Selling Your Business? Serial Trep Gurbaksh Chahal Says Be Bought, Not Sold

An Original Article from Entrepreneur.com

In this ‘Trep Talk Extra, serial entrepreneur Gurbaksh Chahal talks about the three stages of an entrepreneur — and offers advice for business owners who are ready to sell their companies.

The young multimillionaire entrepreneur says why “you never want to be sold, you want to be bought” and explains why perception and positioning are key to making that happen.

Emigrating from India to California with his family at age 4, Gurbaksh Chahal struggled with bullies at school. But he leaned on family for strength that would become his entrepreneurial fuel. He dropped out of school, started a business and never looked back. Chahal sold his first online advertising startup ClickAgents for $40 million, cashed out his second company BlueLithium for $300 million, and now he’s on his third venture, RadiumOne.

‘Trep Talk: Gurbaksh Chahal on Turning Obstacles into Opportunities

‘Trep Talk EXTRA: Gurbaksh Chahal on a Business Idea Myth

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Self-Employment

An Original Article from 360FinancialLiteracy.com

You’ve grown tired of commuting to a job where you sit in a cubicle and do someone else’s bidding. You’ve got a better idea, you can build a better mousetrap, you know you have the knack for being in the right place at the right time, and so you’re thinking of self-employment. But how do you determine if this is a pipe dream or an idea worth pursuing?

Can you handle it?

Whether you’re running your own business or working as an independent contractor, you’ll soon realize that working for yourself isn’t just another job, it’s a way of life.

Are you someone who likes a nine-to-five routine and collecting a regular paycheck? When you’re self-employed, you must be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the job. You’re going to work long hours, which means that you won’t have as much time as you used to for family or leisure activities. And if the cash flow becomes a trickle, you’re going to be the last one to get paid.

Can you get along well with all types of people? Being self-employed is all about managing relationships–with your clients or customers, your suppliers, perhaps with your employees, certainly with your family, and probably with your banker, lawyer, and accountant, too. If you’re the type who wants to be alone to do the few things that you’re good at, then you should do that–for someone else.

Are you a disciplined self-starter? Being self-employed means that you’re your own boss. There may be days when you’ll have to make yourself sit at your desk instead of going for a long lunch, or (especially if you work out of your home) place those business calls instead of reading the newspaper.

Finally, do you enjoy wearing many hats? Depending on your line of work, you may be involved in handling marketing and sales duties, financial planning and accounting responsibilities, administrative and personnel management chores–or all of the above.

Your dream come true

Think about how great it will feel to get paid to do what you’d love to do anyway. If you’re working for yourself, chances are you’ll be doing work that you enjoy. You’ll get to pick who you’ll work for or with, and in most cases you’ll work with your customers or clients directly–no go-betweens muddying the waters. As a result, you may have days when it hardly feels as if you’re working at all. Such harmony between your working life and the rest of your life is what attracted you to self-employment in the first place.

Being your own boss means that you’ll be in control of all of the decisions affecting your working life. You’ll decide on your business plan, your quality assurance procedures, your pricing and marketing strategies–everything. You’ll have job security; you can’t be fired for doing things your way. As you perform a variety of tasks related to your work, you’ll learn new skills and broaden your abilities.

You’ll even have the flexibility to decide your own hours of operation, working conditions, and business location. If you’re working out of your home, your start-up costs may be reduced. You’ll also experience lower operating costs; after all, you’ll be paying for the rent and utilities anyway. If the location of your work isn’t important (perhaps you’re a freelance writer or a consultant), you can live wherever you want. At any rate, if you work at home, you’ll greatly reduce your daily commuting time and expense.

If all goes well and you’re making money, chances are you can make more than you did working for someone else. And since you’re working for yourself, you may not have to share the proceeds with anyone else. The fruits of your labor will be all yours, because you own the vineyard.

On the other hand . . .

