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Category Archives: Business

Print Designers: Finding The Best For Your Business

There has long since been a debate over the importance of traditional media; do we really need print in a world increasingly dominated by all things online? although I can’t provide a definitive answer to this what I can say is this; in the time of our grandparents radio was the primary medium of entertainment but when television came along people soon began to believe it was fast on its way out yet decades later radio is still very much going strong. The premise is simple; just because something new has come along doesn’t necessarily mean that our traditional ways must go.

For this reason, to this day in the face of Facebook marketing, mail shots and Twitter trending, for many businesses the need for and the level of success obtained by print marketing methods cannot be ignored.

Although print may not work for all business or be considered a viable use of advertising spend particularly as the lack of tracking and analytics may deem it unreliable; for many businesses the right print material like print services Phoenix is integral to an overall marketing campaign.

From leaflets to product magazines and catalogues; both big named corporations, retailers and even the new SME’s are openly embracing print marketing. From the design to the actual print process however, it is important to ensure that you work with the right team of print specialists.

As with online marketing, print design requires experience, skill and understanding which cannot be so easily achieved without an experienced agency but how do you know you have made the right choice? Whether new to print design or considering switching from your current choice of agency; the below tips might help you to get a better understanding of just what makes a good print agency…

Reputation– If there is one thing we can be certain of, it is that in today’s instantly connected world nothing stays secret for long, particularly a mistake which is why it is important to research your chosen agency’s reputation. Mistakes, poor service and a lack of skill won’t stay hidden so do some digging. There are a number of print design agencies whose reputations speak volume so ask to look at the type of projects they have worked on, the number of and type of business client, the skill set and the quality of the work that has been produced, you could even go so far as to ask for client reviews which are sure to give you a true insight into the agency. A good reputation says it all and if you find an agency that has one; it will definitely work in your favour.

Age– They say that age is but a number but in the business world it is so much more. The longer a business has been in operation the more successful it may potentially be, after-all with competition increasing, a recession and business owners far less likely to spend on marketing; an agency that has stood the test of time is no doubt one that has produced quality work, provided unquestionable service and helped numerous businesses to achieve results. Ask your chosen print design agency about how many years they have been in operation, the number of clients and of course client turnover in those years to gauge a good insight into how they work.

Portfolio– With so many design agencies vying for your attention and determined to get your business you have to be aware of how to distinguish between those who can talk the talk and those who can walk the walk. No design agency should shy away from showing off a portfolio of past work and even producing a sample in order to show you just what they can do. Getting a good understanding of the skill and potential of the agency is a great way to determine whether or not they are a right fit for you.

Strong Start on Entrepreneur, Here Its Tips

As someone who has been called a serial entrepreneur, I’ve had more than my fair share of experience starting new enterprises, turning around underperforming enterprises or re-vamping operations.

During that time, I’ve learned a thing or two about some critical factors you absolutely need to know before you jump into the proverbial entrepreneurial waters.

In the majority of cases, start-up success or failure is all about knowing the both the how and the why of taking action, and always being clear about which steps to take next.

To help this process, here are essential things you need to know about running a successful business. Use it as a checklist to make sure your thinking and your business plan are on the right track, or if you need to get more information, strategic education or clarity for yourself on your overall vision, your market, or your product or service.

  1. Offer what people want to buy, not just what you want to sell. Too often, people jump into a business built around a product or service they think will be successful, rather than one that is already proven to have a market.

    What do I mean?

    Instead of creating and selling a new sports shoe with the latest trendy design and materials, you’d be much better off from a business perspective to focus on shoe category generally (a proven category because which people buy shoes every day) and then focus more specifically on the niche of high performance sports shoes, (which you may even sell in a section of a shoe retail outlet). Better to have a small slice of a large category than a large slice of no market at all.

  2. Get cash flowing ASAP. Cash flow is the lifeblood of business, and is absolutely essential to feed bottom-line profits. So you need to find ways to jump start cash flow immediately.

    How do you do that? In a professional services business, you can ask for deposits on work up-front, with balances due on delivery.

    You can do the same in retail, especially on high-ticket or specialty item and position it as an added value and a way to insure delivery by a specific date.

    You can also add value to generic items by creating private labels, and develop continuity programs where customers pay an up-front monthly fee to insure delivery or availability of items they will buy on a repeat basis. Of course, the key is to make sure there is little or no gap between when you pay for labor, stock inventory and when you actually get paid. Ideally, you’ll find ways to get money up front, and your cash gap will never be an issue.

  3. Always find new ways to keep costs low. All the cash flow in the world is worthless if it’s not positive cash flow, which means you have to bring in more cash than you pay out.

    To do this, you need to keep your costs and expenses low. We’ve touched on this before, especially in terms of outfitting a startup. The main idea is to never pay retail , and look for used or gently used items to furnish your office or your retail space.

    Paying vendors up front also gives you leverage for negotiating better prices. Especially in this economic environment, where credit is at a premium, vendors are more willing than ever to find creative ways to finance transactions, and that is a trend will likely continue over time.

    So do some extra work and research now to discover how owners and vendors are finding ways to work out deals, and you just may hit on whole new ways of doing business.

  4. When planning, always overestimate expenses and underestimate revenues. I was trained as an accountant, so the numbers side of business is part of my entrepreneurial DNA, and was also a big part of my early business education.

    That said, I’ve never seen a startup business where expenses were at least 30 percent more than initially planned or anticipated, and revenues are at least that much less.

    Being conservative in your numbers doesn’t mean you are willing to accept those numbers, it just means you are arming yourself with information you can work with and work over. It means you can gauge the kinds of efforts and activities you will need to put into sales and marketing.

  5. Focus on sales and marketing manically. In business, nothing happens until a sale is made. From the jump, you’ll need to find a good way to get leads, convert leads into sales, and make sure you keep getting repeat sales from your customers.

    The way to do this is to find or create a marketing and sales funnel system that you can work, test, measure; one that anyone in your company can utilize.

