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Top Online Communities for Small Business Owners

Top Online Communities for Small Business Owners“In unity lies strength” is a very true saying, whose applications we see every day around us. Nobody makes it on their own, no matter what path in life they choose. It always matters who you can rely on for advice, for support, or for joining forces for success. Entrepreneurs know it particularly well. As a startup founder, you realize how much you have to learn, apart from your specific expertise, about running your business.

And as your business grows, so do the challenges you face. Even for small business owners it is hard to forecast financial results for the next five years, understand what the stock exchange variations mean for their business and find efficient ways to cut costs.

This is why online communities for small business owners appeared. They are generally under the mentoring of a large corporation or several thought leaders and they give entrepreneurs a voice, for sharing their knowledge, asking questions, and finding solutions to their problems.

Some of these communities are thriving, others are not so popular – so we decided to look at them and recommend to you only the most vibrant and active websites which you should join. These are:

1. Startup Nation
The top three categories of this online community are dedicated to: starting a business, growing a business and managing a business. This means that you can find useful advice here from day one when you start operating your business, and continue being inspired and contributing to the community as your business grows.

You will find case studies, how-to tutorials, recommended books, legal advice, tips for obtaining financing, and much more. The Community page allows you to share your input, open conversation threads and grow your network of business acquaintances. Startup Nation also has a radio show, whose recordings are published on the website.

2. American Express OPEN Forum
There is no need to introduce American Express, its financial power and business expertise. This company decided to open a business intelligence and development hub, which focuses advice and insights into the key elements of entrepreneurship: growth opportunities, research, marketing and sales, leadership, and digital tools.

The vast range of articles, tutorials and case studies will help you understand the nitty-gritty of tax preparation, product development, branding, competitive research and any other topic connected to running your business. As a contributor to this forum, your guest posts, if approved, will help you grow your reputation and build trust for your business.

3. Small Business Forum
This is exactly what it says it is – a 100% online forum accessible to registered members, where communication never stops. There are thousands of open threads where other small business owners like you can share useful information, ask and answer questions, post business opportunities, and so on. The only aspect which will make it harder for you to access the exact information you need is the lack of a search field. However, the main topics are logically structured (Sales and Marketing, Accounting and Taxes, Business Law, etc.), therefore you will quickly find a conversation thread dealing with the precise issue you want to learn about.

4. Entrepreneur
This is one of the largest online resources for people running businesses – large or small. Apart from in-depth articles, market analyses and forecasts, and interviews with market leaders, you will also find actual business opportunities, especially franchises.

Entrepreneur is one of the most thriving online communities for business owners, with up-to-date and reliable information from the most sensitive areas of business management, especially finances, taxation and legislation.

5. Various LinkedIn Groups
While the online communities above deal with aspects and problems applicable to all businesses, LinkedIn has very specialized groups where you can join other entrepreneurs from your specific niche. There are groups for freelance web designers, shipping companies, accounting firms, and so on – a simple search will help you find dozens of groups where you can discuss the specific challenges in your line of business.

Last but not least, remember that these communities work on the principle of reciprocity – this means that you have to be active and get involved whenever you can share useful information or answer a question.


Key Skills Every Entrepreneur Must Master in 2017

Key Skills Every Entrepreneur Must Master in 2017Entrepreneurship evolves with the times and so does the set of desired skills any entrepreneur needs to have. Decades ago it was all about dogged determination and putting in as many man hours as possible in your business. Technology now helps us work smarter and focus our efforts on innovative thinking.

The internet and the smartphone have created the digital revolution which has changed the way people look at businesses and the expectations they have. At the same time, the change also propagated within organizations – from large corporations to small businesses. The boss type who barks orders was replaced by the leader who manages by collaboration and motivation.

Today’s discussion focuses around the specific set of skills that you should work on if you want to be a successful entrepreneur in this day and age. It does not mean that your current skills are not useful anymore – it just means that you need to consider polishing these ones.

1. Empathy
As we mentioned above, leadership has changed. It is not about the boss who rules with an iron fist anymore. Successful managers are great communicators and collaborators and they have empathy for their team. Your employees are not robots, programmed to perform a task, but people with feelings, with good days and bad days, with health and personal problems.

An emphatic entrepreneur can help each employee become a top performer by listening to them, advising and coaching them, and allowing them to grow in the company, even if this means making a mistake or two.

2. Focusing on Your Strength
Let’s be honest, nobody can master every single skill required in a certain job role – and that of entrepreneur is the most demanding role. For years and years, many entrepreneurs worked hard, missed opportunities and lost their enthusiasm while trying to correct or improve their shortcomings. None of them achieved a satisfactory result in the end.

