Mid-Year Check-in With Your 2019 Goals

By the time July rolls around, you probably have experienced some surprises — good and bad — that have left your annual business plan in need of update. This is not surprising, as no one has yet figured out how to precisely predict the future. As a business owner, you’ve learned (or are learning) how to be flexible and roll with the punches. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to throw up your hands and leave the future up for grabs. No, it means updating your annual plan with a mid-year check-in. Consider the following steps:

  1. Review each of the first six months.

    Start with your monthly financials. How did monthly gross revenues stack up against predictions? Did you sell the mix of products and/or services in the quantities you anticipated? Did you execute your marketing and sales plans? Can you discern any surprising trends? For instance, did you detect some seasonality in your sales volume?

  2. Understand what drove revenue.

    After the review of the monthly data, you can focus on the first half as a whole. What you want to understand is what sales drove revenue. It can be any combination of products, services or programs. The goal is to assign revenue to the items that earned it. Did you take on new clients, or a larger or more diverse customer base? From this review, you can sharpen your focus on what worked and what didn’t. This can mean revising sales forecasts for the second half or changing your offering mix. Perhaps you need to revisit your pricing strategy or marketing plan.

  3. Review your operations.

    Did everything run precisely, like a Swiss watch, or were there holes in your operations (more like Swiss cheese). Perhaps you didn’t maintain an optimum inventory? If so, why not? What factors contributed to overstocking or stockouts? Did purchases match expectations, or were you caught flat-footed by price hikes for merchandise, raw materials, supplies, travel, or new recruits? Very importantly, did cash flow problems prevent you from taking advantages of unexpected opportunities, such as a volume discounts on some of your inputs? Did you have to liquidate some slow-moving inventory at wholesale prices (or lower)? These are all symptoms of a cash flow shortfall, which can hurt your growth prospects.

  4. Identify Solutions:

    You want to keep on doing the things that worked well and identify ways to fix problem areas. Both will be evident when you compare your mid-year forecast with actuals. Areas that require attention include marketing effectiveness, product/service mix, relationships with suppliers and vendors, inventory management and cash operations. You also might need to review your workforce to see if you are getting the performance you require.

  5. Rework the Year-End Plan:

    This might include revising budgets, hiring new personnel, exploring new markets and evaluating return on marketing investment. Your goal is to reduce the forecast error in the second half of the year compared to the first half.

  6. Review Growth Plan:

    Some businesses lose money because they are too small relative to demand. That’s a growth opportunity which you should pursue, before someone else capitalizes on it. If you need to finance a growth cycle, get a business loan from a provider like IOU Financial. We’ll work with you to help you grow, making borrowing affordable and convenient.

The output of your mid-year review is a revised year-end forecast for sales revenues and costs. Over time, your forecasts should get better. At the very least, you want your errors to be equally likely on the plus and minus sides. Finally, your business might just be gosh-darn difficult to forecast. If so, your best bet is to have contingency funding available quickly so that you can respond from a position of strength.

10 Video Content Ideas That Work with Your Small Biz Budget

Savvy marketers know that, in 2019, video marketing simply must be a part of the strategy. To illustrate why that is, let’s take a look at a few stats: 93 percent of businesses say they’ve earned a new customer by posting a video on social media and 72 percent of users say they prefer video over text when they’re learning about a product or service. Video as a digital medium and a mode for advertising grows exponentially every year, making it a requisite for all businesses looking to position themselves for success.

With all of this in mind, it’s clear that your small- or medium-sized business could benefit greatly from integrating video into your process. But with a limited budget, is that even possible? Indeed, it is! Start by realizing that you don’t need any expensive equipment or software to shoot viral-worthy vids. In fact, you can transform your DSLR camera or iPhone into a high-tech piece of equipment by purchasing affordable video accessories to outfit your existing gear, and there are plenty of free and cheap editing programs out there.

Coupled with some of the affordable video concepts listed below, you’ll be well on your way to a successful campaign that doesn’t bog down your budget.

