Monthly Archives: March 2016

Using Local Marketing to Increase Sales

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You might have a humble local business selling lawnmowers or painting the outside of homes in the community.  You hear and see all the big brands spending millions of dollars on fancy video advertising and retargeting ads on every corner of the web and social media.  How can you possibly compete with that?

One of the main challenges as a small business is figuring out how and where to use your limited marketing budget for maximum effectiveness.  The rise of digital marketing has replaced some local marketing techniques but others are as effective as ever.  Let’s talk about some ways you can reach local customers with your marketing efforts.

Everybody loves free stuff

If you are selling an intangible product such as legal or consulting services, it can be difficult to use free samples or giveaways for marketing purposes. However, any business that sells an actual physical product can use the time-honored strategy of simply giving some of it away for free. This works well because the friction between customer and business that normally precedes a sales transaction virtually disappears when the transaction is reframed as a simple give away or trial. Sometimes the best marketing can be the product itself.  If it works well, with the customers enjoying the product, then they will tell their friends and the word of mouth campaign blossoms.

Local sponsorships

One of the most effective ways to sponsor something is to support a local event, relating the event to your product sales. For example, if you run a custom boat detailing company you may want to sponsor a water ski show that happens at a local lake.  Or if you sell insurance, you can sponsor a weekend radio show about investments and risk.

The key to discovering these opportunities is to get out of your office and get involved in the community.  Many of these events are free and run by volunteers, so like your small business they struggle to market their events and would love to partner with a small business.  These sponsorships will also cost a tiny fraction of other marketing efforts; however, they will reach customers in your target area.

Use Facebook groups

Many businesses think of Facebook or other social media as a one-way street.  The business posts something and people like it or respond.  Rarely does a conversation continue past 1 or 2 postings.

A different approach, with more potential to find and attract local customers, is to use your page to interact better with clients.  Facebook and others sites have communities within their platform, such as Facebook groups, that are organized around a theme, location, or interest.

Becoming part of your community to drive business is not just opening a physical location in that community but it also requires you to position your digital brand in the correct virtual communities.  This helps customers discover your local brand and also give you a reputation boost as a good corporate citizen.

Small Town Marketing In The Big City

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You are a small fish in a big pond.  Your local business just opened up in a city of hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people.  Spreading the word about what sets you apart from other businesses is key for the success any new business.  But, how can you compete with all the other companies?

Be Different

Big companies may have bigger marketing budgets, possibly using outside firms to handle their marketing and advertising. Yet, this does not mean you cannot compete and thrive.

One advantage that you have as a small business is that you can afford to take risks.  You do not have any reputation to tarnish or any shareholders to scrutinize your marketing.  Use this to your advantage and be different.  Any good business owner should know what their competition is doing and there is bound to be a way for you to do something different. For example, if you are starting a new bank and all the other banks in town are trying to lure deposits with cash bonuses on sign up, offer something different such as a grill or a local team jersey.

These personal touches will help you stand out from the others, aligning your message that you are local and personal unlike the competition.

Use your own image in your marketing

Why do real estate agents use pictures of themselves instead of the firm they work for?

The reason is that for many services, people want to work with a real live human rather than some ambiguous giant company where they never talk to the same person twice.

For many people, price is not the only thing they take into consideration; other factors determine whom they will utilize.  Many people feel that someone they can trust is someone who has ties to the same community.  Big companies can gain a bad reputation because of their lack of presence in the community, which is impossible due to their size.  Step in and be the local business that customers want and your business will flourish.

Partner up

You will never see the two largest Banks in the country partner up on a charity event because they are competitors. Your small business is different though. You might be able to team up with a competitor, pooling your resources, possibly cross selling to each other’s customers. For example, authors who are constantly struggling for readers could collaborate with other authors to cross promote books.

Apply this principle in your business.  If you sell cookies, partner with the local florist to include them as an option in arrangements.  If you sell custom wheels, see if the local mechanic would offer to sell your product and they can increase their revenue from installing the wheels on customers’ cars.

These cross promotions are any easy, effective, and affordable method for growing your brand while obtaining customers that love what you do.

