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Resources for Business Owners with Disabilities

In 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.3% of Americans with disabilities were employed, compared to 66.3% of those who did not have a disability. Those with disabilities were also much more likely to own their own business compared to those without disabilities.

Why would someone with a disability want to own their own business?  There are a lot of perks. Self-employment offers a lot of flexibility. You can set your own hours, determine the nature of your work, and, to a point, decide what your income will be.

If you are a person with a disability who is thinking about or already owns your own business, you are not alone in your venture. There are many ways you can get the help you need, whether that be financial help, outsourcing, or business counseling services. There are also special avenues for disabled veterans with small businesses. This article will help you get the assistance you need.

Going into Business

So, you’ve decided to go into business. The first thing you need to decide is what you want to do. You can be a writer, a craftsperson selling a unique product, or own a venue that you rent out for special events. The ideas are endless, but you shouldn’t go into business without at least some idea of what you want to do. Even if you have just the sliver of an idea, there are plenty of resources that can help you get the ball rolling. After that, the next step is to write a business plan. Need help with that? There are a lot of places you can go for help. The Small Business Administration, for example, offers counseling to help you through the process.

Once your plan is in place, the next step is to look for financial assistance. There are many funding resources in place specifically for disabled entrepreneurs, including grants. You can look into a grant sponsored by the federal government, or if you’re the creative type, check out the National Arts and Disability Center that offers grant money to artists who need financial backing to promote their work. The best thing about grants is that you do not need to pay them back. If grants don’t work out for you, there are also plenty of places to find an affordable loan.

When you’re an entrepreneur, not only do you need to find money to get you started, but you also need to find ways to save money. Luckily, there are many tax breaks and credits specific to entrepreneurs. You can save money by tracking the miles you travel for your business or write off debts from clients who didn’t pay you. You also qualify for a tax break if you offer your employees a 401K.

Outsourcing

Once you’re established and your business is going well, you may want to start outsourcing some of your responsibilities. There are many aspects of your business that you may want to consider hiring someone to do:

  • Generating leads
  • Managing your inventory
  • Handing your transcriptions
  • Providing customer service

One advantage of outsourcing is that it can actually save your company money. It is much cheaper to hire someone for a specific task rather than hiring an employee whom you’d have to pay taxes and benefits for in addition to paying for training.

When considering outsourcing, do not outsource anything that may cause your business to lose its competitive edge. In addition, interview your outsourcing prospects carefully and remember that the cheapest person you can hire is not always the best person. Quality is sometimes more important and will save you money in the long run.

With today’s technology, there are a lot of outsourcing websites to use to search for the best candidates to fit your needs. Upwork, Outsource.com, Fiverr, and Guru are just a few of the websites you can look at.

Self-Care and Business Resources for Veterans

For many veterans, the transition back to civilian life can be difficult and many of those who do not seem to fit in turn to entrepreneurship. Approximately 9% of all businesses are owned by veterans. That’s about 2.4 million businesses.

Caring for your body as well as your mind is important for everyone, but for a veteran, life can be especially hard, and it’s important for veterans to practice self-care.  This can entail a number of different things and will vary according to the needs of the veteran:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Finding a new hobby

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs also provides assistance towards self-care. It is in the form of a self-assessment than veterans can use as well as a month of reflections and activities that veterans can participate in to help them turn their attention towards themselves.

If you are an entrepreneurial veteran, in addition to the resources listed in the above sections of this article, there are resources specifically for you and your special needs as a veteran. You can check out the local Veteran Business Outreach Center, who can hook you up with training and mentoring right in your community. The Veteran and Military Business Owners Association and VetToCEO program are other great resources that provide a wealth of information.

Many people with disabilities including disabled veterans choose the route of entrepreneurship. It offers them the flexibility they need, and, in the case of veterans, a place to call home in the turbulent, civilian world. And they are not alone. There are many resources out there to help them on their journey towards becoming their own boss.

Guest Post: About the Author

Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but technology and digital marketing topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.

4 Ways Seasonal Businesses Can Strive for Success

Summer is nearly in full swing, and although it’s a bit different than usual, consumers are still looking to get out, try something new and spend money on experiences at seasonal businesses. Abiding by local regulations and navigating the ever-shifting landscape COVID-19 has thrown the brick-and-mortar space a challenge. However, the time is here to shake off the dust and take advantage of the summer because whether you own an ice cream stand, a marina, or boardwalk t-shirt shop catering to tourists, your season is limited.

Though you could dwell on the current circumstances, as a business owner, you understand every day is a new mountain to climb and these current times are just a tougher hand of cards you’ve been dealt with. So, what’s it going to be? If you’re looking to cash-in on your hand, read along for a few helpful tips and ways your business can strive for success during this summer period.

