Technologies For Growth

January 5, 2022

All businesses rely on technology in some way, but the vast majority are not taking full advantage of all the ways being more tech savvy can improve their businesses.

Almost everyone agrees technology increases how small businesses interface with employees, new and existing customers, vendors, partners, etc. 

But our most recent small business research at 3 Oxbridges shows:

  • 83% of small businesses are not taking full advantage of available technology;
  • 68% of employees say automation helps them be more productive, and they feel less stressed at work; and
  • 90% of small businesses reported technology helps them compete with larger businesses. 

In brief, adapting technology and systems can make a positive difference in your small business’ success.

Here at 3 Oxbridges we have put together some of the technologies your small business should consider leveraging in 2022.

Hybrid Workforce Technology – Seek purpose-built technology solutions that bring equity, parity, presence and inclusion to hybrid work.  Use work tools that allow employees to work when and where they want; seek vendors with end-to-end capabilities to securely deploy to remote users, offer hardware and software managed services and provide end-user tech support. 

Enhance Digital Security – Digital threats are a growing reality.  Whether it is private customer data, proprietary company information or financial accounts, security must remain a priority in 2022.  Security with seamless authentication driven by artificial intelligence and biometric technology (such as fingerprint scans) is key for small businesses.  Also, use intelligent security technology and training to mitigate insider breaches.

Monitors – The desktop monitors your employees use can transform their work experience for increased comfort and capabilities. New monitors offer larger screen real estate and single cable management for easy connections; they also feature higher resolution, new aspect ratios such as ultra-wide and low blue light tech to reduce eye strain. Further, new monitors will extend functionality for employees as they can provide a docking hub for connection of other devices such as smartphones, speakers, headphones and tablets.

Remote Teamwork Tech Tools – Consider acquiring IT solutions such as firewall management to protect your company’s network from cybersecurity issues. A reliable and trustworthy IT company will ensure that your firewall is always updated with the manufacturer’s latest firmware and security updates, keeping your business secure.

Accessories – Create up-to-date, efficient workspaces with accessories; it is important for productivity but also for personal well-being.  Provide employees with complementary tools that bridge the gap between home and office will elevate the experience and empower hybrid working trends.  Consider providing power banks, noise-canceling headphones certified for unified communications platforms, plus ergonomic mice and keyboards.

Cloud and Digital Printing – Facilitate the printing needs of your in-person, remote and hybrid workforces. Cloud print management services routes printing jobs from any web-connected device to an internet-connected printer, eliminating the need for printer drivers. Digital printing is valuable because of its fast turnaround times, use of variable data, new inkjet printing processes (matte, silk, glossy finishes), and environmental friendliness with only the exact amounts of ink and toner are used, and no harmful chemicals are needed for clean-up.

Mobile 5G – The new global wireless standard has lightning-fast data transfer speeds, positive user experience, and network reliability. 5G can help small business by allowing: increased website and app speed; instant video, audio, and image streaming; customer connections in real-time; use of AR, VR, and 3D; collection of hyper-local, detailed data and analytics; and personalized customer experiences.

Chatbots – Utilize chatbot technology to chat with existing and prospective customers and answer their questions immediately will take their loyalty and your conversions and sales to incredible heights.  Nearly two-thirds (64%) of 3 Oxbridge survey respondents say that they prefer messaging with a chatbot to making an effort to communicate with a business through phone or email.  Additionally, our survey found that customer benefits from chatbots included 24-hour service, plus getting an instant response to inquiries/simple questions. 

Voice Search and Virtual Assistant – Voice command technology actively leads to profits for businesses that utilize technology that makes it easy to show the exact information or product that a person has utilized a voice search to find.  Consider how you can tailor your digital strategy to better meet voice search requests

E-Signatures – Electronic signatures are an affordable way to safely and securely handle critical business documents such as sales contracts and personnel offer letters.  Legally binding with bank-level encryption, eSignatures on small business agreement workflows are signed about 80% faster than paper contracts, according to a recent 3 Oxbridges survey.  Identify the software that fits best with your small business needs, and integrates easily with other cloud computing technologies (HubSpot, Google Suite, Slack, and Dropbox).

Apps – Use fewer apps to run your businesses.  This does not mean a drop in the use of digital tools, it means better-integrated products and services.  For example, use a CRM as centralized systems for customer interaction, sales, service, and marketing; this can be found all within the same app.

Video Software – Many suppliers, internal team members, and customers see video conferencing as an essential way to maintain quality relationships.  Find a simple, consolidated, unified video conferencing solution (with a centrally managed user interface) that: makes screen sharing easy; allows for real-time instant messaging and live chat; empowers people to be engaged; provides event live streaming; and has reliable meeting recording available.

Virtual Events – A virtual event can be a webinar, Livestream, or can be as complex as a conference.  Businesses can launch new products or services as they are largely accessible and inclusive to customers and prospects regardless of their ability or location.  It is also a good way to engage with your customers to teach them something about your business or any other valuable subject.  You can also get feedback on your products or services so you can improve them.

