Business on a Budget: Smart Spending Tips for Business Owners

For new and experienced business owners, balancing income and expenditures is never as easy as it seems. There is a qualitative cost to every decision made, and extreme cost-saving measures can make it hard to attract employees. Spending too little on marketing can cause a business to become invisible to potential customers, too.

Short-term profits can inspire investor confidence but sustaining a company over the long term requires a different kind of thinking. Retaining employees that can grow a company is hard, especially in an era when the internet allows employees to search for a new job with a click of a button. Employees need to be motivated to maximize their output—and that motivation often comes from feeling like they’re being invested in.

Cutting corners isn’t worth it if it kills a business’s image or employee morale. Here are the basic ways owners can spend their money wisely while still investing in the future.

Employee Benefits That Matter

Sometimes business leaders assume that “networking opportunities” are a great way to attract young professionals. While this is true for extroverts who want to build a name for themselves, many entry-level employees are more concerned with basics like health insurance. Older employees may also be seeking good 401k contributions, and time off matters to employees who have kids or want to travel—but one thing is for sure: Free luncheons and gym memberships don’t retain employees.

Health insurance is expensive, but it’s a much better use of money than catered networking events and yoga classes. Even if your labor force isn’t facing a high turnover right now, remember that employees’ priorities change as they have families or start to face health problems. They may seem to enjoy working for you, but they may seek out employers that offer better health insurance benefits, leaving you scrambling to find their replacements.

Keep Travel Costs Low

Travel can seem like an inevitable cost of wooing new clients and establishing trust with suppliers, but now it can often be replaced with video calls. While sometimes in-person meetings are necessary for inspecting supplier facilities or other manufacturing-related work, they are often just to make meetings clearer and more efficient than the standard conference call. Video calls offer a perfect balance of coordinated visuals and reduced costs for all parties. Travel can also burn out employees with families at home, so it’s not always a perk that attracts or motivates employees.

If clients begin to expect visits from executives, then it can be hard to stop those visits later on, so it may be best not to start them in the first place. Plus, the money saved by minimizing travel can be passed on to customers. Since travel is such an avoidable cost, it makes sense to keep it low at first, and then increase that budget if managers insist that it is needed.

Buy in Bulk

While buying in bulk requires some foresight and planning, it can be well worth it in the long run. Basic office staples like paper and printer ink cartridges have a near-indefinite shelf life, so stocking up on them is an excellent option for reducing long-term costs. It can also make it more worthwhile for you to do specific tasks in-house—like printing large quantities of newsletters and other essential documents.

Coffee and other cheap food items should be kept around the office as well. Instead of having someone run out for coffee ahead of meetings, encourage employees to use a basic stock of coffee, sugar, and creamer to avoid wasting time or being late for the meeting. For employees who are on a deadline or simply forgot to eat lunch, having granola bars stashed in the kitchen can make a huge difference in how quickly they’re able to get back to work.

Avoid Catering

Catered lunches are nice for meetings on a tight schedule, but they’re ultimately a waste of money. In many metro areas, even having sandwiches and chips delivered can cost over $15 per serving. Pizza can be cheaper but can still add up to hundreds of dollars per month for large departments.

Catering is only necessary for meetings with clients when the meeting location is far from most lunch options. It’s great for offices in a far-flung industrial park, but for urban offices with a variety of sandwich shops nearby, it’s better to give employees time to grab their lunch. Plus, catering for a large group can be tricky due to allergies and other dietary restrictions.

Choose the Right Location

Having office space in a high-traffic area is important for businesses that need to regularly attract new clients and customers. However, the exact location of that office can be tricky to figure out, especially in expensive metropolitan areas. While downtown offices can be great for visibility and networking, they might not be feasible for new startups or companies with razor-thin profit margins.

For businesses that have a strong manufacturing focus, offices near an industrial park can be just as good as downtown space. Opening a store downtown may seem like a great way to grow a business, but if most local shops are closer to the suburbs or in another trendy area, then that downtown location may be a waste of money.

