Tuesday, September 1, 2015

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According to the American Psychological Association (APA), happy employees are more likely to have better health, relationships and even money management skills. Keeping morale up in the workplace is essential to keeping employees happy and engaged at work. Here are six proven ways to keep your employees’ morale up.

Individual Attention

Morale building can be done on an individual basis. That is, recognize important and unique events in employees’ lives. For example, send birthday cards and give gifts for weddings or baby showers. Even better, host a simple celebration lunch during work for a birthday or after work for an off-site baby shower. Major milestones, such as retirement, or unique events, such as recognition by the community, can be celebrated at work. Furthermore, be sure to recognize employees for outstanding achievements and contributions.

Career Flexibility

Although many people like their job, it never hurts to try something different. Providing employees with the opportunity to cross train and transfer to a different position is a great way to improve their morale. Career flexibility will empower employees to continue to learn and grow while contributing to the company. Ideally, employees will be allowed to transition into positions that utilize their strengths and encourage their passions. This will also reduce burnout and increase creativity and enthusiasm. This is also an excellent recruitment tool.

Invest in Employee Health

According to Harvard Medical School, exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Exercise increases the level of feel-good endorphins while reducing stress induced hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. Exercise reduces anxiety and depression and increases relaxation. Therefore, regular exercise is the key to physical health and mental well-being. Consider offering discounts to a local gym. Even better, create an on-site gym that employees can use for free. Handing out pedometers or stretch bands are an inexpensive, yet genuine way to show that you care about your employees’ health.

Fringe Benefits

There are many simple and small ways to offer benefits to employees. For example, on-site massages are becoming more popular in the corporate world. Reach out to local business to find appropriate discounts that can be offered to employees. Consider instigating a casual Friday and celebrate major holidays together. Free meals are an excellent way for employees to build rapport while relaxing. Even better, off-site barbecues with family members is an excellent way to encourage socializing and friendship building. To truly send the message that the company is totally invested in the employee, consider offering limited education reimbursement.

Internal Promotion

Nothing destroys employee morale quicker than when management fails to hire from within the organization. Employees already know the company culture and understand how the business operates. Internal promotion will empower employees and recognize them for their hard work. As a result, employees will be motivated and committed to contributing more to the company. This will also reduce turnover, which negative impacts employee morale. Research has clearly shown that hiring from within is better than hiring from outside.

Continuous Improvement

One thing that frustrates many lower level employees is that their improvement suggestions are often ignored. Although management is qualified to make informed decisions, involving employees with improvement activities is a great way to boost employee morale. Management often focuses on the bottom line and makes appropriate business decisions based on financial outcomes and business needs. Nevertheless, minor improvements to valued suggestions can have major results. The easiest way to implement this is to accept employees’ suggestions and publicly respond why the suggestion is feasible or not.

Keeping up morale in the workplace benefits both the employee and the employer. This can be accomplished through providing individualized attention, offering career flexibility and investing in employee’s health. Providing fringe benefits, promoting from within and continuous improvement will also help with improving employee morale.

Author: Rachelle Wilber is a freelance writer living in the San Diego, California area. She graduated from San Diego State University with her Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Media Studies. For major personal problems within the workplace with employee suggestions, she suggests using a customized HRIS for accurate data analysis. Follow her on twitter: @RachelleWilber

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As the number of people using the internet grows steadily, as cell phones and tablets become more affordable, eCommerce has definitely become the norm. With 91% of adults in America owning mobile phones, physical stores are no longer needed as we can buy anything online with our mobile devices. Websites, once a novelty of the super niche, or the mega conglomerate international companies, are now essential for business.

There are many web based tools out there to help businesses run things smoothly online. It used to be that a business had to go to great expense; buying a server that could handle the flow of customers, hiring web designers to create a website that was user friendly, to promoting that website on TV and various other media. These days there are tools that handle everything, and if done right, social media can be a cheap way to make your site a household name. Here’s a list of a few important web tools that help you run your business:

Web Design and Hosting

It used to be that you needed to hire a team of professionals to build your website, and you needed a server in house to maintain the flow of customer traffic to your site. These days there are tools that can help you build a website yourself, with no coding experience needed. Good web design tools will enable you to tweak your site pretty much however you want it. If you want things to be super specific though, not to worry. There are plenty of ways to learn coding online for free.

