What is Three-Pronged Pricing?

As a new small business owner, pricing your products or services properly can get a little tricky. How do you determine how much to charge? How do you put an appropriate number on the value that you are offering?

When you are just starting out, you may want to consider a three-pronged pricing structure. This pricing model is pretty popular among small businesses, especially those that operate online, and the beauty of it is that it allows you to gather important customer purchasing data. This data in turn can help you tweak and refine your pricing so you can both maximize your profits and customer satisfaction.

Hit or Miss Pricing

The truth is that the majority of entrepreneurs and business owners kind of make things up as they go along when it comes to their pricing strategy. The process often looks something like this:

  1. The business owner does some cursory research and then just slaps a price tag on the product or service
  2. After a while, the owner has second thoughts about the pricing- especially if the business is in an extremely competitive market.
  3. Finally, the owner starts offering discounts or reducing the price outright. Typically, the result of these reductions is that the business’ offerings are now under-priced, cutting into profit margins, and putting the business in a precarious financial situation.

The problem with this strategy is that it can often do irreparable damage to the business and its reputation. When people are struggling to earn enough money to keep their heads above water, then it’s more likely that they will make bad, short-sighted business decisions. Business owners who under-charge are also more likely to burn out and feel anxious, and they will eventually feel resentment towards their low-paying customers.

Of course, none of these things are conducive to healthy business operations and growth, and it’s a compelling reason to get the pricing strategy right from the very beginning.

What is Three-Pronged Pricing and Why it Works

Even if you have a very defined target market, chances are this market will consist of many different people or businesses with varying levels of income. If you are truly offering a valuable product or service and you are clearly communicating that value to your potential and current customers, then you will often have three different groups of customers. Some of your customers may be willing to pay as much as you ask and want to get the most value out of their purchase. Others are looking for a standard offering. They have some money and are willing to spend it, but they aren’t so interested in too many “extras.” Finally, there are those who want what you’re selling but will only pay for the bare minimum.

In order to cater to all three types of customers, you need to come up with three different “packages” or levels for your offering:

  1. The Basic Package– offers a bare minimum of features and comes at a lower-than-normal price.
  2. The Advanced Package- offers a full version of your product or service
  3. The Superior Package– the most expensive offering with all the bells and whistles in addition to the basic features.

Instead of establishing one standard price, this approach allows you to target your products or services to different groups. For this reason, you will likely generate more sales and ultimately more revenue. Moreover, your customers’ purchasing behavior will give you valuable feedback on your overall pricing scheme. If, for example, a disproportionate amount of customers purchase the most expensive offering, then it could be that you are under-charging. On the other hand, too many purchases of the most basic package could be an indication that you are over-charging.

In short, the three-pronged pricing model is a good strategy to follow especially when you haven’t been in business so it. It’s a good place to start because it works and it forces you to truly understand the value that you are offering- at every level.

When My Office Becomes Our Office

Due to the current recession, many companies find themselves cutting back in an attempt to reduce costs. One common measure used by many employers is reduction of office space. A 2011 Jones Lang Lasalle survey found that 73% of global companies are consolidating offices as an effective cost cutting measure. Workers in these companies are often forced to give up their offices and move into a shared workspace. It is essential for us to be aware of the challenges our employees are faced with when moving to a new environment.


While cost savings and bottom lines are often the reason for downsizing, there are a plethora of benefits that come with decreased distance. Being in a smaller or shared office necessitates increased engagement. When our workers develop closer bonds, it improves the mood and environment of the entire office. Employees will feel more connected to the office and will strive to be successful both personally and as team workers. Work will no longer just be a means of support; it will be a way to succeed and feel accomplished! According to Keith Perske, the President of workplace consultant agency Group 5 Consulting says, “It makes you feel more loyal to a company if there’s some energy or buzz.” Perske advocates downsizing to improve communication and relationships, leading to better teamwork and ultimately increased productivity.


