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262 Posts authored by: Touchpoint

DontGiveTime_Body.jpgBy Heather R. Johnson.

 

Small business owners everywhere, regardless of profession or industry, will face the question soon enough: “Can I pick your brain about something?” Or, more vaguely, “Can we chat about business?” It’s flattering to know that you have knowledge to offer, and may genuinely want to help others, but business owners must value their time. Time spent dispensing free advice over coffee is time that could be spent growing the business.

 

When the question comes, it’s perfectly acceptable, even preferable, to politely decline. “I provide a valuable service, and it’s my business,” says Beth Donalds, a business coach based in northern New Jersey. “I afford my contacts the same courtesy that I give my clients. If you don’t value your services, how can any one else?”

 

Protect your investment

When contacts approach Donalds in a social setting, she responds with a version of the following: “Those are really good questions. I don’t think this is the place to discuss this, but I have a special pick-my-brain session for these situations that’s $90.” She hands them her card and asks them to schedule time with her. Many times, they don’t. But her response falls in line with her business values.

 

Protecting your time also applies to friends and family, but must be managed with care. Donalds recommends that business owners set a policy and stick with it. For example, a business owner may decide to charge everyone except his or her immediate family. “I tell clients to be true to themselves,” Donalds says. “I have best friends for 50 years that I charge, but I won’t charge my brother or my mother.”

 

In addition to a polite decline and a fee-based consulting offer, business owners can consider alternative ways to help colleagues with minimal time and effort. Regardless, remember to value your expertise:

 

DontGiveTime_PQ.jpgPick up the phone

Some business owners will agree to a 10-minute phone conversation. Donalds says that even this approach devalues your time. An exception applies when the business model includes a free 20-minute consultation. “Some business owners use this approach to vet potential clients,” she says. “That’s fine, because the business owner gets value from it.”

 

Offer referrals

Refer the contact to your blog or website, a trade publication, or a book that might be helpful.

 

Educate others

If you receive multiple requests for the same type of information, consider producing a webinar or hosting a workshop. The program could generate extra income for your business and answer those prevalent questions—for a fee.

 

Whatever route you choose, always protect and value your time. And remember, if the contact or client gets offended or angry, they probably aren’t the person to do business with.

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation

Co-WorkingSpaces_Body.jpgBy Cathie Ericson.

 

At some point, many small business owners grow out of their home office, or they just become bored, lonely, and uninspired working alone. One option that is sizzling right now is co-working spaces. In fact, a recent global co-working survey shows that demand for shared office space has risen more than 36 percent over the past year.

We spoke to some small business owners to find out how they’re benefitting from co-working spaces—and how you can determine if they’re right for you:

Camaraderie: If you find yourself craving a visit from UPS or are spending more time than you should on Facebook, that could be an indication it’s time to rethink your home office. “Interacting with smart and creative people every day is inspiring and always boosts my mood,” says Lisa McAlister, founder of With Good Cause, a boutique agency specializing in corporate and sports philanthropy. She joined The Studio in Boulder, Colo., in January after working out of her home for 13 years. Besides day-to-day interaction, many co-working spaces are known for activities and after work gatherings to encourage camaraderie.

 

Immediate feedback: A co-working space can offer a ready-made focus group with a valuable outside perspective, says Gene Caballero, co-founder of GreenPal, which provides on-call lawn care services. “Changes to our product or design can now be immediately vetted by other entrepreneurs instead of relying on our internal team to make assumptions,” he says, of moving the four-person team to the Missioner in Nashville after working out of a home office for the first two years of operation.

 

Co-WorkingSpaces_PQ.jpgProfessional atmosphere: Bringing clients to your home can feel unprofessional and meeting in a coffee shop can be crowded and noisy. Resources, such as meeting rooms, a reception area, and security are a vital part of the co-working space, says Sam Meek of Sandboxx, an app that connects military members, who is now working out of the Eastern Foundry co-working space in Arlington, Va.

 

Separation of work and home: Home can become home again when work isn’t constantly beckoning from another room. “I found myself working less late at night, if at all,” says Brandon Fuhrmann, CEO of Cooler Kitchen kitchenware, who found his productivity soared when he began using the co-working space at WeWork in Chelsea, N.Y., last November.