    Too many entrepreneurs focus on getting their brand right before they start to generate leads. That is exactly the wrong way to go about business. Leads are always more important than your brand, so don’t waste money getting your brand right at the expense of spending that same money to buy new customers.

    Soon, you’ll discover you can build your brand from the ground up, versus spending years and hundred of thousands of dollars building it from the top down. Don’t presume you’ll even survive that long, because without leads, you won’t!

  6. Find ways to exponentially increase profits. In business, there are five drivers that impact profits. If you can master them while keeping your costs in check, you will run a successful business.

    It’s as simple as getting more leads, converting more leads into customers, increasing the number of times those customers buy from you, increasing the average price point of your sales and increasing your profit margins.

    Do any one of those, while also keeping costs down, you will see more profits. Do all of them and you will see your business really take off.

  7. Test and measure everything. You can’t change what you don’t measure, and you can’t tell if a program or strategy is working if you are not faithfully testing, measuring and tracking your results.

    Another way to look at this is to think in terms of doctors. Most like to get baseline stats of your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing before they delve into identifying symptoms or recommending corrective courses of action.

    The same is true in your business. Why keep literally throwing money away on an ad campaign that costs thousands of dollars but doesn’t bring any people through the door?

  8. Accept that learning more equals earning more. If you’ve never run a million dollar business, you don’t know how to start a business–simple as that.

    But you can learn to run one, even if it is your million dollar business you are building from the ground up.

    However, you need to accept right now that learning always comes before “earning” (except in the dictionary). You’ll need to be committed to learning as much as you can about sales and marketing and operations if you want to have a truly success business.

    Once you do that, however, the sky is the limit. Knowing and applying those simple fundamentals in a highly leveraged way is one of the reasons many top executives and entrepreneurs earn so much.

    Identify those areas and you then can decide to learn it yourself or hire an expert and learn as much as you can from that person–because you never know when you can run across a distinction in thinking or a strategy that can really take you and your business to a new level of success.

  9. Don’t discount, add value. Whenever you discount, you are taking money directly out of your pocket and directly from your bottom-line profit. So don’t do it. Instead, create added value propositions all the way up and down your product or service line.

    Whatever the industry is, look to hold your price points, increase your margins with the low-cost or no-cost extras and any kind of freemium offerings.

    In the end, those little things won’t cost you a lot, but will build up tremendous goodwill and word-of-mouth with your customers and customer base.

  10. Get a coach. Even if you don’t get a business coach at first to help you and guide you in your planning and operation, get someone who is objective and outside of your business you can rely on for nitty gritty business advice and to hold you accountable to getting results.

    Too often, we think we have all the answers and are the only people who can really get things done. The reality is that another set of eyes can work wonders for how you operate both on and in your business. An outsider can also make sure you are getting the numbers you need both on the top line and the bottom line to survive.

I hope this initial checklist will be valuable in helping you clarify your thinking and helping you prioritize some activities in your planning and start up mode.

I like to say there are no mysteries in business or in life, there’s just information you don’t know yet.

So prepare as well as you can, knowing you will need to make changes and corrections. But armed with the right strategies up front, you can cut the time it will take you successfully get to your ultimate destination–wherever it is that may be for you and your business.

Business Skill That Entrepreneur Should Have

Business Skill That EntrepreneurRunning your own business means having to wear all different types of hats. Whether it’s your marketing hat, your sales hat, or your general people skills hat, you’re going to need to know how to court sales, and on the other side of operations, you are also going to need to know how to run a balanced account and continue to grow your wealth.

Though there are many business skills that a successful entrepreneur will have, the following five skills are the ones that you absolutely need to make your business successful:

1. Sales

This one is a no-brainer–of course you are going to need sales skills in order to run your business! After all, marketing can drive customers in to your business, but sales are going to be what keeps them coming back and keeps putting money into your pocket. It is no wonder why most entrepreneurs actually come from a sales background!

2. Planning

Taking one bad step can make or break your business, especially when it is still in the early stages of development. Entrepreneurs that are successful with their ventures make a plan and stick to it, thinking out every risk, benefit, and cost of an option available to them. They also make their plans realistic and factor in things such astime and budget in order to make their plans a reality.

3. Communication

Communication is an underlying skill for many others in business (sales included). Communication is how you will be able to cultivate loyal employees, charm customers into coming back time and time again, and court investors and other sources for increasing revenue for your business. This skill can also come in handy when dealing with vendors or any other necessary business services that may apply to your venture–being friendly in business-to-business relationships is a sure-fire way to be treated a little bit better, therefore making at least one aspect of your job a little bit easier.

4. Customer Focus

Successful entrepreneurs keep a narrow focus–on the customer that is paying their bills. They do not forget that everything that they do is for the customer, since the customer is the one that is allowing them to do anything in the first place. A good business owner will always have time for a customer, whether they have a complaint or praise. Having good customer focus will mean that you see every customer as an opportunity to do better and grow, versus an annoyance or a difficulty.

5. Curiosity

The best business skill has always been a healthy curiosity. This will lead you to look into what your competitors are doing, and it will also allow you to utilize new technologies to the best of your ability to streamline your business and even reach out to new customers. When the only limit you have is what you can imagine and apply, just about anything is possible.

Wanna Success in Business Startup?, Follow These Tips

1. Don’t Go It Alone

If you look at a list of successful startups over the last few years, you’ll notice that most have one thing in common: multiple founders. Starting a company by yourself puts you at a distinct disadvantage for several reasons. Beginning a business is a lot of work, and several important things will likely fall through the cracks if you don’t have more than one of eyes on the ball.

 Furthermore, you’ll lack the companionship necessary for celebrating your successes and for brainstorming ways to overcome your mistakes. Take it from the pros: not sharing your profits isn’t worth trying to handle a brand new business by yourself.

2. You Need Lots of Money

However much money you’ve raised, it probably isn’t enough to fund a successful business. You’ll need to find more funding at some point in order to keep your bills paid and your dreams afloat. Seeking out investors is always a good idea in the beginning stages. Equity crowdfunding can also be an extremely lucrative option for startups.

