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Planning and Managing a Business Retirement Plan – Government eTools That Can Help

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 17, 2012 Updated: September 8, 2016

Are you self-employed and trying to understand your retirement savings plan options? Are you perhaps an employer who wants to offer your employees a retirement savings plan program?

There are many ways to fund a retirement plan. In some cases, employers contribute. In others, employees or both (employer and employee) contribute. If you have no employees, your options are different again. The program you choose may dictate which options are available.

Even after you’ve chosen a plan, it will take more work and diligence to maintain it. Plan requirements change and it’s your responsibility to know when they do. That’s why reviewing your retirement plan each year helps ensure it’s compliant with current tax laws. Like routine physicals, retirement plan check-ups can help you prevent problems or detect them early.

The good news for employers and the self-employed is that the government offers very useful online tools to help you choose a retirement savings plan, maintain it and even make corrections to your plan to protect participants’ benefits and keep plans in compliance with the law.

Determine the Right Retirement Savings Plan for Your Business

If you are interested in offering your employees an employer-sponsored plan, then you need to understand your options. The Department of Labor’s online Small Business Retirement Savings Advisor is a useful first stop to finding the right plan for you.

The Advisor is part of the DOL’s wider elaws Advisors program that gives both employers and employees easy-to-understand information about a number of federal employment laws. 

Simply answer a series of Yes/No questions and the Advisor will suggest retirement plans appropriate to the number of employees you have, whether you want to have a plan funded by employer, employees or both. It also offers links to the required IRS reporting forms for each plan.

Navigate Your Retirement Plan and Stay Compliant with IRS Laws

Another useful online resource for employers is the IRS Retirement Plans Navigator. This glossy tool not only helps you understand more about plan options, it also helps you manage a well-run plan – both for the benefit of your employees and in line with current federal tax law.

Giving your business retirement plan a check-up, whether it’s a 401(k), IRA, SEP, or 403(k), can also help you save time, money and paperwork, and increase tax return accuracy. Some of the common mistakes the IRS looks out for in retirement plan examinations include:

  • Not covering the proper employees
  • Not giving employees required information
  • Not depositing employee deferrals in a timely fashion
  • Not following the terms of the plan document
  • Not limiting employee deferrals and employer contributions to the proper maximum limits

These errors can have an impact on the tax benefits accrued from operating a business retirement plan and expose you to audits and penalties, so it's a good idea to continuously monitor and review your plan. The IRS Retirement Plans Navigator is an essential tool for keeping your plan compliant and includes useful plan check-ups that can help you prevent problems or detect them early. You can even make appropriate plan changes without having to notify the IRS.

Related Resources

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Do You Copy?

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: October 16, 2012

 

We learn in grade school that it’s not right to copy others, and even as adults we know copying is usually frowned upon. But when it comes to business marketing, there’s nothing wrong with being a copycat—in fact, it’s downright good business. Looking at how your competitors market themselves can teach you what to do (and what not to do) with your own marketing strategy. Here’s how to be a successful marketing copycat.

Start by determining your major competitors, and include both big companies and small ones. Pay attention to their marketing campaigns—including print, radio, TV or cable TV, outdoor advertising and online advertising. (You may want to put someone at your business in charge of gathering and maintaining this information, since it will be an ongoing job.) Create a database or record of where each competitor is advertising, ad size, frequency and any other information you think is important. 

Next, assess the actual ads themselves. Start from a consumer or customer standpoint. If you were looking for this product or service, what would you think of this ad? Be objective; if you can’t, enlist a friend or family member to look at or listen to the ads for you.

Then assess the ads from a business standpoint. What benefits and features do the ads highlight? Do they rely on special offers and discounts, or are they touting luxury or premium products? What types of customers are they targeting (Moms? Seniors? Teens? Businesspeople? Value shoppers)?

