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:

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:

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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 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

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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:

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:

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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

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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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How to Sell Your Products and Services to the Federal Government

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 LaShonda Bracey on selling your products and services to the Federal Government. She is an author of Your A-Z Guide to Government Contracting. As CEO & President of Health-Works and ASAP Training and Course Development. For more info:

SmallBizLady: Who can qualify for a government contract?

LaShonda Bracey:  Any legal business that sells products and services to private sector, except liquor and check cashing companies can sell their products and services

to the Federal Government. The government is the largest corporation in the world and more small businesses should be using the opportunity to grow their business through government contracting.

SmallBizLady: What advice would you give someone who’s brand new to government contracting?

LaShonda Bracey: As you are getting started with government contracting identify your ideal client. Let’s be clear. You can’t market to everyone.  Oftentimes, small businesses fall into the trap of trying to register for every government agency under the sun. Consistently study the market and stay on top of your ideal client’s radar. Remember, it’s your niche that makes you rich.  Research, Market, and Network with those Ideal clients. You cannot sell your products or services to everyone.

SmallBizLady: Can you recommend some really quality sites for our listeners?

LaShonda Bracey: Individual State Procurement Sites are a great resource right now as our economy is changing and shifting, there are tons of opportunities that are being overlooked on the state level.

SmallBizLady: What big mistakes do you see others make when it comes to trying to do business with the federal government?

LaShonda Bracey:  Not being registered and completing the paperwork properly. As a small business desiring to work with the world’s largest conglomerate—the federal government—you must be registered properly. The process is tedious – there are a lot of I’s to be dotted, and T’s to be crossed, in the contracting process. So your paperwork must be thorough. The government can’t take risks on the businesses they work with.

SmallBizLady: In your experience, what’s the best way to get your first government contract?

LaShonda Bracey:  In order to get your first contract, you must do your due diligence as a small business owner.  You have to be diligent and stay abreast of the latest industry information. In most cases background information is readily available through the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation.  After identifying a potential opportunity where your business can best serve take a step back and process requirements.  Pull your paperwork, applicable resources, get to writing and respond timely. Whatever you do, don’t miss deadlines.

SmallBizLady: Do you have a formula for gaining and winning contracts?

LaShonda Bracey:

  • Strategy: Know what you are getting yourself into
  • Perseverance: Know that you won’t win every opportunity you go after
  • Persistence: Don’t be alarmed or disappointed if someone doesn’t call you back right away. You have to show you are persistent and interested in the work, but not annoying.

SmallBizLady: What are some of the key points you look for when searching for opportunities?

LaShonda Bracey:

  • Key #1 – Make sure the opportunity is right for you and your organization.
  • Key #2 – Make sure it’s an opportunity you can deliver on.
  • Key #3 – You don’t ever want to be in a position where you can’t produce on a government contract.

SmallBizLady: What would you say is the one more important thing you’ve learned?

LaShonda Bracey: Build lasting relationships with clients. In the government contracting space relationships are key. When a client remembers you and the type of work you do they will continue to seek out your products and services. I had a few clients leave one particular agency, settled at their new positions and needed assistance. This allowed me to gain contracts with two other agencies Amtrak and the Securities Exchange Commission.

SmallBizLady: What do you think are the keys to becoming a successful government contractor?

LaShonda Bracey:

  • 1st – Have past performance. Make sure your capabilities statement speaks for itself and send it to the right people at the right agency.
  • 2nd – Network Correctly. A key mistake that small businesses make is not networking with government procurement officers. Don’t think that business will just come to you.
  • 3rd – Put the work in. Small businesses don’t see themselves as marketers when actually, they’re walking and talking billboard for their business.
  • 4th – Keep Following Up. A response from a client should never be assumed to be an irrevocable no, think of it as not yet. It’s important to stay optimistic.

SmallBizLady: Please share one or two of your favorite, and most helpful resource links?

LaShonda Bracey:

  • gov – where the majority of your opportunities will be located
  • gov – where you can do extensive research on your competition
  • gov – where you can get training and access PTAC centers to get leads.

SmallBizLady: What’s the first thing you recommend our readers do after they’re read this interview?

LaShonda Bracey: Make sure you’re keeping proper accounting records, register with and start marketing your products and services to the agencies that best fit in your wheel house.

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:

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Who’s on #Smallbizchat June 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 June, we’ll be talking about government contracting; small business and criminal taxes; good time management; and, getting booked for media appearances.

