6 Security Tips For Small Business Websites

Website security is something that matters just as much to any business with an online presence, though the reasons vary. An enterprise-level company has a huge amount to lose from a data leak — customers might desert it, and its reputation might be left in tatters. A small business, however, is trying to get established, and its website is key to that: should it become compromised, it might completely arrest any momentum and prove very costly to address.

If you’re running a small business website, then, it’s important that you commit the necessary time and attention to maintaining a reasonable level of security. Fail to manage it, and the consequences could be dire. Here are 6 simple tips for how you can keep on top of it:

Don’t leave passwords around the office

When you’re just starting out, or you just don’t have a large enough operation to feel like a viable target, it’s very easy to form bad habits when it comes to password security — even to the extent of leaving your admin passwords on sticky notes attached to PC displays. This is a really bad idea! At some point, you’re likely to want clients, business partners and/or prospective employees to visit your office, and you can’t afford to have them learn your login details.

A lot of businesses manage to get through the digitization process without truly grasping the basics of cybersecurity, so this is your opportunity to revisit the essentials. Sure, it’s unlikely that someone who sees your password notes will do anything with them — but if someone unscrupulous doestake the opportunity to access your system, they could blackmail you for money, or leak your data just to be vindictive. Don’t take the risk.

Update your plugins when possible

Whether they’re billed as plugins, extensions, apps, or add-ons (this will depend on the CMS you’re using), you can accomplish a great deal with plugins — they’re often free, and can add a huge amount of functionality to a small site without the budget to invest in custom development.

That said, every plugin you add constitutes a fresh security risk, because it has extensive access to the main system. If one of your active plugins got hacked, the hacker may well be able to take control of your entire website — and the longer you go without updating your plugins, the more vulnerable they become to attack.

You may be able to enable automatic updating, so consider that if it’s an option, but the only thing that ultimately matters is that you install updates when they’re available.

Use two-factor login authentication

Two-factor login authentication demands more than just a username and a password to gain access to a system — it adds a second step, usually in the form of a temporary verification code sent to a phone number or email address. Add it to your website, and you’ll make your admin dashboard far harder for hackers to access. Here’s a more extensive guide to give you pointers.

Use a website host you can trust

If you’re not running any enhanced ecommerce features, and using a popular platform like WordPress, then find a suitable host to back you up. If you’re an online merchant, that’s still a great option, though you should also consider hosted ecommerce platforms because they’re designed to scale: either WooCommerce or Shopify would be a great choice, the former being a self-hosted WordPress plugin and the latter being a paid SaaS option.

Make regular site backups

Over time, the amount you have invested in your website will inevitably go up. You’ll accrue valuable content that brings in traffic, resources that establish your expertise, and (eventually) a notable level of domain authority. Leaving aside the prospect of blackmail for a moment, you still have a lot to lose from a hack — namely, the current form of your website.

Imagine that someone gained access to your admin dashboard and deleted every post on your site, or even got into your hosting account and deleted the entire website. Would you be able to recover? If you get into the habit of making and storing full-site backups, then a hack — no matter how catastrophic — won’t be able to completely shut you down, because you’ll always be able to go back to a slightly-older version.

Follow industry news

Security demands change over time, and while some threats enter public awareness, many only get mentioned in industry publications. Even if you don’t understand the underlying principles (you may not be particularly technical), it’s worth following such publications, visiting them occasionally so you can scan the headlines.

In the event that you read about a new type of hack or fraudulent activity that’s making waves, you can take action to guard your website against it, and be more alert about possible signs of intrusion. Sites like ThreatPost and the TrendMicro Business Security blog are particularly worth checking out for small business owners.

These days, the website of any small business is its primary hub: its main platform for communicating with the world, promoting its wares, and driving interest. Given that importance, it makes no sense to give security short shrift. It needn’t be especially complicated to protect your site, so follow these tips, keep an eye on developments in the website security world, and you’ll have a stronger foundation for further growth.

Guest Post: About the Author

Kayleigh Alexandra is a writer and campaign designer for MicroStartups, a website focused on the charity world, and microbusinesses. With years of experience in the sustainability, marketing and creative the industries, Kayleigh knows how to grow a business from the ground up. Visit her blog or follow her on Twitter @getmicrostarted for the latest startup and entrepreneur-based news and tips.

