The Reality of Hiring a Consultant for Your Small Business

As a small business owner, you probably like to be involved with every aspect of your business, from the mundane to the most critical tasks. Hiring employees is one step to getting help for your business, but there may be some problems outside your and your employees’ knowledgeable scope.

Perhaps you need the help of more specific professionals — which is the void a consultant can handily fill. Still, you find yourself wondering if you really need a consultant, and if paying them would be worth the knowledge and skills they bring to the table. As a small business owner, you have to learn when to ask for — and find — cost-effective help.

Do You Really Need a Consultant?

Consultants come in a variety of flavors with different niche skill sets to potentially suit your needs. Trying to figure out if you need someone’s specific experience to help your business might be as easy as asking yourself a few questions.

First, make sure you’ve done all the research on the subject you could. If information was beyond your grasp or unavailable, reaching out for paid help might be the way to go. Second, focus on the job you want them to bring to your business. Is this skill something you or an employee can learn in a few days or weeks, or is this an area that takes years to master? If the funds are available, but the skill set isn’t, a consultant may be exactly what you need.

What Does a Consultant Do?

A consultant is an outside expert you hire through an agreed-upon contract to help your business. The consultant is independent of your company, so they keep to their own schedule and may have more clients than just you at one time. You might even hire a consulting team, rather than one person.

There are many different types of consultants for different jobs. Some of the most commonly used consultants work in accounting, IT, human resources and legal services, each able to bring a new and better direction for your business.

There is a general process for every consulting project. The pre-consulting phase is before the work starts, where you and the expert discuss terms and come to an agreement. The consulting period consists of discovery, research and the final presentation for your business. Lastly, the post-consulting phase is where you may choose to extend the agreement or implement your own.

Find a Consultant

Finding a consultant for your specific needs may be easier than you think. You have to know what you need from the hired expert. Searching through friends, business partners and online are sure ways to find the person you need. However, you need to make sure they fit the role. They should be fluent in data modeling, in addition to an ability to connect information from seemingly random sources, also known as dot-to-dot literacy.

An ideal consultant is someone who has experience as a coach and a fellow small business owner to relate to the process. Coaching skills are important so they can take action and get involved with your employees. You can also check their LinkedIn profile for testimonials and recommendations if you’re still in any doubt.

While looking around for a consultant, you may run into a lot of contractors and need to know the difference between the two. Both are temporary experts hired via a contract, but a consultant works outside the business, while a contractor is an internal component. Knowing the difference can keep you from hiring the wrong job title, especially if you’re in the market for a contractor instead.

Payment and Budget

Typically, your consultant is going to work with you for about three to six months, with the open option to renew the contract. The pre-consulting phase is the time where you talk to the expert you’re wanting to hire to hash out pay, time and your budget. An important bit of advice is to remember value determines price, not any pre-set rules.

However, on average, expect the price to be anywhere from $150 to $10,000 an hour, with projects ranging from $1,000 to $250,000. Here is where you have to find your budget. Once you discover how much the expert help is worth to you and how much you can afford, the rest should be easier. Figure out your sales percentages and where you need them to be, versus what you’re willing to pay the expert, and discuss your options with them personally.

What’s Best for Your Business

A consultant will be an expensive add-on to your business either way if you discover you need the help. However, the reward can easily outweigh the cost. Decide what you want the future of your business to look like, and explore all the avenues to get you there. A consultant may be expensive, and hiring one could be a process, but they could bring your business to new heights you likely hadn’t imagined before.

Bio: Nathan Sykes is the editor of Finding an Outlet, a source for the latest in IT and business news and trends.

 

7 Growth Features You Can Use To Stand Out In Crowd

7 Tips on How to Become a Top Business Competitor

If you’re just starting, or well into the business world, you would know to start up and maintaining a business is not easy. There are plenty of obstacles you will encounter along the way that you will need to overcome. It’s all about the effort you are willing to invest in your business that is going to make it succeed. A business is like a machine you have to make sure all of the compartments are well managed and looked after, or it will slowly deteriorate.

