20 Things Small Business Owners Need to Know

By Rieva Lesonsky

 

1—Marketing Musts for 2019

Join me (@Rieva) for a Twitter chat on Wednesday, December 5 at 2 pm ET/11 am PT. The chat is hosted by Simply Business and there’ll be a lot of small business experts there to discuss the best ways to market your business in 2019. Follow the chat on Twitter using the hashtag #SBTips.

2—Women, the Economy & Holiday Shopping

How do women feel about the state of the economy? The SheSpeaks/Lippe Taylor Women’s Buying Behavior Index, a new survey, from women’s influencer platform SheSpeaks, and Lippe Taylor, the PR and digital marketing agency that Moves Her, helps predict women’s shopping habits during the holiday season and provides insights into their feelings on the current state of the economy.

The survey shows only 3% of women ages 18-24 believe the economy is getting better compared to 28% of those aged 46-55. The research also shows more women plan to do most of their holiday shopping online.

Other highlights:

  • Women would rather have the gift of time than money
  • Most women admit to having re-gifted something they’ve been given
  • Two-thirds would rather receive a gift card to choose their own gift
  • Almost half plan to buy a present for their pet this holiday season

One fun bit of information—when it comes to holiday movies:

  • 24% of baby boomers (55+) prefer to watch It’s a Wonderful Life
  • 32% of Gen Z & millennials (ages 18-24) favor The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
  • Overall, The Grinch was the top choice across all women surveyed

Check out the infographic below for more information.

3—Holiday Shopping Update—Sales are Soaring    

From Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, more than 165 million Americans shopped either in stores or online, surpassing the 164 million who had said they would shop in a consumer sentiment survey conducted ahead of the holiday, according to National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

The average shopper spent $313.29 on gifts and other holiday items over the five-day period. Of that, $217.37 or 69% was specifically spent on gifts. The biggest spenders were older millennials and Gen Xers (35-44 years old) at $413.05.

Consumers seamlessly shopped on all platforms throughout the weekend. The survey found more than 89 million people shopped both online and in stores, up nearly 40% from last year. The multichannel shopper outspent the single-channel shopper by up to $93 on average.

Purchases over the long weekend showed new trends coming from younger consumers, with Gen Zers and younger millennials aged 18-24 spending an average $149 on holiday purchases for themselves, more than any other generation.

Top purchases included apparel (57%), toys (34%), books and video games (29%), electronics (26%) and gift cards (20%).

The most popular day to shop online was Cyber Monday, cited by 67.4 million shoppers, followed by Black Friday with 65.2 million shoppers. The most popular day for in-store shopping was Black Friday with more than 67 million shoppers, followed by Small Business Saturday with 47.4 million shoppers. Also, 66% of smartphone owners used their mobile devices to make holiday decisions, up from 63% last year.

And there’s still time to make money. With more shopping days before Christmas this year, consumers are shopping slowly. On average, consumers have 56% of their holiday shopping left to do. And 92% believe the strong deals seen over Thanksgiving weekend will continue or improve throughout the rest of the season.

Top shopping destinations during the weekend included: department stores (42%), online retailers (38%), apparel stores (30 %), grocery stores (30%), discount stores (29%) and electronics stores (27%).

4—Small Business Saturday Recap    

U.S. consumers celebrating Small Business Saturday (shopping at independent retailers and restaurants) spent a record high—an estimated $17.8 billion, according to data from the 2018 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey from American Express and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). Based on this annual survey over the years, Small Business Saturday spending has now reached a reported estimate of $103 billion since the day began in 2010.

Other key insights from Small Business Saturday:

  • An estimated 70% of American adults are aware of Small Business Saturday
  • Of those who said they shopped small on the day, 42% shopped with family and friends at independently-owned businesses, and 83% encouraged others to also shop or dine small
  • 41% of those who participated in Small Business Saturday shopped small online

In a separate survey, American Express found that small business owners are optimistic about the entire holiday shopping season:

  • 83% have a positive outlook on holiday sales
  • 69% expect holiday sales to be stronger than in 2017
  • To meet the holiday demand, 51% will extend their store hours
  • 36% plan to hire more staff for the holiday season.

Additional information from both surveys can be found here.

 

5—Holiday Mailing Tips

It happens to the best of small business owners. We’re so busy working during the holiday season, we forget to mail our gifts until it’s almost too late. Don’t panic. The The UPS Store has some tips to  make sure your packages arrive safe, on time and in one piece.

Shipping deadlines: It’s still early so you can plan ahead. Add these shipping deadlines to your calendar

  • For domestic delivery by Christmas Eve, Saturday, December 24, ship:
  • UPS 3 Day Select ® on Tuesday, Dec. 18
  • UPS 2 Day Air ® on Thursday, Dec. 20
  • UPS Next Day Air ® on Friday, Dec. 21

 Pack and ship solutions: 

  • Sending an unusually-shaped, freshly-baked, wrapped or unwrapped gift? The UPS Store Certified Packing Experts accept ANY packing challenge.
  • The UPS Store offers a Pack and Ship Guarantee, ensuring every package arrives safely and on time.

