The Basics of Cybersecurity

Lisa Peternel Cybersecurity

One of the great truisms of life is that in problems and progress, good and evil often go hand in hand. Whenever there is an advancement that might benefit humanity, there are always those who are willing to exploit it to make our lot worse. Thankfully, however, there are also those who are dedicated to protecting the rest of us and making sure that these new advancements are a net positive.

Such is the case with the online world. The Internet has opened up a world of new opportunities. Unfortunately, some of those new opportunities have come for hackers, thieves, and would-be criminals. You don’t want to fall prey to the latest forms of cybercrime. Cybersecurity has become a necessity for ensuring that you remain safe while browsing, buying, socializing, and doing business online.

What Cybersecurity Guards Against

Some of the most common types of cyberattacks include:

  • Hacking, accessing, corrupting, or tampering with data
  • Targeting sensitive systems and stealing data such as financial information
  • Attacking systems in such a way as to interfere with a company’s ability to do business
  • Ransomware and malware attacks

How Cybersecurity Can Protect You

Cybersecurity measures are thus essential from preventing your personal or professional computer and data from being hacked or corrupted. One model popular with cybersecurity experts right now is CIA:

  • Confidentiality: You need to make sure that your most sensitive data is confidential and secure. Strong passwords and keeping your most sensitive information as private as possible are essential here.
  • Integrity: Make sure that any sites or services you engage online are on the up and up. If a service or email seems fishy (or phish-y), avoid it as it’s not worth risking your computer’s health or your data’s security.
  • Availability: Be careful about what information you make available and to whom.

In addition, anti-virus and other cybersecurity programs are a must.

When it comes to cybersecurity, half measures can be a full-blown failure. Take this opportunity to make sure that you are practicing safe browsing, protect your data, and upgrade your systems with quality cybersecurity programs.

from Lisa Peternel | Technology https://lisapeternel.com/the-basics-of-cybersecurity/
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How to Develop a Successful Finance Team

Lisa Peternel Finance Team

Having an excellent finance team is going to be a crucial part of your success. You want to make sure that you hire skilled workers and that you develop the team properly. If you aren’t sure how to go about developing a successful finance team, then you should keep reading. You’ll see some essential tips for how to make the development of the group go smoothly. 

Have Them Keep an Eye on Finance Trends

Having your team keep a close eye on finance trends is going to help them to get a better idea of how the work environment can shape strategic plans for the workforce. It’s a great way for your team to broaden their understanding, and it’s essential for everyone to know which way things are trending. Monitoring finance trends is going to be a constant thing in your company if you want to avoid being caught off guard. 

Keep Talent Engaged

Keeping the talent on your team engaged in their work is imperative. You want to make sure that the best employees feel like their talents are being put to proper use. Developing a successful team is also about keeping them long term. You don’t want your employees to seek more engaging careers elsewhere. 

Modernize Your Work Processes and Leadership Styles

Modernizing your work processes and leadership styles will help you to be more productive while keeping your team happier. Be a good leader who appreciates what the team is doing. Ensure that your team has an excellent work environment where they can thrive and always give them the necessary resources to solve the problems that they are presented with. If you do this, then they will gel into a great team over time. 

Make Sure That Your Team Has the Right Mix of Skills

Finally, you should try to make sure that your finance team has the right mix of skills. You should have a team that can complement each other well, and you should encourage team members to develop their skills further. Your strategic planning capabilities will increase significantly if you put the right people in the right roles. Keep this in mind, and everything should fall into place for the team that you’re building. 

from Lisa Peternel | Business https://lisapeternel.net/how-to-develop-a-successful-finance-team/
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Top 7 Small Business Trends for 2020

2020 is almost here, which means that now’s the time to start thinking about capitalizing on the top trends for small business owners. Before you get ready for the year’s end, it’s the perfect time for a refresher on what’s happened in 2019—and where the winds of change are blowing for 2020:

Trend #1: Automation Software

You don’t have to look very far to find that automation has been a trend as of late. But one of the best reasons it’s an emerging trend for a small business like yours is that automation software is getting more sophisticated—and more affordable.

Whether it means automating your social media accounts with content or capitalizing on one of the top business trends with automated chat bots, automation software can give you the appearance of a much larger operation—without you having to lift a finger.

There are two areas in particular that might be good for small business owners to pay attention to, according to Entrepreneur:

  • Chatbots with built-in machine learning can get started with your customers right away and only improve with time. As you tweak their messaging and allow them to interact with customers, you’ll have a head start on other businesses that haven’t utilized this technology to create fast responses with their customer service inquiries.
  • Virtual assistants are more popular than ever, and one reason is that it’s easy to use an AI virtual assistant. If you can start working with AI to delegate more of your more mundane tasks sooner rather than later, you’ll have a similar head start. Imagine where you could be in 2020 with a fully automated virtual assistant.

Trend #2: The Rise of Gen Z

For years, all of the talk in marketing has been on millennials as a rising demographic with increasing purchasing power. And those millennials aren’t going anywhere. But there’s another socioeconomic trend that all business owners will have to pay attention to: the rise of Gen Z.

Gen Z—defined as those who were born in the mid-to-late 1990s and later—are now coming of age. They were raised in a world with Internet, social media, and instant access to information. As such, marketing to them is different. And while 2020 won’t necessarily be a milestone in the world of marketing to Gen Z, it’s certainly as good a time as any to start rethinking your plans.

