Save Time and Money, Get More Leads Using Marketing Automation
Guest blog post by Jay Pinkert, Director of Content, Infusionsoft, an all-in-one sales and marketing automation software for small business that combines Customer Relationship Management (CRM), email marketing and e-commerce.
With the advent of cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS), sales and marketing automation is no longer the exclusive province of large and mid-size enterprises. In fact, small business is the fastest growing sector in the sales and marketing automation software industry.
Sophisticated marketing, CRM, e-commerce and all-in-one solutions are now available on a subscription basis, so businesses don’t need to purchase or maintain computer hardware. And subscription fees are a fraction of the cost of purchasing powerful software suites outright.
In other words, the practical and technological barriers to sales and marketing automation for small businesses have been eliminated, and it’s time to start thinking big.
Marketing automation is not new, but until recently this type of technology has been available only to large businesses with big budgets and a full-time IT staff that can manage the set-up process. Now, with minimal financial investment, most small businesses can leverage marketing automation in powerful ways. Plus, the technology is becoming progressively easier to use. Small businesses can actually get marketing automation campaigns up and running in a matter of weeks.
With the arrival of drag-and-drop configuration technology and easy-to-use web interfaces, most small businesses and marketers can get in and intuitively set up campaigns. The complexity comes from the planning of the campaigns themselves, not necessarily the technology. As long as the business keeps a clear picture of the path they’re driving customers down, they'll have no problem setting up a marketing automation campaign.
To illustrate, let's use a landscaping business as an example. To capture traffic coming to their website, the landscaping business offers a free report on how to keep a lawn green. Not everyone who downloads the report is a good prospect that’s ready to buy now. When people download the report they are automatically started on a sequence of communications related to the topic. In those communications is an explanation about the company’s services and maybe even a special offer to drive immediate sales. If the prospect clicks on the offer link, that's an indicator of interest. The marketing automation system can be set to stop the current sequence of nurture communications and start a new series of communications that more aggressively drive to the sale. In addition, a notification could be sent to someone in the office to call this prospect and gauge interest. This is all done automatically and once set up, campaigns will convert leads until the business hits stop in the marketing automation system.
In the example above, the small business is using marketing automation for simple lead qualification. Instead of calling every lead one-by-one, they will only call those who express interest. This saves money and time and reduces the burden on the small business and its employees.
Other ways small businesses are using marketing automation to save time and get and keep more customers includes:
- New lead follow-up
- New customer follow-up
- Long-term customer follow-up
- Cross-sells and upsells
- Repeat business and referrals
- Workflow and task automation
- Billing and collections
Marketing automation systems range in cost from under $100 per month to over $1000. The more costly systems generally offer more functionality. Free versions with limited features and capabilities are also available. Another cost to consider is system set up. This cost can range from $500 to $5,000, depending on the complexity of the system and the data being imported.
Integrating marketing automation with a CRM and an e-commerce solution is one of the tactics used by many small businesses to relieve stress even further. “Multiple system chaos” is a problem that develops as businesses try and cobble together different systems to run the business. Since these systems don't typically work together, the business is often left with the task of manually exporting and importing information to try and keep prospect and customer records accurate and up to date. This burden gets old fast and eventually is neglected much of the time, which results in the business not being able to communicate effectively because the customer and prospect lists can't be segmented based on interests and behaviors.
As a small business, you invest time and money to generate traffic and interest. If no follow-up system is in place, leads will slip through the cracks and customers will trade you in for the competition. Marketing automation is gaining popularity because it’s an efficient way to scale follow-up activities. But remember, it’s just a technology. You still need sound strategy and tactics to animate it.
How do you follow up with your customers and prospects?
Honoring Small Businesses: Thanks for Supporting Verizon
Guest post from Monya Emery, manager of supplier diversity for Verizon. (Photo credit to NYT's Evening Hours)
At Verizon, we are committed to working with small and diverse businesses whenever we can throughout our sourcing and supply chain process. We want to ensure the suppliers we work with are as diverse as the customers we serve.
Our diligence and dedication to working with small and diverse businesses has been recognized this year by several organizations that advocate them. This year Verizon was ranked No. 8 on the DiversityBusiness.com “2012 List of Top 50 Companies for Multicultural Business Opportunities.”
