14 Things Entrepreneurs Need to Know
By Rieva Lesonsky
1) Are You Less Optimistic?
The latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index (taken in early April) shows small business owners were feeling slightly less optimistic due to how they regard their financial situations, especially their current revenues.
Several factors contributed to the decrease in optimism, including:
Lower revenues: 42 percent of small business owners say their revenues increased over the past 12 months, down from 49 percent in January. But, more business owners this year as opposed to last year report increased revenues.
Less access to credit: 30 percent of business owners say it is very or somewhat easy to obtain credit when they need it, down slightly from 34 percent in January. But 25 percent say credit was very or somewhat difficult to obtain in April, up from 20 percent in January.
There was plenty of good news however.
Highest Cash Flow in Seven Years: 58 percent of small business owners report their cash flow has been very or somewhat good over the past 12 months, up from 54 percent in January and 50 percent a year ago. The percentage of business owners reporting good current cash flow is the highest since the first quarter of 2008.
Improved Financial Situation: 65 percent of small business owners rate their company’s financial situation as very or somewhat good, unchanged from the January survey and up from 57 percent a year ago.
Of course running a small business comes with challenges. Top concerns:
1) Attracting customers & finding new business (14 percent)
2) Government regulations (11 percent)
3) The economy (11 percent)
Hiring was also a challenge. When asked about hiring trends and plans 16 percent have added employees in the last 12 months, but say finding qualified staff is their biggest hiring challenge—40 percent say the candidates who apply for jobs at their businesses are over- or under-qualified for open positions. And 33 percent say they don’t have the time and resources to devote to finding the best candidates.
Due to a nearly recovered economy there’s a lot more competition for employees these days.
- 68 percent can’t compete with salary & benefits packages offered by larger companies
- 57 percent can’t afford the benefits qualified candidates want
- 48 percent can’t offer full time jobs.
- 45 percent can’t offer flexible schedules or telecommuting options
- 40 percent can’t provide technology, such as smart phones, tablets or laptops to qualified candidates
2) Is Community Engagement a Curse or a Blessing?
Monty Henderson writing on the Indiana Small Business Development Center (ISBDC) blog warns that if you engage with your community, your actions need to be authentic, or they could backfire.
3) Run Your Small Business in the Cloud
Sage and Salesforce announced this week they’ve forged a strategic partnership, bringing together a two tech leaders. Sage, which offers small business accounting and payroll solutions and Salesforce, the leading CRM solution and enterprise cloud platform, have created Sage Life on the Salesforce1 Platform, which enables small businesses to run completely in the cloud.
According to the companies, the average small business today runs between four and eight software systems, which is complex. Sage Life, which is optimized for mobile and social, will “empower small companies to connect their customers, accounting, payroll and finance data into one system, accessible from any device, anywhere.
Sage Life is customizable and allows seamless interconnections between colleagues, customers, partners, suppliers, and other stakeholders.
4) Crowdsourcing Issues
Newstarter, a new crowdsourcing platform enables people to help shape policy, entertainment and media, through innovative fundraising campaigns. Newstarter creates the campaigns based on current events and targeta influential public figures. People invest in the campaigns that matter most to them, and the money raised either goes toward paying the influencers at the center of the campaign, or a charity of their choice.
The company says current campaigns include:
- A proposed debate over immigration between Senator Ted Cruz and Mark Zuckerberg
- A public meeting about the Redskins team name with team owner, Daniel Snyder
- A fan-curated live performance by Miley Cyrus
How does it work? Public figures (the famous and powerful at the center of some of the country’s hot-button issues) are invited to participate in events the public wants to see. These range from an interview, a performance, a debate, or just an open conversation. Money raised is then offered as payment or as a donation to the influencer’s choice of charity.”
5) Improve Your Facebook Marketing
Millions of small business owners use Facebook every day to better reach and communicate with current and potential clients. But are you doing it right? Kate Endres, the Senior Social Media Marketing Specialist at Blue Fountain Media offers some insight:
According to an eMarketer study, in 2015 roughly 84.7 percent of businesses will use Facebook for marketing purposes. To ensure that those marketing efforts are aligned to sufficiently draw traffic through Facebook and in grow your overall brand presence, utilizing a visual strategy is key.
