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A strong sales team is a vital part of your overall business success. But, don’t forget that there are other methods you can use to build sales and many of them will cost you not much or, even, nothing, in many cases.

Optimize the placement of your call to action

As simple as this may seem, many marketers are probably not putting their call to action (CTA) anywhere besides the obvious, a landing page or the product description page. Let’s think about this. You want your audience to contact you. That is the bottom line when it comes to using websites as a sales incentive. CTAs can be extremely useful on your homepage, as well. If you are looking to get a customer to call you; fill out an inquiry form, join an email list, respond in any other manner, use a CTA on your homepage and make it “loud and clear.”

Know and serve your existing customers

The customers you have will remain customers over time if you serve them well. The way your customers interact with your products or services is essential to your growth. It may be they are ready for an upgrade – so you’d be wise to keep a detailed record of their interactions with your company so that you know when and how to reach out regarding a new product they might like or an upgrade to their current version or service. Consider enriching or extending your relationship with your customers. The idea is to be confident that your audience knows what you offer and is comfortable asking for it.

Use your social media connections

Social media is a fickle tool. Individuals use it for fun, entertainment, and checking in on friends. But it is also an excellent way to share your promotions. Make sure your customers fill out information forms that include their Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram handles so they can receive free giveaways and special deals, which, by the way, can increase their likelihood of making a purchase.

Ask your current customers for feedback

The old “Suggestion Box” found in stores and offices back in the day, was just an old-fashioned way of getting input from others. You can find out what your customers need and want in today’s world by merely asking. To nudge your customers into telling you what they would like to see you add or change, add a small form to your webpage. Use questions like:

  • Is there a product you would like to see added to our inventory? 
  • Do you have a question about one of our services or products? 
  • Are you receiving our monthly newsletters? 

Customers are more likely to trust a business that wants feedback from the people they serve.

Be creative

It’s Marketing 101, but always critical, that you have to come up with ways to make your business stand out in the crowd. Customers often feel they have seen and heard it all. They are jaded when it comes to believing what they hear advertised and what they see online. That’s why you have to differentiate yourself. In this step toward making your business stand apart from the rest, you and your team can:

  • Find your niche by discovering your specialization – that “something” your company has that other businesses do not. 
  • Bring your values into play and even find a cause that lines up with your world view and your services or products. 
  • Surprise your customers with a small gift, a personal note, a coupon, or a treat. 
  • Be consistently and authentically service-conscious in ways that are unique to your business. 
  • Ask for customer reviews. 
Form a partnership with another business

Connect with other businesses in your industry. If you own a jewelry store, for example, you might choose a fashion boutique with which to pair. You could agree to refer your customers to each other. You could ask the jeweler if he or she might design a line that would enhance your latest seasonal inventory. You could find ways to create sales or coupons that take place at the same time to elicit add-ons by customers who frequent both shops.

Keep your focus on using easy and inexpensive tools to stand out from the others and get the attention you deserve.

The SmallBizRising Blog is designed to be an educational content hub pulling information, best practices and practical advice for the small business owner and features topics including accountingmarketingtechnology and more.  Be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with new content as it is posted.  The blog was created by The Neat Company and receives contributed content from a group of contributing companies that provide technology, services and solutions to small businesses.

The post Increase Sales with These Easily Actionable Tips appeared first on SMALL BIZ RISING.

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We know that we have the Income Statement and the Balance Sheet. We know that we have Accounts Receivables and Accounts Payables. We know that we have Net Income and potentially Net Loss. But did you know that you have Direct and Indirect Labor?

Did you know that there are different types of labor within your business? There are so many different ways to describe the two different types of labor; in fact you could spend hours on Google trying to figure it all out. In the end it all comes down to Direct – Revenue Generating (billable) and Indirect – Non-Revenue Generating (non-billable).

Direct employees are the employees that actually perform the revenue producing functions, i.e. service, installation, deliver, route, roofers, lawn mowers, IT programmers – anyone who performs billable time.

Indirect employees are the employees that work for your company that are not a revenue producer, i.e. salesperson, office manager, service manager, service coordinator, scheduler – anyone who performs non-billable time.

Did you know that labor should be profitable?

Then the next question is – how do we make them profitable?

Retail Labor Rates

Direct employees should be creating enough revenue to pay for themselves – every hour of every day worked. Notice the word “should”! When working with our clients we hear quite often that service departments have to be carried by other departments within the business – they are more of a drain than a revenue producer – a necessary evil that businesses have to have to support their customers.

Why do you think this is? What causes this? It’s not that the employees aren’t working hard enough. It’s not that the employees don’t care. It’s not that the employees aren’t doing their jobs.

We have found that it doesn’t have anything to do with the employee themselves! It has everything to do with how their retail labor rate is being set!

Their retail labor rates are being set, by someone within the business spending hours upon hours using a spreadsheet or maybe even guessing.  We see it all the time. My favorite one is – setting their retail labor rate off of what their competitor down the road is charging.

There is a better way!

Proper Retail Labor Rates

We know from years of experience both yours and ours that setting retail labor rates for your direct employees based off of incorrect numbers or guessing isn’t going to give you the growth and profitability required to grow your business. It’s a simple fact of business.

This is a perfect time to refer back to one of my favorite sayings that I have used throughout all of Management Accounting blog series blogs – “Know Your Numbers”. When you know your numbers you are then able to base your retail labor rates appropriately for the amount of profit you require for your labor.

Most service oriented businesses make the majority of their profits from their parts and equipment. Even though they may not be charging properly for their labor they still will be making a profit. But can you imagine what a business could be making and how they could grow if they were charging properly for their labor? Making their labor profitable!

