Marketing Ideas for your Bootstrap Business

These days, it is easier than ever to set up your own business. While there are a variety of ways to finance your startup, the idea of bootstrapping is often the most attractive. By setting up your business on a miniscule budget, you do not have heavy debts or financial backers to worry about, and whether it succeeds or fails, the business is all yours.

The digital world is perfectly aligned to this kind of business model. In essence, all you need is a laptop, an internet connection, a great idea and a working knowledge of WordPress, and you are good to go. But while it is easy to get started, can the bootstrap philosophy be equally applied to an effective marketing campaign to grow your business? Management consulting firm Global Resources reviews numerous small businesses, and says that the answer is a resounding “yes.” Here’s how.

Use Social Media

Did you know that one in three people on the planet use social media? Chances are, you are one of them, and if you are not, you are missing out on the best digital marketing tool around. Facebook alone has two billion users, and LinkedIn just celebrated passing the 500 million mark.

It is not just cost effective though – it is also something that your customers will expect of you. Facebook and Twitter are great ways of sharing blogs, news and video content, and LinkedIn is the perfect place to build a reputation as an expert in your field, particularly in the B2B world.

Understand your Customers

If you have limited financial resources, then bangs for bucks has to be at the top of the agenda when considering your marketing strategy. To get the best return on your investment, you need to have a clear understanding of who your customers are, and what they want from you.

There is more data like this available today than ever before. Take a look on Google Analytics and you will be presented with a raft of information about who is visiting your site, the search query that is bringing them there, how long they stay and lots more.

Digital Marketing for Less

The real beauty of digital marketing is that there is so much that can be done with a minimal spend. Focus on building the brand through social media and increasing conversions with a better understanding of customer needs, and you can achieve some great results without breaking the bank.

Continue Reading

How to Enhance Workplace Collaboration

Workplace Collaboration is possible using a few key tips and technologies

Entrepreneurs understand the value of a having a team that is highly collaborative. When starting a new business, every employee has to be on the same page — a task that is increasingly difficult if your team works remotely, as many start-ups do. Without the forced face time that comes with a traditional office, how do entrepreneurs promote collaboration among employees? Luckily, as the number of remote workers has risen, over 80 percent between 2005 and 2012, there has also been an increase in helpful collaboration tools for all kinds of workplaces. For truly effective collaboration, though, you not only need to choose the right tool, but you also need the right equipment and a culture that encourages openness and sharing.

Essential Equipment

Start with the basics — the equipment. Even the most amazing collaborative software will be ineffective if it is not paired with good hardware. For remote employees, a smartphone is the most important tool you can provide. Pair a good smartphone with affordable, unlimited coverage that won’t stretch your budget and will allow your team to use the other collaborative tools you decide to employ with no restrictions. In addition to a smartphone, your team will need heavy-duty laptops with video capability and fast and reliable internet access.

Choose a Collaborative Tool

The right tool for your team will depend on the nature of your business and the size of your team. You want whatever system you choose to be able to function fully as an app on a smartphone or on a laptop or desktop. Here are four of the best workplace collaboration tools.

a) Slack – Slack, and its competitor HipChat, are real-time communication apps. The Slack app allows team members to message each other, screen share and video conference. Slack stores and archives conversations so that they can be retrieved later easily with relevant hashtags. For many businesses, Slack is used in place of email.

b) Dropbox – Dropbox is a filing sharing app that allows team members share and edit files and documents in real time from any device.

c) Asana – For a more robust workflow system, Asana is hard to beat. PCMag gave it their Editors’ Choice award, and use Asana as their internal project management system. Among many other customizable functions, Asana allows users to break projects into tasks, assign tasks to the right team members, monitor progress and communicate at every step. Asana also integrates with other platforms like Slack for communication and Dropbox or Google Drive for file sharing.

d) Igloo Software – For an all-in-one collaboration tool suitable for a smaller business, check out Igloo Software. Igloo is a pre-built intranet system with features including real-time communication, forums to discuss specific projects, task management templates and file sharing. While not as slick as other intranet systems, Igloo is intuitive to use and easy to set up.

Create a Collaborative Culture

The truth is that no collaborative software system is going to be effective if you don’t put in the work to create a culture of collaboration. Effective collaboration happens when teams brainstorm openly and feel comfortable discussing and questioning ideas in a non-judgmental way. For this to happen, you need to actively encourage regular interaction with programs like mentorships, staff retreats and regular meetings to share successes and shortfalls.

