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Helping Small Businesses Make the Best Financing Choices

By the Opportunity Finance Network

come-in-we-are-openSmall business owners pour their hearts and most of their resources into starting, growing and sustaining their businesses. Access to responsible capital is critical to grow and expand a business, which in turn is critical for financial security and creating jobs in the community.

Getting a small business loan has often been particularly hard for women and minority business owners. Women-owned businesses only get 4.4 percent of the dollar amount of all conventional small business loans. More than a third of minority business owners are worried they will not access the capital they need to maintain business operations. Furthermore, minority entrepreneurs are disproportionately denied credit when they apply for it, regardless of credit scores, income, or profits. The financial crisis that shook the entire national economy was damaging for small businesses in general, but especially small businesses owned by people of color, as large banks cut back on lending to small businesses.

In the wake of the recession, a plethora of online lenders have been promising small business owners “quick and easy” cash, without disclosing the hidden fees, high interest rates, and prepayment penalties. These tactics are harmful at the least, and can even drive some to go out of business. According to a recent survey by seven regional Federal Reserve banks, 20 percent of small businesses applying for financing in the past year went to an online lender. Though 75 percent of these businesses received at least some financing from these online lenders, only 15 percent reported being satisfied with their loans. This rise in unregulated, online alternative lenders provides an unprecedented but confusing variety of financing options, many of them designed more to help a lender’s bottom line than to help a small business succeed.  (more…)

How to Create Customer Relationships that Count

By Karen Peacock
group-of-customersSVP and Small Business Segment Leader at Intuit

Connecting with customers is a crucial part of success for any small business—but simply making a connection isn’t enough. You have to make sure you make the right connection, and then use it to drive innovation that keeps your customers coming back.

Small business owners often experience their biggest ah-ha moments during one-on-one interactions with their customers. Spending time with customers and prospects, learning what matters to them, and then testing your hypotheses can create a continuous feedback circle that both delights customers and powers your business forward.

5 Ways to Connect with Customers

You can make those customer connections and gain insights in a variety of ways. Here are a few of my favorites—from making one-on-one interactions really work to ways that you can use tech tools and data to help you keep your business thriving and innovating.

Hands-On Customer Testing

Don’t just ask customers what they like about your product or service; put something in front of them and watch what they do.  (more…)

Getting the Most From Your Accountant Means More Than Just Doing Your Taxes

accountantBy Karen Peacock
SVP and Small Business Segment Leader at Intuit

Great accountants don’t just take care of tax-prep and compliance issues. Numbers really do tell a story and today’s entrepreneurs are turning to qualified small business accountants to help drive success and business.

With the right accountant as a thought partner, you can get insights that deliver benefits to your business by analyzing company data and providing strategic advice in support of a wide range of business decisions. How? The major technology engines of the era — cloud computing, social, mobile and big data — are fueling a wave of consulting-based and advisory accounting services.

Sound too fancy for your small business? It isn’t. As the world becomes more connected, more data becomes available and accountants can access more through the cloud — the power of what that can do for you as a business owner will only continue to grow.

Tech-savvy Gen Y and Gen X business owners increasingly expect to interact with their accounting professionals the same way they run their businesses — from the smartphone in their pockets. And they expect fast responses to their requests. The good news is that accountants no longer have to spend most of their time doing manual data entry. As a result, they can instead focus on business strategy, value-add consulting and services.

Following are just some of the ways accountants can help you understand what drives profit for your business, and help put you at the wheel to make essential changes.  (more…)

Hinesburg Farmers Tap Organic Business Growth Tactics

Success Story: Vermont

Bookkeeping Assistance Key to Business Health

vermont-redwagonplantsOver the course of its twenty-year existence, the growers at Red Wagon Plants in Hinesburg have become experts at producing high quality organic plants and vegetables. But as their business evolved, owners knew they needed to focus on more than just agriculture to ensure they could also experience healthy business growth.

“Our business is special because it has grown organically over twenty years,” said Red Wagon Plants owner Julie Rubaud. “We believe in what we do and are known for our high quality standards,” she said, adding that she started the plant business “as a way to augment the income of the vegetable farm in 1996. Since then, the plants eclipsed the vegetables.”

As the plant portion of the business became more integral to the farm’s success, Rubaud came to realize that monitoring budgets, expenses and other overall bookkeeping tasks were proving increasingly important, as well as challenging. The farm, which grows and sells plants at both retail and production locations in Hinesburg, also works with wholesale partners throughout the state.

Rubaud knew she needed help determining which aspects of the business were most successful and why, so she sought the assistance of Vermont Small Business Development Area Advisor and Agricultural Specialist Steve Paddock. The two quickly went to work making sense of the sometimes complicated budgeting and bookkeeping at the farm.  (more…)