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// by Rieva Lesonsky / Jul. 28, 2015 0 comments
Social Media Marketing

If you had any doubts that small business owners have wholeheartedly adopted social media marketing, the seventh annual Social Media Marketing Industry Report should dispel them. A whopping 96 percent of the marketers, business owners and sole proprietors Social Media Examiner surveyed use social media marketing; of those, 92 percent agree or strongly agree that it’s important for their businesses.

Some 93 percent of respondents use Facebook, while 79 percent use Twitter. Also high on the list are LinkedIn (used by 71 percent), Google+ (used by 56 percent), and YouTube (55 percent). However, Pinterest is strongly represented (45 percent) and 36 percent of respondents use Instagram.

Asked what their number-one social media channel is, 41 percent of B2B respondents choose LinkedIn and 65 percent of B2C companies choose Facebook.

Areas for Improvement

There’s still room for growth in the use of social media marketing. In the next 12 months, two-thirds of respondents plan to increase their marketing efforts on Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. And despite the predominance of Facebook, more than six in 10 respondents say they’ll use Facebook even more for marketing in the coming year.

For very small businesses, LinkedIn could be one potential area for growth. While 71 percent of companies with 100 or more employees use YouTube for marketing, just 38 percent of self-employed entrepreneurs do.  

Marketers still have a ways to go in measuring the results of their social media marketing efforts. For instance, only 36 percent say their Facebook marketing is effective, while 35 percent don’t know if it is, and 19 percent say it isn’t.

Perhaps this is why the vague term “increased exposure” is ranked as the top benefit of social media marketing, cited by 90 percent of respondents.

However, 77 percent cite the measurable benefit of increased traffic to their websites, 65 percent say social media marketing generates leads, 58 percent say it boosts their business’s ranking in search results and 51 percent say it improves sales.

Less-tangible results such as developing loyal fans (69 percent) and providing insights into the marketplace (68 percent) were also cited as valuable.

Make the Most of Your Time

The amount of time social media requires is a big concern for marketers in the survey—and one every busy business owner can relate to. One-third of marketers say they spend 1-5 hours a week on social media, but 25 percent spend 6-10 hours per week, and 22 percent spend 11-20. That’s a lot of time! However, small business owners in the survey say it’s worth it. Half say social media marketing helps cut their marketing expenses—a considerable benefit for a small business on a budget.

One way to make the most of your social media time is to determine which social network attracts the most valuable users. After doing this, you can focus on providing the best content to attract those users.

Some 45 percent of respondents say blogging is their most important form of content—above visuals (cited by 34 percent) and videos (19 percent). Apparently, consumers are doing more extensive research than ever before making a purchase, so they are gravitating to blogs, which provide more information than a photo or short video can.

Need help getting a grip on your social media marketing plan for the coming year? The experts at SCORE can guide you. Visit www.score.org to get matched with a mentor and start getting business advice today. 

Rieva Lesonsky
Columnist and CEO
GrowBiz Media
Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship. She was formerly Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine and has written several books about small business and entrepreneurship. 
// by Community Merchants USA / Jul. 27, 2015 0 comments
Chip Readers

Is your small business prepared for the upcoming migration to EMV credit and debit cards? EMV (an acronym for Europay, MasterCard and Visa) is a new, worldwide technology standard that is intended to help prevent credit and debit card fraud by enabling more secure in-person transactions. And as of October 1, 2015, businesses of all sizes will be required to have technology in place to accept the new EMV credit cards, or face the risk of being held liable for credit card fraud that occurs at their businesses. That means you!

Unlike today’s credit and debit cards, which have a magnetic stripe that users swipe in a payment terminal, EMV cards have a chip embedded in them. The user “dips” the card in the terminal, where it stays during the transaction. The chip creates a unique transaction code for that transaction that can’t be used again. Unlike the information on a magnetic stripe, this one-time code is much less likely to be stolen. The user accepts the transaction by either inputting a PIN or signing.

EMV cards have many benefits. Once they understand how the new cards work and that they are more secure, your customers will appreciate the security. Your business will be less liable to debit and credit card fraud, which lowers your costs. The EMV standard has already been adopted or is being adopted by more than 80 countries worldwide, and nations where it’s being used have seen payment card fraud drop dramatically.

