21 NovThe Extra Push: How To Promote Your Small Business During The Holidays

With local storefronts having e-commerce sites and Amazon opening pop-up stores, there is no difference between brick and mortar vs online for holiday business. Everyone is seeking customers.  There may be a difference in the volume of sales, but the one common thing is that all businesses are using social media to grab attention during this crucial holiday season. This week, I did a random walk through downtown Decatur, which is a suburb of Atlanta and walked into a several stores.  In  three places, I overheard conversations about social media for small business. A gift shop owner talked about the difference between his personal Facebook page versus the store’s business Facebook page.  In a record store, the salesclerk who is also a musician mentioned that he sells his music online using Bandcamp. I walked into a new ice cream shop and the hashtag was written on the board along the list of ice cream delicious flavors on the menu.

The power of social media when it comes to growing a business cannot be denied. The problem for most small business owners and entrepreneurs is not to be overwhelmed.  There are so many channels to use, but a social media strategy is not one size fits all.

First, start with your base. Many stores and restaurants have a clipboard with a sheet of paper inviting customers to join their email list, just as big chain stores ask for your email at checkout.  Building a email list is essential, so that businesses can reach out directly to people who are already existing customers.  Give them insider information on new menu items or new inventory in stock. Use your newsletters as a way to tell your business story. There are several email newsletter services like Mailchimp or MadMimi that you can use to send newsletter out to your customers.

Second, find out where your potential new customers are online.  Look for niche groups on Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. Do hashtag searches on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Don’t overlook older online communities like Meetup.com For example, if you have a baking supply store, look for cake decorating meetup groups and offer a discount to them.

Third, decide what content to share on social media. Photos posted on Instagram are good, but research shows that tweets with photos also fuels engagement. If your business is selling food and fashion, then Instagram is definitely a social media channel you should employ.

Twitter is great for spreading information like discount codes, specials, and news.  Hashtags can expand your reach as people are searching for things like #blackfriday, #giftguide  or #shopping.  Facebook can be effective as well, but only if you spend money to promote your Facebook page. If you have the budget to do that, then take the time to target your audience by location, gender, age and more.

Pinterest can be very effective  if you want to provide curation for potential customers. For example, if you are independent bookstore, you can create Pinterest boards for different book categories like Young Adult books, cookbooks, or mysteries.  Have fun with it and use descriptive names for the Pinterest board like  Reads Like Teen Spirit, Cooking The Books, or Whodunit respectively.

Most of the social media advice I have detailed above was for consumer retail businesses, but the holiday season is also good for B-toB and service businesses. If your business is focused on B-t0-B, the holiday season can be advantageous  since some companies may have room in their budgets to spend before the end of the year. Whether it is professional services or office equipment, this is an excellent time reach out. LinkedIn groups within your industry is a good place to find potential customers.  It is also good to  reaching to existing customers and to see if they need to re-order.  Use your CRM to your advantage.

My dad who is retired but worked in retail for many years said, “When price is competitive, customer service is key”. Use your social media channel to not only promote your business, but also deliver good customer service.

For more digital marketing strategies, check out Xero’s small business guide.

 

 

14 NovHow To Open A Pop-Up Store During The Holidays

Do you remember record stores?! They were around way before either Spotify or Taylor Swift. My father owned a record store called The Record Hut when I was a kid. The Record Hut was where I first saw good customer service in action. My dad would help people find the music they wanted and suggest new stuff to buy. He was kinda like Spotify before the internet. Although I could barely stand over the counter, I learned how to play records and make change. Little did I know that decades later, I would be an accountant.

My dad gave me this advice, “Own your own business. There’s nothing like being your own boss.” A few years ago I taught a cupcake business class for would-be cupcake bakery owners. The first thing in my presentation was to ask questions to see if the attendees were ready for all the hard work, long hours, little to no pay. The upside is smelling like a cupcake all the time.

Hopefully, they had already done a self assessment and were ready to go. You have to be brave to start your own business. Some people launch their businesses during the holiday season which is a true test of your fortitude. If you are passionate about kicking off your business or expanding during the holiday season, take some time to prepare and promote. Between Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, this is the one time of the year where media pays attention to retail, so it’s a good opportunity to get press and new customers.

First things first, you have to do the grown-up thing. Make a budget. Budgets are not sexy and they don’t sound like fun. However, if you change your perspective, you may learn to like budgets. Think of your budget as your “play money”. This is how much money you plan to spend before making any sales. Remember, you have to spend money to make money. This budget is can be changed along the way but it is good to stick to it initially. Think of the budget as a creative constraint. It’s the character limit like Twitter, but instead of 140 characters, it’s $1400 or $14,000.

Before the internet, business owners kept a ledger book. [You can even find vintage ledger books on Etsy.] However, most entrepreneurs handle their business with their phone, their laptop and a tablet with either Paypal or a Square card reader attached. Using cloud accounting software like Xero is a good option because it can sync with transactions from either card reader as well as Shopify. That way your inventory is updated with each transaction.

