book. And Self-Counsel Press, the publishers,  probably have a standard layout from which there can be  little deviation.

Layout and design aside, this is an excellent book. If you’re serious about establishing a personal history business, you need to do two things -  buy a copy of  Start & Run A Personal History Business and join the Association of Personal Historians.

What Gardening Can Teach You About Growing Your Business.

Do you want your business to grow? Then why not apply some basic gardening know-how to your enterprise?

It’s  harvest time here in Canada.  And I have a bumper tomato crop. Well, it’s just one pot but it’s outdone itself. It got me thinking that running a business is not unlike  nurturing a garden.

Choose appropriate plants. Experienced gardeners know that to grow the healthiest plants they need to select varieties that suit the local climate. How do you select your clients?

  • Aim your marketing at those who need your service. There’s no point in wasting time and money going after clients who have little interest in your product or service. Take the time to  research carefully who your potential clients are and where you’re likely to find them.  If you’re a personal historian, one of your client groups will be older people wanting to leave a legacy for their children or grandchildren. Another group will likely be parents  who want a record of Grandma or Grandpa’s story to pass on to their children.

Fertilize. Every garden needs an appropriate amount of good organic fertilizer to replenish the soil and ensure long-term growth. What are you doing to fertilize your business? What would you add to my list?

  • Conferences. A good conference is invigorating. It connects you to new people and ideas. That’s why I’m attending this year’s APH Conference in Victoria.
  • Courses and workshops. These are great ways to learn how to  enhance your business skills.
  • Downtime. It can be a mini-break in the day for exercise or meditation or a longer absence such as a vacation or sabbatical. Whatever you decide, downtime is an important way to nourish you and your business.
  • Networking. Getting out and meeting people is one of the tried and true methods of growing your business.

Dig out the weeds. If you let the weeds overrun your garden, they soon sap the strength of your plants and in some cases kill them. What weeds are growing in your business? What others would you add to my list?

  • clients from hell
  • unorganized filing systems
  • time-sucking distractions like daytime TV or social networking
  • lethargy
  • scattered or non-existent marketing plans

Watering. Not all  plants need the same amount of water. Over or under-watering can be the downfall of many a gardener. Here are some examples of over-watering or under-watering a business. What are your examples?

  • Over-watering. Overwhelming potential clients with too much marketing, e.g. fliers, e-mails, telephone solicitations, and newsletters.
  • Under-watering. Failure to acknowledge the person who sent you a referral or not sending former clients a greeting at special times of the year like Christmas or birthdays.

With patience and good gardening practices you can better your chances of growing a flourishing business. How’s your garden growing?

Photo by Ajith Kumar