Don’t forget social media. It’s easy to keep tabs on what the competition is doing on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest—just follow or like your competitors, then regularly check out their posts and how customers respond. You’ll get a window into exactly how successful their marketing is and what customers like to see.

Once you’ve got all this information, you’ll need to do some serious thinking. Ask yourself (and brainstorm with your team):

·         What do I like and dislike about my competitors’ ads? If something in an ad bugs you, it probably bugs potential customers, too. Conversely, if something resonates with you, it’s likely to hit home with prospects as well.

·         What tactics could I copy or learn from? Of course, you shouldn’t directly copy your competitor—and if your ads are too similar, it could even cause confusion among customers. But you can do things like advertising in the same places your competitors are or promoting similar benefits in your ads. 

·         What can I do differently to make my business stand out? Is there a media outlet your customers care about that no competitors are advertising? For instance, if you’re targeting teens, maybe you could advertise on an Internet radio service like Spotify.

·         What weaknesses do I see that could create opportunity for my business? For example, if all the competitors in your community are promoting their low prices, you could take the opposite tack and promote your personalized service, premium products or other benefit that differentiates your company and makes what you offer worth a higher price. If no one else is advertising out-of-home, but your target consumers frequently use public transportation, there’s opportunity for you to advertise on bus stops or in or near subway stations.

Of course, marketing isn’t all about ads. If possible, visit your competitors’ stores or offices (or have a trusted friend or family member do so) to get a feel for how customers are treated and other elements such as signage, window décor and employee uniforms. Ask yourself the same questions about what you like and dislike as a customer, what’s missing from the marketing, and what opportunities you see.

Once you get the hang of copycat marketing, you’ll be able to apply it outside your immediate competitors. Start paying attention to ads you like (or don’t like) for companies in your industry, even if they’re not directly competitive with yours. Create an “inspiration folder” with ads that help you generate ideas. You’ll soon find that learning from others takes your marketing to new heights.

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

How to Get Paid Faster With a Better Invoicing Process

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 15, 2012 Updated: September 19, 2016

Tired of chasing down one too many unpaid invoices?

Death and taxes may be two of life’s certainties, but if you are a business owner, then in all likelihood you can go ahead and add delinquent receivables to the list.

Unfortunately for small business owners, the wait to get paid is only getting longer. According to a 2012 Wall Street Journal survey, 64 percent of small businesses had unpaid invoices more than 60 days old while 20 percent say the problem is worsening.

The trickledown effect of unpaid invoices is particularly taxing to small business owners – impacting hiring, investments in business and product development and your ability to pay bills.

There are a number of measures you can take to prevent and deal with non-paying clients such as agreeing on payment policies and enforcing late payment fees, but perhaps one of the less obvious tactics is to optimize your invoices for faster payments. Here’s how:

Give Clients What They Need

While your invoice should always include standard information such as your billing address, date and other necessary line items, don’t forget that some clients may require additional details. Details like a contract number, purchase order, tax ID or account number all can help expedite payments. Check with new clients before invoicing them to make sure you are giving them the details they need.

It might also be a good practice to attach your work order, statement of work, contract, or other document that outlines exactly what you agreed to provide. It’s even better if these documents are signed. This will let your client’s accounts payable team know who to contact internally to get the invoice approved and paid.

Invoice Promptly

If your processes can support this, invoice as soon as the work is complete rather than waiting until the end of the month. This will help alleviate delays and ensure you have a steady stream of cash coming in throughout the month.

Invoice Online

You may already be emailing PDF invoices to clients, but another option for reducing the mailing and processing cycle is to invoice your clients online. There are many commercially available online billing systems to consider, many of which integrate online payment options too.

Consider Online Payment Options

Avoid mailing delays and help your client process payments with ease by offering online payment options. Amazon Payments, PayPal and Intuit all offer online payment services that can help you get paid on time. Some of these also offer easy integration with your online billing system and business finance software.

