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By CAN Capital

November 18, 2014
For Small Business Saturday Shouldn’t We Give Rather Than Get?

By Gene Marks

Small business influencer Gene Marks is a guest blogger for CAN Capital. He is a celebrated author, columnist and small business owner.

​Join me for CAN Capital’s Tweetchat with Melinda Emerson on November 19th, where we’ll launch CAN Capital’s “Tell Us Your Story” contest. You’ll be asked to answer this question on CAN Capital’s Facebook page: “What is your small business planning for Small Business Saturday?” The best two answers will each win a $100 gift card and a free consulting hour with me. I’ll get to know your business and promise to make recommendations to help you cut costs, grow revenues and improve your profits.

By Gene Marks

Small business influencer Gene Marks is a guest blogger for CAN Capital. He is a celebrated author, columnist and small business owner.

Hopefully by now you’ve heard of Small Business Saturday. It’s on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 29th this year. The occasion began only in 2010, but it has become a phenomenon. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses are participating this year and companies that cater to small businesses are out in force showing their support. Even the President usually marks the occasion with an annual visit to a local small business. And you have to give credit where credit is due: Small Business Saturday was started as a marketing promotion by American Express and they really have done an incredible job growing it.

The prevailing approach is to advertise the importance of small businesses so that communities appreciate the value they bring to the economy. Most of the small business owners I know use the occasion as their own little marketing event. They put stickers on their shop windows, signs on their counters, and purchase ads encouraging people to “shop small.” They ask the community to buy from small businesses. They use the occasion to boost their sales. This is why Small Business Saturday is smack in the middle between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Why not let small businesses get in on the shopping fun, right?

Maybe. But I’m not sure I entirely agree. I don’t think Small Business Saturday is about selling. I think it’s about something else. I think it’s about giving.

If you’re running a small business successfully then you have a lot to be grateful for. You’re in a country that gives you the freedom to be your own boss. You have proven your independence, your intelligence, your ability to work hard, your grit. And you have provided your community of customers with a good service or product—so good that they keep coming back. And, thanks to all this, you’re truly able to realize the American dream and earn a decent living. So instead of asking your customers to do more, to buy more, to appreciate you more, maybe that day should be about something different. Maybe that day is about you appreciating them. It’s a day for you, the small business owner to say “thank you” to those customers and communities for supporting you and your business.

So, maybe this Small Business Saturday you do something different: you pay it back. You offer steep discounts. You sell things at cost. You hold a nice event at your store where you give away products or at least a glass of wine. You give away some of the profits from the day to an organization in need. You make it a point to use Small Business Saturday as a day to, not only show how important small businesses are to the community, but how important the community is to your small business. That’s the way to really celebrate Small Business Saturday. That, to me, is what it’s all about.

And to put my money where my mouth is, I’ll do the same. Join me for CAN Capital’s Tweetchat with Melinda Emerson on November 19th, where we’ll launch CAN Capital’s “Tell Us Your Story” contest. You’ll be asked to answer this question on CAN Capital’s Facebook page: “What is your small business planning for Small Business Saturday?” The best two answers will each win a $100 gift card and a free consulting hour with me. I’ll get to know your business and promise to make recommendations to help you cut costs, grow revenues and improve your profits. My typical rate for this is $250 per hour.

It’s not much. It’s just an hour. It’s just a couple of hundred bucks. But it’s something. I’d like to give something back to the small business owners, my clients and friends, who have enabled me to pay my mortgage and college tuition for my kids. It’s a way to say thank you. And I can’t think of a better day than Small Business Saturday to do this.

Tags: twitter,small business saturday

By CAN Capital

November 17, 2014
​Modern and Effective Marketing Tips

​​​Modern and Effective Marketing Tips

By Gene Marks

Small business influencer Gene Marks is a guest blogger for CAN Capital. He is a celebrated author, columnist and small business owner.

Do you want to improve your marketing? Then stop marketing. And start educating. Read CAN Capital’s financial blog to learn more.

​Modern and Effective Marketing Tips

By Gene Marks

Small business influencer Gene Marks is a guest blogger for CAN Capital. He is a celebrated author, columnist and small business owner.

Do you want to improve your marketing? Then stop marketing. And start educating. Things have changed since the days of “Mad Men.” You don’t sell. You nurture. You help. You teach. You stay in front of your prospects and customers as often as you can, without being too intrusive, and provide them with helpful information to make their lives better. You can’t put a gun to your prospect or customer’s head and say “buy from me NOW!” All you can do is keep yourself and your company in their thoughts so that when they do need something that you provide they’ll think of you first.

