Personal Money


Finance Tax Corporations 20170718

Entrepreneurs say Ottawa is waging class war, singling out business owners as the beneficiaries of unfair tax advantages.

[Author: Kate MacNamara]

A weeklong power failure on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands in North Carolina cost businesses millions of dollars, officials estimated.

Uncertain economic growth means rises to the National Living Wage should be delayed, says the FSB.

Rich Walker directs a robotics company, Shadow Robot, out of a modest office in London. He says the wait for clarity post-Brexit is hurting businesses.

Small business owners are among those who say indecision is damaging the economy as they wait for new rules governing a post-Brexit U.K.

(Image credit: Joanna Kakissis/NPR)

Water companies organise 36,000 switches of supply for small firms after new rules come into force.

Months on from April's new tax regime, many companies are still waiting for bills to be adjusted.

The Federation of Small Businesses says it has concerns over the effects of the 28 June attack.

Across the country, old-fashioned grocery stores, like the oldest business in Colorado, are among the most endangered of small-town businesses.

Small-business owners, some of the most vocal opponents of the Affordable Care Act, are divided over Republican plans to reverse much of the law.

How To Boost Conversions with Influencer Marketing

Every marketer has their little tricks up their sleeves when it comes to promoting their brands. Usually they follow by the same general model, adapting the same practices to different projects, or to fit certain needs. There is nothing wrong with this method, but it won’t work if you don’t add in new ways of marketing as they become more successful with customers.

Influencer marketing is a clear example of this thought in practice. Social media has been a powerhouse in promotion for years. But where that new means of marketing meets more traditional forms of endorsement advertising has been growing, though many people are still shaky on how to properly apply it to their campaigns.

Why Influencer Marketing?

Businesses keep doing the same mistake again and again: They discover a traffic generation strategy (in the vast majority of cases that’s Google search) that works for them, start growing exponentially and then instead of reinvesting into discovering more growth opportunities they keep feeding from that single source until it stops working for them.

Unlike most of online marketers may think, Google search is not the only source of traffic and awareness. There are more ways to generate clicks and sales:

The power of word of mouth should never be underestimated. People buy from people and via people’s recommendation. That is where the power of influencer marketing comes into play.

Influencer marketing is essentially the newer form of celebrity endorsement. We all remember sitting around Saturday morning and seeing a commercial for Proactive come on the screen, with a flawless skinned A-list actress trying to convince us that she had a problem with acne at some point in the past.

Think of influencer marketing as a more down-to-earth, simple version of that idea. You are taking the equivalent of celebrities in the digital realm (YouTubers, social media stars, bloggers, etc.) and having them push your brand into the spotlight. They endorse you to their fans which can be in the literal millions, and you reap the benefits.

The bigger of those benefits is creating a solid, trusting customer base. That base includes the influencer(s) that you have managed to snag. It is a mutually beneficial relationship that can vastly increase your conversions.

How To Boost Conversions with Influencer Marketing

Now that you understand why influencer marketing is so great, we can start looking at ways to incorporate it into your campaigns and get those conversions really growing. These are by no means exhaustive, but consider them your starting point. It won’t be long before you begin to see results, and can build on them.

Know Your Influencers Well

There is no point in trying to target an audience, much less find an influencer to help you do so, if you don’t really know who you are talking to. Before you begin you need to really understand the demographic you are catering to. Not just who they are, where they live and the basics (age, gender, education and income level, etc.). You need to know what they want, need, and don’t even realize they need.

Who do they watch you YouTube? Do they prefer Netflix or Hulu? Do they use Tumblr? Reddit? Facebook? Snapchat? Instagram? Do they like dogs or cats better? Do they put ranch on their pizza? It might seem like overkill, but the better you know your audience the more direct your trajectory will be when finding the perfect influencer to reach them.

Talking to your audience is almost always the first step to understanding them better. I’ve always been an advocate of surveying tools to help you better understand your niche community. Moreover, surveys provide so many opportunities beyond the obvious audience research. For example, you use them to actually build connections with influencers (by providing them with various perks in exchange for taking the survey). And afterwards, you can turn the results into a solid linkable brand asset and invite all the participating influencers to spread the word. That’s what Moz has been doing, quite successfully, with their “Search Engine Ranking Factors“:

  • Invite niche influencers to participate
  • List those influencers as contributors on the landing page
  • Build trust and turn your brand into the niche knowledge hub which, in turn, brings more conversions because buyers now know who they are buying from:

How To Boost Conversions with Influencer Marketing

Featured tool: I know there are a few obvious surveying tools out there but I’ve recently discovered Wyzerr which is probably new for most of the readers. It lets you build fun interactive quizzes that are actually enjoyable to take, so you are likely to get many more responses with it:

How To Boost Conversions with Influencer Marketing

Work out a Flexible and Effective Rewarding Strategy

I have just mentioned perks above and this is something you need to put some thorough thought into.

I am approached by so many companies on a daily basis: they invite me to check their tools out, participate in expert interviews and compete their surveys. Sadly, there are so few companies who actually get the “rewarding” part.

Don’t get me wrong: Not all influencers will insist on being rewarded. Most of them will simply want you to be polite. No one likes being used. Never demand.

That’s why I emphasized being flexible in the heading above. Don’t go to each influencer with the same cookie-cutter approach: Some of the influencers will want to be paid while others will get offended when you offer them a pay. Some possible perks include:

  • Exclusive access to your tool;
  • Free trip to your conference or meetup;
  • The opportunity to get featured together with other prominent niche influencers, etc.

Don’t miss the opportunity to thank your influencers after your campaign is wrapped up. Simply sending out a thank-you card or a branded coupon card can go a long way. It can very cost-effective too. Stock photography can come for free (here’s a good list) and designing a card is easy with sites like Canva.

Remember a proper “Thank you” notice is yet another opportunity to engage those influencers in sharing your brand around. As an example, here’s me sharing Buzzsumo’s gift basket because I was truly surprised and excited:

How To Boost Conversions with Influencer Marketing

There will be different rewards for different influencers, so there needs to be a tool that could help you manage the process properly. Salesmate helps organize and scale your influencer onboarding. It lets you clearly see which step of influencer onboarding your managers are at and what works for different influencers in terms if incentives:

How To Boost Conversions with Influencer Marketing

Salesmate integrates well with all my favorite apps too, so it’s nice to be able to keep everything under one roof.

Important note: When working on your rewarding strategy, keep in mind the legal aspects of online endorsement. Kerry O’Shea Gorgone gave a solid outline of disclosures influencers should be using when endorsing anyone online:

How To Boost Conversions with Influencer Marketing

Learn The Power Of Micro-Influencers

You don’t have to always be looking to get the guy who has a million Twitter followers to promote your brand. How about the gal with 100k? Or that teen blogger who has managed to build a steady ad-revenue through their beauty blog? Influencers come in all sizes, and that is where micro-influencers come in.

They don’t have the reach of the most popular social media mavens, but they have a dedicated audience and are often easier to secure. Plus you can build a relationship with them that goes beyond just marketer/talent.

It all comes down to how engaged their community is rather than how many followers they have managed to build!

Tools like Klear and Twitonomy will help you both discover and analyze the reach of niche (micro-)influencers. They both work for Twitter. Here are more ways to discover influencers beyond Twitter.

How To Boost Conversions with Influencer Marketing

You may also want to up your social media engagement by investing in Facebook ads and target your influencers’ followers. You’ll be sure to generate many more leads from your advertising campaign if you incorporate your influencers’ identity (logos, pictures) into your display advertising. Of course, you need to get influencers’ permission first.

Aim Higher: Focus on Building Loyalty

Brand loyalty is always a must, and influencer marketing really helps you to build it. They already have a relationship with their audience, and they are putting you forward as trusted within that relationship.

You are reaching them through someone they already know they can and should listen to. If you can prove to them that trying your brand out was a positive decision then you have a chance to hooking them for life.

Influencer marketing campaign shouldn’t really focus on the actual ROI (conversions or sales). There’s much more to it: The long-term goal should be to build trust which always results in a natural increase in conversions.

Building a brand ambassador program is a natural extension and a goal of an influencer marketing campaign.

Jeff Bullas (speaking of influencers) did an awesome breakdown of how you can use brand ambassadors by utilizing visual content.


There are many different ways that we can market our brands. Conversions are the natural conclusion to those efforts, and so we tend to be tangled up in the bigger picture. Breaking it down into smaller aspects of each campaign we can see where every piece fits into the whole.

Influencer marketing may not be the sandwich, but it is at least the cheese between the slices of meat. It adds something real and effective where that final push was lacking. You can vastly improve your conversion rate with the right influencers driving interest.

Do you have any tips for using influencer marketing to boost conversions? Let us know in the comments!

Influencer Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Influencer Marketing Secrets Revealed: Can it Boost Conversions?" was first published on Small Business Trends

Ready to Go Brandless?

Before spending time and energy branding your next product or service, it may be time to think again.

Brandless is a startup that works with manufacturers to eliminate the extra costs that are often associated with offering branded products. Instead, the company just provides basic products with simple labels that just state what’s in each product. And all of those items cost just $3.

Basically, Brandless is banking on consumers caring less about brand names than things like quality and value. By taking the branding and marketing costs out of the equation, the company can offer these items for less than consumers can find them from most other sources, without compromising quality.

Ready to Go Brandless?

If the company’s hypothesis about consumer priorities proves to be true, it could have a major impact on small businesses. Consider all of the money businesses spend on branding campaigns and how that money could go toward offering more value to consumers.

Of course, there may still be plenty of shoppers who equate recognizable brand names with quality. So you’ll have to carefully consider your products and target customers before opting for an un-branded approach. But this trend could certainly be something for businesses of all sizes to watch.

Image: Brandless

This article, "Could the Latest in Branding Be Not to Have One?" was first published on Small Business Trends

By Usman Raza

Entrepreneurs and small business owners struggle with many things, especially if they are short on cash. They are doing almost all job functions themselves and working long hours. They have to think about bringing new revenues, marketing, building their products, adhering to regulations in their industries, accounting, inventory and more. It is no wonder that they struggle with their weight as well. But, without their health, their businesses are sure to fail. Here are some ideas for staying in shape.

Drink Matcha Tea

Coming from Japan, matcha is a green tea that is ground to a powder. It has earthy-spinachy-umami taste. Like conventional green tea, it is high in antioxidants. Because it’s a powder, you end up consuming the entire leaf, and therefore, more nutrients. It contains ingredients that have been proven to help people maintain their weight or lose weight.

Don’t Sit Too Long

Many studies have shown a vast array of health hazards caused by sitting for eight hours a day. From organ damage and muscle degeneration to back problems and brain fog, prolonged sitting at a desk can cause a chain of problems from head to toe. You should incorporate more movement into everyday activities. You could schedule an hour to work out, either before you start work or after you are finished for the day. Other options include standing during conference calls, replacing your reclining office chair with a stability ball, or moving around the office periodically. You could leave your office and walk to a place for lunch.

Join an Adult Sports League

In the summer, many cities and suburbs offer opportunities for adults to partake in sports. You could join a league even if you haven’t done the sport before this. By learning the sport, you are exercising your mind as well as your body. You also are getting out the office or house and meeting new people. This might prove to be a good networking time as well. At least, you’ll be interacting with people who share your interests. Business owners tend to be competitive, so they push themselves to do the practices to get better. They like to work as a team, which is so important in sports. If sports aren’t your thing, you could go to a yoga or dance class. You’ll get the same benefits as you would from a sports league.

Be a Role Model

When you stay in shape, you are sending a message to your employees that they should stay in shape too. You could offer wellness programs where employees get reimbursed for healthy lifestyles and choices. You could bring massage therapists and exercise experts to the office. You could hold health fairs at the office, so your employees and you could learn about staying in shape. Healthy employees are more productive and cost you less in insurance. This could improve your bottom line.

Walk During Meetings

So much of the business world takes place on the golf course. Executives get together to have business meetings while playing nine holes of golf. However, if you don’t like golf, you could still have business meetings away from office locations or restaurants. Walk with your potential client and discuss business while moving. This will ensure you have a healthy heart and not waste your time for business.

Usman Raza is a marketing specialist at Crawford and O’Brien and Zensleep. Aside from doing SEO, when not working he enjoys spending time with his family. You can follow him on Twitter.

The post 5 Ways Business Owners Can Stay in Shape appeared first on Small Biz Daily.

Create a Profit Plan, Not a Budget

As a business owner, are you focused on how much money everyone is spending in your business? Or do you focus instead on how much profit you‘re going to make? Unfortunately too many small business owners focus too much time and effort on how much money is being spent and not nearly enough time figuring out how to make more money (i.e. Profit). It‘s more of a poverty vs. abundance mindset. Why not be a little different and focus on abundance vs. poverty as a small business owner?

There is a dirty word that surfaces for small business owners from time-to-time, which typically causes them to feel ill and break into cold sweats. BUDGETS. Nobody really wants one or frankly ever asks for one. It has a punitive, I‘ve just got called down to the Principal‘s office, feel to it. Budgets are constraining and inhibiting to growth and sustainability. A more energizing and productive path to take is developing a Profit Plan. This way you‘ll be able to focus on achieving profits vs. not spending yourself out of business.

Focus on Your Profit Plan, Not Your Budget

I used to be a pretty decent golfer with a low single digit handicap. There are lots of great analogies between golf and business. One of the main ones we focus on as business coaches is that both business and golf can get unnecessarily complicated. Anyone who has taken a few golf lessons can tell you that. You can get so focused on the proper mechanics of your swing that you forget how to hit the ball. And it stops being fun and starts feeling like work! I learned early on that the best thing to do with my golf swing was to keep things simple. Boil it down to one or two swing thoughts as I was addressing the ball and then forget everything else.

It helps to have the same kind of focus in business so things don‘t get overly complicated and it stops being fun. For small business owners, developing and executing a successful Profit Plan is essential to set the stage for making money on purpose. Start simple by asking yourself:

  1. What do I want my company’s sales to be for the coming year?
  2. How much do I want in profit/net income/the bottom line?

Those two numbers should be the key focus (i.e. swing thought) for you and your team. That way, everyone is focused on how you are going to make those sales and profit goals a reality. No confusion, no complexity.

Too many folks are directed to focus on a budget instead of a Profit Plan and what happens is they often lose sight of sales and profit goals and focus solely on the spending and expenses. Remember that the “score card“ in business is not how little you spend, but how much profit you‘re able to make. So be sure to focus on profit and not simply spending.

