America's SBDC Blog
A "Forbes 100 Best Websites for Entrepreneurs"

Apps Quickly Becoming an Integral Part of Small Business DNA

By Vinay Pai

man_holding_tablet_computer-2When operating a business, it’s easy to get absorbed into daily routines, and forget to take a step back and ask, “Is there a better way?” One of the biggest takeaways I can share from my startup experience is to encourage entrepreneurs to explore and discover new technologies that can improve how you operate your business.

With technology changing by the minute and its options seeming endless, business solutions may appear out of reach, too expensive or completely overwhelming to think about. There are, however, free or low-cost alternatives to help your business run efficiently. A recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine discusses how apps and the Cloud provide entrepreneurs a better way to run their small business. Entrepreneurs running their business on the cloud not only benefit from the mobility factor, but also benefit from the many options to integrate new tools that help improve business productivity, operations, and even access to credit.

Let’s take for example Theresa Lee, the founder of Future Glory. Theresa handcrafts socially conscious goods, and she relies on QuickBooks integrations with Shopify and PayPal so she can focus on design, and not numbers. She uses the Shopify for QuickBooks app, which automatically syncs all of her Shopify e-commerce data, sales transactions, and PayPal payments to QuickBooks, giving her back time to focus on creating amazing accessories. Other customers who don’t have an online store use the Sync with PayPal app to seamlessly import sales (including line items, fees and taxes), as well as customer information into QuickBooks. By using apps, Theresa manages all the day-to-day bookkeeping herself, spending less than 20 minutes a day on tasks such as invoicing and tracking vendor payments.

As the guy on the hair club commercials used to say, “I’m not just the owner, I’m also a customer.” Before my startup was acquired by Intuit in 2009, I used QuickBooks to track my team’s budget and expenses and an app from Bill.com to manage and approve purchase orders and bills. I didn’t know accounting, but I was actually managing my accounts payable workflow. Imagine that! Bill.com continues to be a popular app that helps accountants and small businesses save time paying their vendors.  (more…)

Making the Grade with Customer Reviews

Back-to-school season is almost here and with it comes $68 billion in anticipated spend from consumers (National Retail Federation). As shoppers make their buying decisions, business reviews are one of the key factors that influence their purchase. In fact, 3 out of 4 consumers say it’s important to read reviews before visiting a business (Digital Impact Report 2016).

Google-blog-customer-reviews

Small business owners looking to make a good impression should use tools like Google My Business which allow you to engage with, and manage, customer reviews. Below are a few tips for how small business owners can respond to reviews on Google:

Lesson #1: Be nice and don’t get personal
Instead of arguing with a frustrated customer, keep your responses professional and courteous.

Lesson #2: Keep it short and sweet
Customers are looking for useful and genuine responses, but they can easily be overwhelmed by a long response.

Lesson #3: Thank your reviewers
Respond to happy reviewers when you have new or relevant information to share. You don’t need to thank every reviewer publicly.

Lesson #4: Be a friend, not a salesperson
Your reviewers are already customers, so there’s no need to offer incentives or advertisements.

For more tips about running or marketing your small business, follow Google Small Business on Twitter or join the Google Small Business Community.

Why Local Marketing and Mobile Go Hand-in-Hand

Communicate your proximity
By Deborah Sweeney

Local MarketingLocal marketing has, thankfully, evolved past direct mailers and physical signage as efforts have shifted towards building an online presence. However, local marketing campaigns still woefully neglect mobile users — despite the fact that mobile use now accounts for more total online engagement than both desktops and laptops!

Twenty percent of local business surveyed by ReachLocal still lacked a mobile-ready version of their site, and only about 15 percent of businesses even planned to use mobile, in-app marketing in 2016. That’s a shame. Why?

If your local business is not targeting mobile users, you are losing out on a lot of potential customers.

People don’t shop like they did five or 10 years ago, and modern consumer behavior is served served well by local, mobile marketing for a few reasons.

Locally based mobile campaigns foster exploration

The biggest change to consumer buying habits is, easily, the emergence of exploration and research. The overall cost of exploring before purchase is a lot lower, thanks to the Internet. Today’s consumers don’t have to seek out and ask for recommendations; they just spend some time online and read reviews.  (more…)

Why Military Veterans Should Become Entrepreneurs

By Mark L. Rockefeller, CEO, StreetShares

American-flag-on-brick-backgroundI’m one of the 2.5 million veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. I’m also an entrepreneur. And I’m not alone. The men and women of today’s armed services are uniquely positioned to become successful entrepreneurs.

To my fellow veterans:

You have what it takes. By nature of your military service, you possess the skills that are required to run your own business. As a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine, you learned the importance of communication, focus, and drive to accomplish the mission at hand. You’ve encountered problems that need to be solved on the fly and you’ve done so instinctively. Recall one of the earliest reports from Operation Enduring Freedom: U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan coordinated precision airstrikes from laptops on horseback—21st Century technology met old-fashioned creativity to get the job done. That’s called entrepreneurship.

You are a leader. You’ve already acted with more poise under pressure than most people do in a lifetime. You’ve shown bravery in the most daunting situations one can face. These experiences will naturally yield positive results in a position of leadership; people around you will seek your guidance and direction, knowing they can trust your judgment. Use this to confidently build a team and lead them to success.  (more…)

Art, Utility and Passion Yield Sustainable Burlington Business

VtSuccess-AOGlassGlass Blowing Operation Utilizes
Vermont SBDC Advisor Support

Combining art, utility and passion into a viable business can be a serious challenge. Few know that better than Rich Arentzen and Tove Ohlander, owners of AO Glass LLC, a production glass studio in the heart of Burlington’s Pine Street arts district. Still, they decided to tackle that challenge “in order to take a passion and turn it into a sustainable business,” Arentzen said.

But they didn’t have to do it alone. Arentzen and Ohlander looked to Vermont Small Business Development Center Area Advisor Steve Densham “in order to blow glass while making a living,” Arentzen said. The company needed better planning skills and better focus on core business matters and “existential goals,” Arentzen said. They also sought a better understanding of accessing capital, business growth and business life cycle, he said.

The business owners and Densham worked together on these matters, and with diligence and time were able to overcome the challenges of practicing the dynamic craft of glass blowing while still providing value to AO Glass clients. Arentzen described his time working with Densham as “enjoyable, educational and inspiring.”

“I like to say that ‘all roads lead to Steve Densham,’” Arentzen said. “Steve’s entertaining and insightful mentorship has been instrumental in helping us transform our passion for our craft into a growing and sustainable business,” he said.  (more…)