16 Things Small Business Owners Need to Know
By Rieva Lesonsky
1—5 Best Social Media Management Tools
If you want to get the most out of social media, you need a 3rd party tool to help you manage your social platforms. There are several options out there for businesses to choose from—but how do you know which one is best for you?
Check out the infographic below from Seriously Social. I was not familiar with their number-one pick, AgoraPulse, but they say it, “shines when it comes to managing engagement, as it clearly displays which mentions and comments require a response. It gives you access to in-depth reports (with PowerPoint export) and competitor comparisons.”
And while you’re comparing, take a look at Seriously Social’s Social Media Management Tools Price Comparison.
2—Millennial Shopping Trends
America’s 83 million millennials spend about $600 billion a year (and some are still in their teens!). They make great customers, because according to Internet Marketing Inc., they believe in brand loyalty—though “they’re going to make you work for it.” The good news is, IMI says, “If they like your brand, they’ll sing your praises to everyone they know. [But], if they don’t, they will be quick to call you out.”
If you sell stuff, you’ll want to target this market. Check out the infographic below from IMI for an overview.
3—How Selling on Amazon Increases Your Sales
Guest post by Gabriel Shaoolian, Founder & Managing Director, Blue Fountain Media
For years, I’ve watched a steady stream of clients approach our digital marketing agency asking for assistance in building robust, customer-friendly, e-commerce websites as part of their overall business strategy to become profitable online. In many instances, our company helped them establish and maintain their e-commerce sites, first as sales extensions of their websites, and then as mobile-friendly buying platforms centric to the customer experience. But in the last year or so, we’ve actually advised many of our small to mid-sized clients to, rather than going through the expense of building an e-commerce presence from scratch, take advantage of a sales platform that’s ready-made and instantly deployable. We’re talking about the shopping megalith, Amazon.com.
Through its Independent Seller Program, Amazon satisfies its own business goal of being shopping destination that offers a vast array of products, while opening up its tremendous audience numbers to your business’s product line. It’s a win-win. And while Amazon does take a commission for each sale, in most cases the dramatically increased sales volume and the savings realized from not having to maintain your own ecommerce platform, are clear offsets.
By letting Amazon do the heavy lifting for your e-commerce presence, you free yourself from the expense and headache of maintaining your own portal and allow you to focus on other issues facing your company’s growth. And while it’s not the right solution for everyone, increasingly, we encourage our more modest sized clients to explore it as an option.
Below are some of the tips we like to share with our clients when they choose to leverage Amazon’s independent seller program. These tips can be of help to any business considering them as an ecommerce solution, but as usual, it is always best to discuss your options over with a professional digital marketing agency:
- Be sure to have detailed information and an accurate list of attributes for your product in order to increase search result visibility and convey a sense of authenticity and credibility.
- On Amazon, hosting a library of positive product reviews is extremely important in the quest of securing customers who are unfamiliar with your company and product line. Sellers should encourage customers to post product reviews
- Your business needs to be cognizant of and closely monitor its inventory. If your company sells something it doesn’t physically have in stock, Amazon will penalize you. More than a few companies have been caught off-guard, not realizing the volume of traffic a presence on Amazon can generate.
- For those companies who face inventory issues, Amazon offers Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) for a fee. There are pros and cons of this, which need to be explored based on the make-up of you specific supply chain and company size.
- Pricing needs to be very competitive, since that’s a main driver for customers using Amazon. Amazon actually has a match low price feature to ensure sellers keep their prices low, and for many, the feature can dramatically affect profit margins, so be sure to include this in your calculations before signing on.
- Hitching your e-commerce wagon to the Amazon train has other benefits in addition to the huge customer numbers the brand can bring your product. Amazon, as a company, continues to funnel revenue back into innovation, which in turn allows your business to take advantage of bleeding-edge features, such as a voice ordering system which is currently being tested on Amazon’s home assistant, Alexa.
As Amazon continues to impact traditional retail outlets, and increasingly competes against established ecommerce sites, choosing to partner with, rather than taking on, this giant sales portal may be the appropriate strategy for your business.
4—State of Marketing
The report shows marketers currently are feeling more pressure to win the customer experience battle, as more than half of consumers are likely to switch brands if communications to them aren’t personalized.