Stay Organized

Staying organized is something that every business owner would like to do. Having everything neatly aligned, shipments coming in on time, a clean shop and inventory always in stock can be seen as a dream for many, but you know that all is likely just too good to be true. So what are a few ways you can keep your business organized during this peak season?

  • Go paperless
  • Track time spent on tasks
  • Use mobile banking

You may already incorporate these tips into your day-to-day, but with a little fine-tuning, your business could be running even better and more efficiently. The benefits of going paperless are numerous and can even be financially fruitful and serve as an added safety measure. Keeping track of your time and managing resources based on the importance of tasks will not only help you work more efficiently but also being sure things are completed in the correct order.  When it comes to finances, choosing a small business bank can be the key for easily organizing your business’ invoices, payments, and deposits among other business necessities. Staying organized can come in several forms, so finding your unique pain points and identifying ways around them are paramount to succeeding.

Have a Plan

The SBA reports that over 80% of small businesses survive their first year, while 30% survive their 10th. As a seasonal business owner, you know your window for success is much shorter than the usual calendar year, sometimes only a handful of months. One sure-fire way to keep your business on the right path is a solid business plan. For a refresher on how to draw up a business plan, read more here. But, keep in mind that though a business plan is great, having the flexibility to alter it due to extreme circumstances is a must. For example, just because you are a sit-down restaurant doesn’t mean you should solely focus on people dining in, especially during these times. What are a few ways you can pivot from your initial business plan and stay relevant?

  • Offer take-out service
  • Re-arrange your space
  • Use online reservations for minimal contact

Your business plan is meant to be a guide toward success, but it shouldn’t be the end all be all. Adapting to the times, and making positive changes in the wake of unseen situations or altering landscapes can be the difference between your business getting ahead or being left in the past.

Be a Team Player

As an owner of a seasonal business, you’ve likely worked some long hours in non-peak season times by yourself. Transitioning to the height of your busy season after a long time off can be a change in itself, but one that is necessary. As the owner, especially if you are in a resort town, the ability to work and cater to an ever-changing customer market is a key to earning repeat customers.

For domestic travelers in the U.S in 2019, according to the U.S Travel Association, over 50% of vacation spend went toward food services, retail, recreation/amusement, and lodging, all sectors that cater to seasonal businesses. With so many travelers spending on experiences, you will want to make sure you not only keep a positive reputation in your town but also deliver a great product while you have them. Going the extra mile to please visitors can lead to a positive Yelp or TripAdvisor review and a lasting impression that will keep them coming back again and again.

Stay Top of Mind

With a short window to succeed for the year, staying top of mind is vital to capitalizing on customers visiting your seasonal business. When it comes to staying top of mind, you will want to be sure you are connecting with past customers or potential customers in as many ways as possible. If you have data from past customers, taking advantage of email marketing with Mailchimp can be a great touchpoint to keep prior customers updated on everything from upcoming deals, hours, or just general announcements pertaining to your business. If this isn’t the case, there are plenty of other ways to get your business in front of the eyes of customers.

  • Instagram ads
  • Facebook ads
  • Local radio ads

Getting your product or service in front of customers on social media can be a great, low-cost option for advertising. Take some time to get familiar with advertising on Facebook and features such as targeting your ads around travelers to a certain area between specific dates. Or, you could utilize the local radio station that visitors will be using while driving or checking the village news. Striking the chord between eye-catching creative and ads that are set up well can help you boost your brand’s awareness and drive more traffic to your seasonal business.

Conclusion

Running a seasonal business is no easy task, deadlines are shorter, the stakes are higher, but the fruits of all your work can be astronomical. Striving for success can lead to many seasonal business owners to focus on working harder rather than smarter and eventually lead to burnout. With a few smart steps, you can get your seasonal business moving in the right direction and maximizing your potential in no time.

Starting Your Own Business in a Post COVID-19 World

Starting your own business can be daunting at the best of times. For young entrepreneurs who have been building plans to put their ambitions into action, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic can feel like a wrench thrown into the works. The business landscape has changed rapidly, and — in some ways — permanently.

While this almost certainly means that changes may need to be made, it doesn’t necessarily mean an end to even your loftiest enterprise ambitions. Rather, our post-COVID-19 world can offer new opportunities to design a more robust company from the ground up. Beginning your entrepreneurial journey at this time allows you to make these adjustments an integral feature of your business, rather than a crisis you have to react to.

We’re going to take a look at some areas in which entrepreneurs need to focus. What are the new options, in addition to the essential elements all start-ups needed prior to this pandemic? How can you help make certain that your new venture can not only navigate the challenges of this crisis but be prepared for those in the future?

