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Is Your Business Brand Outdated?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 Is your business brand outdated?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

5 Keys to Angel Investment

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: April 29, 2014

With this post I’d like to give my personal answer to the frequent question, “What do angel investors look for in a business plan?” I can’t promise that what I think applies to anybody else. But I’ve been in an angel investment group for five years now, and I’ve seen a lot of businesses evaluated. Here are five things I say matter.

1. A believable market definition

It’s not just the numbers. Especially not huge numbers that lack definition. Too many of the several dozen business plans I’ve read this year lack a good market-defining story. Market numbers are useful, yes, but they don’t stand alone. Investors want to believe the story first, then get the numbers.

The story is about the use case, also called “why to buy,” and market need.

I like the business pitches that put a picture on a slide and explain how that person has a problem that this business solved. For example, one recent pitch starts with a picture of a middle-aged woman and explained how this new business creates a channel for her to sell her craft goods effectively. Another pitch I saw showed a picture of the garbage area behind a restaurant to pitch a system to save unused food and make it available to people who need it. Then they go to the numbers, after explaining the need.

2. Believable growth plan

Startups become good for the early stage investors by growing. While there are some extremely rare cases where traffic and position alone created value (such as Amazon in its early days, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), for most of us it takes sales growth.

Investors want to see and believe the growth plan. For example, if it’s a physical product to be sold in retail stores, there should be a plan for getting the product into distribution, and a sales forecast based on sales per store and stores’ growth by year. Or if it’s a mobile app, then sales growth based on potential user base and ways to drive traffic to the app via the various download stores.

Sales forecasts based on details are more credible. I liked a plan I saw recently that presented a forecast of sales of a product related to bars by showing actual sales in the first four bars and extrapolating those to all bars in the U.S. The methodology made sense.

3. Defensibility

Defensibility is whatever quality keeps a startup from being overwhelmed by competition that stunts its growth. Most investors look for proprietary technology, such as patents — when they are good patents that experts say will be reasonably defensible — or trade secrets. This is also called “barriers to entry.” There’s limited value to an idea that any other business can just copy.

4. Scalability

The lack of scalability in most service businesses is why investors generally prefer product businesses and why the classic service businesses aren’t as attractive. The test is whether it can double sales without doubling fixed costs and employees. Most service businesses don’t scale: the classic consulting business, for example, or attorneys, graphic design, programming for hire… these service businesses are hard to scale.

With product businesses, when a widget starts selling in most cases you can make more widgets with automation.

And there are some service businesses that are scalable. Generally, they relate to software services over the web. The travel buyer sites are services, but they scale.

5. Potential exit

Angel investors make money by investing money in a business today and getting money back from that business in a few years when it grows, increases its value and sells out to a larger company or registers its stock for sale on a public market.

What many people don’t realize is that outside investors don’t make money just from owning a small portion of stock in a successful business. Theoretically, there could be dividends eventually, but growing companies don’t normally generate dividends. Angel investment assumes that the businesses create some way for the investors to sell their shares.

Having a minority share in a healthy, happy company – one that doesn’t need any more outside investment and has no reason to invite a larger company to purchase it – offers no return on investment for the early investors who aren’t employees.

About the Author:

Tim Berry
Tim Berry

Guest Blogger

Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at timberry.bplans.com. His collected posts are at blog.timberry.com. Stanford MBA. Married 46 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including his latest, 'Lean Business Planning,' 2015, Motivational Press. Contents of that book are available for web browsing free at leanplan.com .

Exporting University – Enroll Anytime!

By kmurray, Contributor and Moderator
Published: April 28, 2014

If you’re interested in exporting your small business’ goods or services – or are an exporter already – you probably know about the wealth of information we have here at SBA.gov and the resources available over at Export.gov. But another great source of knowledge is Export University, a series of courses designed for all stages of exporting.

What is Export University?

Export University was designed by the District Export Council, a volunteer non-profit organization associated with the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Its courses are designed to help U.S. companies start exporting and develop skills in expanding international sales, so whether you’re just starting out or have been in the exporting arena for some time, Export University can be a resource for you.

How does it work?

