SBA Shares 7 Ways To Increase Foot Traffic For Your Business

1. Start from the outside and look in

If you are in a pedestrianized area, get to know who passes by your store. Literally, sit outside or close by your window and assess the demographic of who comes and goes. Do they window shop? Have they come from another store close by first?

Next, take an objective look at your signage and window display–does it appeal to your target demographic or buyer? For example, if you run a coffee shop and most of your business is done during the hours of 8 AM to 10 AM, think of ways to optimize your merchandising and window display to attract more buyers during these times. This could be as simple as using this time to hand out coupons outside, offering bakery samples to passersby, or promoting your latest offers using sidewalk signage.

2. Host a community event with a newsworthy tie-in

One of the best ways to increase foot traffic is to host a community or charity event. A great way to do this and get noticed is to tie it to a topical event. Say, for example, your local NFL or high school team is playing a critical game. Consider teaming up with other businesses nearby to offer game-day promotions/offers or a tie-in event. Host the event as a block party or at a central location downtown (even if you have to take your business on the road for a few hours). Don’t forget to be community-oriented—consider donating a portion of your profits to charity.

Feature the event ahead of time on your website and social media. For maximum impact, don’t forget to contact local media outlets—including radio channels—and email and mail out fliers to your contact list.

3. Host a seminar or workshop

Both retail and service-based businesses can generate a good deal of foot traffic by educating their customers about how to get more out of what they are buying (even if you don’t make a sale that day). Florist shops could host a flower arranging class or realtors could host a house-staging workshop to attract potential sellers. And of course, publicize your event—in-store, online, via press releases and advertising.

4. Use location-based services to attract passersby

You don’t have to be a tech wizard to promote your small business using mobile apps that target consumers in the vicinity of your business. Groupon, Living Social, FourSquare and ThinkNear among others let you post information about your latest offers and limited-time deals to consumers within a certain distance of your business. You can also schedule deals to get delivered during key hours, for example, if you’re looking to boost foot traffic during off-peak times.

5. Engage old customers in new ways

It’s always refreshing when a store or restaurant you’ve frequented for some time starts doing something new. And thanks to the power of social media, doing something new or different and doing it well can quickly go viral.

So think about ways you can get the attention of older or existing customers. It could be as simple as offering a new type of discount (it may sound obvious, but offering something of value at a discount for a limited period of time can be attention-grabbing) or letting customers know about a new product or service you’ve added.

A straight-out sale is always a great way to bring old customers out of the woodwork. Send out an email or e-newsletter to your contact database and post it on social media. You might even host a secret sale first for a hand-selected group of customers.

If your business is service-oriented, consider offering a referral fee to existing customers who bring in new clients for you.

6. Put on your small business customer service hat

There’s a reason why consumers opt to frequent small businesses over larger chains—personal relationships. A smile, great service, product knowledge and enthusiasm will bring customers through your door and keep them coming back. So as you host new events, sales or workshops, use your small business advantage to the max!

7. Stay in touch

Staying top of mind with new and existing customers who you’ve engaged through your new efforts is not just about offering great products and services. It’s also about staying in touch.

If you host an event that brings in new customers, encourage them to sign up for your emails. A little incentive, such as a free giveaway in exchange for an email address, is always effective. Then stay in touch, set-up an e-newsletter program, send out regular updates about new product lines, company news, and events and start to engage with your customers via social media. (For tips, check out thisblog).

Getting a loan from family and friends

Borrowed from the Pittsburg Business Times

Though the economy appears to be on the uptick for 2013, the problem of where to get financing for many entrepreneurs and small business owners has not become any easier to solve.

With no collateral or a bad credit score, the little capital banks are giving to small businesses likely will not be headed your way. With no proven experience or track record of success, it is also likely your company would be a tough sell to venture capitalists.

“Unfortunately in today’s economy, in many cases, asking friends and family for money is the only way a small business startup can get funding,” said Bob Shephard, director of community partnerships at the National Entrepreneur Center (NEC).

