Collaborative Advantage

We have all heard the phrase ‘two heads are better than one’, and it’s so true! Collaboration is such an important part of business and success as an entrepreneur; yet, it can also be difficult for many of us.

Team Work

When I speak of collaboration, I’m not talking about referral networks. I’m talking about long term, nitty-gritty business planning, strategy sessions, and implementation discussions.

In order to benefit from collaboration, you must be honest with yourself and others about your failures, fears, and weaknesses. It requires you to share what you’ve done well, what you’re unhappy with, and where you need help. This is why you need to choose a partner, group, or mentor whom you can trust and respect. You need to have confidence that the trust and respect is reciprocated.

You need to trust that you can share your thoughts and opinions freely, without judgment, or at least without lasting negative judgment.

You need to respect the opinions and expertise of the people you are requesting advice of; otherwise you are not likely to act on the advice given.

Like any relationship, effective collaboration also requires genuine interest in helping each other and some form of reciprocation.

Collaboration can come from many places; networking groups, mastermind groups, professional partners, friends, family, and mentors. The important thing is to find people whom you trust and respect; those who have your best interest in mind, and will help keep you accountable. This will help you grow both professionally and personally.

If you do not already have a collaborative relationship, you should be actively searching for one or building one.

Recently I took the initiative to create and build my group of collaborators. I had met a handful of powerful women over the past year, with various backgrounds and strengths; all who are very dedicated to building their businesses. Since I had such great conversations with them on an individual level, I decided to try getting them together as a group. Our first meeting was a very successful ‘get to know you’ session, and my hope is that this group will help each of us grow and meet our 2013 business goals.

Who will you rely on, trust, and respect to help you grow your business and hold you accountable in 2013?


Setting Prices – Simple Math

Income EquationWhat does it take to run a business? What expenses do you need to consider in order to be successful setting prices and staying in business?

I was recently asked how I went about setting my prices. Well, that’s really a matter of simple math. Of course everyone’s equation will look different, but it’s a matter of understanding your expenses and what you need to end up with at the end of the day/year.

So, let’s look at what it takes to run a business, a successful business. This can certainly vary from industry to industry, but let’s review some of the basics.

Product or Service – First things first; what are you doing or selling? You have to create, develop, or buy a product or service that you intend to sell for profit. This includes the expenses of materials, manufacturing, engineering, researching and developing time.

Location – You need a location. Even if you’re running a home based business, you need to set-up an office with desk and filing space for organization. Some businesses need to rent retail and/or warehouse space.

Marketing – This is a big category. Marketing includes advertising, newsletters, networking, and article submission. It also includes printed items that promote your business, such as: business cards, brochures, postcards, banners, etc. Marketing includes online media, such as: a Blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Foursquare, Pinterest, and Google. While not all of these cost money, they certainly take time; and time is money!

Website – While your website is a huge part of marketing, it also serves as the introduction of your business to many potential customers. The design of your site is an important decision. The hosting and URL purchase can drive your email options. It can also provide an ecommerce aspect.  You will want to integrate any newsletter, social media, and blogging efforts that you engage in to help drive further business to your website, as well as, provide further information from you to your customers.

Bookkeeping – This covers invoicing clients, making sure bills get paid, reviewing aging receivables, reconciling the accounts, and handling any payroll.

Operations – What systems will you have in place to make your job easier? What will the process look like when someone chooses to work with you? What will the follow-up entail? Who will be responsible for each aspect and step in the process?

Administration – The day to day items that take you away from the product or service you are trying to sell. This can include emailing, scheduling, data entry, filing, scanning paperwork, typing and sending letters, etc.

Security – How will you protect your inventory and/or information? Will you need a security system, spyware for your computer, a backup system?

Legal – This covers setting up your business entity, creating contracts, reviewing risk and compliance, and any litigation.

Staffing – Employees are a HUGE expense, including HR, salaries, medical benefits, employment taxes, overhead, equipment, training, interviewing, managing, and professional development.

After looking at this basic list, you can see that running a business is not just about how much time you spend making your widget or providing your service. Each of the categories above can equate to multiple expenses that will eat into your bottom line if you don’t plan for them.

Running a real, sustainable business involves a lot of thought, planning, and expenses. My advice is to consider all the costs, and create a budget before setting up shop and setting prices.

Helpful Hint: As an entrepreneur, 30% – 50% of your time may not be spent on billable activities, so setting your prices based on a 40 hour work week may not be realistic.

