Want to Retain Key Employees in 2015? Promote Collaboration & Career Development

One of the biggest challenges that small businesses are facing today is in hiring employees that can truly help their business grow… and getting these people to stick around long enough to see that growth happen. Not only are today’s workers more likely to job hop then those of the previous generations, but small businesses must often compete with larger companies that can afford to offer an alluring package of benefits and career opportunities.

Retain Key Employees in 2015 with Collaboration & Career DevelopmentSo what can small business owners do to attract talented employees and get them to stay? Often the solution is to find creative ways to tap into the talents you are looking for, and that process starts with understanding what your employees really want out of their work and life in the first place.

In a recent study from Addison Group, it was found that Millennials (those aged 20 to 34), which represents the biggest, growing section of the workforce, prefer work environments that foster development and collaboration. When asked what qualities they want most in their managers:

  • 63% said the ability to give honest feedback
  • 58% said experience in the field
  • 56% said trustworthiness
  • 37% said the ability to makes time for employees
  • 36% said collaborative

Millennials also tend to place more value on collaboration and relationship building among co-workers and even managers than their Gen X and Baby Boomer peers. In LinkedIn’s latest Relationships @Work study, Millennials rely on workplace friendships to boost their mood and output:

  • 57% said friendships make them feel happy
  • 50% said friendships were motivating
  • 39% said friendships made them more productive

On the other hand, almost half the workers surveyed between the ages of 55-65 reported that friendships at work had nothing to do with their performance on the job.

Moreover, Millennial workers are looking for companies that can provide them with a defined path for career development as well as interesting and useful training opportunities.

How does this all translate to your small business? With fewer employees and a less formal structure, small businesses tend to be more intimate and collaborative by nature. Plus, the smaller number of employees often means that workers get to cross train in various different aspects of the business. They also have more opportunities for meaningful input and ownership over the results. But at the same time, many small businesses trip themselves up by not promoting these opportunities to potential new hires.

In short, success will be dependent not just on your budget, but on your ability to give your employees a sense of ownership, camaraderie, purpose, and personal development- qualities that they can’t always easily achieve in a bigger company. In the end they will be more likely to want to build and grow with you because they will get a sense of who they could become as a result.

Leverage 3D Printing in Your Small Business Without Buying a Printer

The 3D printing industry has been generating a lot of attention lately, and it’s with good reason. While the concept has actually existed for three decades, over the past few years 3D printer technology and equipment has gotten much more accurate, faster, and cheaper. This has generated a 3D printing market for both small business and even home use, and this market is expanding rapidly. In fact, sales of printers, materials, and services will reach about $3.8 billion this year, compared to $2.5 billion last year, and is expected to top $16 billion by the year 2018.

3d Printing for Small Business and consumersFor small business owners and entrepreneurs in particular, 3D printing technology represents a quick, cost effective way to get their hands on product prototypes and even conduct small scale manufacturing and processing. Artists are able to create and quickly replicate unique items and designs for sale. Toy makers routinely use 3D printing to make small figurines or action figures. Jewelry designers use 3D printing to create original works such as rings, bracelets, and pendants in a range of materials including precious metals. 3D printers have even been used to create human prosthetics, cars, and bikes.

While the possibilities may seem endless, one of the biggest drawbacks to this technology is the cost of the equipment. Even though prices have been coming down, most serious 3D printers on the market still cost several hundred to several thousands of dollars.

If a 3D printer is out of your budget, you can still leverage this technology in your small business. Here are three possible options:

Online 3D Printing Services. Over the past couple of years a number of online companies have cropped up that allow users to create digital designs and have them printed and then shipped to them or directly to their customers. Some platforms even allow users to set up their own online storefront to both showcase and sell their designs. Currently, the most popular online 3D printing services include:

 

Local 3D Hubs. 3D Hubs is an online network and community that connects consumers and small businesses with local 3D printers and their services. 3D Hubs now has an international presence and allows those in need to 3D printing to track down a local 3D printer for jobs both big and small. The advantage of turning to a local printer is that it tends to be cheaper especially if the quantity needed is very small. Items can also be picked up that day.

