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Instagram can help you connect with new customers and promote your products and services. In fact, more than 60 percent of people said they use Instagram to find things that they want to purchase or obtain in real life.

In some cases, you can do this without even creating a single post. If you’re able to create an experience that your customers want to share on their own Instagram accounts, they can do much of the work for you. By setting up Instagrammable places and creating products that people would love to post on their feeds, your customers can help your brand gain more buzz on Instagram.

How to Make Your Small Business Instagrammable

Here are some of the specific strategies you can use to create a truly Instagrammable business.

Set Up Instagrammable Walls

Every great Instagram photo needs a good backdrop. If you have a unique mural or interesting color on any of your interior or exterior walls, customers will be tempted to take photos in front of it. They might simply take a photo of their group and post it with their location, or showcase your product in front of a visually pleasing backdrop.

Integrate Unique Decor

Aside from your walls, people also want to include photos of decor items that are unique or interesting in some way. You can put up a neon sign, include a statement light fixture, or have an interesting patterned floor installed. All of the decor elements you choose should fit with your overall brand image and should catch people’s eye right when they walk through the door.

Keep Everything Neat and Tidy

However, one thing customers don’t want to capture for their Instagram feeds is clutter. You might be tempted to try and fit as many decor elements into your store or restaurant as possible. But a ton of different items in one space can look messy when included in one photo frame. Try to keep things fairly minimal and neat so your unique decor can really stand out and look great in photos.

Improve Your Lighting

Even the coolest decor won’t show up well in photos if your lighting is poor. You need to have high quality light fixtures that create an even look throughout your interior. It also helps to have plenty of natural light during the day. So try to keep shades open and consider even adding some skylights or extra windows if your space is especially dark.

Include Mirrors

Mirrors allow customers to easily take photos of themselves and their groups with your space featured prominently. If you’re a clothing retailer, customers might even use mirrors to show off items they’re trying on. But even in restaurants or cafes, including mirrors in the entryway or bathroom could offer customers some prime selfie opportunities.

Pay Attention to Presentation

Your actual products can also be the subject of your customers’ Instagram posts. But they need to be visually appealing in some way. People would rather post a photo of some interesting latte art than they would of a plain old cup of coffee. For food and drink items, simply put a little extra care into the plating and visual accents. For other products, some well designed packaging can go a long way.

Host Special Events

People love sharing their fun experiences on Instagram. So if you host some special events, it could bring more people to your business and also encourage them to share in their Instagram posts and stories. Some interesting event signage and decor can also go a long way. If you want to take it a step further, you might even encourage people to wear costumes or dress up so they’ll want to take photos of themselves.

Set Up a Photo Booth

If you really want people to take photos at your business, make it really easy for them by setting up a designated area for them to do just that. Set up a cool backdrop and include some props or signs that people can use to spice up their photos. You might even include some subtle branding elements in your props.

Repost Customer Photos

Customers appreciate interaction on Instagram. So if you do have your own Instagram account, show them how much you appreciate when they post photos taken at your business by reposting them. Always offer credit and say thank you or share a fun sentiment. Then your other followers may be more likely to think about posting their own images the next time they visit.

Create Contests or Incentives

You might even consider rewarding customers who post photos from your business in some way. Offer a discount code to customers who share product photos or host a giveaway asking people to share photos from your location, tagging your business, within a specific time period.

Image: Depositphotos.com

This article, "10 Ways to Make Your Small Business Instagrammable" was first published on Small Business Trends

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A recent Department of Labor (DOL) opinion letter has said gig workers are independent contractors and not employees. The letter gives sway to employers in the on-demand/sharing economy who say these workers are in business for themselves.

Others point to the fact gig workers are denied benefits and other protections covering overtime and minimum wage. They want these folks classified as employees.

Small Business Trends contacted several experts to find out what your small business needs to know about:

The Department of Labor Weighs In

The opinion letter isn’t legal. It doesn’t carry any legal weight. But it shows the way the DOL is leaning.

Gig Workers are Contractors

Yaniv Masjedi, CMO at Nextiva, says there’s still some paperwork that comes with independent contractors.

“Small business owners can rest easier after the DOL having declared gig workers independent contractors,” he writes in an email. “This means that you’re not on the hook for benefits, overtime, etc.”

But Remember to Follow the Rules

However, that doesn’t mean using an independent contractor is as simple as writing a check.

“You must collect a complete W-9 from them. Unless they reside overseas and will not visit the United States during the fiscal year, otherwise you’ll need a W-8 BEN. If the independent contractor earns $600 or more, you need to give them a MISC-1099,” Masjedi writes.

Gig Workers versus Contractors Versus Employees

Depending on who you talk with, there’s a grey area about how these workers get classified. Shawn McBride, Chief Innovation Officer at McBride For Business, LLC, weighs in.

“Generally, for a company having gig workers is a good thing,” McBride writes.  “Gig workers get  paid with a simple check.”

An Example of the Difference Between and Contractor and an Employee

There are generally no withholdings and small businesses are not responsible for a lot of activities of independent contractors.

Here’s an example McBride uses to draw the line between a contractor and an employee. A roofer hired to put a roof on your house one time who controls how they do the job is a contractor. A secretary who comes in on set hours, uses a company computer and gets told what to do is an employee.

Rules for the Cases In Between

“There are detailed and complicated rules for the cases in between,” McBride writes.  “And that’s where companies can get caught. An incorrect classification can lead to fines and bills for back taxes.”

The Downside of Gig Workers

The path seems to be clear for more companies to use gig workers. And that has some industry experts concerned about the quality of service small businesses offer.

