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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.

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Best Cities to Start a Home-Based Business

Best Cities to Start a Home-Based BusinessThe economic environment of a large federal country such as the United States means that each separate state has its own regulations and laws concerning various aspects from housing to running a business. This means that some states and cities are more favorable to small companies which do not have a large starting capital to count on.

When it comes to home-based businesses, there are two key issues to consider when deeming a city business friendly or not: the ease for registering a business and the average cost of living (including home insurance). A beginner entrepreneur’s chances of succeeding in their business idea depend greatly on these issues.

Most potential home-based business owners are also interested in growing their business beyond this initial status. Thus, another aspect that makes various cities business friendly is the tax incentives or development opportunities they offer to small business owners.

Taking into consideration all these aspects, these are the best cities in the USA to start a home-based business and hope for its sustainable growth:

1. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
This city has three key claims as one of the most business-friendly cities in the US:
⦁ In 2013 NerdWallet named it as the best city to start a business
⦁ In 2015 Forbes included it in the list of the most affordable cities to live in
⦁ Various publications name it as the best place to live for young graduates and for starting a business

These three credentials recommend Oklahoma City as a great development hub for small and home-based businesses, with an affordable cost of living and lots of business growth and networking opportunities among your peers.

Another feature making Oklahoma City a great place to start a home-based business is the fact that the paperwork for registering a business is very simple and can be filed in just one day.

2. Boulder, Colorado
Colorado is already preparing to steal the name of “Silicon Valley” and make it their own. The American Electronics Association reported recently that Boulder features the highest concentration of software engineers per capita in all of the United States.

This city is a place for tech-inclined entrepreneurs. Both the University of Colorado at Boulder and various other research labs are powerful hubs for attracting talent and significant funds. There are plenty of opportunities to supply your services as an independent contractor and grow a successful home-based business.

3. Boise, Idaho
Voted the best city to live in after applying a complex scorecard including cost of living, weather, income and amenities, Boise is the place for small business owners who want to enjoy a perfect balance between their work and personal life. Featuring one of the lowest home insurance rates in the US (around $516 in 2014), Boise also offers a supplementary incentive to entrepreneurs: members of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce enjoy various discounts for local sports and entertainment events.

4. Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is more than the heart and soul of country music. It is also a fast-growing business hub powered by low home prices and low taxes. These two aspects combined mean that businesses have a potential market of customers with sufficient spare money to satisfy their needs and indulge in hobbies.

As an added bonus, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce members benefit from lower processing fees for credit cards.

5. Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis features the fourth largest concentration of small businesses in the United States. This says a lot for would-be entrepreneurs, and is justified by the fact that the state of Minnesota has the 15th lowest business tax rate in the US. Also, Minneapolis attracts potential business owners by offering them various financing programs.

Thus, Minneapolis is the right place for you if you want to start and grow a small business in the middle of a powerful business hub with lots of potential partners and customers.

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Top Warning Signs of a Startup Failure

Top Warning Signs of a Startup FailureThe launch of any startup is like the birth of a baby in a jungle full of predators. At any moment, while the baby is still small and helpless, danger may strike from any direction. Any newbie entrepreneur knows this feeling – the feeling that the business idea they are so passionate about and in which they invested time and money may somehow fail.

And the harsh reality is that more than half of the startups fail every year. It is always one thing or another – adverse economic conditions, bad planning, wrong product at the wrong time and the wrong place… But, except for cases when entrepreneurs really have no idea what they are doing and are doomed to fail, no startup will go down without a few warning signs.

If you are astute enough to act as soon as you’ve noticed any of these, you have a chance to save your business, to adapt it, or to change it altogether before it takes away most of your savings and entrepreneurial enthusiasm. These are signs which show you that either you are executing your business plan in a wrong manner, or that your business idea is not viable to begin with. Here they are:

1. You Are Focusing on an Abstract Idea Instead of the Main Goal: Revenue
This should be the first thing you need to know before you consider starting a business: your ultimate goal is to generate revenue. If you believe otherwise, then you should stay employed or find work with a charity. Your business is all about bringing money for you and your family.

If your main focus in everything you do is any other than this one, you will never find and apply the right strategies for marketing your products and getting paid. You will keep working on your Perfect Business Idea which will ultimately ruin you financially.

2. You Have No Idea Who Your Customers Are
Can you describe your target customer? Just a general description – basic demographic details, interests, needs, pain points your product solves… Nothing? Then how will you possibly sell your products or services if you don’t know where and to whom to market them? Imagine that you have a small stand where you display your products. Not knowing who your customers are is like placing this stand in the middle of an empty field and waiting for customers to find you.

3. You Are Running out of Cash Faster Than You Generate It
Is every end of month troublesome for you? Are you barely making the ends meet both for your family and your business? This means that your business model is not working well. You are not able to make money at least at the same rate that you are spending it. It is either a problem of reaching out and attracting the right customers, or the business idea per se is not designed to generate cash fast. You cannot afford to keep pumping money for months in a business which does not yield revenue. See what needs to be changed and make that change.

4. Your Niche Is Too Small and Specific
Are you selling a very specific product which covers a very specific and rare need? This means that you have a small target market. Or none at all. It is true that one of the key pieces of advice in looking for a business idea is to identify a specific niche with medium to small competition, but this niche needs to have a constant market share. Otherwise you may make it into the Guinness Book of Records for the most unique business idea, but you will not make money out of it.

5. You Are Getting Bored
This is a very dangerous sign, perhaps the most dangerous of all of them. While you are still enthusiastic, you can fix a lot of problems in your startup. But, if you have lost your interest, then your business is at the door of extinction. Before you give it up, consider how much time and money you invested in it, remember your excitement at the beginning and ask yourself: do you really want to give up? Is there no way you can regain that enthusiasm and come back with a vengeance, making your business a successful one?

Last but not least, many startups which promised to be wildly successful failed because they were swimming in troubled legal waters: their incorporation was not valid, they did not obtain all the licenses and permits they needed for operating, etc. This is why you should always make sure you follow your state regulations for startup incorporation and licensing to the letter before you even begin marketing your products to customers.

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