Archive for the ‘Work Your Biz Wednesday’ Category


How to Hire an Attorney for Your Small Business

Lawyer handing over legal document at  a meeting in a cafeEvery business needs the services of an attorney. Having access to one can help you navigate complex areas like patents, trademarks, copyrights, and contracts. They can also help you choose the best business structure for your company and create employment contracts and nondisclosure agreements, if you need them. Some attorneys specialize in helping small businesses and can be reasonably priced, even for the smallest budget.

Start by Identifying What You Need

Beyond identifying the areas you need legal expertise in, you’ll also need to determine what type of lawyer you need. Some can help with general small business tasks, while others specialize in trademarks, patents, and copyrights. If there’s a specialist for what you need, seek him out. You wouldn’t go to a general practitioner if you had orthopedic issues.

If you have no need for copyrights or any complex legal advice, you can probably get by taking care of your needs on your legal questions with a general small business attorney. If, on the other hand, you want to patent your intellectual property or need several different complex contracts drafted, you’re better off hiring a professional with that expertise.

Ask Your Network for Referrals

Before you do an internet search for an attorney, see if anyone you know is acquainted with a small business lawyer. A referral can go a long way toward helping you find the right person for the job, and it will cut down on the time you spend vetting different options.

If no one you know can refer a lawyer, check with your local SCORE or Small Business Development Center to see what leads they can offer. You might even find one that partners with the local bar association to offer pro bono advice to startups!

Do Some Research

Once you’ve got your shortlist of possible attorneys to work with, dig into their qualifications online. You can review each one’s credentials on your state bar’s website or here. You want to ensure that your attorney is licensed and admitted to practice before the courts in your state. It may also be helpful to see if he has ever been reprimanded or involved in illegal activities (red flag).

Interview Your Top Three Choices

Starting a relationship with a lawyer is something you want to do carefully, because the right fit could make for a long and fruitful relationship. Always ask for business references (and check them), as well as questions like these:

  • Do I need to provide a large retainer to get started
  • What is your fee schedule for routine and non-routine services?
  • Will you provide itemized bills?
  • What is your typical response time?
  • What is the best way to reach you?
  • Have you worked with any businesses in my industry?
  • Can you give me an example of how you have helped clients secure business opportunities?
  • Can I call you on any legal problem?

Not only should the right lawyer give you satisfactory answers to these questions, but you should get a good feeling from her. You need to be able to trust your attorney with your business, so it’s important you listen to your gut in the interview.


Marketing 101: 5 Key Marketing Terms to Know

2-4 Mktg 101 smallWhen you start a business, it is extremely important to have a marketing plan. A marketing plan is essential in helping you develop an understanding of what actions you can take to bring success. When people look at statistics about small businesses and see that only about half of all small businesses make it to their fifth birthday, it can be daunting to jump into such cold waters.

However, if you take the steps to prepare for entrepreneurship, you have given yourself a boost over the hurdles that plague the small business owners who become just another statistic. Your marketing plan establishes how and to whom you promote your product or service. Before your write your marketing plan, let’s review some crucial marketing terms to help you have a clear idea of what this approach entails.

1. Marketing

The term marketing encompasses a large range of behaviors undertaken by businesses to communicate their brand message with their customers. In a nutshell, marketing presents products or services in ways that make them desirable. Your advertising, website, social media profiles, and newsletter are all part of your marketing efforts, and are the efforts you undertake to persuade potential customers to become paying customers. Marketing uses both emotional and rational appeals to attract customers and encompasses a wide variety of actions and components. Creativity in your marketing is vital, and the returns can be enormous.

2. Market Research

The term market research may seem overly dry or academic, but it is extremely important. In short, market research tells you who is your customer and why they could buy form you. It also can tell you how many potential customers exist for your market. You may think that everyone will want what you offer, but your market research will tell how likely that scenario is.