Conclusion

Nothing is harder than running a small business in a giant city.  Getting the word out about your mission and product or service is vital to the long-term growth of your business.  A personal, creative, and local touch in your marketing efforts will help drive the message home that you focus on each and every customers you serve.

The Fundamentals of Business Insurance – Liability AND Interruption Insurance

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When starting up a new business, insurance is not always at the top of your to-do list. But it should be your biggest priority. Whilst it is not easy to know what kind of insurance you need for your start-up, you need to have a solid understanding of the risks you face and how you can mitigate these though the right kind of insurance policy. Liability insurance is one thing, but what do you know about the crucially important (and often forgotten) interruption insurance?

Even if you are a small operation, having just started up, you will require insurance. There are different kinds of insurance for businesses, ranging from business owner’s policy and commercial auto insurance to worker’s compensation and data breach (and many more). At a minimum you will require liability insurance, even if you are just a one-man company and operate from home.

Liability Insurance

Liability insurance is coverage that protects your business from financial loss in case of damage caused to a third party. This means that if you, your employees or services cause Bodily Injury or Property Damage to a third party and you are required to pay damages to the affected person, you are covered. This type of insurance is a basic requirement. It is easy to set up and can save your business from going bankrupt should any accidents happen. If your business involves heavy labor, transport or dealing with the public, this becomes especially important.

Business Interruption insurance

Most small business owners have a grasp on what liability insurance is and why it is important, but few are aware how crucial business interruption insurance is. It is often lost amongst all the other types of coverage available – and to the detriment of business owners.

Business interruption insurance covers loss of income following an unforeseen event. Unforeseen events include things like fire, floods, earthquakes, and other unavoidable natural disasters that render your company inoperable. Other unforeseen events include vandalism, civil unrest, and faulty equipment. Some business interruption insurance will be more specific and cover things like hacking or computer viruses.

The importance of this kind of cannot be overstated. Imagine that your company premises are damaged by fire. You are unable to complete orders and yet you are still paying for staff and other costs. Your reputation is damaged and you have lost most or all of your income for the time your operations are down. This could render you company unable to service its outgoings and could make you bankrupt. Business interruption insurance ensures that your income for the affected period is covered. If the worst happens, it can keep your business afloat. It will cover loss of earnings and any increase in costs in running your business as a result of the unforeseen event.

Check your Business Owner’s Policy or Property Insurance

Business interruption insurance is often included in your business owner’s policy or property insurance, but you cannot trust that it is. Check your policy to see if it is included in your contract. If not, ask your insurance provider to include it or take out a separate policy. Many business owner’s polices include this as standard, but not at all and for others it will be an optional extra. Always make sure!

6 Ways to Increase Employee Engagement for the Small Enterprise

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All companies, especially small and medium sized enterprises, rely on their staff to be productive and add value. The core concept that underlines productivity is employee engagement, and if your firm doesn’t have a proactive plan for engaging with your workforce, you are behind the curve.

Employee engagement is the mental attitude staff take towards their job and employer. An engaged employee is invested and is motivated to perform highly.

 

A new study by Deloitte has revealed that there is a fundamental shift in the dynamic between employer and employee, with new models focussing on staffing needs as a means to enhance engagement, leading to increased productivity.

A Gallup 2014 Poll Stated that only 13 percent of employees surveyed are “highly engaged,” and 26 percent are “actively disengaged.” Remember that the 13 % of engaged employees are the ones who add value, and your small firm must increase this percentage as much as possible.

Transparency

One of the key elements to engaging on a personal (non-professional) level, is earning people’s trust by including them in your plans and sharing your thoughts and vision. This applies exactly the same to the corporate sphere. Informing your staff of short, medium and long term company  goals and strategy is a way to gain employee’s trust, making them feel included in the future of the company. It allows staff to understand how they fit in the wider company context, which is psychologically very important.

Opportunities for Growth

Whilst some people are happy performing their current job, many employees will be looking to advance their careers. If a firm is looking to retain its brightest and best, it must provide pathways to progression, making it clear that there are options open to them. For a small firm with no clear corporate structure, it is crucial to identify your best talent and find ways for them to spearhead new areas of growth.