Professional 3D Printing Shops. The fact that so many small businesses and entrepreneurs are embracing 3D printing technology has not been lost on some of the biggest brands catering to consumers and the small business community. Case in point, UPS, Staples, and Radio Shack have all made recent forays into 3D printing services.

So the bottom line is, even if you don’t have the money to invest in a 3D printer, there are plenty of ways you can still take advantage of this technology to help drive your business forward.

Are You Tapping into Webrooming to Increase Sales in Your Retail Store?

Not so long ago, retailers of all sizes were worried about a trend called showrooming- where consumers go to a physical store to look at a product and then shop online for that same product at a cheaper price. But according to a recent study, it seems consumer buying habits have flipped around, and that spells good news for small, independent retailers in particular.

What is webrooming?In October, GfK published the results to their annual FutureBuy® shopping study. One of their key findings is that the practice of showrooming seems to be declining while webrooming is now on the rise. With webrooming, consumers research products online, then go into a physical store to actually make the purchase. While it used to be that people would rely on webrooming for major purchases, such as appliances, big ticket electronics, and furniture, now consumers are doing this even for relatively small purchases, like health and beauty products.

According to the study, there are several motivations behind the webrooming trend: wanting to avoid shipping costs, wanting to physically see and feel the product before buying; wanting to get the products instantly, and being able to return products more easily.

So how can your retail store tap into the webrooming trend? Here are three strategies:

1. Make sure your web presence is optimized for local search. There is a lot that goes into optimizing your website and accounts on other platforms, including social media. Basically, your goal is to help search engines, such as Google, and local search directories know that your business exists, as well as where it is located, and what specific products and services it offers. You also want to connect your online profiles with other, helpful business-specific information, such as customer reviews, contact information, and hours of operation. I know that this sounds like a lot, but, once you understand the process, it is pretty straight forward even if it may involve a little grunt work. To get you started, here are several good resources to check out:

2. Use highly targeted online advertising. Though there are many ways to advertise a business online, when it comes to local businesses, you will probably have the most success with the pay-per-click model. This form of advertising is not just Adwords, it also includes social media platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and even Pinterest. Which platforms you will actually advertise on will be dependent on where your target audience “hangs out” online. What is really great about this form of advertising is that you can choose to target very specific groups of people or keywords which will help to ensure that your ad is being seen in the right places.

Another option to look into is banner advertisements on any blogs or websites that target a local audience. Again, this comes back to understanding where your ideal customers tend to spend their time online.

3. Make sure your retail location and online presence taps into the motivations behind webrooming. As mentioned above, according to the GfK study, consumers have several motivations for their webrooming habit. Make sure your online and in-store presence taps into those motivations. For example, you can promote an easy return policy, invite customers to come to your store and take a look at the products while getting helpful advice from staff about how to use them, or offer discounted shipping for big items.

Whatever strategies you end up doing, webrooming is one trend that you should not ignore. The potential payout for your retail location can be big, providing you a much welcomed boost in revenues.

The Best POS and Accounting Apps for Small Businesses in 2015

As the year comes to an end, it’s the perfect time to take stock of how your business is performing and try to identify the areas that need improvement. Whether you and your business openly embrace technology, you have been putting off making some necessary upgrades, or you tend to be a bit technophobic, there is a variety of really simple tools out there that can dramatically improve the way you manage your small business. And, the best part is that almost all of these apps are either free or low cost.

