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10 Secrets to Winning Small Business Financing

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 Diane Wekler, who has been igniting business growth and profits for 20+ years. She is a serial entrepreneur and author of the award-winning Mastering the Money Maze: 10 Secrets to Winning Business Financing, and her well-known weekly blog.  For more information:

SmallBizLadyWhere do you start when looking for small business financing?

Diane Weklar:  If lenders and investors don’t know you, it may be more difficult to get financing.  Start building banking relationships as soon as you can.  Cultivate a relationship with lenders BEFORE you request a loan.  Step #1 get to know the bank managers in your community.  Lenders are phenomenal networkers. They can be found in every organization.  Introduce yourself and start building relationships. Follow the same approach with investors.

SmallBizLadyAre there differences between lenders and investors?

Diane Weklar:  Yes, you need to understand the differences between lenders and investors.

Lenders provide Debt – the usual approach for most businesses. Debt includes loans, lines of credit, mortgages, etc.  Lenders want to make money from the loan and by offering other products and services – just as you do with your customers.  Lenders want to build a long-term relationship with you.

Investors require Equity which means you giving up a portion of ownership in your company.  You will acquire partners in the management of your business and they will share in the profits.  Investors intend to make a lot of money by selling their portion of the business in the future.  You will need to have an exit strategy in place if you go the investor route.

SmallBizLady:   What is the most important thing funders look for?     

Diane Weklar:  Funders want to finance exceptional management teams. Both lenders and investors focus more on the skills and experience of the management team than the business plan.  A management team with a solid history of success gives funders confidence that the plan will be effectively executed.

If your team is lean, consider adding the advisors and consultants that you use.  Establish an Advisory Committee with the skills lacking in your management team. Ensure your Board of Directors has additional skills that augment your management team.

SmallBizLady: Does how you ask for money make a difference?     

Diane Weklar:  How you ask for funding can be the key to success or denial.  The secret is to show funders how your success can make them money. The funding request lists how much money you need, how it will be invested, and what the returns will be to the funding source.  You need to state specifically how the debt will be repaid to the lender.  For an investor you need to outline the exit strategy that outlines how they will be rewarded for their investment.

Make your funding request exciting and provide info as to how this funding will make you more profitable and why.

SmallBizLady:  What do funders want to discuss in detail?     

Diane Weklar:  Funders want to make sure you know industry trends and your business opportunities.  Lenders and investors review hundreds of business plans.  They know your market and the industry trends.  You need to show how well you understand not only the environment, the risks involved, as well as the opportunities that this cash infusion will provide to the growth of your business.  This needs to be based on hard facts—that means good market research.

SmallBizLady:  Are there red flags that funders look for?     

Diane Weklar: Eliminate client concentration and you increase your probability of success.

If you are dependent on a single, or a small group of customers, that is a red flag to funders.

If those customers run into financial trouble you may lose a significant amount of revenue.  Your future is now intertwined with the fate of your struggling client.  This issue applies to your major vendors and suppliers as well.  Financing sources find this may be too risky to bet on your business.  Make sure that you conduct comprehensive customer segmentation—you may find you have more diversity than you think!

SmallBizLady:  What do financing sources want to see in terms of profitability?     

Diane Weklar:  Lenders require 2 to 3 years of profitability to ensure that you can repay the loan with causing strain on the company.  Investors want to see profits plowed back into the company to ensure growth. Financing sources want to ensure that the owners are not taking excessive resources out of the company but are investing to ensure growth.

SmallBizLady:  How important is a comprehensive understanding the competition?     

Diane Weklar:  Knowing the competition is key to your marketing success.  And every business has direct and indirect competitors.  You need to differentiate your products and show that you are offering a unique solution to customer needs.

Financing sources want to be reassured that a competitor cannot enter your space and take away your customers.  You need to present to them the barriers that stop competitors.  This can include great customer service, outstanding retention rates, intellectual property, etc.

SmallBizLady:  What other issues are important to lenders and investors?     

Diane Weklar:  Financing sources will want to see your succession strategy to ensure that they will be repaid if disaster strikes.  Showing funders that you are prepared for disaster can help you win financing. The three deadly D’s have destroyed many firms—death, disability, divorce.  You need to establish buy-sell agreements to protect both the owners and the financing sources.  There are also insurance policies that can protect you, the firm and funders.

SmallBizLady:  How important is your credit score in obtaining financing?     

Diane Weklar:  Maximize your credit score to capitalize your ability to win financing. Understand that financing sources will be checking both your personal and business credit reports.  Ensure that there are no inaccuracies in either. Studies have shown that half of all credit reports have errors serious enough to deny credit.  Many lenders are requiring specific levels of credit scores (e.g., 700+ on personal). Make sure you know a funder’s requirements before submitting a funding request.

