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Updated: 16 min 7 sec ago

Want To Get Paid Faster? President Obama and Big Companies Have Pledged To Help

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 19:00

In July, the White House and the SBA joined together with the private sector to pledge that big companies would pay their small business vendors faster. I’m a small business owner and I know what it’s like to have a vendor pay you in 30, 60 or 90 days! Argh.

This is a cash flow nightmare and something often talked on ABC Shark Tank.

I don’t usually cover “government new” but this initiative is so intuitive that I thought to share it with you.

You can read the Supplier Pay Pledge here, from the White House

Here’s the original announcement, excerpted below…

As a part of his Year of Action, the President is using the power of his pen and phone wherever he can on behalf of the American people to create jobs and help hard-working Americans get ahead. Today, the President will announce the creation of SupplierPay, a new partnership with the private sector to strengthen small businesses by increasing their working capital, so they can grow their businesses and hire more workers.

To launch SupplierPay, the President is bringing together 26 companies – both large and small – that have committed to the initiative.  For the larger companies, joining SupplierPay demonstrates a recognition that a healthy supply chain is good for business.  For the small business suppliers, benefiting from SupplierPay means having more capital to invest in new opportunities, new equipment, and new hiring.

Today a crop of new companies signed the initiative.

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Categories: SMB

Data for Dummies: Data Made Manageable

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 21:11

There’s a wide world of data out there, and it can be intimidating, especially if you don’t consider yourself analytical. Fortunately, if you know how to break it down to produce helpful insights, data can be your new best friend. Here’s your guide to taming the data beast.

Only Pay Attention to What’s Important
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the data you could track, but feeling inundated with data can lead you to ignore it, and then there’s no point in having data at all. Instead, pick out a few things that really matter, like:

● How many visitors come to your website, and where they found you
● How many opens and clicks your emails get
● Business expenses for each department
● Actual sales vs. sales goals
● Pertinent customer demographics, such as age, sex, location, preferred social media

When you focus on what matters to your business, that data becomes exponentially more useful and easier to analyze.

Set a Benchmark
If you don’t know your past numbers, you can’t properly analyze current ones. Start with a benchmark of today’s numbers, then set goals for where you’d like them to be in a month, three months, six months, and a year.

Over time, you can compare sets of data and make informed decisions. If most of your traffic is coming from an ad you placed on LinkedIn, for example, you might decide to invest more in advertising there.

Know Your Dashboards
Many software platforms offer built-in analytics. Hootsuite is a good example. You can view your most popular social updates as well as how many clicks each post earns. MailChimp tells you how many people subscribe to your list, as well as how many recipients open each email.

You can save time over individual reporting tools by using a single dashboard that allows you to analyze data across accounts. DataHero makes data analysis easy—it allows you to combine data from all your channels (like Salesforce, HubSpot, Highrise, and Stripe) and create slick reports with the click of a button, so you can more easily connect the dots to see the bigger picture.

Data Ownership
In small business, each individual should be responsible for owning the data pertinent to their responsibilities. If data owners manage, analyze, and deliver reports, it will help your business make smarter, more effective marketing choices. This maximizes the potential for everyone to make their own data-driven decisions.

In a larger business, you might want to build a team, including people from Marketing, Sales, Accounting, and Management to access the data and make informed decisions based on what they see.

Keep a regular schedule for digging into your data and create action items based on what you find. At an absolute minimum, check in monthly and decide if anything needs to change to achieve your goals based on what you’re seeing.

Working with Your Data
Once you have the tools to access and interpret customer information, you’ll need to figure out what to do with it. Establishing which metrics best reflect your goal progress is an important step in the data analysis process. Decide what metrics will reflect success or failure before you start any new campaigns or change anything within an app. Once you know which metrics to track, test hypotheses, analyze results, modify if necessary, then do it all again.

For instance, before you launch an email campaign, you can send out test emails to small, segmented groups, each with a different subject line. Check your data to see which subject line was most successful and which call-to-action (CTA) attracted the most clicks, and send them to the bulk of your email marketing campaign. Then, notice what worked well and what didn’t within your metrics you’re tracking, improve if possible, and do it all over again.

Data is a wonderful resource for helping your small business run more efficiently. Don’t be afraid of it! Own the process and take action on that data.

 

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Categories: SMB

Remember: Think Before You Click. Most Hackers Still Using Email Scams To Steal Your Data

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 19:00

I just HAD to remind you, THINK before you CLICK. Remember, most attacks on your computer are not coming through some fancy hacker, dropping through your chimney like a Tom Cruise movie.

According to Trend Micro these attacks are delivered by email, millions of emails and attackers just have a numbers game and hope that a small percentage of folks click the link they send.

Read the Trend Micro report here.

To protect yourself.

  • THINK before you click on a link sent to you via email.
  • Ensure your computer has serious anti-virus, anti-malware security software installed on your computer
  • Your computer network must have security software properly installed
  • FULLY backup your files and programs and test recovery
  • Train your employees to THINK before they click

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Categories: SMB

Business Credit 101: 5 Big Reasons To Analyze and Improve Your Business Credit

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 16:00

Crditera is a new service which helps business owners analyze, monitor and improve their business credit. We all know how important personal credit is – affect your loans and other finances. However, your business credit can affect the financing as related to your business.

Creditera joins Dun and Bradstreet Credit Corporation in offering business credit services to small businesses. Creditera is from $30 – $50 a month and DBCC is $1,500 per year.

