Get Your Finances Straight for 2017

With 2017 upon us, it’s an important time for taking stock of your business’ finances and setting right whatever issues are unresolved. Here are 9 tips you can execute right now to get your finances straight:

  1. Update your business plan: Several sections may need updating. What was the last time you analyzed your competitors or reevaluated your marketing plan? It’s easy to let these things slip, but important to bring them up to date. You will, of course, want to also recast your financial projections and budgets for 2017 in light of current conditions. Check out our Business Budget Smart Sheet to help you whip your budget into shape.
  2. Stay informed about health care: Donald Trump has promised to repeal Obamacare. This will have unpredictable repercussions for companies with employee health plans. It would be wise to anticipate the worst, which is health insurance costs rising substantially. On the other hand, you may no longer need to provide health insurance, which might save you a ton of money. The best advice is to stay informed.
  3. Reassess your capital structure: Do you have enough capital to fund your operation and expansion in 2017. If you plan to grow your business at the start of the year, now would be an excellent time to line up a commercial loan from IOU Financial. Our streamlined process can provide loans of up to $150,000 in as little as one business day. Whether you plan to move to bigger quarters, increase your inventory or add another shift, an IOU Financial business loan can get you ready for 2017 with the capital you need, quickly and hassle-free.
  4. Set aside contingency funds: An excellent 2017 resolution would be to earmark some of your profits for a contingency fund to handle unexpected cash crunches. A proper emergency fund should be able to keep your business afloat for three to six months. You can, of course, supplement your contingency fund with a quick loan from IOU Financial. Unlike a bank, we respond to emergencies immediately with fast funding.
  5. Review your insurance policies: You should review at least once a year your liability insurance, key-person life insurance, health insurance and so forth. The insurance market is quite dynamic, and it’s always a good idea to find out whether money-saving policies are available.
  6. Stay informed about 2017 tax changes: We already mentioned the Obamacare changes that are brewing. Mr. Trump has also promised a giant tax cut for businesses and a relaxation of regulations, all of which could have a major impact on your business finances. If necessary, confer with a tax specialist to ensure you understand the latest rules.
  7. Check the latest salary guide: Every year, several publishers put out the latest industry salary guides. See how your pay structure compares to your industry statistics – you may need to modify you pay structure if you are looking to recruit good people.
  8. Use cash accounting to advantage: Many small businesses use cash accounting, in which income is recognized at collection and expenses realized at disbursement. To lower your 2016 tax bill, prepay expenses and delay collections. This will shift some profits into tax year 2017, giving you an extra year to hold onto them, when tax rates might be lower.
  9. Evaluate your offerings: Depending on what type of business you run, it might be a good idea to look at the products and services you offer and see whether some changes are in order. If you are a merchandiser, you can look at your mix of products and eliminate the weakest performers, and/or extend your range of merchandise to new areas.

One last thing: Happy New Year from your friends at IOU Financial!

Increase Sales in 2017 with a Solid Marketing Plan

Every business owner hopes that the upcoming year will be more successful than the last; but instead of just  hoping, entrepreneurs can create plans to ensure those goals are met. New product launches, expansion and franchising are common way to increase sales, but they are risky and costly. However, implementing a new or improved marketing strategy can benefit a business at a lower cost, or can be budgeted for easily.

What are the Benefits of Marketing?

Blue Cow Creative lists several benefits of marketing, including promoting brand recognition, advertising your services or products to customers, selecting which clients to target, and allowing you to communicate with those individuals in a timely manner.

The bottom line is that a business can offer the most innovative product, or the most cost-effective service, but without marketing the offerings to their intended audience, no sales will follow.

What are the Most Effective Forms of Marketing?

There are a multitude of marketing strategies; there is the traditional, interruption marketing, which interrupts an individual’s day with a cold call, or a television program they are watching with a commercial. Another alternative is permission marketing, which only targets the individuals who give their consent to be contacted.

Research has proven time and time again that permission marketing is not only more cost-effective, as you are not spending funds to contact individuals who have no interest in your business, but is also more effective. It is much easier to close a sale with a person interested in what you have to say, than one who has to be persuaded. Below we list three different types of permission marketing:

Email Promotions 

Emails allow you to communicate with a targeted audience in order to announce new products, sales, special deals and events. There are several ways to ask customers and potential clients to sign up for your email promotions. If you have a physical store or office, you can ask visitors to add their contact information to your list. If you have a website, you can create pop-up advertisements asking people to opt-in to receiving email communication from you. To entice them to sign up, consider offering an exclusive discount or a an entry into a drawing.

Social Media

Social media is an effective marketing tool for any business. It is a form of permission marketing because people have to choose to follow or “like” your business page, and if they always have the option to stop receiving communication by deleting access to their profile.

