Posts Tagged ‘Work Your Biz Wednesday’

Adopting the Cloud While Mitigating Risk in Your Small Business

9-16 cloud computing smallOnce you decide to move some or all of your operations to the cloud, you may have concerns about risk and security. There are many benefits to adopting the cloud for your small business. The cloud provides instant access to data anytime, anywhere there is an internet connection. Cloud computing also offers scalable storage for files, applications, and improved collaboration regardless of team members' locations; and saved time and money by eliminating the need to build a costly server system and hire an IT manager. Let’s look at some of the risks, and how you can reduce them.

Risk 1: the Cloud Provider Can Get Hacked

Yes, it’s much more appealing to hackers to go after a giant cloud server than your single little company’s server. Essentially, you have no control over this happening. Yes, cloud computing companies take a great deal of precautions and security measures to prevent hacking, but it’s no guarantee your data is 100% safe.

The Remedy: You can encrypt any sensitive material you send to the cloud so that if there is a breach, hackers can’t do anything with your data. Store your encryption key somewhere other than the cloud!

Risk 2: It’s Difficult to Control Access

Because you need to allow many people access to a given file through the cloud, it can become a challenge to keep up with who’s got access to which data. And what happens if a disgruntled employee decides to take sensitive data with him after leaving your company?

The Remedy: Set up a system to manage who gets access to which files, rather than giving blanket permission to all. Require each employee to use a password to access these files, and as soon as they leave the company, remove their access. You should be able to monitor logs of who has accessed which files, and when they have logged in.

Risk 3: What if Your Data Goes Up in Smoke?

Things happen. Hurricanes, fires, and theft happens, even in the cloud. If the servers that store your data are gone, you’re left with nothing.

The Remedy: Back up your data on another system, whether it’s a local server or a different cloud server. That way, you have an “extra set of clothes,” so to speak, should your data be compromised.

Risk 4: Compromising Industry Requirements

If you work in a highly-regulated industry like healthcare or financial services, you know there are serious restrictions on some of your data. You’re unclear on how cloud storage works with these regulations, because sometimes the data isn’t yours anymore once it hits the cloud.

The Remedy: Talk to industry regulators about the cloud’s role in compliancy and used an industry-approved cloud vendor.

Whether you’re looking to use a cloud-based application for email or CRM, or are looking for cloud-based storage, find out what kind of security measures the cloud company offers, and what they take responsibility for in case of data breach. Most of the time, the onus falls on you, since a cloud company can’t be responsible for thousands of companies’ sensitive data, so take your own security measures to ensure that your data, wherever it floats, is as safe and protected as can be.

6 Ways to Fix What’s Broken in Your Business

When you’ve been in business a while, it’s sometimes easier to bury your head in the sand than to deal with the issues at hand. You’re not doing your business any favors, however.  Look at these 6 scenarios, see what you can relate to, and take action to make positive changes for your company.  These are 6 ways to fix what’s broken in your business.

8-26 broken business small1. You Have Staffing Issues

One situation is that you’re a solopreneur and need help, but you can’t quite afford to hire a full-time employee. In this case, consider hiring a freelancer (great for design or marketing help), an intern (though you’ll have to do some hand-holding), or a part-time employee to fill the need. Consider, to find a great stay-at-home mom great to get back into the workforce.

If your problem is more with the staff you have (especially true for those of you who hire teenagers), it’s time to firm up your discipline. Create an employee handbook to ensure that everyone knows what’s expected of them. If they’re unwilling to follow the rules, tell them to hit the road.

2. Cash Flow is a Problem

If you are biting your nails until your clients pay you so you can pay your team or your vendors, you have a cash flow problem. Sometimes, clients pay late, but you need to make sure you have a contingency plan. Here are a few strategies.

First, you can enforce either a late fee or offer an early discount for your invoices. The idea is that those late paying clients will be motivated — either to save money by paying early or to pay on time to avoid a late payment fee. Another idea is to take out a line of credit so that you can access cash when you need it, then pay it back when you get paid.

