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Freshening Up for Fall: 3 Ways to Tidy Your Small Business

By plester, Former Contributor
Published: August 25, 2014

Summer is nearly over, signaling the start of school for students and teachers and the end of the fiscal year for the federal government and businesses throughout the country. This change of seasons is also a good opportunity to take a break from the frantic day-to-day grind and find new ways to reboot your small business. Let’s call it a bit of spring-cleaning for fall.

Here are just a few ways you can tidy up your business and improve operations:

1. Refresh your website and social media channels. Analyze your website metrics to identify how pages are performing. If high priority areas such as online shops or product listing pages are not generating a lot of web traffic or repeat visitors, you may need to make a few changes. For instance, if few visits come from search engines, update your site content and HTML coding to include more-frequently used and relevant terms. This will help improve your site’s search engine ranking, increasing the likelihood potential customers will find your products and services. Diagnose landing pages to see how users are interacting with content. If the average time spent on important pages is low, consider doing some usability testing to find ways to improve user experience such as changing the layout or design of your website.

Also, monitor social media metrics to see what your online audience is interested in and track what is being said about your products. Engage with existing and future customers on social media by answering any questions they may have. This is a great way to show off your customer service skills, build your brand and grow your customer base. In addition, explore targeted advertising on social media channels to see if makes strategic and economic sense for your business.

2. Boost up bookkeeping. The tail end of the fiscal year is also a good time to get your financial house in order. Review your transactions and make sure there are no outstanding incoming or outgoing payments. Make sure you have all the necessary paperwork and receipts for tax-filing season. Update your cash flow statements and see if there are any opportunities to increase profit margins such as working with wholesalers to get better deals on products, shopping around for more affordable services and vendors and slashing prices to increase sales. Also, check with your lenders to see if you can negotiate lower interest rates on any business-related loans you have taken out. Explore mobile apps or software that can make accounting easier and lighten the paperwork load, saving you time ­– and maybe more important – money.

3. Glance back at your new year’s goals. Revaluate the business goals you established at the beginning of the year to determine if those objectives are realistic given current economic and market conditions. Pick one or two new short-term goals that will have a long-term impact and align with your business plan and strategy. Also, take time out to celebrate the goals you have accomplished, which are making your dream of owning and successfully running a small business a reality.

About the Author:

plester
Paul Lester

Former Contributor

I am an author for the the SBA.gov Community, writing about topics that matter to you as a small business owner. Our ongoing goal is to improve this site to meet your needs, so we're happy to receive your feedback and participation. Thanks for joining our online Community here at SBA.gov!

7 Techniques to Help You Save Money with Technology

By smallbiztrends, Guest Blogger
Published: August 4, 2014 Updated: August 15, 2014

As small businesses rely more and more on technology, if your company is like my company, you find yourself spending a bigger chunk of your budget on technology.  That’s not a bad thing if you get leverage from technology. In other words, it’s a net positive if that technology helps you sell more, serve customers faster, keep your labor costs in check, be more efficient internally or you somehow otherwise gain from the technology.  You end up being much further ahead.

 

But why spend more money than you need to on technology, right? Here are some tips for how to spend as little as possible on that all-important technology for your business.

  • Use Evernote to compile lists of discount codes and special offers 

How many times have you encountered discount codes or special offers, but soon forget where they are? With the web having so many places today to be online, and people subscribing to so many newsletters, it can be hard to keep track. A web note-taking service like Evernote (which has a free version) can help you keep track of discounts or special offers as you come across them online. But you don’t have to use Evernote for this purpose. There are other tools that help you track notes: OneNote; Simplenote; or Google Keep work well, too. Use whatever you are comfortable with. They simplify your life and can save you money.

  • Keep your technology an extra generation

Who doesn’t love a new gadget? But today’s computers, tablets and smartphones can often do the job perfectly well for an extra year. Think of all the money you can save by simply stretching the useful life of your technology a bit longer.