Depending on your industry, you may even be able to find trade-specific online payment services. For example, my pet sitter uses a system designed exclusively for professional pet sitters. Ask around and do your research before signing up for one of these services – and of course, check that your clients are ok with processing payments online.

Related Resources

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

7 Tips for Dealing With Criticism of Your Business on Social Media

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 11, 2012 Updated: October 11, 2012

Not sure how to handle negative comments or criticism of your business on social media? Is the open nature of social media actually stopping you from jumping on board?

Receiving criticism is never easy; it can also damage your business reputation. However, feedback and criticism in an open and social forum also gives your business an opportunity to deflect negativity and even earn you respect – if you handle it right.   

Here are some steps you can take to manage criticism of your business, products, or even staff on social media and online review sites.

1. Get Listening

The first thing is making sure you hear what is being said about you by monitoring the social media sites where you have a presence. Check your Facebook page regularly, monitor your Twitter mentions and set up Google Alerts so you can track when your business is being mentioned online. You may also want to check your Yelp, Google+ Local, Trip Advisor and other listings for customer comments. Don’t forget industry, product or even local community forums. For example, does your neighborhood or home owner’s association have an online forum?  Folks may be reviewing local businesses there.

2. Should You Respond?

You may feel tempted to respond quickly to a negative comment or even delete it. But negative reviews aren’t always worth a response. Some posters may be negative just to get attention, or their comments are just so over the top and rude that responding to them will only draw attention to an issue that clearly is a one-off or that no one else is aware of. Sometimes it’s just best to ignore these posts.

3. Don’t Let Negative Comments Linger

Social media doesn’t wait for anyone. Fans have come to expect a timely response from brands they follow. By chiming in early you can quickly stop others from jumping in on the topic while demonstrating that you value opinion and feedback. 

Even if you don’t have an immediate answer, tell the commentator that you hear them, acknowledge their complaint, and promise to investigate further. “I’m sorry to hear this…” is a great softener and shows you care.

4. Always Acknowledge, Never Deny

Accept that the customer is always right and acknowledge it and investigate to get to the root cause of their feedback or criticism. Where did your business go wrong? Was it a simple misunderstanding or do you need to make changes internally? Avoiding feedback or criticism may come back to bite you.

5. How to Apologize

If you find that your business has been in the wrong or you’ve let your customers down, apologize sincerely. Acknowledge that you’ve investigated the complaint. State clearly that you regret the poor service that the customer has received (i.e. you know what a pain it is when things don’t go as expected), cite it as a lesson learned and let everyone know you will take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Above all, avoid formal language. Take off your sales and marketing hat and be human. End your posts with your name, so the complainant knows who they’re dealing with. Be conversational: “I’m so sorry you had this experience. Let me look into it right away and get back to you – Todd,” instead of: “Your comment has been acknowledged. We will look into this matter further.” You might even own up to the fact that you’ve been experiencing some hiccups in one particular area – whether it’s a new product line, or shipping times – and that you want to hear more if consumers have further issues.

Consider offering to make things right. Ask the customer to email you so that you can either reimburse them or perhaps offer a discount on future purchases. Be sure to follow through on this, look out for the email and respond promptly.

6. Take the Conversation Offline

If you need more information or genuinely feel that this conversation would be better served offline, ask the complainant to contact you directly via email or phone. Make this the exception rather than the rule – and only do it after you’ve publicly acknowledged or apologized for any issues and restated your commitment to customer service. The goal here isn’t putting out the fire out by taking it offline but offering an open invite to continue the dialogue further and address the complainants’ specific concerns. It’s a strategy that works.

7. The Bottom Line

When your business reputation is on the line, demonstrating your commitment to customer satisfaction – and backing it up with action – is a must. Ironically, one unhappy customer converted back into a loyal fan of your business can be far more influential in the word-of-mouth driven world of social media than one happy customer ever can be! So go ahead, embrace comments negative or otherwise – you might just win some more fans!