Omni-channel Marketing – Foster the seamless connection of all marketing channels available to your customers so they can experience consistent communication across every platform; invest only in technology platforms that give your brand the power of omni-channel marketing.  3 Oxbridges’ research shows that companies actively using omni-channel marketing consistently retain 89% of their customer base compared to a 33% retention rate for businesses without omni-channel engagement.

Video Marketing – Video is the medium of choice for businesses that want to distribute content that will have a high level of engagement and will get seen from start to finish.  Optimized videos are also now shown directly in relevant searches, with Google now offering video snippet previews in its video carousel. Consider using technology that offers 360-degree video.

Accelerated Mobile Pages – Search engines drive a lot of free traffic to your website, with up to 60% of it being generated from mobile devices.  The faster your page loads, the lower the bounce rate, leading to improved rankings. With accelerated mobile page technology, pages load very fast (under 0.5 seconds), making it ideal for small businesses to leverage mobile traffic.

Personalization – Marketing automation technology is the key to keeping your customer engaged and/or continuing to make purchases; it allows your business to email customers different emails that will appeal to them based on past email opens, purchases, or click-throughs.  Almost half of customers spend more when their email experience with a brand is personalized.

Messaging through Apps – An ideal option for marketing your products and services where prospective customers are.  Social apps allow you to personalize the messages you send to your customers, allowing them to have direct and natural contact with you in a platform they are comfortable with.  When considering different social media platforms, consider the demographic of the audience you are trying to reach.

Sale on Social Networks – E-commerce is being integrated into social media platforms making it possible to purchase from the publishers through tags so transactions can happen on the apps, making them a good place to find leads and convert them.

AI and Big Data – CRM tools keep investing in AI and big data to enable customers to become more intelligent and efficient.  Small businesses gain the capability to understand their business performance and how their customers could benefit from additional services.  AI and big data offer the power of customer segmentation, click tracking, retargeting, customized push notifications, and so much more; it can help your business deliver real-time, personalized ads and messaging across different social platforms.

Also, augmented and virtual reality create custom workplaces for employees, immersive training, efficient data analysis and enhanced productivity.

Business technology allows small businesses to work more efficiently and be more competitive.  

  • It promotes remote working; employees and business owners can work from anywhere, enhancing work-life balance. 
  • It enables you to track sales and assets, market effectively, improve productivity, and provide better products and services.  
  • It enhances team collaboration to organize your projects, assign tasks, monitor projects effectively, and maintain schedules.
  • Plus, helps you to effectively target audience segments while meeting customer needs; and allows your business to open up new markets online to reach wider audiences, even those outside your geographical area.

Consider leveraging one, many or all the above technologies in 2022 to enhance your interfaces, streamline operations, and boost your small business growth.

Year-end Preparations

December 1, 2021

Year-end is a busy time both professionally and personally.  As a small business owner or manager, you have an even longer list of things to think about.  But devoting attention to your business not only helps you end 2021 in the best way possible, it also sets you up for success in 2022.


Here are some activities you should consider focusing on.

Accounting/Finances

  • Run standard financial reports, such as an income statement, balance sheet and a cash flow statement.  Doing so gives you an opportunity to look at the big picture and a guide to your company’s financial position and health. 
  • Compare the amount earned in a period of time (4th quarter 2021 or all of 2021) versus the amount spent through your income statement; it is also called a profit and loss statement.
  • Look at your balance sheet to determine if you are profitable; it does this by comparing everything the business owns(physical inventory, property or equipment, trademarks, and invoices the business needs to collect)against everything the business owes (pension plan obligations or invoices needing payment).
  • Analyze cash flow statement to identify where cash was spent, trends for operating (revenues and expenses), investments (assets purchased and sold), and financial decisions (loans and repayments) activities throughout the year to see if you generated or lost money.
  • Calculate a few metrics to get a better handle on your business: current ratio (current assets divided by current liabilities) ideally should be between 1.5 and 2; debt ratio (total debt divided by your total assets) anything below .3 is considered fair; and gross profit margin (divide profit by total revenue) shows what percentage of your income is actually profit.

If you do need some adjustment (such as more sales and/or fewer expenses), financial documents show you where adjustments are needed and tell you how much you need to adjust.

Also, if you’re in the market for funding, expansion, or mentorship, financial documents are often required to let interested parties see the financial records of your business. 

You might also want to also speak with your accountant or CPA about any questions you might have.

  • Get your tax documents together.  You may need to fill out tax forms, which may include Form 1099-NEC and Form 1096, W-2 Forms and W-3 Forms, State and federal payroll returns (Form 940) or quarterly (Form 941). 

Plus you should compile your income, both business and personal, if relevant.  Gather all your deductions.

  • Verify vendor or supplier information for contact information (contact name, email, telephone number, mailing address); make sure to include any new relationships started during the year.  If time permits, evaluate your vendor relationships and look for opportunities to negotiate better terms for 2022.
  • Reconcile accounts receivable, the invoices remaining unpaid and past due by customers for work completed and/or goods purchased.  Collecting accounts receivables will give boost your cash flow and start 2022 in a better position.
  • Check on payroll and benefits.  Handle any issues or corrections that need to be made before year-end.  Ensure taxable fringe benefits (such as company car, third-party sick pay) and other benefits (such as health and life insurance, transportation subsidies, educational reimbursement) are accounted for.