SmallBizLady:  Are financing sources requiring personal guarantees and collateral?     

Diane Weklar:  Lenders today are requiring both personal guarantees and collateral to guarantee the loan. Lenders expect that you will invest your personal wealth for 10% to 30% of the money needed.  So for a $100,000 loan you need $30,000 down and a personal guarantee for $70,000.

Many issues occur around asset valuation—which differs widely between lenders and business owners.  But the bigger issue may be personal guarantees—you need to have a professional help you negotiate and protect yourself.  If you default on a loan the lender will take possession of your assets and sell them in order to repay the loan.

SmallBizLady:  What about alternatives to banks and investors?     

Diane Weklar:  There are a number of alternative financing options other than banks or investors.  Peer-to-Peer (P2P) lending is a basic model of people lending to people bypassing banks and middlemen.  P2P lenders include Lendingtree, Kabbage, Prosper, Lending Club.  Crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  Factoring is selling your receivables to a third party to obtain funding. And some firms go to a vendor or client that they have a long relationship to gain financing.

Each of these channels has different requirement and fees for their transactions.  Be Aware that there are many online predatory lending companies that offer funds for outrageous rates that can go as high as 120%.

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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Are You Ready for ACA Reporting for the 2017 Tax Year?

Guest Article

Are you scratching your head about the status of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) … and whether you’re still responsible for reporting health plan coverage on your tax return? You’re not alone! The ACA was the target of much debate in the new administration’s first term, leaving a lot of questions in its wake. According to a recent ComplyRight survey the uncertainties surrounding the ACA reporting rules are tremendous:

  • 39% of respondents were unsure if ACA reporting for 2017 was required
  • 22% were unsure about the information needed to meet the reporting requirements
  • 61% weren’t concerned at all (or only slightly) with IRS enforcement of the reporting requirements

First, let me set the record straight regarding these important issues – and, then, provide some helpful insight so you’re better prepared in the coming months.

1) The ACA remains the law of the land – and 2017 reporting is mandatory

The ACA was not repealed or replaced this past year. The legislation is still in effect, and employers must continue to comply with the reporting requirements.

Affected employers – mostly applicable large employers (ALEs) with 50 or more full-time or full-time equivalent employees — must file annual information returns with the IRS and furnish employee statements with health plan coverage information. The reporting responsibility is simpler for smaller businesses, which the ACA defines as those with fewer than 50 full-time employees. Among this group, self-insured businesses must report the name, address and Social Security number (or date of birth) of employees and family members who have coverage under the plan. Small businesses that aren’t self-insured don’t need to file anything.

2) The same information as last year is needed to meet the reporting requirements

The two main types of ACA forms are “C” forms and “B” forms. ALEs, whether self-insured or insured, must file Forms 1095-C (and 1094-C transmittal) with the IRS and furnish a copy of the 1095-C to all full-time employees. Employers that are non-ALEs with a self-insured plan will complete Forms 1095-B (and 1094-B transmittal).

The bulk of the work in completing the 1095-C is with Lines 14-16 in Part 2. You’ll most likely need to pull from three areas within your business to gather the necessary information: HR, payroll and benefits. Your time-tracking systems may come into play, too. The key items you’ll need to track:

Total employee count based on hours of service (including full-time and full-time equivalents)
Most likely pulled from payroll or time-tracking system

Employee name, Social Security number and address
Most likely pulled from HR records

Health care coverage offered
Employee share of the lowest-cost monthly premium for self-only coverage
Months the employee was enrolled in coverage
Affordability safe harbor provisions or other relief
If self-insured, information about the covered individuals, including Social Security numbers and months of coverage
Most likely pulled from HR records and benefits

3) Take IRS enforcement seriously because it’s expected to be stricter

New this year, the IRS has announced that it won’t waive the Employer Shared Responsibility Payments (ESRP). Further still, it won’t accept 1040s from individual taxpayers without the proper health care coverage information. As a result, you must file and furnish the proper forms by the deadlines – or deal with upset employees who can’t file their personal returns, as well as potential penalties from the IRS.

Keep in mind, the IRS has stressed its commitment to enforcing the rules, even though it was slow to act in the past. Sophisticated systems are now in place to enforce the rules and target employers who don’t comply.

To stay on schedule and avoid IRS penalties, you’ll want to gather employee data and health care coverage throughout the year, or as soon as possible before the tax-filing deadlines:

  • January 31, 2018 – mail employee copies
  • February 28, 2018 – paper-filing deadline
  • April 2, 2018 – e-filing deadline

Get help from a reputable tax accountant or e-file provider to prepare your taxes. E-filing is becoming increasingly more popular with small businesses. It could be a smart option for mandatory 1099, W-2 and ACA filings – this tax season and beyond.

