Who’s on #Smallbizchat July 2017


#Smallbizchat is a weekly conversation where small business owners can get answers to their questions. The focus of #Smallbizchat is to end small business failure by helping participants succeed as your own boss.

Please join us live on Twitter every Wednesday 8-9 pm ET. Here’s how: follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter and follow the hashtag #Smallbizchat and click here for directions to join the weekly conversation.

In July, we’re not doing a show on July 5th in honor of the holiday on the 4th, but we’ll be back on July 12th talking about small business sales, and later this month we’ll share tips on being a successful online retailer, and how to build business partnerships to grow your business.

Here is a list of who is on #Smallbizchat in July.

July 12th – How to Hit Your Financial Target This Month, @SimoneCraig

Simone Craig is the CEO of Simone Craig where she has built a solid business advising women entrepreneurs on how to become powerful and create thriving businesses that they love.  Visit her site at www.simonecraig.com.


July 19th – Independent Retailers vs. Amazon – 7 Tips to Compete, @getpointy

Caroline Brady is a Product Guru for Pointy that it directs users to a physical shop where you can see your products before you purchase them.  Find out more at www.pointy.com.


July 26th – Why Focused Collaboration is the New Business Currency , @Lymanmontgomery

Lyman Montgomery is the CEO of Focused-Driven Lifestyle, that works with individuals and organizations to focus in the right areas by removing distractions, setting profitable priorities and achieving focused driven outcomes.   Visit Lyman’s site at http://ift.tt/2t8058Q.

Every Thursday morning on Melinda’s blog, a complete Q&A interview from each #Smallbizchat is posted as a recap http://ift.tt/17XI5jd

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How to Get Booked for Media Appearances

Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET.  This is excerpted from my recent interview with Clint Author, CEO of Status Factory. Clint is a Leadership and Performance Expert.  His company empowers Authors, Speakers, Coaches, and Entrepreneurs to book themselves on network TV News & Talk shows. For more info: http://ift.tt/1nhqFYF

SmallBizLady: Clint, is it really possible to be the only choice for a customer or prospect?

Clint Arthur: Keep in mind, people like Tony Robbins has no competition.  Neither does Oprah, Deepak, or Kim. Celebrity=Unique.  If you’re an Author, Speaker, Coach, Seminar Leader or Entrepreneur, you don’t have to be a superstar to use this strategy you just need to be “more famous” than your competition to make a huge difference in your impact, influence and income.

SmallBizLady: How can someone begin the process of establishing truly unique positioning in the marketplace?

Clint Arthur: The only thing that is most effective is speaking. Don’t be included with the runners; otherwise, you become known as “also ran”.  That’s no good. You want to be known as the only runner amongst millions. When you speak on stages in front of people – you are positioned as someone special.

SmallBizLady: When is the best time to start?

Clint Arthur: The essential element to getting started is deciding that you are going to be a speaker on stages or TV. Then, begin studying how you make it happen. It’s not a miracle, no one is going to pick or find you.  You have to make it happen.

SmallBizLady: Do you need a book to be successful in this process?

Clint Arthur: No, but it’s helpful and a very good shortcut in establishing credibility.  Ideally, you need to recognize a trend that you see that will be around for a while and write a book about it. Use books to create credibility & relevance.  It’s easy to create a “book” that’s good enough to help you get on TV — but you don’t “need” a book.

SmallBizLady: How long does it take to become a celebrity?

Clint Arthur: Getting on TV is a matter of convincing one person to put you on TV.

As soon as you convince one person – it can happen immediately. It depends on how much you want it.  Write a proposal that will get you booked. Your 1st TV appearances begins your celebrity journey. It lasts as long as you keep “manufacturing celebrity.”

SmallBizLady: Do you have to look like a model or celebrity to get on TV?

Clint Arthur: Getting on TV has nothing to do with you looks.  It has to do with your message and your passion for sharing your message. A “Manufactured Celebrity” rarely generates paparazzi. You control your publicity, which turns off when you stop your TV appearances.  Your looks and weight are basically irrelevant. If you have a message you want to share, that qualifies you to go on TV.

SmallBizLady: What if you’re afraid of public speaking?

Clint Arthur: The best things you can do is to become a speaker on Local TV and talk shows. You’re in the room with one person and a video camera. If you can have a conversation with one person you can get on TV and be a “speaker”. Eventually, you will need to break through your fear of public speaking.

SmallBizLady: How can selfies with Celebrities help to increase engagement and visibility?

Clint Arthur: When you are in the picture with a celebrity, some of that star power explicitly attaches to you and increases engagement. The more you do this, you’ll transform into a celebrity. Celebrity Attachment marketing is one of my favorite specialties.  It’s fun, fast, free, versatile and powerful — and gets easier and easier as you go! When you become a Celebrity, you tend to meet more Celebrities. Celebs play the Celebrity Attachment game – because in the end, Celebrity is All About MARKETING.

SmallBizLady: How can I win prestigious awards like “Info-Marketer of the Year”?

