Five Steps to Getting a Loan

Most small businesses need help with cash during certain stages of their growth. If you find that you have more plans than cash to do them with, then it might be time for a loan. Here are five steps you can take to make the loan process go smoother.

1. Make a plan.

Questions like how much you need and how much you will benefit from the cash infusion are ones you should consider. If you don’t already have some version of a budget and business plan, experts recommend you spend a bit of time drafting those items. There’s nothing worse than getting a loan and finding out you needed twice the cash to do what you wanted to accomplish.

2. Know your credit-related numbers.

Do you know your credit score? Is there anything in your credit history that needs cleaning up before it slows down the loan approval process?

Take a look also at your standard financial ratios. These are ratios like your current ratio (current assets / current liabilities) and debt-to-equity ratio. If these are in line with what your lender is expecting, then you are in good shape to proceed.

3. Research your options.

Luckily, there are many more options for financing your business today than there have been in the past. Traditional options, such as banks, still exist, but it can be difficult to get a bank loan for a small business.

Here are some online loan sources where investors are matched with borrowers via an online transaction:

  • Kabbage
  • OnDeck
  • LendingClub
  • FundBox
  • BlueVine

Or you can go to Fundera and compare which loan is the most economical.

There is also crowdfunding, which is very different from a loan. Crowdfunding is a way to raise cash from many people who invest a small amount. Top sites include GoFundMe and KickStarter, where you can find out more about how it works.

Other ways to get cash include tapping into your personal assets: using credits cards, refinancing a house, and borrowing money from family and friends.

4. Create your loan package.

Most lenders will want to know your story, and a loan package can provide the information they need to decide whether they want to loan you money or not. A good loan package includes the following:

  • A narrative that includes why you need the loan, how much you want, and how you will pay it back. A good narrative will also list sources of collateral and a willingness to make a personal guarantee.
  • Current financial statements and supporting credit documentation, such as bank statements and credit history.
  • A business plan and budget, or portions of it, that cover your business overview, vision, products and services, and market.
  • A resume or biography of the business owners and a description of the organization structure and management.

While it takes time to put together a great loan package, it’s also a great learning experience to go through the exercise of pulling all of the information together.

5. Execute!

You’re now ready to get your loan. Or not. Going through these five steps helps you discover more about your business and helps you make an informed decision about whether a loan is still what you want and need.

Throughout the process, you may have learned new information that tells you you’re not quite ready for a loan, or that in fact, you are. At any rate, preparing for a loan is a great learning process, and the good news is there are lots of avenues for small businesses to get the cash they need to grow.

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Marketing by the Numbers

Two very important skills for entrepreneurs to master are marketing and finances. Combine them by understanding the numbers behind marketing, and you have an even more powerful understanding of exactly what makes your business tick.

Key Numbers – Cost Per Client Acquisition

Do you know how much it costs your business to bring in one client? The technical term is “Cost per customer acquisition,” and it’s computed by adding the total marketing and sales costs excluding retention costs and dividing them by the total number of clients acquired during a period of time.

Cost per customer acquisition is important to know because then you can compute how long it takes before your business begins to make a profit on any one customer. In software application services with a monthly fee, the breakeven for a client can be around ten months.

It’s essential to understand this dynamic for pricing and volume planning purposes. If your services or products are priced too low so that your acquisition costs are not recouped in a reasonable period of time, it can play havoc with your cash flow as well as your profits. If you don’t have enough volume to cover overhead and acquisition costs, then your company will be in trouble in the long term.

Customer Lifetime Value

There is a simple and an academic formula for customer lifetime value. You can estimate it by multiplying the average sale of a customer by the average number of visits per year by the number of years they remain a customer. That’s the easy version.

The more difficult version of this formula takes into account retention rates and gross profit margins. The formula is: Average customer sales for life times the gross profit margin divided by the annual churn rate.

Once you know and track these numbers in your business, you’ll be better able to make smart decisions about your marketing investments and your pricing. And if we can help you, please reach out as always.

