Category: SME

 
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How to Effectively Brand Your Small Business

Branding a small business is a must if you want to succeed in a competitive world. The importance of branding a business disregarding its size is based on not only real benefits, products and services that your business possesses, but also an image concept that all businesses should keep in mind.

From color business cards to global business identity, depending on how effectively you brand your business, the more or the less opportunities of success will knock at your door. The reason why large companies brand their businesses is because they know this is the best way to differentiate their products and services from their competitors while creating a corporate image.

Many small business owners believe it is not necessary to development a corporate image, particularly those whose business integrate just a few individuals as staff, or even when they own a one-man business, using the internet for selling or promoting their professional services. However, even a small business should utilize the same principles as the large enterprises to brand their business.

Furthermore, if your business has business cards, stationary and other branded elements along with a matching website, you will not only create a corporate image, but also loyal relationships with your customers and prospective customers, who will find more reliability with a small business with these characteristics, than others without a professional look and feel.

Because you only have the opportunity to impress new customers once, you should make sure that this impression is a positive and lasting introduction and handshake, only possible if you brand your business conveniently and professionally. There is no need to spend thousand of dollar to achieve it, but do not go to the other extreme using uneven elements.

Small businesses should be aware of the elements that will make their brand unique and recognizable, including consistency between online and printed elements, such as your logo, signage, business cards and even a slogan that helps people understand at a glance your business’s mission statement.

Effective branding must achieve these goals; be consistent and never differing, carrying the same logo, colors, slogans and statements through to every element of your business, all of them always visible and unique, hence the need to avoid elements that anyone can find anywhere such as free or cheap clipart.

Creating your brand, whatever your budget requires a business plan to have a solid appreciation on whom your customers will be and what can you do to serve them. This is not only a matter of elegant stationary or catchy business cards; it is the most important deployment of a small business for an eventual growth in future terms.

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Your Small Business Web Site

A web site is a crucial ingredient of your marketing strategy because it can widen your target market to include anyone who has access to a computer and the internet. Almost 60% of Canadians had access to the internet at home in 2003, and around 8 million had regular access to the internet from somewhere, either at home, at work or at school.

And thatís just in Canada. Ecommerce sales from Canada were $7.2 billion, and we only captured 4% of the global ecommerce market! So, how can you reach some of those internet surfers, and how can you capture some of that $7.2 billion spent in ecommerce?

First, you build it
The first step is designing your website. If your company already has business cards and letterhead, itís best to design your website around them. A matching corporate identity and website helps with branding.

I like uncomplicated websites, with a simple layout and easy navigation. A nice, simple layout, with good graphics, balanced look and good color combinations is my #1 goal when designing a small business web site. Remember to use graphics sparingly and to optimize them for your website because internet surfers are impatient. If your page loads too slowly, theyíll leave.

Navigation should be easy to find and to use, and it should be consistent from page to page. Iíve left more than one site frustrated because I couldnít easily find their navigation.

Small business web sites arenít static. They evolve. You need to start somewhere, and starting with an introductory web site is probably easiest. All you really need to start is five pages. You can always add pages later. The important thing is to just do itótake the plunge and get it out there.

Your five pages could include an index, or home page, about us, services, contact and a sitemap. The index page is your landing page. Typically its design is a little more detailed than the others, but it doesnít have to be that way.

I like to use CSS (cascading style sheets) for designing because itís simply easier to build a web site and to edit its layout with CSS rather than just HTML (hypertext markup language) alone. A change on a CSS sheet changes all the pages on your site at once.

Content is king
Once your site is designed, youíll want to start thinking about content. Design is very important, but it does little good to have a beautiful site without high-quality content.

Your small business home page introduces you and your companyówho you are and what you do. The about us page is usually used to give more detail than the home page about who you are, and your services page gives more detail about what you do. You might wonder why youíd ìwasteî a page on a sitemap since you only have 5 pages, but sitemaps help search engines find all the pages in your site.

As far as content goes, more is better, up to a point. Your pages should be content rich and informative, but they also need to be relevant to your small business. If your visitor canít figure out what your web site is about in just a few seconds, they may leave.

The internet was at first strictly informational, and thatís how it remains today. Several times people have tried experiments using copywriting similar to direct mail sales letters, but theyíve all failed. It seems as if people surf the internet more for information than anything else. Knowing this will help you write pages people will want to read.

Attracting visitors
You could follow your instinct and just start writing, but wait. Thereís research you must do first, or your web site simply wonít be high enough in searches to be found. Search engine optimization is far too big a subject to cover in this short article, but among other things, search engines find your pages based on keywords.

So, pretend for a moment that youíre on the other side of the desk. If you were a customer of your own business, what words or phrases would you use to search for your product or service? Ask friends and neighbors how theyíd search for your product or services.

