May 24th, 2013 at 6:46 am
CRM helps in establishing the most crucial link between the organization and its customers. In the evolving economic condition it has become most important for small businesses to implement customer management system to effectively manage their customer relations.
When a startup is small it is relatively easy to manage relationships with clients but as the volume of transaction increases it becomes difficult to manage all the links with customers at different levels. Customer relationship management software for small business targets the crucial relationship management aspect of SMBs.
But, despite the scopes the CRM implementation the project failure rate is quite alarming among small organizations and even a greater number of businesses struggle with slow adoption rate or user rejection. CRM can become a necessary IT burden if the project is not implemented and executed the right way.
SMB requirements from CRM are quite different in nature from large organizations. Their requirements are more targeted and specific. What they need is a dovetail solution for their business.
Product selection is a very important part of SMB CRM project implementation. Industry research organization, Garner Inc., has recognized the small business CRM market as the next big business software market.
Leading CRM solution providers are targeting small and mid-size businesses as potential clients for their next enterprise software versions. Amidst the growing options it has become more crucial to choose the best CRM software for small business.
Introduction of SaaS solutions in the enterprise software market has made the services more easily available for businesses. Unlike conventional legacy software models, SaaS solutions are provision based that require no hardware or software installation on the user’s part.
As a result, many developers are offering free trial versions of their products for users to test drive before buying. Free CRM software for small business is a great opportunity for small entrepreneurs to prepare the ground in their organization for CRM adoption.
The free trial period often requires no credit cards and all the basic model features are made available to test drive. This can help you in determining the suitability of the product in your business environment.
About The Guest Author: Francesca Patterson is CRM advisor, who is associated with Converge Enterprise. She has experience in CRM software development and offering customer management system to small business owners.
CRM Photo via Shutterstock
May 22nd, 2013 at 6:03 am
There is no doubt that social media is an integral part of online marketing for small businesses. Unfortunately the social media landscape is very fragmented and it is difficult to know what conversations to join and more importantly how to explore these opportunities in the best way. There are many opportunities for small businesses to really get the best out of their social media campaigns simply by looking how the big brands use social media.
Find The Most Suitable Social Media Platforms
It can be quite easy to set up social media profiles on many different platforms. The problem is that each account needs a lot of time and effort to be really successful. Large corporations have plenty of resources and time to invest in channelling their efforts across multiple platforms.
For smaller businesses, it is much wiser to focus on social media communities that are relevant to your business and where your current and potential customers will be hanging out. A good practice would be to focus on one platform possibly two and channel all your efforts into maximising your engagement and reach.
There are many great examples of how different social media platforms can be relevant for individual business sectors. A business specialising in interior design may want to build its presence on Pinterest as strong and visual imagery will normally be inviting to customers.
Pinterest is a picture based social media platform and is particular useful for arts, food, fashion and design businesses. LinkedIn on the other hand may be more suitable for business services and consultants operating in industries such as marketing and business.
Small business owners should really be concerned with identifying audiences and starting conversations that are relevant to them. Content marketing continues to be the driving force so by ensuring that you are providing relevant content, there is a far greater chance that your target audience will engage.
If people are benefiting from the advice and information that you are providing, there is a far greater chance that your audience will interact within your community. Some of the biggest brands and organisations use social media to build brand advocates. These advocates actively promote their brand and help grow the brands online presence by extending their consumer reach through liking, sharing and commenting on the content that they provide.
Social media is an interactive platform and the viral nature allows content to be shared with many online communities. Providing great content can be strengthened through encouraging your audience to share, like and comment on your content. Call to actions can be a great way to drive engagement but also to get important feedback and innovative ideas.
The most successful social media pages will be centred on consumer engagement. Conversations can see 1000’s of shares, likes and comments. There are many great examples of health care social media pages where posts on health will receive 1000’s of shares, likes and comments.
Normally there will be a call to action like “tell us what you think” which will see the conversation start. People are much more likely to engage once they know that their opinion matters. Small businesses should adopt a response process ensuring that comments are given feedback.
