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Holiday Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses

The holidays are finally here. The season typically lasts well into end of January, so small businesses should be getting prepped to stand out among rivals. Most of your employees will be looking forward to spending time with family, but the holidays are definitely not the time to take a break from marketing to clients. It’s the prime time for people to shop, even if some of the biggest holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving are far behind. People continue to go on spending sprees particularly as the New Year rolls around. Here are several ideas from CBS Corporate Business Solutions consultants about marketing during the holiday season:

Up the Social Media Game—The holidays are definitely the time to be on social media. Everyone is checking their Facebook or Instagram feeds, commenting on friends’ pictures and posts. This is the best time for a brand to launch a word-of-mouth campaign. Keep in mind that many other brands will be active on social media as well. So it would be important to stand out from the crowd.

Personalize All Marketing Material—Customers are bombarded with marketing messages from everywhere during the season. Therefore, to capture the attention of the target audience, personalize all marketing material. Avoid the usual “Dear Customer” and use names. If your business has compiled customer profiles, now is the time to use them.

Send Gifts—Gifting not only shows your client base that your brand actually cares about them, it also helps clients keep your brand in mind the following year. Increase your small business’s loyal customer base, and subsequently sales, by sending personalized gifts to loyal customers and important clients.

Offer Deals and Discounts—The holiday season is definitely the time for sales, so offering your customers deals and discounts is more of an obligation at the end of each year. Small businesses can get more out of these deal offerings by smartly timing them. Also, make sure customers are aware of what the company is offering, especially for the season.

It’s the end of the year, so it’s also the time to opt for one of our Corporate Business Solutions Reviews to see exactly how your business performed in the past year, and how much better it can perform in the coming year.

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Understanding Net Neutrality Rules and How Elimination May Affect Small Businesses

Net neutrality has been in the news lately. The newly appointed FCC Chairman Ajith Pai recently unveiled a proposal to repeal net neutrality rules adopted under the Obama administration. Now it may all sound like tech stuff that has nothing to do with business whatsoever. If you think that, then you are dead wrong. In fact, if net neutrality rules are repealed, it would mostly affect small to medium-sized companies in the U.S. Read below for a briefing from Corporate Business Solutions consultants on what net neutrality is and how the proposed repeal may affect your small business:

What is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality broadly refers to keeping internet access equal for everyone. Our access to the internet is controlled largely by broadband service providers. Your ISP can block access to certain sites (and it already does for illegal sites), control which content you see, and more importantly, throttle or control speeds for various sites.

The idea behind net neutrality is to prevent large broadband service providers from preventing free access to the internet.  Simply put, ISPs could create a “pay to play” system where some businesses can pay for better access to customers. That is to say, broadband companies can create a “fast lane” for certain businesses, where sites are speedy and then throttle the speeds of rival companies. When the net neutrality rules were initially enacted, then President Obama said: “No service should be stuck in a ‘slow lane’ because it does not pay a fee.”

Here is a useful resource to get more details about net neutrality in general: 13 things you need to know about the FCC’s Net neutrality regulation

What Repealing Net Neutrality Means for Small Businesses

Repeal of net neutrality rules will give large internet provider companies broad control over how everyone accesses the internet. For example, a broadband provider could charge a fee to make sure a website loads in under 3 seconds. This fee may not be hefty for a large company, but for a small business, especially a one-person operation, it could be life or death for the company.

Consumers, too, would be affected. ISPs would be able to provide packages that limit video streaming data availability, for example. Consumers will no longer be able to get access to all content, which would definitely affect how companies reach their target audiences.

Internet-based companies would certainly suffer if net neutrality rules are scrapped. Not just the small companies, even large ones like Code Academy, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter and Google have urged FCC to keep the rules. The American Sustainable Business Council even released an open letter to the FCC stating that rolling back net neutrality rules will be “disastrous for the country’s business community.”

