small business budgeting

Small Business Budgeting Tips

When you start your own business, creating a budget is the first thing you need to do. For a lot of small business owners, the last time they had to make a small business budget was their freshman year accounting class. If you don’t have much financial experience, it can sometimes be hard to make your first budget, especially if you can’t yet project your costs and sales. While making a budget is difficult, it’s also very necessary. Without one, it will be almost impossible for you to keep track of how successful your business really is. You won’t know if you need to cut back or if you can afford to give yourself a pay raise.

If you need help making a budget, there are numerous websites and books that can be extremely helpful. The Small Business Association (SBA) website is one resource that is very informative and super helpful. If you have money to spare, you could also invest in a budgeting program, or even hire someone to do it for you. No matter what, it’s very important for you to review your budget and make sure that you’re staying on track. Read on for a few small-business budgeting tips to ensure financial stability.

Be realistic about your cash flow projection

When you start a new business, it’s impossible to know exactly how successful you will be. Even though you would love to make thousands of dollars in the first month, depending on your business plan, this may or may not be realistic. Aim low when making your first budget. If you make more money than you planned for, it will be a happy surprise, rather than the heartache and financial stress it would be if you come in way under what you had anticipated. If you don’t know how to make this projection, reach out to those who can help you, whether it’s an industry colleague, an old professor, or even some of your target customers. They’ll likely be more than happy to help.

Understand how to do a cost-benefit analysis

If you don’t know how to do one, you can easily Google it and find step-by-step instructions. Basically, a cost-benefit analysis helps you determine whether or not big business decisions are worth it. For example, let’s say that your business sells blankets. For each blanket you sell, you make $10. You’re considering investing in something new for your business, such as an iPad ($500). A cost-benefit analysis will tell you that you would have to sell 50 blankets to pay off that iPad. Is it worth it? Maybe yes, maybe no, but this easy calculation will help you determine whether or not you’re willing to make the purchase.

Never spend all the money you make

This one is probably pretty self-explanatory, but don’t spend everything! It’s just like your parents taught you when you were a child. It’s important to save money and have it in reserve so that it is there when you need it. A savings is great to have if your business doesn’t do well one quarter, but it also might be useful for other reasons. Maybe you’ll have a great new investment opportunity or the chance to expand. Don’t just save it for a rainy day, but for the future of your business.

Don’t budget every dollar

Leave a little leeway- if you budget every last penny, you won’t be ready for the things that you can’t anticipate, like a leaky roof or a broken computer. Make sure that you give yourself a little bit of wiggle-room so that you have extra money when you need it. Remember that old saying: “Plan for the worst but hope for the best”? It’s important to keep this in mind when planning a budget. We, as small business owners, would all love to spend the absolute least amount of money that we can, and sometimes this might be possible, but not always. It’s important for us to be prepared for whatever might come our way.

With these tips in mind, you’re well on your way to making (or tweaking) your budget. It’s also important to keep in mind, however, that your budget shouldn’t stay the same forever. As you gain or get rid of expenses, and as you make more money when your business expands, it’s important to make new budgets that better reflect your financial status. Budgets aren’t one size fits all, so you need to keep yours in check. Its benefits only appear if it’s accurate and useful. If you haven’t looked at yours in a while, today’s the day to get started.

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green beans blog target market

Defining Your Target Market

Have you ever heard the saying that you can’t be all things to all people? In the business world, this couldn’t be closer to the truth. If you set out to create a product or service that will work for everyone, you won’t succeed in the end. It’s impossible to market one specific product or service to everyone, because people want and need different things based on their demographics, behaviors, and various other factors.

In order for small businesses to effectively compete with larger businesses, it’s important for them to find their target market and work to build strong relationships it’s members.

If you’re like a lot of small business owners, you might have read the first paragraph of this blog and are now wondering “What is my target market?” We’re here to help you figure that out. If you’re still trying to find your niche, read on and learn how to market to that group of people.

Analyze your Current Customers

See what kind of people are already buying your products or paying for your service. First, consider demographics: Male/Female? Do they live in the city or in the suburbs? Age? Married/single/divorced? Do they have kids at home, grown kids, or none at all? What is their occupation or their income level? What’s their education status? Then, consider what the experts call “behavioral and psychographic attributes”, or things they do often/ways they act. Do you own a nice restaurant and consider your customers to be foodies who eat out often? Do you own an organizational service and see that most of your customers work long hours or consider themselves to be messy and disorganized?

