3 Ways Small Businesses Struggle With Data

Small businesses are usually strapped for resources, money and time. However, having good data can be both a lifelineAbstract bar chart with gray and black bars to represent data and a competitive advantage. Here are the top three struggles that small businesses are faced with when it comes to data.

 

Struggle #1: No time to analyze the available data

 

When you are busy serving customers at the restaurant you rarely have the time to stop and look at what menu items are popular and what are not. After all, you have ten tables that are in need of coffee refills. But if you do find an hour or two to analyze which selections are popular and which are not, you can make important changes. Analyzing orders over time can uncover new trends andall you to adapt what you’re doing so you can attract new customers and keep your existing patrons happy. An alternative to trying to carve out time to analyze your own data is to hire a professional freelance analyst who will be able to help uncover new insights for your business.

 

Struggle #2: No budget to spend on technology

 

More and more new technologies are flagging the marketplace. They can assist with anything: from the monitoring of social media to summarizing of all your digital marketing in one place. This can present challenges, not just from an integration perspective but also from a budget perspective. However, you may not need the latest technology to keep track and analyze your data. Google Sheets might do the trick. There are also other great tools that are free or close to free of charge. These tools might not have all the bells and whistles, but they work well enough with a small amount of data. A bit of research can go a long way to identify perfect tools for your business.

 

Struggle #3:  Hard time collecting data

You have probably heard that data is the business’s biggest asset. But how do you start collecting data and what data is actually useful? The answer is that data can be collected in various ways. You can observe your customers and prospects online using tools such as Google Analytics, Social Media and so on. Offline, the data may be accumulated by monitoring the types of customers and prospects that come to your store. You can also gather data by asking your prospect or customers for their names, Emails and other information that is relevant to your business. Valuable data can be collected in an online form, at a cash register or by conducting a customer survey.

You can transform struggles into opportunities with a bit of effort, a small budget and creative thinking. The first step toward turning your business into a data driven business is to start collecting data in any shape or form. The second step is to analyze the acquired data. Data analysis, in return, will provide the insights that can help drive your business forward.

Anna KayfitzAbout the Author

Anna Kayfitz is C.E.O. and founder of StrategicDB Corporation, an analytics and data cleansing company. StrategicDB Corp. helps businesses get more from their data. By analyzing sales and marketing data, you can derive tremendous value for your business. StrategicDB offers data cleansing services because no analysis is possible if you cannot trust your data. Some of our services include: segmentation modelling, dashboard building, market basket analysis, lifetime value analysis and much much more.

The Blueprint for Internet Marketing Lead Generation

Why do online efforts to generate leads and convert them into customers too often fall flat?

 

Lead generation campaigns fail to function as well as they should when some crucial element is missing—and no one notices.

 

In a sense, an Internet marketing lead generation campaign is like a jigsaw puzzle. If only a solitary piece is missing or out of place, you have no way of successfully achieving your goal. Unfortunately, with a generation campaign, you don’t have the benefit of a picture on the front of a box to guide you.

 

If your lead generation campaigns haven’t gained the results you’ve hoped for, Straight North, a Chicago-based Internet marketing firm (for whom I’m a contributing writer), has created the handy flowchart below to help you.

 

It identifies the components an effective campaign requires and how all the pieces fit together. Use it as your blueprint to solving the lead generation puzzle.

 

Infographic created by Straight North

Quick Tip to Prevent Losing Content (and Your Valuable Time) if MS Word Behaves Badly

Microsoft Word – Good, But Not Perfectnaughty brown puppy chewing up white pillow

 

Microsoft Word documents are the go-to for many writers because most clients prefer to receive content in a .doc or .docx file. Unless clients request that I share content in some other mutually agreeable way, I submit my writing to them in Word docs via email. That seems to be the standard process for most of the writers I know.

 

Although a useful, universal program, MS Word has issues—and creates headaches—from time to time. Some are predicaments of our own making, like when we accidentally click “don’t save” when closing a document to which we just added multiple paragraphs. Oops!