Clint Arthur: That’s not what it’s really all about.  It’s really how can you win an award for what you do. Start with why would you want a reward, which gives you credibility and marketing power. Use it correctly to gain additional positioning and marketing power.  The best way to stand out is to be a celebrity. All of this coupled with visibility and happy clients, will position you for awards and increased revenue.

SmallBizLady: How much should I spend on mentorship, seminars, info-products, and why?

Clint Arthur: I’ve invested over $250k in the last 7 years in mentorship and training. For the average person, that would be a mistake. Invest whatever you can afford to invest without putting your family in jeopardy. The mentorship investments vary, but can aid in skyrocketing your Author, Speaker or Coach career.  Mentors speed your progress and help you avoid mistakes.

SmallBizLady: How can entrepreneurs raise their status in the eyes of customers and prospects?

Clint Arthur: This is the most important thing – money follows and flows to high status people.  The only real way to raise your status is to be a celebrity in the world or in the room.  That translates into having TV, news and talk shows. The extra value you get from TV comes from the evergreen lifespan you get from being on a show. Being a speaker is great, especially if you have a good video and appear at prestigious places, like Harvard or Google.  Otherwise, your celebrity status expires when the event is over and as the memories fade.

SmallBizLady: Can you monetize from my TV experience?

Clint Arthur: That is a big misconception.  The real value is making your customer and prospects aware of your appearance on the show. Deploying these marketing aspects like weapons in a battle to win the wallets of your prospects & convert to customers.

If you don’t use the weapon in the battle, you don’t win. Being on TV produces marketing videos that are produced for free, by the best video producers in the world.

Deploy the videos: send them out as the subject of multiple emails about each appearance & post on social media.

If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.

Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz

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How to Source Local Talent For Your Small Business

Guest Article

In the digital age communication, collaboration, and creativity are now possible on greater levels, and the way business is conducted has been revitalized. In a world of video conferencing, social media platforms, and all-new tech tools, we are now more connected than ever before. Integrating these tools can enable any business to thrive. This is especially true where sourcing talent is concerned.

The gig economy is now a huge advantage for small business owners. But you will need to adapt your company structure manage virtual and contract employees. Global freelancing platforms such as www.upwork.com enable businesses and professionals to collaborate with one another on a short or long term basis. Hiring locals has given my business a much better understanding of the market we’re operating in, and deep insight that can’t be achieved without living and breathing in that country.

Local knowledge is paramount

My firm finder.com is based in Sydney, Australia. When launching in the US in 2015, we started off with the support of our global team, based in our headquarters. However, it soon became clear that we were missing local context. This was particularly true where our content was concerned, where some things may have been deemed insensitive or offensive to publish, even if it was acceptable back home.

Once we found local talent who understood the US market and local issues, our content became more genuine and relevant for our target audience, which resulted in higher quality work.

Have a staffing plan

When launching a search for new staff, it is important to determine what resources you need, and when, to ensure you get up and running successfully with your new team. Projects, deadlines, and team dynamics vary. When you’re unsure of how many full-time staff you require, sourcing local talent provides you with options, and often those people can refer others to work for you as well.  You can hire for short and long term needs, meaning that if you suddenly need more hands on deck, external resources are could be available quickly.

As freelancers work on contracts, they are almost always on the lookout for new projects to work on. If expectations are exceeded, motivation is high, and work is delivered within a quick timeframe, you will keep them on a short list of people you can reactivate when needed. Not only is this perfect for you, but for them, too, as being reliable not only results in a five-star rating, but potentially future work. Everybody wins!

Make payment simple

Once you’ve decided to hire local talent as contractors, it’s important to consider your payment options. Using money transfers is a common method, it your based outside the US, but you can be easily stung by hefty fees. Some payment services such as Paypal, Square, charge more than others, and your contractors may complain about the percentage they must pay, so it’s important to compare providers to uncover which is best for your business and your workers.

Utilizing modern hiring tools, like Upwork, Toptal, and LinkedIn Profinder, takes care of the stress of payments for staff working remotely to you. Freelancing platforms such as these provide multiple payment options, and can deliver these payments to countries all across the globe. Work is also paid when authorized by you, for added peace of mind.

Immeasurable creative talent

The great thing about sourcing locally is the abundance of creative talent available to you, in all kinds of fields. Whether you’re looking for designers, writers, animators or producers, these online hiring platforms truly have it all. No longer do you have to rely on phone calls, emails and face-to-face interviews (although these are still beneficial) to find your dream team.

When you’re going through your hiring process, or even simply looking into the kind of people you want to work with, take your time. It’s not a race, and there are so many helpful tools at your disposal. Look beyond a well-crafted resume, think carefully about the type of people you want representing your business, and take your business to the next level.

Fred Schebesta is CEO and co-founder of global financial comparison site, finder.com. Fred is an award-winning entrepreneur, author, mentor and regular on the startup speaker circuit.

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Is Your Small Business Ready for ERP?

Don’t let small business growth catch you off-guard.

Imagine that you have 10 email addresses. Each one is dedicated to a specific function at work, and you must check them all regularly to make sure there’s not a fire you need to extinguish right away.

Now imagine that you have one email address. You create categories in the software for each function at work, and you only have to check that one account.

Which sounds easier?

