Wednesday, December 13, 2017

10 Awesome Insights from Top Business Leaders

10 Entrepreneurs Share Small Business Lessons For The 99%

Inbound marketing is an effective strategy when it comes to growing your small business. It helps you attract customers to your site by providing valuable content. From there, you can guide them through your buyer’s journey, eventually converting them into customers.

At the same time, inbound marketing establishes your business as a leader in your niche. More important, it doesn’t require a huge marketing budget or team.

But I’ve learned no matter how successful you become as a business professional, some things don’t change. Nothing beats getting personal advice from those that have insights into their profession that you may lack.

Ten Entrepreneurs Share Small Business Lessons

Here are tips shared by 10 successful entrepreneurs that will help you grow and keep your business afloat.

1. Protect Your Assets

Your email list is one of your most valuable assets when it comes to marketing. As such, Christa Rouse Bishop, lawyer and senior vice  president of communications for Cooperative Energy of Mississippi, encourages small business owners to be vigilant in protecting their computer systems. “If a computer system were to go down because of a virus … key files could be lost or stolen, which could then lead to legal action from clients, customers, and suppliers.”

2. Have Your Small Business Insured

At first, setting up a business insurance and continuity plan doesn’t seem important when you have a scrappy startup. You’re probably more like the Wolf of Wall Street trying to close deals, but insurance is needed for life’s many hiccups.

As a business owner, one of your primary goals is to build trust with your customers. Investing in small business insurance helps you become more credible in their eyes and will help your significant other sleep at night.

At the same time, it protects your business from the unexpected. Greg Reese, President of AmeriEstate Living Trusts, explains that a continuity plan keeps your business running should anything happen to you.

“Having a simple business continuity plan will allow you to choose and authorize a trustee to continue running your business [in case something happens to you],” he said. With these in place, there won’t be any need for lengthy (and expensive) court litigations. At the same time, it will give your family enough time to decide whether to continue your business or sell it.

3. Optimize Your Website for Mobile

One of the biggest inbound marketing mistakes small business owners make is not ensuring that their website is mobile friendly. In today’s competitive online landscape first impressions can make a website visitor bounce and leave your site.

“If your website doesn’t offer a smooth and pleasant experience on mobile screens, you’re missing opportunities,” Aaron Haynes, founder of Fenix Pro, said. “Running your website through Google’s mobile friendly test tool will help you fix any issues on your site and make it more mobile responsive.”

4. Get Ideas from Social Media Groups

Social media groups and social media platforms aren’t just for connecting and networking. They’re a treasure trove of content ideas you can use for a focus group when you have new ideas you want to validate.

“[Social media] groups are a constant source of new topic ideas,” explains Ken McDonald, Chief Growth Officer of TeamSnap. “By simply joining the conversation in several groups, you’ll see what common questions and topics that are relevant to your business.”

5. Simplify Things

When explaining your business to a potential customer, don’t assume that everyone understands your industry lingo. It’s essential you’re able to explain everything about your business and your products as simply as possible. Also make sure to lead with why your product matters and not what it does!

Ariel Chiu, Principal Planner of Wonderstruck Events, recommends writing your advertising copy so that a 10-year-old child can easily understand. This will force you to keep everything simple and free from jargon. “Ask yourself: ‘Would a fourth through ninth grader understand this content and be able to make a conversion decision upon completion?’ If the answer is no, then you need to simplify it.”

6. Don’t be Boring

The last thing you want is material that’s dry and feels like a standard commercial. Eduardo Perez, the founder of Easy Ukulele Songs, encourages small business owners to have fun and genuinely engage with potential customers. “This will increase the average time [spent], and ultimately, the conversions you’re able to capitalize on.”

7. Engage with Your Audience

Roy Surdej, President of Peaches Boutique, says engagement is critical to converting inbound marketing leads into customers. “You can’t just publish or post content and then just walk away,” he said. “If you do that, you’re missing prime opportunities to engage with your audience and convert them.”

8. Tap Into the Power of Influencers

According to Todd Tinker, founder of The Tinker Law Firm: “Most consumers are wired to trust recommendations from authority figures. This is why creating an influencer marketing campaign for your inbound marketing strategy is so effective.”

Reaching out to micro-influencers (influencers with 5,000 to 100,000 followers) is the best way to go. Additionally, Tinker suggests encouraging your customers to advocate for your brands online via social media is an easy way to activate micro influencers.

