About Sarah

Sarah is a Product Marketer @ Zoho Campaigns.

Top 4 Start-up Fears and How to Conquer Them

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This is a guest post by Lindsay Holloway, writer and editor of small business trends and technology. To read more from Lindsay, check out her articles on The Examiner.

Whether you’re building the next iPod or launching a new social network, one of the biggest steps in getting started is facing the fears that most entrepreneurs deal with. To get an idea of what fears they face, we polled a handful of hardworking entrepreneurs, who despite any fears and looming “what ifs” managed to make it through and build their small businesses. More importantly, we asked them how they conquered those fears.

  1. Finances: From start-up capital to monthly budgets, managing money – whether you have it or not – can make anyone’s head spin. “They’re afraid of budgeting and cash-flow projections; they’re afraid of reading their financial reports and all that financial voodoo,” says Chellie Campbell, author and instructor of an eight-week financial strategies course. But don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the numbers, because managing your business’s finances is probably one of the easier fears to conquer. Courses like Campbell’s, books and online programs can be a big help. If you have the funds, hire a bookkeeper or assistant.
  2. Time: Whether you’re afraid of having to dedicate all of your time to your business, not having enough time for your family or needing more time in the day, time isn’t always going to be on your side. Though it’s common for business owners to wear many hats, there are companies, people, software and web tools that can take some of the load off. “Be willing to let go and not micromanage everything,” says Kristopher Jones, CEO of Pepperjam, a full-service Internet marketing agency. “And hire people that complement [your] weaknesses.” It’s also important to set boundaries. Dedicate specific work hours and spaces. If you work from home, make sure your office is separate from your living space. Being able to close up “shop” at the end of the day makes a huge difference.
  3. Customer adoption: Your product, service or business idea must have stemmed from an unmet need or unfulfilled market that you discovered, right? So you just need to confirm the need is really there and that it can sustain a business. Do this through research, study groups, polling peers and evaluating other companies in the space. “It’s always possible that customers won’t react to your value proposition the way you anticipate,” says Romney Evans, co-founder and CEO of online jean retailer TrueJeans.com. “But improve your chances by listening to your customers and potential customers. They know what they want and need.”
  4. Failure: The granddaddy of entrepreneurial fears is failure. It’s also the reason many ideas never make it off the ground. Starting a business is risky, time-consuming and lots of work; these reasons contribute to the 50 percent of small businesses that fail within the first five years. But know that you’re not in it alone. “Faith in yourself and the support of others play huge factors in moving forward,” says Ken Wisnefski, founder and CEO of WebiMax.com. “Success is not guaranteed, regardless of the most tedious planning. But connecting with people who have been through it can be positive and helpful.” And don’t forget to acknowledge accomplishments. “Celebrate the small successes,” says Drew Stevens, business author, speaker and consultant. “Small wins count more than the largest. Small wins stroke the ego and keep the focus on the present.”

4 Simple Steps to Getting Organized

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This is a guest post by Lindsay Holloway, writer and editor of small business trends and technology. To read more from Lindsay, check out her articles on The Examiner

You may have missed National Get Organized Month in January or perhaps didn’t quite finish spring cleaning, but it’s never too late to get your home office or home-based business organized. And since we’re halfway into 2012, now is a great time to reorganize and cross a few items off your summer checklist.

Fortunately you don’t have to do it alone. You don’t have to ditch your cluttered filing “system” cold turkey. You don’t have to learn a new complex spreadsheet program. And you don’t have to hand over your paycheck to an assistant or professional organizer. There are myriad resources, tools and experts out there to help you, and we’ve put together four essential tips for getting your office or business organized this year:

1. Take control of your inbox. Small-business resource SCORE suggests creating e-mail folders to organize your messages. We all know what it’s like to have an inbox overflowing with both old and unread messages, so get ahold of the message madness from the get-go. Create working folders that make sense for your business, whether they’re based on urgency, task, contact group or department.

2. Stop clutter before it starts. To battle clutter, you must have systems and routines for dealing with it, says certified professional organizer Lorie Marrero. Aside from avoiding situations where “clutter cravings” can arise, she stresses the importance of dealing with things as they come and not letting clutter like mail, bills or filing stack up until it becomes a problem or wieldy task. For example, when you get the mail, immediately discard the junk mail; then organize and open the remaining pieces by importance.

