Archive for the ‘ Blog’ Category

Planning for the Most Productive Q4 You’ve Ever Had in Business

Sunday, September 17th, 2023

You’ve probably heard that there are two times of the year when people typically stop to plan out the next few months. 

The most common time for reflection and planning is at New Year’s, because you have the whole year looming large in front of you. The second most popular time is around Labor Day. The end of summer and start of the new school year here in the U.S. is a natural time for people to stop and take stock of their year and to think ahead about how to wrap up all those projects they had on their to-do list for this year.

This is especially smart for business owners, so you can make the most of the opportunities that emerge in the fourth quarter.

How are things going?

Before you plot or adjust your business strategy for October through December, it’s always a good idea to reflect on what has gone well so far this year. 

What have you accomplished that you had planned to, such as attracting a certain number of social media followers, hitting a revenue target, hiring key employees, and/or rolling out new products or services? Pat yourself on the back for those successes.

Then take a look at what’s still on your annual plan that you haven’t completed. Have you not accomplished them because you haven’t initiated them, such as a marketing campaign, or are they not done because your plan didn’t succeed? What didn’t go as you had expected?

Knowing what’s working and what’s not is key to finishing the year strong. Keep doing what’s going well and try a new approach to what hasn’t worked. That might mean delegating tasks you haven’t gotten to, redesigning your approach to your goal, or replacing a task with something that has a better chance of achieving your ultimate objective, among other things.

Unless you’ve checked off every goal you set at the start of the year, now is not the time to introduce a slew of new goals, however. Focus is key. Don’t get distracted. Pull up the goals that you had determined were essential for your company’s success this year and brainstorm how best to reach them in the next 100 days left in the year.

Product-based businesses: gear up for the holiday season

Retailers and manufacturers that rely on Black Friday for a sales bump should already be prepared. Labor Day is frequently the deadline by which inventory needs to be ordered or raw materials procured and in-house. If you run a product-based business, your focus should be on marketing.

It’s time to attract more buyers to your business when they’re in prime buying mode for the holidays. Whether you sell home goods, wine and liquor, toys, or clothing, you need to start priming the pump, so to speak. Meaning, start promotional campaigns that will draw customers to your place of business or website. Give them reasons to come shop with you.

Service-based businesses also have an opportunity to boost sales during the last quarter. Furniture restoration companies do well this time of year as people try to spruce up their homes before holiday gatherings. Caterers may want to identify freelance helpers for holiday parties, and holiday lighting companies should be advertising hard to sign homeowners who want help this year brightening their homes and yards.

You don’t have to be like Home Depot and start featuring Christmas trees in your retail space, but you can remind customers and prospects that they should start planning now for their holiday activities. That way they can be sure they can get the products and services they want in November and December.

Strategize your marketing activities

If sales in the fourth quarter typically have a big impact on your business’s bottom line, you’ll want to ensure your marketing is sufficient to bring prospects in. What advertising, promotion, social media, events, and other activities do you have planned? 

Given the results of your mini-assessment of the first ¾ of the year, do you need to invest more in marketing to finish the year strong? Are you in need of new tactics because your old ones aren’t working as well?

Or is your business busiest during the warmer months? If so, you may want to taper your promotions a bit for now and allocate more of your marketing money to be spent during the second quarter of next year.

One way to know when it makes the most sense to get in front of prospects is to look at sales reports from previous years. When did most of your sales come in? Then design an advertising and promotional program to make sure customers are thinking about you right before they have a need. 

For example, if you sell a product that sells a massive amount around Mother’s Day, such as custom jewelry, you know that your prime time to promote likely begins in the spring and not so much in October. Plan your marketing to connect with prospects as they’re starting to think about Mother’s Day.

Order client appreciation gifts

Everyone enjoys receiving gifts and thank-you notes; your customers are no different.

Depending on what you sell, start thinking about and planning what you could give customers to show you value their business. It could be a little bonus at checkout, such as a small bottle of festive nail polish for each nail salon client or a free dessert at your restaurant. Lawncare customers could receive a small plant to brighten their homes or offices during the colder months. Executive and personal coaches could give out custom planners to their clients, or a code to download a free app that will enhance and support the coaching they’re receiving.

Presents don’t have to be expensive, but most customers appreciate a token of your thanks.

The key is to plan ahead and place any orders now so that you have your gifts in hand and ready to go by Thanksgiving. Or you can place orders with companies and have deliveries planned for later in the year, so you don’t have to think about it.

