COVID-19 relief options and additional resources
LEARN MORE Close

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

Financing Your Export Sales

Published: May 6, 2014 Updated: May 6, 2014

Each of the four international methods of payments, discussed previously, can have an impact on your company’s financing needs when filling overseas orders. Those can be broken down into either pre-shipment or post-shipment working capital needs.

Pre-Shipment:  If you receive a purchase order from a foreign buyer, you will have a pre-shipment working capital need (the funds to hire labor, buy supplies and materials, etc., to produce the order), assuming you don’t already have the goods in inventory.  Two exceptions would be if:

  • you require cash-in-advance before you start production; and/or
  • you receive progress payments throughout the production cycle.

If your payment terms are simply cash-in-advance prior to shipment, or even a letter of credit that is payable upon shipment, you still will need to fund the entire pre-shipment production cycle.  Can you complete the order in 15 or 30 days, or is it for a customized piece of equipment that might take nine months to build? The pre-shipment working capital need could be substantial depending on the size of the order and the production cycle. 

Post-Shipment: If you don’t get paid upon shipment, you will need to carry accounts receivable on your books.  Perhaps you have enough working capital to fill an order with a short production cycle, but you might have to offer 90-day terms to the buyer in order to secure the contract.  In that case, you may need additional working capital to keep the business operating and to support the foreign A/R during that time. 

Two possible solutions are that you might be able to factor the accounts receivable using a commercial factoring company, or you could insure them through a private insurance company or the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. (Visit: www.exim.gov), which would move the risk from the foreign buyer to the U.S. government or larger insurer.  Many lenders allow exporters to borrow against insured overseas A/R.

So, how can you finance your pre-shipment and/or post-shipment export working capital needs?  The SBA has three loan guaranty programs that might work for you:

  • Export Express ($500,000 maximum) which is ideal for new exporters or those with relatively small orders.  In addition to providing working capital for developing export markets or funding export transactions, these loans also can fund the purchase of fix assets used in the production of goods or services for export;
  • Export Working Capital Program ($5,000,000 maximum), which may only be used to finance export transactions—typically all direct costs from purchase order to collections;
  • CapLine Program ($5,000,000 maximum) which is a revolving line of credit that can support the working capital needs for both domestic and foreign sales made on open account terms (foreign A/R must be insured). 

Please, visit www.sba.gov/international for details on, and a list of lenders active in, these programs.  You also will find a listing for SBA’s trade finance specialists located in 19 U.S. Export Assistance Centers across the country that can provide additional information on export financing questions.

About the Author:

Luz Hopewell
Deputy Associate Administrator for International Trade

A Mother’s Day Reminder for Momtrepreneurs: 3 Ways to Make and Take Time for You

By kmurray, Contributor and Moderator
Published: May 5, 2014

You’re an entrepreneur. You’re a mom. You’re a momtrepreneur! Running a business is hard work – and raising kids at the same time means your “work” days probably seem never-ending. While you’re busy managing various responsibilities, it’s important to make sure you’re taking time for yourself too. After all – a healthier, happier you means can contribute to a healthy business as well!

Take a lunch break!

Think skipping lunch means more time for valuable contributions to your business? Think again. As this article from Fast Company points out, even a 20-minute break will help you stay more concentrated and energetic for the rest of the day. Science is on your side – working longer doesn’t mean you’re working smarter, so step back while you enjoy your meal. You’ll come back refreshed and reinvigorated for a more productive afternoon.

Delegate!

As a small business owner, you wear a lot of hats – distribute some! Make sure you’re not trying to do everything, or you’ll find that you’ll be too exhausted to do anything. Having a trusted team and employees you can count on can go a long way in reducing your stress levels and freeing you up from the day-to-day nitty-gritty.

Self-employed? Consider outsourcing to a virtual assistant to free up some of your time. This person can help you manage a variety of tasks – from answering emails to arranging travel schedules and engaging on your social media networks. You may not have employees, but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone.