About the Author

Rick Raddis is President of ComplyRight Distribution Services. In his role, he’s focused on transforming the company from a traditional forms manufacturer to a digital provider of businesses tax solutions.


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Is Crowdfunding killing innovation among small business owners?

Crowdfunding and innovation might seem like they would feed off each other, but new research suggests they may not mesh together as well as people might think. The Research study from INSEAD business school, from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), HEC Paris, and Singapore Management University suggests that truly innovative business ideas struggle to catch on with donors on the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter.  Researchers inspected over 50,000 U.S.-based non-arts related projects listed on Kickstarter going back to 2009. They looked at the descriptive terms used in the descriptions, images, and videos for each of the projects and discovered something rather peculiar. When a project proclaimed that a product was “novel,” project funding surged by around 200 percent. Crowdfunding investors seemed to value novelty when looking for projects. When a project claimed that a product was “useful,” project funding skyrocketed by about 1200 percent. Usefulness appears to be in huge demand among businesses that attracted the highest number of investors.But when a project described a product as both useful and novel, project funding did not increase – but instead dropped by an average of 26 percent.

Based on the data, researcher Dr. Ping Xiao has advice for small business owners planning to launch crowdfunding campaigns, “Entrepreneurs, might be advised to frame a project as only novel or only useful, rather than both.” This information does debunk the premise of crowdfunding, which is to spur and support creativity and innovation.

Study co-author Professor Amitava Chattopadhyay of INSEAD offered the best hypothesis for this phenomenon, “Prior research has shown that products that are novel and useful typically succeed in the marketplaceBut when projects make both claims, backers either assume a product’s benefits are inflated, that it carries a high risk of failure or that it divides the crowd between believers and skeptics, making it hard for backers to pick a side.”

As entrepreneurs or small business owners are trying to crowd-fund a project often they want to provide as much descriptive information as possible about it. The takeaway? Less is more. It might be best to focus your content to attract investors on product or idea descriptions that highlights the benefits of using your product or service.

Other tips for people who are thinking about launching a crowdfunding campaign include:

  • Start the crowdfunding campaign early: Start your efforts several months before your product is live or ready to sell.
  • Target your campaign on a niche audience: Identify a specific subset of people who are most interested in it.
  • Do your homework: Browse crowdfunding site case studies to see if projects similar to yours were successful and which tactics or descriptors drew in the most money.
  • Invest in professional creative and video: Develop an eye-catching design and high production values for your logo and video.
  • Be conservative: Set your goal on the low side, and avoid overvaluing your campaign.
  • Tell a great story:Position yourself with crowdfunders so they can identify with you and will be interested enough to hopefully support you.
  • Leverage social media: Integrate your social media platforms into your crowdfunding campaign to increase your online footprint.
  • Donor relations is key: Communicate with your backers often, and be sure to express your gratitude frequently.

Crowdfunding can be a viable option to raise funds for small business owners but it’s a lot of work and the average campaign generates 10K. Make sure that you run a smart campaign by researching what does and doesn’t work – or else you run the risk of your project becoming an unappetizing mess on the platform and you won’t make your goal.

For more details on funding sources for your business, sign up for my weekly newsletter today!

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Creating a Strategic Plan for 2018

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 Andrena Sawyer, who is the President of P.E.R.K. Consulting, an advisory firm for emerging entities. For her work with small businesses, she has been named among The Black Business Review’s 40 Under 40.  For more information:

SmallBizLady: As 2017 ends, why is it important that entrepreneurs create a strategic plan for the upcoming year?

Andrena Sawyer: Strategic plans help business owners create action for achieving outcomes. It is important for entrepreneurs to remember that goal-setting is more than just good ideas. Businesses are driven by outcomes, and a new calendar gives entrepreneurs an opportunity to reset, set new goals and strategize to achieve those outcomes in all areas of business—finance, capacity, customer engagement and operations.

SmallBizLady: How is a strategic plan different from a business plan?

Andrena Sawyer: A strategic plan is different from a business plan because it displays the finished product or goal. It creates action for achieving final outcomes like increasing revenue, and improving ROI. Strategic plans also simplify decision making and drives alignment. Typically, businesses create a strategic plan that can be reevaluated periodically to track the organization’s growth and progress. It’s an accountability tool that ensures that everyone is playing their part in the success of the business.

SmallBizLady: What are the first steps for creating a strategic plan?

Andrena Sawyer: A good strategic plan starts with an assessment of the organization’s current positioning, typically with a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. A SWOT analysis serves as an environmental scan and provides a clear picture of the organization’s internal and external assessments. After completing a SWOT analysis, an entrepreneur can begin to create the baseline for the strategic plan, before moving to the components which include the mission, vision, core values and goals.