Chart Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "What’s the Dirty Word in Your Business?" was first published on Small Business Trends

Milestone Business Cartoon

This cartoon is basically just a play on words. You see “Founded” on signs a lot followed by a year, so adding “Dumbfounded” and some additional years isn’t a huge stretch. The trick for me on this one was, as usual, the details.

Which years would be dumbfounding? Was it early on in the business? Some sort of later issue? How long did it last? Which years sound funniest? Should it be an even or odd number of years?

I wish I could say there’s some sort of cartoon calculus to offer some answers, but mostly you just feel it out. (Which is good because I’m bad at math.)

This article, "The Late 70s and Early 80s Was a Difficult Time for the Firm" was first published on Small Business Trends

How to Create Your Own Pension Fund

Like flip phones and floppy disks, pensions are largely a thing of the past.

According to an analysis from global advisory firm Willis Towers Watson, the percentage of Fortune 500 employers offering a defined benefit pension plan to new hires dropped from roughly 50 percent in 1998 to just 5 percent in 2015.

Today’s workers are more often offered a defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k). The difference is evident in the name: A defined contribution plan lets employers and employees contribute to an investment account. A defined benefit plan promises employees a set benefit at retirement and puts the responsibility of providing that benefit — including the investment risk — on the employer.

Create Your Own Pension Fund

It’s easy to see why people without pensions are envious of older generations. But it’s still possible to create pension-like income on your own. Here’s how.

Consider an Immediate Annuity

With an immediate annuity, you give an insurance company a lump sum and receive monthly payments for life. The amount of those payments depends on a few factors, including the size of the lump sum, your age and interest rates.

These annuities can address the fear that your money will dry up, but they aren’t for everyone, says Neal Frankle, a certified financial planner and blogger at “The No. 1 problem is that you give up access to that money. If you die tomorrow, it goes away.”

You can structure the annuity so that if you die before receiving an amount equal to the lump sum, the balance goes to your beneficiaries — but electing that option will lower the amount you get each month.

Keep Some Stocks; Start an Income Plan

Some believe that it’s best to invest in stocks only preretirement; post-retirement, it’s all about bonds and fixed income. In reality, shunning equities after you’ve stopped working might be one of the quickest ways to run out of money. You need your money to continue to grow in retirement, and stocks provide that growth.

Once you have a properly allocated portfolio, you can work with a financial advisor to create an income plan that details how you’ll approach withdrawals.

A tip from Frankle: Ask to receive monthly distributions. “It’s only natural that when people get to the stage of not getting a paycheck, it’s scary. Rather than setting up a once-a-year withdrawal, set it up so it’s almost like a paycheck.”

Monthly distributions also make it less likely that you’ll pull more than you need from a 401(k) or an individual retirement account. It can be hard to return unused money due to the contribution limits on those accounts.

Bank on Your Home

If you own your home, you can use a reverse mortgage to take advantage of the equity you’ve built. These mortgages allow you to stay in your home and convert that equity into a stream of monthly payments. As long as you remain in the home, you don’t have to pay back the loan. If you move, sell it or die, the loan is typically repaid from your estate or the proceeds of the sale.

These loans have historically gotten a bad rap due to high costs and variable interest rates, but in recent years, they’ve grown better in these respects. Still — like immediate annuities — they’re not the right choice for everyone. Before you consider one, Frankle suggests another option: downsizing.

“If you need a reverse mortgage, chances are very good you’re living beyond your means, and you’re spending more than is coming in,” he says. “A reverse mortgage doesn’t solve that core problem. Many people would be better off downsizing and reducing expenses.”

Downsizing might not give you additional income, but it does make more of your income available for other expenses.

Republished by permission. Original here.

Piggy Bank Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Explore These 3 Approaches to Create Your Own Pension Fund" was first published on Small Business Trends

By Ronald Kimmons

Email marketing is one of the most powerful marketing channels available. It is highly scalable, responsive, and cost-effective. However, in conducting an email marketing campaign, there are some big, fat, ugly blunders that neophytes often commit. These can waste your time and resources, and harm your business—and you should do your best to avoid them. They are:

1. Buying a list

There was a time when email marketing meant buying a list, spamming that list, and hoping someone on that list was in your target demographic and would buy. Thanks to the government and email providers, such things are no longer done by legitimate marketers.

If you intend on purchasing an email list and sending out unsolicited mass marketing emails to that list, you need to know that:

  • Your conversion rate will be low. Those selling such lists will often cite “industry standards” by promising 3% conversion or something like that, but even that is pie in the sky. Those are the kinds of numbers seen by email marketers who have legitimate lists of people who chose to receive marketing emails because they were interested. Even if these people see your emails, the leads from purchased lists will not have the same conversion rates as more legitimate lists.
  • Many recipients will not see your emails anyway. Email providers have gotten very good at spotting spam. That being the case, do not be surprised to find that your emails are going straight to the spam folder. Also, note that in Gmail there is now a “Promotions” tab where promotional emails go. Even if your emails do not go to the spam folder, they will likely go here. Though this email is technically still in the inbox, people often ignore the contents of this tab.
  • You could get fined. Sending unsolicited mass emails like this is illegal in many countries. In the United States, according to the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, you can be fined up to $11,000 per violation.
  • You could get sued. That’s right. People who receive spam email from you can actually take you to civil court. A lawyer named Daniel Balsam actually makes a living by suing spammers.

In short, don’t buy email lists to send unsolicited marketing emails. It’s not worth it.

2. Failure to comply with other CAN-SPAM policies

Even if your list was collected legitimately, with people who requested your emails, you still have to abide by certain other legal rules. For example:

  • Include identification information. This means your company name and address. Most marketers include this in the footer, and email marketing tools like MailChimp and Constant Contact make it easy.
  • Include an “unsubscribe” or “email preferences” link. This makes it easy for people to unsubscribe from some or all of your marketing emails.
  • Follow up when people do unsubscribe. If people change their preferences or unsubscribe completely, make sure to remove them from your list. Again, if you use an email marketing tool like MailChimp or Constant Contact, this is automated and easy.
  • Write clear subject lines. The subject line of your email cannot be misleading. This is (ironically) one of the more inexact requirements, so there is a little flexibility, but try to play it safe. As a marketer, it may be tempting to write whatever grabs people’s attention and causes them to open the email, but do not lose control. (More on this later.)
  • Information in ads should be clear and unambiguous. It is very good practice to include advertisements in your emails that are visually similar to what people might see in magazines or on posters. However, whatever you write there, make sure that it is easy to understand. Do not make statements that are intentionally vague and then rely on fine print to clarify them.
  • Make sure anyone working for you is compliant. Anyone sending out emails on your behalf—whether an employee or a contractor—is legally connected to you, and you are also liable if they fail to do what they are supposed to do.

Again, if you fail to abide by these rules, not only is this bad business, but you can actually get fined and/or sued for that failure.

3. Failure to be mobile-friendly

Google has now openly embraced a mobile-first philosophy. This is because the majority of internet activity now occurs on mobile devices. This is especially true for emails; it would be a big mistake to ignore mobile users when you draft your marketing emails. To optimize your emails for mobile, consider doing the following:

  • Make the text big enough to read. None of your text should be smaller than 14 point.
  • Make buttons easy to tap. Simply adding a link to your text may not cut it for some mobile users. Instead, try to use an actual button.
  • Use a layout that is responsive to different screen sizes. Again, email marketing tools like MailChimp and Constant Contact are usually good for this.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Test Mobile Marketing in Your Small Business

Being mobile-friendly may seem like a small thing, but it can actually have a big influence on the conversion rates of your emails.

4. Writing clickbait subject lines

For those unfamiliar with the term, clickbait is any headline or image that is intended to encourage the viewer to click at all costs, even if it means being sensational, irrelevant, or dishonest. Even when your subscribers are not specifically cognizant of the fact, over time, clickbait subject lines will cause them to lose trust in your brand. For this reason, try to avoid subject lines such as:

  • Anything containing the words “You won’t believe…”
  • Anything pretending to be something it is not. For example, to fake a transactional email, you may put in your subject line: “Your order has shipped!” If the subscriber did not order anything, he or she will often feel a strong inclination to open the email, but that does not mean that the subscriber will react well to the contents of the email. (Of course, real transactional emails are fine.)
  • “Last chance!” This may be okay in some cases, but don’t overuse it.
  • OVERUSE OF CAPS. It’s just annoying!

While all of these examples will probably significantly increase open rates, the net effect that they have on your business will often not be good. That said, there are still some moderate “clickbait” subject lines you can use that will increase open rates without harming your credibility. For example:

  • Use numbers. “7 Reasons You Need…” People respond to numbers because they are tangible, concrete images that interrupt one’s conscious thoughts. (Note the title of this article.)
  • Use the recipient’s name. “Chris, we noticed that you didn’t sign up for…”
  • Ask a question. People see a question, and they have a psychological need to give or see an answer.
  • Make a shocking claim. “Scientists prove chocolate cake is GOOD for you!” However, if you do this, you had better deliver on your claim.
5. Failure to deliver value

Some email marketers, feeling the pressure of their ultimate mission, often find themselves composing email campaigns that, to recipients, sound like this: “Hey, you should buy our stuff! It’s great stuff! Click here and buy our stuff! Give us money! Hey, have you bought our stuff yet? You know what you should do? You should buy our stuff!”

This type of email gets tiring, and people do not want to look at them.

As an email marketer, you have the responsibility to deliver real value to subscribers in the emails that you send—even if they never buy anything from you. They subscribed with the understanding that you would send them emails with valuable or interesting information about things they care about, so if you don’t deliver, you are not fulfilling your promises.

To ensure that you are delivering value, each of your emails should do at least one of the following:

  • Delight. If your email can make people feel happy or validated or laugh, you have succeeded.
  • Educate. Provide valuable information in an understandable format on a subject that the recipient cares about.
  • Provide a meaningful offer. This may be a discount, a bundled offer, a limited offer, an event, etc. The key word is meaningful. Simply offering 10% off on one random item one day and 15% off another random item another day is not going to cut it.

To deliver value, instead of focusing on your needs and desires, focus on the needs and desires of your subscribers. Value is determined based on what they want, and not based on what you like or what you want.

6. Sending too many emails

Even if your emails have a high level of value, most people just do not have the time to read emails thousands of words long coming from you every day. If they find your emails overwhelming, many people will unsubscribe, even if they note that your emails were of value to them in the past.

There is no universal limit to the number of emails you can send. It can be useful to email every day for several days if you are following up on some recent interaction. However, a good rule of thumb to go by is to average between one and three emails per week, and if you are emailing every day, go easy on the long-form content.

7. Being inconsistent

The key to trust is consistency. If you want to create and maintain a relationship with your subscribers, you need to make sure that you send your emails on a regular basis. Don’t send them sporadically, or with a cluster of emails followed by months of silence. Use your email tools to establish a gentle but firm presence and establish your business as a business that believes in stability and continuity.

8. Being nonresponsive

Before you go live and start pulling in contacts, make sure that your email drafts are ready to go. When people sign up for your mailing list or request that free offer, they expect to receive an email promptly. This is why you need to use good automation tools. If you fail to respond promptly, you will find that the open rates of your initial emails will not be very high, as the recipients have already moved on and the feeling of anticipation is gone.

This need for responsiveness does not only apply to the first interaction, either. Anytime your subscribers interact with you in some way and you fail to respond promptly, this will hurt the trust you have built with them, and it could cause you to lose them altogether.

9. Failure to include a relevant call to action

Every email should have a call to action. This doesn’t have to involve money, but it should be something—anything—that causes people to engage with you in some way. The call to action should be relevant to the content of the email, and it should be something that your subscribers can do right then and there.

Here are some examples of non-monetary calls to action:

  • View a video.
  • Install a free mobile app.
  • Take a quiz.
  • Start a free trial (especially for SaaS).
  • Register for an event.
  • Interact on social media.
  • Give feedback by email.
  • Rate your business on an online rating site.

Your call to action should be briefly stated at the end of your email. All of the content of your email should build up to it. If you are using an advanced marketing automation tool, you can track whether or not people take certain actions and use that to determine which emails they should receive in the future.

10. Failure to automate

If you fail to automate, you will inevitably fail to be adequately responsive, you will waste massive amounts of time, and you will fail to reach as many people as you should. There is no good reason not to use an automation tool. MailChimp even has a limited free plan for people who are just getting started. Even if you don’t get a premium plan, the more basic services are quite affordable.

RELATED: Marketing Automation Solutions Are Now Affordable for Your Small Business

 In conclusion, your email marketing should reflect the same level of professionalism that exists in other areas of your business. And even if it doesn’t, your recipients will assume that it does. So do it well! Go get ‘em! About the Author

Post by: Ronald Kimmons

Ronald Kimmons is the founder of Veritas Mobile Solutions and Wingfire Social. He is fluent in Mandarin and skilled in Spanish, Portuguese, and Indonesian. His companies offer services in various aspects of digital marketing including social media management, SEO, email marketing, and custom mobile apps.

Company: Veritas Mobile Solutions
Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.

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By Bruce Hakutizwi

If you’ve ever watched ABC’s Shark Tank, you’ll know the Sharks are at their most vicious when the contestants pitching their business ideas don’t know their numbers. They’ll pounce when questions about basic metrics like revenue, profit margin, and cost of customer acquisition are met with feeble replies of “Ummm…” and “Well…”

Whether or not you ever plan to pitch a business to the Sharks, the show is a great learning experience. Watching a business owner’s funding disappear as one potential investor after another drops out teaches you that knowing a company’s key performance indicators (KPIs) can be the difference between success and failure.

Shark Tank is produced with extra theatrics for the sake of entertainment, but the Sharks’ mentality is—or should be—true to all investors, even you. If you’re considering buying or investing in a business, you need to place the same emphasis on critical KPIs that the Sharks do.

What are KPIs and why are they important?

KPIs are metrics used to gauge business success. These metrics are often used to track progress toward strategic and operational goals, and also to compare performance against the competition.

If a business has set goals for the next year, or the next five years, KPIs can help the company take a meaningful look at how to achieve those targets; they also promote accountability. Whether the KPIs are business wide or specific to a particular department, they can be used to encourage ownership of performance and recognize strong contributions.

