10 Things Entrepreneurs Need to Know (Small Biz Daily)

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By Rieva Lesonsky

1—7 Hottest Startup Cities

Check out the infographic below, based on one-of-a-kind analysis conducted by 1776, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center (C__TEC) and FreeEnterprise.com, which looks at the health of technology-driven startup ecosystems in 25 American cities.

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2—How to Boost Employee Productivity

Part of your responsibility as a business owner is to keep your eye on employee productivity. If you’re not careful, decreased productivity can potentially affect company morale. That’s why so many entrepreneurs are seeking ways to boost productivity in their companies.

The Management Training Institute looked at statistics from studies and surveys associated with productivity in the workplace and paired those numbers with several time-tested tips for boosting the productivity of the people who make things happen at any organization. You can check out what they learned in the infographic below.

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Holidays

3—A Retailer’s Guide to Keeping Up with Consumer Expectations this Holiday Season

As the holidays approach, there’s new data retailers need to be aware of—58% of consumers’ shopping preferences shift during the holiday season—and the majority of those prefer to shop online more during this time than throughout the rest of the year.

Given the ever-evolving retail landscape, it is vital for retailers to understand shoppers’ expectations. New research from an IFTTT survey reveals much of what you need to know.

Retail Tech Reality Check: 60% of retailers report technology budget increases and have made significant investments across personalization and social media. Investments in technologies to predict customer needs and improve multichannel communication have also skyrocketed. For instance, reports project a 53% spending increase in artificial intelligence technology among retailers by 2020.

But, according to the IFTTT data, many consumers aren’t quite ready to embrace cutting-edge shopping technologies and need to learn more about its benefits. For instance, 68% of respondents have never used a retail chatbot and 23% don’t even know what chatbots are.

Plus, 83% don’t trust a robot to shop for them, though they would trust a robot (rather than a drone) to deliver their online orders.

Most consumers are open to virtual shopping, mostly for home decoration (59 percent).

Home for the Holidays: The Amazon effect is in full force, with 36% saying they’d rather stay home and shop with Alexa or Siri than go to the mall with family or friends. Today, while 36% use at least one retail subscription service (such as Stitch Fix, Bark Box or Harry’s Razors), 53% of shoppers are interested in using such services. And, don’t give up on the in-store experience—only 34% of consumers report shopping more online than in-store.

Will Steep Holiday Markdowns Drive Traffic? It’s no secret holiday deals drive seasonal spending, but with consumer confidence ticking upward, retailers may not have to drop prices so low this year. In fact, 41% of shoppers don’t expect in-store discounts to exceed 30% this holiday season, and 32% expect the same for online discounts. But, 25% of men expect in-store discounts of 50% or more, compared to just 21% of women. But, 28% of women and 22% of men expect an online discount of 50% or more. When planning your holiday marketing, 38% of consumers want to be reached by email and 12% prefer social media posts.

Finally, 35% of shoppers are banking on Black Friday for the best deals this year, followed by the day following Christmas (29%).

4—Small Business Saturday Partnerships

American Express has announced its lineup of partnerships and activities to amplify the 8th annual Small Business Saturday, taking place on November 25. On that day, Americans are encouraged to support independent businesses across the country.

“We are proud to see how Small Business Saturday continues to inspire communities. This year we will again celebrate the small businesses that make our neighborhoods feel like home,” says Elizabeth Rutledge, Executive Vice President, Global Advertising and Brand Management at American Express. “We’ve seen firsthand that when small businesses thrive, our neighborhoods, towns and cities thrive.”

Communities across the country are planning Small Business Saturday celebrations. And American Express has a new roster of activities and events planned, including:

Shop Small® for the Holidays with Etsy: On Small Business Saturday, Etsy sellers will host holiday pop-up markets in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, San Antonio, and Wichita, providing a destination to shop locally crafted, one-of a kind items this holiday season.

Sweet Snaps with Museum of Ice CreamThe Museum of Ice Cream—an interactive museum and ice cream extravaganza—is celebrating at its San Francisco location. On Small Business Saturday, shoppers will have the opportunity to attend events at the newest Museum of Ice Cream location and receive special access to photographable installations as well as sweet treats from local vendors.

Rock Out with Record Store Day: Record Store Day will celebrate the spirit of small businesses with a limited edition vinyl album release in partnership with the Los Angeles-based band Dawes, especially for Small Business Saturday. The indie rock band operates its very own independent business, HUB Records, and has performed worldwide. The special edition live double album will hit shelves at record stores across the country on Small Business Saturday.

