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Melinda Emerson

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Work your Biz Wednesday: 5 Great Ideas For Building a Dynamic Website

By August 17, 2016 No Comments

For a small business, a website is the most critical tool for branding and generating sales. Its your welcome mat.  If you’re an ecommerce business, it drives the revenue that makes your company viable. If you’re a service business, it’s the best way to demonstrate your expertise. Regardless of whether you sell goods and services, your company's website should convey the solutions you offer, and you'll need to drive traffic there

Here are five ideas for building a dynamic website that provides your small business with a powerful marketing platform!

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Work your Biz Wednesday: How Can I Make my Small Business Attractive to Angel Investors?

By July 20, 2016 No Comments

If you’re considering seeking funding to either launch or grow your business, angel investors are one potential source of financing worth considering. But realize: angel investors get pitched every day, and turn down 90% of the startups that approach them. What can you do to put yourself in the best light possible to increase your chances of getting funded?

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Work your Biz Wednesday: How Do I Fire a Beloved Employee?

By July 6, 2016 No Comments

The only thing worse than firing an employee is firing one you truly love. The reasons for having to fire a beloved employee vary: maybe you’ve outgrown their skillset, you’re selling the business, or you can’t afford to keep a full-time employee on. Whatever the reason, you want to cushion the blow for this person that you’ve come to rely on so heavily.

Get a Firing Strategy

You’ll want to consider when and how you’ll fire this person. Doing it on her birthday may not be the most heartfelt strategy, so find a day that has no significance. A Friday is a good option, since you’re headed into the weekend, which gives that individual time to reflect on her new situation.

Expect that she’ll have questions about why you’re firing her, and prepare your answers. Always tell the truth. If the reason is that your company is in financial difficulties, make it clear that it was in no way her fault. If she did have behavioral concerns, you should already have addressed these with her in the past and given her fair warning that if she didn’t improve her actions, she would be terminated. If you’ve reached the point of firing her, she shouldn’t be surprised, as she had the option to make changes for the better.

Respect Their Privacy

Firing an employee should always happen behind closed doors. It’s nobody else’s business, and you don’t want to incite panic among your other staff, who might be concerned that they’ll get the axe too.

You can either plan to let her go immediately or give her two weeks to wrap up her work. While she might prefer to get paid for an additional few weeks, don’t be surprised if she gets upset and walks out then and there. Have a plan for how you’ll handle the work she was doing. Is there someone on your team who can take it over? Can you spread out the work until you get a replacement if that’s your plan?

Do Your Best to Help

If you loved your employee, you’ll naturally want to help her transition into something else. If you have contacts that could help her find a job, offer to connect her to them. Write a glowing recommendation, making it clear that performance wasn’t the reason you had to let her go.

Offer to advise her in finding her next career move if she wants your help. But understand if she doesn’t; people take being let go personally, and she may react negatively, despite your efforts to aid.

Leave the Door Open

If your reason for firing a beloved employee is financial, let her know that if things improve, you’d like to have her back. If it’s possible, consider simply cutting back her hours or working with her on a freelance basis if your finances permit.

No one takes joy in firing an employee, whether it was warranted due to bad behavior or not. If you find yourself in that situation, do it with grace. You never know when your paths will cross with this person again, so leave things as good as they can be. If it’s possible to part as friends, that should be your objective.

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Work your Biz Wednesday: The Most Important Task Small Business Owners Neglect

By June 22, 2016 No Comments

The first time you said to someone, "I'm starting my own business," you probably felt a sense of pride and empowerment, as well as nervousness. When setting up a small business, you want to plan for as many contingencies as possible, and prepare for anything the marketplace or business world may throw at you.

But when you read up on tips for small business owners, one thing you probably won't see is information about a crucial activity: the internal audit. Yes, the word "audit" is scary, but the internal audit is actually about allaying fears.

The internal audit helps ensure that your business operates as it should, that you are able to effectively manage risks, and that your business remains in compliance with regulations and laws that apply to it.

