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5 Traps in Paying Estimated Taxes

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: May 22, 2014

Having business income but being unable to cover anticipated taxes on the income through wage withholding means you’ll have to pay estimated taxes. You’ll have to project what you think you’ll owe for the year and then pay them in four installments to the government. If you underpay, you can be subject to penalties. If you overpay, you’ll effectively have made an interest-free loan to Uncle Sam and will have to file your return after the close of the year to recoup the excess tax payments. Unlike withholding on taxable compensation, which is regimented by IRS tables and up to employers to deposit their withholding, it’s entirely up to you to figure your estimated taxes and pay it to the government. Here are five potential pitfalls that can cause you trouble and money when paying estimated taxes—and what to do to avoid problems.

  1. Failing to have cash on hand

One of the greatest challenges for many small business owners is having the money ready when the dates for estimated taxes roll around. Adopting a payment strategy can help:

  • Make monthly payments even though you’re not required to do so this frequently. It may be more manageable to handle smaller payments each month rather than larger payments on the less frequent usual payment due dates.
  • Set aside funds in a separate account for estimated taxes. Don’t touch the funds for other purposes, no matter how tempting.
  • Explore wage withholding options. For example, if you have an S corporation, you can increase withholding on taxable compensation to cover what you expect to owe on your share of corporate profits (there will, of course, be withholding on your salary and other taxable benefits). Note: When starting a business, it may be worth considering becoming an S corporation rather than a limited liability company because of the ability to use wage withholding for tax payments.
  1. Not covering all tax obligations

In addition to factoring in taxes on net earnings from self-employment, include S corporation owners’ shares of their business profits, taxable compensation from being an employee (although there usually is income tax withholding on this compensation), and other reportable income for accurately estimating taxes.  Estimated taxes also cover:

  • Self-employment tax to cover Social Security and Medicare taxes on net earnings from self-employment (profits in a sole proprietorship and a partner’s distributive share of partnership profits)
  • Additional Medicare tax on earned income (employers must withhold this tax on taxable compensation over $200,000, but self-employed individuals must address this tax themselves)
  • Additional Medicare tax on net investment income. Income from businesses in which you materially participate is not subject to this tax, but your business income can boost your modified adjusted gross income, triggering or increasing the tax on your other investment income.
  1. Believing each quarterly payment falls evenly

While estimated taxes are referred to as quarterly payments, they do not fall evenly throughout the year. The due dates for 2014 estimated taxes are:

  • April 15, 2014 (for income received from January 1, 2014, through March 31, 2014)
  • June 16, 2014 (for income received from April 1, 2014, through May 31, 2014)
  • September 15, 2014 (for income received from June 1, 2014, through August 31, 2014)
  • January 15, 2015 (for income received from September 1, 2014, through December 31, 2014)

Thus, there are only two months between the first and second required payments. Set aside sufficient funds for each required installment.

  1. Paying too much, too early

It’s not unusual for income of small business owners to vary—sometimes greatly—throughout the year. The IRS gives this example: A shop owner at a marina receives sizable income in the summer but not so much at other times of the year. If you are like this shop owner, you avoid incurring estimated tax penalties by using the annualized income installment method. Under this method, installments in one or more payment period may be less than one-fourth of required annual payments. Details about the annualized income installment method are in IRS Publication 505.

  1. Reporting the payment under the Social Security number of the wrong spouse

If you’re paying estimated taxes under your Social Security number through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System but your spouse is listed first on your tax return, this can delay a refund or cause greater scrutiny of your tax return. The reason: IRS computers only apply automatically estimated taxes paid under the Social Security number of the first spouse on the return. The IRS must manually look further into estimated tax payments if they don’t match up. You can address this problem in three ways:

  • List yourself first on the return; the tax law does not require any special order, such as a male spouse listed before a female spouse.
  • Change your EFTPS.gov account to reflect the Social Security number of the first spouse listed on the return, even if this spouse is not the one earning the income or paying the estimated taxes.
  • Continue to pay estimated taxes under your Social Security number but ask the IRS to credit your payments to your spouse’s Social Security number; do this before you file your income tax return.

