Handling Small Business Stress

Handling Small Business Stress

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There are only two ways to make a living in this world – working for someone else or working for yourself.

If you’re an employee, unless something serious goes wrong, you have a reasonable expectation of stability, certainty and knowledge of where your next paycheck is coming from. Depending on your employer, you may have good benefits and potential to advance in your career. The risk-reward ratio of a salaried job is low to medium and suits the majority of people just fine. But, as the saying goes, nobody ever got rich working for a salary.

As a self-employed person or small-business owner, however, you are entirely responsible for your own income – and, if you have employees, for their income, too. There’s always the chance that you will be wildly successful, but that possibility is tempered by the very real risk of failure, sudden changes in the market, and a host of other risks. The risk-reward ratio is high and, for a small percentage of people, worth it.

Accept that you will undergo stress

If you’re considering working for yourself or starting your own company because you’re tired of working long hours, many rounds of golf with clients, or getting up at whatever time of day you feel like it, prepare yourself for failure right now. Because, as any successful small-business owner will tell you, it’s going to take a massive amount of very hard work, long hours, and the ever-present risk of losing it all. It can be a very high-stress venture and knowing how to deal with that risk could make the difference between pushing through the lean times and packing it all in for a nice, stable salary. Your first step is to accept the fact that you are going to experience stress and prepare yourself to deal with it.

Focus on what’s in front of you

It’s always a good idea to have a plan A, B, and C in place to deal with foreseeable contingencies; however, it’s impossible to foresee every scenario, so don’t spend all your time planning for what might go wrong. Have one or maybe two backup plans in place, then focus on what you’re trying to achieve – after all, the cost of reward is risk. Deal with each problem as it arises – don’t spend fruitless time worrying about what may happen. At the same time, don’t put off dealing with an issue for too long; both of these habits will cause you far too much unnecessary stress.

Have a release valve

For some self-employed people it’s a daily walk with the dog, for others it’s a weekly art class. Whatever it is, everyone, no matter how busy, needs time away from work to allow the mind to shut off, focus on other things and remember that there really is more to life than work. Unfortunately, for too many people that ends up being the instant gratification of alcohol or drugs, so take the time to find something worthwhile. Before you even choose the name of your new company, find something that can serve as your release valve and stick with it – you’ll thank yourself later for it!

Business Best Practices

Learning Business Best Practices From The Big Companies

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Best Business Practice – Learning From the Best

Every day, thousands of start-up companies are born. The majority of them will fail, but a few will succeed and it’s all because they followed a few simple strategies that are followed by large, successful corporations.  If you’re thinking of opening your own small business, or already own one, try these tips to help you grow your business in the right direction.

Management

Whether you’re a one-man operation or a small group, effective management is essential for success. For the single-person operation, make sure you manage your time, efforts, resources and relationships with clients well. If you have a few employees, be certain that you are managing them to the best of their ability – ensuring you have people with the right skills for the job, making certain their talents are being used to your best benefit, and keeping an eye on how their time is being used. If you aren’t maximising the time they spend at your offices, you need to reconsider how they work.

Service

No matter how big or small, delivering the best possible customer service is absolutely vital. For a large company, one or two disgruntled customers can be managed, placated, or even written off if there’s no pleasing the customer. For a small business, the loss of one or two repeat customers can be disastrous. Define your customer service strategy, make sure you and your client understand what will be delivered, how it will be delivered, and when it will be delivered – then stick to that!

Finances

Especially if you’re quite busy, it’s easy to let the finances slide. Sure, you may be sending out invoices and getting money in, but is that money being properly managed? Are your bills, taxes and salaries being paid on time and accurately? Is there any way you could be investing some of that money to help it grow? If you have plans to expand and need a business loan from your bank, do you have clear cash-flow projections, income and expenditure analysis? Unless you are a financial whizz-kid and are able to not only do your work, manage your company and keep all the finances perfectly in order, you may need an accountant – even a part-time or freelance one.

