Category Archives: Growing

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General Guidelines for SBA Loans

An Original Article from SBA.gov

Basics

  • Loans of $5,000 – $5,000,000
  • Most businesses eligible except real estate investment properties (rent homes, apartments) but they can buy real estate for their business to operate
  • Provides guaranty to lenders of 50-85% (90% export)
  • Maximum guaranty – $3.75 million
  • Guaranty fee varies from 2-3.5% but can be taken as an Oklahoma tax credit
  • Interest rates vary and are set by lender with caps mandated by SBA

Eligible Use of Proceeds

  • Real Estate
  • Machinery & Equipment
  • Furniture & Fixtures
  • Inventory (except perishable products)
  • Accounts Receivable
  • Leasehold Improvements
  • Franchise Fees (not all eligible)

Take to the Lender (Start Up)

  • Business Plan
  • 3 years financial projections
  • 3 years tax returns for each owner of 20% or more

Key Factors to Evaluate for Approval

  • Cash Flow – Must support debt repayment
  • Management Ability – Education and experience in the industry
  • Credit – No score set by SBA, but everything needs to be current (bankruptcy may be okay if remote in time and reason beyond control of borrower)
  • Collateral – business assets first then personal real property
  • Equity Injection – Not required for existing business in most cases; new businesses SBA requires 10%, but lenders usually like 20% – possibly more or less depending on risk

Advantages of SBA vs. Commercial Loan

  • Can be under collateralized as long as all available collateral is pledged
  • Smaller equity injection
  • Longer loan Term
  • Technical Assistance (SCORE/SBDC/WBC)

Average turnaround time 3-5 days after lender submits to SBA

Starting

4 Ways to Use Google Hangouts in Your Business

An Original Article from SBA.gov

Small business people still seem to be in the process of catching on to Google+, the social network created by Google. Google has made a number of moves to encourage people to use Google+. It has tied in several applications to Google Plus.

One of those applications is Google Hangouts. Hangouts are a type of online group meeting using webcams so that each of the participants can see and hear the others. Think video conference and webinar all rolled up in one.

With Hangouts, you can hold group presentations online and automatically record them for YouTube, and archive them for later access. You can stream live broadcasts directly from your website, YouTube channel and/or Google+ profile with just a few clicks. Even better, you can save your recorded Hangout videos and post them on your site. If you wanted to try offering webinars, this is a no-cost way to do it – because Hangouts are completely free to do.

So what exactly can you do with Hangouts? Here are 4 suggestions:

1. Conduct Team Meetings

With so many teams having members spread out in different locations or working from home, just scheduling an in-person team meeting can be a challenge. Traveling to attend meetings can be costly and more importantly, time consuming.

Conference calls are the typical way of handling meetings when everyone cannot be present. But phone communication leaves a lot to be desired. When you can’t see facial expressions, miscommunication can arise. Worse, in today’s world, team members can succumb to distraction and start focusing on their smartphones instead of the team participants. When you can see one another, those issues are minimized. People tend to stay alert and engaged.

Need to share a Web URL to the team, or share your screen to show them something? With Hangouts you just push a button and you can do that.

With Hangouts, the person who happens to “hold the floor” and is speaking at the moment, has his or her video screen showing in the large view. Other participants’ screens are minimized until they speak.

And yes, you can restrict Hangouts to make them private.

2. Hold Webinars

Have you ever wanted to share expertise and have it available online, perhaps to establish yourself or a company executive as a subject matter expert? Or perhaps you want to start a webinar series as part of your content marketing repertoire. Or maybe you want to provide a question and answer session for customers or prospects, about a product offering either for sales or customer support purposes.

Hangouts are an interactive way to do all of the above. Hangouts normally are limited to 10 active participants (available to 15 participants with Google+ premium features). Their small size of active participants keeps them rather intimate and encourages participation and questions.

With Google Hangouts On Air, you can broadcast your Hangout publicly. You can record it, edit the recording, and share the recorded event online.

