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Small Biz Resource Tip: Logoworks.com

November 26th, 2010 :: mhaubrich

Logoworks.com

Creating the logo for your company is as important as choosing your business name. Your logo needs to be original, meaningful and unforgettable all at once. Your best bet is to let the experts take over. Logoworks by HP employs many professional designers and gives you access to their expertise through its website. Pick the level of design you want (the least expensive gives you four original logo concepts and two revisions), fill out a detailed form describing your business and what you want your logo to express, and two or more designers will get to work on your logo. Everything can be done online or, if you purchase a higher-cost package, you can talk to the designers yourself.

5 Quick Tips for Boosting Your Small Business’s Holiday Retail Sales

November 26th, 2010 :: mhaubrich

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

Black Friday, Cyber Monday—the Internet is abuzz with assessments of how profitable these crucial selling days will be for retailers this year, and what strategies work best to capture customers. It’s already Black Friday, but it’s not too late to profit from these 5 quick tips and tactics that can help your retail store sell more this holiday season.

  1. 1. Psych up your sales staff. Personalized service is one of the key differentiators a small retailer has to offer. When customers come to your store, make sure they’re greeted with a friendly smile and get helpful (but not pushy) service from your staff. Yes, this can be a tough time of year to be a retail employee—but your employees should be people who thrive on the challenge.
  2. Make it fun. One reason consumers still come out to bricks-and-mortar stores to shop (instead of going online) is for the fun and festive feeling. Make your store a happy place to be with music, décor, or small party favors for children. Host a visit from Santa or an open house with free hot apple cider and cookies.
  3. Be thoughtful. Little things mean a lot to tired and stressed-out holiday shoppers. Something as simple as placing a few comfy chairs around your store (where tired spouses can rest their feet) or making sure checkout clerks smile at customers in line and thank them for waiting can help.
  4. Clarify store policies. Returns are a key concern for holiday shoppers, who want to make sure their loved ones will be satisfied. Figure out a return policy that works for your business during this busy time (it may differ from your normal one). Then make sure the policy is politely and clearly conveyed to customers, whether by in-store signs, on your receipts or on flyers tucked into shopping bags. Customers are more likely to buy—and to buy more—if they feel confident they can return hassle-free.
  5. Give back. Get involved in community or charitable organizations. Give part of the proceeds from a certain item, or sales on a certain day, to a group that customers are likely to care about. Despite the economy, people are more likely to buy if they feel that their purchase is helping a cause.

The golden rule of holiday sales? It’s not all about discounts or deals. Think about how you like to be treated when you shop—and make sure your store treats customers the same way.

Image by Flickr user Kevin Dooley (Creative Commons)

Should You Encourage Your Employees to Use Social Media?

November 26th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

As a small business owner, you are responsible for how your employees spend their time at work. After all, you have to pay them, whether they’re doing something to help your business or just twiddling their thumbs. That means that you have to decide whether or not you want your employees using social media at work.

You can’t, of course, decide whether or not your employees can use social media at home — at best you can support them in the endeavor if you approve of the idea of having them use social media, or you can request that they don’t discuss your company if you’d prefer your employees not use social media.

Should Your Employees Use Social Media?

The big question on the table in many companies is how valuable social media is — or might be. Many small businesses have experienced incredible growth as a result of their social media efforts. Others have found that social media just burns through resources, without providing an equivalent return on investment. It’s difficult to tell where your business will fall until you’ve actually had a chance to try out different social media strategies.

If you do have an employee who is interested in social media, you may have an opportunity to move faster with your online marketing efforts than if you were relying entirely on yourself to handle the work. There can be a clear benefit to having employees who are socially savvy.

However, if you have an employee acting as your business’ main face online, you should be prepared for other businesses to make an effort to recruit that particular employee. As he or she builds up your business’ social media presence, an employee can easily build up his or her own online presence. That’s the price of working with a social media-savvy employee.

Keeping Your Employees in the Comfort Zone

The worst social media nightmare is that a none-too-bright employee will broadcast something unpleasant about your company to the world — and that’s a risk you will essentially be running if your employees are active in social media. But it’s also a risk you run if your employees aren’t active in social media in the office, but they are at home. It’s not a problem that will go away by ignoring it. Rather, the best step you can take is to invest in training for your team to help them use social media effectively.

It’s impossible to keep your employees entirely away from social media. Whether or not you have a social media plan in place in your business, you have to be aware of that fact. It’s impossible to control social media — but you can preempt it with positive campaigns, rather than waiting for something negative to happen. Otherwise, your only option is to prepare a response to that inevitable day when an employee posts something like a choice photo from the company holiday party to Facebook.

Image by Flickr user Jason Pratt (Creative Commons)

Small Biz Resource Tip: Compete.com

November 25th, 2010 :: mhaubrich

Compete.com

If you’re looking for a quick traffic overview of your website (or your competitor’s site), go to Compete.com and check it out. You can look at one site or plug in up to three sites for comparison. You can see your traffic on a chart month by month, your number of unique visitors and your rank overall on the Compete site for free. If you subscribe to one of their services, you’ll receive analytical reports, demographic metrics, where users go after visiting your site, what sites drive traffic to your competitors and more. Compete can also give you demographics on your visitors such as age, gender and income levels.