Human Resources

  • Do an audit of the information you have on all your employees. Make sure you have the correct phone numbers, addresses, and payroll information for each one. 
  • Update the status of new hires or former employees, including access, if any, to computer systems or financial information.
  • Use year-end incentives to reward individuals and your team(s).  Yes, money is always welcome, but also consider paid time off, flexible schedules, perhaps a gift or a party as a way to say thank you as well increase employee satisfaction and morale as you close out the year and head into 2022.
  • Consider conducting a drive for charity for a give-back to your community and as a possible business benefit.
  • Consider whether you need to hire worker or there are areas where you can cut back on your team?  To better suit your business needs, think about adjusting hours, rearranging schedules, and whether some employees can work remotely.  Instead of a new employee, consider a part-time person, seasonal worker, gig worker, or a college intern.
  • Celebrate your business successes.  Document and share the accomplishments and wins achieved during the year by individuals, teams and the business as a whole.  These activities are a great way to build camaraderie, increase morale, and end the year on a high note.

Information Technology

  • Backup your computer, plus ensure all data is stored as securely as possible.  Important files such as accounting documents, point-of-sale systems, customer information, valuable emails, creative and proprietary briefs, employee records, and other critical business information should be put on external hard drives or in cloud-based storage systems.
  • Download your important files and reports, even if you have them on a cloud-based system like Box or Dropbox.  Create two separate digital copies and store them in separate locations, plus have one offline/hard/printed copy that is store in another location.
  • Evaluate your filing naming conventions.  Consider implementing a company-wide file-naming system, such as Name-Date-Invoice#, if you don’t already have one; it will keep your file organized and make finding documents easier for everyone.
  • Backup your contacts and/or cell phone to the cloud or a hard drive, especially if you don’t have a cloud service that regularly conducts a backup.  Make sure you have current information for your most important business contacts.

Other Year-end Activities

  • Take an inventory count. Conduct a count of physical products and material as close to December 31st as possible.  Investigate any significant discrepancies between actual and recorded inventory.  An annual physical inventory is not only important for tax purposes, but is a great way for you to evaluate what products sell well and identify which ones don’t do as well.
  • Contact suppliers about slow-moving inventory; unless it is obsolete, perhaps they will be willing to exchange it for something you can turn over more quickly.
  • Conduct a physical asset count.  Check for all assets on your books.
  • Check business licenses and permits, they may need to be renewed.  Some are subject to sales taxes; others are subject to testing, inspections, and/or certifications.
  • Ensure intellectual properties that need to be protected from potential theft by competitors through registration and then being in commerce “consistently and in a high-quality manner.”  Ownership then must be renewed every ten years.
  • Know and follow-through on your business’ annual compliance requirements, which vary by state and by business structure.
  • Audit your website.  Check to make sure all your website links are functional, that your contact information is up-to-date and works.  Update images or headline to keep your site looking up to date.
  • Update your business goals.  With input from your team(s), customers, partners and financial statements, assess your 2021 goals and determine whether you fulfilled them or where you fell short; perhaps you need a last minute push if your goals are within sight. 

Or,

  • If, unfortunately, you are closing your business be aware of and follow the dissolution process defined by your business’ structure.

In all the hustle and bustle of doing business through the end of the year, don’t forget to take some time to do some year-end preparations; it will be time well spent and get your business in good shape for the new year.

Now if you are super ambitious, why not get a start on 2022?

Plan 2022 Goals – with your 2021 learnings, set your goals for 2022 and write them down.

Develop Action Plans – create an action plan to help you achieve each goal.  The best goals are specific, measureable, attainable and time-based.

Plan Time to Keep Financial and Tax Records Up-to-Date – set aside time to update both on a quarterly basis as well as to meet with accountants and/or financial advisors.

Create Your Marketing Plans – think about what areas of marketing you want to focus on.

Assess Employee Engagement – review your compensation and benefits to ensure they remain competitive.  Develop possible promotional paths going forward to foster loyalty and keep your best performers.  Plan company get-togethers (barbeques, hikes, etc.) that are advantageous to everyone.

May 2022 be your best year yet.

Communication Challenges with Remote Workers

November 7, 2021

Business communications have become almost too challenging in this new pandemic environment.

In the hybrid world, business owners and leaders worry that organizational cohesion is being lost.

Remote works offer communication challenges including:

  • Use of jargon or over-complicated, unfamiliar or technical terms
  • Emotional and taboos; physical barriers to non-verbal communication
  • Expectations and prejudices; cultural differences
  • Information overload; lack of attention, interest, distractions, or irrelevance to the receiver
  • Differences in perception and viewpoint
  • Physical disabilities such as hearing problems or speech difficulties
  • Use of technologies
  • Organizational development
  • Work-Life balance

The effects of these communication problems on remote employees include:

  • Miscommunication
  • Lack of connection
  • Lack of collaboration
  • Lack of trust
  • Feelings of alienation
  • Over-communication
  • Personal aversion to interaction

To ease these challenges, here are some best communication practices for owners and leaders to deliver news, updates, and remediation:

  • Be an active listener
  • Ask effective questions
  • Understand and know your audience
  • Listen to nonverbal communication
  • Over-communicate effectively
  • Begin and end powerfully
  • Timing is everything
  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable
  • Have fun!