Conclusion

Your best strategy for avoiding estimated tax problems is to work with a knowledgeable tax advisor who can help you craft appropriate installments and ways to handle them.

About the Author:

BarbaraWeltman
Barbara Weltman

Guest Blogger

Barbara Weltman is an attorney, prolific author with such titles as J.K. Lasser's Small Business Taxes, J.K. Lasser's Guide to Self-Employment, and Smooth Failing as well as a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® and host of Build Your Business Radio. She has been included in the List of 100 Small Business Influencers for three years in a row. Follow her on Twitter: @BigIdeas4SB or at www.BigIdeasforSmallBusiness.com

Which Unsecured Business Lines of Credit are Best for Your Business?

By Marco Carbajo, Guest Blogger
Published: May 21, 2014

Whether you’ve been in business for a couple of weeks or five years, access to cash is a crucial element of survival for a business. When the going gets tough, a business can fail unless it has access to cash on demand.

For business owners, getting unsecured business lines of credit is by far the best choice for having that cash on demand. The fact is that business owners want access to funds – whenever they need it, at a competitive rate and with flexible payment options. The National Federation of Independent Businesses says, “Think of it as an insurance policy that never needs to be paid until you need it.”

It’s important to note there are two main types of unsecured business lines of credit one needs to consider: traditional and non-traditional.

So how do you determine which one is best for your business?

The traditional business line of credit issued by a bank calls for a substantial amount of documentation in order to qualify such as financials, personal tax returns, business tax returns, bank account information, business registration documents, etc.

In addition, once a line is issued an annual financial review is required to maintain the line of credit. While a traditional credit line offers various benefits such as check-writing privileges, it tends to be the most difficult line of credit to obtain and maintain.

In a recent survey conducted by the National Small Business Association, “29 percent of small business owners report having their lines of credit reduced in the last four years and nearly 1 in 10 had their line of credit called in early by the bank.”

In my opinion, a non-traditional line of credit in the form of business credit cards are the best unsecured business lines of credit a company can get. It provides the fast access to cash and payment flexibility associated with a traditional credit line but without all the drawbacks.

Qualifying for this type of revolving credit line is FICO® driven and doesn’t require the yearly reviews, excessive documentation and level of scrutiny that comes with a traditional credit line.

Some of the advantages of non-traditional business lines of credit are as follows:

1) Access to cash quickly – With unsecured business credit cards, you can utilize as much or as little credit from your line as you want to, anytime and anywhere

2) High credit limits – Business credit cards carry high credit limits, making it extremely convenient to finance larger business purchases. Many cards even offer 0% APR for the first 12 months.

2) Flexibility – With business credit cards you have flexible payment options compared to a fixed month-to-month payment that comes with a business loan. When you tap into your credit line, you have three options every month. You could pay the full amount due, pay at least a minimal portion of the balance or pay greater than the minimum amount due.

3) True separation – Business credit cards enable business owners to separate personal and business expenses while benefiting from business credit reporting. This makes it possible for business owners to establish the creditworthiness of the business itself.

4) Personal credit protection – Small business credit cards that report solely to the business credit agencies allow business owners to protect their personal credit ratings while building their business credit.

While a non-traditional business credit line provides all the convenience and flexibility a business needs, there are some negative aspects to consider. The major drawback is the ability for a business to accumulate debt. Without a fixed payment schedule, business owners may be tempted to simply pay the minimum monthly payment on its outstanding balances. By carrying debt, compound interest can really add up, especially if a company carries large balances.

No matter what type of unsecured business lines of credit you decide to obtain for your business, it’s crucial to manage any debt responsibly. Traditional and non-traditional business lines of credit are essential tools for any business to have in its financial arsenal.

