Financial Questions Every Business Owner Should Ask Themselves

The most significant strength of a small to medium business is its size. A small-to-medium enterprise has a reasonable overhead cost. The infrastructure is confined to one location in most cases. There are fewer employees (or perhaps none). The company can tweak its policies to suit its customers or clients, scaling up or down a bit is not a major challenge. And lastly, there is substantial scope to grow because one is starting small.

However, these advantages are countered by one significant disadvantage. Most small-to-medium businesses have limited capital or available cash. A majority of small businesses fail due to a financial crisis. Lack of sales or revenue is the obvious cause of failure in theory and in practice. However, that problem can always be tackled for a longer period of time if there is enough financial backup. Every business needs time to mature and grow, to solidify its clientele or consumer base, and to become a self-sustained enterprise.

Business owners must ask themselves hard financial questions and only rely on actual numbers, not estimates, speculations, expectations, or assumptions. As a business owner, be sure to ask:

How much does it cost to run my business?

A business owner should know every cost or financial liability like the back of their hand. Many people focus on rent, utility bills, wages, personal income, and cost of inventory. These are indeed the quintessential recurring expenses, but there are more. A business will need funds to advertise its products and services or promote itself as a brand. There are costs to maintain and upgrade the infrastructure, even in the short term. Very few businesses launch with an infrastructure that can sustain its short term growth. Using the last penny from the revenue generated to finance minor upgrades or to procure more inventory can risk the sustenance of the business, as the working capital will dry up.

How much profit does my business actually make?

Every business owner should know the fundamental difference between gross profit and net profit. Gross profit is not the difference between the selling price and cost price of a product or service. It is the amount you are left with after paying for every recurring expense and after putting aside whatever amount of money you wish to infuse in your backup fund. Net profit is calculated after business and individual taxes. The difference between revenue and gross profit and subsequently with net profit is substantial in most industries. A wrong calculation of profit can wreck a business.

What is my business credit score?

Most business owners worry about their credit score only when they have to apply for a loan. This is fine if your business credit score is healthy and acceptable to the lenders. If not,  there are many ways you can improve your credit score over a period of time so when you have to look for some financing, your rating doesn’t prevent you from getting a loan. Keep a tab on your business credit score and work on improving it. This will save your business when the going gets tough or even when you wish to expand and grow, which requires fresh funding.

What are the financial highs and lows in my business?

Every business owner should have a budget. It is an integral part of any business plan, not just at the inception of an enterprise, but every year and every month for some companies. No business has a uniform or entirely predictable revenue stream throughout the year. What you do with the surplus revenue when “the going is great” and how you manage the revenue deficit when “the tough gets going” will determine the long term fate of your enterprise.

What is the cost and income per unit for my business?

This is a difficult calculation. Even successful companies struggle to boil all its income and expenditure down to a unit. A unit can be a piece of inventory you have or every dollar you spend. The objective is to find out how much your business earns for every penny you spend. This is one of the surest ways to know if your business is financially viable. There will always be some inventory stocked up and some receivables pending. There will be credits granted to you and owed to you. Some incomes and expenses will always be in limbo because of the ongoing cycle of purchases and sales. There will be the need to expand. And lastly, a compulsion to change your products or services.

All such mathematical calculations can become subjective and circumstantial unless you focus on the cost and income per unit. If this correlation is in the green, then your business is financially viable and stable. Else, you need to review the financials of your business.

Guest post: About the Author

Steven Millstein is a professional personal finance writer and contributor to many leading financial publications. His work has been mentioned in and linked to from The Bustle, The Huffington Post, Benzinga, Yahoo Finance and many other publications. He also has his own personal finance blog, Credit Zeal, where you can follow him.

Reach Employee Communication Goals With Texting

Now is a great time to assess your process and look for improvement. You can save a lot of money and time by establishing more effective communication policies for your employees. Here are five of our favorite ways to improve your company-wide communication policies this year.

  1. Prepare for Connecting with the Incoming Generations

Younger generations are showing a strong preference for texting, according to Pew Research Center and other surveys done recently. As you work to appeal to upcoming talent, you will want to expand your methods to include text messaging for recruitment. Text messages will help automate your hiring process, speed up your training sessions and allow your new employees to be more efficient and prepared for their positions.

  1. Use More Dynamic Content

Most professionals prefer less wordy emails and won’t read generic newsletters. Instead, create dynamic content to increase engagement levels. You can always text links to video content or blog posts with images to keep readers engaged. You also want to take advantage of the short nature of texting that will force you to cut the fluff and get to the point. Boost employee communication with SMS that will keep departments and teams communicating and collaborating.

  1. Empower Employee Advocacy

You want to increase your reach, brand recognition and influence, so make sure your employees are turning into advocates. Start by creating a workplace that your employees are excited about and making sure your professionals feel valuable in their jobs. Then, empower your employees by giving them access to key industry news and insight, encouraging them to share and participate in various platforms. You can use employees to help write articles in your newsletters or share their best posts to encourage more interaction. You will only have truly influential advocates if you help promote their value as a professional in their field and on your team.

