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6 Things Small Businesses Should Be Thankful for This Thanksgiving

November 25th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

It’s Thanksgiving Day and traditionally time for giving thanks. As busy as small business owners are, I hope you have time to stop and think about what you’re thankful for this year.

While the pundits and experts will tell us the recession ended back in 2009, 2010 was still a tough year for most entrepreneurs. If you are having trouble finding things to feel thankful for, here are some ideas:

  1. Be thankful you’ve made it through. Though it may not feel like the recession is over, I think most of us would agree that things are (finally) looking up and that the light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer—and brighter. If your business has survived the past two years, you’ve got something to be proud of.
  2. Be thankful for your employees. No business can survive without its employees—especially in the past few years. If your employees are like most, they’ve risen to the occasion, pulled together and done everything they can to help sustain your business in tough times.
  3. Be thankful for your customers. Customers have more options than ever in this constantly connected world. It’s easy for them to seek out new solutions when you’re no longer meeting their needs. Don’t ever take them for granted.
  4. Be thankful for the Internet. Innovations like cloud computing, social media, myriad free online tools to help start and grow businesses, and the rise of virtual employees and remote workers—all powered by the Internet-have helped small businesses do more with less.
  5. Be thankful for your support system. Whether it’s your family, your friends, your colleagues or some combination of all three, no small business owner can go it alone. Today, more than ever, we’re relying on each other for moral support, ideas and encouragement.
  6. Be thankful for the lessons you’ve learned. You don’t make it through an economic landscape like today’s without being smart and savvy. Tough times teach us things, and the lessons we’ve learned in the past few years will help us run better, smarter, more profitable businesses in any economy.

Got gratitude? Great—now, show the people you’re grateful for just how much you appreciate them. I know I’m grateful for you readers and everything you do for your communities and the nation. Enjoy your holiday!

Image by Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography (Creative Commons)

When It Comes to Marketing, Baby Boomers Still Matter

November 24th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

When you think of baby boomers, do you think of gray-haired fuddy-duddies who probably don’t know how to turn on an iPod? The oldest boomers are over 60, and suddenly, in the eyes of many marketers, this once-golden group has been dropped like a hot potato. But if you think of baby boomers as irrelevant when it comes to consumer spending, think again.

There are still 78 million boomers in the U.S., and their purchasing power has not dwindled. In fact, boomers account for 38.5 percent of spending on consumer packaged goods spending, and dominate 1,023 out of 1,083 consumer packaged goods categories, according to Nielsen data reported in Marketing Daily. What’s more, they often purchase products for their children—“double-dipping,” as Nielsen SVP/research and development Doug Anderson calls it.

According to Nielsen’s research, boomers are far more “wired” than they’re given credit for. They are significant purchasers of all types of technology, including computers and cell phones. They account for one-third of all TV viewers, online users, social media users and Twitter users. They watch more video than any other age group (9.34 hours daily on average). They’re also far more likely to have broadband Internet access than are other age groups.

Surprised? You’re not the only one—apparently, many marketers don’t find this market worth their time. According to Nielsen, a mere 5 percent of advertising dollars target adults aged 35-64 years old. This means marketers aren’t just missing out on boomers, but on the older part of Gen X.

Yes, boomers’ purchasing power may have been hurt somewhat by the recession—but so has most other people’s. And as a result of the recession boomers will be working longer—meaning they’ll need technology tools and services to keep current in the workplace. For those boomers who aren’t working, they’re spending money on travel, downsizing and redecorating their new homes, or on their children and grandchildren. That’s lots of money being spent, and if you’re smart, your business will grab a piece of it.

I’m a boomer myself, and one thing I can vouch for: We boomers have never responded well to being ignored. If you ignore us in your marketing, do so at your own risk—because you’ve got lots to lose. Your business success depends on it.

Image by Flickr user Jeremy Carbaugh (Creative Commons)

Doing CRM the Old-Fashioned Way

November 22nd, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

CRM software is one of the most useful tools a small business can have to keep customer data close at hand, easily searchable and sortable, and maximize its value. But there’s another aspect to CRM that doesn’t involve cloud computing, networks or training your team on a CRM system.

I’m talking about the old-fashioned way of CRM. Sometimes we forget what CRM stands for: customer relationship management. And that’s a skill that requires more than just software. CRM has been around as long as business itself. And as we’re heading into the depths of the holiday season, I thought this might be a good time for a refresher on the basics of building customer relationships.