When you’re self-employed, particularly if you’re starting your own business, you may have to take on a substantial financial risk. If you need to raise additional money to get started, you may need a cosigner or collateral (such as your home) for a loan. Depending on how much or little work you can line up, you may find that your cash flow varies from a flood to a trickle. You’ll need a cash backup so you can pay your bills while you’re waiting for business to come in or waiting to be paid for completed work. Since you’ll have to pay your own creditors first, this means that sometimes you may eat cereal instead of steak.

Remember that you’re not making any money if you’re not working. You don’t have any employer benefit package, which means that it’s going to be hard for you to go on vacation, take a day off, or even stay home sick without losing income. It also means that you’ll have to provide your own health insurance and retirement plan. Remember, too, that you can choose your clients or customers, but you can’t control their expectations or actions. If you don’t come through for them, or if you do something that offends them, you might not get paid for your work.

Because you’re working for yourself, you’re going to have to take care of everything yourself, from figuring your taxes to watering the office plants. You’ll probably need some new skills, such as bookkeeping and filing quarterly taxes. You can learn to do these things yourself–many software programs are designed just for this market–or you can hire others (e.g., an accountant) to take care of them for you. If you’re not careful, however, you may find that you’re spending more time on the business of being in business for yourself than you are on the work that attracted you to self-employment in the first place.

The bottom line

If you can work long and hard, tolerate risk and stress, cope well with potential disaster and failure, and work well alone and with others, then perhaps self-employment is right for you. If not, then perhaps you should keep that job in the cubicle.

Five Social Media Mistakes Your Startup Must Avoid

An Original Article from Entrepreneur.com

While using social media can be an effective marketing idea for startup companies on a small budget, executing them isn’t always foolproof. Falling victim to any of the common flubs can end up damaging your business’s reputation and chances for success.

Here are five of the most common social media mistakes and how you can avoid making them.

No. 1: Starting without a plan.

If you are tempted to skip creating a social media strategic plan for your business that outlines your goals and the resources you’ll need to accomplish them, don’t do it. By developing a plan, you create a critical foundation for which the rest of your social media efforts are based on.

Your first step to creating a strategic plan for your social media operation is to answer the following questions:

a. Do you know who your target audience is?
b. How do you plan to talk to them?
c. Do you know how your social media campaign ties into your traditional marketing plan?
d. Do you know who is going to staff your social media efforts?
e. Do you know your social media business objectives?
f. How will you measure your success?

Answer these questions along with your core team members — your lead sales, marketing and programming people. As you do so, take time to compare them to other social media strategies to help identify and fill gaps. For instance, web strategist Jeremiah Owyang has a frequently-updated list of social media strategies from larger companies.

Related: More Social Media Mistakes

Once your plan is set, determine who on your staff will be responsible for carrying it out and hold him or her accountable.

No. 2: Poorly timing social media posts.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen startups make is not knowing who the customer is and how he or she behaves on the social web. For instance, a report from my marketing analytics firm KISSmetrics shows that nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population who use social media live in the Eastern Time Zone, and more than 30 percent are in the Central Time Zone. The report suggests that tweets posted at about 5 p.m. have the highest chance of being clicked on and shared. So, for example, if your business is on Pacific Time and you tweet at 5 p.m., you’d miss the “sweet spot” of more than 80 percent of the U.S. population.

Related: What Time Is Your Facebook Sweet Spot?

No. 3: Breaking social media rules of etiquette.

Don’t start a social media campaign without having at least a basic understanding of some of the rules. Here is a simple list I follow:

  • Start conversations by asking thought-provoking questions. Tapping into trends can be a great way to increase engagement among your social followers. You can find these trends on What the Trend or the home pages of general and industry news sites.
  • Don’t follow someone on Twitter, then unfollow them when they follow you. The only reason you should follow a person or a brand is because you value the content he or she shares.
  • Promote other people as well as your own brand. For every personal social media mention you share, you should mention another person or business five times. When you do self-promote, make it a short mention that focuses on the benefit for your readers.
  • Don’t spread yourself too thin. Focus on using four networks or fewer at a time. Otherwise, you might not have the time to consistently provide relevant content that engages users.

