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Monthly Archives: November 2016

11 Mobile Marketing Solutions for Small Businesses

Yelp is more than just a reviews site and go-to app for finding local businesses and deciding where to eat. It’s also a great place to incentivize customers via the Yelp mobile app. For instance, a restaurant can offer free drinks or appetizers, and a medical clinic can offer special discounts on select treatments — all customers have to do is check-in from their phones. The Yelp app also makes it easier for customers to contact you using call-to-action buttons, such the ability to call your business, visit your website or place a mobile order with just one tap. Yelp also lets you create and publish local ads, making it easier for nearby customers to discover your business while searching for ones just like yours.

The easiest way to reach customers on their mobile phones is by texting them. Mozeo aims to make texting customers a breeze with its easy to use dashboard and text messaging management system. To connect with your business and agree to receive communication, all customers have to do is text a keyword followed by a unique short code. For instance, Denny’s restaurants had customers text the word “Dennys” to 24587 to receive special deals, and Heineken used the word “USOPEN” to run a national text-2-win contest. In addition to deals and contests, Mozeo can also be used to send text notifications, reminders, verification codes and account alerts (such as when a password has been changed), as well as hold two-way conversations to provide customer support.

Another popular form of mobile marketing is using mobile devices to find out more information about a product simply by scanning a bar code or quick-response (QR) code. ScanLife’s Mobile Engagement Platform goes the extra mile by letting customers scan everything from UPC and QR codes to NFC, images, print ads and even actual objects. After scanning, customers are taken directly to websites, videos and other interactive sources. Such technology was once only available to large companies with generous marketing budgets, but ScanLife gives small businesses access to the same high-tech consumer mobile engagement solution on a small business budget.

Figuring out marketing budgets and gauging returns on investment (ROI) can be challenging for small businesses, particularly when it comes to mobile marketing. Convertro eliminates the guesswork by delivering key insights into mobile ad performance, allowing small business owners to make well-informed mobile marketing decisions. This platform can track all mobile elements on the path to purchase by creating customer profiles, no matter what devices they use to engage with your business. For example, if a prospective customer sees a mobile ad on his or her tablet, sees an ad for the same product on her smartphone two days later and then finally makes the purchase on his or her laptop, Convertro’s cross-device attribution technology accurately determines the impact of the mobile activities toward the final purchase. If small business owners have this information, they can make data-driven decisions on how to shift their ad spending toward the most efficient and profitable channels with the greatest ROI.

Sometimes, what small business owners need is a comprehensive mobile marketing solution. SUMOTEXT is a mobile relationship management platform that offers a wide range of mobile marketing solutions. These include mobile coupons, mobile loyalty programs, mobile wallets, mobile alerts and mobile giving (for donations). SUMOTEXT offers four flexible service options based on your business’s needs: self-service for do-it-yourself campaigns; managed services, including dedicated training, execution and support; hybrid services that combine an account manager and in-house execution; and API for advanced users.

Mobile marketing is all about sending texts and alerts at the right time and place. Thumbvista, a mobile marketing company that specializes in geofencing and location-based messaging, can help. After customers opt in to receive text messages, Thumbvista lets businesses collect specific demographic information and use it as filters to better target consumers — for instance, by gender, age and location. Then, Thumbvista’s geofencing technology lets users set up a “geofence” around the target perimeter — using buildings, blocks, miles and other locations — to trigger where, when and to which customers alerts and text messages should be sent. By letting small businesses tailor their mobile marketing campaigns, Thumbvista lets them create more effective and relevant messages while providing ultimate control over marketing spends and ROI.

The beauty of mobile marketing is that customers can also do the work for you. Foursquare, a mobile app that connects people to businesses, engages customers by allowing them to check in, recommend and create conversations about local businesses they visit. Categories include food and coffee, shopping, the arts, nightlife, outdoor activities and more. The app also connects to Facebook for an even wider net of potential and repeat customers. Foursquare has more than 45 million users and 1.5 million registered businesses.

Is email marketing part of your marketing strategy? With the majority of mobile users now checking their inboxes on smartphones and tablets, it’s more important than ever to make sure customers can view emails the way they were intended. Email marketing service MailChimp offers mobile-friendly email templates that make emails look good on any device. Users can choose from professionally designed templates or create their own. Spare customers from emails that aren’t formatted correctly for their device, and put the focus on your message instead.

Smart Strategies to Stretch Your Startup Dollars

A simple way to save money as a new business owner is to set spending and expense limits. However, a surprising number of business owners don’t have a formal budget, said Carissa Reiniger, founder of small business support community Thank You Small Business.

