Keep your customers by supporting their healthy lifestyle changes

If you own or run a food or restaurant business, you know how food trends may boost sales. While some trends last for a few weeks and are simply fads (fondue, foam, and food with added caffeine), others become more mainstream and last a lifetime (sushi, huevos rancheros, or anything organic). In urban areas, healthy trends remain important for much of the world’s population. This is especially the case in the first few months of the year as people work toward achieving their New Year’s resolutions.

Here are five healthy food trends data shows are likely here to stay, as customers have purchased an increasing number of these products in recent years:

1. Faux Meat Offerings

As the world becomes more environmentally conscious, alternative protein sources have become more popular. Both startups and established companies are perfecting ways to make faux meat tastier. All of which is helping to fuel this trend. There are two leading providers of high quality and tasty faux meat in the United States, Impossible Foods who makes the Impossible Burger, and Beyond Meat. These products have already gone mainstream. The Beyond Meat Burger is now available at all 469 TGI Fridays restaurants in the United States. For business owners, faux meat is easy to cook and easy to substitute into your existing dishes.

2. Hemp and CBD products

As marijuana has been legalized in nine American states, other products derived from the marijuana plant that don’t contain psychoactive or mind altering substances are now being incorporated into food products because of the potential health benefits they offer. You can incorporate CBD oil into a variety of products ranging from coffee to cookies to juice to tea. Treats made with this oil are known to be stress and anxiety relieving. Hemp has several properties considered beneficial to health, including its ability to balance hormones, improve mood, and assist with both pain and sleep. Even large chain stores like 7-11 are joining in: hemp-derived CBD products are now available in up to 4,500 stores.

3. Seaweed and other deep sea snacks

The oceans are rife with plant life consumers are finding both tasty and nutritious. As harvesting methods have improved, so have their snack byproducts. Healthline reports that there are many benefits to consuming seaweed snacks, including that they:

    • Are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including iodine and tyrosine.
    • Contains a variety of antioxidants.
    • Provide fiber and polysaccharides to support gut health.
    • May help lose weight by delaying hunger and thereby reduce weight.
    • May reduce heart disease risk.

If you own a restaurant, you can easily add some crispy seaweed snacks to your menu as a starter. And if you own a store, stocking seaweed snacks is as “simple” as creating some extra counter space. The Japanese have been seaweed aficionados for centuries.  So, if this trend is anything like sushi…well, it’s not going away anytime soon.

4. Fermented foods

Whether you’re a fan of Korean kimchi, new age kombucha, or good, old-fashioned American pickles, fermented foods are likely here to stay. Filled with probiotics to help make diners’ guts strong, fermented foods make for tasty side dishes, replacing foods like fries. Another benefit of fermented foods is that they are easy to make and may be stored for long periods.

5. Plant-based frozen treats

As dietary restrictions around New Year’s resolutions can curb traditional dairy ice cream consumption, chefs are finding other natural ways to create frozen desserts. Instead of classic milk-based ice cream, these chefs are using ingredients like plant-based milks and frozen fruits are sweetening frozen treats and not sacrificing taste! Here are nine dairy free vegan friendly recipes to get you introduced to the world of vegan frozen treats.

As a food or restaurant business owner, you can be inventive; you can test out a new recipe based on these emerging trends without taking on much risk. If it sells out quickly, you know your customers want it. And while fads like juice cleanses may come and go, these emerging trends may make your offerings more appealing to customers throughout the year.


What Small Business Should Know About 2019 Payroll Changes

As an owner, it can be hard to keep track of everything at the start of the new year, including changes and additions to employment laws. In 2019, there are plenty of important human resource and payroll changes to consider.  These changes are especially important to small business owners. Here are few:

Retirement Savings Contributions

While SEP contribution levels stayed the same, contribution levels for 401(k)s, SIMPLE IRAs and Roth IRAs increased for 2019.

401(k) contributions for employees increased to $19,000, along with 403(b) and most 457 plans. SIMPLE retirement accounts increased to $13,000.

For Roth IRAs, income phase-out range increased. Married couples filing jointly will see the amount increased from $189,000 to $199,000. For singles and heads of household, the income phase-out range bumped up with a range of $122,000 to $137,000. This is an increase from the previous range of $120,000 to $135,000.

Both traditional and ROTH IRAs contribution limits rose by $500 to $6,000 (over the $5,500 limit in 2018).  However, catch-up contributions if you’re 50 or older remain at $1,000.

Medical and Healthcare

  • FSAs If you offer a flexible savings account for medical expenses, the amount employees can contribute increased from $2,650 to $2,700. There is one caveat: the amount for dependent care is fixed at $5,000.
  • Healthcare Savings Accounts: Employees with individual coverage can contribute $3,500 (up from $3,450 in 2018), and $7,000 for a family plan (up from $6,900 in 2018).
  • Adoption benefits: If you’re looking to adopt, the annual Adoption Assistance Limit increased to $14,080 (up from $13,810 in 2018).
  • QSEHRA: If you’re offering a Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement, also called QSEHRA or a small business HRA, self-only coverage increased to $5,150 (up from $5,050) and $10,450 (up from $10,250).

New thresholds for the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit

If you enrolled in a Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) or are considering doing it, you can then apply for the small business health care tax credit.

To do so you must have, according to HealthCare.gov:

  • Fewer than 25 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees
  • Pay at least 50 percent of your full-time employees’ premium costs
  • The maximum average employee salary must be $54,200 or lower (up from $53,200 in 2018)

It’s also important to note, for eligible small employers the average annual wage level at which the tax credit begins to phase out is $27,100 (up from $26,600).

