Small Business Tips

March 2018 Archive
Avoiding the Courtroom: Tips for Deterring Litigation

It’s a risk every business owner takes the moment he/she opens their doors – being sued. And there are a lot of reasons your business could be pulled into court – everything from unpaid bills to outrageous claims of fraud against your company.

Anything from the substantial and justified to the frivolous can come against your business at any moment, and if you want to avoid the long, tedious court process, you’d better make sure you’re ready.

CONTRACTS
Attorney Fees Clause
Every contract you have should contain a dispute resolution section. Within that section, it’s a good idea to state that, should any dispute proceed to litigation and you win the case, the client would be responsible for your attorney fees.

This would make any client who doesn’t really have a case against you think twice before filing a lawsuit. On the other end, should you need to sue a client for an unpaid balance, etc., they will probably refrain from fighting you much if they know they will have to pay attorney fees for you.

Limitation of Liability Clause
In addition, consider adding a clause in your contract that limits your liability and damages, should there be a flaw with the product you provide, etc. For example, if you provide a product or service on a regular basis that is worth $5,000.00 then put a clause in your contract that limits your liability to $5,000.

This covers any defective products you may have, avoids needless court proceedings to determine an amount for damages, and keeps you from losing the shirt of your back to pay for non-economic damages.

Arbitration Clause
Another option is to put in the contract that any disputes that cannot be immediately resolved are to be conducted exclusively through Arbitration. More or less, arbitration is another form of mediation.

One party files a form requesting Arbitration and provides the fee up-front, which can be in the ballpark of $750. This sounds like a lot, but can be much less than a trial in court would cost with attorney fees and the like. And, whatever is decided during Arbitration, is held with the same regard as a judgment in court. More information can be found on the American Arbitration Association website.

INSURANCE
It’s important to be aware that your business insurance may cover your liability if there is a dispute. If something comes up, the first thing you should do is check with your insurance company to see if such matters are covered under your policy.

If the situation is covered, the insurance company will take over negotiations on your behalf and, hopefully, settle the matter. Be aware, however, that the insurance provider will only pay out to the extend of the policy limits. You are responsible for anything above that (but they will always try and settle below the policy limits if possible).

Another smart move, before any threat of lawsuit even comes close to your business, is to purchase additional liability insurance through your provider. A typical business policy will, unfortunately, only cover minimal disputes.

There are additional provisions for matters that would be more likely to occur for your specific business – from employment practices liability coverage to advertising practices liability coverage and the like. Be sure to talk to your provider and be aware of all of your options.

Though these steps cannot guarantee that your business won’t go to court over something, they will help to avoid it as much as possible. Keep in mind that the best thing to really do is protect your business and your customer. If you do both honestly and efficiently, then the problems should be minimal.

Always consult with an attorney before changing or developing your business contracts to make sure your business is fully protected under the law. The statements in this article are not to be taken as official guidance, but, rather, as an informational supplement to the legal aspect of your business strategy.

Source:
• Entrepreneur.com: 5 Litigation Secrets


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, March 31st, 2018 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Business Law, Operations |

The Adverse Effects of Poor Communication

Anyone who is in the sales industry knows the importance of how you communicate to a potential buyer. One false move, or should I say word, and you may have lost their business forever. Truth be told, however, the way you talk can affect every aspect of your business, whether you’re in sales or not.

Here are some ways you might be turning customers away because of how you speak:

Bad Grammar
This is the most obvious and common problem, which can often convey to others that you lack intelligence. Yet, it is the most difficult flaw in speech to change. Using “good” when you should be saying “well” is extremely noticeable, but also extremely hard to unlearn.

I honestly feel that parents these days don’t step up enough and teach their children the correct way to speak at a young age, not realizing that they are allowing a laziness that, down the road, may adversely affect their child’s career.

There is one false move that is often made unknowingly by many people, and that’s to end a sentence with a preposition (words like as, in, on, by, to or since). Grammatically, prepositions are supposed to be placed prior to a noun or pronoun, so ending a sentence with one is incorrect.

But, this is a common grammatical bad habit from childhood, which even I am guilty of. In fact, you could probably find that I’ve done so in a couple of posts (oops), which is really sad since I have a degree in English Literature. And it’s unfortunately ingrained in most of us as okay at a young age, and even after a college degree I still mess up. It is just something we should all be aware of and watch ourselves.

Too Majestic
What I mean by this is talking over people’s heads by using uncommon vocabulary (like those who enjoy learning and using a new word from the dictionary each day) and overly emphasized proper grammar. There has to be a balance between saying things correctly and using common local colloquialisms (like using “ya’ll” in the south) to keep whoever is listening engaged in what you have to say.

If you constantly talk to everyone as though you were a scholar of the English (or whatever) language, no one will want to listen. They will reach the same conclusion as if you were using bad grammar — that you’re a moron without any social skills.