Flexibility

Companies are increasingly using technology to allow flexible working conditions like remote working and flexible schedules. Cloud computing and bring your own device make this easy and affordable, so there is no excuse for not taking advantage. A happy employee who is able to manage their other commitments is more likely to be a productive employee.

Give Staff Decision Making Power

Many people, especially your most ambitious and talented, crave empowerment. The people who will really make a difference will never be content with simply following orders. Give employees the power to make decisions and to assume responsibility. Instead of telling staff how to do something, tell them what to do, and let them find their own way of implementing it. You may be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

Humanise Management

Authoritarian methods of management disengage staff. Turn managers into coaches and mentors who nurture and support, rather than simply demanding results. Managers must become personally invested in developing staff and understand the value of praise and performance recognition.

Define your Mission

Create a vision for your firm or department. Aside from making money, what does your company do and why does it exist? Make it clear that your company has a defined goal and that all operations or processes, no matter how small contribute to this goal. This gives even the most mundane task a purpose and value.

Mixing business with pleasure while on the road

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You can travel for business, retaining your business travel deductions as well as personally enjoy your trip, even extending it for pleasure. Does this sound too good to be true? Well you will be surprise to know that many frequent business travelers have found ingenious ways of cramming some personal enjoyment in a trip without angering their companies or the IRS.  Here is how.

Know the Tricks of the Trade

Like anything else in life there are a few simple tricks that go a long way to making something work.  Knowing that hotels and plane tickets cost more on certain days of the week than others, can help you plan out personal vacation days before or after your company trip.

A great suggestion is to enjoy less expensive attractions on the weekend if your business occurs during the week.

Keep Detailed Records

When it comes to tax time and to avoid any questioning of your commitment to your employer, keep detailed records of your time and travel.  Keep all receipts digitally with the help of a scanner, which is an excellent tool.  Remember many companies will pay for things up front and then others must be reimbursed, such as meals.  Having receipts or documentation of these expenses can be the difference between receiving reimbursed in full or not at all.

Help your employer understand the advantages

A great way to add personal travel on the back of your business trip is to help your employer understand the advantages of doing such a thing.  Maybe instead of flying home Thursday, you could stay an extra day and try to network, meeting with local clients on Friday.  The rest of the weekend could be yours as personal time for exploring as you see fit.

Employers love when their employees show initiative going above and beyond what is expected.  If you manage to show them how a change of plans can also save the company money, perhaps flying on a different day, they are more likely to entertain you mixing business with pleasure too.

Taxes and Finances

Making sure business and personal expenses are on two different credit cards, is just one way to ensure proper separation of differing expenses.  It is also important to have a strong understanding of IRS laws surrounding business deductions.  Meals are usually deductible. However, if your trip is mostly personal all your travel expenses may be no longer deductible.

It is also advisable to have some sort of tracking system that can help you reconcile expenses, so you do not lose deductions or tax credits.  Mint or an accounting program like Quicken can help with this task and even compile the information directly from your linked accounts.

Honesty is the best policy

It is important to be open and honest with your employer about your travel plans.  If they catch you blurring the line between company and personal time they may restrict your business travel in the future.  The longer one works for a company the more leeway they generally obtain from an employer. If your work does not suffer, either at home or abroad, there may be little reason for them to object.

Conclusion

Traveling while holding a full time job can be difficult in today’s hectic and busy world.  Traveling for work may provide an excuse for you to add some personal travel while away for home.  If you follow a few simple rules and a little common sense, you can mix your personal travel with your business travel.

It is important to diligently track your personal and business expenses while traveling.  It will also make your life easier if you help your employer understand how combining these two types of travel will save them money, not affect your productivity, and is a win-win for all involved.

Five ways to keep B2B content engaging

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Creating engaging B2B content is a significant challenge for many companies. Creating B2B content that stands out from the crowd, grabs attention and cuts through the noise of an increasingly crowded online marketplace is a much bigger challenge.

