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How to Protect Your Small Business (as Much as You Can) Against a Tornado

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Every small business owner faces risks, but some may face a few more simply due to geography. Businesses located in “Tornado Alley” fit that bill. This geographical region—which includes parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska—sees and average of more than 1,000 tornadoes a year. Small business owners can’t ignore this risk—being unprepared can be costly. No one can stop a tornado, but owners can take steps, like obtaining business insurance, to ensure that if the worst happens, their business is protected from long-term impact.

Have the Right Insurance Coverage

Anyone who lives where tornadoes are common needs insurance. But small business owners need to make sure they have enough. Tornadoes require more than just damage coverage. There are unseen costs you might not consider, like the cost of removing debris, the fee for an engineer to assess structural damage or the loss of profits due to business interruption. The latter has a major impact on businesses after a tornado.

What if you’re a retail business with local suppliers or customers who were affected by the storm? What if tragedy strikes and a key employee (or even you) is hurt and unable to work? It’s important to have an honest, in-depth conversation with your insurance representative about what you’ll need to protect your business in the days—even weeks—after a tornado.

Proactive Measures to Ensure the Safety of Employees and Customers

The first thing to address in your tornado preparation plan should be protecting what’s most valuable: the safety of the people around you. Small business owners need to sit down in advance and account for everyone who is their under their responsibility.

Long before a tornado ever touches down, small business owners should know:

  • Where employees, customers or visiting clients will seek shelter if a twister strikes
  • If their in-building shelter will fit everyone, and if not, the closest alternative location
  • If your business has drivers, how can they protect themselves
  • Who will be in charge of an evacuation if you are out of the office

Create a Post-Tornado Continuity Plan

Your plan should cover not only what must happen before and during a tornado but also what to do in the aftermath. This is especially important if your place of business was destroyed or severely damaged, and suddenly you and your employees must temporarily relocate to continue operations. A few things you should incorporate in your continuity plan:

  • An accessible off-site location for your employees to work
  • Employee access to computers, software, VPNs and backups if they’ll work remotely
  • A call tree so everyone can check in on the well being and safety of colleagues
  • Employee understanding of their responsibilities, both in terms of continuing work and checking in with others, if communication has been compromised

Having a continuity plan in place will ensure that work can continue as seamlessly as possible

with a minimum of disruption.

Keep Your Business Data Backed Up and Secure

If you want to protect your business, protect your data. Records of invoices, accounts, receivables, payable and more need to be safe. A few things to keep in mind are:

  • Save everything to a cloud server. “Backing it up off-site is a very important thing,” says Michael Aumack, a spokesman for with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
  • Considering external hard drives for file back-ups you can take with you for extra security.
  • Make sure you have important information handy, especially your insurance policy and cloud provider’s contact information, so you can quickly get your business on the path to recovery.

“When you live in a high-disaster area, it becomes a way of life,” Rose says. “The more you do, the further it increases your ability to be able to take the impact and recover from the storm.” Being prepared for a tornado should be just another part of conducting your business when living in “Tornado Alley.”

How To Survive Getting Thrown Under The Bus At Work

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If you engage in the game of work long enough, you will most likely experience getting thrown under the bus.

It could be a person you experience a conflict with, or represent a work or personal challenge. No matter what the source is, it hurts. So we thought we might explore a few options to lessen the pain and transform what is potentially a devastating experience into a learning opportunity.

Landing under the wheels of the proverbial work bus is bone and heart crushing and most definitely leaves tread marks. It requires courage to face an oncoming bus traveling at full speed and discover the know-how to rise above it instead of landing under it.

We seek out solutions beyond yes/no or right/wrong; unique concepts that are a blend of the polarities and open the door to new possibilities. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand,” said Albert Einstein.

Here are a few recommendations to help you survive work collisions:

Acknowledge and Learn from the Experience

(Face it and choose to take no offense. View every experience as an opportunity to develop)

Respect trumps avoidance tactics, which might work for a short time, but buses are faster than people and in this scenario the bus hits you from behind. The silent hits hurt the most and often last the longest. It’s best to face work challenges “head on” (pun intended). Be aware that the bus is not actually the problem. Focus on the actions and how to resolve them and move forward.

