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Small Businesses’ Financial Outlook Falls

April 4th, 2013 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

How are small businesses across the country feeling about their financial futures? According to the latest Capital One Small Business Barometer, not too positive. The study asked small business owners about their opinion of the current economy and their financial and business projections for the next six months.


In the most recent survey, conducted at the end of 2012, small businesses’ concerns about the future had risen, with more than one-fourth (26 percent) of small businesses polled saying they believe economic conditions will decline over the next six months. That’s a 12-point increase from Q3 2012. In addition, more than one-fourth (27 percent) of small business owners said their company’s financial position was worse than a year ago, up 11 points from the same time in 2011 and up 4 points from Q3 2012.

Given these concerns, it’s not surprising that just one-fourth of small businesses say they plan to hire in the next six months. “Among the small businesses we’ve surveyed, we are still seeing significant caution about prospects for growth, as well as hesitancy about making investments,” said Jon Witter, President of Direct, Consumer and Small Business Banking at Capital One, in announcing the survey. “Looking ahead, confidence in the economic environment will be key.”

As to the overall economy, the outlook isn’t great. While 44 percent of the small businesses surveyed believe economic conditions are holding steady, that’s a drop of 7 points from the same time in 2011. Fewer than one- third (28 percent) expect economic conditions to improve in the next six months, and the same percentage expect conditions to get worse.

The national Small Business Outlook index, which ranks business prospects for the next six months on a scale of significantly worse (1) to significantly better (10), continued its downward trend throughout 2012, hitting 5.6 in the most recent survey. What factors matter most to small business owners’ outlooks? Price margins and profitability topped the list, followed by cash flow and fuel prices.

Small business owners are keeping a firm grip on their budgets, with just 13 percent planning to increase spending in the next six months—down from 20 percent who planned to increase spending at the end of 2011. In addition, the number planning to cut spending hit 25 percent—the highest it’s been in two years, and up 8 points from the Q3 2012 survey.

With limited plans to increase spending, it’s not surprising that more than two-thirds (68 percent) of entrepreneurs polled don’t plan to hire in the next six months, either.

How do these opinions relate to your own outlook, both for your business and for the economy as a whole?  

Image by Flickr user Michael David Pedersen (Creative Commons)

Target Market: How to Reach African-American Consumers

March 4th, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

With Black History Month just behind us, multicultural marketing agency Ameredia took a look at the buying power of the African-American consumer in America. Here are some of the interesting statistics they cite regarding the power of black consumers.

  • The total African American population is 42.6 million, or 14,468,417 households.
  • Cities with a large proportion of African Americans include New York City (the leader, with a population of 3.2 million African Americans), Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Memphis, Detroit and Houston.
  • The median household income of African American families is $33,460.
  • Some 24 million African Americans age 25 and up are pursuing higher education. 18.3 percent African Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher; 32.6 percent have an associate’s degree or have attended some college.

African Americans make more shopping trips than the average consumer. They are more likely than average to buy beauty and ethnic products, children’s cologne, toiletries for both men and women, frozen meats, and fresh vegetables and grains.

As shoppers, African Americans are influencers and trendsetters whose purchasing habits affect others. They set trends in their purchase of apparel, autos and food and in their use of social media.
Speaking of social media, nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of African American adults have a profile on more than one social media network. Twitter is extremely popular with African Americans.

When they are using social media, African Americans are likely to be doing it on a mobile device. More than 54 percent own smartphones, and these consumers are heavy users of mobile data—they’re likely to be texting, emailing and surfing the Web, along with downloading music, videos and photos to their devices.

How can you reach this important niche market?

  • Be positive. Ameredia cites Nielsen research that 51 percent of African Americans say they are more likely to buy a product if its advertising portrays the black community in a positive manner.
  • Use niche media. A whopping 91 percent of African Americans in the Nielsen study say that black media is more relevant to them than generic media outlets. Advertise with cable TV shows, radio shows, blogs, websites and publications targeting the black community.
  • Don’t “lump” all African Americans into one category. As Ameredia points out, the black community in the U.S. comes from many different backgrounds, including Africans, African Americans, Afro-Latin Americans and Afro-Caribbeans. “Each distinct group contributes their unique diverse cultural experience, language, identity and migratory journey to the mix,” Ameredia cautions.
  • Know your market. Depending on where your business is located, you may have many different subcategories of African American consumers in your market, and you will need to understand how each group wants to be communicated with, sold to and marketed to.

Image by Flickr user Abode of Chaos (Creative Commons)


More Women Business Owners Pass the $10M Mark

February 25th, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

For a long time, the number of women-owned businesses whose revenues top $1 million has been far disproportionate to the numbers of women starting and running their own businesses. According to U.S. Census data, the number of women-owned firms grew by 28.6 percent between 2002 and 2012, outpacing the 24.4 percent increase the number of U.S. businesses overall. But while women are launching businesses in ever greater numbers, just 2 percent of women-owned companies have sales over $1 million.