Social media platforms are much more sophisticated and now allow businesses to run polls and surveys and competitions. These all encourage engagement and participation but also help to get important feedback. As well as creating brand awareness, social media platforms will drive conversations that can be both positive and negative. As communication is transparent, it is important for small businesses to ensure they maintain professionalism at all times whether the comments are positive or negative.
Social media can offer lots of opportunities for small businesses to create better brand awareness and also connect with people that are interested in what they have to say. It would be wise to focus one or two platforms so all efforts can be channelled into building and growing their online communities.
About The Guest Author: Josh Kennedy writes on behalf of Company Formations 24•7 who specialize in setting up new businesses and show you how to register a company name.
Social Media Photo via Shutterstock
May 20th, 2013 at 6:21 am
Budgets are no longer unchanging entities. In the midst of the information age, with transactions moving faster, business spanning the globe, and technology providing helpful tools to re-plan and re-think budgets, many small businesses are adopting a new way of thinking about their financials.
Conventional budgeting wisdom offered this guidance to small business owners: create a budget and don’t stray from it. An article from CFO Magazine points out that traditional budgeting is expensive, time-consuming, and quickly becomes out-of-date within a few months.
The benefits of rolling forecasting are vast, but overall, the methodology allows small (and large) businesses greater ability to adapt to what many people say is a volatile financial environment. Rather than rely on a set annual forecast for the budget, it is a method that enables a company to continuously update their financial plan on a day-by-day basis to fit challenges or opportunities that arise.
If your small business is ready for a new way to think about budgeting, consider three key benefits of rolling forecasting and flexible budgeting:
- It allows you to see past the present fiscal year. Companies can see past the immediate future and think about long-term financial goals. Rolling forecasting is a continual model that adds future periods as time continues – so once a month has passed, an extra month is added to the rolling forecast period. Therefore, the company never reaches “the end” of the budget period.
- It allows for uncertainty. Budgets always make assumptions about a year’s success and many factors that you can’t control. Rolling forecasting allows for a business to get some things wrong and regroup. Business conditions are constantly changing, and in uncertain economic times, businesses need the leeway to be wrong, and the wiggle room to make changes.
- It keeps your data relevant. By focusing on the metrics that drive decision-making and analysis, companies have a better idea of the company’s present situation and don’t get bogged down in irrelevant data.
- It keeps strategy close. Rolling forecasting allows financial managers to analyze strategy constantly and envision scenarios that create new goals and targets.
- It provides a reality check. Budget owners can quickly get a sense for where the budget is at. Rather than adjust numbers to simply meet a year-end goal, budget owners can make decisions based on the company’s present situation and future goals.Ultimately, it allows for innovation.
With many financial managers switching the way they think about budgeting, a small company would be wise to consider rolling forecasting rather than a fixed, traditional budget.
Financial Growth Chart Photo via Shutterstock
About The Guest Author: Brooke McDonald is a writer and blogger for California-based Spicer-Baer Associates, creators of My Department Plan, business budgeting software to help departments effectively track, plan, and report their financial data.
May 17th, 2013 at 6:14 am
For small businesses, deciding which online marketing techniques to use is a daunting task. With many online tools at your disposal, which ones really perform? To find out, we took a look at 15 online marketing tools and their performance rankings by 500 CEOs and other executives in professional services.
Here are the top 5 most effective online marketing techniques:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – While “tagging” a website with the right keywords so that it appears in top Google spots is the broad goal, the key is to focus on crafting informative content.Including keywords in the title of your page and two to three times in the page’s text will help your page rank in Google – but it just doesn’t work unless your content is also useful to your audience.
- Blogging – Blogging is a great way to publish fresh ideas and educational content on a regular basis. It also establishes you/your business as an expert on a particular topic and earns trust from your readers. Blogging goes hand in hand with SEO: well-written content attracts links and can potentially improve your website’s SEO performance.
- Web Analytics – Web analytics help track visitor activity, including web visitors, downloads and form fills. These tools are a must-have for helping you assess what’s working and what’s not in order to improve your site’s overall performance.
- Email Marketing – A great tool to nurture your prospects, email marketing involves cultivating a target list of contacts and periodically reaching out to them with content and offers. This channel helps reach and nurture prospects throughout the buying process.
