January 13, 2011

How to (Effectively) Hire a Coach or Consultant for your Small Business

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 8:53 am

These days advising small creative businesses is almost as much of an industry as having a creative business. With so many options to choose from, it’s hard to find the right person to work with. Today’s post offers some guidelines for selecting the right person and making the most of your sessions with them.

Finding Mr/Ms Right
Before you can hire someone, you’ve gotta find ‘em. There are a few ways to go about this. One option is to ask fellow business owners for recommendations. If you go this route, take recommendations from businesses that are somewhat in your own wheelhouse. For example, if you sell yoga attire, getting a suggestion from a company that sells incense and candles might make more sense than getting a suggestion from a company that sells software. This isn’t a strict rule, but it’s something to consider. Some coaches and consultants have a better understanding of certain target markets than others. If you’re looking for general advice on how to improve, working with someone who has a history of reaching your target market can be helpful.

You also want to take suggestions from companies you admire. Personally, I wouldn’t want to hire a coach suggested by a company with a shoddy looking website. It may not be their coach/consultant’s fault, but it does make their recommendations less valuable.

Another way to find a coach or consultant is by reading their blogs. Most people in this line of work have blogs and it’s a great way to gauge their expertise, areas of interest and personality.

What to Check Before You Work With Him or Her
You want to make sure your coach or consultant understands your need and can address them. You also want to make sure he or she is qualified. You may be able to gauge this from reading articles he or she has written, but if not ask questions. Coaches and consultants are NOT experts on all things, so you want to work with someone who has expertise on YOUR thing that you’re working on.

Personally, I prefer to hire pros with personal experience or expertise in the area I’m looking for help. If I’m hiring a help for improving the wholesale side of my business, I want to work with someone who has either a. personally sold a ton of product wholesale to some very major retailers, b. coached/consulted with businesses who saw a large and measurable increase in their wholesale volume after taking advice from this person  or c. has worked on the retail side as a buyer and can give me an inside scoop on how to best work with retailers. I wouldn’t hire some armchair philosopher who hadn’t personally been in the trenches of doing what I’m trying to do.

Next, you want to find out who some of the person’s past clients are and what they have to say about working with them. Are the clients at a level of success you aspire to? Do they attribute any of their growth to work they’ve done with this coach or consultant? Are they in a niche that has anything to do with your niche? (i.e. If you’re hiring a PR consultant and you sell jewelry, are all her past clients non-profits and professional associations? If so, she may be great with associations and less savvy with a product line like yours.)

Lastly, try to get a feel for the kind of style the coach or consultant has. Is she a straight shooter or more of a warm fuzzy type? Which style do you think will be easier for you to work with? Does this person actually do legwork for you or do they enable you to do the heavy lifting yourself?

Making the Most of Your Time With the Right Coach/Consultant
The number one thing you want to know is what do you want to get out of this exchange? Do you want direction? Do you want to know how to create a line sheet? Do you want specific advice on how to improve your SEO? Do you want someone to re-design your website for you? Having a specific set of goals and expectations will help you ask the right questions, request the right services and help your coach or consultant perform the best.

You may not have something very specific in mind when you begin work with a coach or consultant. Maybe you just want to know how to improve sales or what next steps you should take to grow your brand. Be clear and honest about what you’re looking for so you can get what you want and your pro can focus on your goals.

The next thing to consider is whether you’re actually ready to work with a coach or consultant. Are you going to actually implement the suggestions he or she makes, even if it involves spending time or money? Are you going to work with this person over time if you can’t get what you need in one or two sessions?

Have you successfully hired a coach or consultant? How did you do it and how’d it go?


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October 5, 2010

Funds Week: Hiring Professionals To Grow Your Business

Earlier this year I talked a little about getting what you pay for when it comes to hiring a professional. For most small businesses, it’s going to be nearly impossible to grow without contracting some professionals at some point. Below is a sampling of some of the kinds of professionals you may need to grow your business and how much they cost. You may be able to do some of these tasks on your own, but it’s unlikely that you can do ALL of them on your own. Even if you had the skills, and most people do not have all of these skills, you probably do not have enough hours in the day to keep on top of all of it.