What to Anticipate

Keep in mind that FCC’s decision is still a proposal and is not yet final. However, the FCC’s chairman has been insistent that the rules will be eliminated. Even if it occurs, there may not be a reason to panic just yet. It’s not likely that broadband companies would immediately create a pay-to-play system, especially when emotions are running high. In any case, ISPs may have to await legal decisions.

If you are worried about how net neutrality may affect your business, contact CBS Corporate Business Solutions to learn more about the issue with regards to your company’s unique situation.

Growth “Strategies” Small Businesses Must Avoid

Growing or scaling is one of the core aspects of running a small business. Most business owners CBS Corporate Business Solutions have come across invest a lot of time and money for their companies to grow. There are definitely legitimate growth strategies, and sometimes “hacks,” that small businesses can use to grow. Then there are certain tactics that our consultants strongly advise small business owners to avoid. Here is a list:

Signing up customers to email lists without their knowledge – If a customer is on a company mailing list, then that person should have signed up for it themselves. Some companies use a shady tactic where customers who provide their email address are signed up for mailing lists without their knowledge. While this is not technically illegal, it’s a horrible practice that should be avoided. The customers will not be happy about getting email newsletters they didn’t sign up for. It will, in fact, have the opposite effect. Instead of a customer being more attached to a business, the customer will very likely learn to avoid the business.  Moreover, Congress passed an anti-spam law which imposes certain requirements on businesses engaged in email marketing.  The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 is a spam law that established the national standards for sending commercial email (which is different from transactional or relationship email) and providing guidelines for sending behavior, content and unsubscribe compliance. To follow the guidelines in place, you must include a visible and operational unsubscribe option in your commercial emails, a legitimate physical address of the company, accurate “From” information and subject lines, and you cannot send to harvested email addresses.

Adding customers to social media groups – This is a similar tactic to auto-signing up people for email lists. Don’t add customers to Facebook groups or similar social media networks without their explicit consent. People do not like getting random notifications. It may even lead the customers to complain about your company’s practices to social media site owners. That is definitely not a position a brand wants to be in.

Aggressive selling from the get go – If an interested person signs up for an email newsletter or like the brand’s Facebook profile, don’t target that person as a potential customer right away. Don’t start trying to push products on the potential customer. The interested party needs to get used to the brand and build a trustworthy connection before he or she buys a product. If the business starts to aggressively sell right away, this connection will be severed right away.

Posting fake statistics – Companies do get a lot of leeway when it comes to making marketing claims. However, don’t push it. While some exaggerations may be acceptable, don’t try to paint these exaggerations as actual fact. You may call your brand the number one in the field, but don’t make up statistics or studies to “prove” a claim like that. Don’t post fake statistics about customer satisfaction levels, various “scores” for products, and so on. These will only be lies and your long-term growth plan will only get hurt.  Moreover, using fake statistics is not considered harmless by state Attorney Generals who are charged with protecting consumers against businesses making false claims. Such claims are prohibited by consumer protections statutes against misleading advertising and also under general business statutes involving unfair business practices.   For legitimate techniques a small business can use to promote growth, consult with a Corporate Business Solutions expert.

What to Do When Customers Bash Your Brand or Product on Social Media

Social media is essential for engaging with customers. Sometimes though, small businesses may wish customers were not so engaged on social media. If clients are taking to social media, not to praise your products, but to bitterly criticize, then your company will have a full-blown crisis on hand. Understandably, not all customers who engage with a brand post positive or neutral comments. The goal of a marketing strategy is to maximize positive engagement and minimize negative engagement down to near zero.

But what happens when the negatives end up overtaking the positives? How can a small business respond without spending too much or making the crisis worse?

Don’t Confront the Negative Posters – Being confrontational on a public platform like social media will never end well for a brand. Unless being confrontational is actually one of the traits the brand is trying to promote. Most brands, however, do not want this. If your team tries to confront the accusers, regardless of the merits of the claims, you risk a small argument from snowballing into a veritable social media spectacle. It takes years to build the reputation of a brand, and only minutes to destroy it beyond repair.

