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Marijuana Businesses Could Face Struggles in the Coming Years (Watch)

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-02-24 16:30

Businesses that deal with recreational marijuana in states where it has been legalized may be in for a tough road ahead.

Even in states that have voted to legalize recreational use, marijuana is technically illegal on a federal level. A 2014 law protects states that have legalized medical marijuana use from federal interference. But the eight states and the District of Columbia that have legalized recreational use don’t have those same protections.

Marijuana Business News Signals Troubles Ahead

The Obama administration generally respected those state laws when it came to drug enforcement issues. But it might not be the same under President Trump. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization in the past. And Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer recently said that he thinks more enforcement is forthcoming.

It’s a tough situation for businesses that operate in the states where recreational use has been legalized and where they haven’t faced much in the way of enforcement up to this point. These businesses, for the most part, have been trying to do things in a legal way. But the federal law hasn’t kept up with changing state laws. So businesses may have to make serious adjustments in order to stay viable in the coming years.

Marijuana Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Marijuana Businesses Could Face Struggles in the Coming Years (Watch)" was first published on Small Business Trends

New Features From Facebook, Yelp, WhatsApp and More Announced

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-02-24 14:30

Social media platforms are constantly updating their features. And some of the newest features on popular sites and apps might just have an impact on business users.

For example, Facebook just unveiled a new job board so that businesses can post openings right on the popular social media site. And Yelp launched a question and answer section so that you can respond to some of your customers specific inquiries.

You can read about these latest updates and more in this week’s Small Business Trends news and information roundup.

Social Media Facebook Now Allows You to Post Job Openings

Social networking site Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has a history of challenging, if not buying out, its competitors, and now it looks like it’s going after LinkedIn. Starting yesterday, businesses in both the U.S. and Canada could post job listings natively to their Facebook pages or in the new jobs bookmark.

Yelp Q-and-A Solicits More Community Feedback for Your Brand

Whether you have a restaurant or pottery shop, customers will have questions regarding your business. And those answers are not going to be available on your site no matter how thorough you are. That is just a fact. The new Questions & Answers feature from Yelp (NYSE:YELP) gives your customers the answers they need about your business from actual customers or yourself.

Yet Another Platform — Whatsapp — Launches Snapchat Clone

The announcement of Snapchat’s IPO late in 2016 revealed some impressive numbers and growth. Over 2.5 billion Snaps are created by 158 million users each day, and the company’s revenue has increased six fold since 2015.

Fall of PewDiePie Shows Dangers of Controversial Content

When it comes to social media, it’s best to steer clear of controversial content. Or you may run into problems like YouTube star PewDiePie, real name Felix Kjellberg. The popular YouTuber courted controversy after posting a string of videos containing allegedly anti-Semitic jokes and Nazi references.

Economy Self-Employed Creative Pros Outearn Those with Salaries, FreshBooks Says

If you’ve been toying with the idea of pursuing a freelance career, now is a good time to get started. That’s because self-employed professionals are now earning more than their salaried peers. The insight comes from a new report by FreshBooks, a cloud accounting software company for small businesses.

Reports Send Mixed Messages About Staffing Needs of the Future

To hire or not to hire. That’s the big question for cash-strapped small businesses. Recent data sends out two very differing messages about the staffing needs of the future — one short term, the other more long term. So businesses may have mixed feelings about their plans for that next hire.

Green Business Think Big Vehicles Can’t Be Eco-Friendly? Think Again

When you think of electric vehicles, you probably think of a compact car or small sedan. But if you really want to see carbon emissions and fuel consumption lowered significantly, you need to think bigger. More specifically, think of bigger vehicles like semi-trucks, buses and even garbage collection vehicles.

What Your Business Can Learn From Leggings Made of Plastic Bottles

Think about how many plastic water bottles get thrown out each day. Now think about all the possibilities that could come from innovative minds finding new ways to use all that plastic. A company called Girlfriend Collective has found one way to do that. The company uses plastic bottles from Taiwan and turns them into leggings.

Marketing What Should Your Business Do When Google Retires Converted Clicks?

What’s Happening? An update will soon come to the conversion tracking tool in AdWords. Since 2001, AdWords has used “Converted Clicks” to track whether or not users complete desired outcomes on ads and websites. Historically, converted clicks have shown whether or not an ad click led to the desired action on your website, and will be retired in its simplicity.

3 Ways Sales Is Changing With Artificial Intelligence

Technology is the great equalizer. In every industry and in nearly every department, technology is and should be central to performance and achievement capacity. Of course, the frontiers of technology constantly change.

Retail Trends Olive Oil Shortage Could Force Businesses to Develop Creative Solutions

Olive oil prices are rising around the world. The three countries that produce the bulk of the world’s olive oil, Spain, Greece and Italy, have recently been hit with droughts, floods, bugs and bacteria. That means that the olives used to create the product are in short supply, while the demand for olive oil continues to rise.

Delta Thinks the Key to Customer Loyalty is Through Free Stuff

What’s the key to customer loyalty? Well, if you ask Delta, that key involves lots of free stuff. The airline just announced that it will start giving out free meals to all passengers on some of its longest domestic flights starting in March. That’s in addition to the snacks, entertainment options and blankets that are already offered for free on Delta flights.

Small Biz Spotlight Spotlight: Student Loan Club Tries to Ease the Pain for New Grads

If you’ve taken any college classes, chances are you’ve had to deal with student loans. These loans can be especially burdensome for young professionals just getting started in their chosen fields. But there are some options and resources for dealing with them. That’s where Student Loan Club comes in.

Small Business Operations Highlights From the #WinInBiz National Entrepreneurship Week Twitter Chat

It’s a special week for entrepreneurs around the U.S. National Entrepreneurship Week is a weeklong celebration for entrepreneurs and business owners. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and other partners have used the week as an opportunity to put out various resources, events and other offers to help business owners continue growing their ventures.

UPS Upgrades Flex Global View Tool to Help You Better Track Shipments

UPS (NYSE: UPS) recently announced improvements to Flex Global View, its event management and visibility tool for air, ocean and surface freight shipments, to help you better track shipments.

Give Your Business a Boost with the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest

Inspiring small businesses are being recognized and rewarded every year. Share what inspired you and your core mission and you could be the next winner. Entering its fifth year, the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest awards tens of thousands of dollars to passionate small business owners across the country.

Taxes 9 Ways to Get Free Help With Taxes from a Real Live Person

Tax help can cost a lot of money. Pros charge $150 an hour on average to do a federal and state return, according to the National Society of Accountants. Help with planning, back taxes or audits can cost even more. But there are a few ways to get human tax help for free.

Ohio Congressman Says Tax Code Stunting Small Business Growth

House Committee on Small Business Chairman Steve Chabot voiced his concerns the complexities of the tax code are stunting small businesses and start-ups from growing during a hearing Wednesday. There are provisions in place that penalize entrepreneurs for taking risks with their businesses, according to Chabot.

Technology Trends The Motherbox Wants to Cut the Wires that Bind Your Phone When Charging

The love/hate relationship people have with their smartphones gets very intense at one particular moment: when the battery dies. Even the most prepared person can be caught off guard because of a hectic day, and it is for those and all the other times you feel unconnected that Motherbox was created.

eBay Deploys Artificial Intelligence to Benefit Sellers

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming part of our everyday language as more organizations integrate the technology into the products and services they offer. The latest to do so is eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), which according to the company will help its sellers become more competitive.

