Modern Tools for the Modern Small Business

Digital technology is the driving force of change in today’s small business landscape. Compared to even a few years ago, SMBs have become wholly integrated with technology, with an overwhelming 92% of small businesses using cloud-powered technology in some capacity.

Compared to larger competitors, which have more time, energy and resources to research the latest trends, small businesses often struggle to keep themselves and their business practices up-to-date. As an increasing number of companies look toward online solutions for their everyday tasks, it’s more important than ever for your business to rise with the tech tides.

To help you stay in the loop, here are some modern tools that small businesses can leverage to streamline their business models and stay afloat amongst their larger competition.

Cybersecurity

As more small businesses are choosing to communicate with teammates, share information and store data through the internet, cybersecurity systems have become an essential line of defense. In the past, corporations and franchises were the primary victims of online attacks, but moving online has meant that several small businesses now attract the unwanted interest of hackers, scammers and malware viruses looking to obtain your confidential information.

Many SMBs don’t have cybersecurity policies or strategies in place, despite 61% of breaches in 2016 hitting smaller businesses. Cybersecurity software fortifies your online presence on a number of fronts—from spotting phishing emails to deterring ransomware—which can help ensure your customer, company and employee information stay out of the wrong hands.

Invoice and Time Tracking

Invoicing technology takes the mystery out of billing your customers. Whether you need to juggle multiple tasks at once or manage a large team, time tracking software helps you collect accurate information on the amount of time and resources you dedicate to each of your customers. Many solutions integrate seamlessly with billing applications, allowing you to quickly transcribe this information into an invoice that can be emailed right away.

Late payments cost small business $3 trillion each year, as business owners spend their valuable time and resources following up with tardy customers or are forced to write off late payments as bad debt. By using automation software, your invoice system can track the status of payments and send reminders to your customers when payments are due, helping ensure you have the capital you need for continued growth.

Contact Centers

 Although call centers are often synonymous with larger businesses, small businesses can utilize contact center tools to better manage their customer’s calls, ensuring no one’s messages are missed during high-volume times. Today’s consumers utilize more digital channels than ever to contact your company—including social media messaging, phone calls, emails, website chats and SMS texts. By using omnichannel routing technology, call center software helps you streamline all these methods of communication through a single, organized platform.

In the age where social media and the internet give us instant access to any information we need, 60% of customers believe that waiting on hold for even a single minute is too long. During periods of high call volumes, small businesses especially struggle to minimize wait times as their limited staff members try to work through their call queues. With the support of contact center tools, you’ll be better prepared to manage inquiries of all kinds as they arrive for an improved customer experience.

Virtual Offices

Modern technology has not only transformed the digital landscapes businesses use but the physical ones as well. The traditional office, where employees work a regular 9-to-5 workday, is no longer what the typical schedule looks like as virtual workspaces quickly become the new normal. Designed to give you all the functionality of an in-office workspace, these tools give small businesses greater flexibility when it comes to where, how and when they work.

Sixty six percent of businesses in 2019 offer some variant of remote work benefits—from a few hours each week to full-time virtual employees. If you are looking to retain your current employees and attract new talent to your business, then a virtual workspace can give you the mobile compatibility you need to deliver on the flexible work opportunities that today’s workforce craves. And thanks to integrations with virtual reality technology, mobile phone compatibility and gamification options (which can turn any menial task into a competitive “game” for employees to participate in), many virtual office solutions will help your remote teams feel just as engaged and involved as they would be at their office desk.

Artificial intelligence

AI technology has only recently entered small- and medium-sized business markets, but its use-cases are already producing benefits as tech-savvy SMBs begin to integrate these features into their day-to-day workflows. The most prominent examples are AI-powered chatbots, which seek to streamline your work in a number of ways—from answering preliminary customer inquiries on your website to pinging your team on important reminders.