  • Set up alerts for price drops

Your favorite shopping sites may offer an alerts service to notify you of special deals or other changes to items for sale. Also, some third party apps have been created for this purpose. CamelCamelCamel and Unimerc help you track price changes on Amazon. TechBargains offers deal alerts for technology that you can set up based on keywords.

  • Use a free analytics program to make your online marketing more effective

Too many businesses use technology but don’t get the most from their investment in it. Take, for example, your website.  Is your website as effective as it could be? Or is it like a sieve, allowing leads to just run through it without capturing them or letting visitors leave without capitalizing on the traffic that comes to it? Google Analytics is a powerful program. But most users only scratch the surface of what it can do. If you take the time to learn it and customize it to track specific activity on your website, it can deliver insights that will prevent leads and traffic from getting away without capitalizing on it. Your marketing spend will be more effective if you learn to use it.

  • Subscribe to get daily or weekly tech deals

There are now many places online that offer “deal or the day” or weekly deals or specials.  Sign up for newsletters and printed sale flyers from hardware companies like Dell, HP and others. Periodically they offer sales that can be substantial, and if you’re subscribed you will receive notification. eBay has a Deals section of its site. Large office supply stores like Staples have their Hot Deals of the Week for technology that is on sale. Sites like AppSumo offer “daily deals” for software apps and subscriptions. Other sites such as DealNews aggregate hardware deals from many sites across the Web.  Often you can sign up to get notified via email or on your mobile device of new deals.

  • Check partner sections of your vendors’ websites

Quite a few vendors today have “partner” relationships with other companies where they offer a discount. For example, if you use Product X, you might be to get discounts for Product Y because Product Y is a partner.  

  • Hold meetings online; it saves on travel

OK, so this one isn’t exactly about saving money on technology, but it is about using technology to save money elsewhere. The video conference is one of the inventions that can save small businesses thousands and thousands of dollars a year on travel costs. Instead of visiting customers, some meetings can be held via video conference.

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.

Get Over These Dangerous Business Planning Myths

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: July 21, 2014

If you don’t plan your business because you don’t need a formal business plan document for a loan application or investors, you’re missing out. Planning is a tool for steering and managing your business – something that benefits all businesses, whether they need the formal document or not.

That fear and doubt so many business owners have (are you one of them?) is associated with several dangerous myths about business planning. So I want to dispel those myths with this post.

1. It’s about the management, not the plan.

Your plan exists to help you manage. It includes only what you need for its function, which is setting strategy, tactics and concrete specifics. You use it to track performance against plan, review results, and revise regularly, so the plan is always up to date. And that’s not a big document; it’s a collection of lists, bullet points, reminders and projected business numbers. I hope it’s gathered into a single place, as if it were a document, but it doesn’t have to be. And it’s only as big as you need, as polished as you need, as formal as you need.

Your business plan document, if and when needed, adds a lot of description and supporting information that aren’t in the main plan. That’s additional dressing. You add it when you have to in order to show a plan document to outsiders.

Every small-business owner suffers the problem of management and accountability. It’s much easier to be friends with your coworkers than to manage them well.

Correct management means setting expectations well and then following up on results. Compare results with expectations. People on a team are held accountable only if management actually does the work of tracking results and communicating results, after the fact, to the people responsible.

2. Not all business planning needs rigorous market analysis.

Contrary to the myth, a business plan doesn’t have to include supporting information to analyze or prove a market — at least, not until later, if and when the business purpose requires it. Not that you don’t have to know your market — but you don’t have to describe it or prove it for a lean plan. You don’t have to show some outsider who you are, what you own, or any of that.

You don’t have to do a rigorous market analysis as part of your plan if you know exactly what you’re offering, and to whom. So what about market analysis? Think about the business purpose. Do you need the market analysis to help determine your strategy? Then do it. Are you ready to go with that strategy regardless? Then don’t sweat the market analysis.