Why is Everyone Talking About Data Backup? Blame Ransomware

The number of ransomware attacks on businesses and individuals has risen exponentially in recent years. Increasingly, small and midsized businesses are vulnerable to these malware attacks. Their data is essentially locked up, or held hostage, and cybercriminals demand a ransom in exchange for releasing computer files and business documents. The numbers are staggering.

Wix Passes 100 Million Users with Focus on Small Business

The web development company that spent nearly $5 million on a commercial during the Super Bowl just surpassed the 100 million registered users’ milestone. The Israel-based company (NASDAQ:WIX) boasts how easy it has made things for entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, artists and businesses around the world to create a website using its drag and drop capabilities.

Xero Updates Fixed Asset Depreciation Features

Online accounting software Xero (NZE:XRO), popular with small business users, has updated the Fixed Asset depreciation feature on the platform. Xero Fixed Asset Depreciation The Fixed Assets depreciation feature gives small businesses the ability to track fixed asset and value depreciation for tax and book keeping purposes. In the U.S.

Qualcomm’s New WiFi Technology Should Boost Capacity for Small Business

One of the biggest differentiator’s between a home or small business and a larger enterprise is capacity. And in a world where speed is tantamount to efficiency, enterprises enjoy a commanding lead.

Image: Facebook

This article, "New Features From Facebook, Yelp, WhatsApp and More Announced" was first published on Small Business Trends

What is Porting and What Does It Mean for Your Small Business Phone?

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-02-24 13:00

As a small business, continuity is a challenge when you move to a new location. While the physical move will displace some of your customers until they get used to the new location, your phone number can come along with you, meaning you don’t have to get a new one.

Number porting lets you keep your existing landline, wireless or VoIP when you change to a new service provider, whether it is because of a relocation or a better service from another company.

So What is Porting?

Number porting, or porting, is the ability to keep your existing number if and when you decide to move your phone service to another provider.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), if you want to switch to another service provider and you are staying in the same area, you can keep your existing phone number. And the process can be carried out between wireline, IP and wireless providers.

How Do You Get Started?

As a business you may have more than one number, and you can choose to port any or all of the numbers. But before you do, make sure you go over your current contract to determine your liabilities.

Look at your contract to see if there are any early termination fees as well as balances you have to pay before you end your services. And whatever you do, don’t terminate the old service before you start the service with the new company.

Contact the New Company

Once you meet your obligations of your previous contract, contact the new company to start the process of porting your number. This requires providing your 10-digit phone number and any other information the company may require. This will vary from provider to provider.

Generally, a Letter of Authorization (LOA) must be filled out and signed by the authorized user for your current provider to begin the porting process, along with the most recent and correct Billing Telephone Number (BTN).

How Much Will It Cost?

According to the FCC, companies can charge to port your number, and the fees can vary from provider to provider. The agency’s website says you can ask for a waiver or negotiate the fees.  However, most of the major operators don’t charge any fees.

The FCC also says a company cannot deny to port your number because you have not paid for porting. When you request the service of a new company, the FCC says the old company cannot refuse to port your number. This is even if you have any outstanding balance or termination fee.

How Long Does it Take to Port a Number?

This will depend on how many phone numbers you have, the operator, and the type of service, such as landline, wireless and IP. It can take anywhere from hours for wireless services all the way up to 10 days for IP and landline.

Again, this will depend on the type of service you have with your old provider and the type of porting, so make sure to take this into consideration before changing to a new company.

The Transition Period

The FCC warns there will be a transition period in which you will have two numbers when you port from wireline to a wireless number. The agency recommends users to ask if you will continue to use your current wireline number during the transfer process, however long it takes.

This is important because wireless 911 location and call back services can be affected during the transition. The FCC wants you to ask your new company if your 911 service will be affected during the process.

Another service that will be impacted during the transition period is long distance service. Your landline or wireline long distance company is not going to move with you, so make sure your new company has a plan you can live with.

You Can’t Always Port Your Number

The FCC says it is not always possible to port your number to a new geographic area when you change providers. This is the case in some rural areas, which will require you to contact your state public utilities commission for further information.

Small Business Identity

Your business phone number is one of the identifying features of your company. Just like your address, logo and other identifying features, your number, especially if it is a vanity number, is a great way for your customers to identify with you and build a relationship.

So if you have to move, make sure you port your number with you to continue that relationship.

Using Phone Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "What is Porting and What Does It Mean for Your Small Business Phone?" was first published on Small Business Trends

Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group Helps IT Providers Become Cloud Ready

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-02-24 11:30
Sponsored Post

IT companies are being forced to reshape their business models in a world where technologies are moving to the cloud in droves. Many need help making the transition, which is where companies like Microsoft, through the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), play a vital role.

MPN equips Microsoft partners with training, resources and support, enabling them to become more competitive in today’s marketplace.

One person responsible for helping partners take the leap into cloud-readiness is Karen Fassio, marketing director for the Worldwide Partner Group at Microsoft, the group that manages MPN. She recently spoke with Small Business Trends via telephone to discuss why IT providers should be transitioning to the Microsoft Cloud and share resources Microsoft can offer to aid in that process.

Fassio describes her role as helping IT providers take a look at the opportunities that becoming cloud-ready presents and figure out how they can reshape their business, their solutions and even the talent on their teams.

She uses a variety of approaches to accomplish that task: The Microsoft Partner Network portal, the Cloud Ready Analyzer (a tool that helps IT companies assess their cloud-readiness) and working with teams to do partner-facing events and activities.

She also communicates regularly with the partner support community, which she says numbers in the “hundreds of thousands,” through digital media to make them (the partners) aware of all the resources Microsoft has available.

“There is a lot of marketing transformation that I’m leading with our team so that we are ensuring that Microsoft is connecting and creating a relationship with our partners in a more personalized manner,” she said. “In that way, they start experiencing a more connected, cohesive message from Microsoft.”

In addition to listing her direct responsibilities, Fassio outlined some of the ways the Worldwide Partner Group working through the MPN helps IT companies make the shift to becoming cloud-ready.

Microsoft Cloud as Integration Point

Fassio said that through its cloud-based products and services (Office 365, Azure, CRM, etc.), Microsoft’s role is to serve as an integration point for IT providers — a backend solution that providers can build on in configuring solutions to problems their customers have. In some cases, that means a mix of on-premise and some cloud components, all in the cloud, or a hybrid of Microsoft products and other technologies.

Cloud Migration and Licensing Administration

Two additional areas where Microsoft can assist partners, according to Fassio, is in helping them migrate their customers to the cloud and in licensing, to help them close deals.

Regarding migration, she said, “We have created paths and migration solutions that make that easier to do because it sits inside a connected Microsoft technology suite.”

She added that with the advent of the cloud, administration of licensing has become more sophisticated.

“A lot of the licensing that comes with these solutions can all be served through the cloud solution provider program,” she said, “It takes the bulk of the licensing administration, tracking and utilization out of the realm of having a partner needing to manage that. Now the partner can focus on the solutions they are building for their clients while licensing-related tasks are managed by the indirect provider.”

Proof of Concept and Managed Services

Fassio emphasized two critical aspects of becoming a cloud-ready business are using proof of concept, which she refers to as a “trial or starter engagement to get a customer moving in the direction of the cloud,” and managed services.

“Managed services enables providers to utilize a subscription model that creates long-term recurring revenue rather than a point in time solution or licensing-only opportunity,” she said. “With both the proof of concept and managed service, you can move into more custom engagement, which is where a lot of our partners provide more differentiated value and earn stronger margins.”

