Tips for Small Business Success: Setting Up an E-Commerce Website to Sell Internationally

One of the key features of the Internet is that it opens up a world wide market for buying and selling. This means that with very little in the way of extra effort, a company can reach a massive market place that at one time would have been almost impossible with out significant time spent in travel and planning.

Planning an E-Commerce Website to Reach International Customers

While this is a great opportunity for small companies and individuals to enter the world wide market, there are some key elements that often get overlooked. Selling internationally is not simply a case of setting up an ecommerce website and sitting back and waiting for the orders to come rolling in. There are some important pieces of planning and preparation that need to take place first. This is as applicable to the company selling high end and high value products as it is to an individual looking to make a few dollars by selling handmade items through a small ecommerce site. Getting the foundations right will help to build a good, sound international business. One such example of a successful focused site is the United States based Iceland in 8 days, a travel site based on Iceland travel, focusing on in-depth reports on everything from the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck to the Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge.

Reduce Any Barriers to Purchase

Anything that makes the purchase decision complicated or protracted is putting a barrier in front of the potential customer. In addition to sorting out obvious features such as whether or how to take international payments, there are some other key aspects of setting up an ecommerce web site to sell internationally.

Language

Even if the target customer base is solely English speaking, understanding language differences is an important part of the planning process. It is important that the website is clear and concise with any product descriptions and that there is no room for any misunderstandings. The saying, ‘divided by a common language’, is as relevant today as it has always been . Many countries outside of the US call ´Diapers‘ by the name ‘Nappies‘. A website selling baby products would need to know this so international visitors to the site could find what they require quickly. This is also important for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes to ensure that the website is actually found by prospective international customers.

Measurements

Many countries use different measurements values and as such providing decimal or imperial equivalent measurements will be a service to prospective customers. While it is tempting to think that a customer can easily find out the information themselves, when building a successful international ecommerce website it is important to make it as easy as possible for the customer. At the very least, when building the website a conversion feature should be included so the customer can make their own conversions.

Delivery

Unless it is absolutely necessary, telling a customer to ’email for a delivery cost’ should be avoided. Not only does this mean that the customer may go elsewhere while they are waiting for an answer, it also means that somebody needs to be on hand to give an answer. Many products are a standard weight and giving a delivery options and costs is a significant benefit to international customers.

Start a Small Business in Document Storage: Back up and Restoration of Antique Photographs and Documents

When it comes to document storage of old documents and photos, many older folk still use an old shoe box, resulting in stained, torn and faded images.

Paper products or loose photos stored in antique albums, envelopes or boxes can suffer the effects of acid, turning the photos or documents yellow and brittle. Dampness, mold and insect damage can destroy documents.

Document Storage and Restoration

Hard copies of photos and documents may need to be professionally restored. However, for electronic document storage and backup, all that is needed is a good quality scanner and photo editing software to enhance images if necessary. Gimp is a free Linux resource or Photoshop can be purchased. Copying old negatives is possible using special camera equipment.

Online Sharing

Online backup software can be downloaded to a computer at home. Once installed the software automatically backs up selected files and folders to, for example, the Mozy online storage site. The user is then able to grant access to the online storage facility enabling others to access and view images and documents from their computers.

Storage Solutions, Scanner, Back up to Disk – Costs Involved

Set up an attractive website with contact details, information and references and/or links that will be appealing to the client. Consider sending out regular e-mails with some document storage information which will serve the purpose of advertising and reminding the client of the ongoing need for such a service.

It must be emphasized that if a scanner is purchased, it must be the best quality possible in order to get a good job done, since cheap scanners will make work time consuming and will possibly wear out quickly if the workload increases.

The cost of an online backup solution such as Mozy needs to be factored in to the price that will be charged clients.

Compile a portfolio, with professional photographs of work done so far. Add to this as time goes on along with references.

Do an excellent job and be reliable. Referrals will follow and satisfied clients will do the advertising for the business owner.

Free Business Software for Small Businesses: No Cost Office Programs are Ideal for a Home Based Business

Starting a new business can be stressful and costly. Luckily, there are several reliable free business software programs available for entrepreneurs to use. From managing e-mail to creating sales presentations, home based business owners can look professional and build their business with these free business software options.

