Posts Tagged ‘Growth’


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.


Why You Don’t Feel Successful (and What to Do About It)

12-25 achieving success smallAs a small business, you expect to work very hard. However, you wish that as a result you were more successful. You have been working for many years building your company, but for some reason, “real” success still feels elusive. Here is why and what to do about it:

  1. You compare yourself to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. As an entrepreneur, you think you should be them. This is what all the business media talks about.  Unfortunately this is an unattainable goal for 99.9999% of small business owners who will never be them. What to do about it: Stop comparing and always keeping score. Don’t rely on the press’ and your friends’ definition of success. For them, it’s only about money. Come up with a definition that will make you feel “happily successful”. My definition of success is being able to support my family at something I love to do.
  2. You are impatient. You hear of cases where an entrepreneur sold a business seemingly overnight for a billion dollars. You think that this happen to you. In reality, “overnight success” typically takes seven to ten years. What to do about it: Set patient interim goals for the company. Don’t keep raising the bar before you pause and celebrate your successes.
  3. You can’t let go of the past. You think that there is always something to learn from failure and you can’t let go of it until that lesson reveals itself. What to do about it: Mourn your failures. Have a pity party if you must, but after 24 hours, let go and move on. Take another action that gets you a different result. Review and repeat.
  4. There is no leverage in your business. You work too hard and do all the difficult stuff. You make every key decision. What to do about it: Leave your ego at the door and stop being the center of attention. Build a team that can run the business on a daily basis without you. Give managers real responsibility to make independent decisions.
  5. You never go on vacation or spend quality time with friends and family. You are too busy building your business that you never get a break from work. You think that nothing can wait or you are afraid you will miss something. As a result, you are so burned out that you have lost track of the goal line. What to do about it: Every business owner needs to recharge. At certain parts of the day, turn off the technology. Ensure there are breaks from any work daily and weekly. Let your mind wonder to boost creativity.

Still feel unsuccessful? Why or why not?


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 3 Simple Ways to Connect With Customers Online

12-23 Online customers smallIf you sell a product or service that requires some time and persuasion to sell—like custom furniture, personal training or landscaping services—getting customers to buy isn’t as easy as getting customers to your website and having them click on the “shop now” link.

However, smart use of Internet marketing can get customers to interact with your company so that they learn more about your products or services and get interested in buying. Here are three ideas.

1. Learn from customer surveys. Customer surveys can not only gauge customer satisfaction, but also tell you a lot about what products and services customers are interested in. Each time you make a sale, send an email to your current customers asking them to take a customer satisfaction survey. At the end of each survey, include an option for customers to tell you what they’d like to see more of from your business or what they’d like to buy that your company doesn’t currently offer. Also ask if they’d like to be contacted by your company and/or are willing to share their contact information.

Suppose a customer of your landscaping company says they’d like to see you also provide patio covers, a product you don’t currently offer. Save the contact information and, if your company does start offering that product, you can contact those customers to let them know and provide more information.

2. Offer price quotes or estimates. A lot of customers who don’t want to call a company and engage with a salesperson because they fear getting stuck with someone pushy may be willing to fill out forms online to get estimates or quotes. For example, if you sell personal training services, you could send prospects an email offering a free online fitness assessment, or advertise this on the top of your website. The link would go to a page on your website where customers fill in a form with information about their current fitness level, their health and fitness goals, how much time they have available to work out, and so on. Of course, they’d also provide contact information.

Based on the information they check off on the form, your website could then offer prospects different levels of service, such as intensive “boot camp” training, moderate training, group training or once-a-week training, at different price points. This menu should include both click-to-buy options and click-to-call options (for the customer who now wants to talk to a salesperson).

3. Provide valuable information. Webinars, e-books or other informational offerings aren’t just for B2B companies. They can offer useful information to consumers, too. For example, a custom furniture company could hold a webinar on how to decorate a home or create an e-book on maximizing living space. The information you provide shouldn’t be a hard sell, but it should subtly show prospects the value of the product or service you offer.

For instance, a custom furniture company’s webinar could talk about making the most of a small living space. At the end it should include a link to learn more about building custom furniture to fit your needs. Prospects could either click-to-call and speak to a live representative, or click to fill out an online form and be contacted later.

By using these three methods, you’ll not only make more sales to your prospects, you’ll also learn more about what they want—and isn’t that the foundation of good customer service.


