Posts Tagged ‘Small Business’


Starting Small: Why It Might Be Your Best Bet for Business Success

8-19 business growth smallWhile you may have a large-scale idea for a new business, sometimes it’s better to take just a small segment of your plan and focus on starting your business on a small level. If this is your first business, you may want to target an endeavor that will help you build skills without wiping out your nest egg. A business that can succeed on a small level gives you great training wheels for building the experience, knowledge, and competency you’ll need to take your company to the next level. Here are several reasons why it might be your best bet  to start small for business success.

1. You’ll Save Money

Starting with a narrow scope of business means you can run it out of your extra bedroom or den. You won’t have to rent office space or furnish a suite. There are even tax incentives or deductions you can take to save money as you build your business on the small side. If you do need specialized space for your endeavor, you can investigate subleasing space from other entrepreneurs, which reduces costs.

2. You’ll Need Less Capital to Get Started

Bootstrapping is an effective strategy that allows you to grow into your business and keep initial financial outlays on the low end. Instead of stressing over technology requirements and phone systems, you can concentrate on creating your sales funnel or refining your product. The fancy phone system can come later (if at all). A lean business structure keeps you flexible and focused.

3. Learn as You Go

When you base your business on a hobby, you can start by making a handful of products, selling them, then growing when you’re ready. As your business takes off, you can educate yourself in other areas of running a business, creating a formal business structure, managing employees, and meeting regulatory requirements.

4. You Can Start Today

If you set your sights on a small enterprise, the barriers are lower and you can get going more quickly. You don’t need a huge infrastructure, massive staff, or complete line of products to get started. You have no excuse for not starting your business today.

5. Your Sweat Equity is Valuable

By doing everything yourself, you learn all that's needed to keep your company going. Of course, it’s great to hire out those things that you are not able to do, but if you have direct knowhow those experiences inform your executive decisions down the road. It will also help you make better decisions that impact your customers. While financial investment is necessary to building a business, your sweat equity is just as necessary to growing your endeavor. 

6. It’s Simpler to Run

Smaller companies are lean machines and often have higher profit margins because they are simpler to run. There are fewer costs associated with overhead and administrative requirements with a small-scale business, and you can reassess market changes frequently and pivot when necessary. When big jobs come through, you can team with other small companies or hire contractors to deal with the workflow if it’s more than you can handle.

Slow and steady wins the race. Start small. Test the market. Grow with intention. Sample the cheese before you bet the farm on your idea. When it comes to small business success, the truth is: scaled-down, slower growth companies do just as well as their big sisters.


The Lowdown on Small Business Bank Loans

7-15 small business loan smallStarting a small business is a costly endeavor. It’s rare that a business owner has so much cash saved that she doesn’t need any capital once the business really start rolling. One way to secure funding is through a small business bank loan. While bank loans are not easy to obtain, once you’ve been in business at least 2 years and have financial statements which show your company is growing, you can find some local bank or CDFI’s Community Development Financial Institutions that will extend you a loan.

The key to finding a loan is to seek out banks that are more likely to work with small businesses. Smaller banks move faster in terms of processing the loan, but they are much more rigid in their loan requirements and require significant collateral. That being said, if you have a relationship with a local bank,that may be the first place you want to look at for funding.

Many of the large national banks chains cannot adequately service the needs of very small businesses. In addition, the lending decisions are not made locally. Whether you decide to seek funding for a larger national bank or small one, make sure you consider the six Cs, which is the way a bank will assess your application.

1. Capacity:  This is the most important factor your bank will consider in deciding whether to advance you money. It is essentially whether you can pay back the money you borrow. Your current cash flow statements should illustrate how you can repay the loan in a timely manner.

2. Credit: Your personal credit score is a factor in your small business loan application. Banks will require you to sign a personal guarantee on a loan to share the risk. The higher your credit score, the more favorable terms you can negotiate.

