One can be lonely

wolfMany of us started our business feeling isolated and like a lone wolf. We had an idea and knew that it was something we wanted to grow into more than just a fleeting dream.

But we were one. And we felt alone.

One is a lonely number.

When we discovered there were others out there, like us, who were in the same industry, it was like a light being turned on in an empty room.

We found friends and like-minded people who would join us in our quest for success, people who would hold our feet to the fire, friends who would spur us on when we felt discouraged and ready to give up. And the number “one” multiplied into a pack — a community.

Read moreOne can be lonely

Are You Marching in the Parade

Are You Marching in the Parade?

While watching the Parade of Lights during the holidays here in Flagstaff, I was reminded of something I read a long time ago.

It said something like “If you aren’t marching in the parade, it is passing you by.”

Will Rogers said something similar:  “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

This applies to us as entrepreneurs as well.  Every one of us, home-based or not, should be using this time of year to design a campaign to announce our business.  Because competition is so tight, a business needs to make a lot of noise to survive in the marketplace.  That’s especially true for a new business but even established ones often could use a good shot in the arm.

Getting people to pay attention to your business takes more than money.  It takes a willingness to think past the obvious and explore the unknown.  But that shouldn’t be difficult for you.  After all, that’s why you started your own business, isn’t it?

And on a different note . . .

Unless you have a local networking group of peers within your industry (which most of us do not), you are walking in that parade alone.  The big bands and huge decorated floats may make you feel small and all alone even if you are marching behind them.

This is where we come in.  We offer that opportunity to network with peers who know what you are going through and are willing to share what they have learned in exchange for your doing the same.

In the early days of our industry, the AOL and Prodigy bulletin boards excited us with the opportunity to network with others in the same boat that we were in.  The Jubilee and Gift Basket Connection conventions gave us this extra boost once a year.  Actually, when I first began, there were two Jubilees each year.

When Cherie Reagor announced her last Gift Basket Connection convention, there was a huge feeling of loss that has never been filled.

And then there are the Facebook groups.  Here are the problems with them:

  • They simply aren’t structured to help your small business grow and thrive.
  • You never really build meaningful relationships that can support and guide you.
  • Because they are free to join, there are no standards for who is in them.
  • You never really feel comfortable while sharing your ideas because your competitors are lurking in the corners and you don’t even know they are there.

You can pay for individual coaching which can be expensive.  There is group coaching available but there’s no “one size fits all” answer.  From what I’ve heard from some who have paid the thousands of dollars a year for coaching, I’m shocked at the canned advice that is oftentimes being pass out.

Your situation, your location, your business, and even you and your passions are unique and you need unique answers to your questions.

I’m not suggesting that you drop your coach.  There are a few that are very good and aren’t too expensive (Mike Neese is one that I’ve heard great things about).  I’m not going to say that I’ve started a new coaching business that will give you everything you need.  Because that just wouldn’t be true.

I consider myself a business coach but I don’t charge you thousands of dollars for the information that I provide to you.  I don’t even use the word “coach” to describe what I do.

I’m a writer.  I’m a publisher.  I am a business owner that has been successful in a variety of businesses for many years.  I’m available to answer your questions and — even much more important — I provide a platform where others who are as experienced, if not more so, will jump and provide their suggestions as well.

What is this going to cost you?  Not thousands of dollars.  Heavens forbid.  I couldn’t go to sleep at night wondering if I had provided that much value for that much money.

It won’t even cost you a few hundred.

All it will cost you is $34.95 for a full year.  That price will go up on March 1st, our 6th anniversary of publishing, however.

What do you get for $2.50 a month?

You get 12 monthly issues of our magazine written by experts in our industry who share what they have learned along the way.  You get a private forum where you can ask your questions and share with others going through the same problems that you are.  And, yes, I’m there to provide my “bit of coaching” as well.  You become — not a part of a large Facebook group with few relationships (although that is available as well)– but a part of select gift basket business owners just like you.

And only until January 31st, you get a free copy of the ebook, “Make 2016 Your Best Year Ever!”

So what are you waiting for?  Is the parade passing you by as you wave to us as our Gift Basket Business Owners float goes by?