Trend #3: Mobile Applications

E-Commerce is one of the top areas of growth right now, as you can see at Statista. But one of the top areas for growth within E-Commerce can be found within mobile applications. Simply put, more and more small businesses are selling directly to the consumer by putting themselves directly on the consumer’s smart phones.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a new business or new to digital marketing—in 2019 and 2020, it’s easier than ever to construct a mobile app of your own. There are even no-code platforms that make it possible for you to generate an app with simple drag-and-drop ease rather than diving deep into the coding. This reduces expenses and labor associated with creating a mobile application for yourself.

Trend #4: Women In Leadership

The economic playing field continues to even, and that’s great news. But it’s not just in the United States where we should expect to see this trend continue. According to Intuit, “Women, especially those in emerging markets, will be a dominant force in the global market – taking increased leadership responsibilities across business, government and education.”

Not only is this a trend a sign that we’re headed in the right direction, but it’s also good feedback that the small business landscape is changing for the better.

Trend #5: Platform Consolidation

Sound a little technical? It is. But the good news is that small business owners don’t have to worry about that side of it. Platform consolidation only refers to the infrastructure that companies are putting together to serve as complete small business platforms.

When you can manage everything—from remote workers and social media marketing to the customer experience and user reviews—from fewer and fewer platforms, your to-do list gets smaller. So does your password management file. What’s left is an easy way to interact with your business and navigate everything you need to navigate as you look to scale.

In 2020, rather than adding more to your slate, think about all of the features of the platforms you already use—and ask yourself if you can scale back on these tools by consolidating to one or two specific platforms.

Trend #6: The Gig Economy Takes Over

Of course, we’re all aware of the effects the gig economy has created in every other trend. For small businesses, it can be a competitive advantage: being able to hire someone for a brief contract that doesn’t require full-time benefits.

The only question for 2020 is: where is this trend going? Expect it to become an indispensable part of doing business, with now over 57 million participating in the gig economy in the U.S. alone. By 2023, data suggests that over half of the U.S. workforce will participate in the gig economy in some fashion.

Trend #7: User Review Management

User review management is nothing new, but as E-Commerce begins to drive retail, user reviews will become more important than ever. That means that user review management software—tools that allow you to check reviews and gather feedback—will be of increasing importance.

In today’s small business environment, user reviews are essential. 97% of people read reviews for local businesses—to say nothing of how many users will give a quick glance at the user reviews of a product before they decide to purchase online. Incorporating user review management into your business isn’t an accessory anymore. It’s a necessity.

Today’s emerging trends might not all move into 2020 with equal momentum. But pay attention to shifting demographics and emerging technology to stay on top of your game and ensure that your small business runs smoothly.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/Top 10 Small Business Trends for 2020/
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The Employer’s Guide to Giving Holiday Bonuses

The holiday bonus can feel a bit like a double-edged sword for employers: if you give away too little, your employees might not be happy with you. If you give too much, you won’t have quite as much left over to invest back into the company that keeps them all employed.

It seems like a simple enough topic. Then you start getting into more serious questions. How does it differentiate from the year-end individual performance bonus? What are the valid alternatives if your company simply doesn’t have extra money to spend on bonuses?

And, finally, is there a happy medium, or a single system you can use to determine 1) how to give the “right” amount in bonuses and 2) how to go about it the right way? Here are our thoughts on making the holiday bonus experience work for everyone:

Tips on Giving Out Holiday Bonuses

How do you give out a holiday bonus? It starts with poring through your budget and getting a clear idea of what you can afford. But first, let’s get clear about what a holiday bonus is:

“A holiday bonus can generally be described as a gift expressing gratitude, which is given equally to everyone,” writes PayChex.com.

That means that your holiday bonus comes low on the list of priorities—if the other priorities on that list include making payroll, paying great benefits, and giving out performance-based raises to employees. Still, the holidays are a perfect time to express your gratitude for what employees have done throughout the year.

How to Determine How Much to Give, and How to Give It

Since it’s already the holiday season, it can seem too late to reward the hard work of the employees you’ve kept on staff all year.

  • Giving cash bonuses? Give out as much as you can afford to give to everyone. Once you start weighing holiday bonuses based on performance, you’ve stopped giving holiday bonuses. Now you’re simply adding to the performance-based raises you’ve already instituted throughout the year. Your holiday gift should be equal for everyone, but some employers do give percentage-based bonuses to their employees.
  • Time it before the holidays. The holidays are a time in which many Americans’ spending is at its highest. If you’re giving out a cash payment in your bonuses, keep this in mind—the end of the year makes for a natural point to give out bonuses, but give people some breathing room to help with holiday shopping.
  • Add the bonus to a paycheck. Cash bonuses can often be the easiest way to give bonuses for tax purposes, as it will fit neatly onto any employee’s W-2. And you’re not making it any harder for employees, as other gifts (like gift cards) would be considered taxable by the IRS.

Alternatives to Holiday Cash Bonuses

Let’s be honest: everyone’s favorite bonus from their place of employment is the gift of cash. But as it turns out, only about 38% of small businesses are able to give out cash bonuses every year. It’s great when you can do it, but it’s not always required. And if you can give bonuses like that to employees who deserve it, that should be your first priority.