While artificial intelligence and automation software were first met with a reasonable amount of skepticism from the small business community, over 50% of SMBs believe that AI functionality is an important factor to consider when choosing new technology. With only so much time in your schedule, many small organizations have realized that the amount of time they save on menial tasks each day justifies the investment on these new tools and services. Chatbots and other smart technology help you cut out the busy work so you can focus on what’s really important in order for your small business to thrive.

Guest Post: About the Author

Fiona Lanson writes within a number of online business communities. As a small business tech expert, she is primarily focused on highlighting the ways that technology and work culture continue to impact the ways that SMBs conduct business.

How to Conduct a Telecom Audit for your Business

Telecom audits aren’t usually the job that everyone in the office is clamoring for. They are often tedious, time-consuming and confusing. While you can use telecom expense management software to make the job easier, this may not be the method your company prefers.

Manual audits can be very taxing, but they serve a purpose. Whether you own your business or have been tasked with performing a manual audit for the company you work for, it is important to do the job carefully.

Telecom audits can help you cut operational costs and streamline service.

If you have been charged with the duty of a manual telecom audit for your company, we can help. In the following post, you will find a helpful guideline for performing a telecom audit.

Gather Pertinent Information

The first step should always be to gather all telecom and IT bills, information on supplemental packages, PRI lines and any other pertinent information. Your company may have more than one telecom vendor so be sure to gather monthly bills from all of them.

Consider all of your company’s IT services as well. You will need to gather information regarding mobile lines, hard lines, long-distance providers, voicemail service and IT services.

Once you have all the pertinent information in front of you, take some time to familiarize yourself with it. You may spot a discrepancy right off the bat just by going over billing statements for these services.

Review Contracts

Every telecom service provider your company does business with has its own contract. You should carefully review all of these contracts.

If your company has a central repository for these kinds of contracts, be sure to utilize this resource. If it doesn’t, you will have to go on the hunt to round up each individual telecom contract.

Once you have all applicable contracts, you should first look to make sure that all of them are current. If a contract has lapsed but your company is still being charged for services rendered, then you have spotted another glaring discrepancy.

Next:

You will want to keep an eye out for the services or equipment that are outlined in the contracts and compare them with monthly invoices.

The contracts should include all the services your business actually uses as well as any telecom or IT equipment. You may find that the wholesale telecom provider in question is not providing a service that was outlined in the contract.

Collect Tariff Cards

Each phone call your company makes is subject to a tariff from your telecom provider. Each tariff is recorded on what is referred to as “tariff cards.” Each card contains important information on how much was charged for each call or connection.

Obtain copies of these cards to make sure that your company is being billed correctly. You can easily find billing errors just by reviewing tariff cards. Tariff cards are a matter of public record so you can get copies of them directly from your telecom providers.

Cutting Costs

After you have reconciled this data and pointed out any overcharges, billing errors or contractual obligations that are not being met, you should look for areas in which you can cut costs. Review your monthly bills carefully.

Take notice of the telecom or IT services that your company uses the most.

Compare them with the contractual services that your company scarcely uses. If your company is already pretty efficient and lean, you may not see any services that it doesn’t frequently use. But if you do happen to come across one that is unnecessary or doesn’t get used much, make a note of it in your final report.

Consider all the telecom features and apps that you are being charged for. This is where you will typically find superfluous services.

Final Reporting

Once all the documents have been pored over, reconciliations have been made and unnecessary services have been identified, you are ready to give your report. Your report should be thorough and give the decision-makers a clear idea of what the company is paying for, what services are under contract and if breaks, errors, and abnormalities have occurred.

Your final report can also include an RFP (request for proposal) in which services that your company could use to its benefit are identified. Remember that the purpose of a telecom audit is not only to identify discrepancies and save money, but also to improve performance and efficiency.

We hope you have found this guide helpful. Happy auditing!

