7 Ways to Avoid Financial Stress When Running a Business

Running your own business requires careful thought and planning. But even with all that, it’s hard to avoid feeling financially stressed from time to time. Handling the stress productively can help your business succeed. But avoiding it in the first place can also make your job far more enjoyable. Here are seven ways to sidestep financial stress before it appears:

  1. Establish good accounting habits:

    You can avoid much financial stress by knowing your exact financial condition every day and tracking your cash flows against your budget. You should purchase either a good accounting system in-house, subscribe to an online accounting package, or hire an accounting service to do your books. You should stay on top of your accounting entries and generate reports frequently to see where you stand. Using this information, you can respond to upcoming cash crunches early and take actions, such as delayed spending, to reduce the problem.

  2. Invoice promptly:

    Always invoice immediately when providing a service or sending goods. Encourage prompt payment with terms like 2/10 net 30. That is, you’ll grant them a 2% discount if they pay in 10 days, but in any event, the full amount is due in 30 days. After sending out invoices, remember to follow up promptly. You can automate your email and SMS service to help you maintain contact with the people who owe you money.

  3. Adopt money-saving ideas:

    For example, consider renting equipment rather than buying it. This can avoid an enormous outlay of cash that you can instead deploy elsewhere. Also, renting equipment relieves you of repair costs should it break down. You can rent office space, or better yet, work from home if possible. If you have staff, see if they are interested in working remotely, as this too can save you (and them) money. Put on your thinking cap and we’re sure you’ll discover dozens of smart ways to spend less money.

  4. Keep it legal:

    One temptation some business owners succumb to when finances get tough is to cut corners and adopt shady practices. Besides being unethical, it will surely elevate your stress level rather than reduce it, and in the long run can lend you in hot water. Keep it honest, and whether you succeed or fail, you’ll know you did so legitimately.

  5. Use an LLC:

    A limited liability company can reduce stress by protecting your personal assets from your business creditors. If you run a sole proprietorship, a creditor or legal opponent can sue you in court and if they win, seize your home, car and other assets to collect the money due them. An LLC shields you from personal liability for your business debts without having to set up a corporation.

  6. Do your own marketing:

    It’s become much easier to manage our own public relations, thanks to the internet and social media. You have the opportunity to effectively engage with people on a personal basis. Social media accounts are free, and you can do online advertising in any amount that is comfortable. Build up your website with good content to improve your position in web searches. Learn the ways of the SEO masters to help build website traffic, increase prospects and convert them to customers.

  7. Use debt wisely:

    Cash flows in a small business are often uneven. This is compounded by any seasonal aspects to your business. The wise use of debt can mitigate these problems by providing injections of cash when you need it. Moreover, a short-term loan can let you take advantage of opportunities that pop up from time to time. For example, you might have a supplier who offers you a great deal on inventory. A loan could allow you to buy up the extra inventory and then use the increased profits to easily repay the loan.

Conclusion

The key to reducing financial stress is to spend less, earn more, husband your cash and rely on credit when you need it. If you are interested in a low cost, convenient business loan, contact us at IOU Financial — we’d love to hear from you.

Simplify Your Content Marketing Strategy with a One-Page Plan

The recent Content Marketing Institute release, a B2C content marketing report, took the attention of all content marketers. It’s an important annual study because it helps shed light on various aspects of content marketing that we’d otherwise be blind to.

B2C marketers with a documented strategy were found to be more effective than those without one in every aspect of content marketing. But yet, only 39% of marketers have a documented content marketing strategy.

Why do you need a one-page strategy?

We’ve already established that having a documented content strategy is far better than the alternative. For people that don’t have a written content marketing strategy, having a simple one is a great place to begin.

On the other hand, if you do have a detailed strategy but are having a hard time with it, simplifying it is going to help you figure out where the weaknesses are and possibly seal them.

A one-page content marketing strategy is advantageous regardless of the size or stage your business is in, because it helps in the following concrete ways:

  • It helps clear up holes in your overall business plan.
  • Content producers can all be sure of what exactly is expected of them.
  • It gives the business a more focused vision.

For smaller business, it might end up being all you need. Most times content strategies end up being too convoluted and ineffective.

Pinpoint the organization’s needs and goals

The first step in creating a simple content marketing strategy is to find out what the organization aims to achieve in that year. Since almost every company’s ultimate goal is growth, they share almost the same objectives. This should be outlined in documents like internal memos. They should help you outline:

  • The profit target
  • Revenue target
  • How growth is to be achieved

With all this data, the next step is to figure out what role content marketing is supposed to play in helping the company achieve those three goals. Don’t forget to have a way to measure the kind of impact content marketing will have had on the company’s end goals at the end of the year.