“The majority of small business rely heavily on gig workers,” writes Igor Mitic , Co-Founder of Fortunly.com  “Companies will have a harder time maintaining control over their workers which could affect the quality of services that customers get.”

McKinsey recently addressed this issue in a report. They found there were between 53-68 million gig workers in America today. In the past, relying on this kind of workforce meant that you had to sacrifice quality customer service.

The answer is a flexible customer service department. According to some reports, using flexible workers to supplement staff could be part of the answer.

The Question of Loyalty

There are also questions about gig worker loyalty.

“Gig workers can work for multiple clients. They have few reasons to be loyal to one company,” Mitic writes. “In the long run, this can make it harder for small business. They want reliable workers who are loyal.”

Image: Depositphotos.com

This article, "Labor Department Says Gig Workers Are Contractors, Not Employees" was first published on Small Business Trends

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Every small business owner wants to turn a profit. But it can be difficult to do so — especially early on. If you don’t have a ton of money or resources to get your business up and running, you can still hope to create a profitable business. You just need to choose the right idea.

Low Cost Business Ideas with High Profit Potential

Here are some low cost business ideas with high profit potential to get you started.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketers simply earn a small portion of each sale that they send to a brand. So you don’t really need anything to get started. It might take you some time to build up an audience that will actually help you earn. But once you get going it should be mostly profit.

Virtual Assistant Service

Virtual assistants help businesses with everything from inbox management to social media posting. You really just need access to a computer and internet connection to get started. And you can earn even more if you have specific skills.

Online Influencer Service

Influencers partner with brands to share their thoughts on products and services with their audience. If you have a sizeable following on social media or a blog, this can be an easy way to bring in some extra money.

Social Media Marketing

Or you could offer your services as a social media marketing profession. In this case, you would actually create and schedule social media content on behalf of various brands.

Digital Marketing

You could even get more general and offer a variety of digital marketing solutions. This type of business only really requires expertise and an internet connection.

Business Consulting

If you have business expertise, offer your services as a consultant where you provide insights and guidance to other brands.

Recruiting

Lots of businesses could also use help finding the right candidates for specific jobs. You can do most of this online. And businesses often pay a premium to recruiting services that can help them find high level candidates.

Ebook Sales

You can publish an ebook fairly inexpensively on platforms like Amazon. Then all of the money you bring in when you make sales is mainly profit.

Blogging

Starting a blog mainly requires purchasing a domain and hosting. Then once you build a following, you can earn money by offering sponsored content to brands, sidebar ads or affiliate links.

Podcasting

Podcasting offers a similar business model, but just in an audio format. You might have to purchase some audio equipment. But overall it shouldn’t cost much.

YouTube Video Creation

YouTube lets video creators earn a portion of the ad revenue that their content brings in. With just some simple video equipment and time, you can build up enough of a following to earn profit on that platform.

Membership Website Development

If you want to start a website but don’t want to offer all of your content for free in blog form, you can start a membership site where people pay a recurring monthly fee to access your content.

Copywriting

Writers, you can work with brands on a contract basis to offer copywriting for websites, product pages or even advertisements.

Resume Service

If you have experience helping people get jobs, there are plenty of job seekers who would gladly pay for you to create resumes and cover letters for them.

Online Course Sales

For those with expertise in any given area, you can create an online course and charge a flat fee for people to access the course and take it at their own pace.

Digital Product Sales

There are also plenty of other digital products, from workbooks to design printables, that you can create without a ton of money and then sell online.

Web Design

Designers, offer your web design services on a per-project basis to brands or individuals.

App Development

Mobile application development is also very in-demand right now. If you have the ability to develop apps, you can either create your own or offer your services to third party companies.

IT Support

Tech savvy individuals can also offer general IT support to customers. You can even offer this service online or over the phone so you don’t need to pay for a location.

Ecommerce Reselling

If you want to start an ecommerce business, there are plenty of products you can purchase fairly inexpensively and then resell them at a profit.

Product Licensing

For those who have a product idea, offer the licensing rights to other companies so you don’t have to pay as much for development and manufacturing.

Real Estate Brokering

As a real estate broker, you can earn money on every sale you make and bring in extra agents that can increase your profits even more.

Bookkeeping

Financially savvy individuals, you really just need a computer and some bookkeeping software to manage the books for multiple business clients.

Tax Prep

You can also help individuals and businesses during tax season if you want to earn a high profit in a short amout of time.

Translating

If you know multiple languages, you can offer translating services for authors, businesses and governmental organizations.

Stock Photo Sales

Photographers, sell your photos on stock photo sites to earn some passive income. All you need is a camera and a computer with internet connection.

Event Photography

You can also offer your services photographing special events. People are often willing to pay a premium for things like wedding photography.

Meal Planning

Lots of consumers are very health conscious and willing to pay for professional expertise on things like meal plans. You can charge even more if you’re registered as a dietician.

Personal Training

Or you could focus on fitness and work one-on-one with people looking to improve their workouts. Find a local gym you can work out of or consider creating workout plans for people you communicate with online.

Event Planning

If you have strong organizational and planning skills, you can start a wedding or event planning business without a physical office space.

Vacation Rentals Business

If you have a bit of extra space in your home or an access to an extra home or apartment, offer your space on vacation rental sites like Airbnb.

Property Management

Even if you don’t have your own space to offer, you could start a property management company where you help property owners in your area manage their tenants.

Home and Office Cleaning

Starting a cleaning service really just requires some basic supplies and transportation. You can work with both homeowners and businesses, and hopefully build some recurring clients.

