Should My Business Participate in Cyber Monday?

Cyber Monday (CM), the Monday after Thanksgiving that promotes online shopping, has become almost as important as Thanksgiving and Black Friday in terms of holiday sales. In 2016, CM sales increased by 12.1 percent year over year, reaching a volume of $3.45 billion. That’s a higher sales volume than experienced on 2016 Black Friday. There is nothing to prohibit online sellers from participating throughout the Thanksgiving holiday, but CM is the day set aside for the biggest online promotions. The question of whether your small business should aggressively compete for CM business turns on several considerations:

What is your online presence?

If you don’t have a website, or if the website has problems, it’s getting late to make it work right. You certainly don’t want to be out there on CM with an untested or buggy site – it’s much better to perfect the website before using it. You’ll be better off by opening a page on Etsy or Amazon this year and then promote your website next yet.

What do you sell?

The extended Thanksgiving selling season favors products over services, with perhaps the exception of travel. Certain merchandise has historically seen strong sales on CM, such as laptops, cellphones, data storage, clothing, and beauty products. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t participate on CM with different types of merchandise – it’s ultimately your call.

Can you afford CM?

The purpose of CM is to achieve a sales spike. That means you might need extra merchandise and extra labor. Depending on your size, this might not be a major consideration. However, if you are a bigger business, you might have to prepare for CM by purchasing extra inventory and hiring additional part-time workers. If you anticipate significant costs in this regard, consider taking a loan from IOU Financial – the terms are fair, the money is available quickly, and you repay a small amount in daily or weekly increments instead of facing a largely monthly payment.

Can you absorb promotion costs?

Sure, on CM you can sell your most popular items for 90 percent off and make a big splash. Can you afford such an aggressive promotion? Is it overkill, or is it a reasonable response to your competitors? Do you sell a product mix that encourages repeat shopping? If so, getting folks to place their first online order with you might be worth an upfront loss. On the other hand, if you give away the store, you might not survive until next year’s CM. It comes down to sales projections, budgets, and cash. You can prepare for just about any promotion if you start early enough, but spontaneous last-minute promotions might leave you in a cash crunch.

Engage social media.

Activate your pages on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn and so forth to promote your CM sales. Ads on these pages are cheap and can be very effective. If you maintain a customer email list, prepare to ramp up a few days before Thanksgiving and again on CM. Services like MailChimp can help you set up and execute an email strategy – it’s not expensive but requires some preparation, so don’t wait until the last minute.

Try to establish closer relationships with new customers:

Hopefully, your CM promotions will draw in first-time customers. Besides adding them to your mailing list, do something extra to help cement your relationship with them. You might send them special offers or coupons as a thank you for shopping with you.

If you fit the CM profile, go for it! After all, you do want to increase sales, don’t you? Need to get a handle on your budget before the big day? Check out our Business Budget Smart Sheet. 

How to Gear-up for a Successful Small Business Saturday

American Express started Small Business Saturday in 2010 to encourage American consumers to buy from mom-and-pop stores rather than the huge box-stores and the ubiquitous online sites. It falls on the Saturday following Thanksgiving (Nov. 25, 2017), and you should be preparing for it right now. Here are some great tips to maximize your sales on Small Business Saturday (SBS):

Beef up your inventory:

SBS is a great opportunity to attract new customers, and the last thing you want is to experience stockouts in the face of high demand. If your cash flow is tight, consider taking a loan to finance extra inventory purchases. You need to have the merchandise ready to go by Thanksgiving, because savvy shoppers often beat the SBS rush by a day or two. Thankfully, IOU Financial moves swiftly, and we can get money into your company bank account in as little as 48 hours. But don’t procrastinate – others will be stocking up too!

Check out competing promotions:

Don’t let your competitors out-hustle you on SBS. Be alert to print and broadcast ads, as well as word-of-mouth, store signs and mailers. Even though promotions will cut your net margins, the new customers you recruit are a long-term asset and well worth the short-term cost. Don’t forget to use social media to get the word out about the great deals you’ve cooked up for SBS.

