Solopreneurs and Freelancers – Is Your New Year’s Resolution to Get Organized and Productive?

8 Tips and Resources to Help Small Businesses Thrive

Small-Business-Thrive

Starting and owning a small business can be demanding. At LightArrow, we have first-hand knowledge of the challenges that entrepreneurs, founders and startups face. Today, we’re sharing some of the top 8 problems that small businesses face and tips for overcoming these challenges.

1. Grow On a Shoestring Budget

No matter what type of business you’re in, marketing is essential to grow your business. Plus, having a website and a social media presence is crucial for small business success. A website is the core of your marketing efforts and social media builds credibility, generates leads and improves your website’s rankings.

Many startups and small businesses are on a shoestring budget, but this shouldn’t stop them from effectively marketing their products and services through a website. Building a website without a web developer on staff may seem daunting to non-technical entrepreneurs, but it can be easier than you think.

To get started with a website, research content management systems such as WordPress to find one that’s appropriate for your skill level. Take advantage of resources such as Lynda.com to learn how to properly set up a website. Research effective information architecture techniques to ensure you’re delivering material in a way that’s easy to consume.

Once your website is built, add new content to it regularly through a blog or forum that’s suitable for your audience. Drive traffic to your website through Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and Social Media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Quora and LinkedIn.

Investing time and energy into social media is crucial, but many new business owners believe that it isn’t necessary for success. However, social media is vital for building brand and awareness. And in fact, according to Hubspot, 71% of people are more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals.

2. Improve Your Working Capital

In order for a business to thrive, it needs working capital and proper money management is among one of the top qualities of successful businesses. It’s important to calculate your working capital needs by finding the difference between current assets and liabilities.

In some cases, you might find your sales are not what you expected and working capital might be an issue in order to keep your business running. Or, your business is able to use cash on hand to fund operations, but it needs more cash to invest in advertising, product development, software, inventory or other resources in order to grow. If working capital is an issue, consider using an online provider of business loans, such as Kabbage to grow your business. They offer loans ranging from $2,000 to $100,000 for small businesses.

3. Build Good Customer Relationships

80% of your company’s future revenue will come from just 20% of your existing customers. -Gartner

Never underestimate the power of your satisfied customers. Happy customers are your best salespeople. And, just like in any type of relationship, communication is the key to success. Timely follow-ups after purchases to check customer satisfaction, to offer free content for customer empowerment and to provide rewards through programs can increase customer satisfaction.

However, managing these types of follow-ups can be difficult so many small businesses use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. If you’re a freelancer, real estate agent, single entrepreneur, or if you run a microbusiness, you can utilize LifeTopix to manage your follow-ups with customers. You can learn more at: Successful CRM Recipes for the Small Business Owner.

If you require an automated and cost-effective way to communicate with existing customers, you can utilize an email marketing platform suitable for small businesses, such as MailChimp, Aweber or Constant Contact.

With email marketing software, you can create personalized welcome programs for new customers and nurture programs for potential customers. If you use Ecommerce, you can automate customer retention programs by integrating your email marketing with your Ecommerce platform.

4. Use Time Management Techniques

When you become an entrepreneur or run a small business, you say goodbye to the 40-hour work week. You’re on call 24×7 and good time management is vital for success and it also prevents burnout. Goal setting, planning, prioritization, delegation and focus are time management tactics that are vital for a successful small business.

When setting goals, they should be S.M.A.R.T. For example, they should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based. Once you’ve decided on your goals, record them and put an action plan into place.

An action plan or follow-through strategy should include projects, tasks and the necessary resources. Define the work that’s required to reach your goals. Break the work down into tasks and assign those tasks to the resources who are available.

Effective entrepreneurs and small business owners have mastered delegation. They understand that some projects and tasks don’t require their supervision. They’ve learned that they can delegate these tasks to others in order to focus on strategic goals, relationship building and priorities.

Finally, focus is very important for entrepreneurs. Customer requests, advice from investors and advisors, employee demands and changing markets are just a few of the distractions that leaders balance every day. It’s important to stay on a clearly defined path and to avoid running off of course. Take advice from lean startups and get laser-focused your priorities and eliminate what’s not essential.

5. Hire the Right People

Hiring the right people for your small business or startup can be challenging. It takes a unique personality and set of skills to thrive in a lean, small business environment.

Consider that the people you hire will be working close together so they need to fit your company culture like a glove. They need to be willing to push up their sleeves and do the work themselves. It’s best to hire people who know how to do the job, not just how to manage the right people. Generally, they should have a wide variety of skills, rather than to be focused on a specific, niche area.