Want to join the parade?  You can do so here.

Should You Incorporate?

A question that I am frequently asked by those either starting or growing a business is:  “Should I incorporate?”  The next question is:  “What is the difference between the different kinds of corporations?”

Before I get started I want to point out that I am not any kind of tax expert and although I believe this information to be accurate, you should always check with a CPA or tax expert before taking any of my advice.

There are two different kinds of corporations that you could sign up as with your state corporation commission — a regular corporation and a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC).  These are state specific entities.  There is also an S Corporation which is a federal tax entity.

When it comes time to file your income taxes, if you are a regular C-Corp, the corporation files a tax form and pays taxes on its income and then you pay taxes on income that you earned from the corporation.  By paying as a corporation and then paying taxes on your income from the corporation, you are in effect paying double taxes.

The way to get around that is to file taxes as an S-Corp.  The corporation’s income is passed through the corporation (without paying the taxes) and then filed as income with your personal taxes.  An S-Corp is not automatic, however.  You have to file the paperwork with the IRS requesting to be considered an S-Corp once your state incorporation is complete.

A Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) offers all the tax and liability benefits of a corporation but are usually easier to set up and operate.  In my state, a corporation has to file a corporate tax form (with a fee) annually while an LLC does not.  In some states, filing may be more complicated but in my state, the Corporation Commission makes it easy for a person to file the necessary paperwork without an attorney.

You can also request S Corp status for your LLC.  Your CPA can advise you on the pros and cons. You’ll have to make a special election with the IRS to have the LLC taxed as an S corp using Form 2553. And you must file it before the first two months and fifteen days of the beginning of the tax year in which the election is to take effect.

The LLC remains a limited liability company from a legal standpoint, but for tax purposes it’s treated as an S corp. Be sure to contact your state’s income tax agency where you will file the election form to learn about tax requirements.

What I see as the primary reason for running your business through a corporation — whether it be a regular one or an LLC — is liability protection.  There are also tax benefits which you should discuss with your CPA early in the year.

Running your business 100% through a corporation can shield your personal assets from lawsuits related to your business. A corporation is considered a separate “person” under the law. So if someone sues you for something related to your business, they have to sue the corporation as long as you run it properly.

But you MUST be careful not to mix anything personal with business.  Never use your corporate bank accounts or credit cards for personal use.  If you make any substantial changes to how you operate your business, keep corporate minutes.   The lawyer for anyone trying to sue you will try to “pierce the corporate veil.”  They will subpoena copies of your bank and credit card records and look for any personal use.  If they can find any, they can then request to sue you personally instead of suing the corporation.

These are only the basics but should give you a place to get started.  In my state, even a business with only one owner/shareholder can become a corporation.  So size and profits make no difference.

If you are operating as a sole proprietor or partnership, January is a good month to talk to your tax person and see how becoming a corporation could benefit you.  And remember if you are already an LLC wondering if S-Corp designation by the IRS would be helpful for you, you only have a short window of  the first two months and fifteen days of the beginning of the tax year in which the election is to take effect.  Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until 2017.

 

 

Coaches, Money Goals and Baloney

I am being bombarded by emails from so called “business and life coaches” who think they know something about both. They keep telling me that I need to set my “money goals” for 2016 if I want to be successful either in life or business.

BALONEY!

In the ebook “Make 2016 Your Best Year Ever” that I published in late December, I addressed how I feel about this in one of the chapters which began:

“When I was a Realtor, each New Year began with my broker saying, “It’s time to create your business plan. Set your goals. Decide how much money you want to make this year and then determine what it will take to make that much money.

This is something that I was never able to do because money wasn’t the reason I was selling real estate. There were deeper, more personal reasons which were difficult to put on paper and couldn’t be counted in dollars and cents. Even so, by being a “multi-million dollar producer,” I achieved what is considered success in the real estate business.

Why am I sharing this with you?

Because I’ve learned, through my own personal experience and as a small-business counselor, that knowing how to set goals and objectives and even the ability to create a technically-perfectly business plan is not enough

Like New Year’s resolutions, goals alone have little or no meaning and are soon tossed by the wayside and forgotten if they are not grounded in the heart and the passion that you feel about your business. You can set all the goals you want and create the best possible business plan and still be a failure.

