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Business @dvisor

  • Winter 2014
  • 2015 Business Trends; Fight the Flu; Green Biz Ideas; Bust Scams; Get Organized

  • Fall 2014
  • Protect Computers; Communicate Better; Overcome Obstacles; Subcontractor Tips; Prepare for Winter

  • Summer 2014
  • Prevent Burglaries; Networking Tips; Facebook Marketing Tips; Roof Maintenance; Finance for Start-Ups

  • Spring 2014
  • Business Trends; Electrical Safety; Social Media Tips; Business Insurance; Business Accelerator

See past newsletters

Business @dvisor

Winter 2013

Is Your Small Business Social Enough?

Establishing an active Facebook and Twitter presence can put your venture top of mind with customers and prospects alike.

While social media is a great way to keep tabs on friends and family, it’s also an excellent tool for growing your business, according to Michele Wingate, who manages American Family’s social media team.

Here are four of Michele’s suggestions for maximizing your small business’ Facebook and Twitter power.

Have a content strategy

Use engaging text, images and video to give people a reason to come back. Plan short messages that resonate with the audience you want to reach. “Posts don’t need to be directly related to your business,” notes Michele, “you simply want to provide valuable information and get your name out there.”

Keep focused

Don’t delve into more social media channels than you can manage. Concentrate on doing well in one or two venues before considering more.

Capitalize on the conversation

Your customers are already online talking about lots of things, says Michele. “Find ways to relate your business to the topics that are on everyone’s mind.”

Listen well and respond

“When you pay attention to social conversations, you’ll discover plenty of opportunities to jump in and be helpful,” explains Michele, “and that makes a very positive impression on your audience.”

Bonus resources: worksheet and video

Jumpstart your social media strategy with this helpful worksheet.

For more on this topic, including examples of what other small businesses are doing, watch this video of Michele’s recent presentation (16:30) at DreamBank by American Family Insurance – a community space for entrepreneurs and other dreamers to get the inspiration and resources to pursue their dreams.

If you live near Madison or plan to be in town, consider dropping by DreamBank at One North Pinckney, on Madison's Capitol Square. For more information about DreamBank and upcoming events, visit the DreamBank website.

Five Strategies for Entrepreneurial Success

Follow these steps to overcome start-up obstacles.

Let’s face it: entrepreneurs encounter considerable challenges in launching, growing and sustaining their start-ups.

But there are strategies that can put the odds in your favor, according to Amy Gannon, a business professor and co-founder of The Doyenne Group, a peer-mentoring and networking group for women business owners. Amy recommends the following five strategies to help increase your chances of success.

Confidence is key (but takes work)

Confidence is a prerequisite for entrepreneurs, but not everyone is inherently confident. However, with some effort, you can turbo-charge your confidence level. Here are a few ideas.

  • Be social: Build a network of entrepreneurs and experts in your field of endeavor, so you can learn from them and test your ideas. “Don’t worry about giving away your idea – it’s not a ‘can of soup’ that can be easily stolen,” Amy advises. “It’s a seed to be grown.”
  • Research: Research your start-up’s costs and your strategy. Share ideas with others who can offer data and insights. You’ll become a confident “expert” in the process.
  • Destroy the “superman” myth: Talk with other entrepreneurs. You’ll learn that they’re not “supermen,” and are subject to doubts, setbacks and failures like everyone else. You’ll also get insights into overcoming doubts and setbacks, too.

Co-founders boost success

Research shows that businesses founded by teams are more successful than ones founded by an individual. “We each have areas of expertise, but we don’t always have all the skills needed to succeed,” Amy says.

When networking, let others know you’re on the lookout for a potential partner. When partnering, determine the best fit based on core competencies (for example, who’s better at tactics vs. strategy, big picture vs. operational details, etc.).

“It’s like being in a relationship,” Amy wryly notes. You both need to understand each other’s roles and responsibilities, recognize and accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and have a shared commitment to succeed.

Manage capacity

Flourish, don’t fizzle or flame out. Even if start-ups have a good product and strong sales, they can “flame out” because they don’t have the infrastructure in place fast enough to meet customer demand.

Conversely, they may have a robust infrastructure for a good product, but their inability to sell it causes their start-up to “fizzle.” But with proper planning, you can “flourish” by managing your capacity to balance infrastructure, sales and good product design, and by avoiding placing too high a priority on one over the other.

