Posts Tagged ‘start-up’

Cool Product: Constant Contact

May 3rd, 2012

email marketing made easy

I’ve been using Constant Contact to give my emails a professional look for almost a year and a half. I’ve now put out 17 issues of my newsletter, The Small Biz Bulletin (get it free – see the Join Our Email List link to the right —–>), and have noticed that dozens of businesses on my emailing list have adopted this product for their use too. So, it’s high time I did a Cool Product Review on it.

Constant Contact email combines your email campaigns and your social networking efforts into one easy-to-use service. It’s intuitive and easy to use for all skill levels. It breaks down the set-up process into three easy steps: “Create the look, select your audience, then schedule and send.”

Email Campaign Creation

You start by picking one of over 400 templates as the basis of your email, or create your own. The templates come in a variety of layouts, colors and patterns, are easy to customize as well as to insert text, images, documents, blog content, links, surveys, polls, videos and more. There’s a social-share toolbar and buttons for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and others to send readers directly to your various social media properties.

Campaign Reporting

You’ll get comprehensive reports on your campaigns, including bounces, spam complaints, opt-outs, click-throughs, forwards and more. And Social Stats reporting tools tell you the number of Facebook shares and likes, tweets from Twitter and more, that your messages receive. You can also see the number of total social shares and page views your email campaign has generated.

Contact Management

You can add customers to your list by typing them in, importing a spreadsheet list or your address book from Gmail or Outlook. Contact fields are customizable so your contact database can hold all the info you need to keep on each contact.

Help & Support

Support includes a searchable knowledge base, tutorials, FAQs, a user manual, a blog, user forums, recorded demos and webinars. And the phone support is the best I’ve ever had for any product I’ve ever needed help on. They will even edit your email directly to fix a problem.

Try Constant Contact for Free!

You can try Constant Contact for free for 60 days to see if it fits your needs. If you do want to try it, click on the link below (or the logo at the top) and you will also receive a $30 credit when the free trial is over. Full disclosure: Yes, they will be kicking me back a $30 credit too, but if a couple hundred of you stick with it, well it could be sweet! Thanks!

Click here to get your 60 day free trial and your $30 credit if you continue beyond the trial period.

 

Retaining Your Current Customers

April 26th, 2012

When focusing on growing your small business, acquiring new customers should probably be at the top of your list. And that would be the best possible approach for a startup company. But I would suggest that the most important thing for any established business is to keep their existing customers.

You have probably heard this before; it is far less expensive to retain old customers than to acquire new ones, but you should also ask yourself what is the point of acquiring more customers if you can’t hold onto your existing ones? Also, what is the cost to your brand of all of those defecting customers? Are you just replacing angry customers with ignorant ones?

In a world of increasing competition and ease of defection to other products and services, building and focusing on keeping your customers longer can be a significant way to grow your business. Realize that:

  • Businesses in many industries may lose up to 50% of their customers over a five year period.
  • Studies have shown it is 5 to 7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain a current customer.
  • As little as a 5% increase in customer retention can increase profits by 25 to 95%.

Unaware of these figures, many businesses still focus on acquiring new customers as their primary growth strategy rather than protecting and nurturing those they already have.

Why do customers leave?

 Before we can start keeping customers, we first have to try and understand why customers leave. Studies tell us that the main reasons customers leave, or stop doing business with a specific company are:

  • 1% die
  • 3% move to another area
  • 5% are influenced by friends or contacts to go elsewhere
  • 9% are lured away by your competition
  • 14% don’t stay because they are disappointed with your product or service
  • 68% leave because they perceive an indifferent attitude toward them

Furthermore, research also shows that there is a significant difference between the reasons that companies think customers leave and what their customers actually think. If these findings are true then they have huge implications for business. They suggest that loss of customers is not so much about how good your product or service is, or how competitive your industry is, but rather it’s more about how you are with your customers, and how much they believe you care about them.

The implications of this falls into a few areas that businesses need to focus on:

  • It’s not about you (the business), it’s about them (the customer)
  • Customer service/care involves everyone in your business not just your customer-service people
  • Your relationship with your customers. This may take some time, effort and a lot of trust in your front-line staff because everyone is different and technology and systems are not always the best way to solve a problem. Sometimes it’s about just being a bit more human, taking a bit more time and a longer view of the relationship you have with the customer.

Want to improve your retention of customers? Here are a few steps to help you get started:

Get to know your customers

This is not just about how long they have been a customer or how much money they spend. Get to know them, find out what they like, what they don’t like, ask for their opinion on how you could better serve them.

Segment your customer-base according to their similarities

Segmenting your customers into different groups will make this project easier and allow you to track retention progress in each group. Create a strategy to get to know each group of customers that focuses on their expectations. Since each group is different, it is reasonable to expect they will have different preferences.

Decide which customers are going to work for your business

This is where reality and tough choices kick in. Not all customers are going to be a good fit for your business so choose which customers will work and be very clear about which ones will not. If you can identify the customer that will be disappointed with your customer experience as it does not fit with their needs and you choose not to do business with them (in the nicest possible way), then you will have saved yourself a lot of time and energy and brand equity in the process. They’ll appreciate the honesty. Refer them onto someone who will be able to fill their needs and you’ll create an advocate for your business.

