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UX Design Principles to Guide the Success of Your Mobile App

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 11:00

By Juned Ghanchi

What makes a good design for a mobile app? If anything comes to our mind facing this question, it is nothing but ease of use. Yes, first of all, a great mobile app design is incredibly easy to use and instantly engaging. But to achieve all these aspects through your mobile app design, you need to consider a few crucial elements. Over the years the most time tested and dried principles of mobile app design didn’t change much. This shows that once you know the art of designing a perfect mobile app you can only make it better.

Here we are going to introduce seven time-tested mobile app design principles that can guide your app to success.

Reliability

Does your mobile app look trustworthy? Can users easy Lee submit crucial information and can rely on the security measures provided by your app? Mind it; this is a key question every B2C business has to face invariably. If your customers cannot rely on the data security and protection measures for their personal information they cannot share the same with your app. For example, consider the success of Uber. They made processing payment so easy with assured security for financial information of the customers that they literally could transform an industry existing for more than a century. Here are few tips to ensure optimum reliability for your app.

  • do not ask for too many information. Only ask for what is absolutely needed.
  • Give them a clear idea about what you are going to do with the information provided.
  • Use customer testimonials and number of benefited users in support of your request.
Clean and intuitive user interface

When it comes to mobile app there is nothing as important as clarity and clarity begin with a clean and intuitive user interface. The user upon coming on the app screen should instantly know how to use the app and where to go for the relevant content they are looking for. The layout should be absolutely clutter-free and helpful for the readers and users of the content. Here are few effective tips to ensure clarity.

  • each of your pages should have one objective.
  • Make use of white or negative space around contents and clickable areas.
  • Minimize the number of clicks required to perform an action.
  • Ensure a great on boarding experience to allow users know how to use the app to get the desired things.
Design for the target audience

Yes, you have guessed it right. We should have begun our discussion with this point. You need to decide on the design of your mobile app as per your target audience. Your target audience, first of all, can be niche oriented and thereafter can be segmented as per demographics, language, age and different preferences. When targeting a broad audience spread globally across regions and cultures, you should always make your app accessible in different languages and with different localized attributes. Here are few things to consider designing your mobile app for different audiences.

  • Try to use colors appealing for your target audience in a specific region. The same color may not be appealing for every area.
  • The Younger audience is likely to have low attention span and naturally, when targeting them you need to address their queries faster. A fast paced design with more visual contents will be ideal for this audience.
  • Ensure other localization attributes like translation, local time, location map et cetera.
Ensure familiarity with your design

You can have a ground-breaking design concept, but if it doesn’t convert the business, you are at a loss. So as far as business conversion is considered your design should help it. An entirely new and unfamiliar design can actually prove to be a stumbling block for the business conversion. On the other hand, a familiar design will help quick engagement and interaction from the users. Familiarity is necessary to prevent confusion and help the users know instantly what they should do for the thing they are looking for. Here we provide some key tips to make your design reap the benefits of familiarity.

  • Always use signs and icons that are already known to the audience. Using unknown icons can only add to their confusion.
  • Avoid unique design layout to prevent misunderstanding and confusion from your existing customers.
  • Maintain a certain level of familiarity with the apps of your niche to the target audience of that niche better.
Design for the low attention span

When using mobile most users detest reading dense paragraphs. Too much text content slows down the engagement and user interaction. As mobile users tend to be more fickle and have a considerably low attention span compared to their desktop counterparts, your design should also address this aspect. You should always use only a legible amount of text content and should focus more on visual contents. Apart from that to make your app ideal for low attention span you also need to ensure faster loading time. Consider the following tips to make an app for decreased attention span of the mobile audience.

  • Only provide structured text content with small paragraphs, heads, subheads, and bullet points.
  • Boost readability of your content by using mobile friendly font add font size.
  • When using visual content is always optimize the image and video files for faster loading time.
  • Offer a mix of contents with images, media files, the GIF and text contents to help better traction and engagement.
Mind the rule of thumb

Most mobile users around the world use their handheld devices single-handedly and to navigate through the on-screen elements they mostly use their thumb. Naturally, any clickable area or navigation element outside of the reach of thumb risks lower interaction and traction. So, your mobile app design should allow easy navigation through the use of thumb when holding the device single-handedly. Here are some effective tips for thumb friendly design.

  • Place most of your important buttons and clickable links within reach of the thumb.
  • Design the layout in a way so that the user can easily navigate through the app single-handedly.
  • Make the CTA buttons and navigation elements bigger for easy finger tap.

Do you feel there are some more elements that we missed to cover here? Well, when it comes to UX design principles you cannot exhaust all the aspects in the span of a single post.

Juned Ghanchi is business strategy and analytics lead at IndianAppDevelopers, a mobile app development company India which specializes in comprehensive mobile application developments for industry leading brands. He regularly publishes expert presentation tips on the various technology blogs.

 

The post UX Design Principles to Guide the Success of Your Mobile App appeared first on Small Biz Daily.

4 Things to Know About Business Debt

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 09:30

U.S. small business owners are feeling super-confident right now, and have even sunnier sights set on the future. Forty percent of those in a survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation report enjoying higher profits than the same time last year. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) expect to see profits soar even more in the next 12 months.

So confident are small business owners and executives that 40 percent plan to increase employee head count this year, 40 percent expect to make capital investments and 37 percent plan to raise prices. (No wonder they’re expecting higher profits.)

To achieve all this growth, small business owners in the survey are relying on banks and other sources of capital. In fact, 77 percent say capital from banks and other financial services sources is important to their continued success.

Access to capital tightened up during the Great Recession, but is easing now—at least for larger small businesses. Forty-four percent of those with 51-100 employees say their access to capital improved in the past year, compared to 31 percent of those with 11-50 employees and just 15 percent of those with 10 or fewer employees.

Only one-third of survey respondents say their companies used debt financing to get started, and 47 percent say their companies have never taken on business debt. Of those who did take on debt to start up, the most popular types of debt are private business loans (66 percent), credit card financing (59 percent) and personal loans (51 percent).

The more employees a business has, the more likely it is to use business debt for growth and to take on multiple types of debt or multiple lines of credit. While this is partly because larger businesses tend to be more established (and hence better credit risks), it could also mean owners of very small businesses aren’t taking the necessary risks to launch and grow their companies.

Is fear of debt holding you back from seeking a loan to start or grow your business? It shouldn’t. Keep a couple of things in mind:

  1. Banks aren’t your only source for startup or growth capital. To launch their companies, about three in 10 survey respondents got friends and family to lend them money. Nearly one-fourth took a bigger risk by putting their homes on the line with a mortgage or home equity line of credit. In addition, 3 percent have used a non-bank, market-based lender at some point.
  2. A whopping 88 percent of survey respondents who have taken on business debt say their experience with the lender was somewhat or very positive.
  3. Three-fourths say they rely on bankers as trusted financial advisors for their businesses. Choosing the right business banker can give you a second opinion on financial decisions affecting your business—not just loans and lines of credits, but the best ways to grow and finance growth.
  4. Selecting a smaller bank with close ties in the community can help you develop a more personalized relationship. Twenty percent of borrowers surveyed use commercial banks, 20 percent use community banks and 18 percent use regional banks. Just 14 percent use a multinational bank.

 

 

The post 4 Things to Know About Business Debt appeared first on Small Biz Daily.

Tough Choices: Who Gets Paid When You’re Hemorrhaging Cash?

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 08:00

By Bob Shoyhet

When things are going well, your cash grows, payments to creditors don’t miss a beat, plus they are thrilled to get regular payments on time. In addition, your own customers pay on time and there is an equilibrium that keeps everyone happy. But as we know all too well things don’t always go the way we want. What happens when your cash flow slows, and the bills, as they ever will do, keep coming? In this article, we look at who will get paid and who won’t. Not a pretty choice, but one that is vital to surviving when cash flow becomes a trickle, or worse still, stops altogether.

Happy Days

Business is booming, cash flows are smooth. The hardest thing at times to accept is that it will not always be like this. This is not negative thinking, but business sense. Most businesses are cyclical, meaning that at some point there will be a downturn and perhaps the best way to deal with this is to do so before it happens. Accept reality, have a plan, and ensure that you stick to it.

You must pay your creditors on time to ensure continuity of business. In addition, you need to make certain that there is no slippage in the payments received from your customers.

Maintaining this good practice now, will make it much easier in the future. If you give anybody the chance to take advantage of you, then in today’s tough market they will likely seize the opportunity to do so. Make sure that your actions are exactly as your intentions, consistency is vital.

To avoid issues developing, remember that communication is key. Be prepared to discuss, but moreover be prepared to listen. A good business lesson is that we are born with two ears and one mouth, so you learn a lot more by listening than you do talking. What are your customers trying to tell you? Are things going to get tough for them, and if so how do you act now? Extending credit that will never be met is not a good answer, but a dynamic flexibility to business is, your partners will welcome this open and honest approach when dealing with you.

Happy Days Are Not Forever

Times will get hard and cash is the first thing to run out, and since you are reliant on this flow, your business will suffer. Wouldn’t it be good if during the good times, you had built up a contingency reserve for this very moment? Of course, so make sure you have done so or start now.

But as cash flow decreases, those bills won’t. They’ll arrive on time every month without question, and your creditors may themselves be suffering and thus may lean a little heavier on you than they might have done before. Could you preempt this by renegotiating with vendors before trouble begins? If you’re going to delay payments, be open about it, and if necessary, dip into the newly established contingency fund. That is why you created it in the first place.

Remember, Not All Creditors Are Created Equal

The simple truth that you must realize is who is at the top of a very important list of creditors, and also who might be happy to be the last person getting paid. By happy, perhaps less upset would be more appropriate. One approach is to apply a simple rule of 3, Now, Later, Whenever, to your creditors in determining who gets paid when.

The “Pay Them Now”

This would include employees, which depending on severity of the situation may need further selection. For example, sales reps would be priority since no sales equals no cash flow. The website team if online is a major part of the business, key creditors that have liens on your receivables or other assets without whom the business cannot continue, debts that you have personally guaranteed, and legal settlement payments.

The “Pay Them Later”

Believe it or not there will be some that have always waited longer for payment on the basis that they get paid in the end and that pushing for quicker payment may, well, result in no payment at all. Those include creditors with a strong business model, great cash reserves, and established, larger companies who can handle small hiccups to a payment schedule.

The exact opposite are those that will demand payment right away at the top of their voice, and will continue to do so until they get it. Not unlike a bully, if you give in to them you will undoubtedly see them revert to this type of behavior time and again. So set a precedent now and enjoy some peace later on, and make it a going forward business rule not to do business with bullies.

