Goals for 2017: How to Set and Keep Them

Each December, we reflect on the past year and what we can do to improve in the coming months. We take stock of what goals we achieved and where we fell short.  Come January, we promise ourselves to be more productive; whether it’s at work in order to earn a promotion, to eat healthier, or to open our own business. Instead of being discouraged again next December, let’s make 2017 different, and achieve our goals with the help of the following tips. Together we can set realistic objectives and create actionable plans to keep ourselves accountable.

Set Realistic Goals

While New Year’s resolutions don’t always have to be serious and boring, they do have to be realistic. For example, you can challenge yourself to travel more, but don’t set yourself up to fail by promising yourself to travel the world in the next 366 days (2017 is a leap year!)

You know yourself better than anyone else, so only you know what goals you are capable of fulfilling, and what is and is not realistic. If you have set similar resolutions in the past, but never managed to keep them, consider a different plan that may be easier to achieve.

Minimize the Number of Goals

A new year offers a new beginning, so it may be tempting to set out to accomplish numerous goals, but be sure to plan with caution. It’s a better strategy to commit to a few goals, and truly concentrate on achieving them, than to set many objectives and not have the time to accomplish any of them.

For example, if you pledge to lose 10 pounds this year, this will require you to spend time cooking healthy meals and dedicating more personal time to exercising. Don’t also promise yourself to volunteer more, as both goals require you to commit time after work and on weekends, and you may experience a burnout and not accomplish both successfully. Prioritize your free time and see what goals fit best into your schedule for the best success rate. 

Create Actionable Plans

Once you make your resolutions, it’s easy to procrastinate. To avoid postponing your goals, create actionable plans to keep yourself accountable. It can be advantageous to create general milestones, and divide them into individual steps that can be tallied at the end of each month. This way, you will stay reminded daily of what is required to achieve your goal.

For example, if your resolution is to open your own business this year, the first month can be dedicated to doing market research on the competition. The second month can be spent creating marketing materials, and the third committed to obtaining proper business licenses. 

To keep motivating yourself, make sure you visualize your progress by writing down your goals and the steps necessary to achieve them. The more items you are able to cross off your list, the more motivated you will be to keep going!

Is better budgeting one of your 2017 goals? Check out our Business Budget Smart Sheet to help you easily plan, track, and visualize spending.



Your Small Business Saturday Attack Plan

Thousands of small business owners across the country participated in Small Business Saturday, an annual event held on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. Sponsored by American Express, it is intended to bring awareness to small businesses, and encourage patrons to skip big box retailers and shop small to support their local communities.

Small Business Saturday helped many companies attract new customers as well as potential leads. Instead of waiting for next Thanksgiving, business owners should act now to continue momentum into the holiday season and keep clients loyal throughout the entire year. Utilizing marketing emails, exclusive discounts, and “shop small” events are good strategies to stay in touch with new and potential customers.


An efficient, yet inexpensive way to communicate with your customers is through marketing emails. Sending marketing materials through the mail can be expensive, but with a little effort, you can send emails free or at a low cost. On Small Business Saturday, you likely urged your business’ patrons to sign up for email lists, and now is the time to utilize that list to reach out to them.

We recommend investing in a customer relationship management system (CRM), which will help you manage your client information, and send personalized emails with your customers’ contact information, in addition to recommendations based on their shopping history.

Many CRM programs offer A/B testing, which allows business owners to send two different marketing campaigns, and evaluate which was more popular based on clicks and purchase patterns.

When sending emails, remember that individuals are bombarded by hundreds of emails daily, so make your headlines catchy, funny, and enticing to open!

Exclusive Deals and Discounts

The reason that so many customers frequent local businesses during Small Business Saturday is because they are offered discounts and freebies. Business owners need to remember that discounts can, and should, be used throughout the year to incentivize sales. When customers believe that they are getting a deal, they are much more willing to spend their hard-earned money than if they believe they are paying full price.

