Mom 2.0 Summit in Atlanta. Are you going?

Tuesday April 15thUncategorized Category

Vanessa and Romy are both speaking at Mom 2.0 Summit in Atlanta on Saturday, May 3, 2014. The event is sold out so hopefully you already have a ticket. If you are attending, please let us know so we can meet up during breakfast or lunch.

 

From the Entrepreneur’s Perspective: Does it pay to have a belly laugh? What does it have to do with running a business, you ask?!

Friday April 11thUncategorized Category

RomylaughingFirst things first. Yes, that is me.

As entrepreneurs we are all selling something, a product or a service or both. Don’t you wish you could bottle up a good belly laugh and sell it? You’d get top dollar because a good guffaw makes everyone feel…well, AWESOME.

As entrepreneurs we are often entrenched in the day-to-day details of running our business. But, when we can not see the forest through the trees, we are missing the boat. We are missing the opportunity for more laughter because we are bogged down. We chose to become entrepreneurs so let’s choose to laugh more, too.

So, I am challenging you (and me) to start seeing the forest more often so we can unbottle that laughter. Following are some ideas for how to do so:

  1. Delegate more. Don’t make people guess or make assumptions about what you want or need. Be specific. If you are unclear, get clear (see strategy #2 below).
  2. Set aside some time on a regular basis (perhaps quarterly) to do some higher level planning. This can be both personal and professional planning. Take a day or a weekend by yourself and/or with your team to brainstorm. Come back with renewed inspiration, ideas, and a written plan that you can implement.
  3. Make personal time a priority and do it often. I am not advocating for you to dismiss your other responsibilities. You can carve out time for yourself by working smarter (i.e. do the other things on this list). Exercise, mediate, read a book, watch the sun rise or set, have lunch with a loved one or friend. Do something that makes you feel at ease.
  4. Complain less. When we complain, we are only seeing the negative. Turn the lemon into lemonade and go solve the problem. It takes less negative energy and time to move forward with solutions.
  5. Blame less. Do you want to be right or effective? Problem solve.

When one is not so overwhelmed and things are more in balance (and I didn’t say things are in balance, I said more in balance), there is an opportunity for more fun, harmony and smiles. And that’s where the belly laugh comes in. And isn’t that the point of being an entrepreneur (to create more balance and happiness)?

From the Buyer’s Perspective: Do you recommend any books or resources to help us accelerate our retail growth?

Monday March 31stResources & Recommendations Category

MIH_2ndEdition_3DCover

 

If you have been following this blog, you know by now that Romy and I try to be all substance, no fluff. We don’t subscribe to the rah-rah. We preach realistic, practical, usable advice. We don’t sugar-coat things, we serve it straight up. So when I find another writer who is matter-of-fact and gives advice not easily found elsewhere, I take notice.

So when I read my advance copy of The Mom Inventors Handbook; How to Turn Your Great Idea Into the Next Big Thing (Expanded Second Edition) by award-winning inventor, Tamara Monosoff, I took notice. In her book, Tamara takes readers through the entire products business startup process – from the spark of a product idea, through market validation, funding, patent protection, finding suppliers and identifying manufacturing partners all the way to marketing and sales. Plus, she covers all the intricacies in between and the various scenarios that can unfold in the course of starting and growing a products business.

My favorite chapter was the “Making the Sale” which goes into incredible detail – and by that I mean step by step instructions – for how to take your product through the entire sales life cycle. For example, Tamara walks readers through the process of creating a sales plan including an example of what a sales plan looks like. It’s the stuff we cover in this blog, but explained in tiny digestible steps. It is explained in a way that is easy to read and keeps you engaged. And the best part is you don’t put the book down with that feeling of overwhelm and fear, but energized and inspired to action.i

The book is packed with tips, resource recommendations (including Buyerly*!), real life stories, and QR codes that link to a video archive of expert interviews and inventors who share how they did it. I found the diagrams to be a quick and easy visual way to bring her lessons to life. It reminds me of school text book diagrams, but in a good way!