If you want to have an IRL presence during the holiday season, then getting a booth at a holiday market or opening up a pop-up store is good idea. Applications for most of the artisan/flea/holiday/solstice markets may have already passed, but it’s good to do research now to know which ones to reach out to next year. You can always ask existing vendors if they know any open spots.

You can take advantage of the sharing economy by checking out The Storefront which is like AirBnB for temporary retail spaces and pop-up stores. If you can find a place within your budget, then you can book for a few days during the busiest shopping days for optimal reach.

Now, you have a place. Next you need a person. First you will need someone to help you at your booth or pop-up shop. As much as you would love to work nonstop the whole time to save money on employee expenses, it is better to hire someone. I can attest to the need to have more than one person to provide excellent customer service during a busy day. Providing excellence customer service includes suggesting items, answering questions, and guiding purchases. People get so flustered when buying for others during the holidays. Never rush a sale. Patience will go a long way for a big sale. That’s why it is important to hire someone. My motto when it comes to hiring is to “hire slowly; fire quickly”. It is good to find someone who has complementary skills, can pick up new things fast, and works well with you. You didn’t start a business to work with someone you can’t stand. You may be not best friends, but if they can get the done, then that’s fine.

Once you have your place and person/s, then the next steps are more fun.

 

13 NovFind A Pop Up Space With The Storefront

Are you looking to do a pop-up retail space in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or San Francisco?  Then you may want check out The Storefront. The Storefront is like AirBnB for commercial space. It is also a way for people who have these space earn income by temporarily renting out your space to other business who may need a space. This is so good for online retailers who want a pop-up space during the holiday season. It’s a win-win.

The Storefront also lists fairs and festivals that are happening around the country. Storefront also offers access to support and retail insurance.  This is a great idea for a tech start-up. I wish I had thought of it.

11 NovUse Your Spare Change To Build Your Investment Portfolio

 

I love this idea. Actually I love anything that makes saving and investing money easy. Acorns is an app that does that.

Via Netted:
Backyard pine cones #mystockphotos
Acorns, the super-secure investment app for iOS and Android that takes your spare change and magically turns it into an investment portfolio.

Just connect a credit or debit card and every time you make a purchase, the app rounds up to the nearest dollar and invests the runoff in a diversified portfolio of respected low-cost ETFs that match your risk tolerance. You can also make investments yourself anytime you like. Check out Acorns.

08 NovRight Brain, Left Brain, Right Foot, Left Foot

When I was a kid, I didn’t understand when kids in school would mistakenly put on their shoes on the wrong foot. It seemed silly to me because the right shoe on the left foot or vice versa was so uncomfortable.

Like shoes and feet, the way people think is often slotted into two categories, right brained or left brained. If you are “right brained”, you are considered to be more creative and intuitive. Conversely, if you are “left brained”, then are more analytical and objective. It’s an over-simplification of how people think, but what often people pick a side of the brain and stick with it.

When I was in grade school, I exhibited right brain tendencies. I wrote poems and stories. I took dance and acting. However, I did well in science. Sans the catastrophe of calculus, I was always good at math. Back then, it was something I did well; but not something I really liked. One thing I have learned from adulthood is that you can be happy with doing something well even if it not your favorite thing to do. The feeling of a job well done can be intoxicating.

While in college deciding on a major, I was choosing between being a marketing major and an accounting. Plus, accounting seemed like a career that would mean steady employment.

Because of the internet, I tapped into my inner right brain creative in 2004. I started a blog about cupcakes. The next year, I quit my job as a risk management consultant and started accounting for entrepreneurs. Most of the entrepreneurs I initially worked women I met through Ladies Who Launch, an organization for creative women starting businesses. My first clients were jewelry designers, personal coaches, food truck owners, and writers. I helped them navigate the perils of invoicing, accounts receivable and bank reconciliations while also appreciating their creative spirit and passion for their business.

My early clients helped me to love accounting because I can see the immediate results of making deposits, paying vendors and entering invoices. Instead of focusing of income statements and balance sheets, I was empowering my clients by simply doing their books.

Because of “the right brain construct”, some of my clients were afraid of bookkeeping because it was in another language that they were convinced they could never understand. However, accounting is not a chore because it helps them to see how their business is doing quickly.

If you love to read but you’re not a fan of accounting, change your perspective. Think of the chart of accounts is like the table of contents of a book. The income and expenses are like the forks in the road of a choose your own adventure book. Your bank account is your protagonist and your other current assets are its friends. Conversely, the all the payable are potential threats. The taxes and the loans are especially menacing. Making the right decisions can yield a happy ending to the story. Then you do it all over next year. The goal is to be a prolific as George R.R. Martin without the blood and gore.

