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2015

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngFor a small business owner, two of the most important but often overlooked tools available for success are 1) networking and 2) strategic partnerships. It can be a great leap of faith to give up the stability of a typical corporate career and venture into the uncertain waters of small business ownership; often, that venture can be a lonely and challenging one. However, an important fact to remember is that you never truly have to do it on your own. That is where networking and strategic partnerships come into play and why they can be so vital.

 

Simply put, they expand your team. Leveraging the expertise, skills, and advice of your peers via networking and partnerships can not only present you with new, valuable, and sometimes unexpected opportunities, it can also ease your workload and expand your customer base.

 

Whitepaper-icon.gifIn this whitepaper therefore, we will look at both tools: How networking can help you grow your business, how utilizing strategic partnerships can portray your brand even better, and how both options can ensure that your company continues to evolve and expand.

 

Click here to download the whitepaper "The Power of Networking and Strategic Partnerships" (PDF)


Event_Sponsorship_body.jpgby Erin O'Donnnell.

 

Warmer weather means more fun runs and festivals—and more requests to small business owners for their sponsorship. Done well, sponsorship marketing can help you target niche markets and build brand awareness, especially in your local market. But it takes more than putting your logo on a banner. Here’s how to spot an effective sponsorship opportunity and make it work to your brand’s advantage:

 

Choose affiliations wisely

Sponsoring an event signals that your business shares an affinity with an organization, says Mark G. Auerbach, a public relations professional in western Massachusetts. When he developed the sponsorship program for a public radio station, he says, he wanted to make sure the events the station sponsored were the right match for its mission.  “As a public radio station, we were unlikely to sponsor a wrestling match,” he says.

 

Carla Wood, founder of the ALL Strategy business leadership program based in Vancouver, B.C., adds that an effective affiliation can serve as a referral. “If a potential client is passionate about this organization and you’re sponsoring it consistently, then you have a connection,” Wood says. The converse is also true: avoid partnering with a group that could lead to negative associations with your brand.

 

Know what you’re getting in return

Sponsorship has a return on investment, Wood says. Here’s how to make sure it works in your business’s favor:

  • Events allow you to target a niche market. Make sure your target client group is present at the event or will be reached by it.
  • Determine what kind of exposure your brand will receive. Ask for the organization to mention your firm in social media posts, or to give your business cards or fliers to participants. Auerbach also suggests offering more in exchange for exclusivity: To be the event’s only sponsoring accountant or sporting goods store, for example.
  • Be involved in the event. Ask if you can set up a booth to gain exposure to potential customers. “It’s a pretty grassroots approach to building a business,” Wood says.
  • Publicize your participation to people in your own marketing database, and encourage them to attend or get involved.

 

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Negotiate

Don’t feel pressured to answer a request over the phone, or to accept the sponsorship package as is, Wood says. Consider the proposal in private, and offer a counter proposal if you wish.

 

Budget and plan

Include sponsorship in your company’s marketing budget and stick to it. This will also help you handle multiple requests and decline gracefully, Wood says. It also helps to publicize the types of requests your firm accepts, as Wood does with ALL Strategy’s Generosity Alliances, an initiative that details the kind of organizations and causes that her company supports.

 

Finally, Wood says, don’t confuse sponsorship with philanthropy. “If that’s your choice, be generous,” she says. “But if you’re doing it for a strategic business purpose, there’s a different follow-up to make it valuable.”

 

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

 

Marketing-Thumb.pngIncrease engagement with customers – old and new – by making your business mobile friendly. Check out our new infographic, Make Your Business Mobile, to see how you can better position your company for the future.


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Loyalty_thumb.pngBuilding relationships with your customers is essential for any small business owner. Read our new guide to learn how you can better engage your customers and increase brand awareness through loyalty programs.

 

Click here to download the Small Business Guide to Customer Loyalty Programs (PDF).

 


You have no shortage of options when it comes to ways to grow your business: You could add a new product line, open a new location, hire a salesperson, get a loan or expand production.

 

However, you would be hard-pressed to find a better, more lucrative, and faster-growing option than e-commerce. Total online shopping has seen double-digit growth each year for at least the past five years in a row. There really is nowhere else you can look to in the economy and expect to find this kind of growth for as far as the eye can see. According to the consulting firm A.T. Kearney, “an online presence [has become] a low-risk way to test new markets and complement existing store footprints.”

 

It would behoove you to hop aboard the e-commerce train because not only is it leaving the station, it is gathering a big head of steam as it does.

 

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How do you do that? Here’s how, in four easy steps:

Step 1. Get an e-store: An e-commerce store consists of two parts.

 

The first part is the front end of the store – this is the website your site visitors see. Think about Amazon.com. When you visit that giant e-retailer, you encounter deals, specials, a shopping cart, product descriptions, and so on. That’s the front end.

 

The back end of your store is the part that only you see. This is where you would have a dashboard that displays your inventory, sales figures, checkout system, and other important analytics.

 

So when starting your e-commerce research, you will want to look for a provider/solution that offers an elegant looking front end and an easy-to-navigate back end.

 

Step 2. Get a merchant account: The front and back end of your store allow you to take orders and track merchandise, but they do not actually process payments. For that you will need a merchant account. A merchant account is an account with a financial institution that processes credit card or other online payments. Bank of America offers a full range of merchant services and products.


Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

Step 3. Upload products into your store: There are two ways to sell products online. You can either sell your own products, or you can sell someone else’s products, which is called drop shipping.

 

In the case of the former, it is really just a matter of taking good-looking digital photographs of your physical inventory, uploading them onto your site using your dashboard, and then adding snappy product descriptions.

 

For the new e-commerce entrepreneur however, drop shipping offers an attractive alternative. There are literally thousands of wholesalers and distributors who have products for you to sell. As you do your research, look for those who offer to sell their wares via drop shipment. With drop shipping, you upload pictures of the wholesaler’s products onto your site and the beauty is that you do not actually need to stock the items or fulfill the orders – the drop shipper does all of that for you.

 

So the way it works is this: You upload the drop shippers’ products onto your site and sell them. When an order comes in, both you and the drop shipper receive notice. Payment goes partially to you and partially to the drop shipper, and the drop shipper sends out the product to the buyer.

 

Step 4. Fulfillment: Of course, you will need to fulfill and ship the orders if you are not working with a drop shipper.

 

This is not a little detail. Sending out orders on time, accurately estimating the cost of shipping, dealing with returns and refunds and guarantees are where you make and break your name in the world of online sales.  But, if you do it right, you will capture your share of this emerging new bonanza of a marketplace.

 

About Steve Strauss

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 listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

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.

©2015 Bank of America Corporation

 


QA-MartinZwilling.jpgMartin Zwilling spent most of his career in corporate America, holding senior positions at companies such as IBM and Fujitsu Software, and honing his expertise in computer software development, product management, and marketing. But perhaps his greatest impact will stem from giving back to entrepreneurs that are working at turning their dreams and passions into viable businesses. As founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, his Fountain Hills, Arizona-based company, Zwilling mentors entrepreneurs and startup founders worldwide as an angel investor and consultant. Business writer Robert Lerose recently spoke with Zwilling, author of Do You Have What It Takes To Be An Entrepreneur?, about the road to startup success.


Click here to download the PDF.

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