Financial and Operational Discovery

Setting up a small business usually doesn't involve the creation of an internal auditing department. Budgets are tight, and personnel often have to play many roles simultaneously. But you can internally audit your business using the team you already have to gain information about operations and finances. At least two people should be involved to prevent auditors from simply assuming their own work is in compliance, and to open up channels of communication about processes and regulations. Discussing the results of the audit, and preparing a report on it helps your team understand why internal audits are important, while giving everyone actionable information that can help your business flourish.

Make Internal Auditing Your Responsibility

The first step to conducting a self-audit is to define what you want to achieve and what benefits you expect to come away with. Define a series of objectives, and identify any risks associated with them. If you have known problem areas, highlight them so the audit can focus on them. When planning audit activities, determine what you plan to look at, how intensely you will examine particular areas, and for what time period. Each task should have connected with it the name of the person who will be able to help you acquire the information you need.

It's possible you'll have to change course at some point during an audit, should new matters of importance come to light, and that's OK. The information you gather during your audit should be used to create a deliverable product (typically a report) that drives specific actions. Plan to evaluate those actions at a specified interval after the report is prepared and note if the improvements you expect are being achieved. Subsequent audit procedures will need to be fine-tuned to better meet your needs as your business grows and changes.

You Can't Correct Issues You Don't Know About

Internal audits are about discovering issues that need attention. You, as a small business owner, probably know which areas are most suitable for being audited. In general, the following small business functions benefit from an internal audit:

  • Expenses – because if you don't know where your company is spending money, you don't know where it's wasting money
  • Customer Service – Do you know how satisfied customers are? What they've praised and what they've complained about? How do you plan to put this information to use?
  • Data Quality – including inventory reports, cash balances, and accounts receivable and payable. This data must be current and accurate for these processes to benefit you.
  • IT Security – including security within your business and between your business and the outside world
  • Disaster Recovery – including a detailed plan of how to recover operations in the event of a natural disaster, theft, or other catastrophe. What are the top priorities after a disaster?
  • Compliance – whether with internal, industry, or government regulations, including compliance with tax laws. Regularly monitoring compliance can help tremendously if you become the subject of an outside audit.

Regulatory Compliance Begins with Your Team

At minimum your small business must comply with payroll, Department of Labor, and tax regulations. If you're in industries like healthcare, financial products, or education, then you will have to comply with many other regulations as well. Knowing exactly how the well-oiled machine that is your small business operates is step one to ensuring compliance on all fronts. When your team knows that internal auditing is a priority, they're more likely to understand the importance of external audits and be prepared. If you're setting up a small business, I invite you to sign up for my weekly newsletter for regular guidance on the exciting and challenging world of today's entrepreneur.

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Work your Biz Wednesday: 5 People You Will Meet on Your Road to Business Success

By June 8, 2016 No Comments

5 people you meet copyMost entrepreneurs have said to themselves at some point, "I had no idea starting my own business was so complex!" But great adventures lead us down paths we would never tread otherwise. It's not easy to choose the path of the unknown in a world that seems to crave what's secure and predictable. If you are starting a business, you will discover the best and sometimes unfortunately, the worst in people. Focus on the positive, and vow to be positive, and your journey to business success will ultimately be triumphant.

Starting a business will put you into contact with new people all the time who fulfill roles you hadn't considered before. Some people will energize you and inspire you to continue, while others seemingly have nothing better to do than discourage you or try to bring you down. Knowing who they are and what their motives are can help you navigate the windy road to entrepreneurial success. Here are five personality types you will meet on your road to business success.

1. Helpers

Where would we be without helpers? It might be your best friend who is by your side come what may. It could be a neighbor who takes an interest in your venture and is always there to offer encouragement. It could just be that good friend that lets you vent. Helpers may have no direct impact on your business or its success, but they provide support that is every bit as essential as that of your vendors and partners. Recognize these people and try to never take them for granted. In fact, you should be sure to thank them for their encouragement and their friendship.

