Friday, June 14, 2019

Seven Ways To Save Time With Small Business Automation - Forbes

Seven Ways To Save Time With Small Business Automation - Forbes


Seven Ways To Save Time With Small Business Automation - Forbes

Posted: 14 Jun 2019 04:00 AM PDT

Running a small business may not seem too challenging from a distance. After all, it's a small business, so how much operational and management work could there be? But since I started my own agency, I've realized that running a small business or firm isn't as easy as it looks.

The good news is that there are plenty of best practices small businesses can follow to save time and manage their tasks more efficiently with the help of automation. Through experience and research, I've narrowed down on a few tips to help small businesses make the most of automation.

Automate Personalized Emails To Nurture Leads

If small businesses struggle to efficiently follow up with their leads, they may end up missing out on potential conversions. I highly recommend automating personalized emails triggered by specific actions. This will ensure that you reach your prospects while they're in the most vital stages of the sales funnel and that you can send out timely follow-up emails.

Tools like ActiveCampaign can help you carry this out: The platform allows you to set behavioral triggers to automate your emails so you can effectively nurture your leads. GetResponse also has a similar email marketing feature at competitive rates for small businesses.

Streamline Your Purchase Orders

Plenty of small businesses have ineffective procurement and purchase order processes. They waste their time on repetitive tasks that could easily be automated, often resulting in accidental process repetition. In fact, a report conducted by PayStream Advisors found that 54% of companies are still entering their invoice details manually. And small and medium-sized enterprises are the largest users of ineffective, paper-based invoice receipts.

This makes it crucial to streamline your procurement and purchase order processes in order to save time, improve productivity and avoid mistakes. I suggest using automation tools like PurchaseControl to create automation workflows and automatically send out purchase requisitions for approval. The tool helps you maintain all relevant information in one place, making it easier to quickly process vendor invoices for payment. Precoro is another excellent tool to simplify the process of routing purchase orders for approval: You can automaticity allocate cost centers and get notified about budget overspends.

Create An Efficient Payroll Process

If you have full-time employees, you know just how time-consuming it is to manage their payroll. There's a lot that you need to take into consideration, including state and federal regulation compliance. As a result, I highly recommend automating your payroll management process to create a more efficient system.

Deluxe Payroll is an excellent platform for this because it lets you develop a system that's customized according to the needs of your company with the help of a payroll specialist. Paychex also offers a similar payroll and HR solution to optimize your payroll process.

Organize Your Tasks More Efficiently

One of the biggest challenges I faced when I started my agency had to do with task management and assignment. I started out with several freelancers and already had a few clients. This made it hard to keep track of who was working on which project, and which projects were due soon. It was only once I started automating the process of task scheduling and management that things became more organized and on track.

I use Trello to create separate boards for different clients and projects. The tool lets you create assignments for specific team members, upload briefs and set due dates. This makes it so much easier to automatically keep track of how a project is progressing. You could also use a tool like Zapier to build workflows and automate repetitive, time-consuming tasks. The platform connects with multiple apps so you can smoothly exchange data between your apps.

Manage Your Calendar More Efficiently

When you're running a small business, it's very easy to miss appointments and meetings due to lack of calendar organization. You have plenty of operational and management tasks to oversee, so it can be difficult to keep track of your other obligations. You might even get double-booked by accident because you missed one vital email.

Hiring an assistant to manage your schedule can solve this problem. However, you might not have the budget to hire someone. I would suggest using a tool like Calendly to simplify this process and organize your schedule more efficiently. This is a simple automation tool that lets you set your availability and send out an email invitation. The email contains an embedded link, which the recipient can click on to view your calendar of availability. From there, they can choose the date and time that works for them, and the tool will automatically schedule the event in your calendar. 

If your business involves client appointments, you could use a tool like SimplyBook.me instead. This platform allows clients to book an appointment and confirm their attendance through your booking page.

Provide Better Customer Service

Small businesses have a limited customer base, so bad customer service can destroy their whole operation. This makes it crucial to provide the best level of customer service by keeping track of customer complaints and addressing them in a timely manner.

I would suggest using a tool like FreshDesk to set up a ticketing system to manage your customer complaints more efficiently. It also lets you create pre-formatted replies for common questions, helping you provide speedier responses. Zendesk Support also lets you automate your customer service workflows and deliver timely, relevant solutions to your customers.