  1. Increase Flexibility and On-the-Go Communication

Texting can help employees gain freedom they wouldn’t have through email and phone calls alone. Use a texting platform and company phone plans to enable your employees to do more work while they are on-the-go. Give employees as much freedom as possible to work as they can from home or while traveling, allowing for more flexible hours and scheduling. The improved work-life integration will appeal to younger generations that value flexibility and are willing to have increased interruption with working during strange hours on their devices.

  1. Speed Up Policy Changes and Strategies

Automated mass texting can really help your company get the word out about new policies and strategies. Simply send out texts to your entire team or the specific department that it will apply to in order to notify them of changing rules, training dates, industry information, deadline reminders or prompts for paperwork. Text messages are typically read within seconds, allowing your important company notifications to be distributed quickly and effectively. Emails often get lost and phone calls waste time, so use text messaging to send out these notices in a way that is sure to get the message across.

In an age of technology, don’t let your employees waste their time by worrying or gossiping – work to improve communication each year. Text messaging and great content will help you communicate in a stronger way with your employees.

Guest Post: About the Author

Joel Lee is the SEO marketing specialist at Trumpia, which earned a reputation as the most complete SMS solution including user-friendly user interface and API for mobile engagement, Smart Targeting, advanced automation, enterprise, and cross-channel features for both mass texting and landline texting use cases.

10 Signs It’s Time to Revamp Your Logo

Logos are a bit like a gallon of milk: They have a shelf life. The thing is, it’s not as easy to identify when your logo has gone sour, so to speak, as it is with the dairy in the fridge. But savvy companies know that keeping their logos fresh contributes to a better brand image and helps ensure that their marketing stays aligned with their company’s values. From time to time, a logo redesign may be just what you need to kick things up.

Consumers identify with logos, so much so that when Airbnb changed its logo from bubbly and blue to sleek pink, design critics drew irreverent parallels. And then there was that time that BP famously rebranded their logo to appear eco-friendlier, and critics found it a bit inauthentic following the company’s 4.9-billion-barrel mishap. The point is, your costumers pay more attention to your logo than you might think, so keeping it relevant is a worthwhile expense.

It’s Old… Plain and Simple

There’s no one-size-fits-all method to logo design frequency, but if you’ve had the same logo since your company’s inception — in other words, if it stayed the same while the business evolved — that’s a good indicator that it’s time to get a revamp in motion. That’s not to say that a dramatic change is in order. On the contrary, it’s the most subtle, forward-thinking logo updates that often make the most sense.

It’s No Longer Relevant to Your Brand

When your brand pivots, so too should your visuals. Look at your logo as an adaptive, iterative element — in other words, give it the good, old-fashioned agile approach — rather than a static mainstay. If you’ve discovered that your target audience has evolved or shifted, or that your values as a company are different than they were when the logo was originally designed, it’s time to pull the logo pivot.

It Doesn’t Tell a Story

There’s a reason why FedEx and the World Wild Life Fund are almost always referenced in stories about compelling logos. Their logos take total advantage of the white space in order to create a double meaning and to say something more about the brand. These days, researchers put brand storytelling at the top of the marketing ladder, claiming that a solid brand narrative can drive more sales and engage more customers.

It’s Too Complex

Take a good look at some of the most famous logo evolutions in history — the Golden Arches, the Nike Swoosh, the Target target — and you’ll notice one trend above all else: They’ve all been seriously scaled back, with simplicity the primary design principle. The reason for this is two-fold. Companies now have to design logos that look good everywhere­­ — from traditional shipping labels to computer screens and smartphones — but they also believe that simple logos are better for business.

It’s Plain Boring

Take a look at some popular logo designs of emerging start-ups and small businesses from the past year and you’ll see a clear trend: Designers are having more fun than ever before. They’re using unconventional shapes, next-level creativity and a little bit of humor to create logos that are anything but basic. At the end of the day, your logo should be instantly recognizable to your audience and should trigger some sort of emotion, so why not make it lighthearted?

It’s Not Contextual

 

This year, one of the hottest logo design trends is the contextual or responsive logo. These designs respond to their medium. For example, a craft brewery might create a logo for its beer bottle labels that’s different from the one on its business cards or website. But the key to a good, responsive logo is to allow it to be self-aware — in other words, let the end environment guide it — and to ensure that it doesn’t vary too much from one medium to another.

It Uses Out-of-Date Fonts

Paying tribute to the history of your brand isn’t a bad idea, says the Morton Salt girl. Infusing a nod to the past may actually be a good way to go overall, so long as it’s done tastefully. Fonts are one of those ever-changing facets of the design world that’s nearly impossible to keep up with, so nothing dates a design faster than an old, tired font. On the other hand, updating your logo’s font may be all you need for a rapid refresh.

It Plays It Safe

Successful logo design in 2018 must strike a delicate balance between tastefully simple and instantly memorable. Tall order, we know. Logos that play it too safe are less likely to achieve the latter, which equals majorly missed opportunity in the branding department. Implementing some out-of-the-box refreshers — this year, it’s all about experimental fonts, bright colors and pixelated designs — will help your logo stand out on a shelf or in the App Store.