No. 4: Failing to measure social media success.

Although it might not be easy to measure something like a conversation, you are able to measure factors such as your total online community size, the number of mentions of your brand across the social web and all the traffic referred to your business’s website. The following tools can help you stay on top these important metrics:

  • PageLever is a paid tool that helps you see your impressions for any date range on Facebook.
  • Simply Measured is a paid tool that can collect social media data such as engagement per blog post, or tweet distribution per country into an Excel report.
  • SocialMention is a free search engine that allows you to have alerts sent to you daily containing mentions made online of you and your brand.

Related: Does Your Company’s ‘Social Personality’ Need a Makeover?

No. 5: Ignoring your competitors.

Knowing who your competitors are and what they are doing is just as important as knowing everything about your own business.

To keep an eye on your competitors over social media, look at their website, locate the social media icons, sign up as a fan and start watching what they do. It’s just as important to see what their fans are saying and use those reactions to improve your own business. For example:

  • Are your competitors’ fans complaining about a missing feature? Can you easily and profitably include that feature into your product?
  • Are they praising something both you and your competitor do, but you aren’t actively promoting it in your ads? Maybe you should.
  • What emotions do their fans seem to connect with in regard to your competitors’ products? Can you tap into that same emotion?

If you have a strategic plan, and avoid the above mistakes, social media can give your startup a cost-effective marketing boost. Additionally, your plan help remind you why you’re spending time on social networks and how to improve your efforts moving forward.

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10 Ways to Keep IT Systems Secure

An Original Article from Entrepreneur.com

Technology continues to be a boon for entrepreneurs, offering increased mobility, productivity and ROI at shrinking expense. But as useful as modern innovations such as smartphones, tablet PCs and cloud computing are to small businesses, they also present growing security concerns. Following are 10 safety tips to help you guard against high-tech failure:

1. Protect with passwords.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but many cyber attacks succeed precisely because of weak password protocols. Access to all equipment, wireless networks and sensitive data should be guarded with unique user names and passwords keyed to specific individuals. The strongest passwords contain numbers, letters and symbols, and aren’t based on commonplace words, standard dictionary terms or easy-to-guess dates such as birthdays. Each user should further have a unique password wherever it appears on a device or network. If you create a master document containing all user passcodes, be sure to encrypt it with its own passcode and store it in a secure place.

2. Design safe systems.

Reduce exposure to hackers and thieves by limiting access to your technology infrastructure. Minimize points of failure by eliminating unnecessary access to hardware and software, and restricting individual users’ and systems’ privileges only to needed equipment and programs. Whenever possible, minimize the scope of potential damage to your networks by using a unique set of email addresses, logins, servers and domain names for each user, work group or department as well.

Related: How Small-Business Owners Can Award Against Online Security Threats

3. Conduct screening and background checks.

While rogue hackers get most of the press, the majority of unauthorized intrusions occur from inside network firewalls. Screen all prospective employees from the mailroom to the executive suite. Beyond simply calling references, be certain to research their credibility as well. An initial trial period, during which access to sensitive data is either prohibited or limited, is also recommended. And it wouldn’t hurt to monitor new employees for suspicious network activity.

4. Provide basic training.

Countless security breaches occur as a result of human error or carelessness. You can help build a corporate culture that emphasizes computer security through training programs that warn of the risks of sloppy password practices and the careless use of networks, programs and devices. All security measures, from basic document-disposal procedures to protocols for handling lost passwords, should be second-nature to members of your organization.

5. Avoid unknown email attachments.

Never, ever click on unsolicited email attachments, which can contain viruses, Trojan programs or computer worms. Before opening them, always contact the sender to confirm message contents. If you’re unfamiliar with the source, it’s always best to err on the side of caution by deleting the message, then potentially blocking the sender’s account and warning others to do the same.

