(BPT) - A challenge for any entrepreneur is getting access to capital. If you’re like many, you’re constantly looking for ways to reduce expenses and free up cash flow so you can be ready for anything, whether it’s a slow season or an opportunity to expand.
When tax season rolls around, you’re already taking a deep dive into your expenses and income for the past year. Don’t stop when you file. With all that information at your fingertips (and fresh in your mind), it’s a great opportunity to take a big-picture look at the health of your business and make sure it’s running as efficiently as possible.
Use the following tips to take your tax preparation efforts a step further and boost your cash flow in the upcoming year.
Dust off your business plan: No doubt when you started out in business, you were eager to put your vision to paper. Most entrepreneurs get busy with the day-to-day pressures of deadlines, and that vision can recede into the background. Schedule some time with your board members or business partners to revisit and update the business plan. Now that you understand the realities of your market, you should have plenty of ideas on creating the 2.0 version of your enterprise. When finished, it’s important to not allow it to gather dust again. Set goals and schedule check-in meetings with your team to make sure everything’s on track.
Update your budget: The nature of entrepreneurship is being agile in the face of change. Market trends, price changes from vendors and suppliers, effects of new laws and ordinances, even road construction are variable forces that can send anyone’s budget into a new direction. That’s why your budget isn’t ever going to be a spot-on prediction. Think of it as a plan. If you stay on top of it, you can spot the trends early and make adjustments right away so you can reap the full advantage — or head off problems before they become unmanageable.
Check your credit score: If you’re planning to raise capital to expand or make improvements in the next year, checking in on your credit score is an important first step you can take several months before you apply for the loan. Even if you have a business credit score, certain business loans still require a look at your personal credit score, especially if you’re a sole proprietorship. Visit Your.VantageScore.com to find free resources to learn your credit score. There’s also helpful information on what factors influence your score and things you can do that can help increase it over the coming months to help you get the best rate possible.
Create a tax strategy: The tax break Congress passed in December will save small business owners 20 percent on their tax bill this year. In the coming year, small business owners have many opportunities to capture more tax savings with the right plan and strategy. For example, if you’re planning a large equipment purchase, you may find yourself in a better tax bracket in 2019 if you time it before Dec. 31, rather than waiting until the following year as planned. Have a meeting with your accountant to discover more ideas.
Pay down debt: One way to use the windfall of your 20 percent tax savings is to pay down revolving loan debt. Doing so is a great way to raise access to working capital should you need it down the line. Depending on the source of credit, reducing your credit-to-balance ratio is one factor that could raise your credit score. Before you do so, make sure you have enough cash flow to meet your expenses.
Improve accounts receivable: If your business extends lines of credit to your customers, it may be worthwhile to implement a credit check policy on all new customers. Knowing they’re creditworthy before the fact can help you create the appropriate plan for them and protect your business. Credit reporting is also an effective way for even a small business owner to let customers know they are serious about collecting what’s owed. In the end, you’ll get paid faster and increase cash flow.
The life of an entrepreneur means things can change drastically on a dime. A thorough check-in with your finances can put you in the best position for success. To learn more about the tools and solutions offered by VantageScore, visit Your.VantageScore.com.
One of the challenges facing small businesses today is trying to deliver the same customer experience as larger competitors. As technology advances and takes on an ever-growing role, small businesses can tap new innovations to better communicate with customers, save money and simplify operations. These tips can help you establish a strategy that can benefit both your business performance and customer experience.
Digitally Transforming Your Business
(Family Features) One of the challenges facing small businesses today is trying to deliver the same customer experience as larger competitors. As technology advances and takes on an ever-growing role, small businesses can tap new innovations to better communicate with customers, save money and simplify operations.
As small business owners look to transform digitally, they face a number of options, from upgrading their technology to optimize shipping operations and decrease costs to adopting digital marketing tactics to better understand and target their customers. While it can be difficult for a small business that is well-established using analog processes to switch to digital, the key is to start with the final objective in mind; in other words, begin by defining your end goal. Once you’ve determined the desired outcome of digitizing your business, these tips can help you establish a strategy that can benefit both your business performance and customer experience.
