Managing

Write an Executive Summary

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: July 20, 2017 Updated: July 25, 2017

Most business owners have a general idea of the executive summary that comes with the traditional business plan.  However, in the real world, summaries come up much more often than just in the business plan. How to create the summary, and how to use it, depends on the business objective.

 The summary you say every day

I’ve always liked “Say your business plan every day,” which I heard first from Jim Blasingame, small business advocate.  Business is normally chaotic, so a quick reminder is a good idea.

Start with a sentence or two describing the fundamental strategy. Keep that in mind as you go through the day.

  • What do you do for whom?
  • How do you do it differently?
  • Why are you particularly good at it?

Add a sentence or two highlighting your most important tactics. It might be low or high price, high value, distribute via the web, market via social media, focus on repeat business, or whatever.

Then add the next major milestone you’re working towards. Maybe that’s some number, like 100 lunches in a day or 1,000 subscribers. Maybe it’s the new website launch, or the new product, or the new location. Give yourself an attainable nearby goal that is measurable.

Remind yourself once a day by reciting your personal business summary.

Create written summaries for special uses

Every business has to provide business summaries from time to time. For these you want to focus on the specific details so you can tailor your summary to your real business needs.

The general summary for publications and listings

Have a good summary on hand for general use. Think of it as a marketing document whose key goals include defining a target market and sending a message to that market. Often it starts with a tagline that comes straight from your main marketing. Follow that with information that generates a call or inquiry. You have to fit word count to the words allowed in your situational summary. Within that word count, optimize the information you can include to generate interest, include a call to action, and the information needed to follow up, such as phone number or website.

The executive summary for business loans and allies

For these summaries you start with either the personal summary or the general business summary above. Tailor these summaries to the specific use. The summary of strategy, tactics, and milestones is more likely to be appropriate for banks, and the more sales oriented summary of product, market, and main messages is likely to be more appropriate for allies, partners, and vendors.

For a summary going to a bank, related to a commercial loan, you probably want to add a financial summary including recent annual sales and profitability. The bank will require submission of detailed financial information as part of the application, so you don’t need to go in detail in the summary. You should make sure to include two or three sentences on business history, and two or three sentences describing the management team. It is also common that you add a paragraph about how the money involved will be used to help your business.

The executive summary for investors

To create a summary to be sent or submitted to potential investors, it’s good to start with a description of the problem you solve, how you solve it, and why you are well positioned to offer such a solution. Being well positioned includes your secret sauce, like proprietary technology or a special position in the market.

Investors also want to know the highlights of the recent past, recent milestones met, and key milestones for the future. Often that’s a matter of projected revenues for the next three years; but in some cases, other measurements such as numbers of users or subscribers can be used even if they are free. Investors want to see growth and growth potential.

For investors you also have to include a description of the management team with key details from team members’ track records and backgrounds.

And always, form follows function

Build a repository of text summaries, somewhere in your business materials online with backup copies in print. These are texts you’ve used in the past. Business summaries and executive summaries have to meet specific objectives. Most businesses end up saving various versions of different summaries. They pull them up and tailor them to the specific need each time a need is found. 

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 .

Rethinking Insurance Coverage

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: July 13, 2017 Updated: July 13, 2017

Like most small businesses, you probably can’t self-insure (pay for losses out of pocket) because you can’t afford the risk for substantial financial exposure. You need insurance. But you may not have the type or amount of coverage that is necessary for your protection at this time. Most small business owners routinely renew policies year after year without thinking about how changes in their business affect their risk exposure and coverage needs. Here are some areas to reexamine before you automatically renew as well as other areas for which new coverage may be needed.

 

Vehicle insurance

If you have a vehicle used 100% for business, such as a truck or van, likely you have a commercial policy. Just check on the extent of coverage that’s currently on the policy when you renew.

But if you use your personal vehicle for business driving (not counting commuting which is personal) and have a personal policy, rethink your coverage. The personal policy on your vehicle may not cover you if you get into an accident when driving for business. You might have to pay out of pocket for damages to your vehicle, as well as injuries—personal and property—to a third party.

If business driving is only occasional, your personal policy may be fine. But if you use the vehicle primarily for business (driving to customers, worksites, or between multiple work locations; hauling tools and equipment; making deliveries; driving by “nonlisted drivers” such as employees), get a commercial policy—even though it may cost more.