Working with Other Partners

Fassio cited another advantage of becoming cloud-ready is that providers can move beyond their area of expertise by aligning with other partners who have differing skill sets.

“By going to the cloud, you have more options for stitching together different solutions that don’t necessarily have to be in your own skill set,” she said. “That way, you can build something that is much more comprehensive with other partners that are also in that space.”

Cloud Competency Partner

Not only does MPN help IT companies shift to the cloud, but it also helps them gain expertise through the cloud platform competency program, which, according to Fassio, is a training and support program focused on a particular area of competency.

“For example, we have competencies that are focused on what we see partners building their practices on,” she said. “We also have a competency centered on productivity, for those partners doing a lot of Office 365 engagement and who are moving customers from a client based model to online models that can easily scale by customer demand and usage.”

Fassio added that MPN has other competencies programs focused on Azure and Dynamics CRM.

Regarding competency, she said, “Partners who are part of this program are basically identifying themselves as having expertise in a particular technical area. You’ve made an investment to become cloud-ready, and now Microsoft knows who you are and can help put you in front of customers so that when they are looking for solutions in your area of expertise, your business can show up inside our customer engagement engines.”

Cloud Ready Analyzer

The Cloud Ready Analyzer mentioned previously, is a tool designed to help IT companies that are struggling with the transition to becoming cloud-ready. Partners take a self-assessment of their current states and compare that to where they want to go.

“I think what most people find is that the Analyzer helps break down each of the key areas of transformation in a very consumable, actionable way,” Fassio said, “so that you can see the next step to get your business ready for the cloud.”

Additional Resources

Microsoft has no shortage of resources to help IT companies not only become cloud-ready and gain proficiency but also to grow their business.

“We have tracks for independent software vendors, managed service provider and resellers,” Fassio said. “There are different types of scenarios that try to base them off of to help a partner go from where they are to where they want to do.”

She recommended that partners start by delving into the MPN profitability resources, which, she said can “help people think not only about the market and where the customers are but also how peers like themselves are thinking about transition.”

MPN Provides End-to-End Solution

Fassio stressed that the Microsoft Partner Network is an end-to-end solution where partners can learn how to build and grow their business.

“We have tools that help you assess your marketing state; we provide guidance on the types of marketing activities you should engage in, and we have tools and templates and guided resources to help you develop a different marketing approach,” she said.

Besides that, the network has peer-to-peer communities and in-person events that let partners connect and build relationships, enabling them to support and learn from each other.

In concluding her remarks, Fassio stated that MPN’s goal is very pragmatic:

“When it comes down to it, our goal is to help our partners understand that Microsoft is on this journey with our partners.  As we learn, we share.  As we see new opportunities, we surface these and put resources in place to help partners take advantage of them as demonstrated through guided resources we’ve provided that help partners determine their personal business transformation and configure their profitability in the cloud.”

Visit the Microsoft Partner Network website to learn about all the resources Microsoft has available to help partners transition to the cloud and grow their business in the process.

Cloud Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group Helps IT Providers Become Cloud Ready" was first published on Small Business Trends

Affilitizer Claims to Connect Publishers with Relevant Monetization

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-02-24 10:30

Affiliate programs provide many people with an income, and if you find the right company and product, it can be lucrative. The developers at Affilitizer want to make the process of finding a company with an affiliate program as easy as scrolling through the search results on Google.

So the question is, is it really that easy?

Small Business Trends installed the extension on Chrome and tried it, and here is what happened.

We first searched for “baby elephant figurines,” figuring (no pun intended) it would be hard to find businesses with affiliate programs that sold them. And this is a screen shot of the result:

Where ever you see the Affilitizer triangle is where there is additional information about the company.

So we clicked on the one for Hobby Lobby:

And were sent to an affiliate page.

It Was Easy to Find Affiliate Marketing Programs

The answer is yes, it is that easy to find an affiliate program to join with Affilitizer, and it is so intuitive and seamless it seems like it is part of Google.

According to the company that created Affilitizer, this app was designed to give bloggers, publishers, webmasters, and influencers an easier way to monetize their content. Let’s face it, monetizing your site, especially when you are starting out, can be very difficult, and affiliates are one way of earning income from your audience.

With Affilitizer, you will have access to more than 61 affiliate networks and 65,000+ affiliate programs with tracking links for Amazon and eBay with just a single click. And the search is made automatically, so you won’t have to spend hours look through the tens of thousands affiliate programs. This includes the private networks and small programs that might not get the same attention as their large counterparts.

No matter which brand or item you search for, Affilitizer finds where they are available as part of an affiliate program and is able to share them at the same time as when Google lists the search result.

Images: Affilitizer

This article, "Affilitizer Claims to Connect Publishers with Relevant Monetization" was first published on Small Business Trends

How to Start a Mastermind Group

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-02-24 09:30

If you’re interested in sharing your knowledge or networking with other entrepreneurs or professionals in your industry, you might consider starting a mastermind group.

Gail Gardner of is the co-creator of the Blogger Mastermind Group on Skype. Over the years, she’s seen the positive impact that mastermind groups like this can have for businesses and entrepreneurs. And she shared some tips for others looking to start their own groups.

How to Start a Mastermind Group Find Potential Members

The most important part of any group is the members. And that’s the case with mastermind groups as well.

For Gardner, the group started as a forum site that added members over time. When the site got hacked, she decided to switch over to Skype. And then she invited all the members who were still interested in being a part of this type of group.

She told Small Business Trends, “I invited all the original forum members and we’ve been adding people as we come across them ever since. Most of the members are full-time freelancers or serious bloggers. Some are web developers and most own their own sites.”

Welcome New Members

It’s also important that you actually engage with those new members when you find them. There are different methods of doing this. But you should at least send a quick welcome message and tell them a bit about the group.

Gardner says, “When onboarding new members, it is important to make them feel welcome and give them some idea what is acceptable and what isn’t. We have a Blogger Mastermind blog post that explains how the group operates and how to access our collective resources on Skype. When adding a new member, I invite them to share what they do and their website and most used social accounts.”

Be Clear About Expectations

Since most groups are going to have a specific purpose, that also means that there are certain activities that won’t fit into that purpose. That means you need to have some kind of rules or a code of conduct to ensure that the group remains valuable for all members.

Gardner says, “Be clear on the purpose of the group and what is expected. In our case, we make it very clear that there are no requirements and it is not necessary to try to keep up with all the messages. I tell members to think about it like a water cooler. Chat when you can, but don’t worry about reading every message.”

Stick to the Rules

From there, you need to actually come up with a way to deal with any difficult situations when they do arise.

Gardner says, “If someone does things that other members find annoying, Eren [Mckay of Mckay Social] or I will talk to them privately. Most understand that they should not spam or advertise, while sharing a special post or recommending something they find truly useful is encouraged. We have only removed people a couple of times in all the years our group has existed because they persisted in doing something they had been repeatedly asked to stop doing.”

Keep Information Organized

To make the group as valuable as possible, it’s also a good idea to have a system for organizing the information you’ve discussed. This can make it easier for people to provide quick answers or information when people bring up topics that have been discussed at some point in the past.

Gardner says, “We pool our knowledge and resources and save that information onto Trello boards for easy access anytime. As discussions happen, I capture the highlights and organize them by topic. This makes it easy to share any conclusions and tips that come out of our discussions whenever the question comes up again.”

Mastermind Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "How to Start a Mastermind Group" was first published on Small Business Trends

The Motherbox Wants to Cut the Wires that Bind Your Phone When Charging

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-02-24 08:30

The love/hate relationship people have with their smartphones gets very intense at one particular moment: when the battery dies. Even the most prepared person can be caught off guard because of a hectic day, and it is for those and all the other times you feel unconnected that Motherbox was created.