Break down what you need to do between now and December 31 by planning backward from the last day you’ll be open this year. Plot week by week what you need to accomplish to hit your sales target and complete those all-important tasks before the New Year. Creating a weekly to-do list will help you stay on top of all the hustle and bustle that usually accompanies this time of year and still help you achieve your annual goals.

5 Easy Ways to Become a More Sustainable Small Business

Friday, September 1st, 2023

Concerns about our planet continue to increase, pushing companies of all sizes to explore how they can reduce their impact on the environment. 

Although smaller companies have a smaller footprint, because there are so many, even minor efforts to minimize the business’s impact on the environment can reap big rewards. In fact, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA) as of 2023 there are more than 33 million small businesses in the U.S. Those businesses employ 61.7 million workers or nearly half (46.4 percent) of the private sector workforce.

Given those numbers, it’s easy to see how even small efforts to curb resource usage can make a difference. Here are five easy ways companies can become more sustainable:

1. Reduce energy consumption

Even if your workspace lease is all-inclusive, meaning you don’t pay separately for heat or electricity, you can still take steps to reduce your company’s energy usage.

One easy way is to swap out all the office lightbulbs and replace them with the LED variety. You can also install light sensors that turn lights off in spaces where no movement is evident after a certain amount of time. Keeping the temperature comfortable but not super chilly during the summer or comfortable but not toasty during the winter can also help; turn your thermostat up or down a couple of degrees.

2. Go paperless

Reducing your reliance on paper can save money and improve sustainability. U.S. offices go through 12.1 trillion sheets of paper. A year. That’s an average of 10,000 sheets a year per office worker.

Cutting back on your paper usage can mean everything from sending statements and invoices online to online bill paying, receipts, sending event invitations online, sending newsletters online, catalogs online—virtually anything that is printed can be converted into digital form to avoid having to print it out. Going digital also has financial benefits, with lower (or no) printing and mailing costs.

3. Become a hybrid workforce

Unless your business needs employees to be on-site in order to function, such as if you run a doggie day care, a restaurant, or a manufacturing operation, consider allowing your staff to work from home part of the week. Not only does that improve employee satisfaction, since many employees prefer not to have to trek into the office, but it reduces your employees’ energy usage en route.

Not having to commute to work saves time, reduces energy consumption (by not having to pay for gas, tolls, and parking or for public transportation), and saves money (by reducing the need for work attire and lunches out). At the same time, fewer employees on-site then reduces energy consumption at work.

4. Source materials locally

The shorter the distance your raw materials or products need to travel, the lower the negative impact on the environment. Having to transport materials cross-country generates more pollution and burns more gas than if you could purchase the same items in your zip code.

Consider finding business suppliers closer to your operations to reduce energy usage and shipping costs. An added bonus is that you can support other smaller businesses in your area.

5. Use environmentally friendly packing materials

If you ship products out to customers, look into recycled or sustainable packaging materials. Rather than stuffing boxes with plastic packing peanuts, which are terrible for the environment, consider instead starch-based peanuts, cardboard, and paper, biodegradable bubble wrap or mailers, mycelium, or bagasse paper to keep shipments safe.

At the same time, reducing the amount of packaging you use can also reduce your company’s environmental impact. Rather than triple-packing products in oversized boxes, try to be more compact. Find boxes that more closely fit the size of the product.

Sure, there are other steps you can take, too, such as recycling all office paper, putting all software and files in the cloud, and pursuing a green business certification if you want to go all in. But committing to even one of the above efforts will make a difference. Reducing your company’s energy consumption and wasting of resources can have a positive impact on our environment.

Where to Find Free Business Training

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2023

Success in business often comes down to what you know. You need to know enough to come up with ideas that can be turned into a profitable business, of course.

That’s the basis of entrepreneurship. 

But if you have no business experience, or lack expertise in a particular type of venture and want to quickly get up to speed, enrolling in online courses can help. Some entrepreneurs get started as college students or in MBA programs, but you don’t have to. 

Fortunately, there are free programs offered through schools, companies, government agencies, and nonprofits to help you gain the knowledge you may currently lack.

Some places to start to look for free online training include:

Bank of America Institute for Women’s Leadership at Cornell

This free six-module certificate program offered through Cornell and sponsored by the Bank of America is for female entrepreneurs with 0 to 5 years of experience. Individual classes cover topics ranging from creating your venture to funding it, growing it, and protecting it. To be considered, complete an application at the website.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

MOOCs are courses offered through colleges and universities that are free but do not provide credits for participation that could be applied toward a degree. Schools large and small make some of their business courses available to the general public online. All you need to do is register. Here are some that might be useful for newer entrepreneurs:

MIT’s Who Is Your Customer course walks you through the process of determining who you should be targeting with your marketing messages. The course includes assessing which target customers will be willing to pay for your products or services, which is at the core of running a profitable business.