3. Leverage free productivity tools. There’s an app for everything, right? Whether it’s on your smartphone, notebook or in the cloud, there are endless tools available to help you organize your schedule, documents, projects and more. Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to mentally coordinate your daily tasks and appointments, so at times it’s necessary to let technology do the work for you. There are various calendar and scheduling apps, tools for conducting and tracking surveys, and project collaboration and management apps available.

​4. Organize your files and documents. While it may be essential to have physical copies of some documents, others are better made digital and others still could really be thrown out (safely, of course). And for these steps, there are convenient home-office and small-business gadgets. Consider a Xerox DocuMate scanner for taking those paper forms into the digital realm, or the handy yet robust Swingline Stack-and-Shred line of shredders for proper disposal of those dinosaur-aged files you’ve been too scared to throw away.

An organized space – and workflow – is necessary for maximum efficiency and productivity in the modern workplace. When work piles up, things get messy! So keep the above tips in mind this summer as you clean up your space and keep your productivity going. Happy working!

Hiring freeze? Consider the part-time solution

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This is a guest post by Craig Keolanui of SmBizSuccessTeam. To read more from Craig, visit his blog.

Today’s slowly moving economy has made many small business owners have second thoughts about hiring any new help. Many businesses are starting to experience more growth, which inadvertently puts extra stress on an already thin staff. Following over two years of adjustments, staffing levels are at all time lows and many businesses are now finally starting to look for some relief.

Part-time help makes sense. If your company has experienced slow growth, you might remain fearful about the effect hiring will have on your bottom line. Adding part-time help can alleviate some of that stress by helping out where needed without adding the extra cost of a full-timer to your payroll.

  • Part-time help allows you to plug holes in the schedule and gives added flexibility.
  • Part-time help is cheaper in State and Federal taxes and benefits.
  • Part-time help usually costs less per hour.
  • Just like using a temp, you can always offer a part-time person a full-time position if they work out and your business keeps growing.
  • There has never been a better time to find highly qualified applicants in the part-time workforce pool.

Part-time employees are no longer minimum wage misfits. There are many things to worry about when considering part-time employees, but rest them aside and watch as the part-time workforce continues to evolve.

  • Many part-time employees are more experienced and educated. Many American workers have been displaced from careers (experience); and others are going to school in order to broaden employment opportunities (more education). This leaves a workforce that is highly skilled and willing to accept part-time work.
  • Part-time employees are willing to give more than the job requires, if they see room for advancement. Many qualified applicants are willing to do whatever it takes to get a foot in the door. Why not let that door be yours? Part-time employees care and many treat a part-time job as full-time and continue to work or think about work after hours.
  • Part-time employees typically accept lower wages in order to fit the job into their current schedule. Providing a flexible schedule is a great exchange for an out-of-work professional to take a part-time job that offers less than their profession would normally pay.

What about going with a temp? Everyone knows temporary help can get you through the extra work load without the worry of adding a permanent salary. However, it is costly and you can avoid the frequent learning curve required with temps. Save the commission you’d be paying and hire part-timers with different specialties, so you can get the best for less.

Either way you look at it, part-time help can no longer be ignored and should be revisited. There are plenty of professionals out there chomping at the bit to just get the opportunity to get in your door. Now is the right time to consider letting one of them in.

Do you know who your customers are?

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This is a guest post by Sandra Faleris of SmBizSuccessTeam. To read more from Sandra, visit her blog.

Used to be customer demographics led marketing departments’ strategies. Mass media filled the bill for just about any retail-oriented small business that had a decent-size advertising budget. Vertical publications used to be one of the few vehicles with which business-to-business companies could reach their targets.

It was a shotgun approach but didn’t require “keeping up with the Zuckerbergs, Brins, Pages or Hoffmans”. These days, social media and online advertising can more directly reach your target audience, depending on who they are.

Yet, there are still oodles of customers who are dying to spend their money with companies that answer their phones and offer the personal touch during their purchase.

Loyalty has slipped in place of value. Value means different things to different ages and walks of life. Some might think ‘speed and price’ equals value. Others might equate a long-winded sales approach as “top-notch customer service”. There are also those who want “quality over price” and, of course, those who want “quality and price”.