2. Haters

Expect to encounter pessimists and haters along the way. Maybe they think they're giving you a "reality check," but you do not have to cash it. You know yourself, your idea, and your plan better than anyone else, and some people will simply never understand that level of passion or commitment. In fact, the haters you encounter who try to discourage you are unknowingly giving you very valuable information: They're indirectly showing you that you're doing something right. Mediocrity doesn't inspire much interest, but success can be threatening to some people, and can inspire negativity because of that.

3. Moochers

Learn to distinguish supporters from flatterers early, and you'll save yourself a lot of heartache. Flatterers know how to stoke your ego. You may think they're the ultimate supporters. But then, perhaps, they ask you to do a project for free or at cost or take on a case "for the exposure." Or they attempt to exploit your gifts and talents for their gain in some way. In the short term, accommodating these people may feel good. Eventually, however, you will realize that used you for their own gain. That's a sure recipe for resentment. There's no time for moochers or resentment on the path to business success.

4. Underminers

You will encounter people who genuinely mean no harm, but who don't deliver. Maybe they offered to paint your back office with paint left over from doing their home, but keep "forgetting" about it. Maybe they offer to put you in touch with a supplier or vendor, but never actually do so. Remember that actions outweigh words. You should also realize that some people who subtly undermine your success are the ones who were either too afraid or too uncommitted to accomplish their own dreams. Undermining your dreams may be a way to help them feel better about themselves.

5. Mentors

A great mentor in your journey as an entrepreneur is a gift beyond measure. His or her time with you may be brief, or it may last for years. You will learn, grow, and develop the confidence you need with a mentor constantly giving you honest feedback. A mentor is a leader who makes you want to succeed and demonstrates how to do that. They will generally be among your biggest supporters, but they also know how and when to constructively explain where there's room for improvement.

Mentors aren't necessarily who you expect them to be. It could be someone who has succeeded despite serious obstacles or someone who opens your mind up to new ideas and philosophies. Connecting with mentors today is easier than ever before, thanks to the internet. Twitter and LinkedIn are two great places to look for mentors, but then there’s SCORE.org which is an organization that provides business mentors at no cost. You can meet online or in person.

From the time you start your own business, you’ll look at life and work differently. It may be the first time you've really followed your heart. Expect obstacles, setbacks, and the occasional flat-out failure. Understand that successful people deal with all of these on the road to success.

If you'd like more insights on starting your own business, I invite you to download two free chapters of my book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months.

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Work your Biz Wednesday: Good and Bad of Starting Your Own Business

By May 25, 2016 No Comments

Freedom and control are common factors that motivate people to leave traditional employment to start a new business. If you yearn for the opportunity to be in charge, set your own hours and design your daily activities, prepare yourself for some of the harsh realities of finding entrepreneurial success. Here are a few key things to consider as you evaluate whether starting your own company is the right move.

The Long Hours

True, you should be able to control your hours as a business owner. However, entrepreneurs who desire to generate revenue and profit work almost always work more hours than they had before. In fact, your business owns you, you don’t own your time. In a small business where you play a pivotal operational role, the amount of time and effort you put in directly impacts how much money you make. If you employ any staff, your work ethic sets the tone for the company. It is hard to earn the respect and dedication of your team if you clock in at 9:00 a.m., clock out at 5:00 p.m., and take a two-hour lunch break each day. This point is especially true in a start-up environment where you rely on workers to go above and beyond the traditional eight-hour day as well.

Problems Must Be Solved

You can't control when problems arise that demand your attention. Sure, you have the freedom to pretend they don't exist, or that someone else will handle them. However, your customers and employees will look to the boss during times of stress or uncertainty for an answer. If a major distributor experiences a delay, for instance, you may need to travel to reassure ensure a positive experience for your customers. Power outages, technology malfunctions, and equipment breakdowns are a few of the other problems that could demand attention and prevent you from getting to the golf course or the beach.

