Tips for Your Business: Keep Up With Your Growth

In the 25 years I have worked with business owners, coupled with my role as an active COSE volunteer and leader, I’ve met few business owners who don’t want to see their business grow! And, I’ve met a lot who have been able to find a way to engineer that growth. But, growth can result in things that don’t fit anymore. Unfortunately, some owners don’t recognize they have to make changes to what they do so their financial management practices can keep up with their business success. What are some of the challenges an expanding business can face? Here are three of the most common traps I’ve found. 

In the 25 years I have worked with business owners, coupled with my role as an active COSE volunteer and leader, I’ve met few business owners who don’t want to see their business grow! And, I’ve met a lot who have been able to find a way to engineer that growth.  

But, growth can result in things that don’t fit anymore. Unfortunately, some owners don’t recognize they have to make changes to what they do so their financial management practices can keep up with their business success.

What are some of the challenges an expanding business can face? Here are three of the most common traps I’ve found. 

Failure to keep up with your growth. With new sales, client demands, needs to staff up, produce more or expand suppliers, the basics of billings and collections can sometimes be neglected. Owners need to have just a few basic reports that they look at least weekly to identify these “cash killers.” Getting too far behind is going to require taking a break from growing the business to just putting your financial house back in order.  

Not knowing when to ask for help. At some point, the owner of a growing business realizes they need help but sometimes it’s not soon enough. There are a lot of advisers out there you can get engaged in your business. While you might not think you need an accountant because you’ve got it covered with QuickBooks, there is a lot more an accountant can bring to your business that will help you keep your eye on growth. Get someone involved early to avoid problems later with accessing capital, managing cash processes or worse yet – dealing with an audit or other consequences of growth.  

An inability to let go. Too many owners hold on too long to the detailed operations of the business. There are technologies and processes that can be easily outsourced and don’t need daily attention. Payroll, accounts payable, bookkeeping – these are all time consuming beyond their value as a function for the owner going through growth. Look for ways to put these processes on auto-pilot so you can get back to driving the growth of your business. You don’t need to hire more people for a lot of these things – so much can be easily outsourced and still under control with parameters the owner sets.

If you can avoid these traps, your business should grow and improve. Connect with your trade organizations, COSE or other business owner groups to find a group of advisers and partners that can help you focus on what you do best and accelerate the growth of your company.

Rion Safier is the owner of Rion Safier Accounting LLC, providing accounting, tax and outsourced services to businesses, 
organizations and individuals.

Want more expert advice? Check out Linktunity, an online forum connecting business owners with creative solutions for the tough questions they face every day. 

This article originally appeared in the August 17, 2015, edition of Small Business Matters.

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  • Next up: Keeping Your 'Social' Professional

    Keeping Your 'Social' Professional

    Social media has created a gray area between personal and professional life. Make sure you’re staying on point even when utilizing these more casual platforms to promote or represent your business.

    For some business people, social media can be a little confusing. 'Social' in business is not the same as 'social' in life. It’s important that we understand the difference and how to engage if we want to connect effectively.

    While it is true that people do business with people, there is a line you don’t want to cross. 'Social' doesn’t mean talking about any, and every, thing. There is a professional way to be social.

    Wherever we choose to interact online we should err on the side of professionalism. This means considering what we are posting, where we are interacting and what we hope to achieve.

    Some social media platforms have opportunities for businesses and people to participate. Take Facebook, for example: You can have a personal profile where you connect with friends and family. You can also have a business page, where you engage with customers and prospects. Both have value. The difference is this—you don’t want to talk a lot about business on your personal profile. And, you don’t want to talk about personal things on your business page.

    When you have a meeting with a prospect, or a client, how personal do you get? Probably not very, unless you know him or her well. That same level of professionalism should be used online. Building business relationships is a process. We build them with respect, patience and curiosity.

    Respect

    Use each platform the way it is meant to be used. LinkedIn is a professional site. There is no opportunity to post personal information here. This is a place to build business relationships. Remember, you can communicate privately on any social media platform. When you are publicly posting, respect the platform you are on. Ensure your posts are proper for the audience.

    Patience

    Relationships take time. Be patient with the process of building. Assuming you have a deeper relationship too early into the process can backfire. An example of this is connecting with someone and then trying to pitch them on your product or service. Social media is not the place for fast sales pitching. As a matter of fact, it’s the best way to alienate people.

    Following the idea that relationship building happens over time, you can use social media platforms to assist you in the process. Once you connect with someone online you can suggest a phone call or short meeting so you can get to know them better. You can share something you find interesting with them and engage in conversation over time.

