If there is one thing I love as both a small business writer, as well as a small business owner, it’s business tips. Tip articles are fun because they are akin to a “Greatest Hits” record (he said, dating himself!) Even my new book is essentially a different tip in expanded form in each chapter – Your Small Business Boom: Explosive Ideas to Grow Your Business!”
As an entrepreneur and small business owner, I also love reading business advice tip columns because I can almost always find a tip that can assist in my business success. They help with pricing and increasing my profitability, finding new customers, discovering new online businesses, understanding entrepreneurship better, and lots more.
And so today, we have a column of nothing but great business tips for you – everything from money ideas to legal tricks to social media best practices, SEO, and more. No, these may not be part of your master business plan, but they work and are good to remember.
Even better — they require no market research but even so, I bet you’ll find a nugget (or two or three) in here that will help your business get new business…and it may not even take all that much hard work!
Small business owners so often say, “our employees are our business.” And while we mean it, and while that should mean that we are generous with raises and bonuses, that’s not always possible. Especially in this time of Covid and a pandemic, giving out extra money for hard work and a job well done may not be in the cards. Certainly if you are a startup this is likely true.
So what does the entrepreneur do if giving raises is a good business idea, but cash flow issues prevent that? Here are three affordable ways that successful business owners use to reward employees:
1. Recognize Hard Work
While not quite as great as cash, it turns out that getting recognized for a job well done comes in a close second when both part-time and full-time employees are asked: A survey by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources found that 68 percent of employees said that being appreciated was important to their job satisfaction. That is what being a business leader is all about.
There are many ways to do this:
- Praise from customers or co-workers can be reprinted in your e-newsletter
- Send a press release regarding the accomplishment to your trade journal or local TV station
- What about simply writing a letter to the employee’s family, telling them how great their loved one is? That would go a long way.
2. Say Thanks
It’s amazing what a simple “thank you” can do. People love to be thanked. It could be a call from the CEO, a special parking spot for a month, or a night out with their team. There are lots of ways to say thanks.
3. Give Them What They Want
Is there a project they would like to work on? Is there some training they would like to get?
You get the idea. What works is to say thank you in some way and recognize people when they deserve it. Do that, and your employees will be happier, and you will be a happier boss.
Make money? Save money? Game on!
4. Remember That Not All Debt Is Bad Debt
Businesses often have to take on debt, but realize that there is a difference between good debt and bad debt. Good debt is manageable and moves your business forward. Bad debt bogs your business down; often it is debt with high interest rates, or is for items that you may not really need, or is debt that you cannot easily pay back.
For instance, taking on debt for a new delivery truck is good debt because it will help you grow your business and make money. But using that corporate credit card to go to Hawaii because you have pandemic fatigue (while understandable) is bad debt because it drains your resources.
5. Up Your Business Credit Profile
The importance of having good business credit cannot be overstated. Having solid credit allows you to
- Get loans to grow your business
- Get those loans at a reasonable rate
So if you want to succeed in your small business and have it go boom, you must have good business credit. Here are the 3 ways to get there:
- Take on some (good) debt: Take out a business loan, get a business credit card, use it, and then pay them off. Bingo! Better business credit scores.
- Incorporate: Financially, incorporating your business is vital because it creates a separate legal structure. That means that the business will have a taxpayer ID different than your social security number and that in turn means that business debts will be business debts and personal debts will remain personal.
- No comingling: Similarly, comingling business and personal finances must cease, for two reasons: First, if a court finds that the corporation is really nothing but a “shell” – that the entrepreneur and the business are one in the same — the court can ‘pierce the corporate veil.’ That means that the protections afforded you by incorporating evaporate. Second, it is very difficult to establish solid corporate credit if the business has never separated itself financially from the founder.
- Create a business plan: It may be that you don’t have a business plan, many businesses don’t. And it may be that you don’t want to draft a business plan, many entrepreneurs don’t. Too bad. If you want to ever get a loan or an investor to help grow your business, you will have to have a business plan.
Think of it this way: Would a pilot ever fly from Los Angeles to Miami without a flight plan? No way. A flight plan tells the pilot which direction to head in, how much fuel is needed, what the weather conditions will be, landmarks to look for, and so on. It is a roadmap for a successful journey.
Well, that’s all a business plan is – it is the entrepreneur’s road map.