Continue Reading

Small Business Loans: A Miniguide for First Time Applicants

If you are launching a new business or trying to grow an existing small venture there is a good chance that you will need to apply for some funding to help you fulfill your plans and ambitions.

Applying for a small business loan can be daunting and confusing in equal measure, so here are some pointers to help you negotiate your way through the jargon and the various requirements you will normally be asked to satisfy.

It starts with a business plan

You can check here for some details of the loan options available but before you make any sort of application for a business loan you will need to have a few things ready for when you are asked to provide further information to support your application.

Anticipating the sort of data and details that a lender will want will help speed up the process and will also show that you are organized and on the ball.

The standard procedure for making a business loan application is to provide supporting documentation that demonstrates why you need the money and how you are going to repay the amount borrowed.

Your business plan should include a comprehensive set of projected financial statements, which should include profit and loss figures, a cash flow projection and an up to date balance sheet.

If you are unsure how to put all these figures together or need some help, it would be a good idea to use an accountant so that the data is accurate and credible, which is vital to the success of your application.

Expect a grilling

It would be fair to say that lenders are very thorough and stringent with their loan application checking process so be prepared for plenty of additional questions and requests for further information.

You should not take these higher expectations and additional questions as a negative, in fact, it shows that they are taking your loan application seriously and are trying to tick all the boxes so that they can lend you the money.

Collateral requirements

The strength of your credit profile and your business proposal can influence how much security your lender requires which means they might ask for collateral in return for granting the loan.

Some loan programs do not require any collateral and if you are asking for a smaller amount it might not be considered necessary. If you don’t want to risk your home or business ownership by offering collateral, you might be able to get a business loan for the amount you need but it will probably limit your choice of lenders and options.

Check your credit score

It is always a good idea to keep track of your current credit score and know what existing lenders and finance providers are saying about you and your payment history.

You will need to have a good clean credit file if you are going to get the best loan rates offered to you, as your risk profile is adversely affected by bad credit.

Make sure you check your file before you apply so that you have a good idea of how successful you might be with your loan application.

Lenders are often willing to try and guide you through the process so if there is anything you don’t understand or want to question, don’t feel like you are unable to ask, as it is important to get everything right.

Continue Reading

South of the Border Startups: Understanding the Legalities of Starting a Business in Latin America

Many people move to Latin America after they’re retired, but those who aren’t ready to bid farewell to the workforce may consider moving down south to start a business. Though opening a successful business is difficult no matter what country you’re in, there are some unique challenges to starting your own company in this particular part of the world. Here are some basics for those who want to build their startup in paradise.

Don’t Be Afraid to Work With Agencies

In many Latin American countries, agencies facilitate many of the processes of starting a business. You’ll work with real estate agents and lawyers just to get a property, and it may be worthwhile to get involved with other local agencies that can help you make connections with your target end consumers.

Build Relationships

As with any business anywhere in the world, building relationships is one of the key components to finding success. In the United States, we’ve grown accustomed to doing a lot more networking over digital channels as opposed to taking clients out for dinner or having in-person meetings. Yes, Latin America is rapidly catching up with the US and Europe when it comes to using social media channels and beyond, but don’t underestimate the power of getting to know potential partners and consumers in person.

Understand Your Market

Avoid thinking about Latin America as one, single place, and really dive deeper into the culture of the country where you’re planning to open your business. This goes for setting prices points that are in line with what people in the area expect to spend if you’re catering to locals. Consider hiring people who understand the current business climate, as well as people who work in the country of your choice and can cater to on-site needs.

On the flip side if you’re thinking of opening a hotel or other type of business with a target audience of tourists there’s another set of rules to take into account. Entrepreneurs looking for hotels for sale in Costa Rica, for example, will need to look at the location and get a sense of the demographics of the people heading into town.

Know There’s a Difference in Legalities

In Costa Rica, for example, there are a number of laws that dictate how your company must be named. The name of your Sociedad Anόnima (or S.A. the Spanish language equivalent of a Co.) must be unique and approved by the Registro de Marcas de Comercio.