    The question to ask is, “Why are you connecting with someone?” The answer should be, “To build a relationship with them.” The answer isn’t, “To sell them something.” Gaining a sale happens once you’ve earned trust. Trust happens over time. So, if you focus on building the relationship, instead of the sale, you’ll not only gain a sale where it makes sense, but you’ll probably gain a great referral source.

    Curiosity

    One of the most important skills is curiosity. And I mean, real, intentional interest in others. When you are curious about people, events and ideas, you will always act with an eye toward learning, not selling. This will also help you keep your interactions professional.

    We run into trouble when we try to get others to buy from us. We can confuse how social we should be. Crossing that line can do real damage to our reputation, and therefore our efforts to connect. Ask yourself the question, “What does that other person want to know?” If you engage online with a focus on what matters to others you will surely maintain a proper level of professionalism. Your 'social' will be on the right track. The results will be what you are looking for. And the relationships you build will serve your business over time.

    Diane Helbig is owner of Seize This Day Coaching.


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  • Next up: Latest State Budget Proposal Largely Restores Business Income Tax Deduction

    Latest State Budget Proposal Largely Restores Business Income Tax Deduction


    This week the Ohio Senate unveiled  initial revisions to the state’s biennial budget bill, which included a proposal to largely restore the business income deduction for small businesses. GCP has advocated strongly on this issue and earlier this month GCP sent a letter to the General Assembly expressing great concern over changes the Ohio House made to the deduction.

    The House proposal reduced the threshold for pass-through entities from $250,000 to $100,000 and required those businesses to pay standard income tax rates on income above the threshold, repealing the special 3% flat rate. Over 50 small businesses signed onto GCP’s letter, which emphasized the importance of a sustainable and predictable tax and regulatory environment for small businesses.

    In addition, GCP member Michael Stanek, co-owner of Hunt Imaging and Cleveland Cycle Tours, testified in support of preserving the small business income deduction in late May. The testimony, in large part, focused on how Ohio small businesses utilize the business income deduction to reinvest back into their enterprises.

    These efforts in part contributed to the reversal of the House proposal. The latest budget proposal restores the $250,000 threshold and delays repeal of the 3% rate until 2020. The GCP Advocacy team urges small business owners to continue to contact their state elected officials to express support of preserving the business income deduction  as budget hearings continue.

    You can read more of GCP’s coverage of the business income deduction here.


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  • Next up: Launch a Digital Marketing Program That Will Build Your Business

    Launch a Digital Marketing Program That Will Build Your Business

    During the Think with Google workshop, the search-engine behemoth’s experts explained how small businesses can leverage digital marketing to help grow their business.

    The benefits online marketing can have on a business have been proven to be pretty clear. According to Google data, slightly more than three out of four people (76%) who search on their smartphones for a product or service nearby end up visiting a related business within a day. Further, four out of five consumers (80%) have used a search engine when looking up information about local businesses.

    While there is certainly a lot of value to be had in online marketing, getting started can prove daunting. During a session titled, “Intro to Online Marketing” at the recent Think with Google workshop held in Cleveland, experts laid out an actionable plan that small business owners can follow to help get them started down the digital marketing path.

    Here’s what they had to say.

    4 questions to ask first

    Before you dive headfirst into the world of online marketing, it’s important to have a plan. Four questions you should ask yourself are:

    • Why do you want a website?
    • Who is your ideal audience?
    • How will you reach them?
    • How will you measure success?

    Digital marketing channels

    Once you have given some thought to these high-level questions, it’s time to start considering the different digital marketing channels you have at your disposal. These include search engine optimization; content marketing; social media marketing; email marketing; and mobile marketing.

    During the session, the Google team went through each of these platforms and identified the best way to optimize each of the channels.

    Search engine optimization

    Search engine optimization (also commonly referred to as SEO) will help potential customers discover your business on search engines, such as Google. Some tips to keep in mind to help improve your SEO are:

    • Keep the information on your website as organized as possible.
    • Ensure your content is useful and original.
    • Include text links within the content.
    • Create good titles and descriptions for the pages on your site.
    • Monitor how long it takes for pages on your site to load.
    • Optimize the images on your site, such as providing a relevant image at a reduced file size for quick loading (and don’t forget to include a caption for easier scanning of the page.)

    Content marketing

    Think of content marketing as weaponized storytelling. You are providing useful information to your audience while promoting your business at the same time. Here are three things to include in your content marketing program:

    • Write “how to” articles that guide your audience through common challenges they might face and how your product or service is able to help.
    • Think about using “top 10 lists” or other “listicles” on topics related to your industry. Prior studies have shown that using odd numbers and the number 10 in your listicle headline are the most likely to be clicked on.
    • Provide educational material that, again, promotes your business while also acting as a value-add for customers.