Retail labor rates should be based off the burdened labor cost for direct labor employees. Burdened labor cost provides you with a base number that covers the cost for that employee and a percentage of overhead and indirect employees; work with this number, use this number, create a profitable retail labor rate from this number. It is your number!

Applied Management Group has created the Apex eSuite Burdened Labor Costing SaaS www.apexesuite.com providing you with a way to enter each individual direct labor employee in the program it then provides you with a report giving you their Burdened Labor Cost. The Apex eSuite has been created much like Turbo Tax – you enter your numbers and receive a report for each direct employee entered providing you with their burdened labor cost.

Applied Management Group takes that one step further by providing you with the mentoring and training you may require for the proper use the information you receive from the Apex eSuite. Applied Management Group is here for you.

The SmallBizRising Blog is designed to be an educational content hub pulling information, best practices and practical advice for the small business owner and features topics including accountingmarketingtechnology and more.  Be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with new content as it is posted.  The blog was created by The Neat Company and receives contributed content from a group of contributing companies that provide technology, services and solutions to small businesses.

The post Conquer Retail Labor Pricing appeared first on SMALL BIZ RISING.

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When it comes to the things you should be saying in a customer service interaction, there’s plenty of advice out there. There are best practice tips, handy canned statements, and end-to-end conversation guides.

But what about the things you shouldn’t say? Some are self-explanatory — it’s obvious that it’s a bad idea to swear at customers, for example. But there is also a host of poor customer service phrases that are a little more nuanced. At face value, they might even seem acceptable and useful.

So, what are the phrases that enrage customers?

1. “Calm down”

Telling a customer to calm down is a sure-fire way to escalate any frustration and anger in the session.

When you tell a customer to calm down, you don’t validate their feelings. You may as well have informed them that they’re overreacting, and you won’t help them.

If a customer is angry or upset, empathize with them. They’ll calm down on their own when they see that you’re listening.

2. “That’s against our policy.”

This phrase might be a statement of fact. But the customer has gotten in touch with you to solve their problem — not have the door slammed in their face. Telling customers that the help they’ve asked for is against your policy presents your brand as inflexible, unhelpful and unappreciative.

If a customer has asked for something that your policy doesn’t allow, offer a viable solution instead.   

3. “Didn’t you…”

Starting any phrase with ‘didn’t you’ is another anger trigger. Though it might seem like a helpful question that offers a solution, it’s insulting to the customer. Either they have done what you’re suggesting, and you’re insulting their intelligence, or they haven’t, and you make them feel stupid.

‘Didn’t you…’ tells customers it’s their fault and their responsibility to solve the problem. At best, it’s dismissive. More likely, you’re indirectly telling the customer they’re stupid for getting in touch.

4. “It’s not our fault.”

Anyone that’s taken the time to get in touch with you isn’t always looking for an admission of guilt. They’re trying to fix their problem.

Meeting the customer with a denial of liability is telling them that you don’t want to (and aren’t going to) help them. This is an enraging feeling, and then you do have a problem that’s your fault.   

So, stop worrying about whose fault it is and help fix the problem instead.

5. “What do you want me to do about it?”

At face value, this might seem like a good phrase for customer service. You’re giving the customer a choice about the resolution that best suits them.

In practice, this is another frustrating phrase. It oozes a dismissive attitude and puts the responsibility of fixing the problem on the customer.

6. “Would you like me to transfer you to a supervisor?”

This is another statement that disguises itself as good customer service. You’re being open and accessible, after all.

Reality looks less kindly on this customer service phrase. Offering to put customers through to a manager, supervisor or colleague undermines your ability to help them. It reduces you to a gatekeeper for the actual support session. So, you’re perceived as a hurdle to helpful service.

Don’t be dismissive

So, now you know some of the worst things you can say to customers, you can avoid them.

Identifying the phrases that do more harm than good isn’t always easy when you’re on the frontlines of the business. The common strain is a dismissive undertone and a theme of shirking responsibility.

To turn an enraging phrase into a helpful one, make sure that you’re offering a solution, inviting a response, and working with the customer. That way, you’ll be creating great customer service experiences in no time.

The SmallBizRising Blog is designed to be an educational content hub pulling information, best practices and practical advice for the small business owner and features topics including accountingmarketingtechnology and more.  Be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with new content as it is posted.  The blog was created by The Neat Company and receives contributed content from a group of contributing companies that provide technology, services and solutions to small businesses.

The post Six Customer Service Phrases to Avoid appeared first on SMALL BIZ RISING.

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Small businesses often find it hard to compete against larger enterprises, especially due to their limited resources. But this doesn’t mean that you have to give up and be okay with conglomerates zeroing in on your tuff. A little creative thinking and innovation can go a long way towards successfully marketing your small business. The trick is knowing what methods are a waste of resources and which ones provide a positive ROI. This post highlights marketing ideas for small businesses that provide results without requiring too much financial investment.

Invest in marketing automation

Marketing automation solutions are incredibly affordable and are often offered in freemium and premium packages. Features include lead scoring, lead nurturing & management, analytics & reporting and more. They make it easier to manage customers and market products by automating processes. Depending on your objectives, you can use automation tools to improve your bottom line, gain new customers, retain existing customers, drive sales, and increase customer engagement.

Online testimonials

Regardless of your industry, online reviews will prove an invaluable tool for landing and retaining clients. Surveys have shown that more than 85% of customers read online reviews before purchasing products. It is likely that potential customer’s scope out the business before knocking on your door. Ask your clients to leave a review on your social media pages or Google My Business.

Social media marketing

This is particularly important if you are targeting millennials and younger audiences. Maintaining a consistent social media presence is crucial when it comes to lead scoring and nurturing. Take advantage of tools like Shop and Paid Ads to drive sales. Only set up accounts on platforms where your target audience is, starting with 1-2 platforms. Use a CRM solution with social media integration to schedule posts. You can use social media to promote new products, answer customer questions, announce sales and offers, drive discussions and more.