Additionally, there must be at least two owners in order to establish a company in Costa Rica, and you must account for small details like how many times you’ve been married, if you’re divorced and why you only have one last name (in Spanish-speaking cultures, most people take both parents’ last names). You’ll also need to set up an official home address, which may pose some problems if you have yet to make the move down south.

Continue Reading

How to Have a Successful Trade Show

Trade shows are a great way for your company to make an in-person introduction and pitch to potential clients. For many companies it is the only opportunity to meet them face-to-face, display their products and create a working relationship. Companies often spend months and tens of thousands of dollars on their display booths at these events hoping to present themselves in a good light. The stakes can be high, so it is imperative that they put their best foot forward. Here are some tips to ensure that your company has a very successful trade show.

Make Sure Your Booth is Special

There will be hundreds of booths at the trade show and at least a dozen or more from companies in your same product category all fighting for the attention of the same potential clients. To make sure attendees pay attention to your booth, you need a booth that really stands out in the crowd. This of course starts with your getting the best location for your booth which requires you booking early and maybe paying more for prime space, but it could be worth it.

Your booth needs to be high quality and convey your company’s image, values, and product or service capabilities and at the same time be attractive and compelling to attendees. Good quality booths can be used for years. So splurge on high-end materials throughout.

Consider using popular themes for your booth. Movie and television theses are a good choice. Just make sure you can fully commit to making it look great. A poorly executed popular theme could backfire.

Make abundant use of display plinths to strategically place your products and company brochures around your booth so that no matter which way someone might enter they will be front and center.

Your booth theme should also include your team and how they dress and act. Perhaps putting everyone in cool or funny shirts might work. It is also no secret that many companies hire pretty young ladies to work their booths. This strategy can be really effective as long as you make sure that attendees make the connection between them and your company.

Whatever strategy you choose, the bottom line is you want your booth and your company to get noticed.

Giveaways Really Work

A sure way to get people to notice you is by offering them something for free. It is a fantastic way to engage people and educate them on your products as well. The best giveaways are something related to your product or even the product itself. If you are a food company set up free samples of your product and have your team standing by to explain the benefits of each one being sampled. If your product is software, you can offer sample versions of it and have the sample being displayed on computer screens in your booth. This gives attendees an opportunity to see your product and then walk away with a freebie they can try later.

Even offering a cup of coffee or piece of candy is a great idea. Freebies also position your team to ask for contact information about the person. When you give something people often feel obligated to give something in return. Take advantage of this and have a quick way to take down someone’s details.

Use Social Media to Increase Activity

Social media sits at the center of many people’s lives and many of those people are your potential clients. So it can play a critical part in your having a very successful trade show. Before the trade show use social media to connect with clients and potential clients and give them a preview of what they can expect from your company. Use this as a chance to preview any products you will be showing and if new products will be unveiled, use this medium to build up the hype.

During the trade show you can use social media to keep everyone informed about what is going on at your company’s exhibition booth. Any special performances, giveaways and demonstrations can be touted on a minute to minute basis. Using social media can also give you quality feedback during the trade sow and help your team to better manage their time. You can also use it to give directions to anyone who is having trouble locating your booth.

For those who could not come to the trade show social media gives them an opportunity to experience what your company did at the trade show. They will also see how active you are about your company and products and this will garner additional excitement about being in business with you.

Use these tips to improve your performance at your next trade show. They can make a huge difference in returns on your investment.

Continue Reading

Mastering management skills to help your business succeed

There’s no getting around it: one of the key contributors to failure in small and medium-sized businesses (and sometimes even big ones) is poor management. Altogether too many people think that because they can build a business they can run one, and try to learn on the job. Others get out of their depth at a departmental level, inadvertently undermining the rest of the enterprise. However, it doesn’t need to be like this. What makes the difference is recognizing that a manager isn’t just there to tell people what to do – good management requires specific skills. If you want to make a success of it, these are some of the things you have to learn.

Strategic thinking

The first thing you need to understand is that management isn’t just internal – it’s about understanding the position of each department within the company as a whole, understanding how that company fits into its sector, and understanding how that sector fits into the wider economy. This makes it possible to make effective decisions about actions that are needed and how finances should be managed. A manager has to be able to see the big picture, and should aim to plan about three years ahead while remaining flexible enough to account for changing circumstances.

