The Marketer’s Guide to Preparing Early for Christmas


The holiday season is so much more than December 25th. To get the full advantage of the Christmas rush, marketers need to start thinking about and developing holiday campaigns now. As one of the busiest times of the year for businesses, it’s vital to get serious about marketing opportunities and get ahead of competitors as early as possible. Make your brand the top of consumer’s lists this year!

During the holidays, companies have a chance to capture many new clients. Direct traffic boosts 150%, customers are more responsive with a higher conversion rate and ad impressions increase by 50%. With without the proper planning in the lead up to Christmas, your business can miss out. November is the biggest opportunity brands and retailers have each year—but it’s also the most competitive. Here’s what every marketer should start organizing today:

Determine a Marketing Strategy

Tap into the seasonal marketing benefits by developing a solid marketing strategy. Part of your campaign plan needs to determine how you’re going to promote the business brand during the holiday season. Find ways to stand out among other marketing gimmicks and competitors through specific Christmas promotions, email marketing and social media campaigns.

The earlier you start planning marketing campaigns the better. This will ensure there’s maximum potential to reach your target audience and communicate with them in the right way. Create holiday-themed offers and discounts to grab your customer’s attention and promote the campaign. Work with the creative team to help it all come together with CTAs, banners, photos, webpages and social media strategy.

Plan Christmas Gifts for Clients and Suppliers

A vital part of client satisfaction and corporate branding is Christmas gifts. Not only do they offer a way to say thanks to your customers and suppliers for their support, but it gives a great opportunity to incorporate smart business branding. With holiday season shipping always a hectic time, you need to be realistic about shipping times and cutoffs throughout December and January, so getting onto it early is vital. Online gift shopping can save a lot of time and money, with many sites offer bulk quotation requests to keep it cost-effective. Corporate Christmas gift hampers and useful, branded presents are great ideas for clients and suppliers to show your appreciation.

Prepare for an Increase in Media Costs

Advertising costs tend to go up during the holiday season so make sure you’ve prepared for this in the corporate budget. You might want to consider increasing campaign budgets during the holiday season so ads get the right traction. Consumer shopping trends and competitive edges also lead to an increase in media costs over Christmas, so it makes sense to increase exposure and put more funds into advertising.

Design and Book Christmas Ads

Like the shopping lines in the lead up to Christmas, booking advertising space gets busy. So it pays to get on top of it early. Allow adequate time to get the creative work done, book through relevant media outlets to run and run any ad tests (this is especially important for visual mediums like Instagram). Focus on your ad copy and if you’re using something old, make sure to revisit it before launching the holiday campaign. Writing copy that’s unique, relevant and fresh will put your business ahead of its competitors.

Prepare Holiday Opening Hours

Giving your clients and suppliers plenty of notice of seasonal opening hours is essential to great customer service. There’s nothing worse than people trying to reach you or the business office when things have already shut down and they didn’t know about it in advance. Keep everyone in the loop through the corporate newsletter, website updates and via social media. It can be a good idea to change your usual out-of-office greeting to something more festive and wishing your clients, suppliers and prospects are great holiday. Clearly state when business will be back in operation and appoint something to check messages and get back to everyone on quickly on return.

Book Party Event Locations

If you’re planning a corporate end-of-year celebration, then you need to get in early to book a great venue or activity. Set the date so everyone can mark it in their calendars to attend—you want to get staff booked in as soon as possible for social events around this time because it’s so busy. Establish a budget and find a suitable venue for the event. Consider organizing food and drinks early too if you’re not going to a restaurant or bar and set clear boundaries as to the type of Christmas party you’re organizing.

Create a Sense of Urgency on Your Landing Pages

Creating a sense of urgency on your landing pages is a highly effective way to push hesitant prospects over the line and covert. In the lead up to Christmas, it’s essential to leverage the power of the holiday rush and optimizing your website to reflect this is paramount. Include seasonal landing pages or banners promoting specific offers such as free shipping. This technique is especially powerful when combined with enticing ad copy that hook customers in. Create seasonal user-generated content to leverage connections with customers and make sure your website is properly optimized for periodic keywords.