3. Location Still Matters

Even though more businesses are starting out online, your physical location can still be an important factor in the success of your business. If you plan to set up a physical shop, you’ll need to go where your target audience is. If you plan to set up an online store, you still need to consider your location, at least for networking and economy purposes. Currently, the Silicon Valley, Atlanta, Boston, and Boulder are some of the best places to start a business.

4. You Can’t Slay Giants Right Away

Most of the major giants in your industry got where they are because they developed extensive resources, have years of experience, and are well known in the consumer industry. They didn’t get that way overnight. It took time to develop that name and to become a popular industry tycoon.

As a startup, you shouldn’t try to compete with the big wigs. Instead, focus on the small things and work on beating your immediate competition. If you use your resources right, with time, you may have the chance to go up against the giants and win.

5. Don’t Overlook Your Target Market

Your startup should always have a target audience, and the goods or services you offer must solve some kind of problem for this audience in order to take off. Too many startups get so caught up in the details of launching the business that they forget to consider the people that will keep them in business.

6. Choose Your Employees Carefully

As your business begins to grow and develop, you’ll learn how difficult it is to retain employees. They will always come and go as they move onto the next best thing or transition to different points in their lives. However, flighty employees are the last people you want to hire when you’re starting a company. You need people who are willing to see your vision and stick with your company at least until you’re airborne.

In order to do this, take your time on the hiring process. Rushing it will leave you with sub-par employees and missed opportunities to hire the ones that could have made your company soar.

7. Make Customers a High Priority

Though it should go without saying, your customers keep you in business, which means that customer service should be at the top of your priorities. But customers can do more for your business than make purchases. They can also help you to improve your products and services so that your business can thrive. By listening to customer feedback, you too can learn the best ways to improve your products and services to meet your customers’ needs.

As a startup you’ll make your share of unique mistakes, but maybe these lessons from experienced entrepreneurs can help you to avoid any unnecessary ones.

How to Keep Your Startup Business?

At this point you’ve accomplished the basics of getting an ongoing business concern up and running.  You have a product offering that people are buying.  You are selling that product at a price that lets you make a sufficient profit to continue a business, and you are now working to increase the scale of your operation to the point where you are actually running a business rather than just working on a hobby or interesting side job.  Congratulations!  You’re probably now working 7 days a week, 12-16 hours a day, realizing on a daily basis how much you need to learn in order to have your business grow to match your dreams, and dealing with daily setbacks and obstacles.  This is probably the hardest you’ve ever worked in your life, and even though you’re loving every day, you’re not sure how you will be able to cope with this forever.

The good news is that most startups have busy periods in the beginning, and as you start to gain market share and stability your workload as the CEO, founder, sole evangelist, and creator will be eased by a staff of people who can assist and your customer base will become established so you can rely on repeat sales rather than pure hustle to keep your business going.  During those periods of pure chaos, however, here are 5 tips to keep you sane and successful:

    1. Find mentors.  Good mentors will make your dreams achievable more quickly.  The best mentors are those who have done what you are trying to accomplish before, successfully, and who are helping you for friendship or self-fulfillment reasons.  They may be formal Board of Advisor or Director members, friends, colleagues, or interested peers.  Service providers can be mentors as well, but be careful, as there is always a potential for a conflict of interest when someone is trying to sell you something and offering advice at the same time.  Ethical advisors will be able to navigate this conflict, but the world abounds with unethical people who will exploit it to their advantage. We had a local outsourced accounting firm whose CEO we invited to our Board of Advisors, and all of his advice seemed to result in his firm increasing our billings by an order of magnitude.  By the time I finally removed his firm and insourced their work, he had come close to financially devastating my firm.   The best mentors don’t need anything from you, but if you have an arrangement with them for payment in cash or stock, ensure that arrangement is clear and the advisor doesn’t have an interest in pushing you in a specific direction for their own gain.
    2. Work out.  Exercise.  Be fit.  Life is better when you work out. I know your answer, which is the same for everyone, “I can’t possibly find the time with my schedule to work out, the business will suffer!”. Quite simply, BS.  The stress you are going through is probably the highest you have experienced in your life, and if you don’t work out now, your ability to be at your best will start to fall, quickly.  I’m not saying you suddenly need to take up some time consuming pursuit that is a job in itself, like training for the Ironman, but there are so many little things that you can do during your day to start getting fit, after a couple of months of getting into a routine you’ll wonder how you functioned without doing them.  Park on the opposite side of the street and walk further to work.  Take the stairs.  Take a break at lunch and do 50 pushups, 50 situps, and 50 squats daily.  Work your way up to a solid 30-45 min of exercise daily.  On days when you wake up late and can’t possibly do 30 minutes, get 5 minutes in so you keep your momentum.
    3. Set a schedule for yourself.  Particularly if you’re still working by yourself or working out of your house, you need to have a set schedule for work and stick by it.  It’s too easy to just do whatever happens to come to you reactively, but that is not the way to build a business.  Especially if you are not good at working on a schedule, set your working time, family time, and relaxation time and stick to them.  If you deviate, get back to your schedule asap.
    4. Know your weaknesses.  If you are extremely uncomfortable dealing with customers, doing your books, or going on sales calls, whatever your weaknesses are you need to recognize them first.  Once you recognize them, you need to compensate for them.  Compensation may be that you take extra time to prepare for a sales call, rehearsing it until you’re as comfortable as you can be, take sales training or Toastmaster’s courses, take bookkeeping classes, hire somebody to do that function for you or a variety of other compensation methods, but the key is to know your weaknesses, face them, and compensate.  Often, depending upon how much effort you put into it, a weakness can become a strength.  As an example, I get extremely nervous speaking in front of large groups.  Because of this, I spend a lot of time rehearsing my topics to the point where I can brief them without slides and without any notes other than simple topic bullets.  When prepped appropriately, a speaking engagement then becomes another opportunity to excel at a new skill rather than a dreaded ordeal to be endured, and I have received many comments on how I can brief without relying heavily on aids, and how composed I look, despite my trepidation and butterflies before and during.
    5. Finally, set deadlines and goals for yourself and adhere to them.  Determine your goals for your business, write them down and give them to a trusted friend with a date set for 6 months or a year from then to review them with you.  On a daily basis, set your goals for the day and at the end of the day review them.  It’s a common trap to get immersed in the chaos of a startup and find a year later you were phenomenally busy, but never achieved the goals you originally planned.  You can revise the goals as need be, but you need to set them first to revise them later.