Unemployment Details

Taxes for unemployment vary on a state-by-state level. The rate usually depends on the size of your company and how long you’ve been in business, as well as other factors like the number of former employees who have applied for unemployment benefits, your company’s historical turnover rates, and your industry .

Each state has a program to fund its unemployment pool via the State Unemployment Tax Act, better known as SUTA. Employers must pay this on behalf of their employees. American Payroll Association has a free chart of State Unemployment Insurance Taxable Wage Bases.

States seeing a wage base increase include: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Missouri and Vermont will see decreases.

The Federal Unemployment Tax Act — also called FUTA — tax rate in 2019 is 6 percent.  This applies to the first $7,000 you paid to each employee as wages during the year. According to IRS.gov, you can usually take a credit against this tax if you’ve paid state unemployment taxes. If you’re entitled to the maximum 5.4 percent credit, then the FUTA tax rate, after the credit, is reduced to 0.6 percent.

Minimum Wage

Nineteen states increased their minimum wage at the start of 2019.  Another two states—Washington and Oregon—will see increases in July.

Social Security Taxes and FICA

Payroll taxes can be complicated. An employee’s paycheck typically includes taxes for federal income, Social Security, Medicare and in many locations, state income tax.

The Social Security tax rate of 12.4 percent is split between employer and employee who each pay 6.2 percent of the gross pay — while the tax rate remains the same for 2019, the tax cap increased to $132,900 in annual earnings for 2019 — up from $128,700 in 2018. This means the maximum amount of Social Security tax employers and employees will each pay in 2019 is $8,239.80. This is a $279 increase from the $7,960.80 amount in 2018.

The one exception, if you’re self-employed, then you pay the full 12.4 percent.

Social Security are then combined with Medicare taxes for FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) taxes. (Federal law also requires employers to withhold an additional 0.9 percent for anyone who earns more than $200,000.) The Medicare tax rate remained the same at 1.45 percent which is applied to all earned wages since there aren’t threshold limits for Medicare taxes.

According to the IRS, for wages that don’t exceed $132,900, the combined social security tax rate and Medicare tax rate is 7.65 percent each for the employee and employer for wages paid in 2019.

For those who are self-employed, FICA tax rate is 15.3 percent — which combines the Social Security tax rate of 12.4 percent and Medicare tax rate of 2.9 percent.

Transportation Benefits

Extra perks, like qualified transportation fringe benefits help many employers who are working with millennials. If you offer these benefits which include vanpooling or transit passes, the tax-free amount increased to $265 a month, up from $260 a month in 2018.

If you need more insights, review the IRS’ Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits.


3 Issues Women-Owned Businesses Should Be Watching Closely

For women-owned businesses, there are three potential challenges to keep in sight as we move throughout the year.

1. Continued interest rate hikes

The Federal Reserve has maintained a steady course of raising interest rates to keep pace with economic growth. The Fed hasn’t made any firm commitments – yet.  But, further adjustments to the federal funds rate may be on deck for later this year. That could be costly for female business owners seeking financing.

Women already face a tough business lending environment. According to the latest Private Capital Access Index (PCA Index) from Dun & Bradstreet and Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, just 18 percent of women entrepreneurs were able to get bank loan financing during the third quarter of 2018. Fifty-seven percent of women said the current business financing environment is hindering their business growth, compared to 42 percent of all business owners surveyed.

Twenty-four percent of women said additional rate hikes would restrict their growth further.  In addition 15 percent believe that rising rates would make raising capital more difficult. Women entrepreneurs who are considering a loan in 2019 should be watching Fed policy and rate movements closely. Additionally, they may want to explore bank loan alternatives, such as revenue-based financing or factoring to meet financing needs.

2. Midterm election results

The 2018 midterm elections resulted in some historic wins for female lawmakers, with nearly 120 women in Congress this year. That could be a boon if newly elected senators and representatives promote initiatives designed to advance female-lead businesses.  Business owners should keep their ears open and listen out for new grant and lending programs or policy shifts that increase the number of government contracts awarded to women are on the horizon.

The midterm elections may also have a broader impact for all business owners in terms of how Congress may shape trade, tax and healthcare policy moving forward. Businesses may still be adjusting to the latest round of tax and healthcare reform but the possibility of further changes should be firmly on their radars. The imposition of new tariffs could also result in higher operating costs for businesses that rely on imported goods.

3. Changing economic conditions

While the economy is still going strong, 2019 may bring a slowdown in the pace of growth. That, in turn, could directly affect business owners, particularly women.

According to the Private Capital Access Index, women business owners are more likely to struggle with cash flow compared to other businesses. Twenty-eight percent reported issues with receiving payments from customers, versus 23 percent of small businesses overall. A slower-growing economy could raise that figure higher if vendors or customers are sluggish in making payments because they’re dealing with cash flow issues of their own.

As we move through 2019, women business owners may want to revisit their invoicing and payment policies. Shortening payment terms, imposing late fees or accepting a broader range of payment methods could help speed up payments and avoid cash flow lags. Being prepared for these kinds of bumps can help make 2019 a smoother, more successful year for women-owned businesses.


Improve Your Bottom Line by Compensating Younger Employees Creatively

For business owners, it can be hard to attract and retain younger employees — especially when they are expecting and asking for more.

Google searches for the term “employee experience” have increased 130 percent over the past five years, according to a 2018 report published by IBM and Globoforce. The same study found organizations that scored in the top 25 percent on employee experience netted nearly three times the return on assets when compared to organizations in the bottom quartile.

