Archive for May, 2014


4 Mistakes that Will Get the Government Calling You

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????I can still remember the day the Department of Revenue shut my company down.  It seems that we had not done a timely job of remitting the sales tax that we had collected from our customers and this government agency wanted their money. My bookkeeper had apparently ignored all their warnings by mail. When they arrived, they put a big sticker on our door, telling all our customers and employees that we had to "pay up to open up". It was a similar story when the IRS was concerned that we were not remitting employees' collected payroll taxes in a timely period of time. This situations happened because as a new owner, I did not know all my tax responsibilities.

Here are four mistakes that can get the government calling on you and maybe even putting you out of business:

  1. Non payment of payroll taxes. Each pay period, a company deducts from the employees paycheck taxes that are due to the government. If a company is doing this themselves, this money needs to go into a separate account and get sent to the appropriate agency.  A better way to do this is to use a payroll service that will withdraw the taxes and pay the government automatically. With this service, there is no temptation by  a "cash strapped" small business owner to spend payroll tax money they collected, but belongs to the government.
  2. Non payment of sales tax. With each transaction, a company collects sales tax for  the government. It is then the companies responsibility to remit these funds to the appropriate agency. A company should ensure that theses taxes get posted to a separate account so the money is there to send at the end of the month.
  3. Non payment of use tax. This is a tax that a company assesses on themselves for product they purchased for their own use where they should have been charged state sales tax, but weren't. This needs to be send to the state typically every quarter.
  4. Health code violations. Run an office that is unhealthy for employees or a location unfit for customers? Inspectors will shut that company down on the spot and lock the doors. This gets much stricter when serving food and beverage or a hotel

In the days when a company's online reputation is critical, getting shut down like this will do nothing but hurt your Yelp and TripAdvisor ratings.


Work Your Biz Wednesday: Online is Where It Is At

Here are 6 tips that will make you look like a rockstar when promoting your small business online from the Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How Do Your Employees Really Feel About the 24/7 Workplace?

Is your small business using technologies that enable employees to stay connected to work even outside of work hours? If so, are you concerned your employees might feel overloaded by the need to check in with work when they’re off the clock?

Well, stop worrying. According to a recent Gallup Poll of full-time U.S. employees, nearly 80 percent of them feel somewhat or very positive about being able to use computers and/or mobile devices to stay connected to their jobs outside of normal working hours.

???????????????????????????????????A cynic would say perhaps one reason so many people feel good about being able to check in with work after-hours is that most of them don’t actually do it. About one-third (36 percent) frequently connect with work online after-hours, while 64 percent admit to doing so occasionally, rarely or not at all. (Apparently, they just like knowing the option is available.)

However, don’t be so cynical just yet. The study also reveals that 86 percent of those who regularly check in with work of their own accord, and 81 percent of those whose employers require them to do so, think it’s a positive development.

Of course, employees like being able to connect with their jobs outside regular working hours because it enables them to do things like attend their children’s school functions, take time off or work flexible hours. But work-life balance can quickly tip out of balance, as every small business owner knows from experience.

How can you ensure that the ability to work after-hours continues to have an upside for your team? Here are 3 tips:

  • Pay attention. If you notice employees seem like they’re starting to burn out, grumble or complain, assess what’s going wrong. Sometimes the ability to check in 24/7 can lead to a compulsion to do so.
  • Encourage downtime. Make sure employees have “disconnect” time to recharge their personal batteries by unplugging from their devices. Model this behavior yourself.
  • Pull back. Even if you require employees to be available and check in after normal work hours, try to set reasonable limits. For example, you could say that employees must be available up until 10 p.m and after 7 a.m. Even if employees have to be available 24/7, try staggering that responsibility so everyone gets some days off. 

Mondays with Mike: The Blend Strategy – Building Innovative Businesses

The difference between entrepreneurs and “normal” people is that normal folks may actually believe that it’s all been done before, that the good ideas are already taken.  Entrepreneurs know different.  We entrepreneurs believe that there’s always a fresh approach to a field or a product that can be profitable if it’s launched the right way.

One of the most effective ways to put a fresh spin on a business is by combining, or blending aspects of two different businesses.  Whether it’s as simple as combining peanut butter and jelly together in one jar, or as complex as blending drive-thru fast food service with the wedding industry to create Las Vegas’s drive-thru wedding chapels, creatively fusing two industries can give you an edge and set you apart from all of your competitors.

I’ve found two clever ways that entrepreneurs have used blending to create profitable ventures, and I’m sure there are more!