Getting the best value possible will come down to a balance of location, size, and available amenities, so be prepared to sacrifice one of those three. Depending on the location, parking and other auxiliary costs could be more expensive as well.

Seek Employee Development

Sending employees off to special training can seem like an unnecessary cost, but it can be a huge asset to a growing business. Clients care about reliability and skill and being able to tout your employees’ certifications can help significantly in competitive and crowded industries. Even if the training doesn’t matter to clients or customers, it could be worth it for small businesses that need to run more efficiently on a shoestring budget.

Carefully research training in your industry to determine which ones will offer a significant return on investment. A vaguely titled training provided by a random consultant may not be worth the money, but a certification course offered by a university could be a game-changer. Of course, local and online options are preferable to far-flung training with high travel costs.

Negotiate with Everyone

Suppliers, vendors, landlords, and even lawyers all come with a price tag. However, that price tag can be surprisingly flexible—especially if you have a long-term healthy relationship with them. In economic downturns, landlords are particularly willing to negotiate a cheaper lease instead of risking losing a major tenant.

Negotiation is an art, so special training may be necessary to get results without hurting relationships with clients and suppliers. Plus, it’s far easier to negotiate cheaper hourly or per-unit costs when buying in bulk, so start with your biggest bulk expenditures. While your savings may not seem like much at first, they’ll add up after just a few months.

Your business’s overall outlook can improve quickly with negotiation skills and other tweaks to spending practices. Even businesses with low overhead can see savings when per-employee expenditures are taken into account.

Guest Post: About the Author

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

How to Define and Implement Your Office Culture

These days, if you don’t have an appealing company culture, you can forget about attracting top talent. Office culture is defined as the environment you create for your employees, down to everything from the way your office is decorated to the core values and beliefs of the company at large. And while it may seem insignificant, this stuff matters a whole lot to your most-likely pool of applicants — millennials and Gen Z’ers — who repeatedly say they only want to work for companies that have a positive impact.

In fact, according to the 2019 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, the vast majority of millennials and Gen Z’ers say they’d leave a company that didn’t align with their values. The study found that they’d ditch an employer that didn’t have a positive impact on local communities (74 percent say they’d leave), didn’t provide a motivating and stimulating work environment (73 percent say they’d leave) or didn’t prioritize diversity and inclusion (75 percent say they’d leave). The study also showed that work-life balance and flexible working practices are non-negotiables for the talent pool.

So, if you want to be at the top of your game and get the best of the best on your team, you’ve got to develop a workplace culture that caters to them. Here’s how.

  1. Brainstorm with Leadership:

    Step one: Figure out what your company believes in. While surveying your workforce will be important, your organization’s core values should start at the top. That’s what being a leader is all about! Once you have a general idea of your cultural foundation, send out a survey to all of your employees to get a general idea of what they believe in and care about.

  2. Create a Mission Statement:

    Once you’ve gathered the data, it’s time to put it into the official rulebook. Look to some game-changing companies to see what their mission statements are all about (remember, Google’s code of conduct famously used to say “don’t be evil”) and to get inspiration. Read good examples of company mission statements from Patagonia, TED and Life is Good.

  3. Brand and Promote with Your Mission Statement:

    Having a mission statement does you no good if you don’t use it to guide your company! Post it around the office and make sure every department references it in their daily decision-making. Remember to feature it in your branding, especially if you’re hoping it will attract a higher caliber of talent to work for you. Lastly, be sure to create a designated page for it on your website (and share it on social media).

  4. Hire with Your Mission Statement in Mind:

    Speaking of talent, your office culture is going to be really important when you’re deciding whom to hire. Now that you’ve got your mission set in stone, you can conduct “cultural fit” interviews, which include culture-focused questions in addition to aptitude-oriented ones. Some examples of culture fit interview questions include:

    1. Outside of work, what are you passionate about?
    2. How do you maintain a good work-life balance, even when you’re especially busy at work?
    3. What’s your view on co-worker relationships?
    4. In what kind of environment do you feel the happiest and productive?
  5. Celebrate Your Culture with New Hires:

    You’ve now got a mission statement as well as branding and employees to support it! Congratulations! Make sure you celebrate your workplace culture with every single new hire by surprising them with unique onboarding gifts and activities. On their first day, give them some company swag coupled with something more lighthearted to demonstrate your culture and break the ice, such as some funny socks or a cute mug.