Levi King, CEO of Creditera offers his insight below.

Why is credit important for small businesses?

Credit impacts a business’s ability to get approved for favorable financing terms (or any financing at all), impacts the costs of many goods and services the business uses, can be used against them by competitors, and dictates whether they qualify to sell goods or services to most big businesses and governments, whether federal, state, or local municipalities.

Specifically:

Financing:  Almost every type of commercial financing relies on credit as either the primary or a strong secondary factor.  The primary reason so many businesses don’t qualify for any type of financing, or why they only qualify for high cost alternative financing, is because their credit isn’t up to speed.  By “credit” I’m talking about personal and business credit. Most business owners don’t pay attention to their business credit, and either it has inaccuracies like lower reported revenues or erroneous SIC / NAICS codes, it contains derogatory information like late payments, collections, or public records, or there just isn’t much reporting, which is a red flag for an established business.

Goods & services:  Most of the multi-trillion B2B commerce economy is partially priced on credit.  Merchant processors use business and personal credit data to underwrite risk and price discount rates, business insurance premiums are impacted by credit, and all wholesalers and suppliers use credit to determine whether to extend payment terms to their customers.  If you are a manufacturer or retailer, and your suppliers and wholesalers won’t extend net 60 or 90 terms, managing cash flow can be very difficult.

Competitors:  I learned this the hard way years ago when I had an electric sign manufacturing company.  I bid a large job with a car dealership consortium, and I didn’t win the job.  The consortium had used my company for small jobs and service work, so I was disappointed and gave the person spearheading the bidding process a hard time.  He pulled out the bid of a competitor, a company much larger than mine, and showed me a copy of my business credit report that my competitor supplied to them.  It was not a stellar report, and it made him uncomfortable cutting me a six figure check for a down payment on the job, because if I couldn’t deliver they would lose their money (plus not be ready for their grand opening).

Big business & government:  Small businesses want to provide their goods or services to big companies or government entities.  To qualify to do business with most of them, you have to have a minimum business credit score of 75 (almost always D&B).  If you don’t, tough luck.  It doesn’t matter if you have the best pricing.

Personal guarantees:  Business owners oftentimes want to avoid personal guarantees on supplier contracts, with their landlord, on equipment leases, merchant processing contracts, et cetera.  It is possible to avoid personal guarantees on just about everything but business financing if you have strong business credit.

What common misconceptions about credit exist among small businesses?

I don’t have any business credit – Oftentimes business owners think they don’t have business credit because they haven’t had a business loan.  Usually they will have at least a supplier or two reporting on them.  That said, even if they don’t have a supplier reporting, they will oftentimes have a score without a single creditor reporting.  How is that possible?  As the bureau gains other data on the business, such as geography, industry, revenues, time in business, and other header information, they can assign risk simply based on those factors.  If you are in a high risk industry with revenues lower than your peers in your geography, then it can be assumed you are probably higher risk than they are.  Even if you match up with peers, simply the fact that you are in a high risk industry can cause you to have a lower score than other identical credit reports of business owners in low risk industries (all things equal).

I have good business credit, but the lender said they don’t even look at business credit – If the business owner is watching their business credit, it tends to almost always be D&B.  The problem is that D&B is primarily used in all goods & services transactions, as well as government and big business vetting, but not very much by many commercial lenders.  Those lenders tend to use Experian or Equifax business credit reports.  There is much misunderstanding by business owners about how business credit data is used.

The lender said they don’t care about the business credit score – Even more confusing, many of the lenders using Experian or Equifax business credit reports don’t care about the score, rather the content of the report.  Many times the business score is used by the lender as a dis-qualifier rather than a qualifier.  The opposite is true in the goods and services world, where usually the score matters every bit as much as the report content.

I have good business credit but I still have to sign personal guarantees – Sometimes this is the case because the business owner is watching one business bureau, but the 3rd party pulls a different bureau that isn’t in as good of shape.  The most common reason for this, however, is that the business owner doesn’t push back on the 3rd party.  The vendor wants their business, and if the business has good business credit, they have leverage to tell the vendor that if they want their business, they will go off of the business credit.

If I have good business credit I can get financing without a personal guarantee – While it is fairly easy to negotiate out of personal guarantees with good business credit on most vendors, suppliers, or service providers, you will almost never be able to get out of a personal guarantee with lenders.  There are exceptions in alternative financing, such as accounts receivables financing, equipment financing, and a merchant cash advance, but it is virtually impossible to accomplish on any type of traditional financing through banks, credit unions, or non-bank SBA lenders.

What steps can small businesses take to improve their credit?

Some of the ways to improve are obvious, such as paying your bills on time (as a person and as a business), but others are not as obvious:

  • Review your credit reports for errors – Mistakes on credit reports is not a trivial matter, about 25% of all credit reports, whether personal or business have material errors.
  • Dispute errors – It’s always best to submit evidence of errors in any credit dispute.  It is an easier process with personal credit because the bureaus and creditors have to follow guidelines provided by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, however, that legislation doesn’t extend itself to protection and coverage for small businesses and their credit reports.  To correct errors on business credit reports, evidence of errors must always be submitted with a dispute, and there are no official timelines for response.
  • Use credit – Many business owners operate entirely on cash, which is good for keeping track of cash flow, but bad for building credit and positioning yourself to have better options in the future.  Open credit accounts in your business name, use them, and make payments on time.  This is the best way to improve your credit, whether it’s bad because of derogatory information or it simply doesn’t have much reporting, adding positive information is best.

