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Friday, January 23, 2015
Update by John Beagle,
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New Software Solutions Help Keep SMBs on Track

by Alex Smith

Bill Clerico talked previously on how web innovations have brought about an era of unmatched production and prosperity for small businesses, making it much easier for entrepreneurs to access valuable tools and develop crucial ideas. Incorporating these new solutions into traditional businesses’ practices is exciting; it improves the productivity of a small business by giving employees a new outlook or perspective on everyday tasks.

It makes sense for businesses to invest both time and money into tailored software. The increasing adoption of cloud based technologies in software is creating new platforms for better business strategies, on which innovation is growing. Most importantly, they are improving the overall functions of a small business, helping to cut costs whilst providing easier ways of accomplishing important work.

Working toward the important goals that will make a small business succeed is difficult, but also hugely rewarding. Defining these goals early on will give you and your team something concrete to strive toward. One of the most difficult barometers to set is finances; without a clear idea of which areas require more or less spending, small businesses can find themselves in difficult situations. In a continuing effort to assist effective planning, new solutions such as budgeting and forecasting software help businesses keep track of current spending patterns, which is crucial during the early developing stages of setting a financial plan. Marketing planning tools can also be important to spurring initial growth, by allowing users to easily maintain social media and marketing platforms within unified software programs.

Adopting new software solutions can also prevent outdated internal systems from hampering the financial performance of a business. Notable cases have seen simple arithmetic errors wipe profits from balance sheets; as an example, British clothing manufacturer Superdry wiped £170 million from its share value in 2012 after its internal control systems failed to convert elements of its accounts properly, leading to a £2 million shortfall in stock. It later conceded that rapid expansion and a lack of history to base its financial projections upon had made it difficult to predict. Making sure internal practices do not prevent growth is important to small business success, where-as software solutions are scalable and can adapt to continued growth within a developing business strategy.

Online based businesses, especially eCommerce platforms that store sensitive customer data, are also becoming increasingly vulnerable to cybersecurity issues. Sophisticated attacks have made businesses aware of their own security needs, and the importance of protecting sensitive information from unwanted attention. A data breach at any level can be devastating for a small business, by putting user trust massively at risk and threatening the entire framework on which the business has been built. Being better equipped to fight this illicit activity prevents security breaches, such as storing valuable information in an offline hard-drive or in highly secure cloud based storage services.

New software solutions are ultimately enabling small businesses to achieve a sense of stability, opening up possibilities that hugely benefit the actualisation of their goals and strategies.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015
Update by John Beagle,
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The Rise of the Bottom Up SMB Economy

By Bill Clerico

Historically, major technological breakthroughs have coincided with economic breakthroughs. Every time a major technology has been discovered, GDP growth accelerates. Yet after the invention of the Web, quite possibly the most game changing breakthrough in the history of the world, economic growth has actually slowed.

"The growth of the Bottom Up Economy is a big part of our story here at WePay. We think the Bottom Up Economy is changing the world, and by making payments safer, easier and more seamless, we have a big part to play in it."

Why? We think its down to a couple factors. The first is that the web, and what follows, has primarily been a revolution of automation and efficiency. Whereas, say, the steam engine, made it possible for there to be more raw materials available than ever before, web technologies have largely made it possible to create more finished products with less work, and by extension, less workers. This has led to a kind of schism in the labor market:

It’s rapidly becoming the case that there are two types of jobs: highly paid, high skilled jobs, and low or non-skilled jobs that pay wages that are barely adequate to get by. Middle skilled, middle paid jobs are disappearing, as the things that required those workers are done with far less manpower.

Now, this is good if you happen to be a highly skilled — your job is safe, and all that money that would have gone to a massive medium-skilled workforce starts to accrue to you. But such highly skilled people are necessarily a minority. What happens to the mass of folks that fall toward the middle of the bell curve? They’re increasingly forced to take lower-paying jobs as the middle of the graph is hollowed out.

This has had a predictable effect on wealth disparity:

Whereas technology used to be a rising tide that lifted all boats, the benefits of recent technological revolutions have gone to a relatively small number of folks at the very top. And that’s a problem — no matter how much money they have, a small number of hyper-affluent rich can’t spend as fast as an entire society of adequately compensated workers. And thus, slower GDP growth.

So that’s the bad news. The good news is that while technology has created a problem, it’s also a solution to a problem. Enter: The Bottom Up Economy.

What the platform companies behind the Bottom Up Economy do is bring the advantages created by an Internet revolution to ordinary people, rather than placing them solely in the hands of the elites. If the Internet means that big corporations can make do with less, it also means that anyone can start building businesses that would have required a massive corporation behind them to be successful just a few short years ago.

Put simply: it’s never been easier to be an entrepreneur. You don’t need the bank loan you probably can’t get in an era of tightening credit to start a business. All you need is a great idea and a crowdfunding campaign. You don’t need to become a hotel chain to make money on Airbnb, you can turn the home you own into a hospitality business. Similarly, you don’t need to build a Prada-sized empire to be in the fashion industry — you can support yourself by selling clothes you make on Etsy. Meanwhile, the birth of the cloud means that you can now run those businesses with software tools that up until a few years ago would have been out of reach of all but the largest enterprises.

If the job market doesn’t have a place for you, then the entrepreneurship opportunities provided by the Bottom Up Economy give you the ability to create your own dream job. In his presentation, Bill gave the example of someone he met who went from being laid off from Cisco to becoming an Uber driver, to running his own successful car service on Uber with over 11 drivers working for him.

