Small Business Tips

May 2016 Archive
Preparing Your Company for its First Employee

The signs are fairly obvious. Most of your waking moments may be spent running the business, and time is taken from your family and friends. Maybe you’re unable to keep up with demand and are actually having to turn customers away.

More or less, your stress level is beginning to climb rapidly as the papers stack up and nothing seems to get done. It’s time to get some help.

Before looking at prospects, consider these things:

What are you looking for?
Make a list of the things that need to be done for your business to run smoothly. Indicate which of those tasks you must do, which of the tasks you’d prefer to do, and which of the tasks can be delegated elsewhere. The latter is what you need that first employee for.

Think about what kind of manager you are in order to determine the best type of person to fit your style. If you’re the type that delegates and then does your own thing, then you will need someone who can think independently. If you get stressed occasionally, then you may want someone that works well under pressure.

Next, decide exactly how you want the business to grow with the additional help. If you’re looking to take this transition slowly, then you need someone for the clerical and administrative tasks that you just can’t seem to get to, such as filing and mail. If you’re ready to plow full speed ahead, you’ll want to find someone that can handle larger areas such as sales and distribution.

Once you’ve figured out exactly what you’re looking for, write out a job description. This will come in handy when you are coming up with help wanted ads and during the interview process, but it will also serve as a personal reminder of the load that will be taken off your shoulders once the right person is found.

What are the legal prerequisites?
There are several things you will need to do in order to legally be ready to hire someone.

• Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) for tax returns.
• Obtain Workers’ Compensation Insurance.
• Register with the Department of Labor for your state.
• Invest in payroll software in order to properly withhold taxes. See the IRS Employer’s Tax Guide for further withholding information.
• Provide a safe working environment based upon the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).
• Familiarize yourself with IRS Form 940-EZ, which you will need to file each year.

What are the business prerequisites?
In addition to legally preparing for an employee, it’s a good idea to implement additional business practices prior to seeking help.

• Determine what your time-off policy will be, such as vacation time, sick days, maternity leave, etc.
• Set up employee benefits, if feasible, such as health insurance or a 401(k) plan, including a sign-up procedure.
• Determine the disciplinary and review procedures for your business.
• Create an employee handbook, which indicates your business policies, including those items previously listed. Include a signature page for the employee’s indication that he/she read the handbook.
• If you have any information you need to protect from the competition, such as the recipes for your gourmet restaurant or lists of clientele, have an attorney draw up a Non-disclosure Agreement and/or Non-compete Agreement for every future employee to sign.

Hiring an employee can be intimidating, as it will knowingly take up precious time and resources. Make sure that your reservations don’t keep you from waiting too long. Missing the right window of opportunity may force you to hire in a hurry, resulting in the wrong person for your business.

Even if your situation only seems moderately stressful, evaluate your business and whether or not even a part-time employee might make things run more smoothly. At the very least, you will be able to determine when you may need someone in the future and start planning ahead to make the transition easier.

Sources:
• Inc.com: The First Employee
• Nolo.com: Hiring Your First Employee – Ten Things You Must Do
• Microsoft.com: Five tips for Hiring Your First Employee
• AllBusiness.com: Ten Tips on Hiring Your First Employee


Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
Consider This When Hiring an Intern
How and When You Should Pay Yourself
Finding An Employee That Matches Your Leadership Style
Determining Your Employee’s Salary
New EEOC Guidelines Expand Employee Protection

By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, May 31st, 2016 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Human Resources |

Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 4)

CONTINUED SUCCESS
BUILDING AN eBAY EMPIRE

Congratulations! Your eBay business is now up and running and bringing in the dough! You may even be ready to expand your part-time operation into a full-time adventure. Let’s examine some ways to upgrade your business and continue on this successful path.

Flexibility
It is important to be flexible. Be willing to change the market you’re in to match the current trends. New opportunities will come knocking, and you have to be willing to take advantage of them. Flexibility also means variety, which, as they say, is the spice of life.

Quality Customer Service
Upgrade your customer service to the next level. For example, you may want to provide a handy 800 number for potential buyers to reach you immediately for answers to their questions. Send customers an e-mail with each new phase in the conclusion of your transaction, such as thanking them when you receive their payment, notifying them when their item has been shipped, and following up with them when they receive the item to ensure satisfaction.

Providing a tracking number with every shipment earns brownie points and gives the buyer peace of mind. You may also want to consider providing discount shipping to your buyers with the purchase of more than one product from you. This strategy is a must if you are selling products such as books or movies, since the shipping cost for multiple items increases minimally. This option is very popular and one of the first incentives that buyers look for. A seller who doesn’t provide a multiple item shipping discount can really turn a buyer off.

Tips, Tools & Advice
Joining an eBay community can help you to determine what buyers are interested in as well as get advice from fellow sellers, or just meet new people through discussion boards, blogs and chat rooms. The PowerUp Newsletter provides helpful tips, ideas and eBay news.

There are also some great tools available to help you improve your eBay business. Sellathon.com provides a 30-day free trial of ViewTracker, which provides information on potential buyers, including what search terms brought them to your listing. Seller’s Assistant Pro is eBay’s desktop sales management tool. And eBay’s free program Turbo Lister allows you to recreate your listings in bulk, without having to retype each, and without loosing that professional quality.

Who You Are
Don’t forget to fill out the About Me Page. This gives you an opportunity to share with your potential customers what led you to start your eBay business and what ideals your business holds to. Providing this information to your buyers helps them to feel as though they can trust you and will keep them coming back.

eBay Store
The best way to boost your sales and expand your eBay business is to open an eBay store. On average, sellers see a 25% increase in sales within three months of opening an eBay store. Your store will cost a monthly fee, but you do receive discounts on other eBay fees and access to many other features and services that are not available with regular listings. You can create both auction-style listings and items with fixed prices, adding flexibility to your setup. Your eBay store will allow buyers to find your products in one location, on a customizable webpage designed just for your business.

eBay Store Fees
Subscription fees for an eBay Store vary depending on the size of your operation, starting at $15.95 for the basic store package to $499.95 for the anchor store package. For more information, visit the eBay Store Subscription Fees page to view side-by-side comparisons of the 3 available storefront packages. Also available is the eBay Store Fees page which contains information about Insertion, Final Value, Listing Upgrade and Picture Services fees.

Implementing these additions to your already thriving eBay business will have you well on your way to an eBay empire. Many eBay business owners see sales in the millions each year. Though some days you may have to stretch and stand on your toes to get there, success in the eBay world is well within reach.

View Part 1 – Learning the Basics
View Part 2 – Selling an Item
View Part 3 – Casual Seller to Powerseller

Sources:
• AllBusiness.com: Nine Reasons to Open an eBay Store
• Entrepreneur.com: eBay Made Easy
• Entrepreneur.com: Getting Started on eBay

Helpful Links:
• Entrepreneur.com: eBay Center
Owen & Emma’s eBay Store Library


Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 1)
Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 2)
Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 3)
Outsource Your Chores and Errands
Easy Return Policy Means Return Customers

By Michelle Cramer
Monday, May 30th, 2016 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Startup |

Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 3)

CASUAL SELLER TO POWER SELLER

Now that you have a little experience under your belt, and have built up your feedback rating, it is time to transition from a casual selling hobby to an actual eBay business.

First, determine what exactly it is you want to do. Will your business be a full-time or part-time commitment? Remember, you can always start out part-time and see how it goes; you may want to expand later. Will you work from home or a commercial location? Will it be a one-person or couple operation, or will you hire employees?

The Product
Part of the transition to an eBay business is moving from selling miscellaneous items to a select category of products. The most successful eBay businesses specialize in a specific product category also known as a niche. Deal with products that most interest you, whether it is antique pottery or discount golf equipment. Your product line needs to be something that you can easily become an expert in, if you’re not already. This will give you a significant advantage over other sellers.

Once you have determined your products, research how many other eBayers are selling the same things. Competition can be fierce in the beginning, so you want to provide a product that will help your business to stand out as much as possible.

Next, determine how you want to set up your listings. You can either sell products by the auction method, by a fixed price only, or do both. If you have multiple numbers of the same item, you may want to list some as auction and some at a fixed price. This will give you an opportunity to see which way that particular item sells better.

Your Time
Selling on eBay can be time consuming, so establish a routine. Determine a block of time in your day or week that you will devote to your eBay business, if it is only part-time. If the business is a full-time operation, then map out your day by determining when you will respond to e-mail questions, when you will list new items, when you will package shipments, etc.

Also, when will you make trips to the post office for mailing? Most postal carriers, including the U.S. post office, will pick-up your shipments, if postage has already been paid and you arrange for them to do so. You can pre-pay postage through eBay or by establishing an account on the carrier’s website. If that is not currently an option, determine what day or days of the week you will drop your packages off. It is also important to indicate this in your listing details, so that the buyer is aware of how long it will be before the item is shipped.

The Details
Speaking of listing details, be sure that your listings reflect the professionalism of your business. Proofread and use the spell check option, which eBay provides, on all of your listings. Limit the type of fonts you use to two and don’t use background colors that make the words hard to read. Highlight important words like “Free Shipping” in a different color than the rest of the text, such as red, to draw the buyer’s attention to them.

Supplies
This transition period is also a good time to invest in whatever equipment you don’t already have readily available. A digital camera and postal scale are a must. It is helpful to have a digital camera with a macro setting so that you can take close-up shots of smaller items or details.

If you are working from home, you may want to consider setting aside a work area just for your eBay business. Not only will this make things simpler because everything is right at your fingertips, but also be able to use the space and organizational products you buy as home office tax deductions.

Start slow, listing only a few products each day, so that you don’t have them all ending at once and become overwhelmed. As time progresses and your routine becomes more established, it will be easier to step it up a bit. You’re your own boss, so determine a pace that works best for you and stick with it.

View Part 4 – Building an eBay Empire
View Part 2 – Selling an Item
View Part 1 – Learning the Basics

Sources:
• Entrepreneur.com: eBay Made Easy
• Entrepreneur.com: Getting Started on eBay
• AllBusiness.com: Setting Up a Home-Based eBay Business

Helpful Links:
• eBay.com: Getting Started as a Seller
• Entrepreneur.com: eBay Center
• AllBusiness.com: The eBay Business Plan


Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 2)
Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 4)
Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 1)
Easy Return Policy Means Return Customers
Starting Your Own Business, Part 2 of 4

By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, May 29th, 2016 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Startup |

Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 2)

SELLING AN ITEM

The first step to selling on eBay is to establish a seller account. This will require more personal information than your original registration with eBay, including verification of your identity, but it is, again, secure and never shared with other eBay users.

Choosing Your Product
Next, you need to figure out what to sell. When just starting out it is better to get a feel for the way it works and to iron out all the kinks before starting your business, so you may want to consider using the “Laundry Basket” approach. Take a basket around your house and fill it with items you don’t need or use anymore. This is always good for those spring cleaning or sort through the attic days. You can sell almost anything on eBay, but there are a few exceptions, which you can view on eBay’s Prohibited and Restricted Items List.

To list an item, make sure you are signed on and then click the “Sell” link at the top of any eBay page. The form for selling an item on eBay is fairly simple, and it will walk you through each step, with help links available along the way.

Be aware of the fact that eBay does charge fees for selling. You will first encounter insertion fees, which are based upon how many features you use in your auction listing. You will also be charged a final value fee when the auction ends, which is a percentage of the final sale price. A list of these fees can be found on the Basic Fees page.

Taking Photos and Developing Item Descriptions
Once you have determined the item(s) you’re selling, you will need to take quality pictures to put on your listing. Items without pictures are much less likely to sell. The first picture for every eBay listing is free of charge. Each additional picture is $0.15.