  1. Get personal. Whether you’re staying in touch with customers by social networks on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, include a personal touch in your posts and tweets. Use a photo of yourself on the sites—not one that’s “too businessy.” Make it friendly. Just like in the offline world, sharing stuff about yourself helps build bonds.
  2. Get offline. It’s great to meet potential customers or partners online, but make sure you take the relationships offline at some point—that’s how you truly get to know each other. Make plans to meet up for coffee or take the person to lunch.
  3. Be part of the group. I’m sure you belong to some industry associations, and while today more of these groups are forming online communities, it’s important to be a presence at these organizations’ offline events, too. Taking time to travel or spend a day out of the office may seem like a hassle, but these events are often where relationships truly begin.
  4. Put it on paper. In this day of BlackBerry’d tweets and acronymic responses, an actual handwritten note makes a huge impression. Drop a thank-you note in the mail when someone has done you a favor, and send cards on clients’ birthdays or important dates (like the anniversary of their first doing business with you).
  5. Think of the other person first. When you’re trying to grow your business, it can be easy to think in terms of “me, me, me” and what you can get out of a relationship. Try to think of things in terms of how they affect your customer—and how you can help the customer with the problems he or she is having. When you put yourself in the customer’s shoes, your relationship will naturally develop

Of course, CRM software solutions can help you attain all these goals by tracking dates, remembering details and prompting you to follow up. But keep in mind that CRM software is simply a tool in the service of a larger goal. If your heart isn’t in the right place when it comes to CRM, nothing else matters.

Image by Flickr user Yakinik (Creative Commons)

Is Your Business Suited for Franchising?

November 19th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

Are you looking to grow your business, but don’t necessarily want to open a chain of independent locations? One way to expand without the hands-on effort of additional sites is by franchising your business.

Here’s how franchising works: You license your business idea to franchisees, who pay money to operate franchised locations with training and assistance from you, the franchisor. One benefit of franchising is that franchisees, not you, provide the capital needed to open the new locations. But while franchising can be an excellent growth tool, not every business idea is right for franchising. Here are 5 “must-have” qualities your business idea needs to be franchisable.

  1. Uniqueness. Your idea must have a distinct competitive advantage that will make it attractive to potential franchisees. Figure out what makes your concept unique and whether it has enough appeal to be a desirable investment. Part of what franchisees are paying for is your brand, so be sure your name, logo and trademarks are all in place.
  1. Easy to replicate. If your business relies on your personal touch or personality, it’s not a good candidate for franchising. In the same vein, if it’s incredibly complex or quirky (like a restaurant with 100 customizable menu items), it’s going to be hard to duplicate. You must be able to systematize your operations so the customer receives uniform quality whichever location they visit.
  1. Teachable. The easier your business is to learn, the more it can grow as a franchise. Can you envision teaching someone else the business? Think about how you can simplify operations and how easy the concept is to learn. You’ll need to develop a detailed training manual, not only for franchisees but for their employees, too.
  1. Geographically translatable. Most franchisors seek to expand geographically. Can your concept translate nationwide, or is it dependent on factors that only exist in your local community? For instance, a surf shop doesn’t have a lot of potential to grow in the Midwest; a mobile food cart may have trouble in suburban locations that don’t have foot traffic. Think about how weather will affect your business, too—an outdoor-themed or seasonal concept can work in some areas, but not in others.
  1. Profit margins. Good franchise concepts are high-margin businesses. Franchisees need to make enough money so that they can pay your fees and royalties, and still have profits left over. And franchising isn’t cheap for the franchisor, either; to get started, you’ll have to pay attorneys’ costs, registration fees and fees to develop materials, among other factors. Does your business make enough money to be profitable as a franchise, or are margins slim?

Given the right factors, franchising can be a great growth tool for your business – but before you get started, it’s important to assess the fit.

Photo Courtesy Flickr User Hugo Arcier (Creative Commons)

How Will the New IRS Audit Program Affect Your Small Business?

November 17th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

Has your business ever been audited by the IRS? Just hearing those words can send a shiver of fear down any entrepreneur’s spine. Unfortunately, small business owners have more reason than usual to be nervous about opening their mail for the next few years thanks to the IRS’s Employment Tax National Research Project (NRP).

The NRP is a comprehensive audit that will hit 2,000 small companies each year at random in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The goal is to see how well businesses are complying with employment tax regulations. The last NRP was conducted 25 years ago, and with the federal government seeking all possible sources of revenue it can, the IRS is looking to make sure it’s getting all the money it’s owed by small business taxpayers.

An article in CFO Zone reports that the NRP is honing in on four areas:

  1. Worker Classification: Classification of workers as employees or independent contractors
  2. Executive compensation: Salary and non-salary compensation, such as loans, deferred compensation and stock
  3. Fringe benefits: This includes both executive and employee perks
  4. Payroll taxes: Forms 941 and Form 1099/W-2 will be examined regarding withholding and next-day deposit requirements.