The good thing is that there are plenty of great, inexpensive technologies to help you do this. For example:

There are email services, like Constant Contact, Jangomail, MyEmma, MailChimp and others. These are reputable and popular ways to keep in touch with your prospects and communities. They’re inexpensive. They have easy-to-configure templates and great metrics to track who is opening, reading and clicking on links in your emails. No matter what business you run, you should be sending newsletters, updates, bulletins or helpful hints and messages to your audience using an email service. And not just one email either. You need to segment your database and send multiple groups of emails that are relevant to your recipients, not just one generic message.

There are printing services. Yes, printing. Because not everyone reads their email. So look at Vista Print, Print Place or the many other companies who provide similar services. Here you can create a simple, but effective postcard to mail out to your community. Put a photo on the front and a story on the back – don’t make it all about you. Use good, free stock photography from MorgueFile or Getty Images. Even with postage it costs about a buck a card to send, and if you do this for a long enough period of time, people will expect to get your messages and read them.

Send voice and text messages. I like VoiceShot for calls and Tatango for texts. There are people in your community who prefer to get phone calls. There are others who only want texts. Now there are services like these that can do this for you en masse and inexpensively. Remember, these are “OPT IN”….you always want to get permission from your customers or prospects to contact them in this way. But once you do, you can use services like these to update them on important issues, price increases, new products or service concerns of interest.

And don’t forget social media, of course. That’s because, depending on your customers, you may have a large community on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. And if that’s the case, you’ll want to devote resources (i.e. people) to monitor your sites there, update them with new information, keep things active, respond to customer messages and build your community.

In 2014 (and 2015), there are plenty of marketing technology tools available to help you stay close to your community. But the most important thing to remember? Don’t use the marketing tools for marketing. Use these tools for education. Offer tips, advice, helpful hints and content that will be interesting and helpful to read. This will keep your community involved and interested. And it will ultimately lead to a closer relationship and more sales.

Tags: marketing tips,effective marketing,small business marketing

By CAN Capital

November 12, 2014
Five Things I’ve Learned about Insurance

By Gene Marks

Small business influencer Gene Marks is a guest blogger for CAN Capital. He is a celebrated author, columnist and small business owner.

About seven years ago, a client was really upset with me over a software project that went seriously over budget. He threatened a lawsuit. Thankfully, we talked and worked it out, both sharing responsibility. It was that experience that motivated me to upgrade my business insurance policy to include extra coverage for professional malpractice. I’m sleeping better these days.

By Gene Marks

Small business influencer Gene Marks is a guest blogger for CAN Capital. He is a celebrated author, columnist and small business owner.

About seven years ago, a client was really upset with me over a software project that went seriously over budget. He threatened a lawsuit. Thankfully, we talked and worked it out, both sharing responsibility. It was that experience that motivated me to upgrade my business insurance policy to include extra coverage for professional malpractice. I’m sleeping better these days.
And so is a client of mine who, just over a year ago, suffered through a fire at her store that began in another store next to hers. She was not only reimbursed by her insurance company for lost inventory, but also for the business interruption. She’s sleeping better, too.

No one actually likes buying insurance. And you hope you never have to use it. But you have to have it. How good is your insurance plan? Do you have business insurance? Maybe this is the time to re-evaluate it. And if you don’t have it, this is definitely the time to get it. In either case, here are five things I’ve learned about insurance.

Be honest with your agent. Don’t hide your skeletons. Don’t think you’re doing yourself a favor by not disclosing your risks and trying to get a lower premium. The whole point of insurance is actually covering your risks. So this is the one time to be honest about them. How sell-able is your older inventory? How exposed are you to your competition? How vulnerable are you to fire or other types of damage? How safe is your neighborhood? How collectible are your receivables? These are questions that have to be truthfully asked and answered so that your insurance agent can make sure you truly have the right coverage. You can tell your customers and suppliers anything you want. But your insurance agent is one person who deserves 100 percent full disclosure. If this means you pay a little extra premium, then so be it.

Look for service, not pricing. The cheapest insurance is not always the best. Like with everything else, you get what you pay for. Sure, there are good companies that sell insurance online. But the most important part of it is your agent. Because when the you-know-what hits the fan, you want to be sure that your agent will be in the foxhole with you, and representing your best interests. Your business is all about assessing risks and smart business owners surround themselves with good advisors to help them make decisions. And a good insurance agent is as important as your CPA, banker and attorney. You should see this person two to three times a year. He or she should always pick up the phone, always be willing to talk and share advice with you and hopefully be networked in your community to introduce you to others who can help your business.