How do you structure discounts? Shopify.com lists three main ways to increase foot traffic and maintain loyalty with discounts, which are:

  • Promotional pricing – Discounts and bundle pricing, such as “buy one, get one free”
  • Point-of-purchase displays – “Impulse buys” that individuals don’t plan on purchasing when they come into the store. Bins with small items next to the register are great incentives for point-of-purchase displays.
  • Loyalty programs – Membership and punch cards, as well as a points system which reward customers with discounts or free items.


unnamed1The holidays are the perfect time to organize events for your customers and potential leads. Planning a holiday party in your location will create a reason for you to invite Small Business Saturday patrons back to your location. In fact, one source claims that purchasing decisions are based more on emotions rather than on logic; therefore, face-to-face events allow brand owners to create an emotional connection to increase loyalty and drive sales.

Be creative and think of original ideas to drum up enthusiasm for your business; for example, IOU Financial held a scavenger hunt partnered with local discounts in Downtown Woodstock, GA. 

One caveat is that holiday parties and other events can turn into a financial strain if not planned for properly. Opening the doors and allowing streetwalkers to come inside can quickly lead to hundreds of people sampling your goods without guaranteed sales.

Not many small business owners can allow themselves to host expensive events, especially during the holiday time. Therefore, it is essential to plan and budget for events; one strategy is to hold member-only events with a concise guest list that goes out only to the most important customers. Another way is to invite customers and ask them to RSVP, allowing access to the first 50 who respond.

Keep the line of communication open between you and the customers you met during Small Business Saturdays with marketing emails, discounts and events. Remember, the more effort you put into promoting your relationship with your clients, the more loyal they will remain to your brand.

Holiday Sale Season: 5 Tips For Keeping Your Business Focused Through the Holidays

It’s the holiday season and your business is ready to make some happy shoppers and gift givers. But keeping customers happy and keeping your business focused through the holidays can be trickier than driving a one horse open sleigh. Paying attention to the following 5 ways will ensure your business is laser-focused through the holiday stretch, and will provide your business with durability for any shopping rush.

Keep Product in Stock

Nothing is worse than a customer wanting a product you sell and it is out of stock. Ok, there could be worse things, but that is one that you don’t want to worry about come mid-holiday season. Prepare for the long haul by keeping product in stock. Supplying larger amounts of inventory could lower the upfront cost to stock the shelves per unit, and if the items do not sell you can push them beyond the holiday season. Stock up to sell out.

Coordinate Coverage

Hiring and staffing for the holiday season should also increase as you anticipate an increase in customer traffic. Finding coverage in advance is crucial to ensuring you don’t get distracted by staff calling out sick, leaving for holiday vacations, or the unfortunate circumstances that arise when working with temporary holiday staff. Coordinate the coverage as far in advance as possible, and create a plan to guarantee that if one employee falls out of the mix, your whole plan for staff duties does not unravel.

Set Benchmarks

Finding out what the upcoming season looks like one day at a time could cloud your judgment, business decisions, and plans for the totality of the holiday stretch. Outline your next few months of holiday rush with a “syllabus” of sorts. Map out benchmarks, sales, and marketing ideas. Structure the staff, supply, and price points that you want. When holidays come around, execute the plan and follow the predetermined benchmarks. Don’t base your decisions on one day’s worth of good or bad business.

Enjoy the Business

While the holidays can be stressful, try to enjoy the increased sales, new faces, and products you are getting into the homes of possible new or new long-term customers. Try to enjoy each transaction and allow yourself to profit from not only the financial aspects, but from the relationships, new contacts, and extra attention at your store.

Prepare Now

Don’t wait to plan for the holiday rush the week before. Plan and prepare now. Try and assess what products may be best sellers, survey your customers on what items they may want for holiday gift giving, or even start developing promotions for the holiday deals you will be offering. Do not wait for the season to get underway before you start planning for what you want to accomplish. Prepare now.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and your business can be ready to embrace it and capitalize on it. Start today and implement the 5 tips to keep your focus during the season so you can pay more attention to sales and customers, and less attention to hoping reindeer will land on your roof bringing you extra customers. Start planning today so you can enjoy the holiday rush! 


How to Predict Your Inventory Needs for the Holidays

As the weather starts to cool, merchandisers’ thoughts turn to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, while online sellers are more interested in Cyber Monday, three days later. Then comes the whole Christmas shopping frenzy, and the post-Christmas bargain hunting. In all cases, getting your inventory right can make the difference between a profit or loss for the whole year.

Merchandisers have been busy planning their holiday inventory since August, or earlier. That’s important, but how do they get the numbers right? Brick and mortar stores need to know what and how much inventory is needed for each location. Online merchandisers must have enough inventory to withstand the blizzard of last minute shopping that occurs when consumers can’t find what they are looking for at retail locations.