It Feels Like a Fad

Paying attention to trends is really important, but you don’t want to go so far that your logo feels like it’s stuck in a certain era. Well-designed, up-to-date logos should be timeless. Last year, designers quickly jumped on the geometric bandwagon, and now any design that features a simple triangle or an arrow feels outdated and contrived. Try to keep all your logo design elements simple and fad-free to help extend their shelf life.

You’ve Got New Competition

When new competition emerges onto the scene, take it as a challenge to improve every element of your business so that it has an edge. If your market has grown exponentially since your logo was designed, and if new competitors are vying for the attention of your target market, then a logo redesign may be just what you need. It will help reignite the consumer’s attention while showing that your company is up-to-date and adaptive.

Guest Post: About the Author

Kurt started Blanco in 1996 after working in the label industry for more than 10 years.  As a Salesman, Sales Manager, then Vice President of Sales for Southern Atlantic Label in Chesapeake, VA he gained a strong knowledge of the label and printing industry. Following Southern Atlantic , Kurt was Vice President of Sales at Custom Printed Products in Shreveport Louisiana. Kurt has experience with most every known Pressure Sensitive Label application, and is very involved in Production and Marketing at Blanco.

Looking to hire a designer to help you re-vamp your logo. Don’t let funds hold you back. Contact us to learn how you can get qualified for a small business loan of up to $300,000 in just 24-48 hours!

8 Effective Ways to Strategize Social Media Marketing for Your Business

For most brands, social media marketing is about accumulating as many likes and follows as they can. While this approach helps, it is just one of many maneuvers you should consider to grow your social media audience. The following are eight effective ways you should consider when creating a social media strategy for your business.

Create an effective content marketing strategy

After you’ve created excellent, unique content, the next step involves marketing this content in a way that guarantees results. You can do this by creating a social media posting schedule that befits your brand and using the right post publishing schedule. Doing this will grow your organic audience and reduce the need to use social media ads to grow your audience.

Conduct contests and promotional activities

What makes contests work on social media is the fact that they involve your audience directly and on a personal level. This has a significant positive impact on brand awareness. Promotional activities give your social media followers a reason to share your content with other social media users, ultimately increasing brand exposure to many other potential customers.

Indeed, there is research evidence to suggest that 35% of people who like your business page on Facebook did so for an opportunity to participate in your brand’s contests. Therefore, if you want to increase engagement on social media, consider conducting a contest.

Create and schedule your status updates

The key to posting on social media is consistency in posting content designed to empower, educate and entertain your audience. The status updates should include emoticons, questions, links, images and videos. Use a variety of post types to get the attention of a wide array of social media users.

Integrate social media sharing

One effective approach to social media marketing is the integration of social media plugins and share buttons on other brand channels like your website and email. Incorporating sharing buttons allows people who find your content educational or entertaining easily share it with their friends on social networking sites. Some of the most common plugins include Digg Digg, Flare, Mashshare and Ultimate Social Deux.

Create a personalized experience for your customers

This approach increases the chances of conversions by addressing the queries, concerns and questions a potential customer might have before buying your product or service. One way businesses are doing this is by use of chatbots. The chatbots create a more customized experience for individual customers and break the tradition that most customers are used to when companies are trying to sell them products.

Tell stories instead of selling stuff

Sometimes entrepreneurs are so enthusiastic about their products that they over-promote them on social networking sites. This can have a devastating effect on the long term viability of social media marketing for the business as many would-be customers get turned off by the overselling messages that make their way to their timelines.

Therefore, consider using social media sites as storytelling platforms first and only incorporate promotional posts occasionally. When you tell the stories that make your brand what it is, it personifies your brand and makes it more relatable. Finally, when it’s time for these people to buy your kind of product, your brand will be at the top of their consideration list.

Create a community for your audience

Growing your audience on social media is not simply about finding anybody who doesn’t mind liking or following your brand, it is about finding people who genuinely want to connect with your brand. Instead of haphazardly adding new people to your social pages, consider using social tools like Social Growr to find people who have a high likelihood of connecting and engaging with your brand. Growing this community will ensure your audience asks questions, gives you feedback, likes your content and shares it with their online social circles.

Respond to all comments, suggestions, inquiries, and complaints

You’ve spent a lot of time and money acquiring your social media audience. It is therefore important that you spend just as much effort engaging with it. When they comment on your post, they expect you to respond to their thoughts. When they make complaints, they expect you to address them. Indeed, a Convince and Convert report indicated that 42% of social media users demand that you respond to their queries within an hour.

 

Guest Post: About the Author

Marquis is a writer, social media manager and SEO content marketer.  She currently lives on the coast of Ecuador, working remotely as a freelancer. Her primary focus is on building online visibility of new, up and coming brand, particularly brands that promote health and wellness. She lives a nomadic lifestyle, though is originally from California.