Find Community at The Wing: The Wing, a network of co-working and community spaces for women, will support entrepreneurs in New York City through dynamic programming around Small Business Saturday. Leading up to Small Business Saturday, The Wing will host a panel of women business owners at its Flatiron location who will educate and empower other female entrepreneurs as they prepare for the holiday shopping season. On Small Business Saturday, The Wing will host a pop-up bazaar in SoHo, which will be open to the public for shoppers to find unique and exclusive items and services created by The Wing’s members and other local, women-owned businesses.

Discover New Stories with Indies First: Indies First, the national campaign by the American Booksellers Association dedicated to supporting independent bookstores on Small Business Saturday, will once again mark the day by showing love for independent bookstores. Bookstores throughout the country will celebrate by hosting creative events and activities with authors, supported by publishers.

Celebrate with Your Neighborhood: More than 4,500 small business owners, individuals and community organizations have already pledged to be Neighborhood Champions this year, committing to host events and activities to rally their communities on Small Business Saturday. Shop Small enthusiasts can show their love for local Neighborhood Champions and independent businesses by linking up with family and friends to attend these events. Click here to find Neighborhood Champions near you.

Join the Movement and Show Your Love: Millions of shoppers, foodies, public officials and other supporters pledged their support on Small Business Saturday last year. To keep spreading the love, American Express is asking consumers to share their Small Business Saturday photos, activities and favorite purchases on social media throughout the day. Everyone is welcome to join the movement by using the hashtags #ShopSmall and #SmallBizSat. You can also RSVP to Shop Small and receive reminders here.

Check with local businesses in your community to see what they are planning for Small Business Saturday, and visit ShopSmallNow to see a Shop Small Map of American Express® Card-accepting small businesses in your neighborhood.

5—Close the Deal on Small Business Saturday

While millions of shoppers are expected to shop small on Small Business Saturday, November 25, business owners won’t win the day simply by opening their doors—you need to close deals by turning browsers into buyers.

The UPS Store is launching a new campaign to help small businesses do just that. The campaign will feature online videos of a helpful and informative salesperson, “Mr. Closer” providing tips and sales strategies to help business owners be more successful. Additionally, small businesses can order The UPS Store®Closer Kit print materials online, providing a range of affordable, customizable print materials that are specifically designed to help “on-the-fence” shoppers to make a purchase.

According to The UPS Store, last year’s Small Business Saturday numbers show the need for increased focus on closing more sales. In 2016, a record 112 million Americans shopped independent businesses on Small Business Saturday, a 13% increase from 2015. But even with this surge of shoppers, estimated sales dipped slightly to $15.4 billion.

The UPS Store Closer Kit Print Materials includes several options for printed materials designed to help business owners share their unique stories with customers. Options include:

  • Pass-Along Card: Specialized business cards incorporating reminder notes or special offers for shoppers to share with a friend.
  • Product Brochure: Allows businesses to quickly share features and benefits.
  • Merchandise Rack Card: Provides shoppers with relevant background, even when an employee isn’t immediately available.
  • The Come Back Card: Reminder cards that encourage customers to return by a certain date.

With Closer Kit options starting at $9.99, businesses can order the right combination of materials to best fit their business print needs. Materials can be customized online via easy-to-use templates at upsstoreprint.com/closer.

The Closer campaign will be supplemented with a series of online videos and ads, which will highlight some of the challenging scenarios owners are likely to face during Small Business Saturday, along with recommendations on how to address them.

Videos and ads will run through November 25, though Mr. Closer print materials are designed to help small businesses throughout the busy holiday season and beyond. The right print products can help you close the deal, and for a limited time, all print and select promotional products (e.g., shirts, mugs, totes) available here are 30% off.

6—Ecommerce Market is Driven by Demanding, Frequent and Global Online Shoppers

Pitney Bowes recently released its 2017 Pitney Bowes Global Ecommerce Study, the first study to comprehensively analyze the global ecommerce landscape from both a retailer and consumer perspective. Key findings include:

For many online shoppers, 2016 was a holiday to forget. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), retail sales in the U.S. alone increased 3.6% year-over-year during the 2016 holiday shopping season and are expected to increase between 3.6% and 4% this year. But, results of the 2017 Pitney Bowes Global Ecommerce Study show retailers have a long way to go to meet consumer expectations, particularly when it comes to the post-purchase experience for online shoppers.