Make the right prediction, and you’ll sell out most of your inventory without too many stockouts. Predict unwisely and you may be sitting on a ton of unsold merchandise in January, or empty shelves in mid-December.

The biggest part of the answer is data, and the software that makes sense of the data. We’re talking about programs that track sales of certain products over time at certain locations, applies information about buying trends, selling strategies, margin requirements and so forth, and then provides an estimate of inventory requirements by product and location.

The program is run iteratively as new data becomes available, so that retailers can make late adjustments if needed. For example, a weather event during the holidays may shift supply/demand balances in the affected area. Changes in consumer spending, safety recalls, economic disruptions and many other factors can influence inventory requirements.

Predictions aren’t too useful if you can’t implement them. One of the biggest problems is financing. If you predict a 20 percent increase in required inventory levels, you’ll need the money to pay for extra goods. This is one area where IOU Financial excels, as we provide loans quickly, without a lot of red tape, so that you can pay for additional inventory and take full advantage of anticipated demand. A small business loan could help you organize your finances before the holidays!

The next step of the process is to establish milestones and set goals. Products have to be ordered, received and stored according to strict timetables that depend on your predicted inventory needs. Knowing in detail what you will need and when you will need it allows you to begin shopping around for low-cost suppliers and carrier services. If you have a good relationship with a carrier, you can leverage it by agreeing on moderately higher rates for preferential treatment during the holiday peak.

Of course, knowing what you’ll need to store and transport can help you plan your capacity and logistics. You may need to lease additional warehouse or storage space for the holiday season. This is a critical decision, because it affects how efficiently trucks can be used to deliver goods to retail locations and/or customer locations. There are supply chain consultants that can help you manage logistical challenges during the holiday season.

Another area of concern is any additional labor that will be required to satisfy requirements to order, store, deploy and sell merchandise in an optimal fashion. You may have to recruit and train temporary workers to support inventory operations. If you own a small, single store, you might just need one or two temporary workers, but a larger operation may affect warehouse operations like picking and sorting.

Finally, you need to manage your store so that consumers can locate hot items quickly. You must also put aside enough space to receive and deploy daily shipments of new goods. Of course, you’ll also want to evaluate your store staff and hire extra cashiers or stock clerks as required.

#ShopSmall: Get Involved to Get Profitable and Make a Difference

If you own a small business, you are already providing jobs and offering great products and services to your community, but sometimes these efforts can go unnoticed. That’s where Small Business Saturday comes in. This year, on November 26, customers across the country will shop in their community and recognize the value that small businesses can bring to their local economy.


What is the Shop Small Movement?

First initiated in 2010, Small Business Saturday is an annual event sponsored by American Express, held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It is a response to shopping events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when big retailers and corporations hold massive sales in stores and online. Small Business Saturday encourages individuals to patronize their local brick-and-mortar small businesses (with 500 or less employees), reminding everyone that when they invest in a local business, they invest in their community!

The Twitter hashtag  #SmallBusinessSaturday was used to build awareness for the event, as well as allow people to tag their favorite businesses. Last year, 95 million people went out to support local businesses in their neighborhoods!


Why are Small Businesses Important?

Although the United States is home to a multitude of big-box retailers and corporations, small businesses remain important and relevant. In fact, The Houston Chronicle reports that “according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), small businesses represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms. Since 1995, small businesses have generated 64 percent of new jobs, and paid 44 percent of the total United States private payroll, according to the SBA.”

Small businesses offer employment opportunities to local residents, contribute to the local economy, and provide funds for schools and government offices.


How Can You Participate in Small Business Saturday?

American Express encourages all small business owners to participate in Small Business Saturday by making engagement in your community as easy as possible. There are free custom marketing and advertising materials available for your storefront, website and social media. Additionally, there are articles and videos with tips and advice on how to promote this event and your business, such as offering specials and deals and holding contests.


How Can Small Businesses Get Involved in their Communities?

In addition to participating in Small Business Saturday, there are many benefits when businesses get involved in their local communities. By participating, sponsoring, and donating to events, charities, or sports teams, business owners market their brand and increase their customer base.