If you want to learn more about communication challenges and solutions with a remote work force as well as suggestions for what you can implement right now to enhance communications with remote workers, listen to a panel of experts discussing this on Biz-Bytes at https://youtu.be/AH61k8lac9g

Being a business leader requires constant adjustment to changing challenges.  With remote workers becoming more common, you need to operate effectively in this new world.  Most of you will.

Logistic Bottlenecks Can Kill Your Business

October 1, 2021

How small businesses must adapt to the changing logistics world

Logistical considerations have always played a strategic role in business, today more than ever.  Logistics can spell the difference between success and failure in business. 

In recent years, changes in the business environment have forced small businesses (and larger companies, too) to pay particularly close attention to how this function relates to others.

Here are a few tips on logistics optimization for small businesses; how you can minimize bottlenecks.

Understand the objective

The principal purpose of logistics is to get merchandise from one location to another.  First from the vendor to you.  Second from you to your customers.  You want to do so in the most expedient, cost effective manner possible with transparency of doing so along the way.  Not having your offerings can mean missed revenue.  But, having too much is costly.

Strategies

Many companies manage logistics by developing competitive strategies considering postponement and speculation, standardization, consolidation, and differentiation. They may conduct formal or informal logistics audits, redesigned systems to provide more effective support, and take steps to ensure continued appraisal of opportunities over the long run.

Government regulation, the health of the nation’s transportation system, energy restrictions, custom and trade restrictions, and technological developments all represent important considerations in the formulation of a logistics business strategy.

Strong customer focus

Logistics is not only about delivery. It is also about investing in your customers from your business beginning to its end. Customers are essential to the logistics flow. They expect assurance and constant updates about the product. If there is any change in shipment date, delivery issues, then let the customer know about it instantly.

Once an order is placed, make sure the customer can track everything online. Invest in an excellent online shipment tracker to allow your customer to be updated about the website or app, and they need not call customer care every time.

Offer your customers options

Flexibility is required, customers expect retailer to offer many options that can fit their needs and lifestyle. Therefore, it is relevant in order and logistics fulfilment.  A lot of customers abandon their cart while choosing the requisite delivery option; often it is because they did not find the right delivery approach they were looking for. Many want door-to-door shipping options relevant, while others look pick-up as another variable option for them. With many delivery methods, you negate the risk of losing them at the last step.


Spend on visibility and collaboration

Regardless of your strategy, you can’t run an effective supply chain without visibility and the ability to communicate to customers and suppliers quickly.  Collaboration will help you keep inventory low while keeping lead times at a minimum.  Your supply chain is core to running your business.   

Track Costs

Break down your logistics process and have a clear view of what each element costs you.  You can’t control costs if you don’t know where you’re spending.

Also, with this knowledge, you can directly or indirectly transfer the cost to the customer.  You must know how much it costs to move the item from point A to B if you are going to make the right pricing decisions.

Get competitive quotes

Comparing different providers is basic business procedure, but it’s amazing how many SMBs go with the first logistics company that comes to mind.  Use the internet to search for the ideal service provider.  Obtain quotes from multiple carriers and check if the prices are negotiable; make sure you are comparing like for like.  Always get at least two or three quotes for any sizable expenditure.

Planning is the key

Prepare your inventory and choose reliable suppliers as the first step in your logistics chain. Whether you are managing your in-house logistics teams or outsourcing it, you need to have complete control.  Ensure that you review the commitment and forecasts regularly for calculating the safety stock as well as contingency plans in place just in case there are delays or diversions.  That doesn’t mean stockpile inventory, but you should have plans that include alternative sources and the ability to shift goods from one location to another.

Improve sales and operations

Effective sales and operations (S&OP) planning can help you understand when you might need new equipment or overtime.  Accurate forecasts help you plan inventory, so you have enough of the right products in place to meet demand.  The S&OP process can provide insight into upcoming promotions, new product introductions or other demand changes.  With this information, you can ensure you have enough (but not too much) inventory on hand.

Outsourcing

Outsourcing, more or less, the entirety of your logistical needs can free up your time and allow you to focus more on innovating and growing your business.  This may not be the most cost-effective option, but it could be the simplest and most convenient.

Consider teaming up with a partner

Most logistics companies set their prices based on volume, and teaming up with a partner could provide a more cost-effective way to meet your needs.  Take into account not only the specific details of the logistics company, but also the specific needs of your partner. 

Try a small business logistics service from a major provider

If the size and budget of your business cannot warrant investing money in a specialized logistics provider, perhaps it could be beneficial to explore what some of the major shipping and transportation providers offer. UPS, FedEx, and DSL all offer services that cater to small businesses.  Given their reputation for reliability, this could easily be a viable option for your business.

