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You’re not unique. Whatever you do, someone else is doing the same thing—or something very similar.

 

That’s how it should be. If your business really were the only one in its field, there would be a reason for that, and that reason is likely everyone else already discovered it’s a bad idea. When an idea is good it always has competitors.

 

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That truth is why hundreds of companies churn out almost identical glass and metal devices for making phone calls and connecting to the Internet. And although there is no shortage of car companies, it’s why they all offer similar solutions to the same transportation problem. And it’s why when venture investors hear an entrepreneur say they don’t really have any competitors, investors roll their eyes, shut their wallets, and assume the founder hasn’t done the research.

 

Everyone has competitors.

 

Successful businesses know how to stand out from their competitors.

 

One way to do that is to know your unique selling proposition (USP) —and make that USP clear to everyone else. When prospective customers think of your company they should know what you do, what your competitors do, and how you do it in a different way.

 

In the smartphone industry, for example, Apple has managed to brand itself as the company that pays the most attention to design. It even has its own app store and its own operating system so it can retain control over the way the phone looks and behaves. Samsung? Well, that’s the non-Apple in the market. Its phones are also well designed—its curved edges and equally high prices make that clear. But it’s not dependent on Apple’s software or user experience, and it offers a look that’s just different from Apple’s well-known branding. Mi is best known for its low prices, and Blackberry is still touting its business-friendly keyboard.

 

Those differences aren’t huge. All of the devices made by these companies largely do the same thing. But Apple’s USP of “better design” is enough to help differentiate the company, and it’s consistent in all the company’s products. Whether someone buys an iPhone or a Mac, they know they’re getting that same emphasis on design and functionality.

That quality helps the company stand out, and it encourages consumers to choose Apple over competitor brands.

 

A set of features only does part of the work helping a company’s products stand out, though. It’s what happens when you put those features together that has the biggest effect.

 

That’s what creates the company’s voice.

 

One of the most prominent effects of social media marketing has been the deepening of the relationship between brands and customers. People now see marketing messages from businesses mixed in with updates from their friends. They hear their friends talking about their trip to the beach, then they hear a restaurant talk about their new menu item. Those messages need to fit that casual environment.

 

Even if your product is made by 20 other companies, you should be able to identify a set of characteristics unique to the products your company makes. They could be an element of your design, the warmth of your customer service, your emphasis on low prices, or anything else that sets you apart. No one business can do all of those things. Apple can’t be cheap and luxurious. Blackberry can’t be professional and fun. There’s always room for your business to carve out a strong USP.

 

One way to think about this is that you should know what those characteristics would sound like if you were to put them together in a person. You should know how your brand would speak, how it would dress and what it has planned for the weekend.

 

When you can give your products a unique experience and combine that experience with an authentic voice, you’ll have a company that has a real relationship with customers, and that stands out in a crowd like a friend.

 

     Read next:

 

 

About Joel Comm

 

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As an Internet pioneer, Joel has been creating profitable websites, software, products and helping entrepreneurs succeed since 1995. He has been at the frontlines of live video online since 2008 and has a deep expertise in using tools such as Facebook Live, Periscope, Instagram or Snapchat to broadcast a clearly defined message to a receptive audience or leveraging the power of webinar and meeting technologies.

 

Joel is a New York Times best-selling author of 15 books, including “The AdSense Code,” “Click Here to Order: Stories from the World’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs,” “KaChing: How to Run an Online Business that Pays and Pays and Twitter Power 3.0.” He is Co-Host of The Bad Crypto Podcast one of the top crypto-related shows in the world and has spoken before thousands of people around the world and seeks to inspire, equip and entertain.

 

Web: https://joelcomm.com/ or Twitter: @JoelComm

Read more from Joel Comm

 

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

March 8, International Women’s Day, is a daycelebrating women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements around the world. But it’s also a day to take action to build a more gender-balanced world.

 

This year, IWD’s theme is #BalanceforBetter. Creating a better balance at work pays off for more than just the women involved. A global study by Accenture found that when women advance at work, men are more likely to advance, too. (Check out Pixar’s short film Purl for a humorous look at how diversity makes a business a better place to work.)

How can your small business help strike a better balance at work by putting more women in positions of power?

 

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  • Make gender diversity a priorityin your business. A balanced business doesn’t happen by accident. Create a plan for achieving gender balance with specific, measurable goals. Do you want to increase the percentage of women in management roles? Achieve pay equity (according to the Department of Labor, women still earn on average 78 cents for every dollar earned by men)? Attract more women to IT jobs in your business? Share your plan with your employees to hold yourself accountable. Then share your commitment on social media to celebrate International Women’s Day. Download IWD selfie cards, posters, event packs and other tools at the IWD website.

 

  • Be sure your hiring practices are balanced. Your hiring policies may be inadvertently turning women off from applying for jobs at your business. According to a study from researchers at Cornell University, women and minorities generally won’t apply for a job unless they meet every single requirement for experience, skills and qualifications. Instead of saying “5 years minimum experience as accounting manager required,” say “Successful candidates will demonstrate significant experience in a senior role in accounting.” You’re likely to get a wider range of candidates applying. Cornell’s research also found that using male-oriented words like “ninja” or “rock star” in your ads tends to discourage women from applying.

 

  • Implement policies that support women. Child care and elder care responsibilities still fall disproportionately on women. Many women don’t climb the workplace ladder because the long hours or frequent travel required by leadership roles don’t fit their family needs. Offer flexible hours and remote work options that make it easier for women to advance while handling family responsibilities.

 

  • Consider off-hours activities, too. A friend of mine worked at a company that routinely invited male executives to golf outings, paintball battles, sky diving and other “manly” pursuits on weekends. Female execs at the same level didn’t get invitations and were excluded from the chance to build relationships with co-workers and clients. While this is a blatant example of bias, you could be unintentionally biased if activities that help people advance at work are held outside work hours, when many women can’t attend due to family issues.

 

  • Prepare women employees for advancement. Identify women with leadership potential and provide mentorship, training and encouragement to help them develop their skills. For instance, you can enroll them in professional organizations or send them to leadership development and training programs.

 

  • Educate your employees. Bias against women is sometimes so ingrained we don’t recognize it. Lean In has partnered with IWD to offer free ready-to-use presentations, like the workshop “50 Ways to Fight Bias,” which offers specific examples to help participants identify gender bias. The presentation is sure to spark conversation, and also provides research-backed recommendations for how to remedy gender bias. You can also browse Lean In’s library of expert talks, discussion guides and resources.

 

The 2019 #BalanceforBetter campaign doesn’t end on International Women’s Day—it runs all year long. Keep your commitment to a better-balanced business going, and you, your business and your employees all stand to benefit.

 

 

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About Rieva Lesonsky

 

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Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.

 

Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. 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. ©2018 Bank of America Corporation

According to the third annual Bank of America Hispanic Small Business Owner Spotlight (HSBOS), 79 percent of Hispanic business owners plan to grow their business over the next five years, a full 24 percentage points higher than non-Hispanic entrepreneurs (55 percent).

 

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According to the HSBOS:

 

Hispanic entrepreneurs are significantly more optimistic than their non-Hispanic counterparts when it comes to both their business and economic outlooks. Similarly, Hispanic business owners report greater confidence in the direction of the national economy, as well as their local economies.

 

The stats bear this out. When asked about their outlook for the next 12 months,

 

  • 87 percent of Hispanic business owners said they plan to expand (vs. 67 percent of non-Hispanic entrepreneurs)
  • 74 percent said they expected revenue will increase (vs. 57 percent of non-Hispanic entrepreneurs), and
  • 51 percent said they planned to hire more (vs. 26 percent of non-Hispanic entrepreneurs)

 

So yes, that is a lot of optimism!