Review your website:

You do have a website, don’t you? The big-box boys sure do, but yours can be more creative and locally relevant. List all your phone numbers and prominently display your store hours. Highlight SBS and how shoppers will benefit from the great deals you’ll be offering.

Feed the charitable impulse:

A great promotion is to contribute a percentage of all SBS sales to a popular local charity. The percentage is up to you, but even 1 percent can buy you a lot of good publicity. And that’s what you want – plenty of publicity in your local newspapers and broadcast media. Follow up with a photo showing the charity chairman receiving an oversized check from you. An enterprising local TV reporter might be interested in the human-interest angle, so shop the story around.

Bread and circuses:

Make SBS an event that will generate a rush of traffic. Offer free snacks, drinks, a raffle, maybe a clown to entertain shoppers’ children – you get the idea. Combine special events with special discounts and packages, and you may see traffic like never before.

Strategic partnerships:

Do you run a bakery next door to a coffee roaster? Maybe the two of you could get together and cross-market each other with joint SBS discounts. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Involve your workers:

Get them excited by involving them as you brainstorm your SBS plans. Their enthusiasm will help make SBS a success, and you’ll also score points by showing your employees that you care about their ideas.

Say thank you:

Personalize your gratitude to SBS shoppers by mailing, or emailing, thank-you notes. Collect address information via door prizes, discount cards and loyalty clubs. Elicit feedback about how to make next year’s SBS even better. Enclose a discount coupon to encourage a repeat visit.

By growing your customer base, you set the foundation for growing your business. SBS might just be the springboard to a larger store, more employees, and higher sales. The opportunity is there – it’s up to you to grab it!

Tips for Restaurant Owners: How to Take Better Food Photos

What would you do to increase your restaurant’s profits by 30%? What if all you needed to do was snap a photo? That’s right, one study found that taking and sharing photos of food served at your restaurant can increase profit by as much as 30%! Unfortunately, most of us are not skilled photographers, and with the mass amount of competition online, it is imperative to improve your skills to grab your audience’s attention. Read on to find tips on taking better food photos!

Choose Natural Light

While professional photographers don’t go anywhere without fancy lighting, good old natural light is best for taking photos of food. This is because you want to show food as it truly looks without adding any yellow or orange hues from artificial lighting (no one is going to want to eat yellow rice or orange eggs!).

What’s the best way of getting natural light? Go outside! Avoid spots with direct sunlight as that will add shadows in your photo. Instead, try to take your photos on overcast days where just the right amount of sunlight peers through the clouds.

Need to take photos when it’s raining or snowing, and outside is simply not an option? Take photos near windows or a patio, allowing the sunlight to hit the plate from as many angles as possible.

Remove the Clutter

A professional photo only contains what the photographer intended the viewer to see. Look through the lens and remove any objects that are not required in your photo. You can leave objects that enhance the image, such as flowers, a fork and knife or a beautiful landscape; however, you want the viewers to concentrate on the food rather than be distracted by anything else. In fact, the best backgrounds for food photos are neutral, light or dark; avoid reflective backgrounds such as countertops.

Choose the Best Angle

Taking a photo of a plate or pasta, a smoothie or a sandwich all require different angles. The rule of thumb is to shoot from above when the food is on a bowl or plate as this provides the best view of all of the ingredients in the food and minimizes the background (unless you choose to zoom out and include more details in the photo). Drinks and foods with layers, such as sandwiches, lasagna and cakes, best shot from the side.

Focus on the Arrangement

When your restaurant patrons come into your business, they are hungry and don’t pay too much attention to how their food is arranged as long as it tastes good. However, when you want to attract new customers based on photos alone, arrangement is key.

Learn the art of food plating to carefully and aesthetically place the food so that it looks attractive. Consider what ingredients you can add to enhance the look of the food, such as bright spices, green spice leaves or bold sauce colors.

While you can take photos with your iPhone or a cheap camera, the best photos are made with professional cameras. If you need help in financing this expense, or want to truly invest in photo marketing and hire a professional photographer, IOU Financial is ready to sponsor this goal! We help small business owners acquire loans in 24-48 hours. Contact us today to learn more.

