Business Credit Scores vs. Personal Credit Score

Starting a business takes money, and that money typically comes from financing. But in order to get approved for a business loan, entrepreneurs need to meet certain lending criteria, including having decent credit. Lenders will not only look at your personal credit score but also your business credit, both of which play a role in your ability to obtain financing for your business.

But how exactly does business credit and personal credit differ? Let’s dive into each to understand the difference.

Business Credit

Business credit – also referred to as commercial credit – helps lenders to determine your creditworthiness and candidacy for financing. A high business credit score can boost the odds of securing a business loan and obtaining better favorable terms. On the other hand, a low business credit score can make it more difficult to obtain financing and secure more favourable terms.

Not only do lenders look at our credit score, but so do vendors and suppliers before agreeing to deal with your company. Business credit is also required to obtain business insurance, and in many cases, it’s also needed for purchasing goods and services.

While your personal credit may be able to be used for some of these, in many cases it can’t. And even in cases where personal credit may be used, it really shouldn’t, as using personal accounts can make accounting a lot more confusing and difficult.

Who Creates Your Business Credit Score

There are three major credit bureaus in Canada that are responsible for determining business credit scores: TransUnion, Equifax, Dun & Bradstreet. Each of them uses a set of factors to determine a business credit score.

TransUnion

TransUnion offers both business credit reports and business credit scores. TransUnion uses business credit data and public record information to create their business risk score. This score takes into consideration a number of factors, including insolvencies or delinquencies, available credit limits, business bank accounts, credit cards, and collection.

Equifax

Equifax works a little differently than other credit bureaus in that it assigns a business three different scores. The first is a conventional credit risk score between 100 to 992, which assesses a company’s credit history. The second report from Equifax contains a “Payment Index” range from 0 to 100, which is a measure of payment history to past creditors. A score of at least 90 means that a business pay their bills on time, on average. Thirdly, Equifax’s “Business Failure Score” ranges from 1,000 to 1,880 and assesses the risk of businesses dissolving.

Dun & Bradstreet

The Dun & Bradstreet PAYDEX score is a rather straightforward business credit scoring model that’s based on how promptly payments are made and is scored up to 100. This credit score assesses the average number of days needed to pay off a debt. A score of 100 means that bills have been paid at least 30 days or more before they’re due, on average. Scores of 80 mean that bills are being paid the day they’re due, on average. Generally speaking, the longer it takes for you to pay your bills, the lower your score will be.

Personal Credit

Personal credit scores are used by lenders to assess a borrower’s creditworthiness and financial health. These scores represent numerical expressions that are based on an assessment of a person’s credit information.

Lenders use credit scores to assess whether or not consumers are able to qualify for a loan, the interest rate charged, and potentially even the loan amount. Missing bill payments and taking out too many loans can bring a credit score down, which can make it more difficult for a borrower to secure a loan.

A high credit score, on the other hand, means the individual has been much more responsible with his or her finances. Payments are typically made on time, credit limits are not maxed out, and debt loads are relatively healthy.

In Canada, personal credit scores range from 300 to 900. The closer the score is to the upper level, the better. Generally speaking, lenders like to see a score of at least 650 to 680 before they agree to extend a loan to an individual.

Who Creates Your Personal Credit Score?

In Canada, there are two major credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion. These bureaus compile the information found in your credit file to calculate your credit scores.

Certain factors are used to calculate a credit score, including:

  • Payment history – A history of timely payments will help increase your credit score, while a history of missing payments will do the opposite.
  • Debt load – The amount of debt you carry relative to your income will impact your credit score. Higher debt loads are often associated with lower credit scores, while lighter debt loads are typically associated with higher scores.
  • Credit utilization ratio – The amount of money that you spend relative to your credit limit will be a factor in your credit score calculation. It’s generally recommended to keep your spending to no more than 30% of your credit limit in order to keep your credit score healthy.
  • Age of your credit accounts – Older credit accounts are usually a good thing for credit scores, especially if they’re in good standing. Further, a longer credit history will help credit bureaus better assess your credit health.
  • Credit mix – Having a few different credit accounts – such as a mortgage, personal loan, car loan, and credit card – can be a good thing for your credit score, as long as you are responsible with all bill payments associated with each.

How to Establish Business Credit

In addition to keeping all of your business finances separate from your personal finances, there are other ways to establish business credit:

Open a separate business account – As already mentioned, mixing your personal and business finances can make things more cumbersome. Not only will a separate business checking account make things easier for bookkeeping purposes, but it can also help you build business credit when you use it strictly for business expenses.

Apply for a business credit card – Using a business credit card responsibly can help you build good credit, much like using a personal credit card responsibly can have the same effect. With each timely payment you make, your business credit can be improved.

Apply for a small loan – Every payment you make will be reported to the credit bureaus, which can help you build good credit.

Establish credit lines with suppliers and vendors – Since Dun & Bradstreet needs a minimum of four vendors to generate its credit report, it would help to establish credit lines with suppliers and vendors and build up relationships so they can eventually turn into future trade references for your business when you apply for a business loan.