6. Hang up and call back.

So-called “social engineers,” or cons with a gift for gab, often prey on unsuspecting victims by pretending to be someone they’re not. If a purported representative from the bank or strategic partner seeking sensitive data calls, always end the call and hang up. Then dial your direct contact at that organization, or one of its public numbers to confirm the call was legitimate. Never try to verify suspicious calls with a number provided by the caller.

7. Think before clicking.

Phishing scams operate by sending innocent-looking emails from apparently trusted sources asking for usernames, passwords or personal information. Some scam artists even create fake Web sites that encourage potential victims from inputting the data themselves. Always go directly to a company’s known Internet address or pick up the phone before providing such info or clicking on suspicious links.

Related: Seven Steps to Get Your Business Ready for the Big One

8. Use a virus scanner, and keep all software up-to-date.

Whether working at home or on an office network, it pays to install basic virus scanning capability on your PC. Many network providers now offer such applications for free. Keeping software of all types up to date is also imperative, including scheduling regular downloads of security updates, which help guard against new viruses and variations of old threats.

9. Keep sensitive data out of the cloud.

Cloud computing offers businesses many benefits and cost savings. But such services also could pose additional threats as data are housed on remote servers operated by third parties who may have their own security issues. With many cloud-based services still in their infancy, it’s prudent to keep your most confidential data on your own networks.

10. Stay paranoid.

Shred everything, including documents with corporate names, addresses and other information, including the logos of vendors and banks you deal with. Never leave sensitive reports out on your desk or otherwise accessible for any sustained period of time, let alone overnight. Change passwords regularly and often, especially if you’ve shared them with an associate. It may seem obsessive, but a healthy dose of paranoia could prevent a major data breach.

The average cost to an organization to recover from such a breach is $6.75 million, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. And that doesn’t count damage to your reputation or relationships. So be proactive and diligent about prevention. An ounce far outweighs a pound of cure.

Related: Data Backup and Storage: Should You Stay Local or Go Online?

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How to Create an E-Mail Marketing Campaign That People Will Notice

An Original Article from Entrepreneur.com

In a world where social media gives businesses more immediate ways to connect with customers, is e-mail marketing still relevant? I think so. In fact, the volume of e-mail marketing messages remained at record-setting levels in June, according to Chad White, research director at marketing company Responsys, and retail e-mail volume will grow about 20 percent this year (vs. more than 16 percent in 2011), thanks to a shift away from old-school direct mail and print.

That makes for a more crowded party. Your e-mails are competing with (literally!) millions of others, which means you must be intentional in your efforts to create messages that truly engage your customers. Here’s how.

1. Start with a robust list.

This is an obvious point, but it’s worth reiterating: Make sure the contacts on your e-mail list actually want your messages. You may be as witty as David Sedaris, but if your audience has already tuned you out, what’s the point?

How do you know if your list is stale? Check your open rate. The average is 20 percent, according to the Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study released in July by marketing firm Silverpop. If your open rate is significantly less than that, you might have a stale list (or the average for your industry varies significantly from that of others).

Other measures of the health of an e-mail list include click-through rates (how many people took a desired action; i.e., clicked on a link) and conversion rates (how many completed a task in an e-mail message, such as buying a product or signing up for an offer). But the open rate is probably the most telling metric.

2. Freshen things up.

Freshen it up by doing something unexpected, suggests DJ Waldow, co-author of The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing. Segment your list to send a dedicated message to those who haven’t opened an e-mail recently, and make the content slightly offbeat–shocking, humorous or whatever fits your brand best. “Whatever you normally do, do the opposite,” Waldow says. The idea is to incite reaction and (one would hope) reengagement.

It’s tempting to hang on to those unresponsive addresses — it can be painful to think of purging unengaged recipients. But, as Waldow says, “E-mail marketing works best when you speak to those who really want to hear from you.”

3. Use real images.

Stock photography is so yesterday — it’s far better to use your own images. Punctuate e-mails with images from your Instagram or Pinterest feeds, or use staff photos. I like the way the Ibex Outdoor Clothing newsletter features company employees as models.

“Imagery doesn’t have to be polished to tell the story,” Waldow says. “Keep it real, light and fun.”