Finally, there are some businesses that forget who owes them anything at all, and if they cannot remember do not go out of your way to remind them. Do not forget that only once they make a formal request can they then take further action, if required. Rather than wake a sleeping giant, let them stay quiet, but don’t forget they will still be there once they have a wakeup call.

The “Pay Them Whenever”

In short, anyone else not listed in the “later” and “whenever” pile earlier, and those who did the work without a contract or written agreement (that’s just bad business), or those who performed a service for you without expectation of payment (they do exist).

In business, if you are not able to learn to say no, and moreover back it up by your actions, then you are truly going to struggle when things get tough. Keep contacts that add something to your business and remove all those that offer no value. It is the old adage of radiators and drains. Keep close to you those that radiate good business and offer value, lose quickly those who drain you of the will (or cash flow) to carry on.
Like in life, running a business can be easier if you put in the time and create plans for inevitable downturns. Run what-if scenarios for possible major events before they arise, ensure you recognize your staff and vital creditors, keep communications open with your vendors, and when you are able to do so, create a contingency fund for those bad times. It is hoped that you may never need these, but it is certain that those who have failed never had them to fall back on in the first place.

Bob Shoyhet is a senior Chief Financial Officer (http://www.melillo.com/Executive-Team) who’s been helping build businesses from start-up through $100M+ multi-national operations for over 25 years.  I’ve helped companies through growing pains, and turned them around from the verge of bankruptcy. My expertise not only puts me in a unique position of understanding what businesses should do to get off the ground and how to position themselves to achieve next level growth, but also how to effectively leverage finance in every single department of an organization. Twitter: @bobshoyhet.

 

The post Tough Choices: Who Gets Paid When You’re Hemorrhaging Cash? appeared first on Small Biz Daily.

A Cow Explains Business Models, Improving Your Credit Score, 5 Clichés to Banish from Your Vocabulary and Other Things Entrepreneurs Need to Know

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 13:04

13 ThingsEntrepreneurs Need to Know

By Rieva Lesonsky

 

1—The Impact of Your Credit Score

As we leave April and Financial Literacy Month behind, here’s a good reminder from Experian about your FICO score, what factors impact your credit score and how you can improve yours. Though this is about your personal score (which can impact your business), here’s some information about your building your business credit score as well.

 

2—Politically Speaking

Some days it seems the very last thing you want to do is talk politics, but there’s no question it has an impact on our businesses. Infusionsoft recently conducted a survey of small business owners to find out their views on the government. Some highlights of the survey include:

  • Small businesses see bright days ahead: 92% believe the next four years will be better for business. But, they’re unclear how the new administrationwill impact their businesses.
  • 81% of small businesses claim, despite the ever-present debate, a rise in the minimum wage has no impact on their businesses.
  • Most believe Federal policies unfairly favor big businesses over small businesses.
  • Small businesses are split in their opinions of the following policies:
    • Affordable Care Act: 42%: negative impact; 46%: no impact
    • Tax rates & Laws: 49%: negative impact; 44%: no impact
    • Federal & State Regulations: 39%: negative impact; 56% no impact

Check out the infographic below for more information.

 

3—Get Help from Goldman Sachs

Due to increased interest the deadline to apply for the National blended program of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses has been extended to May 12th. The National blended program is designed for business owners who live more than 2 hours from one of the 13 local programs.

When applying candidates should select “Other Region/ National Cohort”. The application can be found here. If you want more information, they’ll be hosting a series of information sessions starting April 26th. You can register for one of the webinars here.

More information about the local programs can be found here. [My take: I just spoke at one of the regional programs here in southern California. Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is a great program where you’re sure to learn a lot. I highly recommend you apply.]

 

4—A Cow “Explains” Business Models

Trying to decide on a business model? It can be dizzying to do so. Check out the infographic below from The Business Backer and Neomam Studios to help you grasp the various business models.

 

5—Enter the Pitch Off

The UPS Store recently launched its first-ever national Pitch Off contest where startups and small business owners can compete for a chance to win $10,000. The Pitch Off is part of the company’s Small Biz Salute, a month-long initiative celebrating small business owners for their hard work, innovation and dedication to their business and local communities.

Tim Davis, president of The UPS Store, explains, “The Pitch Off gives entrepreneurs a platform to tell us what makes their businesses unique. It could be a brand new product, existing thriving business or even just a great concept. The next big idea is out there and we want to help get it off the ground.”

The UPS Store® Pitch Off competition is open for submissions. Here’s how it works.

Start. Small business owners and entrepreneurs at any stage in their business ventures can visit www.theupsstorepitchoff.com to begin the submission process. Pitch off submissions opened April 18 and close 11:59pm ET Saturday, May 20.

Pitch + submit. Capture a 90-seconds (or less) pitch video describing the business or business idea and why it is unique. Be creative. Enter background information and submit the pitch video through the website.

Share. Entrants will be able to socially share their entries and encourage family and friends to vote for their favorite video in an online gallery. The voting period opens 9 am ET Monday, May 22 and closes 11:59pm ET Wednesday, May 31.

Win. Based on criteria judged by a panel of experts and online votes, the final winner will be selected. The grand prize Pitch Off winner will receive $10,000. There will also be cash prizes rewarded to the best pitch videos in a variety of categories. The grand prize winner and category awardees will be announced on June 6.

In addition to the national competition, The UPS Store is hosting Small Biz Salute events in Portland, Kansas City and Denver. Each event will give attendees the chance to compete in a local, live version of the Pitch Off competition. Local contestants will have three minutes to pitch their business to a live audience and panel of judges at the event. The best pitch in each city will win $5,000.

For more information about Small Biz Salute, how to enter The UPS Store Pitch Off and full contest rules go here.

 

6—5 Clichés and “Don’t Says” to Avoid Like the (Well, You Know)

Guest post by Richard Moran, venture capitalist, speaker, president of Menlo College in Atherton, California, and the author of The Thing About Work: Showing Up and Other Important Matters.

Look up “business buzzwords” or “business clichés” and you’ll find article after article about these irritating, overused phrases. In fact, new ones come out each year documenting the latest crop that’s flourishing in workplaces across America. In a world drowning in buzzwords, tweets, and hashtags, spouting mindless clichés in the workplace may seem harmless. But using too many professional platitudes could be more problematic than you think.

Not only can business clichés be annoying to others who hear them day in and day out, they are the language of laziness. When you use them, you effectively fail to focus your thoughts and really identify what you’re trying to communicate and accomplish.

Language that is “mindless” isn’t also “harmless.” The risks of vague language aren’t just practical detail mix-ups between coworkers. Many of these phrases are actually actively promoting terrible morale that shoves projects and careers into stagnation. By abusing clichés, you might be projecting an apathetic and lazy attitude without even realizing it.

If you’re too lazy to come up with a way to say something other than resorting to a trite buzzword, isn’t that a sign that you’ll be lazy in other areas at work as well? Whether it’s true or not, that’s the message you’re broadcasting.

Here are some tips [from my book] for what not to say in your day-to-day.

  1. “It is what it is” is the sound of defeat.The subtext of “it is what it is” is: “I give up.” That negativity enforces the kind of thinking that kills projects. It makes you a Debbie Downer in business clothing. You might as well say, “Life sucks and work is even worse.” This attitude gets old very fast.
  2. If the “low-hanging fruit” evendoes exist, going after it is just bad strategy. The analogy of going after what requires less effort normalizes what is too easy and simply not existent. Even if it does, the fruit on the top of the tree is ripest, and that’s where the greatest returns for your effort will be.
  3. The only thing that happens at the “end of the day” is, well, the end of the day.Referencing the elusive “end of the day” is common in politics, academics, and especially business. It’s so ubiquitous that it seems to imply that it’s news that each day ends. The truth is that, given technology and workdays that never end, the end of the day is a myth.

These next two aren’t exactly clichés but they’re still all-too-common phrases you should probably avoid. Perhaps you can call them the “Don’t Says”.

  1. Ditch the R-word and the B-word.Though they’re not the hot-button words you’re likely thinking of, Really? and but often exude snark, bad attitude, or are just plain irritating. It’s certainly not true in every spoken instance of these little words, but when your go-to response is “Really?” when a coworker asks for help or you’re constantly using “but” to excuse your own responsibility or knock down something (or someone) else—well, it’s really 
  2. “I don’t know; what do you want to do?” is a known verbal con-job.The “Abilene Paradox” is a group dynamics phenomenon. When nobody knows what exactly they want to do, it’s likely the group will settle on a decision nobody in the group wanted at all. It’s best to stop these indecisive circles in their tracks with an assertive: “I don’t want to do that.”

Pay attention to what you’re saying at work and what it really means. If you’ve gotten in the habit of falling back on clichés or other forms of lazy language, you might be surprised by how much effort it takes to stop and really think about what you mean. But it’s absolutely worth making the effort.

And if you’re a leader, just listen to what employees say over and over. Be alert to the phrase du jour at work. It may tell you more about the people around you than you ever imagined.

 

7—Small Business Optimism

The latest Capital One Small Business Growth Index shows small business owners are feeling good about sales, the economy and future conditions, with women- and millennial-owned businesses reporting significant increases in sentiment and expectations for the future. The Index reveals 50% of small business owners overall feel current business conditions are good or excellent (up from 41% a year ago), and the same percentage expects to see conditions improve in the next six months—the highest level reported since spring 2012.

However, the survey also shows many businesses appear hesitant to invest in people, technology and marketing that may fuel business growth. Most have no plans to hire (67%), increase marketing (66%), or invest in new technologies such as mobile payments (62%) in the coming six to 12 months. [My take: It’s hard to grow if you don’t invest in your business. In fact, the Index shows 46% of SBOs who currently offer mobile payments say sales have increased over the past six months, compared to 35% who do not use mobile payments.]

Business owners are feeling good and expect conditions to continue improving in 2017

  • 50% of all SBOs report their financial positions are about the same as a year ago
  • 50% expect to be in a better position six months from now

Women and millennials are driving optimism

  • 47% of women expect to be in a better financial position six months from now
  • 73% of millennials are expecting better conditions (compared to Gen X at 53% and baby boomers at 49%).

Top factors impacting business

  • Taxes (50%)
  • Managing cash flow (32%)
  • Keeping up with technology (30%)
  • Minimum wage increases (22%)
  • Access to capital (16%)
  • Immigration reform (9%)

 

8—3 Ways to Make Time for Your Business Passions

Guest post by Christine Nessen, senior director of contract marketing for Office Depot.

