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Crowdsourcing_Body.jpgBy Robert Lerose.


Crowdsourcing is a way to capitalize on the ideas, energy, and resources of large groups of people through efficient and timely means. Combining the words "crowd" and "outsourcing," crowdsourcing is like asking for the help of the crowd to meet an objective, instead of the more traditional route of handpicking a service provider and contracting with them to perform a task. Some people cite the creation of Wikipedia as an example of crowdsourcing, where "the crowd" contributed to the encyclopedia rather than a hired team of experts.


Since there are different types of crowdsourcing, it gives small businesses the freedom to choose a form that could work for them on a given project. David Bratvold, the founder of Daily Crowdsource, a San Diego, California-based open-format website, offers these perspectives on the most popular forms.


1. Crowdsource design

A business looking for a new design can state what it needs, how much it will pay, what the deadline is—and then turn to the crowd to get the work done. "By doing design this way, crowdsourcing actually increases the quality and decreases the price, compared to online freelancing," Bratvold explains.


Crowdsourcing_PQ.jpg2. Crowdfunding

Asking people to give you money for your project is another example of crowdsourcing. Bratvold says that non-profits and start-ups typically use this method to help fund their projects. Again, be clear about the amount you need to raise, your deadline, and any incentives to the crowd. If you don't raise your stated goal before the deadline—usually fewer than 60 days—the monies must be returned.


3. Microtasks

Let's say you have 1,000 photos that each needs a caption. With microtasking, you can split the work up among the crowd and get the work done quickly—sometimes seeing the results within just a few minutes. Paying for a microtask can cost as little as a few pennies for each response.


4. Open innovation

If you're having trouble settling on a business opportunity, getting the input of people from different niches is the idea behind open innovation. Bratvold says that this can be done using a dedicated web platform for feedback from outside your company or just by reaching out to employees within your own company. Put another way: open innovation is a way to get people from different sectors and with different specialties to collaborate and help you get your idea off the ground.


While crowdsourcing can often generate ideas quickly for a relatively small investment, be aware of its downsides. It is imperative to give clear instructions when addressing the crowd to avoid getting swamped with inappropriate responses that waste your time. The submitted work can vary, too, so install some form of quality control.


Crowdsourcing may not work for every business or task, but it is still another way to harness the power of the Internet to generate new ideas, relationships, and funding.

BestShipping_Body.jpgBy Cathie Ericson.


E-commerce continues to dominate the shopping landscape, with 2015 holiday sales growing more than 13 percent. Small businesses, which typically have fewer elves in their workshops, must be prepared to fulfill a projected deluge of sales in the crucialand shortholiday shopping period.


“As a small business owner, it's important to recognize customers’ expectations have changed exponentially regarding shipping timing,” says Mark Aselstine, owner of Uncorked Ventures, a wine club and gift basket business.


When he started his online wine club six years ago, customers were fine with monthly shipping, but now immediate gratification has become the norm, thanks to the rise of services like Amazon Prime. “Small businesses need to keep up, especially during the holidays,” he notes.

Here are some smart ways small businesses can ship their goods efficientlyat the holidays and year-round:

1. Stock up on supplies

Pre-purchase all the boxes, packing materials, labels and tape you'll need for the holiday season beforehand and stage them for ease of access, recommends Tao Wong, a marketing consultant who runs several e-commerce businesses through PDB Sales Inc.


See if you can lower the cost of the shipping supplies by looking into envelopes, rather than boxes, for example. For his part, Wong swears by polybags. “They are inexpensive to buy and ship, and one of the most flexible shipping supplies available since they can be used for domestic, international, first class and Priority Mail,” he says.

2. Prepare shipments in advance

For Aselstine, that means prepacking gift baskets and wine club shipments. “We work to get our ongoing members’ packages out as early as possible in the month,” he says, which leaves staff free for the last-minute online purchases that are sure to come in.


Pre-packing items works especially well for businesses that have a few bestsellers. “If you know which products you sell consistently and in what quantities, pre-pack and label them so they’re ready to go,” advises Wong.


3. Do your homework on shipping rates

USPS, UPS, FedEx and moreeach small business needs to balance convenience, cost, and dependability to choose a preferred method. Will von Bernuth of Block Island Organics recommends using a tool like or pbSmartPostage to print postage and take advantage of the best USPS shipping rates—commercial rates offered for high volumes that small businesses might not otherwise qualify for. These postage platforms also integrate with many order management and e-commerce systems, points out von Bernuth. “This eliminates the time and error associated with manually entering shipping addresses,” he says.


4. Schedule your pickups for convenience

“We pre-schedule pickups from UPS, our preferred carrier, as soon as the time slots are made available, usually about two weeks out,” says Aselstine, who opts for the latest time slots offered each day.


Wong uses USPS’ app to schedule his pickups. “We then provide our carrier with a big bag and a scannable inventory sheet for efficient pickups,” he says.

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