For example, the cost of your product may eliminate much of the potential market, or your product may be too specialized to attract enough customers to support your costs. It is important to not just examine the current market, but look ahead to the long-term as technological or cultural changes might transform the market. Good market research gives you solid ground on which to begin your endeavor.

3. Advertising

Advertising is another broad category of marketing focused on bringing attention to a product or service in order to create a sale or build awareness. Product placement in movies is a form of paid advertising, as are pay-per-click ads online. Branding is a key component of advertising. You can use advertising to build brand awareness via media, such as a placing a Facebook ad. Your market research will tell you where, how, and when you should be advertising.

4. Sales

The culmination of all your efforts is sales — that moment when you have convinced your audience to take action and bring out that plastic to make a purchase. Sales is the goal where your marketing, market research, and advertising all lead. Sales activities include direct marketing, selling (including in person, via the Internet, phone, or networking) and trade shows. Any action that results in an exchange of goods or services for money or an equivalent is a sale. How much you sell and when you sell all factor into your bottom line.

5. Profit

Profit is how you measure your success in purely economic terms. It is the amount of money you’ve made after you deduct all your costs of doing business, such as direct and indirect expenditures. Pricing directly impacts your profit! A completed business plan gives you insight in how your specific profit model works. Remember, if you are prepared from the outset, you have strengthened your chances of success in the future.

Understanding these key terms and applying them in your marketing plan ensures that you have a solid plan for what you are selling, how you will sell it, and to whom you will sell. Marketing is the umbrella under which you will execute your marketing research, plan your advertising, make your sales, and calculate your profit. Social media — and media in general — is the means by which you take your message to you audience, but a tight marketing plan is meant to guide your messaging and help you identify the best channels for it.


5 Strategies to Bootstrapping Your Business

1-28 Funding Options SmallAs you prepare to become your own boss, you need to get your finances in order. You’ll need enough money to cover 6-12 months of business and personal finances before you even launch your business. That being said, you have a few options to consider in terms of where that money comes from.

1. Savings

If you’re lucky enough to have a well-padded savings account, kudos to you. This should be your first option for funding your business. Note: don’t jeopardize your own future by taking the money out. If you have a savings account to cover “rainy day” home repairs, the last thing you want to do is take that money out, and then find you need a new roof!

Consider leaving your money in your savings or money market account, and just taking what you need. That way, your money continues to earn interest.

Benefits: Using your savings account keeps you from having to take out a business loan, which many entrepreneurs are reticent to do. If you have less than stellar credit, you can purchase a Certificate of Deposit and use it as collateral for a loan while earning interest.

2. Bank Loan

The Small Business Association (SBA) is set up to help businesses get the money they need to start a business. There are banks that cater to small businesses just like yours that can help you find a great rate. Start with your own bank, or look for one that does small business lending.  Look for alternative lenders as well, such as Women’s Business Loans. Note: banks don’t lend to startups, so you’ll need to be in business two years prior to applying for a traditional bank loan.

Benefits: The SBA provides a guarantee for business loans, which means applicants with challenged credit score still have an opportunity to get funding.

3. Your Retirement Fund

You can borrow against your 401(k) to start a business. With this option, you essentially use your own money to fund your company, then pay yourself back. Just make sure you pay it back! Sometimes there can be penalties for borrowing funds, so you want to make sure you are aware of them before you take this option.

Benefits: 401(k) financing actually has lower risk than an SBA loan. If things go badly, you still have to pay for the loss, but the 401(k) provides before-tax money, reducing the effective cost. Plus, there are no credit implications and your house is not on the line as collateral.

4. Home Equity Line of Credit

If you own your home, borrow no more than 80% of your home’s value through a home equity line of credit to avoid having to purchase private mortgage insurance.  You’ll increase your chances of getting approved for one if you have great credit and good payment history. Make sure to pay attention to what current interest rates are before deciding on this strategy. And remember: you’re putting your house on the line, so if your business fails, you risk losing it if you can’t pay the loan.

Benefits: Funds are easy to access once you’ve been approved. The interest is tax-deductible, since it’s mortgage interest.