Sales and product development are among the top business passions for small business owners, according to the Office Depot Small Business Index (SMBI). In fact, 54% of SMBs wish they had more time to focus on their passions, which isn’t surprising considering nearly half spend 10-20 hours per week on administrative tasks such as paperwork, planning and budgets. If you break that down, SMB owners spend one-quarter to half their time on admin tasks alone.

Here are some tips from the SMBI that will give you more time to cultivate your business passions.

  1. Invest in quality administrative technology.62% of small business owners say having better technology to assist with admin tasks would allow them to spend more time on their passions.
  2. Hire administrative staff.More than half of small business owners say having more full- or part-time admin staff would assist with day-to-day operations.
  3. Create a schedule.49% of small business owners say they’re not able to focus on their passions due to lack of time. Developing and maintaining a schedule gives SMBs the opportunity to find the time needed to grow and invest in their business.

 

9—Main Streets Road Trip

Starting today, Independent We Stand hits the road for the Great American Rocky Mountain Road Trip. It’s part of an online contest presented by STIHL Inc., promoting awareness of the importance of America’s Main Streets and the small businesses that help them thrive. The Independent We Stand team will visit five cities, in five states, in five days. If you’re in the vicinity, stop by and show your support.

  1. April 24, Denver, Colo.: Ace on the Fax & Intermountain STIHLLet’em Have it Salon,Old Western Paint Co.
  2. April 25, Casper, Wyo.: Mac Equipment,Alpine Motorsports
  3. April 26, Bozeman, Mont.:The Paint FactoryAmerican Independent Business AllianceKenyon Noble Lumber & HardwareOwenhouse CyclingDowntown Bozeman
  4. April 27, Idaho Falls, Idaho: Westmart Building Center,MarCellar’s Vintage Wine & BrewsIdaho Falls Downtown Development Corp., Idaho Mountain Trading Co.
  5. April 28, Salt Lake City, Utah: IPACO,Local First Utah

Then, from May 1-28, you can go online to MainStreetContest.com to vote for the 25 semifinalists. You can also rally support for your favorite nominee through social media. The winner will be announced June 5. On July 4th, there will be a “Main Streets Make Us Better” event held on the winning Main Street, to announce the $25,000 grand prize.

 

Quick Links 10—Is Real Life Going to Shatter Teen Dreams?

Where will our future workforce come from? The easy answer is Gen Z, currently the nation’s youngest generation, including most teens. However, if you look at the survey from C+R Research and regular contributor Matt Zajechowski of Digital Third Coast, teens don’t want “regular” jobs when they grow up. The only industries that generated any interest were healthcare (doctors, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, etc.) and the arts/sports/media (artists, entertainers, athletes, media & communications, etc.).

Take a look at the chart—it’s truly fascinating.

 

11—DIY Web Builder Insights

Check out this article from Clutch about the challenges and goals of those who use DIY web builders.

 

Cool Tools 12—New Speakerphone, Perfect for Conferences

Business leaders work on average nearly 58 hours a week, of which they spend nearly 2.5 hours every day in meetings. Many also travel frequently—with 86% spending up to 10 days a month on the road.

To help these folks communicate while on the go, Jabra recently unveiled its Speak 710, a new conference sound & call solution, taking the “conference speakerphone” to a new level with immersive call and sound experience. The premium, portable speakerphone is designed for professional and personal use and ensures great sound for conference calls and music. Jabra call the Speak 710 “a high-end personal device providing premium Hi-Fi grade audio and a superior Unified Communication experience.”

Key Features:

  • An Omni-directional microphone for up to six ‘in room’ attendees; 2 Speak 710s can be wirelessly linked for conferencing with 12 ‘in room’ attendees
  • A Hi-Fi grade speaker for crystal clear conversation and music
  • Smart interaction with Personal Digital Assistants, including Cortana, Siri or Google Now with the one touch Smart button
  • Compatibility with all leading UC platforms: certified for Avaya, Cisco and Skype for Business and more
  • Up to 15 hours of talk time and 480 days of standby time

Jabra says research shows a third of conference calls are delayed due to setup issues with connections and speaker phones, 15% of meeting time is spent ‘getting started’, and one of the most common frustrations is poor sound quality. Bringing a plug-and-play, easy-to-use speakerphone experience with premium audio to offices and small conference rooms, the Jabra Speak 710 works with all types of smart devices. It integrates seamlessly with all Unified Communications platforms and eliminates the need for dial pad solutions—challenging the traditional hardware approach to conference calling.

With more power than ever before, the Jabra Speak 710 Series comes in a small, compact design, with an integrated folding stand for extra flexibility. Connect to a smart device or laptop in seconds via USB or Bluetooth via the enclosed dongle. This provides a 100-foot range for laptops or 33-foot range for smartphones.

 

13—Travel Expenses Under Control

TravelBank makes it easier for managers to approve expense reports. Its patent-pending technology enables you to set predictive budgets for trips and collaborative budgets for projects, such as events, company off-sites, office supplies, and more. There’s a budget bar you can scroll down and easily see which of your employees are under or over budget. The same budget bars make it easy for employees to see where they are tracking against their budgets during the trip.

TravelBank can reimburse employees in 24 hours after approval, so there’s no waiting for a reimbursement check, which your staff will be happy about. The app also gives employees rewards for beating their trip budget.

You can download it for free here for iOS and here for Android.

 

The post A Cow Explains Business Models, Improving Your Credit Score, 5 Clichés to Banish from Your Vocabulary and Other Things Entrepreneurs Need to Know appeared first on Small Biz Daily.

Teen Scene

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 12:30
To market to teens, here’s what you need to know.

By Rieva Lesonsky

One of my favorite surveys was just released: Piper Jaffray’s Spring 2017 Taking Stock With Teens®, a semiannual look at teen purchasing behavior. Teen spending is down 2.4% from this time last year.

Continuing the trend of the last few years, teens are spending more of their money on food—it makes up 24% of their budgets, eclipsing clothing at 19%. When you break it down, upper-income boys (kids with household incomes of $100,000) spend their money on food (24%), clothing (16%) and video games (12%), while upper-income girls are buying clothes (25%), food (23%) and personal care/accessories (16%).

The most popular website for upper-income teens to shop at is Amazon, so if teens are your market, think about opening an Amazon store.

Athletic wear, including leggings and sneakers, is the most popular type of clothing teens buy. Teen girls are also buying a lot of chokers at the moment. Although Nike is the top footwear brand, adidas is the fastest-growing brand in the survey.

When it comes to food, the top brands for teens from upper-income households and average-income households (HHI $55,000) prefer Starbucks, Chick-Fil-A, Chipotle and Buffalo Wild Wings. The upper-income kids include Panera in their top five places to eat, while average-income teens put McDonald’s on their top five.

Of course, teens are big users of social media. Their top platforms (in order) are: Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. When asked about the “best way” for businesses to communicate with them about new products and promotions, the overwhelming response was Instagram.

You can check out the whole report here.

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The Key to Small Business Success is a Bicycle

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 11:00

By Rich Allen

Why do 80 percent of all businesses fail within five years? It’s not for lack of trying. Most small business owners run themselves into the ground every single day. But here’s the sad reality: hard work has nothing to do with small business success. If you want your small business to succeed, you need to be able to focus on all of its moving parts and chart a course for the long haul.

But what’s missing for many small business owners today is a fundamental underlying model that will allow them to focus on the things that matter most for long-term success. And as it turns out, a bike is a perfect metaphor for a business. Just like a bike, your business is a combination of parts that have to work together. Just like a bike, if any part of your business is broken, it’s no fun to ride. Let’s break it down, part by part:

Handlebars

You steer your bike with the handlebars. You steer your business with a vision— a clear, compelling picture of where you want your business to go. The more passionate you are about that vision, the more motivated your people will be to follow. In most businesses, no one talks about what they want the business to look like in 5 to 10 years. But with no idea of where they are headed, how can people be excited about getting there? To fix this, grab the handlebars, and steer.

Frame

Just like a bicycle’s frame, the frame of your business gives it structure and strength. The business frame includes formal documents — legal agreements, operating documents and an exit plan; your organizational structure; primary job descriptions and how each team member fits in your business. If it’s not clear who does what, things fall through the cracks, and customers may wind up dissatisfied. And just like a bike, it takes a solid frame to keep your business from wobbling.

Front Wheel

To go anywhere with your business, the rubber has to hit the road. Your business’s front wheel is your process for winning new customers, and has three parts.  The hub is your ideal customer, and you must know their needs, wants, and desires to speak directly to them. The spokes are the marketing strategies to get your message to those customers, and it takes 5–6 solid strategies to provide the consistent flow of leads you need to grow. The tire is how you get traction with those responding to your marketing messages — through a step-by-step sales process that puts prospects at ease, so they want to do business with you.

Back Wheel

The back wheel is what generates the power and drives the bike. Your business’s back wheel is how you deliver to your customers on the promises you made on the front wheel — and you over-deliver to get rave reviews. That requires solid tread, and a solid delivery and service process that works well no matter if it’s Monday morning or Friday night.

Brakes and Monitor

Just like the back wheel has to spin the same speed as the front wheel or your bike won’t function right, your delivery has to match your promises. That requires brakes — or, in business, your financial controls. They’re what you use to determine if you need to slow down on marketing and sales spend (front wheel) or on production and operations (back wheel). Just like a monitor mounted on the handlebars tracks factors like speed and distance, business Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) show how well your business is doing — and how well it’s likely to perform in the future.

Seat

A badly positioned or unstable seat on a bicycle can be dangerous as well as inefficient: the rider can’t deliver maximum power to the pedals. In business, the seat is where the people pushing the pedals of your organization sit — including the people programs like compensation, rewards, incentives and recognition, and communication. If they’re not well positioned, they can’t really propel your business forward. But if they’re properly positioned, your team will work hard day after day to help you achieve your goals.

We can use the bike model to understand the different parts of your business and how they work together. So think about what parts of your business aren’t working right. Once you start looking at your business as a bicycle, you can tune it to run fast and smoothly — and really start covering ground.

 

Rich Allen helps create businesses with solid foundations, unique marketplace positions, reputable processes, high-performance team, and a visionary leader. Prior to becoming an advisor, Rich was VP HR with Texas Instruments then Division President/COO with Pella Corporation. Rich is a proud Rotarian and serves on several boards. He holds an MS in International Business from the University of Texas and hosts a weekly radio show. His iOS App is titled “Ultimate Business Tune Up.” His new book is The Ultimate Business Tune Up: A Simple Yet Powerful Business Model That Will Transform the Lives of Small Business Owners.

 

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When CEOs Leave: 5 Steps for Successors to Keep Company Culture Intact

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 09:30

By Andy Bailey

The “tone” of a company – how the business works, how people communicate, and the culture of the organization – is typically established from the behavior and actions of the CEO, founder and/or other top executives. When that champion leaves, there are always changes. Change can be a good thing, if it’s done right. However, if the right preparations aren’t made, it could be bad news for both your business and your culture.