3. You Don’t Have Time to Market Your Business

You’re too busy dealing with those staffing and cash flow issues to hop on social media and update your profiles or write any new blog content. With only a trickle of customers coming through your door, marketing should be a priority.  Consider hiring a consultant or freelancer to take over some of your marketing efforts. You can pay a flat monthly rate or per article, and it may be more affordable than you’d imagine to hire a professional. The important thing is to get those customers coming back in, and then that expense won’t even matter.

4. You Haven’t Put Money Back into Your Business

As soon as you’ve paid everyone, you take out your cut. But your computer is on its last leg, you need to reorder inventory, and your business insurance is pats due. You feel like there’s just not enough money to go around. While paying yourself is critical, it’s just as important to reinvest in your business. Set aside a percentage of your profits — say, 20% — so that when you need to buy a computer or software, you’ve got the funds.

5. Your Yelp Reviews are Going Downhill

It started with a nasty review on Yelp months ago that you ignored, and now it’s snowballed. It seems like every other review is negative, and you don’t know what to do about it. It’s hurting your business. First, take action. Ignoring a bad review is like bleeding in shark-infested waters. Even if things aren’t so bad at your business, potential customers will move on after reading the negative review. But examine the complaints in those reviews. They might give you the opportunity to straighten up an attitudinal employee or polish your product.

6. You’re a Workaholic

If you’re working on the weekends, every weekend, please stop. I get it; sometimes you just need more time to get things done. But remember that you need downtime in the evenings and on weekends to recharge your battery. Otherwise you will burn out and eventually hate your business.  If you must work after hours, set a timer so you don’t end up eating an entire day that you should have been spending with your family. Set rules for yourself so you don’t check your email when you should be doing something more relaxing.

Creating a Spinoff Product Business From Your Service Business

Service providers deal in the commodity of knowledge. Your lawyer knows the intricacies of small business law. Your marketing consultant is well-versed in content marketing and social media. Your accountant knows how to minimize the hurt come tax time. All of them get paid for a transfer and application of their knowledge. But sometimes there’s an opportunity beyond providing services to create a complementary product business.

For me, as SmallBizLady, I get paid to work one-on-one with small businesses who need guidance and consultation. They pay for my knowledge and experience. But not everyone in my network can afford to hire me for a consultation. And that’s why I also offer information products at a much lower price point. People with tiny budgets can still afford to learn to be social media ninjas or become their own bosses through my books, mastermind groups and ecourses.

Catering to Two Markets: More Money for You

If you’re in a services industry, there are only so many people you can serve, especially if your prices are high. But what if you could also connect with another market, one who wants to read what you’ve learned and use it themselves to DIY whatever you’re teaching them?

What I love about having a product business is that once it’s created, I don’t have to worry about it. My products sell through my website and Amazon, and I don’t have to do anything to fulfill orders because they’re all digital products. So I’m making money on top of making money! Sound good to you?

Consider Who You’re Not Serving Currently

If you’re ready to spin off a new products business, start by considering who calls you but doesn’t end up becoming a client. What are they looking for? You’ll likely find several topics for ebooks, webinars, and courses immediately.

Do you attract a crowd of do-it-yourselfers? How can you share your knowledge to empower them to take care of specific tasks on their own? The more hands-on and detailed your instructions, the more successful your products will be.

See What’s Already Out There

You know what they say about not reinventing the wheel. Look at your competitors and see if they sell products, then figure out how you can fill a gap that isn’t currently served. Maybe you gear your content to a specific industry that you know is interested, or provide samples and templates that don’t already exist to help people.

Price Accordingly

Coming up with the perfect price point is always a challenge. You don’t want to alienate people who can’t afford your products, and you don’t want to charge so little that you don’t recuperate your expenses. Again, do some research to see what others charge and base yours on what you think you can get.

Where to Sell

Naturally, if you sell your products on your own website, you’ll get 100% of the profit, but setting up your site for ecommerce can take time and money. A quick solution is to sell on Amazon or on a digital products site like Gumroad. Yes, they’ll take a commission, but the traffic is so much better on these sites than your own, that you’ll likely make up for that chunk taken out in volume.

Adding a product business to your existing service business is the perfect balance: you provide in-real-time consulting, but you also make money while you sleep.