We all know that significant changes can negatively affect the harmony of a workplace. To make the transition easier and successfully downsize without harming individual or group productivity, keep the following guidelines in mind:


  1. My dance space, your dance space – Employees in small businesses that are sharing space should discuss and create clearly outlined guidelines. These should both provide examples of what isn’t permitted (i.e., loud music), as well as basic guidelines (i.e., headphones are our friends). Providing clear cut boundaries will minimize conflict and help employees avoid behavior that is bothersome to others.


  1. Recognize Strengths – Having other people around to help assist you with numerous tasks is always helpful. Many times co-workers can offer assistance to each other. For instance, if an employee is having issues with something on his computer he may be able to turn to a tech-savvy co-worker. However, it is important to understand who to ask for help in each situation. Going around the office asking for help is unnecessarily time consuming and disruptive to the work flow. Noticing your colleagues’ interests and line of work, will often help you gauge his/her abilities and strengths but you must recognize the appropriate time and place to ask for assistance.


  1. It’s a Sensitivity Thing – Sharing an office often leads to more interaction between employees. Very often, co-workers find this increased social interaction helps improve their comfort in the office and may even boost productivity. However, it is still important to be sensitive to each others’ work flow. When someone in the office is on an important business call, joking with them, or even asking them a question is inappropriate. Placing items on a workers desk that aren’t relevant to his/her work is also not a good idea. Looking over a co-workers shoulder while s/he is typing an email is another form of intrusive behavior.


  1. Driven to Distraction – Certain behaviors that may be offensive to your co-workers or cause personal debates (i.e., political opinions) should be avoided. Making personal calls in the office is often distracting to those around you. Being smart and aware of your surroundings will help avoid unnecessary conflict and wasted time.


When downsizing our companies, it is important to recognize the new challenges our employees are faced with. A successful moving plan will help us avoid catastrophe and instead enrich the work experience for all of us, both employer and employee. By prompting our workers to follow the above guidelines, we can help ensure a positive, beneficial transition to our new maximized office space!


Your Competitor Lowered His Prices: Don’t Panic, Follow These Strategic Steps

As the economy continues to struggle, many small business owners are finding that they have to compete more and more for consumers’ attention and wallets. It’s no secret that price can be a huge motivator in people’s minds today as they go about making their purchase decisions. In an attempt to keep their sales levels up, many business owners have slashed prices. But are these deep discounts helping or hurting their businesses?

Should You Lower Prices?

Let’s say that your big box competitor down the street decides to offer their products at fire sales prices. Should you do the same? Before you run to lower your prices in order to match your competitor’s offer, you shoudl first consider if it’s really going to help.

1. Take Stock of Your Business

The key is to understand your place in the market before you decide to change you current pricing.  You should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will a Price Cut Really be Effective in Bringing in More Revenue? Most businesses can categorize their clientele into segments, and each of those segments has different needs. For example, if you own a curtain company, you may have clients who want inexpensive, functional curtains or blinds, as well as those who are willing to pay for more expensive, specialty items. If you have big competitors that can afford to slash their prices, you may be tempted to do the same. But the truth is that you will only be able to lower prices in the category of less expensive products in order to attract price-conscious consumers.
  • How Are Your Profit Margins? It doesn’t do any good to sell your products at a loss, no matter what your competitors are doing. Have an in-depth understanding of your cash flow and profit margins, and if a competing business lowers prices below that, then you just have to be real with the fact that you won’t be able to compete on price. In the case of the curtain store mentioned above, your efforts could be focused on either cutting costs, or even better, finding ways to add value to your products. Which brings me to the next point…
  • Where are the places where you can add value? Not all consumers care about price alone;  many will buy according to the great customer service and value they get with their purchase. With this in mind, before you lower prices check to see how you can add value while keeping the price the same. With the curtain store, for example, you could hire customer service representatives who can help consumers match colors and plan the decor of a particular space. You could also offer to measure the windows for free, guarantee a quick delivery, or install inexpensive child-proof cord-holders. Just keep in mind, however, that you should do some research before making any offers to be sure that your customers will indeed see it as a value-added feature or service.