Make Your Customers Feel Extra Special

The holiday season is all about giving; and making your customers feel extra special will encourage them to come back again next year. Offering a small gift or freebie can be a nice way to say thanks to those who have supported your brand. You could organize an event for the bigger supporters and suppliers or a VIP sale night with Christmas drinks. Either way, take the time to make them feel appreciated.

Author: This article is written by Jayde Ferguson, an online blogger and copywriter who recommends the gift and delivery service at Boxt are a leading online provider of hampers and other gift ideas and do delivery throughout Australia. Catch Boxt on Facebook or Pinterest for more ideas.

What We Learned After Taking Our Online Store Offline


Andy Dunn, co-founder of men’s clothing brand Bonobos, deserves a lot of credit for making a bold statement seven years ago when he identified the opportunity for an online-only direct-to-consumer clothing brand that would disrupt the traditional brick-and-mortar model. It spurned a whole category of startups that followed the “Bonobos for X” model: for dress shoes, underwear, shorts, etc. And hundreds of millions in venture capital followed suit, with $127 million going to Bonobos alone.

But within the space of two years, an experiment to sell pants out of their offices has turned into a commitment to open 100 stores around the country, and they’re already at 17. A bevy of digital-first, e-commerce brands moving offline and building their own stores have followed: Rent the Runway, the women’s rental dress company is planning on opening a store later this year, with four or five more to follow. BaubleBar, the women’s jewelry company, is committing to stores in the Tri-state area.

At Blank Label, we’ve opened stores in Boston and Washington D.C., with plans to open 10 more in the next two years. Our original plan was to stay online-only, but in late 2012, we got invited to do a few trunk shows in Boston and New York. The No. 1 question we received was: “I’m really interested, where is your store?” We’d say our store was online, and at that point we lost them. Since opening our first store in Boston, we’ve seen a much higher basket size selling in person; in fact, our store’s average order value is more than double our website’s.

Here are the three characteristics which, based on our experience, we believe will impact the future of how stores are built. If you sell your products online and are thinking of opening your own store, these tips will help you get set up without breaking the bank.

No Inventory

Most traditional stores have a million dollars of inventory in the backroom of each of their stores, and takes a whole backroom team to manage and track. The new model is to have inventory consolidated in one or a couple of warehouses around the country, and ship them directly to the customer. Even though this means the customer can’t walk out of the store with their new items, it saves potentially millions in financing for store inventory.

You might be concerned with the lack of instant satisfaction that comes with leaving a store with new items, but companies like Amazon have taught us all to expect home delivery. We were pleasantly surprised we didn’t get any push-back on this. If capital is at all an issue for your business, holding inventory in one location as opposed to many is a strategy you should consider. Blank Label has been able to finance its growth mostly through its own cash flow, and a large factor is not having to finance inventory, which ties up capital. Opening new stores at this speed would not be possible if each of the locations needed to be stocked with goods.

Minimal Square Footage

With the same lean mentality, we focused on smaller stores and doing more with less space. That’s why our stores are between 1,000-2,000 square feet. Warby Parker states they’re doing around $3,000 per square foot, which means for a 1,000 square foot space they’re selling $3 million a year. At Blank Label, sales are $1,500 per square foot, having grown 50 percent each year for the last two years.

The total revenue figure alone is not overly impressive, but it’s more interesting within the context of the size. When we opened our first store, we were capital-constrained in the size of space we were able to afford. We really wanted to experiment with a retail model, but didn’t have the money to open a large store. With the no-inventory approach, we were able to use the majority of our floor space for product merchandising rather than stacks of different sizes in different colors, and we can open stores faster because the upfront cost is lower. It can feel cozy, but that’s also a bigger pro than a con because the store always appears very busy to a new customer. It begs the question whether you still need three-floor, 10,000-square-foot megastores. We agree with Warby Parker Co-CEO, Neil Blumenthal, who puts it this way: “Triple threat: profitable, brand elevating and awareness generating.”

