How to develop an effective job description

Some small businesses fail to create complete job descriptions. They hire people to fill specific roles and tell them what they’re supposed to accomplish every day, but there are no clear, documented guidelines or expectations for each employee to follow.

In my opinion, that’s a huge mistake.

Written job descriptions are invaluable during the hiring process, for managing employees, and developing onboarding and training for new hires and your existing staff. Let’s look at job descriptions in a bit more detail.

What’s the Purpose of a Job Description?

When I’m hiring a candidate for a new position, I create a job description first. It helps me focus on the key qualities I’m looking for in a particular role, and it allows me to vet candidates from a specific need.

I also update job descriptions as they change. I suggest doing this at least every six months to a year. If you need a marketing employee to assume a new responsibility, for instance, they need to know how their success will be measured. Not only does an updated job description let that employee know, but it help you get clear about your expectations.

A job description serves five distinct purposes:

  1. Legal: It classifies a worker (g., full-time, part-time, employee, or independent contractor. Job descriptions set clear guidelines for the hiring process so you can fight any claims after a termination. They define essential duties for the role so your business complies with ADA and other regulations.
  2. Cultural: I want my employees to exude the same values and beliefs that have inspired me to build my business from the ground up. Job descriptions are a big part of that. They create expectations for your company culture that set clear boundaries and expectations.
  3. Developmental: Think of small business job descriptions as barometers for your team. If one employee doesn’t live up to his or her job description, you’ll know immediately because you’ve put it in black and white. You’ll know when you need to invest in training and employee development to help each team member meet your expectations.
  4. Compensatory: A clear job description can help you research and determine how much to pay an employee, provide any bonus structure and evaluate the need for compensation changes in the future.
  5. Alignment: When you write job descriptions, you can clearly see where a duty, responsibility, or other detail aligns with your overall company organization chart and mission.

What Does a Job Description Include?

I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all solutions for entrepreneurs, but you can follow a few best practices for writing effective job descriptions:

  • Responsibilities: Create an exhaustive list of duties you expect your employee to fulfill in a particular role. You can also include information about supervisors or subordinates (by position, not by name), depending on the position.
  • Conditions: List any working conditions that the employee will have to work in or around. For instance, if the job involves working in a warehouse that doesn’t have climate control, you should include it in the job description. Or if you work from a home office that should be made clear. Other potential factors to write down include the need to stand for long periods of time, lift objects up to a certain weight, climb stairs, or use specific software, tools or equipment.
  • Pre-requisites: Does the job require specific experience or education? Does the employee need to possess a license or certification to be considered or advance in the job?

How Do You Make Job Descriptions More Clear?

You don’t want to surprise people once they start working with you. Misunderstandings can cause serious problems. Don’t leave out critical information. Use crisp, clear sentences, and only include one idea in each sentence, bullet point, or list item.

You can convey importance by starting each listed responsibility or duty with a strong verb. For instance, job duties for a customer service associate in a retail store might look something like this:

  • Greet all customers warmly upon arrival.
  • Upsell customers on related items.
  • Assist customers in buying decisions and placing special orders.
  • Coordinate with managers to set up end caps and other displays.
  • Supervise and train new clerks.
  • Input special orders into the POS system.

When you hire a new employee, ask them to read the job description fully. Invite questions about any details that might seem unclear, then ask them to sign a copy of the job description. This will help them have clear view on what is expected on the job. Eliminating misunderstandings at the point of hiring can create productivity or legal hassles in the future.

Do you have job descriptions for your employees? How have they helped you improve and grow as an entrepreneur? Do you have any small business advice for other business owners who might not know how to start writing job descriptions? Share them with our community when you friend me on Facebook.

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Why Focused Collaboration is the New Business Currency

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 Lyman Montgomery, CEO of Focused Driven Lifestyle Coaching. His company works with individuals and organizations to focus in the right areas by removing distractions, setting profitable priorities and achieving focused driven outcomes.  For more info:

SmallBizLady:  What is Focused Collaborations?

Lyman Montgomery:  It is being selective in finding partnerships, joint ventures, and a method of collaboration that allows for both partners to learn from and engage in professional dialogue and exchange of ideas.  This could be through masterminds, accountability groups, etc., the key is making sure both are treated with respect and given opportunities for both to benefit, not just financially.  In most collaborations, people are working together to get a deal closed, but they don’t like each other, and often one party may try to take the lead and outshine the other.

SmallBizLady:  Can give us an example of companies that have used Focused Collaboration as a tool?

Lyman Montgomery:  Yes, companies such as IBM used focused collaboration to build teams within their organization based on several key factors: diversity of location, age, and skills.  What they found was that focused collaboration was instrumental in fostering trust and transparency, and it empowered teams to take action regarding delegation, time management, and project management.  Another example is Gartner, Inc., who used a modified version of focused collaboration called DevOps toolset to facilitate continuous feedback and collaboration between different stakeholders.

SmallBizLady:  What do you see as the biggest problem facing small businesses today?

