Tips for small business owners

Having a great idea is not enough. The ability to market it and making it reach the audience is the key. There might be many players in the market fighting for the same pie, but how you get your value across defines your success.

Small scale entrepreneurs face many hurdles in getting customers, getting the cash flow going and ultimately building a profitable business enterprise.  One of the most critical aspects the entrepreneurs have to deal with however is marketing their product.  Going all out in the market and fighting for the same pie with big players might get very challenging and exhausting for small businesses. Therefore it becomes all the more important for these small players to have a unique selling proposition.

Few decades ago the traditional push marketing platform was the only one which was used by small businesses. Then, marketing avenues meant newspaper inserts, small hoardings etc. This was more of a push marketing strategy and it meant that targeting was not very focused.

Today however, marketing has changed and has become more of a pull strategy. The noise and the clutter have also increased drastically. Due to this it has become all the more necessary for smaller businesses to carve a niche for themselves and get more consumers organically.

The first step to define your USP

Below is an outline of how it can be done

  • Get in the shoes of your customer: It has been often seen that the entrepreneurs fall in love with their product and forget that it’s not their need which is to be satisfied but their customers need. Be a consumer of your product and think like a consumer. For example, the founder of Revlon, Charles Revson, always used to say he sold hope, not makeup. Likewise some airlines sell friendly service, while others sell on-time service. Knowing what the customer is looking for helps in a great way to define your USP.
  • Know what motivates your customers buying behavior: Price is not always a deciding factor in this competitive world of business. Many things are at play in the consumers mind before he /she decides to consume or buy the product. Design, look and feel, packaging, service and the attached benefits etc. all are taken into consideration by the consumer for buying.
  • Study the competition: As a small business grows, entrepreneurs need to find more customers and therefore studying the competition becomes essential. Visiting the competitors store or website once in a while and getting a feel of what the customers like may help to tweak the product or the experience for the ultimate buyer.
  • Test your product before launch: Apart from the above measures, the entrepreneurs should conduct exhaustive tests of their product before finally launching in the market.
  • Networking: Networking is the cheapest way to get in the market, know the players, know the consumer, expose your product and be in touch with the latest in the market. Personally being present and talking to people always has a high recall value.

Once the Unique selling proposition is established there are a few do’s and don’ts for a small businesses.

  • Don’t get in the price war as big players are better at it because of economies of scale.
  • Provide Value added service.
  • Try to be personally in touch with your consumers.
  • Attend Seminars and join networking communities.
  • Get a good website with authentic testimonials as people do check the authenticity of the product or service.
  • Take part in small events and promotional activities.
  • Do not be in your comfort zone thinking that customers will walk in without any effort.
  • If possible attach a friend with you to work with. Working alone can become tedious. Find a co-founder.
  • Most importantly talk to people who have gone through the same hurdles. Ideally, get a mentor for yourself who is more experienced and can understand your challenges.

Growing your business and reaching your goal would be easier if this is practiced.

 

 

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The Changing Social Fiber

Most of us fondly remember our childhood days. Days where we had no responsibilities, no earning pressure and it was just playing and studying that mattered. Friends and cousins meant the world to us as and the only pressure we felt was probably during our exams. That innocence, that free spirited attitude, that warmth in relationships with relatives, neighbours and especially cousins and friends takes a step back when we get busy in our own rat race of earning money and bringing up our family. Though I agree that few relations do not change with time, but it’s also true that one needs to give time to nurture those.

Just when I was thinking on these lines, I got a call from my college friend. She was in town and wanted to catch up. We decided to meet in the morning when my daughter goes to school. She came over in the morning and we had years of catching up to do and gossip to share. She was the same, same in looks, attitude and same in her spirit. I knew that she was not married, but didn’t know whether it was by choice or by chance. Anyways we were so engrossed in our gossip that it didn’t matter, but some where it was still playing at the back of my mind.

At last I gathered the courage and asked her about her plans for getting hooked. She mentioned that it was her conscious decision and she doesn’t intend to get married, rather she told me that she doesn’t feel the need to get married to anyone. This statement of hers was not a surprise for me, as there are many acquaintances and close friends who think on similar lines. She told me that she is doing extremely well for herself financially, she has loads of good friends who land up whenever she is in need, she roams around with likeminded single friends, can go for a holiday when stressed without checking anyone else’s schedule and many more such things. Her life sounded not less than a fairy tale to me.