According to a report by the Content Marketing Institute, 90 percent of B2B organizations use some form of content marketing. At the same time, The Content Marketing Institute reports 54 percent of small B2B and 58 percent of enterprise organizations find the idea of creating engaging content a serious challenge.

So what exactly is “engaging” content? And what are the successful, outside-of-the-box content tactics that you should embrace and can separate you from the competition?

What do they really want to hear? At the base level, think about what your customers really want to hear about, and then figure out how to deliver it. Beyond being informative and accurate, have fun with your content and keep it light. Strive to be creative, informal, and most of all yourself as you showcase your firm. Offer opinions and insight of current events and industry happenings, and springboard your content of daily news. Remember that clients are coming to you for information about how to run their businesses.

The power of infographics. Infographics offer a fun yet informative way to package data and a wide range of information to your customers that is quick and easy to digest. They have a long shelf life and are great on social media platforms because they can be reposted and shared easily without much effort.

Why not video? The popularity of video shouldn’t be a surprise. Who wants to read 1,000 words online when you can watch a two-minute video? Beyond posting video on your website or embedding it in a blog, utilize social media to push video content and create a video channel on YouTube that is easily found in Google search results and is more engaging than text-based content.

Think about eBooks. Adding a new, complimentary media channel will only improve online integration, engagement and visibility. Create a centerpiece of all your content – much of which you likely already have produced – with embedded slideshows, galleries, videos and infographics in one interactive space that highlights your content.

Truly interactive content. Quality content is a conversation and a two-way street. If done right, interactive content can be a dynamic space to solicit, capture and hold attention. Think about interactive product demos, facilitate engagement on your mobile apps or offer free trials of your product. Take it one step farther by creating a community page of all your social media platforms that feeds in from all your accounts and products to serve as an interactive hub for your customers.

How to Get a Tax Deduction for your Home Office

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One of the ways to protect the viability of your business is to take advantage of all tax deductions available. They can mean a significant difference in what you pay in taxes and small business owners should be familiar with the options open to them. Finding out and applying for a Home Office Tax Deduction can be complex; also, there are strict criteria that must be met. Here we make getting your home office as easy and simple as possible.

What can be claimed as Deductible Expenses?

Tax deductible expenses include mortgage interest, insurance, utilities, repairs, depreciation and more. Direct expenses like renovations for the office (and only the office) that includes costs like paint, remodeling, carpets, and similar items can be deducted in full. Non-direct expense like utilities must be calculated as a proportion of the office space in relation to the home, because such expenses are not only for your office space and separating the two is crucial.

What are the Criteria I must meet?

The IRS has clearly defined criteria that must be met. All expenses must pertain to costs relating to your business activity that are demonstrably separate from personal activity. This means that your home office must consist of a separate room/s in the house used exclusively for business purposes. Alternatively, it can be within a room used for personal purposes but in a clearly designated part of the room used exclusively for business. The type of home does not matter (duplex/apartment etc.) and there are no restrictions on numbers of inhabitants.

Two Ways to Claim your Home Office Tax Deduction

There are two different options to claim for your Home Office Tax Deduction, “The Regular Method” and the “Simplified Option”. You should choose whichever is easier and more cost effective for your circumstances. The Regular Method involves calculating expenses incurred such as heating, internet, rent etc. and submitting a total of the expenses as a proportion of the office space in relation to the home. Therefore, if your home is 200 square feet and your office is 50 square feet, you claim for 25% of your costs incurred.

The Simplified Option is designed to be more straightforward, allowing you to calculate the amount by simply multiplying the square footage of your office space by a figure given by the IRS. It is up to you to decide which will be more beneficial to you. The far easier option however, is the “Simplified Option.”

Choose the Simplified Option If…

Choose the Simplified Option if your home office is less than 300 square feet. This allows you to claim $5 per square foot of office space. For small businesses run from home in a spare room, this is ideal. Most experts recommend that if you have small home office of less than 100 square feet, you are better off using the simplified option.