Guest Post: About the Author

Lamar Carter brings over 33 years of executive telecommunications wholesale management experience to his role as All Access Telecom (AAT) CEO. He directs the overall strategic vision of the company by leveraging his vast telecom industry and sales expertise to grow AAT into the premier telecommunication service provider it is today. Prior to founding the company in November 2009, he was the Director of Sales at Stratus Telecom, where he was responsible for sales, service and account management duties for all CLERK’s, EX’s and VOIP providers in North America.

Secret Ingredients to Successfully Manage Your Business Finances

Managing finances requires constant vigilance. Many aspiring entrepreneurs are almost solely devoted to making the products they love or developing the big ideas they have come up with.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking it’s all about the products and services they offer. With a mindset like that, an entrepreneur may feel like managing finances is a tedious chore.

Problems emerge when they start treating them as such. What your business has to offer will earn you a place in the market, true. But, if you want to survive there, proper finance management is vital.

Pay Yourself

Many passionate business owners tend to invest everything back into day-to-day operations. There’s no doubt that extra capital helps business growth. Still, that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice paying yourself to help your business thrive.

However, if the business doesn’t turn out as you would like, it’ll all be over with you hanging dry. You’re an employee just like everyone else, even if you are employing yourself. You need to compensate yourself just like you compensate others. Never forget that you’re part of the business in more ways than one.

Educate Yourself

Invest time in learning about different aspects of finance. If you don’t already know how, learn to read financial statements. You’ll know how to tell where the money is, how many hands it’s changed, and where it comes from. Financial statements have four key details – balance sheet, income statement, flow statement, and statement of shareholder’s equity.

The balance sheet relays information on shareholder’s equity, liabilities, and company assets. The cash flow statement analyzes financial inflow, financial outflow, operating activities, as well as investments.

The amount by which the business is funded through preferred and common shares is represented in the statement of shareholder’s equity. When you want to know how much revenue the business has earned within a specific timeframe, you can read the income statement.

Separate Business and Personal Finances

Your finances should be the line that separates business and pleasure. Get a business credit card and use it for its intended purposes. That way, you’ll stay in control and be able to track your outlays.

Opening a separate savings account would also be a wise step. You can use it to gradually build a corpus by transferring a certain percentage from each payment that you get. For instance, you can use those funds to pay taxes.

Drawing a line between the two signals responsibility and will improve your professional and personal image, especially among banks and investors. You’ll also keep the government happy. Such fiscal responsibility allows you to reap the benefits of various tax deductions.

Funding and Investment

If you want your company to thrive, it’s important to secure funds for growth opportunities. Investing a portion of your profits into other lucrative endeavours is one way of moving in a healthy financial direction, provided that you have the skills and knowledge to do that.

For instance, you can learn to trade and secure additional funds for your enterprise that way. Naturally, you’d want to make sure you learn all about the right strategies and risk management before you start. If you’re completely new to the game, make sure to start from the trading terminology and cover the basics, and then slowly make your way into the process.

If you know exactly how you’d invest money, you can always apply for a loan in order to secure the necessary funds for growth. Employees appreciate when their employer invests money into the company and therefore in their careers. If you don’t waste all of your profits on personal matters, you will ultimately create more value for your company.

Credit Score

The benefits of maintaining a good credit score are numerous. With a good credit score, lenders are more likely to offer you loans with lower interest rates and better terms, as well as enough capital to grow your startup.

A bad credit score, on the other hand, may make them avoid you like the plague. If a time comes when you need emergency funds, and there are many such surprises with businesses, you’d want to be on good terms with the banks.

So, even if you don’t need a loan now, that doesn’t mean you can allow yourself the luxury of having a bad credit score. To increase it, you can take out credit cards, use them regularly and pay them off even before they are due.

Conclusion

Being an entrepreneur means you have to work around the clock. There are always some issues that have to be dealt with immediately. No matter how busy you are, take some time every day to plan your finances for the future.

