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Category — Small Business Advice

Small Business Websites: Owning Your Online Real Estate

When your business is small, you look for ways to manage costs. Some small business owners settle for website solutions that have them renting space on someone else’s domain. Even when the space offered is free, you should proceed with caution. Your long-term business plan should involve a domain you own for the following reasons.

#1 – No Shortcuts

It can take up to a year for a small business website to gain traction with the search engines and routinely rank for competitive keywords. You cannot abbreviate this process by building a site on someone else’s domain. You may see traffic on their site to your space, but at some point when you decide to make the switch you will be starting from day one on your domain. All the content and referrals you have already amassed on another’s domain cannot transfer to the new site and grow your influence any faster.

#2 – Terms of Service Change

If you read the terms of service for a site that offers free or low cost hosting (like an online storefront, for example) you will see that the provider has reserved the right to change their rules without notice. It’s their way or the highway, a daunting proposition once you have come to rely on their traffic or have built up significant content on their domain.

#3 – Landlords Control the Pricing

You may sign up for a great deal today, but what prevents your landlords from changing their pricing at a later date? Nothing really, according to the terms of service. Maybe you can lock in a low price by buying years in advance, but still you risk a day when the old terms or pricing no longer apply. At that point, the more deeply invested you are in their site, the harder and more expensive it will be to extract yourself and start over.

#4 – Landlords Control the Content

YouTube famously cancelled the account of Problogger, Darrin Rowse, when they decided they didn’t want to carry video content in the “make money online” niche anymore. While you may agree that much of the content in this category was useless or misleading, the thing is, one day this content met YouTubes standards, the next it did not. Online landlords have the right to make these reversals at will.

#5 – Landlords Sell Out

Finally, websites and platforms change hands all the time. New landlords bring new rules and new pricing. These new stakeholders have no loyalty to long-term customers or co-creators, which makes them even more likely to exercise their rights to change policy at will.

Your best defense against the changing whims of online landlords is an offense that includes a domain you own with website content you control. You will start gaining credibility with the search engines from day one, and over time, your online real estate will increase in value. Use free or low cost sites to help send traffic to your site, but do not put all your eggs in one of their baskets.

August 24, 2011   No Comments

5 Things Business Owners Should Be Buying, But Aren’t

This post was written by guest blogger Michael Dolen.

You’ve probably heard the quote “take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves”. This especially holds true in business. Sometimes the difference between a failing business and one that’s wildly successful is just a few percentage points of profit. Walmart is an example of this, with a net profit margin of only 3.77%.

Obviously though, none of us have a Walmart-sized company. Not even close. However the lesson still holds true whether you are a one-member LLC (like I currently have) or a corporation with hundreds of employees. If you don’t seek out the absolute best deals on your inventory and supplies, even the slightest differences can add up to real money over time the difference between being in the red of not.

Are you buying enough online?

One simple way that just about any business can reduce their expenses is to buy online. Of course, the impact that will have on your bottom line will depend on your industry, but here are 5 examples to demonstrate how this approach is something all of us must consider.

#1. Toiletries

Toilet papers, seat covers, paper towels; they’re not the most pleasant items to think about, but you should because you’re probably overpaying big time if you buy them from a brick and mortar store. Take these wholesale Health Gard seat covers. At the time of writing, DollarDays is selling them for only $78.87 per case (that’s 5,000 covers total) to Platinum Members. Compare that to the retail price of $219.80! Doctors’ offices, restaurants, and just about any business with a heavily-trafficked bathroom will save a lot of money here.

#2. Shipping/Packaging Supplies

Years ago I used to run an eBay business and as you can imagine, I was buying quite a bit of packing supplies (my Staple’s credit card bill each month was quite high!). Doing that was a big mistake, because I can buy envelopes, bubble wrap and more for only a fraction of the price online. Compare DollarDays wholesale envelopes to what the office supply stores charge and you will be amazed at the difference!

