It's that time of year again.  Below you'll find our list of favorite reads (and listens) of 2017. Some were published this year, some many moons ago. Some are business-focused, others flagrant fiction. So, without further achoo, here's our list of Essential Reading (and Listening) for the Small Business Owner. Most of these are my rec's, but Seth, David and Corey snuck in a few as well.

Must Read Books for Small Business Owners - 2017 Edition


Books Good for Your Business

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Mark Manson) ... Business. Life. Love. And all those gnarly in between bits. I actually drops a whopping $4 / month for the premium content on Mark's blog as well.

The Lost Art of Closing (S. Anthony Iannarino) ... Changed the way we think about taking clients from strangers to trusted partners. Breaks the sales process into a distinct chain of commitments. Required reading for B2B hustlers.

Be Obsessed or Be Average (Grant Cardone) ... everyone's favorite Scientologist. Kidding. Sort of. Seriously though, Grant's narration in the Audible version is off the hook, guidance spot-on and energy off the charts. Shattering the hustle paradigm.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Cal Newport) ... this critical perspective on productivity separates shallow work from deep work (with its flow state) has transformed our busy work days into a lifestyle of massive impact.

Re-reading: The Obstacle is the Way (Ryan Holiday) - best crash course in Stoicism out there.

 

Books Good for Your Sanity

The Bobiverse Series (Dennis E. Taylor) ... What happens when the brain of a dead, snarky software engineer is uploaded into a robot and becomes sentient and saves the universe? The Bobiverse is what happens.

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself (Michael A. Singer) ... 2017 was an awe inspiring and fear inciting year for me. One of my clients, Chris Mahne, insisted I listen to this audio book. A bit woo woo, but the best translation of eastern philosophies into something digestible by former Western bible thumpers like me.
Norse Mythology (Neil Gaiman) ... A master class in storytelling. On their own, the Norse myths are fantastical tales of Odin, Thor, Loki and a myriad of strange creatures. Retold by Neil Gaiman (the audio book is also narrated by him) the are elevated to a whole new level. My favorite story involves the human boy who challenges a giant to a footrace.

The Gone Away World (Nick Harkaway) ... Nick made my list for two of his books last year, so I figured I should read his first novel. Holy. Effing. Shite. On its own, the story of two best friends plunged into a messy war is perfectly told. Then it gets weird - mystical, surrealistic, post apocalyptic, crazy.

Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-Destructive Behavior (Richard O'Connor) ... a perfect companion to the untethered soul, this dense, compact self-help book will reveal why you keep f---ing up your life ... on a scientific level. And bonus - it covers why the people you love piss you off so much.
My Struggle (Karl Ove Knausgaard) ... This series has dominated Seth's reading list for the bulk of 2017. Here's his blurb about it: It is hard to imagine a series of books more rich in detail and unapologetic human-ness than this. In a refreshing turn in the digital age, the author offers no apologies or rationalizations for his own behavior, even/especially when he must paint himself as a villain. The result is a human life, with all the failures, mistakes, and occasional triumphs however small captured on the page. How does a book that spares no detail, even when the author is not doing anything more than cleaning a bathroom or cooking dinner, become something magical? I don't know. Maybe ask Karl Ove. Props to the translator Don Bartlett for bringing this magic into the English Language with finesse.
 

Podcasts

Welcome to Night Vale ... This podcast and its sibling members of the Night Vale Presents family are consistently weird, creepy, and entertaining. If you like dark humor, or you just want to hear Charlie Day's version of Macbeth, you'll find a lot to love.

Hello from the Magic Tavern ... Seth turned me onto this whimsical podcast hosted by a smattering of improv comedy veterans from Chicago playing Arnie and overweight nerd, Chunt a shapeshifting talking badger, and Usidore a wizard with a really long name.
Small Biz Happy Hour ... yeah, we are *that* narcissistic. That being said, it's a good listen. Insightful, Delightful and Uncensored (we even had to add the E for Explicit to the podcast feed to stay out trouble with the media).
 

Finger Tappin' Beats

NOTE: David represents the segment of our family that's allergic to books apparently. Here's his tuneful addition:?
If you work a sedentary gig and are a self-proclaimed "Jimmy Legger" like me, then you know all too well that you've gotta keep something moving. Usually, it's my right foot, jumping up and down and tapping my heal against the floor like a never-ending drum solo. The beat moves through my leg, up my torso and inevitably into one of my hands to continue the rhythm and mix up the sound, usually tapping my desk or the plastic on my laptop.
"But David, why don't you just try sitting still?". "Oh, I guess I could give that a shot" - he said with heavy sarcasm. Fact is if you're like me, sometimes the mannequin challenge is just not possible.
Luckily I've found myself a workaround wit music. If I'm gonna be working my fingers anyway (say, typing up this newsletter), I might as well focus my efforts. That leads us to my music choice of the...uh... year I guess. When I've got copy to write or anything that requires some form of thought, I prefer the Chill Step Playlist on Spotify. It's a mix of light drum and bass mixed with the occasional soft vocals. If I'm looking to power through a more monotonous task, I'll be cranking up the ALT Rock, ranging anywhere from Silversun Pickups to Queens Of The Stone Age.
Whatever gets you moving, just be sure you're going the right way.
 

