4 Reasons Why Businesses Should Be On Social Media

Social media is the #1 most asked about topic when I consult with small business owners and startups. It exceeds any conversation about finance, legal structure, or target market analysis. But the 1st step to knowing how to use social media better is to understand why use it in the first place. Business owners need to understand that social media for your business is critical, but is MUCH different than your personal social media accounts. In this article, I want to share with you a few business purposes for social media accounts.

To Generate Leads

If you are going to spend time learning social media, or going to pay someone to manage your social media accounts, you must have a goal. Using social media for business purposes is all about getting returns. These returns can take many forms, but the most common for businesses are leads. You want people who visit your accounts to send you an email, give you a call, or come into your store because they want to learn more about your business. This is a great purpose for any business who doesn't make online sales, has a store front, or offers a service to clients.

To Generate Sales

If you don't have a shopping cart online, your purpose is to convince people to want to learn more about you (generate leads). But if you business makes online sales, then this is purpose applies to you. Generating sales is a top priority for a business who wants people to put in their credit card and purchase something immediately online.

To Brand Your Business

Branding is a very important purpose, but it works better as a supplement to generating leads and sales. You, as a business, want to be of top-of-mind awareness with anybody who wants the products or services you sell. Consumers may not needs your services today, tomorrow, or in the near future, but they may need you months or years from now.

To Provide Great Customer Service

The best part of social media is the interaction you can have with individuals. Social media is all about having a conversation. If you are not conversing with people, then you are loosing out on one of the biggest advantages of social media. Many great companies use social media to get input from their raving fans, to promote events and ideas from their target market, and to put out fires with public relations issues. It does not replace a good physical customer service presence, but is a great extra that will go a long way with many consumers.

To be successful on social media, you must have a reason for being on social media. Aim with no purpose will not work; you need to have a purpose for all that you do online, whether that be lead generation, sales generation, building brand loyalty, or providing customer service.

Questions You MUST Ask Before You Hire A Web Designer

Questions You MUST Ask Before You Hire A Web Designer

Creating a website can be a daunting task, especially if you are not very tech savvy. But even if you have a technology wired brain, website design can be a very complex and frustrating experience. There are many companies out there that claim to create the best website for any kind of business. They may be right, but you need to properly vet any company or person offering to create your website. Below, you will find many helpful questions to ask yourself and your website designer before you get started creating your new website.

All About Facebook

Facebook is the largest social media platform in the world today. There are over 1.4 billion active users each month! (HubSpot.com) From a business perspective, there are now over 3 million active businesses advertising on Facebook! (SocialMediaToday.com). Because there are so many business Facebook pages, business owners are constantly looking for ways to make their page standout. This article outlines many tips to help improve your brand on Facebook. 


Choose Profile Photos Carefully

Your profile picture should be one that is easily recognizable by your potential fans. It should be simple and not complex, but with enough detail to distinguish you as a brand. You want people to recognize your business from your logo when they search for you on Facebook. Likewise, your background cover photo should be an extension of your brand. Wether it be a photo of your store, samples of your product, or a portrait of your services, it should be a high quality photo. The profile picture should be 180x180 pixels and the background photo should be 851x315 pixels.

Add Links to Photo Descriptions

Each photo you upload to Facebook has the option to add descriptions to it. This is even true of your profile and background pictures. In these photos, add a link to your website or blog. This might help your SEO by adding inbound links, but it provides easy access for people to get to your website if they click on your photos. You can use custom links through your Google analytics to track each inbound link you have to your website. These are called UTM links, and more information can be found HERE. UTM links are important if you want to know which links are working better than others and driving the most traffic to your website.

70-20-10 Rule

This is a rule promoted by Cafe Quill that states how much of your Facebook posts should consist of particular content. 

  • 70% of your posts should come from your brand and add value to your community. For example, you could include business tips, show photos from recent company events, promote local news about your business, or ask survey questions.
  • 20% of your posts should consist of content from others. For example, you could promote other business' events, tag other business in a post, or even share a post from another business page.
  • 10% of your posts should be promotional. For example, you could let your audience know about any sales happening, new product lines you are offering, or any introductions to products/services.

Utilize The Call To Action Button

Facebook introduced a new feature in December of 2014 called the Call To Action button (CTA). This allows you to insert 1 of 7 pre-made call to action buttons to your background cover photo. Your Facebook should have a purpose, and these buttons allow you to set what interaction you want individuals to do on your page. You can choose from: Sign Up, Shop Now, Contact Us, Book Now, Watch Video, Play Game, or Use App. You can put a link on the buttons that sends people to a destination on or off Facebook. These CTA buttons offer insights and can track data on performance, so you can know for certain how many people are clicking on your CTA button.

Post The Perfect Post

The way to interact with people is through posting on Facebook. You can post about virtually anything you want. But to have a successful post, you need to keep a few guidelines in mind. For more information on posting on Facebook, check out Eric Spellman's website. Your Facebook post should have:

  1. A Photo - A picture is worth a thousand words. We have all heard that. But to be honest, some photos I see I cannot think of 10 words to describe it. The point is, people are more attracted to pictures and photos. This is true is social media. You should try and post an appropriate picture with every post, either a picture from your iPhone or a stock photo from a Think Stock account.
  2. Information - A post needs to have relevant information. You cannot just upload a photo with no description. Even if you have text on your photo, you need to write out words in your post.
  3. Call to Action/Invitation to Interact - I hear people say all the time, "No one is liking my Facebook page or post!" There may be many issues going on with your Facebook page, but have you ever tried asking? Your post should elicit a call to action. This could be liking the post, sharing the picture, leaving a review, tell your friends, visit our website, or even something as simple as enjoy your day. You want your audience to do something after seeing the post. Much like the CTA button on your cover photo, you want to give your audience a call to action. 

Like The Comments

Your goal on Facebook should be interaction. So when someone comments or leaves you a review on your business Facebook page, you need to respond positively. You should like every comment that someone leaves you on your post. Someone took the time to type out that comment or review, so acknowledge it! That individual may be more likely to interact again on your page and may be motivated to share your business with his or her friends. In regards to responding to negative comments or reviews, do not retaliate eye for an eye. Your job is now to put water over the Public Relations flame. I am not saying to take the blame for whatever the individuals are complaining about, but rather be empathetic and give a positive response that is not too short or too long.

