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Do the Credit Cards for your Business Report to your Personal Credit Reports?

By Marco Carbajo, Guest Blogger
Published: June 19, 2012

Due to the growing difficulty in obtaining traditional business lines of credit from banks, many business owners are turning to credit cards for small businesses as their primary unsecured business lines of credit.

Unfortunately, the majority is turning to the wrong sources. They end up putting their personal credit on the line and all their business credit card debts show up on their personal credit reports.

This means that anytime you use your business credit cards, your personal debt/credit ratios are affected. Did you know that drawing a large portion of funds from these types of business credit cards can result in your personal credit scores dropping anywhere from 20-100 points overnight?

Some of the largest financial institutions offering business credit cards report to your personal credit. This negatively impacts your scores.

Do your current business credit cards report to your personal credit reports?

If so, you should consider obtaining several true business credit cards that do not report. This will shelter your personal credit for personal necessities such as auto loans, mortgages, student loans and personal credit cards.

Unsecured credit lines such as business credit cards have been around for a long time. They are no secret to the wealthy and savvy business owners. When properly structured, they do not report to your personal credit reports. They can be excellent cash flow tools, as the monthly debt service is usually lower than almost any other form of financing. The rates are usually very good, too–usually between 3-7% above prime.

So where can you find business credit cards that do not report to personal credit?

Well, the good news is there are credit cards that only report to the business credit bureaus. The bad news is the credit card issuers for these types of cards do not advertise this fact.

First, while there are hundreds of credit cards for small businesses available in the marketplace, only a handful of major companies issue and service all these consumer and business credit cards.

So when you see a financial institution launch a new credit card program with its own branded label, in most cases it always includes a partnership with a leading agent credit card issuer to provide and service the actual credit card products to its customers.   

The agent credit card issuer is the company that actually underwrites, issues and services the credit card customer. As you may know, part of account servicing includes credit reporting.

You have two options if you want to locate these types of credit cards for your business. First, you can utilize a business credit service because they know firsthand which lenders are lending, which ones report to only the business credit bureaus, and whether you and your business will be a good fit for them.

Your second option is to do it on your own. But, you will need to know which lenders offer unsecured business credit without full income documentation. In addition, you will need to find out which ones do not report to your personal credit reports.

Finally, you should be aware of which credit bureaus are pulled by each lender so you can properly plan the series of applications. These are just a few of the questions to address prior to doing it on your own.

 

About the author

Marco Carbajo is CEO of the Business Credit Insiders Circle (http://www.businesscreditblogger.com), a step-by-step business credit building system providing credit recovery, lines of credit, business credit cards, trade credit, and funding sources.

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’.

Do You Have Enough Insurance to Cover Rebuilding Costs After a Disaster?

By Carol Chastang, SBA Official
Published: June 18, 2012 Updated: September 21, 2016

When it comes to insurance, small businesses stand to lose the most by not having adequate coverage.  And while the mega-disasters like last year’s Hurricane Irene get a lot of media attention, those cataclysmic events are rare.   Smaller disasters, like the neighborhood power outage or the burst pipes that leads to a business shutting down for just a couple of days, hour, can force an under-insured business to close down for good.

Prepare for a disaster

Ten months after Hurricane Irene ravaged communities along the East Coast and Puerto Rico, the U.S. Small Business Administration continues to approve disaster loans to homeowners, renters and businesses.  So far SBA has approved more than $132 million in disaster loans to more than 1,400 businesses, to cover underinsured losses.   After all the work you’ve done to build a profitable business, it’s essential to protect your investment with enough insurance to weather the disaster and quickly resume operations.     

