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An Insight on Small Business Management, Financing, and Marketing provided by Apple Capital Group, Inc.

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5 Secrets of Sales Superstars

While I have done my share of sales, like I’m sure you have, I would never call myself a “sales superstar.” Fortunately, in my line of business, I get to meet many people who do in fact fit that description, begging the question, what do they have in common?

Let me suggest it is five things:

Sales Superstar Secret #1: Language is Vital: Brian Tracy, maybe the world’s best salesman, tells the story of how his first sales job was selling soap door-to-door to earn his way to YMCA Camp. He heard rejection after rejection until he oh-so-slightly rephrased his sales pitch. Instead of asking, “Would you like to buy a box of soap?” he said instead that he was selling soap, but that “it was only for beautiful women.” Thereafter he says, getting to camp was a breeze.

Your choice of words is critical, Tracy says.

Secret #2: Know the Most Important Question to Ask: In his great book, The Little Red Book of Sales Answers, author and master salesman Jeffrey Gitomer says there is one question to ask a customer that is critical to sales success:

Ask: “When I say [name of your product], what one word comes to mind?” This tells you what the customer’s hot button or pain point is and allows you to deal with it.

(Gitomer also says that one of the dumbest questions you can ask is, “What will it take to get your business?” You should know.)

Secret #3: Build Rapport: Rapport, once established, will make your sales almost effortless. Once you create rapport with someone, he or she begins to trust you, and with trust, walls and reasons melt away.

There is a sales strategy that suggests that if you quietly mimic your customer’s intonation and physical movements you will subconsciously create rapport. This may or may not be true, but it sure does seem sneaky. Consider instead building rapport the old fashioned way: By being your best self, finding things in common, and being friendly and helpful.

One way to do this is to ask questions, and then actually listen to the answer. Sales king Tom Hopkins says that, “The human body has two ears and one mouth. To be good at persuading or selling, you must learn to use those natural devices in proportion. Listen twice as much as you talk and you’ll succeed in persuading others nearly every time.”

Secret #4: Go the Extra Mile: Because it costs so much more to win a new customer than it does to keep an old one, it behooves you to foster your relationships with your current clientele. Part of that is doing your homework and keeping up to date on where your customers are and what they need. A little extra effort into learning about a customer, for instance, by studying trends in their industry or knowing a bit about a competitor, can go a long way towards impressing that customer and keeping him or her around.

Remember this too – it can takes up to six interactions to close a sale. Going the extra mile means being willing to see a potential customer again and again, continuing to build rapport, until the sale is made.

Finally, going the extra mile also means following up. Sending thank you notes, checking in to see if the product is working out, and that sort of thing builds rapport for future sales.

Secret #5: Sales is Like Golf: If you have ever played even a little golf you know that the harder you try, the less successful you are. But when you ease off the throttle a bit and trust your natural abilities, when you stop trying so hard, that is when the great shots appear.

Well, to a certain extent the same is true in sales. It is a paradox: Just as you make the great golf shot by not caring about the great golf shot, so too can you get the sale by not worrying about the sale. A customer can sense when a sale is your priority, and will back off accordingly. But once he is convinced you are more concerned with helping him solve his problem, rather than being more concerned with selling, you will birdie the sale.

Unleashing Your Entrepreneurial Spirit During the Golden Years

ccording to a study from the Kauffman Foundation, the majority of U.S. entrepreneurs are retirees. During the past ten years, 55 to 64-year-olds have shown the most entrepreneurial activity. While 20 to 34 year-olds have shown the least. Further, the AARP Public Policy Institute said that in 2008, 21 percent of self-employed individuals were between 55 and 64, and 10 percent were 65 or older. The numbers in the technology industry are even more dramatic: A 2008 Kauffman Foundation study shows that twice as many companies in this sector have been founded by individuals over age 50 than by those that are under age 25.

There could be many reasons people are starting their own companies during retirement: The first of the baby-boomers reach 65 this year and may not be ready to retire yet, perhaps because they are still excited by what they currently do or want to pursue a long-held dream. Given the economic landscape, some may need to work longer out of financial necessity, especially considering that life expectancy in the United States has increased dramatically.