Like and Review Other Pages

According to Entrepreneur.com, "The more you like someone’s posts the more of their posts you will see -- and they will see more of your posts." Go to some local businesses and start liking their page and posts. Remember to like their page as your business and as your individual profile. To like a business page as your business, click on the 3 dots near the top right of the business Facebook page and click "Like As Your Page." 

 

 

Grants and Free Money

Have you heard from commercials, online ads, or friends that there are a lot of small business grants out there, just waiting for someone to apply for them? This is one of the most common questions that business owners or startups ask. There are a lot of scams and false information out there, so this article intends to help you learn the truth about grants and free money. 


The Facts About Grants

The fact is, no government agency is giving out free money; 100% financing is not available. According to the KSBDC, less than 5% of businesses are started with help from government grants. There are a few government grants available, but they are usually not for 100% financing of the project costs, and they are for very specific programs: high technical areas of industry, schools and training programs, and other government programs. 

If you happen to find a grant that fits your business category, there are very specific requirements for even applying for the grant. Grants are given from a variety of public (government) sources, as well as private sources, so there are usually eligibility requirements for them. Also, if you happen to secure a grant, there are required activities you are responsible for carrying out... and if you don't then you may have to pay back the grant money.

 

Legitimate Grant Resources 

 

Beware of Scams

Always be wary of anyone or any business that is offering you a chance at free money. This is especially true if they are asking for a fee upfront or money that you must pay in advance. Typically those giving out grants do not ask for a fee to apply for the grant. These scams may also ask for sensitive information. Do not give them any of your personal information, especially your social security number. Just because a business or individual advertises in national media outlets or on the internet, it does not mean they are legitimate. A good idea is to check with the Better Business Bureau and/or the state Attorney General's Office for complaints before talking with a company who is offering their services in regards to grants. 


Anybody can claim that "over 1 million entrepreneurs received grants last year to start their business," but that is simply not true. Most startups have to borrow funds from friends and family, receive a bank loan, or invest some of their own cash. Grants are very inciting, because who doesn't like free money! Yet it is very hard to get a grant as a startup and there is not much out there for you. If you have any question as to weather or not a grant you are looking at is legit, contact your local SBDC office and they can help assist you.

Steps to Starting a Business in Kentucky

Starting a business can be a daunting task. Not only do you have to worry about sales revenue and spending expenditures, but you have legal steps you have to take before you can start your business. And unfortunately, there are not a lot of concise resources out there to help you with it. These are some critical steps you need to take when you start a new business:


1. Write a Business Plan

This might seem like a step that is tempting to bypass, but having a written plan is critical. It gives you vision for your business, and lamp that will guide your path. It will give your business idea validation, or might open your eyes to the pitfalls you are about to jump into. There are plenty of business plan templates online that you can choose from. The SBA has a decent template that is very thorough, and you can find that HERE. I would recommend giving your local Small Business Development Center a call for free help with business planning and financial projections.

 

2. Select a Business Name and Legal Entity

A business name is a very important part of a business startup. If you are operating as a Sole Proprietor and want to be called something different than your own name, you can file an Assumed Name certificate (also called a Doing Business As, or Fictitious Name certificate). If you are an LLC or a Corporation, you will reserve your business name when you go through the legal process of registering your business with the Secretary of State. If you are an LLC or Corporation, you need to register your business with the Secretary of State through the OneStop Kentucky Business Portal. If you are a Sole Proprietor, you do not need to register your business through the Secretary of State.

 

3. Register Your Taxes

No matter what legal structure you are (Sole Proprietor or LLC), you need to register for your tax accounts with the appropriate sources. There are 3 main places you will need to go to register for your taxes: State Department of Revenue (State Tax), County Clerk (County Tax), and City Clerk (City Tax). You will also have to pay Federal taxes, but your tax account can figure that out when you file your annual taxes. You need to go to the County and City Clerks offices to register for the taxes, but the state taxes can be done through the OneStop Business Portal (this applies to both Sole Proprietorships and LLC/Corporations).

 

4. Obtain Business License

This is a common myth: there is no standard business license a business has to get in Kentucky. That being said, specific businesses must have certain licenses, such as general contractors. To see if your business category needs to obtain a specific state license, go to the OneStop Business Portal. Depending on what county and city you live in, there might be a business license you need to receive. But most times, a city or county "business license" is just referring to the local tax account. It is always recommended to visit your local county and city clerks whenever you start a business.

 

5. Obtain an EIN (Employer Identification Number) from the IRS.

This might not apply to everyone. If you are wanting to open a bank account, the financial institution might ask for an EIN. Also, if you plan on hiring any employees (full, part, or contract workers) you need an EIN. Good news is that they are free and can be registered for online at the IRS website.

 

6. Register any Trademarks or Service Marks with the Secretary of State

Most businesses will not need to worry about trademarks or service marks, but in the event that you are national company that is starting to make a name for yourself, you might want to look into it. Read my article HERE about trademarks if you want to learn more about them. You will want to get a lawyer to help you out with this process.

 

7. Visit Planning and Zoning for Any Storefront Businesses 

Before you purchase a building or rent a building, you will need to visit your local Planning and Zoning department. You do not want to sign a contract for a building or lease, and them come to find out you cannot operate business in that space. 

 

8. Complete Forms for Employees

If you have employees, you need to complete certain federal and state documents. A list of what you need to do before you hire an employee can be found on another article HERE.

 

First Step in Becoming an Effective Leader

"To be conscious that you are ignorant of the facts is a great step to knowledge" - Benjamin Disraeli

What Is a Leader?

Having the goal to become an effective leader is a great aspiration and should be commended. Before you can picture the end result, you must first understand what it is you are working towards. Having an understanding of what leadership is will help you continue on the pathway toward effective leadership. Leadership...

  • Instills emotion in people
  • Motivates and directs
  • Casts a vision
  • Impacts on the long-term
  • Has the intention and goal of going to the next level
  • Puts things together

Leadership is all about direction, helping a group of people stay the course and continue on in the right way. A manager, in contrast, is someone who measures a group, studies performance, and reports statistics to others. But as a leader, you want to get others to want to do something that you are convinced should be done. 