According to the National Small Business Association, in 2011, 14 percent of business owners reported turning to friends and family for loans to cover their costs.

Shephard said while the NEC endorses borrowing from friends and family, it must be handled carefully.

“Not only is there the risk you could do something to damage your business, but there is the added danger that you could lose or damage your personal relationship,” he said.

The U.S. Small Business Association lists the average cost for starting a new business to be $30,000. According to the Kaufmann Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, approximately 534,000 new businesses were created throughout the U.S. each month in 2011.

From personal relationship to business relationship

Geno Moscetti, co-founder of LendFriend Inc., said the key to building a strong working relationship while maintaining a personal relationship is to have clear and open communication from both sides.

LendFriend, a software platform that helps to create and manage loans between friends and family, was developed after Moscetti provided a personal loan to his college friend and co-founder, Dave Kuchar.

Kuchar, who bootstrapped and funded his first startup with credit cards and his entire savings, found that no banks would give him a debt consolidation loan, just as his company was turning into a profitable lifestyle business.

Moscetti, who at the time was a management consultant for financial services firms, had available cash sitting in a savings account and saw an opportunity.

“I believed in what he was doing and had additional information than a traditional bank would use to assess risk,” he said. “I offered to lend him the money at an interest rate that was greater than I was earning with a savings account, but less than what he was paying to credit cards.”

Ray Vargo, director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence said turning to friends and family for financing can provide benefits.

“One of the ‘Five C’s of lending’ is character,” Vargo said. “Because this person already knows you and believes in your character, they can offer you a loan faster, and with more flexibility, than a bank.”

Vargo said while it may be less rigid than a traditional loan, it is critical that both parties understand that this is a business transaction and should be treated as such.

“Business owners need to follow the same process they would if they were dealing with someone other than a family member or friend,” he said.

He said to be prepared to submit a full-fledged business plan that specifically details what they money will be used for.

“Even though you are dealing with someone you know, you still need to develop a formal approach,” he said. “When money is changing hands it needs to be more than just a simple conversation, it needs to be very specific and well thought out.”

Write it out

“When it comes to your business, it needs to be more than a handshake agreement,” Shephard said.

Vargo and the other agree, everything should be in writing. Moscetti said things that should be included in the official loan agreement include standard loan items such as principal, interest rate, length of loan and any applicable collateral. Part of the plan should also include specifics on how the money will be paid back and a timeline for payments.

“You can’t worry about the details later, everything needs to be ironed out up front,” Vargo said.

Vargo said it is also important for each party know what their specific role will be. Before you accept anything, decide if you are accepting the money as a debt or as equity.

“If they can’t provide value to the business, other than the funds, it would be best to accept the money as a debt obligations,” Vargo said.

Shephard said if the money is to be taken as equity in the company, it may be beneficial to seek professional legal advice to work out all of the details.

Sometimes being a good friend leads to bad business

When being approached for a loan, it is also important to remember that having an open heart doesn’t necessarily mean having an open wallet.

“The lender needs to separate themselves from the emotion of the relationship,” Vargo said.

He said it is important to act as your own analyst and pretend the business is being pitched to you by a stranger.

“Ask yourself, ‘If I didn’t know this person would I still think this is a good idea?’” he said. “You need to get excited about the business itself, rather than just the personality behind it.”

Vargo said it is important to lay out all of the pros and cons for both parties and make sure everyone is comfortable with the arrangement before any money changes hands.

“It’s best to take your time and really think everything through,” he said. “If something goes wrong it can go on to impact the relationship for the rest of your life.”

Links:

The U.S. Small Business Association: http://www.sba.gov SCORE: http://www.score.org Entrepreneurship.org: http://www.entrepreneurship.org Kaufmann Foundation: http://www.kauffman.org LendFriend: https://lendfriend.com

Getting Employees to Act on your Brand promise

Sometimes, employees get mixed messages about how they’re expected to behave toward customers. For example, a resort that heavily promotes itself as family-friendly charges guests $3.00 for drink refills. So when a three-year-old spills his lemonade, the waiter has a choice: Break the brand promise to be family-friendly — or break the rule about charging for refills.