Boomers Retire.pngIf you are approaching or are currently of retirement age and are interested in starting a small business, here are some things you may want to consider:

If you are not in a position to take on a major financial risk, keeping upfront expenses to a minimum may be the way to start out.
Don’t forget that, as an older entrepreneur, you may have broader job skills, more contacts and better access to capital, either from your own savings or through your work and personal networks, compared to younger entrepreneurs.
You can create a business that builds on your prior career by identifying a market gap in your industry.

Older entrepreneurs have plenty of company. So if you are considering taking the plunge into small business ownership, remember you are not alone, and it’s never too late.

Why You Should Keep an Eye on Gen Y Entrepreneurs

Mark Zuckerberg. Dennis Crowley. Andrew Mason. These are just a few growing entrepreneurs, born between 1977 and 2000. In fact, the SBA and Junior Achievement Worldwide report that 69 percent of teenagers and two-thirds of college students say they want to start their own businesses.

So, what types of businesses are they starting? While many are starting businesses connected to social media or the web in some way (as Zuckerberg, Crowley and Mason did), there are some surprises. Some young entrepreneurs are reinventing old industries, like supply chains, credit unions and packaging. Some are creating businesses that cater to other Gen Y’ers. Others are joining family businesses, but turning them on their heads by hiring their parents and extended relatives as consultants and junior employees.

Why are Gen Y’ers so passionate about starting their own businesses? Research shows they may be more willing to take business risks than their Gen X and Baby Boomer predecessors. According to one study, 67 percent of Gen Y respondents were willing to take financial risks, even during the recession. They may be undeterred by competition, as they embrace a mindset where every other company is considered a potential collaborator. On the other hand, many members of Gen Y are starting their own business ventures out of necessity. In 2010, fewer than 25 percent of college graduates were able to get a job upon graduation.

Work life balance.pngOne thing seems to be constant: Gen Y entrepreneurs tend to play by their own rules. While they may share a desire for financial independence with their older counterparts, they could be motivated by other factors as well. They may be convinced that they can improve an existing industry or company with the technological innovations and brand ingenuity for which their generation is known. Or this social justice-minded generation might want to conceive of businesses that have initiatives for social good built into their business models. A study by Cone, Inc. and Amp Insights shows that 61 percent of 13- to 25-year-olds feel responsible for making a difference in the world, and 79 percent of them want to work for a company that feels the same way.

Or, maybe Gen Y just wants to have fun at work. Studies have shown that these entrepreneurs value and protect work/life balance more than any other group. In fact, 59 percent of respondents to a survey of 37,000 college graduates said that balancing their personal and professional lives was at the top of their list of career goals.

This generosity doesn’t only apply to their schedules. They are almost shockingly flexible with their employees. They have embraced telecommuting, job sharing, part-time employment, virtual offices and creative morale-boosting efforts to a degree that puts most of the companies on the “best places to work” lists to shame.

Whether you’re a member of Generation Y yourself, a more seasoned entrepreneur looking for a younger business partner, or a consumer, this is a generation to watch. Have you learned any lessons from a member of Gen Y? Or, are you a Gen Y entrepreneur?

Subscribe to Thrive: Why Subscription-based Business Models Make Good Sense

by Robert Lerose.

Magazine publishers have known for years that their best source of reader-generated income comes from renewing current subscribers rather than acquiring new ones. Renewal series are cheaper to mount than new subscriber promotions and provide a steady stream of instant cash. More and more businesses in different sectors are discovering that this same subscription-based model makes sense for them and for their bottom line, too. Netflix, Amazon, and even unorthodox companies like Zipcar, have used this model to dominate their niche.

“The relationship between people and businesses, and the products and services they use, is no longer a one-time event,” notes Tien Tzuo, CEO of Zuora, a Silicon Valley-based subscription billing company. (For a list of other subscription billing and service companies, like PayPal and Chargify, check out this blog post.) Tzuo was formerly chief marketing office at Salesforce.com, a company that shook up its industry several years ago when it chose to offer lower-priced, monthly software subscriptions to its clients instead of charging them high, one-time licensing fees upfront. Going forward, Tzuo says modern companies should find similar ways to build long-term relationships with their customers. “And with these long-term relationships come a recurring, predictable revenue stream,” he says. “That is the subscription economy.”

