Investing Your Tax Refund into Your Small Business

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The April 15th deadline for filing your taxes has come and gone and you survived (hopefully). More importantly, if you’re expecting a tax refund, you’ve probably already starting thinking about ways to spend the money — especially considering the average refund is almost $3,000.iStock_000012423600XSmall

There is, of course, the responsible route. You could put your refund in a savings account in case of an emergency, pay off high-interest personal credit card debt or even invest in the stock market.

On the other hand, you could also have some fun with the extra cash. Maybe it’s finally starting that home improvement project, taking a much-needed vacation or even splurging on something you’ve had your eye on for quite some time like a new car. In fact, according to a recent poll by Travel Leaders Group, 43 percent of people plan on spending their tax refund on traveling while another study by eBay found that 33 percent of Americans will spend their refund on a new vehicle.

However, for small business owners, you may want to consider investing this extra cash into growing your business. Whether you are just starting out or have a respectable presence in your market and city, some extra money can go a long way in future success.

Investing in Your Website and Online Presence 

Finding the best avenue to put your money to use may seem like an overwhelming task. From advertising to hiring employees and even improving your office, there are a number of ways you could invest your tax refund money into your small business. But which is the best?

Web designer and CEO and founder of the international online perfume retailer GrandPerfumes.com Sonny Ahuja suggests investing money in building a better website and launching a Google Adwords campaign. Both of these investments can help attract new customers to your business for not much money. Additionally, hiring copywriters to produce quality and unique content, can go a long way in attracting new and loyal clients.

Along the same lines as improving your website, one of the most effective and least expensive marketing strategies available is adding videos to your site says Alfred Poor, author of “Power Marketing for Small Businesses:  How You Can Boost Sales with Low-Cost Video.”

“A professional short video can cost $500 or less…and you don’t even have to own a camera or a computer,” Poor said.

Thinking About the Future

Along with investing your tax refund directly into your business’ marketing campaigns, website and other areas, many experts also recommend using this extra cash flow to pay off debts or for investing in benefits for your employees.

This is especially the case if you are experiencing steady growth and are looking to keep valuable employees on staff. From using the money for a company outing to boost office morale to paying the start-up costs for a 401(k) retirement plan, it is important to show your employees how much you value their hard work and dedication.

Seek Professional Advice

Remember that your business is unique and what is right for one business may not be right for another. Make sure you speak with a financial professional about how to best use your money so you can continue growing and have a bountiful 2013.

 

 

Poll: What’s the ratio of support reps to sales reps in your business?

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Businesses come in various shapes and sizes. Some can generate a lot of new business with a small sales team, but will need a much bigger customer happiness team to support customers. Other businesses might need a large sales to scale new business quickly and can do with a small team for customer support.

The Zoho Support Poll

Either way, an interesting metric to look at is the ratio of support reps to sales reps in any business. It allows a bird’s eye look at whether a business is sales-intensive or service-intensive. So, that’s the question we’re asking on our poll this week: What’s the ratio of support reps to sales reps in your business?

One support rep for many sales reps

Typically, this is for businesses where sales is driven by a lot of human interactions and post-sales support is only for a small set of issues. For example, businesses that sell simple-but-indispensable products can thrive on this model. The larger sales team enables them to reach more customers and sell more volume. The small-yet-efficient support team can handle the finite bunch of possible issues and resolve tickets quickly.

One sales rep for many support reps

Companies that operate in the B2B space can function on this model. Selling to other businesses means deal sizes are substantial and sales can be handled by a relatively smaller team. On the other hand, they’ll need a fairly sizable customer support team to handle the support load. For products that offer extensive customization, the effort required in post-sales support could be far higher than what’s required of the sales team itself.

It’s also possible that there’s a third case where the ratio is at 1:1. But that’s not as common as the other two. Most businesses are likely to have (at least!) a slight skew in the ratio.

We’re curious to see how the ratios are distributed across all of your businesses. If you have a specific rationale for the ratio in your business, do tell us about it in the comments section below.

Results: Facebook is the most used platform for community

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In a bid to understand how businesses build communities, we had asked a question last week on our poll. We were eager to see what platforms were preferred by businesses to build a community. At the same time, we also wanted to see how much the idea of a building a community had permeated.

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As it turns out, Facebook was voted as the most popular platform for building a community. About 23% of all respondents had chosen Facebook as their preference (or one of their preferences). This is fairly straightforward. Facebook has a really large user base and has a simple user experience. It takes very little time to start a community and grow it via Facebook.

LinkedIn comes a close second, with about 20% of respondents choosing the professional networking platform. As a more serious alternative, LinkedIn has several business communities that attract significant participation from members. Businesses, initially, preferred LinkedIn to Facebook when it came to building a professional community, because of its more serious outlook towards networking.