What to include in your one-page strategy

Having been used to writing five pages of more worth of details for your strategy, how do you know what to include and what to leave out? The following are the most important aspects it will normally boil down to:

Goals

Business goals are the most critical achievements your business should reach in the near fiscal year or over a 5-year period or so.

Examples of goals that could be outlined in your content marketing strategy include:

  • Increase market share of your product from XX% to XY%.
  • Grow percentage of sales from new products

Objectives

There is understandable confusion among marketers when it comes to differentiating between goals and objectives of a business. Goals are the general guidelines that are going to direct you over the long term and reflect the mission statement and vision of the company.

Objectives are meant to define how the goals are to be achieved – think of them as measured steps towards achieving your final goal. These should optimally have a measurable impact, should be specific and, preferably, have a completion date.

For instance:

  • Increase revenue by XX% over the next 12 months.

Strategy

This part of the document should detail how exactly you plan on achieving your goals and objectives. What qualitative impact will content marketing have on the business over the course of the next year? For example:

  • Increase awareness of the new product by launching an ad campaign.
  • Create a better customer service experience by retraining company representatives.
  • Increasing brand engagement by launching a social media campaign.

Metrics

This section should detail how you are going to measure what the content marketing strategy has achieved in the course of a year or so. These should directly reflect on the goals, objectives and strategies the business has put in place for itself.

It’s important to note that all details included in this section should be concrete and measurable. For example:

  • Awareness of the new product was increased by XX%.
  • Customer satisfaction rating improved from XX% to XX%
  • Sales revenue jumped from XX% to XY%.

Other useful details to have at hand

Once all of this is said and done, there are a few more factors you might have to consider when it comes to a content marketing strategy. A one-page strategy is a great rough guide for how the business should achieve its goals, but you may end up leaving out some finer details that are required to get to the end result.

These include:

The type of content to produce

There are several different kinds of content that can be used to reach the eventual end goals.

  • Blog posts: Blog posts are an excellent way to increase search engine presence and make your business discoverable on the internet.
  • Case studies: Case studies usually coincide with testimonials and are an excellent way to let potential customers know how your customers feel.
  • Videos: Videos have risen to the top of the content marketing world because they are one of the most engaging forms of content that can be produced. According to the data presented by HubSpot, videos are 40 times more likely to get ahead on social media than other kinds of content. Granted, it needs a larger amount of investment, but it has a proportionately higher ROI.

If you want to outsource your content to an expert, find the best essay writing service through essay review and domywriting reviews online. It will help you focus on your core areas and get you better results with the help of professional online writing experts.

To sum up

A Content Management System (CMS) is a program that helps to manage all the content you create and could have a lot of bearing on how your content appears and what kind of analytics you can harvest from your visitors.

Some of the most popular CMSs out there include WordPress, Contentful and HubSpot. Your business strategy might include new ways you can use and implement a new CMS or how you can leverage the power of the old one to your advantage.

Guest Post: About the Author

Lilian Chifley is a digital marketing expert working mainly with online writing services. Her current assignments are with Assignment Masters, Dissertation writing service and Custom writing services. When she’s not at work, she loves to go out for jogging or cycling, read motivational and inspirational books and spend time with her two young daughters.

6 Practical Tips to Manage Your Small Business Finances

Even experienced business owners can benefit from improving the way they manage their finances. This is especially true if your expertise in your product or service doesn’t extend to managing business finance. It would be a shame not to realize the full potential of your company, so we’ve assembled six practical tips to help you stay on top of your business finances.

1.   Remember to Pay Yourself

Especially in the early days, your desire to make your company a success can cause you to plow every dollar back into the business. While the impulse is admirable, it is also unsustainable. The fact is, you need to ensure that your personal finances are adequately handled so that you aren’t distracted from your business. You are central to your startup and deserve compensation for your efforts. Remember, if for some reason the business fails, you don’t want to be in a position where you never received any pay for all your hard work.

2.   Budget for Growth

After paying yourself, it’s crucial to plan for the growth of your company. For many businesses, if you are not growing, you are dying. So put aside some money to fund growth opportunities and to take advantage of favorable circumstances. Besides increasing the scale of your business, your commitment to growth will have beneficial side effects. For example, it might be easier to recruit quality employees if they see your willingness to invest in the future. Your customers will welcome improved service, and your business will realize additional value.

3.   Optimize Your Billing Strategy

Billing is part of your central accounting package, but unlike some other areas, billing can involve extra operations beyond bookkeeping. We’re talking about dealing with those occasional clients who are slow to pay. These semi-deadbeats put a dent in your cash flow, and if the problem gets out of hand, your business could be jeopardized. You can improve your billing strategy by adopting discounts, such 2/10 net 30. This gives your customers a 2% discount if they pay within 10 days. Another strategy is to sell off your problem accounts to a collection agency. You’ll take a small loss, but you’ll free up your time to concentrate on more important tasks.