9. Reward Yourself

Even small business owners need a morale boost. Stefan Gleason, President of Money Metals Exchange, suggests rewarding yourself every now and then as one way to do this.

“Entrepreneurs seldom do this,” Gleason said. “This is why most fall far short of experiencing success and being able to realize their dream of a prosperous life resulting from their small business.”

10. Take Things One Day at a Time

Growing a business can seem time-consuming and overwhelming. If you’re not careful, you can suffer from burnout which will spell disaster for your business.

“The single most important takeaway is to pace yourself,” Adam Steele, founder of Loganix points out. “Don’t bite off too much. Be patient, be authentic, and just keep moving.” Soon, all your hard work will pay off, and you’ll be able to reap the rewards.

Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "10 Awesome Insights from Top Business Leaders" was first published on Small Business Trends

10 Awesome Insights from Top Business Leaders

Small Businesses Add 50,000 Jobs in November

November 2017 ADP Small Business Report Shows that Small Businesses Added 50,000 Jobs

Small businesses are doing their part to contribute to record lows in unemployment and job creation.

November 2017 ADP Small Business Report

According to the latest ADP (NASDAQ:ADP) Employment Report for November, small businesses added 50,000 new jobs to the U.S. economy. That growth is slower than what small businesses contributed in October but is the second month in a row of growth.

In October, small businesses added 79,000 jobs but the month prior, they actually lost 7,000 jobs.

For the overall jobs report from ADP, there were 190,000 jobs added in November among all businesses. In October, that figure also showed faster growth when 235,000 new jobs were created in October.

Franchise businesses added 28,300 new jobs in November. That’s close to the job growth among franchise businesses shown the month prior. In October, franchise businesses added 30,600 jobs.

“The labor market continues to grow at a solid pace,” says Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute, in a company statement. “Notably, manufacturing added the most jobs the industry has seen all year. As the labor market continues to tighten and wages increase, it will become increasingly difficult for employers to attract and retain skilled talent.”

Companies with between 20 and 49 employees contributed the most job growth among small businesses in November. During the month, they created 36,000 new jobs, compared to 14,000 among companies with less than 20 employees.

And the 50,000 jobs created were spurred by service businesses. They created 55,000 jobs in November where goods-producing companies actually lost 5,000 jobs. Losses in goods producing small businesses were seen more among the smallest companies. They lost 3,000 jobs compared to the 2,000 lost by companies with more than 20 employees.

Among franchise businesses, restaurants added the most jobs in November, with 19,800 of the new jobs created. Auto parts stores and dealers added another 4,600 jobs in November.

The same trend is seen in the national employment report from ADP. Service businesses added 155,000 jobs in November, compared to 36,000 goods producing jobs. The number of construction jobs actually dropped  during November. There were 4,000 construction job losses nationally during the month.

November 2017 ADP Small Business Report Shows that Small Businesses Added 50,000 JobsImages: ADP

This article, "Small Businesses Add 50,000 Jobs in November" was first published on Small Business Trends

Small Businesses Add 50,000 Jobs in November

Why Justin Finkelman Believes the Customer is Always Right – Really!

Tips on How to Deliver Excellent Customer Service

“The customer is always right” is a popular edict among business owners. But how many entrepreneurs actually live by that rule 100 percent of the time?

Justin Finkelman, founder of customizable clothing company Fitness Wear understands the importance of this saying more than most. And living by it has allowed the company to provide a high level of service to each and every customer.

I caught up with Finkelman for our latest Smart Hustle Report. During our conversation, Finkelman shared a bit about his customer service philosophy.

He said, “It’s hard sometimes to see from the customer’s point of view but if there’s an issue where it comes to the question ‘is the customer always right?’ The answer is going to be yes. And that’s because if you’re put in that position it’s most likely because you didn’t think about that problem before it occurred. You know, you have to think about every single thing that can happen during the process of an order and make sure it doesn’t become a problem before it occurs. You know. I guess an example, would be color. Your definition of red could be completely different than my definition of red.”

So instead of worrying about quarrels or money lost on merchandise, Finkelman uses those situations to learn how to better serve customers in the future.

He said, “So when you say ‘I want my logo. I want it in red and I want it on the front of the shirt’ and you open the box and you’re surprised that the color is not what you expected. That’s because we didn’t communicate with a precise system of color codes that will tell you exactly the shade and color that you’re looking for. So there are no surprises. Thinking about those details and making sure we cover it with every single order and making sure that we inform our customers on the process and how everything works. It only sets us up to have a platform to give them a custom shirt experience that doesn’t leave them with any surprises.”