Get Fund for Your Business

Contrary to popular belief, business plans do not generate business financing.True, there are many kinds of financing options that require a business plan, but nobody invests in a business plan.

Investors need a business plan as a document that communicates ideas and information, but they invest in a company, in a product, and in people.

Small business financing myths:

  • Venture capital is a growing opportunity for funding businesses. Actually, venture capital financing is very rare. I’ll explain more later, but assume that only a very few high-growth plans with high-power management teams are venture opportunities.
  • Bank loans are the most likely option for funding a new business. Actually, banks don’t finance business start-ups. I’ll have more on that later, too. Banks aren’t supposed to invest depositors’ money in new businesses.
  • Business plans sell investors. Actually, they don’t—a well-written and convincing business plan (and pitch) can sell investors on your business idea, but you’re also going to have convince those investors that you are worth investing in. When it comes to investment, it’s as much about whether you’re the right person to run your business as it is about the viability of your business idea.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a business plan. You should. Your business plan is an essential piece of the funding puzzle, explaining exactly how much money you need, and where it’s going to go, and how long it will take you to earn it back. Everyone you talk to is going to expect to see your business plan.

But, depending on what kind of business you have and what your market opportunities are, you should tailor your funding search and your approach. Don’t waste your time looking for the wrong kind of financing.

Where to look for money

The process of looking for money must match the needs of the company. Where you look for money, and how you look for money, depends on your company and the kind of money you need. There is an enormous difference, for example, between a high-growth internet-related company looking for second-round venture funding and a local retail store looking to finance a second location.

In the following sections of this article, I’ll talk more specifically about six different types of investment and lending available, to help you get your business funded.

1. Venture capital

The business of venture capital is frequently misunderstood. Many start-up companies resent venture capital companies for failing to invest in new ventures or risky ventures. People talk about venture capitalists as sharks—because of their supposedly predatory business practices, or sheep—because they supposedly think like a flock, all wanting the same kinds of deals.

This is not the case. The venture capital business is just that—a business. The people we call venture capitalists are business people who are charged with investing other people’s money. They have a professional responsibility to reduce risk as much as possible. They should not take more risk than is absolutely necessary to produce the risk/return ratios that the sources of their capital ask of them.

Venture capital shouldn’t be thought of as a source of funding for any but a very few exceptional startup businesses. Venture capital can’t afford to invest in startups unless there is a rare combination of product opportunity, market opportunity, and proven management. A venture capital investment has to have a reasonable chance of producing a tenfold increase in business value within three years. It needs to focus on newer products and markets that can reasonably project increasing sales by huge multiples over a short period of time. It needs to work with proven managers who have dealt with successful start-ups in the past.

If you are a potential venture capital investment, you probably know it already. You have management team members who have been through that already. You can convince yourself and a room full of intelligent people that your company can grow ten times over in three years.

If you have to ask whether your new company is a possible venture capital opportunity, it probably isn’t. People in new growth industries, multimedia communications, biotechnology, or the far reaches of high-technology products, generally know about venture capital and venture capital opportunities.

If you are looking for names and addresses of venture capitalists, start with the internet.

2. “Sort-of” venture capital: Angels and others

Venture capital is not the only source of investment for start-up businesses or small businesses. Many companies are financed by smaller investors in what is called “private placement.” For example, in some areas there are groups of potential investors who meet occasionally to hear proposals. There are also wealthy individuals who occasionally invest in new companies. In the lore of business start-ups, groups of investors are often referred to as “doctors and dentists,” and individual investors are often called “angels.” Many entrepreneurs turn to friends and family for investment.

Your next question of course is how to find the “doctors, dentists, and angels” that might want to invest in your business. Some government agencies, business development centers, business incubators, and similar organizations that will be tied into the investment communities in your area. Turn first to the local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which is most likely associated with your local community college.

Turn first to the local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which is most likely associated with your local community college.

Important: Be careful dealing with anyone who offers to help you find financing as a service for money. These are shark-infested waters. I am aware of some legitimate providers of business plan consulting, but legitimate providers are harder to find than the sharks.

3. Commercial lenders

Banks are even less likely than venture capitalists to invest in, or loan money to, startup businesses. They are, however, the most likely source of financing for most small businesses.

Startup entrepreneurs and small business owners are too quick to criticize banks for failing to finance new businesses. Banks are not supposed to invest in businesses, and are strictly limited in this respect by federal banking laws. The government prevents banks from investment in businesses because society, in general, doesn’t want banks taking savings from depositors and investing in risky business ventures; obviously when (and if) those business ventures fail, bank depositors’ money is at risk. Would you want your bank to invest in new businesses (other than your own, of course)?

Furthermore, banks should not loan money to startup companies either, for many of the same reasons. Federal regulators want banks to keep money safe, in very conservative loans backed by solid collateral. Startup businesses are not safe enough for bank regulators and they don’t have enough collateral.

Why then do I say that banks are the most likely source of small business financing? Because small business owners borrow from banks. A business that has been around for a few years generates enough stability and assets to serve as collateral. Banks commonly make loans to small businesses backed by the company’s inventory or accounts receivable. Normally there are formulas that determine how much can be loaned, depending on how much is in inventory and in accounts receivable.

A great deal of small business financing is accomplished through bank loans based on the business owner’s personal collateral, such as home ownership. Some would say that home equity is the greatest source of small business financing.

4. The Small Business Administration (SBA)

The SBA makes loans to small businesses and even to startup businesses. SBA loans are almost always applied for and administered by local banks. You normally deal with a local bank throughout the process.

For startup loans, the SBA will normally require that at least one third of the required capital be supplied by the new business owner. Furthermore, the rest of the amount must be guaranteed by reasonable business or personal assets.