But it doesn’t mean you can’t spread a little holiday cheer if your company is stretching the budget thin as it is.

Here are some alternatives to cash that employers like to use:

  • PTO. Paid time off is not only appreciated during the holidays—it’s the second best thing to getting a fatter paycheck. Essentially, it’s the same thing. If your payroll is based on salary, you can give away holiday “bonuses” in the form of extra time off, and it’s one of the most popular perks outside of a direct check.
  • Giftcards. If your company meets all of its financial obligations and provides its employees with great benefits, they’ll usually understand if you can’t afford the bonus amount. A gift card alternative can be a good way to show appreciation during the holidays without the financial requirements typically associated with cash bonuses.
  • Company swag. If your budget is stretched to the max and you still don’t want to give your employees nothing, some free gifts are always welcome. Company swag often comes at favorable prices when you buy in bulk, which makes it a great way to stretch the dollar while still giving your employees a gift for the holidays.
  • Holiday party. You’d be surprised at how much a holiday party can do to lift the spirits of people within a small business. In lieu of a Christmas bonus, a fun party can give people a chance to relax and kick back.

Budgeting for Holiday Bonuses

It’s that time of year, which means that you also have to be thinking about budgeting and year-end tax implications. Should you do a flat dollar amount? What did you do last year? What will make life easier for you in the new year?

These are all considerations you need to pay attention to during bonus season. And employees bonuses need to fit into accounting principles whether you’re doing flat dollar amounts or simply offering gifts to employees.

How do you prepare your budget? No two businesses are the same. But keep in mind that cash bonuses will show up on the balance sheet as income paid toward your employees, which needs to be taken into account.

If you can, spread the saving you do for holiday bonuses throughout the whole year. This makes the impact far less dramatic a drain on your cash flow, minimally disrupting your company on a month-to-month basis. But if it’s already too late for that, look at your cash on hand, the liabilities that require payment in the next three months, and what you expect your next tax bill to be. You have to prioritize meeting your financial obligations first, as fun as it can be to give out holiday bonuses.

A great holiday bonus is always a great way to cap off the year. But it’s important that you approach it the right way and find a way to give your employees a kind gesture for all of their hard work—big budget or not.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/The Employers Guide to Giving Holiday Bonuses/
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How To Implement Video Marketing as a Small Business

Videos are gaining more and more popularity in the world of online marketing. After all, they improve engagement, search engine ranking, brand loyalty, and so much more. So while it may seem like a no-brainer to start implementing a video marketing strategy, it’s not easy, especially for small businesses.

Enterprises and big brands can easily afford to make fascinating, high quality videos, but as a small business, budgets are tighter, and time may be harder to come by with employees wearing multiple hats. However, you can change that without settling for poor quality videos. Here is a comprehensive guide to video marketing for small businesses.

Why You Should Start Using Video

Maybe you’ve debated using video within your marketing strategy but decided not to go through the trouble since you lacked the proper equipment, production experience, time and money. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that difficult. In fact, all you need are a few inexpensive tools. But before we dive into the best tools to use, you should understand the importance of investing in video marketing.

All in all, people are turning to video more and more. Heather Harding, a video marketer at LastMinuteWriting and Writinity, said, “Getting your message across is easy with video. It’s also easy for your audience to get the message when it’s in a simple, watchable form that doesn’t require much effort on their part.”

Tools That Will Help You Make Videos on a Budget

One of the biggest issues that small businesses have with videos is that making them is expensive and takes skilled people. However, it’s not as hard as you think. Here are some tools that can help you kick your video marketing strategy into gear:

  • You can easily set up your own office space to look like a professional studio with some basic supplies. Look into lighting kits on a budget and simply film videos with your smart phone. Smartphones now have an impressive picture quality, often rivaling other video recorders. You can also get a mic for under $100 to ensure great sound quality.
  • Are you — or is someone on your team — a skilled writer? Make sure a script is written out for your videos to make sure you don’t ramble and that content is comprehensible and engaging.  If you can’t find a great writer, consider hiring someone from Upwork or Fiverr at an affordable price.
  • “Be passionate and show it to your audience. Relax and don’t take yourself too seriously. Just be yourself,” says Owen Lee, a tech expert at DraftBeyond and Researchpapersuk.
  • For editing, you can use iMovie, Windows Movie Maker or ScreenFlow. Just do some basic editing in the beginning and then you can invest more as you move on. The point is to tell a good story so the video doesn’t have to be too edited.
  • As far as video hosting, you can go upload videos to YouTube in addition to posting on your social channels, website and email campaigns. If you plan on hosting videos on your own website, consider using Wistia as it’s a great, easy tool.

Best Video Marketing Ideas

Coming up with creative ideas is perhaps the hardest part of video marketing. To help you out, here are some great ideas for your videos that are evergreen and can help garner the attention you desire.

