14 Things Small Business Owners Need to Know

By Rieva Lesonsky


1—Top Social Media Trends for 2018

Social media is constantly changing. Which platforms will shine in 2018? Check out the infographic below from Filmora to find out.


2—Small Businesses on Track to Beat Revenues

Many entrepreneurs are confident they’ll generate higher year-end revenues compared to 2016, and that the 2018 economy will improve. This, according to the fall 2017 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report, a semi-annual survey of 1,000 business owners across the country. In fact, almost three-quarters of entrepreneurs are optimistic their 2017 year-end revenue will surpass 2016 revenue. Confidence in the economy also surged as nearly half of business owners expect their local economies and the national economy to improve in the year ahead (up 11 percentage points and 15 percentage points, respectively, from fall 2016).

The positive outlook on the economy bodes well for growth, as 92% of small business owners indicated a positive economic environment is a critical factor to their ability to grow. Other growth factors include customer demand (93%), the ability to attract and retain quality employees (76%), favorable government policies (76%) and access to capital (63%).

The report, however, also found that long-term growth plans remain unchanged from fall 2016, as 51 percent plan to grow their business over the next five years. In addition, plans to hire are down year-over-year as 16 percent of entrepreneurs plan to hire more employees in the year ahead (vs. 25 percent in fall 2016).

“Entrepreneurs continue to be upbeat about future economic growth as they set their sights on 2018,” say Sharon Miller, head of small business, Bank of America. “Small business owners are optimistic about their ability to close the year strong and the outlook for the economy in the year ahead. However, these surges in small business owner confidence have not yet translated into plans for long-term growth.”

A snapshot of small business owners across generations and genders

One interesting finding—millennial entrepreneurs have a significantly more optimistic outlook in a number of areas, including:

  • 81% expect revenues to increase in 2018 (30 percentage points higher than the national average)
  • 43% plan to hire in 2018 (27 percentage points higher than the national average)
  • 76% plan to grow over the next five years (25 percentage points higher than the national average
  • 63% expect their local economies to improve within the next 12 months (15 percentage points higher than the national average)

Male business owners are more confident than their female counterparts that the national economy will improve in 2018 (51% of men vs. 40% of women), but women entrepreneurs are more likely to expect their revenue to increase in the year ahead (55% of women vs. 48% of men). When it comes to hiring, men and women entrepreneurs are on the same page, with 16 percent of both genders planning to hire in 2018.

There’s a wealth of information from the report in the infographic below.


3—“I Wish I Knew…”

Is there one thing you wish you knew when you started your business? Think of all the time, effort—and (likely) money—you would have saved if only you knew then what you know now.

You’ll want to watch this short video from my friends at Fundbox—it’s filled with funny and touching stories from small business owners—just like you. You’ll meet people like Iba Cazamance, pictured below, who runs a food truck, whose enthusiasm is infectious.


4—Cyber Threats

The Alternative Board (TAB)’s latest Small Business Pulse Survey is out. The survey examined how entrepreneurs approach cybersecurity, including their experiences, fears, protection strategies, and shortcomings. Here’s a quick look at the results:

  • Only 5% of business owners believe their businesses are fully secure against cyber attacks
  • 52% report having been victims of some kind of cybercrime, yet only 46% have measures in place to protect their businesses against them
  • The average business owner spends $8,933 per year on cybersecurityprotection
  • The number-one obstacle in the way of business owners doing more to protect their business from cyberattacks is time (43%) over resources (32%), expertise (30%), and capital (29%)
  • Less than half of small businesses are currently investing in employee training on cybersecurity issues

“Whenever business owners cite time as an obstacle, it means they are not effectively delegating,” adds TAB CMO Jodie Shaw. “39% of entrepreneurs believe they are responsible for cybersecurity issues affecting their business—but it’s a task that could easily be outsourced to outside firms/consultants.”

Most (95%) business owners are concerned over their level of security. They are most fearful of data loss and view credit card skimming as the most likely form of attack (35%), followed by malware (26%), phishing (22%), website hacking (22%) and ransomware (21%).