#3. Electronics

It may be 2011, but fax machines are still a vital accessory for many businesses. When I started my website for credit card reviews, I assumed a fax machine would never be needed since it was an online business. However the credit card companies I work with like Chase, American Express, and Discover often ask for the advertising agreements to be signed and faxed back. All those trips to Fedex Office where I had to pay $1-2 per page for faxes really added up. Eventually I caved in and bought a cheap fax machine, but after checking out the ones on DollarDays it looks like I could have gotten it a lot cheaper. As I write this there are good, name brand wholesale fax machines for less than a hundred bucks.

#4. Food/Beverage

We all know how expensive coffee has gotten over the past couple years. If you provide free coffee to your employees, that increased cost really adds up. Of course, the solution is to not to do away with it, because that coffee can help invigorate employees (boosting productivity). A better solution would be to buy it online. Not only will you find it’s a lot cheaper than the stores, but you can also snag additional savings with the closeouts found in DollarDays wholesale coffee and tea section.

#5. Hardware

A good friend of mine is a property manager for a fairly large complex of 80 or so apartments. Whenever light bulbs, tools, etc. are needed, the higher-ups at corporate tell him to go to Home Depot and charge it to the business credit card they provided him. This is a huge waste of money considering that many of the same items can be bought online for much, much less. Check out the wholesale hardware section and you will see just how significant the savings can be.

Michael Dolen is the founder of Category Media LLC, which is the parent company of CreditCardForum.com. He started this forum/blog in 2008 as a place for consumers and business to ask questions and get answers. Speaking of credit cards, he uses the Chase Ink and AmEx Business Gold for his company, but stresses that there’s not a “one size fits all” answer when it comes credit cards.

August 18, 2011   No Comments

We Are Forgetting About Our Kids

Marc Joseph, Author; CEO/President and Founder, DollarDays International, Inc. has created a new article on the Huffington Post. Below is a quick sample. Head over to the Huffington Post to read the full article.

I don’t need to rehash what has been going on in Washington. The moves that were made with the most recent agreements, we are told, were made to protect our children and their future. I am more worried about protecting our children of today to make sure we don’t have a lost generation gliding through our school system.

Where is our country’s moral standard when we read the article in the Huffington Post on August 8th “Schools Caught Cheating in Atlanta and Around the Country“? This is not our kids’ fault; it is our society’s fault. Where is Washington when the Wichita Kansas Eagle reports this week: “Board approves heavy budget cuts” and goes on to say they are doing away with librarians and stringed instrument classes; or when the Corsicana, Texas Daily Sun reports “Mildred cutting budget” and talks about the band not being able to go to football games?

August 17, 2011   No Comments

5 Strategies For New Businesses To Build Credit

This post was written by guest blogger Michael Dolen.

Building credit for your small business can seem like the ultimate catch-22. You can’t get credit without first having a credit history. So what are supposed to do? Well, here are 5 strategies you can use to establish and build credit for your new LLC or corporation.

Strategy #1: Open a business bank account

While this in and of itself won’t build your credit, it is an important requirement for obtaining credit down the road. In order to apply for an unsecured business loan, typically you must have a bank account that has been open for 2+ years. However, if you demonstrate a strong history of deposits/cash flow into this account, then your bank may make an exception to the typical 2 year requirement.

Strategy #2: Obtain a secured loan

Even if your business has absolutely zero credit history, it still may be possible to get a loan. How so? By putting up your cash as collateral. For example, your bank may allow you to borrow $5k if you sign away a $5k CD for collateral. Since essentially you are borrowing your own money, obviously a loan secured by cash is useless for financing purposes. However what it does accomplish is kick-starting your credit history, now your business will have an installment loan on its record.

Strategy #3: Establish trade lines

Even with no credit history, it may be possible to obtain a trade line with some local suppliers, such as construction and lumber companies. These usually operate on a net-30 basis, which means your balance must be paid in full within 30 days. Because these are unsecured, the amount of credit you start out with will almost always be low. However if you use it responsibly over time, your credit limit should go up. The only drawback with trade lines is that in order to have these show up on your D&B credit profile, you may have to pay Dunn & Bradstreet for their “Credit Builder” program, unfortunately.