  • Make an announcement with your video – Post a short video introducing the next big thing in your company. It can be a new product, service, or something as small as an update to your mission statement.
  • Parody something – This is your chance to be funny and show off your brand personality. Consider making a parody video of a movie clip, music video or a new trending dance or challenge. This shows that there are live, interesting people behind your brand.
  • Film testimonials – Gather some of your biggest fans and best customers and allow them to tell their tale for the camera. This is social proof for your brand and can instantly boost your credibility and value.
  • How to – No one understands your products and services like you do. Look at frequently asked questions and create a “how to” video showing your customers how your product or service works, and how it can help them.
  • Have a Q&A – Your audience is bound to have some questions related to your company and your products or services. This is an excellent opportunity to show them that you care.
  • Behind-The-Scenes – Give your audience a sneak peek of your offices, processes and so on. It will make them feel like they get to see something exclusive and feel like a part of your community.
  • Creation process – This is similar to the previous point, but goes a little more in depth. Show off all of the steps you usually take in creating an excellent product. This can be really inspiring too.
  • Make a stop-motion video – Stop-motion videos aren’t as hard to make as you may think. Just take a series of photos of something in action and then make a video out of it. This can be as simple as shooting several images on your phone and then letting Google Photos do the rest.
  • Show mistakes – Show your audience what not to do as it relates to an area of your business. People enjoy these honest, relatable videos, especially when humor is incorporated.
  • Introduce your team – People like seeing who is behind your brand and who’s making all of the products they love.

How To Measure The Success of Your Videos

Finally, here are some tips to measure the success of your videos:

  • The play count – This is the most basic tracking point. It shows you the total number of views in a video. This is important, but the play rate is even more crucial to your success.
  • Play rate – This is another important factor that you should track. This shows you how many people clicked on your video and whether you should place it somewhere more effective.
  • Engagement rate – This is the most important point because it shows you the percent of the video that your viewer has seen. It shows you how it actually affected them and if they were really interested.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/How To Implement Video Marketing as a Small Business/
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The Best POS Systems: Our Favorites for Small Businesses

It’s the most exciting point in any small business owner’s life: making the sale. But if you don’t manage your Point-of-Sale (POS) system properly, it can quickly turn into something that’s overwhelming, inconvenient for the customer, and ultimately, a way to drive away business. Modern retail is increasingly mobile and utilizes more payment options than ever before. The proliferation of contactless payment options, like Apple & Amazon Pay, demands a user-friendly POS solution that can process payments beyond the cash register.

You aren’t the first small business that’s ever tried to optimize payment processing. That’s good news for the shopkeep, because it’s led to an abundance of competition for your POS systems. The only challenge is discerning which one is best for the type of business you run, as well as customer expectations. Let’s browse by reviewing some of the best POS systems available:

Square

Square POS is an ideal pick for any small business that’s starting to make more real-time sales and needs a convenient way to record them—in a hurry. Square also provides the hardware you need to accept credit card payments in person, making it great for vendors and any eCommerce small business that interacts with customers directly.

On pricing, Square is competitive, though for online payments it tends to charge a higher percentage per transaction than a POS like Shopify. The higher percentage structure (rather than a smaller percentage and an additional flat fee) also makes it a potentially bad choice for any small business with higher-end items to sell online.

Shopify POS

Shopify isn’t a stranger to the POS game, providing terminals for secure in-person payments, such as accepting credit cards, gift cards, and supporting discount and promo codes you’ve already established online. It can make a seamless transition for anyone who runs both an online shop and a brick-and-mortar business that doesn’t want to juggle a complex infrastructure.

Shopify also shines when it comes to pricing. Charging a smaller percentage than Square for online payments, in addition to a 30 cent flat fee, Shopify will produce a larger profit margin for anyone accepting payments for high-end products online. Typically, people view Shopify as an option for an online store and those particular business needs, but Shopify POS is a dedicated POS platform for physical swipe and multi-store needs.

Vend POS

Vend is a POS solution aimed at retail, allowing you to manage and sell your products and inventories from a unified dashboard. Like the options above, Vend POS makes it possible to get mobile with your orders, using the Vend Register iPad app, or grow a customer list and incorporate online gift cards and promotions. You can also use a barcode scanner with ease.

The pricing structure of this particular retail POS is $90/month for up to $20,000 in monthly turnover and goes up to $129/month for unlimited turnover in the “Pro” plan. The advantage here is that you won’t find a bunch of hidden transaction fees; Vend is built for a retail presence and prices based on how many registers/users you have rather than the number of transactions.

Clover

Clover excels at the physical point of the sale for retail stores thanks to unique features like identifying customer birthdays or easy dashboard management of promotional programs at the retail POS. Clover’s hardware requires more of an upfront investment than the hardware you’ll see from other POS systems like Square, which means that this is a purchase for larger businesses that know that they’ll have to use physical terminals on a regular basis. For businesses that tend to make occasional sales at the POS and otherwise depend on digital sales for the rest of their business, a POS system like Square or Shopify POS would work much better.

Shopkeep POS

Shopkeep POS is exactly how it sounds—designed for a customizable retail environment rather than a mostly digital environment with occasional retail sales—but it excels at what it does. Though you’ll have to get a quote to find out precisely what the prices are here, there’s a lot that you get for your money. That includes automation for your most frequent business tasks, which is great for bulk purchases and impulse buys, as well as personalized setups for your retail POS system so you end up with a specific product bundle for your space. Inventory management is included here as well, along with simple, intuitive interfaces that make it easy for you to check on specific items for customers or employ debit card acceptance.

Shopkeep POS typically aims to retail, quick-service, and restaurant/bar setups, but given that they’ll provide a free quote, it’s worth finding out if they have a bundle option for your typical POS case.

