Business Credit Basics: 3 Things You Need to Know Before Applying for a Loan

Applying for a business loan is a significant undertaking, and it’s a good idea to get your business operating as efficiently as possible before asking for a loan. The amount of preparation you’ll have to do really depends on whether you borrow from a bank or a commercial lender. A bank is going to grill you and demand a lot of information that a commercial lender will not need. Here are three things you need to get know when you apply for a bank loan, and how each one differs if you choose a commercial lender:

1. Know why you want the loan:

For some reason, banks feel the need to know exactly how you plan to spend every dime of your loan proceeds. We are not quite sure why this is so crucial for the bank to know, but the usual reasons include expansion opportunities, smoothing out working capital, investing in inventory or capital goods, and acquiring another company. Be prepared to show the banks how you will turn the loan money into profits (or how it will cut losses). On the other hand, a commercial lender like IOU Financial doesn’t really care how you plan to spend the loan proceeds. We assume that you know your business best, and we don’t like substituting our judgement for yours.

2. Know your books:

A bank is going to review all your books and records before approving a business loan. This includes all your past income statements, balance sheets, tax filings and all other public information. Be prepared for questions on why certain expenditures were made or why a particular strategy was worth the investment. You really don’t know what the bank loan officer or underwriting committee is going to ask. Sometimes, a line of questioning can lead to new questions in different areas, a process that can drag out for weeks or months. You can be sure the bank will calculate all your financial ratios, and will interrogate you on any that are below industry averages. We are really only looking for two things:

a. Does your business generate at least $100,000 a year in revenue?
b. Have you been in operation for at least one year?
If both are true, you are well on your way to obtaining a loan from us.

3. Know whether your cash flow allows you to repay the loan:

This is a very important question that every lender, including us, is going to ask. Now, a bank is going to want to analyze your sources and uses of funds, your cash management policies, and your projected and actual budgets. The bank may want to know about your collection policies and examine your bank statements. If it sounds like an extensive process, well, it is. We have a different view – we only ask two questions regarding cash flow:

a. Do you generate 10 or more deposits each month into your business bank account?
b. Do you maintain an average daily balance in your business bank account of at least $3,000?
Assuming you own at least 80 percent of your business (or 50 percent if owned with a spouse), you can qualify for a commercial loan from IOU Financial with just a few facts. With a bank, you are more likely to feel like a trial defendant under cross examination. Perhaps that’s why it takes days or months to get a bank loan, while we can lend you up to $150,000 in as little as one day.

Contact IOU Financial today for a free consultation about your small business’ loan needs.

Five Ways to Lead Independent Thinkers

There are different types of leaders – micro and macro-managers. Micro-managers are akin to dictators, they want to be involved in every small decision, and do not provide their staff members with the ability to think for themselves. Macro-managers, on the other hand, lead a democratic team, encouraging their employees to make their own decisions, take chances, and provide innovative solutions to everyday problems.

Time and time again, research studies have proven that macro-managers are the best types of leaders; this manager not only creates a happier corporate culture, but has loyal and productive employees. However, in order for a manager to relinquish control and delegate tasks to staff members, they need to be sure that the workers are up to the challenge of working independently and trusting their own instincts. Whether you are integrating a new candidate into your team, or want to delegate more and micromanage less, you can lead your staff to become more independent thinkers in the following five ways.

Delegate

A common grievance of bosses is that they spend a majority of their day on tasks their staff members should be doing. However, not all supervisors have the skills necessary to take themselves out of the equation and delegate tasks to free up their schedule.

The first step to encouraging employees to think on their own is to make them responsible for their own tasks. This process starts with the team’s leader – this individual must be able to hand out assignments without looking over the individual’s’ shoulders every step of the way. Employees must feel capable and qualified to handle their duties in order to start thinking independently, otherwise they will keep turning to the boss with every question or concern.

Be Open to Different Views

Once tasks have been given out, the manager must be open to hearing and implementing different views. Many leaders feel comfortable following the status quo, and resist any suggestions to innovate. This attitude stifles the minds of the employees, and doesn’t encourage them to think on their own, as they know that any suggestion will be ignored or denied.

