Category — Small Business Advice
There’s no longer any debate as to the pros and cons of taking a business online: it’s simply a requirement for any serious business to have a website and a serious online presence that engages current and potential customers. But many business owners simply don’t know where to get started when taking their business digital. There are a few key concepts and options to consider when beginning this process.
Get a Domain Name
Before anything else, you must secure a domain name for your business. Due to the way search engines discover and rank these domain names, it is most beneficial to secure a “.com” domain name rather than the lesser-used “.net” or “.org” options that are available. Remember that a website is first and foremost about recognition in a new marketplace, so there is really very little room to make compromises on this most basic of elements.
Secure Web Hosting
Next, it’s time to start shopping for web hosting plans that fit your business’ needs. If you don’t plan to engage in e-commerce, and are instead simply looking to set up a site that explains your business, shows customers how to contact you, and is more basic in nature, you can get a consumer-grade hosting plan that will cost as little as $3 per month to maintain.
More ambitious online businesspeople will be interested in high-level hosting plans or dedicated servers that are capable of handling the large amount of work and traffic needed to operate a business that engages in e-commerce. For those plans, it may be best to speak with a prospective hosting company via phone or online support to make sure that their features fit your company’s needs.
Hire a Web Designer
A basic website will communicate a lack of interest in serving customers online, and they’ll simply find a competitor who does a better job at presenting themselves in a web browser. The easiest way to prevent your business from falling victim to his perception is to a hire a web designer who specializes in taking offline brands and turning them into online successes.
Be sure to communicate exactly what you want in your website: what it should do, the colors it should use, the message it should convey, and the best way to keep it updated in the long-term. Designers can provide the aesthetics to make your online venture a success, but you must still provide the heart and soul of your business for this new medium.
Communicate Your New Presence
If your business has an extensive offline client list, it’s time to start letting them know that you’ve officially opened the online extension of your business. If you have a list of client emails, send them a friendly message via email letting them know what they can do with this new website and how it benefits them going forward. Otherwise, send postcards or letters and inform customers about this change.
Remember that developing a website for your business is a good thing — a step in the right direction. Customers want to hear about it, and they’ll reward you (with their business) for having taken the time to go digital.
July 12, 2011 1 Comment
The best thing a small business can have is a website. With a website, people have the chance to find a new, small business on the Internet, which is where they are most likely to begin their search for a new product or service. A small business can benefit from this fact by investing in a website that represents their brick and mortar stores.
The creation of a website does not have to be a difficult thing. Companies make it easy for small business owners to design their own websites. Business owners do not have to know anything about HTML or computer software; these companies have templates that small business owners can choose from to create the look that they most desire.
After small business owners have chosen the right template, they can add all the images and text that they like. The images would most likely be the products that they have to offer, and the text could be the prices charged for these items. These are the facts that people are looking for when they search for things online. They like to know something about the product before they make the commitment to go to the store to purchase it. It also helps if they know how much they will need to be prepared to spend on it.
Small business owners that have an online store will need to engage in keyword research. Keywords and keyword phrases are what the person searching for products or services will type into a search engine’s box. These are the words that will determine what the domain name will be for a website. The domain name is the URL that customers will type into a search engine in order to find the small business’s website, and it is a highly important thing to consider.
When people search for things on the Internet, most of them will not look beyond the first page of the results. Sometimes, a search can bring up millions of results, but the millions after the first page, most likely, will never be seen. For this reason, small businesses need to compete with the other businesses that are currently on the first page. Generally, what business owners will find is businesses that have the keyword that the customer searched for in their URLs will be one of the first results; this is why keyword research is so important for choosing a small business’s domain name.
Small business owners do not have to feel overwhelmed, because they do not know anything about keyword research and domain names. Companies have experts in keyword research who do all the research for their clients. They will advise that a small business concentrate on their niche products, because this is the areas where they will be able to compete; more popular keywords and keyword phrases such as “iPhones” would be extremely difficult for a small business to take command of. The small business does not have the budget of large corporations, and those are the ones who will, generally, own the most well-known keywords and keyword phrases.