The vast majority of webhosts have themes and tools that can help you build your site. For businesses looking to monetize their site, it is especially important to be able to have a powerful host that not only can handle customer flow into the site, but also be able to provide security site-wide.

A few webhost tools include:

  • WordPress  – 9% of all websites worldwide run on WordPress. Has a nearly endless supply of tweaks, themes and extensions so you can customize your site to your heart’s content.
  • Squarespacehas an easy to use interface that has a “drag and drop” approach to design. Squarespace is fully customizable just like WordPress, with various themes and add-ons that make your site function however you’d like.
  • YourMembership  – a one stop shop for businesses, YourMembership software helps you monitor and interact with your customers and provides analytics based on spending and other trends. They also provide web hosting as well as a web design tool focused on helping you attract customers.

Social Media Management

Social media has always been a game changer when it comes to doing business online. Recently social media activity has even been showing up in search results, giving businesses even greater incentive to cultivate a social media presence. Businesses are able to reach more people than ever with a properly managed social media profile. People often contact businesses through social media to voice concerns or ask questions. In fact, 42% of Americans expect a response within an hour to complaints. It is important to be on top of communications that might negatively affect your business.

Getting a social media following has the added benefit of encouraging return customers. People like deals, so those who follow you are most likely to jump on opportunities when you present them with deals. Here are a few tools to help get the most out of your social media accounts:

  • SocialCloutanalyzes your social media presence and gives suggestions on how to improve. Analyzes keywords, demographics and data from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to let you know what people are talking about that’s relevant to you.
  • Edgar you can create a posting schedule for your social media accounts that also can give you suggestions on what to post and where. You can always be on top of the latest buzz!
  • Mention monitors web content in real-time that makes mentions of you and your brand. You can keep tabs on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. You can also connect it to Buffer. Use it to share and assign tasks to your team.
  • ly a link shortener that tracks people that use the link, gathering data like where they’re accessing it, the demographic as well as social media shares.

In-house Communication

Communication is key to running a business smoothly. Keeping on top of deadlines and letting your team know of changes that need to be made, assigning tasks, all are a part of a business’s communication. There are quite a few apps out there that help people convey information, the best of which are loaded with features and enable syncing across multiple platforms.

Related Article: 6 Aspects That Will Create the Ultimate eCommerce Experience

Every business needs good communication, as being in the loop is essential. Keeping on top of client calls and updated meeting times, is essential to make a business run smoothly. Here’s a list of some communication apps that are available:

  • Slack has many features including file sharing and Google Drive and Google Hangout integration. Slack also supports group conversations, and even has an app that can be downloaded for iOS and Android that will enable you to keep in touch 24/7.
  • Campfire has lots of add-ons that can be used to customize your communications for specific needs. There are various security features such as password-protected group chats, and users can use it with other networks.
  • Redbooth mainly a task tracking/productivity application, Redbooth also has a chat function. It enables you to assign tasks and organize meetings and deadlines; it even connects to a webcam.
  • OfficeChat is a versatile communications app that is compatible on iOS, Android and Windows. It enables group conversations and file sharing. You can also buy plans that allow you to add more features.

Information Management & Security

Database and file management is important to keeping sensitive information secure and available to those who need it. There are many file management web tools to choose from that have a wide variety of functions, to keep your business running, you can really keep your sensitive files how you need.

Some file management web tools:

  • BackupAssista cloud based file backup and recovery service which provides encrypted security protocols. BackupAssist also has SQL server and Hyper-V protection and many other options to keep data safe.
  • Thinkfreea file locker that emphasizes cloud based access to files, to enable work on any internet accessible device. Thinkfree also allows you to share documents with your team, where they can have various levels of access, from read only to edit permissions and the ability to post to blogs.
  • JustCloud uses a program to automatically back up files to the cloud from your computer so you can access them anytime. There are also apps available to allow you to sync between devices.
  • Hightail allows you to send files of up to 10 GB and features advanced security features so you can control who sees them. Share project folders with colleagues and customers alike and decide who can edit. Hightail offers unlimited storage space and has mobile syncing through an app.

These are just a few of the tools out there that can help your business run smoothly. There are thousands to choose from and one of them is sure to fit your needs. If you know of any other useful web tools, don’t be shy, let us know in the comments!

Author: Mordecai Hunter is a writer who focuses his pieces on tech and business. He has traveled the globe and speaks 4 languages. In his spare time, he plays and repairs guitars and loves videogames. You can bug him on Twitter.