Determining the Target Market for Your Small Business

It may seem a bit obvious, but targeted marketing is vital to ensuring that every dollar you reserve for marketing efforts is well-spent. When you’re able to identify exactly who is most likely to buy your product, you’ll be better-equipped to allocate funds that do double-duty to attract them. But it can be difficult for small businesses to effectively determine their target market, especially without shelling out tons of money to research firms and consultants.

Why Targeted Marketing Matters: The Research

Target marketing requires you to break down your entire market into unique segments — often by age, gender, education level, income, marital status or geographic location — so that you can specifically target the customers whose needs and wants most closely match your product or service. Savvy marketers implement this technique primarily to attract new customers, but it can also be used for other marketing goals, like increasing loyalty among existing customers and creating hype around a new product.

We all know that this is especially poignant in digital settings, and that online consumers prefer more tailored advertisements compared with broad and general ones. But it also matters in a physical landscape; designing shipping labels, brochures and even business cards that speak to your audience can translate to big gains. Think of what you put out in the digital world as equally as important as the things you put out in the real world, especially when it comes to brand messaging and storytelling.

Here’s why it’s just as important: A recent study by Neilson showed that millennials and generation X consumers are more likely to seek out products that are labeled organic, GMO-free and hormone-free, but that older consumers pay less attention to this kind of wording. This speaks to the fact that different segments prefer different things, and that when you advertise to your core segment, that group is several times more likely to engage with your brand. Simply put, target marketing is good for your bottom line.

How SMBs Can Determine Their Target Market

With all of this being said, identifying your target market can be costly. Small businesses have different budget considerations than large or well-established ones, which makes the process a bit more challenging. Still, it’s important to remember that even if you do have to put in some dollars to pinpoint the right segment, there’s a good chance those dollars will have a pretty big return once you use what you know in your marketing strategy.

No matter the size of your business, it’s important that you don’t make assumptions about your target market in your strategy. While your hunches may be right — you know your customer better than anyone else, after all — there’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned research. Putting aside your premonitions and instincts will help you overcome confirmation bias, which will help avoid muddled data.

  • Leverage Existing Customers
    Your loyal customers are key players in your quest for identifying the right target market. And, because they’re already liable to have a positive view of your brand, they’ll probably be willing to help you figure things out. We recommend providing an incentive to your customers — a percent-off coupon, a free gift or free shipping, for example — in exchange for filling out a survey. You’ll be able to identify key demographics that your existing customers share in order to narrow down your target market.
  • Use Digital Tools
    More than likely, you use big paid advertising tools to get the word out about your brand. Facebook, AdWords and other platforms often have built-in analytics tools that will help you discover who buys your product, how they buy it and when they buy it. eCommerce stores bring even more opportunity; platforms like Magento and Shopify can be customized with analytics plug-ins that store essential customer data and allow you to draw conclusions about your consumer.
  • Do Some Market Research
    Even though it seems like a waste of money, A/B testing and other forms of research prove fruitful time and time again. The process allows you to test variations of a product and identify how certain groups of people respond to each one. How does this help you narrow your target audience? It allows you to see which groups of people respond more favorably to your brand messaging, which helps you determine where you should funnel those vital marketing monies. For example, a brewery might show two iterations of beer bottle labels to a group of consumers to see which groups respond better to which design.
  • Put Yourself in the Customer’s Shoes
    We already mentioned that making assumptions can be detrimental to your target market studies, but using a little bit of empathy can go a really long way. Ask yourself what pain points or problems your product fixes, and then determine who is most likely to benefit from it. Take it a few steps further by asking yourself what kind of person would pay for your product or service and at what stage in life or the buyer’s journey they’re most likely to pull the trigger.
  • Engage Online and Off
    Using social media, blogs and e-mail marketing, you can reach your existing customer base or potential customers and send out regular customer surveys, but you also want to make sure you’re getting to know your clients offline, too. Every time you get face-to-face time with a potential customer, whether at a trade show or in a brick-and-mortar store during a demo, make sure that you take the opportunity as a way to learn more about your audience. Ask questions, identify pain points and record the data every time.

The most important thing to note when entering the target market research phase is that you may have to spend a bit of money at the outset for things like market research and promotions, but at the end of the day, targeted marketing has the potential to bring back a huge return on investment. Start by using the tools you already pay for — digital analytics and your current customers, for example — before shelling out for outside help.

Guest Post: About the Author

Kurt started Blanco in 1996 after working in the label industry for more than 10 years.  As a Salesman, Sales Manager, then Vice President of Sales for Southern Atlantic Label in Chesapeake, VA he gained a strong knowledge of the label and printing industry. Following Southern Atlantic , Kurt was Vice President of Sales at Custom Printed Products in Shreveport Louisiana. Kurt has experience with most every known Pressure Sensitive Label application, and is very involved in Production and Marketing at Blanco.

Need to increase your marketing budget?. IOU Financial can help with the funding you need to grow.  Contact us today to inquire about getting working capital up to $300,000 in less than 48 hours.

10 of the Best Online Tools for Busy Business Owners

Running your own business can keep you pretty busy. From payroll and staff to marketing and PR, you’ll sometimes feel like you’re spinning plates.