Package security—avoiding porch pirates: 

Many consumers are not home to accept online purchases or gifts. The UPS Store provides easy options for secure delivery.

  • The UPS Store mailbox service: Items are kept safe until consumers are ready to pick them up.
  • UPS My Choice: Consumers can reroute packages already in transit to their UPS Store by signing up for UPS My Choice AND get a text or email when the package is ready for pick-up.

 

6—5 Ways to Leverage Your Personal Brand to Drive Your Company’s Success

A common perception of ‘personal branding’ is that it’s mere ‘ego investment,’ an act of vanity or self-importance. However, Jessica Zweig, founder and CEO of the Chicago-based premiere personal branding firm The SimplyBe. Agency, has a different take. Zweig was named one of the Top Digital Marketers to Watch in 2017 by INC., and is a serial entrepreneur, having founded CheekyChicago.com.

To Zweig, a personal brand is a 360-degree story of what you know, what you’ve accomplished, what you believe in, what you represent and what matters to you. It is the equity you build into your name and your reputation. It is your ultimate business card and it “shows up” (via word of mouth, social media and other outlets) before you do. Because social media, smartphones and a 24-hour news cycle have shrunk our world, the distinctions between a professional and a personal brand (particularly for a business leader—a public face of a company) are now virtually the same. Your personal brand is communicated in how you communicate with everyone from your colleague to your mom to your waiter.

With all this in mind, Zweig shares how you can leverage their personal brands to drive their company’s success and to bring value to those they manage: 

1—Personal branding begins with the personal: Examine what you, the face of your company bring to the world. What would your friends, parents and employees say about you? How is your approach different from someone else’s in the same industry? What charities do you support with your time and money? How do you engage with others personally and professionally other than on the job and via social media (e.g. do you speak on panels, attend networking events, mentor, play team sports, sing in a community choir, etc.)? What is your unique, intrinsic value? What inspires you and what would you like your legacy to be?

2—Tap into your team: Your employees are your greatest assets. When brand messages are shared by employees on social media, they get 561% more reach than the same messages shared by the brand’s social media channels. Brand messages are re-shared 24x more frequently when posted by an employee versus the brand’s social media channels. On average, employees have 10x more reach than their company’s social media accounts. Content shared by employees receives 8x more engagement than content shared by brand channels. Many leaders of organizations fear their best employees will get poached by competitors, and therefore ease up on giving their staff certain outreach responsibilities. Remove the scarcity mindset and choose to establish trust (and equity) in your people—your brand’s greatest support system. If your team doesn’t believe in your vision, who will?

3—Use social media to court and retain good employees: Employees at companies that invest in personal branding initiatives are 27% more likely to feel optimistic about their company’s future; 20% are more likely to stay at their company, and 40% are more likely to believe their company is more competitive. Of all recruiters:

  • 95%believe the job market will remain or become more competitive
  • If you don’t stand out online, your competition will—75%of HR departments are required to search their job applicants online
  • 85%of recruiters & HR professionals say an employee’s online reputation influences their hiring decisions at least to some extent
  • 70% of recruiters & HR professionals have rejected candidates based on information they found online
  • Employees at companies that invest in personal branding initiatives are 27% morelikely to feel optimistic about their company’s future; 20% are more likely to stay at their company, and 40% are more likely to believe their company is more competitive

4—Manage your reputation: Did you know that reputation damage is the No. 1 risk concern for business executives around the world, and 88% say they are explicitly focusing on reputation risk as a key business challenge? Of all executives, 87% rate reputation risk as more important or much more important than other strategic risks their companies are facing. Of respondents who experienced a reputation risk event, 41% say loss of revenue was the biggest impact. By curating your own personal brand you serve as an ambassador and face to your brand that people take into consideration when choosing a business partner. Out of all business decision makers, 84% start their buying process with a referral.

And Google is the very first place people look after getting a referral—53% of decision-makers have eliminated a vendor from consideration based on information they did or did not find about a company or person online. And yet, of the 75% of U.S. adults, who Google themselves, nearly half say the results aren’t positive.

5—Use personal branding to increase sales: Sales reps who use social media as part of their sales techniques outsell 78% of their peers. 92% of people trust recommendations from individuals (even if they don’t know them) over brands. Marketers who prioritize blogging are 13x more likely to enjoy positive ROI. Consistency is key. It takes 5-7 impressions for someone to remember a brand. Through social media, personal blogs or newsletters, you can create original, compelling content that caters to your target audiences and directly speaks to your beliefs. Your content’s messaging, look and feel should align with how you want to communicate to your colleagues, peers and client base.