This is where a digital camera and scanner come in quite handy. If the item is flat, like a book, a scanner works great because it captures the cover well. Other items need to be placed against a solid colored contrasting background, so that the features stand out and the item can be viewed easily. Make sure your picture is crisp, not blurry. It is also recommended that you stay away from stock photos on the manufacturer’s website. Buyers want to see what the actual item you’re selling looks like.

Also, make a list of details about each item to put in the items description. The more honest information you provide to the buyer, the more likely they will be to bid on the item. Indicate the dimensions of the item, the size, the condition it is in, number of pages, etc. It is important to remember that, when describing the condition, you do more than say “good.” Tell the buyer exactly what you see.

You will need a heading for your listing. This will be the first thing potential buyers see on their search results, so it needs to be something that will grab the buyer’s attention, as well as indicate crucial keywords so that you listing will come up on as many search results as possible. Avoid using unnecessary words like “cute” or “wow” in your heading, as these are not words that a buyer will use in a search. Also, you are limited on the characters you can use in a heading, so you need all the space you can get.

Pricing
Next, determine what the starting price for your item will be. Items that start at $0.99 and under will often get the buyer’s attention more easily, but there is risk involved with starting the item that low, since it is uncertain how many bids you will get.

Do some research on ended auctions for items like the one you are selling and see how popular they are. You can do so by using the advance search and checking the “completed listings only” box. This will give you an indication on how high the bidding might go on your item and if the risk is worth it. For example, if the DVD you are selling typically sells for $10, then starting it at $0.99 shouldn’t be a problem. But if it usually sells for $3.00, chances are, your item may not go much past the starting price.

All auctions have the option of adding a “Buy it Now” or “Reserve Price.” Buy it Now gives the buyer the option of buying the item for a set amount, so long as no one has bid on it yet. This is great for items like DVDs, when you are willing to sell them below market value.

A Reserve Price allows you to indicate the minimum amount you are willing to take for the item. This amount is not revealed to any bidders. All they will see on the auction is whether or not the current price of the item has met the reserve price. If it does not meet the reserve by the end of the auction, you are not obligated to sell the item to any bidder. However, you will still have to pay the insertion fees for the auction.

Shipping Options
You will also need to determine shipping costs. This can sometimes be difficult, so I recommend that you first buy a postage scale and then prepackage your item before you list it, so that you can determine the actual weight for shipping. The form for listing your item provides a postage calculator that will determine the shipping costs, based on weight and package dimensions, for most carriers (USPS, UPS, FedEx).

You have the option of setting a flat shipping rate that you pre-determine, or a calculated shipping rate which is based on the buyer’s address and any handling charges you may add (which are not revealed to the buyer). I recommend adding the cost of shipping supplies, eBay listing fees (typically under $1) and Paypal transaction fees to your shipping charges, so that those are covered even if you item only sells for $0.01. PayPal does charge a percentage of the transaction amount when money is sent to you, though it is quite minimal (less than 5%).

The eBay listing form is very easy and there are helpful links indicated to get you through it. Once you’ve listed one item, you’ll have the form down, but it will take observation to see what works to grab the seller’s attention. Get some practice with small household items before transitioning to a full-blown business, so that you know what you’re in for.

View Part 3 – Casualseller to Powerseller
View Part 4 – Building an eBay Empire
View Part 1 – Learning the Basics

Sources:
• Entrepreneur.com: eBay Made Easy

Helpful Links:
• eBay.com: Getting Started as a Seller
• Entrepreneur.com: eBay Center


Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 3)
Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 1)
Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 4)
Easy Return Policy Means Return Customers
Starting Your Own Business, Part 4 of 4

By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, May 28th, 2016 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Startup |

Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 1)

LEARN THE BASICS

Since its start in 1995, eBay is one of the fastest growing business venues around. Over two billion items and nearly $50 billion dollars in final sale prices were produced last year, and every year eBay gets bigger and better. If you’re ready to start your own business, or expand your current one, using eBay will almost guarantee your success. This week’s four part series will take you through the steps of starting a successful eBay business, starting with eBay basics.

Most people are well aware of eBay and its primary function, but some just haven’t had the chance to use it yet. eBay is an online auction website, where you can find most anything you’re looking for, and quite often reasonably priced below market value. Like normal auctions (though, it is much easier to understand the auctioneer), buyers bid on an item and the highest bidder at the close of the auction gets the item for that price, plus shipping charges.

It is free to join eBay to browse and buy, so I recommend that you first register. To do so, go to eBay’s registration page, where you will supply your contact information, as well as pick out a user ID. Be aware that, should you plan to use eBay as a business, this ID will be viewed by all. So pick something that reflects who you are and what your business will be.

Take some time to explore eBay and learn about the features. There are eBay communities for discussions with other users, a help page, information for buyers, information for sellers; the list goes on and on. And do some shopping as well. The best way to learn how to sell on eBay is to buy on eBay. This will give you an opportunity to find out what works and doesn’t work for your future listings.

Bidding and Seller Ratings
It’s important that you understand that bidding on an item is a legally binding contract, and it takes quite a bit of effort to back out of a bid, including a mark on your eBay record and a possible reprimanding by eBay. So be sure to fully read each auction and all the specifics before deciding to bid. If you have any questions about the item or the seller’s policies, e-mail the seller about it before bidding, since you may not like the answer they give you.

The most crucial item to examine when you are interested in an item is the seller’s feedback rating. This will also be the first thing your future buyers will look at. A seller’s feedback rating is their reputation as both a buyer and a seller on eBay. It is a comment that the buyer/seller leaves about that user at the end of the transaction, reflecting how that person presented him or herself as an eBay member.

You will find this rating on the top right hand side of the item listing page, under “Meet the seller.” It will first list the seller’s ID, followed by a number in parentheses, which indicates the number of positive feedback ratings the seller has received from individual eBay members.

The next line will indicate what percentage of all of the feedback the seller has received has been positive during their entire membership on eBay. By clicking on the number following the seller ID, you will be able to view all the feedback the seller has ever received, positive, negative or neutral, and a summary of what that feedback has been for the past 12 months.

I highly recommend that you do not buy from someone with a feedback score of less than 10 or a positive percentage of less than 90%, as these sellers either do not have the experience to guarantee a trustworthy sale, or have proved themselves to be inconsistent and untrustworthy to other eBay users.

This is also important to know when considering starting an eBay business. You will need to purchase some items on eBay, and be a good customer, in order to build up your feedback rating, so that future buyers will be more likely to purchase an item from you. What qualifies as a good customer is someone who pays quickly and communicates well with the seller. Easy enough, right?

Sign Up for a Paypal Account
It is also important to register with PayPal, which is owned by eBay. PayPal enables you to pay for your items using a checking account, debit card or credit card in a secure and safe manner. In fact, PayPal has received such notoriety for its safe process that many online stores outside eBay are beginning to accept PayPal for payments of online orders.

Most eBay sellers will only accept PayPal payments, because it guarantees the payment will be received. Your payment information is never sent to the seller, as the payment is sent directly to PayPal and then PayPal sends it on. PayPal will be necessary when you are selling on eBay, since most buyers prefer to pay this way as well, so it is better to go ahead and get your account established now.

There are many more aspects of eBay that you should familiarize yourself with before starting and eBay business. EBay is easy to use, and you can most certainly learn as you go if you must, but it is better to understand the way the site works in order to make it easier when you transition from buyer to seller. I have provided some helpful links below to get you started.

View Part 2 – Selling an Item
View Part 3 – Casualseller to Powerseller
View Part 4 – Building an eBay Empire

Sources/Helpful eBay Links:
• BizHelp24.com: Starting an EBay Business
• Entrepreneur.com: Getting Started on EBay
• eBay.com: New to eBay Help Page


Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 4)
Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 3)
Starting a Successful eBay Business (Part 2)
Outsource Your Chores and Errands
Customer Reviews Make Business Better

By Michelle Cramer
Friday, May 27th, 2016 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Startup |

How Changes in Congress Could Affect Small Business

Small business owners were glued to their televisions last week as election ballots were tallied. In the end, 51 Democrats had seats in the House, compared to Republicans 49 seats. The House currently has 230 Democrats and 197 Republicans, with eight elections still determined ties.

Based on a pre-elections survey done by Wells Fargo and Gallup, approximately 75% of business owners believed the congressional takeover by Democrats would have a direct effect on small businesses nationwide. Various issues are expected to come into play.

Trade Promotion Authority
President Bush has ambitiously been seeking renewal of the Trade Promotion Authority, which will lapse in June. Created in 1974, TPA allows the president to negotiate trade agreements. Congress can approve or squash the agreements, but cannot amend them, which protects the agreements from gruelingly being picked to pieces once they were made with the U.S.’s trading partners. The shift in power is expected to slow the President’s progress on getting a renewal approved prior to the lapse, if at all.

Taxes
Estate Tax/Death Tax have been a long time reformation agenda for small businesses. It is a taxation of 30-50% on assets that are transferred from one generation to the next upon death. In other words, if dad dies, and leaves son a business and property worth $20 million, it will be taxed up to $10 million. If an asset is left to a spouse or a charitable organization, the tax usually does not apply.

A repeal of the tax was on the table, but it is expected to fall to the wayside. There may be a bipartisan approach, but it is not expected to be anything immediate, as the estate tax is not currently a congressional priority.

Healthcare
As far as healthcare, small businesses have been pushing for some sort of reform that will allow them to provide affordable health insurance to their employees. One such hope was association health plans, which would allow small businesses to band together on one insurance policy, even across state lines. The idea is highly supported by Republicans, not as favored by Democrats. It is expected that some option will be extended to small businesses, although association plans will probably not be utilized.

Minimum Wage
The national minimum wage has been $5.15 per hour since 1997. Based upon calculations, someone working a full-time job at this rate would make just over $10,000 a year, which is the national poverty line. In last week’s elections, six states approved raising the state minimum wage. There are now 29 states, plus Washington D.C., whose minimum wage is higher than the federal.

Raising the national minimum wage is a top priority for Democrats coming into a new congressional year. There is speculation that an increase in minimum wage would harm small businesses and increase the unemployment rate. However, a study by the Center for American Progress found that employment in small businesses grew in states where the minimum wage has already increased. Inflation is another concern for critics, but, truth be told, the pressures and struggles for small business under an increase would be marginal.

Iraq
The war in Iraq was the number one issue on voters’ minds, according to exit polls. Though it may not be directly connected to small business, it deserves mentioning. The Democratic takeover of Congress and a new Defense Secretary, combined with the people’s dislike of the way the war is being handled, will likely lead to a change in approach and policy.

Democrats want the Iraqi government to take more responsibility for its development and the war on terror in their country. The plan for doing so is to start pulling our troops out of Iraq and handing over the reigns. There have been requests of President Bush to convene an international conference on Iraq. Other suggestions presented may be regional dialogues with our adversaries in Iran and Syria for assistance or developing three sectarian states of the country.

The replacement of Donald Rumsfeld has led most to believe that President Bush is more open to these suggestions. In his address to the country regarding Rumsfeld’s resignation, Bush stated, “Secretary Rumsfeld and I agree that sometimes it’s necessary to have a fresh perspective.”

Changes are inevitably upon the horizon. Whether those changes are positive or negative depends entirely upon perspective. I would like to close with a statement made by Todd Stottlemyer, CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB):

“Small-business issues transcend party lines and we want to work with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to create an environment where businesses can flourish and grow and strengthen the American economy. That’s what NFIB is all about, promoting and protecting the right of our members to own, operate and grow their businesses. The key is providing a climate within which to do that.”