  1. Crowd-Sourcing Content: Basic User-Generated Videos

    Looking to produce compelling video content without actually making any videos? Here’s a tip: encourage your users to make their own vids that you can use in your campaigns. Offer an incentive to your fans to create a review, a tutorial video or a testimonial that you can then turn into its own video. Nothing’s better than word-of-mouth advertising, and this is one of the best ways to do it in the world of modern marketing, where everything’s online.

  2. Getting Personal: Meet the Team and Behind-the-Scenes

    One of the things that video marketing does especially well is helping users connect with brands, giving marketing a real, personable face and voice. Filming a few behind-the-scenes videos, such as a meet the team video or a how it’s made video, will help your viewers, fans and potential customers get a better idea about the essence and vibe of your company. Don’t forget to film an interview or a feature showcasing your founder and the origins of your brand.

  3. Brand Rep 101: Testimonials and Reviews

    Perhaps the most obvious way to use video as a marketing tool is to create content that promotes. Invite in a few of your most loyal customers or those who have seen amazing results from your product and film an interview-style video featuring their feedback. Make sure your testimonial videos are built for success: make them short, simple and authentic, and definitely don’t use a script.

  4. Educating Users: How-Tos andTutorials

    Gone are the days of in-store demos and door-to-door salesmen. These days, YouTube is all you need to explain how your product works. Have one of your most camera-ready employees film how-tos and demonstrations detailing how your product or service works. Whether you film it yourself with your iPhone (and a few essential filming accessories, of course) or have an artist create a custom animation just for you, you can count on these vids to educate and sell at the same time.

  5. NoFilmingNecessary: Webinars and Audio-Only Videos

    Naturally, with the set, the hair and makeup and the lighting, the visual component of video marketing can be hard on the budget, especially when you’re working with minimal funds. Consider recording audio only and then pairing the audio portion with still photos, screen-sharing shots and other components to provide the same enjoyable viewing experience of a regular video. This can be done relatively easy with your phone or DSLR and a camera microphone.

  6. Expert’s Circle: Interviews and In-Depth Guides

    If you want to position yourself as a thought leader in your industry (and therefore gain more leads and better brand recognition), you need to be pulling insight from the experts in the field. Cater to general searchers who are looking to learn with educational, expert-driven content that adds to a broader conversation.

  7. Live-Streaming:Day-to-Day Snippets

    No doubt about it: embedded videos and a strong presence on YouTube and other platforms are great, but you also have to make sure you’re leveraging your “one-and-done” channels, like Snapchat, Instagram Stories and Facebook Stories to get your products in front of users. Film and post everything from employee community engagement to press conferences and company networking events.

  8. Listicles: Turning Your Text Content into Compelling Videos

    You’ve probably come across short videos on Facebook and Instagram that feature still photos and video clips with text overlays, highlighting interesting facts or telling a story. This is a great format for companies that want to repurpose their existing text content into video format — listicles, tip articles and buyer’s guides can make surprisingly sharable video content.

  9. Adding Art: Animations and More

    It may be a lot cheaper and even more effective to ditch the video footage altogether. Instead, consider hiring a digital artist to create an animation or a stop-motion video highlighting your product or service. These kinds of videos tend to capture the attention of people scrolling through your feed, but they don’t require actors or a set, so they can save you a pretty penny.

  10. Influencers: Creating ‘Why We Love It’ Vids

    Finally, don’t forget to invite real, influential users to come onto your channel to help highlight why it’s worth trying your product or service. Whether you enlist a real-life user from your community or a professional influencer is up to you, but you can count on these vids ramping up your reputation and earning you more followers.

Once you start exploring, you’ll be surprised to find out how many clever video concepts you can nail without a hefty investment. It’s all about leveraging what you have around you — your existing equipment, your existing content and your video-ready team — and then dialing it up a few notches by adding the special sparkle of video. When your brand goes viral, you’ll be glad you made the effort!

Guest Post: About the Author

Ethan Long is the business development director for MovoPhoto. Before starting with them, he worked in advertising in NYC where he gained over eight years of experience in content and video marketing. In his free time, he enjoys being outside, learning new photo and videography techniques, and spending time with his wife and their dog, Rory.

