17 Things Entrepreneurs Need to Know
By Rieva Lesonsky
1) Happy Halloween
An astounding $69 billion will be spent on Halloween this year. Check out the infographic below from USSelfStorage.com, one of the largest self storage aggregators in the U.S., to see big holiday Halloween really is.
2) Should You Care if Your Employees Smoke Pot?
Now that marijuana is legal in 24 states for medicinal or recreational purposes, a new poll by EMPLOYERS, a small business insurance specialist, shows small businesses have “mixed feelings” about pot in the workplace. Most (62%) of small business owners would not allow employees to use medical marijuana at work—even though they have a doctor’s prescription, while 19% would allow it. Another 17% weren’t sure.
Dr. Dwight Robertson, the medical director at EMPLOYERS says, “We encourage all small businesses to maintain drug-free workplaces because employees who are under the influence of illicit substances, or misuse or abuse prescription drugs, can put themselves, other employees or customers at risk of injury or other harm. The most important step employers can take is to have a clearly documented workplace safety policy that specifically addresses drug use in the workplace.”
However the survey shows 42% of small businesses don’t have a written policy prohibiting employees from possessing, using or being under the influence of marijuana at work. And 74% do not require their employees to take drug tests.
If you want to develop (or assess) a drug-free policy Dr. Robertson offers three tips:
- Build employee awareness. Maintaining a drug-free workplace starts with educating employees about the dangers of drug use on the job and assuring they understand the company’s policies pertaining to it.
- Establish guidelines. Create a drug-free workplace policy that informs employees about the specific drug-related activities that are prohibited as part of their employment. These should specifically address:
- Prohibiting manufacturing, distributing or dispensing marijuana or other controlled or illicit substances
- Which substances are prohibited by the company
- What the consequences are for failing to comply with company policies. Some businesses go a step further and require periodic drug testing for all employees.
- Enforce consequences. In addition to communicating what the consequences are if an employee fails to follow company policy, they also need to be enforced. For many businesses, failure to comply with a drug-free workplace policy can result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.
By instituting and enforcing drug-free workplace policies, businesses can help protect themselves from workplace safety risks and maintain a strong, healthy and safe business. Be sure to consult with an attorney in your state before implementing a drug-free workplace policy.
3) How to Sell Globally
Pitney Bowes Inc. just announced the results of its second annual Global Online Shopping Study. The research reveals that while international shoppers do share some common similarities on how they find and buy products online, consumers have unique global shopping preferences and behaviors that vary by country. If you want to expand globally, you need to consider cultural norms and shopping preferences of consumers around the world.
According to the study, 62% of online shoppers use search engines as their preferred method to find products. When international consumers were asked what types of online sites they would consider purchasing from, 66% chose online marketplaces, while 62% selected retailers’ web sites.
Most consumers in Russia (78%), China and the U.S. (both 76%) are likely to purchase products from online marketplaces, while consumers in Australia (81%), the U.K. (72%) and Canada (71%) are most likely to buy products directly from a retailer’s web site.
The study also found differences based on the age of the shopper. Over one-fourth of 18-to-24 year-olds (28%) and 21% of 25-to-34 year-olds visit social media sites for inspiration when searching for products. Compare this to only 16% of 35-to-44 year-olds, 12% of 45-to-54 year-olds and 7% of 55 year-olds and older.
Nearly a quarter of consumers make most of their online purchases on mobile devices or a mix of devices. Online shoppers in the U.K. (37%), India (36%) and China (34%), and the U.S. (29%) had the highest rates for using a mobile device, or mix of devices. One-third of Millennials (ages 18-to-34) use mobile devices, or a mix of devices, compared to 24% of overall consumers in the study.
Lila Snyder, President, Global Ecommerce at Pitney Bowes advises, “By focusing on the consumer—what they want and how they like to shop—brands can develop the right roadmap to achieve global ecommerce success.”
The biggest barriers to adoption of global online shopping are high shipping costs (64%), additional fees owed at time of delivery (48%) and product delivery taking too long (39%).
Product returns are also a major concern, as 33% of global shoppers cited online return policies and processes as deterrents. Countries with the highest levels were India (46%), Germany (44%) and the U.S. (39%). Negative customer reviews and ratings are deterrents for 31% of global online shoppers.
Localization is also a barrier, with 30% of global online shoppers saying they would be discouraged from completing a purchase with merchants who do not offer their preferred form of payment. Additional barriers include not being able to read a product description because it is in a foreign language (29%), merchants not accepting credit cards (27%) and when pricing is not in a country’s local currency (25%).