If the cost of webinar software has kept you from experimenting with webinars or customer Q&A sessions, then Hangouts are a low-risk way to experiment. Same with technology issues – if you have been concerned with the technical elements of holding webinars, hangouts are pretty easy. There’s a free Google video chat plugin you will be prompted to download and install upon your first Hangout – but it’s fast and easy. You don’t have to worry about trying to make recording software sync up. You simply start a Hangout, name it and you’re good to go.

3. Offer Consulting Hours

Remember when you were in college and your professor held Office Hours so students could get individual help? Why not offer the same feature as a consultant?

You could offer customized coaching services. A Hangout session with your client can replace phone calls and emails, or lengthy and expensive travel.

For smaller consultants and professionals, it can differentiate your business from competitors. You’ll look high tech, at no extra cost. And Hangouts can allow you to offer an expanded range of services, such as paid coaching sessions that can be advertised and scheduled on your website. Musicians can offer paid music lessons. Only your imagination is the limit.

4. Hold a Press Conference

Who says press conferences are limited to big companies? Recording artist Taylor Swift hosted a Google+ Hangout to announce her new album. During the live chat, Taylor answered fan questions from around the world, let them know what they could expect from her album, and debuted its first single. When her single was released on iTunes it went straight to number one, faster than any other song in history.

Have a big announcement – whether it’s a new executive hire, a new product, or simply to announce that you’ve won an award? A Google Hangout lets you tell the world and provide an interactive record of the announcement.

There are many ways for small business owners to use Google+ Hangouts to connect with their customers, build their brands, monetize their businesses, and create buzz. Check out the Google Live Events calendar to help spur some of your own ideas. You can also add your own events to the calendar to increase your reach. And check out this article with more ways to use Google Hangouts.

Click here to view the original article.

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How Fast Is Too Fast?

An Original Article from Inc.com

To determine the right growth rate for your business, ask yourself some key questions.

Dear Norm,

Our telecom company started out in 1994 as a dial-up Internet service provider, but we’ve evolved into a wholesale supplier of broadband services to other ISPs. It’s a low-margin business. Although we compete with a number of larger companies, we’ve been growing at a rate of 30 percent to 40 percent a year, financing our growth out of cash flow. We don’t have many assets we can borrow against, and we don’t want to use other people’s money. I am concerned about growing beyond our available cash and am thinking of raising prices as a way to slow down our growth. My question is, How do you determine a healthy growth rate for a company like ours?

–Brian Worthen
President, Visionary Communications
Gillette, Wyoming

If you’re selling a commoditized product in an ultracompetitive market, raising prices will no doubt slow your growth rate. It could also cripple your business. It’s smart to be a premium provider and charge more for great service. But I told Brian Worthen he would probably undermine his company if he set prices more than 5 percent to 10 percent above the going rate.

Instead, I suggested he change the way he views his problem, which is the result of the company’s slim gross margins. Accordingly, he might consider trying to boost margins by coming up with new products or services. Beyond that, he needs to ask himself some important questions: “What do I want out of this business? Do I intend to sell it? Do I want faster growth? More income? Do I want a lifestyle business?” Because Brian may not be able to achieve his goals with the company he has. There are limits to what you can do in a business with thin gross margins. I discovered that when I had my delivery business. But then I started an adjunct business in document storage, which had very high margins. That became my main business, and I sold it for more than $100 million. Brian may want to try doing something similar.

As for the question Brian asked at the end of his email, there is a simple answer: You can grow only as fast as your resources allow. If you don’t want to raise capital from outside sources, your growth rate will depend on the amount of cash you generate internally. In deciding whether to take on new business, you have to be certain that you will still be able to pay your bills even if everything goes wrong. I know of plenty of profitable companies that went belly up because they didn’t have enough cash flow to sustain themselves.

Click here to view the original article.

Starting

The Right Way to Hand Over the Reins

An Original Article from Inc.com

Bringing in new leadership can foster growth–when it’s done with wisdom and discipline.

Dear Norm,

My wife and I think it might be time to bring in someone to run our ATM installation and maintenance business. We’re nervous, because we don’t know how to choose the right person or make the transition. Our employees are rather set in their ways, because we haven’t managed them closely. At the same time, we’re looking for faster growth. There are going to be major changes in our industry soon, and we want to take advantage of the opportunities they will offer. Any advice?