Consider an industry-specific provider

An industry-specific provider would know the specifics on how to handle and care for the product being delivered, especially if it is fragile, perishable or high-value.  You may spend more money on an industry-specific provider, but consider the risk of hiring a provider that does not specialize in your particular market.  If a product is mishandled or damaged, that’s money down the drain.

Work with a third-party logistics company

Many small and mid-sized businesses believe that working with a third-party logistics company (or 3PL) is too expensive for them, but that may not be the case.  A good 3PL can help ensure that you get reasonable rates, fast delivery, and the most productive warehouse and storage teams.  It will have many of the necessary visibility and collaboration tools available to help you; further they can help you with packaging, warehousing, handling, tracking, paperwork, labeling, and even business partnerships.

Leverage Technology

Today it is possible for you to keep tabs on a wide range of events affecting your product’s transportation.  Both you and your customers should be able to tell where the item is at any given point in time.  By giving customers direct access to tracking information, you rid yourself of the burden of having to keep them updated.

Supply chain and logistics are vital for the success of any business.  Without a well-thought-out logistics management plan, you’ll place your entire business strategy at risk of failure. 

Every business must learn to master logistics, all parts work together, to make it more organized, cost-effective, and efficient for both you and your customers, stand out from the competition, and boost customer satisfaction.

September 19, 2021

All About Small Business: Click here to enter the site https://joannlaing.wordpress.com

From Idea to New Business

September 7, 2021

To start a new business, you begin with a process.

Having a process makes the first dozen plus steps to starting a business more manageable and hopefully more successful.

Here are some of the steps you should include in the process that launches your new business.

  • Upfront check-out your idea.  Run it by family and friends, industry experts; do research.  Does your business idea make sense?  Is there a need or want in the marketplace for it?  Is the marketplace big enough and is it expected to grow?  Also, checkout competition; what are other businesses doing; how will your business be unique?  Are you passionate about your business idea and will it fuel you through the challenges of starting a new business. 
  • Select a name.  What your business is called is important.  Does it reflect what your company does?  Is it easy to pronounce?  Is the URL available?  Check its meaning in other languages where you might conduct business and/or the languages used by your customers, vendors, partners, and others you will be doing business with; make sure it does not have a meaning you do not want.
  • Write a strategic business plan.  Your plans may change along the way, but you will have a starting point and make adjustments.  Include your vision, culture, offerings, financials (revenue, expenses), profit margins, capital expenditures, staffing, competitive analysis and your business’ advantages, partnerships, planned acquisitions, etc.  Your business plan will come in handy as you meet with bank managers, potential investors, possible hires, and hired experts.  There are a number of online templates to get you started.
  • Decide on your business formation structure.  Unless you plan to work as a sole proprietor, you should look into creating a limited liability corporation.  To learn about the different business structures, go to the Small Business Administration website (https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/launch-your-business/choose-business-structure).  Also, an advisor, such as an accountant or lawyer, can guide you. 
  • Select your business location(s).  Consider where you live or want to live; as well as look at where are your target customers (if you are retail you will want to be easily accessible), business partners, and potential hires.  Further, you should consider the costs, benefits, and restrictions of different government agencies.
  • Register your business.  Your location and business structure determine how you will need to register your business.  Register with federal, state and local agencies; if you do not register your business, you could miss out on personal liability protection, legal benefits, and tax benefits.  Then stay up to date with registration requirements; some states require you to provide reports soon after registering depending on your business structure.  Also, check with your local tax office or franchise tax board, if it applies to you.
  • Get a Tax ID number.  You willneed to file for a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), which the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses to administrate tax laws, unless you are a sole proprietor or a LLC without any employees.  It is issued either by the Social Security Administration (SSA) or by the IRS. However, if you plan to have employees, you will need to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) that they can use for filing taxes.  An EIN can be applied for online if your business is located in the United States or U.S. Territories, and you’ll first need to have a TIN to apply for an EIN. 
  • Apply for licenses and permits.  Learn about the business licensing requirements and the permits you need depend on the city, county and state in which you are doing business as well as the kind and size of business you plan to start; then apply for them.
  • Get a business bank account.  Choose a bank that goes the extra mile for small businesses is vital to your success.  Look for banks that offer dedicated business checking accounts with low or no fees, small starting deposits, ATM accessibility in your area, interest-earning accounts and online or mobile banking tools geared toward making small-business processes easier.
  • Get business insurance.  If you are not protected with the right insurance, accidents, natural disasters, and lawsuits could put out of business.  Select the type of business insurance you need.  The federal government requires every business with employees to have workers’ compensation, unemployment, and disability insurance.  Some states also require additional insurance.  Then, assess your risks, find a reputable licensed agent, and shop around for the best prices and benefits for your business.
  • Set your business culture.  How you do business, your mission/purpose and values, is important for hiring, developing, and retaining employees as well as establishing partnerships and building your customers.  Be transparent and consistent with your culture.
  • Create a brand.  Decide what the emotional resonance of your company should be and then use that to inform all your branding choices: images, graphics and how products make customers or clients feel.  Once you’ve decided on a look and feel, stick with it. Consistency of messaging is vital to brand awareness and success.
  • Build a website.  A good business website is a fundamental part of the business creation process, and it is nearly impossible to do effective business without one, much less reach your growth and sales potentials.  Get a web presence up and running by the time you’re ready to launch.
  • Plan, execute a digital-marketing strategy.  Digital marketing is going to be important to how you promote your business and engage your customers.  The voice you use must reflect your business and be consistently applied across channels.
  • Get business insurance.  If you are not protected with the right insurance, accidents, natural disasters, and lawsuits could put out of business.  Select the type of business insurance you need.  The federal government requires every business with employees to have workers’ compensation, unemployment, and disability insurance.  Some states also require additional insurance.  Then, assess your risks, find a reputable licensed agent, and shop around for the best prices and benefits for your business.
  • Set your business culture.  How you do business, your mission/purpose and values, is important for hiring, developing, and retaining employees as well as establishing partnerships and building your customers.  Be transparent and consistent with your culture.
  • Create a brand.  Decide what the emotional resonance of your company should be and then use that to inform all your branding choices: images, graphics and how products make customers or clients feel.  Once you’ve decided on a look and feel, stick with it. Consistency of messaging is vital to brand awareness and success.
  • Build a website.  A good business website is a fundamental part of the business creation process, and it is nearly impossible to do effective business without one, much less reach your growth and sales potentials.  Get a web presence up and running by the time you’re ready to launch.
  • Plan, execute a digital-marketing strategy.  Digital marketing is going to be important to how you promote your business and engage your customers.  The voice you use must reflect your business and be consistently applied across channels.