Blogs, Newsletters, Shorts

These are the only newsletters we subscribe to anymore:

 

See 2016, 2015 and 2013 Versions of Small Business Owner Reading Lists

*** NOTE: Yes, we've got some juicy affiliate links buried on this post. Who knows, maybe we'll get a check for $5.66 from Amazon again.***

UPDATED: 8/18/2017

WONDERFUL-TOYSEssential Tools for the Digitally Savvy Small Business Owner

"Where does he get all those wonderful toys"
- Joker (Batman, 1989)

Seth and I get asked all the time about what's 'under the hood' at Small Biz Triage. Soooo, in the spirit of transparency, here's our current toolkit, some freebies and some we happily pay for.


Email
* GSuite - $5/user/month
Storage
* Google Drive - aka our collective digital consciousness. $9.99 / month for 1TB package.
* Dropbox – slowly phasing this out, but for clients with image-heavy needs, it’s been helpful. $9.99/month.
Project & Task Management
* Zoho Projects - doesn't quite check off all the boxes we'd wish for in a project management tool, but is the closest we've found without being over-featured.
CRM / Sales Tools
* Pipedrive - $25/month/user - Awesome as a standalone CRM, but soon to be replaced in full by Accello
Computers & Hardware
* Windows 10 - desktop and laptop
* Acer 14 Chromebook
* Android Phone and now a jailbroken iPhone
* Logitech ClearChat Comfort USB Headset
* A cheap printer
Accounting
* Freshbooks – best small biz accounting platform ever (for now)… $29.95 / month. Seth and I even have non-business accounts to manage our personal finances. The sad news is that we’re not terribly psyched about the new interface, so about the time they force us to switch our biz account over is about the time this may be transferred to the “this sucks now” heap. We are working on figuring how Zoho can fully replace the need for freshbooks.
Website (CMS, Plugins, etc…)
CMS: WordPress
THEMES: Divi Builder ($89/year)
PLUGINS:
* WooCommerce
* WooCommerce Subscriptions ($200/year)
* WooCommerce Authorize.net CIM ($29/year)
* WooCommerce Freshbooks Integration ($79/year)
* WooCommerce Google Analytics Integration - Free
* WooCommerce Order Status Control ($29/year)
* WooCommerce Order Status Manager ($29/year)
* Disable Comments – will disable comments site-wide … an oddly difficult task to do manually with older posts – free
* MonsterInsights - free (replaces Google Analytics by Yoast)
* Gravity Forms ($199/year) - best MailChimp <> WordPress integration on the market, hands-down
* SendGrid for WordPress - free plugin, $79/year for the dedicated IP
* Yoast SEO - free
Google Chrome Extensions
* AdBlock - Free
* Awesome Screenshot ($19.99/year)
* Facebook Pixel Helper from LeadsBridge - Free
* Inbox When Ready for Gmail - Free
* LastPass ($12/user/year x 5 users)
* RescueTime ($72/year)
* Timer - Free
* Uberconference ($15/user/month x 5 users)
* Wappalyzer- Free
* ColorZilla – free
Services (human and digital)
Iubenda – a slick privacy policy generator – $27 / year
* ScheduleOnce – see it in action here. This tool has tripled our rate of emails >>> meetings. $19/month/user (we have 6 users)
* Wells Fargo for banking
* FattMerchant for merchant services - $79/month + fees
* Authorize.net for online payment processing - $29/month
* Audible.com – cheaper than an MBA, and probably more effective. Our road-tripping addictions are fueled by some great audio books (see them on our Annual Reading List). $14.95/month
* Upwork.com freelancers ... we've paid $6 - $66/hr for all sorts of things there.
* Fiverr - quick and dirty logos
* Dialpad - $49/month - 2-lines
* RocketLawyer - $59.95/month
* Business Insurance - The Hartford
Website Hosting
* WP Engine – if your business relies on the uptime and speed of your WordPress sites, than this is a must have. A bit costly, however, the site speed bump (which is great for SEO), killer automated backup setup, and one-click staging server creation makes it worth it. $29/month/site.
* GoDaddy - for parking our domains, typically $14.99/domain/year
* CloudFlare - DNS Management - free
Software
* FileZilla – best FTP client out there – free
* Office 365 - $9.99/month for the team – only use it for Word and Excel, and rarely. Still handy to have in specific situations. Otherwise, Libre Office is a fine and free substitute.
* Google Chrome – lean, fast-loading and awesome extensions – free
* GIMP – poor man’s Photoshop. Steep learning curve, but handles basic – free
* EditPad Lite – best text editor out there. And free.
* XnView – slick tool for managing high-volume, monotonous image editing tasks - free
Notable Exclusions … what we don’t use (anymore)
* Join.me
* Gusto
* Zenefits


Our Favorites of 2017

1) ScheduleOnce - this tool has transformed our business, eliminating email ping pong trying to nail down a meeting time. And its joint availability feature is clutch. We've been using this service for years now and they have never given us any reason to look for a replacement.
2) WP Engine - for WordPress super users, this will be a breath of fresh air. Hosting optimized for WordPress, slick back-up setup and a ridiculously easy staging server system.
3) Divi - Makes everyone look good, even people who have no business messing around with code.
4) Google Drive - Still crazy reliable after all these years.
5) Corey the Goddamn Canadian - Not technically a "tool", more like a maniac mechanic, and easily a 2017 top five fave to the rest of us.


That's it for now. We'll update this occasionally as we upgrade and swap out tools.
For more of our toolkit, check out our updated Essential Reading List for the Small Biz Owner
 
 

* Yes, there's a handful of affiliate links buried above. These are products we actually buy.

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It's that time of year again.  Below you'll find our list of favorite reads of 2016. Some were published this year, some many moons ago. Some are business-focused, others flagrant fiction. So, without further achoo, here's our list of Essential Reading for the Small Business Owner.