When you view work as a game, every day you have an opportunity to learn and innovate. In football, we respect a solid frontal hit, learn from it, adjust, and get better. It is the same in work. You can learn how to perform so you’re not sacked again. Being thrown under the bus is like being sacked by your own teammate who was supposed to be protecting you. It is a betrayal, yet once acknowledged, a new game plan can be formed to move forward. It will take time. Skin won’t grow over the wound overnight. But by working together trust can be rebuilt.

The opposite of respect is anger and judgment. Angry players lose their focus and ultimately the game. It also runs precious minutes off the clock. Your time is better spent creating, developing, and achieving.

Sometimes it helps to view a problem from a new perspective. Your co-worker is providing you with feedback. Be willing to try it on. It’s like trying on a pair of pants. If they don’t fit, don’t get emotional (that is throwing yourself under the bus). Just take them off and return them properly folded with no added emotion to the original owner.

One of the most important moments in sports comes right after the clock runs out. The coaches and players re-enter the field, shake hands and demonstrate respect for one another and a game well played.

Mentally “shake hands” with anyone you are experiencing opposition with. There is no need to extend the game into unnecessary overtime by carrying negative thoughts. Negative thoughts never create positive outcomes. Because the individual plays on the same team, it is even more important to discover solutions to avoid future incidents. Sometimes just letting another person know how we feel in a non-threatening way makes all the difference.

Focus on Discovering a Win

(Commit to discovering the win by finding an opportunity to step back and examine the issue with the source that threw you under the bus)

Here’s where the game gets good and champions emerge. When you begin to plan your next project, anticipate that you will receive pushback, and address it first. Meet with the individuals you have experienced conflict with first. Listen and adjust where necessary. You decide what advice to incorporate and what not to.

Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, believed that we can learn from everyone and everything. When he lost one of his early stores because the landlord chose not to renew his building lease and turned the property over to his son, Walton said, “I had to pick myself up and get on with it, do it all over again, only even better this time.” Sam Walton faced a major professional setback because someone he trusted betrayed him, and he was still able to discover a win that would lead to his most memorable successes in business.

Whether You Win or Lose, Continue to Move Forward

(Don’t become immobilized by the experience. Extraordinary things can be discovered under the bus)

Entrepreneurs generally “suck a lot of gravel” before they discover their defining moment.

Champions understand that new ideas and game-changing concepts are not always discovered sitting safely strapped in a comfortable bus seat. For entrepreneurs, many times we discover treasure under the bus in the gravel, a place few people are willing to explore.

We were reminded of a story shared by a fellow executive whose team was studying the concepts from the popular business book Good to Great. He purchased a stuffed hedgehog (a central character in the book) to serve as the mascot for his program.

A few weeks after completing the training sessions, he arrived at work and discovered his treasured stuffed animal had been torn apart, and the pieces were super-glued to the ceiling throughout the building.

He was devastated as he related the story to us. We reminded him that the majority of his team enjoyed the training and “found their appropriate seat on the corporate bus.” The glue bandit who desecrated the hedgehog was stating that he would never be comfortable in a standard corporate bus seat.

Perhaps he was an entrepreneur who might develop great things for the team “under the bus.” Every team needs a few high-spirited scouts who are willing to “suck gravel for the organization.”

Our associate began to see the humor in it all. It was not a career-enhancing move and not one we would recommend, but it was gutsy. Instead of giving in to emotion and launching a full-scale investigation to discover the culprit, he returned to his office and sent out a company-wide email offering a reward of two free dinners to the employee who collected the most pieces of the hedgehog. In less than an hour, the ceilings were clean and people were laughing and getting back to work.

In some cases, the best solution to a problem, which is not life threatening or illegal, is to not take offense but to lighten up and seek out winning solutions for the company. A few weeks passed and one day he arrived at work and found a new stuffed hedgehog on his desk (an unexpected tender mercy).

He acknowledged, learned, and found the win in the suffering and lived to play and work another day!

Awareness

(Develop an excellent internal navigation system)

It is easy to recognize when we feel thrown under the bus. We might not be aware that some of our simplest actions can also be considered less than noble or undermining.

Take a moment to ask yourself, “Is this for the highest good of all? What does the ultimate outcome look like? Am I throwing anyone under the bus or could it be even perceived that way?”

There is a plaque that hangs in an open space of our offices with a quote by Hunter S. Thompson that sums it all up: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a ride!’”

So far, no one has dismantled it and glued it to the ceiling, so we might be on to something.