How have your experiences as an entrepreneur shaped your approach to the Free Membership service you provide through Creditera?

In my early career I started and sold several small businesses — an electric sign manufacturing company, a hotel, a franchise, and a financial services company with a couple retail locations.  In each of these businesses I used my personal and business credit on a regular basis with vendors, suppliers, service providers, and lenders.  I’ve been approved for over 30 business loans including two SBA loans.  The first technology company I founded is Lendio, a company that matches business owners with the best financing options for their business.

Prior to my departure from Lendio to launch Creditera, we had over 1M small business owners create an account to try and secure financing.  The vast majority of those business owners didn’t like their options, and about half of them had no options whatsoever.  The common thread, regardless of their success or lack thereof, was that their credit was off, they didn’t understand it, they didn’t know what to do about it, it was hurting them, and there was no solution offered by any company to help them out.

As a former small business owner, I know that oftentimes cash is too tight to pay for credit reports and monitoring.  I also know that sometimes it mattered more than others to dive deep into the report data.  We offered a product for almost two years to business owners at a price of $29 per month.  We gathered tons and tons of feedback from our customers and those that didn’t become customers, and determined we needed to be able to offer a robust free product.  Our free product is a three credit bureau product, made up of one personal bureau and two business bureaus. (Free membership represents data from the top leading credit reporting bureaus, including one personal credit score, two business credit ratings, three summary credit reports, and three sets of monitoring alerts.) This has never been done before, and it’s a big damned deal.  We align our interests with our customers by using their credit data to make recommendations on how to lower costs or get better financing, and if they take our advice and are successful, we are paid by the 3rd party.  For total credit nerds like us, they can still pay $29 per month for additional data, or $49 per month if they want to watch their data plus a few customers or competitors’ business credit data.

How do you think credit empowerment will change the small business landscape?

Way too many small businesses fail.  They fail for many reasons, but lack of financing is the biggest.  Beyond that problem, many voluntarily fail simply because they don’t make enough profits to live on.  There are many awesome lenders trying to help businesses get financing through alternative loan products, but the cost is higher because the risk is higher.  Those great lenders are addressing things how they are.  They deal with the credit landscape as it exists.  At Creditera we are the only company looking to change the credit landscape for all 30M small businesses.  We help them improve, protect, and leverage their credit data to lower costs and access financing so they can create the business of their dreams and live life to the fullest.  We believe that we can move the needle for small businesses in America.  We can help more avoid failure, help more thrive, and help them kick ass for their customers.

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Categories: SMB

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Wed, 11/26/2014 - 00:19

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Categories: SMB

Ramon’s Day At Microsoft Headquarters. 8 Things To Know About Microsoft and Your Business

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 22:00

 

 

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend a day at Microsoft headquarters. I was joined by a handful of other small business influencers (that’s what larger companies call those of us who speak, write, author, and etc – all focused on the small business market).

During our day together, my respect for Microsoft and what it has done, will do and can do for YOUR small business was increased.

Microsoft is still focused on servers, Microsoft Office and a range of other products and services. However, there’s clearly a new focus – an evolved focus.

For small businesses, the thrust of Microsoft’s education and marketing is  Office 365.

Sure, traditional Office is still important, but businesses, professionals and the world are quickly moving to a “cloud & mobile based” world. This is a world where traditional servers are used less, where files are stored less on desktops, where less software is installed on a computer’s hard disk and more software is accessed on 3rd party servers (the cloud).

This is a picture right outside the conference room most of our meetings were in.

Office 365 is Microsoft’s offering to do this.

Thomas Hansen, Vice President of World Wide Small Business and Cindy Bates, Vice President, US, were our executive hosts. Thomas and Cindy both have a deep and personal passion for small business success.

Cindy is pictured in this pic speaking to us at Microsoft HQ.

Mobile and Cloud Is Critical.

I know you know the power of mobile and cloud – but really do you?

Many small business owners express how “they need to get back to the office to do this or that”. Every business, no matter how small, must ensure they’re business is positioned to operate fully mobile and in the cloud.

So what does this mean? Is mobile and cloud really important?

Mobile means that from your pocket, hand bag or back seat of a taxi you can manage every aspect of your business. It’s that simple. Mobile means that you can be ANYWHERE and with a simple WiFi connection access everything you need to manage and run your business and overall fulfill your client expectations. Why doe mobile and cloud go hand in hand?

By having all your documents and applications in the cloud (stored online), your mobile (or desktop bound office devices) can access anything at anytime, that you need to run your business. Microsoft, with Office 365 is fully harnessing and enabling a mobile and cloud first computing experience.

Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface Make a Great Team.

Part of a mobile world, for Microsoft, is Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface. Both of which we got a heavy dose of.

Microsoft Surface continues to be the machine for the business professional who wants a personal device as well. I’ve not counted whose device has more developers creating apps for it – but I’m pretty sure more apps are developed for iOS and Android than Windows. However, beyond that very important fact, the Surface has some compelling features and options for so many people.

If Microsoft Surface is not for sure, Microsoft has a number of partners, Dell, HP, Asus, Toshiba who provide tablet/notebook powered, Windows 8 touch devices as well!