Decide on a Niche

One of the biggest decisions you can make as a business owner is choosing your market. Establishing what and who you want to sell to can help determine the projected outcome for the first years sales. You want to make sure you can create your own path in that market, it will give you the upper hand against the competitors. For example, there is a company that provides their clients with game show buzzers and other equipment.  Employee satisfaction is always the first and foremost growth tactic, so coming up with an idea of providing them with entertainment is undoubtedly out of the mainstream. It’s always helpful to think out of the box or do some research to find out what you can do differently from the others.

Providing Top-Notch Customer Service

Consumers are attracted to a company that provides value. Quality customer service goes a long way. Not all companies hold their employees to the same standard, and that is why it is key. The first representative your consumer speaks with sets the tone and establishes the impression of the company at that moment. You want to make sure that the consumer is treated like a valued friend or family member. That is why it is important to show your employee appreciation and acknowledge their hard work. The more you invest in the culture of the company, the better the morale and service of the employees will be.

Developing Your Company Brand

You want to make sure that your brand reflects your values. Transparency is important in a company, it allows the consumer to feel confident, also adds an element of trust. The only way to gain credibility is by keeping up the high standard of quality you have provided from the beginning. When the majority of competitors start to slack on their performance is when the business suffers the most.

Become Solution Oriented

You want to develop a loyal customer base. The consumer wants will feel secure in knowing that there are multiple methods of contact in case there are any problems. It is always a good idea to plan out the possible problems that may occur in advanced so that you have a solution ready. The more efficient the resolution, the higher the probability of the consumer’s returns.

Use Upselling to Your Advantage

Upselling is a technique that is used in a variety of different brands. It makes the sale more appealing to the buyer. Promotions are used to boost sales, they also help with the retention of consumers. About 34% of in-store consumers prefer and use the promotions they are sent from companies they have previously bought from. Everyone likes to save a dollar or two when it’s possible. You can also consider creating package deals, or periodic sales if your market allows.

Create a Footprint Online

E-commerce has taken the free enterprise market to a new plateau. You can now expand your brand from national to international quickly and from the comforts of your home. It also creates a convenience for those individuals that don’t have the opportunity to physically go into the store. The goal is to always make any exchange between the company and the consumer as smooth and simple as possible. The internet provides you with so many different methods of advertisement. The website also gives you the opportunity to personally and create an engaging environment for the consumers.

It is always a good idea to make the website user-friendly, for individuals that are not as technically savvy as others. Also, another element a lot of consumers like is when they have the ability to give feedback. Good reviews bring in more customers. Allowing them to express themselves also makes them feel as if their opinions matter to the company.

Find Ways to Reinvent the Company

Every so often you have to update and readjust to the standards of current society. Every company goes through a facelift, where they change or almost reinvent themselves. It’s usually a positive change and a sign that they are trying to keep up with the times. Innovation is another key component to keeping your brand relevant. Never stop doing your research on methods to grow or expand your business and products.

As an entrepreneur, you want to keep in mind the brand you create is a reflection of you. It doesn’t take money to create your own individuality within your market. You just need to instil your values and effort into your brand, and your company will exude originality.

Why Your Small Business Needs a Lawyer

When you start a business, hiring a lawyer probably isn’t the first thing on your mind. You might think that you can handle everything yourself, and there won’t be a need to get a lawyer involved in anything until your business has reached a certain size. But there’s no business too small for hiring a lawyer. You don’t necessarily need one on your staff, but it can be useful to have someone in your contacts or even pay a retainer to someone you might need regularly. Before you dismiss the idea completely, consider these key reasons for having an attorney on your side.

Protect Your Business

You might not like the sound of it, but your business could be sued at any time and for any reason. If you do get sued, you can, of course, begin the search for an attorney. But by then, the damage could already be done. It could affect your reputation and your finances. While you can’t completely prevent people suing you, you can take steps to lower the chances of it happening. A lawyer can give you the advice you need to keep your business safe and avoid any serious problems.

Make Contracts Watertight

Getting contracts right is essential in business. You need contracts that protect you, but your clients, suppliers or anyone else you work with also wants to make sure that the contract benefits them. A contract lawyer specializes in making sure all of the contracts that you deal with are up to scratch. They will learn to understand your business and how it operates. Your attorney can prepare standard contracts for you to use with clients and suppliers, as well as help you to check over contracts that other people send to you. It’s worth having someone to deal with your paperwork for you.

