Archive for the ‘Work Your Biz Wednesday’ Category


5 Tax To-Dos to Wrap Up Before Year’s End

12-17 Business-Taxes smallThis time of year zooms by, and before you know it, it will be January. Waiting until then to get your business tax affairs in order can put you in a time crunch at the start of the year, so get started now to ensure you’re ready for 2015. Here are five things you can do now to ensure you get off to a great start on New Year’s.

1. Make Sure Your Corporation is Compliant

If you’re incorporated, it’s imperative that you remain compliant. That means you’ll need to file your Statement of Information and update any information that has changed in the last year for your corporation. You should receive notification of when your paperwork is due, but it’s a wise idea to keep that due date on your calendar to ensure you don’t miss it.

2. Pull Together Your Accounting Records

If you are one of those business owners who had been putting off doing financial statements all year, you are out of time. In addition to your receipts, you also want to make sure you have all your invoices, bank statements, credit card statements, and your records from anyone you pay online pulled together so that a bookkeeper or tax professional can help you get you accounting records in order.

3. Prepare Your Profit and Loss Statement

While you’ll need to wait until the year has ended to actually run your profit and loss statement for tax purposes, you can start the preparation by logging into your accounting software and making sure all your expenses are appropriately categorized. Match them up to tax categories to ensure that, come tax time, it’s easier to get a clear picture of what you’ve spent and what you’ve earned.

4. Examine Your Budgets

Remember those budgets you set at the start of this year? Now’s the time to see where you stand with your budget projections versus what you actually spent. If, for example, you still have money in your marketing budget, decide how you can spend what’s left in a way that will best help your company before the year closes out. If you’ve got a surplus, consider sharing the wealth with your staff as a holiday bonus, or spending it on a party to celebrate all their hard work throughout the year.

5. Get Your Tax Form Information Ready

Again, you’ll have to wait until the year’s up to file, print, and mail tax forms to your employees and contractors, but you can still get everything lined up. January 31 is the deadline for sending out W2 forms to your staff, so you won’t have much time to take care of them once 2015 rolls around.

Additionally, you should decide now whether you want to DIY your own business taxes or hire a tax professional to help you before the March 2015 deadline. If you’re a solopreneur, you may be able to handle doing your own taxes, but if you have a more complex business, it is worth it to get professional help.


Four Skills to Network More Powerfully

12-10 networking smallNot all of us are born networkers, so we have to work at improving the skill and it is a vital one. Fortunately, networking is a fundamental skill that you can develop with a little effort. You never know where your next referral will come from, so it behooves you to wear your networking hat whenever you are out in public. If you are an introvert, don’t worry or feel pressure to be “on” all the time. Just use these tips when you are ready to engage.

In order to be interesting, charm…

One of the greatest arts of interacting is being able to ask questions that encourage the speaker to open up. Of course, the point is not to be a therapist or get someone to let it all hang out, but to find questions that engage on a different level than just routine small talk. A charming question can encourage someone to reflect on a event in a whole new way.

At the next networking event you attend, ask open-ended questions that inspire a real conversation. Not only will you get people to open up, but you will also become more memorable and create a connection.

In order to be engaging, listen…

Have you ever been in a conversation at a meet and greet and had to tell someone the same information over and over again because they weren’t really listening to you? It is important to treat the person in front of you with respect and listen deeply to her words. You may be surprised at how conversations will unfold when you focus on listening instead of what you are going to say next.

People can tell when your mind is focused on their words or something else. Challenge yourself to listen with complete attention, especially when you feel distracted. If your distraction becomes too overwhelming, you can use that as a way to extend the interaction, saying, “I’d really like to talk to you more about that. May I have your card and contact you later, so that we can continue the conversation?” Now you’ve created an opportunity for future action.

In order to feel comfortable, help…

If you are concerned about feeling part of the crowd, offer to help. Most events are run on a shoestring and could use even more support. Consider the time you donate an investment in creating the community and use the opportunity to help as training to assist you in further developing your skills.

This is a great opportunity for introverts to feel involved with events, which can help you warm up to pull yourself off that wall and start mixing and mingling.