 

First Step? Look in the Mirror

Is it really that surprising that the first step in becoming an effective leader is to first look at yourself? In the Bible, Christ told his disciples on the "Sermon on the Mount" to first take the log out of your own eye before you take the speck out of your neighbors eye. This applies to leadership. You must first see the logs in your eyes; the struggles, weaknesses, temptations that you have to overcome first. 

How do you look in the mirror? Ask yourself these questions. When you led, were you...

  1. An effective, self controlled, moral leader?
  2. Able to accomplish what you wanted to with your followers?
  3. Ethical and practiced the golden rule?
  4. Able to lead yourself effectively?

These questions make you look back at what you have already done in the past. Break down your past and your daily routine. Can you see things that you are currently doing that are unhealthy? Take the log out of your eye and see the things you are currently doing, so you can know exactly what you should change. It takes some sincere willingness to look at yourself in this kind of way, because you might find something you did not expect. But a leader constantly evaluates himself, and the first step to becoming a great leader is to know what your current situation is. 


Here is the application, once you have taken a deep and long look into the mirror: Start challenging your excuses! Are the excuses you gave justifiable? Are they lazy? Having a bunch of excuses will keep you from being a disciplined leader. Don't look back at your shortcomings and reward yourself. Only reward yourself when the job is completed. Stay focused on the job and the results, not on the difficulty of the tasks. 

My challenge to you is to look back in the mirror to last week. How much time did you devote to regular disciplined activities? Did you do anything to help you grow professionally? Did you do anything to help you grow physically? Did you do anything to help you grow spiritually? Did you do anything to help you grow financially? If the answer to any of those questions was no, you know what log you need to remove from your eye. Leadership starts with yourself, and you must be willing to tackle any of your problems head on and be determined to overcome them. If you cannot get yourself to be motived to overcome shortfalls, how can you motivate others to do the same? The first step to becoming an effective leader is to look in the mirror.

 

What is a Registered Agent and Organizer?

The Kentucky One Stop Business Portal is a great resource to register your LLC, but sometimes there are words and terms used that you might not know. The most common terms that confuses people are the Registered Agent and the Organizer. These terms are important to understand before you register your LLC. 

Registered Agent

The Registered Agent is an "individual or a business, that is resident of Kentucky or is legally registered to operate in Kentucky (sos.ky.gov)." The Registered Agent is responsible for receiving legal documents on behalf of the business (like Service of Processes for lawsuits). The point of the Registered Agent is that you select a person or entity that will be at the provided address to receive important legal mail. Practically speaking, the Registered Agent does not really do much of anything, expect receive legal documents on behalf of the business.

The Registered Agent must be a resident of Kentucky, or whatever state you are registered the business in. It is common for a single-member LLC to put himself down as the Registered Agent. You cannot, however, put the LLC you are registering down as the Registered Agent. It must be the business owner, not the business itself. I would recommend the business owner be the Registered Agent, unless a professional lawyer suggests otherwise. Evergreen Small Business Blog suggest that, "[They] think you should be your own registered agent–or at least you should be the registered agent for your corporation or limited liability company in your home state."

Organizer

The Organizer is a Business Representative responsible for setting up the LLC and filing formation documents with the KY Secretary of State. There is not much written online on the KY Secretary of States website about Organizers, but according to other 3rd party sources, "the Organizer may be a Member of the LLC but does not have to be. Anyone authorized to act on behalf of the LLC may act as the Organizer. The Organizer is basically giving an oath that the information in the Articles [of Organization] is true and correct. (gettincnow.com)."

So technically, the Organizer is not the business owner or the LLC members. But I recommend that the Organizer be the owner or one of the owners of your LLC. A reason you may want someone other than the owner to be the Organizer is if you want to keep ownership names secret. But the ownership names are not secret for very long, because when you file the required Annual Report with the Secretary of State (sos.ky.gov), you must list the current owners or members. 


This is a very brief overview of the two terms, and there may be other terms that you run across on the One Stop Portal. The best advice I can give you is when in doubt, call the Secretary of State's office. Their phone number is listed below, and ask for the business filing department. They are easy and great to talk to and are happy to answer any questions you have in regards to online registration. I cannot speak highly enough about the quality of service I received from them. If you have any other questions, leave a comment on this article and we will try and direct you to the correct answer. 

Phone: (502) 564-3490

Address: Office of the Secretary of State; Business Filings, 700 Capital Ave. P.O. Box 718, Frankfort, KY 40602

How to Hire Employees

Hiring employees can be a daunting task, especially for a small business. There are many things you have to do as an employer to hire an employee, and failure to do these things could result in legal consequences. Luckily, there is a lot of information online (from government agencies) that help you with this process. This article will provide direction to hiring employees and provide reputable links to online sources. Note, this is not an exhaustive list. 


1. Receive an EIN number from the IRS

EIN Number: You might already have this number from when you started your business, but if you don't, you will need to get one. It is FREE from the IRS website. Do not let an individual or business convince you to pay them money to get you an EIN number. Click on the link below to register for an EIN number.

https://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Apply-for-an-Employer-Identification-Number-(EIN)-Online

 

2. State Tax Forms

Form K-4: You must have your employee sign the appropriate state tax forms, which lets you know how much tax to withhold from your employees. According to the KY.gov Employee Withholding Handbook, "All employees subject to withholding must complete an Employee’ s Withholding Exemption Certificate, Form K-4, Form K-4E or Form 42A809. These forms are used by the employer to determine the amount of tax to be withheld and should be on file immediately after an employee begins to work." The Kentucky Employee Withhold Handbook is linked below.

http://revenue.ky.gov/NR/rdonlyres/67A11A87-94CE-4255-862A-7B3D44B0A43E/0/42A003408.pdf

 

3. Federal Tax Forms

Keep Employment Records: Before you look around at the forms your employees need to complete, you must resolve to "keep records of employment taxes for at least four years (IRS.gov)," according to the IRS. You need to have a system in place to keep track of payroll and taxes withheld. You can do this yourself, but there are many professional payroll specialists companies in Kentucky that can do this for you (at a very reasonable fee).

