E-Commerce Platforms for Small Businesses

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 9/22/2018, a www. SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Business, Community, Economy, Entrepreneurship, Small Business, Commerce, Technology, Innovation

Source: In today’s fast-paced society, where the world of commerce is not limited by borders, small businesses need to expand their ability to exchange their goods and services in return for payment. With more consumers shopping online from the comfort of their living rooms, small businesses need to consider alternatives to traditional payment systems.

One of the residual benefits of technology advancement for small businesses is that it brings small businesses and distant markets closer together. Fifty years ago, an independent retailer on Main Street USA would have never been able to communicate with a potential customer in a foreign country, let alone sell their goods or services from afar. Today, many small businesses can offer their value propositions outside of their zip code with the help of electronic commerce platforms and digital tools.

Small business owners have a two-fold win. Firstly, small business owners have a multitude of digital advertising options available to them to reach potential consumers in other geographic locations outside of the physical reach of their businesses. Secondly, by using ecommerce platforms, small businesses can collect payment for their products and services without the customer ever having to step foot into their physical business location.

There are two kinds of ecommerce platforms to consider: Self-Hosted and Hosted. There is a difference between the two types of platforms which a small business owner should consider before choosing the platform and service that works for them.

Self-Hosted platforms are designed to be coupled with web hosting. These systems work similarly to partnering a web blog roll to an existing website. However, instead of partnering content, you are partnering a payment system. These systems can be tailored to the specific needs of the business, such as the implementation of a shopping cart for an online store. When using a self-hosted ecommerce platform, businesses are afforded the flexibility to alter their system, website, or even transition from one service provider to another.

Hosted ecommerce platforms are ecommerce platforms that integrate all of the moving parts of an ecommerce system into one. Hosted ecommerce platforms include access to the master web servicer that services multiple end users, the online shopping cart, bill collection, transfer of funds, and technical and design support. Because hosted ecommerce platforms are designed to be universal platforms utilized by many ecommerce participants, these systems and functions are more uniform.

Some of the most recommended Self-Hosted ecommerce platforms include Magento, OpenCart, WooCommerce, Zen Cart, and Big Cartel. What these platforms have in common is that they are designed for use by both the home-based business and the small brick and mortar business. These self-hosted platforms allow users to customize their own tools without the help of outside tech support. They also allow for the business owner to take advantage of search engine optimization tools, and user-friendly systems for shoppers. Much like creating a website, these platforms offer multiple templates, built-in blogging tools, and individual control over design and tool integration changes.

Shopify, Big Commerce, PrestaShop, Volusion, and YoCart are highly recommended Hosted ecommerce platforms for the small business owner to the major corporate-run online store. Shopify is the most recognizable and popular ecommerce platform of the bunch; however they all offer an elevated service package. Many of these systems are mobile friendly, include full blogging capability, offer a number of payment gateways and options, support multiple languages, have app capability, and include automatically integrated back office security. These platforms have some flexibility for custom features to be added, and can be integrated into almost any digital marketing advertising tool.

Alternatively, Facebook now offers a purchase button on business pages, allowing for small businesses to share their products on one of the largest social media platforms in the world, and some of the most popular ecommerce websites where products can be offered include Alibaba, Amazon, Craigslist, E-bay and Etsy.

Several payment processing options are available with ecommerce platforms, such as Payline Data, Stripe, Dharma Merchant Services and PayPal. Choosing the best fit for your ecommerce platform may require a little research, since you will also want to consider which options are most secure and what the fees will be.

One of the most common ecommerce payment gateway options is PayPal, which can be used as either the primary payment gateway or as a secondary payment option, since many consumers have PayPal accounts. PayPal has served many small businesses and online marketers as a payment collection option. PayPal’s functionality is the reason it is preferred by so many small businesses and online shoppers. PayPal serves as an online e-bank account where consumers can hold money for use in making online transactions. Small business owners can put PayPal to work just the same as a cash register, where they can generate an invoice and bill clients, collect from clients, and then either hold their revenue in their PayPal account, or transfer their money to a traditional bank account.

Cost will vary between ecommerce platforms. Some require a monthly or yearly subscription flat fee while others will waive the flat fee in exchange for a percentage of the purchase-sale transaction – much like operating a merchant account tied to a credit-debit card terminal. Business owners should consider how many online transactions they project their online store will generate and compare the percentage rate against the flat fee rate. Shipping and handling costs, taxes, and import-export fees (when warranted) will also need to be factored in.

Before deciding on the platform for your small business, consider all of the options, costs, and how well your potential consumers will respond to the ecommerce tool. If the process is overly complicated, you may lose sales if potential customers are not comfortable with the transactional platform.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

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Every Small Business Owner is A Farmer

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 9/8/2018, a http://www.SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Source: Some believe small business ownership leads to overnight success and immediate wealth, time freedom and social status, when, in fact, the fruits of small business ownership are most often experienced only after years of long hours of toiling and after taking a significant financial risk. We will show how being a small business owner is much like being a farmer.

Small business ownership and farm ownership share many of the same attributes, responsibilities and challenges. The process of growing a business and growing crops in the field are very similar in nature. Most farmers are, indeed, also small business owners, but how is it that small business owners are like farmers?

Much like a farmer, a small business owner must plant the seeds of their future harvest. This means investing into a location, equipment and tools, inventory, and many other aspects of their value proposition before they reap any financial benefit. The small business owner must cultivate the field of potential client prospects and nurture these relationships the same way farmers nurture and provide for their plants, so that in the near future they can benefit from the harvest. The small business owner’s harvest happens when the relationships built with potential clients begin to yield purchases, and the financial exchanges are made for products or services of equal or greater value.