Here are a few action items to consider when filling out the insurance portion of your business continuity plan:

  • Review Your Insurance Coverage. Contact your insurance agent to find out if your policy is adequate for your needs.  The policy should be tailored to the individual business and take into consideration not only property damage but loss of revenue and extra expense that occur when a disaster causes a temporary shut-down.
  • Ask a lot of questions.  Make sure you understand the policy limits, the deductible, and what is actually covered
  • Consider Business Owner’s Insurance.  The Business Owner’s Policy (BOP) is a standard insurance package of coverage that a typical small or medium-sized business would need.   It includes general liability protection, and business interruption insurance, which provides money to offset lost profits or pay operating expenses the business could have covered if the disaster had not occurred. 
  • What about Flood Insurance? According to the U.S. Geological Survey, floods are the leading cause of natural disaster property losses.  Business owners, particularly those running home-based businesses, should consider getting coverage from the National Flood Insurance Program. Most homeowners’ insurance policies don’t cover flood losses.
  • Know what you own.  Inventory your personal and business assets before the disaster occurs.  Record the price and estimated replacement cost of furniture, computers, machinery—everything of value at your business.  Keep receipts, take photos and video of your property, and store that information office at a secure location.

Having a plan in place to restore your business to its pre-disaster condition requires a bit of focus and foresight, and the cash to maintain the right insurance policies.  In the long term, it will make a difference when it comes time to deal with the aftermath any kind of disaster, whether it’s a massive hurricane, or the water-main break in the alley behind your business. 

Related Resources

About the Author:

Carol Chastang

SBA Official

What to Look For in Your Business Loan Agreement’s Fine Print

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: June 18, 2012 Updated: July 19, 2016

Applying for a business loan and securing its approval can be a lengthy process. The actual approval time varies widely depending on the type of loan, its complexity, and the borrower’s timeliness providing the necessary information. This guide from SBA can help you gather the right paperwork, whether you’re applying for an SBA loan or a regular business loan.

But knowing exactly what you’re signing up for is just as important as rounding up the details and completing the paperwork accurately. If you’ve ever purchased a car and found yourself surprised when extra line items turn up on your monthly billing statement, then you’ll know the feeling. With loan agreements, there are devils in the details. That’s why it’s critical to pay attention to the fine print, often found in the promissory note or security interest section of the agreement.

Here are some tips for what to look for and how to avoid potentially costly mistakes:

Common Details Buried in the Fine Print

Some of the key terms that make up a loan agreement aren’t always as explicit as one might hope. The fine print, for example, can include detailed and complex technicalities, qualifications or restrictions of the agreement, and even vital information about the loan’s terms. Things to look out for include:

  • Whether the interest rate is fixed or variable (and when it will change)
  • Payment schedules, grace periods and late payment fees
  • Prepayment penalties if you pay off the loan early
  • The lender’s definitions of default and the penalties incurred

You may think it would be impossible to overlook these details. But often in the excitement of the moment, there’s a risk of signing a loan agreement without having a clear understanding of what you’re getting into – always a bad move.

Do Your Research

Obviously, be wary of scams, or of lenders who promise loan approvals within hours, if not days. Consult the Better Business Bureau (look for information about complaints made about unfair terms or hidden costs) or talk to your local SBA Office if you aren’t sure of a lender’s credibility.

Review, Review, Review

Avoid surprises by taking the time to read all your loan-related documents in their entirety as early as you can. Ask your lender if you can see an example of the loan agreement, even before you’ve submitted your loan application.

Prepare Questions

Before you sign anything, prepare a list of questions so that you have a clear understanding of the terms. For example, even if you don’t think you’ll ever be likely to make a late payment or pay off the loan early, familiarize yourself with the policy.

Got questions about the loan application or approvals process? Post them in the below.

Useful 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 to Market Your Business at Summer Events, Fairs and Festivals

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: June 14, 2012

 

Summer’s here and for most communities, that means the season of outdoor fairs, festivals and other events is underway. For a small business, community events like these can be a great opportunity to market your products and services to local residents and other event-goers. Here are some steps to get you started.

Research what events exist in your community and nearby communities. Your options might range from local “fun runs,” chili cook-offs or classic car shows to surfing contests or music festivals that bring in attendees from all over the country. If you’re new to event marketing, you’ll probably want to start at the smaller end of the spectrum.

Find the right match. Figure out which events are likely to bring the kinds of customers you want to target. Consider the city where the event is held, the target audience and the activity. It’s best to start with an event that has a track record in the community since the organizers will be better able to give you an estimate of attendance and audience breakdown.