Form W-4: Every employee must provide an employer with a signed withholding exemption certificate (Form W-4) on or before the date of employment. The employer must then submit Form W-4 to the IRS. See below for a link to Form W-4. Also, Turbo Tax has a good article HERE on what exactly a W-4 is

https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw4.pdf

 

4. Employee Eligibility Verification 

Form I-9: "All employers must complete and retain Forms I-9 for every person they hire for employment on or after Nov. 6, 1986, in the United States as long as the person works for pay or other type of compensation (uscis.gov)." This must be completed and signed by the employee within 3 days of hire. According to the SBA website, "Employers do not need to submit the I-9 form with the federal government but are required to keep them on file for three years after the date of hire or one year after the date of the employee's termination, whichever is later." Click below for the I-9 form.

https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-9.pdf

 

5. Register with Kentucky's New Hire Reporting Center

Report Employee Hires: "Federal and State law requires employers to report newly hired and re-hired employees in Kentucky to the Kentucky New Hire Reporting Center (ky-newhire.com)." This can be done by a simple phone call to (800) 817-2262, or by going to their website and registering online. See link below.

https://ky-newhire.com

 

6. Obtain Workers' Compensation Insurance

Purchase Worker's Comp: "All Kentucky employers with one or more employees are required to maintain workers’ compensation coverage (insurance.ky.gov)." Workers compensation can be purchase by any private insurance agent in KY, or it can be purchased through a KY state fund. It is recommended that the state workers comp fund be the last resort, if you cannot find a private insurance broker. The link to the state workers comp program is below.

https://www.kemi.com

 

7. Hang Certain Posters and Notices

This can be the most difficult thing to do when hiring employees, because there seems to be so many posters you "have to" hang in your business. Be careful: there are many individuals pretending to be legit companies trying to scam you into buying posters. Click on the link below to read a statement KY Attorney General Jack Conway about this. He lists the common required federal and state posters in his address. 

http://labor.ky.gov/dows/oshp/Documents/ATTY%20GENERAL%20-%20POSTER%20RELEASE.pdf

 

 

Essential Online Marketing Rules

As a consultant, the #1 request I get is, "How can I get a presence online?" Many business owners are now feeling the pressure from market demands to be online. Having a plan for online marketing is essential for many, if not most, businesses. BUT if you do not first understand the fundamentals of online marketing, you could be setting yourself up for digital failure. With that, here is my ever growing list of essential marketing rules for business going online.


1. Own Your Online Property

It is very common for small businesses to hire a 3rd party company to develop their website or social media pages. There is nothing wrong with that, and I would even encourage it for many businesses out there. But DO NOT let that 3rd party company own your property. For instance, a company can develop your website, but you need to have full rights and ownership to everything (passwords, content, photos, backend coding, etc.). You want to find a company that will waive legal rights to the website, and instead give it to you, the business owner. This also applies for domain names, Facebook accounts, stock photo accounts, email addresses, and any other online platform. You want to make sure have intellectual property rights to everything online that you publish as a business.

 

2. Market With a Purpose

Any business consultant would tell you to physically market with a purpose, wether it be a target area to pass out flyers, what content to put on your business card, or even the color designs of your signage. Having a purpose for your marketing applies not only to just physical, but especially online marketing. Ask yourself this question: Why are you doing this? Why do you want to be online? You cannot manage what you cannot measure, so be sure you have a measurable goal and purpose before you set out to conquer the digital world. 

What should be your purpose of having an online presence? 

  1. To Brand Your Business - The process of getting your name out into the public and get word of mouth to start spreading in the area.
  2. To Produce Sales - The actual sale occurs online through a marketplace or a checkout cart, not by a phone call to the business owner.
  3. To Generate Leads - If someone sees you online, that person will have an incentive to give the business owner a call, and make the sale outside of the website.
  4. To Add Credibility - This is the idea of showing off your resume, successes, and add credentialing to yourself, to better sell yourself to your clients.
 

3. Manage Your Reputation

By having an online presence, you have a lot of flexibility as to how your business is perceived. You have direct access to the photos you post, the text you write, and even the responses to negative online reviews. Because of this power, you NEVER want to give control of your reputation management to someone else. Business owners should know how to manage their business themselves. How do you do that? You can Google yourself and see what pops up (positive reviews, bad BBB rating, negative comments, etc.).

When you Google your business, make sure your browser is in "Private" mode, because Google remembers things you type into their search bars on your computer, and that could skew the results. For example, if you are constantly typing in your business name and clicking on your website, then Google remembers that and your website will appear higher up because of it. In "Private" mode, it is as if this is the first time the computer has done a Google search, the results are not skewed, and it is like a random person searched on Google.

As a business owner, you should stress the importance of leaving reviews for your business. Once your business is registered with Google (GYBO.com), this gives people the ability to leave you a Google review and rating. This is very important as it helps your SEO and gives your business more credibility when someone Googles you. You also want to get customers to review and leaving ratings on your Facebook page. You should always be asking for your clients or customers to leave you reviews. Find creative ways to do that. Maybe put an iPad on a stand at your retail center, give free incentives if people leave you reviews, etc.

 

4. Understand How Online Ranking Works

In regards to SEO and Google ranking, there is a lot of confusion out there. It does not help that there are many companies that offer help getting on Google's first page for a hefty fee. The majority of these companies are scammers, so be weary of solicitors who sound too good to be true. Google ranking is all about content. Content is not photos or videos (because Google cannot read pictures or videos), but rather it is the text on the page. Your text on your website is the most important when it comes to Google search. What makes good content on your webpage?

  1. Content should be understood – All text on your webpage should be conversational. You should not use big words. Google does not want a college paper. The perfect grade level of simplicity should be between a 4th – 6th grade reading level.
  2. Content should be updated – Making changes to your webpage every day doesn’t necessarily improve your SEO. But rather adding new content and pages. That is why Blog sites do well with updated content; it is new text.
  3. Content should be unique – Google will know if you have copied and pasted from another website. Even if the content is the best content ever, if it is copied, Google will penalize you for it. Even things as copying item descriptions from your vendors will hurt your SEO.
 