Find the commonalities between those who are already buying from you. Chances are, those people should be your target market. Others like them would probably be interested in your products or services as well, and by marketing to them, you can be sure that you’re spending your marketing budget with a higher chance of profit.

Understand What Problems your Business Solves

People buy your product or use your service because you’re fixing a problem that they have. Think back to the attributes we talked about earlier. An organization company solves a problem for people who are too busy to organize themselves. Another example might be a retail store that specializes in business clothing for young college grads and those starting jobs for the first time. If you didn’t solve a problem, people wouldn’t be buying from you. Consider what your business has to offer and who stands to gain from it. Those people are the ones you want to target with your marketing efforts.

Consider your Competition

It’s always important to look at your competition and see how what you offer is different and unique from what they do. Why is your offering better? It might be a simple answer— maybe your office is closer for people who live in a certain neighborhood. Maybe your product is slightly less expensive, or maybe people are willing to pay more for your customer service experience. Whatever that advantage is, promote it! Reach out to those who would benefit from your business and make sure they know why your product or service is the most beneficial option for them.

Evaluate

Target markets should be very specific, but they shouldn’t be so specific that there aren’t enough people in that group to justify spending money on marketing to them. Recent college grads who are starting their first business job within the Charlotte metro area is an awesome target market. Recent college grads from a NC college who are starting a business consulting job and will make more than X amount in the South Park neighborhood ….that’s a little bit too specific.

Once you think you have a great target market, ask yourself some of these questions: Are there enough people that fit my customer description? Are these people going to be interested in my product and can they afford it? What information can I learn about this group that would help me market my product more effectively to them? What marketing channels are most accessible to this group?

Although defining your target market might take some time and effort, it’s well worth it in the end. Defining your target market is the difficult part; after it is decided, you will have a much easier time developing a marketing strategy and determining how you’re going to reach out to those people. In the marketing world, one size doesn’t fit all – make sure that your marketing message is effective in reaching those who will be most interested in your product. The rest will be a piece of cake.

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Web Designer: Do I really need one?

So you’ve started your own business, and you’ve finally come to terms with the importance of a digital presence. Now you’ve realized…your website needs some work. Your options are to settle for an amateur site and finish it yourself, or fork over loads of cash to have a web designer do it for you. At the get go, it may seem best to tackle it on your own. You’re feeling ambitious, you want to save a few bucks, or you just wonder how hard could it really be?

What does a professional have that you don’t? Well, more things than you think,  but we’ve narrowed it down for you. Regardless of how professional and appealing you may think the site is that you, the inexperienced and untrained web designer, whipped up in a few hours, viewers can almost immediately tell if a site has been constructed by a professional or not.

Here’s what a designer will bring to the table:

1. Professionalism

A professional designer will make a professional website. Simple enough. They know how to create a website that is attractive, effective, and creative. All three of these aspects will amp up the credibility of your website, as users will feel a sense of security about your services. A business gains such credibility when its website looks legitimate. It should have a trustworthy feel to it and appear to have intelligent business professionals behind it. A user wants to be assured that there are humans on the other end,  so they can trust the products and services they purchase are legitimate.

2. Save time, energy, and frustration

A professional is educated in the craft of web design. They not only know the basics, but also current trends when it comes to changing environments of SEO, JavaScript, Photo Optimization, Communication, Languages (Flash, PHP, etc.), you name it! Designers know how to adapt your website to user receptiveness, navigation, search, etc. Learning all these aspects from scratch will require a lot of time and energy, and is more complicated than you’d think. The difficulty can lead to unnecessary frustration, which can be avoided by seeking professional assistance.

3. Avoid the faults of templates

Maybe you’ve considered using a pre-made template for your website instead of hiring designer. The problem them is they limit your business’s singularity. Pre-made templates harbor no uniqueness for your business. They hinder your ability to customize your website, as many do not allow for certain features such as galleries, contact forms, special scripts, etc. They also limit expansion, which is important to think about as your business itself may expand.