Business Owners’ Gift Guide

Need help getting motivated, organized, and planning your corporate gift giving? Well, we’ve got some action items and gift ideas all lined up to help you out! Because, if you haven’t planned your gift giving for this holiday season, then you’re running out of time…

Make your List – list everyone that you need to recognize, thank, and connect with during the holiday season; this includes clients, colleagues, employees, partners, and prospects. Your goal should be to have your list completed before December 5th.

Create your Budget – begin with your total budget. Determine the per person budget which can be based on a percentage of your total budget, and should probably be weighted according to the type of relationship you have with the individual. Your goal should be to have your budget completed before December 10th.

Get Organized – in order to simplify the process, try to order as much as possible from the same source.  If ordering online, have gifts shipped directly to the recipient. Try to choose retailers and distributors who will still be around next year, in order to simplify reorders. Your goal should be to have all of your gift orders placed by December 15th.

Need help finding appropriate gifts and giving inspiration?

Clients – be sure to acknowledge your clients this holiday season. This could be as simple as a card, as nice as a bottle of wine or box of chocolates, or a personalized gift that you hand pick. Consider Send Out Cards, Tasting Room, Harry & David, or Kiva.

Colleagues and Partners – it’s a good time to show your appreciation for the partners and co-workers who help to make your business a success. Consider useful gifts for the office or thoughtful gifts personalized for the individual. Consider Uncommon Goods, Think Geek, or Cell Phone Shop.

Employees and contractors – while appreciation should not be limited to the holidays, this is certainly a time of year that warrants your expression of gratitude for the people who help support you throughout the year. Consider fun gifts that will allow them to enjoy their down time or experience something new. Consider The Wine Buyer, Haven’s , or Send Out Cards.

Here are some suggestions of where you might find such items at reasonable prices:

  • Send Out Cards – an easy way to send personalized holiday cards, gift cards, and small gifts for any occasion
  • Harry & David – various gift baskets of fruit, chocolate, cheese, and more
  • Tasting Room – wine by the bottle, the glass, or a sampling set
  • The Wine Buyer – mix and match cases of wine with free shipping
  • Uncommon Goods – many unique gift ideas
  • Think Geek – fun gift ideas for the geeks in your life
  • Cell Phone Shop – very affordable electronic accessories (not just for cell phones)

For those in Maine who want to shop local, there are some fantastic options:

  • L.L. Bean – lots of quality gift ideas from a Maine icon
  • Haven’s – handcrafted Maine candy, chocolates, and fresh roasted nuts. They also offer corporate branding.
  • Len Libby – Maine made chocolates, taffy, and fudge
  • Wine Wise – unique wine events and education in the Portland area

Consider some philanthropic options this year to really share the spirit of the season:

Consider using a service like charity navigator to review an organization before making a donation

If you have any additional tips that you have found helpful, or gift ideas that have been well received, please share with a comment!


In the spirit of full disclosure, please be aware that there may be affiliate links within this article. However, we never promote products or services based on any financial gain, only on our experience and the value that we believe you may gain.

The Gateway to Collecting More Money

Processing payments for customers is an important step in launching a live, thriving sales web site. Payment Gateways and Shopping Carts do a great deal of the work for you, not only freeing up time but allowing you to process payments faster and get your orders filled all the sooner. These systems retain records, orders, customer information, and provide a safe, secure place for your customers to feel confident while shopping.

With Payment Gateways, there are no paper transactions and you get your receivables very quickly. These companies protect your business from fraud, increase revenue through ease of use, and provide an overall sense of security for customers to return again and again.

Here are a few Payment Gateway options:

Google Checkout

Check out the Business Resource Library at Office Solutions ME, where all the information you need to bring your business to the next level is available. Anytime you need further help, ask us about Virtual Assistance!

Get Your Cart Ready!

Shopping CartThis week is Thanksgiving, which means Friday is BLACK FRIDAY and Monday is CYBER MONDAY. So, are you ready? Is your Shopping Cart set-up and your products updated? Just in case your not quite there yet, we put together some thoughts to help you out.

You want your customers to be able to buy items from your web site smoothly and easily, feeling comfortable, confident, and familiar with their sensitive purchasing information. Shopping Carts allow for a universally known experience by letting customers track what they are purchasing, edit their orders, and “Check Out” when they are ready.

Beginning or increasing your sales by adding Shopping Cart ability to your web site has never been easier. Consumers are more and more comfortable with Shopping Carts and when paired with Payment Gateways they make it a breeze to keep sensitive banking information safe and secure. Whether you are selling hard goods or soft (downloadable) goods, Shopping Carts truly bring your business to the next level.

Here are a few of the Shopping Cart options:


Visit the Office Solutions ME Business Resource Library page for more great ideas to increase your sales and manage your business. And as always, if you need further help, ask about our Virtual Assistance and Business Development services.