Knowing your financials cold, thinking through your entire enterprise, understanding the competition, mapping out a marketing plan, and analyzing the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead, will allow you to run a better business, and – importantly – it will let lenders and investors know that you are running a better business.
There are many resources that can help you craft a business plan, but the best one I have found is Liveplan.com.
6. Reduce Your Rent
Especially post-pandemic, finding cheaper digs is smart, and very possible given the commercial rental vacancy glut. Find out what vacancy rates are in your area and use that data to either negotiate a better deal with your landlord, or find a better, cheaper digs.
Landlords are willing to dicker right now for valuable clients like you.
As an ex-business attorney, one thing I know is that knowing a little law can be a good thing – or a bad thing. Go overboard and you can get yourself and your business in trouble. But if you don’t try to do too much and stay in your comfort zone, you should be just fine.
Here’s a few legal tricks to keep up your sleeve:
7. Do It Yourself (Sometimes!)
There are plenty of times when you don’t really need a lawyer and can do something yourself far less expensively. For basic needs such as forming an LLC or creating a will, do-it-yourself sites like LegalZoom or Nolo.com are great.
That said, when it comes to litigation or complex contracts, hire an expert.
8. Protect Your Intellectual Property
Here’s an example of when you can do law yourself: If you are a creator or inventor, it is vital that you protect your copyrights, patents, or trademarks. While patents usually require legal help, copyrights and trademarks can be registered and handled on your own at www.USPTO.gov.
9. Always Put It in Writing
This is one of those common sense tips, but it’s amazing how often it’s overlooked. To truly protect your business, always make sure to put all agreements in writing. Memories fade over time, people remember things differently, and people lie. A written record prevents all of that.
10. Consider a Strongly Worded Letter
When someone owes your business money, it is understandable that you may want to sue the bum. Think twice. Lawsuits are exhausting and expensive. Often, a strongly worded letter from a lawyer can elicit a response that works almost as well, and at a fraction of the cost.
11. Don’t Settle for the Quote a Lawyer Gives You
If you do actually end up needing a lawyer, here is a secret we attorneys don’t want you to know: Our fees and costs, although high, are negotiable. We may not reduce our hourly rate, but you can bet that paying a 50 cents per photocopy is on the table.
Great entrepreneurs are risk takers, yes, but they are prudent, smart risk takers. The best ones look to reduce their risk to the extent possible. Here’s how:
12. Get Enough Insurance
The point of insurance is to help you when the unexpected occurs, and in business, the unexpected occurs. Insurance is a safety net.
There are all sorts of types of insurance you can get, but if we are talking about reducing business risk, here are the main ones to consider:
- Liability Insurance: The purpose of liability insurance is two-fold: First, if you are ever sued for negligence (and possibly some other matters) it can cover the cost of your legal defense. Second, it can cover that loss or debt, up to the policy limit
- Property Loss and Business Interruption: Property insurance of course covers damage to your physical business. Business interruption covers lost profits from things like, say, a pandemic?
- Disability: If you are unable to work, what will you do? Tap your disability insurance, that’s what.
- Workers’ Comp: It is your duty as a small business owner to create a safe workspace. That said, accidents happen; that is why they are called accidents. And that is why, in almost every state, businesses are required to carry workers’ comp insurance. It covers lost wages, as well as medical expenses if employees are injured on the job. It also provides you with protection against lawsuits if your employees sue you for any job-related injuries. Where to get it? Our friends at Hourly, of course! They sync your payroll directly with workers’ comp so your premiums are based on actual wages, and not a guess.
13. Create Multiple Profit Centers
All businesses have a business cycle. A business cycle could be global or national, regional or industry-specific, but whatever the case, business cycles are real. Business booms, and then retrenches. Economies grow and shrink. The question therefore is – what will happen to your business when the inevitable business cycle hits your business?
If you only have one basic profit center for your business, your business will go down, that’s what. That’s why you need multiple profit centers so that you have more than one way to make a buck.
Take Starbucks for example: The company started out selling only brewed coffee, but now it sells hot coffee, cold coffee, tea, matcha lattes, music, food, and much more. All are different profit centers, and all are a hedge against business cycles. When hot coffee sales are down (in the summer for instance) Frappuccino sales are up.
