4 Times a Short-Term Business Loan is Right for You

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Every business owner has run into cash flow challenges, whether you need more money to grow your business or to meet the operational day-to-day expenses that pop up. If your customer income isn’t covering your business’s financial needs for a period of time, a short-term business loan may be one option to consider. Here’s a closer look at four instances when a short-term business loan can help you achieve your business goals—and how to determine if it’s right for you.

Emergency Repairs and Inventory Shortages

Emergencies happen. Mission-critical equipment breaks down or shortfalls in inventory or components can derail getting products out to customers. Computers break or other unplanned for issues arise. As a business owner, it’s important that you have a plan in place to cover emergency equipment repairs, inventory shortages and other challenges that may arise.

However, the reality, especially for young and growing businesses, is that you may not have enough cash on hand to solve these problems at all times.

This can be especially frustrating when you know that a large customer payment is due or your cash flow cycle will even out in the specific period. During instances like this, a short-term business loan may be the right option for you. A business owner can access the funds needed to quickly get equipment back online or make an urgent purchase of inventory—with the full confidence that they can quickly pay back the funds that have been leant to them.

To Cover Accounts Payable and Receivable Cash Flow Gaps

One of the most frustrating realities for small business owners is the gap between when a product is sold or a service rendered and when the customer pays. Often, your business will extend some credit to customers and invoices will be to a certain number of days after they have been issued. While more generous credit terms can help you gain customers, it can also lead to damaging cash flow gaps.

When reliable customers owe you money and you’re certain those funds are going to come in on a set schedule, a short-term business loan can be a useful bridge for your financial situation.

Closing Gaps to Cover Operational Expenses

Operational expenses can sometimes outpace your cash flow. For business owners, this is a challenging situation to be in. Cutting expenses isn’t always possible. For example, cyclical businesses may need to add headcount and cover payroll while their seasonal operations get underway. Once the business starts rolling in, cash flow will be no problem—but those precious first few weeks are essential in order to get the cash flow started.

In an instance like this, a short-term business loan could be right for you. Often, a business owner can forecast how much money they will need to keep their business operating smoothly. By borrowing exactly what you need—or just enough to give you a small buffer—you’ll be in a good position to keep your business afloat, without incurring too much debt that can’t be quickly repaid.

Investing in High Priority Growth Opportunities

It’s hard for businesses to grow without capital. Growth comes in many forms; sometimes growth requires hiring new staff or investing in a marketing campaign. A short-term business loan can help you capture the advantages of marketing campaigns or advertising opportunities that you’d otherwise miss out on.

To decide if this is a good investment, look at the interest that you’d repay versus the ROI you’re likely to receive. If the ROI is higher than the interest expense, a short-term business loan could be a good option for helping you expand your brand’s reach.

A short-term business loan can help companies bridge the gap during a cash flow shortfall or make strategic investments in growth opportunities. It’s important to think about what your goals are, run the numbers and choose an option that’s right for your unique situation.

Are You Ready to Employ Someone from Your Home-Based Business?

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As entrepreneurs, many of you will have started your own businesses from home. After a period of time, though, you may reach a growth plateau or realize that you need some help and simply don’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done yourself. Taking on your first employee is one of the most important steps in business growth and development. But before you go down the route of recruiting, there are a few things that you ought to consider as a home-based business…

Finances

Will there be enough work each month to continue to pay someone else’s wages? In some months when cash flow is tight, do you have enough reserves to keep paying this salary? Before you start looking for suitable candidates, consider how much you will be able to pay them and write a clear job description, considering what skills and responsibilities will be required for the new role.

New employees take time to get up-to-speed so it is a good idea to ask yourself where you would like to be in 12 months’ time and how much income you will need to justify paying another salary. You can investigate online job boards or recruitment websites to find out what the going rate is for your required role. Be sure to consider if the demand for your service is seasonal and if you potentially need a line of credit to cover slower months.

Accommodating an employee can be costly. Ensure you factor in the costs of additional equipment such as desks, chairs, laptops, etc. Don’t forget about providing suitable bathroom amenities and perhaps even consider if you need an alternative entrance to your working area. Remember that you don’t only need to consider their salary, but additional costs such as taxes and insurance.

Legalities

It will be wise to ask the help of a lawyer to prepare an employment contract for your new recruit in advance, so that you have some clear terms to fall back on. You will also need to check that your candidate is eligible to work in your country with a valid working visa if required. Check on the latest regulations affecting employment and ensure you are aware of the national or state minimum wage.