Finding the Right Price Point for Your Product

7-22 Pricing Strategies smallOnce you start a business, how do you know how much to charge? If your product is priced too high, it won’t sell. If it’s priced too low, you’ll be swamped with orders, and have such a small profit margin, it wont even be worth the effort. Finding the balance is the trick.

What Goes Into Cost

Your price should:

  • Cover your costs
  • Highlight the value you provide your customers
  • Earn you a reasonable profit
  • Be competitive

There is no such thing as the perfect price. It’s all about developing a price that your customers are willing to pay, that also makes you a profit. Because remember profit is how we keep score in business. Pricing effects every aspect of business because price is used to create sales projections, establish a break-even point, and calculate profit. There are three ways to find the right price for your product:

1. Look at the competition.

Use your competitor’s price as a reference point. If your product is of a higher quality, and you can justify more benefits, then you can probably justify a higher price point. The goal must be to stay competitive. If your product is knock off, then your price point will be less.

2. Calculate the total cost of your product.
This should include your hard costs (labor, materials/inventory, packaging, shipping.) You should also include a percentage of your overhead expenses such as (legal, accounting, marketing, and administrative costs.) Once you have a all your costs then you need to determine your profit margin to calculate the final price. Depending on what you sell the profit margin could be anywhere from 30 percent to 300 percent.

3. It's all about the perception of value.

Perceived value is one of the most common factors business owners use to determine product pricing. Unfortunately, some small business owners we perceive their value to be much greater than their would-be customers, which is a great way to go out of business. The main factor that adds value to a product is the brand behind it. Lots of stores sell mixers, but if you have a Kitchen Aid mixer, you have a top of the line machine. Why is that? All mixers basically function the same.

It's all about the perception of value. The Kitchen Aid mixer has a higher perceived value.

Let me give you a quick MBA lesson:

Price = (Labor + Materials) x profit margin

What that profit margin is will depend on your industry and who you’re selling to. If you’re selling wholesale, you might double what your labor and materials cost. If you’re selling retail, it might be double what you’d charge wholesale.

Don’t Compete on Price

There’s often a pull to be the cheapest seller on the block. Resist the urge, otherwise you people will assume your products are lower quality. Someone will always be able to offer similar products cheaper than you, so this is a no-win situation.

Don’t be afraid to Charge a Premium!

People pay based on perceived value. If you are confident — and competent — and can point to great work you’ve done in the past, people absolutely will be willing to pay what you charge.

Down-the-Road Discounts

It’s easier to charge more and come down in price than to start out low and then charge more. If your prices seem to be too high for your marketplace, test out different promotions and see what price point resonates with your audience. Psychologically, you may see better results simply offering a discount occasionally than to reduce your prices across the board.

Test your Price Point

Pay attention to people’s response to your prices. If you don’t want to cut your profit margin down, consider adding more value to what they get, such as a free product, or discount on future purchases.

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. 

The 4 Ps of Marketing (and How to Incorporate Them in Your Marketing Plan)

When many business owners think of marketing, the things that often come to mind are techniques like writing advertising copy or crafting messages for social media. While those tactics do eventually become part of the plan, they are not the sole components of marketing your services. The first step to successfully developing your businesses’ marketing plan is defining the four Ps and understanding how they inform the strategy in its entirety. Let’s take a look at the four Ps and how to include them in your marketing plan.

What are the Four Ps?

The ultimate goal of all marketing is to generate sales. As such, the four Ps of marketing are tools to help you effectively turn a profit, (which I believe should be the 5 p’s actually). Understanding what you need to maximize both profits and sales is key to developing an effective marketing plan. The four Ps — Product, Placement, Promotion and Price — help you do that.


The foundation of any business is the item or service you are selling. Hence the first P is product. Take time to describe in detail the product or service you offer. If it’s a physical item, write down the different options, packaging, features, and sizes.

Once you’ve described the product itself, delve into how that product meets the needs of the client, the features and benefits, and your competitive edge. Explain how it will be manufactured or performed. Then take it a step further and identify what deeper problem it’s helping the client solve. For example, the product may be a technology service that helps the client better track inventory. But it’s also helping the client attain sales goals and make more money each month.