4.   Be Ready to Pounce

Ideally, you will have sufficient funds put aside to take advantage of unusually favorable opportunities. For example, one of your wholesalers might offer you a special discount on inventory. Or perhaps a desirable piece of equipment suddenly becomes available at a good price. It would be a shame to lose out on these opportunities simply because your money is tied up elsewhere. Therefore, be ready to borrow money on short-notice from a convenient and fast source, such as IOU Financial. Typically, the profit opportunities from a good deal far outweigh the interest costs of a short-term loan.

5.   Stay on Top of Your Tax Payments

Taxes might be the bane of your existence, but you had better keep current with your tax obligations to avoid disastrous consequences. You will owe income tax, sales tax, maybe even property tax, that must be remitted on time. If you have trouble making quarterly payments, then switch to monthly payments. In this way, taxes become a routine monthly expense, just like all your others.

6.   Monitor Your Books

You should review your books and records at least weekly. This is your best bet for quickly becoming aware of potential problems. Part of monitoring your books is being able to diagnose any weaknesses in several important areas, including liquidity, efficiency and return on investment so you can respond quickly as problems arise.

Conclusion

There are many ways to improve your business finances, but they require vigilance and prompt action. Ensure you have enough resources available, including access to working capital, to help you fund your efforts to grow your business and remove impediments to growth. If you’d like to discuss a strategic loan from IOU Financial, we’d love to hear from you.

How To Optimize Your Business For The Digital Age

Nowadays, everything and everyone is digital. But how do you keep up? With a few simple tips on how to optimize your business, moving it online and utilizing the cloud for example, you can be on your way to fitting in seamlessly with today’s ‘phone-zombie’ crowd.

Be Realistic

You have to consider the pros and cons of doing a full-on move to the online world vs. just dipping your toe into the digital revolution. Not every business will need to drop everything and go entirely online, so consider the scope of your business and the degree of change which will be necessary. Taking down a checklist of your personal goals for your company, and seeing how many of these could be made easier or achieved by going online, might help – do you want to reach global customers easily and cost-effectively? A website would be a good idea. Do you want to become a quaint local business, and cater to the surrounding customers? Maybe the internet isn’t quite for you, or at least you shouldn’t put too much of your budget into building the perfect, modern website.

Consider Employees

“Employees are the backbone of your business, so you can’t make any major changes without considering them,” Charlie Miller, a marketer at Lastminutewriting and Writinity, says. “If you have a fast-paced, modern set of staff, then they will, most likely, have no problem with some hardware and software updates, and will most probably welcome the modernization. However, older and more conservative employees may be harder to convince, and need specific training or even just less change altogether in order to keep the office running smoothly.”

Plan Frugally

Of course, moving online isn’t going to be an inexpensive process, but you can make sure that your bank account takes the least amount of damage possible by planning ahead and making your budget stretch as far as possible. If you’re working with freelancers – which is a cost-effective method in itself since it eliminates a lot of the cost associated with traditionally hiring – make sure that you communicate and only hire at a reasonable rate. Hiring someone – traditionally or otherwise – to keep your finances in order might be a sensible idea, so that you don’t splash the cash and end up running low on funds for your business after a digital buzz.

Keep Security In Mind

“Although the internet is a wonderful place, it can also be very dangerous.” Izzy Hicks, a business writer at Draftbeyond and Researchpapersuk, warns. “Hackers are constantly trying to access normal people’s information, so businesses are a higher risk, higher reward target to them. If they can get into your data, which your digital transformation (if you don’t consider security) will give them more access points to, then it could be horrible for your security, and cause you to lose massive amounts of customer trust and possibly even money.” Invest in cyber-security, possibly even hiring some employees specifically for this purpose, to make sure that your digital move is secure.

Work With Your Employees

Not all employees will be as happy about the digital move as you are, so make sure that you don’t just sweep their concerns under the rug and actually deal with them head-on. Staging meetings where all employees are welcome to voice their opinions and ask any questions about the digital move which they might have. If you’re certain about the level of your digital changes, then make sure that you can bring all employees up to speed, and not just some. Everyone needs to feel welcome and like they can contribute and work with the digital changes to the office.

Automation Is Key

Once you’ve started your digital change, something you should consider is automation. Ideally, automation should be so stream-lined and smooth that a customer doesn’t even realize it exists in the first place – the difference between a human response and your automated response should be minimal at best. Emails and social media can benefit from automation, and giving your employees some training on implementing and working with automation could do your business a world of good.

