Customers and clients are at the backbone of any small business. No matter how worthy your products/services are, a business can’t succeed if no one’s buying your goods. But once you’ve established your customer base, the next question becomes how to retain them and get them to refer your business to friends. That’s why how you thank your customers is so important. (more…)
Entrepreneurship comes with its fair share of perks — the freedom to create your own schedule, call the shots and be in charge of your own destiny is enough to make any cubicle worker drool. But it’s no secret that being a small business owner also has some heavy duty pressure; at the end of the day, you have ultimate accountability for your business’ success or failure.
Stressful? It can be.
But while there’s no cure-all for stress as a business owner, there are a few things you can do to ‘keep calm and entrepreneur on.’
Be flexible with your business plan.
Embrace that the first few drafts of your business plan will be wrong, no matter what. There are bound to be details you didn’t think of, or maybe your sales strategy just isn’t working the first time around. That’s okay! Once you’ve gathered enough data, you’ll be able to validate and/or rewrite the plan to better reroute your course.
Who doesn’t love summer? The long days, sunshine, pool time, barbecues and relaxing vacations are a welcome break from the hard winter most of the U.S. experienced earlier this year. Some seasonal businesses, such as ice cream shops and pool salesmen, thrive during warm months, but for others, the sun-filled season comes with a sense of anxiety. Dipping sales, sinking productivity and low morale all contribute to the dreaded summer slump. But by being proactive and making some changes in the way you approach business, it could turn your seasonal slowdown into a sunny success.
1. Modify your outreach times.
Many people spend summer days outdoors and don’t go home until later in the evening. If you want your marketing messages to be seen and heard, send them early in the morning or later at night, when more people will be home.
2. Embrace the good weather.
No one likes to be cooped up inside on sunny days (especially here in Seattle, where such days are fleeting). Encourage employees to enjoy the weather and go outside for breaks or walks. You can even host meetings outdoors, or entire company outings. The more you let your employees spend time outside, the less they’ll dream of it while inside.
When my business partner and I started Guidant Financial back in 2003, we said we wanted to change the way people view retirement investing. Over a decade later, I believe we were a driving force behind the way self-directed IRA investing (or at least the marketplace) developed.
In August, we sold our real estate IRA (or more specifically, our self-directed IRA business unit) because our vision has changed drastically over the past five years. Up until that point we had helped thousands of entrepreneurs deploy billions into small business and franchising through rollovers for business startups, SBA loans and more. And, we want to double our efforts in small business so our broader vision has become to increase the number of entrepreneurs who succeed in small business. We’re approaching it in a number of ways:
- Our company culture. We’ve built a strong team of passionate employees who embrace the vision of helping entrepreneurs. So much so that some of them have even made the jump themselves. In fact, one of our former employees used our services to purchase an existing business and left his role in our company to pursue it. We were okay with that!
- Our presence in the alternative financing marketplace. We’re the leader in rollovers as business startups (ROBS) and undoubtedly the driving force behind the arrangements maturation. I liken it to HELOCs. In the ‘90s, people said “never risk your home to buy a business,” and then it became one of the most common ways people bought them. We brought ROBS to the masses and look at what we’ve done! Over 8500 clients have used our services, $3 billion in retirement funds have been invested and 60,000 U.S. jobs have been created by the businesses our clients have started.
- Our additional financing services. There are many ways to finance a small business and we work with entrepreneurs to determine how and where they can access the capital they need. Our programs include, but are not limited to, SBA loans, unsecured credit, rollovers for business startups, merchant cash advances, equipment leasing, and asset-based loans.
- Our ability and desire to expand. Really, we’re just getting started. As the leader of retirement fund financing, we’ve grown (and will continue to) into a full suite firm that offers more products and services. Put simply: We want to make entrepreneurs lives easier.
It’s exciting to start a business, full of ideas and dreams for what could be. It’s intoxicating to arrive at a place that far surpasses that vision, and realize that there is so much more to do.
David Nilssen is the CEO & Co-Founder of Guidant Financial. Read more tips about becoming a successful entrepreneur in his book, Making the Jump into Small Business Ownership. He can be found on Twitter at @DavidNilssen. The advice in this column should not be considered legal tax advice.
Your taxable profit will be lower the more deductions you take, so it’s in your best interest as a business owner to maximize them, so long as they adhere to the IRS deduction rules.
Most “small” businesses do not provide a 401(k) as a benefit for their employees, but if you can, you have a distinct advantage when hiring. And, a 401(k) plan has several tax advantages. First, your business is generally permitted to take a tax deduction for its contributions to the plan when the contributions are made. Those can be made as a simple match—or—in the form of profit sharing.