But there’s some good news hidden in that statistic. Recently, American Express OPEN and Womenable decided to drill deeper into Census data about women-owned businesses that had over $1 million in sales. They broke the businesses into three revenue categories: $1 million to $4.9 million, $5 million to $9.9 million, and $10 million-plus. Their findings, published in Growing Under the Radar: An Exploration of the Achievements of Million-Dollar Women-Owned Firms, show that among the over-$10-million category, the number of women-owned businesses has surged by 56.6 percent since 2002.

That’s 47 percent higher than the 38.4 percent increase in all businesses (both male- and female-owned) with sales of over $10 million. And in addition to outpacing $10-million-plus firms overall in growth, women-owned $10-million-plus firms are growing at a whopping 98 percent faster pace than women-owned businesses overall.

How do the $1-million-plus women-owned businesses break down overall? Some 87 percent have under $5 million in sales, and 10 percent fall in the $5 million to $9.9 million range. Only 8 percent of the $1-million-plus women-owned businesses make $10 million or more. That’s similar to the way that the majority of all small businesses fall on the lower end of the sales spectrum.

There’s good news of another kind in the study’s findings. While in the past, Womenable president and CEO Julie Weeks says, most women with firms in the $10-million-plus category had inherited the businesses from fathers or husbands, today most of them are heading companies they started themselves. Womenable believes the greater visibility of and support for high-profile women in business and government is a contributing factor in the growth.

So in what industries are women most likely to head $10-million-plus companies?   Wholesale trade (20 percent of women-owned firms there have passed the $10 million mark), finance/insurance (12 percent), transportation/ warehousing (11 percent), and arts/entertainment/recreation (10 percent) topped the list. Womenable says the fact that these industries tend to be more scalable than most has undoubtedly helped the women-owned firms in them expand.

Image by Flickr user (Creative Commons)

What Marketing Strategies Are You Spending on in 2013?

January 22nd, 2013 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

How does your small business’s marketing budget for 2013 compare to that of your competitors? A new survey by StrongMail has some insights. Overall, businesses are bullish on marketing for 2013, with a total of 89 percent saying they will either increase or maintain their level of marketing spending in the coming year. (Some 45 percent will increase their marketing budgets and 44 percent will keep them the same.)

Email marketing, social media and mobile marketing will be the main focus of investment this year. More than half (55.5 percent) of marketing executives report plans to spend more on email marketing campaigns in 2013; 51.8 percent say they will spend more on social media; 42.8 percent say they will increase spending on mobile marketing; and 39.8 percent will boost spending on search marketing.

Two-thirds of the companies in the survey report they will spend more on mobile marketing programs such as mobile apps (39 percent) and SMS alerts (21 percent). Overall, mobile marketing spending will increase by 11 percent compared to 2012.

When it comes to social media, where are marketers putting most of their efforts? Facebook dominates, with 60 percent of businesses saying Facebook is the most valuable social media channel for them. Twitter and YouTube ranked second and third, respectively. Google and Pinterest were somewhere in the middle, cited by 31 percent of marketers, while Yelp, Instagram and LinkedIn brought up the rear.

Email is a strong area of growth for marketers, who plan to use it for a variety of purposes this year. While at one point some experts were predicting that social media would make email obsolete, marketers are figuring out email’s value in growing their social media presence and customer engagement. That’s reflected in the 46 percent who say they will spend more on emails to drive growth to their social media channels, such as Facebook or Twitter. In addition, 38.8 percent will spend more on promotional emails, and 34.7 percent will spend more on email newsletters.

Where aren’t marketers spending? Direct mail, trade show participation and traditional advertising will take the biggest hits. Some 37.4 percent report they plan to cut spending on direct mail, 33.6 percent will cut back on trade show spending and 23 percent will decrease spending on advertising in 2013.

You can view a PDF of the full survey results here.