Clearly, the EMV standard is a good thing for consumers and businesses alike. However, if you want to be compliant with the new EMV standard, you need to get moving, because your point-of-sale (POS) system must be ready to accept EMV cards by October 1. But in a recent survey by Intuit, almost half of small businesses had never heard about the EMV transition deadline, and fewer than half were planning to make the switch to EMV technology.

Don’t be one of them! Start by contacting the payment processing company that provides your current POS. If the system is relatively new, it might already be EMV compliant once that feature is switched on. If not, you may need to upgrade to a new POS; your provider will be able to tell you.

While you’re at it, talk to your provider about getting a terminal that can accept other types of payment technologies such as NFC (near field communications) and Apple Pay and other mobile wallets. For example, the Clover Mini terminal, sold by a wide range of major banks, offers businesses the flexibility to accept a variety of payments options including EMV (both chip and PIN and chip and signature), NFC (Apple Pay™) transactions, cash, credit, debit, and prepaid. After all, the more current features you get now, the fewer upgrades you’ll have to make later.

Along with the new POS hardware, make sure that any software you use related to your POS (such as inventory or loyalty software) will work with the new terminal.

If your payment processing provider isn’t helpful or responsive in getting you the information and upgrades you need, look for a new one without delay. Now is a good time to do so—with the EMV transition around the corner, there are plenty of attractive offers out there. For example, Square is offering its customers a free EMV reader and Intuit is offering an EMV reader for $30

Don’t wait too long to start the upgrade process; in addition to getting the new POS terminals installed, you’ll need to train your employees on how to use them and make sure everything is working properly before October 1.

Community Merchants USA
SCORE Corporate Patron

Community Merchants USA (CMUSA) is a complete resource for navigating the world of payment card acceptance to add the most value to your business. CMUSA is an educational nonprofit 501(c)(6) project of the electronic payments industry. Our site provides educational resources and tools about the evolving world of payment card acceptance.
communitymerchantsusa.com| Facebook | @MainStPayments​ | More from CMUSA

// by Community Merchants USA / Jul. 24, 2015 0 comments
EMV Card

Do you know about the upcoming migration to EMV payment cards? Although this transition, which takes place October 1, 2015, will affect any small business that accepts credit or debit cards in person, almost half of small business owners in a survey by Intuit had never heard about it, and just 42 percent were planning to switch to EMV technology.

Unfortunately, 85 percent of the business owners who said they were not planning to switch weren’t aware that this could put their business at risk. If your company is not using EMV compliant point-of-sale terminals by October 1, you may be liable if certain types of credit card fraud occur as a result of a transaction with your business.

EMV, which stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, is a global credit card standard that works to make in-person card transactions more secure. The standard is already in use or being adopted in more than 80 countries worldwide, and has greatly decreased incidence of payment card fraud in countries where it’s been adopted. Unlike most current credit and debit cards, which store sensitive customer data in a magnetic strip, EMV cards have tiny embedded chips. When the card is inserted in a card reader, the chip generates a unique code for each transaction. The code is only used once, making it difficult to steal. Further enhancing security, users must either sign or input a PIN to approve the transaction.

In October 2014, President Obama issued an executive order calling for tougher security measures for consumer finances and requiring U.S. government payment card issuers to issue EMV cards by October 2015. The technology has many benefits, including lessening the risk of payment card fraud for both consumers and businesses, and making consumers feel more secure about making purchases in stores that accept EMV payment cards.

Here are some important steps to take in order to transition to your business:

First, in order to accept EMV payment cards, your business will need EMV enabled point-of-sale terminals and software. Start by contacting the provider of your current point-of-sale terminals to see if they need upgrading or replacement. If your machines are fairly new, they may have EMV capability that just needs to be turned on.

Also be sure to find out whether the POS-related software you currently use will work with the new EMV technology. They, too, may need upgrades or replacement.

The earlier you begin this process, the better. For one thing, you’ll need some time to train your employees in the new system (and learn to use it yourself). For another, payment card processors are currently offering some great deals for merchants who upgrade or replace their terminals with EMV-enabled models. (To avoid having to upgrade again in the near future, see if you can obtain terminals that will work with other new payment technology, such as NFC payment methods like Apple Pay and other mobile wallets.)