There are a plethora of social media platforms to choose from; Facebook is the most popular one, allowing access to 1.79 billion monthly active users, but Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest are also beneficial to use to connect to your target audience.

Be strategic about what you post on social media; remember to be honest and ethical, yet make your posts and images eye-catching and creative in order to get noticed. The biggest advantage of social media is that other members can share your posts with their network, providing a form of free advertising.

Influencers

Influencers are individuals that can sway the purchasing decisions of others because of their expertise, authority, or knowledge in a certain area. There are fashion influencers, who curate outfits for their audience, beauty influencers who recommend makeup brands for specific skin needs, etc.

When considering ways to market your brand in 2017, research relevant influencers in your industry. You can contact these individuals through their personal blogs or social media platforms to ask them to recommend your product or service. The best part is that these people already have large fan bases, so your offering would be shared with a multitude of potential customers who want to hear what the influencer has to say. Keep in mind that as payment for their promotion, influencers may request payment in the form of free items or actual monetary compensation.

With the new year quickly approaching, set your marketing budget now so that you can pursue relevant strategies for permission marketing. Get your budget in order before the new year with our Business Budget Smart Sheet.

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New Year Resolutions: Don’t Just Make Them Personal

The new year is quickly approaching, and many of us are making plans for how we will welcome 2017. Some individuals are purchasing champagne to ring in the new year, while others are coming up with new year resolutions. It is fairly common to come up with typical goals, such as losing weight, creating more family time, and dedicating more effort to hobbies and interests, but resolutions are not only beneficial to your personal life. In addition to personal resolutions, concentrate on professional objectives, as well. In fact, it is advantageous for managers to encourage their teams to brainstorm together to plan for the upcoming year with these steps.

Prepare General Company Goals

Prior to sitting down with your team and making resolutions for the following year, make sure you are prepared. You cannot ask your employees to provide solutions without being aware of the company’s plans. It is recommended to meet with your own manager, who is likely privy to more information, and will provide you with projected goals for 2017.

Encourage Employees to Participate

Alert your employees of upcoming meetings to discuss goals, and encourage their participation. It may be beneficial to share the organization’s goals prior to the meeting, and ask your team members to consider ways of accomplishing them. In fact, you may require each and every staff member to create a plan for next year, which involves actionable objectives that can be measured and accomplished.

Business meeting

A great leader will remember that their staff is not only invested in the company’s success, but also in their own. To show your employees that you are committed in empowering them, ask them to create individual professional goals as well as plans to benefit the company’s mission.

Host a Meeting 

In order to create new resolutions, you must dedicate a place and time to get your team together. Schedule a meeting, and alert your team about it in advance, so they have the time to prepare their suggestions. As the meeting commences, you can take the lead in reviewing the company’s and the department’s resolutions for next year, but don’t monopolize the conversation the entire time. Instead, allow each and every individual the time to share their thoughts on relevant steps that should be taken in 2017.

To prevent everyone from speaking at once, or interrupting each other, you may go around the room, giving everyone a chance to contribute, or use an object as a “talking stick,” only allowing the person holding it to speak.

Collaborate on creating a general to-do list for next year with measurable results that can be crossed off as they are accomplished. You can choose to meet with each employee individually at a later date to discuss their personal goals.

Follow Up

After the meeting has concluded, follow up with a written plan for 2017. Designate a team leader to oversee employees in the following year to make sure everyone is staying on track with their resolutions, and providing tools or advice to those that are falling behind.

Goals for 2017: How to Set and Keep Them

Each December, we reflect on the past year and what we can do to improve in the coming months. We take stock of what goals we achieved and where we fell short.  Come January, we promise ourselves to be more productive; whether it’s at work in order to earn a promotion, to eat healthier, or to open our own business. Instead of being discouraged again next December, let’s make 2017 different, and achieve our goals with the help of the following tips. Together we can set realistic objectives and create actionable plans to keep ourselves accountable.

Set Realistic Goals

While New Year’s resolutions don’t always have to be serious and boring, they do have to be realistic. For example, you can challenge yourself to travel more, but don’t set yourself up to fail by promising yourself to travel the world in the next 366 days (2017 is a leap year!)

You know yourself better than anyone else, so only you know what goals you are capable of fulfilling, and what is and is not realistic. If you have set similar resolutions in the past, but never managed to keep them, consider a different plan that may be easier to achieve.

Minimize the Number of Goals

A new year offers a new beginning, so it may be tempting to set out to accomplish numerous goals, but be sure to plan with caution. It’s a better strategy to commit to a few goals, and truly concentrate on achieving them, than to set many objectives and not have the time to accomplish any of them.

For example, if you pledge to lose 10 pounds this year, this will require you to spend time cooking healthy meals and dedicating more personal time to exercising. Don’t also promise yourself to volunteer more, as both goals require you to commit time after work and on weekends, and you may experience a burnout and not accomplish both successfully. Prioritize your free time and see what goals fit best into your schedule for the best success rate. 