Now, more than ever before, it is important to know who your customers are and how they, specifically, define value. According to statistics gathered from Facebook by Advertising Age*, the largest group of Facebook users are between the ages of 21-24 yrs. (17.5% male, 16.6% female), followed by the 35-44 age group (15.3% male, 15.4% female). The smallest group of users was the 64+ (4.5% male, 4.8% female), followed by the 55-63 group (5.5% male, 7.2% female).

Text messaging and the use of cell phone statistics are similar to that of Facebook users. Young adults are the most avid text users by a wide margin. Cell owners between the ages of 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on a normal day. (Source: www.pewinternet.org)

It is important to determine the age group of your current and prospective customers. Advertising, marketing and branding efforts need to match the media habits of your target audience to get the biggest bank for the buck.

Knowing who your customers are and what they expect will become increasingly important to the success of your business. So if you don’t know social media and your customers are over 50+ years of age, your strategy should remain with mass media, direct mail and promotions. This group’s definition of value is likely to be within the “quality plus price” category, which may mean they want severe discounting on quality goods/services.

If your customers are in the demographic groups that are in the highest ‘user’ groups for Facebook, mobile use and texting, then you better jump on the Internet and get educated. This groups’ idea of value is likely to be “speed and price”, so the use of mobile marketing and social media that catches them when they’re ready to buy, might be the best route.

The bottom line is that the more you know about the demographics and psychographics of your customer, the easier it will be to understand their idea of value which will help attract and garner a new stable of users.

It’s a long and ever-changing lesson on marketing in the 21st century, but worth the education.

No employee left behind: When an employee is struggling

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This is a guest post by Shabana Shiliwala, who owns The Financial Sort, a financial planning company based in Austin, Texas.

Take a look at your last auto repair receipt. What makes up the majority of the cost of the repair? Labor. You don’t need to ask an accountant what is often the largest expense on an income statement. Labor. Why is labor so costly? Because it’s the most valuable asset your business has.

Finding the right staff and keeping them happy and productive is one of your greatest challenges as a business owner. Your staff have an impact on your company’s image, profitability, ability to meet project deadlines and level of customer satisfaction. But their performance is also dependent on your management skills, so when an employee’s performance is suffering, ask yourself first “Could the problem be me?”

Micromanaging. Why does this sabotage productivity? Because all your employees want to feel recognized for their talents and trusted in their abilities to accomplish their tasks. When you micromanage, you’re sending the message that you aren’t confident in your staff’s capabilities. If that’s the case, why did you hire them in the first place? By implying that you have such low expectations of your staff, you’re taking away their opportunity to shine. Allow your staff to show you why you hired them by letting them do what they do best.

Lack of direction. If you find that your staff aren’t doing their work, maybe it’s because they don’t know what to do or don’t have enough to do. When you make sure they understand what work is their responsibility, when it needs to be done, and why it’s important, you’re giving your staff a sense of purpose. Check in with them during a short daily or weekly meeting to assign tasks, prioritize continuing projects and hear their progress.

Not enough communication. Rumors are often at the root of low morale. If your staff aren’t hearing the news from you first about what’s really happening, they can only guess. Don’t provide an opportunity for rumors to fester and create discontent: nip rumors in the bud by showing your staff that you’ll always be upfront and honest with them. After all, your staff are invested in your company almost as much as you–their livelihoods are dependent on it. Let them know before anyone else about major developments and involve them in making important decisions.

No positive reinforcement. It’s your responsibility to keep your staff motivated. What’s the best way to motivate them? Bring out their competitive side with contests and coveted prizes? Offer a carrot with a performance bonus? Foster ambition with promotion opportunities? It certainly won’t hurt to try any or all of those options. Or it could be as simple as making a point to regularly let your staff know that they’re doing good work and you appreciate them.

If an employee is underperforming, look to yourself first to find out the cause. Since every employee is a valuable asset to your company, are you doing enough to make sure no employee is left behind?

Leveraging your Staff’s Strengths for a Better Business

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This is a guest post by Shabana Shiliwala, who owns The Financial Sort, a financial planning company based in Austin, Texas.

As a small business owner with a limited number of staff, you have to make the most of each employee to run your business–the receptionist also does marketing activities, the accountant also does event planning, etc. So if there’s a part of your business that isn’t running as well as it should, maybe it’s because you don’t have the right person doing it.