Gathering Resources

There can be significant costs involved in starting a new business. Quite aside from employees and raw materials, there are often hidden costs such as insurance and permits. Gathering your resources during a pandemic can be especially challenging. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that even prior to the coronavirus, many startups launched with limited resources, operating out of bedrooms and basements in order to build their profiles and finances before moving on up to more traditional environments.

As a result, the last couple of decades have seen the development of resources aimed at home entrepreneurs, and are now relevant to the challenges you face in a post-COVID-19 business environment. Marketing tools such as Google Analytics and Mailchimp are accessible from anywhere in the world you happen to be and don’t necessarily need an entire marketing team to function. Similarly, the gig economy has seen the emergence of invoice payment platforms such as PayPal and Square, and Wagepoint can be used to handle your payroll needs.

You also have to acknowledge that there has been something of an investment crisis as a result of this pandemic, with some investors reluctant to commit. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean getting funding is impossible. According to a report by Startup Genome, during the last two recessions, though there were fewer dollars loaned to startups, a higher number of businesses received investment. This suggests that if you can adjust your business plans to demonstrate that your operations can be more cash efficient, you are more likely to be able to attract investors — even in economically bleak times. It may also point to the necessity of services of these funded businesses.

Online Operations

Another of the key results of the pandemic has been a shift to remote working operations. Some established businesses have struggled to adapt to this model, needing to invest additional funds into equipment, or finding that some of their employees aren’t suited to a work-from-home environment. However, by starting your business at this challenging time, you have the opportunity to build remote working into your operations as a foundational feature, and can benefit from the potential for greater productivity and lower overheads.

Begin with your search for employees. By embracing a remote culture, you have the ability to choose from a global talent pool, depending on the labor regulations in your state, and build a diverse workforce that can help you not just function but innovate. As the popularity of remote working has grown, there has also been a development in hiring platforms specifically aimed at those who have experience working remotely. AngelList, Remotive, and Working Nomads are among the most popular venues for this.

This also gives you the opportunity to source and invest in the technology and software that is optimized for remote operations from the get-go. Ensure employees have the software needed to complete tasks wherever they are and organize the workflow to utilize remote project management platforms such as Slack, Asana, or Trello. Your website also needs to be optimized to act as the storefront of your remote business. Place focus on how easy it is for the user to navigate your site and make contact with you, and thoroughly test this for any potential bugs or performance issues before going live.

Protection from Disaster

Believe it or not, there is value to be found in starting your own business during a pandemic. You have the ability to gain an insight into how various aspects of the crisis are affecting businesses the world over, where mistakes have been made, and what solutions appear to work best. This means you already have some tools to help you build disaster management into your business operations, which can help you mitigate the impact of future problems.

Young entrepreneurs starting their first businesses should already be committing to some in-depth research. Deep dives into business publications — whether popular articles on Forbes, or videos in which entrepreneurs share their experiences — can help you to also identify where the key areas of concern have been during this crisis. Many business leaders have been candid about what solutions have worked for them, and the causes of failure.

Seriously assess whether your current business plan suggests you could weather these types of challenges. Is your business agile enough to make changes at short notice? Have you diversified your supplier pool enough to continue functioning if one or more of them suddenly drop off the radar? Have you created a disaster recovery plan that considers various scenarios? This hasn’t been an easy time for any of us, but you can use it to make your business more flexible and competitive.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly served to shake the confidence of business leaders, and it can feel as though starting a new enterprise at a time of crisis can be unwise. However, you can use the tools, practices, and experiences of this difficult time to build a business that can be successful. It’s never going to be easy, but you can use this period as another resource at your disposal.

Guest Post: About the Author

Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but technology and digital marketing topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.

5 Small Business Marketing Tips to Implement During COVID-19

Covid-19 has resulted in drastic changes in human life and socio-economic culture. The virus started spreading in December 2019, has resulted in the close-down of almost every country around the globe. The world is adapting towards the unprecedented situation, yet the loss it has caused to humanity, as well as the economy, is enormous.

Countries such as the United States, Italy, and Australia have suffered severely, along with multiple other countries, resulting in an unstable economy worldwide. More than 30 billion US citizens have been unemployed since the outbreak of the pandemic, and the number doesn’t seem to stop anytime soon.

All types of businesses, including the small scale, have suffered badly due to the spread of Coronavirus. The unavailability of resources and funds have caused multiple business owners to shut their businesses temporarily or permanently.

Some of the business owners think they will eventually have to shut down if the situations continue to persist. This tough time requires a bit of adaptability and reprioritization in your business models. The following are the 5 marketing tips for your small business that you can implement.