We have also been included on “Top Corporation” lists by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and DiversityInc. Another prestigious award has come from the Dallas/Fort Worth Minority Supplier Development Council (D/FW MSDC), who recognized us for our Supplier Diversity results and innovative supply chain solutions. Recently, Verizon was honored by the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) for our long-term partnerships with minority business enterprises.
Verizon also pays tribute to the many small and diverse owned businesses that work with us, offering their cutting edge products and services, surpassing performance expectations and helping us exceed customer satisfaction targets, while continuously improving quality and customer service. At our recent annual Supplier Summit, held in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, we honored these small and diverse businesses:
- IncrediTek, a service disabled veteran small business who provides engineering, furnish and install (EF&I) services and equipment assembly services, with “Top MWDVBE Company”
- Dynis, a minority owned small business who provides central office services for transport and DC power, with “Top Small Business”
- AdAsia, an Asian-owned business, who provides full-service advertising and marketing functions targeting Asians, with “Top Marketing Supplier”
- New Breed Logistics, a supplier of warehouse and fulfillment services, was recognized for their outstanding efforts in including diverse suppliers in their supply chain (also known as 2nd Tier) and reporting the dollars spent with those suppliers to Verizon.
If you would like to be considered for an opportunity to work with Verizon, we encourage you to register on our website: http://www.verizon.com/suppliers.
Here are a few tips for registering:
- Make sure your products or services can be used by Verizon.
- Make sure you meet Verizon’s core requirements – listed on Verizon’s Supplier Diversity website.
- Make sure you upload your small or diverse business documents.
- Once registered, regularly update any changes to your profile, such as new contacts and address information.
Who knows, my team and I could be honoring your business at our next Supplier Summit!
- Everyone's Tags:
- Dallas Fort Worth Minority Supplier Development Council
- diverse business
- Diversity Business
- Diversity Inc
- minority owned business
- multicultural business
- National Minority Supplier Development Council
- New Breed Logistics
- NYT Evening Hours
- small business
- supplier diversity
- Women Business Enterprise National Council
- work for large company
Target Customers On Verizon’s Visual 411
Guest post from Marty Caproni, director of marketing and Technology at Verizon LiveSource.
We all know 4-1-1, dial it to get phone numbers and address information. As more and more people turn to their mobile phone to search for info, we made an app for that and we call it Visual 411.
Available as a free mobile app in Google Play, Visual 411 is the one app to use to search for business listings. This free app can be downloaded from Google Play or accessed by pointing your mobile web browser to: m.verizon.com/visual411.
My team developed this app not only to offer consumers with a feature rich application that empowers their lifestyle while also helping them save time and money; but also to provide a means for merchants and vendors to reach and attract potential customers. So the Visual 411 directory app is valuable to both consumers and businesses.
In a recent report on available directory apps by analyst firm Frost & Sullivan, it stated that Verizon’s Visual 411 app is notable because it provides directory services that look and operate the same across televisions, PCs and smartphones.
Additionally, “what is most noteworthy, though, is that Verizon directory services enable a directory on the move capability. It is possible to access yellow pages listings on the home television and, once a particular business or product is located, the results can be SMS texted to the consumer’s smartphone. If the directory search is unsuccessful, the Visual 411 application can connect the consumer to a human operator through the home phone for a more personal experience.”
This app provides consumers with a myriad of business information at their fingertips, such as: phone numbers, addresses, ratings, reviews, coupons, maps, directions and much, much more. Information is accessible by location, business name or category.
As a small business owner, you want to make sure your business is listed and you may want to consider advertising on this platform such as offering a discount to incent people to visit your shop or call to inquire about your services.
How do you make sure your business can be found online?
It’s Moving Season; Change How You Market Your Business
Guest post from Tom Nugent, national sales director at Verizon Enhanced Communities, bringing Verizon’s all-fiber optic FiOS network to buildings. Tom leads the Verizon team responsible for building and maintaining relationships with multi-family property owners, developers, property management companies and real estate investment trusts (REITs).
Springtime and residential moving season is underway. In all of our FiOS markets, Verizon Enhanced Communities is helping innovative, forward-thinking MDU (multiple dwelling unit) managers and owners make the most of the season by helping prospective tenants find them and by providing key amenities to help set them apart from the competition.
In densely populated MDU markets such as Washington, New York and Los Angeles, Verizon has launched “Must Have FiOS,” a multi-media, hyper-local campaign targeting tech savvy consumers who view having the latest and greatest gadgets and Internet and TV services as a key amenity when looking for a new place to live. This creative campaign hits renters in the places they frequent -- in popular neighborhood bars and restaurants, movie theaters, fitness clubs, etc. -- with a message that is resonating. Consumers can also go to www.musthavefios.com to find buildings in their area that are served by FiOS.