Now is also a good time to look for a new payment card processor if you’re unhappy with your current provider or if they are not helpful in transitioning your business to EMV compliance. Compare plan features, upfront costs and ongoing fees to make sure you get the best option for your business.

There are many resources available to provide information and guidance in making the transition to chip technology.

The more you know about EMV readiness, the easier the transition will be.

Community Merchants USA
SCORE Corporate Patron

Community Merchants USA (CMUSA) is a complete resource for navigating the world of payment card acceptance to add the most value to your business. CMUSA is an educational nonprofit 501(c)(6) project of the electronic payments industry. Our site provides educational resources and tools about the evolving world of payment card acceptance.
communitymerchantsusa.com| Facebook | @MainStPayments​ | More from CMUSA

// by Judy Milner / Jul. 23, 2015 0 comments
Small Business Owner

For small business owners, there are two different categories of time – clock time and real time. Sometimes it feels like there is not enough real time to get things done and effectively manage a business. The truth is for small business owners, time is irrelevant.  It’s all about doing what you need to and when you need to in order to meet the needs of the current project, product or customer.

As Vice President of Operational Support at The UPS Store and a former owner of multiple franchise businesses, I’m no stranger to the challenges of running a small business. From my experience running a business, I’ve developed the following tips to help run your business and operate efficiently.

  • Manage your time. Real time is hard to come by and it’s easy to get interrupted and lose focus on the task at hand. Set aside blocks of time during the week to catch up and consider which tasks can be delegated to be most effective. For example, administrative tasks with no immediate deadlines can be delegated or scheduled at times outside of peak hours.  It can be difficult to find the time, but it’s important to schedule time to make sure you are working on your business in addition to in your business.
  • Use your resources effectively. It’s important to be confident in those things you do well, and realize there are resources to help with those parts of running a business that are not as comfortable. Invest in the equipment you need to help get your business off to a good start.  If you don’t have the equipment in-house, look for accessible resources like The UPS Store that can help with services needed to run your business such as packing, shipping, printing, and other business service needs. We often hear about the importance of time management, and learning more about available resources can help us better manage our time. 
  • Utilize your employees. Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks to employees. What you as a small business owner can’t forget is that delegating helps save you time, provides an opportunity for you to focus on your many other tasks and helps to ensure you keep your priorities in order. You can always start with delegating small tasks and increase the level of responsibility over time so that you can build confidence and trust together.
  • Promote a positive work environment and communicate. Surround yourself with good people, and take the time to engage and build a rapport with your team. Have established standards and clearly communicate your company’s vision through goals and objectives that help empower your staff. A simple tip – set up a standing meeting for coffee or lunch with individual employees. It seems simple, however, it’s often times the simple things that presents opportunities to engage with your team –to find out where things are at, what’s on their mind and keep aware of   any issues.  This also provides an informal surrounding that makes it comfortable for them to open up and share. When you and your employees are all committed and focused on the target, you have a higher probability of achieving it.
  • Use mistakes and setbacks to implement positive change. Understand that mistakes are going to happen.  Use these setbacks as an opportunity to help improve your business. Incorporate your learnings into updates in your instructions and policies going forward.

Some days might seem longer or shorter than others, but with effective and efficient time management, you can maximize those 24 hours to their full potential. Planning is key and will allow you to be productive with the management of your business. Implementing daily habits to improve your efficiency will not only help with the day-to-day tasks, but also with your sustained success looking forward. It’s never too late to make those operation decisions and updates within your business to ensure both current and future success. 

Judy Milner
Vice President of Operational Support
UPS Store

Judy Milner joined The UPS Store, Inc. in 1988 and held various positions including accounts receivable manager, audit manager, revenue accounting manager, area operations support and director of operations. In 1997, Milner became the Area Franchisee in Northern Virginia and for the next 13 years, Milner, along with her husband, became multiple area franchisees and multiple center owners. In 2013, Milner was appointed to vice president of operational support. 
The UPS Store | @TheUPSStore | Facebook

// by Wendy Johnson / Jul. 22, 2015 0 comments
Content Tricks

What does it take to look like a content pro? A great subject and well written text is a start.

But content that really shines and looks like the work of a professional offers that little something extra: an intriguing title, visual branding, clear organization, and outside support for its points.

