JoAnn Laing's Blog - All About Small Business

Subscribe to JoAnn Laing's Blog - All About Small Business feed JoAnn Laing's Blog - All About Small Business
All About Small Business
Updated: 2 hours 5 min ago

Technologies For Growth

Wed, 01/05/2022 - 17:03

All businesses rely on technology in some way, but the vast majority are not taking full advantage of all the ways being more tech savvy can improve their businesses.

Almost everyone agrees technology increases how small businesses interface with employees, new and existing customers, vendors, partners, etc. 

But our most recent small business research at 3 Oxbridges shows:

  • 83% of small businesses are not taking full advantage of available technology;
  • 68% of employees say automation helps them be more productive, and they feel less stressed at work; and
  • 90% of small businesses reported technology helps them compete with larger businesses. 

In brief, adapting technology and systems can make a positive difference in your small business’ success.

Here at 3 Oxbridges we have put together some of the technologies your small business should consider leveraging in 2022.

Hybrid Workforce Technology – Seek purpose-built technology solutions that bring equity, parity, presence and inclusion to hybrid work.  Use work tools that allow employees to work when and where they want; seek vendors with end-to-end capabilities to securely deploy to remote users, offer hardware and software managed services and provide end-user tech support. 

Enhance Digital Security – Digital threats are a growing reality.  Whether it is private customer data, proprietary company information or financial accounts, security must remain a priority in 2022.  Security with seamless authentication driven by artificial intelligence and biometric technology (such as fingerprint scans) is key for small businesses.  Also, use intelligent security technology and training to mitigate insider breaches.

Monitors – The desktop monitors your employees use can transform their work experience for increased comfort and capabilities. New monitors offer larger screen real estate and single cable management for easy connections; they also feature higher resolution, new aspect ratios such as ultra-wide and low blue light tech to reduce eye strain. Further, new monitors will extend functionality for employees as they can provide a docking hub for connection of other devices such as smartphones, speakers, headphones and tablets.

Remote Teamwork Tech Tools – Consider acquiring IT solutions such as firewall management to protect your company’s network from cybersecurity issues. A reliable and trustworthy IT company will ensure that your firewall is always updated with the manufacturer’s latest firmware and security updates, keeping your business secure.

Accessories – Create up-to-date, efficient workspaces with accessories; it is important for productivity but also for personal well-being.  Provide employees with complementary tools that bridge the gap between home and office will elevate the experience and empower hybrid working trends.  Consider providing power banks, noise-canceling headphones certified for unified communications platforms, plus ergonomic mice and keyboards.

Cloud and Digital Printing – Facilitate the printing needs of your in-person, remote and hybrid workforces. Cloud print management services routes printing jobs from any web-connected device to an internet-connected printer, eliminating the need for printer drivers. Digital printing is valuable because of its fast turnaround times, use of variable data, new inkjet printing processes (matte, silk, glossy finishes), and environmental friendliness with only the exact amounts of ink and toner are used, and no harmful chemicals are needed for clean-up.

Mobile 5G – The new global wireless standard has lightning-fast data transfer speeds, positive user experience, and network reliability. 5G can help small business by allowing: increased website and app speed; instant video, audio, and image streaming; customer connections in real-time; use of AR, VR, and 3D; collection of hyper-local, detailed data and analytics; and personalized customer experiences.

Chatbots – Utilize chatbot technology to chat with existing and prospective customers and answer their questions immediately will take their loyalty and your conversions and sales to incredible heights.  Nearly two-thirds (64%) of 3 Oxbridge survey respondents say that they prefer messaging with a chatbot to making an effort to communicate with a business through phone or email.  Additionally, our survey found that customer benefits from chatbots included 24-hour service, plus getting an instant response to inquiries/simple questions. 

Voice Search and Virtual Assistant – Voice command technology actively leads to profits for businesses that utilize technology that makes it easy to show the exact information or product that a person has utilized a voice search to find.  Consider how you can tailor your digital strategy to better meet voice search requests

E-Signatures – Electronic signatures are an affordable way to safely and securely handle critical business documents such as sales contracts and personnel offer letters.  Legally binding with bank-level encryption, eSignatures on small business agreement workflows are signed about 80% faster than paper contracts, according to a recent 3 Oxbridges survey.  Identify the software that fits best with your small business needs, and integrates easily with other cloud computing technologies (HubSpot, Google Suite, Slack, and Dropbox).