SmallBizLady: As a new year begins, many entrepreneurs will think about their resolutions. What can THEY do to set better goals? 

Andrena Sawyer: To set better goals, start by creating an accountability system. Include visual reminders of goals, schedule check-ups on progress, or designate a team member to monitor progress of the goals. Be intentional about your goals when you create these systems, because they take you from a reactive stance to a proactive stance, which increases your chances of success.

SmallBizLady: When it comes to goal-setting, how can an entrepreneur avoid the mid-year burnout?

Andrena Sawyer: It’s not uncommon to experience mid-year burnout. In fact, only 8% of people who set New Year’s resolutions actually achieve their goals. Most people have forgotten about them, or have given up by the end of the first quarter. To improve the chances of success, it’s important to identify key performance indexes, or KPIs early on. By actively measuring activity, it holds entrepreneurs accountable to the process. It is also important to include incentives and rewards as part of the goal-setting process. These help to keep everyone involved motivated.

SmallBizLady: Should business owners set New Year’s resolutions?  

Andrena Sawyer: Goal-setting should be an ongoing activity for entrepreneurs. However, a new year is a great time to reset and retry previous goals that were not met, or to attempt new goals. By January, most entrepreneurs have a clear picture of their performance from the previous year. By actively analyzing performance, you should be able to identify areas for improvement for the upcoming year. For entrepreneurs who lead a team, a new year is a great time for vision casting and improving morale.

SmallBizLady: Do you have any recommendations for someone who has never done a strategic plan before?

Andrena Sawyer:  Start by identifying your goals for the four major areas of business—finances, operations, customer engagement and capacity. After you identify your goals, engage in a SWOT analysis to better understand your positioning for achieving your goals. Lastly, create action items and performance measurements for each goal that you identified.

SmallBizLady: How can I evaluate if my plan is good?

Andrena Sawyer: The SM.A.R.T. goal formula is a great metric to start with. After you have set a goal, ask yourself whether it is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. If it does not meet some of the elements, the goal should be reassessed and adjusted until the meets all of the elements of the formula

SmallBizLady: Which of the S.M.A.R.T. element would you say is the most important?

Andrena Sawyer: All of the elements of S.M.A.R.T. are equally important. If a goal is not specific or measurable, it’s difficult to track your progress or evaluate success. If it is not attainable or realistic, you’ll find that you would have wasted a lot of time and resources on a poor goal. Lastly, if the goal is not timely, there is no sense of urgency. Urgency helps keep entrepreneurs motivated.

SmallBizLady: How long should a strategic plan be? 

Andrena Sawyer: There is no standard length for a good strategic plan. What is more important is that measures are taken to make it a working document. A strategic plan can be a one-page document for a small business, or a 30-page document that outlines each department’s goals and action plans. Regardless of its length, the strategic plan should have the following elements: mission, vision, core values, goals, action steps, and performance measurements.

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 start a private medical practice

Guest Article

Starting a private medical practice can seem overwhelming, especially if up to now you’ve been on staff at a large healthcare institution as an employee. But the rewards of running your own private practice and becoming your own boss and can give you an opportunity to help more people and reap significant financial rewards. If you’re considering starting a medical practice, there are many things to consider from staffing, picking the right location, to medical billing, and malpractice insurance. Then you need to learn about marketing, websites, social media and how to generate referrals from other physicians. Here are seven basic steps to understand as you start your private medical practice.

  1. Develop Your Life Plan

It’s important for you to understand two things before you start a business: what you want out of life, and why you want it. You need to know this so that you can build a business that allows you to live that life. Some key questions include: How many hours to you plan to work a week? How much money do you need to make to be happy? Is day-to-day variety important to you? Do you have family obligations (young children/elderly parents) that could hinder your resources or time?

  1. Understand Your Costs

The cost of starting a new medical practice is significant—sometimes upwards of $300,000. Many business owners underestimated initial startup costs. Once you hire staff, payroll comes every two weeks whether you have patients or not. It’s common to rely on credit cards and personal savings as you scramble to find additional working capital. This is compounded if you don’t have a solid business plan. Work with an accountant to create a budget to get your office open and estimate your first year of operating expenses. Most importantly, you need a contingency fund to handle any unexpected costs.

  1. Staffing Your Practice

Your front desk staff is key the success of any medical practice. It’s important to start thinking about your administrative and medical support staff before you’re ready to sign a lease. You’ll also need to figure out a software solution for how to handle appointment scheduling and reminders. Develop job descriptions and take the time to screen and hire the right candidates. Beyond salary, you’ll need to decide what kind of benefits you’ll offer.