Market to existing customers

Don’t focus too much on getting new customers that you forget about your existing ones. You already know they love your product so why not make them return customers? Encourage them to join your email list, then send them inventory updates, discounted sales, and news about your firm. Regular emails will keep your business top of mind.

Customer referral program

Another effective marketing strategy for small business is implementing a customer referral program. It is cost-effective and doesn’t require a lot of time. Make it a regular habit to ask for referrals, but only from satisfied and happy customers. Consider providing an incentive to the customer if their referral results in a sale. Avoid asking the same customers for repeated referrals as this makes them feel less valued. Following up on referrals is important and so is asking open-ended questions to get a referral.

Website Optimization

Small businesses need an optimized website that shows up at the top of search results. The web pages should appear first when someone performs a local search for your product or service. This means stepping up your SEO game. Subtle efforts like listing your business on Google, using meta descriptions and title tags, publishing informational blog posts as well as linking to social media pages will go a long way towards optimizing your site for search engines.

Product giveaways

Nothing keeps people coming back like free stuff. Making it possible for customers to try your product or service encourages them to make a purchase. Don’t be afraid to offer a sample or free trial, as this will drive sales and even encourage customers to make referrals.

In a world that is technology driven, embracing marketing automation strategies can prove invaluable for your business. Implement any or all of these seven tips and you’ll be on your way to successfully marketing your small business and improving your bottom line.

The SmallBizRising Blog is designed to be an educational content hub pulling information, best practices and practical advice for the small business owner and features topics including accountingmarketingtechnology and more.  Be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with new content as it is posted.  The blog was created by The Neat Company and receives contributed content from a group of contributing companies that provide technology, services and solutions to small businesses.

The post 7 Effective Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses appeared first on SMALL BIZ RISING.

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A balance sheet reflecting a working capital that has been clearly mishandled can teach small businesses operating inventory a lesson or two about the consequences of a badly managed stock. A lesson learned, now what? How to manage inventory so not to hurt the cash flow and endanger the future of your company?  Stock control is a highly challenging task unless you learn certain routines. Let us try and break it down for you.

A cash flow is defined by Investopedia as the net amount of cash and cash-equivalents being transferred into and out of a business.  Once you purchase inventory your money gets tied up in non-cash assets and whether it returns or not depends on multiple factors. When it comes to inventory-centric businesses, cash flow reflects how efficiently you purchase, replenish and sell your stock. Not something you can play by ear, is it? As said earlier, once you adopt some routines and see to maintaining them further on, your cash flow will stabilize. You best course of actions would be:

Start tracking your supply and replenishment habits

When you company’s main resources are laid out for goods, their storage and maintenance, finding optimal inventory levels is key. Surplus inventory increases your expenditures and leaves much less cash available to cover liabilities or invest in business growth. However, when you are understocked, there is a chance that customer experience can be ruined by a delayed shipping or you might fail to respond to the demand altogether.

Inventory levels that are right on point is not something you figure out in a week or two.  You need to keep tracking and collecting data on a monthly and seasonal basis, as well as quarterly and annually, always contrasting and analyzing data. Manual inventory tracking is highly cumbersome and time-sucking in this respect and, frankly, is hardly an option.  Automated purchase order management tools like HandiFox Online, on the other hand, are instrumental in providing real time up-to-date inventory reports that let you drill down on a chosen item or site and see if you have enough of a product, if you need more or if you need to do an inventory transfer across warehouses, as well as see the bigger picture –  the amount of items sold and their percentage share in overall sales.

HandiFox frees up tons of your time by populating Purchase Orders (POs) based on:

  • How productive an inventory item has been (‘sales rate’ is the app’s term) for a chosen period. You can also make the software calculate the safety stock for any period of time following this day.
  • An average amount of items of the chosen type per week – what it means is you see how well a certain item has been doing on a weekly basis on average and work out how many more of this product you would need to reorder to meet the demand for a certain number of weeks ahead.
  • Reorder points and desired quantity on hand. The app notifies the user if any of sites (warehouses) are low on some items so you can act on this data right away and generate a Purchase Order.

Always keep tabs on how well your inventory is doing

There are items that are selling well and there are the ones that are performing rather badly or just sitting on shelves. To be able to identify those, you absolutely have to put together sales reports. Again, it is doubtful anyone has that much time to splice all data in an Excel spreadsheet. This is not bringing in any visibility – what it brings is ongoing headaches and lost time. An inventory management app should be able to generate sales reports that would allow you to spot your best-sellers and make sure you stock up on them in a timely manner, single out slow-moving items and think on the measures to reduce them or incentivize clients for a purchase, and, finally, see ‘dead’ inventory that should not be accumulated.

To give you a better view of your inventory’s productivity, HandiFox generates a series of sales reports. Your go-to reports here would be:

  • Report on items’ sales rates showing how many have been sold, their average price and contribution to closed sales in %.
  • Sales by item/service with all the details bringing up all transactions with a chosen item for a given period of time.

Give your order fulfillment a tune-up

Your order fulfillment has a major role to play in cash flow matters.  Your ability to process orders is largely impacted by your relationships with supplies. Having to wait on the supplier to pack and deliver your purchase orders for a day longer than you can afford is a recipe for disaster. Optimize the wait and fulfillment times so to avoid cash blockage and customer complaints. HandiFox provides purchasing reports that detail how products by different vendors have been performing – you can rely on this data to make up your mind whether to order more/less from these companies.

Be proactive – manage your suppliers more productively, always check with inventory reports about stockouts, and ensure on-time delivery – these are the three surefire ways not to drop the ball but to consolidate customer satisfaction and mend your cash flow problems.