Mobile

Finally, mobile phones are key. Almost everyone now carries a smartphone in their pocket everywhere they go, so you need to take advantage of that and make sure that you are catering to the huge mobile phone-using audience. Many prefer a smartphone over a laptop, so you’ll need to make sure your website is optimised for viewing on a smartphone screen, or perhaps even invest in the creation of an app (which could be commissioned by a freelancer) to appeal to this very modern, digital audience.

Guest Post: About the Author

Ashley Halsey writes professionally at Lucky Assignments and Gum Essays, while being involved in many projects throughout the country, which focus on both writing (and the English language) and business. As the mother of two beautiful children, she is well-used to working through adversity and getting her job done alongside bringing up the kids, and yet she still finds time for travelling to amazing places, reading fantastic novels and attending business training courses – her schedule is almost as busy as the creative insides of her mind, which is really saying something!

 

 

How Small Business Can Use Technology to Serve Their Customers Better

Without doubt, the service component of your small business can greatly influence your overall success. That’s obvious if you are a service-oriented company, but it’s just as true if you sell goods. Technology is a key asset you can employ to improve your customer service. The question is, how well do you deploy technological solutions to meet your operational challenges and improve customer service? In this article, we’ll give you several tips for upping your capabilities and responsiveness using tech solutions. Use these to build loyalty and help improve your customers’ experiences.

  1. Social media:

    You often think of social media as a part of your marketing strategy. But it can also serve to help improve your customer service. Use social media to elicit opinions from customers about what you could do to improve your business, and carefully evaluate the (non-crank) suggestions. You can also post customer satisfaction surveys and announce special sales on Facebook and other social media platforms.

  2. Ticket system:

    Add a ticket system to your website’s help desk for handling customer issues. Assign a ticket number to each customer inquiry / complaint that you can use to track progress toward and achievement of a solution. The system should use email and/or instant messaging to keep customers updated on their issues and provide a way to receive feedback.

  3. Online appointments:

    Consider using an online system to schedule and manage appointments if this is appropriate for your business. You can use this kind of system to help manage the personnel who will be guided by the schedule.

  4. Mobile office:

    Your business may require you or your employees to be out in the field. You can establish a mobile office and netword with the right choice of portable computers, reliable internet connections, filesharing capabilities, and time-saving solutions such as bar-code readers. You can use systems that support and track any service people you deploy to customer locations.

  5. Website:

    Add functionality to your website that offers value to current and potential customers. This might be some kind of calculator that helps customers figure out how much to order, or perhaps a series of videos that instruct customers about the products and services you offer.

  6. Extend reach of brick and mortar store:

    If you run a small storefront, explore how much of your business you can export to the online environment. Maybe you haven’t yet considered selling your products online, or if you do, haven’t had good success. A new or better system might be just the answer for creating new income streams online.

  7. Email:

    How effectively are you leveraging your database of customer email addresses. There are marketing systems available that create and deliver email to customers based on their previous purchases. For example, you might offer special discounts to your most loyal customers or announce special programs available only through invitation.

  8. Service kiosks:

    One way to improve customer service is to offer self-service kiosks in your store and elsewhere. These can be geared to helping customers with various tasks, such as inquiring about previous orders, establishing new accounts, and even making purchases. They also can provide valuable information regarding the technical aspects of your products and services, perhaps leading customers through a series of questions to better understand which of your offerings would be right for them.

  9. Improve warehouse operations.

    If your business involves warehouse storage and shipping, make sure you are using the latest high-tech solutions to manages customer shipments. Customers will appreciate the shorter time to receive deliveries, and you’ll waste less time keeping tracking of your inventory.

Conclusion

Many technological solutions are not expensive, but some might be. For those that are, consider a short-term loan from IOU Financial. We’ll help you afford the latest tech solutions through our fast, no-hassle loans with convenient payback options. Stay competitive! Leverage the power of technology to keep your customers happy and in a buying mood.

Social Media Tricks That Can Bring a Fresh Breath to Your Business

Growing your small business through social media should not be that stressful. If you know which tools to leverage and you are equipped with ample knowledge of online marketing, especially social media marketing, it will be easier to attract prospects and gain customers. Social media is a huge platform where you can promote your business in fun, simple and cost-effective ways. If you have a small business and want to conquer all social media channels, here are some social media tricks that can bring a fresh breath to your business.

Cinemagraphs

If you want to keep the interest of your prospects online, don’t bombard them with lengthy texts since they will only find these overwhelming and boring. Instead, make visual content your weapon in increasing engagement. For one, use cinemagraphs or still images with some animation. Unlike actual videos, they are very easy to make using programs like Fixel and Fotodanz. Using these apps, you can make beautiful cinemagraphs which your audience will surely find interesting and engaging.

