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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.

Modern Tools for the Modern Small Business

Digital technology is the driving force of change in today’s small business landscape. Compared to even a few years ago, SMBs have become wholly integrated with technology, with an overwhelming 92% of small businesses using cloud-powered technology in some capacity.

Compared to larger competitors, which have more time, energy and resources to research the latest trends, small businesses often struggle to keep themselves and their business practices up-to-date. As an increasing number of companies look toward online solutions for their everyday tasks, it’s more important than ever for your business to rise with the tech tides.

To help you stay in the loop, here are some modern tools that small businesses can leverage to streamline their business models and stay afloat amongst their larger competition.

Cybersecurity

As more small businesses are choosing to communicate with teammates, share information and store data through the internet, cybersecurity systems have become an essential line of defense. In the past, corporations and franchises were the primary victims of online attacks, but moving online has meant that several small businesses now attract the unwanted interest of hackers, scammers and malware viruses looking to obtain your confidential information.

Many SMBs don’t have cybersecurity policies or strategies in place, despite 61% of breaches in 2016 hitting smaller businesses. Cybersecurity software fortifies your online presence on a number of fronts—from spotting phishing emails to deterring ransomware—which can help ensure your customer, company and employee information stay out of the wrong hands.

Invoice and Time Tracking

Invoicing technology takes the mystery out of billing your customers. Whether you need to juggle multiple tasks at once or manage a large team, time tracking software helps you collect accurate information on the amount of time and resources you dedicate to each of your customers. Many solutions integrate seamlessly with billing applications, allowing you to quickly transcribe this information into an invoice that can be emailed right away.

Late payments cost small business $3 trillion each year, as business owners spend their valuable time and resources following up with tardy customers or are forced to write off late payments as bad debt. By using automation software, your invoice system can track the status of payments and send reminders to your customers when payments are due, helping ensure you have the capital you need for continued growth.

Contact Centers

 Although call centers are often synonymous with larger businesses, small businesses can utilize contact center tools to better manage their customer’s calls, ensuring no one’s messages are missed during high-volume times. Today’s consumers utilize more digital channels than ever to contact your company—including social media messaging, phone calls, emails, website chats and SMS texts. By using omnichannel routing technology, call center software helps you streamline all these methods of communication through a single, organized platform.

In the age where social media and the internet give us instant access to any information we need, 60% of customers believe that waiting on hold for even a single minute is too long. During periods of high call volumes, small businesses especially struggle to minimize wait times as their limited staff members try to work through their call queues. With the support of contact center tools, you’ll be better prepared to manage inquiries of all kinds as they arrive for an improved customer experience.

Virtual Offices

Modern technology has not only transformed the digital landscapes businesses use but the physical ones as well. The traditional office, where employees work a regular 9-to-5 workday, is no longer what the typical schedule looks like as virtual workspaces quickly become the new normal. Designed to give you all the functionality of an in-office workspace, these tools give small businesses greater flexibility when it comes to where, how and when they work.

Sixty six percent of businesses in 2019 offer some variant of remote work benefits—from a few hours each week to full-time virtual employees. If you are looking to retain your current employees and attract new talent to your business, then a virtual workspace can give you the mobile compatibility you need to deliver on the flexible work opportunities that today’s workforce craves. And thanks to integrations with virtual reality technology, mobile phone compatibility and gamification options (which can turn any menial task into a competitive “game” for employees to participate in), many virtual office solutions will help your remote teams feel just as engaged and involved as they would be at their office desk.

Artificial intelligence

AI technology has only recently entered small- and medium-sized business markets, but its use-cases are already producing benefits as tech-savvy SMBs begin to integrate these features into their day-to-day workflows. The most prominent examples are AI-powered chatbots, which seek to streamline your work in a number of ways—from answering preliminary customer inquiries on your website to pinging your team on important reminders.

While artificial intelligence and automation software were first met with a reasonable amount of skepticism from the small business community, over 50% of SMBs believe that AI functionality is an important factor to consider when choosing new technology. With only so much time in your schedule, many small organizations have realized that the amount of time they save on menial tasks each day justifies the investment on these new tools and services. Chatbots and other smart technology help you cut out the busy work so you can focus on what’s really important in order for your small business to thrive.

Guest Post: About the Author

Fiona Lanson writes within a number of online business communities. As a small business tech expert, she is primarily focused on highlighting the ways that technology and work culture continue to impact the ways that SMBs conduct business.

How to Conduct a Telecom Audit for your Business

Telecom audits aren’t usually the job that everyone in the office is clamoring for. They are often tedious, time-consuming and confusing. While you can use telecom expense management software to make the job easier, this may not be the method your company prefers.

Manual audits can be very taxing, but they serve a purpose. Whether you own your business or have been tasked with performing a manual audit for the company you work for, it is important to do the job carefully.

Telecom audits can help you cut operational costs and streamline service.