Multiple profit centers even out the dreaded business cycle and reduce the possibility (the risk) that your business will go down when the business cycle inevitably turns south.
Marketing today is vastly superior to even a decade ago. Back then, marketing relied as much on hope as it did on skill: passing out business cards, buying banner ads, hoping someone saw your tweet…how quaint. The good news is that if you do it right, marketing in today’s e-world relies far more on knowledge and skill than on hope.
Here then are a few tips that should help you rock the new world of digital marketing.
14. Cast a Wide Net
Consider all of the different ways you can market your business to new and loyal customers alike in the e-age. You can
- Have a website
- Master social media
- Create videos
- Start a blog
- Rock email marketing
- Have a podcast
- Try mobile marketing
And that list is just for starters; each one of these offers even more choices (e.g., SEO for your website, drilling down into the different social media sites, etc.)
Using some – or all – is smart because people consume information in all sorts of different ways today. Some like visuals like videos. Others listen to podcasts. Many people – like you – like to read blogs and articles. So a successful entrepreneur will cast as wide of a net as possible and use them all.
Maybe the best news is that none of these different methods cost much, yet all let you market to your target audience. Indeed, marketing today is vastly less expensive than when small businesses had little option but to rely on mass media options like television and radio. Yes, things like launching a podcast takes time, but they don’t cost much money.
So my first tip for marketing in the e-age (no matter what type of business or business model you have) is to go big and try out as many of these affordable ideas as you can. See what works, create a few templates, target your customer base, and blast off.
15. Test, Test, Test
Again, a comparison with an earlier era is illustrative. If you ran a TV ad back in the day and it didn’t work, you wouldn’t know until you had spent a lot of money and it was too late. That was the nature of the beast. Another way where marketing today is better? It is far easier and more affordable to test and see what works (and what doesn't!)
Take pay-per-click for example. You can create some small PPC ads that show up on a Google result or a Facebook page and know instantly whether they are working or not. If not, you can tweak the headline, or the call to action, or you can try different keywords.
The point is, after casting that wide net, what works is to see what is working.
16. Have a Great Website
This seems so basic, but it’s here for a reason. What is the first thing someone will do when they first hear about your business and are thinking about working with you? That’s right, they will Google you. And what will they find when they Google you? For most small businesses, it is two things:
- Your social media profiles, and
- Your website
Let’s not even talk about those 33% of small businesses that don’t have a website because that alone is business malpractice. So you must have a good looking, intuitive, well-branded, useful, easy-to-use website. People will judge you by the website you have. Have a great one and you are in the game; don’t, and you are not.
Needless to say, the same must be true of your social pages. Keep them snappy, pappy!
17. Content Is Indeed King
By having great content that puts your best foot forward, that is interesting and engaging, that links back to your site and social, and that brands your business, you offer potential customers a valuable avenue to engage with your brand, in a gentle-sell, impressive way. That is called “content marketing.”
Your content can look many different ways:
- An e-newsletter
- A blog
- Articles on your site or others
- Live streams
18. Mobile Marketing Is Vital
Check out this amazing stat: More than half of all searches are now done on mobile devices. And, not only that, but almost half of those searches also have a local intent. That means that people are out there in your area right now, looking to buy what you have to sell that. So if you are not engaged in mobile marketing, they likely are not finding you.
19. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Works
I’m mentioning this again because PPC may be my personal favorite. Why? Because you can market your business so efficiently and affordably using those little Google or Facebook ads. If someone sees your ad and likes it, they will click on it and come to your site. Only then do you pay for that ad. If they don’t click on it, you pay nothing. As such, PPC allows you to create, and only pay for, qualified leads.
Amazing. Different. Better.
Get Free Help
Here's a final bonus tip that's a must-know for entrepreneurs: there is just so much free help available. These are three of my favorite resources:
- SCORE. At SCORE.org you can find a business mentor, take a webinar, read articles, download e-guides, get financial help, and learn almost anything you may need to succeed – all for free. SCORE is a national organization of volunteers that is simply amazing.
- SBA: The Small Business Administration is a federal agency designed to help you succeed in your business. Between guaranteeing loans and tons of amazing programs, it is one of the best friends your small business can have.
- SBDCs: Small Business Development Centers are connected to universities and give all sorts of help and guidance. Again, much of it is free.