  1. Secure Proper Medical Licenses

Before you think about opening a business, you’ll need to handle the certification and legal aspects of opening a private medical practice. It can take months to earn the credentials for your practice. You may need to get privileges at area hospitals. You’ll need to apply to have the ability to accept private and government insurance plans. You’ll need to determine if you’ll hire a medical billing company or hire in house staff to mange your payment processing. You also need to make sure you’re properly licensed in your state, have a national provider identifier number, are registered with the DEA, and comply with all other local regulations specific to your medical area.

On top of all of this, you will need to choose a legal structure for your business and register with the state and IRS for an employer identification number number Consider retaining a healthcare attorney to assist in the set-up process.

  1. Find the Right Location

Before settling on where to locate your practice, it’s a good idea to research other doctors in your discipline. You want to gain an understanding of the local market and your competition. Determine if it makes sense to open office space in a building adjacent to the hospital or find a stand alone retail storefront. You want your location to be accessible to transportation, parking, and in good proximity to your targeted patients. You also need an affordable option. You also want to avoid an area that may be saturated with practitioners offering similar services.

  1. Purchase Equipment

There are a lot of expenses in furnishing a medical office. You’ll need to invest in telecommunications system for in-office and external communications and medical supplies.  You’ll also need to buy or lease office furniture, medical equipment, You should weight your options on whether is makes more sense to purchase or lease the more costly medical equipment. Leasing equipment might be your best option, so that you can always stay up-to-date on the latest advances. Do your research on medical equipment for the best prices, financing and if training is offered.

  1. Attract Patients

You must have a solid marketing plan to attract patients. When your opening day is within sight, it’s crucial to get the word out and line up your first patients. Consider implementing a marketing plan that includes hosting an open house for your close friends, consider inviting potential referring physicians. Then build a great website, register with Google Analytics, Google local listings and invest in Google Adwords Express, or Facebook ads. The more targeted you can be the better. Hire a professional firm to build a professional website with clear calls to action for setting up an appointment, and begin welcoming patients to your new medical practice.

About the author

Dr. Ala Stanford has a private medical practice Sanford Pediatric Surgery, LLC that specializes in Pediatric Surgery in Jenkintown, PA. Dr. Stanford is affiliated with Abington Hospital.

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10 Things To Do in Your Small Business Before 2018

It’s December, and the holidays are right around the corner. But in order for things to go right in your business in 2018, you need to start planning now. Do you want with just another year where you end up in reactionary mode? What are you going to make happen in the new? Hire staff? Request a new line of credit? Develop a new product? Enhance your content strategy? Pick a few things and start working on them while the rest of the world is off for the holidays. Here are 10 things you should take action on in your business before 2018.

Schedule a Retreat: Every January, I hold a retreat with my key team members so that we can set up our sales game plan for the year. We set the annual sales goals, and our monthly sales goals. As a team, we also identify key targets we’ll pursue for business, and we make decisions about what our product offering will be for the coming year. You need to decide on a retreat in the new year now, people need to make travel plans and you need to hire a facilitator or decide if you have someone in house who can organize the agenda and activities. Your team needs to get to know each other outside of business too.

Tweak Your Sales Strategy: Develop a new sales strategy for your business in 2018. What is going to be your main offering to the marketplace? How will you generate leads? How will qualify the leads? Will you hire a sales person this year? Do you have any upsells for your existing customers? Your sales pipeline need to start off the year ready to go.  Do you have an email campaign to roll out to generate interest? Will you start using mobile advertising? Webinars? Or a New Giveaways to attract prospects? Put together a budget that will help you plan for what’s needed to implement the new sales strategy.

Update Your Website: Your website is your #1 sales tool; and more most people are looking at it from a mobile device. You need to make sure your website is simple and engaging on mobile first. It’s way more than having a responsive site. Take a look at your website navigation. How many choices are there? How fast does your site load? Are your calls to action simple to see on mobile? It might be time to invest in Mobile SEO. You might not need to do a complete overhaul, but mobile is really important so make sure your website speaks to mobile visitors. You should add video too, but less is more and remember subtitles. Look at your Google analytics to see your most popular content, and what is generating the most referral traffic.

Engage Customers: How often do you call your customer? Magic happens over the phone, especially when you build a friendship with your customers. Keep track of people. Sometimes People switch positions or companies this time of the year, so be in touch. You also need to find out when the budget cycle is so that you can learn about potential opportunities. Reach out to at least 10 current and former customers a day for the next two weeks.

Make a Promotional Calendar: Look at your business by quarter to map out what promotions you’ll be running this year. What month will you launch your new product? Do you have an annual promotion that is a tie-in with national events or holidays like “St. Patrick’s Day,” or “Back to School” or “Halloween”?  Start planning your special promotions now, so your team won’t feel like they are running from fire to fire getting ready for the latest marketing promotion.

