Starting Your Own Business in a Post COVID-19 World

Starting your own business can be daunting at the best of times. For young entrepreneurs who have been building plans to put their ambitions into action, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic can feel like a wrench thrown into the works. The business landscape has changed rapidly, and — in some ways — permanently.

While this almost certainly means that changes may need to be made, it doesn’t necessarily mean an end to even your loftiest enterprise ambitions. Rather, our post-COVID-19 world can offer new opportunities to design a more robust company from the ground up. Beginning your entrepreneurial journey at this time allows you to make these adjustments an integral feature of your business, rather than a crisis you have to react to.

We’re going to take a look at some areas in which entrepreneurs need to focus. What are the new options, in addition to the essential elements all start-ups needed prior to this pandemic? How can you help make certain that your new venture can not only navigate the challenges of this crisis but be prepared for those in the future?

Gathering Resources

There can be significant costs involved in starting a new business. Quite aside from employees and raw materials, there are often hidden costs such as insurance and permits. Gathering your resources during a pandemic can be especially challenging. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that even prior to the coronavirus, many startups launched with limited resources, operating out of bedrooms and basements in order to build their profiles and finances before moving on up to more traditional environments.

As a result, the last couple of decades have seen the development of resources aimed at home entrepreneurs, and are now relevant to the challenges you face in a post-COVID-19 business environment. Marketing tools such as Google Analytics and Mailchimp are accessible from anywhere in the world you happen to be and don’t necessarily need an entire marketing team to function. Similarly, the gig economy has seen the emergence of invoice payment platforms such as PayPal and Square, and Wagepoint can be used to handle your payroll needs.

You also have to acknowledge that there has been something of an investment crisis as a result of this pandemic, with some investors reluctant to commit. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean getting funding is impossible. According to a report by Startup Genome, during the last two recessions, though there were fewer dollars loaned to startups, a higher number of businesses received investment. This suggests that if you can adjust your business plans to demonstrate that your operations can be more cash efficient, you are more likely to be able to attract investors — even in economically bleak times. It may also point to the necessity of services of these funded businesses.

Online Operations

Another of the key results of the pandemic has been a shift to remote working operations. Some established businesses have struggled to adapt to this model, needing to invest additional funds into equipment, or finding that some of their employees aren’t suited to a work-from-home environment. However, by starting your business at this challenging time, you have the opportunity to build remote working into your operations as a foundational feature, and can benefit from the potential for greater productivity and lower overheads.

Begin with your search for employees. By embracing a remote culture, you have the ability to choose from a global talent pool, depending on the labor regulations in your state, and build a diverse workforce that can help you not just function but innovate. As the popularity of remote working has grown, there has also been a development in hiring platforms specifically aimed at those who have experience working remotely. AngelList, Remotive, and Working Nomads are among the most popular venues for this.

This also gives you the opportunity to source and invest in the technology and software that is optimized for remote operations from the get-go. Ensure employees have the software needed to complete tasks wherever they are and organize the workflow to utilize remote project management platforms such as Slack, Asana, or Trello. Your website also needs to be optimized to act as the storefront of your remote business. Place focus on how easy it is for the user to navigate your site and make contact with you, and thoroughly test this for any potential bugs or performance issues before going live.

Protection from Disaster

Believe it or not, there is value to be found in starting your own business during a pandemic. You have the ability to gain an insight into how various aspects of the crisis are affecting businesses the world over, where mistakes have been made, and what solutions appear to work best. This means you already have some tools to help you build disaster management into your business operations, which can help you mitigate the impact of future problems.

Young entrepreneurs starting their first businesses should already be committing to some in-depth research. Deep dives into business publications — whether popular articles on Forbes, or videos in which entrepreneurs share their experiences — can help you to also identify where the key areas of concern have been during this crisis. Many business leaders have been candid about what solutions have worked for them, and the causes of failure.

Seriously assess whether your current business plan suggests you could weather these types of challenges. Is your business agile enough to make changes at short notice? Have you diversified your supplier pool enough to continue functioning if one or more of them suddenly drop off the radar? Have you created a disaster recovery plan that considers various scenarios? This hasn’t been an easy time for any of us, but you can use it to make your business more flexible and competitive.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly served to shake the confidence of business leaders, and it can feel as though starting a new enterprise at a time of crisis can be unwise. However, you can use the tools, practices, and experiences of this difficult time to build a business that can be successful. It’s never going to be easy, but you can use this period as another resource at your disposal.

Guest Post: About the Author

Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but technology and digital marketing topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.

5 Small Business Marketing Tips to Implement During COVID-19

Covid-19 has resulted in drastic changes in human life and socio-economic culture. The virus started spreading in December 2019, has resulted in the close-down of almost every country around the globe. The world is adapting towards the unprecedented situation, yet the loss it has caused to humanity, as well as the economy, is enormous.

Countries such as the United States, Italy, and Australia have suffered severely, along with multiple other countries, resulting in an unstable economy worldwide. More than 30 billion US citizens have been unemployed since the outbreak of the pandemic, and the number doesn’t seem to stop anytime soon.

All types of businesses, including the small scale, have suffered badly due to the spread of Coronavirus. The unavailability of resources and funds have caused multiple business owners to shut their businesses temporarily or permanently.

Some of the business owners think they will eventually have to shut down if the situations continue to persist. This tough time requires a bit of adaptability and reprioritization in your business models. The following are the 5 marketing tips for your small business that you can implement.