  6. Designate Culture Captains:

    Perpetuating the culture of your workplace is important to ensure that it keeps its core values at the forefront as it rapidly grows and changes. But leadership can’t always be on the ground ensuring that culture is infused in every factor of business. That’s where your culture captains come in. These workers serve as culture representatives who can keep your mission statement alive through events, games, and awards.

  7. Plan Regular Culture Events:

    Have your culture captains set up a monthly employee activity that involves either the whole company or the whole department, depending on the size of your operation. Getting together periodically for non-work events brings your team closer together and solidifies your workplace culture. Activities like bowling, pro sports games, escape rooms and volunteering make awesome alternatives to the standard happy hour.

  8. Reward Top Performers:

    When you see an employee or department excelling in a certain area that adheres to your company’s core values, reward them! This is the best way to perpetuate workplace culture so it’s something that your entire crew adopts. Consider instituting a monthly culture-focused award and making the prize something everybody really wants, like an extra day of paid vacation or a gift card to the best restaurant in town. Don’t skimp! The better the prize, the more your workforce is likely to take it seriously.

Here’s the thing: All prospective employees want an appealing office culture, which means that modern operations feel the need to manufacture it, and that tends to come off as forced or fake. Plus, the applicants you probably want to hire don’t pay attention to things that they don’t deem authentic. The most important thing to keep in mind while you’re building out your culture is to center it around the things you and your workforce actually care about. Be authentic and reap the rewards!

Guest Post: About the Author

Josette is the Marketing & E-Commerce Associate at The Sock Drawer. She is known as the person you want helping you, who approaches each little detail thoughtfully but also has a strong sense of humor and a whip-smart attitude. Outside of work, she loves to dance, hang out with her cool husband and kids, and inject her upbeat energy everywhere she goes!

Relocating a Business: 5 Factors You Need To Know

Relocating a business can be a very complex issue, whether you’re moving to another state or just down the street. To make everything run as smooth as possible, you need to plan the move carefully. The stakes are very high and there are a lot of things that could go amiss if you don’t organize everything down to the last detail. There are some factors you should make your priority in order to avoid future trouble.

Proximity to Transportation and Accessibility

When picking a new location for your business, one of the most important things to take into consideration is transportation options. In metropolitan areas, a large number of people rely on public transport, so if you have access to metro or bus stations it is good for both your customers and your employees. It provides the staff with a convenient and easy way to travel to work. Plenty of them might even be happy that they don’t have to get behind the wheel every day! Some people, however, find public transport intimidating and foreign so you should inform your employees about their options ahead of time. Organize a meeting with the staff before relocating and let them know about the nearby public transit options.

As for customers, you need to make sure they know how to find you and that they have easy access to your facility. Measure the doorways to make sure they aren’t too narrow and look for any step-ups that make it difficult for people to enter. If some concerns are raised, discuss them with your landlord before you sign a lease or your company could be subject to a lawsuit.

Staffing

There are a few main factors you need to consider concerning your staff.  First, you need to figure out the number of employees you need at your new location. If the new facility is bigger than the previous one, there might be a need for increased staff numbers. Is it feasible to hire more people with the current profit?

Second, can you attract a new workforce? Chances are you will have to let go of some of your trusted old employees as you move to a new location and you might need to hire new staff. If the living conditions in the area aren’t so good, you might find it difficult to find new people to hire. Looking for and training a new group of qualified and skilled workers can take some time at first. Do not forget that new people in the workplace might need some help fitting in. Team building exercises will bring your workers closer together and they will have fun in the process!

