11 Things Entrepreneurs Need to Know
By Rieva Lesonsky
Editor’s Note: We’re focusing on employees today. Check out #’s 2-4
1—International Trade Drives Success
According to our friends from SCORE:
- S. companies that export grow faster and are nearly 8.5% less likely to go out of business than non-exporting businesses
- 26% of companies that trade internationally significantly outperform their market
But less than one percent of America’s 30 million companies export!
Want to know more? Check out the infographic below.
2—Help for Frazzled Workers
Today’s workplace is more distracting than ever—we’re checking our email approximately 47 times a day, open office layouts let our colleagues’ gossip sessions distract us, and the Internet provides a never-ending array of cute kittens to admire. As the modern office changes, productive workers need to figure out how to find our focus and tap into “deep work” mode, despite these distractions.
And the demands on us are not just during work hours. Would the U.S. ever follow France’s lead and institute a “right to disconnect” law? The law went into effect in France this year, allowing employees to power down and ignore email after-hours. Unfortunately, many of us do not have this luxury. For many, the constant connectedness can be overwhelming.
Evernote’s Director of Global Community, Joshua Zerkel offers some pointers on how to make the most of our time in the office, so we can truly power down and relax in the evenings.
- Start the day with a review of your biggest priorities
- Get a clear sense of what needs to be accomplished on a project before you jump in
- Arrange your workplace so that it is distraction-free and uncluttered
- Remove audio distractions (if you prefer to work in silence). If you require a soothing background tone, use “white noise” apps like Noisli, Focus@Will and fm.
- Find a change of scenery when you hit a mental roadblock on a task—this can be a bench outside, a couch in the lobby or a conference room
Zerkel recommends using minimalist apps like Evernote to help you focus and avoid distraction. He says, “As seen in its redesigned iOS app that just launched last month, Evernote also provides many other features that put the technology to work for you, so you can spend less time organizing / searching for content and more time in deep work mode:
- Use the business card scanner to reduce Rolodex clutter
- Tag your notes for easy organization
- Separate your personal and work notebooks for a streamlined work-life balance
- Try different fonts and colors for different action items.”
3—How to Retain Your Key Employees
For the long-term health of your business, it is crucial you retain the key members of your staff. Here are some tips from STL, a London-based training company
Nurture an employee’s talent and invest in enhancing their current skillset. Training is arguably the greatest investment employers can make to show their staffs they are valued. Workplaces that encourage the development of staff boost morale, increase performance levels and have lower employee turnover. Demotivation is a common reason why untrained employees choose to leave a business, often moving on to enhance their skills and stay current with the latest happenings of their chosen industry.
Recognise and Reward. It may seem like a no brainer, but employees appreciate being recognised and rewarded for good performances and key achievements. A simple ‘thank you’ can make a world of difference to an employee who may feel that they are not valued.
Unsurprisingly, pay rises can play an instrumental role in retaining staff. A simple bonus [plan] that is easily understandable can really work to motivate staff and give them a reason to strive to meet targets.
Ensure that employees know exactly what their roles entail. Employees often hold a wide range of responsibilities, and they can be unsure of the daily tasks they need to perform. It is crucial employees are aware of exactly what is expected of them. If they are unsure of their roles within the business it can be impossible for them to perform to the set standard. This will have a major effect on morale and demotivate a team, causing them to seek another position.
Listen up! Employees often stay with a company for years if they feel that their voices are being heard. Providing a atmosphere where people feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions, positive or negative, not only makes them feel valued but gives the employer the opportunity to continually improve.
Promote from within. Giving employees a clear path to career progression ensures they see a future with your business and stay loyal. From an employer’s perspective, it is also a cost-effective approach and holds the benefit of not having to train a person who has been hired [from outside the company].
Ask Questions. It is common practice to conduct exit interviews however, it is also important to gain insight into why long-standing employees have chosen to stay with your business. Asking questions such as, ‘what are your non-negotiables?’, ‘what would you alter?’ and ‘why have you chosen to stay’? can give you a good idea of what you need to do more of and even your USPs as an employer.