That’s what I thought. And that’s what enterprise resource planning, or ERP, can do for your business.

Small Business ERP: A Real Solution

It’s true that traditional ERP was designed for larger enterprises, but that doesn’t mean you should write them off. In fact, I advise many entrepreneurs to explore ERP, even during the start-up phase because it integrates everything about your business into one system: customer relationship management, operations, transportation, inventory, and more.

ERP provides real-time data that you can use to make small or large adjustments to your operation. Especially a few years into a business, you need that data if you hope to scale your company.

Get Compliant Now

The best ERP systems help you stay compliant with regulations and standards within your industry. For instance, the accounting modules will keep you in line with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) so you don’t make a serious accounting mistake.

Once you’ve been in business some time over 4 years lets say— you don’t need to spend time resolving conflicting information from siloed staff in your business. That can consume tremendous resources and derail your plans for growth. An ERP system can empower your entire team to stay informed with access to the important data, available anywhere.

This could also help prevent information bottlenecks, eventually.

Stimulate and Control Growth

If you’re putting off implementing an ERP solution until your business grows beyond your wildest dreams, I’m here to tell you that you’re making a mistake. In fact, it’s such a big mistake that you could wind up without a business at all.

Growth needs to be purposeful and forecasted. You don’t want to find yourself drowning because of unexpected growth. If you want your business to scale, you need an ERP system that will scale with you. Additionally, the software will help you grow your business intentionally and be comfortable with your business’ trajectory.

Stop Worrying About Cost

Sure, there was a time when only Fortune 500 companies could afford a state-of-the-art ERP system. Cloud-based technology has made ERP both affordable and necessary.

You can invest in an ERP system in several ways, including subscription models that divide the cost into smaller chunks. Until you conduct some research, don’t let the word “enterprise” scare you away from a software package that could revolutionize your business operations. It’s all about simplifying the way you do business.

I know that taking on new software can prove challenging and intimidating. I’ve done it myself. You’ll pick it up faster than you think.  Just make you to invest in training for all you need to use it. Don’t just use 10% of the software’s functionality. Your business can benefit from ERP features from day one, which means your business is likely to grow faster than you think.

Shopping for ERP

Find a Flexible Vendor: All software has primary features, but it’s going to be important to find a vendor who can customize specific functionality for your customer needs. They must be open to ‘tweaking’ the system to work precisely for your business operations.

Get industry references: Reach out to other business owners in your trade association to get references for what ERP vendors they may be using.

Inquire about their customer service: Do they offer 24/7 support? Will you have a dedicated customer service rep? Do sales reps often change? Should the company be sold do they have a plan for a seamless transition?

Continually invest in training. Attend the software maker’s annual user conference each year to learn about new enhancements, and get more training for your team especially any new staff.

Implementing this kind of software will be a big adjustment. Recognize that you’ll need to migrate from using multiple pieces of software for accounting, email, CRM, quotes, shipping or into one software system, and training everyone to use it properly. Look for a vendor that provide customization and training services to help make the transition more seamless. The complete migration process can take several months and will involved every employee in your company, but once the ERP system is running you will be able to focus on what you to do best, close more business.

Once you end up with an ERP system that meets all of your needs, with easy access to data and executive dashboards, you will be able make more intelligent and informed decisions about your business.

Curious about more of my small business advice? Feel free to sign up for my weekly newsletter. I have plenty of other juicy business tidbits o to share with you.

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The Benefits of Using a Remote Receptionist

Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET.  This is excerpted from my recent interview with Jill Nelson, CEO and Fouder of Ruby Call. Her company provides virtual receptionist services to small businesses throughout North America. For more info: www.CallRuby.com

SmallBizLady: Jill, what prompted you to start a remote receptionist company?

Jill Nelson: My aim was to help small businesses become more efficient by “offloading” their phone duties. As with many start-ups, those days were both exciting and filled with a lot of worry about whether the money would run out before we made a name for ourselves and clearly articulated the value of our service. Thankfully, we found a small and dedicated customer base who were willing to share how we helped them grow their businesses.

SmallBizLady: There are a lot of virtual receptionist services out there, what makes Ruby unique?

Jill Nelson:  It isn’t about just answering phones; it’s our naturally friendly receptionists making real connections to customers’ callers. We establish and keep alive those real human connections that can easily be lost in today’s technology-focused environment. The virtual receptionist fosters a people-powered culture that empowers employees to use their natural talents and ideas to deliver WOW-worthy service.

SmallBizLady: What sparked the growth of Ruby?

Jill Nelson: Primarily, the growth started and continued through friendly and well-trained receptionists. Capitalizing on the real need and hunger for more than the simple mechanics of answering the phone and taking messages – every small business deserves a cheerful, professional receptionist to help their callers – and Ruby Receptionists was born!

SmallBizLady: You’ve mentioned culture and service as key factors in your success – is there a direct correlation?

Jill Nelson: A service-driven culture fosters happy customers and employees that translates to increased revenue and business growth. Research shows that 78% of customers will recommend a brand to others if satisfied by their customer experience valuable to growing a business – it’s estimated the cost of acquiring a new customer is from 5-25 times more expensive. Bottom line, work hard to keep the customers and employees you have!