In order to feel confident, know…

Confidence goes a long way in helping humans feel more comfortable, so practice your pitch before you head out. Think of the questions you’re most likely to hear, which will help later when you’re approaching other people to make connections, and devise quick, succinct answers for them.

Networking isn’t about making a sale, it’s about making connections you can build over time. If they result in doing business, so much the better.


5 Funding Options for Small Businesses

12-3 Small biz funding smallWhen it comes to financing your small business, you need options that will help you grow your business. Sometimes you can’t do that when you bootstrap on your own. Whether you’re launching a business or ready to take an established business to the next level, you have options. Browse the following five funding options and see which one’s best for your biz.

1. Traditional Small Business Loan

Whether you need $5,000 or $100,000, a small business loan backed by the SBA might be what you’re looking for. You can apply for an SBA loan through your existing bank, or through other organizations that provide small business resources in your city. Some organizations cater to specific niches such as women and minorities (check out your local Women Business Development Center or the Minority Business Development Agency). Business loans have a lifespan of several years — typically you have five to seven years to pay the loan back at the agreed-upon interest rate and payment schedule.

2. Line of Credit

If you’ve been in business two years or more with positive cash flow, a line of credit could be what you need. This is an especially good option if you’re simply looking to have working capital available (so you can pay your vendors and staff while waiting for slow-paying clients to pay their invoices.) You can pull from the line of credit when you need the money, and can even use a debit card for transactions from that account. But be warned, interest accrues daily, so you won’t have years to pay it back. It’s a solid option if you need a cash injection now, and can repay it promptly.

3. Investors

Another financing option is to seek investment from venture capitalists or angel investors. In exchange for the cash, you’ll give up a percent of the ownership of your company. That can be a perk, since you’ll get the advice and insight of someone who knows your industry and can make suggestions for improvement, but that can also be a drawback if you like having total control over your business decisions.

If you go the investment route, position yourself to get a “yes” by putting yourself in the investors’ shoes. What would be appealing about your company? What makes it a strong financial investment?

4. Crowdfunding

Not only can crowdfunding get your cash flowing for expansion, but it can also help you attract new customers and rabid fans. Using sites like Kickstarter, you develop a crowdfunding campaign to tell your brand’s story as well as explain what you want the money for. The site will take a percent of what you raise, as long as you hit your target amount. (If you set your goal for $20,000 but only raise $18,000, you’ll get nothing).

A well-strategized crowdfunding campaign can result in everyday people supporting your company through donations. In return, you give them perks, such as early access to your product, samples, t-shirts, or interactions with your brand. That’s a small price to pay for such a great financial resource!

5. Credit Cards

While not ideal for funding a small business, credit cards do serve a purpose. For one, they’re easy to use and provide instant payment to your vendors or purchases you need to make. They can also help you build up credit under your business’ name. Do your homework. Make sure you use a credit card with great rewards or cash back on purchases. Just be wary of charging more than you can pay off in a reasonable amount of time. Those credit card fees can rack up over time!


How to Plan Your Holiday Vacation While Keeping Your Business Running

11-26 holiday vacation small The holiday season is upon us, and with that comes vacation time for many entrepreneurs. If you’re on the fence about shutting down your business while you go over the river and through the woods because you’re worried you’ll miss out on sales or opportunities, keep reading. You absolutely can take a vacation while keeping your business alive. Here’s how:

Tip 1: Start Planning Early

If you know you’ll be out between Christmas and New Year’s, plan for your vacation now. Let your clients know you’ll be out, and if they need any work done, to inform you now so you can get it done early. Clear your plate of work so that you can walk out the door confident that you didn’t leave any activities undone. This will also help you transition back to work on your return, and keep you from having to face a giant pile of work after such a relaxing vacation.

Tip 2: Put Someone in Charge

If your company will continue to operate in your absence, find a replacement for you for the week. At the minimum, you need a point of contact you can include in your vacation email autoresponder so that if people who email you need immediate help, they can get it. I always give a few points of contact in my autoresponder so that the appropriate person can help my clients.