Create a work/life balance. It is great employees are committed and willing to work that little bit extra. However, burnout can cause an incredible amount of stress and even cause employees to underperform in the long run. Whilst it may not be practicable for employees to work from home on a regular basis, it may be worth offering those that tend to voluntarily work longer hours’ flex-time.
Share the Vision. People like to know they are making a difference to their teams and are considered an asset. Sharing your company’s overall vision and objectives gives them the opportunity to see exactly where they fit in and the difference that they are making.
Rafael Solis, COO of Braidio, a collaborative learning platform for talent development, says the speed of business today requires removing barriers and bureaucracy to create efficiencies and eliminate downtime. “Learning happens all around us across many mediums,” he adds, “leaving it up to businesses to decide which is the most effective for their needs.”
Solis offers some tips about training your employees in today’s fast paced learning environment:
- Tap the power of mobile: The smartphones of today have more computing power than the laptops of just 5-6 years ago. You have literally terabytes worth of knowledge sitting literally in the palm of your hand. There are so many great mobile apps out there that allow you to manage your business, manage projects, deliver product training, connect with colleagues for knowledge sharing, create email campaigns, run reports, and more.
- Sharing Knowledge Empowers: Disperse knowledge as quickly as possible in a manner that is easily digestible. Everything from product & services training can be shared as small videos to ensure sales teams and employees know the ins and outs of your products. There are a few platforms on the market that are fully turnkey and highly intuitive that empower you to share knowledge with your staff. Keep in mind, there is no need to develop long formal training—just create what you need to drive results. Employees feel more engaged and committed to your business the more you can share and highlight how their efforts impact the bottom line.
- Embrace learning on the go: Turn to YouTube or search queries to find short video tutorials to learn just about anything in 30 seconds or less.
5—Reaching & Retaining Customers: What’s the Secret Sauce for Small Businesses in 2017?
Guest post by D. Scott Bowen, VP & GM of Vistaprint Digital
Finding new customers is hard for any business—and critical for sustained success—but it’s especially challenging for small and micro businesses with limited resources to dedicate to marketing. Business owners are keenly aware of this. Through a recent Vistaprint Digital customer poll, small business owners predicted their two biggest marketing challenges in 2017 would be reaching new customers (35%) and overcoming a lack of resources (38%). For these businesses, dramatically increasing budgets or ramping up hiring aren’t viable options, but there is hope! Cost-effective and time-efficient tools and tactics exist for entrepreneurs to successfully promote their businesses, attract new customers and create loyalty.
Today, a digital marketing program—even if small in scale—is table stakes. Consumers expect and demand a good online experience. Luckily, a small investment in digital can yield great results. While each business requires a different mix of marketing strategies, it’s important for all small businesses to have a professional, mobile-optimized website. In a Vistaprint Digital survey, 34% of consumers said they are unlikely to shop with a business if it does not have a website and 45% reported they are unlikely to buy from a business with one that’s poorly designed. By prioritizing the creation of a well-designed website from the start, your business can benefit in the long run and attract customers from your local community and beyond. There are also tools and services available to help dramatically simplify the creation process. You can turn site visitors into loyal customers by keeping your site up-to-date. Simple maintenance such as refreshed photos, news, and events will give them a reason to keep returning.
Once you have a business website, your next marketing priority is to get listed in local directories. Registering in these directories (Google, Yelp, Bing, Angie’s List, etc.) means your business will show up in pertinent online queries. This is vital since 36% of small business consumers reported finding new businesses through online research.
Online reviews also play a big role in attracting new customers. Seventy-five percent of survey-takers report that reviews are important to them. Perhaps even more important, 50% say bad online reviews were the thing most likely to prevent them from choosing a particular business. Make sure you keep on top of your business’ local search profile on sites like Yelp and Google Local. Also, be sure to engage with the people leaving reviews in case something negative pops up to which you need to respond. More than ever, consumers expect personalized and timely attention. You can build long-lasting customer relationships by being responsive and courteous. Monitoring reviews in real-time allows you to provide transparent, customized responses that add value to the customer experience and improve your chances of customer satisfaction.