Accounting Apps and POS SoftwareSo, without further ado, here’s a roundup of the best accounting apps and software for any small business owner who wants to start the new year off on the right foot:

Mobile Point of Sale Apps

Flint Mobile

With Flint Mobile all you need is a smart phone in order to accept credit card payments. No separate card reader is needed. Instead, small businesses take credit card payments by scanning in the customer’s card number. What’s more, Flint Mobile can also send invoices for online bill payment, handle cash and checks and manage customized coupons, and that’s just the beginning of the feature list. The Flint Mobile app is free to download. The current transaction fees are 1.95 percent for debit card payments and 2.95 percent for credit cards. There are currently no fees for managing cash, checks, invoices or coupons.

Square

One of the first serious mobile payments options for independent small businesses, Square is still a good option to check out- especially if your business only occasionally needs mobile payment processing. With Square, there are no monthly fees, no contracts and no merchant accounts, but you will be charged a 2.75 transaction fee for every swipe, online sale, or paid Square invoice. If you key in the number, then the fee jumps to 3.5% + 15 cents. Square links directly with your bank account and accepts payments from all major credit card companies.

Intuit QuickBooks Payments

If you are a QuickBooks user, then you may want to consider Intuit’s QuickBooks Payments App. At $19.95 a month, the app will automatically sync with your accounting software, making your accounting and invoicing a breeze. The card reader needed for swiping credit cards is free, and transaction fees are competitive, at 1.75 percent of total sales. Intuit also offers a pay-as-you-go option for merchants that’s similar to Square’s pricing plan. The swipe rate for the plan, which has no monthly fee, is 2.40 percent per transaction.

PayPal Here

Whether you’re a fan of Paypal or not, you’ve got to admit that the online payments and money transfers platform has got a virtual monopoly in Internet-based payments- especially among those living outside of the US. For that reason alone PayPal’s mobile payments offering, PayPal Here, is something to consider. In addition to accepting credit and debit card payments from customers, your customers can also make payments from their mobile PayPal accounts. The cost per transaction is 2.7 percent of the final sale, and there are no additional setup costs or monthly fees.

PayAnywhere

PayAnyware is a pretty straightforward solution with no monthly fees, setup costs or monthly minimum sales requirements. It works similar to Square, with a flat-rate pricing plan of 2.69 percent per swipe. The app and card reader are both free.

Cloud Based Accounting Apps

Sage One

There are several proprietary offerings in the area of cloud based accounting that make the transaction recording and number crunching part of running a small business a breeze. Sage One is a good example, putting most of the accounting aspects of running a business on autopilot. The interface is also very simplistic and easy to follow.

Zoho Books

Zoho Books offers an assortment of features to help business owners manage their finances in real-time. The basic feature list includes: invoice management and payment processing, expense tracking, and financial reporting. There are a bunch of powerful add-ons, too. One of the pluses of using Zoho Books is that it integrates seamlessly with Zoho’s other business apps.

Nutcache

If you are on a tight budget, then the free Nutcache is best the option for you hands down. It’s a robust feature-rich platform that has already a die hard following of users. Nutcache can support multiple languages, unlimited invoicing, time tracking, and payment processing functions.

FreeAgent

FreeAgent is a cloud-based accounting application that is especially designed for freelancers who handle multiple clients and projects. It enables them to manage various aspects of their business including client data, project information, time and expenses. FreeAgent makes it easy to invoice customers, track expenses, and synchronize bank accounts- all from one simple interface.

Quickbooks

Quickbooks is the oldest cloud-based accounting platform of the lot, and it’s with good reason. Backed by Intuit, notable for its revolutionary tax software, Quickbooks is the most robust option out there. Aside from sales management, expense tracking, and applying sales tax, Quickbooks allows you to track payments through multiple pathways including: automated online banking, creating estimates, and invoice management. Plus, Quickbooks works across multiple platforms and mobile devices.

Did I leave any apps out? Had any experience using the platforms mentioned above? Let us know in the comments below.

(Image Credit)

Is Your Business Ready for Small Business Saturday?

If you own a brick and mortar store, then one of the biggest boosts you can give to your holiday sales is to be an active participant in Small Business Saturday which falls out on November 29th this year. It’s a day when communities across the US celebrate and support their local small businesses.