SmallBizLady: How do you create a culture of service?

Jill Nelson: It starts with knowing what you stand for and hiring people dedicated to those same values. Find people who live to make connections and sees every phone call as an opportunity to make a small difference in their day – a powerful reason to want to come to work. Also, it’s important to create a workplace where employees are excited to come to each day and are inspired to learn, grow, and connect with others.

SmallBizLady: Jill, if you were to start over, what would you do differently?

Jill Nelson:  I would determine how the idea is meaningful to me.  What does it stand for? Then, nail down our core values such as: Practice WOWism, Foster Happiness, Create Community, Innovate and Grow. These types of values and being mission-driven will perpetuate real, meaningful connections that propels growth.

SmallBizLady: What are some successful tips to creating core values?

Jill Nelson: Identify what your customers are struggling with to keep their doors open.  Have confidence that your service will be invaluable for the company to survive. Be incredibly focused on delivering what is important to both your team and your customers. Start incorporating the values into everything you do, which can help grow your customer base.

SmallBizLady: When incorporating values, how does that impact decision-making?

Jill Nelson:  Oftentimes, after identifying your core values, decision making has never been easier. With each decision – whether it involves your service, technology, budgeting, hiring, or your culture – look to your core values to make sure the choice made reflects what you believe in. Always ask… “Does this align with our core values?” if the answer is no, move along.

SmallBizLady: Jill, what’s one trend that really excites you?

Jill Nelson:  The phone call renaissance! Consumers can interact with companies may ways, it’s surprising that the preferred method is the old-fashioned phone call!  Research shows people in the market for goods and services are making more phone calls than ever—giving small businesses a profound opportunity to make personal connections over the phone, helping them win new business and create raving fans.

SmallBizLady: What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Jill Nelson: After surveying our employees for the first time in 2005, I learned that the employees were happy with their salaries and benefits, but they did not feel like they were making a difference. Although, we received compliments from our clients on how we had positively affected their business and gotten a new client because of the receptionist. This was a turning point in the company. We stopped hiring based on experience and started looking for people who saw 250 calls as opportunities to make someone’s day.

SmallBizLady: As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you would do over and recommend to others?

Jill Nelson: Get out of the way to avoid creating bottlenecks. Make sure you hire really fantastic and qualified people who were excited about what they do to avoid hampering your teams. So, my advice is “get out of the way”, and empower your team to do what you hired them to do.

If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.

Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz

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How to Make Serious Money on Amazon

What started as an online bookstore has turned into one of the largest companies in the world covering businesses that range from books to transoceanic shipping to video streaming.  It also empowers entrepreneurs to make a great deal of money by providing an online shopping platform. There are many different ways to make money with Amazon. The most popular programs for driving income include selling on Amazon, Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA), the Amazon Associates program and Kindle Direct Publishing.

Selling on Amazon

Selling on Amazon is simply listing a product for sale on the Amazon website and fulfilling orders that are placed by customers.  It costs money to use Amazon to sell your products, but the cost is dependent on how much you sell.

Top Tips for How to Succeed with Selling Directly on Amazon:

  • Target physical products that match your niche and website keywords
  • Link to products within your content such as a landing page or blogs
  • Display product images and make them clickable
  • Link to Amazon.com multiple times on your website
  • Review products on your website that have historically high conversion rates

Fulfillment By Amazon

Fulfillment By Amazon allows Amazon to take care of the shipping and handling for you. The benefit of this arrangement is valuable when a seller has orders that surpass what a single person can process by themselves.  Did you sell 10 items?  That might not problem for a single person to package and ship.  But what if you’ve sold 1,000 items in a day?  Do you have room to store the inventory?  Can you process and ship 1,000 orders?  Probably not. This is where Fulfillment By Amazon shows its true value.

Joining the program is as easy as creating a Selling On Amazon account and adding the Fulfillment By Amazon function.  From that point, you can list the products you want to sell and ship the products directly to an Amazon fulfillment center.  From there Amazon will receive the orders, pick, pack and ship them while crediting your account for the sale.  Fulfillment By Amazon also provides customer support 24/ 7.

I cost more when using Fulfillment By Amazon.  You can choose a flat fee per order fulfillment based on the product’s dimension and weight and storage fees.  There are other optional fee-based services provided by Fulfillment By Amazon such as the addition of bubble wrap or other packaging materials, product disposal or return, labeling services and so on.  Fulfillment By Amazon can be a good option for sellers with large volumes and little storage space or someone who wants to remain relatively hands off when it comes to shipping and handling.

Top Tips for How to Succeed with Fulfillment By Amazon:

  • Register as a professional seller to avoid being charged a .99 cent transaction fee per sale
  • Create product bundles to increase profits
  • Be the lowest price including shipping for popular products
  • Find unique products not being sold on Amazon and be the first to list
  • Answer customer emails and communication promptly

Amazon Associates

Amazon Associates is an affiliate marketing program whereby you can make a commission by placing advertisements on websites linking to products that are sold by Amazon.  When someone clicks on one of your advertising links, and makes a purchase a referral fee is paid.