Just like a field of corn or a crop of select vegetables does not grow into a cash crop overnight, the small business owner must also wait for their business to mature. The small business owner must have three qualities that the farmer also possesses – patience, perseverance and vision.  Just as it takes time to grow a quality crop, it also takes time to grow a fundamentally sound business model. During the time in which the crops and business continue to grow, new challenges can arise. The business owner and farmer must both have a plan to deal with these challenges and a willingness to work through the adversity.

Both the farmer and the business owner have an opportunity to sharpen the ax. For the business owner, the downtime in between serving existing and potential clients affords attention to be concentrated on other areas of their business that are critical moving parts of the bigger wheel of small business ownership. Small business owners and farmers must always be looking for ways to make their respective enterprises more efficient. Whether it be dedicating time to education or industry training, development of a marketing-advertising program, or taking some time out to service and maintain equipment and tools, both the farmer and business owner must use downtime to make improvements that will maximize their return on investment.

The business owner and the farmer each have time constraint issues to contend with. The farmer only has so much time to get their ripened produce harvested and to market before the crops spoil. The business owner must also serve his/her customers in a timely manner or put at risk their reputation with the customer. In both situations, the farmer and the business owner must be postured to serve the needs of the customer in the expected time frame that the consumer has set, or they both risk losing the sale. A harvest must be presented to market in a set period of time or the crop becomes unwanted by the market. The same can be said for products or services, as every product or service has a life cycle before it becomes obsolete. New technology is developed each day, and as a society of entrepreneurs, we are always looking to make things better and more efficient for less money.

The farmer and business owner must also be good managers of the tool known as money. A farmer has to know the cost of growing fields of their preferred crops, as well as all of the indirect cost of operating their farm. Farmers must be able to budget their money wisely so that they have enough resources to operate their enterprise until the next harvest provides additional cash flow. Small business owners also must also be good money managers. They must plan and gauge their inventory and/or services, as well as turnover time in between sales cycles and projects, so they too can have enough cash to run day to day operations until the next wave of sales happens. The farmer works on slim margins and knows that a bad year in the fields means a hard year of managing expenses until the next harvest is available. The small business owner must also be prepared for long sales cycles and poor performing seasons.

The business owner and farmer both must be able to see the field full of harvest before they even begin. This is called having vision. The small business owner must have a short term and long term plan for creating a return on their original investment while also pointing to the future of what will happen in a year, three years, and even five years down the road for their enterprise. A farmer stands in the field in early spring, before the first rows have been tilled, and must be able to see the crop that is to be harvested in the fall, even before the first seed is planted. The vision provides the ability to stake a plan of action that brings the series of events into focus that leads both the small business owner and the farmer to the day when they can be proud of the investment they made into their respective fields of practice.

Small business owners are farmers, regardless of whether they own a retail business or a service-oriented business. They must always plant new seeds of potential customers in growing their consumer base, cultivate and nurture business and community relationships, and invest themselves in the “behind the barn” work that is part of the machine of their value proposition to the market. If you want to become a great small business owner, aim to become a farmer first.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

“Do’s and Don’ts of MLM”

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter, and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 8/17/2018, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: American Free Enterprise, Business, Direct Selling, Multi-Level Marketing, Network Marketing, Opportunity, Small Business, Relationship Marketing, Home Based Business

Source: So… you have decided to get involved in a multi-level marketing business opportunity. After spending hours of research on the right opportunity, you are ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work. How do you assure yourself greater odds of success? We provide a few tips.

Every multi-level marketing business opportunity has a recipe for “success” which is usually provided by the MLM parent company, and offered by way of training materials, tools, books, and audios. There are some basic key concepts to keep in mind when building your team and customer base. These key concepts may seem simple, however are often overlooked, leading many in the industry to disappointment and failure.

One of the very first things to keep in mind is to pay close attention to every detail related to the process of sales and recruitment, and to the fine print of company policy & procedure and compensation plan. Many network marketers fail to collect on every benchmark they achieve because they miss a step in the process of submitting paperwork or forget to fill in a required field on an online form. Within the independent contractor agreement and compensation plan, there are specific details related to how commissions are earned on product sales and on sales from a downline that may not have been presented during the initial opportunity introduction.

Network marketers must have an understanding that their new opportunity should be treated as if it is a business they personally own. Discipline, motivation and consistent daily action are crucial for success, for if positive results are not produced, no compensation is earned. The network marketer should have a thorough understanding of the products they represent, the market they serve (who will need them), and a willingness to handle objections and even deal with disgruntled customers.

The network marketer should be a product of the product. The best sales representative is a person that has a personal experience with the products they are selling, and can convey their personal story or connection with those products to others. A network marketer should sample each of the products they intend to promote, and focus primarily on those that have the greatest impact on them, rather than those they did not personally enjoy or find beneficial.

Research the ideal consumer market and start there. Many network marketers will begin pitching their product offerings to a list of family, friends, neighbors, and other associates from within their local community or network. What network marketers need to understand is once they have exhausted their list of contacts, they will have no choice but to engage with strangers. Sales representatives, in general, who focus on solving problems and filling a need, develop a customer following and are more successful than their peers who primarily rely on friends and family to buy their products.

Network marketers need to have a definitive plan of execution in reaching their target market. In discovering where your target market might be located, you will want to put yourself in the shoes of the potential customer. What are their likes, dislikes, consumer behaviors and habits? What influences their decision making? Your discovery process should include learning why your potential customers make the choices they do.  This will apply to building your team network as well.