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I’ve always found that one of the easiest pieces of advice to give someone is, “don’t worry.”

I’ve also always found that one of the most difficult things for me to do is…not worry.

Sort of like surgery: it might be “minor surgery” but only when it’s someone else’s. It’s never minor when being done on us or someone we love.

There are so many fantastic sayings regarding this topic, aren’t there? “Worry is interest on a debt not owed.” Another favorite of mine, most often credited to Mark Twain is, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

So true!

Yet, we’re human. And, we worry.

Related Article: Worry

In his excellent new book, Worry No More!, transformation life and business coach and podcaster—not to mention, marathon runner—Bruce Van Horn defines worry as: “Using your imagination to create images of what you do not want to see and/or events you do not want to occur.”

He’s not actually saying that we should never worry. After all, there are times when worrying can be helpful; those instances when it is constructive and serves to put us on a more correct path. Mostly, however, it’s quite counterproductive and often tormenting; robbing us of the joy and peace of mind that is our natural state.

Without going into his methodology for overcoming worry, it’s very helpful to understand his premise. Basically, “Worry is a movie {we create in our} mind, complete with detailed settings, and talented actors who perform their parts perfectly and convey all of the emotions the movie director has told them to use.” He continues, “You are the movie director and the entire cast and production crew are simply acting out the parts you have scripted for them.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Now, getting the mind of the director correct, that’s where it all begins. And, in this book, the author does a fantastic job in that department.

Meanwhile, as Bobby McFerrin would say, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Sure, Bobby. Easy for you to say!

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Cash flow is the lifeblood of any small business. Some business experts even say that a healthy cash flow is more important than your business’s ability to deliver its goods and services! While that might seem counterintuitive, consider this: if you fail to satisfy a customer and lose that customer’s business, you can always work harder to please the next customer. If you fail to have enough cash to pay your suppliers, creditors, or employees, then you’re out of business!

What is Cash Flow?

Cash flow, simply defined, is the movement of money in and out of your business; these movements are called inflow and outflow. Inflows for your business primarily come from the sale of goods or services to your customers but keep in mind that inflow only occurs when you make a cash sale or collect on receivables. It is the cash that counts! Other examples of cash inflows are borrowed funds, income derived from sales of assets, and investment income from interest.

Outflows for your business are generally the result of paying expenses. Examples of cash outflows include paying employee wages, purchasing inventory or raw materials, purchasing fixed assets, operating costs, paying back loans, and paying taxes.

Note: An accountant is the best person to help you learn how your cash flow statement works. A tax professional can prepare your cash flow statement and explain where the numbers come from. If you need help please contact the office.

Cash Flow versus Profit

While they might seem similar, profit, and cash flow are two entirely different concepts, each with entirely different results. The concept of profit is somewhat broad and only looks at income and expenses over a certain period, say a fiscal quarter. Profit is a useful figure for calculating your taxes and reporting to the IRS.

Cash flow, on the other hand, is a more dynamic tool focusing on the day-to-day operations of a business owner. It is concerned with the movement of money in and out of a business. But more important, it is concerned with the times at which the movement of the money takes place.

In theory, even profitable companies can go bankrupt. It would take a lot of negligence and total disregard for cash flow, but it is possible. Consider how the difference between profit and cash flow relates to your business.

Example: If your retail business bought a $1,000 item and turned around to sell it for $2,000, then you have made a $1,000 profit. But what if the buyer of the item is slow to pay his or her bill, and six months pass before you collect on the account? Your retail business may still show a profit, but what about the bills it has to pay during that six-month period? You may not have the cash to pay the bills despite the profits you earned on the sale. Furthermore, this cash flow gap may cause you to miss other profit opportunities, damage your credit rating, and force you to take out loans and create debt. If this mistake is repeated enough times, you may go bankrupt.

Analyzing Your Cash Flow

The sooner you learn how to manage your cash flow, the better your chances for survival. Furthermore, you will be able to protect your company’s short-term reputation as well as position it for long-term success.

Related Article: 3 Ways to Ease Cash Flow Worries

The first step toward taking control of your company’s cash flow is to analyze the components that affect the timing of your cash inflows and outflows. A thorough analysis of these components will reveal problem areas that lead to cash flow gaps in your business. Narrowing, or even closing, these gaps is the key to cash flow management.

