Archive for October, 2014

October 28, 2014 8:00 am

Financial Resources for Small Businesses

Starting a business is a scary thing. It takes planning… and then more planning, and of course financial resources to get started. Today we’ll discuss the different types of financial resources available to you and how you can secure them.

Business PlanBUT FIRST!

Before you look to get any financial aid or any other type of assistance for launching your business, you must have a solid business plan! No credible lender or partner will go into business with you or lend you any money before you have a credible, well thought-out business plan!
Don’t have a business plan? Stop reading and go work on one, now!

You’ll be happy to know, most of QC’s courses come with an optional business unit where your tutor will help you develop and streamline your business plan!

Small Business Loans and Micro Loans

Loan Application

This is the most common resource available and used by many small businesses to get started. Small business loans are generally granted by banks or federal governments in certain countries. This is a typical loan that is awarded to yourself as a representative of your business.

These loans generally come with better interest rates than personal loans, but most do require you to provide a personal guarantee to back up the loan. Which means your personal property might be at risk if your business should fail.

As we mentioned above, before you are granted a small business loan, you will be asked to share your concrete business plan and discuss it with a representative of the institution who would be granting the loan. Be ready to answer questions about your business strategy, competitor research, and any other element that is in your business plan!

 

Venture Capital

This is a type of private loan where an individual or firm will provide financing for your business in exchange for a stakehold in the company.

Generally venture capitals will want to be involved in your business decisions in order to ensure they secure their investment. If your business has a limited operating history and you do not have much collateral, you might need to give up a large portion of your company’s share.

Again, you’ll need a very solid business plan in order to get funding from a venture capital!

Personal Loans and Business Partnerships

An option that is always available to business owners is to obtain personal loans from friends and/or family members. If you choose to go down this road, be sure you outline specific terms including interest rates and a repayment schedule to the lender. If you offer them a stake in the company in exchange for the loan, you should also discuss how much involvement they will have in the company’s business decisions!

Personal loans can take a toll on relationships. But the more informed both parties are on the specific terms and expectations of the loan, the better off you’ll be!

 

Personal / Business Credit

CreditIf you cannot obtain any other forms of loans and you have a good credit history, you should be able to secure an account with major credit card companies. If you have an established business with a solid business plan, you can likely get a small business line of credit that will have a significantly lower interest rate than a personal credit card or line of credit.

You can apply for most major credit cards via banks or on the credit card company’s website.

 

Whatever channel you decide to use in order to finance your business, the key is to plan ahead and not give up! The more time you spend on your business plan and the more prepared you are to search for financing, the easier it will be to move forward.

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October 21, 2014 10:29 am

Decorating Your Place for Halloween

Come October first, I start looking for that perfect pumpkin. Fall decorations adorn the kitchen, living room and front porch.

But, have you ever come across a house that just overdoes the Halloween decorations? I’m talking about that house that has ten singing ghosts and skeletons on the front lawn… and just wait to see what’s inside!

There are tricks for making the most out of your Halloween decorations without spending a fortune or becoming that house with the crazy Halloweenies.

Pick one theme and stick to it

You can go with a lot of different angles with Halloween: Spooky, Classy, Funny, Cool… you can go for witches, ghosts, zombies, fall-themes… but the key is to not go for all of them at the same time. If you decide your house will have a creepy graveyard theme for Halloween, then stick to it. Forget about the cool dancing witch decoration… it doesn’t fit.
And on that note…

Think about your audience

What type of people will be visiting your house for Halloween? Do you have many young children in your area? If so, you might want to avoid scary decorations. I’m sure the last thing you want to do is upset your friends or neighbors by traumatising their kids!

Stay away from using strobe lights to enhance your decorations. All it takes is one epileptic trick-or-treater to make you regret that decision for the rest of your life!

Halloween trick-or-treaters

Avoid noisy decorations

Things that sing or make other noises when people walk by can be fun… but less is more. You shouldn’t have more than one or two of these pieces in your house or yard, and think about how other people will perceive them.

Be courteous: While it’s perfectly okay (and expected!) to have decorations that “boo!” when people walk by… save them for Halloween night itself. Don’t turn them on come October 10th and leave them on for three weeks. There, I said it. You’re welcome, neighbors.

Respect your Lawn!

While lawn decorations can be super fun, use them in moderation and be aware of the negative impact they can have on your grass. Having pieces on the lawn for long periods of time can kill patches of grass, so it’s best to set these up a day or two before Halloween and to take them down quickly thereafter.

