Small Business Trends Radio

Remain Competitive in Today’s Marketplace

Below is the transcript of a Small Business Trends Radio Show episode featuring Jim Tracy, President and Founder, America’s Best Companies, which was broadcast on December 16, 2008 titled, “Ten Key Tools A Small Business Needs To Succeed.” Jim joins Anita for an in-depth discussion on the strategies necessary to remain competitive in a struggling marketplace.


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Anita Campbell: Well, hello and welcome to the show. I’m Anita Campbell. Not some friendly truck driver. I’ve got a bit of a cold, but that’s really me.

Steve Rucinski: Hi, I’m Steve Rucinski, today’s co-host and a good sneezing distance away from Anita. Our show today is about the ten key tools a small business needs to succeed.

Times are tough right now, there’s no doubt about that. People are feeling the crunch and many businesses are, too. Some are pulling back; some are even shutting their doors. But this cloud has a silver lining and it’s called opportunity.

Now is the time for businesses to become creative and take deliberate steps to ensure future success. Become creative and take deliberate steps to insure future success.

Anita Campbell: Well, Steve, following along on what you just said, we’ve got a guest here today who can talk about opportunity for small businesses.

Our featured guest is Jim Tracy; he is the president and founder of America’s Best Companies. So Jim is going to reveal simple ways to help your business remain competitive in today’s marketplace and go over the necessary strategies to help a small business achieve success, especially during hard economic times.

Well, welcome to the show, Jim.

Jim Tracy: Thank you, it’s great to join both of you, Steve and Anita.

Anita Campbell: Well, you know, I’ve been following America’s Best Companies through your website. And, of course, you’ve got a lot of interesting things going on. So I wonder if you could start by telling us just a little bit about your background and about America’s Best Companies.

Jim Tracy: Well, I founded America’s Best Companies in 2006 after spending 15 years working with small business owners in a variety of products and services, primarily the credit card industry.

In about 2005, I was very inspired by reading a statistic that over a half a million more businesses closed that year, I’m specifically talking about more small business owners closed that year than opened that year. I looked around small towns all around where I live and I noticed the downturn in the downtowns.

I had noticed that the big box stores and other people were moving in, thriving, and setting record profits. I immediately started telling people, “I don’t think this is good for the future economy of America”.

I looked around in these stores, seen a lot of products made in other countries, made elsewhere and said all of this money we’re shipping elsewhere throughout the world is really going to cause a problem with our economy. I started pitching that to everybody that would listen and decided to create America’s Best Companies as a tool for small businesses to fight back and succeed not only in good times, but in bad.

Anita Campbell: So America’s Best Companies is a website, that’s what I know it from. Is it also a magazine? I see references on the website to a magazine, or is it an online Ezine?

Jim Tracy: No, I’m going to have to send you some of our magazines. We’ve owned a magazine for over two years called “America’s Best.” It is a great magazine that ranges from 68 to 100 pages per issue, chock-full of information for business owners on how to save money, legal advice, tax advice, how to hire and fire people.

It contains all kinds of great information such as branding their business, creating a newsletter, how to make a website, and how to sell on a big website with auctions like eBay or Ubid or something like that. We try to give them the information and details they need to compete today.

Anita Campbell: Well, a lot of magazines out there would claim to do the same thing that you’ve described. I mean, you could talk about everything from entrepreneur magazines to ink magazines to whatever it is. So, what is it that makes America’s Best Companies so different?

Jim Tracy: Well, I’m glad you asked me that, Anita. I mean, our magazine is one small part of everything we do. But again, some of the other magazines point to, when I read their demographic, they’re not pointing to the business that I’m pointing to.

I’m pointing to the small little entrepreneur that runs a hair salon, a bakery, an auto repair shop.  A nail salon, a little plumber, you know, that has a small business. An electrician. A small in-town attorney. Oftentimes, these magazines think of a small business as somebody who does $200 million a year or less in sales. I’m talking about the real small business that every single town in America has.

We not only provide them a magazine, but we help the businesses get websites. Believe it or not, we build the website for all of our members and with very low membership costs. Over 80% of the small business owners we sign on don’t even have a website.