Apps – Use fewer apps to run your businesses.  This does not mean a drop in the use of digital tools, it means better-integrated products and services.  For example, use a CRM as centralized systems for customer interaction, sales, service, and marketing; this can be found all within the same app.

Video Software – Many suppliers, internal team members, and customers see video conferencing as an essential way to maintain quality relationships.  Find a simple, consolidated, unified video conferencing solution (with a centrally managed user interface) that: makes screen sharing easy; allows for real-time instant messaging and live chat; empowers people to be engaged; provides event live streaming; and has reliable meeting recording available.

Virtual Events – A virtual event can be a webinar, Livestream, or can be as complex as a conference.  Businesses can launch new products or services as they are largely accessible and inclusive to customers and prospects regardless of their ability or location.  It is also a good way to engage with your customers to teach them something about your business or any other valuable subject.  You can also get feedback on your products or services so you can improve them.

Omni-channel Marketing – Foster the seamless connection of all marketing channels available to your customers so they can experience consistent communication across every platform; invest only in technology platforms that give your brand the power of omni-channel marketing.  3 Oxbridges’ research shows that companies actively using omni-channel marketing consistently retain 89% of their customer base compared to a 33% retention rate for businesses without omni-channel engagement.

Video Marketing – Video is the medium of choice for businesses that want to distribute content that will have a high level of engagement and will get seen from start to finish.  Optimized videos are also now shown directly in relevant searches, with Google now offering video snippet previews in its video carousel. Consider using technology that offers 360-degree video.

Accelerated Mobile Pages – Search engines drive a lot of free traffic to your website, with up to 60% of it being generated from mobile devices.  The faster your page loads, the lower the bounce rate, leading to improved rankings. With accelerated mobile page technology, pages load very fast (under 0.5 seconds), making it ideal for small businesses to leverage mobile traffic.

Personalization – Marketing automation technology is the key to keeping your customer engaged and/or continuing to make purchases; it allows your business to email customers different emails that will appeal to them based on past email opens, purchases, or click-throughs.  Almost half of customers spend more when their email experience with a brand is personalized.

Messaging through Apps – An ideal option for marketing your products and services where prospective customers are.  Social apps allow you to personalize the messages you send to your customers, allowing them to have direct and natural contact with you in a platform they are comfortable with.  When considering different social media platforms, consider the demographic of the audience you are trying to reach.

Sale on Social Networks – E-commerce is being integrated into social media platforms making it possible to purchase from the publishers through tags so transactions can happen on the apps, making them a good place to find leads and convert them.

AI and Big Data – CRM tools keep investing in AI and big data to enable customers to become more intelligent and efficient.  Small businesses gain the capability to understand their business performance and how their customers could benefit from additional services.  AI and big data offer the power of customer segmentation, click tracking, retargeting, customized push notifications, and so much more; it can help your business deliver real-time, personalized ads and messaging across different social platforms.

Also, augmented and virtual reality create custom workplaces for employees, immersive training, efficient data analysis and enhanced productivity.

Business technology allows small businesses to work more efficiently and be more competitive.  

  • It promotes remote working; employees and business owners can work from anywhere, enhancing work-life balance. 
  • It enables you to track sales and assets, market effectively, improve productivity, and provide better products and services.  
  • It enhances team collaboration to organize your projects, assign tasks, monitor projects effectively, and maintain schedules.
  • Plus, helps you to effectively target audience segments while meeting customer needs; and allows your business to open up new markets online to reach wider audiences, even those outside your geographical area.

Consider leveraging one, many or all the above technologies in 2022 to enhance your interfaces, streamline operations, and boost your small business growth.

Year-end Preparations

Wed, 12/01/2021 - 18:11

Year-end is a busy time both professionally and personally.  As a small business owner or manager, you have an even longer list of things to think about.  But devoting attention to your business not only helps you end 2021 in the best way possible, it also sets you up for success in 2022.