Make sure the person you put in charge is confident in “being you” while you’re out. Go over any protocols or questions they have, and discourage them from contacting you unless it’s a true emergency. Empower them to make decisions in your absence.

Tip 3: Schedule Your Marketing

What I love about marketing tools these days is how you can schedule your social media updates and blog posts in advance. No one even needs to know you’re not working! Carve out time from your busy schedule to get your social media updates scheduled in your absence, as well as to write a few posts to go live while you’re out.

Tip 4: Tie Up Loose Ends

Do you have bills due while you’re out? Meetings you’re supposed to attend? Make sure everything is squared away so you don’t disappoint anyone who expects to meet with you (and don’t miss due dates for bills!). The more details you pay attention to now, the more refreshed you can return to the office after the holidays.

Tip 5: Relax. Your Business will be Fine

More than all the tactical, this is the hardest for many business owners. They are convinced that their businesses will fall apart if they’re not there. But the truth is, your business can handle it. Whether you’re a solopreneur or you have a capable team, if you’ve let clients know you’ll be out and done your part to clear your plate, you can relax and enjoy your time off.

And given that many other people take vacations at the end of the year, rest assured that there will be no crises while you’re out!


The Power of the Press Release

11-19 press release smallAs a small business owner, you need as many tools in your marketing arsenal as possible. Press releases are an excellent resource for helping you reach more people online as well as attract the attention of journalists and bloggers. But you don’t need to hire a public relations professional to start leveraging press releases. Here’s your guide to getting started.

Focus on the Angle

Press releases, by their very nature, focus on news. They’re not promotional articles or advertising. So if you’re going to write one, you need a news angle. That might be that you just opened your shop downtown, or that you recently secured your first government contract. Ask yourself this: would this fit in my local newspaper? If not, you don’t have a topic for your first press release.

This is especially important when you reach out to journalists to cover your story. They don’t care how great you think your company is; they want stories that their readers are interested in. So keep your focus on relevant news, and you’ll be fine.

Consider Your Channels

There are websites that focus solely on distributing press releases online. These are great for getting your news out there on many sites, as well as getting links back to your website. The more places your press release is found, the more opportunity for potential customers, as well as journalists and bloggers, to stumble upon it.

Another option you have is to send that press release directly to journalists you think might be interested in your news. Start locally; you’ll have a better shot of making it in your local daily newspaper than on the front page of New York Times.

Keep Your Timing in Mind

If your news happens in two weeks, you need to start pitching journalists now, and ask them to honor the embargo of 2 weeks (that just means they won’t leak your news until your specified date). While journalists and bloggers will need more lead time to write the story, online press release distribution services don’t, and many can publish your release within a few hours of submission. Chart out your timing before you need your news announced so you avoid last minute time crunches that could ruin your carefully-timed news announcement.

Watch Those Metrics

One of the purposes of using press releases online is to attract website visitors. Once you’ve published a press release or have gotten mentioned in online media, check your analytics after a few days to see if this coverage resulted in a boost in traffic. See where the traffic is coming from; one site that publishes press releases might send more than another, and this is important for your overall marketing and PR strategy.

One press release won’t result in dozens of new customers, but a steady cadence might. Only publish releases if you’ve got something newsworthy, but do build them into the bigger picture.


Developing a Quality Employee Review Process

10-12 employee reviewIt’s in your own best interest to nurture your staff and make sure they’re productive and thriving at your company. After all, turnover costs you money, in searching for a new hire and training him, so you’re better off making sure the staff you have is optimized. One way to do that is to set up an employee review process that not only helps you, but also helps your team understand your expectations and strive to meet them.

Set Them Up Regularly

You can adhere to the typical once-a-year employee review schedule…or you can meet more often, like two or three times a year. More frequent (and more informal) reviews can keep your employees on track to goals, and leave less time in between reviews so they stay motivated.

Think about your timing: is December really the best time for your reviews, given that half the staff is out of the office, and you’re time-crunched getting work done before the end of the year? Instead, schedule them based on their hire date so you don’t have dozens of reviews to get through in a single month.