The Mom Inventors Handbook (Second Edition) is available in stores and online wherever books are sold. If you buy your copy the first week of April, you will receive a complimentary digital copy of The Ultimate Product Launch Companion Workbook for Entrepreneurs as well as other valuable gifts. And, If you copy/paste your Amazon or BN.com receipt order # into this form, you will also be automatically entered into a drawing for a Kindle Fire HD. The winner will be announced on Friday, April 4th Midnight Eastern Time.  Check out http://www.TamaraMonosoff.com/bonuses to learn more.

*Full disclosure: Much to my surprise and delight, before Tamara and I had even met, she already included Buyerly in her book as a valuable resource for getting retailer feedback. You can find my expert interviews in her video archive available in the bonus material complimentary when you submit your receipt for The Mom Inventors Handbook (Second Edition).

 

FROM THE BUYER’S PERSPECTIVE: DOES YOUR PERSONALITY AND EXPERIENCE PLAY INTO THE BUYER’S DECISION MAKING PROCESS?

Sunday March 30thPresentation Pitch, Tips for Retail Success Category

I always say there are 3 factors buyers care most about when evaluating new vendors. These are:

  1. Where is your product line selling and how is it selling in those stores (i.e., Performance)?
  2. How are you supporting your sales (i.e., Marketing)?
  3. Are you a good vendor partner (i.e. Execution)?

So does your personality and experience factor in to my decision? Absolutely. #3 above is important. It gives me insight into whether I can trust you and your company to deliver on your promises. If you have experience in delivering on promises, most notably if you have experience working with other retailers of similar size and logistics, then I’ll be more likely to award you business.

But if you don’t have a long history of shipping to retailers, your personality will factor in more heavily. And I will be checking off these items in my mental checklist as you talk….

  • Have you done your homework on my store? Check.
  • Do you seem problem-solution oriented? Good.
  • Do you understand how selling to retail works? Thank goodness.
  • Are you a strong communicator? Awesome.
  • Are you a “Yes” man? Not good.
  • Do you understand the retailers’ objectives? Great.
  • Are you buttoned up and polished? Fantastic.
  • Are you defensive when I give suggestions? Uh oh, danger.
  • Do you take the approach of “how can we all benefit from this partnership”? Great, I like you already.

This isn’t to say that a trustworthy personality will overcome a brief history of selling to retailers… it is not enough. But you’ll be surprised how much control you have over your own destiny by showing up with the right mindset and personality… and how often this is ignored.

Were you guys up this morning to catch my guest interview on MSNBC’s Your Business with JJ Ramberg? If not, here it is. Enjoy!

 

Watch Vanessa Ting this Sunday: MSNBC “Your Business” with JJ Ramberg at 7:30 AM Eastern

Friday March 28thResources & Recommendations Category

Tune in to MSNBC this Sunday at 7:30 AM Eastern to watch “Your Business” hosted by JJ Ramberg as JJ interviews Vanessa Ting on the importance of retail buyers to small businesses.

Vanessa Ting, the guest expert, joins a panel including David Meerman Scott (best selling author of “The New Rules Of Marketing & PR”) and Christiane Lemieux (Executive Creative Director of Wayfair and Founder of Dwell Studio).

And if you are on the West Coast like we are, set your DVR’s because 7:30 AM Eastern is way too early!

From the Entrepreneur’s Perspective: Does it pay to go global?

Tuesday March 4thUncategorized Category

Yes. But you need to be able to vet out credible retailers and/or distributors who are aligned with your sales channels. And this takes time – and it helps to understand how to vet. Following are some tips for vetting, other considerations for your negotiations, and why you may want to sell globally. Let’s start with the why…because the other variables don’t matter if you are not going to pursue the international market.