Hidden Costs

Looking at the rental price of your new building can be deceiving. Make sure not to take every expense at face value when relocating, as it can be easy to overlook many of the less obvious costs. When comparing two locations price-wise, don’t forget to also include expenses such as utilities, parking lots, flooding possibilities and snow removal costs. The new location might seem more expensive when you first look at the rent, but it could be the more economical choice overall if the price includes heating, cooling, wifi, parking and so on.

This requires a lot of research, especially if you’re moving to another country. Some things to look into are good infrastructure (you don’t want to deal with common power outages!), legal and regulatory structure and the culture. Ensure that the people have adequate education and if local universities provide courses that fit your company’s needs.

The move itself can also be costly and sometimes won’t go the way you planned. To avoid any hassle, you could hire a reliable logistics management services provider. They will do all the heavy lifting so you don’t have to.

Keeping Both Locations Running

This is a thing that can seem obvious at first, but keeping both locations running during the move is extremely difficult and requires a lot of cautious planning. If you don’t think this through properly, you might end up with a lot of unhappy customers! Either figure out a plan to keep the business running during the move, or make sure your customers are notified ahead of time that you’ll be taking a break for some time. Explain the issue to them and let them know when you will be open again. You will probably still end up with some complaints because not everyone will see the announcement in time, so beware!

Apart from the customers, it is also crucial to update your corporate address if you want to avoid orders and mail going to your old facility. Check if all suppliers and delivery services have your new location in mind.

Proximity to Amenities

While access to transportation options may be the most important thing to consider when looking at the facility’s surroundings, it is also a good idea to check if there are local amenities available in the area.

Having lunch options within walking distance is a sure way to keep your staff happy. Inform them about any shops, convenience stores, cafes or gyms you find nearby. Having the ability to run some errands or do some quick grocery shopping after work will be much appreciated by your workers. Keeping employees satisfied isn’t only a responsibility, but a pleasure as well.

Conclusion

Moving can cause a lot of headaches for both you and your staff. This list doesn’t cover all the issues you might face when dealing with such a complicated task, but it will surely help keep you on the right track. It is a risky business, but if you plan ahead carefully and strategically, success is nearly guaranteed.

Guest Post: About the Author

Nick is a blogger and a marketing expert currently engaged in projects for Media Gurus, an Australian business and marketing resource. He is an aspiring street artist and does Audio/Video editing as a hobby.

8 Proven Methods for Small Businesses to Save Money

Small businesses frequently go through cycles of strong and weak profits. When profits are low, you probably will want to find time-tested ways to save money. You do this by cutting costs and reducing your overhead without sacrificing sales. Here are 8 proven ways for your business to save money:

  1. Outsourcing:

    You can save money by outsourcing tasks that are not central to your business mission. This keeps your full-time staff as small as possible while outsourcing work not performed by staff. You can hire contractors and consultants as needed for specific tasks, often at a lower all-in rate than needed for an employee with the same skills.

  2. Advertising:

    You can continue to reach customers without traditional advertising. Rather, low-cost alternatives are available that will save you money. One alternative is to spend your marketing money on public relations rather than advertising. For example, a good PR strategy can get your company mentioned as authoritative sources in media outlets and publications. Inbound marketing using SEO and social media can be just as effective as conventional advertising in increasing traffic to your website.

  3. Vendors:

    Review your relationships with your vendors to see whether you can negotiate lower costs. Vendors want to keep their goods and services flowing to their customers and might be willing to charge less if that allows them to maintain their business volume. You can negotiate on a huge range of costs, from phone service to office supplies. The nice thing is that there is no penalty for trying to lower vendor prices, whereas forgone potential savings are the penalty for failing to negotiate.

  4. Cloud:

    If you don’t already live in the cloud, now is a great time to move in. Cloud-based solutions can save you big money compared to the cost of acquiring and operating your own expensive hardware. Cloud-based systems host your databases and software. SaaS (software as a service) costs an annual fee that can be much cheaper than developing or running your software in-house, such as payroll and ER systems.

