Many small-business owners are turning to online invoicing to speed up customer payments. Over the past 10 years, online invoicing has transformed how businesses are billing their clients, with companies like FreshBooks, Wave and Zoho making cloud-based invoicing software with built-in payment options readily accessible. Unlike with traditional invoices, customers can pay balances online with the click of a button, and business owners can easily track where the invoice is in the queue. For businesses that rely heavily on invoicing — including art galleries, caterers, retailers and professional services — making the switch can have a big impact.
Here’s why making the move is worthwhile.
1. You can get paid faster
Slow-paying customers can stunt a business’s cash flow. A 2021 report by the financial software company Wave found that 25% of surveyed microbusinesses — those with nine or fewer employees — have waited more than a year to be paid by at least one customer.
But online invoicing is easing the communication between billing businesses and paying consumers. Microbusinesses that used digital invoices with online payment options saw about 15% more invoices paid within 30 days than those businesses that didn’t use this option, according to the report.
Hannah Vaughn, owner of the online marketing business Mane Impact, has tried multiple peer-to-peer platforms to simplify online payments and says switching to digital invoices has helped her get paid more quickly. “People can just click ‘accept’ and have it transfer,” she says, making payment a one-step process.
2. It’s more convenient for customers
When the COVID-19 pandemic caused in-person shopping to take a nosedive, more consumers started showing a preference for ordering and paying online. Online invoices are an easy way to meet this need and provide more payment options.
“Folks want the ability to pay on their own convenience and [with] the method they want,” says David Axler, vice president and general manager of books and banking for Wave.
Making the transition to online invoices with built-in payment options might also encourage more customers to pay online rather than in person, a helpful change for small businesses trying to limit crowds.
3. It’s scalable and efficient
Maryana Grinshpun, owner of Mammoth Projects, a New York City-based architectural and design firm, says that online invoicing saves her time by automating billing information. Instead of having to enter items like sales terms for every invoice, “being able to reference that [information] in perpetuity for this client and every client in the future” simplifies the process for her.
Online invoicing also simplifies payment schedules with automated recurring billing, so business owners don’t need to manually send invoices every week or month.
By allowing businesses to automate their billing, online invoicing saves small-business owners time commonly spent on administrative tasks that can be used to gain more customers and scale their businesses.
“For many of our business owners, the way that they grow their business is by getting more customers,” Axler says.
4. It helps with managing cash flow
Cash flow concerns are nothing new for small businesses. According to a 2021 QuickBooks survey, 60% of small businesses have experienced cash flow issues. Online invoicing offers small businesses a tool to manage cash flow more efficiently.
Unlike invoices without digital payment options, online invoices allow business owners to closely track what hasn’t been paid and to better forecast what they’re likely to have coming in. That insight gives small businesses an edge when it comes to navigating tough economic times and riding out shifts in the market that can affect consumer spending.
In Business, Image Matters. How to Improve Yours?
Your business may boast of excellent products and/or services. However, nowadays, excellent products and services simply aren’t enough to help a business survive and thrive in the long run. What your business also needs is a strong image – one that can help it stand out from its competitors.
But how exactly do you go about improving the image of your business? To know the answer to this question, read on as we take you through all the steps you can and must take to take your business forward towards success.
1. Face-to-face interactions with people
We may be living in the digital age, but nothing can beat face-to-face interactions when it comes to telling people about your business. Here are some ways through which you can inform people about your business and what it’s all about:
Meet people and start conversations
It’s unrealistic to expect that people will know about your business if you don’t reach out to them. So, start going out and attending events.
Business-centric open meetings and conferences would be the best place to start. At these events, you’ll run into several businessmen like yourself. You should make the most of these opportunities to start conversations with others from the world of business. This will gradually let people know about your business and the products and/or services it has to offer.
Prepare a pitch
When you meet potential customers, you have to be prepared to speak spontaneously about your business. At this juncture, it’s important that you don’t fumble or sound unconfident. After all, what you tell people about your business will form impressions in their minds – and you’d want those impressions to be positive, wouldn’t you?
This is where preparing a pitch can come in incredibly handy. Write it down first and then keep practicing it out loud, and make changes where necessary.
Participate in community events
Your local community is the first pillar of support for your business. So, get out there and try playing a role in all community events. At these events, you should promote your business in a friendly and welcoming manner.