Take the High Road and Put the Matter to Rest Quickly – For example, learn about what happened to Iggy Azalea, a promising musician who damaged her brand permanently by relentlessly arguing with critics on Twitter. Keep in mind that the negative reviewers are not losing massive profits by arguing with a business. Therefore, the company should take the high road. Without sounding condescending or deceptive, put the matter to rest with a genial post. Keep it short and apologize if you have to. Don’t drag on an argument any longer than it needs to and let the news cycle move on.

Ask a Consultant What to Do – Marketing experts like the Corporate Business Solutions consultants can help your small business respond to a major PR crisis in a timely and sensitive manner. If your marketing team is inexperienced in responding to negative feedback that is making its way to media, hire the experts to manage the problem.

The main thing during a PR crisis is to avoid the problem from getting worse. Refer to CBS-CBS.com on how your small business can prepare for negative publicity in advance.

How Should a Small Business Handle a Publicity Crisis

It’s the worst nightmare of any business. Public relations or perception crises are not wholly uncommon to small businesses. Usually, it’s the big businesses that are plagued by publicity issues. But small businesses should not feel too secure. Publicity crises can happen for many different reasons. It could be due to a misunderstanding, a mistake on the part of the business, or even unforeseen legal issues popping up. Whatever the cause is, here is some brief advice from Corporate Business Solutions for small businesses on how to weather a publicity storm:

Diagnose the Problem – First of all, the company should move quickly to understand exactly what the problem is. If outsiders are accusing the business of anything, there should be an internal investigation to find out if such accusations hold any merit. Once the CEO and the top managers know exactly what is going wrong, then the business can move to address the problem effectively.

Leadership is Important – Leadership is most important during a time of crisis. Without a good leader, a CEO or a senior manager, there’s little chance that the business could navigate the crisis. If the executive officers are not showing good leadership skills at the moment, or if the crisis is somehow their fault, it’s time to find a new leader capable of keeping the company together in a time of crisis.

Take Swift Action – If action is called for, don’t wait around to do it. In most public relations crises, businesses are accused of malpractice or selling low-quality products in some form. If the customers are complaining, then don’t wait to apologize. At lease inform that the problem is being looked at. Do not try to shift blame, because it will not be perceived well.

Stay in Touch with Customers – Don’t ignore customers and their complaints during a time of crisis. It’s more important than ever to provide good customer support as the crisis is unfolding. They won’t be too happy, but it’s important to keep communication lines open to avoid complete abandonment.

Inform Shareholders and Investors – Keep internal stakeholders like shareholders informed of what is happening and keep them updated on new developments as the business addresses the crisis. The last thing a company needs in a time of disaster is a shareholder revolt.

Last but not least, call in a consultant like CBS Corporate Business Solutions to formulate a plan of action to address the disaster head-on.

 

Negotiation Tactics for Small Business Owners

Negotiation is a major aspect of doing business in any sector. And yet, small business owners who don’t have extensive professional backgrounds could find it difficult to strike effective negotiations with partners or clients. Corporate Business Solutions consultants can assist small businesses in certain types of negotiations. But there are certain techniques that any business owner must know.

If you are a small business owner who needs to improve negotiation skills, here are several tips to follow:

Know the Dynamics of the Deal: Don’t go to the negotiation table without understanding what’s in it for you and the other side. Which party needs the deal more? It’s important to understand who needs leverage before the talks start. Also consider the constraints the other party is facing, as well as alternatives that could put your side at a disadvantage.

Be Courteous: Talk patiently and be courteous when entering into negotiations. Do not be overly aggressive, as you could be perceived as a difficult person to deal with. But don’t be too agreeable either, because then you would be seen as someone who is easy to persuade. Hold your ground, but be professional and do not get into verbal battles.

