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35 Tradeshow Essentials

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: February 3, 2015

When I worked as an employee, exhibiting at tradeshows was part of my job. But since I was usually a speaker and schmoozer, I didn’t really deal with the nitty-gritty like setting up the booth, unpacking boxes and hanging signs (we had a tradeshow division for that!).

I started my own business in 2008, and the first tradeshow I attended as an entrepreneur was a big reality check. With no “tradeshow division” to help out other than my two inexperienced partners, I was unaware of so many little things that could have made a big difference in my tradeshow experience.

With that in mind, here’s my nitty-gritty list of 35 things to bring when exhibiting at a tradeshow.

In addition to the basics —registration information confirming your booth location and other details, your booth signage, your marketing materials and any promotional items — you’ll want to contact the venue to find out what is available from them, including what they provide as standard and what is extra. For example, if you need a dolly to bring your boxes into the venue, will they provide one, will you have to rent one or will you have to bring your own?

Items you can often rent include curtains, lights, TV stands, chairs and tablecloths. One thing you should never rent: any type of computer equipment. Bring your own tech tools—that way you know they’ll work properly.

Pack the items the venue isn’t providing, as well as:

  1. Duct tape, electrical tape, masking tape, Scotch tape. This will sound like overkill until you find yourself standing on a chair struggling to tack your banner up with used chewing gum.
  2. Refreshments: Bottled water, soda, nuts and other snacks that travel well will keep you and your team going. Pick foods you can eat unobtrusively and without dropping crumbs or getting sticky (nuts are ideal).
  3. Stapler and staple gun (or a heavy-duty stapler that serves both purposes). Make sure it’s full of staples.
  4. Pens: Take five times as many as you think you’ll need. You won’t believe how many people will walk away with your pens.
  5. Sharpies or large markers: Can be used for signage in a pinch.
  6. Business cards: Again, take five times more than you think you’ll need. Also bring some blank ones (with just your company’s logo, website, address and main phone number, but no one’s name on them) in case anyone runs out. They can just write on the blanks.
  7. Post-It notes
  8. Legal pads or blank note pads to write on
  9. Clipboards: If you will have people fill out forms, handing out clipboards means you can take several people’s info at once, instead of everyone crowding up to the table.
  10. Containers for your giveaways: Having your brochures, business cards or flyers in attractive displays looks a lot better than scattering them on the table. Simple clear acrylic holders work great.
  11. Tablecloths: If bringing your own, be sure you know the measurements of the booth tables, and bring cloth, not plastic, tablecloths—plastic looks cheap.
  12. Twine or heavy-duty string: Invaluable in tying up banners or looping around cords.
  13. Cord keepers: Big plastic trash-bag ties work well to keep cables and cords out of the way.
  14. Rubber bands and paper clips
  15. Boxes/containers: Something to put all the paper you’ll gather into, like lead sheets, survey forms or business cards.
  16. Scissors
  17. Small tool kit with screwdrivers, a box cutter to open all the boxes you shipped, and other basic tools you might need to set up
  18. Laptops (always have a backup computer)
  19. Tablet computers (ditto)
  20. Chargers for the above
  21. Phone charger
  22. Phone backup battery
  23. Cables to connect devices to each other
  24. Extension cords (several)
  25. Surge protector/plug-in strip
  26. Jump drives or other portable data storage
  27. Small first aid kit with bandages, cough drops, ibuprofen/acetaminophen, cold medicine, nail file/clipper
  28. Hand sanitizer and lotion: Stay healthy despite shaking all those hands. Keep your hands smooth despite all the hand sanitizer.
  29. Breath mints: Don’t chew gum in the booth.
  30. Safety pins: Prevent wardrobe malfunctions.
  31. Cleaning supplies:  Glass cleaner, cleaning spray, paper towels and trash bags help you keep the booth looking good.
  32. Floor pads: Pads (like those sold for kitchen use) can make it a lot more pleasant to be on your feet all day.
  33. Change of shoes: You’ll want comfortable shoes for setup and breakdown.
  34. Plastic container: A big plastic tub with a lid is a better place for the booth staff’s personal belongings, such as purses and jackets, than shoving them under the display table. (More theft than you might think takes place at tradeshows.)
  35. Plastic zip-lock bags: You never know when you’ll need one.  

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

5 Things to Know About Guaranteeing Your Company’s Debt

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: January 15, 2015

When your company needs financing, it may be difficult or impossible to obtain it unless you give your personal guarantee. This means if the company fails to pay its debt, you’re on the hook. Obligations for which you may be asked for your unsecured promise to pay if the company doesn’t are not limited to bank loans and lines of credit; they include commercial leases, car loans or leases, equipment leases and other financing arrangements. Make sure you fully understand what you’re getting into before you sign on the dotted line.