Must Read Books for Small Business Owners - 2016 Edition


Books Good for Your Business

decisive-book-cover*** Our Top Pick ***

Decisive
by Chip & Dan Heath
Willpower is a muscle that must be fed, exercised and rested. "Decision Fatigue" has inserted my regular lexicon of business vocabulary.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Charles Duhigg) ... hat tip to James Clear for recommending this gem. More than any other advice I've received this year, The Power of Habit transformed how I plan and execute my days and my life. It's even affected my parenting, helping build structure into my autistic daughter's life using habit stacking.

The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King (Rich Cohen)... Sam Zemmurri was willing to start actual WARS to grow his business. The best biography I've ever read, hands-down. From poor man, to businessman, to kingpin, this guy's story includes all of the do's (and don'ts) for true entrepreneurs.

Re-read: Pitch Anything (Oren Klaff) ... had a chance to work with Oren last month. A master class in presentation and negotiating.

Re-read: The 10X Rule (Grant Cardone) ... loudmouth, aggressive AND a Scientologist. What's NOT to love about this guy? For serious though, weed through the bombastic ego rambles, and there's some mega-valuable stuff in here for anyone who wants to really GROW their business.

Re-read: The Art of War (Sun Tzu) ... I find myself regurgitating his advice to clients almost weekly. Specifically, the importance of not engaging in 'fair fights' with your competition and the critical role of agility in business models.

Re-read: The Obstacle is the Way (Ryan Holiday) ... well, big surprise - I am (now) an unapologetic Stoic.

 

Books Good for Your Sanity

something-more-than-night-coverSomething More Than Night (Ian Tregillis) ... an angel posing as a noir gumshoe in modern 'merica. Need I say more.

How to live safely in a science fictional universe (Charles Yu) thought I was getting a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy spin-off. Instead a tribute from a son to his father seen through the lens of a world where time traveling machines spurred an entire new class of blue-collar repairmen with daddy issues.

The Searcher (Simon Toyne) ... this guy writes like I wish I could. A classic story of a small town that turned to drugs to survive, that needed a mystical something to save them. Reminiscent of that 90's TV Show the Pretender, just way better and set in a scary beautiful desert.

Dark Matter (Blake Crouch) - didn't think it was possible to write a love story about multi-dimensional travel. This one got me thinking about love, life and quantum physics.

Angelmaker (Nick Harkaway)... about a clockmaker who saves the world. I think.

Tigerman (Nick Harkaway) ... Nick Harkaway is the only writer to show up twice in my list. And for good reason - he is GOOD. I found this gem on the recommended shelf at the semi-ghetto Butte County Library here in Chico. Semi-retired military man semi-stranded on a semi-populated island surrounded by semi-sane residents and a local volcano that spurs the semi-hero into action.

The Aeronaut's Windlass (Jim Butcher)... I've been a lover of steampunk ever since Billy Gold introduced me to it via one of my first product launches (Otaku Tea) many moons ago. Air pirates, giant spiders, romance, c'mon!

Welcome to Nightvale (Nightvale Presents) This podcast and its sibling members of the Nightvale Presents family are consistently weird, creepy, and entertaining. If you like dark humor, or you just want to hear Charlie Day's version of Macbeth, you'll find a lot to love. Not actually a book, though there are some Welcome to Nightvale books available.

 

level-up-your-lifeBlogs, Newsletters, Shorts

These are the only newsletters we subscribe to anymore:

Honorable Mentions

The Only Sales Guide You'll Ever Need - Iannarino, Anthony
The man behind one of my favorite newsletters has assembled his body of knowledge into a little red book. A bit on the dense, academic side, however, it is essential reading for anyone that finds themselves thrust into a sales role (which happens to EVERY small business owner at one point or another). The "chain of commitments" chapter is absolute gold.


... here's the 2015 version

Must Read Books for Small Business Owners

Anything You Want by Derek Sivers. Essential reading for those struggling with merging their business and their lifestyle with minimal mental, emotional and/or fiscal injury. Calling this book life-changing would be an understatement. Here's a great piece by Derek to give you a taste of his refreshing approach to business. And while you are at it, read Kevin Kelly's frequently stolen quoted philosophy on 1,000 True FansNotably this book is the only one that has made an appearance in all of our reading lists.
Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. Frame control, the psychology of decision making and the importance of sequence in sales ... boom!
Sell or Be Sold by Grant Cardone.  He's an unapologetic hustler, sales phenom and Scientologist. But don't let that scare you away. The advice Grant drops in this book is CRITICAL to anyone with a product or service to sell - I learned (and now teach) his core tenet of prioritizing activities with massive impact. The audio version is entertaining as f*** too.
The Fish That Ate the Whale by Rich Cohen. This biography of Sam Zemurray (the 'banana king') can easily be THE playbook for dominating an entire industry. His hustle and persistence is as inspiring. His moral flexibility (financing multiple wars to sell more bananas) horrifying. A good companion piece to the Obstacle is the Way, highlighting the upsides and downsides of Stoic business practices.
Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. I've been sharing Simon's "Golden Circle" TED talk with damn near everyone I know. He takes that same approach and tackles the subject of leadership. His explanations of the happiness chemicals blew me away.
The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday. A primer on the Stoics dressed up for modern readers by marketing badass Ryan Holiday (Trust Me I'm Lying).  The idea of framing obstacles as opportunities complements Warren Buffet's 'moat' concept beautifully.
BONUS: this article by Robert Bruce helped pull me out a serious bout of small biz owner depression, and helped me learn to love my job again - Why Everyone Hopes You'll be The Hero.
DOUBLE BONUS: Seth prefers more fictional and, um, weirder books than what you'll typically find me reading. Here's his short list, fiction and non-fiction, and why:
The Maddaddam Trilogy  by Margaret Atwood. I needed a bit of listening material for our 4000+ mile road trip this summer, and Seth insisted the audio books for this series would be worth the asking price. Let's just say that between the spooky near future apocalypse and fictional hymns sung by the narrator, these kept me wide eyed, alert, and my driving companion David mildly alarmed for a majority of our summer mileage.
Reality Hunger  by David Shields. Haven't read this one yet, but Seth swears by this manifesto as a benchmark for great writing and great appropriation of the writing of others. Has the experience of this odd gem drastically affected his copy writing? If you're familiar with the book and follow our newsletter, you will easily identify the growing influence this book has had on his writing over time. Not every business owner needs to invest time in developing their writing skills, but for those that do or wish to, Seth really wants you to read this one.