Your current home insurance may no longer be valid

If you continue working from your home and an additional employee also starts working from your home, then your current home insurance may not be valid. As a home-based business you will likely already have separate home business insurance as standard home insurance will not be sufficient, but you will also need to check that any amendments (such as additional employees) does not affect your coverage. It is important to avoid any risk to your home in this way to safeguard your property and business from theft, damage and loss. An ‘all-risks’ policy will make sure that you will be covered even if the loss, damage or theft to equipment occurs outside of the home, such as when travelling to an external meeting.

Workers’ compensation insurance/Employer’s liability insurance

In the US, Workers’ Compensation Insurance is a state-provided compensation for permanent and full-time staff, where employees’ medical and disability expenses from work-related illness or injury are covered. However, there are exemptions where some employees, such as household workers, may fall outside.

In the UK, once your business employs a member of staff, then you are legally obliged to take out Employer’s Liability Insurance to protect you against a claim for injury or illness that is thought to be covered by the employer’s negligence. You are responsible for your employee’s health and safety during their working hours and should they suffer a slip, trip or fall then you may be liable.

Ensure that you have also looked into these costs and requirements prior to employing someone from your home-based business.

Author: Doug Kelley is the Director for Bluedrop Services, specialist insurance brokers with in-depth knowledge and expertise in business insurance.

The Secret to Putting Your Best Foot Forward

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How do you perform at your best? How do you start and finish your day with an attitude that looks forward to the next thing? The following secret is used by top executives around the world as a means to keep a clear vision while staying in check with who they are and when they are at their best. This simple, yet impactful, exercise will enable you to do the same. By implementing this exercise into your life, you will set yourself up for success, while putting your best foot forward.

What is the secret, you ask?

Grab a piece of paper and a pen, find a quiet place and write down “I’m at my best when…” at the top of your paper. Under this, write down 3 to 5 situations, tasks, environments, or habits that enable you to perform at your best. This will help you recognize what internal and/or external factors accentuate you at your best.

Keep these factors in mind as you move throughout your days and weeks to come. If you are at your best after having had your coffee in the morning, keep having that coffee! Stay in tune with what keeps you at your best if you want to continue being your best.

For me, I have discovered that eating breakfast early in the morning kick-starts my day and enables me to be more productive. Breakfast keeps me at my best! Another habit I have grown accustomed to is writing at least one thank-you card a day. This not only enables me to personally connect with more people, but it puts me in the right frame of mind to having an excellent day, keeping my best foot forward.

I have written thank-you cards to everyone from the flight attendant who cared for me on my flight, to someone I met the day before who impressed me. Both of these daily practices create an environment in my life that sets me up to have a great day and keep me at my best.

When writing down these situations, tasks, environments or habits that enable you to perform at your best, make sure you are taking an honest look at who you are. Pay particular attention to your own life and your personality when assessing the times you are at your best. It is easy to mimic or copy what someone else does first thing in the morning, especially if it is someone who inspires, a mentor or leader in your life, but if it is not pertinent to who you are as an individual, it will not keep your best foot forward.

Once you have made your list, look at it once a day for the next few days. Let your list encourage you. Get excited about these things that keep you at your best, then start creating them as habits. Start plugging them into your day on a regular basis. Give yourself the option of starting each day with a higher chance of being your best. Keep your best foot forward by keeping yourself in mind.

Jason WomackAuthor: Jason W. Womack is the CEO of The Womack Company, an international training firm that helps busy professionals be more productive through coaching and consulting, CEO of the Get Momentum Leadership Academy, author of Your Best Just Got Better (Wiley, 2012) and most recently the co-author with his wife, Jodi Womack, of Get Momentum: How To Start When You’re Stuck (Wiley, 2016). Since 2000 he has coached leaders across industries and trained them in the art of increasing their workplace productivity and achieving personal happiness.

How Are You Sharpening Your Saw?

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Are you consciously sharpening your saw every day? Maybe it’s just because I’m living through it, but I truly believe that there’s never been an era that has experienced the rate of change that we’re enjoying/enduring now.  It presents us with some remarkable opportunities to explore new tactics and tools but it also presents us with what sometimes feels like an insurmountable challenge of trying to keep current.  With all of this change, how are you sharpening your saw?

A question from a reader (which I love, so keep them coming) got me thinking about all the ways we can and should be sharpening our saw so that we don’t get caught behind the times.

