15 Things Small Business Owners Need to Know
By Rieva Lesonsky
1—Local SEO Guide
Local SEO is so important for small businesses today. Check out the infographic below which depicts all the local SEO factors and tips that will be very helpful for businesses struggling to improve their local ranking from digital marketing consultant Shane Barker.
2—Transforming B2B Payments & Credit
Don’t we all want financial solutions that make transactions simple, fast and transparent ? Don’t we all wish we had greater cash flow predictability? That’s what Fundbox, the world’s first B2B payments and credit network, plans to do with the $176M in growth equity funding it raised. Plus, they’ve also secured a $150M credit facility. Fundbox says they will “use these new investments to transform the B2B payments and credit experience.”
In fact, Eyal Shinar, founder and CEO of Fundbox says, “The status quo for B2B transactions is uncertain cash flow and antiquated payment systems, which stifles business growth. If you’re a business owner and don’t know when you’re getting paid next or whether you have the funds to complete a transaction, you lose valuable time and important business opportunities. The remedy to this uncertainty is the ability to facilitate quick risk decisions, faster payments, and more flexible terms so our customers have greater predictability related to their revenue and cash flow. This new investment round validates the market opportunity and that our team is on the right path as we continue to focus on transforming B2B commerce for the better.”
Unlocking the Net Terms Economy
According to a recent Fundbox research study developed in partnership with PYMNTs, there is an unprecedented $3.1 trillion owed to U.S. firms today, locked up in accounts receivables “limbo.” Fundbox calls this massive out-of-reach pool of capital the “Net Terms Economy.” By unlocking this capital with faster payment technologies, there is an opportunity to transform millions of businesses that provide or rely on open credit terms to complete a business transaction.
This is why Fundbox has built the first two-sided payments and credit network designed specifically to accelerate B2B commerce. With automated machine-learning risk decisions, faster payments to sellers, and more flexible payment terms to the buyer, sellers can focus on increasing average order volumes (AOV) while buyers have greater purchasing confidence and repayment flexibility.
“Fundbox is transforming the entire B2B landscape by freeing up trillions of dollars stuck within the Net Terms Economy,” says Melissa C. Guzy, cofounder and managing partner at Arbor Ventures. “In order for B2B commerce to meet the needs of a 21st Century economy, transactions must happen real-time.”
3—Using AI to Boost Revenues
Is AI just for big businesses? Abhinav Somani, CEO Leverton says no, small businesses can benefit from AI use as well. We recently asked Somani to explain how.
How can a smaller business connect using AI to increase revenue?
Abhinav Somani: The great part about AI is that it is extremely accessible. In fact, small businesses are some of the largest beneficiaries of AI because they are often the ones that are understaffed and under resourced. Any business processes that can be automated with AI can be extremely helpful to a small business. For example, implementing an AI chatbot on your small business website can significantly increase communication with prospects and bring in more qualified leads, even if the sales team is small.
What ROI can they expect?
Somani: ROI ranges vastly depending on the use case, but, at a minimum, a small business should expect to achieve 30-50% in efficiency, cost savings, or increased revenue depending on the application of AI.
Of the Leaders, Lookers and Laggards you identify in your report, what category do you think most small businesses fall into?
Somani: Most small businesses fall into the laggards category, unfortunately. There is a general stigma that “because I am a small business, I’m not ready for AI yet”. This is often because AI has been marketed as a big data and big company tool, but in reality, many small businesses can use AI today without significant investment.
How can they “move up”?
Somani: Moving up will require them to do more proof of concepts with AI vendors and begin to put these tools into practice. Seeing is believing.
Do you think small business owners are afraid of AI? That it will cost too much?
Somani: Again, partially due to how it is marketed I think small businesses are afraid of the cost, or how much they believe it will cost. Additionally, I also think they are afraid of it potentially taking away jobs. While AI can certainly automate away tedious tasks and manual business processes, alleviating these pressures from the business allows the employees to perform higher value-add, revenue generating tasks.
What’s the easiest entry point to AI for small businesses?
Somani: I believe that the easiest entry points are through document extraction (invoice processing, legal document review), customer support chatbots, and personal assistant / calendaring tools. These are functions that serve as great introductions and have potential to meet their ROI.
How should they pick a vendor who has the patience to work with smaller businesses?