Image by Flickr user Jay Freshuk (Creative Commons)

100 Trends to Watch for 2013

January 17th, 2013 ::

By Karen Axelton

As you prepare your small business for greater success in the coming year, be sure to take a look through trendspotting company JWT’s list of 100 Things to Watch for 2013. While you’ll want to peruse the whole list at leisure, here are a few that stood out to us as of interest to business owners:

  1. Allergen-free foods: JWT cites a 2011 study showing that as many as 1 in 12 American children may have a food allergy. That’s twice as high as previously believed. In 2013, JWT predicts that “allergen-free” will become as ubiquitous as gluten-free, with more food manufacturers, restaurants and retailers devoting themselves to allergy-free meals and snacks.
  2. Ambushed by Amazon: Is Amazon today’s Wal-Mart or Barnes & Noble? Like those mass merchants before it, the ecommerce giant is threatening to run all types of independent retailers out of town. With same-day delivery currently being tested in some cities, its Amazon Flow app that shows shoppers in your store how much the same product costs on Amazon, and everything from luxury jewelry to food for sale, Amazon is a major “disruptor” that retailers and etailers will have to take into account. Latest news? It’s reportedly considering opening brick-and-mortar stores
  3. Appcessories: Accessories are taking on high-tech functionality, turning into “appcessories.” Whether it’s smart eyeglasses, wristwatches or wristbands that integrate with tech toys, or even gloves and socks with RFID tags or embedded microphones, companies are creating dozens of ways for consumers to integrate technology into their clothing and accessories.
  4. Coaching brands: Companies now have the ability to gather unheard-of reams of data about their customers. In 2013, they’ll increasingly use that data to “coach” their customers on how to do things better, provide personalized recommendations for products and services, and otherwise provide customized assistance to help clients improve their lives.
  5. Hyper-personalized customer service: In a closely related trend, businesses in some industries are using information about customers to provide extremely personalized service. For example, restaurants can log details about customer preferences and then provide “the usual” cocktail or a gluten-free menu without the person even having to ask. As technology enables bigger companies to provide the kind of personal touch that used to belong to small companies, your firm will have to find new ways to keep pace.
  6. Dads in the aisles: With women working outside the home and the number of stay-at-home dads multiplying, more marketers that used to focus
on moms will need to include dad as well. Whether you sell cleaning supplies, household products and décor, children’s clothing or food, you will need to market to men and take into account how they like to shop, buy and spend.

Read the full report for 94 more thought-provoking trends.

Image by Flickr user Steve Bowbrick (Creative Commons)





Make a (Business) Plan for the New Year

December 27th, 2012 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

As 2012 draws to a close, how are you going to make sure 2013 is an even better year for your small business? One way is to pull your business plan out of the drawer (or up from your laptop) and take a look at it.

Many of us write a business plan when we first start our business, then put it away and never look at it again. Or perhaps you started your business without writing a formal plan, and it caught on so fast you didn’t need one (or so you thought). Unfortunately, without a “compass” for your business, you may find yourself ending up other than where you planned.

While in the past writing a business plan was a dreaded task, it’s become a lot easier with the advent of easy-to-use business plan software. (Check out MasterPlans, one of this site’s partners, for starters.) If you’ve never written a plan for your business, plugging your business’s information into these tools will give you a feeling of accomplishment and whet your appetite to actually complete your plan.

If you have written a business plan in the past, pull it out and go through each of the sections:

  • Company Description: Is this still accurate as to your form of business? Update your company history and any other information. If your business model has changed, spell out how and why.
  • Product or Service: Is the description of what you sell and the benefits to the customer still current?
  • Market Analysis: If your market, competition and target customers have changed, which they undoubtedly have, you’ll need to do some new market research and update this section.
  • Strategy and Implementation: Again, make sure your business strategy and the steps you will take to implement it is accurate and detailed, including dates, budgets and responsibilities of the management.
  • Management Team: Update this section as needed to reflect current roles, responsibilities, skills and accomplishments. Your team probably has a lot more under your belts than when you started your business.
  • Financial Analysis: Make sure financial statements are current and accurate.

Last, but not least, go through your Executive Summary and make sure it clearly reflects your business’s current position and future goals.

Still can’t bear to do your own plan? Get help from MasterPlans, one of this site’s partners, to have your plan professionally written or updated.

With your new plan in hand, you’ll have a useful guidebook to get you through 2013 in a more profitable fashion.

Image by Flickr user Calsidyrose (Creative Commons)



Web.com Small Business Toolkit: WebPort Global (B2B Connectivity Tool)

November 27th, 2012 ::

WebPort Global

Participating in a B2B marketplace can help your business grow and thrive by enabling you to make crucial connections. WebPort Global was conceived and built as a customizable platform to help form trusted relationships and collaboration for small and midsized businesses. Use WebPort Global to improve marketing strategies, work together on projects, share documents and more. You can also connect with others to share expertise, advice and information. Try it for 30 days free; after that, membership is $29 per month. The WebPort Global blog community features experts who share their perspectives on business, global trade and marketing news.

Web.com Small Business Toolkit: Skype in the Workspace (VoIP Community)

November 26th, 2012 ::

Skype in the Workspace

One of the ways Microsoft has taken their acquisition of VoIP leader Skype and expanded its services was to create Skype in the Workspace. Promoting the site as “the place for your business to share ideas and connect using Skype,” Microsoft’s goal is to attract small and midsized businesses to its Internet video chat and related services. Key is the ability for businesses to connect with other businesses over the platform and make crucial connections that could benefit everyone. The feature “Create an Opportunity” allows a business to throw out concepts or ideas for other businesses to respond to and critique. Entrepreneurs can also find needed services and products to help build a successful business in this online community.