To hear the full interview with Finkelman, check out the SoundCloud player here:

Tips on How to Deliver Excellent Customer Service

If you’re interested in stepping up your customer service game, you can potentially learn a thing or two from Finkelman’s expertise. Take a look at some top insights and tips below.

Personalize Your Communication Efforts

Automation might be all the rage. But when it comes to communicating with customers, Finkelman still thinks that a hands-on approach is best.

Finkelman said, “I mean, you can look at my email threads with customers and they go hundreds of emails long because you know I don’t want someone to open a box and to be surprised. I really, sure there’s the online store where there’s convenience where all you have to do is press a button, but with the custom apparel industry people don’t want to be surprised by opening their box and realize they ordered 100 shirts for an event that’s happening tomorrow and it’s not what they thought it’s going to be. So, yes I work one-on-one with the customers, our sales people work one-on-one with the customers, and we have a very intimate conversation all across from step one to order process to completion to make sure the customer’s always in the know and we’re always understanding exactly what they’re looking for.”

Learn from Your Mistakes

No matter how great your service is, you’ll likely still have times where your customers aren’t satisfied. But Finkelman uses those times as learning opportunities to improve the customer experience even more.

He said, “I see it as a growing point for myself and for my company and I say well, you know, the customer thinks they’re right because they weren’t informed well enough before the order was placed.”

Hire Passionate Employees

As your business grows, you also need to ensure that your team understands the importance of this personalized service as well. This can happen through training as well as the hiring process itself.

Finkelman added, “We only want to bring people on board who really have a passion for the same thing that I have a passion about and that’s getting customers a t-shirt or a piece of apparel, pants, shorts, hoodie, anything that’s custom and personalized and we have a hand in getting that to them and we all kind of get that joy out of being a part of that process with them. When I hire people that’s what I look for. You don’t necessarily have to be a pro at the craft. We can always teach you how to print.”

Image: Justin Finkelman

This article, "Why Justin Finkelman Believes the Customer is Always Right – Really!" was first published on Small Business Trends

Why Justin Finkelman Believes the Customer is Always Right – Really!

Cortana Partners with Insteon on Smart Building Tech for the Home Office

Microsoft Partners with Insteon to Bring Cortana Connected Home

Until recently, Microsoft’s voice assistant Cortana has been limited to functions on your computer.

The main rivals in the voice assistant arena can do a lot more than that, especially in your home office. Alexa can order supplies. Google can give you travel information.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) may be trying to catch up though. A new Connected Home feature for Cortana certainly adds to the functionality of Microsoft’s voice assistant in the home office.

But until more devices are developed to pair with Cortana and Connected Home, the way you can use it as a true voice assistant is rather limited. There’s no yelling into thin air for Alexa with Cortana just yet.

Instead, Connected Home works on Windows 10 computers. You have to search for it via the Start menu on the computer to access these features. Cortana then asks you to pair the Connected Home feature to any smart devices you might have … at least the ones it currently pairs with right now.

There are five brands of smart home products currently paired with Cortana Connected Home. While this voice assistant does pale in comparison with the competition right now, it certainly could play a role in your smart home office.

The brands it pairs with are Wink, Insteon, SmartThings, Nest and Hue.

If you do utilize this service — remember, you have to enable Cortana through Windows 10 — you’ll be able to adjust the thermostat, control the lights, and other smart home features that can help provide security and control energy costs.

“The average North American home has about 80 electrical and lighting nodes — largely wall switches and outlets — which is the focus on our Insteon technology. In the foreseeable future, the majority of these nodes will be ‘smart’ and internet addressable,” said Rob Lilleness, Insteon CEO, in a company press release. “Microsoft’s entry is further testament to the momentum in the market and a key technology building block to delivering on the promise of a smart home.”

Users can connect Cortana Connected Home through the Insteon Hub, for example, to control smart home functions for their home office.

Cortana Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Cortana Partners with Insteon on Smart Building Tech for the Home Office" was first published on Small Business Trends

Cortana Partners with Insteon on Smart Building Tech for the Home Office

10 Ways Workplace by Facebook Can Help Your Small Business

10 Reasons to Use Workplace by Facebook at Your Small Business
Workplace by Facebook has been designed as competition for Slack. It’s the latest mobile and team app that keeps the members of your team connected.