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Budgeting for the Coming Year

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: October 10, 2012 Updated: January 19, 2016

Now that we're in the fourth quarter of the year, it's time to get ready for 2013. There is much to do from a financial, legal and tax perspective. In this article are guidelines for mapping out your company’s financial plans for 2013. In upcoming articles, you’ll see what legal steps you should take and last-minute tax planning moves you should make before the end of the year.

Overview of budgeting

Budgeting is a process in which you estimate the income you expect your company to receive as well as the expenses you expect it to incur during any fixed period, typically for the year. This helps define your marketing and sales efforts and your spending habits for the coming year.

Admittedly, there is a lot of guesswork because the future is uncertain. However, budgeting provides a framework in which to operate. You can deviate from the budget during the year as things change. For example, when your revenue is running short of your projections, you’ll need to reexamine expenditures accordingly (besides figuring out why revenues are lagging).

The first step in budgeting is to review your current financial position by listing your revenue and expenses for the year. Your accounting software can easily help you organize your financial data to help you with budgeting. For example, in QuickBooks, go to the Report Center for help.  

Projecting revenues

The linchpin for any budget is a realistic projection of your revenues for the coming year. This is not a number made up of hopes and wishes; it is based on a review of revenues for the current year and what you can expect to do in the next year.

Anticipating expenses

Now project your outlays for next year. Start by dividing estimated expenses into two categories: fixed and variable.

Fixed expenses are those that are certain to be incurred and do not vary with the amount of sales you generate, such as rent and insurance premiums. Variable expenses are those dependent on sales, such as inventory costs. You likely will have a number of semi-variable costs, such as wages, travel and entertainment (T&E) costs and marketing expenses.

Use estimates by the experts for rises in wages, insurance, fuel, travel costs and other expenses to help you make projections. For example, the federal government short-term energy outlook expects regular gasoline retail prices to average $3.43 per gallon in 2013. Projections for pay increases are about 3%, as noted by the *Employer’s Resource Council (ERC).

Profit

You don’t want to work for free, so be sure that your budget allows for a profit on your activities. As you know, profit is what you have after subtracting your expenses from your revenue. (There are more calculations, such as reducing gross profits by taxes on those profits, to determine what you can actually pocket at the end of the year.) No one can tell you what profit you can or should make, but again, be realistic. Compare your projection with profits of small business within your industry at *BizStats.

Putting it all together

Budgeting is an art, not an exact science. Be sure to build in a "fudge factor" to account for the unknown. Some unknowns that can throw your budget out of whack, unless you add a cushion, include:

  • Inflation. This rise in the overall cost of goods and services means that your buying power decreases, so you’ll want to account for this possibility. While inflation has remained low in recent years, economists warn that the high federal deficit and other factors could trigger higher inflation in the near future. What's more, the inflation you experience may be higher than the official rate of inflation.
  • Fuel costs. All businesses are impacted by a greater or lesser degree by the cost of gasoline and other fuel. For instance, if your company makes deliveries, the price at the pump affects you in a meaningful way.
  • Interest costs. If you have outstanding loans with variable interest rates and those rates rise, then the cost of servicing this debt will also rise.

Next year, as you put your budget into play, be sure to monitor it continually. If you were overly optimistic about sales, you'll need to trim your spending or figure out how to increase your sales revenue so you don't run into financial problems.

Final thoughts

Get input from your staff about what may be needed next year, such as additional employees, new smartphones or equipment upgrades. Use your accounting software’s budgeting tools to help you create your budget for 2013. If you need help in constructing your company’s budget, work with your CPA or other financial advisor.

*Denotes a link to a non-government Website.

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 Employment Laws Apply to Your Business? There’s an E-Tool for That!

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 10, 2012

Hiring your first employee or building your business team opens whole new areas for compliance in employment and labor law. Laws are broad and far reaching and cover a broad range: preventing discrimination and harassment in the workplace, workplace poster requirements, wage and hour laws, workers compensation regulations, and more.