Small Business Tips: Increasing Your Financial Literacy

Having a great idea and running with it is not enough to operate a successful business. A business owner must wear many hats when operating their company, but managing and understanding their finances doesn’t always come easily.

Relying on a business manager or an accountant is a beneficial way to verify that you are conducting your finances by the book, but many small business owners do not have the budgets to afford these specialists. In fact, “40 percent of small business owners say they are financially illiterate – yet 81 percent handle their business’ finances themselves,” according to an Intuit study as reported by one source.

Whether you will hire out or want to tackle your business finances yourself, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of your financial situation if you truly want to be in charge of your business. With a little effort, it is not difficult to increase your financial literacy with these tips:

Know What is Required to Run a Business

Bloomberg reported that 80 percent of businesses fail in the first 18 months, states a source. Much of that failure is due to the fact that business owners are not skilled in properly handling their finances. There is a lot of financial planning and management required to operate a company, such as “budget, accounting and taxes, calculating price points, and projecting revenues and success rates well into the future to ensure continued success.”

Some owners get into trouble because they don’t plan ahead, and don’t save for unexpected expenses, such as hiring additional staff,  surprise incidents that may arise, or the simple costs of doing business they may not have been aware of. Others don’t know payroll and tax rules, and receive heavy fines for paying late or not at all.

As a small business owner, it is imperative to understand all of the financial requirements to run a business!

If Borrowing Money, Do Your Research

It can be tempting to borrow money from a bank or an investor to start or grow your business, and this can help you get off the ground. Before you jump into the world of lenders,  take time to evaluate your own expenses and savings and calculate what you can afford, or if it would be possible to provide your own seed capital, a process called “bootstrapping.”

Although using your own funds can involve some risk, paying high interest rates can be harmful in the long run if your cashflow can’t afford it. If you do choose to borrow, make sure to compare the terms and interest rates that lenders and investors are offering, as well as research their credibility and history.

Learn Proper Financial Planning

Financial planning is essential to secure your company’s long-lasting success. Startups require substantial seed capital to cover expenses for the first few years. Few startups are profitable right away, as all the money is typically reinvested in business growth for hiring staff, marketing and inventory.

You must have a comprehensive understanding of your monthly expenses and profit. Small business owners who hire accountants typically cannot understand complicated accounting reports, so it would be advantageous to track expenses, profits and bank account balances themselves to stay on track, according to personal finance expert, Andrea Travillian. Truly understanding your monthly expenses will help you save for them rather than spend your profits as they come in, leaving you in a lurch when the time to pay bills comes around.

Save a portion of your monthly profits to pay for taxes; business owners who do not get in the habit of doing so can be pushed to declare bankruptcy when a significant amount is due from the IRS that they did not budget for.

If you need financial assistance to take a course to improve your financial literacy, hire a corporate accountant or pay business taxes, IOU Financial is ready to help! We provide small business loans of up to $300,000 in 24-48 hours!

How to Start an Online Site for Your Retail Store

Whether you already own a brick and mortar store, or just want to focus your retail efforts online, creating a website is an important step to growing your business. With over half of Americans preferring to shop online, not creating a user-friendly e-commerce site is not a smart decision. Read on for steps on starting an online site for your retail store.

Choose a Website Name

The first step to creating a retail store is choosing a website name. Ideally, you want the name to be the same as your actual business name. If you are just starting a business, consider including relevant keywords into your domain name to make your site come up in Google search rankings. 

Check GoDaddy to verify if your first choice for domain names is available; the site can also recommend domain names for you based on keywords you input into the search field. If available, choose a .com address as that’s the most common and easiest to remember. Although this is not officially stated anywhere, Google doesn’t prefer .biz or .info extensions because a majority of those websites are considered to be spam. Purchase a domain name through your web hosting provider or a different domain name service.