Stock Photos

If you don’t have enough time to take your own pictures or you just want to save some bucks from hiring a professional photographer, you can always take advantage of stock photos. They can increase your business’ visual appearance and make your content more appealing. Stock photos are easy to find, save and upload to your social media page and they have the same quality as the photos taken by professionals.

Hello Bars

Also known as floating bars, hello bars are simply notification bars that prevent your visitors from being disturbed when browsing your page. These will notify your customers and prospects when you are making announcements, offering a lead magnet, showcasing more content, asking your prospects to subscribe to your email list or running a limited-time offer. By using a simple floating bar, you can easily promote your business without annoying your prospects.

Free ‘Click to Tweet’ Option

The click-to-tweet option is a good way to promote your brand and boost your sales. This is free and you can put it on your website or anywhere there is text on your page. If people like your content, they will click it and share it on Twitter, where more prospects can see it. A lot of people use Twitter and when people start sharing your content in this platform, you’ll have a higher chance of gaining customers.

Shopping on Instagram

Every month, more than 800,000 consumers use Instagram to shop and business owners around the world have been using this platform to share their products and stories. Now, you cannot just use Instagram to share content, but you can actually sell your products here. You only need the approval of Facebook shop and you can start tagging your products on your posts. This is a great way to increase your revenue since more people can now see your products and go to your website when they find any interesting item from your shop.

Killer Captions

Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, always make sure that you use killer captions. Don’t post your content right away without making an interesting caption or checking each word you wrote. If you’re not that good with wordplay, you can let your social media manager take care of it or hire a copywriter to improve your captions. Killer captions are made with some storytelling using captivating words. Just make sure the captions are free of clichés and focus on quality instead of quantity.

Catchy Hashtags

Hashtags are also a great way to increase your audience so make good use of them all the time. To garner a broad interest, use popular hashtags in your industry and include your company’s name in the list of hashtags you use. However, avoid using too many hashtags and only put relevant ones. Try to shorten your hashtags since long ones are difficult to read due to the lack of spaces.

Giveaways

Everybody loves freebies and even though giveaways are very traditional, they hardly fail marketers in boosting their sales and engagement. Because people are always on social media, it is a great place to run all these contests. Take advantage of holidays and celebrations and run a contest where you can give some nice giveaways. The rewards may come from your shop or you can also offer other appealing and valuable items. It is also a great way to thank your customers for their patronage and encourage them to buy more of your products.

Fun Facts/Inspirational Quotes

Sometimes, you can rest from posting videos and other visual content. You can also post some fun facts or memes to entertain your customers or share some inspirational quotes to cheer them up. If you’ll notice, most fitness coaches use this trick but even if you’re not in the fitness industry, you can always do this to increase engagement and motivate your customers and prospects.

Guest Post: About the Author

Lidia Hovhan is Digital Marketing expert and SEO guru. She contributes articles about how to integrate digital marketing strategy with traditional marketing to help business owners to meet their online goals. You can find really professional insights in her writings.

A Good First Website Visit: 4 Non-Negotiables You Need

Maybe you’re just about to launch your own business, and the next task on your to-do list is to set up your website. Or maybe you already have a website, but you don’t seem to be getting very many leads from it. The truth is, a good website can make all the difference to the success of your business. And by good, we mean a website that makes a favorable first impression, draws repeat visitors, and leads to increased sales. To make a good first impression, you must insist on several non-negotiable items. We can divide those items between content and design. Read on to learn more.

Content-Oriented Items

Content is king. That is, good content doesn’t guarantee a sale, but bad content invariably costs you one. Good content requires several non-negotiable items.

1.     Language

The single most important item for creating a successful first website visit is the quality of the language you use. Nothing turns off potential customers faster than the poor use of language, which includes:

  • Spelling and punctuation mistakes
  • Bad grammar and syntax
  • Clunky or run-on sentences
  • Passive voice
  • Long paragraphs with too many themes
  • Missing text elements, such as captions

2.     Ideas

The reader wants to feel assured that you are reputable, knowledgeable and worth their time. You can’t achieve this if you litter your website with problems like:

  • Factual mistakes
  • Unclear ideas
  • Unconvincing arguments
  • Unrealistic promises
  • Stupid jokes
  • Unbridled boasting
  • Lack of fresh content every week or two
  • Lack of call to action

Different websites have different purposes. If your purpose is to promote your business, your pitch has to sound convincing. Include evidence to back your arguments and by all means add footnotes and/or links to reputable sources. Humor is a great tool, but a tricky one too, so use it advisedly. Always include a call to action, perhaps backed by a free goodie, such as a special report, eBook, coupon or promotion code.