Positive buy-in from employees means potentially more productivity and more revenue for the business; however, keeping employees happy can be difficult.

Many companies have gravitated towards a Silicon Valley, “work hard/play hard” mindset.  In these environments employee perks help with retention.  Many employees, however, want forward-thinking rewards from a company. These often include an environment that embraces gender equity and the ability to work on a flexible schedule.

Here are some things to consider to improve your bottom line this year by compensating your younger employees more creatively.

Offer a flexible schedule or telecommuting options.

Many employees don’t want a 9-to-5 workday. Allowing employees flexible schedules or telecommuting options may be seen as a good benefit to younger employees. Consider this if you have employees who are parents that are juggling daycare constraints.  Or if your company is in a high-traffic city where commuting on off-peak times or telecommuting might be a benefit.

Even though 40 percent more U.S. employers offer flexible workplace options than they did five years ago, according to Global Workplace Analytics, only 7 percent make it available to the majority of their employees.

Upwork, headquartered in Mountain View, California, has “Work Online Wednesdays”.  This perk allows their employees to work from anywhere as long as they are online. Blinds.com, a 150-person operation in Houston, allows call center employees to telecommute, as well as other staff members. Before employees began working remotely, Blinds.com set up training sessions to help employees learn how to maximize their home office productivity.

Have gender equity.

According to the “Winning the Fight for Female Talent” report by PwC, 50 percent of women say there’s a pay gap between equally qualified male and female counterparts.

Creating gender equity may help attract and retain key female talent. The report found three traits which make a potential employer more attractive to female employees: Being given fair and equitable compensation to their male employees, having opportunities for career progression, and an atmosphere of flexibility and work-life balance.

Many companies are following this trend. Social enterprise firm Equileap pulled publicly available data from 3,000 companies around the globe across a variety of sectors with a market capitalization above $2 billion. General Motors was identified as one of only two global businesses with pay equality across the entire spectrum of business with no overall pay gaps in the company. It also has an equal number of men and women on its board of directors.

Consider on-site and off-site offerings.

On-site childcare, gyms, nap rooms, yoga and massage sessions are some of the additional perks companies are offering to attract and retain talent. Twitter offers acupuncture and improv classes to its employees. Blinds.com brought therapy dogs into their office to help employees during a stressful month.

If you don’t have options on-site, consider a stipend to help reduce the cost for your employees.

For example, Eventbrite offers its employees $60 wellness stipends that can be used for a variety of healthy options from juice cleanses to gym dues. Microsoft’s StayFit program reimburses employees $800 annually ($66.66 a month) for gym memberships and fitness programs.

Evaluate parental leave.

American millennials are taking a lead from their European counterparts, according to Forbes, and want paid maternity and paternity leave — the longer the better.

Birthing mothers typically receive an additional 6-to-8 weeks under salary continuation for medical leave. Breastfeeding moms also get access to a 24-hour lactation consultant. They can also ship their breast milk home for free if they are traveling.

Netflix takes a European-approach with one year of paternity or maternity leave for parents.  They couple this leave with the ability for its workers to return to work on a full or part-time basis.

Give stash instead of cash.

Unscratched lottery tickets and gift cards are ways to reward positive employee behaviors without handing out dollar bills for a job well-done.

Sure Amazon and Starbucks gift cards are good standbys. But you should also consider other options – maybe a gift card for a car wash or a manicure. Experts suggest you ask your employees what they would value the most to to determine the best fit. Don’t assume you know.

Training and teaching.

SMBs don’t always have time to train their staff adequately, and employee development may be a key factor in retention. Consider offering to send an employee to a national conference or paying for Lynda.com training.

Offer to bring in guest speakers that employees would like to hear and then sponsor a lunch. Make this a reward to whoever does something above and beyond.  Make it even better by allowing them  to earn the right to choose the next speaker.

Bring your … to work day.

In the past many parents would bring their kids to work once a year. Now the “kids” want to bring their aging parents to work to show them what they do. They also want to bring their pets, kids, or significant others.

Cement-making Ozinga Bros in Mokena, Ill. and Cornerstone OnDemand, a cloud software company in Santa Monica, Calif. both allow employees to bring parents to work. The 22-person PR firm, EvolveMKD in New York skews towards Generation Z and Millennials and morphed its parents night into a family night.

Give the gift of time.

Personalized perks can make a big difference. Consider gamifying the options so once a week or once a month an employee earns a unique reward.  Rewards could be anything from getting a longer lunch break or the ability to leave work early on a Friday. Or maybe it’s offering an hour or two of flex-time or the ability to work from home once a week.

The software company Salesforces gives employees seven paid days off per year to volunteer on the project of their choice. REI employees get two paid “YAY Days” a year to go outside and do something fun.

Regardless of what creative perks you offer, pick benefits that align with your company values and will make your employees feel appreciated which will help them to work harder and grow your business.


Get Your Construction Business Ready for the Spring

If you’re a contractor or own a construction business, you’ve likely been wondering what the this year will bring in terms of revenues and opportunities for growth. While many forecasts are calling for a slight economic slowdown in 2019, construction starts are still expected to hold relatively steady. As you look ahead to warmer months, here are three things to review as you prepare to ramp up your business this spring.

Update your tech

Smart technologies, AI and automation continue to expand their influence on the construction industry. Some new opportunities to update your business technology include:

  • Streamlining project management by using cloud-based solutions.
  • Utilizing drones for site planning and survey data enhancement.
  • Investing in smart safety equipment, such as wearables to track worker movements and fatigue levels.
  • Updating your inventory tracking software to reduce materials waste.
  • Using building information modeling software to streamline project design.

