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Increase Sales by Answering Customers’ Questions

increasing revenueA small business owner slashes advertising budgets and doubles sales by answering questions customers had about his product and industry

By early 2009, his company, River Pools and Spas, a 20-employee installer of in-ground fiberglass pools in Virginia and Maryland, had a decline in orders from an average of six a month to barely two. That winter, four customers who had planned to install pools costing more than $50,000 each demanded their deposits back. For three consecutive weeks, the company overdrew its bank account.

Around this time, Mr. Sheridan began to overhaul his marketing. The company had been spending about $250,000 a year on radio, television and pay-per-click advertising. It would now cut the budget to about a tenth of that and focus on generating sales through informational blog posts and videos, what has become known as content marketing. But Mr. Sheridan took an unconventional approach to his content.

As a result, River Pools has recovered to exceed its peak pre-2007 revenue, and Mr. Sheridan, a 35-year-old father of four, has become something of a Web marketing guru. While he still owns a 33 percent interest in the pool company, his partners manage it day to day while he concentrates on his new venture, TheSalesLion.com. He recently spoke about his marketing approach in a conversation that has been edited and condensed.

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Changes to the 504 and 7(a) SBA Loan Programs

SBAThe Small Business Administration announced proposed changes to the 504 and 7(a) SBA loan programs this week, saying the tweaks would help streamline the application process and expand access to the programs.

The two SBA loan programs that would be affected by the proposed changes are the 504 and 7(a) programs. The 504 SBA loan program provides long-term fixed asset financing to small businesses, to be used for buying or improving land, buildings or equipment. The 7(a) SBA loan program aims to assist eligible small businesses in accessing credit when they are unable to do so elsewhere.

Both programs’ ultimate aims include facilitating job creation.

“Streamlining and simplifying has been a key focus of our agency over the last few years,” the SBA’s Karen Mills wrote in a press release. “The changes are the latest steps to reduce paperwork burden, with our eye on the larger goal of expanding access to capital and giving entrepreneurs and small business owners the financial resources to grow and create jobs.”

The proposed changes announced by the SBA include eliminating the personal resource test, which requires potential borrowers to “obtain a maximum level of personal finance resources.” Additionally, the SBA is proposing a revision to the rule on affiliation, which currently blocks potential applicants from obtaining loans under size standards, due to affiliations with other companies.

The proposed changes would also reduce the paperwork requirements for both loan programs and eliminate the “nine-month rule” for the 504 program, which limits businesses to including in their 504 project application expenses that have occurred only in the nine-month period prior to the date of application.

Lastly, the SBA is suggesting an increased accountability for the Certified Development Companies (CDCs), which are the “community-based partners for providing 504 loans,” as described on the SBA’s website.

10 Myths Small Business Owners Believe About Their Insurance

Business insurance myth:  Small business owners have a lot on their plates. In addition to being CEOs, they’re often CFOs, CTOs, CMOs, and just about everything else. On top of that, their personal finances are usually mixed with the business finances, making each dollar they spend or save that much more important.

This means that small business owners are often skeptical of new products and services (decidedly a good thing). But it also means small business owners have a heightened need to mitigate the many risks they juggle. The right business insurance can provide excellent protection, but small business owners should understand the truth behind these insurance myths before deciding on their coverage.

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The Networking Disconnect

To some people, ‘networking’ is a dirty word. They cringe when thinking about going to a networking event. The reason for that is that most people do it wrong.

I was at a large networking event with more than five hundred people a few years ago. When I went up to do my presentation I began by asking the audience: “How many of you came here today hoping to do a little business–maybe make a sale?”  The overwhelming majority of the people in the audience raised their hands. I then asked, “How many of you are here today hoping to buy something?”

No one raised a hand–not one single person!

This is the networking disconnect.