Networking

Part of a manager’s job is to network, both within the company and outside it. Good networking brings in opportunities for improving the mechanics of the supply chain. It provides the chance to keep on learning new techniques for internal use, and it helps you to keep your finger on the pulse as far as developments within your sector are concerned. Networking doesn’t just take place at formal events, so you should be ready to get out and about and build up useful social connections.

Time management

In order for a business to run smoothly, everybody needs to be coordinated. This means that sticking to deadlines is really important. Managers not only need to get their own work done on time but also need to make sure that everybody in their teams do. This isn’t just about pushing people. You’ll also need to be aware of their individual capacities and make sure that work is portioned out in a manner that is practical, even if that doesn’t always seem fair.

Setting objectives

In order to facilitate work getting done on time and employees being able to engage with it enthusiastically, managers need to be able to set clear objectives and persuade their teams of their importance. At the most basic level, employees know that their livelihood depends on the company’s success, but they need to understand why particular actions are important to that success, and they need to have a clear picture of what’s required of them. As a rule, they will be more efficient when they can see how what they have been asked to do will contribute to the whole.

Communication

Communicating successfully with employees, board members, and others requires real flexibility on a manager’s part. This is one of the most important aspects of the job, and the reason why, for instance, Washington State’s online MBA program offers specialist courses in communications. First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that individuals vary and that information can’t always be delivered in a one-size-fits-all way. To be successful, you will need to be able to identify and adapt to the needs of your team. You’ll also need to be strong on formal communication techniques, especially for external use.

Investing in people

Ultimately, a manager can achieve nothing without a good team, but it’s the manager’s job to refine and develop that team. This means that you’ll need to be able to identify talents that should be brought to the fore, deal with clashes between team members, and identify weaknesses that suggest the need for additional training. All this will be more successful if your team members feel valued as individuals and are able to develop real trust in you, so you will need to work hard to be seen as supportive, attentive, and fair.

Good management enables a business to optimize its assets – including human ones – and punch above its weight in the marketplace. Management skills can be learned, but this is only possible when managers accept that they don’t know everything already and are willing to see themselves not only as bosses but also as functional parts of a larger business organism. If you’re ready for this, sharpening up your skills could enable you to take your business to the next level.

Continue Reading

Keeping Your Eye on the Ball: How to Stay on Top of Your Business Overheads and Taxes

Being self-employed is challenging enough for most people, but trying to keep up with business records while focusing on keeping everything running can be downright difficult. Yet keeping accurate business records is a legal requirement.

Besides, if you can manage to keep track of your bookkeeping, you might also save money. Organized business records make it easier and faster to prepare your end-of-year accounts, so you save money on accounting costs.

Related: Last minute tax tips

When your book-keeping is accurately documented, you also have the advantage of being able to monitor your business’s cash flow at a glance.

Related:

The problem many self-employed people face is knowing exactly what to record. Here are some tips for staying on top of your business records.

  • Invoices: All the invoices you receive need to be tracked accurately. Include information about the amount, the date the amount was paid, the name of the company or customer and what the invoice was for.
  • Receipts: Staying on top of your expenses is the easiest way for your business to remain tax-efficient. Keep track of any receipts that relate to your work in any way.  Your accountant can offer some advice about which expenses you can claim as a self-employed person.
  • Business Expenses: There are some business expenses that may not receive receipts. For example, if you have a credit card for your business, you might use your bank statements to keep track of some expenses instead of recording receipts.
  • Keep Personal Finances Separate: Many self-employed people combine their business and personal finances in the same accounts. However, no matter what size your business might be, it’s important to keep business and personal finances separated. Open a separate bank account to for your business funds and use this account to cover your expenses. You’ll find it much easier to keep track of what’s been spent on business. You also won’t be wasting time trying to break down which expenses related to what entity at tax reporting time. There are plenty of tools to help you with your taxes if you need them, and a lot of them are free too!
  • Use the Right Apps: Self-employed people can make their lives much easier by using the right apps to record and track their accounts on the go. If you enter in one or two items every couple of days, you’re staying on top of your records as you go. You’re also saving plenty of time, as you won’t need to spend long hours at the end of the reporting period trying to catch up with all those entries.
  • Back-up Regularly: No matter how busy you are, make the time to back up your records on a regular basis. There’s nothing worse than suffering a hard-drive failure or technical disaster and losing your business records in the process.