All things considered, a business owner’s job is to learn the art of striking a balance. A poor judgement of inventory on hand and its productivity, a lack of ability to establish inventory levels that are up to scratch, and subpar order fulfillment will have a long-term undermining effect on your cash flow. Go ahead and try out a stock control system with real-time inventory intelligence to be able to make data-driven decisions on your cash flow management.

The SmallBizRising Blog is designed to be an educational content hub pulling information, best practices and practical advice for the small business owner and features topics including accountingmarketingtechnology and more.  Be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with new content as it is posted.  The blog was created by The Neat Company and receives contributed content from a group of contributing companies that provide technology, services and solutions to small businesses.

The post Inventory management and cash flow: how to swim without sinking appeared first on SMALL BIZ RISING.

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Starting your own business or working at a bustling startup can be thrilling. Every milestone is worth celebrating. Each success well-earned. Flexibility, following your passion, there are countless reasons to work for yourself or at a small company. But sometimes there’s a small business catch: an equally small marketing budget.

You need to make a major marketing splash if you want your company to succeed. But how do you do that when there isn’t enough cash flow for your dream marketing campaign? Luckily, you can “hack” your way to the top with free marketing resources. No budget? No problem.

Before we jump in, it’s important to note that some of the free apps, programs, or tools referenced are only “free” to a certain extent. Many of these programs offer advanced functionality for a fee. But we only included tools that offer free products and plans that provide great value. No free trials required.

1. Send a newsletter

Eco-conscious millennials have no interest in brightly colored mailers. They’ll dump those straight in the recycling bin. Want to save money on printing and distributing paper advertisements? Send out a digital newsletter instead. 73 percent of millennials actually prefer to receive communications from businesses via email. For free, you can make sure your clients or customers get your latest deals or company updates sent straight to their inbox. If you sell a consumer good, make sure you include lots of product links in your marketing emails so customers can start shopping. This is key as 59 percent of people reported that marketing emails influence their purchase decisions.

80 percent of business professionals believe that using email marketing increased customer retention. If improving retention is a priority for you, this could be a method worth trying. Many email providers offer easy to use templates, and they’ll let you send emails for free using their services until your audience grows to a certain size, so there’s little financial risk in giving it a shot.

Resources to check out:  SendInBlue (store unlimited subscribers), MailChimp (store up to 2,000 subscribers), HubSpot Marketing (store up to 1 million contacts).

2. Join Google My Business

Want to take your business to the next level? Sign up for a Google My Business account and make the most of it. This account is free to register and maintain and it allows you to promote your business online.

Once you’ve created a Google My Business account, you improve your chances of showing up properly in Google search and can ensure that potential customers see correct contact information about you in search results. You can make your business listing more attractive and valuable by uploading photos or videos. You’ll also gain access to analytics that will better help you promote your business to ensure your customers are finding you. Plus, you can create bookings for your business through this program and manage customer reviews. Essentially, you can promote your business, engage with customers, and learn more about your marketing efforts. Not a bad combo for a free service.

Resources to check out: For more free representation on the web, check out Bing Place for Business (the Bing version of Google My Business), Foursquare, and Yelp (social networks designed to connect people to local businesses).

3. Schedule away

You’re busy and chances are you have no desire to stop what you’re doing whenever an opportune moment to post comes around. Now is the time to check out some free social media scheduling tools. You’ll be able to schedule posts in advance for the times they are most likely to succeed. Remember the analytics that came with your business accounts? Use it to help you determine what times you should be posting.

Resources to check out: Plann (for Facebook and Instagram), Planoly (for Instagram), Recurpost (for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter), Hootesuite (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). If you decide that you need more complete social media planning and scheduling resources, CoSchedule is a powerful tool to consider—but be warned, it’s not free.

4. Use your website to gain subscribers

Let’s say you’ve taken some of these tips to heart already: you’ve set up your email newsletter and you’ve been scheduling social media posts every day. Next, it’s time to make sure people actually subscribe to your newsletter or social channels.

Consider adding sidebar ads or pop ups to your website that encourage users to connect with you on these channels. On average, pop up ads have a conversion rate of 3.09 percent.

If you use a popup ad to promote signing up for your email list, you may see some growth to your email subscriber list as often as every day, with little to no extra effort on your end aside from the initial creation of the ad.

Note that if you use free versions of certain design tools, there may be a small watermark added to the designs. This may be a sacrifice you’re willing to make while you experiment with designs, or while you determine the value you gain from using those tools.

Resources to check out: Sumo, Over, Bazaart, MiloTree,

5. Partner up

It’s time to make new friends. Surely, your team isn’t the only one with a small marketing budget. Look for similar or complementary businesses to yours who may want to trade promotions for free. Can you write a guest post on a blog that shares a similar audience to you? How about promoting a blogger on your social media channels? But only if they agree to promote your company on theirs. Can you include a link to a similar brand’s website in an email blast if they do the same for you? Collaborating is more productive than competing any day.

Resources to check out: PubExchange (for content swaps), Bumble Bizz (for making new connections), Townsquared (for connecting local businesses)

6. Volunteer

Giving back to the community is a great way to make new connections and build brand awareness. Of course, you should only choose to volunteer for causes you sincerely support. But taking some time out of your busy schedule to volunteer can be a great marketing tool. You can even build new marketing skills by helping a charity with their promotional efforts.

There are a few ways you can create a win-win situation for your favorite charity and your business. Consider giving employees some time off to volunteer, or organize an annual “give back” day or week for the whole company.

Beyond the obvious goodwill that you might generate in your community by volunteering, your charity work can be a way to create a positive image for your business that improves your ability to attract top talent. 55 percent of millennials reported that working for a company who supports social causes is an important factor when deciding to accept an offer.