Lyman Montgomery:  According to the Harvard Business Review and Entrepreneur Magazine, the number 1 issue facing business owners is their ability to focus.  In fact, a white paper written by Gensler notes, “Concentration requires a more individualized set of options than today’s standard playbook.  To enhance both collaboration and concentration, we are seeking to invent a workplace that provides a spectrum of individual choices of primary workspaces, supported by places to collaborate, socialize and learn.”  In other words, we need to redefine what we focus on to ensure it adds value to others in the workplace.

SmallBizLady:  You also mentioned that business owners need to stop complaining and start collaborating, why is this important?

Lyman Montgomery:  To give you a quick scenario, there may be a company which is struggling to attract FB followers, and have spent hundreds of dollars on e-courses and reading books, with little success.  It is suggested that they outsource this task; however, it was as if I hit them over the head with a baseball bat.  They had never thought about that.  Instead, they kept complaining, instead of looking at the better solution of them no longer unsuccessfully having to figure it out themselves or pay an expert to take care of it for them?  In the end, they agreed to outsource or collaborate with a young college student who was an expert on FB and social media.

SmallBizLady:  Do you foresee focused collaboration as a trend or fad in terms of its sustainability?

Lyman Montgomery:  The world is shifting from the information age.  A few decades ago, the goal was to provide individuals with information to make logical decisions. However, the problem now is that business owners are consumed with information, and this has caused many to become paralyzed with data or as we used to say in HR, “paralysis of analysis.”  Currently, society is shifting to a story-telling age, where companies who can tell the best story, often in sound bites will succeed.

SmallBizLady:  What in your opinion has caused the shortening of our attention span?

Lyman Montgomery:  Microsoft in 2016, did a study and concluded that the average American attention span with less than that of a goldfish about 5-7 seconds before we begin to shift our focus to something else.

Based on several research studies, it takes about 7 seconds to make a first impression and, about 7 minutes to listen to a conversation before your attention begins to drift.  Have you ever been talking to someone and after about 5 to 7 minutes, you begin to mentally drift?  This is due to your brain trying to decide if the information is relevant or useless.

This is why focus is so important because it helps us to stay engaged and direct our attention, which actually is the simplest definition of focus.  Other factors which have led to a shortening of our attention span are distractions and the endless options we have today.

SmallBizLady:  What are some of these “endless options and distractions that we are faced with today?

Lyman Montgomery:  There was a time when your choices of television channels were limited to ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS.  Today, we have hundreds, if not thousands of channels on our television. We also have 24-hour access to the Internet which didn’t exist 30 years ago and smartphones which can be viewed as a lazy society.  Due to this phenomenon, organizations deal with workplace distractions such as technology and interruptions.

SmallBizLady:  How has technology become a distraction in the workplace?

Lyman Montgomery:  Employees spend hours sending emails back and forth instead of walking across the hall and engaging in a meaningful conversation.  Or, employees are looking for an application or software to solve problems.  When people rely too heavy on technology, it can become a distraction.

Also, people feel compelled to check their social status, and what we know from scientific research is that whenever we get a “like,” “share,” or “comment” on Face Book, our brain rewards us with a release of dopamine into the blood system. Dopamine is a natural “feel good” hormone.  So, after a while, we begin to crave this release of dopamine, and it interferes with our ability to focus, which now becomes a distraction at work.

SmallBizLady:  What strategies would you recommend to help those dealing with distractions to regain their focus

Lyman Montgomery:  I recommend that a person dealing with distractions, first identify the type of distraction.  I have noticed four common types of distractions:

  1. Psychological – where something happened, perhaps some bad news, you are physically present, but mentally have checked out.
  2. People interruptions – where you have a hard time focusing on your work during to constant interruptions in your work environment.
  3. Process – where your current process or way of doing things is no longer working, and
  4. Product – where your spending more time trying to find a technology solution instead of communicating and collaborating with other to solve a problem.

Once you have identified the type of distraction you are facing, the next step is to develop a plan to deal with your distractions.

SmallBizLady:  If you operate a home-based business or work from home, what are some steps you can take to develop a plan?

Lyman Montgomery: Set boundaries by blocking off time on your calendar or set clear expectations when you can and cannot be disturbed.  Second, post your work hours on the door or your desk. Third, change your voice message to reflect that you will return calls at certain times during the day and how to reach you in the case of emergency.  Fourth, make sure you keep your work hours.  If the distractions continue, try a co-working space, or a spare office at a larger business where you can focus and not be distracted. The key is discovering what works best and sticking with it.

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 Can Seasonal Businesses Better Manage Cash Flow?

Guest Article

While there are many advantages to running a seasonal business, one of the primary challenges is managing cash flow – having enough money on hand to get ready for the busy season, making the most of the revenue generated in season, and having enough money on hand to survive in the off season.

With these tips, small business owners with seasonal businesses can better manage cash flow to optimize opportunities before and during the busy season while also learning ways to save for and get through down time.