Focus on Experience

Doug Stephens of the blog Retail Prophet introduced the idea of the store becoming a media experience, writing: “The store allows the consumer to engage the brand, its products and its culture in a visceral and emotional way that simply cannot be replicated online. Therefore, as more and more sales are attributed to mobile, social and online channels, the store’s strategic importance has to shift to delivering more powerful, galvanizing experiences that forge love and loyalty.”

Because word-of-mouth is such an important part of our marketing mix, Blank Label holds experience as the highest measure. We are intentional about calling our clients by name, the questions we ask to learn about their clothing preferences, the way we pin their garments to show them how they will fit, and the assortment we show them before they leave. As a result, our referral program, where each new customer is able to invite three people and offer them a $50 credit to try the service, accounts for over 60 percent of our new customer revenue. Our clients are also sent a simple survey asking them about their experience, with all responses visible company-wide. This allows us to spot any issues before they fester, and also offers the transparency of the founder’s email address which many people find comforting.

Consider these tips when weighing the decision of making the move from being online-only to opening a retail store: you may just discover that it’s possible to maintain a “best of both worlds” mentality while garnering new customers and keeping your brand’s values intact.

Author: Fan Bi is the CEO of Blank Label, an award-winning custom menswear brand, with stores in Boston, D.C. and now Chicago. 

7 Quick Tips for Beating the Hiring Crisis


It’s hard to exaggerate how tough it is to hire right now.

Time to hire has been hovering around an all-time high, between 27 and 29 days. On top of that, there are more unfilled job positions than ever in the U.S., and unemployment claims are at a 42-year low.

Just about everyone who wants a job has one. There’s also a huge skills gap, meaning that employers may be getting applicants, but not ones that can do the jobs.

So how can you beat the tough job market and keep hiring during a time like this? We’ve got 7 tips to help you figure it out.

1. Embrace Employer Branding

I don’t blame you if you feel a little let down by this first tip, but please, let me explain.

Although it may seem like the kind of thing that can wait until the hiring market has improved, branding really is important right now. For one, whether you like it or not, you already have an employer brand.

These days, employees are building your brand for you on social media and employer review sites. This is really important, because companies with positive employer brands get twice as many applicants and pay less per employee.

If you don’t actively try to manage your brand, and encourage the positive voices to help you promote it, you could be missing out on a lot of applicants, and paying more than you should be in payroll and recruiting costs.

2. Get Your Employees Engaged

Employee engagement may sound like something only companies with huge HR budgets can afford to worry about.

It shouldn’t be like that though. There’s a reason why Gallup chooses employee engagement as one of the few things it measures daily, along with the president’s job approval, unemployment and consumer spending.

Engaged employees are ones who literally go above and beyond, doing more than the minimum required. They also are more productive, easier to retain, and more likely to refer applicants.

All of these things will help you right now. And the good news is that increasing engagement isn’t terribly hard or expensive.

Recognizing employee efforts when they go above and beyond, even in small ways, has a big effect on engagement. So does managing in a way that focuses on strengths, rather than weaknesses, and having more frequent meetings with managers.

You’ve got nothing to lose by trying these tactics, and lots to gain.

3. Tighten Up Your Hiring Process

Think of the hiring process as a sales funnel, and your applicants as potential customers. Go through each and every step, and make sure you don’t have a leaky funnel.

For example, if you’ve got the best job ads in the world, but it takes employees to a contact page with 22 fields to fill in and a confusing submission process, you’ve got a leak.

Look at every step, from how you recruit to how you onboard, to be sure that you’re communicating well, thinking about how it looks from the applicant’s point of view, and try to streamline your process whenever possible.

4. Improve Your Job Ads

This is something I really bug employers about.

People tend to just take the job description and copy and paste it onto a job board. The result is boring job ads that all look the same, with long bullet-pointed lists of things that the employer wants.

Flip this on its head if you want to stand out. Write your next job ad from scratch, listing all the reasons an employee will love the job. Write about what makes your company great, why the position is awesome, the team they’ll be working on, your location, etc.

Give them everything they’ll want to know, and really try to sell them on the job. You’ll stand out on the job boards, and I can almost guarantee you’ll get lots more applicants.