Adapt and Adjust your Marketing Strategy

Initially, most of the countries and citizens were in denial of the severity of this situation; however, over time, people have realized how crucial a time it is. Due to this, people are now adapting to the new “normal.” The new normal includes contact-less interactions, social distancing, and minimal exposure to the outside world.

Because of this, your business strategies must alter and adjust according to the new normal. You must be considerate of your situation around and change your content accordingly. You can experiment with the content and posting. Now that the lifestyles have changed, there is a change in trends and types of content as well.

Now is the Time to Show Empathy

The world is facing a tough time, and everyone needs a little bit of kindness. It is important that you, as a brand, must provide support towards the clients and audience. Whatever scenario that you might’ve faced during the pandemic, be sure to spread positivity, strength, and awareness through your platforms.

In the previous few weeks, we have seen a massive shift in several brand’s messages, where they stopped their usual functions and started to help out the community with the COVID-19 crisis. Multiple businesses donated a part of their sales for the relief, food delivery services delivered food for free to those in need, clothing brands such as Adidas, LV, etc. started producing masks for people to stay safe.

No matter how small your cause is, be sure to spread empathy and kindness even in your content. Being blinded towards the situation is not a good strategy to follow in such circumstances.

It is important to focus on your relationship with your current customers. A relationship with your audience can help you gain customer loyalty and trust for the long term. You can stay connected with your audience through:

  • Emails
  • Updating website
  • Informative live sessions and chat

Pivot Your Business

Pivoting your business is not easy, however, if the situation demands it, then you must think of ways how you can continue your service while being considerate. Think of ways to facilitate your clients to avail of your services during such a time.

For example, if you are a retail store, then you must shift to an e-commerce platform to facilitate the customers. You must also keep the virtual audience engaged during this time and not ghost them.

If you have introduced a new aspect to your business model, then make sure to communicate it to your audience and create content around it.

  • Create an online presence if you have not already
  • Build a Multi-vendor marketplace
  • Share useful and relevant information
  • Promote your services through social media campaigns
  • Introduce people to “behind-the-scenes” of your business

Work on Marketing Strategy

The situation around the globe is unexpected, and every day is a new day. Staying aware of the current situation and working on your marketing strategies to fulfill the need of the hour is important.

Stay ahead and try to work around the new strategy to follow. For example, if you have both physical and online stores, now is the time to focus more on your online platforms, promote them, advertise them, and streamline the processes.

Take this time as an opportunity to work on your website’s SEO, ranking, visuals, and inventory management. You can also look for ways to ensure contact-less, safe, and secure delivery for your audience.

Be there for your team members and employees, and guide them towards what can be done next. Now is the time to actively take action while making smart moves. Your new strategy must depend on the type of business. However, a few suggestions are:

  • Help others through your services
  • Paid ads are cheap these days, make use of them
  • Offer online webinars, sessions, classes

Partner With Other Business

Another strategy to follow in the times of COVID-19 is to collaborate with another business to help with the loss of sales or for a better cause. For example, partnering with a clothing brand for the production of masks or with any medical facilitators can help both the entities involved.

You can use your digital platform to raise awareness and help facilitate a cause. Multiple social media influencers used their platforms to raise awareness about Coronavirus precautions in collaboration with the World Health Organization and government.

There can be multiple ways to collaborate with another brand. An example of such a partnership is; Metro Bis is a restaurant in Connecticut, partnered up with several grocery stores and prepared meals that were available at the grocers to help overcome the loss they faced due to the lockdown.

Other examples of such partnerships can be coaxial cable businesses offering discounted prices to internet providers during the pandemic, delivery services collaborating with e-commerce platforms to expand services whereby helping businesses. Get creative in how you reach customers.

Guest Post: About the Author

Arslan Hassan is an electrical engineer with a passion for writing, designing, and anything tech-related. His educational background in the technical field has given him the edge to write on many topics. He occasionally writes blog articles for Shireen Inc.

Unique Business Ideas for 2020 with Zero or no Investments

If you want to start a business but don’t want to invest funds now, then you have put some extra effort towards finding a special type of business plan . Guess what! Today is your lucky day – here I am going to talk about some unique and profitable business ideas where you don’t have to invest money initially or may need very little money which you may happily afford.

Generally, these small business ideas will give you diverse options to cover in the business or service industry. If you have some specialized skills in a specific subject then you should consider these below-given ideas to improve your own business.

1. A personal or virtual assistant

You may start this home-based business any time, you just need a desktop computer, or laptop, or a smartphone with few important office apps. 

You will also require an internet connection and a fixed phone number to receive calls. Initiating virtual assistant business may include services such as checking and answering emails, organizing daily appointments and to-do lists, updating schedules by interacting with clients. 

Few tasks you may need to do as a virtual assistant may include:

  • Calendar management
  • Email management
  • Travel arrangements
  • Social media promotion
  • Receiving calls
  • Audio/video editing

This service industry is getting popular day by day, as it requires minimum investment and the pay is good. Most of us have a computer and smartphone, so starting such a service is easy. 

The biggest benefit of this business is you don’t have to go anywhere to get your jobs are done, which gives you a lot more freedom. If you want to find potential clients, use websites like Upwork.com and you may choose suitable clients, preferable work hours, and your hourly, daily, or monthly pay rate. But, those websites might require a subscription to find clients for you, so it is up to you if you want to get their service or not.

2. Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is quite popular these days as a small business. It includes promotional work for the products & services of other companies & websites via the world wide web. You’ll be doing the promotional work for others, and for each sale generated through you, you will earn a certain commission. 

Affiliate marketing is one of the easiest and profitable businesses to promote ones’ products and services on the internet. The best thing about this business is you don’t need your product to sell, or a big establishment to start the business. 