2. Consider the Competition

It’s also important to understand why your competitor has lowered prices in order to determine your reaction. The three most common reasons are:

  • To Take Over the Market. Many times, fledgling companies think that if they can quickly gain a large percentage of the market share, they’ll set themselves up for future growth. However, many business owners fail to plan for what will happen when they are the biggest company around, but aren’t earning an acceptable profit. A price increase at that point won’t likely go over well with consumers, and they may end up shutting their doors. Those companies that stood firm during the price wars and continued to offer great service and a valuable product reap the benefits.
  • To Create Better Purchasing Power. Manufacturers offer better prices to companies that buy more, and a business owner may decide to lower prices in an attempt to have the ability to order more product and get those prices. This can be a dangerous game, because once an owner achieves better wholesale discounts, he or she will have to maintain the volume in order to keep the discount. And to do that, sales may need to continue at an unacceptable profit margin.
  • To Grow a Market. Sometimes business owners in a new market will offer low prices in order to make that market grow more quickly. For instance, some businesses offer discounts to new customers, or on new products to introduce them to their customers. This is typically short-lived, and once consumers have been made aware of the new product, prices are adjusted upwards.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to know what your business’s price points are, how your business is perceived by the public, and what your competitor’s motives are before you decide what your response to price discounts will be. Once you take all of these factors into account, you’ll be in a better position to make your pricing decisions. Remember, your goal is to ultimately increase revenue, and if you make a poor choice, you could damage your cash flow in the long run.

Author Bio: Suzanne Kearns is a small business contributor for Money Crashers Personal Finance where she writes about business finances, marketing, entrepreneurship, and more.

Using Drop Shipping for Your Small Business

One of the keys to small business success during difficult economic times is finding the right balance between doing things in-house and outsourcing those tasks. Small business owners looking to keep their inventory stocks low and their cash flowing may want to consider using the services of an outside drop shipping company.



Drop shipping allows retailers to take customer orders and direct them to a drop shipper, or wholesaler, who then ships the merchandise directly to the customers. The retailers profit by charging customers more than the wholesalers charge the retailers.

Drop shipping clearly has advantages over traditional retailing. For one, business owners don’t have to lay out money to keep items in stock. In addition, the business owner can maintain a positive cash-flow cycle: the seller is paid when the customer makes a purchase, but he or she can delay paying the wholesaler by paying with a credit card. Moreover, the retailer saves on shipping costs, because one warehouse packs and ships all the merchandise.

Like all business trends, drop shipping has potential pitfalls. Here are a few quick tips on how to effectively use drop shipping in your business:

  • Do some research before agreeing to work with a particular drop shipping company. Drop shipping attracts some of the biggest scammers on the web. Some people who claim to work as wholesalers are essentially middlemen who connect you to actual wholesalers. These swindlers then retain most of the profit. Avoid this trap by using good sources, such as trade shows, to find wholesalers. You can also check out worldwidebrands.com and salehoo.com for up-to-date lists on verifiable wholesalers.


  • Safeguard your own reputation. The drop shippers represent you. Poor customer service and sloppy packing reflect poorly on your business. If the drop shipper back orders products for a lengthy period of time, impatient customers might cancel their orders and never return to do business with you. Before using a drop shipper, check the policy on back orders and returns.


  • Assess your profit margin. Of course, you pay the drop shipper for the service. Determine whether the price differential between what you charge the customer, and what you pay the shipper, is enough to warrant outsourcing your business’ inventory management and shipping.

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Tips for Using a Virtual Assistant in Your Business

The use of a virtual assistant (or VA) can be a cost-effective and efficient alternative to hiring on-site employees. But, just like most things in life, one needs to know how and when to use them in order to maximize the benefits.


But before we can discuss the ways to maximize the use of a Virtual Assistant, business owners should be clear about what a VA really is. A virtual assistant is a broad term that describes anyone who contributes to a business from a remote location. Usually, VA’s are hired to perform administrative tasks, such as fielding phone calls, answering emails, writing memos or reports, etc or research-oriented tasks, such as conducting market research.

Outsourcing is a vital tool in nearly every business these days. After all, what is the logic of hiring employees and having to pay salaries and benefits, not to mention renting office space to accommodate them, if you can simply hire sub-contractors to do the job? This question is particularly relevant to a small business which cannot afford extra expenses.