Dress Appropriately: Do dress properly for the negotiation table in a manner that won’t offend the other party. It may be common to wear casual or even business casual clothes at the workplace, but the same attire could be interpreted by the other party as you not being serious about negotiations. The dress is an unnecessary thing to be troubled over. Therefore, dress in formal and practical clothes when meeting in person to negotiate.

Don’t Drag It: Time is the bigger killer of deals. If negotiation talks are prolonged, chances are high that the deal might go sideways or get killed before completion. Therefore, don’t take too long to conduct talks. But don’t rush things as you could end up with the short end of the deal.

There’s no doubt that business negotiations can be tough. If you require expert help, you can contact one of our CBS Corporate Business Solutions consultants for valuable advice.

That Google Memo and Company Culture

If you are an avid consumer of business news, you must have already read about the 3,000-word Google memo by an unnamed employee that has gone viral. The memo details an employee’s dissatisfaction regarding Google’s new efforts to recruit more women and minorities. The author of the memo is rather offended by the tech giant’s push to hire more women engineers and cites “biological differences” between the sexes for underrepresentation of women in tech. Regardless of what you think about women or diversity, the memo raises an important question about company culture.

Small business owners often need to take decisions about hiring new employees that may not always be to the satisfaction of already existing employees. In local small businesses, for example, employees that have stuck out with the business for a while may not like it when the company wants to hire senior personnel to expand. Regardless of what hiring quotas end up being, business owners and managers must always maintain a strong company culture as well. The culture could be more diverse, or rather closed. However, all employees must ultimately have close working relationships that further the goals of the business. It’s never good for business when employees don’t get along well.

Here are several suggestions to small business owners from Corporate Business Solutions consultants about maintaining employee cohesion and building a strong company culture:

Listen to Complaints – There should be an effective method for employees to voice their complaints about the workplace environment. Some of these complaints will have merit, and most might not. Regardless, it’s important that all employees understand that the boss listens to them.

Let Them Know Empathy Matters – Don’t expect all your employees to get along like BFFs. Some will be close friends, others will not. The managers must ensure that employees have good working relationships with one another regardless of personal feelings. Some of these feelings may be sexist or racist, as in the case of the Google memo author. Don’t ever let your small business be embroiled in a racism or sexism scandal. It will ruin your business and expansion efforts for years to come. The company cannot change personal beliefs of workers either. What the small business owners can do is build an empathizing company culture where all employees respect one another.

Keep Goals in Mind—Make sure all employees share your vision for the company’s future. This matters more so than almost everything else when it comes to succeeding as a business.

If your small business needs to make the workforce more efficient and solve company culture issues, you can seek help at CBS-CBS.com.

How Small Businesses Should Protect Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is as valuable as cash assets to small businesses. Most companies, especially big ones like Google and Pepsi, spend millions each year protecting intellectual property assets. That’s because IP infringements are all too common. A company’s IP can be breached even via mundane things like signing a new contract with a partner or proposing a new design with a contractor. Losing the IP value of anything means that a small business loses an asset. Considering that, here are several methods recommended by Corporate Business Solutions to protect your company’s IP:

Sign NDAs with Everyone: It’s very important to include an IP clause in nondisclosure agreements that the company signs with clients, partners, contractors, freelancers, or anyone else. This indicates to the third-party that your business fully owns the copyright of a certain asset, and thus discourages infringement. If a breach does happen, your company will have the legal advantage to take the matter to the courts.

Be Careful of Disclosures Made to Freelancers: More and more companies are now getting business done via third-party freelancers or self-employed agents. If these non-employed workers get involved in the development of something, they can later make a claim on the IP. To prevent this, sign an NDA with an IP clause as mentioned above. Also, be careful of the sensitive disclosures you make to freelancers who might be able to use the knowledge to turn a copyright claim to their advantage.

Beware of International IP Rights: Small businesses themselves can be perpetrators of IP violations, sometimes unknowingly. This is quite true with regards to companies that sell internationally. Always make sure that patents, trademarks, or copyright claims of your company cannot be contested internationally. You will have to check international patents and IP registration to be sure.