Must Read Blogs & Newsletters for Small Business Owners

CodeinWP - Transparency Reports - it is so rare to see a company reveal the epic fails (and associated fixes) in their business. CodeinWP's Transparency reports have helped us (and by proxy our clients) to shift towards more data-driven business, versus just winging it.

The Sales Blog - "boring gets results" "move the big rock" "sales is a series of commitments" ... These phrases have become part of my daily vocabulary because of S. Anthony Iannarino's daily blog. Some of his stuff is focused a bit on corporate sales, but the vast majority of the content applies perfectly to small business owners.
James Clear - "incremental gains" is my favorite takeaways from this writer / productivity expert's weekly essay. His essay on Sisu (a.k.a. grit) is incredible.
Nerd Fitness - I'm not even a nerd (more of a geek), but this newsletter is just so damn enjoyable to read. The benchmark for building a human community via digital channels.
Uncensored Advice for the Small Biz Owner - Seth has transformed our boring little newsletter into a sweeping epic of hard earned advice punctuated by epic (and sometimes public) fails. "Happiness is a Warm Bun" is my current bookmarked fave.
BONUS: New Poems on The Page, various authors. According to Seth, poetry is the study of words in their most memorable combinations. That's not the definition of poetry I've heard so he probably made it up. Want your product name, slogan, website copy or label copy to be memorable? According to Seth, you should read some poetry sometime. The Page is a blog where you can find links to new poems by today's modern masters of the craft.


... here's the 2013 version

I'm a flagrant plagiarizer.

Violently pulling other people's witty quotes into conversations, sales pitches, training calls, emails, job posts and articles, my filthy habit has been catching up to me:

"Nate, I loved that bit about not leaving any interaction on the table."

"Oh really?"

"Yah, it really helped me pull it all together. You know, like glue"

<awkward pause ............ guilt sets in and I start sobbing uncontrollably ... on the inside>

"IT'S NOT MINE. I totally stole it from Gary Vaynerchuk. I know, I know. I'm a FRAUD!"

Then a few weeks later I resume my thieving habits until guilt once again gets the better of me. So I'm gonna do something about it - publish my reading list, my fountain of inspiration. I'm sure I'll slip up a bit, but I can always salve my conscience by letting folks know,

"Yah, I wrote about my unknowing mentors on my blog" and sleep well that night.

Anyways, enough rambling. Here 'tis (disclaimer: none of the links are affiliate - an unwillingness to drop a few bucks for a few centuries of collective knowledge is ridiculous. If you are really hard-up I can use the Amazon Kindle Loan program to let you read my e-copy. Just shoot me an email and ask nicely. I'll certainly give you shit for being a cheapskate, but I'll still hook you up):


Gary Vaynerchuk's Keynote @ the Inc 500 conference - it's long but worth watching all the way through - twice. And if you are hungry for more, snag a copy of his book The Thank You Economy, which directly inspired my oft-used  (and proudly un-plagiarized) principle - INJECT HUMANITY BACK INTO YOUR BUSINESS.

Anything You Want ($5.99 Kindle) by Derek Sivers. Essential reading for those struggling with merging their business and their lifestyle with minimal mental, emotional and/or fiscal injury. Calling this book life-changing would be an understatement. Here's a great piece by Derek to give you a taste of his refreshing approach to business. And while you are at it, read Kevin Kelly's frequently stolen quoted philosophy on 1,000 True Fans.

Rework ($11.99 Kindle) by Jason Fried. Written by the founders of 37 Signals - the company that makes Basecamp (which we are super-fans of here at Small Biz Triage), this business book pulls no punches and takes no prisoners.

I Will Teach You to Be Rich ($9.39 Kindle) by Ramit Senthi. The king of the side-hustle and a magician with money. A good place to start if you are considering starting a business. And while I'm at it, Here's a some cool guides I've collected over the years on bootstrapping your business. And speaking of bootstrapping, check out this hilariously raw piece on Parasite Enterpreuneurism by Po Bronson - he's the Bear Grylls of bootstrapping.

Everything I need to know about startups, I learned from a crime boss
Sebastian Marshall's Blog (free) - epic stuff on productivity. Can be a bit heavy for beginners, so consider starting with Leo Babauta's Zen Habits as a warm-up. Or you can just skip to the ninja-level stuff with Sebastian by reading his philosophy shattering article: The Million Dollar Question.

Chuck Blakeman's Blog (free) - read ALL of his blogs. Seriously. If you are pressed for time start here to learn what nearly all of my clients get wrong (until they get it right - with a little nudge)

And saving the best for last - this article by Robert Bruce helped pull me out a serious bout of small biz owner depression, and helped me learn to love my job again - Why Everyone Hopes You'll be The Hero.