Is Your Business Ready for Small Business Saturday?I find it amazing how many small business owners spend a lot of time and effort trying to tap into the buying momentum of Black Friday, the mega shopping event that immediately follows Thanksgiving. The truth is the celebrated first day of the Christmas shopping season has absolutely nothing to do with small businesses. It’s meant for the big box retailers that can afford to offer steep discounts on inventory in an attempt to lure bargain-hungry holiday shoppers. You can read about the history of Black Friday here.

Small business owners, stay away… far away. Trying to lure shoppers to your small business with the promise of steep discounts or “door-buster” deals will only hurt your business and leave you with little to show for it- similar to how those Groupon deals did a few years back. Instead, the focus should be on rewarding loyal customers while trying to attract the buyers who will appreciate what your business has to offer (and come back for more.)

This is exactly the attitude behind Small Business Saturday which is a shopping event held on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. The initiative was started by American Express four years ago and has gained in popularity ever since. In this event, small businesses are encouraged to join forces under the “Shop Small” brand and where possible host community-wide events that will appeal to local shoppers.

If your community has yet to participate in this event, American Express offers an assortment of helpful resources on their website, such as a bunch of useful free marketing materials for both online and offline promotion. There are also several stories of businesses that were able to capitalize on the day to increase sales and brand awareness.

If you would like to get updates about local Small Business Saturday events or are looking for a little inspiration, you can follow the Small Business Saturday communities on both Facebook and Twitter.

Why Hasn’t the Number of Incorporated Self Employed Gone Up?

Earlier this week I saw an interesting post by Scott Shane over at Small Business Trends. In it, he pointed out an interesting trend based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the data, the number of incorporated self-employed individuals was 4 percent lower in September of this year than it was in June 2009.

Why Hasn't the Number of Incorporated Self Employed Gone Up?

While the actual number of incorporated self-employed (ie those who work for themselves in corporate entities) represents a relatively small percentage of entrepreneurial activity and an even smaller part of the American workforce (unincorporated self employed make up about 6 percent of the labor force versus incorporated self employed at only 3.5 percent), the stagnant growth seems puzzling.

After all, several economic indicators and respected reports, such as the Small Business Economic Trends report conducted by the NFIB, all point to an improving, expanding economy. Given that the incorporated self employed tend to earn twice as much as the unincorporated, why aren’t more aspiring entrepreneurs being encouraged by the rising sales at existing businesses to start their own ventures?

I think there are several possible explanations:

  • There is less financing available to get these start up businesses up and running. Let’s not forget that small businesses and start ups are still dealing with an extreme credit crunch. For most aspiring entrepreneurs, there are only two main options: rely on personal assets (which have also taken a hit due to the crash in the housing market, rock bottom interest rates, and stagnant wages), or turn to more expensive (and thus more risky) alternative lenders.
  • Fewer personal assets or access to outside financing means that starting up a business these days is a lot more risky than it was prior to the Recession when cash was flowing more freely. Since incorporated self-employed tend to be older and have a family, many may postpone starting a business or avoid working on it in a full time capacity because a business failure could affect their financial stability.
  • Even for all the rosy indicators and reports, the truth is that the economic recovery has been very uneven. Consumer demand is still very weak in important areas such as retail, and that’s likely due to the fact that wages and employment have not recovered anywhere close to their pre-recession levels even as taxes for small business owners and the middle class have gone up.

So, what do you think? Have you or people you know been considering starting your own business, but have held back due to the reasons mentioned above?

Image Credit: Small Business Trends

10 Successful Kid Entrepreneurs Under the Age of 13

10 Successful Kid EntrepreneursFor many people, one of the biggest challenges to successfully starting a new business is just starting in the first place. As adults, we can easily get caught up in and overwhelmed by our own fears to the extent that we get stuck in a comfort zone and never push ourselves to dream, to experiment, to achieve. Kids, however, are natural dreamers, experimenters, and achievers (at least, when they are left to their own devices). For this reason, it’s not surprising that many kids, even small ones, have been able to turn their ideas into profitable business ventures. Below are ten successful kid entrepreneurs all of whom started their businesses when they were under the age of 13.