June 23, 2011 No Comments
The economy is tanking, folks are wondering how they’re going to make the mortgage payment this month, while still others are wondering how they’re going to feed the children this week. I don’t have to tell you how grim it is because all you have to do is walk down the street. There are no smiles on faces, only dazed eyes constantly roaming for answers. Except you. You just landed an account with two major realtors in your city for custom ceramics for them to place in houses for sale, because they saw your work in others’ sales plans and it sold houses for them.
Maybe your thing doesn’t involve a kiln or clay. Your specialty could be air fresheners you make yourself, which could possibly be marketed to small gas stations, automotive stores or even hospitals. If your thing is food that can be carried to construction sites, marinas or college campuses in town, then you have the makings of a small business. Perhaps your forte is knowledge. Your friends all come to you for advice or services, so why not construct a small business around it? Nothing is a better foul-economy-buster than targeting a market and then supplying it.
Sometimes identifying a market is no more difficult than sitting in Starbucks listening to the conversation around you. People do grumble over their coffee, don’t they? Listening to their wishes and what they’re lacking can be an eye-opener. Looking at the closed store-fronts in town and listening to passers-by on the sidewalk saying what business would be perfect for that particular store-front could net someone an idea for a small business. Many times the help-wanted ads in penny-saver type magazines or online list type sites can supply ideas for a market to target.
Many times ideas stay in people’s heads because they are afraid the ideas will be laughed at. Remember the realtors and the ceramics? If your thing is painting murals on dining room walls or the tray ceiling in the master bedroom, get out there and market yourself. Restaurants doing a re-fit would appreciate hearing from you. Is your talent math? How many after-school or day care centers are around you who might appreciate fun ways of helping the children learn? Making flash cards is old-school, but it’s still done. Why not construct a toy like a cell phone-type thing with cutesy graphics to teach them math?
Before you put your idea into production, a small survey would help boost that confidence. Social sites online can be used to get answers to a couple simple suggestions, in addition to going around to your targeted profession and asking some targeted questions. But questions are only the beginning. Get a pad and pencil to carry with you always to jot down ideas or target markets along with questions for both. Once armed with an idea and a market, the fun can begin with production, marketing, supplying a demand and customer relations. How about ceramic cars for auto insurance offices?
June 16, 2011 No Comments
There are many people who want to start a small business, but most do not know where to start. There are businesses that have had huge success stories while others struggle to get their names out into the public. It can be intimidating when you think about how many people cannot pull off the success that others appear to do so seamlessly. However, there are some tips that small business owners can follow that will help get their names out there and increase their sales.
One of the first things that must be addressed is how you market your business. Everyone expects ads in the phone book or even on the Internet. As the number of these ads increase, so does the consumer’s tolerance of them. In other words, people will quickly read through it without a second thought or may even skip it altogether. Because of this, it is up to you to promote your business in a way that is not seen as often.
Using a unique advertisement method serves a number of purposes. First, it makes people sit up and take notice. It will be something they are not used to, so they will pay more attention to it. Second, the audience will remember your ad more because it stuck out from the rest. Even if you do not have the same number of services when compared to bigger businesses, you can get customers that use your services because of your ads. Your unique vision will let consumers know that you stand behind your product and are not afraid to do something new.
Another very effective way to get your services out to a wider audience is to offer a number of tiers for pricing. You can create a basic tier that has cheaper services for those that are looking for a good deal while offering a premium tier that can address those that need more attention. The tiered services allow you to market to two different audiences while being able to give them quality service. Remember that not all people are looking for a good deal while others simply want to get the job done.
Finally, there is one more method that you can use to help market your service. Look and see if there are any other small businesses that would like to partner with you and offer services together. This is a great way to help promote one another and you can also benefit if the other business is well-known. This strategy allows you to access the customers from a different, or similar, market so that they can get a sample of what you have to offer. Word of mouth is one of the strongest ways to advertise, and accessing a different audience can change your range for consumers.
In the end, how you market your business can make all the difference in the world. Make sure to take the time to create a unique marketing strategy that will impress your potential customers. You will be well rewarded for your efforts.
June 14, 2011 No Comments
Many new entrepreneurs tend to believe that having a formal marketing plan may be excessive in the initial stages of their business. In some cases, this may be true but one thing that’s important to know before spending on advertising is the audience.