If you’re the incoming leader, you’ve got a big job ahead of you, and you’re sure to be presented with challenges along the way. The first steps you take will be critical to ensuring that the company thrives and employees remain engaged and happy. Here are five things to remember to make the change more seamless and positive:

  1. You’re the new kid on the block – This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people walk into a new position and “take over,” without any consideration of the folks who’ve been there for years. Take time to figure out how things worked before you got there. What’s going well that you need to continue? What needs to be changed right away and what can wait? Listen to longtime employees and learn the history of the company. You’ll gain their trust and loyalty along the way – which is imperative if you want to succeed. A great example of this is displayed in Bryce Hoffman’s book, “American Icon” — the story of Ford Motor Company and how Alan Mulally changed its course.
  2. It’s the little things – Company culture can be stated through core values and core purpose, but the way a company lives out those values is what matters most on a day-to-day basis. Maybe it’s been a Friday tradition to hold a happy hour. Or, maybe flex time during the summer months have been a way that employees have been encouraged to seek a better balance. To some, those things might seem trivial. I assure you they’re not. Even – and especially – if you’re looking to turn a company around, focus on smaller things that might have a larger impact to support or boost your company culture and the morale of your team.
  3. Leave the past in the past – If you’re a new leader coming into a volatile situation where other members of the team are vying for power or hashing old disagreements, don’t engage, and don’t take sides. As I like to say, be the adult in the room. It’s not your job to re-litigate the past or decide who’s right and who’s wrong. Let everyone know that it’s a new day, and encourage the team to move forward in a positive way. You may be able to smooth some things over by providing a clear plan to move forward, but be careful not to be dragged into any old power struggles – it will undermine your message and lower your status among the team.
  4. Focus on people first, then business – Whether you’re replacing a CEO or other leader who was loved by the team, or you’re coming in to add value to a company, focus on your people first. Get your people right and you’ll be 99% there. The members of your team are the ones who’ll be doing the work and helping you execute the vision of the company. Even if you’ve got all the numbers worked out and have a solid “plan,” if your team isn’t behind you, you’ve got no chance at all.
  5. Be yourself – If you’re entering a company following the exit of a high-profile leader, you’ve got some big shoes to fill. Resist any temptation to pick up where someone else left off. Instead, bring your genuine and best self to every situation. Be honest and be fair. Even if you don’t always have good news, being authentic and transparent will help increase trust in your organization.

Change is almost never easy, but you can set yourself up for success if you take the time to prepare and listen. Your new company’s best days might be just around the corner.

Andy Bailey is lead entrepreneur coach with business coaching firm Petra and serves in an advisory role on the Gazelles Council, the leaders of the scale up movement. Visit his blog at www.petracoach.com for more business and leadership insight.

 

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The Internet of Things- A Rising Havoc in Cyber World

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 08:00

By Hardik Patel

Welcome to the future, where even the refrigerator in your house, your insulin pump, and your business’s HVAC systems are linked to the Internet – the Internet of Things (IoT). Unlike the imagined future where the threat of smart devices was that computers and robots would be intelligent and evil, in real life the true threats are human. Every new device that gets hooked up is a new potential vulnerability that an attacker can exploit, to hack into that one device or to reach the network, but that threat won’t stop the IoT from growing.

In the same source, Gartner predicts that consumer devices will continue to account for the greatest number of connected things, while business use will account for the greatest spending. There are two classes of connected things to consider: (1) generic services or devices that can be used by any industry, such as HVAC, supply chain management, customer information security, and security systems, and (2) specific devices developed for particular industries, such as surgical equipment, transportation route trackers, and manufacturing process management. Other specific uses may include cars, heart monitors, wearables, building automation, home energy and utility automation, patient information management, and telematics.

But, as usual, this bright future is under threat by hackers and malware. These products are usually developed by experts in the service area, and not by network and security experts, leading to gaps in security and controls, and opening vulnerabilities in the IoT chain.

Security from the Start

As users of devices, there are some security issues that are simply beyond our control. Much security is in the hands of the manufacturers of IoT devices. Standards have to be created and adhered to, to ensure that security is designed into devices from the beginning, considering both software and hardware vulnerabilities. This is much how industries like aviation, food, and engineering have evolved safety standards to ensure the security of users of the industry. Companies that develop IoT devices should have a place in the development lifecycle specifically devoted to security, including extensive testing for hidden vulnerabilities, and industries should have published standards on what constitutes adequate security.

Raising awareness of security concerns is critical, as infrastructure like utilities, power grids, and hospitals depend on their connectedness to the IoT to manage their day-by-day functioning. Attacks on the IoT can result in nightmare scenarios such as power hacks, loss of life, and malfunctioning nuclear reactors.

Finally, manufacturers of devices have to consider security standards to protect against the accidental disclosure of personal information and privacy-protected healthcare information.

IOT for Businesses

Security for business relies on standard security principles, with a few additional ideas added, but it is worth enumerating some of these basic measures.

  • Have a security policy in place that includes defining who has access to systems and why. Flexible, rapid-response account management ensures people who no longer need access are updated as quickly as possible. Use perimeter protection, anti-malware protection, and log system activity (and review it regularly!) to identify unusual traffic. Keep security patches and software up to date. Your security policy should clearly outline roles and responsibilities for prevention, maintenance, and response. The policy should ensure data is secure, probably encrypted, at all stages at rest and in transit using CA signed SSL certificates installed on your web server. Company-owned devices like laptops and cell phones should be secure in case of loss or theft.
  • Implement a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy for your network. An employee using their own devices in the workplace has become more common, and can even offer cost benefits to employers. However, data breaches can occur due to lost phones and tablets. The BYOD policy should specify that devices have anti-malware software on them that meets company standards, and that encryption is used at all times.
  • Use a VPN to control access in and out of your network from remote sites to ensure that traffic only comes from secure and approved devices.
  • Consider moving to cloud-based solutions, where your organization can take advantage of the security expertise already in place as a fundamental requirement for doing business in the cloud. The cloud is likely to offer expanded growth opportunities for the IoT by allowing expansion into internet services without an investment in infrastructure. This would allow, for instance, a healthcare equipment company or an appliance company, to produce enter the market of networked devices for the first time, without having to set up new facilities.
  • Consider turning to experts to help you with your security needs as well. The IoT security market has a wide variety of skilled, respected vendors, including Cisco, IBM, Intel Corporation, and Symantec, to name only a few. Some IoT security solutions that experts can help implement include identity and access management (IAM), device management, unified threat management (UTM), encryption, data loss protection (DLP), and DDoS protection, among others. You can engage with consulting services, managed services, and/or support and maintenance services.
  • Educate your employees – and everyone else: Security always starts and ends with complete training, for employees, vendors, partners, and clients. Don’t leave the C-suite out – senior management often are among the least cyber-security-conscious people in an organization. An organization’s developers should be sent for expert training in creating secure devices for the Internet of Things so that security isn’t an afterthought. Make sure employees are aware of your security policies, and make sure your vendors and partners are not only aware of it but can meet the standards. Share security knowledge with your clients as well, and make it easy for them to have secure devices. As with all network security, ensure that your own employees know how to keep credentials secure.
  • Don’t allow systemic carelessness: We’ve all taken shortcuts, or scribbled down a password – or at least, failed to log out of an application when we’re done with it. These small bits of carelessness can add up to a big security hole. Ensuring employees understand the risks of carelessness is a start, but a company initiative to avoid negligent behaviors like weak passwords, sharing passwords, not adhering to account creation requirements, can lead to big issues.
  • Don’t jump in too quickly: When new technologies arrive, it’s easy to get excited and want to jump in quickly ahead of the curve, giving your business a competitive edge, but this is a recipe for disaster. IoT contains a massive amount of personal information, financial data, healthcare information, and other information that can be stolen and used. Play it smart and make sure that your manufacturers can meet your security needs, that your infrastructure can be made secure, and that you have done the research necessary to use safe, networked products.
IoT in the Home
  • Know what home devices you have that are connected: Before you can effectively secure your home network and devices, you need to know what is there. The average home in the U.S. has five networked devices, not including computers, tablets, and smartphones. Typical connected devices include game consoles, media systems, and anything with a microphone or camera.
  • Know what information each device has access to, and also what the access points are – for instance, a cable connection, or an internet connection to an online application. Any point of access to any device, or any point of access between your devices and your network is a point of vulnerability and must be guarded.
  • Password protects your devices and accounts: Even your cell phone should be password-protected. Any device connected to an Internet-based account, or managed through one, should be protected. Use a strong username and password combination that includes letters, numbers, and symbols. Try to create random-seeming passwords – sometimes you can derive a “random” password by using the first or last letters of every word in a key sentence. Never reuse the same password for all your accounts. When you first set up the products, change passwords and keys from their factory settings to something personal.
  • Secure your own network and avoid using or managing smart devices on non-secure networks: Password protection isn’t enough when you’re using networks in public places – unless your coffee shop uses strong security, any device management you do over your cappuccino is at risk. If you can avoid accessing IoT accounts from an open network, do so. To protect your home network, create strong passwords for your own router, and change it regularly.
  • Keep your smartphone and other devices safe and secure: Password-protect and encrypt your device, so if you lose or misplace it, a hacker won’t be able to use it to access your personal information and smart devices. There are mobile security programs that can back up your data as well as track your device’s location, and lock and wipe your phone remotely. Two-factor authentication, like a password and a security question, can also add a layer of security in case of device loss.
  • Create a separate network on your router for your devices: Most routers enable multiple networks to be set up, and keeping your IoT devices on a separate network is another good layer of security. Hackers who are able to infiltrate one network don’t automatically have access to the others.
  • Install or enable a firewall: A firewall is perimeter protection that helps keep viruses and worms – and hackers – from reaching your connected devices. Many modern operating systems offer a default firewall which you can enable. Third-party firewalls offer more security features and functions than the one that comes with your computer.
  • Keep security patches up to date: Smart devices, just like network software and computer operating systems do, regularly release updates that address security flaws and other issues. Install updates as they are released to help you stay fully protected. Most updates will come to you automatically, but just in case, make a habit of checking manufacturer websites for updates and news.
  • Disconnect devices when not in use: There are many reasons to turn off devices when they aren’t in use – energy savings and fire safety is a couple of examples – and one of the top reasons is security. If you’re not using a device and can turn it off, do so, particularly if it has a microphone and/or camera. Some devices, like smart thermostats and some medical equipment, will need to be on all the time and stay connected to the Internet, but other devices, like your TV and coffee maker, don’t require that. Turning them off closes off opportunities for incursion.
  • Adjust default privacy settings: Devices and their online management apps usually feature privacy settings that can be adjusted, and the default is usually to pass more information than is necessary. Check your privacy settings and adjust them to a secure level with which you are comfortable.
  • Make sure that any devices you buy and connect to the Internet are from companies with good, stable reputations.
  • It’s easy to collect data through deployed devices, so as a consumer, ensure that any data being collected is actually required for the device to function. Do read their privacy and data usage policies, and if a device requires more information than it needs to do its job, bring it back and find another one that isn’t as nosy. Take note of whether your providers ask you to agree to share data from your smart device for marketing purposes or to share with third parties.