Pull-Quote-Tall.pngBut you don’t have to be a Goliath to take advantage; almost any type of business can put together a subscription plan. For example, online business guide Investopia explains that subscription plans—which are also known as passive income streams—“could incorporate a low monthly fee for on-demand customer service or maintenance, subscription access to exclusive coaching, or a newsletter with interviews, book reviews, and market analysis on your industry.” Combine any of these options with a customer’s fondness for the certainty that a subscription plan provides and you wind up with a near perfect way to keep the money flowing, even in an uncertain economy.

More predictability for business and customer

Red Hat, the leading provider of Linux and open source solutions, adopted a subscription model almost 10 years ago because of its convenience and high customer value. “A subscription model is incredibly simple and predictable for customers,” says Lars Herrmann, director of strategic marketing for the North Carolina-based company. “They know exactly what they have to plan for, exactly what they have to budget for, and what they get at any point.”

Red Hat’s offerings are enormously flexible. In the case of Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux program, for example, subscribers get access to the software channels and the customer portal where they can download the products, along with available updates and fixes. In addition, they can choose from a variety of support tools, depending on the subscription plan they buy.

Building brand loyalty is another key feature of the subscription model. To that end, Red Hat constantly seeks ways to expand its portfolio of products in order to provide more choices for customers and more revenue streams for the company. “The subscription model forces the vendor to deliver a great experience every day because the money is not made upfront at the sale,” says Herrmann. Instead, he emphasizes, “the money is earned every day.”

Generating a predictable revenue stream helped Red Hat maintain a robust bottom line during the current financial crisis. For the completed 2011 fiscal year, the company took in $773.4 million in subscription revenue—an increase of 21 percent over the prior year.

Red Hat focuses on giving great value to the customer, Herrmann says. “We are not depending on new license fields every day in order to report fantastic numbers to our shareholders. We depend on delivering great service and driving customer satisfaction.” At renewal time, customers receive an automated notification that their subscription is about to expire with instructions on how to renew. They can choose to renew their subscription as is, or upgrade or downgrade it. The feedback from customers, Herrmann says, has been extraordinarily positive.

“They love the subscription model. It’s easy to handle from an accounting point of view. The customers know very well which services they get. They have the flexibility to move their subscription from one system to another and they like the simplicity of managing it. If they don’t want to have a renewal event every year, they can avoid it by buying into a three-year subscription.”

Building long-term relationships means higher customer retention

Boutique firm Kroll Bond Rating Agency may be only one-year-old, with just 24 employees, but it rates nearly 18,000 entities, from savings and loans and insurance companies to credit unions and the top 1,000 corporations. In its first year, the company has already seen good results from its subscription offerings, says Kroll managing director and head of the subscription business, Tawanda Seifert.

“Most of our clients like the subscription model because they know what they’re going to get, they know the product, they know the timing,” says Seifert. And she emphasizes the important role a subscription model plays in maintaining good customer relationships. “Client satisfaction is an implied or unstated component of the subscription-based model. They know that they can call and ask questions and we’re going to answer the phone”

By using a subscription agreement that lasts for the lifetime of the relationship, Kroll has been able to retain about 90 percent of their clients so far. That certainty takes a lot of the anxiety out of planning for future budgets—for both Kroll and its clients.

“You’re not asking are we going to do 15 deals this year and how much revenue will that bring us? I think you have a more constant stream” of revenue, Seifert says. “There are months when our invoiced amounts are less and then there are months when our invoiced amounts are very high. Since you know these cycles, it helps you plan and budget your income statement or your P&L.”

Replacing uncertainty with predictable revenue and brand loyalty is just one reason that subscription-based business models may be the best arrangement for you and your customers in an unpredictable economy.

Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses offers

EXTENDED Deadline for Applications is Monday, October 3, 2011.

Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is accepting applications from the greater Houston area to enroll in a programdesigned to help local small business owners create jobs and economic prosperity through business education, financial capital and business support services.

Small business owners will study all aspects of their business and develop a growth plan. Accepted applicants will also participate in one-one-one business advising, accounting workshops and pro bono legal clinics.