The SBA works with “certified lenders,” which are banks. It takes a certified lender as little as one week to get approval from the SBA. If your own bank isn’t a certified lender, you should ask your banker to recommend a local bank that is.

5. Other lenders

Aside from standard bank loans, an established small business can also turn to accounts receivable specialists to borrow against its accounts receivables.

The most common accounts receivable financing is used to support cash flow when working capital is hung up in accounts receivable. For example, if your business sells to distributors that take 60 days to pay, and the outstanding invoices waiting for payment (but not late) come to $100,000, your company can probably borrow more than $50,000. Interest rates and fees may be relatively high, but this is still often a good source of small business financing. In most cases, the lender doesn’t take the risk of payment—if your customer doesn’t pay you, you have to pay the money back anyhow. These lenders will often review your debtors, and choose to finance some or all of the invoices outstanding.

Another related business practice is called factoring. So-called factors actually purchase obligations, so if a customer owes you $100,000 you can sell the related paperwork to the factor for some percentage of the total amount. In this case, the factor takes the risk of payment, so discounts are obviously quite steep. Ask your banker for additional information about factoring.

6. Friends and family funding

If I could make only one point with budding entrepreneurs, it would be that you should know what money you need, and understand that it is at risk. Don’t bet money you can’t afford to lose. Know how much you are betting.

I’ll always remember a talk I had with a man who had spent 15 years trying to make his sailboat manufacturing business work, achieving not much more than aging and more debt. “If I can tell you only one thing,” he said, “it is that you should never take money from friends and family. If you do, then you can never get out. Businesses sometimes fail, and you need to be able to close it down and walk away. I wasn’t able to do that.”

The story points out why the U.S. government securities laws discourage getting business investments from people who aren’t wealthy, sophisticated investors. They don’t fully understand how much risk there is. If your parents, siblings, good friends, cousins, and in-laws will invest in your business, they have paid you an enormous compliment. Please, in that case, make sure that you understand how easily this money can be lost, and that you make them understand as well.

Although you don’t want to rule out starting your company with investments from friends and family, don’t ignore some of the disadvantages. Go into this relationship with your eyes wide open.

Maybe, your idea and your situation is a better fit for crowdfunding—that is, creating a profile and pitching your business idea or product on a site like Kickstarter. In fact, this method of raising money has become so popular that here are dozens of crowdfunding sites to choose from, all offering different terms and benefits.

Words of warning

Don’t take private placement, angels, friends and family as good sources of investment capital just because they are described here or taken seriously in some other source of information. Some investors are a good source of capital, and some aren’t. These less established sources of investment should be handled with extreme caution.

Never, never spend somebody else’s money without first doing the legal work properly. Have the papers done by professionals, and make sure they’re signed.

Never, never spend money that has been promised but not delivered. Often companies get investment commitments and contract for expenses, and then the investment falls through. Avoid turning to friends and family for investment. The worst possible time to not have the support of friends and family is when your business is in trouble. You risk losing friends, family, and your business at the same time.

Submitting a plan

The information you submit to investors depends a great deal on what your objective is. Sometimes you’ll submit a complete business plan, sometimes a summary memo. In most cases, even if you submit a short summary, you have to have the complete business plan ready to go as soon as the investors or lenders ask for it. If you’re looking for lease financing, receivables, or a bank loan, you’ll want to submit a loan support document to the lender.

When the search has provided you with a list of useful names, you can print your Summary Memo or loan support documents and send a copy to each of the investors, along with a brief cover letter.

Know More About Instagram for Businesses

Instagram for BusinessesInstagram has over 500 million monthly active users, less competition and a more engaged audience than other social media giants like Facebook or Twitter. This presents businesses with an opportunity to market their products to a more targeted and interested audience without spending an enormous amount of money on paid advertising. Whether your strategy needs an update or you’re a newcomer to this social media network, you’ll find these tips on how to use Instagram for business useful.

Instagram for business tips

1. Show what you do in a creative way

Focus on the solution you provide, not the products you sell. On Instagram, it’s essential to add value to your customers and look pretty while you do it. Never underestimate the fact that your most important asset (and downfall) on this social media network is visual content.

If your business is service-oriented, focus on showcasing the process behind providing the service. Show your company culture, share your mission with the world, or simply share some tips and how-to’s.

It’s possible to upload photos, short videos (similar to gifs) and videos up to one minute in length. The newest addition, Instagram Stories, is a video collage that consists of images and videos that can be edited with text, colour and the sort. Instagram stories are available exclusively on mobile and are live only for 24-hours (though this can be refreshed, if you choose to keep them for longer.

2. Create a winning profile

As a company, you probably do a whole lot of things and offer even more solutions. Don’t get too caught up in fitting all of that in 150 characters. Focus on your most important USP or your next big thing – be it an event, promotion or product launch.

Great example of an Instagram Bio by Content Marketing Institute.

Since the only clickable link is in your Bio section (right under your name), make a habit of updating it frequently. It’s a shame that most brands use it only to link to their website, but it could do so much more. Think, driving event registrations, app downloads or even purchases.

Instagram has also launched their Instagram Business profiles and paid advertising. The Business profile adds a phone number to your bio and gives access to extensive analytics data. This feature is currently only available in USA, New Zealand and Australia – the rest of just have to wait.

3. Take them behind-the-scenes

Customers have a natural curiosity about where their products come from, and you can use Instagram to show them their whole lifecycle. This is especially relevant for companies that sell environmentally friendly or FairTrade products. Source images to demonstrate how products are made – from the base material, production and distribution.

 If nothing comes to mind, you can share something that everyone has – sketches, notes and filled white boards or blackboards. Every business
has brainstormed ideas, it’s up to you to take a pretty picture and upload it to Instagram.

4. Expand your reach with #hashtags

Use hashtags to expand your reach. These can be campaign specific or general – all that’s important is that they are relevant. Make sure to also set up your main company hashtag (#yourbrandname), and use it sparingly across Instagram (Twitter is good too). This makes it easier for people to find content related to you as well as your main account.