How to Manage Your Seasonal Business

Seasonality represents a complex challenge to business owners. To succeed, you must develop smart practices and skills that will allow you to weather the slow periods throughout the year. For one thing, you’ll have to deal with demand dips and supply problems. It’s impossible to be 100% prepared for every contingency, but these seven tips will help you strengthen your seasonal business.

1.    Understand Your Cycles

If you are just starting a business, you might experience an initial period or rapid growth. Sometimes, it can be easy to confuse rapid expansion with a normal seasonal fluctuation that you are catching as it waxes. This might mistakenly lead you to conclude that the current demand will continue indefinitely. Instead, you should research seasonal sales data for your industry and location over the last three years or so. You can check with industry sources and competitors who’ve been around for a while.

2.    Increase Your Planning Skills

You should be planning ahead for at least six months in advance. Understand terms like the off season(complete lulls) and the shoulder season (slow periods). Stash away money during the strong periods to get the business through the quiet months. Also, pare down cash-absorbing items like staffing and inventory during the off season. Use your quiet time to prepare for the next busy season.

3.    Expand Income Streams

The classic example is a pool company. During the summer, it sells or builds backyard pools. Then when winter rolls around, it switches to selling pool tables. That’s pretty clever. Perhaps you can think of countercyclical products and services you might offer during the off season. Say, ice cream in the summer and hot drinks in the winter. Just don’t lose sight of your primary business.

4.    Advertise When Competitors Are Quiet

Maybe your competitors go quiet during the off season. That’s your cue to offer promotions and advertising campaigns that build awareness and attract new customers. Time it to coincide with the last few weeks of the quiet period. Customers will be more ready to buy if you prime the pump at the right time.

5.    Maintain Visibility

The off period is a great time to boost your profile. Perhaps you can sponsor a charitable event, run a raffle or perform some civic duty that garners favorable press. Use your social media accounts throughout the year and use them wisely. That means, giving customers and prospects a reason to pay attention. Perhaps it’s a handy eBook with incredibly useful information, or access to select promotions. Your goal is to convert the occasional customer into a repeat one.

6.    Be Upfront About Layoffs

In some cases, seasonal layoffs are inevitable. However, you can soften the blow by being upfront about it and offering furloughed employees something of value to get them through the quiet time. For instance, you might offer to continue their employee health insurance for the few months they are not there. Keep your staff informed about things that affect them, such as minimum wage laws and new regulations.

7.    Work with an Enlightened Funding Partner

Establish a relationship with a business lender who understands the seasonal nature of your company. You might plan to borrow during the off season to fund capital investments that are best made when business is slow. You can use loan proceeds to even out your cash flows, perhaps allowing you to purchase inventory when its cheap.

IOU Financial makes it easy to obtain small business loans of up to $500,000 with flexible terms, such as daily or weekly payments, no upfront costs, fixed loan payments and affordable rates. We make business lending simplified, so include us in your annual planning. We are standing by to help!

10 Trade Show Marketing Tips for Small Businesses

Been thinking about setting up shop at an expo or special event? Since trade shows are proven to help boost brand awareness, increase sales and enhance product knowledge, there’s no reason why your small business shouldn’t consider attending one. Get your promotional banners and book that well-positioned trade show spot. Be ready to assemble a sales dream team, grab some flashy swag and print up those can’t-miss marketing materials, because we’re headed to the trade show!

Get to Know the Event Before You Go

First things first: do some recon. Seriously though, the best trade shows and industry events will publish numbers pertaining to attendance, attendee demographics, competitors and other important items that you can use to create a highly effective trade show strategy. Focus on finding ways to draw in your ideal customer through buyer personas, and market to your target consumer.

Invest in a Custom Display Kit

If it’s your first time exhibiting at a major trade show, make sure you show up with a professional display. Small businesses typically can’t afford huge, custom-built rigs. These displays cost money to design, conceive and build, and also to transport to the event. Instead, invest in an all-inclusive trade show display that comes with backdrops, banners, tablecloths and other essentials. These bundles basically allow you to turn any space into a pro-level trade show display.