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

June 7th – Taking your business to the next level, selling your products and services to the Federal Government,  @LaShondaBracey

LaShonda Bracey is CEO & President of Health-Works and ASAP Training and Course Development.  She has built a solid reputation as an astute deal-maker for top federal and private sector agencies, executives and every day individuals seeking to build and improve their learning portfolios.  Visit

June 14th – Small Business and Criminal Taxes, @dawnbrolin

Dawn Brolin, CPA, MSA, is a Certified Public Accountant, an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor and Managing Member of Powerful Accounting, LLC – provides accounting, write-up, reporting, offsite CFO resources, tax return preparation and audit support services. Visit her sites at or

June 21st – The Benefits of Using a Remote Receptionist, @jillnelsonpdx

Jill Nelson is the CEO and founder of Ruby Call, an entrepreneur at heart, recognized for her contributions to the business community and a sought after speaker on culture driven growth.  You can find out more about her business at

June 28th – How to Get Booked for Media Appearances, @clintarthur

Clint Arthur, CEO of Status Factory, is a Leadership & Performance Expert and has helped Clients book themselves on 2526+ appearances since 2012, including Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN, HLN, Dr. Oz, Fox Business Network, etc.  His website is

Every Thursday morning on Melinda’s blog, a complete Q&A interview from each #Smallbizchat is posted as a recap

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SmallBizLady’s Summer Reading List 2017

As busy as I get, I always take time to read business books, especially in the summer. I’m a firm believer that leaders are readers and as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to keep on learning to hold onto your competitive edge. So if you schedule some down time, that really is for relaxing, but when you comeback recharged looking for a new way to approach a business issue. Here are a few of the books that I believe are worth a read this summer.

Heart and Sell: 10 Universal Truths Every Salesperson Needs to Know by Shari Levitin

I don’t care who you are or what you do: you need to know how to sell. Many entrepreneurs don’t consider themselves salespeople when they should. Levitin’s book introduces emotional selling strategies that will help you leverage what your audience is feeling to get more sales. It’s not about the close, it’s about the connection.

How to Write Copy That Sells: The Step-By-Step System for More Sales, to More Customers, More Often by Ray Edwards

Another skill we business owners could all stand to brush up on is copywriting. Even if you hire a copywriter, it’s important to understand how good writing works and be able to use it. Ray Edwards’ book will help you improve your web copy, email copy, social media posts, sales pages, and more. He covers common copywriting mistakes as well as provides simple techniques to instantly beef up your copy.

More Sales, Less Time: Surprisingly Simple Strategies for Today’s Crazy-Busy Sellers by Jill Konrath

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for selling more, says Jill Konrath. She says the key is in being as productive as possible. In her book, More Sales, Less Time she helps business owners and salespeople reclaim more time so they can focus on more important sales-directed activities. She also aids in optimizing the sales process so you’re not wasting time and able to sell more.

Passive Income: Incredible Ideas of How to Make Money While You Sleep, Part Three & Four by George Whittaker

This is part of a series of books on building passive income, all of which provide useful tips to make money while you sleep, as the title says. In this particular book, Whittaker covers affiliate marketing, informational products, peer-to-peer lending, and mobile apps as potential tools for passive income. If you are looking for an additional stream of income, this is an invaluable resource.

How to Be a Power Connector: The 5+50+100 Rule for Turning Your Business Network into Profits by Judy Robinett

I love this book. Your business network is your net worth. If nurtured the right way, your network has the potential to help you continually find new customers, business partners, and business opportunities. Judy Robinett teaches you how to strategize your business relationships to get the most out of what she calls your “power grid.” In this book, you’ll learn how to quickly find the contact information of influential people, meet the movers and shakers, and get more out of your social media networks.

Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People by Vanessa Van Edwards

I have a theme going here’s another pick on this reading list that deals with networking.  This book by Vanessa Van Edwards gets more into the science of people, which helps you better understand what people are thinking. What a valuable tool in a sales meeting or networking event! Her tips will help you have the confidence to talk to anyone, as well as be able to read people’s faces to better gauge their thoughts.

Successful Women Speak Differently: 9 Habits That Build Confidence, Courage, and Influence by Valorie Burton

Confidence is such a huge part of being a successful entrepreneur, and I enjoy reading books that remind business owners of how strong they can be. Valorie Burton will help you rewire your brain to keep it from being critical, teach you to make small tweaks to boost confidence, and communicate more clearly to get what you want.

She Means Business: Turn Your Ideas into Reality and Become a Wildly Successful Entrepreneur by Carrie Green

Starting a business isn’t easy. If you don’t have business experience, it can be challenging to know where to begin. Author Carrie Green wants to help. I really enjoyed this book because it’s written in a down to earth, easy to understand, easy to relate to style. She gives sound advice and is truly an inspiration. Her personal anecdotes from her own experience really make this book special. By the way, both men and women can get a lot out of this book.

The Power of Positive Leadership: How and Why Positive Leaders Transform Teams and Organizations and Change the World by Jon Gordon  

It can be challenging to stay positive when things go off the rails. As the leader of your team, your negativity can bring others down, which is why positive leadership is so key. Jon Gordon provides tips to help you build a great business culture and create a cohesive team. Many entrepreneurs never take the time to develop their leadership skills, which is why I always recommend leadership books like this one.

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek

Having a team that works together harmoniously may be something that you struggle with. If so, this book is for you. Sinek found the secret to why some teams work better together than others: the leaders put themselves last, behind the team, to ensure the greater good for all. Sinek uses anecdotes from the military, government, banking, and big businesses to show how you can be a better leader to get a better team.

Well that’s my list for this summer of 2017! I’ll hope you’ll stay busy diving into these gems.

What’s on your reading list this summer?