The second P stands for placement, which covers how the product or service will be delivered. At this point, describe the distribution channels and physical facilities needed in order to move the product from manufacturing and storage to the consumer. For example, is the product placed in a warehouse, garage, fulfillment house, or office space?


The third P — promotion– is where many of the tactical and fun ideas for marketing your product come into play. At this stage, outline what advertising channels you will use to let people know about the product. For example, will you use the Internet, flyers, magazines or newspaper ads, direct mail, broadcasting, or social media? Write out all your public relations strategies and ideas. Then review your personal and business networks to determine who can help you implement the marketing strategies.


The fourth P is price, and it is here where you determine what the market will pay for the product or service. Pricing strategy is all about pricing your product or service for your different target markets. Determine the list price, discounts, wholesale allowances, markdowns, payment periods, and credit terms.

The good news is that much of the information you need to develop a marketing plan is free or low cost. Before you sit down to write your four Ps and marketing plan, spend time online listening to your potential customers and your competition. Go to the library and subscribe to industry publications. Join trade organizations, contact the local Chamber of Commerce, and talk to potential customers. Doing these things will help you articulate your four Ps and write a marketing plan that really targets your target markets with the right messages, and through the most effective channels.  

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.


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.

How to Under Promise and Over Deliver to Your Customers

6-17 over deliver smallHow well you connect with your customers through your products, services, and support will determine whether they come back to you to buy again and again. But even if you sell the most amazing products ever, there’s still room to improve your customer service. One strategy is to underpromise and overdeliver. What do I mean by that?

Some may tell you to think of underpromising what you can give a customer as an “in case of emergency” cushion for worst-case scenarios, but it’s better to plan for success than for failure. By promising one thing (5-day delivery, for example) and beating expectations (2-day delivery) you'll surprise and delight your customers. And that will keep them coming back. Here are four ways to ensure that your customers are constantly enchanted with your service, plus one freebie tip for the customer who cannot be satisfied.

When you thank your customer for her business, ask her for feedback.

One way to know how to overdeliver to your customers and also gain valuable insight is to ask your customers what they want. Institute an outreach program that connects with customers within 7-10 days after the transaction is complete. Ask your customer to provide specific ratings and input on a few specific topics. Then look at trends. If you constantly hear that your product isn’t well-packaged and sometimes gets damaged in shipping, that’s something you can take direct action to improve.

Work smarter with Customer Relationship Management Software (CRM).

If you’ve ever called a customer service line, been transferred, and then had to re-explain your situation, you no doubt were frustrated that the company didn’t keep better records on your past interactions with it. Delight your customers by storing detailed records on past transactions and calls with CRMUsing CRM, anyone with access to the software can become an expert in your customer’s history quickly and painlessly and instantly improve your customer’s experience.

When your customer completes a transaction, surprise her with a gesture.

There are many ways to acknowledge your appreciation for your customer’s business. You might send a handwritten thank you note for doing business with you — in this day and age, handwritten notes carry a lot more significance than a canned email. You may offer a small discount if she purchases again within a short time frame. It is important to let your customer know that her business is important to you and that you value it — the incentive or gift is just the icing on top.

If your customer has a problem, find out what the problem is and solve it.

If your business is reviewed on yelp or any review site, you need to stay on top of anything unhappy customers are saying. Make it your mission to solve problems for your customers. In the event that a customer is unhappy with your product or service, make it right immediately. It's not worth them telling their story to 10 more people, is it? Keep that old adage, “the customer is always right” at the center of your actions, and go above and beyond in not only remedying the situation, but making her a glowing fan of your business.

Freebie: So what, if your customer’s demands are unreasonable, Can you say ‘no.’ Yes, you can!

Every now and again you may run into a customer whose demands are unreasonable and who refuses to be pacified with your customer service efforts. While you may be tempted to appease this customer’s demands, it is better to put your energy toward your customers who do appreciate your efforts. Sometimes you may have to tell these challenging customers, “I'm sorry, I couldn't possible do that.” Just say No, and move on, as there is little you can do salvage this type of customer relationship. Save your energy and focus for your rational customers.

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