With Clarity creative marketing – rethinking a tried and true industry

It can be hard to get attention as a small business. It’s especially difficult when you’re competing against larger, established firms with much deeper advertising budgets. But, these established companies are set in their ways. They don’t have the same flexibility that you do. This is one way for your business to stand out. With Clarity, an online retailer of engagement rings, is shaking up the traditional jewelry industry. Their business uses 3D printing to create samples of engagement rings. This way, people shopping online can try them on at home before buying.

We spoke with Slisha Kankariya, co-founder and CMO, to see how they were able to rethink such a tried and true industry.

Spotting an Opportunity

Kankariya launched With Clarity with her husband Anubh. “His family had worked in the diamond and jewelry industry for three generations, so we decided to delve back into that space. However, we didn’t want to go the traditional route and run With Clarity just like every other jewelry store in the country.”

They noticed that while people shop online for many other products, it’s still quite rare for high-end jewelry. “90 percent of people look for engagement rings online, but only 10 percent of sales actually happen online. This is a missed opportunity for customers because there is more variety on the internet plus prices are typically 30 to 40 percent lower.”

Before opening, they spent time speaking with their customer base to find out why they were reluctant to shop online. “We realized that people have this fear of commitment for such a major purchase. They aren’t confident buying something they haven’t touched, haven’t seen sparkle.” They realized then that 3D printing could be the answer.

Benefiting from a Unique Business Model

Through 3D printing, With Clarity offers a home preview option for their online shoppers. People can pick out their two favorite options from the website and With Clarity will create sample rings for both, using simulated diamonds and a metal alloy that looks just like gold/silver. “The timing was perfect to launch this new model as 3D printing has gotten more affordable and effective.”

Kankariya noted that there are many benefits to her customers as well. “It gives them more options, especially people living in an area without many stores nearby. Plus, they don’t have to meet face-to-face with a pushy salesperson.”

With Clarity’s unique approach has gotten them plenty of attention as well. They were able to land investors and mentors through a New York technology accelerator plus their business has been featured in media outlets like Inc., Entrepreneur and Fox Business. If they had gone the traditional route, it would have been more difficult to get this kind of press, especially while competing in a saturated market.

Rethinking Your Own Industry

We asked Kankariya how other business owners could shake up their own industries. She believes it starts with a customer-based focus. “Try to look at the World through the lens of your customer, not your perspective as a business owner. Ideally, you should find a unique way to solve one of their problems.”

Whether it’s better pricing, more variety, supply chain transparency or a more convenient sales system, you need only one element that’s truly different from your established competitors. When you find it, make it the focal point of your business.

Kankariya pointed out that it’s ok to be niche as well. “Since we launched, the market share of people buying rings online has grown from 10% to 14%.” Despite the sizable jump, the majority still shop in-person. However, those that use With Clarity are pleased with their experience. With Clarity is building a loyal and growing customer base. A successful small business doesn’t need to capture the entire market so long as they do well in their niche market.

Rethinking a tried and true industry isn’t easy, but With Clarity shows it definitely helps you stand out. By adjusting your business model, you could receive plenty of marketing attention even without paying for advertising. This is just one more way you can do more with less.

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Do You Know Your Fixed Charge Coverage Ratio?

Usually when someone mentions a company’s coverage ratio, they’re referring to the ability of the business to pay its debt obligations. Specifically, they’re referencing a financial metric known as the times-interest-earned ratio. But, a company has more fixed obligations than its principal and interest loan payments. The fixed charge coverage ratio includes all of a company’s fixed obligations–not just its debt service coverage.

What are a Company’s Fixed Charges?

Every business has fixed obligations they must regularly meet, regardless of sales volume or profits. Here are a few of the fixed obligations in addition to loan payments that most companies have to make:

Insurance premiums covering vehicles and property
Rent for offices and warehouses
Licenses and fees
Employee wages and salaries
Lease payments on equipment
Property taxes

A company’s cash flow must be enough to at least pay these obligations or it could go out of business.

What is the Fixed Charge Coverage Ratio?

The fixed charge coverage ratio, FCCR, shows the ability of a business to pay all its recurring fixed charges before deductions for interest and taxes. The formula to calculate the FCCR is as follows:

Fixed Charge Coverage Ratio = (Earnings before interest and taxes [EBIT] + Fixed charges before taxes)/(Fixed charges before taxes + interest)

Let’s illustrate with an example. Suppose Company A has an EBIT of $110,000, interest charges of $10,000 and other fixed obligations of $115,000 before taxes (leases, insurance and salaries). Its FCCR would be as follows:

FCCR = ($110,000 + $115,000)/($115,000 + $10,000) = 2.0

The FCCR shows the amount of the company’s cash flow that fixed costs consume. In the case of Company A, an FCCR of 2.0 means the company generates $2 in EBIT for each $1 in fixed costs.

How do Lenders Use the FCCR?

Lenders use FCCR to gauge a business’s financial health and ability to repay its loans. They want to know that a company can meet all its obligations even if sales decline.

Generally, lenders prefer an FCCR of at least 1.25:1. Higher ratios mean that the company can more comfortably cover its fixed costs with its current cash flow. It also shows that the company can take on more debt and still meet its obligations. An FCCR less than one means the business does not have enough earnings to cover its fixed costs. In this case, the owner could be forced to dip into reserve savings to cover the deficit.

How Can a Small Business Owner Use FCCR?

A business owner can use it to learn where the company currently stands and look for ways to improve. Tracking the FCCR over time will let you see if the company’s financial health is improving or declining.

You should know your FCCR before submitting a loan application. An FCCR of 1.25:1 makes lenders less inclined to offer a loan. As a result, you’ll know that you need to improve your FCCR.

If your FCCR is low, you could look at ways to improve marketing and increase sales. Or, on the other hand, you could analyze fixed costs to see if any expenses could be reduced. Owners can use this information to find which projects they can pursue without straining the business’s financial resources. Constructing various “what if” scenarios of different loan arrangements and the effects of changes in revenues and expenses will let you see the resulting FCCRs in the future.

