Business advice

Defining your market niches
August 29, 2007, 8:16 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I have a conversation recently with my oldest son about a franchise he is dreaming of buying. It relates to selling kosher food. He told me about a cluster of religious families in a nearby city that it would benefit. A cluster of families does not a market make.

He was kind of taken back when I told him that. He was sure that others would see the benefit of eating kosher, which is also healthy in his eyes. I didn’t say anything more because I knew my words would fall on deaf ears.

I had another similar conversation with a gentleman living in my building. He worked for a company which developed and distributed Hawaiian food. He came to sit down and eat snacks with a couple of tenants one evening. He had a bag with no recognizable label with the words “Rice chips” written on it. It was a new product the company was testing. Another friend suggested it could be sold through “Trader Joe’s.” The chip eater stated that one market had agreed to take the product on, but it had to remain a secret. Again, I thought this company was developing a product and hoping there would be a market niche filled with customers willing to buy.

I have a suspicion that most product developments are done in this manner. The exception being the aerospace industry, perhaps. The government comes and puts in an order for a specific product.

When it comes to my writing, I don’t write an article until I have an idea as to where I might submit it. My writing is not a hobby. I am here to make money at it. I constantly revise my planning because the market never stops changing.

Keep up with your markets is probably the most important part of keeping a profitable business going. You need to define different market niches as you business expands. You can never be content with only one market. What are you going to do if that market ceases to exist. Markets die and evolve. Just think about what the telephone industry looked like 30 years ago. If someone died 30 years ago and came back, just think of the reaction that person would have to phones in their current state.

I have been changing my markets for selling my writing ever since I sold my first essay in 1979. I didn’t realize until I ended up with economics as my minor that I need to specialize. My writing then focused on anything to do with business and economics. My ex-economic professors bragged about me whenever they could.

Decide right from the start that you are always going to study your market niche. If you have employees, assign this task to someone permanently. Always keep your eyes on a way to jump into other markets. Do not wait for the sales end of your company to come back with heavy faces because sales are down for the quarter. Keep an eye on those reports and take preventive action.

It is said that Sarah Jessica Parker keeps her eye on the sales figures for her perfume, “Lovely.” If figures are not what she expected in any area, she is already traveling over there to see what she can do to increase them. This is a lesson which can be put to practice for anyone in business.

For access to the rest of my work:

Laura Bell


Is owning real property still worth the effort?
August 27, 2007, 6:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Buying and owning your home has always been the American dream. Since the 80s, it has been harder to make this come about. Mortgage craziness and nutty prices have put many middle class people out of the market. They have just assumed they will be renting for the rest of their working lives.

The real estate market has been a crunch for so long that many fail to realize all the benefits one receives when owning real property, even if the bank still holds the title until the mortgage is paid.

Owning property is the first step to becoming wealthy. Wealth is not how much you have in your bank account, unless you are running a loan business on the side. Wealth by definition is accumulation of assets that will earn an income or grow in value without you having to really do anything. Stocks earn dividends and grow in value without you having to go to work to make it happen. The same is true with homes. (Of course, there are the times assets decrease in value.)

A home is a foundation for expansion. You can leverage equity for a loan to buy more property if you wish. The more property you have the more leverage you have for expanding your holdings.

You are also giving yourself a way to help with your taxes. Most home improvements are a tax-write off. If you finance them with a home-improvement loan, it’s also tax deductible. Interest on your yearly mortgage is also written off. To determine for how long and any exceptions, check with the IRS’s latest advice.

You can, of course, also buy investment property. Small apartment units offer a return on investment along with a place to live. If you purchase units that have escaped rent increases for years, you move in and phase in increases over a period of time. The more rent coming in, the larger increase in the property’s value.

Ok, I know most are stuck renting now. When it comes down to the have and have-nots in this life, the line is drawn down the middle between those who own property and those who live in someone else’s property

Hopefully, you have never faced eviction proceedings. Years ago, I was living with my 19 year-old son in a lovely townhouse, paying the rent on time every time. I came home one evening from work and discovered the shock of my life. The apartment manager handed me an eviction notice telling me she had been instructed to give it to me by the owner. I called the renters’ rights board, or something close to that. I was informed that any landlord, in that city, could evict any time he/she wished. And, to top that off, they aren’t required to give you a reason! I almost fell out my seat with shock. It taught me a lesson.. Anyone who doesn’t own property in this country has no power. You are one of the have-not’s, not a pretty picture

I realize that it is nigh to impossible for the middle class to buy property in the market we are in. In the next part, I will give you some ideas on how to get over the obstacles. Owning real property is always worth the effort it might be to secure that mortgage.


For access to the rest of my work:

Laura Bell
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Don’t assume stock market activity is logical
August 22, 2007, 6:56 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Monday’s (August 20, 2007) news highlighted the slowing down of sales because of apprehension over anticipated actions by the Fed. (Ironically, there was an increase in buying before a quiet closing,” not my words.) There had been rumors the Fed was going to cut the discount rate. If so, there would have been increase in desire for future expansion. This translates into more faith in stocks’ upward movements.