Regularly keep tabs on your business credit – It doesn’t take long for your business credit to change, so it’s important to keep an eye on it on a regular basis. By identifying any changes in your business credit report, you’ll be able to spot any strange issues that you can deal with right away before they negatively impact your credit rating.

Should You Ever Mix Business and Personal Credit?

While we don’t recommend using your business credit card to pay for personal expenditures, your personal credit score plays a key role in your business. Having said that, lenders are still going to look at your personal credit score if your business is relatively new and will require a personal guarantee when applying for financing, which means you’re still responsible for the loan. If you ever default on your business loan, the lender has some more recourse aside from going after your business.

It’s important to still maintain your personal credit score while you’re building your business credit since they can both be important when applying for a business loan.

Guest Post: About the Author

Loans Canada is a financial technology and media company that connects Canadian consumers to financial service providers and educational resources. Loans Canada is one of the nation’s leading online destinations for information on loans, debt relief, credit building, and commercial financing. Their technology platform allows consumers to search for the best lenders and credit providers in Canada.

2020 Technology Trends for Small Business Owners to Anticipate

At last check, America was hosting more than 30 million small businesses. The ones that plan for the latest technology trends will hold a distinct advantage over their competitors. Here are six tech-related trends that business owners should anticipate. Perhaps one or more will have a direct impact on your business.

1.    The Growth of Automation Software

Artificial intelligence (AI) and related automated technologies were once considered too big to affect small businesses. That’s rapidly changing now. The evolution of AI is making it a viable option for small businesses in a number of business processes, including:

  • Email marketing
  • Customer service
  • Data entry
  • Accounting

As AI apps filter down to small businesses, the businesses that climb on board will be better able to compete with larger companies. In addition, the growth of automation may create a startling new number of business opportunities that will interest entrepreneurs.

2.    Work from Home

Futurists predict this trend will quickly become the new normal for millions of small business employees. Attitudes toward remote work are changing. Once, owners and managers feared that it would lead to lower productivity. However, the facts indicate just the opposite. Studies show that employees who work from home are more productive, thanks to fewer distractions and time saved on commuting. Small businesses will increasingly experiment with telecommuting, at least for part of the week. Owners may actually save some operational costs, and employees will save on commuting. The result should be a more productive environment.

3.    Social Media Marketing

The number of small businesses who latch on to social media technology to market their offerings will continue to accelerate. Platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook continually refine their technology to improve marketing return on investment for their customers. Small business owners are becoming aware of the value of social media influencers. These are professionals who have large followings and who can help bring your offerings to the attention of their many followers. If you want to get the biggest bang for your marketing buck, consider engaging a social media influencer to help with your marketing campaigns.

4.    Freelance Economy

The same technological progress that animates telecommuting makes it easier for millions of people to develop side hustles that form the genesis of new small businesses. The freelance, or gig, economy allows folks to monetize what were once hobbies and to work as consultants/contractors to multiple clients. As telecommunications becomes faster and more reliable, it becomes easier and cheaper for professionals to compete online as graphic artists, writers, webmasters, marketing consultants, and many other gigs. For example, one leader in the field, Upwork, provides complete support services to facilitate small business gigs for freelancers, and its influence should grow in 2020.

5.    Customer Support

Consumers increasingly favor online customer support over phone calls. Real-time chats allow specialists to handle customer inquiries and complaints. This has a couple of side effects. First, it encourages customer interaction among people who don’t like to talk on the phone or to wait in queue for the next available representative. Second, the growing use of AI provides online capabilities to solve many problems online before the intervention of a human. Third, it allows easier rationing when customers need to speak to a person to solve a problem.

6.    Shifts in Investments

Small businesses may have to replace aging technology to successfully compete. The growth of cloud computing and the introduction of 5G networks are but two examples of where business owners may need to revamp antiquated equipment and unproductive practices. Although this may require an initial investment in hardware, software, and expertise, the cost will be well worth it. Companies who rely on older technology will find themselves at a disadvantage to nimbler, tech-savvy competitors.

Conclusion

It will require increasing investments in equipment, software, and expertise to compete in 2020 and beyond. If you would like to explore the financing you might need to help your business thrive, we invite you to contact us at IOU Financial. You’ll find it easy to borrow the money you need quickly, economically, and with convenient repayment options. Don’t let tight cash prevent you from seizing the promise of advancing technology — contact IOU Financial today for a fast small-business loan.

5 Tips and Tricks to Help You Sell Products on Amazon

When you are looking to grow your small business you may consider whether selling on Amazon is the right choice for you. Amazon has a trusted reputation as an online retailer and you can absolutely jump on the bandwagon of trust and benefit from their customer service experience by becoming a third party Amazon seller. 

When you are looking to find out how to drive your profits higher on Amazon there are many different things to take into consideration. But you can absolutely sell more online by following these 5 tricks that break down how you can best improve your chances to sell on Amazon.

