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Innovation – Better is Always New; New Isn’t Always Better

New? You bet! Who (except marketing gurus and analytical chemists) would think changing Coke’s hundred-year formula for success would be sound strategy? And then give the new product the flagship brand name? New Coke? Was old Coke bad?

Was New Coke better? The market passed a harsh verdict on that.

Why did this “innovation” happen? Did the Coke brand people forget their product had a very loyal following -- more than caramel colored water with fizz? Certainly they thought Pepsi was just fizz water. Did they never eat in a restaurant that only served Pepsi products?

(Next time you’re in a Pepsi-only restaurant, ask for Coke and check the response: “Is Pepsi OK?” It immediately says we’re second best. Is it OK? IS IT OK?!?)

Any brand with an “is this OK?“ competitor should be working on so many other things than copying that competitor’s formula.

OK, we learn from mistakes and Coke has done a lot of things right – other flavors (cherry, vanilla, diet versions of each), juices and bottled water (natural and with additives). They defined themselves not as a cola company, but a beverage company – a broader mission that encourages product innovation.

Speaking of bottled water (which some call “dead” water because it has no trace nutrients like tap water), how did it become so successful? My grandmother would hoot at the idea of paying $8 a gallon for water ($1 for 16 oz.) when it’s free at any drinking fountain. (Gasoline’s “only” around $4 a gallon.) This IS innovative thinking.

It’s not the product; it’s the convenience. It meets a customer’s needs. Buy a bottle and take it with you. Sip it in class, on a bus, while you drive, in a meeting. Hydration is important to health, right? Bottled water makes hydration convenient.

As a small business person you have a need to define your business in the broadest benefit terms possible, and make sure you look at the non-tangible aspects of your product (package, delivery, timing, everything you can’t touch).

You may not have a separate marketing team and an engineering staff devoted to new product development – and that may be a plus as well as a minus. But you do have customers more than happy to tell you what they’d like to see added to (or subtracted from) your product. The good customers will tell you directly if you ask.

I once presented a pretty solid marketing plan (I thought) to a very honest client and then expectantly asked his reaction. “It’s a pretty good plan, but you didn’t put a bow on it,” took a lot of air out of my balloon. Then I realized he wanted my plan to look like I was proud of the work, that I cared enough to polish the format. The hurt changed to appreciation and a change in the way we presented future plans.

A word of caution in researching customers; don’t just say, “What do you want?” Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Ask them what problems they face in your area of their operation. What takes too much time or materials? What’s unused? What would they like the product to do that it doesn’t? What does it do now that it shouldn’t?

Look especially closely at the intangibles you provide that may not be appreciated – particularly the “everybody does that” feature. If none of your competitors offers or is highlighting it, then promoting that feature first makes you “the inventor.”

Back when beer first began to be delivered in bottles, Schlitz had the foresight to claim their bottles were cleaned with “live steam.” (Is there “dead steam”? Hot water?) The brewers said “everybody does that,” but the marketers recognized it as a “secret” and one that would overcome the public’s fear of getting beer in a dirty bottle. “Live steam” earned Schlitz a market share second only to Budweiser for years, because other brand

Friend Raising -- Getting the People Right Before Raising the Money

Money is the focus of many business meetings and strategic planning sessions. How do we get more sales? How do we fund our growth plans? How do we cover our cash flow? These are just a few of the multitude of money issues that small business owners deal with on a daily basis. As important as the answers to these questions are; there is something more important than FUND raising and that is FRIEND RAISING.

Friend raising can take many forms. For a start-up it is getting those closest to us to buy into our crazy ideas. And for established businesses, networking is a popular and effective technique to open new sales opportunities. But there is so much more to be gained by making new business friends inside and outside your business. The best part is many of these ideas can be done for free.

 Build your board. Every company should have a board. It doesn’t have to be a board of directors that have authority over your organization, but an advisory board can be a very invaluable tool, especially when facing tough decisions. An advisory board will provide an outside perspective to your business and can both encourage and challenge you. When selecting board members, look for people who believe in you and your business. Be selective, not every personal friend should be on your board. Choose people who will bring a different perspective to your business. Often retired professionals in your industry can impart a wealth of information from their years of experience.

 Make friends in your industry. Even competitors can be friends and you never know when you may need to partner with someone on a project or vice versa. Attending trade shows and industry events is a great place to meet new friends and become aware of even more opportunities. Keith Ferrazzi talks about the many techniques for making friends in his book, “Never Eat Alone.” This includes, as the title says, building friends over coffee, lunch and dinner. Spending time together and sharing reality with each other builds friendships. Be honest and expect honesty from others and true friends will emerge.