Adapt and Adjust your Marketing Strategy

Initially, most of the countries and citizens were in denial of the severity of this situation; however, over time, people have realized how crucial a time it is. Due to this, people are now adapting to the new “normal.” The new normal includes contact-less interactions, social distancing, and minimal exposure to the outside world.

Because of this, your business strategies must alter and adjust according to the new normal. You must be considerate of your situation around and change your content accordingly. You can experiment with the content and posting. Now that the lifestyles have changed, there is a change in trends and types of content as well.

Now is the Time to Show Empathy

The world is facing a tough time, and everyone needs a little bit of kindness. It is important that you, as a brand, must provide support towards the clients and audience. Whatever scenario that you might’ve faced during the pandemic, be sure to spread positivity, strength, and awareness through your platforms.

In the previous few weeks, we have seen a massive shift in several brand’s messages, where they stopped their usual functions and started to help out the community with the COVID-19 crisis. Multiple businesses donated a part of their sales for the relief, food delivery services delivered food for free to those in need, clothing brands such as Adidas, LV, etc. started producing masks for people to stay safe.

No matter how small your cause is, be sure to spread empathy and kindness even in your content. Being blinded towards the situation is not a good strategy to follow in such circumstances.

It is important to focus on your relationship with your current customers. A relationship with your audience can help you gain customer loyalty and trust for the long term. You can stay connected with your audience through:

  • Emails
  • Updating website
  • Informative live sessions and chat

Pivot Your Business

Pivoting your business is not easy, however, if the situation demands it, then you must think of ways how you can continue your service while being considerate. Think of ways to facilitate your clients to avail of your services during such a time.

For example, if you are a retail store, then you must shift to an e-commerce platform to facilitate the customers. You must also keep the virtual audience engaged during this time and not ghost them.

If you have introduced a new aspect to your business model, then make sure to communicate it to your audience and create content around it.

  • Create an online presence if you have not already
  • Build a Multi-vendor marketplace
  • Share useful and relevant information
  • Promote your services through social media campaigns
  • Introduce people to “behind-the-scenes” of your business

Work on Marketing Strategy

The situation around the globe is unexpected, and every day is a new day. Staying aware of the current situation and working on your marketing strategies to fulfill the need of the hour is important.

Stay ahead and try to work around the new strategy to follow. For example, if you have both physical and online stores, now is the time to focus more on your online platforms, promote them, advertise them, and streamline the processes.

Take this time as an opportunity to work on your website’s SEO, ranking, visuals, and inventory management. You can also look for ways to ensure contact-less, safe, and secure delivery for your audience.

Be there for your team members and employees, and guide them towards what can be done next. Now is the time to actively take action while making smart moves. Your new strategy must depend on the type of business. However, a few suggestions are:

  • Help others through your services
  • Paid ads are cheap these days, make use of them
  • Offer online webinars, sessions, classes

Partner With Other Business

Another strategy to follow in the times of COVID-19 is to collaborate with another business to help with the loss of sales or for a better cause. For example, partnering with a clothing brand for the production of masks or with any medical facilitators can help both the entities involved.

You can use your digital platform to raise awareness and help facilitate a cause. Multiple social media influencers used their platforms to raise awareness about Coronavirus precautions in collaboration with the World Health Organization and government.

There can be multiple ways to collaborate with another brand. An example of such a partnership is; Metro Bis is a restaurant in Connecticut, partnered up with several grocery stores and prepared meals that were available at the grocers to help overcome the loss they faced due to the lockdown.

Other examples of such partnerships can be coaxial cable businesses offering discounted prices to internet providers during the pandemic, delivery services collaborating with e-commerce platforms to expand services whereby helping businesses. Get creative in how you reach customers.

Guest Post: About the Author

Arslan Hassan is an electrical engineer with a passion for writing, designing, and anything tech-related. His educational background in the technical field has given him the edge to write on many topics. He occasionally writes blog articles for Shireen Inc.

5 Business Records That Small Business Owners Need to Keep

Owning a business comes with a lot of paperwork. Nevertheless, it’s important to decide which documents go into the files and what to throw away. Even before you start keeping records, understand the importance of the exercise. First, the revenue authorities might come knocking at your door without notice and demand to see your tax records and any other supporting documents. Secondly, you need to know how your business is fairing on, and lastly, in case of issues, whether with clients, the authorities, or supplies, you can always revert to the documents for solutions. Here is a list of business records to keep. 