Thankfully, thanks to digital transformation, it’s become easier for business owners to automate tasks and save valuable time thanks to clever tools. Whether you are running a small operation, or have a big team behind you already — here are some great online tools you might want to consider to help you out.

Recommended reading: Is It Time for Your Business to Try Out AI? 

1. Xero + Chaser + Receiptbank

Everyone knows how convenient Xero can be as an online accounting app, but it’s actually the cool integrations and add-ons that make Xero so useful for the busy business owner. By being able to automate dreary financial tasks like chasing unpaid invoices, you will be able to save time and decrease stress levels.

Finances are at the core of any small business, so it makes sense to invest time and effort into their smooth management. Without a good financial framework, you will quickly fall behind and stagnate as a business — never take your cash flow for granted!

Let’s have a look at what Xero can do for your business:

  • Chaser allows you to send out personalized invoice chasers and manage your debtors — an essential task for any small business. Xero itself also has a pretty good invoice reminder function — customize your chasing frequency and messaging. You can easily turn off chasing for certain clients and customers.
  • Receiptbank is the ideal app for business owners who make a lot of small purchases for their business. It’s basically a receipt and purchase invoice manager, that also integrates with PayPal. You can install the app on your phone and quickly scan receipts into the system, tagging them up and posting them into Xero at a click of a button.

2. Evernote

Meeting notes getting lost? Can’t keep track of your creative ideas? A tool like Evernote can help you sync up your notes and ideas, and share them with key members of your team.

There are a lot of cool Evernote functions you may not have known about:

  • Instant note-syncing means you can have Evernote on all your devices at the same time (you need to pay for a premium account if you want to connect more than a couple though). It’s a great tool for business owners on the move who work in dynamic environments where you frequently switch from tablet to phone.
  • You can quickly share individual notes or notebooks with people, so everyone is kept in the loop.
  • Evernote also manufactures purpose-built notebooks so that you can scan in handwritten notes!

3. Slack

Modern business is all about communication, so make sure you spend time fine tuning your business communication strategy (both internal and external).

Slack is one of the easiest ways to manage internal and external comms. Whether you need somewhere where all your team can discuss training insights, or a way to bring disparate freelancers or groups together, Slack is a brilliant and user-friendly way to chat and collaborate.

The best thing about Slack? It’s very easy to use and won’t baffle people. The #’s used for channels are easy to follow, and once you’re in Slack, you’ll love it. And if that wasn’t enough, there are also a slew of tools that you can integrate your Slack account with to get even more out of it. Slack will change the way that you communicate at work for the better.

4. SurveyMonkey

Do you need to gather information quickly and easily?

Data is a super powerful business asset and a tool like SurveyMonkey will help you gather and organize data better.

Whether you want to get in touch with staff, follow up after an event, check in with clients, or gather data for marketing purposes, SurveyMonkey is a really user-friendly survey tool.

5. MailChimp

Sending out beautiful email newsletters no longer requires hours of painstaking HTML design — MailChimp makes it so easy even a ‘chimp’ can do it! With drag and drop templates and loads of advice on how to get your emails opened and read, MailChimp is a great business lifeline. Organize your email lists to reflect people’s interests, and you will find it a lot easier to get real engagement from your email marketing.

MailChimp is also a great thing to use for event marketing, and can help you follow up with a big group of people quickly and easily.

6. PeopleHR

Are you a good manager? Everyone likes to think that they are, but part of being a good manager is having access to the right toolsets and data in the first place. You can’t make the right staffing decisions if you haven’t got full visibility on what’s happening in your organization from an HR perspective.

From booking holidays to monitoring performance, PeopleHR makes things easy for staff member, manager, and business owner. Easy to use, clear, and bursting with reams of useful data, this budget HR app is a good find for anyone who cares about staff experience.

7. Trello

Trello makes project management look fun and easy. With a very visual UI that is made up of colored cards, many people use Trello just for fun!

But Trello is not just a pretty face: thanks to it being so easy to use, Trello is a great way to organize teams and projects and make sure that everyone is on the same page. Trello boards are easy to share and can be a quick way of getting people up to speed with a latest project.

8. Shopify

Your company website is crucial to the success of your online business; it’s the medium through which your customers place orders, making it the master of revenue for your company. However, as a busy business owner the last thing you want is to have to spend hours building your company website. That’s where Shopify comes in.

It makes the process simple for you, comes loaded with a host of themes (along with managing the hosting of your website), and has an in-depth support system comprised of physical meet-ups, podcasts, and tools.

Once you’ve set-up your website, you can gain insight on how to market your business, and access ongoing data that lets you see who is buying your products, where they’re buying them from, and how they’re buying them. Not only does Shopify make it easy to set-up your website, it makes it easy for you to grow your business.

9. Buffer

Scheduling social media can help you save valuable business time. You shouldn’t just click a button and automate your social feeds (that’s actually surefire way NOT to get followers), but you can save loads of time with strategic scheduling.