Expose a host of new potential clients to your brand by tapping your small business network and writing reviews for other local businesses. If you interacted with them professionally, post a review on Yelp or directly on their website or Facebook business profile. An authentic endorsement goes a long way with prospective clients and builds on your existing relationship with those businesses. It also requires no financial investment. By including your name and the link to your website at the end of your reviews, anyone visiting the website will see your review and can click directly over to your business. Posting positive reviews will cast a larger net for your target audience while also promoting the business your supporting—it’s a win-win.
Social media is another great channel on which to reach prospects for free. Sixty percent of small business consumers say it is important for a small business to have a presence on social media, but it’s good to remember that small businesses don’t need to be present on every single social platform. Try one or two platforms to get your business started, then actively manage and contribute to them. You can save several hours a week by automating your posts and scheduling them ahead of time. And consistency is key on your social channels—try to have the same handle on each medium and maintain your brand tone of voice and aesthetic so that you are recognizable on each platform. Social media is a great way to establish followers and loyal fans so be sure to post regularly and to engage customers in conversation. You can tap into the platform’s metrics to digest your user data and hone your content so you’re giving your viewers what they want.
As you employ the tactics mentioned above, it is important to guarantee the same experience across all your channels. Consistency is a foundational component for establishing relationships with loyal customers and growing your business. While every channel has its nuances, a cohesive brand identity across print and online interactions will serve as your marketing compass as you organize your omnichannel strategy in the year ahead. Global head of Brand Design at Facebook, Paul Adams, wrote a piece that said people build brand relationships through many, lightweight interactions over time. By delivering interactions that are consistent across all channels, your brand will build legitimacy and keep customers coming back for more.
6—3 Ways for Local Businesses to Be Prepared
Extreme weather can strike in the U.S. at any time, in any season. And when those unexpected storms hit, consumers have time-sensitive needs to connect with local businesses. Jared Rowe, the CEO of YP points to the recent, powerful winds which knocked out power to more than 800,000 customers in Southeast Michigan, including Detroit—a storm the governor called “the largest combined statewide” power outage event in Michigan history.
Rowe says, “With people in the dark and homes damaged, consumers turned to local media information—both in print and digital (if they had power for their laptops or smart phones). YP, The Real Yellow Pages and yellowpages.com saw a spike in online searches and calls for contractors in the Southeast Michigan area. As a result, local businesses in the professional home services industry saw a huge increase in leads.”
According to YP’s internal data, contractors (roofers, handymen, etc.) in Southeast Michigan with print and digital marketing solutions experienced a 369% increase in leads on the day of the storm and a 675% increase the day after. One contractor, for example, averaged 60 leads during the storm—a 489$ increase.
After the blackout, local consumers in the Detroit area searched for roofing contractors and electric companies on yellowpages.com:
- Roofing contractorsearches were up 859% on the web and 853% on mobile web from the previous week.
- Electric companysearches rose 689% on the web and 194% on mobile web in the same timeframe
YP says this mirrors a trend it saw when Hurricane Matthew hit the east coast in October.
Rowe has some advice for small businesses. He says, “By placing the right message in front of thousands of consumers when they are preparing for a storm or getting their households back up and running in unexpected situations, local businesses can experience a significant return on their investment.” Rowe offers these tips:
- Have a consistent online presence: Make sure your business information is correct, complete and consistent across the web. This includes your business name, address, email, phone number, location and hours of operation.
- Use a blended marketing solution approach: Digital & Print. Power outages happen often with storms; having your information in print at these times is critical.
- Use Call Tracking: Call tracking solutions can give business owners insights into the specific calls they receive, helping answer the critical question of marketing investments lead to calls and then to revenue.