Besides a high FCCR helping you to get financing, it is also assuring to you and your employees to know that the business is healthy and on a solid base for growth.

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4 Strategies to Boost Customer Acquisition in 2020

For new customer acquisition in 2020, business owners should balance past tactics with new strategies. This way, they can maximize their return on marketing investments. Here are four strategies for boosting customer acquisition in 2020:

1. Refocus efforts on identifying your target customers.

It’s easy for businesses to adopt the mindset that everyone wants the products or services they sell. But the fact of the matter is that the most successful enterprises work hard to target specific groups of customers to whom their offerings are most attractive.

Without a defined audience, your branding and marketing messages lack specifications needed to reach those prospective consumers who most need or want what you are selling. Virtually all businesses have one or more niche markets where they are most successful. The goal of fueling new customer acquisition in 2020 and beyond is to more clearly identify these niche groups, and not waste time and resources where there’s the least chance of generating new customers.

2. Explore opportunities with video.

It’s a simple fact of marketing–consumers respond favorably to visual content that’s both educational and entertaining. Businesses that have previously neglected this approach might find exciting opportunities to highlight their products or services through video in 2020. Types of video that are most successful include:

  • Explainer or “how-to” content. This can be especially effective if the benefits of your offerings are immediately clear to prospective customers (or might be, as in the case of B2B, too complex to grasp through written content only). Video is also useful for informing people of multiple uses or features that might otherwise get lost in your marketing message.
  • Testimonials. Nothing impresses prospective customers more than seeing and hearing from customers who are satisfied and enthusiastic about your business. Recruit a handful of your best customers and offer incentives to them for speaking [positively] on camera about your products or services.

Video was once considered too expensive to produce. Now, it’s relatively cost-effective with advanced camera technology, as well as smartphones and other mobile devices. At the same time, it’s important to commit to the highest quality production values with your video campaigns. (Anything that appears amateurish or made on the cheap sends the wrong message.) Invite freelance videographers or production agencies to pitch ideas about how to feature your business in smart, appealing, and well-made videos.

Once you have fresh video content in place, get it out there! Social media is the obvious choice. Followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and other platforms already view this type of content. Posting videos on your website and offering links through other marketing efforts makes it easier for new customers to access them.

3. Social media campaigns.

Additionally, another option for established businesses and startups is to engage in concentrated social listening. A variety of resources are available on Twitter and other platforms for you to “listen in” on community discussions and to target users and groups to generate fresh leads.

Social media marketing campaigns are another effective lead-generation strategy. Organic social media aims to boost brand awareness through distribution of free, value-added content and/or participation in industry-related groups. Paid social media efforts increases your brand and content visibility within your target audience.

4. Giveaways.

Depending upon your product or service, a focused giveaway initiative could be the most effective new customer acquisition strategy. Let prospects know they can experience your offering on their own (at no charge). Free product trials and/or no-cost software downloads could demonstrate the value of your product or service. A favorable experience on their part may lead to the next step in the purchasing journey.


Keep these strategies in mind. Look into automation software that saves time and resources. They’ll automate processes to help maintain contact with existing customers and potentially reach new ones. Automation of social media, content and email marketing efforts enable you to keep customers appraised of forthcoming sales and discounts, re-connect with former customers and make it easier for loyal customers to send referrals.

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Competing in an Oversaturated Market

Going up against competitors in an oversaturated market takes ingenuity, boldness, imagination, and probably a little bit of luck. Just because a particular market is crowded doesn’t mean an innovative, value-added approach won’t get you in the door. Finding the best ways to differentiate your business might be just the ticket to dramatic new growth.

Consider the “built-in” advantages a small business has in a crowded marketplace, specifically in terms of agility. A small business can “pivot and reshape their game plan when the market changes” with far greater ease than a big company. The same is potentially true with regards to updating a business website or launching a rebranding campaign. In a well-run small business, there are simply less institutional hurdles and obstacles that get in the way.

Here are other tips and insights to help you craft your aggressive strategy:

Know your own business and customers, inside and out.

Probably the most effective place to start your quest is by revisiting your current customer base. How well you understand how your customers’ preferences might have changed since you first began your business. If you’re not keeping up-to-date, you risk losing that customer base to a competitor in your crowded market.

As you continue to grow and before breaking into a new market, objectively assess these factors of your business:

  • Changes in customer desires or “pain points”
  • New ideas on how to market your products or services
  • Innovations in your online presence (website, social media, etc.)
  • A forecast of where you expect the industry to be in 3-5 years

All of these factors can play an important role in your strategy to compete in an oversaturated market.

Survey your customers.

Building on your “self-assessment,” now’s a good time to reach out to your loyal customers. Learn first-hand about why they stick with your business over time. Put together a simple email survey or online questionnaire that aims to identify precisely how customers look at (a) the quality of your offering; and (b) the relative ease (or lack thereof) of the purchasing process.

Not only will your customers’ responses serve to enlighten you regarding entering a competitive market, but they could help address any existing shortcomings in quality, customer service, and/or delivery.

Don’t attempt to differentiate by pricing.

A common tactic among newcomers and those who suddenly feel pressure in a quickly growing segment is offering sharply reduced prices. In theory, this is meant to attract cost-conscious prospective customers who put price above all else.

As a long-term differentiating factor, though, it’s risky at best. Why? Because another business will come along soon enough and attempt to undercut your low prices.

For this reason, notes Inc., “resist the temptation to commodify your own product by competing on cost and winning customers by being the cheapest option.” This potentially compromises your brand and distracts from the goal of offering a product or service “so valuable that people will pay what you’re charging.”

Stay laser-focused on customer satisfaction.

Never lose sight of the value of a satisfied customer. Evaluate every customer touchpoint along the buying journey to ensure you’ve left no stone unturned with respect to customer satisfaction. How effective is your customer service department? Are complaints addressed in a timely manner? How consistently does your team meet and exceed customer expectations?