There is no cost to sign up as an Amazon Associate.  Amazon provides some simple tools to help you add text and/or image links and banner ads to your website.  Amazon also provides what it calls Native Shopping Ads which are stylized in a format similar to Amazon’s own website lending trust to your listing.  As an Amazon Associate, you will have access to daily reports to learn what ads are most effective, and what kind of products customers have bought using your links and the other items they have bought. Beyond these free tools provided by Amazon, there are plenty of free and paid-for apps available on the Internet that can streamline your report analysis.

Top Tips for How to Succeed as an Amazon Affiliate

  • Learn basic HTML to be able to insert images and create links on your website
  • Build links to Amazon that include your affiliate ID
  • Promote your site through online communities and business networking sites
  • Create blog categories to help users quickly find products they are searching for
  • Sign up for Google Adsense for additional revenue opportunities

Publishing with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing

Are you a writer, blogger, novelist? Have you ever dreamt of publishing a book, but have never been able to find a publisher willing to take on your work?  No longer is it a substantial financial risk to self-publish a book.   Without the costs associated with printing, storing and shipping an entire run of books, Amazon’s print-on-demand service has created a financially risk-free environment for self-publishing ebooks or physical books.

There is no upfront cost to sign up with Kindle Direct Publishing.  Simply create an account, upload your book, give it a description, choose which categories it belongs under, pick a price and it can end up in Kindle stores around the world in a couple of days.  You continue to own the rights to your book and you’ll receive 70% of the sales.  Of course, marketing the book will be up to you, but Amazon allows you to publish your work, experiment with different variations and test the market without the usual costs associated with self-publishing.

Top Tips for How to Succeed with Amazon direct publishing:

  • Write interesting, captivating book descriptions
  • Research top selling books for new content ideas
  • Generate reviews to build credibility and buyer confidence
  • Post an interesting biography on your author page
  • Have your book cover professionally designed

There’s no doubt that Amazon has created a new retail environment affecting both consumers and retailers worldwide, but it has also created a whole new way of making money for store fronts, marketers, writers, inventors. There is serious money to be make by aligning your business with the Amazon brand.

About this author
Kavita G. Sahai is founder of HaveBIGplans. Kavita has 10+ years of experience working with entrepreneurs that are looking to better the world through technology, education, healthcare and/or business model innovation. The company virtually, conveniently and affordably connects entrepreneurs with certified business coaches. It is the first-ever text business coaching platform. For more information, please visit www.havebigplans.com.

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Alibaba wants to teach you how to sell in China

E-Commerce giant Alibaba wants to teach U.S. small businesses how to sell to Chinese consumers. Why now, you ask? In the 1987 film, Wall Street, character Gordon Gekko infamously declared, “Greed is good.” But these days, if your business model is selling online, and you are publicly traded on Wall Street, the updated version of that slogan is, “Growth is Good.” While Alibaba currently claims 500 million active users across all platforms, there are concerns from industry experts about the company being able to maintain that level of explosive growth. The U.S. market, however, is a wide-open opportunity.

Later this week, starting on June 20th, Alibaba, Founder and Executive Chairman Jack Ma will host the Gateway17 Conference in Detroit, MI. The two-day conference will include presentations from Mr. Ma, Marcus Lemonis from CNBC’s The Profit, and legendary businesswoman and TV personality, Martha Stewart. The conference will also feature workshops on the company’s eight different online products that sell in China, including Alimama, Alibaba’s online advertising platform, and TaoBao, their B2B sourcing product. The company is expecting 1,500 business owners to attend this inaugural event.

“We called it the Gateway17 conference because we see Alibaba as the gateway to China,” said Sharon Chan of the International Corporate Affairs team at Alibaba. She’s one of ten U.S. based employees of the Chinese e-commerce giant. She said they chose to host the event in the Midwest because they believe the Motor City is on the rise, “Detroit is the heartland of American innovation.”

Sharing some insights into the Chinese marketplace, Chan continued, “Everything is mobile first. Chinese consumers like to do everything from one platform, including shopping and social media sharing. They go online to look for things to buy and entertain themselves.”  This is backed up with data Alibaba shared that the average user onsite time is 28 minutes per visit.  Apparently, Alibaba has incorporated the social media functionality of Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest (all of which are blocked in China) into their various e-commerce platforms. “We are much more than a marketplace, we are a marketing ecosystem for brands and retailers to build their brands in China,” Chan said.

While this is a potentially lucrative selling opportunity, as most know, the barriers to doing business in China are vast and complex. To sell effectively in China, foreign businesses must understand culture, language, logistics, payment processing, brand protection, and marketing, among other nuances. Alibaba’s Gateway17 Conference is an effort to educate American businesses on how to use their products and services to navigate a new frontier.

Global business expert Laurel Delaney, Founder and President of GlobeTrade said Alibaba’s efforts to engage the U.S. small business market in exporting is nothing new.  What is new is that Jack Ma wants U.S. small business owners to export to China.