Network marketers need to set realistic and obtainable daily, weekly, and monthly goals, and stay disciplined to achieve the set benchmarks. Network marketing is about making repetitive consistent efforts over a long period of time. Where many fail is by having the desire and intention of making a big splash of achievements in the beginning, so they could sit back and allow for their downline to do the rest. When they don’t achieve success in the short time line they hoped for, the disappointed network marketer often quits. Network marketing is a battle of time and milling through the field of potential prospects. The network marketer that is willing to spend less time per week, but willing to work years at the business, will have far greater returns than the network marketer that works feverishly in the first 30 days and does nothing thereafter.

Another practice of becoming a better network marketer is to develop your own personal brand that can help separate you from the field of thousands of other network marketing representatives. What makes you so different that a potential prospect should buy from you instead of your competitor? It will be the little things that matter – returning people’s calls, texts and emails, answering questions, helping people with their paperwork, being supportive of other members of your downline, and being a team player. These are just a few ways you can create your personal brand.

The career network marketer should have some of their own personal business tools, such as a business card, website, social media page, hotline, group newsletter, and blog post. These are places where you can tell your story and the stories of your personally connected satisfied customers and fellow network marketing colleagues.

Network marketing is just that, networking. Every network marketer should be engaged in a business organization where he/she can meet with other fellow business leaders and potential customers. Building relationships within this community will provide credibility that you are a professional and not some lone wolf trying to look out only for yourself. Within these business groups, look for opportunities to be of service to others.

Most importantly, the network marketer must have patience. Customers and members of your “team” will come and go. There are natural consumer life cycles to every product or service. You must continue to be diligent in developing strong customer and business relationships, and keep in mind that some of your recruits will not produce a thing and end up quitting the opportunity. Quitting over someone else quitting will yield zero results.

Not all network marketers will make enough money to quit or replace their day jobs. It takes time, monetary investment, and a keen ability to work with other people to achieve any level of financial gain in network marketing. Those who are not ready to assume all the risk should yield to caution and look for other career building opportunities.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

 

As Seen on TV

Written by: Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 7/2/2018, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Advertising, Business, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Media, Sales

Source: Just when you thought the deal could not get any better, just wait, there’s more…call now and your order will be doubled… “As seen on TV,” we review some of the most successful infomercial campaigns and why they did so well.

We have all experienced at some point in our lives, while flipping through the television channels, that moment when we came across a presentation of the latest and greatest widget, gadget or contraption, with a deal we just could not pass up. From products like OxiClean and the George Forman Grill, to exercise equipment and other inventions that seemed like no one would ever buy, infomercials have catapulted sales and brand recognition for a number of inventors and marketers, resulting in millions of dollars in returns on their ideas and inventions.

Not all infomercials or products reach the success of the Thigh Master or the Snuggly, however each product that is pitched on television infomercials has a life cycle that assures the product continues to get exposure. As of recent, specialty retailer stores have sprung up to showcase product offerings once seen on television. Walmart and Target have even dedicated shelf space to offer products that were once pitched on infomercials a second chance to connect with consumer audiences.

Some of the most successful infomercial products include the exercise device called the Thigh Master. The Thigh Master was a simple contraption made up of two metal loops joined by a spring mechanism in the middle that was designed to assist consumers in toning legs, hips, and waist. The pitch was that a consumer could operate the Thigh Master while attending to other activities such as reading, watching television (other infomercials), or just about any other activity that did not require the use of one’s legs at the time of using the Thigh Master. Thigh Master achieved huge success in sales, grossing over $100 million. The Thigh Master incorporated the celebrity endorsement of television personality Suzanne Somers to help pitch the device to “would be” consumers.

Another well-known infomercial product that has transitioned to shelf space at your local retailer is OxiClean. OxiClean was pitched by former Billy Mays, who would claim, “I’m not yelling, I’m projecting,” as he would hook viewers to stay tuned because, “but wait, there’s more.” Billy May’s unique raspy voice and the multitude of scenarios presented on how OxiClean would solve every cleaning situation as the latest miracle for your household, grabbed consumers to gross over $500 million dollars in sales to date. Part of the success of OxiClean is its transition from infomercial to its placement on shelves at selected retailers.

“Set it and forget it,” was the tag line for the device that would promise steamed vegetables piping hot; meats cooked to be tender and succulent. The Ronco Rotisserie Oven also known as the Showtime Pro, steamed rolled its way to the top by having the inventor and marketer Ron Popeil invite celebrity guests to accompany him in infomercial sessions. The Showtime Rotisserie raked in over $1.2 billion dollars for Popeil, putting Ronco at the top of infomercial success. The oven is still available today, and continues to be sold on television, Amazon, and in selected retailer outlets.

Richard Simmons not only had you Sweatin’ to the Oldies and managing your meals; he had consumers dole out over $200 million dollars for his fitness programs, making Simmons one of the wealthiest fitness gurus ever. Sweatin’ to the Oldies was a series of exercise regimens coupled with music to entice baby boomers to want to engage into a heathier life. Over 20 million of these programs were sold. Simmons targeted the “regular” person as part of his campaign, which attracted tens of millions of out of shape people that might have never taken the time out to visit a gym or hire a personal trainer. The business plan worked, branding Simmon’s as a fitness expert and television personality for life.

Then there was the blanket you could wear called the Snuggie. If you doubt anyone would spend their money on this product, you are highly mistaken. Tens of millions of Snuggies have been sold. In essence, this body-length blanket with sleeves was advertised that it could be worn by anyone, anywhere, anytime, and even boasted that it would bring people closer together if they all had a Snuggie. Sadly, it did the opposite, as the Snuggie was designed for a single person to use at a time. The Snuggie would rake in over $400 million dollars can still be found in selected retailers, on the internet, and on the infomercial, which still airs from time to time.

