Top Ten Tips for Business Start-Ups

Top Ten Tips for Business Start-Ups
Top Ten Tips for Business Start-Ups

The days of retiring from a company after 40 years with a pension and a gold watch are dead and buried. Today’s worker will likely spend his career with several different companies in pursuit of upward mobility. More significant, though, is the number of people who choose to strike out on their own.

Entrepreneurship in this country has never been stronger. More than 11.5 million Americans are currently working for themselves with more than 500,000 companies being launched each month. While this independence has long been considered a major component of the American dream, it’s possible that the economic uncertainty of the last few years has resulted in more people choosing their own employment, either out of choice or necessity.

Are you one of these adventurous spirits who has taken the plunge? Perhaps you’re in the process of weighing your options or looking to move to the next level. Whether you venture into manufacturing, technology or service, there are basic elements that all businesses have in common. Running a start-up is difficult enough, so manage some of the stress by learning from those who have traveled this road before you.

Here are 10 commandments, if you will, for business start-ups. Take these tips and apply them to your situation and blaze your own trail.

1. Do what you love. There’s a good reason this simple but powerful concept is first on the list. If your business isn’t personally meaningful to you, your focus will wane no matter how lucrative it might be. We’ve all heard the stories of people giving up six-figure incomes to teach or do volunteer work. Be sure you’re sacrificing your time and energy for something you enjoy.

2. Cultivate a network of other entrepreneurs. Water seeks its own level. If you associate with people who are skeptical and negative, eventually you will be too. There are numerous professional organizations you can join, both industry-specific and general. You’ll find that veteran business owners are supportive of newcomers and generous with their wisdom.

3. Allow your employees to let their lights shine. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Encourage your employees to contribute based on their unique talents rather than forcing them into a slot. For instance, successful salespeople are often put into management where they end up languishing. Not every skill set translates to every position. People will be happier and more productive when they enjoy what they’re doing.

4. Be honest about your weaknesses. A successful businessperson will freely admit he doesn’t have all the answers. What sets him above the unsuccessful ones is the savvy to hire people who fill in the blanks. You won’t get anywhere by bringing in clones of yourself. Put your ego aside and focus on what’s best for your business.

5. Get everything in writing. While this is vitally important for the legal nuts-and-bolts of your company’s structure, it should apply to everything from employment agreements to meeting notes. You don’t want the operation of your start-up to rise or fall on one person’s faulty memory, especially your own.

6. Take on a partner only when it’s absolutely necessary. In the first blush of excitement during a start-up, it may seem like a great idea to bring in your friends and family. But when the cold light of reality sets in, you’ll realize how counterproductive this is. You’re running a business, not a social club. Leave emotions out of decision-making.

7. Don’t neglect your health. Yes, there’s no getting around the fact that there are going to be plenty of long hours and fast-food involved, especially in the beginning. But you won’t do yourself any favors by getting so run-down that you can’t function. If you can’t get to a gym, you can certainly squeeze in a 15 to 20 minute walk. Keep a mini-fridge on hand to stock with fruits, veggies and other healthy foods. Limit the coffee and drink water instead.

8. Follow a schedule. While freedom is part of the appeal of running your own business, that doesn’t mean you can abandon professional habits. Set regular working hours and plan an agenda for each day.

9. Know where your money is going. It’s fine to hire an expert to handle the finances, but that doesn’t mean you wash your hands of that aspect. Losing track of your funds is a sure route to losing control of your business.

10. Keep your moral compass pointed in the right direction. Stories of people who have sacrificed their souls in pursuit of cash are the stuff of legends, or at least big-budget movies. If you cut corners and compromise your morals, you’ll never truly enjoy your success. Make sure you’re able to sleep soundly when your head hits the pillow.

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Top Ten Questions a Startup Should Ask an Accountant

Top Ten Questions a Startup Should Ask an Accountant
Top Ten Questions a Startup Should Ask an Accountant

When you’re starting up a new company, the temptation is to wear all the hats. After all, it’s your baby and no one understands it like you do. Of course, there’s also the matter of that pesky budget. It stretches a lot further when you’re employing a staff of one.

Of course, the reality is that you can’t do everything yourself. And speaking of budgets, the one area where you truly need some help is your finances. It would be so much simpler if business accounting was just a matter of addition and subtraction. But it’s a complex minefield that takes experience to navigate.