Get the details. Contact organizers to see what opportunities exist. This could range from sponsoring the event (contributing money in return for getting your name on banners, fliers, programs, etc.), having a booth at the event to give away information or samples, or actually selling products at the event. Ask about costs and requirements.

Talk to others. Events don’t always live up to their hype, so find other business owners who have participated in the events you’re considering and ask them what they liked and didn’t like. Were fees and registration costs worthwhile? Did they get qualified leads or make a lot of sales from the event? Would they recommend it or not and why?

Be prepared. If you’re working a booth or selling products, plenty of advance planning is required. If your goal is collecting leads, make sure you have enough samples and literature to give out. Make it easy for attendees to give you their information, say by dropping business cards in a fishbowl or filling out a quick form. If you’re selling products, be sure you have enough stock on hand, an appealing display and several ways to accept payment (a mobile credit card reader like Square can be great for this purpose). Either way, make sure you have several friendly, well-trained and energetic staff members to work the event.

Assess results. Like any marketing effort, you need to track results to see if the event was worthwhile. Set goals for how much you want to sell, how many prospects you want to talk to or how many leads you want to capture. Track them and assess your results afterward. Fine-tune your approach depending on what you learned.

For smart small business owners, summer events can be a way to capture new leads and sales—while having some fun in the sun, too. 

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

4 Tips for Getting the Sales Department to Buy-In to Your Next Marketing Campaign

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: June 14, 2012 Updated: August 18, 2015

Are you the person in charge of running your small company’s marketing campaigns? Ever get a sense there’s a disconnect between what the Marketing team and the Sales team are doing?

Large and small businesses alike deal with this challenge on a regular basis. Marketing is busy planning and executing campaigns to generate new leads, while Sales is off pursuing its own goals and even devising its own campaigns! Successful marketing cannot happen in a silo.  This is especially true for small businesses, where success hinges on campaign buy-in and follow-through across the entire organization.

If you want your sales teams to generate leads and close deals based on your campaign activity – whether it’s following up with attendees who participated in your latest event or webcast or identifying cross-sell opportunities among new customers – then you’re going to have to motivate them. This doesn’t always have to involve blackmail or bonuses!

Here are four tips for gaining buy-in from your Sales team for your next marketing campaign.

Engage Sales Early

One of the most effective strategies for gaining buy-in on any project (marketing or otherwise) is to identify and engage the right stakeholders early. No one likes having a project or campaign dropped in their laps, particularly when they’ve had no input into its development, and especially if they are expected to be partly accountable for its success.

If someone from Sales isn’t in your Marketing planning meeting helping you formulate your plan and align it with company objectives, then it’s going to be difficult to engage the Sales team when the campaign launches. 

So bring Sales in early. This includes Sales leadership and Sales reps, who both can drive creative thinking and offer valuable strategic and tactical input about your target markets and what they will and will not respond to.

Plan for Regular Campaign Updates and Mutual Action Items

Once Sales has bought into a campaign, maintain a regular line of communication. Give the team regular campaign status updates and be clear about what you expect them to do, and expect the same from them. You need to hear how the field is responding to your latest campaign. Do you need to tweak your message or adjust your target?

Now you are really working as a team!

Recognize Sales Reps Who Excel

Keep Sales teams motivated by introducing some healthy competition and target-based incentives to make the campaign successful. Keep score, and have some fun with a leaderboard and pit sales reps or teams against each other. Give credit where it’s due to those who reach or exceed their campaign targets with monetary-based rewards if you have the budget, or non-monetary rewards (think Flex Fridays, use of the boss’ parking space, or time off). Don’t forget to reward those who also put in the hours to support the campaign, or who advocate for your marketing campaign in other ways such as encouraging business partners or channel partners to spread the word.

Position the Campaign in the Wider Context of Business Success

Few business leaders regularly share their vision for their business with their staff, many of whom are often left to perform their day-to-day duties with little awareness of how their contribution fits into the bigger picture.  Keeping staff abreast of how the business as a whole is doing against campaign targets, thanks to their help, can be hugely motivating.

That’s why marketing campaigns are a perfect opportunity to align company goals with individual goals. Whether it’s a rebranding campaign or diversification into new product lines or markets, set definite individual team goals, explain why the campaign is important, track results and share them with your team.