They think, why does my pizza place need a website? Why does my plumbing company need a website? We educate them. We teach them. We build them for you, or we let them build them themselves. We’ve created a very easy three-step program including choosing their own backgrounds. Even somebody that has never done anything on the internet before, we’ve had building their own websites through our easy tool. And we do a lot more.

We’ve negotiated over 100 discount programs with major programs across America. We’ve carefully selected the discount programs not to compete with the small business owner in your area. Meaning we’ve got a huge office supplier that will give 40% to 60% off the office supplies to the business owners.

Well, there’s not very many in town anymore. We carefully selected our discounts to not compete with local businesses, but be very important discounts to any business out there.

Anita Campbell: Well, I understand you’re here to talk about the ten key tools that you’ve identified that a small business needs to succeed today. So, I wonder if we could just jump into that topic that we’re here to talk about today. You know, what would you say is one of the ten key tools that you need to succeed?

Jim Tracy: The first key tool that I tell all business owners, that I just mentioned, they have to have a website.  What’s interesting about a website? If you want to attract anybody under 35 or 40 years old to your business, you have to be found on the web. We educate business owners on that.

Again, we build the website for them. More importantly, the business owner has to understand how important it is for their business. It makes them look permanent to people in their community. It makes them look up to date.

What’s interesting is that I live in Chicago. We pay kids $20 to shovel our driveway. We pay kids $20 to mow our lawn. What we recently found out, we can pay kids in the neighborhood $20 to help us with our computer. A lot of business owners are intimidated, especially those who have been around a long time, by the idea of having a website. So, what I would say to them is, get somebody to help you.

It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to be something. If you want to get a little fancier, my recommendation is add some of the current tools available out there.

Like a blog to your website where your customers can ask you questions. Maybe you can give them your latest recipes, if you’re a restaurant. With the day of video, it’s not that hard to add a video to your website. Giving that restaurant as an example, if I owned a restaurant, I’d have a camera going in the kitchen all the time.

I’d find funny moments, I’d put them out there. I would have a cooking class once a week that I would teach somebody one of my recipes. These are things that will draw your customer’s view. They’ll tell that you’re permanent, that you’re not going anywhere. That you’re hip to today’s marketplace.

Anita Campbell: Okay, so the number one tool that you need to succeed as a small business is a website. So that’s great. Now, what would be another tool Jim?

Jim Tracy: Well, the second one I talk about is if you sell a specific product. Not everybody sells a product. But if you sell a specific product, take advantage of the places that you can sell on the internet. There are plenty of places today that will offer you free classified advertising for what you do in your business.

There are countless blogs where you can talk about what you do. I already mentioned sites like eBay and Ubid or many others out there where you can list your items for as low as 25 cents or 50 cents apiece. Now you’re not limited to people within your neighborhood or your limited marketplace.

Now you’re attracting millions of potential buyers to take a look at your product. I’ve worked with antique shops and other small businesses that are stunned and amazed the way they’ve had something sitting in their store for 15 years that nobody ever looked at and they get a premium price for it on one of these auction sites.

So what I say is, if I can do it, so can you. Because I went out a year and a half, two years ago, and I sold 600 items on eBay just to get the experience. I didn’t need the money. I did it to learn for small business owners. And, again, that’s one of the topics we write about in our magazine.

Anita Campbell: So learn how to sell products online if you are a product seller?

Jim Tracy: Correct.

Anita Campbell: Okay. That’s good. That’s number two, then. What would your third key tool be for success for a small business?

Jim Tracy: Get connected within your community. I can’t emphasize this enough. There are so many, again, free or almost free ways to get yourself known within your community. One of the best examples I can give you is my sons are scouts. Each week they have meetings. Each month, there’s a big meeting and all the parents are there.

They always have a guest speaker. Most recently, a woman who owned a health food store locally came in to talk about nutrition. It was a chance for her to talk about 300 people that lived in her community about her products and services while educating people at the same time.

We’ve seen, in those meetings, everybody from plumbers coming in and talking about the way it works in your home or community. And they’re talking about water quality. But they’re, again, having a chance to put their name in front of the community.