Eligibility for the program includes:

Business revenues between $150,000 and $4 million in the most recent fiscal year
At least four employees
Business has been in operation for at least two years
Own an established business that is poised for growth

Call Houston Community College at 713.718.8348 or visit hccs.edu/10ksb for more information. Small business owners interested in applying for capital can contact Grow America Fund at 10KSB@nationaldevelopmentfund.org through this website: http://nationaldevelopmentcouncil.org/index.php/site/programs/category/small_business_lending/

Learn More – Attend an Information Session at Houston Community College.

To see a full list of information sessions:

http://sites.hccs.edu/10ksb/?page_id=119

RSVP for the information session at 10KSB@hccs.edu or 713.718.8348. Walk-ins welcome.

Take Advantage of The Section 179 Deduction & Bonus Depreciation Before Year End!

2011 Deduction Limit – $500,000 (up from $250k previously). Good on new and used equipment, including new software.

2011 Limit on equipment purchases – $2 Million Dollars (up from $800k previously).

“Bonus” Depreciation – 100% (taken after the $500k deduction limit is reached). Note, bonus depreciation is only for new equipment. This can also be taken by businesses that exceed $2 million in capital equipment purchases.

Integrity Financial Groups offers value by utilizing over 100 years of deal making experience to provide the financing their clients need on specific projects. IFG provides several different financing structures and options, both on credit and collateral based transactions. We are extremely aggressive in our pricing and are looking to develop long term relationships with our clients.

To specifically go over a transaction, please contact us at: 866-611-7457 or email us at
info@applecapitalgroup.com

Is Your Small Business Digitally Dressed for Success?

Make sure your website and other digital tools are as effective as possible

By Sherron Lumley.

Nowadays, the morning commute may be a sideways roll out of bed, then a flex of the index finger to power on the computer. We can attend a conference call in pajamas and chat online with a client over a bowl of cereal.

So what does it mean to be dressed for success when we don’t necessarily have to get dressed? The nature of interaction between businesses and customers has changed in the digital world, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the power of a first impression, a three-to-seven second event. A typical website visitor stays about 44 seconds then moves on unless this first impression presents a reason to stay longer.

“I call that short attention span theater,” says Stephen Goebel, Creative Director and owner of ToeShark Visual Communication in Henderson, Nevada. “Marketing must be crystal clear to engage people instantly and keep them around long enough to continue the conversation,” Goebel says. ‘
Know Your Netiquette

In the 1975 bestseller Dress For Success, author John T. Molloy popularized the concept of power dressing to convey authority and competence. Today, this competitive edge is just as relevant as it was then. “Your site can help position you as an authority—and you should aim for that,” says Drayton Bird, author of Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing. “Since most people seek information on the web, those who seem better informed are seen as better.”

Although content is fundamentally important, the brevity of website visits means that the visual element is crucial. An effective website is visually digestible, clean, simple and clear. It is focused and includes a value statement, so people know what the message is. “The human mind loves order,” says Goebel, who holds a masters degree in Visual Communication from the Pratt Institute in New York.

Beyond the Website

Although a company website is usually the most significant element of the digital marketing mix, as in all marketing plans, the medium should fit the objective. “I am all about results and top line revenue, more people through the door, more calls on your phone,” Goebel says. However, not all of his clients need or want a website. There are other digital resources available that are increasingly mainstream and easy to use.

“Social media is imperative now. I drag my clients into it. Setting up Facebook and Twitter is a must, and then you have to use these tools,” Goebel says.

Charles Hobson, founder of Vanguard Documentaries, has seen numerous technology changes come and go over the last four decades, but that has not changed his underlying love for documentaries and storytelling. His award-winning company has launched a website, Facebook page, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and he regularly uses Skype for phone calls and videoconferencing and Google Docs for digital document sharing.

“I was always into technology,” Hobson says. “I’m what’s known as an early adopter.” Nowadays, he uses Skype’s free videoconferencing and Google Docs to communicate with colleagues abroad and he currently has about 1700 followers on Twitter. “My phone is always beeping,” he says. Twitter is a viral marketing medium, the modern day word-of-mouth, so it’s important to keep in mind that digital communication is not a one-way street.

