August 8, 2012

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Get off the Internet: Remembering Your Manners Online

Online communities have created a group of anonymous beings who believe that rude, hateful, and inappropriate comments can be made if they hide behind a nickname.. So how can you make sure that your online behavior is respectful and sincere? 

Remember the Golden Rule. Always treat people the way you’d want them to treat you.  Always remember that there are other people lurking behind those cute profile pictures, and try to treat them with the same respect you’d treat them with if they were sitting across the table from you. You wouldn’t brazenly insult someone sitting directly in front of you, so you want to avoid that kind of behavior online as well. Before you post any kind of content online, think about exactly what you’re saying.  Is it mean or derogatory? Does it defame the character of another person? Would you be upset if someone posted the same comments about you?  If the answer to any of these questions is yes, consider keeping those comments to yourself. 

Hold yourself accountable for your actions online. It’s easy to hide behind a username or other forms of anonymity online, but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. The ability to speak anonymously online has allowed people to communicate with fewer filters than before, making it easier to launch damaging attacks on someone without fear of repercussions. Many sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and now YouTube, require members to use their full names, and it’s a good start to creating civility online.  When you comment online, use your real name to hold yourself accountable.  Not only will it make you think twice about posting less than appropriate content, it’ll create credibility for you on Google and will help you start creating your own online search results. 

3 Super Easy Ways to Engage Your Facebook Audience

More than 4 million businesses have pages on Facebook.  That’s a lot of background noise for its 800 million users to filter through. Try these three tips to increase engagement on your Facebook pages: 

1. Add photos!  Your page should be eye-catching and informative.  Change your cover photo at least once a week, and make it interesting enough that your fans pause to check it out.  Do you have a new product or service that you’re offering? Snap a photo and post it to your page. Statistically, photos receive more attention on Facebook status updates and links. 

2. Post Relevent Content Regularly. Whether you have 100 or 100,000 fans, posting content on a regular basis is key to fan engagement.  After all, posting content keeps your brand’s name in their newsfeed.  Try posting content at least three times a week to ensure that your brand name remains at the forefront of your customer’s minds. And before you post content, ask yourself these questions to make sure the content you’re posting is going to create maximum engagement.  

3. Interact with your fans! Your fans love to hear from you! When they comment on your posts, be sure to like their comments and reply when you can. You can’t grow a fan base on Facebook simply by shouting about how great you are.  Interacting with your fans shows that you not only care about the products and services you offer, but that you care about your customers and their needs as well. 

Get to it! Avoiding Distractions in the Workplace

The office phone is ringing off the hook. Your inbox is overflowing. Your employees are hovering. The notifications on your cell phone are a symphony of bleeping and dinging.  In the age of distraction, it’s hard to ensure that your workplace is relatively interruption free.  Here are some great tips to help you stay on task. 

Set Your Work Times

What time of the day (or night) are you most productive?   Choose a specific block of time during the day when you’ll simply put your head down and work. Working during the hours when you know you’re most productive will help you ignore distractions and allow you to maximize your efforts.  

Turn Off the Gadgets

With cell phones, tablets, and other high-tech gadgets right at our fingertips, becoming distracted is easy.  Often, the best thing you can do for productivity is simply to turn them off or work in a place where those things aren’t temptations.  If this isn’t an option in your specific line of work, try cutting back your notifications to filter out unnecessary noise or setting specific times to check them. Entrepreneur.com recently posted some great tips for minimizing smart phone distractions.

Prioritize Your Tasks

Make a to do list every day, ordering your tasks from most to least important.  Then move down the list one at a time.  Creating an orderly day will help you avoid becoming distracted by things that aren’t on your schedule.

Quit Procrastinating

Think of that one big task you’ve been putting off because you’re dreading it.  You know the one—so far you’ve avoided it by cleaning out your inbox, surfing the internet, washing your grandma’s Buick,  and reupholstering the office furniture using the DIY pin you found on Pinterest.  Yeah, that one.  Don’t avoid the large tasks by getting wrapped up in smaller ones. Make time to get it done and out of the way so you don’t waste precious work hours uploading funny images of the Dos Equis guy to Facebook.

Take Breaks!