Read: It seems like a good book is published every single day. Even if you only consume a book a month, you’ll be ahead of most. If you can’t get through an entire book, try the audio version. Still too daunting? Then at the very least make a habit of reading a few good magazines. Be sure you stretch your boundaries. Sure, read Fast Company but also grab The Economist for some variety.

Listen: Podcasts have come a long way. Many authors and experts offer their insights in 10-60 minute sound bites that you can enjoy on your daily commute, while you walk the dog or as a team. One of my favorites is one that’s done by Iowa’s Nick Westergaard and DJ Waldow called The Work Talk Show. Although they’ve put it on hiatus—the existing 100 episodes are definitely worth a listen. Each episode digs into how successful people work – their habits, their tools and how they accomplish so much in a day.

Surf: Of course, you can always go to school by going online. Between all the blogs, free content, online courses, and other sites—you can fall into a rabbit hole that you’d never escape. Find a few reliable sites that focus on marketing and not just digital marketing. But don’t forget to also follow some trending sites and some that focus on your industry.

Watch: YouTube isn’t just for funny videos and previewing the Super Bowl spots. There are some incredible resources that will keep you inspired (Ted.com), on the cutting edge (Trend Hunter’s channel) and informed. Again, be sure to subscribe to a few so you don’t miss an episode.

Meet: Don’t be so overwhelmed by all of the content contained in our technology that you forget that your greatest teachers are probably other people. Seek them out. And don’t be fooled into thinking they have to be heralded experts. Your own peers are a great source for exploration and conversations. Whether you are better about attending conferences, being active in a professional association or just grabbing coffee with a colleague—don’t forget the most interactive teacher of all.

I can hear you now: that’s all fine and good but how in the heck does anyone find the time to consume all of this? I think it’s easier to consume all of this in bite-sized pieces. Find ways to weave the consumption into some new habits. Listening to a book or podcast while you’re on the treadmill means that for as long as you honor your New Year’s resolution, you’ll be learning something new.

One of the best ways to make sure you keep learning is to make it a team activity. It’s the combination of accountability and the camaraderie of learning together that will keep you more dedicated to the task. You can do a book club type of thing or you can create a culture that encourages everyone to not only learn, but also to share what they learned. But however you structure it, there’s value in doing it together.

Honestly, the key to actually doing this is deciding that it’s not optional. Because unless you want to quickly be obsolete, it’s not.

A Note to the Small Businesses Still Not Mobile Optimized

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Believe me, I get it. An inveterate slacker who tends to view any sort of change with a wary eye, I understand how difficult it can be to embrace new technologies, especially as a small business with limited resources. But we’re halfway through 2016 and the world has clearly gone mobile, yet almost half of U.S. small businesses still have not.

This according to a February 2016 poll of 400 U.S. small businesses conducted by Yodle and Research Now reported by eMarketer, which found that only 52% of respondents confirmed their website was mobile optimized. Moreover, only 14% have built mobile-optimized emails, and a paltry 11% use SMS marketing. In fact, fully 40% of small businesses haven’t implemented any of these mobile-friendly marketing activities.

An unrelated survey from RBC Capital Markets reported by eMarketer in the same article found that over two-thirds of U.S. SMBs are without a mobile-optimized website.

Mobile Optimized Websites

Image Credit: eMarketer

The Smartphone User Next Door

Juxtapose these numbers with the fact that, according to Pew Research, 68% of the entire U.S. adult population now owns a smartphone (83% of Millennial-aged adults; 87% of people living in households earning over $75,000 annually). And they’re not just texting and tweeting. Mobile accounts for the lion’s share of that most marketing-friendly of consumer activities—online shopping. According to research by Connexity, almost three-quarters (73%) of global online shopping happens on a mobile device.

It gets worse. Freed from their desktops by the ongoing mobile revolution, today’s digital consumers, especially those pesky Millennials (J/K Gen Yers, no hate email, please), are really hot on the notion of seamless cross-device experiences. You know, going from desktop to tablet to mobile, etc.

A recent study on cross-device usage by Adobe found that 90% of Millennials interviewed switch devices mid-activity (Gen Xers were at 76%; those 55 and older at 58%). In all, 79% of those polled by Adobe move from one device to another during an activity.

Ignoring this cross-device conundrum is probably fine if you’re an SMB rocking a post-postmodern concept website without any content (insert crickets chirping). Didn’t think so…

“Okay, okay, I get it. Pretty much everyone has a smartphone and uses it and I don’t have a mobile-optimized website. Big deal. I mean, I’ve survived this long without one, right? Right?”