 

Health insurance

Do you provide coverage for your staff? Do you have coverage for yourself and your family? Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Watch enrollment deadlines for coverage in 2018. Currently, open enrollment for individual coverage runs from November 1, 2017, through December 15, 2017 (it may be later for certain state-run plans). For those already enrolled in Medicare, the annual enrollment period to change coverage for 2018 runs from October 15, 2017, through December 7, 2017).
  • There is a new health care option for small employers (fewer than 50 full-time and full-time equivalent employees) that do not have a health plan, called a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement (QSEHRA). This allows a small employer to reimburse employees for their individually-obtained coverage up to a set dollar limit (in 2017 it’s $4,950 for self-only coverage or $10,000 for family coverage, prorated for part-year coverage). Thus, you can help employees pay for their coverage on a tax-free basis; your payments aren’t subject to payroll taxes.

 

Workers’ compensation

You probably know that businesses in every state are required to provide this coverage to employees (including family members), although the rules and the cost vary from state to state. (NFIB offers a state by state comparison* of workers’ compensation laws.)

What you might not know, and may want to consider, is the option to cover yourself if you’re self-employed. Sole proprietors, partners, and limited liability company members who aren’t employees are usually not covered by workers’ compensation; state law may allow them to opt in. This may make sense if you’re in a trade or other business where injuries are common.

 

Basic business owner’s policy

A business owner’s policy (BOP) provides coverage for your property (equipment, inventory) and liability coverage (for injuries to third parties). When your policy comes up for renewal:

  • Determine the level of coverage you require now. If you’ve added expensive machinery, for example, you may want to increase your coverage.
  • Shop around. There are many terms and conditions in each policy (such as deductibles and exclusions), and these can affect cost. Compare coverage under different policies to see whether you’re (1) getting the coverage you expect and (2) paying the best price for the coverage you need.

Depending on the nature of your work, be sure that the policy is tailored to your needs. For example, an Artisan and Service Contractors Policy covers the unique risks of tradespeople who perform their services at customer locations. Also consider adding coverage to any BOP for data breaches, which provides funds for notifying and indemnifying customers and employees who are victimized when your company is hacked.

A BOP does not cover flood damage, so depending on your location, you may need separate flood insurance. This is available through the National Flood Insurance Program.

 

Other coverage

The types of insurance discussed earlier aren’t the only policies you may want or need. Some other examples:

  • Business interruption insurance. This helps you pay your bills if a storm or other event closes down your facility. Depending on the policy, it may also cover some lost profits.
  • Errors and omissions coverage. This usually is for professionals (“malpractice coverage”) to provide protection against errors and negligence in the performance of services.
  • Product liability insurance. If you are a manufacturer, wholesaler, or distributor, you may want coverage in case your products cause injury to others.

 

Cost

Making insurance decisions may come down to cost: you may want it but can you afford it (or afford not to have it)? You can buy coverage online or through an insurance agent (a person who typically represents one company) or an insurance broker (who represents multiple insurance companies and can provide you with a formal review of your risk exposure and potential solutions). Whether you decide to work with a broker, who is paid a percentage of the premiums so it doesn’t cost you anything, depends on how much time you have to do your own legwork and how knowledgeable you are about insurance.

 

*Links to non-government web site

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: @BarbaraWeltman.

How to Develop and Use a Good Executive Summary

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: July 6, 2017 Updated: July 6, 2017

Most business owners have a general idea of the executive summary that comes with the traditional business plan.  However, in the real world, summaries come up much more often than just in the business plan. How to create the summary, and how to use it, depends on the business objective.

The summary you say every day

I’ve always liked “Say your business plan every day,” which I heard first from Jim Blasingame, small business advocate.  Business is normally chaotic, so a quick reminder is a good idea.

Start with a sentence or two describing the fundamental strategy. Keep that in mind as you go through the day.

  • What do you do for whom?
  • How do you do it differently?
  • Why are you particularly good at it?

Add a sentence or two highlighting your most important tactics. It might be low or high price, high value, distribute via the web, market via social media, focus on repeat business, or whatever.

Then add the next major milestone you’re working towards. Maybe that’s some number, like 100 lunches in a day or 1,000 subscribers. Maybe it’s the new website launch, or the new product, or the new location. Give yourself an attainable nearby goal that is measurable.