4 Traits You Need in an Employee for Top Notch Content Creation

Content creators are extremely valuable because they are the link that connects your business to your target audience. Content is anything that can be used to describe your company, such as text, website content, email marketing, blogs, press releases, videos and images. This helps people understand what your company is all about, learn about your products and services, initiatives, beliefs, etc.

When you have made the decision to bring on a content creator, your first thought should be what type of person would be a good fit for this position. Content is subjective, and, as such, there’s really no “test” you can give to a prospective candidate that you can give to a bookkeeper or a computer engineer, for example. However, there are certain traits that top notch content creators possess; looking for a person with these traits will help you make a smarter hiring decision.

Teamwork

Content is typically a team effort, and the most relevant and engaging content usually involves cross collaboration between different departments. As such, the best content creator will have teamwork abilities so that they can work with marketing, advertising, PR, accounting and sales to get the most comprehensive vision of the company and the goals that the content should set out to achieve. 

This type of individual should be able to ask the right questions and actively listen to the answers. They should respect the fact that various people may have competing ideas or objectives, and work together to come up with a similar direction. Finally, they should be open to making changes to the content based on feedback from others.

Creativity

Content truly relies on creativity and being open-minded and innovative in order to construct a memorable customer experience. It’s advantageous to review the portfolio of any employee you are considering hiring to view their past projects and gauge how creative they are.

Ask about the person’s creative process, and what they use as inspiration for their work. What do they do if they have writer’s block? How do they make sure their work is unique and distinct from the competition?

The answers to these questions will give you more insight about the candidate’s preferred working style and if they would be a good fit for your team.

Communication Skills

Excellent communication skills are a must when it comes to content creation, and include oral, written and interpersonal abilities. Creativity is only one step of the puzzle, but being able to express those ideas to the right audience, formulate thoughts and create a finished product is the most important step.

This is a great topic to ask about when you are checking the employee’s references, as communication skills can easily be judged by former colleagues and employers. Ask about how the person got along with others, how they resolved conflict and how well they were able to evaluate the knowledge and receptiveness of the target audience when creating content.

Drive

There is a lot that goes into creating the best content, such as:

  • Researching the latest trends in the industry
  • Keeping up with the competition
  • Interviewing experts
  • Finding the best images
  • Learning the needs of the customer
  • Understanding audience preferences
  • Experimenting to see what works better

These qualities are truly up to the individual to learn and implement, and, as such, the right candidate should be driven, self-motivated and results-oriented. You want the person who makes it their mission to create top notch content, and will stop at nothing to get there.

The most experienced and qualified content creators do not come cheap, and you will have to make a competitive offer to bring them on your team. However, don’t let this stop you from hiring the right employee, as they will surely bring a great return on your investment. Instead, consider getting a small business loan to offset this cost. Contact IOU Financial today to learn about our easy and safe process to get you funded in as little as 48 hours.

6 Ways to Increase The Value Of Your Business Over Your Industry Competitors

Instead of trying to shoot for the moon in terms of your company’s aggregate value, it might be better to measure your success against the competition in your industry. If you can increase the value of your business compared to those in your industry, you will capture market share and be that much closer to achieving market dominance.

Here’s how to do it.

Understand Customer Options and React Accordingly

The most important thing you can do as a business owner or manager is put yourself in the position of a prospective customer in need of your product or service. Get a sense of the options on the market. Consider what differentiates the competition from your business. This is not to say you should steal the competition’s ideas; rather, you can enhance your offerings all the more if you understand what customers have to choose from.

Offer Something Unique

Variety is the spice of life. Differentiate your offerings from that of the competition and your business will ramp up. Even if you offer a product or service with a subtle difference, this unique twist will distinguish you from the rest of the competition. Just make sure the distinguishing factor makes your offerings better than the competitors’ products in some way.

Invest in Your Online Footprint

It is not enough to simply have a website or a Facebook account. Your digital marketing efforts should be a major component of your overall marketing campaign. This means you should have a website with a regularly updated blog, social media accounts on all the major platforms, an active email account and other web-based touch points. Make your company accessible through the web and it will be that much easier to establish a rapport with your target audience. After all, those who seek you out online are inclined to spend for your products and services as they have displayed an active interest in your line of business.

