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2015-biz-ideas

Article Contributed by Philip Piletic

Today, every business needs more than an edge. In an atmosphere that’s filled with competitors looking to fill every niche at lightning speed, every aspect of a business needs move with the speed and fluidity of a startup. Fortunately, technology has made this readily possible.

First, think small, but do it in a big way. The cloud is huge, but it has the potential to make your business more agile than even your largest competitor. Centralized storage not only saves on server and backup costs, but also allows your entire workforce to access every bit of relevant information in real time. Even better, they can do it remotely.

The ideal of the paperless office is quickly becoming a reality, and cloud computing is the way it’s happening. Every document, report and record can be stored in a single location that’s accessible from locations as close as the corner office and as far away as your sales team in Singapore.

Missing a meeting is no longer an excuse. From your daily sales goals to your long-term visions, everyone is in the car when they’re in the cloud. Such strategies used to take ages to develop. High-level meetings and late nights perfecting presentations were the norm. No longer.

VoiP is the new land line. Instead of spending on telecom, companies can reallocate to broadband and open up bandwidth for video conferences. Services like Skype Business mean every talk is a face to face, and one-on-ones are just clicks away.

This increased connectivity eliminate the distance between operational components, and this reduced size exponentially increases speed. Increased speed means greater flexibility, and greater flexibility means a more competitive company. You need to keep your brand polished, shining and exciting. This means updates, rollouts and deliveries need to happen faster than your competition.

A connected and flexible company still needs to watch its waste. Bloat is an ugly word, but it exists in almost every aspect of every large company. When you’re quick and connected, you have more than just a better means to distribute information – you have a better means to receive it.

Metrics is the name of the game, and the most direct access you have to your sales is through your point of sale. POS systems are making breakthroughs in every way imaginable, and they can revolutionize your business.

Fast transactions are only the beginning, but they’re also important. Long lines are a scourge, but efficient POS systems utilizing optimized specialized tabs and customized tender functions can reduce cash handling, speed up sales, and keep customers spending. When a bill can be split with the touch of screen, patrons feel like they’re paying less so your business earns more.

From instant voids to correct sales to stock write-offs at the terminal, every type of transaction can move faster. Merchandise can even be transferred between locations without any complicated paperwork.

Your employees benefit, too. Using their proximity RFID tag, they can log in and out in an instant – any employee can make any sale, anywhere. Their hours are easily documented and reported, and Z-Reports are generated without receipts and calculators. Department managers can create sales reports without using any valuable time, and banking reports can cut waste – and money – out of shifts.

The customer is the focus, and a good POS system works in this regard. A system that can help you determine which customers are buying specific products can help you zero in on your inventory and your focus. And let’s not forget discounts.

Sales are no longer dependent upon keys and percentages. You can target groups for discounts and key spenders for their preferred products. Buy-one-get-ones are as easily automated as buy-five-get-ones, and loyalty programs manage themselves.

These things are all metrics, and they all need to be available for real-time analyses and reporting. Today, they are. Even inventory levels can be controlled via POS. That’s right – what was once determined by diligent managers at district branches can be analyzed and reported by your POS.

Orders can be generated automatically, with shipments recorded using barcodes instead of pencils and lists. Yes, we’re still talking about your POS.

These days, they can even provide you with caller ID. More than one sale has been disrupted by an unwanted telemarketer. With a leading-edge POS, a simple glance could have closed the deal.

Companies that can move quickly have an undeniable advantage over bloated bureaucracies in every possible way. From the management of company data to the employment of new technologies, in 2015 your company needs to be a sports car, not an old pickup truck. For every dime on which your company can turn, you could be making make ten.



 
  


America’s Backbone Weekly: Stay Connected

Promote Your Small Business With E-Newsletters

By Nicole Altavilla for America’s Backbone Weekly

Spending the time and energy to obtain clients’ email addresses can give small businesses a big advantage when it comes to marketing efforts. E-newsletters, for example, are an inexpensive yet highly effective way to communicate with clients that can enhance a business’s reputation, provide instant tracking results, help publicize services and special promotions and increase client loyalty. And because 95 percent of online consumers use email, according to an infographic by renowned digital marketer Wolfgang Jaegel, small businesses can be confident that the e-newsletter is reaching a large number of current and potential clients. Erika Taylor Montgomery, CEO and chief publicist at Three Girls Media, with locations in California’s Silicon Valley and Seattle, offers tips on what to include in an e-newsletter to engage clients:

  • A Personalized Introduction: According to Montgomery, most e-news providers like Constant Contact and MailChimp allow a company to upload a list of contacts, including the recipient’s first name. “It’s a nice personal touch to start an e-newsletter with, ‘Hi Susan,’ for example, followed by an introductory paragraph from the company CEO or other senior executive,” she says.
  • Blog posts:Montgomery believes that providing links to blog articles is a great way to gain exposure and increase website traffic. She recommends including the first paragraph of a couple of recent blog articles in each e-newsletter, along with a “read more” tag at the bottom that takes the reader to the full post. A financial advisor, for example, could include a link to a blog article about how to effectively budget spending costs and save money.
  • Upcoming Events:Including information about upcoming events allows clients to stay in-the-know about events the small business will be participating in that are open to the public. A spa, for example, could highlight an upcoming Girl’s Night Out pampering event to attract both new and current clients.
  • Social Media Links:Social media links in an e-newsletter help drive traffic and encourage clients to find out more about the company on those channels. “Include not only a link, but an introduction to the content such as, ‘Are you following us on social media?’ followed by one or two posts from each social media platform,” says Montgomery.
  • Images: Montgomery suggests including one image for each different section of the newsletter. “It breaks up the copy and is visually stimulating for the reader,” she says.
  • A Coupon or Special Offer: By offering a discount or special offer of some kind, it gives recipients incentive to work with the business and try something that they may not have done otherwise. For example, a retail store could include information about a special promotion or coupon to save on in-store purchases.
  • Business Information: Montgomery recommends including information about the small business, like a description of services and contact information, and have a link to the company’s website at the bottom of the e-newsletter.

The Wolfgang Jaegel infographic indicates that for every $1 spent, $44.25 is the average return on email marketing investments, which means that when done right, e-newsletters can be an inexpensive yet highly effective way to connect with and attract new clients and keep current clients engaged. “Former clients are more likely to refer new business to a company if they receive regular reminders, which can be included in an e-newsletter,” says Montgomery. “It is also a great way to keep current clients in the loop of what’s going on at a company, and gives potential customers insight into a business that they may not get simply from the business’s website alone.”

Nicole Altavilla is a freelance writer with more than seven years of experience writing for B2B publications, including American Spa and American Salon. She resides in New Jersey with her husband and son.


Article Contributed by Kate Wilson

Go mobile or go home.

If your website isn’t optimized for mobile traffic, then you’re going to lose market share to competitors who have websites that are mobile-friendly. That’s because people in your market are using their smart phones and tablets to research products and services, go shopping online, and visit their favorite websites.

Just last year, it was reported that two-thirds of Americans own smart phones. More than a third own tablets. That’s a significant market share you’re losing if your website isn’t optimized for those devices.

Here are 9 ways you can be sure your website is mobile-ready.

  1. The Key Word Is “Responsive”

This is the most important point on the list. If you remember nothing else, remember this word: “responsive.”

Why is it so important? Essentially, that word is geek speak for “mobile-ready.” If you’re shopping around for a theme to apply to your WordPress or WooCommerce site, then “responsive” is the word you’re looking for in the description of the theme.

Check out this example or responsive design from Awwwards.com. Because it’s built on a grid format, it’s can be easily resized to fit the dimensions of any screen.

awww

  1. Start from the Beginning

It’s much easier to ensure your website is mobile-friendly when starting from scratch than it is to work backward and force a mobile-unready website to become a mobile-ready. It can be done, but you’ll likely find it’s more expensive and can still yield unforeseen bugs.

However, if you’ve just developed your great business model and you’re starting from scratch, then you can begin by ensuring your website is optimized for mobile usage right out of the gate. If you’re shopping for a theme, remember to look for the word “responsive.” If you’re hiring a professional developer, ensure that he or she understands the website needs to be responsive as well.

  1. Use a B-Site If You Must

If you find yourself in a position in which you simply can’t start from the beginning, then a B-Site is always an option.

What is a B-Site? It’s a separate view of your website designed specifically for a mobile device. You can see an example of one here on the Ring Power CAT website. Note the “Mobile Device” graphic in the lower, right-hand corner. That’s a link that people can use to view the site in a way that is optimized for mobile devices.

cattt

  1. Nothing Beats Testing

If you aren’t sure whether or not your site looks great on a mobile device, then there’s one sure way to find out: Test it.