It’s best practice to use between five to ten hashtags, despite the fact that the maximum you can add is 30 per Instagram post. Use your own, campaign specific hashtags as well as the more popular hashtags to increase the discoverability of your content. For example, try adding hashtags like #instagood (used is 300 million posts), or #tbt (Throwback Thursday), and don’t forget about industry specific ones. If you are in IT, the hashtag #IT or #tech will do just fine.

5. Collaborate and @mention others

Instagram is one of the strongest social media channels for highlighting collaborators and sharing customer success stories. Even if you don’t officially partner with a non-profit organisation, you can give to charity or fundraise a couple of times a year. It’s all good as long as the cause aligns with your brand values and mission.

Another technique involves use ‘shout-outs’. An unpaid shout-out is when you partner with another brand that has roughly the same number of followers as you, to promote each other to your audiences and benefit from increased exposure.

The paid shout-out is for those with a bigger budget. This involves paying a brand (or influencer) with a much larger following to promote your product or service. This is a great way to gain a large number of new followers quickly,
providing that you create a strong call to action.

6. Build Anticipation

Keeping your customers interested is an essential part of any effective marketing campaign. Reward your loyal followers with exclusive content. Let them be the first to know about new products, services or events. Create teaser photos that satisfy curiosity, build anticipation for your new releases, office openings or stores. This kind of preview makes your Instagram followers feel special and keeps them coming back for more insider information.

7. Analyze your success and build on it

Without taking a step back and analyzing what worked and didn’t, marketing becomes a guessing game. The truth is, you can read all the articles in the world about the best practises and publishing times, but you will only find out what works for your business through testing and measuring results.

Social media management tools can help, though. You can use them not only to schedule your campaigns in advance, but also use social media analytics to measure their success. Make sure to regularly measure your follower count, engagement and clicks, all to refine and improve your Instagram strategy.

Saving Money for Business Tips

Saving money as a small business can be tricky—if you’re a startup especially, money might be tight already. You probably don’t have a big portion of your income that you can tuck away as savings, and you welcome opportunities to make your operations more cost-effective. We’ve compiled a list of money saving tips—ways for you to trim overhead here, and increase efficiency there, until you’re on your way to better financial health.

Nearly-Universal Tips

No matter your industry or location, you should be able to apply most of this advice, even if you need to tweak it a bit to suit your needs.

1. Go green

You’ve heard it before and it’s still true: going green saves green. Whether it’s a home business, office, storefront—whatever kind of space your business is using, the more energy efficient your space is, the lower utility costs you’re going to have. So go out and buy those compact fluorescent bulbs already—they can save you three quarters of your lighting bill per year! For more information on greening your spaces, check out Energy Star, a program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

2. Use open source and cloud computing

Every startup will use some kind of software, for things like book keeping, word processing, and presentation. Sourceforge has an index of open source options. For most things you need to do, you can find an open source and/or cloud version of it. “You do not need to buy that expensive office software and servers when you can switch to a cloud vendor—Google is an example—at a fraction of the cost,” says Ali Asadi of A Profit Maker.

3. Use own-brand or generic brand goods

It’s always tempting to buy name brand, but it’s almost never worth the money. If you’re looking at buying goods for your business, just go with generic (or as they say in the U.K., own-brand); the box may not be as pretty but the product will be the same.

4. Sponsors for events

There’s a wide range of reasons why a business may need to throw an event, but you likely will need to at some point, and they can certainly be costly. Joining together with another business as a sponsor to throw an event can mean a higher quality event and more press for all involved.

5. Bartering

Especially with other businesses, bartering might seem old-school but can definitely still be effective. Chris Hoyt of Langua Travel has used this method to great effect with his business, using trade for B2B compensation. If you need a good or service and have something of value to offer in return, this could be a good route.

6. Cut down on meetings

This is crucial, and can be so easy. Take a look at both your own and your employee’s calendars—how many hours per week are spent in meetings? Really evaluate the cost and benefits to the company. More than likely, you can cut back on some meeting time and up time for completing tasks.

7. Hire capable employees with little work experience

This might initially seem counter intuitive, but people with little work experience are looking for entry level positions and salaries, which saves your company money. Of course there may be times when a more experienced candidate makes the most business sense, but often a solid employee with little work experience just needs a foot in the door, and you’ll find them competent and eager to do well. We all had to get our start somewhere.

8. Allow employees fewer hours

In a similar vein to the previous tip this might sound odd at first. But there may be employees at your company who would transition to part-time (or even just four days a week) if given the opportunity. This can be a touchy subject for an employee to bring up themselves, but if you as a business owner make it known that you’re open to shorter work weeks for those who might want or need them, this can save you from paying those full time wages without having to lose a good team member (and their work product) completely.

9. Retain your good employees

A high performing employee or an employee who is integral to culture and keeps up morale is a valuable asset. They make you money, and keeping them around will save you onboarding costs down the line, or the loss if their replacement isn’t as valuable to the company. Check in with your team, make sure they’re happy and that their needs are met.

10. Microcontract

For those moments when you have smaller tasks that don’t warrant a new hire but that you just can’t add to your already full plate, Simon Slade ofAffilorama suggests microcontracting. He suggests sites like Elance and oDeskfor those tasks that you just need to delegate.

11. Review your operating expenses

If you buy bagels for the office, is there a different bagel shop that will give your business a bulk or loyal customer discount? Have you ever looked into it? The day to day expenditures on simple things—coffee, maintenance, and supplies, for example, all add up. Taking a chunk of time to go through things and see where you might be paying more than you need to can save you a lot over the long haul.

Business coach Jennifer Martin suggests comparing vendors and getting quotes at least once a year to make sure everything you’re paying for is a fair market rate, including your merchant card services. Martin notes that the more money you process, the more clout you’ll have to negotiate a more favorable contract.

12. DIY marketing and PR

Learn everything you can about marketing and public relations for your industry, and make sure you’re putting your best foot forward when you promote and talk about your business. Hiring a PR firm can be very costly, and if you’re passionate and knowledgable, you could be your own spokesperson.