Every product and facility detail — and every employee act — must exemplify the brand promise.

Problems like these arise when there’s a disconnect between a company’s brand promise — what it says it stands for — and its service behaviors — what employees actually do. Gallup has found that employees across a range of industries probably aren’t prepared to embody or “behave” the brand promise.

About four in 10 (41%) workers, for example, strongly agree with the statement “I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from our competitors.” And only about half of all employees know what’s expected of them at work. This should worry business leaders because a well-defined brand promise gives customers a unique, compelling reason to use the brand; differentiates the business from its competitors; steers marketing efforts; is a major component of creating a service culture; and defines the company’s services, products, and processes.

If a rule prevents employees from embodying the brand promise or if employees don’t know how to behave to deliver on it, the company breaks its brand promise. The consequences should motivate leaders to clearly articulate their brand promise, teach it to their staff, and show them how to behave it.

Teach and reinforce brand behaviors

“Behaving the brand” means the company will do whatever it takes to deliver on its brand promise. Every product and facility detail — and every employee act — must exemplify that promise, whether it’s quality, fast service, customer care, or low prices. Employees must execute brand and service behaviors consistently, and frequent reminders help employees understand and internalize these behaviors.

For instance, The Ritz-Carlton’s brand promise is: “The Ritz-Carlton is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission. We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience. The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”

To translate that promise into meaningful actions, The Ritz-Carlton doesn’t make employees guess what to do. Instead, it tells them in its 12 Service Values, which include statements like these:

I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life.
I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.
I own and immediately resolve guest problems.
I am involved in the planning of the work that affects me.
These Service Values are printed on cards, and every day, employees in locations worldwide discuss one of them at a team meeting. The team members talk about the Service Value, offer examples of how they have seen it behaved or have behaved it themselves, and strategize ways to operationalize the behavior even more. When the 12th Service Value is discussed, they go back to the first one. That way, everything The Ritz-Carlton stands for is thoroughly discussed and promoted.

“We know that in order for our employees to deliver service excellence, they must understand their purpose within the organization,” says Janet Crutchfield Souter, Ritz-Carlton senior director of quality. “Our Service Values communicate the expected outcomes to our Ladies and Gentlemen [Ritz-Carlton employees], while allowing them to rely on their training and expertise to determine the best approach to reach the outcome. Our employees are the brand.”

Maricopa SBDC Small Business Academy

Creating Small Business Economic Impact through Global Partnerships

What does a tutoring service, a consulting firm and a software company all have in common? These thriving locally-owned businesses are all run by graduates of the SBDC Academy (formerly known as HP Life). Due to the overwhelming demand the SBDC Academy has expanded with more than 40 sessions offered in three locations across the valley.

Last year more than 500 business owners attended the SBDC Academy workshops. More than 40 new businesses were launched and existing business added more than 53 new jobs; with some firms doubling their revenues.

The Maricopa Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is part of a global partnership with HP to enable entrepreneurs grow their businesses while creating a stronger local economy. Additionally, the SBDC has partnered with Google and local organizations including the Chandler Chamber of Commerce.

With so many options for training and development, what makes the SBDC Academy successful? SBDC Academy graduate and Chandler business owner Laura Petersen believes the success of the program is simple. “The new SBDC Academy is a great set of courses to help businesses and people with ideas take it them to the marketplace and be successful. I have an entire notebook filled with new tips and tricks that I cannot wait to implement! I feel lucky to have stumbled upon these terrific (and FREE!) classes.”

Kristin Slice, business analyst and program coordinator for the SBDC Academy, believes the reason for success is the business owners themselves. “Business owners learn from each other in an open environment with a flexible format designed specifically for business owners. We expanded a globally tested curriculum and incorporated feedback from hundreds Arizona business owners.”

The next series of workshops starts in February in Surprise, Chandler and Phoenix. Visit http://www.maricopa-sbdc.com to register. The SBDC Academy is free but space is limited.