 

7—How to Incorporate Design Elements Into Marketing

Businesses wanting to recreate the success of Starbucks should think about the Starbucks’s holiday cups. According to the Frontier Label design team, these cups have become a staple of American culture, garnering interest from fans and critics alike. All the discussion leads to free marketing that raises brand awareness and can translate to higher sales.

But, the Starbucks holiday cup is nothing more than smart design leveraging tradition with modern twists. Other brands wanting to mirror the success of Starbucks can do so with relatively little investment but with large ROI potential.

Tips from Frontier Label:

Stay true to your brand: Rebrands are great. They can garner extra attention and change customer perception; however, it is crucial to take the time and effort to ensure your voice and messaging as a company doesn’t get lost in the makeover. If your brand was built upon tradition, embrace that part of you—the artisan feel of hand-done lettering, paper labeling, or rustic design. Updates, rebrands, and trends shouldn’t water down the core values at the heart of your company. Let them shine through.

Keep up with timely trends: Shake it off or embrace them, trends keep you relevant, and also give a sneak peek into societal preferences. Staying up to date will aid in knowing how to connect with customers. The bigger thought though, is knowing how to connect with your customers. Don’t throw away core values just because you can; trends come and go, but do be ready to alter marketing and design elements to appeal to changing demographics. Simple updates through color choice, a modern typeface, or label material will keep your messaging clear, but also might spark a new interest in your product.

Be transparent: We are bombarded and overstimulated with so much information every day. Almost nothing stands out; but it is refreshing, and quite honestly, stops you cold to see messaging and information that is simple and straightforward. Transparency is a platform to boldly and quickly showcase what is different about your company in a world of endless scrolling. Consumers want to connect with the product they buy. Being transparent about pure ingredients or ethical sourcing, for example, will open up a dialogue and create interest with consumers.

 

8—What Do Employees Really Think About HR?

There’s good—and bad news in the infographic below from BambooHR. You might think it doesn’t matter, but companies with higher than average HR capabilities also had more engaged and satisfied employees.

 

9—How to Combat Your Competitors

Guest post by Alan Rich, CEO of expense management software company Chrome River.

1—Find your strengths and level the playing field: In the story of David and Goliath, it’s important to recognize that Goliath lacked vision. Though physically stronger, he lacked the foresight to anticipate future weaknesses. Your competitors may be the same. Do they lack vision? They may lack innovation and be incapable of responding in areas they cannot see.

While Goliath came to battle with a large club and a sword, David realized that in order to be successful, he needed to play to his strengths and Goliath’s weaknesses. Instead of using strength, he used his wit. He brought a slingshot with polished rocks to battle. It may not have been the obvious choice, but it was his way.

Find your strengths and use them in ways your competition can’t. Take notice of their habits, and product issues. Are they slow to update? Are there clear risks to using their product? Don’t mimic them, analyze your strengths and build based off of their mistakes. Going directly head to head with a competitor can be difficult. They didn’t get to where they are by being incapable. Acknowledge that they are really good at what they do, and try to level the playing field by playing around what you’re good at.

2—What is the invisible gnat in your ear? Show your customers you can solve a problem they didn’t even know they had. Take Google Docs. Historically, Microsoft Word has been the industry standard for word processors. There were few competitors, and even fewer issues with the software. Microsoft implemented updates over the years, but the base product remained the same. But when Google introduced a collaborative editing function, a solution that saved companies huge amounts of time on cooperative projects, companies began flocking to Google Docs. While Google’s product was similar to Microsoft’s, a single feature was enough to shift the market. In 2012, Gartner estimated that Microsoft had a 90% market share in the enterprise market. Four years later, millennials were choosing Google Docs over Microsoft Word as their processor of choice.

Cloud-based productivity software was a solution to a major problem we never knew we had. That is the kind of innovation that you can bring to an area occupied by an industry giant. Show that there are answers to problems your customers never know they had.

Ask yourself, “What is inconvenient? Which areas of my process cause me frustration? To what degree can I make things easier?”

3—Listen to the people who pay you: No one knows you like your customers know you. Communicating effectively and frequently with your current and prospective customers, and finding out what bothers them, is critical in order to invent cost effective, efficient solutions that will differentiate you from your competitors. As a smaller company, it’s easier for you to create an intimate relationship with your consumers. Take advantage of those opportunities and understand what they are looking for.

 

10—The New Way to Pay

Visa and PYMNTS.com’s 2nd annual How We Will Pay study provides a look at how connected payments have shaped consumers attitudes about shopping, and how consumers prefer to pay—for everything from consumer goods to gas to groceries for holiday entertaining.

The data suggests connected devices, particularly voice activated assistants, are driving an increasing proportion of retail consumer spend—and consumer appetite for them is only increasing.