- About 50% of marketing leaders are already using AI, with more than a quarter planning to pilot it in the next two years.
- 67% say creating a connected customer journey across all touchpoints is critical to their success, but only 23% are extremely satisfied with their ability to leverage customer data to do so.
- 64% believe customer journey strategies require organizational shifts, and are working to redefine how sales, service and marketing teams work together.
- Leading marketers are 3x more likely than underperformers to extensively use a DMP.
Want to know more? Check out the full report.
5—5 Top Productivity Practices
It’s no surprise managers rate top performers as their most valuable employees. But what might not be as obvious is the massive impact a top performer has on the business. A new study by VitalSmarts reveals employees rated by their managers as 9’s and 10’s on a 10-point performance scale are three times more valuable to the organization than the average employee. The study, conducted by VitalSmarts’ researchers David Maxfield and Justin Hale, also shows these employees are not only more valuable, but they are also responsible for 61% of the total work done in their departments.
While this study focused on employees, business owners can benefit from following these five productivity practices of top performing employees.
- Collect everything that owns your attention. Capture all commitments, tasks, ideas, and projects rather than keeping them in your head. Use just a few “capture tools” you keep with you all the time such as lists, apps, email, etc.
- Decide what your stuff means to you. Clarify if the items you’ve captured have an action or not. If they do, be very clear about what the VERY next action is and who should take it.
- Use the two-minute rule. If an action can be completed in two minutes or less, do it immediately. Don’t defer. The time you’ll waste letting these simple actions occupy your attention and to-do list is not worth it—two minutes becomes your efficiency cutoff.
- Do more of the right things by reflecting in the right moments. Rather than diving into your messy inbox first thing, take two minutes to review your calendar and your action lists. This reflection ensures you make the best decisions about how to use your time.
- Review weekly. Keep a sacred, non-negotiable meeting with yourself every week to re-sync, get current, and align your daily work and projects with your higher-level priorities.
6—The KAIZEN Way—5 Steps to Awaken Your Passion for Work and Life
KAIZEN: A Japanese word for “life-long learning in small incremental steps.” Making a determined effort to learn on a continual basis is the most important skill you need if you want to practice KAIZEN.
Here’s how to practice KAIZEN in your business and personal your life:
Build a passionate business model
- Use a clear vision, a strong mission and good values to guide you every day.
- Work on your business, not in your business.
- Build systems and procedures for consistent service delivery.
- Create a win-win for employees, customers and the community.
- Invite people of diverse cultures to work as one team.
See the big picture
- Dream how things can evolve into something great instead of accepting how they are today.
- Uncover your passion by creating a life of purpose.
- Consider “quality of life” when setting your goals.
- Become a mentor so that you can groom future leaders.
- Visualize your business as a vehicle to help the citizens of the world.
Attitude is everything
- Find your gifts and use them to help others.
- Help to uncover hidden gifts in people and use them to create a better world.
- Work on yourself vs. blaming others when things don’t go as planned.
- Reflect on your mistakes and make note of what you learned from them.
- Watch opportunities come your way!
- Remember that first you learn, second you do, and third you teach.
Show me the Money
- Take responsibility to protect the bottom line.
- Learn to be a good money manager in personal life and in business.
- Try to give a little money away and you will usually receive something more valuable in return.
- Watch your money closely and steer away from temptations that lead to waste.
- Save first to create a profit for both you and your business.
See the community as your partner
- Give a helping hand to those who are vulnerable in our society.
- Partner with people who match your ethical beliefs and philosophical values.
- Don’t teach by telling people “what to do”, instead tell them “why-to-do and how-to-do”.
- Make philanthropy the cornerstone of your marketing program.
- Become a driver for social changes and have fun in the process.
7—Back-to-School Heats Up in August
Sociomantic Labs reports its seeing “significantly stronger [back-to=school] sales in August compared to the other back to school shopping months, so advertising right now is in a retailers best interest. Check out these stats about accessories/fashion shopping that occurs in August opposed to June and July:
Data shows that both retail revenue and media ad spend is much higher in August compared to June and July
- 48% of all retail revenue came from August
- 47% of all media dollars were spent in August
Average order value increases significantly in August as compared to June and July
- Average order value:
- June $102.34
- July $104.40
- Aug $121.43
Data shows that most shoppers spend on desktop over mobile, and most revenue came from desktop sales.