You need a personal computer and internet connection. Everything else you can do online to make money by selling other products.

If you own any website that you have maintained for a long time, it could be your advantage as you can use it for promoting other websites or products from other companies. You may use social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest, Twitter, etc for affiliate marketing.

To become a successful affiliate marketer, you should focus on:

  • Having your website or blog
  • Maintaining your visitor statistics as proof (for clients)
  • Create profiles on social media platforms, and also on Linkedin

3. Freelance secretarial services

This is a similar concept like virtual assisting. You may provide remote secretarial services to professionals or an organization, with little to no experience. But you need some special sort of skills to get the job. They are as follows:

  • A high level of autonomy
  • Good communication skills
  • Strong organizational skills
  • Good time management

Being a freelancing secretary you may have to perform

  • Organizing calendars and handle schedules
  • Replying to emails, and forward important documents
  • Booking meetings and appointments
  • Putting together presentations
  • Answering phone calls and deal with vendors

 4. Dropshipping and selling products online

Dropshipping practically meant getting products in bulk from suppliers at lower prices and selling them to third parties or the end-user at higher prices. If you have the talent to negotiate with the vendors and stock products at lower prices, then you may start this business by reselling those products at third-party websites like Amazon, eBay, AliExpress.

To become successful in this dropshipping business, there are certain skills that you need to develop. You must work on market demand reviewing and identify products in high demand. Then you need to make contacts with the vendors who can supply you those products at discounted prices. For that, you need to research high-selling products that are on-demand on the leading e-commerce sites. This way you may assume the current trend. Once you stock the product, contact online e-commerce websites and retail sellers who can buy that product at a higher price. If you have a website, you may also sell or market your products there. This is one of the best ways to promote small businesses and make a profit

5. Content developing

You may start a content developing business if you are good with content writing such as good writing skills and knowledge about grammar. You may also work as a mentor and contact a group of good content writers, who can deliver high-quality content to your customers. This is one of the most creative and profitable ways of money-making that need very less start-up capital to initiate. 

Improving business will be easier if you also follow the tips on self-improvement. So, you also learn different, new techniques of content writing and improve yourself.

6. Electronics repairing

If you have knowledge about electronic devices and know multiple hacks to repair them, you can think of starting this business. 

You need some specific tools for repairing work. This type of business has great opportunities in the future. You may offer multiple device repairing services such as Computers, smartphones, cameras, Speakers and musical equipment, gaming devices like PS4 OR Xbox one, TVs, small gadgets, etc.

7. Graphic designing works 

You can start your own graphic designing business and deliver services to multiple IT companies. Starting from designing banners, posters, logos to designing web pages, you have much to discover. 

You may promote your design skills to small business owners or individuals. Being a promising graphic designer you have the option to join freelance websites to find suitable projects.

8. Mobile app making

The mobile app making business has flourished rapidly and has a huge potential with lots of opportunities. 2.5 billion active Android users are using different apps as per their choice. 

Today, the downloading rate of the mobile app is 30 million per day. 

So, if you have the knowledge of developing apps and you have some unique ideas in your mind, you should go for this business.

9. Interior designing

Interior design and home decorating services are quite essential to both homeowners and business owners. You must get a degree or certification before starting this business. To become a good interior designer you must know about the different functions of a home or office. 

You must also need to understand your client’s demand to optimize the space with good designs and decorations.

Guest Post: About the Author

Patricia Sanders is a professional content developer. She specializes in the financial niche and is well known for her unique financial tips that can be very effective. She always tries to help people, suffering from financial hardships, through her writing. Her continuous effort has earned her recognition and honor in the financial blogging industry. Besides writing, she loves to travel and gather information on various financial topics.

How Email Marketing Can Increase Small Business SEO

Digital marketing is a blanket statement used to categorize all types of marketing that happen via digital and internet-enabled devices. Ideally, every digital marketing campaign should incorporate every possible channel to maximize its return. Each channel works differently in how they reach out and engage with customers, but using them together is the best way to get the best out of their individual and collective efforts.

Unfortunately, when it comes to small business marketing, many brands either employ one channel or use a number of them independent of each other. Some of them think the aim should just be about keeping their branding and messaging efforts consistent with each channel.

What is needed is a symbiotic approach. Granted, the immense mutual benefits that having all these channels brings aren’t usually evident right off the bat. But this doesn’t mean that these advantages do not already exist from the beginning. This is especially true in the case of SEO and email.

These channels are among the biggest digital marketing routes, and understanding their mutual relationship can kick things up for your marketing significantly. We have outlined a few ways in which your email marketing strategies can rub off on your small business SEO efforts in the right way.

Emails help you achieve your SEO goals by bringing in qualified traffic

The ultimate objective of SEO marketing is to bring in more customers, and consequently, more revenue. Email can rake in massive traffic to your website — especially if you have a massive email list — like no other marketing channel. And not just any kind of traffic, but qualified traffic; people that have a higher propensity to follow through and convert after reading your email.

This ability is down to how effective personalization is with emails. Personalization allows marketers to send subscriber-specific emails and newsletters to everyone on their email list. When a customer knows that an email was crafted specifically for them and their interests, the potential for a click-through from them shoots up significantly.

If you haven’t started doing this yet, it’s thankfully not that difficult to get started. The first thing you should do is to segment your email list according to subscriber interests. For instance, writing service review companies like Best Writers Online and Online Writers Rating can categorize their email subscribers according to the type of writing service they need. Options include research papers, dissertations, essays, and paper writing.