1. Plan your expenses properly as you gear up for the busy season and ensure that you never fall behind on bills in the off-season

  • Get three months ahead on bills, keep a calendar of bills and scheduled payments.
  • Record all business transactions in a online bookkeeping program (QuickBooks® is a popular one). In addition to keeping track of revenue, don’t forget to include expenses in end-of-year financials, which will help decrease your taxable income.
  • Regularly review your business bank statements to confirm all transactions and avoid unnecessary fees, like those for insufficient funds and overdrafts.
  • By preparing a budget in advance, you’ll be more likely to put enough money away while revenues are strong and be ready for a dips in income.

2. Have a full understanding of your business’s working-capital needs to cover seasonal inventory , payroll, cash, and accounts payable monthly)

  • Inventory: How much do you have? How much do you need to fill orders? How often do you order? Can you buy in bulk during the off season to save money? Wholesalers typically provide better price points for bulk purchases.
  • Cash: It’s critical to track everything you spend and earn daily to know how much cash you have at any given time. Most business owners rely only on bank account statements or current balances, but checks may have been cut that haven’t posted in the bank, which can lead to significant miscalculations.
  • Accounts payable: Negotiate with vendors to get credit and longer terms and lower payments during the off-peak season and larger payments during the high season to help you optimize your cash-flow cycle, and be sure to make all payments on time and as negotiated to stay in good standing with your vendors..
  • Accounts receivable: Invoice clients on time and collect regularly, and negotiate with your customers for faster payment terms and turn as many as you can into electronic funds transfer payments to create a smaller working capital gap. If a client falls behind on payments, consider whether to continue doing business, or renegotiate your payment terms. Don’t be lax about following up on late payments.

3. Prepare for off-season cash-flow crunches by securing a loan or line of credit in advance: Several months before you may need it, meet with your banker about obtaining a business loan or line of credit. For some businesses, too, it may be advantageous to negotiate for interest-only payments during the slow times and full monthly payments (interest and principal) during the busy time. If you do take out a line of credit, make sure to understand its “cleanup clause contractual provision” –that’s bank-speak for how long you’ll need to bring your balance down to zero. Usually, it’s for a period of 30 to 60 days. Be prepared!

4. Budget and forecast properly: Budgeting is critical for seasonal-business success. Effective cash-flow forecasting will keep you on top of your cash availability throughout the year. If you need help creating and using cash-flow forecasts, this template from SCORE can help.

5. Staff appropriately: Staffing appropriately during and between high seasons is essential, as insufficient staffing during your busy season can mean lost sales and overstaffing during your low season can mean extra expenses that you don’t need and can’t afford.

  • Consider hiring independent consultants on a temporary basis and scale down your staff in the off-season.
  • Another option, if it fits your business, is to bring on employees on a commission-only basis, so that you’re paying less during your down time.

For seasonal business owners, off-season is the time to review every aspect of your business and prepare for your busy season. Once you are in your busy season, it’s essential to stay on top of your daily financials to leverage opportunities to generate revenue and strengthen your position when things slow down.

About The Author

Steven Cohen is president of Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF), which helps New York State small businesses grow by providing streamlined access to business loans and advisory services. Steven has a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and a master’s in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School

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Which Social Media Platforms Work Best for Your Small Business?

Before you jump into social media, take a moment to understand how your customer uses each platform

Social media is everywhere. It’s not just Facebook and Twitter anymore. You have niche social media sites dedicated to specific audiences and industries as well as custom social media advertising platforms for small businesses.

Where do you start? I suggest learning the keywords and hashtags related to your industry. Focus on your customer’s needs to develop your content strategy. And before you do anything, develop specific goals for your social media activities. It’s all about paying attention to how your customers use social media in order to choose the best social media platforms for your business.

Check Out Social Media

I recommend making a list of the five social media sites that interest you. From your research on your target customer, use the hashtags and keywords, to spy on the conversations to check out how and when your targets use the platforms. Heavy Twitter users and very different from Instagram users. Be sure to notice the culture of the different social sites.  This research will be helpful to you to understand how to build your brand online and develop a marketing message that stands out.

Check out your competitors. Twitter is great to just listening and watching others. What aren’t they doing that you could do? How often do they post?  What keywords and hashtags are the using? What are they doing that you think they shouldn’t? Learn and then get started. Follow and share relevant content to join the conversations. Before you share anything, think about how it will resonate with your target audience?

Set Aside Social Media Time

How much time do you have to devote to social media? The answer to this one question can make your decision easier about which two platforms to pursue.  I find that you need to have at least an hour to 90 minutes a day to invest in social media if you want to have a significant impact.

If you’re short on time (aren’t we all?), You might want to invest in a scheduling platform to share valuable content such as Hootsuite or Sprout Social. Just be careful because you can’t “set it and forget it” in social media, you need to check on your social profiles 2-3 times a day live to make sure you are not missing anything or anyone trying to talk to you about an opportunity.

Play to Your Industry

Are you a fashion retailer or designer? Consider Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. These are highly visual social media websites, so they’ll cater well to your audience.  You can also sell directly from Instagram and Facebook.