But be aware that too many graphic elements might make it more difficult for your message to render across every e-mail client and on multiple devices.

4. Keep it simple.

Kill the buzzwords, corporate jargon and Frankenspeak. Instead, communicate like an actual human–even if what you sell is complicated. Simple terms are more likely to be read, so write clearly, and use the first person.

Make your calls to action simple, too. In fact, make them stupid-obvious. Haven’t we all been the recipients of confounding e-mails that make it difficult to tell how to access an offer? “Don’t make me search!” Waldow says.

5. Create shareable moments.

Outfit your e-mail with social-sharing bling: forward-to-a-friend links and buttons for seamlessly sharing the content on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. I like the way Boston-based VC firm OpenView Venture Partners places a “tweet this” link after each headline teaser in its weekly newsletter, so readers can share the headline directly from the e-mail (instead of having to click through to the article itself).

Also consider how you can make the e-mail itself more social. At MarketingProfs, we highlight a tweet from a member of our community in our daily newsletter. Such features create a sense of camaraderie and add an element of surprise, Waldow notes, “because you never know if you’re going to be featured, so a reader is likely to open to see if today is the lucky day!”

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Government Contracts a Lesson in Patience

An Original Article from The Wallstreet Journal

Like many business owners who have suffered during the downturn, Randy Lebolo decided the most reliable client for his small construction firm would be Uncle Sam.

When the real-estate market was in free fall nearly two years ago, Mr. Lebolo decided to shave staff, negotiate with his landlord for a lower lease, and begin the long process of becoming certified to bid on federal work opportunities. He finally won his first government contract recently to remodel a courtroom in a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., courthouse. But the job pays just $250,000, not nearly the lucrative amount Mr. Lebolo—who says his Boynton Beach, Fla., firm had a history of multimillion-dollar commercial construction jobs before the downturn—thought he’d land.

Many small businesses are learning that it’s not always easy to get a foot in the government’s door, and the rewards might not always seem worth the hassle. Winning a government contract can require massive amounts of research, long wait times and capital—all difficult investments for a struggling enterprise.

Documentation is required to prove small-business eligibility and to obtain a number of certifications and registrations. Owners need to learn which agencies are best to target, how to write a government proposal and how to network with procurement agents.

The process requires lots of patience. On average, businesses have found that winning a contract takes nearly two years of trying, according to a recent American Express survey of about 1,500 businesses either engaged or interested in federal procurement opportunities. Some 42% of business owners who haven’t landed their first contract said they registered in the government’s procurement system for the first time within the past two years.

That means government work might not be a viable lifeline for businesses on the brink of shuttering. Despite an influx in training and networking events, some sponsored by the Small Business Administration, winning an initial contract can require more time, energy and money than some business owners can afford. Mr. Lebolo, for instance, spent months traveling the country to attend events, and hired advisers, lawyers and accountants to help him file all the necessary paperwork.

Still, the federal government is an attractive source of money for many businesses that have lost private-sector work or clients. Roughly one in five business owners who are seeking government contracts say they are doing so to counter the ebb and flow of their business, according to the American Express survey.

The federal government is mandated to award 23% of its prime contracts to small businesses every year, which amounted to $97 billion in 2009, according to preliminary data from the SBA. And contracts from the February 2009 stimulus have been particularly lucrative for small businesses, as nearly 30%, or $7.4 billion, have gone to Main Street firms.

Stimulus opportunities will continue to flow in coming years, given that only a third of allocated funds have been paid out thus far.

Mr. Lebolo is optimistic his recently won contract will lead to more. “You need to learn the [government contracting] process slowly, take a smaller job and understand what the requirements are,” says Mr. Lebolo, who has taken a few small commercial jobs to keep his firm, Lebolo Construction Management Inc., afloat. “If they ask you to paint a door, then take it,” he says.

But even business owners who are growing and interested in new revenue streams find the government-contracting process less than attractive.