For small business owners short on time and resources, getting their arms around these laws can be tricky. The good news is that there are many online tools from both the SBA and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to help you understand which laws apply to you and what you need to do to comply.

For example, SBA’s 10 Steps to Hiring your First Employee explains the tax, legal and regulatory steps you need to follow when you hire your first and even subsequent employees. SBA’s Business Law Advisor blog is also a useful reference point for all manner of small business law related topics.

Interact with an Online Employment Law Advisor

If you need to dig deeper into specific employment and labor laws, be sure to bookmark DOL’s elaws Advisors. These interactive e-tools give you easy-to-understand information about a number of federal employment laws such as wage laws, hiring foreign workers, workplace safety and health, as well as laws that apply to specific groups such as young employees, veterans and businesses that sell to the federal government.

Each Advisor simulates the interaction you might have with an employment law expert (based on typical questions you and your employees might have). Your employees can also refer to the tool for information about their rights.

Find Out Which Employment Laws Apply to Your Business

Which aspects of employment law apply to you? Do you know which workplace posters you must display or which health and safety regulations you need to comply with? Avoid navigating countless employment law guides by zoning in on exactly what applies to your business with DOL’s FirstStep Employment Law Advisor. The Advisor will ask you a series of questions about your business and then provide simple information about employment laws that impact you. You can print out the results or refer back to the elaws Advisors tools for a deeper dive.

Additional Resources

Related Blogs

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

8 Tips for Training your Small Business Employees on a Budget

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 9, 2012 Updated: September 21, 2016

Well-trained employees are essential to the success of your business. Unfortunately, in a bad economy, a business’ training budget is often the first thing cut. It may make sense at the time, but the long-term implications can far outweigh the immediate costs saved.

Over time, a lack of training may reduce motivation levels and business inefficiencies and, most detrimentally, result in staff turnover – which in itself can be costly. According to a 2008 article in HR Management, replacing a worker costs on average 100-125 percent of an employee’s annual salary in lost productivity, recruitment costs and new hire training. 

But how can you train your employees well without breaking your budget? Here are eight tips.

1. Join Associations or Trade Groups

Many industry associations offer training programs for members at annual events, online, and at seminars.  Check out your trade association website or newsletter for training opportunities that may be included in your membership.

2. Find Trainers Within Your Organization

Got someone in your organization who has strong communication and interaction skills and the patience to help others learn? Consider appointing them as a trainer. Have them attend classes and come back prepared to share what they’ve learned. You can also buy training materials and use them to equip your trainer

3. Host Weekly or Monthly Brown-Bag Lunches

These are a great way for team members to get involved in new things and help educate the wider team about how each employee contributes to the business. Ask employees to come prepared to talk about a topic. You’d be surprised how little the different teams know about what the others do and how it benefits everyone.  A sales rep might present an overview on the sales process, and how important each business function and individual is to ensuring a happy customer. An employee who is exploring a new way of doing business can also share it over lunch.

4. Use Online Training Courses

Online courses are a great way for employees to learn at their own pace and select from a wide variety of courses, some of them free or at low-cost. Organizations such as Learning Tree, Dale Carnegie, BizLibrary and the Business Training Institute all offer a large selection of online classes.

5. Cross-Train Employees in the Workplace

This is common practice in businesses that need an agile workforce ready and equipped to take on other roles should business requirements change. You can do this by looking at different jobs in your organization as hands-on training opportunities for others. Give employees new roles or responsibilities. Have them shadow someone who is already doing these tasks for a few days, until they are ready to try the new role on their own. Rotate roles frequently so your employees are continuously learning and challenged to achieve new things.

6. Start a Mentorship Program

Consider partnering new or less experienced employees with mentors. For example, an up-and-coming sales rep might benefit from sitting in on sales planning sessions or attending important off-site customer meetings with a more senior employee.