5. Know What Candidates Want

If you know what the best candidates will want in a position, and what they dislike about their employers, you’ll be in a good position to attract more applicants.

The internet offers a couple quick ways of learning about this. One of my favorites is a quick Google search. Go to Google and paste this in the search bar: intitle:forum [position]. For example, if you’re hiring a bullfighter, you’ll write, intitle:forum bullfighter.

This search will bring back all forums about that position. These are typically places where people that hold this job go to talk about it. Often times they’ll talk about their favorite things about the job, biggest gripes, and industry trends.

This type of information can inform what types of benefits you offer, management style, employer brand messaging and how you write job ads. It’s invaluable, yet free.

I hope that helped relieve some of the stress this tight job market is causing anyone who needs to recruit. If you’re short on time, just give tip 5 a try. It can be amazingly helpful to see how people in the position you want to hire for talk about the job.

paul-petersAuthor: Paul Peters is content marketer and job ad writer with Betterteam. Before Betterteam he spent 6 years building an education startup, where he was involved with many aspects of the business, including hiring. He lives in Whitefish, Montana.

Soaring to Success: How to Build a Winning Small Business Team


When Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane assembled a contending Major League Baseball team, he gained lots of notoriety for signing players using a strategic analysis of their statistics that had never been done before. Mixing younger players with older veterans made the A’s a winning team.

Building a small business team has lots of parallels to putting together a baseball club or any group of individuals who will feed off each other, work together, and be successful by producing positive results for any organization. If you’re ready to lessen the burden of all the work on your plate as a one-person small business owner, take a look at some of the key strategies to help you surround yourself with a winning team of motivated and talented individuals.

Clearly outline the specific needs of your small business.

Whether or not you already have employees or contractors working for you, take some time to clearly identify where the biggest needs lie in your business. Do you need to beef up your online marketing or social media presence? Is your current sales team just not finding success? Are there backend issues with your bookkeeping or recordkeeping? Wherever the needs are, it’s important to first determine those before you start hiring others to take on these critical duties.

Keep in mind that funding your dream team is no walk in the park—and certainly is not inexpensive. Fortunately, marketplaces like Fundera can help you find loans for small businesses that fit your needs. Once your financial needs are met, you can confidently move forward with hiring the people you truly want on your team.

Add team members who fit well into your organization.

It’s a common misconception that hiring managers bring on employees based on the information on a resume: experience, education, and honors. However, the reality is that the most successful companies hire individuals who they think will fit well into the culture and environment of their organizations based on how one acts in an interview and through what that person’s responses are to important questions about values. So, apply this idea to your small business. When you’re interviewing applicants for a new position, make sure you have a good rapport with a candidate. Ask questions about the person’s goals and values, and then see how these answers align with your company’s mission. Surrounding yourself with people who buy into your concept and fit well into the working environment you’ve created will only help in your efforts to build a winning team. Plus, assembling a group of like-minded people will increase the chances that everyone will work well together, and you’ll have a well-oiled machine in place for prosperity.

Motivate your team members and give them a reason to enjoy working for you.

Hiring employees isn’t the most difficult part of being a small business owner. Instead, keeping and motivating them can be the biggest challenge of all. So, hold contests for your sales team to meet specific sales goals. Then give out bonuses, gift cards, or even some extra paid vacation as an incentive.

Communicate with employees who may appear to be struggling. Offer competitive pay and benefits to both attract and keep your best workers. Hold teambuilding events and out-of-the-office social gatherings so everyone can get to know their coworkers better. Time, energy, and money must all be spent on motivation, but it will all be worth it over the long haul.

Be clear with your expectations, and remind employees of them.

In general, team members want to know what is expected of them in terms of their work and productivity. So, you should set clear expectations of your workers. Provide feedback to show that you really do care about what these hardworking people are doing for you, and offer constructive criticism when it is warranted. Employees eat this stuff up. It will make them more driven to improve upon any areas of their work that can use some extra attention, and it makes them feel like they have a true purpose in your small business.