A few weeks ago, Ben Engber attended an informational event in New York City sponsored by American Express OPEN, the company’s small-business division, to learn how his Brooklyn-based software development firm, Thumbtack Technology Inc., could land government projects.

“The biggest takeaway was that it’s a different world than the one I’m used to,” Mr. Engber says, adding that government agencies “want a specific service, and have set criteria to evaluate you.” With commercial work, “you can go in and explain what you do and why it’s superior,” he says.

Mr. Engber says he’d likely need to rebrand his firm and tweak his business model before diving into the process. Knowing the amount of time and energy that would take, he has decided to hold off on pushing into the federal arena, especially since his company is growing in other areas, he says.

Mr. Lebolo, however, is shifting his firm’s strategy to primarily focus on government work. “I made a determination to look hard into the federal market because it was the only place with money,” he says.

He says he’s not frustrated by the relatively small price tag of his first government assignment. Now that the process of landing a contract is behind him, he says there is no going back to commercial construction. He hopes to grow and begin hiring again by the end of this year. “This is a long-term decision,” he says.

Write to Emily Maltby at emily.maltby@wsj.com

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Trying to Win a Government Contract? Avoid These 3 Mistakes

An Original Article from Entrepreneur.com

When you’re looking to grow your small business, one option is to tap into the steady flow of federal contracts offered by Uncle Sam. Doing business with the federal government can provide a reliable revenue stream, if you’re persistent and plan properly.

There is a lot of money to be made: In its 2011 fiscal year, the federal government awarded $91.5 billion in contracts to small businesses, according to the Small Business Administration. The government’s goal is to award 23 percent of its contracts to small businesses. However, in 2011, it fell short, awarding only 21.7 percent. Billions of dollars that should have been awarded to small businesses weren’t, and there lies the opportunity for entrepreneurs, says Lourdes Martin-Rosa, the American Express OPEN adviser on government contracting.

Since the federal government’s fiscal year ends at the end of September, the last quarter for government agencies to meet their small business quota “is hunting season,” she says. So this is an especially good time to apply. Check the government’s small business dashboard to see where each agency currently stands in meeting its quota.

Furthermore, the Obama administration announced Wednesday that it will order federal agencies to speed up payments to businesses doing work for them. Once paperwork is in, Uncle Sam will cut a check within 15 days in most circumstances, compared to the usual 30 days.

Related: 5 Ways to Get Paid Faster

If you are interested in doing business with Uncle Sam, here are three common mistakes to avoid:

1. Don’t market to every federal agency. Instead of blindly casting the widest net, take time to understand each government agency’s mission by checking the “procurement forecast” on their individual websites. This will detail what the specific agency needs, when it needs it, and what kind of business is eligible.

Another way to see what contracts are available is to check the Federal Business Opportunities website under the “Opportunities” tab. As you scroll down the column showing the “Type” of jobs, look for those that are titled: “Sources Sought.” These are potential opportunities the government is researching and it’s looking for small businesses that can take it on. Look closely at those postings as they often include an agent’s contact information, so you can reach out directly, Martin-Rosa says.

Related: 5 Steps to a Successful Business Turnaround

2. Don’t pass up a face-to-face meeting. Getting government contracts is about networking and building relationships. There are many opportunities to meet with federal officers who make the contract decisions. Go to them, says Martin-Rosa.

For example, there’s a National Small Business Contracting week every year and the National Association of Business Contractors offers information about upcoming meetings and conferences. American Express also hosts a series of free conferences called the Victory in Procurement series and Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) “Give me Five!” group hosts webinars and conferences for women business owners.

3. Don’t dress casually. It may seem obvious, but Martin-Rosa says when you meet with a federal officer, you have to dress to impress. “You don’t want to walk in wearing a pair of jeans and tennis shoes,” says Martin-Rosa. And remember to tailor your sales pitch to the needs of the specific agency you think is the best fit. Approaching a federal agency with the attitude that it owes you the work because it is not making its quota will not fly, she says.

Related: 4 Ways to Weed Out Rotten Clients and Grow Your Business

What is your best tip in getting a contract with the federal government? Leave a comment below and let us know. 