The infomercial product industry is a multi-billion dollar per year industry, and since its inception, the infomercial product world has grossed over $250 billion dollars in sales to date. With the widespread use of additional digital media, television is not the only medium used in pitching a message to would-be consumers. Digital social media platforms allow for a plethora of video content to be made readily available and stream to almost any mobile device, bypassing the conventional television set.

It is estimated there are over 500 products that have been initially developed and marketed specifically for infomercials.

One of the largest companies in the infomercial product sector is Telebrands. Located in Fairfield, New Jersey. Telebrands is responsible for launching over a hundred products alone, and has been doing so since 1983.

Based on these metrics, you wonder why more products don’t go down the infomercial path. Not every product is a good fit. The more technical the product, and the higher the investment a consumer must make, the less advantageous it becomes for the product to be featured on an infomercial. Typically, products marketed on infomercials are similar to the impulse buy at the register of a retailer; where consumers feel comfortable with the risk they are taking. And besides, most infomercials offer a risk-free money back guarantee.

Infomercials have been rumored to get a bad rap. Complaints from consumers include inferior or poor quality in the manufacturing of the product itself, or products that claim they will last a lifetime, but don’t. Some products seem so far-fetched that some people don’t believe they can actually function as advertised. As a result, the Federal Trade Commission has taken aim at infomercial marketers, bringing an average of five cases to court each year.

Some infomercials can be outright comical; as they might pitch a product’s suggested use or durability in situations that a consumer might never intend to use the product. When was the last time you purchased Tupperware to have an elephant stand on it? The next time you mock an infomercial, just remember it’s the inventor and marketing company that is getting the last laugh.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

 

Effective Crowdfunding Techniques

Written by: Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter And author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column Published on 5/22/18, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Business, Community, Crowdfunding, Economy, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Small Business

Source: When it comes to raising money for your business online, there are several platforms available depending on your business’s value proposition, but getting an audience to review and take action in becoming a donor is the more difficult goal. Here are a few of the most effective techniques that will assist your business with its crowdfunding goals.

Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe are three of the most popular fundraising platforms for pre-launching a unique value proposition online. The most popular campaigns consist of book projects, market disruption technologies, and other products designed to satisfy a need or solve a problem. Hundreds of entrepreneurs have utilized online crowdfunding platforms to get their offering to market. Not every campaign launched is a success. Some of the latest and greatest well thought out ideas sizzle out due to the lack of integration of methods in promoting the campaign itself and/or lack of audience engagement. Here are a few of the most effective crowdfunding practices that can enable your campaign to be a bigger success…

1). Set reasonable goals. Not every crowdfunding campaign will be able to sell out every perk and end up with millions of dollars at the end. It is better to set reasonable and obtainable financial goals based on your current business audience and following. It is always better to set a lower financial goal, offer many perk packages, and over shoot the expectations. When a goal is considered unrealistic, most campaign contributors will skip over and move onto the next campaign in fear that in the event your campaign does not reach its goals, it will not be in a position to deliver on the perks it offers.

2). Maximize the term of the campaign. Crowdfunding campaigns need plenty of time to be marketed, showcased, and shared with an audience of potential contributors. Setting the length of the term of the campaign to at least sixty days will allow for your campaign to be seen by more people. The longer a campaign is open, the more opportunities you have to update the campaign, and adjust posts and project progress with your following audience. As the number of contributors climbs, more people will be open and willing to contribute to the campaign. A campaign that has attracted traffic, has more reach and draws even more attention. Allow yourself enough time to work out the formula for success.

3). Don’t be afraid to tell your story. Crowdfunding is an opportunity to share your “why” behind the project and the “what” the value proposition is.  It is wise to share how you came to the idea you did (your motive and intention); and a clear description of the deliverable (the what). Contributors like to feel like they are helping someone out that has lent their struggle to solving a problem with their value proposition. Contributors want to believe in the people behind the perk as much as they desire to believe in the value of the perk itself. It is fine to be passionate – this is where you also get to pitch you.

4). Be clear in describing what is in it for the contributor. Any time a potential consumer contemplates to part with their money, they analyze a series of self-discovery questions. “How will this change my life?” “Do I really need the perk?” “Will this product-book-technology really help people?” “Will they (the campaigner) be able to deliver?” And most of all, “What’s in it for me?”  Ask yourself, if you were the potential contributor, do you really need this in your life? And then ask yourself, if you do purchase the perk, what will the perk really do for you? Your perk packages should be something everyone wants or can appreciate. A true and clear representation of the value of your perk will often determine how much risk a contributor is willing to take. Is it something anyone can get in a local store, or is it unique and limited?

5). Engage the crowd. Crowdfunding was designed to have two functions:

  • To raise money for a cause
  • To collect feedback from potential consumers

The more engaging a campaign with a group of followers is, the higher the probability is that your campaign will have more contributors. Crowdfunding allows for both the inventor/entrepreneur and for the market to have an early conversation about the product offering. This should also give the campaigner valuable data to improve the make and model of their concept when necessary. Don’t be afraid to answer questions, provide test results, and make changes according to the positive feedback you receive. The more information you can share in an open dialog the more willing a contributor will be in supporting your cause.