*** NOTE: Yes, we've got some affiliate links buried on this post. Who knows, maybe we'll get a check for $5.64 from Amazon again.***

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If your business sells a product, packaging is something you have to seriously consider.  In today's market, companies are investing more and more into creative packaging design, particularly when it comes to special holiday and seasonal packaging. Coming up with new packaging designs for each season is a big investment for small businesses not just in terms of money, but also in time, creative manpower, distribution and more. Is the potential payoff of investing in seasonal packaging for your product really worth it?

Seasonal Packaging: Is it Really Worth it For Small Business?

Grimes Packaging Company in Florida did some research and created the infographic below to find out if seasonal packaging campaigns are really ROI driven. As it turns out, seasonal packaging is not always a slam dunk, with some of the biggest gaffes coming from huge brands like Coke and Hershey's. While big businesses like these can weather a seasonal setback, small businesses have to get their seasonal marketing campaigns right the first time. 

Special Seasonal Packaging in the Craft Beer Industry

The effect that good seasonal packaging can have on a business is seen in the craft brewery industry. Craft beer sales go up every year and 20% of these sales are seasonal, according to data found by Grimes Packaging. Relatively smaller beer companies like Shiner use seasonal packaging to make their more expensive product stand out against the bigger, usually cheaper beer brands. How? By not only using seasonal colors and themes, but also by making their packaging interactive, even including pop-out coasters. According to Grimes, interactive and even personalized packaging is a growing trend among companies trying to gain market share for their usually more expensive specialty products. 

 

With good seasonal packaging, a small business can potentially stand up to the big boys on the shelves and maybe even grab a bigger slice of the (pumpkin) pie. You never know—when a potential customer is trying to decide between buying your product or your competitor's it may all come down to something as simple as whether they like your packaging or not. 

 

Seasonal Packaging

handshake

There is no such thing in the business world as loyalty, and it has to be earned fair and square. To keep your customers coming back, you need to offer superior product and make it shine brighter than those of the competition.

A loyal consumer will not hesitate to pay a little extra in order to enjoy such a commodity and will provide a free word of mouth promotion. People are quite good at convincing themselves that they actually need what they crave for. Your job is to anticipate their wants and give them a reason to need your product and service. 

Building in progress

The milestone of a business project to create and expand a loyal customer base is the brand building process. Brand is your company’s character and personality, and the promise you take on yourself to deliver to your customers. Crafting it takes time, resources and a specific set of skills, but the long-term benefits are unparalleled, and will make it all more than worth it.

What most customers crave for is a personalized approach that empowers them and makes them feel special.  Opening the communications channels for their feedback, concerns and opinions is one of the best ways to achieve this. In a digital age, online avenues are teeming with potential customers and provide numerous opportunities for marketing.

Thus, you should establish a strong and distinctive online presence. The number of active mobile devices is higher than the number of people on the globe as of last year, and modern customers expect every brand to have an appealing and responsive website.  They want the problems to be fixed as soon as possible, and do not like their complaints to fall on deaf ears.

Interactive and interconnected

Human interaction is not made obsolete, though. On the contrary, it remains a foundation of positive consumer experience. One misstep could cost you a customer that you invested a lot of time and energy in. Your reputation is only as good as your last contact with the individual or a group, and bad news travel far and wide. A bulk of customers claims that bad customer service experience is the prime reason for abandoning a brand.

So, providing service excellence is the way to go. Always make an effort to go an extra mile and meet the needs and wants of your customers.  There are even some cases when companies would refund them for products that they do not even sell. The reason is that they knew they had the right customer to keep the connection with.

This is all impossible to imagine without dedicated and focused employees.  It is important to know the product inside and out, but it takes much more than that to win the hearts of people. Hence, a customer service refresher course might be a good idea, and everyone on board should be aware that every situation with a shopper is unique. Be prepared also to review your workflow and identify potential system limitations that could turn away new customers.

All the previous steps might not be worth a dime if you overlook some crucial aspect like a secure and reliable payment method. Nobody wants a company that does not know how to mitigate the risks and make money transactions efficient. This can be accomplished using an escrow, for example, a financial instrument that is used for funds, securities, and other assets. This gives sales a serious boost and keeps the customers happy, something that could get any business off the ground.

Loyalty not guaranteed

Developing a customer’s loyalty is an ongoing process without one-size-fits-all solutions.  Never take your clients for granted, and do not think that your position on the market is cemented.  Increase the brand awareness and enhance the customer service. Add a little to more to every product and service because even a small adjustment can make or break a company.

Communication works both ways, so stay flexible, be on time and pay attention to detail. See the world through the eyes of the buyers for it is the only way to win and keep a loyal customer.  And that is, hands down, the best customer there is.

Whether you're new to freelancing or a seasoned veteran, new tools to help you optimize your operations crop up every day. We've covered quite a few of these in the past, from Buffer and Hootsuite to Extensions for Google Chrome. For the full run down, you are more than welcome to peruse our "Preach what we practice" series on the blog.

Yeah, there's quite a bit of territory to cover in that blog category. Feel overwhelmed? DON'T PANIC.

Our perennial favorite accounting tool, Freshbooks, has provided a great starter guide that is already outselling the Encyclopedia Galactica everywhere fictional space encyclopedias are sold. With their Freelancer's guide to the galaxy, you'll be feeling like the hoopy frood you are in no time. Share and enjoy!