Accounting Documents

Accounting documents are critical for a precise analysis of the business health and for filing tax returns. This includes all income sources, expenses, and assets. Records also help in expenditure analysis. They are instrumental in making critical decisions such as cutting down on costs or comparing the performance of the company. It is also faster when you want to check the purchase price of different items or find out whether you have the required capital to cater to the expenditure. For instance, you can use text recognition using C# for OCR barcode technology for easier tracking of different financial records.

Insurance Records

It’s advisable to have insurance to cover different aspects of your business. For instance, you may want to cover your business against damage from a fire or natural occurrences. Other insurance policies to consider include cover against losses, theft, auto insurance, and renter’s insurance. 

You may also consider taking appropriate insurance covers for your employees, depending on the type of business you are involved in. Insurance records are vital when making claims or when the concerned authorities want to check whether you are up to date with insurance payments. Additionally, the documents may be required in case of legal disputes. They also contain vital information you can always refer to, including your policy number.

Licenses and Permits

Every business requires permits and licenses to operate in a given jurisdiction. The local authorities may want to check whether you adhere to the stipulated regulations by reviewing the documents periodically. In addition to this, you should be aware of when you need to renew the licenses and permits. Moreover, you may need extra permits, depending on the type of work you handle. For instance, you may require a business signs’ permit for areas where the sign size is restricted.

Invoices

There are two types of invoices, both of which need to be recorded. These are the outgoing invoices and incoming ones. Outgoing invoices are sent out to request payments for services rendered or products sold by the business. They are crucial in understanding the income flow of the company. Incoming invoices help in checking the business’s expenditure. 

When the two are analyzed, it’s easier to see the profitability. Note that the tax authorities pay attention to these documents to ensure your tax records are correct. Mandatory inclusions in the invoices include the product’s particulars, dates, and worth. Because of the many business records that need filing, a business record management plan should be implemented for organizing and tracking the documents. 

With a record management plan, it’s easier to retrieve documents when needed. It also prevents loss of documents because you can quickly tell when a particular report is not in place. Barcode scanners are ideal for business document tracking and organization.

Bank Statements

It’s essential to have records of all the business’s bank accounts and balances. Also, transaction records, monthly, and yearly bank statements should be filed appropriately. You can compare the bank records with the accounting records to ensure they correspond. Additionally, it is easier to analyze the business’s financial wellbeing when you have the bank and accounting documents. For easier management of the records, using barcode scanners and QR codes to track your business documents is recommended.

As you manage the business records, it’s important to know the duration you should hold on to them. This also makes sure you only have what the company needs, which makes the business records search easier. Also, for the safety of the documents have separate physical and digital record-keeping systems.

Guest Post: About the Author

Emily Lamp is a professional writer, working closely with many aspiring thinkers and entrepreneurs from various companies. She is also interested in technology, business growth and self-improvement. Say hello to Emily on Twitter @EmilyLamp2.

7 Self Development Tips to Improve Business Success

Experienced entrepreneurs understand that running their business is not a stagnant task. They must always be aware of changing economic conditions, new trade developments, and better methods of dealing with their customers. If you have a business, you can ensure your success as your business grows by keeping these 7 self-development tips in mind.

1. ABL: Always Be Learning

Smart business owners know they can never simply rely on their present knowledge and skills. They must keep their ears to the ground on developments within their industry and within the culture, to optimize their ability to serve their customers on many different levels. Subscribe to trade magazines, stay alert to new technologies, and take a global view of the world. Read up on methods to reduce your small business operational expenses. These measures will allow you to stay ahead of the pack and grow your business.

2. Develop Top Level Time Management Skills

Entrepreneurs often spend a great deal of time juggling tasks. Days can pass quickly, leaving you wondering if you actually accomplished the things you intended to do. Learning time management skills will help you to work more effectively, accomplishing the most important tasks first, and going on to fill in other tasks, as needed.

3. Learn How To Network Effectively

Getting together with others in your industry can be a good way to extend your connections and increase your knowledge. Trade shows and business conferences will allow you to meet people who can help you grow and promote your own business. Acquaintances are likely to show up at other meetings, which will help you to cement new relationships and extend your influence in your sphere of industry. Attending conferences also allows you to learn from your competitors in a friendly, cooperative environment. Use these opportunities to work on your people skills, and be ready to do your part in helping others to make new contacts.

4. Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is a method of assessing situations and addressing problems in a more logical and insightful way. It involves understanding the problem at hand, gathering factual information, and eliminating biases that interfere with clear decision-making. It also involves questioning evidence and recognizing patterns. Critical thinking eliminates irrelevant issues and gets to the heart of the matter, with hard facts and outcome-based solutions. Learning this method can help you to make better decisions in your day-to-day operations.