This should encourage members of your local community to take an interest in your business and what it has to offer. Sure, this may not result in immediate sales, but it will definitely improve your business’s public visibility.
2. Make your business appear professional
A surprising fact is that the modern-day consumer values professionalism more than the quality of products and services. Of course, product and service quality is important, but if your business lacks professionalism, it will lose out on customers.
So, to make your business appear professional, you can put the following steps into practice:
Invest in a business website
The internet is arguably the biggest platform for businesses nowadays, which is why you should invest in a dedicated website for your business. We recommend hiring professional web developers and designers to curate your business website. This will ensure that your website looks and feels professional.
Apart from setting up a website, you should also pay attention to its content. Quite simply, it should have all the information that your target audience may want to know, i.e., contact information and information about the business. Your business website should also have a blog with consistent posts. This can go a long way towards ensuring your expertise within your niche.
Set up a dedicated email account for your business
Using your personal email account as your business’s email account is nothing short of a criminal offense. That’s why you should set up a dedicated business email account. It’ll help you achieve consistency with your branding, and it’ll also allow your business to look professional to the people who subscribe to your business newsletters.
To set up a business email account, you need to first create a domain name and then get in touch with an email provider. Two of the best email providers out there include Office 365 for Business and Google Apps for Business. Both options provide business-class email along with features such as online storage and document editing. The best thing about these options is that they’re quite inexpensive.
Provide 24/7 Customer Service
These days, consumers expect the companies they buy products and services from to be available for them 24/7. Fortunately, the widely availble virtual assistant and reception services such as those provided by www.virtualreception.com.au can do that for you – both on and off office hours – to any types and sizes of business, from freelancing digital nomads to multinational corporations.
3. Set up your social media for success
Social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are excellent places to market your business and its products. Here are a few ways to make your business succeed on social media:
Create business profiles
On all major social media platforms, you have the option of setting up personal profiles and business profiles. It’s best to create the latter type of profile as it is designed specifically for business purposes.
During the setup process, make sure that you include relevant info in the bio sections. Don’t forget to add links to your official website and other social media handles as well.
Post relevant content regularly
All social media algorithms tend to favor accounts that post relevant content on a consistent basis. So, irrespective of the social media platforms you’re active on, make sure that you’re posting new content as much as possible.
Not posting regularly can limit your business account’s reach and stall its growth on social media.
Keep branding elements consistent across all platforms
If your Instagram page looks drastically different from your Facebook page, your target audience is bound to get confused. That’s why it’s vital to use similar branding elements across all social media platforms.
The branding elements you should focus on keeping consistent include your business’s logo, its imagery, and its voice, i.e., the tone of communicating with your audience.
Encourage users to engage with you on social media and interact with them: Through the use of call-to-action (CTA) messages, you can encourage your followers on social media to engage with your posts. You should also spare time to respond to your followers’ comments.
There are quite some things to consider in your endeavor to increase your buisness image. However, focusing on the three above is more than sufficient to get started: Meet people and tell the about your business; make an effort to be professional, especially in your online presence; and lastly, make use of social media platforms to your advantage.
Be sure to do a lot of trials-and-errors so that you can form the best practices for your company.
5 Ways to Control Your Inventory So It Doesn’t Control You
Managing inventory is a task that can make or break your small business. With too much inventory, profits suffer and storerooms overflow. With too little, items get back-ordered, customers get frustrated and business is lost. And striking a balance is hard, especially with disruptions to the global supply chain in the last few years causing delayed deliveries.
While you can’t control the supply chain, you can take steps to prevent common problems like product shortages and excess stock. Here’s how.
1. Stick to the story
Donna Daniel owns and operates three connected small businesses in Claremont, California: The Grove Clothing, The Grove Home and The Outdoor Store, which sell women’s clothing, home goods and unisex adventure-themed gear, respectively. To run all three of her stores, Daniel needs to keep an impressive variety and quantity of inventory in stock — and ensure it moves quickly to make room for seasonal items and new shipments.
To keep her inventory cohesive within each store, she arranges it in themed displays — or what she calls “stories” — which tie together dozens of different items to appeal to a color, season or activity.
“I don’t buy anything outside of the stories,” she says, which helps her collect data on sales and seasonal trends, and keeps her stock to what’s most likely to sell.
She keeps most of her inventory on the shop floor, with stock in each store’s backroom and larger items in a nearby storage unit. In the backrooms and warehouse, she stores items according to product type and size — not by story — so employees can easily restock displays and substitute a similar item if necessary.