1. Consider Using the Fulfilled By Amazon Service

One of the hardest parts of selling online is the fulfillment process. Fulfillment can be a real challenge of an e-commerce business. When you opt to become an FBA affiliate Amazon will then store your products in their warehouse and ship them to your customers. 

This means your customers can take advantage of their prime shipping benefits and Amazon will handle the return process and any refunds necessary. Amazon has a quality reputation for excellent customer service and you can opt right into that by becoming an FBA seller. 

You may think that the FBA market is saturated but it really isn’t. There are a lot of third-party sellers on Amazon today, but there are also more customers than ever before, making FBA the perfect choice for jumping into selling online and growing your small business. 

If you are concerned about the fees and whether you can turn a profit, there are many calculators online to help you make the right decision for your business like the amazon fba fee calculator from synccetric

Since Amazon will be taking care of the fulfillment process, you can spend your time and efforts gaining customers and finding new suppliers and items you may want to add to your online inventory. As your business finds more success, you can use your sales to rank higher and achieve even more sales going forward.

2. Be Certain Your SEO is Working For You

How often do you go on Amazon and browse, hoping to find something you need? It’s probably not very frequently as most people go in search of something specific they need or want. With that in mind, you need to be sure that potential customers are able to find your listing over others that may be similar. 

It should motivate you to learn that Amazon’s algorithm rewards sellers with higher rankings based on sales. You can generate more sales by increasing your search potential and the fastest way to do that is by adjusting your listing title. One additional keyword can make a difference in being found. 

Amazon has a standard 500 character limit on listing titles, but that doesn’t mean you should use every single one of those characters without putting thought into what you’re saying. Think like a consumer and what you would want to know as you’re searching. Do you mention the brand? If you aren’t mentioning the sizes and colors in your title you are doing yourself a disservice. 

There are many keyword tools available for you to make sure that your listing is as strong as possible. Remember that Amazon just wants items to sell, that is their business model and they don’t care who customers are buying from as long as it’s through Amazon. Their search engine is consistently updating and improving to help their customers find what they want. 

If you think you’ve done everything right and you’re still not getting the sales you’ve expected that can be really frustrating. But it gives you a great opportunity to ensure you have really optimized your listing. Check your keywords often and consider adding a new picture of your items from time to time.

3. Know the Rules

This may seem like a silly warning, but be sure that you’re following the rules and regulations that Amazon has set up for its third-party sellers. Amazon is quite strict and is not unwilling to suspend people who are not following their rules. Repeat offenders or even shut down permanently, which can be disastrous for your business. 

In fact, Amazon’s policy is that they can cancel you for any reason at any time with notice. But don’t depend on an email notification you may miss in order to keep your listings active. Take initiative and double-check all of your listings and your seller’s profile to be sure you are following the rules. 

Some of the most common reasons for being suspended are selling prohibited or inauthentic items. So make sure your inventory does not have any counterfeit products within it. Suspensions can even be triggered by a bad review claiming your item is a knock-off so make sure everything you sell is as advertised. 

If your account is associated with too much negative feedback, that can also be cause for Amazon to shut down your account. Never under any circumstances set up a new account if you’ve been suspended, that will result in being banned permanently. Remember you can’t sell your products if you don’t have a seller’s agreement so following the rules is only to your benefit.

4. Try Offering A Sale

One great way to gain more sales on Amazon is to offer a sale or a promotion. Consumers love to believe they are getting a bargain, so help them choose your listing by giving them one. Many third-party sellers list their items with a crossed-out retail price and then the price at which they are selling the item for. 

That is absolutely a great way to drum up some business, but not every seller offers coupons or promotions. Spend some time playing around with your numbers to see how you can price items and pair them together to entice customers while still meeting your preferred profit margin. 

Whether it’s a “Buy 3 Get One Free” type of deal or a simple “Save 15% when you buy 2” these promotions can help generate higher sales, which in turn will help your sellers ranking go up, making it easier for future customers to find your listing.

5. Change Up Your Listings

You might be motivated to search Amazon and pinpoint the items that can turn the biggest profit. While that is one way to make money, you might feel burnt out because you don’t feel passionate about what you’re selling. Try selling things that you would actually use and like. 

There isn’t one perfect product out there, for instance, holiday decorations sell well at the end of the year and not so well in May. This doesn’t mean you can’t make money selling holiday decorations on Amazon, it just simply suggests that you need to expand your inventory so that you can turn a profit year-round. 

Every category on Amazon has a best-selling item list that is updated hourly. Keep track of what items are on those lists and then determine whether or not you should possibly sell some of those items. Spending time researching how many sellers offer that product and how many other FBA accounts have that product listed can help you narrow down some new items. 

There is a lot to consider when changing your inventory, but when you choose items you are invested in the success of and those with a broad appeal you stand to sell more items on Amazon. You may decide you don’t need new items to sell and that’s just fine too, but don’t limit yourself to one type of product unless that is actually paying off for your business. 