All of this information can help set you apart in the crowded marketplace. After all, as the business advisor marketplace Consultants 500 notes, “Satisfied customers are more willing to give testimonials, good reviews” and recommendations to family and friends. Plus, “word-of-mouth recommendations can go a long way in helping you penetrate an overcrowded market.”

Exploit gaps in the market.

There are still areas where customers’ needs are either being overlooked or not met, despite an oversaturated market. There might be a lack of efficiency in how products or services are developed or delivered to customers. In other words, an upgrade takes place, but with a lack of viable customer support.

Taking a close look at the supposedly crowded market might unearth opportunities like these, ripe for the taking by an imaginative, risk-taking business.

Reach out to niche customers.

Within any oversaturated market, there are “pockets” of niche customers who want more from the businesses they frequent. This particular demographic (which can vary in size depending upon the industry and market) might well be worth targeting–if you can find it.

The challenge is closely analyzing the current state of the market and determining if a significant enough portion of that customer base is receiving the special attention it wants and demands. If not, you can exploit this opportunity and make it work in your favor.

Look for opportunities to add value.

Customers are always looking for “value.” whether in terms of product quality or the array of features and benefits a product or service offers. Focus on how you can do better than competitors when it comes to value. What features and benefits might be missing from the competition? Are there ways to enhance the reliability and dependability of a product or service? Can you do more in terms of customer service and support?

Look at where you can create new value where it previously didn’t exist. This could be your “wedge strategy” to enter that crowded market.

Keep it simple!

Lastly, an important differentiating factor is simplicity. Too many businesses in a crowded market have overly complicated websites or other customer-focused processes that discourage customer participation. By simplifying things, you will make your business more attractive to prospects and others.

Business2Community notes, “far too many businesses who don’t put themselves in the customer’s shoes [end up creating] a less-than-satisfactory customer experience.” Your business can stand out “by ensuring you have the easiest buying process out there.”

New market opportunities do exist in an oversaturated market. The key is closely analyzing conditions, with a special focus on value, customer service, and delivery of new benefits. If you zero in on one or more of these missing elements, chances are good you’ll stand out in that crowded market.


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Guide to POS Systems for Small Business

Small businesses face stiff competition, and they need every advantage they can get. Sometimes, an advantage can be found in an unlikely place, such as your point of sale (POS) system. POS systems provide an array of functionality that can help you with marketing, employee management, inventory management and payment processing, among others. So, getting the right system that meets the needs of your business is one way to gain an edge. But, how do you know which POS system is right for you?

Let’s start with the basics.

What Are POS Systems For Small Business?

By definition, a point of sale is where a sales transaction takes place. It could be at a register in a brick-and-mortar store, on a mobile device or even online.

A POS system combines hardware and software that retailers use to process sales transactions. It is not just a credit card processing system.  In reality, a POS can handle a variety of back-office functions in addition to processing credit card payments.

What Functions Does a POS Perform? A POS can have the following capabilities:

Scan barcodes – Use a barcode scanner to quickly input product and sales data into the system.
Process card payments, returns and exchanges – The credit card reader should input the customer’s credit card data from swiping a magstripe, dipping cards with chips or accept contactless payment such as Google Pay and Apple Pay. For mobile sales, you can connect card readers to tablets and smartphones per the headphone jack. Purchases made through your website can be processed with online POS software.
Track customer history – Keep records of customer profile data and sales history. Collect customer contact information and create lists for email marketing.
Keep records of employee performance and time management – Track employee clock-in and clock-out data and record sales performance for commissions.
Track inventory – Maintain current inventory in-stock levels of products and issue alerts for low stock amounts to reorder and prevent missed sales. Store supplier information, wholesale costs and discounts and issue purchase orders.
Produce reports- Produce sales performance reports. For example, track top sellers, identify slow movers and predict seasonal fluctuations.

What are the Key Elements of a POS System?

Pricing – POS systems can cost as little as $0 per month up to $300 per month. All systems charge a payment processing fee. They can be cheap or very expensive to operate, depending on the additional functions provided.

Hardware – POS systems typically work on most Android devices, iPhones and iPads. If you have one of these already, you can start your POS with a low-cost or free card reader and few other hardware costs. However, if you don’t have a barcode scanner, you’ll need to purchase one. Additional hardware costs could be anything from a printer for receipts to a cash drawer.

Plans – POS plans should range from a free (or low-cost) option with little more than the capability to process credit card payments, but have the flexibility to add more sophisticated data tracking and reporting as the business grows.

Top POS Systems for Small Businesses


Square is the POS of choice for mobile businesses. Additionally, it’s also an economical favorite for retailers with physical stores. Many users conduct all of their business with just an iPad and a basic Square plan.

Advantages – Square has a basic plan with a zero monthly cost, making it easy to get started with a POS system. The software is intuitive and easy to use.
Disadvantages – Transaction fees can be slightly higher that other POS systems. Square charges more for transactions with manual entry than other POS providers.


Lightspeed offers more than 40 detailed sales, inventory and analytic reports. It provides nearly any type of data analysis that a retail business would need.

Advantages – The basic plan starts at $99/month and upfront purchases of hardware can approach $700, but you will receive extensive and sophisticated data analysis and reports.
Disadvantages – The ecommerce feature is only available at an additional monthly fee. Shopify and Square offer ecommerce platforms for free. Unlike other POS providers, Lightspeed requires a contract, which means you’re stuck if you don’t like their system.


Shopify has a reputation as one of the best POS systems for ecommerce. It’s easy to set up and has a wide range of options that are customizable for any small business. It also scales up as a business grows.

The plans range from a basic option at $29/month up to the Advanced Shopify at $299/month.

Advantages – Shopify has affordable subscription and processing fees and offers a 14-day free trial. Its ecommerce tools are some of the best.
Disadvantages – Data reporting on the Basic Plan is limited. Shopify doesn’t have a free subscription plan; options with more features gets expensive.


ShopKeep is designed especially for cafes, bars, boutiques and specialty shops. It offers very detailed product and inventory tracking and goes further by keeping track of recipes and ingredients, for example.