10 Tips for Small Business Owners to Close 2012 and Get Organized for 2013

It’s that time of the year again when it’s out with the old and in with the new. This month is the ideal time to clean out business files to get a fresh start for the new year and get paperwork organized. Here are some tips to help small business owners get ready to file their 2012 taxes and get ready for 2013:

Employee Lawsuits, what should you do

Employee lawsuits are more common than you think.   When you run a small business, it’s easy to feel like your employees are friends or even family members. But in a court of law, they are your employees — and, as their employer, you should take steps to protect yourself and your company in the event that one of them sues you.

The FLSA: Learn It, Know It, Live It

The most common type of lawsuit brought by employees is a “wage and hour” case, or a dispute over whether or not you’ve adequately compensated them for hours they’ve worked. The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act addresses these issues, although each state, county, and city may have their own additional rules.

Most cases begin when “non-exempt” (or hourly, part-time) employees are treated like “exempt” (or salaried, full-time) employees. “Exempt” means exempt from the FLSA. In other words, salaried employees may work overtime without being paid extra, whereas hourly employees must receive overtime pay.

“There’s a booming industry in these types of cases, where employees are not getting paid time and a half,” says Keith Gutstein, partner at Kaufman Dolowich Voluck & Gonzo. He adds that that restaurants, hotels, gas stations, car washes, landscapers, and other cash businesses are at greatest risk.

No contract can waive an employee’s right to be protected by the FLSA. There is often an agreement to work overtime without being paid time and a half, Gutstein says, “but the fact is, it’s illegal, even though employer and employee are happy. After termination, they often realize they can go back and get all the overtime that is owed to them.” In fact, the FLSA compensates workers for up to three years of back overtime — and some states award twice that. Also, if you’re at fault, the FLSA doubles the award and requires you to pay the plaintiff’s legal fees, too.

To protect yourself, keep pristine records of employee hours and pay. Without records, an employee could claim any rate of pay and hours. Also, if the government gets wind that you pay workers in cash, it will investigate to insure that it’s collected all the tax revenue it’s due. Many times, in fact, an employee unwittingly triggers an investigation by filing for unemployment benefits.

Discrimination and Harassment

Many other employee lawsuits derive from behavior on the job, and, as such, can be tough to defend against. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protects employees from discrimination if they are a member of a “protected class” based on gender, age, race, and disability. (Sexual orientation and marital status are not protected under federal law, but they are in many states.) The EEOC will even prosecute on behalf of claimants, so your employee does not even have to retain a lawyer to launch such a suit.

In order to file a discrimination or harassment complaint with the EEOC, an employee must prove four things: that she’s a member of a protected class, that she’s qualified and performing the job in a satisfactory manner, that she’s suffered an adverse action (such as lack of promotion or termination), and that the adverse action was the result of membership in a protected class.

If a court allows the suit to proceed, it doesn’t mean the employee has won, it just shifts the burden back to the employer to prove that the adverse action was based on legitimate business reasons, Gutstein explains. “You have to rely on documentation—counselings, warnings, write-ups,” he says.

Your most important tool, however, is your employee handbook, which should outline company policies about discrimination and harassment, your disciplinary process, and should make clear that there is an open door policy for reporting any and all complaints about discrimination and harassment. There also must be appropriate training around these policies.

Assuming that you have an employee handbook and such practices in place, you can fall back on the Faragher/Ellerth defense, which allows an employer to file for a case to be dismissed because there was an open-door policy for reporting discrimination and harassment that the employee did not use before filing suit.

5 best practices to avoid employee  lawsuits

10 Warning Signs Of Compulsive Networking

Adrian Miller, founder of sales consultancy Adrian Miller Sales Training in Port Washington, NY, says she’s always been a networker—but not always for her own good. In 2008 when the economy took a turn for the worse, Miller became nervous about the future of her business and went into extreme networking mode. “I started going to events morning, noon and night for five days a week hoping I would meet new clients,” she recalls. “I did it for months and was getting overwhelmed and just exhausted.”