Create Actionable Plans

Once you make your resolutions, it’s easy to procrastinate. To avoid postponing your goals, create actionable plans to keep yourself accountable. It can be advantageous to create general milestones, and divide them into individual steps that can be tallied at the end of each month. This way, you will stay reminded daily of what is required to achieve your goal.

For example, if your resolution is to open your own business this year, the first month can be dedicated to doing market research on the competition. The second month can be spent creating marketing materials, and the third committed to obtaining proper business licenses. 

To keep motivating yourself, make sure you visualize your progress by writing down your goals and the steps necessary to achieve them. The more items you are able to cross off your list, the more motivated you will be to keep going!

Is better budgeting one of your 2017 goals? Check out our Business Budget Smart Sheet to help you easily plan, track, and visualize spending.

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Want to Be a Better Leader? Ignore Popular Advice

Any person in a position of power likely strives to be a better leader. After all, most of us have encountered unfair treatment as we climbed the ladder to success, and now that we secured a leadership role, being the best possible boss is an important goal.

What defines being a great leader? Is it being empathetic, empowering or motivational? Does it involve expecting only the best and pushing your staff to work at optimal levels? There are countless articles both online and in print that provide tips on improving your leadership skills. What do some of the most popular sources recommend leaders do to improve?

  • Inc.com recommends investing in training, taking risks, creating a vision and challenging employees to optimal performance.
  • Harvard Business Review states that successful leaders have richer personal lives, and to hone leadership skills, individuals must focus on all domains, including their personal and professional lives, their community and their self (body and spirit).
  • Forbes takes the focus off employees entirely, and advises bosses to meditate to be better at their jobs.

With so much conflicting advice, what should you focus on if your goal for next year is to be a better leader? Do you budget for training your staff, or do you invest in spending time in your local community? Will either really benefit the relationship you have with your staff members?

We have only one piece of advice when it comes to exceptional leadership – skip all the popular advice (just not ours) and practice active listening! This one simple goal involves a few steps:

Stop Speaking

Many managers hold the false belief that as the most experienced members of the team, they must do all the talking. Bosses typically monopolize business meetings, prepare weekly to-do tasks for employees, and encourage subordinates to come to them when seeking help.

The problem is that with all the talking is leaders rarely stop and simply listen to their staff. Those that do, quickly realize that their staff will let them know (either verbally or through their actions) what it is they require for a happy and productive workplace.

Instead of micromanaging your staff, involve them in the plans and goals for your department. Invite them to contribute their opinions, raise objectives and suggest improvements. Doing so will empower your team to be driven and responsible.

Be Aware

Once you stop feeling responsible to lead the conversation, you can concentrate on becoming more aware of others around you. Remember that as a boss, your job is not only centered on overseeing job performance, but also ensuring your staff’s well-being and satisfaction. If they feel unappreciated, overworked or mistreated, your employee turnover will increase.

Start everyday by asking your employees how they feel; but also focus on their non-verbals. If they look stressed out, tired or sad, inquire about what is going on. Whether they feel pressured at work or are dealing with personal issues at home, a good leader will create awareness of their staff’s emotions, feelings and thoughts, making the workers feel valued and cared for.


Be Selfless

Many managers mistakenly believe that since they hold senior titles, they no longer need to work as hard as their subordinates. However, when you require your staff to work nights and weekends, but you’re the last person to come in and the first to leave, your employees become disgruntled.

Strive to be selfless, and be the example of what a hard working and dedicated worker acts like. This way, your staff will respect you, and not resent their selfish boss.

While striving to become a leader leader is noble, you don’t need to spend company funds on management training; instead, just focus on listening, being aware, and being selfless to create the best company culture for your employees.

Your Small Business Saturday Attack Plan

Thousands of small business owners across the country participated in Small Business Saturday, an annual event held on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. Sponsored by American Express, it is intended to bring awareness to small businesses, and encourage patrons to skip big box retailers and shop small to support their local communities.

Small Business Saturday helped many companies attract new customers as well as potential leads. Instead of waiting for next Thanksgiving, business owners should act now to continue momentum into the holiday season and keep clients loyal throughout the entire year. Utilizing marketing emails, exclusive discounts, and “shop small” events are good strategies to stay in touch with new and potential customers.

Emails

An efficient, yet inexpensive way to communicate with your customers is through marketing emails. Sending marketing materials through the mail can be expensive, but with a little effort, you can send emails free or at a low cost. On Small Business Saturday, you likely urged your business’ patrons to sign up for email lists, and now is the time to utilize that list to reach out to them.

We recommend investing in a customer relationship management system (CRM), which will help you manage your client information, and send personalized emails with your customers’ contact information, in addition to recommendations based on their shopping history.