 

One of the things I love about the Bank of America Small Business Owner Spotlight is not just that it is full of headlines, but it actually digs deep to give reasoning and context for the news it always seems to break.

 

In this case, what was so interesting is why Hispanic entrepreneurs are so optimistic. If I could sum it up in one word, it would be community and family. (OK, you got me, that’s two words, three actually, but you get the idea.)

 

The bottom line is that Hispanic small business owners are buoyed by their families around them, both actual and extended (and in that, there is a vital lesson for the rest of us. Read on.)

 

  • It’s a family investment: 23 percent of the non-Hispanics surveyed planned on passing their business onto their children. But among Hispanic small business owners, that number is almost double since they see the business as a familybusiness, making it both a motivator anda creator of optimism.
  • The community is involved: Survey participants stated that their community is another influential participant in their success, with 86 percent saying community support is an important part of their success and motivation. Furthermore, and significantly, 22 percent of the Hispanic entrepreneurs said they became a business owner specifically in order to make a difference in their community (compared to only 17 percent of non-Hispanic entrepreneurs.)
  • Employees make a huge difference: And an amazing 91 percent of survey respondents indicated that their employees are critical to their ability to achieve their goals.

 

All of this begs the question: Does all of this optimism make a difference, and if so, how? The answer is an unequivocal yes. While entrepreneurs are optimistic by both nature and vocation, that optimism eventually needs to rest on something real, lest it becomes just so much hot air.

 

In the case of these Hispanic small business owners, their optimism is tied directly to not only a strong economy but to an even stronger family and extended support network. This gives them the ability to take smart, calculated risks and grow their businesses.

 

Example: One interesting takeaway from the HSBOSis that the entrepreneurs surveyed are clearly more inventive and creative when it comes to hiring. The Hispanic entrepreneurs surveyed say they have had to refine their hiring and recruiting approach to better compete in this ultra-competitive job market. How?

 

  • They have turned to social media in far greater numbers than other groups to find and recruit talent (32 percent vs. 23 percent of non-Hispanic business owners)
  • They have begun to offer a more flexible work culture (27 percent vs. 25 percent of non-Hispanic business owners)
  • And maybe most indicative, they are paying higher salaries (26 percent vs. 17 percent of non-Hispanic business owners)

 

As I mentioned, there is a critical lesson in here for the rest of us: By involving one’s family in the business, by getting even more involved in one’s community, and by engaging with and rewarding that extended community, you can create the sort of safety net that simultaneously reduces your risk while increasing the likelihood of your success.

 

 

About Steve Strauss

 

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Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. 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.  ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

Small Businesses should leverage social media marketing to grow sales. Facebook marketing expert Mari Smith offers two essential tips all business owners should use in the latest podcast episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street.”

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com. Here's your host, Gregg Stebben.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” brought to you by ForbesBooks and Bank of America. Mari Smith joins us with two essential social media tips you can quickly put to work in your business today. Mari is often called the queen of Facebook marketing. IBM says she is one of seven women who are shaping digital marketing and she is a Forbes perennial top social media power influencer. Mari, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Mari Smith:                Thank you Gregg. I'm delighted to be here.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Mari, you are the author of The New Relationship Marketing and Facebook Marketing: An Hour a Day, and you are also a columnist for Bank of America. So you talk with small business owners about social media marketing every day. What are the two most essential social media marketing tips all small business owners should put to work in their businesses, literally today, right now?

 

Mari Smith:                Right now, I tell you what Gregg, the number one thing that I see small businesses doing incorrectly is not having crystal clarity on their target audience. So that's number one. When you get super, super clear on who you're wanting to reach, who your customer avatar or avatars are, that will go a long way to inform the type of content that you create, and your messaging, and then definitely your ad targeting. When you're doing your Facebook and Instagram ads, you want to be able to know who am I speaking to, what are their interests or demographics and so forth. Really, really critical.

 

                                   I would say number two is to focus on creating roughly 80% of your posts for Facebook as video content. Facebook is really favoring video content, and the good news is you don't have to be on camera if you don't want to. You can use tools and repurpose and reuse different videos and different formats and use them across other social channels. My favorite video tool is simply called wave.video. That's wave.video.

 

Gregg Stebben:         We know that if we go to your website, and to your Facebook page, and if we go to your Twitter account, we're going to see great examples. Tell us where we should go, your website address, your Twitter handle, your Facebook name, so we can come find you and learn more.

 

Mari Smith:                 Thank you so much. Absolutely. I'm marismith.com. On Facebook, it's facebook.com/marismith. Twitter is @marismith, and Instagram I'm @mari_smith, and as I like to say, just Google me.

 

Gregg Stebben:         By the way, just to add a fine point to that, Mari is M-A-R-I, Smith, S-M-I-T-H, Mari Smith. Mari, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Mari Smith:                My pleasure.

 

Gregg Stebben:         For more great tips from Mari and other small business experts, check out Bank of America's online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc.

 

Narrator:                    Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and the Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

 

Learn more about video marketing. Visit these articles on the Small Business Community.

If you want your business to succeed, you have to work hard. You have to hustle and grind. You have to burn the midnight oil, give up your weekends, and wave goodbye to your hobbies. While you’re building your business, you have to assume that that business will be your life. It’s going to be a long, hard slog.

 

This is the message we hear so often. We hear it so much that we assume the only path to success lies through sacrifice and sadness.

 

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It doesn’t have to be that way.. For many incredibly successful people, it isn’t that way.

 

Some of the biggest successes I’ve had have come while developing products where the process was so much fun that my team and I barely knew we were working.  We didn’t stay late at the office. We didn’t burn through weekends or miss school concerts to attend boring meetings. We just focused on enjoying ourselves and making something that we thought had a viable market.

 

We believed that a product that was fun to make would be even more fun to use. And we were right.

 

The same principle applies to every business and field. You don’t have to choose between enjoying yourself now and achieving success in the future. You can have both.

Start by finding the thing you love to do. That might not be the highest paying thing you could do, but as long as it pays your bills and puts a roof over your family’s head, it is the thing you should do.

 

Identifying that activity isn’t as easy as it sounds. Because we assume that work is hard, and fun isn’t work, we don’t always see the activities we enjoy can also become sustainable businesses. If you have doubts start slowly. Test the ground by selling your cupcakes at a food fair and checking the feedback, or by trying out a stand at an art fair. The more you sell, the more experience you’ll build and the greater your confidence will become.

 

You don’t have to rush into the business. Do it at a pace that feels comfortable.

 

You can also learn to say “no.”

 

So much of the work we do is work for others that we’d prefer not to do. Sure, you have to keep your customers happy, and it’s important to show your dedication sometimes. But the penalty for declining to take work that pays little and delivers large amounts of frustration is often much smaller than you’d think. It’s often a price you’d be more than willing to pay.

 

It’s not easy to say “no” to work. But once you start doing it—and your business life starts getting better—you’ll find it becomes easier to do.

 

But the most important way to build a business that compliments the life you enjoy is not to worry about the stuff that other people are doing.

 

Part of being in business is being in competition. But being the best isn’t the same as making the most sales, landing the largest number of new clients, working the most hours, or growing at the fastest rate. Its also about enjoying your life as much as you can.

 

Some other entrepreneur might appear to be more successful than you. They might appear to be taking on more staff, spending more on advertising, and building up a bigger following. But if they’re working more hours, spending less time with their families, and enjoying themselves less, then you’re coming out ahead.

 

Your business doesn’t have to be your life. But the two will always be connected. As long as you enjoy your business, you’ll be enjoying your life and doing good stuff.

