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Small business improvement ideas

The Taxman Cometh – and how to prepare for next year

Hopefully you had an amazing year in your small business and paid lots of money in taxes – or you have an accountant that helps you find all available deductions so you only paid your fair share. Yeah, the latter one, right?

So how can you do a better job on your taxes for next year?

Uncle Sam wants YOU to prep for next year's taxes

5 Tips for Better Taxes Next Year

1) Keep a separate bank account just for business and run only expenses through that – This is one of the first things I did when I started my business, and I am vigilant about ONLY using my bank account for business expenses. It helps I have online banking so I can transfer money to my other account on the go.

2) Use Mint.com or some software so you don’t have to manually enter your information onto a spreadsheet – We bought Quicken early in the year to help with this, because last year took me 10 hours to do this. OUCH! I hated doing it. But I had to – and you will too. Uncle Sam doesn’t like it when you guess at stuff like this. Be accurate and do it with software.

3) Keep all other receipts in a safe place – If you have other receipts that you didn’t pay with your business account, get a big envelope and put them all in there. And make sure it’s in a safe spot.

4) Put your money away in a place you can’t reach for next year’s taxes – I’m starting this one for next year. I did a terrible job at this – and my wife wanted to kill me – because I thought we needed all the money to live. Turns out I was wrong. Learn from my mistake. Please.

5) Hire a reliable accountant who can help you maximize your deductions – Yep, I am doing this now. Mo doesn’t have a website or I would link to him. And he’s actually so good, he doesn’t need one. Crazy I know, but yes – he saved me $6000 this year. A good accountant can help you do that.

Admittedly I did a TERRIBLE job in 2011 prepping for my taxes so I am taking my own advice. These tips will help me stay on track for my 2012 taxes, and I think they’ll help you too.

Want more tips? Check out this great article about tax resolutions over at Business on Main.

YOUR TURN: How do YOU keep up with your taxes? What’s worked for you? What hasn’t worked for you?

Disclaimer: My blog is a part of an online influencer network for Business on Main. I receive incentives to share my views on a monthly basis.

3 Things Your Small Business Can Do To Avoid Website Neglect

Last week, I shared the risks of building on someone else’s platform and Gregg Voss shared his thoughts into why are brands neglecting their websites?

But what can you do instead of this? Don’t you have to let something go?

To wrap up this mini-series, I’ve got 3 suggestions you can do to start building YOUR platform, increase the eyeballs on your website, and increase the effectiveness of your social media efforts. The tips will help you stay on top of your small business marketing needs, and help you start a strategy for your small business.

Nobody reads the Sunday paper on Thursday

3 Things Your Small Business Can Do To Avoid Website Neglect

Create and implement an integrated cross-channel strategy that will help ensure everything looks the same – and that your content is similar – on your various platforms

One of the biggest reasons your customers and prospects stop listening to you is because you’re not updating your information. When I’m speaking to groups, I tell them “Nobody reads the Sunday paper on Thursday” as a reminder to keep their various properties up to date. And the reason your audience doesn’t “recognize” you online is because you don’t look the same on all your sites.  Take some time and create a strategy that includes all your various platforms: Website, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, email to your team, whatever else. When you publish on article on your website, you should be promoting this article across the various platforms to let your audience know you’ve got something new.  It doesn’t have to be at exactly the same time with exactly the same content – but it should be close.

As for your look and feel, remember you need to keep your avatars in synch so folks know who you are when you participate in the other social channels. I just updated mine yesterday, and I am still going through the various places I need to update, because my strategy got overrun by the various new platforms out there and I didn’t make a note of it. I’m going through and making notes in the next few days because I need to. Don’t make the same mistake I did: Keep good notes – and stay on top of this!

Create a hub-and-spoke strategy

This is one that’s very easy to understand. Your hub is your website. This is where customers can do business with you, this is where you can convert people from an interesting person to a prospect to a customer. This is where you have all your resources listed, and where you make all the ways of doing business with you available. The spokes are the social media outlets that radiate out from the center. Most of the time, you’ll want content on your website that supports what you are sharing on social media, to bounce people back to your site so you have a chance to convert them.

Create a permission based email list and send subscribers regular e-mail

This is one of the most important things you can do as a small business owner. Ask people for, and get, their permission to send them e-mails at regular intervals. You decide what is regular, and stick to it. Include stories about your existing customers, tips on how to interact with your products and services, and things they may want to think about to help them purchase your product or service, or more of your product and service. Do NOT sign everyone you meet up for your newsletter. That’s illegal, unethical and plain bad business. That would make your small business newsletter suck! Don’t lose hope if nobody responds to your newsletter at first. Keep writing, tell people when you’re going to send the e-mails, deliver them on time, don’t force products and services on your subscribers, share an article on your website and something special nobody else gets, and send this out regularly.

