JoAnn Laing's Blog - All About Small Business

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All About Small Business
Updated: 21 min 13 sec ago

End Of Year Checklist

Wed, 11/02/2022 - 17:04

As year-end approaches, most small businesses are busy with the holiday season, so time is precious.  Nevertheless, it is critical for small business owners and managers to set aside time to handle year-end activities.  Like prior years, we are putting forth a checklist of tasks to take care of so your business finishes the year well and is set-up for a good start in 2023.

Revenue – Check to see how you are doing against your 2022 target.  If you are ahead, excellent; keep going to finish strong.  If you are behind, now is the time to plan a year-end push: plan a promotion, holiday(s) sales, or another effort to generate additional sales.

Marketing – Review your brand.  Does your website reflect what your business does/sells?  Update its information, images, headlines, and content to keep customers informed and engaged.  Also, tweak your inbound (highlighted in last month’s blog) and outbound marketing materials to maximize their effectiveness.

Financial Reports – While you have to wait until all the figures are in, you can pull your records together and do a pre-close (P&L, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow) with 10 months of data plus an estimate to see where your business may end up.  Then make adjustments to your spending and other financial activities to help reach your business goals.  Speak with your financial advisor or accountant about any questions you might have.  Plus, with having done a pre-close, finalizing the financial reports in early January should be a snap.

Employees – Review your employees: do you have the right people in the right positions?  Do evaluations.  Also, verify their information for contact (telephone number, email, mailing address), payroll, benefits, compliance, etc.  Consider their access to physical assets, computer systems, financial information, and other proprietary assets.  Make necessary hirings or layoffs for the holidays and next year; consider temporary and part-time help as well.

Inventory and Assets – Now is a good time to check your inventory; physically count it.  Do you have what is needed to make your business grow?  Note missing things and include them in financials, and institute loss prevention.  Note and make adjustments for what products are selling and which are not.  For the latter, contact your suppliers and see if they are willing to exchange slow-moving for something you can sell faster or put the older inventory on sale to raise cash and make room for a new product.

Suppliers – Do a refresh, not only on their contact information but also on payment terms, and enhance the relationships.  Consider expanding business with those who are supporting you and replacing those who are not.

Technology – Being up-to-date, protected, and compliant can be advantageous for your business and minimize risks.  Make the time to back-up systems (computers and mobile devices); this is critical, and lost information is hard or impossible to replace.  Plus, information is sensitive, whether it be your business’ and/or customers’ information.  Protecting customer information is essential; consider who has access to it and how to prevent it from getting into the wrong hands.  There are laws protecting information, and you want your business to be compliant.

Achievements – Create a list of your business accomplishments.  Reflect on all the good that has happened, and learn from any shortfalls.

2023 – As you want to start the year off positively, plan ahead.  Set goals.  Make a budget.  Plan employee training and development.  Expand your partnerships.

Here is to your success in finishing 2022, as well as beginning afresh and being well-prepared for 2023.

Business Essentials

Sat, 10/01/2022 - 17:41

Preparing your business for what lies ahead, adapting to changes, handling challenges, and seizing opportunities is the mark of a good leader.

Over the years of working with small businesses, as an owner and advisor, I have keyed in on a few essentials that can make a difference in business success. I want to share with you what I have learned.

People 

First, it is all about the people involved in your business: employees, customers, partners, and suppliers. 

As the business leader, you must ensure connection, communication, and clarity, especially during change and disruption. Nurture relationships to create bonds; they can withstand periods of change. 

Communicate in the form other people are most comfortable with (face-to-face, over the telephone, via text or email, etc.). Be accessible for others to reach you and make the time to answer their questions. 

Be clear about expectations and plans for today and the future, individually and for the business. 

Managing interpersonal relationships is one of the most critical responsibilities of a business leader and human being. 

Focus

While economic conditions change, focus on your business purpose and fundamentals.

Look at why you are in business and what you are trying to achieve. Always be cognizant of and share the business’ purpose and goals. Then examine how you are doing it; think of values and execution. Lead with good character; your integrity and positively affecting the communities your business serves matters. 

Also, look at how you run your business; stay focused on the fundamentals. Strive for continuous improvement of processes, financial rigor (which we will in part address in the next point), and accountability of those involved in making it a success.

Your leadership focus is on how and why, and what you do.

Cash Flow

Cash management is critical whether your business is scaling fast or going through rough times.

Collecting receivables as soon as possible is essential. Review your customer payment terms closely to ensure prompt payment.

For business expenses, always be frugal; hopefully, there will be enough cash to endure or flourish; observe where monies are spent and the return on investment the business receives. When in a cash crunch, cut all discretionary expenses. Limit payments to what is critical to keeping the business going, such as payroll and electrical, and pay those first. Pay for other items over time; talk to your suppliers about extending payment terms. 

Always seek the best collection and payment terms for your business; cash is its lifeblood and needs careful management.

