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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.

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.

Taxes in 2020 — Small Business Checklist

As we ease into the next tax year, it’s the right time to assess what’s new for businesses:

  1. Minimum wages:

    They went up in 13 states. You’ll need to refigure the withholding and deductions on affected employees.

  2. W-4 forms:

    They’re new for 2020, reflecting the removal of allowances for calculating paycheck withholdings.

  3. Overtime rules:

    About 1.3 million additional workers will now get overtime if they earn less than $35,568, up from last year’s threshold of $23,660.

  4. Retirement plans:

    If you offer a 401(k) or similar plan, you can:

    1. More easily recommend annuities.
    2. Collect a larger ($500) credit to set up a retirement plan if you have 100 or fewer employees.
    3. Collect a $500 credit for the adoption of auto-enrollment.
    4. Increase the maximum default percentage of compensation from 10% to 15%.
    5. Include more part-time workers in your retirement plan by reducing the minimum requirement from 1,000 hours to 500 hours in at least three consecutive years.
    6. More easily establish Multiple Employer Retirement Plans among two or more employers.
    7. Set up a new plan by your filing date in the following year rather than December 31 of the current year.
    8. Face higher penalties for failing to file returns and employee benefit plan reports.

As you assimilate these changes, you should prepare your checklist for 2020 taxes.

The 2020 Checklist

Hopefully, you’ve already started on your 2020 Tax Checklist. Here are the items we recommend you include:

  1. Mark your calendar for important deadlines:

    1. January 31, 2020: W-2/1099-MISC form distribution.
    2. March 15, 2020: S-Corporations and partnerships filing deadline.
    3. April 15, 2020: Deadline for sole proprietorships, single-member LLCs and C-Corporations.
    4. October 15, 2020: Deadline for filing extension returns.
  1. Identify the required forms for company filings:

    1. W-2 and 1099-MISC for employees and independent workers.
    2. Sole proprietors require Form 1040 and Schedule C.
    3. S-Corporations require Form 1120-S.
    4. C-Corporations require Form 1120.
    5. Partnerships require Schedule K-1 and Form 1065.
  1. Assemble your information:

    1. Bank statements
    2. Credit statements
    3. Income and expenditure reports
    4. Accounting documents
    5. Gross receipts
    6. Sales records
    7. Previous year’s return
    8. Depreciation schedule

 

  1. Compare business and personal expenses.

    • You need to avoid inconsistencies and overlaps between the two. Be careful to explain when you used personal funds to pay business expenses and business funds to pay personal expenses.
  2. Get on top of your 1099s.

    • You may be issuing them to contract labor and vendors. Also, you’ll be receiving them from some customers. Keep tabs on all of these in case of audits.
  3. Review your deduction opportunities.

    • This is best done with or by your CPA or bookkeeper. You must properly account for your business deductions, including items like equipment, travel, and supplies. But you should also search out less obvious deductions. If you work at home, make sure you take the maximum home office deduction. The same is true business mileage. Keep good records in case the IRS seeks proof.
  4. Review your estimated payments and payroll deposits.

    • You don’t want to overpay these items, because you can use the surplus payments for other reasons.
  5. Consider an extension.

    • If you find yourself facing complexities you hadn’t anticipated, you can file for an extension to work out the solutions. You’ll still have to pay your taxes on the due date, but you’ll be able to take the time necessary to file a clean return.

What If You Owe Taxes?

You may find that you own significant taxes for 2019. Maybe its because you earned more than estimated, or that you failed to take sufficient payroll withholdings. If you are a sole proprietor, you might have posted insufficient quarterly estimates.

Whatever the cause, if you have an additional five- or six-figure tax bill, a business loan will allow you to meet your tax obligations without draining equity from the business. Turn to IOU Financial for fast, easy funding with convenient repayment terms. We can take some of the sting out of owed taxes by allowing you to pay the IRS on time and then repaying your loan in affordable installments. We look forward to helping your business sail smoothly through this year’s tax filing.

SEO in 2020 — How to Rank as #1

SEO is in a dynamic phase right now, thanks in part to the evolution of Google’s ranking algorithms and in part to the move to optimize visual, voice, and Facebook Search channels. If you are a webmaster or a business owner (or both), now would be a good time to re-evaluate your SEO practices with an eye toward bringing them up to date. Here are a few areas to consider:

  1. Beneficial Purpose:

    Google now places a heavy emphasis on the beneficial purpose of a website during the ranking process. Pages should be user-centered to achieve their intended purposes. This includes sharing topical, personal, or social information, sharing various forms of media, expressing opinions, entertaining visitors, selling services and products, running a forum, and facilitating user interactions. Pages that seek to make money without helping users are now considered to be of low quality.