Twitter comes third with about 16% of all respondents in its favor. Although, Twitter isn’t suitable for a community in the traditional sense, it allows businesses to have ‘conversations’ with their customers/prospects. Businesses can address customer support issues via Twitter. It’s also a great distribution platform for content marketing.

Just over 16% of all respondents said they use their own blog and forum to build their communities. This is most likely because a blog and a forum are one level separated from a social network. So, it takes more effort to build a community using these. Building a community away from social networks means that your customers need not necessarily have an account on any of them. In that sense, it has no prerequisites.

Above all this, around 24% of respondents opined that they haven’t yet started building a community. Building a community involves a lot of sustained effort for mostly-long-term benefits. Businesses in their early days might not prefer to build a community, simply because they’re busy finding customers via other means. Also, in the case of businesses where a community simply serves the purpose of customer support, email or phone support might be a better idea for sometime. Nevertheless, this component of the respondents will most likely start building a community sometime in the future.

If you’re looking to build a community, you might want to consider the pros and cons of each platform in detail, before deciding on anything.

That’s it for this week. We’ll come right back next week with another topic. Until the, have a great weekend!

5 Tips to Make Online Meetings Run Smoothly

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This is a guest post by Michael Essany of Null Media

With the increasing use of online business applications and remote working habits, the modern workplace can often reap more benefit from timely online conferences rather than face-to-face on-site interactions. And not surprisingly, continued technological development and corporate cost-cutting pressures around the world will keep fueling the rampant growth of virtual meetings in the years to come.Businessman working on laptop in his office.

“In these tough economic times,” offers Brent Arslaner in BusinessWeek, “advancing technologies are making virtual events not only a less expensive replacement for physical meetings but also a superior one. Why do we have meetings and events? 1) to exchange information; and 2) to network. Virtual meeting and event technology can facilitate these two objectives easily.”

Fortunately for employers and employees alike, the advantages of conducting a meeting online can be as pronounced as they are plentiful. But with the added convenience, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of virtual meetings also come plenty of caveats to consider before your next web-based powwow. To better ensure glitch-free virtual gatherings in the future, here are a few battle-tested tips to make online meetings go smoothly:

  1. Set an agenda and stick to it. A meeting without a basic structure runs the risk of becoming a chaotic mess that falls short of achieving its goals. Create the same focused, professional atmosphere you would in a face-to-face meeting by emailing an agenda to all participants well in advance of the meeting. Give each person an opportunity to share their observations and feedback.
  2. Be concise. Few attributes are more important in online meetings than brevity. No one wants to listen to colleagues ramble or drone on incessantly. And, whereas it’s difficult to doze off unnoticed when you’re seated in a board room with 12 other people, it’s easy to do so when you’re secluded in your home office. If your digital conference requires more than 45 to 60 minutes, break it up into parts.
  3. Multitasking is a no-no. For some participants, online meetings present the perfect opportunity to catch up on other tasks. From checking your email to scanning your Twitter feed, there’s so much you could but shouldn’t do during a virtual conference. Out of respect for your colleagues and to dodge a distraction that might lead to disaster, pay attention — and keep your multitasking to a minimum.
  4. Choose a quiet location. Online meetings enable remote participants to attend without having to travel. But that doesn’t mean your location doesn’t matter. It does. Nothing interrupts or interferes with a virtual gathering like background noise and distractions (traffic, a barking dog, a blaring television, etc.). Be courteous to fellow meeting participants and take yourself, your laptop, or your smartphone to someplace quiet.
  5. Get to know the platform. Never assume that you’ll know “on the fly” how to navigate the computer software that makes your online meeting possible. It goes without saying that virtual meetings are always best served by the use of a platform that delivers a multitude of key web conferencing features. But regardless of the platform, whether you’re the facilitator or a silent participant, familiarize yourself with it before — and never during — a meeting.

Why Facebook and Social Media are Valuable for Your Small Business

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So, you’ve finally started using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter as marketing tools for your business. You’ve started interacting with customers online, are getting Facebook “likes” and are even getting new “Twitter followers” on a daily basis.

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But, are you truly seeing any results from all of your online efforts? Is all of the work really worth it?

According to new research and data from the University of Buffalo, Texas A&M University and Aalto University in Finland, social media can in fact make a difference. The new study, published in the journal Information Systems Research, shows that customers who are also Facebook fans of the business are more valuable than customers without any online interaction with the company.

And this means much more than simply getting customers in the door. These customers that also interact with a business through Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets also improve the company’s sales. In fact, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of marketing at Aalto University said these customers who interact with the business through social media contribute 5.6 percent more revenue than customers not active on social media. Additionally, these social medial-savvy customers visit the business five percent more than their non-social media counterparts.