It’s too important of a position to leave to chance. In other words, don’t Google “accountant” and select the first one that pops up. Shop around for a financial expert just like you would for inventory, supplies and equipment. He’ll be working for you, so he should meet the qualifications that you’re looking for.

You don’t have to meet with a prospective accountant in person, but don’t rely on email. If you can’t meet, use Skype or the telephone. Hearing an actual voice helps you get a better sense of a person. Is he confident and well-spoken? Does he hem and haw while searching for answers? This could be the first step in an ongoing relationship, so start it on the right foot.

Be sure you do your homework before your meeting. Here is a checklist of questions that will provide much of the information you’ll need to make an assessment.

  • How long have you been in business? A fledgling firm may not yet be experienced enough to handle your concerns. On the other hand, an accountant who’s been in business for many years may be on the verge of retirement. Find out what the plans of succession are so you’re not left hanging.
  • Will I be assigned to one person? Some accounting firms operate on a call center basis, with associates taking calls on a rotating basis. If your account is specifically assigned to an accountant, the two of you will be able to develop a relationship and he’ll get to know your particular business much better.
  • What services do you offer? There are several subcategories under the heading of finance. Are you looking for tax preparation help? Do you want someone to handle budgeting and cash flow management or strategic planning?
  • How often will we be in contact, and by what means? You want to be on the same page with this issue. If you want to be able to consult on a weekly basis, you don’t want to find out afterwards that he’s available only once a month. Just as with your initial meeting, you should also be able to have personal contact, at least for the major meetings.
  • Are you available year-round? Some accounting firms are open only during tax season when demand for their services is at its peak. However, as a new business you’ll need advice during the rest of the year as well.
  • What types of businesses do you work with? Restaurants have a different financial agenda than contractors, who in turn are different from graphic artists. It helps to find an accountant who’s familiar with the type of business you’ll be operating.
  • How do you bill for your services, and what’s included in your fee? Some accountants bill by the hour while others charge a flat rate. You might want to consider the former if you’ll be handling most of your finances in-house and consulting only on major issues. Find out exactly what’s covered in the rates so you don’t end up getting nickel-and-dimed on services that turn out to be an extra charge.
  • Do you follow a conservative or aggressive approach? Nearly all financial matters come with risk, and business finances are no exception. For example, some accountants will beat the bushes to write off every possible penny. Others are reluctant to put a client in a position of possibly being red-flagged for an audit. Determine where you fall on this continuum so you find an accountant whose views are compatible with yours.
  • How will I be informed of relevant changes in my industry? A good accountant should keep you abreast of current news and events pertinent to your business, particularly changes in tax regulations.
  • What type of accounting software do you use? If it’s not the same as yours, ask how information and data will be exchanged.

This list can be supplemented or modified based on the needs of your specific business. Overall, it gives you a solid platform to find an accountant who will work as hard for your company as you do.

At Medallion Fulfillment and Logistics we make it easy for startups and new businesses to grow with thoughtful services and flexible order fulfillment options. Call us today to get a free price quote so you can focus on growing your business and leave the shipping to us.

How to Use Facebook to Build Your Customer Base

How to Use Facebook to Build Your Customer Base
How to Use Facebook to Build Your Customer Base

A 30-second Super Bowl commercial cost $3 million; not exactly chump change. Granted, that 30-second ad had the potential to reach an expected 110 million viewers worldwide; but what is interesting is that, this year, Super Bowl advertisers were not as focused on the immediate marketing impact of their ads as they were on using them as teasers to draw viewers into interactive Facebook and Twitter conversations.

The power of social media to connect with consumers, drive brand recognition and build customer base is changing the way businesses connect with consumers. Social media marketing capitalizes on the same type of good will and loyalty that people afford their friends to convert casual site visitors into product consumers. Using special promotions, contests, surveys, games, videos, polls and wall dialogs on their Facebook page, businesses develop a friendly, accessible, interactive relationship with potential customers. In effect, Facebook humanizes your business, transforming it from a faceless, corporate “it” into “one of the guys,” someone consumers can trust and count on and want to do business with.

As casual as this business-consumer relationship may seem, it is important to differentiate between a personal Facebook page and a business Facebook page, also called a fan page. Your business fan page should focus exclusively on your products and brand. Because Facebook requires accounts to be tied to a personal email, it’s smart to open a separate email account for this purpose to keep your business and personal lives separate. Access settings on your Facebook business page should also be adjusted to prevent access to any personal information.

The Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” promotion is an excellent example of how interactive Facebook promotions build brand recognition and excitement. Doritos was a fading brand in 2007 when it first invited consumers to create their own Doritos commercials, then allowed Facebook fans to vote for their favorites, and aired the top vote-getter during the Super Bowl. Since then, the annual promotion has drawn thousands of entries (5,000 this year), driven hundreds of thousands of fans to Doritos’ Facebook fan page, generated months of positive brand buzz, and made Doritos the best-selling tortilla chip in the U.S.

Savvy business owners know that to sell a product you have to take your pitch to the consumer. Today, that means social media, and Facebook is where the action is. Facebook boasts 500 million active users, 50% of whom log onto Facebook daily. The average American Facebook user spends about 15 minutes a day on Facebook, more than double the amount of time spent on all other web programs. Advertising your product where it can get that kind of attention at zero cost –Facebook is free — is a marketing asset you can’t afford to ignore. The real beauty of social media marketing, however, is that each consumer contact has the potential to explode exponentially as fans share “liked” sites with their friends. According to Facebook, the average Facebook user has 130 friends. If just one visitor to your Facebook page shares a link to your site with his friends, traffic to your site can mushroom quickly.

You don’t have to be a corporate behemoth to put social media to work for your business. Facebook is ideal for small business owners. It’s free, business pages are easy to set up and there are hundreds of optional applications available to handle Facebook’s more sophisticated features. Social media has the power to take your business to a whole new level and it won’t cost you a cent. If your business isn’t on Facebook yet, what are you waiting for?

Ten Mistakes That Can Kill Your Startup and Business

What to Know About QR Codes

It’s often said that the devil is in the details. Those are wise words to keep in mind when running your startup or business. Yes, it’s your responsibility to be far-sighted and make decisions based on the big picture. But many companies have stumbled in the long run due to neglect of an issue that looks frustratingly simple in hindsight.

Don’t let your business become one of these needless casualties. Take advantage of the wisdom of those who have gone before you. Use these tips as a checklist to keep you on track with those tasks that can easily be overlooked.

1. When starting your business, give careful thought to the systems and processes you’ll need and implement them right away. This might seem like something that can be done later on. It’s not. Once your company is up and running, you and your employees will have already established certain routines. It’s difficult at best and impossible at worst to try and shoehorn those behaviors into a new framework.

2. All the preparation in the world means nothing without execution and follow-up. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that “research” is actual work. While it’s important to make informed decisions, it’s easy to procrastinate under the guise of gaining education. Make sure you turn that knowledge into action.

3. Be in the business of providing solutions. Your product or service may have all kinds of shiny bling, but for your potential customers it comes down to only one question: what’s in it for me? They don’t want to hear how big or fast or inexpensive it is. What they want to know is what problem it will solve for them.

4. Don’t be so arrogant as to think that paying a bill means you can treat your suppliers like an afterthought. Make every effort to cultivate an honest partnership with suppliers. There will absolutely come a time when one of them can bail you out of a sticky situation.

5. Social media is no longer a fad. It’s here to stay, and it’s just as competitive as every other aspect of the business landscape. Treat your website, Facebook, Twitter and other sites as major parts of your marketing program. Prominent placement of social share buttons makes it easy for customers to pass along your content, especially when you make it worth their effort with engaging material.

6. Entrepreneurs often make the mistake of thinking they can run the whole show themselves. Put your ego aside long enough to recognize your own limitations. The most successful business owners are the ones who hire people with talent and skill to make each area of the company as strong as possible.

7. Take a lesson from the squirrel gathering acorns in preparation for a long, cold winter. Marketing sometimes takes a back seat when business is booming. When sales hit a lull, as they inevitably will, the company hits the wall with no prospects in the pipeline. Your marketing strategy should be aimed at building ongoing relationships to sustain a consistent pool of regular and potential customers. This is another reason to integrate social media into your efforts.

8. Let your company’s size work in its favor. People have grown weary of the impersonal experience provided by large corporations. Instead of trying to make your company seem bigger, emphasize its flexibility, effective customer service and other advantages offered by a small business.