I asked her doesn’t she feel the need to have a special partner whom she can share her life with? To which she told me that she hardly finds time for herself and it would be injustice to involve another person in her life and not give him the required time and attention. Also marriage is not about just one person. His parents also do come in the picture, their expectations, adjustments etc. and she thinks will take away her independence and dampen her spirit. Her aim is to ultimately be happy.

I was looking at a different angle of this marriage institute all together. It does bind you to some extent but if you get a good partner it makes it all worth it. Having someone to walk with you is far better that walking alone is what I told her. But yes it’s a gamble…it’s a risk…but it’s worth a chance. She obviously disagreed.

She told me about a scenario wherein the girl gave in to the parental pressure and got married. Now, both husband and wife are so busy that they have decided not to have a child consciously. Getting a child is a big responsibility and they do not want to do injustice to the baby by having a maid as a substitute for the mother, or taking obligations from grandparents. A child is the primary responsibility of the parents, and if the parents are not in a position to do justice to this responsibility then there is no point in getting a child in this world. Help is very much needed to bring up a child but it should be just a help and not offloading the whole responsibility on others. I agreed to what she said. Having a child should not be the reason to get married.

In today’s world where mostly both husband and wife are working in a high pressure environment, taking care of a child is a challenge. Day care, full time maids, grandparents help (when they should enjoy their retired life) are just simple adjustments to bring up a child. But what about all the priceless moments and experiences of enjoying your baby, the new role and being with that small bundle of joy? Most moms who continue with their corporate job, carry the guilt of not being around for their child in the growing years.

The key point here is “your own happiness”. Taking an aware and conscious decision is very important, because if one just goes with the flow and follows the sequence of the traditional life of getting married, having children, along with being a part of that money earning rat race, then sooner or later the guilt, frustration, will set in and then there will be grim chances to reverse the decision.

After getting to know someone who had a different view point, I felt nothing is right or wrong. What is wrong is blindly following things, nor questioning them, staying in guilt, staying in a limbo. It’s for sure that our societal fiber is changing and women after being financially independent their need for marriage has been diminished. Even if someone gets married, there is a lot of thinking which goes in to planning for a baby, unlike in a traditional set up where it was expected to be so.

For sure, marriage as an institution would be challenged in the coming years and the definition of family will change. A few decades ago a family meant a joint family with grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins etc. Slowly the uncles and aunts and cousins found their way out and only grandparents remained. Over the last couple of years, a family now means a nuclear family with just a couple and their children. Over a period of time, in many cases the children will disappear and so will the spouse. Family will then just mean the individual!

In today’s world when everyone is running, adjusting, compromising, with another person leave alone his/her family, having a child will complicate matters further.

In my opinion one should not judge people who take a CONCIOUS and AWARE decision in life. They know themselves better and they know what they can or cannot handle. Divorce rates are increasing, kids are being raised by maids…..

Not travelling a path is better than ruining it and not enjoying the journey and staying in guilt the whole life. What I concluded after talking with my friend is that ultimately it all boils down to how happy you are with your decision because getting stuck where you don’t belong causes you great pain. Take a well informed decision; after all it’s your life.

Our chain of discussion was interrupted by the door bell, and there she was… my world! She hugged and kissed me and said “you are the best mom, cause you gave my favorite food in my lunch box.” That moment I was very proud of myself to have taken a conscious decision 6 years ago:)

A Realisation

Priya was getting ready to meet Nitin. She was meeting him after a decade. Somehow she wasn’t able to understand her emotions, was she happy, anxious or plain numb. The break up was not a good one and there were many unsaid things from both ends. Meeting him and finally closing the matter was a dire need for her. It’s not that she remembered him everyday but it always pinched her for not clearing the air. During those days it wasn’t possible due to the flow of emotions and today after a decade she got the chance of dealing with it with a cool head.

Priya and her husband bonded very well in these years. It’s not that their marriage was a bed of roses but they coped well in the ups and downs. There were many instances when she questioned her decision of getting married to him. In the worst of times she even questioned the institution of marriage. Her husband was a very kind and warm person at heart. It was just that in day to day living he wasn’t her type. She started doubting herself that may be she is not fit for any sort of partnership. Who on earth would think of separation if the partner has qualities like understanding, compassion, warmth, kindness etc. But there was definitely something that was missing in their relationship. Their definition of love was different. She liked to express and talk and he liked to just BE with her. Her decisions were ‘feeling based’ and his ‘logic based’.