In addition, it’s often a wise idea to ask those around you what their personal and professional goals are. It’s important to get this feedback so you can see if everyone has a similar vision of what they want to see in themselves in the future and what they’d like to see the company look like down the road.

What Do You Wish You’d Known Yesterday?


Wouldn’t it be great if there were no more digital or printed reports to tell us what happened in the past? I know. We need financial data for comparison, and to a degree—for planning. But we should be thinking of finding ways to make data available to us much earlier, when it is more meaningful and actionable.

Call it “pervasive access” or just-in-time reporting. Or better yet, near real time information that we can use to make changes, decrease costs, or better manage assets like inventory or cash – or people.

If there were no reports, we would have to manage by exception, more by observation than by analysis. Perhaps we’d use a real time dashboard, one in which all information is fed from direct input from processes in motion.

See, the value of information does decrease over time—more than we recognize. We fall into the habit of looking at weekly or monthly reporting, and react to trends by holding meetings, changing processes after the fact.

But what if you could develop changes in your business processes so that information, even big data, would be available and analyzed for exceptions almost instantly? How much money, time and resources would we save?

So that should become a departmental or corporate goal for you. Find places where reporting can be made by exception, not routine. Call center getting behind? Production slowed or stopped? Sales slipping unexpectedly? Why wait until the damage is done?

Find the areas where a real time exception reporting is possible and proactive. Develop a system for early, even instant alerts when things get beyond comfort or safety. And dump or consolidate the much later reports to save valuable time at period end. Can you find at least one of these to implement today?

4 Ways to Build Trust with Customers That Can Transform Your Business


“Make hundreds of dollars a week just by stuffing envelopes.”

Remember that tiny ad that used to run regularly in virtually every newspaper’s classified ad section?

I suppose a fair number of people answered the ad, otherwise they would have gone extinct quite quickly. However, most of us didn’t take the bait. Why? Because we didn’t have any trust in it.

Trust may be the single most important foundational element in a business relationship, and with so many business relationships starting from the Internet today, knowing how to build trust with customers and prospects via the digital media is essential for success.

This means that not only do you need to communicate how your product or service solves the problems your prospects are having, you need to establish trust with them as well. Here are four strategies you should use.

Address objections

You probably know the objections prospects have to buying your product or service. Address those head-on in your marketing materials and on your website. The more honest and forthright you can be when you take on possible objections, the more your prospects will notice and appreciate it.

Use social proof

Testimonials and reviews are a great way to build trust. However, there are a lot of companies on the Internet that fake testimonials. Be sure yours are legitimate. It’s great if you can use a customer’s full name and picture and even say a little about the product or service that your customer used. In other words, make it into a mini-case study rather than a one-sentence quote.

Using a third-party review app gives your reviews a higher level of legitimacy. When they can be identified as actual buyers, their reviews carry a lot more weight with prospects.

Influencer endorsements

Getting influencers on board is a major trend today. There is even a growing movement of using “micro-influencers”—individuals who are recognized authorities in smaller niches.

If you’re a local business, think about who would be good influencers in your community. If you owned a sporting goods store, making a donation to a local team and posting a thank-you note from a respected coach would help build trust and esteem.

You don’t have to get the endorsement of an influencer whose last name is Kardashian!

Your ‘About Us’ page

The About Us or About Me page on websites is always one of the most-read pages. That alone should tell you how important it is to build trust with customers and prospects—they are looking for reasons to trust you!

Sadly, many businesses use this page as a sales page. They tell how dedicated they are to providing the best widgets or widget repair service in the world. It’s wiser to take a more personal approach. Let your customers and prospects see you and your team as real people. Talk about hobbies, families, and other interests. Talk about why you started your business and your vision for the future.

Start to build trust with customers now

Are you doing everything I’ve outlined here? If not, you need to get busy. These are not difficult steps to take, but if you’ve dropped the ball on any of them, you are undoubtedly losing some business.

Finally, although I’ve concentrated on the image you present on the Internet, these principles apply to print media as well.

Trust me on that.

