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    Evolution of an Entrepreneur (infographic)

    Stick to your core strengths

    Small businesses that experience success and growth need to abandon the mantra of doing it all.  But far to often, they take on ancillary activities that distract from the core strengths that made them successful.  They find themselves mired in back office processes and either work 16 hour days or the business start to slip.  Success is a great thing, it is after all the point of our business, but success is a very poor teacher.  ”I’m a Doctor for goodness sake, I should be able to run my business!” Replace Doctor with any other profession and you have the mindset that get many business owners in trouble.  My advice is stick to your core strengths and outsource the rest.

    Don’t get nervous, you don’t have to abandon your patriotism or defy your union brothers.  What I’m talking about is hiring business specialists to perform the tasks that they are specially trained in and you are not.  These can and should be local businesses many of which are also small businesses.  Why have a receptionist turned bookkeeper doing the CFO job when you can hire a CFO on-demand for the two weeks per year that you need them.  Your bookkeeper and bottom line will thank you.  Financial, Marketing, Human Resources, Employee Training and even Sales are areas that can and should be outsourced.  The main benefit for small business owners is the ability to focus on the core business.  The cost of being distracted (sleepless nights, missed deadlines and limited resources) is enough to make the difference in profit and loss.  So now,

    get more sleep, make more money and outsource everything that is not your core business.

     

    Social Media for Business: If You Can’t Do It Right

    Social media can be a great tool for small business.  That is, if it’s used correctly.

    There is so much information available on how to do this and that, it’s no wonder so many are doing it wrong.

    It’s not to say that there is only one way to manage social media for business effectively, but if you’re going to do it halfway, you may as well not do it at all.

    There are several schools of thought when it comes to using social media to market a small business.

    Content Crowd

    They believe that it’s all about content creation.  The more content the better.  It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you’re creating it.

    Engagement Crowd

    It’s about the conversation.  Make sure you engage people on various social networks and business will magically appear.

    Feed Them Crowd

    Share as much content as possible based on news found throughout the interwebs.  Set up an RSS feed to your Twitter and Facebook account, because hey, who has time to curate all day?

    Forum Crowd

    Hit up as many forums as you can, adding links to every discussion.  Doesn’t matter the forum, build as many back links as you can.  Since it’s a discussion forum, certainly your being social right?

    Reciprocal Crowd

    The more likes and followers you have the better.  It shows that your business is legit.  Email your friends and family to get them to like your page.  Follow as many people as possible, if they don’t follow back, then unfollow.  Remind anyone of Multi-Level-Marketing?

    So Now What?

    The reality is that alone none of these make a ton of sense.  Managing social media for small business requires balance along with a sound strategy.  If you really want to meet new people/prospects here are a few ideas:

    • Find a way to engage locally
    • Find relevant forums.  Answer questions while sharing links back to your content
    • Stop the RSS feed.
    • Connect with locals on Twitter.
    • Focus on taking online connections offline
    • Use social media as a way to network
    • Create your own original content
    • Answer FAQ in blog posts
    • Follow back interesting people. Don’t feel obligated to follow everyone back
    • Share your followers content as well as your own
    • Answer questions on Twitter
    • Have a conversation on Twitter. Don’t just post links all day, your wasting your time.

    If you find yourself Tweeting RSS feeds due to lack of time, what is it really doing for your business?  You’re sharing content created by someone else.  You’re not available to take part in any conversation.  Sure you’re getting clicks, but clicks alone will not help you grow your business.  Try finding a chat that’s relevant to your business.  Even better find local events you can attend.  You’ll be surprised what showing up will do for your social media campaign.

    There is nothing wrong with tweeting information all day.  It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.  For example if you’re a City Department, you could share upcoming events, changes in schedules, local news.

    Getting the most out of your campaign requires effort.  Mailing it in won’t bring you success.  It’s more than just sending out tweets and Facebook updates.

    Remember it’s about being social.

     

     

    Why Google+ Isn’t Ready for Business

    Have you you heard of Google+?  As in the new social network offering from Google?   So far it’s the best effort we’ve seen from Google in the social networking space.  They’ve already hit 10 million users in the first few weeks.  It took Facebook considerably longer to reach that milestone.

    To be fair, things are much different now, social media is more mainstream than when Facebook first came on the scene.  By comparing the meteoric rise of Google+ to Facebook is an apples to oranges one.

    But that’s not what this blog post is about.

    The question is can I use Google+ for business?

    The answer?  Not yet.

    It’s amazing.  The number of business jumping in the fray, without a single thought to strategy.  It’s understandable.  They somehow feel as if they’ll miss the boat if they don’t jump on early.  The thinking however, is flawed.