Conclusion

Selling on Amazon is a numbers game and there is no one thing that will help boost your sales alone. By combining several strategies however you can grow your business to successfully sell on Amazon, use these tricks as a jumping-off point and see where it leads you. 

Remember, customers can find nearly anything they want to buy on Amazon. So the only thing stopping them from buying from you is that you aren’t listing what they want. (Or they can’t find you!) Meet your customers where they’re at by optimizing your listings and offering sales and trying new products to increase your Amazon business. 

Guest post: About the Author

Gabe Nelson is a content specialist of over 7 years of experience. Just out of highschool he set off crab fishing on the bering sea in Alaska. From there he went back home to finish his college degree at the University of Montana. He has a passion and keen understanding when it comes to digital marketing inside and out. He has written hundreds of content pieces in numerous niches. Currently, he lives in Missouri with his wife and kids enjoying the peaceful town of St. Joseph.

Get Your Business Budget Ready for the Holidays

Your business’ budget should reflect the challenges and opportunities of the holiday season. The process starts with goal-setting: What volume of business do you want to achieve in the holiday period, and what expenditures should you make now to reach your goals? It’s easier to update your budget by breaking down your goals into a set of focused objectives like the ones we’ve compiled here:

Inventory:

The biggest selling days are the Black Friday weekend (the days after Thanksgiving) and the week leading up to Christmas. These are the days that will drain your inventory the fastest, leaving you vulnerable to stockouts, which is something you can’t afford. Conversely, you can’t mindlessly order extra inventory that will sit unsold on your shelves well into the new year. Therefore, review last year’s sales numbers and see if you would have benefitted by ordering more inventory or less. Then, factor in new products you’ll be selling this year, as well as the amount of extra advertising you’ll be doing. Your marketing and sales plans will greatly affect demand for your offerings.

Marketing:

Opportunities abound in the holiday season to spend money on marketing and advertising. The challenge is to pick the right advertising channels, whether existing or new, and allocating budget dollars to each. The basis for deciding your marketing budget is return on marketing investment for various channels, such as:

    • Loyalty programs
    • Social media
    • Print advertising
    • Broadcast advertising
    • Promotions and events
    • Website updates
    • Signage
    • Email marketing

Review your marketing ROI for the last 12 months to gauge how much to allocate to each potential channel. You might also want to canvas your peers (not necessarily your direct competitors) for their experiences in this area. Your objective is to have a cohesive, well-funded marketing plan that avoids missed opportunities while minimizing waste.

Production:

If you are a manufacturer, your holiday production schedule should reflect your best estimates for demand. In some businesses, demand won’t change much during the holiday season, but for others, the holidays are the make-or-break period for production and sales. You should update your production goals based on factors like last-year’s results, economic conditions, the latest trends and fads, changes in the competitive landscape, and so forth. Then, update your budget to account for changes in purchasing of raw materials, assemblies, equipment, and supplies. Factor in increased labor costs, and perhaps higher utility usage. You may also need to budget extra for temporary storage and transportation facilities.

Decorations and Gifts:

Retailers spend significant dollars each year on decorations that enhance the holiday spirit. You may also need to revamp or expand your shelves and bins. Don’t forget to budget holiday gifts you may want to distribute to employees, vendors, and contractors. The good will you accrue through thoughtful gift-giving will pay dividends all year long and bolster your long-term success. Gifts need not be lavish, but a simple thank-you card might not provide the results you want. In any event, do not tie gifts to demand for employee overtime or vendor discounts.

Liquidity:

After you arrive at your new budget, you may find yourself short of working capital. Rather than slashing your brand new budget, consider a short-term business loan. Interest rates are low this year, making the cost of a loan small in comparison to the benefits of additional spending. The extra sales volume you derive from your updated budget should greatly exceed the cost of borrowing. Ask yourself how much business you’ll lose if you don’t supplement your budget with a short-term loan. Remember, someone is going to benefit from all that extra holiday spending. Fortify your cash position so that the beneficiary is you.

IOU Financial is a great solution for working-capital funding during the holiday season. We can get you your money in as little as one day, without a lot of hassle or paperwork. We offer extremely flexible repayment arrangements that will easily accommodate your cash flow patterns. Don’t wait — the holiday season is already here. Contact IOU Financial today and make the most of the holidays!

Content Marketing Ideas for Small Business: The Ultimate Guide

Regardless of the size of your business, content marketing is an integral part of any company.

Content marketing helps companies to develop their brand and create a robust online presence. Depending on your business goals, it can aid with growth, reach, and engagement.

Content marketing is arguably the best marketing technique for your small business. Not only does it cost less than traditional marketing, but it generates around 3 times as many leads.

In this post, we explore the best content marketing ideas for small businesses.

Are you ready to dive in?