9. While sales and profits are vital, cash flow is the true lifeblood of your business. If you don’t know how to read a cash flow statement, learn now. Lack of available cash is one of the biggest icebergs that sink small companies, so be sure you’re equipped to know where yours is going.

10. Business owners and executives tend to boast about being a workaholic as though it was a positive trait. Stress and burnout will cost your company financially just as surely as they affect you personally. Time for yourself should be planned into your list of priorities. Even a long weekend away can pay significant dividends in renewing your focus and energy.

Running a successful business takes more than a little money and a lot of good intentions. These tips can serve as your map, steering you away from the dead ends and keeping you moving in the right direction.

When you need to kick your business up a notch and you are ready to let go of running a warehouse out of your garage and are tired of taking packages to UPS, Medallion Fulfillment and Logistics is here to help with cost efficient, headache-free pack and ship solutions. Call us at (818) 998-836 to get a free price quote today.

Tips on How to Get the Most Out of Your Next Trade Show

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There’s nothing like a trade show to get a new perspective on your industry and your customers. And while nobody will claim that getting successful results is a breeze, you can take advantage of some proven trade show tips to ease the way toward a better experience for everyone involved.

Grab Attention — Now!

Think about the environment of the trade show floor: booths all over, music and crowd noises, people walking by. This means you have maybe five seconds, tops, to grab the attention of passersby.

Your booth’s messaging; graphics and overall design will contribute to the success of your trade show.

  • Keep the in-booth text to a minimum — about 90 percent of written material will never get read anyway.
  • Promote one benefit statement, and make it a game-changer; something your competitors couldn’t claim. If you can keep the message under seven words, even better.
  • Use supplemental signage only to advertise here-and-now events and offers: a schedule of presentations, a grand prize drawing, an invitation to a luncheon or workshop, or an appearance by a notable figure in your industry. Save the overall sales pitches for your follow-up contact.
  • If you have the space, rent some comfy chairs to scatter around your display. At best, you’ll get a captive audience to see your booth; at worst, you’ll have the gratitude of attendees weary of schlepping.

People Love Free Stuff

No two ways about it. Something as simple as a candy dish at your booth or table will get the instant-gratification crowd stopping in, but the more you up the ante, the more traffic you can expect. Folks in the trade show business refer to promotional items as “trinkets and trash,” and some people merely call them “tchotchkes,” but the outcome is the same. Giving away stuff gets attention.

Popular tchotchkes include affordable standbys like pens, tote bags (stuffed with your sales literature) and lanyards. If you have something significant to promote — a new product or even your company’s logo — consider branded hats, T-shirts and lightweight drink containers.

The better the item, the more you should expect in return. Create a lead-generating contact form in print or online for attendees to complete, or save the giveaways until after an in-booth presentation.

Consider the Needs or Interests of Your Crowd

  • Are you exhibiting in Orlando in August? Give a battery-powered handheld fan.
  • Does your trade show play to a family audience? Give kid-friendly items that parents will want to take home.
  • Are you in among a “green” audience? Emphasize that your freebies are made from recycled materials.

Then there’s the heavy artillery: grand-prize items like an iPad or an AmEx gift certificate. A drawing at the trade show for a high-value prize can net you tons of leads, which you can follow up on later. Remember, though: By law, prize drawings must be random and “no purchase necessary” to enter and win; a purchase must not increase chances of winning.

Hit the Floor

Ideally your booth is manned by at least two, and preferably more, representatives. During the day, get someone out on the floor. This serves two purposes:

  1. Your rep can strike up impromptu conversation with attendees, and maybe give away some tchotchkes in the process;
  2. Your rep can get details on what your competitors are doing at their booth

Be a Business Guru

For you and your reps still at the booth, engaging visitors begins with a warm greeting. To that end, never ignore people standing by, even if you’re busy with other visitors. A quick smile and an “I’ll be right with you” can mitigate the risk of walk-offs.

Having made an acquaintance, follow your visitor’s line of dialog in conversation. Perhaps he’s interested in a product on display — let him get a hands-on demo if possible. But not all visitors are interested in the sale. You may have to earn the right to make a sales speech, so start your conversation at a higher level, talking about your industry and the customer’s needs.

Find Out Where the “Pain” is for the Visitor

  • What’s been their biggest challenge?
  • What would they like to achieve?

Once you have a handle on the visitor’s issues, then you can recommend a solution. If the potential customer is still hesitant, offer to follow up later.