This way, when they review new writing services, they can notify the different segments of their email list about only the writing services that align with their interests. The ability for an email to bring in this traffic lessens the burden on SEO and enables it to meet its target faster.

Email traffic will boost engagement on your site

No one wants visitors who hop on their site and then go off as quickly as they came. A huge factor that causes this is a disinterest in your site’s resources, content, product, or service offerings. Of course, this means that such visitors are not targeted, high-quality traffic.

However, with your email list, you can solve this problem somewhat. The traffic coming from your highly personalized emails are already interested in your offering and content. This interest causes them to spend more time engaging with your site’s resources. This can only be a good thing for your SEO needs. An average longer site visit and a lower bounce rate help your website rank better on search results pages. No one is sure how important these metrics are to ranking a website, but they certainly do not hurt your chances of ranking.

So even though these site visitors are coming from your email list, they are helping you boost your positioning for keywords. Generally, as long as you remain efficient at driving the right subscribers to the right content, your visibility on search engines can only continue to grow. Essentially, your email marketing will continue to make your SEO efforts and entire small business marketing look good.

Use data from your email testing to plan your on-site content strategy

When it comes to emails, a marketer’s job is never really done. It is common practice for email marketers to tweak the emails continually they send to their list to see which iteration converts the most. And there’s a lot to tweak and test: subject lines, tone and length of copy, CTA, personalization, sender name, target audience, sender’s name, and landing page, among other things.

Besides better conversion, another benefit of continuous testing is that you’re garnering a huge bank of data and insights from the results of your testing. These insights can be employed in your other digital marketing channels to significant effect.

For instance, let’s say that during your testing, you notice that your subscribers responded favorably to a particular email newsletter headline, you may want to consider using that as the title for the corresponding on-site page or to use it as a title for a related article. You may also discover that a particular call-to-action is responsible for a considerable majority of clicks. Consider using such a CTA all over your website, especially the home page.

The good thing about using these insights is that they come from your email list, which is an already proven customer base. So essentially, you’re planning your content strategy with reliable data. This method of “email marketing SEO” helps to draw a connecting bridge that can carry the successes of your email marketing planning over to your SEO efforts.

Repurpose your high-value emails and newsletters as content for your site

Coming up with original, new, and valuable content consistently is sometimes tricky, even for the best marketers. One way to keep delivering content to your email subscribers is to curate some of the best content from within your industry that is relevant to their interests. Use emails to send these posts across to your subscriber lists.

You could also focus on finding gaps in the way your industry talks about pertinent industry-specific issues. Then address these gaps in your emails.

But what if it is site content that is your problem, and not email content? It is still essentially the same problem — a content problem. It can even be solved with a combination of curated and original content. However, another huge source of site content could be your emails. At this point, you’ve probably already sent a lot of high-value content to your subscribers via email. Consider repurposing these topics for your blog and resource pages. Besides, emails can only be so long. Making your emails and newsletters into full-blown high-quality site content not only gives your site more SEO juice, but it also gives you an avenue to expand on relevant information in a way that emails do not allow.

Encourage your subscribers to share your content on social media

If your subscribers connect with your content, they’ll most likely have no problem sharing it on their social media. But asking for the share through your emails allows them to share socially through your marketing campaign.

Google has come out to say that social media shares do not directly help site ranking. Still, a rise in social visibility positively impacts your SEO and improves search visibility, as this Hootsuite study reveals.

Conclusion

As I stated earlier in the article, digital marketing channels are best deployed to complement each other. Don’t be deceived if these channels look unrelated at first glance; the real gem is beneath the surface. Using the small business marketing advice on this list will put you in good standing with your subscribers, and with Google’s rankings and search visibility.

Guest Post: About the Author

Aaron Swain is a writing specialist. He is passionate about marketing and SEO. He expands and improves his skills throughout the writing process to help and inspire people.

5 Business Records That Small Business Owners Need to Keep

Owning a business comes with a lot of paperwork. Nevertheless, it’s important to decide which documents go into the files and what to throw away. Even before you start keeping records, understand the importance of the exercise. First, the revenue authorities might come knocking at your door without notice and demand to see your tax records and any other supporting documents. Secondly, you need to know how your business is fairing on, and lastly, in case of issues, whether with clients, the authorities, or supplies, you can always revert to the documents for solutions. Here is a list of business records to keep. 

Accounting Documents

Accounting documents are critical for a precise analysis of the business health and for filing tax returns. This includes all income sources, expenses, and assets. Records also help in expenditure analysis. They are instrumental in making critical decisions such as cutting down on costs or comparing the performance of the company. It is also faster when you want to check the purchase price of different items or find out whether you have the required capital to cater to the expenditure. For instance, you can use text recognition using C# for OCR barcode technology for easier tracking of different financial records.

Insurance Records

It’s advisable to have insurance to cover different aspects of your business. For instance, you may want to cover your business against damage from a fire or natural occurrences. Other insurance policies to consider include cover against losses, theft, auto insurance, and renter’s insurance. 

You may also consider taking appropriate insurance covers for your employees, depending on the type of business you are involved in. Insurance records are vital when making claims or when the concerned authorities want to check whether you are up to date with insurance payments. Additionally, the documents may be required in case of legal disputes. They also contain vital information you can always refer to, including your policy number.

Licenses and Permits

Every business requires permits and licenses to operate in a given jurisdiction. The local authorities may want to check whether you adhere to the stipulated regulations by reviewing the documents periodically. In addition to this, you should be aware of when you need to renew the licenses and permits. Moreover, you may need extra permits, depending on the type of work you handle. For instance, you may require a business signs’ permit for areas where the sign size is restricted.