Key data points

The rise of voice commerce: Ownership of voice-activated speakers surged by 88% year-over-year—from 14% in 2017, to 27% in 2018. Groceries (5%) and food delivery (4%) were the most popular categories in which early-adopters used voice-based commerce to eliminate friction from routine shopping experiences.

Younger millennials edged out in being “most connected”: Bridge Millennials (30-40 years) and early Gen X’ers (40-50 years) have surpassed younger generations to become the “Super Connected.” Age is not the only surprisingly fact about these hyper-connected owners of six or more devices: the “Super Connected” group is 57% female, 43% male.

Why pay by device vs. card?: Saving time (77%) remains the leading reason to use connected devices for payments, followed by 74% who said the convenience “improved their quality of life.” Gas, parking, restaurants and clothing were all categories in which more than half of surveyed consumers say they would prefer to use a more automated payment method than they use today.

Tapping to pay viewed as fast and convenient: With contactless payments increasingly becoming the preferred way to pay at checkout around the world, U.S. consumers cited a desire to tap to pay over swiping a card for the speed and convenience contactless card payments deliver. Nearly two-thirds also say they’re familiar with the contactless payment symbol, indicating you can tap to pay with a contactless-enabled card, phone or wearable device.

Consumers carry less and less cash: The study found that almost half of respondents carry between $10-$50 in cash (47%), followed by 20% who carry only $0-$10. The top reason for carrying any cash is for tips (39%), followed by for use with cash-only small businesses (25%).

Faster access to earnings in demand: Nearly 70% of consumers say that they would like to be paid their salaries weekly or in real time, rather than the standard bi-weekly/monthly pay cycle, citing a better ability to pay bills (53%) and manage cash flow (53%).

Security remains top of mind: With the growing use of and dependence upon connected payments, concerns over data security and privacy were up by 11% over last year.

 

11—Small Businesses Face Challenge Finding Talent

The just-released Q4 MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index (Index) recorded an overall score of 69.3, indicating a pause in the upward trend of the Index. The fourth quarter score is down less than one-half a point from the third quarter’s record high of 69.7, still reflecting general optimism from the small business community.

Optimism on the health of the national economy is at a new high with 58% of small business owners believing the U.S. economy is in good health. Optimism on the local economy also improved with 56% of small business owners noting their local economy as good.

Approximately 40% of small business owners say they have been actively searching for new hires throughout 2018, but many (67%) are having difficulty finding candidates with the skills they need. Very few small business owners (9%) say the talent pool for potential recruits is “very good” with the majority (55%) saying it’s “fair” or “poor.”

Small businesses are feeling the strain of not having the staff they need, and it is hindering their prospects for growth. Instead of focusing on future growth and the development of their companies, most small business owners (81%) say they had to work longer hours or take on additional roles to compensate for their inability to find qualified candidates. This is especially pronounced among businesses run by women (86%), manufacturers (87%), minorities (89%), and millennials (95%). Most (61%) say they had to push their staff to work longer hours and more than half (55%) say they are instead turning to investing time and money into training their current employees as a way to compensate for not finding new recruits.

Most small businesses (84%) rely on professional contacts and current employees to refer quality candidates. It is clear that companies need to find innovative and different ways to attract and connect with talented candidates, but two out of three small businesses that searched for talent in 2018 say they do not plan to use a different recruiting strategy in 2019.

 

12—Are You Worried About Data Privacy?

As you’re out and about this holiday season, chance are you’re using your smartphone to check for the best deals, comparison shop and pay for your merchandise. And although most of us know connecting to public Wi-Fi is a no-no, 57% of Americans say they can’t wait for more than a few minutes before connecting to a Wi-Fi network after arriving somewhere.

Another eye-opening piece of information—62% of internet users believe it’s illegal for internet service providers  (AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, for example) to collect and sell their personal data without their consent. This reveals there’s a huge disparity in public perception and the truth.

BestVPN.com looked at these issues (and more) and recently released a report taking a deep dive into consumers’ data privacy concerns and understanding. Check the report out here.

 

13—5 Ways Your Startup Can Get Acquired

Almost every entrepreneur dreams of having their company get acquired by a big industry player, but considering 67% of startups fail to exit, the odds of earning an impressive acquisition are against them.

Dan Dal Degan, CEO of SpringCM, knows what it takes to get acquired—experience he gained working closely with Marc Benioff as one of the first 150 employees at Salesforce and more recently, he led SpringCM to be acquired by DocuSign for $220M.

Below are his insights about how startups can attract the attention of big companies looking to make an acquisition.

1—Projecting independence: Acquirers generally covet companies that have growth, momentum and leadership in a relevant application solution category, and talent and experience to sustain growth, so they can control their own destiny. Whether or not you truly desire to be acquired, the image to project is that of a company on a trajectory toward independent profitability with liquidity.

2—Attracting multiple bidders: You need more than one bidder to drive an optimal valuation. It takes two sticks to rub together to make a spark. One stick does not get it done.