The IRS has stated these audits will be “comprehensive” and if you are hit with one, be ready to open all your records. However, you don’t have to get audited to be affected by the NRP: The results of the completed study will be used to adjust tax regulations and tighten up compliance in these four areas above.

Don’t wait to get audited—make sure your company is in compliance. Have your accountant take a look at your finances and ensure any problems are corrected sooner, not later.

Image by Flickr user Lisa Percival (Creative Commons)

DISCLAIMER: The information posted in this blog is provided for informational purposes. Legal information is not the same as legal advice — the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. The information presented here is not to be construed as legal or tax advice. Network Solutions recommends that you consult an attorney or tax consultant if you want professional assurance that the information posted, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular business.

After Black Friday, Small Businesses Can Benefit From Small Business Saturday

November 15th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving, and traditionally a huge sales day for retailers—has a new partner. American Express OPEN and more than a dozen advocacy, public and private organizations have declared November 27 “Small Business Saturday.”

Small Business Saturday is a national movement to drive shoppers to local merchants nationwide. Let’s face it, Black Friday is dominated by the “big boys,” so Small Business Saturday offers a great option for small companies to get their share of the pie.

For every $100 spent in locally-owned, independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures, according to the small business advocacy group The 3/50 Project, one of the organizations supporting Small Business Saturday. Others include SCORE, NAWBO, Yelp! and Facebook.

“Small business is the engine of job creation in the US economy,” said Kenneth Chenault, chairman and CEO of American Express.  “It is also among the sectors hardest hit by the recession.  By spreading the word about Small Business Saturday, we can help raise awareness about the critical role small businesses play in cities and towns across the country at a time when they need support the most.”

How does it work? Social media will play a key role in helping raise awareness about Small Business Saturday.  American Express has launched campaigns on Facebook and Twitter driving consumers and business owners to http://www.facebook.com/smallbusinesssaturday where they can participate in many ways, including:

  • American Express is giving a $25 statement credit to 100,000 Cardmembers who register their American Express and use it to shop on Small Business Saturday at locally owned, independent small businesses.
  • American Express is also giving $100 of free Facebook advertising to 10,000 business owners who sign up at http://facebook.com/smallbusinesssaturday to help build online buzz and drive customers to shop at their businesses on Small Business Saturday.  By simply entering a few pieces of information and clicking a button, business owners can create a personalized, geo-targeted ad that will run on Facebook leading up to November 27th.

For more information or to download online promotional materials, visit http://facebook.com/smallbusinesssaturday or

http://www.smallbusinesssaturday.com.

Image by Flickr User Bobbie (Creative Commons)

Part-Time Workers Can Mean Full-Time Headaches for Small Businesses

November 12th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

Are you adding part-time employees to your work force as a way to pick up the slack without having to provide the salary and benefits that full-time workers require? Or are you shifting formerly full-time workers to part-time status—either because your business’s workload has dwindled or because you simply can’t afford to pay them their full-time salaries?

If you’re doing either of these things, you’re not alone. More companies are turning to part-time workers to save money. But what many small businesses don’t realize is that sometimes part-time workers can open the doors to full-time legal headaches.

Part-time workers are often viewed as a less complicated option to full-time workers. But in reality, part-time workers are subject to state and federal labor laws, just as full-time workers are. And because small business owners may think part-timers can be treated more loosely, they often don’t take the same precautions they would when dealing with a full-time hire.

Here are some things to consider before you hire a part-time employee.

  • Understand how overtime regulations and rules regarding mandated meal and rest breaks apply to part-timers. For instance, in some states, an employee who only works one day a week could still qualify for overtime if he or she works more than 8 hours in one day.
  • Know what benefits are triggered and when. For example, if a part-time worker logs a certain number of hours in a year, he or she may become eligible for being included in your company’s retirement plan or for leave laws such as the Family Medical Leave Act.
  • If the part-time worker is the first employee you’re hiring, it’s especially important to know the right steps to take. For instance, hiring just one part-timer means you have to buy workers’ compensation insurance to cover that person.
  • Understand how the addition of a worker affects your company’s size status and what that might mean in terms of rules and regulations. Adding one part-timer might put your company into a larger size category, which could mean you have to comply with certain federal or state rules you didn’t before. It could also affect your eligibility under federal contracting opportunities, such as whether your business is considered small or disadvantaged.

Small businesses often get into trouble with employees when they decide to “wing it.” Even if your company is tiny and you’re hiring just one part-timer, it’s important to create an employee handbook and decide on specific benefits and policies before you bring that person on board.

