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Yearly Archives: 2015

Kick off the New (Business) Year Right!

Making resolutions for the new year is a time honored tradition in our society.  We resolve to eat better, exercise more and spend more quality time with family.  Sometimes we succeed at these things and sometimes we don’t.  While making personal goals are a great way to kick off the New Year, so is making a list of your business goals for 2016.  Stumped as to where to begin?  Here are some great ideas to start 2016, organized and on target.

  • Set targets for each week, month or quarter.  Organize the goals into long and short term including prioritizing them into categories.
  • Start the year off with a positive attitude.  Put forth a can-do attitude and you may find that it is contagious.
  • Invest in the right employees.  Find employees that are talented and reward them for their efforts regularly.  Even small tokens can go a long way to creating loyal employees.  Remember it is easier to maintain good employees than train a new one.
  • Create accountability. Hold meetings that ask for updates on how projects are going and any problems the group is having.
  • Invest in education.  Allow employees and managers alike to continue learning next year.  Technology is constantly changing and workers need to keep up with all the changes.
  • Get your office organized.  Ask staff to help with what they see as issues with organization or redundancies.  Then, supply methods for solving disorganization in the office.
  • Challenge Yourself.  Come up with larger goals to see what you can do.  The sky is the limit.
  • Review your bottom line.  Where are you spending too much or not enough? Seek a professional’s opinion.
  • Check in with staff and clients to see where your company can grow or improve over the next year.
  • Plan ahead.  Part of your day should always be to look ahead and see what is next on the horizon whether it is in the tech arena or in the marketing field.  Stay on top of your game by reading competitor websites and publications.

Security Protocols for Small Business

2015 was not a good year for IT security.  It seems like every other day there were announcements of how many files were breached at major corporations who supposedly were safeguarded by top notch security systems.  These included companies like Anthem Health Insurance, the infamous Ashley Madison, and chain stores like Target and CVS.

If you own a small business, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.  This could happen to your small business too.  These breaches are NOT just happening at large corporations, they are happening down the street and right in your own neighborhood.  In the first half of 2015 the number of records breached was just under 246 million across 888 disclosed incidents (the true number is much higher), with mega-breaches accounting for 82 percent of the records compromised.(Source: Tech World)

What are some steps that your small business can and should make to avoid being a victim of the millions of security breaches next year?  Here are some tips for securing your company from Tech World, Self Growth and Tech Radar.

  • Have a Security Strategy – Small businesses should have a strategy mapped out which includes:  determining the assets which need protecting, assessing how immediate the threat is to your business, and who needs access to certain information within the company.
  • Educate Employees – Many breaches can be due to an innocent mistake or lack of understanding of how breaches can occur.  Employees should be educated about what steps they need to keep their devices safe when they are accessing work files remotely as well as recognize phishing, social engineering attacks, rogue emails; and told to avoid clicking on unfamiliar links.
  • Manage Your Mobile – Small businesses and businesses that operate in numerous locations have more tech to keep safe such as tablets, laptops, and smartphones.  Companies can deploy mobile device management (MDM) solutions that separate work from personal data on your portable hardware, as well as allowing the device to be wiped if it’s lost or stolen. Look into who uses mobile devices and are they protected.
  • Manage Paperwork – Dispose of hard copies of client information properly since critical information may make hacking easier if it gets into the wrong hands.
  • Update Malware and Security Systems Regularly – Hackers are getting smarter and are coming up with better and faster ways to breach information.  Follow updates on your technology so that the best and latest versions of security are on your computers – including mobile devices .
  • Encrypt your data – Stored data, filesystems, and across-the-wire transfers all need to be encrypted. Encryption is essential to protecting sensitive data and to help prevent data loss due to theft or equipment loss.(Source: ZD Net)

 