Somani: Find a vendor that is willing to do a proof of concept at no cost. Find a vendor who is a small business themselves and will be compassionate with small business struggles.
Download the Enterprise: Trends & Insights on Vendor Selection and Implementation report.
4—Over 40% of Consumers are Concerned About Debt this Holiday Season
An astounding 96% of consumers plan to shop during the 2019 holidays, with 90% planning to purchase gifts or gift cards for friends and family. This according to a new survey commissioned by leading installment payment solution Splitit, which also finds 42% of consumers are concerned about going over their budgets this holiday season, underscoring the need for retailers to appeal to the growing number of shoppers voicing financial anxieties ahead of the winter holidays.
Reflecting the budget-conscious consumer climate, the survey shows 56% of consumers plan to spend $500 or less this holiday season, 27% plan to spend between $500 and $1,000, while 17% plan to spend over $1,000. Half of the respondents plan to purchase clothing or shoes, 39% have toys or games on their holiday shopping lists and another 38% will stuff their stockings with small electronics or gadgets.
Taking advantage of the seasonal sales 28% of respondents will purchase groceries and household items, while 13% of respondents plan to purchase non-gift items for themselves, and an additional 15% will spend on travel.
Shopping will be spread over the entire season—33% will be doing their holiday shopping around Christmas, followed by Black Friday (32%), Cyber Monday (26%) and Small Business Saturday (18%).
Holiday Shopping Stressors
- Fitting their holiday shopping within their household budget—42%
- Concerns about privacy—15%
- Expensive shipping costs—14%
- Bad return policies—12%
- Inability to try out items before purchasing them—11%
Offering flexible payment options, says Splitit’s CEO and cofounder Gil Don, “are a great way to not only help consumers manage their cash flow and their worries about debt, but to give local merchants a fighting chance this holiday season. Consumers want to see that the retailers they frequent truly care about them; by offering innovative payment solutions, merchants big and small can make their consumers feel heard and keep them coming back.”
Local Stores vs. Amazon
When asked how they prefer to do their holiday shopping, 63% of consumers say they prefer to shop both online and in-store. However, when asked where they plan to shop this holiday season, 54% say Amazon and 42% of plan to shop small, local Mom-and-Pops.
In order for smaller retailers to draw more customers to their sites and stores merchants should get creative. Splitit’s survey shows 22% of consumers would be encouraged to spend more money if they had the option to use flexible payment methods such as ‘buy now, pay later’ solutions and monthly installment payments.
Nearly 50% of consumers would be encouraged to spend more this holiday season if offered free shipping and 43% would do so if offered a 10% discount. Another 8% of consumers already plan to make purchases using flexible payment options this season and 18% say they would consider using them if the option were available.
5— Are Automated Voice Menus Costing Your Business?
Vonage just published new research which reveals that 51% of consumers have abandoned a business altogether because they’ve reached an automated menu of options, known as Interactive Voice Response (IVR) losing that company £130 ($160 U.S.) per customer every year.
The 2019 Vonage IVR survey, which was based on independent research from the UK, found that of those customers who ditched a business as a result of reaching an IVR menu, 74%% of the money they would have spent, was then spent with a competitor.
More than a third of millennials have done so more than once in the past year, compared with only a quarter of those over 45. Only a fifth of those over 55 have abandoned a business more than once, suggesting that younger generations are less patient with poorly designed systems that create delays than their older counterparts.
Per the survey, 54% of consumers believe IVR technology makes for a poor customer experience, while just 15% say it makes for a positive one. And, on average, consumers abandoned 22% of calls they made to businesses in the last year because they reached an IVR, with 81% terminating at least one call.
The 2019 IVR survey findings are consistent with Vonage’s 2018 Serial Switchers’ study, which revealed that nearly half of UK consumers ditched a business over the previous year following poor customer service.
Many businesses use an IVR to connect with callers, yet 54% of respondents described having negative feelings such as frustration (37 %) and stress (10%), when presented with one. Only 14% had ‘no particular emotion’, with only a small percentage feeling hopeful and positive (8 and 6 percent respectfully).
According to the survey, top things customers disliked include:
- Being forced to listen to irrelevant options (45%)
- The reason for calling might not be listed (43%)
- Menus are usually too long (37%), it wastes time, and the IVR keeps callers from reaching a live person (35% respectively).
