Are You and Your Business Ready for Health Reform?
Guest post by Kristie Arslan, president of the National Association for the Self-Employed.
Health coverage is one of the most costly yet important purchases made by business owners and their employees. So costly in fact, that many go without health coverage leaving them vulnerable to a financial disaster should they be faced with an illness or medical emergency.
According to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, of the 45 million uninsured, roughly half were self-employed or worked for small businesses. This will soon change for better or for worse when the health reform law, known as the Affordable Care Act, is fully implemented come January 2014.
Beginning on January 14, 2014, all Americans will be required to obtain health coverage or pay a penalty including the self-employed. If you are the owner of a small business with fifty or more full-time equivalent employees, beginning in 2015 you will be required to offer affordable health insurance coverage to all employees and their dependents. [Learn more about the employer mandate.]
These new mandates will compel millions of Americans to shop for health coverage. As a business owner, it is critical you get informed about the law to understand how it will affect you, your business and your employees. A keystone of the law is the requirement that new health marketplaces, known as Exchanges, be set up in every state to offer health coverage options business owners, individuals and families. You will be able to research, compare and purchase health insurance via your state Exchange’s online portal. Enrollment in these new Exchanges begins on October 1, 2013.
To prepare for health reform, visit the following resources:
- Government website on health reform education: https://www.healthcare.gov/
- National Association for the Self-Employed’s small business health resource center: http://www.nase.org/LearningCenter/BusinessTopics/Health
- Kaiser Family Foundation’s health reform center: http://kff.org/health-reform/
You can also check out a webinar (or visit http://vz.to/15qJvy1) on this very topic presented by Verizon Small Business, featuring my colleague, Katie Vlietstra, director of government affairs for the National Association for the Self-Employed.
The Do’s and Don’ts of eCommerce
This post is by Verizon’s small business team working hard every day to bring small businesses relevant, useful and helpful information which we hope will help you run your business better. We know you are busy and we are here to help with many of our free resources.
You’ve got a great product or service and you’ve got a website, so of course the next logical thing to do would be to sell it online. Unfortunately, the world of ecommerce can be a tricky one. That’s why we’ve organized a couple of “Dos” and “Don’ts” to help you navigate the business of selling on the Internet.
Take Some Time to Sort Out the User Experience
User experience is perhaps the most important characteristic about a website. Is it easy to find what you’re looking for? Is it easy to navigate around the site? Will your shopping cart be lost if you click the wrong button? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, find a friend or two – who will give you honest feedback – and ask them to go through the process of purchasing something on your site.
Don’t guide them through the process. Just tell them to get to the point where they enter their payment information and then report back to you. You’ll be sure to get a lot of useful feedback from the experience. Be sure to try it with different people, especially with people who aren’t the most tech savvy. That’ll be the true test that your website is user friendly; and it needs to be for you to easily sell your products or services online.
Make Purchasing Easy and Safe
You need to provide a safe online experience to your online visitors, because the Internet can be a dangerous place. You’ve heard about identity theft and this can be a huge barrier for some online shoppers—especially when dealing with unknown merchants. One way that you can make your customers feel like your website is a safe place is by offering an easy payment service option. One example is PayPal with an account an individual doesn’t need to provide you with their credit card information directly or worry about how many sites or merchants have their detailed credit information. They just shop--then log into their PayPal account—and the purchase is made, with a few clicks.
Leave Your Customers in the Dark
A prospective customer has found your site amongst thousands of others. They’ve searched through it and found a product or service that they might want to buy from you. This is not the time to leave them with questions. Be sure to include all of the product specifications you can think of, and include in your descriptions: size, weight, color, durability, what it does, what it doesn’t do, etc. You really can’t include enough product information and photographs of the product. All these helpful information will give your shopper a real view of what they will get and making them comfortable to click “purchase!” And consider including a phone number to answer questions or provide help with their shopping experience if your website doesn’t offer the online chat capability.
One of the most annoying things a customer can experience is buying something online only to find out it’s nothing like you thought it would be (e.g. too big, too small, wrong color). You are much better off not selling it than having someone buy it and tell all their friends about the bad experience…how misleading your website is and how disappointing the product was. Even if you have a return policy, the customer will usually have to pay for returning the merchandise. So provide them with accurate information upfront to ensure a pleasant online experience.
Use Existing eCommerce Sites
For quite a while, if you had goods that you wanted to sell on the Internet, the best way to sell them was to piggyback on existing ecommerce websites like eBay. Now that small business sites can be easily found on search engines, it is much easier for smaller, local businesses to be found by prospective customers. There are even social shopping sites like ShopSocially and Kaboodle that are designed to help people share good buys with their friends.
That’s why you need to be involved in social networks like Facebook, possibly Google+ and Twitter – to make sure there’s a positive conversation going on about your company. (If you need help with how to build your business on these platforms check out our library of on-demand webinars available for free! Click here or go to http://bit.ly/MDfJuB.)
While you’re on Facebook, be sure to check out WeCommerce on the Verizon Small Business Facebook page. It’s a business-to-business free online community we created to allow small business owners to work together three ways: buying, selling and partnering. No matter what your need, this free online community will allow you to connect with businesses in your area and around the country to find the deals, opportunities and partnerships that work for you and your business.
We hope these were good pointers about selling your products and/or services online. And if you are one of the 40% of small business who still don’t have a website, please get one! In our fast paced world, your business is not competitive if it does not have an online presence. There are many software that allows you to create your own website and we here at Verizon we offer such a service too… starting at $4.99 per month. We do recommend that you take some time and do your homework to find the best option to get a website up for your business. No matter what you decide… do-it-yourself or hire someone to do it for you, your business’ website needs to be designed with your customers in mind. If you build it right—they will come!