- Australians are the most likely to buy products online from retailers outside their own country (63%) followed by Russians (49%) and Canadians (48%).
- Price is the top reason (61%) shoppers have purchased or would consider purchasing a product from an online retailer outside of their own country, followed by availability (40%), quality and better selection (both 30%). Product authenticity was highest in India, (36%), China and South Korea (both 30%) and Russia (22%).
There are more details in the infographic below.
4) Do You Spend Enough on Marketing Technology?
More than half of marketers think their companies don’t invest enough in marketing technology, according to a new study released by public relations and digital marketing firm Walker Sands Communications.
The Walker Sands State of Marketing Technology 2016 report, called Understanding the New Martech Buyer Journey, finds that 51% of marketers want their employers to spend more money on martech solutions. Additionally, 42% say their organization’s current technology is out of date and insufficient for helping them do their jobs, meaning the lack of investment may be harming results.
“Marketers are tech-savvy, but their companies aren’t,” says Dave Parro, partner and director of the marketing technology practice at Walker Sands. “There’s a wide gap between what marketers want and need, and what their companies are willing to invest. Marketers are clearly frustrated with the slow pace of change.”
The study illustrates the disconnect between marketers’ ambitions and company priorities. While 44% of marketers consider themselves innovators or early adopters of personal technology, 51% say their companies are among the last to adopt marketing technology.
Marketers cite budget restraints (69%) as the primary obstacle to investing in new martech tools, followed by difficulty to implement or integrate with other technology (35%), and internal resistance to change (33%).
You can download the Walker Sands State of Marketing Technology 2016 report, here.
5) Guide to Collaborative Workplace Design
According to Gallup, American employees work an average of 47 hours a week—almost a full workday longer than the standard workweek. And as that workweek lasts longer, many companies are more strongly considering the health, comfort and satisfaction of their employees.
If you want to create the best workspace for you team, check out the new guide from Office Depot and 3M that helps businesses choose the best office layout, furniture, lighting & accessories to boost employee productivity, creativity and happiness.
6) Small Business and Social Media
For the second year in a row, social media is the top marketing channel used by small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), according to BIA/Kelsey’s Local Commerce Monitor.
Highlights from the BIA/Kelsey report include:
- 2% of SMBs use social media to promote their businesses
- 4% use a Facebook page to promote their businesses, up from 53% in 2014
- 9% use Twitter (regular tweets or re-tweets), up from 18.3% in 2014
- 8% use Pinterest, up from 10.1% in 2014
- 5% use Instagram, up from 8.1% in 2014
7) Content Marketing: Social Media Best Practices
Speaking of social media, according to SCORE, the nation’s largest network of free, expert business mentors, 88% of rapidly growing SMBs use social media, underscoring its increasing importance.
Here’s what’s working:
Depending on target audience, marketers found certain social media platforms more effective. When asked which platform provided better results, B2C marketers preferred:
- Facebook (58%)
- Twitter (52%)
- YouTube (49%)
- Instagram (43%)
- Pinterest (41%)
- LinkedIn (36%)
- Google+ (23%)
B2B marketers felt the following social media channels were valuable:
- LinkedIn (63%)
- Twitter (55%)
- YouTube (48%)
- Slideshare (42%)
- Vimeo (40%)
- Facebook (32%)
- Pinterest (25%)
People share content 49% more on weekdays than on weekends. Check the infographic below for more information.
8) Bad Reviews are Not Necessarily a Bad Thing
A new study from PowerReviews and Northwestern University, found that bad reviews (in moderation, of course) can actually help boost sales.
Northwestern University’s Spiegel Research Center analyzed data from PowerReviews and found the most attractive products are those with average star ratings between 4.2 and 4.5. Products with five-star ratings were considered too good to be true. So actually having a few less than perfect reviews helps establish authenticity.
9) 4 Time-Saving Apps for Entrepreneurs
A guest post by Sean Mallean, the Global Head of Product overseeing strategy and execution for Sage‘s web and mobile SMB products worldwide
We can all agree that time is a rare commodity, and no group knows this better than entrepreneurs. For you, finding a moment to think about what to have for lunch is as close as it gets to having free time. Running your business has so many demands that you’re often looking for ways to clone yourself just to catch up. Since we’re a long way from cloning, here are four tips and tools to help you save time and streamline your business operations.