So how can small business owners maximize the use of a Virtual Assistant? Here are a few tips:

  • Use the Virtual Assistant to take care of repetitive tasks that take up a lot of your own time so that you will be free to do the larger, more important things. The Virtual Assistant can deal with responses to routine emails, market research, compiling business quotes, updating contact lists and other mundane tasks.


  • Virtual assistants can also help with more creative activities such as lead generation via blogging and social networks, and submitting articles to directories. You can also use them for event planning and preparing Power Point presentations about your business.


  • Take the time to establish work flow processes. Decide on how you will share information (verbally? By email?) Establish how you will issue instructions – (verbally or in writing?) Set clear procedures to prevent double handling.


  • In order to ensure maximum efficiency, make a list of the tasks you want your Virtual Assistant to accomplish and establish a reasonable timeline. Prepare an outline of the specific task step-by-step so that the Virtual Assistant will be able to tackle the job efficiently.


  • Establish a method of evaluating the VA’s performance and return on investment. At the beginning there may be some tweaking involved in working with a remote employee until the right balance is achieved. Sometimes appropiate tasks are being assigned, but the person filling the VA position may not be a good fit. Other times it may be the exact opposite.


The good thing about outsourcing is that you can use it if and when you need it and customize it to fit your resources and demands. It’s up to you to find the right balance. Once you have, a Virtual Assistant can be virtually invaluable.

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Troubleshooting: When Your Business Isn’t Making Money

The reasons why a business would fail to post a profit are many. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), the majority small businesses take at least a year to show a profit due to the fact that it takes some time to generate enough revenue to cover the company’s start-up expenses. There are other factors though, such as challenging economic conditions, poor resource management, and changes in industry trends.

Identifying the cause behind of a business’ lack of profitability and taking appropiate corrective action can dramatically (and often quickly) turn a business around. Here are some areas of consideration:

  • Are you utilizing metrics, forecasts, and other reports? There are countless financial and performance reports that a business owner can use to both measure and predict business performance and thus spot a potential problem. Budgets, income statements, cash flow statements, and salesforcasts all fit into this category. Prepare a budget on an Excel spreadsheet and refer back to it often. Make sure to link work activities to your income. If you are in sales, make individual sales projections. If you deal in flat-rate services, track contracts closed and the dollar value of each contract. If your services are sold by the hour, track contracts closed and billable hours.


  • Are you being fiscally responsible? In order to make money, you have to keep a close eye on your spending. Are you about to spend money on something for your business? Ask yourself if you really need it and whether it is within your budget.


  • How is your inventory management? At times a business may not be profitable because too much capital is being tied up in unused or slow moving inventory. Look for ways to free up over stocked inventory supplies, and make those bulk purchases wisely.


  • Are you paying too much for your overhead costs? Overhead (or operational) costs generally consist of some of the biggest expenses facing a small business. These are expenses such as payroll, rent/mortgage payments, and utilities. Look for ways to reduce your overhead by, for example, sharing office space or opening your office at home. The latter will provide you with double savings, both on rent and commuting expenses.


  • Are you pricing your products/ services properly? The profitability of a business also depends on the rates you charge for your product or service. In order to lure in customers, many new business owners tend to undercharge for their service or products. You need to ensure that your rates are enabling you to turn a profit.


  • Is your location working for you? Evaluate your current location. Is it too far from your potential customer base? Is it too far from delivery routes. What about the commute for you and your workers? What image or message does your location give to your potential clients?


  • How are your employees performing? Your employees play a vital role when it comes to profitability. Whether you deal in sales or any other area, every team member contributes to delivering value to customers. Examine each employee’s success factors: For example, does your marketing assistant increase business through his/her efforts? Has your sales team met its quota? If you define critical activities you will effectively motivate your employees. Take heart – if you treat your staff as partners to your success and establish reasonable goals for the future, your small business is likely to flourish.

So Your Business Turned One-Year Old… Now What?

As a new small business owner it may be very gratifying to develop and sustain a business for an entire year- especially if you are doing so under adverse economic conditions. But keep in mind as you celebrate this one-year milestone that there will still be a significant amount of work to do to help ensure that your venture remains viable in the years to come. According to statistics, about half of all new small businesses will fail within the first few years of operation.