Get a couple of audits. If you’re really thinking of making a switch, or just buying insurance for the first time, have two to three insurance agents or firms meet with you. Let them walk around, kick the tires, ask their questions and make recommendations. Some will tell you how to create a disaster recovery plan or improve conditions in the warehouse. A good insurance person will provide free consulting services, recommending ways to improve safety, safeguard assets and protect yourself and your employees. You’re looking for someone who provides this free consulting service, because if they’re willing and confident enough to give their advice for free, they’re probably competent enough to handle your business.

Don’t forget the underwriter. Your broker is important, but even more important is the company who will be writing the check. And not all underwriters are the same. If we learned anything from the last financial crisis, it was that no one is too big to fail. This means that if you’ve got a problem, you want to make sure your underwriter is financially solvent to make good on their promises and also has a history of not being a pain-in-the-neck when it comes to paying out claims. A good broker will be upfront with you but you need to take time to investigate the insurance company online, get credit reports and ask other insurance agents and people in the know.

Finally – revisit your insurance every year. Don’t just think this is a one-off exercise and then blindly write a premium check every year. You have to re-visit it from scratch at least every other year. Things change all the time, and it will not take much of a change in your business (a big customer, added construction, new employees) to affect whether or not your coverage is still adequate. Also know that the world outside changes too – for example, insurance that covers data breaches and security issues have become extremely popular among small businesses. Do you have that? Right, neither did I.

These are just a few thoughts. None of us like insurance. But it’s important. And when you need it, you’ll be glad you have it.

Tags: business,insurance,insurance coverage

By CAN Capital

November 05, 2014
Increasing Your Small Business’s Cash Flow

By Gene Marks

Small business influencer Gene Marks is a guest blogger for CAN Capital. He is a celebrated author, columnist and small business owner.

Want to increase your cash flow? Here are three ways to increase your cash flow with a just a few tweaks to how you do your accounting. Read CAN Capital’s financial blog to learn more.

By Gene Marks

Small business influencer Gene Marks is a guest blogger for CAN Capital. He is a celebrated author, columnist and small business owner.

Want to increase your cash flow? It’s not as hard as you think. Many people think first about increasing their sales or cutting their expenses. But ask any accountant (like me) and they’ll tell you something different: the secret to increasing your cash flow is right under your nose. It’s your accounting system. What does that mean? Here are three ways to increase your cash flow with a just a few tweaks to how you do your accounting.

Get invoices out faster. Sure, you’re busy. You’ve got problems. You’re running around. You finished the job. You shipped the product. You’re done with the service. But you’re not invoicing right away, are you? You’re sitting on the paperwork, waiting until the end of the week, holding it all off until your catch-up day. Wrong. Every hour that you’re not invoicing for work done is costing you money. Money that’s still sitting in your customer’s bank account and not yours. You need to change this. Every day, have a process for getting invoices created, printed, approved and sent for every bit of work that was completed. Try to email them because it’s faster. Set up automatic invoicing in your accounting system for those customers that are on a recurring plan. When the invoice is sent, have someone in your office contact the customer just to confirm it made it to the right party and that it was scheduled for payment because, well…you never know, right? That will get the clock rolling and ensure that payment comes to you quicker.

Use alerts. Good accounting systems today have automatic alerts built in that you can use to let you know about things in advance. You can set an alert so that you’re getting an email when an invoice is coming due, when a quote has been outstanding for more than a few weeks or when inventory items are falling below safety levels. You want to operate your business by looking ahead, not reacting to surprises. The more you can jump on these problems before they become problems, the less risk you have of bleeding cash while you’re waiting to collect from that customer, getting that deposit for that new job or holding off work (and delaying your billing) while you’re waiting for inventory to be re-ordered and received. Having an alert system will make a significant improvement to your cash flow.

Read your general ledger. It’s not the most exciting activity, but it’s a cash-rich exercise. Every month, print out your detailed general ledger from your accounting system and review it in detail. You’ll be informed. You’ll be educated. And you’ll find some interesting things. Like, why are you using this particular vendor when you know there’s another one who has cheaper prices? Or why you have multiple invoices being sent to the same company when you know there’s a better way to collect. Or why your payments seem sporadic from that particular customer. Make your notes, ask your questions, and follow up on the things you learn from reviewing your general ledger. Every action you take will be one little adjustment to the process of moving cash faster.

