Category — Small Business Advice
In these times of constantly upgrading technology, it is not uncommon for the average shopper to check out a business online before actually visiting. An online presence, or website, is imperative in building your small business, regardless if it is local, national, or even international. The internet is your key to introducing your business to the community.
Initially, there are plenty of options for websites. There are certain free website hosts online that give you a free web presence, as long as you don’t mind having ads on your site. The other option, and one that is most utilized, is that of hiring a professional website designer or design company to build your site. This gives you the ultimate freedom for your site design, as well as professional experience to back it up.
Starting out you have to have a good idea of your target audience. For example, a toy retailer would be oriented towards children and parents. A business dealing with the stock market, on the other hand, would be oriented more towards the white collar crowd. With a good feel for your customers, you will have a good ideal of the style of website you want. You can have a clean simple site, a flashy cutting edge site, a professional looking site, or anything else you would like. The imagination of your web designer and yourself is your only limitation.
One important factor to remember is that you don’t want to overwhelm those looking at your website. If, for example, you own a store, you won’t want to have every single product listed on the website at the front page. This is simply too much to take in. It is a proven fact that teaser pages do better. A teaser page is a webpage that tells a few of the more high profile items or services you provide. If you can appeal to the potential customers’ sense of curiosity, you will likely end up with a new customer.
There are certain pages that you will want on your website. Never settle for a single “landing” page. Regardless of the size of your business, one single page website will make you seem small. Of course, you will have your front page where you will identify your business and build the customers curiosity. Next, you will want a contact page with your actual address, phone number, email, and any other pertinent contact information, as well as your business hours. Next, have a page with actual photographs (professional) of your business, inside and out, and your employees happily doing their jobs. This will give your business a nice comfortable atmosphere to the customer.
These are your main pages, but the list of optional pages is limitless. You can have a history page, a coupon page where customers can print out coupons, a calendar of events if your store holds certain community events, an about us page describing the inner workings of the business, and the list goes on and on.
Once you have your website set up and going, it is important that you spread the word about it. Be sure and put your web address on business cards, newsletters, and advertisements. Make sure your employees spread the word about your new site also.
Websites are a proven success for any business. If properly created and managed, in many cases, websites have brought in more customers and sales than actual storefronts. Consider the concept of a door. Before someone walks into a building, they have to go through the door. A website is a metaphorical door for your customers to get to your business.
September 20, 2010 No Comments
Imagine a situation where a company could increase its service abilities and core competencies, grow its business revenue and reduce its cost structure. Does this sound impossible? Well, it isn’t. In fact, a number of small business owners and entrepreneurs do it every day. They effectively increase their capabilities and grow their business while reducing costs. How is this done and why is it so important for small business owners to know about it? It’s outsourcing and it allows companies to control their day to day operating costs while improving efficiencies and growing sales. Every small business owner must wear multiple hats. Finding the time for all the responsibilities of running a business can often be an exercise in futility. Freeing up that time means more valuable time spent closing on business opportunities. So, what are the best functions to outsource for small business owners?
Outsourced Marketing Increases Business Opportunities
A number of small businesses have excellent products and services, but aren’t able to maximize on their opportunities for sales in a given market. Outsourcing marketing allows companies to control their marketing costs while ensuring they concentrate their sales efforts on qualified leads and opportunities. It allows companies to better control their marketing budgets and expenditures while ensuring they have the time available to close sales.
Outsourcing Payroll Reduces Operating Expenses
Using an outsourced payroll company helps to lower a company’s day to day operating expenses and ensures they won’t be penalized for late or incorrect tax filings. Outsourced payroll companies are tax and government regulation experts and are up to speed on the most relevant tax codes. They manage all aspects of the company’s payroll and will ensure timely deposit of funds by direct deposit.