After the initial start-up stage, it is extremely important to shift your focus to financial planning, operational efficiency, and strengthening your market position- all of which can only fully occur once a business has been up and running for some time.

Below is a list of some important things to consider when your business turns one year old: 

  • Is the business registered under an appropriate corporate structure? Different corporate structures produce different fiscal, taxable, and legal realities for their owners, and it is quite common among small businesses that they change from one structure to another as they grow and develop.
  • Are you taking steps to build your business’ credit profile? Building your business’s credit is essential if you want to have access to various forms of financing, but it is not a passive process. Make sure you are entering into transactions that will positively affect your business’s credit history.
  • Evaluate your marketing strategies. After operating for a year, it is a good idea to examine your marketing initiatives to see how much Return on Investment (ROI) you are achieving. You should also consider if you are effectively conveying to customers that which makes your products or services unique.
  • Evaluate your business’s operations. It is a good idea to take stock of how smoothly and effectively your business is operating so that any changes and improvements can be made. Think: quality control and productivity. Make sure that you also consider how your business is utilizing available resources, including worker input, supplies, and materials.
  • Keep tabs on employee and customer satisfaction. If either of these two groups are unhappy then it does not bode well for your business.
  • Cash flow, Cash flow, Cash flow! Is there enough available capital to cover operational expenses? What about growth? Make sure you are in touch with any impending cash shortfalls and that you have access to quick, short-term sources of financing.

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Essential Small Business Twitter Tools: A Compilation (Part II)

In the spirit of the iPhone, the emergence of every great new technology these days leaves in its wake a clamor of software developers racing to build the applications that will enhance its usage. Twitter is certainly no exception. If you are just now beginning to integrate Twitter into your business operations the good news is that there are hundreds of really useful apps out there that can make a big difference in the way you use the site and significantly increase your ROI. The bad news is that with all the options it could get a bit overwhelming, not to mention a time consuming process trying to narrow down the most suitable apps.


To make the process a bit easier, I have compiled a list of some of the most versatile Twitter tools applicable to small businesses and organized them into functional categories. Some of the apps listed here will over lap in terms of features, so it’s a matter of trying them out to see which ones work best for you and your business.

Just a note before getting to the list… If you are just starting out with Twitter, then you should pick no more than two or three of these tools to use at first. As you become more familiar with the site and your pattern of usage and learn more about your needs, you can then change them or add more.

Twitter Search Tools

ChirpCity– A local Twitter search that allows you to see the latest tweets and the top twitterers in a given location.

Nearby Tweets – Find twitterers near your area; you can also limit your search by radius and keywords

Tweepz – A powerful search engine that helps you find people on twitter. Search within the name, bio and location.

Twellow – A search directory of people by area of expertise, profession or other attribute listed in users’ personal profiles on Twitter.

Tweefind – A Twitter search engine that displays results based on users’ rank

Twazzup A real-time Twitter search engine. Search Tweets, related photos and the most popular links.

Tracking News and Trends in Real-time

Trendistic – Search trends in the topics discussed on Twitter, and compare trends across topics.

Tweetmeme – A great resource to see the most recent news and trends within your industry.

Keeping Track of and Managing Follower Lists

Twitoria – This application allows you sort through your network of followers and filter out the inactive users.

Tweepler – Sort through new followers and easily accept them or ignore them. This app shows the followers’ stats and last three tweets in one simple screen view.

Twimailer – Use this free email client to receive extensive email notifications when your account gets new followers. Emails contain the follower’s location, followers stats as well as their most recent tweets. It also includes the ability to follow the person or organization back without having to log into Twitter.

Digsby – Manage all your existing IM, email, and social network accounts from one application.

IsFollow. This web-based Twitter app that lets you find out who is following who without having to login.

Topify – Another email client that provides new follower stats and allows you to follow and reply to direct messages by email.

FollowWatch – Receive hourly alerts of followers that you have gained or lost.

Qwitter – Receive an email notification whenever anyone stops following you.