Remind yourself once a day by reciting your personal business summary.

Create written summaries for special uses

Every business has to provide business summaries from time to time. For these you want to focus on the specific details so you can tailor your summary to your real business needs.

The general summary for publications and listings

Have a good summary on hand for general use. Think of it as a marketing document whose key goals include defining a target market and sending a message to that market. Often it starts with a tagline that comes straight from your main marketing. Follow that with information that generates a call or inquiry. You have to fit word count to the words allowed in your situational summary. Within that word count, optimize the information you can include to generate interest, include a call to action, and the information needed to follow up, such as phone number or website.

The executive summary for business loans and allies

For these summaries you start with either the personal summary or the general business summary above. Tailor these summaries to the specific use. The summary of strategy, tactics, and milestones is more likely to be appropriate for banks, and the more sales oriented summary of product, market, and main messages is likely to be more appropriate for allies, partners, and vendors.

For a summary going to a bank, related to a commercial loan, you probably want to add a financial summary including recent annual sales and profitability. The bank will require submission of detailed financial information as part of the application, so you don’t need to go in detail in the summary. You should make sure to include two or three sentences on business history, and two or three sentences describing the management team. It is also common that you add a paragraph about how the money involved will be used to help your business.

The executive summary for investors

To create a summary to be sent or submitted to potential investors, it’s good to start with a description of the problem you solve, how you solve it, and why you are well positioned to offer such a solution. Being well positioned includes your secret sauce, like proprietary technology or a special position in the market.

Investors also want to know the highlights of the recent past, recent milestones met, and key milestones for the future. Often that’s a matter of projected revenues for the next three years; but in some cases, other measurements such as numbers of users or subscribers can be used even if they are free. Investors want to see growth and growth potential.

For investors you also have to include a description of the management team with key details from team members’ track records and backgrounds.

And always, form follows function

Build a repository of text summaries, somewhere in your business materials online with backup copies in print. These are texts you’ve used in the past. Business summaries and executive summaries have to meet specific objectives. Most businesses end up saving various versions of different summaries. They pull them up and tailor them to the specific need each time a need is found.

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 .

14 Tips to Protect Your Business from Ransomware Attacks

By ngoriel, SBA Official
Published: May 17, 2017

Ransomware attacks are the fastest growing malware threats. On average, more than 4,000 ransomware attacks have occurred daily since January 1, 2016. Ransomware, a type of malicious software that infects and restricts access to a computer until a ransom is paid, affects businesses of all sizes. The good news is that there are best practices you can adopt to protect your business.

  1. Implement an awareness and training program. Because end users are targets, employees should be aware of the threat of ransomware and how it is delivered.
  2. Enable strong spam filters to prevent phishing emails (an attempt to obtain sensitive information electronically) from reaching employees and authenticate inbound email using technologies like Sender Policy Framework (SPF), Domain Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance (DMARC), and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) to prevent email spoofing.
  3. Scan all incoming and outgoing emails to detect threats and filter executable files (used to perform computer functions) from reaching employees.
  4. Configure firewalls to block access to known malicious IP addresses.
  5. Patch operating systems, software, and firmware on devices. Consider using a centralized patch management system.
  6. Set anti-virus and anti-malware programs to conduct regular scans automatically.
  7. Manage the use of privileged accounts based on the principle of least privilege: no employees should be assigned administrative access unless absolutely needed and those with a need for administrator accounts should only use them when necessary.
  8. Configure access controls—including file, directory, and network share permissions— with least privilege in mind. If an employee only needs to read specific files, the employee should not have write access to those files, directories, or shares.
  9. Disable macro scripts (tool bar buttons and keyboard shortcut) from office files transmitted via email. Consider using Office Viewer software to open Microsoft Office files transmitted via email instead of full office suite applications.
  10. Implement Software Restriction Policies (SRP) or other controls to prevent programs from executing from common ransomware locations, such as temporary folders supporting popular Internet browsers or compression/decompression programs, including the AppData/LocalAppData folder.
  11. Consider disabling Remote Desktop protocol (RDP) if it is not being used.
  12. Use application whitelisting, which only allows systems to execute programs known and permitted by security policy.
  13. Execute operating system environments or specific programs in a virtualized environment.
  14. Categorize data based on organizational value and implement physical and logical separation of networks and data for different organizational units.