  5. Telecommuting:

    Everyone can win when you embrace telecommuting if that’s possible for your business. You can save on office costs and ongoing operating expenses. Your employees save commuting costs and enjoy a better work experience. The result is to produce work products with minimal overhead. You can start with some of your office staff and work towards expanding telecommuting as convenient.

  6. Green:

    Happily, the moral imperative to go green coincides with cost-cutting. You’d be surprised how little things can add up to big savings. For instance, turn off machines when not in use, and use a printer that prints on both sides of the paper. Better yet, reduce your use of paper by adopting a paperless office concept. Where feasible, buy recycled supplies and equipment, utilize efficient lighting, and recycle your own waste for money.

  7. Debt:

    It might save you money to consolidate your various debts into one, convenient loan that charges a reasonable interest rate. If you have to make several debt payments per month, consolidation can cut it down to a single lender. If you choose a lender like IOU Financial, you can have your payments deducted daily from your bank account, keeping your payments affordable and automatic.

  8. Maintenance:

    Are you paying for daily cleaning services at your office? Perhaps you can cut back on this expense by training staff to keep things clean and neat. With proper staff training, you may be able to cut back to weekly cleaning without noticing the difference.

Conclusion

We’ve touched upon several ways for you to cut your business costs with little or no sacrifice to your operations. There are many more methods to save money, and we will no doubt return with additional suggestions in a later blog. Remember, it takes just a little extra effort to implement money-saving protocols that will continue to save money for your business over the long run.

Does Your Small Business Need a Legal Team?

As with most business advice, the answer to whether or not your small business needs a legal team isn’t a straightforward ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

There’s no doubt that your business needs some form of legal aid, as trained attorneys and paralegals can help ensure that your business is legally sound. They’ll be able to spot issues in your operations that you might not have considered, and they’ll work with you to come up with solutions. But at what capacity is necessary for your business?

Legal Considerations to Keep in Mind

Picking the right legal help requires understanding the potential roadblocks you might face. So, with that in mind, here are some common legal issues for small businesses:

Business Structure
Entrepreneur cites failing to choose the right business structure as a huge issue small businesses often face. Setting your business up as a sole proprietorship versus an LLC or S Corporation has its own set of disadvantages and benefits, for example, that not many account for.

Copyright
There’s no shortage of small businesses nowadays, with new ones popping up almost every month. Protecting your name, branding, and products under copyright laws (remember that each of these is protected by different laws) allows you to differentiate from your competition.

Cybersecurity
A strong cybersecurity protocol is important in any business, especially in today’s tech-heavy world. Having lax cybersecurity policies could lead to a huge data breach, thereby slowing down operations and costing your business.

Factors you Need to Consider

With these situations in mind, here are some ways to help you choose the legal aid that suits your business best:

Understand the landscape
Many business owners shy away from seeking legal services because of the misconception that they cost lots of money. Small Business Trends’ list of low-cost legal services can be a great starting point for your business, as you’ll be able to get a quick overview of where your business needs help. Using these resources narrows down your selection of law firms that can tackle the issues that you need help with.

Set a budget
Most investments start with a budget, and seeking legal help is no different. Once you’ve surveyed the landscape, you’ll have a better price range in mind. You should also remember the different kinds of solutions available to you. A full-blown legal team costs more than a sole business lawyer, which then costs more than a quick consultancy or ad hoc team.

Keep trust in mind
You want to make sure that you trust whoever is handling your company’s legal affairs. After all, they have to know the ins and outs of your business—and they might even represent you in key meetings. An article by Special Counsel on ‘How to Choose Outside Counsel for Your Company’ points out that the best legal teams will get to know their clients on a deeper level. Firms who are worth partnering with understand the importance of cultivating a lasting relationship in order to give the best assistance. Working with someone you trust also makes it easier for you to let them into every nook and cranny of your business.

Our post on the ‘7 Ways to Avoid Financial Stress When Running a Business’ outlines that adopting shady practices can end up causing you stress in the long run. Investing in the right legal protection is exactly that—an investment—but it’s one that will save you a lot of heartache.

There are lots of factors that come into play when deciding what kind of legal aid you need. A legal team is but one of the many solutions you can adopt, so picking the right one comes from understanding the scope of your needs.