Starting and owning a business is a full-time commitment, one that owners put their all into.  Make sure you start your business off well to enhance your chances of having a successful small business.

Once In A Life Time Opportunity For Small Business – Seize It!

August 6, 2021

Not since the end of World War II have small businesses had the opportunities afforded them with the easing of the pandemic.

Small business leaders should take lessons from the company managers of that period and move boldly into this holiday season and beyond.

One excellent example from that post-war period is the Lionel Manufacturing Company, along with Ohio’s American Flyer Manufacturing Company, these companies competed against German and Czech companies in the model train sector before the Second World War. With conflict’s disruption of normal trade patterns and shifting to wartime production of miniature warheads, both companies ceased making large batches of model trains. Moreover, women replaced men in their workshops as males were drafted for combat engineering duties.

In August, on the day Japan surrendered and Lionel’s defense contracts automatically cancelled, the company owner order his staff to clear wartime equipment and ramp up the train dies. Within two weeks, the company was producing model trains for delivery to stores in time for the Christmas 1945 season.  By contrast, American Flyer chose a more leisurely conversion aiming for 1946.

The Lionel owner contacted Sears Roebuck whose Christmas catalogue was already finalized without trains and offered to have enough trains for delivery in time for the holiday season. What he demanded in return was five years exclusivity. Between Sears and holiday sales in Chicago’s Marshall Fields and New York’s Macy’s, Lionel became the industry leader for the next 30 years.

One added bonus for the company, there was enough work needed that men returning to their company jobs did not replace the women who had kept it going but rather supplemented them.  Many stayed on until the company was sold and manufacturing shifted to Asia.

The Pandemic and this year’s sales explosion coupled with distribution disruptions being experienced means nimble small businesses can also prosper widely in this holiday season and earn additional sales in the months beyond.

Like Lionel’s owner, it is important that small business leaders start now building inventory, establishing new sources of material, adding lines of credit, and training staff to meet the groundswell of buying expected this fall and winter.

Suggested key components to capture opportunities:

  1. Establish and enforce rules about job location, mask wearing, and lines of authority.
  2. Find additional lines of credit to assure ability to procure supplies.
  3. Train staff in best procedures in a post-pandemic world.
  4. Seek new sales by identifying potential clients who are also seeking or need new suppliers.
  5. Improve operational support by streamlining support functions.
  6. Leverage multi-channel marketing.
  7. Focus the company on growth and bolstering morale; consider adding inventive for achieving goals.
  8. Above all, be flexible and recognize it is a new world out there..

Preparing For Inflation

July 6, 2021

We could see high inflation* (when the cost of goods and services increases rapidly) in late 2021 and beyond.  It would befit the small business owner to be prepared. 

Let’s look at how inflation can affect your business and what you can do to contend with it.

Evaluate Revenue Streams – Ideally do this before inflation actually occurs.  If your offerings are discretionary or if it is unlikely that you will be able to compete on price during a time of inflation, your business model may be in serious jeopardy.  Reconfigure your revenue forecast to accommodate inflationary pressures and make necessary adjustments in advance of rising prices.

Borrow Now, if you have to – As interest rate are expected to rise.  Begin by securing an operating line of credit at today’s rates to buffer the impact of cyclical lending needs later.  Also, consider borrowing now for capital that will result in a reduced cost structure and/or more secure revenue streams.  

Ask for a fixed-rate loan (instead of an adjustable-rate loan) so your interest rate stays the same regardless of economic conditions.  The larger and longer the loan period, such as for a mortgage, the more important it is to have a fixed-rate loan.

If you have a variable rate loan, they are going to renew at much higher rates during times of inflation; pay these loans down as soon as possible. 