There’s also a safety concern with any decoration that’s on the ground: Make sure they’re in an area where trick-or-treaters won’t trip over them!

Try not to be offensive

Decorations should be fun for everyone. Though you might think hanging a dummy by the neck from the tree in your front yard is a good idea, it could seriously upset someone who’s had a personal tragedy of that type. Same with any type of political messaging in your decorations… while you might think it’s clever or funny to incorporate a message about the upcoming elections in your graveyard theme… others might not.

Finally, avoid any form of racial innuendos, scenes that might be a little too subjective, or any type of scene that portrays real-life violence. Bottom line: be smart and use common sense!

You can’t go wrong with the pumpkin!

No matter what your Halloween décor is like… a cleverly-carved pumpkin is always appreciated. Be creative and have some fun! While Halloween decorations should be used in moderation… you really can never have too many pumpkins. And here’s a tip: If you don’t like the idea of lighting your pumpkin with a candle, use those battery-operated tealight candles from the dollar store. They’re cheap and much safer than a real flame.

Pumpkins halloween

How do you decorate for Halloween? Let us know in a comment!

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At QC, we believe competition is a good thing. Your competitors are a reason to offer the best service you possibly can, and to go above and beyond for your clients and customers.

Treat them with respect and your competitors can be your friends! They can refer business your way and hold you to a high standard of excellence!

But many people don’t realize this and instead take a disrespectful and unwarranted approach to their competition. Many businesses will badmouth other companies, discredit their services, and flat out falsify information hoping to score a few more customers out of those tactics.

Today we’re going to focus on a few best practices to use when dealing with your competition.

NEVER badmouth another company

Even if your business is infinitely better than another, you shouldn’t trash another business. Ever.

If someone flat-out asks you what the difference is between your two companies… you should focus on telling them what you do exceptionally well, instead of focusing on what the other company does poorly.

Think about it: when your tactic is to badmouth another company… all you’re really telling the customer is that you’re not as bad as they are. Basically, you might as well chance your business slogan to “We’re not the worst out there!”

Competitor gossip

Don’t compare competitors on your website

Once in a while I come across a business that lists “comparison charts” on their website where they compare their brand to their top competitors. This makes me cringe!

Why?

  • It makes you look petty and unprofessional.
  • If I wasn’t already aware of your competition, you just put the idea in my head that I should be shopping around.
  • I won’t trust your chart. Of course you’ll only list your strong points and none of your competitor’s.
  • I’ll look for how you’re bending the truth. Guaranteed there are some lies in there… and even if the chart is 100% true and accurate… I’ll still believe there are lies in it, somewhere.
  • If I find a competitor of yours who doesn’t use this shady tactic, I’m going with them simply for that reason!

Now, I hope you are the best at what you do! That’s what we’re all striving for… in any industry. But there’s a way to advertise this without stooping to the competitor comparison.

You can have a strong page on your site that explains “what we do best” or “why choose us”. These types of pages are great because they allow you to boast your strengths (which you should do!) without any of the negative points outlined above.

The exception to the rule

If through your analytics you find that many people visit your site via another brand’s keywords, it might make sense to have a hidden page on your site that ranks well for those keywords. If you use Pay per Click advertising, you can also have targeted ads for those keywords that sends traffic to that specific page.

Note: a “hidden” page means people cannot easily find that page if they’re already on your website. Don’t have a direct link to the page via a header or footer menu, for instance.

HOWEVER… even if you do have one of these competitor pages for web traffic purposes, you should still stick to the above points: don’t badmouth your competition, and don’t directly compare them against your brand. Instead, focus on the features you both offer, or perhaps how your philosophies differ.

In the end, encourage customers to explore both brands and make up their own minds. If your brand really is better… you shouldn’t be afraid of letting the customer decide for himself.

Don’t participate on Social Media debates

If you find conversations on social media or forums where people are debating between your brand and a competitor’s, don’t inject yourself into that conversation for the purpose of selling your brand. Let the conversation flow naturally. If you have a good brand, your followers will speak up on your behalf.

You CAN, however, respond to posts that ask specific questions about your brand or that represent you in a poor light. But do so cautiously. And again, only focus on your brand… not on the competitors at all.

Make them your ally!