Trust the Capabilities of Your Staff

Another component to promoting independent thinking is to fully trust in the fact that your employees are capable of making their own decisions, and are invested in the best interests of the company. After all, you hired them for a reason! When bosses stop second guessing their team members, and trust that they are experts in their field and have the experience and knowledge to work independently, they can start encouraging their staff to trust themselves.

Encourage Original Thinking

To promote independent thinkers in your workforce, you should promote original and out-of-the-box thinking. Ask your employees to come up with innovative ideas and share them with the rest of the team. Consider rewarding employees who offer unique ideas that can benefit your company – you can offer gift certificates, time off or bonuses for the effort!

Provide Inspiration

Innovation often comes from inspiration, but it’s difficult to get inspired inside the bland walls of most office environments. To promote creativity and original thought, provide inspiration in the form of bright colors, vivid images (art and photography), music and unique experiences in the office.

Advise your employees to take a walk outside if they are in the process of a creative endeavor, or take your team to an ethnic restaurant to introduce them to flavors and smells from different cultures. All of these experiences can contribute to helping them change the status quo.

Social Media Basics: 5 ways to Create Engaging Content for Your Customers

There is a question that should come across every small business owner who generates content for their customers: what good is putting out content that nobody sees or is interested in? Let us take this one! Putting out content no one sees or is interested in doesn’t do a company any good.  It is a simple as that. However, knowing some ways to create content that people do want to read and engage with can be tackled with the following 5 tips.

Talk about Trending Topics

It’s no question that people like jumping into discussions about popular or trending topics. Similarly, people like to read content that include or focus on what’s relevant right now. When writing a blog, sharing a social media post, or sending a company newsletter, be sure that your company hits what’s relevant in your industry. Get in the game by adding your company’s perspective to the online conversation!

Talk about Unsafe Issues 

Nobody likes a boring read. Rather, people want to read things that make them think, become inspired, or be encouraged to use or trust a company. To accomplish this, companies should present “unsafe” or “out of the box” commentary and comments. Dare to stand apart from other competition, especially if you’re in the small business niche, because your potential customers want to feel something. Creating content that doesn’t follow the usual framework is a unique way to capture your audience and keep them coming back for more.

Get Google Smart

What’s Google smart you ask? It’s simple: post a blog title or content that people look up on Google or other popular search engines. If you have a great blog idea, newsletter update, or website ready to launch, focus on naming it something people already search for and stay away from titles nobody would look for. For example, if your launching a fresh new pair of jeans, don’t use descriptions or titles that only you and your designers know. Write a post called: “New Best Fitting Jeans.” People will search for that phrase immediately when in the market for new denim. Factoring in SEO (search engine optimization) when creating a title is the best way to ensure your link is clicked. From there, your post can then delve into the ins and outs of your product.

Stick to the Point

People scroll through the internet quickly. Studies have found that customers rarely read word for word, and rather scroll until something jumps out at them. Use powerful titles and images that is void of filler.

Speak to Customers, Not Yourself

With a small business, you want to ensure you speak to the customer! Find out what topics or issues your audience wants to learn more about and be sure to mold your content around that. For example, if you own a roofing company you could educate your customers on why a leak in one spot of the house shows up 500 feet away. When your customers find you provide relevant content, they’ll keep coming back for more.

As you can see writing content that is engaging and informative is an art; one that takes time and trial and error to execute successfully.  Following these 5 suggestions for developing engaging content for customers is one step any small business owner can take today to generate great content that customers want to read. Happy content creating!

5 Common Misconceptions About Alternative Lending

Alternative, or non-bank, lending got a big boost in 2008 when the mortgage meltdown caused banks to roll up their welcome mats. In that era of recriminations, no bank wanted to go out on a limb and lend to anyone other than the most creditworthy customers. Today, businesses have learned that alternative lending, which includes commercial business loans, factoring, peer-to-peer lending and crowdfunding, can solve many problems quickly and efficiently without a lot of the delay and paperwork associated with bank loans.