Wrong. In a mobile-dominant world, a mobile-optimized website is a must-have, a given. In today’s mobile-driven consumer environment, where personalization is fast becoming the rule rather than the exception, mobile optimization should be viewed as an essential first step—a gateway, if you will—to delivering any type of personalized user experience regardless of business size, target audience, or industry segment. Mobile is just too pervasive to ignore.

Only once you’ve recalibrated your website for mobile, you can turn to secondary initiatives like mobile-optimized email campaigns and SMS promotions. I say this not to lessen the relevance of these extra-website mobile initiatives, but rather to stress the importance of building a mobile-optimized website that will serve as the foundation stone of your mobile-friendly digital marketing efforts.

Going Mobile: 3 Options

Which brings us back to websites. Broadly speaking, if you’re a laggard SMB looking to finally go mobile, you have three options: 1) create a separate mobile website, 2) redesign your existing website via responsive web design or adaptive web design, or 3) build a mobile app.

Let’s briefly examine each option.

Mobile Website

In simplest terms, a mobile website is defined as a desktop website that has been developed to work on a mobile device and its browser. The main thing that separates a mobile website from a desktop website is the notion that it has been designed to accommodate the smaller handheld displays and touchscreen interfaces of mobile devices. A dead giveaway of a mobile website is the “m.” in front of a domain like “m.chrishortonrocks.com.” This indicates that the brand has created an alternative mobile domain for users visiting their site on a mobile device.

To be honest, there is a ton of literature on the web about mobile websites. When researching, just be aware that the term “mobile website” has become a bit of a catch-all term liberally bandied about when people are variously referring to a dedicated mobile site (like I just described above), responsive or adaptive web design, and/or a mobile web app. Gotta love loose language :)

Responsive Web Design

OK, so we live in a mobile-driven world. Responsive web design (RWD) takes a mobile-first approach, designing backward from the smallest-sized device to the largest to ensure web-based content properly scales on devices of varying sizes. A responsive website loads all content into the browser and automatically resizes it to fit the specs of the particular device or screen on which it displays. The upshot for the end user is a uniform, cross-device user experience.

Initially developed for the purpose of creating singular websites that can be accessed by any user on any device, RWD creates a sense of consistency in both content and brand message across multiple platforms. In this way, RWD offers a handy-dandy design solution to our cross-device conundrum.

NB: Adaptive Design – An increasingly popular alternative to RWD, adaptive web design (AWD) takes a slightly different (dare I say inside out) approach to delivering a unified user experience over multiple devices by rejiggering website content to better accommodate the specific device or operating system you are using. If for example you visit an adaptive site from an iPhone, the content will format specifically for that device.

For a far more detailed (and far more wonky) analysis of the differences between RWD and AWD, check out this article from the Next Web.

Mobile App

Although mobile web design, RWD, and AWD are popular mobile optimization solutions, many brands have found success with mobile apps. As of now, three types of mobile applications have emerged—native, mobile web, and hybrid:

  1. Native Mobile Apps– Do not need to be connected to the Internet to be used because they are specific to the mobile device they run on (hence the term “native”). Native apps are distributed within popular app marketplaces like Apple’s App Store and Google Play. In very general terms, the pro/con of native apps boils down to the superior performance and user experience they offer versus the greater time and development resources required to create and maintain them.
  2. Mobile Web Apps– Developed using technologies such as HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS3, these apps run on the mobile device’s Internet browser. In fact, mobile web apps are not really apps at all, but rather websites that look and feel like native applications and can work across multiple devices and be compatible across multiple operating systems. As more websites utilize HTML5 technology, the distinction between mobile web apps and normal web pages is quickly blurring.
  3. Hybrid Mobile Apps– A mix between the two. Hybrid apps essentially operate as native apps with embedded HTML technology, producing cross-platform apps that access a mobile device’s native features. They can be downloaded from app marketplaces and have all the features of a native app, but often require updates from the web to function.

If you want to take a deeper dive into the differences between native, hybrid, and mobile web apps, I invite you to check out this article written for the companion website to my recently published book on digital marketing (shameless plug).

Conclusion

For the nearly half of U.S. small businesses who fall under the rubric of “not mobile optimized, here’s a friendly piece of advice, free of charge (this time): get crackin’…

Whether you decide to work with a professional agency partner with proven expertise in responsive web design, mobile web, and mobile app development or go with a cheaper out-of-the-box solution like Squarespace, Weebly, or Wix that provides fully responsive websites for pennies on the dollar, you need to get mobile, and fast. Your customers are (or soon will be) expecting it. Don’t disappoint them.