I also got to dive into Windows 8 a bit more. Sure I have it on my office computers, but seeing the experts at Microsoft use it, I saw that there were several, easy to do things, that I could do to make Windows 8.1 even better to use. Want a comparison of the Surface vs an iPad (mini) check this out.

Work & the Home of the future are more aware and intuitive.

We had fun taking a tour of the work and home of the future and saw a VISION of how the world could be in about 10 years. The world of the future is MORE intuitive, MORE aware and uses various sensors to know who we are and overall connecting us (with permission) in more ways. I wish I could tell you more or show you some way cool video – but what we saw was for not for the public to see…yet.

Here’s a pic of me with our tour guide of the home of the future. If you take a peak at the wall behind us you’ll see…oops, I almost slipped telling you what that wall was all about.

This was our tour guide on the FUTURE of home and work

Microsoft Office Is Nice. But Office 365 Is Better.

While many large companies have traditionally installed versions of Microsoft Office (locally installed on a computer), there’s a number of companies, including small businesses who can leverage a “cloud only” version of Office 365 to manage their “file creation and editing” activities and overall collaborate and communicate with their teams. In my own tests and use of Office 365, there’s no need to buy a jeweled CD anymore. Just go straight to the web and/or download an app.

Another evolution of Office and Microsoft’s overall offerings is that through one logon, you can connect your files and settings. “Logon” to Office from your tablet, home desktop, office computer and get a unified experience.

Collaboration In Real Time Is Awesome.

At Microsoft HQ we got a first hand look at the power of Microsoft Office 365 collaboration and communication capabilities.  It was impressive to see the blend of a smartphone (powered by Microsoft), computer (running Windows 8) and a headset (connected to the computer). In a demonstration setting we were able to from the computer to the phone and the phone to the computer – and hold a live streaming video chat on the phone. Is this new? Of course not. But what’s new is the powerful integration that Microsoft has built for business owners, through the Office 365.

Here’s a picture of me doing a video call with the ultimate in small business growth, Barry Moltz

Here’s Barry Moltz and me trying out real time video collaboration

Microsoft announced Office 365 four years ago (see this Facebook post here) in this short years it’s evolved to be more and more mature, stable, feature rich and easier to use.

I’ve been a long time user of Google, Dropbox, GoToMeeting and other awesome services. What’s great about the world we live in is that there are SO MANY great choices for small businesses to choose from. The question you have to constantly ask yourself is a) is there something that will help me run my business better b) is what I’m using better integrated into a seamless offering or used as a point solution. The choice is not easy – but you now have a better understanding of the power of Microsoft Office 365 and where Microsoft is taking it.

PS-

We had a great time in the “demo” room – role playing that we were members of a fictional office and testing out Microsoft products and services.

This was a room we got to role play using tech in a company.

 

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Categories: SMB

Stop Trying To Create Viral Videos. Focus on Information, Engagment and Frequency

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 21:05

There’s a small number of videos that go “viral”, compared to the billions of videos online that are NOT going viral. Instead of trying to make a viral video, which is hard to do, just focus on creating video that’s informative, engaging and that comes out frequently.

The most important things in video production are to ensure folks can SEE you (so have good lighting) and that they can HEAR you, so have good audio.

Google had a meeting of its partners and spoke about this, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Digital super star Gary Vaynerchuk’s story is that he did over 100 (I think way more) videos of the Wine Library before it started gaining traction. Gary’s videos followed these rules – informative (all about wine), engaging (it’s Gary – what do you think?) and frequent.

Want to succeed in video marketing? Stop TRYING to be viral – just focus on your audience.

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Categories: SMB

New Electronic Signature Option from Citrix Boosts Productivity and Helps Go Paperless

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 19:00

Working and doing business remotely just got a little easier with the new Citrix acquisition of RightSignature. The recent Citrix announcement informed us that RightSignature will be integrated with Citrix ShareFile to enable electronic signatures of important digital documents.

Citrix ShareFile is a system that allows you to collaborate with team members and business partners through file sharing that meets strict data security requirements. Many of our most important business documents require signatures, and with the addition of RightSignature, you will be able to share these documents with your workers and clients, who can review the information, sign electronically, and then store the signed document in the original ShareFile folder.

The video below provides an explanation of how the process works.

If you haven’t used e-signatures before, you should know that they are perfectly legal. In the E-Sign Act of 2000, the United States government declared that electronic signatures have the same legal weight as handwritten signatures. Since that time they have taken off in the business world, particularly in industries where signatures are commonly required, such as accounting, financial services, healthcare and insurance.

There are many benefits of electronic signatures, starting with an increase in productivity. Say goodbye to the time-consuming process of printing, faxing, scanning and filing paper documents – instead you can simply share a file and get a returned copy with electronic signature in minutes. Electronic signatures also help your business go paperless, creating an organized digital filing system and reducing your environmental impact.

Recently Ramon Ray of Small Biz Technology and SmartHustle magazine conducted an interview regarding Citrix’s aquisition of RightSignature. You can listen to the audio interview by clicking play below.

So is the Citrix ShareFile electronic signature option, RightSignature, right for your business? That’s up to you to decide, but if you want to increase your office productivity then this is definitely something to consider, and if you are transitioning to a paperless office, electronic signatures are an absolute must. The following video may also help you decide, as it demonstrates how one accounting firm uses Citrix ShareFile and RightSignature to streamline the signature process.