Some properties are using Verizon Concierge’s mobile marketing platform to create their own app to attract residents and educate them about their properties’ features and amenities. This easy-to-use application enables MDU managers to create apps for iPhone, Droid and Blackberry smartphones. The mobile marketing platform allows users to upload text, floor plans, photos and other images via a publishing wizard. Consumers with the Verizon Concierge app on their phones are able to browse properties, and even use a “click to call” feature to directly contact a leasing office.
Other properties are leveraging the value of FiOS by including FiOS TV and/or Internet as part of their standard amenities through the Verizon Enhanced Communities Value Program. By including these services as part of monthly rental fees, these properties are differentiating themselves and attracting a resident base that appreciates having the power of the FiOS network to view HD TV, play high-bandwidth online games or connect multiple devices without taking a hit to their Internet speed and reliability.
My team works with property managers to look for new and innovative ways to attract renters this season and to highlight key amenities like Verizon’s FiOS services offering the latest and greatest technology and entertainment is a great way to attract and keep residents and business tenants.
What’s your company’s biggest asset that you can leverage? What’s the best way for you to attract your customers? How can you change how you position your company? What's unique about your business? Can you incorporate some videos to highlight your business? Can you conduct a survey and share those results with your audience?
How to Market a Small Business with Pennies
Guest post by Albe Zakes, goblal vice president of public relations for Terracycle, the world’s leading recycling and ‘upcycling’ company, which turns waste materials into eco-friendly, affordable products available at big box retailers nationwide.
Money is a concern for small businesses whether they’re just starting out, trying to stay afloat, or ‘swimming in the black’. There’s no way around it: money makes the world go ‘round, especially for small businesses. It makes sense when executives or owners try to cut the budget or keep it under control, but the question of what is best to cut remains.
Marketing and advertising are key components of a company’s outreach and growth because without them, it is difficult for potential customers to learn about a company’s service and offerings. Still, it’s hard for small businesses to compete with the marketing spend of larger corporations and brands. This is where creativity comes in as a key asset in building and maintaining a small business.
Another key asset is relationships, and so it follows that getting creative with business relationships can go a long way. One of the best ways to get started is to work with or partner with other local businesses or community opportunities. For example, at TerraCycle we offer free marketing support to individuals, schools, and/or companies that sign up for our recycling programs which brings the local community together and for a great cause: eliminating waste and their efforts supports a charity. To learn more about these free community engagement programs at www.terracycle.net.
Additionally, consider sponsoring and/or working with local charities, and/or holding joint events and projects with them, this can build your brand by promoting the ethos of your small business.
These events and partnerships (if impactful enough) can be shared with the local media, who just may share your efforts with a mention in a story which puts your small business on display in a manner far more genuine – and cost-conscious (for the most part it’s just a phone call or an email) - than paid advertising.
As a small business owner, market your business online if you are not doing it already. Social media is useful for broadcasting and talking about recent business news and local news, conduct contests and product giveaways, and offer to write a guest post for a blog (like what I am doing here) and other appropriate outlets. One of the tricky parts of social media is keeping fans and readers around after you’ve engaged them with a contest or giveaway. So continue to offer relevant content and interesting news bits that can help small business owners grow and manage their business.
Here’s an effective example: if you run a clothing business, add to the company blog with a post about seasonal styles, the best ways to layer for the winter, the latest Spring colors, etc. The key to keeping your ‘followers’ as active users or those who share your content is by making sure that your content is not always self-promotional. Mix in news, tips, maybe jokes, and ideas relevant to your industry or to your customers. And be sure pepper in some information about your products or services or special promotions, but in the right doses.
Bottom-line, whenever possible, expand your business’ reach by working with similar companies and other local businesses (and larger ones too!) perhaps to exchange services or to buy in bulk, or perhaps to cross promote when it makes sense: on the company’s website, Facebook page, Twitter handle, or a blog?
It’s absolutely crucial to remember that low cost, grassroots marketing requires an ability to recognize and cultivate shared values, whether it be a common mission or local community. Relationships must be symbiotic and mutually beneficial; otherwise, others will get tired of helping you and provide constant support and foundation for you. So before you ask and engage, know what you can offer.