Invoices

There are two types of invoices, both of which need to be recorded. These are the outgoing invoices and incoming ones. Outgoing invoices are sent out to request payments for services rendered or products sold by the business. They are crucial in understanding the income flow of the company. Incoming invoices help in checking the business’s expenditure. 

When the two are analyzed, it’s easier to see the profitability. Note that the tax authorities pay attention to these documents to ensure your tax records are correct. Mandatory inclusions in the invoices include the product’s particulars, dates, and worth. Because of the many business records that need filing, a business record management plan should be implemented for organizing and tracking the documents. 

With a record management plan, it’s easier to retrieve documents when needed. It also prevents loss of documents because you can quickly tell when a particular report is not in place. Barcode scanners are ideal for business document tracking and organization.

Bank Statements

It’s essential to have records of all the business’s bank accounts and balances. Also, transaction records, monthly, and yearly bank statements should be filed appropriately. You can compare the bank records with the accounting records to ensure they correspond. Additionally, it is easier to analyze the business’s financial wellbeing when you have the bank and accounting documents. For easier management of the records, using barcode scanners and QR codes to track your business documents is recommended.

As you manage the business records, it’s important to know the duration you should hold on to them. This also makes sure you only have what the company needs, which makes the business records search easier. Also, for the safety of the documents have separate physical and digital record-keeping systems.

Guest Post: About the Author

Emily Lamp is a professional writer, working closely with many aspiring thinkers and entrepreneurs from various companies. She is also interested in technology, business growth and self-improvement. Say hello to Emily on Twitter @EmilyLamp2.

7 Self Development Tips to Improve Business Success

Experienced entrepreneurs understand that running their business is not a stagnant task. They must always be aware of changing economic conditions, new trade developments, and better methods of dealing with their customers. If you have a business, you can ensure your success as your business grows by keeping these 7 self-development tips in mind.

1. ABL: Always Be Learning

Smart business owners know they can never simply rely on their present knowledge and skills. They must keep their ears to the ground on developments within their industry and within the culture, to optimize their ability to serve their customers on many different levels. Subscribe to trade magazines, stay alert to new technologies, and take a global view of the world. Read up on methods to reduce your small business operational expenses. These measures will allow you to stay ahead of the pack and grow your business.

2. Develop Top Level Time Management Skills

Entrepreneurs often spend a great deal of time juggling tasks. Days can pass quickly, leaving you wondering if you actually accomplished the things you intended to do. Learning time management skills will help you to work more effectively, accomplishing the most important tasks first, and going on to fill in other tasks, as needed.

3. Learn How To Network Effectively

Getting together with others in your industry can be a good way to extend your connections and increase your knowledge. Trade shows and business conferences will allow you to meet people who can help you grow and promote your own business. Acquaintances are likely to show up at other meetings, which will help you to cement new relationships and extend your influence in your sphere of industry. Attending conferences also allows you to learn from your competitors in a friendly, cooperative environment. Use these opportunities to work on your people skills, and be ready to do your part in helping others to make new contacts.

4. Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is a method of assessing situations and addressing problems in a more logical and insightful way. It involves understanding the problem at hand, gathering factual information, and eliminating biases that interfere with clear decision-making. It also involves questioning evidence and recognizing patterns. Critical thinking eliminates irrelevant issues and gets to the heart of the matter, with hard facts and outcome-based solutions. Learning this method can help you to make better decisions in your day-to-day operations.

5. Hone Your People Skills

You should always be refining your interpersonal skills. If you need to work on your skills, read extensively on psychology, sociology, conflict resolution, and developing empathy with others. Look for ways to exercise these skills every day, so you can advance your understanding of your customers and their needs. These efforts will pay off in better business opportunities and increased growth.

6. Stay Alert for New Marketing Techniques for Reaching Customers

Effective marketing has become critical to growing your business opportunities. Make a point to keep up with the latest digital marketing trends, which continuously change on a regular basis. Falling behind on your marketing can cause you to miss out on a number of new customers’ demographics. For example, in Thailand, podcasts have slowly become a popular method for sending out messages related to products and services. Audio methods can often be a good way to reach customers who may not have time for reading blogs or print articles.

7. Develop Healthy Habits For Yourself and Those Around You

A busy schedule and stress can deplete your ability to function at your best level. Make sure you take the time to develop healthy habits to sustain you as you strive to improve your business success. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly to maintain fitness, and engage in activities that help you to deal with stress, such as meditation, walking in nature, or prayer. If you emphasize the importance of these activities, your team will also come to understand their value.

Conclusion

Running a business requires energy, optimism, and foresight. To keep your business moving forward, you will have to stay attuned to the many changes that can occur, over time. With these 7 tips, you will have a solid groundwork for keeping your business on a profitable track.

Guest Post: About the Author

Maryn is a tech enthusiast and creative content writer. She is interested in all tech-related stuff, digital marketing, travel, fitness, and personal improvement. Find Maryn on Twitter @MarynMcdonnell.

13 Ways to Market a Local Small Business

Small businesses with a physical brick-and-mortar presence have a unique opportunity to promote their goods and services while leveraging their reach in the local community. These 13 local marketing ideas will get you more involved in your town and gain more visibility for your small business.

Form Alliances with Neighborhood Businesses

Consider teaming up with a neighbor business to cross-promote and maximize your reach. Create partnerships with multiple businesses that offer customers incentives for shopping at each of your alliance businesses.