 

Professional confidence: “There is something about having a designated office that gives you more credibility when talking about your business,” says McAlister. “Even though it’s more common to work from home these days, it still can be hard to shake the ‘lucky you, sitting on the couch in your PJs’ vibe you get from others.”

Of course, with any shared working space there are some potential drawbacks to consider. Chief among them are distractions and the lack of privacy. Alex Pierson, founder of social media app springpop, who moved to the WeWork location in San Francisco last summer, says the environment itself can lead to distraction with many of the desks lined up facing each other.

 

McAlister adds that while everyone is cognizant of being respectful of those around them, it can still be hard to take a phone call. “If a call goes on too long, I start to feel like I should cut it short so as not to disturb those around me.”

 

Despite these minor inconveniences, the benefits of a co-working space are many and may offer just the kind of connection and stimulation you need to take your small business to the next level.

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation

Studies show that when consumers spend money at a small business, their purchases have a ripple effect that spreads through the local economy. Big box or national chain stores might appear to make a bigger impact, but downtown merchants anchored in the community often provide more benefits overall. From keeping more money in the community to providing competitive deals, local economies thrive when neighborhood businesses are supported.

 

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Sources:
1: Small Business is Good for Local Economies; Big Business is Not, Researchers Say. Business News Daily, August 4, 2011.
http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/1298-small-business-good-for-economy.html

 

2: The Andersonville Study of Retail Economics, Chicago, Illinois. Civic Economics, February 2005. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~opdc/planner/wp-content/andersonvillesummary.pdf

 

3: The Benefits of Locally Owned Businesses. Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.
https://bealocalist.org/economic-development/planet-protection/benefits-of-locally-owned-businesses

 

4: Small Business, Big impact! Small Business Trends, U.S. Small Business Administration.
https://www.sba.gov/managing-business/running-business/energy-efficiency/sustainable-business-practices/small-business-trends

 

5: Why “Local”? Seattle Good Business Network. http://www.seattlenetwork.org/why-buy-local

 

6: What Info Do Consumers Value Most on Local Business Websites? MarketingProfs, 2/14/14.
http://www.marketingprofs.com/charts/2014/24402/what-info-do-consumers-value-most-on-local-biz-websites

 

7: Consumers Favor Small Businesses Because of Their Customer Focus. eMarketer, 4/21/14.
http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Consumers-Favor-Small-Businesses-of-Their-Customer-Focus/1010771

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Publicis Hawkeye to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only.
Publicis Hawkeye is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Publicis Hawkeye.
Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.
Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.
©2016 Bank of America Corporation

 

 

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Business_Debt_body.jpgBy Heather R. Johnson.

 

Small business growth requires a certain amount of debt. That additional funding can help a small business expand its operations, spend more money on product development and marketing, or survive a slump. But how much is too much? If the business doesn’t generate the sales to cover loan payments, it may find itself hustling to cut costs or, at worst, in bankruptcy.

 

Dileep Rao, clinical professor at Florida International University, and a former VC and venture financier and business consultant, offers one golden rule of business debt: “Only borrow what you can pay back with certainty.”

 

Here are some other points to consider when determining whether your business has too much debt:

 

Determine your debt-to-equity ratio

The amount you owe creditors compared to how much equity you have in the business determines debt-to-equity ratio. Industry norms for debt-to-equity ratio vary, so it’s best to identify a debt-to-equity ratio that suits your business. This data can help you determine whether you should pay down debt or move forward and finance that second location.

 

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Understand your finances

Even businesses that just emerged from bankruptcy may receive loan offers from lenders. Don’t be swayed. “They often want to take over collateral,” says Rao.

 

Instead, use your balance sheet and cash flow statements to help you make borrowing decisions. If you don’t understand these statements—learn. “If you’re not finance smart, you’re not going to get to the next level,” says Rao. “Know how to use financial statements to develop a stronger business. Your accountant shouldn’t be the only one that knows.”

 

Analyze cash flow

If you have high profits but not much cash on hand, you may have too much debt. Making principal payments on loans is essentially a transfer between accounts, so paying back principal isn’t reflected in profits figures.

 

To reverse sluggish cash flow, it may make more sense to pay off the debt slowly to free up available cash. On the other hand, you may need to borrow to bolster cash flow if you don’t have much debt to begin with.