7. When You Need to Bring in the Pros

These options can all be fulfilled at a low cost, but what if you need to solve very specific problems?  You may need to invest in an off-site training program where employees benefit from fewer distractions and an interactive class room environment. If you are training multiple people, a more cost-effective and time-saving option might be to bring a trainer on-site.

Ask other business owners or your local Small Business Development Center or Women’s Business Center about courses and classes that fit your needs and your budget.

8. Set Goals and Measure Success

Lastly, before you embark on any training or mentoring program, be specific about what you and your employees want to achieve. Use annual performance reviews to gauge competency gaps as well as your employee’s desired areas of improvement. Then put specific training goals in place for each employee. Let your employees know that you will assess the impact the training has had on their overall job skills and performance on a six-month and annual basis.

Related Blogs

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

PR 101 for Start-Ups – How to Get Visibility Without Bringing in the Pros

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 4, 2012 Updated: September 29, 2016

If you are in start-up mode and want to launch a new product, secure private funding or bring visibility to your company, then public relations is an essential tool for your box. But how do you get started if you have few resources? Here are some tips for things you can do on your own, without the help of a PR agency or expert, to get visibility for your business with potential customers or financiers.

Disclaimer - I don’t take credit for these tips. They come directly from professionals via this on-demand webinar: PR 101 for Start-Ups presented by Lisa Throckmorton, EVP, SpeakerBox Communications and Jonathon Perrelli, Managing Partner, Fortify.vc.  It’s well worth an hour of your time.  Here’s a quick summary:

Make Sure Your Product is Ready

It’s just common sense: before you engage in any communications push, make sure your product is ready. Online content has a long shelf life, so it’s important to make sure your product is tested, validated and up to snuff.

If you are not there yet and are planning on entering a hot market, such as high-tech, consider announcing a beta. This gives the media an opportunity to preview you and generate some buzz. Make it clear that your product is still in development and have realistic expectations about the kind of coverage you’ll get. Remember, you can’t control the media – they may not say what you want them to say, “so your product better not suck,” explains Jonathon Perrelli. “You need a good beta.”

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Messaging

PR is no different than introducing yourself to someone at an event or trade show, so develop an elevator pitch that conveys quickly and distinctly who you are and why you matter. Equally important is tailoring that message to your audience – your pitch to an investor will be quite different than a pitch to media or potential customers.

Take a hard look at your website, too. Visitors need to quickly understand who you are. Think about progression from your home page or landing page; include content such as video, imagery and a demo to communicate your pitch. Add a “Press Room” where you can include contact info, FAQs, team bios, news coverage, etc. – reporters will be looking for this.

Have a Communications Plan

Do you know which media you are targeting and why? Where are they getting their information? Before you invest time and money in a communications program, set aside a couple of hours to map out a plan. What tactics should you consider? Bear in mind that different business models lend themselves to different PR approaches. For example, service-based businesses can benefit from demonstrating expertise, blogging, contributing articles, speaking at events, awards and so on. Product-centric companies get more from formal product launches, product reviews and sharing data sets.

Align Your Team

If one person isn’t on board with your plan then it can really sabotage your efforts, especially for small start-ups. Convince naysayers by focusing on the meat behind your plan: why you are doing this? What results do you expect?

Unless you have a stellar CEO who can talk to every aspect of your product and business, then you’ll need to line up more than one person to help tell your story. Identify your team’s experts and refine the message they’re going to tell. For example, a software developer will have completely different things to say than a CEO – and media will want to hear both.

Tell a Story

What qualifies as a good story? What gets coverage and why? Remember  – it’s not about you. “Think multi-dimensionally about story and storytelling – what works for one publication is not going to work for another,” explains Lisa Throckmorton. “It’s really important to understand the media outlets you’re approaching… their mission, and the audience it serves.” Follow the media that matter – read and subscribe to news feeds so that you have a sense for where you might fit and how to tailor your message. “The media is not going to cover you if they don’t think you’re right for their audience.