Importance of HR Policy Writing for your Small Business

Many people in the workforce may think about policy writing for the Human Resources Department of any business as “Ho-Hum” or “Yawn-producing Boring,” or even worse as a great waste of paper. Whatever your opinion is about HR handbooks and policies, those policies are there with a purpose – to protect employers and employees alike.  Human resource policies are the formal rules and guidelines that businesses put in place to hire, train, assess, and reward the members of their workforce. These policies, when organized and disseminated in an easily used form, can serve to preempt many misunderstandings between employees and employers about their rights and obligations in the business place. (Source: Inc Online)

Some of the main topics that should be covered in these policies will be:

  • Equal Employment Opportunity policies
  • Employee classifications
  • Workdays, paydays, and pay advances
  • Overtime compensation
  • Meal periods and break periods
  • Payroll deductions
  • Vacation policies
  • Holidays
  • Sick days and personal leave (for bereavement, jury duty, voting, etc.)
  • Performance evaluations and salary increases
  • Performance improvement
  • Termination policies

This may not sound like the most interesting read, but employers and employees alike find that there are many benefits to having policies in writing. Communication with employees and managers can improve dramatically with the right resources available through human resources policies. It can also save time with the ability to focus on work activities rather than HR issues.  Finally, written policies can be a huge  asset when trying to curb litigation. Members of the legal and business communities agree that organizations can do a lot to cut off legal threats from disgruntled current or ex-employees simply by creating—and applying—a fair and comprehensive set of personnel policies. When there is a written resource that clearly and completely outlines what your company stands for whether it is regarding hiring, firing or in-office behavior, there will be a major savings when it comes to time, energy and ultimately the bottom line.

The Art of Storytelling in Marketing

Since the time when the earliest homo sapiens created paintings on cave walls using clay and berries, humans have been telling stories in one way or another. Stories have passed on information, family culture and education – generation after generation.  Fast forward millions of years and storytelling has morphed from something done with small children before bedtime to a clever marketing tool that has many benefits in today’s tech centered world.

Let’s think about the amount of information a typical consumer may process online each day.

  • A typical consumer may process more than 100,000 words each day online.
  • Google reports a massive 700,000 searches per minute.
  • Internet users are exposed to over 5.3 trillion advertisements every year. (Source: Digital Marketing)

With this massive amount of information, images and ads that inundate users daily, it is understandable that many viewers skim over online data rather than read thoroughly.  So, how then, do marketers capture the attention of viewers?  Storytelling!

Storytelling is one such technique that can capture the attention of consumers, connects the viewer to the product or service, and helps the viewer identify the brand.  Storytelling can give a soul to your product, introduce the product in a new light, or even create an emotional connection that may be missing from regular digital advertising. While creating a story to tell about your brand will be unique to your company, TOMS Shoes is an excellent example of storytelling in marketing that illustrates how to use storytelling to connect with viewers.

TOMS Shoes promotes a story that is dedicated to something they call “One for One.”  What this marketing story tells is how a company that started in an apartment as a side business has grown into a multi-million dollar movement that gives away shoes, eyeglasses and clean water to needy areas.  Whenever customers buy a pair of TOMS shoes, eye-wear or coffee beans, they can feel like they’ve become part of something meaningful. The TOMS story has since become a worldwide phenomenon that has captured national attention and obviously consumer’s hearts.  This is how storytelling can be a game changer for marketing teams.  For further information on storytelling and how it may benefit your company see the following links-

Top Companies Using Storytelling

iScoop – Storytelling Benefits

Forbes – Secrets of Storytelling

 

Break-even Analysis

Launching a small business is a bit like an acrobat walking across a tightrope at the center ring of the circus.  The acrobat must shift and balance their weight to safety make it across the narrow wire, much like an owner of a small business must balance costs vs profits to figure out if a break-even point will be reached each month. Just as the acrobat has a daunting task of balancing their weight, so too does the owner of small business when accurately assessing costs against sales.  Let’s examine some top tips from the professionals at Small Business Association and Forcaster regarding Break-even Analysis.