About the Author:

Marco Carbajo
Marco Carbajo

Guest Blogger

Marco Carbajo is a business credit expert, author, speaker, and founder of the Business Credit Insiders Circle. He is a business credit blogger for Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp, the SBA.gov Community, About.com and All Business.com. His articles and blog; Business Credit Blogger.com, have been featured in 'Fox Small Business','American Express Small Business', 'Business Week', 'The Washington Post', 'The New York Times', 'The San Francisco Tribune',‘Alltop’, and ‘Entrepreneur Connect’.

Three Popular Start-Up Financing Options

By kmurray, Contributor and Moderator
Published: May 21, 2014

Thinking about starting a business? Recent studies and reports have shown that entrepreneurs are more optimistic than in recent years when it comes to the state of their businesses this year, and that’s great news! But always high on the list of concerns for starting a business – even in optimistic times – is financing. Here’s a roundup of some ways, aside from avenues such as SBA-backed loans, to finance your business.

Credit Cards

According to expert Marco Carbajo, credit cards are a major source of financing for small business owners, with statistics even showing that more than 65% of small businesses using them on a frequent basis. It’s a popular approach, but you should be sure to do your research to determine if it’s the right one for you. Here are some tips from Entrepreneur.com to help:

  • Unless your business is incorporated – so if yours is a sole proprietorship, for instance – you are guarantor of all debts. So if your sales are slow and you fall behind on payments, you risk your personal credit rating and ability to borrow.
  • It varies by state, but your credit-card issuer might still require that shareholders with significant ownership guarantee the line of credit – even if your business is incorporated.
  • Potentially bringing on partners? Make sure your agreement states that they’ll accept personal guarantees on all existing business debt. You need to address this specifically because in many states, new partners aren't automatically responsible for previous debts.
  • Read the fine print. Don’t accept an offer without checking into the details, understanding the terms of use and evaluating risks. Don’t hesitate to ask a professional for guidance.

Friends and Family

Asking friends and family to borrow funds to help finance your business sounds like it could get awkward, but it doesn’t have to. Treat the process just as professionally as you would an engagement with a bank. If you done right, you can potentially gain quicker access to the cash you need and jump through fewer hoops – after all, your friends or family already know you. Read more about borrowing from friends and family in our article here, but think about these highlights as you consider this option:

  • Think carefully about who you’ll approach and make sure they understand the risks (and rewards) of getting involved. Keep in mind if your business doesn’t work out and you can’t repay your obligations, relationships could suffer.
  • Be realistic about how much money you need. Instead of asking for the maximum, consider what you need to get you to a certain point in your business plan. Once you show you can repay that initial investment, you’ll be in a better position to ask for more money if you need it.
  • Write it down. You might think a verbal agreement with your friend or relative is sufficient given the personal relationship, but this is business. Consider this advice from Entrepreneur.com: "Any time you take money into a business, the law is very explicit: You must have all agreements written down and documented. If you don't, emotional and legal difficulties could result that end up in court. And if the loan isn't documented, you may find yourself with no legal recourse.”
  • Communicate. Show your business progress and share updates along the way, even if it’s correcting mistakes you’ve made with your business strategy. Checking in and sharing information shows that you’re taking seriously the role others are playing in your venture and demonstrates professionalism.

Crowdfunding

Increasingly, crowdfunding is becoming a popular way for people to get startup financing for their businesses. You’ve probably heard of Kickstarter campaigns – that’s crowdfunding. It works through a collective cooperation of people who network and pool their money and resources together, usually online, to support efforts initiated by others. So it gathers multiple, smaller investments as opposed to a single source of funding. You can read more about the details here, but here are three other key considerations from Entrepreneur.com:

  • You should begin working on your crowdfunding campaign six months before you want to launch your project. When your campaign starts, you should’ve already made a significant effort in letting people know about it collecting email addresses so you can really hit the ground running when you open the gates for your campaign.
  • Set your funding goal as low as you can manage because some crowdfunding platforms, like Kickstarter, are “all or nothing.” For instance, if you set a goal of $1,000 and you meet it, then you get the money. If you raise only $500, you won’t get anything. Read the fine print about the platform you choose so you can be strategic about your funding request.
  • Don’t forget to award your donors. You’re asking people to take a risk on your business venture – there are no guarantees. So thank them and show your appreciation by offering your product or service at a discount when the time comes.