5. Friends and Family

Having a friend or family member who’s willing to invest in your business idea is a real boon. Some may want to be involved in the business in exchange for the investment, while others may hand you a check and say “pay me whenever.” Either way, make sure you’re clear on payment terms (and offer interest) and how willing you are to have someone involved in helping you make the business decisions.

Benefits: If you have a family member who can afford to loose the money they invest in your business, this means they could be more patient with letting you build your business.


Is Your Passion Enough to Start a Business?

1-21 passion into business smallPassion is an overused term in business. You keep hearing “do what you love,” but you need to be thinking about whether your passion is truly sufficient enough to start a successful business. To create a business you must provide a product or service people are willing to pay for. Maybe you love knitting baby booties, and want to make millions doing so. I’m sad to tell you: unless you employ about 10,000 other baby-bootie knitters, you will likely never reach that financial goal.

It’s important that you assess whether your passion has a profit center before you start that business. By making sure you can actually make money you’ll ensure that your business will be able to weather an economic crisis and other bumps in the road. You also need to be able to scale that profit center beyond what your own two hands can create.

Assess Your Passions

Start by looking at what you’re passionate about. Your list will likely include things you can quickly mark off your “possible business” list, like “watching WWE fights or The Food Network.” You simply aren’t going to be able to build a business around that!

Maybe you’re an avid bike rider who’s passionate about taking kids on long cross-country bike treks. Or you love animals and have a knack for training them. Maybe you are good at helping friend pull together a killer look or update their wardrobe. These are passions you can build a business around.

But go beyond those obvious passions, like what you enjoy doing in your spare time, and look at the abstract. You might enjoy working with small teams, or planning events. You might love closing a sale, or have an eye for home design. Some of these passions may be worth considering starting a business around, while others may simply be useful as you develop your business.

Consider Your Goals

Going back to that baby bootie example. If you’re content knitting 25 hours a week and making enough cash to take a vacation, leaving you ample time to spend with your kids, this could be a sustainable business model. You have to look at your resources (at this point, that’s just you, the knitter) and determine whether you can accomplish what you want with them.

Maybe you’ve got money squirreled away, and could hire your knitting club to triple your production of booties. Now you’re talking! You could create a virtual network of knitters (say that 5 times fast) and grow your business from there.

Passion is a great place to start in becoming your own boss, but it’s not the only factor to consider. You also need to be able to make enough money to hit your goal, while maintaining the type of lifestyle you desire. Profit is how we keep score in business, so just make sure you are honest with yourself about whether or not your business concept can actual make money.


How to Kickstart Your Marketing Efforts in 2015

1-14 Kickstart Mktg smallMarketing is the engine that feeds your small business.  As we jump into the new year, it’s time to kickstart your marketing and public relations activities. You want to divide your activities by those that engage prospect customers and those that keep your existing customer.  Here are five ways to kickstart your marketing machine in your small business:

  1. Send a Note to Existing Customers to Check-In: To keep your business top of mind, send an email to check-in and see what’s going on with your existing customers. Don’t make it about any kinds of hard sell, just call to say happy new year.  Be sure to put your business phone number, address, website, social media contacts in your email signature, so they can give you a quick call or note back.
  2. Organize Your Calendar: Look at your 2015 calendar and mark down any special dates that are relevant in your industry. Think of creative ways to share information that will bring customers in especially on key holidays. If you’re a retailer, you can run promotions for President’s Day, Valentine’s Day, 4th of July or Halloween. Holidays are opportunities to make sales on related products. Take advantage of it.
  3. Build a New Partnership: One of the fastest ways to find new customers is by partnering with a business that already has complimentary clients or relationships you’re looking for.  By leveraging the credibility of a partner they can pave the way for their clients to trust your business much faster.  Also be willing to present yourself as a white label solution. Remember, 20% of a deal you would have never had is great profit.
  4. Create a new free offer: Everyone loves free stuff. A great way to get potential customers to give you their contact email is to create a free download offer. If you are a financial planner, offer a free report or ebook with tips for “How to Retire RICH Before 50.”  Once you get their contact information use email to nurture the relationship.
  5. Get More Social: This year look for opportunities to boost your social media marketing efforts. Look at ways to build more engagement on your social accounts. Consider kicking it up on your  Facebook page, Instagram account, in your LinkedIn Groups, Pinterest boards and Twitter account. Try venturing out the one new social media site this year. Try Searching popular topics or hashtags that people are engaged in so you can join the conversation.

