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A CASE STUDY:  B.I.G. in West Hartford, CT.

as told by Marie McNamara, West Hartford Pod Leader and Key Regional Director, B.I.G.

A CASE STUDY:  B.I.G. In West Hartford


Q. What is B.I.G. and how long has it been in Greater Hartford? What are the group's primary goals? How big is the group locally?
A. B.I.G. (which stands for believe, inspire, grow) is a support, education and networking group designed to empower women to achieve their business goals. First and foremost, our goal is to give women confidence and self-value, so that they can feel comfortable working towards reaching their business aspirations. We launched our West Hartford pod on Feb 1, 2010, which currently has 20 official members, and is growing weekly. Our monthly meeting attendance averages 22 women, both members and non-members. Our entire organization has 22 pods, with 320 members network-wide in NJ, NY, CT and MA, and we're launching about 5 more pods by the end of the summer.

Q. Why the need for another networking group? There seems to be an abundance of them.
A. Networking is just a part of B.I.G. First, we provide peer support and encouragement to our members, which is essential for women to step forward. Next, we educate by providing local experts at our meetings, who teach various business disciplines. And third is the networking piece. We feel that the combination of all three makes us different than the other groups. The cornerstone to B.I.G. is the in-person community meetings we have each month, as well as our forum-based website.

Q. One of the things asked on your website homepage (http://www.justthinkbig.us/) is "Have family commitments or the fear of financial investment kept you from trying to start your own business?" How can B.I.G. help women overcome those concerns?
A. One of our biggest benefits is bringing together women at different stages of their professional lives. Many of the women in B.I.G. are in transition - personal or professional. They include women who have been laid off from corporate jobs or whose financial situations or goals have changed. Many have advanced degrees and/or significant work experience, but have been out of their field for a while and are looking to re-enter the workforce. Some women are great at something and want to see if they can make it pay. We also have women who are already full-force, successful entrepreneurs. When you bring these groups of women together, you provide an environment for success, regardless of where they are in life. They enhance each other. Some members have learned to integrate their personal and professional lives and have figured out ways to find a balance. So, we give them a forum to share successes, as well as business pitfalls.
Because we focus on women, we take a unique business perspective. Women need to live their lives. We understand personal commitments play a role. We help members to get back to business on their own terms. We say, "It's ok. We get it. We know our audience. If you can't make it to tonight's meeting, we have teleconference on the same topic next week - or a webinar next month." When given these options, we build a strong, positive support system for members that gives them the encouragement, information, and resources they need to move forward with their business goals.
Q. B.I.G. charges $19.95 a month to be a member, it appears. Does B.I.G. envision becoming an organization like Rotary, which is also geared towards business people and has membership fees?
A. Rotary is a service club made up of existing business people. Not all of our members consider themselves business people - yet. We give a pathway towards business for those who may not have one. We have proven success stories where women would have stopped their pursuit, if not for us. There are ways that we are like them, in that we provide support, education and networking, and that members pay a monthly fee. Also, if you are a member of B.I.G. - West Hartford, you are a member of the entire network and have access to all 320 members through our website and online community. And we both believe in supporting our communities. Our scholarship fund, designed to help young women pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations, is raised through our membership fund.

Q. What requirements do you have for B.I.G. membership?
A. We are open to all women who are looking to achieve their business goals. Our ideal member is a woman looking to pursue her professional passion through an entrepreneurial path or by bringing her existing business to a larger forum.

Q. Are the leaders of B.I.G. volunteers at this point or are they compensated for their positions?
A. BIG is a registered LLC company, with the mission of helping women reach their business goals. We are not a volunteer business. This is consistent with the organization's philosophy that money validates work effort, in the professional arena. B.I.G. members view the membership dues as an investment in creating their future. Currently leaders are compensated for up to 50% of membership dues.

 

 

 

Why Small Businesses are Using LinkedIn, by Barbara Kuppersmith

Posted By Becky Hull, Monday, June 21, 2010

 Did you know that LinkedIn is used by 70 million business professionals in 200 countries and 170 industries? And that a new member joins LinkedIn approximately every second of the day. Is there any doubt that LinkedIn is to business networking what Facebook is to social media and that it will continue to grow exponentially going forward?

