COVID-19 relief options and additional resources
LEARN MORE Close

Managing

Never Run Out of Blog Topic Ideas: Here are 36

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

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

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

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

Your Industry

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

Your Business and Your Customers

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

Get A Bit More Personal

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

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

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

About the Author:

smallbiztrends
Anita Campbell

Guest Blogger

My name is Anita Campbell. I run online communities and information websites reaching over 6 million small business owners, stakeholders and entrepreneurs annually, including Small Business Trends, a daily publication about small business issues, and BizSugar.com, a small business social media site.

5 Tips for Using Differentiators to Increase Your Small Business Sales

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

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

Can you explain the following?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Find out which differentiators matter to your customers

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

4. Have integrity

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

5. Roll your differentiators into all your marketing messages

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

Related Blog

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

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

Is Your Company Prepared to Respond After a Disaster?

By Carol Chastang, SBA Official
Published: June 4, 2012 Updated: June 11, 2012

When a disaster occurs, it’s often the misleading bit of information shared by an outsider that gins up rumors about a damaged business shutting down.  Obviously, this situation undermines the company’s ability to recover. That’s one big reason why precise, effective communication – within the organization, and out to the public – is vital during an emergency.

Now that the Atlantic Hurricane season has begun, it’s a good time to set up an effective crisis communications strategy.  You want to develop a plan to make sure your employees, customers, vendors, contractors – everyone you do business with – is aware of the progress you’re making as you recover in the aftermath of a disaster.

Here are a few tips to get your company’s crisis communications plan started:

  • Develop and regularly update an Emergency Contact List that includes a home phone, alternate mobile, personal email, family contact information, and the evacuation plan.
  • Establish an email alert system capable of multiple means of communication to employees, stakeholders and clients.  Test the alert system regularly.
  • Consider an online social network platform for web-based crisis communications (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Having a plan to deal with local media is also essential. With a good strategy in place, the media can become a supportive function as you rebuild after a disaster.
  • Designate primary and secondary spokespersons, and give them training in dealing with the media. Make sure all employees know the name of the spokesperson.
  • Create key message and talking points to ensure consistent messaging.
  • Continuously monitor what’s being said and written about your company both online and offline, so you can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your strategy and messaging.

After the crisis, notify all critical people of your next steps. It’s also a good idea to do a debrief with your staff to evaluate lessons learned, and how to improve the plan if necessary.

There’s a great crisis communications checklist on Agility Recovery’s website.  Use it to create your own plan.

About the Author:

Carol Chastang

SBA Official

Free Training Resources on Financial Management Available to Small Business Owners

By CeceliaT, SBA Official
Published: May 31, 2012 Updated: May 31, 2012

Are you looking for financial and business management tips and advice to help get your business off the ground? If so, there is a new tool to add to your small business tool belt. Money Smart for Small Business is a brand new training for new and aspiring business owners that introduces you to the day-to-day operations, organization and planning of a business from a financial standpoint.

Money Smart for Small Business, created with you – the entrepreneur – in mind, is an instructor-led financial education curriculum to help you with financial management to better operate your business. It was written for entrepreneurs who have no prior formal business training and offers practical information that can easily be put in place.

Why Money Smart for Small Business?

The Money Smart for Small Business training curriculum is an easy-to-follow structured program that covers 10 key areas of finance needed to organize any business. The 10 financial-related areas covered in the training are:

  • Insurance                                
  • Selling and Succession
  • Financial Management             
  • Organizational Types
  • Time Management                               
  • Tax Preparation
  • Banking                                               
  • Record Keeping
  • Risk Management                                
  • Credit Reporting

The training prepares you on the basics of financial management and lays a foundation for your ongoing training and technical assistance. It was developed mainly for new and aspiring entrepreneurs by the SBA and the FDIC, and is the latest in the FDIC’s Money Smart program.