3. Capital: How much money do you need and how will you use those funds? It’s important to detail exactly how much you need and what you will use that money for in your business. Keep in mind the more money you ask for, the more scrutiny your loan application will receive. Typically you can borrow 10 percent of your gross revenue.

4. Collateral: Any business owner will be asked what assets he can provide to secure the loan. For example, if you own a home, car, or other personal assets, those will be considered when a bank decides whether to grant your loan request. The more collateral you have, the more willing a financial institution may be to lend you money.

5. Character:  Simply put, this is your reputation. You will be asked for references that can speak to whether you are trustworthy and have community connections. Banks will also look at your business experience and your industry background.

6. Conditions: This refers to your loan’s terms and conditions. You need to answer the question: is it a good deal for you or the lender? Your bank wants to make sure that you are using the loan for a legitimate business purpose. As such, some lenders will require invoices from your vendors and will cut checks directly to the vendors for payment.

When you’re seeking a small business loan, it’s important to understand what all six of the Cs look like for your business before completing your loan application. Keep in mind that credit unions and nonprofits may also offer small business loans. These organizations may give smaller loans than banks, but they are often a great first step in securing financing and establishing business credit, especially if banks are not an option. 


How to Make Sure You Leave Work

Analogue Clock at 10 to 10As a small business owner, it is tough to “leave work” because work can take over life. The line between being at work and not there is extremely blurred in a 24/7 Internet world. Work is no longer really a physical place, but a state of mind. This is especially true for an increasingly number of small business owners that work out of their home.

Here is how to draw the line between your work and other important things in your life.

1. Set an alarm

If you’re the type who gets lost in their work and just forgets to look at the clock, use this solution. Simply set a “warning” alarm for when you want to leave work. You can set multiple alarms—one for “wrap it up” and one for “pack up”—each with different sounds.

In addition to setting an alarm on your phone or other device, there may be external cues around your office you can use as alarms as well. For example, when the cleaning crew shows up, you know it’s time to head out!

2. Have a family member call you

Similar, yet more personal than an alarm, is a call from a family member or friend when it’s time for you to head out. If one of your main motivations for leaving work is to spend time with your significant other, friends, or children, this method is effective.

Thinking about seeing someone you care about at the end of the day isn’t always enough to make you shut down the computer. Hearing your daughter’s voice, on the other hand, may be enough motivation for you to want to get home to see her. You’ll need to coordinate this step with your friends and family.

3. Schedule an activity

Sign up for something that will force you to leave the work at a regular time each day. These activities are also a great way to stay active. If you’ve been meaning to get into shape, sign up for a gym membership. If simply having the membership isn’t enough, plan to meet a friend there or sign up for specific group classes at a given start time.

Other options are to sign up your child for a soccer team and commit to being there for the practices. You can also make a commitment to volunteer at the local food pantry or take an art class.

4. Share your goal with others

One of the best ways to reach a goal is to publicly declare it. Tell your family that your target is to be done with work by dinnertime each night. Share on Facebook and Twitter that you signed up for cycling class and your goal is to attend three times a week after work.

You won’t want to disappoint your family or your followers, so you’ll work harder to achieve those goals than if you kept them to yourself. Ask if anyone wants to join and recruit them to help keep you accountable.

5. Start small

Some small business owners just have too much to do to be able to leave work when they want to. You’re not going to go from a 14 hour work day to an 8 hour work day overnight. It’s going to be a gradual process. It will require you to delegate tasks to employees or freelancers, empower them to solve problems, and learn to say no.

Ultimately, leaving work, both mentally and physically, comes down to you starting to make one small change and then building on it.

How are you going to make sure you leave work today?


4 Must-Have Keyword Research Tools for Your Business

7-1 Keywords for website smallKeywords are instrumental in helping people find your website. Every time someone searches for a keyword that relates to your brand, you want them to find your site, nestled toward the top of search results. If that’s not the case, you need to invest serious time in researching the right keywords and adding them to your website. These tools make it easy to do.