A Look at the Motherbox Wireless Charger

Currently on a funding campaign on Indiegogo, Motherbox has already met its goal with 22 days left on the drive.  MotherBox and MotherBox Mini are the first wireless chargers that are truly wireless the company says. You will be able to charge your Android and iOS device at the same time without any cables.

The popularity of the device highlights the need for this type of solution because of the current reliance on smartphones for business and leisure. As the gap on all the other specs of mobile devices continues to shrink, battery capacity and charging options and technology are becoming key differentiators.

Motherbox charges your battery through a thin receiver that plugs into the power port of your smartphone. It is placed on the back of your phone before you put the case on, so it is thin. You then download the app and connect your chargers.

Plug the MotherBox wireless charger into an outlet and it can charge up to four devices at the same time, developer claims. This from a device that weighs only four pounds.

The smaller version of this device, the MotherBox Mini weighs only three pounds, and it will have at least 7,000-mAH of juice to charge your smartphone, according to the specs. The Mini can be connected through a USB cable so it can be charged on the go. The app that comes with the charger sends you push notifications when its battery is getting low, so your backup doesn’t fail you

While the campaign is still going on, you can get The Motherbox for a contribution of $89 and the Motherbox Mini for a contribution of $99. Or you can get both of them for a contribution of $159, with shipping slated for September 2017.

Images: Indiegogo/Motherbox

This article, "The Motherbox Wants to Cut the Wires that Bind Your Phone When Charging" was first published on Small Business Trends

Be Careful When Expanding Your Offerings

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-02-24 07:30

The idea here was to expand on the ear, nose, and throat thing and include some other part of the body. Elbow ended up being the funniest, but here’s a few options I threw out:

Belly Button
Pinky Toe
Chest Hair
Oxford Comma

See what I mean? Elbow is totally the right choice.

This article, "Be Careful When Expanding Your Offerings" was first published on Small Business Trends

9 Ways to Get Free Help With Taxes from a Real Live Person

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-02-24 06:00

Tax help can cost a lot of money. Pros charge $150 an hour on average to do a federal and state return, according to the National Society of Accountants. Help with planning, back taxes or audits can cost even more. But there are a few ways to get human tax help for free.

Where to Get Free Help With Taxes 1. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

What it is: A federal grant program that helps community organizations provide free tax-prep services to low- and moderate-income individuals, the disabled, the elderly and limited-English speakers.

How it works: Taxpayers can get face-to-face help from local, IRS-certified volunteers. Generally, the income limit is $54,000. Volunteers won’t prepare the Schedule C (sorry, freelancers), the complex Schedule D (sorry, investors) or forms associated with nondeductible IRA contributions, investment income for minors, premium tax credits, requests for Social Security numbers or determinations of worker status.

“In a lot of communities, [people] can just dial 211 to find out information about the nearest VITA site and get more information about whether or not they qualify,” says Rebecca Thompson, project director of the taxpayer opportunity network at the Corporation for Enterprise Development, which focuses on fighting poverty.

Get help from the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.

2. Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE)

What it is: A federal grant program that gives money to community organizations to provide people with free tax help. Although the program was established to help people 60 and older, and still prioritizes serving them, there’s actually no minimum age requirement. Trained volunteers provide the assistance.

How it works: Similar to VITA, community organizations and nonprofits use the grant money to provide help. Most TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program.

“The TCE program and the VITA program use, as a base, the same training program [for volunteers]. They use the same certification test and, for the most part, the same software,” says Fran Rosebush, deputy director of the Corporation for Enterprise Development.

Get help from the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program.

3. AARP Tax Foundation

What it is: A nonprofit arm of AARP that operates the Tax-Aide network of tax preparation sites for the IRS’s VITA and TCE programs.

How it works: AARP’s Tax-Aide connects taxpayers with tax counselors who have advanced IRS training. It also operates an online FAQ page where you can submit tax questions to IRS-certified volunteers. You don’t need to be an AARP member to get help.

Get help from the AARP Tax Foundation.

4. IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service

What it is: An independent organization within the IRS that protects taxpayer rights.

How it works: You can turn to the Taxpayer Advocate Service if you’ve already tried to resolve your tax problem through normal IRS channels or you think an IRS process isn’t working the way it should. There’s at least one Taxpayer Advocate office in every state.

Get help from an IRS taxpayer advocate.

5. Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs)

What it is: A federal grant program that gives money to legal-aid and legal-services organizations to help low-income taxpayers or taxpayers who speak English as a second language. Law schools and business schools also are common providers. Some charge nominal fees.

“We don’t prepare tax returns, generally speaking, but if somebody, for example, has their refund frozen and they need help figuring out why, they can call low-income tax clinics,” says Christine Speidel, an attorney at Vermont Legal Aid, which runs clinics in the state.

How it works: The program generally provides representation for people in IRS disputes, including audits, appeals, collections and litigation. It also can help respond to IRS notices and fix account problems. Typically, the income ceiling is 250% of the federal poverty rate, but some programs have a little wiggle room, Speidel says. Sole proprietors are usually welcome, she adds.

Get help from the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic program.

6. IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers

What it is: Local IRS offices across the country.

How it works: Services vary by office but can include basic tax-law assistance, payment arrangements, procedural inquiries, help with IRS letters and notices and other support. You’ll need to schedule an appointment and provide a valid photo ID and taxpayer identification number, such as your Social Security number.

Get help at an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center.

7. Military OneSource

What it is: A Department of Defense program that provides financial and legal resources, among other things, to military members and their families. The tax program is called MilTax.

How it works: Trained MilTax consultants are available by phone seven days a week during tax season from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET at 1-800-342-9647. After April 18, they’ll be available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET. MilTax is part of the VITA program, which means you also can get face-to-face help on base or nearby.

Get help from Military OneSource.

8. The tax pro down the street

What it is: A certified public accountant, licensed attorney, enrolled agent or someone who has completed the IRS’ Annual Filing Season program. The IRS also requires anyone who prepares or helps prepare federal tax returns for compensation to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number, so be sure to look for that.

How it works: To get free help, all you might need to do is ask. According to the National Society of Accountants, 89% of tax pros offer free client consultations worth more than $100.

Seek help from a credentialed tax professional.

9. Your tax software

What it is: Many versions of do-it-yourself tax software come with free help from a tax pro via phone, chat, email or even face-to-face via your cell phone’s camera.

How it works: Tax software providers frequently offer free help, though it’s more common among the higher-end paid versions. Audit support and audit representation are often provided, though you might have to pay extra.

Where to find: Companies such as TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct and TaxSlayer offer free help for all or some of their tax software packages.

Tax Pro Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "9 Ways to Get Free Help With Taxes from a Real Live Person" was first published on Small Business Trends

3 Ways Sales Is Changing With Artificial Intelligence

Small Business Trends - Thu, 2017-02-23 18:30

Technology is the great equalizer. In every industry and in nearly every department, technology is and should be central to performance and achievement capacity. Of course, the frontiers of technology constantly change. The assembly line modernized the means of production in the early 1900s, the telephone revolutionized communication, computers changed nearly everything in the 1980s, and today the frontier of technology is big data and artificial intelligence (A.I.).

Much has been made of those two trends in the last year. Every company under the sun has made bold claims about how much data they can capture and utilize. Then there were the data purists who said data had to be cleared of noise and be converted into smart data. The rules of good data have even been turned into an alliteration: Volume, Velocity, Variety, Veracity, and Value. On top of data came A.I., the much heralded “next wave” of technological progress.