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)

Small Biz Resource Tip: GiftCertificates.com

November 24th, 2010 :: mhaubrich

 

GiftCertificates.com

Stymied on what to give clients and vendors for the holidays this year? Or maybe you’re looking for employee rewards or incentive bonuses to acknowledge high performances? GiftCertificates.com has hundreds of merchant cards ready to purchase and mail out for you in the denomination of your choice. Choose from everything from movie tickets to restaurants to popular retailers. Not sure what stores or restaurants are in another state? You can also search by location. If you are seeking an employee or customer recognition solution, GiftCertificates.com can help you create a program that fits your needs.

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)

The Ethics of Outsourcing

November 24th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

These days, you can outsource anything. You can have a virtual assistant in India checking your phones, a call center in the Philippines handling your customer service and a manufacturer in China creating your product. But there are some ethical questions that go along with the decision to outsource your business’ tasks. Those questions won’t stop you from outsourcing, but they may cause you to think about what you’re outsourcing and how.

Am I Being Fair to My Employees?

If you’ve been working with certain employees for the long term and plan to fire them once you outsource the tasks they currently handle, it’s worth thinking about what that will mean for your employees. You have no obligation to keep on an employee if you find an outsourcing opportunity, but if you have a great working relationship with your employees, simply letting them go can be an uncomfortable prospect. Take a look at the situation and see if there are other opportunities, like offering them some of the tasks that simply can’t be outsourced.

You might also think about your new employees. You might find an outsourcing company that swears $1.50 is a fair wage overseas, but it’s important to look into that for yourself and decide if you’ll really get the value you need from an employee paid at that rate. You may find that not all local organizations are comfortable with the idea that you might be paying such a low rate for your labor, and you’ll need to be able to assure them that you’re paying a fair wage if you want to work with them in the future.

Am I Providing the Best Value to My Customers?

It may sound well and good to hand your customer service off to someone else, but that can easily mean that the first person a new customer interacts with doesn’t speak English as a first language. That’s not necessarily as helpful for your customers as you might hope, and it can make for a less than ideal experience for customers whom you would like to continue selling to. The same goes for manufacturing and other parts of your business you might outsource. You want to be sure that your customers are continuing to get the value they expect from your business if you outsource any part of your company.

If you can’t guarantee that value, that might be a stopping point for your outsourcing plans. You may have a lower margin of profit using local labor or doing something yourself, but you might have lower profits entirely if you can’t keep your customers happy. The changeover just may not be worth it for a small business.

Image by Flickr user Marc Smith (Creative Commons)

Small Biz Resource Tip: Constant Contact

November 23rd, 2010 :: mhaubrich

ConstantContact.com

Contemplating creating an e-mail marketing program, an e-newsletter or a social marketing campaign? Constant Contact is one of the leading online marketing solution companies and for a very low monthly cost allows you to create e-mail newsletters and updates, online surveys and more. You can even send marketing e-mails from your smartphone. Try Constant Contact’s free 60-day trial offer and create an e-newsletter for your customers from one of the many templates. E-mail address can be stored directly at Constant Contact. Want to discuss your needs with someone in person? The company has representatives all over the country.

Can Hiring Family Members Mean a Tax Break for Your Small Business?

November 23rd, 2010 :: Karen Axelton

By Karen Axelton

Keeping track of tax breaks available to small businesses—especially in the current political climate—can be a complex task. The good news is, there is one kind of tax break that just about every small business can take advantage of: the advantages gained by hiring family members to work in your business. Here’s a closer look at some of the options:

Hiring your spouse: In general, the IRS considers a spouse an employee as long as an employer/employee relationship exists. In other words, one spouse must truly control the business in terms of making key management decisions, and must direct the other spouse’s work duties and activities. Specific rules related to hiring your spouse depend on the business structure you’ve chosen for your company. Visit the IRS website for more detailed information about tax issues related to husband and wife businesses.

Hiring a parent: Hiring a parent is becoming more of an option these days with many seniors and retirees more interested in continuing to work—or needing to work to supplement retirement income. If you are hiring a parent, know your business will be subject to income tax withholding, Social Security tax, and Medicare tax; however, you are not subject to Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) tax.

Hiring your children: Having your children work for you in the business is a great way to transfer income from your higher tax bracket to your children’s lower one. This is also a way you can transfer wealth to your children without worrying about gift and estate taxes.

If your company is a sole proprietorship or partnership, wages paid to your children under age 18 are not subject to Medicare or Social Security taxes; wages paid to children under 21 are not subject to FUTA tax. At any age, their wages are subject to income tax withholding. If your business is a corporation, get more details about the tax issues of having your kids work in your business at the IRS website.

Before hiring any family member, discuss the issue with your accountant to make sure you follow all the rules. It’s especially important to maintain detailed records of the person’s duties and the hours he or she works to protect you from any questions of fraud. And, of course, be sure the person’s salary or wages is in line with what he or she actually does, or you risk raising red flags.

Tax savings aren’t the only benefit of hiring family members. Working with your spouse can build bonds as you feel that you’re working together for a goal. Children at any age can gain responsibility and learn from seeing their parents working hard to build a business. Children approaching adulthood can be groomed to take full-time roles in the business and be part of your succession plan. Start your children in the business at a young age, and you’re less likely to face resistance from other employees as your kids take on more important roles.

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.



 
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