Car Detailing

Or you could focus on cleaning cars. People are often willing to pay decent prices for full detailing services.

Catering

If you want to start a food business, catering can be fairly inexpensive, since you just need a kitchen but not a dining space. You can also charge a premium for certain types of events.

Food Truck Operation

Food trucks are also relatively inexpensive to get up and running — at least for food businesses. And you can earn a fair amount by targeting special events and high traffic areas.

Home Remodeling

If you have experience as a contractor or handyman, offer your services to homeowners looking to remodel their spaces.

Landscaping

Landscaping can be another profitable venture, since you really just need some basic equipment and transportation.

Handyman Service

Lots of homeowners are willing to pay for small repairs or additions like hanging curtain rods or patching walls. As a handyman, you can stay fairly busy and avoid setting up a physical storefront.

Recycling Service

You don’t need much of anything to start your own recycling service — mainly just a truck or van. You can charge people to pick up electronics or other items that are sometimes difficult to recycle or dispose of.

Electronics Repair Service

For those who are skilled with electronics, start a service where you fix people’s cracked phone screens or malfunctioning laptops.

Refurbished Electronics Sales

Or you could purchase people’s broken electronics at a discounted rate, then refurbish them and sell them at a profit.

In-Home Senior Care

Lots of seniors need help with everyday tasks, from cooking and cleaning to running errands. Start an in-home care service and build up a base of recurring clients.

Pet Sitting

If you love animals, offer to pet sit or walk or groom dogs in exchange for a fee.

Child Care

People also pay a premium for quality child care these days. You can even start a day care business where you care for multiple kids at once.

Test Prep Service

For those who are knowledgeable on a particular school subject, you can charge a decent amount to help high school or college students prepare for specific tests, from SATs to LSATs.

Life Coaching

If you want to provide general help for clients, start a life coaching business where you work with clients one-on-one, either in person or online.

Call Center Operation

Running a call center may require a bit more startup costs than others on the list. But you can run some small customer service operations remotely. And many companies are willing to pay a premium to have their customer service operations located nearby.

Travel Planning Service

Though the travel agency business has gone through some changes in recent years, you can still offer planning and consulting services to companies and large groups without a ton of overhead.

Tour Guide Service

Or if you live in an area that’s popular with tourists, you can offer a tour guide service or even sell guide books geared toward specific activities.

Image: Depositphotos.com

This article, "50 Low Cost Business Ideas with High Profit Potential" was first published on Small Business Trends

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Gen Z is on track to be the most financially powerful generation of all time. So it makes sense that a lot of small businesses would want them as both customers and employees.

So how much do you really know about Gen Z characteristics? You probably already know that Gen Z spends a lot of time online — and on social media specifically. But the way these young consumers and potential employees interact with content differs from the way that millennials and other previous generations do so.

Gen Z Characteristics

If you’re thinking about marketing to Gen Z or hiring them to work in your startup, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what they look for. Here’s a guide to Gen Z characteristics, both when working with them and attracting them as customers.

How to Hire Gen Z Employees

The good news for small businesses is that Gen Z employees tend to look for opportunities where they can collaborate in small groups and make a big impact within an organization — exactly the type of working environment that many small businesses offer. Many are also willing to take slightly lower paying jobs in order to work in industries they are passionate about and for companies that they believe in.

In fact, workers in this generation tend to do a lot of research about potential employers and want to know that the companies they work with are ethical and treat employees fairly. There’s no shortcut to this. You simply need to work hard to create a strong company culture and put a strong emphasis on respectful management techniques. They also value strong work-life balance, since many have seen those in previous generations struggle to achieve it. So the ability to telecommute or take paid vacation may also help you attract Gen Z workers.

Money Remains Important

But that doesn’t mean that money doesn’t matter to this generation. Gen Z employees place a high value on stability. They’re willing to work hard and often even relocate for the right opportunity. But in order to attract them, you may need to make some assurances about job security. And yes, you still need to make a strong offer where pay and benefits are concerned, even if it isn’t THE strongest offer.

Once you’ve hired Gen Z employees for your small business, it’s also important to know how to retain them. Strong management is key here, especially in companies like restaurants. But this can apply to really any type of small business. Gen Z-ers want clear communication as well as routes to management and even potential ownership opportunities — especially when working entry level jobs like those at many restaurants.

Gen Z Characteristics Include Love of Connected Devices

In offices, Gen Z-ers tend to spend even more time using connected devices than millennials. And they often multitask across multiple devices at once. This means that your business needs to be outfitted with all the latest devices if you really want to get the most out of them. Or you might even consider a bring-your-own-device model if updating isn’t in the cards for you.

They also value creative freedom and the ability to grow into different roles. This gives small businesses the opportunity to really engage with team members and learn from their ideas. If you’re planning on marketing to Gen Z consumers anyway, it may very well be in your best interest to hand over some of the control to your young team members and see what types of solutions they come up with. You could discover some unique skills and new ways to keep everyone productive and engaged.

How to Market to Gen Z Consumers

Gen Z-ers do spend a lot of time on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. But research actually suggests that their preferred method for receiving communication from brands is via email. This suggests that these individuals prefer to keep their social channels mainly to authentic interactions with friends and family.

However, these consumers do look to do business with brands that have a strong online presence. They want to be entertained by a consistent stream of blog posts, YouTube videos or social media posts. But they don’t want brands to just promote their own products and services. They want to do business with companies that show personality — along with a socially conscious element.