- Having navigated an IVR and reached a customer service agent, consumers reported feeling less happy (19%), less pleased (18%) and less positive (18%) than when they first initiated the call.
“Technology is important, of course—but to connect people, not to keep them apart”, comments Ken McMahon, Senior Vice President, Customer Success at Vonage. “Customer experience is the one area companies can differentiate and compete in an increasingly commoditized world, and with solutions like Dynamic Routing, which enables customers to reach the most appropriate agent for their call, every time, there’s a path to great CX that’s waiting for smart companies to take”.
For more information, download Vonage’s free guide: How to end IVR horrors—3 strategies to deliver a connected customer experience. And take a look at this video.
6—Help for Nonprofits
Nonprofit organizations are struggling to demonstrate the outcome of their work says a new study conducted by Oracle NetSuite. The study, Connecting Dollars to Outcomes, which provides insights from more than 350 senior nonprofit executives in the U.S., shows that while nonprofit executives believe that outcomes measurement supports their top three priorities for 2019—financial stability, staff turnover and donor retention—only 29% of nonprofits are able to effectively measure the outcomes of dollars invested.
“Nonprofits have consistently been challenged with measuring their impact,” says Lauren Woodman, CEO of NetHope. “As these organizations work to expand their mission by acquiring more donors and increasing gift size, there’s never been a more important time to provide visibility into the results. While the majority of nonprofits noted they struggle measuring impact, this study shows the focus organizations are putting on investing in the resources that will allow them to change their approach to measurement.”
Nonprofits measurement misery: Nonprofit leaders know that measuring impact and increasing donor engagement is critical, but struggle to demonstrate the outcome of investments and are unable to share results with donors or funders in real-time.
- 76% of nonprofit executives identified increasing the effectiveness of outcomes measurement as the top priority for 2019.
- Only 29% are able to effectively measure the outcomes of dollars invested.
- Just 18% offer their donors and funders access to real-time reports. The most popular methods for communicating value to funders and donors are annual reports (65%), emails (54%) and one-on-one meetings (39%).
The challenges of connecting dollars to outcomes: Operational issues and executive skepticism are the top obstacles to nonprofits embracing outcomes measurement.
- The largest operational challenges are lack of people to manage measurement (37%), no system in place to measure outcomes (30%) and data silos (27%).
- Executive skepticism is focused on the applicability of outcomes measurement, with 69% believing it primarily rewards well resourced, larger nonprofits. Executives also believe that it oversimplifies social issues (60%) and is too short-term focused (45%).
A better outcome for everyone: Despite executive skepticism, executives acknowledge that being able to effectively measure outcomes will support their top three organizational priorities for 2019: financial stability, staff turnover and donor retention.
- 84% of nonprofit executives believe outcomes measurement will increase fundraising success, 49% believe it will increase recurring donations, and 35% believe it will increase gift size.
- 52% believe it will help them tap into new donor demographics and 42% believe it will help meet funder requests.
“Nonprofits are constantly required to do more with less, all while also proving to watchdog agencies and funders that they’re using donations effectively,” says Cheryl Gipson, nonprofit industry principal, Oracle NetSuite. “At a time when consumer trust in institutions of all types is dwindling, being able to effectively measure the outcome of all investments in real-time is increasingly important for the nonprofit industry. We are committed to helping create a more impactful nonprofit industry and will continue our work with nonprofits to provide technology that allows them to trace dollars from donation to results.”
7—Tariffs, Recession Concerns Weigh on SMB Market
BizBuySell.com, the internet’s largest business-for-sale marketplace, announced a drop in business owner confidence and an increase in buyer confidence in its 2019 Buyer-Seller Confidence Index, a national indicator of business buyer and seller sentiment of the current business-for-sale environment.
The 2019 Index experienced the largest swing since BizBuySell began analyzing small business confidence in 2013, in large part due to political and economic uncertainty. Current owners, the potential sellers, are concerned about losing value given market volatility, while buyers are eyeing an opportunity to enter the market at a discounted price. The result is a year-over-year drop in the Seller Confidence Index, from 58 to 52, while the Buyer Confidence Index rose from 47 to 53 over the same period.