Still, some business owners have negative misconceptions about alternative lending, so we’d like to clear them up:

Only bank-rejects apply to alternative lenders:

While it’s true that many businesses find it easier to qualify for a loan from an alternative source than from a bank, many owners prefer dealing with alternative lenders, as they tend to be more flexible, less judgmental and faster to respond. Many alternative lenders do not require collateral, can process an application in a few hours, and fund a loan within a day or two. One feature that IOU Financial borrowers truly appreciate is daily automatic repayment, which means a business doesn’t have to face a large monthly payment that can disrupt the business’ cash position.

You have to be desperate to seek an alternative loan:

That’s just silly. Alternative lenders would soon go out of business if they lent only to companies on their last legs. The real story is that banks turn down loans for all sorts of reasons, many having nothing to do with creditworthiness. Alternative lenders assess the risk of each loan and assign an interest rate that makes sense. Companies with less than stellar credit scores can borrow from alternative lenders when needed, such as when they have to smooth out their working capital cash flows. Any good alternative lender wants to see its borrowers succeed, not fail, and will usually work with business owners to come up with solutions with the right fit.

You can hurt your credit score by borrowing from an alternative lender:

Poppycock! There is no truth to that myth, and in fact the opposite usually applies: If you pay back your loan responsibly, your business’ credit score should increase. Remember, business loans do not affect the individual credit scores of owners, they are strictly for business. The nice thing about getting an alternative loan is that by doing so, owners don’t have to pony up their own personal funds, which could indeed affect their credit scores.

You need high margins to make alternative loans work:

Loans from alternative lenders help all types of businesses, not just ones with high margins. IOU Financial has only four funding requirements, and none have anything to do with margins. We require that you own and operate your own business, have been in business for at least a year, make 10 or more deposits per month and have average daily balance of $3,000 per month. Margins schmargins!

Alternative lending is unregulated:

This is a common misconception stemming from the fact that alternative lenders do not have the same capital requirements as banks. But alternative lenders are not banks, they do not offer time deposit accounts and all the other services available from banks. The business model and cost structure of alternative lenders are much different from those of banks. Nonetheless, alternative lenders must adhere to federal and state lending regulations that require truthfulness and disclosure. There is also the whole area of contract law that governs alternative loans.

The alternative lending industry is strong and vibrant, because it serves the needs of many small businesses that otherwise wouldn’t be met. If you would like to discuss your own borrowing needs, call IOU Financial today for a free consultation.

Tax Season is Here: How to Properly Get Your Finances in Order Before You File

The new year is also the start of tax season, so it’s time for your small business to get organized, file business expenses correctly, and ensure you are getting the correct refund. The details of how to accomplish this depend, in part, on how your business is organized: sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC or corporation. Yet the ways you go about calculating your taxable business income are pretty much the same however you’re organized. Here are the basic steps you’ll need to file your taxes properly.

Collect your business records: Hopefully, you have a computer and/or file drawer that is carefully organized to maintain all your raw paperwork, such as invoices, receipts, tax documents, bank statements, business diaries, etc. But we know that some folks are in the habit of piling all their papers into a heap on a desk. Well, now is the time to attack those records, get them sorted and entered onto a spreadsheet or accounting package. If you use software like Quicken or QuickBooks, you can go through your transactions, flag tax-related items and associate them with the appropriate IRS tax forms and lines. Once complete, you can then import the data into tax preparation software and it will automatically prefill many of your forms and schedules. 

Resurrect missing information: If you are somewhat disorganized, you may not have done a 100 percent perfect job of preserving your receipts. For example, you know you went on a business trip last year, but can’t seem to locate any of the receipts for travel, lodging, meals, taxis and so forth. Unless you paid for everything in cash, you can resurrect the missing information by combing through your credit card and bank statements. In fact, it’s a good idea to scour the entire 12 months of these statements to make sure you haven’t missed any deductible expenses. If you operate on a cash basis, remember that tax-related events occur when money is collected or disbursed. Accrual-based businesses must instead use the dates on which income is earned and expenses are incurred.

Find the correct forms: The IRS is pretty picky on which forms you use to file your taxes – they want you to use the right If you are a sole proprietor or run a one-person LLC, this means you’ll be getting intimate with Schedule C of Form 1040. A corporation must instead file Form 1120 separately from your personal return. Partnerships have separate forms as well. Your tax software can quickly ascertain which forms it will use to collect and report your information.

