Learn By Example from the Startup Playbook

Startup_PlaybookLaunching a startup is a never-ending learning experience of what to do and what not to do when starting a new business venture. Aspiring entrepreneurs will never know what to expect unless they either start from scratch and learn by themselves or look at what others have already done and hope to profit from their experiences.

The “learning from others” approach is the premise behind a book called The Startup Playbook: Secrets of the Fastest Growing Startups from Their Founding Entrepreneurs by David Kidder.

In the Startup Playbook, Kidder, who is an entrepreneur, offers his own success formula for starting a business by relying on the experiences of highly profitable ventures that started from very modest beginnings.

Kidder demonstrates his lesson-learning approach by illustrating famous success stories from entrepreneurs such as Chris Anderson, who became famous through a publishing startup that built an important niche with broad online support; Charles Best, who made money by developing a philanthropic marketplace where people could meet to raise money; and Tom Gardner, who launched Motley Fool to make tons of money by charging a modest flat fee for high quality investment advice.

The Startup Playbook delivers plenty of examples of how to take a product from concept through to full implementation while making money on practical ideas that work. Overall, the book serves as a helpful resource for anyone with a new idea that seeks to commercialize it and reap the benefits of happy customers and large profits.

Source: BlogCritics.org Book Review: The Startup Playbook by David Kidder

New SBA Platform Lets Small Businesses Tell Their Stories

Everyone has a story, and now the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is giving entrepreneurs a new online platform to share their stories and showcase their successful and thriving businesses. SBA has launched “Small Business Owners Speak,” an interactive platform featuring videos by entrepreneurs from across the country who have started or grown a business with the help of the SBA. The videos will be featured at www.sba.gov/stories.

Read the full story on SpecialtyFabricsReview.com

“I have the great privilege to meet with many amazing small business owners across the country,” says Karen Mills, SBA Administrator. “I get to hear their stories – stories about why they started a business, how their business improves their community, how business ownership has enriched their life, and often how SBA was an important resource to make it happen.”

In this SBA Small Business Owners Speak video, Cupcakes A-Go-Go co-owner Laura DeVries explains how her business grew with funding from the SBA.

Consignment Store Business Idea

With the dragging economy still a top concern for many families, consignment stores are growing in popularity.  More and more consumers are looking for resourceful and creative ways to cut back on spending, particularly for clothing and furniture. With determination, hard work and retail sales knowledge, you can open a profitable consignment shop where bargain hunters can find that elusive treasure.

What is a consignment shop? People often confuse consignment businesses with charity, thrift, and pawn shops. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Web site, SBA.gov, explains the differences and provides an excellent description of the business.

Consignment is a resale business involving three parties — the owner of goods or items (consignor), the seller (consignee), and the buyer (customer). Typically, a consignee owns a resale shop that sells items for multiple consignors. When a buyer purchases an item in the shop, both the consignee and the consignor receive a portion of the profit.

Consignment store shopping is having a heyday. According to NARTS, The Association of Resale Professionals, consignment sales and inventory grew 12.7 percent from 2008 to 2009.

In its press release earlier this year, NARTS highlights one of its members to explain why resale is thriving in a slow economy. Ellen Didion, owner of Chic to Chic and her newly opened second location, Chic to Chic Too, in Maryland says, “Reporters who recently visited our stores were quite surprised to hear so many positive things from our customers.  They come in here and completely forget the outside world and their concerns about the economy for a little while.”

New to You owner Christina Novak knows that many women enjoy the thrill of shopping more than their actual purchases. From this knowledge, the concept of her Falls Church, VA-based chic boutique consignment shop was created in 1992. Christina chose to sell high-quality designer items to women of all ages, styles, and cultures – helping them to create a style of their own, while simultaneously curing those with prior “shopping remorse.”

Christina, who is as unique, stylish and eclectic as the boutique she runs, had a dream to open an unconventional consignment shop. Personally owning the business allowed Christina to have her young daughter, Arianne, with her during the work day. It also afforded her the opportunity to create a diverse shopping environment.

Because consignment stores cost less to start than traditional retail venues, they are quite attractive to new entrepreneurs. There are many websites that can give you information on the business of running a consignment store. A good place to start is Startaconsignmentstore.com.

In her article, How to Start a Consignment Store Business, Melinda Gains offers a step-by-step process to ensure your consignment store is a success.

If you are an eBay fanatic, consider an eBay consignment business as a potential way to finally work for yourself. In her article, How to Start a Consignment Business on eBay, Amanda Long offers a 5 step plan on how to take advantage of eBay’s special program to help consignment sellers find more business in their area through its Trading Assistant program.

Start Your Own Gardening Service Business

Are you good with plants, flowers, and lawns? Then you might like to consider starting a gardening service business. By opening this kind of trade, you can earn good money while providing your clients with services that are important to them.