Advantages – It offers helpful features for sales staff management, inventory control and reporting.
Disadvantages – It doesn’t have fixed-price plans. Company representatives prepare a custom quote for each business application. Generally, higher business volumes reduce the credit card processing fee. ShopKeep offers a free version, but limits the number of items in inventory, number of employees and registers. Even the sales amount is restricted without an upgrade.


How to Choose a POS System

Use the following criteria and ask yourself these questions to determine the best POS systems for your small business:

  1. Price – Is the software and hardware reasonably priced with low monthly fees for a small business?
  2. Payment processing –Do the transaction processing fees compete with other providers?
  3. Inventory management – Does the system produce inventory data that you actually need?
  4. Customer data management – Does the system collect customer profiles, keep lists for email marketing, track customer purchase history, have a customer loyalty option, and offer gift cards?
  5. Employee data – What information does the system provide for individual employee performance?
  6. Customer support – Does the provider have free, live support, and is it available 24/7?
  7. Integrations – Does the system integrate selling, marketing and accounting reports?
  8. Analytics and reporting – What data do the reports provide? Can data be exported? Will the system produce visual charts and graphs?

Making Your Choice

First, decide what you want in a POS system. If it’s just processing credit card transactions, a free card reader with processing charges per individual sale and no monthly fee is good enough. But if you’re looking to add customer data for marketing, inventory management and tracking employee performance, then you’ll need to purchase a system that provides those additional functions.

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12 Black Friday Marketing Tips for Small Businesses

Black Friday shoppers are looking for a deal. They want to see something unique and expect huge discounts. Here are 12 Black Friday marketing tips to get you thinking about what you can do to make your business stand out.

1. Promote Before Black Friday
Build suspense by sending emails to your customer list 10 to 14 days before Black Friday promoting your soon-to-come irrestible offers. Post your coming promotions on your website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Use relevant hashtags to get traffic.

2. Have Sales Before Black Friday
There is no reason that you have to wait until Black Friday to have a sale. You can start building up enthusiasm and expectation by having flash sales in the days before.

3. Start Your Specials Later in the Morning
Don’t try to compete with the big box stores and their early morning stampedes. You can’t. Open your store later in the morning but have your own special doorbuster campaign for the first few hours. Send emails a few days before Black Friday to alert customers to your opening times and make them aware of special early discounts. This way the customer knows to expect early deals, but they don’t have to get up at 3:00AM to take advantage.

4. Offer Hourly Online Deals on Your Website
Offer a special deal on a certain product every hour for four hours, for example. You can tell the website visitor which items are coming up for special prices, or, on the other hand, don’t tell the visitor and create a mystery that they have to check back in to find out.

5. Offer Hourly In-store Deals
Like the special hourly online deals, do the same promotions in-store. For instance, offer 25% off on certain products through midday, then, in the afternoon, offer a free gift with every purchase over $XX or have two-for-one sales on certain items that complement each other.

6. Offer Gift Cards
Gift cards are simple, but hugely popular. Three-quarters of buyers with gift cards will spend more than the amount of the card. Display them prominently, next to the register or at a pickup counter, and make sure to have an ample supply ready to go.

Make gift cards even more enticing by offering a deal to the purchaser: Buy a $50 gift card and get a free gift or a $10 gift card for themselves. Another option is to sell a $100 gift card for $80. Customers don’t have to buy anything today; give them a year to come back and use the card.

7. Create a Gift Guide
Create categories based on price points (10 Gifts under $50), gender or product colors. Promote individual gift guide items on social media. Include pictures and links to make quick purchases. Maybe have a flyer in-store that the customer can take to guide their Christmas shopping.

8. Offer Free Services With Purchase
This should be something useful, like free shipping. This is a well-known offer, but customers still love it. Go the extra mile; offer free wrapping or, if appropriate, delivery.

9. Bundle Products
Look in your business for ways to create bundles of products instead of making individual sales. Put together combinations of three to four complementary products. Bundles make great gift packs and can offer more value to the consumer with discounted prices that are less than the total when sold individually.

10. Offer Special Discounts
Give exclusive discounts to senior citizens, students, military personnel and teachers.

11. Reward Social Media
Work the social media scene (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter). Use hashtags that customers can pull up on their mobile phones to receive special discounts.

12. Reward for Sign-ups
Customers who sign up for emails and your newsletter get an exclusive Black Friday deal, such as another 10% off.

An effective Black Friday campaign requires thought and planning. Start making your plan early to give yourself time to think about ideas, identify any potential problem areas and find solutions. Ask yourself these questions to get started:

  • Which product and services do you want to promote?
  • What discounts will you offer?
  • Where will you advertise these specials to your customers?
  • Will you offer online or in-store deals, or both?
  • When will your campaign begin and end?
  • What preparations will your employees need to handle the orders?

What’s Your Hook?
Create offers that make customers feel they are getting great value for their money. Build a strategy that offers deals for both the gift buyers and those buying for themselves. Remember that customers gained during Black Friday/Cyber Monday will likely come back to make more purchases during the year.

Start your promotions early and extend deals for four days through Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.
Offer specials for different products during the four days: For example, promote 25% off sweaters one day and 25% off shoes the next. This encourages repeat visits.

Use the Black Friday marketing tips above to create a total, overall campaign. Think of it as a journey that will last until next year.

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How Small Businesses Can Win Big on Black Friday

If you don’t have a small business Black Friday plan yet, there’s still time.

According to the National Retail Federation, holiday spending will increase and total holiday sales will top $730 billion for 2019. Many small businesses find Black Friday is one of their biggest shopping days of the year.

Brands with a tangible plan benefit the most. Here’s how to ensure your small business Black Friday success.

Examine Past Data

Now is a great time to look at past Black Friday sales numbers. Data can help you make key decisions about ordering inventory, scheduling staff and determining the best hours of operation. Look at what sold the most, the timeframes you were busiest and which channels customers used. Did anything break down? For example, if long lines hamstrung sales due to light staffing early in the morning, use that intel to change the way you approach planning for 2019.