Guest Post: About the Author

Working as a business consultant for over 4 years, Alaia Catherine has found a passion in writing. Working as a freelance writer on the side, Alaia provides business advice to a variety of blogs and websites. When she isn’t writing or working, she’s trying out new restaurants with her husband near their home in Seattle.

Business Credit Scores vs. Personal Credit Score

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

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

Business Credit

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

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

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

Who Creates Your Business Credit Score

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

TransUnion

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

Equifax

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

Dun & Bradstreet

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

Personal Credit

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

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

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

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

Who Creates Your Personal Credit Score?

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

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

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

How to Establish Business Credit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should You Ever Mix Business and Personal Credit?

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

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

Guest Post: About the Author

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

2020 Technology Trends for Small Business Owners to Anticipate

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

1.    The Growth of Automation Software

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

  • Email marketing
  • Customer service
  • Data entry
  • Accounting

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

2.    Work from Home

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

3.    Social Media Marketing

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

4.    Freelance Economy

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

5.    Customer Support

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

6.    Shifts in Investments

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

Conclusion

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

How to Celebrate Women’s Small Business Month

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

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

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

  2. Identify Your Business as Woman-Owned:

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

  3. Offer and Encourage Mentorship to Young Women:

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

  4. Schedule Special Sales and Promotions:

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

  5. Get Involved in the Political Process:

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

  6. Publicize Grants to Women Owned Businesses:

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

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

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

Team Building Ideas to Strengthen Your Business

As a business owner, you ultimately must ensure that new recruits mesh well with your established team. Unfamiliarity can breed problems and inefficiencies, and it hampers proper communication. One way to bring new employees into the fold is through team building exercises. These activities help foster interdependence and trust among your employees. New employees learn to work with each other and with old-timers for the good of the team. In the end, the time and money spent on team building should be repaid many times over. What follows are several team building ideas that can strengthen your business.

Charity Run

In a charity run, sponsors donate money based on how many miles are covered by walking, running, or biking. This idea has several strong points. First, it helps a worthy cause, such as medical research or victim support. Secondly, it gets employees out of the office and helps establish interpersonal relationships. Thirdly, it’s a fantastic marketing tool that will raise your social profile. Finally, it helps promote fitness and reduce stress for your staff. Consider creating T-shirts for your staff to wear during the run and see if you can involve other organizations as well. Usual course length is a few miles or kilometers, but any length will do.

Christmas Tree Decorating

Malls, hotels, and other venues often host displays of Christmas trees during the holiday season. You might participate by having a decorating contest for teams of employees, with the winning selection submitted to the sponsor for display. Each team could be given a tree, a budget, and a few hours to acquire and apply decorations. Perhaps you’ll emphasize a theme, such as environment responsibility by allowing only recycled materials for decorations. Reward the winning team with some prize, such as free pizza. Even though there is only one winning team, everyone wins by participating in a competitive and enjoyable activity.

Scavenger Hunt

Teams of employees compete with each other to be the first to collect a list of items. A newer twist is to have each team also perform some tasks as well. A proper scavenger hunt requires a decent amount of preparation, but employees seem to love them, especially when you hand out prizes in the end. You can conduct the hunt at your office, but its more fun to pick an outdoor venue, such as a local campground. With proper preparation, this can be a hugely successful team-building activity.

Karaoke Night

Employees who would never individually go up and sing at a karaoke bar might be willing to sing in a group. You can set up teams of participants and make arrangements with your local karaoke bar to sponsor a contest. Winners should receive a fun gift, and all participants should be acknowledged.

Paintball

What better way for your staff to work off their aggressiveness than with a paintball contest. Your town probably has a nearby paintball course you can hire for the day. Organize teams of employees to compete for prizes and recognition. Paintball rewards strategic thinking, bravery, and common sense — all traits you should cultivate among your staff.