On a vacation to Istanbul, Miller started thinking seriously about all the time she had committed to networking. She calculated how much revenue she’d gotten out of months of running around exchanging business cards and realized it was next to nothing. “When I saw I wasn’t getting a return on my time, I knew I had to get the compulsive behavior in check,” she says. “I had turned networking from a pleasant activity into a nightmare.”

While career coaches and success gurus expound on the virtues of networking—especially in a down economy—some professionals take it too far. Management and addiction specialists say they are seeing more people compulsively networking, obsessively growing the number of their connections online and wearing themselves out with little too show for it.

“Initially people want to promote their careers, but it can become obsessive,” says Dr. David Sack, an addiction psychiatrist and head of the Promises Treatment Centers in California. “Some people are looking for validation and recognition. It may be partly a self-esteem issue that gets gratified by numbers.”

Yet the compulsive pursuit of more and more connections will not ensure better networks. In fact, it will degrade them. “There’s an upper limit to the number of connections you can maintain of around 150 people,” says Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath, noting that many people too aggressively pursue initial connections without investing the necessary time to strengthen and maintain those relationships. “In whatever format, more than 150 and the relationships are impersonal and the connections are weak.”

Website Uses Social Media to Find Your Dream Job

Chances are you already know how difficult it is to find any job in this economy, let alone your dream job. Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statisticsrecorded 12.7 million unemployed Americans, and there aren’t any quick fixes in sight.

With millions of others looking for the same jobs, you don’t have time to scroll through hundreds of listings every day — you need to be able to optimize your search. Luckily there’s a new website that has found a way to utilize your online social circles to lead you to gainful employment: Jackalope Jobs.

Jackalope Jobs focuses on job seekers like you, helping you gain an edge on the competition by sorting through your social networks and pinpointing valuable connections. The way the site works is simple: You log in with LinkedIn, Facebook or Plaxo, and Jackalope Jobs imports all of your contacts, credentials and connections.

From the dashboard, you can search for a job and also search through your connections. You’re able to type in a job title or any keywords relevant to your search, and Jackalope Jobs will pull together listings from job boards, social media and other places in accordance with its “Jackalope Ranking” (best match according to your network and qualifications). You can also manually sort the job listings in any way you see fit — that is, by number of relevant connections, etc.

By clicking on any one job listing, you can see who among your connections could put you in touch with that particular company, and how exactly they are affiliated. You’re even able to reach out to those connections directly through the Jackalope Jobs interface, instead of needing to log on to the social network separately. Then, of course, you’re able to click through to the original listing for more information on how to apply.

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10 Business Card Mistakes You Might Be Making

Everyone should have a business card, right? Whether you have a business, a nonprofit, a local organization or are looking for a new job, you need a way to leave people with important information. But most make big mistakes on their cards.  Do you make these business card mistakes?

To write this post, I grabbed ten random business cards from a stack I received last week. So you can see I didn’t have to look far for examples.

So if you are ready, pull out your business card, lay it on the desk near your computer, pull out a pen or highlighter and be ready to identify the mistakes you are making

Here are the 10 business card mistakes people make:

  1.  Small font size
  2.  Glossy paper
  3.  Light font color
  4.  Design inconsistent with website
  5.  No links to social media sites
  6.  No email/web address or bad email
  7.  Printed on poor quality paper
  8.  Shares too much information
  9.  Includes no brand promise or tagline
  10.  Does not use back of card

More details in Tim Tyrell Smith’s article

4 states of the B2B buying decision process

In this article, Bob Apollo focuses on the concept that the B2B buying decision process typically occupy one of 4 states at any one point in time. These states are defined by two axes: whether or not your prospect has a clear vision of where they want to get to, and whether or not they have a clear idea of how they are going to get there.

4 States of the B2B Buyers Journey BandWThese 4 states:

  • Know where and how
  • Know where but not how
  • Know how but not where
  • Know neither where nor how

Are likely to result in dramatically different behaviors as they conduct their search for a solution.

Bob highlights some of the implications  and gives  some food for thought – in the remainder of this article.

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