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Categories: SMB

What Are 5 Trends Optimistic Small Business Have? Survey Says…

Sat, 11/22/2014 - 14:00

We hear all the time how important passion is for small business success. Clate Mask, Infusionsoft speaks about this frequently, as do so many other leaders of entrepreneurial success. However, passions not all that will take your business to the next level – you also have the ability to execute. Success small business entrepreneurs know this as well.

A survey released today by Capital One says that small businesses are optimistic about these five areas in 2015.

Hiring, marketing, reducing costs, and overall growth. Here’s a bit more information from the survey:

Businesses are focused on improving marketing and reducing costs in 2015

13% of business owners list improving margins through better cash and financial management processes as their top business resolution in 2015

Marketing strategies will be a focus for many companies in 2015

26% of business owners plan to invest more in online advertising

28% are planning to spend more on social media

Businesses are planning to grow and invest in workforces, but retirement is not a top priority

More than 25% of small business employers expect to hire in the coming year

46% of respondents plan to increase employee wages and salaries in 2015

33% expect to increase investment in employee training in the coming year

Only 24% of small business owners currently offer retirement plans for their employees – the same percentage that offered plans a year ago

 

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Categories: SMB

10 Digital Marketing Channels to Keep an Eye On

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 22:30
What do you think will be the next big digital marketing channel and why?

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

1. Amazon

As content marketing continues to drive results for businesses trying to reach their audience, it’ll become more common for organizations to produce their own books for distribution on Amazon. As one of the largest eCommerce destinations to date, Amazon offers your business an opportunity to get discovered in front of a new audience likely interested in your offerings.

– Brian HonigmanBrianHonigman.com

2. Influencer Marketing

Internet users are growing numb to the common digital marketing techniques, such as banners, that have been used for years. However, they are increasingly listening to influencers on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Because of this, these influencers will increasingly be able to facilitate highly effective campaigns for all types of industries.

– James SimpsonGoldFire Studios

3. Online TV Sites

Goodbye cable television, you just don’t make sense anymore, especially when I can watch any episode of South Park on Hulu. I have a dozen friends in the last two months who have switched from cable to a smart TV subscription, and they are so much happier. The commercials are even better than the junk you see on cable because you help determine what kind of commercials you are interested in.

– Jon ClineRokit SEO

4. Reddit

With $50 million in fresh funding, the community-oriented platform is well positioned to change how regular people interact with digitalcontent and how brands build communities by effectively engaging consumers. Reddit is not the most brand-safe environment, but it is one that holds a lot of potential for marketers due to its super loyal audience.

– Firas KittanehAmerisleep

5. Pinterest

Once Pinterest rolls out their targeted ad platform it could be a huge channel. Pinterest users spend more than users of any other social network, and the visual natural of it makes it perfect for native advertising.

– Josh WeissBluegala

6. Podcasts

The next big thing is already here. I think we’ll see a comeback of an earlier media form: podcasts. As on-demand content becomes more niche and podcasts became more accessible and shareable, I forecast that this channel will see a huge growth in listeners.

– Basha RubinPriori Legal

7. Earned Social

Social marketing has oscillated between hero and whipping boy for much of the past five years, but the best is yet to come. While there have been tremendous advances in paid social within the past year, earned remains the single greatest untapped opportunity. As brands start to see social as word of mouth, they will learn the importance of driving organic sharing and the value that comes with it.

– Brewster StanislawInside Social

8. Live-Streaming Platforms

With the demise of cable subscriptions and the rise of streaming video content, the next big digital marketing channels are likely to be the live streaming platforms such as Twitch and YouTube. An increasing number of people will likely use them for their video needs and as a result, businesses can reach various members of their target audience by marketing on these platforms.

– Stanley MeytinTrue Film Production

9. Instagram

I think Instagram will soon be the next big thing as it appeals to companies interested in reaching targets through high investments. Up to now, Instagram hasn’t managed to reach the same levels of popularity in terms of marketing campaigns as its counterparts Facebook and Twitter. But thanks to increased geo-positioning, the site could potentially provide a huge boost to local advertising.

– David TomasCyberclick

10. LINE

Pretty much everyone has a mobile messaging application on their phone these days. However, LINE is the only one of these applications that is currently setup in a way where businesses can utilize the platform from a marketing perspective. I see this becoming an integral way public figures and brands communicate with their audience in the near future.

– Cassie PetreyCrowd Surf

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Categories: SMB

eCommerce Site Success: 9 Big Time Tips To Make Your eCommerce Site Better

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 19:00

Selling online is easy – you use an ecommerce platform like Shopify, Infusionsoft, BigCommerce, Volusion or one of many other solutions and you’re done. Right? No.

To successfully sell online it takes specific strategies and best practices.

Julie Grace is the head of engineering at Tindie.com, a community for buying Arduino producdts –  interactive electronic objects. Julie gives some awesome tips in how to ensure YOUR eCommerce business runs smoothly, profitably and grows!

The full story is at First Round Review, my excerpts are below.

Have a great browsing experience:

“When you’re a small startup, you don’t need to hurry to implement search,” says Grace. “If your product catalog starts out small and people don’t know what to explicitly search for, then the best thing you can do is optimize for browsing. The worst thing you can do is prematurely build features like search right out of the gate.” 