Buffer is ridiculously easy to use and will help busy managers and teams save time and scale. Queue up a load of posts for the holidays or the weekends, and share your content with your network at different times of the day.

10. Insightly

A friendly small-business CRM, Insightly is a good alternative to CRM market-leader Salesforce. Compact and managed by a friendly customer support team, Insightly can help your business run a tighter sales and customer experience ship.

From following up with leads, to updating contact details, being more organized with a small business CRM will make a big difference to your sales figures.

Owning and running your own business is a real labor of love. You want to create a business environment that you’re proud of — somewhere where both staff and ideas can thrive. Use online tools to help you save time and money, and create a great atmosphere that makes people want to work hard. What online business tool do you rely on the most?

Guest Post: About the Author

Victoria Greene is a branding consultant and freelance writer. On her blog, VictoriaEcommerce, she looks at how business owners can use developments in technology to improve their efficiency and drive up their revenue. She is passionate about using her experience to help fellow business owners succeed.

5 Most Common Small Business Marketing Mistakes

When dealing with a smaller team generating smaller profits, marketing efforts can often fall by the wayside. But many small businesses tank when lack of visibility is causing a dive in sales. In order to avoid bankruptcy as a small business owner, keep a few of these common errors in mind and learn how to draw in the right customers with the right tactics.

You Don’t Have a Website

One of the first thing a customer will do if they’re searching for a service or product is online search the service they require. So, if your business doesn’t have a website, how do you expect to be discovered when 43 percent of Google searches are conducted for local businesses?

However, if you do have a website, you need to make sure it’s designed with convenience and attractiveness in mind. Take the time to hire a talented web designer, or even better, learn some HTML to save money and have constant control over your site.

When it comes to the content and design, make sure your call to action is the first thing the potential customer sees, and set up the menus in such a way that they can easily find what they’re looking for. And for goodness sakes, place your contact information in conspicuous places! Nothing annoys a customer more than hunting for an email or phone number.

You’re Targeting the Wrong Audience

Imagine trying to sell meat to a vegan – doesn’t go over well does it? If you’re unaware of the needs of your target audience, you’ll likely see a dip in revenue because you have no clue if your product is something they are compelled to purchase.

The best way to formulate a target audience is to create audience personas based on your current clientele, the goal of your service or product, and your direct competition. With this data, you can answer the “what”, “where”, “who”, “why”, and “when,” and specify details like gender, personality, and employment that will impact potential buying habits from your target audience. From there, you can then begin marketing campaigns towards people that are most likely to benefit from your business.

You’re Not Paying Attention to the Competition

If you’re not regularly online searching similar businesses to monitor their strategies and progress, you’re doing you and your business a great disservice. Competition is scary, but it’s healthy having that comparison; it gives you as an owner the motivation to go that extra mile and improve upon your current marketing efforts.

While comparing services, it’s helpful to have some questions in mind and you can even make a chart to compare multiple competitor businesses at once. Some things you can ask yourself include:

  • What do they charge for their product(s)/service(s)?
  • Where are they located? Do they have multiple locations?
  • Do they have an online presence (social media profiles, website, etc.)?
  • How many employees do they currently have?

With this frame of reference, you’ll have all the information you need to continue to grow within your industry.

You’re Not Tracking Your Progress

Regardless of whether you are using email or direct mail campaigns, you need to track the responses carefully. The analysis of results plays a role in determining if a change in the message or medium is needed. Analysis can also tell you if the marketing method is cost-effective and should be repeated.

Your Message Isn’t Unique

Comparing your business to others can also backfire. Consumers are bombarded with numerous marketing messages throughout the day, and as a result, many of them are not absorbed or even read. And can you really blame them?

This is especially important if your business model isn’t one-of-a-kind. If you’re trying to sell handmade jewelry with diamond companies all over your city, you’re going to have to distinguish yourself from the rest and convince your audience why your rings and necklaces are better than the rest.

Small business marketing will affect your overhead, your sales, your brand image and more. This is an area that you cannot afford to gloss over without considerable focus and attention. With better understanding of these common marketing mistakes, you can take steps to more successfully implement a marketing campaign for your company.

If you need financial assistance getting started, IOU Financial can offer up to $300,000 in as little as 24 hours.

Guest Post: About the Author

Heather Lomax is a contributing writer and media relations specialist for Gemstone Data. In her blogging experience, she often gives advice on improving marketing strategy for SMBs and formulating innovative ways to make your business stand out.

Overcoming Accounting Challenges for Small Business Owners

Becoming a business owner can be a dream come true, offering freedom and flexibility away from the rush and bluster of a traditional 9 to 5 work week. It can also be an extremely frightening proposition depending on where your expertise lies.

And for most people, their expertise is not in finances. Taxes, cash flow, and payroll deadlines can cause stress for many owners and make it difficult to understand where the business stands. For small businesses, these factors play an even larger role in the health of the business than larger enterprises. Starting a small business requires a certain amount of guidance and resources. There are several accounting challenges that will have serious and costly consequences if a business owner doesn’t fully understand their role.