Make 401(k) payment: Your tax software will keep a running total of your refund or taxes due as you fill in the required data. If it turns out you owe the IRS money and you file on Schedule C, remember that you can fund your personal 401(k) up until the tax filing deadline and deduct the contribution from last year’s income. For 2016, that contribution can be as much as $59,000, depending on your age and income.

File on time: If you need an extension, remember that only buys you time for filing, not for paying. You still must pay what you think you owe by the April 15 deadline. Note that if you file Form 1120S as a Subchapter S corporation, the deadline is March 15. If your fiscal year doesn’t coincide with the calendar year, adjust your dates accordingly.

Should you find yourself short of cash at tax filing time, it’s good to know that IOU Financial can lend you up to $150,000 in as little as 24 hours.

Business Budget Basics: 5 Things you MUST be Doing to Ensure Success

Whether you are a startup or a seasoned company, small businesses rely on cash flow to stay in operation. Budgeting is the primary weapon a business owner has to control cash flow and predict possible shortfalls. If you want long-term success, you must maintain a budget and adjust your operations when budget tracking indicates the need to do so.

A budget that both estimates and matches expenses and revenues helps a small business forecast its cash position in the short and medium term. You need a cash forecast to ensure you can operate as planned, expand the business if the opportunity exists and verify that you can generate enough earnings to pay yourself a viable income.

What to Do

Don’t worry too much about how to do a budget. You can use an online spreadsheet, such as the IOU Financial Business Budget Smart Sheet, to make all the entries and generate reports. It’s more important to concentrate on what you must do to get the most from your budget. Here are five tips that you’ll find useful.

Check out industry standards: Every industry has its own characteristics regarding how much of your revenue you’ll have to allocate to various cost groupings. Retailing is quite different from refining, and you need to know the right numbers to use when constructing your budget. You can glean this kind of information from several sources, including the IRS website, the library, and other local business owners. You don’t have to be too precise, because small businesses tend to be volatile – what’s important here is to understand the industry averages.

Leave some slack: It’s great to budget, but it can be self-defeating if you aim for precision down to the nickel. Predictions are often unreliable and the future is uncertain. Bearing this in mind, it’s better to underestimate revenues and revenue growth relative to expenses when projecting the next three to 12 months. Better to have some extra cash on hand then to be caught short unexpectedly.

Sharpen your pencil: That’s old bookkeeper lingo for finding ways to cut costs. To do so, you’ll need to identify budgeted expenses that you can control. Fixed expenses like rent and insurance usually can’t be changed in the short run, but other items can, including non-critical maintenance, adjustments to labor usage, discretionary purchases and so forth. Remember to take advantage of your suppliers’ payment terms. In some cases, you might be able to reduce retirement plan contributions for the current year.

Review your budget frequently: Big businesses often work on an annual budget cycle. That makes sense, since their size requires a complex and time-consuming budget process. You, on the other hand, need to review your budget at least every month. A small business doesn’t have the kind of resources that the big ones use to smooth out surprises in the company’s cash flows. The more volatile your environment, the more frequently you will need to review and update your budget.

Comparison shop: It’s your responsibility to conserve your cash, and one of the best strategies is to shop around for new suppliers and service providers. There is never a bad time to do this, but the start of a new budget cycle is a natural point to comparison shop. It’s also important to do this when you are planning a change in operations.

In sum, budgeting is an essential part of running a business. A cash crunch can kill a small business, so stay ahead of the curve by tracking your budget closely and revising estimates as you gather new information. Finally, establish a relationship with a lender so that you can borrow money when you need it, whether budgeted or not.

Why Social Media is Beneficial for Small Business Owners: 5 Sites and The Best Ways to Use Them

Keeping up with the growing number of social media sites and trying to put your small businesses mark on the map can seem overwhelming. What platform does what?, How do I use each one?, and Aren’t they all the same? are most likely questions your business has asked when the word “social media marketing” comes up. By understanding the basics on how to best use social media, small businesses can immediately see and benefit from the value these platforms can bring. Lets dive into the top 5 social media sites your business needs to be active on to maintain a presence in the market.