5. Avoid Scams

Unfortunately, there are many horror stories of business owners falling for online marketing scams. There are "fake" businesses that contact you, attempting to entice you to purchase something in an effort to help your online marketing. These can be very tempting, especially if you are new to online marketing. Here are a few of the most common scams:

  1. The Guaranteed Ranking Scam: This is when someone says they can guarantee your Google listing will be on the first page. DO NOT listen and purchase their services. No one knows the exact Google algorithm for higher ranking, not even the majority of people who work for Google. No one can guarantee you a higher ranking. Higher ranking comes organically with time and effort from the business owner. 
  2. The Domain Purchase Scam: This is when someone tries to guilt trip you into purchasing every single domain out there. The most common domain is .com, but there is .org, .net, .biz, .ch, and a whole bunch more. It is not essential for your website to have every single domain; just the .com. It does not matter if someone tries to scare you into thinking a competitor will purchase the .biz or .org of your website, you should not listen to them.
  3. The Phone Book Scam: This is when someone says if you will be in their directory, they have a special partnership with Google and can get you listed higher with them. It is called a phone book because when ads are sold into the Yellow/White Pages, your ad will be seen by special group of people (geographic area). If someone calls you and asks you to pay to be a part of a special directory, do not listen to them and hang up the phone. If you follow rules of generating good content on your website, you do not need to be a part of these kind of groups online.
  4. The Paid Local Listing Scam: NEVER let anyone register your local listing for you. And NEVER pay someone to do this for you. This is specifically for the Google "Get Your Business Online," which is the process of claiming your business listing on Google. This allows you to create a Google+ page for your business, put you on Google Maps, and gives you website tools like Trends and Analytics. Do this yourself as a business owner. It is free. Do not let anyone else do this for you.
  5. The Pay Per Click Scam: This is similar to the Guarantee Ranking Scam, except that these individuals will actually get you on page 1 of Google....via Pay Per Click Ads. Pay Per Click Ads are those websites you see listed first on Google, with a different color box around them. These websites have paid Google to be an Ad, and they will only be charged money by Google when someone clicks on that Ad. If you want to set up a Pay Per Click Ad, you need to do that yourself or get a trusted Marketing Firm to help you. 

Choosing the Right Legal Structure

When you first start a business, one of the first, if not the first, things you will do is decide what legal structure you would like the business to be. This is a very important decision that might your business in the short and long-term. Here are the most common legal structures in Kentucky, with reasons why you might decide to choose that particular structure:


Sole Proprietorship

This is the most simple and easiest business to form, because the business and the business owner are one. Most people that operate a small business on the side are sole proprietors, weather they realize it or not. Sole proprietors are the least expensive and the least complicated. In the eyes of the public and of the law, the business owner and the business are the same. The implications are that your assets are a part of the business, so there is no protection if something legally happens to you (liability protection). There are no business registration documents that you have to file. All you have to do is be responsible for taxes on the Federal, State, and Local level. If you are going to be using a different business name other than your own personal name, you may need a DBA (Doing Business As), which can be bought for under $40 at the County Clerks office. This is an ideal structure if you are just starting out your business, do not deal with the general public very much, and do not have many personal assets that you want protected.

Partnership

A partnership is very similar to a sole proprietorship, except that instead of 1 owner, there are multiple owners. The business and the owners are one in the same; there is not difference in the eyes of the public and the law. Because of this, there is not liability protection for a partnership. There are not any registration documents that you need to file to become a partnership, except for your Federal, State, and Local taxes you need to register for. I would recommend seeing your tax accountant to help you with your taxes. With a partnership, it is important to have a Partnership Agreement, which is a legally binding document that lists how decisions will be made, how profits will be shared, how a partner can get out, etc. I would recommend seeing a lawyer to help you draw up a Partnership Agreement. 

A partnership can take many forms, so it is important to dictate the form of the partnership on the Partnership Agreement. For instance, you could have a General Partnership, where all owners divide the responsibility and profit/loss equally. There is a Limited Partnership, where some owners have limited rights, responsibilities, and liability protection. This form of a partnership is more complicated and may require formal legal documents to be filed. Lastly, there is a Joint Venture, which is like a General Partnership but only for a limited time. If the owners want to continue their venture after that allotted time, they will be recognized as a General Partnership. No matter what kind of partnership is formed, it is recommended that you see a lawyer to help you get set up legally. 

Corporation

There are many types of corporations, but they are all charted by the state when the business is headquartered. Corporations are considered a unique entity by law. That means the owners and the business are separated. The business has an identity and can be taxed, sued, enter into contractual agreements, etc. Instead of using the term owners, the people who own the business are called shareholders. These shareholders own either public or private stock of the business, and elect a Board of Directors to oversee policy and strategic decisions. If the shareholders (owners) die, the business lives on. Another person can purchase the shares of stock and become a shareholder in that person's place. Corporations are a very complicated business structure and must adhere to strict guidelines and legal requirements. A lawyer is a must have if you are thinking about creating an corporation. 

Limited Liability Company/Partnership (LLC/LLP)

Like the simplicity of the sole proprietorship but hate how it doesn't have liability protection like a corporation? Well, you are in luck because the LLC is a business structure designed to provide benefits of other structures. The LLC is owned by members or managers, which can be 1 person or multiple people. The members of the LLC make strategic decisions for the company and they have to renew their LLC every year with the state. An LLC gives members liability protection, so their personal assets are protected. BUT taxes are still flowed down to the individual. If you are a single member LLC, your assets are protected, but your taxes will flow down to you personally. This means you are responsibility for paying your tax bracket, as well as the self-employment tax the Federal Government requires. The LLC can choose to elect to be taxed as a corporation, which is called a S-Corporation. Talk with your tax accountant to see if you would benefit from having your LLC elected to be taxed as a S-Corp. 


To help you decide what legal structure is best for you, you really need to know your company vision and mission. Here are a few things you need to consider in helping you decide what legal structure is best for you:

  • Your vision for the future of the company and its' size.
  • The business' vulnerability to lawsuits.
  • Expected sales revenue, profit, and loss of the business.
  • The level of control you wish to have.
  • The value of your personal assets.
  • The amount of time spent dealing with the public.