How Large and Small Businesses Can Overcome the Innovation Paradox

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We need to act more like entrepreneurs, but those guys are nuts.” —a real quote from a Fortune 100 CEO

In 2007, a friend and client at a Fortune 100 company asked me if I knew of an entrepreneur who could come in and present to her executive leadership team. She wanted them to experience first-hand how entrepreneurs think. My buddy Mike Michalowicz—a serial entrepreneur and genuinely funny guy—agreed to spend some time with the team. The meeting, while enjoyable, left both sides of the table scratching their heads. Mike was struck by the cautious and guarded nature of the group, and the executives viewed Mike as a curious anomaly.

Four years after Mike’s meeting, I co-wrote a book called Brand New: Solving the Innovation Paradoxbecause we were curious about why large companies were so terrible at launching disruptive products, services and business models.

The dangerous trend of legendary companies being surprised by entrepreneurial start-ups like Napster, Uber and Airbnb was well underway at the time, so leaders at Ginormo Inc. were already committing reputational capital and big bucks toward the goal of disrupting themselves. According to them, they wanted to become more entrepreneurial—and yet they were truly, truly, truly terrible at it.

How can a sophisticated organization be so committed to a life-or-death mission but still not achieve it? This was our innovation paradox.

In March 2016, Accenture released a white paper on the state of innovation that reported that 84% of executives now believe innovation is critical to their strategy. The year after releasing our book, that number was 67%—so executives want to fix the problem now more than ever.

And yet the innovation paradox has grown stronger.

The numbers paint a challenging picture. Accenture reports that 72% of companies often miss opportunities to exploit underdeveloped areas or markets. In 2012, that number was 53%.

The report goes on to say that 60% say their companies don’t learn from past mistakes. In 2012, that number was 36%. Finally, 67% of executives believe their organizations are more risk-averse compared to 46% in 2012.

Since writing our book, we’ve worked with some of the largest firms in the world on innovation assignments. We’ve also started an early stage venture fund. So we’ve seen what works and what doesn’t in small companies—and large ones.

So what works? Simply put, the best future involves an approach where “crazy” entrepreneurs and “crazy” executives learn to work together. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  1. To continually replicate innovation success, you must be insight driven; you must start with a meaningful consumer or customer issue then, and only then, move to ideas.
  2. Entrepreneurs are awesome at coming up with those ideas, jumping into action and getting things done, which means they are idea and prototype factories. Unfortunately, they often lack the discipline, rigor and time to get ideas to market.
  3. Large corporations have the bandwidth, reach, channels, relationships and cash to do quantitatively and qualitatively robust insight work. Unfortunately, they often deny what the world is telling them. But they have the ability to see the future if they want to. This power is priceless.
  4. Most large corporations were designed to deliver short-term profit and mitigate risk. In essence, this means to be competent, they kill or castrate any disruptive idea because, by definition, these ideas are threatening.
  5. The best thinkers in large companies are often frustrated because they have solutions that would save the firm that go ignored. A great example of this is Steven Sasson who invented the digital camera while working at Kodak—an idea that Kodak continually ignored because they believed, correctly, that they had built a different business.

So here’s the next chapter.

For big companies, the future is coming too fast to fundamentally change their well-tuned profit engine. Psychologists argue that it takes seven years to change human behavior. And according to a Babson study, nearly 40% of large companies will be extinct by that time.

Enlightened leaders at large companies are beginning to understand they need to start the innovation journey by tuning their current economic engine. The first—and easiest—step is to become more customer focused and insight driven. This often does not require a radical change. “Customer experience” often means “we’ll just sell our core product or service in a more delightful way, which does not threaten our current profit machine or people.”

To properly tune the engine, you must admit where you are stuck. Here are four questions related to areas where the best get stuck: 1) Have you made a case for innovation that investors or the C-suite will embrace? 2) Have you refined a process that moves you quickly from insight to prototype? 3) Have you developed a portfolio strategy so your teams understand how, when and where investments in the near and distant future make the most sense? 4) Finally, are you measuring the right things? Innovators know how to measure much more than just lagging indicators like profit.

Now, let’s move on to disrupting ourselves.