What tips have worked for you when it comes to gelling sales and marketing organizations? Leave a comment below or in the SBA Community below.

Related Articles

 

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

Run a Home-Based Business? – Find the Licenses and Permits You Need

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: June 13, 2012 Updated: December 29, 2017

Whether you’re starting a business from home or looking to move into a home office, it’s important not to overlook the fact that your business is still subject to license and permit laws.

Why? One of the main reasons any business owner is required to carry a license is so that revenue can be tracked for taxation purposes. Businesses that sell taxable goods or services also need a sales tax license or permit. Licenses and permits are also used to protect the public and are required in federally regulated industries (aviation, firearms, alcohol businesses, etc.).

Other industry licenses signify specific expertise. For example, if you run an in-home hair styling business, you’ll need the same professional license that you’d need if you had a main street salon.

Regulations vary based on industry and location, so it can be intimidating to know where to start.

Find Your License and Permit Requirements

Select your state from the list to discover which licenses or permits you’ll need, together with information and links to the application process.

General Home Business License and Permit Guidelines

In addition to the Permit Me tool, it’s helpful to know more about the general guidelines that apply to home business licensing and permit requirements. While not all of these will apply to every business, some will: 

1. General Business Licenses – Your city or county government website can help you get one of these. Basically it’s an annual license or permit that legally entitles you to operate a business in that locality.  Typically a small fee is associated with this paperwork.

2. Professional and Trade Licenses – State governments require certain businesses or industries to obtain professional/occupational licenses, such as a child care operation or real estate license. You can contact your state's business license office – or check the website – for a complete list of occupations that require licensing. 

3. Home Occupation Permit – Many city and county zoning and planning agencies require all home-based businesses to get a Home Occupation Permit. If a permit is not required in your city, the zoning office can tell you if your neighborhood is zoned for the home business activity you plan to conduct. If your area is not zoned for your type of business, you may need to file for a variance or conditional-use permit. This guide, Zoning Laws for Home-Based Businesses, has more information about zoning laws for home-based businesses. 

4. Sales Tax Permit - If you intend to sell taxable goods or services (online or offline), you may be required to collect state and local sales taxes from your customers. If you sell your products in a state that charges a sales tax or levies a gross receipts or excise tax on businesses, you may have to apply for a tax permit or otherwise register with your state revenue agency. This blog also explains more about the process of getting a permit and collecting sales tax: Sales Tax 101 for Small Business Owners and Online Retailers.

5. Health and Safety Permits – Depending on your location and industry, you may need either a permit or an inspection from your local fire department, especially if your business requires the use of flammable materials or will likely involve the assembly of several people in one location, such as a child care business.

Air and water pollution by businesses is also monitored in some communities. You can check with your state environmental protection agency to see if these regulations are applicable. Health Department permits are typically issued by your county government, pending an inspection of the business premises, if you plan to sell food to the public or to other businesses. Additional permits may be required for food service or food preparation depending on your state. 

6. Sign Permits – Some cities and towns have sign ordinances in effect that restrict the type, size, or location of signs placed on your property. Check with local authorities.

7. Construction Permits – If you need to make structural changes to your property to accommodate your in-home business, environmental and building permits may be required for construction. It’s a good idea to check your local government’s building and planning department before undertaking any construction. 

8. Check with Your Home Owner’s Association (HOA) – While your local HOA won’t specify particular licenses or permits, if you do live in a planned residential neighborhood or complex, the HOA can restrict the type of business activities you conduct in your home.

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

A Raise or a Benefit: You Choose

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: June 12, 2012 Updated: January 9, 2013

Companies that have survived the economic downturn of the past several years may be in a position now to reward employees that hung in during tough times. Many workers have not had raises in years or have even seen wages and benefits cut. Before you jump to offer a raise, think about the best way to reward your staff from a tax perspective.