Make Your Content Your Own
Using branded overlays gives you a substantial edge when you are trying to foster engagement and attract attention that will help you drive traffic. You can essentially plug in a quote, graphic, or fact while still maintaining a consistent brand presence that is aligned with your other channels and previous posts. You can do a mix between branded content and pre-existing content to manufacture a post that will reflect whatever subject you are trying to peak interest in. Branded content gives you consistency with your brand presence while also giving you the opportunity to have your posts be unique, but still effective. It’s a subtle way to remind users where the material they see is coming from.
It’s easy to create content that your audience will enjoy seeing, but finding the connection to tie it back to your brand is what will help determine its success. At the end of the day, if you create content that is interesting, visually appealing, and branded in a tasteful way, you’re going to see a return in the traffic that you draw to your site.
Finding a Happy Medium: Images and Text
For Facebook, you have to think about the 20 percent rule as you craft your visual assets—less than 20 percent of the image you post has to be text. Often, the less text you have in your image the better, as they generally perform better that text-based posts. An image can speak for itself if it’s appropriately aligned with the message you are trying to convey, however, this isn’t to say that all posts should be solely image-based. An image post should still have the right amount of text so that it can be understood by users even after it is initially introduced, helping it to perform better long term and also in the moment.
You want to provide your audience with value even if the image is taken out of context. Images are always going to get shared more, but you want to have some text that provides a bit of credibility or it could lose its value and effectiveness. Ultimately, you could have the best content in the world, but if it isn’t visually appealing, users won’t pay attention to it.
Be a Story Teller
Infographics are an opportunity to tell engaging, interesting, and creative stories that don’t require too much work on the user’s end. An infographic can provide your audience with as much information as an all-text post can, but is much more digestible. Something that is easy to read and understand, provides value, and is additionally appealing on the eyes is far more likely to reach a wider audience. Infographics are also an excellent way to connect back to your brand’s larger campaign and be a strong component to your long-term message.
Maintain Your Identity
To draw Facebook traffic to grow your brand, it’s important that your visual strategy meets the needs of your target audience. Overall, you should be focused on maintaining your brand identity while also crafting a hybrid of visual assets that are both informative and enjoyable. By creating posts that are consistent across all your channels, you can build credibility and return help foster your overall growth.
6) Tips for Getting Ahead
There are always tons of articles telling employees how they can get ahead. But what about entrepreneurs? Max Yoder, the co-founder and CEO of Lesson.ly, the easy learning software, shares his tips:
Use Research Skills to Develop Relationships
Before you head into a meeting with someone, whether a new employee or a sales prospect, dig into some social networks, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to get insight into their hobbies, family or collegiate experiences. Some mobile apps like Refresh even combine all social, calendar, and email information into a dashboard so finding information is only a click away.
Improve Continuing Education
We surveyed companies about why they don’t have formal training programs in place. And “making it a priority” was the number-one reason given. If you’re looking to make a difference in a simple way, this could be it. Using platforms such as Lesson.ly make it as easy-as-email to develop new lessons and courses for continuing education in industry knowledge.
Network in Inventive Ways
Volunteering in the community is a great way to get to know influential leaders and business owners in the area, and highlights that you care about the community as well. Have a passion for animals? Help out by walking dogs at the local animal shelter, or develop a drive for toys and blankets during winter months. Not only will you be seen as an altruistic, considerate person, but it’s a way to think outside the box from the typical suit-and-tie events.
7) Money from the Michelin Man
Well, not exactly from the puffy Michelin man we’ve all seen on TV. But Michelin Development, a subsidiary of Michelin North America, is celebrating it’s 100th loan its given to small businesses and startups in communities where Michelin has facilities.
Michelin launched the Michelin Development program in North America in 2006 and has awarded 100 loans (nearly $9 million in funding) to small businesses in the U.S. and Canada, with nearly 1,500 jobs created as a result.
The program provides low-interest loans, as well as business expertise from Michelin’s network of professionals.
If you’re interested, you can learn more and apply online.
8) More Money for Startups
Saint-Gobain, one of the world leaders in the construction and innovative materials markets, has launched NOVA External Venturing, a unit dedicated to developing strategic partnerships between it and startup companies all over the world.
Through the NOVA Innovation Competition, Saint-Gobain will reward the four startups that “demonstrate the most innovative solutions in the fields of habitat, sustainable products, advanced materials, renewable energy sources, or high-efficiency building solutions, by exploring potential joint development, licensing or other collaboration agreements. Saint-Gobain will potentially provide the winners with access to its manufacturing processes, financial and marketing resources, depending on the type of business.”