The fundamental elements of content marketing

Content marketing is, in essence, the act of creating content and sharing it with potential customers, visitors, or clients. The core aspects of content marketing are:

  • The website – This is where you will showcase your company, and always send your customers towards.
  • Blog – As you may have imagined, a blog is a crucial aspect of any business. It’s the perfect way to gain traffic to your site, and create more potential leads. Even if you only post once a week.
  • Social media – Now, social media is a necessary part of content marketing. Not only should all your marketing efforts be showcased on your blog, but content should also be created primarily for social media.
  • Email – You can now share content directly into your target audience’s inbox.

Let’s take a look at some of the best content marketing ideas for your small business.

Videos

Videos have fast become one of the most popular means of content marketing, especially in the past few years. In fact, it’s estimated that 82% of all web traffic will be online video by 2020. Your small business should consider creating videos, this could be:

  • Tour around the office
  • Product reviews
  • Animated videos
  • Tutorials
  • A day in the life
  • Screen record

Podcasts

Another big marketing trend at the moment is podcasts, these have definitely picked up a lot of momentum in the past couple of years, and aren’t showing any signs of stopping soon. Podcasts are engaging, mobile-friendly, and listeners tend to be extremely loyal.

User-Generated Content

If you’re really struggling for content, why not let your users create it themselves?User-generated content (UGC) can be anything from reviews, all the way to fan art and videos.

Many companies, both small and large, have taken advantage of UGI, and have significantly benefited from doing so. Not only does it give your website and social media platforms valuable content, but it involves your audience.

Take CocaCola’s name bottles as a great example. Customers posted photos of their named bottles, which created a proved to be a fantastic piece of advertisement.

It’s important to underline that user-generated content has to be edited. There is a variety of tools you can use to do that. Here are a few examples — Grammarly can help you with checking your spelling and punctuation, Trust My Paper can consult you on style and SEO optimization, Studicus is great with editing and Hemingway is a tool that can help you increase readability.

Coupons/voucher codes

Everybody loves a deal and using a coupon, voucher, or sale can really resonate with your customers or online visitors. Create posts and blogs revolving around your limited time deal, which will create a sense of urgency amongst your users. It’s a great way to push out content and generate leads. Of course, this is only for the companies that have a product or service to offer.

Blog posts

Obviously, the main form of content marketing has to be the most popular form of content marketing. We highly recommend that your company starts a blog, this will not only increase the traffic to your site but give your users and followers something to engage with.

If you’re stuck for ideas on what to blog about, there’s always a wide array of topics for you to choose from. The most popular blog posts offer valuable information, possibly tutorials, how-to’s or “xx of the best” style of articles. Why not ask your users what they would like you to write about? Perhaps they want to know how you started your company, or the top 10 products on your site.

Infographics

Infographics are visual representations of information, usually created to explain complex information straightforwardly. They are particularly popular on Pinterest and work really well with blogs. Providing a “clickbait” type of graphic. Every niche could make an infographic, whether it’s how to blend eyeshadow, the different types of coffee available, or how to install a plugin on your website.

Social media

Don’t neglect social media when it comes to your content marketing. Remember, every blog post, video, infographic, and coupon code should be posted on all your social media.

Social platforms give you a great opportunity to reach new people and fill up your social feed. Ensuring that you’re active on social media will in turn guarantee that you reach more people.

You could also try influencer marketing, which goes hand in hand with content marketing. Why not team up with influencers and create content together? This could be blogs, podcasts, or simply just photographs.

You could also try something a little more creative and use Instagram stories as a way to engage with your followers.

SEO

Content marketing will be more successful if you incorporate SEO with it. Of course, you’ll know all about the SEO in regards to blog posts, this is an imperative aspect. However, you can also make all other pieces of content SEO friendly – from podcasts to infographics.

Make sure that you optimize:

  • Meta tags
  • Meta Titles
  • Content on all pages
  • Meta descriptions

This will help you appear at the top of all search results, regardless of what people are searching for.

Top tip: If you’re trying to make your podcast SEO friendly, you should consider writing a short blog post alongside it, with all the keywords necessary.

Online publications

Some businesses have decided to create an online publication alongside their website. For instance, if you’re a business that focuses on surfing items, you could start a surfing digital magazine. This could be a great way to promote your brand.

Email marketing

Your content can be shared in multiple ways, through emails is one of the most effective ones. Spend time building up an email list – something that you can do whenever you make a sale, or somebody signs up to your service. Also, you should consider writing weekly newsletters – these should be filled with valuable information and facts.

Top tip: You shouldn’t bombard your subscribers with too many emails, or they will either unsubscribe, or they’ll consider your email as spam and won’t open them.

Set up an editorial calendar

The next step for you is to bring an editorial calendar; this will help you move towards your content marketing goals. Any small business that is looking for new ways to use content marketing to their advantage should consider getting some help from a customary editorial content calendar. A calendar will bring you any clarity that you need, and help you tackle any task that needs to be completed.

“An editorial calendar will give you a clear idea of what content needs to be created when it should be posted, where it should be published, and the goals of each piece of content.” — Diana Adjadj, a marketer and writer at Supreme Dissertation and Best Essay Education.