Reasons to Use Workplace by Facebook

Small Business Trends spoke with Monica Adractas, Director, Workplace by Facebook. She supplied 10 reasons to use Workplace by Facebook at your small business.

You Can Work Online With Other Companies

Multi-company groups (MCGs) allows you to work with other companies outside of yours like agencies, suppliers and even peers in your industry. Workplace by Facebook establishes a broad swath when it comes to a small business online network .

It Keeps Things Simple

Workplace by Facebook can take the place of several different communication tools. It’s the perfect tool to replace newsletters, the intranet and even internal emailing lists. Keeping things simple means building efficiency for small business.

You Save Time for Training

Because many of the features in this app like News Feed, Groups and Messages are already familiar, there’s not a big technology training curve involved.

“People in small businesses are busy enough – they don’t want to spend time learning how to use work technology,” says Adractas. “That means less time and money spent on training and the ability to get running immediately.”

You Can Share Files on the Go

The chat that comes with Workplace is offered in both mobile and desktop. You can use it to connect in real time and even share files. This feature makes it easy to make big decisions for small business on the fly or for administrators to share with field staff.

It Creates An Inclusive Work Culture

Everyone has a voice and everybody gets to input with Workplace by Facebook.

“By offering real-time, two-way communication features, Workplace makes it easier for people to share ideas and make an impact at work,” Adractas says.

It’s Separate and Secure

Making sure your data is kept secure and safe is a number one priority for small business. The app is ISO 27001 compliant and a SOC3 reports are available.

It Works With The Tools You’ve Got

You can share and organize your existing files. This kind of seamless integration allows your team to keep working from multiple locations.

You Can Focus On Growth

Workplace by Facebook helps your small business to focus all team efforts in one location. It keeps the email flow in one place and reduces the time spent on meetings and conference calls.

“It reduces costs and time wasted so that time can be spent actually getting work done,” Adractas says. “It gives small business owners more time to focus on growing their organizations.”

It Automates Tasks

The bots in this app help to make your small business more cost effective and efficient. Adractas says this automation works to foster business culture and increase productivity.

“We see customers using bots for everything from connecting stores to support, to alerting new customer leads, to celebrating work anniversaries and birthdays,” she says.

It Helps You Watch Over Your Business

There are a variety of administrative and reporting controls that help small business owners watch over their small enterprise from one convenient location. The Live Video feature works to bring everyone together from different locations.

Workplace by Facebook has a standard version that’s free and the premium version comes with a 90 day free trial.

Image: Facebook

This article, "10 Ways Workplace by Facebook Can Help Your Small Business" was first published on Small Business Trends

10 Ways Workplace by Facebook Can Help Your Small Business

Spotlight: Major-Morris Law Helps Businesses Protect Intellectual Property

Spotlight: Intellectual Property Law Firm Major-Morris Law Helps Businesses Protect Ideas, Trademarks, and More

Businesses that have intellectual property need to prioritize protecting those items. Having an attorney that specializes in trademark and copyright issues can be a major benefit. Kimra Major-Morris, Esq. is the lawyer behind Major-Morris Law, LLC, a law firm that works with businesses on those issues. Read more about Major-Morris and her business in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

What the Business Does

Provides legal services to intellectual property owners.

Major-Morris says, “I sell intellectual property legal services and help brand owners protect and enforce their copyright, trademark, and trade secret rights.”

Business Niche

Genuinely caring about clients.

Major-Morris says, “I offer flat fee retainers and don’t watch the clock when I’m connecting with clients during consultations. I make sure to fully connect and understand the clients’ needs.”

Spotlight: Intellectual Property Law Firm Major-Morris Law Helps Businesses Protect Ideas, Trademarks, and More

How the Business Got Started

After starting her own creative projects.

Major-Morris explains, “I was a hip-hop artist while in college and later owned a video production company. I knew the value of creative rights through my experiences and chose practice areas I was passionate about.”

Biggest Win:

Representing a high-profile foundation.

Major-Morris says, “I represented The Trayvon Martin Foundation’s intellectual property interests from its inception and for several years thereafter. It came about when Atty. Natalie Jackson recalled that I was a video editor and invited me to bring my video equipment to her office to listen to the infamous 911 tapes. In doing so, I was introduced to Trayvon’s parents and guided the decision to start the Foundation, register trademarks for the Foundation, register the ‘hoodie image’ and negotiation countless licenses on behalf of the Foundation. The experience was invaluable.”