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Six Ways to Put the Spring in Your Sales

Spring denotes new growth, fresh starts, and spring cleaning. Why not apply these ideas to your sales so they can blossom along with spring flowers? Here are six ideas to put the spring into your sales.

1. Spring Cleaning Sales

Get rid of old inventory by having a spring sale that will clean out your closets and put some money in your account. Look through your items for sale and find the ones that haven’t moved like you expected. Mark them down and move them out.

2. New Items and Services from Customer Ideas

Now that you’ve gotten rid of the old stuff, you have room for new. If you’re not sure what your clients want or need, ask. Use Survey Monkey to find out what your clients can use. If you don’t have what they want, make it, buy it, or partner with someone who does. Then let everyone know, “based on popular demand” of course, that you have new items for sale just in time for spring.

What questions should you ask in your survey? Try questions like these to draw out your customers’ needs and wishes and to discover any shortcomings you might have not known about:

  • What items/services are on your wish list that you’d like us to stock/provide?
  • How do you currently use our services/products?
  • What do you wish our items accomplished that they don’t now?
  • How would you recommend we expand our selections?
  • What do you wish we did better?

3. The Old “Fries with Your Burger” Upsell

Waitpersons offer desserts and appetizers, office supply staff offer cables and accessories with hardware purchases, and software vendors offer the next level package. Almost every business practices a form of upsell these days, so if you don’t, you’ve got a new opportunity right here.

Dust off your old upsell procedures and try these ideas to rejuvenate your upsells:

  • Re-visit your inventory to pair complementary items for upsell potential.
  • Retrain your staff for upsell language at the time of sale.
  • Re-package like items to offer more bundles and groups.

4. New Prices

When is the last time you’ve raised your prices? If it’s been a while, then it’s a great opportunity to increase revenue with little additional effort.

5. Spread the Word with Spring Samples

Samples can help get your product or service into the hands of many potential buyers. Buyers can better experience your product and reduce their perceived risk.

Not all businesses can provide samples, but there is always the next best thing. Where your product is not consumable, you can sometimes provide a portion of the product, such as a carpet sample, wallpaper swatch, or floor tile. With retail clothing, pictures will have to do. With books or courses, you can provide a sample chapter or a demo video. And with services, case studies or proof of concept will suffice.

6. Offer a Customer Reward Program

Put together a program to reward your most loyal clients and to make them even more loyal to you. Some of the perks could include monthly gifts, priority service, an exclusive event, and/or discounts. The price can be structured as a membership fee, retainer, or package price. Increasing contact, benefits, and communication with these clients is always a good investment.

Try one of these six ideas to put the spring in your sales this season.

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Boost Your Accounting Know-How with These Terms

Outsmart your accountant and other financial friends with these accounting-related definitions:

Fiscal Year

Most companies report their results on a calendar year, from January 1 through December 31. Some companies use a different year for reporting, and that’s called a fiscal year. For example, Intuit’s fiscal year runs from August 1 to July 31. A nonprofit commonly runs from July 1 to June 30.

The word fiscal alone refers to government or public revenues and expenditures. A fiscal year can also be considered the period where companies report their financial results to the public.

Budget

Most companies sit down once a year and plan what they intend to spend. This set of numbers is a budget. It is prepared in income statement format which includes planned revenue and expenses. It can be done for a year, monthly or both.

A common report that compares budget to actual figures is the Income Statement Comparison to Budget which includes columns for month and year-to-date actual, budget, and variance (the difference).

Forecast

While a budget is a longer term plan, a forecast is an attempt to predict the short-term future. Forecasts can be made for cash flow, predicting your bank account balance, or can be focused on potential profit for a period. A forecast is created by enumerating current and expected short-term cash commitments.

General Ledger

A general ledger is a fancy word for your accounting books. It’s also a very specific report that lists each account within the chart of accounts, beginning balances, the activity of each account for a particular period of time, and ending balances. It includes both balance sheet accounts, such as cash, accounts receivable, and accounts payable, and income statement accounts, such as revenue and expenses.