May all your work experiences in, on, or under the bus present an opportunity to develop, grow and learn. And never forget, all the truly great entrepreneurs have at least a few tread marks.

Additional reporting for this article provided by Mary Michelle Scott, Fishbowl President.

To learn more about running a successful business, visit the Business Owner’s Playbook

This article was written by David K. Williams from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Responding to Negative Reviews of Your Business

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It’s hard not to take it personally when a customer leaves an unfavorable review of your business on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter or user-review sites such as Yelp. Yet experts say these reviews allow small business owners the opportunity to hear valuable feedback and make improvements that can actually enhance their customers’ overall experience.

While it may be tempting to respond to a scathing online review in defense mode, Yanovitch recommends taking a deep breath before proceeding to craft a thoughtful response to the customer.

“Ninety-six percent of the time if a business owner does an excellent job at service recovery (the action that a business takes to respond to a perceived customer service failure), the customer will patronize the business again, and will remain a loyal customer,” Yanovitch says.

To protect your online reputation, avoid making these five common mistakes:

1. Not Monitoring Social Media

In order to effectively respond to customer feedback, you need to know what’s being said about your business. The easiest way to do this is to set up a Google alert for your business name. Other options include Social Mention, a free service that monitors over 100 social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.

2. Responding Before Determining the Review is Legitimate

If the review is spam, malicious or contains profanity, it’s not worth a response. Instead, report the review to Yelp, Facebook, etc., and ask it to be removed. If a customer has a legitimate complaint about your business, then take the time to respond to the negative review.

3. Ignoring Positive Reviews

“Customers want to be heard and are a big part of a business’ marketing arm,” Yanovitch says. “It’s important to respond to all reviews, even if that means thanking a customer for taking the time to post a compliment.”

And don’t discount the power of online reviews. A 2014 survey found that almost 9 out of 10 consumers looked at online reviews over the past year to help them make a decision on a local business. In addition, 72% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more.

4. Not Responding in a Timely Manner

By tracking online customer feedback, you should be able to respond to reviews within two business days. It doesn’t look good for your business if you respond several months later to a customer’s complaint.

Although you have the option to respond publicly or privately, Yanovitch says a public response will demonstrate to other customers that you take feedback seriously, and that you’re committed to providing the best experience possible.

5. Making Excuses

Yanovitch recommends first acknowledging the customer’s disappointment and thanking them for bringing the problem to your attention. Then proceed to let the customer know you are addressing the issue.

“If something can’t be fixed right away, give the customer an explanation, and let them know that you are working to put better systems in place,” Yanovitch says. “Don’t make excuses. Be honest in your response about how you are going to address the issue and invite the customer back to give you a second chance after the issue has been resolved.”

 

Next Steps:  You’re busy. We get it. So why not let us do some work for you? By signing up for the weekly Small Biz Ahead Newsletter, you’ll receive hand-picked articles, How-Tos and videos covering the latest in small biz tools and trends. We’ll do the research while you spend your time where it counts: managing and growing your business.

5 Ways You Shouldn’t Manage Like Don Draper

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Don Draper is many things – talented, well-dressed, and yes, good looking. There’s one thing he’s not though: a good manager. Let’s face it, he’d be a nightmare to work for.

He’s temperamental, often vicious in his criticism, and kind of not at work 50% of the time. Don’s poor managerial skills, however, do have one benefit: they provide a pretty handy list of Don’ts for all you small business owners out there with employees. Here are five of the most valuable lessons on what not to do that you can learn from Don Draper.

1. Don’t Throw Money In Your Employees’ Faces

There’s a scene in Mad Men when Peggy Olsen points out that Don never says, “Thank you” to her for her work. Don snaps back: “That’s what the money is for.” There’s a lot of reasons that’s a bad thing for a manager to be saying, but here’s a big one: don’t ever figuratively (literally is a bad idea too) throw the money you pay your employees in their face. That’s true for many contexts, but especially if someone is looking for your approval. An employee’s salary is not an implied “Thank you.”

Surveys find again and again that money doesn’t rank as high as you’d think when it comes to career satisfaction, so thinking that’s all your employees care about is a bad mistake. Money is not the reward your workers are looking for. The satisfaction of knowing they’re doing good work for you is.