While some of these options are more hi-tech (and big-budget) than others, if you run a smaller firm, consider tech upgrades that can deliver a solid return on investment without a large outlay of cash. For example, updating your company’s website is something you may be able to do for a few hundred dollars, and up-to-date information and a fresh look might help attract new customers.

Review expenses and pricing

Construction materials didn’t get cheaper in 2018. Through July, prices had risen by nearly 10 percent over 2017’s figures, according to Associated Builders and Contractors. With uncertainty surrounding tariffs and foreign trade policy, materials such as lumber and fuel might become more expensive.

Higher prices means a higher cost of doing business and a potentially smaller profit margin. When planning for the busy season, consider how rising prices may impact revenues and cash flow, in both the short- and long-term.

Specifically, think about whether you’ll need to adjust your pricing to accommodate a jump in material costs. Would a price increase allow you to remain competitive in your local construction market? How would that price increase be received by clients? Will you enhance the value you provide as your rates rise?

At the same time, look for areas where you can reduce costs. Reach out to suppliers to ask for a discount or renegotiate terms. Recycle and repurpose materials whenever possible. Consider whether it makes sense to keep maintaining older equipment or replace it with something newer to reduce repair and maintenance costs. These kinds of changes may add money back into your cash flow and create a healthier bottom line.

Assess your capital needs

With interest rates projected to rise again this year you may want to pursue financing sooner instead of later. The lower the rate you’re able to lock in, the less your financing will cost over the repayment term.

Get clear on your needs and what type of financing may work best. For example, you may want to buy a new fleet of work vans or invest in a new backhoe. Or, you may just need cash to cover everyday operating expenses during the winter months if that’s your slower building season. Equipment financing might be more appropriate in the first scenario, while a working capital loan may be better suited for short-term funding.

Remember the ROI and the overall cost when considering financing for your construction business. Before taking out a $1 million equipment loan or a $100,000 working capital loan, estimate the potential payoff, either in preserving cash flow or increasing revenues.

You also need to be sure that the payments for an equipment loan, or any other type of financing, fit your business budget. And of course, review the interest rate and fees charged by different lenders to help you secure the best deal.


3 Marketing Lessons Small Business Owners Can Learn from Amazon Storefronts

Amazon is a leading presence in the e-commerce landscape, but the online retail giant is making efforts to shine a light on smaller businesses. Launched in September 2018, Amazon Storefronts feature unique products from nearly 20,000 small- to medium-sized businesses.

The program showcases U.S.-based brands from all 50 states, with product listings including electronics, pet supplies, beauty and grooming supplies. Featured merchants get a visibility boost, but even if you’re not registered for Storefronts, there are some key marketing takeaways you can apply to your e-commerce efforts.

1. Utilize Video Storytelling

Each week, Amazon names one seller as its Storefront of the Week. The chosen brand gets its own personal highlight reel, in the form of a video clip introducing the business owner and their products, and relaying a little of their personal business journey.

It’s short and simple, yet video can be a powerful way to convey your business’s message. Video is expected to account for 82 percent of global web traffic by 2022, with live streaming representing 17 percent of that traffic.

Using video to tell stories — either yours or your customers as they use your products — can give your business an edge over other retailers that have yet to tap into this medium. Incorporating video on your e-commerce site, social media channels or in email marketing campaigns is a fresh way to represent your brand and connect with your audience.

2. Create Curated Product Collections

How you organize your e-commerce store can make a difference when it comes to what sells or what doesn’t. A strategy Amazon uses with Storefronts is offering curated collections of unusual or innovative products. These are items that shoppers won’t necessarily find in-store at a big box retailer.

You can take the same approach with your own website, even if you don’t exclusively sell handmade or one-of-a-kind products. Reorganizing your site to create product collections with a common theme or use allows you to subtly direct visitors’ attention where you want it to go.

For example, if you sell women’s clothing, you might create curated collections by season or occasion. Having curated collections can make it easier for shoppers to navigate your site, while giving them a streamlined buying experience.

3. Sell Your Brand’s Distinct Value

The overarching theme of Amazon Storefronts is an emphasis on the unique. Amazon designed the platform to recognize artisans, family-focused businesses, women in business and retail innovator-makers.

Think about what separates your business from the competitors in your space. What makes your brand, products and services special or different from everyone else?

For instance, you may have an exclusive product or the process you use to produce it is one you’ve personally developed. Your business may have been inspired by a personal challenge or struggle.  Or you may use your business as a platform to give back to your community in impactful ways.

Drill down to what makes your business truly valuable in your respective niche. Once you’ve identified what that is, consider how you can leverage it to attract customers and grow your online business.


7 Things Every Small Business Owner Should Do to Their LinkedIn Profile in 2019

The holidays are over and things are going to begin picking up again on a business front (if they haven’t already) . Now is the time to take a look at your business profile on LinkedIn, before things get too busy.

In November, LinkedIn rolled out a new version for businesses. What was previously called LinkedIn Company Pages is now LinkedIn Pages.

Previously, businesses were limited in their ability to have social interactions with individuals and other companies outside of their network. Now, it’s easier for small businesses to comment, post and re-share employee and member posts via the LinkedIn app. Admins can now more easily monitor conversations, use relevant hashtags and share PowerPoint presentations, PDFs, word documents and native videos. There’s also a Content Suggestions feature to see what is trending and what topics might be relevant to your audience.