TouchBistro

We have to include an honorable mention here, even though TouchBistro isn’t aimed at all retail situations. You might know from the name that this is a restaurant POS directed at food services, but it’s earned enough clout that it’s worth mentioning here for any small business in the food industry. Payment works on an account subscription-and-license basis, rather than a percentage of purchases. At a flat monthly fee of $69/month for its software-only end, and $109/month for a software/hardware bundle, TouchBistro is an affordable way for a restaurant to get on its feet and start accepting payments in a hurry.

Other honorable mentions: 

They may not have topped our list, but here are some other POS solutions worth checking out: 

Choosing the best POS system for your business:

How can you determine which POS system is best for you? Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Invest in a card reader. Accepting a credit card from a customer is going to happen at some point, no matter what kind of business you’re in. Even digital services will require a payment system of some sort. At the very minimum, shop around for the best credit card readers from simple systems like Square and Shopify to ensure that you’re capable of at least sending a payment through your system.

  • Maximize your promotions. A great POS can implement promotions and gift cards to ensure that your POS software does more than accept payments. It should also make people feel like they have exclusive options when they shop with you, enticing them to return to your POS for future benefits as well.

  • Test it yourself. Some of the options on this list include free trials that allow you to test the system before you make a full investment. Make full use of that! Charge credit cards, use the receipt printer, download the Apple or Android app—do what you would do if you purchased the service and were already using it. See which one strikes you as best for your business.

There are plenty of POS systems available to you. Once you know your goals, you should be able to select one from this list that will suit your small business—and your budget.


from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/The Best POS Systems Our Favorites for Small Businesses/
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How Your Small Business Can Give Back to the Community

Anyone can give up something if they expect something else in return. It’s when you give without the expectation of receiving anything in return that you really feel the value of charitable donations. That’s true for small businesses, many of whom owe their very existence to the support of the community that surrounds them.

But how can small businesses give back to the community, and what should your own donations look like? After all, you wouldn’t spend your small business’s money frivolously on a bunch of equipment you’ll never use. You don’t want your charity dollars to be wasted, either. That’s why giving back to the community requires three things:

  • A message. What do you really support? What’s in keeping with your company’s mission? What’s the goal of your company, and what charities out there might help you achieve that goal through other means?
  • Efficiency. No one wants to give to a charity and then find out that the majority of their donation money went to filling the leadership’s pockets. Make sure you do your research so you know where your donation dollar goes.
  • Authenticity. Does a charity have a good reputation, and is its method of spreading money to the community?

Of course, there are more ways to give back to your community than to simply make a charitable donation. And some of these strategies have the added bonus of helping your business. Here are some ways you can get involved:

Way #1: Donate To or Sponsor a Community Event

Community events are the glue that holds each community together. Without them, people wouldn’t have the occasion to get together, share their stories, and enjoy a common experience. That’s why so many businesses recognize that they can get their name out there and support their local community by sponsoring a local community event.

Which event should you choose? This is where your own research will come in. We can’t tell you what’s most important to your community. We also can’t tell you what will get your sponsorship the most hits or drive the most sales. What’s important is that you try to find what’s most important to the people around you—and use your small business to support it when you can.

You don’t have to jump at the first community event sponsorship opportunity you find, either. Feel free to call around, do some online research, and review your options before you choose a community event that represents your brand and helps you achieve the same goal with which you created your business in the first place.

Way #2: Hold Your Own Charitable Event

If you can’t find big-ticket events to sponsor on the calendar, you can always organize and host your own event. Of course, this will require labor in addition to the financial commitment. That’s why charitable events often require weeks or even months of planning.

Which sort of charitable event should you choose? That’s where the “message” element we mentioned above comes in. What service does your business provide that would be a help to the community?

You might also call the local chamber of commerce or local government to see what kinds of needs the community has. If your business’s products or services fit these needs, the event practically organizes itself.

Way #3: Create a “Matching” Program

Charitable donations are a fast, efficient way to give back to the community. All you have to do is fill out an online form and click “donate.”

So how do small business owners use a method like that in a way that’s more relevant to your local community? You can always create a matching program. In a program like this, you’ll organize a drive in which you promise to match individual donations. Don’t worry if you’re a stickler for staying on the budget and the bottom line—you can always set your own parameters and fine print.

Common places where you can match individual contributions include local nonprofit organizations, food banks, and other charitable donations.

Way #4: Organize a Local Fundraiser—Or Sponsor One

Take a drive around your local community. Spot any fundraisers? Chances are that if you drive long enough, you may find a classic “thermometer” sign that measures an organization’s progress against a fundraising effort.

The truth is, fundraisers aren’t too hard to find. They’ll often find you. But you can also enter a social media search for fundraisers in your area if you’re unsure where to start. It’s rare that you can’t find some sort of local effort that wouldn’t accept a sponsor if they knew that you were willing to make a sizeable contribution.

Many times, these fundraisers will accept local sponsors as key strategies to boost their own results. In return, your name is mentioned during the fundraiser, reaffirming your commitment to corporate social responsibility and your local community.

Way #5: Encourage Volunteerism in Your Own Employees

Some companies may even create incentive programs to encourage donating, team building, and volunteerism within their own small community of employees. It’s not only a great way to foster greater community involvement, but helps build your own team’s morale. They can get a break from the monotony of working while enjoying the incentives you use. Meanwhile, local community service increases and you’ve helped boost local community involvement.