Reach customers through digital marketing
Beyond the content, an effective strategy establishes connective links between all your marketing touchpoints, from email to blog and even to your traditional tactics, such as direct mail and more, all with the goal of boosting credibility and visibility via search engine optimization and foot traffic.
Optimize operations through the cloud
“The SendPro C-Series is designed to take the guesswork out of shipping and mailing,” said Jason Dies, executive vice president and president, Pitney Bowes SMB Solutions. “These digitally connected sending devices allow users to better manage their sending operations on one platform, providing the confidence that they selected the right carrier and class of service for each expedited envelope and package, track all shipments from one dashboard and provide consolidated visibility and control of postal and carrier expenses. Plus, the open platform allows developers to create new applications specific for the needs of small business owners.”
Make decisions based on analytics
Use mobile to communicate with customers
Find more tips for transforming your business for the digital age at pitneybowes.com/us/digital.
Elements of a Digital Transformation
Before diving head-first into a digital transformation, consider what aspects are most important to your business.
Boost Business Digitally
Google G Suite is a cloud-based productivity suite that helps teams communicate, collaborate and get things done from anywhere, and on any device.
Yext puts businesses on the map by letting companies manage their digital knowledge in the cloud and sync it to over 100 maps, apps, search engines, GPS systems and social networks, as well as facilitating face-to-face and digital interactions that boost brand awareness, drive foot traffic and increase sales.
Promote by Acquisio is an advertising solution that helps businesses get new customers with zero expertise needed by creating tailored ads, providing optimization, on-the-go text notifications for incoming leads and tracking of all recorded incoming calls from ads.
Nimble is a simple social sales and marketing CRM that helps companies nurture relationships across email and social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
DocuSign lets people sign, send and manage documents anytime, anywhere, on any device, replacing traditional methods that require printing, faxing, scanning and overnighting documents.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images (two business owners)SOURCE:
(BPT) - Small businesses still struggle to obtain credit; nearly half of those who applied for credit in 2016 didn’t get all the funding they sought, and 17 percent of those who didn’t apply for financing skipped it because they didn’t think they could get what they needed, according to the Federal Reserve Banks’ Small Business Credit Survey. However, a growing number of small businesses are turning to alternative sources of financing.
“The process for accessing and receiving funding can be slow and cumbersome and alternative forms of lending are greatly helping to improve the availability of financing for small business owners,” says Jacqueline Reses, head of Square Capital. "Ensuring that the financial system is more inclusive and addresses the needs of small business owners who may have been previously underserved by traditional lenders is paramount."
The Federal Reserve study has shown steadily increasing numbers of small businesses, with annual revenues of less than $1 million, seeking financing through non-traditional sources such as online lenders. In 2014, just 18 percent applied to online lenders, while in 2016, 21 percent did.
As the alternative lending industry continues to grow, small business owners should keep five points in mind when evaluating loan offers, Reses says:
Total payback amount of a loan
Knowing how much a loan is going to cost isn't always easy. For a small business owner, being able to see exactly how much you will need to repay and accounting for that in your budget is crucial, and you should always look for transparency. Total payback amount is the dollar value that represents all costs, so business owners know exactly what they will owe over the life of the loan.
Businesses should look for this when they assess loan offers. Assessing offers solely on other metrics like APR may not always provide a fair or easy comparison.
The ease of repayment is also important to consider and there are some unique options available to small businesses looking for flexibility when it comes to repayment. With Square Capital for example, a fixed repayment amount is automatically deducted from the business’s daily card sales processed through Square until the loan is repaid, enabling the business to pay more when things are busy and less if things slow down. Businesses also have the opportunity to repay early and without penalty at any time before the end of the loan term.