Facebook  

Main Focus: Staying consumer engaged

Facebook hit the scene in 2004 and regardless of what some may think, it still dominates the market for small businesses to stay connected to the “people” who use and support business brands. Facebook for businesses should focus on creating content that keeps the conversation going with the dedicated followers and supporters of your business. When starting with Facebook focus on the following:

  • Use photos with questions. Create a post (preferably an image) and ask questions such as “What would be a good caption for this?”
  • Incorporate people who use your brand. When posting mention a customer who follows the page or “shout out” a person who recently commented.
  • Engage with questions. Keep the content focused on feedback from customers and keep them offering their perspectives.

Twitter

Main focus:  Offering perspective

Twitter is also a long standing platform with 317 Million active users each month. Twitter has become increasingly popular for brands and companies to offer their perspectives on hot topics or using “hashtags” pointing to relevant issues people are talking about on their platform. Twitter offers a short character count method to express a thought, stance, or comment on current events and news. When starting with Twitter focus on the following:

  • Use for news about your niche. Share news or other “stories” relevant to your niche that users can gain insight or information from.
  • Use polls and ask questions. Polling the audience is a great way to keep users engaged and offer opinions. Users will also share those polls with others growing your presence.
  • Ask for a “Re-Tweet” or just say “RT”. A Re-tweet is someone else sharing your “tweet” or “post” giving you credit and exposure.

Instagram

Main Focus: Inside scoop

Instagram was the first platform that simply asked users to post photos and small (if any) captions. Instagram has now expanded to a major source of website traffic referral and business exposure. By sharing photos of your business, companies should use Instagram as a “behind the scenes” look at their brand offering users a view they can’t get on other platforms. When starting with Instagram focus on the following:

  • Share content that is “about your brand.” Post photos of design sketches, a team meeting, or something funny that happened outside your office walls. This brings a “behind the scene look.”
  • Use interesting photos. Post images that look artsy or different to catch your customer’s’ eyes. Have fun with the ideas you can create.
  • Use bio and links to relevant offerings. Update the “bio” section often giving users a direct link and upcoming offering that they don’t want to miss out on.

Pinterest

Main Focus: Educating

Pinterest is a play on the word “Interest” with the idea of “pinning” something that you like and want to save for reading, trying, or even learning more about in the moment or down the road. Users create “boards” that they “pin” items to so people can easily find whatever strikes their fancy. Businesses can use Pinterest to educate their audience on a variety of related “niche” ideas. When starting with Pinterest focus on the following: 

  • Be an educator. Share relevant information and facts that people can learn ideas, tips, tricks, and other facts from simply looking at your boards.
  • Build on networks like yours. Add other contributors to your “board” to further expose your brand and use that exposure as a traffic source to your site.
  • Share inspirational posts. Inspiring other people is one of the most common reason to “pin,” and therefore doing the same can be helpful to your brand.

Google+

Main Focus: Location Location Location

Google+ is a way for businesses and customers to find each other, learn more about each other, and tell other people about each other. Small businesses who tap into Google+ can find ways to increase foot traffic to their storefront, offer visitors a place to share their thoughts, and also allows businesses to share relevant information about their brand to help promote and increase website rankings. Google+ for businesses is created after a business account on Google has been created. When starting with Google+ focus on the following:

  • Bring people to YOU. Google+ offers location services and direct links to your business platform or portfolio.
  • SEO. SEO or Search Engine Optimization is highly crucial to any website for any business. By joining and linking content on Google+, SEO gets a jumbo boost.
  • Use for networking with customers and influencers. Google calls these “circles” which allows you to categorize who are your customers and who are your business influencers. This helps businesses tailor the content to both groups maximizing relevancy on the platform.

As you have read above, there are many social media platforms out there for small businesses and brands. While some may think it’s simply enough to “share the same message” across all platforms, or that “one site fits all” is the stance to take, such is not the case. By understanding the differences between platforms, and the best ways to utilize each, businesses can offer users varied information and a push to follow and engage with your company in multiple ways. Starting out can be daunting, but after the first post, tweet, pin, circle or hashtag, small businesses will find the effort was worth the outcome.

 

Is Email Marketing the Right Business Solution for You?

When operating a small business, how do you increase brand exposure to try and compete with the bigger, better-known companies? While large corporations and established business can have multi-million dollar advertising budgets, many small business owners cannot afford to spend 1 percent of that. However, one marketing tactic that any business owner can implement is email marketing.