Lori Cheek of Cheek’d offers this advice on DIY public relations: “My number one marketing tip is ‘Don’t just think outside the box; Get rid of the box!’ Be creative. Think guerrilla. And if that doesn’t work, sometimes it just doesn’t hurt to ‘ask.’ I’ve ended up on the news many times by just calling up the news channels and asking them if they’d be interested in featuring my business. It’s sometimes that simple. I would say the most crucial thing in getting media  coverage is a subtle yet persistent approach.” You can read more about Lori’s approach here.

13. Minimize inventory

“Lean is in. Inventory is nothing but locked-up cash. Ensure your inventory stays as small as possible without hurting your business,” says Asadi.

14. “When in doubt, go without.”

This tip comes from Chris Hoyt, and can really apply to every business. Should you actually make that purchase? Do you truly need to replace something? Think it through instead of just going for something larger or newer. Use what you have until you are certain you need something else.

15. Join a trade association

Often, these groups will do industry research that you can then access to make the best financial decisions. Additionally, they can sometimes set up deals for bulk discounts or lower insurance rates. You can learn more from the Federation of International Trade Associations.

16. Stay on top of your accounting

Asadi notes that when money is tight, things like late fees on bills or a client who doesn’t pay on time can be a huge problem. “Pay your dues on the due date, and take pains to ensure that your collections are on time and that the outstanding balances are minimized,” he suggests.

17. Ask for a discount

So simple, yet often very effective. Just ask whatever vendor if they have some kind of promotional offer or rate and what it might entail. This won’t always be the case, but when it is, it’s so easy and worth it. “I’ve found that 90% of the time, asking for a discount and then preparing to walk away if it isn’t granted will actually be the trick to save you money and secure that discount,” says Nima Noori, of Toronto Vaporizer.

18. Invest in new technology

What can you create in-house? What can you do on a tablet that saves time and office supplies? Dee Dee Meevasin of Dee for Dentist points that for her dentistry practice, adopting new technologies has allowed staff to automate previously time consuming tasks, increased overall efficiency, and cut down on third party costs.

Office and Home Business Related Tips

19. Paperless, as much as possible

This is a must in this day and age. Not only can saving on materials save you money directly, this can also be a time (and thus, more money) saver. Meevasin notes “the use of tablets eliminates the time our people spent on printing, scanning, and filing forms.” 

When you do have to have hard copies, look into having regularly used forms printed and on-hand as opposed to photocopying them, as this can be a less expensive route.

20. Recycle

Printer cartridges, cans, bottles, batteries, mobile phones—if you can, recycle it. Most recycling centers will give you money for some items (such as bottles and cans) and some (such as donating mobiles to domestic violence shelters) will be a tax write-off.

21. Buy used office equipment and furniture

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Craigslist, yard sales, eBay, etc.—if it doesn’t absolutely need to be new, get a nice, functional used one and save the money.

22. Short duration leases

Matthew Reischer, CEO of legaladvice.com, suggests this as a way to stay flexible in times of growth while saving money. If you don’t need the bigger office now but project that you will in a year, look to lease on the shorter term. He notes that his company has been able to use short duration leases on office space to their advantage as prices in the area went down over time.

23. Sharing office space

Another option for cutting costs on leasing is to go in on a space with another business. Of course this carries its inherent risks, but this could be a viable option if you’ve got a close business connection, especially if you don’t need a ton of space.

24. Remember your tax write-offs, especially if you’re a home business

Entrepreneur reports that for a home-based business in the U.S., “In addition to being able to deduct a portion of your rent or mortgage interest and utilities as a business expense, you can also deduct a percentage of various home maintenance expenses, along with a portion of the cost of services such as house cleaning and lawn care.”

Cashflow Management for Small Business

Get your invoicing right

BlueVine knows invoicing is part of good cashflow management. Once you’ve delivered a product or service, don’t wait to invoice. That can hurt your cashflow and your business. You should get into the habit of sending invoices for payment quickly.

Consider sending invoices immediately, or on a daily basis, depending on the nature of your work. If you are providing a service, think about asking for a deposit upfront, or a payment part-way through. It’s a reasonable request.

A product or service that has been delivered is the closest thing your business has to cold, hard cash. The sooner you invoice your client, the sooner you’ll receive payment.

Rules for managing your cashflow

Invoicing is only the start. To maintain a healthy cashflow, you need more than just strong revenue. You need to be able to collect that revenue too. Here are five rules for managing your cashflow and getting your invoices paid faster:

  1. Keep your books accurate and up to date
    Your cashflow is only as good as your accounting and reporting. Don’t let this get out of hand. Make sure your accounting information is updated regularly. Then you can see the financial state of your business at a glance.
  2. Don’t be too lenient with your customers
    Be direct and fair without being a pushover. A clever but polite invoicing strategy will usually get you a long way. But don’t be afraid to take more formal action if you need to.Keep a close watch on your accounts receivable turnover at all times. If it’s trending up, it might be time to step up your efforts at chasing payment. As receivables age, their quality goes down, so you should act sooner rather than later.
  3. Keep your accounting simple
    If you’re not confident with numbers, hire a professional accountant. Use quality accounting software, so you always know your cash position. It will also help you forecast your cashflow for planning purposes.For example, maybe you’re expecting a big order next month. How will you know if you’ll have the working capital needed to expand payroll? Or be able to buy the necessary inventory? Many small business owners get caught out when a large opportunity turns up. They are unable to take advantage of it due to a lack of cash. Don’t let that happen to your business.

    What’s more, a reliable accounting system will help you track and report on key business metrics. These include accounts receivables aging, operating margins and inventory turnover. Having a good handle on these business metrics will help you manage your cash like a pro – and take advantage of new opportunities.