The cost of a raise

When you increase a worker’s pay, it costs the company more than the actual addition to the paycheck. The company must factor in:

  • The employer’s share of FICA (to cover Social Security and Medicare taxes). For 2012, the employer’s share of FICA is 6.2% on wages up to $110,100, and 1.45% on all wages.
  • State unemployment insurance. Each state sets its own rates for this cost, which is collected as a tax on wages paid. (The federal unemployment tax (FUTA) is assessed only on the first $7,000 of wages, so a pay increase likely won’t impact this employer cost.)
  • Benefit formulas. For example, if you make contributions to a qualified retirement plan, such as an SEP, it is based on compensation. Say you contribute 10% of employees’ compensation to the plan each year. A $2,000 wage increase means an additional $200 cost to the company.

The bottom line for the employer in giving a wage increase: figure anywhere between 15% and 50% of that increase as an extra cost to the company. In other words, a $2,000 wage increase really costs you $2,400 (if you assume a 20% cost in terms of taxes and benefits).

From the employee’s perspective, a wage increase is really worth only as much as he or she can keep after tax. If, for example, an employee is in the 25% tax bracket, a $2,000 wage increase only nets $1,500 after income tax (even less when the employee’s share of FICA is factored in).

Instead of giving a wage increase, why not offer a fringe benefit? The benefit can cost the company less — there may be no employment taxes on the benefit—while providing a valued item or service to the employee.

Tax-free benefits

The tax law has an extensive menu of fringe benefits that can be offered to employees (including owners) without any tax cost to them, or to the company. The benefit is tax deductible for the company, but there are no added employment taxes.

Here are some of the benefits that can be offered (a complete list of benefits and their employment tax treatment can be found in IRS Publication 15-B, Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits:

  • Adoption assistance
  • Dependent care assistance
  • Education assistance
  • Group-term life insurance
  • Transportation benefits (such as commuter transit passes and free parking)

The key to making most types of fringe benefits tax free to employees is that they must be offered on a nondiscriminatory basis. If, for example, you want to help with an employee’s daycare expenses, this benefit must be offered to your entire staff (with some exceptions) on the same terms and conditions. If you help only a single employee by paying for or reimbursing her daycare costs, it is taxable in the same way as if you had given a raise.

Taxable benefits

Some benefits to employees are taxable, but may still be better from a tax perspective than a pay raise. These benefits can be used to reward a specific employee; they need not be offered on a nondiscriminatory basis.

When it comes to taxable benefits, there is obviously a tax cost to the employee. However, the tax cost is less than what the employee would have to pay out-of-pocket to enjoy the same benefit. For example, if you allow an employee to drive a company car for personal purposes, such as commuting to and from work, this benefit is taxable to the employee. There are various ways for a company to figure the taxable value of this benefit (explained in Pub. 15-B). Say it works out to be $2,000 for the year. If the employee is in the 25% tax bracket, it means a tax cost of $500. In other words, for a mere $500, the employee enjoys the use of the company car for commuting; this is much less than it would cost an employee to use a personal vehicle or even public transportation for commuting.

Final thought

Before you decide to offer a raise or a benefit to an employee, talk with your tax advisor. By essentially pushing a pencil on paper, you can determine the better way — for both the company and the employee — to reward the employee for valued service.

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

Small Business Lending is Improving: Tips for Finding and Securing the Right Loan

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: June 11, 2012 Updated: August 18, 2016

If you are looking for capital to finance your startup or business growth, many signs suggest that lending markets are showing renewed vigor.

Earlier this spring, for example, SBA Administrator Karen Mills blogged about the new signs of strength in business lending. Among the positives, Mills noted that:

  • Thanks to the Recovery Act and the Small Business Jobs Act, SBA had a record year in FY2011, supporting more than $30 billion in small business lending across the country.
  • The FDIC recently released data showing that banks had their biggest increase in business lending in four years.
  • Financial institutions (mostly community banks) are reporting an increase in their small business lending by $3.5 billion, thanks to the Department of Treasury’s Small Business Lending Fund.

And anecdotally, Administrator Mills is hearing from small business owners that “…they are no longer telling me they’re fighting for survival; they’re talking about needing a loan to take advantage of a new opportunity, hire another worker or buy more inventory.”

Recognizing that more needs to be done, Mills said SBA is working with some of the largest lenders around the country, who last year committed $20 billion to small business lending over the next three years. The SBA is also working to streamline its processes to make it easier for small business to use and benefit from SBA loan programs.