1. Google Keyword Planner

This tool is part of Google AdWords, but you don’t have to buy ads to use it. Google Keyword Planner lets you search for keyword ideas as well as see how many people are searching for a given keyword.

Go one step further: Once you find a handful of keywords that you think accurately describe your products or services, incorporate them on each page of your website. But only use one or two per page! Using more may trigger Google to push you down search results rather than up, as the search mogul is cracking down on black hat SEO strategies.

2. WordTracker

Google’s Keyword Planner is free to use, but WordTracker is a subscription-based keyword research tool. It also provides relevant and related keywords, and can help you find ones you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of. You get more keywords than with Keyword Planner, and you can access your searches by logging into your account, rather than dealing with clunky spreadsheets of data.

Go one step further: Check out WordTracker Academy for great resources to help sharpen your SEO skills and stay on top of the latest updates. They also offer some great reports and downloads.

3. Twitter Hashtags

Just like with Google Trends, hashtags on Twitter can let you know what people are buzzing about right now.

Go one step further: Check the lefthand sidebar on your Twitter homepage to see the hashtags that are being used heavily at any given moment. Use them in your own social updates, or use the topics as blog fodder.

4. Ubersuggest.org

UberSuggest is one of the best free Keyword suggestion tools with an easy to use graphical component. Übersuggest is one suggestion tool that makes good use of different suggest services. You can get suggestions from regular web searches or from search verticals like shopping, news or video. Ubersuggest can be very useful for quick keyword based post ideas.

Bonus tool: Google Trends

While not a keyword research tool per se, Google Trends shows you what’s hot right now. This is especially useful if you’re looking for blog topics. Ride on the tails of trending searches or news, and you’re more likely to see more readers for that particular post.

Go one step further: Subscribe to Trends to get emailed whenever topics you care about pop up as trending.

Keywords change over time, so make sure you constantly stay on top of the best keywords to promote your small business website.  


Using Case Studies to Grow Your Business

One of the ways to build credibility for your business is to share information about your company’s products and services from satisfied customers. Your ability to get a foot in the door with prospective customers depends in part upon how well you tell your company’s story. If you are a service business, you can’t talk about a tangible product. But what you can do is develop case studies to do that help you illustrate the results you deliver for your existing customers.

case study is in-depth profile of work you've done. This is typically written to highlight the work you’ve done on a high-profile project or client. This summary report can then be used as a one-pager in a marketing kit or on your company’s website. Here are the elements to include on a compelling case study.

Name of Client and Type of Service

Always include the name of the client you plan to profile (with their permission, of course), and select a business that will resonate with your target audience. The goal of writing case studies is to ensure that your ideal customer will hire you after reading the case study.

Also include the type of service you provided. For example, if you provided social media consulting or online marketing, include that as a sub-heading after you list the client’s name in the title. Since this will live on your website, you'll need to ask the company’s permission before publishing.  

Purpose of the Project

This is where you write about the problem the client was facing, and why you were hired to solve it. For example, was the purpose of the project to raise awareness of their company or brand? Was it to build brand awareness, generate sales or increase their online traffic?

Execution Brief

Here is where you illustrate how you solved the problem for the client. Describe in detail all the services you provided, and highlight why you chose certain strategies over others. Do not simply say you increased the number of newsletter subscribers. Be specific and note HOW you increased the subscribers.

Since this section of the case study can be long, don’t be afraid to break up the text into sections with bolded headers, or use bullets and numbers.

Share Results for the Clients

Use real numbers to illustrate the successful work you did. Don’t just say, “We doubled traffic to the website.” Instead list the before and after numbers or percentages and consider displaying those figures in charts and graphs. Using screenshots of Google Analytics information are great additions if that reflects the work you did. This section is a great way to use visuals to display the information.

Client Endorsements

One of the most effective ways to sell your products and services is with customer testimonials. Potential customers are really not that interested in your passion or belief that your work produces amazing results. Let your customers do that bragging for you. Include a few testimonials from the satisfied clients in your case study. Ask the customer to write the testimonial in a way that highlights tangible results and benefits. These words are a great way to close the case study with praise for the work you conducted. 