If you want any of these elements, just forget about using a pre-made template. Additionally, templates limit expansion. Even if you think you can do without them, if you change your mind later on, it becomes virtually impossible to add these things using a template. At this point, you would have to bring in a designer anyways. It would be smart to have a designer work on your website from the get-go, allowing the ability to add features as you see fit.

4. Designers are communicators

Designers know how to communicate. They do so with font, color, shape, and layout utilization. Designers make websites easy to navigate and an enjoyable, interactive experience for the user. They make websites clear and consistent, which will make you look like an business expert. Designers also know how to create a website in a way so that search engines can easily read and rank your page. This is important, as your website exists to attract existing and potential customers to it. If the SEO is weak, there won’t be a lot of user traffic.

5. Browser compatibility

It is important that your website can be accessed easily across multiple browsers. A high percentage of people search using mobile devices, so your website needs to be mobile friendly. A designer will test the layout of your website across multiple browsers to ensure that there aren’t any issues, whether you’re a fan of Google Chrome, Safari or Firefox. There shouldn’t be any variation between browsers, and designers specialize in guaranteeing a crisp website no matter what browser the user prefers.

6. Fight competition

There are at least a billion websites floating around the internet today. It is important to have a website that is distinguishable from the rest. A designer will create a unique website for you. If your website doesn’t stand out, it won’t gain attention from users. Designers focus on launching a more effective website than your competitors. In doing so, your business will be chosen over the next best.

 

If you’re still pondering the idea of building your site yourself, consider the product you could create compared to something a professional would. There are endless advantages to having a professional, custom site built for you, and they almost always outweigh any financial burdens.

small business misconceptions

5 Small Business Misconceptions

If you own your own small business, you know it’s nothing easy. While the freedom and opportunities that come with owning your own business are wonderful, there are challenges as well. In this blog post, we will debunk five of the most common misconceptions about small businesses. Whether you’re just starting out or still growing your business, read on!

“Build It and They’ll Come”

Many people start their own businesses because they see a need that isn’t being fulfilled. They have a brilliant idea, or believe they can create a niche product or service that others want and need. Most of the time, they’re right! The problem, however, is that customers won’t come just because you create the product. Instead, success is largely dependent on your marketing practices. As a small business owner, it is up to you to make others aware of your product and tell them why they need it. Your brilliant idea is only the beginning. Make sure you have a detailed marketing plan that helps get the word out – you’ll be glad you do.

“You Have to Spend a Lot of Money to Make Money”

Sometimes, this is the case, but not always! No matter how good your idea is, there’s always the chance that you’ll run into unexpected problems or obstacles. When you start your business (or when you decide to expand), make a list of your needs, the things your business must have to function, and your wants, those things that would be helpful, but aren’t absolutely necessary. Start out by buying all of your needs, then be frugal with your wants. It always pays to spend your money wisely and track all of your investments. Then, the making-money part will begin.

Small Business Owners Work at Home in Their Pajamas

If you’re anything like me, you might take offense to this misconception. Many small business owners have offices, often with other employees that work for them. Even if a small business owner doesn’t need a brick and mortar building, he or she often has a home office or another area dedicated to work. While small business owners have advantages that include the opportunity to sometimes work at home, in their pajamas if they choose to do so, this isn’t always the case. Small business owners are often on-the-go. They sometimes work random hours and are always “on call” for their business. But on those days when they want to wear their pajamas while they do some work, well that’s one of the perks of being a small business owner.

Small Businesses Don’t Need to Use Social Media

Wrong! Small businesses arguably need social media even more than large corporations. Small businesses are built upon customer service and personal relationships, and social media is the ideal method to develop those relationships that will help your business thrive. If your small business doesn’t use social media, you are missing out on potential customers that could easily be reached through an Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook page. Don’t get left behind – consider creating a few social media profiles and getting in the game. Your business (and your bottom line) will thank you!

“I Don’t Need a Business Plan!”

Big mistake! Even if you don’t have a board of trustees or a boss breathing down your neck about every decision you make, you still need an in-depth business plan, and it should be the very first thing you do as a new business owner. Writing a business plan will help you in so many ways. It will give you long-term perspective, will force you to do research on competitors, will help you set targets and goals, and more importantly, will give you a detailed plan to follow every step of the way.

Even if your business has been around for years but you’ve never gotten around to writing a business plan, now’s the time to do it. It will help you in the long run and it’s never too late to get organized and develop a long-term plan for your small business.