- White Papers – The idea here is that you’re offering educational content pieces, similar to but more substantial than blog posts. They help earn trust from your readers while increasing your brand’s visibility. In a hands-on sense, white papers help build lists for email marketing purposes.
Focusing on these top 5 online marketing techniques will allow you to nurture your target audience while tracking success along the way. Selecting a few techniques to really dive into as opposed to tackling several at once will reap much higher dividends over time.
About The Guest Author: Elizabeth Harr is a Partner at Hinge and leads the firm’s Technology Services practice. She has participated in several of Hinge’s research projects and has co-authored two reports, Online Marketing for Professional Services: Technology Edition and How Buyers Buy: Technology Edition.
May 15th, 2013 at 6:38 am
We’ve all been there, in today’s world, it’s hard to keep everything going at once. You have tasks from your job, home, kids, personal life, medical appointments, and who knows what else. It can be difficult to manage these tasks, even if you employ an electronic organization system.
One problem with trying to manage so much from one place, is that often you have different programs for each type of task. Your home stuff is under one place, your work stuff under another, and fun stuff under something else. This makes it difficult to manage, and you probably never feel like you have a moment alone anymore.
Your desk is probably both figuratively and literally cluttered with your everyday tasks. If you want to clear your schedule, clean your desk, and make your life easier, try implementing some of these tips into your day.
Organization is the key to keeping your day running smoothly. If you have to worry about missing work meetings, family outings, or daily appointments, you will constantly be distracted from work and have difficulty focusing through the day. The best way to solve this problem is to consolidate everything you have to do in one master list.
Block out time
One method of keeping things straight is the block method. With this method, you focus on one particular task for a particular block of time (say, 2 hours). That way, you put 100 percent of your attention on that task and you don’t have to bounce between different tasks. This ensures you get to everything on your to-do list and have the time to really focus on each task individually.
Creating rules can help you cut down on distractions throughout the day. Create rules for email, such as if you can’t answer it within two minutes then send it to another folder for answering when you have time later. Give each task that you do clear rules as well, such as, deal with all new tasks within three days, or whatever is applicable for your job.
When you end your day at work, try to completely end it for the day. Don’t spend time at home checking work email or thinking about work processes. If you can’t help thinking about work, try writing it down in a note that you can take care of when you return to work.
If you follow these tips, you will feel less overwhelmed at work, and have a clearer desk. You will also be able to enjoy your off time more, because you won’t constantly have to think about things you may have missed at the office. Within a few days, you should see marked improvement in the condition of your desk at work.
About The Guest Author: Nate Miller is a part-time guest-blogger whose main interests are automobiles and racing, with a recent focus on personal development and business. He is constantly extending his fields of interest to incorporate news suggested to him by his readers. He currently works at Domo.
Cluttered Desk Photo via Shutterstock
May 13th, 2013 at 6:18 am
Small business owners are feeling good about 2013 so far and even more optimistic about the year ahead, according to Manta’s Q1 2013 SMB Wellness Index. The survey of over 1,100 small business owners found more than half (56 percent) think the first quarter of 2013 was successful and 79 percent believe the second quarter will be positive for their companies.
While only 17 percent hired new employees in the first quarter of this year, almost one-third (31 percent) plan to do so in Q2. But that’s not where they’re putting most of their money. Thirty-one percent say they plan to invest most of their money on referrals and finding new customers; 26 percent on online advertising and social media; 24 percent on creating new products and services; and 12 percent on traditional advertising and marketing.
With the emphasis on finding new customers, it’s not surprising that small business owners are turning to social media. Some 49 percent have increased their time spent on social media compared to a year ago, and 36 percent of small business owners say their main goal with social media is finding new customers.
About one-third spend one to three hours each week managing their social media channels; 10 percent spend more than 10 hours. Over half (53 percent) report only one person at their companies handles social media; 21 percent say two to five people are involved.
Considering how stretched-thin most small business owners are, it’s no wonder they describe social media as a challenge. Eighteen percent report Facebook is the most difficult platform to maintain, followed by LinkedIn (10 percent) and Twitter (9 percent). Very few small business owners get help from social media experts or consultants, either; instead, they take a DIY approach, with 36 percent using online resources to learn about social media.