One small way you can do this is to include an optional, once-a-quarter volunteer opportunity with your employees. Doing so won’t only encourage employees to meet with other people in the community and interact with them, but will help you meet your own community involvement goals.

Giving Back During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is the perfect time to give back, but community involvement is something that your business should take seriously all year long. It not only demonstrates that you’re willing to thank people for their support, but helps people remember your name. And local customers are more likely to visit you if they feel that you’re on the same team.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/How Your Small Business Can Give Back to the Community/
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7 Strategies to Make Your Small Business Seem a Lot Bigger

Small businesses often have a tough time marketing themselves as an attractive alternative to their larger competitors; consumers often assume large companies are more affordable and offer better quality (in service or products). This means that if you’re a company with just a handful of employees, you could lose out on lucrative opportunities by divulging your startup status.

The good news is that it’s possible to overcome this bias, but it does take some work to get through the unfortunate consumer perception that “bigger is better.” To help level the playing field, you can create the illusion of your business’ being larger than it is and position yourself among the “big guys.” Here are seven suggestions for ways you can look bigger and help your company grow in the process.

1. Build a robust website

Since a website is your virtual welcome mat, you want to it look appealing, no matter your company’s size. A well-rounded and fleshed out website can make a small company look like a corporate giant if done right. Since less than two-thirds (64%) of businesses don’t have websites, by building a site and making it stand out, you can gain a strong competitive edge. Include these considerations as you go:

  • Avoid naming the business after yourself. Create a savvy name that sounds like a larger company (i.e. instead of John Smith Marketing, try John Smith & Associates).
  • Build a targeted home page.
  • Include an “About Us” section (and definitely use the word “us”)! List products or services and try to include some customer testimonials.
  • Include an automated contact page; an email address is not enough. No matter how robust, a site will scream “small-time” without listing a phone number and a physical address — and, ideally, providing a form allowing users to email the company directly from the contact page.
  • Keep your content up to date, or at least refresh it on a regular basis.
  • Add some valuable free content, white papers, ebooks, etc. (If you can afford to offer it for free, you’re perceived as one of the heavy hitters!)
  • Be sure your website is mobile-friendly.
  • Avoid templates like a basic WordPress or Blogger layout. Upgrade them so they look more professional.

By leveraging the power of the internet, you can position yourself on a more even playing field with the bigger companies. Be sure to use this knowledge to your advantage to disguise the size of your company.

2. Establish a logo.

All major companies have a logo, and so should you. A strong logo will strengthen your brand and make it memorable. Align yourself to attract the same type of recognition the heavyweights enjoy and reap the benefits.

3. Upgrade your internal email addresses and phone number.

Be sure to take the time to carefully create (and curate) your company’s email addresses. If you’ve been using a free email service, upgrade sooner than later. Email addresses from free services can look less than professional, leading potential customers to dismiss you. And an email address format such as firstname@yourcompany.com can look amateurish, whereas adding a last name can create a new — and much grander — company persona.

A run of the mill phone number can also make your company look small. Consider getting a vanity number through Grasshopper to not only make your company look bigger and more established, but to build a business identity that people won’t forget, to generate more leads (vanity numbers have been shown to drive more traffic), and to make your brand more recognizable.

4. Consider a new geographical location.

If you face many direct competitors in your location, why not consider moving to a new one? In the process, you could save money, then use those resources to better position yourself in a less-saturated market. As an example, Atlanta continues to boom, hosting CNN, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and numerous other Fortune 500 companies. It’s a big city, but the cost of living is affordable when compared to other major U.S. cities with comparable opportunities.

5. Invest in automation.

Running a business on a shoestring budget can be time-consuming. Look for cost-effective ways to free up your time so you can focus on your core competencies and grow your business. One way to do this is to invest in automation.

  • Use artificial intelligence for data collection and analysis.
  • Automate your bookkeeping and self-employment taxes. Go online to find resources that can help you plug in the correct numbers and calculate your tax amounts.
  • Enhance HR and support services.

Automation does have some upfront costs if you want to keep it in-house, but if you go with a managed service provider and work out of the cloud, you can budget for your automated services with one singular monthly fee.

6. Cultivate a strong social media presence.

Marketing is no longer a one-way street. Today’s customers don’t want anyone preaching at them about what they want and need; they want a two-way street. Essentially, they want to be able to interact with your brand. The best way to do this is through social media. It’s convenient, fast, and straightforward.

  • Cultivate lots of followers organically. Don’t go around spamming sites and following everyone, only to unfollow them later. Focus on sincere interaction and gaining genuine interest in your brand.
  • Share lots of interesting news, tips, and other industry-related items your customers will appreciate. (It’s OK to throw out the occasional cute cat video, too!)
  • Always make time to answer all inquiries, comments, and concerns.
  • Position and present yourself as an industry expert and thought leader.

Before you go all out and invest your efforts in establishing a social media presence, choose your platforms carefully. As a small business owner, your time is always at a premium. Be sure to choose a handful of the most important (and appropriate for your brand) social media outlets and focus your efforts on those.

Empty or inactive profiles scattered across the web won’t be an asset to your company  because those only shout out “Hey, I’m not big enough to maintain the resources needed to keep up with my social media accounts.”

7.  Invest in high-quality promotional materials.

High-quality promotional materials look professional and can draw a discerning consumer’s eye — even if they might only be accustomed to having large companies fill their needs. Plan to attend trade shows, business expos, and other networking events. Be sure to have a good plan in place to generate the most value from your shiny new promotional materials.