Fixed Asset

A fixed asset is a special type of asset that includes items such as land, vehicles, furniture, buildings, office equipment, plants, and machinery. Fixed assets cannot easily be converted into cash (cash equivalents are termed current assets) and they must last longer than one year. They are physical or tangible (as opposed to intangibles such as patents and trademarks).

Depreciation

Most fixed assets except land depreciate in value over time. For example, when you drive a new car out of the lot, no one will give you what you just paid for it. This reduction in value over time is recognized on accounting books by recording depreciation. Since assets need to be recognized at market value, depreciation is an estimate of this adjustment. Depreciation becomes an expense and reduces the value of the fixed asset. Unlike most other transactions, cash is not affected when recording depreciation.

Accrual

There are two ways to keep books when it comes to the timing of how items are recorded: the cash method and the accrual method. Let’s invoke Popeye the Sailor Man’s friend Wimpy who always says, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Let’s say today is the Friday before this famous Tuesday.

If you are using the cash basis method, you would record the entire transaction on Tuesday, when you get the cold hard cash. If you are using the accrual basis, you would have two entries: one on Friday to record the sale to accounts receivable and one on Tuesday to zero out the receivable and increase cash. It’s the same net, effect; the only difference is in the timing.

Most small businesses that extend credit keep their books on an accrual basis so they can keep track of everything. Most taxes are paid on cash-basis books, requiring adjusting entries at year end that reverse at the beginning of the year.

Balance Sheet

A balance sheet is a very common report of all of the business’s account balances as of a specific date, such as December 31. These accounts include cash, receivables, fixed assets, liabilities, equity and others.

Journal Entry

A journal entry is usually an adjustment that is made to the accounting books. The result is that some accounts increase and others decrease. In theory, every transaction made to a company’s books is a journal entry. When you write a check and it’s cashed, cash goes down and an expense is increased. When you receive a payment, cash goes up and revenue goes up. Each of these transactions is a journal entry.

Do you feel a bit smarter? I’m not sure how exciting this is for cocktail table talk, but hopefully you feel smarter when it comes you’re your business’s accounting function.

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Separating Business from Personal in Facebook

Do you love using Facebook with your friends but know you’re missing out by not using it in business? Do you feel guilty when you post a business promotion and would prefer not to bug your friends? The good news is there’s an easy way to separate Facebook personal use from business within your personal account.

The answer is to group your friends by lists. Once you do that, you can selectively post to the appropriate list(s). Here’s how to do it, step by step.

Log into Facebook and go to your Home page. From the left column, locate the section on Friends and click on More, which is just to the right. At the top right of this Friends page, you’ll see a button called Create List.

Create two lists: one labeled Business and one labeled Personal. You can create far more than two if you want, but for now, start with two. Click the Create button and it will then ask you if you want to add friends. Click that button and select the friends you want to add to each list. In some cases, you’ll want a friend to be on both lists, and that’s fine. Once you’re done, you’ll have a list of business friends and a list of personal friends.

When you post an item, you can select which list you want to see your post. If you’re showing private events like birthdays, weddings, drunk parties, and grandbabies, you may only want friends to see those posts. If you’re pitching a new product, your business list should see that post, but you might not want to bug your friends.

Enter your post as usual and locate the Custom button to the left of the blue Post button. Select the list of friends that you wish to see this post. Then click Post. You’ve now successfully separated your personal and business friends and posts on Facebook.

Almost every social media account has a way for you to separate business from personal, so don’t let this excuse be a reason to miss out on some great marketing opportunities for your business.

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Cool Tech Tools: Boost Team Collaboration with Slack

Slack is a relatively new collaboration tool that is designed to cut down on emails among team members and boost productivity.  It provides messaging by topic or channel so that threads of communication can be streamlined and accessed easily.

Slack is a searchable messaging portal that allows document sharing from a team member’s computer or integrated apps such as Google Drive, DropBox and more.  Slack has 300,000 paid accounts and 1.1 million active users per day.  There is a free option.

Once all your team members are in Slack, they can create channels and have conversations within the channels.  Channels can be organized in any way you want, such as by:

  • Departments
  • Projects
  • Clients
  • Locations
  • Trips
  • Office talk

Channels can be made public within your team or private.