In mature companies, focusing on game-changing innovation requires a different strategy. To be truly disruptive, large companies must learn to outsource the scary stuff—such as new business models, new channel strategies and uber cheap versions of themselves—either through third-party incubators, conglomerates, venturing partners or consultants. All of these options are beginning to blend together as I write.

There’s great news here for the entrepreneur. Your weaknesses are the strengths of large companies. You must learn to focus on Achilles heels of the largest industry players. But instead of raising money from your Uncle Peter or some guy from San Fran with look-at-my-glasses-glasses, go get insights and funding from a large corporate partner that is smart enough to see you as their disruptive ticket to the future. This too has already begun to happen.

I suspect that in 10 years, the innovation paradox will be more pronounced than ever. My hope is that many of you choose this new path to help solve for the benefit of your clients, your company and yourself.

Branding as a Catalyst for Succession Financing

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As your brand moves into the next phase of its existence, the prospect of succession comes into play. When you’re prepared to retire, what will the future hold for the fine company you’ve built over the years? If you have children, have any of them shown any interest in taking over? Can they afford it? What about an outside buyer—what have you done to attract this individual? Maybe you’re keen on attracting an investor and a new management team to carry it forward. And of course there’s the elephant in the room—your death. What have you done to prepare all the stakeholders just in case you arrive at the pearly gates?

All of these scenarios require finding as much value as possible for your brand. It’s time to ramp up strategically. It’s a terrific opportunity to pour new life into a brand that’s stood the test of time, but may be sitting on its laurels and embraced complacency. A brand that needs to be analyzed to determine where it sits today. Unless you’re just planning on letting it die, you’ve got to have it generating new income. Doing that requires that it step up and identify its differentiator. You’ve got to position your brand to resonate with your audience.

If you realistically want to attract buyers, investors or increased revenues then having your brand generating value is critical. You can’t stop marketing on and offline on as many channels as possible to increase awareness in your market. Once they find you be sure your offering resonates on a large scale. This doesn’t matter if you’re a small enterprise or a multi-national. Being seen as the major player in your category attracts the kind of experience that results in sales.

If you are the son of a brand owner, positioning will help you to generate the increased income you’ll need to buy Dad out. If your children are interested but are cash poor, refusing to take your brand to the next level puts both your futures in jeopardy. Having a succession plan that involves brand strategy planning fuels the succession engine.

How to Apply for an Online Business Loan

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Online lending can be complicated, with a few traps for the unwary. So if you’ve never searched for a loan online, you could benefit from a few pointers. Here’s how to make sure you get the finance you need.

Decide how much you require.

This may sound obvious, but it’s an easy way to go wrong. Borrow too little and you won’t solve your original problem. Borrow too much and you’ll needlessly be paying extra interest. Try to figure out exactly how much you need and precisely what you need it for, and prepare your response if a lender offers you more or less than you require.

Would additional finance help you? Alternatively, if lenders decline to offer the full amount but propose smaller loans, would the online loan still be useful?

Make sure you can repay your online loan.

Many businesses go wrong by borrowing the money they think they require, then finding they can’t afford the repayments. Until you apply, you won’t be aware of the interest rate, loan term or monthly repayments, so you will need to think flexibly.

Before you agree to anything, carefully examine your cash flow and make sure that it won’t be derailed by the monthly repayments. If things are looking marginal, it could make sense to wait until your cash flow improves before applying for an online loan.

Have a look at your credit report.

Your credit score will determine your success or failure in obtaining an online loan—as well as the interest rate. For a small fee, one of the major credit bureaus can let you see your report—and address any anomalies or errors that are driving down your score.

Sort out all your paperwork.

Many online lenders will ask to see a wide range of financial documentation before making a decision. This could include your business bank statements, tax returns, balance sheet, articles of incorporation and details of any other loans. Make sure you have this to hand or you could delay the approval of your online loan.

You can never ask too many questions.

There are plenty of online lenders competing for your business. So which one is right for you? Ask plenty of questions and you should find the perfect match. In particular, you should ascertain whether they have experience of lending in your business sector (or whether they prefer to avoid it), whether they’re happy for you to use the funds for any purpose, how long it will take to approve your application, whether the loan will be secured or unsecured, whether the interest rate is fixed or variable—and of course how large the repayments will be.

Make several loan enquiries, then make a decision.

Whatever your circumstances, it makes good sense to enquire with a few different online lenders then compare their terms. However, it isn’t always easy to compare different types of borrowing—invoice discounting versus a short-term loan, for instance. Asking each lender for their APR should help to simplify the process. You should also make sure to ask them whether there are penalties for early repayment, as this can significantly affect the total cost of a loan.