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This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy. - Douglas Adams

This week we've got something to help out any business owner that is experiencing growing pains: recruiting new staff. Here in this guest post, you'll find the essentials to get you started. -Seth

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The recruitment process can be a long-drawn out procedure that can cause even the most tolerant of company bosses to get a headache. However, there are some effective measures that can be taken into account to make the recruitment process much easier, and that is exactly what we are going to look into now.

Step 1 – Where Are You Listing The Job?

One of the most important points in an effective recruitment process is having a well written job description and knowing where to post it. In an age where technology is the driving force for communication you should be looking at social media platforms as one of the fundamental port-of-calls. Here you can utilize hashtags, spread the message to key influencers and find many people who are looking for a job.

You need to find out what you recruitment goal is, what are you hoping to achieve at this point. A great staffing agency in Syracuse, Staffworks CNY came up with 3 main objectives that an employer should be looking at:

Step 2 – Take Every CV into Consideration

Just because certain CV’s may not look appealing at first site, or some go on to a couple of pages, you need to vet each individual one on a merit-by-merit basis. You don’t want to overlook a CV when it could be the perfect candidate that you have been looking for.
Take your time to analyse each CV before you begin moving onto the interview process.

(Ed. Note/Full Disclosure: We don't typically ask to see resume in our own recruitment process here at SBT. Because a good writer is not easy to find and is a primary skill we look for, a well written cover letter is enough for us to decide if we want to move on to an interview or not. Your business likely has different demands, and asking to see a resume is generally a good thing to do. They may not reveal the full picture, but can give you a jumping off point to dig deeper during your interview)

Step 3 – Questions to Ask at The Interview Stage

(Another Ed. Note: While refining my own interview process, I came across a philosophy that figures the best way to recruit a candidate that is the right fit for your company is to a) treat them like a human being, b) remember to sell your company to them, give them a reason to want to work for you more than others, and c) forget the questions and just have a conversation. I really like this philosophy, but its a little too advanced for me at this point. If I had a better second nature for questions and comments that would dispense with any prepared answers and tell me what I want to know, I'd be practicing that philosophy instead of what I do now, which is rely on pre-thought out questions and my notes.)

When it comes to preparing questions for an interview, there is a general set of questions that most companies will ask a prospective candidate, and they are questions that are used frequently for many reasons.

These tend to be:

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

What you want to ascertain from this question is how well a candidates personal and employment history best matches them to the job. You are looking for what they can tell you about their accomplishments and achievements.

What are your weaknesses?

Now this one is quite an intimidating question to ask, and you can often tell a lot by a candidate’s body language when asking them this. Remember, everyone has a weakness that they can improve on so you are looking to see what their main weakness is, backed up by how they are looking to turn it into strength.

(Yup, it's an Ed. Note: I don't believe there's an answer to this question that isn't at least partially B.S. Instead, try asking them about their last job and what they like or didn't like.)

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

This is another key question that puts the candidate on the spot, you want to know If they are going to be dedicated to the job, if they have realistic life expectations and you can gauge the candidates ambitions, goal and growth from just the answer they give to this question.

There are plenty of other questions that can be asked, and they all find out different parts of a candidates personality and character, it’s also a good idea to throw in some less known questions to see how they handle themselves with an answer that they may not have prepared for.

Step 4–Question to Ask When Getting References

In an age where new rules and regulations have been brought in, a former employer can’t give a bad reference to an employer, only a good one. Whilst saying nothing at all obviously contributes to a bad reference, there are questions you can ask in order to get a better understanding of a candidates experience and skills.

Perhaps the biggest question will be to asked are:

What was his or her reason for leaving?

You are looking to determine what the specific cause was here, and if you can extract any information to how they terminated their contract at their previous company.

Is there anything I should take into consideration before hiring?

This questions leaves the field completely open for a candidates previous employer to express anything to you (remember they can’t be negative, but you can get a lot of information from posing this question).

Contributed by: Staffworks CNY, a staffing agency based in Syracuse. Staffworks believes that companies success lies in experienced industry professionals that manage and staffed offices with the right candidates. We help them to find right people for their workplace and provide various services like temporary staffing to professional placement, payroll and group benefit services.

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I’d like to thank Small Biz Triage for giving me the opportunity to guest post on their website. This is an excellent resource for small business owners with lots of great programs and information. It is full of great information, such as this awesome article full of money saving tips for small business owners. Whether you’re an industry pro, or a budding entrepreneur, Small Biz Triage has the tools and information to help you succeed.

Thanks to the advancement of mobile technologies, increasingly more people are finding ways to live the dream and work right from home. More positions open up for telecommuting jobs every day; even entry level positions are rapidly becoming available, and people are turning their 30-minute commute into a groggy walk through their living room. The implications of this changing tide are huge, and the revolution is far from over.

As more people enjoy the convenience of working from home though, there comes its own set of struggles. While working from home is convenient and comfortable, it can also be a nightmare for those who are easily distracted and attempt to multitask.

If you’re already telecommuting, or are just jumping in, setting up a home office is absolutely critical to your success. With kids, cleaning, dinner, and family visits, it can be difficult to separate your working hours from your personal time, and the desire to conquer everything at once can often leave you with absolutely nothing accomplished at the end of the day.

Setting aside a space for yourself to focus on the task at hand will give the same sense of discipline that you would need while working in an office, but with rules and schedules that you set and enforce for yourself. Here are a few tips for creating a practical and functional space to get your work done and keep your mind on the tasks at hand.