Forget a flashy website, t-shirt giveaways or expensive commercials for radio or TV. Find out who the potential customer is, where they are most likely to be found and what interests them and why. Then, find at least two methods as to how to reach them.
Do they read more than watch TV? How do they spend leisure time? What business competitor is currently servicing their needs and desires? What advantages does the new business have that’s sure to lure customers in? Are the potential customers impressed by visuals or gadgets? These are some of the questions a new business should ask before getting involved in any advertising campaign.
Everyday more people are doing things online such as paying household expenses, applying for work, attending school, playing video games or watching rented movies, shopping, getting advice on everything from appliances to relationships and the list goes on. These days, measures are taken so that payments are secure and customer data is kept confidential. Also, free or low-cost high-speed internet connections are accessible to just about everyone.
So there’s a good chance that the customer is online at some point on an average day. Once it’s discovered what their interests are, find what methods work best in order to reach them effectively. It is best to pick at least two to start and note alternative ways.
If a traditional press release has not been created, now is the best time to do so. Or update an old one with changes or make it more interesting. While there many companies or individuals that may write and distribute a press release as a business, an entrepreneur can do these themselves.
Press release templates as well as distribution outlets can be found online at little or no cost. Most local and national newspapers have press submission instructions on their websites. It’s important to read and understand every submission process as they can vary. Remember, this service is free to the business and not obligatory on the part of the medium.
When it comes to publishing, the local newspapers have a better guarantee than the larger national ones. The best way to ensure inclusion in a newspaper or periodical is to buy costly ad space. This works best when the business is profitable enough to seriously consider it as a return on investment instead of an expense.
A basic release is also a good way to have all company history and other information in one place. When networking online, which is free or low-cost, you may be asked to submit company data within a specified word count. So information taken from the press release can be written as 10, 25 or 100-word paragraphs that are ready to send to the media so business can get much-needed exposure.
May 25, 2011 1 Comment
Starting a small business is a complex task and requires internal strength, diligence and persistence. The legal structure of the business plays a large role in determining funding and the level of taxation. The wrong legal structure can kill a business before it even opens it’s doors. Properly incorporating the business when setting it up can even potentially save the owner from bankruptcy in the long run.
The small business owner is the business under this legal set-up. The owner legally represents the company. This simple structure creates minimal tax complications, has much lower start-up costs and makes it easier to handle funds and profits. Unfortunately, since the owner and the company are legally one and the same, creditors can sue the owner for the debts of the business. There is no legal separation between the owner’s liability and the business’s liability. The owner himself will have to file for bankruptcy if he cannot meet his business obligations.
Under this plan, taxation is similar to a sole proprietorship. There is no corporate tax rate, which makes this structure very attractive. Profits and losses become part of the owner’s personal income and are taxed at the owner’s applicable rate. An S corporation also allows the owner to write off any losses incurred when starting the business. The biggest downside is the requirement of maintaining regular meetings between shareholders and keeping minutes from these meetings.
This is a more complex version of the S corporation structure. C corporations are the legal structure behind the popular image of a corporation. A board of directors decides company policy and shareholders own different classes of corporate stock. C corporations are taxed at a separate rate and their income is legally separated from the owner’s personal income. Owners cannot write off start-up losses. The complexity and responsibility of a C corporation is enough to persuade most small business owners of choosing another legal plan.
Limited Liability Company
A limited liability company (LLC) is probably the most ideal structure for a small business. The owners of an LLC are legally separate from the company. Consequently, the owner is not liable for business debts and creditors cannot sue him to recover them. Profits and losses pass through to the owner’s personal income. The operating costs of an LLC are much lower because no meetings, minutes or boards are required. The downside is that an LLC dies when it’s owner either dies or goes bankrupt.
May 18, 2011 No Comments
In order for any type of business to be successful, ways to reduce operational costs should always be sought. Even if a small business has a rather large budget to operate on, the more money it can save means the greater profit levels it will endure, which means the further it will be able to expand. Saving money on office supplies is an excellent way for all businesses to reduce their operational expenses, and best of all, there are several ways to save on office supply costs.