Work with your attorney and/or a human resources consultant. Employment law is complex and varies from state to state, so it’s best to get help from an expert in setting up your plan. If you start off on the right foot with your first part-timer, part-time workers can be a source of help—not headaches.

Image by Flickr user Phillie Casablanca (Creative Commons)

Want to Target Wealthy Consumers? Get Social

November 8th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

The very rich aren’t that different from you and me after all—they’re spending time on social media sites, too. So if you’re trying to reach wealthy consumers with money to spend, consider targeting them on Facebook.

That’s the finding of a new survey by SEI Wealth Network, which found that high-net-worth individuals are more likely than the average population to be using social networking sites. To be exact, 70 percent of high-net-worth individuals surveyed said they use Facebook and other social media sites. That’s considerably more than the number of social media users among the general populace; according to a report earlier this year from the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of Americans ages 18 and over use social networking sites.

Here’s a closer look at a few key results from the SEI survey, which polled wealthy individuals with more than $5 million in investible assets, and what they mean to your business:

Result: Of the SEI respondents who use social media, 50 percent use Facebook; 37 percent visit YouTube; and slightly under 35 percent use LinkedIn.

What it means to you: Wealthy Americans are similar to average users in the sites they’re spending time on—so you need to be on those sites, too. Viewing video is growing among the wealthy just as it is with everyone else, so be sure to put video in your social media mix.

Result: While wealthy Americans are more likely to use social media, they’re using it less often than the average person. Just 17.4 percent of SEI survey respondents said they use social media on a daily basis, compared to 38 percent of those surveyed by Pew who do.

What it means to you: Everyone’s busy, and wealthy individuals are even more so. Make sure what you post on your social media sites offers true value that makes them want to return again and again.

Result: In general, high-net-worth individuals consider social media a personal activity, not a business tool. More than half (51 percent) of Facebook users surveyed say their account is for personal use.

What it means to you: Using social media to target wealthy individuals is likely to be most effective for companies that sell a consumer product or service, rather than a BtoB offering. Post information, deals and tips that you think users will want to sharie with their friends.

Image by Flickr user Liam Dunn (Creative Commons)

Hot Market: Singles

November 5th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

Are you missing out on a lucrative consumer market? You could be if you’re not targeting singles in your marketing materials. Never-married singles now outnumber married couples 46 percent to 45 percent within the 25-to-34-year-old age group, according to an analysis of new Census data by the Population Reference Bureau, reported in Advertising Age.

What does it mean to your business? Today’s singles aren’t necessarily straight out of high school or college. And they’re not delaying major purchases like travel or even homes. According to statistics from the National Association of Realtors, single women accounted for 21 percent of all homebuyers in 2009, and single men accounted for 10 percent.

What else are singles spending on? Ad Age cites Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that they spend more on alcohol, clothing and shoes, and tobacco, but less on insurance and housecleaning supplies.

Single women in particular are a hot market. A study earlier this year from strategy and research firm Reach Advisors found that single, childless women in their 20s who live in big cities and have full-time jobs earn an average of 8 percent more than men the same age—and in some cities, the pay gap is as high as 20 percent. The Reach study showed healthy foods, sporting goods and (again) homes are hot purchases with this market.

Coldwell Banker Real Estate and Norwegian Cruise Line are among the big companies reaching out to singles with products targeted for them. If you’re ready to target singles, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t stereotype. Singles are as diverse as any other group and like to see themselves portrayed realistically and sensitively.
  • Don’t assume they all want to get married. Many singles are quite happy as they are, so marketing messages that promote matrimony as a goal may not resonate as well as you think.
  • Appeal to their sense of adventure. Singles have more freedom than married couples or parents. Offering last-minute deals or hosting events they can take advantage of on the spur of the moment is smart marketing.

Image by Flickr user floodkoff (Creative Commons)

Small Biz Resource Tip: The Company Corporation

November 3rd, 2010 :: Rieva_L

Incorporate.com

S Corporation, LLC, partnership or something else altogether? How you structure your business not only affects your taxes, it also protects your personal financial and legal assets. Once you choose a legal structure, changing that structure is not a simple feat-so do your research beforehand and learn all you can. The Company Corporation website contains pages and pages of helpful information to help you decide on the right structure for you. The site also contains personalized information by industry. Then, once you’ve decided which route to go, you can incorporate or register your LLC right online. The Company Corporation is a one-stop shop where you can also purchase the appropriate business licenses and permits for your business, along with registering your business name and more.

DISCLAIMER: The information posted in this blog is provided for informational purposes. Legal information is not the same as legal advice — the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. The information presented here is not to be construed as legal or tax advice. Network Solutions recommends that you consult an attorney or tax consultant if you want professional assurance that the information posted, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular business.