Write down your top three or top five competitors, and think about how you can get them on your side. Perhaps you can all create a Facebook group to offer expert advice on a specific topic? Or come up with referral agreements if one of you has too many clients to handle.

At the very least, if you can get together with your competition and agree on a few guidelines on how you’ll portray the other to customers and partners, this can go a long way to a respectful and mutually beneficial relationship.

Competitor high five

How to respond

If you find a competitor that mentions your brand in a false and/or dishonest manner, you should contact them privately and respectfully ask them to take down the inaccurate information. Be respectful and don’t pick a fight. If they refuse to comply, then it’s time to get the lawyers involved.

Never retaliate by doing the same thing on your website. Don’t start a public feud, because you might open yourself up to liability. If it comes to getting the lawyers involved (and I hope it doesn’t!), keep your chin up and let the legal hands handle it. That’s what you pay them for!

Have you ever had a particularly good or bad experience with a competitor? We’d love to hear your story. Share it in a comment!

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October 10, 2014 10:41 am

Free Resources Business Owners Should Use

Over the past few months, we’ve talked about building your website and how to do it right. We’ve talked about how you should be using social media, and we talked about how branding is so important!

All your efforts require time. Some require time and money. Lucky for you, we’ve listed some of our favorite free resources that can help you save precious minutes… and keep your dollars!

Design

Creative Market

While this is a paid website, Creative Market also offers free downloads each week. You can visit every once in a while to see what type of graphics, photos or fonts you can download, absolutely free. Even if you don’t have need for their resources right away, it can’t hurt to have a library handy for the future!

Death to the Stock Photo

There are many stock photography websites you CAN use, and they can definitely be very useful. However, many people misuse stock photos and end up having a very cheesy-looking website. Though it’s always nice to use your own photos whenever you can, sites like Death to the Stock Photo also offer free, royalty-free photograph downloads for your convenience.

PlaceIt

Would you like a photo of your website displayed on a laptop, tablet or smartphone? It can actually take a significant amount of time for a designer to take a screenshot and fit it within another image of a device… or you can use PlaceIt. They have a number of photos ready for you to use. Simply enter your URL and it will grab a screenshot of that page, placing it within the device seamlessly. It’s that easy.

PicMonkey

You have a photo, you know where you want it, but it needs to be cropped, cleaned up, and you also want to add a text overlay. Sure you can do this is other softwares like Paint… I take that back. Please don’t use Paint. PicMonkey is a super quick and easy way to edit (or create) images for your website, emails, social, etc. They have tons of different themes or tools built in… you’re only limited by your imagination!

free resources design

Productivity & Organization

Trello

Do you have trouble keeping organized? Trello is a free tool where you can create an organization board. Create “cards” for different tasks, add lists to them, deadlines, and more. You can even use them with an entire team, assigning tasks to different team members. It’s a super easy, effective beginner’s tool for project management.

Asana

Have a team of fewer than 15 people? Asana is totally free. And it’s awesome! A bit of a more robust tool for project management, you can create projects that contain tasks and subtasks, assign these to team members, add deadlines to each task, and see your tasks in a personal or team calendar. You can even set this up to integrate with your Google calendar!

Hootsuite

Is your business on social media? It should be! Hootsuite is an easy way to manage your social accounts without having to log into each separately. You can schedule posts, reply to follower’s posts, and easily monitor multiple accounts in one convenient place. Note, however, the free version of Hootsuite only tracks up to three separate social profiles. If you want more options, you can pay them $10/month for the professional version.

free resources productive

Analysis and Evaluation

Google Analytics

Every. Single. Website should be using Google Analytics. This free tool shows you:

  • The number of visitors on your site,
  • Where they came from,
  • How long they stick around,
  • Which pages they’ve visited,
  • Their demographics
  • And so, SO MUCH more!

This is a free tool. Simply create an account and embed a few lines of code, provided by the tool. Trust me. Do it now.

Fresh Web Explorer

Use Fresh Web Explorer to find out how your site ranks in comparison to your competitors in terms of inbound links. This can help you find easy wins. If a website links to your competitor but not to you, you can see if they wouldn’t mind giving you a link as well! Fresh Web Explorer also lists “brand mentions” which shows you if a website mentions your brand name without linking to you. With this information, you can contact the website to request a link!

free resources analytics

If you liked this post, check out our online design courses. They come with an optional business component where we go over more tips for starting or running your own business!
 