Looking for a Business Loan?

If your small business has struggled to get financing in the past, or if you’re thinking of getting a loan to fund new growth, here are some tips to help you understand what SBA loans are available, where to get them, and how to prepare a successful loan application. This useful Loans and Grants Search Tool can also help you identify federal, state and local government financing programs that may be available to help you start or expand your business.

Find the Right Lender

If you are new to small business financing, it’s worthwhile to talk to your local SBA District Office. Local office staff can help you understand options from community and national banks. They can also provide guidance about loan eligibility and application requirements. If you are a veteran or a woman-owned business, you can get specialist advice about programs that meet your needs at a local Veterans Business Outreach Center or Women’s Business Center.

If you are doing your own research, seek out a bank or credit union that has been through this process before or one that is a Preferred SBA Lender – in other words, a lender who has a proven track record in processing and servicing SBA loans.

Prepare a Loan Proposal

One important step in the application process for regular business loans and SBA-backed loans alike is to prepare a written loan proposal. This document helps you position yourself, your business and your plans for growth as solid, trustworthy and viable. You’ll need to include personal and business financials that document your net worth and sales projections, which impacts your ability to repay the loan.

If you are applying for an SBA loan, you’ll need to complete a few additional forms that the lender will include with your loan application.

SBA offers several free online courses about how business financing and SBA financing work.  These self-paced courses take about 30 minutes to complete.   

To help you properly prepare your loan proposal and other application requirements, SBA offers several step-by-step guides:

  • SBA Loan Application Checklist – As you work with your lender to prepare your application, here’s a quick overview of the forms and supporting documentation you’ll need to prepare.
  • Business Loan Application Checklist – If you are applying for a business loan not administered by the SBA, you’ll find that most lenders require the same type of information from potential borrowers. This guide explains what you can expect to provide.

 

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

Never Run Out of Blog Topic Ideas: Here are 36

By smallbiztrends, Guest Blogger
Published: June 7, 2012 Updated: September 12, 2016

One of the most popular articles in the SBA Community is “8 Tips for Keeping Your Business Blog Current, Relevant and Fresh.”   It has excellent advice, but after you read it you may wonder, “So how do I come up with ideas for WHAT to write about?”  

Writer’s block is something that affects even the most prolific at one point or another.  Maybe it’s only a temporary block -- a few hours or days -- but sometimes it can go on for weeks, months, even years.  Just look at all the abandoned blogs out there.  It’s as if one day you wake up and can’t think of anything inspiring to write about.

Well, I’m here to show you it’s easier than you may think to develop ideas for your blog, even when you’re feeling totally uninspired.  Just use the following handy list of 36 blog topics to trigger an idea for your next business blog post:

Your Industry

  • Create a list of the best industry resources
  • Talk about something that has changed in your industry in the last decade (or last 5 years, 3 years, etc.)
  • Attend an industry event and blog about it afterward
  • “What I Learned About Business From [Your Favorite TV Show]” 
  • Interview someone well-known in your industry
  • Write a post respectfully taking a different position about a post written by someone else in your industry.
  • Comment on recent news about your industry, giving your take on it. (Search Google News if necessary to find recent press releases and news stories.)
  • Create a poll. Blog the result.
  • Create a chart that breaks down a complicated industry problem or issue
  • Publish a PowerPoint presentation you gave at an industry event
  • Create a list of the Must Follow Twitter people (or Google+ or Facebook Pages) in your industry
  • Find an industry-related  question on Yahoo Answers or OnStartups and respond on your blog

Your Business and Your Customers

  • Why your business is different (and better) than your competition
  • A video tutorial showing how to use your most popular product
  • The answers to the most common emails or customer support questions you get (make sure you do not reveal anything confidential or customer-sensitive – even inadvertently).
  • How you delegate tasks (or what you mucked up by not delegating)
  • Answer questions left in your comment section
  • Give 5 reasons to sign up to your email newsletter
  • How you learned to do what you do, or how you got into your current business
  • Highlight your customers, such as a Customer of the Week (or Month) feature.  Or, publish a customer testimonial, along with a heart-felt thank you.
  • Give something away to one of your blog readers/ customers
  • Feature a video detailing a customer’s success with your product
  • Share your biggest screw up with a customer and how you made it right
  • Explain how customers can connect with you on social media