Work Your Email List

Leveraging your email list is a great way to cut through holiday advertising noise and get your most important messages right in customers’ inboxes. Take these steps to make the most of your email list:

  • Warm up the list before Black Friday. If your list has been languishing, send out at least one message before the holiday and tease big deals, exclusive content and other selling points.
  • Be strategic with timing. You don’t want to fatigue your list, but remember that sending a few emails spaced before and during Black Friday will keep your brand top of mind.
  • Segment your email list to help make messaging as relevant as possible.

Plan Your Social Campaign

Social media lets you connect with busy customers. Plan your strategy now. November is the perfect time to create posts, source images and schedule content ahead of time. That way, even when your team is focused on other things, your social presence will run smoothly throughout the shopping period around Black Friday. Diversify your content. Feature your best deals and consider exclusive doorbusters to get social fans buying online or into the store. Mix in a bit of humor, fun seasonal posts and a touch of personality. Customers will remember that you helped lower their stress.

Get Inventory In-Store

You can’t sell items that you don’t have on hand. Evaluate your inventory now, and place orders well ahead of demand. If you’re struggling with cash flow, consider a short-term business loan. Funding can help you get the goods in stock to meet customer needs on Black Friday and beyond. Look at your historical data to see what’s likely to sell. You can also gather market intelligence on what influencers are discussing and what customers are asking about for the upcoming holiday season.

Stress Test Your Digital Systems

One of the biggest myths about small business Black Friday planning is that your focus should be entirely in-store. Consumers unwilling to brave the crowds shop online and look for deals ahead of Cyber Monday. Now is a great time to stress test your digital systems and fix issues. Upgrade your hosting to support traffic bursts, explore features such as scheduling your newsletter and remove friction from your order process. If you’re adding new features, such as accepting different payment types, get that resolved and fully tested now.

Create Gift Guides

Holiday shoppers are often stressed about what gifts to give. What do you get for the boss who has everything? Is there a gift a picky teenager is sure to love? Consider highlighting your products and offerings with gift guides that can inspire buyers and get them through your door on Black Friday. Your website, social media, email newsletter and print mailings — as well as in-store printouts — are all great ways to repackage this content.

Choose One Showstopper Deal

Getting people into your store or website is often the biggest small business Black Friday challenge. Consider offering one deal customers can’t refuse. Early bird giveaways, steep one-day discounts, exclusive bundles and value-add packages are all great ways to get audiences interested and engaged.

If you don’t have a small business Black Friday strategy in place, don’t panic. There’s still plenty of time to get your inventory, staffing and marketing aligned to make a big splash and have a profitable day. Whether you just need time to plan, or if a cash flow infusion from a small business loan would help, do the work now. You’ll have happy customers, increased revenues and smoother operations on retail’s biggest day of the year.

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7 Networking Tips for Small Business Owners

You’re going to a networking event this month, and if you’re being honest with yourself, you’re feeling a bit anxious. It’s not like anyone ever taught you how to connect with others and promote yourself in school or when starting your business. You don’t want to mess this opportunity up.

Here’s the good news: there’s no need to stress. With a little pre-planning, a positive attitude, and a motivation to build new relationships, you’ll be a professional networker in no time. To start, here are 7 networking tips for small business owners.

Be Strategic

“Developing a strategy and plan for networking is vital to get the most out of your networking efforts,” says Carrie Sharpe, communications consultant and speaker, in an interview for this article. She continues, “It’s helpful to know in advance if there’s a particular person you’d like to meet, or if you’d like to connect with someone in a specific field.

Utilize the Buddy System

Are you feeling anxious about attending on your own? Don’t! Invite someone to come with you if being solo is affecting your decision to attend.

Sharpe says, “Sometimes it helps to go to networking events with a friend, coworker, or spouse. That way you have someone to sit with, encourage you, and help keep conversations going. Working as a team like that can alleviate some anxiety.”

If you don’t have anyone to connect with, use social media to find someone else who will be attending the event and plan with them to meet up.

Craft & Practice Your Elevator Pitch

How do you feel talking about yourself and your business? Usually, one of the hardest aspects to networking for small business owners is answering the question “what do you do?” After that, conversation flows a bit easier.

The best way to manage this is to come up with an “elevator pitch” that you can share when meeting new business. Keep it short, you basically want to sum up what your job title is, and who you help in a couple sentences. Bonus points if you can share a highlight or recent win in your introduction.

If you met me at an event you might hear, “I’m a content strategist who helps businesses use SEO and storytelling to attract the perfect-for-them customers. Just this week one of my client’s articles moved to the first page of search results.”

Ask Questions

Now that you know how to introduce yourself, it’s important to learn how to connect with others. The easiest way to do that is to ask questions about the person you’re speaking with.

“If you have the goal of building relationships, asking questions to get to know the other person is key,” says Sharpe. “There is no pressure on you to do all the talking. Be a good listener, and ask open-ended questions. Learn about other people, and allow them to shine.”

Not sure what to ask? Here are a few suggestions from Sharpe:

  • “Who is your favorite kind of person to work with?”
  • “What do you have going on in your business right now that really excites you?”
  • “Oh, really? Why is that?”


Photo by HIVAN ARVIZU @soyhivan on Unsplash

Walk the Walls

One of the easiest to implement networking tips for small business owners is to introduce yourself to the people on the outskirts instead of walking straight into the crowd.

Sharpe agrees and says, “Instead of looking to the mob of people congregating in the center of the room, find a person or two along the edge of the room and focus on them. A few strong connections trumps several surface-level ones.”

End the Conversation

Sometimes leaving the conversation to meet someone new can be awkward. However, you can say goodbye in a way that’s beneficial to you both. First, make sure to ask for the individual’s contact information if you’d like to connect after the event. Then, ask your new connection how you can be of service to them best.

Sharpe suggests saying something to the effect of, “I know time is limited and you need to talk to other people here, too, so in our last couple minutes tell me how I can best support you and your business.”

Follow Up

It’s important to follow up, and right away! If you wait too long, you’re risking that your new connection may forget you or mistake you for someone else they’ve met.