After hiring an employee, volunteering can also help you retain them. 89 percent of workers believe that companies who sponsor volunteer activities offer a better work environment than those who don’t. And 77 percent reported that volunteering is essential to employee well being.

Giving back to the community seems to lead to greater employee retention, higher levels of brand ambassadorship on the part of your employees, and helps encourage more enthusiastic employees, all of which are great reasons to consider it. While you may lose money and productivity during hours employees are volunteering, you may end up saving on employee turnover costs by encouraging them to volunteer and providing ways for them to do it.

Resources to check out: VolunteerMatch, Volunteer.gov, USA.gov

7. Survey your audience

Want to learn more about your audience and what makes them tick? It’s time to whip up a good old fashioned survey. Ask your customers or audience to take a quick survey (and perhaps offer an incentive like a discount code if you can afford it). Why? So you can gain some insight into what they like or don’t like about your company, industry, or products.

While not everyone wants to participate in surveys, those who do take the task seriously. 87 percent of survey-takers reported they want to have a say in a company’s future products and services. Their feedback could be invaluable when it comes time to fine tune your business.

Using certain survey platforms or running a traditional focus group does cost money, but there are a number of ways to get customer insights for less. You can use a free service or the free version of a service like Typeform, and you can promote your survey on organic social media, your website, or in your store. You could even put the survey link on your invoices and receipts.

Resources to check out: Survey Monkey, Google Forms, Typeform

8. Share your insights

Put pen to paper for some effective marketing efforts that won’t cost you a dime. It can even save you some money, content marketing helps gain three times more leads than paid search advertising does. Publishing content on a blog can help you establish your brand’s expertise. You can provide value to your consumer without asking them to make a purchase, which builds trust.

B2B customers particularly appreciate good content. When surveyed, the overwhelming majority (96 percent) of B2B buyers said they want content from industry thought leaders. Blog content can give you something fun to promote on social media, without pushing sales. And blogging can help drive traffic to your website. Basically, blogging rules.

The SmallBizRising Blog is designed to be an educational content hub pulling information, best practices and practical advice for the small business owner and features topics including accountingmarketingtechnology and more.  Be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with new content as it is posted.  The blog was created by The Neat Company and receives contributed content from a group of contributing companies that provide technology, services and solutions to small businesses.

The post No Budget? No Problem: 8 Free Marketing Ideas appeared first on SMALL BIZ RISING.

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In order to fill your CRM with useful information, you need to get creative and dedicated to the collection of customer data. And to make the most of your CRM, you need to be proactive in applying that information to customer experience improvement. The entire purpose of a CRM tool is to manage your relationship with your customers. So it’s only natural you’ll want to utilize the detailed customer information with any automated marketing tactics.

One of the most popular automated marketing tactics of today is through the live chat trend. Having chatbots tend your website is a great way for a small marketing or customer service team to spread out their efforts and reach a wider array of visiting leads and customers. And the best way to make your chatbot more personable, and seemingly intuitive, is to make use of the customer information found in your CRM. Here are the top five ways to use your CRM to improve your chatbot services.

1) Identify a Return Customer or Lead

Your CRM is aware of every customer and lead within an account or anyone who has made an official impression. It can remember people by their logins, but it can also remember if an IP address, Chrome profile or mobile device is connecting for the second time. You can design a personable chatbot to use CRM data to say “Welcome back!” when a lead or customer returns.

Even more to the point, you can use your CRM to customize exactly what return greeting the chatbot offers. For customers, you might offer a warmer and more personable greeting. While you can offer returning leads a greeting based on their personal path through the conversion funnel.

2) Greet Account-Holders by Name

For anyone who has made an account with your website, the chatbot should be able t greet them by name. Their account and the information already stored on this customer in your CRM can inform chatbots on the best way to make them feel welcome. Greeting customers and leads by name is a great way to remind them that you’re ready to offer not just friendly but also personalized service.

You can also use this method to indicate that a human will be available at any time by referring to their assigned support associate by their first name as well. Your CRM might even be able to determine if a returning lead would rather be called by their first name or “mr/ms/mrs” and their last name.

3) Remember Preferences in Chatbot Conversations

As you develop more advanced chatbot features, you can even use your CRM data to provide detailed and considerate automated services. One way is to allow chatbots to remember the specific preferences and histories of your account-using customers. These preferences can be anything, depending on the kind of business you are. It might be remembering bank accounts, credit cards, and default shipping addresses. It might be remembering their favorite color, or the size of product they traditionally buy. When a chatbot remembers, it creates a continuous customer relationship.

4) Personal Shopper Service from History

Speaking of remembering sizes and favorite colors, you don’t always need live chat agents to offer personal shopping services. Modern AIs backed by a well-supplied CRMs are�great at predicting what your customers and leads will like and want to buy next. A combination of trend analysis and the browsing/shopping history can help a chatbot figure out which items in your inventory that your visitors would like. With a CRM, your chatbot can help visitors find exactly what they’re looking for and possibly even up-sell or cross-sell with good intuitive suggestions.

5) Provide Useful Account Information through Chat

Finally, a chatbot can serve as a personal assistant for account matters when backed by the CRM. Customers interacting with your chatbot can ask about their account balance, expected shipping dates, product availability, and a lot more. All you have to do is fuel the chatbot with a database of answers served by the CRM and other aspects of the website.

Your CRM can do a lot, probably more than you’re using it for. Automated marketing is a huge part of effectively using your marketing tools, and a CRM is a great way to personalize every step of your marketing approach.

The SmallBizRising Blog is designed to be an educational content hub pulling information, best practices and practical advice for the small business owner and features topics including accountingmarketingtechnology and more.  Be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with new content as it is posted.  The blog was created by The Neat Company and receives contributed content from a group of contributing companies that provide technology, services and solutions to small businesses.