Visit the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team  website for additional information on how to protect your business from ransomware attacks. 

Editor’s note: Best practices provided by the U.S. Government interagency guidance document, “How to Protect Your Networks from Ransomware”.

About the Author:

ngoriel
Natale Goriel

SBA Official

Hi, my name is Natale and I'm serving as a Moderator for the SBA Community. Our goal is to continually improve this site to meet your needs, so we appreciate your feedback and participation.

How Your Small Business Can Benefit from Super Bowl Sunday (or Other Big Event in Your Area)

By Stephen Morris, SBA Official
Published: February 1, 2017 Updated: February 6, 2017

Major events like the Super Bowl are an opportunity to help boost business sales. If you’re planning ahead for a big event, like Houston small business owners are for the game, you can maximize the benefits and minimize the risks. Here are a few tips to prepare your business for a major event.

Staff Up and Stock Up

Make sure you have enough staff members and products to accommodate the crowds. No one likes to wait in line or find an empty shelf. Also, remember to keep your staff happy as they are working extra hard during this time. You could have treats on hand like donuts, bagels or cupcakes to show your appreciation.

Offer a Special

Offering a special – whether you are selling a product or service – can help attract the anticipated crowds to your business. You can promote your special in a number of ways like hanging a sign on your window or promoting on social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare or Google+.  Most likely, the crowds will be checking their social media accounts for specials or just more information about the businesses in your area. Remember to check and include special hashtags like #SB51. Even if you’re not in the area of a major event, you can still offer a Super Bowl special.

Extend Your Hours

People traveling to major events most likely treat it like a vacation.  They want to be out and about. Consider staying open a few hours later or opening a few hours earlier to accommodate possible new customers.  This is especially important for restaurants, bars and cafes. In urban areas, local governments often extend mass transit operating hours to accommodate large crowds leaving a special event, which can help you gauge how long to expect foot traffic.

Make Sure Your Customers Can Access Your Business

If roads are blocked by barricades or road closures, you may need to consider how customers will find and access your business location. Map out an alternate route for your customers and send it via every method you have. Your local police department will be able to inform you of any road closures or other impediments.

Provide Discounted or Validated Parking

When major events end, there’s often a long wait to exit a parking lot or a garage. By offering a validated or reduced parking fee, you can help customers avoid the long line while they visit your business. Work with your local parking garage to determine a cost sharing structure, but don’t forget to post the validation offer so everyone can see it.

Stay in Touch

Remember to stay in touch with your new customers year-round.  Capture customer emails and send updates about your business. If you sell online, these can be customers for life.

Are Your Restrooms For “Customers Only”?

This is always tough for retailers and restaurateurs because on the one hand you want your storefront to be inviting, but on the other hand you have a water bill to pay. Do a simple cost-benefit analysis to determine how important policing the restrooms is for your situation. You can build goodwill and make a sale by displaying the right amount of openness.

Free Water (if it’s hot) or Hand Warmers (if it’s cold)

Providing a cool drink or a way to warm up is a great marketing method to bring people to your business. If you’ve spent hours in the heat or the cold, that simple and cost-effective gesture from a business owner leaves a memorable impression. It’s also a good opportunity to ask people to sign up for your email list, follow your social media accounts, or check out your latest product.

These are just some of the ways you can approach a large event happening in your area. Tell us your suggestions, successes, and ideas in the comments. How have you benefited from a big event?

About the Author:

Stephen Morris
Stephen Morris

SBA Official

Stephen Morris is online media coordinator for the U.S. Small Business Administration where he manages digital outreach to the small business community.

6 Tools Every Small Business Owner Needs to Succeed in 2017

By bridgetwpollack, Guest Blogger
Published: January 12, 2017

The dawn of 2017 likely brings with it new optimism — not just in your personal life, but for your business as well. But are you ready to take on this new year wisely?

Before you start making sweeping changes in your small business, take a look at these six tools which can help you along the way. They’ll inform your business decisions (and maybe some personal ones, too.)

1. An accounting system

No matter how good your accountant is, s/he can’t read minds. Whether you prefer desktop or cloud-based models, make sure you have an accounting system on your side in 2017.

Keeping a record of your financial choices as you move through the year will make it easier to control your expenses and prepare for your next round of tax payments. And if your business ever gets audited, you’ll be so glad to have your accounting system to refer.