Once you’ve established a strong support network that you’re also contributing to, you can continue to build your brand with your owned media such as blogs, videos (if your business doesn’t have one, perhaps it’s time to set up a Youtube channel with relevant content for your business!) and podcasts or a book. For instance, that clothing company that I referenced earlier could make a book about putting together seasonal styles, seasonal colors, or DIYs for old clothes – something that relates to the company and expands on its business.
Grassroots, small business marketing is tricky, but with some creativity and awareness of other’s help and intentions, it can be done on a shoestring budget that ends up benefiting other businesses, your business and the community.
How have you marketed your small business with pennies? Please share some of your marketing ideas.
Maximize Communications Technology to Drive Profits
Guest post by Mario Acosta-Velez, director, State Government Affairs for Verizon. Mario manages external relations with key stakeholders, business organizations, and diverse communities in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Last month, while attending the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s 3rd Annual Hispanic Business Expo at the Washington, DC Convention Center, I talked with many small business owners who visited Verizon’s exhibit to learn about the latest communications technology for small businesses, such as 4G and FiOS. Some of the common questions asked by small business owners were:
- how do I develop an effective communications and marketing strategy?
- does my business have the right communications tools in place to maximize its potential?
- how can I effectively use voice and internet services to better reach customers?
- how can I ensure my business comes up first in a Google search?
One thing was clear as part of these conversations: small business owners want access to real communications solutions that will help them be more productive, retain and find new customers, create or expand their online presence, and run all aspects of their businesses on the go.
Think about these three key topics below and ask if you have addressed these within your business:
Aligning communications solutions with marketing strategy. As small business owner, you want to ensure that you do not miss any contacts, inquiries or leads from current or potential customers (calls, emails or clicks), that potential customers can find your business and easily reach you, and that your business comes up first on web searches. More than 90% of consumers research online before making decisions on products and services in their local area. As you increase your online presence, your business needs to have an effective business website to market your services or products when customers find you online.
Leveraging Cloud technology to effectively run your business. How you ever thought how cloud (or online) services can benefit your business? Cloud technology allows you to access, organize, manage and share business data from any online source, provides the most current online security, and helps ensure contingency planning via online backup and storage to ensure continued business operations. This type of technology can definitely help maximize business efficiency so you can have more time to run your business.
Using Wireless Machine to Machine (M2M) technology to grow your business. Through M2M technology, which wirelessly connects machines and devices through the network, your small business can gain better visibility and control over asset and inventory levels. For example, the Mobile Router Broadband Solutions feature allows multiple devices to share a wireless wide area network (WWAN) connection to minimize risk, set up failover protection, and quickly connect job sites.
So, whether you are a one-person business or a company with more than 200 employees, the power of our technology will help your business achieve better results, innovate, drive productivity and stay continuously connected to your customers.
Please share your comments or questions below. For those in the DC-metro area, Verizon will have a booth at the Vienna/Tysons Corner Regional Chamber of Commerce Annual Conference to be held this Friday, April 13 at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner. I, as well as other small business experts from Verizon will be onsite to answer your questions or show you how some of our latest technologies can help you run increase your business productivity.
The Verizon exhibit booth is at the Trade Show floor right across from the main ballroom.
To learn more about the power of wireless and broadband technology for small businesses, please visit http://www.verizonbusinessmadeeasy.com/, the Verizon Small Business Center or http://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/businessSolutions/index.jsp
More Tips to Cut Costs!
This guest post is provided on behalf of the faculty and staff of the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza School of Business Executive Online Education. Notre Dame Online provides professional courses and masters certificates in the areas of Negotiations, Business Administration, Leadership & Management and Advanced Intercultural Management for the current and aspiring business professional. “
In part 1 of this series, we covered several items that small business owners can negotiate as they are starting up a new business. We want to continue now by discussing negotiations to consider after the grand opening. Items one through five covered a number of overhead items that can be more helpful if they are considered prior to opening, but steps six through ten are also applicable to owners who are currently in the midst of their success stories. To really succeed in business, it is important to regularly take a break from your daily work and take a look around for business opportunities to capitalize on in your community.
You Never Know What You Can Get Unless You Ask For What You Want!
Remember that other businesses want to associate with great colleagues. Do your research first and then ask for want you want. Consider your accounts payable expenses. Sometimes to secure your business, the fees in a standard contract can be negotiable.