Sources/Related Readings:
• NFIB: Midterm Election Results In
• Business Week: Small Biz OK With New Congress
• Inc.com: What Does a Democratic Takeover of Congress Mean for Your Company?
• San Francisco Chronicle: Changes From Election May Weaken Bush’s Trade Agenda
• Reuters Election 2006: Economic Impact of Likely Minimum Wage Rise Unclear
• International Herald Tribune: Elections, Rumsfeld Exit Open Door to Change


Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
National Minimum Wage on the Verge of Increasing
Alternative Minimum Tax
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SBA Hurting Small Business?
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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, May 26th, 2016 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Business Law, Operations |

6 Steps to Successful Sales

Selling is about the right ideas communicated in an effective way. The lucrative position of a marketing team is the salesperson, simply because he/she is the one who produces the actual sale. It is important, therefore, that as a salesperson, you know the essentials of being successful in your trade.

1) Focus on the Customer
Whether you are a door-to-door, over the phone, or in-store salesperson, the focal aspect of your sales pitch should be to connect with the customer. It is all about them; their problems, needs, company and situation. Truth be told, they don’t care about you and whatever issues you may have with rejection. They usually won’t be afraid to tell you no. So, focus on making your customer’s life better, and you’ve got your foot in the door.

2) Be Unique
Share a unique characteristic about yourself, which could be anything from where you grew up to the fact that you are on a champion bowling league. Communicate it to your customer through a fun button on your jacket or with a small gift, such as a pen. In other words, make yourself stand out and different from the status-quo, without wearing clown shoes.

Also, listen to the customer and discover something that you have in common. Use that commonality to connect with the customer on a more personal level. Don’t share an elaborate story about how your dog knows every trick in the book, but acknowledge the fact that you too are a dog lover.

3) Be Positive
Your attitude will inevitably come in full view when you are attempting to sell a product. If you are just plain tired of coming to work every day, your enthusiasm will be low and so will your sales. But if you strive to always have a positive attitude, regardless of circumstances, your success rate will likely be much higher.

And do not let the fear of failure stop you. If you’re afraid that you may not succeed in a particular sale, then you won’t. Fear prevents you from accomplishing goals and achieving your full potential, so don’t let it win. In the famous words of Mark Twain, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not the absence of fear.” Fear is part of life, so wake up swinging.

4) Pitch it Well
Know the business and the product like the back of your hand. It is important to be able to answer every question the customer may throw your way, and you can’t do that if you don’t know the information. Questions are important on your end as well. Ask questions that really make the customer think and that provide you with crucial information for the sales process. If you don’t know what the customer is looking for, then you can’t sell it to them.

A great exercise that will help you in developing a stronger sales pitch is the “ad reversal” process. Write an ad for the product you are trying to sell that would appear in a newspaper or magazine, and just start with the basics. Then, record yourself reading the ad out loud. Listen to the recording and make adjustments to make the “sound” of it more appealing. Repeat this process until you develop a verbal script for selling your product that you are pleased with.

5) Create a Means for Follow-up
Provide your customer with information they can look at later, whether it be a business card, a website or a brochure. It needs to be well designed and appealing. The better the design, the better impression you give the customer.

This is especially crucial if you were unable to produce a sale. If you give the customer further information to look over, you have opened an opportunity to follow-up. Ask them if they had a chance to review the material and if they thought of any questions you could answer or further information you could provide.

6) Utilize a Mentor
No one is the perfect salesperson, but everyone has quality traits in their salesmanship that you can learn from. Find someone, or even a number of people, that you respect, both in their personal and business ethics, and ask them to give you some pointers. The more you are able to learn from other people and implement, the more effective you will be as a salesperson.

Sources/Related Readings:
• Business Week: You’re Never Too Young to Sell
• EffectiveMeeting.com: Delivering an Effective Sales Pitch
• Entrepreneur.com: Ad Writing Made Easy
• Entrepreneur.com: Unlock Your Selling Potential


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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, May 25th, 2016 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Marketing |

How to Write an Effective Advertisement

Children are often told that thunder is the sound of God bowling in Heaven.

See what I did there? I got your attention, didn’t I? Your first reaction may have been “What does thunder have to do with writing ads?”

The answer: everything.

The first, and most crucial step to writing an effective ad is to seize the reader’s attention with a strong opener — give your ad “thunder” (See, told you). Catching you prospective consumer off guard will inevitably get him to read the entire ad, if nothing else but to see what it’s all about.

Be sure to avoid opening with a question directed at your prospective consumer, as this is highly overdone. However, rhetorical and abstract questions are okay, when used properly. An example of this could be “Why is a square always a rectangle, but a rectangle is never a square?”

Then, create interest by bridging your opening statement to the product you are offering, such as my previous use of “thunder.” Follow by creating desire for your product by stating a problem and showing your product to be the solution. Tune in to the reader’s emotions. The point of your ad is to lure the prospect to contact your business in pursuit of a purchase.

Be sure that the text of your ad is appealing to the eyes by using short sentences and smaller paragraphs. White space is always effective. If you want to use color, be consistent and only use it in one or two places, such as the opening statement and your business’ contact information.

Graphics and pictures are always a plus, as they can be very effective in drawing initial attention to the ad, especially if your ad is one among many. Consider using a font other than Times Roman or Sans, if the option is available, but make sure it is still easy to read. And always remember to continually read and re-read your ad for spelling and grammatical errors. Any such error takes away from all credibility that a brilliantly written ad may have.

Finally, create a closing that connects to your opener. Your closing also needs to state the action you want the prospect to take, whether that be “Call 1-800-THUNDER today” or “Visit our website,” etc. Get feedback from coworkers, family, friends. They resemble your market and will let you know if something isn’t working right.

Still getting writer’s block? Try writing 10-15 opening statements and walk away, leaving them to sit overnight. Come back to them in a day or two and see which one jumps out at you.

And, if you fall short on experience, a great way to practice writing ads is to grab your local paper or telephone book and pick out some bad ads. Dissect them, making notes about why you think they don’t work. Then rewrite them! Not only will this give you confidence in your ability to write a great ad, but it will help you to learn and avoid what doesn’t work.

Finally, test your ad. Give it a week or two and see what revenue it brings in. Once you create an ad that works, stick with it. Keep it in the same format, venue and media type for as long as the ad brings in new calls or visits to your website.

Ad writing is simply an effective sales script on paper with eye catchers. Ads bring prospects to your door or website, but do not seal the deal, so be sure not to rely fully on them. Have an effective sales team in place, ready to transition the prospect from intrigue to consumer. You can even reverse the ad writing process to develop a great sales pitch.

And, always remember that your ad should leave your prospective consumer “thunder-struck.”

Sources:
• Entrepreneur.com: Making your Advertising Message Stand Out
• BellaOnline – Office Site: How to Write Effective Ads
• Hartfelt Promotions: Marketing 101: Writing Ads
• Entrepreneur.com: Ad Writing Made Easy


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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, May 24th, 2016 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Marketing |

Internet Search Advertising: Google vs. Yahoo

The idea was simple and logical. If an individual searches for golf clubs on the internet, it only makes sense that vendors selling golf clubs should advertise on a search engine to bring in more customers.

The recent demand for search advertising has produced serious competition between the two main internet search engines, Google and Yahoo.

Currently, search advertising is an $8 billion global industry, and its worth is expected to sky-rocket to nearly $22 billion in the next five years. No wonder the two major search engines are both still going strong. Both Google’s AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing (YSM) offer search advertising by allowing advertisers to bid on space identified with keywords and adjacent to search results. The key to the development of their head-to-head lies within the differences in their network connections and business philosophies.

When Yahoo’s top executive, Terry Semel, joined the company four years ago, he brought with him a long list of Hollywood contacts, and Yahoo has recently starting building a headquarters in Hollywood. Semel is a no-nonsense businessman and doesn’t play around, implementing tough discipline in management into the company. Yahoo is beginning to lean more toward being a media company, rather than an innovator of technology. Their focus has, therefore, shifted to traditional, handholding partnerships with ad agencies.

Google, on the other hand, focuses on the individual potential of their staff. They depend on their engineers to come up with innovative ideas for the company, and therefore expect them to spend one day a week on a special interest project of their own. Google has some of the top engineers in the country under its belt, and continues to attract them. Their focus is technology and innovation, and the Google executives are well aware of the fact that they must remain innovative to stay on top.

Recently, as most know, Google acquired YouTube in an effort to expand its advertising market to video advertising. Now Google again expanding its borders and upping the ante. They are currently in the test phase of an online marketplace that will allow advertisers to bid on print-ad space in more than 50 major U.S. newspapers, including The New York Times and Denver Post, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune.

And Google’s leaps forward are beginning to leave Yahoo in the dust. Though Yahoo had maintained an edge for some time, a Web tracking firm recently showed Google forging ahead of Yahoo as the number one search engine. Google’s stocks are currently only ten percent below their all-time high, while Yahoo’s stocks have plummeted nearly 40 percent this year.

Advertising agencies tend to lean toward Google based on the fact that Yahoo has a tendency to be a late-bloomer when it comes to innovations, such as blogs and video. For example, Yahoo’s much anticipated new search technology for advertisers, dubbed “Panama,” was due to take flight this summer, but has already been delayed with an unspecified release date.

Critics expect Google to eventually hit a rough spot as their innovations begin to dwindle. However, considering recent and upcoming developments in Google’s advertising industry, I don’t foresee that happening any time soon. If you’re seeking search advertising as a marketing option for your company, it appears that Google is currently the way to go.

What’s your experience with Google and Yahoo search advertising? Please share your experiences and comparisons.

Sources/Related Readings:
•News.com: Google vs. Yahoo: Clash of Cultures
•CNNMoney.com: Yawns for Yahoo, ga-ga for Google
•Business Week: Google’s New Frontier: Print Ads
• Forbes.com: Google vs. Yahoo!


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, May 23rd, 2016 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Marketing, Operations |

Mompreneurs: Balancing Work and Motherhood

We are society of hard-workers, and moms are no exception. Unfortunately, because of a woman’s innate longing to care for her family, the combination of motherhood and work often produces a ting of guilt. Though every situation requires different solutions, here are some tips for helping to balance your job and your family.

Explore Your Options
There are a number of possibilities when it comes to working when you have children that you may not have even considered. If applicable, take time to talk with your spouse and consider the following:

• Can you revamp your work schedule by changing the hours or how many hours you work?

• Can you do part or all of your work from home? Is there another job opportunity that will allow you to work from home, or could you start your own in-home business?

• Look at your family budget — is there any way you can cut back on work during the first couple of years of your child’s life?

Become Forever Organized
Once you’ve determined that you are going to work, in whatever way that may be, it is very important that you get organized and stay that way. If you work at home, organize your work environment. Working at home does not allow for time to search through stacks of paperwork to find a specific receipt or to fumble through a desk of debris to find a pen. You can use all the time you can spare.

Get organized, such as using a filing cabinet, so that everything is easy and sufficient. And always be sure to childproof your home work space if you have little ones. Consider designing a play area in your office so that you can spend time with your children without crayon marks ending up on your papers.

You should also organize your schedule. Your time with work and family must be balanced; otherwise one or the other will be left wanting. If you work from home, you must first realize that you will usually not be able to keep normal business hours. Map out your time with a pocket calendar or blackberry that has both your personal and work appointments on it.

Make a list of your goals, both for work and family, for each month. Then, break your list down by weeks and then by days. Be committed to getting the things on your list done, tackling them one day at a time. This will allow for daily accomplishments that will aid in keeping your moral up. Also, consider scheduling a day, weekly or bi-weekly, in which you only spend time with your family. Work will always be there tomorrow, but each stage of your child’s life is short. Take a little time away from work to enjoy those precious moments.

Cut Yourself Some Slack
Don’t expect too much of yourself when it comes to having a spotless house and a home-cooked meal on the table every night. Your priorities are your family and then your work. Though you want to avoid becoming a slob, housework can usually wait until tomorrow. Don’t wear yourself ragged trying to get everything done at once. In order to relieve a bit of stress, consider doing the little things in the evening before bed, such as getting out the kids clothes for the next day or getting the coffee pot ready. You’ll be glad your morning is a bit less chaotic when that alarm goes off.