Free Business Software for Presentations and Word Processing

From presentations to sales letters, the free business software suite from Open Office provides a good basic collection of tools for business owners to use. This free office program includes a complete collection of programs including word processing, spreadsheets, database, and presentation programs.

Each of the Open Office programs is comparable to those offered in other office suites and is easy for even beginners to use. Another benefit of this free business software is the compatibility with other office programs including Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint.

Home based businesses utilizing presentation software like Microsoft PowerPoint or other presentation software that can save files as .ppt files can convert their original presentations into Flash files with the free business software AuthorPoint Lite by AuthorGen. Flash files are ideal for using on a web site to add animation and interest to existing web pages.

There are also a few no cost office programs available to help home based businesses manage their leads and projects effectively. Office programs like Top Sales Basic 6.60 by Ceek Software, help entrepreneurs manage sales prospects, contacts and leads. It is a useful tool for individuals utilizing internet marketing to promote and grow their business. Or for offices trying to go paperless, the Stickies 6.7a by Zhorn Software allows individuals to post virtual sticky notes on their computer complete with alarm options to keep important reminders available at all times.

Free Business Software for Making PDF Files

The industry standard for making PDF files is Adobe Acrobat. However, for businesses just starting out there are a few different free PDF software versions to try that allow individuals to make their own PDF files out of documents. A few of the free PDF maker software programs to try include: PDFill PDF and Image Writer by PlotSoft, Cute PDF Writer by Acro Software and PrimoPDF by Nitro PDF Software. Each of these free business software programs work with the Windows Vista or Windows XP operating systems.

Business owners can save on some of the initial start-up costs by utilizing several of the free business software programs available for download. The CNET web site offers software reviews as well as downloads for these and several other free business software programs.

Training for Public Speaking as a Small Business Venture

One business venture that potential business owners often miss is public motivational speaking.

A dynamic motivational speaker for dementia seminars from Illinois, Dee Mayfield inspires family and professional caregivers the art of communicating and understanding persons with memory loss. Dee is a Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP) and authorized trainer for the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners. In addition, she is a certified trainer of the Techniques for Intervention Procedures program with Health Communications, Inc.

Dee motivates business audience with enthusiasm, stories, props, surprises and audience participation. She uses the skills, experience and training that she has acquired to:

  • teach business staff, teachers, caregivers, and students how to care for self and others,
  • deal with and handle difficult people and life situations,
  • communicate and have fun in business, in care giving, or in any venture.

Training as a public speaker or seminar trainer requires:

  • training in speech organizational skills,
  • abilities to write effective speech copy,
  • how to research the audience,
  • how to project voice,
  • how to present the material,
  • and knowledge of handling diverse situations.

Holding an Audience

Being effective in grabbing the audience attention and holding them in that mode for at least an hour takes special skills. Dee Mayfield’s seminars last for about seven hours with a few short breaks and lunch.

It is not enough to be a fluent speaker. Keeping an audience focused requires excitement and the ability to present with sharp and to the point messages.

Training as a Public Speaker or Seminar Trainer

While practicing professional delivery of a business message, an effective speaker should understand the tone of oral communication. Quality training is needed in improving the basic quality of the voice and developing methods for using the voice effectively.

Delivering the Care giving or Business Message

Speech training is important for learning how to project, when to speed up and slow down, what to emphasize and when and how to acquire feedback from the audience is important in delivering a dynamic training or business presentation.

Persuade the Audience

To gain trust from an audience, the public speaker must have and present accurate and extensive knowledge of the material. To be convincing and able to persuade others, the speaker must believe in the message and show sincerity in both verbal and non-verbal presentation.

Using Humor in Speech

Using levity helps an audience and the public speaker to be relaxed. It is fun and helps to keep the audience focused. However, the jokes and fun should not detract from the sincere meaning of the message.

Market Surveys for Small Business: How and Why to Carry out your own DIY Consumer Surveys

Marketing is widely seen as a complex science whose practitioners’ services – and fees – are beyond the reach of small business.