For the first time in BizBuySell confidence analysis, the positive seller (52) and buyer (53) indices show that both sides are optimistic about their ability to exit or enter the small business market. BizBuySell’s Insight Report echoes this sentiment, showing slowing transaction volume despite record financial performance.
“With tariffs in the news, a recession being discussed and politics in such a divided state, current owners and buyers have a lot to consider as they contemplate their future,” says Bob House, President of BizBuySell.com and BizQuest.com. “This is especially true as we get closer to an election year. That said, it’s good to see both buyers and sellers remain confident overall in the market.”
Tariffs to blame for drop in owner confidence: The Seller Confidence Index dropping 10% tells us that there is increasing uncertainty surrounding small business owners’ belief that they can successfully exit their businesses and receive an acceptable sale price in today’s market.
Nearly half of business owners (44.5%) say they are only “somewhat confident” they would receive a price that met their expectations if they sold their business today. Digging deeper, there is a divide on market trajectory as illustrated by the 36% who believe they would have received a better price last year compared to the 36% who felt value has improved in 2019.
Owners with low confidence blamed a number of factors, with a depressed small business economy (18%) leading the way. Others cited increasing costs (14%), declining sales/revenue (14%) and a lower demand for small business ownership (9%).
A critical factor in increasing costs and declining sales are recent tariff policies, specifically between the U.S. and China, with 37% saying costs have increased due to the new tariffs. To cover rising costs, 51% of those business owners have increased prices, which has resulted in declining sales for 46%.
Surveyed owners are also concerned about a possible recession. They were split on how much they should be worried about the threat—45% say they are confident the economy will stay at its current level while an identical 45% are concerned with the future. When asked directly when a recession might hit, 25% believed it would happen before the end of 2020, 11% predicted 2021 and another 31% say within in the next 5 years.
Buyers see economic uncertainty as opportunity: While owners interested in selling are becoming more cautious, buyers see an opportunity to ‘buy the dip’. The Buyer Confidence Index rising by 13% indicates optimism that not only can they find healthy business listings, but they can also access the capital and negotiate a favorable price. In fact, 74% of surveyed buyers are confident they could purchase a business at an acceptable price today.
More than half (57%) of buyers believed today’s business values remained similar to last year while another 17% said they could get a better deal today. When asked what they attributed the better deals to, these buyers credited an improving small business economy (21%), owners setting more realistic asking prices (17%) and improving business financials (15%).
Buyers were also less concerned about current issues like tariffs and a possible recession. More than 51% said tariffs remaining in place would not affect their buying decision while another 27% said they were unsure, perhaps waiting to see how the tariffs affect asking prices.
As for the economy, buyers were split on their predictions. More than 46% are concerned for the future compared to 45% who are confident the economy will remain at its current level. Twenty-five (25%) believed a recession would hit by 2020 with another 12% believing it will come in 2021, but not all of them saw that as a bad thing for their purchase efforts.
“An economic downturn will help lower all pricing, including businesses for sale,” one prospective buyer commented.
Finally, interest rates are another economic issue buyers have significant interest in. Today’s low rates may be allowing for greater access to capital, and thus incentivizing more people to pursue small business ownership. In fact, 29% of surveyed buyers said current rates are speeding up their decision to purchase, meaning demand should continue to grow in future months.
Retail and manufacturing highlight confidence divide between sectors: While political affiliation has a role in confidence, business industry is another important factor. When analyzing confidence by sector, retail business owners were the least confident with a 48 confidence index, much lower than the 52 blended average.
“It’s getting so hard for us small businesses,” one retailer said, noting the rising cost to fend off big business. “We have to compete with the likes of Amazon and huge companies. We simply can’t afford many conveniences, like computer support, that a large company might take for granted.”
Overall, the 2019 Buyer-Seller Confidence Index indicates a strong market, but one with much uncertainty. As the 2020 election draws near, small business owners and prospective buyers have to gauge how economic changes affect their decision to enter the marketplace. What is clear, is that despite some uncertainties, small business transactions are still occurring at a high pace and that should continue through 2019 and into the new year.
8—The First on-Demand Network Sales Force
Drum just launched the first instantly available, massively scalable and completely flexible sales force platform. Cofounder and CEO Rob Frohwein says, “Now, standing up a sales force is easier than launching a Google AdWords campaign. With Drum, businesses of all types, from digital brands to local small businesses, can launch sales efforts in any geography, in real time, giving them a sales boost where, when and how they want.”