WHY you may wish to pursue global business

  • Increase volume/cut costs. By manufacturing larger runs to include both your national and international business you will, hopefully, see price breaks from your manufacturer. If your U.S. product category is already saturated, an international market may have a place for you that is less saturated thus giving you an opportunity to increase sales.
  • Distribute risk. No one wants all their eggs in one basket. Gaining international distribution can spread out your book of business, and this business is not as susceptible to U.S. economy fluctuations.
  • Help with cash flow. Request upfront payment terms (i.e. 50% upfront and 50% ex-factory). Our U.S. retailers have come to expect terms of 30, 60, 75 or even 90 days. Upfront payment from international distributors helps to offset the national terms and makes running your business more efficient.

VETTING

Most likely this international retailer or distributor is coming to you as a stranger so you need to learn about them before you make a sale that you end up regretting. First go to their web site to see what you can learn about them. Seems obvious, right? And then you may find out that they don’t even have a web site. Red flag. Once you move beyond this “minor” point (i.e. run fast), start asking questions:

  • What other products do they represent?
  • What channels do they already distribute to? If they have to create new sales channels, this may take too long and not be worth your time.
  • How long have they been in business? They may be a start up and have the same fire that many start ups have, so don’t disregard the age of the company but do take it into consideration as their budget and systems are not as evolved as a larger distributor and it might be limiting. Flip side: they have flexibility and can make things possibly happen faster.
  • Why are they interested in your product?
  • How will they market your product in their country?
  • Ask yourself the question: why do you want them as your distributor/retailer? The answer needs to be more than just “I don’t have distribution in this country and I need a distributor”. A bad partner is worse than no partner.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS for your agreements:

  • Confidentiality. Yes, you want to spell out that whatever info you are giving to them is proprietary and confidential.
  • Exclusivity – they will want it, but will you give it to them? What are they going to do for you to secure it? Commit to certain volumes, maybe per quarter.
  • Diversion (when they say they won’t distribute outside their territory and do). How to minimize: custom package to THEIR market (in other words, their packaging has their native language). Keep in mind this may cost you more for design/printing, so build the cost into your pricing.
  • Volume. Give them different options: order X units get X price; order more units get better price.
  • Years of agreement. What are you comfortable extending?
  • Marketing: what will they do to promote your product? Build into your wholesale cost that they will need to market this product in order for it to sell. They know their market/culture. Provide them with marketing support materials for visuals and ideas and let them replicate the ones that will work in their country.
  • Shipping. They pay for it. Terms: EXW or FOB. Review international standards here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incoterms
  • You should always collect payment upfront prior to shipping – via WIRE and have them cover all wire fees to include theirs, any intermediary ones, AND yours.
  • They need to agree not to take on competing products.
  • Define your MAP policy.
  • Always get references.

From the Entrepreneur’s Perspective: Does your personality and experience play into the buyer’s decision making process?

Tuesday January 28thUncategorized Category

You bet. We are all human beings and if we like someone, we are far more likely to want to do business with them. Buyers are bombarded with product pitches. You want to stand out as someone they want to do business with – because you have a great product, you are someone who is personable, and you understand and positively drive their business.

More than ever retailers are focusing on vendor rationalization (i.e. cutting back on the # of vendors they do business with) and sku rationalization (cutting back on the # of skus they take in). Couple these trends with an inexperienced entrepreneur and it’s going to be a challenge to land the new account. But, we are entrepreneurs, so we are up to the challenge.

To build buyer confidence, consider the following strategies:

  1. Consider hiring a sales rep. Whether to hire a sales rep can be a difficult choice, and you can make it account specific without feeling like you need one sales rep or one sales rep firm for all your accounts. At Psi Bands we have several sales reps with several companies for specific accounts. Our eggs are not in one basket.
  2. Reinforce the sales channels where you are already successful. See tip #2. The buyer must feel that you have a solid infrastructure in place. Having a proven track record at other retailers, online included, minimize the buyer’s risk.
  3. Propose a solid marketing plan that will drive store sales. Present the buyer with a marketing calendar for the upcoming 12 months. It’s a great tool that shows the buyer that you have a well-thought-out plan for driving store sales to THEIR store(s). And, be sure to include past marketing/PR highlights to show them past success as this, too, builds credibility.
  4. Propose a solid and customized business plan that will drive store sales. It’s important to understand the buyer’s goals and objectives – so that you can become a part of their success. Familiarize yourself with the buyer’s current product selection by walking the store shelves. Review the company’s annual report so you use their specific language and understand their priorities. Ask the buyer for his/her list of current goals/objectives (each department within a company may have unique ones).