- From June 2016–August 2016, 73% of all revenue came from desktop
- From June 2016–August 2016, 75% of all media spend was in desktop, while 25% was in mobile.
8—Investing in an ICO? 5 Questions to Ask Before Sending Your Money
Guest post by Mark Manney, founder of “I am” by Infobeing. Watch a 2-minute explainer video.
To invest in an ICO (Initial Coin Offering) is to act as a venture capitalist. As such, you need a framework for evaluating the business venture.
The purpose of an ICO is not for entrepreneurs to get rich; rather, it’s to provide necessary startup funding. The ICO is a powerful crowd-funding mechanism that can bring a good idea to life. In return, investors are rewarded with something of great potential value—a digital token. If an ICO is used for the purpose it was intended, everybody wins.
As a Blockchain entrepreneur planning an ICO, my venture is asking investors for only the amount of funding required to succeed. The legitimate way for an entrepreneur to earn great wealth is to create something that delivers value and revenue. That is my job. Don’t distract me by making me rich before I’ve earned it.
There are 5 key questions to help investors evaluate an ICO:
1) Is there is a need for the product in the marketplace?
Do you understand the product? Do you know the market? What has the organization done to prove that there is a demand? Who is the customer? What problem is being solved for the customer? Would you use it or do you know someone who would? Will solving that problem change the world? Does the cause feel good and inspire passion?
2) Is there a legitimate requirement for capital?
Why does the organization need funding? Do you understand what the funding is to be used for, who it will be going to, and for what purpose? Are you sure the purpose of the ICO is not to enrich the founders? Do they already have access to the funds they are seeking? If so, why are they asking for your money and not investing their own?
I am the founder of a Blockchain Platform called “I am” by Infobeing. Prior to our November ICO, we will be forthcoming about how much funding we need, exactly where it will be going, and for what purpose.
3) Is there is a solid business plan and revenue model?
Is this this a paid product? Is the model based on advertising? Is the revenue model based on charging a transaction fee? Is it based on the speculative value of a digital asset?
All these models are potentially profitable if there is inherent value in the offering, but make sure you understand what the revenue model is. What is the time-to-market? When will the venture begin generating a positive cash-flow? Does this seem acceptable?
4) Is the product design elegant and viable?
It isn’t enough for startup founders to say what they are doing and why, they also need to explain how. As you consider the how, you should also consider whether the scope is narrow enough. Does it sound doable? Are they focused on the 20% of functionality that delivers 80% of the value?
5) Can the founders be trusted to do what they say they are going to do? Do you know the person’s character?
As an investor, you are an essential partner in the success of a venture. Your role is as valuable as that of the CEO. Without you, nothing will happen. You should have access. Get to know the founders. Do you see signs of ego, rigidity, or greed? Is there anything you don’t trust about the person or any red flags? If so, find a different investment (there are plenty to choose from).
Before sending your money, ask yourself these 5 questions. Get to know the individuals. Follow your intuition and logic, not your emotions. Successful investors are those who can see through hype and ignore the crowd. Consistent profits are achieved by those who know how to identify value, calmly make a move, and then unemotionally stick to a plan. Be that investor.
The Blockchain Revolution is real. Despite the hype, the significance of this movement is still under-appreciated. Decentralization represents a fundamental shift—something far better than Capitalism as we know it. What is being created with these bold new ventures is a new economic system, beyond the reach of centralized institutions, capable of delivering unlimited abundance and freedom. It is not too late to be a first-mover. If you choose wisely, your upside is unlimited.
While the movement is real, those who do not understand it will be scammed—not just by leeching hackers, but also by greedy entrepreneurs who are making hundreds of millions of dollars on ICOs backed by hype and empty promises alone. Use these 5 questions to achieve massive upside while mitigating unnecessary risk.
9—Sell More Globally
Alibaba recently launched the “Taobao Global U.S. Merchants Network,” which is a centralized matchmaking platform for U.S. small businesses to connect with U.S.-based merchants on Taobao Global, allowing them to reach the millions of consumers on Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace. Taobao is China’s largest mobile commerce destination.