How to Get Customers to Buy from Your Facebook Page

12-19 Facebook sales  smallMillions of small businesses have Facebook pages, but most have no idea how to use them to make sales. The page may have hundreds, maybe even thousands of “likes”, but without sales to match, it is not very valuable.

How can a small business turn virtual “likes” turn into real purchases? Here is where to start:

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Post about Products and Services

Facebook is primarily about engaging with customers and forming a relationship with them by posting educating articles, photos and videos that relate to the company’s brand.  However, no business can expect to make sales if they never post about their actual products and services. Don’t always feel the need to disguise a sales pitch. Sometimes a direct message is the best way to catch a prospect’s attention and convert a sale.

2. Tell a Fun Story

Tell a story that includes the product. Connecting a company’s product or service to “fun” will always get more engagement. The best example is the BlendTec’s “Will It Blend” series. It’s not only funny, but it made people want to buy the blender. Post a preview of the story on the Facebook page, and link it to the full version on the website to make purchase conversion simpler.

3. Connect Online and In-store Activities

An integrated approach to online and offline marketing will drive likes and engagement as well as more visits to a physical store location. These types of posts can influence fans and consumers at the beginning of their purchasing cycle. Make sure what is featured in the store for this month is reflected on social media. Make parallel online announcements when sales on products and discounts are offered in-store

4. Offer Exclusive Deals to Facebook Fans

Another way to encourage purchase activity is to provide products that are available exclusively to Facebook fans. This could include special limited editions or new product launches that are offered to them first.

5. Offer a Subscription Tab

Add a tab on the company’s page that makes a free offer if the visitor “likes” the page and signs up for a mailing list. This way, that Facebook friend can be converted to an email address which can be marketed to through traditional online campaigns.

6. Learn from Facebook Insights

Small businesses need to learn about who visits their page and which content is most popular.  Use the “Insights” tab of the company’s Facebook page on a regular basis. Insights makes it easy to monitor what’s working and what’s not effective. It provides information on the people who like the page and are engaged with the posts. It also enables the tracking of competitive pages for comparison on a weekly basis.

7. Provide an Incentive for Fans to Share Their Experiences

According to Hubspot, ninety percent of people on social media trust and believe recommendations from both strangers and friends. Harness this power by encouraging fans to submit photos with their newly purchased products along with reviews, advice and where to find it. Spark discussions between customers about the service they received.  Use discounts or bonuses to customers who post on Facebook after their purchase.

Companies can also use traditional Facebook advertising to boost posts for increased customer engagement.

What tactics does your business use to convert Facebook “likes” to purchases?


How to Free Yourself from Ruts

12-11 Get out of a rut small“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” This may have worked for a philosopher like Confucius, but let’s get real. Even if you own your own business, it’s rare that your professional life is so perfect that you never feel like you’re working. In fact, major ruts can be contagious. If they go on too long, they can even affect your entire team. Before you or anyone you work with decides to walk away, try these suggestions to regain your spirit.

Find Something Fun that Inspires You

At some point, all work and no play actually prevents you and your business from moving forward. Plus, sitting around pretending to work doesn’t do you any favors either. So, step back and have some fun. When was the last time you turned off your electronics and spent a week on your favorite ski slope or lazed around on a white sand beach? If you can’t release yourself from your business for any length of time, try baby steps. Go to a movie, read a novel for an hour every day or do some activity that completely takes business off of your mind. Absence makes the heart grow fonder — and the ideas come faster.

Go Back to Your Business Inspiration

What motivated you to start your business in the first place? Was it an urge to follow your passion, help the world with a brilliant invention or even do something better than your former employers did them?

You probably didn’t need five alarm clocks to get out of bed in the early days, so close your eyes and mentally travel back to that time. If you can recapture the spark that got your company off of the ground in the first place, you may even inspire your entire team, no extra alarm clocks needed.

Bring in Fresh Ideas

Business owners tend to count on themselves and a few other people to generate new ideas. But as years go by, those ideas are bound to become stale. Consider introducing other people who will (dare I say it?) think outside of the box and encourage your core team to do the same. Hiring an outside consultant may be a viable option, but you may not need to spend the money. You have any number of people who come to work every day with creative ideas. Why not invite them to your meetings? Or perhaps seek feedback from customers.  These new perspectives can bring some creativity and renewed spirit to your endeavors.