Do you depend on word-of-mouth referrals to grow your business? Facebook could be great for your business. It’s all about people sharing their opinions.  And people spend more time on FB than any other platform. Facebook is designed to build community, and you’ll attract like-minded entrepreneurs as well as potential customers who are interested in your valuable relevant content and testimonials.

Start With One

You might identify six social media platforms that seem interesting or tailored to your audience. Do not try them all daily. You don’t have time. Claim your brand on all the sites, then start with one or two to start building an online community. If you are not careful you could spend all day on six different social platforms, and social can only be one part of your marketing strategy. You need to talk to people IRL ( in real life to sell too.)

Learn the Ropes

Become a student of social media. It’s keeps changing so you need to keep your skills sharp. When getting started with social media, the process can feel intimidating. Which hashtags should you use? How often should you post your own content? How can you get more followers?

Don’t let those questions dissuade you from using social media strategically. Instead, use them as an opportunity for growth, and don’t be afraid to invest in a social media consultant to get you set up, train you on a new platform or develop a new strategy.

Branch Out Carefully

When you feel comfortable with one social media platform, start another if you reach domination. You can build a million dollar brand on just one platform. If you discover that you don’t get your desired engagement on a social media platform— move on. Life’s too short to waste time and energy on an activity that brings you neither joy nor entrepreneurial benefits.

I love social media, but I also love my business. I’ll never let the former run over the latter; instead, I use social media to bolster my business.

Want to see me in action? Friend me on Facebook so we can learn from each other, then let me know which social media platform you chose for your business needs.

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How to Compete with Amazon as an Independent Retailer

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 Caroline Brady from Pointy. Her company Pointy helps businesses bring customers to their store, get products online and appear higher in ranks on Google with the purpose of selling more products. For more info:

SmallBizLady:  What do you think is the biggest challenge facing independent brick and mortar retailers today?

Caroline Brady:  Visibility online is a huge problem for brick and mortar stores. Currently, most independent retailers rank number one when you search for their store’s name. However, even if someone is 50 feet away from them searching for a product they stock, the customer is going to see an Amazon result rather than their local store.

SmallBizLady:  How can retailers overcome this challenge?

Caroline Brady:  A lot of the time, people have a clear intent when it comes to what product they want but they don’t know where to find it. These are the customers you want to make sure they find your store. In order to improve your store’s visibility, it’s vital that you display your products (name, image and short description) online.

SmallBizLady:  What are independent retailer’s main strengths and how can they use them to compete with Amazon? 

Caroline Brady:  Convenience, customer service and in-store experience are all huge strengths that Amazon cannot mirror. Customers who are doing local searches for products are usually in a hurry. They want the product now and they are not willing to wait for shipping. Local stores can beat Amazon by providing customers with the products they’re searching for instantly.  Brick and mortars should use this to their advantage by providing additional services that Amazon can’t. Ordering products for customers and offering personal advice will help to promote repeat purchases.

SmallBizLady:  Does being online mean you need to sell online?

Caroline Brady:  No, a lot of brick and mortar retailers believe they need to be doing e-commerce in order to compete with Amazon. This is simply not true. You can be found online, but sell offline. An independent retailer’s main strengths lies in the in-store experience they provide.  72 percent of US consumers cite “the ability to touch, feel and try products” as their top reason for shopping in brick and mortar stores. It’s all about leveraging your online presence in a way that drives more traffic into your physical store.

SmallBizLady:  How can I improve my customer’s in-store experience?

Caroline Brady:  One big advantage independents have over online giants is their ability to build personal relationships with their customers. Remembering people’s names and giving helpful recommendations will make your customers feel valued. Go the extra mile by hosting in-store events such as customer demos and special sales. These events will give you the opportunity to get to know your customers better and promote repeat purchases.

SmallBizLady:  Is it difficult to improve my customer’s online experience?

Caroline Brady:  Not really. A robust online presence is essential in this day and age. A one-page website with your contact details and opening hours just isn’t enough when you’re competing against giants like Amazon for customers. Having a live catalog of your in-stock products online not only helps drive new customers to your store but also lets your existing customers check what you have in stock, prompting them to return to your store instead of buying from Amazon.

SmallBizLady:  Is there a way to get my products ranking highly on Google?

Caroline Brady:  One place where the online giants consistently win currently is in their rankings on Google and other search engines. The more places your store is visible online, the better you’ll do in Google search results. In order for your products to rank highly you’ll first need to list them online. Explore using simple tools that will help by displaying all of your products online and optimizing your product catalogue so that it displays on page one for local searches.

SmallBizLady:  Are social media and newsletters an effective way to compete with Amazon?

Caroline Brady:  Social media has transitioned from being a fad to being a mainstay of any store owner’s strategy. Independent retailers need to remain in their customer’s mind space consistently. A combination of social media and newsletters will help you to develop customer relationships and remind them when they need to make their next purchase. Use social media to interact with your customers, gain feedback and keep them updated on what’s happening in store. Use newsletters to let them know about new products or events in-store that you think they’d like.

SmallBizLady:  Does it matter if my website is not mobile-user friendly?