When youíve come up with a few, check them out on a keyword suggestions tool. You can also use that tool to suggest similar words and phrases. Then find out how many results there would be if you searched for that term. What you want to do next is narrow down your choices to the words or phrases that are searched for the most, but have the fewest results.

Remember that people generally donít look beyond the first three pages for any search term, so if youíre not in the top three pages, your business is not likely to be found at all. If there are millions of results for your phrase, you might simply need to make it more specific.

For example, letís say you have a small business consulting company that specializes in communication for small business. Using ìcommunicationî as a search term is nearly pointless because there are almost 2 billion results for that word. But, there are only 974 results for ìsmall business communicationî.

Much better, but how often is that searched for? According to WordTracker, itís searched for 10 times a day. Not bad, but I think we can do better. How about ìsmall business consultingî? Thatís searched for 261 times a day, and there are 373,000 results. That could be the best primary phrase for a small business communication consulting company.

What you want to do, is write your content around those words and phrases. You donít want or need very manyóthree or four are plenty.

Getting them to come back again and again
Getting visitors to come back to your site again and again is relatively simple. Keep your content fresh and lively, make sure itís informative, and add to it often.

I hope you decide your small business needs a web site. Itís the best way I know how to reach a wider target audience with a relatively small investment.
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Employers – 10 Questions to ask a Recruitment Agency

If you are an Employer looking for permanent staff, using agencies can be an efficient and cost effective method of recruitment. Do your homework carefully and you can concentrate on what you do best, running your business.

Here are some example questions to ask

How will they charge? – Most agencies these days supply permanent staff on a contingency basis. This is where, you only pay the agency if you select and recruit one of their candidates. The popular term for this is ìNo placement no feeî.

What will they charge? – You need to make sure you understand how much using an agency will cost you. This is normally expressed as a percentage of first year salary. This will depend on a number of factors such as industry, location, level of role etc, but fees can often be between 10% and 30%. You might at first consider this to be rather a lot of money but just think how much its worth to you getting the right candidate with the minimum of fuss.

Is there a rebate structure? – Make sure that you agree to some form of rebate structure. Like it or not, some candidates will start a job and decide that its not for them and leave after a short time. You need to make sure that if this happens you can reclaim some of the fees paid to Recruitment Agency. This is normally done via a rebate structure. A typical example of this would be

If they leave within 4 weeks 80% of fees paid are refunded
If they leave within 8 weeks 50% of fees paid are refunded
If they leave within 12 weeks 20% of fees paid are refunded

However these scales vary between agencies. It is also becoming more common in competitive areas to see 100% refunds if the candidate leaves within 12 weeks.

What is their CV policy? – You need to make sure that they are going to make things easier for you and not just send through dozens of CVís that they have on their books, just on the off chance. Most reputable agencies will have a definite policy on this and be able to give you an idea of the number and quality of CVís in advance.

Any Client testimonials? – This is to help you ensure that you are dealing with the right agency. You donít want to have to spend a lot of time explaining to them what your company does or how they do it etc etc. The best way to avoid this is make sure that they have satisfied clients in similar business to your own. This will also give you an idea of how experienced the agencies and their consultants are in your business area.

How many agencies should I appoint? – It is a good idea to have a small number of agencies working for you as long as they are all on a contingency basis. This way you maximise your exposure to potential candidates while not spending all your working day dealing with agencies. A good idea is to start with 3 to 5 of them & see how it works out. You can always add more if you need to later.

What about a specialist agency? – Where possible you should consider industry specific agencies this if possible. Although they may charge more in fees this may be offset by the fact that they will probably be able to advise you more knowledgably about the type of candidates available, market salary rates etc.

Are there any trade bodies? – A number of agencies are members of the REC (Recruitment and Employment Confederation), which represents the industry within the UK. You should try to confirm that they are members and that they conform to their code of conduct.

Will they do Candidate referencing? – You should check to confirm that the agency you plan to use both will confirm the identity of the candidates they send you but also if required can take up their references on your behalf.

And finally

Any other useful facilities?
Do you have an interview suite? – very useful facility as it means that you can interview prospective candidates at their offices.
Do you offer Psychometric testing / ability testing?
Can you provide salary survey information? – This enables you to offer the candidates a realistic salary

Remember, recruitment agencies can charge you quite a lot of money so make sure that they are working for you!

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The Exit Strategies for Businesses

Many investors are only interested in investing money into an enterprise for a limited amount of time. They want to know when they will get their money back and what sort of return they will be receiving at that time. Both issues are closely linked. Therefore, when preparing your business plan, to pitch to potential investors, you will need to make sure that you have outlined your long term plans and a sound <b>exit strategy</b>.