Of the 60% of business owners who do have a cybersecurity response plan, 48% are prioritizing recovery and believe firewall and network protection is the best precautionary investment (68%). Business owners identify their top cybersecurity-related responsibilities as “making backup copies of important business data and information.”

“The survey shows that 96% of CEOs believe their company is on the right track,” says Shaw. “A cybersecurity attack could thwart profitability, which business owners report is the number-one challenge affecting the future success of their business.”

Take a look at the infographic below for more information.


5—The Power of Color

Check out the infographic below from Vistaprint, which shows how important color is for creating the right impression for your small business. I have to admit I was surprised to learn one of my favorite colors—orange—means basic.


6—Who’s #1?

Which nations are the most entrepreneurial? Take a look at the fascinating infographic below from UK-based Market Inspector, which based its report on findings from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report (GEM).



Happy Holidays!

7—Email Marketing for the Holidays

Your success this holiday season may well depend on how effective your email marketing is. Check out this blog from the Social Fusion Group which explains the five crucial elements in crafting successful holiday email marketing campaigns.


8—How to Pick the Best Stock Photos for Your Business

Friday marks the official kickoff to the holiday season—the busiest time of year for retail businesses. How you market and promote your products will play a big role in ultimately how successful you’ll be this year—you want to make sure you promote your products the right way. Part of that is selecting stock photos that make your products stand out, but also appeal to your customers.

To help you do that, here are some tips courtesy of Serban Enache, CEO of Dreamstime, a global leader in stock photography.

  • Create your marketing plan (laser target your audience, catch the emotion related to the product, creating holiday stories and how they work better than plain ads). Although most ads are served to the people on a large scale, not all of them are potential customers. You need to pick the right media which reaches exactly this section of people.
  • Create your marketing plan around the right audience for your product. Online channels, such as Facebook and others, allow you to laser target your ad down to the last demographic detail. As visual ads are more appealing, stock photos or videos work really well for such ads.
  • Choose stock images that share a common visual style—but don’t stop there. Give them your own brand’s touch, such as coloring certain elements of the image in your colors or adding graphic elements that recall your logo. Apply this visual style to all the mediums of your marketing campaign (online banners, print ads etc.).
  • If you’re adding text to images, make sure there is enough copy space in the photo so that the final result doesn’t look busy or crowded. Pay attention to the position of the subject in the composition of the photo and the amount of text you need to add to it. Use the comp image that is freely available on any stock library to guide your choice before committing to using a certain image.
  • If the image will be used as a background and be almost completely covered, go for abstract subjects, like a simple texture that will not make the content illegible.
  • Depending on the product you are selling, having a face in the marketing materials is not always the best solution. It might distract from the message or from the product, or just look too plain if the attitude of the model is too detached “stock photography” style. Use models that are in the age range of your target audience.
  • Avoid overused holiday themes; instead go for a minimalist look that will better stand out in a crowded space. Remember though, a minimalist look does not mean a dull photo. It should have contrast and strong colors that pop and attract attention.
  • That being said, images that draw too much attention from your brand or product must be avoided. The photo should complement the message of your campaign, not be the star of it. It should also be a good match to the message, there’s no point in using a supercar to sell detergent (unless it’s detergent for washing supercars, of course).
  • Don’t forget about illustrations. Sure, photos are nice, but illustrations can be more flexible (especially if they come in vector format) and can convey certain concepts even better than photos. Bonus points for combining photos and illustrations!


9—Closing the Tech Gap

According to Deloitte, the mid-market is under-reported, but its size and relevance to the economy is significant—roughly 34% of the U.S. workforce and revenue totals $3.2 trillion (equal to the 4th largest economy in the world).

Deloitte’s tech trends report, Technology in the mid-market: Closing the Gap, spans various emerging verticals and themes, including how robotics and MI are preventing mechanical failures and providing cost-savings in the construction industry, and how the cloud is helping U.S. biopharma reach clients across the globe.

The report evaluates the size and agility of these companies and their advantage in deploying emerging tech that can have enormous benefits for growth, productivity, stability, governance, recruiting…and more.