Cory Nieves, Mr. Cory’s CookiesHe may only be 10, but Corey Nieves is already the CEO and head of distribution for Mr. Cory’s Cookies, which offers an assortment of all-natural, mostly organic treats. The Englewood, New Jersey native sells up to a thousand cookies each weekend, at about $1 apiece. His business has also led to an appearance on the Ellen Degeneres show and more than 30,000 followers on Instagram. Aside from the quality of his cookies (that he makes together with his mom in a rented commercial kitchen), and the obvious cuteness factor of Corey himself, much of the company’s success is due to the fact that the cookies are brought to local businesses where their customers already are.

Leanna Archer, Leanna’s Hair. Leanna Archer was a mere 9 years old when she began bottling and selling her own hair pomade based on her great-grandmother’s secret recipe. Archer’s line of all-natural hair products, has since expanded to include a variety of hair cleansers, conditioners and treatments. Now 17, Leanna serves as the CEO of her company and has been recognized by prominent business publications like Forbes and Success Magazine. She even started the Leanna Archer Education Foundation to help build schools and safe learning environments for underprivileged children in Haiti.

Juliette Brindak, Miss O and FriendsAt age 10, Juliette Brindak created what is now Miss O and Friends. The site mostly targets pre-teen girls and has become one of the most popular girl-only online websites. Brindak has since launched a line of Miss O and friends books and other related products, all offering an assortment of self-esteem and confidence building content. The young woman is currently the CEO and editor of her site as well as the book line and has a net worth of $15 Million Dollars.

Lizzie Marie Likness, Lizzie Marie CuisineLizzie Marie is a food mogul in the making. It all started when a 6-year-old Lizzie wanted to earn money in order to pay for horseback riding lessons. So, she began selling homemade baked goods at the local farmers market. Then, with a little help from her parents, she developed and maintained a healthy-cooking website compete with instructional videos showing kids how to make healthy food and snacks. That move led to cooking classes, an appearance on the “Rachael Ray Show,” and even her own WebMD video series, “Healthy Cooking with Chef Lizzie.”

Moziah Bridges, Mo’s BowsNot happy with the bow ties he saw at the store, Moziah Bridges started making his own. Having learned how to sew from his grandmother, the fashion conscious 11-year-old began selling his creations on Etsy. A short while later, his ties made their way into several boutiques throughout the South East. So far, Bridges has earned over $30,000 from his bow ties. Next up: he plans to start a children’s clothing company.

Jaden Wheeler & Amaya Selmon, Kool Kidz Sno KonezA couple of years ago, Jaden Wheeler (12 years old) and Amaya Selmon (10 years old) started making snow cones with a blender and an extension cord in front of their home in Memphis, Tennessee. After seeing how successful their small business was, their mother purchased for them a food truck, making them the youngest food truck owners in Memphis. Now, Kool Kidz Sno Konez offers an assortment of snacks including: hot dogs, nachos, and more than 20 snow cone flavors.

Anshul Samar, Elementeo (Alchemist Empire Inc.). At the age of 11, Anshul Samar combined his love for chemistry with his love for playing card games into a board-based game called Elementeo. In the game, various characters representing different elements on the periodic table compete against each other to “capture” electrons. Since the first version of Elementeo was released, Samar now 19, has continued to update the game and even created a grant fund for other aspiring young entrepreneurs.

Cameron JohnsonCameron Johnson got his entrepreneurial gears going at the age of 9 making invitations for his parents’ holiday party. Two years later, Johnson had made thousands of dollars selling cards through his company Cheers and Tears. At age 12, he paid his sister $100 for her 30 Beanie Babies and sold them on eBay for $1000. He then purchased the toys directly from the manufacturer and earned a $50,000 profit within a year. He used that money to start an Internet business that brought in $3,000 per month in advertising revenue. By the time he turned 15, he had formed several businesses with total revenues ranging from $300,000 to $400,000 dollars each month.