If your goal for 2014 is to become a business owner, you’re most likely being inundated with advice and tips. Maybe so much that sifting through it and evaluating who you can trust is eating up time that would be better spent putting the wheels in motion for your new venture. In the interest of saving you time and aggravation, I’ve broken down the five most important things you should know about getting the funds squared away for your business:
1) Pre-empt your lender’s doubts.
If you’re seeking a loan to purchase a franchise, your bank may be well-versed in franchising—or not. Assume they will need convincing about the franchise and do their homework for them: a risk evaluation using banking terminology and analyzing standard underwriting topics. A FRANdata bank credit report in hand will smooth your path with lenders.
2) Get your financial records in shape.
That means get them together in one place in a condition that makes it clear that you are trustworthy, keep meticulous records and are a serious professional. The bank is going to want to see:
- Personal and business credit history
- Personal and business financial statements for existing and startup businesses and as well as a projected financial statements
- A strong, detailed business plan (including personal information such as bios, education, etc.)
- Cash flow projections for at least a year
3) Realize that your payment history is important.
There’s no question that your credit score is important, but banks will also look at your back payment history. If it concerns them, it could dilute the weight given even a strong credit score.
4) Make sure your resume reflects your business acumen.
Even if you’ve never owned a business before, highlight the experience you do have to show lenders that you have knowledge of the space you’re entering, that you finish what you start, that you have membership in organizations that are relevant to your new business.
5) Keep calm and carry on.
It’s become an internet meme, but it’s relevant here. Be patient and move forward with plans as best you can while awaiting a decision from the lender. If you get a ‘no,’ move on. Successful business owners know that it’s all about the long game.
Of course there are alternative ways to fund a business. If you’ve got a 401(k), there is a rather complex, but completely legal way to use the retirement account to purchase a business—without incurring any debt.
David Nilssen is the CEO & Co-Founder of Guidant Financial. Read more tips about becoming a successful entrepreneur in his book, Making the Jump into Small Business Ownership. He can be found on Twitter at @DavidNilssen.
2013 was a great year for Guidant. We celebrated our tenth anniversary, launched a new website and helped hundreds of people realize their business ownership dreams. As the year comes to a close it’s tempting to mentally check out and enjoy the social parts of the season. But I’ve found that the quieter time that comes with people being on vacation is perfect for doing some deep thinking about want I want to accomplish in the coming year. Here are my resolutions for 2014:
1. Provide even greater value to our clients through education.
Knowledge is power, and when people have the facts about the different ways they can become business owners, they are empowered to choose what’s right for them. Our new website has a section called “Study Hall” devoted to educating would-be business owners.
2. Raise the awareness of Rollovers as Business Startups (ROBS).
The greatest challenge of our business is that potential business owners have either never heard of ROBS, or, because of its complexity make the faulty assumption that there is something quasi-legal about it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This time of year we’re told to count our blessings and be thankful. Gratitude is wonderful, but giving thanks and giving back are even more important. Here are some suggestions for walking the walk.
Giving to Charity
You’ll always be able to find an excuse for not donating time or money to those less fortunate. From cynicism about administrative costs for large charities to a blame-the-victim mentality, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to the needy. But taking five minutes to make an online donation or a few hours to volunteer your time is good for your community, your business, and your self-worth. It just feels right. At Guidant, we hold food drives for local organizations, empower future entrepreneurs through Youth Ventures, and participate in races and walks for the American Cancer Society.
By David Nilssen, CEO & Co-founder, Guidant Financial
Follow your bliss. We’ve all heard this simple advice, stated succinctly by writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell. We’ve heard it so often that maybe we’ve lost sight of Campbell’s intent. It wasn’t permission to do nothing, or to squander our gifts. In saying “Follow your bliss,” Campbell exhorted us to action. To proactively seek out what we’re passionate about and build a life around it. After all, if you’re doing what you love, it doesn’t feel like work—but you can make it your living.
By David Nilssen, CEO & Co-founder of Guidant Financial
We all have dreams. They start off big when we’re very young. As we grow up, most of us temper our ambitions with a dose of reality and a need to fit in—to do what others do. This is true for aspiring (and frankly existing) entrepreneurs.
First, let me say that not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. There is tremendous potential for reward—both material and in personal freedom and satisfaction—but there is risk in entrepreneurship, and a fearful or risk-averse person should not attempt it.