YouTube May be Most Effective

In fact, YouTube is one of the most effective ways that brands can reach Gen Z-ers. You’re not going to trick them into thinking they’re not being marketed to. But if you can connect with relevant influencers or create content that’s genuinely engaging and entertaining, they’ll be happy to connect with you.

Speaking of Influencers, Gen Z specifically prefers seeing ads or online content that feature real people, rather than celebrities. So you don’t need to spend a ton to work with huge influencers if you’re targeting this group. Your money would be better spent seeking out slightly lesser known influencers who tend to have a lot of pull with your specific audience.

Social Media Helps Collect Customer Data

In addition to creating content, brands looking to connect with members of Gen Z should also look to social media as a way to learn about their specific customers. Create a sense of community. Practice social listening. And encourage them to share their experiences and opinions about your brand. This can help you further shape your strategy in the future and reach more potential customers in an authentic and engaging way.

And it’s not just online businesses that can easily attract Gen Z consumers. These young shoppers also love brick-and-mortar retail stores. But they’re likely to do some research before heading in. So it’s still important to have some online content and marketing efforts. They also place a high value on expert reviews. So it’s a good idea to really focus on building up those positive notes online if possible.

Once they make it into your store, Gen Z puts a major emphasis on really interacting with products before they buy. So it’s important that you have your products easily accessible so they can feel them and try them on if necessary. It’s also a good idea to make it easy for customers to share their experience with your business on social media. Offer WiFi in your location. Have visually appealing decor that’s perfectly suited for Instagram shots. And make your products stand out so they just can’t wait to share their purchases with people across all of their different platforms.

Image: Depositphotos.com

This article, "Cracking the Gen Z Code for Small Business Success" was first published on Small Business Trends

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The future of global trade depends on automation tools, and any company eyeing international expansion must invest in this technology. Artificial intelligence, in particular, is transforming international commerce, as companies use intelligent systems to identify ways to increase productivity and distinguish themselves in the market.

Increased productivity will drive economic growth in the nations that harness AI, and companies in these countries will be poised for massive boosts in profitability. Currently, however, productivity has slowed globally. The Brookings Institute attributes this in part to slow adoption of AI and automation tools. But this creates greater opportunity for the businesses that do leverage the power of these technologies.

Global Wins Require Automation Tools

The reluctance to embrace new technologies is understandable, particularly ones as disruptive as AI and automation. Business leaders might feel daunted by the prospect of purchasing and integrating new tools, which could cause them to take a wait-and-see approach while their competitors test the waters.

Understandable as that attitude might be, it’s a losing strategy. AI is already transforming the global landscape, shifting the balance toward service economies and eliminating the need for low-skill work, according to Brookings. The companies, and countries, that embrace productivity-enhancing technologies are the ones that will win on a global scale.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in China, where the government encourages and invests in the development of AI. China’s economy grows more digital by the day, as evidenced by its rapid move toward becoming a cashless society. It has become a world leader on payments innovation, and it is determined to lead on AI as well. These technologies will drive increased commerce and productivity for the nation, further enhancing its status as an economic power.

Living in the Future

Given the growing importance of AI and automation, businesses considering international expansion should be investing in these technologies. Smart, predictive analytics programs enable business leaders to assess market opportunities and forecast exactly how an expansion might play out.

Contrast this with a couple of decades ago, when leaders had very few insights into who the key industry players were. It was a bit like going on a blind date, except with potentially more detrimental consequences. Unless they had reliable people on the ground, they had few ways of knowing the global business and political landscapes.

Today, search systems can provide all of the information you need about foreign competitors, including how long they’ve been in business, how they’re performing, and any legal or financial troubles they’ve encountered. You can also learn who leads those businesses, giving you a better sense of who your industry peers will be in the new market.

Automation speeds up this research process significantly as well. In the past, you’d have to download and print reports and then scour the text to assess the opportunities and risks. Now, automated programs can pull all of the relevant data online instantly, allowing you to make faster, more informed strategic decisions.

This helps not only when deciding where to expand, but also when determining which companies to work with once that expansion occurs. A quick, thorough digital search will give you critical insights into a potential partner or vendor and whether it’s likely to be reliable.

For instance, you can quickly access data on a company’s financials, including its credit score, bill pay cycles and methods, and profits and revenues for the past 10 years. That information can powerfully inform whether to work with the new partners or clients you’re considering, as well as whether to extend credit to them or instead deepen relationships with trusted existing clients.

While it’s possible to conduct credit analyses manually, it’s also incredibly time-consuming and inefficient. My company recently worked with an international manufacturing corporation that was processing 400 new credit applications a week. Company leadership wanted to expand, which meant it needed to significantly increase capacity to process up to 1,000 applications per week.

Up to that point, the credit department had processed applications manually. A team member would print out a report on the applicant and review a complex set of criteria before deciding whether to approve the request. Each application took 20 minutes to process. This approach was a burden at 400 applications a week — at more than 1,000, it would be untenable.

My team helped the manufacturer transition to an automated program that processes applications almost instantly, including running analyses of the complex criteria needed to make credit decisions.

Automated systems are exponentially faster than taking a manual approach, and they reduce the risk of human error. Any time humans are responsible for data entry or need to copy information, there is a strong chance that they will make mistakes. Software that is programmed with the exact specifications and parameters for data — and that can automatically populate it — is much less likely to return inaccurate results.