Make “identity pivots”

To grow your business, your identity should evolve. “Let’s say you’re a software developer with a new software start-up,” Amy says. “If you want to take your company to the next level, you’ll need to grow out of seeing yourself as a ‘software person’ and envision yourself as a CEO.”

Get to know successful business owners and CEOs, and try to emulate them. If you have a collaborative management team, they can help you stay focused on your role as CEO, and help you avoid handling “non-CEO” tasks they should be managing.

Know when to let go

Sometimes entrepreneurs need to cut their losses and terminate their start-ups. Know the warning signs. If you hate your work, feel trapped or have lost your passion and are interested in other opportunities, it might be time to consider moving on.

However, terminating your own start-up can be very difficult to do, especially if your identity is inextricably tied to your business. Or, it may make you feel like you’ve failed.

“Identity is in the entrepreneurial journey,” says Amy. “Remember, you can be the CEO of any company, not just the one you founded.” She adds that as long as you learn what you’d do differently and build your own business instincts, you haven’t failed as an entrepreneur.

Video extra!

Want to learn more from Amy Gannon? Watch this exclusive American Family Business Accelerator video. Just sign in if you’re a Business Accelerator member, and if you’re not, register for Business Accelerator here.

Don’t Lose $$$ - Prevent Burst Frozen Pipes

In both cold and warm climates, businesses suffer big losses from burst frozen pipes.

Every winter, businesses lose thousands of dollars due to burst frozen pipes.

Will yours be next?

Even in cold states where people may know the risks, various American Family Insurance business customers, from manufacturers to rental property owners, have racked up big losses due to lack of prevention.

“One burst pipe in an apartment or condo complex could easily be six or more figures in damages,” notes Al Schultz, American Family Insurance loss control administrator.

Not only that, but our customers in warm regions – parts of Arizona and Nevada, for example – have lost thousands due to unexpected cold snaps leading to damage from burst frozen pipes.

Damaged property and equipment, lost revenue due to interrupting your business’s operations, and potential adverse impacts on your customers … the results can be devastating.

What causes frozen pipes to burst

Water expands when it freezes. Tremendous pressure builds up inside pipes, causing them to burst, often at some point between the section that’s frozen and the faucet.  

How to avoid burst frozen pipes

Following are a number of proactive measures which can help reduce the chances of losses due to burst frozen pipes.

  • Use pipe insulation to insulate pipes that are exposed to cold air.
  • Make sure doors and windows are sealed properly, and keep all exterior entry, exit and overhead doors to unheated areas closed as much as possible during wintertime.
  • Seal cracks in the foundation or walls that allow pipes to be exposed to cold air.
  • If pipes are near exterior walls or within base-cabinets or closets, leave the cabinet and closet doors open, or use a fan to increase warm air circulation near the pipes.
  • Insulation can be installed on wet fire sprinkler systems to prevent freezing. Monitor fire sprinkler systems, and if freezing occurs, contact a professional service to remedy the problem.
  • In cold climates, consider installing dry pipe fire sprinkler systems. No water in the lines significantly reduces the chances of burst pipes.
  • If your building may be unoccupied during cold weather:
    • Install a valve that allows you to shut off the water supply when the building may be unoccupied.
    • Drain your water supply system before leaving the building unoccupied.
    • If your business is unoccupied for more than 24 hours at a time, have a plan to inspect it for freezing pipes two or three times a day, morning and night.
  • Consider installing a water leak detection system.
  • When extreme cold weather is predicted, let all faucets drip to prevent freezing or relieve pressure buildup.

How to detect frozen pipes, and what to do if pipes are frozen or have burst

To check pipes, turn on each hot and cold water supply faucet individually, to ensure there is a steady stream of water present. If the flow is slow, or if there’s no flow at all, it’s likely that the pipe is frozen.

If a pipe is frozen, open the faucet and identify the blockage (most likely the area with the most exposure). Also, thoroughly inspect the pipe to ensure that there are no splits or separated junctions.

If there are splits, separated junctions or other signs that the frozen pipe has burst, turn off the water supply immediately and contact a licensed and properly insured plumber. Don’t wait for a pipe to thaw before having it repaired.