3.     Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The most important task in ensuring a good first website visit is a first website visit. Sure, you can pay for ads on Google and elsewhere. But in the long run, you’ll maximize your marketing return on investment by organically ranking high for search engine results on specific keywords. That means creating a website with authoritative content, but it also means making it easier for Google to classify your content. That’s the job of SEO, and includes:

  • Keyword research: Pick three to five keywords that express the purpose of each page on your website. You can use Google’s Keyword Planner to research the most effective keywords and the amount of competition you face for each one. Populate your website content and titles with your keywords. Use them throughout the page, but don’t overuse them.
  • Logical organization: This includes easy-to-navigate menus with well-organized items. It also includes the use of compelling titles and paragraph headings, linkages between different pages on your website, proper use of captions, and creation of a website map that the search engines can easily scan.
  • Technical items: SEO comprises many other technical issues. If you don’t have the expertise yourself, consider hiring an expert to get things right.

4. Design and Style

A well-designed website invites visitors to read the contents. Using thoughtful style elements can draw readers down the page and make information easier to comprehend. Some important items regarding design and style include:

  • Attractive theme: There are thousands of website themes available for free or at a modest cost. You can also use a website builder with built-in themes that are appropriate for your purposes.
  • Interesting style elements: These include your choice of fonts, images, graphics, colors, and on-page organization.
  • Welcoming landing page: Your home page and/or landing pages should be especially strong, with plenty of images to supplement a relatively sparse use of words. Your job is to draw visitors into your website, not bombard them with tons of information on one page.

Conclusion

A good website requires a lot of thought and a fair amount of expertise. If you don’t want to personally handle the task of creating and maintaining your website, consider hiring contractors to help you with content, design, and style.

6 Ways to Make Your Customers Trust Your Brand

Trust between the customer and brand isn’t always so evident. People are wary of who they give their money to now more than ever. We can read into this too much, but the matter of the fact is that the market is too large and people just aren’t sure who to trust. In a day and age when scams are very frequent, it’s only natural to do thorough research before you spend money on anything.

That being said, it’s your job as a business to extend a hand to your customers and show them why they should trust you. It may seem like a very abstract concept, but building trust between you and your target audience doesn’t have to give you a headache. Just like with everything else, you’ll need a game plan. In this case, you’ll have six to choose from.

1. Have a voice

Without a voice, your brand is just a name. Soon enough, people will forget all about it. Coming up with a brand voice makes you more memorable, more human, and more trustworthy. It can be hard finding your voice, but if you ask yourself one simple question, you’ll be there in no time. That question is: what do I stand for?

In other words, figure out what you care for most. Whether it’s the environment, family values, or anything in between, make sure it’s a consistent part of your voice. The message you’re trying to send should be evident and easy to understand. Be direct, but don’t be pushy. It’s important for your customers to know where you stand but try not to push your agenda onto them.

Also, make sure that your message matches your actions. Consistently saying how you care about the environment and then not actually going green or doing anything to help the environmental crisis just makes you a hypocrite. People want to see you act on your ideals as well as hear them.

2. Be transparent

Though you may not think what goes on in the office is any of the public’s business, some of it actually needs to be. The more transparent and open you are about how you run business, the better you’ll resonate with your users. People don’t like businesses who keep everything behind closed doors and who refuse to share any of the information the public might want to know.

It’s pretty simple, those who are reluctant to share anything with the public probably have something to hide. You could be the most honest business in the world, but people are simply not going to believe you unless they have evidence for it. No one just takes anyone’s word for anything anymore.

With the facts out in the open, you’ll have nothing to worry about and people will have no reason to talk. Even if someone starts saying untrue things about your business, there will be outright solid evidence to show them they’re wrong. In any case, people will have no reason to distrust you when you’re completely open with them.

3. Build relationships with customers

By building relationships, you’re building trust. You can do this on a more personal level by taking an interest in your existing customers and showing them that you care. Whether it’s remembering their birthdays or sending an email for the holidays, you’re bound to win them over with the attention you’re giving them.

When they come into the office, always be kind and interested in whatever they have to say. People like being listened to, so extend your hand, ask them how their day is going, and you’ll already be making an impact. Little tokens of affection are also very nice ways to nurture customer relationships.

Just think of Christmas, for example. This is the time of year when everyone’s thinking of someone else. You can send all your customers season’s greeting cards to thank them for their business. This is bound to impress them and make them trust you even more. Don’t be afraid to splurge on gift baskets for your most valued customers or whenever you make a new business deal. Giving even the smallest gift makes a person feel appreciated and loved.  This is a gateway to trust.