3—Securing funding: Closing funding deals proves you’re worth the investment, while increasing your value. It’s the kind of news that catches the attention of companies with deep pockets.

4—Building targeted partnerships: If you’re interested in getting acquired by Google, work toward becoming a certified Google partner first or hire ex-Googlers to build as many ties to the company as possible.

5—Acting on industry trends: Rather than spending resources and energy on developing their own trending solutions, big companies might look to acquire a business that can bring in cutting-edge tools that keep the company evolving with the latest technologies.

14—How Well Does Your Business Communicate?

Even with a rise in communication platforms and tools, there is a fundamental breakdown in communication between managers and team members in America’s workplaces. With 130 million Americans working full-time and a shrinking workforce, teams are more fragmented and strapped for time. monday.com, the team management platform on a mission to connect people to workplace processes, recently released its report about the State of Transparency in America’s Workplaces.

The report provides a comprehensive look at how Americans communicate and connect with teams in the workplace and showcases the surprising chasm between managers and teams.

“The employees of today’s workforces feel so busy, even though they may not understand why. We’re working harder than ever before, but not always smarter,” says Roy Mann, cofounder and Chief Executive Officer at monday.com. “Transparency is one of the fundamental cores of our business, and monday.com allows all kinds of teams to easily visualize and manage any possible workflow or business operation across departments — eliminating silos and improving productivity.”

Key findings of the State of Transparency in America study:

The Big Apple takes a bite from the Golden State

When it comes to great workplace communication and organization, New York tops California. Californians feel a stronger need to improve communication among their teams at work:

  • 5% of Californians say they and their colleagues could better communicate needs and goals
  • Only 55% of New Yorkers felt the same.
  • In comparison, a majority of the total U.S. workforce—63% of people surveyed—feel their teams can better communicate needs and goals

Californians also feel busier than their New York counterparts: 57% of workers in California feel they’re too busy, vs. 43% of New Yorkers.

What is your team working on? IDK.

A significant portion of the U.S. workforce doesn’t have a full understanding of how they’re spending their workdays

  • 28% of those surveyed don’t feel they have an accurate assessment of how they’re spending time at work
  • 37% feel their manager does not have an accurate understanding of how they’re spending time
  • More than half of employees in America go nearly the entire week without discussing what they’re working on
  • 54% people surveyed discuss projects and tasks with their managers once a week

But we’re tired!

Nearly half the U.S. workforce feels they are too busy, and most of these busy people feel sick, tired and irritable, and 46% catch themselves saying they’re too busy at work. Of those people:

  • 7% often feel sick, tired, irritable and less productive at work
  • 43% feel somewhat sick, tired, irritable and less productive at work
  • Only 21% feel productive at work

Breaking out of a Mon-daze

Don’t like Mondays? Don’t underestimate the likelihood of a pre-weekend meeting, either.

  • To start off the week, 45% surveyed are likely to connect on Monday
  • While Fridays are the start of the weekend for most teams, only 16% are most likely to connect with teams on Fridays.

The Michael Scott work style

Think communication platforms are replacing meetings? Think again—people are still holding meetings to share status updates.

  • 62% people share updates on projects via meetings
  • 62% people share updates on projects via email
  • 33% people share updates on phone calls
  • Only 20% people share updates on projects via Slack, G-chat Skype, etc.

 

15—3 Smart Ways to Manage Excess Inventory and Deliver on Social Impact

Guest post by Charles Lee, founder of eTruism, a non-profit e-commerce marketplace platform where excess inventories are converted into charitable funding, and where consumers buy new products at discounted prices and all profits go to philanthropic causes of their choice. You can find them https://www.facebook.com/eTruism and https://www.instagram.com/e_truism/.

Being left with unwanted inventory is seen as a headache for many retailers. It’s also one that most retailers consider to be somewhat minimizable, but largely unavoidable. However, the statistics around what happens to these excess goods are shocking—26 billion pounds of clothing end up in landfills in the U.S. annually, and companies such as Burberry routinely burn their unsold merchandise, with the high-end merchandiser destroying $40 million worth of stock over the past year.

But, not all hope is lost. Many businesses are now taking active steps to become more socially responsible, even developing their own CSR initiatives. So, why not optimize your stock management strategy by combining some action for social good with your inventory problem?

Here lies a serious chance to help others, and the planet, while getting rid of extra stock in the process. Here are three smart ways to manage excess inventory and deliver on social impact:

1—Donate the stock to charity: Giving your excess inventory directly to charity is a sure-fire way to give value to your unwanted goods. Donating this stock not only clears up space in your warehouse, but also helps those in need and can fuel the incredible work of nonprofit organizations.