Write a Special Sales Script

Remember how we discussed marketing to your core consumer? Make sure that you tweak your typical sales script or pitch so that it very closely aligns with your target attendee. For example, if you’re hoping to get your product in front of C-suite execs or other decision-makers at a given show, then focus on positioning your product or service as a high-value investment that will bring big returns. If your goal is consumer-focused, make it more of an emotional experience.

Where Possible, Make it Interactive

In a world where we demo, interact and do business in a primarily digital setting, the trade show is a unique opportunity to get real face time with consumers and other innovators within your industry. Don’t miss out on this important component! Try your best to make your booth interactive and engaging by allowing attendees to touch, feel and play with your product. Videos, prototypes, virtual reality setups and mock-up environments can help people visualize products and experiences in a real, meaningful way without a massive spend on your behalf.

Send out a Digital Blast Beforehand

Before you set up at any event, especially a large trade show or convention, make sure to send out a digital marketing blast through email. Let everyone in your circle of clients, customers and partners know where you’ll be exhibiting (list the exact booth number, if possible). Even if your booth is flooded with existing fans or customers, count it as a win! Crowds beget crowds, and if event-goers see that your booth is happening, they’ll stop by, too.

Provide Sneak Peeks to Hype the Crowd

We probably don’t have to tell you that good trade show giveaways can earn you massive points in the exhibitor market. Of course, they’re great for drawing people into your booth and capturing the attention of attendees, but they’re also an amazing way to hype up your display before the event even begins. Tease your swag with sneak peeks a week or so beforehand.

Develop Incentives and Advertise Them

In the same vein, you can use your swag items to help you achieve specific event marketing goals. Maybe you decided to exhibit in order to develop leads, to build brand awareness or to grow your social media numbers. Whatever you want to do, your freebies can help. For example, you might offer a small giveaway to anyone who signs up for your email list or “likes” your page on social media.

Make Something “Share-Worthy”

These days, it isn’t enough for your audience to like and share content related to your business. They also have to create it themselves in what’s known as user-generated content (UGC).One of the best ways you can encourage them to do this is by having a totally unique photo opportunity in the midst of your booth. Think: a large, life-sized prop of some sort or a funny face cutout board with your logo and branding on it. Don’t forget the hashtags!

Draw Attention with Games and Chill Spots

If you’re setting up shop at a trade show that’s primarily business-to-business, remember that most attendees will be on the clock when they’re wandering through the aisles. Thus, anything you can do to provide them with a fun break in the day—which they have probably spent in exhausting meetings, presentations and networking events—will be welcome. Set up a place for attendees to relax, charge their phone or play some games (with prizes, of course) to help them take a much-needed rest as they ink deals.

Host an Event or Presentation

The exhibiting portion is only part of the equation when it comes to trade shows. You can, and should, develop a full-scale trade show plan by adding sponsored events and demonstrations to your schedule. Host thoughtful industry-related panels and question and answer sessions or keep it casual by inviting leaders in your field to mingle at a happy hour or luncheon hosted by your company.

Catering to the Right Crowd — 

 There’s no one-size-fits-all formula to marketing your trade show presence, but you should bank on the things that work. Effective event marketing includes creating an eye-catching display, handing out high-value freebies and building up hype around your exhibit. If you spend a bit of time beforehand conceptualizing a strategy that plays to your target attendee, you can bet that your exhibit fees will bring a pretty impressive return on investment.

Guest Post: About the Author

Leslie Pierce is the VP of Marketing for Half Price Banners. She has a demonstrated history of working in the wholesale industry and has been with her company for over 10 years. She is skilled in luxury goods, sales, retail, store management, and sales operations.

6 of the Best Sales Negotiation Skills for Business Success

Sales negotiation skills are key to business success. Business owners continually encounter situations, ranging from trivial to complex, that require negotiations.