Account Management

Future Tweets -Schedule your tweets ahead of time. You can also schedule reoccuring tweets daily, monthly, and yearly.

Tweetburner – This app allows you to keep track of what happens to the links in tweets you share.

Tweet Later – Track keywords, track replies, schedule tweets, send welcome direct messages.

Splitweet – A multi-account management app and brand monitor all in one screen.

Multi-user Account Management

Cotweet – Manage multiple accounts with multiple users by creating tweet assignments and on duty status, in addition to having access to several other productivity tools.

Hootsuite – Use this Twitter client to manage multiple Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn & WordPress profiles as well as montior keywords, schedule updates, and measure your impact.

Group Tweet – This app enables users to send private Twitter messages to specific groups of friends or co-workers.

Tweeting from Your Web Browser

Twitter Toolbar – Use this toolbar to get instant access to Twitter from your browser. Post tweets, check your stats, and access a variety of online Twitter tools.

TwitterFox – A Firefox plugin allowing people to post Twitter updates and recieve them from followers from their Firefox browser.

Feed Monitoring

Monitter – A web-based tool that allows you to monitor Twitter in real-time for mentions of any specified keywords.

Tweetbeep – Set up email alerts so that anytime anyone mentions your brand or any other specified keywords on Twitter, you receive an email notification in your inbox.

Twitter Clients

Tweetdeck – Stay on top of and even update all of your social media sites, manage multiple Twitter accounts, see top trends, and much more all from one screen and all for free. It’s even available for the iPhone.

Seesmic– A versatile Twitter client that includes features such as Twitter list integration and the ability to preview multi-media bit.ly links within the same browser window.

Twitzap – A web-based Twitter client that provides real-time Twitter monitoring and allows users to slice tweet streams into designated channels.

Blog and Website Integration

Twitterfeed – Allows you to feed your blog posts to Twitter.

Twit This – Allow visitors to your blog or website to post Twitter messages.

Twitter Counter – A badge that displays the number of your Twitter followers. You can add this to your site and invite customers to follow you on Twitter.


Bit.ly – This popular URL shortener also packs several analytics features.

Twitalyzer – Analyzes how effectively you are using Twitter by measuring five aspects of Twitter use: “influence, signal, generosity, velocity, and clout. The factors that influence these metrics include your number of followers, references by others, your retweet rate, and the number of times others retweet your posts. The new beta version also calculates the “hidden costs” of using Twitter based on your hourly pay.

Twitteranalyzer – Get quick, in depth analyis of your Twitter account activity. Plug in your account name and have instant access to a variety of stats.

Tweetstats – Graph your Twitter activity stats including tweets per hour and month as well as reply stats.

Multi-media/ File Sharing

Bubble Tweet – Use this app to post a short video message that pops up on your Twitter profile.

TwitPic – Share your favorite pictures on Twitter.

Twitxr – Post pictures and updates from your mobile phone directly to Twitter.

Tweetr – Share files up to 10MB via Twitter.

Twiturm – Share your MP3 files and turn them into a Tweet.

Twisten.FM – Listen to all of the music tweeted about in real-time.

TweetPhoto – A photosharing app that can upload photos by email, mobile or web. You can also manage and track who is viewing your photos.

yFrog – Use this app to share images and videos.

FileTwt – Quickly and easily upload and Tweet your files up to 20MB.

TinySong – Share songs with this application.

TweetMic – This iPhone application allows you to publish audio to Twitter

Marketing/Customer Relations

twtQpon – Use this handy app to create coupons and share them with your Twitter followers.

TwitterHawk – This app will send your local Twitter users a response if they tweet a certain keyword in specifc locations.

Information Back-up

Tweetake – Back up your list of Twitter followers, the people you are following as well as of your Tweets.

Twitter Safe – Use this app to ensure that your network of followers will not be compromised.

Miscellenous Business Tools

Track This – Track the progress of any UPS, USPS, FedEx or DHL shipments.

Tweetbrain This is a powerful crowdsourcing service for the Twitterers.

CalendarTweet – Use this app to tag, share and promote events.