Although a gardening service seems like an uncomplicated business, there are issues such as insurance, licensing, tax, start-up loans and advertising that need to be considered. But if you do your planning, cost it all out and do not lose sight of the need for a profit, you can turn your gardening skills into a lucrative business.

Michael Podlesny is a third generational home vegetable gardener and has been vegetable gardening since he was a kid. Now this father of two grows all sorts of vegetables in his Burlington, N.J. backyard.

“With the rising cost of food, people are looking for ways to save money,” says Podlesny, who operates Mike the Gardener Enterprises. “It’s been a good thing to do, and a lot of fun.”

Michael shares gardening tips on his website, AveragePersonGardening.com, and now he runs the Seeds of the Month Club. “A few years ago, my wife and I joined a movie club and we knew this would be a great idea for seeds,” says Podlesny.

Michael buys seeds in bulk from various farms throughout the country, packages them and then redistributes them through the Seeds of the Month Club to members that pay about three dollars per month. Members end up paying about 50 percent less for the seeds that they would normally buy in stores or through catalogues.

Podlesny’s goal is to make home vegetable gardening fun, easy and affordable for everybody. He wants to make sure his members can access all the information and tools they need to enjoy the most benefits from a bountiful harvest.

How to Launch a Successful Gardening Business

If you have been thinking about how to start a gardening business, there really couldn’t be a better time. Flower and vegetable gardening is more popular than ever. Retail sales of plants and gardening supplies have skyrocketed in recent years.

In addition to gardening stores, freelance professionals, like gardeners and landscapers, are in constant demand. A gardening business is not only worthwhile, but it can be profitable as well.

As you learn about how to start a gardening business, you will find that you have many options for moving forward. Retail gardening businesses must compete with big box stores, so finding a niche is a plus. For example, you may choose to offer only organic, environmentally friendly plants, fertilizers, pest control, and supplies.

You may have training and expertise in certain types of gardening, which sets you apart from the staff at larger stores. Choose to offer products or services that no one else in the area does.

Another option is to freelance as either a gardener or landscaper. Both require specific expertise and will require business and tax licenses. Additional testing and certifications may also be required. Check your local regulations.

Read the full article on MySmallBiz.com to learn the keys to starting a successful gardening business.

Connecting With Your Customers Offline

Some small business owners are starting to believe the myth that online social networks are making it unnecessary to personally meet with clients anymore. But in reality, face-to-face meetings are the most effective way to build strong relationships with customers, or anyone for that matter.

Let’s not totally overlook the importance of using online networking to help your business. Social media marketing can be coupled with face-to-face marketing as well. Since social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have already made their stamp in the business world, why not work with them?

Melissa Strong, the owner and designer of SoChick! Handbags & Embroidery, uses social media platforms, like Pinterest, to promote her business online. But she also realizes the value of customer interaction as well.  “Networking, both online and in my local community, has been crucial to gaining new customers,” says Strong, a very social person who enjoys the personal aspect of her business. “You have to put yourself out there to bring in business.”

In August 2009, Strong started SoChick as a part-time business in Havelock, NC, after teaching herself how to sew. Her venture turned into a full-time business in 2010 when her family and friends started asking if they could buy her handbags and embroideries as gifts.

Strong plans to celebrate SoChick’s two-year anniversary mark next month by continuing to do what she does best — using personal connections with customers to help her business grow.

“I feel that letting my personality shine through really helps me connect with my customers, and potential customers, when they see the real person behind the business,” explains Strong. “When customers know that a real human being, with real interests and ideas, is running the show, it makes a connection with folks that will help them keep your business in mind.”

How to Make a Personal Connection with Customers

This Entrepreneur.com article provides seven ways to build relationships with prospects that lead to more sales:

It isn’t always enough to create and promote an outstanding product or service. Often, your sales approach matters just as much as what you’re selling. The most successful entrepreneurs create a connection with the customer by bringing their own personal touch to the sales process.

“People buy from people that they like and can relate to,” says Adrian Miller, a sales trainer based in Port Washington, N.Y. “When business owners overlook the importance of that personal connection, they run the risk of losing the prospect to someone else–usually someone who took the time to create a relationship and help the prospect buy something rather than trying to simply sell to them.”

Read the entire article to discover seven tips on salesmanship that can help you develop that special rapport with potential customers.

See What Your Friends Are Selling On Shook.co

Finally, you’re ready to get rid of that old Yamaha keyboard or part ways with an adored iMac — the one with the Dalmatian pattern. There are plenty of sites where you can sell your used goods online. But if you prefer selling your old merchandise to people who you know will benefit from them, join Shook.co.