Outsourcing Accounting Improves Receivables Collection
Keeping customer accounts up to date and in line with their terms can often be extremely time consuming and costly. To alleviate this concern and free up time, a number of small business owners outsource their receivables collection and invoicing to an outside accounting firm. This allows them to benefit from a professional firm able to follow up on receivables collection and address any outstanding issues relating to invoices.
Small business owners must be able to continually lower costs and close on business opportunities. It amounts to freeing up time and allowing business owners to concentrate on business growth. When small business owners and entrepreneurs can concentrate on what they do best, the company as a whole will thrive. These outsourcing functions allow small businesses to reduce operational expenditures and improve service.
September 13, 2010 No Comments
Want to advertise the services that your small business provides with low cost marketing? Look into Social Media! Social media provides a forum for businesses to create an online presence that extends beyond the walls of your storefront and into the lives of your potential customers. A social media campaign that is executed correctly can build your clientele and spread the word about your business often without negatively impacting your bottom line or taking money out of your pocket. Below are some tips to leverage free social media sites to boost your business.
Create an Online Presence
There are many social networking sites out there that offer the ability for small businesses to create an online profile describing your services. Leverage all of those sites and ask that your employees sign up and associate themselves with your business. The more your potential clients can learn about your business, its employees, and its services, the better chance you have of them feeling comfortable enough to trust you with their business needs.
Consistency Is Key
There are many sites out there that target different audiences, but it is important that on each site, the message about your business is consistent. LinkedIn, for example, targets business professionals who often have established business contacts and a wealth of experience. LinkedIn is used by busy professionals to build and grow a network, and often to find job opportunities. Facebook, on the other hand, is a more social tool that is used more for entertainment then true business transactions. Create a presence on all of the social media sites that you can, but ensure that you consistently brand your business with a common message across all platforms. You do not want to confuse customers or potential clients who have accounts on all these sites.
Your Message is Contagious!
Social media is a great way to quickly spread the word about any promotions that you are offering and will surely get customers in the door. Advertising a promotion to your Facebook “fans” or to your LinkedIn “connections” or to your Twitter “followers” has an infectious and contagious element to it because each of your contacts on those social media platforms have their own networks, and often your message can reach beyond your own contacts and to the networks 2 or 3 degrees away. Advertising a promotion through social media is a quick way to get some “buzz” around your business and what you can offer.
Everytime you update the offerings of your small business, be sure to update all of the social media sites on which you are listed. You never know who may be lurking on those sites and looking for something specific that your company has just begun to offer. Stay current, do not let your content get stale, and you will be sure to lure in key customers who are seeking your new services.
Social media is a growing industry and the business world is still realizing its benefits. Following these few tips can help you to stay on the cutting edge and ensure that you do not leave your potential new clients in the dark. Good luck!
How has your company used social media? Can you give us a link so we can see an example?
September 6, 2010 No Comments
It probably won’t come as a surprise that managing cash flow is perhaps the biggest concern small businesses and entrepreneurs face daily. Regardless of the size of the company, or where it is along its stage of life, every business owner is burdened by the time consuming issue of cash flow management.
Given the state of today’s economy, with customers extending credit terms and taking longer and longer to pay, this is likely the most pressing concern for small business owners everywhere. However, there are solutions to managing cash flow. There are ways to mitigate its impact and free up valuable time so that small business owners can get back to concentrating on what they do best. These approaches are simple, straightforward and can be used in both good and bad times. In fact, they become one of the most important aspects of growing a business and increasing gross profit. Interested in knowing what these approaches are?
Pursue Prepaid Customer Accounts with Bad Credit
Every day an invoice goes unpaid is a direct cost to the business owner. Since most businesses use business credit lines or loans to finance their day to day operations, they must pay a yearly interest rate to borrow that money.
When customers take too long to pay, not only is it difficult on cash flow, but there’s a cost to it as well. One of the best ways to alleviate that cost is to get paid faster. The easiest way to accomplish this is by selling product to bad credit accounts who must prepay before receiving product. Prepaid customer accounts are excellent sources to alleviate cash flow as they are rarely pursued by the competition.