 

But some problems are out of our control. For example, as I was wrapping up and spell-checking a 500- to 600-word draft last month, nearly every character in my text turned into gibberish symbols. WTH? I scoured the Internet, trying to find some solution to get my words back. But alas, nothing fixed the situation. And so, I had to recreate the entire post from scratch. The unforeseen circumstances derailed my day and hijacked more than 3 hours of my already filled-to-the-brim schedule.

 

I was not amused.

 

And I vowed that would never happen again.

 

How To Prevent Losing Content and Precious Hours

 

In the past, I used Google Docs sparingly. Occasionally, a client would request to share files that way, but otherwise, I didn’t pay much attention to the cloud-based word processor.

 

Since my MS Word-gibberish debacle, that has changed.

 

I now create all my content in Google Docs. Doing so protects me from both of the issues I mentioned above.

 

Benefits of Creating Content in Google DocsGoogle Docs Screen Shot of Share Option

 

  1. Google Docs auto-save in real time.

 

So you never have to worry about closing your docs and losing your changes.

 

  1. Google Docs gives you a backup if a Word file fails.

 

After I finish content in Google Docs, I export it into a Word document, save it to my Mac, and then send it to my client. By keeping the Google Doc in my content repository in Google Drive, I have a backup if Word behaves badly—or if I accidentally delete or misplace the Word doc.

 

If you have clients who feel comfortable using Google Drive, you can eliminate the hassle of back-and-forth emails during the revision and approval process. You can give the people who need to weigh in on your content access to your Google Docs files (and entire Google Drive folders). Even better, you can give them editing privileges, and all of their suggested changes will be marked up within your Google Docs. This avoids the mayhem that ensues when multiple people email you their modifications via separate revised Word docs.

 

Not Just For Writers

Even if you’re not a content creator by trade, you likely have a lot of communicating to accomplish with employees, project partners, vendors, and customers. Whether you have meeting agendas, spreadsheets, to-do lists, or other information that needs the input of multiple people, Google Drive can serve as a viable collaboration tool and backup plan. It’s a rather intuitive program, but if you need assistance in learning to navigate it, Google has a helpful online guide available.

 

Three Key Personal Branding Takeaways From Taylor Swift

I’m not a star-struck groupie, but occasionally someone with celebrity status wows me. At this moment, it’s Taylor Swift.

Not so much because of her music but because of her command of her personal brand.

Swift recently had wiped out all of her social media accounts, leaving fans and the media wondering whether she had been hacked or planning a big announcement. It turns out the social network purge was intentional. It was Swift’s way of not only generating buzz about her new single “Look What You Made Me Do,” but also of announcing her updated personal brand.


Unlike other celebrities who have undergone lofty persona fluctuations (Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears, for example), Swift has made it perfectly clear that SHE is in charge. This change has been no accident. It’s not a manifestation of feeling victimized or misunderstood.

 

Swift’s new brand image is 100 percent on purpose—and she is masterfully executing it.

 

Yours and my personal brands may never gain the prominence that Swift’s has, nor will we likely see the need to re-invent ourselves to the degree she has. But we can learn a few things from how she has handled her personal brand.

 

Three Personal Branding Lessons We Can Learn From Taylor Swift

 

  • Have a vision and purpose.

Know who you are, how you want others to perceive your personal brand, and why it’s important that you project that image. Swift exudes self-confidence because she knows exactly who she is and what she stands for. That level of self-assurance and intent is especially critical if you decide to make a change to your personal brand. Change for the sake of change will look more like a mid-life crisis than a carefully calculated decision.

 

  • Don’t dwell on the haters.

As Swift’s song “Shake It Off” goes, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate…” When you’re a professional whose personal brand is out there on social media and in the business community, you’ll have followers who embrace and support who you are and others who constantly criticize and demean. Focus not on the naysayers whose sole purpose is to drag you down. Instead, put your energy into building relationships and loyalty with the people who appreciate you and your talents.

 

  • Own it.