Encourage feedback

In The New Handshake, by Joan C. Curtis and Barbara Giamanco, the authors talk about how to properly toe the netiquette line. “Do not talk constantly about yourself or your business,” they write. “Online, you listen by responding to other people’s Tweets and by joining a conversation in the LinkedIn discussions,” they say. Being able to listen to customers is one of the most useful aspects of interactive media. A company can know, practically instantly, customer response, and from this a business can learn and improve.

This consumer participation is what makes digital marketing so revolutionary. Therefore, providing an opportunity for interaction is going to be a top desire of a successful web strategy. The Vanguard Documentaries Facebook page features a preview of a work-in-progress documentary about the Flat Iron Building in New York. Visitors can watch the short film, make comments, send a link to others, and if they want, become backers of the film for as little as five dollars. The page is linked to Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative projects.

Figure as a rule of thumb that the annual marketing budget for a small business should be ten percent of the gross revenue for the year. To get in the game with a professionally designed website of eight to ten interlinked pages will cost about three thousand dollars.

When hiring a professional to design a website, it pays to shop around. To check credentials or find a website designer, head to the American Institute of Graphic Arts website.

Dressed-Sidebar.png

Cloud Computing: No Longer Pie in the Sky

Cloud computing is more than an IT buzzword. With the worldwide cloud computing market estimated at $10.7 billion (the U.S. accounts for approximately 40 percent of that total), cloud computing is quickly becoming the technology of the future. In fact, according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, 70 percent of Microsoft employees are doing work that is related to cloud computing, and that figure is expected to continuously increase.

So what is cloud computing?

Simply put, cloud computing is a model in which services and storage are delivered through the Internet instead of a desktop application. Sometimes referred to as ‘software as a service’ (SaaS), a true cloud-computing solution requires no software to purchase and install. Many cloud computing applications have become so commonplace that you probably don’t even realize you’re using them. Internet-based email, document managers and anti-spam/virus programs that update and secure your desktop applications are just a few examples. Along with smartphones, tablets and other technologies, cloud computing is redefining how we work.

Cloud Computing and Small Business – A Perfect Match Made?

With applications available for various business functions and technical needs, it is not surprising that small and mid-size businesses are significant consumers of cloud-based solutions. In fact, a recent report from AMI Partners predicts a 25 percent increase on SaaS spending versus five percent growth for all other categories of on-premise software combined.

cloud computing benefits.pngThe two biggest benefits of cloud computing are convenience and cost. By releasing operations from data centers, file servers and packaged software, cloud computing offers small businesses a high level of flexibility and it allows business partners and employees to connect easily. Another added benefit is that cloud applications are scalable and can grow alongside your business. Applications get updated and improved regularly without the cost and effort of downloading and configuring upgrades. Moreover, the solutions are inexpensive. Generally billed in relatively low monthly installments (which could be adjusted according to the number of users, transactions, etc.), cloud computing tends to be substantially more affordable than the initial investment required for physical data infrastructure and software. Some prominent SaaS vendors include: Omniture, Taleo, SuccessFactors, NetSuite Microsoft, IBM, Google, etc.

Similar to any other type of technology product, you should consider security, uptime (essentially a hosted application’s performance record) and privacy concerns when evaluating whether cloud computing is a good fit for your business. Though SaaS applications may actually offer added protection against issues such as data loss, you should ask vendors for written documentation detailing their security measures and standards. When evaluating uptime, the performance record should be in the range of 98-99.9 percent, (accounting for maintenance or unexpected problems). You should also inquire how long it generally takes to resolve technical issues.

While cloud computing has many benefits, there is no “one-size-fits-all” recommendation. Determining whether cloud applications are right for your business –and to what degree– is a decision that will need to be based on your company needs. It may be worthwhile to kick the tires before committing. In fact, many cloud services will offer a trial prior to purchase.

If you choose to pursue a cloud computing solution, the following are some considerations you should keep in mind:

Ensure that the vendor offers good customer support and check to see if there is an added charge for support and maintenance.

Look for a flexible cloud computing vendor that will allow you to add and subtract users and scale other capabilities as your business needs change.

Determine whether your cloud computing solutions run on complementary interfaces. For example, it may be useful if accounting packages integrate with contact management applications.