  2. YMYL Content:

    YMYL stands for “your money or your life.” Broadly, this is critical information that your website must get right. Specifically, inaccurate or deceptive YMYL content might affect a reader’s financial stability, safety, health, or happiness. Google now places greater scrutiny on the truthfulness of YMYL pages, including ones that cover news, legal issues, governmental developments, financial and medical advice, shopping information, and information on groups of people.

  3. EAT Factors

    EAT, or “expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness,” was once the entire basis of page quality, but now is one of several factors. YMYL content must meet a higher EAT standard, demonstrating the credentials of experts and generally recognized authorities that are considered honest and accurate. EAT factors are of the highest importance on pages containing medical, scientific, financial, legal, and other information that supports decisions.

  4. Scaled Content:

    Important, high-quality information should be shared in a coordinated way, including long-form articles, press releases, videos, podcasts, multiple platforms, chatbots, and Google Actions. The trend is to develop original, expert content and then distributing it through multiple channels and media.

  5. Avoiding Staleness:

    You can help your ranking by updating old content, something that Google notices. For many websites, that means updating or archiving pages that are six months to two years old. Google will downgrade a page that loses relevance because the information is dated. You should update your content to include the latest links, statistics, and external resources. Also, you should regularly audit your pages for duplicate, conflicting, or sketchy content. There are audit tools (e.g., DeepCrawl, SreamingFrog, SEMRush, etc.) available to help you identify problem areas.

  6. Facebook Search:

    Paid social and paid search are increasingly intertwined. Is your Facebook search-ad strategy up to date? All brands can now place Facebook ads that automatically receive Automatic Placement support. That means your ads will appear in the Facebook Marketplace as well as primary search results. Your strategy should include using niche keywords targeting less saturated audiences.

  7. Sharpening Backlinks:

    Backlinking continues to be an important tactic to boost the credibility of websites. Your backlinks should target competitive keywords, especially in highly-competitive markets. These should be quality backlinks that promote specific marketing outlets, such as digital marketing platforms that serve similar audiences with high domain authority. By the way, these same considerations also apply to guest postings, encouraging long-term recurring contributions.

  8. Schema Use:

    The joint facility Schema.org provides websites with a structured data markups that major search engines interpret page information. You need Schema to provide snippets that serve as zero-click results on the search results page, a good strategy to keep searchers from traveling to another site to answer a question. Also, Schema supports voice-based queries such as those available through Google Assistant.

Conclusion

We’ve given you eight tips to help you improve your SEO practices in the new decade. Space limitations prevent us from exploring additional tips that you should check out on your own, including Accelerated Mobile Pages, page speed, Google Search Console, different language hreflang tags, and more. So saddle up, cowpokes, and git that SEO done – don’t let your competitors get the jump on you.

Prioritizing Your Business Goals in 2020

The new year is here, and with it comes a fresh opportunity to re-evaluate your business goals. This is a useful annual exercise because goals and priorities can change. You need to ensure everyone is on the same page in the new year. Take the time to look at your objectives and to apply lessons learned from 2019.

Here are some important things to consider as you review your 2020 goals:

  1. Assess 2019:

    Start by figuring out what you did right and what you did wrong in 2019. The right stuff should serve as the basis for the growth of the company. But the bad stuff is possibly more important because it tells you where you must take action to improve performance. The actions you take depend on the nature of the problems you encounter. Typically, you will have to redirect and/or increase resources allocated to the problem areas, whether it be management, sales, marketing, finance, or operations. Your assessment should be accompanied by specific plans to exploit strengths and remediate weaknesses.

  2. Emphasize training:

    Growth in 2020 will require an investment in professional growth within your company. Sure, you need to train onboarding employees, but you must also make sure that management, including yourself, receives the latest information regarding changes in the business landscape, including technical, tax-related, best-practice, marketing, and regulatory developments. Group training options may be the most cost-effective. You should also utilize your in-house and consultant experts to deliver training courses where needed. Naturally, you can save money by training on-premises rather than paying for travel.

  3. Set SMART Goals for 2020:

    SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound. To make your goals SMART, you must state them in detailed language that leaves no doubt as to what constitutes success. You must specify what is to be done, using which methods, by what deadline. You should also specify how you will prove that the goal is achieved. For example, you can use financial ratios to prove you’ve improved margins, reduced inventory turnaround time, or attained dozens of other possible goals.

  4. Use high-quality data:

    The adage is “garbage in, garbage out.” Now more than ever, you need to be operating using accurate and timely data. Bad data can result in bad expenditures that hurt your business. It might be a good idea to bring in a data consultant to assess your current databases to see that they are internally consistent and clean. Prioritize which data is the most important for your business and verify it is of high quality. You should have key performance indicators that help you assess data quality.