Swift hasn’t let the media or the public define her personal brand. She has told us who she is. Your words, your actions, your style, your affiliations…you have the capacity to control all of the components that contribute to your personal brand. Take charge of them, so you can maintain power over your personal brand rather than relinquishing that control to others.

 

Whether you’re a Taylor Swift fan or one of the haters, there’s no denying her badass mastery of personal branding.

 

Your turn: What other celebrities and public figures do believe have solid personal branding strategies? What personal branding challenges have  you faced?

 

Three Simple Tips For Managing Freelance Projects

In an ideal world, every client would have her act together.Desktop with Macbook, monitor, and notebook, etc.

 

But as fulfilling as a freelancer’s world is, it’s rarely ideal.

  • Some clients don’t know what they want.
  • Some clients change their minds—often.
  • Some clients don’t communicate well.
  • Some clients [Fill in the blank—the list goes on.]

 

Besides doing your craft well, freelancing demands a flair for project management, too. You will find yourself in situations when you’ll need to grab the reins to keep assignments on track.

 

That means having your act together. Here are three simple steps to help start projects on a clear note and see them through successfully.

1. Get confirmation of all deliverables and determine dependencies BEFORE you start the project and agree to a deadline.

Often, projects involve more than just your work. For example, if I’m writing content for a website, I typically cannot begin until the layout of the site is determined and SEO requirements have been defined. Make it clear that your ability to start or finish your to-dos is dependent on others pulling their weight. If you have slackers on a project team, you will need additional time to complete your work.

 

2. Reserve time on your calendar for the different components you need to tackle.

This will save you headaches and help prevent the onset of panic attacks because you’ll have a plan for getting your work done.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” said a wise man named Benjamin Franklin.

Block out periods of time on your calendar for attending to the tasks associated with the project. It’s best to overestimate to give yourself some wiggle room in case not everything goes as planned.

 

3. Ask for feedback as you go.

Presenting your entire body of work at the project deadline can lead to disaster. Just one incorrect element or a misunderstanding can snowball into a giant re-do requiring hours and hours and hours of labor.

To get a pulse on whether or not you’re on target with your work, check in with clients regularly to present sections of completed work. As you get feedback and input, you can fine-tune what you’ve done and use that knowledge to make sure everything you do from that point onward will be closer to spot on.

I’ve found this tip invaluable. It enables me to make changes as I go in the event my writing tone is slightly off, or I need to rephrase certain terminology.

 

Keep Calm – And Get It Done.

Most freelancing projects are never completely free of challenges. But when you have a solid project management approach in your back pocket, you can keep a cool head and help steer the work process in the right direction.

 

What tips do you have for managing your freelance projects?

 

Four Must-Haves Solopreneurs Need But Don’t Know It

Now That Makes A Difference text on purple and white background

When you start out as a solopreneur, you know you need the usual business essentials to operate professionally: computer, phone, printer, Internet, paper, and so on and so forth. Now in my eighth year of self-employment, I’ve discovered other assets I originally didn’t realize could be so important. Slightly obscure, they might have fallen below your radar, too.

 

Four Business Essentials You Might Not Realize You Need

 

  • A really good umbrella

By all accounts, I’m blessed. Our family has the good fortune to be financially secure; we have what we need and can (within reason) get what we want. BUT we have the most pathetic umbrellas at our house. There’s only one that I’m not mortified to use in public. The others are obnoxious red and white umbrellas the telecom company I once worked for offered as promotional freebies for its now non-existent Internet service provider division. After a recent rainy spell here in eastern Pennsylvania (during which my 9th-grade daughter forgot our only respectable umbrella in her locker at school), I realized I should invest in several more decent umbrellas. It’s a matter of pride—and professional appearance. Own umbrellas that won’t make you look and feel like a panhandler.