University of Maryland College Park’s course on startup funding is for business owners who are clear about what they’re selling and who their target market is, but who need funding in order to scale the business.

The University of Pennsylvania’s free course on opportunity development teaches students “how to test, prototype, and validate an idea.”

The University of California at Davis offers an introduction to website development, to help newer entrepreneurs set up shop online.

LinkedIn Learning

Although not specifically targeted at entrepreneurs, LinkedIn Learning offers free career-enhancing modules related to everything from managing people to managing stress levels.


Grow with Google offers several online certificate programs for adults looking to improve their expertise as a way to build new skills. One program, for example, is all about digital marketing and ecommerce.

New York Public Library

The Thomas Yoseloff Business Center at SNL at the New York Public Library holds regular free online events, some of which are relevant to small business owners. A recent series hosted by Elaine Pofeldt, for example, covered how to build a million-dollar one-person business.

Small Business Administration (SBA)

The SBA’s Ascent program for women working to grow their businesses is a free series of resources, including assessments and instruction available on the platform.

The SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership(OWBO)  also provides training and connections to help women uncover government contracting opportunities.

Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE)

Also part of the SBA, SCORE offers its own free online courses on entrepreneurship to help business owners improve their internal systems, find more customers, and secure needed funding.

If you’re looking for a specific type of course, to address an interest you have or a training need, a Google search is always a good starting point. Also check local community colleges and universities for relevant classes they may have, as well as community centers. It’s very likely a class exists that will provide all of the skill-building you need, though it may or may not be free—be sure to check that before you sign up.

How Small Businesses Can Sell on Amazon

Monday, July 31st, 2023

Amazon dominates the online retail industry, owning 37.8% of the US market. It generated $356 billion in sales in the US alone in 2022. 

However, Amazon doesn’t just sell its own products. In fact, it started by selling products manufactured by other companies and has only recently started branding its own offerings. This offers a huge opportunity for product-based ventures.

Businesses of any size can sell through Amazon. You don’t even have to have an established company or brand to become an Amazon seller. 

Getting started

If you’d like to gain access to Amazon’s customer base to sell to them, the first step is setting up an Amazon seller account

You basically have two choices when it comes to seller accounts. One option is establishing an Individual account, which is for lower volume sellers. You’ll be charged $.99 every time one of your products sells. This plan is best for sellers who are just starting out or who don’t expect to sell more than 40 units a month. When your orders exceed 40 monthly, you’ll want to consider upgrading to a Professional account.

Professional accounts cost a flat $39.99/month, no matter how much you sell.

However, there are other fees on top of your account costs. Amazon charges referral fees that start at $.30/item and go up from there on a percentage basis, generally averaging between 8% and 15%. This fee is in addition to your account fees and is essentially to pay Amazon for sending you customers. 

Finally, you may also pay fulfillment fees on top of those two costs if you want Amazon to store and ship your products for you. If you’re handling shipping yourself, also known as merchant-fulfilled, your customers will be charged for shipping and then you’ll receive a credit to cover that cost.

Picking your products

If you have your own product line, you can request permission to sell it on Amazon. On the other hand, if you want to sell brands and products you don’t own, you can also do that with permission.

There are some restrictions that may limit which product categories you can sell in that you’ll want to research first. Some categories require that you’re a Professional account holder, while others require approval from Amazon before you can list anything for sale.

Once you’re cleared to sell in your product category, such as beauty products, fitness items, or home décor, to name a few, you can begin to add them to the Amazon database.

Adding product information on the Amazon selling platform is what officially enables you to sell your goods through Amazon. The information you’ll need to have to list your product for sale includes:

  • A product identifier, such as a UPC code, ISBN, GTIN, or EAN that is unique to your item.
  • A SKU, which you’ll create, to be able to track your particular item.
  • Product details, such as a brand, name, description, and size.
  • Offer details, such as price, quantity, and condition (new or used).
  • Keywords buyers are expected to use in their search for your product.

After you’ve entered all of the relevant details your buyers will want to know, you can make the listing go live, meaning it becomes visible to buyers. Anyone looking for what you have to sell will be presented with your products as options available for purchase.


Some sellers make products available and wait for buyers to find them, which can work if you sell a hot commodity. However, most companies invest money into marketing and advertising campaigns designed to point buyers in your direction.