Too Technical
With any industry there are terms that are only known and used by those within the industry. The average Joe likely won’t understand what in the world you’re talking about when you try to tell him that you feel like it would be best to proceed with filing a Trial De Novo in his case (going with the legal field here because it’s what I’m familiar with).

Instead, you would tell him that you think it would be best to ask the court for a “new trial.” The acronym KISS (keep it simple, stupid) most definitely applies. Keep it in laymen’s terms when discussing your industry with the general public.

If you’ve realized that you might be guilty of committing one or more of these communication flaws, find someone you can trust and rely on to help you recognize when you are making the errors.

The only thing you can truly do is vow to fix the problem, be self aware and practice. People will notice the effort and commend you, either with a pat on the back, or by really listening to what you have to say.


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, March 30th, 2018 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Networking |

Should You File a Patent on that Great Idea?

These days, as new businesses continually pop up on every corner of every freshly constructed commercial street, there are bound to be some duplications and similarities along the way. One way you can protect your business practices from being copied by another company is to patent them.

According to the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), a patent is: a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

In other words, a patent keeps other businesses from making money off of your ideas. This is not simply limited to a product you have come up with, but also business practices and strategies. This also includes combining two or more products/strategies that have already been patented to form a better and more useful product or service.

For example, in Breakfast in a Whole New Way, I discussed breakfast restaurant owners who were getting patents on what kind of mix-ins could be combined with cereals, such as M&Ms and skittles, in order to keep competitors from adopting the same options for customers.

The patent process is very long and loaded with paperwork. And it is difficult and expensive to enforce a patent if someone else tries to infringe on it. So, before you sort through all the red tape, ask yourself these questions:

Has someone beat me to the punch?
Before even considering a patent, you need to make sure that no one else has already beat you to it. There are a number of online searches available including USPTO’s and Google Patent Search, which are both free. Other searches such as Delphion require a fee.

Is it worth it?
If there isn’t a patent like yours out there, then you need to determine if it is actually worth the trouble to pursue a patent. In order for it to be worth while, your business should center around the product/service you want to patent.

If someone where to copy your invention and it would result in the demise of your company, then a patent is definitely worth your time. However, if the patent is for a side product that doesn’t bring in as much revenue as your big seller, then it’s probably not necessary.

Do I have the resources?
It takes a lot of time and money to enforce a patent if someone is tapping in to your creativity. It can also be extremely expensive to defend yourself if someone else sues for patent infringement. Be sure you have the resources available to protect your company if you were to face opposition on either side.


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, March 29th, 2018 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Business Law, Operations |

Grimy Entrepreneurs Rake in the Money

A grimy entrepreneur… the first thing that may come to mind is a mobster involved with rotten business deals. No, I’m talking about that kind of grime. I mean grime as in smelly, rotten, nasty and downright disgusting business ventures that are quite lucrative.

I love Dirty Jobs, hosted by Mike Rowe on the Discovery Channel. It has the appeal of NBC’s Fear Factor, but I can actually watch it without throwing up or turning away . . . well, most of the time.

The show has featured everything you could possibly think of, and anything you couldn’t, that constitutes as a job most of us would refuse or be extremely unhappy to do.

Some examples of dirty jobs that have been featured on the show:

• Skulls International, a company in Oklahoma that cleans all types of skeletons, from chipmunk to human to giraffe.
• Bio Oregon, a fish recycling plant.
• A dairy farm where the owner makes biodegradable/plantable flower pots out of cow patties.
• Coyote Texas Turkey Farm, home of the liquid compost turkey pile.
• San Francisco Waste Treatment Center (enough said).
• Ohio State Department of Transportation, Road Kill Recovery Division – ewwwww!

We all have our ideas of dirty, disgusting jobs that we would never do. Let’s face it, none of us longed to scoop dog poo out of people’s yards for a living or be a trash collector when we grew up. I knew a guy who was a trash collector… and I also know how much money he made and, if I were desperate, I might consider it… despite the fact that I’m a female!

The point is, somebody’s got to do the ugly work. Could you imagine how life would be if no one picked up the roadkill or the trash or worked in the waste treatment centers? I don’t even want to think about how disgusting our existence would be.

And, since so few people jump at the chance to do the nasty jobs, most of them pay pretty nicely. Skulls International charges $7,500 to clean a human skeleton (less for animals, because they don’t smell as bad), and expects to reach over $2 million in sales this year.

Clearly, they are in high demand, as are most other entrepreneurs who venture down that dark, grimy alley of the not-so glamorous business. They see that the public is in need of a specific service and that no one else is doing it because of the muck involved, and just dive right in (so to speak). Hey, have at the slime between your toes!