Image from Pixabay

Have Access to Important Connections

Working with a business lawyer can be a great way to make sure useful connections. Firstly, you have your lawyer on hand if you need advice or help. You can also ask them to refer you to other legal professionals if there’s something that they’re not best placed to do. You could even make some useful connections in the business or political worlds. Any legal professionals like Mike Crapo move into politics. Your attorney could have valuable connections like these that can help you out if you need a favor or for various other reasons.

Safely Grow Your Business

As you grow your business, you can find yourself dealing with a lot of legal issues, from intellectual property to buying real estate. Every new issue that you need to deal with might require help from a legal professional, especially if you want to avoid any serious problems. It’s important to remember, however, that you might need a different attorney for different matters. Some might specialize in contracts, but others are more familiar with real estate or patents.

Keep your business on the straight and narrow by having an attorney in your contacts. You should be able to protect your business, no matter how big it is.

How To Stand Out in a Saturated Gig Economy

In 2017, more than 57 million people worked freelance in the US as short-term talent continues to be in high demand. As we weave ourselves deeper into the digital world and Internet of Things, the necessity to stick to one job for a lifetime simply doesn’t hold much relevance. The gig economy is booming and it is here to stay. However, with many people shifting to the remote-working freelance lifestyle, you will want to ensure you know exactly how to market yourself and stand out as a professional “gigger” in order to receive top-notch jobs that provides you with consistent work.

Market Yourself to Local Stores & Small Businesses

In the past, small businesses didn’t have access to a pool of freelancers who could do a variety of small, short-term jobs  for them. If they wanted a new marketing campaign they had to be prepared to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to a major agency or learn to do it themselves. However, even in a gig economy, many small businesses and local stores still don’t understand how to harness the power of the talent they have access to. Help them unlock this power by being the go-to freelancer in your area for all small businesses and local shops. Whether you are great at programming, interior design, copywriting, or even SEO, they likely need your skills and expertise and are willing to pay you for it. Begin cultivating this network by attending local small business meetings and chamber of commerce events in order to build your reputation as the go-to person in your local area for your particular skill. The benefit here is that word-of-mouth is so powerful that once you establish yourself in-person with these people, you will likely find that your outstanding service and work will speak for itself and they will do your marketing for you.

Develop a Personal Brand

Why do you think so many people around the world know what McDonald’s is? They have worked hard in establishing a very unique and consistent brand. If you want to be successful and stand out in the gig economy, you should do the same. You can begin doing this by always putting customer service and communication at the forefront of everything you do regarding freelance work. Communicating in real time increases engagement and builds community. Try to make the central focus of each gig to be on solving a problem for your client rather than simply performing a task and always focus on increasing your online visibility to ensure future clients have access to your work as well as customer reviews.

Building a Thriving Business

In the gig economy, you are your own boss and you should think of the work you do as running a business. Ensure that you ask yourself each day how you can improve your business operations, brand and overall efforts in ensuring customer satisfaction. By focusing on quality over quantity and making an effort to be personable and even in-person, you will be able to find lasting success in the saturated gig economy without having to worry about finding clients for years to come.

Guest Author, Jenny Holt, is a former HR executive turned freelance writer, who now spends more time with her young family and ageing, but ever eager Labrador, Rover.

Customer Loyalty: Does Your Small Business Have What It Takes To Keep It?

Customer retention is a difficult topic for a small business. It’s not that they can’t keep the customers, it’s getting them in the first place that’s often the problem. Small businesses often flounder before they have a chance to grow and a lot of that is to do with their placement as a small fish in an ocean of sharks. Whether you are running a small business store on Etsy, or you’re marketing yourself as a solopreneur who is offering a solution to a problem, you need to know how to retain your customers so that they trust your mini brand – even before it becomes a mega one.

Returning customers are crucial to the success of a small business and the way to get them coming back for more is in your retention strategy. You need to be so good, that customers see what you’re doing and fall in love with it. It’s ensuring that you work closely with IT experts to roll out your carefully crafted software to other companies, working with agile testing teams and pushing yourself to do more for your customers. Online customers spend three times more money than customers do in store, and if the service that you offer – or the solution you provide – is one that is effective and reeks of perfection, you’re going to see loyalty from your customers. You are the only one who can decide whether you have what it takes to retain your customers, though, and if you can’t, you’re going to sink. Here are four short ways to create that customer loyalty that’s going to secure your bottom line.