You can also direct-message anyone else in the group so two or more team members can have a private talk. Conversations can be followed on any device – computer, tablet, and phone.

You can add documents to the message stream so team members can review and make comments.  These documents can come from your local computer or one of the 900 integrated apps.  And the messages are searchable to boost efficiency.

If you’re looking for a tool that reduces the number of emails across team members, try out Slack at slack.com.

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Cool Social Media Apps: Periscope

Periscope is one of social media’s newest darlings.  It enables cell phone users (iPhone and Android) to capture and steam live video from their phone.  Periscope was acquired by Twitter in February 2015, and it launched in March.  As of August 12, 2015, Periscope announced they had 10 million users watching 40 years of video per day.   Here are a couple of tips to get you started using Periscope:

Getting Started

If you don’t already have a Twitter account, do that first.  Periscope uses your Twitter info to log you in.  Start following people and they will follow you back.

When someone you follow is broadcasting live, your phone will whistle and you can join in the broadcast.  Once you do, tap the screen to give the broadcaster hearts (likes), which will display and float up the right side of the screen.  You can make comments or ask questions during the broadcast as well; it’s designed to be very interactive.

Your First Broadcast

You can broadcast anything:

  • A new product or service you’re offering
  • Events you’re attending
  • Interviews with people
  • A great view at a party
  • News like a police, fire, or weather event
  • A speech you want to give

Make sure you’re on long enough for people to join in, unless you’ve invited them ahead of time.   You can also keep your videos private if you want to.

To start the broadcast, use the third icon on the bottom which looks like a lens with a small red part.  Title your broadcast, then hit the start button and you’re live.  Double-click the screen to toggle the screen toward you and away from you.  For long broadcasts, consider getting a table tripod or a GorillaPod tripod (by Joby®) with a cell phone holder so your picture will be steadier than handheld.

Broadcasts are listed for 24 hours and then they drop off.  If you want to save your broadcasts to your camera/video roll, be sure to go into Settings under your profile and turn on Autosave Broadcasts.  You can also send your video to the cloud using Katch.me.

Have fun with Periscope; it is a great way to get the word out about your business.

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The Triangle of Fraud Risk

A 2014 Global Fraud Study conducted by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) estimates that the average business loses five percent of their revenues to fraud.  The global total of fraud losses is $3.7 trillion.  The median fraud case goes 18 months before detection and results in a $145,000 loss.  How can you avoid being a fraud victim?

The first step is to become more aware of the conditions that make fraud possible.  The fraud triangle is a model that describes three components that need to be present in order for fraud to occur:

  1. Motivation (or Need)
  2. Rationalization
  3. Opportunity

When fewer than three legs of the triangle are present, we can deter fraud.  When all three are present, fraud could occur.

Motivation

Financial pressure at home is an example of when motivation to commit fraud is present.  The fraud perpetrator finds themselves in need of large amounts of cash due to any number of reasons:  poor investments, gambling, a flamboyant lifestyle, need for health care funds, family requirements, or social pressure.  In short, the person needs money and lots of it fast.

Rationalization

The person who commits fraud rationalizes the act in their minds:

  • I’m too smart to get caught.
  • I’ll put it back when my luck changes.
  • The big company won’t miss it.
  • I don’t like the person I’m stealing from.
  • I’m entitled to it.

At some point in the process, the person who commits fraud loses their sense of right and wrong and their fear of any consequences.

Opportunity

Here’s where you as a business owner come in.  If there’s a leak in your control processes, then you have created an opportunity for fraud to occur.  People who handle cash, signatory authority on a bank account, or financial records with poor oversight could notice that there is an opportunity for fraud to occur with the ability to cover the act up for some time.

Seventy-seven percent of all frauds occur in one of these departments:  accounting, operations, sales, executive/upper management, customer service, purchasing and finance. The banking and financial services, government and public administration, and manufacturing industries are at the highest risk for fraud cases. (Source: ACFE)

Prevention

Once you understand a little about fraud, prevention is the next step.   To some degree, all three points on the triangle can be controlled; however, most fraud prevention programs focus on the third area the most:  Opportunity.  When you can shut down the opportunity for fraud, then you’ve gone a long way to prevent it.