Related Readings:
• Entrepreneur.com: Filthy Rich Businesses


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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, March 28th, 2018 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Ventures |

Top Movies About Entrepreneurs

In honor of the 79th Annual Academy Awards, which airs on ABC, I thought I would bring to your attention Entrepreneur.com’s Entrepreneurs in the Movies, a list of 13 movies that embody the entrepreneurial spirit. The list even inspired a film festival at Chapman University in Orange, California.

Though I won’t discuss all 13 movies, I wanted to touch on some of my favorites on the list.

High Fidelity
This movie reveals every entrepreneurs innate desire to start a business directly connected to something they love. Rob Gordon, played by John Cusack, taps into his passion for music and opens a record store all his own. Pretty cool job if you ask me. And the movie’s pretty great too.

The Aviator
Entrepreneur.com refers to Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) as a “serial entrepreneur,” and I love the image that portrays. If only we all had the guts to dive into something as hardcore as he did, even if everyone around us thinks we’re nuts (despite the fact that Hughes sort of was).

Based on the actual life story of Howard Hughes, we see the many hats he wore, and wore well, of director, producer, head of RKO Pictures, creator and owner of Hughes Aircraft (which included designing airplanes), and major shareholder (which resulted in his control) of TWA. Despite his extreme eccentricities, “serial entrepreneur” couldn’t have described him better.

Forrest Gump
Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that’s about it.

Ah, dear Bubba. Who can blame Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) for being inspired by his dear friend to start Bubba Gump Shrimp? With a ratty old shrimping boat and a depressed friend (Lt. Dan played by Gary Sinise), Forrest Gump is the only fictitious movie on the list to result in the start of an actual company, with Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Restaurant & Market spanning 15 locations in the US.

And my personal favorite movie on the list…

Ghostbusters
Their luck runs out and their careers in the academic field are over, but nothing will get them down. Instead, the charming businessman Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), the devoted scientist Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and the supernatural historian Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) start a business hunting ghosts.

There you have it, my top picks from the Entrepreneurs in the Movies list. Which is your favorite?


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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, March 27th, 2018 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Ownership |

Customer Reviews Make Business Better

The strategies of MySpace and YouTube are spreading as more and more online businesses are adopting comment pages, allowing customers to post feedback, good or bad, about the products and/or services they provide. And it’s working to their benefit.

Customers want to be heard; they want their opinions and experiences to matter, and having a forum to express those to the public often satisfies that desire. Customers also want to see what other people, someone other than the manufacturer or distributor, have to say about the product.

That’s exactly why, when we buy something defective, we run and tell anyone who will listen how horrible the experience was. Or, in contrast, when our experience with a company is great, we recommend them to everyone. It’s all about word-of-mouth, and there is much more appeal is getting the word out to the whole world in addition to those in our immediate circle.

And that’s where websites like Epinions.com come in. Epinions has been around for awhile, as a catch-all for consumers to review and rate products from toothbrushes to dog food to digital cameras, regardless of the manufacturer or retailer. This freedom of expression found its way through MySpace and YouTube, and the world noticed just how much everyone wants to be heard.

And business owners have noticed. At the end of 2006, 43% of e-commerce businesses offered a place on their site for ratings and reviews of products and services. This is up from 23% in 2005. Some sites even allow customers to post pictures or video of themselves using the product. The customers then send a link to friends, which causes more and more potential customers to click through the site.

According to BusinessWeek.com’s article Retailers Take a Tip from MySpace, “Customer feedback is opening the eyes of the industry, changing the way they market, manufacture and merchandise.” The negative feedback leads them to reexamine the products and services they provide, making sure the customer is satisfied, even if that means pulling the item from the shelves.

Negative feedback also decreases returns, as customers who read them are more likely to set aside their “imaginary expectations” for the product and realize its true function.

Positive feedback on a product results in better sales on that item and others, as customers begin to trust the retailer more. Some studies show that customers who check out the highest rated products on a business’ site are 49% more likely to buy something. The top rated items draw customers in… even if they weren’t planning to spend money.

If you’re interested in adding this new buzz to your site, but concerned that you don’t have the manpower to filter out the crazies, businesses like BazaarVoice and PowerReviews have come to the rescue. Their service focuses only on the feedback you receive and makes sure to keep out the ranting and cursing of consumers who are really displeased.

And the fact is you can’t please everyone, but it’s better to know where your product or service needs improvement, than to find yourself unaware of a problem at all. With a more internet savvy consumer comes demand for a more internet savvy business. Consider the possibilities of giving your customers a voice and the benefits that will have upon the success of your business.


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, March 26th, 2018 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Marketing |

Why Small Businesses are Gullible to Scams

What’s this world coming to that so many people are scamming others for money . . . and we’re falling for it? It really blows me away that so many people fail to do their homework and check out what their told by a random nobody who calls them up and says, “You owe us money.”

Granted, some of these scammers are good… too good really, but most of them prey on the gullible. And, unfortunately, small businesses can be far too gullible. They’re targets. New small businesses are hit by scammers because they have less experience in the ways of the business world and will probably assume everyone’s who they say they are.