 

Know your industry risk

When you need to boost cash flow or finance an expansion, borrowing makes sense—but only within the limits of your business. Analyze the amount of risk involved in your business and industry. “If you’re a startup, the uncertainty is very high,” says Rao. “What certainties do you face?” Businesses in a volatile industry, such as technology or energy, should maintain less debt than more stabile industries, such as consumer goods, which can handle more debt.

 

Borrowing can make good financial sense for a growing small business, “but only when money is used productively,” says Rao. “All debt has cost. The business owner should consider the return on the money they borrow and how certain that return is.”

 

If you want to finance that expansion or hire a few new salespeople (both wise reasons to borrow), remember Rao’s rule and “only borrow if you’re sure you can pay it back.”

 

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation

Small Business: The Backbone of the Economy (infographic) Big corporations may make headlines, but small businesses make the economy hum. Of the nearly 23 million new jobs created between 1993 and 2013, 63 percent came from small businesses, and more than half of those companies are planning to hire additional workers this year.

 

View our infographic to discover the many other ways that small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy.

 

Click here to view the infographic. 

 

 

You can also download a PDF version
for printing by clicking here.

Franchising_body.jpgBy Heather R. Johnson.

 

If you want to see your brand become a household name, franchise your small business. “Franchising is one of the quickest ways to grow a company,” says Michael Ciccarelli, senior vice president for Franchise Group LLC, a consulting firm based in Atlanta, Georgia. “As a franchise, you have other people with a vested interest in your business and your brand being successful.”

 

A report from the International Franchise Association reports that sales from franchised businesses rose 5.4 percent in 2015, up from 4.8 the previous year. The study also predicted an increase in jobs at franchises for 2016.

 

Although franchising sounds like a win-win situation, there are many things to consider before heading down this road. Ask yourself these five important questions before you make the move.

 

1. Do you have the right business model?

Franchises span dozens of industries, from restaurant chains to real estate companies. Small businesses with the most franchise potential have the following qualities:

  • Familiarity with originality. Massage is nothing new, but Massage Envy’s extended hours, easy appointment scheduling, and affordable prices make it a nationwide hit. 
  • Adaptability. Is there a demand for your product or service in other regions of the United States?
  • Easily replicated. Do you have to have systems and processes in place that franchisees can use to run their business?

 

2. Are you financially ready?

“It’s critical that a business is proven and has two to three years of operational history,” says Ciccarelli. “Ask yourself, would franchisees get at least 20 percent return on their investment in two to four years?”

 

Franchising_PQ.jpg3. Do you already have more than one location?

If your pasta shop successfully opened two additional locations in your region, you are on your way to franchise success. Five Guys Burgers and Fries grew from one burger joint to five before it franchised. It now has more than 1,000 locations nationwide.

 

“A franchisee is making a big investment,” says Ciccarelli. “They have to know that they can replicate that business and that you have proven systems, processes, and infrastructure in place to support franchisees.”

 

4. Are you willing to take on new responsibilities?

Small business owners wear many hats. As a franchisor, you will likely take on new tasks designed to help franchisees run their businesses successfully.

 

The franchisor will have to continually refine and improve systems, processes, infrastructure, and resources to support their franchisees,” Ciccarelli says. “This will help create strong-unit economics and positive franchisee and franchisor relationships, which are two critical components of a healthy franchise system.” For specialized roles, he recommends considering outside resources, such as franchise consulting and development firms, to help develop sales and marketing strategies, provide territorial planning, and navigate legal and regulatory requirements.

 

5. Are you prepared to take the financial risk?

It could cost $250,000 or more to franchise a business according to the Small Business Administration. Initial costs include legal, consulting, and accounting fees, marketing materials, franchisee training manuals and systems, and more. 

 

While franchising isn’t a guaranteed path to riches, with the right concept and strategic planning, a small business has the potential for mainstream appeal. As Ciccarelli says, “If you have the right business model, a franchise operation can perform as well as, or better than, company operated businesses.”

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation

Pro_Network_body.jpgBy Robert Lerose.

 

It's so easy for small business owners to get caught up in the daily running of their operation that they forget to devote time to an essential activity—building and maintaining their professional network. Along with servicing their existing customers, refining their products and services, and staying ahead of the competition, cultivating relationships with people in different fields can lead to new business opportunities.

