small business

14 Things Small Business Owners Need to Know This Week

By Rieva Lesonsky


1—55 Ways Content Marketing Can Boost Your Business

Content marketing is increasingly more important for small business owners, but many have lots of questions about putting together a solid plan. The folks at Skilled have created an informative infographic filled with content marketing tips. Check it our below.


2—How to Deal with “Bad” Customers

Not all customers are good ones. Check out the infographic below from The Website Group in the UK to find out how to handle them.


3—Sleepy Time

Are you having a hard time getting a good night’s sleep? Join the club—many small business owners come up short on snoozing. UK-based Pounds to Pocket shares the 10 sleep mistakes we’re probably making—and solutions for getting some well-deserved rest.


4—Back-to-School Spending Soars

With consumer confidence rising and more young people in school, back-to-college spending is expected to hit an all-time high this year while back-to-school spending is expected to see its second-highest spending level on record, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics. Total spending for school and college combined is projected to reach $83.6 billion, a more than 10% increase from last year’s $75.8 billion.

NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay says, “With stronger employment levels and a continued increase in wages, consumers are spending more and we are optimistic they will continue to do so throughout the rest of the year.”

School Spending: Families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average $687.72 each, for a total of $29.5 billion, an 8% increase from last year’s $27.3 billion. Total spending is the second-highest in the history of the survey following a peak of $30.3 billion in 2012.

According to the survey, back-to-school shoppers plan to spend $10.2 billion on clothing (purchased by 95% of respondents), $8.8 billion on electronics such as computers or calculators (60%), $5.6 billion on shoes (93%) and $4.9 billion on school supplies such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes (97%). Parents say they will spend an average of $238.89 on clothing, $204.33 on electronics, $130.38 on shoes and $114.12 on school supplies.

For the first time, the survey asked consumers what types of electronics they plan to purchase. Among electronics shoppers, 45% plan to buy a laptop computer, while 35% plan to purchase a tablet. About 25% plan to purchase electronic accessories such as a mouse, flash drive or charger.
According to the survey, 65% of back-to-school shoppers say half or more of their purchases are a direct result of their children’s influence, up from 57% last year. And while children’s influence is growing, so too is their willingness to help their parents pay the bill: teenagers will contribute $37.64, up from last year’s $32.90, and pre-teens will contribute $27.09, up from last year’s $20.08.

College Spending: College students and their families plan to spend an average of $969.88, up from last year’s $888.71. Total spending is expected to be $54.1 billion, up from $48.5 billion last year and surpassing 2012’s record of $53.5 billion. The increase in spending is driven, in part, to growing college enrollment. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, college enrollment has steadily increased over the last five years and is projected to reach nearly 21 million this fall.

The survey found college consumers plan to spend $12.8 billion on electronics (purchased by 51%), $8.0 billion on clothing (78%), $7.5 billion on snacks and other food items (75%), $5.9 billion on dorm/apartment furnishings (51%), $4.5 billion on shoes (72%), $4.5 billion on personal care items (78%), $3.9 billion on school supplies (88%), $3.9 billion on gift cards (40%) and $3.2 billion on branded collegiate gear (56%). Households plan to spend an average of $229.20 on electronics, $142.90 on clothing, $134.20 on food, $105.58 on dorm/apartment furnishings, $81.38 on shoes, $81 on personal care items, $70.08 on school supplies, $68.99 on gift cards and $56.57 on branded gear.

Similar to K-12, the survey asked back-to-college shoppers for the first-time what types of electronics they plan to purchase. The survey found 61% plan to purchase a laptop, 28% a tablet, 26% electronic accessories, 24% a calculator and 21% a smartphone/cell phone.


5—Christmas in July

Yes, most Americans are working on their tans and taking vacation this month, but if you’re an online retailer, Krishna Iyer, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Business Development at ShipStation, says July is when you should start preparing your stores for holiday orders.

It’s not too early, says Iyer, and preplanning leads to loyal customers and increased revenues. It takes time to forecast which items will be the big sellers this holiday season and work with the manufacturer’s long lead times to ensure your shelves are stocked. You’ll also need time to work out any snarls in your website/shipping policies that would be magnified by the increased traffic and orders.

Iyer recommends that as part of the holiday planning online retailers also assess their packaging needs, warehouse requirements and shipping policies. Here are some of his tips:

New Shipping Trends: Online retailers need to be aware of new delivery methods such as pick-up/drop-off locations (i.e., UPS access point and intelligent parcel lockers) and same-day shipping services that their customer base may be expecting this holiday season. Retailers need to coordinate the details, pricing and logistics with shipping carriers before the holiday rush and make sure that all shipping options are clearly communicated to the customer.

Returns: The testing of returns policies on employees, friends and family cannot be emphasized enough. Make sure your policy is clear to someone who works outside your company. The returns policy should be consistently communicated for customers across all channels including your website or third-party marketplaces. Retailers should also consider extending their returns window beyond the standard 30-day period.