Also, most small businesses are too small to afford a full-time legal staff to check out offers or claims. And many are in desperate need of investors and will jump at the chance of “free money.” And that’s what the scammers are hoping for.

There are endless scams out there, but if you own a small business, here are three common scams to look out for:

Overpayment
With this tactic, scammers order a product from you and mail in a check for payment, but they write the check for more than they owe, making look as though it was simply a misunderstanding, such as sending a check for $950, when the bill was $750, and claiming the seven looked like a nine. Your company sends a refund of $200 with the shipment of the items purchased.

But, a couple weeks later, the check bounces because the account is closed or doesn’t exist. And you’ve just given away your product, been stuck with the bill for a bounced check, and are out $200.

What makes this work is the fact that the small business owner is gullible enough to trust that the check will clear, and that should never be the case, not even with your regular customers, and MOST ESPECIALLY not with a new customer. Give the check 7-10 days to clear the bank before you even ship the product. And, if the check is written for too much, return it and require the correct amount. Make it part of your payment policy and you’ll avoid the scammers.

Disappearing Act
A common example is a fax received asking if you are interested in selling your business. If you are and you contact the company, they charge you several thousands of dollars (we’re talking $5-10K) for that company to determine what your business is worth. The problem is, you pay them and they never return. Poof, they disappear.

The best way to avoid this type of scam is to check out any business, whether you hear of them by fax or word of mouth, before giving them your money. Check their registration with the Secretary of State and the Better Business Bureau. Ask around and see if anyone else has heard of them. Even do a Google Search. Chances are, if they’re scammers, you’ll find out real quick. And unless you can find a solid gold list of references and validation, don’t even both.

Directory Listings
Fake invoices have been around for awhile, but an added twist to this fraud is that many scammers are claiming to be directory listings, whether in print or online. They typically call and tell you that your listing is about to expire and convince you to renew. Then they send you a bill for several hundred dollars.

Generally, however, there is no directory to begin with and you’ve just paid to have your company name listed nowhere. As a rule of thumb, if you’ve never heard of or even seen the directory, it probably doesn’t exist.

A great way to throw the scammer for a loop is, when they call for your renewal, ask for a copy of the previous directory so that you can make sure you like they way your company is listed before it’s renewed. They’re sure to hang-up at that point.

Again, always check to verify the true existence and good standing of a company before you do business with them. I have listed helpful resources below. Don’t give the benefit of the doubt — that’s what makes you gullible in the scammer’s eyes. I guarantee, anyone who is a legitimate customer will understand your skepticism and wait patiently for you to verify their company or funds.

Resources:
National Fraud Information Center
Better Business Bureau
BBB Online Reliability Seal Program
Federal Trade Commission
Internet Crime Complaint Center


Related Readings:

• Entrepreneur.com: Common Small-Business Scams
• Systematic, Inc.: How to Steer Clear of Internet Scams


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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, March 25th, 2018 @ 12:04 AM CDT

Money, Operations, Technology |

Getting Your Product to the National Market

Most small business owners have a desire, deep down inside, to go national someday, but it’s a process that takes patience and work. Stick to these steps and you’ll be off and running.

Direct Sales
Start off by selling directly to friends and family and the people they refer to you. You can trust them to give you feedback regarding any improvements you can make in your product or packaging before you expand, and, if they’re pleased with your product, they’ll provide some word-of-mouth advertising.

Local Stores
Your next step is to sell a small bulk package to independently owned stores in your area. Call the manager or owner for an appointment to stop by and show them your product and ask if you can sell it in their store.

Clearly this involves determining who you should be selling to. For example, if you design t-shirts, then you’ll want to look into selling them at the clothing store downtown. If interested, they will either sell the shirts for you, while taking a percentage of the sale price for using their store, or buy in bulk and turn around and sell the shirts to their customers, and hopefully ask for more.

Regional Stores
Once you’ve had some success on the local level, expand to some stores in your region, including neighboring states. Be sure to have numbers on hand for your sales over the past few months. Consistent or increased demand for your product is a great way to show the regional stores that it’s worth getting involved with your business.

Mass-Market
You will need to be successful on the regional level for a decent amount of time (probably at least a year) before you attempt to go national. Depending on your product, the mass market can include everything from large chain retail stores like Wal-Mart and Target, to catalogs such as LTD Commodities or Collections, Etc.

It’s important that you determine where your product will be most successful before you approach retailers. They will know immediately whether your product belongs with their association or not, and you don’t want to waste time pushing to retailers that won’t bite.

Also, be sure that you are ready for mass production before reaching out to the mass-market. If your product is successful, but you can’t meet the demand, then you may risk losing deals with the national retailers. Have the equipment and man power ready to produce your merchandise in bulk before stepping through that door.

Source:
Entrepreneur.com: Selling Your Invention


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, March 24th, 2018 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Marketing |

Which Internet Browser Should You Choose?

