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By CAN Capital

October 20, 2014
Choosing your advertising vehicle

When choosing the advertising vehicle or vehicles that will best serve your purposes, there are three factors you need to consider: 1) your target market, 2) your product, and 3) your advertising budget. Unfortunately, far too many decision makers find themselves seduced by marketing campaign presentations that are appealing to the business owner, yet they utterly fail to attract the attention of, much less impress, potential customers and drive sales. In some cases, such disappointing results leave the business owner cynical about the value of advertising as a whole; after all, if a campaign developed by seasoned professionals doesn’t work… In truth, however, the failure is not the fault of marketing as a whole, but rather of a lack of insight into the desires of that target market, and the failure to appeal to those desires. In order to develop and implement an effective ad campaign, both the message and the medium must maintain a clear and objective view of those three factors and concentrate their energies upon them. And no matter what advertising vehicle or vehicles you select, you will need to make certain that the cost doesn’t cut so deeply into your budget that your profitability is compromised.

When choosing the advertising vehicle or vehicles that will best serve your purposes, there are three factors you need to consider: 1) your target market, 2) your product, and 3) your advertising budget. Unfortunately, far too many decision makers find themselves seduced by marketing campaign presentations that are appealing to the business owner, yet they utterly fail to attract the attention of, much less impress, potential customers and drive sales. In some cases, such disappointing results leave the business owner cynical about the value of advertising as a whole; after all, if a campaign developed by seasoned professionals doesn’t work… In truth, however, the failure is not the fault of marketing as a whole, but rather of a lack of insight into the desires of that target market, and the failure to appeal to those desires. In order to develop and implement an effective ad campaign, both the message and the medium must maintain a clear and objective view of those three factors and concentrate their energies upon them. And no matter what advertising vehicle or vehicles you select, you will need to make certain that the cost doesn’t cut so deeply into your budget that your profitability is compromised.

  1. Know your target market, and the best (and cheapest) way to reach them If you can identify your ideal customer, it becomes much easier to figure out how to reach him or her. If your customer is a younger individual, say between the ages of 18 and 35, he or she has likely been heavily exposed to the Internet, and relies upon that medium for a great deal of information. This individual will be most likely to run a web search to find a service provider or product retailer, and to seek information and feedback on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Linkedin. Or customer review sites such as Yelp. Your most effective medium for reaching this customer would be by establishing an online presence, or increasing and more accurately focusing your existing presence. Beyond having your own professional-looking and information-rich website, you should consider establishing Facebook, Linkedin, Yelp, and Twitter accounts, and participating on (and promoting) them. You will also need to ensure that people searching for products and services like yours will actually be aware of your web presence. With the existence of literally billions of websites active on the Internet, a number that increases dramatically every day, a single website is a lot like a Yellow Pages ad, albeit a Yellow Pages that contains every listing on earth, and not in any discernable order or even alphabetized. To use yet another simile, finding a specific website isn’t so much like finding a needle in a haystack as it is like finding a specific grain of sand somewhere in the Sahara Desert. Thankfully, there are methods by which a specific website can be made easier to find, one of the most prominent being Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. There are many ways to approach SEO, from learning the basics and doing it yourself to retaining the services of one of the many SEO companies competing for your dollars. One common-sense criterion for sorting through the many companies would be (obviously) to run a search on multiple search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) for SEO services. It stands to reason that the ones that are most effective (or who had paid Google for a high ranking) would appear at or near the top of most searches. From those, you can seek out customer feedback, and test how effective they are by searching yourself for one of their clients’ sites, using common search terms and keywords. Naturally, when evaluating a SEO service, you will need to inquire into their fee structure, and determine whether their fees are within your budget. On the other hand, if your ideal customer is much older, he or she might not be as prone to seek information online. For such people, Yellow Pages listings, newspaper ads, and magazine ads and articles might be more effective. As with the web pages discussed above, the more information you provide your prospective customer, and the more you position your company as a valued resource rather than merely a purveyor of goods and services, the more likely the customer will come to you when ready to make a purchase. Broadcast media such as television and radio can reach a huge audience very quickly, and for companies that depend upon high volume/ high margin sales, these vehicles can be very effective at reaching the desired audience. Obviously, the high cost and temporary nature of broadcast media exposure does limit its viability somewhat, especially where a smaller company with a limited budget is concerned. Finally, there is the option of generating print and electronic mailout campaigns, whether to closely-targeted demographics or broader-scope mass mailings.
  2. Your product must be more than a product No matter what form of advertising is being considered, it is essential for the advertiser to remember that, while the final decision to purchase might be based in logic, the desire to purchase is emotionally, rather than intellectually driven. As such, the consumer looks not so much to have a pragmatic need fulfilled as to have an appetite sated. The prospective customer might not even be aware of the underlying emotional cravings that drive his or her purchases, but it is essential for the retailer or service provider to not only be aware of those cravings, but to consciously address them and offer what is necessary to satiate the hungers. You need look no further than the ongoing “burger wars” to realize that what is being sold is not merely a product, but an identity to which the customer can relate. Where McDonald’s™ focuses its marketing upon preadolescent teens and the hip younger adults, Jack in the Box™ gears its ads to appeal to the somewhat more sophisticated tastes of the “baby boomers.” Both serve similar products, yet their respective marketing campaigns are dramatically different, simply because they are intended to address something beyond the physical hungers their products satisfy.
  3. Your marketing efforts must be effective, while not eating too deeply into your profits Too many business owners rush into marketing campaigns that they really can’t afford, or that are so expensive that there is little profit left after the sales, even with improvements in the volume of those sales. It is usually best to start your marketing campaign rather conservatively, keeping close track of what is working and what isn’t, and tracking how much the cost of the campaign affects the per-sale profit, as well as the bottom line. When you find something that is affordable and successfully drives more sales, use it more. When a marketing effort ends up costing a lot, but doesn’t perform, don’t be afraid to switch to something else. And no matter what, keep close track of your marketing expenses, and the effect they’re having on your bottom line. Ultimately, the success of any advertising campaign is dependent upon many variables. By being as objective and well-informed about who your customers are, what they really want, and how what you offer can best appeal to them, you can greatly improve the chances that your advertising dollars will be returned via significant increase in your customer base and the resulting sales. Choose the right medium for the market and product, and deliver the right message, while still staying within your budgetary restraints, and your advertising efforts will be successful. Fall short in any of these areas, and you’ll only be wasting your money, and possibly turning potential customers away in the process. And those are the two things no business owner can afford to do.