    Google+ is not ready for your business.  This comes directly from Google themselves.  The social network was designed to increase social interaction for individuals.  Not B2C or even B2B.    No doubt that Google+ for business, scheduled to launch later this year, will be a great product.   But beware, if they catch your business profile, it will be removed (see above link)

    Early adopters don’t want to interact with your small or medium sized business on Google+.  They don’t want real estate agents 800 miles away or lawyers they’ll never speak with clogging up their shiny new network with profile pictures that are logos.

    For example a real estate agent in South Dakota decides to set up a profile for his agency, adds hundreds of peoples to circles regardless of location (cause hey it’s marketing), then proceeds to push out posts about his business and latest blog posts.  He then wonders why there is no feedback.  The reasons for the failure:

    1. He’s pushing instead of interacting
    2. He’s going after the wrong market
    3. He hasn’t convinced anyone to be added to a circle
    4. He’s using a conversation tool for broadcasting (same as number 1)

    You are not Ford, TechCrunch, or Forbes.  Take a step back.  Sign up as a human being.  Spend time using the tool as it was intended, as a social network.  Learn the lay of the land while developing a sound strategy for the launch of Google+ for business.

    The number one reason Google+ isn’t ready for your business?  Circles.  They are a beautiful thing.  It allows you to dictate what you share with who.  It also allows you to filter out the noise that is common with Facebook and Twitter.  Which means it’s much easier to ignore your small/medium business.

    What are your thoughts on Google+?  Don’t be shy we would love to hear from you.

     

    Starting a Michigan Business Series: Financing

    Access to capital is one of the key fundamental needs for a business to thrive and grow.  Capital can give business longevity.  We discussed this in a previous post regarding cash flow in your business.

    We know it’s important.  We desperately seek it.  The trouble comes in sorting through all the junk on the interwebs to get to the helpful information.  Outside of factoring invoices, guaranteed loan scams, faxed “we get you cash” pages, when the bank says no, where do small business owners and entrepreneurs turn to for capital?

    Fortunately there are a number of organizations in Michigan dedicated to assisting business owners in securing capital for their business.  We’ll get to that shortly.  Before you consider going after capital have you put together a solid business plan for your business?   You’ll need it.

    If you’re an existing business putting together a business plan for the first time, Talan can help you identify areas within your business that need shoring up through our BIZ Strength profile, and it’s FREE.

    Back to the previously scheduled blog post….

    Besides your friends and family there are some amazing resources for finding capital in the state of Michigan.  Listed in no particular order:

    MCPED Business Development

    In Macomb County, their staff offers up options to legitimate financing alternatives if a bank doesn’t work.

    MEDC

    The Michigan Economic Development Corporation has access to state funds, federal funds, as well as many other alternatives for your business

    Alliance for Business Growth

    The objective of the Alliance is to encourage entrepreneurship and assist small business owners throughout Livingston County by providing FREE or low-cost assistance.

    State Administered Grants

    Yes.  You can get grants for your Michigan business.  You however need to do the research.  Isn’t it nice to learn something new?

    GLCEDC Loan Program

    Livingston County offers a Commercial Revolving Loan Program through the GLCEDC.

    Michigan Seed, Angel, and Venture Capital

    Sometimes you need an angel to come along.  If your business idea is good enough this may be the route to go.

    At Talan we believe in helping you find success in your business.  We are passionate about small business and the people who run them.  If you ever find your self in need of assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out.  While the list gets you started, it is not a comprehensive list.  We like to be interactive…so if you happen to know of other creative financing options (legitimate), add them to the comment section.

    Until next time.

    Customer Service and Business: You’re Out of Touch

    Sometimes the power of social media makes you go “wow”.   It can be an amazing asset or your worst nightmare as realized recently by Netflix announcing their price increase.

    In a nutshell, Netflix adjusted their price structure and raised prices by 60%.  They took something that consumers perceived as value and just like that gave them reason to question the expenditure.

    Looking at the Netflix Facebook Page there are over 78,000 comments related to the announcement.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Many of the comments share the same sentiment.  Customers simply aren’t pleased with the increase.  Part of it could be the way the announcement was presented on Facebook.  The status update doesn’t offer much in the way of explanation, but links to a blog post on Netflix explaining the price increase.   The blog post alone has 12,000 comments with over 4,000 shares on Twitter.

    Talk about social media working on all cylinders.  Unfortunately in this case it’s not the right kind of buzz.  They didn’t do themselves any favors either as Netflix was deleting customer complaints from Facebook.

    What are the glaring issues here?

    In this situation it’s clear that Netflix wasn’t in touch with customer expectations and over valued their product/service.  The customers have stated as much:

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Fix:  Do your homework.  Understand why your customers appreciate your product/service.  Spend time answering the “what if” by surveying some of your best customers before making changes.