4. Own your mistakes

You’re not a robot, of course, you’re going to make mistakes from time to time. Regardless of how big or small that mistake is, you have to own it. Most companies try to sweep it under the rug, bury it, and completely forget about it. This just makes it seem like you’re ashamed of the mistake you made and leaves room for others to dig up dirt about you.

Owning your mistakes and making an effort to publically fix them makes you way more responsible and trustworthy. By doing so, you admit that you aren’t perfect and show your customers your humane side. A public apology may be a nice touch, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you have to offer for your mistakes. Instead, come up with a plan of action to fix what’s broken.

This plan should also be public and you should let people in on your progress from time to time. This will let them know that you’re still actively working on fixing your mistake and that the plan and public apology weren’t just a sham. People respect those who can tell when they’re wrong and who actively try to make amends. They’re going to forgive you much more easily if you show them you’re growing and changing.

5. Work on Authenticity

Being authentic may be the safest bet you have that your customers will take to your brand. With so many similar products on the market, people like seeing something completely original and unique. Whether it’s the design and patterns you use, the way your product works, or the product itself- it should be something they tie only to you.

The trouble here is that customers won’t be the only ones who notice your authenticity. Competitors may want to get a piece of the action, which may lead them to copy your products. If you believe that someone is selling knock-off or has copied any part of your product or process, you should contact experts like Actuate IP. This way, you’ll be able to protect your authenticity and show your customers that it’s not your product which doesn’t work the way you promised.

If you just let people get away with things like these, it makes you seem rather unprofessional and untrustworthy. Your audience rarely knows the difference between the knock-offs and the original, leaving them to think it’s you who lacks quality and originality.

To have grounds to take legal action against someone copying you, make sure that you’ve protected your product with copyright. Everything from the making process to the specific parts of your product should be protected. Also, make sure that you’ve protected the idea you’ve had for the product. This way, you have plenty of evidence that the idea, manufacturing process, and product were all yours to begin with.

If we look at the other side of the mirror, it’s also important not to copy anyone around you. Using your competitors for inspiration and coming up with something yourself is fine, but copying anything off them is a huge no. Not only will this be bad for business, but it also shows your customers that you’re someone not to be trusted. Integrity and trust don’t go without each other.

6. Always reply

Lastly, you should always reply to your users. Whether it’s emails, social media accounts, or any other platform, their comments and messages should not go unanswered. The main benefit of technology is that it has made communication much easier. In business, this means that you don’t have an excuse not to listen to your users anymore. People want to be heard and listened to.

Post relevant content to engage your users and you’ll see how many more comments and messages you’ll be getting. Ask them questions, be funny, and encourage their interactions by replying. Not only does this bridge the gap between the firm and the customer, but it also makes you seem more down to earth.

Companies usually seem way out of our reach, thus making them less human. You become something abstract instead of something they can relate to. By communicating, you show people that you’re just as human as they are. This makes it much easier for them to trust you and guarantees an increase in sales.

Conclusion

Loyalty comes hand in hand with trust. This means that, by building trust, you’re building business relationships that will last a lifetime. To grow and expand your firm, you’ll need to attract as many new customers as you can, but you’ll also have to retain them. Trust is the healthiest glue that can tie you and your target audience together, so don’t be afraid to use it excessively.

huge no. Not only will this be bad for business, but it also shows your customers that you’re someone not to be trusted. Integrity and trust don’t go without each other.

Guest Post: About the Author

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

How to Better Manage Your Online Reputation

The first page of Google results can be dangerous territory. Many web searchers never look beyond the first page when reviewing results from an inquiry. That has profound implications for your business’ reputation, because any negatives that appear on Page One will be seen by the widest audience. Even if the next two pages sing your praises, most folks never see them. So, managing your reputation on social media starts with positive entries on the first page of Google search results.

Reputation Management Firms

Reputation management outfits claim to help clients improve their reputations by suppressing negative information that shows up in response to Google searches. This means pushing unwanted results off of Page One, replacing them with favorable information. Some of these firms charge $5,000 a year and up. However, some are geared to more modest budgets, with services starting for as little as $80. It’s not our purpose to review these sites or pass on their efficacy. However, its hard to understand how the same outcomes can cover such a wide cost range.

Do It Yourself

If you are a hands-on business owner who doesn’t want to rely on a reputation management firm for results, there are plenty of things you can do yourself. These measures might not cause negative information to disappear, but they do offer you the opportunity to present a positive image to the online audience. Here are five things you can do yourself:

1.     Inquire Upon Your Company

Enter a Google search of your business name to see what come up. Also check the image results. You can set up a Google alert when any new content about your company appears. Now you know what you are dealing with and some idea of how much effort it will take to manage your reputation.