There are three series of courses that can provide you with the tools you need to organize your export operations: Introductory, Intermediate and Advanced. Courses are adapted at the local level to make them as applicable as possible to the local industries and needs. Although particular features such as exact course syllabus and price may vary slightly by location, here’s what you can expect according to the series’ descriptions available online:

  • The 100 Introductory Series is designed for all levels of personnel at companies that are primarily new to exporting. This is the series to start with if you’re looking for skills to identify and communicate with buyers, banks, logistics intermediaries, and others in developing the basis for an export transaction. Topics include export procedures and regulations; managing international sales orders; logistics; and more to help build your international business.
  • The 200 Intermediate Series is suited for managers at exporting companies who are responsible for developing and fine-tuning operations to increase a firm's export volume. Topics may include how to promote products in target markets; free trade agreements; market research; identifying trade contacts; and more.
  • The 300 Advanced Series is designed for executives responsible for developing and adjusting the strategic direction of an exporting firm. Topics may include how to adapt products to individual markets; protecting intellectual property; taxes and financing; and others.  

Export University classes are either half-day (morning or afternoon) or full-day (8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.) courses. For the most advanced topics, there may be two-day courses, but they don’t last longer than two days.

Who are the teachers?

So who’s imparting this exporting wisdom during your courses? Export University presenters are international trade practitioners who are associated with or recruited by members of the District Export Council, a group of private-sector individuals appointed by the Secretary of Commerce to provide mentoring on exporting. They present course material drawing from their extensive expertise in international trade.

How can I sign up?

To find Export University courses being offered in your state, select your state on the map featured on this page. If there are no courses being offered close to you, contact your local U.S. Export Assistance Center or District Export Council and request a list of local upcoming courses.

You can also search the Export University website for nationwide webinars being offered in the future. Some Export University courses are taught via webinar and are open to all U.S. companies nationwide.

Related Resources

About the Author:

kmurray
Katie Murray

Contributor and Moderator

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

Let’s Celebrate National Small Business Week – Across the Country and Online

By kmurray, Contributor and Moderator
Published: April 25, 2014 Updated: August 16, 2016

It’s that time of year again! SBA is gearing up for National Small Business Week, May 12-16. And like last year, we’re taking the show on the road to celebrate small businesses across the United States. We’re excited for this year’s activities, which will include forums and panels about trends in small business, innovation, financing, business growth – and more. There will also be matchmaking events and networking opportunities.

The week will kick off in San Francisco on May 12, followed by events in Kansas City, Boston and Washington, DC. We’ll wrap up in our nation’s capital by honoring small businesses from across the country, culminating in the announcement of 2014’s National Small Business Person of the Year.

Check out the full conference schedule here.

Join Our Webinars and Online Events

Throughout the week, you can also participate in our webinars and online events, including “Making It Big: Small Biz Success in a Mobile World” with Conduit Mobile on Wednesday, May 14 at 9am ET. Join us – online or in person in New York City – to learn how you can better take advantage of the technology already at your fingertips to transform your mobile and digital experience and grow your small business’ bottom line.

And that’s just one of the great events you can anticipate! Check out other webinars happening throughout the week:

Monday, May 12

  • [SOLD OUT] Growing Your Business with Direct Mail | 6-7pm ET | with the United States Postal Service
    Learn about the value direct mail offers as part of an overall marketing strategy. Gain insight on how mail can be used to acquire new customers, and establish relationships that keep them coming back. 

Tuesday, May 13

  • Small Business: Big Benefits | 4-5pm ET | with Colonial Life
    Choosing between offering a robust benefits package or cutting back on total offerings is a challenge for many small businesses. Learn about “voluntary benefits” that can allow you to strengthen your existing benefits packages at little or no additional cost.
    > Register now

Wednesday, May 14

[SOLD OUT]

  • Achieving Big Customer Loyalty in a Small Business World: 10 Tips to Create A Killer Customer Loyalty Program | 3-4pm ET | with Manta
    Learn about the best approaches to jump-start your small business’ customer loyalty program, including how to make sure that your program fits your business’ needs and how to get positive ROI from a digital customer loyalty program.
     

Thursday, May 15

[SOLD OUT] 

  • Practical Marketing – A Five-Step Marketing Program for Small Biz | 3-4pm ET | with YP
    Gain insight about how to get the most from your marketing time with a 5-step practical marketing plan focused on "doing" – not marketing theory.

How Can You Get Involved?

You can still register for events in Kansas City, Boston and Washington, D.C. Can’t travel? Join our webinars and tune in for the live-streaming webcasts of all events as they happen.

Keep an eye on the event website and follow SBA on Twitter and Facebook for more details as the event approaches. If you tweet, get in on the conversation with the official hashtag: #SBW2014.

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!

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