You can also learn more from our online Learning Center course, “Introduction to Crowdfunding for Entrepreneurs.”

Beyond a “traditional” track of securing a loan from a bank, there are quite a few avenues to consider for financing your business. And with passion, professionalism and planning, you’ll establish a good foundation for success down any of these paths.

Related Resources

About the Author:

kmurray
Katie Murray

Contributor and Moderator

I am an author and moderator for the the SBA.gov Community. I'll share useful information for your entrepreneurial endeavors and help point you in the right direction to find other resources for your small business needs. Thanks for joining our online community here at SBA.gov!

Investigating Feel-Good Franchises

By FranchiseKing, Guest Blogger
Published: May 20, 2014

We all want to feel good. We all want to have pleasant experiences. And, we’re willing to pay for them. We’re willing to pay to ensure we get our fair share of the good things in life.

If you’re looking to become a franchise owner, have you thought about targeting opportunities that provide feel-good products and services?

Feel-Good Franchise Opportunities

Opportunities that make people feel good run the gamut from franchises in the spa industry to franchises that promote fitness.

Here are some examples of franchises in the spa category:

·        Massage Heights

·        Massage Envy

·        Hand And Stone Massage

·        The Woodhouse Day Spa    

·        Seva®

·        Planet Beach Automated Spa

Credit must go to the people at Massage Envy for putting spa franchises on the map. In addition to helping energize a not often-mentioned franchise category, the executives at Massage Envy came up with a membership model. For a set monthly price, clients are entitled to receive one massage and can purchase additional ones at discounted prices.

Read this from the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals website:*

After 30 years in the fitness industry, John Leonesio saw the opportunity massage offered and in 2002 designed the Massage Envy concept in Scottsdale, Arizona, to resemble the health club membership model. Now owned by Sentinel Capital, a middle-market private equity firm, Massage Envy’s original concept—to make the health benefits of massage both convenient and affordable—remains and has earned the company several distinctions

Fitness Franchise Examples

Fitness franchises have been around a long time. Jack LaLanne, considered to be the “Father of Fitness,” opened what is thought to be the nation’s first health club in Oakland, California in 1936.

Today, people want to get in shape and stay in shape, but there’s a big difference between doing so in the 1930’s and now.

That difference is time. We just don’t have as much time to get physically fit as we used too. We have too many constraints…time constraints. We’re all busy, busy. Sometimes, it’s really difficult to go to a fitness club and work out on a regular basis.   

A few entrepreneurs – innovators, really – have been able to capitalize on the problem…the issue of not having a lot of time to get in shape and stay in shape.

Chuck Runyon, Dave Mortensen, and Jeff Klinger founded Anytime Fitness* in 2002. They realized that consumers were starved for time and were having problems finding fitness clubs that were open when they needed them to be. Anytime Fitness was born, and they, along with several others in the space, have been able to serve those clients, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Below, you’ll find several fitness franchises to investigate if you’re interested in these types of feel-good franchises.

·        Snap Fitness

·        Koko FitClub

·        Title Boxing Club

·        FitZone® For Women

·        Fitness Together

·        The Zoo Health Club

Feeling Good About Feel-Good Franchises

A lot of the people I work with share their desire to provide products and services that bring positive change to people’s lives.

Franchises that make people feel good provide positive things that today’s busy consumers want.

If you’d like to own a franchise that makes people feel good, you have lots of choices. Narrowing those choices involves serious research. Thoroughly investigate franchises you’re interested in. Talk to existing franchisees. They’re the ones who have already invested their money and their time into the franchises you’re thinking of buying. That way you’ll feel good about what you may end up doing.