Strategy #4: Piggyback on your personal credit

In order to apply for a business credit card and get approved solely under your company’s credit, your business typically must have 2+ years of solid cash flow (with solid bookkeeping to back it up) and often the requirements are quite high; $2M to $5M annually. Obviously that’s an impossible feat for a new business! However you can apply for small business credit cards under your personal credit. If you do so, please note that AmEx business cards(as great as they are) will not be reported to your business credit file. However Chase and some other issuers will report, assuming you provide them with your business tax ID number.

Strategy #5: Keep Your Personal Credit In-Check

Even after you do all of the above, don’t be surprised if down the road a lender asks to see your personal credit when you apply for a loan (typically this goes for anyone owning 20% or more of the business). Some people feel this is not appropriate, but it makes common sense when you think about it, a person good at managing their own credit will probably be a lower risk in managing business credit, right? Depending on the size and type of loan, the lender may also ask you to co-sign for it under your personal credit. Conclusion? As a small business owner, having good personal credit can be very useful, both now and in the future.

Michael Dolen is a small business owner himself, the founder of Category Media, LLC, which is the parent company of CreditCardForum.com (a website which he built to offer the best credit card deals, or at least that’s what he strives for it to be). On the site he has a section featuring credit Q&Aís for small businesses.

August 12, 2011   No Comments

Tips For Saving Money On A Website

Many small businesses struggle with the idea of putting together a website. It might be for creative reasons, or perhaps they simply do not have the money to spend on something elaborate. However, no matter how big or small the budget, it is possible to create a good, working website.

1. Go with Less Storage

Some businesses, regardless of their reach and size, believe they should have as much space as possible from their website host, as far as digital storage goes. However, if the business does not believe their site will have a lot of pages, images and so on – at least right away – there is no point in paying for what will not be used. Going with something simpler can lead to saving money that can be used in more important and pressing areas. It can always be changed, so few people should feel stuck.

2. Hire Somebody Close To Design the Site

In order to have a nice site, it is not required that the business hire the most expensive web designer on the market. Just because they charge a lot for their services, that does not mean that their work is suitable or the best out there. Instead of paying more than what is necessary, it is acceptable to simply hire a person close to a member of the business. They may be willing to work for significantly less, either to get their name out there or simply earn a few dollars. However, they should be satisfactory at what they do, or else the site will look amateur.

3. Do Not Invest In Accessories and Services

There are business websites out there that claim a small business website cannot hope to succeed unless they hire them to consult, add features to pages, and so on. The people that run service sites are very good at convincing others of their skill and necessity. However, they tend to demand a high price for what could be easy enough for the small business to figure out alone. A smart small business should never spend money on unnecessary things, such as SEO consultation, even if the seller tries to make it out to be crucial.

Running a small business can feel overwhelming, especially if it deals with a certain county or state specifically. Putting together a website can help the business reach out to the rest of the world, spreading brand awareness and increasing sales. However, the business should keep in mind that they do not have to spend a lot of money in order to do so. By keeping the tips above in mind, it is possible to scale back on costs and focus on other things.

July 29, 2011   No Comments

Using Social Media for Small Business Promotion

It’s no longer satisfactory to simply have your business represented online by a lone website. In the age of social networking and quickly-spreading online trends, every business needs to be considering a presence on site like Twitter and Facebook. These websites present great opportunities for brand awareness, promotion and even hype. So, how is it done and what do you need to know before you experiment with social media?

Twitter

As the worldwide leader in so called “microblogging,” Twitter is a must-have social networking account for any small business that is trying to reach out to a wider audience. That’s because the site allows these simple, 140-character messages to go viral simply by the act of “retweeting.” When someone retweets, your original message is displayed on their profile page. Their friends can then read your tweet and spread it themselves.

Twitter is an excellent way to promote things like sales or special offers. And if you’ve got a new product, Twitter offers a way to talk about it that is short, to the point, and draws attention. You can even do a series of tweets that focus on each unique aspect of a new or existing product, encouraging users to retweet if they agree.