Within Amazon, you can pay to have your listing featured prominently when buyers search for similar products. These are called Sponsored listings and can be effective, though they do add to your cost.

Outside of Amazon, you’ll want to take every opportunity to tell potential buyers about your products, and to share your Amazon link to drive them there.

Because Amazon provides a direct link to millions of buyers, it can be an effective distribution tool for businesses of all sizes, including yours.

Build Your Business by Starting an Online Community

Monday, July 17th, 2023

Our reliance on the internet for information has dramatically changed how we buy products and services. Easy access to friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, classmates, vendors, and potential customers has increased the time we spend online. And because we collectively spend more time online, more business than ever is being done online.

However, deciding to sell online isn’t as easy as slapping up a website announcing what you’re selling. Sure, that is one way to make it easy for potential customers to find you, but a website in and of itself is generally insufficient. Today, you need to do more to connect with and attract more business.

Part of the cultural shift has to do with where consumers and businesses turn for information. More than ever, buyers are looking for recommendations from people they respect. According to Fronetics, business buyers conduct online research to gather information, investigate company websites; and then check what they find out with peers and colleagues. Recommendations and feedback from those peers are vital to the purchase decision.

Which is likely why more online communities are popping up. Online groups of people with similar interests, qualifications, information needs, or goals are useful for buyers and business owners.

The value of a community

Where businesses benefit from having people who have a connection to their products, services, or brand in an easily accessible online group, members then have access to like-minded people. It’s a win-win.

It’s also free to set up.

Creating a new group on platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn costs the organizer nothing. It’s also relatively easy to do. In Facebook, click on Groups in the navigation bar on the left side of your profile page, and then click on the “Create a new group” button. Similarly, on LinkedIn, click on Groups and then “Create a group.”

Decide which platform you want to host your group by considering where most of your target buyers spend their time. Are they most active on Twitter? LinkedIn? YouTube? Facebook? Go where they are already spending a lot of time, so that participating in your new community becomes an added activity on the platform where they’re already engaging.

Getting started

Creating the group is probably the fastest, easiest step in this whole process, but don’t rush it.

Before you claim space on the internet for your community, think about its purpose. That is, why are you setting it up? 

Are you trying to acquire new customers? Perhaps reduce the cost of acquiring those new customers? Are you trying to improve engagement and satisfaction levels with your existing customers? Do you want to be able to tap into a community for market research? Do you want to build a pool of brand advocates?

Think hard about the primary benefit you hope to achieve by creating a group. That “why” should then drive the name that you choose for this new community.

For example, if your group aspires to bring together female public relations professionals, you may want to select a name that is clear about who belongs there, by using keywords like “women” and “PR.” If you have a YouTube channel for online resellers, your community name should include words that let resellers know they belong there.

This assumes that the group you’re establishing is free to join, rather than a paid membership. (You can certainly set up a paid group, however, there is more involved to connect your payment processor to Facebook and manage memberships.)

Providing value

Because you only get one chance to make a first impression, you’ll want to prove to folks who join the group that they will get value from participating. To do that, you’ll want to fill the feed with useful information before sending out invitations to join. 

You can do that by: 

  • writing blog posts and sharing the link in the group
  • adding reference materials, such as in the Files section of a Facebook group
  • sharing business leads in the news feed 
  • recording short video tutorials
  • welcoming new members as they join

The key is to have useful materials and information already posted in the group before anyone joins. You need to demonstrate the value of being a member the minute they gain access to the group.

Filling it with members

After you’ve walked through all of the steps the platform requires for you to set up a new group, it’s time to start inviting people to join.

One way is to invite all of your current connections to join, by sharing a link to the group itself. 

You can also announce that you’ve created a new group and share the link to join on other platforms, like Instagram, Twitter, or Threads, to get some exposure to people who aren’t already connected to you.

You can ask permission to announce your new group in other groups. You’re more likely to have success if the groups do not compete. If they are complementary, such as retailers located on Main Street or pet-related businesses in your town, you’ll probably have more luck receiving permission.

Inviting new members should become another one of your regular tasks, either daily or weekly. Identify people you’d like to have in your community and invite them. Repeatedly remind current members that you’d like to keep expanding the group and that they’re welcome to invite people in their circle of friends whom they think might find value in the group, too.

Monetizing it

Once your group has at least 300 members, you can consider starting to make sales offers, if that’s part of why you established the group. Those offers might include special members-only deals on your products and services, such as 30% off this weekend only. You could also hold live workshops that lead to an offer at the end, which is more subtle. But make sure that you don’t suddenly start selling 24/7 or your new members will immediately leave. 