 

Jonathan Long, the founder and CEO of Market Domination Media, a Miami Beach, Florida-based online marketing agency, recommends these steps for growing and nurturing a productive professional network:

 

1. Announce yourself to the community

Tell your existing network what your business is doing now and what's coming up down the road. A straightforward message sent by email, on social media, or in person at meetings will keep your network informed about and involved in your business—and cause them to think of you first when they need your services.

 

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2. Participate in networking events

Attending trade shows and conferences within your industry is a great way to find people to add to your network under one roof. Also, don't overlook local events and get-togethers. Meeting with businesspeople in your own neighborhood or region may even give you an edge over national competitors. Look for online networking opportunities. LinkedIn and Twitter both have groups where people with similar interests or needs congregate.

 

3. Meet them on their own turf

"Frequent the places that the people you want to connect with can be found at,” says Long. “This could be a particular lunch spot. Be friendly and social and you will make new connections."

 

4. Give of yourself

Be willing to share what you know to help others out, whether offering your expertise or connecting people together—without expecting or asking for a return favor. Demonstrating that you genuinely want to do good for others will motivate them to reciprocate on their own.

 

5. Be diligent about following up

Whenever you make a new connection, follow up promptly. Send an email to express your satisfaction at meeting them and invite them to get in touch with you if they ever need your help—and fulfill any promise that you make.

 

Maintaining a presence among the people who need your products, services, or expertise—whether in offline get-togethers or through online communications—can be an inexpensive but effective way to amass a strategic professional network.

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation

Ad_Blocking_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.

 

More than 50 percent of millennials use ad-blocking software, according to Oxford University’s Reuter’s Institute. More than 200 million people in the U.S. have internet browser extensions that block the majority of pay-per-click and display advertisements. This is bad news for the online publishing industry, which derives 85 percent of its revenue from advertising. But it’s also worrisome for small business owners, who are now facing the dual challenge of diminished ad reach and higher marketing costs.

 

Understanding ad blocking’s appeal

Using ad blockers can make surfing the internet a profoundly more satisfying experience, particularly for mobile device users. Forbes magazine reports that with ad blocking enabled, page size drops by 44 percent and load speed doubles. This is very important to customers who keep an eye on data costs. After all, nobody wants to pay money to be shown ads.

 

Additionally, ad blockers appeal to people who are worried about online security. Ads have often been the delivery mechanism of malware; eliminating the ads means potentially eliminating the risk of infection. Some malware ads contain scripts that have been used to gain access to users’ personal information, putting them at risk for identity theft. Furthermore, the New York Times has reported that using ad blockers extends a mobile device’s battery life.

 

However, not everyone is using ad blocking. Todd Bairstow of Keywords Connect, a performance marketing company, says that while younger people have embraced the technology, older people have not. “Local advertisers aren’t going to see this as such a large problem because they are looking to reach a much more geographically targeted audience,” he explains, “and that’s most often done through search and SEO.”

 

Ad_Blocking_PQ.jpgThe impact on small business advertisers

Ad blocking technology impacts many types of ads, including pay-per-click and display ads, Facebook newsfeed ads, Google AdWords, Bing advertising, and more. Determining how much money you want to invest in ads that may never be seen is a very real question. Google has addressed this for its AdWords platform by offering a Cost per Viewable Clicks option (vCPC); the costs for keywords can be slightly higher with this option, but advertisers have the assurance of knowing the ads they’ve paid for are actually viewable.

 

The impact of ad blocking on programmatic advertising, such as remarketing ads that appear on a customer’s search engine results after visiting a retailer’s website, is still being determined. Being white-listed—deemed ‘acceptable advertising’ which is displayed to people who are using ad blocking technology—can come with a cost. The world’s largest brands, including Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, reportedly pay a premium to make it past AdBlock Plus. However, this costly option isn’t available to the typical small business owner, who must find another way to get their message out.

 

Business owners may have an unexpected ally in their efforts to be heard, according to Bairstow. “I can’t believe that Google isn’t actively seeking to solve the ad blocker problem. When companies weren’t sure their competitors weren’t sitting down and clicking on their Google ads, Google saw that issue and immediately set its brainpower to solving it, and largely did. I’ve got to believe they will do something similar with ad blocking.”