You can use a combination of these methods to kickstart your marketing efforts this year to keep your business top of mind with your target customers.  


5 Must-Know Mobile Marketing Tips

free wifi cafeThe mobile market keeps growing and flourishing, and the best of it may still be ahead of us. As more people rely on their smartphones throughout the day, these devices become veritable marketing tools. Just as with any emerging technology, using mobile early in the game can be a major benefit to marketing to your customers. That being said, not all small businesses know where to begin in using mobile marketing. There are several things you should keep in mind as you explore this latest and exciting frontier:

1. Your web presence must be mobile friendly

Both your emails and your website should be optimized for mobile. It’s not enough to just design your page and then release it. Test it on as many platforms as you can and make it easy for people to report problems. Yahoo has some good advice on the topic. Even if none that technical information means much to you, the bottom line is that your page or newsletter needs to render quickly (<4 secs), be legible, and easy to navigate.

2. Get to know your mobile customers

Metrics are important. It is vital for you to know what works for your company. How do you keep track of that data? Google Analytics is one place to start. Pay attention to the pages that attract a mobile audience and focus your efforts there at first. Notice what campaigns attract mobile traffic over desktop traffic. Mobile customers have different priorities than traditional traffic, and conversion rates are very different. Pay attention to their needs and make it easy for them to find what they need. Mobile is growing, and as a business owner, it is better to be in front of your customer rather than chasing her from behind.

3. Mobile marketing is not just advertising on a smartphone

Mobile customers require a different method of communication. There is no consensus on the baseline of what works with mobile customers. We are at the leading edge of mobile marketing and no one quite knows where we are headed, but there are some best practices that you can play with to see what works best for you. Retailers should be thinking about how to deploy mobile engagement either through in-store posters or even QR codes. Other businesses may want to use text messaging to engage their audience. Social media definitely dovetails here, but the specifics will differ depending on your industry.

4. Exploit location-based services

Because so much of mobile web traffic is related to search, now is the time to make sure you have claimed your page on the various sites, such as Google Pages, Facebook Pages, Yelp, and Foursquare. This is an easy and relatively low effort task that may offer a payout later on. It also demonstrates that you are paying attention to the emerging trends, and are open to communicating with your audience on different networks and sites. You simply never know where a referral will come from, and you never know when or where your company will get in front of your next customer.

5. Respect your audience

This goes without saying, but the reality is that the temptation is there to use exploitative tactics to get extra facetime with your audience. Mobile’s relevance may be undercut if your audience feels manipulated, so tread carefully as you probe this new technology. It may be tempting to repeat verbatim what you’ve said on social media page or newsletter, but mobile is its own medium, so consider mobile a new channel and program accordingly.


How to Choose a Structure for Your Small Business

12-31 Business Structure smallWhen starting a business, a lot of newbie entrepreneurs overlook what is one of the most key components to their business:  selecting an appropriate business structure. By default, your business will operate as a sole proprietorship, but you won’t get any legal protection should your business be sued. You need to consider forming an LLC or corporation as your setup your business. If you’re serious about being in business for years to come, it’s a wise idea to form a legal entity. Do you homework and consult with professional about the “right” legal structure for your business. Here’s what you need to know about how to choose the best business structure for your small business.

Benefits to Incorporating

First, consider making your business a corporation. Corporations — especially the S-Corp, is a popular option for small businesses — provide ample benefits that a sole proprietorship does not.

