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Simplify and Focus

Take the time to think about your goals for the new year.  Identifying and implementing something new requires focus.  When tackling a long list of nonessential, tedious tasks, focus is mission critical. Whether the bull’s-eye on your back is a hefty goal or a bunch of minutiae, adopt these tips to sharpen your focus.

Start by defining you what you want to get done. Goals are the big chunks of stuff you want to get accomplished, like find a new job, train for a race, or hire a new employee.  Now cull that list of goals into what is most important right now. It doesn’t mean you are abandoning the other goals. It means you are making a choice.  Too many goals sap your energy and dilute your resolve to achieve anything. Simplify! Pick one goal and identify it as the #1 priority.  You will now have laser-like focus on what you plan to accomplish. Goals without action steps are just words.

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Evaluate Your Competition

You are ready to launch your business in a growing niche market. Out of the blue a friend sends you a link to a similar new product or service.  After your initial shock, head over and evaluate the competition. Move into discovery mode and look under the hood of the competitor’s engine.  That knowledge may add a creative spark to your thinking.  Or it serves to confirm that you’re bringing an authentic solution for a customer want or need at precisely the right time.

Take a short drive  and see what makes them tick.  Scope out their website and metatags.  Appraise how they tell their story. Are they solving the pain point in a novel way?  If you compete in a new market segment with low barriers to entry, understand the incremental features and benefits promised.  How does that compare to the “must have” features you learned in your customer discovery?  Tap into their social networks and get a feel for their buzz.

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Develop a Successful Sales Plan

It is critical to plan for and adjust to your product or service sales cycles. Begin by reviewing the 10 steps to deliver a successful sales plan.  Each step will affect your resources, budget and cash flow. Properly executed, you will increase your sales and profits and delight your customers.

Understand your product life cycle.

Where is your product or service today?  Is it in an introductory phase, undergoing a growth spurt, delivering mature sales, or a slow decline? It is important to know where your products are in their  life cycle to properly assess current demand and projected sales revenues. Review the initial buying pattern and current purchase cycle for accuracy. Is your product a 1x purchase, or does it involve multiple and repeat purchase patterns?  Think toaster versus buying the bread for toast!

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Five Tools No Business Owner Should Go Without

As a business owner, you’re doing all you can to reduce your costs; after all, this is one of the greatest ways to keep more money in your pocket. Whether you run your business from home or a co-working location, technology can help save you time and money.  Here are five social marketing tools to add to your arsenal.

Email Marketing

MailChimp makes it easy to create content with a catchy, streamlined email formatting platform to reach the masses. Allowing business owners to target specific customer lists, you can target your email blasts to those potential customers who aren’t faithful to your brand – yet. MailChimp is a great free option for business with less than 2,000 email subscribers who send less than 12,000 total emails each month. Another great option is Constant Contact, which “wrote the book on Engagement Marketing.” Offering a combination of free, personalized coaching and a unique set of online marketing tools, Constant Contact helps business from start-ups to well-established companies engage with their customers.

Social Media Management

As you’re probably well aware, being active on social media is a great way to get the word out about your company, but if not done properly, your social networking can actually backfire on you. Unfortunately, there are a lot of business owners out there who believe they simply don’t have the time to be as active on Facebook and Twitter to make social media worth their while. Gremln is one tool that makes posting to all of your social media accounts a breeze. Allowing users to schedule posts in advance, you can sit down and get your weeks’ worth of tweets and Facebook posts created, and allow Gremln to take over and post on your behalf at the times you schedule the posts to go live. HootSuite, another popular option, has built a following of over 7 million users through the ability to easily manage multiple social media campaigns from one platform. Ultimately, it will come down to the ease-of-use for either, but Gremln and HootSuite will take your social media strategies to the next level.

Credit Card Reader

No matter the size of your company, unless you have a retail store, there really is no need for your business to deal with cash transactions. Many small business owners have transitioned toward mobile credit card readers to accept payments when they’re meeting customers face-to-face, while implementing an E-commerce system on their websites to process credit card transactions. With Intuit GoPayment, you can choose between paying a monthly fee or a convenience pay-as-you-go pricing structure that charges you a percentage for each sale you make, helping keep more of your money within the company. Square is another great tool allowing users to accept credit cards on the go. Whether you use an Android or iOS smartphone, just plug the Square into your headphone jack and you’re ready to swipe cards and get paid for your products and services.