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By CAN Capital

September 25, 2014
End-of-Year Tax Tips for Small Businesses and their Owners

​​The time to prepare for small business taxes is long before tax day arrives. Many of the actions you can take to lower your tax bill—identifying deductions, gathering documentation and incurring expenses—need to happen before the year comes to a close.

Although the end of the year is hectic with holiday business tasks and other responsibilities, it pays to make taxes a priority. While you should rely on your tax preparer for the specifics about what rules apply to your business and when payments are due, you can help with the effort by understanding common tax deductions. This knowledge may help you to identify, track and claim the deductions for which your business is eligible.

The time to prepare for small business taxes is long before tax day arrives. Many of the actions you can take to lower your tax bill—identifying deductions, gathering documentation and incurring expenses—need to happen before the year comes to a close.

Although the end of the year is hectic with holiday business tasks and other responsibilities, it pays to make taxes a priority. While you should rely on your tax preparer for the specifics about what rules apply to your business and when payments are due, you can help with the effort by understanding common tax deductions. This knowledge may help you to identify, track and claim the deductions for which your business is eligible.

Review these common tax deductions to identify the ones that may be available to your company:

Business expenses
A wide variety of expenses related to running your small company can be deducted from the taxes it owes, which can dramatically lower the amount you actually need to pay on tax day. The IRS defines legitimate business expenses as those that are “ordinary and necessary” and common business deductions include: start-up expenses; auto expenses; purchases of office supplies and furniture; expenses related to staff and consultants, rent, and travel; interest on business loans or other business credit; technology investments; and moving expenses. You can find an overview of IRS-approved business expenses here http://www.irs.gov/publications/p535/ar01.html. http://www.irs.gov/publications/p334/

Equipment and software purchases
The cost of technology, machinery and other equipment you buy to use in your business may be deductible, at least in part. The amount that is “allowable” in any given tax year tends to vary, so check with your tax preparer to learn about current tax law. Eligible purchases may include computers, furniture, manufacturing equipment, vehicles and certain business software. This deduction is key for small companies and you may want to talk to your tax preparer about making purchases before year’s end to gain the deduction for that tax year.

Insurance costs
Any well-run company incurs plenty of insurance costs, and many of these may be eligible deductions for your small company. Potential insurance deductions include premiums related to liability, health, malpractice, workers’ compensation and property coverage. Commercial vehicle premiums and life insurance coverage for officers and employees may also be deductible, though business type and location dictate eligibility, so check with your tax preparer.