Bonus Material — Online video course: How to Create a Brand Desirable to Retailers

Tuesday December 10thTips for Retail Success Category

By Vanessa Ting

Docstoc (recently acquired by Intuit) invited me to present an online video course on How to Create a Brand. Watch this series of short, digestable videos at your leisure. Once you’re done, you’ll be armed with tools to scrub your brand and identify the juicy bits that woo retailers and their buyers ~ and, more importantly, your target consumer!

It’s free to watch.  Docstoc.com is a treasure trove of online video courses to help small business owners learn any business topic they seek to educate themselves on, so it’s worth checking out.

Here are some recommended videos below.


Watch the rest of the video series here: http://premium.docstoc.com/course/78/simple-steps-to-create-a-brand

From the Entrepreneur’s Perspective: Tips for Maximizing Success While At a Tradeshow

Monday November 25thResources & Recommendations, Tips for Retail Success Category

One suggestion is to walk a trade show floor prior to committing to exhibiting. It’s far less expensive and ensures that the show is one you do wish to invest in.

If you are exhibiting at a tradeshow, following are some tips to greater ensure success (and I welcome your comments below for tips and tricks that you have learned that you can share!). The below tips are based on B2B tradeshows (some of the tips also apply to B2C).

1. Participate in trade show promotions, when possible. Each show has its own promotions menu from which to select. Some examples follow.

  • New products can sometimes participate in a new product pavilion which is a great way to get “in front” of buyers.
  • Show programs, usually “free” as part of your tradeshow exhibit fee, include your company name and booth space so buyers know where to find you. If you plan ahead and know which shows you are attending, then your company will have a place in the show program. (You are planning for 2014 already, right, so you can budget accordingly?!).
  • Place an advertorial in the pre-program booklet, if you can afford it. Buyers look at these in advance of the show and often use them to map out who they will be visiting at the show itself so it’s to your benefit to get on their radar in advance.
  • I have yet to sponsor anything (i.e. lanyards, meals, show events). They are usually quite expensive. If you have a sponsorship success story to share, please do so below.

2. Usually two weeks before the show date, you often can receive an attendees list. It usually does NOT contain email addresses but it does include attendees names, their companies, and mailing addresses. You can opt to send them a mailing pre-show to encourage them to contact you for a meeting at the show or to stop by your booth. At this point, you should have your booth # and this direct mail piece can be pre-printed so all you have to do is to add mailing labels.

3. Set up meetings ahead of time. Where possible, try to set up meetings in advance with your current and potentially new retailers.

4. Pre and post show, evaluate your ROI and set goals in advance of the show so you know what you are trying to accomplish. Your goals should align with your overall marketing strategies. Evaluate in advance how many accounts and/or how many units you will need to sell to see a positive ROI. Do you want to land a certain # of national and/or international accounts? Land a certain # of press features? Find investors? Will you offer show only deals (price discounts, free POPs, free shipping) to help land the deal and/or participate/invest in some of the above suggested show promotional vehicles? Post show, did you meet your goals? Post show evaluation will help to determine if you attend this show again, and also learn from what you may have done well or not so well so you can make improvements to your approach to other shows.

5. Network – with a mindset of “give, give, get”. This is an opportunity to make new connections – people (fellow exhibitors as well as attendees-retailers, distributors, press) who can help you in the future. Like with all networking, the approach should always be “give, give, get”. True relationship building happens when you are in a mindset of giving rather than taking/receiving – and overtime, it pays off and becomes a win/win for all.