“There is so much power in knowing what is going on in your business, for better or for worse,” Reiniger told Business News Daily. “Managing the finances of my business is not something I naturally enjoy, so I’ve put rules in place to help me stay on track. I advise setting up a standard time every week or month for reviewing and managing your budget.”

“When you don’t pay yourself, you take money out of the business elsewhere to cover your own expenses,” Segal said. “Giving yourself a salary forces you to make everything in your budget work.”

Thatcher Spring, CEO of GearLaunch, said entrepreneurs should always do as much as possible with what they have before they add more fixed costs.

“At my company, we only hire when there is too much for the current staff to reasonably accomplish without additional help,” he said. “I’ve also found that hiring less-experienced, smart, adaptable employees, instead of only those that are senior and highly experienced, can help keep salaries under control.”

When you created your business plan, you might have envisioned all of the latest office equipment, lavish holiday parties and enough staff to take on big projects. However, not all of those business luxuries are guaranteed.

Office Evolution founder and CEO Mark Hemmeter said small business owners can suffer from a lack of flexibility in their grand plans.

“Your ego and vanity can get in the way,” he said. “You want that car or that perfect sign, but it just isn’t a good fit for the core of the business.

Hemmeter recommended looking into short-term solutions, like using shared office spaces and hiring freelance workers, until you can afford to make long-term commitments such as acquiring private office suites and hiring full-time employees.

Spring added that business owners should always plan for every effort to take longer than expected, whether it’s launching a new website, signing up customers, sourcing new products or hiring employees.

“Make sure you always set aggressive goals, but realize that there will be unexpected terrain on the pathway to success,” he said.

Startup costs for a new business add up, but there are tips and tools for finding the best areas to spend the money and those where you can cut back a bit. Spring noted that there are numerous cost-effective, self-service tools available to small business owners who want to save money by taking care of their own branding and website development.

However, it’s wise to be wary of “free” opportunities, warned Raad Mobrem, CEO and co-founder of Lettuce Apps (acquired by Intuit).

“Free tools can be a bad idea — they’re free for a reason,” Mobrem said. “Always pay for the important things, like software. You can ask for discounts with B2B services. People understand that you’re a small business just starting out, and if they offer discounts, you’ll want to work with them in the future.”

That said, spending money on the lowest-priced items can mean getting the lowest quality. As a result, you may have to replace things multiple times, and that can be more expensive than going with a pricier option in the first place.

“It’s a huge mistake to go as cheap as you can,” Hemmeter said. “It doesn’t look very professional.”

One area where you may want to splurge is your company culture, Spring said. You can invest in small items, such as snacks and comfortable work furniture, which don’t necessarily cost a lot but produce meaningful intangible value. “Having a great office environment will improve productivity,” Spring said.

After you follow the initial tips to save money and reduce the startup costs of your new business, it’s just as important to make sure your expenses stay on track as your business grows. Seek financial advice from accountants and fellow small business owners, and then go over your expenses and try to cut back where you can.

“Find an accountant that acts as a business adviser,” Segal suggested. “Look at your profit and loss with him or her every month, and see if anything is creeping up. Be very conscious of your numbers.”

As you adjust your budget each month to save money, you’ll be able to start investing in bigger, better things for your business. Mobrem’s advice is to plan your budget in terms of stages.

“Analyze and think about your long-term goals with your budget,” he said. “Ask yourself, ‘If I hit this goal, where should my budget go next?'”

6 Alternative Financing Methods for Startups

Angel investors invest in early-stage or startup companies in exchange for a 20 to 25 percent return on their investment. They have helped to start up many prominent companies, including Google and Costco. Mark DiSalvo, CEO of private equity fund provider Semaphore said, “You are likely to get an investor who has strategic experience, so they can provide tactical benefit to the company they are investing in.”

Venture capital is money that is given to help build new startups that are considered to have both high-growth and high-risk potential. Fast-growth companies with an exit strategy already in place can gain up to tens of millions of dollars that can be used to invest, network and grow their company frequently.

Brian Haughey, assistant professor of finance and director of the investment center at Marist College, said that because venture capitalists focus on specific industries, they can generally offer advice to entrepreneurs on whether the product will be successful or what they need to do to bring it to market. However, venture capitalists have a short leash when it comes to company loyalty and often look to recover their investment within a three- to five-year time window, he said.

Through this process, a service provider will front you the money on invoices that have been billed out, which you then pay back once the customer has settled the bill. This way, the business can grow by providing the funds necessary to keep it going while waiting for customers to pay for outstanding invoices.