Startup and small business hires need to know what to do and when to do it without being asked. Hire senior employees and team them up with junior personnel.

Most recruiting firms are cost prohibitive for small businesses. Stay lean by taking advantage of your own informal and formal networks, LinkedIn and local job boards to find employees. Attract new employees by offering incentives that larger companies cannot, such as flexible work schedules, work from home days and stock options.

6. Improve Your Online Reputation

Online ratings can make or break a business. How often do you check Yelp before you visit a restaurant, salon, yoga studio or other business? Do you check the rating of an app or other product before you download or purchase it? Consumers regularly use online reviews to check the quality of a business or product before purchasing it.

The best way to avoid negative ratings and reviews is to have open communication with customers and solve their problems before they write negative comments. You should always provide a way for them to easily get in touch with you and subsequently deliver exemplary customer service.

No matter how wonderful your product or service might be, there will always be someone who won’t like it. It’s just the nature of doing business. When a negative review surfaces, it’s important to do everything possible to win that customer over.

Monitoring and responding to reviews is essential to keep ratings up. For example, I left a 4 star review on Yelp for an establishment that provides food and mentioned that the quality of the food had decreased. The manager contacted me directly and asked me specifically about the issue, provided coupons for free food and his note was friendly and kind. After this, I raised my review to 5 stars.

Check review sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List, Google Reviews, and Yahoo Local reviews regularly. Respond to every review for sites that allow it, including both negative and positive reviews. In addition, you can set up Google Alerts to notify you of any online activity about your business.

7. Compete with Larger Companies

Many small businesses are competing against the big guys, who have enormous marketing budgets, connections with top public relations firms and can hire the best talent. Nonetheless, you can still succeed if you maintain focus. Focus on a specialty that the bigger companies are spread too thin to cover. Devote your time and resources to that niche and grow when the timing is right.

As a small company, focus on your pricing models. It’s possible that you can provide better products and services at a lower price than the larger companies if your company is running lean.

Above all, big companies tend to lose touch with their customers. Be a customer-centric company. Go above and beyond to ensure your customers are satisfied. Like I said before, your customers are your best salespeople; therefore, this strategy will pay off.

8. Optimize the Supply Chain

Recently, I discovered the small clothing company, American Giant who became an overnight success when Slate ran the article, “This Is the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made.”

What’s exciting about American Giant is they have redefined the supply chain by selling their products directly from the warehouse to the consumer, thus, investing in the quality of their clothing and passing the savings to their customers. Essentially, they’re shadowing the same model that software manufacturers have followed for years, which is direct-to-customer. They’ve removed unnecessary steps in the supply chain, which eliminates overhead costs associated with most clothing manufacturers.

The lesson learned? Don’t be afraid of creatively solving problems related to your supply chain. For small businesses to thrive, it’s vital to deliver quality products or services to your customers in a timely way. By identifying, reducing or eliminating non-value added activities in the supply chain; you can optimize profits and gain a competitive advantage.

Your Turn

What are the biggest challenges facing your small company? How have you overcome these problems? Please share your story or ideas in the comments below.

Successful CRM Recipes for the Small Business Owner

10 Amazing Quotes and Lessons Learned from Successful Entrepreneurs

Business Leadership

Nobody ever said that entrepreneurship is easy. Customer acquisition, fear of failure, building a brand, money management and balancing quality and growth are just a few of the challenges that small business owners and entrepreneurs face every day.

One method to follow when you get frustrated or think you’ll never succeed is to research the strategies of successful entrepreneurs, start-up founders and inspirational leaders. Here, we compiled 10 quotes and lessons learned from some of the most successful modern entrepreneurs and leaders.

Eric Ries

Eric Ries is the author of “The Lean Startup,” and is one of the founders of IMVU.

Eric Ries

Ries’s quote reminds entrepreneurs that sometimes it’s necessary  to take a “test and learn” approach. Experimentation is a valuable tool for determining the efficacy of a new product or service. Don’t be afraid to perform business experiments. Some experiments might pay off; others might fail. Nonetheless, you’ll gain valuable insight and data.

Aaron Levie

Aaron Levie is one of the founders of Box, launched in 2005. Box is a file sharing and cloud content management service.

Aaron Levie

I discovered this quote when reading “The Way I Work: Aaron Levie, Box” at Inc. Magazine. It reminds me that startups must move at the speed of light. They don’t have time for bureaucracy, politics and pontification. Entrepreneurs must invent simple solutions for complex problems. When nonsense slows them down, strong leadership prevails.

Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh is an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. He is the CEO of the clothing and shoe online retailer, Zappos.com.

Tony Hsieh

Zappos is known for their incredible culture and happy employees. What I find inspiring about Hsieh’s quote is that he understands and embraces the intangible value of happiness. This quote is a great reminder that employee happiness and engagement leads to profits and success.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk is an entrepreneur, investor and engineer. He is the CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors.

Elon Musk

Success takes time; it doesn’t happen overnight. Many entrepreneurs are innately impatient, and this can actually be an amazing quality because they push their employees to success. However, if entrepreneurs are too impatient, they might give up before seeing the success they deserve.

Bel Pesce

Bel Pesce is an accomplished author and has launched several startups, including Ooyala and Lemon Wallet. She is the founder of the FazINOVA school, a private business school founded in 2013.Bel Pesce

This quote is from Pesce’s TED Talk entitled, “5 Ways to Kill Your Dreams.” It’s a great reminder that it’s human nature to become complacent when you’re experiencing success. Pesce’s quote reminds entrepreneurs that it’s necessary to keep pushing even after they’ve reached their initial goals.

Chip Conley

Chip Conley reached success by building Joie de Vivre Hospitality, which is a boutique hotel and restaurant company based in San Francisco. He is an accomplished author and inspirational speaker. I encourage you to watch Conley’s TED talks. They are both inspiring and educational for business leaders or anyone else who wants to find joy in their lives.

Chip Conley

Conley has discovered the importance of emotional intelligence and how it enhances leadership ability. This quote reminds entrepreneurs to examine emotions when making decisions — data, facts, risk and complexity are not the only factors to consider.

Reid Hoffman

Reid Hoffman is best known as one of the founders of the social networking site for business people, LinkedIn.

Reid Hoffman

This quote reminds business leaders that at times it becomes necessary to re-invent to stay relevant. The competitive landscape changes, the market shifts or new opportunities present themselves, which makes transformation inevitable.

An example that immediately comes to mind is the shift from print to digital media. The Atlantic is a great example of a company that successfully made a transformation. The magazine was founded in 1857. They embraced a digital-first strategy to stay relevant in a dying print magazine industry and are currently successful, reporting revenue highs in Q1, 2015.

Sara Blakely

Sara Blakely is the founder of Spanx a highly-successful hosiery company.

Sara Blakely

This quote is a great reminder that entrepreneurs can learn from anyone. Business owners and leaders should take every opportunity to learn from customers, mentors, employees or peers and to embrace the knowledge that’s gained. Being open to a new point of view or perspective can be gold.

Jimmy Wales

Jimmy Wales is most well known as one of the founders of the Wikipedia.

Jimmy Wales

I first heard this quote when watching a 60 Minutes Interview. Morley Safer asked Jimmy Wales why he passed up billions by making Wikipedia a nonprofit. I was intrigued by his humbleness and by how he’s embraced the meaningfulness of his work. The lesson learned? Never lose sight of why you created your business. Find meaning in your work.

Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington is most well known as the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post. She is a successful author and speaker.

Arianna Huffington

In her book, Becoming Fearless, Huffington discusses the challenges of being assertive and aggressive, specifically for female leaders. This quote is a great reminder for business leaders — especially those who are introverts. When it’s the right time, speak up, be assertive and conquer your fears.

Make the Leap

As an entrepreneur or business leader, what’s holding you back? The next time you need inspiration, think about the ten ideas you read about today.

  • Test and Learn
  • Move at the Speed of Light
  • Embrace Happiness
  • Be Patient
  • Push to a Higher Peak
  • Tap into Emotions
  • Constantly Re-invent
  • Never Stop Learning
  • Don’t Lose Perspective
  • Be Fearless

Is there something you liked about this story? Is there a quote that inspires you? Let us know in the comments.

This Game Changing App Gets Business Owners Organized

Introducing Best Calendar App, Pro.Calendar

Pro.Calendar Best Calendar App

Recently we released Pro.Calendar and made it available at the Apple App Store. Pro.Calendar is the “calendar edition” of our LifeTopix app. It includes all popular calendar relevant topics such as project management, events, travel, health, notes and media and allows additional topics to be purchased through in-app purchases for managing shopping lists, contacts, finances, assets, education, passwords, email feeds, Evernote® feeds and Twitter and Facebook feeds. It’s a great selection for those who want the power of LifeTopix, but don’t want or need the entire 12 topics.