Evaluate Your Social Media Strategy: Everyone is using social media, but it might be time at add something new. Think about creating a podcast. Facebook and Instagram are the fastest growing social platforms and people are spending more time there. Live video streaming is really coming on too. Don’t overwhelm yourself, choose one new thing to add to your social media mix. Whether you are doing an ecommerce business, selling professional services or in retail, you should be using social media to engage prospects.

Develop a new Sales Funnel: You need to have a way to capture an email address nurture and educate a prospect then sell something to them. You might need to invest in or a professional copy writer to help you develop the email series.  Leverage email marketing tools like InfusionsoftAweber or MailChimp, to set up a sales funnel using an auto responder series of emails that goes out on selected dates after someone downloads a free offer from your website. You should develop a new sales funnel for 2018 before the year is out.

Send Direct Mail: Targeted direct mail has made a comeback. All the online clutter makes it easier for you to standout if your mailer shows up in their box. Try a double-sided postcard to keep the bulk postage price low. Coupons are great to offer this way.  If you’re a pizza shop, for example, you could send your customers an offer for 20% off on Tuesdays, if that is your slowest day of the week.  Direct mail can spark repeat business.

Invest in Online Ads: Paid ads are now a necessary method of marketing. There are lots of options from Retargeting, Google AdWords Express, Facebook Ads, Mobile SEO, and Mobile ads are major things to consider in 2018. Always test your campaign first, then invest in a longer campaign. Some platforms, such as Facebook, allow to you target ads to your existing email list or website visitors which allows you to stay in front of them all over the internet.

Review 2017 Results: What were your revenues over last year? And your profitability? What was your website traffic? Most shared content? Top keywords? Who are your best customers? How many proposals went out? What was your close ratio? How many revenue streams does your business have? Is it time for a brand refresh? Do you need to realign your team? Put together a list of wins for the year and a list of what went wrong. The process will help you to think about what you can do better and help establish your small business goals for 2018.

Do you have any more key task suggestions for 2018?

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Who’s on #Smallbizchat December 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 December, we’ll be talking about SEO, small business financing and automated designs.

We will not have #SmallBizChat on December 27th. We wish you and your family Happy Holiday’s and New Year!

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

December 6th – SEO Tips You Can’t Ignore for Your Company’s Blog, @domainME

Natasa Djukanovic is the CMO at and Co-founder of  Natasa is also an active educator of young people and business professionals on startup strategies, digital business, and technology.   Visit


December 13th – 10 Secrets to Winning Small Business Financing, @dianeweklar

Diane Weklar has been igniting business growth and profits for 20+ years. She is a serial entrepreneur and author of the award-winning Mastering the Money Maze: 10 Secrets to Winning Business Financing, as well as a well know weekly blog.  Learn more at


December 20th – Automated Design and What It Means for Enterpreneurs and Small Business Owners, @tailorbrands

Yali Saar is the CEO of Tailor Brands.  He is a former creative for BBDO & Chief Creative Officer for Raising the Bar.   Find out more at

December 27th – No SmallBizChat

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  Enjoy your holiday!

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

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How Outsourcing Marketing Can Hurt 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 Jill Brennan, who is a marketing consultant for small businesses that think differently. She is a mentor and the founder of Harbren Marketing and has been in the small business trenches for around 20 years. She helps businesses to discover the top mistakes that small businesses make with their marketing and how to fix them.  For more information:


Jill Brennan: Many small businesses leave a lot of their market intelligence strategy and implementation with outsourced marketing providers.  Outsourcing skills that you don’t have available within your business makes sense, particularly as you can access a broad range of skills that your small business doesn’t need on a full-time basis.

However, not all outsourcing is a good idea.  And there comes a point in the lifecycle of your business when you need to develop your own marketing expertise.


Jill Brennan: It will be easier to learn from your efforts and improve what you do.

One of the biggest problems with outsourcing marketing is that the nuances of a particular activity or campaign – what worked, what didn’t, split-testing different aspects – usually remain with the outsourcing agency or contractor.  This is often valuable information that can be used to tweak future campaigns, explore new opportunities and products and modify existing products.


Jill Brennan: Even if the outsourced agency provides reports on what they’ve done and the results they’ve achieved, these tend to be numbers based rather than contained detailed qualitative information.  One of the reasons for this is that many small business owners don’t know what information to ask for or how to make sense of the information they do receive.


Jill Brennan: You can but it’s not in their interests to share all they do as it may mean they lose work.  Agencies and contractors tend to guard the exact details of what they do.  This is usually because they believe that if they provide detailed information on exactly what they’re doing and how they’re doing it then they will be giving away their intellectual property.

And you may then decide to do it yourself or shop the information around to another agency that is prepared to do it for a lower price.  Or perhaps it will become evident that the marketing they are doing for you is just ticking over and mostly running on autopilot.