Save by Earning Cash Back
There are several office supply stores that offer its customers a cash back program. When joining this type of program, a business earns cash back on any purchases it makes at the participating store(s). This type of program enables a business to literally save money with every purchase it makes on office supplies. Most times, the cash back rewards are stored on a card that can be used during future purchases.
Use the Rebates
Rebates are often cash back rewards that many businesses tend to overlook. A large amount of money can be saved through rebates, especially when making large purchases. The best way to look for available rebates is by looking through local newspapers or conducting a quick online search. Most rebates will require the person to pay for the item upfront and then mail in a form; this form can sometimes be emailed. After mailing in the form, the person usually receives a refund check or a credit to their customer account card. Through rebates, small businesses have the ability to stock up on all kinds of different office supplies by paying a very little amount of money.
Watch the Printer
Keeping an eye on printer settings can help a business save a large amount of money. While most printers have a number of different settings, most people do not take the time to see how each one can save ink and even paper. Anytime paper is being printed on, the printer should be set to a fast draft setting; this type of setting allows for the least amount of ink to be used. Some printers even allow the user to change font settings, which can save a person an enormous amount of ink, which ultimately saves the user money as well.
Do Not Use the Expensive Ink
Most businesses go through a large amount of printing activities, which of course consumes a large amount of ink. Businesses should not feel the need to buy expensive brand-name ink. There are plenty of other off-brand inks that can perform the printing job just as well. Look for wholesale printer cartridges here.
Use Free Computer Software Programs
Some companies feel like they need to purchase expensive software programs to be able to efficiently and effectively operate; however, the truth is, this is not true. There are a large number of software programs that can be utilized for free. This is especially true for virus and spyware software programs.
May 13, 2011 No Comments
Small business financing has certainly taken a hit over the last couple of years. With banks, credit unions and other lending institutions limiting access to credit, or raising the cost of credit altogether, small businesses have been left to pick up the pieces. Faced with declining revenues, decreased customer demand and a client base taking longer and longer to pay its invoices, securing business financing has quickly become a going concern for today’s small business owner. However, what options are there for small businesses unable to secure the working capital their business needs? Surprisingly, there are a couple of simple, straightforward and easy-to-use strategies that improve a company’s cash flow position and expand its options on business financing. It involves going outside conventional lending options and adopting a more proactive stance to managing the company’s finances. So, what can small businesses do to resolve the financing issues facing them today?
1. Use the Liquidity Within the Company’s Assets
A number of small businesses have started to pursue Asset-Based Lending (ABL) options where they can tap into the value and liquidity of their existing assets in order to finance their day to day operations. These options have become increasingly popular over the last couple of years in response to the unwillingness of banks and credit unions to extend affordable business credit. ABL financing works because it allows small businesses to use the liquidity within their assets to secure a working credit limit with a financing firm. These assets include the company’s inventory, warehouse & real-estate holdings, receivables, machinery & equipment and even miscellaneous items such as its office furniture and computer equipment. Now, the intention is not to leverage these assets so much that the small business finds itself in a weakened position. Instead, the purpose is to use avenues like account receivables factoring to improve cash flow by not having to finance customer’s business waiting for them to pay their invoices.
2. Aggressively Manage the Company’s Finances
Improving the company’s finances means to be open to pursue new avenues and strategies. Those customers the competition has ignored because of poor credit means small businesses can tap into a relatively quick and easy sale. In addition, customers with poor credit are always required to prepay, which improves a company’s cash holdings. Pursuing discounts for early payment is also an option with vendors and creditors and should be pursued at those times when the company’s cash position is strong. In essence, it’s about being aggressive with the company’s finances and securing the long-term savings so vital to the company’s operations.
ABL financing options have increased in popularity over the years and have become a mainstay in business financing for all companies, regardless of size. Today’s economic climate only exacerbates the financing issues small businesses face, which ultimately makes enacting those plans for growth extremely difficult. Small business owners must be willing to pursue different financing options and be willing to work with vendors & creditors to lower the company’s cost of money. It’s about being aggressive with the company’s finances by becoming more proactive, instead of reactive.