Staying on top of your business records doesn’t have to be a time-consuming chore. The key is to take financial control and be sure your records are up to date on a regular basis. You’ll end up saving a lot of time and hassle in the long run.

Related: How to be a great landlord

 

Continue Reading

7 Steps to Healthy Time-Management

Who among us couldn’t use a little more organization in our lives? Whether you are just discovering the wonders of  planners or you are hyper-organized already, there are a few ways you can work smarter, not harder toward accomplishing this goal. We’ve gathered seven simple tasks that can set you on the path to perfect planning

1. Create Categories

Just about everyone has some basic categories under which all their tasks fall. These are things such as:

  • Home
  • Work
  • Family
  • Personal
  • Money
  • Long-term

Keeping your to-do list and appointments organized based on these headings can make a huge list seem more manageable. Plus, tasks in some categories, such as “home” may only be possible to accomplish on the weekends, which helps you prioritize your weekdays. The opposite could be true for “money,” which mostly must happen between Mondays and Fridays.

Related: Increase productivity with standing desks

2. Consider Color

Once you’ve created your categories, you might want to assign a color to each one. Get yourself a rainbow pack of highlighters or writing pens and then color-code all of the entries in your planner. If you are a visuals-oriented person, this method can help you see what you need to be working on with just a glance. As an added bonus, having a little color on your list makes it seem a bit less intimidating – and all the more rewarding when you cross a task off the list.

3. Brain Dump

When putting together your planner, try to think of every possible thing you want to get done. Be specific, and don’t feel you have to leave things out because they are too big as projects. Include birthdays, appointments, phone calls to make, household chores and goals you want to accomplish. After you’ve written down everything you can think of, then it is time to organize the list according to category and priority.

4. To-Don’t List

Many people struggle to stay organized because they spend time on tasks that are more pleasurable than the harder chores in the planner. But these distractions usually work against you. It is OK to create a to-don’t list, which will include things you want to accomplish someday but not in the immediate future. When you start to feel yourself go on a tangent, remember to stick to the to-do list and not the productivity-sapping to-don’t list.

5. Consolidate Calendars

If you have a anniversary/birthday/holiday calendar, a medical appointment calendar and a work deadline calendar, you are juggling too much. Find one planner format that will accommodate all the different scheduling types that you maintain and fit the important stuff into that. That way, you will have a wide overview in front of you at all times, and you can even color code each type of task (see No. 2, above).

6. Planner Pamper

The only thing that competes with the satisfaction level of crossing something off a to-do list is the handfeel and aesthetic nature of an attractive, well-organized planner. The smell of the pages, the geometric designs of the calendar pages and the heft of the book all add to the appeal. Even if you are more drawn to electronic planning apps or your cell phone calendar, there’s something appealing about choosing the system and look that’s just right for you.

7. Make It a Habit

Finally, take the time to update your chore lists and appointments every day. Not only will you keep on top of your time management, you’ll also be creating a healthy habit after a stretch of time. It doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes to cross things off or add them, and you’ll be glad you made the time.

Getting organized isn’t difficult when you get a planner, make your list and keep it updated. These seven tips should keep you on track.

You might also enjoy: Mini-guide for home business

Continue Reading

Top Tips For Your First Business Trip

Heading out on your first business trip will be an exciting time, meetings to be had, deals to make and a company to represent. Whatever the nature is of your trip, you are going to need to be prepared , both from a business and personal point of view. To help you get prepared in the right way, we’ve put together a list of tips for you and whether you are traveling transatlantic for your business dealing or just a few hours away from home, we’ve got you covered. So before your next business trip, check out these tips and make sure that you are prepared in the right way.

Bought a travel wallet :(

Organization

The first thing to ensure is that you are fully prepared for your business dealings and your itinerary during your time away. Make sure that you have paper and digital versions of all documents that you are going to need and whatever schedule you have whilst you are away. Be sure to secure all of your transportation before you go,it is likely that plane or train tickets will be already sorted out but ensure you have a car waiting for you to take you to a meeting.  The last thing you need is to be searching for taxis in the middle of Bangkok when you have a pressing business lunch, or trying to catch a bus in Edinburgh for a business launch, plan ahead, and book a private car to get you there.