Wages – It is not feasible to lock in your employees’ wages; they are going to, at a minimum, demand cost-of-living increases.  Plan for wage increases.  Also, consider hiring interns and freelancers who you can get at a fixed rate and do not have to pay benefits to.

Inventory – One way to fight an anticipated inflationary scenario is to lock in prices early.  You can do this either through options/futures contracts or simply by signing long-term contracts with suppliers. 

If you cannot lock in prices, consider stocking up on inventory.  Purchasing goods before price increases could put you in a much better competitive position than your competitors.  But, don’t risk cash reserves just to buy inventory.

Finally, renegotiate with your suppliers and ask suppliers for discounts.

Efficiency And Productivity – Spend time improving your processes productivity.  Look for areas of waste; then spend time and effort implementing ways work can be done more efficiently.  Conduct timely technology and services audits.

Reduce Other Costs – Consider relocating to a smaller, less expensive working environment.  If you rent, lock in the amount you pay.  Eliminate finance charges by paying on time.  And, prepare for the possibility of workforce reductions should the economy enter a period of prolonged inflation.

Prices – There are going to be some costs that you can’t lock in ahead of time, so you may be forced to raise the prices of your products or services to offset higher expenses.  However, smaller businesses are reluctant to raise prices when they already see business tailing off due to inflation and increasing the risk customer alienation.  A couple of ways to raise prices include: giving your customers some warning, saying and/or posting we need to raise prices starting on this future date to continue delivering the top-notch offerings that you’re grown accustomed to; and consider frequent small price increases rather than one or two big price increases. 

Customer Loyalty – Reprioritize your customer loyalty initiatives.  To prevent your customer base from moving to lower priced alternatives, secure your customer base by creating value added incentives to encourage them to stay with you.

Receivables – To minimize customers taking advantage of you by not paying on time and then you having to bridge cash shortfalls, reduce collection issues by tighten up payment terms, possibly instituting penalties for late payments.  Stay disciplined in collecting payments.

Investing Funds – With inflation and the value of the US dollar decreasing, the purchasing power of your cash will be dramatically lower after just a few years.  Any funds that you don’t expect to use in the near-term should be invested in assets that protect you against inflation; talk to your financial advisor about possibly investing in treasury inflation-protected securities (TIPS), mutual funds, and ETFs.

In summary, inflation can be a nightmare for your business if you are not prepared.  However, if you prepare before we start seeing higher prices, you can mitigate the effects of inflation or even benefit from it.

* Inflation is a period in which the overall prices of everyday goods and services start to rise.  Business cost of materials and labor rise squeezing profits.  Rising costs may or may not be able to be passed on to customers depending on the price elasticity of demand for of your offerings.  When inflation causes costs to rise, often interest rates will spike.  Inflationary pressures cause customers to try to delay payments in order to be able to pay with “cheaper dollars” so business cash flow suffers.

Satisfy Customers and Generate Sales

June 5, 2021

People, like butterflies, are emerging from the pandemic lockdowns.

During the pandemic many people changed their living habits, became isolated, more concerned about hygiene, and purchased more things online, and perhaps gained weight.

Besides purchasing more items online, they also broke other shopping habits.  Fortunately for small businesses new ones are developing.  Most immediately, there is going to be a period when buyers will experiment with new buying channels to fit their emerging lives.

Smart small businesses leaders will see this dynamic as an unparalleled opportunity to add new customers and welcome back old ones.

As early surveys show, consumers and businesses are eager to buy.  They have pent up demand and also new fashion, food, and hygiene needs.  Small businesses need to step-up their game in their local and online stores, making both more user friendly as shoppers seek new venues.

Consumers and B2B buyers have also learned to look for different ways to satisfy their needs.  Thanks to various aid programs, they have more money to spend and reasons to do so.  And they are not limited to what, where and how they previously bought.

Fashions for the office have changed, requiring wardrobe additions.  Grooming has become more demanding as has the foods people eat which are changing.

In the new era of socializing, people want to: look well turned out yet comfortable; order the best food and beverages for these activities; update their abodes to meet new lifestyle and for others who come visiting; and in general lead different lives.

Small businesses need to spruce up their local and online stores to draw the attention of these new and former shoppers.  Once in their stores proprietors need to concentrate on four area to compete in this new economy: curation, personalization, immediacy and now.  Plus beyond sight and sound, local businesses can add to their inside edge by being able to appeal to the senses of smell, touch, and taste.    

Let’s look at each area and consider the added sense advantages.

Curation – yes, curation can be done online; but in person it can be so much better.  Make it easy for your former and new customers to shop.  Put together kits of your products such as complete outfits, ingredients and recipes for meals along with decorations and beverages (perhaps provided in partnership with other stores), and essentials for body/home/transport make-overs.  By customers not only seeing your offerings with accompanying sound, they can more fully experience them with smelling, touching and perhaps tasting.

Personalization – of course, personalization can be done online; but by seeing the responses of your customer you can immediately refine and sharpen your personalization while adding to your knowledge bank their likes and dislikes.  Remembering and using names is important, as are colors and preferences.  Providing samples of products to try can lead to greater sales.