Small businesses are the backbone of America. There are almost 28 million small businesses in the US and over 50% of the working population (over 120 million people) work for a small business (Forbes 2013). Whether you’re a new small business owner or an old pro, keeping these five misconceptions in mind will help your business continue to grow successfully.

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green beans creative blog

Top 10 Productivity Hacks

Do you ever have those days when you just can’t seem to stay on track and get anything done? Do you find yourself getting easily distracted, or have trouble motivating yourself to keep going? Then this blog post is for you! Keep reading to learn ten productivity hacks that will keep you motivated and help you accomplish your goals!

1. Turn off your cell phone notifications

In today’s world, it’s easy to get dozens of notifications within just an hour. Our phones beep constantly for texts, calls, Twitter updates, LinkedIn requests, even news regarding our favorite sports team! In order to be productive, it’s important to limit the notifications we receive while working. Put your phone on silent and check for notifications once an hour or so, but don’t let yourself keep getting interrupted every two minutes.

2. Start with the tasks you’re dreading the most

If you leave the work you hate the most until last thing, you’ll spend all day dreading it. Instead, get it out of the way first thing! You’ll feel so productive and will be able to spend the rest of the day focusing on the tasks you enjoy doing. It’s a win/win!

3. Take advantage of your lost hours

There are so many small chunks of time in the day that you could be using productively. Do you drive to work? Download the latest industry podcasts and listen to them as you go. Spend 30 minutes in line waiting to pick up your kids from carpool? Catch up on your email or read the latest industry news. Take advantage of small windows of time to catch up on the little things; it makes a big difference!

4. Don’t check your email first thing in the morning

It’s easy to come into work in the morning with a list of tasks to accomplish, only to get sidetracked by your email. By the time the afternoon rolls around, you still may not have gotten to your list of tasks. Instead, get started as soon as you arrive! Those emails can wait an hour or two. You’ll feel so productive and will get the important things accomplished without getting distracted.

5. Get out of the office

Don’t be afraid to take a break! Walk around outside on your lunch break if you work in an office, or take your dog for a walk if you work from home. Fresh air will actually make you more productive. If you feel yourself getting stressed about a project or issue, step away, refresh, and then start again. A new perspective might be just what you need to get the job done!

6. Do some planning on Sunday nights

Enjoy your weekend, but don’t be afraid to spend an hour on Sunday night getting your schedule together for the week. If you come in on Monday morning with a plan, you’ll save the time that you would have spent getting things in order. Cheers to starting the week off on a productive note!

7. Create a personal email

Don’t get distracted by emails from your favorite stores, vacation offers, newsletters, and other promotions. Create a separate email that you use to sign up for anything non-work related. Check this email as a break or in the evenings so that you can keep on top of things, but don’t let it interfere with your productivity by distracting you during the day.

8. Get some exercise

Research proves that exercise makes you more productive. If you have a busy day, consider getting up early and exercising before you get started, or working out at the end of the day. If your schedule is more flexible, take an exercise break mid-morning or go on a walk during your lunch break. Every little bit helps and getting exercise will help you feel better and more productive throughout the entire day,

9. Clean off your desk

A messy desk can hurt anyone’s productivity. Spend a few minutes straightening up your desk, organizing and filing papers, and getting everything in order. It will make you less cluttered and help you stay organized, but it will also save time when you’re looking for something you need! Hello, productivity!

10. Set realistic goals

Set clear, but achievable goals for yourself. Write them down and check them off when you achieve them. Share them with friends or coworkers to keep you accountable and celebrate with them when you hit a milestone! By setting achievable goals that you can actually reach, you keep yourself feeling productive and don’t get bogged down. Celebrating even the little things will keep you motivated and on the right track!

At the end of the day, looking back on what you’ve accomplished can really help or harm your confidence and overall satisfaction. The more productive you are , the prouder you’ll be when you clock out. Being more productive can boost your overall happiness in the long run, as it’ll reduce stress and allow you to celebrate every small achievement.

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green beans blog email testing

A/B Testing For E-mail Marketing

A/B testing: an effective way to gauge how to distribute your most important business information via email.