  4. Keep your business and your personal finances separate
    This is essential if you want to understand your business cashflow and forecast how it might change. Mixing your business and personal finances can leave you uncertain about business performance.So keep them separate. That way you’ll know how much cash your company is generating. Then you’ll be in a good position to properly pay yourself – and use excess cash to strengthen and grow your business.
  5. Build a cash reserve
    Access to cash will make or break your business. The ultimate step to managing cashflow like a pro is to build a cash reserve. A cash reserve provides the cushion you need to manage unexpected events. It also gives you the confidence and finances you need to grow your business.It’s not always possible to build a large cash reserve. But if you do, it can insulate you from the economic cycle and the whims of banks and other lenders. It will also let you take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.

    For example, you may have the opportunity to pick up inventory at a deep discount, or take on a large order or new client. With a cash reserve, you can quickly take advantage of such events.

    Building a cash reserve puts you in a position of strength. It might mean paying yourself a little less in the short term, but in the long term it will put your business on the path to success. That ultimately means more money in your pocket.

Make cashflow work for you

“Cash is king” might be a trite expression, but it really is vital for small businesses. Following the five rules above will help ensure that cash serves you – rather than the other way around.

About Grow Family Business

The benefits of keeping it in the familyIt’s unusual to see ‘Smith & Sons’ or similar business names these days. But that doesn’t mean the family business is a dying breed. On the contrary, family businesses are thriving. In a recent PwC report, three-quarters of family firms grew in the previous year. That’s much higher than the average for all business types.Keeping your business in the family has obvious appeal, whether you work with siblings, parents or children.

  • Your family will stick with you through the hard times.
  • You know your family well.
  • You and your family often share common goals.
  • Working with family can be emotionally rewarding and satisfying.

But working with family can also get complicated. Family businesses can lead to emotional stress and arguments. They can even cause legal disputes.So if you’re thinking of expanding your business while keeping it in the family, it pays to plan ahead.

# Interviewing interested family members

You should always take the hiring process seriously. Interview each applicant – family and non-family – to find out what they can bring to your business. In particular, look for skills and experience that are different to your own. You’re less likely to argue if you have complementary abilities.

Make sure you create opportunities for people who have worked outside the family firm to contribute their fresh perspective and new ideas.

It’s important to be as objective as possible through all of this. Be honest with yourself. If you’re worried you could clash with a family member, don’t feel obliged to hire them. If you make the wrong decision, it could damage not just your business, but also your family ties.

# Be fair to all your employees

Before you think about hiring more family members, spare a thought for those employees who are outside the family. As the business owner, you have a duty to be fair to all of your employees – not just your relatives.

  • Leave emotion out of your employment decisions.
  • Consider whether the family member will fit in well.
  • Don’t show favouritism to anyone.
  • Don’t pay family staff more than other employees in equivalent positions.
  • Promote your best people, whoever they are.
  • Treat all your employees equally and fairly.

This isn’t just an exercise in good moral behaviour. It’s important if you want to get the best out of all your employees. If you don’t treat your staff fairly, employees can become demotivated or leave, which will cost you money. Whether you’re related to your employees or not, treat everyone as members of your wider business family.

Set clear expectations with everyoneImagine your cousin hasn’t worked for 10 years and asks to be employed at your family firm. Do you take a risk simply because they’re family? Or perhaps you’ve employed your nephew, but he’s careless and unpunctual. What do you do?If you want your business to thrive, you need to be as strict with your family as you would be with any other employee. Regardless of the size of your family business, unproductive workers can hurt its efficiency and reputation. Act positively and keep your business lean and efficient.
Keep emotion out of the family business
A family firm is dominated by two strong forces: emotions and commerce. Unfortunately these can sometimes pull in opposite directions. You may find yourself on the other side of a business argument to someone you dearly love, which can be stressful and awkward.Only you know whether being right is more important than risking a family feud. There’s no easy answer. But business decisions taken for emotional reasons rarely work out well.Just as the boardroom should be free of emotional ties, so your family time should be free of business worries. Don’t take your work home with you, especially if you live with the people you work with.Make an agreement with your family that you won’t talk about business at home. Or if you operate from your home, agree the hours that are work free. It may be hard to stick to this sometimes, but it’s vital for everyone’s happiness.
# Stay firm on finances
A family business must be run with the same level of financial responsibility as any other. You may need to hold family members accountable for bringing in revenue or keeping expenses down. It can be difficult to do this with a close relative.The best way to keep emotions from creeping in is to use hard data. Use charts and graphs that make trends clear – so there’s no argument over interpretation.
You’ll also need to decide how open the books are to members of the family. Once you’ve decided who sees what, stick to it. Use accounting software to set access levels for each staff member and lock them out of confidential information. An accountant can help you manage finances in a family business. They will help you make impartial decisions, and can be trusted by family members as an independent voice.
# Be fair to your children
Take the time to factor inheritance planning into your business strategy. Let’s say you have two children. One child is much more business-minded than the other, so you decide this child will inherit your business. But how will the other child feel? How will you compensate them fairly?Poor inheritance planning causes resentment, not just between you and the child who feels left out, but also between the two of them. So talk to your accountant and lawyer for advice. Talk to your children too. Explain your thoughts and work together to find a fair solution.Remember that your children may have a different perspective to you. You probably sweated and toiled to build up your business, but they may not feel the same level of commitment. They may not understand the finances or the difficulties involved, and will likely have less of an emotional connection to the family business.By some estimates, around a third of businesses fail when handed down to the next generation. Plan carefully and communicate openly with your chosen successor to prevent that happening.
# Make rules and stick to them
It’s easy to drift into uncomfortable or unprofessional situations when running a family business. You can reduce the risk by drawing up a list of rules.Write down:

  • the business goals
  • each family member’s responsibilities
  • guidelines for appropriate communication

Make it clear that favouritism will be avoided and that emotional decision-making is unacceptable. Add any other rules necessary for the smooth running of the business. Maybe you’ll only hire family members who’ve worked outside the family business for at least five years, for instance.Ask each person to sign a copy of the rules to show they accept them. Then they’ll know you’re serious about running the family firm in the best possible way.

A question of balanceBalancing family life with work pressures is hard at the best of times. Combining family and business is even harder. But it’s worth the effort.Family firms are some of the strongest, most profitable and dynamic businesses of all. With good planning and the right attitude, you can grow your business and keep your family happy.