  • Digital Marketing:
    SEO, SEM, PPC, keyword research, page rank, black hat, site maps, phrase matching, broad matching, negative keywords… do you know what all those things are? If not, you can either invest the hundreds of hours you’ll need to learn it all, or you can hire a pro. The latter will cost an hourly rate of about $100-$200. If you go with a retainer, expect to pay upwards of $5,000.00 a month! If you go the DIY route prepare to get hands on and technical and prepare to sink a huge amount of time into this endeavour. Larger companies in your niche may have hired a consultant or a full time staff person just to manage their digital marketing efforts.
  • Public Relations:
    Do you know how to build a media list? Do know know how to network with reporters? Do you have contacts at media outlets? Do you know how to write a pitch? Like digital marketing, this is all stuff you could learn, but if you go that route, be prepared to invest some serious time. Time that could be spent doing product development, market research, etc. If you hire a pro, you’ll likely want to retain an agency, and they usually charge a retainer of around $2,500/month and that’s on the low end. If you find a freelancer willing to work for an hourly rate, expect to pay $100/hour and up.
  • Accounting and Bookkeeping:
    Are you a wizard at Quickbooks? Do you have time to track all of your company’s financial activity? Do you understand tax codes as they apply to your business? You can either get up to speed or you can hire a bookkeeper and accountant. The average accountant charges $150.00 per hour. Bookkeepers are somewhat more affordable at $30-$50 per hour.
  • Legal Fees:
    Want to file a trademark? Freaking out because another designer is ripping off your work? Better get a good lawyer. The average lawyer costs $300.00 per hour
  • Web Developer/Graphic Designer:
    Your website is the first and possibly the only face of your company that customers see. If your site looks amateurish, customers won’t trust you and you will lose sales. Your competitors have polished, well-designed, lean, mean, conversion-optimized machines for their web presence. You need the same. Unless you’re a pro at web development and graphic design, you’re going to need a professional. Expect to spend at least $50.00/hour and up for these services. A fully-fledged ecommerce site can easily cost several thousand dollars.
  • (On the subject of graphic design: This is a skill that is tougher than it looks. Most people are NOT capable graphic designers, even if they are capable with other creative mediums. If you don’t have a background specifically in graphic design or any training, this work is best left to professionals. Having an amateurish logo in comic sans with a low resolution scan of a doodle you created makes your business look unprofessional. Avoid this pitfall and work with an expert.)

  • Support Staff:
    Successful business owners are busy people, they may need the services of an assitant, a junior designer, a receptionist. You may need someone to do piece work for your product manufacturing. You may need someone to help pack and ship orders. This type of staff usually demands a lower hourly rate, since it’s not skilled work, but they won’t work for free and you may need a lot more of their time than the expensive lawyers and accountants. Expect to pay your support staff $10/hour and up.
  • Sales Reps:
    Want to get into the wholesale world? You can try to rep your own line, but if you’re too busy or too inexperienced or simply hate doing sales, you’re going to need the services of a professional here too. Although sales reps work on commission, expect to pay some upfront fees. They may expect you to pay their trade show fees, travel expenses, printing costs, and a myriad of other expenses. On top of that, you’ll be giving them a commission on everything they sell, typically around 12-15%!

Are these prices freaking you out? Tomorrow we’re going to take a look at the cost of various services you may need to run your business. Thursday I’ll be talking about how to figure out what to budget for first, and then Friday I’ll be discussing how to get the funds you need to run your business properly.


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April 26, 2010

You Get What You Pay For: Hiring Pros to Support Your Business

Imagine yourself at a show or event where you’re selling your merchandise. You’ve spent weeks or months preparing for the event. You’ve prepared products, paid to reserve booth space, had a banner made, purchased a tent, you got up at 5am to load in and get all set up. You’ve invested time, sweat and cash, and now you’re ready to make some money. A customer picks up one of your products and says “Geez! You want $35.00 for this! What did it take you like 15 minutes to make this? It must have cost you like $1 in materials. I’ll give you $6.00 for it.” I bet right now you’re thinking “what an asshole.” You’re not wrong.

All of that said, when you balk at the cost of a PR rep, a small business consultant, an SEO consultant,a graphic designer, a web designer, ad space, a sales rep, etc. you sound like the exact same kind of jerk. It’s not okay to undervalue your labor as a small business owner or artisan and it’s also not okay for you to undervalue the labor of professionals who support your business.

Before you even think about hiring a professional to support your business, consider whether or not you actually want/need to do it. Are you prepared to invest in your business? Are you trying to grow a business into a full-time viable income source or are you a hobbyist? Can you afford to hire a professional?

The next thing to consider is that what you can afford has nothing to do with the value of a service. Like you, the person you want to hire to draw up a marketing plan or design a logo has bills to pay and a family to feed. He or she cannot work for slave wages nor should you expect them to.

“But what about designers who will do a logo for for $5.00?!”

Yes, you can probably find someone who will make you a logo for $5.00. What you’re going to get is a $5.00 logo. A logo that took no time to design and probably isn’t that great. A professional designer will spend the time to research your logo, select or design a unique font, create an original illustration. A professional will engage you in conversation about what you want your logo to be like. She’ll present you with a couple of concepts and go through rounds of revisions until your logo is perfect. A professional designer also probably spent thousands of dollars on specialized software that allows them to provide your logo in a format that can be used any place from a highway billboard to a business card.