Keep Track of Your Tasks
Can you list every task on your current to-do list? If you’re struggling to answer that question, chances are you could greatly benefit from an app that manages your tasks. Todo is an award-winning app that helps you organize your list and manage your tasks on a daily, weekly and even monthly basis. Todo has another helpful feature, which allows you to geotag your to-do items. So if you need to go to the office supply store to buy a printer, stop at FedEx to send out a package, or pick up your suit from the drycleaners for your big meeting tomorrow, Todo will ping you when you’re near the locations. You can even prioritize your tasks by your route, and since it syncs to all of your devices, you’re less likely to forget your list. Now that’s taking efficiency to a whole new level.
Stay on Top of Your Finances
One of the most tedious yet vital aspects of running your own business is managing and maintaining your company’s finances. Accounting software can be your best friend when it comes to cutting down the time spent on this rigorous process. The right software will allow you to quickly create and send custom invoices to customers globally. You’ll also want to be able to run reports to manage your balance sheet, P&Ls and vendor lists. Expenses play a key role in your business finances and it’s an area the IRS pays particular attention to. Keeping track of your expenses and maintaining records and receipts can make all the difference [in case you’re audited]. If you don’t have a system in place already, you could benefit from an expense-tracking tool such as Expensify, which operates on mobile and desktop devices. Expensify allows you to keep track of spending habits and has “Smartscan” which lets you photograph and categorize receipts for expense reports. If your business requires that you commute a lot to see clients or vendors, you may particularly appreciate the “Track Distance” function that lets you monitor how far you travel by car so you can bill or expense your travel time. Trust me, any time or money spent keeping your finances in order is well worth it, because it could mean all the difference in the future of your business.
Manage Your Social Media
Did you know that nearly 1.7 billion people are active on social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? Having a social media strategy is as important to your business as having a well-defined product or service. It can play an integral role in your sales, PR, marketing and customer service initiatives. And if you’re like many business owners, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the various social media platforms and the nuances of managing and creating content for each. The good news is there are easy to use, timesaving tools to help you manage your social media efforts. Buffer is a great example. It will take the content you’d like to promote and schedule it to be posted for you so you can drive traffic to your site or increase engagement while working on the other aspects of your business, like finishing a client project or closing your next big order. Multi-tasking at it’s best.
Secure Files on the Cloud
If you told business owners 10 years ago that the cloud would be their organization’s best friend, they would have probably dismissed you for a babbling fool. How could a fluffy white puff of condensation possibly be of any use? Of course, times have changed and most people are now familiar with the term “cloud” especially when it comes to offsite digital storage for files. Using the cloud to store and share important documentation will provide you with greater accessibility to your files from anywhere, allow you to organize or modify your filing system with a few clicks and eliminate your dependency on your computer or clunky filing cabinets. All of these attributes translate into saving time and money to focus on the business of running your business. There are many options available, such as a system like Dropbox that will keep everything in one secure place. The system allows you to keep files synced to create consistency on your computer, tablet or phone, and it even gives you the ability to edit presentations with your team whether they are right next door or across the country. Now instead of having to go back to the office to find or send a file, your files can follow you.
If running your business has you feeling overwhelmed, why not take the time to look into some time-saving applications? The time saved will not only help you check a few more items off your to-do list, but also allow you to focus on the things that need your undivided attention like your sales forecast, new patent idea, or your family and friends. Remember them? It’s your time—use it wisely.
10) Why You Need an Agile Marketing Team
Guest post by Austin Paley, Director of Corporate Marketing, at Blue Fountain Media
Are you concerned about having a team in place that can handle agile marketing over the next few years? You should be.
In 2015, 77% of companies will increase their digital marketing budgets, according to a recent Econsultancy marketing survey. Now it’s more important than ever that organizations properly align their staffing needs to ensure that an agile marketing team is in place. While traditional marketing tactics still can be effective, the incredibly fast growing sub-industry, digital marketing, requires experts that can easily adjust and adapt to the constantly changing industry.
Specific to digital marketing, there are constantly new practices being introduced into various platforms including social media, SEO, and email marketing. If your team isn’t willing to learn the most innovative practices, you’re going to start missing out on opportunities to get your brand out there and boost your ROI. Tactics that may have been introduced two months ago might be replaced by newer, different practices next week, and while those original tactics might still work for now, they won’t be as effective as the newest techniques. As more and more practices are introduced into the platform, those original tactics will no longer help your company. Digital marketing changes far more frequently than traditional marketing, and it’s important that your employees are able to adapt their skills just as frequently. Having an agile team that is able to stay on top of trends is ultimately going to help you foster sales.