 

  • Kick-@s$ closet hangers

Upon launching my freelance business in 2010, I quickly learned being organized personally helps keep all professional endeavors in order, too. What I didn’t realize, however, is how much of a difference a well-designed hanger can make. Fortunately, a colleague recently introduced me to Joy Mangano Huggable Hangers. No more jungle of jumbled wire and bulky plastic hangers that crowd our limited space and let my outfits slip to the floor. I’ve replaced all hangers in our bedroom walk-in closet and my daughter’s closet with these gems, and I’m in the process of swapping out every last hanger in our entire house with them.

 

I’m obsessed.

With more free space in my closet, I can find what I want to wear more easily, and my clothes don’t get wrinkly while hanging. These hangers have saved me time and made it much easier to get out the door on time for meetings. If you have a closet that needs a revamp, definitely check them out.

 

  • A spritz of confidence

Nobody wants to think about this, and I can hardly believe I’m writing about it, but here it “goes.” When you’re on the go and have to go, Poo-Pourri lets you do it in stealth mode. I bought a bottle and intended it as a gag gift for a family Christmas gift swap a few years ago. Intrigued by the concept, I tried it first. The s%@t works (pun intended). Why would anyone ever want to leave home without it? The company sells 2-ounce bottles that you can easily fit into laptop bags or handbags.

 

  • Wiggle room

Despite how well you plan your project schedule, some tasks will require more time than you anticipate they will, and unexpected phone calls, tech issues, etc. will occasionally happen. If you jam-pack your day down to the minute, you’ll never have a buffer zone to address those sorts of surprises. The solution, add some wiggle room (empty slots of time) into your calendar every day. It’s a sanity saver!

 

Nothing fancy above—just practical items that I’ve found can make a difference professionally.

 

What underappreciated must-haves would you add to the list?

 

Is Fear Putting The Freeze On Your Small Business Dreams?

One of the biggest hurdles to accomplishing anything is gaining the confidence to get started. That’s certainly true for launchingMarie-Curie-Quote-Green-background-black-text your own business.

I was ‘fortunate’ when I started out as a freelance writer seven years ago. The corporation I had worked for (for 17 years) was acquired and my position was eliminated, therefore forcing me to buck up and make a change. What started out as a career upset has led me to this fulfilling career that offers flexibility and an opportunity to shape my own professional destiny.

But had I not needed to make a change, I honestly don’t know that I would have taken the leap. The prospect of self-employment was scary to me. Having been a SCORE mentor several years ago, I’ve talked to other aspiring entrepreneurs who have found it scary, too. So scary, in fact, that they failed to launch. They gave in and gave up before they got going.

Is fear standing in your way of starting your own business?

  • Fear of being laughed at
  • Fear of not knowing enough
  • Fear of not being good enough
  • Fear of wasting your time
  • Fear of other people’s criticism
  • Fear of not making enough money
  • Fear of hard work
  • Fear of letting other people down
  • Fear of letting yourself down

These fears aren’t to be downplayed as insignificant or silly, but they are to be overcome.

How can you do that?

  1. Assess your skills realistically, not through the lens of self-criticism.
  2. Do your homework to find out what’s involved.
  3. Prepare by making a plan.
  4. Start.

“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” ~ Marie Curie

 

Your turn! What fears are you facing in your business pursuits? What fears have you overcome and how have you done that?

4 Tips To Help Solopreneurs And Freelancers Survive Tax Time

stressed business woman with hand on head looking down on desk

Another tax season wrapped up for Dawn Mentzer Freelance Writing, LLC.

 

[Sighs with relief.]

 

Over my past seven years as a self-employed freelancer, I’ve experienced the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. I’ve learned some lessons—some painless, others excruciating.

 

I’ve listed them here, in hopes they might help you and other solopreneurs avoid stress (and distress) through your tax preparation process.

 

Four Tax Time Survival Tips For Freelancers and Solopreneurs

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know.