Nearly half (47%) of online shoppers globally were frustrated with everything from shipping, to returns, to lost products and miscalculated duties and taxes during the 2016 holiday shopping season. What’s worse is that the number of unhappy online holiday shoppers rose six percentage points over the previous year and increased year-over-year in every single one of the 12 major markets surveyed. In the U.S., 36% of online shoppers experienced problems, up five percentage points from the previous year.

Lila Snyder, Executive Vice President and President, Global Ecommerce and Presort Services, Pitney Bowes says, “With even more purchases expected to be online this year, retailers need to double-down on the elements of the consumer experience that matter most – delivery, returns, tracking and world-class customer care.”

A more experienced, demanding, frequent and global online shopper: Online shopping is ubiquitous in major global markets.

  • 94% of consumers have made a domestic online purchase
  • Consumers shop online more often. More than one-third of global consumers make online purchases at least once per week
  • 70% of online shoppers have made a cross-border purchase
  • “Click-and-collect” (purchasing online and picking up in store) is now common practice, especially in the U.S., where 46% of consumers do this
  • Consumers prefer free shipping with longer delivery times (75%) over paying for expedited parcel shipments (25%).

Online shoppers increasingly prefer online marketplaces over retailer websites

  • 67% of online shoppers turn to marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Flipkart, Rakuten, Tmall and comto search for products. This compares with search engines (46%), retail websites (40%), social media (24%), and mobile apps (23%).
  • Online shoppers report that 62% of their cross-border purchases and 59% of their domestic purchases take place on online marketplaces, versus retailer websites.
  • Product assortment, better deals and easy checkout are the top three reasons consumers choose online marketplaces.

Retailers are beginning to recognize the growth opportunity in cross-border ecommerce.

  • 62% of retailers have a cross-border ecommerce business today, and the vast majority of retailers who don’t offer cross-border, plan to in the next 12 months. If all of these retailers execute their business plans, 93% will offer cross-border shopping by this time next year
  • 1/3 of retailers rate “international selling” as a top growth lever for their business
  • The average order value (AOV) of a cross-border purchase is 17% higher than a domestic AOV. But, cross-border retailers must balance the opportunity for higher AOV against consumer demand for lower prices—50% of consumers who shop cross-border do so because of price.

3 strategies for online retailers:

  1. Take a cue from the marketplaces
  • Learn to love shipping. Low cost, fast, flexible and accurate shipping is key to attracting and retaining customers.
  • Personalize to convert: Implement customer information management solutions that aggregate a single view of the customer.
  • Expand your product assortment, offer timely promotions, and simplify checkout.
  1. Go cross-border, but don’t rely on brand alone
  • Localized marketing is essential because marketing channel preferences among consumers vary significantly by country.
  • Operational prowess separates the winners from the losers. This is particularly true in neighboring countries. The expectation is low cost and high visibility of delivery, localized customer care, and minimized duties and taxes.
  1. Have the courage to go where the customers are.

When retailers implement cross-border strategies, they tend to start where the transition is easiest—neighboring countries with similar regulatory environments where people speak the same language. But, more often than not, the greatest opportunity for cross-border growth and success is further from home. Pitney Bowes’ analysis has found that the prioritization of near-border markets has come at the expense of underserving consumers in countries more apt to shop cross-border. Entering new markets with different cultures, languages and laws is complex, but the rewards can far outweigh the investment and challenges.

7—3 Insights into the World of SMB Leaders

Guest post by Marie Rosecrans, SVP, SMB Marketing at Salesforce

Customer expectations are continuing to grow, and the stakes for small and medium businesses are higher than ever. In fact, today’s customers are up to 78% more likely to switch brands if their expectations aren’t met! For SMBs with time and resource constraints, keeping up with customer needs can be particularly difficult. To better understand the challenges SMBs face in managing customers, adopting technology, and driving growth, we commissioned Harris Poll to conduct our 2nd annual Small & Medium Business Trends Report. We talked to nearly 500 SMBs about the obstacles they face, how they tackle growth challenges, how they’re using technology to find, win, and keep customers, and their intentions for emerging technologies like automation and AI.

Here are some highlights:

SMBs wear many hats and get bogged down by manual processes.