In many ways, getting rid of your stock this way is a win-win: you get rid of it quickly and easily, and do a great thing for a good cause. But, businesses donating their products directly should be mindful of making sure the donations represent a good ‘match’ for the charity. For example, the American Cancer Foundation recently received donations from a wig company. If you manufacture warm clothing, this would be of greatest use going to homeless populations in colder areas during the winter months—you get the gist.

You can also find out what causes are closest to your employees’ hearts. This makes for some great internal marketing, and keeping the nonprofit of choice local minimizes any logistical carbon footprint. Adopting the approach of getting the most ‘bang-for-your-buck’ in terms of the charity you donate to can help you ensure you’re delivering the most impact possible. Initiatives like the Effective Altruism Movement have already made this shortlist for you, and others can give you tips on how to pick the best nonprofit from the thousands of worthy causes that exist.

Another great incentive to give your excess stock away are the tax cuts you can receive. U.S. companies that donate their surplus inventory to qualifying nonprofits can benefit from reductions that are equal to the cost of the donated stock.

2—Donate through a middleman: Often, many charities don’t have the time nor the resources to sort through, sell or put to use everything they receive. If this is the case with your cause of choice, there are third-party organizations that act as a middle-man between companies with excess stock and nonprofits. Organizations such as GoneForGood.org.uk accept the donations, then sort and give them directly to a charity that needs them. Or arguably even better, companies like eTruism.org actually sell the goods on their own platform and donate 100% of the profits, resulting in immediate impact for your chosen charity.

A lot of these organizations save you time that would be otherwise spent on deciding which charities would welcome and make use of the donations. And if you still want a say in the choice, some even create a shortlist of causes for you to choose from. In fact, it’s not just small businesses that are jumping on this hype: last December twenty leading UK manufacturers, including Amazon and L’Oreal, donated their surplus products to In Kind Direct, which distributes the goods to charities and community organizations across the UK.

Using a middleman is also a great way to turn your unwanted stock into much-needed cash for an organization. There are a number of cases, especially disaster relief, that can make much better use of monetary donations than physical items, which can often do more harm than good. For example, it cost $1.5 million to store and handle unrequested goods donated to help victims of Cyclone Pam. Many of these items simply end up in landfill sites after being unwarrantedly transported miles across oceans to help those in disaster areas. Donating cash allows those working directly with the cause to buy exactly what is most crucially needed.

3—Minimize your excess stock to begin with, and outsource your warehousing: Traditionally, companies store and house their inventory in their own facilities. However, this brings a lot of complexity, overhead costs, management from your own team and undoubtedly, excess inventory. And so, a new trend has emerged: outsourcing your warehouse needs. In fact, as of last year, 90% of Fortune 500 companies were working with Third-Party Logistics providers. The 3PL Logistics industry is booming, having grown by 3.7% annually in the past five years and reaching a revenue of $185 billion in 2018.

Outsourcing your warehousing means paying per square foot for the space used in a third party specialist’s warehouse to store your inventory. As a result, companies doing this are forcibly required to be more disciplined in how much inventory they hold, as it makes them evaluate how much they really need, stopping them from simply filling up space because they have it. By giving you the flexibility to scale your supply chain, outsourcing your warehousing requirements means you have less of a need to hold additional inventory.

The environmental benefits of this are numerous. Less stock ordered means less logistical and storage requirements, thus reducing your company’s carbon footprint. It can also result in an increase in efficiency: decisions are made quicker when holdings have a price tag on them. Paying for every inch of storage space you use means that when you do have excess stock, you want to get rid of it quickly, a problem that can be solved by the solutions listed above.

Not only do these initiatives have a positive social impact, but choosing them as ways to manage the problem of surplus stock are kinder to the planet than other more obvious options, such as selling the products to liquidation resellers. These resellers often send the stock to far-away countries, burning unnecessary fossil fuels, or simply dump them in a landfill if they find they’re of little value. The carbon footprint of these actions is huge and unwarranted. By choosing to donate your excess stock, or to take business-savvy actions to reduce it in the first place, your company can increase its social and environmental impact without expending extra time and resources.

 

16—Americans Lack Life Insurance

A recent survey conducted by Anthem, Inc. reveals that while 67% of American employees believe life insurance is important to achieve financial wellbeing, only 53% claim to be covered. The survey’s findings underscore a gap between financial priorities and the use of life insurance as a financial planning tool.

“With nearly half of American households receiving life insurance through the workplace, employers can play an important role in educating employees on this benefit as an essential step in planning for financial wellness,” says Greg Poulakos, President of Anthem Life and Disability. “Financial priorities may change over time, but life insurance offers consistent peace of mind and security.”

The survey shows that the definition of financial wellness varies across ages, as does the perceived importance and election of life insurance benefits. Millennials (ages 25-34) consider eliminating credit card debt and paying off student loans as important steps to achieve financial wellness. However, only 24% of millennials are covered by life insurance, which can help protect their loved ones from these payments after an unexpected death.