    Social media marketing

    Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or other platforms, social media marketing can be another effective way to reach your customers.

    Content on your social media channels should be:

    • entertaining and engaging;
    • useful and actionable;
    • visually appealing; and
    • intentional.

    Email marketing

    Email marketing has been consistently shown to be one of the highest ROI digital marketing channels. And the best marketing emails all share the following five characteristics:

    • clear subject lines;
    • a call to action;
    • correct spelling and grammar;
    • personalized content for recipients; and
    • designed with mobile viewing in mind.

    Mobile marketing

    Speaking of mobile, as mentioned earlier that has become a growing force among consumers today. When developing a mobile-friendly site, give careful thought to:

    • how people are navigating the site;
    • its homepage;
    • the ease with which people are able to complete tasks on the site; and
    • ensuring any forms on the site are easy to fill out.

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  • Next up: Launch, Grow and Sell: Joe Pulizzi's Tips for Business Growth from Start to Finish

    Launch, Grow and Sell: Joe Pulizzi's Tips for Business Growth from Start to Finish

    If you have a business, are considering starting a business or even just have a big goal you’d like to accomplish, reading these takeaways from Joe Pulizzi’s BizConCLE 2018 keynote needs to be on your list of things to do today.

    As the lunchtime keynote at this year’s BizConCLE, Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute (CMI), shared his journey of launching, growing and selling CMI.

    If you’ve heard of CMI and its mission to advance the practice of content marketing, then you’re likely familiar with Joe and his signature orange color—not to mention his desire to teach brands how to attract and retain customers through compelling, multi-channel storytelling.

    The start of something great

    Joe knew back in 2007 that he wanted to start his own business, so he left the company he was working for and went out on his own. But by 2009, he was thinking about looking for jobs again. He hadn’t accomplished what he had hoped to at that point and wasn’t making any money—and was getting pretty tired of eating Ramen Noodles.

    2010, however, proved to be a pivotal year. Joe moved forward with his idea to build an audience first and provide valuable information to that audience. Once loyalty was built with that audience, the company then proceeded to launch products and services.

    Joe started with a blog. Every day the blog delivered a post about content marketing, educating the audience and building a base along the way. He then followed up with asking people to subscribe to their email newsletter. And finally, in 2010, CMI was officially launched.

    In 2011 the question came up on how to diversify CMI’s offerings. From these discussions came the idea to start an annual event called Content Marketing World (CMW). The initial goal was to get 100 people to come to Cleveland for an event solely about content marketing. 660 people attended that first year, and, now, CMW is the largest business event in Cleveland.

    Right in line with Joe’s initial hope for the company, UBM purchased CMI for $17.6 million in 2017.

    So, how did they do it?

    Joe provided some steps that he said were important to the launch, success and eventual sale of CMI.

    Step 1 Goal setting: Record, repeat, remove

    Record: What do you want to do and what do you want to be? Keep in mind that the best goals are other-serving, the ones that focus on community, family and friends. Joe said goals can focus on several things, including:

    • Career wealth;
    • family;
    • spirituality;
    • mental fitness (Joe’s is to read one nonbusiness book each month);
    • physical fitness (to get in better shape); and
    • giving (fundraising).

    Repeat: Joe explained that it takes 66 days for something to become a habit. Set the goals and then review them each morning and every night. The most important thing to reaching your goals is to believe they can actually happen.

    Remove: This strategy is about choosing to do more of the things that improve or add to your life, not lessen the quality of it. Get rid of clutter and everything in your way. Perhaps spend less time watching TV or on your phone. Don’t let anything get in the way of success.

    Step 2: Follow the formula

    Joe discussed how they wanted to be the leading expert in something. The formula that helped them do that can help you, too. Here are six steps they went through to build CMI.

    Follow the Formula Step No. 1: Find the Sweet Spot. This is the intersection between who you’re targeting and the knowledge or skill you have that’s unique. Identify the customers’ pain point and learn to help people address these challenges.

    Follow the Formula Step No. 2: Tilt the Content. Can customers tell the difference between your marketing and that of other businesses? One way to have an impact in this way is to coin a phrase. Joe explained that nobody was calling it “content marketing,” but from their research they knew that would be a good term to get people excited.