Guest Post: About the Author

Anna is a tech writer and researcher interested in startups, web development and business innovation. She is passionate about motivation, self-development and yoga. A recent hiking enthusiast, she enjoys exploring new trails and breathtaking views.

7 Top Online Communities for Small Businesses

As an entrepreneur, you can feel isolated at times and it helps to connect with like-minded people. Joining online communities offers you the opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs, some of whom have more experience than you.

You can not only get help with your questions but learn from others to avoid making the mistakes they made. You also have others with whom to celebrate your successes. You will find many people who are willing to share the trials and joys of running their small businesses. Here are some of the top online communities you could consider joining:

Start Up Nation

Start Up Nation is a free service for entrepreneurs. It provides you with everything you need to start your business, manage it and grow it. You can sign up for a free newsletter and receive free access to downloadable eBooks from the Startup Nation Business Builder series.

Find case studies, articles, videos and other sources of information to learn from. For example, read about how to use crowdfunding to get your startup through a rough patch.

You are able to network with members on a variety of community forums that encourage active group discussions where valuable advice and tips are shared. Interact on topics relating to small business, start-ups, entrepreneurship and more. Various business services such as copywriting, logo design, business consultation are also available.

Warrior Forum

Warrior Forum mainly covers internet marketing and provides you with a way to take your online business to the next level. The community consists of over a million marketers, making it one of the biggest internet marketing forums. The forums are free but you can pay a once-off fee to join a premium business forum.

The users on this forum are all about sharing stories and helping each other with their internet marketing and online business successes and failures.

According to Paul Raglan, a writer for bestessayservicereviews and academized reviews, the comments of seasoned marketers is on the of the best ways to avoid being scammed if you’re new to internet marketing.

The “war room” gives you access to some wellknown internet marketers. This site also contains social groups, blogs, and a marketplace where you can advertise relevant, highquality products. 

Small Business Brief

The Small Business Brief is a message board style forum. It is a place where small business entrepreneurs can ask questions, find help, share small business ideas and encourage others involved in small businesses. It offers advice about all the different aspects of operating a small business – especially online – including social media management, email marketing, pay-per-click advertising and link building.

Some of the hot topics discussed include how to generate leads from Facebook ads, suggestions for Keyword Planner tools and effective link acquiring strategies. You will also find common pre-written letters, templates and forms that help business owners to manage their small businesses.

The Small Business Bonfire

The Small Business Bonfire is free to join and gives you access to some amazing information and tools for small business owners. It is a collaborative community where you can get actionable tips through the small business blog and a weekly newsletter. Find content such as how small businesses can get the most out of mobile apps and much more.

There are numerous categories of information, like business growth, social media, business planning, productivity and digital marketing. You can get free small business downloads that include guides, templates, and worksheets. It is also possible to use some affordable marketing services on offer.

LinkedIn Groups

If you want to connect with other small business owners like yourself on LinkedIn, joining a LinkedIn group provides connections and resources, but there are so many of them that it can be hard to select one. These groups are a little different from typical message boards, but they offer opportunities to find answers, get advice and network.

Each group runs and operates autonomously – some are open to anyone and others are membership only and you need to be accepted by the group manager. A few popular groups are Small Business Marketing Network and Bright Ideas & Entrepreneurs.

Bright Ideas and Entrepreneurs is a popular group with many members, including small business owners, startup founders, angel investors and more. You can get some amazing business insights and share ideas.

Growth Hackers

GrowthHackers founder, Sean Ellis, was looking for a place where he could discuss customer bases and growing companies. He couldn’t find a community, so he built one and the thriving community now has over 150,000 users.

It has a Reddit-style homepage that features articles submitted by users and discussions. There are numerous growth studies and you will come across many growth marketing ideas. Users appreciate the quality of content and the chance to connect with industry experts. Despite the growth, the team has been able to keep the community value high.

Online Geniuses

If you are are interested in building your user-base, Online Geniuses is for you. Before Slack groups existed, Online Geniuses was a Skype community of internet marketers who talked about strategies and shared personal stores.