The Drum platform leverages the power of the gig economy to give companies a new channel for customer acquisition to help them scale and compete. Businesses now have a compelling alternative to traditional advertising and digital marketing, through which they can more easily measure success and pay for conversions rather than clicks. Through Drum, businesses have access to gig contractors, known as Drummers, who can promote their products and services in and out of their personal network and generate income while doing so.
Drum’s experienced leadership team includes cofounders Rob Frohwein, Kathryn Petralia and Troy Deus. Frohwein and Petralia are also the cofounders of Kabbage, Inc.
Drum also offers iOS and Android apps for Drummers (the gig economy participants who sell on behalf of the businesses). During the first month, Drum will focus on filling the ecosystem with Drummers and offers from businesses in its first two cities of Atlanta and New York. The Buyer application launches mid-October.
9—What are CEOs Thinking?
Vistage just released its Decision Factors: 2019 and Beyond research report, which includes the seven factors that are affecting today’s CEOs as they navigate growing uncertainty and declining confidence in today’s business environment.
Some highlights from the report include:
- Insights about how the CEO outlook has changed—an economic downturn is anticipated by 35% of CEOs, which is double the result of last year (17%), according to the Vistage CEO Confidence Index.
- Information to seven key decision factors for today’s leaders—Economy, Policy, Talent, Customers, Operations, Finance, Leadership—and recommendations for how to make sound decisions in these areas
- Data related to what today’s CEOs will focus on for the remainder of this year and Q4and how they continue to deal with increased uncertainty in key areas.
Read the report here.
10—Creating a Video Marketing Strategy
According to a report from Visual Objects 60% of businesses use videos in their inbound marketing strategy, indicating videos are easy for businesses of all sizes to produce.
How-to videos for products and services are the most popular video for 19% of businesses because how-to videos help people understand a brand’s products and services.
Most businesses that use videos (63%) create their videos in-house, which means that businesses are either hiring video production companies or training employees on-the-job. Businesses with over 10 employees are more likely to hire outside video producers, though most still prefer to create videos in-house.
Videos are easy to promote across inbound marketing channels. More than one-fifth of businesses that use inbound marketing (21%) use HubSpot, which has email and social media tools that make it easy to promote content.
Check out their guide that breaks down the video strategy process.
11—How to Engage Gen Z
Despite growing up with the internet Gen Z lacks trust and is easily manipulated online, according to a recent survey of 3,000 consumers conducted by Adobe Advertising Cloud. October marks the 25th Anniversary of Digital Advertising and as Gen Z grows into adults with spending power, brands are strategizing how to engage with this unique generation.
- Younger generations feel their data is safest across social platforms: Gen Z consumers trust social media (27%) over online websites (21%), personal blogs (6%) and online news with political inclinations (2%).
- All generations believe Gen Z to be the most easily manipulated online: 34% of all consumers believe Gen Z is easily influenced while 51% of all Gen Z consumers surveyed feel the same.
- Despite feeling manipulated online, younger generations are more willing to part with their personal data in exchange for special experiences: Gen Z (29%) and millennials (22%) will share data including name/gender/race/age for special in-store and online experiences.
The good news for marketers: All of the generations surveyed expressed an interest in interacting with brands via social channels. Generation Z, however, is engaging with companies most on social media, with 69% who say they frequently engage with companies that place ads on social platforms, followed by 63% of millennials, 49% of Generation X and 33% of baby boomers.
12—Do Startups Need Their Own Mobile App?
Guest post by Prateek Saxena , cofounder Appinventiv, one of the fastest-growing mobile application development companies, based in Noida, India.
Let’s start with a riddle. What’s one thing you see everywhere, with everyone and is used for almost everything? A mobile phone. Today due to smartphones and digital marketing the marketing game has been changed forever.
As entrepreneurs you need to keep a step ahead of your competitors. If you are ahead of them, you’ll never worry about being behind them. To do this, you must know what the latest tech trends are and what customers are expecting from you as a brand.
Today everyone is buzzing about mobile app development. Even being a startup, you should invest in a mobile platform, as it can give a boost your growth.
Why businesses need Mobile Apps?