Make Your Employees the Heart and Soul of Your Business

No single man or woman can operate a business of considerable size on his or her own. It is important to recognize the fact that at the end of the day, your employees really are your business. Hire the best employees on the market, invest in your staff to retain their services and your company’s value will eventually surpass that of the competition. 

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse of the Industry

Forewarning of industry advancements and other events of significance really can give your company a meaningful competitive advantage. Continue to research and analyze the happenings in your particular industry. If research is not your thing, consider outsourcing research and writing projects to freelancers who can add insightful content to your online blog. Remain in the loop and your informational edge will provide your company with a significant competitive advantage across posterity.

Consider Acquiring a Competitor

One of the best ways to enhance your company value is to scoop up a competitor. Do your research, determine which companies would provide a strategic competitive advantage and make a bid. Bring the right company into the fold and you will immediately boost your company’s value. Perhaps more importantly, buying out the right competitor can directly eliminate a large part of the competition.

Keep Pushing to Expand Your Market Share

Focus on enhancing the value of your business and it will not be long until you emerge from the pack. Capture additional market share with each passing day and you will get better prices from suppliers, have more leeway with business partners and enjoy lower overhead costs. Continue to push for more and more customers until the competition gives in. You might even win enough market share to attract attention from a larger company looking to merge with or acquire your business.

Guest Post: About the Author

Marla DiCarlo is an accomplished business consultant with more than 28 years of professional accounting experience. As co-owner and CEO of Raincatcher, she helps business owners learn how to sell a business so they can get paid the maximum value for their company.

How to Get Customers to Engage With Business Text Messaging

Engaging with customers is necessary to promote customer loyalty, increase sales and fight the competition. Keeping an open line of communication between your customers and your brand is important, but what is the best way to do so?

There are so many different ways to promote engagement—from online ads, social media presence, content creation and email marketing. While all of these can be beneficial in their own right, it’s surprising that business owners often overlook the most effective and least expensive way, text messaging!

Did you know that almost every single American (95% to be exact) owns a cellphone? It’s rare to see any adult, or even child, without a phone in their hands. While you have to wait for your customer to check their email or visit a social media site, a text message just pops up on their phones! This is a much faster and effective way to communicate with your clients.

Here are four proven strategies to get your customers to engage with business text messaging:

Encourage Opt-Ins

In order to utilize SMS marketing (text messaging) with your customers, you must encourage them to give you their phone number. This is usually most effective when a certain reward is offered.

For example, you can offer an exclusive discount, a special promotion, or a free product or service for signing up to your list. Alternatively, you can explain the benefits customers can expect from your text messages—such as being the first to hear about new products and sales.

Follow the Law

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is very strict when it comes to enforcing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The Act states that businesses must disclose in a “clear and conspicuous” manner the fact that they plan to text their customers if they provide their mobile numbers.

Consider adding this text anywhere you allow your customers to share their mobile numbers:

  • “By participating, you consent to receive text messages sent by an automatic telephone dialing system.
  • Consent to these terms is not a condition of purchase.”

Be very careful about following this act, because failure to do so can leave you with a hefty fine!

Create a Personalized Experience

It’s advantageous to segment your customer base by certain factors, such as age, shopping preferences, location and so on. That way, you can personalize your SMS communication based on these aspects instead of sending general texts to all of your customers.

This extra step will make your texts more valuable to your clients, and will promote their interest level in reading the texts and frequenting your business.

Insider Information

People love to feel special, so why not help them to feel like a VIP and offer them insider information via your texts? Send photos of sales racks the day before the event, share your plans for the future and pics of new merchandise before its displayed in the store.

This exclusive information will pique your clients’ curiosity, and will keep them waiting for the next text!

If you truly want to invest in your SMS marketing strategy, hiring a professional or purchasing special software can be beneficial. IOU Financial recognizes that small businesses may not have the budget for this, so we are happy to secure a small business loan for any of your needs. Contact us today to learn more!

Are You Forgetting the Offline Marketing of Your Online Business?

So, you’re running an online business or an e-commerce shop, and there’s no need to advertise your business offline?

Wrong!

You should be jumping at every opportunity to promote your products and services and drive offline traffic using both innovative and conventional methods.

Here are a couple of ideas on how to do that.