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5 Little-Known iPhone and iPad Apps for Startups

An Original Article from Entrepreneur.com

Being a small business owner can be like playing in a one-man band. Accounting, shipping, sales and administrative tasks all fall on you. With this in mind, Apple has put together a collection of apps designed to help any new business owner work faster and more efficiently.

Here’s a look at five new or recently updated iOS apps that you might have missed:

1. Invoice2Go:

This app helps you create invoices and estimates on your iPhone or iPad. You can create a master list of regular billable items, or use the Receipts2go plugin to bill for client-specific supplies. Completed invoices can be emailed or printed right from the app.

Invoice2Go also has a reporting tool that lays out your financial situation at a glance. You can create three invoices for free. Paid plans start at $24.99 a year for up to 100 invoices.

Related: 4 Simple iPhone Apps for Creating and Editing Documents

2. Docusign Ink:

Eliminate printing and scanning with this app, which lets you sign all kinds of documents electronically. Import documents from a cloud drive or take a picture with your device’s camera. Docusign Ink converts the document so you can drag your pre-set signature into place. Then save and send.

Need a client to sign off on a work order, sale or contract? You can use Docusign Ink to request a signature by email or have clients sign off digitally in person. You can sign unlimited documents for free, but there is a limit of five additional signatories before you’ll be asked to purchase a yearly plan starting at $15 a month.

Doucsign Ink is also available on Android.

3. Bento 4 for iPad:

This personal database app was recently redesigned for the iPad making it even easier to organize and present data. What makes Bento 4 different from the average spreadsheet tool is that it allows you to combine your tables with text fields and images by simply dragging and dropping boxes on to one of 40 free templates.

Use Bento 4 to create a product catalog for sales meetings, to manage multi-step projects or build a detailed contact list. The iPad app costs $9.99 and syncs with Bento’s desktop software for the Mac.

4. Concur:

This app is an organizational tool for frequent travelers. Use it to book hotel rooms, check airline reservations and manage your itinerary. Once you’re on the move, use Concur to track your expenses as they occur. You can type information by hand, scan receipts or use e-receipts to add data. At the end of your trip, Concur combines all of the information into a finished expense report. Also available on Android, the app is free for iPhone and iPad but you’ll need to link it to a desktop Concur account. Subscriptions start at $8 per person, per month.

5. Delivery Status Touch:

If you send or receive a lot of packages each month, Delivery Status Touch can help keep track of them.

For $4.99, the app works with the major delivery services and pulls information automatically from Amazon, Apple and Google Checkout. Once you input a package, it gets added to the home screen. From there, you can see the progress of every item — coming or going.

Related: 3 Low-Cost Sales Lead Tools for Startups

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How Can I Get Free Publicity For My Business

An Original Article from 360FinancialLiteracy.com

Free publicity may be the most cost-effective way of presenting your product to the public. Generally, it has more credibility than advertising since it gives the impression that the content was written by an independent third party. To get publicity, you have to create a reason why someone would want to know about your product. Then, you look around for a way to bring this information to the public’s attention.

The easiest way for you to do this is through the media, newspapers in particular. You could start by contacting a local or specialized columnist, a regional reporter, or a freelance writer. Tell the journalist why the paper’s readers need to know about you and your product. Often, if you have a story line prepared in advance, you can pitch the story to the journalist.

Other ways of getting free publicity include volunteering, submitting stories to the media specific to your product, holding a press conference or issuing a press release, writing a column in a paper, writing a letter to the editor, or donating to a worthy cause. Finally, you can try to get listed in the community news section to advertise some fact about your business, such as the celebration of its first anniversary. This will give you and your product exposure to the public.

Funding a Business

An Original Article from 360FinancialLiteracy.com

Aside from using your own funds and borrowing from friends and family, there are numerous routes that you can take, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of the major options available for funding your small business, and some of the pitfalls to avoid. You’ve got your business plan written. You’re excited about your business idea, and now it’s time to get started. One problem: You don’t have the financing to fully realize your idea. What are your options?