Some are concerned that automating processes will lead to massive job losses. While automation will eliminate some jobs, it actually creates a better environment for the many employees who remain. As Duke Energy discovered when it automated its account reconciliation workflows, the technology enabled employees to focus on financial analytics and other more engaging work while automation handled tasks that were taking time away from these things before.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Data has become one of the most valuable assets a company holds. Information on a business’s performance and productivity, as well as customer behaviors and market conditions, is what allows you to decide whether to expand and where. It’s how you identify new opportunities and figure out which strategies are working and which aren’t — or won’t.

Unfortunately, many companies miss critical insights because their data is a mess. When customers submit their information to you, it’s likely in varying formats and might even be challenging to interpret. A simple automation tool can clean it up and put it into a standardized format that makes it more searchable, easier to read, and free of redundancies. Without that, you can waste time and money sifting through irrelevant results.

Data is also susceptible to rot. You might capture a CEO’s contact information today, but there’s a good chance that information will change within a year. Similarly, another customer might be promoted to a new role within the company, making his or her current title and contact details obsolete. Research shows that B2B data deteriorates at a rate of 70% per year. This means your marketing and sales departments will be doing double the work chasing down new contact data for people with whom they’ve already corresponded. And that’s after they’ve already spent time and money reaching out to leads that go nowhere.

There are other critical cracks in data accuracy as well. For instance, a client might provide you with his or her trading address, but you also want to capture the registered address. In the event that you need to bring legal action against the organization, you’d be required to know the latter because it’s the one filed with the secretary of state.

It also pays to look for data indicating that clients have run into business problems. Perhaps you do business with multiple subsidiaries of a large company. You want to know when any one of those begins having legal issues or profit struggles so you can assess how those will impact the parent company and whether it’s prudent to continue the relationship.

At my company, we like to call bad data a “garbage in, garbage out” problem. If you’re capturing chaotic, disorderly, and incomplete information, your productivity will suffer. But automation tools can manage all of these issues for you, ensuring data is standardized and accurate from the time it’s collected.

All of this is to say that lean data is absolutely critical if you’re going to expand internationally, because the scope of your responsibilities will only increase. Employees cannot manually manage the amount of information coming in, but an automated program can handle any amount of data you throw at it.

Scaling a Business With Automation

Cost is always a concern when it comes to implementing new technologies. But viable automation options exist regardless of your size and budget. Thirty-three percent of medium-sized businesses expect that automated programs will yield significant savings for them, and 74% have already integrated these tools into their operations. Even more significantly, one in five medium businesses surveyed in the U.K. said they expect automation to help them compete against larger companies.

The Tools You Need to Scale a Business with Automation

The case for automation is clear, but getting started can seem overwhelming. While the right tools will depend on your industry and needs, the following are common tools and features that will benefit most organizations. Use this list to start evaluating your automation opportunities:

1. Customer Relationship Management Systems:

CRMs enable you to track customer data more easily and efficiently. You can store all relevant information in a centralized database, allowing your employees to better serve customers. No more chasing down documents or data in disparate files. Importantly, you can also set controls for which employees can see different types of information, alleviating concerns surrounding privacy and confidentiality.

2. Process Automation Functions:

Robotic process automation has become popular for financial and administrative tasks such as data transfers, file updates, and billing reconciliation. RPA is highly useful for repetitive work that doesn’t require extensive cognitive abilities or human oversight.

3. Integrative Application Programming Interfaces:

APIs enable businesses to integrate new software and cloud-based programs with their current systems. Unlike in previous decades, when setup required substantial IT know-how, modern programs are designed to be integrated with existing workflows. They essentially allow for a drag-and-drop approach to automation, so you can get started for a much smaller time and cost investment than in the past. Look for vendors that offer integrative programs so you don’t have to interrupt your existing processes too dramatically to adopt technology.

4. Accounting and Bookkeeping Tools:

Multiple tools exist to streamline and reduce risk in your financial processes. You can now easily automate your invoicing and bill pay workflows, as well as your risk analysis systems. No longer does an accountant have to oversee every part of the payment process; it can all be handled via a smart, cost-effective program.

We help clients reduce their risks through automated ledger analysis. Our program highlights which customers are behind on payments and have poor credit scores so that our clients can prioritize those collections. This helps them identify non-payment issues and mitigate cash flow problems.

Taking your company global yields new opportunities, but it also carries substantial risk. Automation enables you to intricately study and understand those risks and develop strategies for minimizing them. It also allows you to improve productivity across your domestic and international operations, leading to greater outcomes for your company as a whole. The rule here is clear: If you want to succeed globally, automate before you expand.

Republished by permission. Original here

Image: Due.com

This article, "How to Use Automation to Scale Your Business" was first published on Small Business Trends

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FreshLime corrals data from a wide swath of sources into one simple platform. It brings the power of big budget data analytics to local small business so they can engage customers automatically.

A FreshLime Overview

Small Business Trends spoke with Jay Bean, the CEO of FreshLime. He told us about what they do and why small business needs to pay attention.

Helping Meet Small Business Needs

He started by talking about the small business data needs FreshLime addresses.

“Consumers are in charge today,” he said. “The use the messaging platforms they want. The interact with businesses the way they want. It can be a hard transition for an SMB.”

Small businesses can be overwhelmed with all of this information. That’s where this customer data platform comes in. The platform was built with local businesses in mind.

“We collect all of their data together,” Bean says.  “FreshLime bring it all together to build a single customer profile.”

Analyzing Information

He supplies an example:

“Think about a plumber that’s been in business for five years. He may have done 20,000 jobs. He can’t personally interact with all of those customers.”

