SaaS – What’s in It for Your Small Business?

“Software as a service” is making computer news these days – but what’s in it for your small business? Is SaaS just a nerdy fad or does it really have a place in your business? SaaS, far from being a passing phase, has the capability to jump start your business. Do saving time and money while increasing efficiency sound good to you? The list of SaaS’s benefits starts there … and grows.

 

As you may know, SaaS is a new method of software delivery. Instead of the conventional model in use since the 90s – software which is installed onto your firm’s computers from purchased disks or downloads – SaaS is Web-based, offering access to the information you need on a subscription basis. All you have to do is sign up and log on. In fact, you are probably using one or more simple, free forms of SaaS already – online banking or webmail, perhaps.

 

Far from being pie-in-the-sky or only for Fortune 500-ers, SaaS makes sense for every enterprise, regardless of size. Besides a very impressive cost-benefit ratio, it allows small businesses room to expand and to compete with large corporations. Omri Erel, Marketing Director for walkme.com and self-proclaimed SaaS Addict, has to say on the subject: “SaaS by design is actually far more convenient for small businesses than any classical software model out there.”

 

Keep Your Customers Happy
Software as a service is gaining ground most rapidly in the field of customer relations management. By 2011, 35% of CRM software was SaaS-platform based. Gartner’s Market Trends forecasts that that percentage will rise to over 50% as of 2016.

 

Save Money
To update an old saw, why pay for the cow when you can rent the milk for much less? A relatively modest monthly payment gives you feature-rich computer services. For example, desktop applications similar to the popular Microsoft Office suite are available without the hefty licensing fee. And you completely avoid having to make an enormous initial investment in servers and infrastructure. What’s more, you benefit from your service provider’s economies of scale. IT costs are uniform and predictable.

 

Save Time
For most small business operators, software is a waste of time – literally. The amount of hours your employees invest in searching for, installing, maintaining and updating software could be better spent, simply put, on doing their jobs. Add to that staff time spent waiting for IT to deal with any problems that arise and you’ve got a serious productivity drain on your hands. By contrast, SaaS makes the latest version of the software you need available instantly, whenever you need to access it.

 

Make that wherever you need to access it, as well. You are no longer limited to just the on-site desktop computers in your office, but can conveniently get at essential information from your mobile or tablet literally anywhere you happen to be – such as a hotel room or an airport.

 

Be Consistent, Be Flexible
Whether on the road, in your new branch office or meeting in a client’s boardroom, all your staff will have access to the same data. For instance, the latest Excel spreadsheet on up-to-the-minute budget figures is available without jumping through hoops to get it. This opens the door to greater flexibility in collaborating with a team that may include your employees, clients and resource personnel, all working together on a project from different locations, yet all on the same page. Updates to software and information are applied across the board. Companies with work from home and flexible hours policies will find this equally convenient.

 

Another aspect of SaaS flexibility is the capability to scale up as your company grows, without large budgetary outlays for upgraded software or IT assistance.

 

Be Secure
Your information is protected with state of the art standards of security and encryption technology when you use SaaS. A lost or stolen laptop or a hard drive crash will no longer spell disaster. Every file is automatically backed up, so your valuable data will be safe.

The monetary savings associated with the subscription model, access to the best computers and most cutting edge software around plus efficiency, security, flexibility and ease of use leave only one question to be answered – how can you afford not to upgrade to SaaS?

 

Is Your City Entrepreneurial?

With so many small businesses trying to make it, and with local governments forever seeking to attract entrepreneurs and give their city an economic boost, a recently raised question has been making headlines and causing a flurry of discussion among inquiring business minds. In a policy brief published by Harvard’s Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, economists William Kerr and Edward Glaeser ask the question: What makes a city entrepreneurial?

According to the report (based on two articles by Glaeser and Kerr: Clusters of Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurship: How Much of the Spatial Distribution Can We Explain?) there are several factors regarding the correlation between geography and entrepreneurship:

  • High levels of entrepreneurship (that is, the number of small businesses in an area) closely corresponds with regional economic growth (and conversely, areas with fewer new start ups are associated with a decline in job growth).

  • The greater the number of small businesses, the greater the infrastructure (i.e., the presence of venture capitalists, independent suppliers and an entrepreneurial culture) and therefore the easier it is for new businesses to enter the marketplace.
  • Startup growth tends to be greater in areas with a more educated workforce (who in turn tend to gravitate towards areas with favorable climates).
  • A profusion of small, independent businesses bodes well for an area’s sustained economic growth.

  • Strategies to improve a city’s quality of life go a long way in attracting bright young entrepreneurs.

  • There is a strong link between educational institutions and certain types of businesses (for example, the success of Silicon Valley is attributed in part to the involvement of students and faculty from Stanford University).