3 Ways to Avoid Common Hiring Mistakes When Starting Out


If you’ve just started a new business, you probably have a lot on your plate. Besides the obligatory 3 a.m. panic attacks, of course, you’ve also got to spend a good chunk of each week staring blankly at your bank statements. There are hundreds of decisions to second-guess, and lots of potential failure to contemplate. And you’ve still got to carve out opportunities for weepy, incoherent sessions with your therapist!

With so many things on your to-do list, it would be a shame to waste time worrying about little things, like how in the world you’re supposed to go about hiring your first employees. Save your worry for more important matters; here are a few tips that should help you avoid the most common hiring mistakes new business owners make.

Don’t Be A People Pleaser (Please?)

Some entrepreneurs are loud and proud go-getters who care for the opinion of no man, but not everyone can be that self-assured all the time, especially when they’re just starting out. There are lots of people-pleasers out there, people who don’t feel good about themselves unless everybody, and I mean everybody, is happy with them. When Earth is inevitably conquered by lobster-like alien overlords, people-pleasers may spare a regret or two for the fate of humanity, but their overweening thoughts will be I hope they like us

Craving the approval of other people is an often harmless quirk, but it can be a deadly flaw in a new business owner. If you hire someone simply because you don’t want to disappoint them, or because you’re worried they might be mad at you otherwise, you’re going to regret it. The same thing goes for firing people. Keeping someone on because you can’t bear to hurt them may be the easy thing to do, but it’s not the right thing to do, and it’s not even the kind thing to do, in most cases.

Don’t get me wrong; you want to be the kind of person that truly cares about the wellbeing of your employees. But what’s good for the business must come first. Everybody loses when people-pleasing becomes your focus.

Listen To Your Gut (Especially During Interviews)

Fairly obvious advice, right? But you’d be surprised how often people ignore their instincts. You may not think it’s quite fair to reject a perfectly qualified applicant just because something seemed a little off about their interview. But nine times out of ten, that gut feeling is right on.

New business owners often make the mistake of hiring in haste. Resist that urge. It may be difficult or inconvenient to wait for a better applicant, but your other options are to live with someone you dislike and/or don’t trust, or to terminate a bad hire down the road. Let me tell you from experience, working day in and day out with a dud employee is the worst. The worst. Firing people is no picnic either. You actually need sufficient grounds to terminate someone. And this person is the human equivalent of nails on a chalkboard to me is not a legitimate reason to start handing out pink slips. Save yourself some paperwork, and get it right the first time.

Bear in mind that there are always going to be people who don’t interview well – nervous types who sweat or forget basic words. With experience, you can learn to discern the difference between a candidate who’s dealing with normal anxiety and a candidate who just feels off, for whatever reason. When in doubt, do a second interview. But never make a hire if you don’t feel good about it.

Don’t Let Your Pride Get In the Way

When you’re accustomed to doing every job yourself, from paying the bills to making the coffee, it can be agonizing to give up control. Your business is your baby; you’ve poured hours of backbreaking labor into keeping it alive. And now you’re supposed to just dump it, willy-nilly, into the sweaty paws of some employee?

Well, yes! That’s the whole point, right?

Maintaining a death grip on every aspect of daily operations doesn’t make you a strong leader; it makes you a dolt. Refusing to delegate is stupid. A wise boss knows how to take full advantage of the skills and knowledge of her employees. You can’t be the best at everything, so learn to delegate jobs to people who can do them better than you can. The world will go on revolving even if you don’t personally stuff all those envelopes. Humankind won’t suffer if someone else balances the books. You are vitally important to the success of your business, but you’re not God. Relax a little bit.

Relinquishing control will hurt like hell at first, but my advice to you is to suck it up, make like a Disney Snow Queen, and let it go.

julie-titteringtonAuthor: Julie Titterington is a software writer and reviewer; she currently serves as the managing editor of Merchant Maverick, an SMB software and services review site. Ms. Titterington specializes in project management software and point of sale systems. You can follow her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

The Right Way to Get Funding from Family and Friends


Most entrepreneurs I know are so passionate about their new idea that they are surprised when family and friends don’t line up to invest in their new venture. Yet they tend to ignore this problem, and move on quickly to professional investors. They don’t realize that most Angel investors and venture capitalists will also decline to be first, if you have no commitment from friends and family.