If you have been charged with the duty of a manual telecom audit for your company, we can help. In the following post, you will find a helpful guideline for performing a telecom audit.

Gather Pertinent Information

The first step should always be to gather all telecom and IT bills, information on supplemental packages, PRI lines and any other pertinent information. Your company may have more than one telecom vendor so be sure to gather monthly bills from all of them.

Consider all of your company’s IT services as well. You will need to gather information regarding mobile lines, hard lines, long-distance providers, voicemail service and IT services.

Once you have all the pertinent information in front of you, take some time to familiarize yourself with it. You may spot a discrepancy right off the bat just by going over billing statements for these services.

Review Contracts

Every telecom service provider your company does business with has its own contract. You should carefully review all of these contracts.

If your company has a central repository for these kinds of contracts, be sure to utilize this resource. If it doesn’t, you will have to go on the hunt to round up each individual telecom contract.

Once you have all applicable contracts, you should first look to make sure that all of them are current. If a contract has lapsed but your company is still being charged for services rendered, then you have spotted another glaring discrepancy.

Next:

You will want to keep an eye out for the services or equipment that are outlined in the contracts and compare them with monthly invoices.

The contracts should include all the services your business actually uses as well as any telecom or IT equipment. You may find that the wholesale telecom provider in question is not providing a service that was outlined in the contract.

Collect Tariff Cards

Each phone call your company makes is subject to a tariff from your telecom provider. Each tariff is recorded on what is referred to as “tariff cards.” Each card contains important information on how much was charged for each call or connection.

Obtain copies of these cards to make sure that your company is being billed correctly. You can easily find billing errors just by reviewing tariff cards. Tariff cards are a matter of public record so you can get copies of them directly from your telecom providers.

Cutting Costs

After you have reconciled this data and pointed out any overcharges, billing errors or contractual obligations that are not being met, you should look for areas in which you can cut costs. Review your monthly bills carefully.

Take notice of the telecom or IT services that your company uses the most.

Compare them with the contractual services that your company scarcely uses. If your company is already pretty efficient and lean, you may not see any services that it doesn’t frequently use. But if you do happen to come across one that is unnecessary or doesn’t get used much, make a note of it in your final report.

Consider all the telecom features and apps that you are being charged for. This is where you will typically find superfluous services.

Final Reporting

Once all the documents have been pored over, reconciliations have been made and unnecessary services have been identified, you are ready to give your report. Your report should be thorough and give the decision-makers a clear idea of what the company is paying for, what services are under contract and if breaks, errors, and abnormalities have occurred.

Your final report can also include an RFP (request for proposal) in which services that your company could use to its benefit are identified. Remember that the purpose of a telecom audit is not only to identify discrepancies and save money, but also to improve performance and efficiency.

We hope you have found this guide helpful. Happy auditing!

Guest Post: About the Author

Lamar Carter brings over 33 years of executive telecommunications wholesale management experience to his role as All Access Telecom (AAT) CEO. He directs the overall strategic vision of the company by leveraging his vast telecom industry and sales expertise to grow AAT into the premier telecommunication service provider it is today. Prior to founding the company in November 2009, he was the Director of Sales at Stratus Telecom, where he was responsible for sales, service and account management duties for all CLERK’s, EX’s and VOIP providers in North America.

6 Tips to Prepare Your Business for the Holiday Season

Now that Autumn has arrived, the holidays can’t be far behind. In other words, things are going to get hectic soon, which means now is the time to start preparing your business for the 2019 holiday season. Depending on the size of your business, you might personally handle these tasks, but it’s a good idea to delegate where appropriate. First, it will give you more time, and second, it will provide important experience for your key employees. Without further ado:

1.    Stock Up on Supplies

Now is the time to review the supply orders you placed before the holidays last year. Some supplies are bedrock basic. For example, your public bathrooms will probably see increased traffic, so make sure you order plenty of paper towels, liquid soap, and toilet paper. If you operate a store, you also need to order a sufficient number of store gift cards and gift wrap to handle demand. If 2019 is your first year in business, network with other businesses to pick up important pointers. The bottom line is to order early and avoid expensive rush shipping later. Your customers will appreciate it when you can see to their needs in a seemingly effortless way.

2.    Purchase Extra Inventory

If you are a manufacturer, anticipate higher product demand. That means ordering more inputs from your vendors, scheduling extra production, and possibly hiring extra workers. If necessary, reserve extra warehouse space and additional transportation resources. If you are a merchandiser, you need to get your orders in early enough to have holiday goods in place when needed. Don’t forget, your suppliers are also under pressure, and they will be grateful for early orders. In any event, understand your suppliers’ required lead times and make sure you place orders before it’s too late.

3.    Schedule Holiday Hours

If you are a retailer, you may plan extended hours for the holidays. On the other hand, if you are a mom-and-pop business, perhaps you’ll be closing down for a few days over the holidays. You will need to finalize your holiday schedule and notify staff of any changes that affect them. Ask your employees to request holiday time off before a set date and encourage them to be available during the busiest days. Line up extra staff if necessary, and don’t forget to let your customers know about any special hours.