A/B Testing comes in handy when trying out new email formats and techniques. Without testing out your options, you won’t be able to determine what works best. If you have two options and neglect to test them independently, you may accidentally choose the worse option- the option that receives fewer opens, click-throughs and conversion rates. Let’s focus on the better option and give A/B testing an honest effort!

So how does A/B testing work?

It’s simple, really. You have two versions of an email you’d like to send. The trouble is that you are unsure which will be the most effective. Refer to these versions as Version A and Version B for the sake of the visual. Version A is sent to group A while Version B is sent to group B. As seen above, Version A only received 1 click, so this will be the version you discontinue. Version B received 25 clicks, meaning that 24 more people viewed your email. Clearly, Version B won out, and now you can confidently send this email to the remainder of your email list. By doing this, you will be certain of which email will produce better results, and clicking send may not be so daunting anymore.

So what all should I test?

There’s plenty of different things to test in your email. There may be many things you’d like to test, but it’s important to narrow it down to one specific thing in order to produce accurate results.

Here are things you can produce two variations for:

Subject Line: Your subject line is likely your most important piece of email info. The subject line is what the customer uses to decide whether to open or trash. Your subject line should use wording that attracts opens, while still remaining truthful. The body of your email and the subject line must be consistent.

Call to action: From:Person’s name or Company/Organization name?
The “from” part of your email is also important. Does your name or your company’s name provide more credibility? Which boosts click-rates?

Body Text:We suggest keeping your body on the shorter side since your customers are probably too busy to read a extensive email. Try to narrow it down to the main chunks in order to avoid clouding the email with unnecessary detail.

Images

Delivery Dates/Times, Weekday or Weekend?, Morning, afternoon, evening?

Which time is the best to reach your customers? Do most of your customers check their email around the beginning, middle or end of their work day? Or do they put off personal email checking until after dinner? Gathering this information will show which time is the most viewable time for your customers.

What do I do with my results?

Your focus should be on 3 areas of your email. The open rate, click-through rate, and conversion rate once they’re on your website. Your aim is to get people out of the email and onto your website and place of business. If your email is allowing for many click-throughs but little conversion, then you’ll have to go back to the drawing board. If your email is eliciting higher conversion with less click-throughs, then maybe something has to change in the subject/from part of your email. There will be some trial and error taking place here. Make sure that while doing all of this, you are testing a large sum of people to produce accurate results. Also, make sure what is written in your email is affirmed by your website. Viewers should never wonder if they have landed on a wrong page. If your information is inconsistent, this breaks down the trust, credibility, and professionalism that is shared between you and your customers.

What is the easiest way to conduct an A/B test?

There is always the manual route. Split your current lists into two separate lists, and then send out one version of your email campaign to one list and the other to the other list. Compare the lists manually but exporting your data to a spreadsheet.

The easier route would be to use an email campaign software that has built-in tools for A/B testing. A few examples are MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, and Active Campaign.

~Happy emailing!~

 

green beans blog effective marketing tips

10 Tips For More Effective Marketing

Whether your business is brand new or 20 years old, marketing is not an option anymore, it is a must to keep things going at the rate they are going or it will simply make your business grow as you not have ever expected it.

Check out those 10 quick tips about marketing that are going to make you do things differently to bring the attention needed to your business. You have to understand that no matter what economy your business is evolving in, a strong and smart marketing will get you to the edge of success. And sometimes, it may even be easier than what you would have thought.

1. Recognize and appreciate your customers

Understanding your customers is the basis of a good marketing strategy. Remember that you are nothing without them, you cannot sell anything without them, and more importantly, you have no reason to be without them. Your goal is to identify perfectly your customers’ needs and aspirations so you can make sure that you will be the only one able to speak to them in that unique way. By doing so, you will hold the advantage to build a solid relationship with them, and then insure their loyalty. Many tools are at your service to understand your customer’s behavior, demographics and requirements. The most important thing is to be as accurate as possible in order to guarantee selling efficiency. You will sell well is you know your target very well.

In a seconds time, you need to be interesting to your customers. To make sure of that, we recommend building a brand identity in which the customer is going to rely on, to identify himself to, and to buy from. Also remember that a happy and interested customer is going to say good things about you, so better keep them entertained!