Not sure where to start? Try Intuit QuickBooks, Xero, Zoho, or Freshbooks.

2. A calendar

Who doesn’t love opening a new calendar or planner as the new year arrives? Choose a calendar that works for your lifestyle to better manage your time. A paper planner can help you stay organized by requiring you to pen in each detail, while a digital version can keep your schedule up-to-date at your fingertips.

Don’t forget to schedule important recurring dates like tax payments, employee pay periods and anticipated supply ordering dates.

3. Design tools

You don’t need to be an artist or a Photoshop wizard to create compelling graphics for your business. For everything from flyers to banners to social media posts, find the online tool that works for your business needs. Check out Canva, Pixlr, or GIMP.

Looking for a company to help you create and order physical marketing items? Try Vistaprint or Deluxe.

4. Sleep

You can’t deny it forever: When you’re tired and worn-out, your business just doesn’t run as well. Commit to getting more sleep in 2017, even if it’s just an extra half-hour each night.

Have a hard time breaking away from business matters right before bedtime? Keep your phone in the next room, and instead, rely on an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake you up each morning. Turning your bedroom into a no-phone zone might be just the thing you need!

5. An updated business plan

Last month, I noted that the end of the year is the perfect time to review your business plan and make updates as needed to benefit your company’s growth.

Now, it’s time to put that change into action. Remember that small changes can be as effective as large ones.

6. A mentor

Don’t dive into this year’s business goals without a mentor! Attend a SCORE workshop near you or online, and sign up to meet with a mentor. No matter where you are in your small business journey, a mentor can help keep you on the right track toward success.

About the Author:

bridgetwpollack
Bridget Weston Pollack

Guest Blogger

Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the SCORE Association. She is responsible for all branding, marketing, PR, and communication efforts. She focuses on implementing marketing plans and strategies to facilitate the growth of SCORE’s mentoring and trainings services. She collaborates with SCORE volunteers and develops SCORE’s online marketing strategy.

Using Technology to Work Smarter (Not Harder) Twitter Chat | #SBAchat

By Stephen Morris, SBA Official
Published: January 6, 2017 Updated: February 3, 2017

Please join us for a Twitter chat on “Using Technology to Work Smarter, Not Harder” hosted by @SBAgov. We’ll be sharing tips and resources to help small business owners start, grow and succeed. Follow along with the hashtag #SBAchat.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

3pm ET | Noon PT

Confirmed participating organizations inlcude:

@Fundera

@cindy_bates of @Microsoft

@LegalZoom

@SCOREMentors

@SpectrumBiz

@YelpforBusiness

@TheUPSStore

@BizBuySell

@Expensify

@FranchiseKing

@StaySafeOnline

@StopThnkConnect

@Rieva of @SmBizDaily

@TwitterBusiness

@Manta

@DnbB2B

@BarbaraWeltman of Big Ideas for Small Business

@ypforbusiness

@ebayforbusiness

@GoCanvas

@PAMcHugh of @LockheedMartin

@Axis_NA

@FirstData

@CloverPOS

@ASBDC

@CoalitionVetBiz

@GustoHQ

@BPlans

@RobertHalfTech

@SmallBizHiring

@JoshLinkner with @ChaseforBiz

@DashDataInc

@VistaPrint

@Paychex

@ReachLocal

@SmallBizTrends

@Weebly

@thumbtack

@GoogleSmallBiz

@MastercardNews and @MastercardBiz

@Nextiva

About the Author:

Stephen Morris
Stephen Morris

SBA Official

Stephen Morris is online media coordinator for the U.S. Small Business Administration where he manages digital outreach to the small business community.

Why Traditional Advertising Still Matters

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: January 3, 2017 Updated: January 11, 2017

Online, mobile and other forms of digital advertising are top-of-mind for most marketers these days. But in the rush to digital, are you forgetting a vital part of marketing? Two recent studies reveal recent that traditional advertising—including print, TV and radio—still has an important role to play in attracting customers. In fact, it may be more important than digital advertising in some cases.

That’s because consumers like and trust traditional advertising much more than digital advertising. For example, eight in 10 consumers in a MarketingSherpa study say they usually trust print advertising (82 percent) and television advertising (80 percent) when making a purchasing decision. Direct mail advertising (76 percent), radio advertising (71 percent) and out-of-home advertising (69 percent) followed close behind in terms of trustworthiness. In fact, the top five most trusted ad formats are all traditional media.