Some of these tools are designed to automate repetitive tasks, while others can help you streamline your processes for efficiency. Consider implementing these types of tools and the best practices above to save time and focus on the most important aspects of your business.  

Variable Rate Loans Become More Attractive For Small Businesses As Fed Mulls Rate Cut - Forbes

Posted: 13 Jun 2019 10:37 AM PDT

Big bank approvals of small business loans are as high as they have ever been (at a record high of 27.5%) in the 21st century's post-recession era, according to the latest Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index™ (May 2019 figures) released this week. Further, almost half (49.9%) of small business loan applications at small banks are being granted. Many of these loans are SBA Loans.

Dollar bills 2019

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Whether you are a small business owner applying for traditional bank term loans or for an SBA loan, in most cases the funding will be a variable rate loan. What bodes well at the moment is that Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell recently signaled that the central bank is looking at recent economic developments closely and may "act as appropriate" to continue the current expansion.

Experts are predicting that the Federal Funds rate could drop by three-quarters of a point in the next 12 months and fall to as low as 1.75% from the current target range of 2.25 to 2.5%.

In fact, according to a new Wall Street Journal survey, nearly 40% of the 46 economists polled anticipate that the Fed will act in July, while roughly 30% expect a rate cut in September. This news comes even though the overall economy really still is quite robust. For instance, the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index increased in April, the last month reported by the NFIB, to a historically strong level. Profits are still trending upwards, and expectations for sales, business conditions, and credit conditions all improved, according to the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index.

Business owners who qualify for traditional term loans should be able to secure funding at very attractive rates from banks. Entrepreneurs who qualify for SBA-backed loans – usually from smaller banks – will likely secure funding at slightly higher rates than term loans but at longer payoff periods. If you have good credit scores, good lending times may get even better.

Beth Goldberg, SBA New York District Director, said that SBA has guaranteed nearly $600 million in small business loans so far in FY 2019 in the down-state New York area.

"Many small business owners are unaware that they can finance the purchase of their own commercial condo or co-op for as little as 10 percent down with SBA's 504 program. In a robust economy like what we're seeing today, this is a perfect time for entrepreneurs to revisit their business plans and think about if an equity position in their own space is an option going forward."

Non-bank institutional lenders, a growing force in the small business lending marketplace, offer similar interest rates to banks and approved 65.5% of the funding deals they were offered in May.

Two categories of lenders are still somewhat stagnant, according to Biz2Credit's research. Loan approval rates among alternative lenders dropped one-tenth of a percent to 57.1% in May, down a notch from 57.2% in April. Because the banks are lending aggressively and can offer better rates and terms, alternative lenders have declined slowly but steadily this year. Additionally, banks tend to receive applications from higher quality borrowers, and they offer lower interest rates because default rates are so low at the moment.

Credit unions again stayed at a record low 40.1% of loan applications in May, according to the Biz2Credit Index. Credit unions are looking for ways to expand, including partnering with the SBA on small business loans.

According to a recent Federal Reserve report, credit unions are usually not considered the first option for small businesses in need of capital or other financial services. In fact, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) and the SBA recently signed a deal aimed at increasing SBA lending by credit unions. The two organizations plan webinars and other events in hopes of expanding credit unions' role in small business lending.

Partnering with the SBA is a good step for credit unions. However, they still are lagging in digitization, which hurts them and because Millennials are less willing these days to walk into a credit union and fill out a membership applications; they much prefer to do things on their smart phones.

Furthermore, credit unions are still handcuffed by the Member Business Lending cap, which limits their loan approvals to 12.25% of their assets. Until this changes – if it ever changes – credit unions will not be able to make big gains in small business lending.

The bottom line is that companies in search of capital have many attractive options right now. If they are ready for startup or expansion funding, now is as good a time as ever.

Five Organizations Dallas-Area Small Business Owners Should Know About - Forbes

Posted: 14 Jun 2019 05:15 AM PDT

In Dallas, there are a myriad of organizations that are dedicated to small business owners like yourself. But with so many options out there, it can be mind-boggling to know which groups you should pay attention to in order to help your company grow.