2. Double down on your reliable inventory
“Just-in-time inventory is much more difficult to do today,” says Mark Baxa, president and CEO of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, a global trade association for supply chain professionals. Baxa adds that since the supply chain is less stable than it was pre-pandemic, businesses may need to lean on their most reliable products and vendors.
Courtney Cowan, owner and founder of Los Angeles bakery Milk Jar Cookies, keeps supply needs and consumer demand stable with a very consistent product line. Her 16-flavor menu has “changed very little” in the bakery’s nine-year history, though she leaves room for a rare seasonal standout to join the rotation. Since her store pre-mixes and preserves dough in a deep freezer, she can ensure that her bestsellers are always in stock.
Though some businesses may prefer a bit more variety, in uncertain times — over-ordering on go-to products with a dependable profit margin can help fill the gaps and keep sales steady.
3. Keep products moving
Longtime retailers know that while running out of inventory is bad, having too much can be worse. “Too much backstock eats up all your capital,” Daniel says. She prevents this from happening by planning ahead and using sales sections to make room for new merchandise.
Daniel reorders seasonal inventory as far as a year ahead by using recent sales reports as a baseline. But with this commitment to hundreds of new products arriving every month, she makes sure that items don’t sit on shelves for more than a few weeks.
“I do not like merchandise hanging around,” she says, explaining that if an item isn’t clearing out quickly enough, she’ll move it to the sales rack and discount it until it’s gone.
Though selling an item for a fraction of its original price may seem painful, it may be worth doing to keep inventory moving and keep customers coming back for new products.
4. Get to know your supply chain
Especially in periods of supply chain disruption, getting to know your vendors can make a big difference in your day-to-day operations. “Hold your supplier base accountable,” Baxa says. He suggests finding the “shortest path” possible, including finding local and sustainable suppliers, to help ensure consistent, reliable supply.
Daniel follows the same principle, sourcing her inventory from mostly local vendors so she can pick up items instead of shipping. She weighs several factors, including production time, available quantity and shelf life to figure out how much to order and how often.
Cowan’s inventory is perishable, so she needs her wholesale ingredients to arrive on a tight schedule. Her bakery receives truck deliveries directly from the restaurant supplier Sysco and wholesale store Costco, which keeps her supply chain close to home.
“We keep it as centralized as possible,” Cowan says. For special ingredients like nuts and candy, she places advance orders with small online vendors.
Clear communication with vendors can help business owners figure out limitations, plan ahead and mitigate risk.
5. Use a point-of-sale system with inventory management tools
For the past five years, Daniel has been using Lightspeed, a POS system with standout inventory management tools. The software can track her inventory across all three of her stores, and it generates reports that help her analyze seasonal sales data and follow her businesses’ growth.
This data is essential for her to plan reorder points and determine which items will reliably sell. Especially with a small staff and multiple locations, an all-in-one POS system can help minimize costs and labor.
Best POS for inventory management
Lightspeed Retail POS
Cost: Software $69 per month (billed annually) and up. Hardware quote-based.
Lightspeed’s retail point-of-sale system is built for inventory management. It can keep detailed records of your products across multiple locations and set automatic reorder points, so you don’t run out. The software also offers employee and customer relationship management tools, as well as advanced analytics features on its higher-priced plans.
You have the option to use a third-party payment processor, or Lightspeed’s in-house processor with per-transaction fees at 2.6% plus 10 cents for swipe, dip and contactless payments and 2.6% plus 30 cents for keyed-in transactions.
Square for Retail
Cost: Software free and up. Hardware from free card reader to $799 terminal and up.
Square’s retail-specific POS software offers inventory management tools and multi-location capabilities as well. The free version has a variety of other useful features including reporting tools, customer and employee management. Email marketing, loyalty programs and payroll are available with a higher-priced plan or as a paid add-on.
Though its inventory management isn’t quite as deep as Lightspeed’s, Square’s user-friendly interface and accessible pricing make it a great choice for most retail businesses. Payment processing fees vary per plan, but with the free retail plan, costs are 2.6% plus 10 cents per in-person transaction, 2.9% plus 30 cents per online transaction and 3.5% plus 15 cents per keyed transaction.
Cost: Software $29 to $299 and up. Hardware $49 and up.