Join Your Local Chamber of Commerce

Local Chambers of Commerce provide a number of benefits for small business owners, including providing networking opportunities, giving businesses visibility in the community, and bringing credibility to your business and your expertise in your industry.

Send Press Releases to Local Media

Local newspaper reporters are always looking for newsworthy items to feature in articles. Use press releases to notify the media about new and interesting things happening in your business.

Use Social Media

Social media sites can give local businesses an extended reach to the local market. Take time to create and update business profiles on Facebook, Google+ and Google Places, Foursquare, and Yelp so customers can find your business when searching online.

Leverage Online Review Sites

Customers share their shopping experiences — positive and negative — on various online review sites. You can maximize exposure on these sites and manage any less-than-great reviews by creating official profiles and checking for feedback on a regular basis.

Provide Freebies or Giveaways

Regardless of what type of business you have, there are “freebies” you can offer to draw in new customers. You don’t have to give away the store or even anything with a high cash value, but small things like coupons, samples, and free consultations can attract the interest of customers looking for a deal.

Advertise Where It Counts

Local businesses have several options when it comes to advertising — newspapers or town newsletters, radio, billboards, in-store ads, even online advertising works for some local businesses. Before investing in any advertising, though, take time to determine which option will reach the largest portion of your target audience.

Host an Event

Get your name in front of potential customers in the community by offering free events such as workshops, classes, or networking events.

Use Printed Marketing Collateral

Small business owners can get customers to think about their businesses repeatedly by strategically using business cards, postcards, flyers, brochures, and other printed marketing materials.

Sponsor Local Youth Sports Teams

Donate to a local youth sports team or charity event to get your name included in the program, on apparel, and other places where it will lend visibility in the community.

Optimize for Mobile Shoppers

Many people shop locally with their mobile devices in-hand to find stores, check deals, and compare prices. Don’t miss out on an opportunity by neglecting your mobile presence.

Encourage Shoppers to Join Your Email List

Email marketing is a great way to stay in touch with customers long after they have left your store. Make it easy for customers to sign up for your email list while they’re in your store. Consider offering an incentive such as a discount or a special offer upon sign up to generate interest.

Use Your Website Wisely

You may have a small-town business, but there are still many ways to leverage a strong web presence. At a minimum, make sure your website is updated frequently, includes your address and hours, and provides multiple ways for customers to contact you. If you have a service-based business, you may even consider incorporating an online booking tool into your website to make it easy for customers to schedule appointments.

Pick one or two of the marketing ideas above to get started, give them a try, and see what impact it has on your business.

Guest Post: About the Author

Alana D. Frazier is a copywriter at paper writing service. She is fond of learning something new so that she tries to keep up with advancing technologies. Additionally, she attends different conferences and presentations to improve her skills.

Relationship Marketing — What is it and How Can You Use It?

Does your marketing process create long-term relationships with your customers, or do you instead focus on getting the sale and moving on to the next prospect?

There’s a lot of value in building strong relationships. They enable you to spend less time and money on new customers, and it maximizes the value of the ones you have. And customer retention makes a big difference in your bottom line; a retention increase of 5% can increase revenue 25-95%.

What is relationship marketing and how can you take advantage of it to improve your return on marketing investment? Here’s what you need to know.

What is Relationship Marketing?

Relationship marketing is designed to foster long-term engagement, interaction, and loyalty with customers. You want to develop strong relationships by personalizing your marketing approach and meeting their needs as directly as possible.

This relationship is created at the beginning when a prospect is just becoming aware of your brand, and it is fostered through and after the sale. Excellent customer service is a crucial component, as many people leave a company, not because of an inferior product, but because of a poor experience.

Businesses can use a variety of technologies to facilitate the relationship, from social media outreach to email marketing. The data created from these interactions has to be analyzed so your brand can keep pace with how people are reacting to your messages. The key is to deeply understand your customer —  when you know exactly who they are and what their most significant needs are, you can construct highly personalized marketing that helps them feel connected to you.

Understand Your Current Brand Loyalty

The starting place for any relationship marketing program is to know where you are now. Hopefully you already have a strong brand that engenders loyalty, but if you don’t, you can learn how to create one. Understand the psychology behind what makes customers loyal to your brand, and make a plan to move in that direction. Do you currently have a customer loyalty program? If you do, how well is it working? What feedback are you getting from customers who use it— and who stop using it?

Finally, what does your current customer churn look like? Today’s big data and technology mean that you can see this at a very detailed level without much effort. You can not only see what happened in the past but predict what your churn levels will be going forward. Once you’ve gathered data on where you currently are, it’s time to use relationship marketing to improve loyalty and customer retention.

Use Data to Personalize Your Approach

You already understand precisely who your customers are; now it’s time to be deeply personalized in your approach. People crave a unique experience that feels like you know them personally. Companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu do big business by using individual customer history to recommend future purchases.

A personalized experience helps a prospect bond to your company and trust you more strongly. They believe that you understand their needs,  and they are more receptive to hearing your ideas on how to meet those needs. This trust is the beginning of a relationship, and when you keep your communication consistent, that connection deepens over time.

Create Compelling Content

Part of building a relationship with your customers involves not continually focusing on the sale. You want to bring them into your brand story and help them to see a more personal view of your company. For instance, Marriott advertised in 2017 on Snapchat with “Snapisodes” that highlight a variety of travel destinations. Of course, they hope you’ll book with them when you travel, but the marketing itself isn’t a sales pitch. It’s educational and informative and helps build the relationship young people have with the brand.