Establish Goals Together

As I said, your review process should benefit you and your employee. Discuss goals together that each individual staff member can strive for. Perhaps you’d like to see one turn out two extra reports a week. That’s a reasonable goal.

Or if he’s angling for a promotion, make a list of goals he needs to accomplish in order for you to consider him for that promotion. This makes getting a promotion very black and white: if he can’t successfully accomplish the list, he won’t be eligible for something he wants.

Provide Constructive Criticism

This isn’t a time to sugarcoat your honest assessment of an employee’s work. Nor is it an opportunity to berate someone if they haven’t lived up to your expectations. Emotions shouldn’t be in the review process.

Find ways to constructively tell an employee about something you want him to work on. For example, if you find his work as of late to not be the quality it used to be, you could say:

“A few months ago, you were delivering top-notch work, and I was so impressed. But lately it feels like you haven’t been putting in that same effort. Is there a reason why?”

This approach does several things. First, it puts him at ease, because you start off with an honest compliment. It also opens the door for further conversation. Maybe he recently had a baby, and his lack of sleep is attributing to his lower quality work. Or maybe he didn’t feel you appreciated his efforts, so he slacked off a bit. Taking the right approach can mean the difference between you putting your employee up in arms and actually getting to the bottom of what’s changed.

Develop Metrics

The only way you’ll be able to measure where your employee is next year is if you first set up a baseline to measure against. Consider it your report card. Pick the areas that are most important to you (timeliness, quality work, motivation are a few examples) and give him a number, 1-10, for each. Then next year you can compare the new numbers to the previous ones and see if there has been an improvement.

Staying in touch with your staff this way helps you avoid potential loss of productivity and keeps your staff better, now that they know your expectations.


8 Useful Websites to Help You Find, Hire, and Train Your Next Employee

Someone using LinkedIn on an iPadIf you’ve never hired an employee — or if you find the task tedious — never fear! There are websites and tools designed to make the work so much easier. Here are my picks for the best websites out there for everything related to hiring. Not only will you save time and money on the recruitment process, but you’ll also find the most talented candidates out there.

1. LinkedIn

I’d be remiss if I didn’t start my list out with this giant. Not only does LinkedIn help you browse the profiles of qualified professionals in your area, but you can even post your job there. The applications that come through LinkedIn tend to be more qualified than some of the job boards out there.

2. HireVue

Not every company is hiring locally. If you’re expanding your virtual team, HireVue can help you with the interview process. You can “meet” face-to-face via webcam and record your interview so you can go back and review it with colleagues later. Can’t do that in real time!

3. Niche Job Boards

Sure, you can post your job on Monster and CareerBuilder, but those are pretty generic in the job seekers they attract. Instead, look for job boards that focus on your industry, like Dice for technology or Hoojobs for PR. The more niched the job board, the better the quality of applications you will receive.

4. Elance

If you just need a freelancer and not a full-time employee, Elance is a great place to look for one. Browse categories like marketing, writing, or IT, or post your job and let professionals come to you.

5. Social Media

Your social profiles are also great places to put the word out that you’re hiring. You can also use them to search for people talking about your industry and scout them out as potential job candidates.

6. Your Website

It should be obvious, but with so many other places to post jobs, many businesses forget to use what’s right under their noses: their company website. Here you can post your job description (for free) and link to it from your social profiles.

7. Grovo

While you’ll need to do some training on-site, if you want your new employees to learn specific software systems, Grovo is a great place to do so. There are tutorials on how to use platforms like Hootsuite, HubSpot, and Basecamp, and you can get reports to see where your employees are thriving and where they need more help.

8. Litmos

If you’d rather create your own training courses, Litmos provides the platform to do so. With this tool, you record the videos and set up the training materials. Then your staff can access them from anywhere.

With so many tools available to help the hiring process along, your job as a small business owner is a breeze.


How to Establish and Sustain Your Competitive Advantage

horse racing smallNo matter what industry you’re in, I’m willing to bet it’s pretty competitive. You constantly have to be on your toes and know what the other players in your field are doing. However, it helps if you have a strong competitive advantage. This is that je ne sais quoi that makes your brand unique and attracts customers to you. If you don’t know what your competitive advantage is, this article will help you find it, as well as help you keep it.