Incentivize Early Payments with Discounts
Don’t just go after those customers who must prepay, use incentives with the best customers to get them to pay sooner. Provide discounts and prompt payment incentives across all customer accounts. This will incentivize these customers to pay sooner and help in managing cash flow.
Negotiate Discounts for Early Payments with Vendors
Be sure to secure discounts for prompt payments on your own invoices. When cash flow isn’t a concern, make sure to benefit from the savings accrued by paying your vendors sooner. It will help over time and keep more money inside your business. Managing cash flow is really about saving money when possible and this is an excellent way to keep more of your company’s money.
Managing a company’s cash flow can not only be frustrating, but a drain on resources as well. However, these simple approaches not only reduce its impact, but point the way to additional savings. They are used by a number of companies who view them as best business practices.
August 30, 2010 No Comments
Often times small businesses battle with finding cheap marketing ideas. Small businesses need to gain more profit, but need to be able to put out money for marketing. How do you find marketing money when you’re barely clearing the bills? Here are 3 ideas to turn pennies into large profits.
Flyers can be created for just pennies a piece. While people don’t always like to find flyers under their windshield wipers, they do like meeting business owners. Face-to-face time with customers is a great way to draw in business. If feasible, get out door to door in neighborhoods around your business. Once you have a chance to meet the people, leave them with a flyer. They will remember meeting you and have information to look over long after you have left.
Events and Open Houses
Through a special event. For example, during Halloween season, you could throw an open house. Rent an inflatable jumper, have things for people to do, refreshments and offer a peek at what you do. If you offer a service, have a demonstration on hand that plays over and over through the evening. Free events draw crowds. Events do not have to be expensive and can be done for less than an ad in the mainstream newspaper.
Mailers for After Hours Sales
Pick a section of town that you feel would be interested in your business. For example, if you have a specialty furniture store, pick a high dollar retirement neighborhood. Then send out exclusive invitations to them for an after hours sale. You can even print up the invitations yourself. Treat the invitations with as much class as a wedding invitation. You can pick up inexpensive gold lined envelopes, black ribbon and gold confetti from any office supply or even some dollar stores. Then have your staff dress the part. Serve punch and cookies on a table with real linens. Your customers will be surprised at any detail you give the party.
Marketing does not have to be expensive, it just has to be personal. Hand made invitations to events make for cheap, one-of-a-kind money-making marketing. Special events draw crowds that may not have been to your shop before. Flyers, when handed out face-to-face are a unique way of getting your face and business out to the public. People like different, personal marketing. There are a number of cheap marketing ideas for small business. The only thing that limits the ideas is your imagination, so get thinking and get creative.
August 23, 2010 No Comments
There isn’t a single part of American commerce that doesn’t have its inception at some point with a sale. Despite this, the function of sales and sales management is probably one of the most neglected aspects of a business. This is hard to understand for two reasons, first, because sales is the literal public personality of a business, and second, because sales is the driving force behind any growing business.
When a business is small, it’s usually not hard to for the CEO or President of a firm to be the lead (or only) salesperson. After all, he or she is often the one most intimately familiar with the business or product. And for a small startup, that person may even be the only person employed by the firm, making their sales efforts indispensable to success.
As a business grows, however, this personal approach to sales can become impossible, making a sales person or an entire sales force a necessity. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs and managers have little if any experience in a personal selling or sales management role to address this. As a result, they tend not to consider it too carefully when making their marketing plans.
Sales is considered by many to be the “sharp edge” of the business process, and for good reason. Not only is it necessary for the creation of revenue, but it is also one of the largest investments made by a business. A single salesperson or a team of salespersons that have little idea of which products or which groups of customers to concentrate on, have too little knowledge of competitive activity, do not present the business well, or don’t close sales, don’t pay, they cost. Even worse, a situation like this means they are not managed well.