    Follow the Formula Step No. 3: Create a content marketing mission statement. This should be something that is easy to generate content marketing around. Figure out how you can make it about the customer by including recognition of the core target audience, what specifically will be delivered and the intended outcome for the audience.

    Follow the Formula Step No. 4: Pick one platform and consistently deliver. Instead of spreading yourself thin and confusing your message across many areas, concentrate first on one content type on one main platform. Pair that up with consistent delivery across a long period of time. CMI started with a blog and concentrated on using the top key words that people are searching for on the Internet.

    Follow the Formula Step No. 5: Get people to opt in. Many business owners first rely on a Facebook profile to spread their message. But, as Joe explains, that is like building your business on someone else’s land. When you’re on Facebook, it’s Facebook’s audience—not yours. Instead, focus on actual subscribers so that you can get data directly from them. The best way to have the most control over your audience is to collect email addresses and communicate with them directly in their inbox. Joe says that on every page of their website they have an opportunity for people to subscribe. But when you do this, you must have an amazing e-newsletter, and there must be some sort of value to what you’re sending out—whether it’s that they get a free magazine issue or access to free articles, research reports or white papers. People won’t give their email addresses unless they’re getting something in return.

    Follow the Formula Tip No. 6: Diversify. Now that you’ve succeeded in your main area (whether it’s a blog, e-newsletter or something else), it’s time to try all of the other stuff. CMI diversified by creating a print magazine, the CMW event, podcasts and more. The key is to avoid trying to do everything to start. Be great at one thing first.

    Step 3: Consider Joe’s Critical Tips

    So now it’s time to make some money. Joe provided 10 different tips on how to generate revenue. The first five ways to make money are direct tactics and include:

    • Banners and buttons for advertising;
    • event registrations and paid exhibits;
    • subscriptions for magazines or other things;
    • premium content in print and audio opportunities; and
    • philanthropy—donations for foundations.

    The next five ways to make money are indirect. Once you have a loyal audience, they will tell you what to launch from there. For example, Joe said, they didn’t have plans to launch the CMW event until people started telling them they wanted a way to meet other content marketers. Joe’s five indirect revenue streams include:

    • Awards;
    • services (consulting);
    • recurring customers (regular offerings such as twitter chats each week with a guest star);
    • yield increases (if a person reads their magazine, for example, they usually end up being by far their most profitable customers); and
    • cross sales (if you can get someone to a webinar, for example, then there’s a better chance of selling other products and services).

    Joe said there are other things they did well, and these tips can be a benefit to your business as well. They include:

    • Hiring as a last resort. Wait until you absolutely have to hire for that position and then start with a small number of hours and build up when needed;
    • knowing a ballpark number you want to sell for and not wavering;
    • calculating exactly what you would get after taxes when you consider each offer;
    • knowing which of your terms are nonnegotiable and standing by them; and
    • building relationships with buying prospects early. Have a list of possible companies that you would like to see eventually buy your company from you. Get to know the CEOs and go to them confidentially when the time is right.

    Every entrepreneur eventually exits his or her business, but most of them don’t choose the timing of that exit. It is crucial to have a written strategy. Prepare yourself for the exit well in advance, with a solid plan for where you want to be and what comes next.

    As a recap, your business can benefit from several takeaways of Joe’s presentation, including:

    • Write down and regularly review your goals;
    • find a niche where you can be the leading expert in the world;
    • develop your content mission;
    • focus on one content type, choose one platform and deliver consistently;
    • don’t build your house on rented land (social media);
    • build an audience of opt-in subscribers (email) and provide them value (something for free);
    • create an amazing e-newsletter;
    • begin with one revenue option;
    • then proceed to diversify revenue streams; and
    • make a list of buyers way in advance of when you plan to sell.
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  • Next up: Lead Generation Strategies for Tech Firms

    Lead Generation Strategies for Tech Firms

    According to the NEOSA Quarterly Survey, the regional tech sector performed very well last year with a high point of 77% of companies reporting good/very good results for the 4th quarter of 2012. While the industry may be doing well, finding and nurturing new prospects and customers is a constant challenge for tech firms. Creating awareness of one’s company and its products and services is critical. 

    According to the NEOSA Quarterly Survey, the regional tech sector performed very well last year with a high point of 77% of companies reporting good/very good results for the 4th quarter of 2012. While the industry may be doing well, finding and nurturing new prospects and customers is a constant challenge for tech firms. Creating awareness of one’s company and its products and services is critical. 

    But how does your company avoid reactive solutions that feature the “marketing flavor of the month? And how does your company develop and deploy an integrated, holistic approach that builds awareness but also connects prospects deeply to your company?

    Listen here.


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