Main photo: Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

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Best Books for Small Business Owners – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

October Monthly Must-Reads: Best Books for Small Business Owners

As a business owner, you likely wear many hats, from human resources to operations and from sales to fulfillment. So, where do you fit in time for learning and professional development?

Keep up with innovation, business and leadership trends by reading the right business books for your small business.

In our Monthly Must-Reads series, we share a featured business book’s main focus and key take-aways, so you can determine within a minute if it’s relevant to you and your small business—really, whether it’s worth your valuable time. This month, we’re covering Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which seeks to teach you how to use six universal principles of persuasion as well as how to be aware of when others use them on you.

Business Book:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini


Understanding the psychology and main principles behind effective persuasion

Main Idea:

There is useful science behind how people are persuaded

Great for Small Business Owners Who:

Want to improve their sales conversations


Dr. Cialdini identifies and explains six principles of persuasion. He argues that utilizing them ethically will help readers more successfully win people over to their way of thinking. In fact, he says, employing tactics related to each principle to make small, free and practical changes can often improve your results.

While exploring each principle, Cialdini shares research and past studies that illustrate each principle in action. He then uses real-life examples to help readers understand each one in ways that will help them apply these principles to their own efforts.

The six principles are:

  • Reciprocity – The inclination to return favors
  • Scarcity – When people perceive a scarcity, demand tends to go up
  • Authority – People want to believe they’re working with someone who’s credible
  • Consistency – If someone has previously said or done something, they’re more likely to take a similar or related action than those who have not
  • Liking – People are more likely to go along with someone they like
  • Consensus – People are more likely to go along with your points if you can show that others agree with you
Key Take-Aways:
  • Understanding and using these principles empowers you to grow more persuasive—in an entirely ethical way.
  • When trying to persuade people:
    • Build the beginning of a positive relationship by looking for similarities between yourselves and consider genuine compliments you can offer.
    • Always be the first to give. Something unexpected and even personalized works best.
    • Share not only what is unique about your offering or argument, but also what they stand to lose if they don’t consider your ideas.
    • Find ways to present or display proofs of your credibility.
    • Look for ways to tie your ideas to something that they have said or done in the past.
    • Show them that others—especially people similar to themselves—already agree with and/or have acted on your ideas.
Reviewers Say:

“I own perhaps 2,000 books on the subject of selling. This is certainly in the top 5.”

“This book is dated and largely appears to pre-date what we consider the modern internet/TV phenomenon, and that’s obvious in reading it. That’s its only real flaw… and, to be fair, this wouldn’t likely receive much improvement from an updated revision. [The] lessons inside about how we are susceptible to persuasion don’t really need updating… they are solid enough, outlined well enough, and supported with facts and data enough that they withstand the obvious test of time.”

“I read this book when it first came out 25 years ago. It had an enormous impact on my thinking and behavior. Since then, I have recommended it to thousands of people…In return, I have had hundreds of people thank me for recommending it. I recently decided to reread the updated version. It does not disappoint. I will still be recommending it. I would say that this is a book you need to read in self-defense, if for no other reason. You have no idea how many times a day people try to influence you using the techniques described in this book. If you like to think that you are an autonomous person who thinks for yourself, you would be wrong. This book shows just how much you respond to influence cues in your environment without any thought at all. Unfortunately, we all function on autopilot far more often than we realize. This book will help you get off of autopilot, at least some of the time.”

Kapitus Monthly Must-Read Business Books:

August – Blitzscaling

September – The E-Myth Revisited

October – Influence

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How to Build a Brand Through Emotional Connection: Interview with Kerri Konik

The secret to how to build a brand is forging strong emotional connections with your customers. This theory is at the heart of brand expert Kerri Konik’s work with luxury, professional services and experience brands through her innovative agency, Inspire Fire.

Konik started her career as a brand designer and strategist with top global agencies after graduating from Parsons School of Design. After cutting her teeth working with iconic brands from CPG to luxury retailers, she brought her expertise to small-to-midsize companies developing unforgettable brands.

“We spend a lot of time in helping grow companies by looking at the emotional connection in the customer experience, in the marketing and in the sales closing process, as well as the delivery, the fulfillment of their services or the experience with their brand. From there, we focus on customer retention and how to expand and grow the size of that relationship,” says Konik.

How to Build a Brand through Customer Connection

To build a brand, you must begin with clearly understanding who you are as a company and what impact you want to have on customers and the world. “It’s the heart of the brand and the relationship between the brand and the customer. What problem do they solve for their clients? Who are their clients, and what are the emotional motivators of those customers? It’s also important to understand the ‘why’ for the owner and the management team, and to look at the emotional solution they truly provide.”

Through a proprietary process, Konik’s team works all levels from discovery to messaging and, finally, experience design.

Start by understanding what kind of connections customers want from you. “What does the brand stand for? How do you communicate it in a way that your audience understands it, feels it and wants to be part of it? Focus on customer connection. Why do people love your brand and really want to be part of that community as a brand member?”

Kerri Konik discusses how to build a brand and strong CX

The Power of Customer-Focused Solutions

Konik notes that solidifying those emotional connections starts from the very first touch point and requires relentless customer focus. Yet all too often, brands are talking about themselves most of the time. “Customer centricity today is all about the customer. We spend a lot of time in our services flipping the messaging of what our customers are saying.”

From a messaging perspective, this means focusing on the solutions you offer to problems your customers are trying to solve. Stop talking about the product or service you sell. Instead, focus on how your solutions help customers achieve their goals.

“Take braces. It’s painful. And they’re not necessarily attractive for a long period of time, right? Three, four years. But what we want is a beautiful smile, and to feel confident and attractive. That’s an emotional want.”

Bringing In The Emotional Connection

he advises remembering your customers desires and goals as you shape your messaging across customer touch points. “We’ll get you to your goal. We won’t talk about the procedure. We’re not going to talk about the pain. We’re not going to talk about adjustments or wearing retainers for the rest of your life. If we all knew what went into the how of what we buy, we wouldn’t buy half of what we do. They sell you on the outcome. That’s what we buy: the solution. I know you’ve heard that a million times, but people still don’t message that way, and there’s an emotional solution.”