 

Under30CEO.com recently polled their readership to discover which cities offered the best resources, schools, events, climate and social scene for a young entrepreneur. Here’s what they ended up with:

  1. New York, NY  As the home of several industries, including “Silicon Alley,” it’s got the biggest scene of them all.
  2. San Francisco, CA  Its proximity to Silicon Valley means it’s a hub for high-tech.
  3. Austin, TX  The capital of live music begets a burgeoning corporate culture and a low cost of living.
  4. Boston, MA  Education, education, education. Beantown’s a hub for brains, incubators and deep pockets.
  5. Denver, CO  It’s a growing center for folks who like to work hard (inside), then play hard (outside).
  6. Chicago, IL  It’s a longtime financial center that’s slowly ceding its khaki culture to a more digital community who doesn’t like living out in the ‘burbs.
  7. San Diego, CA  Big tourism and big population allows this sunny clime to take advantage of California’s smartest.
  8. Portland, OR  Major green credentials, a temperate climate and a growing local food scene (plus one hell of a cup of coffee) has Portland on the radar of many young entrepreneurs.
  9. Washington, D.C.  President Obama may be a Democrat, but his youth has inspired younger folks of all political persuasions to relocate to the nation’s capital in a wave not seen since the 1950s.
  10. Seattle, WA  This hub for technology and industry — from Amazon and Microsoft to Boeing and Starbucks — is also a doorstep to Asia. It doesn’t hurt that it has a highly-educated population, either.

So when it comes to entrepreneurship, how does your city measure up?

3 Reasons Why Businesses Fail at Marketing

When it comes to marketing a business the frequent complaint from small biz owners is that marketing rarely works or just isn’t worth the expense. For those business owners I offer the reasons below as to why that may seem to be true.

 

1.) You Try to Do It Yourself.

Yeah, I know, you’d get marketing help if you could trust it, or afford it. Yes, it’s true that many marketing firms are beyond the financial reach of many small businesses. However, if you truly believe in the benefits of smart marketing there are professional resources that your small business can afford. You just may have to invest the time to find and qualify them. And, the better you’re able to qualify them, the more you’ll be able to trust them.

 

One business owner who knew the value of investing in marketing expertise was Steve Jobs. Apple incorporated on January 3rd, 1977, and within the year was running ads created by an outside agency. Great, creative marketing has been a driving force behind Apple’s stellar success ever since. As Anita Campbell, Founder of Small Business Trends, says:

 

Business success is all about finding the right outside service providers

and using them wisely. You can’t do it all yourself.”

2.) You Hire Marketing Help, But it’s the Wrong Marketing Help.

Unfortunately, most small business owners don’t know what they don’t know, which makes it easy for them to be misled. It’s kind of a Catch 22. Because while they may be smart enough to know they’re not marketing experts, it’s very tough to be smart enough to know who is. Getting referrals helps, but it’s not enough. So, to know how to qualify marketing help, read this.

 

3.) You Don’t Have a Realistic Definition of What Success Is.

“Success” can mean a million different things to a million different people. Plus, every situation is different. For example, if you’re offering a coupon or running a sale it’s easier to define success than if you’re rebranding your business with an upgraded logo, tagline or website. Obviously, that doesn’t mean that an upgraded logo, tagline or website is any less important.

 

My point is that the idea of “success” is something to be discussed upfront. This is where an outside professional perspective will definitively help. Because not only will they know more about marketing than you, but they’ll also have a more objective perspective. And, that objectivity is key. Assuming you’re able to come to an agreement about what a successful effort might look like you’ll then be in a much better position to move forward with confidence and try to achieve it.

 

It’s unfortunate how often business owners and outside marketing resources move forward without doing this and then end up equally disgruntled.

 

It truly kills me to see frustrated and jaded business owners struggling because they’ve never figured out how to resolve their marketing issues. Hopefully, this will help.

Author Bio:

John Follis is a business owner and nationally respected marketing exec profiled on Wikipedia. His successful campaigns have been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USAToday, Forbes and two college textbooks. He’s also author of “How to Attract and ExciteYour Prospects” a guide to getting the best marketing results. His innovative “Marketing Therapy” program helps businesses around the US achieve their marketing goals faster, smarter, and more cost-effectively.

10 Top Trends for Small Businesses in 2012

Now that 2011 has passed (and what a wild and crazy year it was!) and 2012 is well under way, it’s time to look at some trends that will shape the upcoming year for small business owners. Taken as a whole, in 2012 you can expect to see a lot of maturing and fine tuning of some repeatedly trending topics, such as Internet marketing, the use of social media in business, and the proliferation and usage of mobile technology. The result: small businesses now have a more defined path to success both online and off.