Your home office
The IRS has specific rules that govern whether or not the home office deduction is available to your business. Generally speaking, an individual homeowner (or renter) is eligible to take the deduction if his or her home office meets any of the following requirements: it is your principal place of business; you use it regularly and do not have another location; you meet clients or customers there; or you use it to store inventory or samples. Check with your tax advisor about whether you qualify and how to calculate this expense if you work from home.

Education expenses
Fees for seminars, classes, books and online learning can often be deducted since sharpening your skills and the skills of your team is important for staying one step ahead. Also ask your tax preparer about costs associated with professional group memberships or trade groups you are part of. Traveling to seminars and conferences put on by these groups—whether local or far flung—can also generate expense deductions.

Retirement plans
Retirement plans are important for financial planning, employee recruitment and staff retention. They can also provide a tax deduction for your small business. The cost of plans, such as 401(k), SEP IRA or SIMPLE IRA, and others, has the potential to provide great benefits and a hefty deduction for your small company.
Business tax deductions represent a great opportunity for you and your company to save precious resources that you can put toward other business expenses. Identifying the deductions you are eligible for can help you achieve the greatest savings.

Tags: small business,accounting,tax

By CAN Capital

September 25, 2014
Five Ways to Strengthen Your Business Credit Report through the Holiday Season

A strong business credit report is an important asset for any small company. With it, a business has the potential to access the capital it needs. A good credit report can also help a business secure the best pricing for supplies and inventory and take advantage of opportunities as they arise, especially as the holiday season approaches.

A strong business credit report is an important asset for any small company. With it, a business has the potential to access the capital it needs. A good credit report can also help a business secure the best pricing for supplies and inventory and take advantage of opportunities as they arise, especially as the holiday season approaches.

These five tips can help you improve your credit rating:

  1. Get your hands on your credit report
  2. The first step toward strengthening your business credit report is to get a copy. Some business owners feel too busy to focus on this task; others avoid it because they are afraid of what the report might contain. While understandable, this “head in the sand” approach can hinder your company’s ability to thrive. Prospective capital providers and vendors may review your company’s credit score with the various business credit bureaus. Since a credit report is widely viewed as a good predictor of a business’s likelihood to pay its bills and stay healthy, those firms will likely place a lot of stock in it. You can order a copy of your report from the major credit bureaus: Dun & Bradstreet®, Experian™ and Equifax®. If your business is “young” and the credit bureaus don’t yet have a profile on you, create a business profile on their sites with all of your current information.
  3. Update basic information
  4. Once you get your report from each credit bureau, be sure the information is correct and up to date. Check for accuracy on basic information such as your business name, contact information, industry and years in operation. Also be sure your report accurately reflects your business incorporation status if that has changed over time. Credit bureaus rely on businesses to self-report this information, so the responsibility lies with you to keep this information current. Establish a time each year, if not more frequently, that you plan to check your reports for accuracy to ensure that they always reflect your current status.
  5. Check your credit rating and payment history
  6. Each reporting bureau will assign your business a rating, or score, based on your revenues, the amount of debt you carry and other factors. The various reporting companies each have their own scoring scale and system, so be sure you understand what each score means before setting out to make changes. An essential component of your credit score is your payment history. Check that your reports accurately reflect important payment details since the reporting companies rely on your vendors to communicate this information to them.
  7. Fix any mistakes
  8. If you have unpaid bills or collections actions on your credit report, pay up to start building a better profile. Unless something is in your credit report mistakenly, you can’t remove it. Instead, you build a better profile through responsible payments. This positive payment history is the best antidote to credit report weaknesses.
  9. Build your payment history
  10. Ensure that all of your major payment relationships are represented in your credit reports, since your profile will be based in large part on these habits. Your company credit will look strong if you pay your bills on time, or ideally early, over a period of time. Also review your payment history to identify actions that may raise a red flag to potential creditors. Activities as simple as shifting from paying in full each payment period to making only minimum payments may signal financial trouble. In some cases a business will benefit from having more debt relationships to demonstrate good repayment habits. Consider this if your business has a minimal debt repayment track record because it is new or in good financial health.

The time and effort you put toward shoring up your business credit report will pay off now and in the years to come. A strong credit report positions your company to take advantage of opportunities as they arise during the holiday season and reach the full potential of your small business.

Tags: seasons,business credit

By CAN Capital

July 24, 2014
​Reaching Your Target Audience - Is Online Marketing the Answer?

Small business owners are told if they aren’t online, they’re missing out on opportunities. CAN Capital’s Small Business Health Index however, found that only 15 percent of small business owners actually consider social media marketing like Facebook ads to be extremely important to their growth strategy. Twenty-eight percent went so far as to say they are not at all important. So what’s the answer?