With a few simple content tricks, your content will shine like the pros, even if you’re just getting started. Think of these tips and tricks as keyboard shortcuts to boost your article’s professionalism.

Create a Title Image

For each article you write, create an image that includes the title of the article. Period. End of story.

If you aren’t currently doing this, you are making it hard for your readers to share your content on social media. Social media has made a big swing toward visual content with the rise of Instagram and Pinterest, and even the 140 character based Twitter finally displays uploaded images within tweets rather than as attachments.

To share your content on Pinterest and Instagram, you must have an image. And Facebook and Twitter users are more likely to pay attention if you include an image rather than just text and the link to your article. Don’t miss out on an easy opportunity to get noticed, shared, and remembered by your audience.

In addition to making your content shareable via social media, your article images are a branding tool. Don’t make them all the same, but do try to use consistent typefaces and colors. Place them near the top of your post every time. Creating this consistency builds trust and recognition that leads your audience to view you as an authority.

Write Killer Titles

Like your image, your title is a major factor in your audience’s first perceptions of your content. You have 8 seconds to make a good first impression and entice your readers to keep reading. A strong title and image works hard to grab their attention and keep them reading your carefully crafted words.

Fortunately there is a great tool to help you figuring out if you have a killer title or not. The American Marketing institute developed the EMV headline analyzer. The Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) is a calculation of how many words in your title are known to evoke emotion from readers. The higher your EMV score, the more emotionally compelling your title is. But this isn’t just a fuzzy concept: posts with higher EMVs perform better than posts with lower ones.

Take the title of this post for example. I had a few others in mind and ran them all through the EMV calculator:

  • 5 Content Tricks to Amplify Your Article’s Professionalism, EMV 37.5%
  • 5 Simple Content Hacks to Make Your Writing Ooze Professionalism, EMV 30%
  • 5 Simple Content Hacks to Make Your Writing Astonishingly Professional, EMV 40%
  • 5 Content Tricks to Take Your Writing From Basic to Professional, EMV 27%

My winning title scored 50%. Typically a title that scores 30 to 40 percent is a solid, engaging choice.

Use Sub Headings

Readers need to be able to quickly see your main points. Why? Because readers scan content; they don’t read word-for-word. Sub headings essentially show the flow of your content and outline your main points. Sub headings allow readers to effectively scan your content and get value..

Sub headings do more than just help you avoid the appearance of info dump. They also make your article look shorter. Have you ever looked at a huge chunk of unbroken text and just felt your brain give up then and there? Be considerate to your readers and do the organizing and outlining for them by consistently using sub headings.

Keep Your Paragraphs Short

Have you ever read an article that you didn’t realize was 3,000 words until you were finished? It was probably broken up into small, palatable paragraphs. Short paragraphs keep even the longest article from feeling intimidating.

Info dumps and long paragraphs are a sign of disorganized thoughts. Short paragraphs make you appear organized and professional. Short paragraphs are also much easier to read on a smartphone or tablet.

While you are keeping it short, keep your sentences concise as well. Your words may be complex but your sentences need to be short and easier to digest.

Use Sources to Support Your Ideas

Of course you need to link to your sources to avoid plagiarism. But do you realize that using sources also helps you look like a real expert? This is a tip that I picked up in college. Linking to your sources proves that you are an expert in your field by showing that 1.) You are well read in your field of expertise and 2.) Your content isn’t just personal opinion and conjecture (source).

Using a source isn’t a crutch or a sign that you aren’t creative. In fact, it helps show that you are creative: you’ve read other great pieces of content and were able to synthesize and link it back to your unique ideas.

For your next article I encourage you to use each of these five tricks to make your content really stand out and shine. 

Wendy Johnson
Content Strategist
KapowContent.com

As a sought after messaging and content strategist, Wendy Johnson helps companies connect with customers via targeted content and social media. She shares how she does it at KapowContent.com. Join her 28 Day Writing Challenge and connect with her on Facebook.
KapowContent.com | Facebook | @kapowcontent | More from Wendy

// by Rieva Lesonsky / Jul. 21, 2015 0 comments
Smart Sales Idea

I was researching software the other day when I came across an interesting way of making a sale that stopped me in my tracks (no pun intended). The website for time tracking software provider Toggl shows three levels of product pricing—but they put the most expensive level first (check it out on the Toggl pricing page).