Conclusion

Team-building is well worth the expenses involved in promoting it. You can set up activities that range from modest to challenging, with negligible to substantial budgets. If you plan something elaborate that you’d like to finance with a loan, contact us at IOU Financial for a quick business loan that’s easy to repay.

7 Tips for Boosting Your Tax Refund

The tax season is slowly kicking into gear. It’s a constant struggle to keep up with the legal changes, leaving many of us with missed opportunities, pondering just how much we could have gotten in tax refunds.

In this article, we aim to help you with a few simple tips. Each of them offers a glimpse into the current law, more like a lead you can use to further find out how you can benefit most from tax refunds this year. Interested? Keep reading. 

The Power of Tax Credits

Tax credits are often mentioned to be better than deductions themselves. This is because they subtract from your tax bill in a 1:1 ratio, and not in proportion to your rate. It’s a pure “dollar-for-dollar” deal.

There are several tax credits for which you can qualify as a business owner:

  1. Work Opportunity – a credit for employers who hire candidates facing significant employment obstacles, such as food stamp recipients or ex-felons;
  2. Disabled Access – similarly to the first one, a credit for employing candidates with disabilities;
  3. Qualified Research Activities – credit for resources spent on research and development – whether for a product, software, or a patent.

Look into the tax credit regulations to know which ones you are eligible for.

Prepay

If there are any fees that should be paid in January of the following year, try to pay them off by the end of December.

However, don’t get carried away in the race to pre-pay everything and run your account balance low. Look for smaller expenditures in membership fees, software subscription renewals, office space rental, warranties, etc.

Track Mileage

Whether you are an employer or an employee, track your commute to work. Over time, the mileage can add up to a significant tax deduction. There are two ways to go about it:

  • The Standard Deduction Rate – which covers the actual mileage (the IRS adjusts the rate each year, so make sure to stay informed), and
  • The Actual Expense – which covers everything else: gas, parking fees, insurance, etc.

According to a lot of firsthand online testimonials, many have found that the standard deduction rate works best for them. If you’re having trouble tracking mileage, there are smartphone apps that can help you get accurate tracking. Plus, it’s easier to turn it into a habit.

Stay in the Loop

When it comes to taxes, changes are being implemented every year. More so for businesses than for private households. It’s expected that most of it will be difficult to follow, especially when we’re busy.

Luckily, you can hire a tax expert to help you. Together with them, you can look over your current state, where the missed opportunities are, and how to fix any possible mistakes you’ve been making so far. It’s a great way to get a leg up on your finances and to make the taxes work for you, not against you.

Your 401K

“Investing” in your 401K or IRA (Individual Retirement Account), is a great way to ensure your future money is safe from taxation. It stays that way until you make your first withdrawals, which can be a few decades from now. Look into maxing out your contributions each year, and if the company you work for has a specific percentage for matching your investment, be sure to take advantage. 

If you are a business owner, your follow-ups to the employees’ contributions can also be written off as tax-deductibles. Just make sure to consult your tax expert beforehand, because the return value depends on the payment method.  

Employee incentives

We all know about the health and retirement plans, but there are also company picnics, gifts, bonuses, and even educational assistance. These can all be tax-deductible. Again, the best way to go about it is to visit the IRS webpage and check which ones are eligible for your business.

Write off Bad Debts

While many are already familiar with bad debts, it doesn’t hurt to remind: you can write off bad debts from clients that didn’t manage to pay you out. However, this comes with numerous caveats. It depends on how much time has passed for your request to be valid, and also on how well the business is doing financially. You’re more likely to get the debt written off if the company is near foreclosure and bankruptcy.

In the End

The secret to boosting your tax deductibles lies in your knowledge. Get informed as thoroughly as you can. A lot of the abovementioned tricks are known among experienced business owners and employees as well. If possible, hire an accountant or a tax expert for help. Look for advice among your peers, as firsthand accounts give great insight into what is possible and what isn’t.

Guest Post: About the Author

Michael Deane is one of the editors of Qeedle, a small business magazine. When not blogging (or working), he can usually be spotted on the track, doing his laps, or with his nose deep in the latest John Grisham.