Here are a few articles which include dozens of tips designed to help you do great franchise research.

Entrepreneur Magazine: Researching Franchises*

SBA.gov: Researching That Franchise

Franchise.org: How To Investigate A Franchise*

*Non-US Government links

 

About the Author:

FranchiseKing
Joel Libava

Guest Blogger

The Franchise King®, Joel Libava, is the author of Become a Franchise Owner! and recently launched Franchise Business University.

From Boise to Moscow: The STEP Program Builds Bridges of Success throughout the World

Published: May 19, 2014 Updated: July 20, 2016

Addressing the criticality of U.S. exports, President Obama said, "The global economy is more integrated than ever... If we're going to grow, it's going to be because of exports." As the world's economic landscape expands at an unprecedented rate and burgeoning foreign markets seek U.S. products and services, it is vital that American small businesses recognize and leverage the endless export opportunities around the world.

Simply put, exports fuel our economy. Since 2009:

  • exports have driven nearly half of the economic growth and account for nearly 14 percent of the U.S. economy
  • U.S. businesses are able to grow faster, hire more employees, pay higher wages, and help spread American ideas, innovation and values.

Unfortunately, only a small fraction of U.S. businesses currently export and 58 percent of those businesses only export to one country. In response to this missed opportunity, the President established the National Export Initiative (NEI) to promote U.S. exports and the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 established the pilot State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) Grant Program to provide effective opportunities to increase the number of small business exporters and increase their exports. The U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of International Trade (OIT) has just launched the third year of this pilot program.

The OIT's has produced significant results. In November 2013, the Governor of Idaho, along with representatives from 17 Idaho businesses, over half of which were small businesses, flew to the Russian Federation. Governor "Butch" Otter and his peers arrived in Moscow for a nine-day trade mission involving a variety of industries including potato machinery and storage equipment, animal feed, peas/lentils/chickpeas, live cattle, timber and international education.

The Governor and his fellow Idahoans journeyed halfway around the world in pursuit of the abundant economic opportunities offered in the former Soviet Union. The Russian Federation has the world's 11th largest economy, and, with over 140 million consumers, Russia continues to be one of the most promising markets for U.S. exporters. In fact, Russia is one of Idaho's top ten export markets for agricultural products. Idaho has experienced the appreciable benefits of expanding exports outside of our nation's borders. In 2012, Idaho exported $21 million worth of goods to Russia, up 17 percent from the previous year.

Opportunities for small businesses to establish or to bolster export partnerships, such as the Idaho Trade Mission, are made possible through grants funded by the STEP Program. This Program can award grants to the 50 states, District of Columbia, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa or Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands for increasing the number of small business exporters and their export sales.

In 2014, the STEP Program will award $8 million to:

  • advance small business participation in foreign trade missions and market sales trips
  • subscription to services provided by the Department of Commerce
  • design of international marketing products and campaigns
  • representation at export trade show exhibits
  • export related training, and other endeavors aligned with the STEP Program goals.

The STEP grant award amounts vary based on an awardee's approved project plan and budget. The results of these investments are substantial in a world that is becoming more and more interconnected. The state recipients of the STEP Program's second year awards reported a return on Federal investment of over seventeen-to-one. Beginning its third year, the STEP Program will continue to actively foster export opportunities for small businesses by providing them with support to succeed in international exports.

Small businesses are a model for success in U.S. exports. In 2011, nearly 300,000 U.S. small businesses exported goods, accounting for 98 percent of all identified exporters. Sales of American products and services to those outside of our borders not only fuels the economy and creates jobs and higher wages in the United States, but it also builds bridges for the exchange of ideas, cultures, and values with other communities around the world.

SBA's STEP Program is instrumental in helping U.S. small businesses build their bridges of success throughout the world.