“We are committed to being the go-to resource for small business. Not just putting together resources we think they want. We use technology to create a community of on-going empowerment and connection between small business owners. We have taken the time to evolve the program. We are proud of what our graduates have done and we are excited to see what the future holds,” says Slice.

If you are a member of the media and would like more information on the SBDC Academy please contact,  Mark Engle                                                                                            Email: mark.engle@domail.maricopa.ed, (480) 784-0590

Small Business Owners attending our great hands on workshops.

Small Business Owners attending our great hands on workshops.

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Get some good training in 2013!

The Maricopa SBDC is pleased to wish you all a Happy New Year! We have enjoyed a great 2012, and stand ready to help your small business even more in 2013!

Why not make a new years resolution to get more training? We have our Spring schedule of trainings published and online for signups and registration. For example….

-HP Life program, now called “SBDC Academy” has been rewritten and will be offered in three Valley locations for Spring – Tuesdays in Chandler, Wednesdays in Surprise, and Thursdays in Phoenix. From 4-6 p.m. each day, the classes feature topics such as Marketing Plan Strategy, Marketing Plan Tactics, Financial Plan, Sales, Productivity Tools, Social Media, Email Marketing, Effective Websites, Blogging, SEO and others. These are still offered free, courtesy of Maricopa Community Colleges, our strategic partners such as Chandler Chamber of Commerce, Gateway Community College, City of Surprise AZ Techcelerator, and from a donation from the Hewlett-Packard Foundation. Enrollments are limited so sign up now.

-Brown Bag Workshops will continue for 2013, on Wednesdays from 11:30 to 1:00 p.m. in the following locations Valley wide: Avondale, Glendale, Mesa, Paradise Valley, Phoenix, Queen Creek, Scottsdale, South Mountain and Surprise. We have some exciting topics planned, including Credit Reporting, Financial Management, The Truth About Credit Card Processing, SBA Loans, Recordkeeping, How to Clone Your Ideal Client, Building a Powerful Brand, QuickBooks, Insurance, and many others. Sign up online and remember to bring your sack lunch or favorite deli sandwich (sharing is optional)!

-Technology Programs – we continue to offer quality programs through our association with the Statewide Small Business Incubator Association. Topics coming in Spring include Coffee & Connections – Building a Strong Brand, Investor Pitch program: You Only Get One Chance To Make A Good First Impression, SBIR Proposal Writing Workshop, Patent Clinic, and more!

For all our training for Spring you can find the schedule and links for online signups at our website http://www.maricopa-sbdc.com and go to Workshops & Seminars link.

And have a prosperous 2013 for yourselves, family and small business success!

-Mark Engle, Director

2012 in review on WordPress

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The end of the year is fast approaching, but there’s still time to take advantage of a variety of business tax credits and deductions – some of which are new for 2012.

Here are just a few to consider, plus some best practices for maximizing your claims.

Take Advantage of 2012 “Section 179” Deduction Limits

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Section 179 of the tax code provides tax benefits for equipment purchases made before the end of the year. Typically when you purchase an item for your business, you can claim a tax deduction for it. But fixed assets are not counted in the year of purchase. Instead, they must be depreciated over a number of years. Section 179, however, allows you to fully deduct the cost of assets such as computers, furniture, certain business software, vehicles, manufacturing equipment and more in the year of purchase – up to a certain amount.

Section 179 deduction limits change each year. Here’s what’s new for 2012:

For 2012, the limit for any individual piece of equipment is now $139,000, as long as total purchases in either year do not exceed $560,000. This means that if you buy or finance a piece of new or used equipment, you can deduct the full purchase price (up to $139,000) from your gross income.
For expenditures above $560,000, the amount you can deduct is reduced by a dollar for each dollar over.
A “Bonus Depreciation” provision allows you to deduct 50 percent of the cost of certain property after you’ve taken the Section 179 deduction and in addition to the standard depreciation deduction.
Review your inventory and equipment. If you find you need to replace obsolete or aging assets, this may be the time to do so. Be sure to talk to your tax advisor or accountant for more specifics on qualifying purchases and read more from the IRS about deducting business expenses. To deploy this deduction, the equipment being purchased must be in place on or before December 31, 2012.