For Generation X (35-54 years old), many are busy juggling family and work responsibilities with little time to focus on other priorities. The unexpected death of a loved one could mean the loss of an income for many families, yet only 58% have life insurance. In the event of tragedy, life insurance can help families to pay for funeral costs, pay bills and pay off outstanding debt, including a mortgage.

Over time and at various stages in life, the definition of financial wellbeing shifts to preparedness. For those 55 and older, preparedness means having an emergency savings fund (93%) and protecting their income in the face of catastrophic challenges (42%). The survey found that more than 66% of those aged 55 and older are enrolled in a life insurance benefit.

One common misconception is the cost of life insurance, which is often overestimated by younger adults by as much as five times the actual amount. In fact, the cost is often less than a gallon of gas per week. Tailored education focusing on the affordability of life insurance can combat this perceived barrier and encourage greater protection.

You can find information here about Anthem’s affiliated life insurance plans.

 

Quick Takes

17—Millennials and Money

Check out the 2019 Millennial Entrepreneurs and Money Report , from Fundera, an online lending marketplace pairing entrepreneurs with loans tailored to their business from multiple lending partners.

Key findings include:

  • Millennial entrepreneurs have lower personal credit scores than every other older generation of biz owners—but they have stronger business credit scores than any other age group
  • On average, millennial entrepreneurs report annual revenue of $1M from their ventures—with Gen Z clocking in slightly higher at $1.67M
  • More than 1 in 5 millennial entrepreneurs who received funding through Fundera sought it for expansion and acquisition purposes

 

18—Personal Time Off Policies

Are your personal time off (PTO) policies better or worse than other businesses like yours? To find out take a look at the 2018 Paid Time Off Study white paper from ProjectManager.com. The white paper examines:

  1. Paid time off policy creation and its corresponding impact
  2. Average PTO time and steps to earn more
  3. Opinions on PTO policies by demographic
  4. Surprising Discoveries: People say one thing, but do another
  5. Unlimited PTO
  6. What’s the best PTO policy?

Cool Tools

19—Next Generation Tools from Zoho

Zoho has introduced several new products designed to give business owners more insight into their businesses.

Do you want to have complete insight into your customers across departments rather than partial views? Then, you’ll want to check out Zoho’s next generation of Zoho CRM Plus—its  all-in-one customer experience platform that empowers sales, marketing, customer support, and operations to work as one.

Fueled by Zia, Zoho’s AI-powered assistant, and the enhanced Zoho Analytics, Zoho’s business intelligence and reporting platform, Zoho CRM Plus helps businesses deliver superior customer experiences, by allowing users to “deeply understand customer sentiments, delight customers across channels, and adeptly prescribe actions to keep customers content throughout their journey—all from one place.”

“Companies now recognize the importance of AI in creating positive experiences for customers. The focus now has shifted to bring AI across an integrated platform, creating a consistently positive experience across and throughout the customer journey,” says Brent Leary, cofounder and partner, CRM Essentials.  

The power of Zia and Zoho Analytics across this new Customer Experience Platform, coupled with significant updates to Zoho DeskZoho Social, and SalesIQ, businesses can now simply unify all customer-facing teams on a single interface and leverage real-time, contextual intelligence pulled from the front- and back-office, across all customer touch points, in just a single action.

“Zia has advanced significantly since her initial launch early last year. With the combined powers of Zia and Analytics behind Zoho’s Customer Experience Platform, we are opening up a seamless and contextual flow of information across channels and departments, making it simple for teams to work as one to smartly transform their customer relationships,” says Raju Vegesna, chief evangelist, Zoho. “CRM Plus is no longer just a suite of applications. It is now a sophisticated and intelligent platform where businesses can thoughtfully and proactively craft exceptional experiences across the entire customer journey.”

Pricing & availability: All the features are available immediately on Zoho CRM Plus. Zoho CRM Plus is available for $50/user/month when billed annually. There’s more information on Zoho CRM Plus here. Please follow #ZohoCX for live updates on the Customer Experience Platform.

Zoho also released Zoho Analytics, its most advanced self-service business intelligence and analytics platform yet. The new release unleashes the power of data blending and artificial intelligence, enabling organizations to analyze massive amounts of data in a much more efficient way and derive cross-functional business insights.

“At Zoho, we know what’s important for sales, marketing, support, HR and finance functions, as we ourselves offer business applications in each of these categories. With this deep understanding of business requirements, we have crafted dashboards that decision-makers and executives can use out-of-the-box from within Zoho Analytics, a unique analytics solution in the self-service BI market,” says Vegesna. “Now, organizations can leverage AI-powered technologies via Zoho Analytics, to correlate data that traditionally resided in departmental silos, into meaningful metrics that span across business functions. For example, being able to determine the impact of marketing spend on new sales.”