“So you want me to pay $10,000 for a logo?!?!”

There’s a happy medium between the steep price tags paid by companies like Pepsi (they spent $1 million dollars on their logo) and the $5 clip art/comic sans variety. This is true with all professional services. There are consultants, web developers, graphic designers, PR reps, etc. that specialize in catering to small businesses. They are likely to give you a pretty low rate, but don’t expect them to work for free (or close to it).

Before you hire you should:

1. Do your research
Want to hire someone to make a website for you, google “how much does a website cost.” You’ll be sure to find some articles on this subject. Also find out what to expect when hiring a web designer. How many rounds of revisions typically come with a $1,000 price tag? How many design options should that price tag come with? Should the price tag include a content management system so you can update your own site? How much extra are shopping carts?

You need to make sure that you know what questions to ask before considering hiring a professional. It will save you from either getting ripped off or feeling disappointed by unrealistic expectations. Google “what to ask before hiring a web designer.” Research away until you’re armed with the knowledge you need to start a conversation with a professional.

2. Get competing bids
If you’re especially apprehensive about the cost of hiring a professional to help with your business, be sure to shop around. Get quotes from 2 or 3 different pros and make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. For example does the SEO consultant that costs $500 do both on-page optimization and link building or just on-page? Does the SEO consultant that costs $2,000.00 have a more impressive track record with past clients?

3. Find out what’s included
Always ask exactly what you’re getting for your money. PR, web design, logo design, SEO, etc. all come in different sizes. For design work ask how many revisions are included in your quote. Ask what format your design will be delivered in. Ask the PR person if they charge extra to make your press kit or build your media list. The more detail you have on what you’re getting, the better prepared you’ll be to make a hiring decision.

4. Ask for references or a portfolio
When hiring a professional to do work for your business experience counts. Really that is what you are paying for. So ask the professionals you’re considering hiring to provide references, details on the kinds of experience they have or ask to see their portfolio if you’re hiring for design work.

A few related reads I recommend:
Hiring a PR Professional for Your Indie Business
How to Hire a Good SEO Company
Why Do You Have a Cheap Looking Website
Why a Logo Does Not Cost $5.00
Logo Design Pricing and Rates

And last but not least…
Cost Helper – Helps provide a guide to costs you can expect for a large variety of professional services for small business.


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March 4, 2010

Three Things That Could Make a Difference

Filed under: Ecommerce — Tags: , , , , — Meredith @ 6:27 am

I have 100s of different business, ecommerce and marketing websites in my feed reader and I read all of their posts, and often the posts they link to.  About 99% of what I read is stuff I already know, total fluff. But the 1% that is news, that stuff is golden and it changes the way I do things with my online retail site. On average I find 3 good ideas each month, 3 things I want to try out for my business.

In the last year I probably changed at least 30 things about my website and business, maybe more. Each thing makes my business incrementally better and it’s all ideas I gleaned over time and study. Sometimes the thing I need to do isn’t even directly suggested by the article I’ve read, but I extrapolate a valuable idea any way.

The aim of this blog is to deliver my readers the best stuff, my good ideas. Good ideas I’ve seen on other websites. Good ideas other people have given me.  I am trying to strike a balance between stuff more experienced e-tailers would find interesting and stuff novices can benefit from too.

I also recently started offering my services as a consultant to e-tailers. As part of the launch, I’m offering a feature I call 3 for 30. For $30.00 I’ll email you a list of 3 customized suggestions for your online retail business. My suggestions can range from changes to your product photos, to adding some pertinent information I think your customers are missing. I’ll pick the 3 things I think you’ll benefit from the most and suggest those items. It’s a good way to get a quick sample of the kind of help I can provide, for a very low fee. If you’re interested in taking me up on this offer, drop me a line.

If you want to stick to figuring it out on your own as you go along, that’s cool too. Just sit back and stay tuned to this channel.

WIN 3 THINGS!

Smaller Box is fairly new and most of our readers have been finding us through word of mouth. So, help spread the Smaller Box love and you’ll be registered to win a FREE 3 Things. All you have to do is:

1. Mention Smaller Box (with link) on your blog, your Twitter, a message board, any place online.

2. Then post a comment below with the link to your mention of Smaller Box.

You can enter as many times as you like. I will randomly select a winner from the comments below. Winner will be contacted by email. To be eligible to win your comments must provide a link to the place online you mentioned Smaller Box and your comments must be posted by Thursday, March 18th at 11:59pm EST. (That gives you about 2 weeks to enter.)

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