  1. Shared spaces.  Okay, this concept isn’t classic blending, but it certainly employs elements of the strategy.   The key concept of shared spaces is to place your business in proximity to other businesses so that you get a crack at their existing customers. Here’s how it works.  Grocery shoppers hit the in-store Starbucks for a $5 cup of coffee to sip while they shop.  Grocery shoppers also handle all of their banking needs at the in-store bank at the front of the grocery store.  From February to April, you can even have your taxes done in the grocery store!  My favorite example of shared spaces, though, is the Lowe’s Stocksy_txp7fd1b2b2qB5000_Small_39017hardware store near my house.  There’s a guy with a hot dog stand just as you head out of the exit, after you purchase your light fixtures, bird seed, and drywall.  He’s there 365 days a year – in fact, you can smell the sauerkraut before you get to the door.  It’s genius.  He sells more hot dogs than you could imagine – whether it’s to hungry contractors near lunchtime, or to hungry kiddos helping their parents shop for weekend projects.  Shared spaces can be a great way to get your business started.  The bonus is that your new small business lends added value to the existing store as well!
  2. Duplicating an existing method of delivery.  The Vegas drive-thru chapel fits this technique, as do drive-thru banks, pharmacies, dry cleaners, and – my personal fave – drive-thru liquor stores.  Seeing a model of service delivery that works in one business and adapting it to another can be a goldmine.  Think about Ebay – they found a way to combine online product sales with the concept of an auction, complete with all the excitement of worrying about being outbid.  Their marketplace blended online sales with garage sales and added an auctioneer.  Look around you at your local businesses and see if there’s a unique delivery method that you can adapt to suit your vision.

Entrepreneurs are some of the best out-of-the-box thinkers around, and I’m constantly amazed by the innovative blends that smart business owners develop and market to become great success stories.



How to Survive the Business Triangle of Fast, Good & Cheap

Posted on by Carol Roth

Stocksy_txpdb49d990KT5000_Small_125569When was the last time a customer told you that money is no object as long as you produce a good-enough product or service whenever it is convenient?  OK, you have a right to laugh because these situations only happen in the dream world.  In the real world, customers make unreasonable demands every day.  It is your job to find realistic ways to make your customers’ dreams come true.

A Quick Lesson on Project Management

Any certified project manager (or even someone who plays one on TV) can tell you about the triple constraint that affects every project without exception.  Also known as the “business triangle”, this rule says that projects involve three basic components: time, quality and cost.  You can skimp on any two of these components, but not all three.  This triangle is indisputable, but unlike the Bermuda Triangle, you can in fact get around it.

So, what do you do when a prospective customer wants to pay standard costs for you to create custom order tracking software for their business in two weeks?  Sure, you can turn down the job, recognizing that you’ll have to throw profits out the window to bring a high-quality project in on time.  But, I often advise companies to figure out ways to deliver everything that the customer needs on time and within budget — and sell it to the customer.

Different Levels of Quality

Obviously, every product or service must work properly and deliver the results that your customer needs.  But in the project management world, a major part of quality is scope, so now is the time to figure out what that customer truly needs to track orders easily and accurately.  This can involve eliminating unnecessary bells and whistles or even finding reasonable ways to develop most features that your customers want, even if they don’t absolutely need them.

For example, you have to customize the data entry screens to suit the customer’s requirements.  But, rather than developing the mountains of reports that they requested, plug in a third party report generator.  You’ll probably want to create the most important reports for them, but they might be thrilled when you sell them on the idea that they can easily create any report that they want on a whim.

At a minimum, if your client is hyper focused on speed and/or cost, then you need to sell them on the idea that version 1.0 with less features is appropriate for now and, if applicable, that they can upgrade in the future.

The Need for Speed

If your clients are like Veruca Salt from the Willy Wonka movies, once they decide that they want something, they want it now.  Your customers may understand that developing that order tracking system to spec takes time.  Unfortunately, they still want it faster than you can produce a custom software system from scratch.

It’s an entrepreneurs job to channel McGyver when necessary, so think about ways to get around “recreating the wheel” from scratch.  You have many opportunities to build efficiencies into your process and your options increase with every project.  Maybe you can save time by starting with an earlier program that tracked widgets for another customer.  Or, if you need to create custom widgets, can you customize an existing mold that you have created earlier?  By looking at your company’s big picture, you can shave time off of many projects.

Of course, you can also throw more workers at the project to get more done in less time, but this solution adds more expenses to your bottom line.

Think Not Cheap, but Value-Oriented….

By now, you’re probably recognizing that you can often tweak one element of the business triangle to get more mileage out of the others.  Project costs are no exception. 

If you cannot escape the need to bring in more programmers for that order tracking system, you might consider bringing in a talented intern from the local technical college.  Interns can handle the more repetitious tasks under the direction of your own trusted staff while adding valuable experience to their resumes.  Or, rather than bringing in more quality assurance testers, your customer may welcome the opportunity to get a sneak peek at an early version of their system while doing their own testing.  In addition to notifying you of any inaccuracies, they may even be delighted to get a jump start on data entry.

Naturally, you want to look at the cost of materials as well.  Any place that you can save is a win. While it’s nice to provide user documentation on 22-pound bright white paper, less bright 20-pound stock serves the purpose just as well.  In fact, you can avoid paper costs entirely with online documentation, just like the major players in the software industry.