What is a Break-even Analysis?  If you are considering jumping into the “circus ring” and starting your own business, one of the most important business planning tools is a Break-even Analysis that can help you determine how soon your business will be profitable and be able to cover all expenses.   The Break-even Analysis lets owners determine what amount of product or service is needed to sell, monthly or annually, to cover the costs of doing business–the “break-even point.” The U.S. Small Business Association states that the formula for  reaching that critical threshold is: “Breakeven point = fixed costs/ (unit selling price – variable costs).”

 
 Break-even Points to Consider-

  • Start-Up Costs – It is important to identify your startup costs, which will help you determine your sales revenue needed to pay ongoing business expenses.
  • Identify Fixed and Variable Costs – To calculate your break-even point, you will need to identify your fixed and variable costs. Fixed costs are expenses that do not vary with sales volume, such as rent and administrative salaries. These expenses must be paid regardless of sales, and are often referred to as overhead costs. Variable costs fluctuate directly with sales volume, such as purchasing inventory, shipping, and manufacturing a product. (Source: SBA)
  • Get Contracts in Writing – If you are relying on sales and contracts long range be sure to get those in writing since it will be easier to collect (even legally) when it comes time. Even if not legally required, it’s wise to put almost everything in writing, because oral agreements can be difficult or impossible to prove. This includes leases or rental agreements, storage agreements, contracts for services (such as consulting or electrical work), purchase orders or contracts for goods worth more than a couple hundred dollars, offer letters of employment, and employment policies. Get in the habit of getting and giving receipts for all goods, services, and deposits, regardless of how much.(Source: NOLO- Law for All)
  • Change Strategies of Break-even point is too high – If your break-even point is higher than you expected, don’t panic.  There are some ways to balance the numbers such as: shopping around for less expensive supplies, reducing the number of, or eliminating employees altogether, working from home, and
    raising your sales prices. (Source: Find Law)

Gaining Access to Capital

images-38According to the Small Business Association, one of the biggest issues facing small businesses is the inability to access sufficient credit and capital.   According to numbers from just a year ago almost 8 million small businesses are strapped for cash and may be unable to hire new employees, take on new clients, or sadly, even keep their doors open. Lack of capital is one of the primary reasons that businesses flounder.   What are the options then for small businesses when it comes to gaining access to capital in today’s economy.  Let’s explore the various channels for achieving access to capital.

  • Small Business Administration -SBA The SBA is a government agency that collaborates with private lenders to create (and guarantee) business loans. “Guarantee,” in this case, means the federal government will back up to 90% of a loan. The Office of Capital Access within the SBA mission is to help make capital available through banks and other lending partners to small businesses. They sponsor loans that offer more favorable terms and interest rates.  They are accessible to more businesses, and are open to fixed assets and operating capital.  They also attempt to streamline lending through an automated process that encourages faster decisions and reduces lender underwriting time.
  • Conventional Loans –In contrast with SBA loans, conventional loans are private and are not guaranteed by the federal government. As such, they normally carry higher rates. Conventional loans examine your businesses credit history, your monthly expenses, and your overall business pattern.  Some conventional loans would include: Commercial Loans, Equipment and Vehicle Loans, Business Line of Credit, or  General Business Loans.
  • Crowd Funding – An alternative access to capital that has really taken off in the past few years.  Crowdfunding is by definition, “the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet.”  (Forbes) There are numerous crowdfunding platforms where consumers can safely ask for or donate money such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, RocketHub, and Onevest.
  • Venture Capital – Venture Capital is money provided by investors to startup firms and small businesses with perceived long-term growth potential. This is a very important source of funding for startups that do not have access to capital markets. It typically entails high risk for the investor, but it has the potential for above-average returns. (Investopedia) This type of access is great for start ups and tends to heavily favor the technology industry.

Powerful B2C Tools – Digital and Traditional

Marketing specialists who deal with B2C have an ever growing challenge to do their job well in this fast-paced technical world in which we live.  They must be able to meet the consumer at many different entry points both digital and traditional in order to cast a net wide enough yet focused enough to gain access to the audience they are seeking.