2. Don’t Reject (Or Steal) an Employee’s Idea Because You Need an Ego Boost

There’s a point in Mad Men when Don goes through a creative slump. He pulls himself out of in the worst way possible. In one case, he steals an idea from Ginsberg, his copywriter, and sells it to a client. In another case, he goes into a client meeting with two ideas – one his, one Ginsberg’s – and only pitches his own so he gets the satisfaction of success. All because of his ego. Something that has no place in managing. It is poisonous to your work environment and employees’ morale. Especially if your ego sees you sabotage employees’ work so that you can enjoy all the glory.

3. Don’t Let Emotions Influence Your Managing

There’s a lot of turbulence in Don Draper’s personal life –drinking, parenting, secret identities, rocky marriages (and divorces). That’s a lot of emotions at any given time. Emotions he – unfortunately for his employees – never keeps contained. Over Mad Men’s seven seasons, Don has again and again let what’s affecting him out of the office bleed into his managing – usually in the form of lashing out at his employees. Yes, we’re all human and emotions can be hard to bury. But a good manager does their best to ensure their personal life doesn’t find its way into their work life and how they treat their employees. You should do likewise.

4. Don’t Create a Culture of Fear

Every time one of Don’s employees goes into his office to have work approved, I tense up. Why? Because Don so often manages with his temper and a lack of delicacy, that I’m afraid of him. And I’m not even in the show. Don’s curt, dismissive, impatient, and sometimes cruel treatment of his employees results in the worst thing a manager can do: create a culture of fear and rejection. Your employees should never be afraid of you. If they are – for whatever reason – that will detrimentally affect your bottom-line. You’ll see higher rates of turnover (see: Peggy quitting in Season 5) because no one will want to work in the environment you’ve created. You’ll see lower quality work because a culture of fear demoralizes and sabotages. Thankfully there’s a pretty easy way to avoid Don Draper’s Culture of Fear. A way he himself, yet again, provides a lesson for…

5. Don’t Forget to Praise

Good managers need to do something that Don rarely does: encourage their employees. If a manager never praises, employees won’t just feel unappreciated, they’ll doubt their work and their abilities. That will impact what they do and can easily result in employees just plain giving up – either out of resentment or defeat. After all, why bother working hard if you’re never getting positive assurance that your work is good? So, praise your employees. Don’t create an echo chamber of constant doubt and negativity. Inspire your workers by letting them know they’re inspiring.

 

Next Steps:  Are you looking to manage your employees more effectively but don’t have time to keep up with the latest research and trends in talent management? We’ve got you covered with the weekly Small Biz Ahead Newsletter. Sign up today and start receiving the weekly newsletter chock full of the latest tools and resources to help you run a successful business.

The 5 Best Cities to Hire Recent Graduates

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If you want your small business to succeed these days, you can’t just hire top talent when the time comes. You have to hire young talent – ideally fresh out of school. But how do you find yourself recent grads? Or maybe the better question is, where do you find them? The answer: “Well-educated young adults are disproportionately found in a few metropolitan areas.”

Which cities in particular? Well, we’ve selected five of the top cities where you will find the kind of young talent that will boost your small business.

San Francisco, California

No surprise here. Any place that tech giants like Google, Apple, and Facebook call home will attract young talent eager to make their mark in the world of technology. 34% of new residents in 2013 were recent college grads, an impressively highly number given how expensive the city is. This means there’s more young talent looking for a salary, which means that if your small business is tech-oriented, this is where you want to be.

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota

This Midwest metropolis has become a hotspot thanks to its ability to “attract young job seekers by offering a … stable economy, high wages and affordable rental properties.” And those young job seekers are here in big numbers. 40% of new residents are recent grads, with 22.8% of the city’s population  comprised of people between 20-29. Most of them are drawn by the fact that “the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul region has 19 Fortune 500 companies, the highest per capita mark of all metropolitan areas in the country.” Companies include Target, 3M, General Mills and Wells Fargo and ensure that the city is particularly a draw for recent grads looking to work in retail or banking. If that’s your small business’s industry too, Minneapolis is the place for you.

Austin, Texas

The famously small-business friendly Austin is also a friendly place for young talent. The city offers cheap living and a low unemployment rate that draws huge numbers of 25- to 34-year-olds (170,00 to be precise) from afar and from the city’s 27 public and private colleges. Most funnel right into Austin’s powerful economy and thriving tech industries. The city is also a draw for engineering and research and development grads  who would benefit any small business that wants to make its mark in those fields with great talent.