As another example, Zappos uses their “Beyond the Box” page as a newsroom of behind-the-scenes content, including a story about an employee determined to live their best life despite cancer.

These stories aren’t direct sales pitches, but they are emotional, compelling snapshots that help readers feel more connected to the brand.

Make Your Sales Process Efficient and User-Friendly

When people are ready to buy, you don’t want to put any obstacles in their path. Be sure you’re aware of the user experience on your website and throughout the sales process. Smooth user experience will reinforce the sale and increase your profitability.

You also need to make sure your behind-the-scenes processes are efficient, from the sale to customer service. Customer service is especially important because a poor experience here can undo all the hard work you’ve put into building your customer relationship. With an easy-to-use sales process and great post-purchase support, you can win a customer for life.

Maintain Your Relationship After the Sale

The biggest goal of relationship marketing is to maintain your connection to a customer after the initial sale. When an existing customer makes a second, third, or further purchase, they often spend more money. You also don’t have to spend all the marketing time and money on winning those subsequent purchases.

Existing customers aren’t just valuable because of the additional buying they do, but also because of the advocacy they can provide for your brand. A happy customer will talk to friends and family about your products and encourage them to buy as well.

A great customer relationship pays significant dividends over the long term. That’s why you can’t afford to focus on single-transaction marketing. Start building relationships today!

Guest Post: About the Author

Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but technology and digital marketing topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.

Guide to Marketing Your Small Business

When you run a small business, you may not have as much money in your budget to work with as you would like.

That doesn’t mean, though, that you should cut your marketing expenses when funds are tight.

As a small business owner, marketing is one of your most valuable tools. As such, it is one that should never be neglected. While you may not have the money to run multi-million-dollar campaigns, there are marketing methods that are affordable on even the tightest of budgets.

If you are looking to get the most out of a limited marketing budget, keep reading to discover some helpful tips in this guide to marketing your small business.

Get a Clear Picture of What You Can Afford

If you know that you have a limited marketing budget but don’t know exactly how much you can afford to spend, now is the time to crunch some numbers. Before you dive into creating a campaign, you need to figure out exactly what you can (and can’t) afford.

Coming up with a marketing budget can be tricky. If this is something that you are struggling with, talk to your accountant. They’ll run the numbers for you and help you determine how much money you can afford to invest in your business’ marketing efforts.

Create an Elevator Pitch

As a business owner, you should be marketing all the time regardless of where you are. That’s where your elevator pitch – a short statement intended to engage someone and pique their interest in your products or services – comes in.

According to a study conducted by Microsoft, the average human attention span is a mere eight seconds. In other words, you only have eight seconds to engage someone and make them want to know more about your business. From there, you only have around a minute to sell them on your service or product and make them want to buy.

In short, you need a killer elevator pitch.

If you are good with words, writing your own pitch is your best bet. If it’s something you struggle with, though, paying a professional writer to help you out is well worth the investment. A solid elevator pitch is something that you’ll use time and time again, and the return on your investment will be huge.

Invest in the Right Swag

When you are working with a limited budget, trying to market your business with wholesale hats or t-shirts might seem out of the question. Hear us out, though.

While the initial cost of investing in branded swag for your business may seem out of reach, there are ways to make this type of marketing more affordable. And using the right promotional items can provide a huge return on your investment.

Buying customized pens or keychains has a smaller upfront investment than buying t-shirts or hats, but think about what usually happens to those items. They end up in junk drawers or trash cans and are never seen or thought about again.

Something like a hat or t-shirt, on the other hand, is likely to be used time and time again. If you buy wholesale blank t-shirts and print your logo on them, every time someone wears one, they become a walking billboard for your business. The number of impressions that can be made by a single hat or tee is huge, so this type of swag offers a lot of bang for its buck.

If you can’t afford to pay for custom-printed apparel or accessories for your business, there are ways to make it more affordable. You could, for example, buy wholesale blank t-shirts and customize them yourself using iron-on vinyl decals. Another option? If you have a friend or associate with a screen printing or embroidery shop, see if they would be willing to customize your blank hats or shirts in exchange for the products or services your business offers.

Embrace Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is huge, and it should be a part of every small business owner’s overall marketing strategy. When you consider the fact that email marketing has an average return on investment of $38 for every $1 spent, there is no denying that money spent on digital marketing is money well spent.

Email isn’t the only option, though.

Search engine optimization, online advertising campaigns, social media marketing, etc. can all help you build awareness of your brand and connect with your target audience. Don’t try tackling it all on your own, though. Working with a marketing agency is well worth the investment. Keep in mind, too, that most agencies offer service packages at various price levels to make it possible for even smaller businesses to afford their services.

Build Relationships

Consumers don’t want to be sold to. They want to have meaningful relationships with companies that provide the products and services they need. Rather than inundating members of your target audience with advertisements and marketing materials, get to know them. Provide them with valuable resources that will help them out without costing them a single penny.

Keep in mind, too, that keeping customers is less costly than acquiring new ones. Make customer retention a primary focus in your business. Keep your current customers happy, and give them an incentive to share your business with their family and friends. Treat people the way you would like to be treated, and you will likely see an uptick in your revenue.

Conclusion

You don’t have to have a multi-million-dollar budget in order to successfully market your small business. As you can see, there are all sorts of affordable marketing methods that will enable you to build brand awareness, gain new customers, and keep existing ones without spending a small fortune. You may need to get creative, but you can market your company on even the tightest of shoestring budgets.