Professional organizations can provide you with the opportunity to meet other entrepreneurs, as well as learn from other businesses in the area. Below, five members of Forbes Dallas Business Council share some of the top organizations they recommend Dallas business owners and operators pay attention to, as well as why. Here's what they said:

Members discuss business-focused organizations or groups in Dallas.

Photos courtesy of the individual members.

1. Young Presidents' Organization

Young Presidents' Organization (YPO) has been the most impactful organization that I've joined in my career. Not only has it provided me a network of similarly positioned business leaders and a small group (forum) that's become my personal board of directors, but it's also helped connect me more to the community, both philanthropically and socially. - David O'Hara, Improving

2. Chamber Of Commerce

I think that it is important for business owners and operators to get involved in their local governments, especially by supporting their Chamber of Commerce. This will lead to economic growth long term, which is good for businesses and good for local residents. - Sabeer Nelliparamban, Tyler Petroleum Inc

3. Entrepreneurs' Organization

Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) and its accelerator program for smaller companies both create a community where business owners find like-minded entrepreneurs who are facing similar challenges. It gives owners a place to share and a resource to help solve problems. EO and EO Accelerator also focus on education and improving the management and execution skills of its members. - Brooke Lively, Cathedral Capital, Inc.

4. Capital Factory

One organization that just made its debut in Dallas is Capital Factory. With its roots in Austin, Capital Factory is a professional organization that knows how to spawn growth and build connections in a city. - Ben Lamm, Hypergiant

5. Dallas Innovation Alliance

Dallas Innovation Alliance (DIA) is a collaborative incubator for like-minded companies trying to solve for the future state of infrastructure. The Dallas Regional Chamber is invaluable for keeping a pulse on the new businesses coming to our city and connecting with the influx of professionals in town, from small business owners to corporate leaders. - George Baker Sr., ParkHub

Goldman Sachs expanding small-business training program in Ohio - The Columbus Dispatch

Posted: 14 Jun 2019 02:09 AM PDT

Investment bank Goldman Sachs is taking a program statewide that is geared toward helping small businesses grow and add employees.

Launched in 2012 at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, 10,000 Small Businesses, also called 10KSB, is being expanded to Columbus State Community College, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, and Sinclair Community College in Dayton. Goldman will formally announce the expansion Friday afternoon in Columbus.

Goldman launched the initiative in 2010 as the economy was coming out of the Great Recession. The free program provides entrepreneurs with a practical business education, business support services and access to capital, which many small-business owners say they need to grow.

Goldman has spent $15 million so far on the program in Cleveland and will commit another $15 million to extend it to the other Ohio cities.

The curriculum was designed by Babson College, a private business college in Massachusetts.

"Fundamentally, we were looking at the United States economy. Where do we see opportunities for growth and growth that could impact the communities where we work and live?" said Asahi Pompey, Goldman's head of corporate engagement and president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation.

To be eligible, businesses should have annual revenue of at least $150,000, been in operation more than two years, have at least two full-time employees, and have a desire to grow and create jobs.

Participants learn about negotiation, marketing and employee management. They also receive the professional support they need to develop a plan to boost sales and profit.

Haleema Shafeek, 46, of Hilliard, graduated from the 100-hour program in 2017, taking courses online and at Babson.

Since then, annual revenue at her company, Green Office Furniture Solutions in Columbus, has more than doubled to $3 million, the company now has three employees, and she has developed new revenue streams that have allowed her to become more diversified.

"I've been working this business since 2008 and was having trouble in terms of making it grow," she said, and that's why she signed up for the program.

She said the classes were especially helpful for learning how to decipher financial statements.

"I want it to be a sustainable, growing business," she said, which one day could become valuable enough to sell or pass along to her children.

Business owners who want to participate can learn more at 10ksapply.com. Goldman is expecting about 30 business owners in the first class in Columbus.

The deadline to apply is July 5 and the classes at Columbus State will be held in the fall.

Since Goldman started the program, 8,200 small businesses in 16 cities, including Cleveland, have benefited. Another 1,100 business owners such as Shafeek have received training online and at Babson. About 700 businesses have been helped in Ohio.

The training is paying off for business owners who have participated, the bank says.

Two-thirds say their revenue was higher six months after graduation. That rises to 74% of the participants after 18 months and 78% after 2½ years.