6). A great marketing strategy drives every well-funded campaign goal. Effective marketing and advertising methods can assure that a larger audience views your campaign. Your marketing strategy should employ a mix of marketing tools, many of which have little or no cost. Make sure the marketing of your crowdfunding campaign includes a mix of social media, blog content, press releases, video content, photo content, search engine optimization, articles, testimonials, endorsements, product-book reviews, back link integration, and some use of traditional advertising. You will need to monitor and update marketing metrics, so you can adjust your marketing mix according to how potential contributors respond to your message.

7). Perform your due diligence. There is nothing new under the sun, and the same goes for crowdfunding. Even if your product is the first of its kind, there may be a similar market solution or competitor in your industry space. Research the “problem” and review the “solutions” other entrepreneurs have offered to the market. Then research how many of those entrepreneurs employed crowdfunding to upstart their enterprise. Chances are that there will be a number of campaigns that were very successful and some campaigns that were an utter failure. Make a list of the techniques that were most effective and the mistakes made that caused a campaign to flop. Compare these techniques against the list of practices you desire to employ in sharing your campaign.

8). Have a complete understanding of your potential audience. You must have a clear understanding of the audience you desire to enroll in your campaign. The demographics of the audience and the geographic location of potential campaign contributors can have an effect on whether your campaign is a success or failure. For instance, most digital or complicated electronic devices are more popular with younger generation donors. In contrast, if you have a very traditional product offering, then you need to identify, and target your campaign to, the audience that will have the most interest in your value proposition.

9). Be transparent with how you plan to spend your campaign funds. Campaign contributors want to know if you have a financial plan in place for spending or saving the money in which they have pledged. Most campaigns have best succeeded by using the campaign contributions to fulfill actual product orders. Most campaign contributors want to pre-pay for the unreleased product or book before everyone else in the neighborhood has it. Be prepared to plan to give back all of your campaign contributions in the event you do not meet your goals.

10). Set a reasonable timetable of delivery. Truth is your value proposition should be almost market ready. Crowdfunding should not be the only source for funding your project, nor should your campaign’s success or failure determine if your product is going to ever be manufactured. Set a reasonable delivery date that campaign contributors can expect their perk. In the event your project takes longer than expected, it is important to share with your contributors about the delay and updates of progress until the project orders are fulfilled.

11). Show that you are willing to invest into yourself. Most campaign contributors want to see that the entrepreneur has some of their own risk involved. There are two basic types of investment you are going to be required to make in your own project. The first is monetary. You must have some of your own capital at work. Having the ability to share with potential donors the actual amount of hard cash investment you have at stake before asking for outside financial resources always strikes a positive cord. The other investment you will have to make is sweat equity. Provide detail with contributors how much time you have invested and how much work you have put behind the project. You can share with the audience the functions and tasks you are personally responsible for. It is also good to provide some back story of your experiences and regarding your abilities to deliver upon those said tasks.

Each crowdfunding campaign has its own unique value proposition, and brings with it each entrepreneur’s story. The more thought you invest into each of these areas of your campaign, the greater the probability that a larger audience will take notice and interest in your campaign.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

Money Saving Tips Any Business Can Put into Practice

Sam-Burlum-logo3 (2) Resized Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author, Published on 3/22/18, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Barter, Business, Community, Currency, Economy, Finance, Free Enterprise, Small Business

Source: There is an old saying, “To be profitable is to save money.” A small business needs every advantage it can get when it comes to trimming expenses and unnecessary cost. Here are a few savings tips for every business.

During tough economic times and a very competitive business climate, Small Business Owners are doing all they can to conserve cash and increase accountability of the best use of their working capital so that they avoid watching their margins of profit from slipping away in between the floor boards. “A penny (or dollar) saved is a penny (or dollar) earned,” so here are a few tips a small business can adopt in order to save on fees, interest payments, and other bills that seem to cut into an owner’s profit margins.

1). Do away with debit/credit card use-switch to a reimbursement system. Banking institutions have switched their business model to a fee based revenue generation machine; which is different from when banks mainly profited from interest payments and fees attached to loans and loan servicing. Every time you use your debit/credit card, there is a transaction fee, either at the merchant and/or at the bank, and sometimes both. Ever use an ATM that is not affiliated with your bank? You will find in those cases multiple usage and service fees from ATM Vendor, the bank it is associated with and your own bank. Some of these fees range from mere twenty or thirty cents upwards to three or four dollars.

To avoid watching these fees and service charges cutting into your profits, stop using debit/credit cards for every little business transaction. Also if you have multiple employees you will want to limit their usage of these cards as well. Use a draw of petty cash that is withdrawn from the bank in person. Use cash on smaller transactions under $100 when applicable. As it relates employees, you can set up a system in which they front the initial expenses they incur on behalf of the business, such as tolls, parking, gas, lunch or dinner meetings with clients, postage, and other purchases that make up the vast amount of small transactions. Once a week, have each employee submit their receipts to the company accountant for reimbursements and issue them a check for these expenses. Less usage of debit/credit cards means less fees you are charged.

2). Pay your vendors and/or suppliers early. Many of your vendors and/or suppliers may be on 30, 60, or even 90 day payment terms with your business. This allows for your business to have the time it may take to sell inventory or service a client account before you have begun covering your cost of goods sold. Many distributors, vendors, and/or suppliers do offer a discount if payment is received before the 30 day window. Usually the offered amount is 2% discount if a bill is paid within 10 to 15 business days. If such terms are offered, pay your bills early to take advantage of these discounts.

If your business has a burn rate of say $10k per month, 2% is $200 saved per month ($2400 a year). That is $200 that is found money which can be applied to other parts of your monthly budget, such as marketing and advertising. If your vendor and/or supplier does not yet offer you early payment terms, negotiate this upfront with them. This is a small concession they will be glad to offer in keeping you as a client. It is of no risk to them. Most vendors or suppliers are accustomed to not receiving payments until 30 days after they are due.