Caroline Brady:  Absolutely! Mobile is critical! Mobile traffic is now much bigger than desktop, particularly true for local searches. However, a lot of retailers have not updated their websites to be mobile friendly. Use tools that evaluates your website across different metrics and provides you with a detailed report on what you could be doing to improve your website and attract more customers.

SmallBizLady:  How can researching retail trends help me to compete against Amazon?

Caroline Brady: With Amazon and others building artificial intelligence engines to figure out what products are going to be successful, it’s essential for store owners to constantly keep ahead of new trends in order to compete. Dedicating some time each week to researching macro and micro trends in your market will pay dividends in helping to both retain existing customers and acquire new ones. However, knowing these trends isn’t enough. You need to be willing and able to act on them in order to stay ahead of the crowd.

SmallBizLady:  Are there any new retail trends that independent brick and mortar retailers can take advantage of?

Caroline Brady:  One of the biggest trends that has emerged in the last few years is the rise of local searches. People are finding everything from restaurants to products & services by doing local searches on the likes of Google and Bing. In fact, in 2016 the number of ‘near me’ searches actually surpassed searches for weather on Google! This increase in local searches is a hugely positive trend for brick and mortar stores as it highlights the proximity advantage they have over online giants. By making themselves more visible in local search results, independent retailers can leverage this trend in a way that increases footfall to their store.

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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3 Lessons to Beat the Fear While Starting Your Small Business

Guest Article

How many times have you thought that life would be easier if you worked for yourself? Or perhaps your time more productive and outcomes more impactful if you avoided a lengthy commute, strict working hours, or conflicts with managers? It took me more than three jobs, many frustrating bosses, and a clear need to find greater fulfillment to realize that working for myself was the answer to the growing challenges in my professional life.

The idea had crossed my mind over the years, how to seek greater impact in my various positions. I often grew frustrated where momentum within my current corporation seemed to stall, or action was less forthcoming. I preferred a fast pace, and a constant challenge. My father, a retired small business owner, would say that starting my own business would help me find solace, supporting myself based on my passions, my ongoing need for self-motivation, and a pledge I had made to myself to only seek positions that allowed me to contribute to the greater good. I questioned how hanging out my shingle was even realistic, given my role in helping support my family with two small kids. The desire to effect change and be fulfilled was a priority, so I had to put aside fears and trepidation and make the shift. In doing so, I learned 3 valuable lessons:

1. Prioritize Your Goals: I spent sixty days writing a business plan, researching consulting models, talking to attorneys and accountants, and learning as much as I could about entrepreneurship. Luckily, there is so much insight and knowledge to be shared that it was easy for me to find information both online and from referrals. The challenge became narrowing my focus onto what I was truly capable of. I had to be realistic about my skillset, my niche, and what people would actually pay me for. This leads to #2…

2. Leverage Your Network: I reached out to those within my network whom I trusted and respected, asking their thoughts about my initial ideas. I asked them about what services they would pay for, where their needs lay, and what types of gaps existed that could call for consulting expertise. One of the most critical elements supporting my work now is managing my network and relationships. It amazes me how often paths crisscross and reattach in different ways. I have been able to reconnect with so many colleagues over the years, and it keeps me learning, inspired, and curious. You never know when someone in your network can be of help, and everyone really does like to help each other! Intensive networking made the process of starting my own business much easier.

3. Keep What’s Working and Cut the Rest: Figuring out the financial elements of starting my own business meant taking significant risks, assuming paying clients would be slow to develop. While not to be ignored, the financial risk was something I could not obsess over. I had to trust my gut and assume the business plan, which at this point was well defined and honed in, would guide me. By sticking to my strengths, not veering from my core services, and being clear on financial terms, I was able to begin making a bit of money while doing work I loved.

I launched Connective Impact in January 2014. It was a proud moment, representing years of struggle to find a career identity that brought fulfillment. Starting my business allowed me to stay true to my word that creating lasting change was my primary motive. In the end my goal was that simple, and yet keeping tabs on my network, being honest about what I was capable of, being an active listener, while staying focused on my core services allowed me to build a successful consulting business

Stepping outside the fear is not easy, but once that trepidation subsides, it’s time to jump in and start your own business. By operating independently and seeking work with substantive impact, I have found a joy that is unlike any professional experience yet.  Try it, you might really get into it.

About the Author

Joanne Sonenshine is Founder + CEO of Connective Impact, a company focused on bringing like-minded organizations together to improve how we utilize resources and address the crises of our time. She is also author of ChangeSeekers: Finding Your Path to Impact.

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Why Your Small Business Needs a Whitelist Policy

You’ve worked hard to build your hive…don’t let anything destroy it.

I like to think of a small business as a beehive. Everybody works together toward a common goal, and the constant activity keeps all worker bees motivated, energized, and ready for action. Sometimes a predator tries to get inside the hive. When that happens, the worker bees need backup systems to protect themselves. That’s what whitelisting does. It protects your business from outside intrusion and other threats that could cripple your business technology.