Washington, D.C.
A lot of young talent value stability when it comes to their career options. That’s why so many are headed to Washington. “The high number of government opportunities also ensures that the job market in Washington, D.C. is relatively more immune to economic recessions.” The result is that 21.3% of the population is 20- to 29-year-olds who are drawn to stable government jobs and healthy salaries (averaging $60, 104 a year). That’s also why 40% of new residents in the city are recent college grads. That’s a whole lot of talent your business could snap up.

Cambridge/Boston, Massachusetts

With Harvard and MIT here, you can imagine the quality of talent that awaits. Especially since a lot of young people come to study here and then, well, never leave thanks to the strong representation of health care, biotechnology, and R&D industries nearby. That’s why this area has the greatest proportion of young professionals of all large cities: 25.5% of its population is between 20-29. In other words, there are few better places to find amazing talent coming right out of school, even if you may have to fight off some competition to get them.

 

Next Steps:  Imagine a world where your employees show up on time, work smart and deliver results for your small business day in and day out. Not there yet? Sign up for the weekly Small Biz Ahead Newsletter and we’ll send you the best science-backed strategies on managing productive, happy employees—including tips on how to get them to show up on time!

What You Can Learn From Big Brand Marketing Fails

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Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. That’s especially true on social media where even huge companies trip up and get themselves into hot water. While we don’t take pleasure in others’ mistakes, there’s still a lot of small businesses like yours that can learn from Fortune 500 slip-ups.

So, here are a few social media flubs that provide valuable lessons you can apply to your own small business social media strategy.

JP Morgan

The Situation: When JPMorgan, the multinational financial services company, announced a Twitter Q&A with its vice chairman and asked people to submit questions, the responses were not pretty. The company proved unaware of its public image and the anger it can inspire. It didn’t take long for JPMorgan to realize its error and call the whole thing off.

Lesson: Twitter Q&As are a great way to engage with your followers, but you should be very self-aware about what your public image is before doing more. If your business, or your industry, can inspire disgruntlement, you might want to skip the Q&A and spare yourself the abuse.

Epicurious

The Situation: The day of the tragic Boston Marathon bombings, food website Epicurious inexplicably used the occasion to promote their recipes. Bad idea. After a wave of outrage, the company deleted the offending tweets and apologized.

Lesson: Never, ever use a tragedy in any way to promote your business or product. That might sound like common sense, but it’s a mistake companies–bizarrely–constantly make. Don’t follow in their footsteps. The only thing you should (maybe) ever tweet about a tragedy is your sympathies to those who are affected.

London Luton Airport

The Situation: Luton Airport used an image of a plane crash to make a joke promoting its services. The problem? The plane crash shown in the image resulted in the death of a child. Not surprisingly, people were upset.

Lesson: Yes, it’s good social media practice to attach images to your posts. But don’t just blindly go with whatever picture you find on Google Images without first looking into its full history and context.

US Airways

The Situation: When US Airways’s Twitter account was responding to a frustrated customer, they wound up attaching an extremely graphic image of … well, just take our word for it. It was inappropriate. The error occurred because US Airways had received the image earlier in a tweet and was reporting it as inappropriate. In doing so, the image URL got copied, and found its way into an innocuous tweet.

The Lesson: It’s a good reminder to always make sure you know what you’re copy and pasting, and to triple check every tweet you send out to make sure nothing gets out there that shouldn’t be tweeted.

DiGiorno Pizza

The Situation: After football player Ray Rice was suspended for assaulting his fiancée, hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft were used by those sharing their heartbreaking experiences with domestic abuse. Without checking what the trending hashtag was associated with, DiGiorno leaped into the fray with an extremely ill-advised promotion that thought #WhyIStayed simply meant why someone would not leave a friend’s place (pizza being the reason in this case).

The Lesson: Using hashtags is essential for a small business, but always check to make sure you know what the hashtag actually is. Just because you see one trending and see an opportunity, doesn’t mean you should assume it’s self-explanatory and use it.

Kitchenaid

The Situation: A Kitchenaid’s team member wound up forgetting to log out of the company’s account and tweeted a personal, not so nice, opinion about President Obama and his grandmother to Kitchenaid’s tens of thousands of followers.