5. Hone Your People Skills

You should always be refining your interpersonal skills. If you need to work on your skills, read extensively on psychology, sociology, conflict resolution, and developing empathy with others. Look for ways to exercise these skills every day, so you can advance your understanding of your customers and their needs. These efforts will pay off in better business opportunities and increased growth.

6. Stay Alert for New Marketing Techniques for Reaching Customers

Effective marketing has become critical to growing your business opportunities. Make a point to keep up with the latest digital marketing trends, which continuously change on a regular basis. Falling behind on your marketing can cause you to miss out on a number of new customers’ demographics. For example, in Thailand, podcasts have slowly become a popular method for sending out messages related to products and services. Audio methods can often be a good way to reach customers who may not have time for reading blogs or print articles.

7. Develop Healthy Habits For Yourself and Those Around You

A busy schedule and stress can deplete your ability to function at your best level. Make sure you take the time to develop healthy habits to sustain you as you strive to improve your business success. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly to maintain fitness, and engage in activities that help you to deal with stress, such as meditation, walking in nature, or prayer. If you emphasize the importance of these activities, your team will also come to understand their value.

Conclusion

Running a business requires energy, optimism, and foresight. To keep your business moving forward, you will have to stay attuned to the many changes that can occur, over time. With these 7 tips, you will have a solid groundwork for keeping your business on a profitable track.

Guest Post: About the Author

Maryn is a tech enthusiast and creative content writer. She is interested in all tech-related stuff, digital marketing, travel, fitness, and personal improvement. Find Maryn on Twitter @MarynMcdonnell.

Where Should You Spend Your Marketing Budget in 2020?

In general, small businesses allocate 7% to 12% of their gross revenues to marketing. This compares with the Small Business Administration’s suggestion of spending 7% to 8% on marketing. Of that amount, the total budgeted to digital marketing is expected to rise to 45% in 2020 compared to 42% in 2019. The biggest share of digital marketing expenditures will go to video marketing, and social media ads will account for 25% of the average digital marketing budget. Let’s dig a little deeper to see how you should spend your marketing dollars.

Calculating Your Marketing Budget

It’s not too hard, just follow these steps:

  1. Identify your gross revenue: This is revenue before any expenses, deductions, or allowances. If you are a new business or the market has changed, you can use estimated revenues.
  2. Determine your ideal marketing budget: If your company is younger than five years old, your budget should be in the 12% to 20% range. You need to spend a high amount to help establish name recognition. Older companies should budget between 6% and 12% unless you are establishing a new brand name.

For example, assume your business is a startup and you expect to gross $100,000 in the first year. With a budget between 12% and 20%, your marketing expenditures should range from $12,000 and $20,000.

On the other hand, let’s say your company is 10 years old and grosses $1 million annually. With a budget of 6% to 12%, you should expect to spend between $60,000 and $120,000 this year on marketing.

Allocating Your Budgeted Funds

To know how to allocate your 2020 marketing budget across online and offline channels, you should review what worked in 2019. To start, identify the 5 to 10 most successful 2019 marketing strategies in terms of leads and sales. Break down the information to categorize your previous-year marketing spending, including:

  • Branding
  • Email
  • Events
  • Public relations
  • Print ads
  • SEO
  • Social media
  • Training
  • Website

The quality of your marketing data will help determine how much value you can extract from this exercise. To the extent possible, you want to spend money on the strategies with the highest marketing return on investment (ROI).

Understand 2020 Digital Marketing Trends

As you ponder your marketing expenditures, consider these trends:

  1. More than 90% of customers claim to rely on influencers to help them decide on purchases. In other words, it makes sense to allocate money for influencer fees.
  2. You really can’t afford to ignore video because it gets results. You can create streaming or live video for a modest cost. Check your community resources for companies that can handle video for you.
  3. Sophistication is on the rise. Look for increased use of artificial intelligence, video search, and 5G networks.
  4. You can better convert website visitors to leads by making your site more interactive. Think about adding live chat, quizzes, games, and even virtual reality.
  5. Do you understand micro-moments? These are instances where folks reflexively utilize their device(s) to do, watch, discover, buy, or learn something. In a micro-moment, people are ready to decide and/or spend money. For you, this means helping visitors act on their micro-moment. You do this by providing value, including timely articles, links to valuable resources, tools, help desks, etc., on websites and apps.
  6. Be aware that smartphones may eclipse websites this year in terms of video-based advertising.
  7. Concentrate your marketing on social media sites most relevant to your potential customers, be it Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
  8. Never forget that content is king. That means you should allocate sufficient budget to pay for high-quality, authoritative, and timely articles employing SEO features to drive an organic presence in search results.

