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
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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 |