One of the first things to consider is who is your target audience?  Are they female or male? Older or younger? Middle or Upper class?  Are they digitally adept or rely more on traditional advertising?  Is your audience local or national? The demographics and buying patterns of your audience will determine the type of tools you will rely on when planning your next B2C campaign.

While business-to-consumer (B2C) activity exists both off and online there are tools that marketing teams should consider when targeting a particular audience.  Lets look at some of the powerful tools that are out there to help marketing in this tech savvy world. Here are three areas that are critical to take into account when planning your marketing strategy.

  • Traditional Advertising Media – Yes, traditional advertising media is still alive and well.  These methods can be quite effective and can hit a population that is not digitally hooked.  This medium includes: billboards, magazines, radio,  newspapers and direct mail.  Each of these tools can reach large audiences and in the case of items like magazines and newspapers can reach people over and over again with rereads and passing off the item to friends.  For businesses that are local in nature billboards and local newspapers can be especially advantageous to draw immediate visual attention and remind consumers that you nearby in their community.
  • Digital Ads – The use of electronic ads has exploded in the last decade.  Tools that have made marketing easier and more cost effective include the PPC (Pay-Per-Click) options, local or global and the use of key words to get your ads in front of the right people. Google AdWords, to name one, has allowed small and large companies alike to set a budget and stick to it as well as customize who they would like to reach in their advertising.
  • Social Media – The latest addiction in the world of marketing is social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter,  Pinterest, Instagram and the list goes on and on.  Social media marketing programs usually center on efforts to create content that attracts attention and encourages readers to share it across their social networks. For example blogs that give helpful information or Facebook posts that give tips or even discount codes can help draw in consumers.  The numerous social media channels and advertising options can help encourage brand awareness as your name and logo can be put front and center on the pages your target audience is visiting.

Holding Productive Staff Meetings

When employees hear the word staff meeting the first thing that may come to mind is . . .  “time waster.”  According to a recent survey of U.S. professionals by Salary.com, meetings ranked as the number one office productivity killer. For many employees, staff meetings are seen as a time when a manager may drone on and on, or “Bob” from marketing hijacks the meeting or worse yet, when they are continually asking themselves “why am I here?”  There’s no quicker way to sap employee morale and productivity than by convening a meeting that fails to produce results. However, this doesn’t need to be the case.  If done correctly, meetings can be effective, spark creativity, unite the group and prompt meaningful action.  Let’s look at some suggestions to keep your meetings on track and make them fruitful and productive.

  1. Purpose – Every meeting should have a purpose or goal.  It should not just be held because it is Monday and meetings are always on Monday.  That purpose should be laid out in a written agenda that clearly states what will be discussed and materials that employees will need with them.  Tell them your time frame so they know how much time to block off for the meeting.
  2. Involve Everyone – There really is nothing worse than going to a meeting where an employee feels invisible.  Don’t let one person hog the show or overrule others.  Make sure you hold a meeting where everyone’s voice is heard.  Meetings that offer everyone a chance to voice their opinions and insight are much more productive than meetings that only have one or two voices in conversation.
  3. Ban Distractions – With so many people tethered to their smartphones, it is no doubt that they are a distraction.  Ask that phones, tablets, or other devices be put aside while discussions are happening.  Note taking is usually allowable but during brainstorming or back-and-forth discussions assign a note taker so others can concentrate on the task at hand.
  4. Follow Up – One chief complaint about meetings is that items that were discussed and actions that were decided upon somehow don’t get done. Compile the meeting’s notes into action items and distribute them to everyone who attended. Appoint someone to keep track of who’s responsible for doing what and by when. This helps people understand that the end of the meeting signals the start of taking action.
  5. Give Credit Where Credit is Due – Sometimes staff meetings get caught up in the minutia of everyday workplace activities.  It is a good idea to spend some time during each meeting doling out praise for a job well done or a key project completed.  The positive reinforcement will go a long way to keep morale up and employees inspired to do more.