“What are your strengths and weaknesses?” is a question you most likely asked each of your employees during their job interviews. Now that you know them better, were their self- assessments accurate? What makes each of them tick? Observing their talents and strengths is the first step in understanding how to delegate tasks to the best person for the job.

Customer service: When someone in the office is sick, who is the first person to ask how he/she is doing? Who always gets a laugh out of everyone even in tense situations? Some people have a natural ability to see what others need and put them at ease, which are exactly the qualities required to provide excellent customer service: offering assistance at just the right moment by noticing when a customer is overwhelmed or confused and knowing how to engage customers to feel good about purchasing a product or service.

Event planning: Who always brings up the idea for an office Secret Santa, potluck or lunch outing, then takes the initiative to organize it? Who has the neatest cubicle area? Making sure your next event goes smoothly means not only having someone holding the reins who is analytical and thorough enough to not miss a single detail, but is also persistent and organized enough so that everyone involved knows what to do and stays motivated.

Marketing: You know who has an “eye” when you see it–how they dress, the type of greeting card they give you, the comments they make about advertisements. Whether it’s artistic talent or a sense of style, what matters is that you take notice and are impressed–exactly the reaction you want from your marketing efforts. The next time you’re creating a flyer, store display or signage, harness the skills of the employee who has an “eye” for design.

Maximizing the strengths of each of your employees will help your business run better because you have the right people doing the right tasks. But there’s a bonus–your staff will enjoy their work more when they’re able to do what they’re best at doing, which your customers can’t help but notice. Happy staff = happy customers = happy business owner.

Looking to Expand your Business?

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This is a guest post by Craig Keolanui of SmBizSuccessTeam. To read more from Craig, visit his blog.

The slowly expanding economy has many business owners wondering about their next step. For some businesses that next step might be hiring another employee or leasing some extra space next door, but for others that might mean adding an additional location. Another way to expand is to license your original business model/concept to others or even consider going the route of franchising.

Many business owners view expansion as additional sales and minimized potential costs. For example, hiring additional employees or leasing adjoining office spaces are low risk moves that can be easily reversed.

1. Opening up an additional location offers great rewards, but higher risk.
If you are looking to open up a new location, you will bear many start-up costs that you might not have realized opening the original location.

Phones, internet, rent, equipment and payroll can’t be shared between locations. However, marketing, supplies and other costs non-specific to location can be. Payroll can be a big expense for location expansion, so be prepared. How will the new location be managed? How many people will you need to staff to start with?

Expansions do not necessarily mean double the sales. Your current location will, more than likely, lose 10-20% of your customers to your new location. Of course, the new location will take time to grow to the volume of your current location. So planning ahead with a realistic time table is paramount to your success.

2. Licensing is probably the easiest way to expand your business idea or concept without cost or responsibility.
What’s the catch? Licensing is tricky because you are not providing the support, once the license agreement is complete. You can offer a certain level of support, but there are regulations that prohibit too much assistance, as that would be taking on the role of a franchiser. Licenses are essentially selling your business model or idea to someone who is willing to assume the risk of expansion by using your formula and trade secrets.

A few pros and cons:

  • Licenses sell for a smaller price tag than franchises
  • Some offer a level of support, come with small royalties – your call
  • Licensers take no responsibility for operations or profits, once the trial period is over
  • It is difficult to control geographical licenses, or adherence to branding standards
  • If you have ideas that are “local” in nature, licenses can be a boon to expand your business idea without assuming any risk.

3. Franchising is a great thing to consider, especially if marketing, branding and consistency have been achieved.
If you have a secret formula that requires more details and marketing support to achieve success, franchising can be the right path. Like licensing, franchising allows you to expand your idea or business without cost, but the key is making sure you select operators who will maintain the quality of the concept. As a franchiser, you would need to consider the following:

  • What upfront fee and royalties to charge (Generally between 2-10% of sales. Source: Startuplawyer.com)
  • Costs for standard marketing supplies
  • Franchise marketing plan with branding standards
  • How much support will be provided

All forms of expansion require smart planning with accurate budgeting. If you’re going to need a loan or investors, you’ll need a sound business plan with vision that projects revenues, expenses, the break-even point and beyond.