In order to do this properly you will have to ask yourself a few questions about your own personal plans regarding the business. Do you wish to stay involved in this business in the long run, or are you more interested in getting it off the ground and letting someone else take over then? These are the kinds of questions you should deal with in your exit strategy.

You will also want to know a little about the <b>investors</b> you are pitching to and what their expectations are regarding the future of the investment:

<ul><li>If you are dealing with <b>venture capitalists</b> you have to be aware that they are looking for a <b>high return</b>. They will generally be expecting the business to go public at the end of the period or make some other high profit move. The period they are willing to invest is about three to seven years so you will need some sort of high return exit strategy at the end of that period. However, you should not opt for going public unless you are confident that it is a realistic goal for your company. Public offerings are very rare for small businesses and the investors you are speaking to will be all too aware of that fact.</li><li>If you are considering an <b>angel investor</b> then again they will be looking for a high return but will not be overly concerned with the type of exit strategy under consideration, as long as it seems sound. They will be less sophisticated than the venture capitalists or institutional investors you may deal with and are more likely to be involved because of a <b>personal relationship</b> to you or the business.</li></ul>

There are a number of exit strategies you can consider:

<ul><li>The most basic exit strategy would be to simply <b>bleed the business dry</b>. This can be done by giving yourself a huge salary or other remuneration, regardless of the performance of the business. While it is not appropriate in most cases, there is no doubt that it can get a lot of your investment back out of the company in a short time.</li><li>Another simple option is <b>liquidation</b>. Simply close the doors and wait for the company to be wound up. All debts will be paid off, and then whatever is left over will be clear to the shareholders.</li></ul>

While these two options above are quite practical and effective, they are professionally frowned upon and you may wish to propose a more sophisticated exit strategy if you wish to impress potential investors.

<ul><li>Another option could be <b>selling to a friendly buyer</b>. While you may have come to the end of your relationship with the business, there may be many people who would be saddened to see it end and may well be willing to step in to take over. This might include passing it on to another member of the family, or selling it to employees or customers. There are many businesses where this will be a realistic option, however it is difficult to predict it at the beginning of the venture.</li><li>Another option is <b>acquisition</b>. This is when a rival firm, usually one wishing to expand, agrees to buy you out. You can negotiate the price and terms with the buyer and there is a good chance that both of you can come up with a very <b>attractive price</b>. You will get a good price because together with your assets, the buyer will be willing to pay for good will, market share, client contacts etc. This means you can get a very good price for the business.</li><li>The <b>IPOs</b> that we previously talked about are the final option. These are potentially the most lucrative of all, but when reality kicks in, they might not seem like the dream you thought they were. In reality, a minuscule percent of companies manage to make it through an IPO. The process costs millions, includes lawyers, analysts, publicity agents and a lot of other costly professionals. The odds are against you ever making it. And if you do, you will probably be left with only a fraction share of the company you used to own.</li></ul>

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Factoring Financing For Canadian Companies

Running a business in Canada has always had its particular set of challenges. One of the biggest challenges has always been finding the right business financing. The market has been dominated by banks and institutions, which have very tough and strict lending criteria. Obtaining a business loan or almost any other type of business financing in Canada in pretty difficult. However, that is changing. Quickly.

Recently, Canada has seen an increase in the number of independent financing companies that specialize in business financing. Some offer business loans, but the majority have focused on offering invoice discounting (also know as invoice factoring). Although a relatively young industry, the Canadian factoring industry is growing quickly. But, what is invoice discounting?

One of the biggest problems for small and mid sized businesses is waiting up to 60 days to get invoices paid by their commercial clients. This can affect their ability to pay rent, suppliers or salaries on time. This problem is common for many businesses, such as trucking companies, staffing agencies, manufacturers, consultants and others. Invoice discounting is a financial product that eliminates slow paying invoices by financing them.

The factoring process is very simple. Once you invoice an approved client, you send a copy of the invoice to the financing company (also known as the factoring company). The factoring company advances you a significant portion of the invoice while they wait to get paid by your customer. The transaction is settled once the customer pays the invoice. The factoring company offers this service for a small fee or discount.

An invoice discounting arrangement provides you with the necessary funding to pay expenses such as rent, suppliers and employee salaries. This enables you to operate your business efficiently, without worrying about when your clients will pay. Furthermore, invoice discounting can help you win bigger clients, because it eliminates the worries of having to wait for them to pay.

As opposed to bank financing, invoice factoring is relatively easy to obtain. The biggest requirement is that you do business with established clients who pay their invoices regularly. Invoice discounting is truly a flexible product that is within easy reach of small and mid sized businesses.

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