The community grew and founder, David Markovich, started looking for a different platform. It’s now hosted on Slack and receives dozens to hundreds of applications a day.

Online Genuises covers marketing advice, product discussions, growth strategies and much more. It’s a strong community with over 16,000 members and features prominent entrepreneurs in Ask Me Anything weekly sessions.

Conclusion

This is only a small sampling of top online communities – there are many more. Joining an online community offers you the chance to connect with like-minded individuals and feel less alone in your entrepreneurial journey. Of course, you can’t join all of these groups, you will have to select one or two that you believe are most suited for your purposes.

Spending some time networking, getting answers to questions and being exposed to more seasoned entrepreneurs can be extremely valuable – it may just give you what you need to take your small business to the next level.

Guest Post: About the Author

Becky Holton is a journalist and a blogger at Essay Services Reviews Club, MyAssignmentWriting. She is interested in education technologies, grademiners review and is always ready to support informative speaking at essay-writing service uk. Follow her on Twitter.

6 Unknown Facebook Features Your Business is Missing

Facebook is absolutely massive in the advertising and marketing webspace. So much so that the number of features other platforms have dull in comparison to those offered by Facebook itself. The downside, of course, is that even experienced marketers are bound to find themselves missing out on features that could make all the difference.

Facebook Product Shops

A relatively recent addition to the list of Facebook features is Facebook Product Shops. This feature introduces a new way to sell products online while removing the inconvenience of dealing with companies like Shopify.

Using this feature, it’s possible to sell products right on your page. People can then pay directly on Facebook or integrate a third-party checkout. Any products purchased on the platform are paid for through a payment processor of your choice.

Selling on Facebook grants businesses direct access to existing customers and better analytics on products placed for sale on the platform. Combined with ads and the power of the Audience Insights Tool, you will have much greater exposure to current and potential customers.

A critical part of improving engagement metrics is having proper product descriptions and scripts. The proper essay writing service or copywriter should deliver exactly what you need.

New Facebook Ads Features

Facebook may be one of the most detailed analytics platforms in the world, but there’s a lot more to the website than meets the eye. It offers several options aside from the traditional newsfeed that most people are used to.

The first is Facebook Messenger ads. These provide an opportunity to drop into a conversation with a prospective customer at any point. This enables you to tweak your sales funnel as you see fit. If you feel the need to add more information about the product or personalizing the experience, all the tools already exist within the Messenger app to do so.

The second of Facebook’s new ad features is in-stream video ads. As their name suggests, this feature provides businesses with prime advertising space right in the middle of a stream.

Videos can be 5-15 seconds long and can be placed on both live videos and those that already aired. If you happen to have a live video that went viral in the past, here’s an opportunity to monetize it at last.

New Video Publishing Tools

Going live for the first time is often frustrating and nerve-wracking. Without the right kind of assistance, it’s almost impossible to know what to expect on the technical side of things. Facebook’s answer to publishers’ complaints is Live Rehearsals. The gist of it is that publishers can now broadcast to page admins and editors only before they go live.

This is a very useful feature for brands that use scripts to reduce friction during live presentations. For those that don’t, dissertation writing services such as UK dissertation are some of the best places to get a custom fully-edited one.

Finally, viewers will be spared the harrowing minutes before anything happens at the beginning and end of live video replays. Publishers can now take advantage of the ‘trimming’ feature that enables them to cut out certain time frames from the beginning and ends of their recorded videos.

Facebook Live Marketing Features

Aside from pre-roll and in-video advertisement, Facebook also offers brand access to features to streamline its Facebook Live experience. Since the adoption of the feature is at an all-time high, the following tools might be useful for a business looking to take their marketing campaigns to the next level.

Pre-scheduling lets businesses set up when a Facebook live stream is going to be aired. This seeks to address the disadvantage of spontaneous live posts: even with notifications enabled, it’s still difficult for individuals to notice when a live stream has started.