Conclusion

Content marketing is an excellent option for all small businesses, which can ultimately elevate your brand and reach new people. Content marketing can improve your conversions and allow you to connect with your audience and customers in new ways. Which ideas do you think you’ll try?

Guest Post: About the Author

Kristin Savage nourishes, sparks, and empowers using the magic of a word. She is a writer at Grab My Essay and WoWGrade. Kristin is pursuing a degree in Creative Writing. Along with that, she has a lot of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in marketing strategy for publishers and authors.

5 Things You Can’t Forget About When Growing Your Business

Setting up a business and turning it into a broad success takes a lot of time and dedication. Most people never even try, only dreaming about it, and those who actually attempt it fail more often than not. If you want to be one of the exceptions — to reach operational stability and keep growing your business — then you need to be keenly aware of the challenges ahead.

You also need to understand where your focus should go, because you can’t pay attention to every last element of your business, even in the early stages. There just isn’t enough time in the day. You need to stick to what really matters — and to that end, we’re going to run through 5 things you can’t forget about. Let’s get to it:

Brand guidelines

Establishing a consistent brand identity should be one of the very first things you do while launching your business, because if you get it right, that identity could stay with you for the entire lifespan of your company. Brands that don’t have clearly-defined identities aren’t memorable, which makes it incredibly hard for them to grow.

But it isn’t enough to outline that identity: you also need to ensure that it frames everything you do in the future, from your social media conversations to your content production. To do this, you must create brand guidelines detailing everything from the font (or fonts) you use to the tone of voice you strive for — and stick to them (a suite like Frontify can help with this).

Ambitious recruitment

If you’re going to invest in anything, let it be your employees, because a solo operation won’t usually get that far. There’s simply too much work for one person to handle everything. Additionally, the earlier you recruit, the laxer you can be with the requirements. This allows you to hire people who are talented but not experienced, and thus inexpensive — and if they develop into world-class professionals, they’ll owe you for the opportunity.

This is something that stable businesses with flat growth should really pay attention to. The right addition to the team could unlock a whole world of new potential, and there’s always the option of getting a business loan to cover their salary while they get embedded in the team and start using their skills to make the business money.

Financial management

If you don’t know how much money you’re making, you’re in major trouble, yet plenty of small business owners pay fairly little attention to their finances outside of thinking about profitability — but profitability isn’t enough. If your cash flow dries up due to profits being delayed, you can still run aground. You need to stay liquid.

So how do you do that? Well, you get familiar with important financial terms, and you implement software solutions to automate what you can. For instance, you can ensure that your employees get paid accurately and promptly with Wave Payroll (it’s 100% free), and having those outgoings regularly scheduled will help you keep track of your cash flow.

Customer feedback

Some business owners get so caught up in potential clients just over the horizon that they take their existing clients for granted. This is a major mistake. Not only are loyal long-time customers more financially rewarding on the whole, but they’re also invaluable for helping you improve your business — after all, having experienced your services and/or products for quite some time, they know where the deficiencies are.

Accordingly, you need to pay close attention to customer feedback, and even actively encourage it. If people seem reluctant, you can incentivize it somehow (offer discounts or rewards), but get as much feedback as you can — and action it. Keep improving your business, and it’ll grow significantly more quickly.

Operational procedure

When you’re just starting out, you might take a distinctly ad-hoc approach to handling your business. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and you need to be somewhat scrappy to make something from nothing. It isn’t sustainable, though, and it spells trouble down the line. Why? Because if you were sick and unable to work, the person taking over your duties would face the nearly-impossible task of replicating your methods with no clear guidance.

This is where standard operating procedures (SOPs) enter the picture. By documenting each of your operational tasks in an SOP, you can preserve it for all current and future employees. What’s more, the documentation of a process allows it to be developed and made better: something that’s vital for any company with grand ambitions.

If you forget about any one of these things while trying to grow your business, it’s very likely to hamper your progress, so ensure that your attention is going where it should.

Guest Post: About the Author

Micro Startups is your online destination for everything startup. We’re dedicated to spreading the word about hard-working solopreneurs and SMEs making waves in the business world. Visit the blog for your latest dose of startup, entrepreneur, and charity insights from top experts around the globe @getmicrostarted.

6 Tips to Prepare Your Business for the Holiday Season

Now that Autumn has arrived, the holidays can’t be far behind. In other words, things are going to get hectic soon, which means now is the time to start preparing your business for the 2019 holiday season. Depending on the size of your business, you might personally handle these tasks, but it’s a good idea to delegate where appropriate. First, it will give you more time, and second, it will provide important experience for your key employees. Without further ado:

1.    Stock Up on Supplies

Now is the time to review the supply orders you placed before the holidays last year. Some supplies are bedrock basic. For example, your public bathrooms will probably see increased traffic, so make sure you order plenty of paper towels, liquid soap, and toilet paper. If you operate a store, you also need to order a sufficient number of store gift cards and gift wrap to handle demand. If 2019 is your first year in business, network with other businesses to pick up important pointers. The bottom line is to order early and avoid expensive rush shipping later. Your customers will appreciate it when you can see to their needs in a seemingly effortless way.