Many benefits can be realized from the Internet of Things. Medical devices can save lives, your home can be more comfortable, and your business can enjoy improved applications from customer service to HVAC. But while you’re setting up or creating your devices, take some time to focus on the security aspect of the Internet of Things.

This new realm is unknown, much like the oceans of earlier centuries. Hackers are the pirates of the internet, and gaining control over them is similar in many ways to fighting pirates. They have the means and opportunity, a high level of motivation, and ingenuity and nerve that law-abiding citizens simply don’t use for these purposes. So far, we are still at stages of exploration and discovery, and the hackers are right there behind us.

 

Hardik Patel is a Digital Marketing Consultant, Editor of News for Public and professional Blogger. He has 5+ years experience in Development, SEO, SMO, SEM, Online reputation management, Affiliated Marketing and Content Marketing. Find him on Twitter, Linkedin and Google+.

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Insider’s Guide to Small Business Week; 10 Ways Retailers Can Reach Gen Z & More

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 12:00
Small Business Reading List Articles You May Have Missed this Week

By Rieva Lesonsky

Best Practices

 

HR

 

Marketing

 

Money

 

Sales

 

Tech

The post Insider’s Guide to Small Business Week; 10 Ways Retailers Can Reach Gen Z & More appeared first on Small Biz Daily.

5 Tips to Build a Buzz With a Pre-Marketing Strategy

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 11:00

By Therese Palmere

A pre-marketing strategy is just like the upwards climb of a roller coaster. Everyone is on edge because they’re anticipating what’s coming, but they don’t actually know what it feels like… yet. If you want to give your audience the same stomach tingling effect, keep reading for 5 tips on how to build a buzz factor for your next pre-marketing strategy!

1: Create a Timeline that builds up to Your Release Date

When strategizing for your pre-marketing efforts, each event, social push, and announcement should help build up anticipation for your release date. Do this by creating a timeline that not only indicates when to post content, but includes how each week or month contributes to the overall image of your product as well. This is a great practice because the outline will clearly define your team’s development and keep everyone focused. Your audience will take notice too. Introducing new elements each week will keep your users interested because they will want to know what’s next? What else can this brand do? How else does this product fit into my life? Take this opportunity to prepare your target audience for the wonderful things your team has in store for them.

2: Leave Them Wanting More

Remember this is a pre-marketing strategy. You don’t want to give away all your cards at once! For now, start to familiarize your users with the concept of your new product. Tease your audience by making posts and sending emails that leave hints on what your product can do. Don’t reveal anything too concrete, instead show your users your product’s potential.

Use your company’s track record to show how successful previous items have been. Your team can allude to similarities or differences in your new line. For example, although there were no major changes to the interface of the iPhone 7, Apple still had the tech world in a frenzy this past summer. Tabloids got wind of the fact that the iPhone 7 would be released without a headphone jack, and that was enough to keep people checking for updates. Although it was confirmed later on, this buzz lead to sold out models of the iPhone 7 plus weeks before the phones hit store.

Generate buzz like this for your new product by revealing small clues early on. Let your audience’s imagination run wild while you confirm or deny the facts later on in the season.

3: Create Interactive Social Posts

The name of the game in today’s digital age is social media.

If you want something to generate buzz and stay relevant, it needs to go on a social platform where users can comment and share your content. For small and medium businesses, there are many options you can employ as well. Interactive social posts will keep your brand in the spotlight because your audience will have the ability to converse. Use promo codes or giveaways to spice things up. Create a hashtag that coincides with your branding. Mehul Rajput of Entrepreneur states, “Remember to keep updating your blog and sharing the posts on social media.” Keep the buzz alive by making sure your team is responding to the comments and engaging with your audience.

4: Remember You’re For the People

When you’ve spent the past couple of months pouring your heart and soul into a new product, it’s easy to get caught up in its allure. Use the pre-marketing period to take a step back and see it with a fresh pair of eyes. These next couple of weeks/months can be used as a testing period. Find out what concepts work best with your users and utilize that information to boost your presence. Your product is for the people and in order to deliver the news in the best possible way, find out what makes them respond!

5: Don’t Forget to Take a Bow

The release date is finally here, which means it’s time for the next step. Once you’ve generated all this talk, your team is ready to launch your full marketing plan. Try some of the digital marketing tactics that are predicted to prevail this year and try to be industry specific. Generating buzz is meant to either drive traffic or sales for your new product. You can now smoothly transition from hints to hardcore facts. Take your bow and get ready for the encore, start selling!

Let’s See the Five Tips Again

1. Create a timeline that includes when to post content and how each step contributes to your overall strategy

2. Tease your audience and leave them wanting more

3. Engage and interact with your audience through social media

4. Remember to get feedback from your audience

5. Transition into your full marketing plan

Therese Palmere is currently a writer at Aumcore, Digital marketing agency in New York City. Content writing, social media marketing, and tech developments are some of her biggest passions.

The post 5 Tips to Build a Buzz With a Pre-Marketing Strategy appeared first on Small Biz Daily.

How to Keep Your Local Business Thriving on a Small Budget

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 09:30

By Barrack Diego

Do you remember how a giant whale swallowed Pinocchio? That’s the fate of small businesses when they start out on the same field as business giants. Most people perceive mega-corps as ruthless beasts that can chew up and spit out startups without the blink of an eye. In addition, they are absolutely right. Startups need to be really cautious and smart while making business decisions to stay afloat alongside the mega corps.

Now this article applies to everyone who is trying to run a new business. You may be running a furnishing house or glass fitting service; you need to remember a few basics of survival strategies. Here are the 10 best strategies every local glass business should follow to break even within their first year of service –

Run on a budget, and set a definite goal

This is the first step that shows your seriousness as a fresh entrepreneur. You need to set a definite budget for your business before you start investing on new projects. You need to prioritize your needs and wants. You should be able to set goals to achieve maximum ROI. You need to rank your goals so you can go ahead and achieve them one by one without spending too much money.

App advice: you should try Mint. This is a wonderful app with a great UI for managing SMBs and startups. You can keep a tight grip on your company budget with this one.

Make local exclusive

If you serve a local clientele, don’t feel shy. Promote that as your USP. Mega corps don’t have that unique touch you do. You will be able to directly connect to the local buyers via local events and sponsorship programs. Pay more attention to Google Local Listings. You can put you brand name on the map and all businesses with an online presence grow 40% faster than the ones who do not.

Expert advice: try opening a Google My Business account and update your business information as early as possible like Stellar Glass Works

Be the jack of all social channels but the master of one

You will need to rule one social channel. Facebook’s Live Video and Buy Button are the craze right now. There’s nothing hotter than a business with both the options active on Facebook. However, you can also try Pinterest and Instagram if Facebook is too passé for your taste.

You should start with a thorough analysis of your social media presence and then find social media listening tools.

Technical advice: Hootsuite and Buffer are ideal tools for listening in on your brand mentions on social media chatter.

Use old-school email tactics

If your local business has tested and tried everything, you should give email marketing a try as well. This is a golden opportunity for your business to score niche customers based on local projects, local celebrations and events. From special home makeover classes to bake sales, your local glass company can organize any event and mail out fliers.

Technical advice: MailChimp is a good choice for beginners. It has an integrated CMS platform that also takes care of contact management.

Pay attention to keywords and SEO

SEO is not obsolete and those who say so are not in touch with reality. You need to monitor your keywords. More importantly, you should focus on location based, medium volume keywords that will draw attention from the mega corps towards your local brands.

Technical advice: use Google Adwords and WordStream to identify keywords that will work well for your website content.

Maintain a blog

Blog is a quintessential part of any business website. Many small businesses do away with fresh content and publish respun content from other websites. However, that really puts Google off. You need fresh, interesting content for human readers. You need to pay attention to keywords, but be sure not to stuff them in.

Technical advice: you should check out Drizly for blog tips. Try to publish at least once a week.

Leverage your local network

You need to be on your toes on social media. We know, we said to master one earlier, but LinkedIn is no matter of joke, is it? You need to stay connected with local people, local businesses and entrepreneurs through this social platform. You need to approach local TV channels, Radio, newspapers and magazines for special ads.

Bag a couple of awards

Did you know you could apply for excellence awards at a local level? Do not wait for someone to nominate you. If you win the deal, no one will remember that you volunteered. And of course, be sure to snap a lot of photos and stay on social media for at least a couple of weeks.

Expert advice: you should look for all the local awards like the Best Blog Post, Best Website Design, Best Business Website Design etc.

Share the happiness

Be it an award ceremony or be it a social drive, be sure to share it on social media. Leave no page unturned. There are some social media channels like 9Gag that hold a huge unexplored potential of customers but they do not allow direct, unpaid advertising. So organize quizzes or polls to draw potential customers out from the maddening crowd.

Have money to earn money

From lemonade stands to social media marketing, every step that can make you money costs some money. Therefore, you need to set budgets for everything that is mentioned above. Besides those, you will also need money for Facebook ads, paid search ads, print media ads and social media promotions. Paid promotions are recommended for local businesses, since unpaid ones can churn out only 1% views.

Marketing and local business strategies may seem like an easy deal but you need to invest a lot of time and energy to explore their nuances. Business strategies for small, local business need to be nifty, small, yet impactful, especially when you are pitted against business giants.

Barrack Diego is a well-known business advisor. He has helped Stellar Glass Works reach the pinnacle of its success within a couple of months of opening. His team is known for their ability to troubleshoot all SEO and marketing related concerns.

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Reviving Mentorship: 3 Ways to Encourage Your Employees to Feed Off of One Another

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 08:00

By Andrew Geant

My entire business is predicated on the belief that 1-to-1 tutoring is the most impactful way to learn academic and professional skills. This is embraced almost religiously across our organization because we’ve seen thousands of instances of the dramatic impact tutoring can have. Yet, when surveyed about their own careers and professional growth, 64% of our employees said that they did not have someone they considered to be a mentor. This is consistent with other research which has shown that 70% of millennials say they do not have a workplace mentor. However, experience has also shown us that people thrive with the help of a mentor, so businesses should be solutions-minded when it comes to the issue of mentorship in the workplace.