Get Out More

Looking at the same walls and talking to the same people day after day is a rut-waiting-to-happen. When the walls start closing in and stifling your creative flow, get out of there! Go to an industry meeting to educate and inspire you. Or, visit people in your professional network in their places of business. Seeing how they do things will help you gain a fresh perspective that can help you get re-excited about what you are doing.

Embrace Change

The notion of change is scary. It takes you out of your comfort zone, which basically is another name for “rut.” Change does not have to be huge; you don’t have to completely change the purpose of your business by replacing your widget product line with thingamabobs to liven things up.

Change does not even have to be permanent. If you delegate some of your daily activities to someone else, there’s nothing that says you can’t take it back … if you really miss doing it yourself. Still, initiating smatterings of change in your business can spur brainstorming throughout your organization. As new ideas arise, implementing them creates a flurry of activity and challenges for everyone involved. Ruts cannot survive in this type of atmosphere.

Since everyone has a different set of motivators, some of these ideas may work well for you, while others can be abysmal failures. No rut has to become a permanent way of life, so open your mind to any option that can ease you back on the road to a productive and happy future. Remember: if all else fails, there’s always chocolate!


Where to Find Your Next Employee

12-11 Looking for employees smallSix years after the Great Recession, national unemployment is finally dropping. At 5.8 percent, it is the lowest since 2008. This poses a problem for small business owners who need to find the best people to fill open positions at their company. Unfortunately, posting jobs on various sites like Craigslist or Monster can bring in a lot of unqualified people and be expensive. For most small businesses, hiring a recruiter that collects 25% of the first year’s compensation is out of reach. The key is to find those individuals that have the required skills and the cultural fit at a reasonable search price.

Here is the best way to do it:

  1. Ask current employees. People socialize with other people like them. If a company wants to find more similar employees, ask the current staff. Pay a $250 to $1,000 bonus for any employee that refers a candidate and stays for at least 90 days.
  2. Post openings on the website. Many candidates are doing job searches through Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Posting job descriptions with the appropriate search keywords will get the opportunity found by those who are looking.
  3. List the opening in every employee’s email signature. Use a simple sentence and link in the signature of every outgoing email from the company. For example, “We are growing! We need sales and marketing superstars. Check out these opportunities”. Then add the appropriate hyperlink for the website.
  4. Search employees at competitors on LinkedIn. Find competitors who have the employees that your company is looking for. Get connected to them and see if they are interested in making a switch. Some websites even list key employees. Alternately, competitors can be called to find out the names of people who hold positions that could be candidates for your company.
  5. Niche job boards. Look at the smaller job boards that focus on a specific job candidate. For example, HealthCareJobsite is for health care positions and Hoojobs for PR. The more niched the job board, the better the quality of applications you will receive. Fifty more niche job boards are listed here. A company may even find a candidate at freelance sites like Elance and oDesk.  
  6. Ask social media. Post weekly (or as a tab on the company’s Facebook page) the types of job candidates that the business needs. This will allow followers to spread the word as well.
  7. Search trade shows or other industry events. Many of these have job boards. In addition, see who is speaking on various panels to source higher level positions. I also saw one company executive once at a show wearing a button that said “I am looking to hire you.”

Where do you find your best employees?


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.


Don’t Avoid Failure, Just Fail Properly

12-5 Failure smallTruman Capote once said, “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”  However, based on the way that we learn as youngsters, the thought of failure may leave a bad taste in your mouth. 

In school, we were taught that failing something results in a red mark on the paper and perhaps a timeout with a dunce cap in the corner.  However, failure is a critical component of long-term success.  If you aren’t willing to take risks and try new things, you won’t be able to truly take your business to the next level.   

Remember, there are many hugely successful entrepreneurs that tried a few different things before hitting it big.

While it’s important to embrace failure, there are three things that you should know about the right way to fail.  You need to fail quickly, fail cheaply and never fail the same way twice.

Fail Quickly. While it’s important to try new things (and as the proverb goes, “try, try again”) investing a lifetime before achieving success amounts to a lifetime of lost years.

If you invest too much time in getting to the point of determining success or failure, it can be demoralizing.  It can also allow your competition to surpass you by leaps and bounds.