And don’t be afraid to ask for help, because, as we all know, that’s what family is all about. Sit down with your spouse, and even your kids (providing they’re old enough), and figure out a logical way for everyone to share the load. Determine what household chores could be done by other members of the family to give you a bit of a break.

Take Care of You
Be sure not to forget about yourself and your personal needs. Taking care of yourself is crucial because, if you’re not happy and healthy, then that reflects negatively upon your family and your work. Guard your mental and physical health by using your calendar to schedule “me time.” You may have to get up before everyone else to get in a little work-out and a bubble bath, but if that’s what it takes, it’s completely worth it.

Consider having an evening out with the girls once a month while dad stays home with the kids. There are lots of possibilities, and you must implement something for the well-being of you and your family.

These four steps are only the beginning. Keep in mind that balance isn’t always something that you necessarily obtain, but it should always be something that you are striving toward. And you’ve found a good place to start.

So how do you make it work? Share you thoughts.

Sources:
• Entrepreneur.com: 10 Tips for Balancing Work and Motherhood
• FindArticles.com: The Working Mother’s Dilemma

Resources for Working Moms:
Working Mother Magazine
WorkingMom.com
Working Mom’s Refuge


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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, May 22nd, 2016 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Ownership |

Becoming a Government Contractor

A certain percentage of government contracts must go to small businesses as a means of providing aid for those businesses to build a stronger foundation. Any small business owner with the capabilities would willingly jump at this opportunity. After all, obtaining a government contract means an outrageous opportunity for your business to grow in exponential ways. But before you dive into the deep end of the ocean, it’s important to know what you’re in for.

Feel the Power
First and foremost, don’t underestimate the power that you are dealing with when working for the government. If you do something they don’t like, they are capable of exhausting all resources to get you to pay for it, most of which you will not be able to fend off. Your intentions should be of strict honesty and reliability — as a goverment contractor, you will likely be audited on a regular basis.

Know the Rules
The rules of government contracting are lined out in the 1,000 plus pages of the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), which were created through decades of the government’s experience with contractors to counter every viable scandal or corruption that any business can throw at them. Intimidating? Well, that’s the idea.

You won’t be expected to memorize the FAR, but you should familiarize yourself with it. Specifically, you need to know Part 12, which relieves contractors and subcontractors who provide “commercial items,” or products rather than services, from many of the federal contract requirements (and paperwork). You need to know whether or not this section applies to you, and, if it does, you will probably need to occasionally remind the people you deal with once you’ve obtained a contract.

Register
In order to do anything with the government, you will first need to register with the Central Contractor Registration (CCR). There are also more opportunities available to your business if you are of the minority, such as woman owned. If that is the case, you should also consider becoming certified as part of organizations such as the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) or the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC).

Also be aware of the fact that, in order to apply for a contract with the government, you will need to supply your D-U-N-S number, which, if you do not have one, can be obtained at Duns & Bradstreet. Also, on your application for a contract you will have to classify the products/service you provide with a classification number. You can determine what that number is by accessing the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).

Past Performance
The government relies on references, or past performance in the government industry, as a basis for narrowing down their contractor options. This makes it rather difficult to obtain a first time contract. You may want to consider starting as a subcontractor, working for another company that has already obtained the prime government contract. There are established Mentor Protégé programs that are worth looking into, in which a large business helps a small business get started in government contracting. Another option is partnering with another company to combine the services you provide, thus strengthening your resume.

Research
You will then need to find out what the government is looking for. There are many sources for this information, some of which have been listed below for your convenience. Also, consider state and local governments as an alternative to the federal government directly, especially if you are just getting started. Cities, counties, districts, etc. often contract more goods and services than the federal government, opening up more opportunities for your business.

Once you have determined what contracts you will bid on, research the industry. Look into your competitors so that you have a better idea of what you can offer the government that they can’t. Also, research the government agency that you are applying with. The more knowledgeable you are about the agency, the better your company will look to them.

Please be aware of the fact that this is only a simplification of the process ahead of you in pursuing a government contract. There is a lot of information out there, some of which I have supplied below, which you should look into before pressing on. It’s a highly complicated and long process, so the more you know beforehand, the better.

Sources:
• Entrepreneur.com: Think Big
• Entrepreneur.com: Become a Government Contractor
• CapturePlanning.com: How to Become a Government Contractor
• Washington Business Journal: So You Want to Be a Government Contractor

Government Contractor Resources:
• Small Business Administration: Government Contracting
• U.S. General Services Administration: How to Sell to the Government
Federal Business Opportunities


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, May 21st, 2016 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Startup |

It’s all in the Family: How to Setup a Family Business

An estimated 95% of all businesses in the US are family-owned, whether it be through stocks or directly running the company. However, the difficulties that come along with a family business account for the fact that few make it past the first generation, 33% survive through the second, approximately 10% make it to the third and only 3% see the fourth generation or farther.

There are three main factors that contribute to this failure: sibling rivalry, financial problems and the fact that there is no one qualified enough to take over when Dad retires. Unless you take these crucial steps in developing a strong family business, the odds will be stacked against you.

Can You Handle It?
If you want the business you create to remain in the family, you must first determine if you family can handle the pressure. It is important that you have a strong, close-knit relationship with your family members before-hand. If there is already tension within the family, a family owned business might not be the best idea for bringing you closer. However, if you have already come through some challenges and remained arm-in-arm, chances are you could handle it.

Set Criteria
It is important that you don’t just let anyone in the family become part of the business just because you want them involved. Not everyone is qualified to run a business. Let each of them know that you have criteria in place that they must meet before being considered for a spot in the ranks.

Consider stipulating in your company bylaws what the requirements are to have ownership in the business, such as experience in the trade or a degree in business management. Another option is to let your young children or grandchildren know that, should they ever want to get involved in the business down the road, they need to prepare themselves with a competent education and by taking time to learn the business early.

Clearly Define Goals and Roles
Determine the goals of the company, and get the input of each family member. If it is a company you’ve already started and you are considering bringing your family along for the ride, give them an opportunity to voice their opinion about where the business is headed. Keeping an open mind and taking everyone’s thoughts into consideration will allow for better communication down the road.

Define the roles of each family member, including your expectations for that person in the role they carry. This is one of the most important aspects of avoiding serious conflict within the business. Consider having a written job description for each family member on file as a reference point.

Also, define the chain of command. This includes determining wages, the evaluation process and who each member will report to. Wages should be based upon salaries in a comparable position outside your business or qualifications for their position. Defining the roles of your family members will help unrelated employees to feel as though they are valued too, as well as provide a more stable environment.

Work Time vs. Family Time
It is crucial to the structure and well-being of your family that you draw clear lines between work time and family time. Do not allow work time to take away from family, whether it be spending too much time at work with your children and not enough time outside the office, or in keeping your children away from their own spouses and children by requiring too much of them. Clearly define when the work day begins and ends. Obviously there will be times when someone needs to work a little overtime, but this should not be a regular practice, as it only adds to stress and tension among family members.

Also, learn how to determine whether an issue is personal or professional. Deal with the issues accordingly by setting aside a specific time and place to do so. Be sure to create an environment that allows for open and honest communication between you and your family members/employees. In other words, do not belittle each other’s feelings or opinions, but always fully hear each other out and determine a legitimate resolution. If everyone feels as though they can be honest with one another, it will allow for less conflict.

Plan for the Future
Only about 28% of all family-owned businesses have a succession plan in place. 68% of business owners wait until they are ready to step down before beginning a plan for who is to take over. The smarter route: start planning who gets the big man’s chair approximately ten years before handing it over.

Focus on the needs of the business, not emotions. Choose someone to take over that knows the business nearly as well as you do and has shown and interest in running the company. Understand that the best person for the job may not always be a family member. You may also consider dividing the role of successor up among, say, two of your children, who show equal potential and gumption.

You also need to have an estate plan in place. If you don’t the business can be taxed 37-55% of its total assets on the death of a founder or single business owner. For example, if, as the owner of the company, you pass away, and your company has revenue of $20 million a year and an additional $5 million in assets, the IRS can take upwards of $14 million in estate tax if you do not have an estate plan in place. Provide protection for your family and your company by having a will, a life insurance policy and/or a buy-sell agreement for the distribution of company stocks.

These steps are crucial to helping your family-business and your family survive. However, the most important thing to remember is that family comes first and you must do what is necessary to ensure that your relationship with your family stays strong and close.

Sources:
• Entrepreneur.com: Running a Family Franchise
• FindArticles.com: Keeping it in the Family

Family Business Resources:
• Business Link: Family Run Businesses
• Family Business Magazine: Current Issue
• Loyola University Chicago: Family Business Center
• Small Business Association: Challenges in Managing a Family Business
• Family Business Magazine: America’s 150 Largest Family Businesses


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, May 20th, 2016 @ 12:09 AM CDT

Family Business, Startup |

Breakfast in a Whole New Way

There is a new hit at some of our nation’s university campuses that is quickly headed toward popularity as widespread as Starbucks and McDonald’s. In September of 2004, David Roth and Rick Bacher started an innovative new business called Cereality — a cereal café on the campus of the University of Philidelphia. Since that time they have opened three other locations.

Huh? What’s a cereal cafe? Well, Cereality’s pajama-clad employees serve 30 varieties of cold cereal, with the option of mixing together and topping with anything from fruit to M&Ms, and even ice cream, served in a Chinese food style container. This couch filled environment, with cartoons always playing on the TV, is reminiscent of those Saturday mornings when, as children, we didn’t have a care in the world.

The common reaction: Why didn’t I think of that? Many wishing they had and Cereality are now facing some competition. And why not? Cereality already took the risk for them. Bowls, located at North Carolina State, opened in 2005. The Cereal Bowl opened this year across the street from the University of Miami and their projected first-year sales are expected to reach upwards of $350,000. Not too shabby.

Cereality welcomes the competition, but has recently taken steps to protect the franchise they are in the process of building. Roth states that he is trying to act before the big guys, like Starbucks, try and take a piece of the market. Cereality has applied for trademarks for its name and around 50 slogans such as “It’s always Saturday morning,” or “What’s in your bowl?” They have also applied for patents covering business processes, such as storage methods and cereal combinations.

Cereality also sent warning letters to Bowls and The Cereal Bowl, making patent claims on everything from the containers they use to mixing brand-name candy toppings with the cereal. They also sued Ohio’s new business Cerealicious for trademark infringement. The Cereal Bowl followed suit by sending a letter to Bowls and responding defiantly to Cereality.

Roth states that they plan to continue franchising, including partnerships with hotels and retail chains, and providing online sales and catering. Cereality has received 6,000 plus applications for partnerships from all over the world. Roth hopes to have at least 30 new partnerships by 2008. With an estimated 95% of Americans eating cereal, these gentlemen have stumbled onto something “Grrrreat.” Makes one wonder what other business opportunities are staring us in the face, waiting to be presented to the world.

One question remains: When are you opening one in my town?

Sources/Related Readings:
• Entrepreneur.com: Bowled Over
• Time Magazine: In a Real Crunch
• PRNewsWire.com: 1500 Square Feet of Cereal
• USA Today: A Whole New Bowl Game
• FastCompany.com: Customer Service Local Hero – Cereality
• Catalyst Magazine: The Cereal Cafe


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, May 19th, 2016 @ 12:04 AM CDT

Ventures |

Why Trump & Kiyosaki Want Us to Be Rich

We all know who “the Trump” is, so he needs little introduction. To summarize his expansive money-making career, he is a graduate of Wharton School of Finance and prosperous real estate tycoon. He’s the star and co-producer of the ever popular reality show Apprentice and author of seven bestsellers.