Biggest Risk

Niching down.

Major-Morris says, “The biggest risk my business ever took was narrowing the practice areas from general practice to intellectual property, entertainment, and business. I could have had so little business that I had to close my doors, but a more focused practice led to more business.”

Spotlight: Intellectual Property Law Firm Major-Morris Law Helps Businesses Protect Ideas, Trademarks, and More

How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000

Various growth areas.

Major-Morris explains, “I would use an extra $100k for the purchase of office space, marketing, business travel, and support staff.”

Major Milestone

Filing her own trademarks.

Major-Morris says, “I’m always excited about the ideas clients bring to me and I recently filed my own trademark applications that focus on brand recognition through my first name. I couldn’t believe how empowering it was to have my own filing! The irony is that I hated my first name as a child, mainly because it was always mispronounced. I never thought the day would come when I liked it, let alone advertised or encouraged others to use it for business purposes! Life is a funny thing.”

Personal Motto

If you are choreographing your landing, it’s not a leap of faith.

* * * * *

Find out more about the Small Biz Spotlight program

Images: Major-Morris Law LLC, Kimra Major-Morris

This article, "Spotlight: Major-Morris Law Helps Businesses Protect Intellectual Property" was first published on Small Business Trends

Spotlight: Major-Morris Law Helps Businesses Protect Intellectual Property

ZipSprout Connects Small Businesses to Local Sponsorship Opportunities

ZipSprout Sprout Seeker Connects Small Businesses to Local Sponsorship Opportunities

Marketing and SEO matchmaking platform ZipSprout is introducing a new tool in 2018. The Sprout Seeker Tool aims to help local businesses automatically find the sponsorship opportunities in their area and most relevant to their target customers.

ZipSprout Sprout Seeker

Because local businesses are so tapped into their community, it makes these sponsorship opportunities a natural fit for a lot of small businesses.

Megan Hannay, co-founder and CEO of ZipSprout said in an email to Small Business Trends, “A small business has a few distinct advantages when it comes to local marketing — and the biggest one is that local business owners know their community much better than their national competitors. Many local business owners are already giving to local organizations, maybe 5Ks or youth sports team. Getting involved is a natural extension of being a local entity. ZipSprout helps businesses build strategy around the local marketing they already do. Like a for local businesses owners, ZipSprout helps find local sponsorship opportunities that fit a business’s brand and mission.”

ZipSprout Sprout Seeker Connects Small Businesses to Local Sponsorship Opportunities

And that’s just one of ZipSprout’s offerings. The company actually launched back in December 2015. At the time, Hannay was working at ZipSprout’s parent company, Citation Labs. And she started working on ZipSprout as a side project.

Hannay says, “At the time, I was developing a campaign for a national brand client, finding local sponsorship opportunities in San Diego. After about 100 conversations with local organizations, my cofounder — Garrett — and I realized that we’d found a large, untapped channel for local marketing. So we formed ZipSprout, hired a team and have been building local relationships for two years.”

Since that time, ZipSprout has facilitated more than $746,379 in local donations and sponsorships. But until now, those connections came from the company’s more full-service marketing matchmaker service. The new Sprout Seeker Tool is supposed to be a more DIY type of option, allowing businesses to automatically find the opportunities in their area and filter by category, reach and relevance.

The company also has a newsletter businesses can sign up for to receive information about sponsorship opportunities in their communities. This, in tandem with the new tool launching next year, can really help businesses better reach local customers through those sponsorship opportunities.

Hanney says, “For small businesses, our monthly newsletter and upcoming tool are the two best options. Both are subscription offerings, so local business owners can sign up on the website and go from there. These offerings make it easier for local (and national) entities to find out about sponsor-able events in any location. We believe that if the research is easier, then business owners can instead focus on relationship building with local organizers.”

After the beta phase of the new tool, Hannay says the tool will be available on a subscription basis for a low monthly cost. If you’re interested in signing up, ZipSprout is accepting applications for beta testers now. You can sign up on the company’s website.

Images: ZipSprout

This article, "ZipSprout Connects Small Businesses to Local Sponsorship Opportunities" was first published on Small Business Trends

ZipSprout Connects Small Businesses to Local Sponsorship Opportunities