A.I. captures a unique place in the public consciousness because we have been told both to fear it and to hope for it to save us from the tedium of work. But for all of the talk about what A.I. can do, very little has been made of what it is doing right now. There are many hundreds of products out there that purport to leverage A.I. for various tasks, but few of them live up to the future world that we read about in the news.

But there is one specific department where A.I. is operating to its futuristic potential by accomplishing one simple goal: leveling the playing field. That department is sales and the products that are available leverage A.I. to become prescriptive sales tools.

Impact of AI on Sales

These are three ways that Prescriptive Sales is changing the industry:

Two is Better Than One

Prescriptive Sales tools function like a regular customer relationship management (CRM) platform except that it is tracking and analyzing millions of events and identifying areas for improvement. Uzi Shmilovici, a thought leader in Prescriptive Sales technology and the CEO of Base CRM, says this technology gives sales professionals data-driven feedback for constant improvement.

“Artificial intelligence programs can scan through millions of events to find patterns and correlations that we just would not notice on a day to day basis,” explains Shmilovici. “So it might notice a correlation between sending a specific pitch deck to prospective clients before calling them results in better conversions. Or it might notice that sending a weekly follow up email can yield results up to 8 weeks after initial contact. These are small practices that a sales professional might miss but that can increase performance over time.”

The effect is to give sales professionals a second brain, one that crunches numbers and identifies patterns without needing any assistance. This has the potential to make every salesperson in the office a top performer, not just those with the best instincts. In that way, A.I. is leveling the playing field.

The Art of Scaling

Growing a company is a chess match. There are a million strategies at play, but at the end of the day, cash is king, and you do not want to find yourself without it. But how do you grow your sales without hiring sales personnel? One way is to sell more with the team you have, and that is the future of Prescriptive Sales.

There is a litany of statistics available about how badly the average sales office performs. By any metric, there is room for growth. One study found that 63% of sales professionals fail to meet their personal quotas. So when we talk about there being room for growth without hiring new personnel, that is the space we are talking about.

Prescriptive Sales is designed to make it easier for salespeople to exceed their quotas. When a whole sales office uses the platform, the A.I. analyzes performance across individual experiences, meaning the program takes notes on how the top performing individuals work and shares it with the rest of the team. That cross-pollination of best practices makes up for numerous shortcomings in talent.

Don Schuerman, CTO of Pegasystems writes, “Using AI to correlate data and uncover trends is great, but data is made valuable only when you can take action on it.”

Descriptive vs. Prescriptive

It is hard to overemphasize the importance of this leap forward. Today’s CRM platforms are broadly flat, meaning they describe what is and what is likely to be, but not what can be. In that way, today’s CRM platforms are Descriptive rather than Prescriptive.

Transitioning to Prescriptive Sales technology opens up new worlds of business opportunities. Suddenly executives are not handcuffed to best, middle, and worst case projections for annual revenue; instead they can paint a path toward concrete results and understand what it will take to achieve them.

That shift in thinking will have impacts on management and business strategy beyond what we can speculate about here. Of course, the best executives have always looked at what can be and worked toward that end, but now they have incredibly powerful tools at their disposal to get there.

“The impact of A.I. on sales today is significant enough to qualify as a top-tier competitive advantage,” asserts Shmilovici. “Every CRM company is actively working to release their own Prescriptive Sales platform for that reason. This is the wave of the future.” By combining Prescriptive Sales technology with a talented sales force, companies will be able to achieve growth at a much quicker pace. This technology could potentially become the future of sales and marketing.

AI Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "3 Ways Sales Is Changing With Artificial Intelligence" was first published on Small Business Trends

Multivarious Games and Other Winners Announced for Zoho’s Sell Big Contest

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2017-02-22 18:30

Drum roll, please! Select small businesses have just won big … thanks to Zoho’s Sell Big contest.

The contest launched in December 2016. And the winners have just been announced. To participate, businesses needed to simply sign up on the company’s website and then get votes from their customers and community members by engaging with them online.

According to Zoho’s VP of Marketing Rodrigo Vaca, the company received thousands of entries from businesses in more than a hundred different countries. But the grand prize could only go to one company.

That honor went to Multivarious Games, an app development company in Columbus, Ohio. The company creates mobile games such as Hatch It! And they also work with clients to create custom gaming apps, including those that focus on innovative new technology like virtual reality and augmented reality. For the grand prize, the company was awarded $20,000.

But other companies like Interesting Kyiv, a Ukrainian travel agency, and Starla Michelle, a local artist in Austin, Texas, won secondary prizes through the contest too!

The company also highlighted some “Staff Picks” among the entries.

Since such a diverse group of businesses entered the contest, it took more than one strategy to put winning businesses over the top. But getting votes for the contest required that businesses find a way to really connect with their customers and followers online. So whether you’re a B2B or B2C company, there’s potentially something to be learned from the winners of Zoho’s Sell Big contest.

Vaca said in an email to Small Business Trends, “We had a diverse group of entries for the contest — consumer-focused and business-to-business companies, high-tech and low-tech, and all of them spread out around the globe. What set the winners apart were two things: they are all very passionate about their business, and they promoted their entry in the contest relentlessly with their own customers — website, in-person, newsletter, social media, and even live streaming. I think the content was just an extension -and a reflection- of how these businesses engage daily with their customers and audience.”

Zoho Sell Big Contest Winners

The contest winners are included below:

Image: Multivarious Games–Top row, left to right–Nolan Leber, Alex Patton, Christopher Volpe, Thomas Allenbaugh, Jake Donovan, Lucia Lee, Cody Starcher, Victor Dearing (bottom row): Kitty D Kate, Roystan C, Wesley Adams, Jillian Chastain

This article, "Multivarious Games and Other Winners Announced for Zoho’s Sell Big Contest" was first published on Small Business Trends

What Your Business Can Learn From Leggings Made of Plastic Bottles (Watch)

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2017-02-22 16:30

Think about how many plastic water bottles get thrown out each day. Now think about all the possibilities that could come from innovative minds finding new ways to use all that plastic.

A company called Girlfriend Collective has found one way to do that. The company uses plastic bottles from Taiwan and turns them into leggings. It takes multiple heating processes to break down the clear, BPA-free bottles and turn them into thread. The company also uses eco-friendly dyes and fair trade practices to complete their products.

You can get a pair of these legging for about $70. That might seem like a lot for the bargain shoppers out there. But there are plenty of other brands that sell high-end leggings for well over that price tag. So if even some of the consumers who are willing to shell out more for activewear are concerned about the environment, Girlfriend Collective may just have a winner on its hands.

And that’s one area where some green businesses struggle. Creating eco-friendly products and services is a great thought. But there still has to be a market for those products and services in order for them to succeed.

Don’t Launch Before Analyzing Product Viability

That means the products need to actually be able to compete with others in the market in terms of price, quality, style and other factors. But if a product can hold its own in all of those areas and be eco-friendly on top of that, environmentally conscious consumers are likely to appreciate it.

Plastic Bottles Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "What Your Business Can Learn From Leggings Made of Plastic Bottles (Watch)" was first published on Small Business Trends

Fall of PewDiePie Shows Dangers of Controversial Content

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2017-02-22 14:30

When it comes to social media, it’s best to steer clear of controversial content. Or you may run into problems like YouTube star PewDiePie, real name Felix Kjellberg.