Some where down the years they managed to come midway. Unlike many couples who  hid their pasts, they knew each others past very well. They were mature enough to not let the past affect their present. Every one has skeletons in their cupboards and they were not an exception.

Today she told her husband about her meeting Nitin. He was a bit uncomfortable but he understood the need of closing the chapter once and for all. That ways he was some one who was matured enough to understand the complexities of relationships and had immense trust on her. Priya adored this quality of his and he adored her loyalty.

She got ready and reached the cafe where they were supposed to meet. She saw Nitin at the corner table with the menu card in his hand. He looked exactly the same just that he had put on some weight. Unlike her college days, her heart didn’t skip a single beat. They greeted each other with a hello and she sat in front of him.

In no time her mind took her back to those days when they dated.She liked him for his rough and tough looks and the care a damn attitude that he had. He was a strong built person, full of himself and overconfident . None of their friends had believed when the two of them had gotten together in college. Days passed, months passed and both of them got a job. Life was changing slowly and the realities of life started hitting them. They got less time together and instead were spending more time with like minded colleagues. Their outlook and horizon widened when they met new people.

Romance took a back seat and earning became the primary focus. Nitin was super money minded and emotions didn’t matter to him much. The same things which they liked about each other, became sore to their eyes. Fights and quarrels increased and slowly they started drifting apart. Guess it starts happening when you take each other for granted. Soon Priya had tremendous pressure of getting married. She mentioned this to Nitin and he did not pay any heed. Some how he was confident that she would not leave him. He had only one focus at that point of time which was of earning a particular amount before getting married. He was so drowned in that money making emotion that he did not notice when Priya left him mentally.

She being an intelligent girl took timely action by making it clear to him that she cannot wait for his stupid money figure to be achieved which may or may not be within their time frame. It was clear that he was fine letting her go at the cost of achieving a particular bank balance. It took 7-8 months for her to totally get out of the relation and in due course she met many alliances which she rejected on the pretext of not liking them. It was her way of buying time to be mentally stable again. As the saying goes ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ so was this breakup as by now she knew what type of a guy she did not want as her life partner.

After rejecting umteen prospects she developed some interest in one of the guy who seemed to be genuine and a gem at heart. As she was some one who took decisions based on her feelings and then tried to find logic in it, he seemed to be THE GUY! They started talking and in due course got to know about each other. She learnt that he was soft spoken, confident, polite and quite grounded. In a nut shell, in so many traits, he was the exact opposite of her ex-boyfriend.They decided to take things forward and get married. Before Priya left, she met Nitin and told him everything. She didnt think it right to just vanish in thin air. After all, she was leaving the city forever and would not see him again. Nitin thought it was all pre planned by her and he felt cheated.The final day arrived when she left the city with her bag and baggage for ever to lead a new life with some one who was totally unknown to her.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the steward wanting to take their order. She ordered for her regular mocha and so did Nitin. He spoke about his job, his wife, his money making target, the house he stayed in, the house she stayed in, property rates, the new phone in the market, and all the materialistic things on earth. The focal point of conversation was Money. He was still rude to stewards, full of himself and money minded. For every reaction she compared him with her husband and in everything Nitin scored far less.Though Priya did not expect any other conversation, she did expect that he would ask about her atleast for old times sake.

She felt that he was still stuck in his old muck and had still not grown emotionally as a man. She had her coffee and dropped him to the near by taxi stand. Ironically, she did not feel the need to clear the air about the reason for their breakup.

She felt blessed for what she had. Though her husband was a man of few words, he was sensitive to the human emotions. She felt blessed that they were comfortable monetarily and that her husband was not just a money earning robot. She felt blessed that her husband was her partner for life. That day she realized that one doesn’t get what one wants, but one gets what one needs.

Real People In A Virtual World

Meena a 56 year old was sitting by the window sipping coffee and looking at the vast skyline of Mumbai. She hailed from a small town and was a small town girl at heart. Her wedding had landed her in this City.

She was a lecturer in a B school and was staying alone in a plush apartment after her husband’s demise. In her busy schedule she rarely felt his absence, but there were days like these when she remembered him more.

Meena was a very social woman and she made it a point to invite her friends to share her joys, big or small, her frustrations, achievements etc. Having no life partner she realised the importance of friends. She also had a son who lived in the neighbouring colony. He and his wife were super busy making a living. They had a 5 year old son whom Meena would babysit during occasions like their anniversary, office parties, movies, etc.