The addition of case studies to your website will help you tell your business story, highlight the services you provide, and illustrate results at the same time. Try if you can to get testimonials in video as well, to add to your website as well.


Mondays with Mike: Win Customers With Your Authenticity

6-15 Be Authentic smallEven though I’m not an accountant, I understand just how important effective accounting and accountants are to running my business successfully.  A few years ago, I attended an accounting conference, and I’ll admit it:  I wasn’t very excited about it.  I hire accountants because that’s not where my natural talents lie.

But there I was, armed with a gallon of high-octane coffee, committed to sitting through what I predicted would be a boring presentation.  The featured speaker stepped up to the podium, and I nearly groaned out loud.  He was everything I was afraid he’d be:  boring suit and matching monotone voice, with a heaping helping of a snooze-worthy Powerpoint.  Making numbers interesting ain’t easy, and this guy didn’t even try.

I made it through the presentation without falling asleep and drooling on my neighbor, and I hightailed it out of the seminar, glad to be gone.  You can imagine my dismay when I attended a friend’s barbecue a few weeks later and literally bumped into the accountant speaker.  Since we were face-to-face (and because he recognized me,) I was stuck.  While I was thinking of excuses to escape, he surprised me, though.

He was actually funny.  He was relaxed, dressed casually, and he was really interesting.  It was like it had been his boring clone making the presentations, because this guy was nothing like he’d been the first time we’d met.  We were laughing about a joke he’d told when he said something that simply stunned me.  He said, “Man, I hate having to be all professional at work.  I wish I could make money just by being myself.”

I’m pretty sure I spaced out for a moment as I though about the weight of what he’d just said.  He had no idea that he was more compelling, more appealing, and even seemed more trustworthy when he was being himself.  By putting on a false front in an attempt to appear professional, the accountant was making himself fit a mold that not only wasn’t comfortable for him, but was also unappealing to his clients.

I left that barbecue with two important takeaways.  First of all, that guy is now my accountant – the very best I’ve ever had.  Secondly, I realized just how important it is to be brave enough to be our authentic selves.  In fact, it’s when we give ourselves permission to let our real personalities emerge that we’re most likely to find clients who really connect with us, our values, and our big-picture goals.

Now I’m not advising that folks stop showering or litter their sales pitches with dirty jokes, but what I am advising is that we stop trying to pretend to be someone we’re not.  Let your creativity peek out.  Give your quirky sense of humor a chance to brighten your sales presentations.  Will everyone get your off-the-wall jokes?  Probably not.  But the ones who do are more likely to end up as customers for life.

I’m reminded of the wise Dr. Seuss’ timeless advice:  “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”  Let your authentic self shine through, and you’ll find your best, most loyal customers.


7 Things Small Businesses Do To Lose Online Customers

6-10 online shopping smallRunning a small business isn’t easy. Finding and keeping customers is even more difficult. If you don’t make it really simple to buy from you online, shoppers will go elsewhere for their next purchase. There are specific bad behaviors to avoid with the shopping experience on your website.

Here are seven things small businesses do to lose online customers.

1. You Have Confusing Information on Your Site.

As an entrepreneur, time is often your most precious commodity. If you don’t regularly review what’s on your website, you might be turning away potential customers with misinformation or simply old data.

If your newest blog post, for example, was written over a year ago, that’s a turnoff. If your products don’t have a sales page or enough detail to help shoppers make an informed decision about buying them, they won’t.

Remedy:

Periodically review all your web copy. Update it on an annual basis at minimum, and make sure it’s always accurate.

2.  No Contact Information.

Spam is a definite concern when posting your email address online, but there are alternatives that will make it easy for customers to reach you via email while keeping your inbox spam-free. Instead of burying your email address on a never-visited page, post a phone number and set up a contact form for customers to use to reach you.

Use FAQ page to help answer many of the questions people have before they hit submit on that contact form. Being helpful is always good customer service!