 

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation

Marketing_Plan_body.jpgBy Robert Lerose.

 

A thoughtful marketing plan can be a powerful tool for entrepreneurs. It can keep you on track for achieving your goals, help measure your performance, and reinforce the core values of your business.

 

ThirtyFOUR Creative, a Richmond, Virginia-based communications firm, offers these suggestions for getting the most from your marketing plan:

 

1. Schedule a regular review

A monthly review is ideal, but certainly no less than once a quarter. The more often you conduct a review, the shorter amount of time it will take. You'll also be able to stay on top of changing conditions easier and react more quickly.

 

2. Check the plan's foundational elements first

ThirtyFOUR Creative says to give priority attention to items that are not related to tactics or budgets. For example: Have you introduced new products or services since you wrote your marketing plan? Has your competition shifted? Did your target audience change? Has the overall economic climate impacted your business? A significant move in any of these areas might require an adjustment of goals and strategies.

 

Marketing_Plan_PQ.jpg3. Review the performance of your tactics

Second, look at the marketing efforts put in place since the last review to see whether you executed them as planned. Then, measure the type of response they generated. Did one marketing channel beat another? Did a blog post or a video strike a chord with your audience? Try to repeat your winning efforts and keep a close eye on underperformers.

 

4. Adjust your budget when necessary

By tracking your spending, you can see where you are investing your money and how those investments are paying off. A regular review can reveal the return on investment and whether assets need to be enhanced, moved around, or dropped.

 

5. Add new efforts to your plan

After reviewing and updating your plan to date, look ahead. What new marketing efforts will be put in place for the next month or quarter? Who will be responsible for executing them? What assets will you need to get them up and running? What results are you aiming for? Look at any new elements at your next regularly scheduled review with the same attention and make any required changes.

 

Updating and reviewing your marketing plan diligently can help you steer your company through a constantly evolving competitive landscape.

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation

Cash_Flow_Management_body.jpgBy Heather R. Johnson.

 

Money in, money out. Even with a well-defined business plan and innovative product, a small business won’t last long without well-managed cash flow. To ensure that your business remains stable as sales fluctuate, adopt these cash flow best practices.

 

Make accurate projections

Cash flow projections rank next to business plans and mission statements in importance. These projections factor in customer payment history, upcoming expenses, vendor billing cycles, and receivables.

 

Steven Friedman, senior vice president, business and advisory brokerage, for Reichel Realty & Investments, Inc. in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, prepares weekly, monthly, and annual reports for clients.

 

“Seasonal changes might affect a business’s cash flow,” says Friedman. “A retailer may have strong sales in December, for example, but they have to buy in October during a weak sales month. Understanding the annual picture helps a business plan for those times.”

 

Invoice promptly

An international survey of B2B payment behavior from credit insurer Atradius reported that U.S. businesses lose 51.9 percent of their receivables value when not paid within 90 days of the due date. More than a third of those business’s receivables aren’t paid on time.

 

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To shorten the time from product or service to payment, invoice promptly and track receivables diligently. Consider deposit requirements for certain clients. Some businesses offer discounts to quick-paying customers, however, Friedman cautions against this practice. “Sometimes customers will take a two percent discount and still won’t pay on time,” says Friedman. “If a business can’t get a line of credit from its bank, it may want to consider a reputable factoring company, which buys receivables and takes on the waiting time, to increase cash flow.”

 

Manage payables

It’s ironic that as a business expands, expenses often grow faster than sales. Keep a close eye on costs and hang onto available cash as long as possible. Pay invoices on or close to the due date. “You might need that money for something else,” says Friedman. “Waiting to pay your invoices means you’ll have the cash on hand if you have an unforeseen need.”

 

Businesses with strong cash flow may want to accept those early payment discounts. Businesses with a tight cash flow may want to extend payment from net 30 to net 40 or 45 when possible.

 

Manage shortfalls wisely

When cash flow slows to a trickle, juggle expenses creatively and wisely until the horizons open again. Pay critical expenses (rent, utilities, employees) on time and negotiate noncritical expenses. Ask vendors and suppliers for an extension. Consider a line of credit. Most importantly, don’t ignore the problem. “You can buy a lot of time and good will if you communicate honestly with vendors,” says Friedman.