3. Good planning doesn’t reduce flexibility. It builds flexibility.

People say, “Why would I do a business plan? That just locks me in. It’s a straitjacket.”

And I say: wrong. The dumbest thing in the world is to do something just because it’s in the plan. There is no merit whatsoever in following a plan just for the plan’s sake. You never plan to run yourself into a brick wall over and over.

Instead, understand that the plan relates long term to short term, sales to costs and expenses and cash flow, marketing to sales, and lots of other interdependencies in the business. When things change — and they always do — the plan helps you keep track of what affects what else, so you can adjust accordingly.

It’s not like change undermines planning; actually, planning is the best way to manage change.

So running a business right requires minding the details but also watching the horizon. Eyes down, eyes up. At the same time.

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 .

Employee Fraud: What You Can Do About It

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: July 17, 2014

Employees are one of your biggest assets, even though they don’t appear on your balance sheet. They help you operate your business and are the faces of your company brand. But employees can also be a big liability if they steal from you. What can you do to protect yourself?

Acknowledge the problem

*Recent statistics found that companies lose 5% of their revenues each year to employee fraud. Companies with fewer than 100 employees had 28% higher fraud losses than larger companies.

Fraud can take many forms, including outright theft of property (from paper clips to expensive inventory items), subtle theft by wasting time (focus on personal matters, sports events or other distractions), to embezzlement of company funds. Employees can be very creative in devising ways to steal from you, including creating bogus customers and invoices to siphon funds from the company.

Wise staffing practices

Having the best employees on your staff can go a long way in minimizing or avoiding fraud inside your company.

  • Do background checks before hiring anyone new. You can check public records to look for bankruptcies and criminal records without permission from the job applicant. If you want to do a credit check (there’s debate about whether a bad credit rating is any indication of potential employee fraud), you’ll need permission. Note: About a dozen states bar employers from doing credit checks of job applicants and employees and Congress is considering similar federal legislation (see S. 1837).
  • Get to know your staff so you can detect potentially bad situations. Those with financial difficulties, such as an employee experiencing a home foreclosure or one with a gambling problem, may feel impelled to steal. Those displaying unaccounted wealth, such as a Lamborghini suddenly being driven by an employee who was previously driving a Ford Focus, may raise suspicions.
  • Create the right company culture. Let employees know how seriously you view any theft.

 

Implement systems for protection

As with the three branches of the federal government, checks and balances can prevent an employee from manipulating financial data. The less opportunity that employees have to steal, the lower the incidence of such action will be.

Frequent inventories can monitor and detect any employee theft of company property. Bring your accountant in to review your inventory and other financial information.

Make it clear that employee theft will not be tolerated and that violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Unfortunately, some small business owners ignore illegal activity, which then breeds more of the same.

Be vigilant

As the business owner, it’s up to you to oversee what’s going on in your business. Look for clues that something nefarious may be going on, such as a bookkeeper who never takes a vacation or declines to delegate work. Limit review of the monthly bank statement to you and, perhaps, your accountant; don’t leave it to the bookkeeper to review the statement before you see it.

Create an anonymous reporting system for employees to tell you about suspected fraud without fear of retaliation. Tips are the *most common method of detection (), yet fewer than 20% of small companies have a system in place, compared with 70% of larger firms. If you want to implement a reporting system, it can be a web-based system or a special phone hotline for this purpose.

And keep your ears open to any talk from staff members about possible thefts that may be going on.

 

* Denotes non-government website

 

About the Author:

BarbaraWeltman
Barbara Weltman

Guest Blogger

Barbara Weltman is an attorney, prolific author with such titles as J.K. Lasser's Small Business Taxes, J.K. Lasser's Guide to Self-Employment, and Smooth Failing as well as a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® and host of Build Your Business Radio. She has been included in the List of 100 Small Business Influencers for three years in a row. Follow her on Twitter: @BigIdeas4SB or at www.BigIdeasforSmallBusiness.com

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