What’s in store for 2015? It’s going to be a “cloudy” year. But SMBs are happy. And be careful of dumpster divers.

13 Things Entrepreneurs Should Know

By Rieva Lesonsky

1) Things are Looking Up…

New research from Kabbage, Inc., a leading online provider of small business loans, shows small business optimism is at a three-year high. Almost all (95 percent) of Kabbage small business owners surveyed expect to increase sales in 2015, and half say they’ll grow by more than 20 percent.

Despite this optimism, 50 percent are concerned about cash flow management and access to capital.

How will businesses grow in 2015? Other key findings from the survey include:

  • 70 percent plan to expand their product offerings
  •  52 percent % intend to invest in marketing.
  • To facilitate marketing growth, they’re most likely to invest in social media, search, and content marketing.
  • Access to capital is a concern for 48 percent, while 53 percent report ongoing cash flow management as their top concern.

24/7 is not a myth. Owning a small business is an around-the-clock job.

  • 52 percent work more than 60 hours a week
  • Most postpone vacations, use personal savings and cut personal expenses to grow their businesses.
  • But, 40 percent expect to make fewer sacrifices in 2015.



2) …and Up

Lest you think all this positivity is an aberration, most small businesses (61 percent) experienced tremendous growth in 2014, and an impressive 80 percent are optimistic their businesses will continue to grow in 2015. This great news comes to us from the Rocket Lawyer‘s semi-annual Small Business Index. And as a result, reports the Index, small business owners are looking to invest in their business in new ways, including hiring more independent contractors, enhancing their online presence and exploring new technologies.

Hiring. The Index also shows that more than any other demographic, Millennials are embracing entrepreneurship. In fact, 51 percent of Millennials are self-employed, and don’t plan to add staff. Instead, 54 percent plan to hire independent contractors, instead of part-time (44 percent) and full-time employees (40 percent).

Increasing online presence.
A strong online brand is the new gateway to business success, with 29 percent saying  growing their online presence is their biggest concern and 35 percent ranking growing an online presence as their top priority in 2015.

New technologies.
Keeping up with new technologies is also top of mind for small businesses, with many looking at mobile payments to bolster customer experiences and benefit their bottom lines. According to a Forrester report, mobile-based payments are expected to reach $142 billion in volume by 2019, an increase of 184 percent from about $50 billion currently. With this in mind, 60 percent of SMBs will consider adopting mobile payments this year. Of those interested in mobile payments, 68 percent believe it will offer their customers a more seamless and simple payment experience. “It’s inspiring to see small businesses constantly seek new and innovative ways to stay competitive,” says Charley Moore, founder and CEO of Rocket Lawyer. “However, with experimentation comes new legal and contractual risks and opportunities.”

Legal guidance. This past year, a flurry of new laws and legislation went into effect that directly and indirectly impacted small business owners, and 27 percent of SMBs are concerned about not understanding, or being able to comply with, changing government regulations.

Other high-ranking legal challenges include:

  • Contract negotiations (27 percent)
  • Payment collections (19 percent)
  • Employment issues (11 percent)

3) Is 2015 Going to be a Cloud-y Year for You?

Before you jump on the cloud bandwagon, Ray Grainger, CEO and founder of Mavenlink, a provider of innovative cloud-based project and resource management software, says there are four things you need to know.

Check your connections. The most basic thing you should do before making the jump is to make sure you can technically support a cloud-based solution. If your Internet is slow or spotty, you will want to look into upgrading it—otherwise accessing your cloud-based application will also be slow or spotty. If you are unable to upgrade your Internet connection, a cloud-based solution may not be the right option for you.

Take Inventory of What You Use. Take a look into what you’re already using for your business and make sure that the cloud-based tool you’re considering makes sense with everything else. Getting your team used to a new technology can be difficult; it becomes even more so if it doesn’t fit with the tools your team already uses. For example, if you use Gmail, find a system that integrates with Google. If you do your accounting in QuickBooks, look for a tool that makes it easy to sync together. As you explore options, ask questions: Does this application play nicely with other systems by offering integrations or a public API? What is the adoption rate for other companies?