May 5, 2011 No Comments
Wearing all the hats seems to be the fashion trend of many new business owners who are running a one-person business operation. You are busy marketing to, meeting with, or supplying clients with your goods or services. Sometimes wearing all those hats can be like wearing a concrete block. Your neck is tired from carrying the heavy load of all those hats. There comes a time when you need to take off all of the hats and put on your best gloves.
You need to decide what your best gloves are. And, since you only have two hands, you can only choose one pair of gloves. Take a careful inventory of the many tasks that you are doing. Choose only two that you really enjoy doing and give away some of those hats.
For example, should you be spending valuable time putting stamps on promotional material when you could be personally handshaking community members at local business event? Is it really beneficial for you to be spending hours on a computer trying to design a website when someone who is more qualified can take care of that for you?
Do you really need to make all of the telephone calls personally?
Many self- employed business persons confess that because they are independent thinkers, they cannot conform to a fixed corporate structure. They are accustomed to wanting to manage everything and find it difficult to delegate. Sometimes these excellent independent business people hide behind the word “expense”. While using the cost of assistance as an excuse, the final result is failure due to wearing too many hats. A former President called that being “penny-wise and pound foolish.”
The challenge for the small business owner is to find which two gloves he or she is going to wear. Some people are very talented and can do many things. If you are one of those persons, then perhaps the task of finding the best two gloves will be a bit more difficult.
Providing yourself with a time line of when one pair of gloves will be worn and then put away may be a solution. Changing your tasks on seasonal basis can provide you with a different approach of doing a former task.
There are many places that can help you succeed with your business and are willing to share the hat wearing. The Internet provides lists of sources that can assist you with advice about insurance, laws, advertising, and grant money. Community groups such as your local SBA can also provide a great source of ideas as well as networking opportunities. Contacting your alderman’s office, community association, alumni associations and librarian have also been helpful places for the one-person operated businesses.
Just remember, put on your best gloves, and then knock them out with your best product or service!
May 1, 2011 No Comments
If you’re doing business on the Internet, you have a whole new world of ethics to deal with. That means legal issues, copyright concerns, pricing guidelines, and linking to questionable sites. There aren’t any clearcut “rules” for dealing with many of these issues, but there are plenty of pitfalls, especially when you start dealing with social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
One big no-no is violating copyright laws. Just because something is on the Internet doesn’t mean you have permission to use it on your website. Let’s say you’re selling something, and the manufacturer of the product has some great information and photos on their website you’d like to have on your site.
Are you allowed to copy it? Most probably the manufacturer will be happy for you to use it, but you can’t make that assumption. Legally and ethically, you need the manufacturer’s permission, so ask first.
Or perhaps someone has interviewed you and written about your business in an on-line or print publication. If it’s a favorable article or a really great photo, you might want to reprint it on your website.
Stop! In most cases, either the author or the publication holds the copyright, and violating that copyright can lead to really big fines. Get permission, in writing, before you copy anything to your website, even something that someone has written about you.
If you write about a product or service on your website, be sure you can back up what you say. Consumer protection laws are clear: although you can put a marketing spin on what you write, whatever you say must be the truth.
Let’s say you’re promoting a new cleaning product. You can say something like, “We have the best product for getting your carpet clean.” But you can’t make a claim such as, “Guaranteed to remove 100% of harmful bacteria,” unless, of course, you have scientific evidence to back that up.
That’s a bit of an extreme example, but you get the idea: some “puffery” is acceptable and even expected, but don’t make a measurable claim unless you can prove it.
What about criticizing a competitor or competing product? The situation here is pretty much the same as with making a claim about a product. You can’t write anything that’s disparaging or dishonest about your competition. However, you can compare and contrast products, websites, or businesses, as long as you’re fair about it. Here again, don’t say anything that’s unfounded or that you can’t prove, because that can get you into trouble.
The important legal and ethical concept here centers on the word “deception.” Both legally and ethically, deception is when you purposefully misrepresent something in order to cause damage to someone else. Get permission before you use anything someone else has written, and be honest about what you write, and you’ll stay out of any ethical or legal trouble. It’s all about doing and saying the right thing.
April 29, 2011 No Comments