6. Maybe you can swap services for some of your needs. Join your local small business association chapter and network yourself and your business. You will learn great tidbits from other entrepreneurs who have “been there and done that.” Bottom line, it doesn’t hurt to ask, so ask and you just may receive!
7. Look at your supply chain. Can you find any ways to alleviate storage costs or inquire about stock rotation without affecting your end product or production levels? Save money by seeking agile suppliers in your area and by negotiating contracts with provisions to protect your production and material supplies. When possible, support local commerce and underscore those associations that you partner with in your social media campaigns.
8. Trial services. Advertisers and marketing firms want your business. Can you take advantage of a trial offer at a reduced or free rate for a short period of time? If you have a trial offer, be sure to make the most of it. Track your results so you know how to best invest your marketing dollars in the future. Some large and very successful companies have completed successful product and service launches using unpaid advertising. Make sure to also utilize the growing number of free social media websites. Social media campaigns are becoming extremely powerful tools for businesses of all sizes.
9. Don’t forget about shipping. Shipping services offer variable rates and specials at different times throughout the year. Be sure to inquire about bulk discounts and shop around for the best deals. If you are located close to other small businesses, you may want to leverage discounts together by using the same service or by coordinating pick up times. If at all possible, email first then ship. And if the file is too large to email, then it may be time to upgrade your IT network so you have the speed to send very large files (such as blueprints and CAD files).
Think Twice Before You Hire
10. Employees are your most important resource. They represent you, your business and their attitude and work ethics can make or break your business. Before you hire, take the time to do some in-depth industry research to identify exactly what kind of help your business needs. Perhaps you could outsource certain services such as accounting or online strategy; or you could use a co-op relationship with other businesses. Another great money-saving opportunity is to make use of college interns if you are near a local college or university. Before you go handing out too many keys, make sure you are hiring the best people possible.
Be sure you know what makes a good team. Employees are huge investments and building that perfect team is extremely important to the success of your small business. Consider educating yourself about powerful work style assessments and team building intelligence from a reputable institution. You can also run an Internet search to find out about someone using their name and other information from their application. Again, depending on available time, you can hire a service that will screen prospective employees, or there are free services out there which can provide additional resources to help you make your decisions. Building your team thoughtfully is one of the best investments you can make for the achievement of your goals.
Thinking outside the box and setting aside self-doubt are two key attributes of successful small business owners. To continue that success you also need to manage your costs. While negotiating the terms of every contract involving your time and money is time consuming, it is well worth the effort. When you feel good about your smart investments and your clear direction, then business just seems to fall into place more easily and you may just find yourself enjoying the decision to build your dream and further secure your own financial freedom.
Click here to get more tips to cut costs. Please share some other costs savings tips.
6 Fun Ideas for Pranks at Work
Even though April Fools’ Day is on a Sunday this year, the time is just about right when everyone begins to think of funny office prank ideas. Beat them to the punch with clever work pranks that won’t put your job at risk.
Isn’t it nice to work in an office that remembers your birthday? Well, it’s just weird when people think they remember your birthday on the wrong date. Go all out for your colleague’s ‘surprise’ birthday party. Buy the cake, get everyone else in the office to sing happy birthday, have everyone send birthday e-cards, the works.
Make sure at the end of it all, you bring out a huge gift from everyone in the office with a big ‘GOT YA’ inside. This prank is fun and everyone gets to eat cake at the end...win win.
If someone in your office is a neat freak, the “Desk Arranger” prank is perfect for them. Before they come in, subtly move things they use everyday. Move their keyboard over to the opposite side, move their stapler from the top of their desk to the inside of their desk, their pen/pencil holder on top of their file cabinet...just do anything to make sure their space is a bit off.
Don’t do anything really obvious. The key is to move objects just enough to drive them nuts.
Collect all your junk mail and blank envelopes from home, you know the ones that come in with your bills every month. Stuff those blank envelopes with the junk mail you receive and address them to the colleague you’re going to prank.
Place about 5-6 different pieces of the mail in their work mailbox everyday for about a week. It will drive them crazy trying to figure out how they are getting so much mysterious junk mail mixed with their office correspondence. Don’t give the prank away by including something with your name on it...DOH!
Annoying Paper Clips
Handling paper work throughout the day is headache enough, so what would make it worse...how about all of the paper clips being linked together?
Tediously link each of the paper clips on their desk together when they are away. This way every time they reach for a paper clip it takes the longest time to get just one. They never even have to know it was you.