Skills transfer

One of the greatest risks with a small company is specialisation. The more niche your product or service, the more difficult it is to find the right people to do the work. And even if you find those people, there’s no guarantee they will be around forever and if they leave, they take not only their skills, but everything they’ve learned with them. This can cause a massive skills shortage for your company. Make sure that all knowledge gained within your company is shared, written down, kept alive, so that it can be passed on and not lost along with a prized employee.

Marketing

Effective marketing is absolutely critical for any small business. If nobody knows you exist, they won’t be able to use you – it’s really that simple. You don’t need to spend millions on that marketing, though. Look at current marketing that works – use social media to its best advantage, be present in your marketplace, keep your brand story alive and active. If you find something that works, use it – just don’t use it to death, and don’t use just that idea.

Keeping a small business running takes plenty of effort, but it can be done. Use these techniques to help make sure your business works, and you could see your company grow beyond your dreams.

Best Tax Apps

Best Tax Apps

By | Tech, Tools, Gadgets and Apps | No Comments

Mint.com

Mint.com and the mobile Mint app are not tax apps per say, but instead are a solution for your overall financial life such as budgeting, investments, expenses, planning, etc. The best feature as it relates to taxes is the ability to categorize all your expenses.

This allows your accountant or you to identify possible deductions for business expenses such as a car, computer, supplies, or anything else related to your business and personal life that may be deductible. Rather than having to dig through 12 months of bank and credit card statements, with a few clicks you can pull up all your categorized expenses for the year.

Mint and its tracking of your entire financial life (if you let it) can also come in handy if you are the subject of an IRS audit. Knowing precise numbers for income and expenses, as well as the dates they occurred can make preparing for an audit and surviving one that much easier.

Quick Tax Reference by Bloomberg

This handy little tax app can help you as you prepare to file online or via the paper application. The best features are the reminders and simple explanations for things like estate tax, Alternative Minimum Tax, and capital gains. Also detailed are the timeframes for filing individual returns, extensions, business taxes, and other related schedules to ensure all your paperwork is in IRS hands when it should be.

My Pocket CPA

For a low $10 fee, my pocket CPA lets you ask a detailed question as it relates to taxes. This can be much more affordable than having to hire an accountant or lawyer. Combined with your general knowledge and a free online filing software, you can get an accurate and affordable tax return prepared. The app can provide information on simple questions, which can easily be found through a Google search. The best feature and main point of this app is for the more complicated questions you might have that only a qualified CPA can answer.

IRS2GO

The official app of the IRS is barebones. The main feature, however, is the ability to check the status of your tax return. With every year having more identify theft issues, many filers now have to go through additional verification steps to ensure that they are the “true” owner of their return. Processing times can also increase during peak times, so the ability to see what stage your return is in from a quick and simple app on your phone is a great peace of mind to have in your pocket.

Cloud Computing

How to get your company to adopt cloud computing

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Most top companies already use cloud computing

If your company is reluctant to switch to cloud computing or other cloud services, perhaps a bit of credibility for those services is in order.  You can show your company that many top companies such as IBM, Google, Cisco, and other Fortune 500 companies are already using cloud computing and have been for some time.

Your company may not care or model their enterprise after these successful companies. Sometimes knowing that your investment or undertaking is not something brand new; but an idea proven in the marketplace to be effective can be comforting to a hesitant employer.

Emphasize the benefits

Cloud computing has a multitude of benefits that far outweigh the downsides or switching pains. These issues can be illustrated in many ways to help your effort in encouraging the company to switch to cloud computing. Work with other departments of your company to show how cloud computing can improve all areas of business.

Draw up graphs or charts to show costs savings. Get testimonials from IT about how security and their daily workflow would improve. Show how cloud computing can help the business scale; expand more efficiently and faster than thought possible.

Cloud computing can also improve company culture by facilitating greater communication via the cloud.  Cloud services allow employees to work on files at the same time and from virtually anywhere.  This increased collaboration can boost productivity, improve employee relationships, and strengthen your team, allowing them to tackle bigger projects with more speed and efficiency.