Robert Kiyosaki came from a small sugar plantation town in Hawaii, only to move to New York for education. He is an investor and a mining and real estate entrepreneur. He is best known for his book on financial philosophy called Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Published in 1997, and selling over 26 million copies worldwide since that time, this book has been translated into 46 different languages and is available in 97 countries.

These two financial gurus teamed up to write and publish “Why We Want You to Be Rich,” which hit bookstores on October 10th. To the disappointment of most, this is not a book of specific advice on how to make or invest money. It is a book of philosophy, with the intention of providing the middle class with means to change their attitude about money and obtain a financial education.

In a video available on Amazon.com, Trump claims that he is not afraid of failing. “What is there to be afraid of?” he says, further stating that, when one considers all the turmoil in the world, nothing else really matters. Kiyosaki follows with the fact that he and Trump are better people because they have both failed and made a comeback from that failure, which provided them with a sound education about money that the two wanted to share. Because, “financial education is more important than ever before.”

The central principal of this book is that Trump and Kiyosaki firmly believe that, within the next decade or so, our country will be a two-class system — rich and poor. They believe that the middle class is deteriorating rapidly due to the falling value of the dollar, rising national debt, lower wages, higher oil prices and baby-boom retirement. It is time for everyone to learn how to “think big” and “think rich,” otherwise your other option will be the poorhouse.

The introduction of the book states that “saving is obsolete and bad financial advice.” For example, Trump and Kiyosaki believe that the 401(k) savings plan will not be adequate for approximately 80% of all workers to provide for their future. They support investments such as real estate and starting your own business as the best means to building personal wealth.

Trump claims that this book will provide the reader with a “better life.” He contends that money isn’t everything but it “makes life easier.” It is about “attitude” and “creation of wealth.” He also advices that everyone needs to “know your subject.” Investing in real estate without understanding it can lead to your downfall.

Kiyosaki admits that their book is different from the traditional financial book that says to live below your means, save and invest. He and Trump’s advice is that one should learn how to expand his means, like they do. Also, watch long-term trends — see where the money is going so that you know what to invest in.

So what do you think? Have you read the book? What are your thoughts on Trump and Kiyosaki’s financial philosophy? Some believe it is just another way for Trump and Kiyosaki to make more money — do you contend? Or has their philosophy worked for you?

Sources:
• Amazon.com: Why We Want You to Be Rich
• Kiplinger.com: Book Review
• Kiplinger.com: Q&A With Trump and Kiyosaki
• Kansas City Star: Trump book contradicts standard advice

Trump/Kiyosaki Resources:
• WhyWeWantYouToBeRich.net: Book Website
• Trump.com: Donald Trump’s Website
• CashFlowTech.com: Rich Dad Website
• Wikipedia.org: Info on Robert Kiyosaki


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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, May 18th, 2016 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Money |

Immigrant Entrepreneurs

Each year, Inc. Magazine lists what they call the “Inc. 500,” which is a list of America’s fastest growing privately owned businesses. I highly recommend reading the stories of these entrepreneurs — they are very inspirational.

What stuck out to me about this year’s list is that at least 55 of the 500 business owners were not born in the US. Their companies employ more than 14,000 and contributed in excess of $1.36 billion to the economy last year.

Every census taken from 1880 to 1990 revealed that immigrants were self-employed significantly more than American-born natives. The number of immigrant entrepreneurs in 2005 was 350 out of 100,000, compared to 280 of 100,000 for those born on American soil. Clearly, there is something to be said about “the land of opportunity.”

There have been numerous studies into the dynamics of immigrant entrepreneurs, many reaching the conclusion that immigration has “strengthened the entrepreneurial drive” within our nation, contributing to the surge of small businesses over the last few decades.

The Driving Force Behind Immigrant Entrepreneurship

Why are immigrants more likely to start their own business? There are a number of reasons. Consider the risk it takes to pick up everything and move to a country where the majority of people don’t even speak your language. Immigrants deal with a high rate of uncertainty in that alone, so starting their own business would comparatively seem but a moderate risk.

There is also the factor that many immigrants face numerous struggles and frustrations in the large business work force, as they are often paid unfairly and required to work uncommon hours. This often leads immigrants to seek other options, which typically includes starting their own business, as they recognize that they can offer a variety of products and services that many other entrepreneurs cannot.

It is often stereotyped that immigrant businesses are usually small “mom-and-pop” restaurants or dry-cleaners, but the options for many immigrants has vastly expanded in the past few decades. Those who moved to the US to obtain a higher education, rather than flee oppression, account for a number of the successful immigrant entrepreneurs in our country. It is estimated that up to 25% of Silicon Valley firms were established by immigrants.

Immigrant communities also tend to provide a strong degree of support for each other. First generation immigrants, who made their living with the “mom-and-pop” businesses, tend to push their children to explore other professions, such as legal or medical professions. Others may take new immigrants in under their wing, providing apprenticeships so that the newcomers can either take over the business or start successfully on their own.

There have been numerous studies into the perceived benefits or disservices of immigrant entrepreneurs, but, with so many differing opinions, little definitive information has been established. Some find them to aid the economy, while others find them to be exclusive and harmful. Questions remain without answers.

So, what are your thoughts? What, if anything, do immigrant businesses contribute to our economy? Our society? How many jobs do they create? What sort of jobs? Do they aid in foreign trade?

Please share your opinions on these or any other issues regarding immigrant entrepreneurs.

Source / Related Readings:
• Carnegie Endowment: Immigrant Entrepreneurs
• Inc.com — Inc.500: The Immigration Debate
• Business Journal: Immigrant Entrepreneurs Reaching Higher
• Inc.com: Immigrant Entrepreneurs Outpace Native-Born Americans

The Negative Position:
• VDare.com: Less Benefit Than They’re Cracked Up to Be


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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, May 17th, 2016 @ 12:03 AM CDT

Ventures |

Stronger Business Through Honest Communication

Employers often expect honesty from their staff, but usually don’t provide the environment in which employees feel like they can be honest. It is more likely that an employee will simply tell you what they think you want to hear.

Unfortunately, this attitude does not provide a stable work environment and can often harm your business in the long run. You can’t be everywhere at once, so you depend on your employees to tell you when something is wrong. If they do not feel comfortable being completely honest with you, then there is a lot of information you could be missing.

One of the key elements to maintaining a successful and growing business is to create an honest workplace environment by implementing the following as a part of your business structure:

Define

Provide your employees with your definitions and expectations of honest communication in the workplace, such as:

• Always state the facts, without attempting to interpret “why.”
• Take a deep breath and don’t let emotions cloud your judgment.
• Don’t point fingers or place blame.
• Talk to the person you have a grievance with about the situation.
• Ask open-ended questions to stimulate productive conversation.
• Work together to determine possible solutions.

Clarify

Make the vision and goals of the business clear. Have monthly staff meetings to set those goals and determine the strengths and weaknesses of the business over the last month. Encourage your employees to participate in determining what those strengths and weaknesses are.

Clarify your expectations for your employees, providing a structured environment that they can depend on to be consistent and reliable.

Encourage and Motivate

Tell your employees that you value them. When someone does a great job, let them know that you appreciate their hard work. Don’t assume that they realize it on their own.

Show your employees that you value them. Compensate them for a job well done by providing a deserving salary. Also consider performance bonuses and annual or semi-annual raises when they have showed themselves loyal and productive.

Provide a comfortable working environment by developing relationships with your employees. Don’t treat them like your subordinates, make them feel as though they are part of the team.

Ask for both positive and negative feedback. Let them know that their thoughts matter to you.

Set an Example

Be reliable. Consider your employees’ best interests and provide a structured and consistent environment.

Be attentive. When your employees come to you and have something to say, give them your full attention (schedule a meeting if you have to) and hear them out. Don’t make any decisions before hearing everything they have to say.

Be authentic. Practice what your preach. If you expect honest communication from your employees, then you have to provide the same to them on a regular and consistent basis.

Be inspiring. Convey your passion and dreams for the business. Let them see that you enjoy your work. Show them that every aspect of your business is important to you, especially your staff.

Providing an environment in which your employees feel as though they can be honest with you will allow your business to develop a solid foundation. If the atmosphere behind the doors of your business is not positive, then it will be hard to develop that atmosphere outside them. Honest communication within plays a vital role in building a business that will obtain its goals and succeed.

Sources/Related Readings:
• Smart Business Network: Solid Leadership
• Entrepreneur.com: The Truth?
• NewsWise.com: Honesty in the Workplace Sorely Lacking


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, May 16th, 2016 @ 12:03 AM CDT

Operations, Ownership |

Preventing Employee Theft

Employee theft is more prominent than most business owners realize. The average business loses approximately 6% of revenue to fraud each year, and typically employees are to blame. Nearly one-third of business bankruptcies are due to employee fraud. Chances are at least one of your employees is stealing from you right now.

The first step to preventing employee theft is to know the common avenues, keeping in mind that it is not limited to just these forms.

Forging Receipts — charging extra and pocketing the difference.
Pocketing Loose Change — Employee assumes that a dollar here or there won’t be missed from the petty cash box.
Stealing Supplies — taking a pen or paper clips on a regular basis because they don’t believe it will negatively affect the business.
Stealing Equipment — taking equipment to a job site and then taking it home, often claiming it was misplaced or stolen.
Reimbursement Fraud — claiming they provided items to the company, but never actually doing so. This also includes embellishing on expenses they incur while working, such as mileage.

There are a number of preventative measures you can take in order to sway your employees’ temptation to steal from the company.

Implement Easier Systems
Confusing and complicated accounting or bookkeeping systems, often those done by hand, make it easier for employees to cover their tracks when committing fraud. Small businesses are at greater risk because they typically rely on only one person to handle the accounting responsibilities since the system is so complex.

Avoid this temptation by implementing a simpler accounting system, such as accounting software. Also, consider cross-train people in your company on that system, including yourself, so that there are checks and balances. If more eyes are examining the books, the errors, whether intentional or not, will more easily be found.

Use a “Check-Out” Method
For businesses that have equipment that is used outside the work place, consider requiring you employees check it out. Have them write down the date, their name, the piece of equipment, the job site, etc. When they are through using it, have them check it back in. This will allow for you to hold a particular person responsible for the equipment, should it not be returned to the business.

This system may not work as well unless someone is in charge of it. If possible, you should have them come to you to check equipment out. If your busy schedule does not allow for you to keep track, put one or two people in charge of it that you can count on to be honest.

Eliminate Exit Options
Many businesses that have a night shift see a sharp increase in employee theft during that time. Often it is because the employee has too many unmonitored exiting options. Night shift employees should only have one or two exit locations. Those locations should be equipped with video surveillance or guards to be sure that no one leaves the building with unauthorized company belongings.

Get a History Before Hiring
Before hiring a new employee, obtain both their criminal and credit history. Surprisingly, the credit history is probably the more important of the two. If a potential employee is overwhelmed with debt, then the pressure to steal from your business increases dramatically, often convincing himself that he needs it more than you do.

Implement a Company Theft Policy
This is probably the most effective preventive measure you can take. In the policy, explain the company’s code of ethics. Specify the rules regarding office supplies, company equipment, etc. Be sure to indicate that employees who steal from the company will be prosecuted. Have each current employee, and all new employees upon hire, read and sign the policy to be effective immediately.

Have a Company Meeting
If an employee is discovered stealing from the company, it would be a good idea to call everyone together and let them know what’s going on. Outline how these actions negatively affect the company by providing them with the actual numbers. You’ll be surprised how many employees don’t realize that their unethical actions could destroy your business, and their job.

Implement an Anonymous Reveal Method
Provide a means for loyal employees to anonymously notify you of employee theft within the company. The pressure among co-workers to protect each other is strong, but anonymity will provide an employee with piece of mind on all levels. Employee Theft Anonymous is a great online source for allowing loyal employees to combat the fear of being a tattle-tail.