Happy Thanksgiving!

10 Trade Show Prep Tips

Trade Show BoothTrade Shows are an amazing way to market, network, and sell your products and services. When going to a trade show, having a project timeline will amplify sales and marketing efforts as well as put the best possible face on your business. This also allows you to test the market in a public forum and gather much needed feedback.

At a trade show, you can gather intelligent marketing information about your competition, directly contact and show your product or service to potential buyers, and save valuable time and money by reaching prospects without having to rely upon individual meetings and demonstrations.

Here are some tips for preparing for a trade show (starting 4+ weeks before the event):

  1. Organize your information in a binder or folder (virtual or physical), keeping phone numbers, schedule, and any other information in one place.
  2. Prepare a project timeline as soon as you book the show, with a checklist for easy preparation. See the Helpful Tools list below to find online checklists and calendars which will help you stay organized.
  3. Obtain a list of attendees and learn about those contacts you are interested in. Researching the audience and other participants ahead of time in order to prepare for questions and have relevant material will bring you in direct contact armed with info you need. Nothing beats a face to face meeting.
  4. Ask questions of the event management, such as what is provided with the booth, and the booth dimensions. Ask if there will be wi-fi capability, water, and other needs you may require.
  5. Organize your marketing materials; business cards, brochures, banner, your website, and any presentations.
  6. Create a way to collect information from people: names, phone, email, etc… Having a “give away” item is a great way to entice people to give you this information.
  7. Prepare the booth and demonstration materials. Having promotional items such as key chains, pens, etc… and using decorations to draw attention to your booth.
  8. Bring a digital camera to document the event for your website and blog.
  9. Tweet or comment on Facebook from the event.
  10. Have a follow-up plan to reconnect with people you met or collected contact info from.

Use checklist tools to keep your project organized. These services are free and are accessible through your phone as well as your computer. Some great checklist and task list tools are:

Remember the Milk

There are wonderful marketing material web sites and tools readily available to help you create business cards, fliers, questionnaires and more:

Vista Print

The most important part is to follow up with potential clients after the trade show. Sending an email to thank your new contacts for stopping by your booth, and let them know that you will be in contact shortly is a great way to start.

Please contact Office Solutions ME today for more assistance in setting up your trade show, creating marketing materials and copywriting, or for any virtual assistance you may need.

Plus, check out the upcoming trade show training program being offered by the Maine Small Business Development Center.

Giving Away the House – A Confession

Giving Away the HouseThis blog is typically a resource for software, efficiency tools, and business services, but today I have a confession to make… I gave away the house.

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve probably done this at least once. As business owners and consultants, we all want to give the proper complementary consultations. The key to these sessions is learning enough about the potential client and their business, while sharing enough about your expertise, and deciding together how you may be able to help them. These consultations can be a great way to get to know if a potential client and your services are a good fit. They can also be a great exchange of information.

However, there is a fine line between giving enough information to show your value and giving them all of the answers. Someone recently described it to me as “giving the ‘what’, but not the ‘how’”. Of course, when you’re passionate about your business it can be very easy to give away too much information for free, especially when trying to sign new clients who have significant opportunities for your assistance.

Recently, I had this experience. After being in business for over three years, it was the first time I could honestly say, “I gave away the house”. I spent two and a half hours on a phone call that should have been less than sixty minutes. After doing a brief overview of my business and my experience, the customer did the same –a typical exchange of information, nothing abnormal. We then proceeded to chat for another hour and a half about the specifics of what this customer needed; how to accomplish tasks, timelines, partners, resources, software, etc…and there was my mistake. Because I care about seeing businesses succeed and get really excited about planning and strategizing, it’s easy for me to get carried away with solving problems.

After the conversation, the potential client sounded very happy and interested in working with me. I proceeded by sending my standard initial contract. The potential client then responded by finding what she perceived as ‘mistakes’, and used them to come to the conclusion that she should keep searching.

Based on this interaction and her continuous reference to cost, I feel that this potential client would have found some reason to stop using my services in the near future regardless. So, this may have been a blessing in disguise. I’ll take a non-client over an upset client any day. Of course, it’s always frustrating to feel that I might have been taken advantage of. As a business owner that cares deeply about my client relationships and reputation, I have to learn to let this one go and move on. It will remain a learning lesson, and now I know what not to do.

Hopefully my story made for an interesting blog, and my experience will help prevent you from making the same mistake.

Do you have any stories to share about being taken advantage of, giving away the house, or making any other crucial mistake in your business? If so, please post a comment and let us know about the experience and what you learned from it.