This part of the process might involve some investment on your part. If you simply don’t have the up-front capital, then ask to borrow the devices of a few friends. You’ll find Apple devices are fairly consistent. However, there are almost infinite variations of Android devices. Testing your site on every piece of Android hardware would be a Herculean feat. Don’t sweat it, just test it on some of the latest phones, phablets, and tablets.

  1. Make Sure the Basics Are Readily Available

It might be the case the people who land on your site are simply looking for your name and phone number. This would be the case if you provide a service to people in your area (e.g., if you’re a plumber or an electrician).

Be certain your contact information is prominently displayed at the top of the page so that users looking for that information can access it easily. Remember, you can also provide a link on your phone number that dials the number. Don’t skip that.

  1. Avoid Image Overload

Images are great because a picture is worth a thousand words. Unfortunately, a big picture or a lot of pictures could also be worth a thousand minutes to someone who is connected with 3G or 4G, instead of with a networked router.

You don’t want to waste people’s time (or money — sometimes data charges will be incurred for heavy throughput) with your website. Just show them the basics and ensure the images you must display are small in size.

Check out the National Society of Collegiate Scholars website. This is another example of responsive design, but what makes it so great is it only features one image in its background. This way it’s still able to utilize visual elements without delaying load time.

socc

  1. Make Sure Clickable Elements Are Big Enough

Remember, everything tends to be smaller on a smartphone. The elements on your website will likely be shrunk down proportionally to fit on the smartphone screen.

However, the elements should still be large enough that a user can easily touch them to navigate around. If the elements are too small, it’s likely people will literally “miss” the clickable portion when touching the screen. Distilled offers a great resource on determining the proper size and proportions for your mobile website.

  1. Limit Input Text

Typing text on a smartphone is often a more complicated affair than typing words on a standard desktop or laptop keyboard. People who can whip out 70 words per minute on the QWERTY keyboard will often struggle to complete just a few words per minute with a mobile device.

For that reason, limit input text to only what is absolutely necessary. You don’t want to discourage potential customers by asking them to enter a great deal of text with their mobile “keyboards.”

  1. Less Is More 

Limit the amount of content on your site. People don’t want to read numerous paragraphs when they have to squint just to read a few words. Only include verbiage that is essential to your marketing campaign.


charityevent

Planning a charity event can take months, but what’s the use of all that event planning if no one knows about it to show up? Promoting your charity event is a vital part of the process and needs to be a factor when considering your overall budget. While you want to make sure costs are covered when planning any event, the purpose of a charity event is to make sure that the funds raised can go directly to the charity.

When budgeted improperly, costs can add up quickly, but promotion is one area in which you can keep them low. Think of inexpensive or free ways to get the word out about your upcoming event. With a little brainstorming and creativity, you and your team can come up with what will work best for your event. Here are some ideas to get started:

1) Use Social Media

Generally, social media is free. You don’t have to buy into the advertising that is offered to share your event with the public. Create an event on Facebook that lists all the important information with regular updates counting down the days until the event. People like to see the details all in one place and keep track of who is going. If you are using Eventbrite to sell tickets, make sure this link is included within the Facebook event.  Also, use social media to share your event with online influencers who might be interested in attending and will help spread the word. Twitter and Instagram are two useful networks for planning posts to be released several times a week to increase viewership and engagement. It is also a good idea to find the sub-Reddit of the city or town that your event will be held in to notify those users as well.

2) Reach Out to Your Network

Put together an email blast to be sent to everyone you know. It is important that you encourage them to attend your event without feeling like they are being spammed. Make the email fun and include information about the charity and why it’s an important cause to you. Use a service such as MailChimp to create a template that will be eye-catching and informative. Let your network know you’d love for them to be part of your meaningful event and make sure all the details are included. For a tentative guest list, you can also set up a free Evite account online.

3) Get Creative with Signs or Fliers

Marketers have found that promoting brand messaging online has a better chance of being seen than paper fliers, but it’s still a good idea to put efforts into both, especially when considering your target audience. You can order signs online delivered to the event space to help spread word around the town of the event.  Create one simple design and share it across all the promotional materials you’ll be using to reach the people you already know and also the people in your community who may be interested in your charity. Since you can create signs in bulk, this cuts down on cost and makes it so you can reach a larger audience in a more cost effective manner.