Local Newspaper Ads

It’s true that many people, particularly younger audiences, use digital sources when it comes to consuming news and learning about new products, but according to a recent media consumer survey conducted by Deloitte,55% of respondentsstill use newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio as their main sources of information.

Bearingthis in mind, you should target your audience with ads in local newspapers.

Moreover, many colleges and high schoolshave their newspapers which means that even if your product and services are aimed at younger people, you can reach them throughthis old-school medium.

Both ofthese options offer you low-cost advertising.

Join Your Local Chamber of Commerce

This is a no-brainer as your local Chamber of Commerce will help you increase brand awareness and make your business come off as more legit in the eyes of your prospects.

For example, if a company is a member of the Chamber, 43% of consumersare more likely to purchase from it.

Besides boosting the reputation of your business, this membership will also positively impact your local SERP rankings, as every chamber has a website. In other words, you’ll be listed on their website and this will put you on your prospects’ map.

Attend Trade Shows

Trade shows and other industry events present you with a great opportunity to build and expand your network, showcase your products and services, and attract new customers.

You will meet a lot of interesting people and possibly strike up some business relationships.

The trick is to prepare yourself thoroughly and promote your business in the best possible light by investing in custom branded bannerswhich will make your booth or display table stand out.

Apart from being in attendance, you should also consider becoming a speaker at such events. This way, your business will gain additional exposure, and you’ll establish yourself as an authority in your niche.

Use Branded Merch

Pens, tote bags, baseball caps, t-shirts, and other ordinary items with the logo of your company on easily turn into powerful advertising tools that keep on giving and building awareness.

Instead of slipping potential customers or business partners your business card, you should give them something that they can actually use. You can be sure that they’ll wear the t-shirtor put their data on the flash drive you gave them.

Unlike a business card, these objects have another purpose other than simply promoting your business.

Finally, whenever people use that flash drive, they’ll see your logo and company name which means that you’ve managed to integrate your brand into their daily routine. This is the brand repetition with a twistsince people have learned how to successfully ignore advertising, but branded merch also provides value which makes it hard to be oblivious to.

Help Your Audience

Freebies don’t always have to be tangible.

You can offer to help your prospects and help them learn something new or solve their problems.

Just like you write blog posts and create how-to guides and videos for your online marketing, you can also do the same in real life.

You can host free seminars or make guest appearances at local radio shows and talk about some of the most common pain points of your audience, and answer their questions.

Educational workshops are another way of getting in touch with your audience and offer them something of value.

Cross Promotions With Complementary Businesses

By joining forces with a company which offers complementary products or services, especially if it’s a brick-and-mortar business, you can find a great offline channel to promote your offer in a context.

Another good idea is to partner with a local business with a strong offline presence but no online experience and reach. This partnership can be beneficial for both sides as you can be featured in their offline promotional efforts and vice versa.

Leverage Guerilla Marketing Tactics

These unconventional methods can draw your audience’s attention without spending a fortune.

Graffiti allows you to spread the word about your business by using dull city walls as a canvas. They’re highly visible and it’s hard not to take notice. Just make sure to obtain all the necessary permits.

Leaving sticky notes at random places such as coffee shops, libraries, or bus stops is a great way ofcapturing people’s attention in a subtle and yet memorable way.

Or you can sneakily leave branded pens at banks or other places where people might need them,

As you can see, these methods are pretty simple and straightforward, and by neglecting offline marketing, you’re leaving too much money on the table.

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.

How to Perform an SEO Audit of your Website

The main goal of any website is to attract as many visitors to it as possible. Organic search traffic, meaning traffic that is not paid for, accounts for over half of all site visitors. The best way to increase organic traffic is to have your site show up on the first page of Google search rankings.

Since Google is the world’s most popular search engine, with 3.5 billion daily searches around the world, it’s advantageous to design your website in a way to maximize results. This will help you attract more audience and increase your brand awareness and sales.

The best way to achieve this is to conduct a yearly SEO audit of your website to catch errors that could be hindering the process. This is just a fancy way of saying that you need to verify that your site has the necessary aspects needed to help the Google crawl bots that scan your site move it to the top of the search results.

How to Conduct an SEO Audit

Verify Google Indexing

If you want your site to show up in Google results, Google needs to include all the pages into its index. The very first step of your SEO audit should be to check Google index; if your site is not listed there, it’s a huge problem since it will never show up in Google searches.