They didn’t join to be sold to.

Yes, you can bring up product information casually, such as when you recommend a great new online tool you just found that you wanted them to know about. But don’t do that daily or the value of membership will decline. 

When you make recommendations, be sure to include your affiliate link (as long as the platform you use allows affiliate links), so that you can earn money if anyone in your group buys something.

You can also create training programs and courses that you offer to your group that you believe they would be interested in.

When you bring like-minded groups of people together and provide them with information they want and value, you’ve created a business asset you can monetize and leverage, if that is your intent. Communities can also be valuable for the market research they provide, as well as becoming ambassadors for your brand.

Just be sure you are clear about why you’re creating a group before you set it up and that you’re ready to make an ongoing commitment to engaging with members and sharing information they will find useful.

4 Steps to Attracting More Referral Business

Thursday, June 29th, 2023

Despite all the money businesses spend to attract new business, one of the best ways to gain new customers and clients is through referrals, or having others recommend your product, service, or company to someone else. Used synonymously with “word of mouth marketing,” referrals and recommendations actually generate $6 trillion in consumer spending each year. 

Referrals are big business. 

A study done in 2013 by consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG) reported that referrals, or word of mouth marketing, are between 2 and 10 times more effective than paid advertising at generating sales. 

More recently, Nielsen’s 2021 Trust in Advertising Study found that 88% of consumers trust referrals from people they know more than all other types of marketing. Because we trust the opinion of people we know, like, and trust, we are also more likely to act on a recommendation made by someone in our circle of friends and family.

Yet while 83% of your customers and clients may be more than willing to refer you more business, the sad truth is that only 29% actually will, according to an article in Texas Tech Today. But because referred customers are four times more likely to buy, says Nielsen, they are the best kind of prospect.

So, what can you do to boost the number of referrals you receive?

Educate your customers about your target clientele

People are more likely to refer business to you when they know your ideal customer and understand what you can do for them. Your customers may be familiar with what you do for them but not realize the scope and breadth of all your services, for example. They may associate you with one type of product but not another. 

It’s up to you to inform and educate the market about what you can do. Make sure they’re on your email list and connected with you on social media so they can be exposed to all your marketing messages.

Ask for them

Given that referred customers can increase your profit margin and improve your sales conversion rate by up to 70%, it’s surprising that many small businesses don’t have a referral program in place. 

In order to get referrals, you need to be sure your customer base knows you welcome them. That means asking for them.

Many marketers advise waiting until a project is completed and the client is happy and relieved with the finished product to indicate that you would welcome any business they could refer your way, although some suggest you shouldn’t wait until the very end. 

When customers are appreciative of your hard work is generally the best time to ask for their assistance.

Invest in marketing

Once you’ve asked your current clients to consider referring their colleagues, friends, and/or family your way for similar products or services, the next step is staying top-of-mind. They can only refer you business if they’re thinking of you.

That means pursuing publicity and investing in advertising and promotional tactics that will keep you in front of current and potential customers regularly. Offer to write guest blog posts for organizations where your target customers are members, look for podcasts in need of guests, or put some money into Google Ads so that prospects are regularly exposed to your company name and message.

If your type of product, service, or business is often in the public eye, the chances of conversations occurring that mention you increase. Which means that opportunities for clients to recommend you also increase.

Partner with complementary businesses

Another way to nurture referrals is to identify other businesses that your target customers also likely have a need for. Then start sending them business. 

Before you ask others to refer you their customers, send them some new ones first.

For example, if you’re a caterer, you could refer bridal parties to a wedding cake bakery or reception space. If you’re a hair stylist, you could refer clients to your favorite nail artist. If you’re a management consultant, you could refer colleagues to your go-to graphic designer.

Think about the products and services your target client is likely to have a need for and try to align yourself with them to generate sales for both of you.

Because referred business comes to you often pre-qualified and pre-sold, such customers can be higher profit. They are certainly worth pursuing.

Choosing the Best Location for Your Business

Monday, June 19th, 2023

Any company that serves customers face-to-face should take extra care when selecting a location for its operations. This is especially critical for newer businesses that don’t already have a large customer base.

To find a great location based on what your business is like today, versus where you hope to be five years from now, you’ll want to weigh several factors.

Type of business

Where you ultimately decide to set up shop should first depend on the type of business you’re running. Your industry will, to a large degree, determine the type of space you need. For example, the space needs of a manufacturing operation are very different from a retail shop or an executive coach.