If the frozen pipe has not burst, use a blow dryer to thaw it. NEVER use an open flame torch. Keep heating the pipe until a steady flow of water is restored.

Remember, if there is standing water, do not use electrical appliances.

Contact your American Family Insurance agent if your business experiences damage due to burst frozen pipes.

Disaster Planning Gets You Back in Business Fast

Having a disaster recovery plan in place helps keep you open for business.

Disaster planning, business recovery and continuity planning – they all mean the same thing, namely, how to get your business up and running as fast as possible when hit by a natural or man-made disaster.

The event no one wants

Disasters come in many forms: tornadoes, snowstorms, fires – even burst water pipes or a key supplier going out of business. As a business owner, you need to find ways to stay in business no matter what is thrown your way.

According to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), 25 percent of businesses that close because of a disaster won’t reopen. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable.

If your business temporarily closes because of a disaster, you not only lose immediate sales, your customers may go to a competitor and not come back. With careful advance planning, you can put procedures in place to make sure your business gets back up and running as fast as possible.

Stay open for business

To help your disaster recovery planning, American Family Insurance, in partnership with IBHS, offers an easy-to-use disaster recovery program called Open for Business-EZ (OFB-EZ). OFB-EZ could mean the difference between reopening or closing for good.

Using the OFB-EZ Toolkit, you can develop a recovery plan that’s designed specifically for your business.

It helps you answer key questions such as:

  • If your building is uninhabitable, where will you relocate?
  • How will you provide uninterrupted products and services to your customers?
  • Will you have to repair, replace or rent key equipment?
  • If a key supplier shuts down, what alternatives will you use?
  • Where will you keep backup records or product information?
  • If power is interrupted, how will you keep key pieces of equipment running?

Disaster recovery planning isn’t just good business, it’s smart business. Stay in business with OFB-EZ. For more information, contact your local American Family agent.

Time Management for Small Business Owners

Follow these five steps to stay focused when pursuing your business dreams.

Time is money, especially when you own a business.

For many business owners, there aren’t enough hours in a day to accomplish everything necessary to sustain and build your business.

We’ve selectively assembled the following tips to help you manage your time effectively and profitably.

Organize, plan and prioritize – Before you begin each day, create a prioritized “to-do” list. Assign times to each task or project, and stick to the schedule. Identify tasks that are likely to generate the most revenue, and devote sufficient time to them – especially in the morning before noon, when you’re fresh and focused.

Use technology – Use calendar apps to manage your time. Consider saving time (and money) with videoconferencing instead of traveling outside the office for meetings. For large projects or ongoing operations (like handling payroll, for example), various software options can help you save time and be more effective.

Avoid distractions – Resist the urge to immediately answer incoming emails, text messages and phone calls, unless they’re important to your bottom line. Designate specific times to answer these communications instead. Use social media during your workday only for business purposes, not for personal reasons.

Get some “down time” – Schedule five-minute breaks throughout the day to clear your mind. Make sure you can take a day or two off during the week to relax and re-energize, so you’re fresh, effective and fully engaged when it counts. Set electronic boundaries; don’t let your smartphone or laptop intrude on your personal time.

Make your presence count – Participate in meetings only if your involvement will decisively change the outcome. Drop unnecessary tasks, and delegate activities that can be effectively handled by others.

Remember, you’re in control of your business and your destiny. Manage your time carefully, and always strive to find just the right work-life balance.

Tap Business Accelerator for Growth and Success

This free resource can help you grow your business dreams.

In challenging economic times, it’s not easy to find free business information and tips that can boost your chances of success.

That’s why American Family’s Business Accelerator is a resource you won’t want to miss.

At no cost to you, Business Accelerator offers up-to-date, valuable information from business insiders that can help your enterprise grow.

Webinars, articles, videos and more – it’s all yours when you sign up to become a member of Business Accelerator.

Here’s a look at recent content that will help turbocharge your business:

  • How to Become a More Effective Leader
  • Tax Preparation Ideas
  • Secrets for Success from the CEO of Ian’s Pizza
  • Inspiring Lessons from American Family’s Dream Camp

Log in or sign up at the Business Accelerator website to learn, grow and succeed!

Also, be sure to join American Family's Business Accelerator LinkedIn group to expand your connections and discover more ways to achieve your business dreams.