#1 – Limit Distractions

This should go without saying, but there are a surprising number of home offices with dart boards and mini fridges in them, and it’s hard to say that’s terribly necessary. By creating a space that is designed solely for work and leaving out any items that may tempt you to distract yourself, you’re more likely to stay on task longer and be more productive.

By all means, stay hydrated, and eat a balanced meal before heading into your office for the day, but having snacks at your disposal just invites mindless eating and encourages breaks that may be unnecessary. If you’re that hungry, you can make a trip to the kitchen.

While fun desktop puzzles and knickknacks are a cool way to add some personality to your workspace, in the end, you’re just going to wind up spending twenty minutes working on a Rubix cube or trying to beat your score on Candy Crush. Nix the entertainment–this is a workspace, not a lounge.

Another simple thing you can do to limit your distractions is to simply have a door in place. When you’re working, keep it shut.

#2 – Get Functional Furniture

The really fun part of setting up your home office is getting the furniture together to create a space that’s truly designed to facilitate productivity from that big, brilliant brain of yours. Furniture that’s both design conscious and functional serves to keep you organized and comfortable, and makes your workspace more of a work retreat.

Choose pieces carefully though, making sure to place function before form. An ergonomic desk chair is worth the investment, so shop carefully for one that’s going to keep you comfortable long enough for you to accomplish something. Many people are even opting for exercise balls in place of conventional chairs; just make sure yours is big enough to put you at the proper height to reach your keyboard.

Desks with ample storage are ideal, with plenty of drawers to keep files, electronic devices, and stationary close at hand. Try to go with something that offers enclosed storage rather than just open shelving, which tends to collect dust and clutter and can really be difficult to keep organized.

Depending on your type of work, other items you may want to consider putting in your office are bookcases, file cabinets, a printer stand, and of course, a great clock to tie it all together and keep you on schedule.

#3 – Keep Your Connection Secure

One major part of working from home is making sure that your connection is secure and private. This is absolutely critical to protecting not only the privacy of your personal information, but the integrity of your work, and the professionalism of your business. Set up a home Wi-Fi network that is closed to the public and properly secured.

Start by adjusting your router’s settings, and adding a username and password to your network. The default name on most routers is a dead giveaway of the ISP, and most hackers—and even regular Joe’s—can guess your password pretty easily. Turn your network sharing settings off, and if you can, keep your network from popping up in Network Discovery options.

Another easy way to protect and secure your connection is to set up VPN software on your home and mobile devices. Once installed, this software gives you a securely encrypted connection on a remote server and allows you to use online resources and tools without the fear of your data being intercepted. Set up is easy, and these plans usually don’t cost more than $10 per month.

VPNs are also a great cost-saving measure too. If you’re using VoIP services, you can actually make cheaper long distance calls by selecting a server in the country or region you’re trying to call. You can avoid hefty long distance fees and still make all of those conference calls.

#4 – Set a Schedule

Just like with a regular job, those who work from home should also set themselves a defined schedule to help them stay on track. If you have a family, make this schedule public knowledge; post it on the refrigerator, and talk about it with your kids. Explain that this is your working time, and you will be unavailable during those hours.

If you have friends and family nearby who like to drop in occasionally, make it equally apparent to them that your work has to come first. You can even have a sign on hand to hang on your door to politely let visitors know that you’re unavailable.

If you have children, look into hiring professional help. While it’s tempting to multitask your way through a work day, the reality is that looking after a family while working can usually set you back in your professional goals and ultimately affect your bottom line. It will help keep you sane, and ensure your kids get the attention and care they need while you provide for them.

#5 – Create a Climate for Efficiency

Once you get the big hurdles out of the way, such as furniture and childcare, it’s time to fine tune your workspace. Make sure you have the means of keeping the temperature comfortable, and do what you must to adjust it. Have desktop fans in place, make sure windows open, and for chilly winter months, look into things such as space heaters and electric blankets.

Take a look at your lighting too, and make sure you have enough to avoid straining your eyes. Soft, incandescent desk lamps, in addition to overhead lighting, will give your eyes a break from the harshness of your computer screen. Whenever possible, allow natural light into the room; it’s been clinically shown to improve moods!

Keep your office clean and fresh, setting aside a day for cleaning, dusting, and vacuuming. Keep air circulating to avoid mustiness, and add some aromatherapy to keep the place inviting, but still productive. Look for awakening scents such as peppermint and lemongrass.

If you’re reading this, then kudos to you, you’ve found the holy grail and discovered a way to work from the four walls of your own home. Follow these tips, add some personal flair, and you’ll have a secure, productive workspace that invites you to get the job done.

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If you’re a small business owner, chances are you’ve purchased a surety bond. If you’re just getting started on the journey of small business ownership, it’s likely you’ll need to purchase a surety bond in the near future. Either way, you should know exactly what a surety bond is, why you’re buying one, and what can happen if you aren’t bonded.

First, you should understand how surety bonds work. All surety bonds are made of three parts:

  1. Principal - This is you or whoever is buying the bond. You’re guaranteeing your business’s future performance.
  2. Obligee - This is the entity requiring the bond, typically the government. They want to guarantee your business will follow all rules and regulations they’ve set.
  3. Surety - The surety is the insurance company that backs the bond and provides the line of credit should a claim be filed and proven against the surety.

So what happens when your business isn’t bonded? A lot of the time, potential customers won’t even give you a second look. Not being bonded often indicates unreliability, especially if you’re a contractor or car dealer. Getting bonded can be a simple, pain-free process, and knowing the basics puts you miles ahead of the competition.

