How to Celebrate Women’s Small Business Month

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

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

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

  2. Identify Your Business as Woman-Owned:

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

  3. Offer and Encourage Mentorship to Young Women:

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

  4. Schedule Special Sales and Promotions:

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

  5. Get Involved in the Political Process:

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

  6. Publicize Grants to Women Owned Businesses:

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

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

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

Team Building Ideas to Strengthen Your Business

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

Charity Run

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

Christmas Tree Decorating

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

Scavenger Hunt

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

Karaoke Night

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

Paintball

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

Conclusion

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

7 Tips for Boosting Your Tax Refund

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

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

The Power of Tax Credits

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

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

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

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

Prepay

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

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

Track Mileage

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

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

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

Stay in the Loop

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

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

Your 401K

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

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

Employee incentives

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

Write off Bad Debts

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

In the End

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

Guest Post: About the Author

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

5 Webinars for Small Business Owners

Small business owners and entrepreneurs know that they can never stop learning. Webinars are effective learning tools, whether its filling in knowledge gaps, learning the latest techniques, or networking with industry leaders. Good webinars are definitely worth your investment in time. You can find a wide range of topics available, including product development, selling and marketing, administration, and e-commerce. What follows is a list of free online webinar providerss and courses to help build your business skills.

U.S. Small Business Administration

The SBA’s mission is to help develop and support small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs. One important way it expresses that support is through a large catalog of online courses and webinars. You’ll be able to find materials covering topics such as:

  • Planning a business
  • Business launch
  • Management
  • Growing your business

The course material is immensely helpful for new entrepreneurs, because you can learn how to write a business plan, observe legal requirements, and explore financing options. You’ll also find courses on sales, marketing, savings plans, social strategies, and many other topics.

National Federation of Independent Business

The NFIB is a member-driven organization that advocates for small and independent business owners. It runs live webinars that cover a variety of issues important to small businesses. You can find many webinars of great practical value, such as these recent ones:

  • Drugs in the Workplace: What Small Businesses Can and Should Do Now
  • Personal Branding on LinkedIn
  • 6 Ways to Use Local SEO for Your Small Business
  • Technology Trends Critical for Small Businesses
  • Is the Sun Setting on the US Economy and Small Businesses?

Recorded webinars are available at all times on topics spanning finance, taxes, healthcare issues, marketing, and much more.

SCORE

SCORE is the country’s biggest network of business mentors dedicated to launching and growing small businesses. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a resource partner of the SBA. SCORE offers free online workshops, live and recorded, covering many topics such as:

  • End the Year in Good Legal Standing
  • A Practical Approach to Small Business Budgeting
  • What Small Businesses Need to Know About Cybersecurity
  • 5 Easy Marketing Tricks to Grow Your Business
  • Funding Options for Veteran Entrepreneurs

To attend, you simply register online for any of the webinars that interest you.

Small Business Expo

The Small Business Expo is dedicated to helping small businesses thrive across the nation. SBE hosts annual shows in 17 major U.S. cities. The shows include exhibitions, workshops, seminars, and product demonstrations. You need not physically attend to participate in live webinars, and recorded webinars are available on demand. A typical show hosts more than 25 free workshops where you can learn business-critical skills and strategies to grow your company. Some examples include:

  • Managing Credit for Business Success
  • Linking HR to Your Business Strategy
  • Franchising 101
  • Artificial Intelligence for Business
  • 3 Super Powers of CRM

Bizlaunch

Founded in 2003 by Andrew Patricio, Bizlaunch teaches entrepreneurs how to build profitable businesses. It hosts online webinars, workshops, and seminars to mentor small business owners. Recent webinar offerings include:

  • Low-Cost and No-Cost Marketing Tools You Can Use to Grow Your Business
  • How to Use Offline and Online Networking to Grow Your Business
  • How to Build a Laser-Focused Strategy to Grow Your Business
  • Franchising — What You Need to Know
  • The Secrets of Writing a Great Business Plan

Conclusion

The webinar providers we’ve listed here are but a small sample of what is available nationwide. All they require is your time and attention. If you are looking to grow your company, you’ll find webinars an invaluable resource that can save you from many rookie mistakes.