Traditional small business loans can take weeks to process from the time you collect all the paperwork to apply, to the time you actually get approved, to when you see the money in your account. Yet, according to the Fed's survey, the majority of small businesses that applied for credit in 2016 did so in situations where time was a factor; 64 percent wanted to expand their business or take advantage of a new opportunity, and 45 percent needed the money to cover operating expenses.
While some funding sources have a reputation for being faster to approve, getting the money can still take time small business owners don’t have. Others have been able to tackle both of those challenges. For example, Square Capital can see the health of a small business based on its sales and transaction data, allowing it to evaluate the business's stability and actual ability to repay over time. With this unique insight, it can assess eligibility for a loan and deliver offers right to the small business owner. From there, an application takes as little as a few clicks to complete and once approved, funds are deposited as quickly as the next business day.
Business owners may know how much they need, but be less aware of what size loan they can afford. It's important to accept a loan offer that your business can repay within a reasonable time period while also helping it grow.
Square Capital's ability to use unique data to assess the eligibility of a business for a loan also enables it to provide access to loan offers tailored to a business's cash flow, reducing the risk of businesses borrowing more than they can afford to repay. Loans are sized based on a reasonable projected payback period so that a small business can use its funds to grow and not be stuck in debt for extended time periods.
Before applying for credit from any lender, it’s important to do your research. Know how they present their offers, look for transparency and flexibility that puts the borrower first and understand customer satisfaction and lender dependability. Working with a trusted brand is important to many small business owners and should be to you as well.
While online lenders are opening up access to the financing small businesses need to run and grow, it's important to do your homework and carefully determine which financial partner best meets the needs of your business. To learn more about small business loans through Square Capital, visit www.squareup.com/capital.
(BPT) - The year 2017 is still in its infancy, but research shows small business owners feel this year could be one of the best in recent memory.
A new survey, commissioned by Staples and conducted by Wakefield Research, found that 85 percent of small business owners surveyed reported feeling "optimistic" about the small business climate in 2017. That's good news for the owners as well as for their communities, because for many, this optimism is motivating owners to put earned revenue directly back into their businesses and employees.
According to the research, 97 percent of respondents said they plan to increase investment in their companies this year, while 67 percent plan to hire new employees. Those fresh hires also appear to be in line for better benefits, as 72 percent of small business owners report they plan to increase staff compensation in 2017.
"We conducted this survey to better understand the pulse of small business owners and to further identify those priority product and service areas in which we can help our customers achieve success in 2017," says Frank P. Bifulco Jr., chief marketing officer, Staples.
The survey included 502 small business owners across the country. For purposes of the research, small businesses were defined as companies that had 10 or fewer full-time employees.
While the research found that small business owners are optimistic about 2017, it also provides a favorable outlook for the years ahead. In fact, many small business owners report they hope to make small business ownership a family tradition. Ninety-one percent of those surveyed said they would encourage their children to start their own business, and 93 percent said they felt running their own business was the best kind of job satisfaction there was.
Finding the tools to support small businesses
For small business owners across the country, optimism can often be directly tied to market success and having the proper tools to support future growth. Staples Print and Marketing Services offers a comprehensive suite of services, providing everything from business cards and logo design to marketing materials and signage.
Small business owners can find additional support materials online by visiting Staples.com and the Staples Small Businesses Hub. The Hub is a resource that offers expert tips, information and industry advice - everything a small business owner needs to grow their business in 2017 and feel even more optimistic in the years to come.
To learn more about how Staples can support the initiatives in your small business, visit Staples.com.
Success in business is often built on a commitment to core values, such as service, integrity and passion. The following strategies, including building relationships with customers, having a bold vision, being passionate and inviting others to share in your success, can help grow the success of your business, too.
4 Essential Strategies for Growing Your Business
(Family Features) Since opening its first store in 1986, the foundation of Mattress Firm’s success has been built on a commitment to its core values: service, integrity and passion. Now, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, a three-decade journey has seen it grow from a single Houston store to 3,500 stores in 48 states. The following strategies can help grow the success of your business, too.