When you’re building out an agile marketing team, employees who are curious and looking to learn are going to be key assets to your team, and crucial to your overall growth. Employees who have their own expertise, but also have a vast wealth of knowledge in other sectors of the digital marketing industry are going to be beneficial as changes occur over time, because they understand the core of most of the specialties and have the background to enhance their knowledge. To highlight this, consider the following example: Last year when Facebook’s organic reach dropped drastically to give preference to paid advertising, social media teams had to start putting a stronger emphasis on paid social media efforts. If social media experts were only experienced with generating engaging and organic Facebook posts, the effectiveness of their efforts was going to decline. Successful social media teams were able to adapt to these changes because they had a substantial understanding of all aspects of social media
11) 5 Tips for Managing Your Online Business
Guest post from Donovan Janus, CEO, 17Hats
Too often, entrepreneurs with a growing business have a hesitancy to let go of every facet of “their baby” when they bring employees on board. As your business booms, empower your nascent team by focusing on big picture strategy and effectively delegating smaller projects.
When business is booming, it’s easy to get mired in administrative chores like chasing down invoices, processing client leads, or organizing expenses. Try simplifying your workflow with 17hats, which offers a range of tools to automate frequent tasks, saving you dozens of hours a month in the process.
One of the best ways to reward repeat customers and attract new ones is by developing a referral program that actually rewards. Give back to your best customers and they will become ambassadors on your behalf.
Customer acknowledgement is crucial in order to establish a lasting connection. Send thank you notes after orders complete, respond to mentions (both good and bad) on social media to provide a personal touch, or showcase customer testimonials to help spread the word.
The daily grind catches up to all of us. Give yourself a small break each morning for reflection or meditation. Even a few minutes of calm will help you focus on your priorities and put you in a state of mind to get things done.
12) 15 Million Online Bookings are Scams by Rogue Websites
A new study conducted by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) reveals that one in three people are worried about online booking scams. And apparently they should be. Early estimates from the study suggest about 2.5 million hotel bookings a year are affected by deceptive practices through rogue third-party online travel agency (OTA) affiliates who pose as direct hotel booking sites. The study shows that 6% of consumers who have booked hotels online had the experience of thinking they were booking directly with a hotel, but found out instead that they were booking with an online hotel booking site posing as the direct site. By AH&LA estimates, this translates to about 15 million hotel bookings that have been affected by deceptive rogue affiliates, or more than $1.3 billion in money going to bad bookings.
Another 20% of respondents who booked hotels online reported that they were “not sure” if they had also been scammed.
The Federal Trade Commission recently warned consumers about these deceptive practices through two consumer alerts highlighting the scams and offering tips to avoid misleading booking sites. These practices also damage hotel reputations and reduce consumer confidence in the online booking process. To read the FTC’s alerts, go here and here.
Some of the common complaints from consumers who have booked online include:
- 32% got a room that was different than what was expected
- 17% were charged unexpected or hidden fees
- 15% did not get their rewards points
- 14% were charged an extra booking fee
- 14% could not get a refund for a cancellation
- 9% had reservations lost or cancelled
- 3% had their identity or private information stolen
The study says, in order for travelers to be certain they are getting what they want and need, most feel it is better to book directly with the hotel.
13) Retiring Well
The Guardian Insurance & Annuity Company just released new findings from its comprehensive national survey revealing that small plan participants are missing out on available investment options in their 401(k)s.
The Guardian Small Plan 401(k) RetireWell Study ℠2.0: What’s Working and Not Working for Small Plan Participants reveals that plan participants at small businesses may not have all of the tools and resources available when compared to large businesses to optimize retirement savings. Small plans generally have access to fewer plan features and services, and fewer investment options.
Some of the major differences between small and large plans include the diversity of investment options available, the ability to purchase stock in the company, and access to fixed rate accounts. The study also shows small market participants are less knowledgeable and less engaged in their plans than their larger plan counterparts.
This is particularly important, as 401(k)s and other defined contribution plans are by far the largest anticipated source of retirement income for plan participants. The lack of options and services demonstrates an opportunity to enhance overall plan design and investment features made available to small plan participants.
Guardian Retirement Solutions™ has developed the RetirementConnect education program to help engage and educate small plan participants. Participants also have access to online tools, calculators, videos and articles through a newly enhanced website, 401k.GuardianLife.com.
You can get a copy of the study here.
14) Business Transactions Falling
BizBuySell.com has released its quarterly Insight Report, showing nearly a 9% drop in small business transactions from the same time last year. BizBuySell says that since last year’s numbers were the highest since the financial crisis, the findings indicate the market is finally stabilizing. While 2015 will likely be slower than 2014, transactions are on pace to dip just 3% from last year’s levels.