 If you are not a user of LinkedIn, it is important to understand why it has become so popular and the benefits that can be derived by participating in this vast networking facility. Ultimately, I believe you will find that LinkedIn creates a level playing field that provides small business owners and entrepreneurs the ability to establish their brand on a local, national or international basis, a phenomenon that simply did not exist prior to LinkedIn. I started using LinkedIn shortly after its inception. I utilized LinkedIn extensively as a small business recruiter and business developer to find candidates, business development leads and business contacts and have developed a network of over 400 connections. Because of my expertise I began to teach job seekers how to use LinkedIn. It has led to the realization that if used properly, small business owners, as much, if not more than job seekers, can extract benefits that were simply not possible prior to LinkedIn.

So as a small business owner why use LinkedIn?

First, LinkedIn is here to stay. In a few years, if not sooner, if you don’t have a complete profile you will be seen as not with the times. Second, it is a great way to maximize your brand, be it for personal or business reasons. Third, there is no better way for you to access millions of people, both domestically and internationally, or for those people to find the products or services you provide. LinkedIn will simplify and multiply your ability to reach through your network. How many people can your reach? Well, take for example the network that I’ve established over the years, which gives me exposure to over 7,411,500+million people. Isn’t that an amazing number of people I can touch or help!

Benefits of LinkedIn:

  • Create a brand presence on line of you and your product or service. This will make you memorable to business connections and possible clients.
  •  Establish an online site where potential customers can find out more about you
  • Add credibility with recommendations Help to network and stay in touch
  • Connect with other professionals
  • Create contact with new people
  • Find contacts within an industry, company or group as a target market for business development
  •  Reconnect with past colleagues, alumni, clients, etc.
  • Find people with your expertise
  •  Give advice to be seen as an expert Keep your business "top of mind” through updates, postings and events

How to start using LinkedIn:

  • Set up a profile. This should include at least headline, marketing summary, company with description of your position, professional picture, link to your website and contact information
  •  Connect with people
  •  Request recommendations
  • Join groups

 To summarize, what is the essence of LinkedIn that makes it different? If utilized correctly, you can establish a brand online, build relationships and reach millions of people.

Barbara Kuppersmith teaches business owners and Job Seekers how to maximize their use of LINKEDIN. Also works with Job Seekers on how to get past "the black hole” of on-line job applications through networking, research, interview skills and resume writing. In her spare time Barbara does recruiting and business development at BRKSolutionsGroup, llc Barbara@brkSolutionsGroup.com

Tags:  business development  LinkedIn  profile  resume  social networking  (add +)

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So What? How to Talk About Your Business so People Really Listen!"

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, April 28, 2010

So What? How to Talk About Your Business so People Really Listen!"

I was having a conversation with a marketing coach one day, and she asked me to tell her aboutmy coaching programs. I responded proudly, "I work with people to help them recognize the thoughts and beliefs that are holding them back, and replace them with the kind of thoughts and beliefs that propel them forward.” And she answered, "So what?” Ouch! That’s a little harsh, isn’t it? Well, maybe not.

The purpose of her response was not to be mean or obnoxious or dismissive. The purpose was to get me to think about the reasons why people would care about what I do. "What,” she asked me, "is the benefit of that?” When someone makes the decision to buy something, at that moment, it is always an emotional decision. People buy products and services because they eliminate a pain or make them feel happy or some other positive emotion. It is our job to elicit and highlight those emotions from our potential customers, so that they can see, feel and imagine the benefits they will enjoy when they purchase from us.