Offering different pricing for different service levels is a tactic that many small businesses already use to attract more customers, but Toggl’s move is super smart. Our eyes naturally start reading on the left side of the page (or website). However, most websites that offer three levels of product pricing start with “free” on the left side, moderate pricing in the middle and the highest price on the right. That means people look at the free version first, and if it has everything they need, they’re likely to just briefly scan the higher-priced options, if they look at them at all.

By putting the highest-priced level where we’re most likely to look at it first, Toggl is subtly “selling us” on all the features that come with their paid package. When you see all the things you can get for just a little bit of money, you’re less likely to even bother looking at the free version. And even if you do check out the free option, it probably sounds chintzy to you now.  

What can you learn from Toggl’s savvy sales tactic? Here are three lessons that come to mind:

1. Don’t be afraid to try something different. Lots of small business owners get intimidated by the idea of innovation, thinking you have to be a Steve Jobs-level genius to do it right. But thinking different doesn’t necessarily mean you have to throw all the rules out the window—just a few of them. Toggl’s website uses the same basic format hundreds of other software-as-a-service sites do, but has one important difference. Tweaking your “same old same old” just a little bit can have big results.

2. Stay one step ahead of the pack. If everyone else starts putting their most expensive package where customers see it first—or promoting their highest service level from the get-go, instead of starting with the “basic package” and adding on—Toggl’s tactic will inevitably lose some of its effectiveness. But for now, they’ve got an edge on their competitors by doing it this way. Keep your eyes on your competition, monitor their moves and be willing to zig when they zag.

3. Test and re-test. The Internet offers even the smallest business the ability to constantly test, improve and upgrade everything from its business website and product offerings to its marketing methods, timing and message. Take advantage of this flexibility to try different things and see what gets the best response from your customers. If something works, great—if not, try a different approach. There’s no longer any excuse to settle for the status quo or to accept “average” sales as the best you can do.  

Need more help shaking your business up a bit? Talking to a SCORE mentor can give you some great ideas. Visit www.score.org to get matched with a mentor today and get free business advice 24/7. 

Rieva Lesonsky
Columnist and CEO
GrowBiz Media
Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship. She was formerly Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine and has written several books about small business and entrepreneurship. 
// by Jeanne Rossomme / Jul. 20, 2015 0 comments
Meetings

I have to admit that my first inclination in writing a title to this piece was “Meetings that don’t suck the life from your brain and leave you wanting to bang your head on the table”, but that title was too long and may get me in trouble.  But I am sure I am not alone (unfortunately) in the sentiment, or the all-too-often experience of being stuck for HOURS in a meeting that goes nowhere and feels like complete torture. 

One of the reasons I started my own business was to spend more time adding value, and less time in dead end corporate meetings.  But after years of being a business owner and working with business owners, I realize that this problem has not gone away.  It has just taken other forms.  Instead of big team meetings in a conference room, it might be phone calls with prospects or vendors, or Skype meetings with developers on a web project.  The end result is the same – nothing seems to get done with precious time and opportunity cost wasting away.

So, I decided to create a one-page cheat sheet to ensure that my meetings were at least not part of the problem.  Spend 3-5 minutes filling this out and your meetings are much more likely to be productive and energizing for all participants.

  • What is the Purpose of this Meeting?  This is honestly THE most important question to have clear in everyone’s mind.  What do you want to walk away with at the end of the meeting?  Buy-in? A plan? A decision? Communication of important information?  Put it in writing and give it to everyone in advance so that you at least begin with the end in mind.
  • Stick to a time schedule and agenda.  The minute you start or end late, it gives the signal to all members that time (yours and theirs) is not that important.  Very quickly, members will arrive late, leave early, check out during the meeting or not participate at all.  If you clearly stick to the goal, agenda and time, you will get in turn get respect and an effective team.
  • Set up Ground Rules.  Each person enters a meeting with his own agenda, and pre-conceptions.  Setting up Ground Rules first thing allows each person to “reset” and get to the task at hand.  It also gives you the power to get things back on track – you get to point to the rules and not the person.
  • Who needs to be there?  You need a meeting facilitator and a scribe.  After that, who really needs to be in the meeting in order to accomplish the goal you set in Step 1?  If someone is only needed for a part of the agenda (such as approval or an update), invite her for just a portion of the meeting.
  • Put it in writing.  Document the purpose and your agenda.  During the meeting, note resources needed and next steps.  Additional ideas or discussions that may be valuable but not part of this specific meeting can be entered into a “parking lot”.
  • Have a follow-up process.  What happens as a next step?  What will be the follow up to ensure that the commitments members made will actually get done.  Leave a few minutes before the end to make sure that is clear and on everyone’s calendar.