Social media use is maturing, with small business owners focusing less on just getting “likes” or followers and more on getting actual results. Some 40 percent of small business owners do report a return on their investment in social media, but it’s still pretty small: Only 30 percent report returns greater than $2,000. Whether that’s because they’re not properly tracking social media’s effect on the sales pipeline or because it’s having little real effect, remains to be seen.
Two areas of opportunity the report brought to my attention:
Mobile: Just 2 percent of SMBs in the study planned to spend most of their dollars on mobile marketing. Mobile isn’t for everyone, but if your business relies on local customers and your customers are tech-savvy, mobile can be one of the smartest ways to spend your money.
Social: One in five SMBs surveyed admit that “no one” handles social media at their companies. Even if you can only invest one hour a week in one social media channel, that’s better than nothing. I can hardly think of any business that wouldn’t benefit from social media to some degree – so if you’re still not in the social media game, it’s time to suit up and get out onto the playing field.
People Running On An Arrow Photo via Shutterstock
May 9th, 2013 at 6:27 am
For cash strapped small businesses social media can be a cheap and effective way to promote your business/brand and increase revenue. At the same time many SMBs don’t properly utilize social media or ignore it altogether. No matter where you fall on this spectrum keep the following dos and don’ts in mind.
- Do set up social accounts on all the relevant social platforms for your business. If you sell hard to find car parts only known only to gearheads, Pinterest is not for you.
- Do use a high quality logo image that is not blurry, stretched nor distorted. Your brand is your livelihood so make it professional regardless of where it appears.
- Do fill out the account details as fully as possible – which means including a name, address and phone number and link where appropriate. These will help build credibility and indirectly in your SEO efforts.
- Do be active on your social profiles. See Don’t #1.
- Do offer promos. If you’re a bricks and mortar location, use these promo efforts to drive foot traffic to your actual store. See Do #13.
- Do use social media tools where possible. See Don’t #4.
- Do have your CEO active on social media, but only if that person is going to be consistent and engaging.
- Do have a specific strategy in place for each platform.
- Do sign up for accounts to reserve your name even if you don’t intend to use them until farther down the road.
- Do look for ways to help others. The law of reciprocity will return the favor someday.
- Do what fits the brand and the brand’s audience not what an outrageous celebrity or self-serving politician might be doing.
- Do explore. But remember that exploring on social media is inherently public. If you need to learn to drive, use individual or less visible accounts to practice until you’re ready to drive for real.
- Do track your ROI. You’re not participating just to participate. Use Analytics and other social media tracking tools to measure against your established KPIs. See Do #8
- Don’t create a social account on every social platform you find just for the sake of doing so.
- Don’t let negative reviews and comments spiral into personal public battles. Rather, view them as opportunities to win new customers and exhibit outstanding customer service.
- Don’t only post promotional and “salesy” updates.
- Don’t ever let your social activity be fully automated or even close to fully automated. Social is called social for a reason.
- Don’t only be active in spurts. Nothing at all is better than once every blue moon.
- Don’t be boring and corporate.
- Don’t fear social media.
- Don’t spend so much time on social media that you ignore real people and real events. See Do #5.
- Don’t bother to buy fake followers, likes, or fans. Real people drive results not bots.
- Don’t try to hit daily quotas. There is no magic number. Be social.
About The Guest Author: Dustin Heap is a digital marketer at Signs.com. Signs.com is an online sign company that can design and produce your sign regardless of whether it’s a wall or window decal, yard sign or exterior business banner.
Networking Signs Photo via Shutterstock
May 6th, 2013 at 6:52 am
The Internet has opened more doors for growth than business owners may realize. Global trade was once thought of as an exotic or inefficient way to do business, but in today’s tech-savvy world, communication with someone on the other side of the planet is as simple as turning on a computer. As the nation’s economic recovery slowly gains momentum, small business owners are finding that working with international partners can help their enterprises stay strong during tough times.
With the new opportunities global markets provide, small businesses often see job growth and productivity increase by up to 20 percent. And it’s not just the company that benefits, but the whole community – working with an offshore manufacturing partner can actually create more jobs at home.