    They didn’t ease into the transaction and had to quickly backtrack by offering a discount to customers, further devaluing their product.   It was already too late.  Certainly they lost customers who will never come back.

    Fix:  Give your customers time to adjust to the changes.  Making the switch quickly can backfire.

    Price and value must go hand in hand. By not understanding the price point at which customers perceived the most value they again misunderstood the marketplace.

    Fix:  This is an important aspect of any business.  Make sure that you know when and where price and value are in alignment.  If it’s not easy to find, figure out a way to create it.  That’s where marketing comes in handy.

    Social media hasn’t helped, but it could have.  Netflix could have easily utilized social to address many of the issues above well before announcing the price increase.  They have 1.9 million fans on Facebook certainly they could have found a large enough sample size to survey.

    Besides social media they could have reached out to customers via email by way of surveys.

    From a business strategy standpoint it makes perfect sense.  Changes needed to be made, but when a strategic change backfires you’ve got major issues.

    Part of what we do here at Talan is help small business navigate these sort of minefields.  We help business develop a strong strategy whether it be marketing, PR, exit strategies, or social media.

    Understanding the risk associated with your decisions is an important part of being an entrepreneur.  Not doing so comes with enormous consequences.

    If you found your company in this position how would you react?

     

    Starting a Michigan Business Series: License and Permits

    As you prepare to launch your Michigan business, be sure you’ve done your due diligence.  While it’s still pretty simple to start a business in Michigan there are a few guidelines you need to follow.

    One step of particular importance is determining if your business requires any type of license or permit to do business in the state of Michigan.

    Not having a license in place can be serious problem, especially if you’ve already been doing business for some time.  Not doing your homework early on, can lead to massive headaches down the road and possibly a fine or closure of your business.

     

     

    You’ll need a license if you fall in the following categories:

    • Construction
    • Financial
    • Insurance
    • Occupational (see full list below)
    • Real Estate
    • Utilities
    • Transportation
    • Retail Fuel

    Most of what you need to do can be handled online at this State of Michigan website.  Another option is Michigan Business One Stop.

    Not every business in Michigan requires a license.   If your business isn’t in the above list and you’d like to double check, Michigan offers an alphabetical list of required licenses by occupation.

    If you require assistance getting the most out of your business, contact us at TalanSBS.  We believe in the power of the entrepreneur.

    Occupational Licensing

    • Veterinarian Exams
    • Inspector – Information
    • Plumbing – Information
    • Plumbing – Forms
    • Architects – Information
    • Barbers – Information
    • Cosmetology – Information
    • Forester – Information
    • Hearing Aid Dealer – Information
    • Landscape Architect – Information
    • Morticians – Information
    • Nursing Home Administrators – Information
    • Ocularist – Information
    • Engineer, Professional – Information
    • Polygraph Examiner – Information
    • Police Officer Licensing – Information
    • Certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise
    • Commercial Driver Licenses
    • Notary Public – Information
    • Chauffeur License – Information
    • Commercial Services License Look-up

    Facebook for Small Business

    Facebook has grown at a break neck pace and there is no doubt that it’s weaved it’s way into our daily lives.  We’ve all watched as business both large and small have utilized Facebook for business.

    Chances are you already have a Facebook page for small business.  We thought we’d share how are we use Facebook for business to give you some ideas on how to make it work for you.

    1.  Post consistently

    Give your audience a reason to come back.  We try to post in the morning each and every day to catch those who check Facebook fist thing in the morning.

    2.  Post Interesting Content

    The content we share is relevant to our customer base.  We try to seek out content that can generate discussion and ask a question to spark discussion.  Even if we don’t get feedback we are trying to stay fresh in their minds.

    3.  Ask questions

    As per number 2, we try to ask open ended questions to hopefully get our fans to engage with our content.

    4.  Share our Page

    A link to our Facebook page is everywhere we find ourselves on the web.  It’s on our homepage.  We add it to other social media profiles.  We also try to add it to all of our traditional marketing materials.  If our customers don’t know we’re there how can they become fans?

    5.  Create a default landing Page

    A landing page has been a great way to welcome new Facebook visitors to our page.  We’ve used it to highlight upcoming events, asked for subscriptions to our email list,  and encouraged sign ups to our newsletter.

    6.  Creating Events

    Anytime we have an event going on at TalanSBS we create a Facebook Event.  Even though we’ve sent an email it’s another way to stay engaged with our audience.

    7.   Utilizing Notes

    Notes have been perfect for adding our blog to Facebook.  Not only does it allow for fans to read our content within Facebook and easily share it, the content provides back links to our website.

    8.  Adding Pictures

    Adding pictures of events or random acts that happen day in and out, helps us to connect on a personal level with our fans.