A recent survey on the effectiveness of sales representatives showed that an average of two visits for a salesperson was needed before a sales decision, whether positive or negative, was made by a client. This truth shows how important those communications are, and how much good salespersons can be to the future of a company.
If your company is not gaining the sales revenue you expect, it might be time to not only look at your overall marketing plan, but to look closely at the attention paid to visits by each salesperson to maximize their effectiveness. After determining whether a salesperson is effective or not, a decision can be made as to whether a larger sales team is justified.
August 16, 2010 No Comments
The General Services Administration (GSA) procures all of the goods and services used by virtually every other Federal agency. It holds contracts for items ranging from office supplies to airplanes. GSA monitors all federal contracts for compliance with federal purchasing regulations, including the percentage of contracts awarded to small businesses such as yours.
GSA’s Office of Small Business Utilization works on behalf of small, minority-owned, disadvantaged, veteran, and service-disabled veteran businesses to ensure that such businesses have equal access to federal contracts. Small business technical advisors work in the national office in Washington, DC. Small Business Utilization Centers are located throughout the United States, including Chicago, Boston, Denver, New York, and San Francisco, to name a few.
The regional offices provide a variety of services geared towards helping small businesses succeed. Procurement networking sessions, roundtables, and interagency networking breakfasts provide small businesses the opportunity to network with one another and with federal agencies that may be interested in purchasing their products. Marketing strategies and techniques workshops offer valuable and viable suggestions to help you run your business.
The Office of Small Business Utilization also operates the Center for Acquisition Excellence. This on-line academy provides procurement training on your schedule. The courses are offered free of charge and can provide you with invaluable insights regarding your business. The “Using GSA Schedules” course teaches vendors and customers how to use GSA schedules. Schedules are complex contracts containing a multitude of vendors selling their supplies to Federal agencies. However, many of the schedules are not limited to Federal agency use. For example, many of the schedules are open for cooperative purchasing – a program in which state and local governments and select nonprofit organizations can access federal pricing through the schedules while eliminating the inherent costs associated with procurement. These non-federal customers can save thousands of dollars on a single purchase through the use of GSA schedules. After completing this course, you will be able to decide whether or not placing your business on a GSA schedule will help you generate sales locally. The “Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts” course teaches vendors and customers how to purchase technology and technology-related services through Federal contracts.
Finally, the Office of Small Business Utilization provides links to the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Procurement Technical Assistance Program. While GSA holds the majority of Federal contracts, DOD also contracts for many of its own supplies and services. The Procurement Technical Assistance Program will enable your business to access DOD contracting and subcontracting opportunities through Centers located throughout the United States.
August 9, 2010 No Comments
Reducing your carbon footprint can save your small business money in a number of different days. The carbon footprint of your small business is measured in the amount of carbon dioxide it emits in its usual course of business. With the increased public awareness of the effects of greenhouse gases, your small business can not only save money through the application of green technologies, but you can also reap the benefits of advertising that your business is eco-friendly.
Savvy consumers know that they can purchase their electricity from companies that are inherently eco-friendly such as those that utilize wind turbines or solar power or those that “buy back” their carbon usage through planting trees. These consumers will also choose your business over your competition if you can show the same concern for the environment.
The low-hanging fruit on the carbon footprint tree are the obvious things. According to the US Department of Energy, new lighting technologies can reduce lighting energy consumption by 50% to 75%. Replace fluorescent lights with either compact fluorescent bulbs or fluorescent tubes to maximize savings. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are tremendously efficient, long lasting, and emit a high quality of light.