Expert sales negotiation traininghelps business owners achieve optimal results. In this training, sales course content is infused with negotiation skills development. Six sales skills for business owners to improve their sales outcomes include:

The Courage to Walk Away

Skilled business owners avoid going into discussions without options. A businessperson entering discussions should have a Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA).

A BATNA is what you walk away with if you can’t reach an agreement. Understanding your BATNA gives you the confidence to reject unprofitable or low-profit deals and only make informed concessions for win-win outcomes. Confidence grows when you have a favorable fallback position and are not desperate for a deal.

In addition to coming prepared by having your BATNA, knowing your buyers’ and suppliers’ BATNAs can inform your negotiation strategy.

Effective Listening Skills

Negotiations can be highly pressured. Business owners might be itching to get their points across. However, holding the floor in discussions can lead to not paying attention to what others are saying. The dominating speaker is too busy thinking of their next point.

Just waiting for your chance to speak instead of truly listening is also considered disrespectful to others at the table. When you don’t listen, you can also miss chances to create and claim value.

When you pay close attention, you are likely to uncover details that could enrich the deal and improve the relationship. Listening is so crucial that top business negotiators write out their best questions before meetings. Questions give you control of the meeting, allowing you to steer discussions.

Documentation Skills

Sales negotiation training teaches students to put discussions and agreements in writing. It’s possible to agree to something and later forget details of the agreement.

Additionally, it’s almost inevitable to come across a dishonest person in business. Documenting terms makes it more difficult for someone to later use deceptive tactics to challenge agreements.

Other times, clients or suppliers may forget committing to an agreement. When you have agreements in writing and all participants retain a copy, the contract acts as a reminder for smooth operations and timely deliveries.

Effective Communication Skills

In business negotiations, there’s little room for miscommunication or communication breakdowns. As Lee Iacocca once said, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” Similarly, if you can’t communicative effectively in business, your negotiation efforts may not amount to much.

Effective communication is key in simplifying complex information, resolving conflicts, and persuasion. Negotiation seminars often train sales professionals to hone their communication skills through role play. Strong communication skills need practice to form positive habits like being engaging and responsive.

Fortunately, communication skills can be honed. To improve your effectiveness in negotiations, you can:

  • Take time to thoroughly research and prepare before the meeting.
  • Consider enrolling in expert negotiation training.
  • Engage in negotiation simulations to rehearse and improve.
  • Conduct debriefing sessions to analyze your performance.

Problem-Solving Skills

Businesses make profits out of solving other people’s problems.

The same steps a businessperson takes to solve problems can be used to reach agreements. Problem-solving steps you can take to reach agreements include:

  • Clearly defining the problem.
  • Pursuing alternative opportunities for solving the problem.
  • Questioning the cause of the problem.
  • Identifying multiple possible solutions to the problem.
  • Prioritizing potential solutions.
  • Deciding on an acceptable solution.
  • Assigning tasks for implementing the solution.
  • Setting measures to track progress on the problem and solution.

Empathy

Empathy helps a businessperson understand others’ problems and create appropriate solutions. When you’re empathetic, you’re positioned to understand the feelings and attitudes of others, even if your own feelings differ.

Empathy forges mutual respect and develops trust. In persuasion, empathy can encourage positive social behavior. This increases the chances of creating win-win solutions. Expert sales negotiation training can:

  • Equip people to identify their own and other people’s emotions.
  • Train people to identify emotion by reading body language, tone, and non-verbal cues.
  • Train business owners to employ skillful probing without sounding interrogative.
  • Practice active listening to understand rather than interrupt.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of others’ concerns without judgment.

Sales Negotiation Skills Summary

By training in and nurturing these six key skills, business owners can create favorable outcomes. After all, business is ultimately about exchanging value for profits. If you fail at negotiations, you are more likely to fail in business. If you employ these six skills to succeed at negotiations, your business is positioned to grow consistently.

Guest Post: About the Author

Specialists in the corporate business negotiation market, The Negotiation Experts offer instructive advice on their site via articles, Q&A’s, book reviews, case studies, and negotiating definitions.