2.     Purchase Your Domain(s)

You can buy domain names for as little as $12 each. Some experts advocate you snatch up a bunch of domains, but others maintain that it’s best to buy one domain and use it to establish a good reputation. So if your business is called, say, Chocolate Beagles, you’d want to start with chocolatebeagles.com, and then perhaps get the .net version. You can branch out to chocolatebeaglesonline.com, mychocolatebeagles.com, etc. However, we recommend you start with just one domain and build it up so that it will appear on Page One for a related Google inquiry. If you feel your business name is seriously compromised, consider changing the name and starting fresh.

3.     Load Up the Content

The common phrase is that “content is king.” What this really means is that Google will reward websites that provide authoritative information. You can do this using WordPress, About.me, Tumblr, and website builders like Wix and SquareSpace. Start with general information about yourself and your company, including a discussion of your products and services. But the key is to regularly add blogs and guest articles discussing your industry and related topics in a fair, honest way. Write frequently with authority and Google should reward you. If writing isn’t your thing, hire an expert freelancer.

4.     Use SEO

SEO stands for search engine optimization. This is a collection of techniques that helps Google find, recognize and evaluate your website. These are not difficult to learn and employ, but if you don’t feel up to the task, you can use a webmaster to take care of it for you. With good SEO, you can build your brand with positive information.

5.     Scrub the Internet

Remove items on your own accounts that are causing you problems. This includes Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. You can privatize your posts and limit old posts through appropriate use of privacy settings.

Conclusion

Whether you do it yourself or pay a firm, it’s important to manage your business’ online reputation. It might not be possible to eradicate all negative information, but you can try to crowd it out with positive content that Google ranks highly. In the worst case scenario, you might want to rename your business.

Mid-Year Check-in With Your 2019 Goals

By the time July rolls around, you probably have experienced some surprises — good and bad — that have left your annual business plan in need of update. This is not surprising, as no one has yet figured out how to precisely predict the future. As a business owner, you’ve learned (or are learning) how to be flexible and roll with the punches. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to throw up your hands and leave the future up for grabs. No, it means updating your annual plan with a mid-year check-in. Consider the following steps:

  1. Review each of the first six months.

    Start with your monthly financials. How did monthly gross revenues stack up against predictions? Did you sell the mix of products and/or services in the quantities you anticipated? Did you execute your marketing and sales plans? Can you discern any surprising trends? For instance, did you detect some seasonality in your sales volume?

  2. Understand what drove revenue.

    After the review of the monthly data, you can focus on the first half as a whole. What you want to understand is what sales drove revenue. It can be any combination of products, services or programs. The goal is to assign revenue to the items that earned it. Did you take on new clients, or a larger or more diverse customer base? From this review, you can sharpen your focus on what worked and what didn’t. This can mean revising sales forecasts for the second half or changing your offering mix. Perhaps you need to revisit your pricing strategy or marketing plan.

  3. Review your operations.

    Did everything run precisely, like a Swiss watch, or were there holes in your operations (more like Swiss cheese). Perhaps you didn’t maintain an optimum inventory? If so, why not? What factors contributed to overstocking or stockouts? Did purchases match expectations, or were you caught flat-footed by price hikes for merchandise, raw materials, supplies, travel, or new recruits? Very importantly, did cash flow problems prevent you from taking advantages of unexpected opportunities, such as a volume discounts on some of your inputs? Did you have to liquidate some slow-moving inventory at wholesale prices (or lower)? These are all symptoms of a cash flow shortfall, which can hurt your growth prospects.

  4. Identify Solutions:

    You want to keep on doing the things that worked well and identify ways to fix problem areas. Both will be evident when you compare your mid-year forecast with actuals. Areas that require attention include marketing effectiveness, product/service mix, relationships with suppliers and vendors, inventory management and cash operations. You also might need to review your workforce to see if you are getting the performance you require.

  5. Rework the Year-End Plan:

    This might include revising budgets, hiring new personnel, exploring new markets and evaluating return on marketing investment. Your goal is to reduce the forecast error in the second half of the year compared to the first half.

  6. Review Growth Plan:

    Some businesses lose money because they are too small relative to demand. That’s a growth opportunity which you should pursue, before someone else capitalizes on it. If you need to finance a growth cycle, get a business loan from a provider like IOU Financial. We’ll work with you to help you grow, making borrowing affordable and convenient.

The output of your mid-year review is a revised year-end forecast for sales revenues and costs. Over time, your forecasts should get better. At the very least, you want your errors to be equally likely on the plus and minus sides. Finally, your business might just be gosh-darn difficult to forecast. If so, your best bet is to have contingency funding available quickly so that you can respond from a position of strength.