As with all the advice on this site, I encourage you to speak to an account or lawyer about legal or financial matters before you make a decision. There is not worse thing in business than making an uninformed, bad decision. Spending time thinking about legal structures, because it will have an impact on your business and your plan for future growth.

Kentucky Business One Stop Portal

As a business owner, the Kentucky Business One Stop Portal is something that you want to become very familiar with. The Kentucky Business One Stop Portal is "an easy-to-use environment where Kentucky's businesses can find the requirements and tools they need to own and operate a business in Kentucky (OneStop.ky.gov)." The whole purpose of One Stop is to provide a user friendly tool that streamlines many processes to promote economic wealth in Kentucky. Kentucky is 1 of 11 states that have an online portal such as this. 

It was created in 2011 by the Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes, as a partnership with the Office of the Secretary of State, the Finance and Administration Cabinet, and the Cabinet for Economic Development and the Commonwealth Office of Technology. 

So, what is the point of this? What can you, as a business owner, gain from this online portal? If I had to sum it up in a few bullet points, One Stop allows you to:

  • Register your business for cheap (including an LLC, S-Corps, Partnerships, etc.)

  • Acquire and renew business licenses and permits (including the Sales and Use Tax number)

  • Register and file Kentucky business taxes

There are many other features, small and big, that will make your life as a business owner easier. It is not perfect, but it is a big step toward streamlining processes that used to tie up hours for business owners. Creating an account is free, and I would encourage everyone to get a One Stop account and see what benefit it could provide for your business. 

Bank Loans vs. Lines of Credit

There is a common financial principle called "The Matching Principle." This is the concept that you need to match your type of financing with the type of asset you want to purchase. This is easily seen when you use debt funding. For instance, if you want to purchase a new grill for your restaurant, what kind of deal do you look for? What if you want to purchase a building and land? There are 2 main ways that you can fund purchases with debt funding: traditional bank loan or a line of credit.

Bank Loan

We all know what a bank loan is. You might have one for your car, your home, your credit card consolidation, etc. There is a set interest rate and a set period of time until the loan should be repaid. With this, there is usually an amortization schedule given to you so you know what payments will need to be made each month. A bank loan can be a short-term loan (1-5 years) or a long term loan (5+ years).

When you look at the matching principle, you want to fund short-term assets with short-term debt financing. For example, if you need to purchase office supplies for your business (short-term assets), you will want a 1-2 year bank loan (short-term financing). On the flip side, if you purchase a building (long-term asset), you will want a 10 year+ bank loan (long-term financing). If you do not follow the matching principle and you finance a long-term asset with short-term financing, you can mess up your cash flow and find yourself struggling to make payments. A short-term loan can be useful if you know exactly what short-term assets you want to purchase and can justify how those short-term assets will bring about a positive change in the business. What about those purchases that you have no clue how to project and could be seasonal expenses? A line of credit could be a perfect fit for you.

Line of Credit

A line of credit is a excellent option for seasonal businesses or those businesses who need short-term financing. A business who might need some additional cash to help make purchases during their peak time, a line of credit would be a perfect option, because they do not borrow more money than they need. A line of credit works very similar to a credit card; you only pay back interest and principle once you borrow (take a draw) the funds. A line of credit will give you a credit limit (the maximum amount you can borrow) and will not charge you interest on money you do not draw on. There are some differences between lines of credit structures with different banks, but most operate the same way. 

DO NOT use a line of credit to support a long-term asset. Lines of credit are perfect for inventory control, emergency funds, or seasonable businesses. If you are purchasing a long-term asset, you will want to look at a traditional long-term loan. A line of credit is a revolving fund, and should not be tied up to a long-term investment. Always remember the matching principle when you are looking for fund purchases: support short-term assets with short-term financing, while support long-term assets with long-term financing.

2 Step Process to Better Manage Your Time

Did you know that on average, an owner of a startup or small business will work between 60-80 hours a week? Even with that amount of time, business owners are consistently saying they need more time during the week. And because time is such an issue, owners will tend to do the more "fun" things first, often times forgetting the more "boring" important things. As a leader in your business, you must manage your time better and allow yourself opportunity to do the important strategic objectives. So how do you free up time and manage your day better as a business owner?


1. Identify Your Time Wasters

Have you ever made a list of all the things that you waste time on during your day? Social media might be on your list, as well as TV or video games. Do you struggle with any of these time wasters?

  • Television
  • Being tired (too little or too much sleep)
  • Waiting on people
  • Talking on the phone
  • Lack of motivation
  • Interruptions at work
  • Lose or misplace things
  • Unclear goals
  • Not keeping lists
  • Disorganization

The biggest time waster I see is procrastination. How often do you put off doing something just because you cannot bring yourself to sit down and do the task? And then that process snowballs and repeats itself over and over and over and over again. If you have identified procrastination as a time waster for you, try breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces. My favorite trick is to get the more difficult or boring tasks done the first thing when you walk into the office in the morning. Procrastination can kill so much of your time, but identifying it is the first step in the process to tackle this monster time waster.

2. Identify Your Time Savers

The best way to identify time savers are to think about the processes you have streamlined to get things done. This can be an email system, phone system, goal organization system, etc. Identify the things that you currently do that have you save time. But do NOT be content with the status quo; implement new time savers into your work environment and business. The best time savers are those processes that are solutions to your time wasters. Choose one time waster and think of one time saver solution. Once you have solved that problem, tackle the next time waster. This helps to not overwhelm you and it sets reasonable goals. Here are a few time saver tips:

  • Complete difficult tasks during your most productive time
  • Set priorities
  • Keep lists, check and cross out items as you complete them
  • Use a calendar and keep it in eye sight
  • Reward yourself when you accomplish difficult tasks
  • Learn to say no
  • Ask for help from co-workers, family, or friends
  • Be on time and be professional

Time is your most precious commodity as a business owner. With it, you can make strategic decisions that will directly impact the health and future of your company. Do not take this lightly; think long and hard about ways to free up time. Do not just free up time and replace it with another time waster. Remove the time wasters and replace them with time savers, and you will have saved yourself financial, moral, and physical headaches.  