Negotiate with IP Violators First: IP claim lawsuits are typically costly and prolonged for both parties. Therefore, it’s best to open dialogue with a potential violator before going to court. If you think an entity is infringing on your company’s IP, you can send a legal letter notifying them of the infringement, and send a cease and desist letter. You can hire mediation services to come to an agreement with the violator before getting into a lengthy court battle.

Always think of IP as assets. Things like patents add wealth to your small business. If you want to conduct a company review of business operations, including your risk for unregistered IP, contact us at CBS-CBS.com to find a consultant.

Microchipping Employees and Other Workplace Privacy Concerns

A company in Wisconsin will soon have approval to microchip its employees. Whether this indicates the business has reached an Orwellian age or is simply moving forward with technology will depend on whom you ask.

Of course, having microchips physically inserted into employees should unsettle even the most rationally pragmatic executive. In this case, the company will need an employee’s consent to insert a small “rice grain” sized chip between the thumb and the pointy finger of the hand. Participation is mandatory. More importantly, this chip is not a GPS tracker and will not be internet connected, so no one can hack into it. The only way to compromise the microchip, according to one employee at the company, is to have the employee’s hand literary chopped off.

As fascinating as micro chipping is, the story raises important questions about company goals and employee privacy. Small businesses, regardless of the sector, routinely collect very sensitive information about employees. For example, a typical small business would have access to an employee’s personal information, social security information, addresses, phone numbers, and other similar data that could wreak havoc in the wrong hands, Corporate Business Solutions consultants point out. So what exactly are the responsibilities of modern day companies to protect employee’s privacy and information?

First of all, as our consultants point out, all small businesses must have an employee guidebook that explains what data a small business might collect about them, how this data would be stored, and how the sensitive information would be protected from malicious entities like data thieves. It’s the responsibility of the business to be fully transparent with the employees regarding what type of information the business collects.

Small businesses should also ensure that the collected data is kept secure. This means investing in cyber security infrastructures such as safer networks, malicious software removal tools, and employee awareness training programs that teach good internet habits. Like the Wisconsin microchip company did, it would be wise to keep sensitive data disconnected from the web-connected company network.

To make sure your business is fully capable of ensuring employee privacy rights while keeping business secrets secure, get one of our Corporate Business Solutions Reviews.

Why Small Businesses Need to Keep Corporate Business Records

Most small business owners believe corporate business record keeping is just for big corporations. In our experience as Corporate Business Solutions consultants, most small business managers and executives consider record keeping to be just another administrative hassle that their work schedules can do without. But we strongly advise all small businesses to do better to keep corporate business records for a number of reasons.

If your small business is legally considered an S corporation, an LLC, or a C corporation, it is a must. Even small businesses that are not registered in this manner can benefit from keeping corporate-style business records.

Business Records Offer Legal Protection – The main reason corporations go to painstaking lengths to keep business records is for legal protection. Lawyers call this the “corporate veil” of protection in court. If your business is sued by anyone, including creditors, these business records will play an important role in showing that your company followed proper procedures and maintained legally required standards.

Safeguard Limited Liability – If a company is an LLC, corporate records are necessary to protect the “limited liability” function in the record. A potential lawsuit could demand personal assets in a settlement, all the while questioning the LLC’s compliance. Corporate records will safeguard your business’s LLC status.

For IRS Purposes – Corporate records can be requested by the IRS. If that happens, your business will need to provide it. IRS can demand documents like business meeting minutes under certain circumstances. Therefore, for tax purposes, these records are important.

In Case of a Sale – If the small business needs to go up for sale, a potential buyer would want to look at corporate business records to see how the business has performed. Also, they might want to make sure the company kept clean records and there’s nothing shady underneath.

For the above reasons and then some, CBS Corporate Business Solutions consultants recommend small businesses keep records of events like business meetings, annual reports, shareholder decision-making documentation, among others.