Here are some activities you should consider focusing on.

Accounting/Finances

  • Run standard financial reports, such as an income statement, balance sheet and a cash flow statement.  Doing so gives you an opportunity to look at the big picture and a guide to your company’s financial position and health. 
  • Compare the amount earned in a period of time (4th quarter 2021 or all of 2021) versus the amount spent through your income statement; it is also called a profit and loss statement.
  • Look at your balance sheet to determine if you are profitable; it does this by comparing everything the business owns(physical inventory, property or equipment, trademarks, and invoices the business needs to collect)against everything the business owes (pension plan obligations or invoices needing payment).
  • Analyze cash flow statement to identify where cash was spent, trends for operating (revenues and expenses), investments (assets purchased and sold), and financial decisions (loans and repayments) activities throughout the year to see if you generated or lost money.
  • Calculate a few metrics to get a better handle on your business: current ratio (current assets divided by current liabilities) ideally should be between 1.5 and 2; debt ratio (total debt divided by your total assets) anything below .3 is considered fair; and gross profit margin (divide profit by total revenue) shows what percentage of your income is actually profit.

If you do need some adjustment (such as more sales and/or fewer expenses), financial documents show you where adjustments are needed and tell you how much you need to adjust.

Also, if you’re in the market for funding, expansion, or mentorship, financial documents are often required to let interested parties see the financial records of your business. 

You might also want to also speak with your accountant or CPA about any questions you might have.

  • Get your tax documents together.  You may need to fill out tax forms, which may include Form 1099-NEC and Form 1096, W-2 Forms and W-3 Forms, State and federal payroll returns (Form 940) or quarterly (Form 941). 

Plus you should compile your income, both business and personal, if relevant.  Gather all your deductions.

  • Verify vendor or supplier information for contact information (contact name, email, telephone number, mailing address); make sure to include any new relationships started during the year.  If time permits, evaluate your vendor relationships and look for opportunities to negotiate better terms for 2022.
  • Reconcile accounts receivable, the invoices remaining unpaid and past due by customers for work completed and/or goods purchased.  Collecting accounts receivables will give boost your cash flow and start 2022 in a better position.
  • Check on payroll and benefits.  Handle any issues or corrections that need to be made before year-end.  Ensure taxable fringe benefits (such as company car, third-party sick pay) and other benefits (such as health and life insurance, transportation subsidies, educational reimbursement) are accounted for.

Human Resources

  • Do an audit of the information you have on all your employees. Make sure you have the correct phone numbers, addresses, and payroll information for each one. 
  • Update the status of new hires or former employees, including access, if any, to computer systems or financial information.
  • Use year-end incentives to reward individuals and your team(s).  Yes, money is always welcome, but also consider paid time off, flexible schedules, perhaps a gift or a party as a way to say thank you as well increase employee satisfaction and morale as you close out the year and head into 2022.
  • Consider conducting a drive for charity for a give-back to your community and as a possible business benefit.
  • Consider whether you need to hire worker or there are areas where you can cut back on your team?  To better suit your business needs, think about adjusting hours, rearranging schedules, and whether some employees can work remotely.  Instead of a new employee, consider a part-time person, seasonal worker, gig worker, or a college intern.
  • Celebrate your business successes.  Document and share the accomplishments and wins achieved during the year by individuals, teams and the business as a whole.  These activities are a great way to build camaraderie, increase morale, and end the year on a high note.

Information Technology

  • Backup your computer, plus ensure all data is stored as securely as possible.  Important files such as accounting documents, point-of-sale systems, customer information, valuable emails, creative and proprietary briefs, employee records, and other critical business information should be put on external hard drives or in cloud-based storage systems.
  • Download your important files and reports, even if you have them on a cloud-based system like Box or Dropbox.  Create two separate digital copies and store them in separate locations, plus have one offline/hard/printed copy that is store in another location.
  • Evaluate your filing naming conventions.  Consider implementing a company-wide file-naming system, such as Name-Date-Invoice#, if you don’t already have one; it will keep your file organized and make finding documents easier for everyone.
  • Backup your contacts and/or cell phone to the cloud or a hard drive, especially if you don’t have a cloud service that regularly conducts a backup.  Make sure you have current information for your most important business contacts.