There are four main verticals that will be the content focus for the conference: Fashion/Apparel, Everyday goods (Mother/Baby, Consumer Electronics), Fresh Foods, and B2B sourcing for wholesalers. The conference will also spotlight U.S. business owners who have already started selling on Alibaba, including Philadelphia-based health and wellness company Lucky Vitamin which sells vitamins and supplements, natural and organic beauty and skin care, groceries, snacks foods and beverages, pet products, and household cleaning products. Lucky Vitamin largely targets women who prefer a natural, organic, holistic lifestyle. I spoke with company founder Sam Wolf about what his company’s experience has been in appealing to Chinese consumers. They launched on the Tmall platform, Alibaba’s virtual shopping mall, late last year with 7,000 products. Wolf, a third generation business owner with more than 200 employees, said he has had modest, but promising results so far.

When asked what advice he would give a small business looking to sell in China, Wolf had this to say, “I wouldn’t go into it half-way, you must go into it 100%. The Chinese are not the same as U.S. consumers, the way you display images with your products is very different. They like to see cartoon-like graphics and pictures of people using the products.” Chinese consumers are very deal oriented, too, and are always looking for the best buy. He added that you’ll need dedicated customer service staff who know the language, “U.S. consumers are demanding, but Chinese consumers demand an even a higher level of customer service.”

For business owners who are yearning and motivated to start selling with Alibaba, Wolf noted that launching a virtual storefront on Tmall is like launching a brand new business. So entrepreneurs take note, here are some of the steps he took to launch:

1) Plan at least six months before launching in China.

2) Find experts who can advise you on the Chinese market

3) Leverage Alibaba to help with your tech set-up

4) Invest in sponsored advertising, and offer special pricing to be featured on the Tmall site.

5) Bring on business partners to provide translation services, and dedicated staff to provide customer service.

With amazing customer insights from their half a billion shoppers, Alibaba believes they have a great deal to teach U.S. based businesses looking to target Chinese consumers. However, Alibaba has been under fire recently for the amount of fakes sold through its online platform, with the New York Times reporting protests at the company’s corporate headquarters over the rising costs to advertise on the Alimama platform.

In today’s world, competition is not just local, it’s global. And just as Alibaba is looking for new customers overseas, you should be looking overseas as well.  If you can identify a need, and carve out a niche market, doing business in China could be your road to riches.

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How to Handle an IRS Audit?

Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET.  This is excerpted from my recent interview with Dawn Brolin, Certified Public Acount on how best to handle an IRS Audit. She is Chief Executive Officer and Managing Member of Powerful Accounting, LLC.  Her firm can provide IRS Representation and Bankruptcy Accounting. For more info: http://ift.tt/2syIFS6

SmallBizLady: Dawn, what could trigger an IRS audit?

Dawn Brolin: Dawn Brolin:  First, let me give a disclaimer – nothing guarantees you will be audited these are simply recommendations.

  • Unreported Income and Cash Businesses – you cannot simply file a small business gross revenue on the 1099’s you have received.
  • Foreign Bank Accounts – if you deal in foreign currency and have business overseas and don’t report it on a FBAR
  • Home Office Deduction – Claiming 35% business use of your home – an exclusive use of an area of your home is for your business, not your kitchen table.
  • Business Losses – repeatedly reporting a business loss each year and you cannot substantiate or prove you are truly investing time and money

SmallBizLady: What happens if the IRS suspects a business owner of fraud or criminal wrongdoing?

Dawn Brolin: Dawn Brolin:  If the IRS has been “tipped off” from a disgruntled employee, divorced ex, or a former partner reporting wrongdoings and making “a deal” with the IRS.  Although, difficult, the IRS has to prove that you have intentionally made a decision to evade taxes.  It may start with a civil audit, meaning, the IRS is just trying to understand what you have reported on your return. In many cases, audits result in a “no change,” meaning they wanted proof of what you reported.

SmallBizLady: What should you do if the IRS decides to pursue your business criminally?

Dawn Brolin: NEVER talk to an IRS agent who knocks on your door. Take their card and call a tax attorney immediately.  Just because they pursue you doesn’t mean you have done anything wrong. Don’t take it lightly and make sure you line yourself up with a reputable tax attorney, not a 1-­800 number!

SmallBizLady: Is it possible to have client/accountant privilege similar to that with an attorney?

Dawn Brolin: The simple answer is yes but it cannot be privileged if you, the business owner, have committed a criminal and fraudulent act to evade paying your taxes.  If you are investigated criminally and engage an attorney, they can protect an accountant from the IRS – typically this is not your tax preparing accountant.  Of course, you always have your 5th amendment right, but use that strategically!

SmallBizLady: What is the difference between business Tax Evasion and Tax Avoidance?

Dawn Brolin: Tax Evasion is the absolute intentional “cooking the books” and the willfulness to evade your tax obligation.  Tax Avoidance is a legal ability to minimize your tax “exposure”, or, “taxes owed”.

SmallBizLady: Dawn, I’ve always heard “don’t mess with the IRS.” Should I negotiate with them directly?

Dawn Brolin:  You would be surprised how much more flexible the IRS is compared to your state taxing agencies.  The IRS can be very serious if you ignore them. If you respond and communicate you can avoid any harmful actions.