Be prepared to talk about what your competitors are doing – media is always going to consider them as they write about your product. If you can, use customer stories or validation (market research will do) to support your vision, and be prepared to discuss industry trends and how you are positioned.

Use Social Media

If no one is pushing your news, use social media to push it yourself. Choose wisely – you don’t have to use all social media channels. “Think of it in terms of layers,” explains Lisa Throckmorton. 

For example, your salespeople might be pushing you to use Facebook and LinkedIn to promote your events – that’s one layer. Your PR personnel might be focused on monitoring review sites to listen and respond to what people are saying – that’s another layer. As your business grows, add another layer (consider it the “Marketing Layer”), using such sites such as YouTube, Digg, Reddit, etc. to place content, improve SEO and drive traffic back to your website. At the top layer, tap your senior executives to write blogs and develop a Twitter profile to raise awareness and share their expertise.

“You don’t have to do it all,” explains Lisa Throckmorton, “think about it in increments and what the right choices are for your business.

Using Your Budget

So how do you stay within budget? Surprisingly, start-ups have a variety of options that grow as you grow. For example, if your business is in a pre-funding phase or bringing in less than $250k, spend money where it matters on things such as video and your product launch. Consider bringing in an intern to help you manage day-to-day tactics such as social media posts and monitoring. Tap your mentors if you can and use them as sounding boards, ask them to review your messaging.

As you approach the $1 million revenue mark, start spending money on freelancers and contractors. Once you cross over into growth mode, you can really look to hire multiple people or bring in agencies to help you manage your communications.

For more tips, check out the webinar PR 101 for Start-Ups for yourself.

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Laid Off and Want to Start a Business? Self-Employment Assistance Programs May Help

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 3, 2012 Updated: September 20, 2016

Despite signs of economic recovery, countless Americans are still dealing with layoffs and unemployment. As often happens when the economy slows, many Americans respond by using unemployment as a springboard to business ownership.

But unemployed workers face a fundamental challenge when it comes to starting a business – how do you start a business if you risk losing your unemployment benefits simply because you aren’t actively looking for a career-job?

In an effort to address this issue, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Act signed into law by the President in February 2012, made available $35 million to encourage states to enhance and promote Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) programs. SEA entitles unemployed individuals to claim jobless benefits while getting access to small business development assistance.

What is Self-Employment Assistance?

According to The White House Blog (May 24, 2012) the idea of SEA is simple:

Some laid-off workers have the skills, experience, and entrepreneurial ambition to launch a successful business, but they are locked into an inflexible system.  If they stop looking for traditional work full-time, they will lose their unemployment benefits. Instead, SEA allows an entrepreneur with a viable business plan to receive those same unemployment benefits, as long as they are working full-time to get a new company off the ground.”

SEA isn’t a new concept. Five states – Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon – already have SEA programs in place.

How Self-Employment Assistance Works

Under this program unemployed entrepreneurs get financial aid equal to their Unemployment Insurance benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks, while they receive entrepreneurial training and other resources to help them launch a business. SEA benefits (taken from Oregon’s SEA program as an example), include:

  • Weekly unemployment benefits while engaging in self-employment activities
  • Waiver of the actively seeking work requirement while participating in the program
  • Counseling and technical assistance on developing a market feasibility study and a business plan

The Department of Labor is driving efforts to help states become aware of the funding available to help them implement SEA programs, and has issued guidelines on how states can deploy this provision. Through its local offices, the SBA as well as SCORE and Small Business Development Centers across the country are also getting involved to connect entrepreneurs with the business development and mentoring services that they provide.

Does Self-Employment Assistance Help Spur Business Creation?

According to the White House, this model works. In multiple studies, SEA has been shown to increase the success of entrepreneurs and their earnings from self-employment. The White House cites several examples of SEA at work, including:

Adam Lowry and Michael Richardson, two software developers in Portland, Oregon whose employer went out of business in 2009.  Self-employment assistance allowed them to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions and launch Urban Airship, an innovative mobile advertising company that now employs 75 workers, and promises to keep on growing.”