How to Be a Small Business “High Achiever”

November 7th, 2012 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

Are you doing what it takes to make your small business a “high achieving” success? The latest American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor, which regularly polls the opinions of small business owners, has identified a group of “high achieving” small business owners and studied what they do to identify the strategies and tactics that help drive business growth.

High achievers represent just 6 percent of the Monitor’s respondents. On average, these companies had been in business 26 years, employ 18 people, and have achieved business growth of 34 percent over the last three years (compared to an average of 10 percent growth for all survey respondents). Yes, that’s the last three years—in other words, the depths of the recession.

What do high achievers do differently from the rest?

They ask for advice: Nearly six in 10 have a business mentor (59 percent, compared to 33 percent of all respondents).

They leverage social media: 70 percent use social media, compared to 49 percent overall. Almost 80 percent use it to attract new customers, compared to 57 percent overall.

They invest in their business. More than three-quarters (78 percent) are planning to make capital investments in the next 6 months (compared to 49 percent overall).

They ask for feedback: Ninety-two percent agree it would be foolish not to ask their customers for feedback and incorporate it into their business model going forward (compared to 75 percent overall).

  • More than three-quarters (78 percent) ask their customers for advice on how to better serve them (compared to 52 percent overall).
  • Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) ask for new client referrals (compared to 53 percent overall).
  • More than half (51 percent) ask for positive reviews on ratings and review sites and social media (compared to 34 percent overall).

It’s not all about what you do—it’s also about your outlook. More than three-quarters of high achievers describe themselves as having a positive outlook and business prospects (77 percent compared to 49 percent overall). And a whopping 99 percent say they see the glass as half-full.

Their outlook and actions are paying off. High achievers paid themselves more than average business owners ($85,000, compared to $72,000) and were also creating more jobs. While the majority of small businesses in the survey indicated they were taking “wait and see” approach until after the presidential election, with just 29 percent planning to hire new employees over the next six months, two-thirds of high achieving small business owners reported plans to hire in that time frame.

Image by Flickr user Shorts and Longs / The Both And (Creative Commons)


5 Networking Secrets for Your Small Business

October 19th, 2012 ::

 By Rieva Lesonsky

For small business owners looking to grow their business, it’s easy to get so caught up in the world of social networking that you forget to get out in the real world and make connections. But networking the “old-fashioned way” is still one of the best strategies for business growth, especially for small businesses that rely on a local market or that sell business-to-business.

If you’re looking to revitalize your networking skills, my friend JJ Ramberg has a new book out that will get you off to a great start. Ramberg, host of the popular MSNBC show “Your Business,” gathered real-life advice from the thousands of entrepreneurs she’s interviewed to write It’s Your Business: 183 Essential Tips That Will Transform Your Small Business. While the book focuses on much more than networking, here are some of JJ’s suggestions for building business relationships.

  1. Be the first person at networking events. If you’re shy (like me), you probably think getting to events late is the way to go. In reality, by getting there right when the event starts, you’ll be forced to talk to others and help welcome new arrivals. Soon you can’t help but feel more confident. By contrast, if you get there late, you’ll be stuck trying to work your way into groups who are already having energetic conversations. Ugh!
  2. Meet face to face. How many times have you had a lengthy email back-and-forth with someone that could have been handled in 30 seconds of speaking in person? Instead of emailing or voice-mailing about major issues, Ramberg highly recommends meeting in person. Even phone calls aren’t the best way to resolve sensitive issues with a customer or vendor, but spending some time together over lunch or coffee enables you to tune into each other’s facial expressions and body language without distraction, helping resolve conflicts and cut through confusion.
  3. Meet someone new every week. If you never leave your business, nothing new will even happen to you, writes Ramberg. She suggests tapping your networks (both online and offline) to get connected with new people, then suggest meeting in person for coffee to get to know each other and learn how you can do business.
  4. The one-hour/two contacts rule. Spend one hour a day developing your contacts and network. If you make two new contacts or develop two new leads in the first 10 minutes of that hour, quit for the day. By devoting time to growing your network daily, you’ll keep your business moving forward.
  5. Just keep showing up. Was it Woody Allen who once said that “99 percent of success is showing up”? The same applies to networking events or business organizations. Keep going to your association or industry events, Ramberg writes. “Once you’ve attended a few times, you’ll suddenly be seen as an insider” and more people will want to meet you and work with you.

Image by Flickr user Shashi Bellamkonda (Creative Commons)