You shouldn’t let your company’s small size prevent you from generating a buzz in your industry. Strategize ways to give yourself a more prominent presence and see where it leads you. If you’re already a trailblazer, inflating your size will keep you where you belong — actively competing and growing as a company.

 

 

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/7 Strategies to Make Your Small Business Seem a lot Bigger/
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What They Don’t Tell You About Starting a Business

In honor of Small Business Saturday, we’re celebrating small business owners all month! And not only current small business owners, but those that are up-and-coming as well. Have you been wanting to start a small business for awhile? Do you have an idea in place, but haven’t quite taken the plunge?  Well, we’re here to help. After all, starting a business may be nothing like you envisioned it would be.

Owning your own business can be a major part of the American dream. But that doesn’t mean it’s always all it’s cracked up to be, either. Here are some important lessons you may learn along the way:

It’s Not Always as Exciting as You Thought

When you worked in a cubicle and stared out the window, fantasizing about ample working vacations in the Caribbean, the concept of working for yourself was equal parts distant fantasy and endlessly exciting.

And working for yourself can be exciting. In fact, there’s a strong reason that entrepreneurs are some of the happiest people on the planet. Freedom is great.

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Building a new business can also be stressful, taxing, and—make sure you’re sitting down for this—will often feel very similar to your old job.

With all that added freedom comes added responsibility. You’ll be responsible for a brand new budget. You may end up responsible for making payroll every month. For the well-being of a team of employees. For an entire company. And sometimes, it will all feel like it’s dangling by a thread.

The good news: if you read all of that and still think “yeah, I want to start a business,” then there’s a strong chance it’s the right decision for you.

It Costs More Than You Think

True: in some types of businesses, your digital overhead may be so low that it essentially amounts to counting how much you pay in transaction and credit card fees.

But for most businesses, your startup costs will generally be higher than you think. The Small Business Administration created a startup cost calculator to help entrepreneurs get a sense of what they can expect to pay before they dive into the deep end of the pool. It’s easy to ignore these costs when you’re an employee and don’t think about who’s paying for everything. When you have to write the check, though, you’ll have to think about everything, including:

  • Advertising
  • Office space and supplies
  • Furniture
  • Décor
  • Utilities
  • Licenses
  • Employee training
  • Recruitment services
  • Website maintenance

And this is just a small sample of the costs for which you’re now responsible. Before you jump into that proverbial deep end, make sure that you think of every cost as much as possible and develop a plan for handling them.

Luckily, there are a lot of great, affordable services out there built specifically for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Such is the case with Grasshopper! For a low cost, a solo operator or an entrepreneur leading a growing team can separate their business phone from their personal phone and get a professional boost! And for a limited time, you can try Grasshopper for free and be entered to win a whole year of Grasshopper service on us!

Managing People is More Difficult Than You Thought

Ever find yourself at the bottom of the totem pole? Most of us have. And one thing we have in common at the bottom of the totem pole is that we think we can do better than the person on top.

But the view from the top is far more complicated than you might imagine. Here are a few tips for better managing people who rely on your leadership to get things done:

  • Make communication a priority. The best leaders set clear expectations for their team. They don’t rely on mind-reading and precedent to do the teaching for them. Instead, set very clear goals and milestones as to what you expect. Write out an employee manual for starters and make sure that you regularly check in with your team.
  • Remain open to feedback. Just as you’d expect an employee to adjust their work habits if you pointed out something wrong to them, you should be willing to hear employee feedback. True, not all the feedback you hear will be valid constructive criticism. But so long as you remain willing to hear it, you’ll keep yourself in check.
  • Accept that some people will be irrational. When you manage people, dealing with the flaws that “people” have in general comes with the territory. You have to accept that not every decision an employee makes will appear rational. You have to accept that their inability to get along with some co-workers will not make sense to you. You have to accept that not every situation is “winnable.” Do your best, but accept that people—even strong employees—are still human beings with flaws.

It’s Okay to Ask For Help

When you become a full entrepreneur, it’s tempting to view yourself as the royalty in your particular castle. You’re in charge of the manor. You have all the answers. You’re self-actualized.

The reality is far different. Jon Stein of Betterment once told Inc.com that if he could go back in time and tell himself something he learned along the way, it would be that he sometimes needs to lean on others:

“In the beginning, I thought I could handle all of the work myself. I was going to do all the coding, handle all of the legal, and build a fully-automated solution. And that worked, but only for so long. The work just kept growing, and I quickly realized that I needed the help of others.”

Contrary to what you may be thinking, there is no magic pill that comes in the mail from the Small Business Administration. There’s no wand to wave that will make you more capable, more poised, more confident. That will all come from within.

And if it doesn’t all come from within right away, that’s okay too. It’s okay to ask for help from others. You can find mentors, lean on colleagues, or simply delegate the work that you’re not suited for. This won’t only make your life a lot easier, but will help you understand that being a leader doesn’t mean you’re necessarily stronger as a worker. Everyone needs help sometimes.

The Hard Work Is Worth It

Here’s the good news: it’s worth it.