7—The Goals of the Self-Employed
FreshBooks, a leading cloud-based accounting software solution for self-employed professionals and their teams, recently released new survey highlighting the challenges, trade-offs and mindset of small business owners. The survey, Self-Employed Professionals and Small Business Owners in America: The Rewards and Challenges of Career Independence, examines key considerations for small business owners, including finances, politics, outsourcing, sales/prospecting and family life, and how these can impact their ability to grow and thrive. The survey also showed 70% of self-employed individuals don’t intend to return to traditional employment and plan to grow their businesses.
According to Mike McDerment, FreshBooks CEO, “In the next five years, self-employed professionals will make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, yet everything from health care to America’s tax code cater to larger businesses. The study is the first of its kind, and sheds light on the motivations, mindsets and challenges of self-employed Americans. In sharing it, we hope it will inspire change that benefits this fragmented, but enormous group.”
Survey highlights include:
Small Businesses Are Unprepared Should Disasters Strike
- 51% say they’re unprepared if a large invoice doesn’t get paid; 48% are unprepared if their business gets sued and 39% are unprepared if they were to suffer a disability/can’t run their business.
- 42% are doing nothing about their retirement despite a median age close to 50; a similar proportion are without life insurance.
Small Business Owners are Politically Engaged but Not Yet Organized
- No clear party preference: Political affiliation is divided among small business owners
- 82% of self-employed say they vote all the time in elections, but only 24% say their primary voting consideration is a candidate’s small business platform.
- 22% would change affiliation for a party more supportive of small businesses.
- Less than 10% have changed party affiliations since becoming an entrepreneur.
- They’re not clamoring for government to offer them more safeguards and/or supports.
- 40% want to pay somewhat higher taxes and get similar public supports that employees have—60% want to pay minimal taxes and get minimal support from public programs for their businesses or self-employment.
- Entrepreneurs are looking for government to focus on health care with more than half ranking it first or second among a list of proposed small business policies.
Independent Professionals and Small Business Owners Learn the Financial Ropes as They Go
- 46% say they should be managing their money better; 28% have already made financial mistakes and 28% say managing their business keeps them up at night.
- 70% are better money managers now than they were before self-employment.
- Small business needs and big bank offerings: Not the best fit.
- 25% have been rejected as borrowers because of their occupational status.
- 52% say big banks aren’t designed to serve the needs of small business.
- 54% wish there were more alternatives to big banks.
Independent Professionals are Jacks of Many Trades, Masters of Some
- Few self-employed professionals outsource their business support services, despite a lack of in-house expertise.
- 30%-60% take a DIY approach for services for which they have no internal expertise, such as digital marketing, information technology, or social media.
- 66% prefer working with other small businesses.
- Just over half agree they “sometimes get out of paying for professional services by finding ‘other’ solutions.”
Independent professionals seek and find work-life balance
- 2 out of 3 agree self-employment would be tough without a supportive partner.
- 56% report it’s now easier to find flexibility when they need to be there for family.
- 46% report it’s easier to work the hours required to succeed.
- 43% says it’s easier to make quality time with family.
- For those with children, 42% say it’s now easier to assure their kids have quality care.
Entrepreneurs at Risk of Selling Themselves Short, or Simply Not Selling Enough
- 85% report business development is a challenge.
- 51% are too busy getting work done to sell.
- 37% dislike selling so much they put it off.
- 26% lost jobs because the client perceived their rates to be too high.
- 27% deliberately undercharged to ensure they’re perceived as offering good value.
- 40% have turned down work that undervalued their services.
8—What It Means to Be a Leader in 2017
According to The Alternative Board’s (TAB) February 2017 Small Business Pulse Survey, 95% of business owners have a positive outlook for 2017. While 85% have a positive outlook for the nation’s overall economy, 62% of business owners are confident enough to add staff this year.
According to TAB Chief Marketing Officer Jodie Shaw, “Despite the political and technological changes expected for 2017, entrepreneurs feel secure enough in their leadership abilities to remain profitable and relevant. Of the entrepreneurs surveyed, 95% rate their leadership abilities above average.”