In contrast, online pop-up ads are the most hated and least trusted kind of advertising. Just one-fourth of respondents in the MarketingSherpa study trust pop-ups, and 73 percent of consumers in a separate HubSpot survey dislike them.

Meanwhile, MarketingSherpa found, consumers engage with traditional ads to a surprising degree. For instance, more than 50 percent say they “often” or “always” watch television ads from companies they’re satisfied with. Half also read print ads they get in the mail, and 48 percent read print ads picked up in-store. Email is the only digital format with similar engagement levels: Half of survey respondents say they “often” or “always” subscribe to emails from companies they like.

What kinds of ads don’t customers engage with? HubSpot’s survey shows 57 percent of those surveyed dislike online pre-roll ads (ads that play before a video), and 43 percent don’t watch them. In addition, many consumers block online ads altogether. Common complaints about online ads: they’re intrusive, they make websites load more slowly or they cover the entire website.

Pop-up ads or ads that require customers to click in order to close them are especially annoying. Some 90 percent of consumers in the HubSpot survey say they dislike such ads. Mobile phone ads earn disdain as well—seven in 10 HubSpot respondents hate them.

Essentially, consumers dislike online ads that keep them from accomplishing what they’re trying to do—read an article, browse a website or watch a video. Perhaps traditional ads seem more appealing because they’re also more controllable. Consumers can choose to look at your print ad, flyer or direct mail piece at a time and place convenient for them.

Of course, digital advertising should be part of your marketing plan—it’s essential these days (not to mention affordable). But how can you take advantage of traditional advertising’s power, too?

  • Integrate your online presence into your traditional advertising. Say your website URL multiple times in your radio ad, show it at the bottom or your cable TV ad or print ad, and include it in direct mail pieces.
  • Create different landing pages for different ad campaigns. This enables you to craft a more effective call to action. If you just send a visitor to your home page, he or she may get lost along the way to making a purchase.
  • Track the results of your advertising. Use codes in print ads and custom URLs in digital ads to see which campaigns get the best results. That way, you can focus more of your budget on the formats that are most effective for you.
  • Be sure your branding is consistent. Whatever the format—online or offline—your advertising should convey a consistent brand message, using the same colors, fonts, style and taglines throughout.

By advertising both online and offline with an integrated approach, you get the best of both worlds. You can boost trust in your business, get customers to spend more time with your ads, and improve customer acquisition and sales.

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

The Right Way to Think About Credit Lines for Business

By Marco Carbajo, Guest Blogger
Published: December 20, 2016

Access to cash via a line of credit is an important safety net for a small business. Although there are various types of credit lines available, it is the flexibility it provides that makes it so popular among small business owners.

A line of credit is more like cash on demand for a set amount. You can draw funds up to the credit limit set when your company needs it, and you only pay interest on the funds you withdraw. Best of all, every dollar of principle you pay back becomes available for the company to use again.

The important thing to remember is credit lines for businesses have received an overhaul in the past several years. No longer is a credit line being issued just by banks down the road. Today, there are completely different lines of credit issued to businesses from alternative lenders rather than by banks alone. In addition, small business owners can also get credit lines secured by specific types of collateral such as equipment and accounts receivables.

Here’s how I’ve learned to think about credit lines for business by following three simple rules.

Rule 1: Diversify your access to credit lines

When you rely on one bank or one type of credit line as the sole source of funding it may put your company at risk. When there is no backup plan if the company loses access to credit it can devastate a small operation. “A few years ago, losing a line of credit was a crisis - today, it's the new normal,” says Marilyn Landis, a board member of the National Small Business Association in Washington, D.C.

Ask yourself right now what you’ll do if your existing line of credit gets shut down or drastically reduced tomorrow. To combat this, you need to diversify your access to credit lines through banks and alternative lenders. Remember, the credit lines your company has access to will be there when you need it, and you don’t have to use it or pay for it if you don’t. The National Federation of Independent Businesses says, “Think of it as an insurance policy that never needs to be paid until you need it.”