Get a Tax Credit for Hiring a Veteran before December 31, 2012

Late last year, President Obama signed into law specific tax credits for employers who hire unemployed veterans before December 31, 2012.

Under the Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, employers who hire a veteran who has been unemployed for at least four weeks can claim a credit for 40 percent of the first $6,000 in wages (up to $2,400). If you hire a veteran who’s been unemployed for at least six months, the credit goes up to 40 percent of the first $14,000 of wages (up to $5,600).

If you plan to hire new employees before the end of the year, check out this employer-friendly plain English guide for more information on the skills veterans can bring to your company, and how to apply for the tax credit.

Start a Business in 2012? Keep Good Records to Claim Start-Up Deductions

If you started a new business in 2012 you probably incurred costs before you even opened your doors. Unfortunately, non-operational businesses can’t deduct business expenses. Instead, you must wait until you are operational and generating income. Only then can you deduct a portion of qualifying start-up costs – up to $5,000 in the year the business was launched. Any amount over and above that must be amortized over a period of 18 months.

If you started a business this year, or are planning to open your doors in 2013, make sure you keep good records of your start-up costs so you can leverage the deduction on your 2012 tax return. Read more about How to Write Off the Expense of Starting Your Business.

Log and Capture Business Travel Costs

There are numerous deductions you can claim over and above the current $0.55 per mile business mileage deduction. For example, the cost of laundering clothes on a business trip is also deductible! For tips on what constitutes a business travel or entertainment expense while on the road, read How to Deduct Business Travel Expenses.

Other expenses to record include advertising/marketing costs, educational expenses, banking fees and health insurance premiums.

Set Up or Grow your Retirement Plan

One of the best tax write-offs for the self-employed is to set up a retirement plan or, if you already have done so, contribute pre-tax money to reduce your 2012 taxable income. This year, self-employed individuals can contribute $17,000 as a 401(k) deferral, plus 25 percent of net income. Check with your plan administrator for limits and deadlines for different types of plans.

Contribute to Charity

With the holiday season upon us, now is a good time to consider making a business charitable contribution and benefit from the tax deduction. This blog explains more about what you can and can’t claim.Tax

International Speaker and Inventor of the Marshmallow Challenge to Deliver Keynote at TechEDge2012

Chandler, AZ— Keynote speaker Tom Wujec will explain how companies can Foster Innovation in Turbulent Times at the TechEDge2012 Conference 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7 at the Chandler City Council Chambers, 88 E. Chicago St.

Tom Wujec speaks internationally on innovation: why it matters, why it is a vital engine of economic growth (especially today), and how to foster it. Wujec works with Fortune 100 companies to create innovation practices at all stages, from strategic planning to design and implementation. As a Fellow at Autodesk—the Oscar-winning industry leader in 3D computer animation technology, and one of the world’s largest software companies—Wujec has worked with a diverse range of clients, from the largest automotive and consumer product manufacturers to the visual effects and gaming companies establishing billion dollar industries.

Wujec is known for developing the Marshmallow Challenge design experiment that reveals surprising lessons about teamwork, collaboration, and project management. The challenge sounds simple enough: teams try to build the tallest freestanding structure they can out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, 1 yard of tape, 1 yard of string and a marshmallow. What makes it difficult, though, is the need for teams to organize, prototype and finally build the structure in the short time frame. See Wujec’s TED Talk and information about the Marshmallow Challenge at http://www.marshmallowchallenge.com.

TechEDge2012 is designed to equip technology entrepreneurs and emerging growth companies with the practical tools and innovative resources they need to succeed. It will feature real life stories from business owners, partnered with practical tips from experts on topics including: Incubator Advantages, How to Win SBIR Awards & Commercialization through Strategic Partnerships, Crowdfunding and the JOBS Act, IP/Patents, a Resource Pitch and Interactive Lightening Round.