Be deeply connected and highly visible. Sophisticated product knowledge, meticulous financial measurements and high-level strategic planning are essential skills for every business leader. However, successful managers put just as much emphasis on getting to know people as they do learning markets and numbers. Building relationships with your customers, your community and your industry is essential to understanding how to serve their needs. Strong personal connections – between team members and management; the company and the community; and retailers and business partners – are the keys to the success of any business.
Be bold. A bold vision to revolutionize the sleep industry became a reality when the doors to the first Mattress Firm store opened July 4, 1986 in Houston. The founders, Steve Fendrich, Harry Roberts and Paul Stork, didn’t know at the time that a single store would grow into a publicly traded company with 10,000 employees nationwide, but they believed in their vision and their values. Plans written down on paper are great – they are used all the time to evaluate new markets and consider future opportunities, for example – but real leadership requires more than just a strategic plan; it takes boldness and the courage to act decisively on not only data-driven insights, but the knowledge that you’ve gained from your relationships in your industry and community.
Be passionate. It is essential for leaders to be passionate about their business for two reasons. First, customers respond best to someone who shows that they genuinely care about solving the problem that their product is intended to solve. Second, your passion will carry you through the inevitable setbacks along your way to success. Ask how your company helps your customers, then use that answer as inspiration when times get tough.
Invite others to share in your success. One of the most important things a leader can do is develop the next generation of leaders to ensure the ongoing success of the organization. This requires confidence on your part, as you cannot feel threatened by new ideas and new talent that are the natural result of cultivating a successful team. The emphasis on inclusivity and collaboration will trickle down through a company’s culture, creating an environment where all team members feel empowered to share both ideas and concerns in the spirit of constant improvement. Companies such as Mattress Firm foster a positive sense of discontent, feeling pride for far they’ve come, but always looking for ways to improve the customer experience. If you trust your team members, they will trust you. If you build a culture of clarity, accountability and respect, you will become an employer of choice that attracts, retains and develops top talent.
Mattress Firm’s founders dreamed big in 1986. They opened a store, but more importantly, they had a vision to improve lives through a better night’s sleep. Every day since then, passion, culture and community, combined with the willingness to do the hard work necessary to get the job done, has made that dream come to fruition. Learn more at MattressFirm.com.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
(BPT) - Companies across the nation are looking for ways to become more energy efficient, and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are no exception. Reducing energy consumption is one of the top areas where SMB leaders need more guidance - up 14 percent from the previous year, according to the Cox Conserves Sustainability Survey.
Energy costs are among the largest business expenses for any company. Simple conservation efforts will go a long way to lower the power costs of your current operations.
"More companies than ever have said they want information on sustainability," says Cox Enterprises Executive Vice President Alex Taylor. "Our survey showed that some SMBs often find it difficult to make or justify the investment in sustainability programs or prioritize them over other demands and initiatives. From our own experience with the Cox Conserves program, I can confirm that sustainability is as good for our business as it is for the environment."
Here are some quick tips that can help any sized business improve efficiency and cost savings.
1. Know your baseline. Your utility company can provide detailed usage records that show usage and cost totals, as well as helpful details like peak usage times. This data helps you measure your progress.
2. Take advantage of savings. Government agencies offer a variety of tax credits, rebates and other incentives to support energy efficiency. Visit energy.gov/savings to find programs that may be available to your business.
3. Pay attention. Take note of the natural energy sources specific to your geographic location. Sun or wind energy technologies may be great money-saving solutions. If the sun sufficiently lights your office or meeting room, make a point of keeping the blinds open and the electric lights off.
4. Look at lighting. Lighting retrofits are a simple and effective solution that do not interrupt regular operations and often offer a short return on investment.
5. Encourage employees. Turning off computers and other office equipment when not in use is an easy way employees can make an impact.
These tips can start your business on a journey toward becoming a more efficient and eco-friendly organization. The benefits start at protecting the earth and extend to enhancing the bottom line.
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