More and more adults are recognizing the benefits of 1-to-1 learning—but what’s taking them so long?  Why don’t we all have tutors and mentors?  Nearly every successful business executive, musician and athlete talks about the profound impact mentors had on their careers. But many professionals, particularly millennials, are still “going it alone.”

Through a series of in-depth interviews with a variety of professionals, we uncovered some key insights that help explain the relative lack of mentorship in today’s workplace. Here are three ideas — all of which my company is implementing now — to get your employees feeding off of one another and embracing the role mentorship can play in their careers.

Employees are hesitant to seek help internally

There are two primary reasons why employees are hesitant to seek help from managers or peers. First, they often feel badly for not already knowing the answer or having the skill. And second, they recognize that they need consistent, long-term coaching to reach the level of mastery they are seeking, and they know that their peers don’t always have the ability to make this commitment.

The first of these issues—hesitation to ask for help—is completely addressable by building a culture of support and openness. A core business value of mine is “Always Be Learning.” From the very first interview, employees are indoctrinated to invest in developing new skills and expertise, and to leverage one another whenever possible.

With respect to the second issue—the need for long-term coaching—the reality is that learning something new does generally require a significant commitment. And it may not always be possible or the best use of resources for employees to invest significant amounts of time training one another. Making outside resources available to your employees can motivate them to find mentors who can help them grow.

Mentorship is a two-way street

The best long-term mentor/mentee relationships are mutually beneficial arrangements in which both parties bring something useful to the table. Steve Blank makes this point nicely in his blog post, “Mentors, Coaches and Teachers.”

“Now I realize that what made these relationships a mentorship is this: I was giving as good as I was getting. While I was learning from them — and their years of experience and expertise — what I was giving back to them was equally important. I was bringing fresh insights to their data. It wasn’t that I was just more up to date on the current technology, markets or trends. I was able to recognize patterns and bring new perspectives to what these very smart people already knew. In hindsight, mentorship is a synergistic relationship.”

Approaching mentorship as a two-way street not only serves to increase the overall value and sustainability of the relationship, it also facilitates better learning. The old adage rings true that the best way to learn something is to teach it. One way to promote teaching is through hosting weekly ‘Lunch and Learns,’ in which individual contributors across an organization share their knowledge of a variety of technologies and disciplines.

Networks can’t be confined to the office walls

Once you begin, it is relatively easy to build strong professional relationships with your peers and colleagues within your own company. In fact, it should be a prerequisite to joining an organization. But for most people, it feels much harder to build these types of relationships with people outside of the company. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be.

As a general rule, people love to help other people. It’s gratifying, and it makes the world a better place. With social networks it couldn’t be easier to identify the right people who can help you learn and develop as a professional. Not everyone will respond to you, but if you’re genuine and thoughtful, you’ll be surprised how many people will make the time. Additionally, realize that as new talent comes into the company, you are not only hiring them, you are also gaining access to their networks. Of course not all of the people you connect with will end up becoming long-term mentors, but if you play the odds and have enough of the right conversations, over time, you’ll find yourself building highly productive, rewarding and long-term professional and personal relationships.

So seek out a mentor, and become a mentor yourself. Your organization will thank you.

Andrew Geant is the CEO, Co-founder, Wyzant. Drew co-founded , Wyzant in 2005 with his Princeton classmate, Mike Weishuhn. As a tutor himself, Drew saw firsthand the confidence that 1-1 learning inspired in students, yet knew how difficult it was for tutors to build their business. After launching nation’s largest tutoring marketplace in Northern Virginia, he relocated Wyzant to Chicago and raised $21.5 million from Accel Partners. Drew lives in the city with his wife, Katie, and incredibly photogenic labradoodle, Bogey. @Wyzant.

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The Right Way to Value a Small Business (Part 1 of 2)

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 12:00

By Cliff Ennico

“I have a corporation which I own 50/50 with my sister.

We get along great, but our accountant is putting pressure on us to put together a shareholders’ agreement so we know what to do if one of us dies, becomes disabled, or gets divorced. Our business is a high technology startup, if that makes a difference.

Where we’re stuck is that we don’t know how to put a value on a business such as ours. Can you help us figure out the right way to do that?”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 37 years of working with small businesses, it’s that there is no perfect way to put a value on one.

When valuing any kind of business, there’s a big tradeoff between doing what’s fair for all parties and coming up with a solution that will work in practice. The more you want to be fair to everybody, the less likely it is you will come up with a solution that works, and vice versa.

Let me explain.

In the old days, it was simple: most small businesses were brick-and-mortar retail and service businesses that were not “scalable,” meaning that they grew slowly and predictably over time. Such a business is relatively easy to value: you simply agree on the most appropriate performance metric (most commonly “earnings before income taxes” or EBIT), then apply a multiple based on what other similar local businesses have sold for in the recent past (usually a number between one and three) and – voila! – you have a fair market value for that business.

Technology startups, however, are anything BUT scalable. Using any kind of fixed formula such as EBIT or gross sales to measure the performance of such a business is not only a waste of time, but almost always ends up being unfair to someone because it fails to take into account the future value of the company’s technology. A couple of years ago Facebook® spent $19.6 billion to acquire mobile smartphone app maker What’s App® – a company that at the time was losing hundreds of millions of dollars and had only $10 – $15 million in revenue (see www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/032515/whatsapp-best-facebook-purchase-ever.asp). What sort of performance metric do you think they used to value that business?

The only proper way to value a technology startup is to “kick the can down the road” by requiring an independent valuation of the business at the time something happens that requires a valuation (one of the founders dies, for example, or wants to quit the business for a corporate day job).

Many stockholders’ agreements I’ve seen for technology companies say that if such a “triggering event” occurs, the company will be valued by an independent appraiser selected by the board of directors by unanimous vote (excluding the person who will benefit from the valuation if he or she is a director).

The problem with that approach is that the person performing the valuation will be biased in favor of the company, and the person whose stock is being valued may end up with a “lowball” valuation that cheats them out of the future value of their ownership stake.

Because of this problem, many stockholders’ agreements contain what I call a “Three Stooges” appraisal provision: if a “triggering event” occurs, the company selects an appraiser, the person whose stock is being valued selects an appraiser, the two appraisers meet and compare notes – if they agree then that’s the valuation, but if they don’t agree the two appraisers select a third appraiser who mediates between the two and decides the company’s value.

Perfectly fair and balanced, right? Right – there’s no way anyone will be cheated using a “Three Stooges” appraisal clause. The problem is that this clause does not work well in practice.

Let’s say a shareholder dies. The shareholder’s next of kin (usually but not always a widow or widower) will be so overcome with grief it will be several months before they can function at all, much less select an appraiser for their late spouse’s stock. Once they are able to do so, and the company selects their appraiser, it is usually Tax Season (many if not most appraisers are also accountants), so they can’t get anything done until that is over. Once the appraisers can focus on the valuation and meet to discuss the results, they decide they don’t like each other and can’t agree on the time of day much less who the “mediating” third appraiser will be. They start throwing custard pies at each other, just like in a Three Stooges movie (hence the nickname).

Meanwhile, while all this is going on the clock is ticking, and months if not years pass by without the valuation taking place. The company must continue to recognize the deceased shareholder for legal and tax purposes, and investors will be reluctant to put money into the company because the founders don’t seem to know what they are doing. Nyuk, nyuk.

So what is the best way to value a fast-growing technology company? The answer . . . next week.

Cliff Ennico (cennico@legalcareer.com) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2017 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Follow him at @cliffennico.

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5 Key Cash Handling Tips for Your Small Business

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 11:00

By Andy Margison

Most small businesses deal with cash on a daily basis, in fact consumers still pay by cash for 52% of their transactions (Source: Payment Council). It is estimated that employee theft occurs in a staggering 64% of small businesses! To make matters worse the majority of cases go unpunished. This is because they either go undetected or cash handling practises lack accountability. Furthermore, most small business use old and inefficient cash handling practises which lack automation. There are right and wrong ways to deal with cash. Good cash handling practises can reduce cash loss, ensure accountability and save time. Here are 5 simple tips to get your cash handling on track:

Tip #1: Set a simple and effective cash handling policy

A cash handling policy is a set of rules that employees have to follow. It’s a good idea to create ‘print outs’ of the policy and place them around the till and back office to remind employees. A typical cash handling policy is outlined below:

  • Keep the amount of cash in the till to a minimum. Deposit excess cash in a POS safe.
  • Only authorised personnel are allowed to handle cash.
  • When cash drawers are not in use they should be locked.
  • Two authorised personnel should be present when cash is transported or counted.
  • Cash handling at the till and cash handling at the safe should be carried out by different people.
  • A cash activity sheet should record the movement of cash throughout the day. Staff signatures are required next to each activity to ensure accountability.
Tip #2: Create accountability

A cash handling policy goes hand in hand with creating accountability. However its worth emphasising that most cash loss problems are resolved with accountability. All stages of the cash handling process should be dealt with by different people. For example the person counting the cash has to then hand it over to the person in charge of the safe, who then verifies the amount and deposits it. The more staff involved in the process the easier it is to understand the stage at which the cash loss occurred. Making sure cash amounts are verified and signed for at each stage also acts as a strong deterrent.

Tip #3: Implement counterfeit prevention processes

There was over £5 million worth of counterfeit banknotes in 2015 alone. Yet counterfeit prevention is neglected in most small businesses. Sometimes manually checking a banknote can detect a counterfeit. For more advice on how to detect a counterfeit banknote be sure to visit the Bank of England’s website. Alternatively, if you want complete peace of mind it may be worth investing in an automated counterfeit detection machine. There are also UV detectors available which detect the majority of counterfeits. Whatever method you decide on, it is paramount that staff are actively looking for counterfeits. After all a counterfeit banknote is completely worthless and comes out of your bottom line profit.

Tip #4: Automate cash counting

Why count cash manually when a machine can do it quicker and more accurately? Banknote counters, coin counters and money scales make your life easier and increase efficiency. They also have a quick ROI. Cash handling machines can show counting results on a PC or a print out which improves accountability. Banknote counters also have 100% accurate counterfeit detection built in, so you don’t need to manually check the banknotes yourself.

Tip #5: Securely store cash

It goes without saying that cash needs to be securely stored. Ideally you should have a back office safe and a point of sale (POS) safe. POS safes are used to securely store excess cash from the till. POS safes can be mounted underneath a countertop. To securely store banknotes you simply have to drop one or more notes into the slot. Using the key the safe can be removed from the bracket and transported to the back office. Management then have a separate key that is used to open the safe and access the cash. POS safes are a proven way to increase efficiency and security. To find out more about effective cash handling, why not take a look at my article “Cash handling policies and procedures with a policy example.”