Don’t allow employee theft to get the best of you by hoping it will just go away without any effort on your part. The longer you let it go unchecked, the bigger the threat to the well-being of your business. And remember, more often then not, it is the veteran employee, who knows your business well enough to find the cracks, that takes advantage of an opportunity. Take action and smother the temptation before it has the chance to surface.

Sources:
• Inc.com: Are Your Staffers Stealing?
• Small Business Association: Common-Sense Measures for Preventing Employee Theft

Related Readings:
•CNN Money:Arresting Employee Theft
• About.com: Employee Theft – The Profit Killer
• Inc.com: Employee Theft Still Costing Business


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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, May 15th, 2016 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Human Resources |

Building New Business Contacts: Networking 101

Contacts are an important aspect of any business, but are essential to the survival of a small business. Without contacts you cannot expand your clientele and your business will not grow. Below are some pointers on how to continually expand your list of contacts.

1) Ask your current/ongoing network for new contacts.
Your current network includes:
• Previous employers, associates and co-workers
• Successful friends and family
• Long lost high school and college classmates
• Current clientele

2) Use your daily activities to your advantage.
Your everyday social activities can provide great connections. For example, when going to play golf with a friend, ask him to bring some of his colleagues along. Such activities afford an opportunity to market yourself and your business in a relaxed social environment.

Use this quality time to build trusting relationships. Be yourself and don’t bring up your business unless the conversation leads that direction. You don’t want to come on too strong and irritate a potential client. After all, the purpose of playing golf is to relax and not deal with work issues, despite the fact that everyone is continually thinking about them.

3) Join a professional organization.
Professional organizations provide an outstanding opportunity to network. However, before joining any organization, be sure research the organization and make sure it is the best option for you and your business. Some key questions to ask are:

• Are their membership fees and how often are they due?
• Is there a certain time commitment expected of members?
• Are their conferences (opportunities to meet people natiionwide)?
• How active are the members; will they participate as much as you?
• Is the organization industry focused?
• Are their opportunities for “cross-pollination” with your company?

4) Attend conferences in your industry.
Not only do industry conferences provide an opportunity to expand your network, but they also provide a plethora of information about the latest trends, developments, etc. in your industry. It is a venue with access to both competitors and potential clientele, which opens opportunities for you to better your business as well as expand it.

Key elements to successfully establishing new contacts:
• Commit your sales script to memory. Don’t recite the entire script with each introduction, but know it so that you can communicate the key elements to others throughout your conversation.
• Ask conference attendees you already know for introductions.
• Follow-up with the people you met by sending a letter within a week, requesting an official meeting.

5) Help others establish their network.
What goes around comes around. If you help others find potential clientele, they will likely help you as their own network expands.

Regardless of whether you use one or all of these recommendations, always remember that networking takes time. You may not see the fruits of your labor for months, and sometimes even years. But, make a positive impact, and most people are sure to think of you when they need the services you provide.

Today’s Source:
• BusinessWeek.com: Ties That Bind and Build a Business

Related Readings:
• Inc.com: Become a Master Networker
• The Boston Globe: Networking Tips
• Small Business Association: Networking
• Entrepreneur.com: Networking – Simply Your Company’s Story


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, May 14th, 2016 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Networking |

Debt Collection Strategies that Work (2 of 2)

PART 2 OF 2 – WHEN CLIENTS STILL WON’T PAY

We covered strategies to avoid “deadbeat” clients in part one, but inevitably someone is going to slip past your tactics and still be noncompliant with payment. What then?

It is best to take action when 30 days have passed with no payment or contact from a client. First, enclose a personal letter with their next invoice. Restate the written agreement regarding payments (consider enclosing a copy) and that they are in violation of that agreement.

If a client cannot afford the entire balance due, they may get overwhelmed and simply ignore the bill, hoping it will disappear on its own. Where the logic is in this, I’m not sure, but it is reality. Consider offering to make monthly payment arrangements with the client in your letter, especially if the balance due is rather large.

It is important, however, that you suggest the monthly payment amount, which should be approximately ten to twenty percent of the outstanding balance, and specify their first due date. Provide the client with the option to contact you if the suggested amount will not work on their budget. If they do so, be sure to negotiate an amount that is not too hard on them, but will serve to get the whole balance paid in a timely manner.

Once you have made payment arrangements with a client, continue charging interest on the outstanding balance for the first couple of months. If the client makes her payments consistently during that time period, consider waiving all future finance charges so that her bill will diminish more quickly. This will also give the client an incentive to continue making payments.

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Before venturing any further, this is a disclaimer that I am not an attorney, however, I have three years experience working for collections attorneys and I am very familiar with collection law. From this point on you must tread lightly when attempting to collect a debt from a client. I recommend that you examine the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which is Federal law regarding what is required of any debt collector, even if you are not a collection agency or attorney.
—-

Many articles I’ve read on the topic of collections, including those listed below, recommend that you write and call the client a number of times and be persistent, increasing your directness and determination gradually. However, I DO NOT recommend writing and/or calling the client more than once. There are precise laws in place that protect a debtor from what can be deemed “harassing” contact. If you contact your client more than twice about an unpaid balance, you risk being sued for harassment, and no bill is worth that.

Give the client until the next statement cycle to respond to your letter. If they have not, call them, but only once. Even if you get a voicemail, I recommend that you leave a message but do not attempt to contact them by telephone again. If you get no response, then you must first determine whether the balance due is worth pursuing further. This is the point where you may begin to incur expenses to collect the debt owed.

If you decide that the unpaid balance is worth pursuing, you have a few options to proceed with:

1) Turn it over to a collection agency.
Keep in mind that collection agencies will keep 10-50% of anything collected on your behalf. Their primary means of collecting a debt are letters and telephone calls. Personally, I do not think a collection agency is your best option. More or less, they do what you could do on your own, except that they will report the debt to the credit bureau and are willing to risk a more threatening tone with the debtor if necessary.

2) Take the debtor to Small Claims Court.
Providing that the balance owed to you is within the limitations set by the court (you will need to check with your local clerk), small claims court will cost less than $100 to pursue and you can represent yourself. This saves the added expense of hiring an attorney. You will need to have a paper trail to validate the debt before the judge. Your strongest piece of evidence is the agreement you and the client initially signed. However, it is also helpful to have photographs or examples of the services you provided, copies of invoices, and notes from telephone conversations, etc.

Before you can pursue a case in Small Claims Court, you will have to send the client a demand letter. This is a requirement under the FDCPA and is different from the letter suggesting payment arrangements you may have sent to the client earlier. There are specific legal requirements for a demand letter. Please refer to Section 809 of the FDCPA, which lists those requirements in detail.

Typically, if you provide the necessary information to prove that the client owes you money, the Small Claims Court will find on your behalf and there will be a judgment entered against the client. However, it is still up to you to collect the debt. This can be time consuming and difficult, as your options for doing so are limited.

3) Hire a Collections Attorney.
It is important that you know upfront that a collections attorney will either take a percentage of what they collect (usually around 25%) or will charge you an hourly rate. However, unlike with a collections agency, some of your attorney fees can be offset, if you took the correct steps in your initial agreement with the client.

If your agreement stipulates that the client would be responsible for attorney fees should a lawsuit be necessary, then you will be able to collect reasonable attorney fees (usually 15% of the debt) as a part of your judgment. This an advantage to hiring an attorney yourself. Collection agencies will not pursue a judgment without hiring an attorney, and, if they do so, your fees would not be reimbursed.

Collections attorneys file a Petition in the Associate Circuit Court of the county where the debtor resides. The debtor is then served with a summons to appear in court. If they do not appear, the a judgment is entered against them automatically. If they do appear and admit to owing the debt, a judgment is still entered. Only if the debtor disputes the debt in court will the case go to trial, and it has been my experience that only 10-20% of the cases do so. Even if the case goes to trial, it is likely that you will still get a judgment against the debtor, especially if you have a contract and a paper trial to prove your case.

It is also much easier for an attorney to collect the debt once a judgment is entered. They have the means to file a garnishment on the debtor’s wages, bank account, even business. They can also file a lien against real estate the debtor owns or confiscate personal property, such as a vehicle, as payment for the debt. These options are not readily available to you if you have a judgment through small claims court.

An attorney will do everything legally possible to collect every last penny of what is owed to you, and then some, such as attorney fees and interest. They will do all the work, including the demand letter, and you will be free to continue business without the added burden of trying to collect an unpaid debt. It has been my experience that an attourney can provide the best results in the shortest amount of time.

Always consult with an attorney before pursuing any debt collection strategy. The opinions in this article are not to be taken as official guidance but rather as an informational supplement to your overall debt collection strategy.

PART 1: Avoiding Deadbeat Customers

Sources/Related Readings:
• SeniorMag.com: Bill Collections
• About.com: Collection Letter Secrets
• FindArticles.com: Collecting Payments Due
• BusinessKnowHow.com: Small Business Collection Strategies


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, May 13th, 2016 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Money |

Debt Collection Strategies that Work (1 of 2)

Part 1 of 2 — AVOIDING THE “DEADBEATS”

It’s inevitable that any business owner, big or small, is going to encounter clients that are just not willing to pay. This is especially prominent in the service industry, as services are an ongoing process and not a one-time product purchase.

It is no surprise that many small businesses do not survive the first two years, and the inabilities to collect from nonpaying clients are likely a large contributor business failure.

The first realization a small business owner must come to is, no matter how nice a client is or how much business they bring you, if they do not pay then they are not a good customer. It is never a good idea to continue doing business with a client who ignores an unpaid invoice.

Despite what you may think, a non-paying client is typically doing so on purpose, not because it slipped their mind. Yes, there may be strenuous circumstances in some instances that provide an exception to the rule, but until your client notifies you of such, and his reasons are legitimate, you can assume that he is avoiding payment.

When you first start your business, there are certain strategies you can implement that will help you to avoid the burden of non-paying clients.

Establish Payment Guidelines
Let clients know from the start what your guidelines are. Explain on your brochure, website, order form, etc. the available payment options for the services you provide. Once you’ve established these guidelines, it is imperative that you stick with them. If a client senses that you are lax in collecting the payment as set out, they may take advantage of it.

Consider Upfront Payment
When providing a service, business owners have a tendency to do the work first and bill later, which can result in collection problems. Your safest bet is to require full or partial payment upfront. If your business provides a short-term service, such as carpet cleaning, payment in full upfront is not too much to ask of your customer. If your business provides a long-term service, such as computer programming, then it is more than reasonable to obtain partial payment upfront.

In fact, you might consider requiring one-third of the payment upfront, another third at the halfway point of the project, and the remaining third within two weeks of completion. If you adopt this rule, or something similar, be determined to not continue or finish the project until the payment due is received. Inform the client of this payment plan in the beginning and, chances are, they will be sure to pay on time because they want the finished product.

Develop an Accounts Receivable Department
Some small business owners are tempted to allow the sales department to also deal with accounts receivable. If your business has the ability to hire the employees, establish a separate accounts receivable department or put someone in charge of collecting payments. This will insure that someone is always aware of what clients have paid and what clients are behind.

Put it in Writing
Make this your policy with every new client. Legitimate clients understand that you need the terms of your business relationship in writing in order to protect your business. Be sure your agreement covers what product/service you will provide, when you will provide it and how much and when the client is to pay, including any interest/finance charges applied to late payments. If a potential client refuses to sign the contract, then they likely won’t pay you and are not worth your time.

It is also important to state in the contract that, should the client not make payments as agreed, you reserve the right to pursue action through the court. Also state that, should court action be necessary, the client would be responsible for paying court costs and your attorney fees. Let the client know that this is simply a precaution and you have no reason to believe that court action will be necessary. However, if the unfortunate occurs and you have to pursue a lawsuit to collect what is owed to you, you cannot collect attorney fees to offset your expenses if it is not stated in your original agreement.