Here are seven things every small business owner should do to update their individual business profiles and company LinkedIn Pages in 2019 (and the sooner the better!):

1. Revisit What Is Relevant (and What Isn’t)

Branding is important for everyone. Individuals. Companies. Entrepreneurs. Make sure your LinkedIn Pages and profile accurately reflect what you and your company do.

Re-read what is currently being used, and ask yourself:

If I were learning about my company for the first time, would this LinkedIn description get me interested in my business?Could I describe my company or what I do from reading what is posted on LinkedIn?

2. Create an Engaging Headline

For individual profiles, think of your LinkedIn job title as a marquee sign to flash your mission statement. It is a key place to show off your personal branding. Use the space to share your philosophy and brand yourself with a great headline in 120 characters.

For example, Michelle Mekky the CEO of Mekky Media Relations in Chicago writes, “I help people and brands stand out by crafting their authentic story. You in?” Derek Edmond, a managing partner and director of marketing strategy for KoMarketing, uses a mission statement headline like this: “Helping B2B Companies Generate Results in Search Engines, Social Media, and Content Marketing.”

Forbes contributor William Arrunda, the cofounder of CareerBlast, recommends using the formula “Job title/company + Keywords + Zing!” to stand out with keywords while still keeping it personal.

3. Share What You Believe

Despite what you might think, LinkedIn isn’t a place to just dump a chronological history of your work experience with every detail about your small business.

LinkedIn is about speaking person-to-person, customer-to-potential-customer (or client).

Your summary or About Us page description on your LinkedIn Pages should encapsulate your beliefs about your business. Ideally, it also evokes a strong emotional response in your target audience. Write a short, impactful statement that highlights what you’re good at and what you believe.

4. Make Sure Your (Business) Pages are Complete

While this may sound like a no brainer, make sure your LinkedIn Pages are complete and the basics are up-to-date. Companies with complete information get 30 percent more weekly views according to LinkedIn. That means:

Write a compelling description of your company’s mission, purpose, expertise and focus.Your company logo is posted You’ve included a website URL. Your address, industry, company size, city and state and headquarters are accurate and included.

Need an example? Check out LearnLoft, a leadership development management company in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the corresponding LinkedIn page of its CEO John Eades, a 2017 LinkedIn Top Voice.

5. Optimize Your LinkedIn Listing

Are you making the most of your profile or LinkedIn Pages?

See if you should add additional contacts. Ask for and add recommendations. Join, or add or remove you and your company from important groups to ensure you are following the most relevant for your industry and small business community.Make sure you’ve customized your LinkedIn page with a vanity URL. If you have a new product or brand within your company, consider creating Showcase Pages. It’s a standalone page, like a mini version of LinkedIn Pages, within your company listing to spotlight something specific such as a new product, brand, event or charity work your company is doing. You can also target niche audiences such as a high-net-worth population within a financial services company.

On your business page, update the Life tab to help job seekers get a better look into what life is like at your company. Include details such as company values, cultural stats, job openings and job descriptions. Or do like software development company Atlassian and share s link to a quiz to see how a job candidate’s values align with your business.

6. Share Engaging Content

Review the types of content you are sharing on LinkedIn. If you aren’t getting great engagement, copywriter John Espirian gives some good tips to improve your tactics including writing enough to fill at least three lines in a LinkedIn post which triggers the “see more” link and can improve the social media value of your post.

Use LinkedIn Pulse to quickly share industry news, trends, research and blog posts.

How-to articles with phrases such as “X ways to,” “how to get,” and “how to make” tend to do well.  In addition to these, newsy trend pieces such as “the future of,” “in the world,” or, “of the year,” also get great engagement on LinkedIn according to Buzzsumo, a social media analytics company, which analyzed 100 million article headlines.

7. Be Visual and Conversational

Review what type of visual elements you’re sharing.

Start by updating your company profile photo (1,536 x 768 pixels) and profile picture (300 x 300 pixels) with images that are 8 MB or smaller.

Another thing to consider is embedding photos, infographics and videos in LinkedIn posts on company and personal pages to make them uniquely yours. In additions, you should consider thought leadership videos that reinforce your brand on YouTube. Add product demonstrations, speech sound bites and engaging conference videos.

Need some inspiration? Check out Slack’s tutorial video.

Be conversational, relatable and memorable. Updating your LinkedIn company page and personal profile gets potential customers, clients and employees engaged. That can make all the difference this year.


How Artificial Intelligence is Driving Customer Experience

Artificial intelligence (AI) uses computers to mimic and perform intelligent tasks that normally require human brainpower. AI can adapt when interacting with humans by using speech recognition, language translation and visual perception to execute decision-making tasks.

International Data Corporation, a marketing intelligence and service company, predicts that by 2019, 40 percent of digital transformation initiatives will be supported by some sort of cognitive computing or artificial intelligence. By 2020, 85 percent of customer interactions will be managed without a human, according to Gartner.

Face-to-face interactions may be diminishing in the era of AI.  But, there are ways businesses can connect and still remain customer-friendly.

Ask Questions, Offer Tailored Recommendations

Many businesses are asking customers to do short online surveys to understand their preferences.

For example, Madison Reed, an at-home hair color company uses an online questionnaire coupled with a live chat with a licensed colorist, a phone line, and email to give customers suggested recommendations based on their hair texture, amount of (or lack there of) grey and current hair color and history, as well as the look they are trying to achieve. The color advisor questionnaire starts with asking potential customers about the end result they are hoping to achieve. Doing so allows the company to work towards that goal before recommending a particular product tailored to that individual.

Another example is 1-800-Flowers.com, which has Gywn, an AI-based virtual assistant chatbot. Gywn’s job is to help tailor gift recommendations for visitors by narrowing their search for the right gift.