As an exporting venture grows, it needs more in-house support. In fact, exporting supports millions of U.S. jobs, while importing improves the quality of products and services offered, gives you freedom of choice and offers purchasing power.
Choosing a Global Market
As a Global Trade Counselor certified by the U.S. Small Business Administration and a NASBITE-certified Global Business Professional, I help a lot of small business owners build and navigate global relationships. I often share with entrepreneurs some of the pitfalls and best practices I learned through my experiences offshoring products to China.
Understand your market’s infrastructure, and put a strategy in place. While a prospective market may offer attractive rates, tariffs and low labor costs, consider how easy it will actually be to get your goods to and from destinations. Develop a thorough understanding of the market’s airports, ports and ground transportation.
Look at trade trends and growing economies. Your global partner should be in a country that makes doing business simple. As you consider potential global partners, take a look at national import trends. The countries with the most opportunity tend to be those that show a steady increase in imports over time. It is best to find a country whose per capita income is rising at the same time that its imports are rising.
Find a workforce that’s right for you. It’s important that the workforce you choose meet the needs of your company. For example, you may need staff that speaks a certain language or possesses certain skill sets. Another consideration is staff size – a workforce that’s too small could cause production delays.
Audit the factory you choose. It’s never safe to assume the factory you are working with is representing itself honestly. I once audited a factory I was considering, only to discover its “workforce” was really a small one-man shop within four walls and a tarp for a roof. Thus, the only way to ensure a factory truly meets your qualifications is to perform on-site audit.
In this venture, your greatest ally is an independent Supplier Quality Engineer (SQE) with auditing experience, product knowledge and experience with relevant manufacturing processes. In addition to the initial audit, you should also schedule follow-up inspections to ensure the quality and safety of your goods.
Establishing Global Relationships
Like doing business at home, forming key relationships abroad can help ensure quality control. I personally advise extending this type of professional relationship beyond the telephone and email inbox to include face-to-face meetings whenever possible. While this does mean a lot of traveling on your part, building such a relationship automatically puts you in the know if there’s a crisis. It also helps protect your company’s image, intellectual property and interests.
If you don’t speak the language of the country in which you are doing business, hire the assistance of a resident professional negotiator, such a lawyer, who also speaks English. I always use a negotiator in China because it assures that my company’s goals will be understood and met – and that the information relayed to me doesn’t get lost in translation.
If you’re ready to expand your business, it’s time to go global. With today’s enhanced technologies and services, the trading arena for small business owners is brilliantly dexterous.
About The Guest Author: Michael Bloom is President of Sinotech in Portland, Oregon, which has been engineering and supplying custom mechanical and electromechanical parts to clients across the globe for over 20 years. Michael is certified by the U.S. Small Business Administration as a Global Trade Counselor and by NASBITE International as a Certified Global Business Professional (CGBP).
Global Network of People Photo via Shutterstock
May 2nd, 2013 at 6:04 am
When you own a business, or hold an executive position within a startup, keeping up with your brand and all of its working parts can be a heavy responsibility. In fact, it’s much like being a head coach. Your business team requires training, nurturing, direction and encouragement to reach its fullest potential.
A good head coach knows how to surround himself with assistants, specialists and equipment that enhance the team’s performance. A good executive will do likewise for his business by utilizing technology to track data and minimize human interference. For example, electronic content management (ECM) can help manage office operations, while raising employee skills and productivity; ultimately helping the business to perform at its best.
Just as the coach looks to his playbook to ensure the team’s success, ECM provides the tools to drive your document-driven processes, while keeping the content safe and secure. As a result, the company is able to focus on critical strategies rather than wasting valuable resources on tedious work.
Cloud-based ECM systems can support your company’s coaching staff with the following benefits:
Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (The Coach)
Coaches prepare the team for any and every situation. Likewise, business managers use cloud-based ECM systems to prepare for and protect files/documents for any form of business interruption. From coffee spills to widespread natural disasters, your business is ready to withstand virtually form of business interruption.
Since ECM allows documents to be stored in the cloud rather than in filling cabinets, they’re automatically protected from any physical harm! In the event of a disaster, your business will be ready to continue as soon as you are.