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How to Use LinkedIn to Grow Your Small Business

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 BrynneTillman – How to Use LinkedIn to Grow Your Small Business. She is an Amazon bestselling author of The LinkedIn Sales Playbook: a Tactical Guide to Social Selling has helped tens of thousands of sales professionals leverage LinkedIn for business development. As a career sales professional herself, Brynne bridges the gap between traditional sales, networking and social media…For more info log on to her website:

 SMALLBIZLADY:  Brynne, I understand that this is your 3rd book – what is different about this one?

Brynne Tillman: The LinkedIn Sales Playbook – a tactical guide – it is what to do and what to say on a daily basis.  It also comes with 11 videos to guide the reader through profile building, prospecting and thought leadership.  This book is as granular as you can get when it comes to the steps needed to leverage LinkedIn for growing your business. It has every step-by-step you need to do on a daily and weekly basis, all the messaging templates needed and recommended cadence of workflow.

SmallBizLady: You mention the profile, what do you recommend people do to make their LinkedIn profile pop?

Brynne Tillman: First you want to look at your profile from your buyer’s perspective. Make sure you are a resource not a resume.  Provide value to your reader, make them interested and curious to want to learn more about how you can help them.  All they care about is how you can help them. And, most importantly, lead to your solution not with your solution.

SmallBizLady: What are some ways entrepreneurs can provide value to their LinkedIn connections from their profile?

Brynne Tillman: Draw them in with a branded banner, great headshot and a headline that is your value proposition not title.  Talk about your buyers’ challenges, offer vendor agnostic insights that matter to your buyer and a CTA.  A CTA can be an invitation to download powerful content or a request for a phone call.  Include case studies and client success stories to your summary and experience sections.

SmallBizLady: Most people aren’t using LinkedIn for prospecting, why do you see it as the #1 sales tool?

Brynne Tillman:  8 out of 10 people that you hand your business card to will look you up on LinkedIn before they get to your website.  First of all it is the largest database of professionals in the world, with insights around title, company etc.  Next, you are able to identify who in your network can connect you with buyers and stakeholders.  You can quickly identify and gain access to all the stakeholders makers inside of your targeted accounts.

SmallBizLady: Once these people connect with you on LinkedIn what should you do?

Brynne Tillman: Start a conversation, offer value and begin to build rapport – just like the real world.  Send welcome messages and personalize them. Learn about your connection before engaging.

SmallBizLady: You said to customize messaging, but it is time consuming to start a new note every time, any suggestions?

Brynne Tillman: Write the templates w/fill in the blank and save them. I use Chrome ext – game changer.  Sending LinkedIn connection invite w/o a note is like walking up to someone, handing them your card & walking away. Customizing a note when connecting is foundational to successful social selling. Let them know how you found them, why you thought it makes sense to connect and even offer them value through content. Send a welcome message once they connect helps move the conversation forward, leads to converting to a phone call.

 SmallBizLady: What other LinkedIn features do you teach about in your book

Brynne Tillman: To engage with people who viewed your profile. Look at it as caller ID – if you’d call back, than connect.  The LinkedIn Sales Playbook covers how to use and combine Twitter and LinkedIn to attract, teach and engage your targeted audience.  And, peek into Sales Navigator by using this premium feature in ways that transform your sales efforts.

SmallBizLady: Your book talks about curating and sharing content – how would you recommend people do this?

Brynne Tillman: Start with the right tools. I use to save content and to schedule & share.  Next find good content – and when you do save it to Feedly or schedule it right from Chrome.  Make sure you are sharing content that your buyers care about and don’t water it down with noise.  LinkedIn is different than twitter – unless you have original content keep shares to 3 times a day.

SmallBizLady: You said original content, I know LinkedIn has their own blogging platform, why should people use it?

Brynne Tillman:  First, LinkedIn is the 5th most indexed site by Google, your LinkedIn blog posts will be found in searches.  LinkedIn blog posts tend to get more traffic than those that are on website blogs.  You can repurpose blogs as well – if you have older content, freshen it up and publish it on LinkedIn.

SmallBizLady: How can entrepreneurs find the right people on LinkedIn?

Brynne Tillman:  On free version they have to build out search strings to find the targeted buyers  A search string can look like: (Sales OR Marketing) AND (“Vice President OR Director).  You can then filter down on the right to shared connections, company name, location etc.  This will deliver a list of targeted buyers that fit the criteria you are looking for.

SmallBizLady: Should people pay for Sales Navigator?

Brynne Tillman: Sales Navigator is like a gym membership – many pay and don’t show up, and that won’t work.  If you do show up a few times a week to Sales Navigator with a plan in place – you will get in shape.  I think LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator is one of the most powerful tools available to hunters and farmers.  You can save leads and customize your newsfeed, so engaging with the right people is easy.  You can search your connection’s connections and ask for warm introductions to targeted buyers.  And, you can tag and take notes on prospects and clients for better organization.

SmallBizLady: Tell us about your book and why it will be helpful to entrepreneurs and sales professionals?

Brynne Tillman: The LinkedIn Sales Playbook: A Tactical Guide to Social Selling is what to do and what to say daily.  It comes with 11 videos that guide takes people through the strategy and navigation.  You will be successful if you follow the simple steps.

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:

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