Pros and Cons of Drones for Business

Drones have been all over the news as of late.  They are a hot button topic that has stirred up may questions about their use.  How will they impact business?  What kind of safety issues should businesses and individuals be concerned about?  Are they a violation of privacy? How can my company use drones?  The federal government has been looking at just these kinds of questions to formulate regulations that will allow for business development while at the same time providing safety and privacy guidelines.  Let’s look at some of the potential pros and cons of drones in business as this fledgling service “takes flight”.

Pros

  • Better for the environment – A single, battery-powered drone traveling to bring your order versus a large emissions-spewing delivery truck is a vast improvement when it comes to emissions and energy efficiency. (TreeHugger)
  • Positive Economic Impact – A recent study estimates over the 10 year span from 2015 to 2025 UAV integration within national air space will account for $82.1 billion in job creation and economic growth. Over a ten year span, job creation from commercial drone use will consist primarily of manufacturing jobs. Notably, commercial use of drones will predominantly affect agriculture and public safety more so than commerce. Due to the ability to cover large areas, drone use in agriculture is anticipated to effectively feed and hydrate plants while also limiting exposure to diseases. (Investopedia)
  • Physical Access to Hard-to-reach places – Drones can assist in law enforcement, farming, media coverage, and maintenance to areas that are difficult to reach manually.
  • Business Growth – Depending upon the industry, business can grow exponentially whether it is in the area of providing service, delivery of products, photography or just for fun!

 

Cons

  • Privacy Concerns – The drone will use GPS to find your house and will almost definitely have a camera in order to safely land and navigate its surroundings.  It is unlikely that this information will be used in nefarious ways but privacy protections may need to be implemented.
  • Physical Safety – Questions have been raised about using drones near airports and causing dangerous situations.  Other questions have been raised about the impact on predatory birds that may see drones as a threat.
  • Legal Issues – Permits and Logistics may be costly or time consuming depending upon the guidelines that will be put forth by the FAA and the Federal Government.

Making the Most of Your Email Marketing Campaign

Before we discuss techniques to optimize your email campaigns, here are some statistics on email and email usage patterns that may open your eyes to the importance of making the most of your email campaign.

  • 57% of email subscribers spend 10-60 minutes browsing marketing emails during the week. (ChoozOn)
  • When asked to opt-in to receive updates from a company, only 10% elected to do so through Facebook, while 90% chose to receive email newsletters. (Nielsen Norman Group)
  • Mobile matters: 41% of emails are opened on a mobile device. And 23% of readers who open an email on a mobile device open it again later. (Campaign Monitor)
  • 91 percent of US adults like to receive promotional emails from companies they do business with (MarketingSherpa, 2015)
  • Email is almost 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined in helping your business acquire new customers. (McKinsey, 2014)

Given these statistics, it is clear that email marketing has some significant advantages.  Lets look at some of the key benefits and practical methods for  this marketing strategy.

  • Email Marketing is amazingly cost-effective. With an ROI of around 4,300% (according to the Direct Marketing Association), email practically pays for itself … and saves a tree or two. If your marketing budget has taken a hit in the past few years email may be an excellent source to convert viewers into consumers.
  • Email newsletters are a good reminder to consumers about your services at the same time allowing your company to promote a new product, link to business workshops, a call to action, or articles that will keep your viewers informed.  This increase in communication and added information can make your company stand out as a good value.
  • Emails can help build your brand.  Your businesses logo, tagline and purpose should be front and center to remind people who you are and what your stand for.  Each subject line should not only include information about your company but also catch the readers attention so they feel compelled to open the email and read.
  • Emails can make consumers act.  Make sure your call to action is big and obvious. Make it clear and simple to click on the icon to opt in to whatever you are asking consumers to do.
  • Be mobile ready.  Since so many people read emails and reread emails on their mobile devices be aware of what your email will look like on a smartphone.  Use responsive design to make sure viewers can easily read while mobile.
  • The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is very true with email.  Use custom photography to show instead of tell about your latest news and products.

For more information of starting your email campaign here are two sites to examine-

Constant Contact

EmailChimp