The right brain, left brain dichotomy is a construct. If you own your business, you need both. Two sides of the brain are better than one.

07 NovMolly Crabapple’s Iron Laws of Creativity

megabeautiful
Photo by Gala Darling

I met Molly Crabapple years ago. She’s great. I crashed a party at SXSW with her. I had New Year’s Day dinner with her and some friends, too. She’s a wonderfully talented artist, and she is also a great writer.

She articulated everything I have thought about and more when it comes to be an artist and supporting yourself. Molly wrote 15 Irons Laws of Creativity, but I am only sharing four here. Go to her Tumblr to read the rest.

1. The number one thing that would let more independent artists exists in America is a universal basic income. The number one thing that has a possibility of happening is single payer healthcare. This is because artists are humans who need to eat and live and get medical care, and our country punishes anyone who wants to go freelance and pursue their dream by telling them they might get cancer while uninsured, and then not be able to afford to treat it.

2. Companies are not loyal to you. Please never believe a company has your back. They are amoral by design and will discard you at a moment’s notice. Negotiate aggressively, ask other freelancers what they’re getting paid, and don’t buy into the financial negging of some suit.

3. I’ve cobbled together many different streams of income, so that if the bottom falls out of one industry, I’m not ruined. My mom worked in packaging design. When computers fundamentally changed the field, she lost all her work. I learned from this.

4. Very often people who blow up and become famous fast already have some other sort of income, either parental money, spousal money, money saved from another job, or corporate backing behind the scenes. Other times they’ve actually been working for 10 years and no one noticed until suddenly they passed some threshold. Either way, its good to take a hard look- you’ll learn from studying both types of people, and it will keep you from delusional myth-making.

06 NovXero Beefs Up Payroll Management With Acquisition Of Monchilla

Via GeekWire

Monchilla, the Seattle-based startup that offers online payroll management and payroll tax payments, has been acquired by Xero, a New Zealand-based online accounting firm. Monchilla sold for a combined $4.1 million in cash plus almost 240,000 shares of Xero stock.

“It was an obvious choice for us to join Xero and our combined expertise will ultimately help us build a more rounded out, intuitive payroll solution to fuel our customers’ growth,” Monchilla co-founder and CEO Jack Couch said in a press release.

The deal will give Xero more tools to accelerate the growth of its U.S. business to more customers. Right now, the company offers payroll services in seven states, and Monchilla’s tech will help boost that number very quickly.

23 OctCloud Based Audit Software: AuditFile

AuditFile continues to transform the audit process by announcing its plans to integrate with industry leading bookkeeping tools, QuickBooks Online and Xero. As the first entirely cloud-based audit, review, and compilation solution for CPA firms, AuditFile will be the only software with the ability to connect with these tools on this level.

The unique integration will allow accountants to directly pull the trial balance or entire general ledger from their clients in a simple and user-friendly way when performing audits, reviews and compilations.

“We plan to be able to continually download updated versions of the general ledger so auditors can leverage their ability to perform interim work,” stated AuditFile Co-founder Gary Bong.

Read more at http://www.virtual-strategy.com/2014/10/22/first-entirely-cloud-based- audit-software-continues-revolutionize-accounting-industry#S5U8JqlOAcK BvQxy.99

10 OctDebits on the Left, Credits on the Right: Double Entry Accounting

Accounting is like one of Newton’s Laws of physics. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That’s the best way to describe double-entry accounting. When I was in college studying accounting, I used this mantra “debit on the left, credits on the right” as a way to remember T- account entries. A T-account is an individual accounting record that shows information about increases and decreases in one balance sheet or income statement account. T account is so called because it has the form of letter T.

In accounting systems, you don’t typically see actual T-accounts, but the rule still holds.

When there’s an increase in an asset, the entry is on the left.  The debit entry is also the first line in the double entry accounting.
The second line is the corresponding account that is credited.

For example, an entry for Prepaid rent looks like this.
Prepaid Rent                                                                              900
Cash                                                                                                                 900

Conversely when there is an increase in a liability, then the credit entry is on the right. Accounts Payable is a credit account.

Supplies                                                                                        600

Accounts Payable                                                                                     600

Take note of the following:

Debit accounts are Assets, Expenses and Dividends.

Credit accounts are Liabilities, Owner’s Equity and Income.

 

 

 

25 SepFinovate Fall’s Best In Show

Finovate Fall has come and gone.  It seems that big data, personal financial management and security are three trends for the companies that presented this week. Below are the best of show winners.

AnchorIDLogo_FF2014

AnchorID for its new way to log into websites and apps. One universal username logs you in with unique security.

blooomLogo_FF2014


blooom for its simple tool built to fix the millions of mis-invested 401(k) allocations for individual clients.