So what do we say when someone asks us what we do, or what our business does? Most of us are very good at talking about the features of our businesses, but are less well versed in highlighting the benefits. Some of us assume the benefits are obvious, but in reality, we need to spell them out. So, imagine that you sell all natural, botanical skin care products. If you describe your business this way, you would be talking about the features of your product. I would say, "so what? How does that benefit me?” But if you tell me that your all-natural, botanical skin care products will keep my skin looking so healthy and young that perfect strangers will comment on my healthy glow, and all while using a chemical free, healthy product, and then you tell me to imagine how great I’m going to feel when that happens, you’re painting a picture for me. Now, I am imagining how awesome I will feel when my skin looks so great that people are actually commenting on it. Of course, you want to make sure that what you’re saying is true.

The best way to find out about the benefits that your customers experience is to ask them, and then take the most common responses, and craft them into your narrative about your business. You can even use their individual responses and their stories to talk about your business. What I’m really getting at here is something called your "Value Proposition.” What value do you offer your customers? What is the transformation that they undergo from using your product or service? Do you decorate interiors, or do you transform houses into warm and inviting homes that people will want to gather in? If you know your value proposition, then you can separate yourself from the competition.

There is an acronym in marketing called "WIFFM.” It stands for "What’s In It For Me,” and a savvy marketer will always remember this. If you spend all of your time talking about yourself and your business, your prospective customers will lose interest. They don’t really care about how long you have been in business, or how hard you’ve worked, or how skilled you are. What they care about is how all of that is going to benefit them. They want to hear about how you are going to help them, how your solution is going to resolve their problem, eliminate their pain, or cause them great happiness, not about how great you are. Remember to always connect the dots for people. If your product has a great feature, try adding the words "so that” after it, and then state the benefit. The benefit is what will interest people in what you have to offer, and you cannot assume that someone will picture the benefit on their own.

So, if you have a business helping people optimize their websites for search engines (SEO), you might say, "I offer website SEO, so that your business gets found by people who are looking for exactly what you have to offer, and your sales go through the roof.” Are you wondering at this point what my "so what” or Value Proposition is? The next time someone asks me what I do, here is my reply: Do you know how some entrepreneurs, business owners and professionals are great at what they do, but they are frustrated, overwhelmed, or stuck in some area of their business, with no idea where to start or how to break out? I work together with them as their partner, so that they can get clear and focused, make a plan, and feel positive, confident and excited about moving forward with that plan. Just imagine, when we work together, my clients get a thinking partner and the kind of best friend who will listen and focus completely on them! (And please, don’t say "so what!”).

 

By Donna Leyens, Chatham Pod Leader

MBA,CPC, of True Potential Coaching LLC. www.truepotentialbizcoach.com, donna@truepotentialbizcoach.com, 973-493-2778

Tags:  unique selling proposition  value proposition  (add +)

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THOUGHTS ON DEMYSTIFYING SOCIAL MEDIA

Posted By Becky Hull, Sunday, January 17, 2010

SOCIAL MEDIA: When we first put social media on the agenda, I was a bit wary of the topic…not because I don't think we should use it, but more because I felt that it was one of MANY ways to market your business and should be considered within a larger context. However, for small business—for someone on a VERY limited budget, it is exactly the tool to consider!

Social media acts as a lightning rod for people. Though I consider myself somewhat technologically savvy, I had shied away from Twitter and Facebook until recently. I understood LinkedIn, thought it was incredibly useful and it met my needs as I networked my way to connect with colleagues I had worked with almost twenty years ago.

Facebook, like myspace, originally, was where my teens were, and therefore, I wasn't allowed. However, I logged on and created my profile. Even my twenty year old son became my friend. (Not my 16 year old daughter, though.)

I soon became sucked in to the Big Three (FB, Twitter and LinkedIn), spending way too much time on them. I had little to say but I did enjoy checking out what my virtual friends were up to. At some point, not too far along, I realized that I never really wanted to know what my BFF from third grade drank at Starbucks that morning. I swore Facebook off...for personal use.

Quite another story for business—when we launched B.I.G. back in September, Jackie Somers nominated B.I.G. for an American Express "Shine a Light” grant. The grant is terrific, awarding small businesses money each year. We shared our nomination with friends and colleagues through our Facebook personal pages as well through our B.I.G. page and in just under two weeks, we had qualified for the judging round (and we hadn't really launched the website yet). Just by telling our story and sharing, we had over 1500 people reading our endorsement! What a great way to get the word out. Since then, we have started a fan page!