For more information on the STEP Program, visit https://www.sba.gov/content/state-trade-and-export-promotion-step-pilot-grant-initiative-cfda-59061-1

About the Author:

Luz Hopewell
Deputy Associate Administrator for International Trade

Free Trade Agreements: What You Should Know for Your Small Business Exports

By kmurray, Contributor and Moderator
Published: May 19, 2014 Updated: September 26, 2016

Interested in exporting your small business’s goods or services outside the United States? Have you heard of free-trade agreements? Here’s what you should know about how they can benefit you in the exporting process.

What is a free-trade agreement?

A free-trade agreement, or FTA, is an agreement between two or more countries where the countries agree to take steps to make trade between the countries’ businesses easier and faster.  FTAs reduce trade tariffs and non-tariff barriers, such as import quotas, and also cover protections for investors and intellectual property rights.

For the United States, the main goals of trade agreements are to:

  • Reduce barriers to U.S. exports
  • Protect U.S. interests competing abroad
  • Enhance the rule of law in the FTA partner country or countries

Ultimately, it’s easier and cheaper for U.S. companies to export to these trading partner markets, because  FTAs help create a more stable and transparent trading and investment environment, which reduces risks for you as a small-business exporter.

With which countries does the U.S. have an FTA?

As of January 1, 2014, the United States has 14 FTAs in force with 20 countries:

  • Australia
  • Bahrain
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • DR-CAFTA: Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, & Nicaragua
  • Israel
  • Jordan
  • Korea
  • Morocco
  • NAFTA: Canada & Mexico
  • Oman
  • Panama
  • Peru
  • Singapore

Other benefits of FTAs

Some other kinds of benefits often found in FTAs are:

  • The ability for a U.S. company to bid on certain government contracting opportunities in the FTA partner country
  • The ability for a U.S. investor to get prompt, adequate and effective compensation if its investment in the FTA partner country is taken away by the government
  • The ability for U.S. service suppliers to supply their services in the FTA partner country
  • Protection and enforcement of American-owned intellectual property rights in the FTA partner country
  • The ability for U.S. exporters to participate in the development of product standards in the FTA partner country

Learn more at Export.gov and find out what else you should know about exporting by exploring the resources below!

Related Resources

About the Author:

kmurray
Katie Murray

Contributor and Moderator

I am an author and moderator for the the SBA.gov Community. I'll share useful information for your entrepreneurial endeavors and help point you in the right direction to find other resources for your small business needs. Thanks for joining our online community here at SBA.gov!

The Entrepreneur's Guide to Getting Work Done While Traveling

By smallbiztrends, Guest Blogger
Published: May 8, 2014

If you travel in your work, it can be a challenge to get much done in between catching flights, attending meetings and trying to get a little shuteye. And yet, the wheels of your business are still churning.

 

Here’s how to stay on top of your email and task list so that it doesn’t overwhelm you when you get back into the office.

 

Don’t Overestimate Your Ca​pacity

Most people vastly overestimate how much work they will get done while traveling.

I find I almost never have as much time to handle my regular workload while traveling as I expect to. That’s because we don't account for all the little things that eat up our time (such as trying to find a restaurant to get something to eat, figuring out how to get online at that hotspot, dealing with a slow connection in your hotel room, or trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B in your rental car in an unfamiliar city).

We also won’t have our same level of energy, because travel can sap it.

So step one to managing your business while traveling is not to assume you can carry on much of your regular workload remotely while you’re away. Anyway, you won’t be able to enjoy your conference or have productive meetings if you have to spend all your time holed up in a hotel room trying to keep your business going.

Plan Several Weeks Out

You must plan in advance, at least several weeks out. If you wait until two days before you’re about to leave, you won’t have enough time to make arrangements.

Take care of any assignments that will be due during your travel period by working harder ahead of time.