TechEDge2012 is supported by Title Sponsor, Fennemore Craig, Arizona SBDC Network, and ASU. It is hosted by the City of Chandler’s Innovations Incubator in partnership with the Arizona Business Incubation Association (AZBIA).

Cost for the full-day event is $50, with fees waived for students and incubator clients. For detailed information and to register visit http://www.chandleraz.gov/ed.

Global Entrepreneurship Week is Nov. 12-18

This has become a big event in the world of entrepreneurship, and the Maricopa SBDC is celebrating by putting on a program called “Going Global with Google”. Part of our commitment to the HP-Life Program, where we provide valuable computer and business skills to small businesses, is to honor the movement. The Google program will be held on Thursday, Nov. 15th from 11:30 to 1:30 at the downtown Phoenix HP-Life Center, 2400 N. Central, Suite 102 (South of Thomas, right behind International House of Pancakes). Our HP-Life staff will be on hand to present the Google Online program, and how you can take your small business global by using online tools and getting involved.

The 10 Scariest Things to a Small Business

Halloween may be a spooky time of year, but running a small business can produce many scary moments all throughout the year. Here are the top ten scariest times for any business owner:

1. Your first day. Your first day of being in your own business full-time is filled with excitement and fear. You may ask yourself, “What have I really done? Did I make a mistake?” What helps: Visualize this moment in your mind before it becomes a reality. Ask yourself how you feel about it and discover the range of emotions that come up. When those questions enter your mind on your first day, you will have worked out some of the answers.

2. The Cash Crunch. Your bookkeeper says you are out of cash and can’t meet payroll or other financial obligations. What helps: Learn how to read your monthly financial statements especially the cash flow statement so there are no surprises.

3. The Desertion. When your best employee hands in her two-week notice, your first reaction will always be one of disbelief and then, “How will it hurt my business?” What helps: Ensure you have non-compete agreements with all employees and frequently review their career path inside the company in order to limit surprises.

4. The Betrayal. You discover your bookkeeper is stealing from the company. What the #!@#$&? What helps: After you call the police, set up a system of checks and balances to make this harder to ever happen again. For example, have one person create vendors and another write checks to them. Have a third person balance the checkbook. By separating responsibilities, you make it more difficult for a person to embezzle from the business.

5. The Credit Crunch. Without warning, the bank cuts off your line of credit, or reduces it to the amount that is outstanding on your loan. What helps: Understand cash flow so you do not pay back your loan too soon. Only rely on the cash in the bank, not the credit available on your line to run your business.

6. The Lawsuit. It is always shocking when you receive a piece of mail informing you that a former employee or vendor is taking you to court. What helps: Have good contracts for employees and vendors that are pre-approved by legal counsel. Avoid long legal battles and settle reasonable claims when possible. They can become a huge distraction.

7. The Audit. It’s almost never good news when the IRS contacts you and you can expect that it will cost your business money. What helps: Use professional CPAs to review your statements and taxes. Get them involved immediately when the IRS or other governmental agencies come calling.

8. The Breakup. When your No. 1 customer leaves you, there’s nothing to do but to pick yourself up off the floor. What helps: Never be dependent on one large customer for a majority of your business. Know which customers make up 80 percent of your business and grow to spread the company risk accordingly.

9. The Price War. When your biggest competitor decides to cut its price to half of what you charge, you’ll first wonder how they can make money at that price. You will next wonder if anyone will continue to buy from you. What helps: Never be in a position where your company competes on price. Customers buy value. Build it within your products’ sales proposition.

10. The Data Disaster. When you lose all of your businesses electronics records to a virus, a system failure or a hardware problem, firing your IT manager might make you feel a little better, but it won’t solve the problem. What helps: Run a drill for this scenario to ensure your company can recoup from the outage. Don’t just assume there is a backup. Instead, test restarting your system from the backup files to make sure everything will run smoothly.

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