So my take on it is this...we (as marketers) need to use social media wisely and carefully but we need to use it. Persona is everything and just like any direct mail package, press release or print ad you create for your business, stay on message and be consistent. And remember that 80% of social media is NOT selling—it is engaging.

Maintain all the tenets of the "old” way of marketing. Know your audience. Build your brand. Decide prior to launch what your goals are and work to make every marketing tactic lead toward those goals.

Five (relatively simple) Steps:

1) Create a page. The time commitment these take can be extensive. There are tools such as oomph.com, bit.ly.com etc, that can shorten what you want to say and schedule when you want to say it. Spend some time exploring the different sites and what they offer. Check out someone else's page with a similar business or lifestyle and see what you think. Learn from others. Read The Twitter Book to learn more about how to use Twitter.

2) Create your brand. What do you want people to know about you? Your product? Be innovative, try a few different things. The cost is time. Create different campaigns on Facebook and LinkedIn and experiment with offers. Create purchase intent by driving your customers first to explore your site, then purchase.

3) Change it up. This is also where the issue of time comes in. But don't go crazy, if you are sick of your site, that doesn't mean your clients are. You see your page everyday, they don't.

4) Choose your friends wisely. Join groups and befriend those that make sense to you and your business.

5) Remember that social media is part of a larger marketing mix (if you have dollars to spend). In the meantime, enjoy and stay focused!

We are experimenting ourselves. Let us know how we are doing. We know we don't post enough, blog enough or twitter enough. We are working on it. We are introducing B.I.G. through Twitter, facebook and LinkedIn to build our membership in 2010. We have a YouTube video that we created when we had our launch party. We are trying to use that too! Work with us to help us reach our goal...you can follow us on Facebook at Business Ideas Group, and our B.I.G. fan page, on Twitter and on LinkedIn at Business Ideas Group (B.I.G.). Keep the conversation going....and keep it relevant.

Tags:  facebook  getting the word out there  linkedin  marketing  members  new members  pr for meetings  social media  twitter  (add +)

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Takeaway from Your Money Matters Topic

Posted By Becky Hull, Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thoughts on Your Money Matters

 

 

After listening to our experts speak on "Your Money Matters”, hearing the many questions of our BIG members in the room, and doing a bit of research on my own, I thought about what the important takeaways are on this complex topic. I came away with some key deliverables that might help me stay on track (and, hopefully you!) and will help define for me how my "money matters.”

 

  • Turn your hobby or passion into a business.  Monetize it! What better way to "work” than to "play” at something you love.  We talk a lot about this, but I was watching CNN this week and saw a brief clip on how to earn extra money. It was all about "monetizing your passion!”

 

  • Do your research. In valuing your product or service, you need to get out of your home office and hit the streets. What are local stores charging for similar products? What is their mark-up? What are your costs to manufacture your
  • Define who you are. Why you offer a better product or service. What is your VALUE PROPOSITION?   And practice this elevator speech over and over until you 1) get it right 2) say it easily.  Then put it to work!!  Our two experts on money matters offered these insights into learning their value propositions: one used her answering machine to practice her value proposition, the other  practiced in front of her mirror.

 

  • Ask for the biz.  Don’t be shy. Ask. Have a rate card or pricing sheet handy.  State your price. Then don’t say another word. Play chicken with your customer.

 

 

Bottom line, we all need to get out there and earn money for ourselves. We need to work it. But work it with good intentions, research and most importantly, passion.
 
---Becky

Tags:  financial  money  tips  (add +)

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Social Media - It's All About Making Relationships

Posted By Tara Gilvar (McKenzie), Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Social media” is our topic of discussion at B.I.G.  

Sounds simple enough.  As a woman, I definitely am attracted to the social part of the social media  equation.   But, when I hear terms like "blogging,” "micro-blogging,” "tweeting” and "re-tweeting,” my eyes begin to glaze over and I start to think that the entire thing may be just too intimidating to tackle.