There are many other friends you can make including mentors and political allies that you will find to be valuable contacts when the need arises.

"If you go out looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”
— Zig Ziglar

Nothing is ever free. Making friends is hard work. If you look for friends that can help you but are not willing to reciprocate your friendship may be short lived. You must be the friend that you seek in others. See everyone not as a sales target but a potential friend and you will find many friends and sales opportunities will follow.

Todd A. Luhtanen is a serial entrepreneur, business consultant and founder of Talan SBS a Michigan-based provider of Small Business Services, www.talansbs.com.

Turning Unhappy Customers into Fans

The weatherman has the world’s easiest job. He can over promise and under deliver to his heart’s content and still keep his job. Other than a few unhappy school kids, no one gets upset when the predicted storm doesn’t live up to the hype.
He will live to predict the weather once again.

As small business owners, we don’t often get that second chance.

Making Mistakes


If you have a business it happens. You will over promise and under deliver. Maybe it is a special order that didn’t arrive in a timely fashion. Maybe it is a product or service that wasn’t as advertised. Maybe it was a bad day for one of your employees and the great customer service you advertise wasn’t there.

As the owner of a small business, the burden is on you to take care of that unhappy customer.

How do you handle those moments?

The best thing to do is say, “I’m sorry. We made a mistake.”

No matter whose fault it is, no matter that you did everything right but your vendor failed you, your shipping company goofed, or your employee was totally misunderstood – it is still your mistake. So own it.

The customer doesn’t care about all that other stuff, the excuses. She put her trust in you and you failed her. So say you’re sorry, admit you made a mistake, then go about trying to fix it. That’s all she wants.

An apology — An admission of guilt — A solution.

Making Amends

An apology changes the tone right away. She came in guns a blazing. I’m sorry extinguishes those flames. Most unhappy customers are satisfied with a simple “I’m sorry.” They come in angry, prepared to fight. But the apology stops them in their tracks, softens their demeanor. So say it first and mean it. Without the apology first, it is hard to have a meaningful conversation and find a solution.

An admission of guilt takes away her defensive posture. No matter who is to blame, you screwed up somewhere. At the very least, you didn’t meet her expectations. So admit you made a mistake and move on. Don’t make her have to defend her position. It only belittles the relationship and keeps her guard up.

A solution shows that you truly care. And you often don’t have to give away the world to find that solution. You can start by asking her how she would like the problem solved. Usually her solution is more than reasonable and far less costly than what you were planning to offer. And even when it isn’t, the act of solving the problem is what turns you from goat to hero.

Creating Fans

Customers are reasonable people. When they have a problem what they really want is to be heard and have their problem acknowledged. Do this and you turn an unhappy customer into one of your biggest fans.

In fact, the true difference between a store with good customer service and one with great customer service isn’t in how you deal with the happy customers. It’s how you handle the unhappy ones.

When you under deliver, give your customer an apology, an admission of guilt and a solution, and I promise the sun will come up tomorrow. Heck, I’m certain of it. My weatherman told me it would.

Phil Wrzesinski is president and owner of Toy House and Baby Too, one of the 25 Best Independent Stores in America in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin. In his spare time Phil helps other independent retailers to succeed. Read more about Phil’s thoughts for business at www.PhilsForum.com.

Making The Web Work For You -- 7 Applications To Maximize Your Web ROI

Never fear, we’ve found some terrific applications for you to “Maximize Your Web Surfing ROI!” The list of applications contains a mix of browser “plug-ins,” cloudbased applications and local applications.

Before we get started though, allow me to make a quick plug for security. No matter what applications you use while on the Internet, securing your system is the best way to increase your overall web ROI. Make sure your operating system is kept up to date and you have current antivirus / malware / spam defenses in place. Never download software from Warez or Torrent sites or in response to pop-up offers of any kind.

Since we started by talking about security, the first application I’ll tell you about is one that will help you organize all of the passwords and site log-ins you use every day.

Application Name: LastPass
Website: www.lastpass.com
Type: Browser Plug-in

LastPass is designed to work with all of the major browsers, including those found on the most popular smart phones. Last-Pass is designed to create and manage all of your passwords and common web data in a secure online vault. The only thing you have to remember is one ultra-secure password for your LastPass account itself.

Each time you visit a site that requests you to create a password, LastPass will offer to generate and store a random password, containing a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters, designed to offer maximum security. It then stores this password, along with the site ID in your “vault.” The next time you visit the site, LastPass will automatically fill in your login information.