Jill Brennan: It will help you get closer to your customers. Your customers or prospective customers could be giving you feedback via your marketing activities that would be meaningful to you if you knew about it.  But the 3rd party you’re outsourcing to doesn’t know your business like you do.  To them the comments seem unremarkable and not worth mentioning.


Jill Brennan: Yes, an agency or contractor can be slower to react to changes.  And if valuable marketing intelligence is being ignored then you’re not only giving away your power to react but also foregoing your ability to adapt to changing customer demands and market conditions.  It can also hamper new product development and ultimately the future growth of your business.


Jill Brennan: I’ve worked with many businesses that outsource marketing and when they switch agencies or the contractor they have working for them leaves, they typically have very little knowledge of how marketing works.  Often this includes basics like not being able to login to the backend of their website.

You might be happy with the results you’re getting from an outsourced provider and don’t feel like you need to know all the details.  Afterall, if you were comfortable with the ins and outs of marketing you wouldn’t need to use them.

However, this approach is not a sustainable way to insulate your business from changes.


Jill Brennan:  Not necessarily because you’ll likely be getting better value for money.  And hiring your own marketing person doesn’t mean they need to be full-time or an experienced manager with 10+ years experience.  One option is to hire a junior and bring in a marketing consultant/trainer who provides guidance and training as required.



Jill Brennan:  Next you need to create a plan to bring your main marketing activities into your business and begin implementing.  The best option here is to get help to manage this process and ensure you have the marketing strategy, training and support you need to make the arrangement a success.


Jill Brennan:  There are 4 key attributes that you should look for, the rest can be learned on the job or from training courses.  They are:

  • Be able to write well
  • Have a good eye for design (they don’t need to be a graphic designer but need some appreciation for what looks appealing)
  • Have empathy and be able to put themselves in the ‘shoes’ of your target customers
  • Have a testing mindset – marketing is about continually improving your results, its not a set and forget activity and to get the most out of it, having an attitude of continuous improvement is important.


Jill Brennan:  On my website,, you can find a few download called the Marketing Kickstart Kit.  This covers the 7 common missteps that small business owners make with marketing and also goes through your options for getting marketing help.  You’ll find information on the pros and cons of each as well as other variables to take into account.

The first is becoming better educated about the basics of marketing so that you can make knowledgeable decisions around what you need.

There are lots of other marketing guides around to pick from.  I’ve written a book on this topic called Get Smarter Marketing: The Small Business Owner’s Guide to Building a Savvy Business.  The idea behind the book was to give you the information you need without trying to turn you into a marketing manager.

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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Why Most Small Business Partnerships Fail!

Guest Article

Are you or your company going into strategic partnerships with another company? Entering into a partnership will allow you to reap numerous benefits without having to make large investments such as in acquisitions. But this only works if both companies are willing to share the burdens of the partnership. Advantages of entering into this kind of partnership are to leverage marketing, supply chain, technology, financial resources, or some combination thereof. Such an agreement might exist between a digital ad agency and a graphic designer, a hair stylist and a makeup artist, a photographer and web designer, or an Internet service provider and an email automation firm, just to name a few possibilities.

Simply put, companies enter into strategic partnerships in order to grow their business and bring more value to their customers while reducing their financial risks.

Benefits of entering into a partnership include: 

  • Strengthening Innovation
  • Public relations
  • Deeper and wider contacts within your marke
  • Adding more capacity to your business
  • Adding competencies and other skills to your business
  • Improved competitive advantage

Unfortunately, many alliances do not end on a happy note. More than 50% of all strategic partnerships end up leading to frustration, misunderstandings, and financial losses.

As I’ve noticed, many companies do not have clearly defined goals and expectations written down so that everyone involved knows what all parties are expecting. Without procedures in place for how the strategic partnership will operate, including what resources that you’ll invest, and what will happen in the likelihood that things will not go well.

Often, each party has their own purposes, desires, and expectations for the alliance. Therefore, there are as many agendas as there are partners in the alliance. The biggest challenges with strategic partnership are known as C.C.G.R. The 4 most significant challenges are Culture, Chemistry, Goals, and Rewards.

  • Culture– the culture between the participating companies
  • Chemistry– the chemistry between the persons who are to maintain the alliance
  • Goals– all parties must be clear about the goals of the alliance – there must be a strategic fit between them
  • Rewards– the partners are involved in the alliance for specific rewards.

It is a very bad foundation for a partnership if any information is held back. If your goals or motives are not shared with your alliance partner, you are setting the business arrangement up for failure. The problems appear when there are hidden agendas being kept secret. This will be the source of conflicts in the alliance.