Improved workforce options

Cloud computing and related technologies further allow employees to work remotely from anywhere with the internet.  Make the case to your employer that this technology allows them to expand the pool of employees they can recruit or choose from, especially if they have had difficulty finding qualified candidates in the past.

This can help employers save on overhead costs, as well, as remote employees generally require less overhead such as food, equipment, and transportation incentives such as pretax parking or public transportation reimbursement programs.

The company will also require less IT resources and in-house personnel, as they can more easily manage cloud services with a limited staff. The company can rely on the personnel of the service providing the cloud solutions to handle certain IT tasks such as security or maintenance. This combination of lower overhead, combined with greater workforce talent, can help offset company fears about the costs of switching as well as resistance from staff or employees to the change.

Project Management

How to avoid going over budget on a project

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Build a flex fund or contingency into the budget

A great budget that can last throughout the entire project and protect a company’s balance sheet is more than just estimating how much everything will cost.  No, it involves understanding the risk and realities of the project you are undertaking.  Be sure to have a portion of your budget allocated for contingencies or emergencies with undertaking the project.  This helps you stay on budget rather than having no backup plan and when unexpected expenses crop up, having to scramble to find the resources or shut the project down which wastes valuable time and money.

Ensure you have an amazing project manager/leader

The key to an efficient and smooth project is largely due to the manager or leader of the project.  This person’s job is to allocate the resources budgeted to the project properly, as well as motivates and organizes the staff to complete the project on schedule.  It is critical to ensure the project manager fully understands the scope of the project and ideally, has worked on or led a similar one before.  It is very difficult to complete a project or estimate its costs if you have never undertaken something similar. That unknown means a greater risk, which means the project is more likely to go over budget.

Organization and communication are key

Spending the first few days or weeks of a project, establishing a routine and system for organization and communication can seem like a waste of time on the surface. However, the more complicated the project, the more likely issues in these areas will arise.  Information and instructions passed along the chain can be misconstrued by different mid-level managers causing confusion in their subordinates.  Work completed which is not tracked and organized could be repeated unnecessarily–wasting time and money in the process.

A system, whether digitized or based on company hierarchy, can help keep your project on budget by increasing efficiency in all areas of the project.  Assumptions are a project’s worst enemy and can cause aspects of the project to have to be redone or changed after completion, which can ruin timelines and budgets in the process.

Establish a relationship with freelancers, outsourced help, and suppliers beforehand

Nothing can derail a project more than a key supplier not fulfilling an order or delivery as they previously expected. Even if they have a legitimate reason such as port delays or equipment repairs, projects often have a linear component that means they cannot move forward without certain aspects complete or in place.  If at all possible, you should work with suppliers, freelancers, and other outside the company, on small projects or one-off assignments before relying on them for a key component of a major project. This precaution will ensure that the vendor is reliable, indicating that you are a serious company and should be respected.  Mutual respect ensures the supplier follows through on their promise, on time, and assures the supplier they will be compensated for their efforts as you already have established your working relationship on previous projects.

Business Plan

Resources to help your write a business plan

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Understand your industry

If you plan to open an ecommerce store or a monthly wine service it can help your business and planning in many ways to start researching and studying the competition.  While you may not find a verbatim business plan that they made, either because they got lucky and didn’t make one or didn’t publish it to the public, your studying will help you capture all aspects of your industry without leaving a stone unturned.  The challenges, supplier issues, definition of target customer, headwinds, tailwinds–all these things become more apparent, clear, and will make writing your business plan much easier.

Once you know the challenges you are likely to face, your business plan can establish how you plan to tackle those and what resources you need to allocate to that task.  Of course, there will be a myriad of unexpected challenges along the way that you did not plan for, but your business plan could even address how you will respond to those in a general way.

Maybe your plan states you will use a line of credit or debt to handle situations like that or there is a lever on capital expenditures you can pull to reduce cash burn and shore up the balance sheet if an unforeseen event happens.