Positivity is an important factor for success. Those surveyed reported it as their #1 leadership trait (47%), above passion (27%), personability (26%), and decisiveness (23%). However, entrepreneurs feel they most need to improve on holding others accountable (67%), which is not too surprising considering 86% of business owners are working 40+ hours a week and likely not delegating as they should be.
So, how are business owners planning for success in 2017? For 76% of entrepreneurs, preparing for more success in the new year means strategic planning, with the primary intentions of improving sales revenue growth (50%) and profitability (44%). For those with
strategic plans, the majority (85%) intend to review and adjust their strategy quarterly or annually. The 24% who don’t have strategic plans say it’s not that they don’t see the value in them (22%), it’s just that they are “too busy” (50%).
Most of the business owners said ‘fulfilling our vision, mission, and goals’ was their #1 responsibility as a leader, more than keeping customers satisfied (21%) and employees happy and productive (15%). Shaw adds, “If your company’s vision, mission, and goals are your #1 priority, strategic planning should take precedent over everyday customer and employee concerns.”
9—Millennial Women are More Comfortable Launching Businesses with Less Money
TransferWise, the international money transfer platform, conducted a survey on female entrepreneurship, focusing around Millennial women who are looking to start a new business or freelance practice in 2017.
According to the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, between 2007 and 2016 the number of women-owned firms increased by 45%, compared to just a 9% increase among all businesses. Over the past nine years, the number of women-owned firms has grown at a rate five times faster than the national average.
Among millennial female entrepreneurs, nearly 90% left their jobs in the corporate world to start their own businesses, according to the study. Respondents reported that the presence of a glass ceiling influenced their decisions to start their own businesses.
Here’s an overview of the state of female entrepreneurship in 2017:
Funding remains a major obstacle for women. Nearly 40% of women ages 25-34, planning to launch their businesses this year, say securing funding is one of the biggest challenges.
New entrepreneurs pursue ideals not financial gains. The main motivations for Millennial women to launch businesses are: pride in autonomous work (55%), increased flexibility (18.2%), and opportunity to foster creativity (9%)
Established entrepreneurs are driven by profits. Those women already in business say financial gains are their main motivation to be financial gains. (28.6%)
Millennial women show a wide range of expertise. Industries Millennial women plan to enter in 2017: wholesale (30%), finance (21%), professional services, such as accounting, consulting, web design (14.3%).
Retirement is a concern. 33% of women who had not yet launched were concerned about retirement as an impediment to starting out.
Millennial women plan on working alone. 75% of current female entrepreneurs do not plan on hiring in 2017, and 67% of those planning to startup in 2017 have no hiring plans.
Millennial women are willing to launch with less. 77% of Millennial women would be comfortable launching a business or side gig with savings of $0-5k, as compared to only 32 percent of Millennial males.
10—For IoT Entrepreneurship, Look To “Intelligent Endpoints”
Guest post by Klaus-Michael Vogelberg, Chief Technology Officer, Sage
The launch of the iPhone in 2007 started a mobile revolution that has changed the face of modern life, creating new industries and products that have enabled millions of entrepreneurs and business owners big and small to find success. Now, 10 years later, mobile is firmly entrenched as a mature business. While there are still many opportunities to make money on mobile, everyone from startup founders to venture capitalists to Fortune 500 CEOs are looking to identify the next exponential growth opportunity.
This opportunity will come from the Internet of Things (IoT), a technological category that, like mobile in the early 2000s, many see potential in, but has not yet experienced its tipping point. That tipping point is coming, however—and it may come sooner than you think.
Business builders must start thinking about how they will take advantage of the upcoming IoT explosion. Similarly to the early days of mobile, where an ecosystem of apps, platforms, and services sprung up seemingly overnight, IoT will offer tremendous opportunities to innovators who can get involved at the ground level.
IoT equips everyday objects with sensors and allows them to collect and exchange data, in other words, turns them into endpoints on the internet. The object can be literally anything from a HVAC unit, refrigerator, or thermometer, to a beer flow meter, oil tank, to a soap dispenser—you name it!