 

 

About Joel Comm

 

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As an Internet pioneer, Joel has been creating profitable websites, software, products and helping entrepreneurs succeed since 1995. He has been at the frontlines of live video online since 2008 and has a deep expertise in using tools such as Facebook Live, Periscope, Instagram or Snapchat to broadcast a clearly defined message to a receptive audience or leveraging the power of webinar and meeting technologies.

 

Joel is a New York Times best-selling author of 15 books, including “The AdSense Code,” “Click Here to Order: Stories from the World’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs,” “KaChing: How to Run an Online Business that Pays and Pays and Twitter Power 3.0.” He is Co-Host of The Bad Crypto Podcast one of the top crypto-related shows in the world and has spoken before thousands of people around the world and seeks to inspire, equip and entertain.

 

Web: https://joelcomm.com/ or Twitter: @JoelComm

Read more from Joel Comm

 

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

Is your small business (or your dream of starting one) on the right track? Whether your business is still in the planning stages or is a well-established venture, having a long-term vision for your business is essential to moving it forward.

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How can you achieve your loftiest plans? Follow these six steps.

 

Step 1: Clarify your business vision

 

The term visionmay conjure up images of a distant, hazy landscape. But if you want to achieve your business vision, you must  be crystal clear on what it is. Start with a “brain dump” of what you want for your business within the next one, three and five years (or even further out). Your vision might be revamping your brand, expanding to an entirely new market or region, becoming a household name, or reaching a certain sales target.

 

  • Tip: Creating a vision board showing what you want can help you identify goals and think about what achieving that vision would look and feel like. 

 

Step 2: Make a plan

 

If your business is still in the pre-startup stages, now’s the time to write a business plan. (BPlans and SCORE* have tons of useful business plan resources.) Even if your business is up and running it’s not too late. Plan for achieving your vision as carefully as you did your startup. For example, if you want to expand your retail business nationally, where do you need to start?

 

  • Tip: Think through what’s involved and write out each step.

 

Step 3: Break it down

 

Your vision plan will be overwhelming if you try to tackle it all at once. Dig into your plan and break every step into smaller steps. For example, for the vision of expanding nationally, one step might be identifying possible locations. You can break this into smaller steps such as:

 

    • Identifying potential markets
    • Researching demographics in those markets
    • Investigating vendors and suppliers in those markets
    • Visiting commercial real estate websites
    • Contacting commercial real estate agents

 

  • Tip: If you’re having trouble getting started on a particular step, break it down even smaller. For instance, “Contacting commercial real estate agents” can start with “Find contact information for 3 agents.” Even taking small steps will give you a sense of progress and help keep you on track.

 

Step 4: Find your cheerleaders

 

Making your business vision a reality will take time and commitment. To improve your odds of success, find supporters to motivate you when times are tough. These can include experts and advisors such as a business mentor, colleagues who have your back, or friends and family members who always know the right thing to say.

 

  • Tip: You’re not looking for “yes men,” but rather for good listeners to bounce ideas off of and vent frustrations in an appropriate environment.

 

Step 5: Track your progress

 

On the journey to achieve your vision, it’s easy to stray off course—especially when you’re also handling the day-to-day challenges of running a small business. That’s why it’s so important to track your progress. Set up periodic check-ins with yourself and your team. Schedule them weekly, monthly, quarterly or at whatever frequency works best for you. The key is to hold yourself and your employees accountable for continually working toward the goals that you’ve set.

 

  • Tip: At each check-in, review your progress, assess whether you need to modify your plans, and recommit to moving forward.

 

Step 6: Celebrate your successes

 

Making your vision a reality can be a long process. Along the way, take time to celebrate victories, no matter how small. When team members achieve goals, give them rewards and public praise. When the team reaches a milestone, throw a party or take them to lunch. If you’re a solo entrepreneur, reward yourself whenever you surmount a hurdle. Treat yourself to something special or take time out for an activity you enjoy.

 

By following these six steps, you’ll achieve your vision for your business before you know it. What’s on your horizon?  Tell us in the Comments section below.

 

*Disclaimer: SCORE is a client of my company.

Let’s face it: being a small business owner is tough. It’s a full-time responsibility and like playing professional football, it takes commitment and discipline to succeed. During a recent visit to Winter Village at Bryant Park in New York City, I hit the Holiday Shops with entrepreneur and travel expert Lee Abbamonte – who visited every country by the time he was 32 – to talk with small business owners about the challenges they face.

 

All the small business owners we talked with ran unique businesses and had their own vision of success, yet they shared a common theme: passion!

 

 

Caption: Small business owner and former NFL star Dhani Jones and entrepreneur and travel expert Lee Abbamonte talk to small business owners about the challenges of running a business and expectations for 2019

 

 

The day got me thinking about my own business. After hearing about some of the most common challenges, I wrote down my own thoughts for 2019 that can help you run your business better this year.

 

Of course, these come with a few unapologetic football puns.

 

Play 1: Get a strong “O”rganization Line

 

A lot of business owners told us that organization was not their strongest skill. To this I’d say - be glad you live in 2019! There are plenty of digital resources available that can help decrease digital clutter, maximizing efficiency. A couple of programs to consider: Google Drive and Trello. Also, check out a new tool from Bank of America to organize your business finances – details below, under the Extra Point heading.

 

For more digital resources, read this.

 

Play 2: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

 

One small business owner told us being an entrepreneur meant “long days, short nights.” As a small business owner, delegation is critical! But make sure to assign tasks with strengths and work styles in mind. Give employees both motivation and structure with clear deadlines. And a loyal, passionate team is priceless, so be sure to recognize and reward employees when merited. This can include financial benefits, workspace upgrades or milestone celebrations.

 

For more ideas on how to reward employees, check out these helpful stories:

27 Ideas to Celebrate Your Employees Hard Work – No Matter the Season

 

Play 3: Tackle a Marketing Strategy

 

When developing your small business strategy, remember that while marketing methods such as print ads or direct mail are consistently stable, digital marketing constantly changes. Stay ahead of your competitors by taking the time to consider some online marketing essentials. Building a website, developing a social presence and utilizing email marketing are all key to a successful marketing strategy. Whatever your small business is developing a strategy for, check out these tips:

 

 

Play 4: Score a Touchdown, Again

 

Now comes an important piece of the small business puzzle: How can you keep the customer you just won? Earning a customer is one thing but retaining a loyal customer is a different game, and an important one at that. Forty-three percent of consumers spend more money with companies they are loyal to. A returning client costs less than acquiring a new one, they spend more and typically refer new customers. Consider some basic blocking and tackling tactics like loyalty reward programs or offering discounts to those who make referrals.

 

For more ideas on how to retain customers, read this.

 

Extra Point

 

Getting back to organization, Bank of America designed a digital tool specifically to help small business owners manage their financial performance. Business Advantage 360  tracks your account balances, ongoing expenses, analyzes cash flow and even what-if scenarios, all from a single dashboard (mobile and desktop!).

 

Trust me, you’ll want to check this out – I had a sneak peek and it’s incredibly useful!

 

 

About Dhani Jones

 

Dhani Jones is the owner of BowTie Cause, which empowers numerous organizations with custom bowties designed to support their initiatives. Before his journey into entrepreneurship, Jones played for eleven seasons in pro football as a linebacker in New York, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. Additionally, he hosted the Travel Channel series, “Dhani Tackles the Globe” and the CNBC series, “Adventure Capitalist.” He is a guest contributor to the Small Business Community.

Positive word-of-mouth reviews are a must for small business success. With thousands of followers and countless 5-star reviews, PSP Diesel in South Houston, Texas, understands the power of social media to drive business growth. In this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street," we discuss strategies for boosting your small business' online reputation.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks’ Gregg Stebbens and Small Business Community Contributor, Steve Strauss. More information and previous episodes can be accessed through a dedicated home page and on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” at ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com. Here's your host, Steve Strauss.