Unless you are an accountant or professional tax advisor, I recommend getting help. Reputable professional tax preparers/advisors are on top of the latest changes and rules. They know what business expenses are deductible and whether you’ve categorized them appropriately. Having someone with that knowledge to guide you and raise red flags on bookkeeping that’s amiss can potentially save you from falling into hot water with the IRS and state. And recognize that bigger doesn’t mean better. I used a larger accounting/tax preparation firm, but after a few years of not getting timely responses to questions and being treated like just a number, I switched to a solopreneur tax adviser/preparer. He has been far more thorough and attentive—and less expensive.

 

  1. It pays to keep your act together all year long.

The more organized you are year-round, the more painless the tax return filing process will be. Track your income and expenses when they occur rather than allowing deposit slips and receipts to pile up. For my business, I use QuickBooks online, which I’ve found to have intuitive software with the intelligence to automatically categorize expenses correctly through ‘remembering’ what I’ve entered in the past. Regardless of what system or software you use, you need to put forth effort to make sure you haven’t missed anything that will impact your taxes. Good luck to you if you ignore that responsibility until tax time is upon you!

 

  1. Yours and your clients’ records might not match.

It happens. For example, I discovered a client mistakenly included a payment they made to another vendor in the amount on my 1099. I also had a client who included payments made in the new tax year on the 1099 for the tax year prior. To make incidents like these less of a hassle, consider confirming 1099 amounts with your clients before they send their forms to you. I’ve discovered it’s far easier to verify their records match yours in advance of when they or their accountants prepare and submit their forms. By doing so, if you find discrepancies, you and your clients can investigate and correct them right away. If errors are in your clients’ records, you’ll save them the trouble of issuing a corrected 1099. If the errors are in your records, you’ll be able to make the correction and ensure you’re including accurate income amounts on your tax return.

 

  1. What you don’t know could hurt you.

Twice—that’s right, twice—in my seven years of self-employment, I underestimated my revenue and I failed to pay enough tax. As a result, I had to write a substantive check to Uncle Sam upon filing my taxes for those years. That hurt—especially because I had to also cut a check for my quarterly estimated tax payments by April 15. Double whammy! My suggestion to you is to watch your net income closely and adjust your quarterly estimated tax payments if needed so you’re not stuck owing a bundle at tax filing time. In my case, I’ve found checking in with my tax advisor mid-year has helped. I send my profit and loss statement and other info as requested to him at least once during the tax year, so he can let me know if I should increase or decrease my quarterly payments.

 

Keep Calm: And Make Tax Time Less Taxing

Paying taxes is not the most glamorous part of having your own business, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be a massively difficult ordeal. I hope considering these lessons learned along with getting the help of a qualified tax advisor will help you minimize some of the stress that accompanies tax time.

 

Your turn! What tips can you share with other small business owners to help them make tax time less tumultuous?

5 Ways To Screw Up Working With A Freelance Writer

Nothing can put a damper on your marketing and corporate communications mojo more than not having a consistent and clear Orange text box with white font "OOPS! Don't Do It Again."brand voice. We all know businesses that struggle with that—maybe you’re one of them.

 

Consistency builds recognition and customer trust. Every brand—small and large—depends on those things to succeed.

 

So when you find a freelance writer who understands you, you won’t want to let her (or him) get away! You’ll want to do what you can to build a long-term working relationship and avoid pet peeves that might drive writers away.

 

Five Ways To Ruin Your Working Relationship With A Freelance Writer

 

  • Waiting Until The Last Minute

Contrary to what some people believe, a career in freelance writing demands managing time carefully. A well-established freelance writer will have a full project schedule that doesn’t allow much (if any at all) bandwidth to work on rush assignments that pop up out of nowhere. While true writing ‘emergencies’ might occasionally happen, most often we-need-it-yesterday projects happen because of poor planning. Get your act together so you can give your writer enough time to do the job well without undue stress.

 

  • Not Providing Enough Direction Or Information

Even though you should expect a writer to bring the element of creativity to assignments, you still need to share some details, expectations, and guidelines. Are there word-count constraints or requirements? Who is the target audience? What purpose will the piece of content serve? Is there a subject matter expert at your company whom the writer can call with questions and to draw out more information? What key details should the writer incorporate in the content? By providing as much information and direction as possible up-front, you’ll allow your writer to focus on producing great content rather than pulling teeth.