Internet-enabled ‘things’ can now participate in any form of process automation, from predictive maintenance to smarter order fulfilment and accident prevention. Most important, they can help deliver radically new and transformative customer experiences.
But equipping objects with sensors and data exchange abilities does not make the object intelligent. Intelligence derives from intelligent backend. A smart gauge in an oil tank does not make the oil tank smart, no matter how much marketing might want us to believe. Intelligence comes from the supplier’s intelligent backend system that analyzes consumption data, understands seasonal patterns, takes weather information into account, checks daily spot rates, and determines the optimal point for replenishing and delivery.
So, it is really the intelligent backend that turns the IoT-enabled endpoint into an intelligent endpoint! All the data in the world won’t matter if you don’t have a platform capable of collecting and transforming it into actionable insights and customer experiences.
An intelligent backend allows businesses to consume data feeds from IoT endpoints, analyze, validate, collate, and record the data in real-time. It also enables the application of machine learning and other data science techniques, which adds context around the data, identifies patterns, creates new insights and speeds up your availability to act upon them. And just as important, it allows businesses to quickly reconfigure processes and add new intelligent endpoints.
To create a business ecosystem with all these attributes was top of our list when we started developing our next-generation financial management and accounting solution Sage Live. We wanted a solution that could collect and record financial information in real-time, respond intelligently to exceptions, augment financial data with other data streams, for instance to correlate sales figures with weather data. And most of all we wanted an open platform that would allow business builders to implement their IoT innovation. That is why we partnered with Salesforce and built Sage Live on the Salesforce technology platform, the world’s #1 enterprise app building platform.
The potential for new products and services based off IoT endpoints is as endless as the opportunities early mobile innovators encountered. Yet it will be essential to invest early to have the right backend solution in place to take advantage. An intelligent backend will not only help you prepare for the IoT explosion, but also better manage your business now.
Let’s look at some more examples. One of the exciting applications of intelligent endpoints is the opportunity to transform the customer experience. As a basic example, a retailer could use local weather data to automatically push out a discounted offer on umbrellas, in real time as a storm approaches. An insurer might use data streams from IoT building sensors combined with weather data to safeguard corporate clients against imminent severe conditions.
Transportation, shipping, and logistics are other areas where IoT and intelligent endpoints could offer robust entrepreneurship opportunities. Consider the value a company could offer to the shipping industry if it were able to make use of intelligent endpoints to identify geographic commonalities and bulk different shipments together under one delivery service.
We are nearing another exciting time for entrepreneurship on a global scale; is your business ready?
11—Square Video Increases Social Media and Mobile Engagement
Animoto, the company that makes it easy to create online videos, recently launched square format for its Marketing Video Builder, giving marketers a proven high-performance format for Facebook and Instagram. Beta customers including Billboard magazine, Buffer, The Jane Goodall Institute and Simply Recipes report increases in views, likes and shares for square video over landscape, noting a significant improvement on the overall success and performance of their videos on social media.
“Businesses of all sizes must learn to communicate using video on social media as that’s where customers and prospects live and video is proven as the most effective form of communication,” says Brad Jefferson, co-founder and CEO of Animoto. “Square videos perform better on social networks like Facebook and Instagram than traditional landscape videos, but until now the small business owner has not had an easy and inexpensive way to create a square video. We’re leveling the playing field for small businesses so they can now compete with businesses with monster budgets by giving them the power to produce videos that are sure to stand out on social media.”
Square videos take up 78% more screen space in the mobile social news feed than landscape videos, improving viewability and engagement. Additionally, a recent study showed view rates for square are 28% higher, and consumers are 67% more likely to complete viewing square videos over landscape.
This is the latest update to Animoto’s recently launched Marketing Video Builder, which helps small businesses create content for a video-first world with its pre-built storyboards, drag and drop interface and features including voice-over, text-enhancing filters and styles designed to stand out on social media. Marketers can now transform any content they have into a square video, even if the content was originally shot in landscape or portrait.
Check out some success stories here.