Understanding Federal and State Labor Laws

Before they ever hire their first employee, a business owner needs to know their place with local and state governments. There are also standards that must be met that ensure payment standards, vacation and benefits for your employees, severance pay, payroll deductions and plenty more.

Any small business owner will face these, so it is crucial to understand your role, what you will be required to – and ethically should – provide employees, and what effect it will have on your budget. Ignorance will not save you from state and federal laws, so be sure to become familiar with what your responsibilities are. The United States’ Small Business Administration is a great place to begin learning your responsibilities on each level of government jurisdiction.

Complying with Reporting Deadlines

Issuing paychecks and paying payroll taxes is just half of the requirements in payroll accounting. There are federal and state requirements concerning the reporting of quarterly payroll taxes. There needs to be a clear understanding of which taxes are reported on specific reports and whether these taxes are at the state or federal level. The Internal Revenue Service does a good job of keeping these dates clear on their website.

If a business acts as a collection agent for sales or use tax, there are also laws requiring the remitting and reporting of these taxes. The local state tax department will be the best source for answering questions about deadline dates and methods of reporting.

Cash Flow Management

The ebbs and flows of cash management can be a headache for any accountant – and especially so for a small business owner. Staying on top of cash flow requires meticulous documentation, recording all receipts and disbursements regardless of size.

Banks are very good at keeping up with these things; it is their job, after all. When in doubt, record all the expenses and sales your business earns and consult with the bank that handles your accounts. Depending on the complexity of your business’ cash flow, it might even be worth consulting a financial advisor to properly plan goals and become more knowledgeable about your cash flow.

Meeting Payroll Deadlines

Paying employees on time must be a high priority of any business, large or small. There are federal and state laws that dictate when an employee must receive their pay, so cash flow management must set aside funds for payroll.

Along with the actual disbursement of paychecks, there are also crucial deadlines for remitting payroll taxes. These deadlines can be both on the federal and state level, so each category of taxes must be dealt with in a timely manner. Most payroll taxes require submission electronically; luckily, there are software systems – such as Sage Peachtree, Quickbooks, and more – available to automate this process for you as well as record your expenses.

Qualified Employees

Finally, you need employees who you can rely upon. That means planning a payroll budget that measures how much help you’ll need, what skills they’ll require, as well as a fair market assessment of what those skills are worth.

As a small business owner, it can be difficult to know what that fair market price for employment would be. Those metrics will rely on the market that you are in as well as the general value of those skills. A salary too low may experience much more turnover than you’d prefer as well. Fit Small Business lists several free tools that will allow you to fairly assess what a competitive salary in your field looks like.

A small business’ finances can be a difficult aspect of business to manage. But with proper documentation, automation, and research, you can tackle each of these issues and flourish as your own boss.

If you need help affording a payroll and/ or accounting system or require financial assistance to pay off your business taxes, turn to IOU Financial. Our hassle-free small business loans of up to $300,000 can be in your bank account in under 48 hours! Contact us today!

Guest Post: About the Author

Alex Briggs is a contributing writer for Rising Path Accounting.

What to Look for in a Financial Advisor

Considering that Americans have accumulated more debt now than ever before, working with a financial advisor can be a great decision in planning financial expenses. A financial advisor can help with putting together a budget to avoid overspending, choosing the right investment strategy or prepare for taxes that come with running a small family business.

There’s no reason to stay in the dark when it comes to money and getting the best results requires the right financial advisor. But how do you find the right financial advisor?

Do They Understand Your Needs?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to finances. There are solid strategies that will benefit most people – for example, paying down debt is almost always a good choice. But every individual has their own financial goals and needs. A 45-year-old father of two will need very different financial advice than a 23-year-old single professional who just finished school.

Look for a financial advisor who demonstrates an understanding of your situation. That way, they can offer advice tailored to you.

Does Their Education, Expertise and Certifications Align with Your Own Goals?

Although financial advisors can cover a broad range of topics, if you’re looking for a specific type of financial advice, then you’ll want to look for an advisor whose qualifications match that area.

Maybe you’re trying to pay off student loan debt, getting your first mortgage or applying for a small business loan. These are all detail-heavy processes and you’ll get the best advice from a financial advisor who specializes in these processes. Evaluate the certifications a potential advisor has to see if they’re the right choice for your current and future goals.

Does Their Compensation Plan Incentivize Your Success?

You obviously pay for their service, but you might not be the only one paying a financial advisor.

There are many firms that offer their advisors product-based incentives; those advisors make a commission for selling the firm’s products to customers. Although this doesn’t necessarily make them bad financial advisors, it can create a conflict of interest and alter the advice they might suggest to you.

Don’t be afraid to ask a financial advisor about their compensation plan. Be careful with those that make money from sales; you’ll might end up wondering whether they’re recommending a product because it’s right for you or because it will make them money.

Can They Teach You?

Financial literacy is a gigantic problem for most Americans and very little is being done to solve the problem. What’s more troublesome is that the average person has more financial responsibilities than ever before. There are all kinds of ways borrow money including banks, credit unions and online lenders. It makes it easier than ever to accrue debt. Retirement no longer comes from pensions, Social Security may not be around in the future and people live longer than ever.