The Lesson: If you have a personal and a small business Twitter account, always make sure you’re logged into the right one for whatever you’re about to tweet. Believe me, this is one of the easiest mistakes to make on this list.

 

Next Steps:  Are you looking to expand and grow your small business but don’t have time to keep up with the latest trends and technology? We’ve got you covered with the weekly Small Biz Ahead newsletter. Sign up today and start receiving the weekly newsletter chock full of the latest tools and resources to help you run a successful business.

Why Crowdfunding May be the Best Financing Option for Your Small Business

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Two years ago, Patty Lennon launched her first crowdfunding campaign on the global fundraising site, Indiegogo, hoping to raise $6,244 to cover initial costs for a business conference for women business owners. In 14 days, Lennon had surpassed her goal and raised $7,825.

Lennon isn’t alone. Many small business owners are looking for methods that go beyond traditional bank loans to fund projects and expand their businesses. According to results from the 2014 Small Business Success Study, many small business owners claim that while although commercial loans are more attainable, they are still a less desirable financing choice.

One of the newest financing options for small businesses, crowdfunding allows businesses to work with fundraising sites such as Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and Fundable to raise small amounts of money from large groups of people. In return, these sites charge a fee, typically between 4-9%, to help administer the campaign.

Crowdfunding offers an alternative to bank loans, borrowing from friends and family, and seeking out large investors.

Yet while crowdfunding may sound like an easy and lucrative option, Lennon, a crowdfunding expert and author of The Crowdfunding Book: A How-To Book for Entrepreneurs, Writers and Inventors, says small businesses need to realize that a successful crowdfunding campaign requires commitment, regular communication, tenacity, and extensive self-promotion using social media.

If you think crowdfunding may a viable financing solution for your small business, consider the following:

The Benefits Go Beyond Money

“Small businesses use crowdfunding sites such as Indiegogo to not only raise funds, but also to connect directly with their customers,” says Indiegogo co-founder, Danae Ringelmann. “To run a great campaign, small business owners should be clear about what they are seeking to raise money for and actively engage with their funders. “

In addition, crowdfunding can help small businesses to create awareness of their company, receive market validation, obtain customer feedback, prove demand for their brand, and engage directly with potential customers.

You Can Tap Into a Strong Support Network

Resources exist for small business owners who need help getting a crowdfunding campaign off the ground. Lennon’s book offers entrepreneurs a step-by-step guide to creating a successful crowdfunding campaign, and the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a free online “Crowdfunding for Entrepreneurs” course.

Many crowdfunding sites such as Indiegogo also have dedicated “Customer Happiness” teams available to help small business owners run the best campaign possible.

In addition, Lennon stresses that small business owners need to enlist people who care about your business and will support your campaign every step of the way.

“This can be customers who believe in your business, or peers, friends, and family who will share your crowdfunding campaign on their own Facebook and Twitter accounts,” Lennon says.

Crowdfunding Can Help You Set Achievable Business Goals

Crowdfunding your business idea will help you to set realistic goals and hold you accountable for meeting them.

“Be as specific as possible about why you want to raise money,” Lennon says. “The most successful crowdfunding campaigns that solicit tangible items such as equipment that can help a business grow, or funding to produce a new line of products.”

Lennon also recommends that small business owners create an emotionally compelling video for their crowdfunding campaign.

“Campaigns with videos raise 114% more than those without,” Lennon says. “And videos of successful campaigns don’t focus on what the project is about, they focus on why the project matters, and how those who donate can be a part of this bigger vision.”

It Offers a Chance to Showcase Your Product

On many crowdfunding sites, small business owners can offer “perks” to those who contribute to their campaign. For example, if someone donates $20 to your campaign, you can reward them with a recipe from your restaurant, or for a $50 donation, a gift card to your business.

“Most small businesses that have a reasonable social media presence, with approximately 300-500 Facebook friends, and 100 Twitter followers, can raise $6,700-$7,500 through crowdfunding if they have a solid plan, promote their crowdfunding campaign with regular updates.”

 

Next Steps:  You’re busy. We get it. So why not let us do some work for you? By signing up for the weekly Small Biz Ahead Newsletter, you’ll receive hand-picked articles, How-Tos and videos covering the latest in small biz tools and trends. We’ll do the research while you spend your time where it counts: managing and growing your business.

Crossbows, Facials and Toga Parties: 5 Outrageously Excessive Employee Expenses

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What did your boss do last night?