 

Don’t mix expenses

Small business basics dictate that owners should keep personal and business expenses separate. This rule applies for accurate tax returns as well as cash flow. “All cash should be accounted for and controlled properly,” says Friedman.

 

With effective cash flow management, a small business has a better chance of weathering shortfalls, late-paying customers, and other business ownership challenges. Project realistically and keep and eye on income and expenses to ensure continued small business success.

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation

Podcasts_body.jpgBy Cathie Ericson.

 

Podcasts are having a moment. About 46 million Americans over the age of 12 listen to at least one podcast a month, according to market research firm Edison Research. And it’s easy to see why they’re especially popular for multi-tasking business owners: A podcast can provide useful, and often entertaining, information that you can listen to wherever you go, whether you’re in the car, on a power walk, or working in your office.

 

“Podcasts are one of my favorite forms of entertainment, and as an entrepreneur, there is no end to the business advice and motivation you can find,” says Chris Huntley, owner of Huntley Wealth & Insurance Services in San Diego.

 

Below we’ve culled some favorite business podcasts that are well worth your time. They can give you ideas on how to better run your small business and inspire you to find new ways to grow.

 

The Tim Ferriss Show: You know him as the Four-Hour Work Week guy, but he has solid information for any small business owner—even those logging way more hours. There’s a reason he’s consistently ranked the No. 1 business podcast on iTunes. “We've been following Tim for a few years now,” says Andrew Ross, owner of Sensory Swim. “He interviews famous people who have achieved massive success, but he really gets down to the nitty-gritty of how they achieved it with actionable ideas for any business owner.”

 

Podcasts_PQ.jpgThe School of Greatness with Lewis Howes: Want to hear lessons from successful business moguls like Russell Simmons and Arianna Huffington? Howes’ specialty is getting them to offer pithy insights on starting their businesses and what they learned on their paths. Digital video producer Edward Sturm first tuned in to listen to one of his idols, film producer Casey Neistat, who was a dishwasher before realizing that he liked making movies. “He hustled hard for a long time before getting a show on HBO. The best lesson he shared was that in order to discover what you want to do in life, get a job doing something you don’t want to do.”

 

American Public Media’s Marketplace: It’s imperative to stay informed on the latest business news, and that’s why Matt McKee of McKee Photography says his go-to podcast for the morning commute is the previous night’s Marketplace. “As a small business owner, I often find myself in conversations with CEOs and other business owners who have a more solid background in financial and economic matters, and podcast host Kai Ryssdal helps me to understand the big picture of our economy in terms I can wrap my brain around.” McKee also mentions segments with other small business owners that can be conversation starters during portrait sessions and networking events.

 

EntreLeadership: By entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs, these podcasts provide sound leadership advice for the small business life cycle and key moments of truth, says Tom Cates, CEO of salesEQUITY. “This podcast is a natural fit for any company seeking to build a knowledge base of best practices for B2B relationships, voice of the customer, and more.”

 

I Love Marketing with Joe Polish and Dean Jackson: Sometimes small business owners don’t love marketing, and that’s when they need some inspiration. “Dean and Joe have both been working professionals so they know firsthand how marketing can make or break a business,” says Laura Wallis, online marketing consultant with Web Navigator Gal. The podcast covers all aspects of marketing, from how-to’s in direct mail and email,  tips on lead generation and conversion, and the psychology of marketing.

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation

Live_Streaming_Video_body.jpgBy Robert Lerose.

 

Live streaming video—via popular apps such as Meerkat and Periscope—lets you connect with prospects and customers by providing access to your business as it happens. One expert described it as "video Twitter," but with immediacy and live action features that can be more engaging than text or static images. 

 

But is streaming video right for your small business? How should it be integrated into your existing marketing efforts? What are some best practices? Alexis Amaral, the media coordinator for Strong Women Strong Girls, a Boston-based mentoring organization, suggests that small business owners ask themselves these questions:

 

1. What's the value to your small business?

Live streaming makes your content relatable to viewers because it unfolds in real time. It puts a human face on your business by giving them access to your operations behind the scenes. As you reveal more of what you do, how you do it, and the people responsible for driving your business, prospects are likely to trust you and be more willing to buy from you.