Shopify’s point-of-sale system is geared for businesses that primarily sell online. The software tracks inventory, hides out-of-stock products on your website and offers basic inventory analysis. It also facilitates drop-shipping, curbside pickup and local delivery options, plus access to vendors and third-party applications.
Shopify helps businesses manage inventory across online and in-store locations. Its Pro version can create purchase orders, run inventory counts, perform advanced inventory analysis and generate low-stock reports. However, it’s not ideal for a business that only sells in store. Payment processing varies by plan, with in-person fees starting at 2.4% with Shopify POS Lite.
14 community management tips for meaningful connections with customers
The idea for sharing community management tips came to me about a year ago. That’s when I synced up with the GoDaddy Community team to host a webinar for small business owners. As hundreds of attendees rolled into the Zoom, I had a realization: “GoDaddy has a strong community.”
Behind every good brand and business, there’s a solid community of supporters, stakeholders, and sometimes, even haters.
But building a community and maintaining connections is one of the most misunderstood and least talked about topics within the small business world. For a business with fewer than five employees and a handful of customers, community building might seem like just another marketing tactic that is just out of reach.
To help small businesses build and manage an online community, I asked other business owners and marketers what community management tips they had for creating meaningful connections with customers.
14 community management tips to create meaningful customer connections
Given that creating and maintaining a strong community can help retain and attract customers, consider following these 14 community management tips:
- Be quick to address negative experiences
- Filter out spam
- Showcase success
- Send a postcard
- Get your customers involved in important decisions
- Bring Up topics that encourage engagement
- Provide talking points and engage with your community
- Engage regularly
- Be the face of your brand
- Choose a channel that works
- Create content that addresses customers’ specific needs
- Consider a brand ambassador program
- Reward loyalty
- Recognize the importance of inclusivity
Read on to learn more.
1. Be quick to address negative experiences
A bad customer experience can quickly escalate to a brand reputation crisis, and the company’s response must be fast to revert the situation.
Monitoring social channel mentions is an easy way to keep an eye on conversations surrounding your brand and detect potential concerns.
Once a customer posts a comment that threatens your brand reputation, listen, honestly apologize and be willing to solve the issue in the best possible way. Your unsatisfied customer will feel appreciated and perhaps even become a brand advocate.
-Rebeca Sena, GetSpace.digital
2. Filter out spam
The most important thing you should be doing in regards to community management is interacting with your community, and you cannot do that properly if you have to work through a bunch of spam. There are many programs out there, even some within the different social media sites, that can filter out spam in your comments and messages so you can focus on addressing your community. Plus, getting rid of the spam and moderating harmful comments creates a better space for your community to contact you through.
-Jacob Dayan, Community Tax
3. Showcase success
Develop case studies from your successful community members. This is a practical way of propagating the core values of your online community and encouraging new users to join your community.
The more these members contribute to the community, the more impact these case studies have. You can start by creating basic reports to identify the members who are actively contributing high-quality content, assisting other members, and elevating the community.
-Hasan Farahani, Yocale
4. Send a postcard
Many of my customers spend $15–$20K on medical care in Latin America. I send my customers handwritten postcards to remind them of their journey, thank them for their business, and to stay engaged while they recover from procedures like dental implants or plastic surgery.
The cost in time and money is very low, but a human touch in the healthcare space is increasingly rare.
-Wesley Jacobs, Apollo Medical Travel
5. Get your customers involved in important decisions
Taking the time to follow up with your most active customers and getting their insights on important decisions makes them feel like their opinions are truly valued and cared for.
In the long run, this forges a strong connection between you and your audience that relies on more than simply a transaction.
An added benefit of doing this is that you may even get some eye-opening suggestions and creative ideas that could end up benefiting your business.
-Harry Morton, Lower Street
6. Bring up topics that encourage engagement
Meaningful connections need to originate from a common source that offers a moment of relatability, which can further build brand trust. Social platforms offer numerous opportunities for these types of exchanges. When managing your social community, bring up topics that encourage engagement so you can connect on a level that goes beyond the basic company/customer relationship. In doing so, the consumer will feel more at ease to comment, ask questions and even provide more detailed feedback.
-Lindsay McCormick, Bite
7. Provide talking points and engage with your community
It’s important to recognize that community management is an ongoing responsibility. If you want to see your community thrive, you must create opportunities for customers to voice their opinion, communicate with other community members and provide you with feedback. Finding success is contingent on your ability to encourage participation from users, so you must provide talking points and give them plenty of avenues to stay involved.