Find Tools that Solve More than One Problem. 
Many cloud-based applications can do more than just one thing, so this can be a good time to pare down disparate tools you may be cobbling together to get work done, and move instead to one platform. The benefit isn’t just the convenience of having only one place to log into every day; you’ll also likely see an increase in knowledge capture and retention as you move discussions out of fragmented systems and into a cohesive space.

Pick a Solution That Will Grow With You.
 Spend some time thinking about your company’s growth goals. How many people would you like to hire in the next few years? How much new business do you want to take on? These questions will help you narrow your search for the right cloud-based application. You should look for something that will solve more than just the here and now; do your research and look for tools (like Mavenlink) that help businesses of all sizes scale effectively as they grow.

4) Mastering the Pitch

Akos Jankura, a global marketing personality for HSN and QVC and owner of the nationally syndicated radio show “MyCool Inventions,” which discovers market-changing inventions and brings them to major retailer shelves, has some tips to help you become a pitch master.

Do your homework. Be sure that the product/service does not already exist. Lack of knowledge can put a new entrepreneur at a tremendous disadvantage because it makes them vulnerable to scammers. Be sure to check out trade associations, industry publications, and online resources before taking the plunge.

Cover your bases. Anticipate difficult questions and enthusiastically incorporate the answers into your pitch beforehand. It is expected that buyers will have reservations when considering a new idea.

Create an unbiased focus group of end users. This group can consist of either consumers or companies. Inventors tend to include their family and friends within the focus group, but that group tends to be biased due to their connections with the inventor. For example, inventors featured on “My Cool Inventions” get 60 seconds to pitch their products to the radio audience, which then votes either online or by text to give the idea a  “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”. The result—instant national feedback from your potential consumers.

Master the pitch. You only get one first impression. Display excellent posture as this shows confidence. Project your voice and make eye contact. It is important to raise the level of excitement and trust in the room.

Create a call to action. At the end of your pitch there has to be a “call to action.” When pitching to a television audience the hook may be “call today” or “within five minutes.” No matter the desired outcome of your pitch, make the next step clear and easily accessible.

5) Super Bowl Obsession

America is obsessed with the Super Bowl. Here’s how you can benefit from that—using social media.

6) Serving Up Protection

If you’re one of the many thousands businesses that rely on Windows Server 2003, hopefully you’re aware of the end of support, scheduled for July 2015.

Not to worry. Zynstra, a pioneer in enterprise-class hybrid IT for SMBs just announced the availability of its Cloud Managed Server Appliances in North America. Zynstra’s hybrid IT solution, leveraging the best of on-premises IT and the best of the cloud, will be sold as a service for a monthly fee, making it affordable for SMBs.

Zynstra’s appliances are delivered exclusively on HP ProLiant servers at your location,  and can be selected, installed and put into production quickly. Key standard features include:

  • Core IT services
  • Automatic updating
  • Local security

7) Mobile Ad Network

Advertising to mobile phone users is a daunting task for small businesses. Advertising on Facebook has gotten more expensive, and over half of Google ads are never seen by consumers.

To address this concern, mobidart, the industry’s first free mobile ad network, just launched, allowing local businesses to send promotions, deals or coupons for free and in real-time.

mobidart is one of the largest, self-contained mobile ad networks for local businesses in the world, with over 80 million mobile responsive websites and nearly one billion mobile display and video ad spaces.

8) A Strong Finish

Bigcommerce just released it’s Q4 report for 2014, and it shows their SMB clients had a strong holiday shopping season.

Other key findings of the study include:

  • Independent online businesses averaged a 27 percent year-over-year increase in sales during the “Cyber Five” shopping weekend.
  • Per-store totals in Q4 were up more than 34 percent from 2013, a bigger increase than any other quarter in 2014.
  • Consumer electronics ecommerce stores were the biggest winners.

9) Don’t Take “No” for an Answer

How many times have you heard “Too expensive” or “Can’t you do anything about the price?” when trying to close a deal? If this sounds all too familiar, Martin Limbeck, an international sales authority dubbed “The Porsche of Sales” and author of NO Is Short for Next Opportunity: How Top Sales Professionals Think, offers some stock phrases you can answer those objections with. The key, he says, is to say them swiftly, clearly, firmly and resoundingly.

Limbeck says take your pick, but be careful; not every phrase is appropriate for every customer or every sale. And remember, he says, to deliver them with a smile and a twinkle in your eye.