Please share your tips with our community.
Join Verizon WeCommerce: A Free Community for Small Business Owners to Help Each Other
Guest post by Craig Staley, Verizon's small business digital communications specialist.
Last year, we interviewed 1,500 small business owners, like you, in an attempt to better understand what impacted your world on a daily basis. One of the themes that seemed to resonate with most owners was the notion of being time-deprived—especially when it comes to finding new customers and growing your business. As a small business owner, you probably spend most of your day interacting with your existing customers: in-person, on the phone, through the mail and over the Internet. That doesn’t leave you with a whole lot of time each day to focus on “how” you’re going to grow your business.
What if Verizon had a solution to help you? What if we could help you to build your network, help you to find new audiences for your products and services, and help you to grow your business?
In our book, that’s what we’d call a “win/win”. And, that’s why we’re excited to introduce our latest tool to help you, our small business community: WeCommerce.
You can find it at http://wecommerce.verizon.com/. It’s easy to use, takes just a few minutes to create your business profile—and it’s FREE to join!
Why should you join? Well, here are just a couple of examples of how the tool can help your small business:
Example 1: Gary owns a website design company. He needs a birthday cake and desserts for his wife's surprise 30th birthday party. Christine owns a bakery two suburbs away from Gary. She needs a new logo designed, and help updating her 3-year old website. After finding each other on WeCommerce, they're meeting next Monday afternoon to “put the icing on the cake”!
Example 2: Terrie is a party planner extraordinaire, but is always on the lookout for new customers. Mark owns a flower shop and is always busy on the big holidays--but he'd really like his business to bloom by getting into corporate and social events. Christine and Mark found each other on WeCommerce and have been sharing leads ever since. Their balance sheets have never looked rosier!
Now, take a minute. Think about your resource-rich business. Then, imagine the possibilities for your small business! By promoting your professional skills and services to others, WeCommerce makes it easier for you to partner with other small businesses and to grow your business without sacrificing your bottom line.
While some of the networking ideas you’ll come up with work best if they’re close-by or cross-town, there are other businesses, products and services you might be able to partner with nationwide. The Internet has become a cost-effective venue to showcase your business. Verizon WeCommerce is the no-cost tool to introduce you to other small business owners across the country.
Get the picture? Got some ideas?
Then, get started at http://wecommerce.verizon.com/.
And, tell your friends and other small business contacts. It’s okay to brag to them about all of your new business partners.
We think you’ll agree. Verizon WeCommerce is the greatest thing to come along in support of small business. We think it’s better because WeCommerce can help your small business all year long!
Women: Use Technology to Grow Your Business
Guest post from Marissa Mitrovich, director, public policy and corporate responsibility for Verizon. Follow @mpmitrovich on Twitter.
(photo taken with her smartphone: Marissa with Marie Johns, Deputy Administrator of the US Small Business Administration)
Earlier this month, I attended a very powerful event: The White House Business Council and Small Business Administration hosted the Urban Economic Forum at Barnard College, a women’s college, in New York City. The venue was thoughtfully selected, as the entire day was dedicated to women.
The Urban Economic Forum was open to the public and was created out of the need and desire of women entrepreneurs seeking a place they could come together to find resources for their businesses and meet other women entrepreneurs. This event was the first event of a series of eight to take place in other cities nationwide. It hailed an impressive number of attendees, over 400 women! Special guests included Arianna Huffington, columnist and co-founder of The Huffington Post; Susan Sobbott, the president of American Express OPEN; and even Senior Advisor to the President of the United States Valerie Jarrett were in attendance to speak to this dynamic and diverse group and offer advice.
While there were many invaluable pieces of advice offered to women throughout the day. One of the key takeaways – and the advice that was repeated throughout the day by multiple people, but first mentioned in the morning by Susan Lyne, Chairman of Gilt Groupe Inc., an e-commerce company that pioneered “flash sales.” She told the women in the room that they must embrace technology.
Susan indicated that technology was going to allow women to maximize the reach of their business, increase their efficiency, and help them cut costs.
As women in the room were tweeting all day using the hashtag #WHEconForum and #womenentrepreneurs – this statement by Susan resonated true. These women, myself included, were instantly building a large network and maximizing our reach…with technology.
According to Deputy SBA Administrator Marie Johns, “Today it’s about 30% - and women-owned businesses are growing at a rate of more than twice that of b...” Certainly this growth is going to require all of the benefits Susan Lyne mentioned that technology will allow for. As an employee of Verizon, I am familiar with the resources available to allow for this efficiency after all, Verizon has the best network and the fastest Internet speeds.
I personally left this event moved by this experience, the strength and energy of the women in the room, and happy that I would be able to keep up with these women I met with the use of a couple small symbols “@” and a “#” – my smartphone made the connection!
Editor’s note: Are you embracing technology?
If you are a small business owner, are you using technology to connect with your customers? If not, take action today! Don’t be one of the 40% of small businesses that don’t have a website. Your business needs to be found. Verizon offers an easy do-it-yourself website building software, click here for more info. You can click here to learn about our latest promotional solution of voice and broadband or click here if you already have services with us and want to add wireless service. If you need tips to shop for a tablet click here or click here to learn how you can take payment anywhere… even on the go. Of course, if you need additional assistance, such as how to use Facebook to find customers, watch one of the free webinars presented by the Verizon Small Business Center. (Click here to go to the Verizon Small Business channel or visit http://www.brighttalk.com/channel/6255).