Which Keyboard is It?
Before everyone comes in, gather all the keyboards in the office and hook up only one to a computer in the office. The rest must appear as if they are hooked up.
Now the entire office has to determine which keyboard is actually connected and which aren’t. Nothing says welcome to work than figuring out which keyboards belong to whom.
I Just Need a Pen
This one is simple, but will drive someone crazy. Remove all the pens from their desk before they get to work. Leave them not one writing tool and make sure only one is available for everyone else in the office so they can’t necessarily lend out one.
Check their drawers, their cabinets, the shared office pens location, everywhere. Make them magically reappear on their desk just before they start getting upset.
Remember, work pranks are fun but they shouldn’t destroy property, cause too much interruption in the office, or cause harm to the business or the business’ reputation. No prank is worth losing your job over.
Have you tried any of these pranks above? Please share in the comments section what pranks you have pulled in the office.
New Business Owners: Tips to Cut Costs!
Guest post provided on behalf of the faculty and staff of the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza School of Business Executive Online Education. Notre Dame Online provides professional courses and masters certificates in the areas of Negotiations, Business Administration, Leadership & Management and Advanced Intercultural Management for the current and aspiring business professional.
A major concern for new small business owners is the overhead that they are required to pay before they can clear their first dollar of profit. Most prospective business owners suffer with the doubt of opening their own businesses because of the initial investments and the business development period that is inevitable in every new venture. Fortunately, with a few intelligent guidelines and some effective negotiation training, you can leave your doubts behind and get creative. Below you will find the first five ways to get your negotiating skills flowing to help tame the beast of excessive operating costs.
Should You Work From Home or Find an Office?
If you work from home, educate yourself on all the plausible tax savings and parameters. It is far better to take the time to learn the most current and correct information in order to maximize the savings you are due than it is to simply leave them on the table. Worse yet, if you move forward without educating yourself, or receive poor advice about handling your taxes, you could end up in a stressful and intimidating tax audit.
1. Always give your taxes the attention and respect they deserve – it will pay off in the long run. Bankrate.com provides a dozen helpful deductions for your small business.
2. Do your research to find the best location for you and your customers. It could be possible to maximize the convenience factor for clients and save money by leasing out part of a larger space or by sharing a complementary space with another business if codes allow it. Get out and take a creative look around!
A chocolatier in a small town for instance, was able to lease a small space adjacent to a major copy store and next to a Chinese food restaurant. The space was basically an oversized entryway full of newspaper racks. The person who owned the building was more than willing to negotiate leasing and re-organizing to make money on wasted space, and the chocolatier is benefitting from the constant foot traffic. Read about other small spaces put to good use.
Also, remember that certain terms of a lease may be negotiable. Utilities, customizing the space and extras like snow removal, exterior power washing, and even lighting are all items that can be customized to maximize your dollars. Co-sharing or co-working in an office space is another way to save if you are just getting started. USA Today provides this great article with more information.
Re-think owning! Re-think everything!
Renting or leasing office furniture and other equipment can save you money, especially in the long run, should your needs change. With the speed at which technology becomes obsolete, leasing computer equipment and other peripherals can keep you from the pitfalls of a long term commitment and high maintenance costs.
3. A quick search on the Internet will bring up plenty of options for you to consider – and always remember to negotiate those costs.
4. Here’s another cost cutting tip to consider: Re-think waste. Can you boost your corporate image, have more to promote on your website, and save money by being more environmentally conscious? Re-think savings in terms of recycling, re-using, and reducing waste. Often a utility company will provide a free energy audit. The EPA also provides free resources to get you going. Not only will you be helping the environment, a growing number of consumers are seeking out “green” companies to do business with.
The Small Business Administration also has more energy saving resources listed by individual state.
5. Re-think the old barter system. Trade, barter, or look for rewards! For instance, Staples has a reward program for toner recycling – recycle your toner and get rewards to spend on other office items. Buy in bulk when possible. If you use packing material, can you get it from another company who receives it but doesn’t need it once they unload? Can you convert delivery vehicles to Bio diesel which uses dirty fry oil from fast food restaurants to make a cleaner and cheaper fuel source? One school in Maryland did, and they saved a bundle when they converted all of their busses to run on biodiesel fuel.
So far we’ve discussed several negotiable items that will help you get your small business off the ground. In part 2 of this series, we will discuss five more negotiable business opportunities that can help your bottom line after opening day has come and gone.