While we hope fraud never happens to you, it makes good sense to take preventative steps to avoid it.  Please give us a call if we can help you in any way.

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5 Ways to Delight Your Customers

Providing great service can make a huge difference in a small business. For companies like Zappos, Nordstrom, and Southwest Airlines, customer service is a differentiator from their competitors. Done right, good customer service can bring lots of referrals that lead to increased revenue. Here are five tips to improve service to your customers.

1- “Welcome Home” Greeting

Consider your business as your home and your customers as invited guests. No matter how they come to you, whether by phone, email, or in person, greet them like you would a guest. If your business has a storefront and customers walk in, have your employees greet them immediately with a welcome message that ends in “Please, make yourself at home.” If your prospect or customer calls you, greet them warmly with “I’m so glad you called.” If a customer or prospect emails you, personally email them back (no autoresponders) to let them know you received their message and when you will be replying.

A warm welcome every time your customer contacts you will make them feel important.

2- Throwback Thank You Cards

Be old-fashioned for a change and handwrite thank you cards to your top clients. You can get blank folding cards with matching envelopes from your local printer or paper shop and have your company logo printed on them. If you don’t have time for that, consider SendOutCards.com.

3- Apologize

Things are bound to go wrong. Be quick with a heartfelt apology whether it’s your fault or not. If your customer struggled with anything – your website, shopping cart, store display, out-of-stock item, and so on – teach your employees to apologize first, then own the problem and get it fixed for all future clients. You can also teach them the language, “thank you for giving us the opportunity to fix this for all future clients.”

4- Mystery Shop

Periodically hire a mystery shopper to evaluate the customer experience at your business. These customer service experts will provide you with a list of suggestions, from your initial voice mail recording to paying your bill. Everywhere your business touches a client should be streamlined, easy, and sealed with a smile.

5- Listen

Your customers can be the best source of ideas for your next new revenue stream. Listen to their feedback and incorporate their ideas into your business.

Try these customer service tips to delight your customers, and watch your revenue grow.

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Will 2016 Be Your Best Year Ever?

If you want 2016 to be better than 2015, you have to do something differently in 2016 than you did in 2015. It’s a simple but profound realization. Change brings the opportunity to make things better; it can be scary yet exciting at the same time.

Ask yourself what you are going to do differently to have your best year ever. Here are some questions and exercises to consider:

Clarify Your Vision
What does the world look like after it’s consumed your product or service? A vision statement for a company helps to keep everyone on track and seeing the bigger picture of what they’re accomplishing day after day. How is the world smarter, more beautiful, happier, healthier, or wealthier after they’ve left your business?

If you haven’t written your business vision and mission statement, consider this exercise for 2016.

Create New Habits
What habits are holding you back? Which ones are propelling you forward? Choose one habit that’s costing you the most and make a commitment to drop it from your 2016 repertoire. Conversely, identify the habit that is brining you happiness and wealth and multiply it.

Let Go
Sometimes we need to let go before we can move forward. What do you need to let go of? Are there customers or employees in your life that sap your energy or your bank account?

Build Your Support Structure
Are you short-staffed? The way you manage your time has everything to do with your success or the lack of it. If you are taking up your time with a lot of low-dollar tasks, it’s going to be hard to boost your income and get ahead. Surround yourself with support to do everything that can be delegated, including personal tasks such as grocery shopping, housekeeping, cooking, and lawn maintenance as well as tasks such as filing, bookkeeping, appointment scheduling, and routine customer service.

Make a list of areas where you could use support, and fill these gaps. In today’s world, you don’t need to hire full time people to fill these slots; you can simply get responsible contractors, other small businesses, and virtual assistants to build your support team.

Focus
What project or task would make a huge difference in 2016 if you could pull it off? Focus on the high payback projects and commit to one, even though it might be out of your comfort zone. Imagine the difference in your business once it’s completed, and get inspired to get started.

Choose just one of these areas to start your 2016 out with hope, intention, and excitement.

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