Speaking of growing your company, IOU Financial stands ready to finance your growth with business loans up to $500,000 featuring instant pre-approval and fast 1-to-2-day funding. Our loans are quick, flexible, and convenient, with affordable rates, fixed loan payments, no upfront costs, and available loan renewals. Contact us today!

Be a Better Leader — 9 Podcasts to Listen to

As a business owner, you face many conflicting forces. For example, there is the pressure to be the best business leader you can be versus the need to work 26 hours a day growing your business. One way to resolve this conflict is through podcast listening. The beauty of a podcast is that you can listen while driving to work, eating lunch, or performing some mindless chore. By carefully selecting which podcasts to audit, you can gain insights on leadership topics that will help you become a more effective businessperson. What follows is a list of some of the best leadership podcasts for your listening pleasure:

  1. The Go-Giver, Host Bob Burg:

    This podcast grew out of the bestselling book of the same name. Its central thesis concerns ways to provide value to your customers and others, and how this can increase your profits. It’s also a fulfilling way to live. Each episode brings you a useful short interview with a business leader or expert that will make a valuable point you can apply to yourself and your business.

  2. Leaders in the Trenches, Host Gene Hammet:

    The host has interesting background, having built and lost the business he always wanted. He knows how to delve deep into business discussions with top leaders who can share successful strategies. It’s a fascinating way to learn more about marketing, sales, and leadership.

  3. Online Marketing Made Easy, Host Amy Porterfield:

    The host is a powerhouse media influencer who has helped many entrepreneurs build their online businesses. She has been featured on cable and in business magazines as a marketing expert with insights on how to overcome obstacles holding back your business.

  4. The Nice Guys on Business, Host Doug Sandler:

    This is a wide-ranging podcast that touches on a variety of subjects gleaned from real life. It casts a truthful light on the good and the bad of running your own business, with advice on how to use your positive instincts to inspire yourself and others to do their best. The podcast is a welcome respite from the toxic attitudes currently poisoning our society.

  5. Mixergy, Host Andrew Warner:

    This is a podcast featuring startup stories of business owners and entrepreneurs. Every episode includes an interview with a successful business leader who describes how they grew their businesses and overcame failure. New episodes appear three to four times each week.

  6. Leadership and Loyalty, Host Dov Baron:

    Here is a refreshing podcast that teaches you to be fearlessly honest when need be, yet to temper that honesty with emotional intelligence. The host interviews leaders and authors across a wide range of organizations but who share strong ideas on how to inspire loyalty.

  7. This Is Your Life, Host Michael Hyatt:

    This podcasts offers specific and useful advice to driven entrepreneurs on how to succeed in business and in life. He gets down to brass tacks on how to set and achieve your goals while encouraging productivity and loyalty from others.

  8. Masters of Scale, Host Reid Hoffman:

    The host of this podcast is the co-founder of LinkedIn and knows a thing or two about building businesses from the ground up. He features discussions with founders of popular companies, including Starbucks and the Huffington Post.

  9. Coaching for Leaders, Host Dave Stachowiaki:

    The host understands that you must learn leadership skills — it isn’t inherited (or inherent). Experts come onto the podcast to offer advice you can translate into concrete action. Every month, the podcast devotes one episode to answering listener question. You can become a free subscriber to the host’s weekly leadership program.

These podcasts should get you off to a good start. Once you begin listening, you’ll be hooked. Podcasts have become one the most valuable tools for the dissemination of information in today’s fast-paced environment. Listening to a few can make a big difference in your company’s success and in your personal life.

9 Books with Advice to Make Networking Less Excruciating

Very few people truly enjoy networking, which is why so many experts have created a cottage industry out of offering advice. But how do you know what strategies are legit and which aren’t? We’ve done the legwork for you and rounded up nine books on networking by experts from both the business world and academia. Pick up a highlighter and get ready to note all the great tips you’re about to read.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

First published in 1936, this book is a worldwide bestseller that has sold tens of millions of copies. Carnegie was a lecturer and writer who taught self-improvement courses on topics such as sales, corporate training, and public speaking. This book covers his important tips for accomplishing exactly what the title says, from becoming genuinely interested in others to showing respect for others’ opinions. It’s a classic for a reason, and we’d be remiss not to start our list off with this book.