Trade in your old electronics for new, energy efficient appliances. Many appliances qualify for an energy rebate at tax time. If you have a kitchen for employee use, consider purchasing a new refrigerator and microwave oven. Turn computers and lights off before leaving for the day. Set your computers for a short “sleep-cycle”. A computer will automatically go to sleep after a set amount of time. Set this time to the lowest setting, as the computer is more energy efficient when it is in sleep mode. Paint the walls a light color. Not only will it brighten the space and your mood, it requires less energy to maintain the temperature of light walls than dark. Set the thermostats at 72 degrees in the summer to save on cooling costs and reset them to 68 degrees in the winter to cut heating costs.
Does your business print marketing materials such as sales flyers, product leaflets, or newsletters? Consider going paperless. Not only will you save money on your marketing budget, but also you will be able to keep your materials fresh by simply updating your web site. In today’s Internet-based society, your customers will appreciate having all of your information at their fingertips, and they will appreciate your efforts to reduce your carbon footprint.
August 2, 2010 No Comments
We live in an online world. More businesses are offering e-commerce solutions with every passing day, and even for businesses that operate entirely offline, a website demonstrates legitimacy to customers. Faced with these realities, small business owners are sometimes intimidated at the thought of setting up a website. While the cost of web development is a one-time investment, monthly hosting plans often seem more threatening.
Fortunately, the majority of small businesses can avoid these fees entirely through the use of cheap web hosting. While hosing plans can be astronomically expensive, most baisc, cheap hosting solutions are perfectly adequate to meet the needs of small (and larger) businesses.
To establish a website online, one needs a domain and a hosting account. The domain is simply the website’s address. Anything ending with “.com,” “.org,” and any similar suffix is a domain. These can be purchased at domain clearing houses like GoDaddy. After you buy a domain, you’ll need a place to put it – you ned a place to have your site hosted. Basically, when hosting is purchased, it is nothing mroe than buying space on a computer.
Hosing is available from multiple companies. If you buy your domains on GoDaddy, you can buy cheap hosting there as well. Additionally, you could buy hosting at places like WestHost, FatCow, or HostGator. All of these hosting solutions are cheap (as low as $4 a month), and their service offerings are comparable.
A website’s legitimacy comes in part from its design and in part from simply having a recognizable domain suffix. Users browsing a company’s website have no idea what kind of plan the website is hosted under. As long as the website ends in a familiar domain suffix, the user gains the sense that the website is trustworthy and professional.
This approach is guaranteed to save a small business more money without sacrificing any quality in their online presence.
July 26, 2010 No Comments
Small business may be the heart of our economy, but anyone who owns one can tell you it’s hard work. Many small business owners do everything themselves, from janitorial duties to operations to marketing and accounting. If you want your business to grow, but your budget doesn’t compare to the big boys, what is a little company to do?
Have you tried networking? If you have never heard of this skill, there is no better time to learn than now.
Networking means getting to know lots of people, treating everyone with dignity and respect, and working together so you both benefit. It really is that simple. If you master this talent, you can build business exponentially.
How does it work?
First, be social. Attend business events, seminars, SBA training workshops–anything that offers you the chance to meet new people. It can even be a bowling night for you and your family so long as you also encounter new people.
Some are intimidated by the idea of having to actively seek out new acquaintances, but there is a simple solution in these numbers. Remember the code: 3-2-3. Meet three new people, learn two things about them, follow up three days later. There is no need to hunt for a new best friend; simply shake hands, exchange a few facts about yourselves, and then send an email or note later to say you enjoyed meeting that person.
Why meet all these people? Because you now have a network of contacts who do all kinds of things, know all types of information, and who can help you when you need it. Further, you are advertising your own business free of charge!
Now that you are expanding your network, you are getting to the heart of commerce. Most businesses keep tight budgets, and they can’t always write a check for what they need. This is the time to pull out your address book and see who can trade services or the occasional favor. You both get something you need, and you both keep your cash flow under control.
Last, seek first to give, and second to receive. People know the difference between working together and being used. Always offer help first before asking for it back.
Once you start, you will learn that networking is simple, fun and profitable. You might even end up with a few great friends.
July 19, 2010 No Comments