Take customer feedback seriously: Tindie also took customer feedback very seriously, keeping a close eye on how people chose to engage or critique the site’s navigation.

Have a great search option: You can build your own custom search engine, or use a 3rd party search service. Both options can be useful.

Most importantly, you need to be mindful of how your search system can impact your SEO — especially when you’re trying to build brand presence, she says. At first, Tindie would generate unique URLs for search results and products based on the parameters customers selected (like price range, etc.). This led to inaccurate results, which damaged the company’s Google rankings. “When you start thinking about search, you have to consider the functionality, but you also need to think long-term about URL structure and whether you’re ‘polluting’ your Google search results with all these additional pages that are useless to customers. These can have a very negative impact on your SEO, which directly affects your brand.” 

Be Thoughtful About How You Route People

When it comes to optimizing conversions, you want to make sure you’re directing traffic in ways that keep people on your site, even if they don’t find exactly what they want.

Other tips include:

  1. Don’t force your users to create an account before they can buy
  2. Avoid gimmicks to extract customer information
  3. Make your checkout experience fool-proof.
  4. Keep your company’s ‘About’ section minimal
  5. Invent the Best Shopping Cart

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Categories: SMB

Zipmark Buys WorkingPoint. Here’s 3 Reasons Why It Matters. Bill Payment Marries Financial Management Solution.

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 18:00

Zipmark, an awesome service enabling bank to bank payments recently  bought WorkingPoint, an awesome service that provides bookkeeping, tax reporting, inventory and expense management to small businesses.

One of my “vendors” uses Zipmark to enable me to pay her immediately – from my bank to hers.

Zipmark, for businesses, competes head on with PayPal and other payment solutions. WorkingPoint provides invoicing,  and a business dashboard that allows our users to quickly gauge the state of their finances

This purchase is important for a few reasons:

  • Zipmark – can now offer YOU and its existing customers more services – through WorkingPoint (and vice versa)
  • Point online payment solutions such as PayPal must consider upping their game to provide  more all in one solutions to customers.
  • WorkingPoint’s founder is an Intuit alumnus, and Zipmark’s founder Jay Bhattacharya, CEO sold one of his earlier businesses to Intuit.

Point solutions, which provide ONE solution to their customers are “good” but integrated solutions, providing a suit of services are much better for you business – integration is the word of the day.

Are you using several different point solutions? Is it time to use more integrated, all in one solutions?

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Categories: SMB

Holiday Free Shipping Battle: Target Takes on Amazon and Why Your Business Should Care

Sun, 11/16/2014 - 15:49

As the holiday season approaches, both brick and mortar and online retailers are looking for every advantage they can get to secure their piece of the sales pie. For small businesses, this can be a huge task as the big dogs, like Amazon, Target, Walmart and others, dominate sales due to their size. But, even the big dogs are battling and small businesses should be taking note so they can use some the same tactics in their market to find sales success.

I recently wrote and article, “Target Takes On Amazon With Free Shipping This Holiday Season: What Your Business Should Know“, for the Endicia Savvy Shipper blog. In the article I share a number of ways that Target is battling Amazon to take a piece of the sales pie. What’s great, though, is that many of these same tactics can be used by small business retailers, both online and brick and mortar, to increase their sales.

Take a look at the article and let us know how you can impart these tactics in your small business and find holiday success.

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Categories: SMB

PC World: Startups, Not Big Companies, Hold a Lock on Technology Support Services

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 20:00

PC World writes how it’s startups, not big companies who have the upper hand and best chance of success in the tech services sector.

My input to the article was:

Ramon Ray is a small business and technology evangelist and the publisher of Smart Hustle magazine. Ray sees the DT trend similarly, acknowledging that in the coming years, “startups will be faster and nimble,” and “Big companies will have to adopt.” As the relationship shifts in favor of more agile young companies, Ray notes that “Big companies will no longer hold a lock on their core services… Startups will work with big companies to fulfill bigger projects.”

And company size can play a significant role in one thing that startups do extraordinarily well – innovating. Their size allows them to change and experiment with new tools without burning through too much money on infrastructure and retraining, and allows them to choose the methods that work best for their team on the fly.

Read what 3 other experts said here.

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Categories: SMB

Net Neutrality – Seth Godin Helps Explain Why It’s A Good Thing

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 20:47

For the politicians, net neutrality is a political issue.

However, it’s more than “just a political” issue. It’s an issue, that if not decided properly by the FCC can affect the lives of consumers and businesses for years to come.

For some months I’ve been thinking, why can’t some companies get faster Internet access, if they opt to pay for it? Isn’t that freedom of speech? Isn’t that our free enterprise?

However, based on a post from Seth Godin, I’m leaning more towards the feeling the we must keep the Internet neutral and not allow one company to pay more for better access to it.

Here’s a partial excerpt of what Seth wrote, read the full article here.

What if search engines or ISPs decide to ‘disappear’ content they don’t like? When there are plenty of middlemen, it’s not really an issue. But when there’s lock-in, it’s too late to have this discussion.

We make a deal with the natural monopolies in our lives. They get the privilege and the profit of being the only one, but in exchange, they accept the responsibility of being open middlemen, of being neutral, of not blacking out those that don’t pay up or that don’t agree.

If ConEd or your local power utility said, “sorry, our electricity can’t be used on Maytag appliances because they didn’t pay a slotting fee,” you’d be appropriately incensed. But when it happens to ideas, I fear the cost is even greater.