3). Pay your credit card balances on time and/or in full. Most Small Business Owners utilize credit cards as a form of business credit to keep their business afloat in between getting paid by clients. Most small business owners and managers often take credit card offers that provide “interest free,” or “low interest” on credit that is borrowed. Many of these deals are contingent on payments being made on time and/or in full. When only the minimum balance is paid, a small business owner now loses the low interest deal they first had when they acquired the card. To avoid these increases in interest rates and service fees, pay the balance off in full and on time.

Another practice you can try in saving money when using credit cards, is to call the credit card provider themselves and negotiate a “one time balance paid in full” when you have a high balance and are looking to close your account. Credit card companies would rather receive payment on an account that is closing than have it sent to collections. Usually if you get a manager or supervisor on the phone, you can ask to negotiate a final settlement offer. This saves you money in fees, interests, and charges, and clears the credit card company of the account.

If you are using credit cards to make purchases for business growth needs, consider joining a barter exchange that has a multitude of businesses connected to their network in which you can engage in. Barter is interest free.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.

 

Online Marketing Tools for Small Businesses

Source: In today’s multi-media and digital marketing world, small business owners have multiple choices of low-cost/no cost options in promoting their business, in addition to traditional marketing and advertising tools and practices designed to aid the local business in becoming noticed by potential consumers.

Traditionally, before the internet and mobile devices, marketing and advertising options were limited and costly for the small business owner. Most small business owners would look to advertising in the newspaper, on local television or radio, or even handouts and flyers placed on car windshields and in mailboxes. As technology advanced, so did all the methods to stay out front of your competitors and customers. There are several tools online to help a locally owned business promote one’s self which carries little or no cost.

At one time, the standard form of advertisement for a business was to be listed in the Yellow Pages, which was the business-commercial section of the phone book directory. However, times have changed with consumers relying mainly upon their mobile devices more to communicate, and in some cases, not even having a home land line-supported phone. In place of the Yellow Pages are websites and business directories such as Manta, Merchant Circle, and Tap Into.

Manta is a website which lists profiles of local businesses, and allows for consumers to leave a review after their experience of either purchasing a product or service. Manta allows for a business to set up a profile, including spotlighting the services and products a business has to offer. The profile serves as a business card to the digital world. Manta also allows for local ranking of your business based on customer reviews and special awards a business may receive. Manta also has tools which allow local businesses find other resources, and to connect with other small businesses to fulfill operational or vender needs; all this without having to flip through pages of the phone book.

Businesses will benefit from using Manta. A small business can separate itself from the crowd of other similar local businesses by having customer reviews that new potential customers can use as a point of reference in making a buying decision. When new potential clients see a number of positive reviews about a business, they also see local brand loyalty. Repeat customers tell a very different story to the market than having hundreds of one time customers. Manta’s ability for a business owner to see customer feedback and reviews will allow for a business to identify areas of improvement within its business model.

Merchant Circle is another online business listing site. Merchant Circle is a platform that allows for the locally owned business to connect and network with other locally owned businesses, sharing contacts and ideas, while helping to connect the business with potential customers. Merchant Circle had advanced their capabilities beyond just being a local business directory. Merchant Circle has combined the concepts of a local business directory and profiles with the tools of social media and marketing. Businesses can level up and purchase additional marketing services from Merchant Circle, focusing efforts on a specific geographic area.

Local online new sites, such as TAP Into, also offer free business listing directories. TAP Into focuses its hyper-local content in the State of New Jersey and surrounding areas, and is supported by the local business community. Local businesses can list their business contact and location information. Also, businesses can submit press releases to the local editors and publishers, giving businesses the ability to promote an announcement or event.

These sites can help a business in establishing an online content footprint. Businesses that have multiple articles, or key search words or phrases in their business profile description are more likely to rank higher in search engines due to the amount of content. With so many people on the go relying on information at their fingertips from their mobile devices, if your business is not at least showing up on the first two or three pages of search engines, then your business will not be seen by new potential customers. Business listings with Manta, Merchant Circle, and TAP Into drastically change your local small business’s placement within the rankings of search engines. I have even seen businesses that don’t have their own website rank high in search engines because their business profiles are enhanced and provide a lot of detail to potential consumers.

Social media is the place a business should turn to in promoting their business wares and reaching new potential customers. Take your pick, there are many to choose, however, the front-runners for two-way engagement still stands as Facebook leading the way, followed by Linked-in, Google Plus, Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram. Each social media platform offers something different and serves a specific purpose.

They say, a photograph is worth a thousand words. That is where platforms like Flickr, Tumblr, and Instagram have specialized in providing a photo journal online to be shared with family, friends, fellow colleagues, and potential customers. These platforms are designed to allow users to load up photographs in the moment and share them with fan base instantaneously, in hopes of creating a real-time feeling of “I wish I was there,” for the person viewing the picture. This emotional trigger also can work well in creating a product demand in the moment. A business can feature a picture of a spotlighted product, and offer to the first hundred people who comment on the photo, a discount on their next purchase with the merchant.

Video content ranks the highest on the internet. Video content is also the most sought after content in the leading search engines. Every smart phone or mobile device is now equipped to film short video. Small businesses can create their own small videos and post them to various video hosting platforms that will help a business establish a wider internet presence. The most popular of video social media sites is YouTube.