Make sure you talk to alternative lenders.

Alternative lenders have different criteria when approving online loans, and will often be able to assist when banks decline to do so. They are also able to offer a range of innovative solutions, from emergency loans (giving you funds in under 24 hours to avert a cash flow crisis) to asset-based finance (where you borrow against the value of your plant, premises or equipment) and invoice factoring and discounting (enabling you to borrow around 85% of the value of your invoices as soon as you issue them, with repayment being made when your customers pay you).

Remember all these tips and you should be able to gain the finance you need at a price you can afford, giving your business everything it needs to get ahead.

Author: As Managing Director of Cashsolv (http://www.cashsolv.co.uk/), Carl Faulds offers advice and support to overcome cash flow problems and identify possible underlying problems that can be addressed to ensure a positive future for your business. Carl continues an ethos of working with distressed businesses to help them overcome their financial problems.

PLAYLive Lesson: Vetting Franchisees

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The key to building a prosperous franchise is to place quality franchisees at the helm of your business. As a long-time franchise lawyer and part franchise owner, I cannot stress enough how essential this is for long-term franchise success. As we continue to grow PLAYLive, we have been continuously refining how we attract and screen potential franchisees.

With 54 units sold, we have added several different identifiers that we look for. In some cases, it is expanding on existing elements, such as a financial buffer. Other times, it has been introducing new components. For example, we now evaluate for culture fit.

Here is an overview of our vetting process, including some of the new measures we have added since we started.

Screening Basics

When an inquiry comes in, we start with an initial screening questionnaire. This is regardless of whether a broker brings in a potential candidate or we field an inquiry internally. This survey outlines their financial situation, identifies their current life status, and starts to narrow in on their motivations for purchasing our franchise.

An inquiry isn’t a guarantee that the individual will invest in the model. This means that we need to simultaneously identify if they are a good fit and sell the model. Because of this, we also work to hone in on the communication style the applicant best responds to. Understanding if they respond better to straight facts or to a more emotional component helps us to tailor our communication to better relate and communicate our message to the prospective franchisee.

Connecting in Person

A template survey will never fully be able to give us a complete picture of an applicant. That’s why we have several interview stages prior to an onsite interview. Here we can really dig into their motivations and goals.

During our phone call interviews, we work to expand our understanding of their current situation. Are they hoping to retire in 10 years? If they have kids, are college expenses on the horizon? Is purchasing a franchise part of their plan to pay off credit card debt?

The more we understand each individual as a person and their unique situation, the better we can evaluate how well our model aligns with their goals and capabilities. Our ultimate goal is to position franchisees to succeed.

If the applicant moves forward through the phone interviews, we have an onsite interview. This is an opportunity for potential franchisees to see the inner workings of the business model. For us, the onsite interview gives us the chance to answer any lingering questions about motivation and situation. This is really our opportunity to assess culture fit.

Defining Culture Fit

I see a lot of emphasis on determining financial capital in vetting prospective buyers. Obviously this is crucial. If a franchisee does not have the capital to get the franchise off the ground, it will never be a successful partnership.

The other key aspect is ensuring the candidate fits the culture and will work within your franchise model. One of the things I’ve started to look for is if they trust the system and are willing to execute the model as is. When purchasing a franchise, the franchisee is acquiring a proven model that has been tried and true. As a franchisor, I don’t want an individual who is going to come in and question every aspect of our proven model.

The other nuances will be more specific to each franchise. At PLAYLive for example, if the franchisee will be the onsite manager, we will want them to be gregarious. The more that onsite manager can activate and engage individuals in the game, the better set up for success that location would be.

Determining culture fit also ties into to understanding goals. If the franchisee plans to be an absentee owner and hire a manager, that will be a different conversation.

Understanding all of the nuances at the beginning will be difficult. There will be some that you learn over time. When franchisors are starting out and unsure of what some of these characteristics might be, I recommend they sit down with all the stakeholders in the business. Together, they can start to compile a profile of an ideal candidate and start to identify the idiosyncrasies that make the business work.

Tailoring Qualifications

As I mentioned at the start, we continually refine our vetting and screening process. The biggest adjustment is ensuring they have enough capital to sustain them and their families during the time it takes to get operational.

Particularly in competitive real estate markets, several of our franchisees have taken upwards of nine to twelve months to become operational. Securing a lease with Wi-Fi capabilities proves to be much harder than anticipated in some cities.