Life was going OK as usual.

One day her son dropped her grandsonTanul to her place for 2 days. She enjoyed his company as there were many new things to learn and play with him. She became like a child with him and had so much of quality time for him unlike his parents who were always busy through the week. Weekends were the only days when they had some time devoted for him if there were no other social commitments.

When ever Tanul was with Meena he bloomed as a child. He laughed, shared, spoke his heart as he was completely himself. Meena would take him to the nearby park in the evening, where he played with other kids. Its not everyday that he got to play in an open space like this. This was because most of his evenings were spent in the day care where he had a restricted area to play.

Being with Meena, Tanul felt like a liberated soul. He ran in the park, jumped, played football, made new friends and on his way back home he even had coconut water. He was totally satisfied how his day unfolded. Meena too had a sense of fulfillment to make Tanul do things he looked forward to. She had the satisfaction of making someone feel contended. The same satisfaction when her husband used to praise her cooking. The look of satisfaction on his face after the meal used to make her feel proud of herself.

At night, Meena and Tanul had a good dinner with lots of laughter. After that it was story time and Tanul kept his head on her lap. While she stroked his hair and was deciding which story to tell, Tanul asked her about the incidents when he was a toddler. He loved to listen to his funny toddler stories again and again. Suddenly he asked about the childhood stories of his Dad to her. Meena’s mind took her 25 years back, a time when childhood was different.

Back then in summer vacations, Meena used to take her son to her parents place in a small town. There the breeze was fresher, vegetables straight from the farm, warmth of neighbours, pampering by aunts, gifts by uncles, and delicious food by her mom. Everything was so perfect. Her son often had ample cousins to play with and there were nights spent on the terrace having late night conversations, early morning walks, playing on the ground etc. Summer vacations for kids passed so quickly that it never felt satisfactory. Childhood days 30 years back were very different. Lots of outdoor play, lots of cousins, lots of friends, no gadgets, no cartoons. Just real games with real people.

Tanul heard her every word carefully. He pictured himself doing those things, but in reality his world was very different. He had expensive toys, video games, one or two good friends where he went for play dates for limited time, many extra curricular classes, planned activities in restricted areas and loads of screen time. What ever Meena narrated about his father’s childhood seemed to be a dream world for him.

Meena realised how Tanul felt after listening to this, after all which child would not like to play outdoors with umteen playmates for unlimited time? He longed for some one to play with whom he could share his toys, he longed for some one to talk to, he longed for his parents uninterrupted attention, he longed for some one who would let him be and not put too many boundaries, he longed for a heart to heart discussion, he longed for some one who could accommodate his tantrums when he felt down and not brush his needs under the carpet. He longed for a real human bond in this technological emotionless world.

Meena looked at Tanul, who was now peacefully sleeping on her lap. A sense of security and comfort reflected on his face.

Some where in the corner of her heart she could feel the same longing, the same emotion that this child on her lap felt .

For the first time after her husband’s death she confronted her emotions. For the first time after his demise she uncovered her mask of being social and got in touch with her real lonely self, for the very first time she realised that momentarily friends make her feel happy but after that she is all by herself again. She too like Tanul, longed for real human touch in this technology filled world, longed for a hearty discussion with her son with no intervention from the virtual world, longed for some one at home with whom she could have dinner every night.

Today, with Tanul she was able to do all this.

That night like Tanul, her face too reflected comfort.:-)

Fading Faces

I  am sure many of us have experienced moving houses. If you yourself haven’t moved then maybe your neighbors have. When I was in class 6th my parents decided to shift from a comfortable and a friendly colony set up comprising of innumerable friends, to a place with an upcoming infrastructure. Though I knew moving was inevitable, I consciously avoided thinking about “The Day” knowing it would be an emotional one for me. But time just passed by, construction of our house was complete and within few days the final date of  moving was finalised. With a sinking heart I broke this news to my friends (10-12 of them)…yes we were a big gang :)… Knowing about this news, they too were disheartened as my new house was far and it was impossible to meet with them every evening .

Finally the day I dreaded arrived. It was our last day in that house. My parents were happy as it was a sense of pride for them to move to their own house. They arranged for the movers as during those days packers were not readily available. I saw everything getting loaded in the truck. That day, lunch was arranged by one of our neighbors and snacks by one of my friends mom. I sat there thinking about how everything was so cozy, familiar, trustworthy and loving around me. The thought of an unknown place suddenly made me feel lonely. As the last piece of luggage was uploaded in the truck  we finally bid adieu to our neighbors, aunts, uncles, and then my dear friends. My friends were all in tears and so was I. More than my friends, I was leaving behind  mixed emotions, many memories, experiences, secrets, and many more complex feelings. Carrying this bag of mixed emotions within, I saw my known faces fading away and off we were on the new path.