 

Steve Strauss:           Art Martinez is the owner of PSP Diesel. Art is often described as being the best in his craft, and is praised for his honesty, professionalism, attention to detail, and great work. Their commitment to customer satisfaction is evident with countless five-star ratings and testimonials, and he's gonna teach us a little bit about how we can get some great reviews, too.

 

                                  Art, how did you become an entrepreneur?

 

Art Martinez:              It was in 2007, 2008 during the Financial Crisis. I did work for a dealership. Work had declined, and bills had to get paid. It started with one customer who was looking for quality work at a reasonable price, and we capitalized on that. We took that experience, we took care of the customer. We surprised him with our efficiency, our professionalism, and it grew. In about seven or eight years we've been in business and our current data, we hold about 4,800 customers year-to-date.

 

Steve Strauss:           Wow. That's so impressive. Why do you think people love coming to your business?

 

Art Martinez:              I think one of our biggest compliments that we get, Steve, at the shop, is our honesty and our professionalism. I believe that it shouldn't just be a transaction. It shouldn't be about profit. It shouldn't be about selling. It should just be about an overall experience. Creating a relationship with that customer and understanding their needs.

 

Steve Strauss:           Give us an idea about how big your business is now here 10 years later after you began. In a typical day how many trucks are you servicing? How many people work for you? What's the size of your business?

 

Art Martinez:              We've been showing since 2008 ... We've shown about a 25% growth. We started with one employee. There is a partner, Richard Alvarado, myself. We started with one employee, and eight and a half years later we have 14 employees, and we operate within a 20,000-square-foot facility. During a busy week we repair about anywhere from 25 to 35 trucks, ranging from a basic oil change, basic break job, to a full-on race build.

 

Steve Strauss:           I know that developing a digital presence has clearly been vital to your business. Can you tell us a little bit about your strategy from the get-go with regard to digital?

 

Art Martinez:              From the very beginning our strategy has been organic growth, word of mouth. I encourage my customers to recommend their neighbor. Their neighbor's gonna recommend the construction worker. It wasn't until about two and a half years ago that we really, really started focusing on social media and our channels. Why not? They’re free advertisement and in today’s age, we’re surrounded by that. We wanted to take that opportunity and post some pictures. Let the community know that we’re here and we’re here to help.

 

Steve Strauss:           You do have a lot of reviews, a lot of positive reviews online. Art, what’s your secret?

 

Art Martinez:              Steve, it’s really, really simple. Our strategy has been the same from the very first customer to our current customers now. People like honesty. People like to be treated fairly, and they want to be put in a certain situation where I said earlier, it's not just about profits. It's about creating an experience and understanding their financial needs. These trucks are used as mobile offices. The trucks are down, that means they're not making money.

 

                                   A lot of our clientele are rig welders, construction workers, and when these vehicles are down, they're not getting paid, they're not making money. It sometimes means going out of the box. Whether it's a loaner program, whether it's a ride to the airport, you're creating an overall experience. You back that up with an honest experience, a reasonable bill, and maybe a courtesy call after the job has been done, a review will follow.

 

Steve Strauss:           That last sentence is what I want to ask you about. Clearly the first part is you have to do five-star work if you want to get a five-star review, but how do you get people then to take their experience and go online and take the time to figure out where to write a review for you and then write a review for you? Do you ask them? Or are you saying it just happens organically?

 

Art Martinez:              No, it happens organically, but a key note question that I commonly ask my customers from first impression, from when we first meet, I shake their hand, introduce myself. "How did you find us? How did you end up here?" We don't have a store front. We operate within an industrial part of South Houston, which is a very small industrial community, so in order to find our shop, you're either on the internet, you're on Yelp, you're on Google, or somebody told you exactly where we're at. That's key to me. Why? I want to know. We don't want to invest a whole lot of money in advertisement.

 

                                   I mentioned earlier our biggest advertisement is word of mouth. The customer comes in and tells me that, why wouldn't he want to try our shop? We've got 145 reviews and they're all five stars, my direct approach is, well, that comes at a very high price because I can tell you just as much as we have really good experiences, we have bad experiences. This is probably gonna answer your next question, you must control a negative experience. We're in business. It's how you control it and how you make it right.

 

Steve Strauss:           Let's say somebody has a bad experience, because you're right that does happen in business, and they go online and they write a bad review about you. How you do handle that?

 

Art Martinez:              I can tell you year-to-date, Steve, I'm being completely honest, I don't think we've ever had a negative review posted on ... We've had customers call back and tell me their negative experience. I want to know what happened, who was involved, and how we're gonna make it right.

 

Steve Strauss:           Well, I know I can give some advice to people also with regard to negative reviews. I saw a study recently that said that companies that do nothing about their negative review, end up, of course, with a negative review. Those companies that go back in and find the reviewer and then write to the reviewer and say, "We're really sorry you had a bad experience. What can we do to help it?" They try and fix the situation, after that often not only will the reviewer be amenable to removing the review, but they actually become customers again. You can really turn by just doing what you say you do, a negative experience into a positive by doing great customer service. I'm sure that's been your ... kind of what you're saying as well.

 

                                  What do you think of asking customers to write you a good review?

 

Art Martinez:              I think it should be encouraged, definitely. In our lobby we do have signs, "Your Experience Matters." We do talk to customers about, "Hey, if the experience was positive, please ... your input ... we want to hear your input." We're listed on Yelp, Google. That's about it. We don't really influence anybody into reviewing the business. We believe if we're doing everything that we possibly can to make it a plus experience, that review will follow.

 

Narrator:                    Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

 

Learn more about how to boost positive online reviews for your business – and deal with those pesky bad ones – from Rieva Lesonsky. 

Mari Smith explains how to increase authentic business reviews on Facebook.

It could be said that an entrepreneurial spirit is often an inherited trait. Like many entrepreneurs, I grew up in a small business household where I watched my father’s small carpet store become a healthy chain of around 15 locations. The reality of life as a small business owner was a typical kitchen table conversation in my family.

 

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When I was seven or eight years old I was asked to write a report about what my dad did for a living. Where my classmate’s parents had easily identifiable jobs like “lawyer” or “nurse,” I struggled to find a simple way to sum up “retail carpet store owner.”

 

“Tell them that I’m an entrepreneur, Stevie” was my father’s response. When I asked what that meant, he explained that an entrepreneur was someone “who took a risk with money to make money.”

 

I have heard many definitions of the word entrepreneur since, and many are quite good, but my dad’s characterization is still my favorite. It combines the essence and thrill of entrepreneurship – it illustrates that going into business requires risk, but also the possibility of a payoff if done well.

 

In the years since that conversation with my father I have learned the best entrepreneurs strive to reduce the inherent risk of running their own business whenever possible. It’s impossible to eliminate risk entirely, and you probably wouldn’t want to because risk is what makes it possible to grow and achieve new levels of success. But the smartest small business people learn to reduce risk, and, even then, to make sure that the risks they do take are well thought out and worth the potential loss.

 

How do they do that? Here are a few ways:

 

1. Court bigger, more stable customers and clients: There are many factors that are outside of the control of the small business owner. The economy surges and dips. Clients’ needs change. One way then to counter the constantly shifting business cycle is to work with stable corporate and government clients, when possible, because bigger customers can lead to bigger budgets and long-term relationships.

 

Generating opportunities to work on coveted corporate or government contracts can be challenging but is not impossible. I recently gave a webinar on the subject for SCORE, which can be viewed here

 

2. Create additional profit centers: If having bigger and better customers helps stabilize your business cycle, it should follow that having additional products and services can also help by diversifying the kinds of clients you serve.