Remedy:

Ensure your contact information is clear and easy to locate. Offer multiple ways for customers to contact you (email, chat, phone, social media).

3.   You Don’t Answer Email in a Timely Manner.

Have you even sent an email trying to get help and no one every got back to you? Sure you have, but don't have that happening in your business. Don't set up an info@xxx.com email account no one checks. Time is money when people are shopping online.

It might have been acceptable for you to respond to a customer’s email within 24-48 hours several years ago, but now every minute counts in your response time. As in: the sooner, the better. Taking even a day could lose you serious business.

Remedy:

If your inbox is overflowing, consider hiring a customer service rep or social media virtual assistant to help field some of those emails.

4.  You Use Social Media Inconsistently.

Social media can be a game changer for small business owners…but only if you use it regularly. If you aren’t making an effort to update your profiles at least once a day, potential customers will not know you exist. A steady stream of fresh content, on the other hand, can pique people’s interest and lead them back to your website, which is your best opportunity to generate a sale. 

Remedy:

Focus on only one social media site to engage prospect customers. Update your social media account daily. Dedicate a few minutes each day to the effort.

5.   You Don’t Engage with Potential Customers with Email.

You need to make sure you have at least three ways to capture a potential customers email address when they come to your site, so even if they don't buy that day you can nurture the relationship. Use email to building your brand to attract future customers, share helpful information to a build a like, know and trust relationship with your prospects.

Remedy:

Use email marketing to engage potential customers by demonstrating your ability to anticipate their needs, and offer help.                                                                                            

6.  You Share Too Many Promotional Updates on Social.

One of the best ways to create a relationship with a potential customer is to provide assistanceOf course, you want to bolster your connection with your audience, but it is critical to provide value first especially in social media. Don't start selling relentlessly as soon as you start using social media, Instead, share informational tidbits in the guise of links, tweets and conversations to build community with potential customers. Make it about them and not about you.

Remedy:

Use the 4:1 ratio. For every four useful, informational updates, post one promotional one.


How to Get Large Corporations as Your Customers

Big and small goldfishA dream: I have been named by Google as their exclusive supplier of educational content for all their small business resellers.

To have a large and respected corporation like Google as a customer is a small business owner’s dream. It typically brings with it a steady revenue source as well as brand prestige and recognition. This is not as unrealistic as it sounds. In fact, a driving growth factor for many small businesses is a large company as a major customer.

Getting large companies to be your customer is a common way to grow rapidly. Here are the steps to take:

  1. List the targeted large corporations. These should be ones that have a demonstrated need that your business can solve. They should have a record of buying your types of products or services from small businesses.
  2. Find the right person inside the company. Many times there is an employee that has specific responsibilities for using vendors that are small businesses or ones that are minority or women owned status. If this corporation does a large amount of work with local, state of federal governments, they may even have requirement to do a certain amount of business with your size or type of company.
  3. Find someone to help. Ask your professional and social network for introductions to people they know inside the targeted large corporations. Almost any contact will do in order to get past the traditional company gate keepers.
  4. Find a program. The SBA has specific programs designed to help small businesses get sales from the federal government. Many Chamber of Commerces also have mentor programs to link up local small business with large corporate headquarters in their area.

The influx of revenue from a large corporation can bring dangers to the small business. Here are the big ones to avoid:

1. Cash flow crunch. Many corporations negotiate longer payment terms and small businesses accept them. Be aware of the cash flow problems this can cause by paying for cost of goods or services well in advance of payments from this customer. Do the math in a cash flow statement to measure the exposure.

2. Over expansion to meet short term demand. Large corporations can boost a small businesses sales quickly but they can change course and leave just as fast. Get written longer term commitments for any major investment of capital to meet their demand.

3. Revenue concentration in one customer. Many growing businesses have at least one customer that is 25% or 50% of their revenue. This can be a precarious position for any company. Seek customer diversity as an ongoing goal.

Tell me your story on how a large corporation drove the growth of your business.