Adora SvitakAdora is a published author of three books, internationally acclaimed speaker, and advocate for causes including literacy, youth empowerment, and feminism. She’s been featured on Good Morning America, and her TED speech titled “What Adults Can Learn From Kids,” has generated 3.6 million views and counting. Oh, and she accomplished all of this by the age of 12.

 

7 of the Most Creepiest Business Ideas

Most entrepreneurs agree that it is much easier to start a business around something you are passionate about. But, what if your passions tend to gravitate to the darker side of life (or death)? In the spirit of Halloween, here are seven of the most creepiest business ideas that people have turned into real thriving businesses:

Creepy business ideas1. Ghost hunting. Ever since the popular Syfy series Ghost Hunters debuted ten years ago, ghost hunting has attracted the attention of a host of would be amateurs looking for a thrilling hobby, or at least a good scare. If this piques your interest, keep in mind that the life and work of a real ghost hunter isn’t always so exciting. Ghost hunters are actually specialized paranormal researchers or “parapsychologists” who focus on locating and discovering the reasons spirits or energies exist. Parapsychology in general is a real field of study that can even be found in some universities. It involves the investigation of a whole range of paranormal and psychic phenomena, such as telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, near-death experiences, reincarnation, and apparitional experiences.

2. Crime scene cleanup. Movies and tv shows tend to dramatize the blood and gore left after a fatal or near fatal crime. But some real life crime scenes can get pretty gruesome, and that brings up the question: who comes to clean up the mess? This is where the CTS (crime and trauma scene) Decontamination company comes in. A CTS Decon Technician has to gets to clean up the bio-hazards like splattered blood and body parts as well as any dangerous chemicals that are left at the scene of a crime. If regular exposure to blood and dead bodies floats your boat combined with the “excitement” of seeing various crime scenes, then this may be the business for you.

3. Funeral home. Speaking of dead bodies, why not start your own funeral home? This creepy business involves the care of the dead along with their living relatives every single day. Keep in mind that you’ll need to be a licensed funeral director and have to graduate from mortuary school (which is generally focused on math and science) in order to get into this line of work. While the funeral home business may be hard to break into, there is certainly space for some niche market ideas, like giving the whole funeral experience a modern, artsy make-over.

4. Internet screening company. Perhaps you feel your calling is dealing with the dark side of human nature. In that case, why not start an Internet screening company? Lately, demand for content moderators or “screeners” has been sky rocketing- particularly among web sites built around user submitted content. Your company’s job is to flag material that is obviously pornographic or violent, illegal in a certain country, or considered inappropriate by a specific web site or company. There is plenty of smut and downright disturbing content out there to keep you and your employees busy. Just make sure you also hire a good psychologist. Recently, the internet giant Google got some unflattering attention when it was revealed that they hire contractual workers in-house for one year to do the dirty work and don’t even provide them with counseling.

5. Creepy art. Have some real artistic ability? You can combine it with your penchant for creepiness and sell your works of art to other lovers of the dark and bizarre. For inspiration, here is a collection of creepy illustrations and sculptures. There is even a demand for creepy catering. You find some great and vivid examples here and here.

6. Pest control. Maybe you like dealing with creepy crawlers instead. As long as snakes, scorpions, rats, and all kinds of bugs exist, there will always be a demand for quality pest control. And, hey, you may get lucky and get called to handle a massive bat or spider infestation.

7. Mannequin repair and renovation. Mannequins are just plain creepy- second only to those museum wax figures. Let’s be honest. Have you ever looked at a mannequin in a store window and felt sure it would move and then just as sure that if it did move, you would totally lose it and run? If the thought of working with life size plastic body parts is your cup of tea, then why not start a mannequin repair and rennovation business?