 

Starbucks is a simple example of this kind of development. Originally the company only sold coffee beans, but they soon added coffee drinks. Then, capitalizing on an opportunity, they added Frappucinos to boost warm weather sales. And then food, music, and so on. Small businesses can use this same method to grow their offerings. By analyzing the market segment that you’re supporting and adding additional products and services to your offerings as opportunities arise, you increase the chances of making more sales in both good times and bad.

 

3. Establish proper legal status: It may be tempting to leave legalities for the future while you get your business up and running but delaying those steps may leave both you and your budding endeavor vulnerable. Incorporate right away. Establish business credit apart from your personal credit. Make sure you have enough insurance.

 

Yes, risk is part of the game, but if you play your cards right, you can ensure that your company grows and returns the investment on the time, work and care you put into it.

 

About Steve Strauss

 

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Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. 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.  ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

Owning a restaurant is the culmination of the American Dream for many—particularly within immigrant communities. In fact, according to the U.S. census, as reported in Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN),immigrants own 29 percent of all restaurants and hotels in the U.S., more than twice the 14 percent rate for all businesses.

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As romantic and exciting as owning a restaurant might be, it’s not easy. Food trends are constantly shifting—with some disappearing as quickly as they emerged. Still, despite some reports of a coming “bloodbath” in the industry, there are signs of stabilization and even growth. NRNreports on data from TDn2K’s Black Box Intelligence showing same-store sales in December grew 2 percent, the highest in more than three years. December was also the seventh straight month of positive industry growth. Overall, same-store sales in 2018 were up 0.7 percent, which may not seem like a lot, but was the industry’s “best performance” since 2015.

To find out about the latest restaurant trends I talked to Nancy Luna, Senior Editor at Nation’s Restaurant News.

 

Rieva Lesonsky: What current national trends are you seeing? Last year it seemed it was all about providing breakfast all day. What’s the “must do” for 2019?

 

Nancy Luna: Restaurant trends these days are more focused on operational efficiency The continued shift toward an on-demand society is forcing restaurants to provide customers with delicious food in a timely manner through delivery, and mobile order/pickup. This is happening in both QSR [quick service] and casual di

ning. Not so much in fine dining.

 

Lesonsky: What changes do you think restaurants need to make to appeal to millennials, the nation’s largest consumer group?

 

Luna: I would argue restaurants are no longer catering specifically to millennials. That was overtly true two-three years ago. Today’s restaurants, at least the smart ones, are moving towards capturing a new category of diners: on-the-go, stay-at-home eaters who want to sit on their couch eating their favorite restaurant food while binge-watching shows on Netflix. That could be Gen Y, Gen X or Gen Z. You can see this playing out in QSR and Fast Casual, as [I] cited in this story.

 

Lesonsky: You’ve confirmed what I’ve heard—that every restaurant must offer a delivery option. True, or is it hyperbole?

 

Luna: Mostly true. Clearly delivery is not the right business model for fine dining concepts. It’s most advantageous for casual dining, which has struggled to compete with the quality and affordability of fast casual players. For casual dining, delivery levels the playing field and has contributed to incremental sales, according to chains I’ve interviewed.

 

Restaurant Trends to Watch

 

As for what America wants to eat, Restaurant Business says these trends will take hold in 2019.

 

  • Look for more plant-based patties on restaurant menus, as well as “veg-forward dishes.”
  • Yet “2019 will see a record-high beef supply…and prices have declined for prime rib-eyes and loins. More favorable beef costs may translate to more of this red meat on menus, perhaps in smaller portions in sync with healthy eating trends.”
  • Butter is back. Restaurant Businesssays it will be “enhancing everything from coffee to grilled meats with rich flavor.”
  • Sour power. The “rise of Persian and Filipino cuisines” have pushed extreme sour foods into the mainstream. That means foods flavored with ingredients such as vinegar, tamarind, pomegranates, and sour oranges.

 

For more on 2019 restaurant trends, check out this article.

 

About Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.

 

Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. 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. ©2018 Bank of America Corporation

BOA-Heartbeat-Soundcloud-header-TEAM-2400x750-150dpi.jpg

After ending 2018 on a high note, small business owners are optimistic about the year ahead. Small business owners reported confidence in the economy and their hiring plans. But how will the tightest labor market in decades impact their search for talent? Sharon Miller discusses this and more from the Fall 2018 Small Business Owner Report.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Sharon Miller:                 We are in one of the tightest job markets out there. Unemployment rate falling to 3.7 percent, that's the lowest since 1969. That was in September where we had the 3.7percent unemployment rate. I mean, we are at a historic time within our economy, where if you want to work, you're employed. And so, it's really up to the business owners to focus on retention.

 

Narrator:                         Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. This is part two of our interview with Sharon Miller about the Fall 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report.

 

                                       Sharon is the Head of Small Business for Bank of America.

 

Gregg Stebben:              Sharon, I'm wondering, in the face of the competitive hiring environment that we're in, how is this impacting employers in terms of numbers? Are you hearing that, oh, we're literally losing this percentage of our workforce? We're trying to hire and it's taking us this long to get people. And then when companies, when there's a delay for companies to actually make the hires they need, what are they doing instead? For instance, are they turning to things like technology?

 

Sharon Miller:                 So, as far as the turnover, I mean we don't have the exact number for the overall turnover, but what we did report is within one year, at least 24 percent of small business owners have lost one employee or more. So we do know that. And 11 percent of small business owners said they lost 10 percent or more of their workforce. With 24 percent losing one, that's a quarter of all small business owners. We've got 29 million small businesses in the United States, so that's quite a bit.

 

                                        Now, some of them were let go, that's about 30 percent, some took a position at a larger company. About a quarter of them said that they took positions at a larger company. So, there's different reasons for people departing, and it's not to say that it's all because the employee decided to get up and leave...I mean, 30 percent were underperforming, so that business owner had to let them go. So that's one thing.

 

                                        So, we do know that the unemployment rate of 3.7 percent is the lowest it's been since 1969. We have an economy out there where it's tough. It's tough to attract and retain because employees can really have the pick of where they want to go, at least top talent. And so, with that being said, there's some shifting strategies out there by business owners. And some of that, to your point around technology, I would say that the thing that small business owners are modifying their strategy around, they're saying, "We want to give them more flexible work culture. Give people flex time." So, if you want to work 10:00 to 6:00 versus 8:00 to 5:00, you know, just giving them some different hours. Or maybe you work Monday through Thursday, take off Fridays. Those types of strategies, I've heard from business owners that they're doing a lot.

       

                                        Or letting them work from home. They don't need to come into the office. Social media, they're out there on social media trying to attract new talent to say, hey, here's what we're doing at our company, come to work, we're growing. We are continuing to innovate. And that's all very, very attractive to people coming to work and job candidates. So, there's some different strategies out there outside of just more money or more benefits, but at the heart of it, it does come down to dollars and cents, and we are seeing rising wages out there. We are seeing more business owners implement healthcare benefits or retirement benefits to attract the right employees.

           

                                        And so, these are all the conversations we're having with business owners every day.

Kate Delaney:                 Wow, fascinating. So talking about the flexible hours, working from home, etc. So, kind of piggybacking on that, Sharon, how else are small business owners rewarding, we'll say, employees, and then giving back to their communities during the holidays?

 

Sharon Miller:                  Well, the business owners out there, when they have the right employees, they're focusing on flexible hours, so that's one thing. Professional development, discretionary bonuses perhaps at the holiday season. Eighty-three percent of small business owners plan to offer perks during the holiday season. Maybe they're going to close the office, they may give a salary bonus, or they may give a holiday party.

 

                                        So, all of these things feed into that culture that small business owners and entrepreneurs are trying to really deliver for their local business, which spills over to the local community. And keep in mind again, Kate, the advantages of small business employment, it's powerful. You've got less bureaucracy, you got a more collaborative environment, you've got greater responsibility, creative freedom, all these things. A local community impact because small business is local, and that's really attractive.