Many CRM programs offer A/B testing, which allows business owners to send two different marketing campaigns, and evaluate which was more popular based on clicks and purchase patterns.

When sending emails, remember that individuals are bombarded by hundreds of emails daily, so make your headlines catchy, funny, and enticing to open!

Exclusive Deals and Discounts

The reason that so many customers frequent local businesses during Small Business Saturday is because they are offered discounts and freebies. Business owners need to remember that discounts can, and should, be used throughout the year to incentivize sales. When customers believe that they are getting a deal, they are much more willing to spend their hard-earned money than if they believe they are paying full price.

How do you structure discounts? Shopify.com lists three main ways to increase foot traffic and maintain loyalty with discounts, which are:

  • Promotional pricing – Discounts and bundle pricing, such as “buy one, get one free”
  • Point-of-purchase displays – “Impulse buys” that individuals don’t plan on purchasing when they come into the store. Bins with small items next to the register are great incentives for point-of-purchase displays.
  • Loyalty programs – Membership and punch cards, as well as a points system which reward customers with discounts or free items.

Events

unnamed1The holidays are the perfect time to organize events for your customers and potential leads. Planning a holiday party in your location will create a reason for you to invite Small Business Saturday patrons back to your location. In fact, one source claims that purchasing decisions are based more on emotions rather than on logic; therefore, face-to-face events allow brand owners to create an emotional connection to increase loyalty and drive sales.

Be creative and think of original ideas to drum up enthusiasm for your business; for example, IOU Financial held a scavenger hunt partnered with local discounts in Downtown Woodstock, GA. 

One caveat is that holiday parties and other events can turn into a financial strain if not planned for properly. Opening the doors and allowing streetwalkers to come inside can quickly lead to hundreds of people sampling your goods without guaranteed sales.

Not many small business owners can allow themselves to host expensive events, especially during the holiday time. Therefore, it is essential to plan and budget for events; one strategy is to hold member-only events with a concise guest list that goes out only to the most important customers. Another way is to invite customers and ask them to RSVP, allowing access to the first 50 who respond.

Keep the line of communication open between you and the customers you met during Small Business Saturdays with marketing emails, discounts and events. Remember, the more effort you put into promoting your relationship with your clients, the more loyal they will remain to your brand.

Holiday Sale Season: 5 Tips For Keeping Your Business Focused Through the Holidays

It’s the holiday season and your business is ready to make some happy shoppers and gift givers. But keeping customers happy and keeping your business focused through the holidays can be trickier than driving a one horse open sleigh. Paying attention to the following 5 ways will ensure your business is laser-focused through the holiday stretch, and will provide your business with durability for any shopping rush.

Keep Product in Stock

Nothing is worse than a customer wanting a product you sell and it is out of stock. Ok, there could be worse things, but that is one that you don’t want to worry about come mid-holiday season. Prepare for the long haul by keeping product in stock. Supplying larger amounts of inventory could lower the upfront cost to stock the shelves per unit, and if the items do not sell you can push them beyond the holiday season. Stock up to sell out.

Coordinate Coverage

Hiring and staffing for the holiday season should also increase as you anticipate an increase in customer traffic. Finding coverage in advance is crucial to ensuring you don’t get distracted by staff calling out sick, leaving for holiday vacations, or the unfortunate circumstances that arise when working with temporary holiday staff. Coordinate the coverage as far in advance as possible, and create a plan to guarantee that if one employee falls out of the mix, your whole plan for staff duties does not unravel.

Set Benchmarks

Finding out what the upcoming season looks like one day at a time could cloud your judgment, business decisions, and plans for the totality of the holiday stretch. Outline your next few months of holiday rush with a “syllabus” of sorts. Map out benchmarks, sales, and marketing ideas. Structure the staff, supply, and price points that you want. When holidays come around, execute the plan and follow the predetermined benchmarks. Don’t base your decisions on one day’s worth of good or bad business.

Enjoy the Business

While the holidays can be stressful, try to enjoy the increased sales, new faces, and products you are getting into the homes of possible new or new long-term customers. Try to enjoy each transaction and allow yourself to profit from not only the financial aspects, but from the relationships, new contacts, and extra attention at your store.

Prepare Now

Don’t wait to plan for the holiday rush the week before. Plan and prepare now. Try and assess what products may be best sellers, survey your customers on what items they may want for holiday gift giving, or even start developing promotions for the holiday deals you will be offering. Do not wait for the season to get underway before you start planning for what you want to accomplish. Prepare now.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and your business can be ready to embrace it and capitalize on it. Start today and implement the 5 tips to keep your focus during the season so you can pay more attention to sales and customers, and less attention to hoping reindeer will land on your roof bringing you extra customers. Start planning today so you can enjoy the holiday rush! 

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