Pro.Calendar’s Time Ribbons

Pro.Calendar includes versatile calendar options including patent-pending “Time Ribbon™” views for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. If you’re a current LifeTopix, My.Agenda, My.Self or Pro.Inbox customer, you’ll notice that along with this launch of Pro.Calendar, we’ve updated the calendar views of those apps. Consequently, all LightArrow app users who use the calendar can enjoy the new, enhanced calendar views and “Time Ribbons.”

To learn more about Pro.Calendar and the enhanced Time Ribbon views, watch the following video below.

Pro.Calendar is available from the Apple App Store for US 3.99. As a universal app, a single purchase entitles you to use the app on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. The app requires iOS 6.0 or later and is optimized for the iPad and iPhone 5 with iOS 7.

Your Turn

Please let us know if you like Pro.Calendar and if you have any “wish list” items for Pro.Calendar or any of our apps. Thanks!

5 Ways to Transform Your Small Business with LightArrow Mobile Apps

LightArrow Apps for Small BizStaying productive and focused when running a small business or microbusiness is difficult. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, solopreneur, small business owner or freelancer, the challenges are the same. It’s imperative to stay on top of your game and laser focused on your goals to attain the success you set out to achieve.

As you know, these days it’s important to understand new technologies and new media in order to get ahead and stay ahead of the competition. And now, more than ever before, mobile technologies have changed the ways we get things done every day.

This week, we’ve compiled a list of five technologies and systems that you must have in your repertoire in order to achieve success in our modern world of small business. Enjoy!

1. Nurture Small Business Sales Leads and Build Customer Relationships

A CRM application is a great tool for simplifying the management of your small business contacts. It integrates a variety of different information about your leads, prospects and customers all into one place. An ideal CRM also includes project and task management, allowing you to assign sales and marketing tasks that impact your sales revenue. Typically, a cloud-based CRM will cost anywhere from US $12 monthly/person to US $125 monthly/person, not including professional services and ongoing support.

LightArrow apps include many customer relationship management features that web-based CRM systems have, without the monthly subscription fees. Our apps organize a variety of customers’ data that originated from multiple places into one mobile app.

For example, our apps allow you to organize leads, track, and manage leads. You can also interact with contacts through email or social media handles, directly from their contact record in your LightArrow App. In addition, LightArrow apps include powerful project and task management features, which allow you to assign tasks to yourself or others to nurture prospects and move them down the sales funnel.

In the following diagram you see LifeTopix’s spreadsheet-like view for managing contacts. Within this view, you can access and manage all the information about your leads, prospects or clients. Specifically, you can manage all the tasks that are required to advance to a successful sale. Once the lead becomes a customer, you can manage and organize any information for this client through the 12 life topics, included with the LifeTopix app; of course, keeping track of customer details is vital for customer retention.

SmallBizCRM

2. Manage Small Business Assets and Finances Wisely

Accurately managing the assets that your company owns and leases is key for the success of your small business. It’s important to track IT assets, furniture, vehicles and other items.  Asset Management software can come in many shapes and forms. You can choose simple mobile asset management or an expensive enterprise asset management system. It’s also important to manage your financial assets and finances. There are several options for managing finances from simple software to more complex accounting software. Some of the features that financial software solutions offer are expense and payment tracking, receipt scanning, invoicing, etc. Foremost, remember to use the software solutions that fit the needs of your small business.

These days, using a mobile solution for asset management is an important factor because it allows you to manage and update assets easily while on the go. LightArrow mobile solutions are a great choice for the small business, entrepreneur or solopreneur. Imagine your business includes a fleet of automobiles. LifeTopix is an ideal app for managing the details for each automobile asset. You can keep track of purchase dates, cost, current value, manufacturer, model serial numbers, SKUs, vehicle identification numbers (VINs), locations (map included), and categories. In addition, you can associate tasks, appointments, reminders, notes, checklists, online/local files, bookmarks, expenses, services, audio, photos or videos with each vehicle (or other asset). An example of how you might use LightArrow apps for asset management is shown below:

SmallBizAsset

If you’re a business owner who’s often on the go, LightArrow apps also offer solutions for managing finances while mobile. LightArrow mobile apps include tracking of financial information including expenses, payments, accounts, banking information, service payment templates, charitable donations, financial asset management and financial notes. With LightArrow apps, you can associate financial information with other items you manage in your app, such as assets. For example, in the graphic below, you will see that an expense is associated with an asset, which is a vehicle. Another popular feature for small business owners is the ability to set up Payment Templates with recurring payments; an example is also shown below.

SmallBizFinances

3. Make Social Media a Habit in Small Business

In today’s changing world, social media is vital for small business success. In fact, according to a study conducted by LinkedIn, 3 in 5 SMBs have acquired new customers via social media. There are a variety of ways to manage and monitor social media. You can use the free tools from the social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn all the way to using a full-fledged social media management tool.