Use Customer Relationship Management software

You’re going to need to have a way of gathering and storing the information about your relationships with your customers. This is where Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology can lend a hand. Talk to an expert about this but don’t be led by the technology. Let your customers lead.

Measuring your progress and success

Set targets, monitor and measure your progress. It’s the only way that you will know if you are improving. However, realize that this can take time and will depend on the nature of your business and current relationships with your customers.

The results of improving your retention

The process of creating a focus on customer retention is not easy, and it takes time. But when you put it all into place you will be pleased with the results. Listening, learning and paying attention will get a positive response from your customers, and that means more business for you. Once you establish a learning relationship with your customers, you can develop a partner-like relationship. And at that stage, you’ll be able to meet and exceed their expectations by anticipating their needs. The deeper the relationship and more complex their needs, the more they will appreciate your relationship with them and the less likely they will be to move their business elsewhere.

Customer loyalty has a direct impact on the market value of your business

It’s been said that the most valuable asset a company possesses is not its buildings, employees or intellectual property, but its customer list. And that’s certainly a defensible position to take. A true entrepreneur, stripped of his or her entire infrastructure, could conceivably rebuild from scratch with only a list of proven buyers.

Interestingly, anyone who may wish to acquire your business will assess your company’s market value by taking your customer list into account. Should you ever choose to sell your business, it will be easy to point to a well-maintained customer list and express customer loyalty as a considerable value.

Simplifying the Profit & Loss Statement

March 29th, 2012

You might not need to be an accountant to be successful in business, but understanding financial reports will help you understand the basics of financial management and feel comfortable using standard financial tools and metrics to monitor and appraise the performance of your business.

How a Profit & Loss Statement helps you manage your business

Financial reports distill the vast amount of daily business data your company produces and arranges it into a usable format, useful in making the best possible business decisions.

Producing regular profit and loss statements, at least quarterly or monthly, will enable you to:

1. Answer the question, “How much money am I making, if any?”

2. Compare your projected performance with actual performance

3. Compare your performance against industry benchmarks

4. Use past performance trends to form reasonable forecasts for the future

5. Show your business growth and financial health over time

6. Detect any problems regarding sales, margins and expenses within a reasonable time so adjustments may be made to recoup losses or decrease expenses

7. Provide proof of income if you need a loan or mortgage

8. Calculate your income and expenses when completing and submitting your tax return.

What is a Profit & Loss Statement?

A profit and loss statement, also know as a P&L or an Income Statement, records sales income, costs and expenses and shows business performance over a specific period of time.  Profit and loss statements:

1. Show business performance over a specific period of time

2. Show income (revenue from sales)

3. Show the costs of the goods you sell (Cost of Goods Sold) such as purchases made from suppliers for goods or raw materials

4. Shows your gross profit (income minus cost of goods sold)

5. Show operational expenses (overhead and other expenses of running your company)

6. Show net income or loss (whether a profit or loss has been made )

Creating a Profit & Loss Statement

The figures in a profit and loss account will come from a number of different sources in your business, so it’s best to organizes and categorize your day to day receipts and expenses into a Chart of Accounts which represents the income and expense categories you want to track and evaluate. This Chart of Accounts forms the core structure of your bookkeeping system, and will be the basis for your Profit and Loss Statement.

A Profit and Loss Statement will usually look something like this:

$250,000       Income
  $10,000        Less Discounts
$240,000        Equals Net Income

   $50,000       Less Cost of Sales/Cost of Goods Sold
 $190,000       Equals Gross Profit

$100,000       Less Operating Expenses
  $90,000       Equals Operating Profit

$5,000        Plus Other Income
    $3,000        Less Other Expenses
  $92,000        Equals Net Ordinary Income (Profit Before Taxes)

  $33,000        Taxes
  $59,000        Net Profit (or Net Loss)

 Accounting Software and Financial Reporting

Accounting software makes it easy for you to create different views of your data. For example, you can compare this month with last month, this year-to-date with last-year-to-date, several months in sequence, or you can convert the figures into percentages and compare them that way. All this makes it easier for you to identify trends over time.

Your goal in business is for your sales and profits to increase, and your expenses, as a percent of sales, to decrease. Look at your profit and loss statements and compare them from one period to another. Are there any sudden changes or anomalies that raise a red flag? For example, if your office expense spending suddenly rose from $100 a month to $500 for one month, you would want to look into this. Or if your staff costs on average 30% of your income and this figure suddenly goes up to 40%, again you would want to investigate.

You can also draw some deeper conclusions than just seeing that more money is coming in than before. Is the increase equivalent to, or better than, the rate of inflation? Is it the result of more sales, or is it hiding the fact that although you have charged more per sale, you actually made fewer sales? And looking ahead, is the rate of increase in line with your goals, or do you need to set a new target? These are just some of the many questions accurate reports can help you address.