I made a switch this week after reading Entrepreneur.com’s The Latest in Browsers by Mike Hogan. I have been using Internet Explorer for as long as I can remember (after the fuss over AOL passed, anyway). But just the other day I decided to give Mozilla’s FireFox 2.0 a try, and I love it.

For starters, it’s important you know that there are three main browsers out there for your PC websurfing enjoyment: Internet Explorer (of course), Firefox, and Opera. Macs users also have the option of Apple Safari. Each of them has recently released a new, upgraded version. And all are free to download and use.

Now, to be honest, the new IE 7.0 took some getting used to, with a number of features getting relocated on the browser. I will admit, I sort of liked the fact that the favorites menu would actually stay open for me. On the older version, it would often disappear if my mouse so much as strayed a millimeter from the box. But it actually took me awhile to find it. And even now, months later, I’m still having problems remembering where the “home” and “print” tools are.

My brother-in-law (Chris Brunner, the owner of GreatFX Business Cards), who is a computer guru and really knows his stuff, has been using FireFox for awhile. So I already assumed it was probably of better quality somehow. But, I hate to change things around on my computer once I get used to the way they are, and I really didn’t feel up to re-learning a whole new browser when I was just beginning to get used to IE 7.0.

But Mike Hogan’s article really got me wondering what’s so special about FireFox. It supposedly has stronger security than IE, but what about the features? Oh well, I decided. What harm could it do to download something for free and try it out? So I did, and boy and I glad.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the condensed version of the tool and URL bar… one sleek line. As I began to explore, I noticed that the Favorites menu, deemed “Bookmarks” on FireFox, has this great feature that allows you to place your favorite bookmark folders right on the toolbar, while using only minimal space. Saves some time and effort, which is always nice.

I also love the simplicity of the options. With IE, I could never fully understand what option I was selecting, with everything in computer-programmer jargon. But with FireFox, all of the options are put in layman’s terms, so I really have the opportunity to make my browser do what I do and do not want it to. And I especially love the fact that there is a spell-check feature that checks absolutely everything I type, just like Word or WordPerfect… and believe me, I need that!

Overall, I found that things were really easy to navigate, and, though I still have a lot to explore on FireFox, the transition has been fairly easy and I’m glad I switched, at least for now. I haven’t disregarded IE entirely, it’s just been placed on the back burner. Apparently I may need it in the future in order to run Windows Update or for using ActiveX when FireFox isn’t sure the website is safe, but I am.

Granted, I haven’t given Opera a far advantage here… in fact, it’s received none at all. I didn’t even look at it as a possibility because I had never heard of it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not just as effective at security and ease.

It’s going to take some time to get anyone to switch browsers, with, as I understand it, 80% of internet users still loyal to IE. And that’s great. To each his own, but I have been converted.


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, March 23rd, 2018 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Technology |

Ideas to Generate Business on Valentine’s Day

Many say Valentine’s Day is just another scam by American businesses to try and get more money out of consumers. And so what if it is? The holiday benefits businesses and reminds us to celebrate the people we love, because all too often we forget.

So, in the interest of tapping into the profits that are to be had, here are some ideas to help you lure in additional customers on this heartfelt holiday:

1. Pictures
Hire an inexpensive local photographer (maybe one that’s just getting starting so that you help his business and yours) to come to your place of business and offer pictures of couples for free or a very small fee.

Have a fun lovey-dovey background for the pictures and make sure your photograher uses a digital camera. That way, you can email the finished product to the customers, and advertise your business (and the photographer’s) a second time.

2. Contests
Advertise a greeting card, love song or poetry contest. Be sure to start things around mid-January, with a deadline the week before Valentine’s. Announce the winner on Valentine’s Day and provide them with a special prize, such as a gift certificate to your business and dinner for two at a local restaurant.

Other smaller scale contests could be the couple that has been married the longest, the couple married the shortest, who proposed in the most creative way, etc. You could even have couples registered for a make-shift newlywed game and have them compete for a prize. The couple that knows each other best, wins.

3. Giveaways
Consider conducting a drawing for a larger giveaway, sponsored by your business, for a cruise or 4 day/3 night getaway. Couples are entered when they spend a certain amount at your business (say $10-$25). That way, you don’t have the whole town trying to get in on the fun, and you make some money back from you investment.

Also, if your business provides products or services that are often used for weddings, such as photographer, catering, wedding coordination, etc., consider giving away a package to an engaged couple. This will generate interest in your product/service and, though you’ll only be giving it to one couple, will bring in potential clientele who would be willing to pay if they don’t win because they like what they see.

Regardless of how you wish to take advantage of the revenue Valentine’s Day brings in, be sure you advertise whatever special event you choose. The local newspaper is a good choice, but your best venue is usually local radio stations. Investing in some air time to advertise the special contest or giveaway, and your business, will probably reach the biggest audience.