This may sound counterintuitive to the rest of the post, but taking breaks can work in your favor.  Taking breaks at certain times throughout the day can help you ignore interruptions when you’re working.  It can also be easier to push yourself to finish a job if you have something to look forward to when it’s done. And some of the best breaks begin with crossing a major project off the to-do list. 

5 Inexpensive Ways to Go Green at Work


Creating a green workplace doesn’t have to cost an arm and leg.  There are a lot of inexpensive ways to reduce your ecological footprint and make your office a healthier, more productive environment.  Here are 10 ways you can create an environmentally friendly workplace without breaking the bank. 

1. Telecommute.  Working from home has never been easier.  With cell phones, instant messaging, video conferencing, and other great digital tools, it’s no wonder that 44 million Americans have chosen to work from home.  And not only will you be saving the air from your car’s emissions, you can also work in your pajamas!

2. Go paperless. The more work you complete online, the less paper you’ll use.  Instead of cramming your office full of overflowing filing cabinets, store everything on your computer (with backups, of course!).  Then use the space you saved in the office for recycling bins, a few plants, and maybe a cozy sitting area for your employees to relax. If you can, send emails instead of regular mail and convert your documents to PDF formats so they’re easy to share.  

3. Use green materials. If you have to use paper, make sure it’s recycled.  Purchase refillable writing instruments and use biodegradable cleaners. 

4. Recycle! You know you can recycle paper, plastics, and cans, but did you know you can also recycle printer cartridges? Put bins in the office and ask employees to make sure they’re using the proper bins.  Offer an incentive for cooperation like casual Fridays or pizza parties (just don’t forget to recycle those empty boxes!)

5. Turn things off! Up to 75% of the electricity you use to power equipment in the office is used while the machines are turned off! Install power strips around the office to turn things off when they’re not in use.   Require that your employees turn off equipment when it’s not in use, especially before they leave their offices for the day.  

By implementing these five small tips in your office, you can have a big and positive impact on the environment.  

Mid-Year Tax Prep: What you can do now to avoid the tax season scramble

It’s easy to forget about your tax preparations until the last minute, especially when there are so many other aspects of your small business that must be attended to on a more frequent basis.  But taking a few minutes each month to prep and organize can help you avoid huge headaches at the end of the year. 

Create a monthly plan.

Make a list of all the things you need to file away and save each month in order to prepare your taxes in the spring. Download all your monthly statements (bank, investments, PayPal, etc.), gather all your receipts, and create a filing system for them.  Doing this each month usually takes no more than an hour, and once you’ve finished they’ll be easy to locate during tax time.

File and categorize everything!

 You can use whatever filing system works best for you (Or, may we suggest our extremely helpful and easy to use Tax Tracker app?) but be sure to get into the habit of filing everything as soon as you have it in your hands. Then there’s no way you can lose it in a pile of paperwork on your desk or having it accidentally thrown away during purges.

 Take it one step at a time.

Instead of waiting until the last minute, try doing thing a little at a time each month.  Get into the habit of taking an hour or so at the end of every month to organize your finances and make sure you have everything you need filed away for tax time. Doing things a little at a time is much easier than spending three days in late March looking for a receipt you haven’t seen since the previous September.

If you need help, ask for it.

If you find that you’re constantly struggling to keep up with your finances, documents, and necessary paperwork, consider hiring an accountant.  Not only will he or she take a huge weight off your shoulders and allow you to focus on growing your business, they’ll make sure your ducks are always in a row.  And their fees are also tax deductible.

Want more great tax tips?  Check out this article on new entrepreneur taxes from Entrepreneur.com.

June 21, 2012

Collecting Debts in Tough Times

The economic downturn has affected many businesses, and this article in the Wall Street Journal states that many large businesses are taking a longer time to pay their bills.  So how do you make someone pay?  Here are a few tips that may help:

Be careful with credit in general. It’s a good idea for your company to extend some credit, but be sure your credit practices are fair to your customers and comply with federal and state credit laws, and that your policies are strict enough to ensure that your business will be paid. 

Be consistent.  Create a protocol for employees to follow if customers don’t pay in a timely manner (overdue notices, demand and collection notices, etc.).  Treat every customer with outstanding invoices in the same manner every time, and make sure you’re giving the person or business an appropriate amount of time to pay up.