If you’re interested, you have to apply by June 19th. Semi-finalists will be notified by the end of July and eight finalists will compete for the top spots, in a Shark Tank-like pitch-off, during Greenbuild 2015, on November 18-19 in Washington, D.C.
9) Protect Your Apple Watch
Did you buy an Apple watch? Are you so worried you’ll lose or break it, you can’t really enjoy wearing it? Well, Protect Your Bubble, a nationwide provider of protection plans and insurance “for the things that matter most to consumers”, just announced details about its extended warranty coverage for the new Apple Watch. Consumers can get coverage for their new Apple smartwatch with no requirement for a long-term contract commitment.
Protect Your Bubble offers tiered pricing for different Apple Watch models starting at $5.99 per month for watches priced at $550; $6.99 per month for the $700 watches; and $7.99 per month for watches that are valued at $1,100. There is a $50 deductible for all three plan options, and coverage includes replacement of the smartwatch for accidental damage, liquid damage and power surge damage.
Protect Your Bubble’s protection plans cover electronics, technology and devices, such as smartphones, smartwatches and bands like the Apple Watch and Fitbit. Click here for more details. The process to sign up for protection plans takes only minutes, and consumer-friendly policies include a low $50 deductible and unlimited claims.
“No doubt, consumers are certainly excited about the new Apple Watch, which aims to revolutionize the way in which we access information and stay connected to social, personal and professional networks 24/7,” said Stacey Vogler, U.S. Managing Director of Protect Your Bubble. “While Apple Watch offers an exciting new platform for connectivity, it also presents new challenges in keeping the device safe from accidental damage because of its wearable tech format.”
10) FREE Disaster Recovery Webinar
According to a recent study, 36 percent of businesses lost one or more critical applications or data files for hours at a time, and 60 percent of those losses occurred as a result of not having a fully documented Disaster Recovery plan. Having a DR plan is only going to become more critical as we embrace big data trends.
On May 27 from 12 to 1 ET, national IT infrastructure and cloud solutions provider, Peak 10 and Zerto, a leader in disaster recovery software are offering a free webinar.
Topics covered include:
- How recovery clouds provide continuous data protection, resulting in less data loss
- The importance of compliance and flexibility in determining a virtualized DR plan
- Lessons from real end-user experiences
For more information about the DR webinar, or to register you can go here.
11) Powerful Reports for Retailers
Stitch Labs, a leading inventory control and multichannel selling solution, just announced new reports developed by its in-house data team. Users can create custom reports, gather insight into supplier performance, and view aggregated data from Google Analytics, which offers rich insights into their digital audiences and marketing effectiveness.
If you have a Stitch account, you can access your Google Analytics across channels like Shopify, BigCommerce, Amazon, and eBay, enabling you to view product performance across channels and save time gathering insight from your separate web store and marketplace accounts.
12) Global Sales Made Easy
Do you sell all over the world? Then you should check out 2Checkout, which maximizes online sales conversions by giving global buyers localized payment options. 2Checkout supports transactions in 196 countries through eight payment methods, 26 currencies, and 15 languages, forming one of the leading processors of online transactions in the world.
The service is simple to implement, including a pre-integrated payment gateway, a merchant account, PCI compliance, international fraud prevention, and plug-ins for 100 of the most popular carts.
13) Book It!
MyTime, the popular online destination to book appointments just announced the launch of their all new MyTime Scheduler, which contains a state-of-the-art online appointment calendar, client relationship manager and instant messenger product. If you are looking for an easier and more efficient way to manage your schedules, clients and digital marketing efforts, you should check it out. The Scheduler includes the ability to set custom prices for each client and a real-time chat feature that allows small business owners to connect with their customers in real-time.
14) More from QuickBooks
QuickBooks just announced several new programs to help small businesses:
QuickBooks Small Business Big Game: QuickBooks will put one deserving small business in a fully paid for commercial airing during the Super Bowl.
QuickBooks Connect Local: QuickBooks is heading on a 5-city nationwide tour to Boulder, Atlanta, Detroit, Austin and Seattle, where it will host educational and networking events to help small businesses grow and succeed.
Funding Announcement: QuickBooks is launching a new financing fund that will enable small businesses to use their QuickBooks Online data to access low-rate loan offers at the click of a button. More information to come.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at [email protected], follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva.