We recently caught up with SmallBusinessEdge's Brian Moran to discuss the current small business landscape.
For more than 20 years, Brian has dedicated his considerable business acumen to helping small business owners and entrepreneurs run better businesses. A nationally-recognized expert, Brian has been named among the top 100 SMB Influencers in the country by both Small Business Trends & Small Biz Technology. Brian’s passion for business ownership was spawned from his publishing experience with such titles as The Wall Street Journal, Inc., Success, and Entrepreneur.
Brian, what is your background and how did you come to be so passionate about the small business community?
"I went to Marquette University’s School of Journalism and fell in love with the written word. After a few jobs in California and Chicago, I returned to New York City and started working at Success magazine. However, I broke in on the business side (after learning what writers and editors were paid). I spent the next 22 years working at Inc., Entrepreneur media, and The Wall Street Journal. I also had my own print publishing company; we published magazines for business owners. It was during my publishing years that I fell in love with entrepreneurship and people working so hard to realize their dreams."
As you mentioned, you were in publishing quite a while. What made you launch a consultancy and blog focused on assisting entrepreneurs? What were you seeing that you felt was lacking in the marketplace at the time? What do you want readers of your site to come away with after they have visited?
"I started my third company in 2012 because I saw the writing on the wall; people were reading magazines and newspapers less than ever before. Ten years earlier, if you walked down the aisle of a bus, train, or airplane, everyone had a magazine or newspaper in their hands; today, everyone is immersed in their phones or tablets. I wanted to join the digital revolution and found it easier (and less expensive) to connect with business owners via digital and social channels.
When business owners read my blog posts, listen to my podcasts, or participate in one of my webinars, I want them to write down my tips or advice and implement them into their businesses immediately. My goal is to help business owners avoid mistakes and take advantage of opportunities."
Are there generalizations about entrepreneurs, small business owners, or the small business market that you think are flat wrong? Or dead-on correct?
"I think the biggest misconception is that people believe entrepreneur and small business owner are interchangeable terms; they aren’t. In fact, the two types of business owners are at the opposite ends of the spectrum.
A small business owner prioritizes a work/life balance, and they view almost every purchase as an expense. An entrepreneur is all about growth, and they view all purchases as investments into the growth of their company.
It is critical for someone who runs a company to know, before they come to a fork in the road (e.g., hire new employees, open a new location, invest in new equipment) to know whether they are a small business owner or an entrepreneur; the answer can ultimately lead to a company going out of business.
A lot of small business owners “think” they are entrepreneurs, when, in fact, they are either small business owners or passionate business owners. A passionate business owner is someone who loves what they do (e.g., yoga, cooking, etc.) and they decide to start their own business. They have some success and are encouraged to grow their business (open new locations, launch new products or services). This type of business owner needs to better understand the long-term plans for their company so that they don’t make a bad decision when coming to a fork in the road."
What are the main challenges entrepreneurs you work with have? Are there differences in these challenges from one business owner to another or are they largely the same? Do they vary by industry?
"The most common challenges I see in business owners are: They don’t have concrete strategic goals, and they don’t have what I call a “GPS plan” for their business. For example, when I ask a client “Where do you want your business to be on December 31st of this year,” they have to think about it. I then say, “if you don’t know where you want to go, how will you know when you get there?” Business owners need to hold themselves accountable; they need to have a specific, measurable goal each year AND they need to create a roadmap or GPS plan on how they expect to get there from where they are right now.
I make them review existing business, new business, marketing, conferences, investments, new hires, social media, and more. Everything they do every single day should get them closer to their strategic goal. This approach also makes it much easier for them to quickly say “yes” or “no” to opportunities. If something gets the business owner closer to their strategic goal; do it. If it doesn’t, say no. If they do it correctly, my clients will say no 90-95% of the time."
What are the main challenges entrepreneurs you work with face? Are there differences in these challenges one business owner to another or are they largely the same? Do they vary by industry?
"The most common challenges I see in business owners are: They don’t have concrete strategic goals and they don’t have what I call a “GPS plan” for their business. For example, when I ask a client “Where do you want your business to be on December 31st of this year,” they have to think about it. I then say, “If you don’t know where you want to go, how will you know when you get there?”
Business owners need to hold themselves accountable; they need to have a specific, measurable goals each year AND they need to create a roadmap or GPS plan on how they expect to get there from where they are right now. I make them review existing business, new business, marketing, conferences, investments, new hires, social media, and more. Everything they do every single day should get them closer to their strategic goal. This approach also makes it much easier for them to quickly say “yes” or “no” to opportunities. If something gets the business owner closer to their strategic goal; do it. If it doesn’t, say no. If they do it correctly, my clients will say no 90-95% of the time."
Can you give an example of one of your clients and challenges they were facing (e.g., a challenge in their overall business, difficulty marketing the business, breaking into a market, etc.) and how they overcame the challenge?
"I helped The Giggling Pig launch their e-Commerce business with the help of Pitney Bowes, another client of mine. Pitney Bowes has a product called “Send Pro” which makes it easier and more cost-efficient for business owners to send packages. The Giggling Pig, an art studio company for kids and adults, launched a new product called Art Boxes, a kit that allows people to paint projects at home. We used word-of-mouth and social media to make people aware of the new product. Thanks to Send Pro, The Giggling Pig was able to send kits all over the country, and even to a few international customers, in a cost-efficient and time-efficient manner. It’s a nice success story and a “win-win” situation for The Giggling Pig, Pitney Bowes, and their customers."
Can you discuss how technology has impacted small businesses in the last five years? What are the technologies that have had the most impact? Which ones are the least impactful? Are some just fads?
"Technology has disrupted every industry and every marketplace over the past five years. I can’t think of one industry that hasn’t been flipped on its ear by technology. Today, small business owners are learning about cognitive computing, collecting and analyzing big data, and creating better customer experiences thanks to technology.
The challenge business owners face is trying to determine the best tech tools for their business. My advice is to focus on two types of technology: Tools that will create a better experience for your customers, and tools that will make you run a more efficient and effective company (such as increase workforce productivity). It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the innovative tools that seem to be coming out almost daily. Stay focused on your business and implement only the tools that will help you get closer to your strategic goals."
Finally, on the personal side, what do you read for business or general information? For pleasure? For inspiration? Do you have a favorite TED Talk that you can recommend? A podcast?
"I read a LOT of books for business and would be happy to share them with your readers. They can email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, to get the list of the last 10-15 books I read. They can also listen to my podcast, www.smallbusinessedge.com/podcasts where I get to interview really smart people. My favorite TED story is when I interviewed Richard Saul Wurman, the founder of TED, for an article I wrote for American Express OPEN Forum. Here’s a link to it. https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/richard-saul-wurman-teds-founder-discusses-how-it-all-began/."
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