Let your clients know they shouldn’t expect any work from you that week, and for a day or two after you return. Certainly, you may be available for a phone call or to answer a quick email, but you don’t want them pressing you to deliver that huge presentation or important proposal in the middle of your trip.

Hand Over the Keys

If you have staff, select someone to take your place in your absence. Sometimes delegating is the hardest part for business owners. However, consider this a good opportunity to evaluate whether an employee is ready for more responsibility on a permanent basis.

This person should be able to answer questions from clients and other employees, and handle any issues with confidence. Keep in mind, your replacement will likely need more than a day or two to learn what he or she needs to know to take over for you, so plan accordingly.

Use Snippets of Time Wisely

If you’re traveling to attend a conference, consider planning some time to work quietly in your hotel room. You certainly don’t want to travel just to sit in a hotel room and work, but some conference schedules build in extra time. Rather than frittering it away by sitting in a lounge at a convention center for 2 hours, use it to get some work done.

Don’t neglect plane time on long flights. Many planes offer wi-fi, so subscribe to a service like GoGo Inflight Internet if you need an Internet connection to work. And if nothing else, plane time is great for strategy planning and thinking about your business.

You can also wake up an hour earlier to sort through your email before your day begins.

Prioritize Your Emails

In a given week, you might receive hundreds of emails. When you’re busy with work travel, focus just on the important emails. Save the rest to read when you return.

The easiest method is to quickly skim the emails in your inbox and delete any newsletters or promotional emails. Then open the ones from your clients or contacts based on the level of urgency or importance you feel they have.

Google Mail has a Priority Inbox feature that allows you to sort your mail based on who they’re from and level of priority.

Don’t Forget Your Email Autoresponder

If your contacts are accustomed to receiving a response via email from you quickly, it’s wise to let them know you might be slower to respond while traveling. Set up your autoresponder to let people who email you know you are traveling, with limited access to email.

While you won’t not get as much done while traveling as on a typical work week, you don’t have to come back to the office to stacks of work to do.

With a little planning, you can better manage your workload, and ensure the smooth continuation of your business, no matter where you happen to be.

About the Author:

smallbiztrends
Anita Campbell

Guest Blogger

My name is Anita Campbell. I run online communities and information websites reaching over 6 million small business owners, stakeholders and entrepreneurs annually, including Small Business Trends, a daily publication about small business issues, and BizSugar.com, a small business social media site.

SBA Learning Center

SBA Local Assistance

SBA has many offices and resource partners that counsel, mentor and train small business owners and entrepreneurs. With offices located near you and assistance available online, this network can help your business start up, succeed and grow. Watch this short video to learn more.

5 Ways to Honor the Military this Memorial Day

By kmurray, Contributor and Moderator
Published: May 7, 2014

Did you know that May is Military Appreciation Month? And with Memorial Day coming up, it’s a perfect opportunity for your small business to honor the service of our veterans and military men and women. Here’s a look at some ideas to consider from that go beyond a traditional discount on products or services with inspiration from Kathryn Hawkins, who writes extensively on business and entrepreneurship.

  • Collections for troops – Host a collection for items deployed troops need. Let customers know via email newsletters and social media – in addition to in-store signage – that you’ll be gathering items to send overseas. Check out efforts like Operation Gratitude for specifics about how you can help and what our soldiers need.
  • Discounts and free offers – Customize a special offer for those who present military ID, such as 20 percent off your product or service. If you can afford it, toss in a little something extra with a purchase. Run a restaurant? Sweeten the deal with free dessert at the end of the meal.
  • Volunteering – Know a local military family in need? Round up employees to donate time and materials to help out on a project or effort. For example, says Hawkins, if there’s a need for a home renovation project and you run a hardware store, you can donate tools or building materials. Own a nursery? Offer plants or flowers. If you have a café, consider providing a meal or lightening the cooking load with help in the kitchen.
  • Highlight soldiers’ stories – Through email newsletters, Facebook or your other social media channels, pay respect to those who have fallen and express gratitude for those you know who are currently serving. Invite customers to share their stories as well. This kind of effort is great to add another personal (and memorable) touch to your business relationships.  
  • Parades – Does your town or city host a Memorial Day Parade? Many do, and they ask local businesses to sponsor floats to support the cost of the parade. This is a great way to show your support and honor service members, and it also gets your business name out there in a unique way to parade-goers or to folks watching on television. Check in with your local chamber of commerce to learn what’s happening in your area.