Other Year-end Activities

  • Take an inventory count. Conduct a count of physical products and material as close to December 31st as possible.  Investigate any significant discrepancies between actual and recorded inventory.  An annual physical inventory is not only important for tax purposes, but is a great way for you to evaluate what products sell well and identify which ones don’t do as well.
  • Contact suppliers about slow-moving inventory; unless it is obsolete, perhaps they will be willing to exchange it for something you can turn over more quickly.
  • Conduct a physical asset count.  Check for all assets on your books.
  • Check business licenses and permits, they may need to be renewed.  Some are subject to sales taxes; others are subject to testing, inspections, and/or certifications.
  • Ensure intellectual properties that need to be protected from potential theft by competitors through registration and then being in commerce “consistently and in a high-quality manner.”  Ownership then must be renewed every ten years.
  • Know and follow-through on your business’ annual compliance requirements, which vary by state and by business structure.
  • Audit your website.  Check to make sure all your website links are functional, that your contact information is up-to-date and works.  Update images or headline to keep your site looking up to date.
  • Update your business goals.  With input from your team(s), customers, partners and financial statements, assess your 2021 goals and determine whether you fulfilled them or where you fell short; perhaps you need a last minute push if your goals are within sight. 

Or,

  • If, unfortunately, you are closing your business be aware of and follow the dissolution process defined by your business’ structure.

In all the hustle and bustle of doing business through the end of the year, don’t forget to take some time to do some year-end preparations; it will be time well spent and get your business in good shape for the new year.

Now if you are super ambitious, why not get a start on 2022?

Plan 2022 Goals – with your 2021 learnings, set your goals for 2022 and write them down.

Develop Action Plans – create an action plan to help you achieve each goal.  The best goals are specific, measureable, attainable and time-based.

Plan Time to Keep Financial and Tax Records Up-to-Date – set aside time to update both on a quarterly basis as well as to meet with accountants and/or financial advisors.

Create Your Marketing Plans – think about what areas of marketing you want to focus on.

Assess Employee Engagement – review your compensation and benefits to ensure they remain competitive.  Develop possible promotional paths going forward to foster loyalty and keep your best performers.  Plan company get-togethers (barbeques, hikes, etc.) that are advantageous to everyone.

May 2022 be your best year yet.

Communication Challenges with Remote Workers

Sun, 11/07/2021 - 16:50

Business communications have become almost too challenging in this new pandemic environment.

In the hybrid world, business owners and leaders worry that organizational cohesion is being lost.

Remote works offer communication challenges including:

  • Use of jargon or over-complicated, unfamiliar or technical terms
  • Emotional and taboos; physical barriers to non-verbal communication
  • Expectations and prejudices; cultural differences
  • Information overload; lack of attention, interest, distractions, or irrelevance to the receiver
  • Differences in perception and viewpoint
  • Physical disabilities such as hearing problems or speech difficulties
  • Use of technologies
  • Organizational development
  • Work-Life balance

The effects of these communication problems on remote employees include:

  • Miscommunication
  • Lack of connection
  • Lack of collaboration
  • Lack of trust
  • Feelings of alienation
  • Over-communication
  • Personal aversion to interaction

To ease these challenges, here are some best communication practices for owners and leaders to deliver news, updates, and remediation:

  • Be an active listener
  • Ask effective questions
  • Understand and know your audience
  • Listen to nonverbal communication
  • Over-communicate effectively
  • Begin and end powerfully
  • Timing is everything
  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable
  • Have fun!

If you want to learn more about communication challenges and solutions with a remote work force as well as suggestions for what you can implement right now to enhance communications with remote workers, listen to a panel of experts discussing this on Biz-Bytes at https://youtu.be/AH61k8lac9g

Being a business leader requires constant adjustment to changing challenges.  With remote workers becoming more common, you need to operate effectively in this new world.  Most of you will.