In practice many marketing techniques and practices are no more than applied common sense, and are essential tools in building and running a successful small business. One of the most useful marketing tools is the market survey, or consumer survey.

Why use a Market Survey?

A generalised market survey or customer survey of existing cutomers, can provide the answers to the four central questions which any business needs to ask:

  • Who are our core customers or clients?
  • What do they want?
  • How can we best provide it?
  • How can we tell them about it?

However, market surveys can also be used to answer more specific questions:

  1. How is a projected new product likely to be received?
  2. How do customers perceive the value of our product? Is our pricing right?
  3. Where should we place our advertising?
  4. Is our advertising cost effective?
  5. How do customers/clients perceive our business’s strengths and weaknesses?

Market or customer surveys can also be used to build up a customer database or mailing list, but this is likely to create legal obligations under Data Protection legislation, which should be checked.

Preparing a Market Survey Questionaire

Producing your own Market Survey Questionaire is quite easy if you follow a few simple guidelines:

  • Decide at the outset the key questions which you seek to answer.
  • Keep it short. Ten or a dozen questions on one A4 sheet should produce a useful result without testing the responder’s patience.
  • Avoid questions requiring a narrative answer. Best is a simple “yes” or “no” reply. Where you ask for gradings of approval, “smiley faces” may provide a simple, light hearted option – JKL. Answers can then be given a numerical value, making computer analysis easy.
  • Beware questions drawing on the responder’s memory. Questions like “Where did you hear about us?” often produce very unreliable results.
  • Any request for the responder’s name and address, is best made optional; anonymous answers often include some uncomfortably truthful but helpful criticism!

Completing the Market Survey Questionaire

Many people regard a request to take part in a market survey as an imposition on their time and privacy. These are the customers whose answers are often most useful and it’s important to encourage them to participate.

Offering a small reward for their time and trouble – a free gift, a money off offer, or entry in a prize draw – often helps.

How the survey is carried out may also help; options include:

  1. By completing a written form.
  2. On line on the internet.
  3. In a telephone conversation.
  4. In a face to face conversation.

Options 1 and 2 are generally the most successful provided the questions are simple and well framed, as responders feel less pressure and can choose when and where to answer.

Obtaining a Balanced Market Survey Sample

For a simple business with a homogeneous customer base a hundred or so responses may be enough to achieve a useful result.

For businesses with a more diverse customer base, for example with geographical or seasonal variations, a larger number of responses may be necessary to give a reliable result, and care is needed to reflect these variations in the survey sample.

Analysing the Results of A Market Survey

Provide the questions are simple, allowing the answers to be given a numerical value, anyone with basic computer skills can enter the results in a simple DIY database and draw useful conclusions.

Where you use computer analysis always check the Data Protection legislation implications.

Small or Home-based Business Ownership Options: Choosing the Right Legal Entity for Your Small Business

When starting a business of any size, it is important to determine which legal business structure is best. For small businesses, especially a home-based business, this step may be considered unnecessary or simply may be overlooked. The type of entity chosen, however, has very specific tax consequences and legal ramifications. Do not leave this decision to chance. Research the options available and choose the entity that best fits the type of business and the parties involved.

Sole Proprietor – A Simple Form of Business Ownership

A sole proprietorship is a very common, very simple form of business. Although usually operated by an individual, a married couple may also conduct business as a sole proprietor. For tax and liability purposes, a sole proprietorship is legally inseparable from the owner. This form has many advantages in that it is easy and inexpensive to set up and federal income taxes are simple to report on a Schedule C form.

The disadvantages to operating as a sole proprietor stem from the primary advantages. Due to the simplicity of the structure, a sole proprietorship offers no protection to the owner from taxes or liability. All of a sole proprietor’s personal assets, not just the assets of the business, are potentially at risk should creditors come calling.

General Partnership – A Simple Business Structure for Multiple Owners

When two or more people elect to conduct business together, a general partnership is a relatively easy form of business to set up. Forming a partnership, especially when only two individuals are involved, is often done through a verbal agreement but it is important to create a valid, written partnership agreement as soon as possible.