The Best Place to Incorporate Your Business
Guest post by Nellie Akalp, CEO of CorpNet.com, an incorporation filing service company. Nellie is a strong advocate in educating small business owners and entrepreneurs about the importance of protecting their assets and is responsible for overseeing and managing the daily operations of the business. She blogs regularly at Mashable and Tweets from @Corpnet.
For most small business owners, the process to incorporate or form an LLC is an unfamiliar road to navigate. After deciding which business type is best, the next question is where. And most often, small business owners think they should decide between Delaware and Nevada.
Both Delaware and Nevada are hot choices for incorporation. And there’s good reason. Larger corporations often choose Delaware as their state of incorporation, because it offers some of the most developed, flexible, and pro-business statutes in the country. Nevada is a popular choice for businesses due to its low filing fees, as well as the lack of state corporate income, franchise, and personal income taxes.
To be sure, these are compelling advantages. However, they’re not for everyone. As a general rule of thumb, if your corporation or LLC will have less than five shareholders or members, it’s best to incorporate or form an LLC in the state where your business has a physical presence.
By ‘physical presence’, I mean the state where your business is physically located, or where any property owned by the business is located, or where your employees reside, or where the shareholders reside. So unless your business has some kind of physical office in Delaware or Nevada, it’s going to be much easier (and less expensive) for you to incorporate or form an LLC in your home state.
Let’s take a look at an example. Ginnie owns a sporting apparel company in Maryland and is thinking about incorporating in Delaware. However, Maryland has rather strong rules pertaining to bank accounts. As an ‘out of state’ business, Ginnie would need to get permission to open a business bank account in Maryland. And it won’t be easy to open a bank account in Delaware, as Ginnie’s business doesn’t have any kind of physical address in the state.
In addition to this logistical challenge, there are other added fees to deal with. These can include:
For the state where a business incorporates:
- Appointing a Registered Agent in THAT state
- Paying filing fees in THAT state
- Filing annual reports in THAT state
And then, for the state of residence (or where the business is physically located):
- Appointing a Registered Agent in THIS state
- Paying filing fees in THIS state
- Filing annual reports in THIS state
- Qualifying as a Foreign Corporation in THIS state
- Paying taxes in THIS state
I can’t overemphasize that last point, as it is a common misconception among many small business owners. While Nevada may not charge state income taxes for your corporation, the state where your business is physically located will come after you for those taxes sooner or later. Adding insult to injury, your tax liability may actually increase because you're viewed as a foreign entity operating in the state.
As you can see, any advantages of incorporating in Delaware and Nevada are washed away with all the added fees and paperwork of trying to operate out of state. As a small business owner, you’re already contending with enough paperwork and fees as it is. Don’t add more to your workload. Remember the rule of thumb… if your company has less than 5 shareholders/members, incorporate in your home state.
[Editor’s note: To read Nellie’s previous guest post where she shares tips on what you need to know about incorporating your business click here.]
Email Under the Encryption Microscope
Guest post by Michael Ginsberg, CEO, Echoworx,a leading provider of managed encryption services to protect confidential information from unauthorized viewers and make the encryption of digital information easy.
There has been a landslide of incidents that have brought to light the issue of protecting information exchange in recent months - especially when it comes to email correspondence.
A sizeable portion of emails contains confidential information relating to employees, customers or company activities. Not only does this present risk from a compliance standpoint, leaking sensitive information to the outside world can erupt into a PR nightmare, leading to lost revenues and a damaged reputation. While for the most part these lapses may be inadvertent, the aftermath can be devastating.
Surprisingly, many aspects of email continue to be unmonitored and documentation is exchanged without thought to who can access that information and for what purpose.
Forrester in fact reports that email ranks only second to portable storage as a source of data leakage. While organizations have been diligent about addressing the obvious privacy issues – such as personal health information or financial details – it is becoming increasingly evident that information leakage is still happening more often than it should. And unfortunately, it’s happening through one of the most common forms of business communications available.
One way to alleviate the security burden is encrypted mail, where sensitive emails can be encrypted directly from the employees desktop.
With the desktops now taken care of IT has more challenges to tackle with the explosion of smartphones onto the market, as employees are embracing BYOD (bring your own device) and are using their smartphones for business correspondence and other sensitive communications. Due to the variety of devices and platforms, IT is unable to monitor these mobile communications.