Click here for a copy of SCORE’s Succcessful Meeting Guide.

Jeanne Rossomme
President
RoadMap Marketing

Jeanne uses her 20 years of marketing know-how to help small business owners reach their goals. Before becoming an entrepreneur, she held a variety of marketing positions with DuPont and General Electric. Jeanne regularly hosts online webinars and workshops in both English and Spanish.
www.roadmapmarketing.com | @roadmapmarketin | More from Jeanne

// by Bridget Weston Pollack / Jul. 17, 2015 0 comments
Marketing

Creating a business requires endurance, creativity, passion, money and of course, customers! Devising a marketing strategy to reach those customers is just one step on your entrepreneurial journey. 

SCORE has partnered with Canon to develop the “Simple Steps for Starting Your Business” program, and the third course, “Simple Steps for Starting Your Business: Module 3 - Creating Your Marketing Plan,” details how to communicate with your customers. The online class explains how to analyze your competition, create a product and service description, define a pricing strategy, identify target markets and channels and write a marketing message.

To help inform your marketing efforts, establish a brand identity. This is the image of your business or how you want your business to be known. Are you a colorful daycare center, trendy beauty salon or family pizza place? Also, thoroughly analyze the following factors to create an effective marketing strategy:

  • Competition: Research your competitors’ marketing plans. What marketing methods do they use?  Are you selling similar products or do you offer a wider variety? Do they charge more or less? 
  • Product and services description: Determine how your product or service stands out in your industry. What are its special benefits and unique features? How does it fulfill a need? What are the production and delivery specifications? Be sure to protect intellectual property and acquire any special permits if needed.
  • Pricing strategy: What is the market price of your product? Will you sell a premium product compared to your competitors? Will you offer discounts or special offers? Monitor and update prices based on customer demand, competition and other factors in your industry.
  • Target channel: This is the path of goods to your customer. Selling to another business is called business-to-business or B2B. Selling directly to customers is B2C. You can also sell via a retailer. Will you offer your product in a brick and mortar location and/or online? 
  • Target markets: Define demographics such as gender, income and geography. What do they buy? Where do they shop and how often? How much do they spend? Do they purchase online or in stores? Is the market size growing or declining? 

Marketing message and methods

Now it’s time to collate your research and create a marketing message. This message incorporates all the elements of your brand in one paragraph. It includes how your product/service fulfills customer’s needs, its unique features, target market, etc.

Here’s an example of a marketing message:

“Ann’s Nursery (business) offers to discerning growers and gardeners (target markets) high-quality ornamental trees, shrubs and vines (products) backed by well-known horticulturalist Dr. Ann Murphy; a ‘guarantee to grow’; and extended plant care documentation (unique features).”

Use your brand identity and marketing message to determine the best marketing methods. They include:

  • Print materials, such as business cards, flyers, brochures and newspaper ads
  • Advertising on media such as radio and television 
  • Product samples and special offers
  • Signage
  • Online marketing, such as website, email marketing, blog and social media

Marketing is about creating a buzz around your small business and strengthening your brand identity. For more tips, watch the entire “Simple Steps for Starting Your Business: Module 3 - Creating Your Marketing Plan” online workshop. Download the “Simple Steps for Starting Your Business” workbook and be sure to complete the entire program. Don’t forget to talk to a SCORE mentor to form a marketing strategy specialized for your business.

Bridget Weston Pollack
Vice President of Marketing & Communications
SCORE
Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing & Communications at the SCORE Association. In this role, Bridget is responsible for all branding, marketing, PR, and communication efforts. She focuses on implementing marketing plans and strategies for the organization to facilitate the growth of SCORE’s mentoring and trainings services.
// by Hal Shelton / Jul. 16, 2015 0 comments
Accountant

It’s easy to think of accounting or recordkeeping as a “necessary evil,” created and maintained to satisfy government reporting — primarily taxes.