Furthermore, Twitter encourages customer interaction with your brand. If they have a question about your business or product offerings, they can simply address it to you in a tweet. When you respond, they’ll feel as if they got the kind of personal attention that they deserve, and they’ll spread the world with a favorable tweet about your business. Twitter is increasingly the method of choice for small businesses that wish to reach a larger audience in an interactive and fun way.

Facebook

Small business owners who desire a more robust set of communication tools need look no further than Facebook, which offers businesses the ability to create “pages” in its social networking ecosystem. The advantage to these business or fan pages, over traditional profile pages, is that they are uniquely and deeply customizable. Rather than have a simple list of sections like “wall” or “info” or “photos,” brands can set up product pages that detail their offerings. They can make a promotions page that lists their ongoing special deals. And just about any other type of page is relatively easy to construct.

Facebook also gives businesses more robust communication options. Each of these business pages comes standard with the Facebook “wall.” That means users can posts questions or comments, interact with business owners and employees, and engage with the product.

It also means that the Facebook page owner can post status updates that appear on everyone of their fans’ walls. Because these status updates have a much higher character limit than those on Twitter, the information can be more robust and include videos, photos, and links to your website or other places that relate to your offerings.


Social networking is an indispensable tool for small business owners that can help them grow their business and engage with their customers in exciting new ways. The massive popularity of these sites makes it nearly a requirement for a serious business to have a serious — but fun and engaging — online social media presence.

July 26, 2011   No Comments

How to Trim Your Small Business Budget

In these uncertain economic times, many small business owners are looking for ways to cut back on their expenses and make sure they’re in a sound financial position — just in case the worst-case scenario becomes a reality. There are several great ways to reign in your small business’ spending and ensure your financial integrity for the long haul.

Consider VoIP or Virtual Phone Services

The days of paying a landline telephone operator huge sums of money for multiple telephone lines are long over. Sure, they still offer this service and have recently come down on the price they charge their business clients for the privilege of multiple lines, but their methods are increasingly outmoded by virtual phone services and VoIP service providers.

VoIP uses your business’ existing broadband internet connection to route calls over the internet, rather than over the old-fashioned copper wires maintained by the traditional landline phone company in your area. Because these companies have no lines to maintain and no wire poles to erect, they are able to offer telephone services — even on multiple lines — at discounts that can reach as high as 80% cheaper than the traditional telephone company’s best offering.

Best of all, it eliminates a utility bill entirely and gives your business a bit of convergence: internet and telephone, all centrally located and routed through the same provider. That also means that technical problems will be easier to address and more simple to diagnose.

Pay Bills Online

Banks don’t just give out checks — they’re a costly investment for every small business. And for every check that needs to be written, a stamp must be purchased. Those costs add up over the course of a year, but can be quickly solved by switching to online bill payment. There are generally no fees associated with this type of service, and it will save your business on costly checks and the postage fees that slowly add up over time.

Go Open-Source for Productivity Needs

Microsoft Office is an expensive productivity software suit that most people feel is essential, but the company is increasingly dealing with open-source and free competitors that offer the same product without charging so much as a dime. So it is with Office’s nearest competitor, OpenOffice. The software suite is open-source software, meaning it’s actively developed by a community of programmers and distributed free of charge to anyone who wishes to download it.

Another option is the excellent Google Docs service that places all of your documents and productivity applications online, within reach of any internet-connected computer. That has the added benefit of making your documents universally accessible and shareable, too — which is increasingly important as everything becomes digital and collaborative among small and large businesses alike.

Office equipment — everything from computers and smartphones to printers and faxes — can be purchased refurbished from any number of vendors. The savings on these items is oftentimes significant, with customers saving between 20% and 50% on factory refurbished office items. It all adds up to more equipment for less money, and a great value for the budget-conscious business owner.

July 19, 2011   1 Comment

How to Bring Your Business Into the 21st Century

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

A Website Will Work Wonders For A Small Business

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

Ready, Aim – Make Ceramics

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