What these retailers have in common is offering tailored recommendations based on a customer’s answers. It can make an impersonal online experience feel more personal by detecting customer patterns for a more intimate virtual touchpoint.

There are plenty of ways to tailor your recommendations on a smaller scale.

  • Consider asking customers a few simple questions.  Ask about where they live, their favorite type of music, color and activities to determine what products or services might appeal to them.
  • To track trends, review sales orders by name and previous credit card receipts. Keep detailed bookkeeping.
  • By mining existing customer information you can target each one uniquely, even as a small business.

Connect Creatively

With the growth of tech-enabled conveniences, being memorable and accessible may make a big difference in the user experience.

Domino’s Pizza has been at the forefront of creating new online customer experiences. They are the company behind tweeting pizza emojis for orders.  They also use an AI-driven chatbot named Dom via Facebook Messenger.  With Dom, customers can order without having a pre-configured “pizza profile.” It’s fun and a great way to get customers to try out a service, initially for its novelty, but may keep users coming back.

Small businesses and nonprofits should also consider what UNICEF is doing with U-Report, a chat bot that helps gather large scale data from people in remote parts of the world. Users must register, for free.  Once registered, they voice concerns and frustrations about human rights issues, natural disasters, health outbreaks, among other timely topics. According to the website, individual messages are confidential but aggregated data is transparent and can be viewed in real time.

It’s grown exponentially, adding 1.5 million new users in 2017, a 48 percent increase from 2016, for a total of 4.6 million users.

Make it Seamless

In an ideal situation, customers would not realize the interaction is AI-driven. Many businesses that rely on the customer service industry are working to reduce costly human interactions.  Artificial intelligence helps them accomplish that while also allowing them to focus on other services.

For example, Hilton Hotels is using its chatbot, Connie, an AI-based concierge service, to cover basic tasks, like scheduling a spa treatment, to allow the hotel staff to focus on taking the guest experience to a higher level, according to Hotelogix.

Thanks to recent advances in artificial intelligence, many cell phone makers areembedding AI technology into chipsets, making it possible for hotels to offer their guests mobile keys they can download or access via their mobile device. For example the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Convention Center in Iowa are allowing guests to bypass the hotel front desk check-in, in favor of mobile keys. Guests can check-in online before they arrive, walk into the hotel and go directly to their room without having to stop at the front desk.

Many hotels, including the Wynn Las Vegas, are also equipping rooms with artificially intelligent, voice-activated smart devices like Amazon’s Echo with Alexa. Guests can then make instant modifications in their room. Customers get a very personalized experience through the ability to control lights, room temperature, drapery and television,

While hospitality still means service, in the current market it now means using technology, like artificial intelligence, to help.

Technology will continue to play a significant role in changing the day-to-day operations of small businesses.   Don’t get left behind.  Keep up to date by learning more about top technologies for 2019.


7 Reasons Asset Based Financing Might Make Sense for Your Fast-growing Company

Fast-growing businesses may face a problem financing an expansion. But asset based financing may offer advantages over more traditional methods of borrowing money. Here’s what you need to know.

How asset based financing works.

Imagine that you are running a retail apparel company and need cash to grow your business. Instead of applying for a loan based on the company’s credit history, you might instead ask for financing secured by the inventory you hold. Clothing retailers usually hold significant levels of inventory (dresses, jeans, etc.) which may be used as loan collateral.

Many retailers also operate as wholesalers to smaller firms and so usually have unpaid invoices outstanding. Companies may also be able to use those invoices to help finance their own operations by contracting with an intermediary known as a factor. The factor buys the invoices at a discount in exchange for providing immediate cash.

Here are seven reasons consider asset-based financing.

What are the benefits of asset based financing?

When compared to traditional forms of lending, asset based financing can can offer a wide array of benefits – from fewer restriction, to cost savings, to less paper work. While it is not the best fit for every business, it does make sense to include it as part of your due diligence when selecting the best financing product for your business.

Here are seven reasons to consider asset-based financing.

1. Potentially lower costs

Asset based loans are secured loans. And, therefore, may be far cheaper than traditional loans which are usually based on the company’s financial history. If a loan is based solely on the credit history of a firm, it is considered an unsecured loan. As such, the borrower will get charged a higher interest rate. That’s because the bank may be assuming more risk when they make an unsecured loan.

The secured versus unsecured loan structures are similar to consumer loans, in that home loans may be cheaper than credit card debts. With a home loan, if you don’t pay your mortgage the bank may repossess your home; however, with credit card debt there’s typically no security deposit backing up the loan.

2. Less paperwork

While obtaining a traditional business loan might require you to document the financial history of your company’s operations, an asset-based loan likely would not. In other words, borrowing against the value of your inventory might be an easier way for a newer company to get financing than trying to get a traditional loan.

3. Fewer restrictions than traditional loans

Many loans have restrictions on how the money from the loan gets used. For instance, a bank may ask why you need a conventional loan (also known as a term-loan because it is given for a specified period) and how you intend to repay it. If you take out a term-loan and tell the bank you want to use it to remodel your retail stores, then that is how the bank expects you to use the proceeds. The good news is that asset based loans typically may have fewer use restrictions.

4. More flexible repayment terms

You must eventually pay back any loan to the lender. However, not all loans are created equally. Asset based loans often don’t require the entire loan amount to be paid off according to a fixed timetable, often known as an amortization schedule. Term loan payments (including a pay-down of the principal balance) must be paid each month. Asset-based loans often have more flexible payment terms, allowing businesses to pay off the debt at a time that is most suitable given their cash flow. The result is potentially more flexibility for companies using asset based financing.