And don’t forget to call your local TV stations to let them know what’s going on. If it’s exciting enough, they’ll want to be there to see who the big winner is, and you’ve get even more advertising for your business.

I realize today is actually Valentine’s Day, so the above ideas won’t do much good to help you this year. But these things take time and planning, so starting now will get you well on your way to bringing in that twitterpated crowd on the next Day of Love.


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, March 22nd, 2018 @ 12:03 AM CDT

Marketing |

A Newer Way of Avoiding High Energy Bills

Warmer temperatures are anticipated for the year (the groundhog didn’t see his shadow this time, which means early spring). Inventories abound for natural gas and prices are falling. Things might actually be at a good state right now, and it’s time your business took advantage of it.

How? By tapping into (no pun intended) fixed rate natural gas contracts. Basically, you are locked into a fixed rate per therm (a measurement of natural gas) and pay the same amount each month.

The contracts last up to three years and are provided by companies such as Xcel, IDT Energy, Accent Energy and CenterPoint Energy. Basically these and other firms come to an agreement with utility companies to deliver natural gas to consumers through a pipeline. The utility company makes a profit off of the transmission charge, so they are willing to contract out the supplying of the gas, as long as the transmission charge is paid.

Using fixed rate natural gas contracts can save you money, but it can also cost you more. It simply depends upon whether gas prices go up or down. Right now, they’re down, which means it would be smart to get in on this opportunity now, with a lower fixed rate, and pay less later.

Another advantage of these contracts is stability and consistency in your bills. A fixed energy bill will allow you to budget the expenses of your business more easily, causing less stress come bill paying time.

They’re worth looking into for any business owner. Anything that is easier or cheaper over the long term is usually worth it.

Sources:
• CNNMoney.com: How to Avoid Sky-High Energy Bills
• StarTribune.com: Fixed-rate Gas Plans No Bargain for Some


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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, March 21st, 2018 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Money, Operations |

Help Wanted: Advertising Job Openings Online

As the use of the Internet continues to expand worldwide, business owners across the country are seeing opportunities to broaden the prospects for job openings. Instead of just placing a help wanted ad in the paper, many are expanding to online job searches to reach potential employees on the national level.

There are a lot of job searches on the Internet, so how do you know which ones to use? Nowadays, the most popular searches are Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com, and they also tend to be the most reliable. It’s not free though. Monster’s prices range from $300 for smaller cities/towns, to over $500 for larger cities per job posting. CareerBuilder’s job post prices start at $419 for one post, and lower rates per post if you buy in bulk.

What about searching the resumes on these sites? Well, the prices on Monster’s resume search range from $650 for two weeks/400 views to $7,000 for annual/20,000 views on a regional level. That price, of course, goes up if you want to search nationally.

CareerBuilder’s resume search provides unlimited viewing at $900 for two weeks to $8,988 for one year.

But what if these top job search engines are way out of your price range? There are other options available to get your job openings out there online. More than likely, your local newspaper has a website with a classified search available. If you place a help wanted ad in the paper, they may very well also have that ad on their website, or post it online for a small additional fee.

Another option is the career center at colleges in your state. Most colleges provide some sort of resource to their students to help them find a job after graduation, and many of these career centers have online job postings through their website. The fees would probably vary, but the cost would be significantly lower than the more high end search sites. It’s a good idea to post a job with career centers even if you use Monster or CareerBuilder.

Of course, you should also start a “Job Opportunities” section on your own website. This will bring in prospective employees that are interested in your company, which makes for potentially better applicants.

Regardless of where you post your job openings online, take advantage of the opportunity it presents. Posting a job online allows you to be as thorough as you want to be about the position, what is required to be considered for the position, and why someone would want to work for your company (incentives). With a newspaper ad, you only have so much space available, so the information you can provide is limited. But with online postings, the sky’s the limit.

Related Reading:
• Entrepreneur.com: Posting Jobs Online, the Right Way


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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, March 20th, 2018 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Human Resources |

Finding the Right Price for Your Product or Service

The price of the product or service you provide determines whether your business succeeds or fails. If the price is right (as Bob Barker says), then your business will produce profits and grow, but if it’s wrong, your business could be destined for bankruptcy.

Far too many businesses choose the price of their product/service based upon only one calculation, when there are actually a number of elements you should consider together to come up with the best amount.

When determining a price for your product/service, considering the following:

Cover the Costs
The price you come up with should include enough to cover the cost of manufacturing the product or providing the service your business has to offer. If you travel, include the cost of mileage and expenses. If you provide mass quantities of a product, divide your costs to determine what it costs to make only one. If you can’t cover your overhead in the price of a product, your company will never break even or even make a profit.

Consider the Competition
And when I say consider, that’s exactly what I mean. Don’t price your product/service to be cheaper than the competition, just in the hopes that you’ll get all their business. If consumers trust your competitor more or like his product more, they will still go to him, even if he is more expensive.