Nearly half of those who have gone through the program says they have created new jobs within six months, and that goes up to 55% in 18 months.

The revenue and hiring numbers are stronger than comparable national data for small businesses.

"We just think it is a catalyst for economic growth," said John Waldron, Goldman's president and chief operating officer. "We like to put our capability behind that. It's one of our reasons for being."

mawilliams@dispatch.com

@BizMarkWilliams

Small-Business Confidence Remains Strong Amid A Tight Labor Market - Seeking Alpha

Posted: 13 Jun 2019 11:41 PM PDT

By Robert Hughes

The small-business-optimism index from the National Federation of Independent Business rose to 105.0 in May, up 1.5 points from 103.5 in April and 3.8 points below the all-time high of 108.8 in August 2018. The latest result extends a run of 30 consecutive months above 100, a very high figure by historical comparison (see top chart). The strong result was buoyed by positive results for capital spending, hiring, inventory investment, and profit trends. The single most important problem among small businesses remains the declining quality of the available labor force, particularly in the context of an already-tight labor market and the very high percentage of firms with open jobs.

The general outlook remained positive as the percentage of respondents believing now is a good time to expand came in at 30, up from 25 in April. The net percentage of respondents expecting better economic conditions ("better" minus "worse") came in at 16, up from 13 in April but still high compared to negative numbers from 2016. A net 23 percent expect higher sales over the coming months while a net 9 percent report higher sales for the most recent three months versus the prior three months.

The percentage of firms planning to increase employment rose to 21 percent from 20 percent in April. A near-record 38 percent (versus a record 39 percent) of firms report having openings they are not able to fill at the moment (see chart). At the same time, the percentage of firms reporting few or no qualified applicants for job openings was 54 percent, up from 49 percent in April and just 1 point below the record 55 percent from June 2018. That combination in the labor market of healthy demand and weak supply has a net 34 percent of firms saying they have already increased compensation over the past three months while 24 percent intend to increase worker pay over the coming months.

The labor-market dynamics have made quality of labor the most important issue for small businesses. Among the 10 issues listed in the survey, quality of labor ranks first at 25 percent, tying the survey high. Taxes were second at 16 percent while government regulation and red tape was third on the list at 12 percent. Inflation was at the bottom of the list, tied with finance and interest rates at just 2 percent. Inflation has been at the bottom of the list for several years, reflecting the slow pace of price increases over the current cycle.

Capital expenditures by small businesses also remain solid, with 64 percent of such businesses having made capital expenditures during the past six months. That is slightly below the typical percentage in the upper 60s during the late 1990s but well above the mid-40s percentages during the last recession. Thirty percent of firms have plans for capital expenditures over the next three to six months, up from 27 percent in the prior month.

Overall, the survey suggests the small-business sector of the economy remains strong and views of the future remain upbeat.

The latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the number of open positions in the economy was down slightly in April to 7.449 million from 7.474 million in March and just below the record-high 7.626 million in November. Private job openings in the United States totaled 6.726 million in April versus 6.772 million in March. The industries with the largest number of openings were healthcare (1.244 million), professional and business services (1.241 million), accommodation and food services (899,000) and retail (837,000).

The job-openings rate, openings divided by the sum of jobs and openings, held at 5.0 percent for the private sector. That is just 0.2 percentage points below the all-time high of 5.2 percent. The highest openings rates were in accommodation and food services (5.9 percent), healthcare (5.8 percent), and transportation, warehousing, and utilities (5.8 percent).

A further sign of labor-market strength may be seen in the number of quits, which likely reflects confidence in the labor market. Quits totaled 3.300 million for the private sector in April versus 3.278 million in March. The layoffs rate, another key indicator for the labor market, rose slightly to 1.3 percent for private employers from 1.2 percent in the prior month and is consistent with the historically low initial claims as a percentage of employment. Combined, the high number of openings, the high openings rate, and the low layoffs rate all suggest the labor market remains very tight.

Overall, the data relating to the labor market continue to show strength. Despite a disappointing jobs report for May, job openings and quits remain high while layoffs remain low, supporting a high level of consumer sentiment.

Editor's Note: The summary bullets for this article were chosen by Seeking Alpha editors.

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