5. Streamlined balance sheets

If you take out a traditional loan, then the balance due appears on your balance sheet. Some asset based financing does not get recorded that way. For instance, if you sold your outstanding invoices to a factor in exchange for immediate cash, there would be no balance to show on your firm’s balance sheet. All you’d need to do is to note how you managed this financial transaction in a footnote on the financial statements. This is known as off-balance sheet financing.

6. A good way to finance working capital.

Companies experiencing fast growth may find it hard to get additional working capital via revolving lines of credit. On the same end, as the need for working capital increases your firm may have higher levels of inventory and larger invoices due from customers. You may use inventory and larger invoices as collateral to finance increased working capital needs.

Feeling more confident about your business to go shopping for a loan? Before you start looking you should understand what factors impact terms of your loans.


Finding Your Voice: How to Use Voice Searches for Your Business

When consumers want to find a movie time, or decide what herbs to add to their pasta, or do any number of things, they often ask Siri®. Or Alexa®, Cortana®, or Echo®. Voice-search technologies are rapidly popping up on people’s phones and in their living rooms across the country. But should you use voice searches for your business?

Some 58% of consumers have used voice search to find local business information in the past year, according to a Brightlocal study. The technology is particularly popular with younger customers: 35.8% of millennials use voice-enabled digital assistants at least once a month, eMarketer found. Just a tenth of baby boomers use the technology as frequently.

Online marketing guru Neil Patel wrote on this blog that people use voice searches because they are in a hurry and want immediate results: “They aren’t searching because they’re curious or interested. They’re searching because they need your product and they are prepared to spend money to get it.”

As a result, voice searches often focus on “must have” stuff: The three most common voice searches involve finding restaurants, grocery stores, and food delivery, followed by clothing, accommodations, and medicine.

As consumers increasingly turn to voice search, business owners must understand how to get their businesses found in those searches. While this field is developing fast, here are four emerging keys to being successful with voice searches:

Use Descriptive Keywords

Voice searches put a premium on long-tail keywords — specific phrases, typically three to five words long. “Vintage seventies clothing for men” would be a long-tail keyword, as opposed to “clothing”.  These keywords may be ideally suited to small businesses, which often have specialized, focused product lines.

Speed up Your Website’s Loading Time

Since voice searchers are in a hurry, they have less tolerance for slow-loading web sites than people who are typing. The average voice search result page loads in 4.6 seconds — 52% faster than the average web page, according to a study by Backlinko, an SEO firm. Pingdom lets you check the speed of your page. If its load time is below average, take steps to speed it up.

Think in Snippets

Google prefers short, concise answers for voice searches. The average voice research result is just 29 words, Backlinko found. As companies prepare content for their web site, they should create “feature snippets,” which are short summaries that Google can find in response to questions your typical customers may ask.

Become Hyper Local

Voice searchers don’t look too far away: 46% of voice search users seek local business information on a daily basis. If you have products or customers particularly geared to voice searchers, ramp up your local SEO efforts.

Voice searches may continue to become more important as the consumer market for smart speakers and other devices equipped with voice recognition capabilities increase. For business owners, optimizing your online efforts for voice-enabled search may help keep your business top of mind for connected consumers.

Want to learn about other technologies for your business?  Check out 5 Tech Terms Busines Owners Should Know for 2019.


Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Cash Flow Statements But Were Afraid To Ask

Editor’s Note: This is one of an eight-part series about key financial terms all entrepreneurs should know. 

Never heard the term “Cash Flow Statement”? The good news is that it’s almost exactly what it sounds like! And, by the end of this article, even a financial-terms-novice can feel comfortable reviewing and discussing a cash flow statement with his or her CPA or CFO.

Feeling comfortable with a cash flow statement is imperative, because these reports are critically important to your business. In fact, CPA and entrepreneur, Bradley Klingsporn, founder of Green Bay’s Aardvark Wine Lounge, says “Many small business owners and small business accountants believe that the cash flow statement is more important than an income statement.” That’s because, “[if] the business is making huge profits, but doesn’t have anything in the bank, it won’t be able to pay its bills and it could still go under. Keeping a close eye on the cash balance is as, if not more, important than keeping an eye on the bottom line.”

What exactly is a cash flow statement?

A cash flow statement is a financial report that shows the amount of cash and cash equivalents used by a company in a given period. Cash flow statements contain three main categories. The three categories are cash flow from:

  1. operating activities
  2. investing activities
  3. financing activities.

Taken together, these three groups account for all cash coming into and going out of a business.

Why are cash flow statements important?

Staying on top of cash balance is critical to the health of a business.  This is of particular importance if you’re a business who is likely to raise money at some point. And knowing your “runway” — or how long you’re able to operate with the cash you have on-hand at the moment — is key.

When reviewing cash flow statements, entrepreneurs should be asking if the cash flows are sustainable. “If cash decreased in the period, was this because of a change that period? For example a capital purchase or large debt payment.  Or is this going to persist? For example, regular loan payments)?” Klingsporn asks. “If cash decreases are expected, is there a need for additional cash inflows? If so, how will the business get the additional cash?”

How can cash flow statements impact your financing options?

Cash flow statements allow potential financing partners to assess a company’s general health, including how quickly your company will be able to pay off outstanding debts. Although it’s not imperative to have a high cash flow to borrow money, lenders may favor companies that do. The more positive a cash flow statement looks, the easier time you likely to have securing favorable financing options.

Can I create my cash flow statement?