With a corporation, your personal assets are protected. Once your business is incorporated, it exists as a separate legal entity from you. In the event that you are sued or file bankruptcy, the corporation — not you, the owner — is responsible for all of its debts and liabilities. So your personal assets, like your home or savings, can’t be touched to pay your business debt. They can, on the other hand, be used to cover your business debt if you are a sole proprietor.

Incorporating also has tax perks. Through an S-Corp, you can use what’s called pass-through taxation. That’s a fancy way of saying that an S-Corp is taxed more like a sole proprietor or a partnership than as a separate entity, the way a C Corporation is. So company profits are “passed through” and reported on your personal income tax return. You get taxed only once on your revenue. End of story.

Benefits to Forming an LLC

An LLC has many of the same tax and personal asset protection benefits as a corporation. In fact, when it comes to taxes, there’s a lot more flexibility in how you file, as you can file as a:

  • Corporations
  • Dual Member: Partnership
  • Single Member

An additional perk is that LLCs require a little less red tape and annual paperwork to file, than an S-Corp.

Which to Choose?

Ultimately, the decision on which business structure to set up for your small business will come down to preferences. Speak to a lawyer or tax professional about the benefits of each for your specific benefits. The goal, no matter which you select, is to make sure your business and personal assets are protected, and that you have the best setup for taxes (after all, who wants to pay more than they have to?).

Keep in mind you may need to file paperwork or pay fees to remain compliant with either structure. Do all the research necessary to determine exactly how much work you’ll need to put into maintaining your business structure status, or look to companies who can manage the maintenance on your behalf.


How to Have Smarter Social Media Management

12-24 social media mgmt smallYou’d love to spend dozens of hours per week curating lovingly crafted social media posts about your industry, but as a small business owner, you don't have the revenue — or the time — to justify that level of focus on your social media activity. We all know how crucial it is to have a presence on social media networks, but setting up and maintaining those accounts takes time, money, and effort that you probably don’t have. What can you do to engage your customers, if this is your situation? With as little as an hour a week, you can enter the social media arena and establish your footing to launch your social media presence.

1. Develop your plan.

Give yourself a short period of time to do some research. Feel free to spread it out over a few weeks if you need to, but look at your competitor’s social media presence then look at social profiles of companies or brands you admire.

Compare and contrast and, using those notes, define what you would like to accomplish with your social media presence. Determine how your use of social media will further those goals. Feel free to be selective as to which social media sites you will use, after all, you only have a small window of time to do your social media work, so each punch has to pack a wallop.

2. Use a social media management tool.

A good social media management tool is worth its weight in gold. I use sproutsocial.com and Hootsuite.com These tools allow you to do much of your social media management on one screen and keeping everything under one umbrella so that you spend your time on the active part of social media rather than the passive.

Your social media management tools should allow you to post across sites, schedule posts for a later time, find content to share, and alert you to any conversations that may need your voice. Avail yourself of all these abilities and you will see your efforts rewarded. It may take you a while to find a system that works, but keep at it until you have method that makes it easy to post.

3. Have a schedule.

Using your time wisely is critical if you only have a brief period to dedicate to social media. It is easy to go down the “click” hole and emerge at the other side with a few good links and not much else. Create a schedule for your social media time and stick to it religiously.

You might find it easier to work on your social media management in a one-hour block one day per week, or you might find it better to spread out that time over a few days. Look ahead in the calendar and see if there are times where it might pay off to concentrate your efforts. Some companies might look for popular trade shows or conventions that raise their industry into the view of popular cultures.

4. Pay attention.

You never know what will trigger a connection, so pay attention to what you come across as you go through your day. A post may be inspired overhearing a conversation at the Post Office, something you heard on the radio, or even a magazine headline at the checkout counter. Our world is increasingly interconnected, so pay attention to those moments that inspire you in your social updates.

A little concentrated effort can go a long way with social media. Focus your attention on what you want to accomplish, do it, then move on.


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.




 
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