Downtime Planning

When you’re on the road for business you are bound to have a lot of downtime and you need to be sure to use this wisely. It’s important that you plan ahead for this, whether it be in order to relax or in order to brush up on your business dealings. If movies and games are your thing that you need to relax then download some ahead of time, if you like to exercise then check out if your hotel has a gym and if not, look for one nearby. Regarding the business side of things, try to create some one page sheets which will enable you to quickly study some key points about your business or take the opportunity to look for areas of growth. Planning ahead means that when you get that downtime, you are ready to spend it however you see fit.

Staying in Touch

You absolutely want to make sure that you can stay in touch with friends, family and the business itself whilst you are away and it’s important that you know the best ways to do so. If you don’t already use them then you should be utilizing FaceTime, Whatsapp, Skype and even Facebook messenger to stay in touch with people whilst you are away. All of these mediums work so long as you have an internet connection and you should look to buy a local SIM card if you are heading to a foreign country. A local SIM gains you access to mobile data and means that you are never out of reach when people need to get in touch with you.

Continue Reading

Why the internet has driven retailers online

Wondering Why the internet has driven retailers online?
Photo by CC user techinasia on Flickr

If you are thinking about starting a business, you have to consider where and how you’ll showcase your products to customers. A mere 30 years ago, your options were limited. You could have a brick-and-mortar building, or work out of your home, but you had to attract customers to your store. You had a limited region of coverage for sales, at least until your business expanded into other markets. Advertising was very different. The use of mass mail marketing was common, and you had to rely on word of mouth. Billboards and television commercials caught the eyes of your customers.

Fast forward to 2017, and the options for you as a business owner have expanded exponentially. Your customers can be from anywhere on the entire planet, via the internet. You can still send out mailers and advertise on TV, but if you aren’t taking advantage of the opportunity to develop your business online, you are missing out on your full business potential. Here’s why the internet has driven retailers online.

Potential for profits

It is expected that online sales via computers and mobile devices will be over $500 billion by 2020 in the US alone. E-commerce is growing at a faster rate than retail, with over 224 million shoppers spending more online every year. The bottom line is that there is money to be earned from online selling. To ignore it is to hobble your own business potential.

Online to enhance a physical site

Even if you aren’t ready or able to launch a website, you can still take advantage of the internet to build customers. If you establish a news feed, you will be reminding subscribers of your company every time that you post a new article. Posts on Facebook and Twitter also get your company name in front of subscribers, whose reposts are an open invitation to new customers. You can use online communications to invite customers to events at your store, publicize sales, and announce new products.

Online combined with a physical site

No matter how successful your brick-and-mortar business is, an online presence can help drive new customers to your door. Imagine that you are an artisan who sells handmade pottery and runs a storefront. Your customers are going to consist of the people living in the city where you sell. They may recommend your pots to friends, and eventually you may see customers from around the region, the country, and even the world. However, these people must call or write to you for your pots. Somehow, you must send them photos of your products for them to decide if they want to buy something.

The time invested alone in making a profit on the pots is staggering. With a small investment in a website, where you can showcase your pots, receive payments, and set up shipping, you will save time in customer contact. You will build your customer list by recommendations and search engine optimization (SEO). By using social media, you can update customers on new products. With a customer reward program, you can get positive reviews and return business. These efforts will all convert into sales with little to no work save the initial set-up.

Online presence only

Many stores operate solely online. Businesses that are only online can take advantage of the same networking and marketing opportunities as the potter, but they don’t have to pay for the cost of a building and all its attendant expenses, including employees and utilities. With your online presence, you can offer detailed information and videos on your company’s products and services. Customers can preview products and compare prices before they buy. One company that has made a success of an online-only presence is As Seen On TV. The company offers a variety of great products for the home, cars, pets, and more. It produces videos to show customers how its products are used, and the videos are just one way that the company drives sales.

Online is the future

The technology explosion is having a major impact on retail sales. Robotics can now put together customer orders. Analytics can tell you how to target certain audiences with specific products. Online payment systems are popping up to keep transactions safe and quick. Quick delivery of online products with drones is just around the corner.

Whether you are dipping your toe in the water, or basing your business solely online, there is an advantage to using the internet. Even a small investment can mean great profits. Start looking into how the internet can improve your business.

Continue Reading