4.    Plan Your Decorations

Let’s face it, customers expect holiday decorations, hokey or not. Even if you operate out of an office, your employees will expect a nod to the holiday spirit. Decorating doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you treat it as a team-building exercise. On the other hand, some retail stores will require extensive redecorating, which means early planning and ordering. While decorating, take the opportunity to do a little cleaning and polishing of those out-of-the-way areas.

5.    Get Busy on the Web

Just like decorating your physical premises, your website might also benefit from a holiday makeover. First check the basics — is it easy to read, navigate, and place orders? Can you easily add a few images of candy canes or reindeer? Next, review your pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., and make sure they are up to date, If blogging is a regular part of your social presence, get your topics ready and, if you are too busy to personally pen your own articles, engage a professional freelance writer to prepare holiday-oriented content.

6.    Check Your Budget

All these holiday preparations can get expensive, putting pressure on your working capital. You should carefully estimate your cash needs between now and the new year and predict any shortfalls. If you find yourself in a bit of a cash crush, contact us at IOU Financial. We can arrange business loans quickly and conveniently, with a minimum of paperwork or hassle. And from all of us, best wishes for the happiest of holidays!

Learn Valuable Skills Online to Better Serve Your Business

If you run a small business, you’re probably always looking for ways to improve quality and boost the bottom line. The good news is that you can learn many valuable skills online, often for free, that will help you achieve your business goals. These skills can help you improve your marketing and cut expenses for tasks that you now farm out to part-timers or consultants. The following is our list of skills for you to consider learning.

Marketing-Related Skills

  1. Copywriting:
    Does your website content show you off at your best? Do you feel your marketing emails are effective? If eigther answer is no, part of the problem might be weak copywriting. Poor grammar, inappropriate word choices, and boring copy self-sabotage your marketing efforts. While you can hire a good freelance writer at a reasonable rate, you might also want to improve your writing skills and take on some of the work yourself. You can improve your copywriting skills for free at websites like Copyblogger.
  2. Search Engine Optimization:
    SEO is a way to improve the results of online keyword searches. It involves several technical tasks as well as analyzing data from search engines like Google. Your goal is to get your company listed on Page 1 of search results for your chosen keywords (i.e., the terms a searcher might enter). While excellent, authoritative copy is a must, you can also boost your results by making it easier for the search engines to understand your website content. SEO does this, while data analytics shows how the public is responding. Check out the free online courses available from Google.
  3. Social Media:
    Nowadays, it’s almost mandatory to maintain a social media presence in order to compete effectively. Being a social media guru requires time, effort and skill. The payoff is improved buzz about your product or service, which can lead to higher sales. You can learn the ins and outs of social media at sites like Lynda.com. While some charge money, they often have a free trial period to test them out.
  4. Photography/Graphic Design:
    Beyond great content, your website and other marketing collateral should be visually compelling. Instead of buying the same old stock photos that everyone else uses, you can decorate your website with your own photographs and graphic designs. It could very well be worth your while to learn Photoshop, which will allow you to use your graphic skills to improve the look of your websites and other materials. Many sources of Photoshop training are available for free or a modest membership fee, such as Kelby One.

Other Skills

  1. Excel:
    Spreadsheets are almost mandatory for recording, tracking and presenting data. With them, you can do budgeting, track inventory, and a thousand other tasks. Excel is the most popular spreadsheet program, and you can get free training from Microsoft.
  2. Bookkeeping:
    You might be surprised how today’s powerful yet friendly bookkeeping software packages make bookkeeping an easy task that doesn’t require an accounting degree. Products like QuickBooks can handle your business bookkeeping as your business grows. You can get free training and certification from Intuit, the maker of QuickBooks, or from other free sources.
  3. Tax preparation:
    If your taxes aren’t too complicated, you can file them yourself using one of several tax preparation packages. For example, you can visit the Intuit website for free TurboTax training.
  4. Finance:
    If you have big ambitions in the business world, you just might want to become skilled at finance and financial decision-making. Many colleges and other institutions offer online courses that lead to certificates or degrees in finance. Also, check out the many finance-related articles offered at IOU Financial.

Conclusion

We’ve just scratched the surface about what you can do to beef up your business skills via free and paid online resources. Think about what would work best for your business and then get moving. You can bet your competitors are!

How To Optimize Your Business For The Digital Age

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

Be Realistic

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

Consider Employees

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

Plan Frugally

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

Keep Security In Mind

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

Work With Your Employees

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

Automation Is Key

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

Mobile

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

Guest Post: About the Author

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

 

 

Mid-Year Check-in With Your 2019 Goals

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

  1. Review each of the first six months.

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

  2. Understand what drove revenue.

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

  3. Review your operations.

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

  4. Identify Solutions:

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

  5. Rework the Year-End Plan:

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

  6. Review Growth Plan:

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

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