 

Andy Margison is the founder and director of ZZap Ltd (www.zzaponline.com). @ZZap_online.

 

 

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Seeking Out Risk: The Life of an Entrepreneur

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 09:30

By Ken Staut

A friend of mine once asked me if I am motivated out of fear of failure or a drive to succeed.  My answer clearly depicts why I’ve been a moderately successful entrepreneur, and why I’m not really cut out to be a cog within a massive organization: I am not afraid of failure. I only do things because the challenge is interesting to me.  I spent a decade of my life analyzing risk and reward for a living; I don’t misunderstand the risk of being an entrepreneur.  In fact, I perversely seek it out, as do many of you.  I deeply feel, from my inner-being, that if I went my whole life without taking a real chance, I would be vastly unfulfilled.

Luckily for me, I’ve now checked off that “fulfilled” box several times.  The first was out of necessity and the second because of an extraordinary passion.

In 2009, I co-founded Tiburon Capital Management, an event-driven hedge fund.  It was clear to me that the time period presented an investment opportunity of a life time.  The problem was that the finance world was busy crumbling around us.  Thus, the only way to capitalize, was to start our own shop.  Luckily, we were incredibly ignorant and naïve; if we would have had any idea how difficult it would be to raise money and start a hedge fund in 2009, we never would have started one!

To quote one of my role models in the finance industry, we pulled a Howard Marks-ism. “Of all the alternative histories that could have occurred, ours that led to some modest success was the least likely.” But alas, Tiburon Capital Management raised over $50 million, outperformed our peers and benchmarks and were acquired by a pension endowment advisor.  It was on that very day that I started GrowthFountain.

GrowthFountain, of course, is the startup created out of passion.  I immediately knew that creating it was inevitable after reading the JOBS Act for three reasons.  First, I had ten wonderful years of experience in finance.  I knew I could utilize that knowledge I gained in a way that would add immediate value to America’s small businesses and entrepreneurs, helping them grow and succeed.  Second, I suspected that it would be easy to rally people around our mission because of the warm, fuzzy, feel-good and altruistic nature of our business: to minimize friction and level the playing field for America’s small businesses and entrepreneurs.  I suspected those we could rally would become valuable team members, partners and supporters.  It’s like the old saying, “If you hire someone because you can pay him, he’ll work for a salary.  But if you hire someone because he believes what you believe, he’ll work for you with blood, sweat and tears.” And finally, it was easy for me to see that this presented a truly massive opportunity.  The JOBS Act would completely and forever revolutionize the fundraising landscape for America’s small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Let me explain the opportunity we’re pursuing.  Walk down Main Street in any town across America and notice all the businesses you pass.  They are almost all local businesses.  Small businesses comprise half of our economy and more than 60% of new job growth, but we take for granted how they come to exist. We don’t put much thought into how they went about raising the money they needed to launch, or what pre-existing relationships with “accredited” investors they just happened to have. Securities law is rigid and unforgiving, and made it almost impossible for any small business to raise the money they so dearly need – that is, until now.  The JOBS Act, which was born out of the Great Recession of ’08 – ‘09, turned 80 years of securities law on its head, and now makes it easier for companies to turn customers, community members and extended networks into owners, who can then become brand ambassadors, helping them growth their business. GrowthFountain is simply a platform that can help businesses and entrepreneurs across the country simplify the process of raising money and help connect them to potential investors.  You should come take a look.

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How Do Businesses Anticipate the Needs of Consumers?

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 08:00

By Rachelle Wilber

Anticipating the needs of consumers is a perennial challenge for businesses. Consumer desires can change on a whim. Individuals are heavily influenced by their peers and friends, especially on social media. In order to accurately anticipate the needs and demands of consumers, businesses need to look to sound sources of data and helpful software management systems that can put the data together in a clear and concise way.

Market Research

Companies must conduct a great deal of market research in order to effectively meet consumer needs and demands. Market research is performed through a variety of methods. One way that companies can monitor and anticipate the needs of consumers is monitoring same store sales data over time. For example, if a certain company wants to estimate how many widgets to send to a store for the holiday season, it could look to its past sales data. Overall market trends are also important. These businesses may look to economic data such as the consumer confidence index and market saturation of a product in order to estimate how many of its products may sell over a specific time frame.

Focus Groups

When a company desires detailed information from consumers about their specific needs, it can put together a focus group. Focus groups are comprised of a demographic sample or a sampling of the corporation’s target market or audience. For example, a corporation that is focused on clothing for young women may choose a focus group of 15 to 20 females aged 12 to 18. In a focus group, the consumers may be given the chance to view product samples and provide critical feedback. The consumers can also provide information about their unmet needs. Young women might report that they have no trouble finding “skinny jeans,” but they have more difficulty finding clothing that fits a full figure. Focus group participants are typically paid for their time.

IT Management Software

IT management software is another important tool that businesses can use for anticipating the needs of consumers. Software packages make it easy to collect and analyze data. The software allows a company to maintain accurate budgets, allocate resources and keep e-commerce sites up and running. IT management software also enables corporations to manage their data and networks, provide digital customer service and keep their data secure. Some types of IT management software allow businesses to monitor individual workstation performance, monitor networks for viruses, and optimize the speed of different applications.

Social Media Trends

Social media trends are a key source of information about consumer wants, needs, and behavior. Companies can collect data from social media likes, posts and interactions. This data can be used to develop new products or services or to improve upon existing products and services. Businesses may also use social media data to anticipate the demand of a product and work to ensure that the products are delivered to the right retailers at the right time in order to meet consumer demands. The data might be used to scale up or scale down production at certain times of the year, such as increasing production in advance of the holiday gift-giving season. Companies also use social media trends and data to get an idea of the competition’s market share and to highlight the advantages of their products over others.

Getting the right balance between consumer needs and demands and the supply of the product or service is a challenge. These four strategies allow businesses to use data to anticipate consumer needs. Implementing a variety of these methods, backed by solid software products, can help companies to maximize their sales and market share.

 

Rachelle Wilber is a freelance writer living in the San Diego, California area. She graduated from San Diego State University with her Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Media Studies. She tries to find an interest in all topics and themes, which prompts her writing. When she isn’t on her porch writing in the sun, you can find her shopping, at the beach, or at the gym. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook: @RachelleWilber; Facebook.

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4 Reasons a Diverse Sales Team Will Boost Revenue

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 11:00

By Eliot Burdett

Diversity in the workplace has been an issue since the civil war.  In February, 1869, a letter to the editor of the New York Times questioned why female government employees were not paid the same as male counterparts.

Fast forward to 2017 and a lack of diversity in the workplace remains an issue. A recent survey from Career Builder, which polled 3,200 full-time workers and 223 human-resource managers, found that only 35% of women feel confident that compensation is dispensed equitably between the genders. Moreover, just 39% of women believe there is equal opportunity in the workplace for women.

As the father of two daughters, I believe CEOs should champion this issue simply because it is the right thing to do.  However, as a businessman, I recognize that to truly solve this problem on a macro-level, hiring diverse employees must directly translate into higher profits.

The good news is that the time has finally come. As U.S. demographics continue to change alongside a rapidly evolving global economy, the business argument for diversity has never been stronger, and that is especially true in the sales industry.

The Census Bureau found that Hispanics, Millennials and African American’s wield nearly $4 trillion in annual buying power combined. This gargantuan figure does not even include Asians, the LGBT community or Native Americans, to name a few.  By recruiting and hiring diverse candidates, you will be able to better tap into these groups.

As the CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, we have seen an increasing number of clients recognize the business value in finding diverse sales reps.  In working with them, we have identified the top 4 reasons a diverse sales team will boost revenue this quarter.

  1. Connect Better with Customers: One wrong word can kill a sale so it is critical to get it right when approaching leads from different walks of life. For example, Anheuser Buschstruggled to penetrate the Hispanic market until they acquired InBev.  Their new Brazilian management team led them to success in the market that had been eluding them. While it is true that a homogenous sales force can be effective, the addition of diverse sales reps and leaders who understand different lifestyles and cultures can only have a positive impact.  In fact, the Harvard Business Review surveyed 1,800 professionals nationwide and found that a sales team with a member who shares a client’s ethnicity is 152% likelier than another team member to understand that client.
  2. Access to More A-players: A recent study from Harvard Business School’s U.S. Competitiveness Projectfound that employers spend an average of 41 days trying to fill technical sales jobs versus 33 days for jobs in other professions.  The same study cites a cloud-based software company would have had $2 million more in revenue if they met their hiring goals for sales reps. Simply put, finding salespeople who achieve quota year after year is problematic for most organizations. That is why it is critical to search beyond your usual network. When you start looking at candidates with different backgrounds you widen the talent pool an increase the probabilities of finding a sales superstar.
  3. Overcome Groupthink:When you put people with similar backgrounds in one room, they are likely to come up with similar solutions based on their shared experiences. Groupthink is the kryptonite of success. A diverse workforce helps to foster an environment where varying points of view can be freely shared among employees. This has been proven, per Harvard Business Review, to lead to “outside the box” thinking that stimulates innovation and market growth.  Nothing is more critical to a sales team’s success than capitalizing on crucial market opportunities.
  4. Will Attract the Very Best:Employers of choice understand that equal pay for equal work and hiring people from different backgrounds fosters a healthy business environment. Great people, regardless of their background, are attracted to great working environments. When businesses maintain an inclusive culture, A-players are far more likely to want to join the organization. This is especially true with Millennials, a group that will make up most your sales force over the next 10 years. Per the Census Bureau, Millennials are now the largest and most diverse generation in U.S. history – made up of 42 percent minorities and more women working than any other generation.  Most organizations now talk about being diverse, but Millennials demand it.

As U.S. demographics continue to shift and the global economy continues to evolve, sales leaders need to adapt their hiring processes to include more diversity. The studies clearly show that diversity leads to business growth and at the same time, business leaders have a chance to be on the right side of history.

Eliot Burdett is an author, sales recruiting expert and the Co-Founder and CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, a leading B2B sales recruiting company launched in 2006.

 

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Protect Your Brand and Employees With a Social Media Policy

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 09:30

 

How does a small to mid-size organization encourage responsible use of social media?

By Bo Breuklander

A strong brand presence is dependent on all the pieces working together. It only takes two gears moving in the opposite direction to break the machine. Creating clear guidelines of what to do and what not to do is important to operational success. Policies ensure the company and its employees are on the same page.

Why do you need a social media policy?