RELATED: Should You Start Up or Buy Your New Business? 12 Pros and Cons

Which KPIs do you need to understand?

The list of KPIs is long and new ones get created every day. Some KPIs might be more applicable to some businesses or industries than others. Monthly active users, for example, is a valuable KPI for app developers and other tech companies, but isn’t particularly useful in other sectors. More general KPIs are applicable across industries; these include financial (sales) or nonfinancial (customer satisfaction).

Familiarizing yourself with the right KPIs will give you a leg up when evaluating your next acquisition or investment. Here are five vital KPIs you should always be aware of:

Customer acquisition cost. Your cost of customer acquisition is the amount of money you spend on sales and marketing in order to acquire a customer. This number indicates the efficiency of marketing efforts and is calculated by dividing total acquisition costs by the number of new customers over a specific period.

Costs vary by industry. A retailer might spend $10 to acquire a new customer, while a financial services company might spend as much as $200. Research acquisition cost averages for the industry of the business you’re interested in to find out if it is overspending. If the company you’re looking at is spending too much, consider the options of refining the marketing strategy and more efficiently allocating the budget.

Customer retention rate. Most businesses can’t survive on one-time sales. They need to retain customers who come back regularly for goods and services. A business with a high customer retention rate indicates a quality product and effective support that satisfies customers. On the other hand, a low retention rate (or conversely, high attrition) could indicate a need to take a closer look at the product line and/or the support services offered pre- and post-sale.

Profit margin. Profit margin indicates “markup,” or how much a product’s or service’s revenue exceeds its cost to the business. Since a business with low margins might be vulnerable to drops in sales or have poor market share, a low or shrinking profit margin might raise concern about long-term sustainability. Knowing a business’s profit margin vs. revenue is essential.

Overhead. Overhead refers to fixed expenses outside labor and production costs. Rent, utilities, and insurance are all examples of overhead expenses. When compared to overall revenue, overhead can indicate a company’s efficiency.

Employee turnover. Turnover isn’t necessarily something you’ll find on the balance sheet, but it’s a nonfinancial KPI that can indicate how well a business is run. High employee turnover could be a red flag that current management isn’t engaging staff or rewarding strong individual or company performance. If you’re considering a business with high turnover, it might be time to revamp employee policies.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive. As a business owner, there are other KPIs you should track that will help you track business performance and meet goals. This list does give you a starting point when evaluating a potential investment.

None of these KPIs should be deal breakers on their own, but taken together they can offer a snapshot of a business’s health. However, if a company has high customer acquisition costs, low retention rates, low margins, significant overhead, and high turnover, it might be a good idea to move on to the next prospect.

RELATED: Buying a Business? Follow These 4 Steps to Keep Valuable Employees on Board

About the Author

Post by: Bruce Hakutizwi

Bruce Hakutizwi is the U.S. and International Business Manager for Bruce is passionate about helping small businesses succeed, and regularly writes about managing growth, acquisitions, succession planning, and buying and selling businesses. Connect with him @BizforSaleUS.

Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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4 Ways to Improve Customer Convenience

The internet has introduced insane levels of competition to virtually every industry. And, as one could expect, higher levels of competition mean better service for customers. Ultimately, this widespread competition has conditioned customers to expect convenience. If you can’t provide this, they’ll go elsewhere.

Customers Crave Convenience

How much do you know about millennials? Maybe your children are millennials, or perhaps the kid in the cubicle next to you is one. They get a bad rap a lot of times, but much of the negativity surrounding them is based on misconceptions. They’re different than previous generations, but millennials aren’t all selfish and lazy. However, they do want one thing: convenience.

Millennials love their technology and have been brought up in a world where they have unlimited access to whatever they want. Everything is just a click or a download away. While you may not agree with this mentality, blame the environment – not the individual.

Millennials are not only becoming the majority in the workplace, but they’re also increasing their buying power in the marketplace. Starting this year, millennials are expected to spend more than $200 billion annually. Over their lifetimes, they’ll spend a collective $10 trillion.

So when you hear that millennials love convenience, your ears should perk up. This isn’t something to fight or run from. You need to prioritize convenience or close up shop.

4 Ways to Improve Customer Convenience

As you try to real millennials and win them over, you have to make things as easy on them as possible. Here are some different techniques you may find helpful.

1. Try the 1-2-3 Method

There’s power in the number three. People like to see things grouped in 1-2-3 fashion. The reason for this isn’t exactly clear, but it’s something that the world has accepted as “right” for a number of years.

Whether it’s The Jackson Five singing their hit song ABC (“It’s easy as one, two, three…), Christianity with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the three-act structure in screenwriting, or sayings like “blood, sweat, and tears,” the number three is pervasive in society.

If you want to make something convenient for your customers, try the 1-2-3 method. With this approach, you help customers understand a process or complete a transaction in just three steps. Here’s an example from The Clunker Junker. As you can see, they simplify the process of having a junk car removed into three parts: (1) accept the offer, (2) schedule the pickup, and (3) get paid.

Could you do something similar? For your business, it might look like turning a five-step checkout process into a three-step process. For another business, it may involve creating an online account in three stages. Whatever the case may be, there’s a chance for you to use the 1-2-3 method and make things easier on customers.

2. Be Reachable Via Multiple Touchpoints

From a customer’s perspective, there’s nothing more frustrating than needing assistance and not being able to get in touch with your business. If a customer has trouble finding contact information or can’t get a hold of you quickly, they’re going to lash out or run away.

Is your business reachable via multiple touchpoints? You may not have the resources to have a 1-800 line or fully staffed call center, but there’s no excuse in 2017 for not having a CRM system, email support, social media support, or even live chat support.

Here’s the key, though. You can’t just offer an additional checkpoint for the heck of it. It’s better to have a limited number of touchpoints that you regularly respond to than to have a bunch of different ones that you never pay attention to.

3. Do Research for the Customer

There’s a massive amount of information online and many customers are fatigued by the idea of doing their own research. The process of searching for information, filtering out the good from the bad, and then cross-referencing different sources is just too much. If you really want to make your brand convenient, you can do this research for them.

This could look like crunching a bunch of numbers and developing a free case study or report that looks at the effectiveness of different products in the industry. Even if these reports don’t always favor your products, at least you’re building trust with customers and positioning your brand as a resource.

Progressive is a perfect example. As you probably know from their extensive marketing campaigns, they let customers compare car insurance rates on their website in just minutes. Sometimes they have the best price, other times they don’t. But customers visit the site because of the convenience and many are more willing to do business with Progressive because of this tool.

4. Eliminate Friction at Checkout

If there’s one thing customers really hate, it’s getting to the point of checking out on an ecommerce site, only to discover that they have to jump through lots of different hoops to complete the transaction. You can make your ecommerce site more convenient by eliminating unnecessary friction at checkout.

The worst mistake you can make is requiring customers to register an account prior to completing a transaction. You can always make this optional at the end of the purchase, but mandatory registration on the front end is a massive conversion killer. If you really want to make a positive impression, one-click checkout is preferred.

Put the Customer’s Needs First

As important as it is to offer customers convenience, it’s equally important that you understand what convenience is not. Convenience doesn’t mean stepping back and automating everything. Millennials still want interaction – they just want seamless interaction.

“Don’t get it twisted- this generation’s affinity for technology is not a rejection of humanity.  To the contrary, millennials desire and expect deep connections with others,” says Tamar Frumkin of Salesforce. “They are social, collaborative, value diversity, share experiences and appearances with friends and expect brands to engage with them as peers.”

Now’s the time to start putting the needs of your customers first. They want personable convenience. If you can offer this, they’ll reward you in the form of brand loyalty.

Happy Customers Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "The Hidden Mystery Behind Happy Customers? Try These 4 Tips" was first published on Small Business Trends

What’s in a name? Well, quite a lot actually. Especially when it comes to your presence on the web. Having the right domain name – as WestHost explains here – is often key to people being able to find your website in the first place and, let’s face it, if they can’t find your site then little else from there on really matters does it?

The problem is that global internet usage has continued to rise, narrowing the pool when it comes to .com and web addresses. There are, after all, only so many different words and combinations of words in the English language to play with and there’s a whole planet of people and businesses eagerly looking to snap their name up.

Chances are, if it’s a ‘proper’ word or a surname, it’s already taken. That’s the stage we’ve already reached.

This isn’t just a problem for start-ups either, some fairly big names have fallen foul of this and been thwarted in their bid to have the domain name they want.

Quartz points out, for example, that:

  • Google doesn’t own – the ideal site for its parent company – as BMW has this domain.
  • The website belongs to an Australian mining company and not the popular Microsoft game of the same name.
  • It took Apple 16 years to be able to get its hands on – a domain previously owned by a British company.

Domain names are dished out on a first come first served basis, so if you’re late to the party you have to accept that you have missed out – or pay a tidy sum.

Barring an ever-elaborate formation of words or phrases there’s one other clear solution to this – broaden the spectrum beyond .com and to different domains.

That is precisely what happen when, in 2014, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) introduced a new series of generic top-level domain names (gTLDs). While this paved the way for domains such as .club it has also opened up the chance for a company to create branded URLs.

BMW, Sky, Barclays and Google were among the first big firms to take up this chance for a .brand address. By putting their brand name to the ‘right of the dot’, business are able to take command of everything to the left, solving any web address headaches they might have had. New opportunities for this are opening up all of the time and the $185,000 registration cost does little to put off the sorts of big names outlined above.

It does, however, clearly put off small businesses who are starting out on their journey. While they can hope to benefit from having big players move out of the ever-shrinking space they’re competing for, they do still need to be aware of the fact that we are running out of .com and domain names and that they are going to have to think long and hard to find a title that is still memorable, relevant and user-friendly and not already taken. The rise of new domains might well open up opportunities for people in this space in the short to medium term and clear the bottleneck that, for now at least, exists.

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Mobile applications allow you to improve consumer experience, strengthen technology infrastructure and implement cutting-edge technologies to grow the customer base. Some of the general facts about mobile apps are in this post.
16 Vote(s)

Shyp courier

Shyp, the four-year-old VC-backed startup that wants to reinvent shipping, is significantly scaling back its operations and laying off employees to "focus on achieving profitability."

Shyp will offer its service only in San Francisco, and will no longer operate in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, the company said in an email to customers on Thursday. In a blog post announcing the changes, CEO Kevin Gibbon noted that "the market for venture financing has changed and there is now a higher bar for profitability."

With $62 million in funding from firms like Kleiner Perkins and Sherpa Ventures, Shyp operates with an app that can summon a courier to your front door, pick up whatever you want to mail, package it, and charge a fee to send it on its way for you.

To achieve profitability, Shyp will primarily focus on small business customers and "high volume shippers." The app already integrates with eBay.

"Knowing what we know now, there’s no question we’d do some things differently," Gibbon wrote on Thursday. "We would have built profitability in from the beginning. And shifted to serve business customers sooner. In a business that requires significant investment to grow physical operations across multiple cities, we would have focused on achieving success in one market before expanding into others."

A Shyp spokesperson declined to say how many employees were being laid off and said the company is currently seeking another round of fundraising. "The plan is to scale back, focus on achieving profitability in the San Francisco market, and then build from there," the spokesperson said.

SEE ALSO: Amazon shipped broken TVs to some people who bought its best TV deal on Prime Day

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NOW WATCH: Here are the best places to sell your old iPhones and other gadgets

New Samsung Pay PayPal Deal Should Make it Easier to Take Payments

Samsung Pay will now work with PayPal (NASDAQ:PYPL) wherever it’s accepted. Since Samsung Pay works with traditional card readers, that list includes basically all businesses that accept credit cards.

Inside the Samsung Pay PayPal Deal

So what exactly does this mean for small businesses? In essence, this move makes it easier for businesses that accept card payments in stores to get paid.

Consider this: PayPal currently has more than 200 million active users. And many of those people have PayPal balances that until now would have required transfers, gift cards or similar maneuvers in order for people to actually spend that money in stores. Now, they can simply use their Samsung Pay app to pay directly from their PayPal balance to your business.

Of course, users will also have to have a Samsung (KRX:005930) device like a Galaxy smartphone or Gear smartwatch in order to use the payment platform. But it doesn’t require your business to add any extra equipment aside from a traditional card reader.

So while this move may not require any action on your part, it simply gives customers more options when it comes to payments. And that could make them more likely to actually make purchases when visiting your business — which is always a great outcome.

PayPal Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "New PayPal Samsung Deal Should Make it Easier to Take Payments" was first published on Small Business Trends

The Importance of Clear Goals

Goals are good. We should all have someplace we are heading. In small business, sharing our goals is critical to their success. We need everyone around us to know and understand what we are trying to achieve. We also need to be careful what goal we telegraph to others.

Once again, the US Federal Government gives us a great example of how treacherous goals can be. For the past eight years, the Republicans have shared their goal of repealing and replacing the ACA. Somewhere in there is probably the goal of improving the cost of and access to health care in the United States. And that’s probably a good goal. Even the Democrats will say that there are things that need to be fixed with the current system.

However, based on what is being done and said, it appears the real goal is to undo one of President Obama’s programs. Those are different goals. When the language and focus is on dismantling a current program, there is no energy around fixing the problem. They are struggling to realize the goal of improving the cost of and access to health care. You know why? Because that’s not the goal they are really working toward. All of the energy and conversation is around repeal and replace, not solve. So, that’s what people are working on — the wrong goal.

People follow where you lead them. And if they find the place you are going either doesn’t resonate with their values, or is not possible to achieve, they tune out. Their effort is less than enthusiastic.

I am not here to agree or disagree with their desire to repeal and replace. I am positing that when this is truly the goal, what’s best for the organization, or in this case, the citizens, will not necessarily be realized.

What is the true goal? Is it a better health care system? Or undoing a program? From everything the leaders are talking about and acting upon, I believe it is undoing.

This happens all the time in business. A leader will say the goal is one thing but their focus will be on something else. For example, the sales manager can say the goal is to increase revenue. However, if that same sales manager insists the sales staff behave in a specific way to reach that goal, she has effectively changed the goal. Now the actual goal is doing things her way. If the actual goal is to increase revenue, that should be the focus. How the sales staff achieves that goal is up to them.

The Importance of Clear Goals

It’s important that we make sure we are really focusing on the core goal. That’s the only way others can follow us and help us achieve that goal. The first step is to ask yourself what outcome you want. What does success look like? In business, the answer should be something that equates to the business being successful; a better bottom line.