Are you running a creepy business not mentioned on this list? Let us know your creepy business ideas in the comments below.

What Do Small Business Owners Fear the Most?

Small Business Fears

Wondering what keeps small business owners up at night? Conventional wisdom aside, things like recent government legislation, time management, and Internet marketing are all important concerns, but they’re not giving the majority of small business owners the jitters. The following eight things are the real ghosts and goblins of running a small business. How many can you identify with?

Getting and keeping customers

If few people or businesses come to buy your products or services, you won’t be in business very long. On the other hand, if you are constantly bending over backwards to please the customers you already have in the fear that they’ll defect to another company, you can easily exhaust vital energy and resources, hinder growth, and have little to show for it. Instead, focus on targeting your ideal, best paying customers and on building your brand with quality products and services.

Weak sales

Following on the heels of the point above, a sales slowdown can bring a good business to a screeching halt. Part of what makes poor sales so scary is that it can come from a number of unexpected occurrences, such as an economic downturn, bad weather, a natural disaster, or a sudden shift in consumer trends. The best way to cope with this fear is to have an “emergency” plan in place for dealing for the most likely scenarios. Depending on your business, this could include setting up an emergency fund and having multiple sources of income.

Not having access to credit or capital

Even if you belong to the bootstrapping camp, to sustain healthy business operations and growth, you will likely need access to some kind of outside credit or capital along the way. You don’t want to pass up on an opportunity to buy inventory in bulk at a great discount, or be unable to cover a sudden cash short fall, or put off buying the equipment, hiring the workers, or making the renovations that will increase your sales. While getting access to financing through traditional means, such as via your local bank, is extremely hard for small business owners these days, there are other alternative financing options out there, such as business cash advances, invoice factoring, micro loans, and even peer-to-peer lending. Just make sure you do some research before settling on the product that makes the most sense for your business.

Not being able to pay the bills

Many small business owners are so focused on increasing sales and ultimately their bottom line, that they don’t pay enough attention to their cash flow. This can cause a lot of operational issues, not to mention a huge load of stress and anxiety for the small business owner. The most important thing that small business owners can do is to create and monitor a weekly or monthly cash flow statement. Most accounting programs will do this automatically. Even business owners who are relying on Excel to keep track of transactions, can download a simple cash flow statement template. They are many kinds available online for free.

Loosing key employees

A small business’ employees can often be one of its biggest assets. After all, think about all the time, energy, and money that goes into recruiting, hiring, and training these people, not to mention compensating them for their work. One of the biggest fears that small business owners have is loosing their key employees to their competitors- especially those that have the size and the resources to offer better compensation and more opportunities for education and advancement. While this is certainly a real concern for many small businesses, business owners should focus on the positives that they offer aside from compensation, such as their unique work environment, more intimate setting, and perhaps the ability of employees to have more of an impact on business decision making than they would in a bigger business.

Not keeping up with the competition

Many businesses these days are being overwhelmed by their competition- whether their competitors are big brands that can slash prices and conduct flashy and pervasive marketing campaigns, or they are small, scrappy companies with a knack for drawing market attention. Add to this the reality that the Internet and the technology that supports it all is rapidly evolving, and businesses are having to deal with an increasingly impatient and demanding customer-base. It’s little wonder why many small business owners are in constant fear of loosing their customers to their competitors. The real solution to this starts with properly defining your ideal customer, developing your brand so that it highlights your company’s strengths and your customers’ needs, and then figuring out the most effective places and ways to reach these people. In other words, getting back to the basics of running a successful business.

Not being able to retire

Though many small business owners enjoy what they are doing and aren’t necessarily thinking of retirement, nevertheless, nearly two-thirds of small business owners fear outliving the money they need to retire, according to a poll from the Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute. But it’s more than that. Many business owners may not have a clear succession or sales plan for the business when it comes time for them to leave. It’s for this reason that even new small business owners should hash out a strategy for both retirement savings and for passing on the business to others.