SEO Insights and Tips

It is not easy to know exactly how to rank higher, because Google judges your site based on 150+ criteria. No one but Google knows the formula for ranking higher and the criteria are always changing. So if someone calls or emails you saying they know the exact mathematical formula and can get you higher on Google, they are a scam. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the trial and error businesses go through to increase their Google ranking. Although the criteria for higher SEO changes constantly, there are a few things that we know can help with your Google ranking. We will continue to add more tips and suggestions throughout time, and this will be an ever growing list.


Content

This is the number 1 thing you can do to help increase your SEO. Google is always looking for good content. So what is good content? It has to be original. You cannot copy and paste and hope that Google will like that. They won’t. Because blogs tend to have all original content, websites with blogs tend to do very well on Google. Keywords are still somewhat important, but they are not as critical as they were in the past. Google will actually penalize you if you just spam keywords all over the place. There has to be relevant context. Here are some suggestions for good content:

Content should be understood – All text on your webpage should be conversational. You should not use big words. Google does not want a college paper. The perfect grade level of simplicity should be between a 4th – 6th grade reading level.

Content should be updated – Making changes to your webpage every day doesn’t necessarily improve your SEO. But rather adding new content and pages. That is why Blog sites do well with updated content; it is new text.

Content should be unique – Google will know if you have copied and pasted from another website. Even if the content is the best content ever, if it is copied, Google will penalize you for it. Even things as copying item descriptions from your vendors will hurt your SEO.


Age of Web Address

Depending on when you registered your domain name, you can rank higher than others. This is because Google wants to know if you have withstood the test of time. Theoretically, if there are 2 businesses with the exact same product and website, the one that has had their domain name longer will appear higher on Google. On the flip side, Google wants to know that you plan to stay around for a long time. So a business with a domain name that is purchased for 2-3 years in advance will get a slight bump over those who have just purchased their domain name for one year.


Inbound Links

Inbound links are when other websites put a link back to your website. The more websites that do this for you, the better your SEO will be. There are businesses that claim to get you hundreds of inbound links for a fee, but these “farms” are frowned upon by Google and can actually hurt you. Don’t take the easy way out of this. Organically find legit websites within your network that will provide a link back to your website. And the more valuable and higher quality the website that links to you, the more valuable that inbound link will be. Google loves to see inbound link from local Chamber of Commerce websites, the Yellow Pages, and the Better Business Bureau. Try to get on their website and get an inbound link by joining those organizations.


Update Your Website

Google will actually find out how often you make changes and updates to your website. It is like a social media account...you know if a business hasn’t posted in years. Google knows the same about your website. Update it frequently. How often? It depends, and there isn’t a set in stone answer. News sites typically rank higher because they are updating content every hour, even every minute. These updates need to be made on your static pages (ex: Home page, About page, Services page, etc.). Having a blog will help with this, but you need to make changes to your other pages as well. There is a debate as to whether or not you should make changes to existing pages, or add new pages to your site. I would suggest a combination of both, but either way, these changes should involve content and words.

 

 

Managing Cash Flow

We hear this term, cash flow, thrown around a lot, but what exactly is cash flow? Basically, it is money that comes in (sales) and the money that goes out (expenses). It is the position of cash you have to cover your daily costs and pay your bills. For instance, if you make a sale for $1,000 and you receive cash payment, your cash flow is positive $1,000. If on the next day, you pay your rent for $750, your cash flow is negative $750 for that day, bringing your cash position to $250. This is a very simple illustration, but what happens when you don't receive payment on a sale for 30 days? Or what happens when you purchase inventory and don't pay your supplier for 60 days? Your cash flow is directly influenced by your accounts receivable (money people owe you), accounts payable (money you owe people), and your inventory.


Managing Accounts Receivable

Remember, accounts receivable (AR) is the money a company or person owes you. If you fix someones' sink, you might give them an invoice that is payable within 30 days. Collecting on sales is a vital driver of the operating cycle and affects your businesses cash flow. If you make a sale, but don't collect cash on that sale for 120 days, you might be low on cash, which might affect your ability to pay your bills. It is vital to improve your collection of your accounts receivables.

How to improve your collection of receivables:

  • Send out invoices as soon as a sale is made or work is completed.

  • Make it simple for your customers to pay you via credit card, PayPal, or automated electronic payments to your bank account.

  • For bigger customers, do a credit check for new customers. Order a credit report to determine whether their credit history shows any risks.

  • Set limits for customer’s credit.

  • Print your credit terms on every invoice.

  • Be sure your terms are followed. Keep track of who owes you money, send payment reminders on a regular basis, act immediately if payments are overdue, and stick to your credit terms if late payments are overdue.

  • Offer discounts for early payment to encourage customers to pay quicker.

What to do if payments are late?

  • Get in touch with customer. By letter, then phone. See if there are any problems, if they are unhappy, etc.

  • Stop any current or future work/sales for the customer until balance is paid

  • Set up payment plan that will let the customer clear the debt over time

  • Last resort, use professional collection agency


Managing Accounts Payable

Accounts payable (AP) is the money you owe when you purchase supplies, goods, services, or other items. Often times, suppliers will allow you to purchase goods on credit, in which you have to pay back in 30 or 60 days. Managing your payables can directly help your cash position, especially if you are seeing fluctuations in your sales. 

How to manage your accounts payable:

  • Keep on eye on your spending. Buy only what you need, and if sales start to decrease you need to reduce your spending to avoid cash flow issues.

  • Research multiple suppliers and review payments terms for each. If you find a better deal, your current supplier might be willing to match it.

  • Try to negotiate time. If you cashflow is tight, ask for an extended time to pay (45 days instead of 30).

  • Be sure your terms begin when you receive the complete delivery, not partial.

  • Pay within the terms. Don't pay earlier that you need to, but don't pay later that you are supposed to. If you cannot pay by the due date, contact your supplier and arrange for a payment plan.

  • When dealing with large companies, ask about paying quarterly instead of monthly.


Managing Inventory

You always want to make sure you have enough inventory on hand to satisfy customer demand. Too little can upset your customers, and too much means that you just spent cash that you could have used to pay bills. You don't want excess inventory sitting on the shelf tying up cash flow. It is important to have just the right amount of inventory, according to your market demands.