–Name withheld

Entrepreneurs constantly get new ideas; it’s part of the entrepreneurial affliction, and it’s generally a good thing. But if you don’t have the discipline to focus on one idea at a time, or if you get too far ahead of yourself, your bright notions can wind up doing more harm than good. The writer of this email–I’ll call him Hank–was on the verge of making both of those mistakes.

Hank and his wife have been in the ATM business for 16 years. She does the bookkeeping, but he withdrew from day-to-day operations eight years ago to become a currency trader, a business he enjoys in part because he can do it on his own, without having to manage anyone else. As a result, his employees have grown accustomed to working with minimal direct supervision. They apparently enjoy it as well.

Now Hank is thinking about hiring someone to fill the leadership role. He’s concerned, however, about alienating his employees. Meanwhile, he can see big changes coming to the ATM business, as smartphones make it possible to access the machines remotely. There’s an opportunity, he believes, for his company to become a leader in supplying technology to ATM companies not affiliated with banks. He has been thinking the new person could work in business development while preparing to take over the company. “I’m looking,” he said, “for a situation where I can pass the ideas and strategic planning in my head over to someone who can enact them.”

I told him it was highly unlikely that he would ever be able to make that happen.

To begin with, it never works to bring in a new leader and insist on remaining in charge behind the scenes. What Hank needs is a manager, preferably one with experience exploiting opportunities like those Hank has identified. But he can make it clear to everyone that the new manager reports to him. The employees will feel comfortable knowing that they will still be able to get to Hank if they need to, and the manager will have time to get established without the burden of immediately taking full responsibility for the company. As for Hank, he can go on having great ideas.

Click here to view the original article.

Starting

5 Baby Steps Toward Going Global

An Original Article from Inc.com

Doing business abroad doesn’t necessarily have to take a Herculean effort, especially if you sell your products or services online.

Doing business internationally is a big and exciting step for any company. But going global doesn’t have to take a Herculean effort, especially if you sell your products or services online.

Here are a few baby steps you can take to grow into the international market.

If there is an e-commerce element to your business, make sure you’re set up to take credit cards and/or Paypal, if you aren’t already. This often solves your currency exchange issue. Don’t forget to factor in the fees they charge for foreign transactions.

Target English-speaking countries first. True, each English-speaking country has its own slang, and you need to be aware of them. But focusing on English-speaking countries saves you the huge labor and cost of translating your website, training a foreign-language staff, etc.

Advertise your company using Google Adwords. With Google’s advertising platform, you can set it up to display your ads for searches originating from the UK, Canada, Australia, etc. That’s mainly how small businesses and non-profits outside of the U.S. know about VerticalResponse, my online marketing software company.

If you’re shipping products overseas, have a clear international shipping and costs policy on your website. Read up on customs laws, taxes and duties, and decide if you’ll pay for all costs or if the customer will be charged. Will you allow returns on international orders? Who and how will they pay return shipping?

If you find that business is brisk in a specific country or two, you might want to focus on developing those channels into a well-oiled machine before expanding to more countries. Once you get comfortable with the processes of doing business abroad, you’ll be in a great position to expand even more.

Have you dipped your toes into the international marketplace? What lessons have you learned?

Did you enjoy this post? If so, sign up for the free VR Buzz weekly newsletter and check out the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.

Click here to view the original article.

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Ideas For Growing Your Business

An Original Article from Small Business Administration (SBA.gov)

For those of you who have already successfully started a business and are ready to take the next step, you may be wondering what you can do to help your business grow. There are many ways to do this, 10 of which are outlined below. Choosing the proper one (or ones) for your business will depend on the type of business you own, your available resources, and how much money, time and resources you’re willing to invest all over again. If you’re ready to grow, take a look at these tips.

  1. Open another location.

    This is often the first way business owners approach growth. If you feel confident that your current business location is under control, consider expanding by opening a new location.