Money and Freedom Go Hand-in-Hand

Kevin O'Leary, of "Shark Tank" fame, often says, "Money equals freedom." In his case, he has enough money to freely choose which companies and investments to spend his time on. In the case of a new business owner, true freedom typically only comes when you go through the pains and frustrations of building up a profitable enterprise. This process usually takes three to fours years, until your business can afford to pay you a regular salary. If you want the freedom to make decisions on how to spend your time, plan to work harder and smarter on your own than you would as an employee.

The Owner's Job is Overwhelming

Many people leave employment to get out of a boring, monotonous position. The logic is that you can design your own activities and focus on a diverse mix of things you enjoy as a small-business owner. In reality, as start-up business, you are taking on 10-14 jobs at once, so you will often spend hours trying to figure out which task to take on first each business day. Making products, setting up your website, generating leads, shipping packages are among the common roles of a start-up owner. Until you build up your business, and can add staff, it is common to take on many tasks that you intend to get away from once you build up your business.

The rewards of running your own small business often far exceeds anything you could achieve as an employee. However, the process to earn those rewards are typically much harder than you thought. Plan to work hard for years, tackle major problems, and carry out many activities everyday without complaining.

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Work your Biz Wednesday: How to Make your Business more Profitable

By May 18, 2016 No Comments

Profit is how we keep score in business. Just because you can pencil profit into the financial section of your business plan doesn't mean it automatically will happen. As an entrepreneur, you have to commit fully to "minding your own business" to generate the profits that you seek. Here are several strategies I encourage you to follow as you look to make your small business more profitable.


Focus on Profitable Resources
To operate a profitable small business, you have to constantly evaluate the productivity gains from people and resources. I don't hire someone without knowing the potential return on investment for my business. You can't afford waste with a small company. Before buying equipment, inventory, or supplies, consider the direct or indirect impact the investment has on your bottom line.

Use Monthly Sales Goals
Putting pen to paper and analyzing profit potential doesn't take a lot of painstaking effort. However, putting hands to dirt to execute your weekly and monthly sales goals is an exercise that you want to start early.

It is rare to find profits without hard work. If you always focus on monthly sales goals then you will focus on weekly sales objectives. By doing this on a regular basis you will always stay focused on marketing. Too often business owners focus on the job at hand and don’t fill their pipeline.


Always Look for Efficiency Gains
The key to maximizing profit potential in a small business is to always look for efficiency gains. Look for ways to save $100 per month. Check your fees that are deducted monthly from your business account. Are you using that club membership? website app? or email marketing program? Reduce banking fees and consider leasing equipment to improve profitability. Use a bit of humility to do what is necessary to reduce costs. Profitable small-business owners often change light bulbs, do routine plumbing, clean and perform other laborious tasks. Hiring someone to do these things is naturally more expensive. Efficiency isn't just about cost reduction, find ways to get the same or greater value with a lower investment.

Increase Revenue
The key to optimizing your profits lies in your ability to increase your revenue at a higher ratio than your costs. In the short term, you need to generate the maximum value from each 
customer and upsell them additional products and services to get more business. By focusing on your customer experience that will lead to word of mouth referrals and repeat business. It’s much cheaper to keep a loyalty than to go out and secure a new one. You also want to have a lead magnet and sales funnels to attracting new customers as
an additional growth strategy as well.

Pricing Strategy
Evaluate your pricing strategies to enhance profits. Make sure you evaluate all your hard and soft costs in your pricing model. Don't undersell your products and services to drive a high-volume. Precise pricing attracts the right buyers who are willing to pay for quality. Regular discounting establishes a price orientation with buyers and minimizes gross margin.

The path to profitability includes an emphasis on optimizing revenue and reducing costs. Eliminating waste and controlling costs are important as well. Profitable small-business owners create business strategies that are driven by sales.

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