What is Email Marketing?

Emailing a current or potential client to solicit their business, advertise your services, make an announcement, or simply check in is all considered email marketing. Using electronic mail to increase your client base and sales has become one of the most popular ways to market your brand.

What are the Benefits of Email Marketing?
Affordability

Email marketing is one of the most cost effective ways to market your brand. Many small business owners ask clients to submit their emails to receive online newsletters or to join reward programs, and utilize them to send out mass emails without spending a cent.

Investing into a customer relationship management (CRM) program is another inexpensive way to collect, store, and manage customer information for email communication. A multitude of CRM platforms, such as Salesforce, HubSpot, Insightly and Zoho, offer low-cost, monthly subscriptions that allow users to send out customizable emails to their list of contacts.

Precision

One of the most appealing factors about email marketing is that it allows you to target a specific audience. While a billboard is seen by all people in a given space, and a television ad is viewed by all individuals tuned in to the channel at a specific time, email campaigns can be sent to specific groups of people.


You can select recipients based on location, shopping patterns, or likes and dislikes.  Many CRM programs even allow you to create A/B testing, where you select two different campaigns and see which one generates more sales or clicks to your website.

Effectiveness

Email marketing can be extremely effective; in fact, one source claims that email marketing can provide a 3,800 percent return on investment (ROI); companies can make $38 in sales for every $1 they spend on effective email marketing.

Making the emails personal, such as addressing the recipients by name, sending them congratulatory emails on their birthdays, or making personal recommendations based on their personal preferences makes the emails even more effective- improving click-through rates by about 14 percent and conversions by 10 ten percent, according to a source.

If you are looking to increase your customer base and grow your brand identity, and would like to achieve it with a strategy that is affordable, definitely consider email marketing; it is trackable, customizable, and effective.

How Redefining Your Core Values Can Benefit Your Business

As the new year momentum continues, it can be beneficial to review the core values of your business to see what you can amend and improve upon. Redefining your business core values to make them significant and actually mean something to your staff, partners, and customers can play a monumental role in the way your company is seen and how others relate to your brand.

A source for Harvard Business Review, who has helped companies refine their corporate values for over one decade, states that bland or meaningless values can damage the credibility of the company and alienate employees. To prevent this, revisit your current core values, find room for improvement, and take the following steps to redefine them.

Review Your Current Core Values

To start, re-familiarize yourself with the current corporate values you have established. Are they still relevant, achievable, and actually being implemented? For example, if one of the values is transparency, do your firm’s daily operations reflect that goal? Does information freely flow from top to bottom and in reverse? Are you open and honest with your investors, business partners, and clients about any issues, roadblocks or failures?

Remove any core values that are no longer important to your brand, don’t say anything about your corporate identity, or are simply impossible to achieve.

Survey Your Team

An organization is made up of the team members employed there; therefore, it can be beneficial to survey your employees to find out what their personal values are. If you able to align the personal beliefs and values of your staff with your business values, you can create a better corporate culture and overall working experience for your team.

Send out an email or online survey and ask employees to write down three to five personal values that matter to them. Review these answers and narrow down the top five to 10 choices based on popularity, significance, and relevance to your brand.

For example, if the majority of your staff value sustainability and the green movement, you may consider adding an eco-friendly component to your company’s philanthropic efforts. This can increase employee loyalty by supporting a cause that is important to them, and also start to promote your brand image with a new and important initiative.

Implement the Newly Established Core Values

Once you remove outdated and irrelevant values, and have worked with your staff to come up with meaningful new principles, you must create a plan to implement them. Core values must be ingrained in every decision and practice of the organization because they are the foundation of the brand’s identity.

If you added honest communication as a core value, for example, consider investing in training that would improve the communication skills of your managers and other staff members. Teaching them to better read nonverbal cues, actively listen, and understand difference in multicultural communication can lead to a more productive work environment.

Redefining your core corporate values can unite you with your clientele, partners, and employees by exposing the main principles that define your company and creating common goals for all staff to follow. Revisit your business’ core values while you’re still riding the momentum of New Year’s Resolutions and betterment initiatives!