However, when determining your prices, keep your competitors’ prices in mind as a range, since you don’t want to set your prices gobs higher (or too much lower). Also, look into how much business they generate and how that relates to prices they provide. Supply and demand really comes into play here.

Calculate the Value
Determining the true value of the product or service you are providing by looking at what consumers are paying others for it. eBay is a great example of how every person values things differently. Ask people you trust, such as friends, family and employees, what they would be willing to pay for your product/service and what they would expect would be included at that price.

Find out what clients would do if your product/service wasn’t offered. Also, ask them how your product/service is helping. If Bob tells you that you are saving him tons of money because your product is so inexpensive and delivery super fast, then you should probably be raising your prices a bit and charging more for a speedy delivery (while still giving Bob a great deal, of course).

Make sure you are looking at all of these elements when determining what your prices should be. And don’t worry about changing your prices if what you currently charge isn’t working. Most consumers won’t even notice, and you can simply explain to the ones that do that you really weren’t making it on the previous prices. If they are loyal to your business and like the product/service you provide, they’ll understand.

Supplemental Information:
The following questions are things you should take into account when establishing your prices–

1) What are the direct costs of your product or service?
The direct materials and labor associated with your offerings.

2) What are your business’s indirect expenses?
Often referred to as overhead and include expenses such as insurance, advertising, rent, office expenses and more.

3) What is your breakeven point?
Breakeven is where your costs and your income are equal–meaning, there’s no profit.

4) How is your competition pricing their offerings?
Compare your products to the competition. Adding value enables you to promote your products more profitably.

5) What is the state of your industry?
What was hot last year may not be this year. Understanding the market landscape will help you make better business decisions now and in the future.

Set your prices accordingly, but don’t be afraid to adjust them to your business’s need and market changes.

Source/Related Reading:
• BusinessWeek.com: Pricing – The Magic Number
• Office.Microsoft.com – Set the Best Price for Your Product
• BusinessWeek.com – Setting Your Product’s Price
• Wikipedia.org – Pricing


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, March 19th, 2018 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |

National Minimum Wage on the Verge of Increasing

It’s been over 10 years since the national minimum wage was increased. Ten years! I find that simply astounding. The cost of living has gone up in that amount of time, without a doubt, but the income that many families generate hasn’t budged. There is something very wrong with that picture and the Senate is pushing for a change.

The plan is to increase the current minimum wage of $5.15 per hour to $7.25 in three increments over the next two years. I like the idea of easing into the change, so that small businesses can adjust accordingly. The Senate bill also includes some tax breaks for small business to ease the transitional pain, while hitting up the large corporate businesses for more money to balance things out.

The bill currently under examination will no longer allow corporations to deduct the cost of jury verdicts or out of court settlements in lawsuits, generating an estimated $540 million over the next ten years. A beautiful plan if you ask me. Even though I work for a law firm that represents local corporations, I think that a corporation that is found guilty of wrong doing in a jury trial should not be allowed to deduct the funds it has to pay out from the judgment. It seems to defeat the purpose of punishment.

Also, the tax-defered portion of severance or retirement packages given to former corporate executives will be limited. Instead of all $210 million like former Home Depot Chaiman-CEO Bob Nardelli received (don’t even get me started on that one) being tax deferred, the amount defferable would be limited to $1 million a year or a figure equivalent to the five year average of the receipient’s taxable salary. Another brilliant idea, especially since it is expected to generate $810 million in revenue over the next 10 years.

What’s funny to me is that those in the Senate who are against the minimum wage increase claim that the beneficiaries would likely only be teenagers with part-time jobs, rather than the working poor. Uh, hello, I beg to differ! As one whose husband stocks shelves in a grocery store to help pay for college, I am well aware of the fact that the minimum wage increase would be highly beneficial to our income.

Additionally, there are plenty of people working at McDonald’s that do so full time to support a family who would benefit from the increase. I used to work in day care, and even those teachers are barely paid just over minimum wage (around $6 an hour), at least where I’m from. Explain to me how these people wouldn’t benefit?

The House version of the bill doesn’t include tax breaks for small businesses (boo), but they plan to address those issues in a separate bill. This will cause a bit of a slow down between House and Senate in getting the bill passed on to the President, but ultimately I think both the increase and tax breaks will become law. Congress would be imbeciles not to pass them. It’s simply time for it.

Minimum Wage Increase Chart

Minimum Wage Increase Chart

Source:
• AOL Small Business: Minimum Wage Bill Divides Businesses


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Sunday, March 18th, 2018 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Money, Taxes |

Is Your Business Online Yet?

If you’re reading this, chances are you did a little websurfing, and are familiar with the vast space known as the World Wide Web (and it’s called that for a reason). So if you’re reading this and don’t yet have a website for your own business, I have to ask, what’s the hold-up?