The training gives you a full-range of business and financial resources, and gives you information about financial education programs provided by SBA and the FDIC to help strengthen and improve your ability to start, grow and compete in the global marketplace.

How does the Training Work?

Money Smart for Small Business starts with a core curriculum of the 10 modules that give you a first look at running a small business from a financial standpoint.  The modules can be taught in any order and are designed to give you the most necessary information in an hour-long period.  Each module has a scripted instructor guide, a participant manual and useful overhead slides that make it clear and easy to understand.

But the end of the training is just the beginning. Instructors are invited to consider organizing and hosting peer learning-type forums to give participating business owners the chance to meet regularly to support one another during their first year.

Also, instructors who lead the training curriculum will share their best practices, problem-solve common issues, and give their feedback to continuously improve the core of the training curriculum.

Is there Special Eligibility to Receive the Training?

Instructors who lead the trainings will likely find it helpful to have experience in conducting trainings, providing technical assistance or coaching small businesses. But no certifications are required to use or to order the training curriculum.

You should also know that the training is not intended for use by individual entrepreneurs on their own. Training on the Money Smart for Small Business program will be provided by a wide variety of organizations across the country such as financial institutions, small business incubators, city and county economic development offices, faith-based organizations, and similar organizations that teach workshops to entrepreneurs and small business owners.  Training will also be provided by SBA Resource Partners, which include SCORE, the Women’s Business Centers and the Small Business Development Centers.

How Can I Receive the Training?

Money Smart for Small Business can be ordered free of charge directly from the FDIC.

- - -

The support given by the U.S. Small Business Administration to this activity does not constitute an express or implied endorsement of any cosponsor's or participant's opinions, products, or services. All SBA programs or cosponsored programs are extended to the public on a nondiscriminatory basis.

About the Author:

Cecelia Taylor

SBA Official

CeceliaT is a moderator for the SBA Community. We appreciate your participation and feedback on how we can continually improve the community to meet your small business needs.

“Chief Everything Officer” No More! – 6 Options for Staffing your Growing Business

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: May 30, 2012 Updated: September 22, 2016

Being the Chief Everything Officer is okay for some, but if you’ve got plans for growth or simply need an extra pair of hands, what are the best staffing options for your business?

Taking on full-time employees can be a risk. What if your growth strategy doesn’t go as planned and you’re left with payroll and other employee expenses to cover? Should you hire independent contractors or outsource key functions?

Here are some staffing options that you might want to consider, as well as some insights on the tax and legal ramifications of each.

1. Hire Your Spouse or Family

Friends and family may be able to jump in and support your business – given the right terms. Weigh the skills they can bring and what you can offer in return. Establish clear goals and objectives and offer fair compensation, and make sure you understand the legal, tax and labor laws that may impact your decision.

The following blogs offer advice to help you manage what has the propensity to be an explosive mix. However, with planning, good communication, respect for each other’s differences, and a clear separation of business from personal, you may find the formula for success:

2. Work With Independent Contractors

Hiring independent contractors or freelancers gives you the flexibility to get help when and as you need it from specialists in a particular field. Independent contractors are also self-employed, which means you don't have the burden of handling payroll, employment taxes and the other obligations of managing employees.

The best way to find independent contractors is word of mouth and referrals. Ask around.

Tip: The IRS holds a big magnifying glass over companies that work with independent contractors and with businesses that misclassify employees as independent contractors. The reason? Statistics show that 30 percent of firms do this and that’s a big loss for the IRS in terms of employment taxes.

So be sure you understand what you can and can’t require of an independent contractor and make sure you’re not treating them as employees. For example, you can’t dictate when and where they conduct work. This SBA guide explains what you need to know: Independent Contractors vs. Employees

3. “Temp” Staffing Agencies

If you need to quickly staff a position with qualified and screened candidates, particularly administrative or support functions, temp agencies might be an option. But this can be an expensive way to staff your business for the long haul. Temp agencies take up to a 30 percent cut of the hourly rate that you pay and also charge temp-to-permanent fees if you decide to hire that person full-time. Another important consideration is that temporary workers are also less likely to be invested in your business success than employees and even contractors.