I’ll be relaunching my newsletter in a few weeks but you can subscribe now by putting your e-mail in the box on the right side of my site.

If you do these 3 things, you’ll stop neglecting your website – and start having a strategy for keeping everything up to date and in synch so they are most effective.

Want more? Gregg Voss also has some great tips today over at Branding Bricks.

Your turn: What do YOU do to avoid website neglect? Share your thoughts in the comments?

[HOW TO] Video Testimonials Made Simple

One of the most important things you can do for your business is getting testimonials from the customers you’ve delighted. While it would be great if your happy customers would go out in the world, passing out your business cards, sales literature, and otherwise saying amazing things about you, it’s doubtful your prospects will come in contact with your customers online in real time.

Enter the video testimonial

Video testimonials are a great way to capture this real time love from your customers who love you, and allows you to place it anywhere you want it. The best place to put a video testimonial is right at the point of decision – so when folks are deciding whether or not to do business with you, there’s a video right there to say “Yes, do business with Phil. He’s awesome.” If done well, it’s a great way to prove to your prospects that you are worth working with.

Video testimonials have been relatively difficult to capture from non-technology savvy customers. You’ve had to ask people to use their camera, to save it, to e-mail it to you or put it on their YouTube channel, and then you could embed it somewhere. That is NOT easy for most people.

Another way would be to go to a customer’s location and film them saying nice things about you – in front of you – RIGHT NOW! While that can be successful, usually it isn’t, because you’re putting someone on the spot, and you’re there to make them nervous. Yikes – that can be way uncomfortable for everyone.

The last way I used to hear about gathering testimonials is to send out a camera crew to video tape your customers. This was expensive and often time consuming for your customers – making them unwilling to help because they didn’t have an hour or two to get something just right.

Until now, it was very hard to get those wonderfully powerful video testimonials.

Enter Bravo Video

A few weeks back I was contacted by John at Bravo to check out their new way of capturing video testimonials. And boy – is it EASY and effective.

How to capture video testimonials with Bravo

1) Sign up at http://getbravo.com If you use code MAKEITGREAT you can take 25% off your first month’s bill.

2) Customize your page in 5 minutes or less (I just uploaded my photo and changed a bit of wording).

3) Send your happy customers an e-mail with a link to your Bravo site (my site is at http://makeitgreat.getbravo.com). If you’re not a writer, don’t worry – they have resources to help you.

4) Watch the testimonials roll in.

Seriously – it really is that simple to ask for testimonials. Of course, you have to WOW your customers first, but if you are, you should be able to capture at least a few testimonials this way.

Your customers only have to:

1) Click the link

2) Click the button to record the video.

3) Enter a minimal amount of info

4) Save the video.

Video testimonials made simple - and 25% off your first month

What are you waiting for? Go get yourself some customer testimonials at http://getbravo.com and remember, if you use code MAKEITGREAT you can take 25% off your first month’s bill.

Disclaimer: If you use my code, I get enough money to buy a cup of coffee, or maybe 2 cups of coffee, though I suppose if 1 million people sign up, I could probably buy some new glasses. But you get 25% off your first month, and I don’t endorse anything I don’t love, so it’s win win. 

Is Social Media Right for Your Small Business?

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know public (or external) social networking is all the rage these days. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have turned into the modern-day version of the town square or the local watering hole. If you want to connect with someone halfway around the world or with your closest friend, you’re likely to turn to Facebook or Twitter. If you want to share photos, catch up on the latest news, network for job opportunities, or look to buy San Diego office furniture, there’s a good chance you’ll be using the services of a public social network as well.

With social networking so popular, many businesses and companies have looked to implement an internal social network for their employees – one upon which workers of the company can talk, share news, and make suggestions of both personal and business natures. For the large corporation, such an internal social network can be used to help workers work together more effectively. For smaller businesses, social media can make communication easy among co-workers and keep individuals who are travelling or working from home updated on any new developments. And, for companies of all sizes, an internal network can allow for easy file sharing and a more seamless integration with cloud computing platforms.