Rule 2: Use your credit line for what it’s good for

Recognize that credit lines provide an advantage over regular business loans. You only pay interest and fees on the portion of funds you use. If your credit line is for $20k and you don’t withdraw any funds, you won’t have any interest to pay. The entire $20k is available for the business to use but you only make payments on the money you’ve actually used.

The fact is a credit line for a business is a much more affordable option to fund short-term finance needs, like buying inventory, paying business expenses, or purchasing new equipment compared to applying for a business loan.

Rule 3: Practice Self-Discipline

Stay on top of your payments when it comes to paying back the funds you used on your credit lines. The use of credit lines in the company’s name provides the business an opportunity to establish a business credit rating – which can be very valuable for future financing. Although credit lines provide many benefits, their downside is accumulating debt which can lead to costly interest in the long term. While debt can definitely be a useful tool for certain aspects of a business, business owners need to make sure their debt is working for them and not against them.

On a final note, it’s essential to understand that credit lines for businesses are constantly evolving and changing. Sometimes unexpectedly. That doesn’t mean you need to go along with every funding option. Do your research and outweigh the pros and cons of each credit line product. Develop a diversity of access to credit lines for your business, and leave the anxiety and fear behind. 

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’.

Your Company’s Charitable Giving

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: December 8, 2016 Updated: December 8, 2016

“Giving is its own reward” said social activist Dorothy Day, but the tax law also provides some benefit to those who give. At this time of the year, attention to charitable giving is more important than ever because there are so many individuals who have suffered from disasters this year; others continue to face economic challenges and still others just need a helping hand during the holiday season. Here’s how your business can help those in need, and what you can gain tax wise.

Giving cash

Cash donations, which includes donations by check, credit cards, and electronic transfers, is the most common type of donations. You can deduct the amount given to IRS-recognized charities. Use the IRS’s Search for Charities to make sure the organization you’re donating to is tax-exempt. You cannot deduct gifts directly to an individual, no matter how needy the person may be.

Owners of pass-through entities report their share of the company’s donations on their individual returns. Cash donations are deductible by those who itemize up to 50% of adjusted gross income. Donations by C corporations are limited to 10% of taxable income.

Giving inventory

Giving inventory may benefit the charity as well as your business. You can, for example, dispose of excess or obsolete inventory (that still has value), which is still very useful to a charity. Tax-wise, your donation is limited to your tax basis (typically your cost) if the fair market value of the property is greater.

C corporations. Donations of inventory items to a charity that cares for the ill, the needy, or infants receives an enhanced donation. This is your basis (cost), plus one half of the profit that would have been recognized if you’d sold the inventory at its fair market value. The deduction, however, cannot exceed two times your basis.

Food inventory. For all types of entities there’s also a similar enhanced deduction for donations of apparently wholesome food. Again, the donation must be made to an organization that uses it for the care of the ill, the needy, or infants.

Encouraging employees

If this is a slow time of the year for your business, consider giving employees time off. While you can’t require them to use the time for charitable purposes, you can encourage them to do so. For employment tax purposes, this paid time off is treated as any other compensation.

You cannot deduct the value of your time. So, for example, if you have an electrical business and do wiring for a local charity, you cannot deduct what you would have charged for labor. However, any materials you use for this activity is deductible as an unreimbursed out-of-pocket expense.

Other ideas

The actions you and your staff can take to benefit charities are endless. Here are some ideas:

  • Participate in local charitable activities, such as being a drop-off point for Toys for Tots.
  • Hold a blood drive. During the holiday season, local blood banks routinely find themselves short of blood and can use the donations.
  • Attend fundraisers. Your donation is limited to the amount that exceeds the benefit you receive.
  • Leave-based donations. Set up an in-house fund to which employees can donate their unused vacation, sick, and personal days. These unused days can then be used by an employee in need. Generally, the donated leave time is still taxable compensation to employees, and subject to employment taxes. However, from time to time the IRS let’s employers donate the unused leave time to charities benefiting victims from specific disasters, such as the Louisiana floods  and Hurricane Matthew this year. If so, employees aren’t taxed on their donated leave time and the company gets a charitable contribution deduction.

Final thoughts

If you give any money or property, be sure to properly substantiate the donation if you want to claim a write off. You must receive a written acknowledgment for a donation of $250 or more and retain checks or other proof for a smaller donation. For more information, see IRS Publications 526, Charitable Contributions.

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: @BarbaraWeltman.

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