The numbers don’t stop there. According to the social media marketing firm Syncapse, a Facebook fan is worth $174 to a brand. This amount is 28 percent higher than it was three years ago.

Syncapse reached this number thanks to a survey by research firm Hotspex, who collected data from more than 2,000 U.S. panelists earlier this year. The study compared Facebook fans and non-fans’ brand loyalty, media value, potential to recommend the brand to others and a number of other factors. The results were released earlier this week.

So now that we know social media has some influence as far as attracting customers, improving sales and getting them to return, there are a number of trends small business owners should know about and implement in order to have success with social media.

Be Specific

It seems like a new social network is introduced everyday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your business needs to be on every single one. A number of small business and social medial experts believe 2013 is the year small businesses focus on one or two social media sources that work best for their specific product or service.

By investing time in the platform you believe is best for your customers — whether it be Facebook, Twitter or Instagram — small businesses can maximize their social media marketing efforts and hopefully have the greatest chances of increasing clientele and profit.

According to Ben Bentzin, an expert in brand development, product marketing and social media at the University of Texas at Austin, business owners have to think about what their customers are using as far as social media.

“If you are selling insurance to senior citizens, social media [like Twitter] may not be that important,” Bentzin said. “But if you are selling to college students, you have to have that social media presence.”

Additional Social Media Strategies

Apart from focusing your social medial efforts toward one or two platforms tailored to your customers, small businesses can also improve their social media campaign by:

  • Encouraging interaction from customers

  • Investing in building online communities over time as opposed to a quick-fix solution

  • Contributing regularly to your chosen social media platforms

  • Keeping customers up-to-date on events or sales

Like any marketing technique, it is important to have a specific strategy and plan from the beginning. Experiment with different social media platforms to learn which is best for your business and start taking advantage of these online communities.

Dashboard Spotlight: US Economic Data Analysis

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dashboard-spotlight We have analyzed many interesting public data sets in the past. And we plan to continue doing so.

With the budget sequestration just a few weeks old, and economic concerns running high in the minds of people, we have attempted to plot selected economic indicators with aspects of everyday life. The goal is to try and see if any interesting connections and insights can be unearthed. Read more

Employees Want to Feel More Appreciated at Work

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How often have you heard someone say, “I just feel so lucky to have a job,” over the past five years? How often have you said it?

You’re not alone. Ignoring other ambitions in exchange for job security is a common feeling across the nation in the aftermath of a recession where the unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent in the fall of 2009 and is currently still at 7.7 percent.

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And despite statistics from December 2012 reporting a 15 percent increase in time spent at a job for employees age 25 and older since the year 2000, experts are now saying recent improvements in the economy could free people to quit their jobs and pursue other employment opportunities.

This new trend could cause a number of problems for employers who are caught off guard by employees leaving for greener pastures. Especially for those who haven’t focused on keeping employees happy and excited to come to work on a daily basis.

In recent years, employers didn’t necessarily have to focus as much on making employees feel valued and appreciated due to the lack of job openings and opportunities. However, recent statistics reported 3.69 million job openings in January, which is 270,000 more job openings than in January 2012.

And while experts caution that the market hasn’t improved enough for all professionals to have other options, there are some fields — like specialized accounting – where workers are leaving their current job for better offers.

Making Employees Feel Valued

So what is the most common reason people are leaving their current jobs and seeking other opportunities? It may be easy to assume money is the driving factor, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Although good salary and benefits packages do play a factor, the majority of employees leave their places of work because they are unhappy with management.

David G. Allen, a management professor at the University of Memphis, has conducted a large amount of research on this topic and found that workers value relationships with other colleagues, especially bosses, as much if not more than salary and benefits.

“I think smart companies need to make sure they’re making their employees feel valued,” Allen told NBC News.

A Mood Tracker Survey issued by Globoforce in November 2012 found that 55 percent of employees would leave their jobs for another company that made it a point to recognize efforts.

As a small business owner, it is important to not only be aware of this new trend, but also know a few simple ways you can make sure your employees feel valued and appreciated. This includes the following:

  • Be open to ideas and suggestions from employees

  • Make yourself available to talk whenever possible

  • Get to know employees and their families on a personal level. Know about their spouses, children and hobbies.

  • Talk with your employees about their dreams and goals and how you as an employer can help them accomplish those goals at the company

  • Create an office environment that is welcoming, friendly and fun

Allen also noted that the first employees to look for other job opportunities and eventually quit are typically your best employees and ones that could hurt you if you lost them. Be prepared and take action to make sure your employees feel valued and a part of your company’s family.