Sure, there are plenty of other things you can do to help increase your cash flow. And they all add up. But these are three things any accountant would do. And who better to look to for guidance than the people that handle cash for a living?

Tags: cash flow,small business

By CAN Capital

November 04, 2014
Your Business Should be Planning for Holiday Sales

​​To finish this year strong, now is the time to iron out any company wrinkles that could stand in the way of successful holiday sales. Use the tips below to identify opportunities for last-minute improvements that could help you make the most of this important season. Read CAN Capital’s financial blog to learn more.

​Holiday Best Practices

The 2014 holiday season is expected to bring in almost 20 percent of the retail industry’s total annual sales. This prediction from the National Retail Federation means that many small companies are eager to capture a portion of this holiday spending this year.

To finish this year strong, now is the time to iron out any company wrinkles that could stand in the way of successful holiday sales. Use the tips below to identify opportunities for last-minute improvements that could help you make the most of this important season.

Identify your choke points. Think back to last year. What got in the way of maximizing holiday sales? If you ran out of a best-selling item, lost customers because of long checkout lines, or missed out on marketing opportunities like Small Business Saturday, this is the time to make important modifications.

Make staff part of your company. Demand is high for qualified seasonal help this year, and with a little training you can improve the skills of anyone you hire. Make the time to familiarize hires with key details of your company such as your unique value in the marketplace, features of your lead offerings, and competitor profiles. Also insist that hires know the locations, online or in-store, of products so that they can assist customers with finding what they need.

Plan for customer service issues. Frazzled customers with last-minute requests, lost packages, and other service glitches are a holiday given. Making a plan for assisting customers who are upset will minimize the impact of these situations on your holiday potential. Train staff (particularly new hires) in how to diffuse situations and route customers quickly to the right resources. Remember that an upset customer, handled properly, can become a loyal advocate of your business.

Delight your customers. Shoppers have more choices than ever about where to make their purchases. Encourage them to choose your business by enhancing their experience with your brand. For instance, offer a secure bag check so they can shop hands-free, create a supervised kids’ play area, pass out energy bars and bottles of water, or set up a massage chair in a quiet corner.

Review your website. Comb through your website for dated content, broken links and missing products or images. Run sample product searches to see if the site returns accurate results. If you have an e-commerce site, test the checkout process to make sure it works smoothly and securely. You may want to share this task with a trusted friend or business contact. People outside your company may be able to be more objective about their experience with the site.

Streamline in-store checkout. Scrutinize your checkout area to determine the best way to move people through their transactions. Do you need a credit card-only line? Would it be helpful to have one employee bag purchases while another rings them up? Will you have one checkout line or multiple lines? Customers will appreciate clear guidance on where to go and how to pay.

Differentiate. Now is the time to promote what’s special about your business and give people a reason to shop with you instead of a competitor. Are your products made locally? Are you an exclusive dealer of a sought- after brand? Are your products preservative-free or made daily? Promote your unique value on in-store signage, in marketing materials and on your website. Be sure your staff can communicate your differentiators clearly.

Boost your marketing efforts. Use one or more of these strategies to bring traffic to your store and website:

Special events. Draw in business with special offers tied to shopping holidays like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday. Or create your own special event with a tie to your core offerings. For instance, a day spa might offer complimentary foot massages for weary shoppers or free makeup consultations. Give participants a discount on any items they buy on the day of the event.

Social media. Use social platforms and location-based services such as Google Maps and Yelp to drive traffic to your store. For example, if you know an item is in short supply, post Facebook and Twitter updates when new shipments arrive. If you run a restaurant, use Yelp to offer a free appetizer to shoppers within a certain radius of your store.

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. As the gift-giving season heats up, more and more people will go online to search for specific products. Search engine and Facebook ads that feature best-selling products and hard-to-find items can put your company on the radar when shoppers are ready to buy.

Loyalty offers. Encourage repeat business by offering a coupon for a return visit or a gift card when shoppers reach a milestone spending level. For example, at checkout you might pass out vouchers for $10 off the next purchase or provide a $25 gift card with every $250 in spending.

Product bundling. Make it easy for gift givers to stay within their budgets by bundling products into packages at different price levels. For example, a women’s boutique might bundle costume jewelry sets for $25; a glove, hat and scarf combo for $50; and a shirt and sweater set for $75.

Tags: holiday sales,business planning

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.​