CrowdFlowerLogo_FF2014

CrowdFlower for its leading data enrichment platform to help data scientists, analysts, and engineers collect, clean, and label data to make it useful.

LOYAL3Logo


Loyal3 for its use of social technologies to democratize the markets, making investing in IPOs and stocks easy and affordable for everyone.

MoneyDesktopLogo

MXlogo

MX/MoneyDesktop for its WideNet Technology to help FIs expand their market reach, and its Helios cross-platform digital banking app.

NICESystemsLogo

NICE Systems for its real-time authentication that strengthens and streamlines the authentication process in real-time, while customers converse with an agent.

ToopherLogo_FF2014


Toopher for its multi-factor authentication platform that uses the location awareness of your smartphone to automate authentication for logins and critical actions.

23 SepFinovate: Blooom, Gremln and eMoneyAdvisor

Three companies of note that have presented at Finovate today.

Blooom: Blooom is 401K  manager that is not set it and forget it.

Gremln: A social media management tool presenting at Finovate is unusual but Gremln differentiates itself by offering secure social media management. Can GremIn accurately calculate the ROI of social media?

eMoneyAdvisor: This is a B-to-B  play platform for money advisor professionals.

23 SepFinovate Fall Is Today

Finovate Fall is today and tomorrow in New York.

Some of the companies presenting include the following:
iQuantifi
Digital Mailer’s My Virtual Strong Box
MX formerly known as Money Desktop

From the presentations so far, it looks like fintech have not ceded all of personal finance management space totally to Intuit’s Mint.com.

26 AugXero Announces Partner Marketplace

I first wrote about Xero back in 2007 before it was available here in the United States.
As part of its mission to broaden its US footprint, small business cloud accounting software provider Xero on Tuesday announced the launch of a new partner marketplace.

From ZDNet

Showcasing more than 350 partner integrations, the marketplace is designed as a central location where customers can find, compare and choose from a bevy of SMB tools and software that integrate with Xero’s cloud accounting software platform.

Business tools that integrate with Xero range from Square and ZenPayroll, to Constant Contact and Google Docs. It’s these partner integrations that Xero is betting on to set itself apart from fellow accounting software provider — and leading US competitor — Intuit and QuickBooks Online.

I have a feeling that this add-0n marketplace is the best way that Xero can really compete with Quickbooks.

08 AugCRM Tools For Small Businesses And Tech Start-ups

Garden 2014

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is a system for managing a company’s interactions with current and future customers or clients. Salesforce is great for CRM, but can be too much for small business, tech start-ups or solo entrepreneurs. A couple of the folks at New Work City suggested some CRM tools that inexpensive, simple and easy to use. All of these are cloud-based so you can access from anywhere.

Streak is free. It integrates with Gmail.https://www.streak.com/

37Signals’ Highrise. One of my former clients used this and it is good: https://highrisehq.com/

Batchbook is for small business CRM, and it integrates with MailChimp. http://batchbook.com/

Insightly is getting a lot of attention lately. There’s a free version to get you started. http://www.insightly.com

01 AugBusiness Tip: Let Referrals Work For You

Serenity #sailout

Tech start-up founders have been honing their origin stories for years as if they were sprung out of a Marvel comic book. However, the rest of us entrepreneurs and small business owners have yet to craft a fantastic fable of success.

The question that is asked most often by budding entrepreneurs is how to get new business. The short answer is, “Everyday I’m Hustlin”.

I have been self-employed for nearly nine years and I can attribute a lot of my success to referrals. Some business owners have erroneously taken the catchphrase from the movie ‘Field of Dreams ‘”Build it, and they will come” to heart. Even if it may have worked twenty years ago, it doesn’t work today. You can’t just build a website or hang out a shingle and expect the masses to come. You have to hustle.

It is better to prepare and pre-game instead. As Keith Ferrazzi said in his book, Never Eat Alone, “Build it before you need it.” What you are building is your and your connections. I have spent a lot of time meeting people and making connections. Some people may call it networking, but networking can seem forced or sterile. Just yesterday, a former client asked for referral for a bookkeeper. I then asked a CPA I know and connected the two people. Today, another client that I interned for then later worked for referred me to one of her friends for work.

Josh Klein, who I met through friends many years ago wrote about this in his book, Reputation Economics. The Whuffie Factor also refers to this. Social capital is key. Building your online brand is key to getting referrals. However, the first thing is to start with face to face contact. Offline leads to online and then a connection is made. Sometimes the connection is not direct. It could be a degree away, but someone along the chain, there was a face to face meeting. There’s no “catfishing” when it comes to business referrals. I could never recommend someone if I have not met or interacted with them and can attest to their competency. My reputation is at stake with every referral. I would expect the same from people in my network. Authenticity is essential. Yielding a win-win-win is the preferred outcome with referring and connecting people. Both parties win, and you win because you earn reputation points. It’s not good karma; it’s good business.