According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, 52 percent of respondents believe employees are credible spokespeople. Without a policy, employees won’t have direction. Without direction, you leave the door open to a social media crisis. The goal should be to encourage responsible use of social media while protecting employees and the company from reputation harm.

What should be in the policy?

A policy doesn’t have to be a completely negative list of “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” Fill it with encouragement. Frame it as a collection of guidelines designed to give employees freedom to participate on social media for your brand. Creating brand advocates should be on every company’s radar and employees make the best ones.

Include reasons why you’re creating the policy in the first place. Provide some background to why the company is using certain channels and who it’s trying to reach. Clarify how the company will manage its branded presence. Set expectations regarding employee engagement.

Here are examples of sections you might find in a small to mid-sized company social media policy:

  • Company presence and official responses: only the social media manager or other designated employees can publish content and responses to company-branded accounts. Employees should not create company-branded accounts without authorization.
  • Avoid communicating confidential information: be mindful of what you post. Do not share customer information, financials, etc.
  • Identify yourself as an employee: when posting or providing a company endorsement in a personal capacity, you have to explain that you are an employee. Include a statement such as “These comments reflect my personal opinion and do not represent the views of company X.”
  • Accuracy and legality of content: every employee is responsible for the content they post. Be aware of copyrights and attribute correctly.
  • Ensure a professional tone: adhere to a professional tone and be sure what you are communicating is compatible with the company’s brand and mission.

Here are examples of sections you might find in the policy about personal social media use:

  • Creation of personal social media accounts: employees should not incorporate any part of the brand or company name into personal accounts. (This depends on the company, of course. The risk here is that the company is not in control of how they appear and it would not be appropriate for the company to ask an employee to change their account. Just avoid this altogether.)
  • Understand your privacy settings: review the privacy settings on all of your personal accounts. You can adjust who sees your content and who can tag you in posts and photos.
Who should post to social media on behalf of the company?

Somewhere in the policy you should outline the role of the employee or team posting on behalf of the organization. These people play a vital gate-keeping role for the company. Let’s call them social media moderators. Moderators could range from an individual to a team.

Make sure moderators know it’s not just about simply posting content. They play a large, visible role in two-way communication. Second, explain how one becomes a moderator. These employees should have extensive training in best practices and are familiar with the social media policy. Moderators can post content without prior approval. Next, mention that other employees can request content to be posted by going through the moderator. Everyone in the organization has a responsibility to find or create content to fuel the content strategy.

There must be rules toward responding to comments and other user-generated content. As mentioned earlier, managing two-way communication is a big part of being a moderator. Good judgment is a must on this front. Not all posts support your brand, while some tout it. Moderators need to understand what to share, when to respond, and when not to respond. Outline potential posts by the audience by using examples. Describe the types of posts that could surface, how to respond, and when to respond. Accomplish this with a Response Protocol in a simple ‘if this, then that’ flow chart.

What happens when you can’t provide an immediate appropriate response? That’s where an Escalation Path comes in. This is similar to the Response Protocol in format. It’s typically more important for new moderators, as well as department heads that don’t feel it’s their responsibility to provide a response. It’s important for those in authoritative roles to acknowledge their part. The path makes their part very clear. It’s also important to understand a response isn’t always necessary.

Who should read it?

All employees, from top to bottom, should read the policy. If the employees aren’t active yet on social media, the policy will show the importance the company is placing on it. It may encourage them to start an account.

Do not underestimate the power of your employees. The policy isn’t just about protecting the brand; it’s about promoting it. You need these rules in place to turn your best advocates loose on your potential audience. Give them social media tips and encourage their participation.

Bo Breuklander is Social Media Community Manager at Sterling Payment Technologies in Tampa, Florida. While managing online brand presence and reputation he advocates for efficient internal and outward communication processes. He obtained a master’s degree in Strategic Communications Management from the University of South Florida while researching crisis communication strategies. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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How to Improve e-Commerce Customer Service

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 08:00

By Matt Wollersheim

It can be difficult to establish a competitive advantage in the crowded world of e-commerce. However, customer service can be a way to set yourself apart from competitors and cultivate lasting virtual relationships with customers that are just as powerful as those you’d have with a physical business and in-person interaction.

Here are a few simple ways to improve your e-commerce customer service.

Be available at the customer’s convenience.

You have official business hours of operation, but e-commerce means customers have the ability to shop at their convenience. As a result, your customer service should accommodate the customer’s schedule, not yours. You may not have the resources to staff a 24/7-call center, but there are many affordable companies that can provide live chat support for your e-commerce customers after hours. Given that studies indicate more than 90 percent of customers are satisfied once they use live chat, it’s likely that you’ll experience a positive return from such an investment.

You can also take real-time communication a step further by leveraging social media profiles on sites like Facebook and Twitter as another type of customer service channel. Not only will customers receive the help they need, you’ll build credibility as other prospects and customers who visit your social media profiles see your commitment to customer service.

Proactively answer their questions.

An FAQ page can reduce the costs of manning a customer service call center, and help you capture what might otherwise become a lost sale when a customer cannot find an answer to a question in the midst of placing an online order. Create an FAQ page to address common questions you receive via email, phone and live chat; design it with features that empower customers to search for and identify the information they need quickly. Depending on the complexity of your products and nature of what you sell, your FAQ page might include a search box feature, an alphabetized list of questions/answers, categories, and visual icons that keep the page easy to navigate.

Provide accurate inventory and shipping information.

E-commerce customers shop online for convenience; they want to know when and how their items will arrive once they’ve trusted you with their business. You can instantly improve your e-commerce customer experience by keeping your customers informed about their order, every step of the way:

  • Send customers an email or text message notification as soon as their order has been formally placed and received by your company.
  • Notify them of the estimated timeline for when it will be picked/packed and shipped.
  • When the order has shipped, send customers another email notifying them that it is in transit, along with carrier information and tracking numbers.
  • Follow up with an email asking about their experience
Be transparent. 

Not all customers will be satisfied with the product or service they receive, but your return policies can ensure that they at least have a positive experience with your brand when they do have an issue. Publish your return, exchange and refund policies clearly on your site so there are no surprises. Transparent and well-defined policies minimize the likelihood that you’ll receive requests for chargebacks, and increase the chances that customers will consider your business for their needs in the future — even if they have to return an item on occasion.

There are many ways to improve your e-commerce customer service, and most do not require that you make significant investments in your operations. In fact, the key to e-commerce customer service is a willingness to put yourself in the customer’s proverbial shoes, so you can offer the service features that are most likely to make his or her experience with your business positive.

As Vice President of Sales at Performance Card Service, Matt Wollersheim’s focus is on client relations, general marketing and development of new processing channels. Performance Card Service is an offshore merchant account provider

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Who’s in Charge of Your LLC?

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 11:00
Why having an operating agreement should be at the top of your 2017 to-do list

By Mark Williams

Most states don’t require limited liability companies (LLCs) to have written operating agreements, but the story of a recent tragic accident underscores why they are so important.

A husband and wife, owners of a small business, were badly injured and killed, respectively, in a car accident. The couple’s family members took over the business, but with no operating agreement, they had nothing to guide them. They didn’t even know how to pay employees.

Even with the help of a trusted advisor, it took weeks for the family to sort out the paperwork. The complicated process came at a time when the family already was grieving the loss of one relative and helping another recover from serious injuries.

A simple document would have saved devastated family members from this unnecessary hassle: that written operating agreement.

For any business owner, especially among baby boomers considering retirement, it’s critical to put in writing an operating agreement to guide the business today and in the future. If your LLC doesn’t have an adopted document, it’s time to put signing one at the top of your 2017 to-do list.

What is an operating agreement?

Like corporate bylaws or a partnership agreement, an operating agreement spells out an LLC’s operating rules and the rights and duties of its managers. It can address everything from how the LLC is managed to how key business decisions are made and the procedure for transferring ownership interests.

Why do LLCs need one?

States typically don’t mandate that every LLC adopt a written operating agreement. But, if none exists or if it doesn’t cover every essential area of a business, then the one-size-fits-all provisions of a state’s LLC law kick in, controlling a business’ structure and operations, including the percentage of ownership, voting rights and the distribution of profits and losses.

Business owners should be wary even if they agree with their state’s LLC law, because those regulations are constantly changing. Consider these updates during the past few years to default provisions across the country:

  • Alabama made changes to its LLC statutes that require LLCs to have an operating agreement — written, oral or implied. That means that if no written agreement exists, courts can infer members’ wishes simply from their actions.
  • In California, a recent amendment to its LLC law says that decisions made outside the usual course of business must have unanimous approval from all members. LLCs can avoid this rule with a written operating agreement that lays out the power of each of the managers.
  • In New Jersey, when members resign, they no longer have the right to receive fair value of the membership interest. With the appropriate provision in a written operating agreement, members who resign can cash out the membership interest.
Are they really necessary for single-member LLCs?

You might not have any members to argue with, but as a single-member LLC you should sign a written operating agreement. A state’s default LLC statutes will still apply to you if your business doesn’t have one. What’s more, you could lose out on the main benefit of an LLC: limited liability protection. Having a written operating agreement is an indication that the LLC is separate from its sole owner. If a court does not think the LLC is being treated as a separate entity it could consider your business a sole proprietorship, which means you face losing personal assets in a business dispute.

Three essentials for any written operating agreement

If you’re ready to get started on writing an operating agreement, it’s critical to work with lawyers and trusted advisors to ensure the agreement covers every aspect of the business, including any rules for making amendments.

Operating Agreements vary in complexity depending on the business, but there are three essential pieces to every adopted operating agreement.

  • What are the LLC’s different kinds of ownership interests? The operating agreement should spell out the various ownership interests that govern, for instance, the allocation of profits and voting rights of each member.
  • How are decisions made? By default, LLCs are member-managed, which means that all members must vote on all decisions. That’s fine when it’s a big decision, such as a merger, but it becomes cumbersome on day-to-day matters. An operating agreement can spell out who has the authority to make those smaller decisions.
  • How is the money handled? An operating agreement should define how profits, losses and tax-related items are allocated among members.

Operating agreements also typically address the points at which members take specific actions, such as electing or removing members, and when and how an LLC might be dissolved.

In other words, a written operating agreement is all about controlling the future of a business — its operations and its continuity — in the case of a tragic accident or just the usual ebb and flow of business. An adopted agreement ensures that LLC members, not default state provisions, are in full command of their business’s destiny.

Mark Williams, customer service operations director at Wolters Kluwer’s BizFilings, leads a team of experts who help small businesses incorporate and stay in compliance.

The post Who’s in Charge of Your LLC? appeared first on Small Biz Daily.

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