Videos created with the purpose to capture the attention of a new potential customer needs to grab the attention of the viewer within the first 15 to 30 seconds, or you will lose the attention of the viewer. Your video content should also be unique and have a different hook. There are tens of millions of videos posted between You Tube, Vimeo, and Daily Motion, so you will need to be creative in order that your video can be searchable and stand out among the crowd.

If your business does not have a website yet, you need to get one. You can acquire a domain name from Go Daddy for just a few bucks a year. Create-it-yourself website platforms Wix, Word Press, and Web.com, provide several pre-existing templates. The most important pages to have for a very basic website are: a home page or landing page which is the first introduction to visitors about your business and its products/services, a contact us page, which includes the hours of operation, information about your products and/or services, as well as a list of the most popular or unique products/services you provide, and lastly, the about us page, giving visitors a little more information about the business and you as the owner.

Monthly e-newsletters are another way to stay in front of your customers. Email newsletters should not be a large book or difficult to read. It should inform the reader on two or three key areas you desire your customers to focus on about your business. Maybe you’re going to have a product or service sale or host a special event; email newsletter is a great way to keep your customers reminded of your business updates. You can also offer up an informative article (about 200 to 400 words) that will help educate your audience on how to make a better buying decision or create public awareness about a cause your business supports. The online tools and services of Mail Chimp or Constant Contact offer a variety of low-cost options to reach your current clients.

It may seem overwhelming at first that on top of all your other business responsibilities you now must spend time in front of your computer marketing your business, and yes, there are many options to employ. There are tools to help you manage your online efforts. Two tools that will help you measure and manage your online presence are Google Analytics and Hoot Suite. Google Analytics can help you measure your marketing ranking and efforts online, so you can eliminate online marketing that is not the most effective or does not provide a return on investment. Google Analytics will also give you the data you need to enhance the online marketing that is helping create customer flow for your business. Hoot Suite is a digital dashboard that you can use for managing and posting content to multiple social media sites at one time, thus saving you time having to make daily posts to each individual site.

The choice is yours. You can choose to spread your marketing efforts over multiple digital platforms or you can choose to stick to one or two tools. Local businesses that employ multiple online channels to promote their business are usually the businesses that have the most physical foot traffic in their door. Once they are in the door it’s up to you to provide the best experience to keep them coming back and tell their friends and neighbors about you and your business.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.

How the Internet Has Affected the Interstate

Source: Right after World War II, in the 1950s, America was on the move. With the completion of the Interstate Highway System, and more families owning more than one vehicle, families took to the open road to explore, connect, and become educated. Six decades later, fewer families see their vehicle as the expression of their freedom; and find access to the world through the internet.

How amazing it is that in just 60 years, how far we have come in declaring our expression of what gives us the tools to feel mobile and free from the confines of our own zip code?

Six decades ago saw the golden age of the auto industry in America; with the Big Three—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler-Dodge dominating the majority of the vehicle ownership sales; where machines and men made America a country that became completely mobile.

Fast forward 60 years and you find the digital technology revolution is helping families become mobile again, and is changing how people define their mobility.

Now in the palm of your hand, one can access information from almost anywhere in the world. They can learn how to cook a specialty dish on Youtube, or read about historical event by “Googling it,” or even watch their favorite movie or television show on the go via an app on their cell phone. One can even shop for a new pair of jeans, pay for it, and have the jeans delivered to their door in less than 24 hours. The interstate has fallen to the internet.

America use to be completely reliant on their vehicle for everything; to go shopping, to pick up the groceries, to go downtown to see a movie, or to go visit a friend. An entire culture was developed around the premise that Americans identified mobility and freedom to travel with their cars. A variety of business models even developed to cater to the rise of the interstate. Service businesses were built around the idea of a driving culture behind the wheel. Drive-in movie theaters, the drive-through fast food take out restaurant window, the roadside attractions all were a reflection of the pride that many had as vehicle ownership.

Vehicle ownership also allowed for the shaping of modern-day suburbs to flourish. The commuter was born. Individuals were no longer relegated job opportunities as far as their local metro transit system (if any even existed) would take them. Vehicle ownership allowed for a person to live in the countryside where homeownership was less costly; as more people found it more affordable to live outside the city, but yet still work there; the car became a vital tool in developing personal wealth.

The family car, the extra car was also seen as a sign of status. At the top, luxury brands of the likes of Cadillac, Mercedes, Jaguar, or Lincoln, would echo and reflect where on the social economic scale an individual would rank. Today, that hasn’t changed, but the vehicle is no longer viewed as the pride and joy as it once was. Today it is treated and viewed more like an appliance; with an expected shelf life and is disposable.

The new status symbol of mobility is the very mobile device that many carry in their pocket. The digital era and the convenience of the mobile device (cell phone, tablet, kindle, etc.), has allowed for people to stand in their living room access the world. With this tool, the internet superhighway is the road that is most traveled over any other physical road in our current society.

Apple, Samsung, and LG are now the Big Three that offer the vehicles that provide access for people to get information, connect with people, and experience life in a way never thought of. The development of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, allow for people to connect with a click of button without having to put an ounce of fuel in the tank or drive not even a mile down the road. Just about any book once found in the library is now found in a digital format that can be read on a screen.

Programs and services like Skype, Google Hang Out, and Go to Meeting, have given people the ability to have one-on-one communications, seeing each other on a screen and hearing their words, where people can be as physical distant as the other side of the world. These services allow for people to communicate and build relationships beyond the boundaries of how far a car can take them, and are limitless to the boundaries of continents.