 

Live_Streaming_Video_PQ.jpg2. What's better: Periscope or Meerkat?

Both have similar features. According to Amaral, the main difference comes down to social media integrations. Periscope lets you link from your Twitter account—almost like embedding a live stream in your tweets—and also provides some metric reporting, such as the number of live viewers, viewer retention, and the frequency of video replays. Meerkat lets viewers watch streams from their Facebook account, but does not offer statistical reports.

 

3. What kind of videos should you stream?

Live streaming provides ways to bond with customers in compelling ways. "One great idea for live streaming is to show the process—whether that be cooking a meal or showing where donations are going," Amaral says. "This will leave them with a unique memory that will encourage them to choose you in the future." Live Q&As with your employees or outside experts can also draw them in.

 

4. What actions should be taken after the broadcast?

The content from the live stream can be saved and used later in other media channels, such as your blog posts or on your company website. Periscope lets you keep the video available for 24 hours after initial broadcast—providing more opportunities for building relationships with customers.

 

Whether your live stream gives useful tips, interviews, before and after demonstrations, new product announcements, or customer feedback on a favorite service, small businesses should consider experimenting with this tool for deep customer engagement.

 

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation

Email_Mkting_Body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.

 

Email marketing continues to be one of the strongest tools available to small business owners. More than nine out of 10 U.S. adults reporting that they like to receive promotional emails from the brands they do business with, according to Marketing Sherpa, an advertising industry think tank.  Email marketing can be done successfully on a DIY basis or with minimal support from an agency, making it a very cost-effective option.

 

That being said, email marketing only works when emails are opened, read, and acted upon. To find out the most effective ways small businesses can leverage email marketing campaigns, we spoke with  Erica McGillivray, senior community manager at Moz, a search marketing software firm. Here are some of her best practices:

 

Stick to a sensible email schedule

Be consistent with email. McGillivray says that people drop off or get offended that you're contacting them if they don't remember who you are and how they got on their list. A sensible schedule doesn’t necessarily mean regular weekly or daily emails. It may just involve increasing the frequency of emails during busy seasons for your type of industry. Just make sure to keep the silent stretches to a minimum. “The biggest mistake small businesses make is not being consistent,” she says. “Email is the easiest way to get in front of your audience and have direct access to them. Don't ignore it as a marketing channel and don't break that trust once you have it.”

 

Email_Marketing_PQ.jpgDon’t be a spammer

Be opt-in compliant, McGillivray cautions. In the U.S., email marketing is subject to the provisions of the CAN SPAM act, a fairly complex law that specifies what constitutes permissible email marketing. Email marketing firms take steps to make sure their clients remain CAN SPAM compliant; if you’re doing everything on your own, make sure you’re fully familiar with the law. Sending email marketing out of country can be even more complex. “Canada, the European Union, and Australia have very strict laws, of which fines are in the millions of dollars, around making sure people aren't spammed,” she says.

 

Be sure your customer can read your message

Make your email as mobile and email client-friendly as possible, McGillivray says. “Email clients—the program your audience uses to access their emails—have all sorts of different quirks, which can be very frustrating,” she says. Try to keep your email code as simple as possible. Testing messages in several different clients can help ensure your emails look good to all of your customers.

 

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation

Messaging_Apps_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.

 

Your customers would much rather text you than call you. That’s among the findings of the International Smartphone Mobility Report recently issued by data tracking firm Infomate. The millennial generation, in particular, has definitively chosen texting as their preferred communications channel. Time spent texting outpaces time spent on the phone by a margin of four to one.

 

This communications shift impacts all sphere of life. Texting is quickly catching up with email as customers’ preferred way to contact businesses, both for personal transactions and professionally. More than three-quarters of survey respondents told the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that they have a more favorable impression of companies that can be reached via mobile messaging.

 

Yet many small businesses continue to use phone calls as their default customer service channel. Social media accounts for only three percent of all customer communications, according to New Voice Media, which provides cloud-based communication services to businesses. The disconnect between customer preferences and business practices can’t be expected to last for long. Companies known for providing superior customer service, such as Zappos, have already begun using messaging apps as a customer service channel.