 

                                        So I always remind our clients, yeah there's some things that we can continue to implement and get better every day, but don't forget about what it is at the heart you do, and the advantages you already have built in by being a small business.

 

Gregg Stebben:              We're talking with Sharon Miller. She's the Head of Small Business for Bank of America. We're talking about a lot of findings and statistics and information that comes out of their Fall 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report.

 

                                        And you know, it's interesting that you mention local, Sharon, because one of the things that I found fascinating in the report is a map of the U.S., and you've called out some cities where there tends to be trends about how they're attracting and keeping people. So, San Francisco is most likely to offer flexible hours. In LA, they've had the easiest time finding qualified candidates to fill positions. In Chicago, they're most likely to say small businesses compete with larger companies for talent.

 

                                        I'm just curious if you have any thoughts on why different markets tend to use different things to attract and keep talent? Is there something culturally going on in those markets that we could also learn about, or do you think that within a business community, small business owners are talking about what's working and using what's working for others to help themselves?

 

Sharon Miller:                  I think it's both, and Gregg, you're right, I think because small business is local and it is a lot of word of mouth, and you also have people collaborating in local communities through different chamber organizations or just different events, you are finding that people are talking. I mean, business owners, they're going to their kid's soccer game and talking on the sideline about what's working, what's not.

 

                                        So, all of this sort of comes together in a community, and that's why we like to highlight it, because maybe someone in San Francisco doesn't know what's going on in Chicago, and we were able to highlight it, and that's also the power of Bank of America, because we do have a footprint across the entire country where we're able to give insights back to our clients to say, you know what, it might not work here, but it sure is working in Chicago. Would it hurt to give it a try?

 

                                        So, these are some of the benefits of working with a large institution that is national, but operates in 90 local markets. So, we're local enough to be able to have different focuses in our local markets, and that's how we run.

 

Kate Delaney:                 Wow, it made me think of something else, the power, of course, Sharon, of what you offer, what Bank of America offers. And let's say for example I'm in Boston and you see the success that they're having in San Francisco with the flexible hours, but we're not really doing that so much in Boston. Do you share that information and say, "Hey listen, here's some of the successes that we're seeing here, and some of the trends," because I would imagine they would gobble that up.

 

Sharon Miller:                  We do, and we just launched in four states our Business Advantage 360 program, and this is our...and it will be launched across the country in the first quarter...This is a very powerful digital capability, an online capability for business owners that's really going to change the way they manage their business, that they get insights into just this, that they're able to manage their cashflow.

 

                                        And so, not only is it through sitting down with our bankers in the 4,500 financial centers across the country where we have business experts, but it's also through our digital capabilities, and going online at BankofAmerica.com/smallbusiness, where you're able to not only access the report we're talking about today, but you're also able to understand what's going on. Different reports, different information for clients. We just launched the Bank of America Institute for Women's Entrepreneurship [at Cornell] because we know that women are a force to be reckoned with, for one, Kate, and I'm sure you can agree. And two-

 

Gregg Stebben:              I can agree, too. I can agree, too.

 

Sharon Miller:                 There you go, Gregg ... That we're opening businesses. I mean, when I sit down and I see the trends happening, businesses are being opened at twice the rate of men, by women, with half the capital. And so these are some of the issues we're seeing because we are a larger institution, and we're able to go out and solve some of these problems, or at least to help to solve them and partner up with universities like Cornell to get out the information on what, not just women, but all entrepreneurs, need to be thinking about.

 

                                        So, all of that is in our website. We've got a Bank of America Community. So yeah, either you want to read about it, you want to go into our financial center, sit down with a specialist, and to me, I would advise coming in, sitting down with a business specialist, because there's no more powerful interaction than that across the desk, because every business owner's unique, just like people, and that's where we're able to help with their priorities.

 

Kate Delaney:                 Sharon Miller, Bank of America Head of Small Business. Thanks so much, we appreciate it as always.

 

Narrator:                         Thanks for listening to the heartbeat of Main Street with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com, and Bank of America, at BankofAmerica.com.

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After ending 2018 on a high note, small business owners are optimistic about the year ahead. Small business owners reported confidence in the economy and their hiring plans. But how will the tightest labor market in decades impact their search for talent? Sharon Miller discusses this and more from the Fall 2018 Small Business Owner Report.

 

iTunes-Button.gif

 

“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Sharon Miller:            Most business owners expect that the end of this year, their revenue expectations for 2018, 80% of them believe that their year-end revenue will exceed 2017, and that's pretty powerful. So, they're thinking this year's better than last year, and they're thinking next year will be even better.

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.comand Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

 

Kate Delaney:            It's always a good time when we can be joined by Sharon Miller on the show, Bank of America, head of Small Business. She's here with some great news about small business. The US small business sector looks to end 2018 on a pretty high note according to the Fall 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report. Sharon, so first of all, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Sharon Miller:             Thank you so much for having me.

 

Kate Delaney:            We have all kinds of questions and it sounds like entrepreneurs and small business owners are feeling really good about the economy. So, what are their expectations for revenue growth and hiring for 2019?

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, confidence in the economy, it does remain strong and their revenue expectations, the confidence in the economy, hiring plans, all of that is up since last fall, so we do see an uptick in positive sentiment from business owners and by all accounts, from our most recent survey, the confidence remains very, very strong.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I know we've asked you this before, Sharon, but I'm going to ask again just for anyone who hasn't caught our earlier discussions about previous reports, how is it that you do these reports and compile this data, because I think it's really helpful for people to understand where this information is coming from.

 

Sharon Miller:             So we survey 1,000 small business owners across the country and we do it twice a year. It's from all different types of industries, from all different types of sectors and geographies so that we can really get a pulse on how business owners are feeling.

 

                                   At Bank of America, we have 3.3 million small business clients that we serve, and so every single day we're sitting down with business clients understanding, are you looking to expand your business?Do you want to apply for a loan? How is your working capital? What about your cash flow? These are the questions and discussions we're having every single day. But then we go in twice a year and we want to make sure that, you know, this is how the sentiment is across the United States, and we over-survey in 10 major markets as well, just to see if there's some geographic differences.

 

                                   And by all accounts the whole country is very strong. We see very strong optimism and sentiment from business owners—hiring is there, plans to apply for a loan, that's up, and so all of the different aspects of the report that we're asking, they look better than they did the last six months.

 

Kate Delaney:            Sharon, it's fascinating how you pull all this together, and talking about the 10 major markets and compiling all that information. When you do that, and since you've had such great success with it, this is just kind of a sidebar question, and I think the listeners will find this fascinating: Do you then go back and recalculate, okay, something's changed here or something's moved here with business, so we're going to instead focus on this area? How do you do that when you go into the next year and you plan for the next time around?

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, it's the basis of everything we do. I mean, we have to listen to our clients. We need to understand what's happening in the economy, how business owners are feeling, and so we adjust our ongoing continuing education for our bankers. We may adjust the types of information that we're delivering in that city because we operate in 90 local markets across the country and we know that every market is unique. And so, I'm sitting here today in San Antonio, Texas, and there's a lot of building. There's a lot of growth happening, hiring, expansion, and we have a heavy oil industry. We've got a diversified economy, we’ve got financial services here, we've got a lot of tourism. And you may go to another city and it may be very strong in technology, whereas San Antonio, the number one cyber security university sits in our backyard here at University of Texas San Antonio.