1—Increase sales: If you ever invested in old-school loyalty programs, you know the benefits of them. But, now is the time to ditch that outdated technique and optimize it more efficiently with your customized business app. You can reward your customers by providing them with discount coupons on your app. Doing this will encourage them to do more business with you.
2—Improved user experience: With an app that performs well and is aesthetically pleasing, you can improve the quality of your user experience. A mobile app is all about customizations and personalizations. When you launch an app for your small business, it becomes easier for the customers to purchase your services or products.
As compared to mobile-friendly websites, 63% of people prefer using mobile apps, because it is easier to perform transactions via apps, since they have useful features, such as saving information for future use, multiple credible gateways, and suggestions based on customers’ preferences. This intimate engagement with the customers helps cement customer loyalty.
3—Works as a great marketing tool: If you choose app development, you are also getting many implicit benefits and opportunities. Mobile apps are a great medium for your marketing. It is easy to integrate your app with Facebook, Twitter, and all other major social platforms.
Moreover, customers’ reviews and feedback on your app works as a promotion, as more customers will feel compelled to try your products or services. Plus, unlike a website, your app is ever-present on the users’ smartphones. You don’t have to pay for any additional marketing, since users download the app on their own.
4—Boost your brand value: Having your distinct mark on major platforms immediately boosts your brand’s value, which is particularly helpful for startups. The more active you are in your customers’ eyes, the more they will recognize you, giving you a competitive edge.
14—New, All-In-One Local Marketing Platform, Enables Local Businesses to Grow Quickly
Surefire Local just launched Surefire Local Marketing Platform™, a cloud-based product. The next-generation platform equips local businesses with the tools needed to effectively manage their digital and traditional marketing efforts as well as provide real-time, actionable insights into marketing channels that provide the greatest rate of return.
Through its intuitive platform, Surefire Local empowers local businesses of all sizes to maximize the ROI of new and existing customers, generate new, qualified leads and guide digital marketing investments to grow and scale profitably. Surefire Local’s platform is designed natively to be an all-in-one, technology-driven marketing solution that can quickly, effectively and consistently attract, identify and convert leads.
“We’ve been working with local business owners for a long time and fully understand their strengths, pain points and limitations. We are thrilled to deliver a platform that provides real-time, actionable insights, analytics and features to time-crunched small business owners enabling their voice to finally be heard in the market,” says Chris Marentis, founder and CEO of Surefire Local.
Surefire Local’s all-in-one platform offers several digital marketing solutions in one central platform enabling users to gain a holistic view of all marketing efforts in one dashboard. Key features include:
Reputation Management: Request, monitor, manage and respond to online ratings and reviews from all major first party and third-party ratings and review sites.
Directory Listing Management: Get discovered and rank higher on Google as companies improve local visibility through tracked directory listings spanning search engines, maps, social networks, review sites and apps.
Content Marketing: Generate, schedule and distribute photos, articles, tips, videos and other assets directly to blogs, social media channels and website pages with painless scheduling, approval workflows and content publishing documentation.
Lead Management: Immediately follow up on new potential customers with instant mobile contact notifications or entice the sale with prebuilt campaigns designed to nurture and engage – all without the agony of standard CRMs.
Search & Display Advertising: Advertise through search and display ads across search engines or social networks with pre-optimized campaigns that are effortless to geotarget and monitor and are supported through built-in tools and tips.
Insights & Analytics: Maintain web presence through a robust suite of analytics spanning website traffic, advertising programs, call tracking, social media monitoring, share of voice, competitor benchmarking and more.
15—The Cost of Server Downtime
When your system stops, so does your business. So, when something goes wrong, you need to resolve any problem as quickly as possible—and try to prevent downtime in the first place. Downtime is caused by a variety of things: an overfull disk, faulty memory utilization, CPU failure or overload, and process crashes.
This is where server monitoring comes in. Given how many things can go wrong, and the high stakes if they do, it is essential to have the right server monitoring tools. Every operating system is unique, and if you have a mixed IT infrastructure, you need a server monitoring service that caters to them all. There are several ways to look after your IT infrastructure.
Agent-based server monitoring uses an application, installed on each server, to collect data. Agent-less monitoring does so without the use of agent software. Cloud server monitoring involves both manual and automated strategies.
Check out the infographic below from CloudRadar to learn more.