Packaging: Retailers need to ensure the packaging they use accounts for dimensional weight pricing, is branded appropriately and includes a shipping label customers can use to return the product if necessary. It is important that the original packaging directly affects the returns process. If your company ships products in poly bags or small mailers that are not resealable, it might be wise to send additional packaging that can be used to for returns or provide directions for which packaging type consumers should use.

Cross-Team Communications: The summer is an excellent time to get cross-functional groups together to discuss the lessons learned from the previous holiday season. Discuss the main customer complaints and pain points you heard and establish new policies and procedures that everyone from marketing, sales, customer service, shipping and purchasing can follow to make the customer experience better and your bottom line bigger.


6—The Growing Gig Economy

The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), recently released Part-Time Nation, the latest set of findings from the Fourth Annual Guardian Workplace Benefits StudySM. The research reveals a greater number of working Americans are participating in the “Gig Economy” (estimated to be about 25% of the U.S. labor force or roughly 40 million), working in part-time, independent contractor, or contingent positions rather than full-time, permanent jobs, particularly in industries like hospitality, healthcare, and retail. Although employment offers some security, the lack of employee benefits to part-time workers makes them financially vulnerable.

Of those employed on a part-time basis (27 million or 18% of all U.S. workers), three-fourths choose to work part-time to achieve a better work-life balance. The majority are younger millennials (age 22-29) who are just starting their careers and pre-retiree baby boomers (age 60 and older) who are reducing their work hours. In exchange for a flexible work schedule, many part-timers are falling behind financially because part-time workers and contractors are often ineligible for insurance or retirement benefits from their employer.

The research also shows:

  • One in three part-timers have an employer-sponsored retirement plan (compared to 69% of full-timers).
  • Only 25% of part-timers have an employer-sponsored medical plan (compared to 80% of full-timers).
  • Less than 20% of part-timers have dental, disability, or life insurance benefits at work (compared to more than half of full-timers).

The study highlights that most part-time workers feel they are faring well financially, but this may be a false sense of security from a lack of understanding on how employer benefits can provide financial stability. Two demographic groups that do not feel financially confident are Generation X and single parents, who cite money and personal finances as the primary source of stress in their lives. Guardian says employers who are anticipating an increase in part-time and contract workers can better compete for talent by providing their workforce with employer-sponsored benefits. This will ease the financial stress of their part-time employees, possibly reduce turnover, and clearly define the added-value available to their entire workforce.

For more information about Guardian’s workplace benefits solutions or to obtain a copy of Part-Time Nation from the Fourth Annual Guardian Workplace Benefits Study SM, go to Guardian Anytime.


7—Summer Fridays

Are your employees always at their desks at 3pm on Fridays? Maybe not—according to a recent Captivate Office Pulse study, 58% of employees who responded confess they slip out early on Fridays in the summer, even if their offices don’t technically have “Summer Fridays.”

The Summer in the Office 2017 study shows:

  • 67% of millennials slip out early, compared to 57% of Gen X and 49% of boomers
  • 58% say their offices don’t offer any summer perks. Of those who did get perks: 21% have a summer casual dress code, 15% get more flexible work hours, 7% can telecommute, and 5% had beer/wine/BBQ Fridays
  • Satisfaction with summer perks was mixed: 35% are satisfied, 33% are neutral, and 33% are dissatisfied. Millennials were the least satisfied with perk offerings, with 45% of them saying they were dissatisfied (compared to 28% for both Gen X and boomers)
  • Offices might be generally less focused on work in the summer; common expectations included longer-than-usual lunch breaks (48%) and socializing with friends/co-workers (37%)
  • Catch-22: 47% of panelists report they’re happier during the summer, thought 24% say their stress also increases


8—Small Business Outlook

Sage recently surveyed small business owners and employees and found:

Optimism and growth are in the air: Small business owners are generally optimistic about the growth of their companies. Companies within industries such as Construction and Skilled Trades/Contracting (11%), Manufacturing and Consumer Goods (8%), Technology (6%), Retail, Ecommerce and Wholesale (5%) were the most optimistic about their business prospects and pipeline in 2017.

How do these companies plan on growing? Over 31% plan to hire new staff this year, with at least 12% of the businesses onboarding 10 or more new employees; 21% will invest in advertising and marketing efforts to spread their message and connect with new customers, and 34% are ready to invest in new equipment and infrastructure.

Following the issues: Small business owners must keep a close eye on major economic shifts and policy changes, as every cent matters in the fight to grow. Respondents believe tax policy changes would have the greatest impact on their businesses this year (40%), followed by changing interest rates (26%) and inflation (17%).

When it comes to the issues and policies up for debate in Washington, almost 50% say that changes to wage law would have the greatest impact on their business this year, while 43% say the cost of healthcare is the most important regulatory issue facing their business.