There’s always a way around at least one constraint. View each customer demand as a fun puzzle that you need to solve.  Take a step back and let your natural dedication and creativity put the puzzle together, so that it fits customer needs while advancing your business.


7 Lies Entrepreneurs Tell Themselves

Posted on by Barry Moltz

Stocksy_txpd72b69c8tH5000_Small_100354In order to stay positive, entrepreneurs need to lie to themselves a lot. Unfortunately, this can get them in trouble when they have improbable expectations and surprising outcomes. Here are the 7 biggest lies and the truth about what to do instead:

  1. Sales will be better next month. Many entrepreneurs believe that sales will always increase in the future. They reason that with more revenue, there will be more profit. The truth is that they don't change their sales and marketing efforts to give their company a better chance actually increasing sales. To boost revenue, companies need to be there when customers want to buy. Only a systematic sales and marketing effort will accomplish this.
  2. The next big customer (or product or employee) will change their company forever. The belief is that the next big break will take their company to the next level. The truth is that progress in companies typically build slowly and success doesn't usually have a tipping point. Think about the essentially building blocks that will grow the company step by step.
  3. Big money means taking big risks. They read the urban folklore of the few who took big risks and made billions. The truth is that most people fail. The success in business comes from taking small steps, evaluating the results, and taking the next action.
  4. Competitors are slow. Many entrepreneurs think that their competitors are not innovative and can't react quickly. Tell that to Blockbuster and Borders. The truth is that there will always be a competitor thinking up a better mousetrap. The entrepreneur needs to know what their competitive advantage will be when that day comes.
  5. Keeping the financials in their head. Many entrepreneurs believe that they do not need to review their company financial statements. The truth is that most of the time  their expectations do not match what is actually going on. This is why it's important to read and understand these statements every month.
  6. Getting paid last in their business. They reason that they are investing in their company and this is how they justify living off of savings while running a start up. The truth is that if an entrepreneur does not draw a livable wage from their company, they have a hobby, not a business. Always include the owner's salary in the monthly budget.
  7. Being busy means being productive. Many entrepreneurs believe if they are busy at work then they must be adding to the value of the company. The truth is that with all the distractions and interruptions that can enter an entrepreneur's daily life, they need to be very disciplined that they focus on projects that will make a deep impact on the company. Pick the two things that need to get done today and complete them before starting any other task.

What lies do you tell yourself?  


Work Your Biz Wednesday: 5 Things to Remember

When you're running a small business, it's easy to take your mind off the basics. Here are 5 things to remember from the Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 3 Ways to Conduct Focus Groups for Your Business

Have you ever conducted a focus group for your small business? Focus groups are a great way to find out what customers—and potential customers—think about your business, your customer service, new products or services you’re considering launching. The list of questions you can ask is pretty much endless.

Technology has greatly expanded your options for doing focus groups. Here are three alternatives:

  1. Hold an in-person focus group. In this method, you bring a small group of people who fit your customer profile together to discuss questions about your business. Because this option requires someone to record the conversation, someone to lead it, and getting people physically to your location, it can be costly and inefficient.
  2. Hold a virtual focus group. You can use conference calling or video conferencing technology to hold a virtual focus group. Videoconferencing can make it a bit easier to identify who’s talking and for people to feel comfortable with each other. The benefits of the virtual alternative are many: It’s cheaper and faster than bringing people to your location, and enables you to bring in potential customers from around the country or even around the globe. Typically, videoconferencing or conference call technology is set up to record your interaction, so you don’t need someone to tape or take notes.
  3. Hold a focus group on social media. Go beyond the basics—like just asking poll questions on your Facebook Page—to dig a little deeper. Technology is available to help you create more in-depth surveys on social media. For instance, you can use SurveyMonkey to create a free survey you can embed into your business’s Facebook Page. Or you can use Napkin Labs’ Brainstorm app with Facebook to make it easier to engage with your focus group. When doing a social media focus group, choose the social network where your customers interact with you the most. And keep in mind that people probably don’t want to spend a ton of time on a social media focus group—so consider breaking it down into small parts. For example, you could ask your focus group five questions a day for a week, or one question a day for a month.

Whichever venue you choose for your focus group:

  • Narrow your focus. Have a detailed list of questions drilling down into a specific topic, such as your online customer service, your in-store customer service or your product mix. Don’t try to cover every possible subject.
  • Reward participants. Whether focus group members give up five hours of their day to come to an in-person session or five minutes a day to answer social media questions, they deserve some reward for participating. This could range from money to coupons, discounts or free products. If you’re on a really tight budget and can’t reward everyone, draw one person’s name to win a prize.
  • Act on what you learn. Let participants—and all your customers—know what changes you’re making as a result of their input. It will make them feel that your business truly listens and cares about their opinions. 

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