Some quick facts from the report:

  • 2/3 of mid-sized companies are building mature applications of mixed reality
  • More than 50% of mid-sized companies have AR/VR pilot projects in the works
  • 52% of respondents replied that they’re using mixed reality for employee training, education and learning
  • 41% of respondents are using cloud-based applications to enable global expansion, up from 34% last year
  • 51% are leveraging the cloud to address growth needs, including M&A
  • The biggest jump in this year’s data was the percentage of companies using cloud-based technologies—32% expect cloud integration to produce productivity gains
  • 54% of mid-sized companies are using cognitive interpretation to turn images and text into data they can use


10—SBA Sentiment

TD Bank, which nearly doubled its SBA loan portfolio over the past year and ranked No. 1 in several states within its footprint, recently released an SBA Survey, to better understand how small business owners feel about SBA loans.

Survey highlights include:

  • 50% have never applied for an SBA loan, but would consider it
  • 49% say the most important factor when choosing a loan is the lowest interest rate
  • 36% chose an SBA loan over a conventional small business loan due to its longer terms and lower rates
  • 31% say their primary reason for seeking an SBA 7(a) loan is an expansion, acquisition or partner buyout; 29% sought them out for equipment purchases


11—End-of-year Payments Challenges for Small Businesses

WePay, a provider of integrated payments for online platforms, released new data that shows a majority of U.S.-based SMBs end the calendar year with at least one significant payments challenge which severely impacts their business.

Conducted in partnership with Survata, an independent research firm, the findings show the end-of-year time period is particularly important for SMB coffers—business owners and operators report earning 20% of their annual revenue between Thanksgiving and December 31. For businesses that sell goods rather than services, the impact is much greater—they report earning 28% of their annual revenue during this time due to more and higher ticket transactions.

But the concentrated year-end revenue is a double-edged sword, with many SMBs saying the financial boost is accompanied by significant payments challenges. Seventy percent report having experienced at least one severe business issue between Thanksgiving and December 31, 2016. The most commonly cited pain point is late payments—more than 21% of survey respondents grappled with this problem at the end of last year.

The impact of late payments and other end-of-year business challenges is significant:

  • 44% who reported dealing with fraud rated the severity of impact to themselves and their business as very high—9 or 10 on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the most severe impact
  • 40% who reported dealing with chargebacks (a fraudulent or disputed transaction that resulted in a financial institution requiring the SMB to cover the loss) reported a 9 or 10 in impact severity

Many SMBs face payments and accounts receivable challenges throughout the year. WePay’s survey finds late payments, fraud, and chargebacks are prevalent. Almost two-thirds of respondents say at least 10% of their customers do not pay in accordance with their payment terms. Late payments are also eating into SMB business productivity, with 59% of SMBs saying they follow up with their customers on late payments at least two times on average.

Other year-round business and payments challenges persist for SMBs—26% of survey respondents reported losing money to fraud and/or chargebacks in the past year. Additionally, for businesses that experienced this particular pain point, the data showed:

  • The median amount lost in the past year was $925
  • 22% reported losing $5,000 or more
  • One business (of 515 surveyed) reported fraud loss above $1 million

“Small businesses are a big boost to the U.S. economy, providing financial independence, encouraging innovation, and creating employment opportunities,” says Tina Hsiao, WePay Chief Operating Officer. “But it’s clear late payments and issues around fraud continue to be a serious burden for these businesses and need to be addressed.”


12—Cloud Connected SMBs are Optimistic

According to a recent survey released by Right Networks, there is growing optimism and confidence in the state of the economy among SMBs. Over 76% feel encouraged about the prospects for new business, with 59% planning to add jobs in the next six months.

The SMB Cloud Impact survey polled SMBs and accounting professional to gauge their scale of business, overall feel for the current climate of the economy, and potential for business and job growth. The poll also sampled SMBs for their opinions on whether cloud technology is making it possible to better serve their clients and seek new business opportunities.