Who is Eligible for SEA support?

If your state has an existing SEA program, you have to meet several requirements to qualify for the program, including but not limited to the following:

  • You must be eligible for and be receiving unemployment benefits.
  • You are unlikely to return to your previous employment.
  • You must have a viable business idea, be willing to work full time in developing your business, and have the finances you need to start and sustain your business until it becomes self-supporting.

Entrepreneurs can take advantage of business development via seminars at community colleges, educational institutions or individual counseling sessions at a Small Business Development Center. You may also be required to complete a market feasibility study and write a business plan.

How to Apply for SEA

If you live in a state with an existing SEA program, check your state’s website for more specifics on how to apply. All U.S. states have until June 30, 2013, to apply for grant funds to implement SEA programs. Contact your local SBA office or state employment or labor office for more information about what your state is doing to establish a program.

Related Resources

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

How Powerful is the Online Presence of the Franchise Opportunity You’re Investigating?

By FranchiseKing, Guest Blogger
Published: October 2, 2012 Updated: September 26, 2016

Due diligence, the research part of buying a franchise, includes several different things. If you’ve never worked through the process of researching one before, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll miss something.

And, it all starts by knowing what to ask.

Franchise research encompasses a lot of different things. Some of the obvious ones include:

·        Learning about the operation

·        Contacting existing franchisees

·        Figuring out the financials

·        Checking out the competition

·        Visiting franchise headquarters*

But, there’s another thing that you need to do, and it’s something that you can’t afford to miss. You need to find out if the franchise concepts you’re investigating have a robust online footprint. It’s not that difficult to do. Here’s how:

1.      Do a search on Google or Bing of the category the franchise concept is in.

For example, if the franchise you’re looking into is a food franchise that specializes in burgers, type “burger franchises.” See what comes up first. (Actually, see what comes up on the search engine’s first page.) Is “your” franchise listed?

2.      Website

How does their consumer website look? Is it easy to use? Would a consumer feel that it was professional looking? Does it represent the brand correctly?    

3.      Social media accounts

Does the franchisor have a LinkedIn Company Page* set up? Do they have a Facebook Page-with daily activity? How about Twitter-are they set up there, too?

4.      Reputation

Check out local review sites like Yelp and Local.com. What are customers saying about the franchise business you’re thinking of owning? Even if there’s no location near you, you can still find reviews from other areas of the country.

5.       Press releases

You need to find out if the franchise marketing department submits a steady stream of news to the major press release and media websites. It’s an important thing to do for two reasons:

·        Press releases are a great way to attract the attention of local and national media. They can open the door for franchisees to get some needed ink in local publications, which is always welcome because it can bring in new customers.

·        Press releases also attract the attention of search engines. Search engine spiders are scouring the web for new content and stories, 24/7. Frequent, well-written press releases can significantly benefit the online presence of a franchisor.

What should you do with this newfound information?

Share your findings with the person you’re working with at franchise headquarters. If there’s anything that jumps out at you about their online presence, point it out.

For example, if there seem to be a lot of negative reviews of the franchisor’s product or service, find out why? Maybe they’re isolated incidents?

If the franchisor’s website was hard to find when you did your internet searches, you need to share that with the franchisor. If you had difficulty finding their website, your potential customers will, too. Find out what the marketing team is doing to improve the website’s visibility.

If the franchisor doesn’t seem to be very active in social media, find out why. Social media marketing isn’t new anymore.

It’s perfectly okay to ask questions about their online presence. Most of your customers are going to find you on the internet. It’s up to you to make sure that everything possible is being done at the franchisor level to create and maintain a powerful online presence.

These days, if your business can’t be quickly and easily found online, you lose. 

 

*Non-US Government website

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.

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