This was not a concern when mobile phones were primarily used for voice and personal communications. Now however, business users are turning to their smartphones to text, e-mail, and forward files—all activities that used to be managed by desktop functions where security and authentication processes are well in hand.
This is reminiscent of the early days of wireless networks, when staff took to installing their own routers. This rogue activity undermines the traditional centralized IT management approach. If an iPad or BlackBerry is stolen for example, there’s very little an IT manager can do to safeguard that information. On top of that, credential management for mobile communications is minimal—or in some cases non-existent.
The issue definitely began taking centre stage when the iPhone and Android devices came into the picture. Android especially brings an added risk to the equation, since applications can be downloaded from any location, rather than a centrally managed app store.
At this point in time, it’s safe to assume that every phone is potentially a business device and therefore a danger to security and information integrity.
5 Steps for Getting Started with Web Analytics (on a Budget)
Guest post from Buddy Scalera, a website content and analytics professional working at a marketing agency in New Jersey. Visit Buddy’s digital marketing blog at Words + Pictures = Web (www.wordspicturesweb.com) or find him on Twitter @MarketingBuddy.
Like many small business owners, you probably rely on your website to be something of a living business card. Potential customers can explore descriptions of your services, view samples of your work, and get to know you better.
Setting up web analytics on your website will give you insights into what people are doing when they get to your website. Additionally, you can get a better handle on which content gets the most views, which may need to be refined (or removed) and what you can do to help get further engagement or a sale.
Setting up basic web analytics is easier and more affordable than ever. In five (mostly) easy steps, you can tap into valuable digital insights.
Step 1. Understand Analytics.
When we talk about “analytics” we’re talking about insights that are captured when users visit your website. It’s data that would be meaningless, if not for software that makes sense of it. For the purpose of clarity and simplicity, I’ll focus on the basics, so you can learn more about how people are finding your website and what they are doing when they get there. It’s a bit more complex than that, but let’s keep it simple in the beginning.
Step 2. Register for Google Analytics.
There are many analytics packages, but you need to watch your budget. The good news is that Google Analytics is (yet another) free service offered by Google. It offers all the basic features you need now and will scale up as your needs grow. Go to Google.com/Analytics (http://www.google.com/analytics) to register your free account.
Step 3. Add Code to Your Site.
If you maintain your website with your in-house team, it’ll be relatively easy to add Google Analytics code. Just follow Google’s straightforward instructions for dropping a few lines of code into every page of your website. If you aren’t comfortable with this sort of thing (and, hey, it can be a little intimidating), reach out to a local agency. Just be clear that you only need help placing the code and posting the files to your server. You’ll be analyzing your own data to save money.
Step 4. Begin Analyzing.
After everything is set up, Google Analytics will populate data into a friendly dashboard. Google Analytics does a great job of presenting the information so it makes sense, even to beginners. After a month, you’ll see some interesting trends, all charted in easy-to-understand charts. You can even download the data into Excel.
Step 5. Optimize.
Technically, this step should be one of the first steps in the process. But to streamline things, I skipped the step of identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) and conversion goals. Just like your actual business, your website should have some measurable KPIs that help you keep a pulse on things. Your online KPIs may include people registering for your email newsletter or making a purchase. These are called “conversion goals.” You can set a dollar value to them, so you know if you are getting a positive return on investment (ROI) on your website. Google Analytics makes it easy to measure these goals. Sure, you can set it and forget it, but you’ll get more actionable insights if you regularly monitor conversion goals. It’s an optional, but beneficial step.
Admittedly, this is a streamlined view of website analytics. But it’s free and something you can do yourself.
A specialty agency can take you to the next level, if you have a large, complex website or multiple websites. Depending on your needs, the agency may recommend you explore paid packages like Omniture (http://www.omniture.com) or WebTrends (http://www.webtrends.com). Don’t be surprised if the experts suggest that you keep Google Analytics, since it is a scalable solution with outstanding features.
Going forward, you can teach yourself the advanced features. Check out “Web Analytics: An Hour a Day” by Avinash Kaushik (http://amzn.to/qGWWzz), which is available in both print and ebook format. It’s a breezy read tailored to people with modest technology skills.
So there it is. In five (mostly) easy steps, you can get started tracking the activity on your website. This can help you better understand the needs of your customers, based on what they do on your website. Plus, it’ll give you an edge over competitors who don’t tap into this valuable data.
Post any questions below or share any tips you have for using Google Analytics.