Look at templates or sample business plans

While every business plan will be different, utilizing a template or an existing plan as a reference can help you focus your plan to what really matters.  Often small business owners or budding entrepreneurs can romanticize or neglect certain areas of the business, such as less glamorous things like taxes or legal fees, to the detriment of their business.  While a business plan is a high-level view of your business as well as how it will operate, it is not uncommon for these plans to be tens of pages, often close to a hundred for very complex enterprises.

Don’t neglect the mission statement

Many businesses neglect their mission statement or hire it out to a freelance writer to produce in fancy, lofty language.  A mission statement is not an archaic concept that no longer applies to fast moving, bootstrapped technology startups, but is the foundation of your business identity and culture.

If you want to start a business in a saturated industry but plan to stand out because of x, then your mission statement should be focused around x.  There is a reason you think this venture is a good idea, and that is what the mission statement reflects.

That way, when looking back on your enterprise in the future or faced with a tough decision about the direction you should take; referring back to your mission statement can remind you of your original goals, intents, and help to refocus the company.

That is not to say a mission statement can’t be revised–it can and should, but a powerful, well thought out statement can do wonders for a company.  Johnson and Johnson has one of the best etched in stone at their headquarters, and as a result have become one of the most successful companies in the world.

A quick guide to pulling off Digital Marketing Integration

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Keep the marketing team cohesive

Often companies that are performing digital marketing such as Social Media, Targeted Ads, and other fancy techniques will have separate teams performing each function.  These teams do a great job but work in relative isolation, especially at larger companies.  A better way to obtain the marketing results you desire is to ensure these teams work together and that their efforts play off one another.  Data from social media and the types of people that interact or follow the company can be used to target ads to a better demographic or influence other areas of the overall marketing engine.
Integrate marketing in your product or service at every level

Marketing is not just something you should do to drive people to your website or product page.  Rather, it should be an important and integral part of everything you do.  With digital media marketing, the product or service can help market itself, sometimes achieving things for free that no paid marketing could ever accomplish.  A link at the end of your app, a flyer for your website or app included with every product shipped, or other traditional and digital combinations can pay off as well.  Leveraging both traditional and digital techniques to penetrate the marketplace and ensure your message is reaching your target customer is crucial to growing your brand and taking market share.

Email marketing is still king

Digital marketing can be overwhelming with all the choices a company can have on how to go about it.  From blogs and communities to product reviews and landing pages, the methods are endless and constantly evolving.  But, one method stands out above all others and has since the beginning– email marketing.  The best email marketing is one that is voluntary, that is, the customer has gone through a few steps and clicks to give you permission to market to them.

Why is this a more effective marketing system, because they are more likely to be engaged with your product or message.  A list of a thousand potential customers that only got on your list because they thought they were getting a free book are a lot less likely to buy something from you then those who voluntarily gave you their email or filled out a survey after purchasing from you.  This type of quality email list can also reduce the time you spend cleaning out and filtering the list and increase open rates and sales funnel success.

Email marketing is a long-term strategy whereas advertisements lose all effectiveness once they are no longer shown unless you pay to keep showing them.  A customer who doesn’t open or view your first few emails may eventually convert, for whatever reason, down the line.  They might have not seen your email, had it accidentally go to spam, or not trusted or been interested in your brand at the time.  Unless they unsubscribe altogether, you will always have the ability to enter their email box with your best shot and try to convince them.  Long-term marketing and repeat customers of the highest quality can be found through email marketing.  Remember what they say, ‘the money is in the list’.

Why The World needs More Young Entrepreneurs

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Young entrepreneurs are the backbone of the economy.  From creating jobs to advancing technology and improving our lives, these trailblazers embody the American spirit and are important to our success as a society and a nation.  Here are some of the reasons why the world needs more young entrepreneurs.

Inspiration

The world needs leaders, role models, and success stories to inspire and motivate individuals to exceed their given situation and accomplish things they never thought possible.  What is more inspiring than a young entrepreneur that created a successful business or an amazing new technology product and became wildly successful and wealthy in his or her twenties?

Young entrepreneurs bring a fresh perspective, an intimate knowledge of technology and the positives and negatives it can have since they grew up with tablets and the internet at a very young age, and help create jobs in places and sectors of the market that are growing and in demand.