For brands with a substantial following, it creates anticipation in viewers before the actual video is aired. It also addresses timing issues, where the videos are streamed later than they were intended to.

If you’ve set up a shop on your Facebook page, you can combine it with Facebook live to merge traditional and social media advertising. While introducing a new product, you can also provide details regarding how they are used and allows for live interaction with viewers that have questions.

This is reminiscent of old-school infomercials. You can also tag your products when you mention them in-stream so users can access them through an in-video link.

Keep Track of Competition with Pages to Watch

It’s possible to get detailed analytics on how detailed a competitor’s published posts are doing using Facebook’s Page Watch feature. Originally designed to help marketers find inspiration in data provided by leading innovative brands, it can be repurposed to anyone’s benefit.

Take advantage of the feature by navigating to Page Insights and scroll down till you find the ‘Pages to Watch’ feature. As long as you have a hundred or more fans, you will gain insight into data such as:

  • The page’s total like count and the percentage change from the previous week.
  • Total engagement metrics for the week.
  • How many times the page has posted to Facebook during the week.

These are actionable insights that could potentially be used to change how your marketing operations are run.

Audience Insights Tool

Most business decisions made today are driven by the abundance of data. Facebook Audience Insights is a powerful analytics tool that gives access to demographic and behavioral data on both your audience and competitors.

Data that can be gleaned from this tool include demographics, past purchasing activity, location, and demographics. With all these in hand, you can narrow down your target audience so you know exactly where your ad dollars are going.

Conclusion

Facebook is a fast-changing platform. New features are introduced and old ones retired regularly, so it’s almost impossible to always be in the loop. However, some of these features are quite important and could be the difference between whether your next marketing campaign succeeds or fails.

Guest Post: About the Author

Becky Holton is a journalist and a blogger at Best Essay. She is interested in education technologies and is always ready to support informative speaking at writing service, Grabmyessay. Follow her on Twitter.

Business Credit Scores vs. Personal Credit Score

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

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

Business Credit

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

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

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

Who Creates Your Business Credit Score

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

TransUnion

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

Equifax

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

Dun & Bradstreet

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

Personal Credit

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

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

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

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

Who Creates Your Personal Credit Score?

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

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

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

How to Establish Business Credit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should You Ever Mix Business and Personal Credit?

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

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

Guest Post: About the Author

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

5 Tips and Tricks to Help You Sell Products on Amazon

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

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

1. Consider Using the Fulfilled By Amazon Service

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

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

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

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

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

2. Be Certain Your SEO is Working For You

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

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

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

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

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

3. Know the Rules

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

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

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

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

4. Try Offering A Sale

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

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

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

5. Change Up Your Listings

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Guest post: About the Author

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

Content Marketing Ideas for Small Business: The Ultimate Guide

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

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

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

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

Are you ready to dive in?

The fundamental elements of content marketing

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

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

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

Videos

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

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

Podcasts

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

User-Generated Content

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

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

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

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

Coupons/voucher codes

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

Blog posts

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

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

Infographics

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

Social media

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

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

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

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

SEO

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

Make sure that you optimize:

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

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

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

Online publications

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

Email marketing

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

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

Set up an editorial calendar

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

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

Conclusion

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

Guest Post: About the Author

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

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

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

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

Brand guidelines

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

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

Ambitious recruitment

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

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

Financial management

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

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

Customer feedback

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

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

Operational procedure

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

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

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

Guest Post: About the Author

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

5 Effective Ways to Increase Your Conversion Rate with Social Media

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

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

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

Have Your Landing Page Be Mobile Friendly

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

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

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

Create Ads that Target Your Specific Audience

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

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

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

User-Generated Content is Your Friend

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

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

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

Create Unique Content

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

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

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

Don’t Limit Yourself

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Guest Post: About the Author

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

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