Twitterific – An iPhone app that allows you to easily read and update Tweets.

TwitterMass – A paid-for suite of tools to help you grow your Twitter network.

TwitterContd – Expand your tweets to1250 characters and simultaneously upload images, video or audio.

Twiggit – This app works in conjunction with Digg.com. Digg an article, and your Twitter account will be automatically updated with the link.

Twitter Gallery – A collection of profile backgrounds.

Top Small Business Resolutions in 2010

 As the year and a decade come to an end it is time to both reflect on the past and plan for the future…

I recently came across this survey conducted by the Pew Institute which examined popular attitudes on the most notable technological and social changes of the past decade.

According to half of the respondents the current decade is considered the worst in 50 years. This sentiment is further reflected in the expressions they used to describe it- words such as “downhill,” “poor,” “decline,” “disappointing,” “turbulent,” and “chaotic.”

For many small business owners the past few years have been particularly brutal as consumer confidence and spending dropped and the flow of credit was reduced to an almost indiscernible trickle.

But not all is doom and gloom. The last few years have brought to small businesses a wide range of technology that allows them to significantly improve operations and successfully compete with bigger companies. The recessionary economy has also created a crucible of sorts giving rise to new business ideas and opportunities. Moreover, the spate of corporate bankruptcies that occurred toward the end of the decade left gaps for nimble and advantageous small businesses to fill.

Given all of these trends, I have composed a list of what I feel are the ten most important resolutions for small business owners in 2010.

 1. Acquire healthy business habits: The healthier the core business operations, the better the chances that your business will survive and thrive. This means proper cash flow management, disaster planning, content management, and theft prevention. Where growth is a possibility, look to diversify what your business offers, add more value for customers, and make sure that the level of growth is sustainable.

2. Invest in an Internet presence. Having and sustaining an online presence is an important tool in marketing and image branding. But, small business owners should keep in mind here that quality is more important than quantity with all the bells and whistles. To be effective, your web presence does not have to cost you a fortune in either time or money. Maintain a simple, up-to-date website. Make sure that your business is listed in the major and local online directories, as well as Point of Interest databases. Where appropriate you might want to initiate an email marketing campaign or upload informative videos on to YouTube.

3. Get on the social networking bandwagon: Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, have been generating a lot of buzz over the past couple years by providing an easy way for people to connect and share information. Many businesses big and small have joined the fray, by for example, maintaining their own Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Now, with Google’s recent announcement of its new personalized search results, social networking sites are poised to play a more prominent role in bringing traffic to your business website. One cool feature: enter a Google search query and you will see relevant updates and suggestions from your friends in Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. It’s definitely a trend worth noting and incorporating into your online marketing strategy.

4. Bring on the gadgets: From smart phones, such as RIM’s Blackberry series or the ubiquitous iPhone, to netbooks and pocket projectors, the market is literally flooded with some really powerful and handy electronic devices. Where budgets are tight, look to bring in multi-functional equipment.

5. …And load those gadgets up with some good apps: Your equipment is only as good as the tools and programs you put on it. Make sure to check out any free open source versions of popular software programs as well as a slew of low-cost apps that can turn your phone into a powerful business tool.

Though the next four resolutions fall under good business practices, they deserve specific mention:

6. Don’t skimp on security: Make sure your sensitive business information is protected from would-be thieves and hackers-especially if you conduct business online.

7. Be selective in your hiring: The job market is currently flooded with qualified individuals seeking employment. But even if your applicant pool has grown don’t shy away from conducting standard background checks such as calling references and conducting online searches.

8. Build good business credit: With the credit markets holding at a virtual standstill, maintaining a good business credit history has become all the more vital to accessing financing. It also paves the way for future business-to-business transactions.

9. Revamp your debt collection policy: Times are tough, and it may be affecting the ability of your valuable customers to pay up on time. It is therefore all the more important to re-evaluate and refine your debt collection policy to ensure that your cash flow is even and your customers remain loyal.

10. Look on the bright side: Even if your business has been forced to cut back or put off growth opportunities, look for ways to maximize the situation, such as seeking out cost reductions and redefining your company’s product or goals. 

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