Customers respond to businesses that care about communities; a study by Cone Communications and Echo Research found that 82 percent of individuals take corporate social responsibility (CSR) into account when purchasing products or services from a business. In addition, when employees are given the opportunity to help their neighborhood, it increases their satisfaction levels and promotes employee retention.

How can you get involved in your community? Build off the Small Business Saturday momentum and implement any of these ideas:

  • Sponsor a little league team
  • Donate supplies to a school
  • Host a charity event for a homeless shelter
  • Sponsor a garden renovation project
  • Plant trees at a local park

There are many advantages to both local small businesses and communities when the two work together. If you are in the local Atlanta area, click here to find out more information about Small Business Saturday event in your area. If you live in another part of the country, find your local host and consider participating in Small Business Saturday to promote your small business in your community.

How to Keep Your Business Staffed Effectively Through the Holidays

While the holiday season is a joyous time, it can also be a stressful time for many small business owners. Not being properly prepared can leave an employer short-staffed and unable to handle the influx of business. On the other hand, owners who face a slow season during the wintertime can face financial hardship having to pay salaries with no profit coming in. Be ready to keep your business appropriately staffed through the holidays with these considerations:


Time Off

Most staff members request to take time off during the holiday season in order to spend time with family, visit friends or take a vacation. Business owners can become overwhelmed by the time off requests, and the business can suffer as a result.

Approving time off during the holidays is tricky – if it’s not managed properly it can not only prevent the business from delivering what clients and customers want but can also create internal strife,” says Samuel Tanios, president and chief executive of Human Elements Consulting, in an article on Glassdoor.

To avoid chaos, make it a policy that employees must request holiday time off at least a month or more in advance. Consider granting time off on a first come, first served basis – just make sure to announce this decision to your team.

If you have a small team, or need all your employees at the office during peak times, establish vacation blackout days, alerting your subordinates that no time off will be granted on certain dates, or offer monetary incentives on these peak days for staff to stay motivated.


Staffing for Your Season

Busy Season

The holidays are high-grossing months for many companies. Retail stores, event planning services and catering businesses often experience a peak in business during this time. However, not having the staff to fulfill orders or handle the sales can create a backlog in fulfillment, causing stress for the owner and hurting the company’s reputation.

To avoid this, you must prepare for the holiday time by hiring extra employees at least two months in advance. This will give you a chance to properly train the new hires and be certain that they can handle the fast-paced environment that the holiday season will bring.


Slow Season

Some businesses see a significant decline in business during the wintertime. As such, owners have to make staffing decisions to account for lower sales during this time. Being responsible for paying salaries with no funds coming in can put a business in the red, and it can be difficult to make up the difference even when business picks up.

Some small business owners establish mandatory time off for one or two weeks during the holidays, when employees can use their accrued vacation time or simply not get paid. Others offer their staff the opportunity to work part-time, staggering the schedule so that the employees work during different days or times.

Don’t let the holidays hurt your business operations; prepare for a busy or slow season in advance. Two ways to get prepared, no matter what season you are entering are budgeting and lending. Start setting a budget and planning for your expected revenue. You can do this with a Business Budget Smart Sheet, available to help you start getting your spending in order. Another option is a small business loan from IOU Financial, which can help your business stabilize cash flow through the slow season, or hire and train new staff for your busy season.


Plan an Effective Holiday Party for Your Small Business

With the holiday season quickly approaching, many small business owners will be considering how they will celebrate this time with their employees and clients. Many employers host holiday parties to celebrate the season; however, as the end of the year is typical time to give out bonuses and pay increases, budgeting for these expenses is crucial. A holiday party can be a small and intimate affair or a grandiose event – but remember, as a business owner your end goal is to make money. Be thinking, “how can I use this to make employees more productive”, or “will key clients be more invested by attending?” Before sending out invitations, there are  three things to take into account when planning a corporate holiday party: your employees, your clients and your budget.


Decide how many employees you are going to invite; if you have a small team, this will be an easy choice. If you have a large workforce with hundreds of staff members, you will need to be certain that you can afford to invite them all. If you cannot, you will need to create a plan for selecting the team members you will invite.

Photo of happy colleagues holding champagne flutes at corporate party

You can choose the individuals who hold the most senior titles or who have been with the company the longest, or can focus on your star employees, such as your top salespeople. If you will not be able to invite the entire team, make sure the selection process is fair so that the employees who are not invited don’t feel slighted or overlooked.