Once you know the outcome you are hoping to achieve, every decision should point there. The leader doesn’t have to be the person with all the answers. His responsibility is to convene conversation and exploration. When the leader pulls a team together and they work to identify the best way to accomplish the core goal, decisions are made with the best interest of the company in mind.

Goals are bigger than egos. They are bigger than individuals. They are bigger than acclaim. Goals are also treacherous. They can easily be displaced by artificial, personal goals that only get in the way of the success of the business. Keeping an eye on what really matters, and where you really want to go, can keep your goals in check. And this will help you grow your business — which is the ultimate goal.

Dart board Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "The Treachery Of Goals" was first published on Small Business Trends

By Veronica Hanks

Every new business might not qualify for a line of credit from a bank; you would possibly get achievement in acquiring a one-time short time period loan (less than a year) to finance your brief operating capital needs. If you have established a good banking relationship with a banker, she or he might be inclined to provide a quick-time period observe for one order or for a seasonal stock and/or debts receivable buildup. But in most cases, small business owners in order to meet their sudden cash needs apply for a short term loan from potential business money lenders.

In order to stay on the safe side, every start-up must need to keep some emergency cash reserve. It’s because anytime the start-up may run out of cash thereby delaying some important operation of your venture. It might get risky if you do not resort to short-term loan immediately as any delay can hamper your progress of the business.

Few Crucial Points That Can Save You From Any Hassle While Applying for Short Term Loans
  1. Reasonable interest rates : The first vital thing that you must look out. As a majority of these cash service are very high to maintain. Before getting short term loan you must go through the policy of the investment lender’s policy.
  2. Flexibility of the loan : The next major part that you should see if you are searching out for quick cash to restore your start-up. You need to confirm if your lender is flexible with the scheme of payment. Any extra unnecessary fees should be avoided. If you do choose to pursue one of these loans or advances, the most important step is to calculate your daily payment to the lender. These payments will come out of your checking account daily for the life of the loan. Think long and hard if you will be able to handle these cash withdrawals.
  3. Daily payment : Think about the daily payment that you need to handle while you are in the bindings of short term loans. You will have to withdraw cash to meet the daily payments to the lenders.
  4. Long duration : It is always better if you borrow your loan for the long duration that will fetch you more income in the long run. Although short term loans are a quick fix to your sudden cash needs.

These short term loans are easy to apply, can be repaid in many investments and they are quite affordable rather than the hassle you have to put up with a bank loan transaction.

Working capital is the economic principles for the small enterprise owner. Every time every new venture needs loads of capital support to run the operation smoothly, yet low fund will not work. To get more out of your start-up, constant investment is necessary.

And it is of utmost importance to meet the needs and understand your possible reason to get a short term loan. In a case of a bank loan, you might have to go through a long procedure and long delays mean more risk to your start-up.

On the other hand, short term loan providers are easy to avail. You can even apply online and see the different plans too. And you don’t need to have a perfect credit history for applying for short term loans.

Once the loan is approved all you need to do is check your bank account. This is the foremost reason for having more number of people applying for short term loans through various lenders. For financial emergency, these options are like the savior. Only you need to go through the various terms and conditions, discuss and talk your short term loan company before applying. The speed of the whole process is swift and a start-up does not have to suffer too.

Veronica Hanks is a tech savvy girl who loves to explore and implement the power of business applications and software. She is currently working as a senior business analyst and lives in NYC. Besides being a tech addict, she is also as avid traveler and love to share lifestyle blog.








The post 4 Points Every Startup Must Check Before Applying for a Short Term Business Loan Online appeared first on Small Biz Daily.

10 Hair Salon Franchise Options to Consider Besides Supercuts

If you’re interested in starting a hair salon franchise, there are plenty of options to choose from. Supercuts is an obvious choice. But there are other big names you might be familiar with, including those that cater to men, women, children and the whole family. Here at 10 hair salon franchises to consider.

Hair Salon Franchise Options to Consider Great Clips

10 Hair Salon Franchise Options to Consider Besides Supercuts - Great Clips

Great Clips is a nationwide franchise that also has locations in Canada. There are currently available territories in several states, especially on the coasts. And the initial franchise fee is $20,000.

Fantastic Sams

10 Hair Salon Franchise Options to Consider Besides Supercuts - Fantastic Sams

Fantastic Sams is aiming to create a new type of salon experience by combining the barbershop and full service salon. The company requires franchisees to have at least $70,000 in liquid capital for one salon. And it does offer a Preferred Lending Program.

Sport Clips

10 Hair Salon Franchise Options to Consider Besides Supercuts - Sport Clips

Sport Clips is a men’s hair cutting franchise with a presence in all 50 states. The company provides training and support and offers relatively low startup costs depending on your location and size of the franchise.

Salons by JC

10 Hair Salon Franchise Options to Consider Besides Supercuts - Salons by JC

Salons by JC features a franchise concept that offers hair care as well as services for nails, skin care, cosmetics and more. The company is growing quickly and offers an extensive training program to go along with the name recognition you can get by franchising.

Cost Cutters

10 Hair Salon Franchise Options to Consider Besides Supercuts - Cost Cutters

Cost Cutters is a family hair cutting franchise that is part of the Regis Family of Brands. The initial business investment ranges from $88,500 to $180,100.

Cool Cuts 4 Kids

10 Hair Salon Franchise Options to Consider Besides Supercuts - Cool Cuts 4 Kids

Cool Cuts 4 Kids is the largest hair care chain specifically for kids. The company is currently looking for franchisees interested in opening at least three units. And the initial investment ranges from $107,998 to $189,030.


10 Hair Salon Franchise Options to Consider Besides Supercuts - Snip-its

Snip-its is another salon franchise created specifically for kids. The initial franchise fee is $35,000. And there are also startup fees associated with things like building, equipment and advertising.

Pro Cuts

10 Hair Salon Franchise Options to Consider Besides Supercuts - Pro Cuts

Pro Cuts is a hair salon franchise aimed at men and boys who love sports. The company currently has more than 30 themed locations and requires a minimum of $150,000 in liquid assets for new franchisees.

American Haircuts

10 Hair Salon Franchise Options to Consider Besides Supercuts - American Haircuts

American Haircuts offers men’s haircuts and grooming products in an updated barber shop setting. The initial franchise fee is $30,000, with a total upfront investment of $182,000 to $244,000.

Roosters Men’s Grooming Centers

10 Hair Salon Franchise Options to Consider Besides Supercuts - Roosters Men’s Grooming Centers

Roosters is a men’s grooming franchise that’s been in operation since 1999. The company is currently accepting new franchisees for both single and multi-unit investments. And the initial business investment ranges from $173,750 to $303,350.

Haircut Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "10 Hair Salon Franchises to Outdo Supercuts" was first published on Small Business Trends

A 10 Step Free Twitter Marketing Strategy That Doesn’t Cost a Dime

Twitter may be free to use, but the platform definitely requires time to leverage correctly. Using Twitter to market your brand also requires a strategy. Start by building an organic following on Twitter with these 10 steps.

Free Twitter Marketing Strategy Use Your Real Name in Your Profile

If you put all the other pieces of a Twitter marketing strategy together properly, prospects will be interested in you. Success rests on having a completed profile that’s authentic. Use your real name and a real picture. If you’re looking to get creative, you can adopt a customized background. Remember to add a bio and website info too.

Get Verified

The blue badge gives your account the creds it needs to sell goods and services by telling visitors you’re authentic. Submit a request by filling out a form. You’ll need a phone number and verified email address as well as some other information you can find here.

Add Video

Seeing is believing. Besides, video helps you to engage with prospects and returning customers alike. Download the app that allows you to record, edit and share videos. Remember, videos don’t count toward your 140 character limit. You’ll also get an automatic loop for anything 6.5 seconds or shorter.

Use Twitter Chats

Engagement is the name-of-the-game and the best way to grow your Twitter following organically. Twitter Chats are effective. Why? Because they draw in users who interact. Those are the very people that retweet and spread the word about the goods and services you sell. Here’s some free Twitter chat tools.

Create A Post Schedule

It’s  good to have lots of ideas for compelling tweets. Better if you’ve got the time and ability to put them all into 140 characters and best if you schedule them to release incrementally. Scheduled tweets can be added  to existing campaigns and even organized for up to one year in advance.

Create Twitter Moments

You need to have a loyal following to to sell stuff and that’s just what this feature can do for you. These are current and relevant topics all corralled into one place. Create one of your own via the web, or through iOS and/or Android.

Take Advantage of Direct Messages

Following up is important when you’re looking to turn a prospect into a client. This private conversation feature allows for a personalized engagement touch. You can also receive and send them on your phone via SMS. There’s even a way to create a deep link to take public conversations private.

Put Together a Twitter Team

Use this feature via TweetDeck and you can have multiple people sharing one account. Perfect for the team with members on the road who still want to participate. Add up to 200 marketing team members but be sure to coordinate the image you want to show to the world.

Use Advanced Search

Chances are, when you’re running a small business, time is of the essence for everything you do. Using Advanced Search helps your marketing efforts by funneling searches to specific people, dates and more. It’s an important tool to see engagement patterns and trends so you can make the right decisions.


There’s no substitute for having the dedication to practice good customer service even in cyberspace. If you’re going to take the time to use Twitter for marketing, you need to be all in. That means responding to the Tweets your clients send you and to each and every query from prospects too.

Twitter Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "10 Steps to Building an Organic Following on Twitter" was first published on Small Business Trends

Small Business Analysts in High Demand

In today’s small business world, the person who keeps track of the numbers may be less important than the person who can tell you what those numbers mean.

New data from the jobs site reveals that among the top 10 in-demand finance jobs, not a one is an accountant. The number one, most in-demand job wanted by small businesses is business analyst.

Small Business Analysts in High Demand

In fact, half of this top-10 list from Indeed is filled with analyst jobs. It shows that small businesses don’t need help counting the beans; they need help analyzing those beans to figure out how they can help the company’s future.

After Business Analyst in the top spot, the most in-demand small business job in this sector, Data Analyst comes in third. Systems Analyst, Business Systems Analyst, and Senior Business Analyst finished seventh, eight and ninth on the list from Indeed, respectively.

“It is interesting that we are seeing business analysts rise to the top of this list, as small businesses have traditionally relied on accountants in their growth phase,” said Indeed SVP of HR, Paul Wolfe. “The healthy economy brings a need for companies to know where their business is thriving financially (or not) to help make decisions for the future.”

The use of cloud services and small business automation technology has been a boon for small businesses. Tasks that typically required at least one employee — like accounting — can now be handled by an app or other online platform in most instances. But the numbers that those platforms produce still need interpretation.

Small business owners want to know what these numbers mean and how to react to them.

Even the jobs without Analyst in the title are more inclined to give a perspective on numbers.

To create the list, Indeed analyzed postings for finance job titles in the small business sector over the last year. Small businesses were defined as those with less than 200 employees in Indeed’s nalysis.


This article, "Analysts, Not Accountants, Are Most Sought After for Small Business Finance" was first published on Small Business Trends

Top 10 Sites for Chinese Social Media Marketing

With the emergence of TMall and Alibaba’s Taobao Global U.S. Merchants Network to connect U.S. small businesses with Chinese consumers, domestic small businesses now also need to look at how they can reach those customers using social media.

Sites for Chinese Social Media Marketing

The Chinese have created their own social networks, just like Facebook and Twitter  — some with millions of users. This is why every small business that wants to sell its products in China needs to pay attention to these sites.


WeChat, also known as Weixin in Chinese, started as a messenger app with NewsFeed features, but has grown to include a multitude of other utilities. WeChat includes a Moments page, which is more or less like a Facebook Wall where users can update their status by posting videos, text, photos or articles. Users can also use the platform to order movie tickets and taxi service.

Sina Weibo

“Weibo” is the Chinese word for “microblog”. This platform is like a Chinese hybrid of Twitter and Facebook used by more than 22 percent of China’s internet users. Like Twitter, Sina Weibo’s content flows very fast and yet it is still easy to find the most discussed topics on Weibo and use them in your marketing strategy. In addition to publishing long articles with images or short posts, hyperlinks or videos, Weibo users can also repost, comment, search and send messages on trending topics.


Founded in 2003, Youku is more similar to YouTube, the one big difference being it contains more professionally created videos as opposed to the more user generated content of YouTube. The site is now one of China’s top online video and streaming platforms.

Miaopai and Yizhibo

Live streaming and short video sharing has also become a popular trend in China. Short videos are a favorite because they are easy to share without the need for huge memory or bandwidth. Live streaming has also caught on in China and is experiencing unprecedented growth.

The two popular mobile apps Miaopai and Yizhibo (for short video sharing and live streaming respectively) have both partnered with Sina Weibo, allowing users to view videos directly on Weibo, and thus increasing their exposure and popularity.


It is hard to compare Douban with the western social media platforms as it is more of an interest-oriented social networking platform and a mishmash of Spotify, SoundCloud, Imdb and MySpace. Users can book movie tickets, download ebooks, discuss books, music, movies and events. And overall, users connect with one another based on similar interests and tastes.


DianPing operates more or less the same way as Yelp, allowing users to review restaurants. However, it is important to note that this website takes ratings to a granular level, allowing users to vote for their favorite dishes at a restaurant.


The platform operates much like Facebook. Launched in 2005, it largely grew popular after Facebook became censored in China. The platform even uses similar colors and designs to the orginal Facebook. However, Renren is no longer as popular as Weibo or WeChat due to its failure to anticipate the switch to mobile.

Tencent Weibo

Tencent Weibo is similar to Sina Weibo in terms of demographics and to Twitter in terms of functionality. Users can share videos, photos and text within the 140 character limit. The platform also boasts a reposting function that works just like Twitter’s retweet function.


PengYou, which basically means “friend”, is another creation of the company responsible for Tencent Weibo. The “Facebook-like” site utilizes real names and emphasizes real friendships. The platform features a social area as well as a corporate outreach section that businesses can use to engage with their customers.


This platform can best be looked as the “Tumblr of China.” Diandian looks and feels like Tumblr and is generally described as the “perfect Chinese Tumblr clone.”

Chinese Flag Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Top 10 Social Media Sites to Connect with Chinese Consumers" was first published on Small Business Trends

Out, Darn Typos! Tips for Editing Blog Posts
Writing, whether it’s for blogs, social media posts, web copy, marketing messages, presentations, etc., has become part of a small business owner’s responsibilities these days. As a journalist of many years, I don’t think that’s quite fair—but it’s reality.