 

                                  In San Jose, California, you've got an incubator of high tech and what's happening with the newest wave of devices, so every city's a little different and we want to make sure that we're training our bankers to be able to interact and not just interact with clients, but to get ahead of them and to help them think through their business plan. What's next? Should you apply for a loan, should you use your working capital, what can you expect in the year ahead? And so, that's where we have and use these insights every single day to plan for the year ahead and quite frankly, the next three to five years.

 

Gregg Stebben:         We're talking with Sharon Miller. She's the head of Small Business for Bank of America. We're talking about the Fall 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report, a report they do twice a year.

 

                                    And Sharon, whenever business people get together and whenever there's headlines about business and the health of businesses, there's a couple of issues that always come up, especially in 2018, 2019, and two of those issues are taxes and healthcare. What did you find small business owners thinking and doing, and what would they like to see change there when it comes to those two issues, taxes and healthcare?

 

Sharon Miller:            Sure. So, as far as healthcare is concerned, we've been doing this survey for the past six years and for every single survey result, healthcare is the top of the list of concerns for business owners.

 

                                  While healthcare costs remain the top concern during this survey, what we found—and that was at 63% of business owners, they’re concerned about the cost of healthcare, about the complexity—this has dropped to the lowest level at 63% in the six years of this history of the survey. So, that's actually down nine percentage points from the fall of 2017.

 

                                   So, while it remained a top concern in the fall of '17, 72% of business owners were very, very concerned. This time 63%. So it's dropped nine percentage points from our last survey. But again, it's the number one concern.

 

                                   When it comes to your taxes and concern over corporate taxes, that also reached a five year low. And this was at 37% this fall, and that's down 14 percentage points from the fall of 2017. So, although there are concerns and these are still the top two concerns of business owners, it's dropped significantly since last survey.

 

Kate Delaney:            Sharon, when you look at that, what are some of the other things that small business owners are concerned about? What else is on their mind?

 

Sharon Miller:            You know, there's concern about trade policy, tariffs, there is concern about commodities prices, the dollar, the stock market, compliance and government regulation. So, all the things that I sort of bucket into, as really not controllable for business owners. And so these are things going on around them in the economy and the broader market, they have a lot of control over their business plan, around their business. But a lot of these issues and we can't control what's going to happen with the stock market. It's up, it's down, it's going, it's cyclical.

 

                                   And certainly with tax rates, where the government is setting those. So yes, we got to get out and vote, we've gotta do all those things. But when it comes to can a business owner directly control that? They can't, and so the focus in my conversations with business owners, it's about their business, how do they, in spite of everything going on around them, continue to drive forward, to grow and expand and do better this year than they did last year?

 

                                   And most business owners expect that the end of this year, their revenue expectations for 2018, 80% of them believe that their year-end revenue will exceed 2017, and that's pretty powerful. So, they're thinking this year's better than last year and they're thinking next year will be even better. And so, that to me is what they can directly control.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I love hearing about that kind of optimism. We're talking with Sharon Miller, the head of Small Business for Bank of America and the Fall 2018 bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report. It's interesting, Sharon, you mentioned what are the things that business owners can and cannot control? Well, one of the things they can control, I would think, is how they make it through a period where hiring is so challenging and so competitive. What kinds of things did you hear from small business owners there?

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, they are experiencing it. You're right. We are in one of the tightest job markets out there. Unemployment rate falling to 3.7%. That's the lowest since 1969. So, that was in September where we had the 3.7% unemployment rate. We are at a historical time within our economy where you know, if you want to work, you're employed. And so, it's really up to the business owners that need to focus on retention.

 

                                   And small businesses are experiencing a very high rate of personnel turnover. They are. I mean, just as in corporate America. So we're seeing more people going to different companies, whether it’s be they're getting more money, they get better benefits, whatever it might be. But I would say that what small business owners are thinking about in order to retain, they're talking about how do I implement a retirement package for my employees? How do I give them healthcare? How do I perhaps think about giving them a more flexible work culture?

 

                                   And so, there are some hiring challenges, but I think that when small business owners focus on the perks of what they can deliver, like flexible hours, maybe giving them some professional development and then when you go a step further and say why do people go to work for a small business? They go to work because they believe working at a small business has got some advantages, including the ability to have less bureaucracy. They have a more collaborative environment, more responsibility.

 

                                   When you're working in a company that has less than 100 employees, you're certainly going to have some greater responsibility and more impact or at least feel that you have more impact for that company. So, there can be some certainly some strategies that business leaders can implement over and above what they're doing, but I think they also have to go with what they already have and press that advantage, which is a smaller environment, less bureaucracy, more freedom for creativity, entrepreneurial and creativity development. All those things that really we hear from Millennials, from people entering the workforce. This is what they want. So, I think small business owners should be proud of that and this should be something that they can use to attract better employees.

 

Narrator:                    We’ve been talking with Sharon Miller, head of Small Business for Bank of America. This has been Part 1 of our interview with Sharon about the Fall 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report. You can hear Part 2 of the interview on January 2nd, here on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.comand Bank of America at BankOfAmerica.com.

 

 

Stay tuned for part II

Not long ago, I was researching a company with whom I might do some business  and, as is the case so often with social media, I ended up down a rabbit hole of tangential information. Somehow, at one point, I found myself on the personal Facebook page of the CEO. He was wearing a red baseball cap that said:

 

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“Make America Great Again”

 

That moment affected my decision (although which way I will not disclose.), The moment serves as a reminder that social media generally, and Facebook specifically, is a public, not a private, place.

 

Most importantly for our purposes, you better be darned sure that you want to publicly wade into the political and cultural wars that divide our country these days because if you do, you will surely evoke a strong response one way or another.

 

Now, maybe you are thinking that politics and small business don’t mix, and if so, I agree. People frequent your business because you provide products or services they like. My take is that they don’t really care what you think, and in fact, in this era of divided politics, I suggest what you think has more risk of doing harm than good.

 

But guess what? We may be wrong.

 

According to Forbes, a recent survey of U.S. consumers found that an amazing two-thirds say “they want brands to engage in social and political issues.” That number goes even higher for younger consumers, those 18-34 years old – 73 percent of millennials want brands to speak up.

 

But here’s the rub: That same survey found more than half (52 percent) of respondents would show greater brand loyalty if they agreed with the brand’s position while even more (53 percent) said if they disagree with the brand’s position on an issue, they would frequent the brand less with a sizable minority stating they would publicly criticize the brand.

 

Given that sobering news, while consumers might want brands to speak up, there is a lot of risk for those that do. And yet, even so, there is also clearly a lot of pressure these days on businesses to take a stand. It might be a faction of employees who want their voices heard, or maybe some customers who feel strongly about an issue.

 

So, what do you do? How can you take a stand in an era of highly partisan politics? Here are a few tips that might help:

 

1. Pick your battles: Supporting a politician, opposing a politician, whatever, is just too risky. The possibility of angering your customers is too high with, as I said, little payoff. Unless supporting a candidate or party is mostly a no-brainer for your small business, the general rule is to leave this area alone.

 

Better: Choose to support an issue that resonates with you, your business and/or your clientele. Choosing an issue that aligns with the values of your business can help reinforce your brand. An outdoor travel company can safely champion environmental causes without wading into the political battles of the day.

 

2. Be a uniter not a divider: We all know what the hot-button topics are, and again, the problem is, if you play with those issues you can get burned.

 

A better strategy for the business that wants to get involved is to pick an issue not as polarizing. A topic that aligns with your values and which people generally support allows you to do good while minimizing the risk of alienating key customers.

 

Example: In the past decade, Coca-Cola  expanded its giving portfolio beyond educational causes to include access to safe drinking water and healthy living across the globe. To illustrate, Coke supports the Global Environment and Technology Foundation’s work in Africa to “replenish water sources and improve access to safe drinking water.”

 

World NGO Day can be a first step for small businesses wanting to support a social cause.