Some bosses invite the employees’ spouses or entire families, depending on the type of event. Consider whether you will make this an option or not. The end goal of having employees attend the event is to reaffirm the hard work from the year, allow them to have some fun with co-workers, and encourage them for the year to come. Investing in employees attendance correlates to an investment in next years productivity.


A holiday party can be a good opportunity to network with current or prospective clients. You can utilize this event to introduce clients to staff members, or announce important company news or goals for the next year. Simply, a holiday party is a chance to impress your clients to increase their loyalty to your business.

Think about whether you want to invite your staff and your clients to one single event; and how you will choose who to have there. If you have a small business, such as a hair salon, a restaurant or a store, you can simply host a “Holiday Open House,” where you offer holiday treats to anyone that walks in. If you have a business that cannot accommodate a holiday party, or have VIP clients that will expect a finer affair, you will need to budget for a more elaborate event. Any event that you are inviting customers and clients to should ultimately give them reassurance in your business and generate future sales.


Once you have decided who you will invite to your office party, you need to budget for it. Consider whether you will be able to put on the event yourself, or with the help of your employees, or if you need to hire a professional event planner. If you decide on inviting over 50 people, it may be worthwhile to pay a professional instead of spending the time you can be focusing on your business, especially if the holiday season is a busy time for you. 

When deciding your budget also consider your return on investment. How much additional revenue will employees generate after their increase in motivation and loyalty to the company? Will customers recommit to using your service, or purchase more products when they are able to meet the team they are supporting? Ask these questions to start understanding what reasonable spending will look like for your small business, and if you need assistance in budget tracking, consider using a Business Budget Smart Sheet.

Although a holiday party can be a big investment, it can provide many benefits to your company, such as increasing employee retention, customer loyalty, and higher sales. It may be advantageous to secure a small business loan from IOU Financial to invest in this event to grow your business in the next year! Contact us today to get a loan in under 24 hours!

Best Ways for Small Businesses to Plan for the Holidays

The holiday season means different things to business owners; while some experience a slow season, others have a surge in profits. Regardless, all small business owners need to prepare for this season, or your business could be negatively affected.


Plan for Holiday Recognition and Marketing

You must plan and budget for how you will recognize the holidays; realistically consider how much you can allocate to holiday decorating and recognition so that you don’t put your business in financial risk.

Some businesses simply hang a few holiday decorations, while others transform their entire office space. If your business has customer facing foot traffic, consider getting a few estimates for hanging lights, displays and installations. If your business caters to children, you may consider hiring actors to play Santa and Mrs. Clause, which must be accounted for in your budget.

If you will be offering specials or discounts during the holiday season, allocate a marketing budget to advertise those deals. Whether you will run online ads, send out in-home mailers or give out coupons, you must have the funds to spend on marketing to alert your customers of your plans.


Plan for a Holiday Party

Most business owners put on a holiday party during the season, but you must decide how elaborate it will be and who will be included in your guest list. Some business owners choose to host small holiday parties for their employees, while others hold large events with VIP clients, employees and their families.

Even a small holiday party can cause a financial strain if not properly planned for. Since most employers typically give out bonuses and annual raises during this time, it may be difficult to commit to another large expense simultaneously, which is why it is essential to start planning now.

Investing in a larger event can provide you with an opportunity to network with business associates, partners and important clients all in one place. You can take this time to announce important company milestones and plans for the following year. Large company parties may require significant preparation and a large investment, so it may be wise to get estimates from professional event planners beforehand.


Prepare for a Slow or Busy Season

A busy or slow season can be a determinant of whether you are open or closed for the holidays; if you anticipate a slow time, consider closing your doors for a few days rather than paying operating costs. If the holidays are your busiest and most profitable time, create a holiday schedule in advance so that your employees know when they are scheduled to work. Remember that you have to pay full-time employees overtime for working on holidays, such as Christmas.

To be able to handle the holiday rush, you may need to hire additional staff as well as have the time to train them. Make sure that all your employees are aware of any holiday specials you are going to introduce, such as special merchandise, a holiday menu, discounts or sales.
The holidays can be a financially stressful time for many business owners, but finances don’t need to add to those stresses. Consider what a small business loan from IOU Financial could do to help your business’ cash flow. Contact us today to find out how we can approve you for up to $150,000 in under 24 hours.