FreshLime takes all that information and analyzes it. The platform uses important benchmarks like average purchase, last purchase, lifetime value and others. The idea is to send tailored automated messages out based on these groupings. To find new customers and keep old ones.

Segmenting

“By segmenting like this we have smaller buckets and can send the right type of message to the right customer.”

It’s the small business version of a big business strategy. Think Amazon. They know who you are and what you buy and send you messages tailored to your purchases and demographics. FreshLime does the same for small local businesses.

Using Playbooks

At the core is what Bean calls playbooks. This is how the platform categorizes customers. These are based on engagements, demographics and purchases. Some of these include single purchase customers, others that repeat occasionally and those that are the most loyal repeat clients.

People get categorized into different playbooks so small businesses can act accordingly. For example, one might be a “win back” type campaign. Another might be geared toward getting them to increase their purchases as a repeat customer.

“We assign these playbooks to people based on who they are and their past behavior,” Bean says. “We don’t know very much about people who haven’t converted.”

Categorizing Customers

Past purchases aren’t the only way FreshLime categorizes customers.

Bean supplies another example.

“One of our customers is a garage in Detroit,” he says.  “They might have someone who comes in a brand-new Corvette and another in a 1985 Honda Accord with 212,000 miles. The Honda needs a high mileage oil change versus the Corvette that needs a synthetic oil.”

The messages sent here take other factors like that into account. As another big advantage, FreshLime allows you to send out messages over different channels like Facebook and Twitter. Email and text messages are other options.

He stresses that FreshLime isn’t traditional marketing. It focuses on data driven customer retention.

Offering an AI Solution

“We call the playbooks the AI in the middle.”

Best of all, these automated messages get sent out around the clock. That means a small business owner is working on retaining customers 24/7.

Another aspect makes this platform special. FreshLime not only gathers transactional data for companies. It also gathers industry trends that get overlaid for a complete picture.

The result is a network effect for an affordable price catering to small business.

FreshLime targets SMB’s using software like QuickBooks but without the tools to do any analytics. Other target markets include small businesses using software as a big part of their business.

“Either way these aren’t big businesses with big marketing teams,” he says.

FreshLime interacts with your customer wherever they happen to be. In other words, if they find your company on Facebook the template message gets sent there.  The same holds true with Google or your website and other places.

Finally, Bean sums everything up.

“FreshLime was designed to help with that other side of marketing. Not necessarily finding the lead, but what to do to maximize transactions over and over again,” he says.

Image: Freshlime

This article, "FreshLime Offers an AI Solution Allowing Local Businesses to Maximize Customer Interaction" was first published on Small Business Trends

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There are more ways than ever to market to consumers, but email still continues to deliver the biggest bang for ad dollars. This is taking place even at a time when conversational marketing is growing.

A new report titled, “2019 State of Conversational Marketing” shows the rise of this type of marketing using new channels. However, email is still part of the conversation.

In the survey, one third or 33% of the respondents said they used it more frequently last year. The 33% is higher than all the new channels including chatbots, social media, live chat, one-to-one video calls, and others. But it also means 66% of consumers are also using other channels regularly.

As David Cancel, founder and CEO of Drift, points out in the press release, businesses have to consider all the available technology. Cancel says, “As we prepare for the future, it will be more important than ever for businesses to be available across a broad spectrum of channels, and to make sure you’re communicating the way people prefer to communicate.”

This particular message is important to note because consumers are increasingly using direct communications to connect with brands. And conversational marketing is addressing this growing demand.

The State of Conversational Marketing in 2019

The goal of conversational marketing is to drive engagement, develop customer loyalty, and grow the customer base with a feedback-oriented approach. This type of marketing is more possible now because of the available digital technology.

A business can use websites, social media, texting, and video to carryout conversational marketing campaigns. Additionally, the technology can also be used to engage with consumers to deliver higher levels of customer service.

Conversational marketing addresses the frustrations of traditional online experiences and provides answers quickly.

Even though , it doesn’t always deliver a quick response. Customer expectation is much higher when it comes to responding quickly. This is driven by digital technology and the accessibility it provides consumers.

Response Times

Consumers now expect almost the same amount of response times from face-to-face conversations and chatbots. But the technology is still going through some growing pains.

The report says chatbots have a perception problem even though it has some benefits. Buyers say an online chat with a live person provides a better customer experience.

Communicating With Businesses

Conversational marketing is the new buzzword, but it is not necessarily new. The reason it is getting more attention is there are more ways to engage with consumers. But even with more channels, email and phone still rank as the top two customer communication channels.

This brings up the use of chatbots and why it is still low, only 13% in the past year. The report says most people might not know they are using a chatbot. The technology is improving so much, many people think they are actually chatting with a person.

If this is the case, the report recommends that businesses clearly identify customers are interacting with a chatbot.

Takeaway

The State of Conversational Marketing report concludes by saying, “Marketing and sales have always revolved around conversations between buyers and sellers. But somewhere along the line, marketers and salespeople lost their way.”

The conversation became one-sided and consumers suffered because of it.

With the right tools, businesses of all sizes can use different channels of communication so the customer can be heard 24/7.

The Survey

The 2019 State of Conversational Marketing report comes from a survey carried out by Drift and SurveyMonkey. A total of 1,085 adult consumers in the United States took part in the survey on April 29, 2019.

Image: Depositphotos.com

This article, "1/3 of Businesses Used Email More Frequently Last Year – Because it Works" was first published on Small Business Trends

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Retirement is a word that for most first-time entrepreneurs seems very far away. But strikes panic in those people that are older than 55. However, no matter how you look retirement, it is now changing as the definition of work is evolving.