Bad or sloppy writing, filled with typos, reflects badly on your business. That’s why it’s imperative you edit your work, before posting it.

Tips for Editing Blog Posts

At the recent Unbounce Conference in Vancouver, Canada, Lianna Patch, the Director at Snap, shared her best editing tips. You can find Patch on Twitter @punchlinecopy.

1. Don’t hit send before you edit. Many of you will want to get through the writing and editing process quickly, but that will just result in typos and other errors. “Editing,” Patch says, “is like grooming—you can do it badly.” As the legendary Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is [crap]”—so make sure you take the time to carefully edit your work.
2. What to look for. Patch says there are three questions you need to ask yourself as you start to edit.

  1. Are there jumps in logic or breaks in flow? Don’t expect the readers to fill in the blanks. If your copy isn’t flowing well, they’ll just stop reading.
  2. Is this the way my reader understands and speaks about this topic? You are not writing for you or your friends. You want to write in the language your reader speaks, whether that’s formal or more casual and chatty. Use words and phrases that are common in your industry, but don’t use too much jargon. Your writing should sound authentic, showcasing your expertise, but remember, this is not about you.
  3. Do I need to eat something? While this sounds trivial, I agree with Patch. If you’re hungry, thirsty, tired or otherwise distracted, you will inevitably struggle with your words.

3. The Inverted Pyramid. Patch recommends you tackle editing in four parts, and she adds, don’t try to edit all levels at the same time. Her pyramid:

  • Structure. When you’re editing the structure of your work, you’re looking for gaps in logic. Does the overall piece make sense? Are you asking your readers to take step 3 before you’ve explained step 2 to them? Look at the finished copy, Patch says, and ask yourself what points you made? Are they the ones you set out to make? Is anything missing? When you edit for structure, you’re looking at the big picture, and you’ll be able to recognize where the flow is off, or whether you’ve omitted anything relevant. Don’t overstuff your blog—you don’t have to tell them everything all at once.
  • Paragraphs. Now, go back to your work and make sure your paragraphs have smooth transitions, with simple transition sentences. Patch says it’s important to “format for easier readability,” using subheads and bold type to break up big paragraphs.
  • Sentences. Sometimes, Patch says, sentences aren’t doing enough work. Are your sentences clear? Other times, sentences may be doing too much work. Do you have sentences that over-explain or simply don’t need to be there? Are there run-on sentences (you can recognize these by the appearance of too many commas)? Be aware of how many times you use the words “if” or “while” in a sentence. Use a variety of sentence lengths. Patch cites research showing varying the length of sentences increases reader comprehension and keeps people reading. She recommends using which shows you how readable your words are.
  • Words. Avoid “danger words.” These are the words readers don’t understand the same way you do. Don’t use jargon or buzzwords. And stay away from generalities—be as specific as possible in your choice of words.

4. General editing tips. Patch recommends you:

  • Edit your own work.
  • Edit later in the day. Research shows we humans are more creative in the morning (so do you writing then) and more analytical in the afternoon.
  • Give your brain a break. Get up, stretch, walk around.
  • Change the font and the text size of the work you’re editing. She says this makes it easier to spot typos, and recommends you blow up the type to at least 16.
  • Print it out and look at it. This too, makes it easier to spot problems.
  • Read the piece out loud. This is one of my favorite writing/editing tips—it helps you spot “danger words” and typos.

Typing Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Out, Darn Typos! Tips for Editing Your Blog Posts" was first published on Small Business Trends

The Small Business Impact of Mobile Wallets

A mobile wallet is a virtual wallet that stores financial information and card data on a mobile device. These wallets can be used as a convenient way for a user to make in-store and online payments. In an increasingly tech savvy era, we can expect to see the majority of payments moving towards cashless transactions. Using mobile technology, companies and their consumers are adapting to emergent ways of conducting offline and online transactions using digital payment methods like the mobile wallet.

The Small Business Impact of Mobile Wallets Potential for Mobile Wallet Payments

The potential for mobile payments is huge and it lies in the hands of the millennials. In fact, its estimated that eight out of ten millennials reported that they shop and pay their bills online via a mobile phone. More recently, a study found that 32 percent of millennials envision a completely cashless society where currency will no longer be necessary for transactions. In addition to millennials, international mobile payments usage is increasing due to consumers moving away from financial institutions. Here’s the number of mobile payment users by region in 2016:

  • Asia/Pacific: 163.6 million
  • Africa: 101.3 million
  • North America: 90.7 million
  • Europe: 64 million
  • Latin America: 22.3 million
  • Middle East: 6 million

The number of users in each region has been steadily increasing year over year as many of the top payments companies and online payments platforms provide a plethora of mobile payment options. As we see this trend continue, we can expect to see more stores both online and offline adopting digital payment technology. This allows them to broadens their payment acceptance for methods like mobile wallets.

Advantages of Mobile Wallets

A mobile wallet can be used for many things. Typically they are used for in-store and online payments, managing credit and debit cards, and storing financial data. Mobile wallets put up a guard against fraudulent activity and are much harder to access than a physical credit card (for obvious reasons). Mobile wallets also use encrypted keys which essentially makes your financial information indecipherable to a fraudster. Here are some more advantages:

Advantages for Merchants

Advantages for Consumers

  • Convenient tap-to-pay purchases which makes for an expedited shopping experience
  • Unified payment method for both online and offline purchases and more merchants adopt this technology
  • Automatic redemption offers for offers and coupons
  • Wallet that can be remotely locked
The Future of Mobile Wallets

We can expect to see mobile wallets become an increasingly popular payment method in the years to come. Millennials along with a few other factors will be the driving force behind the shift towards a completely digital economy. Here are a few of those reasons:

  • It’s cheaper for governments since it’s expensive to produce and regulate physical currency
  • Crime will be reduced since it’s much more difficult to steal and access digital currency
  • Payments will occur almost instantaneously, no matter where you’re geographically located
  • We may be able to adopt “global” currency’s with the introduction of cryptocurrency’s like Bitcoin making currency exchanges a thing of the past

Whether we like it or not, the mobile and digital wallet revolution is upon us. Whether you’re a merchant or consumer, it’s time to jump on board and educate your self about the awesome perks of mobile wallets.

The Small Business Impact of Mobile Wallets

Republished by permission. Original here.


This article, "Little Known Facts About Mobile Wallet Impact – and Why They Matter (Infographic)" was first published on Small Business Trends

If the recent cyber attacks have taught us anything, it is that most people are dangerously unprepared for them. Cyber security should be at the forefront of virtually every industry yet it is often treated as an afterthought. Small businesses are in a particularly disadvantaged position. Even so, many are unaware of the dangers they are already facing. The truth is that an estimated 43 percent of cyber-attacks target small businesses, so there are many lessons to be learnt here. 1.Attacks are random and unpredictable Cyber-attacks cannot really be predicted, unless we are talking about very specific targets which constantly…

This story continues at The Next Web

Receipt Bank

LONDON — Accountancy software startup Receipt Bank has raised $50 million (£38.4 million) in a Series B funding round led by a New York venture capital firm.

Insight Venture Partners led the investment, one of the biggest deals in UK fintech since Brexit.

Receipt Bank, launched in 2010, is a bookkeeping service aimed at small businesses. It was the first software company to automatically process information from uploaded images of receipts and invoices, cutting down the time lost to manually sorting them. Businesses also have the option to send push notifications to clients' phones to remind them to submit invoices and receipts.

Receipt Bank is used by more than 5,000 accounting and bookkeeping firms and over 100,000 of their small business clients, the company says. The company plans to hire 40 new UK-based staff as a result of the funding.

"Bookkeeping is at a pivotal point as automation technologies and artificial intelligence are bringing it out of the back office," Alexis Prenn, CEO of Receipt Bank, said in a statement. "With Receipt Bank, bookkeeping moves from a cost to a source of income — becoming the enabler of effective reporting, payments, lending and other value-added services.

"This investment will enable us to further develop our proprietary technologies and bring these services to even more leading accounting and bookkeeping firms and their small business clients," he said.

The company joins the cohort of UK fintech startups that have recently secured funding, including Soldo, TideCurve, and Revolut. It follows a slowdown in funding in the second half of 2016 and fears that Brexit could have hampered activity.

Brad Twohig, Managing Director at Insight Venture Partners, said the firm was attracted by Receipt Bank's use of artificial intelligence in its product to read receipts.

Twohig says in a statement: "Artificial intelligence has become a clear disruptor in several industries, including financial services. Receipt Bank is an industry-leader in using emerging technology to drive core functions forward."

The funding adds to the $15 million (£11.5 million) previously raised by the company and will allow it to develop new features and expand. Last year the company passed $10 million (£7.7 million) in annual recurring revenue and is growing at 100% every year, the company said on Thursday.

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NOW WATCH: Warren Buffett lives in a modest house that's worth .001% of his total wealth — here's what it looks like

A growing number of small-business owners, some with personal experience with eczema, are offering therapy garments and soft clothing.

At a news conference at Amazon’s headquarters, Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon praised the company — which has made a big business out of letting independent merchants sell on its website — as an enabler of entrepreneurship.

small business marketing

Just because you’re rocking the small business life doesn’t mean you can’t steal a few marketing tactics from the big guys. We’ve scoped out the top marketing trends big brands are paying attention to right now, with ideas for how to make them your own.

Here are 5 ways to give your small business a boost:

1. Create content people love

Content marketing, or inbound marketing, is all about offering something useful to your audience (like informative blog posts, videos, free eBooks, social media posts, podcasts, etc.) without the immediate expectation that they’ll buy. It helps establish brand authority, invites engagement from potential customers and clients, and expands your audience.

It’s why Equinox launched the digital magazine  Furthermore , Patagonia shares environmental stories on The Cleanest Line , and SoulCycle curates  Spotify playlists .

Big companies have entire marketing divisions dedicated to creating and curating content. But you can start small—perhaps, by setting up a WordPress blog or Medium account and posting a couple monthly articles—and slowly invest more time and energy as your business grows.

Where to start? Think of something your customers ask about a lot, and share your expertise. A bike shop might post about finding the perfect bicycle for your height, a personal trainer might create a free eBook full of healthy breakfast ideas, and a consultant might create a series of quick videos around her area of expertise.

Not sure what your customers are asking about? Visit Quora and type in a few terms that relate to your business and see what the top questions are. Create a blog post with your own answers. To take it a step further, post the link to your blog post as an answer to the original Quora question and watch the web traffic roll in.


2.  Stand for something

People want to buy what they believe in. That’s especially true today: customers are more likely to support businesses that in turn support the causes they care about. Take TOMS as one example: their One for One program turns every purchase into an opportunity to help a person in need, whether it’s providing shoes or improving access to water. Starbucks has pledged to hire  veterans and military spouses (and more recently, refugees ), and Lyft is letting riders round up their fares for charity . These initiatives aren’t just good corporate citizenship: they’re good for business, too.

Your small business can get into the same spirit. Think of the causes that are important to you, your customers, and your community. How can you help them thrive? You may not have a Starbucks-sized budget, but you could make an annual donation on behalf of your customers, show up to help at local events, or offer free services to those in need.


3. Collaborate with influencers

Big brands are collaborating with social media influencers on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat to tap into existing communities of followers. It’s how Naked Juice  gets exposure to lifestyle blogger Kate La Vie ’s 200K+ followers and Amino Vital reaches the Holderness Family’s 210K+ YouTube subscribers.

While these collaborations can cost thousands per post or video, small businesses can still get in the game by working with “micro-influencers” who often charge less than $250 per branded post. These micro-influencers still have impressive engagement but their mentions are more affordable.

To start working with them, you can do a search with tools like Buzzsumo . Just type in some key terms that relate to your business. For example, if you own a web development business, you could type in “Web Development Trends” to find a relevant article. Then click “View Sharers” (you nee to pay for this feature) to uncover the sharers with the biggest social followers. From there you can reach out in an email or direct message and ask the influencer if they would be interested in collaborating. 


4. Experiment with mobile video and live-streaming

Video is taking over newsfeeds everywhere, and most of it is mobile. In fact, mobile is now eclipsing desktop views for the first time and live-streaming is becoming particularly popular. If you’re not prioritizing video over image and text-based content, you may be missing out: video leads to than images and text combined. It’s why Tough Mudder has been live-streaming training events and Dunkin Donuts has been showing off its “test kitchen” , demonstrating in real time how they create new treats.

Can you think of fresh ways to add mobile video or live-streaming to your marketing mix? How about giving a “behind the scenes” glimpse into your workspace, sharing quick product tips and inspiration, or live-streaming from an event you’re hosting (or attending)? It’s worth taking a couple minutes to brainstorm how you could use services like Facebook Live to get creative and get in front of customers in real time.

Often, we hear from small businesses that they just don’t have the funds to invest in camera and editing equipment. But these days, most people are walking around with all the camera and editing equipment they need in the pocket of their pants—it’s called a smart phone. And tons of major brands got their start with video just by using a phone. Once you’ve validated the marketing channel, you can invest in the fancy equipment.


5. Make it personal

Big brands have been segmenting audiences—and personalizing content for them—for a long time. But the tools available to small businesses make it just as easy for you to do the same. One easy way to segment out your clients is through your newsletter lists, and that’s simple to set up with services like MailChimp . Segmentation works because it gives your clients and customers exactly what they want to see: content that feels personalized specifically to them and what they care about.

As a simple example, let’s say you’re a personal trainer. You might break clients down into two categories: those who want to lose weight quickly, and those who are training for endurance events. Obviously these are two very different groups with different needs, so you’d want to separate out the content they receive from you. Take a look at your current client base and think about the different “groups” they fall into. Could you segment them out to create a more personalized experience? Tailoring content to your customers’ preferences shows that you care about them and their needs, and that reflects well on your business.

The post Use These Big Marketing Ideas to Attract Customers to Your Small Business appeared first on PaySimple Blog.

5 Ecommerce Customer Service Ideas

Since shopping online implies there is no personal interaction with a sales person, many customers grow frustrated if they encounter issues with the website or an order. To make matters worse, lots of online businesses fail when it comes to customer service by offering slow, delayed responses — or not offering them at all. Poor customer service can drive customers away faster than anything else. In fact, 3 out of 5 customers have not completed a purchase due to poor service.

eCommerce Customer Service Ideas

Providing stellar customer service with your e-commerce business can do wonders to make your company stand out amongst the competition. This process is not always simple, but it can mean a world of difference when it comes to sales. Here are 5 ecommerce customer service ideas to consider.