If you’re trying to decide whether internal social networking is right for your business, here are a few benefits and challenges you may want to keep in mind:

Using Social Media Internally for Small Business Can Improve Connections

Benefits of Using Social Media for Your Small Business

-Encourage creativity. A central forum of an internal social network can be used to take questions (and answers), suggestions, comments, and ideas from employees and managers. If someone has a conception for improving or changing the business, they can propose it and then others can follow-up with comments. This helps innovation come from any worker anywhere in the company.

-Streamline communication. Communication between employees can take the form of emails, texts, instant messages, spoken conversations, and phone calls, to name a few. When trying to plan a meeting or coordinate a conference call, this can lead to more unnecessary confusion and hassle. An internal social network, although not usually designed as such, can be used to better facilitate these logistical issues.

-Make workers feel connected (to each other, and to the company). Employees will often support the adoption of internal social networking programs because it allows for easy communication and encourages fun AND practical discussions within the business. The aggregate effect of allowing employees to internally share everything from ideas to photo albums is that workers can feel more connected to the business and to one another. This can boost employee motivation and satisfaction, keeping your employees engaged longer and saving you money on retraining, hiring, and interviewing.

Challenges to Using Social Media in Your Small Business

-Time and money. Implementing an internal social network requires an investment of time and money, especially when you’re getting started. Add in some potential security concerns and the occasional technical issue, and your small business may be forced to continue investing time and money for this to work most effectively.

-Security. Even if you don’t plan to share sensitive documents via your internal network, security concerns are still very important to any employer that wants to use social media. It’s impossible to actively monitoring everything said and posted so as to insure no sensitive information is revealed. If you have confidential information, you may want to take the steps necessary so your network remains secured.

-Productivity. At some companies, an internal network serves to facilitate and streamline communication, resulting in measurable business efficiencies. At others, there is an understandable concern that a social network will provide only one more outlet with which to distract employees from their work. Employees that spend too much time on the network could conceivably see productivity declines. I’d argue this is more a people problem than a social media problem, but you need to be aware of this challenge.

These are some of the major benefits and challenges of an internal social network. If your small business could benefit from enhanced communication opportunities, or if you feel as though you’re falling short in the internal teamwork area, an internal social media network may be a wise investment. If, on the other hand, you believe that the time and productivity losses aren’t worth any potential efficiencies, you might instead want to focus your money and your efforts elsewhere.

What do you think? Is your small business using any social media for internal communications, or are you focused only on using social media for marketing efforts?

How to find a great website designer

Often I’m asked "How can I find a great designer for my website?" I often will just refer them to my designer, Jesse Petersen of Petersen Media Group. He designed my site, did my Twitter skin, and does much of the behind the scenes things I can’t figure out on my own.

How did I pick Jesse, and how can you find yourself a great designer for yourself?

I decided to go right to the source and ask a designer how to find a great website designer, because great designers have to hire other great designers to work with them on larger projects and because they’ve had great questions asked of them to prove that they can do what they do.

So on a recent trip to Tampa, I asked Jesse Petersen of Petersen Media Group about these tips, and he was kind enough to share his thoughts in a 3 minute video.

How can you find a great website designer?

Can’t see the video above? Watch How to Find a Great Website Designer on YouTube.

The highlights of the tips Jesse provided:

1) The designer’s website is complete and has a portfolio page with testimonials

2) The designer must speak/write at your level

3) The designer must respond to your first request quickly and express interest in your project

4) The designer must offer you multiple options and explain why each option could work for your needs

Take 3 minutes, watch the video, and listen to Jesse expand on these tips to help you find a great designer.

If you’d like to learn more about Jesse’s work, or hire him to do your website, visit him at http://petersenmediagroup.com or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jpetersen

YOUR TURN: What do you want to know about finding a great designer?

Leave a comment below, and I’ll make sure Jesse answers the questions for you.

Advice for Small Business (video with Carol Roth)

This week I traveled to Chicago with Jon Mueller from 800-CEO-Read to talk with New York Times best selling author and business strategist Carol Roth. Carol and I talked about a lot of things, and this quick 4 minute video is full of advice you can use for your small business. The video is only 4 minutes long, so take a peek and pick up a few tips

One of the most important things we both stress is the flexibility you have as a small business to do cool things, even if they don’t work at first. The ability to try new things is one of the big reasons I left corporate America and why I love working with smaller businesses.

What about you? What did you learn from this video? What tips you share that we didn’t cover?

Leave a comment below and share your insights!

Quiet Your Lizard Brain

My favorite author Seth Godin has a new book out. It’s called Linchpin, and while I haven’t read it, I know I will love it because I love everything Seth does. My pre-ordered copy either got lost in the mail or my neighbor stole it from my mailbox. I’m betting it got lost :)

One of the biggest ideas in this book is about a quieter lizard brain.