 Despite my reservations, I have continued my research on social media and have discovered that the premise of social media isn’t all that complex after all.   With some hard work and a strategy for success, social media can be one of the best – and least expensive – ways to promote our businesses.

In a guide written by David Marine of Coldwell Banker, he boils down the definition of social media to this: "it is people having conversations on line.” 

Now, that’s something that I think all women – especially the women of B.I.G. - are more than capable of mastering.  Women thrive on building relationships.  If social media helps us use our power of building relationships to increase our business success, then it is definitely a tool we should examine more carefully.

Like me, you’ve probably heard of some of the more well known social media sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter.  Many of you may already be members of these free sites. But, do you know how they differ?  Are you using them effectively to further your business?   If the answer is no, then this month’s theme will help you break down barriers and encourage you to at least step into the social media pool. 

Let’s explore some of the basics: 


Facebook = Mall  

Facebook is probably the most common social media site for women like us.  In fact, statistics say that Facebook users have increased 276% among 35-54 year olds.  So, it’s likely that you are at least familiar with Facebook and have made a conscious decision to either join or not to join. 

 If you’re on it, you’ve probably already connected with people from your past, friends and relatives that live far away and have become "friends” with people who know people that you know.   According to Marine, we should think of Facebook as a virtual mall.  It’s an online place where we can encounter hundreds of people from various parts in our lives on a daily basis in both a casual and social way

 If used effectively,  Facebook could be a great on-line tool that enables people in your lives – otherwise known as potential customers – to get to know you and become educated about "how good you are at what you do.”  Because of its personalized nature and its ability to create relationships, Marine suggests that Facebook is a more effective marketing tool than any postcard you could design or  any promotional item you could manufacture.  Not to mention-- using Facebook is free!


LinkedIn = Business Lunch

Unlike Facebook, which is personal, casual and informal, the LinkedIn site is more professional and business-minded.  Marine defines LinkedIn as an "online business luncheon.”  It’s an online place to meet other business professionals and offers us the opportunity to manage our business contacts.  It is simply a great networking resource, a way to reconnect with old and new business colleagues, and friends of colleagues who you might be able to do business with.

It is here that you can participate in message boards, establish business contacts, find vendors and distributors for your products and services and search for job opportunities or for potential employees.  And you won’t have to eat the "rubber chicken” lunches or spend the afternoon checking out people’s nametags!


Twitter = Breaking News

There’s a lot of debate among marketing executives about the benefits of twitter.  Some simply do not understand what value there is in a message containing only 140 characters.   But for Twitter champions, Twitter is the best way to find breaking news in any industry in the shortest amount of time.  By "following” credible industry experts, you can acquire the very latest (even up to the minute) information on your business.  Keeping in mind the old adage "information is power,” Twitter can be a great tool to set you apart from the competition.  [As for those intimidating twitter terms  like "tweet” – that’s just a fancy way of saying you’re "updating your information.”]

Now, that you can see how simple social media actually is, it’s important to realize that it’s not magic.  It takes a lot of work to maintain your social media relationships and you will not get effective business results if you don’t know exactly what you are looking to achieve before you begin.  However, with consistent dedication  -- even just 15 minutes a day -- and a clear strategy, social media can be one the best (and definitely one of the least expensive) tools entrepreneurial women have to showcase their business, identify potential customers and generate real sales.   


Our B.I.G challenge for the month is to explore at least three social media sites that you never visited before.  We ask that the first place you start be at our www.justthinkbig.us website and create your member profile.  On our B.I.G. site, you have the ability to post your business information, share product photos, make connections with other B.I.G members, participate in forums and promote your business to other women -- just like you – in a safe and supportive environment.  If you simply don’t know how to begin, just contact Jacky Segovia on our B.I.G. HQ team at jsegovia@justthinkbig.us and she’ll be happy to set up a training call with you at your convenience.

Good luck and don’t be intimidated to explore!

 Tara

 

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Tags:  online relationships  social media  (add +)

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