Pick a Hosting Solution

In order for your website to be found online, you need to choose a web hosting platform that will store your site on its server. There is a multitude of web hosts to choose from, both free and paid. Paid web hosts typically provide more options and services that can benefit your site in the longer, such as:

  • Storage: While free web hosting solutions offer up to 10GB of free storage, a paid service can give you unlimited storage space. Images and videos can take up a lot of space, causing you to run out of storage quickly.
  • Domain Name: If you want a custom domain name, you will need to pay for your web host because free options mostly include their own site in your domain name, such as www.wix.com/yournamehere
  • Ads: Free web hosts often make their money by advertising on your site; if you would rather control what ads (if any) you run, you will need to pay a premium fee.
  • Support: It’s very difficult to get support for free web hosting solutions, while paid ones will usually provide a phone number or chat options to a specialist who can help you 24/7.

Consider Wix, WordPress, HostGator or FatCow for inexpensive options for your ecommerce website.

Hire a Web Designer

While many web hosts allow novices to build websites from scratch using pre-designed formats and add-ons, it is always best to hire a professional web designer who will create an easy-to-use, functioning and unique website that will look and feel professional.

Concentrate on Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

According to Entrepreneur, SEO is the third vital step to online business success after offering good products and creating a great site. Optimizing your website with keywords that online users can search for to lead them to your site is imperative to gain traffic. 

Utilize Google’s Keyword planner to enter terms relevant to your brand. This free tool will suggest other terms, as well as provide information about competition and search results for each keyword. Once you have this information, you can include the keywords in your website content, blogs, press releases and image tags.

Starting a retail website usually requires an initial investment for website design, SEO and advertising. If you need financial help to grow your business, turn to IOU Financial. We can provide a small business loan of up to $300,000 in 24-48 hours.

 

Three Resources Your Salon Can be Using to Make Life Easier

Hair and nails salon owners know that time is of the essence when it comes to managing their business, which is why it is essential to stay on top of the latest resources that could be making your life easier. A large portion of the time spent managing a salon requires booking appointments, managing staff schedules and marketing to attract new clients. In this article, we will explore the latest resources to help you with these endeavours.

Booker

One of the most difficult and time-consuming tasks for a salon owner is managing employee schedules. Booker takes the pressure off this responsibility by eliminating the need to check in with your stylists and have miscommunications about schedules by automating the staff scheduling process.

You can input a weekly schedule for your staff which will remain constant throughout the year, or give them access to the system so they can update their schedule without your involvement. Your stylists can access their schedule from anywhere at anytime, knowing when they have appointments and whey they have time off.  

Schedulicity

If you are like the typical salon owner, your customers call you to schedule an appointment, you check the appointment book and/ or ask the individual stylists if they are available and write the appointment in. This system is antiquated and not foolproof; how many times have you written down the wrong contact information or name while you were in a hurry? How many clients forgot about their appointments altogether because you simply didn’t have the time to make reminder calls?

Imagine eliminating this entire process and saving yourself time to concentrate on something else. With Schedulicity, you can take yourself completely out of the equation of scheduling client appointments! Simply plan ahead by creating an online calendar based on your stylists’ availability and allow your customers to schedule their own appointments online!

Clients can utilize this calendar from a computer, smartphone or tablet, and can add their personal information as well as notes for the stylist. Plus, Schedulicity has the ability to send text reminders to your clients prior to their appointments, reducing cancellations.

DemandForce

DemandForce is a solution to attract new clients and keep your loyal customers coming back. It integrates with your current business management system to automate communication with your customers via voice, text, email or on social media.

DemandForce offers several features, such as providing the latest information about your business to local listings, such as Google, Bing, Citysearch, Yellowpages.com, etc. To help your customers find you, you won’t need to update your contact information or hours on each website anymore; all you will need to do is update it on the DemandForce site, sit back and let them do the work.

This tool will send automatic surveys to your customers after their appointments, letting them know you care about their feedback and providing you with a chance to correct a situation before you lose a client or get a bad review online. You have the ability to feature positive reviews on your site or on social media.

While some of these services are free, others have premium features which can streamline your operations and help your business. IOU Financial is committed to helping salon owners grow their business. We can offer a small business loan up to $300,000 in 24-48 hours. Contact us today!