1. Have an Easy-to-Understand Return Policy

One major concern many online customers have is the hassle of returning a product. Since anywhere from 15-30% of online purchases are returned, having a clear return policy for your online business is extremely important. Writing out detailed instructions, of which are listed multiple times on your site or in emails, assures customers they can purchase with confidence.

Be sure to clearly state if you provide a full refund, partial refund, or offer store credit. You may also want to consider extending your return window, or even offering a lifetime guarantee. Offering easy and free returns influences 68% of online purchases, so you want to make the entire process as simple as possible for your customers.

Purple, an online mattress company, offers an excellent example of a well-defined return system. Their site lists out details for each product, from bed sheets to mattresses, and clearly states which returns will be refunded and which will not. If customers have further questions or concerns, Purple also includes their return department’s email address and phone number so customers can contact a customer service representative directly.

5 Ecommerce Customer Service Ideas - Have an Easy-to-Understand Return Policy

2. Personalize Each Experience

Online customers crave a more personalized buying experience. In fact, over 70% of American consumers expect personalization from online businesses. Personalization can include offering customers personal shopping account logins that record past purchases, shipping addresses, and suggest related items for their next order. One easy way to offer some personalization is by using marketing automation to send out triggered emails with special offers tailored the past shopping behavior of each customer.

Personalized shopping can take many forms. Don’t be afraid to get creative with it. More importantly, use personalization to address customer concerns in shopping online vs. at a physical store near them. For example, Bluestone, an online jewelry company, found a unique way to bring their brand experience to the next level. Customers can set up an appointment online and a consultant will come directly to their homes, allowing them to try on the jewelry in the comfort of their own home.

5 Ecommerce Customer Service Ideas - Personalize Each Experience

This “try before you buy” service gives customers some peace of mind (especially before making an expensive purchase) as well as provides a personalized shopping experience by allowing the customer to choose which pieces to view. The company even offers a “design your own” feature for rings, earrings, and necklaces – providing a truly personal experience for each customer.

3. Ask for Feedback

As the great musician Stevie Wonder once said, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Customers are not very likely to leave a review, especially a positive one, if you do not ask. Sending out a follow-up email asking customers to rate their experience or to write a short review increases the likelihood they will leave feedback. Make sure you include their comments on your site or social media; as customer reviews play a major role in purchase decisions.

Take the instance of an online purchase for an air vent cover for a HVAC. Unless the item or purchase experience was exceptionally wonderful (or terrible), it’s highly unlikely for such a product to receive a review. However, one company sent out a follow up email to its Amazon customers with links that made it easy for the purchaser to leave a quick comment and rate their experience:

5 Ecommerce Customer Service Ideas - Ask for Feedback

4. Provide Live Chat

Having a live-chat option can increase customer satisfaction by leaps and bounds. Plus, it’s an easy way to answer questions and concerns instantly. Rather than waiting for an email response, customers can receive assistance right away, which means they are less likely to leave your website without purchasing.

Outsourcing an online chat service is a great strategy, especially for smaller online businesses who can’t afford to hire round-the-clock customer service reps. Sites like Influx will handle online chats 24/7 for your e-commerce business and provide peace of mind for you and your customers.

5 Ecommerce Customer Service Ideas - Provide Live Chat

5. Provide Service via Social Media

Customer service via social media is expected by e-commerce customers today, and they want responses instantly. Many customers use social media because it’s easy for them to find a business and contact them directly.

5 Ecommerce Customer Service Ideas - Provide Service via Social Media

There are, however, some downsides to using social media for this purpose. The big one being lack of privacy. Many companies reply to concerns with a link to their customer service page or respond with a private message.

Determine which of your social media platforms has the largest number of followers or activity, then promote your support services there. You can use social media monitoring tools to alert you when your brand is talked about online so you can respond to inquiries quickly.

Final Thoughts

Providing a remarkable customer service experience from your e-commerce business gives your company an impressive competitive advantage. Focus on making the whole buying experience easy and personal for your customers throughout your site. Clearly list return and exchange instructions, and ask customers to review their experience to help your business improve and attract new audiences. Most importantly, don’t shy away from thinking outside the box!

Ecommerce Business Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "5 Ways to Provide Exceptional Customer Service in eCommerce" was first published on Small Business Trends

Small business has rebounded, and the economy is primed for startups to explode across the country. Still, not all proving grounds are created equal. If you want the best possible shot at success, then you need to consider some of the best startup cities of 2017. These cities have earned their place through a combination of valuable metrics that include cost of living, cost of business, individual and corporate tax rates, access to resources and rates of success for new businesses.

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake is one of the country’s main startup hubs. It’s boom started before the rest of the nation was out of the recession, and it has one of the strongest economies as a result. Unemployment is currently at 3.7 percent. While this will create competition to hire workers, it also provides you with one of the most stable customer bases of any city in the world. Despite the extremely low unemployment, Salt Lake still has an impressive job growth rate that sits at 4.5 percent annually. The city is also home to the University of Utah -- the biggest resource in the area for educated employees.

Low tax rates and a competitive cost of living are additional reasons to start a business in this city. The corporate and personal tax rates are only five percent. On top of that, Salt Lake has a number of programs and incentives to enable new small businesses to succeed. The Startup Connectory helps businesses network and helps reduce a number of initial costs.

Houston Texas

Many people are surprised to learn that one of the country’s oldest and most established oil hubs is a hotbed for new businesses. A few factors make this less surprising. First, Houston wasn’t hit very hard by the housing bubble, so it has maintained a competitive economy, and the housing market has remained stable. The median home price is $190,000 which is low for a metropolitan area. Also, Houston is one of the richest environments possible for finding investors. The combined presence of old oil money and Fortune 500 companies leaves no shortage of opportunity. When you add the states extremely competitive tax structure (no income or corporate tax at all), you get a perfect storm of conditions for successful startups.

Oklahoma City

The Oklahoma City boom has managed to stay under many radars, but it has been one of the best cities for new businesses since the recent recession began. Oklahoma tax structure is not as enticing as Texas, but below average costs of living and business expenses easily compensate. That is bolstered by a number of incentive programs in the city. Take the Quality Jobs outreach. This incentive gives cash back to new businesses that successfully create new jobs.

Oklahoma City is also home to an inordinate number of small businesses. It doubles the per capita national average. This reduces competition with bloated corporations and opens vast networking opportunities. All of these factors combine to grant Oklahoma City the highest start up success rate in the country.


Oklahoma strikes again. Tulsa is smaller in population than Oklahoma City, but it boasts an even higher small business rate. Roughly two-thirds of all businesses in the city are small, and they provide an equal proportion of all employment. Tulsa is also even more affordable than Oklahoma City. The median home price is only $121,700, and the cost of living is equally minimal. Tulsa has a Small Business Connection program that provides additional resources to new businesses. It doesn’t quite have Oklahoma City’s success rate, but the current conditions are primed to change that.


Each of the previous cities has a claim on statistical success, but Austin is the startup capital. New business growth is higher in Austin than anywhere else, and it directly competes with San Francisco and D.C. for tech talent retention. Sitting in the heart of Texas, it enjoys some of the friendliest state-level business laws in the country. It is also home to the University of Texas that provides a wealth of new talent. Austin remains the king of new businesses for all of these reasons and one other. It hasn’t bloated. Where Northern California and D.C. have become oversaturated with startups and new businesses, Austin still has ample room for growth. Costs have not mirrored the astronomical prices you see in other tech regions, and the entire scene in Austin is still vibrant and filled with success stories. If you want to see the riches of Silicon Valley without drowning in competition, Austin is the place to start.

While these cities have the best return for small businesses, there are an abundance of thriving economies in 2017. If you have a niche business, consider some of the smaller cities around the country and you’ll be surprised at just how much opportunity is waiting to be seized.


[Author: Devin Caldwell]

Looking for a Great Business Idea? Start a Virtual Reality Arcade

Looking for a unique new business idea? Consider starting a virtual reality arcade.

That’s right — arcade businesses no longer need to consist only of video games from the 80’s and cheesy prizes. There are already businesses around the world that are integrating this new technology into their offerings.

Take the case of Playdium Virtual Reality arcade in Causway Bay, Hong Kong. It’s located directly above Razer’s Hong Kong store and is decked out with all of the latest VR equipment. There’s even a virtual boxing ring that offers a workout akin to an afternoon at the gym.

Basically, this new technology offers businesses an opportunity to update an old concept. Most people consider arcades to be fun places to visit. But if all you have is a standard assortment of old games, there’s nothing to set yours apart from all the rest.

So instead, you could invest in some VR equipment and offer games and experiences that work with the technology. You could even have customers choose the experiences they want, like a boxing ring, racing game or even a flight simulator.

The possibilities are only increasing when it comes to virtual reality. And businesses that take advantage of those new opportunities could find a lot of early success.

Image: Playdium

This article, "Looking for a Great Business Idea? Start a Virtual Reality Arcade" was first published on Small Business Trends

No successful business finds a “sweet spot” and puts the metaphorical car into autopilot. Great businesses find a way to keep expanding or offering new services in ways that take advantage of changing markets and consumer preferences. Either expansion, an updated business model, or both, are eventually going to be necessary. And with growth comes a changing set of risks that may face your company, which you may need to prepare for with appropriate business insurance.

5 Growth Changes that Impact Your Risks & Business Insurance

#1. Opening a New Location

Your business may not have a spare $13.7 billion sitting around to pull a Jeff Bezos and expand by buying out entire companies, yet you may still be considering opening a new location or two in the coming months. According to Sageworks, small businesses saw an annual sales growth of 7.8% in 2015, a trend that continued into 2016 and appears to be continuing into 2017 as well.

Expansion always comes with a few growing pains, especially when one considers the increased risk exposures of additional locations. If you’re opening a new location (or several), considering the following insurance needs:

  •      Commercial Property Insurance
  •      General Liability Insurance

Starting with General Liability, there’s a good chance you already have a policy in place, especially if your business already operates with physical locations and not just online. However, your policy may have certain limits in place that won’t extend to your new location. You’ll need to re-evaluate your policy and may need to expand your policy as a result.

Commercial Property Insurance is also something you may already have, but again, a new location will come with its own challenges. What happens at your new location may not be covered by your Commercial Property policy, particularly given such policies are written based on the property you own or lease when the policy was written. It’s likely going to be time for a refresh on this policy before you open the doors on your new location.

In general, consider the normal risks that are associated with one location, and then consider how those risks might increase given a new location. In some cases, depending on where your new location is located, you may have an increased risk for third-party claims or higher risks of property damage due to fires, theft, or other named disasters. It’s unlikely that every location will have the same concerns, so you’ll need to look at your new location as a unique situation.

#2. Hiring New Employees

All stats point toward increased hiring in 2017 and beyond. In truth, hiring has been on the upswing since at least 2015. The Small Business Administration (SBA) reported that small businesses created 1.1 million net jobs in 2013, while private sector employment increased 2.5% in 2015. The report also indicates that more businesses startup entry rate exceeded the exit rate for businesses in 2013, providing a net gain in growth.

Overall, the jobless rate in the US is at a 10-year low , just 4.4%.

All of this goes to say that business in the US is booming, and it’s likely that your business may be looking to hire new employees to meet the new demands. However, hiring new employees will come with some additional risks. In particular, you will need to consider your increased risks that are part and parcel of bringing in new workers.

If you’re hiring new workers, you may want to consider:

  •      Workers Compensation
  •      Employment Benefits Liability Insurance
  •      Employment Practices Liability Insurance

Workers Compensation is going to be a concern if your business is growing to a point where such insurance becomes a legal requirement in your state. If your business has been small enough that you haven’t done more than cursory research on Workers Comp, you’ll need to do a bit more research as it relates to your state.

New workers will also mean benefits considerations, making Employee Benefits Liability Insurance more of a necessity, as clerical errors related to benefits packages may become more likely.

Additionally, the increasing number of employees means a higher potential for worker-related issues to arise, such as sexual harassment or other harassment claims. Harassment claims, especially, can be expensive for a business to settle, which is why the requisite Employment Practices Liability Insurance designed to mitigate those risks tend to have policies that range between $1 million to $25 million in coverage.

#3. Offering New Products or Services

Expanding what your business is offering is always exciting. You’re also entering a fairly packed business market. According to the SBA, there were over 28 million small businesses in the US in 2013. As that number continues to grow, with entries outpacing exits year-over-year, your new products and services are going to become increasingly important to the survival of your business in the long term.

Two key insurance areas you’ll want to consider are:

  •      Product Liability Insurance
  •      Professional Liability Insurance

If you are offering new products, Product Liability Insurance will help mitigate the risk that your new products don’t quite live up to expectation. That’s always a problem when offering a new product. Although new product failure rates are not as high as the mythically heart-wrenching 80%, some research suggests new products fail at a rate of around 40%.

Even a 40% failure rate for new products is precipitously high, making liability insurance for your new products a relatively safe bet. The chance that your product will be defective, may cause bodily harm to users, or simply needs to be recalled for one reason or another is too high to ignore. Keep in mind, however, that such insurance also protects your business against false claims of product failures, which is not uncommon with a newer product hitting the market.

Meanwhile, Professional Liability Insurance is designed to protect your business if you’re moving more into providing advice to customers or clients. Even if that advisory role is for a new product you’re offering, it’s important to consider the risks associated with employees who may accidentally give erroneous advice. Advisory services, in general, carry the risk of human error which most consider to be unavoidable.

#4. Developing Delivery, Catering, or In-location Services (Restaurants)

Millennials may be killing casual dining , but they’ve also been a boon to delivery and catering services. Thanks to businesses like GrubHub and Door Dash, the amount of delivery traffic increased from over 455,000 to over 604,000 in 2015, a 33% growth rate. People increasingly want their dining experiences in their own home, and increasingly want the casual restaurants that they enjoy in person to deliver to their houses.

If your business is looking to take advantage of the trend by offering delivery, catering, or in-location services, you’ll need to consider a few additional risks associated with this move. Of particular importance are two key insurance policies:

  •      Commercial Auto Insurance
  •      Hired & Non-Owned Auto Insurance

Commercial Auto Insurance is generally only going to be necessary if you plan on rolling out vehicles owned by your business. If you already own such vehicles, but will now be using them more extensively, you’ll need to look into expanding the policy you already have, likely adding more coverage to mitigate the increased risks with covering more miles.