Other considerations include:

  • What are the zoning regulations for your area? 
  • Do you have employees who need a workspace?
  • Do you need a parking lot?
  • Do you have large equipment?
  • Will you have delivery trucks that need access for orders?
  • Do you rely on foot traffic to attract customers?

The answers to these and other questions should help you get a sense of the size and general type of space you need.

If you’re just starting out and have a small team, it will be most economical for you to work from home, so as not to have to pay a landlord for additional space or to set up a remote team, where everyone you work with is responsible for finding their own workspace. However, that doesn’t work if you run a salon or restaurant, for example.

Size of your budget

Another important consideration is how much you can afford to spend on space alone. Because on top of your monthly rent, you may also need to pay for improvements if the space is not currently ideal for your team, as well as the cost to move any of your equipment and files from where they are now, and other expenses such as utilities and taxes, depending on the terms of your lease.

As you look at your financial history or your projections for the coming year, how much of your incoming revenue can you afford to allocate for rent? If you look at standard expenses for your industry, is that amount higher or lower than what others in your line of work are paying? Try not to overspend, especially early on, or you may hamper your business’ growth.

Where your customers are located

Once you know the type of space you’re looking for, such as a warehouse, street-facing storefront, or co-working space, as well as how much you can spend, it’s time to think about where your customers will be coming from. You want to be near where the majority of the demand for your products or services is originating. (This is why many pizza shops consider the size of the population within a certain radius of the proposed address.)

Are your best clients in the downtown area? If so, is it important that you be easily accessible?

Or do your clients not visit your business in person? If so, then where your operations are based may not matter to them at all.

Do you need to be close to your suppliers? If you’re running a restaurant where perishable food is a factor, you may want to map out how far your vendors will have to travel to reach you.

Are your customers so loyal that they’ll follow you wherever you move? That is frequently the case with personal service providers, such as therapists and hair stylists. Then maybe you don’t need to be in the most expensive part of town.

The one thing you want to avoid is moving to a new location that is more difficult for customers to access. Your best patrons may love your product, but if they have to contend with constant traffic jams or they can’t find a parking spot easily, they may look for a company that is easier to do business with.

Where is your competition?

Although you don’t want to make business decisions defensively, based on what your competitors are doing, you also don’t want to pick a place where existing businesses are well-established. Despite the fact that Burger King apparently used to locate its new restaurants near existing McDonald’s buildings, this probably doesn’t make sense for you, unless you’re a car dealer.

Generally, you want to set yourself apart from your competitors. Locating your business in a part of town that is not already served by a competitor is frequently a smarter move. Going head-to-head against well-entrenched businesses can be damaging to both companies.

Better to find territory that is just waiting for a business like yours to move in.

What is aligned with your brand

Believe it or not, how your brand is perceived should affect where you opt to locate your business. 

If your selling point is convenience, make sure your shop is easy to get to. If your reputation is based on luxury or a high-end experience, where your business is situated should reinforce that; you may have to pay more to be in an upscale building or part of town. Or if sustainability or all-natural claims are closely linked with your company, perhaps you should be on the outskirts of town, closer to nature.

Before choosing a location, confirm that what you choose reinforces and doesn’t detract from your brand image.

Ease of parking

Many buyers make decisions based on parking availability. If they can’t park quickly and easily, or inexpensively, some people won’t make the effort to do business with you. The same could also be said of employees, who don’t want to have to pay several dollars a day to be able to come to work.

Granted, this is less of an issue in large cities, where proximity to a subway stop may be more relevant, but in suburbs and more rural areas, make sure you have use of a parking lot.

Location safety

Your buyers and employees also want to feel safe when they come in. Sure, the rent on a space in a less popular neighborhood may be dirt cheap, but if you scrimp on your rent, you may also find it more difficult to entice customers in. It may also be more challenging to find employees willing to risk their personal safety to come to work. This is especially true if you’re open after dark.

Your chosen location can enhance and support your brand image, or it can discourage customers from doing business with you. The challenge is finding a space that is affordable and helps attract buyers.

Leverage the Power of Scent in Your Business

Friday, May 26th, 2023

Scents and odors can have a significant impact on our perception of companies and brands. In fact, research has shown that scent marketing can be used to increase brand loyalty and sales. Meaning, adding a pleasing smell can help create a positive customer experience that leads to higher sales.

This realization was driven home last weekend when I returned to my Doubletree hotel room after housekeeping had been by. As I opened the door, I immediately smelled a hint of refreshing mint. It wasn’t overpowering and it signaled to me that the room had been cleaned; even without seeing the bed remade or the trash cans emptied. That is the power of scent.