Visit Google Search Console and enter your homepage link or the link of a specific sub-page to make sure Google has indexed it. If you find that your site is not indexed, you can manually submit sitemaps to aid the process.

A very important tip is that Google shouldn’t index your page just once, but keep indexing it to keep it relevant and at the top of search results. This is done by adding new content (videos, blogs and graphs), as well as updating older content. The more Google bots index your site, the more visitors you should be getting.

Conduct a Website Crawl

Since Google has special bots that analyze your site, it’s important to see what they would see. This is possible with website crawl tools, which are available as free and paid versions (Beam Us Up).

This is the best and fastest way to find errors on your site, duplicate content and broken links. Some features will analyze the length and quality of your titles and meta tags as well as assess bounce rate (how quickly your audience leaves your site or a specific page) and conversions (how many people click on a link or buy a product).

Verify Company Name Search Results

Remember that most people are not going to enter your website link when searching for you online, but your company name. Unfortunately, other sites may be competing for that search term, especially if it is a generic word or phrase.

Write your company name into Google to verify that it’s the first organic result that pops up. If it’s not, your business is likely going to another company, which is a problem.

The good news is that you can take measures to correct this issue by creating a stronger online presence for your website. This can be accomplished in five steps:

  • Build branded links
  • Reach out to well-known brands and influencers to mention you on their sites
  • Create business directory listings
  • Create a Google Business listing
  • Create social media accounts

While it’s not necessary to financially invest in this process, it can be extremely helpful. Hiring a professional marketing company to make your site SEO-friendly can be a great ROI. If you need financial help with this goal, turn to IOU Financial. Visit our site at www.ioufinancial.com to learn how you can qualify for a business loan in just 24-48 hours.

9 Tips to Create an Engaging Email Marketing Campaign

Email campaigns are so popular and thoroughly analyzed that it seems impossible to add something new or improve the process. However, things are changing and evolving so rapidly that even email marketing keeps advancing year after year.

Every once in a while, industry leaders and clever marketers come up with something fresh and exciting. There are all sorts of hacks, tools, and tactics to test here, but we want to select the most promising features only. In this post, we will show you nine tips to create an engaging email marketing campaign.

1.   Write a Standout Subject Line

A subject line may as well be the most critical element of an email message. How come? The reason is very simple – it is the first thing receivers see in their inbox. This is why each subject line you create has to be eye-catching and attractive.

The best examples usually include details such as:

  • Numbers: People love when you quantify statements.
  • Humor: Everybody likes a good joke.
  • Emojis: If well chosen, visual components can be very interesting.
  • Questions: Posing questions, you immediately invite subscribers to engage.

You can try anything else that the target audience might seem amusing, but these solutions work well on almost all occasions.

2.   Segment and Personalize

Marketers who do not segment and personalize emails in 2019 are certainly not going to keep pace with competitors. You have to divide the target audience into different segments like new leads, returning customers, and others. Of course, each of these groups demands a different content.

But you need to go one step further and personalize messages. Start with a name since reports prove that emails with names in subject lines have a higher open rate percentage.

Jake Connor, a digital marketer at Assignment Holic UK, claims that personalization has to go beyond names: “The goal is to tailor the message so as to fit the subscriber’s previous interactions with your brand. For instance, someone who already bought one of your products may want to learn more about similar items from your portfolio.”

3.   Keep It Concise and Well-Structured

This goes without saying, but too many content creators still don’t pay attention to the style of email writing. Keep in mind that emails have to be concise and straightforward because nobody wants to read more than one page of text.

Essay writing services always suggest using enough whitespace to divide each unit and make your email eye-pleasing. At the same time, you need to create a nice structure with several paragraphs, introduction, body part, and a very logical conclusion.

4.   Offer Real Value

You don’t launch email marketing campaigns just to remind subscribers of your existence. On the contrary, you must have a good reason to address followers and add real value to your messages. What does it mean exactly?

It means you need to create content that really means something to your fans. For instance, prospects who are already near the end of the sales funnel could receive an exclusive discount. It’s a great way to keep them engaged and ready to make the first move.

On the other side, subscribers who are still getting acquainted with your business require a more subtle approach, so you can send them educational content such as infographics, industry reports, tutorials, and so on.