Consumers do more than just shop on Taobao. It’s also considered a commerce-oriented social and community platform where they can discover products, consume content, and engage with each other as well as with brands and retailers, through interactive media and mobile livestreaming. Alibaba says small businesses partnering with Taobao Global merchants get a “simple, low-risk and low-cost solution to open new sales channels, enter the China market and build brand presence.”
Features of the network include the following:
Efficient channel. U.S. small businesses will be able to connect with and sell their products to experienced Taobao Global merchants who sell to Chinese consumers
Ongoing Training: Alibaba will organize training seminars on a regular basis in areas such as storefront operation and logistics to help participating Taobao Global merchants better identify industry trends and improve the experience for both U.S. businesses and Chinese consumers.
Merchants Collaboration. The Network will encourage stronger collaboration and information sharing among U.S.-based Taobao Global merchants through conferences and networking events.
10—Growing Your Global Presence
PayPal Global Sellers, a new product from PayPal, is designed to help U.S. SMBs increase their international presence and sales. New PayPal cross-border trade data shows U.S. SMBs that expanded their international selling with PayPal saw a nearly 33% business growth from 2015-2016.
Partnering with Webinterpret, PayPal has created a solution to help merchants enhance their international sales at no extra cost. The solution includes:
- Localized website translation in less than 48 hours
- Localized PayPal secure checkout
- Website and product visibility in 60 countries
- Low cost, hassle-free international shipping options from the U.S.
- Specialized support from a dedicated account manager with reporting tools
You can read more about Global Sellers on PayPal Stories.
11—Moleskine Launches Incubator
Moleskine and Digital Magics recently launched the Moleskine Open Innovation Program, an international call for startups and scaleups to submit ideas to Moleskine+, an ecosystem of tools that include digital and physical products that enhance productivity and the generation of ideas.
Moleskine says it’s looking for emerging companies with whom it can share expertise and professional experience, and together bring inspired ideas to a global market.
A maximum of four startups will be selected to take part in the six-month incubation process. They’ll get the opportunity to draw on a network of professional business, marketing and product development experts, in order to bring their proposal to market around the world as part of Moleskine+. During the program, each of the selected startups will be able to discuss and define a strategic plan and contractual relationship with Moleskine.
The aim of the call for ideas is to identify and develop projects that fit within Moleskine’s range of interconnected smart objects and services—including smart notebooks and apps—“designed to seamlessly combine physical and digital elements to boost creativity and productivity on the move.”
Moleskine understands consumers don’t “make distinctions between the analog and digital world, switching from notebook to smartphone and from paper to tablet. Moleskine envisions a future where people use physical and digital platforms interchangeably, with the Moleskine+ ecosystem being fundamental to the brand’s journey towards this future.”
All proposals should be submitted online here by September 24th. Following the submission deadline, 12 startups will be shortlisted and invited to Moleskine Innovation Day at the company’s head office in Milan on October 26th. The 12 finalists will then meet the teams from Moleskine and Digital Magics face-to-face, and present their projects in person. A maximum of four startups will then be selected to enter into the program.
12—Win Temporary Retail Space
Appear Here, a leading marketplace for short-term retail space, just launched its second Space for Ideas competition in partnership with Square to discover the next three big retail ideas. This year’s judges panel includes fashion and commerce powerhouses, such as the founders of Net-a-Porter, Soho House, and AKQA and the cofounder of Warby Parker. The winning ideas will each receive a two-week flagship space in one of the world’s top retail destinations: London, Paris and New York. Plus, they’ll win mentorship, design advice and the budget to bring their ideas to life.
The goal is to give emerging brands and young designers the boost they need to get started. The greatest challenge many of them face is finding affordable retail space and raising the funds to bring their ideas to life.
You can enter the competition through midnight September 15th, via the Space for Ideas website. The three winners will be announced on September 21st and will open their store doors to the public on October 18-November 1.
- A two week, rent-free flagship store in the heart of London, Paris or New York City
- $4K (£3000 or €3.5 euros) to spend, and up to $10K (£7.8 or €8.7) in design services from a leading retail design agency to help execute the vision
- Mentoring sessions from experts in the industry, competition partners and judges
- Square POS hardware kit including, Square contactless + chip reader, Square Dock and Square Stand (US).