Similarly, anyone who has walked past a Cinnabon in a mall food court understands the powerful impact scent can have on your mood and purchase intent. Cinnabon uses scent to its advantage by pumping out the aromas from its kitchens to draw hungry shoppers in. Baking cinnamon and brown sugar on cookie sheets in its ovens, which are placed at the front of the store space, with the weakest hoods ever (to allow the aroma to easily escape) are some of the tactics the company expertly uses to boost sales.

Cinnabon is considered a pioneer in the scent marketing industry, which is currently estimated to be worth $200 million.

Fortunately, you don’t need to run a restaurant, perfumery, or candle shop to make sure of enticing scents in your company, but you should think about how to add scent to your operations. Here are three reasons why:

Increasing time spent in-store

Research has found that the more time a customer spends in a retail business, the more they will spend. This metric is called “dwell” time, or how long they linger. Your challenge is to keep customers lingering as long as possible.

The Food Marketing Institute, for example, reports that shoppers spend, on average, $2.17 per minute on groceries. Given this, the more time spent shopping, the higher that final bill for food. The key to selling more is simply keeping them in the store (which may explain some store layouts).

One way is to provide a pleasing scent, preferably one that causes them to relax and feel good at the same time.

According to Shopify, common scents used inside businesses include:

  • Florals, which “encourage buyers to linger in your store”
  • Fresh linen, which enhances the sensation of cleanliness
  • Lavender, which triggers relaxation
  • Leather, which “evokes a feeling of luxury and opulence”
  • Vanilla, which is a mood enhancer

But scents aren’t only effective in retail settings. Adding a scent to a waiting room, restroom, and office can also yield positive results, helping the customer recall the pleasant experience long after they’ve left.

Increasing sales

A 2003 study published in the International Journal of Marketing reported that the presence of a pleasing scent increased customer intent to purchase by up to 84% in a project for Nike. In that same study, participants were found to be willing to pay 10% to 15% more for scented products when they compared shoes with a citrusy scent and those without any detectable scent.

When a pleasing scent is added to the buying mix, helping improve customers’ moods and outlook, the more likely they are to buy and the more they can end up buying. Both of which help generate higher sales levels.

Increased customer lifetime value (CLV)

Since scent is linked to memory and a positive response to scent can increase the likelihood of a purchase, the amount that one customer spends in their lifetime on a particular product will be higher if they connect it to a positive memory. The higher the amount spent, coupled with a higher frequency of purchase, can have a sizeable affect on the bottom line.

According to Cececa Scents, “People are 100 times more likely to remember something they smell over something they hear, see, or touch.” So, by infusing your workspace, retail space, restaurant, or vehicle with a pleasing scent, the more likely your customer is to remember their positive experience doing business with you.


Payroll Options for Small Businesses

Thursday, May 18th, 2023

Confused about how to pay your employees? You’re not alone. Calculating federal and state tax withholding amounts, along with other potential types of withholdings, such as retirement or health insurance, for example, which need to be deducted from an employee’s paycheck, can be confusing.

Yet despite the complexity of payroll calculations, 58% of small business owners do their own payroll, according to the National Small Business Association. Only 42% of small businesses rely on outside payroll support.

Processing your own payroll is fine if you’re comfortable with all the calculations, but there are other alternatives, namely:

  • Hiring an accountant
  • Using an online payroll system
  • Paying a payroll processor

Of course, each option costs more than doing the work yourself, as with most things, but handing this off to a professional can save you time. The National Small Business Association also reported that small business owners spend hours on this task, with 43% spending more than 3 to 10 hours monthly on payroll. Turning this work over to a pro may also reduce your liability if the numbers you crunch are wrong.

The following are the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing payroll to someone else, to technology, or to a payroll provider.

Hiring an accountant

Many small business accountants can process your payroll for you, providing paychecks for employees and a summary of how much you need to set aside for tax withholding each pay period. If you’re in regular contact with your business accountant or if yours offers a bundle of services, this might be the most painless option for you.

Realize, however, that it’s likely you’ll pay more for a professional accountant to handle this task, and that, depending on the size of the firm, the accountant may delegate that task to someone on their staff (which you may not care about as long as the payroll is run in a timely fashion and withholding is paid by the deadline).

Using an online payroll system

If you prefer to personally handle processing your company’s payroll but want some technological support, an online system may be your best choice. With a company like Gusto, Workful, or Intuit Quickbooks, you enter the relevant financial details online and the system calculates your obligation. Most can take care of all your filings, too.