6. Convert orders. As advised in #5 above, you want to network and build relationships. The orders may not come right away. But, overtime, you just never know what deals may come through for you because of the conversation you had with your buddy in the booth next to you. Or, with the buyer who seemed reluctant at first. Sometimes it is just one press feature, one new account, or one special connection that could pay for your time/out of pocket expenses to attend the show. However, always evaluate the ROI post show because you can’t bank of the “what if” these things happen – they need to actually happen. It’s important to have realistic expectations for what your take-aways will be from your show – and it’s a delicate balance of #5 and #6. Some ways to convert orders:

  •  Show specials – pricing, free POPs, free shipping.
  • Booth give aways – a lot of people draw people to their booth by giving away something.
  • Good networking (see #5 above) – people like to do business with people they like.
  • See #7 below – rent the badge scanner and follow up!

7. Invest the $250 or whatever it costs to rent the badge scanner. This will help you to quickly and efficiently scan badges of those whom you meet. Use the notes section of this device to take electronic notes (what was discussed during your conversation so you remember who is who and what is what; it is almost impossible to remember otherwise when you are meeting so many people). Hopefully you will have at least one other person with you to attend the show who can scan the badges and take these notes for you – so YOU can do the talking, selling and relationship building. The scanner is also a great post-show tool because you can download all the data into an Excel spreadsheet which you can use for sending follow up emails/correspondence – helping you to achieve your tradeshow goals. It’s important to follow up, and then follow up again.

8. As mentioned above, you want to have your goals pre-established prior to attending the show so you can prepare and measure your success. If your goal is to land a certain # of international distributors then your efforts should be placed here (i.e. get the pre-show attendee list two weeks in advance and mail just those international distributors a mailer with a special show offer to entice them to come and meet with you at the show; or, if your goal is to land some press features, get in touch with the tradeshow PR contact and see if there is a press bag where you can contribute free product and/or promote your product directly to them).

From the Buyer’s Perspective: Why is it helpful to follow the financial performance and read the annual reports of publicly traded retailers like Walmart, Target, and Walgreens?

Friday November 22ndPresentation Pitch, Tips for Retail Success Category

By Vanessa Ting

This tip is THE most often ignored advice I give. Which is frustrating because it is among the EASIEST of critical steps to complete in your process of woo-ing a buyer.

Showing that you know the retailer’s business is important.  Before you go into any conversation with a retail buyer – be it an initial email to make first contact or an in-person presentation or as a current vendor, you should always know the following, which can be found in a retailer’s annual report (also known as, 10K):

1. Retailer’s sales performance past versus present.  Know whether sales are growing, flat and declining. That changes your approach and recommendations to the retailer. Why? Because it changes the way the buyer approaches buying decisions.  It changes their risk aversion, the quantity of their buy, and expectations for what you’ll do to mitigate risks. Annual reports spell this out for you. For free. It’s that easy.

2. Growth priorities. Knowing what the retailer is focused on arms YOU with knowledge.  Annual reports spell out where the retailer believes their growth will come from in the coming year, as well as what their strategies will be to achieve that.  That gives YOU fodder for how to align your business with their priorities.  Align yourself with these business priorities and you make a good case that this retailers NEEDS you in their assortment. Plus, you project credibility and a good business sense.  And guess what? This information is free.

3. Net Income Margins.  Comparing the net income margins from retailer to retailer gives you a sense for what the relationship (i.e., relative difference) of your wholesale costs should be among those retailers.

There are tons more you can get from reading the annual reports. And if you hate reading, try listening to the quarterly earnings calls to hear the same topics (but because they are released quarterly, this information is more relevant).

And did I say that all of this rich information can be found FOR FREE?

For all publicly traded retailers’ annual reports: Visit the SEC Edgar Filings and use the company name as the search term.

For earnings calls, go directly to that retailer’s corporate site and look for a section called “Investors” or Google: “[Retailer Name] + Earnings Call”

It’s free folks. C’Mon. Do your homework.