The popular YouTuber courted controversy after posting a string of videos containing allegedly anti-Semitic jokes and Nazi references.

The Impact of PewDiePie’s Controversial Content

Following the criticism he received, Kjellberg took down three of the nine controversial videos in question. He further explained himself in a Tumblr post, “I think it’s important to say something and I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes.”

“I think of the content that I create as entertainment, and not a place for any serious political commentary.”

But the damage was already done. YouTube and Disney severed their business ties with Kjellberg — one of the most famous YouTube personalities.

YouTube cancelled Kjellberg’s YouTube Red series and also removed him from its Google Preferred program.

Why You Should Avoid Posting Controversial Content Online

Like Kjellberg, many well-known brands in the past have come under fire for missteps on social media.

When Apple released its diverse set of emoji in 2015, Clorox responded with a tweet that read: “New emojis are alright but where’s the bleach?”

Many on social media found the tweet racially offensive. Seeing the backlash that followed, Clorox deleted the tweet and issued an apology.

But the controversy led to ongoing problems for the brand with its social media presence.

For small businesses, it pays to avoid controversial topics. So anything to do with complaints about customers, employees or divisive political opinions and religious rants should be off the table.

Image: PewDiePie

This article, "Fall of PewDiePie Shows Dangers of Controversial Content" was first published on Small Business Trends

50 Home Based Business Ideas You Can Start With No Money

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2017-02-22 13:00

You don’t need a ton of startup cash to get a successful business off the ground. There are plenty of home based business ideas that you can grow simply through bootstrapping. If you’re interested in starting your own business at home but don’t want to put a huge investment in up front, read on for a list of 50 home based business ideas you can start with no money.

Home Based Business Ideas You Can Start With No Money Blogger

You can set up your own blog online for free using a platform like WordPress and then earn an income through ads, sponsored content or product sales.

Freelance Writer

You can also offer your writing services to other blogs or businesses on a freelance basis.

Ebook Author

Or you can write and publish your very own ebook to sell online. Some self publishing platforms require money up front, but others allow you to publish your work for free and then take a portion of the sales.

Affiliate Marketer

Affiliate programs let you earn an income through referring potential customers to specific websites. You can sign up for various affiliate programs and then share links on your blog, website or social media channels.

Social Media Influencer

If you use any social media sites, you can build up your influence over time and then offer your services to brands who are looking for influencers to promote their products or services.

Social Media Manager

You can also build a business by managing social media accounts for other businesses.

YouTube Personality

YouTube allows users to set up accounts for free. And with a computer, phone or other equipment that you probably already own, you can create and share your own video content and then earn a portion of ad shares.


There are also lots of free tools out there for setting up your own podcast online, which can then allow you to earn an income through advertisers.

Collectibles Seller

If you have any collectibles or popular products lying around your house, you can set up an account on eBay and make money through online auctions.

Used Book Seller

You can also sell some of your books on sites like eBay or Amazon and then use that money to fill your stock even more.

Recycled Handmade Seller

Etsy is another ecommerce platform that lets you sign up for free. And if you can get creative with some recyclable materials, you can even make some handmade products to sell without spending any cash.

Custom Illustrator

You can also get creative to offer custom products like illustrations, so you can actually get paid, at least partially, before even creating the finished product.

Errand Service

Though you may need to leave the house to perform some specific tasks, you can offer your services for things like laundry and shopping in exchange for a small fee.

Virtual Assistant

You can also start a B2B business where you handle various tasks for clients online as a virtual assistant.

Business Consultant

If you’re a business savvy entrepreneur already, you can start your own consulting business and simply communicate with you clients via email and Skype.

Life Coach

Likewise, you can offer life coaching services and communicate with your clients mainly online.

Graphic Designer

If you have a good eye for design, you can use some free cloud based tools to create basic graphics for clients.

Web Designer

Or you could offer web design services with the help of some free open source tools.


You could also welcome clients to your home where you can tutor them in various subjects.

Personal Trainer

If you’re a fitness savvy entrepreneur, you can welcome clients to your home where you can instruct them in various exercises.

Yoga Instructor

You can also work with more students at once as a yoga or pilates instructor.

Dance Teacher

Or you can teach various dance styles in a home setting as well.

Music Coach

If you’re able to play an instrument or even just knowledgeable about vocals, you can offer your services as a music coach out of your home.

T-Shirt Designer

Sites like CafePress let you sign up for a free account, where you can create and upload your own designs to be printed on t-shirts and other products. And then you can simply earn money as those products sell.

Dog Walker

You can also offer dog walking services to pet owners around your home without having to spend any money out of your own pocket.

Dog Trainer

Or you can offer to train dogs for clients out of your home.

Child Care Provider

If you want to start your own childcare business, you can start a daycare out of your home.

Auto Detailer

You can also offer to wash and detail cars for customers who bring them to your home.

Tax Preparer

Financially minded entrepreneurs, you can use free tools to prepare tax forms for clients.


Or you can offer your services to businesses and individuals on a more ongoing basis as a bookkeeper.

Alteration Service Provider

If you’re skilled with a needle and thread, you can have clients send you garments that need altering.

Custom Embroiderer

Likewise, you can offer custom embroidery services to customers who want to personalize their clothing or other items.

Interior Designer

If you have an eye for design, you can offer interior design and planning services without a lot of upfront costs.

Stock Photographer

Most photography businesses require studio equipment or other potential expenses. But with just a camera and access to the internet, you can take photos and offer them for sale on stock photo websites.

Travel Booking Service Provider

You can also use any number of free travel sites to find great deals and help travelers book their trips in exchange for a fee.

Data Entry Provider

If you want to work with business clients, you can also easily offer data entry services without having to purchase any specialized equipment.


For those who understand more than one language, you can also offer translation services to clients.

Online Researcher

You can also build a business by offering online research services. And all you need is a computer and internet connection.

Ghost Writer

If you want to help authors or business owners that have commitments they can’t get to, you can offer your services as a ghost writer to provide them with content to publish.


Or you can offer simple proofreading services to authors, bloggers, students or others.


You can even get more in-depth and offer full editing services for writers or businesses.

Resume Writer

If you want to help job seekers succeed, you can offer your services as a resume writer or editor right from your home.

Online Magazine Publisher

With some free cloud based tools to start your own online magazine or newsletter.

Voice Artist

You can also use some free online tools to market yourself to different businesses and clients as a voice artist.

Vacation Rental Person

If you have a spare room in your home, you can use a free service like Airbnb, where you just pay a service fee for each reservation.


With some basic supplies and ingredients you likely already have at your home, you can sell baked goods online or to local bake shops.

Event Planner

For entrepreneurs who are extremely organized and detail oriented, you can build a business as an event planner who works with clients mainly out of a home office.

Online Event Promoter

You can also use free online tools like Facebook to promote events for clients online.


With some basic craft supplies, you can make your own scrapbook layouts to sell online or even create custom pages for clients.

Online Tech Support

For tech savvy entrepreneurs, you can offer tech support services for a small fee to customers who contact you by phone or online.

Home Business Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "50 Home Based Business Ideas You Can Start With No Money" was first published on Small Business Trends

Thermostat Wars: How to Make People Happy, Increase Productivity and Save Money

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2017-02-22 11:30
Sponsored Post

No matter what season it is, there’s an insidious war going on in offices around the country. The conflict is so pervasive that it’s been given a name; The Thermostat Wars. While it may not be as significant as the war on poverty or the war on drugs, it’s still contentious because it touches millions of office workers on a daily basis.