The New Face of Incubators: A Faster, More Focused Road to Small Business Success

Organizations that help launch successful start-ups were hot during the dot-com era when there were tens of thousands worldwide, according to statistics from the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA). Since the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, the number of business incubators has dropped to 7,000 globally and 1,400 in North America. However, they still serve more than 27,000 companies and are responsible for more than $17 billion in annual revenues (also in North America).

Following the economic downturn, there are small business incubators that are hoping to fill the gaps created by widespread job losses with local film and video production companies, design firms and other creative-sector industries. These types of incubators typically offer small businesses the access needed for resources, ranging from strategic business counseling to development support.

How to Start

evergreen industry.pngIf you are a new or start-up small business seeking incubator support, you need to prepare a detailed business plan a comprehensive start-up marketing plan and assemble a qualified staff. These employees should include a CEO, CFO, IT Director, and marketing and sales directors, as well as experienced external resources in areas such as accounting and legal counsel.

Industries of particular interest to incubators are green tech, clean tech and alternative energy. While the technology sector remains the focus of 39 percent of incubators, evergreen industries such as food and the arts can still find a receptive audience.

The Details

In the dot-com heyday, only some incubators took an equity stake in the companies they developed. Typically, incubator services focus more on “acceleration” –helping find senior leadership, securing venture capital, structuring financial plans and building a board of directors – and, in exchange, seek as much as a 70 percent stake. Additionally, they provide client assistance with such basic but time-consuming services such as marketing, sales, IT, finance and administrative staff development. There are more than 1,200 U.S. business incubators housing tens of thousands of entrepreneurial companies that help startups of all stripes take root, providing resources to turn them into thriving, growing companies. Not bad for an industry that saw such a tremendous decline following the dot-com bust.

Top 12 Time Management and Organization Tips for Entrepreneurs

Many small businesses may not be devoting enough time or energy to develop a true organizational system. Often, getting organized is an afterthought, or something only addressed out of necessity after reaching a certain point of disorganized chaos.

A 2010 survey from the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and Office Depot shows that, although 82 percent of respondents thought a more organized workspace would improve productivity, 42 percent said they only cleaned up clutter once a month.

The consequences of chronic disorganization can range from lost time (something no small business owner has enough of) to missed deadlines or tardiness to key meetings. Conversely, the benefits of organization have the potential to make a positive impact: Having a handle on your physical space, documents, schedule and staff utilization can free your time so you can spend more time for with customers or or to develop plans to break into a new market.

To help get your company organized, consider the following tips:

Physical Space

Streamline your desk area so that only the items you use regularly are at hand. A cluttered desk may make you look busier, but constantly searching for documents can erode your productivity.
Clean off your desk at the end of each day. It will make it easier to get to substantive tasks the next morning.
Envision an office space that will keep you energized and work on moving toward that goal in incremental steps. If you want it done all at once, consider hiring a professional workspace planner.

Paperwork

Keep all official business documents (incorporation certificates; insurance policies; emergency plans) in one place and indexed for easy access.
If you are working toward a paperless office, avoid creating digital clutter by paying extra attention to file organization. Be organized when you first set up your network and shared files so that anyone can find the most current version of a document on your network.
Use the “one-touch rule” for reading e-mails and mail, i.e. either act on it, file it, or discard it. If you’re not sure what to do, file the document according to the business goal it facilitates.

multitasking.pngTime

Keep a master calendar for business and personal commitments, particularly if you have a small business that requires your attention during the day and evening hours. There are a number of free online tools that can help you manage your time, including Google Calendar and Yahoo! Calendar.
Minimize information overload by cancelling subscriptions to magazines and online newsletters that do not have a direct, positive impact on your business. You may feel instantly lighter.
When possible, tackle one task at a time. While it may seem like you’re accomplishing multiple tasks at once, “multitasking” has actually been shown to hinder productivity. A recent Stanford University study shows that while media multitasking in particular has become widespread, processing multiple streams of information and switching tasks frequently can overload your brain and jeopardize your productivity on all fronts.

Leadership

Delegate tasks and set deadlines in writing, not verbally.
Motivate employees to be more organized through your own example, but remember that people’s work styles vary.

You may also find that taking a few simple steps toward creating a more organized work life may help eliminate stress and other mental clutter that can stand in the way of your employee’s and your job satisfaction. What are your biggest organizational challenges? What tips and tools do you use?

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