In today’s digital age, small business owners are told that if they aren’t online, they’re missing out on endless opportunities. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Yelp – you need it all to succeed. And the most important part of your online presence? Targeted web advertisements to reach all of your key demographics. CAN Capital’s Small Business Health Index however, found that only 15 percent of small business owners actually consider social media marketing like Facebook ads to be extremely important to their growth strategy. Twenty-eight percent went so far as to say they are not at all important.

So what’s the answer then? Specialty online marketing firms are on the rise, but the small business owners who are in the trenches every day seem to be saying that the services they offer aren’t really necessary. In fact, a recent article from The Wall Street Journal reported many times these “targeted” ads don’t even reach the correct audiences and therefore, aren’t the value add to businesses that they promise to be. Business owners report frequent instances of their social media advertisements, which they’ve paid quite a bit for, being seen by consumers hundreds of miles away from their local coffee shops or book stores. A business owner in Miami told of multiple phone calls from consumers in Texas and Virginia – not exactly the audiences she was trying to reach!

Now, we certainly don’t want to discount the power of online marketing in helping small businesses grow their presence and reach audiences beyond their borders. However, if you’re a small, family restaurant looking to get information out to your customers about a special, one-time promotion, you want to be sure that it is going to people nearby who can take advantage of it right away. Perhaps the potential customers in Virginia will stop by the restaurant next time they’re in Miami, but that may not be for months. What’s going to pay the bills until then? Furthermore, according to a December 2012-January 2013 Gallup survey, 62 percent of consumers say social media has no influence at all on their purchasing decisions. Only 5 percent say it has a great deal of influence.

So what is the answer?

Do we all give up the internet then? Are those hours spent branding your Yelp page wasted? Not at all! The key to online marketing is optimization. Rather than pouring money into advertisements on Facebook, Google and similar sites, use your social and online tools to engage with customers and build a community. In CAN Capital’s recent Master Class with small business expert, Gene Marks, he said that in today’s market we don’t need to sell to our customers, we need to educate them. Use your Facebook and Twitter pages to offer insight on your specialty. If you’re a local bookshop, share summer reading recommendations. Local clothing store? Link to articles from different magazines and blogs about current trends and designers.

Your online presence is all about building the right audience. Web ads may appear to be the quick, easy way to do that, but in the long run, building a community and strong brand identity will bring you continued success in the years to come.

Tags: small business health index

By CAN Capital

July 22, 2014
​The Results are in: CAN Capital Launches Small Business Health Index and Things are Looking Up

​Growth is on the horizon according to CAN Capital’s inaugural Small Business Health Index, which found that 61 percent of small business owners expect their business to grow over the next 12 months.

Growth is on the horizon according to CAN Capital’s inaugural Small Business Health Index, which found that 61 percent of small business owners expect their business to grow over the next 12 months. The Small Business Health Index, powered by SurveyMonkeyTM, measured the sentiment of over 700 small business owners on market trends, personal business goals, industry challenges, and their outlook for the coming months.

The results of our first Small Business Health Index demonstrate that small business owners are not only expecting growth, but actively taking steps to facilitate and prepare for it. Over a third of small business owners reported that they are exploring new forms of advertising/marketing (such as online ads and email marketing), and over one quarter plan on purchasing equipment or making inventory investments over the next year. Other small business owners indicated that they plan on hiring more employees, opening a new location, or expanding their current location within the next twelve months.

As meaningful growth requires investment, it is not surprising that nearly half (45 percent) of small business owners surveyed anticipate a need for external capital within the next year. However, the majority of these small business owners (61 percent) also reported that gaining access to working capital is quite or extremely challenging. At CAN Capital we’re committed to helping small businesses grow and succeed, and we deliver on this by providing access to working capital that small businesses may have difficulty obtaining elsewhere. Another way that we aim to deliver on this commitment is by providing the small business community with education and resources that lead to actionable advice.

Moving forward, this survey and its corresponding Index will be published on a regular basis as a way to provide greater insight into the trends affecting small businesses and help small business owners themselves make decisions that can positively affect their profitability and future success.

To learn more about the results of the CAN Capital Small Business Health Index check out our infographic which outlines key findings. You can also view the full survey results here. Follow CAN Capital on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Tags: small business health index

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: This is not investment, tax, or legal advice. Should you have questions, please consult your own attorney, tax accountant, or other appropriate expert having expertise in the area of your question or before making important decisions in these areas.​