How to better manage inventory:

  • Do a thorough review of your entire inventory. Determine what items are selling and what items are not, which items are providing the best profit and which items are not, etc.

  • Take action to move out older or excess inventory. This might mean giving discounts, selling them at costs or below costs, or even donating them. The point is to free up cash so you can invest in fast turning inventory.

  • Be aware of items that you must never run out of. These basic items that your customers demand should always be in stock.

Getting a Trademark in KY

This article is taken directly from the KY Secretary of State's website and is all about trade/service marks. If you are interesting in getting a trademark, I encourage you to talk to a legal professional about it. This is just to get your started and thinking in the right direction.


What is a Trademark?

A trademark is any word, phrase, symbol, design or combination thereof used to distinguish the source of goods of one party from that of another. All dealing with trademarks on a state level are handled through the KY Secretary of State.

 

What if I Sell a Service?

There is a trademark for service based industries called a Service Mark. A service mark is the same as a trademark, except it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product. The services must be offered or provided to a party other than the applicant. The general terms "mark" and "trademark" may be used to describe both trademarks and service marks.

 

Do I Need a Trademark, Copyright, or Patent?

Patents protect inventions and improvements to inventions. Copyrights cover literary, artistic and musical works. Trademarks are brand names and/or designs that are applied to products or used in connection with services. Patents and copyrights are governed only by federal laws. Information for Patents and copyrights can be found at www.uspto.gov.

 

How Do I Acquire a Trademark?

Trademark rights are actually not acquired through the registration process. A trademark is acquired by a business through use of it in normal courses of business. You can register for your trademark, but it is not necessary.

 

Why Would I Register My Trademark?

Remember, registration does not establish rights. But there are two main benefits of registration: Primarily, registration provides conclusive notice throughout the state regarding your claim to ownership of the mark. This benefits both the owner seeking exclusive use of a mark and a trademark user who seeks to ensure that his or her mark does not conflict with a mark already in use. Secondly, registration may provide the trademark owner with procedural advantages should it become necessary to judicially enforce trademark rights. For more information regarding enforcement of trademark rights, you should consult legal counsel.

 

Does Registration with the Kentucky Secretary of State Protect My Mark in Other States?

No. Registration of a mark in this office applies only to Kentucky. This office does not cross-reference marks registered in other states or marks registered at the federal level.

 

Can I Register My Mark Federally?

For information regarding federal trademark registrations, contact the United States Patent and Trademark Office at www.uspto.govor (800) 786-9199, or by mail at Commission of Patents and Trademarks, Washington, DC, 20023.

 

When Can I Use Symbols?

These symbols, ™ and SM, which represent "trademark" and "service mark," respectively, are not used to indicate state registrations; use of these symbols indicates a claim to rights to the mark associated with the use of the symbol. There is no symbol that denotes a state registration. You can use the ™ and SM symbol when you start operating your business and using the mark. The symbol (R) can be applied only to federally registered marks.

 

How Do I Register?

You can download a Trademark/Service Mark application, or contact the Secretary of State office at (502) 564-3490 to request one by mail. You must completely and correctly fill out the application, provide three specimens showing actual use of the mark, submit a drawing of all elements of the mark and pay a fee of $10.00 per mark per class. The application must be signed in the witness of a notary public and returned to: Secretary of State, Trademarks/Service Marks, 700 Capital Ave., Ste. 152, Frankfort, KY 40601 You can download the forms here: http://www.sos.ky.gov/bus/tmandsm/Pages/Forms.aspx. You can check availability and search registered marks here: http://apps.sos.ky.gov/business/trademarks/

 

What Are The Fees for Registering a Trademark?

New Filing: $10.00 per class. Assignment: $5.00. Renewal Filing: $5.00 per class

What is SEO?

When we talk about Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, we are really talking about is being found when people search online. This is something that most people think of in a national setting, but it is a vital importance for a small local business, because your small local community will be doing online searches.

SEO is making sure attributes you put into your webpage and things you do in connection with your web presence is all tied together to make you relevant on the web. As a business you want to be found on the web, and the idea of creating relevance for your business when people search is precisely what SEO is.

Now when we say “get found on the web,” we really mean Google.  Of course, there are other search engines people use: Bing, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves (do people still use that?). The truth is that over 97% of all online searches are being done on Google, so it is a vital importance to know how Google ranks websites.

 

4 Secrets to Leadership Success

What is leadership? Many business owners are going to be asking themselves that question as they look at setting goals for their organization for 2016. Setting goals is one thing, but convincing your employees to adopt and complete those goals is another. One of the best ways to help your organization achieve goals for 2016 is to utilize your influence as a business owner.

Leadership has been defined many different ways by many different people. The best definition I have ever heard was this, “Leadership is the art of getting others to want to do something you are convinced should be done.” How does this definition help business owners become more effective in their leadership in regards to goal setting? Let’s break it down:

1)     “Art” – Leadership is not a science. It is an art. And by that we mean that there is not one perfect formula that we can replicate to create the perfect leader. Many factors might cause one particular successful leader to fail in a different environment: business industry, history of management, personality traits of employees, etc.

2)     “Getting others” – A successful leader in 2016 will not do everything themselves. Even if they had the time to, a business owner should be a master at delegation. To do this effectively, an owner must prioritize the tasks, communicate them properly, and staff the right personnel.

3)     “Want to do something” – There are a few types of leaders. One group is the authoritarian leader, who forces projects and tasks upon their following. Another group is the transformational leader, who inspires followers to action. This is the kind of leader a business owner should strive to be. Only by convincing your employees to want to accomplish a goal will the business achieve organizational success.

4)     “You are convinced” – A shared, inspired vision is only as good as the source it came from. If you, as a business owner, don’t believe your goals for 2016 are great goals, your employees will have no reason to want to accomplish those goals. The goals and vision for 2016 should be shared, coming from the top-down and valued by the business owner.

Setting goals for your organization is simple. Setting great goals is harder. Accomplishing those great goals is something else. An organization needs a leader to guide them organizational success, by empowering them to want to complete the goals that are important to the business.