Well, the Fed didn’t make the expected announcement. Like most monkeys, you pull their chain, and you see an immediate reaction. One would think that those active running around in the stock market would take a little time out to learn just a little economics. Then they wouldn’t jump next time someone tries to get their goat..

The stock market doesn’t seem to have learned from history. Let’s break it down. The market watchers, I prefer to call them crystal ball gazers, were all set for a Fed announcement that would instill more confidence in the credit markets. If you pay attention to the news, then you will know the worries are currently centered around the mortgage market.

The money markets react to announcements according to their preordained way of looking at things. The problem is their usual reaction is wrong. If you understand their errors, you can make better investment decisions for yourself personally and for your company.

If the Fed had dropped the discount rate, it would have been a sign that getting loans would be a little easier and that the Fed was taking a stand against higher interest rates. However, the point is that all economic decisions have time lags built in. (The only immediate action is what the buyers do on the stock market that day.) Once the Fed lowers the discount rate, the banks usually start lowering their rate. What is never mentioned is exactly what the discount rate is. It is only relevant to short term loans, not mortgages. The discount rate is the best rate a bank will offer to a customer with good credit he has never seen before. It isn’t the rate everyone gets. It is a bench mark, however, that serves as a guideline for other rates. Even so, it will be awhile before this action will be reflected in other types of loans.

The lesson here is to understand that most crazy days on the stock market are just that, crazy. Those folks seem to enjoy running around like a chicken with their head cut off. If you are in the market, and are enough of a risk taker, there is always a chance you can make some good money by doing exactly the opposite of what the market is doing for the time being. This would require ongoing diligence to ensure that you had a chance to change your bets as soon as the market swung back the other way.

When it comes to making wise economic decisions, the daily stock market is the last place on earth to find answers.

For access to the rest of my work:

Laura Bell

What screwed up the real estate market?
August 19, 2007, 11:27 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

With rising prices for years, one could easily argue greed. Then there were the financing agents who were determined to get folks into homes despite all odds.The forces involved in this particular market are in a mess.

Sellers should have taken the hint when their properties started staying on the market for months that things were changing. No, they continued to expect that some sucker was going to come along and pay the outlandish price. Agents were also stepping over the line in not wanting to deal with change. The demand had diminished and the supply was overloaded. Market forces were at play. The problem was, and still is, that the players are in denial and think for some reason they are so special that their wants can override economic principles.

Newton never did figure out how to make the apple not fall off the tree. Economic principles cannot be overridden either. When the forces of supply and demand are out of whack, there is going to be a problem. Houses are staying on the market and the statistics for foreclosures are at all time highs.

Here is what is going to have to happen.Those prices are going to go down. I know buyers want to show a profit when they sell. They are going to have to wait until the prices start creeping up again, refinance if necessary, or lease the house and move on.

The biggest culprits in all of this are the mortgage brokers who put people in homes who had no business ever landing financing. This became an acceptable practice in the mid-80s when fixed interest rates were so high, normal working people doubted they would be able to buy a home. I was covering the industry the year that law passed in the California state legislature. I interviewed the Assembly leader at the time who thought the idea awful. As he put it, “I don’t know about you, but I don’t have ea variable income.”

Yes, allowing ARMS (adjustable rate mortgages) helped millions, but now is not the time. That financing is putting many in the horrible position of not being able to pay their mortgage, which in some cases has doubled. A woman with such a problem was profiled on the nightly news not to long ago.

Then, there were the sub-prime rate loans; and, believe it or not, if you haven’t been keeping up with this news, loans with no down payments. This is getting almost as bad as wrap-around-mortgages from the past. Probably someone is going to tell me it is still going on. I, personally, don’t want to know as it gives me a headache thinking about

If you are selling or buying, try to use some common sense when getting your financing. No down payment only sounds good. What it does is give you a financing package where you will not be developing equity. If you want to refinance, for instance, if things are getting bad, it can’t happen. Refinancing is based on equity.

Don’t accept a financing package which has you paying 50 percent of your income on a mortgage. The guideline used to be 25 percent. And, whatever you do, do not sign up for a variable rate mortgage. Wait until the market improves and your income allows you to get a reasonable/common sense packaged loan.

Will owning a home ever be a valid investment again? Of course, if one uses common sense and doesn’t panic and sell when prices are falling. Also, keep in mind that most investments don’t offer you the benefit of a place to live while a return on your investment.

Real property always has a potential for being a good investment. But maybe, not right now.

For access to the rest of my work:


Laura Bell



Are you asking the wrong question?
August 18, 2007, 7:49 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized



Starting a business can be overwhelming. Those newly bricked roads twist and turn so much they some times get newbie business owners twisted in their thinking. Running out the starting gate is a rush and many get crushed in the shuffle.

Asking the wrong question has the potential for disaster. This came to mind recently from a post on a group which is specifically for women who run small businesses.

“I sell handcrafted soaps. Which advertising venues should I avoid?” I almost laughed. It seemed so ironic to me at time. It seemed easy. It should have been, “…where should I advertise?” The reason she was going down the wrong road is that she had failed with some preliminary business planning. This woman didn’t know who her target market was. She also probably didn’t have a clue that most all publications will provide you, a potential advertiser, with their target market. A very simple idea, but it was baffling her.