Technology

Technology is available in all business areas; when leveraged appropriately, it can be advantageous to your business, saving money and making it more competitive.

People, cash flow, and other factors drive your business needs. Consider whether technology helps you communicate better with people and/or perform tasks more efficiently and at lower cost.

Look at the return on investment for technology. Always examine rent versus buy scenarios, and remember to factor in any costs for training as well as privacy and protection of data.

Technology is rapidly changing; it can enable business processes and help scale or hinder and add risk. Technology is an essential part of business today and in the future, use it wisely.

Steps

Finally, a business can be complicated and perhaps overwhelming at times; but steps can make a difference. 

As a business leader, you must stay optimistic about the future, address near-term challenges, and seize opportunities to innovate, change, and grow. 

Be creative when you consider alternatives. Also, play to your business’s strengths, such as customer service or the highest quality offering. Then decide what you want to do and break it down into steps to get there. Then take one manageable step at a time, and you will progress.

There may be hurdles and changes along the way, but pivot and move forward step-by-step to achieve a better future.

Nothing is certain in business with many outside influencing factors. But experience has taught me that if a business leader focuses on what can be controlled, the people who can make it happen, manage the business’ cash well, leverages technology, and moves forwards in steps, there will be better outcomes.

Please feel free to share any other business essentials you have learned.

Value of Inbound Marketing

Sun, 09/04/2022 - 17:39

Inbound marketing can provide the best return on business development monies spent. Learn why.

Inbound marketing uses tailored messages to attract the right type of customer – the kind actively looking for answers or solutions.

[Compared to outbound marketing, which involves sending the same message to a large group of people.]

More and more small businesses (and larger ones, too) are moving from traditional marketing to inbound strategies and tactics because it solves their most significant challenges: small marketing teams and limited internal resources. Moreover, the inbound methodology boosts lead generation, costs less than outbound leads, and increases sales.

[Unlike outbound marketing, inbound marketing does not compete for customer attention.]

Inbound marketing involves creating content (written, audio, video) about your offerings that potential and existing customers can easily find in blogs, via SEO, on social media, and across multiple channels. Your content needs to appeal to your audience’s needs or wants: answer their questions, solve their problems, engage, educate, and/or inspire each potential or existing customer. Your ‘advertising’ is no longer viewed as disruptive when it becomes relevant, perhaps helpful, to your viewers.

Your business needs an inbound strategy; it involves understanding and providing the content your potential and existing customers seek in each stage of their buyer’s journey. When the viewer is interested, they will engage more, click on a call to action and receive offers from your business; audiences qualify themselves as a lead. As a result, your business will generate better (actual) leads, increase sales, and retain customers longer.

[More than 9 out of 10 companies using inbound marketing increase their lead generation, and most companies increase their leads by +50%.]

Let’s delve more into the buyer’s journey, as it is the backbone of an inbound marketing strategy.

There are three stages of the buyer’s journey:

  • Awareness (learning about your business and its offerings).
  • Consideration (looking at your offering vis-à-vis their needs and those offered by your competitors).
  • Decision (being one click away from purchase).

With great content marketing, people find the right message at the right time; its message moves the prospect further along the buying journey.

Similarly, using the same methodology, your content can convert initial contact into a more highly desirable sales-qualified lead. When you close your sales-qualified lead, the prospect becomes a customer. After that, you must delight your customers with great content that makes them more frequent, loyal, and/or more significant buyers.

You can segment potential customers into buyer personas. Separating types of customers into specific target groups allows you to learn which audience sector is most interested in content marketing and which buyer persona most often converts to becoming a customer. Then you will better understand where to direct your content marketing.

[Inbound marketing is less expensive; inbound leads cost about 60% less than outbound leads.]

As you know, most people do not want to be prospected, nor sold to. Yet, they still have questions and want answers in a personalized, engaging way. All the great content you create is findable at any time when a potential customer searches for it. Also, interested potential customers are willing to exchange personal information if they get something in return, such as a free brochure, white paper, or a free trial estimate.

Once a potential customer has gotten enough information (downloaded, read, and/or listened to it), they should be ready to take the next step in the buyer’s journey as a marketing-qualified lead and be directed to a landing page to learn your sales offer.

[Nearly 50% of companies using inbound marketing increase sales within seven months.]

This approach focuses on providing the right information at the right time, wherever the potential customer is in the sales funnel.

Inbound salespeople can focus on attracting new leads to grow the sales pipeline, engage with prospects ready for sales conversion, and delight them with specific solutions to their challenges or fill their wants.

A bonus is smaller sales and marketing teams can manage inbound marketing. Most prospective customers have the same questions: they want to know why they should trust your company and what makes you different and/or better than your competitors. Your business’ inbound teams can focus on evergreen content that answers those questions.

Marketing your business well is essential to your success. If you have the in-house talent, use it. But, if you do not have the expertise then look outside and choose wisely.  Consider your needs and budget, then review possible firms, and utilize key performance metrics to measure your ROI.