Security (The GM)
GM’s ensure that players are athletically sound and capable of supporting the team, creating a sense of security. Similarly, ECM provides multiple levels of security to make certain that only those individuals with user permissions are accessing sensitive documents.
Since business files contain valuable intellectual property and personal information, maintaining security is critical. ECM preserves this through strict user permissions, state of the art data center management and audit trail reporting.
Visibility (The Playbook)
If executed correctly, the playbook contains the instructions to guide the team’s success. Likewise, ECM systems help guide your document-driven processes through your organization. If implemented correctly, cloud-based ECM systems provide a huge advantage for streamlining workflow and improving employee productivity.
In addition, the ability to quickly retrieve ‘big data’ from anywhere in the world using a mobile or desktop device with internet connectivity enables your business to succeed and compete on multiple levels.
Overall, a cloud-based ECM system’s ability to deliver an action plan for business continuity, disaster recovery, security and visibility makes it the perfect ‘support solution’ for managers of any business. With ECM, you’ll field a winning team!
About The Guest Author: Jeff Frankel is Vice President of Business Development and Marketing at docSTAR, a B2B software firm specializing in cloud document management solutions and business process automation. He has more than two decades experience in corporate business development, working with industry-leading firms including Authentidate Holding Corp, Med-Flash, Health Focus of NY, and Ernst & Young. Jeff offers innovative perspectives on streamlining business for improved efficiency and productivity. You can follow Jeff and the docSTAR team on Twitter, @docSTARsoftware.
Document Server Photo via Shutterstock
April 29th, 2013 at 6:25 am
Loans are an integral part of all businesses big or small. In times of financial needs these loans can help the businesses to keep their doors open. A business can require financial assistance for various different reasons and at different phases of its life cycle.
You might need a loan for starting up your dream project or to expand and modernize or to recover from a financial wreck caused due to unforeseen situations, the reasons are plenty. However, understanding the need for a loan and how the money would add to the prospects of your business is of utmost importance.
There are plenty of sources of finance available to meet your needs.
There are the traditional sources of funding like traditional commercial loans from the banks, Grants offered by the government for various categories and for various reasons, loan guarantees by the SBA (Small Business Administration), and non-traditional sources like friends and family, angel investors, merchant cash advances etc.
There is no dearth of channels of funding; however, one should be wary of indulging in meaningless borrowing because if these funds are not utilised in a proper way, it might lead the business into a pit of financial uncertainties in due course of time.
Knowing why you need funds is very important.
If you are facing difficulties in meeting the day to day expenses of your business, then something might be fundamentally wrong with operations. You might want to analyse the reasons for these irregularities rather than immediately applying for a loan. Cutting down the workforce or making an upgrade in the technology might help.
Apply for a loan only if you think your business really requires it. Remember that all loans need to be paid back with an added interest. As far as possible, try to resolve the issues without taking loans. You might be denied of a loan when you really need it in the future because of the existing loan riding on your business, so be careful.
Having said that, sometimes a small business loan is necessary and it’s important to understand what you’re committing to. Study the rate of interest and the time of repayment carefully.
Ask yourself if you can generate enough revenue to pay back the loan amount in the committed time frame, failing which foreclosure might be imminent. And above all whether the small business loan extended to you would help you in achieving the goals you have set for yourself.
The type of loan to be applied for will vary depending on the nature and the need for your business. If your business is seasonal you might want to go for short term loans and if you have a rotational business you might go for a long term loan. Therefore it is important to understand the nature of your business before applying for a business loan.
Similarly you should also be able to judge the efficiency of your workforce and production capacity of your business because those are the primary factors that will help you in achieving your goals in time and generating profits to pay back the loan. If you trust your workforce and have faith in them, a loan would not prove to be a burden.
Keeping all the above mentioned points in mind you should develop a sound business strategy before getting into any kind of financial assistance. If you approach financing in the right way, your small business will grow in leaps and bounds.
About The Guest Author: Founded in 2007, Biz2Credit is a leading small business loan marketplace connecting small- and medium-sized businesses with lenders, service providers, and complementary business tools. Visit the Biz2Credit website and follow them on Twitter @Biz2Credit for small business news and updates.
Lend and Borrow Keys Photo via Shutterstock