Huh? What does that mean?

Watch the video below and you’ll see what he means.

Seth Godin: Quieting the Lizard Brain from 99% on Vimeo.

3 Ways to Get You Through the Holidays

Guest article from Ed and Deb Shapiro: Authors of Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World

Note from Phil: Believe it or not, I am not a big fan of the holidays, and I struggle to get through them sane. When I was offered this article, I read it and I’m going to put it into practice to help me get through the holidays. Even if you don’t struggle like I do, I hope you enjoy this article.

The holidays are a tough time, when demands are constantly being made on our patience, coping capacity, and endurance! When things are not going your way or they look topsy-turvy and you just want to scream; when your day appears chaotic and you are not sure if you are coming or going; or when it feels like it is all piled on your shoulders, then this is the ideal moment to resource yourself by just stopping, being still, and breathing.

You do have what it takes within you to do everything and still be peaceful, but you may need a reminder to just stop and breathe. So here are three moments to regenerate yourself and remember why you are doing all this in the first place. All it takes is a moment to look within and reconnect with your loving heart. You can get it together even when you think it is all falling apart!

Mini-meditations can be done on a train, walking down the street, at an airport, standing at a bus stop, in an elevator, while chopping vegetables, or while sitting in the bathroom — often the only place you can guarantee you will be left alone! Silently count your out-breath up to ten times, or walk with awareness of each step for up to ten steps. Or relax each part of your body, then silently repeat "soft belly" for five breaths.

If you are at work, then use your lunch hour to find a quiet spot, perhaps in a park, or even in the office if everyone else has gone out. If you are traveling then use that time to consciously breathe, letting your awareness follow your breath from the nose tip to your belly and back out again. If you are driving or operating machinery and feel you are getting tense, then stop for a moment, focus on any part of the body that is feeling tight and breathe into it, until you relax and let go. Silently repeat "soft shoulders" or "soft neck" and so on.

As you walk down the street or ride an elevator practice a mini-loving kindness by silently wishing everyone be well, wishing that everyone be happy. In the office you can spend a few moments repeating the names of everyone you work with and wishing them happiness. On your way home from work reflect on your day and generate loving thoughts to all those you met. When you send out loving thoughts it relaxes the space around you and dissipates any chaotic or disturbing energies. What you put out comes back to you tenfold.

1. Mini Breath Meditation

Sit comfortably with your back straight. Take a deep breath and let it go. Begin to silently count at the end of each out breath: Inhale . . . exhale . . . count one, inhale . . . exhale . . . two, inhale . . . exhale . . . three. Then start at one again. Just three breaths and back to one. Simply following each breath in and silently counting. So simple. Do this as many times as you want, eyes open or closed, breathing normally.

2. Mini Walking Meditation

You can do this walking along a country lane, a city street, in the office or the garden. You can walk slowly, normal or fast, whatever feels right. As you walk become aware of your walking, of the movement of your body and the rise and fall of your feet. Become aware of your breath and see if you can bring both your breathing and your walking together. Just walk and breathe with awareness for a few minutes.

3. Instant Letting Go

Find a quiet place to sit, have a straight back, and take a deep breath and let it go. Then quietly repeat to yourself: "My body is at ease and relaxed . . . my heartbeat is normal . . . my mind is calm and peaceful . . . my heart is open and loving." Keep repeating this until you have let go of the tension and are at peace. Then take a deep breath and have a smile on your face!

Enjoy the holidays!

©2009 Ed and Deb Shapiro, authors of Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World

About the authors: Ed and Deb Shapiro, authors of Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, are the award-winning authors of fifteen books on meditation, personal development, and social action. They are featured bloggers for the HuffingtonPost.com and for Care2.com, teach meditation workshops worldwide, work as corporate coaches and consultants, and are the creators and writers of the daily Chill Our inspirational text messages on Sprint cell phones. The Shapiros’ books include Your Body Speaks Your Mind, winner of the 2007 Visionary Book Award; Voices From the Heart with contributors such as President Gorbachev, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Bishop Tutu; and Meditation: The Four-Step Course to Calmness and Clarity. Ed, from New York, trained in India with Paramahamsa Satyananda, with Sri Swami Satchidananda, and with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Deb, from London, trained with Tai Situ Rinpoche. The Shapiros have taught meditation and personal development for more than twenty-five years. They currently reside in Boulder, Colorado.
For more information please visit
www.EdandDebShapiro.com.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paparutzi/2127387801/

What Makes a Viral Wedding Video? [video]

Almost 17 million page views. For a wedding video! WOW!