Some of the more important components to examine are:

  • Accounts receivable. Accounts receivable represent sales that have not yet been collected in the form of cash. An accounts receivable is created when you sell something to a customer in return for his or her promise to pay at a later date. The longer it takes for your customers to pay on their accounts, the more negative the effect on your cash flow.
  • Credit. Credit terms are the time limits you set for your customers’ promise to pay for their purchases. Credit terms affect the timing of your cash inflows. A simple way to improve cash flow is to get customers to pay their bills more quickly.
  • Credit policy. A credit policy is the blueprint you use when deciding to extend credit to a customer. The correct credit policy—neither too strict nor too generous—is crucial for a healthy cash flow.
  • Inventory describes the extra merchandise or supplies your business keeps on hand to meet the demands of customers. An excessive amount of inventory hurts your cash flow by using up money that could be used for other cash outflows. Too many business owners buy inventory based on hopes and dreams instead of what they can realistically sell. Keep your inventory as low as possible.
  • Accounts payable and cash flow. Accounts payable are amounts you owe to your suppliers that are payable at some point in the near future—“near” meaning 30 to 90 days. Without payables and trade credit, you’d have to pay for all goods and services at the time you purchase them. For optimum cash flow management, examine your payables schedule.

Some cash flow gaps are created intentionally. For example, a business may purchase extra inventory to take advantage of quantity discounts, accelerate cash outflows to take advantage of significant trade discounts, or spend extra cash to expand its line of business.

For other businesses, cash flow gaps are unavoidable. Take, for example, a company that experiences seasonal fluctuations in its line of business. This business may normally have cash flow gaps during its slow season and then later fill the gaps with cash surpluses from the peak part of its season. Cash flow gaps are often filled by external financing sources. Revolving lines of credit, bank loans, and trade credit are just a few of the external financing options available that you may want to discuss with us.

Monitoring and managing your cash flow is important for the vitality of your business. The first signs of financial woe appear in your cash flow statement, giving you time to recognize a forthcoming problem and plan a strategy to deal with it. Furthermore, with periodic cash flow analysis, you can head off those unpleasant financial glitches by recognizing which aspects of your business have the potential to cause cash flow gaps.

Make sure your business has adequate funds to cover day-to-day expenses.

If you need help analyzing and managing your cash flow more effectively help is just a click away.

Author: Dan Gordon has been preparing tax returns for US Taxpayers and Expatriates since 1998, beginning with US military and Embassy personnel in Bangkok, Thailand. Dan is known in many circles around the globe as an Expatriate Tax Expert. His book entitled “The Complete US Expat Tax Book” has recently been published and is available on Kindle, Amazon, and booksellers around the world.

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As a salesperson, I am always wondering what I can do to be more efficient with my time. I also wonder in what ways can I reach out to more people and communicate more effectively. In the past, I have found that I am usually spending most of the work day calling and hunting down potential customers and leads. I am always “just missing them” and advised to “try again later,” or I am just not getting through to anyone at all. Frustration has caused me to often brainstorm different ways to combat getting sent off during my attempts to connect. Wouldn’t it be nice to play “Big Brother” and just know when your leads engage with your website or emails?

In fact such a thing does exist in an application called Sidekick, and it is a great tool to help salespeople keep track of their leads.

What is Sidekick and What Does it Do?

Sidekick is a sales enablement program created by HubSpot to integrate seamlessly across multiple email clients and CRM systems, such as HubSpot or Salesforce. This handy tool gives you real-time notifications on how your customers are interacting with your content. You can access Sidekick through an extension available on Google Chrome or on its website to directly view insights on the activity of your leads.

Long gone are the days where you have to wonder if your email has been sent. Sidekick offers intuitive email tracking that lets you know instantly when your messages have been opened. This is extremely helpful because it allows you to see what type of device your lead is using to view your message and if they are clicking on any links. Sidekick makes it easier to plan and schedule your calls and additional follow-up messages because you now know the times during the day that your potential customer is engaging.

Related Article: How Lead Generation Software Helps Your Sales Team

Knowing which emails are being opened is also key to the sales process. With Sidekick, you can analyze which messages and subject lines have a higher open rate. This is important, as these types of notifications are automatically pushed so that you are able to immediately adjust the content of your emails.