2. Be aware of your competition

Once you can actually affirm knowing your customers better than they know themselves, it is time to focus on your competitors, because you will never be the only one aiming for your target. Ideas are flowing all the time, and this why you should pay attention to whatever innovations people are coming with. Global conditions are constantly changing and evolving, meaning that you have to stay at the top of your game not to be outdistanced by an outsider that has been studying the market more than you have been.

Today, everything is a matter of timing and reactivity. Everybody is keeping a close eye on each other, and that is to regularly monitor the external environment, looking for opportunities over the existing threats. They are aware of what you are and what you do, do not stay out of touch with reality.

3. Your product should be shaped after your customer’s needs

After having your competition secured, and your customer well identified, it is time to talk about the product that you are developing and selling. Just know that your product should not find a customer to fit his needs, it is the product that you are providing that has to fit the needs of the customer. Your product or service should be tailored to the expectations of your customers and this has to be valid from the product itself, to the way you promote it or even the packaging that is going to catch the eye among all the different products.

Do not fall into the stubborn approach of entrepreneurs who want to stick to the way they see their product (because they are the one who thought about it), make sure that you are designing and presenting the product as the customer would want to see it. Don’t forget that you may have thought about this revolutionary product on your own, but think about why and mostly who you decided to create it for.

4. Make sure that you are resourceful and persuasive

Marketing a product or a service means that you know your stuff by heart. No one should be able to trick you into complex questions. Deliveries should be taken care of in the smoothest way, after-sales service should be available to any questions, returns should not cause any problem and your staff should be happy to be here to help. You need to have all the answers prepared, and you need to be willing to face competitors’ product in the eyes of your customer. Your goal is to fight the competition and prove that what you sell suits your customer better; so don’t leave him hanging, fire all those arguments that will put the competition out of sight.

5. Get noticed and available to your customers

Today’s way of advertising has evolved and you have to live up to it. Nowadays, placing a few ads is not enough anymore. You have to embrace all the channels you have to reach your customers. Don’t stay classic, be outgoing and unexpected as much as you have to be unforgettable. Your message has to be short and clear to make sure that it will have a quick and strong impact on the minds. But mostly, you need to use your rational arguments in an emotional way so you can make sense to your customers. You have to prove that they need something they did not even realize they needed, and that you are the only one providing (selling) that product. Just make sure that your messages stand out for your business, and that you are accessible at anytime.

6. Put your staff first

Never forget your people. They are the ones that are here for you and who struggle with you every day to make it possible. You have to show them that you are motivated so they get the same energy. Take care of them so they feel involved, train them so they can give the best of themselves, make them feel needed and required. Give them the tools to be competent so everyone can work together and make you business work.

7. Display an eye-catching shop front

The outside can sometimes be the reason of an impulsive purchase. This is why you should grant some attention to the presentation of your business and its products. Having a clean shop front is a huge influence as an evidence of trust. Customers usually don’t buy from a website they do not feel comfortable navigating in. If they have a weird feeling about it, their trust is going to reduce. Inevitably, a messy front is going to lower your standards and won’t attract your target anymore.

8. Come up with a solid pricing strategy

Pricing is not just a matter of production costs and margin. You obviously have to take this in account to make sure that you earn enough money to run your business but above all that you need to decide what you are looking for. For example, high price is going to mean premium, so you will sell less but you will still have a good return on investment if you manage your image as well. On the other side, you could be selling at a low price to get and break into the market, but this will high profitability only in the long term. Pricing is a very important issue to consider in your marketing plan.

9. Foster strong relationships

A dissatisfied customer may be the worst thing for your business. A happy customer will spread the word around that you have a good thing going on, but an outraged customer will bring your business down by telling every single person they can. You need to put your relationship with the customer first to avoid this kind of situation. Don’t let anyone the opportunity to spread a bad story about your business because it would damage your brand and people usually remember the bad things rather than the good ones. Make sure that any issue that you could be having could also be sorted out as briefly as possible.

10. Have a well-planed marketing strategy

Once you have all of those things figured out, you need to write down the development your strategy so everyone can work in the same direction. This marketing strategy goes back over all the points mentioned earlier in a step-by-step plan. This document will help gather all of the essentials that will make you strong in your marketing path to success. This will be a document you will refer to in case of misleading times.

Ambition, motivation and marketing will become the three pointers you will always refer to in order to achieve success in your business. Never be afraid to try, you need to stand out there to make a name for yourself so don’t hesitate for one second.