What I also see in my town is we have three or four parades each year for it seems like every holiday, we’ve got some kind of parade happening. All the smart local business owners just drive their truck with the name down the street and throw candy out the window at kids and parents just so they know they’re there.

There are countless ways to get yourself counted and within your community. Libraries, schools, scouts, et cetera, will all let you come in and speak to people in the neighborhood.

Anita Campbell: Yeah, and that’s something that people have to remember not to overlook, especially with the internet. You can be so focused on getting online, that you forget what’s right in your back yard.

Jim Tracy: Exactly.

Anita Campbell: All right, what would be your fourth key tool then? We’ve covered website. We’ve covered learn how to sell products online. We’ve covered get connected with your community. What’s next?

Jim Tracy: The next thing I say and this is going to sound shocking to many people, I say avoid mass media. What I mean by that specifically is big, big ads and big, big ad sections in the newspaper and television. I do not believe that these are the tools that a small business owner is going to use to succeed.

For the same money, they can take that media money that they would use for marketing their business and for many business owners, that might be 5%, some it’s 10%, some people are a little less, 2% or 3% of their business.

Budget that and don’t try to compete with the big boys. What we think as we see them with a TV ad and out of ego, we want to have our own ad and we think it’s going to bring us all kinds of business.

What they forget is the millions of dollars that those companies spend on their marketing, on their branding, on everything else to make that specific advertising work. What I feel is best are countless other tools like having a focused mailing list with your customers that you directly market to them. Printing up fliers and having neighborhood kids pass them around in people’s doors.

There are countless other things that they can do by using those shopper or industry specific magazines. Business journals, other things that they can target, and it would be at far less cost, and they can target right to those people that may want to buy their products.

Anita Campbell: Now, what would be your fifth key tool then?

Jim Tracy: Well, during this downtime in the economy we’re having now, I think there’s nothing more important than forming a mastermind group. I’m stealing that term from Napoleon Hill from his book “Think and Grow Rich.” That’s what he calls it.

He calls it surrounding yourself with a mastermind group and working with those people. What I mean when I say the downturn in the economy, why is that important, I’m talking about there are people within every community that have been in business for 20 or 30 years.

Those people have been through three, four or five downturns in the economy, and they’ve survived each and every one of them. Those people have critical information that can help the newer business owners, say, someone who started in last five years to survive in the downturn in the economy.

When I’m talking about forming a mastermind, I’m saying go and visit other business owners in your area, invite them all for donuts and coffee on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Whenever is convenient for all of you and get together and talk about how it’s going, how you’re surviving, why some people are thriving.

How you can share advertising by creating something like a newsletter, which I’ll talk about next and talk about what they did differently. How did they better serve their customers? How did they better target their advertising dollars? How did other people survive this? Use that information and follow it.

Anita Campbell: Some industries even have special terms for these kinds of groups, which can actually be led by professionals too. I know in the auto dealer arena they have something called “20 groups,” made up of 20 dealers.

I know there are similar terms. So it’s definitely a time-tested technique for getting smarter about running your business, isn’t it?

Jim Tracy: Yeah, and the chamber of commerce has been around for 50 years doing that. Networking people within the community. Getting experts to help you out. Now, obviously, there’s some expense to doing that. But I can’t minimize the importance of working with other people right now, especially in a small downturn in the economy, like we’re experiencing today.

Anita Campbell: Now, you mentioned newsletters, and I find that really interesting that that would be on your top-ten list. Tell us about that and how you would recommend small business owners use a newsletter.

Jim Tracy: Well, I once read a study that a newsletter is 400% more likely to be read than a simple ad placed anywhere.

So it doesn’t matter if it’s a print newsletter or an e-mail newsletter. Now, you are have to have more technical expertise to create it in e-mail format, but it could be both. If you do form that mastermind group, you can share that responsibility of creating a newsletter with other business owners in your area.

Say, if there are 12 of you, each one of you can take the responsibility once per month to create this newsletter. This is a place and a time and an opportunity to talk directly to your customers and their customers because now you can share your lists.