Bank loans

Getting a loan from a local bank is the first option that most people think of when funding a new business. But it’s often difficult to obtain a bank loan on the basis of a business plan alone. Banks can’t take your idea as collateral for the loan.

If you are thinking of getting a bank loan, you will likely need to secure the loan through other means, such as putting up your home as collateral. A bank loan may be more feasible, though, if you are purchasing an ongoing business outright. In that case, the assets or the business itself can be used to secure the loan.

In any case, the advantage of a bank loan is that you won’t have to give away any equity if your business succeeds. You will simply repay the loan and own your business outright. If your business fails, however, you may end up losing more than your business assets, depending on the terms of the loan.

Angel investors

Angel investors are private investors who contribute money to a business in exchange for an ownership interest. The obvious advantage of utilizing angel investors is that you don’t have to repay a loan. However, you may have to give up a significant amount of equity (and control, depending on the security issued) to the angel investors. Angel investors typically expect to receive preferred equity security in exchange for their investment.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle is to find the right angels. There are many people out there who want to invest in small businesses, but it’s not easy to find the right fit. If you opt for this route, make sure that all parties have the same expectations regarding the prospect of success. You need to agree on how long you expect it will take for the business to be profitable (be aware that most small business plans are overly optimistic as to profit expectations) and whether your angels will hang in there with you if it takes longer than expected.

Venture capital

We’ve all heard a great deal about venture capital firms over the past few years. The ups and downs of some of these companies have been well documented. But are venture capital firms a potential source of financing for your business?

Venture capital may be a viable financing source for your business but, then again, it may not. Like angel investors, venture capitalists typically take an equity stake in your company, and most expect to receive preferred equity security in exchange for their investment. Most venture capitalists specialize in certain industries, and many provide corporate direction as well as financing (some angel investors may provide such direction, as well).

It is this aspect of specialization that makes venture capital financing difficult for most new businesses to obtain. If your new business doesn’t fit into the right niche, your company might not be a candidate for funding.

What fields do venture capital firms focus on? Most venture capital firms specialize in high-tech, computer, and Internet services. Others specialize in scientific projects and inventions that require a lot of cash. So, if you’re looking to open your own transmission shop, a venture capital firm probably isn’t the right financing alternative for you.

Selling stock

Selling stock in your company can take several different forms. We’ve all heard and read a lot about initial public offerings (IPOs). IPOs are stock sales in which previously private companies go public. An IPO is a possibility for an ongoing business, but it isn’t likely to be a viable alternative for your new company.

A private placement is less complex than an IPO and involves selling shares of stock to a select group of equity investors. The investors typically exercise control over the company in direct proportion to the number of shares that they own.

Selling stock or other securities in your business generally requires compliance with federal and state securities laws. Seek the advice of an attorney experienced in these laws before your business issues any stock or securities.

Factoring

You’ve been in business for a while and you have customers, but your collections have been bad. You need cash now, but your lack of cash inflow is holding you back. What can you do?

A common solution to this problem is factoring. Basically, you secure a loan (usually at a high interest rate) against your accounts receivable. Factoring companies aren’t hard to find, and some offer better deals than others, but they are almost always going to charge you a much higher rate of interest than your bank. Thus, factoring is usually considered as an option only after all others have been exhausted.

Economic development programs

Many federal, state, and local government loan programs are available to small businesses. The U.S. Small Business Administration is a good place to start.

Don’t overlook your local government loan programs, though. Local governments often offer incentives such as tax breaks or a discounted loan rate if you locate your business in their jurisdiction, often in an area zoned for economic redevelopment.

Customer/supplier financing

This is an option for a business that has a poor credit rating, and a realistic option that many small businesses overlook. In essence, your business bills for part of the services or products that it supplies up front. The rest of the fees are paid as the products are delivered or as the services are completed.

This strategy is aggressive, but many of your customers can appreciate the need that a small business has to keep cash flow current, and won’t object to your asking for partial payment up front.