A partnership agreement should include how ownership is shared, the time commitment and financial investment expected from each partner, how decisions will be made and disputes resolved, how profits will be divided, and how new partners may enter or existing partners may exit. It should also clearly state what action will be taken in the event of death or disability of a partner and provide for other contingencies, such as dissolution, as well.

As with a sole proprietorship, all personal assets of the partners involved in a general partnership are potentially at risk to satisfy taxes or other liabilities. When considering a partnership, bear in mind that each partner is liable for the actions of all the partners. For federal income tax reporting purposes, the partnership files an informational return and the income allocated to each partner is then included on each partner’s tax return.

Other forms of partnership that are not covered here include a Limited Partnership, where liability is limited to the extent of the partner’s investment, and a Joint Venture, where the partnership is formed for a specific time period or project only. Both of these business entities are more complex to form than a General Partnership and require adherence to certain formalities.

Corporation – A Separate Business Entity

Held by shareholders and run by a board of directors, a corporation is a separate legal entity chartered by a state. Set up as a nonprofit or for profit venture, a C Corporation is complex and expensive compared to other business forms but generally shields shareholders from liability. C Corporations are stringently regulated and taxes are paid on profits by the corporation and then again when distributed to shareholders.

An S Corporation provides the asset protection advantages of a C Corporation but is taxed in the same way as a partnership. Taxes on profits are paid by the shareholders only; the corporation itself pays no tax separately. As with a C Corporation, an S Corporation is owned by shareholders, run by a board of directors and subject to regulation.

Limited Liability Company (LLC) – A Flexible Business Structure

Combining the protection from liability advantages of a corporation with the tax advantages of a sole proprietorship or partnership, a Limited Liability Company (LLC) provides a flexibility that may be especially attractive to small business. Rather than stockholders, the owners of an LLC are members who manage the company or appoint others to do so. In addition, an LLC may choose to be taxed like a corporation but will still not be bound by corporate formalities.

Choose Your Business Structure Wisely

When starting a business, it is important to choose the structure carefully. Each type of entity comes with a specific set of restrictions, as well as legal and tax ramifications. While a sole proprietorship can often be set up without assistance, it is usually best to consult an attorney when creating a partnership agreement or contemplating a corporation or LLC. Thoroughly discuss the pros and cons of each possibility before choosing a structure for any business.

There are a variety of online resources to assist any budding entrepreneur. For more information on starting a small business, start with the Small Business Administration. For tax specific information, get answers straight from the IRS website.

Start a Successful Small Business: Business Advice is a Critical Component in Starting a Business

People start up small business enterprises for a wide variety of reasons and with an equally wide range of personal motivators. Regardless of the reasons and motivations behind any small business startup, setting up a new, small business venture, is a personally dangerous endeavour, especially if sound business advice is not sought, and then acted upon.

Whilst many who do start small business enterprises go in with their eyes wide open, based upon;

  • successful previous business experience,
  • extensive knowledge of the nature of the small business environment,
  • a good understanding of the capital requirements of a small business,
  • a clear understanding of the market in which they intend to compete, and
  • the possession of appropriate skill sets to run and operate a small business,others unfortunately, tend to go in blind.

Major Causes of Small Business Failure in Early Years

Four common causes of small business failure in the startup phase are;

  • Ignorance of the complexities of owning and operating a small business,
  • unrealistic views of the competitive nature of the small business environment,
  • a lack of perception of the myriad of skill sets that are necessary to successfully operate a small business, and
  • insufficient understanding of the capital requirement of supporting a small business until it experiences positive cash flows.

All of these reasons for failure are preventable, and can either be overcome with appropriate business advice and ongoing support, or the understanding of these reasons may assist in the making of a wise decision that perhaps, the risks associated with a particular individual starting a small business, are unacceptably high, and the individual will thereby avoid making a costly mistake.

Business Advice is a Critical Component of a Small Business Startup

In a majority of instances the decision to start up a small business is also a decision which places the financial future of the individual(s) involved, fairly and squarely on the table. Often the decision is one of necessity, or last resort, without careful consideration of the consequences to those concerned, if the small business fails.