How to have a successful partnership:

Depending on the size of your organization, you should allocate resources and staff for your alliance venture

Run the partnership professionally. Set up clear and distinct goals so that both parties know the purpose and goals of the alliance.

Have patience with your strategic partner. Big results often take time! You must learn how to work together, and trust must be built between you. Trust takes time. Don’t give up when big results do not appear from your partnership right away.

  • Be a good match. Do your due diligence to make sure your organization is partnering with a company with an excellent reputation in the marketplace. You must be headed in the same direction at matching speeds. Too many have tried to save each other by having the strong one take care of a smaller weaker company. That rarely works out well. There must be some sort of equality in the partnership.
  • Pick your employees who work on the alliance carefully.Make sure your team has the soft skills and professionalism to run such a partnership
  • Be honest. Create a method for communication and file sharing/project management software so that the partners are motivated to share knowledge and that all critical documents are in one place where everyone can assess them. Schedule weekly calls so that everyone can keep kept informed. Share experiences with each other. Thoughtfully discuss mistakes so that both teams may learn from them.

Participating in strategic alliances will help your business grow because you can learn from other business owners and by working on a joint contract both teams will get smarter.

Soulaima Gourani is CEO of CetCapitalAid. She is a lecturer, corporate advisor, and author. In 2012 she was named a Young Global Leaders by World Economic Forum. And in 2014 chosen as one of the “40 under 40” European young leaders. She was elected as a TED mentor in 2016. For more information visit

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Does Your Business Needs a Talent Management System?

As the saying goes, the team (or business) is only as strong as its weakest link. But as a business owner, do you have any idea which employees are weaker (or stronger) than others? Or why that’s the case? Or how you can improve the way they do their jobs?

If you’re unsure about the answers to these questions, then your business probably doesn’t have an adequate talent management system. According to a study by the Association for Talent and Development, “High-performing organizations tend to integrate talent management components more than low performing organizations.”

So what are the components of a successful talent management program?

  1. Organizational goal and priority identification.Before you begin managing your talent, you have to figure out where you want your business to go and what they need to do to help your business get there.
  2. Create of job descriptions.Imagine the ideal employee in your company and/or in a specific role, and then list the skills, traits, qualities, abilities, and experience that you want that employee to possess. Be exhaustive with your list, but also think about tasks that will make this person feel like an integral member of the team.
  3. Develop a hiring process. How will you collect resumes? How will you screen applications by phone/email interviews, Will you do panel interviews so that many people in the company can meet the candidate? Not only do you want to hire qualified employees, but you also want them to fit into your company’s culture so that they can more easily become an integral part of the team.
  4. Establish an onboarding process. Training for new employees is critical to their long-term success.These practices should educate new hires about the company’s mission, values, and vision as well as adequately prepare them for their specific positions. The more time you spend training new hires the higher the likelihood they’ll be successful and know your expectations.
  5. Utilize outcome-based performance standards.These benchmarks must be accomplishment-centered, realistically attainable, easily measurable, and perfectly aligned with the organization’s goals and principles. They must also be communicated so that everyone knows how they’ll be evaluated.
  6. Provide proper mentoring and coaching. Are you mentoring your employees? Employees will perform better if they know they are on the right track and when they receive useful feedback from their managers. Positive feedback is just as important as corrective feedback too.
  7. Design effective compensation structures. It’s vital to pay employees what they’re worth (and more, if you want to retain them in the future), but it’s also important to provide numerous avenues for non-monetary recognition as well. You must take the time to understand their love languages such as visibility, business travel, time off, or bonus checks. You must know what works best for each employee.
  8. Implementation of staff meetings and annual reviews.You need to give everyone an opportunity to know what the other team members are doing and if additional resources are needed.  Also it’s important to do one on one review at least annually. Use these discussions to discuss past performance, but also assess each person’s interests and desires for career advancement within the company.
  9. Support career development opportunities. Inform your staff about the relevant career development, and cross-training opportunities within the company, and identify and encourage individuals who have the potential for advancement.
  10. Utilize exit interviews.When someone leaves the company, it’s essential to figure out why and then to identify and address any internal shortcomings that have been revealed during these interviews. People don’t leave jobs, they leave people. If you have a potential bad manager, you must address it quickly.

As a small business it’s tough to manage all these area of human resource management, you should see if you can hire an HR consultant or utilize the HR services offered though your payroll service provider. While some companies may have more resources to allocate toward these areas than others, it still doesn’t diminish the importance of proficient talent management within an organization.

Strong talent doesn’t just grow on trees. It must be nurtured, encouraged, and valued on an ongoing basis if it is to have a positive impact on the company. So make sure your business prioritizes talent management – or else your talented employees will find an organization that does.

For more small business advice, including insights about talent management, follow me on Twitter.

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