  2. Offer your business as a franchise or business opportunity.

    Franchising your business will allow for growth without requiring you to manage the new location. This will help to maximize the time you spend improving your business in other ways, too.

  3. License your product.

    This can be an effective, low-cost growth medium, particularly if you have a service product or branded product. Licensing also minimizes your risk and is low cost in comparison to the price of starting your own company to produce and sell your brand or product. To find a licensing partner, start by researching companies that provide products or services similar to yours.

  4. Form an alliance.

    Aligning yourself with a similar type of business can be a powerful way to expand quickly.

  5. Diversify.

    Diversifying is an excellent strategy for growth, because it allows you to have multiple streams of income that can often fill seasonal voids and, of course, increase sales and profit margins. Here are a few of the most common ways to diversify:

    • Sell complementary products or services
    • Teach adult education or other types of classes
    • Import or export yours or others’ products
    • Become a paid speaker or columnist
  6. Target other markets.

    Your current market is serving you well. Are there others? Probably. Use your imagination to determine what other markets could use your product.

  7. Win a government contract.

    One of the best ways to grow your business is to win business from the government. Work with your local SBA and Small Business Development Center to help you determine the types of contracts available to you.

  8. Merge with or acquire another business.

    Two is always bigger than one. Investigate companies that are similar to yours, or that have offerings that are complementary to yours, and consider the benefits of combining forces or acquiring the company.

  9. Expand globally.

    To do this, you’ll need a foreign distributor who can carry your product and resell it in their domestic markets. You can locate foreign distributors by scouring your city or state for a foreign company with a U.S. representative.

  10. Expand to the Internet.

    Very often, customers discover a business through an online search engine. Be sure that your business has an online presence in order to maximize your exposure.

Click here to view the original article.

Starting

Forecasting For Growth

An Original Article from Small Business Administration (SBA.gov)

Maintaining your momentum means looking forward even as you focus on the present. Forecasting and planning are critical to your continued success.

Forecasting for Growth: Strategic Thinking

To be effective as a leader, you must develop skills in strategic thinking. Strategic thinking is a process whereby you learn how to make your business vision a reality by developing your abilities in teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking. It is also a tool to help you confront change, plan for and make transitions, and envision new possibilities and opportunities.

Strategic thinking requires you to envision what you want your ideal outcome to be for your business, then work backwards by focusing on the story of how you will be able to reach your vision.

As you develop a strategic vision for your business, there are five different criteria that you should focus on. These five criteria will help you define your ideal outcome. In addition, they will help you set up and develop the steps necessary to make your business vision come true.

Organization

The organization of your business involves your employees, the organizational structure of your business and the resources necessary to make it all work. What will your organization look like? What type of structure will support your vision? How will you combine people, resources and structure together to achieve your ideal outcome?

Observation

When you are looking down at the world from an airplane, you can see much more than when you are on the ground. Strategic thinking is much the same in that it allows you to see things from "higher up." By increasing your powers of observation, you will begin to become more aware of what motivates people, how to solve problems more effectively and how to distinguish between alternatives.

Views

Views are simply different ways of thinking about something. In strategic thinking, there are four viewpoints to take into consideration when forming your business strategy: the environmental view, the marketplace view, the project view, and the measurement view. Views can be used as tools to help you think about outcomes, identify critical elements and adjust your actions to achieve your ideal position.

Driving Forces

What are the driving forces that will make your ideal outcome happen? What is your company's vision and mission? Driving forces usually lay the foundation for what you want people to focus on in your business (such as what you will use to motivate others to perform). Examples of driving forces might include: individual and organizational incentives; empowerment and alignment; qualitative factors such as a defined vision, values and goals; productive factors like a mission or function; quantitative factors such as results or experience; and others such as commitment, coherent action, effectiveness, productivity and value.

Ideal Position

After working through the first four phases of the strategic thinking process, you should be able to define your ideal position. Your ideal position outline should include: the conditions you have found to be necessary if your business is to be productive; the niche in the marketplace that your business will fill; any opportunities that may exist either currently or in the future for your business; the core competencies or skills required in your business; and the strategies and tactics you will use to pull it all together.

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