The emotional focus needs to be strategically baked into each touch point throughout the customer experience. “What we solve for is defining the emotional goal for every touch point, right? Every interaction with you, every engagement, should have a different emotional goal. It might be the same emotional goal, but it needs to have an emotional connection goal.”

Konik notes that there are a wide range of emotional experiences you can focus on delivering at each touch point. “In CX, the emotional goals can be things like trust, credibility, moving out of formality, being more casual, being more intimate, being more personal. Inspiring people, educational, driving excitement or even helping people feel relaxed.”

The Latest Trends on How to Build a Brand

At a higher level, Konik notes that the focus on emotional connections is reshaping the full brand and customer spectrum. One trend that’s coming to the forefront is the different emotional connection needs of varied generations of customers.

“To use some demographics here, but it’s really psychographic, a 20-year-old thinks very differently about value systems and what they expect from their corporate dollar investment. You have to have a social cause, and they want to be part of that. They can buy any brand of sneaker, right? But they want to align with something they believe in, and they’re not going to patronize your brand or work for you, in the workforce, if they don’t like what you stand for,” says Konik.

Tie your customer segmentation strategy to the larger emotional context. “Segmentation and micro-segmentation, emotionally tethered on the strategic view of values, is a trend that is absolutely not going away. These times are polarizing. Especially in America, these times are really volatile and vocal, right? Social media users are very loud and proud to talk about what they stand for. They vote with their wallet.”

There’s an increasing focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in marketing and customer relationships. “In the customer experience in external marketing, in a retail advertising campaign, if people don’t feel represented, if they don’t feel included — there’s nothing more emotional than belonging,” says Konik. She continues, “We’re seeing a trend that is much more layered visual marketing, photography that’s much more inclusive, not just of race and gender, but also in sexual orientation or sexual identity.”

CX and Brand: The Key to Longevity

Forging those emotional connections doesn’t just build your brand today, notes Konik. It’s also the key to customer loyalty in competitive markets where industry experts talk about declining customer loyalty. “In emotional connection, the studies have shown that an emotionally connected customer is worth two times more than a non-emotional or just a satisfied customer. This means three things: They spend more when they spend with you. They spend more frequently, so their frequency is increased, and they stay longer.”

Konik says that now is the time to be thinking about the long-term power of an emotionally connected brand. “Going into 2020, if we are facing a recession, customers are going to be much more discerning about where they place their investments, what they buy and who they buy from.”

Ultimately, bringing the power of an emotionally connected brand to small and mid-size brands that are making a difference keeps Konik inspired. She notes, “Inspire Fire was born to level the playing field between us and use something as sophisticated as emotional connection that only the big dogs got to use. Now, we can use them as small business owners. We can use them at a price point that we can employ strategies, and we can grow our companies and make a bigger difference in the world. That obviously just lights me up.”

All photographs provided courtesy of Kerri Konik/Inspire Fire.

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How to Construct a Business Action Plan to Get Things Done

You’ve probably heard about the importance of creating a business plan to plot the growth and development of your business. So you outline your goals to increase sales, reduce costs and improve profits. But then what happens?  Setting goals is fine, but they need something that brings them to life. Something that makes everything happen. That something is a business action plan.

Here’s how to construct an action plan for your business that brings your goals to life.

What is a Business Action Plan?

While a strategic business plan outlines the overall growth, direction and development of the company, an action plan converts those objectives to identifiable tasks.

Quite simply, an action plan is a carefully thought-out listing of all the things that have to be done to turn your goals into reality. Let’s take an example.

Suppose one of your goals is to increase sales by 10% by hiring an additional salesperson to make more outside calls to potential new customers. The steps to achieve this objective might be as follows:

  • Write up a job description
  • Post your the postion on jobboards
  • Review the resumes that you receive and select 10 candidates to interview.
  • Schedule in-office interviews over the next three weeks.
  • Take one week to go over interviews to choose a candidate and make a job offer.

Each objective in your strategic plan needs a detailed list, like the one above, of the tasks needed to accomplish the goal.

What are the Components of Action Tasks?

Effective action-oriented tasks follow the SMART outline. They are:

Specific – Setting a goal to increase sales is too general. But saying you want to increase sales by 10% is specific. This way, you take last year’s figure, suppose it was $850,000, add 10% or $85,000 and you have a new specific target of $935,000.

Measurable – Progress towards achieving a goal must be measurable. Weekly sales reports, for example, will track the movement along the path to a revenue goal.

Attainable- Employees must genuinely believe that it is possible for them to reach the objectives. If they don’t feel the objective is realistic and reasonable, they won’t even try.

Relevant – Goals must conform to the company’s business model and customer demographics. The goal should be worthwhile, match other company efforts and applicable in the current economic conditions.

Timely – Set a target date. Establish a deadline to keep the focus on tasks leading to long-term goals.

Which Resources are Needed?

Identify the resources needed to carry out each action task. How much will it cost? How many people will be needed? Will you need to purchase any additional physical assets?

In our example, someone has to write the job description, place the ad and make sure the ad is paid for. How many hours of an employee’s time will this take, and how much will the ad cost?

Communicate the Plan to Your Employees

Get your employees involved. Let them know what your plans are and explain how these actions fit into the company’s business strategy.

Ask for their input and solicit suggestions. Employees are much more likely to support your plan and participate in its implementation if they are part of its creation.

Designate a person to be in charge of each task. Someone has to accept responsibility for the execution of the assignment.

Set Timelines for Each Task

Each task must have a specific time to complete and a deadline. Without timelines, work will expand to fit the time allowed.

Monitor the Progress

Create procedures to receive regular progress reports for each action task. The responsible employees must be aware that they will be monitored, weekly if necessary, to make sure things are moving along. If obstacles appear or deviations from the expected timelines occur, adjustments can be made to get back on track.