A few other highlights from this quarter’s data:
- Improving small business financials. The median revenue of listed businesses in Q3 grew to $450,000, up from $432,556 in 2014. Improved financials are likely behind the increase in seller confidence, as more owners are confident they can achieve a profitable sale.
- Sale prices dip. The median sale price of a business sold in Q3 slipped slightly from $189,000 last year to $185,000 this year, while the median asking price remained stable at $200,000.
- Retail industry experiences roadblocks. Across industries, retail saw the biggest decline in transactions, with 17% fewer businesses changing hands this quarter as compared to last year.
15) More Franchises Use Digital Marketing
Franchising’s Take on Digital Marketing, a new study from G/O Digital and FRANdata shows while franchises are quickly adopting basic forms of digital marketing, they are having trouble navigating the constantly-changing digital space and need help utilizing cost-effective, mobile marketing tools.
According to the study, 95% of respondents use some kind of digital marketing, with email marketing, search engine optimization and pay-per-click strategies most popular. In fact, these three digital marketing solutions are used by more franchises than traditional marketing, including direct mail, newsletters, print marketing or TV and radio commercials. In addition, more than 60% of respondents plan to increase their digital marketing spend this year.
However, when it comes to more sophisticated types of digital marketing, such as mobile, the adoption rate by franchises is much lower, due to, according to the franchises, limited time and resources and the lack of knowledge and expertise.
16) Enhanced Business Forecasting
Palo Alto Software, the world leader in small business planning and financial managment software, just released a new enhanced business forecasting suite of tools, as part of the company’s refreshed, cloud-based LivePlan Application.
Providing graphic views of key business performance indicators through its small business dashboards, LivePlan’s new forecasting features give business owners the ability to more easily predict and track performance based upon the every-changing dynamics of their business.
Since LivePlan’s debut in 2012, its been helping small business owners stay fiscally healthy while growing their businesses. A small business that doesn’t have a plan is more likely to go out of business or face dire cash flow hurdles, yet according to a survey released by American Express OPEN Small Business Growth Pulse, 35% of small business owners don’t have a formal plan for growing their businesses, and more than a third of small business owners are increasingly concerned about growth strategy and cash flow issues.
For many entrepreneurs, the archaic, 40-page planning document no longer make sense—they need a more flexible, intuitive way to gain vital insight into their business on a constant basis,” says Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software.
In addition to making forecasting even faster and more responsive, LivePlan now includes more detailed and variable cash-flow forecasting, with an interactive model that shows business owners visually what happens to their cash spending based on certain variables. Additionally, LivePlan offers more capabilities for personnel forecasting, that gives business owners the ability to forecast by headcount, as well as forecast contract workers, or employees that should be included into direct costs, as direct labor.
Recognizing the evolution of business models and constant shift in priorities, LivePlan gives business owners the tools to automatically create leaner plans that make for a better business management map that investors can appreciate as well.
Parsons says forecasting is critical because, “Your business can’t grow without understanding the cash flow implications. Nine times out of 10 growth requires a capital investment, which means an entrepreneur needs to do a forecast that includes a full cash flow forecast. This forecast will give the entrepreneur the information they need to understand whether they need a loan, credit line, or another type of financing.”
Parsons continues, “Forecasting helps entrepreneurs make sure their businesses can support their goals and helps them understand the feasibility of what can actually be done to accomplish business owner goals.”
Lastly, Parsons points out, “Forecasting maps the road ahead for the entrepreneur, and by actively planning, a small business owner can increase their growth by 30%.”
17) Code-Free Web Design
Wix.com just launched its new, completely redesigned website editor which features a unique and highly intuitive user interface, integrated functionality, designer-made website templates and hundreds of pre-designed components. The new Wix Editor streamlines the learning curve and lets any user successfully create and publish the website they envision.
Some of the industry-leading code-free features include:
Full screen strip layouts: Containing multiple design elements such as video, image galleries, text and more, these horizontal strips help split up the page into clear sections, allowing for stylistic variation. True to Wix’s drag and drop technology, these strip containers can be edited and repositioned anywhere.
Personalization and tailored features: Based on the users’ profile, the Wix Editor will suggest design and business elements from both the Editor and the Wix App Market to give users the guidance necessary to create the most effective possible sites.
Verticalized templates: Dedicated templates built with business in mind and utilizing new design capabilities allowing users to more readily input key features while maintaining pure a drag and drop interface.
You can check out the YouTube video to see a demo of the new Wix Editor.