Don’t be afraid to report bad debt to credit bureaus.  When someone refuses to pay, go through the process of reporting them to the major credit bureaus.  While it may seem extreme to affect someone’s credit score, but they’ll have to settle the debt if they don’t want it to affect their credit score

If all else fails, deduct the bad debt on your taxes.  You can find the qualifications for doing so on the IRS website. 

Should You Drop that Needy Client?

Chances are, if you own a business you’re going to come across a demanding customer who’s more trouble than he’s worth.  And just like analyzing your business risks, it’s important to consider whether these customers are really worth the effort.  Ask yourself these questions to determine if it’s time for you to drop that troublesome client.

Do they know what they want?

Does this client have a good handle on what they require from you?  If they don’t really know what they want, they’ll continue to demand things from you without ever becoming a satisfied customer.  This could mean that you’ll never see the financial benefits of helping them.

Spend time with these clients to help them clarify (for your benefit and theirs) exactly what it is they expect your business to provide for them.  They may even need to go all the way back to the drawing board to figure that out. If they can’t decide exactly what they expect from you, it’ll be hard for their project to remain profitable and you should consider parting ways.

Is this client going to give you repeat business?

Has this demanding client come to you with a problem that has the potential to turn into repeat business?  If so, it makes it worth your time and effort to continue working with them. The current economy makes it especially important to keep your repeat clients happy, so this is an important question to consider.

Can I keep up with other projects while trying to satisfy the demands for this one?

If one customer takes up all of your time, you can’t dedicate the proper time to other projects.  If the time you’re spending on a project with little monetary benefit takes up most of your time, it may be a good idea to end the customer relationship and move on.  If the dollar amount of the project is significant, you have even more important decisions to make; if you’ve taken on too large a project, your other clients may suffer.

Do I have the staff/resources to make them happy in the end?

It’s important to fully understand your limitations.  Small businesses often make the mistake of taking on too many projects.  After all, it’s hard to say no to projects that are going to pay the mortgage.  But in order to be successful, you have to make sure you’re putting in the proper amount of time required to successfully complete each project.  If you don’t have the time or resources to make a demanding customer happy, maybe it’s time to refer them to someone else.

Wanting to say “yes” to every customer is understandable, but it’s not always possible.  Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t make someone happy.  The key is to determine your limitations, stay within them, and work toward the goals of your organization.  Taking on the right customers and weeding out problems will make you more profitable and more productive.

This article from Businessweek has some great ideas for helping demanding clients understand they’re not your only responsibility.

The Top 5 Reasons Your Small Business has Stalled and How to Jumpstart it

This article from the New York Times discusses why it’s important to be innovative and aggressive in a tough economy and features three small business owners who had to think outside the box in order to make a profit during the economic downturn.  And that made us wonder: Why did these guys thrive while other businesses either stopped growing or failed altogether?  And why do businesses stop growing?  Here are the top 5 reasons your business has stalled and what you can do to jumpstart it.

#1 The Problem: Poor Planning

While writing a business plan is about as exciting as watching paint dry, it’s an important part of starting a business.  Your business plan helps you stay focused on your vision and goals, and helps you plan how you’re going to achieve them

The Jumpstart: Write! Revisit! Revise!

 It doesn’t matter how long the business plan is; it can be 4-plan or a 50-page plan as long as it contains the type of product or service you wish to provide, the problem that the product is going to solve, and how you’re going to go about getting that product or service out into the world.

Once you’ve written  your business plan, review it monthly to make sure your vision and goals are still the same.  Every six months to a year, revisit your plan and make revisions as necessary.  Remember, if your business is growing, changes and amendments will be necessary to foster growth.

Haven’t written a business plan?  This article from the SBA contains everything you’ll need to include in your business plan, as well as a template. 

#2 The Problem: Lack of Business Experience/Industry Knowledge

You have to be a lot of people to run a business:  the marketer, the salesman, the office assistant, the bookkeeper, the shipper, etc. Add that to the face that you have to understand the industry you’re entering, its trends, and the skills required to offer your product or service.  

The Jumpstart: Educate yourself and find a mentor!

Read all the books you can get your hands on that pertain to your industry.  Research all your competitors.  Take some classes at your local college or university.  Most importantly, talk to people who have been successful in your industry and find someone willing to share with you what they did that made them successful. 