The Struggle is Real

When the International Facilities Management Association (PDF) did a survey back in 2009  of more than 400 of its members, they found that the top two complaints had to do with the office temperature either being too hot or too cold.

Take a minute to check out the chart above. Notice that the “too cold” and “too hot” categories are almost even. That means that on any given day, someone is uncomfortable in the workplace to the point that they may have trouble doing their work.

Blame it on an Outdated Standard

A lot has been written on the subject of Thermostat Wars. After decades of men turning the temperature down and women turning it back up again, Nature and Climate Change published a study whose results are trivia worthy.  Here’s just a bit of the summary:

“Indoor climate regulations are based on an empirical thermal comfort model that was developed in the 1960s. Standard values for one of its primary variables — metabolic rate — are based on an average male, and may overestimate female metabolic rate by up to 35 percent. ”

According to The New York Times, this outdated standard was based on the average male being 40 years old and weighing about 154 pounds. As a point of reference, the CDC published figures for 2007-2010 that have the average male over 20 years of age weighing 195 pounds and the average woman weighing 166 pounds.

This explains why both men and women fight over the fahrenheit, but what’s the impact that this temperature toggling has on your business?

The Biggest Casualty of the Thermostat Wars is Productivity

You might think that Thermostat Wars are an employee morale problem, but in truth being too hot or too cold at work can seriously impact productivity.  So if you’re trying to get control of your energy budget by turning the thermostat down, you may be paying for it by losing productivity and employee efficiency.

Wondering what to do?  A recent Cornell University study (PDF) found that when the room temperature was below 68 degrees, employees made 44 percent more mistakes. So if you want to increase productivity, set your temperature to 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

The same Cornell study says that setting the temperature at a more comfortable level for all employees can save an average of $2.00 per worker per hour, saving up to 12.5 percent of their wage costs.

Proven Battle Tactics for Thermostat Wins

Now that you have some battleground history, here are a few strategies you can use to bring a Thermostat Truce to your office.

Get people involved in setting the ideal temperature for your workplace. People are more comfortable at the same temperature if they have control over the setting. Survey the people in your office to gather each person’s preferred temperature, then find a middle ground and stick with it. If your goal is the greatest energy savings, folks will sacrifice a bit of comfort. According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. (ASHRAE) Year-round settings of 68°F for heating and 78°F for cooling provide the most savings. To achieve a good balance between controlling your business energy budget and comfort use year-round, set the thermostat to 70°F for heating and 76°F for cooling.

Institute flexible work hours or telecommuting.  If you have the kind of business that allows employees to work from home or to work on a flexible schedule, this may be a boon to productivity.

Try some of these new smart thermostat solutions.  You may have seen those “smart thermostats” that have a motion sensor that can adjust the temperature up or down based on the usage of the space. Comfy is a brand new smartphone app that will send a blast of hot or cool air to an area when needed. Then there’s CrowdComfort. This smart technology gives the power to the people and allows them to send temperature complaints via their smartphones. The great thing about using these kinds of technologies is that you can customize them so that the temperature will only adjust if two or more people complain within 10 minutes.

Let’s face it, Thermostat Wars aren’t likely to go away anytime soon, but if you put the focus on clear and open communications about what temperatures work best for your employees, you just might find gains in energy efficiency and productivity.

Thermostat Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Thermostat Wars: How to Make People Happy, Increase Productivity and Save Money" was first published on Small Business Trends

eBay Deploys Artificial Intelligence to Benefit Sellers

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2017-02-22 10:30

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming part of our everyday language as more organizations integrate the technology into the products and services they offer. The latest to do so is eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), which according to the company will help its sellers become more competitive.

eBay Deploys Artificial Intelligence Solutions

The company has been supporting its sellers, many of whom are small to medium sized businesses, with AI driven investments for the past five years. To date, it has been embedded and distributed across 30 domains to help sellers with everything from delivery time to fraud detection, wrote President and CEO of eBay, Devin Wenig in a post on he company’s official blog.

The pricing and inventory AI solution is a great example. It can identify gaps in inventory of a particular product and alert sellers of that item to stock up. Based on demand, it will make price recommendations so they won’t price themselves out during a hot market. And the beauty of this solution is, it is seamless and non-intrusive, giving you recommendations automatically when events are trending.

The way new AI solutions are helping Tanya Crew, a single mom who started selling on eBay in 2003, is by optimizing the price for the items she sells. It predicts shifts in consumer behavior, along with more features so she can be more competitive.

The work on AI will also help optimize listing and online images featuring different types of consumer behavior to help Mohamed Taushif Ansari of Mumbai. He started with just a laptop and a sewing machine, and now exports the products he makes to 30 countries around the world.

Additionally, his products are being featured on social platforms through the eBay ShopBot, which is powered by AI and is currently in beta.

Even though there is a passionate debate going on regarding AI with polarizing views. eBay’s CEO said it best in his blog post:

“I believe our greatest days are ahead of us. But this rests on embracing our most promising technologies — and shaping them — to lift people up and create opportunity at all levels.”

Image: eBay

This article, "eBay Deploys Artificial Intelligence to Benefit Sellers" was first published on Small Business Trends

Spotlight: Student Loan Club Tries to Ease the Pain for New Grads

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2017-02-22 09:30

If you’ve taken any college classes, chances are you’ve had to deal with student loans. These loans can be especially burdensome for young professionals just getting started in their chosen fields. But there are some options and resources for dealing with them.

That’s where Student Loan Club comes in. You can read more about the business and what it does for students and graduates in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

What the Business Does

Provides student loan and career resources.

Co-founder and COO Jay Rush told Small Business Trends, “For $5 a month, members receive quality resources including refinancing tools, loan calculators, resume assistance, professional HR counseling and industry news, allowing members to master their student loans. Members are automatically enrolled in the weekly Student Loan Club Sweepstakes for a chance to win their student debt paid down or completely off.”

Business Niche

A sweepstakes program.

Rush says, “While multiple platforms offer resources, none of them offer a sweepstakes based on repayment. Therefore, our strong differentiator is our Student Loan Club Sweepstakes.”

How the Business Got Started

As a way to deal with mountains of student loans.

Rush says, “My parents were losing sleep worrying about the quarter of a million dollars of student debt that my brother and I had accumulated over time. After years of making fruitless payments, we sat down as a family and founded the Student Loan Club within a few months.”

Biggest Win

Getting early funding.

Rush explains, “Our biggest win as an early-stage startup was receiving our seed funding to turn our dream into a reality. That initial capital gave us the ability to start executing our plan.”

Biggest Risk

Turning to loved ones for funding.

Rush says, “The most difficult part of the process has been getting people to believe in and fund the idea. Our funding came from family and friends who put their faith in us to create a return on their investment. The risk is already paying off, but if it does not, next Thanksgiving could be awkward.”

How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000

Helping members repay their loans.

Rush says, “We would use an extra $100,000 for both marketing as well as the sweepstakes prize pool. Students are currently in debt an average of $35,000. That money could really help some people out.”

Favorite Quote

“There is no stronger army in the world than an idea whose time has come.” – Victor Hugo

* * * * *

Find out more about the Small Biz Spotlight program

Images: Student Loan Club; Top Image: Co-founder and CEO Dan Rush, Co-founder and CAO Maria Testa, Co-founder and COO Jay Rush

This article, "Spotlight: Student Loan Club Tries to Ease the Pain for New Grads" was first published on Small Business Trends

Reports Send Mixed Messages About Staffing Needs of the Future

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2017-02-22 08:30

To hire or not to hire. That’s the big question for cash-strapped small businesses.