Regardless of the reasons and motivation behind the decision to become a small business owner, any potential small business owner takes an immense risk in going it alone, without seeking appropriate business advice. The types of advice that should be sought before any decision is made, include;

  • Legal advice on the appropriate structures to put in place for the proposed business,
  • Accounting advice on taxation implications and record keeping requirements,
  • Financial advice on minimum funding requirements and appropriate sources of funds,
  • Management advice on planning and skill sets required to operate the proposed business, and
  • Marketing advice on the level of demand for the product or service offering and appropriate marketing methods for the target market.

The fact that much of the necessary advice is freely available, and to a certain extent actually free to the individual(s) seeking the advice, means that there really is no excuse for anyone not to take advantage of what is on offer, and use the information available, to give their new small business venture the greatest chance of avoiding the pitfalls, which cause many startup failures.

Sources of Business Advice

Intending small business proprietors can seek business advice from a multitude of sources including;

  • National, State and Local Government Business Advisory Bodies,
  • Local Chambers of Commerce,
  • Not for Profit Mentoring Organisations,
  • Friends and family already operating successful businesses,
  • Banking and other business specific Service Provider websites,
  • Education Institutions,
  • Legal Practitioners,
  • Accounting and finance professionals, and
  • Management and Business Consultants

It is important to seek advice from more than one source, and carefully evaluate the advice received, before rushing to implement any such advice. Acting in this manner will ensure that the full benefits of appropriate advice are gained.

Benefits of Seeking Business Advice Before Starting a Small Business

The are numerous benefits available to an intending small business owner, who seeks sound business advice, before embarking on the challenging path to starting a small business. The key benefits include;

  • Ensuring that the business opportunity is a real opportunity and the right opportunity for the market in which the business will operate,
  • Ensuring that the proposed business structure provides the right level of personal protection,
  • Ensuring that sufficient financial resources are available to get the business through its start up phase and past the break even point,
  • Ensuring that all legislative, regulatory and governance requirements are met and a clear understanding of what is required on an ongoing basis is understood,
  • Ensuring that any deficiencies in management skills are clearly identified and a plan for overcoming these before the business commences are developed, and
  • Ensuring that family and other social support mechanisms are strong enough to assist the business owner to survive the challenges inherent in starting a small business in a competitive environment.

Starting a new small business without seeking appropriate business advice is akin to gambling your life on the toss of a coin. Given the clear benefits of seeking advice on how to start a business, it is almost recklessness to proceed otherwise, as any business failure will impact severely on all directly concerned, and will probably also impact negatively on others, less directly concerned.

Green Ideas for Small Businesses: Tips for Making a Small Business Green

With all the emphasis on being green in today’s culture, many small business owners would like to be more eco-friendly. However, it is a challenge to try to make green choices and stay within the limited budget that most small businesses have. Try some of these low or no cost options for showing customers that for this small business, the emphasis is on green.

Recycle

Recycling is such a simple thing to do. The key is to never recycle confidential information. Shred anything that has customer addresses or financial information on it. Packing material, printing mistakes and outdated flyers are fair game. Let customers know that recycling is being practiced by placing a bin labeled with a recycling symbol in an area that they can access. It is a free public relations move that can help cut down on clean up, since customers will be more apt to put receipts or flyers they don’t want in the bin instead of dropping them on the floor as they head out the door.

Sell Reusable Shopping Bags

Reusable shopping bags are not just green; they are a great marketing tool. Every time a customer carries that shopping bag, whether it is filled with library books or has just made another trip to and from the business where it was originally purchased, the bag’s logo is being seen by other people. Sturdy canvas bags with flat bottoms are a big favorite with most people. Additional features, such as the ability to fold up into a zippered pouch or a pocket in the bag for small items, will make the bags a favorite with customers.