The post 5 Ways to Use Your CRM to Improve Live Chatbot Services appeared first on SMALL BIZ RISING.

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Summer is here, which means that construction companies are getting ready to break ground all over the country—if they haven’t already.

As construction business owners know all too well, cash can seem to evaporate once a project is underway. Maybe you underestimate the cost of a project, maybe you have to rent or buy expensive construction equipment, or maybe you need to procure costly materials only to have to wait around for weeks to get reimbursed.

Whatever the case may be, it can be tricky for construction business owners to find the funds needed to ensure projects stay on schedule, keep staff happy, and pursue new opportunities.

Instead of letting cash shortages potentially knock projects off-track, many proactive construction business owners look to outside sources of financing to get the money they need to bridge cash gaps, satisfy their customers, and continue growing their operations.

One of the most common sources of financing for entrepreneurs in this situation is called a construction loan.

What are construction loans?

Like the name suggests, you can use the funds from construction loans for—you guessed it—financing residential and commercial construction projects.

Typically, banks give construction business owners short-term loans to finance land acquisition costs and home and building construction expenses. Terms usually last about a year—just long enough for a construction project to be completed.

Generally speaking, there are three different kinds of construction loans:

  • You can use a construction mortgage loan to buy land or build a home on land you already own. Typically, lenders release payments in a series of “draws” instead of giving borrowers the full amount of the loan in one lump sum. Interest accrues on the money that you use—not necessarily the entire loan if projects come in under budget.
  • A construction-to-permanent loan combines two kinds of loans—a construction loan and a traditional mortgage—into a single financial vehicle. After construction is complete, the loan converts to a standard 15- or 30-year mortgage. The upside, here, is that borrowers don’t have to apply for two separate loans—and therefore don’t have to incur twice the amount of closing costs.
  • You can use a commercial construction loan to construct office buildings, multi-family homes, apartment complexes, retail centers, municipal buildings, and more. Banks, being risk-averse, typically expect developers themselves to foot most of the bill for these enormous projects—up to 90%, in many cases. If you’re eying a project like this, don’t expect the bank to finance the bulk of it. You’ll have to come up with most of the cash yourself.

Now that you’re familiar with the various types of construction loans, let’s turn our attention toward the advantages and disadvantages of this type of business financing.

The Pros and Cons of Construction Loans

Like other kinds of financing, construction loans have their pros and cons. Here are three reasons why construction business owners turn to these financial vehicles—and three reasons why they look elsewhere.

Pro #1: Construction loans are flexible

You can use construction loans in a variety of ways—as long as those ways relate to the project you’re seeking financing for. You can use a construction loan to buy or rent new equipment, hire additional workers for an important job, open a new facility or remodel an existing one, get materials and supplies needed for a project, and more.

Pro #2: Construction loans improve cash flow

Once you’re approved for a construction loan, cash flow management is that much easier. This is a big deal because a recent survey revealed that nearly 20% of construction companies have constant cash flow problems, and 66% of them have cash flow problems at least once a quarter.

Instead of wondering how you’re going to make payroll or how you can afford to pay your suppliers, you can focus on doing your best work and delighting your customers.

Pro #3: Construction loans help you finance projects

With cash on hand, you can move projects forward that you otherwise might have had to turn down due to financial struggles. This enables you to grow your business by pursuing opportunities you otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

Con #1: Construction loans are hard to secure

Banks are typically wary of financing construction projects. There’s so much that can go wrong, so these types of loans are often thought of as risky. That’s not to say banks never finance construction projects; quite the contrary. They are just quite picky about which businesses to lend to.

In most instances, they prefer lending to businesses that have strong credit scores, great financials, a track record of success, and a solid reputation. Even if that sounds like you, construction loans can also take a long time to come through. It’s not uncommon for borrowers to wait 90 days for funds to finally be available.

Con #2: Construction loans don’t cover all your expenses

In most cases, lenders will ask you to put down at least 20% of the cost of the project up front. If you’re trying to finance a $5 million project, for example, most lenders will expect you to have invested at least $1 million of your own money to get started. If you don’t have access to that much capital, you won’t be able to work on the project.

Con #3: Construction loans can be expensive

Due to the inherent risks in this line of work, construction loans tend to have high interest rates. Unless you have deep pockets, you may want to look for other forms of financing that are more cost-effective.

While construction loans can help some business owners successfully finance their projects and grow their operations, this type of funding isn’t for everyone.

With that in mind, let’s briefly explore some alternatives to construction loan financing.

3 Alternatives to Construction Loans

You’ve decided that construction loans, while interesting, probably aren’t the best bet for your specific situation. What other kinds of loans are available to people like you? Let’s take a look at three popular options.

1. Construction factoring

How quickly do your customers pay your invoices?

If you’re like many other construction companies, it might take a while. Recent research suggests that many of construction businesses (30%) don’t get paid until 30 days after they’ve completed a project. Some companies say it takes 60 and even 90 days for checks to come in.

If you find yourself in a similar situation—and you have lots of unpaid invoices piling up—construction factoring may be an option worth looking into. Essentially, this form of financing involves selling your outstanding receivables to a factoring company in exchange for a portion of the invoice amount.

This form of financing is relatively easy to qualify for and you get immediate cash. But the factoring company (also called a “factor”) collects payments directly from your customers and takes a significant slice of your revenue. It’s up to you whether you’re comfortable handing over control of your customer communications this way.

2. Lines of credit

If you have the bulk of your project financing costs covered and you are simply looking for a little bit of cash to cover miscellaneous expenses as they pop up, a line of credit may be the ideal financial option for you.