Guide to Application Whitelisting

When you whitelist applications on your network, you control what apps, software and websites your employees, customers, and other people who visit your business can access. Now if you are allowing customers to access your network, you should invest in a public wifi network that is separate from your private business network. Whether your network is public or private, you should create a list of approved programs and apps to keep your network safe.

You should also create a blacklist of apps, websites, or other destinations that could prove unsafe. Both whitelisting and blacklisting can protect your business.

We’re living in an increasingly BYOD or bring your own device world. Which means that the company doesn’t issues phones, laptops, and other gadgets. While this strategy saves money, it also gives up a measure of control. Your employees or contractors might visit a website or access an application that they believe is safe, only to open the door to malicious malware or a hack. Setting up BYOD policies prevents that outcome.

Engage your tech team or an outsourced IT specialist to help you set up permissions on your network. If an application or other destination doesn’t appear on your whitelist, people who access the internet on your network will be denied access.Think of it as childproofing your network, except you’re more worried about protecting trade secrets than fragile fingers.

Guide to Email Whitelisting

There are other considerations for whitelisting, too. You want your email subscribers to whitelist your business email address so they continue to receive your newsletters and any other special offers or communications you might send out. Often, mass emails get sent to spam folders, never to see the light of day (or a consumer’s eyes). That’s not what you want. When consumers opt-in to receive your emails, remind them at least twice to whitelist your address or domain. That way, your emails don’t get lost in internet oblivion.

Of course, you might also have to do part of the work. Some domains get blacklisted by service providers because they’re viewed as spam, so you can help keep your domain whitelisted by following a few of my best practices for smart email marketing:

  • Never send emails to recipients who don’t opt-in to your subscriber list.
  • Use a reputable email marketing service, such as Infusionsoft, MailChimp, or Aweber that has a stellar reputation in the industry.
  • Send less frequent emails. Instead of emailing every day, consider reducing your emails and weekly or even monthly and make sure the content is interesting, and customer focused.
  • Avoid buying email lists.
  • Craft engaging headlines.
  • Include the option to unsubscribe somewhere in each email.
  • Reduce the number of outgoing links you include in each email.

These tips can help you land on the “safe senders” list for most email clients. Plus, they make your content marketing more effective, so it’s doubly beneficial.

Speaking of which, I have my own weekly email newsletter filled with valuable content for entrepreneurs like you. I only send out information I know you’ll enjoy, so sign up for my weekly newsletter to join our tribe.

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How to Hit Your Financial Target This Month

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 Simone Craig, CEO of SRC International.  She has built a solid business advising women entrepreneurs on how to become powerful and create thriving businesses that they love.  For more info:

SmallBizLady: What is the first step to hitting your financial target each month?

Simone Craig: The first step is to create a financial structure from which your financial goal will be generated. I suggest creating a 1 Month forecast that has 3 sections: (1) in the first section, list your Income goal for the month, (2) in the second section, list your expected expenses for that month, (3) in the third section, subtract your expenses from your Income goal to calculate your expected Net Profit for the month.

SmallBizLady: Once we have structure in place, then what’s next??

Simone Craig:  The next and second step towards hitting your financial target each month is to create a financial strategy that reflects your Income goal. Essentially, a financial strategy is a breakdown of your products and/or services that you will sell in 1 month to achieve your 1-month financial goal.

SmallBizLady: How is mindset a part of the equation for hitting your financial target?

Simone Craig: It boils down to the 80-20 rule. Studies show that 80% of our success as entrepreneurs is due to our mindset – how we think and feel about ourselves, our business and about money. It’s a vital component to financial success. The other 20% is strategy.

SmallBizLady: Is having a successful money mindset about thinking positively?

Simone Craig: Somewhat. Positive thinking is helpful for sure. It’s more constructive for your business than negative thinking. But our feelings are more powerful than your thoughts. Feelings outweigh thoughts. Successful money mindset is based on a powerful and positive overall feeling about yourself, your business and your money. When you can start running your business from an overall positive feeling, your cash flow will increase with more consistency.

SmallBizLady: How do you create a financial strategy for your business?

Simone Craig: A financial strategy is the means through which you achieve your income goal, i.e., it is very exact and specific. A very effective way to get clear on your financial strategy is to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What products and/or services will I sell to reach my Income goal in 1 month?
  • How many products and at what price point will I sell to reach my goal in 1 month?
  • How many service packages and at what price point will I sell to reach my goal in 1 month?

SmallBizLady: Can you give an example of a financial strategy?

Simone Craig:  Sure. Let’s say my Income goal for the month is $10,000. An example of a financial strategy would be the following: Sell 1 $5,000 coaching package @ $5,000, Sell 5 $1,000 digital products total of $5,000, totaling $10,000 for the month.  So essentially, selling 1 $5,000 coaching package and 5 $1,000 digital products is a financial strategy to achieve your Income goal of $10,000.

SmallBizLady: How then does mindset come into play with a financial strategy?

Simone Craig: Mindset helps you to stay focused on your Income goal without getting distracted by doubts, and other shiny objects that may take you off track. Ideally, to achieve a short-term financial goal, like 1 month, I highly recommend a daily mindset practice.