Some of the new capabilities:

Auto-Blending: Zoho Analytics blends data automatically from multiple sources into reports and dashboards, letting users correlate business metrics across these sources. Zoho Analytics blends data from different Zoho apps, and data from 3rd-party apps.

Ask Zia: Zia, Zoho’s intelligent assistant based on machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, is now part of Zoho Analytics. Users can ask Zia questions such as, “What was my monthly sales for the last year across regions?” Zia converts such questions to complex SQL queries in the back end and gives answers in the form of visual reports, without users having to create them manually.

Zia can auto-blend data and understand questions that span across business apps, such as “Give me the revenue per employee” where revenue comes from the accounting app, and employee count comes from the HR app. Zia comes up with multiple suggestions as possible answers, from which users can choose the relevant report.

Forecasting: Zoho Analytics debuts Predictive Analytics with new forecasting capabilities. Users can now predict future trends accurately based on their past data.

New connectors: Zoho Analytics enriches its 3rd-party integrations with six new connectors for popular business apps, expanding the number of connectors to over 100. Each of these connectors come with more than 100 pre-built domain-specific reports and KPI dashboards that users can benefit from right away.

Enhanced visualization: In addition to the existing 40+ chart types, Zoho Analytics has added Geo-map charts to help visualize location data. Dark-themed dashboards, flexible dashboard layouts, heat maps, and dial gauges have also been added as new visualization options.

On-premise: In addition to the existing cloud version, Zoho Analytics introduces a new installable on-premise edition to offer deployment choices to users. The on-premise edition will help medium and large enterprises analyze their data stored in-house. This edition is available for Windows and Linux operating systems.

Pricing & availability: Zoho Analytics is available in plans starting from $25 per month. Zoho Analytics is also part of Zoho One, the company’s all-in-one suite of applications for running an entire business.

Zoho also announced that Zoho Desk, its customer service help desk application, has added a slew of enterprise-focused features along with a new developer platform, while witnessing 150% growth in new business over the last year. Several pre-built extensions can be quickly installed from Zoho Marketplace. Zoho Desk’s new multichannel framework allows organizations to integrate channels like messaging apps, review platforms, and niche communities, through their APIs, to manage conversations from these channels.

Pricing & availability: Zoho Desk is available starting at $15 per employee per month.

Finally, Zoho announced major updates to Zoho Social, its social media marketing platform. The new version provides deep analytics into social media metrics such as reach, impression, and engagement, while the latest Facebook Lead Form integration with CRM field-mapping allows users to map and sync lead information from Facebook Lead Ads with records in Zoho CRM. Users can also manage their Google My Business listings and reviews without leaving the interface, and have a greater control on their publishing schedule with the CustomQ feature.

“Social analytics has been one of the most sought-after requirements for social media marketers around the world, and most tools either don’t offer deep analytics or do not connect with other sales, marketing, and support tools to give full context on social interactions,” explains Vegesna. “With the new set of reports, Zoho Social offers in-depth reporting on audience demographics, reach, impression, engagement analytics, and overall performance for key social channels.”

The global social media analytics market is predicted to grow at a CAGR of over 30% through 2021. “We’ve always believed that there’s more to social media marketing than just publishing posts,” adds Vegesna. “That’s one of the reasons why we set out to build a complete social media management platform for businesses and agencies that helps them with not just publishing but monitoring and reporting as well.”

Zoho Social now integrates with Zoho Desk. Users can convert a social post asking for help or reporting an issue into a support ticket in Zoho Desk from within Zoho Social. With this integration, users can view any existing ticket associated with a social connection before responding to them. They can also look into the support history for the contact, including the current and previous tickets, average response and resolution times, and more. With this integration, users gain an unmatched visibility into the social conversations with their customers across all touch points—marketing, sales, and support.

Pricing & availability: Zoho Social is available in plans starting from $10 per month. It’s also available in special plans for agencies starting from $1000 per year. Zoho Social is also included in Zoho One.

 

20—Pricing Negotiation Tool

With the holiday season upon us, everyone is scrambling for deals. They want the best prices, quickly and easily, but the traditional methods of coupons and comparison shopping are tedious and time-consuming. However, there’s a new tool that makes online price negotiations faster, safer, and easier than ever before.

PriceWaiter has launched a free browser extension for both business and consumers that lets users negotiate prices anywhere they’re shopping on the web. All users need to do is download the browser extension. Whenever they land on a page with a product where PriceWaiter can negotiate a better deal, they simply enter their offer for the item, and PriceWaiter will do the negotiating for them.

Unlike other browsers, PriceWaiter lets shoppers name their own price, enabling them to control the negotiation. Retailers have hidden prices for their products they aren’t allowed to advertise, and the only way to discover them is to make an offer. According to Andrew Scarbrough, COO, the tool has “already negotiated better prices on over $50 million in purchases.”

You can see the extension and how it works here.

 

Small business stock photo by 88studio/Shutterstock