Networking Is Not Working: Stop Collecting Business Cards and Start Making Meaningful Connections by Derek Coburn

If you’re sick of endlessly swapping business cards with people who immediately forget your name as soon as you shake hands, this book is for you. It’s a quick read, only covering 163 pages, but it will quickly help you rethink how and why you network. Coburn covers essential topics such as identifying the core group of people you want to focus on, enhancing the value you deliver to your best clients and positioning yourself for more quality introductions to ideal prospective clients.

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t by Robert I. Sutton, PhD

Sutton is a professor of management science at Stanford University’s School of Engineering where he researches evidence-based management. While this book isn’t about networking per se, it’s an excellent guide to spotting toxic people that you want to avoid—and how not to become one yourself. Sutton explains 12 warning signs of toxic workplace behavior, including sarcasm, humiliation, interruption, backbiting and snubbing. Then he delves into the frequency, costs, and damages of this sort of behavior, highlighting case studies from real life companies. If you ever wanted an argument for being a nice person in professional contexts, this is it.

Superconnector: Stop Networking and Start Building Business Relationships that Matter by Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh

The most successful networkers don’t just meet people for networking’s sake. Instead, these Superconnectors focus on building relationships and providing value through making key introductions and helping their contacts solve problems. Gerber and Paugh advocate for a three-pronged Vision-Execution-Profiting approach to help you build these connections and create mutual value in the age of social media. They cover the dos and don’ts of introductions, finding your own community, Google-proofing your reputation and more in this book.

The 20-Minute Networking Meeting by Marcia Ballinger, PhD and Nathan A. Perez

This tactical guide will teach you how to network and get a job using real-world scenarios, short stories, meeting examples and dozens of tips and observations. Depending on where you are in your career, you might opt for the Professional edition or the Executive Edition. In either one, you’ll learn how to master the five most important parts of a networking meeting, break into the hidden job market, maintain your new network throughout your career and more.

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz

Originally published in 2005, an updated and expanded edition of this popular book was released in 2014 to incorporate the rise of social media and new management styles. Master networker Ferrazzi shares his networking mindset and then breaks it down into basic, easy-to-follow principles that readers can replicate, such as “don’t keep score” and “never eat alone.” Throughout, he also shares tips from some of the world’s best connectors, including Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama.

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant, PhD

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant teaches at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He has authored multiple best-selling books, including Give and Take, which was a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller and was eventually translated into 30 languages​. In this book, Grant investigates how our professional success is becoming ever more dependent on how we interact with others. Grant investigates how three particular styles (taking, giving, and matching) play out and which ones the best networkers use to develop connections.

Giftology: The Art and Science of Using Gifts to Cut Through the Noise, Increase Referrals, and Strengthen Retention by John Ruhlin

Many people use branded gifts to create and nurture relationships with their clients. But if done wrong, these gifts can waste your money and even backfire, negatively impacting the relationship. In this book, Ruhlin teaches readers how to give gifts the smart way, harnessing the power of radical generosity to create goodwill and increase their connections in the process. If people aren’t returning your calls and emails and you don’t know why, this book might have a solution for you.

Taking the Work Out of Networking: An Introvert’s Guide to Making Connections That Count by Karen Wickre

Silicon Valley veteran Karen Wickre has worked for Google and Twitter, among other major companies, and she also counts herself as an introvert. Wickre wrote this guide to share her passion for connecting people and to show introverts that they too can be good at networking. Wickre teaches her readers how to “embrace the quiet side” and coordinate networking opportunities that work for them, such as one-on-one coffee dates instead of big professional mixers with dozens of people.

If you’re feeling stuck in your networking activities, or feeling nervous about attending an upcoming trade show, try reading one or more of these books to inspire yourself and learn new strategies. Good luck at your next mixer or coffee chat, and remember that you never know when a stranger might turn into a mentor or colleague.

Guest Post: About the Author

Lee Becknell serves as the Senior Digital Marketing Manager for Pinnacle Promotions. Lee oversees digital marketing from the Atlanta, GA headquarters. Lee has been with Pinnacle for over six years. Lee enjoys spending time with her husband, son and golden retriever, running and taking naps.

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.

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.

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.