The Lead Intelligence feature is also helpful for tracking your leads. For those using the Chrome browser, a Chrome extension applies an icon on the side of the browser that follows you through the page you are viewing. While you are on a website, if you click on the Sidekick icon, a sidebar pops open and gives you more background information on the company you are looking at, including but not limited to industry type, revenue, and employee count. For HubSpot users, this data can be saved into the CRM with just one click.

Another nice feature HubSpot users have with the Lead Intelligence sidebar is it pulls information from the CRM to let you know if you have any contacts in your database that work for the company you are currently researching. The sidebar also shows you a list of similar businesses, which makes prospecting for leads that more streamlined.

Sidekick by HubSpot has become an indispensible tool to help me perform my day-to-day tasks as a salesperson. With it, I am able to analyze which emails my leads are opening and the dates and times in which these potential customers are most engaged. This, in addition to the information I can gather from Lead Intelligence, allows me to follow-up at the most opportune time so that I don’t miss a beat. I definitely recommend using Sidekick for those who want to stay on top of their sales game and keep track of their leads more efficiently.

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Motivation is an essential ingredient in any workplace. A motivated employee is likely to be happy and will certainly be more focused and productive. The issue that every employee must decide is how best to motivate your employees. Some will respond well to salary increases or better job titles but this can also cause issues with the remaining staff, particularly if this done simply to motivate the staff. Perhaps the best solution is looking at motivational speakers; this will inspire your staff for the following reasons:

Step Outside the Box

It is very easy for workers to become stuck in a rut as they process the same task day after day. They may well work to set deadlines and when these are completed simply move onto the next one. Attending a speech or event gives them the opportunity to focus on something different.

The Future

A motivational speaker can also be used to remind employees that they are part of something; each of their roles is important. Reminding employees of the company’s ambitions, targets and its success so far will not just help them to see they are part of something bigger. It will also help them to understand where the company is going and how they can play a part in its future.

A Fresh Approach

As with many things in life it is easy to miss the obvious when immersed in the day to day activities. A motivational speaker can see things from a different perspective and share this with the group; they can also inspire people to look at the problem differently. By stepping back they will be able to see alternative solutions that may not previously have been visible.

Motivate

A motivational speaker should motivate your staff! This motivational will encourage them to embrace the future and to see the worth in their role in the business. Motivated staff will help to drive a business forward by working harder and promoting the business wherever they are simply because they are enjoying their work. A happy, motivated employee will also be less likely to leave the company and this can save the significant costs involved in training new staff.

Measurements

It can be difficult to measure the success of a particular speaker or event although the obvious response should be an excited babble of talking after the event and an improvement in both behavior and productivity. The real test is what effect the motivational speaker has on the staff two or three weeks after the event.

To ensure the effect remains positive and long lasting it is essential that your speaker adopts the following approach:

  • Provides a way to deal with future issues based on past experiences and proven techniques. Even more important is that these procedures are adhered to if an issue arises, this will inspire faith in the system from your staff.
  • The most important actions and advice should be given in short sentences or phrases. Not only will this mean it is easier for the audience to absorb the information; it will also make it possible to place these key phrases in strategic places around the building. This will help to continue to inspire the staff.
  • The speaker should keep the speech personal, firstly by sharing a personal experience and then by relating it on a personal level to the audience. This ensures each member of staff feels connected to the speaker and the goals of the company.
  • The information and lessons provided by the speaker should be designed to aid all employees reach the company goals. Ideally it should encourage an atmosphere, where all staff feel capable and allowed to sort out issues on their own, particularly between staff. This is one of the best motivational techniques as people feel in control of their own destiny.

Entrepreneurs and companies should consider the services of motivational speakers. This sort of professional will know exactly which of your employees are happy which as losing interest. A speaker instills confidence, and might even persuade listeners to do things differently, and think about their future. Be free and abide the rules. This way your motivational speaking abilities will remain calm and unstained.

Author: Denny Averill loves to share his knowledge about business through his articles. He works for http://www.londonspeakerbureau.com/, a leading speaker and advisory network.

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Doing business online can be risky. Online banking websites, online shopping, and an endless supply of apps that want your credit card details are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to threats to the money your small business earns online. While these are all convenient ways to bank, shop, and do business, there’s a group of people out there who make a living off of this convenience—hackers.

This is usually due to two issues: the weak security of these apps and websites, and your naivety in dealing with online life. This article will look at simple ways for you to protect your business, and yourself, online.