Forget personal liability protection

You incorporated your business or formed a limited liability company (LLC) with the understanding that you’d have personal liability protection. When you guarantee your company’s debt to a third party, you lose personal liability protection to the extent of the obligation you’re agreeing to pay if the company doesn’t (e.g., the company goes under and vacates the space). Thus, if your LLC takes a five-year lease on office space and the landlord requires you to personally guarantee the rent, your personal assets—your home, your car, and your bank account—are potentially exposed to the extent of the rent that’s owed.

Of course, you may not have to pay all or some of the remaining rent, because the landlord usually is required to seek a new tenant as quickly as possible. But you never know.

Know the type of guarantee you’re giving

There are two types of guarantees: a guarantee of collection and a guarantee of payment. Unless the loan agreement says otherwise, a guarantee is one of payment. This means that once there’s a default, the lender can seek payment from the guarantor (the person who gives his or her guarantee); the lender does not need to exhaust collection activities against the company that took the loan. On the other hand, if specific language in the loan agreement has a guarantee of collection, the guarantor must pay only after the lender has pursued legal action against the debtor (the company) and has obtained a judgment for the outstanding balance that has been unsatisfied or the debtor is insolvent (seeking a judgment in this case would be a worthless endeavor).

Most guarantees (e.g., for bank loans) are of payment and there may be little that you can do to change this arrangement. However, in some cases (e.g., for commercial leases), you may be able to negotiate for a guarantee of collection. Don’t assume.

Understand how a guarantee affects your S corporation basis

S corporation owners can deduct their share of business losses that are passed through to them only to the extent of their basis in the corporation—stock and debt. Debt for this purpose includes loans that an owner makes to the corporation; merely guaranteeing a corporate debt to an outsider doesn’t count because there’s no economic outlay for this promise. However, if you give a guarantee and are called upon to make good your guarantee, then you count the payments you make as debt that’s included in your basis. If you are an S corporation shareholder and the company is having a bad year, make sure you have sufficient basis to deduct the loss on your personal return.

Don’t ignore the impact on your credit rating

If you give a guarantee for company debt, such as a business credit card, your failure to pay if the company can’t will adversely impact your personal credit rating. In most cases, small business owners are required to provide personal information when their companies apply for a credit card. And, in some cases, if the company fails to make required payments, this action can show up on the owner’s personal credit report.

Check whether providing your personal information on a company’s credit card application makes you jointly and severally liable for the debt. This means you are just as liable for the balance as the company; the credit card issuer can come after you without exhausting collection activities against the company.

Check whether you can escape your promise

Your personal guarantee survives most events, such as selling your interest in the company. However, you may be able to be released from your personal guarantee by asking the lender to do so (e.g., you may be able to substitute a personal guarantee by the new owner). Alternatively, try to have the company satisfy the outstanding obligation before you sell your interest so there’s no longer anything that you still personally guarantee for the company.

Conclusion

Giving a personal guarantee is just a fact of life for many small business owners. But knowing what you’re undertaking can be helpful. And it may be possible to negotiate better arrangements that limit or even eliminate your personal exposure. Before you agree to anything, make sure you fully understand what your guarantee means and what you can do to protect yourself by consulting with an attorney.

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

Getting Your Small Business Website Right

By bridgetwpollack, Guest Blogger
Published: January 8, 2015

Can you believe that in this day and age, only about half of all small businesses have websites? 97 percent of consumers search online for products and services, but one out of every two small businesses is simply not there for customers to find. Whether your small business website is up and running or you’re just planning how to get it out of the starting gate, it’s a smart idea to check in and see if you’re web presence plans are on the right track to being found and making sales.

Find out what you need to know

SCORE mentor and tech insider Justin Slagle shares his insights into how your website can build strong connections with your customers – and bring you strong sales as a result. Justin answers the important questions for small business owners as it pertains to their website’s performance, including:

  • What are the first three steps everyone should follow when planning a new website?
  • What design/user navigation features will help a small business e-commerce website stand out to visitors?
  • A lot of systems and software can help with building a website. When and why does a small business owner need outside help?

Get the answers to these questions and more in the interview with Justin Slagle, “What You Need to Know About Websites.”

Stress-free content creation

You’ve probably heard by now that consistent, fresh content is great (and essential) for drawing customers to your website. Maybe you’ve started adding content but lost your steam or been hesitant to start at all because of how overwhelming the task seems. Never fear – SCORE LIVE Webinar audience favorite, Shawn Pfunder of GoDaddy, has a manageable and effective way for you to accomplish your content goals without the anxiety. Listen in to Shawn’s helpful and entertaining presentation, “Bit by Bit: Creating Content for Your Website in Stress-Free Chunks.” You'll learn tips and tricks for writing compelling calls to action, headlines, descriptions and more in manageable chunks of time.