On the other hand, if you’re offering new delivery, catering, or in-location services by utilizing your employees’ vehicles, their personal auto insurance policies won’t cover the risks. Additionally, your Commercial Auto Insurance won’t cover those risks either. Hired & Non-Owned Auto Insurance is designed to mitigate the problems that your drivers may encounter within their own vehicles while they’re driving for work-related activities. It’s a good compromise between the two common vehicle insurance policies.

#5. Bringing on New Investors

Venture capital investments are not likely to reach the high points that startups experienced in 2000, which saw $28.4 billion in venture capital poured into small businesses. However, venture capital investments are on the rise once again. According to the SBA, in 2015, $13.4 billion in investment capital went into small businesses, as opposed to just $5.1 billion around 2012.

Bringing on new investors, however, means you’ll need to consider Directors and Officers (D&O) insurance.

Especially if your business is seeking and gaining investors for the first time, D&O is not only integral but may be necessary per agreement with your investors. D&O mitigates several risks associated with having a board of directors in place, such as misrepresentation (when investors feel misled about your business model), protects managers and directors against lawsuits, and importantly, helps keep business assets and personal assets protected if lawsuits arise.

Are you growing your business in 2017 and beyond? Don’t ignore how it will impact your insurance needs. Chances are your growing pains will only be compounded if you don’t properly manage the increased risk exposures.

Millennial Side Hustle Statistics Show More Than 1 in 4 Millennials Working a Side Hustle

Who says Millennials are more into vacations than work?

Millennial Side Hustle Statistics

New data from Bankrate shows that 28 percent of Millennials, between the ages of 18 and 26, are working on their own on the side right now. That means, in addition to their regular source of income, the youngest members of the workforce are putting in extra work for some extra pay.

These don’t seem like pursuits to purchase more of the things that Millennials want, either. If that were the case, it’d be more likely that these “side hustles” would be one-off gigs to earn a few extra bucks here and there.

But a deeper dive into the Bankrate data shows that these side hustles are more like side businesses, even if they lack the proper business structure or systems in place. Take a look at these other numbers from the study:

  • 61 percent of Millennials working a side hustle are at it once week or more;
  • 96 percent are at their side hustle at least once a month;
  • and 25 percent say their side hustle earns them $500 a month or more.

Yeah, that sounds more like a business than a hustle, right?

In fact, the average Millennial participating in the Bankrate study uses their side job or jobs to make at least $200 a month.

So, what are some of the more popular side businesses right now? Check out this list of 50 popular side gigs right now.

Investing Right

Of course, this data from Bankrate makes no claim about where these Millennials are spending their money. They could be spending it on lattes after all.

For Millennials reading this and identifying as one of the 1 in 4 who are padding their income, if an entrepreneurial spirit runs through you, don’t waste this money. Begin to save this money that does allow you to live outside your normal means to invest in a business pursuit.

Rather than calling it a side business, that seed money stashed away could be the money that allows you to eventually strike out on your own.

Guy at Laptop Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "More Than 1 in 4 Millennials Work a Side Hustle" was first published on Small Business Trends

One of the big questions that small companies ask is ‘how can they grow their company through marketing, without the big budget?’ It is a big deal for those companies that are trying to start their journey in business. There are many ways that you can sell your company and your products without having to spend money. However, you will need some imagination and a little time to make it work. Social Media There are numerous ways that you can use the power of social media to promote your company. You can spend a little money on advertising if you

The post Best Marketing Strategy for Small Business appeared first on EarningDiary.

50 Offline Business Ideas

These days, having an online presence for your business seems almost mandatory. But that doesn’t mean that every business needs to completely focus on the internet. In fact, there are still plenty of offline business opportunities for entrepreneurs who aren’t super tech savvy to consider. Here are 50 offline business ideas.

Offline Business Ideas Cleaning Service

You can start a house or office cleaning service where you travel to your clients and use local advertising or word of mouth to build your business.

Child Care

Child care is another popular in-home business idea. You can run the business out of your own home or go to your clients’ homes.

In-home Elderly Care

There’s also a big demand for in-home elderly care. You can provide services to clients in your area daily or on a semi-regular basis.

Coffee Cart

With a coffee cart business, you can bring your cart to the areas where customers are likely to congregate, meaning you don’t even necessarily need a website or other online presence.

Food Truck

Though it may be beneficial to market food trucks on social media platforms, you can set up this type of business completely offline and use local events to attract customers.

Gift Shop

It’s also possible to set up a local gift shop without any kind of ecommerce store, as long as you’re in a great location that customers are likely to visit.


For those interested in food businesses, you can start a catering company to provide services for events, individuals and businesses.


You can also start your own business as a baker, either with your own bakery storefront or by providing baked goods to other businesses and bakeries in your area.


If you’re looking for an outdoor business idea, you can set up your own gardening business and provide services to customers in your community.

Landscaping Service

Likewise, you can offer lawn mowing or other landscaping services without a website or extensive online presence.

Pet Cleanup Service

There’s also a market of pet owners looking for businesses to help them clean up their yards .

Home Staging

For design oriented entrepreneurs, you can start a home staging business where you help local homeowners set up their homes to appeal to potential buyers.

Home Painting

You can also focus on home painting, either interior or exterior or both.


If you’re good at fixing things around the house, you can also start your own business where you provide general handyman services to homeowners.

Print Shop

Print shops help customers print anything from signs to t-shirts. And you can even provide a place where customers can complete their own printing and copying jobs, all from an offline location.

Direct Mail Marketing

If you want to help businesses with offline marketing, you can start a direct mail business that focuses on printed materials sent the old fashioned way.

Party Entertainer

For those who are musically inclined or have other skills like juggling or balloon sculpting, you can offer your services to local customers looking for party entertainment.

Bed and Breakfast

If you have a large enough space, you could set up your own bed and breakfast where you welcome visitors.

Personal Shopper

You could also start your own personal shopping business where you go with clients to stores and help them pick out the best items.

Event Planner

Or you could focus on event planning where you work with clients in person and deal with vendors mainly over the phone.

Errand Service

It’s also possible to set up a general errand running service. You can do things like pick up groceries or finishing up laundry.

Food Delivery

Or you can offer food delivery services to people in your area who want to order from restaurants that don’t offer delivery.


A flower shop is another great offline business opportunity. You can open your own location and deal with customers mainly in person.

Farmers’ Market Vendor

If you sell flowers, plants, food or similar items, you can also procure your own booth at local farmers’ markets and sell your goods that way.

Jewelry Maker

If you make jewelry or similar items, you can sell them in person at craft fairs or even wholesale to local boutiques.

Clothing Designer

For those who make clothing, you can also focus mainly on selling your items wholesale to local stores instead of setting up your own ecommerce site.


It’s also possible to build a business as a tutor. You can focus on a specific subject and focus on in-person one-on-one sessions.

Dog Walker

If you’re interested in starting a business where you get to hang out with cute animals all day, you can offer dog walking services to people in your neighborhood.

Pet Grooming

Or you can offer pet grooming services, either in your own dedicated location or as part of a mobile business.

Mobile Retail Boutique

Another mobile business opportunity, you can set up a retail shop in a trailer or similar setup and sell goods at fairs or other events.

Car Wash

You can also start your own car washing or detailing business without having any kind of online presence.

Bicycle Repairs

For those who are skilled with bicycle repairs, you can create a business around that skill in your garage or a local storefront.

Mobile Phone Repairs

There’s also a lot of demand for mobile phone repairs. So you can set up a storefront where people can bring their devices with cracked screens or other issues.


If you have enough land and the skills to farm crops or other types of food, you can offer your food items to retailers, restaurants or other businesses.

Corn Maze

There are also other options for those with some land to work with. For instance, you can create a corn maze and some complementary attractions and welcome customers to your location.

Christmas Tree Farm

You can also grow pine trees on your land and welcome visitors to come pick out their own trees during the holiday season.

Tour Guide

If you live in an area that’s popular with tourists, you can set up a tour guide business where you show visitors around.

Security Service

You can also start your own security service, providing protection for businesses or individuals on a contract basis.


For artistic entrepreneurs, you can create your own artwork to sell at galleries or special events.

Massage Therapy

You can also work with clients in person as a masseuse or massage therapist.

Personal Trainer

Or if you’re a fitness minded entrepreneur, you can start a business as a personal trainer, working with clients at local gyms or from your home.

Antique Shop

You can also start your own antique shop where you sell items out of a storefront, antique mall or at local events.


While ebooks have increased in popularity in recent years, you can still build a business by writing and publishing actual books as well.

Speech Writer

Writers can also build a business around writing speeches on a freelance basis.

Dance Classes

If you’re a skilled dancer, you can offer dance classes out of your home or a dance studio.

Music Lessons

Similarly, you can offer music lessons to people looking to learn a musical instrument or improve their vocal skills.

Career Counseling

It’s also possible to build a business where you help people find careers by working with them one-on-one.

Moving Service

If you have a truck and some moving supplies, you can offer moving services to local consumers.

Tax Preparation

You can also help people and businesses prepare their taxes by meeting with them in person.


Fundraisers are also in high demand in some areas. You can help businesses and organizations raise money through events and other campaigns on a freelance basis.

Online/Offline Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "50 Offline Business Ideas" was first published on Small Business Trends

Can needls Social Media Advertising Platform Automate Small Business Ads on Facebook and Instagram?

A new platform aims to make small business advertising on Facebook and Instagram even easier.

Digital has surpassed TV ad spend, and the gap is growing at robust pace. According to eMarketer, the almost $1B lead digital had at the end of 2016 will increase to more than $25B by 2020. For small businesses, if they want to succeed it means making their presence felt on digital channels. needls has created a RoboAgency platform to make this possible, by simplifying social media advertising while making it affordable.

The CEO and Co-Founder of needls, Justin Hartzman, says only around four million of the more than 65 million businesses on Facebook are leveraging the Facebook ads platform. He also goes on to ask, “Why?”

The Answer

Simply put, for small businesses it comes down to the lack of technical know-how, and not having the budget to hire a digital agency. Even though there are DIY solutions, they can be complicated if the business owner doesn’t have online advertising experience. And when it comes to digital ad agencies, the cost for small businesses, in most cases, is prohibitive.

But as digital continues to grow as the preferred medium for consumers, it has opened affordable advertising opportunities. And this is where needls has established its presence, with two of the largest social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram.

The needls RoboAgency

But needls claims it has the Internet’s first RoboAgency. This makes it available 24/7 to start new campaigns any time and provide real-time automated optimization.

The needls platform creates hundreds of ads, and it then monitors social media sites to continuously optimize the ads and target new business. The company uses data science and programmatic buying techniques to make the ads effective by monitoring social media conversations. This technology allows it to determine the perfect target audience for these ads in real-time.

The company says, “needls is the only platform where people receive ads for what they need, when they need it.”

How the needls Social Media Advertising RoboAgency Works

Here are two examples of how it works.

When a User Posts:




When a User  Posts:



The Process

The first thing needls has going for it is simplicity. If you want to create a campaign, all you have to do is answer some questions about your business, and it will create the ads. According to the company, it is as easy as that. It then proceeds to target and optimize the ads.

 How it Works


The second thing is the price. Compared to a DIY solution, advertising platforms, and traditional agencies, needls comes in at just $100 per month. For this, price your small business will get the ad creation, targeting, and monitoring features along with advanced analytics, custom reporting, and live chat and customer care.

If you are an ad agency, the Agency platform provides all of the above features with a multi-user dashboard to manage your clients, download reports, direct customer billing, and more. The price for this tier is $200 per month for the first 5 clients and $35 per additional client.


Social media advertising is now just as important, or more so depending on the industry you happen to be in, as other platforms. Until now the complexity of the technology, lack of understanding in digital advertising, and the cost has kept small businesses away. With needls, you don’t have to be an expert, and with an entry price point of only $100 virtually any business can have a go at it.

Images: needls

This article, "Can needls Platform Automate Small Business Ads on Facebook and Instagram?" was first published on Small Business Trends

Virtualitics Data Visualization Company Uses New Technology to Help You Analyze Your Data

When it comes to analyzing data, having accurate visualizations can make the the task infinitely easier. And new technologies like augmented and virtual reality can potentially help businesses create those visualizations.

And that’s exactly what Virtualitics specializes in. Read more about the company and how it uses new technology to create better data visualizations in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

What the Business Does:

Provides data visualization services.

Co-founder and CEO Michael Amori told Small Business Trends, “Virtualitics Inc. is a data visualization company that merges artificial intelligence, Big Data and virtual/augmented reality to gain insights from complex data sets. Its collaborative environment for data exploration is suitable for both data scientists and non-expert users, allowing them to uncover multidimensional relationships in data, which may not be discoverable by any other means.”

Business Niche:

Integrating virtual and augmented reality into its visualization services.

Amori says, “To our knowledge, no one else provides VR/AR to visualize multidimensional data with easy-to-use machine learning tools, Natural Language summaries and a streamlined data analysis process. Additionally, our adaptable VR/AR platform can provide practical methods for translation, rotation, remapping, selection, replotting and toggling while immersed in data. Users can collaborate in a shared virtual environment online, sharing insights and giving guided tours of data.”

How the Business Got Started:

By bringing together several different specialties.

Amori explains, “Starting in 2007, George Djorgovski and Ciro Donalek began their work on an Immersive Data Visualization and VR platform, called iViz. Scott Davidoff joined the team in 2013, bringing along his AR expertise, and that following year (2014), Caltech awarded the team with an Innovation Initiative (C12) grant. At that time, I was the head of a large data science team, and in 2015, I joined the team after I saw what the other co-founders were building and thought their work could also be very useful in a business setting. In August of 2016, the company officially started and moved into the Pasadena office.”

Biggest Win:

Getting a positive response from users.

Amori says, “Building groundbreaking technology is a great achievement but it means very little if it cannot be used in a practical environment. With that said, our biggest win has been the enthusiastic response we’ve received from our beta users, as this reaffirms our mission and overall potential.”

Biggest Risk:

Becoming its own entity.

Amori says, “Leaving Caltech and becoming a stand-alone business was probably the biggest risk we took, but doing so has also given us more freedom and mobility to grow.”