Securing your banking details, and protecting your money online

Your security online will come down to you and the choices you make online. I’ll break those choices down into categories to better organize how you think about your online activity.

Links that you’re sent, or find online:

  • Never automatically assume that a link is safe. If it isn’t clearly displayed you can hover over it. Your browser should show you the URL (the web address) in the bottom lefthand corner. Is it a website you recognize and trust? Click it. If it isn’t, assess whether it’s worth the risk. Tools like net can also help you determine the website owner.
  • When doing online banking you should find the website’s URL and bookmark it when you’re certain you have the right website. Never go to your bank from a link in an email, a social media website, a chat room, or from banner ads. All can be faked and harm you.
  • Online shopping links are also to be treated in the same way. Trusting a link on a social media website, even to a website you know, is also risky. Manually type the URL into the address bar yourself.

On communications with your bank:

  • Beware of communications from your bank which state that they need you to email them information. There are no reputable banks that will do this. Contact them by phone directly, or visit your local branch before ever trusting these types of communications. This is a classic phishing scam tactic.
  • Do not follow the links in messages which state you need to visit them to authorize something. Type in the URL for your bank yourself and see if there’s anything within your bank account which needs to be authorized. For any concerns contact your bank directly.
  • Never enter data into pop-up windows. No trusted bank would have you do anything off of their main webpage. Pop-ups are for advertising.

On encryption and advanced protection:

Related Article: Digital Security: Effective Data Protection Tools for Businesses

  • The most basic protection you’ll get online is from the website itself. Every time you see an ‘HTTPS’ at the beginning of a URL, rather than ‘HTTP,’ your connection is encrypted. You may also see a green lock on the far left or right of your web browser. HTTPS Everywhere is a browser extension that you can use to force websites to take you to their encrypted HTTPS version.
  • Make sure that HTTPS is being used every time you enter any sort of information related to your banking. This includes your login details, password, and credit card numbers on retail websites.
  • Use a VPN for added encryption when you are doing online banking or online shopping. This adds a layer of encrypted protection protocols above the HTTPS, giving you complete peace of mind.
  • If you simply MUST do some sort of online transaction involving money using public WiFi, turning on your VPN could save you. This applies to using your own device on a network, as keyloggers still exist on public computers and they should never, ever be used.

Doing any type of online transaction:

  • It is never advisable to do any sort of online shopping, or online banking, on a public computer. Keyloggers are a major concern on these machines.
  • Be cautious using public WiFi to do any banking transactions, especially on banking apps. Public WiFi has no security guarantees, and banking apps have lower security measures than the bank’s website. Another frequent problem is network worms and man in the middle attacks.
  • Every single time you click a link to go to another page on a website you need to do a quick check of the address. Are you still on the right website, or have you been taken away from it by a malicious redirect?
  • Always read reviews from independent websites before making a purchase from any website. Look for review websites that are not affiliated with the website and do not trust the reviews left by their customers. These comments can be built in by the website and used as bait.
  • Having a separate banking card set aside exclusively for your online purchases, and separate from your main bank account, can protect you if your information is ever stolen. Pre-loaded cards, and cards with a limit, can keep hackers from stealing everything.

Vulnerabilities on your own computer:

  • Consistently updating your operating system, all software, and web browser is a free way to protect your money online. A large percentage of updates to these are specifically for security vulnerabilities.
  • Use an antivirus software package to keep malware off your computer. There are millions of computers out there which are part of botnets, being remotely controlled and monitored without the owner’s awareness. A good antivirus program is designed to stop these programs.
  • Delete old and outdated programs. If there hasn’t been an update lately, or if the software is no longer supported, you need to delete it. These older programs can be full of holes for malware that the original team never even thought of as years pass.

There are many tools out there to help, and websites are working hard to use encryption on their connections and servers, but your online security comes down to you. This is because you have to make the choice to keep your computer updated, to use a VPN, to stay off public WiFi when doing transactions, and to make sure you’re using the right website. If you are not making these choices, and helping yourself, there’s nothing that I, or anyone else, can do to protect your money or secure your banking information for you.

Author: You can find Marcus Habert writing about current online security and privacy concerns over on the Best VPN Provider’s Online Security Blog. The blog is updated every Wednesday, and features tips and tricks that anyone can use to stay safe online. For the Twitter users out there, follow @BestVPNs for all the absolute up to the minute coverage you can handle!