But if you have a purpose for what you are doing and feel strongly about it, success will follow.”

As I stated in the rest of that chapter, success and most importantly, success isn’t money in the bank. It is happiness.

I am also getting bombarded with emails wanting to sell me a class in “how to set up a consulting business and make thousands of dollars from people” or “how to become a business coach.”

I don’t need to set up a consulting business or become a business coach.  Why?  Because I consider that to be what I do already.  There are a few who do that already and do it well.  Mike Nease is one such person who will become your business coach and help you walk through your own thought processes as he attempts to guide you based on his knowledge. There are others who take your money while pretending to be the “know it all” who can solve all your problems and who are instead  charlatans.

When people in my industry (or not), have a problem that they think I can help them with, they know that they can call and I’ll give them what information I have.  I already share what I know in my magazine, in this blog (occasionally) and in the new private forum that I’ve just set up.

Successful?  I think so.  I don’t set money goals.  They aren’t important to me.  What is much more important is the ability to sleep at night feeling that I’ve done what I can to make this world a better place.

Does your business need a website?

Does Your Business Need a Website?

I’ve heard many business owners say they think they “should” get a website.  They’re not quite sure how to get one or what they will do with it, but they’ve been told that they should have one.

Only you can determine if your company needs a website.  While making that decision, you need to consider that a website is a communication tool and not an advertisement.  I could say that if all your clientele is local, and you have more customers than your business can handle, and you have no desire to grow larger or to pack and ship your gifts, then there is no point in marketing on the web.

But I won’t say that because it just isn’t true.

Even if your business is local only, people will look for you on the web.

When you attend that next networking event and hand out your business card, people that are interested in your products and services will check you out on the Internet before calling you.  They’ll want to see the types of designs that you create, your prices, and even any testimonials.  They’ll read your About Me page to learn more about who they will be working with.

It all boils down to:  If you want more customers, you should be online.

It can be as simple as a one-page site that tells people how to find you in your local community or as complex as an e-commerce site where people can order from you day and night.

If you are going to have a website however, it should look professional.  Your website is the same as the sign that hangs outside a retail store.  The customer sees that sign and front windows and decides whether to go in or to pass on by.

Benefits of Having a Website

There are a number of benefits to having a website.  The first one is obvious.  You can expand your marketing to a national or even an international audience.  The fastest growing sector of the American population becoming computer literate is between the ages of 50 and 75.  This sector also includes those with the highest percentage of disposable income.  A website helps you target that group.

One benefit, not often discussed, is that a website can make your order taking more efficient.  Your order information is usually more accurate than when taken by phone where it is so easy to misunderstand a word, or number.  Your customer has an immediate receipt showing him the total cost including shipping and sales taxes.

By being available 24/7, potential customers in China, Australia, and other parts of the world, who sleep during your normal business hours, can order from you.   You may be thinking, “But, I don’t ship outside the U.S.”

Neither do I.  But I welcome those orders from the international community for shipping to their family and friends who live in the U.S.

A website is an effective way to brand your business and help you compete more effectively.  The wonderful thing about the Internet is that it produces a level playing field.  In your local community, you may have trouble competing with some of the companies that are larger and have bigger advertising budgets than you do.  But on the Internet, you can compete effectively with the big boys and oftentimes win the order.

A website can generate leads.  By adding a newsletter, contest, giveaway, or other feature to a site, you can accumulate names of potential customers that will be an invaluable part of your marketing plan.

Are your printing and postage costs getting out of hand?

You can reduce both with a website.  Instead of an expensive brochure (or an inexpensive one that looks like it), you can have your products displayed beautifully and keep all the information up to date.   If your phone changes or you’re suddenly out of stock of a particular basket, with a click of a button, you can let your customers know.

The costs for creating and maintaining a website are nominal when compared with the cost of print ads and effective brochures.