Local Resources that Can Help Your Small Business Succeed

Posted on by Carol Roth

5-1 Local Resources smallSometimes, the best source of information for your small business is right in your own back yard. In fact, thanks to the Internet, great resources from around the country can come directly to your desktop. Here are six benefits that you can reap with local resources.

1. Networking

Finding new clients is critical to any business, but getting to know people within your industry can be just as important. This is how you can gain new ideas and find ways to solve problems. 

Opportunities for networking are as varied as the types of businesses they support, so you need to do your own research to find a network that fits your needs. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce can help at a national level, but most businesses benefit more with support from a local chapter. In fact, a search for “Chamber of Commerce” is likely to instantly display links to your local chapters, since your cookies probably reveal where you are.

Don’t automatically discount organizations that charge dues, such as industry associations. Their programs can provide a phenomenal professional experience and the like-minded people you meet can become lifelong friends and associates. Before paying the dues, you can try them out by attending a meeting to assess their potential value for your business.

2. Government Contracting Assistance

It may seem impossible for a small business to gain a government contract, but there are many online resources that can help you find leads and even provide the guidance that can make the proposal process seem less overwhelming. Check out these sites:

  • Not just for women: Check out the Women’s Business Development Center, where a search for “government contractor” provides a wealth of information that works for women — and men, too.
  • Contractor registration and education: You can register for government contracting from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) site, go to their government contracting classroom, and more. Just click the Contracting link from the home page to get started.
  • Advice to meet your needs:  Between the links to everything from government contractor training to information about Federal Tax ID numbers — and the articles of interest at the bottom of the page — you can spend lots of time at About.com, but it will be worth the effort.

3. Access to Capital

Of course, a great way to gain a high-level view of this topic is to take a few minutes to look at the video posted at my Business Unplugged ™ blog. That being said, a number of other resources can also provide great tips:

  • The SBA (again): Don’t expect the SBA Small Business Loans pages to hand you money directly, but they provide a guarantee that can encourage lenders to extend loans and can point you to a network of lenders. Check out their advice, as well.
  • Online business publications: Online business publications like Entrepreneur provide high-level advice on raising capital, while letting you drill down to the details that interest you.
  • Networking groups:  Your local chamber or industry organization, as discussed above, can also put you in touch with various traditional and alternative lenders in your area.

4. Mentoring

You may have an amazing skillset after working for years within your industry, but that doesn’t mean that you know everything about starting and running a business. Why not turn to someone who has a track record of business success? That’s what SCORE is all about.

The website alone provides valuable information, as well as access to online and local workshops. But, entrepreneurs at all stages of business can also schedule personal meetings with volunteers- all of whom are former business executives- at more than 300 locations across the U.S.  SCORE provides excellent assistance to help you grow your business and it’s entirely free.

5. Ongoing Education

Many companies are committed to helping small businesses succeed. For example, Nextiva has a fantastic blog and resources for small business success. Constant Contact offers a free program called Small Business Innovation Loft, along with many other resources. And, if you’re looking to get up to speed on technology, Microsoft partners with a variety of organizations, such as local Chambers of Commerce, through their Microsoft Community Connections programs, to provide you resources and information to help you keep pace with changes in business and technology.   They also provide information via articles and videos on their website.  Look into these and other brand’s resources that are available both locally and online.

6. Local Government Offices

Your local government often has a strong dedication to helping your business do well. In Chicago, for example, the Office of the City Treasurer website provides amazing resources, such as contests, expos, education and a resource guide that leads businesses to other information and the Mayor’s Office runs a Small Business Center that helps you streamline permitting and has launched a Small Business Initiative. Don’t forget about these local resources that are available to help you succeed.

It Takes a Village to Run a Small Business

Actually, that’s a bit tongue-in-cheek — small business owners have the ultimate responsibility for running their own businesses. But, you don’t have to go it alone. There are many free and low-cost resources to help guide you along the way, many of which are right in your own backyard.




 
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