Choose the Regular Method If…

If you have an office space of more than 100 square feet, can accurately record and present your expenses, are willing to have them scrutinized by the IRS and are able to wait longer to receive the tax deduction then choose the regular method. For office spaces of more than 100 square feet, you will usually receive a greater reduction than with the simplified method.

Be Careful when Claiming for Depreciation

If you choose the Regular Method and claim for tax reductions for office depreciation, then this has implications on capital gains tax. In short, the amount you claim in tax deduction for depreciation is liable for tax when you sell your home. This is something important to consider. Read more here

Encourage employees to fight zombie power suckers  

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Small Energy Savings Add Up Big For Your Business

Don’t have the time or money to perform a complete overhaul of your furnace and heating system?  Has your building owner been slow to fix maintenance issues that are costing you more and more money on your monthly utility bills?

The life of business owners who rents or owns their own property is tough.  Not only do they have to run their business but also have to deal with issues related to the real estate or space they are occupying.

Here are a few quick and affordable ways to help you save money on energy costs to give you more cash flow to invest in your business.

 

Install a wireless thermostat with remote sensors

Many homeowners are reaping the benefits of advanced technology present in new thermostats.  They can control the thermostat from their smart phone when they are not home, adjust temperature in rooms separately, and some thermostats even learn how the homeowner uses their energy and suggests ways to save.

Business owners can benefit from this innovative technology too.  Depending on your type of business, you may have rooms or storage areas that need to be radically different temperatures.  Or maybe a particular area is only used once a week.  A modern thermostat with sensors spread across your building or work location can feed valuable information that can help the savvy business owner save huge on utility bills.

A few hours of caulking and weather stripping can save thousands

If your budget is tight and you are looking for quick ways to save money that have a high return from the start, this can be a great option.

A simple handyman, some caulk, and a few hours of time can sweep an entire building and fix trouble areas that have simply worn away over time or were not caulked properly the first time.  This is especially helpful on older buildings that have not been recently renovated.

Seal of those pesky leaks and watch as the energy savings pile up as you are now heating or cooling only the inside and not the entire world outside your building.

Install LED bulbs, even if you think you replaced them already

By now, everyone has heard about replacing older bulbs with ones that are dramatically more energy efficient.  It is to the point where this advice is no longer taught, it is simply in the common conscience.

Yet, many businesses, buildings, houses, still have older bulbs that need to be replaced.  Perhaps the previous owners thought they had already been upgraded or maybe they missed more obscure bulbs like those in the garage or furnace room.

A thorough scouring of every corner of the property that has a light will surely turn up a few rogue bulbs that need changing.

Surprisingly, new bulbs like T8 fluorescents actually help with cooling bills too.  The amount of heat older model bulbs generate is not insignificant; all of those bulbs can add a few degrees to the overall heat in the building.  LED or high intensity discharge bulbs are cooler, helping reduce energy usage in more ways than one.

Encourage employees to fight zombie power suckers

Energy or power zombies are devices that consume a substantial amount of power while plugged in but turned off.

According to the IEA, devices still using power while switched off or in sleep mode waste up to $80 billion worth of electricity per year.  That is the equivalent of 133 coal-fueled power plants running full steam year round.

Virtually all devices nowadays do this such as televisions, computers, printers, cell phone charges, etc.  Encouraging employees to combat zombie power draining can put a big dent in the monthly utility bill.

A great way to make this process less of a hassle is to utilize power strips.  Hooking all devices that don’t need to be constantly on during the workday can be on the same strip.  A simple button can then turn off all the zombies in one fell swoop.

Consider solar panels or encourage your landlord to do so

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the cost of installed solar electricity has fallen 73 percent in the past nine years.  This combined with the decreasing cost of installing the panels and infrastructure upfront along with tax credits from the government now make solar a viable option for more and more businesses and buildings than ever before.

How much you can take advantage of this trend will of course depend upon your situation.  If you are renting, there is not much you can do other than encourage your building owner to consider solar panels.

If you own your own office, however, there is little reason not to have some solar panels installed or at least get a quote.  Virtually all buildings have empty, unused space on the roof just staring at the sun waiting to capture its free energy.