While added responsibility can increase stress, there’s no reason that you have to succumb to this stress as you run a business. You can adapt. You can lean on others. You can learn the ropes and improve with every lesson learned. And as you think back on those days in which you stared out the cubicle window with Caribbean vacations in your head, you’ll find that your life is far closer to that dream than ever before. And no matter how hard you’ve worked already, in that moment—it won’t seem so tough.

So this Small Business Saturday (or any day, really), go out and start that business you’ve been dreaming of. And not only that, but support others who have worked relentlessly on their small businesses — who have put their heart and soul into building something they believe in.

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/What They Dont Tell You About Starting a Business/
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How to Use Grasshopper’s Instant Response Feature to Follow Up with Prospects

Never Miss an Opportunity With Grasshopper’s Instant Response Feature

We live in the age of instant gratification. If your business can’t provide that, you’re already behind. That’s what HubSpot found when they performed a survey on consumers: not only did consumers want fast service if they were interested in buying from you, but if they’ve already bought from you, their expectations become even greater:

  • 82% of consumers rate an “immediate” response as most important when they come to you with a question
  • 90% of consumers rate an immediate response as very important when they have a question related to customer service

What happens when that many consumers expect a certain type of behavior? If you don’t give it to them, they move on to the next business/competitor.

Why You Need Instant Response—Right Now

A traditional business phone system usually means that you answer phone calls “when you can.” There are a few problems with this:

  • You miss business opportunities when you don’t answer. If 82% of people making even sales inquiries expect a fast response, then the fact that you’re busy doesn’t matter to them. A customer will move on to someone with a faster response.
  • Providing Instant Response is too time-consuming. Maybe you do make an effort to take every new customer’s phone call. The problem is that in a growing business, this can eat into your productive time. And you still might not be able to keep up with inbound business to provide the fast response you want.
  • You have trouble identifying genuine leads. If you rely on voicemail to capture leads, guess what? Not everyone has the patience to leave you a voicemail. How do you discern which phone calls are legitimate business opportunities if you don’t know how to reach them?
  • Responding cuts into productive time. Even if you do find the time to instantly respond to every new caller, you’ll still need to block out time in your calendar to perform the actual work that you are in the business of doing.
  • Making yourself too available for new calls can eat into your productive time. Studies frequently find that your efforts in phone management can have the biggest impact on your ability to focus. 

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Said a Grasshopper customer: “When we are not in the office, or cannot pick up the phone, we can follow up later.”

These distraction problems can weigh heavily on small businesses struggling to keep up and already feel maxed out of resources, is it even possible to answer every prospective call without a massive investment of time and money?

Automating Your Instant Response System to Capture More Leads

The same HubSpot survey found that nearly 2/3rds of buyers feel they should get a response within 10 minutes—no matter what their inquiry might be.

What if you’re away from the desk? Out at lunch? What if your primary responder is away on vacation?

The solution can be found in automation.

Most businesses meet this challenge with a live chat feature. The problem? “Live” chat often means customers interacting with bots before they reach an actual human being. Many can end up frustrated by the time they’re talking to you.

And there’s still the question of what happens when a customer calls you directly and you’re not available.

You might not always have the time to speak with customers instantaneously, but you can build a customer response system that caters to your custom and fits neatly into your business.

Grasshopper’s new Instant Response feature can trigger an automatic text message reply —either default or defined by the user—to any first time caller.

This same feature will trigger whether you’re in a meeting, or simply don’t feel like picking up. And while your customer is receiving your automated response, they’re not browsing the competitor’s website. They may even put off further buying research until they’ve heard from you.

How Grasshopper’s Instant Response Feature Works

Said one Grasshopper customer: “I think the greatest value is helping to initiate client dialogue. If clients call but don’t leave a voicemail, it’s important that they feel some way of my intention to communicate with them.” 

When you’re working or unavailable, you can activate Instant Response to handle any missed calls from a first time caller by using Grasshopper. When this happens, Grasshopper can trigger an automated SMS reply of your choosing to let the customer know that you’ve heard from them. They didn’t dial the wrong number; you’re just temporarily unavailable.

Instant response creates a a standard text message response to new missed calls. This will save you time following up with multiple missed callers—and the text can go out automatically.

In some cases, these follow-up messages might even answer the customer’s question. You can inform customers about business hours, your address, or even give them a link to follow up with.

Tips for Making Instant Response Work for You

If you need to disconnect from the phone without ignoring your customers, Grasshopper’s Instant Response system will fill that void. But it helps to know how to set it up—and what strategies will maximize your productive time without losing out on new business:

  • Customize your reply. There is a default reply available, but you’ll communicate more effectively if you can include custom details about your business. You’d be surprised how often a customer’s first question is whether or not they even called the right number.
  • Let your customer know that you’ll follow up. Since some people might call you during their own buying research process, they might be tempted to call up competitors while they wait for your call. Letting them know that you’ll follow up (within the content of your message) is a great way to keep them focused on the reason they called you.
  • Upgrade to enabling SMS. Using the SMS feature helps you trigger an instant text response—which is often a customer’s preferred method of communication. A quick text message will let a customer know that their call was received and that they made it to the right place. You might even be able to steer them to your website and convert them there to save extra time.

You don’t always have to be chained to your desk to make sure every prospective client feels valued. Simply invest in a system that can automate your customer response and let the system do the work.

 

from The Grasshopper Blog – Insights for Entrepreneurs https://grasshopper.com/blog/Instant Response/
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