Are you meeting customer needs?

Once you’ve done the work to bring customers to your online storefront, are you now doing all you can to keep them there and to get the sale? Most small businesses are not! A new infographic depicts how small businesses are failing to effectively serve their customers online. A few of the eye-opening statistics include:

  • 70% of small business websites have no call to action
  • 93.3% of small business websites are not mobile compatible
  • 82% of small business websites don’t link to social media accounts

Get the full rundown of stats on the effectiveness of small business websites in this month’s SCORE Infographic, “Websites: The Critical Storefront for Small Businesses

If you’re still seeking guidance about how to get your business’s online presence right, seek out the free, one-on-one guidance of a SCORE mentor. And check out all of the resources SCORE has created to help you achieve website 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.

6 Golden Rules for Building Your Business with Social Media

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: December 17, 2014 Updated: December 17, 2014

Is your small business on social media? Is it working for you? Tried it but not convinced?

Social media is the top online activity in the U.S., according to Marketing TechBlog it also has a huge influence on consumer buying decisions. Forty-six percent of web users look towards social media when making a purchase, while 8 out of 10 SMBs report that they are using social media to drive growth.

Social media is clearly a proven channel for helping small business find and convert prospects – but it takes time and effort. Small businesses need to find ways to ways to connect, engage and drive actions.

If you’re looking for ideas to kick start or continue building your business using social media, here are six golden rules that can help.

Integrate your marketing channels

How do you get found on Twitter, Facebook or any social media platform? Well, it starts by prompting people with visual clues throughout your marketing channels, most notably your website. Ways to do this include:

  • Adding “Follow” buttons on your static website banners (see the top of this page)
  • Add social share buttons alongside content that you want to promote such as blogs or events (check out the ones on the top left of this blog)
  • Embed a feed on your site (take a look at the one on the SBA.gov homepage)
  • Don’t forget your emails, business cards, store signage and other channels

Plan your content

What should you post about? Well, what do your followers respond to best? This will vary greatly from business to business and takes time to gauge. But as a general rule people, follow brands on social media for the following top five reasons:

  1. To get promotions and discounts
  2. For the latest product information
  3. Customer service (feedback, complaints, queries)
  4. Entertaining content
  5. The ability to offer feedback

This doesn’t mean you should spend your time using social media for promotions, instead strive for balance. Try to apply an 80:20 rule – 80 percent of your posts should focus on driving interactions while 20 percent of your posts can incorporate direct offers.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to scope out the week in advance, for example:

  • Mondays – Offer an exclusive promotion that’s only available to your social media followers and is redeemable with a unique code.
  • Tuesdays – Give a behind-the-scenes look at your business or focus on your people
  • Wednesdays – Create a series of helpful tips (link back to your blog to expand on the details)
  • Thursdays – Focus on your customers. Whether it’s responding to questions or highlighting a positive review.
  • Fridays – Feature industry experts or news. Retweet content, share articles or pin images that are relevant to your business.

Use photos and videos and other rich media

A visual is worth a thousand words. Look for ways to integrate images and rich media content into your social media posts. Using rich media like YouTube videos, memes, photos, and infographics can double engagement.

Engage your audience

If you are posting interesting content, engagement will follow naturally. However, there are a few things you can do to encourage these relationships – listen to fans, chime in when you think you can add something, respond to comments, open the doors to shared experiences/needs, offer exclusive content (offers, downloads, etc.), encourage fans to share photos and experiences and always communicate authentically. Think of social media as a form of conversation – it’s a two-way dialog. If you’re not prepared to listen to what is being said to you, about you, or with you, then you simply aren’t “being social.”

It takes time to figure out what works. For example, you might think about using polls and surveys to engage with followers, but if you are still growing your network, you might not get the right results – yet. So, keep trying new things until you find a sweet spot.

Treat social media as a customer service tool

Customer service is a very important aspect of social media. Be prepared to monitor and respond to questions and complaints, make a point of recording feedback and sharing it with whoever owns that aspect of your business. These blogs offer more advice on this topic:

Measure

Don’t forget to measure the impact of your social media efforts. Use third party apps or Facebook’s Insights tool to monitor click-through rates. Compare these across posts to see if there’s a trend as to the type of content that’s popular. Measure engagement by tracking how many likes and shares your posts get (measured by Facebook as “reach”). Use this data to inform and adjust your content strategy.

Related resources

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

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

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