If you leave your community dormant without your administrative oversight, engagement will start to dwindle as fewer users initiate conversations and take part.
Communities rarely function autonomously, so be sure to play an active role as you connect with and safeguard your community.
This gives you a chance to speak with your customers on a personal level, helping you learn about their likes, dislikes, objections and pain points directly—all of which are crucial in building meaningful connections with customers.
-Mike Grossman, GoodHire
8. Engage regularly
The best community management tip is to engage regularly and don’t neglect questions or threads you didn’t start—even better if they aren’t getting a lot of feedback. If you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to regularly interact with your customers, make sure you’re commenting often and have a badge next to your name letting them know you’re a moderator or part of the company. That will really cement that feeling of connection and letting members feel heard. Plus, we’ve found that a community manager can really breathe life into a topic by offering input and pushing it to the front of that community for more engagement.
-Sylvia Kang, Mira
9. Be the face of your brand
Revealing the human side of your brand is without a shadow of a doubt an efficient strategy to boost your customers’ connection. It conveys transparency and accountability, building a stronger human bond. Consumers tend to trust people more than a company, and showcasing real people will make you and your brand easier to remember and trust.
-Chiara Sternardi, Passport-photo.online
10. Choose a channel that works
The best way to build an authentic community is to have everyone communicate using the same social media platform. Make that a crucial part of your strategy.
If it’s a professional audience that you’re going after, choose LinkedIn. If it’s a broader audience, use Facebook or Instagram. If it’s a young audience, try Snapchat or WhatsApp. If it’s a politically charged audience, maybe try Twitter.
YouTube is a great way to encourage people to watch videos that provide clear instructions on how a product or service works.
Users flock to YouTube for instructions on everything from how to change batteries on a device to playing scales on a guitar. The comment section can be useful for feedback purposes, and it also can be a way for customers to communicate with one another.
-Joel Jackson, Lifeforce
11. Create content that addresses customers’ specific needs
By creating audience and buyer personas based on different client categories, content marketers can create social content that speaks to people rather than just industries. Learn where your customers hang out online using your social media demographics. Then, narrow those results using audience research to help you define a specific audience and channel. You can then customize communications by researching the LinkedIn profiles of potential customers. Doing so will allow you to identify different stakeholders within the organization and determine their pain points. You can then create better content that addresses their challenges. But it’s all about finding an interesting angle for each segment.
Content that is too broad won’t result in authentic engagement with your followers.
Social media posts that offer helpful information are guaranteed to stand out in your clients’ feeds, resulting in more likes, shares and leads.
-Daniel Tejada, Straight Up Growth
12. Consider a brand ambassador program
A great way to create authentic connections with customers is with an acquisition and advocacy program like a brand ambassador program. For example, if a user can get five people to sign up for a service or product, they become an ambassador.
These brand ambassadors can help your business acquire new users. You can reward them with swag and access to special products or services … maybe even a special event!
-Jennifer Pieniazek, Resume Now
13. Reward loyalty
You can create meaningful connections by rewarding loyal customers to show how much you appreciate them. Just like any relationship, whether it’s personal or professional, people appreciate rewards. Show your customers that they matter and are top of mind in your decision-making. That’s how you create a stronger, more loyal customer base—one that will continue to pay attention for new initiatives and future rewards.
-Alyssa Berman-Waugh, Level Home, Inc.
14. Recognize the importance of inclusivity
To create meaningful connections with customers, recognize and accept diversities within your community. Each of your customers will differ in terms of their culture, orientation, ability and life experience. It’s imperative that you celebrate these differences and welcome input from individuals of all walks of life as you advocate for equity and inclusivity. This will develop your community’s reputation and attract diverse groups in greater numbers.
Communities that cater to just one group of people almost always become echo chambers, creating a suboptimal environment for connections to form and important discussions to take place.
By listening, asking questions, and welcoming input from diverse groups of individuals, you’ll cement your community as a welcoming place for diversity and insight to flourish.
In doing so, your ability to build a rapport and create meaningful, lasting connections with your customers will blossom.
-Patrick Casey, Felix
The community management tips used in this article were gathered using Terkel.
Terkel creates community-driven content featuring expert insights. Sign up at terkel.io to answer questions and get published.
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