Recent data sends out two very differing messages about the staffing needs of the future — one short term, the other more long term. So businesses may have mixed feelings about their plans for that next hire.

February 2017 Staffing Trends Short Term Hiring Expected to be Competitive

A recent report (PDF) reveals the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits increased less than expected for the week ended February 11.

Data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows claims for unemployment benefits rose by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 239,000.

What’s worth noting is claims have been below 300,000 for 102 consecutive weeks. That’s the longest stretch since 1970 and indicates a strong labor market where short term hiring will be competitive.

Could Automation Replace Workers?

On the other hand, a White House report (PDF) postulates 47 percent of U.S. jobs could be replaced by artificial intelligence technologies over the next decade.

What’s more, the study estimates 2.2 to 3.1 million existing part- and full-time jobs could be threatened or substantially altered by automated technology.

What Does It Mean for Your Business

Both studies have significant implications for small businesses.

The report from the Department of Labor suggests the economy is getting stronger but also that fewer are looking for employment. While that could mean more disposable income to spend on your products and services, it also could make it harder to hire the people you need to provide those products and services.

As for the White House report, increasing automation may save your business money in the long run as you need a smaller staff to run your business. But depending on your business, it could also decrease the need for what your business produces or a service you provide.

Imagine the impact, for example, on a tax preparation service if your customers begin relying on automation to prepare and file their returns.

In order to determine how automation may impact your business, consider this list of small business functions you can automate.

Are there any tasks on this list you or your staff still do manually? Are there any services you provide for other businesses that could easily be replaced?

By contrast, these jobs cannot be easily automated in the near future.

These are jobs that involve a certain degree of sensitivity and problem solving skills that machines do not possess. It may make sense to plan to continue hiring in these areas for the foreseeable future.

And businesses that provide such services for other companies may wish to focus increasingly in these areas to ensure profitably for the future.

Staffing Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Reports Send Mixed Messages About Staffing Needs of the Future" was first published on Small Business Trends

7 Keys to Success: Avoid Being an “Old Steel Guy”

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2017-02-22 07:30

Through our years of coaching and helping small business owners chart their paths for more profitability, we often run into business owners who feel that they know everything.

My business partner, Jack Mencini and I, have a name for these folks … we call them “Old Steel Guys.”

You probably know some Old Steel Guys. Maybe you’re even one of them!

We named this type of individual over the years because they think they are experts on everything. The phrase comes from our Cleveland roots. Back in the day, Cleveland was a big steel town and there were lots of Old Steel Guys who were stuck in the past, knew it all, and quite frankly were a pain in the butt to deal with or be around.

It really doesn’t matter if you are old or young, man or woman. If you have the mindset that you know everything, we are going to refer to you as an Old Steel Guy. Deal with it!

As a small business owner, you need to stay current and you need to keep learning. If you keep learning it keeps you young, vibrant, and relevant.

One key thread we have found within every successful business owner is that they are always trying to learn, correct and get better.

Jack and I have never met a successful Old Steel Guy, because they are of the mindset that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and why should I even try to learn or engage in anything new when my way is the best way?

Engaging and trying new things are key ingredients to keep you and your business growing and moving forward. But it just seems that the only thing moving forward with Old Steel Guys is that they get grumpier and meaner.

Who wants to be around someone like that? The fact is that, as a business owner, you can’t know everything!

Not all Old Steel Guys start out that way. It usually takes years to develop, so beware, just because you aren’t an Old Steel Guy today doesn’t mean it’s not in your future.

Your attitude as the owner is the number one key for improving and increasing your small business’s profitability. Attitude is infectious and Old Steel Guys tend to beget more Old Steel Guys.

How Not to Be a Know It All

As a small business owner you need to embrace learning and looking for ways to improve yourself and your team within your small business. If you aren’t coachable, why would you expect your team to be coachable?

One of the challenges we give each of our business owner clients is to master the seven keys to success.

These seven keys were developed over many years and modeled on successful companies both big and small who were able to achieve growing and sustainable profits. While the premise of these seven keys seems almost simplistic, the work and learnings behind each key can open doors to new insights for how the business is functioning.

The seven keys to success are:

  • Vision
  • Profit Planning
  • Marketing Planning
  • Organizational Planning
  • Leadership
  • Cash Flow Forecasting
  • Presenting

The simplicity and clarity that comes from focusing on the seven keys can be very empowering and exciting for both you as the business owner and for your team.

One thing is certain. You can’t focus on all seven at once, but you can dig more deeply into a couple at a time. If you’re not sure where to start, begin with a 10-year vision for where you want the company to be and what it will look like in 10 years.

Old Steel Guys can’t think this way as they are too focused on today or the past. Don’t aspire to become an Old Steel Guy. Be open to learning and growing and your business will grow too!

Steel Worker Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "7 Keys to Success: Avoid Being an “Old Steel Guy”" was first published on Small Business Trends

6 Important Contract Terms that Should Raise a Red Flag

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2017-02-22 06:00

Too many small business owners gloss over important terms in contracts they sign. This can cause a problem later in the relationship if they are not properly negotiated. While a lawyer may not need to be involved in every transaction, here are the areas that all companies should look for to protect themselves before signing any agreement:

Important Contract Terms 1. Dollars and Timing of Payments

Always review this part first in the contract. Do this by searching on the symbol “$” throughout the document. Ensure that the financial terms were what the parties verbally agreed to before this draft. If this section is wrong, it does not make sense to focus on the other parts of the agreement until this is fixed. Carefully note if the exact timing of the payments is tied to specific dates, elapsed time (90 days from now) or to milestones being achieved (and who determines if the milestones are complete).

2. Non-competes

Many contracts state that once a company is doing business with one company, they can’t do it with a competitor, in similar industries, or for a period of time. While this can make sense in some situations, try to take these clauses out of the contract or at least make them as narrowly defined as possible. Fighting this limitation may be important to growing a company since expertise in an industry can be valuable to future customers.

3. Ownership of Work

Understand who owns the work that is produced as a result of the contract. This may be critical if the company wants to use what is produced or learned for other customers or markets. If the company is being paid to make something, typically the payor will own it, but try to negotiate joint rights or continued access to this information. For example, when Microsoft was paid by IBM to develop the DOS operating system, they retained the right to sell it to other companies which drove the growth of their business.

4. Actual Contracted Parties

Read the agreement to make sure that the contract is between the correct parties or corporate entities. This is especially important to determine where the money is coming from and who it will be paid to. This becomes even more critical if things go wrong and lawyers get involved.

5. Penalties If Things Go Wrong

If something goes bad in the execution of the contract, note what the penalties to either party will be. It is also important to see if there is a “cure period” when a deadline is missed or one party is dissatisfied. This is typically the time that one party gets to “make it right” before penalties or legal action can begin. It provides a very important time buffer or cooling off period before things can get ugly

6. Liability and Indemnity

Contracts are a set expectation of what is to be done. Therefore, they become critical as a written record of what happens if things go wrong. Review who is liable if either of the parties get sued by an outsider and who will pay the legal costs. These sections typically have very ominous legal language like “Party A agrees to indemnify, defend and hold harmless Party B and their employees, officers, directors or agents from and against any loss, liability, damage, penalty or expense (including reasonable attorneys’ fees and cost of defense) they may suffer or incur arising out of any claim…” Try to get the other party to be responsible for all claims or at least have each party take care of their own legal expenses.

What do you look for in every contract?

Red Flags Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "6 Important Contract Terms that Should Raise a Red Flag" was first published on Small Business Trends