SmallBizLady: I’ve heard where the IRS has frozen business and personal accounts, why is this done?

Dawn Brolin: Your account isn’t frozen, it is “levied”, meaning a one-time clearing of the money in your account. Unless you do not respond to the levy.  JUST COMMUNICATE!  This typically happens because when an IRS notice arrives, most people don’t even open the envelope for many months. Ignoring a notice is not a good idea.  If you do not make a payment arrangement or communicate you can be levied, meaning you can have your bank account levied.

SmallBizLady: What options does a business owner have if their accounts are frozen, for example getting money to meet payroll?

Dawn Brolin:  If you are at a point where the IRS is levying your accounts, you MUST engage a professional. Again, not a 1-­800 person but rather a professional who you can contact, the same person, not a random one.  Don’t put yourself in a situation where you cannot pay your payroll or your payroll taxes.  Take your business as serious as oxygen, your family, and your health. Do not get in a position where you are worried about meeting payroll obligations.

SmallBizLady: What type of proof is requested, acceptable or required to satisfy the audit?

Dawn Brolin:  DOCUMENTATION – your documentation on expenses is critical to your position with the IRS.  Do not assume that anything under $75 doesn’t require a receipt, always keep your business expense proof.  The IRS will accept an electronic copy of a receipt, do not assume the IRS will accept the simple credit card or bank statements, they want to see what you are spending your money on.

SmallBizLady: What happens if you cannot produce business-­related documents?

Dawn Brolin: The IRS has to be “reasonable” in their acceptance of potential re­created information. You cannot produce $500,000 in revenue, at no cost.  Keep in mind, with technology today, you have limited excuses to retain expense documentation.  Get yourself positioned NOW by using electronic and mobile business devices for recordkeeping.

SmallBizLady: Exactly how long does an audit take?

Dawn Brolin: An audit is a process. It can take from 3 months to 3 years. It 100% depends on your ability to support your small business revenue and expenses.  It is SO important to keep your records. The proof is on YOU. Small business owners are not W­2 employees. There is an inherent responsibility that you take on when starting a business.  Be patient, and DON’T freak out – hire a professional.

SmallBizLady: Can I be audited again and what advice can you give?

Dawn Brolin:

  • You can be audited again, yes.
  • Minimize your flags.
  • Keep good records.
  • And, work with a true professional.

If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.

Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz

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Three Things You Must Tell Yourself Today

Guest Article

In Rule #1 Don’t Be #2 I share the incredibly valuable lessons I’ve learned on my path to achieving great and lasting success.  Among the most critical, but one I find most people overlook, is the importance of keeping your self-talk positive.

As the sole architect of your destiny, you need to make sure you’re utilizing one of your greatest tools: your own voice. It’s that inner voice that will help you formulate a plan and drown out the external voices of critics and naysayers. Your voice holds the power to boost your confidence and help you both navigate and learn from setbacks when they occur.

Be very honest with yourself. Is your own voice joining the negative chorus of doubters? If the answer is yes, you’ll need to reprogram your thought process by telling yourself these three things today – and every day –for the rest of your life.

  1. Do it Now!

Procrastination is like quicksand. If left unchecked, it will pull you into a quagmire of crippling indecision. You’ll make excuse after excuse that will eventually foreclose on your dream. If you’re continually telling yourself it’s okay to do nothing, then nothing will be what you achieve. Instead, allow your inner voice to motivate you from morning ‘til night, and fiercely commit to your dream with a sense of urgency. Remember, the difference between “could” and “did” lies in planning and action, so become your own greatest coach and advocate for change. Don’t take no for an answer, especially from yourself.

  1. I Deserve This!

Whenever I meet someone who’s allowed their dream to derail, or who appears to be passing up opportunities for personal growth or improvement, I always ask why they don’t deserve their absolute best. If you’re among the folks who are settling for anything less than the success you dream about, you simply must get out of your own way by escaping your dangerous comfort zone. Whatever your dream may be – whether it’s pursuing a career change you’ve always wanted, or finishing your degree, begin by reminding yourself that you deserve a brighter future, and then invest in yourself. By giving your all to you, you’ll never cut corners on what’s most important: your happiness.

  1. I Know I Can!

Fear of failure, including the inability to reclaim your forward momentum after a set-back, is one of the greatest obstacles to success. And it’s one that can often be effectively addressed by empowering your inner voice. We all have fears, but we can’t habitually make fear-based decisions, or we’ll never reach our full potential. If we allow fear to paralyze our progress, we’ll create a blueprint for mediocrity, and miss the priceless lessons only trial and error can reveal. Make sure your self-talk is stronger than your fear. Daily you must relentlessly affirm, “Yes, I can!” I understand overcoming fear is not an overnight process, and may also require that you take advantage of additional resources at your disposal such as individual therapy. I know that it can be extremely uncomfortable to get out there on whatever happens to be your personal “ledge”, but the feeling of freedom is incomparable, and I assure you the view will be spectacular.