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The “valley of death” is a common term in the startup world, referring to the difficulty of covering the negative cash flow in the early stages of a startup, before their new product or service is bringing in revenue from real customers. I often get asked about the real alternatives to bridge this valley, and there are some good ones I will outline here.

According to a classic Gompers and Lerner study, the challenge is very real, with a majority of new ventures that don’t attract investors failing within the first three years. The problem is that professional investors (angels and venture capital) want a proven business model before they invest, ready to scale, rather than the more risky research and development efforts.

My first advice for new entrepreneurs is to pick a domain, such as online web sites and smart phone apps, that doesn’t have the sky-high up-front development costs. Leave the world of new computer chips and new drugs to the big companies, and people with deep pockets. For the rest of us, the following suggestions will help you survive the valley of death:

Related Article: What to Do When Your Cash Flow is Down to a Trickle

  1. Accumulate some resources before you start. It always reduces risk to plan your business first. That includes estimating the money required to get to the revenue stage, and saving money to cover costs before you jump off the cliff. Self-funding or bootstrapping is still the most common and safest approach for startups
  2. Keep your day job until real revenue flows. A common alternative is to work on your startup on nights and weekends, surviving the valley of death via another job, or the support of a working spouse. Of course, we all realize that this approach will take longer, and could jeopardize both roles if not managed effectively. Set expectations accordingly.
  3. Get a loan or line-of-credit.This is a most viable alternative if you have personal assets or a home you are willing to commit as collateral to back the loan or credit card. In general, banks won’t give you a loan until the business is cash-flow positive, but there are notable exceptions. Nevertheless, it’s an option that doesn’t cost you equity.
  4. Solicit funds from friends and family.After bootstrapping, friends and family are the most common funding sources for early-stage startups. As a rule of thumb, it is a required step anyway, since outside investors will not normally consider providing any funding until they see “skin in the game” from inside.
  5. Use crowd funding to build reserves.The hottest new way of funding startups is to use online sites, like Kickstarter, to request donations, pre-order, get a reward, or even give equity. If your offering is exciting enough, you may get millions in small amounts from other people on the Internet to help you fly high over the valley of death.
  6. Apply for contests and business grants.This source is a major focus these days, due to government initiatives to incent research and development on alternative energy and other technologies. The positives are that you give up no equity, and these apply to the early startup stages, but they do take time and much effort to win.
  7. Join a startup incubator.A startup incubator is a company, university, or other organization which provides resources for equity to nurture young companies, helping them to survive and grow during the startup period when they are most vulnerable. These resources often include a cash investment, as well as office space, and consulting.
  8. Barter your services for their services.Bartering technically means exchanging goods or services as a substitute for money. An example would be getting free office space by agreeing to be the property manager for the owner. Exchanging your services for services is possible with legal counsel, accountants, engineers, and even sales people.
  9. Joint venture with distributor or beneficiary.A related or strategically interested company may see the value of your product as complementary to theirs, and be willing to advance funding very early, which can be repaid when you develop your revenue stream later. Consider licensing your product or intellectual property, and “white labeling.”
  10. Commit to a major customer.Find a customer who would benefit greatly from getting your product first, and be willing to advance you the cost of development, based on their experience with you in the past. The advantage to the customer is that he will have enough control to make sure it meets his requirements, and will get dedicated support.

The good news is that the cost for new startups is at an all-time low. In the early days (20 years ago), most new e-commerce sites cost a million dollars to set up. Now the price is closer to $100, if you are willing to do the work yourself. Software apps that once required a 10-person team can now be done with the Lean Development methodology by two people in a couple of months.

The bad news is that the valley’s depth before real revenue, considering the high costs of marketing, manufacturing, and sales, can still add up to $500K, on up to $1 million or more, before you will be attractive to Angel investors or venture capital.

In reality, the financing valley of death tests the commitment, determination, and problem solving ability of every entrepreneur. It’s the time when you create tremendous value out of nothing. It’s what separates the true entrepreneurs from the wannabes. Yet, in many ways, this starting period is the most satisfying time you will ever have as an entrepreneur. Are you ready to start?

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Putting together an effective and appropriate plan for a new small business is critical to achieving long-term success in any industry. Typically, some type of mission statement is included in such a business plan.