Experience Peaks. Customers will buy whatever they’re interested in, but you need to keep them hooked for more. If they’ve enjoyed the product that you sold in the first place, they’ll buy again. However, you need to keep the deal sweet. Maybe once customers have bought from you once, you then send a discount code to them to be able to buy again. The promise of the same product that they love being cheaper is a bonus and keeps the experience peaked for them.

VI-Party. Most people don’t like getting unsolicited emails, but customers who sign up with your product will expect to be notified of changes, upgrades and extras. Give them loyalty points and an early access pass to new releases. They’ll love the exclusivity and it keeps them coming back to you for more of the things that you offer.

Get Online. Whichever way that you do it, you need to be where your customers can connect with you. Get onto social media and be a part of the community. Having access directly to the people in charge of the product that has been sold is a bonus for customers and they can feel like they are heard.

Stay Passionate. You’ve made something successful enough for people to want to keep coming back for more. All you need to do now is ensure that you keep up the momentum that you’ve set for yourself.

Customers will always go with the popular brands; make yourself one of them and keep your loyal base coming back for more.

How to Secure Funding for Your Small Business

Nowadays, it’s common for small businesses to end up in financial struggles. A simple mistake can easily turn into a financial difficulty. Not only that, but it’s also common for business owners to run out of funding for their business development. In such cases, business owners tend to look for outside funding, in order to support their business further and ensure it remains operational.

In today’s business world, there are many funding sources available to small businesses. However, not every funding source is the right one for your current situation. That’s why it’s important to analyze your options properly, in order to determine the best course of action. That being said, here are a few ways to secure funding for your small business.

Apply for a bank loan

Many business owners first go to a bank when in need of funding. Banks are reliable sources of funding and you can always apply for a loan there. You should try out several banks and negotiate the best deal for your business loan. However, you must understand that it takes a bit of time for banks to approve your loan application.

Moreover, if you have a bad credit score, you might be denied a loan altogether or charged with very high interest rates, because you’re technically a risk. In order to avoid that scenario, try to improve your credit score before going to the bank for a loan, in order to avoid any inconveniences.

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Secure funding from an angel investor

Angel investors can be a great source of funding for your small business. They can supply you with the funding needed to fully develop your business and secure its financial stability. Once your business is stable on the market, angel investors will expect 25 to 30% return on investment. However, securing funding from angel investors isn’t easy.

You’ll have to be really passionate about your business and convince the investors that your business can be sustainable and profitable on the market. For that, you’ll need social proof, through market analysis, revenue forecasts and other statistics. If you do your homework right, you’ll be able to convince angel investors to support your endeavor. Also, don’t try angel investors if your agenda is to get rich fast, because they’ll dismiss you outright.

Seek alternative funding

As mentioned before, applying for a loan at the bank may not turn out so well if your credit score is bad. You may want to wait to improve your credit history, but you may not have the time to wait that long. In that case, you can seek out alternative lenders who will supply you with a loan.

For example, you can apply for bad credit loans. These types of loans have more flexible conditions towards people with bad credit scores. In other words, you won’t be denied a loan and you won’t have to wait too long to actually get a loan. That way, you can use quick cash to fund your business or consolidate your debt to improve both your financial situation and your credit score.

Seek out venture capital

Venture capital (VC) is a funding source similar to angel investors. You’ll still need a good plan and a good idea to convince venture capitalists to support your business financially. The difference is that venture capitalists seek a share of your company, in return for supporting you. What’s more, VCs only support business owners whose ideas have the potential to become lucrative enterprises in a short period of time.

Unlike angel investors, who support owners with passion about their business, venture capitalists are more supportive towards get-rich-fast attitude and ideas. As a matter of fact, venture capitalists expect your business to become very profitable in 3 to 5 years tops. If your business lacks that potential, you won’t be able to convince VCs to support you.

Try crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is yet another alternative funding source for your small business, only with fewer strings attached than angel investors or VCs. Crowdfunding is based on the concept of presenting your idea to your target audience, i.e. the crowd. If the crowd likes your ideas enough, they’ll donate funds to support your business financially. This type of funding can be ideal to fund startup ideas, but it can also be quite beneficial if you’re funding a small business by introducing new product or services features to the crowd.