We live in the connection economy, a world based on ideas. When a few corporate titans can control the flow of those ideas and the essence of that connection, we’ve given up far too much.

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Categories: SMB

The Secret to Raising Capital for Your Small Business- It’s About People, Not Money

Thu, 11/06/2014 - 16:00
The Secret to Raising Capital for Your Small Business- It’s About People, Not Money

by Norm Merritt

If you’re struggling to raise capital to fund your small business venture, it could be that you’re taking the wrong approach. It’s time to think people, not banks.

The recession has seen the world of small business loans become increasingly restrictive – and that’s a big problem. There are very few businesses, no matter how insanely high your margins are, that can survive without a sizable initial investment.  Costs such as labor, equipment, premises, permits and regulations mount up quickly and it’s all too easy to run short of cash at a vital moment.

We explored alternatives to traditional banks for small business loans in a previous blog post but the truth is this – the real key to raising capital is not building credit, it’s building your network.

Without a solid understanding of how networking and relationships can affect business capital, businesses become dependent on hard-to-come-by bank loans and other short-term funding options. Even if (perhaps especially if) you haven’t even started opening a business yet, now is the time to start finding the people that can really make a difference to your chances of success.

Key Steps to Take 1. Approach prior successful business partners

If you’ve made money for another business person in the past, cultivate that powerful relationship for all it’s worth.  Remember, this isn’t just about getting them to give you money (although that would be ideal – it’s always good to work with ‘known’ partners), it’s often about leveraging these contacts to build your network.

Approach these people first, in a structured, organized manner, and tell them about your business. Remind them of your past successful collaborations and ask them both for advice on your business idea. Remember, a lot of successful people tend to have a lot of knowledge and an even bigger sense of self-worth, so asking for advice – not money – is a great way to get input on your concept and to massage their ego before asking for cash.

Project confidence and have plenty of facts and figures ready to back up your claims that your business will be successful.

2. Identify potential investors in your area

You’re looking for people with money to spare who have expressed interest in your industry in the past. These people may have invested in some of your competitors or may have formerly owned a business in your industry. Find out who they are, make a list and approach each one. Contrary to the silicon valley image of investors pumping money into crazy billion-dollar schemes, most investors like to put their money in areas of which they have knowledge and in which they have a great deal of experience.

Note: this kind of knowledgeable investor is well-worth his weight in equity. It can be lonely and stressful building a new company, so this kind of informed support is vital.

3. Attend trade shows and industry events

Trade shows and other industry events are not just great places to find out about the latest trends, they are ideal places to network for investment.  Investors will actively be on the look out for new players, so are more likely to be receptive to your pitch. It is, therefore, clearly to your advantage to attend as many such events as possible. Make sure, however, that you are organized prior to each event. Put together information packets that include your business card on top so that potential investors can easily see who you are, what you do and how to contact you.

Even better, do the ground work before the event.  Use twitter and LinkedIn to reach out to potential investors and arrange coffees and meetings at the event. Be bold but friendly – and ask for advice not money – and you’ll be amazed how many people are willing to share some of their time with you.

4. Ask for referrals from your current network

Get in the habit of closing every meeting with a request for another meeting with another key investor. At the end of a meeting with a contact, thank him or her for their time and request that the contact introduce you or set up a meeting with an investor they know who may also be interested in what you’re offering.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this process. Given that most investors will only invest in a limit portfolio, people can love your idea without necessarily wanting to invest. Leverage that love to build your network.

5. Practice your elevator pitch

In order to be successful, you’ll need to be able to pitch your business to investors using just a few words. Practice explaining who you are, what you do and why investors should be interested in your business in no more than 30 seconds. You can check out more advice on perfecting your elevator pitch here.

Read: 6 Core Elements of the Small Business Elevator Pitch

6. Manage your business perception

It doesn’t matter how great your business is; it matters how great people think your business could be. Remember, a lot of investors aren’t interested in the finished article because their is less ‘upside’ money to be made. Your pitches should talk about current success but emphasize future potential. Come across as confident, professional and ambitious and you’ll make the right first impression.

Don’t focus just on money. Find out what motivates each of your key investors. For some, the possibility of financial dividends is exciting, but others want to invest in businesses that will make a positive impact on the world or bankroll new, innovative ideas. Learn ahead of time what each investor’s values are – and speak to those values in order to motivate him or her to invest.

Some Final Thoughts

Getting investors to put money into your business is challenging but doable – and a great option in today’s age of restricted access to bank loans.

Start networking early and focus on cultivating relationships rather than on meeting your investment goals. If you do that, there’s no stopping you.

 

Norm Merritt is the President and co-CEO of ShopKeep, a provider of cloud-based point of sale software for managing retail shops and restaurants. Norm is the former CEO of iQor and is passionate about building teams that put customer care at their core. Norm holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and is a Certified Public Accountant.  

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Categories: SMB

4 Reasons Intuit Is Killing Old Quickbooks In Favor of Quickbooks Online

Tue, 11/04/2014 - 19:00

Most small businesses use Quickbooks – you installed the software on your computer 10 or 20 years ago and it’s humming along.

But today, face it – Quickbooks is bloated, outdated and sometimes a pain to work with. Sure, your accountant loves it – but you don’t.

Intuit executives know this and have been on a steady campaign to make Quickbooks Online the default financial operating system for small businesses.