Here’s a great article from Inc.com on how to choose a mentor who’s right for you.

#3 The Problem: Poor Money Management

You have to be able to survive for at least two years without income when you’re starting a small business, since businesses are often slow to get off the ground.  Once your business is up and running, you need to prepare a realistic budget and keep accurate records and financial controls.

The Jumpstart: Keep track of everything!

Once you’ve set up a budget, stick to it! Keep track of every penny that comes into and goes out of your business and what it was for. (May we recommend our Tax Tracker app to help you keep up with your spending?)  Make an expense report each and every month, and review it to see where you can make positive changes, and don’t forget to file your sales tax and other necessary filings. And don’t spend company money on personal expenses. 

If you don’t know how to do any of this or don’t have time, it’s important to consider hiring an accountant.  This article on our blog explains why hiring an accountant can be helpful to your small business.  And your accountant’s fees are tax deductible.  We highly recommend Rockstar CPA; we think they’re pretty terrific.

#4 The Problem: Poor customer service

At one time or another, we’ve all had a bad experience with customer service.  Once you have a customer in your store, it’s important to keep them there.  Making sure your customers are happy leads to repeat and referral business. And happy customers spend more money over time than unhappy ones. 

The Jumpstart: Pay attention!

Listen to what the customer wants, and make sure you provide prompt service when addressing problems or concerns.  Make sure you keep your work and constantly ask your customers for feedback.  Want to learn how to treat your customers well without giving away the store? This post on customer service best practices can help.

#5 The Problem: Ineffective Sales and Marketing

Learning the basics of sales and marketing techniques is an important aspect of running a business.  Keeping track of what works in your industry—and what doesn’t—is crucial to determining how to create a sales and marketing plan. Every business owner needs at least a basic concept of sales techniques.

The Jumpstart: Educate yourself!

If you know virtually nothing about sales and marketing, it’s time to educate yourself, and quick! Social media is rapidly becoming the leading marketing tool in many industries, so staying up on current trends is important.  Make sure you’re keeping track of successes and failures and fine tune your techniques based on your findings. 

How to Create a Kick Ass Kickstarter Campaign

This Mashable article claims that 41% of all Kickstarters fail.   So how can you make sure your campaign is a smashing success?  Try some of these tips to create a kick ass campaign.

Make a sweet video

Kickstarter School says that projects including videos on their campaign page succeed at a much higher rate (50%) compared with projects that don’t utilize video (30%).

The site contains helpful how-tos and advice.  Don’t just sit in front of a camera talking about your project.  Try something out of the ordinary—make the video fun and engaging.  Are you a musician?  Include some concert or behind the scenes footage.  Set yourself apart from the other campaigns by doing something that will pique donor’s interest and entice them to open up their pocketbooks.

Offer incentives to donors

One of the wonderful things about Kickstarter is that donors will never own a piece of your company. You  don’t have to answer to them or provide them with annual reports, but one great way to get donations is to offer up an incentive for donating.  For instance, Grammy nominated musician Casey Driessen offers several different incentives for donors on his kickstarter page ranging from email updates and CDs to day-long workshops and one-hour solo concerts. 

Hustle never sleeps!

Make your Kickstarter project your full-time job until your goal is reached.  Ask neighbors, friends, family, and total strangers to donate to your campaign and share it with their friends.  Send information (along with the link) to businesses or foundations who might contribute and ask them to share it with their customers.    Get the press involved by calling your local television station or newspaper and pitching them your story.  Host parties in your neighborhood to tell people your story.  Spend as much time as you can dedicate to telling every person you meet about your campaign.  It’s up to you to make your campaign a successful one!

Who Should Fund the Arts?

Recently, NPR featured a story on the state of Kansas who, last year, became the first state to completely eliminate funding for the arts.  This, of course, drew hundreds of protesters to the Statehouse and this year some of the funding for the arts has been restored.  This story raises some interesting questions about funding for the arts that we’d love for you to weigh in on.

-Is it the responsibility of government to fund the arts?

-Even if arts do contribute to the economy, should it be the goal of arts programming to boost the economy?

-What do we gain from public funding of the arts? What do we lose without it?

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