Tax & Accounting Software

One of the least favorite tasks many business owners are left with is dealing with corporate taxes. While it’s extremely tempting to hire a CPA to do your company’s taxes, that’s an expense you don’t need to pay for. Quicken provides business owners with more than a simple tax return, allowing users to maximize deductions while breaking down your taxes line-by-line. Quicken also provides users with the ability to manage every single business expense, from purchasing new office equipment to mileage reimbursements. Sage 50 is another accounting software package many business owners have already utilized. Built to handle all of your accounting needs, Sage 50 allows users to view multiple files simultaneously, manage cash flow, payments and collections, and reduce errors while deterring fraud thanks to a screen-level security system included with the software.

Temporary Assistance

Sometimes we need additional help, but due to monetary restraints, we aren’t able to hire the full-or part-time help we need. That’s where Odesk comes in; providing you the perfect way to connect with freelancers for any project you need help wrapping up. By posting your job or task for free, Odesk connects business owners with thousands of qualified freelancers from around the globe. However, if you need help with less specialized tasks, TextBroker is another great tool to take advantage of. Requiring its authors to go through an extensive background process, TextBroker allows business owners to request articles to be written for online content, and also allows you to include SEO options to target specific keywords. With five different quality levels of writing to choose from, you can get the help you need while remaining within budget.

Bradley Derringer is a blogger for TechBreach, giving you the latest on all things tech.

Boost Revenue by Accepting Credit Cards Online

credit cards

There’s plenty in the process that can lead to confusion – you need to know how to set up your site to accept payments online, which processing fee structures work best for your needs, and how the payment goes from being submitted to making it to your corporate bank account. However, this is something that can be tackled easily, so long as you take the time to figure out what is best for you and your small business. Here are some tips to help you boost your revenue by accepting credit cards online.

What are Merchant Services?

Starting with the basics, your merchant account is very similar to your personal bank account, with the difference being in that your merchant account allows you to accept credit and debit card transactions through your company site. As your company still needs its business checking account in order to receive and spend your funds, it’s unlikely that you will create your own merchant account. Instead, you’ll most likely hire a service provider who will manage your payments and take care of the hassle.

With a payment processing account, you sign a contract that gives the processor the permission needed to receive payments on your company’s behalf. Once you sign your contract, your payment processor will transfer all payments made to your company, minus a pre-determined processing fee. Upon entering into your contractual agreement, your processor will provide you with your company’s unique ID number, which will help them identify your account.

Payment Gateway

If you don’t really know how credit card processing works, when you think of your payment gateway, think of it as the service which will begin the transaction and notify you about the transaction’s approval or denial. The payment gateway is what acts as your website’s credit card machine. So, to put it simply, your gateway is what will allow you to process a transaction, just like you would if the customer’s card was in your hand, ready to swipe.

The payment gateway, which is provided in the form of virtual terminal software by some providers, is accountable for providing you and your customers with any settlement reports needed, for voiding transactions, and initiating refunds. Your company’s gateway processes customer information safely and securely, making sure your customers are protected against identity theft at all times. When you gateway completes address and GPS verification assessments, you’ll likely only contact your gateway with issues, as they remove the necessity to talk with your payment processor.

Processing Payments

You will need your payment gateway in order for your E-commerce system to interface with your payment processor. Your processor is the service provider that remains in communication with the bank which issued the credit card being used for a transaction. When the transaction is submitted through your website, it is moved from the payment gateway to your processor, which then requests the funds from the corresponding bank.

After receiving the request, the bank will then perform credit checks, as well as various fraud checks, before deciding whether to approve the payment or not. Your processor then responds to the gateway, which relays the bank’s decision back to your E-commerce system. Your payment processor handles most of the work in getting the payment to your business account, and in doing so, they take on most of the risk involved with accepting payments through your website. That said, the approval process with a payment processor has been known to be one of the lengthiest processes in getting your company set up with the right tools to accept payments on your website.