But the fact is that beyond being something you’re required to be doing under the law, accounting and recordkeeping systems are created for you to make informed customer, marketing, pricing, and vendor-related decisions.

In this post, you will learn the tasks associated with a company’s accounting and recordkeeping system, considerations regarding who should do the work, and the differences between an accountant and a bookkeeper.

We’ll also help answer an important question — should you hire an accountant?

Accounting Tasks

Successfully managing a small business involves managing your cash. Your accounting system is critical for knowing how much cash you have in the bank each evening and if you can meet your expected expenses.

Three general activities are required for setting up and maintaining an effective accounting and recordkeeping system.

1. Setting up the system: Creating a process to track transactions and make projections can be accomplished using a notebook, spreadsheets, or accounting software.

2. Entering transactions: Transactions entered may include sales made, cost of materials purchased, employee compensation and benefits, hours worked, rent, IT, insurance, office supplies, and other expenses paid.

3. Reporting actual results or the projections of future results: Reports may cover the status of potential customers, sales made, sales made where customers have not yet paid, expense comparisons with the budget and same period last year, all sorts of tax reports, financial statements, and information needed to satisfy bank loan covenants.

To Outsource or Not?

When you set up your business, one of your first decisions is to determine who should handle these accounting activities. The three choices are to do it yourself, assign someone on your team to do it, or to outsource to a bookkeeper or accountant. Often with a start-up, you are the only employee and there are limited funds available, so initially the founder frequently does all the bookkeeping.

As soon as you have sufficient discretionary funds, you can consider outsourcing the task. The key is to decide if bookkeeping is the best use of your time.

You started your business because you are good at selling, developing apps, manufacturing a product, consulting, or whatever other activities produce sales. Is it more valuable to spend your time producing sales or doing bookkeeping? Unless you are in the financial services sector, it is unlikely accounting is your strength.

If you decide to outsource, there are two types of financial professionals to consider: a certified public accountant (CPA) and a bookkeeper. Each has vastly different skills and rates, and you will want to retain both, but for different tasks.

Certified Public Accountant

A CPA has been certified by a state examining board as having met the state’s legal requirements. These professionals are granted certain responsibilities by statute, such as the ability to certify financial statements, and may be held liable for professional misconduct.

Accountants, like doctors and other professionals, are both generalists and specialists. Accounting specialties include tax accounting, mergers and acquisitions, and nonprofits. You need to find the right match for your needs; at first this will mostly be general accounting work,

Depending on the market and work complexity, CPAs may charge $100 to $300 an hour. So, it makes the most sense to hire an accountant only for complex or high-value projects, such the quarterly financial reports (especially if you are required to give these to a bank or under a government contract), tax filings, ongoing or case-specific advisory services, or the financial section of your business plan. Until your company reaches several million dollars in sales, it is more economical to outsource these tasks rather having a full-time accountant. 

To find a CPA, word of mouth is best. Alternatively, check out these two sites CPAdirectory (www.cpadirectory.com) and the National Society of Accountants (www.nsacct.org/).

Bookkeeper

Performing basic, day-to-day activities is best left to a bookkeeper. These tasks include gathering employee timesheets, submitting purchase-order invoices for you to pay, collecting customer payments, preparing bank deposit statements, and entering all the transaction information into your accounting and recordkeeping system.

Depending on the market and tasks assigned, a bookkeeper charges $25 to $35 an hour. Many small businesses retain a part-time bookkeeper to help set up their accounting system and enter all the transactions, until business growth justifies a full-time position. Even if you decide to do the bookkeeping yourself, you still may want a bookkeeper to help you set up the accounting system.

Bookkeepers with knowledge of other similar businesses will know which categories of revenue and expense are typical in your industry to track and report, thus saving research time and ensuring your system is set up most effectively.

To find a bookkeeper, ask an accountant for recommendations of bookkeepers they have worked with and vetted. You can also place ads in your local paper, on Craigslist or other such forums, or go to the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers.