On this week’s Small Business Radio Show, we talk to Chris Farrell, a senior economics editor to NPR’s Marketplace. Farrell discusses what retirement looks like for small business owners. And how this picture is rapidly shifting. He explains that about 10,000 baby boomers will celebrate their 65th birthday every single day from today until 2030. In just over a decade, more than 21 percent of the U.S. population (about 73 million people) will be past the traditional retirement age. Additionally, by 2035 there will be more people 65 and older than 18 or younger. Because people are living much longer, it has become very difficult to save enough to live on for 25 more years without additional income.

Chris believes it is time to shift the conversation about aging away from Social Security, retirement, physical decline, and an economic crisis. He wants to focus on boosting the odds of healthy, active, and purposeful aging through working longer- including launching an entrepreneurial venture. He explains that active older minds who are involved in a community are happier.

Unretirement

Farrell says many baby boomers soon to retire are calling it “unretirement”. Or a “sabbatical”. They are breaking down the silos between traditional work and a permanent retirement. People start to think about what they want to do next. This still involves earning some money. He explores what  experienced workers can accomplish as entrepreneurs. And how so many have launched rewarding small businesses. These include starting a side hustle or going into business with their children.

The stunning statistic Chris shares is that now for the first time, 25% of all business are started by people are 55 to 64 years old. These older entrepreneurs are turning their passion into a business out of their home or a shared workspace. What is different for these people is that many of these new entrepreneurs start to focus on a business with a purpose rather than just earning more money.

In addition, Chris believes that older entrepreneurs should take the importance of lifelong learning seriously. Unlike post college degrees, earning a certification in a specialty rarely requires a large investment of time and money, but can open the door to new business opportunities.

Listen to the entire interview on the Small Business Radio Show.

Image: Depositphotos.com

This article, "What Everybody Ought to Know about Unretirement – and the Future of Entrepreneurship" was first published on Small Business Trends

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Wondering how to de-stress at work? Looking for de-stressing exercises at work?

Stress from tight deadlines and high stakes can cause us to lose focus.

If we let stress get the best of us, it can reduce our unicorn ideas to donkey fodder.

But if we address it head on, we can stay productive and happy at work.

You can calm your mind and reduce anxiety in a matter of minutes with a handful of proven techniques to reduce stress.

De-Stressing Exercises at Work

Here, 15 ways to de-stress at work instantly.

1. Take a Walk

If you sit behind a desk all day, one of the best solutions for stress is going for a short walk.

By doing this, your brain will release endorphins that subdue anxiety, increase energy levels and improve mood — all in just 15 minutes.

So the next time you get up to use the restroom, take a detour outside or around the office to boost your endorphins.

2. Take a Deep Breath

This is one of the easiest and most beneficial ways to de-stress at work.

Deep breathing helps increase oxygen flow throughout the body and can be done in two simple steps: First, breathe in slowly through your nose, filling up your lungs completely, and then slowly breathe out through your mouth.

Repeat this process 5-10 times and you’ll find your stress melting away.

3. Stretch

Similar to walking, stretching will loosen up the body and increase blood flow.

This is a great option to de-stress if you’re on a time crunch, as you can easily find office stretching techniques for the neck, back and wrists online.

4. Meditate with an App

Meditation dates back as far as 5,000 BCE, but the development of modern technology has opened doors to a larger audience.

Now, you can follow personalized meditations on popular apps like Headspace and Inscape in your own time to practice mindfulness.

5. Make a Checklist and Action Plan

When you feel overwhelmed by endless assignments, be sure to grab a pen and notepad, take a breath and make a checklist.

Checklists are ideal for rekindling motivation and practicing prioritization — top traits found in every unicorn!

6. Talk It Out with a Friend

When under pressure, friends can shed new light on how to de-stress at work or give an outside perspective on a problem.

Along with this, researchers have also found that having such interactions can release oxytocin, a hormone that decreases stress and helps form bonds between individuals.

7. Get Inspired with a TED Talk

Just like talking to a friend or co-worker, sometimes all you need is a healthy dose of motivation.

TED Talks are a great way to reignite your fire and perseverance, whether you want to learn how to work happier or get further in your career.

(Here are a few of my favorite TED Talks if you need somewhere to start.)

8. Use Essential Oils

Essential oils have been used in natural wellness regimens for over 5,000 years.

While there are oils for almost every ailment, one of the most popular for coping with stress is lavender.

Seventy times more potent than the plant itself, lavender oil is often used to alleviate headaches, anxiety, depression or muscle pain.

For best results, rub a few drops of oil in your hands, cup them over your nose and take a few deep breaths.

9. Interact with an Animal

Furry friends are known stress reducers.

There is a large body of scientific literature proving that interaction with animals stimulates the release of oxytocin in the brain, which, in turn, reduces anxiety and improves mood.

Even if it’s a quick pet of a dog that’s on a walk outside the building, that just might be enough to brighten your day!

10. Work Outside

With activities like forest bathing on the rise, it’s clear that humans benefit from being outdoors.

Being surrounded by nature and in sunlight can improve vitamin D levels, help with concentration and prevent illnesses, both long and short term.

Your boss will also benefit from you working outside — one study found that employees who work outdoors take 15% less sick days every year.

11. Listen to Music

Music is engrained so deeply into our daily lives, so why not bring it into the workplace?

Listening to songs while working decreases stress hormones that harm our immune system, weight and memory if not kept in check.

It has also been noted that individuals who listen to music on the job work more efficiently and have a creativity boost!