It is rare to see a young entrepreneur open up a car factory or a textile plant.  Rather, they are focused on technology-oriented endeavors that will sculpt our future and increase the standard of living across the less developed world.

Bootstrapping

Bootstrapping is a startup concept or method of operations that involves growing and starting a business or enterprise without much capital, resources, or investors.  Typical bootstrap businesses are not making a profit yet, turning all their profits and revenue around into growing, advertising, and expanding their ventures.

As the economic cycle shifts and rising interest rates tighten access to capital from both debt and equity sources, bootstrapped businesses are likely to make a resurgence.  Young entrepreneurs lead the way in this field, as older entrepreneurs tend to favor the traditional ways of starting an enterprise that they learned in business school.  Older entrepreneurs are also more risk averse because of their mistakes, experiences, and looming retirements.

Young entrepreneurs are fearless, sometimes careless, but this allows them to challenge the status quo and help advance society in new and unforeseen ways.

Innocence and ignorance as advantages

Sometimes not being properly educated or having experience can be an advantage.  Traditional advice affirms that it is usually a disadvantage, but in today’s marketplace this is not always the case.  Sometimes it takes a visionary to accept that the way the world drinks coffee is not the best, that the taxi cab monopoly is not good for the environment or the consumer, or that there is a better way to store our files then local hard drives prone to failure and tampering.

An entrepreneur with typical business experience and a typical education struggles to come up with a creative and innovative idea, but the young entrepreneur can live outside these restrictions.

Young entrepreneurs also prefer to work with colleagues and employees that are similar in age and temperament to themselves.  The more these individuals are allowed to foster and become successful, the more opportunities will exist for our young people who have mixed education backgrounds.

These entrepreneurs can also take other misguided or confused kids under their wing in a mentor type program.  This in-house growing of future entrepreneurs bodes well for the economy and society as there is a belief that small businesses are the ones that create true job growth in the economy as opposed to mega corporations either from home or abroad.

How to Build a Brand with Public Relations

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In a saturated marketplace, the only way to get the word out and establish your brand’s story is through PR efforts.  Very few products or companies are truly original but may have slightly different or innovative approaches.  Here are some ways to use public relations to tell your story and establish the subtle differences that make your company stand out and gain market share as a result.

Establish what your brand is and what you want it to be first

No PR strategy can begin without a plan.  Think through who you want to reach, why, where they are, how you are going to get to them, and how brand building helps your business.

Just because more people know about your brand’s existence doesn’t automatically turn them into customers—they might just know your brand exists but not be more interested in it than they were when it didn’t exist to them.  Any message is not better than the wrong one.

Align charitable giving with your customers’ values

Choosing a charity or a group of charities and organizations to donate to should not be done haphazardly.  While some companies might donate to things they believe in, that their employees support because of their own experience, or any number of other reasons, brand building through PR could be a better option.

Consider who your customers are—are they likely to donate their time or money to this organization?  Why or why not?  If your goal is to reach customers that value animals and the health of the planet, say, because you sell organic dog treats, then donating to the American Cancer Society is great and all, but the PR it may or may not generate is not optimized.

While doing good should not be reduced to a cold calculated maneuver, it is not much effort to simply shift contributions to different organizations to help build your credibility and brand in the marketplace that you desire to occupy.  The previously mentioned company could instead donate to animal shelters, green organizations, or anything else more closely aligned to their customers’ goals and values.

The best PR is genuine, non-solicited, and from a third party

Any company can buy an interview, an advertisement, or paid money to force their way into the spotlight.  But these days consumers are savvy and getting smarter by the minute.  Millennials know when they are being advertised and marketed to, and they despise it.  A third party who you did not pay or solicit sharing or talking about your brand, however, is pure gold and the end goal of every great PR or brand building effort.

The reason this has such a big impact is that the end consumer sees the extra layer of filtering and credibility.  This is not the company telling me their product is awesome, this is somebody else putting their reputation on the line to tell me it is awesome or not, and that I can get behind.  But how do you achieve this?