There are many excuses as to why some businesses don’t have websites, all of which are misconceptions, such as:

Myth: A website is too expensive to start and maintain.
Fact: There are many website services online that provide everything from free webhosting with pre-established templates, to inexpensive webhosting (less than $60 a month) with a little more glam. Any of these can be put together and maintained by anyone who is familiar with the internet, but doesn’t know any of the programming jargon. Simply type free website in Google search and you’re on your way.

Myth: No one will use the website.
Fact: EVERYONE will use the website, if you let them know it’s there. Put it on your business cards, your ads, your receipts. I guarantee that everyone who visits your business will visit your website at one time or another, if for no other reason but to cure websurfing boredom. And if you have lots of exciting features and information, they will be glad they did.

Myth: A website won’t help my business sales.
Fact: Nearly everyone spends time on the Internet, and Internet sales increase on a continual basis. Even if you don’t have the capabilities available on your website for customers to purchase your service, providing as much information as possible and a means of contacting you will inevitably lead to an increase in clientele and sales.

People use the internet to “brand surf.” Most, when interested in a product or service, will turn to the internet first to see what’s available. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up a service online, found listings for local providers, and then been disappointed because the provider I’m interested in learning more about doesn’t have a website.

A recent example was when I was buying furniture for our new home. I wanted to go online and see what the distributors carried instead of driving all over town. Even if I couldn’t buy it online, I wanted to narrow down the prospects. But many of the local businesses didn’t have a site, and I ended up wasting lots of my time going to places that had nothing I liked. The last thing you want to do is frustrate your potential customers like that.

The Internet is a valuable resource for establishing and growing your business, and every small business owner should be taking advantage of it. If you’re already online, great! I hope to come across your site sometime and see what you have to offer. If not, then you’re way behind and, to put it bluntly, it’s time you caught up to the rest of the world. So, get busy punching those keys and making your business readily available to everyone!

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• CNNMoney.com: 10 Web Tips for Entrepreneurs


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, March 17th, 2018 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Marketing |

Is Viral Marketing Effective?

Turner Broadcasting created quite a stir in Boston last week with their advertising campaign for a new show on the Cartoon Network. Traffic jams and police involvement were the result of the reportedly “suspicious packages” planted throughout the city on bridges, subways and other high traffic areas.

The packages were actually magnetic lights that were placed throughout 10 cities across the nation, including New York and L.A. although Boston seemed to be the only place they caused a stir.

I don’t think that Turner execs planned to cause so many problems with their advertising campaign, but I would imagine that the resulting national news coverage was far more than they had expected from this successful ruse. Viral marketing at its best.

For those of you aren’t familiar with the term, viral marketing is a means of advertising in an off-beat manner with the intention of generating media coverage and massive word-of-mouth distribution and a minimal cost. And that’s exactly what happened for Cartoon Network. A bit on the extreme side, maybe, but effective nonetheless.

Another avenue that many companies are taking advantage of is video-viral marketing through YouTube. On average, over 100 million videos are watched and 65,000 clips uploaded a day on YouTube. Most are home videos, but many are now advertisements and movie trailers. The appeal is the low-budget, soft sell video that doesn’t shove a product down a viewer’s throat.

Some other examples of viral advertising of past and present:

The Blair Witch Project — admit it, you thought it was real home video just like the rest of us… and you went to see it because of that, didn’t you?
Burger King’s Subservient Chicken — having chicken “your way” by using this interactive website to make the guy in the chicken suit do whatever you can think of.
Borat — Did it take you awhile to figure out he wasn’t real?

So, is viral marketing effective? Absolutely! All you have to do is appeal to people’s curiosity and you’re well on your way. There are clearly some boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed, but, if your business has reached an advertising plateau, viral marketing is well worth considering.

Sources/Related Readings:
• Wikipedia.com: Viral Marketing
• Inc.com: Contagious Commercials
• Fresh Inc. – Inc.com Weblog: Jan. 31 – A Viral Campaign Bombs
• CNN.com: Two held after ad campaign triggers Boston bomb scare


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, March 16th, 2018 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Marketing |

Effective Logo Design for Small Businesses

Effective Logo Design for Small Businesses

McDonald’s has the golden arches, Coca-Cola the scripted font, and Apple… a multicolored apple. A logo is probably one of the most important elements of marketing your business. As your business develops, your logo will become synonymous with the quality of service you provide.

Your logo also conveys information to new clientele. The style and dynamics can speak volumes. Take Coca-Cola’s logo for example. The scripted text not only gives the familiarity of hand-written words, but also provides and indication that the drink is cool and refreshing. The style of the logo makes you want to say “aaahhhhh,” and I’m sure that’s something they were going for.

Continue Reading: “Effective Logo Design for Small Businesses”


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, March 15th, 2018 @ 12:00 AM CDT

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