9 Steps to Manually Reconcile a Bank Statement

January 27th, 2012

A business must track its funds to have a clear picture of its financial health. Bank statement reconciliations are an tool that business owner’s use in a proper cash management process. This procedure compares the account balance, as reported by the bank, against the account register in the company’s general ledger. This process ensures all cash items clear the company’s bank account in a timely manner. It also prevents the company’s general ledger from becoming clogged with inaccurate or irrelevant information. Cash accounts with significant inaccuracies can mislead business owners into believing the company has better cash flow than it really does.

The process of preparing a bank reconciliation involves making adjustments to the balances in both the bank statement and the company’s records to confirm that the ending balances match and that every item is properly accounted for. It is important to prepare bank reconciliations in a timely and regular basis (monthly, for example), so if questions regarding bank fees or errors arise both the company and the bank can be made aware as soon as possible.

Because of the lag time between deposits made and checks written, and their actual posting to your account, it is rare for the ending balances to match. Reconciliation ensures all transactions are accounted for, and provides a true cash balance.

To preform a proper bank statement reconciliation, follow these nine steps:

1. Comparison

Start the bank reconciliation process with a comparison of the company’s bank statement and general ledger cash account. Check off all items that match. This part of the reconciliation ensures all items recorded in the general ledger have cleared the company’s bank account. Once an item clears the bank account, it usually represents the finality of that particular business transaction.

2. Add Deposits

Once the comparison process is complete, note all items that remain on the company’s general ledger. Add any deposits in transit to the ending balance. Deposits in transit are deposits that you have recorded in your register but have not appeared on the bank statement.

3. Outstanding Checks

Deduct outstanding checks from the ending balance. These checks have been deducted from your check register, but have not yet cleared the bank.

4. Bank Errors

Add or deduct any bank errors to the ending balance. Examples would be incorrect deposit amounts and incorrect debits.

5. Check Register Reconciliation

Deduct bank service charges. Service charges could be account maintenance fees, check overage fees if you wrote more checks than you are allotted for the month, wire transfer charges, returned check fees, etc.

6. Interest Earned

Add interest earned if you have an interest bearing account.

7. Check Register Errors

Add or deduct errors in the check register. These errors could include posting a payment that was not actually a cash transaction, or omitting a payment.

8. Journal Entries

You may need to prepare journal entries as part of this reconciliation process. These journal entries will correct any errors found during the bank statement and general ledger comparison. Owners can also use journal entries to post any bank statement items into the general ledger if necessary. Once all journal entries are posted, you may re-run the general ledger cash account to update the ending balance for all new posted items.

9. Compare Both Statements

Compare the adjusted bank statement balance per your reconciliation to the adjusted cash balance per the general ledger. The balances should be equal. If the two balances do not match review the steps; verify that the bank balance has been adjusted for all deposits in transit and outstanding checks, and that all activity has been properly posted in the company’s general ledger.

Cool Product: Carbonite Business

January 19th, 2012

If you want the ultimate in off-site data protection, look to cloud computing solutions such as Carbonite Business to help you survive and recover from disasters that wipe out your physical systems.

Unlike traditional daily or weekly backups, Carbonite Business continually backs up the files on your PCs to its secure data centers throughout the day. There’s no intervention required by your employees, and you have complete visibility into, and control over, individual backups via the handy My Company Dashboard, where you can see your users, computers, storage in use, backup status and more.

Best of all, the pricing scheme for Carbonite Business can’t be beat. Instead of paying per PC, you pick the plan that fits your storage needs, 250GB for $229 per year or 500GB for $599 (which includes service for one Windows server), and protects as many machines as you need, resulting in one of the lowest per-gigabyte storage prices of any online business backup solution. The home and home office version starts at $59 per year per computer.

Never interrupts your business
With Carbonite, your backup happens automatically, in the background. Users never have to stop working, and after the initial backup, shouldn’t notice any impact on performance. And no one has to choose between backing up and doing their jobs.

No hardware required
Carbonite is 100% software-based backup – there’s no hardware to install or maintain, no wires to connect, no disks or tapes to deal with, no technician needed. You simply install the software and Carbonite takes care of the rest.

Safer than local backups
Your backup is encrypted at all times, and stored on redundant disk arrays that are immeasurably more reliable than internal or external hard drives. (If you have external hard drives you can back them up with Carbonite Business, too.) Our state-of-the-art, guarded data centers protect your business backup from theft, fire, water damage and anything else that can happen at your office.

Smarter than scheduled backups
Carbonite backs up your data continually, updating your backup in the background – eliminating the potentially costly ‘backup gaps’ created by daily or weekly backups.

Restores files fast to minimize downtime
If you lose a file, get it back with a few clicks. If your hard drive crashes, restore all your backed up files to another computer via Carbonite.com – or, for mission-critical recovery, have your backed up files shipped to you on a portable hard drive.

Anytime, anywhere access to backed up files
With Anytime, Anywhere Access, you can open, view and share any file in your backup from any computer connected to the Internet. Or use one of our free mobile apps to access your files from your iPhone®, iPad®, Android™ or BlackBerry® device.