The Costs of Having a Website

A website can be very cheap or very expensive.  Once again, it is up to you.  Taking time to learn how to do some or all of the work yourself can be a trade-off if money is an issue.  But remember that time spent learning a new skill is time that will not be available for marketing or working on other phases of your business.  Sometimes it is more cost effective to pay someone to do the technical work for you.  However, even if you pay someone, it is wise to understand as much as possible about the procedure to insure that you are getting value for your dollar.

Having a website involves three basic costs:  Getting the website built is the most expensive.  Hosting costs vary and can run anywhere from $4 to $50 or more per month.  Domain names can be registered inexpensively.

Let’s start with choosing a domain name, the web address where potential customers find your site on the internet.  They are unique and cannot be duplicated.  The cost for registering a domain name ranges from around $8 to $35 per year.   Choose a domain name that is short and easy to remember with a dot com extension at the end.  Most people automatically type in dot com rather than net, info, us, or the number of other extensions you could use.

Many domain name registrars allow you to register your name privately, for an additional fee,  to prevent others from seeing your contact information.

There are pros and cons for choosing this option and I have chosen to keep my information public.

People will look at the Whois data (domain registration) to see if you are who you say you are, and to validate your credibility.

 Having a domain that is anonymous means that you look like you are hiding something.  If there should be any problems with your website or domain (such as hacking, skimming, or other illegal uses), there is no way for someone to contact you about it.  If you try to purchase an SSL Certificate, which is essential for your customer’s security if you use anything other than paypal for payment, the SSL issuing company checks Whois to make sure that it matches your application.

There are a number of options available to you when building your website.  A website is nothing more than a bunch of graphic and text files that are woven together so that they appear as a unit on the internet.  The basic site contains information about you and your company.  If you plan to sell your gifts through your site, you will need to have a shopping cart.

The least expensive means of building a site is to do it yourself.  There are a number of “sitebuilder” programs that allow you to fill in the blanks and create a basic site.  These are usually difficult to optimize for the search engines but can be an effective learning tool for you.  Just be aware that they can have severe limitations.

When I first wrote this article for publication in Rave Reviews, my advice to the do-it-yourselfer was that “if you decide to build a site yourself, my recommendation is to take a course at your local community college in how to use either Expression Web (which replaces Frontpage) or Dreamweaver.”

Times and technology have changed.  There are now a number of different ways to create a beautiful and efficient website.  There are free sitebuilders such as WIX and Weebly.  But the biggest change is the addition of several “all-in-one” shopping carts, hosting, blog, and website pages. The two biggest and best known ones are Big Commerce and Shopify.  For one fee per month, you can have a complete site.

But building the site is only one part of the equation.  In order for the site to be anything other than an internet dust-catcher, you will also need to learn how to optimize the site effectively for the search engines.  The most beautiful website in the world is useless if no one can find it.

Having someone build a site for you and then teach you how to maintain it is probably the most efficient use of your time and money unless you are like me and want to have full control of the whole thing.

When choosing a developer however, there are a number of things you should consider.  Not all website designers have adequate optimization skills.  Ask for a list of sites that they have designed and see where these sites rank in the search engines for their chosen keywords.  Contact the owners of the websites and ask how happy they are with the designer and how effectively their shopping carts are working.

Don’t talk to just one developer.  Talk to several and ask for quotes.  Compare what is included in these quotes and what is not.  Determine if you have to pay the developer to make any changes or if you can be taught to make the changes yourself.  Ask how long it will take to build the site and ask for a guarantee.  A written contract is always better protection than an oral one but make sure that you fully understand the contract before signing it.

When your site is built, you need a hosting company to host your site on their servers.  Once again, there are many options and many prices to choose from.   Some companies allow you to host multiple sites for one low price.  Some include site-building programs, shopping carts, and templates for you to use.   Some are actually resellers for larger hosting companies.

When choosing a hosting company or a shopping cart, there are a number of review websites online that compare many of them.  This is a good starting place but ask people you know about their experiences as well.

Do you need a website?

If the answer is yes, you have a number of options.  Just as when you started your local business, do your research, ask lots of questions, create a financial plan, and go for it.  It’s a whole different world but the results can be greater than you ever dreamed.