How IOU Financial Can Help

Frequently, a mismatch develops between revenue collection and marketing expenditures. In other words, you may need to borrow money to exercise a timely marketing strategy. IOU Financial can provide quick, hassle-free funding so that you can realize your marketing objectives on your timetable. Contact us today for more information.

6 Ways eCommerce Businesses Can Cut Their Shipping Costs

Shipping can either make or break new eCommerce businesses. Massive corporations like Walmart and Amazon have shipping down to an exact science, with order fulfillment centers all over the country. Amazon already accounts for around 40 percent of all online sales. To compete, small businesses need to find a way to get their products to consumers quickly without charging them a fortune in shipping. In fact, 28 percent of online shoppers abandon carts because of unexpected shipping costs. When it comes to winning over new consumers, new e-retailers need to do everything they can to lower the cost of shipping without impacting the overall quality of their delivery services. Here are six tips for cutting shipping costs in the eCommerce industry.

Purchase Used Shipping Materials

It all starts with finding the right shipping materials. Companies looking to save money on their shipping costs should consider purchasing used shipping containers. Consumers don’t really care how their packages arrive as long as the product is intact and arrives on time. Purchasing used plastic containers, gaylord boxes and other shipping materials can help these companies save a fortune over time. Many of these containers will just end up being recycled or disposed of eventually so this is one of the best places to reduce costs. Companies can even label their used shipping containers to create more brand awareness. It’s just about finding low-cost materials that keep the company’s products secure.

Print Labels at Home or the Office

Companies can also print their shipping labels at home instead of going to the post office. Websites like Stamps.com make it easy to print shipping labels, which saves the company a trip to the post office. They can have the carrier pick up the package right from their home, office or warehouse without having to worry about pick-ups and drop-offs. If the retailer is using a sales platform, they can connect this software to their printer and the machine will automatically print off shipping labels every time a new order comes in. When getting products out the door as fast as possible is the only way to succeed in the eCommerce industry, companies should try to shave off as much time as they can from the order fulfillment process.

Reduce Package Size and Weight

Most package carriers like UPS, FedEx, and the U.S. Post Office will charge companies for shipping based on the size and weight of their packages. Companies should find shipping containers that match the size of their products, so they don’t end up overpaying for shipping. They still need to leave room for packaging materials that keep their products safe, but the smaller the container, the less the company will end up paying for shipping.

Retailers should also look for lightweight used shipping materials such as cardboard boxes and plastic totes. Reducing the overall weight of the package can be just as important as its size when it comes to trimming costs. To keep their items safe, retailers can use recycled shipping materials like recycled newspaper, cardboard pellets, and other low-cost items. These materials tend to weigh less than other types of shipping materials and they cost less upfront as well. Not to mention they’re also good for the environment.

Partner with Regional or Local Carriers Whenever Possible

While UPS and FedEx might seem like the obvious choice when it comes to shipping, there are other carrier services that might charge less. Companies should spend some time researching the carriers in their area until they find the lowest possible price. They can even use this research as leverage to negotiate with carriers, especially if they plan on shipping out hundreds of items per year.

Some regional and local carriers may only serve a certain part of the country, but if the company’s consumers also happen to live in this area, it might be the company’s best choice when it comes to shipping. Some smaller carriers are doing everything they can to compete with the likes of UPS and FedEx, so some companies might be able to negotiate a lower price, considering the carrier will be grateful for their business.

Purchase Insurance from a Third Party

Depending on the overall value of the package in question, some retailers may want to get insurance for their packages, or at least offer their consumers the option. While signing up for shipping insurance through a major carrier like UPS might be more convenient in the moment, going to a third party can help these companies save money. Third-party shipping insurance providers usually offer a lower rate than some of the biggest carriers in town. Retailers should establish a lasting relationship with an insurance provider, so they can quickly insure their packages without having to go through a carrier like UPS. If the company is doing a lot of shipping, they might be able to negotiate a lower rate per package.

Be Aware of Hidden Fees

There are all kinds of hidden fees involved in shipping, especially if the company is shipping to a remote area or a foreign country. Having the customer sign for packages, shipping insurance, rush hour surcharges and more could easily inflate the cost of shipping. Most consumers don’t want to deal with these kinds of fees. They just want to see “Free Shipping” and move along with their day. That’s why the retailer should do this research beforehand, calculating the entire cost of the shipment instead of surprising the customer with a last-minute fee. Retailers should try to find carriers that limit these kinds of fees altogether

Final Thoughts

Reducing the cost of shipping is about more than saving retailers money. Low-cost, reliable shipping is one of the only ways these companies can compete with massive e-retailers like Amazon and Walmart. The more a retailer can save on shipping, the more they can pass on these savings to the consumer.