Let’s say you get an approved application for a $100,000 line of credit. Essentially, this means you’ll now have access to that much money when you need it—and you’ll only have to pay interest on what you spend. Think of a line of credit like a credit card. The money is there if you need it, and as long as you repay what you’ve borrowed each month, you’ll have access to the full credit line.

Credit lines are flexible—you can use them for almost any business purpose. The application process doesn’t take forever, either. Thanks to new fintech firms like Fundbox, you can apply for a credit line in just a few minutes and find out whether you’re approved later that same day.

3. Loans from the Small Business Administration

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is a government agency that lends money to all kinds of small businesses, including construction companies. The SBA offers a variety of different financing options, but 7(a) loans and 504 loans are probably the best fit for construction companies. While 7(a) loans can fund businesses up to $2 million, 504 loans are usually given to companies that have to make large capital expenditures (e.g., buying machinery, equipment, or property).

SBA loans, however, are notoriously hard to get. Unless you have impeccable financials and a great credit score—and you’re willing to endure a process that can last 90 days or even more—you may want to look elsewhere for financing. Even if you do have spotless credit and think you will qualify, you may not want to wait that long.

Every business is different. While a construction loan might work perfectly for one company, a line of credit might be the best option for another.

Do your due diligence and assess your options. Take your time and you’ll find the perfect financing solution you need to continue building beautiful structures and improving people’s lives.

The SmallBizRising Blog is designed to be an educational content hub pulling information, best practices and practical advice for the small business owner and features topics including accountingmarketingtechnology and more.  Be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with new content as it is posted.  The blog was created by The Neat Company and receives contributed content from a group of contributing companies that provide technology, services and solutions to small businesses.

The post Should I Use Construction Loan Financing This Summer? appeared first on SMALL BIZ RISING.

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When most entrepreneurs think of Amazon, they think of a prime place to sell online. And that’s the truth — but there’s a lot behind the scenes that goes into selling on the marketplace. Namely, order fulfillment.

Amazon offers four main ways of getting your orders to the customer’s door, each with its own pros and cons, and each with its own ins and outs. Here’s a primer on every fulfillment model the marketplace supports.

Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA)

This is one of the most popular programs Amazon has to offer, and that’s mainly because you’re punting fulfillment 100% to Amazon. It allows sellers to ship their inventory to an Amazon fulfillment center for storage and shipping — when you make a sale on the sales channel, they’ll handle everything on their end. That includes picking, packing, and shipping the order, plus dealing with customer service, i,e. returns.

That said, the program does come with some big costs; paying for Amazon’s fulfillment expertise has a price. The two main fees for FBA are inventory storage fees and fulfillment fees for the orders they fulfill. For inventory storage, fees can escalate the longer items stay on the shelf collecting dust. The holidays — ecommerce’s busiest season — is also of concern. Demand for warehouse space is high during the period, and Amazon tends to significantly mark up its FBA fees.

Amazon also keeps tabs on how well an FBA user is doing. They measure this through what’s called an Inventory Performance Index score (IPI) that combines your sales, inventory levels, and costs into a single metric. Long story short, you must be sure that your stock sells, or you can expect to pay up. For that reason, some retailers stay away and prefer to handle fulfillment themselves.

Multi-Channel Fulfillment (MCF)

Let’s say you have zero interest in selling on Amazon’s marketplace. You’ve got your own site that you run. Or, let’s say you’re using FBA for your Amazon orders and would like some of that inventory to be used to fulfill orders from other platforms like Shopify or Bigcommerce. Don’t worry, Amazon’s still totally fine with fulfilling your orders. MCF is available regardless of whether or not you are selling on the marketplace.

The pro? It’s just like FBA — you get to offer expedited delivery options (1-day, 2-day) to your customers and use Amazon’s fulfillment expertise to manage the process. The main issue is that you’ll need to have an integration with the marketplace so they’re able to receive your orders when they’re placed. Many platforms, like those mentioned above, have connections with Amazon to facilitate it. But if you’re on your own home-grown site or brand new sales channel, you might need one built.

Regarding fees for MCF, you can expect some related to storage and fulfillment as well. The storage fees are the same as for FBA, so plan for an increase during the holiday season. The fulfillment fees, however, differ from FBA fees — they depend on the type of shipping method chosen; higher fees for faster delivery.

Seller Fulfilled Prime (SFP)

SFP is a pretty important program that Amazon offers to merchants that are amazing at fulfillment. We’re talking near 100% success rate fulfilling orders all on their own. Unlike the previous two methods, where Amazon fulfills for you, this one requires merchants to fulfill on their own, hence the “seller fulfilled” part.

The main appeal to being an SFP merchant is the access to Prime customers that it provides. If Amazon accepts you into the program, you get that beautiful blue Prime badge next to your listings, and you have a greater chance of locking down the Buy Box (more on that later).

That said, not everyone is allowed in the SFP club. The program has some very stringent requirements. Here are a few of the biggies to give you an idea about how intense it is.

  • 99% On-Time Rate — Amazon expects orders to arrive on time with little to no exceptions.
  • Less than 0.5% Order Cancellation Rate — Better make sure you’re stocked and loaded to fulfill SFP orders, because if you cancel an order, you’re in trouble.
  • Use Amazon Buy Shipping Services for 98.5% of Prime Orders — They want your business, so you’ll need to use their services.
  • Deliver via Amazon-Supported SFP Carriers — You’re only allowed to work with carriers they trust.

Fulfillment By Merchant (Non-Prime)

If you want to sell on Amazon but fulfill on your own without the stress of SFP, the marketplace is still fair game. It’s as simple as selling your products on the channel and shipping them yourself once an order is placed. Keep in mind, however, that you will not have access to all those Prime benefits.

One of the perks to Fulfillment By Merchant is your ability to mix and match your fulfillment how you please. As you sell on Amazon, it’s totally possible for you to practice in-house fulfillment or use a 3PL and outsource it. It’s totally flexible.