The fear of failure

Every single person on the planet has failed at some point or other, yet the fear of failure can be one of the most debilitating sources of anxiety for small business owners. When a business owner hits a road block in the business, the worst thing he or she can do is to spend too much time on what went wrong without spending valuable time analyzing what went right and what was gained from the experience. Small business owners should also make sure they’ve got a strong support group to help them through the down times. Plus, taking care of physical needs such as proper diet, exercise, and sleep, can significantly affect both mood and performance.

So, where do you fit in this list? Are you dealing with other fears not listed here? How are you coping? Let us know in the comments below.

5 Ways to Get Your Customers to Pay You Faster

A couple of months ago, President Obama announced a new White House initiative, called “Supplier Pay,” which is meant to encourage big corporations to pay their small business suppliers more quickly. Ever since the Recession, small businesses have had to wait longer for their larger customers to pay their bills with billing cycles stretching from 30 days to 60 and even 90 days after an invoice is issued. Such a long delay can take a heavy toll on a small business’ cash flow, often with painful results: they may be forced to cut into their profit margins by borrowing costly money, business growth can be stunted, and in some extreme cases, a business can even shut down completely.

Get paid faster in your businessWhether or not your small business works with big corporate clients, when your customers take a long time to pay, it can wreak havoc on your whole business. Though many small businesses owners tend to focus on sales and net revenues, without an adequate supply of available capital, you’ll spend a great deal of time and effort scrambling around to cover the cost of necessary supplies, inventory, payroll, and other typical operating expenses. This can lead to anxiety and pull you away from focusing on other, more important aspects of running your business.

So, what’s the solution? Here are five tips that any business owner can follow to significantly improve the cash flow within a business while trying to preserve customer relationships and remaining competitive.

1. Be clear about your customers’ payment patterns. Getting paid quicker starts with fully understanding your target customer. This may sound simple enough, but I’m amazed at how many businesses overlook this one vital step. When you consider your target market, what is the typical length of payment among these individuals, businesses, or groups? How do they prefer to pay? What potential obstacles get in the way of their ability to pay? Will certain value added products or services shorten the billing cycle? You need to be able to answer these questions and then you can begin to structure your business accordingly.

2. Be clear about how much cash flow you need to operate. As a business owner, you owe it to your business to be in touch with the flow of capital coming and going out of your business. You should therefore first learn how to read a cash flow statement. But above that, you should also be aware of and have a plan for your business’ essential, non re-occurring expenses, such as big equipment purchases or property upgrades. Once you are clear about your customers’ payment patterns and your business needs, you can structure your payment collection policies accordingly.

3. Walk away from no-pay and extremely slow-pay customers. I know it’s hard to turn away potential sales. But, at the same time you want to generate the kinds of sales that will actually pay your bills with the least amount of headache. If you extend credit in your business, you need to establish a set of criteria that will help you weed out the good (i.e. profitable) customers from the bad ones. You also need to set reasonable time and amount limits on this credit. Again, this will go back to being in touch with the operating needs and flow of your business as well as your customers’ needs and payment behavior. If this is hard for you to figure out on your own (and for most business owners it will be), then make sure to consult with a qualified professional, such as a CPA.

4. Look for creative ways to get customers to pay quicker. There may be many small things that you can do to encourage your customers to pay quicker. For example, you can offer your best customers a small discount if they pay right away or require that clients make a down payment before any work is completed.

5. Look for other ways to generate cash flow. Another option is to open your business up to a slightly larger target market that includes those customers that tend to pay quicker. You can do this by adding another product or service, tweaking an existing one, or simply directing part of your marketing efforts to this new group. This can help you generate needed cash flow, while allowing you to keep your bigger, slower paying customers.

Over to you… What strategies do you use in your business to help ease the cash flow crunch caused by slow paying customers?