That’s why we do what we do: to enable that kind of opportunity to happen. Payments are usually the most difficult part of building a platform company like Uber or Etsy or GoFundMe, so we think that eliminating that roadblock could help the Bottom Up Economy really take off. If we can make payments easier, safer, and more seamless for these kinds of platform companies, then there will be more of these platform companies. And, incidentally that will lead to more growth:

Bill Clerico is CEO and co-founder of WePay, a leading provider of payment services to online platforms and marketplaces.  

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Thursday, December 11, 2014
Update by Andy Wendt, Editor
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5 Tips To Keep Your SMB Teams Engaged Over The Holidays

Get Rid Of Office Distractions

Avoid Seasonal Office Distraction
By Matt Pierce, Customer Engagement Manager, TechSmith

Conducting business during the year is fairly routine, right? Meetings, deliverables and day-to-day operations all make up the typical workplace environment. But the holidays are upon us, and at this time of year, it’s easy to push aside priorities for seasonal distractions like decorating or parties. Shopping on the clock is one of the main reasons for productivity loss during the holidays, with 53 percent of management-level employees surfing the web for gifts. However, business needs don’t halt because of holiday happenings so it’s vital to keep employees focused and engaged. Here are five ways to do just that:

1. Continue to make assignments meaningful. It’s easy to let work become something of a drag when there are other things around you that need to be accomplished; however, start by acknowledging to your staff that this is a hectic time and schedules are stretched. If the work hasn’t changed, reemphasize the goals and assert how each assignment influences the bigger picture. If this resonates, it can provide an added push employees need to continue to work hard and produce results.

2. Prepare coverage and give opportunities. Vacation days are the inevitable during this time of year. Small businesses are particularly susceptible to the challenges of time off.  If only a few employees know how to run a process, make sure backup is in place with a deep enough skillset. Use videos that are accessible on the fly as employees will need to quickly master something they don’t do frequently. This also provides a good chance to give new opportunities to different employees. 

3. Find time for 20 percent projects. Google is a huge advocate of allowing its staff to spend up to 20 percent of their time on projects of their choice. This approach has even found its way into classrooms as an engagement technique. You might say that 20 percent of employee’s time is not something your organization can afford. But perhaps you can provide a dedicated day or just an hour out of each day during the holiday season that employees can use for a project that ignites their passions. This may also be beneficial to the business as a whole. You can challenge teams to consider things like learning and development presentations, designing training aids, or uncovering new market opportunities.

4. Incorporate visuals and technology where possible. In reality, this should be part of any company strategy be it the bustling weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s or the height of summer. So drop the long lists of bullet points and make presentations that are less static and more energizing. This is especially true with training. Be it onboarding a new employee or cross-training an existing one, adding visuals can increase return and retention rates. Research suggests that when you utilize technology to combine visual messages with verbal communication you increase retention of information by 50 percent.

5. Celebrate and say thank you! So often business get stuck in the rigidity of a nine to five schedule. Allowing staff to celebrate the holidays can actually increase the amount of focused time they dedicate in the office. Have a Yankee Swap or an ugly sweater party, or let teams out an hour or two early. Employees will feel more inclined to do their best work and reach deliverables when they have something exciting to work towards.

There’s no denying of the number of distractions during the holiday season, for everyone from the executive suite to the junior employee. While we’re all longing for a bit of down time, business must go on, and go on successfully. Be prepared to shake up what’s routine, but don’t be the season’s Ebenezer Scrooge – all it takes is keeping employees engaged in business to ensure operations are both efficient and enjoyable this holiday season.

Matt Pierce is customer engagement manager at TechSmith Corp. He has directly managed its training and user assistance teams, and has also run its visual communication web show, The Forge, interviewing guests from around the world discussing the use of visuals, video, and technology in education, training, marketing and more. Teach him something @piercemr.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Update by John Beagle,
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4 SMB Cold Calling Tactics

Cold calling, the practice of randomly calling prospective clients to pitch a product or service, was once the primary method sales representatives used to generate leads.

Lead generation services say that traditional cold calling is ineffective and should be abandoned. Frank disagrees saying, "When practiced efficiently alongside other lead generation techniques, cold calling still can be an effective means of garnering prospective client leads." 

Here are 4 SMB Cold Calling Tactics by Frank Paterno 

1. Focus on quality over quantity, targeting those who have expressed an interest in your company or who are decision-makers for their businesses – known as “intelligent calling.” 

2. Align your sales and marketing teams. Once marketing has nurtured sales-ready leads, the sales team should then immerse them in the sales pipeline beginning with a call to assess a purchase-ready prospect. 

3. Combine cold calling with modern lead generation techniques, such as tracking leads’ online interactivity, post retweets or LinkedIn page views, are subtle online gestures that provide solid reasons to give them a ‘cold’ call. 

4. Have a Plan: Cold calling should not be random and uncalculated. Employing a few proven strategies can heat up your cold calls and accelerate your success rate. 

Frank Paterno 
Frank is vice president of marketing at Intelliverse. He oversees marketing for the Intelliverse family of companies including: TeleArk. A creative and analytic marketing and product executive with hands-on and management experience identifying, creating, delivering, and communicating value with technology-based products and services, Frank's corporate and product marketing experience is enhanced by a strong technical and financial background. 

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