Set a reasonable time frame up front to decide how much time you need to assess whether you are on the right path.  If you don’t meet that time frame (or a revised time frame, based on achieving interim milestones), it’s time for a new strategy.

Also, knowing when to tweak, accept less or give up is a vital part of embarking on a new project or venture. Whenever you hit a bump, you need to reassess:

  • Are you seriously off-track or can you make adjustments to get back on the road?
  • Can you still succeed even if you don’t meet all of your original expectations?
  • If you have to spend more time or money to avoid failure, can you afford the extra expenditures while staying on top of your current business operations?
  • Or, is it time to walk away?

Remember that a lengthy failure robs you of other opportunities. Unless you can afford the opportunity cost, break lengthy, big risk ventures into smaller steps, or find other ways to realize failure sooner rather than later.

Fail Cheaply. Too many entrepreneurs start with a grand idea that has a grand budget attached to it.  However, investing too much money in one idea or path can create substantial setbacks if your first go-round doesn’t work.  It may deplete your funds to try again, or worse, impair your personal finances in a way that is detrimental to your long-term financial (and possibly mental) health. 

You don’t want to risk the farm on one idea, so keep the scope of your initial experiments affordable. Do you dream of becoming a restaurateur? Consider starting with a food truck. Are you determined to double your consulting clientele within a year? Retaining contract-to-hire consultants may reduce employment costs until your company’s growth is a certainty.

Failing cheaply allows you to recover more easily, both financially and emotionally, from any failures.

Never Fail the Same Way Twice. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting different results. Failure can teach lessons that you would not learn in any other way. However, when you don’t learn from those lessons, you can run your business into a downward spiral.

Let’s say that you left your production line at a standstill because you tried saving money by buying cheaper parts. Figure out exactly what went wrong. Saving money is a worthy goal, but not without properly vetting suppliers. Or, maybe the supplier offered higher grades than you chose. Higher-quality materials might still have saved you money. Learn exactly what failed and you will do better the next time.

Most importantly, take the time to truly understand the real reasons behind the failures, so that you don’t end up repeating them again.

Vision and time heal many wounds and can be the foundation for success. When a 3M scientist unintentionally developed a moderately-tacky adhesive rather than a stronger one, he failed at the assigned task. Years later, the use for that adhesive became apparent. The end product was Post-it® Notes —a virtual necessity in people’s lives now.

Don’t invest more to perpetuate a failure, but keep the experience in your mind. Some form of yesterday’s failure can become tomorrow’s triumph.


Does the “Internet of Things” Really Matter to Small Business?

12-4 the internet of things small

One of the biggest buzz words for this past year was “The Internet of Things” (IoT). This is the convergence of the digital and virtual world with the physical one. Even before IoT, there are already 16B devices attached to the Internet. (Remember, there are only 7B people on the planet.)

Today, an increasing number of wearable and home devices are being integrated to the Internet like Fitbits on the wrists, Nests in the home and crockpots in the kitchen. Oral B even has a toothbrush that is Bluetooth connected to the Internet to track brushing. More recently, Apple unveiled a HealthKit app that allows its iPhone users to track personal health and fitness data. They also announced HomeKit that will allow users to control “smart devices” in their home like garage doors, lights and security cameras.  The introduction of the Amazon Echo, an in-home personal assistant will definitely raise the profile of this category.

While Pew Research says IoT’s full implementation is still about 5 to 10 years away, a new study by Gartner predicts that entrepreneurs will drive the growth of IoT in the next five years. So where can small business owners start?

1.     Manufacturing at the beginning. Barbara Edson, General Manager of IoT at Microsoft says this sector will lead the way.  She believes it will happen through monitoring their equipment performance instantly and securely in real time. This will lead to better service to customers and an increased profit for the company.

2.     Analyzing big data. While IoT can be a big advantage in allowing sensors to track business assets, it will help analyze what the data really means and how it fits into the operation of the business. The key is to make the data received intelligent and actionable for a business. Used correctly, it will allow the measuring of key KPIs more easily and objectively.

3.     Enhancing the customer experience. With most things being a commodity, the customer experience is the future of marketing and loyalty. A company needs to use IoT to improve the experience for the customer. Intuitive and natural experiences from all devices can help make this happen.

4.     Focus on your things. Forget about the hype, Microsoft recommends to focus on IoT that are key to your business. Forget the hype of everything else.

How are you integrating IoT into your business for the future?




 
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