4) Hold a Raffle

Everyone likes a chance to win something and when the money is going to charity, people are likely to be more generous. Contact local businesses who may be interested in being an event sponsor and ask if they’d be willing to provide prizes to be raffled. They’ll get additional promotion and you get fantastic raffle prizes – it’s a win/win situation. Prizes don’t have to be expensive or over-the-top either. They can be as simple as restaurant gift cards, gift baskets filled with products from a few of your sponsors, or even handmade items from your crafty friends.

5) Word of Mouth

People immediately turn to marketing online when promoting their events, but forget the power of good old-fashioned word of mouth. Most likely if you are spending months planning your charity event, your friends and family will be well aware of what you’re doing. Encourage them to tell others about the event and talk about it in your social circles. The more people who know about it, the better chance for a successful turnout you will have.

Although there is a lot that goes into planning and executing a successful charity event, these are just a few tips and tricks to make the entire process easier for you.  As a leader, you have a lot of choices and decisions to make.  Have you ever thrown a charity event? What worked for you? What didn’t?  Let us know down below in the comments.


America’s Backbone Weekly: Start Planning

Gaining a Competitive Advantage

By SooJi Min for America’s Backbone Weekly

In order to succeed in today’s competitive global marketplace, small business owners need to foster an environment that promotes creativity and innovation in the workplace. Following are four steps that any small business owner can take to get the creative juices flowing, no matter the industry.

Create Space

First and foremost, the human brain needs time and space to put ideas together in novel ways. When we are overscheduled or overwhelmed with the pressure of too much to do, we tend to operate on auto pilot, doing the same things the same way day after day. According to Franklin Lakes, N.J.-based Janice Marturano, author of Finding the Space to Lead and founder and executive director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, the number-one thing that gets in the way of innovation is space. “We all have a to-do list that is miles long, a day that is packed with meetings,” says Marturano. “We need to cultivate the ability to have open space to allow the mind to be creative.” Productivity may actually increase as team members feel less overwhelmed and overscheduled.

Marturano suggests a few simple steps to create more space in the day. “It’s as simple as learning to train the mind to attend to the feeling of feet walking down the hallway from meeting to meeting,” she says, “or noticing while sitting at a meeting while the body is there but mind isn’t, and then using some physical sensation (breath, feeling of feet on the ground) to bring your mind back to the present moment.” Otherwise, the default mode is to “spend most of our mental energy ruminating or remembering the past, planning or worrying about the future,” says Marturano, which “zaps both your physical and mental energy.”

Promote Failure

Another important element is to create a corporate culture that tolerates mistakes. Behind every major success story, chances are that you will find many tales of false starts and even abject failures. “Failure is part of the creative process,” says Robert Bradford, CEO of Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, based in Waterford, Vt. “In business, you want to figure out how to fail cheaply and quickly and move on to next thing.” You want to feel secure trying new things and not be afraid of negative consequences. “The human brain is trained – going back 20,000 years – to always look for threat or what they are afraid might happen,” adds Bradford. “That’s not what creativity is about.”

Reward the Effort

Instead, be sure to reinforce a creative and collaborative culture by rewarding team members for taking risks and for cultivating an open mind. “It’s a really good idea to recognize when people contribute ideas and make them feel part of the team,” says Bradford, “even if it’s only a symbolic gesture. Every time that a reward is received, it stimulates dopamine.” Scientists have found that dopamine in the brain functions as a neurotransmitter and is directly related to motivation and behavior. Dopamine makes you feel good so that as a result, you are inclined to do more of that behavior or activity.

Look Outside the Box

Last but not least, business owners need to look outside of their industry for inspiration. “Chances are that if a business is only doing what their competitors are doing, they won’t innovate,” says Bradford. “You need to get ideas from outsiders that will stimulate conditions and connections that don’t normally occur. Really creative ideas are outside of the normal connection space.”

Indeed, in a recent study conducted by Harvard Business School, researchers recruited hundreds of roofers, carpenters and inline skaters to contribute ideas on increasing workers’ use of safety gear. A panel of experts evaluated their suggested solutions based on novelty and usefulness. The finding: “Each group was significantly better at thinking of novel solutions for the other fields than for its own,” and the farther the distance from their own field, the greater the novelty of the idea.

If you are serious about getting ahead of your competition, create a collaborative culture of creativity in the workplace by creating space, allowing failure, giving rewards and looking beyond your own industry for ideas.

SooJi Min is a freelance writer and nonprofit executive based in Ann Arbor, MI. She has written on small business topics for Crain’s, Imagination Publishing and The University of Chicago Booth School of Business.



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