2.    Purchase Extra Inventory

If you are a manufacturer, anticipate higher product demand. That means ordering more inputs from your vendors, scheduling extra production, and possibly hiring extra workers. If necessary, reserve extra warehouse space and additional transportation resources. If you are a merchandiser, you need to get your orders in early enough to have holiday goods in place when needed. Don’t forget, your suppliers are also under pressure, and they will be grateful for early orders. In any event, understand your suppliers’ required lead times and make sure you place orders before it’s too late.

3.    Schedule Holiday Hours

If you are a retailer, you may plan extended hours for the holidays. On the other hand, if you are a mom-and-pop business, perhaps you’ll be closing down for a few days over the holidays. You will need to finalize your holiday schedule and notify staff of any changes that affect them. Ask your employees to request holiday time off before a set date and encourage them to be available during the busiest days. Line up extra staff if necessary, and don’t forget to let your customers know about any special hours.

4.    Plan Your Decorations

Let’s face it, customers expect holiday decorations, hokey or not. Even if you operate out of an office, your employees will expect a nod to the holiday spirit. Decorating doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you treat it as a team-building exercise. On the other hand, some retail stores will require extensive redecorating, which means early planning and ordering. While decorating, take the opportunity to do a little cleaning and polishing of those out-of-the-way areas.

5.    Get Busy on the Web

Just like decorating your physical premises, your website might also benefit from a holiday makeover. First check the basics — is it easy to read, navigate, and place orders? Can you easily add a few images of candy canes or reindeer? Next, review your pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., and make sure they are up to date, If blogging is a regular part of your social presence, get your topics ready and, if you are too busy to personally pen your own articles, engage a professional freelance writer to prepare holiday-oriented content.

6.    Check Your Budget

All these holiday preparations can get expensive, putting pressure on your working capital. You should carefully estimate your cash needs between now and the new year and predict any shortfalls. If you find yourself in a bit of a cash crush, contact us at IOU Financial. We can arrange business loans quickly and conveniently, with a minimum of paperwork or hassle. And from all of us, best wishes for the happiest of holidays!

How to Celebrate Women’s Small Business Month

October is Women’s Small Business Month (WSBM), and truly deserves to be celebrated. Women have made tremendous strides as small business owners, although there are still many challenges ahead. Here are some ways you can draw personal meaning from WSBM as you celebrate the occasion.

  1. Learn About the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC):

    The Council was formed in 1988 with the mission to help end discriminatory lending to women. The Council continues to this day, giving important non-partisan advice to the federal government about issues vital to women business owners. It’s refreshing to see how much progress has been made as people of good will dedicate themselves to extending progress to today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.

  2. Identify Your Business as Woman-Owned:

    You can get the word out on your website and on social media. Include figures and statistics about the rising presence of women-owned small businesses. For example, did you know that almost 40% of U.S. businesses are owned by women, comprising more than 11 million female business owners? Add a page to your website discussing how you created an innovative service or product, and any obstacles you had to overcome as a woman.

  3. Offer and Encourage Mentorship to Young Women:

    If you are a role model for female entrepreneurship, consider mentoring the next generation of women business owners. You can speak to local groups, form an organization with other local businesswomen, and bring in interns to learn how a business works.

  4. Schedule Special Sales and Promotions:

    Make October a month your customers will remember by sponsoring sales and promotions tied to WSBM. This can be especially effective if you offer products or services that are helpful to women and families. Consider running an essay contest and awarding prizes to young women who describe their passion for starting and running a business.

  5. Get Involved in the Political Process:

    There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that women get equal pay for equal work, and that businesswomen get the same access to credit that businessmen do. Support candidates and initiatives that can help women overcome obstacles and increase the availability of capital.

  6. Publicize Grants to Women Owned Businesses:

    There are many national, state, and local grants available to female entrepreneurs, such as these five leading examples:

      1. InnovateHER Grant:
        This grant, sponsored by the Small Business Administration, awards three grants annually totaling $70,000 to businesses that develop offerings that empower and influence women and their families.
      2. Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program:
        Ms. Fisher had but $350 when she launched her clothing business in 1984. The company now annually earns more than $300 million in revenues, and it pays its success forward with 10 annual grants totaling $100,000.
      3. FedEx Small Business Grant Contest:
        Although not exclusively for women, females have had great success receiving hundreds of thousands in grant money, including several women grand prize winners.
      4. Girlboss Foundation Grants:
        Since 2014, the Foundations has granted over $120,000 to women entrepreneurs in the fields of music, design, fashion, and the arts. Grants are awarded quarterly in amounts ranging from $500 to $15,000.
      5. Amber Grants:
        WomenNet launched Amber Grants in 1998 to commemorate a young woman who died before achieving her entrepreneurial dreams. Grants are small, numerous, and easy to apply for.