You can share the contacts you have within the community. You could offer coupons. You could offer other things. You can remind people this is the time of year to change your wind shield washer solvent. To get your car tuned up for the winter. Whatever it is that you do, you can provide reminders in something like this. It’s a little more effective than just dropping the flier on the driveway with a rock.

Anita Campbell: Do you recommend hardcopy newsletters, or do you recommend e-mail newsletters or both?

Jim Tracy: It depends how technically intelligent you are. If you can do both, I’d absolutely recommend both. But if you want to do it the old-fashioned way, I mean, it’s pennies apiece to print these up.  You can get thousands out there for just a few hundred dollars. Again, you can connect with people in your community by having high school kids or something drop them off at homes and target an audience within your community.

If you share your newsletter, you can do it either way. Our company here, we have a weekly newsletter we do every single week, it’s specific to us. It’s specific to our information. But if you want to share it and get a bunch more information, almost like it’s a mini newspaper that comes out to people once a month, that would be more cost effective and also make more sense.

Anita Campbell: Okay, good, we’ve been through six out of your top ten. At this point, I’d like to transfer things over to my co-host Steve. I know he’s got a number of questions to ask you.

Steve, take it away!

Steve Rucinski: Thanks, Anita. Jim, why don’t you just keep on rolling? I don’t want to miss any of the final four items. Why don’t you quickly outline them or summarize them for us if you could.

Jim Tracy: Number seven is, I tell all business owners I’ve ever spoken to, ask your customers what else you can provide for them or do for them. A major national food chain, I think we all know who I’m talking about, three years ago increased sales by $1 billion by asking every single customer, “Would you like to supersize your meal?”

It seemed so simple and it seemed so simple at the time, and yet, this company spent millions of dollars in marketing to figure out that if you just ask, people will buy more.  People will do more. Oftentimes, I’ve been a victim myself. I go out to buy my kids Christmas presents. I’m in the store. I’m there to get one specific thing. I buy the specific thing, and I would walk out.

But I just had this experience three or four nights ago. The gentleman in the store said, “What else could we help you with today?” I’d already paid, used my credit card.

I said, “You know what, that thing in the window over there, my other son would love that”. He said, “Funny you should ask, I’ve got that on sale right now, especially since you’re a customer”. I walked out with another $300 sale.

If he wouldn’t have asked, I wouldn’t have asked. It was in the window, it was not readily available in the store. A lot of people are uncomfortable, so you have to make them comfortable by asking them, “What else can I do for you?”

Steve Rucinski: What’s number eight?

Jim Tracy: Number eight. I touched on this briefly earlier. I recommend people take advantage of classified ads. Print and online. Again, depending on their capabilities. I think these are a powerful, inexpensive way of reaching new customers.

I don’t care if you’re selling furniture. You know, if you put that in the classified ads that you’ve got brand-new couches for the same type of price as used ones.

We learned this from the auto industry. Anita mentioned the auto industry. They are a great way to figure out what works in marketing. They learned a long time ago, right in the used cars section in the advertising part of the newspaper, they placed their ads for new cars. A lot of times people looked and they even put pricing on it.

People looked and go, oh, I had no idea I could get a brand-new one for that kind of price. I think I’ll go there. A lot of people, again, you’re targeting your market. I don’t care if you cut hair, provide plumbing services, whatever you do, you have a targeted audience that’s looking for something that you have or you offer. There are often these small penny type magazines that are given away within your community. They are very inexpensive to place a classified ad in.

They often start at $6 or $8 to place one. It’s a great place to get people looking at exactly what you’re selling.

Steve Rucinski: Number nine?

Jim Tracy: I say to business owners to use their specialized information, the information that they have that’s unique to them. One of the things that I try to encourage business owners to do is to write an article for their local newspaper.

Newspapers are constantly begging for new material, new information, especially the local information. National news is easy to come by. Local information and local contributors are difficult to come by. I’m shocked every time somebody that they never wrote anything in their life, they put something together, an editor of a newspaper gets it and puts it in the key section of the newspaper.

The same type of letter or same type of information they might put in the newspaper is the type of information they’d want to share within the local community. The greatest part of it is a newspaper article. It doesn’t cost you a dime and it’s a lot of free publicity.