  5. Evaluate your leverage:

    Many companies short-change their growth prospects by failing to employ enough leverage (i.e., debt). Often, owners are too conservative and miss opportunities that would enhance growth. They are afraid to take on debt even though their businesses throw off more than enough cash to easily repay the debt. By taking prudent loans, companies can make new investments, pay off old liabilities, and recruit needed talent. You may want to spruce up your financials in anticipation of merger and acquisition activity. Perhaps you want to relocate a store, or open new stores, or upgrade your inventory mix. If you have carefully designed plans, don’t let them wither just because you can’t finance them internally.

Conclusion

We’ve outlined a few important priorities to address for the new year. To the extent they require expenditures, our last point is critical: Use debt to grow your company. We can help. Please contact us at IOU Financial for quick, affordable business loans that are easy to repay. We have the experience and expertise to get you the money you need on terms that will please. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

6 Ways to Make Sense of Your Small Business Financial Statements

Running a small business usually means doing many different things simultaneously. As a solo entrepreneur, you are probably dealing with everything from sales to marketing, but the majority of business owners consider financial tasks to be the most difficult.

After all, this is exactly why only 50% of companies survive their fifth year in business. Financial statements are one of the features that particularly bother small-sized companies.

By definition, financial statements are written records that convey the business activities and the financial performance of a company. In other words, it is a document that clearly reveals the overall condition of your company.

Financial statements consist of three basic elements – balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow statements. However, it takes more than that to design a meaningful record of business activities. In this post, we are going to show you six ways to make sense of your small business financial statements.

Create an Accurate Income Statement

We already mentioned the three elements of a financial statement, so let’s open the list with the first component. We are talking about income statements, also known as the profit and loss statement.

This is a major feature because it reveals the profit gained and all of your expenses in a given timeframe. For instance, you could be creating a quarterly or annual income statement.

The income statement helps you and your clients to understand the nominal value of your small-sized business simply by comparing the revenue with the sum of expenses that took place in the same period.

Mind the Balance Sheet

Although very important, income statements cannot compare to balance sheets. The second item on our list is the real indicator of professional success, so you have to pay special attention to it. Bearing this in mind, it’s not a surprise to see clients and investors asking for this document in particular.

Unlike income statements, balance sheets reveal the current situation of your finances. The document applies to the specific date, thus showing the company’s situation in terms of liquidity and stability. A balance sheet should pinpoint three features:

  • Business assets: This includes everything your organization owns.
  • Liabilities: It reveals everything your organization owes.
  • Owner’s equity: This one allows you to see what’s left for the owner once you’ve nullified all of the liabilities.

Don’t Forget a Cash Flow Statement

The third component of a financial statement comes in the form of a cash flow statement. This is another very important feature because 60% of failed small and medium enterprises cite cash flow issues as the main reason.

For instance, your sales results might be flourishing, but you could still be struggling with delayed payments and the way cash flows into your business. In this case, you could be spending more money than you can afford due to the underperforming cash flow cycle.

You can analyze cash flow whenever you want and craft anything from annual do daily cash flow statements.

Make a Revenue Forecast

So far you’ve seen the essentials of creating a financial statement, but we must add three more elements to the equation. The first one is called a revenue forecast and it represents a critical report if you want to take a glimpse into the future of your small business.

To put it simply, the revenue forecast is the evaluation of the profit and loss in the next year or any other period in the future. If you make a realistic estimation, you can make additional plans related to marketing investments, sales strategies, operational costs such as salaries, and so on.

If you don’t want to enter the following year blindfolded, then making the revenue forecast is the only way to go.

Conduct an ROI Analysis

Too many small businesses are not able to calculate return on investments (ROI), especially in the field of sales and marketing. According to the report, only 50% of marketers believe their organization can correctly calculate ROI.

If you want to keep the business profitable in the long run, you have to be clever enough to measure performance on a regular basis.

The idea is simple – you just need to divide the outcome/benefit of your investment with the actual cost of the same investment. If you get in return more than you paid for in the first place, then you can consider the investment to be worthwhile.

Hire a Professional to Make Financial Statements

The last tip on our list is clear and direct – if you find the abovementioned tasks too difficult, then you should hire a professional to do it on your behalf. A lot of entrepreneurs hate to admit it, but the truth is they cannot handle financial reporting single-handedly.

If you are one of these small business owners, we strongly recommend you to stop experimenting and start taking things seriously. Hiring a professional accountant might cost you at first, but you won’t have to worry about possible mistakes that could have a devastating effect later on in your business.