Crowdfunding works on platforms, such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe and others. However, not all platforms have the same conditions and you must research them well before you decide which platform to choose for your crowdfunding campaign. The way it works is you set both the time and fund limit and your audience attempts to reach funding limit before the time runs out.

As mentioned before, there are a lot of funding options made available to finance your business. Which method you choose depends on your business model and needs. Make sure your research various methods well, so that you’re able to pick the best funding source for your small business.

Guest author, David Webb, is a Sydney-based business consultant,online marketing analyst and a writer. With six years of experience and a degree in business management, he continuously informs the public about the latest trends in the industry. He is a regular author at BizzmarkBlog. You can reach him on Twitter or Facebook.

 

Smart Space Management: Transform Your Home into a Proper Working Environment

Home trumps work any day of the week. So, logically a home office has more benefits than any other working environment. There is no commuting, no boss watching your every move, and balancing professional and private life is a breeze. Setting up an office at home may seem difficult, but with careful planning and research, you can save up money, increase productivity, and in the long run, be much happier with your job.

Things to Consider

When deciding the place of your future home office there are a couple of things worth considering. The space needs to be isolated from the rest of the home, and generally in a less active part of the house. This will significantly minimize distractions, since you want to focus on your job, and separate home and work hours. Also, your personal requirements and affiliations, as well as the nature of your work will guide the decision making process. So, creating a workshop next to the dining room, probably wouldn’t be the best solution, or having the office next to the laundry room.

Setting up Shop

Conserve space by changing the purpose of less frequently used rooms in the house and turn them into your home office. Storage rooms like the attic, basement, and garage can be easily transformed into a spacious, insulated working environment. Another way to go is to make a dual-purpose room. An extra guest room, and even the dining room are great due to their infrequent use. And by making small adjustments to the furniture, like adding pull-out couch, or getting a larger dining room table, you can have re-furbish the room to accommodate all your needs. Also, it is possible to find appropriate appliances online, like small fridge, which can complete the office design.

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Office Comfort

Comfort is the main idea behind a stay-at-home office. Consider that you might put in long hours in front of the desk, so buy a chair that is enjoyable, but also drives you to work. Depending on the work, a desk should inspire and be able to handle all the tools of your trade (computer, printer, books, paper, etc.). Apart from being comfortable, your furniture should also be ergonomic. The chair should support your back, and have enough height, so your arms are parallel to the desk. And by borrowing, buying secondhand or re-purposing furniture, you can cut costs and invest in other aspects of your business.

feng shui office desk Luxury Ways To Feng Shui Your Desk

Light up Work

Your office should also have plenty of light. A well-lit room will make for an efficient working environment that is motivational, but also healthy. Utilize natural light sources as much as possible, whenever possible. By positioning the desk next to the window, so that the light hits you from the right-hand side, you will get the greatest amount of light, decrease shadows on your work area, and tone down outside distractions. Although natural light is great, it is in short supply. Although many rooms have an overhead light, a desk lamp should be an essential at your work station. Combining it with other light sources will mean that your work space is always well-lit and you don’t exert your eyes.

Break Time

Depending on space, create a relaxing comfy zone within the office. This will enable you to think, research, read, and plan, when you are not actively working. The corner will also provide a great break area. Get yourself a comfy armchair, or a couch, and soft rug will feel great on your feet when you take your shoes off. You should also include a lamp and a coffee table for those serene coffee breaks.

Office Storage

Storage is an issue with any office, so be sure to get creative and organized. Big stacks of paper, files, and office supplies, are not very inspirational, and the best way to removed them from sight is to put them into a closet. Another great trick to minimize office clutter is to store the non-essentials in a different room, such as a basement. On the other hand, keep the essential documents near you, by putting up shelves and storing them there.

In the end, the home office tops a regular cubical any day, so make it an enjoyable and motivational working area. And if you do it right, you will save money and nerves, manage your own hours, and ultimately be your own boss, working from the comfort of your own home.

Tracey Clayton is a working mom of three girls, passionate about traveling, marketing and everything tech related. Her motto is: “Live the life you love; love the life you live.”