Which To Choose

The method you use will largely depend on your operation and the type of products you sell. Are you comfortable enough with your margins to use Fulfillment By Amazon? Are you able to handle SFP thanks to your clockwork-like fulfillment operation? Do you introduce personalized branding and prefer fulfilling yourself? It’s all down to your scale and preferences.

Another question to consider is how stiff the competition is for the product(s) you sell. Since multiple sellers can sell the same product on Amazon, the marketplace has a way of ranking offerings to make it easier for customers to select one. They do this by showcasing a particular vendor’s offering in the Buy Box — a box on the product detail page that has the product’s price and the “Add to Cart” button in it. Eligible buyers rotate through the Box.

Research shows that 82% of all Amazon sales happen through the Buy Box and even more on mobile. So the more severe the competition for your product, the more important it is for you to win the Buy Box. Both FBA and SFP sellers have a higher chance of securing the Buy Box, so you might want to go that route.  

But ultimately, there’s no one superior method of fulfillment. And to make matters better, you can mix and match your fulfillment choice depending on the specific products you’re selling on Amazon. Here’s an example.

Let’s say you specialize in bicycles, selling bikes and individual bike parts on the marketplace. The parts are listed individually, but you also sell a bundle that includes all the parts needed for an entire bicycle, and you want to offer expedited shipping for both. Storage and fulfillment costs can quickly add up for oversized items on FBA, so SFP would be a better way to go for the bundle specifically since it’s a large shipment (it contains a lot of parts). On the other hand, for the individual parts, you don’t want to deal with the hassle of fulfillment, so you choose FBA. Lastly, if you sell speciality bikes where not many other vendors sell them on Amazon, you could avoid FBA/ SFP entirely and simply fulfill them on your own through FBM (Non-Prime).

It’s all about fulfilling how you see fit! But a tool for managing all of your Amazon orders — as well as your fulfillment methods — is certainly helpful. Ordoro’s like a Swiss Army Knife for handling every aspect of your Amazon orders, and we play extremely well with the marketplace. Unlike many of our competitors, we do not charge extra for Amazon prime orders! Check out how Ordoro helps merchants become top sellers on Amazon.

The SmallBizRising Blog is designed to be an educational content hub pulling information, best practices and practical advice for the small business owner and features topics including accountingmarketingtechnology and more.  Be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with new content as it is posted.  The blog was created by The Neat Company and receives contributed content from a group of contributing companies that provide technology, services and solutions to small businesses.

The post Picking The Perfect Fulfillment Method(s) For Amazon appeared first on SMALL BIZ RISING.

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For small business owners, it is crucial to remain vigilant when it comes to cybersecurity. According to Small Business Trends, more than 40 percent of cyber attacks target small businesses. Unfortunately, most of these companies aren’t adequately prepared to defend against a hack. A mere one in seven feels they have an effective strategy in place to handle an attack of this nature. Given this, it’s no surprise that 60 percent of small companies can’t stay afloat in the months following a security breach.

Fortunately, there are a number of simple strategies you can use to help protect your small business from a data hack. Here are a few cybersecurity tips that can help your company avoid becoming another breach-related statistic.

When going paperless, use a secure cloud

In today’s technology-driven age, many small businesses have adopted a paperless culture. This includes scanning and digitizing paper documents, opting for digital invoicing and billing, ditching paper records and implementing the use of tablets and laptops during meetings, among other things. This is an effective strategy to cut down on costly supplies, support the environment and reduce clutter, but it’s extremely important to protect your digital filing system using a trusted cloud provider.

A secure cloud enables small businesses to remain compliant with data protection regulations and allows secure remote access for telecommuting employees. It also provides administrators with control over user permissions for easy management of sensitive data on both personal and company-owned devices. If your company’s files are only backed up to a physical hard drive, they are more vulnerable to cyber attacks including phishing emails, malware or a virus.

Offer cybersecurity education for employees

Ensure your company has effective cybersecurity training in place. This should include tips on how to spot suspicious websites and common email hacking methods. Teach employees data protection tactics they can utilize both at home and at work – your team is more likely to adopt strong cybersecurity practices if doing so benefits them personally, as well as professionally. Unfortunately, insider threats make up over 70 percent of security incidents, but most are accidental and simply a result of employee human error.

Poor communication and a lack of reporting tend to further complicate the issue. Take the pressure off of employees by adopting a formal cybersecurity protocol. Employees should feel safe and respected when reporting any potential data exposure. This will help assure your team is more likely to report a human error-related breach, and that security vulnerabilities don’t go unnoticed.

Tighten up your password policy

Do your research to ensure both you and your employees are well-informed on password best practices. Using a strong password may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often a weak one becomes the downfall of both individuals and businesses. In fact, poor password security is one of the most common causes of a breach. Allowing yourself or your team to use weak passwords turns your business into a painfully easy target for hackers.

The best passwords are at least 12 characters long, featuring different special characters, numbers and letters in both upper and lower case. Passwords should also be changed at least quarterly. Try adding a recurring reminder on your company’s shared calendar to help remind your entire team when passwords should be updated. Password managers, software that helps users maintain strong, unique passwords, are an alternative option. While the security of such apps is often debated by cybersecurity experts, they are capable of protecting sensitive information much more efficiently than a weak password used across several platforms within your business.

The SmallBizRising Blog is designed to be an educational content hub pulling information, best practices and practical advice for the small business owner and features topics including accountingmarketingtechnology and more.  Be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with new content as it is posted.  The blog was created by The Neat Company and receives contributed content from a group of contributing companies that provide technology, services and solutions to small businesses.

The post 3 Steps to Protect Your Small Business from a Data Hack appeared first on SMALL BIZ RISING.

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