Your E-commerce System

In order for you to successfully accept payments online, you need to have an establish way to sell your goods and services on your website. The easiest way of going about this is to create an E-commerce system that directly interacts with your payment gateway.

Now, you may already have a properly functioning E-commerce system, you need to take some time to research the payment gateways that are compatible with your company’s system. While unfortunate, not all payment gateways are set up to work with each type of E-commerce system, so you’ll find that your options are limited to those compatible with your company’s system. However, if you sit down and take the time to research your options, you can save your company thousands of dollars a year in payment processing service fees.

While this isn’t the easiest process in the world, we all want to increase our revenue however we can, and there’s no greater way than to make it as easy as possible for your customers to buy your goods and services. Take into account, that if a provider makes it almost too easy to accept credit cards than the competition, they are likely to charge you an arm and a leg in processing fees. There are plenty of wonderful options available to help you achieve the success you’re currently only dreaming of.

Bradley Derringer is a blogger for TechBreach, giving you the latest on all things tech. 

Ready to Switch Careers After 50?

Changing careers after 50 can be intimidating.  A new approach may be required. Kindle your reinvention with these high energy tips:

Embrace  lifelong learning..  Seek the unexpected.  Cultivate a curious mindset and READ.  We live in a digital age. The sheer volume of information is fertile ground for learning about unique cultures, places, experiences and opportunities. Read constantly;  articles, blogs, books, and blather.  Your capacity to learn is as great as it ever was.  Continue to stretch and grow by examining the world from a different perspective.  If you are an interesting person,  others will seek you out for all sorts of reasons. Which leads me to the second lesson.

Network like you mean it.  Most people network when they are unemployed, or soon to be.  They reach out with their self serving contact requests.  Networking is being engaged with other human beings.  Old school networking is transactional.  New school networking is figuring out how you can collaborate and help the other person get where they are going.  Take time to see how you can make a small difference in someone else’s life.  It’s not about YOU, it’s about them.  Learn the skill, you are never too old.

Hone your technical skills.  If you are not e-relevant, no one will hire you.  Take the time to learn about social media and how to brand yourself in the market.  Computer skills?  Mandatory!  Buy a smart phone, learn to tweet and text.  Stay current, stay engaged in technology!

Stride with confidence.  Learn to sell yourself, your ideas and your solutions for your next adventure. Want to change fields or industries?   Apply for the job and sell yourself to the hiring manager. Fear is a great motivator.  By 50, you should be using fear to your advantage.  Find solutions for a company, use your skills and talents to add value to the bottom line.  Discover a nonprofit you believe in, and give it the energy and passion it requires.  Will you stumble along the way?  You can count on it.  By now you are working on making a difference, not just a contribution.

Be an agent of change and get moving.  Find your own true North.

Deliver an Effective Sales Pitch

You have probably heard hundreds of sales pitches in your life.  Some immediately captured your interest, while others were tuned out almost as soon as they began.   What made the difference? The most effective sales pitches were those that were well prepared and delivered with confidence. And even if you were not interested in that product or service at the time, you remembered the pitches that made a positive impression when conditions changed or somebody asked for a recommendation.

Now that you’re an entrepreneur, you want the sales pitch for your small business to have that kind of positive impact on your prospective customers. Don’t worry that you’re not a “born salesperson;” in truth, few people are. All it takes is research and planning—the same steps needed for every other business decision you make as an entrepreneur.

Successful Business Startup Questions

Starting a successful business requires much more than a great idea. Can you define your innovation in the market?

Most people start with a predefined idea in their head about what they want to sell.  The reality is the world may not be waiting for your product or service. Define what you will you do, what value will you create that makes you different from similar businesses?  Identify exactly what benefits you are delivering:  better service, more convenient location, innovative design, hands on training? The process to determine your product involves testing, searching and reacting to feedback provided by your target customers. Never assume you know what your customer wants. unless you have asked.  Invest time upfront asking questions to potential customers. Data driven decisions will beat guesswork every time.

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