When you first started your business, you were likely a one-man (or one-woman) band. You probably did everything yourself from building your website to cleaning the office to meeting with clients and actually doing the work you’re fond of.

Moving forward, we hope you’ll arrive at a point where it’s all just too much to handle on your own and you start thinking about hiring someone to help you out! Hiring a few extra hands can be a daunting task. There are so many things to think about when you make that decision.

Today we’ll look at a few questions to ask yourself when considering expanding the business.

What elements do you need help with the most?

You’ve probably come to the decision to hire someone because you’re overwhelmed. But what specific tasks do you find overwhelming? Sit down and make a list of the most frustrating parts to the day. What don’t you have any time for and where do you need the most help?

What do you want to spend your time on?

This is a very important question. Many business owners will rush to hire someone with similar skills to their own… only to find themselves handing off all the “fun” projects to the new hire, and being stuck with the day-to-day maintenance of the business such as the bookkeeping, etc.

So spend some time thinking about the tasks that could be handed off to someone who holds a different skillset. Ideally you get to spend the most amount of time with your clients. So a good first hire might be a part-time bookkeeper or accountant who can help with the budgeting & financial reporting. A personal assistant can be another great start: someone who has the ability to schedule your day, help you with client communications, and keep track of invoices, contracts, etc.

Teamwork in hiring

Do you need full-time or part-time help?

Really think about this. If you’re overwhelmed with running the business yourself it can seem like you need three extra sets of hands for 60 hours per week each! That’s likely not reality. And the last thing you want is to hire someone to sit on their hands.

Take some time to objectively look at the tasks you want this new person to complete, and how much time these should take. Average it out and include this in your “help wanted” ad. Being clear about the time commitment will help avoid applications from unqualified candidates.

How much time do you have for hiring & training?

This is such an important question most people overlook. When you hire someone, it will take a chunk of your time to peruse resumes and interview potential candidates. You’ll also want to set aside a fair chunk of time to train your new employee. No one will succeed if you stick them at a desk and expect them to read your mind. Training, mentoring, evaluating, and nurturing are all part of the deal when hiring someone new.

How much time do you have for hiring

Do you have the capital to hire someone?

If you’re bringing on a new employee you need to consider the up-front costs, not just in your time, but in overhead costs as well. Can you supply them with the tools they need to do the job? Most employees will require a quiet workspace that contains a desk, phone, and computer. You should also consider added costs such as Internet usage, etc. that will increase once it’s more than just yourself using the office.

Are you willing to take on an Intern?

An internship or co-op can be a cost-effective way to get some temporary help. You can work with local schools to recruit someone who’s right for the job. The downside is they often require more of your time in terms of training. Still, it’s a viable option to consider and can lead to some of the best employees you’ve ever had.
What are your legal responsibilities when hiring someone?

This will vary based on your city, state or province, but you need to know all the requirements associated with becoming an employer. Everything from wages to employment insurance to employee benefits, you need to know what you’re required to offer employees, and what’s standard for employers in your area as well.

That’s a lot to consider!

Yes it is.

Hiring someone shouldn’t be done lightly, but doing so when well-informed and prepared for the task at hand can be the best business decision you ever make!

If you liked this post, take a look at our design courses. We offer an optional business unit with tips on how to start up and maintain your own business!
 

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October 1, 2014 10:19 am

Trade Shows: How to Get in and ROCK!

Whether you’re a designer, planner or makeup artist, there are tons of trade shows you can attend that aim to help you improve your skills. There are also tons of trade shows aimed at the public that can help you get clients.

Here are our tips on how you can get in at a trade show, and how to ensure you aren’t wasting your time!

Pick and choose the right shows for your business

There are literally thousands of shows, and you can’t be at all of them. Make a list of the shows you want to participate in, then narrow down that list. Some elements you want to consider include:

  1. Cost of exhibiting
  2. The attendee profile (target audience for the show)
  3. Other exhibitors who will be present
  4. The time & location of the event
  5. The total expected attendee count

If you exhibit at a show where you’re out of your league, you’ll seem like an amateur. If, on the other hand, you are a seasoned professional attending an amateur trade show, you’ll come off as snooty.