If he or she is anything like the execs on this list, you may want to check your company’s checking account.

A disturbing number of corporate spendthrifts have racked up astronomical bills for outrageous expenses on their firm’s dime — including multi-million-dollar toga parties in the Mediterranean and weekend retreats that probably cost more than what your entire mail-room staff made last year.

Finance departments beware – Here are some of the most recklessly extravagant corporate spenders:

1.  Roman-Style Excess

In 2005, Dennis Kozlowski, chief executive of Tyco International, a security systems company, was jailed for stealing $600 million from the firm and its shareholders. However, in the years leading up to his conviction, he had a whole lot of fun.

The most glaring example of Kozlowski’s fraudulently funded extravagance was a $2 million weeklong birthday party for his wife on a Mediterranean island featuring Roman-themed dancers dressed in togas and a performance by Jimmy Buffett.

“Guests arrive at the club starting at 7:15pm,” a memo sent to the party’s planners read. “We have a lion or horse with a chariot for shock value…Big ice sculpture of David, lots of shellfish and caviar at his feet.”

2. Strip-Club Spending Spree

One evening during Oracle’s OpenWorld tech conference last year, when many Oracle employees were prepping presentation slides and exhibition stands for the next day, one Oracle staffer named Jose Manual Gomez Sanchez allegedly used his company-issued American Express card to charge a whopping $16,490 worth of “entertainment” at a local strip joint.

Perhaps the most shocking part of the fiasco was the fact that two nights later, Sanchez had the gall to return to the strip club and use the same card to ring up another $17,050 in charges.

Fittingly, the strip club offers discounts to OpenWorld convention-goers.

3. The Post-Bailout Bash

This one might sting a bit. In September 2008, less than a week after AIG received an $85 billion bailout from the federal government, a group of the insurance giant’s top brass enjoyed a week-long retreat at the St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, Calif., replete with banquets, golf outings and, of course, lavish spa treatments.

After all was said and done, the tab totaled $440,000 including $23,000 for the spa. “They were getting their manicures, their pedicures, massages, their facials while the American people were paying their bills,” one House committee member famously said at a hearing condemning AIG’s ill-timed jaunt.

4.  Adultery, Christmas Tree, and a Shopping Spree

In 2003, an investigation into the over-the-top spending habits of Kmart’s CEO, Charles “Chuck” Conaway, found that Conaway had used company funds to cover personal trips to Vegas, nannies to watch his kids and home improvements, including an $82,000 fence, snow removal and dismantling Christmas trees.

Conaway’s improper use of company money even revealed a history of adultery as records showed that he charged Kmart for $15,000 worth of dental work for his wife, while also letting a vendor pay for a trip to Asia for him and his girlfriend. Talk about two-timing.

5) The Medieval Misappropriation

A crossbow. Yes, a seemingly intelligent former Executive Director of a local Habitat for Humanity used his organization’s credit card to finance, among other things, a crossbow. In total, the employee cost Habitat more than a $100,000 in charges related to his Gulf Shores condominium, his personal vehicle and his, um…medieval hunting habits?

 

Next Steps:  Imagine a world where your employees show up on time, work smart and deliver results for your small business day in and day out. Not there yet? Sign up for the weekly Small Biz Ahead Newsletter and we’ll send you the best science-backed strategies on managing productive, happy employees—including tips on how to get them to show up on time!

6 Steps to a Successful Funding Pitch

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Creative, visionary ideas are the lifeblood of your small business, but adequate funding keeps the doors open. You may find, like 46 percent of small business owners surveyed in the 2014 Small Business Success Study, that commercial loans are easier to obtain than they were in the past, but like many of them, you may wish to seek alternate types of funding, such as assistance from investors.

Investors want to know how much money your business needs to achieve success and when they will get their investment back, according to Holly Magister, founder of ExitPromise. “Being well-prepared to answer these two questions will be critical if seeking outside investors to start a business.”

No matter how innovative your business idea, when approaching an investor for funding, it’s important that you create a professional pitch. Follow these steps for doing so.

1. Highlight yourself.

While investors are considering backing your business idea, they are also deciding whether to put their money behind you. They know that good ideas can only be successfully executed by well-organized, savvy small business owners—so put your best entrepreneurial foot forward by starting the pitch session with an engaging anecdote that introduces you and your business philosophy.