Have Clear and Concise Invoices
Your invoices will need to be systematic and dependable. Again, if you are lax in sending invoices consistently, then the client will get the impression that payment is not a high priority. Be sure that your invoices are numbered, that the billing terms and due date are visible and clear, and that they are sent to the correct person. I highly recommend using invoice software, such as Tabs3 or Billing Tracker. Google search “invoicing software” and find the program that best fits your needs.

Provide Incentives for Prompt Payment
Give your clients a reason to pay their invoices as soon as they receive them, whether positive or negative. Some options are:

Take credit card payments. Often this will give the client the ability to pay their entire invoice at once. Keep in mind, however, that, with each credit card transaction you accept, a percentage of that sale goes to the credit card company. Make sure it is an expense your business can handle.

Give a discount for payments made promptly. Consider offering, say, a ten percent discount if the client pays their invoice within 15 days.

Charge interest on overdue accounts. Consider charging your client interest on the unpaid balance if payment is not made within 30 days of invoice. A common interest rate is 18 percent per year, which equates to 1 ½ percent per month. Most invoicing software will calculate interest on an unpaid balance automatically.

What if they still won’t pay?

Working as a legal assistant to collection attorneys for three years, I have some helpful advice to share. Part two of Debt Collection Strategies that Work covers what steps you should take when a “deadbeat” client slips past your guard dog tactics.

Always consult with an attorney before pursuing any debt collection strategy. The opinions in this article are not to be taken as official guidance but rather as an informational supplement to your overall debt collection strategy.

PART 2: When Clients Still Won’t Pay

Sources/Related Readings:
• SeniorMag.com: Bill Collections
• About.com: Collection Letter Secrets
• FindArticles.com: Collecting Payments Due
• BusinessKnowHow.com: Small Business Collection Strategies


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, May 12th, 2016 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Money |

Starting Your Own Business, Part 4 of 4

FINALIZING YOUR PRODUCT AND YOUR BUSINESS ACTION PLAN

FINALIZE YOUR PRODUCT
There are a number of items that need to be considered in the development and finalization of your product or service. The first thing to remember is that “finalizing” does not mean eternal. Your product should always grow and develop as the need presents itself.

Use Focus Groups
A focus group is simply a group of potential consumers that test your product and give you honest feedback. Your personal passion for your product can cloud your judgment and leave you “selling only to yourself.” A focus group will help provide fresh ideas on how to better your product and meet the needs and desires of the consumer.

It is important to keep an open-mind and not become defensive; remembering that the feedback you receive will generally be the same from any consumer. Write down every comment and rely on those that are most useful to perfect your product. It is also recommended that you use a focus group any time you make significant changes to your product.

Determine the Price of Your Product
The price of your product must entice the buyer, as well as cover overhead costs, production and distribution of the product, labor, marketing – everything it takes to run your business. The price needs to do more than make your business come out even. A successfully priced product should result in profit!

To determine a viable price for your product or service:

1) Define your financial goals.
Examine the income which is required to provide for you and your family, outside of supplying the business (living expenses, etc.). It is often best to observe your monthly spending trends, because the profits of your company will likely fluctuate on a monthly basis.

This will help you to determine the minimum profit you need to sustain your business and an acceptable income. Also, examine your long-term financial goals, such as savings. You want to determine how you can you realistically adjust the price of your product to provide for your financial needs and desires.

2) Research current market trends.
Supply and demand will always effect how well your product sells. If it is priced too high when the demand is low, it will not sell. If it is priced too low when the demand is high, you take the risk of not breaking even. It is important to determine a “safety range” for the price of your product based upon recent market trends.

3) Compare to the Competition.
Shop around via the internet and local stores or service providers and compare the prices of your competitors. Get in the head of the consumer and determine what price you would be willing to pay based upon the competition.

Your price will need to be competitive with other businesses producing the same product or service in order for it to sell. Your product should only be substantially more expensive if it has significant features that the competition does not offer.

4) Assess Business Expenses.
You need to determine how much it will cost to run your business and how much it will cost to product each product. Obtain price quotes from manufacturers. Determine how much your supplies will cost. If you have employees, how much will you pay them? What are the costs of marketing and distributing your product?

All of these are a part of what it takes to run a successful business and the price of your product should reflect that. Start with estimated costs in the beginning and use real costs as your business grows.

Determining the right price for your product or service is a system of trial and error. If your product is not selling, the price should be the first aspect of your product that you re-exam, simply because it is the easiest aspect to adjust.

Develop a Marketing Strategy
Your product will do nothing for you without a marketing strategy. It is imperative that you reveal your product to the public in a honest and attention-grabbing manner.

In order to target the correct audience for your products, you must:

• Define your customers.

• Research and discover the best medium (i.e. television, radio, billboard, magazine, etc.) with which you can reach your customers.

• Brainstorm ideas for your advertisements, enlisting help from others including focus groups, and asking them what would catch their attention.

• Implement your favorite idea, because, if you like it best, you will follow through with it.

• Finally, test the marketing strategy. If it doesn’t work, try a different one and try, try again.

FINALIZE YOUR BUSINESS ACTION PLAN
you will find that your business action plan has developed as you go through the startup process that we have covered the past few days. Your business plan is not only for today, but helps to coordinate the future of your business. I refer to it as a business “action” plan because, once you reach this point and have established the following items, you are ready to take action and become a successful entrepreneur:

Revamp and Redefine.
Make the final revisions to your sales script and clearly define your business.

Develop Process Sheets
Process sheets will eventually serve as your “operations manual.” Basically, process sheets detail the what, how, who and when for each aspect of your functioning business.

What: Determine each process of your business, such as order placement, packaging, etc.

How: List the steps to complete each process in a satisfactory manner.

Who: Determine who will be responsible for each process.

When: Decide on the appropriate amount of time for each process to be completed.

Operation and Administration
You will also need to determine all of the “departments” that will keep your business running smoothly, such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, legal department, sales, marketing, etc. For each department, provide an explanation of its function, list the information you have collected during your business research regarding that department, determine what results you want from that department, and what is necessary to obtain those results.

I highly recommend that you visit the link to the Small Business Association’s website below. It has an outlined example of a business plan that should be very helpful. Always remember that your business plan, any many other aspects of your business that we have addressed this week, will continually change and develop as your business does.

Reevaluate and revise your business plan as often as necessary to provide a stable and sufficient structure for your business.

DISCUSSION
I have taken you through the basic principles for starting a successful business, so now I want to hear from you. Have I covered aspects of starting a business that you have tried? What were your results? How have sales scripts and focus groups (or anything else I covered) helped your business develop? If you are just starting, what about the topics I covered most interests you? Did I leave something out that you found crucial to starting your business?

Please feel free to share your thoughts.

Part 1: Focus and Brand Impact

Part 2: Research and Protecting Your Idea

Part 3: Developing Sales Scripts and Addressing Obsticles

This week’s source:
• Entrepreneur.com: Starting a Business

Today’s Related Sites/Readings:
• MarketingPrinciples.com: Small Business Market Strategy
• Bizhelp24.com: Unique Selling Points of Your Product
• SiteSell.com: Pricing Your Product
• Business Toolkit: Marketing Your Product
• Small Business Administration: Writing a Business Plan


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Starting Your Own Business, Part 1 of 4
Starting Your Own Business, Part 3 of 4
Starting Your Own Business, Part 2 of 4
Testing New Marketing Ideas
Starting a New Business

By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, May 11th, 2016 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Startup |

Starting Your Own Business, Part 3 of 4

DEVELOPING A SALES SCRIPT AND ADDRESSING OBSTACLES

Developing a Sales Script
The purpose of a sales script is to generate belief in you and your product. It should inspire others to support you in your path to success rather than question your abilities. Your sales script will quickly become the cornerstone for marketing your business.

A sales script should be no more than one page in length and should address the following:

1. The name of your business and your instant impact message (refer to part two for information on developing an instant impact message).

2. Your top three products or services and a brief description of each.

3. Show that your product/service works by providing at least two testimonials from clients.

4. A brief biography, including your previous experience, why you created the business and your anticipated goal.

5. Contact information, which should include address, facsimile, e-mail, website, etc.

Have your sales script handy at all times, and use it to start conversations about your business at networking events or marketing functions.

A sales script is very important when dealing with others on a corporate level. But what about possible customers that you come across throughout your daily routine? In this situation, a sales script can be somewhat overpowering. I highly recommend that you use business cards to draw a potential customer’s attention on an individual level.

Your business card should contain all available contact information and your instant impact message. The design of your business card is also crucial to the impact it makes in determining whether or not a potential customer is willing to contact you for service. Read more about how to design a high-impact business card.

Addressing Obstacles
While trudging through the startup process, you will inevitably come across obstacles that may threaten your business and rattle your confidence. Don’t dismiss these treats, no matter how small and insignificant they seem, because doing so can have disastrous results. Rather, create a plan to overcome them.

• Make a list of everything you have accomplished thus far to regenerate your confidence.

• Write down the obstacles that lie in front of you and indicate whether they are avoidable or unavoidable.

• Indicate what evasive action you intend to make toward the avoidable obstacles.

• Write out a plan for how to turn the unavoidable obstacles into an opportunity for your business, and you individually, to grow and develop. You may consider consulting with a trusted successful entrepreneur to get their input on how they might manage those situations.

• Determine your “Rules to Live By.” Make a list of opportunities you will not pass up and action you vow to always take when obstacles come your way in the future.

Always remember that a threat is only as damaging as you allow it to be. If you vow to meet all challenges head on, with a positive and determined attitude, you will find a way to pull through with a stronger business in tow.

Part 1: Focus and Brand Impact

Part 2: Research and Protecting Your Idea

Part 4: Finalizing Your Product and Your Business Action Plan

This week’s source:
• Entrepreneur.com: Starting a Business

Today’s Related Sites/Readings:
• SuccessConsciousness.com: The Power of Positive Thinking
• BusinessWeek.com The Real Stats of Business Failure
• University of Tennessee: Planning Against a Business Failure


Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
Starting Your Own Business, Part 1 of 4
Starting Your Own Business, Part 2 of 4
Overview – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 1 of 8
Starting Your Own Business, Part 4 of 4
Executive Summary, Table of Contents and Appendix – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 6 of 8

By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, May 10th, 2016 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Startup |

Starting Your Own Business, Part 2 of 4

PART 2 – RESEARCH THE INDUSTRY AND PROTECT YOUR IDEA

Research the Industry
Now that you have established the product and/or service that you business will provide, you need to learn as much as possible about the industry that is already out there.

As stated in Part One, it is likely that you are not the first person to come up with a business like yours. However, researching what is already out there will help you to develop a business that addresses needs and desires that the competition lacks.

Research the product/service:

• Find out how many options are already out there and what their similarities and differences, pros and cons are.

• Find reviews from consumers that have used the product or service, both positive and negative. A great source for this is Consumer Report, which uses a number of similar products and rates their preformance. I also recommend Epinions.com, where actual consumers review products they have used.

• Use your research to determine how you can make your product or service better. What can set you apart from the competition?

Talk to others who have succeeded:

• It is best, of course, to talk to others in the same industry, but not necessary. Any success story will do.

• Ask them about the strengths and weaknesses of their business.

• Find out what obstacles they have faced and what they have done to overcome them.

• If it is an option, go to someone you can trust to be honest with you. Someone that sees you as a potential consumer may tend to focus on the positive and stray from the negative. In order to be a success yourself, you need to be aware of both.

Research recent articles written about your industry:

• These will usually be unbiased and will weigh all the facts, pointing out both the positive and the negative.