 

 

Here is a rundown of some top small business trends:

 

1. Daily deals to build loyalty. Daily deals sites, such as Groupon and Living Social may have garnered a lot of attention last year, but not all of that talk time was so positive. The Internet is flooded with the stories of small businesses that ran a groupon or daily promotion with very little to show for it at the end of the day. The new year will certainly not see the demise of these sites, but rather their evolution. Look for daily deals sites to become more sophisticated, targeted, and local. Simultaneously, small business owners will seek to increase their follow-up efforts so that their daily offers and promotions will lead to more loyal customers.

 

2. Local search drives local business. In the new year, the importance of maintaining a local search presence will only increase, with local online directories, business pages, and review sites, such as Yelp! dominating the screen. Aside from helping Internet users access information on a local business, peer reviews and referrals will be big factors driving traffic and sales.

 

3. Personalized, real-time response. These days “service with a smile” is no longer enough when it comes to customer service- at least not when it’s online or over the phone. Consumers are looking for an instant, helpful, and personalized experience. This may take the form of a live web chat session with a customer service representative or a prompt response to an emailed inquiry or tweeted comment. Expect the continued usage and development of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions and other customer service platforms, such as ZenDesk among small businesses.

 

4. Bringing in the right traffic. Gone are the days where the goal is to bring as many people to your site as possible, such as with a viral video , article or social media event- especially if these activities are not directly related to your business. In the new year, businesses will be focused on bring in targeted traffic and then guiding their visitors along a carefully conceived sales funnel.

 

5. Mobile web. In November of last year, Nielsen reported, reported that almost half of American cell phone users (a full 44 percent) now have smartphones, and among those aged 25-34, that percentage jumps to 62 percent. Tablet computers and ereaders are also seeing a spike in sales and ubiquity. That said, this is another trends that small business owners cannot afford to ignore. At least, small business owners should make sure that their websites are mobile device ready. At most, some companies may stand to benefit from mobile-based marketing strategies, such as QR Codes and other forms of mobile advertising.

 

6. Mobile payments. The use and prevalence of mobile devices is not exclusive to consumers, many small businesses owners have been using smartphones and tablets in particular for businesses transactions and communication. Expect that number to increase in the new year along with an increase in mobile payments setups, such as the inexpensive Square or Intuit’s GoPayment

 

7. Email is still hanging in there. Far from being an outdated dinosaur when it comes to customer service and other forms of business communications, email is still where it’s at. Spamming people’s in-boxes, however, is not. The most successful use of email is in building long-term relationships through the delivery of quality content. With that relationship in place, email is a direct marketing conduit. Some email marketing tools popular among smaller businesses include: Vertical Response, Constant Contact and Mail Chimp.

 

8. Pain killers. The best selling point for 2012 is being able to convey how your product or service will solve problems, make life easier, and reduce one’s level of pain and discomfort.

 

9. The importance of trust. Consumers are looking for authenticity and honesty from the businesses they frequent, and they are getting adept at “smelling a rat.” Relationships and suggestions from within their social circles are also influencing their purchase decisions, sentiment, and ultimately, their ability to trust the quality and value of a company’s products or services.

 

10. Small businesses crunch big numbers. The new year will also see an increasing number of small business relying on robust, low-cost cloud-based data and analytical tools. These online tools allow small businesses to organize, mine and analyze vast arrays of data from market research, their website, customer behavior, marketing campaigns, and social media activity.

The Biggest Business Mistake?… Borrowing Money!

The other week over at Small Business Trends, I saw an interesting poll. The sole question: “What’s your biggest business mistake?” Though there are various options to choose from, such as “Failing to market my business,” and “Selling myself short,” the overwhelming favorite response (at the time of writing it is holding at 86% of almost 2,000 respondents) is “Borrowing money.”

 

While this may come as a shock to those who still believe that the banks should be handing out more credit to businesses in order to jump start the economy, several well-regarded reports, such as this recent one by the NFIB, have pointed to the fact that many small business owners these days are not looking for credit, and a significant amount of businesses are actually focused on dumping the balances they’ve already racked up.

But this brings up a dilemma of sorts: part of a healthy cash flow strategy when running a business is having options to borrow, both in the short and long term, and without investment (usually of the borrowed kind), growth will typically be impossible.

So how do you know if it is good for you to be borrowing money for your business? Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help ensure that your business borrowing doesn’t end up being a business blunder:

1. What are you borrowing the money for? While this may seem like a pretty straight forward question, there are actually certain categories of business borrowing that tend to be more problematic then others. For example, aside from short-term microloans or a revolving line of credit, if you are taking out a significant loan to cover your every day expenses, then it could be a red flag that your borrowing will get you in hot water.