However you decide to honor the military this year, customize your effort to make it work for your business. And don’t forget to record what you do and share it on your website, social media or through email. Your customers and community will be glad to know what you’re up to and the successes that benefit the military community.

About the Author:

kmurray
Katie Murray

Contributor and Moderator

I am an author and moderator for the the SBA.gov Community. I'll share useful information for your entrepreneurial endeavors and help point you in the right direction to find other resources for your small business needs. Thanks for joining our online community here at SBA.gov!

Is Your Business Brand Outdated?

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: May 6, 2014

Sometimes, it’s tough for a business owner to see what everyone else does. Like an elderly person happily ensconced in a house they last redecorated in 1972, you don’t realize your website is the design equivalent of an avocado green refrigerator, or your logo looks about as current as orange shag carpeting. Is your business brand outdated? Here’s how to examine your brand with a critical eye and see if it needs a refresher.

First, understand what a brand is. More than your logo, font or website colors, more than your advertising and marketing, your brand is the “personality” of your business. It’s what people think of when they think of your business—whether that’s innovation (like Apple), glamour (like Versace) or an affordable little luxury (like Starbucks). Advertising and marketing support and enhance your brand—but they aren’t your brand.

Next, ask these questions:

·         Does your brand convey your business’s current mission? It’s natural for a business’s mission to evolve as the company grows. Maybe your business started out as a simple coffeehouse, but along the way you expanded your mission to include a focus on fair-trade, sustainably farmed coffees. You also donate part of each purchase to organizations supporting sustainable farming in the third world. If social responsibility is now a hallmark of your mission, is that clearly conveyed by your brand?

·         Do customers see your brand the way you do? Consider conducting focus groups or online surveys to explore how customers see your brand. Ask them to choose from different descriptors or attributes—“fun,” “affordable,” “trustworthy,” “exciting” or whatever attributes you believe your brand has. If customers’ perceptions of your brand are way off from how you want to be perceived, it’s time to rebrand.

·         How does your brand compare with your competitors’? Check out your competition’s advertising, websites, social media presence and marketing materials. If all your competitors are using muted colors and sophisticated fonts while you’re using purple Comic Sans, perhaps you’re standing out in the right way—but chances are you’re standing out in the wrong way, as someone whose brand hasn’t kept pace with the times.

·         Has your customer base changed? As your customers evolve and change, your brand should change with them. Maybe you started out marketing to “slackers” in the 1990s and your “extreme” branding reflected that target market. Now, however, those former slackers are parents in their 40s. Your branding needs to change to reflect the changes they’ve gone through. Even if you marketed to teens 10 years ago and still market to teens today, what teens consider cool has changed immeasurably (10 years ago, social media didn’t exist). Keep up with what your customer base values and adjust your brand to reflect that.

·         Is your business website up-to-date? Your website is such an important part of your branding that it deserves its own mention. Simplicity is key in websites today, with icons and images replacing overly wordy site design. In addition, if your website is still using outmoded technology such as Flash or if it doesn't display well on mobile phones and tablets, your online brand will seem hopelessly out of date.

Are you planning to expand? When you’re adding new products, new services, new locations or new markets, it’s a natural time to re-evaluate your brand. Always assess your brand before an expansion so that if a brand revision is needed, you can add this into the costs.

About the Author:

Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky

Guest Blogger

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva and visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. She's been covering small business and entrepreneurial issues for more than 30 years, is the author of several books about entrepreneurship and was the editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine for over two decades

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