Guest Post: About the Author


David Madden is an efficiency expert, as well as being the Founder and President of Container Exchanger. His passion and business is to save companies money through the use of used reusable and repurposed industrial packaging such as plastic and metal bulk containers, gaylord boxes, bulk bags, pallets, IBC totes, and industrial racks. He holds an MBA as well as a certificate from Daimler Chrysler Quality Institute for completion of six-sigma black belt training.

Does Your Small Business Need a Legal Team?

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

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

Legal Considerations to Keep in Mind

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

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

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

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

Factors you Need to Consider

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post: About the Author

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

4 Resolutions to Set For Your Small Business in 2020

As a small business owner, it’s likely you’re aware that things in the business world are ever-changing. Whether you’ve been in business for 10 years or 10 months, the new year is a great time to set some goals and resolutions in order to maintain and increase your success. While there are many ways in which you can go about setting goals, below, we’ve listed five tips we feel are crucial to help small business owners like yourself achieve success this coming year.

Establish Your Social Presence

These days, digital is the way to go. It’s rare anyone picks up a newspaper to find out what’s going on in the world, and if that’s where your business is being advertised, it’s pretty unlikely many people are hearing about it. If you’re thinking to yourself, “I already have a Facebook or Twitter account so that should be enough,” think again! While having these platforms is great, they’re doing absolutely nothing for your business if you’re not utilizing them strategically.

Depending on what’s happening within your business, make it your resolution to post weekly, or even daily, in order to engage with your customers. When you’re creating these posts, you’ll want to be sure they are consistent across the various platforms you’re utilizing. Because your social platforms are connected to your business, you want their presence and tone to be a reflection of that. Be sure to use language that is professional and on-brand and if you post photos, make sure they are appropriate and tell a story that relates back to your product or service.

If you’re someone who is not super tech savvy but would like to learn, there are courses you can take, many of which you can find online for free. On the other hand, if you do not have the time to devote to familiarize yourself, hiring someone may be in your best interest. If you’d like to learn more about various titles and job descriptions to make sure you’re hiring a candidate to meet your specific needs, visit this page for a breakdown.

Streamline Your Finances

While there are many reasons to start a small business, one of the main motives is to, of course, make a profit. Once you’ve established your business and start to see a profit, it’s important to keep your finances secure. A lot of business owners make the mistake of mixing their personal finances with their business. Having a shared account may work in the early stages, however, over time, things can get tangled leaving you with a big mess that could have been avoided had you kept your accounts separate from the start.

This year, look into opening a business bank account, more specifically a digital business bank account, to handle all your small business needs. Going digital provides you with 24/7 access to your accounts, the ability to make deposits and receive transfers at your fingertips, avoid waiting in lines, and you’ll even be able to loop your bookkeeper in on your finances, making tax-time and making sense of your financial statements a little less stressful. A digital bank account is a great option for owners or employees who are required to travel as they can access their banking information anywhere, anytime. To learn more about why you should go digital with your small business, check out this article.

Take Out a Loan

This may seem like a backward tip since you’ve already gotten your business up and running, however, taking out a small business loan may be exactly what you need to do in order to expand your growing business in the new year. Maybe you’re in the market for some new, more ergonomically correct office furniture, or maybe you’ve grown so quickly that you’re considering a second location. Either way, a small business loan can help get you there.

In the business world, opportunities come and go in the blink of an eye. That said, once you discover something lucrative for your business, you must act quickly. You’ll want to take this into consideration when selecting a company from which you borrow. At IOU, we understand this sense of urgency and do what we can in order to approve loans up to $500,000 in 24-48 hours leaving you with less time to worry about money and more time to focus on your business needs.

Give Back

Being a small business owner requires lots of hard work, patience, dedication, and perseverance and is oftentimes a thankless job, especially in the beginning. However, waking up each day knowing that you’re heading to work to do what you love has to feel pretty great. Why not share this energy with the community in which your business is housed?

As a small business, there are a number of ways you can give back to your community and they don’t all involve donating financially. For example, you and your team can select one day per month to spend time volunteering at a local animal shelter or a food pantry. It may seem like a lot to ask of your employees, but the intangible reward of helping those who are in need will make it all worthwhile. If you happen to be in a position where you can give back financially, consider sponsoring an event or even a youth sports team. Your contribution to the people in your area will be appreciated and although it is not intended to be a means of advertising, you may gain some new customers as a result!

The new year is a time for change and growth within your business and some of your practices as a business owner. It’s time to perfect your craft and welcome new ideas into your flow. Taking the time to make resolutions and actually sticking to them can be imperative in the success of your business. These tips we shared are just a few of the ways in which you can start 2020 off on a strong foot and continue to have a profitable business for years to come.