Make something great.  Something worth talking about.  A cucumber infused soda is much more interesting than the next marketing widget or program.  But if that marketing program has a better story or is more well known, it might have a stronger brand presence.  Story is important as well, and we focus on that next.

What do they mean by story?

Storytelling is an essential human need, condition, and want.  It comes in many forms whether it is pictures, video, oral dialogue, a fake story that we build up in our minds and convince ourselves is true, books, media, or almost anything.  This is what PR can do for your brand.  It is not enough to simply tell a magazine that your product exists anymore.  No one will care.

What you need is the story behind and in front of it.  Why did you make it?  What motivated you?  How does it change the users’ story in their own life?  Does it let you spend more time with your family, creating great memories and scrapbook moments?  Does it take grocery shopping into virtual reality, letting you embrace your wildest childhood dreams and fantasies?  Then tell customers that.  That is what customers want to hear.

Don’t neglect your internal brand

Many people focus purely on their external brand and the perception of it.  Whether it be their products, their packaging, what kind of furry animal is in the commercials, or the reputation of their services, that kind of brand building is no doubt important.

But what can be just as important is your internal brand.  This is sometimes referred to as your company culture, but it is more than that.  Google and other tech companies have become infamous for their unique working conditions that go against the mold of rigid schedules, pointless meetings, structure, and cubicles.

Instead, Google aligns their internal brand with their external one to create a cohesive message.  When you hear a news story about Google, whether it is their basketball games at lunch or the latest amazing invention, the story is the same:  this a company at the forefront of innovation and is not afraid to be different.  They are going places.

Aligning your internal brand can help employees at all levels to embody and believe in their external brand building and approach.  This can reduce employee turnover and increase productivity with a healthier workplace to boot.

Workplace Etiquette Everyone Should Know

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Workplace etiquette is the foundation of a comfortable and efficient workplace but is rarely ever spelled out other than in boring and dull employee handbooks.  Much of the true etiquette and office expectations can only be learned on the job–by observing, interacting, and adapting to the company’s culture and your fellow employees’ temperaments.

Keep Shared Spaces Clean

Break and lunch rooms are often the most commonly used space between all employees, and are used as a place to relax and eat as well as socialize in a company approved way.  It is essential to a good atmosphere that these spaces are clean and organized.

Nothing can upset a fellow employee more than getting their food stolen from the common fridge, a dirty microwave with splashed food all over, or stinky leftovers.  Treat the common areas as you would your own home and you should have no trouble.

Company phones are NOT for personal calls

Personal calls or communication should be conducted on a personal cell phone or other device, preferably in the hallway or outside of the workspace.  This simple gesture maintains clear boundaries between work and play and can benefit both employee and employer.

This separation shows the employer that you respect their time and equipment and they can return the favor by allowing the employee to disconnect from work when they clock out and avoid the constant checking of email and other distractions.

Don’t push the dress code limits

Dress codes aren’t meant to suppress your individuality or creativity, rather, they are essential to maintaining a culture and atmosphere that is professional.  A professional workplace is one where the focus is on business and the respective job components of that business rather than gossip, self-image, confidence, or other emotions that are not conducive to smooth business operations.

Never be late

It goes without saying that you should never be late to work, meetings, events, or anything else work related.  What is harder to see, however, is the effect your late arrival can have on others.  It can delay the current meeting, which affects future meetings and schedules, and can reflect poorly on your direct manager as if his employees are not in line, and encourage other employees to neglect their duties and professionalism, which can hurt the business.

Your job is likely important to you for more than just money.  A job is also a source of social engagement, purpose, friendship, and other non-monetary advantages.  Treat it well, even if it is not your desired job or the last one you will ever have; the connections and respect you gain can help you throughout the rest of your career.

Use speakerphone judiciously

Nothing can annoy fellow co-workers more than putting a client, vendor, or other customer on speakerphone when they are working near you.  This distraction can prevent them from hearing their call and hurt their overall productivity.

You may think it is fine because everyone is wearing headphones and listening to music like you do, but remember the workplace contains a broad cross section of different people and not everyone is the same as you.