Technology boosts growth: 62% of small businesses are taking advantage of cloud technologies to manage their businesses. But there’s room for improvement—67% of small business owners spend two or more hours per day on administrative tasks. While many of these tasks can be taken care of by advanced technologies such as chatbots, only 13% felt they could trust artificial intelligence to manage their administrative tasks. When asked how small business owners would spend their newfound time if those hours of tasks were taken care of, 20% said they would provide products and services to existing customers, 18.5% would work on acquiring new customers and 17% would focus on developing new products and services.

In the age of rising cybercrime and digital security, more small businesses need to understand the significance of keeping their digital identity and information secure. Only 43% of small business owners expressed concern about their businesses being hacked; 23% were very concerned.


9—On-Demand Economy

Intuit recently released Dispatches from The New Economy: The On-Demand Economy, which again examines the gig economy workforce including overall demographics, average hourly earnings, income volatility, financial security and savings, healthcare, satisfaction levels, plans to continue gig economy work, and more.

Here are some key highlights:

  • Hourly earnings: Reported hourly earnings ranged from $5 to $61 with an average of $34, compare to about $26 for all payroll workers.
  • Emergency expense:44% say the largest emergency expense they could pay without borrowing was less than $400
  • Retirement savings: 34% have no retirement savings
  • Supplementing existing income: The average person works 11 hours a week at their on-demand job, and earns 24% of their household income. 41% also have a traditional full-or part-time job.
  • Filling near-term financial needs:66% of people working on-demand have variable monthly income, and 41% were impacted by a financial hardship last year, such as a job loss, medical problem, or unexpected major expense. By comparison, just 18% of all Americans in a recent U.S. Federal Reserve survey reported encountering a financial emergency.
  • Building a sustainable future:Many people are leaning on-demand economy work to either develop a new business, or to supplement and expand an existing business


10—Are Your Employees Headed Out the Door?

Despite a relatively strong economy, 58% of working adults are interested in changing careers, according to a national University of Phoenix survey conducted by Harris Poll.

This new survey on career change found that the numbers are even more staggering for the youngest members of the workforce: 86% of professionals in their 20s are interested in changing careers, 66% in their 30s. And though the survey found many consider changing careers, 29% of workers say the risk of starting over is their biggest barrier to actually making the switch, 24% don’t know what other direction to go in, or feel that they lack adequate education or experience.

Additional key findings:

Top reasons respondents are interested in changing careers:

  • 41% I don’t make enough money
  • 28% I am burned out in my current field
  • 26% There is no upward mobility in my current field
  • 24% I have lost interest or passion in my field

Top encouraging factors to look to education in order to pursue a career change:

  • 35% Online classes
  • 32% Flexible course schedule
  • 29% Accelerated/fast track curriculum


Quick Links


11—Small Business Owners Support Increased Minimum Wage

Recently, the Illinois House approved a proposal that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. This move (along with California and New York’s hikes last year) has small businesses wondering how they’d survive such drastic labor cost changes. According to separate surveys from Manta and BizBuySell, small business owners express mixed feelings about raising the minimum wage:

Manta data: 51% of small business owners support a higher minimum wage. Of those in favor, half support increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, 22% favor raising the minimum to $10 and 30% support raising it to $12

BizBuySell data: 47% of small business owners are in favor of raising the minimum wage and 58% of small business buyers support it.


12—How to Write a Good Blog Post

Need help writing good blogs for your website? Check out these tips from Venngage.


13—Class of 2017 Career Report

LendEDU surveyed some recent college graduates about their work expectations. They found:

  • 62%prefer a collaborative workspace over a competitive one. Males are more inclined to favor competitiveness and jobs that offer less security
  • 17% expect to make over $80k in their first jobs; 21%expect to make $60k-$80k
  • 48% think the scariest part of the “real world” is “having to pay taxes and set a budget”

Check out the full Career Report here.


Cool Tools


14—Payment Solution for Travelers

Verifone has joined forces with SITA, to offer a unique payment solution integrating an airport’s shared IT infrastructure and Verifone payment devices.

Almost every airport and airline in the world does business with SITA and nearly every passenger flight relies on SITA technology. It has a presence at more than 1,000 airports around the world. Verifone has integrated with SITA’s AirportConnect Common-Use Payment Service with the goal to offer passengers seamless, secure, and convenient payment acceptance at shared check-in desks, kiosks, and baggage areas. This will enable highly secure payment acceptance by multiple airlines and ground handlers on a single Verifone device installed at each touchpoint—desk, kiosk or bag drop.

Joe Mach, President of Verifone North America, says, “Working with SITA, a global IT leader in the airline industry, Verifone is bringing large-scale, reliable, secure payment touchpoints and convenience to traveling customers at airport counters and kiosks around the world.”