So if a prospect approaches us about opening a franchise that is currently unemployed, we know that they will need to have enough funds to sustain themselves and their family for up to twelve months before they are able to start seeing a salary from PLAYLive. This is in addition to the capital necessary to purchase the franchise.

First and foremost, we always want this franchisor–franchisee relationship to be a win-win. That’s why we will continue to build out our screening process.

Turning Down Leads

Not everyone is a fit for our model. This doesn’t always boil down to financial situation either. We have decided not to move forward with applicants based on not fitting the characteristics necessary to succeed with the PLAYLive business model.

For example, we had a gentleman who wanted to purchase a unit for his seventy-year-old father. When we got to know the father, who would be the primary day-to-day manager on site, we learned that he wasn’t fond of the PLAYLive music genre and preferred to work in environments with soft music playing.

Part of the components that have made PLAYLive successful is that we have the presentation down to a science. This includes having music playing at a certain decibel. We pick music that appeals to an audience ages ten through forty. Prospects who are unwilling to or would struggle to adapt to the components that make PLAYLive so attractive will not work out long term. It’s better for both parties if we stop the proceedings right there.

Are You Ready to Move Forward with Your Franchise?

By working with me, you can use my extensive franchise legal background to ensure you have a solid foundation for your business. Furthermore, you can leverage my experience franchising to help set your franchise up for sustainable growth and navigate other areas of owning a franchise.

In addition to being a co-franchise owner with PLAYLive and continuing my franchise law practice, I am also working with several other franchises to develop unique partnership relationships. I will have more updates as these partnerships develop throughout 2016.

Contact me today to set up an appointment to review where your business is on the road to franchising.

Tips to Stretch Your Trade Show Budget, Part 1

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Many businesses have come to realize that trade shows are an indispensable part of their marketing/sales process. Although there is a lot of value that comes with exhibiting at a trade show, businesses have to budget accordingly to make it a success. Here are tips on how you can save money on trade shows to stretch your trade show budget.

Be particular about which trade shows to attend.

After exhibiting at any trade show, make sure you do a review and calculate your ROI to see if it’s worth attending the next year. We see many businesses that attend trade shows simply for exposure or networking but they aren’t very successful in getting quality leads or closing sales. If that’s the case, don’t spend your money on a booth. Instead, simply attend as a customer and walk the aisles to network. Focus on attending trade shows that have proven to be profitable and that are successful at bringing in new business.

If you’re not sure which trade show to attend, look at the type of audience the trade show is attracting and compare it to see whether that’s the audience you want to target. Look up which exhibitors attended the previous years and if some of your competitors attended then it might be something worth looking into as well.

If you have a smaller budget than the previous years, instead of opting out of exhibiting, get a small booth space to save money. Instead of getting a 10 ft or 20 ft booth space, reserve an 8 ft one. This way, at least you’re still able to showcase your products and aren’t being left behind by competition.

Plan early to avoid late fees.

Procrastination can cost you, literally. If you don’t register for a trade show on time then you might have some late fees added. If you’re purchasing a display late, you might not get all the options you wanted and you might also incur a rush fee, not to mention the expensive overnight/next day shipping fees! Plan everything early and take notes on deadlines you have to meet.

Purchase a lighter, portable display.

If you’re planning on buying a new trade show display, look into buying a display that is portable and lightweight. By doing so, you’ll save money on shipping and you can set up the display yourself. This is in comparison to companies that buy large trade show displays like truss systems, and then have to pay for freight shipping and labor costs, which can easily add up.

Reuse trade show displays.

If you have an older display, don’t just toss it aside. Save the hardware so that you can reprint the graphics for it. Even if you’re missing parts, speak to the trade show display company and they might be able to replace or repair parts. This way, you don’t have to buy a whole new display. Take care of your hardware or buy one that has a lifetime warranty, that way the only thing you need to do is replace the graphics every few years.

Go digital.

Instead of printing out flyers and brochures, collect emails for interested customers and email them a digital file. This method will not only save you money on printing and shipping, it is also eco-friendly. You are also doing the attendees a favor because many are traveling and don’t want to carry brochures (they’re probably going to end up in the trash anyways). Save yourself the money and go with the digital option.

Cindy PereaAuthor: Cindy Perea is the Marketing Manager for National Trade Show Displays, an online retailer for pop up displays, fabric displays, and banner stands. 

Website: http://www.nationaltradeshowdisplays.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ShowDisplays