Defining What Makes You Unique

Not sure what your competitive advantage is? Here are several examples:

  • You offer products no one else does
  • You focus on quality products
  • You offer stellar customer service
  • You charge less
  • You offer a unique experience

If you were to ask your customers why they come back to you again and again, what would they say? Don’t be shy to ask them this exact question. Sometimes you’re too close to your business to see what your advantage is, and your customers’ answers may surprise you.

Shifting Your Mindset About Your Competitors

Even if you’ve got an amazing competitive advantage, it’s important to not rest on your laurels and assume you will always be on top. It’s easy to mimic those benefits your company offers, and if you’re thriving, you should expect that other companies will do just that.

When business is booming, it’s easy to think you’ll never be anywhere but #1. When your competitors are light years behind you, or you put all your energy into one large client, you take your focus away from that competitive advantage. But you shouldn’t. Have the attitude that that advantage is something you have to fight for, every day.

Sustaining That Edge

Once you accept that your competitive advantage is something you can never take for granted, you’ve got to be diligent to stay on top of owning it. If your advantage is offering the best product on the market, make sure you’re paying attention to all other players and the quality of their products, as they’ll likely improve over time. Continue to innovate on your own product so it’s constantly evolving too.

If customer service is your strong suit, make sure your staff has continual training, and that you monitor a few calls to ensure they’re following your high-quality customer service protocol.

Remember: sustaining that competitive advantage takes effort. If it’s truly important to you to own that advantage, put energy into maintaining it every day.


5 Out-of-the Box Digital Marketing Ideas

10-22 Outside the boxWhen it comes to marketing your small business, you don’t want to have the same marketing campaign as your competitor, but sometimes you simply can’t find the creative juice to develop an inspiring idea. Here, we’ve got five ideas to jumpstart your thinking and get you moving toward increased sales and floods of new customers.

1. Viral Video

If you’ve never considered creating a video, there’s never been a more affordable time to dabble in the medium. Many of your customers likely prefer video as a means to consume content, over written content. By developing a few strategic videos (try a how-to to start) you can attract a different audience from your standard one, and you can reach a wider number of people if you invest in making a killer video that people want to share.

Getting Started: John Jantsch has a great list of video editing tools that will set you off on the right foot with your video marketing. 

​​2. Infographics

If you’re heavy into blogging, remember that you don’t always have to write your content. Liven up your blog with an occasional infographic, and then see if your traffic jumped for that post. An infographic takes a dense amount of information and makes it visually appealing so that more people absorb it.

Getting Started: If you’re not design-oriented, use a tool like Piktochart to easily create visually appealing infographics.

3. Giveaway

What better way to attract people toward your brand than by giving something away? That might be some of your products, or maybe a larger prize, like an iPad. If you list your giveaway on sites dedicated to giveaways, you’ll reach people who otherwise wouldn’t have heard of your product.

Getting Started:  Set your parameters for the giveaway. How can people enter? Are there multiple ways to get entries? How many winners will you select? What’s the deadline? Where will you promote it? The more you promote it, the more entries you’ll have, and thereby more leads. 

4. Co-Marketing

Let’s say you sell peanut butter, and you know a guy who runs a jelly store. If you partner up, you can combine forces to market your products together. Maybe you offer a 25% off of jelly coupon to every customer you have, and he does the same for your peanut butter. Or you go in on online advertising together, cut your costs, and double your results.

Getting Started: Look to your local community to find possible partners. They shouldn’t compete, but should sell products that complement yours. 

5. Speaking

Speaking as an expert in your field is an excellent way to brand yourself. Choose a topic you know well (and maybe one that lends itself to people deciding they’d rather hire you to do it than do themselves), and give plenty of value in that speech. Afterward, be available for people to approach with questions.

Getting Started:  Look for conferences and trade shows in your industry, then pitch event planners on the topic you’d like to cover. After getting a few under your belt, they’ll come easier.

Always be on the lookout for opportunities to market that maybe everyone else isn’t already doing.




 
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