 

3. Go incognito: If you really feel the need to share your political views, do what a pal of mine recently did. He created a new Twitter account, an incognito one, and uses it to rage against the other political team.

 

And no one knows that he owns the small business down the street.

 

Check out what Rieva Lesonsky had to say about whether small businesses should take a political stand.

 

 

About Steve Strauss

 

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Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. 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.  ©2018 Bank of America Corporation

It’s our job as entrepreneurs to keep up with the latest trends—but it can be hard to keep up. It’s essential to know what’s driving consumer spending and how you can integrate new trends into your small business. Here’s what to look for in 2019. Have more? Let us know what trends you’re following in the comments section below.

 

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1. Generational marketing

 

There are currently five generations in America, each with its own set of demands. Three (baby boomers, millennials and Gen Z) are so large they have an outsize impact on industries and specific businesses. But no one has more influence in the marketplace than millennials.

 

2. Millennials

 

This huge generation—there are 84 million of them, ranging in age from 19 to 37—is too big to ignore. And they’re in the stage of life where they’re impacting so many businesses. Take weddings – already, according to The Knot, a $72 billion industry. Businesses affiliated with weddings, from retailers, to jewelry designers to restaurants, photographers, florists and dozens more, are poised to grow even more as younger millennials approach the median age of first marriage—29 for women and 31 for men.

 

The Knot reports two to three years after getting married, 35 percent of millennials start a family and 24 percent buy a home. That leads to many entrepreneurial opportunities for years to come.

 

3. Millennial parents

 

Millennials are the nation’s parents—they head 51.2 percent of households with children under age 18. Parents are big spenders—to the tune of $1 trillion a year. And, for the first time, women in their 30s are having more kids than those in their 20s. This is great news for entrepreneurs, since older parents spend more money on food, furniture, clothing, décor, and toys for their kids. More than one million millennial women become new mothers every year, and since so many millennials are still in their 20s, this is a long-lasting trend.

 

4. Home, sweet home

 

Home ownership peaked in 2004, but is now on the rise, thanks to millennials. Between millennials and older generations of home owners holding on to their houses, businesses involved in the remodeling industry will get a boost. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the most in-demand remodeling projects include bathroom, kitchen and whole-house remodels. Homeowners are also asking for more green home features.

 

Seniors (including baby boomers) are demanding more home services—82 percent of them are still home owners. They’re hiring contractors to senior proof their homes. They want wider doorways, lower cabinets, wood floors, and bathroom remodels to make their homes safer and more accessible.

 

They often prefer others handle home maintenance chores, turning to home services businesses to get the job done. While housecleaning, lawn care, snow removal and handyman services aren’t just for seniors, targeting this market can help small businesses build a thriving business.

 

5. Mangia!

 

Americans love to eat, so there’s no shortage of new food trends. According to restaurant and hospitality consulting firm af&co., donuts are 2019’s “dessert of the year.” These aren’t your typical donuts though—consumers want artisanal treats with “unexpected savory flavors and fillings.”

 

Food on demand (either pick-up or delivery) is also soaring. Off-premises dining (including carryout, delivery, drive-through, curbside pickup and food trucks) accounts for 63 percent of restaurant traffic nationwide, and delivery is the fastest-growing segment of this market, says the National Restaurant Association. Consumers expect restaurants to deliver food. 

 

Younger millennials actually prefer off-premises dining—24 percent order takeout three to four times a week, compared to 21 percent of older millennials, 17 percent of Gen Xers and 6 percent of baby boomers, according to the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) and the Center for Generational Kinetics.

 

6. Looking Good

 

Men’s grooming is a burgeoning industry. Men’s personal care products (including skincare, deodorant, soap/bath products, hair products & shaving/depilatories) are already a $4.5 billion industry. Millennials are driving this trend as well, increasingly scooping up anti-aging products. According to new research from Mintel, 34 percent of dads (with children under 18) who use personal care products care about preventing the signs of aging, compared to 26 percent of male personal care product users overall.

 

And yet, according to the Mintel Global New Products Database, only a small percentage of men’s personal care products make anti-aging claims. This leaves a huge gap in the market. Mintel says, there’s “a significant opportunity for anti-aging personal care products specifically formulated for and marketed to men.”

 

These are just a few of the trends Americans are expected to embrace in 2019. Consumers have rising expectations, however, so you’ll have to work hard to meet them.

 

     What’s next?

 

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

 

Rieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.

 

Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. 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. ©2018 Bank of America Corporation

Have you wrestled with issues such as these?

 

  • Your business is struggling financially. A supplier sends you their monthly invoice—and they’ve significantly undercharged you. Do you correct the error?agreement-arms-business-1081228.jpg
  • Your children’s toy store is in the thick of the holiday shopping season when you discover that your best-selling product line is made using child labor. Do you keep selling the products?
  • You’ve received complaints that one of your employees is making derogatory and inappropriate comments to coworkers. But he’s your top salesperson and you know he’s recently received another job offer. Do you confront him?

 

In these and other situations, a small business owner may have to choose between principles and profits. But is it really an either-or choice?

 

Short-term profits, long-term price

 

Sticking to your principles may cost you in the short term. In the examples above, it could cost you money, customers or your best salesperson. But if you abandon your principles, you’ll pay a higher price in the long term.

 

Actually, you may not have to wait that long. Social media makes it easier than ever for customers and prospects to see what your principles are and when  you’re conveniently ignoring them. A potential job candidate could see employees at your company complaining about on-the-job harassment. A customer could discover the child labor issue before you do. Transparency gives consumers the upper hand.

 

Profiting from principles

 

In fact, sticking to your principles can pay off. According to a Deloitte study, purchasing drivers such as “social impact, health and wellness, safety and experience” are becoming more important as consumers increasingly base purchasing decisions on their values and beliefs.

 

In the last 12 months, 74 percent of consumers in a JUST Capital survey say they began purchasing or purchasing more of a company’s products or services in order to show support for its positive behavior. The same poll found nearly eight out of 10 Americans would take lower pay to work for a company they perceive as “just.”

 

The stock market believes principles and profits can work hand in hand. The Dow Jones Sustainability Index rates public companies based on the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. Participating companies report on their financial, social and environmental performance.

 

What principles do consumers care about most? The way you treat your employees takes top billing. Worker conditions, including fair pay, good benefits and a safe workplace, are the top priority for one-fourth of U.S. consumers considering companies’ principles, JUST reports.

 

How to balance principles and profit

 

How can you hold onto your principles while still making a profit?

 

  • Identify your business principles. What are your core values? What does your business stand for? Review your mission statement, value statement or vision statement. Are they still accurate?
  • Talk to your team. What do your employees think your business stands for? Do they believe the company is truly living its values? Your employees are the ambassadors for your business; they must be on the same page when it comes to company values.
  • Build your business’s values into your employee training. Set guidelines for how employees should treat customers, coworkers and vendors, as well as consequences for not doing so.
  • Practice. It’s not easy to make ethical decisions on the spot. Practice by roleplaying potential scenarios as a group. What should employees do if they see another employee harassing a co-worker? Is there ever a time when it’s justified to take office supplies home?
  • Look in the mirror. If your business isn’t living up to its principles, do you play a role in that? Perhaps you set production quotas so high that employees have to rush to keep up, compromising product quality. Own your mistakes and lead by example going forward.
  • Keep your eyes open. Pay attention to what your vendors, customers and suppliers are doing. It’s a global world and we’re all connected. Doing business with people and companies that share your principles will strengthen your commitment to your values.

 

Principles and profits can and should go hand in hand. Committing to your business principles and educating your customers about them will boost your brand—and ultimately, your profits.

 

Read next:

 

 

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

 

Rieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.

 

Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. 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. ©2018 Bank of America Corporation

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