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Category — Small Business Advice

Tips to Make Your Business Name Known

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

How to Advertise Your Business Without Going Broke

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

The Legal Structure Of A Small Business

The Legal Structure Of A Small Business

Small businesses have a unique appeal in American life. The ideal of the self-made entrepreneur calls people to start over 600,000 small businesses each year. The Small Business Administration estimates that more than 627,000 businesses were started in 2008. (1) The downside of small business creation is that the majority of business fail the first year. In 2008 alone almost 600,000 firms failed. (2) According to the Commerce Department, only seven out of 10 firms last longer than two years. Only five out of 10 businesses survive five years. (3)

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.

Sole Proprietorship
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.

S Corporation
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.

C Corporation
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.

References

(1) http://www.sba.gov/content/how-many-businesses-open-and-close-each-year
(2) http://www.sba.gov/content/how-many-businesses-open-and-close-each-year
(3) http://www.sba.gov/advocacy/7495/8430

May 18, 2011   No Comments

Saving Money In The Office

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

Financing your small business

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

Put on Your Best Gloves

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

How Are Your Internet Ethics?

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

Brief Guide on the Anatomy of a Successful Business

Every day, more and more businesses are realizing the power of the world wide web as a means to find more customers. Setting up a web site takes little time and money, and in some cases, you can be online in a matter of minutes. Despite this, taking your business still requires planning in order to maximize its marketing value. Here are some key components you must incorporate to your small business website.

1. The Lead Capture Page

As the name implies, the lead capture page is the place where you attract potential customers to buy into your business. Often, a lead capture page will include a short sales copy that provides a detail of what your business does and how it can help your customers. Also, and more importantly, it should include a sign-up form asking for the name and e-mail address of the potential client. The purpose of the sign up sheet is for you to update clients on the latest news, tips, and other pertinent information related to your business. In online marketing lingo, this is called E-mail marketing. Many consider E-mail marketing as a powerful tool for businesses because of its ability to maintain clientele relationships.

2. Blog

Any business with an online presence will need a blog, regardless if its hosted on the mother website or on a separate server (i.e. Blogger.com blogs). Like e-mail marketing, blogs help businesses establish and maintain ties with their clients. In addition, it is considered cost-effective because it allows businesses to cut their expenses on some things, such as customer service. Businesses can use blogs to answer common queries about their products and services without having to pay too much on customer service representatives. The ability of blogs to capture comments and suggestions provide businesses with a good idea of what their client base needs.

3. Social Media Widgets

With millions of people wired to social networking accounts, it is no surprise that social media has taken on such a powerful role in the online marketing strategy of many businesses. Social media builds communities and provides businesses with a loyal base of customers. Often, social networking sites will have ready-made html codes that you can copy and paste onto the code structure of your website.

4. Mobile-Friendly About Page and Contact Information

Improvements in the integration of Internet technology with mobile devices has resulted in the increased influence of cellular phones in driving the engines of E-commerce. As a small business owner, you can capitalize on this trend by creating mobile-friendly webpages. Forget the fancy pictures and the elaborate designs on your contact page. Just stick with the basics. All you need are a few simple information such as your business, a phone number, email, and address.

The components listed above are just the basics. If you can, get creative. The web is filled with all kinds of tool tools which you can use at your disposal to create a more powerful and personalized online presence for your business.

April 28, 2011   No Comments

Marketing your small business utilizing social media

Social media is now one of the primary platforms to get the word out about your business. Most social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter are free to set up and the target marketing campaign through Facebook is rather inexpensive. This is a great way to test your marketing message and get your marketing campaign rolling.

Often, small businesses are face with challenges in adequately marketing their business. We are inundated with information and distractions from our various media devices. We live in the days of spam and useless information so people crave valuable content. By educating people about your industry, rather than having a direct advertising angle, you will be set apart from the rest. If you blog, tweet and share information about topics relevant to your industry, you can attract viewers to your web page and establish credibility in your market.

Whether you are selling candles or computer applications, you more than likely have a great deal of information and expertise that can be shared with potential clients and customers. You can author how-to articles or create educational videos about your products or services and market them online. Keep in mind that each and every bit of content that you create and post online has the potential to create awareness about your brand and drive search engine results and traffic to your site at an unbelievably low cost, if any cost at all.