If you’re not bonded, you’re going to face challenges. First and foremost, you could be breaking the law. Many businesses are required by law to purchase surety bonds and often business licenses won’t be issued without proof that the would-be owner has the bond. By checking to see what your state requires, you’ll save yourself a lot of legal trouble. Then, if you fail to adhere to your industry’s laws and regulations in any way, you might end up being sued because the claimant has no surety bond to file a claim against. And again, you may already be breaking the law by not having a surety bond...it can be an ugly cycle.

You may have heard about what happened with nail salons in New York City recently. Many of the city’s over 7,000 nail salons were revealed to be severely mistreating their employees in a two-part series published in the New York Times. They are underpaid, overworked, and exposed to dangerous fumes and chemicals for hours every day. Many employees are often forced to pay fees before they even begin working with salon owners claiming such practices as means for covering training costs for inexperienced workers. In some cases, starting pay was as little as $10 a day.

If those businesses had been required to be bonded, the employees could have filed claims against the bonds and been compensated for their unpaid hours. Fortunately, new regulations are being implemented that will require nail salons to purchase wage bonds guaranteeing that employees will be paid a fair wage. New York took it a step further and made operating an unlicensed nail salon a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $2,500 fine and up to six months of jail time. The law was passed on June 18, 2015.

If you’re a contractor, you’re going to deal with bonds quite often. Contractor bonds, which can vary by city, ensure that contractors are adhering to all applicable ordinances and are usually required to become licensed. Then there are several types of construction bonds you might need to get throughout the project, like a maintenance bond, which guarantees against defective materials and workmanship for a certain period of time after the work is completed.

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Typically contractor licenses require being bonded. A smart consumer is going to thoroughly research their contractor before signing a contract and they’ll pass over you if your license has lapsed or your bond has expired or defaulted. Contracting nightmares are a dime a dozen and horror stories have made clients much more wary of who they trust to take on something as important as a home remodel. If you’re already bonded and knowledgeable about which bonds you may need as the project continues, you’re going to stand out to potential clients as the trustworthy, reliable choice.

So how do you get bonded? Just call a surety bond provider and they’ll get you a quote. If you know what bond type you need, great! If not, the surety provider will be able to help you determine what you need, or you can take a look at this map. Click on your state to see what bonds are offered. Usually you can get a quote within one or two business days and your bond a few days after that.

It’s important that your business is operating within the law and fulfilling its licensing requirements. It’s also valuable for you, as a business owner, to know exactly why you’re purchasing a bond and why your business needs it. Customers are savvier than ever and researching businesses they patronize is easier than ever, so make it easy for them to choose you: know your licensing requirements, get bonded, and get down to business.

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Everywhere you turn you will hear people talking about negotiation. It has become one of the “in” words and is often associated with big company deals or inter-country politics. In fact, negotiation is a part of everyone’s lives and is undertaken daily. You will notice that every day interactions involve discussing options with someone and agreeing to take a certain path. This may be a promotion path, the way to finish a project or even as simple as what time you will be home for tea. Every time you engage in a consultation exercise with someone you are, in fact, negotiating to achieve the best possible outcome for everyone involved.

Why aren’t your current skills working? Believe it or not, it is always possible to improve your negotiating skills and the following tips will help you to become a better negotiator:

The 3 key steps every negotiator should master

Engaging in a negotiation means engaging in a conversation. For the meeting to end on good terms, the people involved must reach a mutually favorable agreement. Here are three basic steps you should learn to master.

  1. Your own objectives - It is vital that you know what you want and need from any negotiation. You should also be aware of what the worst offer is that you would be prepared to accept and what your options are if this is not met.
  2. The other party’s objectives - Knowing what the other party wants before you negotiate will enable you to look at ways in which it might be possible for both parties to walk away from a meeting happy. It will also provide you an insight into how they operate and where they might be able to be flexible. You will then be able to build your argument around this and provide them with a satisfactory alternative which they are unable to resist.
  3. Basis for negotiation - Once you know what you want and what they want you will need to know why. If the other party has called the meeting there will be a reason for it and this may be fundamental to obtaining a good result.

Overcome your fears

Most business people have a baseless fear of negotiation. This is probably founded on a lack of perceived experience and a fear of being asked a question that you cannot answer. Provided you have prepared for the meeting this is unlikely to happen. If you know your subject then you will be able to work out the best answer to any question.

Make smart choices

Every negotiation is actually just about choices. You have your needs in mind and you should also be aware of what you are prepared to concede in order to get your demands met. Sometimes this choice may even be that you must walk away from a deal. There is little point in doing a deal when there is no benefit to you. Knowing your options before a negotiation will make this difficult but possible decision.

Think creatively

No matter how well prepared you are for a meeting you must be able to keep your mind open to new possibilities. It is often the case that the most obvious or logical route is not the best. A creative approach can allow you to see and exploit options that may not normally have been considered. You must remember that the same approach will not work in every negotiation.

Appreciate constructive criticism

There is little doubt that the other party will make an attack on your plan of action. You should remember that this is not a personal attack. Likewise you should never launch a personal attack, always keep your focus on the options and the discussion not the people involved in getting a solution.

After any negotiation, whether successful or not you should take the time to evaluate the proceedings and see where things could have gone differently. You should do this as soon as possible after a meeting to ensure you have the facts straight in your head. This will provide an excellent opportunity to improve your negotiation skills for next time. It takes time for someone to master the art of negotiation; the good news is practice makes perfect. The more you learn the better chances to have to succeed.

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Oceanside, CA
Glendale, CA
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