Virtualitics Data Visualization Company Uses New Technology to Help You Analyze Your Data

How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000:

Working capital or a vacation fund.

Amori says, “We’d likely be practical and just put it toward working capital. Or maybe we’d put it in a vacation fund for the team and (someday) treat everyone to a well-deserved company vacation.”

Favorite Quote:

“I sent my soul through the invisible, some letter of that After-life to spell: And by and by my soul returned to me and answered: I myself am both heaven and hell” ~ Omar Kayyam

* * * * *

Find out more about the Small Biz Spotlight program

Images: Virtualitics

Top Image: (from front row, left center to right) George Djorgovski (Co-Founder & Chief Virtual Reality Officer), Ciro Donalek (Co-founder & CTO), Michael Amori (Co-founder & CEO), Kate Cameron (COO), surrounded by most of the Virtualitics staff

This article, "Spotlight: Virtualitics Specializes in Visualizing Data for Business" was first published on Small Business Trends

If you've looked into search engine optimization as a promotional technique for your website, you have likely come across the advice to make your website secure (having an https:// appear in front of your URLs instead of http://). Google has been very vocal in pushing for all websites to make the move to being secure,... Read More

The post How to Make Your WordPress Website Secure (SSL) in 6 Steps appeared first on Sugarrae.

If you work in a HR department or own your own small business, you understand how important teamwork among your employees is to ensure the success of your business. One of the best ways to help foster teamwork is through games that encourage working together and letting your guard down. Such games are also effective at team building because they help break the ice between team members who might not know each other so well. The trouble is coming up with activities that team members actually enjoy and learn from. Below are 10 fun and simple team building activities for work that you can use to help build teamwork, trust, and unity among your team members.

10 Fun and Simple Team Building Activities for Work

#1. Beach Ball Icebreaker

This interactive game can make a great icebreaker for team members who don’t know each other very well. All you need to execute this icebreaker activity is a beach ball and a permanent marker. Inflate the beach ball and write personal questions all over the entire ball. The questions can be as basic or complex as you like. Get your team members into a circle and toss the ball into the air. The person who catches the ball has to answer the question closest to their right thumb, and then they toss the ball into the air again.

#2. The Human Knot

If you decide to use this activity, let your team members know in advance to wear comfortable, casual clothing. The object of this activity is to use teamwork and communication skills to get out of a difficult situation. Everyone must stand in a circle shoulder-to-shoulder facing each other. Have each team member extend their right hand and grab a random member’s hand, then do the same with their left. The team members must untangle themselves without letting go of anyone’s hand.

#3. Solve Wooden Puzzle

Strategy games for adults such as wooden puzzle games can be an effective way to get your team to practice problem-solving strategies as a team in a fun, low-stress environment. Wooden puzzles are a good option for teams because they are 3-dimensional, allowing team members to take turns handling and analyzing the puzzle. Another benefit of wooden puzzle games is that as they work together to solve the puzzle, they learn more about how their team members think and how they approach challenges.

#4. Scavenger Hunt

This can be a good activity if you have plenty of time and space. A scavenger hunt is a great way to encourage team members to get out of their familiar social group and have them practicing teamwork, delegation of tasks, and working together towards a common goal in a fun and active way. Divide team members into small groups and give them the same list of tasks. Whoever completes the tasks first (or completes the most within a given time frame) wins.

#5. Egg Drop

This is a classic problem-solving team building activity. Divide your group into two teams. Then distribute a carton of eggs and an assortment of supplies to each team. The two teams will be responsible for packaging their carton in such a way that the eggs won’t crack when the carton is dropped. Before they drop their carton, you can also task each team with “marketing” their packaging, highlighting the factors that make it unique and why they think it will work.

#6. Mine Field

Outdoor games can also be a good way to help team members de-stress and let their guard down, which is important since this is a trust-building exercise. In an open space such as a parking lot, you can set up obstacles such as cones or cans. Divide your team members into pairs, and have one member of each pair put on a blindfold. The non-blindfolded partner will guide their blindfolded companion across the lot using only verbal instructions. To prevent accidents, this activity is best performed one pair at a time.

#7. Driving a Car

This is a similar trust-building activity, except with the added security that the non-blindfolded partner is able to hold on to the blindfolded partner’s shoulders. The non-blindfolded partner will simulate driving the blindfolded partner as a car, using only hand gestures (such as tapping on the left shoulder to indicate a left turn) to direct their partner and prevent collisions into other “vehicles.”

#8. Grab Bag Skits

Having team members create and perform skits can be a great way to tap into their creativity as well as emphasize cooperation and organization. Divide team members into small groups and hand each group a bag of props. Each group has to perform a skit that utilizes each assigned prop.

#9. Blind Drawing

This paired activity requires communication and creativity to achieve the task. The pair sits back-to-back and one is handed a drawing while the other receives a blank sheet of paper and a pencil or pen. The person with the drawing has to describe the drawing without actually saying what it is, while the other person has to guess what is being described and draw it.

#10. Create a Team Building Activity

Sometimes, team members don’t want to repeat the same team building activities that they might have done before in previous workplaces. A unique way to circumvent this problem and encourage them not only to work together but also negotiate preferences and compromise is to present them with a challenge: design and execute their own team building activity. Set a time limit (at least an hour) for team members to discuss activities and plan all the detail such as the objectives and rules of the activity as well as group sizes. Then let them execute the activity.

In short, fun activities at work can be a great way to encourage team building, cooperation, and trust among employees. Keep them creative, simple, and fun and you will help build a stronger, more cohesive work environment.

Homeland Security Company Talks Drone Rules and Regulations with Trump Administration

If you’re hoping to have a pizza delivered by drone to your house soon, you might have a wait. One industry expert sees a different future inspecting remote pipelines and such for drones. Brandon Declet knows what he’s talking about.

Talking Drone Rules and Regulations

Declet is the CEO and Co-Founder at Measure, one of the first companies to offer drones-as-a-service. The firm was  invited to Washington recently for an American Leadership in Technology Event at The White House.  Declet spoke with Small Business Tends recently about where the industry is going and how regulations need to change.

Drone Service Operator

First Declet spoke about his company’s experience at the White House.

“We met with senior administration officials including the Deputy Secretary of Transportation, as well as officials from the FAA and officials from The Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House,” Declet said. One focus was finding ways to allow for more commercial drone operations in America.

Current Friendly Administration

Measure operates in DC and has fifty employees. The company finds the current administration friendly to companies operating drones in American commercial airspace. Measure hopes one operating regulation specifically might be tweaked.

“To scale our operation into a big business, we’re looking at opportunities to fly beyond the visual line of sight,” Declet says. “This would open up new possibilities like inspecting transmission towers and pipelines.”

The Visual Line of Sight

This regulation prohibiting operating a drone beyond the visual line of sight of the operator certainly creates a limit to uses of the technology.  The visual line of sight is the distance the operator can physically see without using any monitors.

There would be several jobs drones would be able to take over with the  right regulatory changes. These jobs include inspecting remote wind turbines,  checking on cell towers so workers don’t need to climb them, or even providing real time news coverage.  Declet understands some bugs would need to be worked out first, however.

Key to Adjustments

“The big fear is that if you’re flying beyond visual line of sight, you can’t see your own aircraft or others that can be in the way,” he says. Any adjustments would include protections for both manned and unmanned aircraft.

Still waiting for drones to start delivering your groceries and box store purchases soon?  Declet says that might not be the norm for five to ten years, if then. His company has done some of these deliveries, and found the costs high.

“Deliveries in urban environments might prove difficult,” he says. “To be honest, what drones are going to be really good for are the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs.”

Drone Service Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Reality Check: Drones Will Take the Dull, Dirty, Dangerous Jobs" was first published on Small Business Trends

W e tend to associate the highest godliness with the humblest service. Jesus proved his holiness when he stooped to wash the filthy feet of his disciples. He proved his submission to God when he willingly faced the unjust suffering of the cross. In both cases, it is what Jesus did that displayed his godly character. This is the heart of what Christians refer to as servant-leadership, of displaying the highest kind of leadership through the lowest acts of service.

Successful Christian churches, ministries, businesses, and organizations are dependent upon people who are willing to serve. They thrive when people humble themselves to carry out whatever tasks need to be done. The high-powered lawyer and the struggling small business owner unite when they step into the church and serve shoulder-to-shoulder to brew the coffee and mop the floors. Their actions prove them to be leaders in godly character.

We need this kind of leadership, this leading by doing. No church or other organization can last long without it. We are right to honor those who exemplify it.

But there is another kind of leadership that is equally important, though far less common. For a church or other organization to be successful, it needs doers, but it also needs delegators. It needs people whose first instinct is to do and people whose first instinct is to delegate. These are very different skills or traits of character and a thriving organization depends upon a healthy balance of both.

Many ministries within the local church fail to thrive or even collapse altogether because the leader of that ministry is an eager doer but reluctant delegator. When there is a difficult situation or when a key person fails to show up, her first instinct is to just do the task herself. This may be a godly instinct born from a desire to serve, but it may actually prove unhelpful in the short-term and harmful in the long. The far better approach may be to delegate the task to someone else. The leader of a Christian organization may see a problem and respond by addressing it himself. It’s a mark of humility to joyfully scrub a toilet or empty the trash. But it may also be the mark of a person who is reluctant to lead or afraid to exercise authority. Doing rather than delegating may not be quite as noble as it at first appears.

Our churches need loads of doers, people who are willing to do what needs to be done, regardless of whether that task is high or low, visible or unseen. In fact, every Christian should approach every area of life with a deep desire and willingness to do. No task is too low for one who has been saved by the one “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Yet our churches also need their share of delegators, people who are willing to do, but who have learned to delegate. The way they serve their church best is not to do what needs to be done, but to delegate those tasks to others. The way they serve their church is to ensure the task is being carried out by the appropriate person. Their godliness is expressed in accepting and exercising the authority of leadership with its delegating power. These are the people whose ministries tend to grow and to thrive.

If you are called to lead, you need to display godly character in your acts of service. Go low! Serve God by serving others! But understand that you can only lead skillfully and successfully if you are willing to delegate. Sometimes the way to do is to delegate.

Nicholas asked, “What does your “marketing stack” consist of at the moment? Which specific tools, products, services are you using and how do you get them all talking to each other?” My personal marketing technology stack changes frequently. Why? I use myself as the guinea pig for new tools and methods. One of my rules […]

The post My Small Business Marketing Technology Stack appeared first on Christopher S. Penn Marketing Blog.

Can a Machine Create a Brand?

When most small business owners go about creating a business brand, they tend to think about hiring designers, graphic artists or other creative types to help. Or, to save time and money, they muddle through on their own, with a rudimentary understanding of what they think looks good. Now, thanks to innovations in machine learning, the next wave of business branding might actually be created by machines. Can a machine create a brand better than a human?  And what does that mean to your business as you build your own brand?

Can a Machine Create a Brand? Branding and the 400 Milliseconds …What it Means to the SMB

I’ve often written about how important it is for small business owners to develop their own solid personal brand. It’s critical for building authority in your field, and engaging an audience. The same is true for your company’s brand, maybe even more so, in fact.  Consumer research shows that 90 percent of consumers expect a brand experience to be consistent across all platforms and channels, and first impressions are incredibly important.

It goes far beyond simple brand recognition; your brand elements build important emotional connections with your audience.

“People should feel something when they connect with your brand,” said online marketing guru Neil Patel in an interview with Jeff Charles.

Consistent and professional brand elements make it easier for customers to recognize your company and develop those feelings of trust that are so important in driving a purchase.

Yet for many small businesses, the cost of a professional branding solution is prohibitive. Brand strategist Pia Silva of Worst of All Design estimates that for a small business brand, you can expect to pay anywhere between $2,000 and $15,000. At that rate, it’s no wonder that many brands attempt the DIY approach.

Yali Saar, CEO of Tailor Brands, sees an alternative: “Every logo, and every branding element, is a combination of color, shape and meaning,” he explains. “Although your logo may seem like a small piece of your brand, it is the first thing your prospect encounters,” Saar explains. “And within 400 milliseconds, the human brain makes decisions about how it feels about what it perceives. You have that much time to make your first, and potentially lasting, impression.”

Saar’s believes his company has found the sweet spot where design best practices meet machine learning, to bring big-budget style branding design within reach of the small businesses.

The Science Behind Building a Brand

Your logo is not just some arbitrary symbol. As Saar explains, “A logo provides the visual representation of your business to your customers. It holds you accountable to the brand promises that you made. And it conveys this to your audience, helping ensure that they come back to use your business over and over again.”

Budget-route graphic design is too often subjective to really nail this down. I’ve heard so many small business owners talking about their own DIY attempts, based on what they like. They don’t necessarily take into account their brand promise, their relationship with their audience, or the emotions that need to be conveyed. A hired graphic designer often will probe these questions, but as I pointed out earlier, that route can be too expensive for small biz budgets.

What Saar has discovered is that these artistic decisions on color, font, size, placement and palettes can now be made intelligently, based on science and data, rather than subjective preferences. And that opens up a whole new level of branding for small businesses.

How Small Brands are Leveraging Design Science for Big Results

Can a machine really design better than a human? According to Jury Vetrov, who has been following the field of algorithm-driven design, the answer is a definite yes.

“The tools of the approach [for better web design] can help us to construct a UI, prepare assets and content, and personalize the user experience,” he writes, noting that it wasn’t until last year that “the technological foundations of these tools became easily accessible, and the design community got interested in algorithms, neural networks and artificial intelligence (AI).”

Vetrov is speaking specifically of website design; the same principles can be carried over into other forms of design as well. Machines are learning to be creative (, especially when given input into the intangibles like your company’s mission, language and purpose.

At Tailor Brands, Saar sees great potential in this intersection of creativity and data.

“Our users create a new design every 1.5 seconds,” he explains. “We ask for input about their brand, their mission, in an open-ended way that doesn’t limit their ideation.

“All of that creation means mounds of data,” Saar continues, “which helps us spot trends in branding that helps influence the next design. Our machines are constantly learning and getting better at what they do. “

It’s hard to overstate the importance of a solid brand look, no matter the size of your business or how long you’ve been around. From first impression to building engagement and growing solid relationships, your brand identity is crucial. Now, small business owners can leverage real science and put it to work for their company with brand elements that let them be amazing, faster than ever before.

Robot Painter Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "How to Create Machine Made Brands" was first published on Small Business Trends

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