12. Take a Reading Break

While reading books seems to be dying out during the age of social media, its benefits are still alive and well.

Research has found that reading for only six minutes can decrease muscle tension and heart rate.

13. Take a Power Nap

When in doubt, sleep it out.

Our minds suffer severely when we’re tired and stressed, so the best way to combat this at work is to take a ten minute nap.

Taking a power nap is known to help stabilize emotions, increase energy and restore brain functionality.

If your workplace hasn’t already installed a nap room, head to your car or the break room.

14. Reach for Tea Instead of Coffee

It’s time to start skipping the coffee and make a cup of tea instead.

Coffee has a greater amount of caffeine than tea and, if consumed, may lead to more anxiety if you’re already stressed.

Tea, on the other hand, can provide a more manageable dose of energy as well as reduce inflammation.

15. Put Your Mental Health First and Listen to What You Need

This is the most important point on the entire list.

By listening to what you need during stressful times, you may realize that some of the strategies above will work for you — other times, they may not.

That’s why it’s essential to put yourself first and do whatever’s necessary in order to improve your mental health.

Feeling relaxed and ready to go back to work? Be sure to spread some of the best tips on how to de-stress at work with your coworkers in need!

Republished by permission. Original here.

Image: Depositphotos.com

This article, "Stress is Your Worst Enemy at Work: 15 Ways to Defeat It" was first published on Small Business Trends

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Do you dream of giving up your job and being your own boss? Making the jump from employee to entrepreneur and business owner can prove daunting, as well as rewarding.

Some people find getting a ‘happy balance’ by remaining in employment but embarking on a side hustle. As a result, they run their own business on the side while working full time. Others want the challenge and rewards of running their own full-time business.

Side Hustle or Full-Time Business

If you’re deliberating whether to start a side hustle or full-time business venture, take a look at the following pros and cons of side hustles and full-time businesses to help you decide.

Side Hustle Pros Diversify Your Business

You might already run a business and are thinking about starting a side business. Side hustles can be the perfect way to diversify your business. By varying its range of products or services, you can increase the profitability of the business.

One example of a business embarking on a side hustle is the multinational furniture retailer, IKEA. In 2017, IKEA announced it was considering opening a chain of standalone restaurants.

Peace of Mind

We can never be sure that any kind of business will be successful. By starting a side hustle and remaining in employment, you can have peace of mind that if your business doesn’t work out, you’ll still have work and be generating an income.

Give You a Competitive Advantage in Your Career

Starting a business requires you to learn new skills. Such skills can be used to develop your own career and give you a competitive advantage.

Nurture Creativity

Starting a side hustle can be the perfect way to unleashing the creativity inside you.

Be a Better Problem Solver

No-one said running a small business wasn’t without its problems. Starting any kind of side hustle is bound to create some kind of problems. By overcoming such problems, you’ll become a better problem solver, something you can use to help you in your career and on a personal level.

Side Hustle Cons Your Employer Might Not Approve

Not all employers approve of their employees starting any side business and might even put an outright prohibition on side hustle ventures, as they want their employees’ full attention. Your employer’s views on side hustles should therefore be considered before starting your venture.

Assignment of Intellectual Property

Companies that create significant amounts of intellectual property might require their employees to sign an agreement that states intellectual property produced while you are employed at their company is owned by the employer. Again, this is something to consider before you devote time, energy and resources into creating an invention.

Insufficient Time to Devote to the Side Hustle

Being employed and operating a business on the side might not leave you with much spare time to spend with family and friends. Juggling the two will also mean you will have less time to dedicate to getting your side hustle up and running and thriving.

Little Down Time

Working in a job and running a side business naturally requires a lot of time, energy and commitment, meaning you aren’t left with any down time.

You Neglect Your Regular Job

Spending time and energy on your side hustle could result in your neglecting your regular job.

Full-Time Business Pros You’ll Have the Time to Devote to Your Business

Without having a ‘job’ to go to, you’ll have the time and energy to put into really making a go of your full-time business.

You Have Faith in Your Venture

By quitting your job, you are telling yourself that you know your business idea can and will work.

Build Confidence

Without having to go to a ‘9 to 5’ job, running a business full-time can help build confidence, self-esteem and help you develop both professionally and personally.

Better Work/Life Balance

You might be managing a business on a full-time scale, but by being your own boss all the time, you can enjoy a greater amount of flexibility, which can improve your work/life balance.

You’ll Experience a Steeper Learning Curve

Plunging straight into a full-time business will put you onto a steep learning curve about the complex world of entrepreneurship. Being forced to learn the skills of running a business from the offset, is likely to make your stronger and more proficient in business.

Full-Time Business Cons No ‘Plan B’ to fall back on

Of course, not all business ventures work. By putting ‘all your eggs in one basket’ and quitting your job, you won’t have anything in terms of work and income to fall back on if your venture isn’t as successful as you hope it will be.

Harder to Walk Away From

If you’re working on your business 24/7, it can be more difficult to walk away from if the business isn’t going the way you want it to.

Too Much Pressure

From paying employees to marketing your business and sorting out admin duties, running a business full-time can be stressful and could put a lot of pressure on you to be profitable.

Less Time to Learn Essential Skills

By diving into a business full-time, you’ll have less time to pick up and learn those essential business skills compared to if you were running a business as a part-time venture.

Harder to Budget

Without an income coming in from regular employment, managing cashflow and budgeting can be more challenging with a full-time business.

Image: Depositphotos.com

This article, "Side Hustle or Full-Time Business: Pros and Cons" was first published on Small Business Trends

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