At a recent conference an Intuit executive said:

“Our mission is to make accounting seem invisible for small businesses by leveraging the power of the cloud so that the time-intensive work of keeping the books organized happens automatically every time an invoice is sent, a customer makes a payment, or an employee gets paid,” said Dan Wernikoff, senior vice president and general manager of Intuit’s Small Business Group. 

  1. The old Quickbooks, installed on your computer is no longer relevant a cloud based world.
  2. You can’t access it via your cell phone – it’s NOT mobile
  3. It’s not intuitive and easy to use
  4. Files can get corrupted and it’s not easy to move from one computer to another.

These are joust four reasons why Intuit’s battle cry is to move small businesses, it’s current customers and new customers to Quickbooks online – a much better, more visual, easier to use cash flow management service for small businesses.

What’s the competition saying?

Xero‘s going directly after those businesses ready to leave the old Quickbooks. Sage is offering a slew of new solutions for small businesses – including Sage One. Shopkeep and other iPad based point of sale vendors have built in solutions for their customers – or can connect their systems to 3rd party accounting solutions. GoDaddy’s financial service (bought from Outright) and Frshbooks offer a nice set of services for solo entrepreneurs and very small businesses.

While I’m not sure if I’ll ever think of accounting or cash flow as being “fun” – I know that cloud and mobile based solutions are getting easier and easier and easier!

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Categories: SMB

7 Retargeting Companies Startups Should Take Advantage Of

Tue, 11/04/2014 - 16:00
What is your favorite retargeting/remarketing company and why?

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

1. AdRoll

You can’t argue with experience, and AdRoll has decades of experience with optimization and creative strategy. I like them because they have different levels of membership that offer different focuses for your company’s retargeting strategy, because no two problem situations are the same between companies. It feels very customized, and I love that.

– Rob FultonExponential Black

2. OneSpot

The stellar team at OneSpot has made it much easier for clients to amplify their content with paid media, previously the sole domain of media buying agencies. Via one of the most user-friendly platforms I’ve come across in a long time, OneSpot helps build meaningful audiences and increase content exposure.

– Sharam Fouladgar-MercerAirPR

3. Stay.ee

Stay.ee is a URL shortener for companies in the travel industry that allows us to build retargeting pools made up of users clicking on our links but not necessarily coming to our website. Stay.ee attaches a retargeting pixel through the link, not through landing on our site. If the person clicks our link on Twitter that points somewhere else, we’ve still captured them in our retargeting pool.

– Brooke BergmanAllied Business Network Inc.

4. Adfirmative

On day one, Adfirmative offers an advertiser past-audience data to improve and better allocate their remarketing spend. It offers a real-time bidding system. Advertisers can access months of data to continually hone and optimize their ads during the first seven days that wouldn’t be possible without this stored prospect data.

– Joshua LeeStandOut Authority

5. ReTargeter

ReTargeter plans start at $500 per month for smaller businesses. It’s best known for its customer service and an Internet reach of 98 percent. It also offers managed or full service plans.

– Andrew SchrageMoney Crashers Personal Finance

6. Perfect Audience

They send you an email each week with a list of converted sales and help you optimize to get more over time.

– Jessica RichmanUBiome

7. Criteo

Criteo’s algorithms are more powerful than the more well known services such as AdRoll and ReTargeter. I also love how well Criteo works across different devices and platforms, allowing me to retarget the full spectrum of consumer without having to manage multiple accounts with multiple providers.

– Firas KittanehAmerisleep

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Categories: SMB

IHOP Tweets Are Hip But Small Business Should Focus On Value To Your Audience.

Mon, 11/03/2014 - 19:00

Advertising Week wrote a story about how IHOP got real cute with its Tweets and was using more “hip” language to attract a younger audience. Granted, I’m over 40 (maybe old by some) and overall have never been into “pop culture” so I don’t know what most (or any) of the words that IHOP used in its Tweets mean. Furthermore, I do applaud them for using words that their target audience get excited about – like fleek.

However, my CAUTION to us small businesses, is don’t try to be cute with your Tweets or any other online content. Know what your audience wants and provide value to them. Don’t try to be cute, use slang and be HIP if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Be true to your brand voice, provide intense value to your audience and you’ll be fine.

IHOP is a zillion dollar company and can afford to hire a fancy brand agency to guide it into experiments like this. For the sake of your time and money, just remember FREE.

Frequent

Relevant

Engaged

Analytics

That’s the four word secret to social success.

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Categories: SMB

Success with Social Marketing: How to Build A Strong Customer Following Using Social Media (Video)

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 15:30

Do you struggle with social marketing in your small business? Are you lost when it comes to using social media to help GROW your business and build a strong customer following?

If you answered “YES” to either question, then we have a gift for you! Our very own Ramon Ray, technology and marketing evangelist and the editor of Smallbiztechnology.com, recently joined Business Circle, brought to you by AT&T, for a online video presentation on how to find success with social marketing. During this hour long chat, Ramon explains:

  • How small businesses can use social media to build a strong,and loyal, customer following
  • What every small business needs to know about cyber security
  • How to make your site mobile friendly
  • How to turn customers into ambassadors for your business.

You can watch the full video below, or click here:

 

Do these tips help? You can find more great tips on the Business Circle brought to you by AT&T website, or continue to follow along here at smallbiztechnology.com!

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Categories: SMB