Take a vacation!

Like an extended lunch break, vacations provide time to recharge. It may be challenging to think about leaving your business to get away for a long weekend or to take a trip for a week, but consider these benefits cited in a recent Forbes article in which people reported a better life perspective and more motivation to achieve goals; feelings of greater creativity; and a reduction in conflict and tension in the workplace.

If those reasons aren’t enough to convince you, think about the health benefits – or consequences of avoiding vacations. Studies have shown that never taking time off can ignite issues ranging from health problems to burnout. And business psychology expert Sharon Melnick, Ph.D., has written that 80% of workers feel stress on the job, and 70% of visits to healthcare providers are because of stress-related conditions. If you think you don’t have time for a vacation, you know you don’t have time for these negative situations.

With all you have going on with your business – and the business of raising kids – it’s easy to lose track of the importance of making sure you’re also taking care of yourself. Take this time and consider these tips to help you do just that.

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!

How to Get Paid for Your Export Sales

Published: May 2, 2014 Updated: May 2, 2014

If you are in business -any business- whether domestic or international, getting paid for your products or services is paramount to your business survival, growth and success. Ultimately, any sale is a gift until you get paid.  So understanding how to get paid for an export sale is especially important, since your buyer could be 10,000 miles away.  

There are four basic ways to get paid for an international order. From the most, to the least, secure method of payment for the exporter, these are:

Cash-in-advance.  New exporters frequently request this method.  Their attitude typically is, “I don’t know you very well but, if you send me the money, I’ll send you the goods.” 

  • Advantage: The exporter gets paid before the shipment leaves the U.S.
  • Buyer’s Perspective: It is high risk. My money is gone, and all I have is the exporter’s promise to deliver.
  • Disadvantage: It limits the exporter’s sales potential, is non-competitive, and ties up the importer’s cash.

Letter-of-credit. Documentary letters of credit (L/C) substitute the creditworthiness of the importer and exporter with that of their respective banks.

  • Advantage:  The exporter will be paid if the terms and conditions of the L/C are met.
  • Buyer’s Perspective: The funds won’t be released until shipment is made and terms met.
  • Disadvantage: There are fees associated with opening and amending L/C; the importer’s cash is tied-up.

Documentary collections.  This method uses the banking system to send documents to the importer to request payment.

  •  Advantage: The goods are not released to the importer until the importer pays or agrees to pay for the goods.
  • Buyer’s perspective: Payment is delayed until goods are delivered or close to being delivered.
  • Disadvantage: There is no guaranty of payment; importer could refuse goods; banks only act as intermediaries for collections.

Open account. Open account terms for international sales are similar to domestic open account sales. The buyer agrees to pay in a set number of days—typically 30, 60, or 90—from the invoice, shipment or delivery date.

  • Advantage: More competitive terms which can help secure larger orders.
  • Buyer’s perspective: May allow the buyer time to sell the goods prior to payment; does not tie up importer’s cash.
  • Disadvantage: The goods are gone and the buyer might not pay. This risk can be greatly reduced by obtaining credit insurance from the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. on the foreign accounts receivable. Cost for credit insurance can be minimal, viz. about 65 cents per $100 of the invoiced amount for a policy that provides 95% coverage. (Visit: www.exim.gov for details.)

The method of payment used is frequently a result of perceived country and commercial risk, competition, and what is normal in a particular country or region.  While letters of credit are common in parts of the Middle East or Asia, they are used less frequently in Europe and requiring them for payment could well reduce an exporter’s competitiveness in some markets.

In addition to the above considerations when requesting a particular method of payment, the exporter also should evaluate what impact the payment method will have on its own working capital financing needs.  We’ll discuss that in our next installment.

About the Author:

Luz Hopewell
Deputy Associate Administrator for International Trade

Pages

Subscribe to The U.S. Small Business Administration | SBA.gov RSS