The reality is that investors, including myself, believe that the entrepreneur is more key to business success than the idea. Thus they look for evidence that people who know you well are willing to bet on you, even before your idea has a chance to show traction. Don’t let your lack of acumen with friends and family spiral your startup into the ground waiting for someone to go first.

On the positive side, friends and family probably won’t be as demanding on your financial projections as a professional investor, and they likely will be satisfied with an initial offer of a convertible note (loan with option to convert to equity later), so you don’t have to give away the store before you get started. But they do expect you to take them seriously, as follows:

  1. Proactively and sincerely engage each potential investor. Some entrepreneurs don’t want to put friends and family on the spot, so they keep all discussions very casual. I recommend making friends the first formal test of your elevator pitch, your investor slide deck, and your business plan, and earnestly ask for their advice (not money) early.
  2. Sell your idea in simple terms with both logic and passion. Vision alone rarely convinces people to invest. You need to convince family and friends, in terms they can relate to, that your idea makes logical business sense, and you have done your homework on real customers, competitors, and costs. Demos and prototypes are key.
  3. Demonstrate your own financial commitment and progress. Just like professional investors wait for friends and family to go first, friends will wait for you to show “skin in the game.” A startup founder that is not the “lead investor” in time and money should not expect anyone else to jump in front and lead the way. Talking loudly is not enough.
  4. Outline the financial options and ask for the close. Most new entrepreneurs are not surrounded by people who understand convertible notes, startup equity investing, and exit strategies. They don’t know what questions to ask, so they will likely wait for you to lay out the alternatives and respectfully ask for some financial help in that context.
  5. Carefully explain how you intend to use the funds requested. Asking for your dream budget, with no specifics on milestones, will likely remain a dream. Outline critical tasks, with a timetable, to cover the next few months. The idea is to gain credibility with initial investors by showing them results, before asking for new and larger investments.
  6. Document your commitments, as well as theirs. Loyal friends and family will want to know specifically what they are signing up for, even if negotiated informally, including the risks and contingencies. Non-specific and open-ended agreements are the quickest way to break up family and friend relationships when things get tough, and they will.
  7. Use friends and family as advocates to network to professional investors. Warm introductions from friends and family to existing investors is far more productive in fund-raising than email blasts, social media connections, or cold-calls to famous investors. You need all the help you can get to build your network before desperation mode sets in.
  8. Limit the role of family and friends in your actual business. Professional investors love to see contributed funds from all sources, but they are wary of startups operated by family and friends. The stress and skills required to build a startup break up too many prior relationships, so key roles should be limited to partners with skills and experience.

Overall, friends and family should never be treated as an entitlement, or as a last resort. They are a key source of investment for your startup, but if not handled professionally and sensitively, can be your worst nightmare. These situations can bring new meaning to the old adage about the first tier of startup investors as friends, family, and fools. Don’t let it happen to you.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Manufacturing Overseas


Outsourcing manufacturing is not simply a matter of profitability, but is also a matter of survival! If your firm is not able to cut costs to make up for economies of scale, you will not be able to keep your prices low enough to compete with more established competition!

Don’t Select a Contract Manufacturer Based Only on Price

A common mistake made by companies that seek to outsource their manufacturing overseas is that companies will commonly focus only on price when choosing a contract manufacturer. But even if you are able to find a firm that is able to manufacture your products at a much lower price, the less expensive contract manufacturer may not have an ideal geographic location, may not have the technical capabilities to produce the results that you want or may not have the quality control to avoid defects and other concerns that may damage the reputation of your firm.

Do Use Great Shipping Cases

Even if your products are manufactured by a company that has the highest quality standards, your merchandise may still arrive DOA if it is not transported in proper shipping cases. Make sure to purchase cases that are designed for shipping your more fragile cargo overseas, maximizing the chances your products will travel intact and in good condition.