Also share a brief overview of your team so that they see you have all of the key people in place to make the venture successful.

2. Describe your idea in a compelling manner.

Many investors have heard just about everything. Perfect the description of your product or service to make it sound enticing. Describe its value proposition, its unique yet universal appeal.

3. Be clear about your target market.

Saying that your product will appeal to anyone is inaccurate and ineffective. Investors know that few products entice everyone. They want to see that you’ve done your market research and possess a clear idea of your target market. Have statistics at your fingertips as to who will realistically buy your product and how much of it they will likely purchase.

4. Acknowledge your competition.

Few businesses lack competitors, so avoid stating that the playing field is wide open. Be transparent about what’s out there and then objectively compare and contrast your business with your competitors. Doing this shows that your business model and product and services are superior.

5. Share your marketing plan.

Investors know that even the best ideas can go unnoticed without effective marketing behind them. Clearly and completely outline your marketing plan and back it up with statistics on prior marketing plans that did well. Focus on a few tactics that you feel will be especially successful for getting the word out regarding your product.

6. Relay your funding request. 

State exactly how much money you seek and detail how those funds will be spent. Also share how much you’ve invested in the business and the idea in particular. Investors want to see that you believe strongly enough in your product or service to put you own money on the table, as well.

Receiving investment funding for your business can give you a financial leg up and provide you with access to valuable advice from seasoned investors. Use these steps to perfect your pitch so you can enjoy the funding you require to make your small business dreams a reality.

 

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Back to Basics Business Checklist

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This achievable small business checklist will help you cross your Ts and dot your Is so you can reach your annual goals.

Get Your Finances in Order

  • Review your revenue goals. Where do you stand now in relation to the goals you set for the year? What action do you need to reach the end line by December 31?For Gail Hill Williams, a business development consulting executive with ACI Consulting Group in Danbury, CT, it’s imperative to start now to reach her company’s financial goal.“We know that the lion share of our business revenue comes in the last quarter, so I evaluate our business by looking at where we are in billables year to date and what billables are outstanding,” she said. “I also look at what we need to bill to grow our business at least 20-30% over the previous year.”
  • Do a tax check. Get your records in order and review your plans to take advantage of tax deductions and credits. Meet with your tax professional to ensure you’re up to date on the IRS’s ever-changing programs that may help lower your tax liability.
  • Plan to maximize your tax deductions. Make any big equipment purchases before the end of the year in order to take advantage of tax write-offs for 2013. Also budget contributions to tax-deductible retirement plans for you and your employees.

Ramp Up (or Streamline) Your Operations

  • Follow through on operational goals that you’ve set for the year but haven’t accomplished yet. For instance, would a new order processing system or workflow improvements yield new efficiencies? What training opportunities might help your staff be more effective in their jobs? Identify and implement practical measures that would improve your day-to-day business operation.
  • Take an inventory of materials you’ll need through year end. Office supplies are typically on sale during the back-to-school season. It’s a good time to stock up on essentials.
  • Prepare for the possibility of extreme weather ahead. September and October are at the heart of hurricane season with winter not far behind. Shore up your business for weather ahead.
  • Plan for the holidays. Holiday time is a busy time of year for many small businesses. If it’s your peak time, begin preparations for holiday promotions and sales now and get started on your efforts to hire seasonal staff. No matter what the nature of your business, you may want to budget for gifts for clients and employees, make arrangements for your staff party, and plan for all the other perks that make the season bright.

Step Up Your Marketing Efforts

  • Check in with your best customers just to say hello and let them know you’re thinking of them. Make it a point to fulfill a daily contact quota, such as five calls per day.
  • Develop two or three “big picture” campaigns to reach prospective customers and generate leads. Try something new. For instance, if your business typically does direct mailings, see what kind of results an email campaign delivers. Offer product and service demos or incentives.

Remember, the early bird gets the worm. By staying ahead of the game now, you’ll be better able to meet whatever changes (and challenges) come your way.

What recommendations do you have for a business needs checklist? Share your ideas in the Comments section below!

These materials provide general information, and should not be construed as specific financial, insurance, tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult a qualified advisor for individual guidance in these matters. The Hartford shall not be liable for any direct, indirect, special, consequential, incidental, punitive, or exemplary damages in connection with the use by you or anyone of the information provided here or for link to or use of any website referenced herein.