    9.  Tagging

    Anytime we can tag customers or friends we do.  It always drives traffic to our Facebook page.

    10.  Adding Keyword Links

    We utilize social media management software that allows for a keyword link for each an every post we add to Facebook.   Each time we do this it’s another vote for our website in the eyes of search engines.

    That’s it in a nutshell.  An abbreviated list of how we are currently using Facebook for small business.  How are you finding the reception to your business on Facebook?

     

    8 Reasons Your Website is Awful

    Your website is your calling card on the web.  For that reason it’s important that you take care in how you present yourself.

    If any of these apply to you, do not pass go, and immediately head to Google to find the nearest web developer/designer.

    1.  About Us

    If your About Us page is all about you and your accomplishments it’s time for a redo.  Focus on what is about your business that will connect with a potential client.  Why should they do business with you.

    2.  Latest News isn’t New

    It’s amazing how many websites have a Latest News section that hasn’t been updated in several years.  If you don’t care enough about your website to update it on a regular basis, what does it say about how you’ll treat your clients?

    3.  Outdated Homepage

    The web changes frequently and is fickel.  Styles change.  Bell bottoms and eight tracks have long been out of style.  The same goes for your website.  If you’re site is still in it’s original format, it’s time for a refresh.  We know quite a bit more about how people navigate websites.  An update will go a long way to increasing conversions.

    4.  Bright Fluorescent Colors

    When was the last time you visited your website yourself?  Bright colors hurt the eyes and makes it hard to read.

    5.  Auto Start Video/Audio

    Stop this immediately.  Nothing is worse than visiting a website with your volume full bore, only to be blasted with elevator music from 1983.  Certainly you want your video played, but let the content speak for itself.  If the video is worth watching it will be seen.

    6.  Ditch the old Flash

    Early flash sites had a lot of sound included when clicking on links and navigating to new pages.  Don’t force visitors to have to mute things to navigate your website.  It’s easier to just not come back.

    7.  Poor Navigation

    Where do you want us to go?  Do you have 15 different tabs?  Have you tried to stuff the kitchen sink on the homepage?  Make it simple.  Set up your website so it’s easy for visitors to find information.

    8.  Designed for You

    Remember this statement.  ”Your website is not for your current customers, it’s for prospective customers.”  Your website is all about converting visitors into customers.  Focus on creating content that speaks to those seeking to do business with you.  Understand how they consume information and what drives their buying decisions.  If the amount of people coming to your website are seeking you out by name you need to better content or SEO (search engine optimization)

    A website is key to your digital marketing strategy.  With the tools available today there is no excuse for having a poor online presense.  If your a do-it-yourself type WordPress or Joomla both make for great content management systems.  They both offer tons of plug-ins and themes to make your site look professional and polished.

    If you need assistance TalanSBS can help get you started today.

    What are a few of your website pet peeves?

     

    Start a Michigan Business Series: Employee Identification Number

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Often mistakenly called an Employee Identification Number, an EIN, or Employer Identification Number is also known as a your Federal Tax Identification Number.  Similar to a social security number, an EIN is used to identify a business entity.

    Do I Need an EIN?

    If you have employees or operate a partnership or corporation you’ll need an Employer Identification Number.  If you answer yes to any of the other questions you’ll need one as well:

    • File employment, excise, or alcohol, tobacco and firearm taxes?
    • Withhold taxes on income, other than wages, paid to a non-resident alien?
    • Do you have Keogh plan?
    • Are you involved with the following types of organizations:  Trusts, IRAS, Estates, Non-Profits, Farmers Co-ops, Plan administrator?

    Getting an EIN is a free service and you can apply online.

    Your EIN will be a nine digit number assigned by the IRS.  It’s important to keep this number safe.

    If you recently started a business that falls under the above listed categories, this is an important step to launching your business.  Be sure to follow all the steps listed on the IRS website to ensure timely processing.

    Employer Identification Exempt Organizations

    A tax exempt organization is non-profit org that is exempt from certain taxes as described under Section 501 of the IRS code.  If you think your exempt you’ll need to apply to the IRS for a determination letter that would grant you formal tax exemption, also known as 501(c)(3) status.

    Avoiding Common EIN Problems

    • If you file as an S Corporation be sure to file Form 2553, Election by a Small Business Corporation
    • An association, LLC, or other org that elects to be taxed as a corporation must file Form 8832, Entity Classification Election
    • Remember to always include your SSN, EIN, or ITN on Line 7b or Form SS-4
    • Always use the full legal name you entered on Form SS-4, line 1 and the EIN given to you, consistently on all business tax returns
    • If you change your address after receiving your EIN, you must use Form 8822 to notify the IRS of the new address

     

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