The survey revealed positive business outlooks, including but not limited to:

  • Business optimism: 51% of the respondents say they had reason to feel “cautiously optimistic” about their businesses.
  • Job fulfillment: 39% of respondents pointed to spending more time building relationships with clients as a factor in finding fulfillment in their work. Other key factors include the actual administrative tasks including data entry, management reporting, tax return submissions, number-crunching, and developing balance sheets.
  • Confidence in the economy: When asked to rate their confidence level in the economy compared to six months earlier, 61% say they’re at least “moderately confident.” When asked whether they were planning to hire new employees in the next six months, 59% said yes.

The survey also revealed hurdles for SMBs, related to implementing new technology:

  • Business frustrations and challenges: When asked to cite their biggest frustrations and challenges, answers among the SMB respondents varied greatly. Concerns over healthcare and associated employee costs topped the list at 32%, followed closely by government regulations (31%), employee management (30%), managing cash flow (30%), and managing work-life balance (29%). In total, there were 10 specific factors highlighted by SMBs in the survey.
  • Cloud technology hurdles: While embracing cloud technology would seem a logical step for growing SMBs, the survey pointed to several significant hurdles in actually implementing and executing a plan. Asked to indicate the “biggest barrier” to moving their business to cloud services, 21% pointed to cost. Another 53 pointed to security concerns while 46 named work flow disruption as a problem.

For more details, read the Right Networks survey here.


Quick Takes

12—Best Credit Cards for Small Business

What credit card is best for you and your business? Check out this valuable report from U.S. News & World Report.


13—Fall Cleaning

Sprucing up your home or office is not just for spring. Check out this guide, The Complete Spring Clean Up List for Fall from Home Viable.


Cool Tools

14—LinkedIn Offers More ROI

Guest post by Jack Moore and Vasudha Mithal

Earlier this year, we launched LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms for sponsored content. Using pre-filled forms, this solution made it easy for advertisers to collect quality leads from over 530 million professionals, influencers, and business decision-makers on LinkedIn.

Marketers have seen strong campaign performance with Lead Gen Forms, reducing their average cost per lead by more than 20%. With such strong ROI, we expanded our lead gen capabilities to more LinkedIn products, including Sponsored InMail and Dynamic Ads.

Marketers can now use Lead Gen Forms on their Sponsored inMail campaigns. Lead gen marketers use Sponsored InMail to reach members with personalized, one-to-one messages on LinkedIn. While open rates are commonly above 40%, we noticed that some prospects dropped off because of the extra step required to fill out a form on the advertiser’s landing page.

With Lead Gen Forms for Sponsored InMail, advertisers can improve the conversion rates of their Sponsored InMail campaigns while collecting quality lead data at scale—including a prospect’s name, email address, job title, company name, and select other fields from their LinkedIn profile. In our beta tests, advertisers using Lead Gen Forms for Sponsored InMail saw their mobile conversion rates increase by an average of 3x when compared to standard landing pages.

We are also excited to announce that you can now ask custom questions on a Lead Gen Form to collect lead data beyond the standard fields we provide. You can add up to three custom question fields, which can be either multiple choice questions, free-form fields, or a mix of these types. Custom questions will work for both Sponsored InMail and Sponsored Content campaigns.

Marketers use LinkedIn Dynamic Ads to build personalized, attention-grabbing campaigns. These ads deliver 2x higher click-through rates than standard display ads because they are automatically customized to include the name, profile photo, job title, or job function of the member viewing the ad.

With our newest Dynamic Ads lead gen format, you can instantly generate leads and enable content downloads—such as the download of an ebook or whitepaper— directly from the ad unit itself.

In just a couple of clicks on your Dynamic Ads creative, members can send you their full name and email address, without ever having to type their info by hand. Once someone submits their information through the ad unit, your content will automatically start downloading to their desktop.

Just like with Lead Gen Forms for Sponsored Content or Sponsored inMail, you can access your leads directly from Campaign Manager, or leverage our partners to pass leads to your marketing automation or CRM system. We currently support DriftRock, Marketo, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Oracle Eloqua, and Zapier.

The newest Dynamic Ads lead gen format is available today through your LinkedIn account rep. Lead Gen Forms for Sponsored InMail will be rolling out for all customers in the coming two weeks, whether you’re working with a LinkedIn rep or running your campaigns self-service in Campaign Manager. Try it today.