The ways you can recognize WSBM are limited only by your imagination. If you are a woman growing your own business, remember that IOU Financial is an equal opportunity lender that has lent millions of dollars to female entrepreneurs. Contact us today if you’d like to take your business to the next level!

5 Effective Ways to Increase Your Conversion Rate with Social Media

Facebook and Instagram are two of the top places consumers look to research and purchase items online. This is great news for businesses, but just being present on social media doesn’t guarantee a sale will come. Should you expand what you’re doing? Should you stay the course and hope things improve?

If you aren’t seeing the conversion rates you are expecting or you would like, social media isn’t working as well as it can for you. SEO agencies can help get your small business into the forefront of your patron’s minds, however, without a specific plan, your social strategy may be in need of rejuvenation.

At what point can you see your conversion rate increase? That can be a difficult question to answer, but check out these five tips to help your social media posts become more effective and have your social media platforms work for you.

Have Your Landing Page Be Mobile Friendly

When websites don’t load well or are not optimized for mobile platforms, you lose out on those click-throughs from potential customers who are browsing social media on the go. When consumers are scrolling, you need to make it easy for them to switch from social media to your site.

Think about how you use your phone on sites, most likely you prefer when sites give you the ability to scroll or swipe to get more information. Give the people what they want and be sure your landing page is optimized for mobile shoppers and see how that conversion rate increases.

Keeping your site mobile-friendly will not only attract clientele who are on the go, but makes them more likely to recommend your business to others. Users prefer splash pages that are bright and flashy, when you cater to their preferences it is more likely that you will get the follow-through, and you will see your sales and conversion rate increase.

Create Ads that Target Your Specific Audience

You may have several goals for your social media postings, but your number one goal is probably to lead people to your site and persuade them to purchase your products. One of the best ways to do this is by placing ads on social media for your target audience to find as they are scrolling through.

Using keywords and demographic studies, you can place your ads in front of the people who are most likely to follow through and become interested and invested in your brand. Once you get them to your landing page you can work your sales magic, but getting that initial click should be the focus of your social media.

Once they are on your site you can use a specific call to action statement such as “I have to have this!” to create a buzz about your product and entice people to purchase your product immediately.

User-Generated Content is Your Friend

Sometimes you will have users who truly love your brand and you can leverage some of that content into advertising for you. The best part is that it’s free! When others see the posts or videos made from individuals just like them it not only builds awareness, but it promotes a feeling of trust.

User-generated content feels more authentic because it gives others an idea about what to expect from you from an unbiased source. Have you ever read a review before you’ve bought something? Think of these posts as the best feedback ever, people love your business so much they want to tell everyone, so go ahead and spread that message to your followers.

When a user creates their own video about a product that they are so excited about, others can build off of that excitement which in turn benefits your small business. Since search engines tend to prioritize new content, these videos and posts will give you more internet visibility, which is bound to increase interest. Customers want to follow the crowd!

Create Unique Content

What works on Instagram isn’t going to work as well on Pinterest. Facebook posts need to be different than Twitter posts. Since each social media site meets a different need, you need to engage specifically. If you are attempting to post the same thing across the board, you aren’t going to see an impact that meets your goals from doing so.

When you are able to have content that is geared towards the users of each platform individually, you are meeting your customers where they are and not saturating the same message for those who follow you in multiple ways.

On social media, you are just one click away from new customer’s finding you. Don’t antagonize them with seeing the same picture no matter where they are looking. Create similar posts with some changes that make it unique to the outlet you intend to post it on.

Don’t Limit Yourself

Facebook is the king of social media as far as marketing is concerned, as 68% of adults are users,  but don’t assume that because your business is active there your job is done. Overlooking the other social media platforms is an easy mistake to make but one worth correcting for a high rate of conversion.

You have to take into account what they are using social media for. While people may follow you on Facebook, if they really only use it to share pictures of their children, they will miss out on what you have to offer. Having followers is not the same thing as engagement, so diversification of your social media presence is essential to staying relevant and meeting your target audience.

You can be engaged with multiple platforms and still throw focus on the ones that give you the best return. But you shouldn’t turn your back on any of the platforms since the wider your business is, the more possibility of growing a customer base through different outlets. Keep your promotions engaging and on target with your intended audience.

Conclusion

Social media can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. When you set specific goals and use your posts to your advantage, social media can be incredibly successful, giving you a higher conversion rate and getting your business into the forefront of your customer’s minds just by following these five tips.

Guest Post: About the Author

Madeline Dudziak loves words. As a web content creator, she crafts messages that help clients inform, educate, persuade, or connect. Madeline’s also a freelance theater reviewer for the River Cities’ Reader, which combines her passion for writing with her passion for theatre. 

Also a huge fan of reading – perhaps a natural result of being named after the famous children’s book – Madeline’s Kindle is always crammed with more books than leisure time allows. Among other ways she spends her free time are fun activities with her husband and young children, volunteering, and participating in two book clubs.