SmallBizLady: What mindset practices do you recommended to hit a financial target?

Simone Craig:

  1. Get clear on your PPK, which stands for Personal Prosperity Key. Your PPK is the positive feeling that hitting your financial target this month will give you.
  2. Use Visualization. Before going to sleep at night, visualize yourself successfully hitting your financial goal. Especially focus on how you are going to feel when your success comes. Then, go to sleep.
  3. Keep a Journal Bedside. When you wake, focus on how to take action, make a list of five things you’ll do that day to meet your financial goal. Then move forward you’re your task list to hitting your monthly goal.
  4. Affirm Your Goal: ‘Today I’ll see evidence to successfully hit my financial target this month.’ Say it with power and passion.

SmallBizLady: How often do you recommend doing mindset work during the month?

Simone Craig:  Daily – mindset work keeps you thinking/feeling positively towards a 1-month goal, which is 80% achievement & 20% physical.  The most valuable question an entrepreneur should ask themselves when they wake is, “How am I feeling about myself, money & business today?”  If it’s a good feeling, awesome. Keep going. If it’s not, stop. Go for a walk or run, call a mentor or fellow business owner to give you a pep talk, go read your recommendations for clients. Find a way to feel better in that moment, then continue with your day and work, executing on a clear and focused financial strategy.

SmallBizLady: What’s the best approach to monitoring your financial performance during the month?

Simone Craig: What you focus on expands. Track your cash inflows (income) and outflows (expenses) in a financial forecast spreadsheet, every day. Once you do that, watch your cash flow expand during the month, and hit you’ll hit your financial target!

SmallBizLady: What happens If someone follows your suggestions, but they fall short of reaching their goal? Any advice for them?

Simone Craig: If you follow the suggestions and did not achieve your financial goal in 1 month, it’s likely you like have a money block or you don’t have an effective value proposition for your target customer. A money block is a negative association that you have with yourself, your business or making money. It’s a consistent pattern of events in your business and life, that seem to keep getting in the way of you being successful in your business. Talk with your customers and make sure you know why they buy from you. It might also be a perfect time to reach out to a  business coach who can help you release what’s getting in the way of you hitting your financial goals.

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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Your 10-Step Mid-Year Small Business Check-Up

Guest Article

For small business owners, early July is a great time to assess how the year is shaping up, make adjustments that boost revenue or reduce expenses, and take advantage of new opportunities. But how do you get started and what should you focus on?

The Business Advisory Services team at Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF) has put together this step-by-step list that can help you stay on top of your business now and make the rest of the year your business’s best yet.

  1. Pull your six-month financial reports Look at how your business has been doing from (January 1 to June 30). Review your profit and loss statement and a balance sheet statement early in July. Doing this first will help you understand whether your bookkeeping records are in good order, or identify issues and make corrections. (If you’re not already using bookkeeping software, Consider QuickBooks®Online, Freshbooks, or Sage One (but there are also many free software programs.)
  2. Conduct a year-over-year comparison of financial performance Use the interim statements you generated in Step 1 to (check your current year against last year). Are revenues and profitability increasing? If either or both are stagnant or decreasing, find out why and correct it quickly.
  3. Conduct an actual-versus-budget analysis of your business’s financial performance This will help you see where you’re over- or under-spending and how your revenue stacks up against your forecast.
  4. Tweak your business strategy Based on what you learned from Steps 2 and 3, you can tell a lot about the direction in which your business is heading. Now’s the time to make necessary adjustments like boosting marketing and advertising, increasing your social media presence, freshening inventory, or hiring staff.
  5. Take a course in an area that needs improvement Could you benefit from help with cost management or digital marketing? Are you on top of changes in your industry? There are loads of online webinars and courses available and many are free or low-cost, making them both convenient and accessible for busy entrepreneurs. Local courses – provided by business development organizations, colleges, chambers of commerce, and others – can also help you build your community network and presence.
  6. Attend an industry-specific conference or networking event In addition to meeting potential business clients and vendors, you can strengthen your brand presence, establish yourself as an expert in your field (offer to lead a discussion or act as a panelist) and stay on top of trends, opportunities and challenges.
  7. Identify one process area to improve – from marketing to inventory control to process efficiencies and more – that could really use a boost and hire a professional consultant to help. Rather than see this as an additional expense, consider it a wise investment: Even a consultation of a few hours with an expert can result in tremendous improvements to your business operations and bottom line.
  8. Meet with your tax professional. At tax time, you’re too busy with filings to have an in-depth conversation with your accountant or tax preparer. Mid-year is an ideal time to discuss strategies that can benefit your business’s bottom line this year, ensure that you’re current on all tax obligations and prepare for next year. For example, your tax professional can advise you about the pros and cons of purchasing or leasing business equipment that you’re considering, and help to ensure that your income statement and other financials present a strong story when you’re ready to apply for financing.
  9. Review your personal finances. It’s common to neglect personal finances while dealing with the responsibilities of running a business. What do you need, financially, to get you through the rest of the year? Is it time to increase your salary or plan for a distribution? Are you keeping up with personal credit obligations? How much, if anything, are you saving for your retirement? As a small business owner, your personal credit rating is as important as your business’s rating because most lenders will factor an owner’s credit score into their loan decisions.
  10. Meet with your local banker. Even if your current banking needs revolve around day-to-day transactions, it’s a great idea to stay in touch with your local bank representative. Together, you can review your accounts and transactions to see if you can save money or get more benefits. You can also talk about your plans and potential future funding needs, and whether your business is eligible for a new or increased line of credit or a loan. Knowing this before you need it helps you avoid risky loans or predatory lending down the line.

