Archive for the ‘Work Your Biz Wednesday’ Category


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.


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.




 
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