Conclusion

Small-sized businesses are often struggling to get things done timely and efficiently. With too many duties and not too many workers, you can hardly find enough time to take care of financial statements and do it without making substantial errors in the process.

In this post, we discussed six ways to make sense of your small business financial statements. Can you do this job single-handedly? Do you have other useful tips to share with your peers? Feel free to write a comment – we would love to see your experiences with financial statements!

Guest Post: About the Author

Becky Holton is a journalist and a blogger at essay writing service australia. She is interested in education technologies,  assignment help and is always ready to support informative speaking at resume writing service. Follow her on Twitter.

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.

2020 Technology Trends for Small Business Owners to Anticipate

At last check, America was hosting more than 30 million small businesses. The ones that plan for the latest technology trends will hold a distinct advantage over their competitors. Here are six tech-related trends that business owners should anticipate. Perhaps one or more will have a direct impact on your business.

1.    The Growth of Automation Software

Artificial intelligence (AI) and related automated technologies were once considered too big to affect small businesses. That’s rapidly changing now. The evolution of AI is making it a viable option for small businesses in a number of business processes, including:

  • Email marketing
  • Customer service
  • Data entry
  • Accounting

As AI apps filter down to small businesses, the businesses that climb on board will be better able to compete with larger companies. In addition, the growth of automation may create a startling new number of business opportunities that will interest entrepreneurs.

2.    Work from Home

Futurists predict this trend will quickly become the new normal for millions of small business employees. Attitudes toward remote work are changing. Once, owners and managers feared that it would lead to lower productivity. However, the facts indicate just the opposite. Studies show that employees who work from home are more productive, thanks to fewer distractions and time saved on commuting. Small businesses will increasingly experiment with telecommuting, at least for part of the week. Owners may actually save some operational costs, and employees will save on commuting. The result should be a more productive environment.

3.    Social Media Marketing

The number of small businesses who latch on to social media technology to market their offerings will continue to accelerate. Platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook continually refine their technology to improve marketing return on investment for their customers. Small business owners are becoming aware of the value of social media influencers. These are professionals who have large followings and who can help bring your offerings to the attention of their many followers. If you want to get the biggest bang for your marketing buck, consider engaging a social media influencer to help with your marketing campaigns.

4.    Freelance Economy

The same technological progress that animates telecommuting makes it easier for millions of people to develop side hustles that form the genesis of new small businesses. The freelance, or gig, economy allows folks to monetize what were once hobbies and to work as consultants/contractors to multiple clients. As telecommunications becomes faster and more reliable, it becomes easier and cheaper for professionals to compete online as graphic artists, writers, webmasters, marketing consultants, and many other gigs. For example, one leader in the field, Upwork, provides complete support services to facilitate small business gigs for freelancers, and its influence should grow in 2020.

5.    Customer Support

Consumers increasingly favor online customer support over phone calls. Real-time chats allow specialists to handle customer inquiries and complaints. This has a couple of side effects. First, it encourages customer interaction among people who don’t like to talk on the phone or to wait in queue for the next available representative. Second, the growing use of AI provides online capabilities to solve many problems online before the intervention of a human. Third, it allows easier rationing when customers need to speak to a person to solve a problem.

6.    Shifts in Investments

Small businesses may have to replace aging technology to successfully compete. The growth of cloud computing and the introduction of 5G networks are but two examples of where business owners may need to revamp antiquated equipment and unproductive practices. Although this may require an initial investment in hardware, software, and expertise, the cost will be well worth it. Companies who rely on older technology will find themselves at a disadvantage to nimbler, tech-savvy competitors.

Conclusion

It will require increasing investments in equipment, software, and expertise to compete in 2020 and beyond. If you would like to explore the financing you might need to help your business thrive, we invite you to contact us at IOU Financial. You’ll find it easy to borrow the money you need quickly, economically, and with convenient repayment options. Don’t let tight cash prevent you from seizing the promise of advancing technology — contact IOU Financial today for a fast small-business loan.

5 Webinars for Small Business Owners

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

U.S. Small Business Administration

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

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

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

National Federation of Independent Business

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

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

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

SCORE

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

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

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

Small Business Expo

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

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

Bizlaunch

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Be a Better Leader — 9 Podcasts to Listen to

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

  1. The Go-Giver, Host Bob Burg:

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

  2. Leaders in the Trenches, Host Gene Hammet:

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

  3. Online Marketing Made Easy, Host Amy Porterfield:

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

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

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

  5. Mixergy, Host Andrew Warner:

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

  6. Leadership and Loyalty, Host Dov Baron:

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

  7. This Is Your Life, Host Michael Hyatt:

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

  8. Masters of Scale, Host Reid Hoffman:

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

  9. Coaching for Leaders, Host Dave Stachowiaki:

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

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