5.   Organize Q/A Sessions

This is the email marketing model we don’t see too often even though it has a huge interaction potential. Namely, you can organize Q/A sessions and let subscribers ask you anything they want brand-wise. Invite them to send you questions throughout the week, while you can collect the best inquiries and answer in the next newsletter. The hack makes people feel acknowledged and serves as a genuine loyalty booster.

6.   Add Only One CTA

The golden rule of email marketing is that one message must contain only one call to action (CTA). We are not suggesting that you shouldn’t add several CTA buttons throughout the content, but each one has to lead to the same landing page or some other type of external content.

This is quintessential because multiple CTA options can confuse your audience and stop them from taking any action. Of course, it would be a disaster for your campaign, so you better make sure to think it through carefully and select only one CTA that serves your business objectives at a given moment.

7.   Use Digital Tools

After everything you’ve read so far, you probably understand that email marketing can be pretty difficult if you do it single-handedly. But instead of doing everything alone, you should make use of digital tools to improve and speed up the process. It’s not possible to mention all tools here, but some of the practical platforms include:

8.   Schedule Emails Cleverly

Although 91% of users have no issues with promotional emails, it doesn’t mean you can bombard subscribers with everyday messages. You must schedule emails cleverly to make the biggest impression on potential customers.

Firstly, make sure to send newsletters regularly. It can be once a week or every 15 days, but it’s crucial to be consistent. Secondly, you should follow big industry events, product launches, and holidays with the corresponding emails.

A good plan of activities is mandatory because it’s not recommended to send more than eight or nine promotional emails monthly.

9.   Measure the Results of Your Campaigns

The last tip is also obvious, but we must not underestimate it. You can’t allow yourself to rely on your feeling or guts. Instead, do your best to measure the results of your campaigns and check the fundamentals:

  • Open rate
  • Click-through rate
  • Conversions and bounce rate
  • List growth
  • Unsubscribers
  • Email sharing and forwarding rate

Conclusion

Email campaigns may be the oldest channel of digital marketing, but it doesn’t mean they cannot get any better. On the contrary, only state of the art tactics can guarantee results and make your emails more attractive than competitors’ content.

We made this post to explain to you nine tips to create an engaging email marketing campaign. Keep our ideas in mind and let us know in comments if you have other useful suggestions – we would love to hear them!

Guest Post: About the Author

Lilian works as an EssayMama. She also works as an editor at australianwritings and assignment masters. Lilian loves doing Edu Birdie reviews. She writes for top essay writing service.

4 Things Small Businesses Must Include in Their Budgets

Budgeting is to business as oxygen is to life: Without it, you die. The reason budgeting is vital to the health of a small business is that it is your GPS device for telling you where you are supposed to go and where you are actually heading. You use the budget to track business expenses, cash on hand, revenue needed and received, and other items to know whether your business is succeeding. The differences between your projected and actual budget numbers are your early warning system when things start to go wrong — or your confirmation that you are on the right track. Those differences are also a call to address problems by changing what you are doing.

Bottom line, your budget tells you how much money you have, how much you must earn and how much money you will have to spend. Importantly, it also tells you how much you might need to borrow to plug any cash shortfalls and to finance your growth. To know these things, you should include in your budget the items listed below.

Required Budget Items

Your budget might have dozens of line items, but they can all be organized into four groups of items that every budget must track: Sales, costs, profits and cash flows.

Sales and Other Revenues

These figures are the foundation of your budget. You can’t spend money unless you make it, and you don’t want to overestimate how much you’ll make by donning rose-colored glasses. Your estimates should be conservative but realistic — if they turn out to be too conservative, well, that’s a good thing. On the other hand, bloated estimates could leave your business floating belly up.

Estimating your revenues is hardest if you are just starting up your business, because you don’t have any prior-year data. That’s why you did extensive research by talking to other owners in your same field, undertaking market research, and relying on your knowledge from previous jobs.

Be sure to include, if appropriate, estimates for sales allowances and returns, which you subtract from gross sales to calculate net sales.