 

  • Not Responding With Feedback

Nothing is more disheartening than busting butt to accommodate a client’s deadline and then receiving radio silence after sending a draft for review. If your writer has pulled out all the stops to meet your schedule, do her the courtesy of responding with your feedback and change requests in a timely manner. At the very least, acknowledge you received her work and let her know if you won’t have time to review it until later.

 

  • Starting…Stopping…Then Restarting A Project

I’ve been a part of several projects that seemed to live on forever because clients didn’t make them a priority or even a passing thought. Starting, stopping, and then restarting a project after it has been on hold for months or years demands more time and effort than a writer has bargained for. It requires re-visiting every detail and getting up to speed all over again. That’s frustrating and infuriating. If you begin a project, be prepared to see it through on your end.

 

  • Habitually Not Paying On Time

Because freelancers can only handle so many clients simultaneously, getting paid on time is essential to their business success. If you constantly make a writer shake you down for the money you owe, you’re hurting her cash flow. Ouch! And that will hurt your chances of having that writer work on future projects for you.

 

Freelance writers are an adaptable lot and realize s*&% happens, but frequent offenses that create a difficult working situation will eventually take their toll. Fortunately, with some planning and common courtesy, you can do your part to build a mutually beneficial client-writer relationship—one that will last long-term and facilitate a consistent brand voice.

 

Your turn!

Are you a freelancer who has struggled with any of these issues? How have you overcome them with your clients?

Are you a client who has built a long-standing relationship with a freelance writer? What tips can you share about creating a successful working relationship?

Freelancers And Small Business Owners: Being Great At Your Craft Isn’t Enough

You’re an experienced and talented [insert professional specialty here]. That’s a fabulous selling point, but it may not be enough Black text Value Is Everything on blue backgroundto attract your ideal clients or keep them happy for the long-term.

 

Sure, when you excel at the work you do, you have a competitive edge. To sharpen that edge, however, you may need to demonstrate other important skills, too.

 

Besides seeing yourself as a freelancer/professional extraordinaire doing your craft, strive to fulfill other roles, as well, to make yourself an invaluable resource to your customers.

 

Three Personas To Improve Your Professionalism

 

Competent Project Manager

Some clients have it all together—others not so much. If you have project management skills, you can fill a critical void for customers who lack the ability to organize efforts and keep projects on track. I was fortunate to have had the experience of working as a telecom product manager in my past career. Tasked with managing time lines and deliverables across various groups, the competence I developed in coordinating projects has become one of my biggest value propositions as a freelance writer.

 

Kick-Ass Communicator

Describing products and services, proposing rates, setting expectations, confirming responsibilities, explaining processes, and so on—things every business owner needs to do almost daily—all require communicating clearly. Concentrate on organizing your thoughts and getting to the point in conversations written and spoken. As an accomplished communicator, you can more effectively avoid misunderstandings and ensure you and your clients will be on the same page.

 

Intuitive Listener

Listening so you absorb what clients are saying, recognizing the motivation behind their words, and going a little above and beyond to understand their challenges can really set you apart. By getting to the heart of your clients’ issues rather than simply treating symptoms with Band-Aid solutions, you will earn trust, respect, and hopefully long-term business relationships. For example, I regularly have prospects come to me thinking their websites’ existing content is why they aren’t generating online leads. But after listening to them, reviewing their content, and looking at the big picture, I often find content alone isn’t their problem, and my services independently wouldn’t significantly improve their outcomes. In those situations, I refer these customers to other professionals who have the ability to fill the voids I cannot (like website design/development, SEO, and social media strategy).

 

The Value Of Being More

By developing these identities within your professional persona, you become more than just a service provider—you become an indispensable asset to your clients.

 

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” ~ Warren Buffett

 

Give them value and you’ll gain trust, respect, and loyalty.

 

What will you do to be more today?