Immediacy – a light, very brief touch on the shoulder or elbow can provide familiarity without being too intrusive.  After months of isolation, people crave contact of friends and family.  A friendly, but not overly friendly, shop keeper who smiles and adds just the right touch can become a more trusted source of products and services.

Okay, you might think this might be creepy; but consider the success of airline attendants in 1st or premium class who make their passengers feel at ease with these same gestures.

Now – online can provide next day and often delivery in a few hours…for a price.  Stores can do better by having the products available now for an outfit to wear, a meal to prepare, a personal or home project to complete that day.  Many people put off activities until they are pushed for time; local stores can meet that last minute challenge.

Above all, view this period as one of opportunity.  Be smart and draw the consumer and businesses to your local and online stores to gain long-time customers and greater sales.

Is Your Supply Chain Causing Product Availability Problems?

May 9, 2021

Small businesses power themselves to profitability by superior service and immediate gratification that give them the edge over bigger competitors.  Not meeting product availability is rated one of the highest causes of customer defection, according to experts.

Yet, forty-four percent of small businesses reported temporary shortages or other supplychain problems in March, according to a recent survey highlighted in The Wall Street Journal.

You know how critical it is to get customers what they want, when they want it.  As a business owner or manager, you need to accomplish this task in the lowest cost, most efficient way possible, without sacrificing on quality.  That is why supply chain management is critical to the success of your business.  Yet two-thirds of small business owners and managers do not have full visibility into their supply chains, which is how you get your parts and products from point to point.

When building your supply chain consider:

  • Supplier relationships – search for suppliers that are cost-efficient, reliable (have product available when you want it), and easy to work with; monitor their performance; and build a partnership with them.
  • Ethics – before forming a partnership with your suppliers talk about ethics, human rights, sustainability and other issues that are important to you, your employees, and company.  Make sure you and your supplier align; this positioning can help to strengthen the relationship and help to set up a long-lasting partnership.
  • Risk management – proactively manage supply chain risk, be ready when supplier disruptions happen.  Keep up-to-date on what is happening in the marketplace due to weather, economics, social, political and other changes; these can and often do impact your business and its supply chain.  Also, consider your risk due to events such as industrial unrest, product recalls, safety scares, etc.

To strengthen your supply chain, consider:

  • Doubling or tripling where you source your critical components and offerings; if one supplier or avenue of delivery has trouble delivering, you have a back-up or two.
  • Sourcing products from the US, or same hemisphere as it is often to easier to move goods north and south as opposed to east and west.
  • Bartering with others to get the components or offerings you critically need.  Have business partners in addition to your suppliers; other businesses to stay informed, have other resources, and perhaps obtain supplies and products you need.
  • Putting in place penalties to keep your supply chain going with suppliers; if the suppliers does not deliver or is late it is going to cost you money, time and even customers, so ask for assurances backed with non-performance clauses.  On the flip side, you might put in incentivizes for your suppliers that deliver during times of strife. 
  • Digitizing your supply chain to have maximize insight into where your components or offerings are in real time and when they are expected to arrive will make your life as a business owner or manager a bit easier.

With your small business advantage imperiled by a supply chain disruption, it may be time to pre-plan responses when customer expectations are not met.

Here are some pre-planning strategies to consider:

  • Learn as early as possible if your product shipments will be late or even cancelled.  Knowing a problem could exist enables you to have alternatives available.  For retailers, the anticipated busy fall season makes them extremely vulnerable.  Already, some apparel shops are reporting delayed shipments.  Remember, suppliers are going to make every effort to keep their biggest clients happy, not their smaller customers.
  • As soon as you know products will be late, notify your customers.  If you have taken deposits, offer to return them or preferably provide a credit.  Experts believe a majority of clients will leave their deposits in place.  If you have used the deposits to fund your own purchases, keep a running score and notify your factoring agent and/or bank.  Secure an additional line of credit to insure you have enough capital to weather the supply disruption.
  • Develop alternative product fixes for clients.  One way is to offer to lend them refurbished product until their new products arrive.  Another is to do what New Jersey bridal shop owner did.  When the distribution disruption delayed delivery of wedding gowns, she lent bridesmaids dresses she used as display models and refunded the deposits.
  • No matter how angry or abusive your customer becomes, always have a smile on your face.  Be sympathetic to their plight and concentrate on their problem not yours.  Remember, the customer has needs and at the moment he or she really doesn’t care about your problems.  Above all, do not minimize their plight.  You will never know the full details, so remain in concert with the customer trying to solve the problem created by your failure to deliver what you promised.
  • Provide a business credit to your customer(s), if possible instead of a refund; the former will more likely get the customer to come back perhaps sooner and spend money with you, with the latter you may never see your customer again.
  • A sales agreement represents the promise by one person to do or provide to another person something of value.  Despite all the legalese in the sales document, this transaction represents explicit trust on both sides.  With fewer customers, small businesses need to keep that trust for as many buyers as possible.  Doing this when events happen out of their control, they must act to keep that trust.  Having a plan in place is the first step.

Supply chain disruption happen in all size businesses.  Your best bet is to prepare for them, active swiftly when they happen, and keep your customers.