As I look back at the journey I’ve traveled to achieve success, I can definitely attest to the power of my own self-talk. There have been fears and set-backs to be sure, but I resolved the first time I met the wake-up call of ground-shaking disappointment to never consider myself as having failed. I either win or I learn. There are times when the road will be steep, challenging and tiring. It is during those especially trying days that you must be able to rely upon your inner voice to drive you on. It will mean the difference between giving up and persevering. The only time you run out of chances is when you stop taking them.

Start listening to your voice today. What are you saying?  Do you believe you can succeed? It’s true that whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re going to be right.  When you do find yourself achieving success, make sure your self-talk remains positive and motivating. You don’t want to start telling yourself you’ve arrived and become complacent. As I always say, success is never owned. It’s rented and the rent is due every day.”

Daniel Milstein is the CEO and founder of the Gold Star Family of Companies, operating in over 40 offices worldwide, specializing in financial services, sports management, publishing, and film production. Under Dan’s visionary leadership, Gold Star has been named among Inc. magazine’s 500 Fastest Growing Companies in America. He is a best-selling author and shares his other strategies for success in his new book Rule #1 Don’t Be #2: You Get What You Work For, Not What You Wish For.  Learn more at DanMilstein.com.

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How to Build a Successful Family Business

If the idea of building a business that you can pass on to future generations is appealing, this article is for you. There are many reasons to build a family business, including working with your children, other family you know and respect, as well as creating a legacy and building generational wealth. There are certain processes and system you need to have in place in order to give your children the tools to one day run your business.

I reached out to Family Business Expert, Barry Banther, Senior Partner at Banther Consulting Corporation to dig up everything you need to know about running a successful family business. Barry is a leadership development expert and bestselling author who has worked hundreds of large privately held companies on developing generational leadership. He also works with Fortune 100 companies to develop leadership training programs. Oh, and: he runs a successful family business!

Challenges and Obstacles in the Family-Run Business

It’s no surprise that problems can easily arise when you’re working in close proximity to people you love. It can be difficult to draw the line between professional and personal relationships, and that can seriously impact your relationships with family members. It’s important to delineate between the two. Barry offers this advice, “Only discuss work at work, and table work-related conversations once you’re in a social setting with family members.”

Communication is essential for the success of your family business. Not expressing something that’s bothering you will only make it fester, and eventually it will come out in a counterproductive way. “Family businesses fail most often because of an inability of family members to communicate and work together constructively,” he says.

Not having clearly-defined roles can create confusion and chaos. Rather than everyone just pitching in, Barry encourages business owners to have defined roles (sales, manager, owner, et cetera) so that everyone is clear on his or her job within the company. Everyone should have a job description and clearly defined performance goals for their position. Pay each family member a salary rather than letting them take from the till. And he gave a specific warning to avoid giving family members positions simply because they’re related to you. “Being a family member gives you the benefit of being able to apply early for a job, but once hired, your performance expectations must be just like everyone else and any promotion based on results and not DNA,” he says.

Each family member should have a success plan that encourages them to achieve their highest potential, and it should be one that is based on sustainable high performance over a period of time. You also want to develop this plan with them to gage who might be interested in running the business some day.

Tips to Ensure Your Business Outlives You

While you might want to encourage your kids (while they’re young) to want to take over your business, that might not be the best path for them or the business. Some families require children of the owners to go to college and work for someone else at least two years before coming back to work for the family business. Barry suggests that you should encourage your children to discover their own talents and skills, and then give them the resources to help them succeed. If those skills lead them back to the family business, great. If not, don’t force it.

He warns, “Enticing or requiring family members to take over the family business only breeds resentment.” It can also hurt the morale of your existing long-term employees who may be far more qualified to run the business. Maybe you have a brother, an uncle, or a distant cousin who would be a great addition to your team. if you truly want your business to succeed, only bring on those who have skillsets that will make your company better.

Think Through Estate Planning Carefully

Barry also discourages business owners from leaving their children a business in their estate unless they’re sure they will want to take it over, because that will almost always ensure business failure.  If your kids suddenly inherit a financially viable business that they did not build and are not interested in, they won’t be able to run it.  In addition to grieving the loss of a parent, they will consider the business a burden and they might attempt to run it out of obligation (especially if their surviving parent is depending on the income from it) or move to sell it.  Barry offers a better approach to passing down a business, “Create an environment where your children can earn ownership through sweat equity or a cash investment. What we earn we value, and what we value we grow and protect,” he says.

If your family business grows to a significant size how you structure your business becomes very important. He suggests having a governing board comprised of representative shareholders and highly qualified outside directors. This model ensures shareholders have a voice but they also have the advice of very capable non-family members. The balance between family and non-family influence will serve as a system of checks and balances.

It’s Worth the Hard Work

Barry stresses that family businesses are difficult to run and sustain, given the nature of human relationships. “We have a plaque in our office that states, ‘All families are normal until you get to know them. Including ours!’ If you go through life expecting perfection or nothing, the results are predetermined. A family business can be rewarding personally, professionally, and financially, but it requires diligent work on your part.”

It comes as no surprise that you have you plan for success. If running a family business is one of your company’s goals, let it go. It’s not for everyone. But if you and your family are willing to put in the effort to effectively communicate and set up boundaries and expectations, your business could thrive for generations to come.

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