Don’t Fear Rejection if You Are a Small Company

Contract manufacturers are concerned about the amount of work that will be provided by their clientele. If the contract manufacturer does not believe that you will have a large, consistent volume projection, they may not be interested in working with your firm. However, not all is lost! Many contract manufacturers will work with smaller firms if they have a strong growth potential. If your projections look attractive and convincing, your firm will have a much greater chance of being successful.

Do Learn About the Cultural Differences Between You and Your Contract Manufacturer

In some countries such as the United States, business decisions tend to be made based primarily on economic concerns, and communication is extremely direct. In other countries, business decisions are made based on relationships, and communications are much more nuanced. Check out Matt Gossett’s article on Cultural Sensitivity, that will help you navigate this increasingly complex world. When working with a contract manufacturer, you may need to spend time cultivating trust and rapport before you can begin focusing on business.

It is very difficult to make the first leak into a relationship with a contract manufacturer, but in the end, it will be worth it. By following these guidelines, you will find the right company and will grow together.

Author: Rachael Murphey is a writer/entrepreneur with a passion for helping business owners realize their dreams. Rachael has written for SKB Store Shipping Cases and on topics involving international business, finance, management, and marketing.

VoIP Technology: Security Risks and How to Combat Them


Voice over IP or VoIP technology is rapidly being adopted by enterprises, consumers, and governments as it offers a higher degree of flexibility and more features than traditional telephony infrastructures, as well as the potential for reduced cost through equipment unification and—for the consumers—new business models. However, VoIP systems also demonstrate a higher degree of complexity with regard to protocols, architecture, and implementation, along with a corresponding rise in the potential for misuse.

Despite its flexibility and cost-effectiveness, individuals and businesses have come to realize that cybersecurity is necessary when it comes to using VoIP. Digital threats remain a serious issue to this day, which is why it’s probably not a good idea to access questionable files sent by unknown sources. VoIP services are vulnerable to similar threats; after all, these calls are made through the Internet. Let’s take a closer look at some of the risks:

  • Potential Security Threats: Well-known cyber threats that pose a risk to a network and its accompanying equipment include viruses and Trojans. These threats can negatively affect a VoIP system just as easily and quickly as other digital components.
  • Conversation Eavesdropping: Every phone conversation is at risk of eavesdropping. In a traditional phone system, this is typically done by tapping into the phone line or switch; on the other hand, a skilled hacker can compromise the phone call’s VoIP network and possibly intercept the data packets of communication being transmitted. They can convert these packets into more compact sound files, which can be listened to outside of the network.
  • Free Service Access: Another security threat to your VoIP office phone system involves cyber criminals obtaining free access to the tools of a VoIP system. A classic example of this is the act of sneaking free long-distance calls, which might not seem like much but it can eventually slow down your system.
  • Call Interception: If a hacker is able to successfully gain access to a company’s VoIP servers, they are likely to be able to intercept or redirect  Devious hackers might even try to pretend to be an employee with the intention of damaging the company’s reputation.

While no single security measure will completely take out attacks against a VoIP office phone system, there is a layered method that can significantly mitigate the success of these attacks.

  • Appropriate Firewalls: VoIP providers are well-aware of the existing risks to their systems. As a result, most services come equipped with the necessary security measures. However, in order to boost the efficiency and effectiveness of these measures, it is essential to have a VoIP-ready firewall, which takes into account the added dangers of IP-based telephony.
  • Encryption Protection Strategies: It’s actually quite easy to prevent eavesdropping, thanks to various encryption protocols. VoIP software comes armed with encryption tools; if they don’t come with any, businesses can utilize other tools to encrypt voice calls. Furthermore, using a Virtual Private Network or VPN can also encrypt all information being transmitted to a network.
  • Increased Use of Digital and Physical Security: One of the best things a business can do when utilizing a VoIP office phone system is to install up-to-date anti-virus programs. If external threats can’t access a network, they certainly can’t make it to the phone system.

Internet-related business risks will forever be present in this modern age of technology. Fortunately, these threats have managed to remain relatively stable over time, giving developers and businesses the ability to identify, prevent, and destroy these risks before turning into serious disruptions.

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