Get A Bit More Personal

  • What have you read lately that inspired/angered you?
  • Introduce your staff and what they bring to the table
  • Share the best [or worst] decision you made as a business owner
  • Your biggest challenge as a business owner
  • What you love best about being a business owner. What you don’t like.
  • The danger of doing everything by yourself
  • Write about the achievement you’re most proud of
  • Create a video introducing your company to your community
  • Share the local vendors you trust
  • Give people a video tour of your building
  • Your new baby (whether that’s a real baby, a pet, a new project, the car you’ve been restoring for the past two years, etc.)
  • Share 10 things you’re thankful for

Hat tip to Lisa Barone, who has written so many articles on Small Business Trends about blogging, including 100+ SMB Blogging Ideas from which I drew inspiration.

Bottom line:  I will be very surprised if this list doesn’t knock out your writer’s block and trigger an interesting blog post.  Go for it!

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.

5 Tips for Using Differentiators to Increase Your Small Business Sales

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: June 7, 2012 Updated: September 16, 2016

One of the elements in the grand scheme of things is knowing what makes your business different from the competition. What you do with that knowledge can make or break your business. Specifically, are these differentiators clearly defined and part of your sales strategy?

Can you explain the following?

  • Why your business is different from the competition?
  • Why your differentiators matter to your customers? People call this the “so what” factor.
  • If you are in the B2B space, how do you help your customers differentiate themselves from their competitors?

No business can survive by selling on price alone. Here are some tips for incorporating your differentiators into your sales (and marketing) process.

1. Understand your differentiators and what they mean to your customers

Even if you’re selling a service in a highly competitive space, there is always something that should differentiate your business.

Take, for example, the saturated yard work and lawn service business. How can you differentiate yourself from the other contractors in your community? Yes, price is important – after all, it’s just a lawn, right? But what else have you got to offer? How can you really help your customers? Can you advise you them on the optimal time to seed or treat their lawn? Is there a type of mulch you know will hold its color and make for a happier homeowner? Is your record strong on reliability? 

Your value-add difference, beyond just mowing lawns, is starting to emerge – and this can differentiate you.

It’s not enough, though, to know and communicate what differentiates you. Can you explain to your customers what impact your differentiators have on them?

In the example above, you’ve differentiated yourself in several ways:

  1. You’ve delivered a consultative sell that’s already above and beyond simply responding to a request for a quote.
  2. You are likely saving your customer money while helping them do what’s right for their yard.
  3. You’ve identified and used your reliability and expertise as a value-added differentiator.

This approach alone might just be enough to differentiate you from the next contractor who quite possibly views this as a purely price-based sale.

So get to know what your differentiators are and advocate for them, not just as a sales person.

2. Get to know your competition and how to sell against them

To help refine your differentiators, it’s useful to understand what your competitor’s differentiators are, too. Get to know their strengths as well as their weaknesses.  The latter is important because you can define your differentiators accordingly and step up your game in these areas. Check out online reviews (Google+ Local, Yelp.com, etc.) and even local community discussion boards. If you lost out to a competitor on a deal, be bold and ask the prospect why they chose to do business with them and not you.

3. Find out which differentiators matter to your customers

Your customers play an important role in helping you further refine your differentiators and focus on the ones that matter to them. Step outside your business, listen to your customers’ needs, and fine-tune your sales pitch and marketing messages to focus on differentiators that actually matter.

4. Have integrity

No one trusts a glib salesperson who walks all over the competition in a sales pitch. Stay true to your business values. Don’t just emphasize the competition’s negatives; be prepared to explain why you are better than they are. Selling is a tough business, but a salesperson or business owner with integrity is a huge differentiator and goes a long way to creating a compelling customer service experience.

5. Roll your differentiators into all your marketing messages

To help you ensure your differentiators are well-defined and ingrained across your entire sales and marketing operations, it’s important to develop a messaging platform as outlined in this blog: 7 Tips for Getting your Marketing Message Right.

Related Blog

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

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