Years ago, I heard a story about a potential business owner who was posting on the AOL board for small business. It went sort of like this, “I just came up with a great idea for a business. Now, where do I find financing for it?” He thought he was headed in the right direction, but didn’t have a clue that instead walking down a path, he had started a journey through a maze.

A business idea needs a definition before it has a chance to go anywhere. It then needs a plan that can be presented to a potential investor. All of this seems straight forward and easy to grasp. However, potential business owners and those who are already operating seem to get their planning agendas in a twist from time to time.

Before joining the rest who are busy jumping in empty swimming pools and wondering why they keep coming up bruised, take a step back from the situation. Look at the outline of information I have provided here. Hopefully, it will give you some help.

If you are continually finding yourself facing seemingly unsolvable barriers, you need to stand back and take a break. Perhaps, despite the time you have spent in the entrepreneur world, you need some help. Read, take a class or just maybe you might have to hire a business consultant to ensure you are at least on the right path.

Do not feel like you should have had enough sense to know you were wrong. Running a small business successfully is about the most challenging adventure on the planet. If it was that easy, there would be no big corporations. We would all be running our own shops.

For access to the rest of my work:
Laura Bell


It’s not all that easy
August 11, 2007, 8:27 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


If you listen to those who are making big money from selling the get-rich-quick books, you will believe that starting a business on the Web is easy enough for a toddler. Their pitches come along with cheerful pictures of workers now spending family time in lieu of being chained to someone else’s desk.

The truth is you will be able to see your children, but you will be watching while they run by as you are chained to your own desk.

There are no short cuts and no guarantees that you will make thousands in a short period of time. No matter where you launch your business, there is one universal truth that a good portion of the world is trying to make you forget: running your own business is hard work and can lead to more hours than any employee.

Someone gave you an idea that ‘simply’ involved setting up a website and creating a catalog for your products. You spent money for the web designer and the thing looks like it is ready to launch. You feel like you have a good start on something that might change your life.

At this point, the only thing you have is a bill from the web guy and the monthly bill to keep the site up. Starting and running a longstanding business takes: PLANNING. You don’t launch until you have done preliminary research.

Is there a market out there for your goods? Has someone else done something similar? Have you googled other potential sellers? If so, is your price compatible with what the market is already bearing?

What are your marketing plans? Ecommerce doesn’t work in a vacuum. It follows the same rules as every other business. The only big difference is that customers are coming to visit you on the Web instead of coming to your store. In a way, this makes it more difficult. You don’t have the option of putting a sign up on a busy street.

You need to define a marketing plan before you launch. If you are fairly new to online selling, you may wish to hire someone with experience in the field. It doesn’t matter how great your site is if no one stops by to visit and buy.

Running a business on the Net takes all the work that running a brick and mortar one does. Since the marketing and advertising methods change constantly, it may take a little more effort to pick the tools for your first marketing plan.

Find someone who is a running a successful ecommerce venture and ask for advice. Join a Yahoo group of business owners and listen to those who know.

Planning will be the most important factor in running your successful ecommerce venture. Do not believe the guys who come calling with a plan that is suppose to be easy. The only easy thing about it is a way to make them money.

For access to the rest of my work:

Laura Bell

Marketing Strategy?
August 6, 2007, 7:50 am
Filed under: Business Advice, Uncategorized

Before you conclude that no one could say a thing about the subject you haven’t heard already, give me a second or two here. My last post showed that even Bill Gates sometimes loses sight of his marketing. (Remember, the disaster he had in China.) In that instance, he went forth with his sales force blindly assuming that anyone sitting in front of a computer daily would be willing to be the usual rate for his software.

That erroneous assumption for anyone else might have meant bankruptcy. Our market niches are changing constantly. One can’t pick up the business section without seeing worrisome souls anticipating dismal conclusions to the slowdown in the housing industry as well as other investment niches.

All of this comes down to one basic. What did work in a given market segment is now creating havoc. As much as these changes are publicized, it never ceases to amaze the many who are testing the waters of the business world but have failed to define their niche at all, let alone be capable of shifting in the future.

One can, believe it not, pick up a few business hints from the summer reality show dealing with the inventors who are sure their product is going to be the next big thing. The judge from England asked one of the finalists to define her market. They awarded each finalist $50k to help develop their product. This woman had a design for a bra that worked with a backless dress. She had samples made, hired models but failed to find out how many women would be willing to buy her product. She should also have found out how much they were willing to spend. She was faulted for this and ended up in second place. She won a contract with Maidenform, who would consequently be stuck with the burden of doing it for her.

I ran into two writers recently who were contemplating two very large, but different projects. One gave me a very general description of what he saw as the target audience. The other had the project completed with his partner. When I asked him what market they were contemplating selling to first, his answer was astonishing. It really shouldn’t have been after all the years I have been doing this, but I was taken aback nevertheless. “We are still debating that question.”

So my point is very simple. You can’t have a successful marketing strategy if you have been lackadaisical about defining your market to begin with. Successful marketing is and always will be the key. Neglect it and don’t be surprised when bankruptcy court comes calling.