What video am I talking about? Watch the video below. Then keep reading to find out why it worked so well.

Click for the viral wedding video.

So why does this video work?

Lots of reasons probably. I’ll share a few that worked for me.

  • Authentic participants – The people in the video are normal people. They’re folks you and I can relate to. Heck, they look like people I know, and probably like people YOU know! I love to watch what I can relate to. What about you?
  • Authentic feelings – You can tell by the look on the faces of the folks dancing that they are really excited to be part of this wonderful day. This WEDDING day! No fake smiles.
  • Authentic fun – Sure, there’s some choreography that went on but really, these aren’t professional dancers. These folks are dancing their hearts out and sharing that with all of us watching and they are having fun! Even the guests look happy.  Again, I can relate to authentic feelings. Can you? Even the pastor looks like she was having a good time. NOT typical for a wedding where folks often look scared, or like they HAVE to be there. They’re smiling because they WANT to be there and because they are having FUN!
  • Unexpectedness – It’s a wedding ceremony. You don’t expect it to be fun, you expect it to be reverent. Look at the beginning of the video. It starts out traditionally, then it busts out into unexpected fun! How can you not smile when you watch this? Dare ya!

 

Go ahead, watch it again. Tell me you don’t smile again. :)

Questions to ponder

What could you do that was authentic, on an important day, that was fun and unexpected, and that you could share that with your friends and family?

Better yet, how could you apply this to your business, on a grand opening, or for a special customer appreciation day?

Expressing Gratitude the Old Fashioned Way

Stephen Hopson is guest blogging for Phil today.

Can you think of all the people in your life that helped you, especially when you were experiencing adversity or when you were at a crossroad of sorts?

Was it……

  • a teacher who said the right thing at the right time?
  • the person who wrote a glowing recommendation letter?
  • mentors who appeared at just the right time?
  • the gatekeeper who put your important phone call through?
  • a friend who consoled you through a painful time?
  • a stranger who did you an extraordinary act of kindness?
  • someone who opened the door for you, leading to incredible opportunities?
  • the minister who listened to you for hours?
  • family members who’ve supported you with love and encouragement?
  • your boss who backed you up in the midst a major corporate crisis?

Why not become extraordinary, stand out from the crowd and send these people handwritten notes, thanking them for something they did for you? It will cause a few raised eyebrows, guaranteed.

You say you already sent them an email thanking them? Well, that’s nice but it doesn’t really count.  I’m not saying email should never be used to thank people. In fact, we’ve all done it and we will continue to do it. It’s too easy not to.

Yes, you’re very busy. It takes time to write notes. In fact, it just might make your hand hurt since you’re probably so used to typing on a keyboard or dictating into a machine these days! 

But, if you think about it, the people who helped you were also busy; yet they found the time to guide you, listen to you, write a letter on your behalf, etc.  Imagine the ripple effect your handwritten card would have on them. It would mean so much because they know you’re a busy person. Wouldn’t you agree?

Here are some rules I go by when I want my thank you’s to really count:

  • substitute handwritten notes in place of email for significant deeds
  • use blank cards (not the preprinted ones)
  • insert your business card with a photo on it (they’ll love it!)
  • send a card to each family member and watch their eyebrows go up-they’ll never expect it
  • keep it short and sweet-don’t blubber your eyes out and cause the ink to run amok
  • it’s never too late to send a thank you card

When you get into the habit of expressing gratitude in a heartfelt way, you subconsciously attract more of what you thanked them for. You bring into your life more people who will help you, especially in times of adversity. More importantly, you become more apt to give back and help others, allowing the universal cycle of giving and receiving to continue unfettered.

Food for thought: Imagine you are going to spend a lot of time with one of two people.  One person unexpectedly sent you a personal note of thanks. The other did not. They are both of equal background, similar personalities, etc. Which one would you choose to spend time with?

Hopsonsmallcolor_for_internetStephen J. Hopson is a former award-winning Wall Street stockbroker turned motivational speaker, author and the first deaf pilot in the world (yes, you read that right) to earn an instrument rating in 2006.  This is a rating that allows him to fly as pilot in command through "bad" weather where radio use is actually required.  He recently moved his "Adversity University" blog from Blogger to WordPress at www.adversityuniversityblog.com     If you’d like to see him in action as a speaker, you could visit his professional speaking website at www.sjhopson.com

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