• Discover information crucial to the development of your new business, such as recent trends, best strategies, new resources, marketing ideas, etc.

Keep a notebook:

• Throughout your research, always have a notebook on hand. Right down EVERY idea, regardless of whether you think you will use it. Often an “iffy” idea, when revisited, will spark a brilliant one.

• It is recommended that you revisit your idea list weekly.

Protect Your Idea
Legally, you don’t necessarily have to register your business name, logo or slogan in order for them to be protected by copyright and trademark laws. Typically, protective laws are based upon whoever used it first, but you will likely have to go to court to gain that protection.

Therefore, the best protection is to always keep a dated paper trail of everything you do, such as a daily planner. Take notes at all meetings, including those in attendance and each item discussed and decision made. If you ever need to go to court over an issue, your paper trail can serve as primary evidence in your defense.

If you do decide to register your business, it is recommended that you consult with an attorney. Most attorneys will not charge for an initial consultation, and will provide some basic information regarding your rights and how to protect yourself. You can also get some information from your local SBA office or chamber of commerce.

It is not necessary to have an attorney register your business. Usually you can do so yourself. However, if you intend on having Articles of Organization, By-laws, etc. associated with your business, it is highly recommended that you hire an attorney to prepare these documents as this is the best way to insure every detail is thoroughly and accurately addressed.

Be sure to bookmark this page and check back tomorrow for part 3 of our 4 part series: Developing a Sales Script and Addressing Obtacles

Part 1: Focus and Brand Impact.

Part 3: Developing Sales Scripts and Addressing Obsticles.

Part 4: Finalizing Your Product and Your Business Action Plan

This week’s source:
• Entrepreneur.com: Starting a Business

Today’s Related Sites/Readings:
• Consumer Reports: Product Research
• Epinions.com: Consumer Reviews of Products
• Small Business Association: Small Business Law Library
• Small Business Association: Protecting Your Ideas
• Bizhelp24.com: Patents for Manufacturing Business


Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
Starting Your Own Business, Part 4 of 4
Establishing Your Brand
Market Analysis – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 2 of 8
4 Ways to Keep Up on Industry Trends
Starting Your Own Business, Part 1 of 4

By Michelle Cramer
Monday, May 9th, 2016 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Startup |

Starting Your Own Business, Part 1 of 4

It’s time. You have decided that you are finally going to live the dream of starting your own business. Everything is falling into place and doors are open all around you. The question is, where do you begin?

Starting your own business is an impacting decision. Every step must be thoroughly thought out and calculated. Diving in without a plan for success and a process to get there will inevitably break you.

Therefore, this week we are starting from scratch. The next four days will cover the basic steps for becoming an entrepreneur and starting on the right track.

PART 1 – FOCUS AND IMPACT

Find Your Focus
The most important initiative to starting a business is to find your focus. Write it down, and keep it accessible. You might even consider keeping this information in plain sight so that you see it daily, for example, posted next to your computer.

Knowing your focus in your mind is one thing, but having it in front of you in black and white provides a clarity and permanence that can be very encouraging in times of doubt. Be as descriptive and thorough as possible, leaving no stone unturned.

When writing down your focus, be sure to address the following:

What is your goal on a personal level?
• What do you want out of this business?

What is your goal on a familial level?
• What sort of income are you looking to generate for your family?

What is your goal for others?
• What need do you plan to address with your product/service?
• Who will be your primary market?

It’s important to remember that, most likely, someone else has started a business quite similar to yours. You may also face self-doubt based on the questionable reactions of others when you mention your venture to become your own boss. Always remember that no one else has your goals or your intent.

When in doubt, revisit the focus that you mapped out to remind yourself of your determination and desire. Also, share it with those that may question the viable success of your business. You will likely impress upon them a stronger confidence in your ability to succeed.

Instant Impact Message
The first question that comes to the consumers mind when he sees a new product or service is “How will I benefit from this?” Step two in developing a successful new business is to develop an “instant impact message” that will help the consumer to immediately answer this question. This is a single statement that is highly powerful and reveals the core value of your business. Put simply, it is your slogan.

To develop your instant impact message, revisit the third item on your focus list – your goal for others. Pull out the main descriptive words that you feel truly portray the core of your business. As cheesy as it may sound, your instant impact message should reflect your heart. It is what your business stands for and should become such a crucial part of your business that, should you withdraw it, your business would not be the same.

Part 2: Research and Protecting Your Idea.

Part 3: Developing Sales Scripts and Addressing Obsticles.

Part 4: Finalizing Your Product and Your Business Action Plan

This week’s source:
• Entrepreneur.com – Starting a Business

Today’s Related Readings:
• Entrepreneur.com : Planning Your Business Plan
• SBA.gov: Business Plan Basics
• ICBS.com: Creating a Catchy Slogan


Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
Starting Your Own Business, Part 3 of 4
Starting Your Own Business, Part 4 of 4
Starting Your Own Business, Part 2 of 4
Executive Summary, Table of Contents and Appendix – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 6 of 8
Inexpensive Ways to Conduct Marketing Research

By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, May 8th, 2016 @ 12:04 AM CDT

Startup |

Insurance for Small Businesses

Insurance isn’t typically top priority for a small business owner. Since accidents can and do happen it’s better to be prepared than sorry.

Here is a list of different insurance options that a small business owner may need:

• Health insurance is one of the most important insurance options of all, covering your general health and well-being.

• Disability insurance will guarantee income should you suddenly become unable to work because of injury or illness.

• Life insurance will help ensure that your family has the money it needs should you meet with an untimely death.

• Business property insurance helps protect you against loss of inventory or equipment in a flood, fire, or other disaster.

• Comprehensive general liability insurance protects you if someone is injured while on your property.

• Business interruption insurance will help your business recover from natural disasters by paying for operating expenses during downtime.

• Workers’ compensation insurance covers any medical expenses arising from injuries employees sustain while working for you.

Related Resources:
• About.com – Small Business Insurance
• Insure.com – Small Business Liability Tool
• MyOwnBusiness.org – Insurance For Small Business


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By Chris Brunner
Saturday, May 7th, 2016 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Ownership |

4 Ways to Keep Up on Industry Trends

In order to keep your business in top form it is imperative to be aware of emerging trends within your competitive marketplace. Peronsally, I try to stay ahead of the curve so that I am prepared when change happens.

Sometimes curveballs are thrown but if you do your homework you’ll find that you can win the guessing game.

Here are 4 tips to help you keep up on industry trends:

1) Set specific investigative times.
Set a time for yourself in order to research your sector for new trends. Industry is constantly evolving with every day that passes, are you aware of the leading edge?

2) Make trend spotting part of your daily routine.
Get into the habit of researching every day at the time you chose. Each time you research you are bettering not only your company but also yourself. Stay disciplined, stay on track and you will succeed.

3) Persistently investigate competitors.
Disect their offerings and compare it to yours. Do they have an advantage that you can meet or beat? If so, a change in plan might be needed. If you’re already ahead of the competition, maintain what you’ve got and think of ways to expand on your advantage.

4) Utilize the power of the Internet.
Use Google Alerts to notify you by email when a story featuring your industry is published. Keep track of the authors and other related stories they may cover. There are other powerful ways to use Google Alerts, but I have to keep those a secret.

Turn your research into an asset by applying what you learn to improve your business and create new products and services. This learning process will help you use your time effectively and take action with conviction.

Related Resources
• PCWorld.com – Tech/Industry Trends
• RileyGuide.com – Employment & Industry Trends
• ComputerWorld.com – Sleuthing Out Industry Trends


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By Chris Brunner
Friday, May 6th, 2016 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Operations |

How to Sell Your Services Better

Regardless of the type of service you sell, a potential client will have a certain degree of risk worry when buying. They don’t really know what will be getting until they see the final outcome (or have really good references!).

Remember that service clients are buying a promise that you will do something for them to their satisfaction.

But there’s a problem with this… services are intangible—you can’t see them, touch them, take them out of the box or demonstrate them. Yet this is exactly what you need to do to make them easier for your customers to buy them.

How do you accomplish this?

• Turn your service into a product.
Create tip sheets, templates, worksheets and supporting educational pieces that share your expertise at a fraction of the cost of having you consult directly. Websites are great for this.

• Package your different service levels.
Do your services vary based on custom needs? If so, package the most popular services together for maximum price efficiency. Think of cable and satellight companies and how they package channel options.

• Combine your services and create a new offering.
Start by listening to what your customers are asking for and paying closer attention to their buying patterns. Find the niche that needs to be filled and fill it using what you already have set up. No need to reinvent the wheel!

• Package your process.
When it seems impossible to package what you deliver, differentiate your company and increase your perceived value by packaging how you deliver. This approach shows prospective customers you follow a logical approach and that you’re established, professional and capable.

Related Resources:
• NewFangled.com – Book Report: Selling the Invisible
• Entrepreneur.com – The Basics of Selling Services
• Entrepreneur.com – Selling Services


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By Chris Brunner
Thursday, May 5th, 2016 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Marketing |

IRS Offers Business Tax-Tips CD

April 15th is still more than six months away but the IRS is helping entrepreneurs prepare early by releasing its 2006 Small Business Resource Guide CD-ROM last week.

The free, interactive CD provides critical tax information for small businesses, including forms, instructions and publications. The CD provides valuable business information from a variety of government agencies, non-profit organizations and educational institutions.

The CD contains essential start-up information needed by new small businesses. The design of the CD incorporates file formats and browsers that can be run on virtually any desktop or laptop computer.

Small businesses can order up to five copies for free at the IRS Web site. To get your copy of the CD, call (800) 829-3676 or visit www.irs.gov/businesses/small/page/0,,id=7128,00.html


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By Chris Brunner
Wednesday, May 4th, 2016 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Taxes |

Elements of a Successful Business

Yesterday I covered the elements of a winning brand. Today I’ll take a look at what ingredients go into creating and maintaining a successful business.

Despite the bad news we so often hear about the number of small businesses closing or moving, a good percentage of small companies have learned what it takes to survive the early startup years.

• Company Culture
• Customer Service
• Attitude
• Business Strategy
• Discipline
• Risk
• Financial Roadmaps
• Business Processes
• Information Technology
• Marketing
• Sales
• Training
• Team of Advisors
• Work/Life Balance


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By Chris Brunner
Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Operations |

Elements of a Winning Brand

What people hear your company name, what words are associated with it? Some buzz words commonly associated with a brand are fast, reliable, friendly, discount, low prices, available, service, top rated and many many more.

Getting people to associate buzz words with your brand is what creating a winning brand is all about.

1) A winning brand is differentiated.
What separates your product or service from its competitors?

2) A winning brand promises value.
What does your brand bring to the table?

3) A winning brand acts like a leader.
Focus on improving customer experiences with your company.

4) A winning brand is consistent.
Your brand must be uniform across all marketing channels.


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By Chris Brunner
Monday, May 2nd, 2016 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Marketing |

Top Entrepreneurial Schools

You may think street smarts are enough to be a successful entrepreneur, but these top entrepreneurship programs are giving students the practical and theoretical knowledge they need to succeed in any venture.

Entrepreneur.com presents their top 10 undergraduate and graduate programs for entrepreneurship:

Top 10 Undergraduate Programs:
1. University of Arizona
2. Syracuse University
3. DePaul University
4. Temple University
5. University of Dayton
6. Drexel University
7. Fairleigh Dickinson University
8. University of North Dakota
9. University of Illinois, Chicago
10. Babson University

Top 10 Graduate Programs:
1. Syracuse University
2. DePaul University
3. Northwestern University
4. California State University, San Bernardino
5. University of Washington
6. University of Arizona
7. Temple University
8. Monterey Institute of International Studies
9. Indiana University, Bloomington
10. University of Louisville


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By Chris Brunner
Sunday, May 1st, 2016 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Ownership |