Guest Post: About the Author

Brenda Kimble is a writer and stay-at-home mother of two daughters and a son, plus their beagle named Duke! In her free time, she loves crafting, spending time with her family, and writing for companies. She also enjoys strolling the streets of her quaint neighborhood in Austin, Texas to find the trendiest hot spots for fashion, food, and live music.

Your Complete Checklist for Working Remote

Working remotely can be a challenge for employees with busy families. Noise, interruptions, and other distractions can derail a daily schedule, especially when there are no managers around. Complex or confusing tasks can be more difficult where there isn’t someone right next to you to ask for help.

Physical equipment like desks and computers provide the foundation for working remotely but eliminating distractions and maintaining focus requires a lot more. Noise reduction and proper lighting also help reduce the urge to take breaks. Use this checklist to make sure your work environment is ready for remote tasks.

Comfortable Chairs

Office chairs should be well-padded with armrests and backrests. Chairs should be high enough off the ground that your feet rest flat on the floor. Adjustable office chairs are designed to provide adequate support, so use those in the office instead of dining room or kitchen chairs.

If you want to work in the living room occasionally, a chair with good leg and back support are still essential. Recliners or beds can be comfortable but may cause neck strain if used for too long.

Adequate Desk Space

Desks come in a variety of shapes and sizes but try to buy more desk space than you think you need. Desks less than 36” wide feel cramped and have little room for documents, monitors, and other essentials. A keyboard tray is helpful for external keyboard use and frees up valuable surface space.

Choose a desk that has drawers and cubbies for storage. While plastic sets of drawers and other desktop organizers can be helpful, they can get in the way. Drawers are perfect for storing documents and writing supplies out of sight, yet within reach. If you’re working remotely from a co-working space, choose a space that has functional desks instead of rows of tables.

Printer and Scanner

Even if your work is entirely digital, a printer provides a chance to take a break from staring at a screen. Print long documents and curl up in an armchair to read them without straining your eyes. If you aren’t printing very often, get a supply of long-lasting printer ink to avoid having ink dry up between uses.

Scanners also come in handy, especially if you ever need to send important personal paperwork. To cut down on the amount of equipment you need, get an HP inkjet printer that has built-in scanning and copying capabilities.

Extra Monitor

Laptop and desktop users can benefit from having an extra screen for displaying data or video conferences. Having an extra monitor reduces the amount of time employees spend switching tabs or windows, increasing productivity significantly.

Laptop users, in particular, need a monitor that can be raised to reduce eye strain. The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration says that the top of a computer screen should be at or just below eye level to reduce neck and back strain.

External Mouse, Keyboard, and Webcam

An external mouse is typically easier to use than a trackpad. It can be used in a more natural position for the arms and wrists, which reduces long-term strain. Get a wireless mouse to reduce the number of cables on your desk.

Laptop users may find an external keyboard helpful. To reduce eye strain, laptop users can put their laptop on a stand that raises it to eye level, and then use an external keyboard to continue typing comfortably.

An external webcam and microphone are vital for video conferencing. Although most laptops now include webcams, they can be challenging to adjust, and their video quality isn’t as good. External microphones can also reduce background noise, including typing. Microphones with on/off buttons are more efficient to quickly mute a noise or a cough than clicking around on your video conferencing app.

Noise Reduction

If you live alone, your work environment may be quiet most of the time. However, construction and other noise sources eventually creep in, and it’s best to have a way to deal with them.

Fans and white noise machines can work great for reducing low noise levels. Outside noise can be muffled with noise-reducing curtains. Shared co-working spaces or coffee shops may require noise-canceling headphones.

Keep in mind that music can be distracting, especially if it has lyrics. If you need to listen to music while working, consider sticking to instrumentals like classical or jazz or music from other cultures if you don’t understand what is being sung.

Proper Lighting

Natural lighting makes your work environment easy on the eyes. Working near a window is best, but you may have to position yourself carefully or get a matte screen cover to reduce glare and eye strain.

Get a sunlight-imitating floor lamp for working in the evenings or on cloudy days. Although most laptop screens are bright enough to illuminate keyboards, working on a computer in dark rooms can cause eye strain or cause you to mistake a comma for a period. If you must work in a room with insufficient lighting, turn your screen brightness down to match the room’s level.

Even with natural lighting, take a 15-minute break every two hours to give your eyes a rest. Also, try 20-20-20 breaks: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to focus your eyes on something 20 feet away.

Powerful Software

Many companies use instant messaging and video call software to keep everyone in touch while working remotely. If you’re expected to use specific software, install it, and adjust its settings before you need to use it.

If you’re a contractor or freelancer working remotely for multiple clients, look for the right combination of applications that allow you to communicate with clients. Some clients may expect video calls, while others want cloud sharing for important documents.

Download browser plugins that enable you to block social media and other distractions during working hours. You can get similar software for your phone, or simply keep your phone on the other side of the room while working.

Buckle-Down and Get to Work

Working remotely presents a unique set of challenges. It requires focus and organization, but it can be rewarding for self-starters who want to free themselves from a daily commute.

Invest in high-quality furniture and electronics for your workspace so you can stay comfortable and keep everything within easy reach. Pay attention to the details like lighting and software. With some discipline and practice, you’ll be able to achieve your career goals without setting foot in an office.

Guest Post: About the Author

Tania Longeau serves as the Head of Services for InkJet Superstore. Tania oversees a team of Operations and Customer Service Reps from the Los Angeles headquarters. Before joining InkJet Superstore, Tania was a team leader and supervisor working for one of the biggest mortgage and real estate companies in the country. She is a happily married mother of one who enjoys spending time with her family and reading in her leisure hours.