  • Quality comes at a price and that price includes me.
  • If you pay 100 percent, you get 100 percent. If you pay 90 percent, that’s what you get.
  • If competence is too pricey for you, then wait until you try incompetence.
  • Cheap dreams lead to rude awakenings.
  • What would you advise your own salespeople to do if they were constantly under pricing pressure?
  • I can assure you, nobody is paying less than you are today.
  • Thrift is good, but quality is better.
  • Lowballing is not a sport I play.
  • You’re also buying our blood, sweat and tears.
  • Go with the cheaper option and things will really get expensive.
  • The price is a reflection of our experience.
  • If you want to haggle, try the flea market.
  • This is not a yard sale.
  • Cutting the price means cutting the quality, and that is not an option for us.
  • The grass is always cheaper on the other side.
  • Discounts don’t fit in our budget.

10) New Computers Offer Mobility Solutions

HP just unveiled new commercial mobility solutions that it says will transform your business and unlock the power of productivity. The collection includes eight new mobile devices, an ecosystem of accessories and new strategic relationships that “allow companies to streamline and simplify their business operations while providing the IT department confidence the task can be managed securely.”

By supporting multiple operating systems, HP is giving business customers a choice of application eco-systems and user experiences. When coupled with the new software offerings from HP and its partners, the company has created a complete mobility solution for all business verticals, including education, field service, healthcare, public safety and retail.

Some of the new devices include:

HP Pro Slate 8 and HP Pro Slate 12 are high-definition, commercial-grade Android tablets, available in 8-inch or 12-inch diagonal displays and than 8 mm thin. The tablets allow you to easily view business documents and access business applications. The Pro Slate 8 is one of the first tablets to market using Corning® Gorilla® Glass 4, Corning’s toughest cover glass to date. The HP Pro Slate 8 has a starting price of $449, while the HP Pro Slate 12 starts at $569.

HP Elite x2 1011 G1 is a lightweight, 11.6-inch diagonal 2-in-1 laptop, running Windows 8 Pro. It easily transforms from a tablet to a laptop with Ultrabook configurations available. The computer is tested to military specs for durability. The computer should be available later this month, with a starting price of $899.

HP Pro Tablet 408 G1 is a 9 mm thin, 8-inch diagonal Intel® Atom®-based business tablet that provides a full Windows 8 Pro experience and the mobile accessories to help keep users productive when away from their PC. The starting price is $299.

11) Labor Intensive

Every year, on top of everything else we need to deal with as business owners there are a slew of new laws we need to worry about. TriNet, a leading cloud-based provider of HR services, highlights some of the top labor law trends that SMBs need to know in order to keep compliant.

Over 100 state and local laws were enacted in 2014 addressing HR-related issues, almost all of which revolve around employees. Some of the most notable examples include:

  • Paid sick leave. California and Massachusetts enacted measures dealing with paid sick leave requirements. This trend has been even more pronounced at the local level, where new sick leave requirements in Oakland, CA and Eugene, OR were enacted.
  • Employment protections. These protections, which cover anti-discrimination and harassment, have been extended to non-employees in California and Illinois.
  • Minimum wage. Minimum wage rates in at least 24 states will change in 2015. Maryland has scheduled two increases, in January and July of 2015. New York scheduled an increase to take effect on December 31, 2014, and another to take effect on December 21, 2015.

12) Beware of Dumpster Divers

We’ve been hearing a lot about cybersecurity, but threats to information security are not restricted to digital data. A recent survey from Swingline reveals that too many of the U.S. employees surveyed fail to shred documents, even sensitive ones.

Key survey findings include:

  • 67 percent of employees believe shredding documents is important to protect sensitive business information
  • 89 percent use hard copies at least some of the time at work
  • 26 percent don’t shred documents before placing them in the trash
  • 33 percent don’t shred because it’s too time consuming

If this sounds trivial, it isn’t. This CSO article on social engineering, recounts how payroll data for employees, including more than 10,000 social security numbers, were recovered from a dumpster.

13) Can Cloud-based Phones Cut Your Bills in Half?

According to Intermedia, which offers essential IT services for SMBs, indeed it can. The company compared the costs of using its hosted PBX system versus more traditional phone systems and found savings of 53 percent on service costs and 100 percent on equipment costs.

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.

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