4. Hire Seasonal Employees

If your business is seasonal, part-time seasonal workers are a must. The thing to remember is that unless you work with independent contractors, many of the laws and regulations that apply to full-time employees also apply to seasonal or part-time employees. For a soup-to-nuts understanding of what’s involved with hiring seasonal workers, such as what benefits must you provide, read Hiring Seasonal Workers.

5. Outsource Business Functions

Whether you turn to a virtual assistant for help managing your calendar, voice mail, and perhaps some basic bookkeeping, or you need help with core business functions such as accounting, marketing or HR, outsourcing can be a low-overhead option that lets you concentrate more on business growth and less on day-to-day distractions. These articles can help you in your search for outsourced help:

6. Bringing on Employees

If you do choose to move forward with part- or full-time employees, you’ll need to make sure you are aware and compliant with a few key legal and regulatory steps – these 10 Steps to Hiring your First Employee from SBA can really help.

 

 

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

Why Joining a Credit Union for Military Entrepreneurs is Smart Business

By Marco Carbajo, Guest Blogger
Published: May 26, 2012 Updated: May 13, 2013

If you are in the military, a veteran, or military spouse and either own or are thinking about starting a business, consider joining a credit union for military entrepreneurs to service your company’s banking needs.

Military credit unions offer tremendous benefits for small business owners and because they are member-owned, they always act in your best interest.

The good news is this: once you are a member, you are always a member. You can leave the military, change employers, move, retire, and get married— and never have to leave the credit union.

Some of the additional benefits for military entrepreneurs are the wide array of financial products and services military credit unions offer.

For example, Navy Federal Credit Union offers a business credit card that does not report to your personal credit reports. When you draw on your company’s credit line, your personal debt/credit ratios are unaffected. This shelters your personal credit for personal necessities such as auto loans, mortgages, student loans, and personal credit cards.

Here is a breakdown of the types of business services military credit unions offer to its members.

Business Checking & Savings

  • Variety of business checking accounts
  • Variety of dividend-earnings savings products—Money Market Savings Accounts (MMSAs), Jumbo MMSAs and Certificates
  • Dividends earned daily
  • No or low monthly maintenance fees
  • Scan Deposits service

Business Loans (Secured and Unsecured Term Loans)

  • Inventory financing
  • Equipment purchases
  • Leasehold improvements
  • Finance—or even refinance—your investment properties
  • SBA Loans offered for start-up and/or less tenured businesses

Business Credit Cards

  • Low to No Annual Fees
  • Annual Percentage Rate as low as prime + 5.9%
  • Rewards Points

Merchant Card Processing

  • Fair pricing
  • Easy-to-read monthly processing statements that you will understand
  • Dedicated customer service and support

Generally, you can join a Military credit union if you fall under any of these categories:

  • All Department of Defense (DoD) uniformed personnel
  • All Department of Defense Reservists
  • All Army and Air National Guard Personnel
  • All Delayed Entry Program (DEP) Personnel
  • All DoD Officer Candidate programs
  • U.S. government employees assigned to DoD installations (including Coast Guard)
  • All DoD civilian employees
  • DoD contractors assigned to U.S. Government installations
  • Family Members—including grandparents, parents, spouses, siblings, grandchildren, children (including adopted and stepchildren) and household members

Some credit unions allow your family members (once they’ve joined) to extend the membership opportunity to their family members, too.

If you own a small start-up or a thriving company, a credit union for military entrepreneurs can help you guide your business every step of the way. You'll have a trusted partner who's looking out for your best interests.

*To locate a military credit union nearest you go to culookup.com and type in what branch of the military you serve under the affiliation tab.

My respect, appreciation, and prayers go out to all the members of our Military and their families. We thank you for your service, dedication, and sacrifice for our country.

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’.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Managing