That makes it even more important to save money consistently and avoid debt. A financial advisor who can educate you on personal or business finances will help you save more and borrow less.

Do They Truly Seem to Care?

You don’t want your meetings with a financial advisor to feel like college lectures, but unfortunately, they often do. The advisor sees you as one of many clients, your money is just numbers added to a statement and they’ll simply go through the motions with you.

You might learn something from that type of advisor, but you’ll certainly have better results with an advisor who engages with you. Look for a financial advisor who inquiries about your current situation, your financial history, your goals and all the other important details about your life. When an advisor gets to know you as a human being, they can help you make the best financial decisions because they know your wants and needs in life.

There are plenty of excellent financial advisors out there and working with one could be the best decision you make to take control of your finances and improve your future. Be patient as you look for a financial advisor and keep those five questions in mind to ensure that the person you choose is the right fit and has your best interests at heart.

Guest Post: About the Author

Heather Lomax is a contributing writer from Financial Licensing Advisors. She regularly contributes articles to a variety of investment and finance blogs.

The Introvert’s Guide to Networking

Today we have a guest post from Misty Mega, Head of Accounting Education and Programs at TSheets. Check out her tips on how introverts can better network below!

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Raise your hand if you’re an introvert. Yep, me too. As a fellow introvert (with some extroverted tendencies), I find that networking doesn’t always come easy. Do you find yourself being very shy in groups where you don’t know anyone? I definitely do, and sometimes I would rather not be in that situation than make the effort.

But I force myself to meet people, no matter what. My trick is to find another person who is alone, instead of walking up to a large group and trying to become part of the conversation. As hard as that can be, I’m always glad that I did, so I’m sharing not only how I enter a conversation, but how I embrace my “why” — why I invest in relationships.

Start With a Handshake

Daunting as it may be, we need to step out of our comfort zones and start shaking hands. In today’s search for time, we need to focus on why we invest in relationships.

There are many ways for introverts to shine and network — both in person and online. Introverts are known to go deeper into relationship building with fewer people, so they enjoy quality over quantity. And building out our networks is an outstanding way for us to save time.

Take Advantage of Online Social Networks

When you build a network of individuals you trust and respect, the network becomes a lifeline that can help you cut down on research and troubleshooting. If you are not in a Facebook group with other people in your profession, find one and join one now!

In each of the groups I’m a member of, I’m continuously amazed by the responses people get when they need help. When they ask a question, they are flooded with responses from people who can either help them figure out the solution or tag someone who can. Not having this resource puts you at a disadvantage.

We need to step out of our boxes and shoot for a handful of quality, incredible people who you can offer support to and who, in turn, can be supportive. Having this network adds tremendous value to our lives.

Ask the Right Questions

Asking questions isn’t just about getting the answers you need. It can also be about getting the answers that other people need. To build effective relationships, we need to discover what motivates people and what they are trying to accomplish.

Every individual who starts a business does it for a reason. Sometimes it’s financial freedom or freedom to be their own boss, or it’s to provide their family a better life. In the same way, you need to figure out what other people’s goals are, and then dive deeper.

For example, when we ran our own business, my husband and I had a good relationship with our accountant. We spent long hours chatting with him every other week when we picked up our checks for payroll. However, he never asked us the right questions, and we never knew the right information to communicate.

If he had asked us, “What’s keeping you up at night?” we would have said we were staying at the office until 3 a.m. entering our sales invoices and receipts into QuickBooks because our point of sale system wasn’t integrated.

We would have told him that we were doing payroll by hand, calculating all of the minutes and verifying hours every time. We would have said our inventory is done on paper and it would be nice to be able to scan things in. He could have then saved us hours of frustration by recommending products that would have saved us both time.

The lesson I took from this was that when you ask a client questions about their business, they are happy to answer. If you find areas in which you can influence a client’s business, you’ll create a customer for life.

Be a Positive Force

Lastly, I want to focus on the power of positivity. The moment you begin to speak, people can hear in your tone if you are happy to hear from them. If you sound unhappy to hear from them, they will feel like they are bothering you. If that person is a client, they will stop calling you. If they’re a peer in your profession, they will be less likely to reach out to you. If people don’t feel comfortable asking questions, they won’t. Meaning that you won’t learn enough about them to be connected, solve a potential problem, or make that sale.

However, if you foster a relationship of open communication with boundaries, you will develop a great network of like-minded professionals, your clients will be happy to call you, and your team will be empowered. The power of positivity will save you time and boost your business.

Step out of your comfort zone and build your network, invest time in your customer relationships, and have a positive and open communication policy.

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Guest Post: About the Author

Misty Megia, Head of Accounting Education and Programs at TSheets, has over 20 years’ experience in market strategy, project management, public speaking, corporate branding, and channel marketing. In 2015 she received CPA Practice Advisor’s Most Powerful Women in Accounting Award. Connect with Misty on LinkedIn.