On the other hand, if you are investing the funds in a business upgrade, then can you expect that upgrade to pay for itself in either increased productivity, sales, or market reach?

2. How will you repay the amount borrowed? This all leads to the next question which is how you plan on repaying the loan. Are you currently generating enough income to cover the debt? Do you expect your bottom line to increase as a result of the investment and when? Are you able to secure the loan with some kind of collateral? What would happen if you defaulted on the loan and had to lose that collateral?

3. What is your current debt load? A look at your current debt obligations is also vital to avoiding a business lending mistake. If you are already struggling to repay your business debts, then it could be a signal to avoid taking on an additional financing. If the loan is meant to consolidate your debts, then make sure you get qualified financial advice before jumping in.

4. Are there alternatives? If several red flags are going up, then perhaps you should consider any alternatives, such as cost-reduction strategies, or asset-based financing arrangements, such as accounts receivables financing or business cash advances.

Top Small Business Resolutions in 2010

 As the year and a decade come to an end it is time to both reflect on the past and plan for the future…

I recently came across this survey conducted by the Pew Institute which examined popular attitudes on the most notable technological and social changes of the past decade.

According to half of the respondents the current decade is considered the worst in 50 years. This sentiment is further reflected in the expressions they used to describe it- words such as “downhill,” “poor,” “decline,” “disappointing,” “turbulent,” and “chaotic.”

For many small business owners the past few years have been particularly brutal as consumer confidence and spending dropped and the flow of credit was reduced to an almost indiscernible trickle.

But not all is doom and gloom. The last few years have brought to small businesses a wide range of technology that allows them to significantly improve operations and successfully compete with bigger companies. The recessionary economy has also created a crucible of sorts giving rise to new business ideas and opportunities. Moreover, the spate of corporate bankruptcies that occurred toward the end of the decade left gaps for nimble and advantageous small businesses to fill.

Given all of these trends, I have composed a list of what I feel are the ten most important resolutions for small business owners in 2010.

 1. Acquire healthy business habits: The healthier the core business operations, the better the chances that your business will survive and thrive. This means proper cash flow management, disaster planning, content management, and theft prevention. Where growth is a possibility, look to diversify what your business offers, add more value for customers, and make sure that the level of growth is sustainable.

2. Invest in an Internet presence. Having and sustaining an online presence is an important tool in marketing and image branding. But, small business owners should keep in mind here that quality is more important than quantity with all the bells and whistles. To be effective, your web presence does not have to cost you a fortune in either time or money. Maintain a simple, up-to-date website. Make sure that your business is listed in the major and local online directories, as well as Point of Interest databases. Where appropriate you might want to initiate an email marketing campaign or upload informative videos on to YouTube.

3. Get on the social networking bandwagon: Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, have been generating a lot of buzz over the past couple years by providing an easy way for people to connect and share information. Many businesses big and small have joined the fray, by for example, maintaining their own Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Now, with Google’s recent announcement of its new personalized search results, social networking sites are poised to play a more prominent role in bringing traffic to your business website. One cool feature: enter a Google search query and you will see relevant updates and suggestions from your friends in Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. It’s definitely a trend worth noting and incorporating into your online marketing strategy.

4. Bring on the gadgets: From smart phones, such as RIM’s Blackberry series or the ubiquitous iPhone, to netbooks and pocket projectors, the market is literally flooded with some really powerful and handy electronic devices. Where budgets are tight, look to bring in multi-functional equipment.

5. …And load those gadgets up with some good apps: Your equipment is only as good as the tools and programs you put on it. Make sure to check out any free open source versions of popular software programs as well as a slew of low-cost apps that can turn your phone into a powerful business tool.

Though the next four resolutions fall under good business practices, they deserve specific mention:

6. Don’t skimp on security: Make sure your sensitive business information is protected from would-be thieves and hackers-especially if you conduct business online.

7. Be selective in your hiring: The job market is currently flooded with qualified individuals seeking employment. But even if your applicant pool has grown don’t shy away from conducting standard background checks such as calling references and conducting online searches.

8. Build good business credit: With the credit markets holding at a virtual standstill, maintaining a good business credit history has become all the more vital to accessing financing. It also paves the way for future business-to-business transactions.

9. Revamp your debt collection policy: Times are tough, and it may be affecting the ability of your valuable customers to pay up on time. It is therefore all the more important to re-evaluate and refine your debt collection policy to ensure that your cash flow is even and your customers remain loyal.

10. Look on the bright side: Even if your business has been forced to cut back or put off growth opportunities, look for ways to maximize the situation, such as seeking out cost reductions and redefining your company’s product or goals. 

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