Total Costs and Expenses

To make money, you must spend money– those are your costs and expenses. You should categorize your costs by type:

  1. Fixed costs: These are costs that remain the same independent of your sales numbers. They include rent, insurance, property taxes, leased furniture and so forth. While these costs are called fixed, they are not carved in granite. “Fixed” just means that it will take a while (up to a year and maybe longer) to change these costs.
  2. Variable costs: These are costs that vary directly with sales volume. They include the costs of merchandise, raw materials, labor, utilities, freight, inventory and alike.
  3. Semi-variable costs: These are costs that can slowly vary with the volume of business. For instance, they include the costs of salaries, marketing, communications and various elements of overhead.

Profits

Profits, or net income, are revenues minus all expenses. Ultimately, your business won’t succeed unless it can generate profits. Your budget should include estimated  interest and income tax expenses when projecting profits. If your budget tells you that it will take years before you might begin making profits, you should re-evaluate your business model and see if you can operate until the profits begin rolling in.

Projected Cash Flows

Lack of profits can slowly poison your business. Lack of cash can stab it in the heart. Your cash flows revolve around collections and disbursements. The timing of both will reveal whether your cash inflows and outflows align. To some extent, you can try to accelerate collections and delay disbursements when revenues fall short or unexpected expenses arise. Your budget will indicate when you might have to inject more cash into your business, either by contributing additional capital or taking out a loan. If the latter is required, contact us at IOU Financial for a quick working capital loan on easy terms and convenient daily repayments.

Budget Templates

You don’t have to build your budget from scratch. We recommend our Business Budget Smart Sheet, which will help you analyze your spending patterns, streamline areas of overspending, gauge the cash flow impact of fixed and variable costs, and much more.

Small Business Owner’s Guide to Podcast Marketing

 Small businesses need to find their voice. Building a loyal audience and customer base around your brand has never been as important as it is today. In modern business, content marketing plays an essential role in promoting your company’s mission and vision and stats tell the tale. Content marketing is used by 86% of B2C marketers, while that number rises to 91% for B2B marketers.It seems that as long as you have something relevant to say and are willing to present it in an attractive manner, your message will be heard.

On the road to discovering your company’s voice, you might want to speak up! One of the more attractive methods of content marketing is, in fact, podcast marketing. Now sure, not everyone will feel comfortable exposing themselves directly to an audience but there are a bunch of reasons why you should give podcasting a go.

For starters, podcasts are becoming more important because they are both a great source of entertainment but also an amazing educational tool. It is a great way to build a close relationship with your audience. Another benefit is that podcasting as a medium of communication is a lot more engaging than some other forms used for content marketing. Finally, making a podcast allows you to perfect your public speaking skills in a safe environment where you control what part of the conversation actually gets released.

How to Make a Podcast

You should know that even though the process might seem complicated, it’s very easy to grasp once you’ve understood the basics.

The Technical Aspect

The most fundamental piece of equipment you’ll need is something to record yourself speaking, meaning a microphone and some basic recording software. Everything else, from studio headphones to sound design software, is there to help you achieve certain levels of production quality. As your need for production quality grows, so will the need for investing additional resources. For example, let’s say you’re looking to go with a video version as well since YouTube is a great place for promoting your podcast. Like all of your company videos, you’ll need to work on giving it a professional look, which will require more investments like getting the right video recording and editing equipment, setting up a place to shoot, etc.

If you’re only starting out, try to determine a standard that you’re satisfied with while staying within budget. The production quality of your podcast is only a small portion of the story.

Content and format

With technicalities out of the way, you need to focus on the format of the show and the content of your episodes. Will it be hosted by more than one person? Are you going to have guests on? Once you’ve determined the format, you have to prepare and research what type of content would be most relevant to the audience you’d like to gather around your show.

SEO is an important part of running a small business in general, but it can add incredible value to your podcast marketing too. For instance, by researching keywords, you’ll be able to define the questions your audience needs answered and you’ll get to do the answering. It will also be of help when you’re optimizing your show notes. If you place your podcast on your website as well, each page should be optimized in order to improve its ranking. If you’re able to afford it, you can even consider adding a transcript of the full show.

Podcast Promotion

Once you’ve produced your podcast, you’ll need to upload it to relevant platforms such as iTunes, Libsyn or PodBean. However, developing a strategy for promoting your podcast is the final piece of the puzzle which will make all the difference.