Eyal Shinar, CEO of small business cash flow management company Fundbox, says these advances allow companies to close the pay gap between billed work and payments to suppliers and contractors.

“By closing the pay gap, companies can accept new projects more quickly,” Shinar told Business News Daily. “Our goal is to help business owners grow their businesses and hire new workers by ensuring steady cash flow.”

Crowdfunding on sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo can give a boost to financing a small business. These sites allow businesses to pool small investments from a number of investors instead of having to look for a single investment.

Make sure to read the fine print of different crowdfunding sites before making your choice, as some sites have payment-processing fees, or require businesses to raise their full stated goal in order to keep any of the money raised.

Businesses focused on science or research may be able to get grants from the government. The SBA offers grants through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Recipients of these grants are required to meet federal research-and-development goals, and have a high potential for commercialization.

Startup Costs: How Much Cash Will You Need?

You most likely have high expectations for your company. However, blind optimism may cause you to invest too much money too quickly. At the very beginning, it’s smart to keep an open mind and prepare for issues that may arise, experts say.

While every type of business has its own financing needs, there are some tips that can help you figure out how much cash you’ll require. EntrepreneurDrew Gerber, who started a technology company, a publicity firm and a financial planning company, estimates that an entrepreneur will need six months’ worth of fixed costs on hand at startup.

“Have a plan to cover your expenses in the first month,” Gerber said. “Identify your customers before you open the door so you can have a way to start covering those expenses.”

When planning your costs, don’t underestimate the expenses, and remember that they can rise as the business grows, Gerber said. It’s easy to overlook costs when you’re thinking about the big picture, but you should be more precise when planning for your fixed expenses, he added.

Indeed, underestimating costs can decimate your company, McCahon said.

“One of the main reasons most small businesses fail is that they simply run out of cash,” she said. “Writing a business plan without basing your forecasts on reality often leads to an unfortunate, and often unnecessary, business failure. Without the benefit of experience or actual historical financials, it’s easy to overestimate a new company’s revenue and underestimate costs.”

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are various types of expenses to consider when starting your business. It’s important to differentiate these types of costs, in order to properly manage your business’s cash flow for the short and long term, said Eyal Shinar, CEO ofFundbox, a cash flow management company. Here are a few types of costs for new business owners to consider:

1. One-time versus ongoing costs. One-time expenses will be relevant mostly in the startup process, such as the expenses for incorporating a company. If there’s a month when you have to make a one-time equipment purchase, your money going out will likely be greater than the money coming in, Shinar said. This means your cash flow will be disrupted that month, and you will need to make up for it the following month. Ongoing costs, by contrast, are paid on a regular basis, and include expenses such as utilities. These generally do not fluctuate as much from month to month.

2. Essential versus optional costs. Essential costs are expenses that are absolutely necessary for the company’s growth and development. Optional purchases should be made only if the budget allows. “If you have an optional and nonurgent cost, it may be best to wait until you have enough cash reserves for that purchase,” Shinar said.

3. Fixed versus variable costs. Fixed expenses, such as rent, are consistent from month to month, whereas variable expenses depend on the direct sale of products or services. Shinar noted that fixed costs may eat up a high percentage of revenue in the early days, but as you scale up, their relative burden becomes negligible.

Another important aspect of a startup’s financial planning is to project the business’s cash flow. Bill Brigham, director at the New York State Small Business Development Center in Albany, New York, advised new business owners to project their cash flows for at least the first three months of the business’s life. Brigham said to add up not only fixed costs but also the estimated costs of goods and best- and worst-case revenues.

If you borrow money, make sure you know not only how much you borrowed but also the interest you owe, Brigham said. Calculating these costs puts a floor on the revenues needed to keep the business viable and provides a good picture of the cash necessary to start it up.

Gerber recommended starting a business without borrowing at all, if possible. Borrowing puts a lot of pressure on any business and its owners, as it leaves less room for error, he said.

Once you get your business going, use QuickBooks or FreshBooks, which can connect directly to a bank account, to track expenses throughout each month and during tax season, Shinar advised.

Once you’ve determined your costs and cash-flow projections, you’ll need to consider how to pursue financing. How you obtain funds will affect the future of your business for years to come. Personal savings, loans from family and friends, bank loans, and government loans and grants are just a few of the many types of potential funding sources. Many companies are financed using a combination of sources.

One place to go for help is SCORE, which advises small business owners. Formerly known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives, this volunteer organization partners with the Small Business Administration and offers training and workshops for people who want to be entrepreneurs. Most important, SCORE offers counseling from people who have been in the business you might want to be in, and who know the specific issues that you’re likely to encounter.