 

Here’s what you need to know should you decide to do the same:

 

Messaging_Apps_PQ.jpgWhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Snapchat are the most popular messaging apps

There are dozens of messaging apps, and no one business will be able to effectively use them all. It makes sense to use the mostly widely embraced apps, which include WhatsApp (900 million users), Facebook Messenger (800 million users) and Snapchat (100 million users).

 

Messaging apps can serve several purposes

In addition to serving as a customer service channel to answer questions, address complaints and more, messaging apps can also serve as a valuable branding and sales tool. Hellman’s mayonnaise regularly sends recipes featuring its products via WhatsApp. Jewelry retailer Rare Pink sells very high end engagement rings via Snapchat, which allows customers to have in-depth conversations online about specific products without triggering any retargeter ads that might ruin the surprise should one’s sweetheart glance at their significant other’s social media.

 

Messaging apps require oversight and prompt, professional response

Customers expect a prompt, professional response no matter what channel they use to reach you. Assign one or more members of your team, as appropriate, the responsibility of monitoring and replying to any messages sent to you by customers. Make sure your team knows exactly what that means. For example, using emojis might be fine, while non-traditional Internet spelling is to be avoided. Establishing clear guidelines at the embrace of a new messaging channel will help avoid confusion later.

 

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation

CRM_body.jpgBy Robert Lerose.

 

Customer Relationship Management software, or CRM, has evolved from a simple customer contact capability to a suite of automated business-building tools. CRM solutions can now handle prospecting, lead generation, customer management, invoicing—in short, many tasks in the sales cycle.

 

When does a small business need CRM tools? How do you find one that's right for your company? What should you consider from a technology perspective? The online publication Small Business Trends gives these tips:

 

1. Know what your goal is

CRM comes with myriad features and benefits. Before you invest in a system, be clear on why you're getting it. What do you want it to do for your small business? What problems will it solve for you? How could it make you more profitable or save you time?

 

2. Make a wish list of features

After you identify the main goal, come up with a checklist of features to reach them. For example, a business that wants to broaden their marketing reach should look for CRM that offers good lead generation and enhanced customer contact.

 

3. Look for customization

Since your customers fall into different segments of the sales cycle, you'll need to send different targeted messaging. CRM that allows you to customize your communications will give you control and efficiency.

 

4. Make sure your CRM is easy to operate

There's no point in getting CRM with terrific features and benefits if you and your team find it hard or time-consuming to use. Look for a system with software and a dashboard that is clearly designed and simple to navigate.

 

CRM_PQ.jpg5. Be aware of costs and hidden fees

How much can you comfortably spend on a system? Let that guide you as you shop around. Keep in mind that the lowest-priced system is not always the best choice if it does not provide the service and speed you want. Know exactly what you're paying for. Watch out for providers that entice you with a low upfront price and then tack on hidden fees.

 

A growing number of companies are switching to cloud-based CRM, but is it right for your business? KarmaCRM, a CRM provider for small businesses, assesses the risks and rewards:

 

Pros:

 

1. Get access to your data at anytime

A cloud-based CRM lets you tap into your database whenever and wherever you need it, and from any device—smartphone, laptop, tablet, workstation—as long as you have an Internet connection.

 

2. Greater flexibility

A cloud-based CRM gives you the ability to update and add features to meet the demands of a growing business.

 

3. Cost effectiveness

Some businesses find that cloud-based solutions fit their budget better than maintaining and running an on-site CRM system.

 

Cons:

 

1. Security threats

Small businesses that adopt a cloud-based CRM solution also entrust the security of their data to the CRM provider. Despite the vigilance that cloud-based providers devote to security, it could be an area of concern.

 

2. Vendor stability

Your data could also be at risk if the CRM provider goes out of business. Some providers address this by setting up an arrangement that gives the small business owner access to their data even if the provider curtails its service.

 

3. Uploading data

Migrating data among different clouds could be problematic because of the diversity and incompatibility of operating systems and apps.

 

As with other key purchasing decisions, investing in CRM requires research in order to find the solution that works best for your small business. Whether you choose an on-site system or a cloud-based service, the point is to find the tools that make running and building your company easier and more efficient.

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.

 

©2016 Bank of America Corporation

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