For sites that you have already set up passwords for, LastPass will offer to remember your existing login information for future visits. Once you install LastPass, I highly recommend you use the LastPass password generator and change all of your existing passwords.
LastPass can also store commonly requested information, such as your name, address, etc. to make it easy to fill out web forms with a single click. You can have multiple profiles for home, work, etc. Best of all, you can securely access your LastPass Vault and password data from work, home and your Smart Phone. Want even more security? LastPass now offers fingerprint access control and encryption! There is also a multi-user commercial version of LastPass available for organizations that want to centralize web password management.

Application Name: nitro pdf
Website: www.nitropdf.com
Type: Desktop Application

Ironically, despite the information on the web being electronic, one of the most frequent tasks people perform on the web is, you guessed it, printing! Tens of millions of pages of content are printed from the web every day. This printed information is either for temporary use, for reference or to share with others. Often it is thrown away within hours of being printed.

Nitro pdf is a tool that allows you to “print” any web page you visit to a pdf file that can be viewed, stored, shared and indexed, without needing any paper or a connection to the Internet. Pdf files, made popular by Adobe Acrobat, can be viewed on PCs, Macs, Linux systems and most current smart phones.

This particular application is useful both on and off the web, allowing you to create pdf documents from any application you would normally print from. One of the most frequently used web applications for nitro pdf is printing copies of forms and receipts that are created online.

Application Name: Evernote
Website: www.evernote.com
Type: Plug-in/Desktop Application

If you’ve read my previous reviews on mobile applications or heard me on SBAM’s new radio show, Business Next, you already know I love Evernote! Evernote is a “Cloudbased” service, with corresponding browser and desktop applic

Yes, Social Media is even for you, and you and you!

Social media marketing is growing in popularity and is being used by companies small and large. Through the networks for social media marketing, people share information, share opinions, tell people what they think about products, share their positive and negative experiences with brands or products and services that they’ve bought, and even influence buying decisions of their buddies who are on these networks. That’s why social networks have become a powerful tool for companies of all sizes to listen to, learn, and understand what their target audience may be saying about them or their products and services.

Social media marketing is fun. Social media marketing is addictive. And Social media marketing is labor intensive. Social media marketing is a huge opportunity for small business owners because it helps level the playing field. Small business owners can reach global audiences and extend their reach just as if they were a larger company because they can leverage the Internet to do so.

Impact of Social Media on Our Daily Lives
Our daily lingo has changed to include cryptic phrases like “tweet me,” “hit me up online,” and “skype me.” If you haven’t succumbed to this cryptic phraseology, Congratulations! But then again, don’t get too happy, you’re going to start talking in the same weird lingo very, very soon!

As if the weird lingo (including short forms such as LOL, ROFL, BTW, L8TR, etc.) isn’t enough of a shock to deal with, almost on a daily basis our emails are bombarded with invitations to join this social network or that. Yes, I know right! There’s barely enough time in the day to do our work, never mind join yet another network!

The Business Owner Dilemma
To go online or not? To engage on social media platforms or not? How to find the time? How to determine how much time to spend online? Who to assign to do the online marketing? Hire an outsider or give it to the admin to do it as part of her job? Do it themselves or hire an intern? How to calculate ROI (return on investment) of their online investment? And so on and on and on…you get the point!

Social Media is Just Another Channel
As a business owner, you must look at Internet Marketing as “yet another channel and the MOST cost-effective channel” to promote your business.

If we could all afford to place an ad on a billboard that is on the most popular highway in town, we’d all do it, right? Similarly if as business owners we could afford radio and television advertisement, we’d all do it in a jiffy. But those media are all expensive and not really cost-effective for most of us.

This is where people are flocking to search, recommend, discuss, and influence buying decisions. So why shouldn’t you be there?

Social Media for Lead Generation
You go to networking events to meet people in person to help showcase your business. The more you meet them the more you learn about them and their business. Over a period of time, this becomes your trusted network for leads and new business opportunities.
Similarly, social media websites allow business owners to conduct networking except it is online so it provides ease of use and allows you to reach a wider audience. The purpose however remains the same as face to face networking: build relation-ships with others, create a trusted network, find new referral sources, and influence buying decisions.

Traditional Marketing Versus New Media
Internet marketing doesn’t replace the need for traditional marketing activities that still do work. There are traditional marketing methods that do work such as email marketing (Yes, I call it traditional), radio, television, and yes even billboards and direct mail. These traditional marketing methods can complement your social media activity or vice versa.
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