Social Media Platforms

Using social media to promote your podcast is a must. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will help you build a community while enabling direct contact with your audience. Your episodes are a great source of promotional material, meaning you can use it to create quotes, sound bites, promotional posters, trailers, infographics or anything that your audience might engage with. Once you’ve gathered a significant following, you can include your followers in the production of the show. They can suggest topics for future episodes or you can even create a special, periodical Q&A show where you’ll answer their questions and give them a shout out.

Be My Guest and I’ll Be Yours

Having guests come on your show has great promotional value. They usually have audiences of their own and you will access them via that episode. The size and the engagement level of their audience is an important parameter to take into account when inviting people on your podcast. Bear in mind that they’ll be looking at your reach as well.

Aside from having guests on, you can also make guest appearances on other people’s shows. The same benefits apply here and this is an aspect of podcast marketing that doesn’t require for you to have a podcast of your own. In order to make the most out of each appearance, keep a couple of things in mind. Make sure you go on shows that have an audience which is likely to respond positively to your brand, service or product. It’s also essential that you have your company’s online information in order since your contacts, website, and social media profiles will be available in the show notes. Lastly, consider making a discount offer that only the listeners of the show can use, by offering a promo code or sharing a special landing page. That way, you’ll not only entice them to become paying customers but you can also measure the influence of each individual appearance.

Advertising Your Podcast vs. Podcast Advertising

Paying for ads to boost the growth of your podcast is great if you can set aside a budget for it. But for small business owners, podcasts are more of a promotional tool rather and that money is usually reserved to be spent elsewhere.

Podcast advertising, on the other hand, can be quite useful in more ways than one. If your audience is large and engaged enough, you can start monetizing your podcast by selling ad spots to other companies. Still, if you don’t have your own podcast, you can advertise your company on other people’s shows and reach new customers that way.

Guest Post: About the Author

Mark is a biz-dev hero at Invoicebus – a simple invoicing service that gets your invoices paid faster. He passionately blogs on topics that help small biz owners succeed in their business. He is also a lifelong learner who practices mindfulness and enjoys long walks in nature more than anything else.

5 Ways You Can Increase Employee Productivity

Are you the type of boss that wants to walk into an office with happy and energetic employees? Do you want to be certain that your staff members are meeting deadlines and contributing their fare share to the workload? Do you want to increase profits and take over the market share in your industry?

All of these objectives are only possible for companies that have truly productive employees. If you feel that your team can use some help in this area, utilize the 5 ways listed below.

Prevent Burnout

Employers highly rely on their highest performing employees with the most tasks as well as leading other team members. However, did you know that one in five of the top employees feel highly burnt out on the job?

Burnout leads even the most invested employees to become extremely stressed out, tired and disengaged. Although you want to make sure your staff members are working at optimal levels, it’s important to review the hours they spend in the office each week and make adjustments for extremely busy schedules.

Productivity Tools

Using technological solutions to promote productivity amongst your employees is extremely advantageous. For example, software such as Slack allows users to streamline communication through video-calling, file-sharing, direct messaging and notifications all in one platform. This saves time because one no longer needs to search in the inbox for lost emails, and all forms of communication are stored on a single channel in a message-forum format.

Performance Reviews

In order for your team members to be motivated to work hard, they need to know that management is aware of their efforts and appreciates it. Even the hardest working employee is likely to slack off if they feel that no one is watching.

Conducting regular performance reviews is an excellent way to work together with each employee to set individual and group goals, monitor performance and give your feedback. This way, the top performers will get positive feedback, encouraging them to persist in their work efforts, while others can get help and mentorship to improve in their weakest areas.

Contests

Healthy competition can do wonders to encourage even the most unproductive individual to improve. There are many ways you can create this in your corporate culture, from an employee of the month program to a simple contest specifically for each department.

Why not offer a $200 gift card to the top selling customer service rep for the month of June? Another great idea is offering a paid day off to a CPA who can file the most tax returns in a quarter.

Room for Growth

If you would like your employees to do their best for you, you must recognize and reward their efforts by helping them. A company that places a lot of value in helping their employees advance in their careers by promoting from within will have the best results in productivity improvement.

When the people that work for you know that when they work hard they will gain more responsibility and a higher paycheck, they will be more invested in their jobs.

There are many more ways that you can promote productivity in your office. The main thing to remember is to be involved in the daily operations of your company and motivate your staff.