Some platforms specialize in easy payroll processing for small businesses while others offer payroll and other services, such as time tracking. Some include invoices, to aid in collecting what you’re owed from clients, and others include hourly time-tracking. Make sure you select the service that provides what you need, without extras you don’t need but will still pay for.

Paying a payroll processor

And if your company has more than a few employees or you want something closer to a full-service employee benefits system, a traditional payroll provider such as ADP, Paychex, or OnPay may be your best bet. These providers offer more hand-holding when it comes to payroll processing, as well as related services, such as HR and employee benefits services. These can be especially useful for fast-growing ventures or those that anticipate adding more employees in the near future.

When it comes to payroll, there is no one-size-fits-all for small businesses. Decide how much time you want to spend on this necessary but potentially complex task and what it might be worth to delegate it. By comparing prices from several options, you should be able to zero in on a payroll provider that does what you need and charges a fair fee.

5 Steps to Building a Personal Brand

Saturday, April 29th, 2023

Your personal brand is how your potential market perceives you. It’s important because your brand impacts their willingness to buy from you. Your personal brand can enhance, or detract from, your ability to sell your products and services.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to try to shape your personal brand to be an asset to your business, rather than a liability.

Identify your ideal customer

The first step is getting crystal clear about who your ideal customer is. How would you describe them demographically? Are they women? Men? College students? Retirees? Living in apartments? Living in the countryside? Earning under $50k? Earning more than $200k? Own a car? These are just some demographic characteristics you could use to describe your best customer. The more specific you can get, the easier it will be to find ways to connect with them.

That’s your next step—discovering where they spend their time or attention. That is, where do your buyers hang out? Are they boaters? Yoga fanatics? Soccer moms? Where do they turn for information? Do they read trade magazines? Subscribe to particular blogs? Or are they active on certain social media platforms? Knowing this makes it much easier to find them and engage with them.

In order for them to have an opinion about you and your brand, they first need to be aware of you.

Create an aesthetic

Your aesthetic is another word for visual imagery. Years ago, companies had corporate colors. Today we have colors, typefaces, and features, among other things.

Your aesthetic is your style. Is it fun and whimsical? Elegant? Contemporary? Natural? Juvenile? Futuristic? Technical? Think about what words you want associated with your personal brand and use those to drive the visual elements you use on everything from your website to your social media reels, photos, proposals, and posts.

Share useful information to establish your authority

In order for people to have an impression of you, they need to come across you, either in person or online. Where they connect with you and what they take away from that interaction, even if it’s one-sided, affects how they see you. For example, if you meet someone in person at a fancy gala event, they will form an impression of you based on the fact that you were in attendance, as well as what you wore, what you said, and how you behaved. Likewise, when people see your name online, they will begin to form a perception based on where they saw your work—was it a quote in a Wall Street Journal article, for example—or was it in an unflattering Yelp review. 

All of these pieces together shape how others perceive you: that’s what makes up your personal brand.

What you can do to increase the number of positive impressions you make is to share information that your ideal customer would find useful or helpful—that would make them appreciate you or your expertise. For example, if you run a dog walking company or boarding facility, how about sharing tips for getting your dog ready for time away, recommending products that can help with separation, and ideas for evaluating different boarding options. Write articles you submit to publications and websites your target customers read. Create Facebook posts with links to posts. Pursue opportunities to be quoted in the press. Record videos about you and your business.

If you’re already doing these types of activities, it may be time to consider writing a book or creating an online course, to further extend your brand.

Be authentic

At the core of your personal brand is who you really are. It would be tough to create a persona that is nothing like you and present that to the public without eventually getting revealed. (We hear stories regularly about celebrities whose bad behavior has revealed their true personalities, and it’s not pretty.) A better approach is to share the true you from the start.

Your buyers want to feel like they know you, which is only possible if you share your personality with them. So don’t strive to be perfect. Don’t exaggerate stories you tell because you think that’s what others want to hear—they don’t. They want the truth. So be vulnerable and be honest.

Build a community

The more you share what you know in order to be helpful to your ideal customers, the more you’ll attract other like-minded buyers. 

By bringing people together, either online through a Facebook group, for example, or in person through live events, you help to establish connections not just with you and your customers and fans, but between all of the community members. That’s when they help amplify your personal brand, by telling others about you, your offerings, and the helpful community you’ve built.

Keep in mind that you can’t really control your personal brand, since it’s based on how others perceive you. But following these five steps can certainly help create a positive impression that can help shape your brand.

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