- Apple iPad Air
13—A Peek in Business Expense Reports
Leading automated travel and entertainment expense management software provider, Certify, recently released its Certify SpendSmart™ Report and analysis of business travel spending for Q2 2017.
Despite all the bad publicity, after slowing to a near standstill in the 1st quarter, ride-hailing leader Uber picked up 2% to claim a commanding 55% of ground transportation overall in Q2. Lyft matched Uber’s growth, adding 2% to end the quarter with 8% of category receipts and expenses. Ride-hailing’s gains came largely at the expense of taxi, dropping to 8% of the category total. Notably, this is the first time SpendSmart data shows taxis claiming a single-digit share of rides
Other leaders: Starbucks continues its reign as the most expensed restaurant, nearly four percentage points ahead of McDonalds in second place. Delta remains the top seat in air travel, while Hampton Inn hangs on as the most expensed hotel brand. Transactions for alternative hotelier Airbnb grew 31% in the second quarter, although it remains a small share of the total lodging category with just .42% overall.
The Certify SpendSmart™ Report provides analysis of vendors, expense amounts and satisfaction rating data from corporate expense reports collected directly from its customer base. Previous quarterly reports are available here.
2nd Quarter 2017 Highlights
Starbucks: 6.33% of expenses, averaging $14.04 per receipt
McDonald’s: 2.76%, averaging $8.64
Panera Bread: 1.62%, averaging $42.82
Subway: 1.47%, averaging $18.90
Chick-Fil-A: 1.35%, averaging $26.29
Most-Expensed Restaurants by Meal
Breakfast: Starbucks 16.87%
Lunch: McDonald’s 3.45%
Dinner: McDonald’s 1.72%
Top-Rated Restaurants (On a scale from 1 to 5, as indicated by travelers)
Panera Bread 4.3
Texas Roadhouse 4.3
Jimmy John’s 4.2
Delta: 19.92%, averaging $424.33
American: 19.22%, averaging $336.27
United: 14.69%, averaging $379.32
Southwest: 11.40%, averaging $295.81
JetBlue: 1.63%, averaging $250.62
Alaska Airlines 4.4
Hampton Inn: 9.09%, averaging $246.65
Marriott: 8.21%, averaging $265.03
Courtyard by Marriott: 7.39%, averaging $183.43
Hilton Garden Inn: 4.71%, averaging $217.54
Holiday Inn Express: 4.56%, averaging $235.88
Homewood Suites 4.3
Most Expensed Car-Rental Services
National: 26.55%, averaging $189.30
Enterprise: 16.44%, averaging $206.17
Hertz: 13.55%, averaging $198.34
Avis: 12.24%, averaging $171.67
Budget: 3.73%, averaging $181.22
Top-Rated Car-Rental Services
For complete data and analysis from the SpendSmart Q2 2017 Report, go here.
14—What Dodd-Frank Means for Community Banks
Guest Post by Brian Hamilton, Chairman and co-founder Sageworks
The House in early June passed a major bill that would roll back a number of financial regulations put in place by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. While pundits say the bill, the Financial CHOICE Act, faces dim prospects in the Senate, lawmakers owe it to community banks to consider at least those portions of the bill that offer smaller banks relief from the regulatory crush. For these banks, a reprieve from the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act can’t come soon enough.
The original reason for Dodd-Frank was well-intended, as is the case with many government initiatives. The law’s overall goal was to help avoid future financial-institution crises. Like the Glass-Steagall Act in 1933, Dodd-Frank was prompted by significant negative events in the economy during 2009 and 2010.
However, the law has accelerated a long-term and unabated trend that is very dangerous to America—the decline of the number of smaller banks in the United States.
Do we want to continue down the road toward becoming a place like England, where five or six banks control 99 % of assets? My answer would be no. Already in the United States, the four biggest retail banks collectively hold 45% of all customer bank deposits.
Some might argue, correctly, that fewer banks are easier to regulate (and therefore, society is better protected). Others might argue fewer banks are better able to pass along savings to consumers through lower operating costs.