Social media management tools provide features such as keyword monitoring and listening, all-in-one views of social media accounts, scheduling, ways to engage with others, and in some cases, further analysis and recommendations. If you want all of this functionality and more from a hosted social media management system, it will cost you a monthly subscription fee that is typically charged by the number of users.

Social media is a commitment that will reap rewards over time. Before jumping into using an expensive social media management tool, I recommend that small businesses use free and inexpensive apps and web applications to manage their social media profiles and engagement.

At LightArrow, our apps include a social media dashboard and listening via keywords through Feed Accounts. You can set up feed accounts for Facebook and Twitter; and also for Email and Evernote®. You can listen for product or company mentions, and you can stay on top of your industry by creating streams with the keywords in which you’re interested.

SmallBizSocialMedia

Our Pro.Inbox app, shown above, has this keyword listening functionality built in. With My.Agenda, LifeTopix and Pro.Calendar, you can purchase this option via in-app purchase.

What makes our apps unique over the typical Social Media Management tool is you can convert the tweets and posts that you find into actionable items such as tasks, notes, events, appointments and more. For example, you might see an industry article that you believe is important to read in a Twitter feed. You can convert this item to a note and add a date tag to schedule it on your calendar. These items can be pushed to your iOS calendar, which in turn propagates to all the calendars that you’ve associated with your iOS calendar, which takes small business productivity to a new level. It’s important to note that this feature also applies to email and Evernote feeds, which allows you to accomplish “Inbox Zero” easily.

4. Unify Small Business Calendars, Reminders, Tasks and Checklists

Keeping a master schedule is important for your small business. It’s difficult to choose the right calendar app for your business schedule because there are so many choices available. All of these calendars and to-do list apps have their own unique bells and whistles. The apps you choose depend on your personal preference and business needs.

At LightArrow, we focus on productivity. That’s why we combined tasks, reminders, to-dos and eight calendar styles into one app view – with fast switching and beautiful styling. We’ve made our calendar views easy to read and they’re very simple to set up. As soon as you grant access to your iOS calendars that you use on your iPhone or iPad, your LightArrow app shows the events from those calendars. And as a bonus, your LightArrow calendar also includes your iOS reminders.

SmallBizCalendar In the graphic above, you will notice Overdue, Undated and Checklist sections shown in the Agenda view. These sections include everything from overdue tasks, undated tasks; open shopping items; iOS reminders; and checklists/to-do lists. Combining these items prevents you from hopping from app to app. You will also notice the comprehensive Month view, which enables you to see all your calendar items easily.

5. Manage Small Business Projects Like a Pro

Managing your projects without the right tools is like fixing a clogged drain with a Q-tip. The more and more you push; you’re never going to get anywhere. There are a lot of options for managing projects and tasks. Some cloud applications are free for a limited number of users and others require subscription fees.

LightArrow apps are excellent for individual and small team project and task management. The advantage of using LightArrow apps for project and task management is because the projects are integrated with the features discussed in this post, as well as other items, such as appointments, reminders, expenses, services, online notes and files and more. This prevents you from hopping from app to app to find the information that you need. Small business owners appreciate the ease of creating tasks and easily emailing them to a project participant, which allows delegation or task sharing. The recipient can easily open the email message; tap on the message and save the project and tasks in their instance of LifeTopix, as shown in the following example:

In addition, if you use Asana for project management (which is free for up to 15 users), LightArrow Apps include task integration with this popular tool.

Your Turn

Please let us know in the comments how you’re using your LightArrow app in your small business or if you have any questions or comments.

Introducing Pro.Inbox: Create Actionable Data from Email, Web and Social Streams

In today’s world we’re overloaded with information from multiple places. It’s delivered to us every day through social streams, email messages, and the web. Wouldn’t it be great if you could easily harvest, filter, and view this information from these multiple channels, and then find the data nuggets and ideas that are important to you? This is exactly why we created Pro.Inbox. Pro.Inbox boosts your productivity by gathering the information that you care about from social, email, and the web and presenting it to you all in one app. In fact, it’s the first mobile app to make email, web and social streams actionable from one place.

Watch the video below to see how Pro.Inbox can boost your productivity — starting today!

Watch Pro.Inbox in Action

Do you like this video? Please share it with your friends and followers on Twitter -> Tweet: Harvest, filter & view information from email, social & the web — and easily make this information actionable. http://ctt.ec/bnQoZ+

Get Pro.Inbox at the Apple App Store

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