Right now, there is a shift in the paradigm: instead of working on your weak points, focus on your strong points and be the best at them. The Jack-of-all-trades entrepreneur is not a feasible idea. Instead, hone your core skills and strengths and own them like a true leader.

3. Networking and Relationship Building
We live in a connected world in every sense of the word. No one can succeed on their own, no matter how skilled they are. Entrepreneurial success is the result of teamwork and collaboration these days. No matter what products and services you want to develop and sell, you will always depend on others: suppliers and vendors, peers to vouch for your business idea, partners to add talent and value to your business, and loyal customers to become brand ambassadors.

Knowing how to cultivate and build relationships with others is now a key skill in any line of business and at any level: from the mom-and-pop store, to the multinational corporation.

4. Consumer Focus
The economy we live in now is consumer centric. The consumer, the client, is at the heart of any product development and launch, and any marketing message. People have a wide range of choices for any product or service you can think of. Nobody owns a specific niche, no matter how precisely defined. Competition is everywhere. Therefore the old school slogan that a product sells itself is outdated.

You must always be able to put yourself in the consumer’s shoes whenever you want to write a piece of content, create an ad campaign and, most importantly, develop a product. Only this approach will help you create products and marketing messages which will attract and persuade your customers.

5. Personal Branding
Brands go beyond businesses. Entrepreneurs and top managers need to build and protect their own personal brands. This is reflected in your online activity, your social media accounts, the way you interact with your business partners and peers and, in the end, reflects back on your business and your products.

A strong and positive personal brand is a valuable asset for any business. It is the guarantee that there is an actual person behind the business name, able and willing to vouch for all the promises the business makes to its customers.


5 Ways to Boost Sales after a Slow Summer

5 Ways to Boost Sales after a Slow SummerSummer is officially over. As you start to look over the sales of the last three months, things are not looking great. Indeed, except for companies selling summer-related products, most businesses deal with a slow sale season. It’s time to rev up the engines and prepare for a prosperous fall.

Getting a cash boost during the first half of fall will certainly compensate for your declining sales during the summer. But it is not an easy job: people spent a lot of money on holidays and now start tightening up their budgets to prepare for the upcoming holiday season. On the other hand, they may have neglected to replenish or replace various items, so this is a good moment to remind them of your products and services.

Here are a few smart ways to get a boost in sales after the summer holiday season:

1. Partner Up with Bloggers
It is important to get a lot of traction on your promotions so you need all the help you can get. Bloggers are some of the best sources you have for spreading news about your products, special offers, etc.

Usually, you should offer bloggers a product to test and write a review about it. Bloggers are very influential among their readership. In many cases, readers will buy a product OK’d by the blogger. Another way to capitalize on bloggers’ popularity is to promote contests, giveaways, etc. through their blog.

2. Revamp Your Blog
As people return from their holidays, they start reconnecting with brands, checking out what is new and worth reading on their websites and blogs. A new look, fresh graphics (eventually adapted to a fall color palette) and sleek new fonts will definitely catch their attention and make them look more in depth on your website.

A site redesign once every few years is usually recommended, as well as cleaning up the code to speed it up. It is a smart move to synchronize this redesign with the beginning of the fall, when you want to recapture your customers’ attention.

3. Send Offer Reminders
Most likely, you received lots of replies just before and during the summer that the promotion is great, but the moment is wrong. Most of the prospects and customers had their minds on summer vacations – but right now they may just take advantage of your offer.

This is your last chance to reap some benefits from your promotions before you go straight to the holiday triad: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

4. Do Not Offer Discounts, But More Benefits
At the start of fall, and after a slow summer, it is not the right moment to cut down your profit margins for the sake of sales. Instead, bundle up more benefits, accessories to your main products, and so on. People are in the “stocking up” mood at the beginning of fall – either a back-to-school or winter-is-coming state of mind.

Therefore, think of creative ways to offer more perceived values (such as extended guarantee, or a coupon for the next purchase) but make your sales at the full catalog price.

5. Identify Off-Calendar Holidays and Celebrate Them
If you look at the calendar, you will see plenty of quirky and lesser-known events celebrated all month long. We had International Cat Day, then recently Worldwide Dog Day… The holiday may not be related to your products or your niche, but it is definitely related somehow to your customers, their private lives and hobbies.

And since it is a non-standard holiday, you will probably have little to zero competition for your customers’ attention. You can create social media events and promote the celebration through email newsletters, and the sheer novelty of what you are doing will attract people’s attention.

Last but not least, we hope you had a great summer vacation and wish you good luck in your entrepreneurial activities for the rest of the year!

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