Change the Light Bulbs

Some small businesses and even large businesses decide to save energy by turning off lights or using dimmers. While this is a fine idea for storage areas, it isn’t as great for parts of the building that customers are in or for areas where employees are working. Instead, switch traditional bulbs for energy saving compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, are a great way to help the environment and help a business save money at the same time because they use much less energy. While they cost as much as four times more than regular light bulbs, Energy Star says that these CFL bulbs can provide substantial savings on electric bills. In addition, they provide a much cooler type of light, which can mean additional savings on summer cooling costs.

Advantages of Having a Small Business Brochure

Every small business should have a brochure. The brochure helps your small business to become better known in the market place. It helps the customer get a detailed account of your company or service. Brochures are not just for large corporations, but for small businesses and consultants also.

Here are some advantages of having a brochure.

A Brochure Gives Credibility to a Small Business.

The brochure lets prospects know that your small business is reputable and that they can take you seriously. Your company is here and ready to compete. “Anyone can spend $50 on letterhead and business cards and call themselves a corporation. But a brochure proves you are in business and shows you’re more than a fly-by-night operation,” according to Mr. Bly’s book titled, The Copywriter’s Handbook.

 The Brochure Tells

This is the perfect way to tell the customer everything in detail about your small business. This may sound obvious but there are many small business brochures that I have read that are merely just a long list of items, giving no details about the company, the service, or how it works. According to Ms. Maas’s book, Better Brochures, Catalogs and Mailing Pieces, “Tell customers what is included, what are the costs, what are the hours. Graphic devices can help to spotlight important information.” Another example of this is the Lincoln 210 MP brochure that popular MIG welding website Tool Guides Hub put out.

A Brochure Can Help to Sell Your Business

A small business brochure can help to sell your business and make a big difference, when prospects ask for more information. Customers want to read about your business or product, especially if they are about to spend a lot of money. They want to make sure they are making the right decision.

The Brochure Can Support Your Advertisement

It can be used along with direct mail; after the sales letter the prospect wants more information. The brochure is another sales tool. The brochure is designed to fit into a standard envelope and can be mailed along with the sales letter. It provides information about your sales points, list features and contains photos about your product or service. They are used by salespeople to leave behind after a presentation. Brochures are great to take along when networking.

Keep in mind that people will read the brochure as long as it informs and positions your product or service as the solution. The brochure for your small business is a great way to give your customers enough information about your product or service.

Small Business Continuity Disaster Recovery Plan Templates

A small business disaster can take many forms. Natural events, such as a fire or flood, can wipe out all equipment, while a virus or theft can result in data loss or other problems. Planning ahead with a disaster recovery plan template helps small business owners maintain continuity in any emergency.

Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery

For business continuity, disaster recovery planning is critical. With this disaster recovery plan template from IBM, businesses can make sure that all of the most important aspects of a data recovery plan are implemented before disaster strikes.

  • Data Recovery Personnel Lists – For emergency data recovery, maintain a list of data processing personnel. The list should contain names, positions and contact information, to allow administrators to call in critical personnel in the event of a disaster.
  • Emergency Data Recovery from Critical Applications – Maintain a list of applications and software that run on company computers, and the level of importance of each type of software.
  • Computer Hardware Inventory – This list should contain a full list of of all computer hardware on-hand. This list allows business owners to quickly replace equipment after a total loss or determine the value of losses for insurance purposes.

Backup for Disaster Recovery

Backup all software programs regularly to ensure a timely disaster recovery process. It may seem tempting to backup files, then secure the backups in a filing cabinet or in a desk drawer, but this does not protect the files in the event of a natural disaster. All company files should be stored both locally and remotely, to facilitate a swift restoral of business.

Physical backup medium, such as a data CD or a thumb drive are adequate for small backups. Online backup services can also provide a safe and reliable place to store business data.

Small Business Disaster Recovery Plan

After filling out the small business disaster recovery plan template, a business owner will have a comprehensive list of software and hardware, lists of emergency contacts and action plans, and a clear idea of the best and fastest way to restore operations after a disaster. Perform tests of the disaster recovery plan at least quarterly, and update the plan information whenever there is a change in personnel, software or hardware. The use of a detailed and thoroughly researched plan for recovery after a disaster or emergency is essential to the swift restoral of business services.