Invest the time in your business’s success

Commit to spending about 4-5 hours each week over the next month to tackling the steps on this list and soon, you’ll find that the benefits are undeniable for your business’s success.

About Excelsior Growth Fund

At Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF), our mission is to help New York businesses grow by providing small business loans and advisory services. As a nonprofit organization and a U.S. Treasury-certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), we’re a responsible lender you can trust. For more business insight and information about loan programs available for small businesses, contact EGF today.

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The Top Inventory Management Systems for Small Business Owners

If you run a retail business, one of your top concerns is likely inventory management. You’ve constantly got to be able to forecast demand, ensure no stock sits on the shelves too long, and deal with shrinkage. While handling these issues can be helped with a smart inventory management strategy, having the right inventory management software in place will also make your job a lot easier.

Here are some of the best inventory management systems for small businesses to consider.


If you’re looking to pack a punch with your inventory management software, TradeGecko helps you do it all: manage sales and stock, automate shipping, and get insightful intelligence reports. One of the perks to TradeGecko is that it integrates with a ton of ecommerce platforms, including Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, and Amazon. It also plays nicely with other software like Xero Accounting, Quickbooks, Shipstation, StarshipIT, Lokad, Google Drive, and Salesforce.

Other features of TradeGecko include:

  • Manage customer data from a single system
  • Control stock across SKUs, warehouses, currencies, taxes, and price lists
  • Batch track to improve your business workflow
  • Get a clear picture of your data and predict trends

What does it cost? Plans start at $79 a month, and you can get a 14-day free trial to test it out first.


Here’s something novel: inventory management software that is actually free! Every cent you can keep for your business is one you can invest elsewhere, so free is good.

If you have multiple locations for your retail business, Stockpile allows you to manage them all easily through one interface. You also can collect insights on inventory turnover through the reporting module. And you get unlimited users, items, and locations, and never pay for the privilege.

What does it cost? Did I mention it’s free? The company is constantly adding new features, and plans to include customer management modules and barcode scanning in the future. These features will be available as add-ons to Stockpile for a fee.


If you’re looking for more places to sell your products online beyond your own website, Cin7 is a great inventory management platform to come along for the ride. Recently, the brand announced a new integration with the Walmart Marketplace. Similar to Amazon, the Walmart Marketplace allows sellers to have products appear on, helping you reach a larger audience.

Cin7’s strong suit is its integrations: there are 120 currently on the Cin7 Supply Chain App Store, where you can “click-and-connect” to online marketplaces, shipping services, sales and marketing platforms, and payments solutions.

Additionally, Cin7 offers:

  • The ability to create promotions and gift cards
  • Fully integrated point-of-sale and inventory management
  • Real-time tracking of sales and inventory

What does it cost? Cin7 is a bit pricier than other systems, starting at $249 a month, but with the robust features it offers, you might be able to avoid paying for other platforms that offer some of the services that Cin7 covers. Also, a free trial is available.


If fulfilling orders and shipping them out is time-consuming for your ecommerce business, OrderBot can help automate much of the process. From creating customizable packing slips to using barcodes to easily scan and process products, this inventory management platform takes the headache out of order fulfillment.

Your order fulfillment staff will be pleased with the ease that smart pack slips for optimal picking and packing provide, as well as having the ability to assemble work orders. You or your administrator can manage inventory at multiple warehouses, so as you grow, the software grows with you.

What does it cost? Because this software is so customizable, you have to request a demo to get a quote for your needs.

Wasp Inventory Management Software

When you don’t have your inventory management smoothed out, you can often have inventory write-offs if you buy too much inventory or don’t properly manage your stock. Wasp Inventory Management Software helps eliminate such write-offs by helping you get a handle on your inventory.

You’ll get alerts when inventory is low, expiring, or past-due, which helps you ensure you always have what you need in stock and that you move what needs to be sold asap.

And with more than 60 pre-built reports available in the system, you can get the insights you need to manage both inventory and suppliers. You can even streamline your relationships with vendors by inputting detailed supplier information and establishing a supplier code for each.

What does it cost? Rather than paying a monthly subscription fee, with Wasp you pay a one-time purchase price, starting at $1,495, which includes the software, inventory scanning device, and printer.

Whichever of these inventory management systems you choose, take advantage of the free trails to test them out. You want to be sure that it meets your specific needs to help you streamline and automate your cash flow and inventory management. If it does its job, you shouldn’t have wasted inventory and lost revenue.

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