However, even if the above benefits of fewer banks were true, history has shown the overall advantage of competition in markets is so overwhelming and strong, it clearly outweighs the value of having few and very powerful financial institutions. More competition has, in almost every instance, resulted in better choices for consumers. This is simply born of more supply driving down prices and increasing services. If you ever doubt the assumption, try getting quick service from your cable company or, worse, negotiating with it.
Thirty years ago, there were more than 14,000 banks in the United States. Today, there are approximately 5,000. A reason for the decline in community banks (not the only reason) is the regulatory costs, both direct and indirect, from laws like Dodd-Frank create an overwhelming burden on smaller institutions. New home mortgage lending rules and risk-based capital requirements, as well as upcoming requirements to gather more data related to business lending are among the increased burdens being imposed by Dodd-Frank. Fixed costs of regulation (such as hiring administration to ensure compliance) hit institutions with lower revenues harder than they hit larger banks that may already have intensive infrastructure. People often think bankers all wear the same white shirt, but they do not. Most banks are small businesses, with 40% of U.S. banks having fewer than 30 employees. For about one in five banks with less than $50 million in assets, hiring just one additional person could push the institution below a minimum return that investors require of a small bank, according to Fed research.
In addition, the financial crisis of 2007-09 was not remotely caused by community banks; rather, it was caused by the rote and unthinking securitization of real estate products—something no good community banker would ever do.
By default, as institutions get larger, the people running them get further and further from not only strategic decisions, but from tactical product decisions that can ruin an organization. If there are only a few organizations, this dynamic will be negatively amplified in the United States. One large bank default tends to affect other larger organizations and even the entire economy. This played out as a fact in the financial crisis. If Community Bank A decides to invest 10% of its assets in a portfolio of real estate that does not have adequate collateral as evidenced by simple loan-to-value ratios with good appraisals, who would care? Few people, for the simple reason that Community Bank A makes up a very small part of the American economy. I realize this begets the adage that big is bad, but in the case of community banks in the financial-institution market, it is clear.
This is not an argument that small banks don’t need to be regulated. They do. Banks hold people’s money and the government has to protect the people, so it only makes sense that they’re regulated. Rather, there has been a misapplication of what is needed for large banks as compared with small banks, which has created an undue burden on smaller institutions. Dodd-Frank is the prototype of a misguided regulation in this regard.
The bottom line is that community banks—like other small businesses in the United States—are massively overregulated, and their existence is threatened, as is evident by the decline in the number of them. Over the long run, this not only gives consumers fewer options but also creates more risk in our economy. Lawmakers should sort through the rhetoric and ensure that community banks get relief. We should encourage more competition in the banking industry, not less.
15—Help for Microenterprise, Startups, Scaleups in Ohio and Upstate New York
The goal is to stimulate economic growth and workforce development by fostering small business success. The program will “provide support and structure for individuals, entrepreneurs and small business owners, create thousands of jobs, and prepare students for careers in the growing technology, service and manufacturing industries.
Specifically, the program is based on a five-pillar initiative funded by the KeyBank Foundation and implemented by JumpStart which will:
- Accelerate the growth of more than 2,500 small businesses and micro-enterprises, the majority of which will be women- or minority-owned businesses
- Accelerate the growth of more than 2,000 tech startup and scaleup companies
- Create a minimum of 5,350 jobs
- Provide support for participation in the tech economy by meeting business needs or enabling workforce training for 1,000 individuals
- Connect 800 individuals to open job opportunities
- Prepare more than 1,000 students to enter the workforce after graduating high school
16—The Perfect Accessory
Several years ago, young millennials rejected watches as unnecessary and old-fashioned. They quickly outgrew that notion, and watches got “hot” again. And while watches are not typically the type of tool we cover here, for me, it’s one of the most important tools I own.
The Bradford Watch Company is an entrepreneurial company. Cofounder Chris Ponzillo says the company slogan, “Every moment counts,” reflects their philosophy that making every moment count shouldn’t cost consumers their life savings, or make them sacrifice quality.
The Taylor, a new unisex style released this spring, features an oil-tanned genuine leather, quick-release strap with classically designed face, in a 40mm stainless steel case, available in sleek polished steel or elegant rose gold finishes.
Dedicated to affordable quality, each watch from Bradford Watch Company is backed by a 60-day, no questions asked, 100% return policy, and a 3-year warranty on the mechanical operation.