Shook.co is a social marketplace where you can sell your used belongings online to Facebook friends. The site lets you auction second-hand items (and new ones too) and have your friends and their social networks compete over it. All you have to do is list the item, describe it, take a picture of it, and explain its condition. Then sit back and let the bidding begin!

Shook’s story exemplifies social shopping at its best — bringing together trusted friends as sellers and buyers, while creating a forum where they can recommend purchases and share their buying experience.

Niv Taiber, Co-founder of Shook.co

“Why not let people use their social influence to sell their items?” asks Niv Taiber, the 26-year-old co-founder who explained the idea behind Shook when he launched it in June 2012 with Idan Lahav. “We wanted to improve on social shopping by giving people a better experience.”

Social Shopping Will Become the New Standard

Social shopping has never been as popular as it is today, with more people using Facebook to share a deal with friends, and maybe help them save money too.

Seventy-five percent of shoppers who read social sharing comments have clicked on the product link in their friends’ Facebook posts, taking them to the product page on a retailer’s Web site, says social media and online marketing blogger Jeff Bullas in his article, 5 Reasons Why Facebook Drives Consumer Buying – Infographic.

As more Facebook users share shopping experiences with their network, Shook is among a growing number of sites that are using established online social networks and tools rather than trying to build their own.

“We give sellers the tools to spread the word about their items,” says Taiber. “When an item is liked by a Facebook user, word about the item spreads to their network of friends.”

A Blog Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Shook is a very young company and marketing remains a challenge, explains Taiber. “It’s hard to raise money to launch your business, but it’s even harder to market your product.” He attributes much of Shook’s effective online marketing to their blog, which also helps to promote items that are being auctioned in Shook’s marketplace.

“We have a very good social manager that is on the blogosphere 24/7,” says Taiber. “She uses the blog to get traffic to our site and gives the items a personal touch, letting them have a greater chance of selling.” [Editor’s note: Shook’s social manager Jackie has an awesome blog, check it out.]

After the site launched, Taiber didn’t have to go far for some initial support. “The first 20 people to upload to Shook were friends and family. We just asked them to upload an item.”

The second wave of sellers is what he is focused on now. “We are creating value for them by blogging about the items that are uploaded.”

Taiber’s Advice for Startups

“The most important thing is getting your idea started. Once you start, you can improve on the original idea. You don’t have to wait for the perfect idea. Every idea has its flaws. But you just have to start working on it and then you’ll figure out the answers.”

Meeting The Demand For Custom Products

Some business-trend experts are seeing an increase in consumer and entrepreneurial interest in customized goods, ranging from specially made toilet paper to one-of-a-kind pet food.

The economy may be a factor in the rise in consumer demand for made-to-order goods, explains Wall Street Journal writer Sarah E. Needleman in her article, “Custom” is Customary.

While such items may cost more than their mass-produced counterparts, they’re still generally less expensive than luxury goods, according to Jeremy Gutsche, founder of TrendHunter.com, an online magazine that covers a range of emerging trends. Cash-strapped consumers may be seeking feel-good alternatives to items they can no longer afford, he says.

More entrepreneurs may also be entering the space because of the minimal startup costs, says Rob Adler, an adjunct professor at Babson College. In most cases, custom businesses can operate exclusively online, he says, eschewing costs associated with leasing or buying a brick-and-mortar store.

CustomMade.com, Where You Can Meet Your Maker

Venture capitalists are also paying close attention to high consumer demand in the marketplace for custom-made products. TechCrunch April 30 reported  that CustomMade , an online marketplace that connects shoppers with artisans to make customized goods, has raised $4 million in funding co-led by Google Ventures and Schooner Capital.

Existing investors Launch Capital, Nextview Ventures, Andrew McCollum and First Round Capital all participated in the round. This brings CustomMade’s total funding to $8 million.

CustomMade allows customers who want to make custom products like jewelry and furniture post project proposals. The startup has built a community of makers that can browse through customer project requests and assign themselves to ones they are suited to. Makers can sign up for and build profiles on the site, which allows customers to browse through their portfolios.

Lynne Meade, a top porcelain artist on CustomMade.com, discusses why she loves taking on custom projects.

On her Web site, Lynnemeadeporcelain.com, Meade explains the process for making her custom porcelain pieces:

Most of my pieces are either one of a kind or from a limited series. All of them are wheel thrown and hand carved. I use no molds or templates. All designs are drawn and carved freehand when the clay reaches the bone dry state.

I use a variety of tools for carving. The rough work is done with metal trimming tools and the finer, finishing work is done with dental tools. My pots tend to be thrown thickly so that I can carve deeply. My designs are inspired by a variety of sea forms and plant life.

These organic forms are abstracted and interwoven to create a complex and undulating surface. Most pieces will take two to five days to carve and are then fired with a simple, clear glaze.

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These custom products are among the most popular trending now on CustomMade.com.