Set a goal for the show

What do you want to accomplish by attending this trade show? You should be able to answer this question. I know ultimately you want to generate new clients, but how are you hoping to do this? Your goals might be to:

  1. Collect names for a mailing list
  2. Schedule free client consultations after the show
  3. Network with other vendors

Whatever your primary goal is, make sure you have one! This will help you keep focused when you’re planning your booth setup & putting together your day-of gameplan.

trade show goal setting

Set up a professional booth

Once you’ve registered to be a vendor at a trade show, it’s time to plan your exhibit. Here are a few tips to help you make the most out of the show:

Whatever show you’re attending, you likely won’t be supplied with much more than a table and a couple of banquet chairs. It’s up to you to bring a professional backdrop, table covers, extra chairs, etc.

Have good signage

People shouldn’t have to try and guess who you are or what you do. Make sure you have banners printed that clearly show your company name & logo, and maybe your tagline as well. This will help you by ensuring only people who are interested in your services swing by your booth.

Plan ahead

If you want to have any type of electronic display, check with the event organizers as quickly as possible to make sure you’ll have a power source, WiFi… whatever you might need. Don’t take these for a given… you might need to make special arrangements, like renting a TV or bringing your own extension cords.

Make it comfortable and FUN!

When people attend trade shows, they walk around dozens or hundreds of vendor booths. If yours doesn’t stand out, not many attendees will choose to stop by. So think outside the box and give people a reason to stop by!

  1. Having extra comfortable seating in your booth where people can get away from a crowd for a few minutes will encourage attendees to do just that. And while they’re sitting down, you can engage them in a conversation!
  2. Everyone likes free stuff. Give away swag or other tokens that people will like, and that will help you stand out. Stuff like branded tote bags, USB sticks, reusable water bottles, etc. are always useful and are a sure way for people to remember you!
  3. Offering free food is also a great way to get extra visitors. Just be careful of food allergies, and don’t offer anything too messy!
  4. Make it a game! Some of the best trade shows booths I’ve visited had cool games to engage stoppers-by. Have visitors spin a prize wheel, participate in an online draw if you have a computer handy… I even once saw a booth that had a “dunk tank” where you could make one of their reps fall into a pool of water by answering a trivia question. Those are the vendors you remember!

trade show fun

Get adequate show staff

Trade shows are long and exhausting! Attendees might only be around for an hour or so… but you’ll be there from dusk ‘til dawn! It’s impossible for you to do it alone.

So plan ahead and make sure you have adequate show staff to help you out on the big day. If your company is large enough that you have employees, ask them to pitch in and attend the show. They’ll likely be able to sell your services as well as you can.

Your other option is to hire show staff to help you out. You can hire individuals for the day off of job boards, or go through a marketing or advertising agency who have employees for this very purpose.

Whatever show staff you hire, just make sure:

  1. They are informed enough about your services to be able to answer simple questions;
  2. They are lively and enthusiastic. (TIP: try book your show staff in 4-hour shifts, MAX, and give them a few breaks within that time)
  3. They are polite and friendly. The last thing you want is for someone who is representing your brand to just stand there and ignore potential clients!

On the day of…

You’ve set up your booth and your staff is ready to sell your services. The doors to the show open… here we go!

Acknowledge people!

A lot of trade show attendees will be shy and hesitant to come up to a booth without a warm welcome. If anyone so much as glances in your direction, make them feel welcomed with a smile and a friendly “Hi there!” It can go a long way, trust me!

trade show acknowledge

Avoid the up-front sales pitch

This will just scare people away. You have two ears and one mouth, so try to listen twice as much as you talk. When you first engage with a customer, try asking him questions that relate back to your services, instead of shoving a brochure in his hand and taking down their information for a consultation right off the bat.

Don’t waste people’s time

If you’ve done your job right with cool giveaways and a fun booth, you’ll attract all sorts of people to your booth. Not all these people will be potential customers – or even remotely interested in your services – and that’s okay. As long as you’ve done your job and picked a good show, there will be loads of potential customers there, so don’t waste time trying to sell to those who don’t want it.

When you first greet people, try to have a greeting that will allow you to quickly gauge the person’s interest. If they aren’t your target client, politely excuse yourself (encourage them to take advantage of your freebies anyway!) and move on to the next person.

trade show time

Note: You might have the urge to ask those who aren’t interested in your services to move away from your booth. Don’t do this. A busy booth is more attractive to attendees than a “dead” one, so keep as many people around as possible!

If you follow these tips, your trade show could be a huge success! Good luck and let us know how it goes!

For more business tips like this, check out the business archives section of the Blog. It’s full of great stuff to help get your career off the ground!

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