If you’re in the early stages of looking to raise capital and have never put together or reviewed a cash flow statement, Klingsporn’s advice is to bring in an expert. “Hire an accountant,” he says. “If you don’t want to do that, the basic process is to identify cash inflows and outflows that don’t affect net income and expenses and income that doesn’t affect cash. The former would include principal loan payments, cash from new debt, and purchases or sales of capital equipment. The latter would include depreciation and changes in receivables or payables. If that sounds confusing, see the first sentence.”

What’s next?

Just like it’s easier to travel in a foreign country when you know the language, it’s easier to raise capital (or secure any kind of funding for your business) when you’re familiar with key financial terms and their real-life applications.  Check out the other installments in this series covering The next installment of this series, where you will learn everything you wanted to know about turnover ratiodebt to income ratiopayables turnover ratiodebt service coverage ratio and current ratio


Why Isn’t My Email Marketing Working?

You’ve made email marketing a key part of your marketing strategy. You’ve carefully compiled your email list, created some beautiful email designs, and wrote some amazing copy….

So why aren’t isn’t your email marketing getting a response?

There is no one definitive explanation of why an email marketing campaign doesn’t perform.  But, there are best practices you can implement to help improve your results.

Segment your email lists.

Personalized content is key to a successful marketing emails. Email segmentation essentially means separating the people on your email list into small groups, based on some type of commonality. Whether you distinguish your segments by the types of things they purchase, how recently they’ve made a purchase,or the discounts they’ve redeemed, segmentation allows you to tailor your messages based on the recipient, and what they’ll likely notice.

While segmenting your lists takes a little more effort than a generic email sent to all ,analysis by MailChimp indicates that it’s time well spent. Opens and clicks on segmented email lists are 100% higher than they are with a non-segmented list. Once you do segment, the content of your email should be tailored to the specific group, along with the subject line. (More on that later).

Schedule emails to suit your audience.

You can’t change the fact that the recipients on your email list probably have a cluttered email inbox, but you can increase the chances that your email will get noticed by sending it when you have a captive audience.

One study by MailChimp revealed that emails sent on a Thursday generally receive the highest amount of opens, followed closely by those sent on a Tuesday. Unless your email content is related to a hobby or a recreational activity, avoid sending emails on the weekend.If your email list is made up of consumers (not a business-to-business communication) send your email early in the morning, before traditional office hours begin. Your recipients are most likely to be commuting into the office, or actively checking their email before their day is in full swing.

Avoid email fatigue

In the same way that you want to schedule email sends around the time of day and week that fits best for your audience, you also want to make sure that the frequency in which you send these emails fits your audience. As you start to track your engagement metrics (see more below), you can determine how often your audience wants to be contacted. And many email platforms allow you to set up a preference center, which gives you the ability to let your audience actually tell you how frequently they would like to be contacted by you.

Why is frequency so important? If you don’t email often enough, your brand will not stay top-of-mind with your audience. On the other end, if you email too often your audience could begin to experience email fatigue.  In short, email fatigue is when your audience gets. tired. of. getting. so. many. emails. from. you.  They will stop opening them and engaging with them. If this happens too often, some email clients will begin to automatically direct these emails to clutter or spam folders.

Experiment with subject lines.

An email subject line is your first chance to make a first (or potentially, last) impression. While the “right” subject line depends on the content in your email, the audience and your relationship with the recipient, there are a few tricks of the trade you can apply:

Subject lines should lead with actionable language and a clear payoff for the recipient. Eliminate unnecessary nouns and pronouns.  Use words like “save,” “learn,” “take,” or “see” to get right to the point.Personalize subject lines to indicate that you know the recipient. Is the recipient on your email list because she purchased a similar item in the past? Perhaps she redeemed a similar promotional offer once before, or left an item in a shopping cart. Tell her why she’s got to open your email.

Appeal to your readers.

There is one thing your reader wants to know in your email: “What’s in it for me?” Your email copy should address that question within the first few lines of copy, and include a clear call to action. If you make them scroll, they probably won’t find it.

Test how your email displays.

At least half of all emails are now opened on a mobile device, according to Hubspot. Perhaps more importantly, mobile users check mails three times more frequently than desktop users. Ensure that your emails can be opened and read on a mobile device and a traditional computer screen, and that the appearance and functionality appearance works in all email clients including Apple iPhone, Gmail, Apple iPad, Android, Apple Mail and Outlook.

Use metrics to refine your marketing.

Email campaign metrics can tell you a lot about your customers and business opportunity.  Some of the top metrics include how many people opened your message (your open rate), read your emails, clicked on the links (your click through rate) and who unsubscribed from your list entirely after receiving a specific email.

Establish a cadence for when you’ll run campaign reports. Then establish and test against benchmarks so you have a foundation from which to build. Apply your findings to test variables like subject lines, creative messages, the landing pages you use and the time you send the email.  Then refine continually. Eventually, patterns will emerge and you’ll start to know how to optimize email as a channel that helps drive results.

Always remember that your customers come first

Just like they do in every other aspect of your business, your customers need to come first with email marketing. Never send emails just to send emails. Members of your audience gave you their email address with the understanding that you would provide something of value. Share a great discount. Share an educational blog post. Establish a weekly or monthly email newsletter that focuses on topics that are important to them. Just be sure to stay true to that unspoken agreement.  And always send something that will that will also strengthen your relationship with your audience.

Email marketing can be an exceptionally useful tool in your marketing strategy – if you do it right! By integrating these useful tips into your email marketing program, you should begin to see better results. Any by continuously watching your metrics and A/B testing your email content, those results should continue to improve.