Sites like You Tube are often overlooked by small business owners. In reality, You Tube is an excellent platform for creating high impact content at a low cost. Typically the only investment that may be required is that of a quality camera and editing software. With proper preparation and time to learn the basics of video creation and editing, you can create a video that could lead to big time exposure.

Social media has changed the medium and message for small business owners. Years ago, the most common form of advertising a small business was print advertising. Unfortunately, this form of advertising is also costly. Unfortunately, many small businesses failed because they were unable to afford to get their message to their market. Now, you are able to not only get your message out, but can also use social media to maintain control of your company’s image. The key to getting the word out about your business is by cultivating super users and targeting your market. Super users are individuals who are already fans of your brand or product and are interested in sharing their positive beliefs on the web. It is possible, on Facebook to create a fan page, where you can attract potential super users. From your Facebook fan page, you can provide valuable information about your business and also add in a call to action to prompt all those interested to contact you or view your page for further instruction and information.

Before jumping into the social media scene, you must be sure you have an effective website for your business. Your website should describe your product or service. Once your website is complete, you will need to attract as much traffic as possible. In addition to sites like Facebook, Twitter and You Tube, you should also consider setting up a blog. Small business owners who blog have realized they can attract a new audience by writing in a style that exposes the human side of their business. Pod-casting is also new and simple technology that will help you build credibility and awareness of your brand. For some, a voice, rather than target words can convey the personality they need to become interested in your business.

As you can see, there are unlimited methods that can be used to market your small business. They key to success is having a well thought out marketing plan where your target market has been clearly identified. Once you have identified your market, you can use the many forms of social media to inexpensively and effectively build your business and obtain success you never imagined possible.

April 13, 2011   1 Comment

Mobile Apps for Everyone

I’ve just spent thousands on my website, and now I need a mobile app? Small business owners once balked at the costs and necessity of developing a branded mobile application. Smartphones and mobile commerce pace the digital parade. And, until recently, bootstrappers weren’t invited to the party. The explosion of mobile apps have driven developers to level the playing field with an affordable solution – in some cases, free.

A simple strategy and a nominal investment can extend any business into the hands of today’s educated and discriminating buyer. Ideating, building, and growing an app is not cost prohibitive. And just like your website, mobile apps will soon become an integral part of all digital marketing plans.

Pick a Platform

Two options exist: open the vault and hire a developer, or side step sunk costs by using a shared platform. Your business can invest heavily – up to $100K – in original programming and support from a custom shop, or choose a “do-it-yourself” application, with less functionality, from a myriad of online software programs. Plan B’s speed-to-market and enormous cost savings gentrify the decision.

Simple programs requiring no coding experience reduce start-up costs and development windows. Scan the market and align your app needs with a worthy software partner. Some are free, while others charge a monthly fee. This do-it-yourself avenue represents a strategic approach for testing the mobile market, with minimal investment.

Find Your Functions

The best mobile apps adopt a “less is more” strategy. Focus on two key functions core to your business and maximize their impact. A simple, elegant interface screams “user-friendly” and is more likely to be adopted. Formulate and strategize your mobile app like a new product launch.

Canvass your customers and uncover pressing needs, wants, and desires for engaging you outside the office. Sketch a plan around your products, people, and vision, broadcasting your story to a wider audience. Isolate a customer service pain and fix it with a function. Then, strike a balance between fun and utility and you’ve got a stealthy marketing tool.

Techie Talk

This new model – easy and affordable – also packs a punch. Browser-based programs transfer web content and social media feeds, driving your message directly to the source, the smartphone. Some offer interactive media platforms capable of audio, video, and motion graphics. Mobile ad integration allows small business to quickly monetize their app. Pick your functions and OS options and then launch your app. Development is measured in hours, not months.

Three distinct OS platforms battle for supremacy: Apple, Android, and Blackberry. Apple pioneered the app world and gate-jumped the competition. Android, Google’s contribution, has swiftly closed the gap, using its industry leading smartphone to ignite mobile app sales and downloads. Blackberry’s RIM OS is losing the race, but not backing down. If possible, get your new app approved by all three.

Mobile apps are like a virtual street team, finding new customers, nurturing existing ones, and evangelizing your brand. Now you can afford one.

April 8, 2011   No Comments