Don’t Outsource It and Forget It

Consider outsourcing to an accountant and/or bookkeeper if you do not have the time, skills, or inclination to do this work. However, bear in mind, this is not a situation where you hire these folks and then forget about the subject. It is your company, and the financial statements are yours. When you present the financial statements to a bank, file your tax return, submit invoices to a government procurement official, or any other such use, you will be the one signing the document.

Therefore, you will need some understanding of what is included. Review important materials and ask for explanations if anything seems unclear.

Key Lessons:

  • An accounting and recordkeeping system is mainly for you, to assist in making good decisions; it is not primarily for satisfying government reporting.
  • When deciding whether to seek accounting assistance, consider where your time is best spent.
  • There are substantial differences in the skills and costs of hiring an accountant or a bookkeeper, so hire each where there is the best match.
Hal Shelton
Author and Mentor
SCORE

Hal is a SCORE mentor who is passionate about helping small businesses start and grow. He has been a CFO and board member for NYSE/NASDAQ publicly traded companies and nonprofits. He is currently an active investor in early-stage technology companies and is the Amazon bestselling author of The Secrets to Writing a Successful Business Plan.
secretsofbusinessplans.com​ | Washington D.C. SCOREMore From Hal

// by Wendy Johnson / Jul. 15, 2015 0 comments
Seduce Your Readers

You have 8 seconds to grab your readers’ attention. In those 8 seconds you better have some amazing words to hook them.

You truly need to seduce them: use great language that will create a powerful attraction to your content. And when you have seduced them into reading your article, follow it up with some amazingly helpful content to keep their attention and earn their continued readership.

So how can you seduce your readers?

Focus your attention on the words that are read by most readers.

When you only have 8 seconds to get their attention, you need to make sure that the words that are read the most work the hardest.

Readers scan: 79% of readers scan web pages and only 16% will read your content word-for-word. Make the parts of your page that they read extra strong and engaging.

Of all the words on your pages, there are 3 text elements that are the most read:

  • Titles
  • Subheadings
  • Button Text

Focus on making these 3 elements the most powerful pieces of text on your page. They are the main pieces of text that readers will see as they scan your page.

Use power words to engage readers’ emotions.

Let’s face it, we reach readers via their emotions first and their logic second—it all goes back to basic psychological and marketing theory. Use words that make a big emotional impact.

Don’t waste time with overused words like great, best, or even awesome. You need to be using true emotional power words that will engage your readers and entice them to keep reading.

Appealing to happy emotions will seduce far more readers than negative emotions. Content that appeals to happy/positive emotions get more shares on social media (a key indicator that the readers were engaged).

Power Words

Keep it short and sweet.

You only have 8 seconds to grab readers’ attention. Most readers read about 1 word a second. So you have about 8 words to get their attention.

Being concise is critical.

Beyond the 8 second/8 word rule, there are other guidelines you should take into account when creating concise text:

Titles: Aim for your titles to be 70 characters or less. Keeping your titles short, 70 characters long or less, will help your article show up better in Google search results and make it easier to tweet. Depending on the length of your words, 70 characters means about 10 or so words.

Subheadings: Subheadings aren’t governed by any restrictions like titles; so technically they can be longer than your title. But you should still work to keep them more concise so that they are more easily scanned. Aim for about 7 words in your subheadings.

Buttons: The text on your buttons should be no more than 5 words long. Use an extra line of text on a button, if necessary, to encourage readers to click through.

Brainstorm multiple options.

Your title, subheadings, and button text must work hard. Never, ever settle for the first option you come up with. When you start writing your content, use a working title. After you are done writing, brainstorm your options. You will come up with must better options for your titles, subheadings, and buttons after the rest of the content is written and your concept is fleshed out.

If at all possible, get input from others, especially for your titles and button text (have co-workers, your spouse, friends, whoever you can get), read over your list of potential titles and button text. You should do this for EVERY article or page you publish on your site.

Content is a powerful tool and you will give your writing even more power when you work to make it seductive to your readers!

Wendy Johnson
Content Strategist
KapowContent.com

As a sought after messaging and content strategist, Wendy Johnson helps companies connect with customers via targeted content and social media. She shares how she does it at KapowContent.com. Join her 28 Day Writing Challenge and connect with her on Facebook.
KapowContent.com | Facebook | @kapowcontent | More from Wendy