To formulate the best possible mission statement for your business, use these tips:

1. Ask yourself what inspired you to start your small business.

A business mission statement should completely represent your initial inspiration for starting the professional venture you decided to put out in the marketplace. Think about all the goals you’ve had in your mind since you first thought up the idea. Ask yourself how you want to benefit your customer base. Determine this by writing down all the benefits of your products or services. Discover what your true purpose is in your particular industry. Will you fill a certain void and help a certain segment of the community?

2. Keep it concise and on point.

Any mission statement for a small business should be no more than several sentences that make up one or two short paragraphs. It’s tempting to throw a bunch of information into such a statement. However, you must be clear, concise, and to the point in your presentation of it. You’ll probably want to include your mission statement on a variety of marketing collateral (brochures, flyers, websites, etc.), so keep it short enough for that purpose as well.

3. Use a positive, upbeat tone.

As a small business owner, it’s important to maintain an upbeat attitude. This should be reflected in your mission statement. Include keywords like “success,” “benefits,” “achieve,” and “highest quality.” When others read your mission statement, or you read it for motivation, it should evoke a sense of positivity and confidence.

Related Article: Creating Your Personal Mission Statement

4. Ensure it’s a reminder of your company goals.

Due to the 24/7/365 nature of being in business, it’s easy to get wrapped up in little things and forget about the overall goals you’ve set out to achieve. Because of this, crafting a mission statement designed to serve as a reminder of your true goals at heart is an effective way to give you a pick-me-up when you need it most. Making money is what all entrepreneurs hope for, but the desire to pursue a passion and enjoy self-employment are two major factors you should never lose sight of on your journey. Briefly touch on all of this in your mission statement.

5. Use it for both internal and external audiences.

Consider sharing your mission statement with those directly around you and anyone else like customers or investors so they can get a good idea of your entrepreneurial goals. Put it up on your refrigerator if you work from home, or hand out copies to employees in your office or brick-and-mortar retail store. If it fits on a business card, include it. Remember that your website, social media pages, and any print materials look better with a well-written mission statement. At the very least, it’s a nice touch.

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Robin had her own cleaning service. She operated out of her apartment, but planned to own a building in the future. When she signed on more clients than she could handle, she recruited friends and relatives to help. They didn’t know everything Robin knew—like what kind of cleaning supplies to use on granite and marble surfaces or how to use all the vacuum attachments—but they were energetic… even though they also felt free to take vacations or to leave early, since they weren’t really employees. Then her customers started asking about bonding and insurance. And her taxes got complicated, too, since she was paying workers. Finally, she learned that she needed a license, and should also be collecting and filing sales taxes.

Robin felt like she ought to go back to school to take some business courses, but she had no free time. She could have stepped back and taken on just as many customers as she could handle herself, but she didn’t want to give up her successful business or let her friends down. All of them liked having some extra cash, but Robin was beginning to worry that she was going in the wrong direction and might be heading for a crash.

Robin’s solution? She bought a cleaning franchise.

Related Article: Why Do You Want to Buy a Franchise?

That might seem like a strange choice, because she already had a successful cleaning business. But Robin knew that she had strengths and weaknesses. Her strengths included a natural sales ability that helped her grow her client list, a group of supportive friends and family members who were ready and willing to help, and ambitions beyond being a casual cleaning lady.

Her weaknesses included a lack of knowledge about business. She also had trouble taking a boss-lady attitude with her friends and family, and she worried that they were counting on money she might not be able to keep providing. Her kindness wasn’t a weakness, but she could see that her unprofessional attitude toward her workers was.

Robin also could see that the franchise cleaning services in her town had a big head start compared with her service. People recognized their names and they had high-end branding and marketing assets that Robin couldn’t match. She knew they were able to charge more than she did, too.

For Robin, buying a franchise made perfect sense. Her experience gave her a strong start and made it more likely that a franchisor would accept her application. Her knowledge also helped her decide which franchise offered her the best return on her investment. The business systems and software would help her manage her business efficiently and remove a lot of stress, while the coaching and training would help her gain knowledge in the areas where she needed to learn.

The training materials would help her create a more professional relationship with her workers, and the branding and marketing—from recognizable logos and uniforms to professional TV ads—would give her company a more professional look.

If you’ve started an independent business already and it hasn’t been exactly what you expected, consider a franchise business for your next step.