Business action plans are the means to convert strategic ideas into reality. Tasks that are created with action plans using the SMART method with employe participation will have the highest likelihood of success.

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How to Build Your Brand as An Independent Physician

Working as an independent physician has several advantages. Perhaps paramount is the freedom to build a practice on your own terms. On the flip side, the lack of the infrastructure and systems that an established, recognized brand provides can feel overwhelming at times. That can make it hard to build your physician brand. Many physicians are frustrated by the need to work both on and in their businesses simultaneously. However, building your brand is important for the long-term success of every independent physician. The following five tips will help you define, build, and personify a brand that’s not only relatable, but also authentic to everything you stand for as a doctor.

1. Define what you stand for.

One of the biggest mistakes doctor’s make when they embark on building their physician brand is getting started before they understand what their brand should be. If you can’t succinctly define what makes you unique and special, how can you expect your current and potential patients to?

Defining your brand takes careful thought over time. The good news is there’s no one right answer. And, there’s no better time to start than now! Look at your calendar and carve out a few private, consecutive hours one day in the next week. Think about what makes you, you. Think about why you decided to become a doctor. What motivates you to practice medicine every day? What do you love most about your work?

When you sit down for the meeting, write a list of three to five words that define you as a doctor. There is no right answer. You may choose words like ‘trustworthy’, ‘reliable’, ‘innovative’, ‘research-focused’, or ‘charitable’, among others.

Next, make a list of three to five words that define your practice and everyone who works in it. You should be a bit idealistic here. Ultimately, if a current employee, system, or process doesn’t live up to your ideal expectations, it should be dealt with accordingly. Once again, these words should be authentic to you, but may include things like Welcoming, Convenient, State-of-the-Art, etc.

2. Seek feedback on your brand words.

Once you’ve settled on your lists of brand words, you should have between six and ten words to help you build your physician brand. The next step is to find out how current perception aligns with your goals. Don’t share your words with anyone… yet. First, make a list of about 25 people from whom you’ll solicit feedback. You want to get an idea of what your brand perception is currently. That way, you’ll know how much work you have to do to get to where you want to go.

You should ask for feedback from people in five groups: Existing patients, New patients, Partners (like pharmacists, lab associates, or drug reps), Employees, and Colleagues (physician friends and those close to you, like a spouse or sibling).

Identify five to seven people in each group and send them an email similar to the one that follows:

Hello _______,

Thank you for [personal line appropriate to their relationship with you; e.g. Thank you for your six years of patronage. It is a privilege serving as your physician.]. As I’m sure you’re aware, it’s critically important for independent physicians in today’s marketplace to have well-defined brands. That’s why I am currently undergoing an audit of my own branding.

I’m asking a handful of trusted partners [replace “partners” with appropriate word for each group] to answer the three questions below. If you can please respond to this email by [date] with your responses, I would greatly appreciate it.

1. What three adjectives would you use to best describe me?

2. What three words would you use to best describe my practice?

3. If you were going to recommend my practice to a friend, what would you say to him or her?

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful responses. I look forward to [appropriate closing for each person].

Warm regards,


3. Evaluate how your list compares to the feedback you receive.

Create a spreadsheet with individual tabs for each of the three questions above. Log responses as you receive them. You should start to see patterns emerge. Hopefully, the words match at least some of the target brand words you identified. If not, consider revising your lists… or make a plan to help shift perception to get closer to the words you decided to go with. Ultimately, the choice of how you build your physician brand is up to you.

Once you’ve received feedback from all parties, carefully study the spreadsheet. It’s possible that you may refine your lists after seeing the feedback. Aim for two final lists of three words each: Three for yourself, and three for your practice. These six words will become the guiding principles for your personal brand — the lens through which every branding decision will be made going forward.


4. Set goals and boundaries.

Have you identified your six brand words? Congratulations! That’s a major step toward building a relatable, lasting personal brand. Next, it’s time to set goals and boundaries.

Goals refer to the outcomes you want to achieve from your personal brand. They may include things like increasing the amount of referrals your practice receives by 20% in 12 months, or increasing the conversions of traffic to appointments on your website by 15%. If you’re unsure of your branding goals, ask yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish by establishing my personal brand?” The answers will help guide your goal-setting process.

The next step is setting clear boundaries. Some think that being “relatable” means you have to share your entire life on Instagram or other social sites every day. Others take a no-social-media-ever approach to their practices. For many, the right answer is somewhere between the two extremes.

As an independent physician, you are your brand. Prospective patients will want to get to know you and your team before making their decision. That’s why setting boundaries is an important step in defining your personal brand. While having a great website is non-negotiable, everything beyond that is up to you. Having an online presence for your practice is important. The choice of how much you share on personal pages is up to you. Your brand words will help guide your decisions as you set these boundaries.


5. Begin creating content.

When you build your physician brand, content is key! Thought-leadership content positions you as an expert in your field and will attract new clients. Think about it: If you were looking for a new service provider, would you choose one with a one-page website, or one with a robust blog filled with tips who regularly appears on TV shows and podcasts? Likely the latter… which is exactly what your prospective patients will think!

Use your brand words to define the kind of content you want to create. As a general rule, a mix of videos and articles is a great place to start. You can publish the content on your own site (as a blog), via a newsletter, on social sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, or on third-party websites, like partners’ blogs or media sites.

Not sure where to begin? Make a list of 50 questions your patients ask you on a regular basis. Your list may include things like, “How can I decrease my risk for heart disease?” or “How much exercise do I really need each week?” Answer each question, either in a two-to-three minute video or an article of 500-800 words. When you answer all 50 questions, you’ll have an entire year’s worth of weekly content!

The great thing about content is that you can repurpose it. For example, if you record a three-minute video talking about the dangers of vaping, you can transcribe the video and turn it into an article — or, offer it as a guest post on another site’s blog.

You’re already an expert in your field. The challenge is in helping the world discover how incredible you really are. Armed with your brand words and content strategy, you’ll be unstoppable in your quest to build a memorable, relatable brand.

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