  • 55% of SMBs report insufficient time as a major, substantial, or moderate challenge, right after finding the right talent (56%).
  • 66% of SMB leaders are personally responsible for three or more of the following areas of their business: customer service, finance, human resources, IT, marketing, operations, or product development.
  • SMB teams spend 23% of their average workdays manually inputting data.

SMBs understand technology can make their lives easier, but need technology that’s easy to set up, use, and maintain.

  • Only 26% of SMBs say they have one or more in-house IT staff.
  • Considering this, it’s no surprise nearly all SMBs (95%) say ease of use is important when evaluating new technology for their companies, followed by price (94%), easy setup (93%), and easy maintenance (92%).
  • While 62% of SMBs said training would help them improve operations, businesses appear to be hampered in their ability to get the training they need. This is due to costs (60%), time (56%), a lack of available training on the subjects they need (48%), and inconvenient scheduling (46%).

Growing SMBs are more likely to prioritize CRM technology than their stagnant or declining counterparts.

  • While 95% of SMBs are tracking customer information in some way, many still use email (62%) or spreadsheets (53%). Only one-third (33%) of SMBs use a CRM system.
  • However, among growing businesses, the top reported technology budget priority is CRM. Growing businesses are 2.2x more likely to prioritize CRM (36%) than stagnant/declining businesses (16%).
  • Growing businesses are also 1.6x more likely than stagnant/declining businesses to say they’re using technology to automate business processes (69% vs. 42%).

To learn more about the biggest obstacles and opportunities SMBs encounter when finding, winning, and keeping customers, as well as how they’re thinking about AI and automation, download the full 2017 Small & Medium Business Trends Report.

8—Investing in HR

A new HR study by Namely found SMBS are increasing their investments in HR tech so employees can feel protected. Here are some tips on how you can avoid any future scandals:

  1. Most HR data is bogus: The ability to collect and understand HR data helps companies reveal what’s important to its employees and flags potential HR problems before they explode. Only 8% of companies report they have usable HR data, despite the fact that 71% of companies rate HR analytics as a high priority.
  2. Performance Prominades (vs. Performance Reviews): There’s a growing movement against performance reviews saying they’re too lengthy, one-sided and often the recommendations aren’t implemented. Today, forward-thinking companies have come up with unique ways to gather feedback. A common one is a weekly walk around the block with the supervisor in a more open and comfortable environment, where issues can be discussed and the walk gives a feeling of forward motion.
  3. The #1 goal for HR managers in 2018 is to support managers and supervisors: You can do this by making sure there is a clear feedback and support loop that can be done both on/offline; have tech tools in place where middle management can air feedback (good and bad), in addition allocate time for face-to-face conversations. For instance, Namely’s CEO, Matt Straz, sets aside one day a to talk to middle / upper management about whatever they want, be it work or personal. It keeps the door of communication wide open.

9—Supporting Financial Education

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®) is pleased to announce a $3 million exclusive commitment from TD Bank and the TD Charitable Foundation, the bank’s charitable giving arm, to support financial education and counseling services for U.S. small business owners. This support will enable the NFCC to build upon the work started in 2016 and will help increase capacity for member agencies to provide financial education and counseling to thousands of small business owners in the years to come.

The first phase launched last month, utilizing the Sharpen Your Financial Focus® (Sharpen) program as the initial framework for providing personal financial reviews and education for small business owners who are using consumer-oriented financial products to finance their small businesses.

The second phase will establish a unique program designed to comprehensively assist small business owners as they transition from consumer financial products to more appropriate business-oriented products and services. Customized curriculum will be developed that builds on NFCC’s current capabilities in the consumer finance arena, including specific materials to educate small business owners on business financial services and products that better fit their needs. The NFCC will enhance the quality of service with additional counselor training, certification, technology enhancements and development of additional program materials.

The program also leverages technology to measure the positive impact of services. Key financial and data points will be analyzed to reveal financial behaviors and perceptions using data collected by NFCC Member agencies and reviewed through the ongoing research related to the Sharpen program. Other means of consumer data collection will involve periodic follow-up surveys throughout the program.

If you’re interested, you can connect with an NFCC Member by clicking here, or calling 844-359-3792.

Quick Takes

10—Credit Card Transactions

Small businesses are making more money from card transactions. In fact a report by TSYS reveals 75% of consumers prefer to make payments with credit or debit cards. There’s lots more to learn in this blog post from Womply.