New businesses that cater to the new form of mobility include a host of app, ranging from apps that allow you to download coupons and deals from your favorite retailer to keeping track of your steps and physical fitness, are downloaded by the millions each day. There is even the business of add-on hardware to keep your mobile device in shape (cases, ear phones, etc.). Not to mention all of the tech improvements that has made the mobile device more functional, integrating camera, internet, video capabilities.

The internet has most certainly captured the imagination of the youth. They have grown up with the idea that the internet is as much as part of their lives as vehicles once did to our parents. Modern generations don’t know any other life but that of the one in the digital age. With the press of a button they can reach people in other countries, find out information on any subject, and view a video related to any interest.

Such technology has even entered the classroom. Virtual learning, by way of connecting by video over the internet allow for students to attend classes and seminars or view lectures from anywhere in the world. The internet has demonstrated it offers mobility to all those young and old regardless if they qualify for a driver’s license.

It once was said, “Mobility is life,” and so when there is a traffic jam on Interstate 80; remember you could have chosen to route yourself by way of wi-fi.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.

Growing Your Network

Source: Every business needs a support network it can turn to for advice, to help grow its market presence, and provide referrals. Every step in growing your small business network will require you to invest into relationships with potential clients, vendors, employees, and community advocates. So, where do you start?

It is critical to your business’s growth and health that you establish a network of support around you. Every small business needs to have a legion of community advocacy on its side when the business environment becomes hostile. Some of your flow of client referrals may come from other business owners you have developed a relationship with over time, who do not offer the same services as your business. In the event your business experiences a disruption, who are the fellow colleagues in the business community that you can turn to in order to keep your business on track? It’s vital to establish and maintain positive relationships within the industry or business community, for two things will come out of it: resources and opportunities.

A business grows and thrives on building relationships with people. It is very important to join or be part of a business or community network. Joining either a trade organization or a local chamber of commerce will allow your business to outreach towards experienced mentors who have “been there and done that” in the business world. This provides you the luxury of learning from their mistakes and successes.

Joining a business or trade organization will lend your business instant credibility. Most consumers view the lone wolf as such that, a predator out to take their money. However, when a business joins an organization, it usually must qualify under a vetting process that deems the business and its owner credible. You can make personal connections with people, some who may offer client referrals, and in turn you may have clients you cannot serve, and will need to send them somewhere.

Having a network will increase your purchasing power. You can get better group rates if multiple business owners come together to join in using a shared services model to source things like health care or office supplies. Many business organizations or trade groups have preferred vendors which they refer to for business liability insurance, financing, or other business to business services, which may cater their expertise to a specific industry or geographic area.

When building any business relationship, the goal in mind should be to create a mutual or greater value exchange. Whether it is the exchange of ideas, or client referrals or vendor referrals, keep in mind, time is money, and to waste a person’s time without an equal or greater value exchange is to also waste their money as well as your own. Business relationships should be reviewed as long-term. Just because you met someone today or had a discussion with a new business contact today, does not mean they are obligated to you in any way, unless of course you and the other party sign a contract. You must approach each relationship with a pure intention that what you offer will uplift or enhance their life or business in one shape or form.

So where do you go to join? There are local business organizations and trade groups which are a good place to start. I suggest researching your local Chamber of Commerce. This is the place where business owners, politics and community all come together. Chamber of Commerce offers several opportunities to network with other businesses, which is also your audience if your business sells to other businesses. The Chamber of Commerce is an educational resource for your business as they will be able to connect you to information on how to acclimate your business within the local community. Also, the Chamber offers opportunities to connect with the community though a myriad of local events open to the public, giving businesses an opportunity to showcase their products or services to the general local public.

Organizations such as the National Small Business Association, National Federation of Independent Businesses, and National Small Business Association are small business trade organizations that blend solving industry issues with community advocacy to leadership in government. These organizations allow for businesses to network with each other and provide a voice for small businesses collectively, as well as on behalf of small businesses concerning regulatory matters and legislation that will either help or hurt the small business owner.

So how do you build a relationship with the community around you? Community outreach should be a priority when mapping out your marketing and advertising campaign and budget. Not all community outreach costs money. Sometimes it involves investing your time. Rotary Club, Kiwanis, Elks Lodge, and the VFW-American Legion are staples in the community. They are organizations led by local business owners and community leaders that perform good works aimed at uplifting the community. Through your service in one of these organizations, you will get to develop relationships with other people who will recognize your dedication to help others.

Some businesses take the lead by organizing a community activity. 5K runs are a very popular way to get people to gather together for a good cause. The money raised can be donated to charity, and you have plenty of opportunities to get your business name in front of people, leading up to, during, and after the event. As the host and main sponsor, your business name and contact information would be placed on all the event’s marketing materials, sign up forms, social media, and mentioned during the event. You can have a team staffing a booth or table of information made available to racers and supporters.

Another role your business can play in growing its network is becoming a member of a community activist group. This can be tricky because some community activism is driven by political agendas, and so it is important to not push an agenda or get involved with any group that requires you to vacate your personal values or alienates your clients. If you’re a business that caters to female clientele like a beauty parlor, you may choose to help a community activist group that supports women who are victims of domestic violence. If your business is in the environmental industry, you may want to take up cause with a group that advocates for better environmental practices.

Wherever you choose to build relationships, make sure that you are joining because in your heart you want to make a difference, want to help others and effectively uplift the community around you. If you volunteer or join a business organization or trade group with the intent that it’s all about what you can get out of someone else, your actions, words and mannerisms will speak out for your wrong intentions and people will take notice. Building a community and network goes hand in hand in lending your time, expertise, and sometimes financial resources in serving others. Remember, you get back what you give.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.

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