Given that friends are the integral part in that age, adjustment time for me was longer than any other member of the family. It took me a long time to make friends as there weren’t many people staying around. Though I made some friends but the quality of friendship was never the same.

Few days back I was reminded about the same situation. My daughter’s best friend was moving to another city. They were best of buddies since they were 1 year olds.This was the 5th year of their friendship and today it was “The Day” for my daughter’s friend. He was in our house since morning playing with my daughter as movers and packers were busy at his place.They both played as if there was no tomorrow. Surprisingly there were no arguments, no complaints.They were playing and talking peacefully. While doing my regular chores I passed through their space and overheard their conversation. He was telling her “I wont be there now, so behave properly, have breakfast and milk without any tantrums, don’t go alone in the elevator but take the stairs, and if any one of us feels like talking to each other call on our respective mom’s number.”  There was a pain of parting in that conversation. The pain of letting go the very first friend of their lives.Though they were merely 6 years old, the emotions were the same as that of any grown up parting ways with their buddies.

In the evening they both sat near the truck watching the last piece of luggage getting uploaded. I looked at him and suddenly my old feeling came to the fore front. I was able to empathize with him. With teary eyes my daughter hugged him and said goodbye. At that moment I felt the same pain when I had left my friends.The only difference was, this time our faces faded away for some one moving on to a new path. .

Company of Self

There are days when I am so busy that rarely I get time to just sit and do nothing. Life just passes by. Days, weeks, months and years. After my daughter was born 6 years have just flown by. The pleasure of being there for her, doing things for her, helping her settle in different stages of her life, being with her emotionally, physically as well as mentally is a very satisfying experience. Though this experience is very satisfying, some where down the line I started realising that I have unknowingly stopped doing things I love. As she is now less dependent on me for most of her things, I decided to break this monotonous routine and just be myself, live for myself, pamper myself.

My husband, who is a very cooperative partner, understood my need decided to visit his parents with my daughter giving me the required break. That 3 day break completely rejuvenated me. I did what I wanted to do, without the worry of reaching home on time, or managing day to day stuff with no time constraints, no guilt of some one waiting for me back at home…etc .. I painted the town red, watched a movie in the theater (alone), shopped, visited random places, clicked random photographs, sat in a coffee shop sipping coffee and analyzing  people around me.

My time was completely my time. I believe true freedom comes only when one is not chained in his/her mind’s random, irrational thinking. Just the state of being in the present moment, enjoying the surroundings, noticing small wonders around, is pure liberation. This state comes only if you know the “art of doing nothing” and just being there.

I love my company and even in my daily routine I search for moments like these. I heard many people saying that they cant stay alone, cant watch a movie alone, or dine alone etc. One should not restrict one’s experience just because there is no one to do the same with them. For once be with yourself and enjoy your company. I bet you will fall in love with yourself.

Slow down your pace

Slow down your pace  

 

The other day I read an article on how one should slow down in life, take a breather and be aware of the things around. At times we, especially people in metros are living our lives as robots. Now the question is, if we need to slow down on everything, we need to slow down on our parenting skills too.

We as parents are always hard-pressed for time. 24 hours are not enough if one has a toddler at home. I am sure it happens in the later stages too as children graduate into full time schooling. After my daughter was born, she was my world for few days and from then till now – 5 years have passed  but the level of engagement has only increased and at times has become more complicated. But if I sit back and think 5 years have just passed in a blink. Was I too fast or unaware to notice that period? I wonder at times!!. This hit me when I was talking to one of my acquaintances and narrating her this experience. She has a daughter in college now. She said that it seems like yesterday when we were figuring out which school is good for her (same position where I am right now) and now her daughter is in college, making her own decisions and at times even not bothering to consult her parents and in two years she will be ready to leave home for further studies.

So her advice to me was to cherish these moments as they will pass in a blink . Don’t rush, spend as much time with your kids, be SLOW, don’t do many activities with them but do few being fully aware. Enjoy being with them as these milestones (pram stage to toddler –kindergarten-schooling) will just pass in a blink. Take in as much as you can because your little ones will never be the same again.