Steve Rucinski: Okay, are we up to number ten, I think?

Jim Tracy: We sure are. The final thing I recommend, number ten, is serve your customers. You have to continually look for ways to improve your service to your customers.

You have to realize that your customer is the most important thing you’ll ever have within your business. I often talk to business owners about the value of a customer, whether it’s a pizza place, where most pizza places will tell me that one new customer can be worth $400 or $500 a year in profits to their business. Somebody that might buy pizzas twice a month. You’ve got to find ways to continuously better serve those people. Make sure you stay in front of those people.

Always try to know that they’re right no matter what, because one bad experience and they’re going to another pizza place. They go to that other pizza place, it’s going to taste different, but it’s going to taste better because they didn’t have the attitude of problems that they had the last time they dealt with you.

You got to serve the customer, especially in these economic times. A gentleman recently sold us a bike for my son at a local bike shop, I can’t tell you how different the service was than if we would have went to the big box store.

He let him test ride the bike through the parking lot. He even custom fitted the seat height. The tires adjusted with the right amount of air. Added a front brake when he noticed he wasn’t stopping fast enough. He did all these different things. Offered free tune-ups once a year as long as we had the bike. I can’t tell you what a committed customer we are now.

As we look for a bike in the new year we’ll go straight there. We may pay more, but the service makes the difference.

Steve Rucinski: Now, I’m going to ask kind of a tough question. Go back to, you said a scad earlier, I think it was 500,000 more businesses went out of business than had started. Some large number of businesses didn’t survive.

You’re offering all these tips and there were others. We’ve been touching on this show, for over four years, small businesses and trying to help. What’s your diagnosis and what can you suggest to the listeners on why those small businesses either don’t ask for help or pay attention or take action on some of these top tens?

Maybe what can we do about it? I know that’s what you do for a living, but maybe why does that occur? What could we do to help?

Jim Tracy: Well, I think there are two things that I didn’t mention in my top ten. Either a business owner doesn’t know how to bring customers and money into their business or they bring customers and money and they don’t know what to do with the money once it comes in. I think that’s a big reason why a lot of small businesses don’t succeed.

The other reason is that they’re not prepared for the competition. What I’m trying to do with America’s Best Companies and what you’re trying to do is we are primarily a-number one, trying to make sure we provide the best information and education that we possibly can for small business owners.

A lot of people think what was good enough for dad is good enough for them. Maybe they’re in the second or third or fourth generation of a business. Or maybe ten years ago, they’ve started, and they’re survived just fine.

Well, I can tell them that today many people are in business and they have no idea that there’s somebody else out there with more money than them that is planning on putting them out of business. Just think of the pharmacists years ago. They were all in business, they thought, man, we own this town. There’s nobody else in this town with a drugstore or pharmacy. Low and behold, they look down the street and a new building is going up.

They go, “What are these people crazy? They’re opening a pharmacy in this town? Don’t they know all the people have been coming to me for 50 years?”

Well, you can’t underestimate the other businesses out there. The people with money out there that if they see you making any money; they’re planning on putting you out of business. So you always have to offer more, you always have to be prepared and you always have to stay educated to stay ahead.

Steve Rucinski: Great comments. Thank you. Jim, where can people find out more about America’s Best Companies online?

Jim Tracy: Well, America’s Best Companies is found simply at It’s very simple. Just spell out America’s Best Or you can search on any tool bar and we’ll come up right at the top. You can watch some videos. Hear from me and take a look at all the different benefits. We were only able to touch on a few of them. I like to think of this as the bailout for small business owners today.

Anita Campbell: I love that, the bailout for small business owners today. Good for you, Jim!

Well, Jim Tracy, president and founder of America’s Best Companies, thank you so much. I’ve been looking forward to hearing more about your business and we’re glad we had you on the show today.

Well, you have just heard another in-depth entrepreneurial interview on Small Business Trends radio. I want to thank you very much for listening.  Until next week, I’m your host Anita Campbell.

Steve Rucinski: And I’m Steve Rucinski and that’s a wrap!

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Small Business Trends LLC, 2009


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