Big Savings for Small Business

Are you a small business owner looking to maximize your margins? Are you trying to realize opportunities to save 75779888registerwithout disrupting your day-to-day processes? With a little creativity and thrifty thinking there are ways you can save without sacrificing efficiency or quality.

Smarter Spending

Used cars cost less than brand new models, and the same is true for office equipment. The next time you’re looking to pick up a printer/copier or conference table opt for a “pre-owned model,” and pay a fraction of the new sticker price. But before heading over to Amazon, eBay or a local office e-tailer, check out these tips http://www.nfib.com/article/buying-and-selling-used-office-equipment-52144/ to help guard against potential scams.

Other discount options exist in the growing number of surplus stores like Overstock.com http://www.overstock.com/, which resell outdated or previously unsold inventory from brand names and top retailers.

DIY Marketing

Of the many advantages of social media, it’s hard to ignore one very appealing fact – the price. All the major channels, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr, etc., are free for businesses to set up and maintain a profile. Using social sites as promotional vehicles for your latest products and services also improves your search engine rankings and therefore the likelihood of attracting more prospects.

Public relations opportunities are also monetarily attractive options. In addition to drafting and distributing your own press releases in conjunction with events or promotions, consider making senior managers and other specialists within your organization available for interviews and speaking opportunities. The benefits extend beyond the free press coverage, as your business will be seen as a go-to resource flush with industry experts.

Go green to save some green

According to PC World http://www.pcworld.com/article/257306/how_to_save_money_on_printing_costs.html, each sheet of printed paper costs about 10 cents, and that figure jumps significantly with respect to color. When you multiply that by the number of pages printed by each employee over the course of a year the expense grows exponentially.

Opt to “go green” and digitize whenever possible. In lieu of mailing or faxing inventories and purchase orders, send them via email. The same applies to inter-office communications, why print when scanning and sending does the trick. If you’re a brick and mortar business, try offering your customers the option of an e-receipt instead of a printed version. In addition to saving on ink, toner, paper and machine maintenance, your business will also benefit from the goodwill generated by your eco-friendly initiatives.

An even simpler, low-tech opportunity can be found by examining your overhead…lights that is. Replacing your incandescent bulbs with more energy efficient LEDs or compact fluorescents can result in a savings of up to tens of thousands annually. http://www.cnbc.com/id/100863041

What tips or tricks have you used to save your business money?

Look Before You Give: Beware of Charity Scams and Solicitations

There’s a great feeling that comes with giving back, and contributing to help others. And with advances in technology over the past few years, giving to your favorite charity, organization, or cause is now easier and more convenient than ever. But technology has also brought a negative side to charitable giving – it can turn your generosity and kindness into an opportunity for fraudsters to take your hard-earned money.

So how can you protect yourself from becoming a victim of charitable fraud? The Federal Trade Commission offers these tips:

Watch for red flags. While fraudsters have become more sophisticated and use a variety of methods to solicit funds by phone, mail, or online, there are some warning signs to look out for. Beware of organizations that –

• Request cash-only donations.

• Fail to provide information on their organization, including their mission and how your donations will be used.

• Cannot provide proof that your donations are tax-deductible.

• Pressure you to make donations.

• Ask you to wire money or express unnecessary immediacy in receiving funds.

Do your homework. Take these simple steps before you dish out any money or provide your credit card number to anyone:

• Get the full legal name of the organization and conduct an Internet search using the company name and words like “scam,” “fraud” or “complaint.”

• Call the charity to verify that the request for donation is legitimate. This will protect you in the event that a fraudster calls you or sends you an email pretending to be from a reputable charity.

• Contact the National Association of State Charity Officials to see if the charity is registered with a state.

• Find out the percentage of your funds that will go to the actual cause or fundraiser.

• Visit the Internal Revenue Service to see if your contributions are tax-deductible. Note there is a difference between an organization being tax-exempt versus offering tax-deductibility on contributions. Tax exempt simply means the organization doesn’t have to pay taxes.

Be a smart giver. Once you’ve verified the organization is legitimate, take these steps to protect yourself:

• Never send cash. It’s much safer and easier report contributions if you pay by check or credit card.

• Keep track of all your donations.

• Set aside a charitable budget to ensure you don’t give away more than you can afford.

Give back by reporting any scams If you think you’ve been a victim of charity fraud, take a moment to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. That simple step will help you give back by ensuring other innocent donors aren’t victimized

Hot Tips for Summer Vacation Savings

Summer becomes a hot time to give yourself and your loved ones a badly needed break. But with rising food, fuel, and hotel costs, for many people, a summer vacation may seem out of reach financially.

Rest assured, however, there are some ways to cut the cost of summer vacation and ensure you get your time in the sun.

• Be flexible – it pays. If you’re open to trying different vacation spots, you’ll increase your chances of saving money. For example, look at both lake vacations and beach locations for the best deals, and make your decision accordingly. Having flexibility on your vacation timetable will also make saving easier, especially if you choose a cruise, which can offer significantly lower rates during summer season.

• Stay out of the hot spots. While a lot of us love to be where all the action is, vacationing in crowded “hotspots” can cost you a lot more. By staying away from these locations, you won’t just avoid crowds and traffic; you’ll save money.

• Cash in your rewards. Do you have a credit card that offers travel rewards? Summer is a great time to cash in. You may be able to reduce or eliminate the cost of hotels, airfare, entertainment, and rental cars. Plus, if you stay at the same hotel or use the same airline, you can earn rewards that can be redeemed for next year’s vacation. How’s that for smart vacation planning?

• Get a vacation rental. One way to save significantly on your lodging costs is to rent a condo or cottage. Research has shown that renting homes is a lot more affordable than staying in hotel rooms. Plus, with a home, you’ll have more room and privacy – always a plus when you’re traveling with children.

• Dine in. Another advantage of renting a home is that you can make your own meals, putting more money in your pocket. If you plan on staying at a hotel, see if you can book a room with a stove or refrigerator to allow you to make your own meals and store snacks.

• Team up on your vacation. Invite family members or friends you enjoy spending time with to accompany you. With a vacation rental, you can split the cost of the home, making your vacation a whole lot more affordable.

These are just a few simple ways to save. Find more information on ways to save on vacation planning all year long with help from National Geographic.

The Business of Online Advertising

Learn through customer analyticsOne thing is certain about today’s consumers–more and more of them are spending more and more time (and money) online. If that’s where they are, shouldn’t your business be there too? If you’re a busy small business owner and not sure where to start with online advertising, here’s a brief background and a few best practices to get you digitally dialed in.

The Basics
Email marketing, display advertising, search engine marketing, search engine optimization, online video and social media marketing all fall underneath the digital umbrella. You can click here to for a quick reference guide http://www.quirk.biz/resources/emarketingone to find more information on the different channels and which are best suited to your current strategy.

And if you’re like most business owners, decisions about how to allocate limited resources will also play a significant role in which channel(s) to explore. This easy-to-read chart http://moz.com/learn/local/digital-marketing-options can help you compare options based on the amount of time and money you can expect to invest in each.

Best Practices Before Getting Started
As with any type of campaign, make sure you set out with a clearly defined goal. Whether it’s generating more awareness for your brand, driving traffic to your site or increasing sales be sure your objectives are designed to help you achieve a certain end.

Dare to be different, and don’t be afraid to try something a new. http://www.inc.com/ss/7-successful-viral-marketing-campaigns Take advantage of the ability to provide prospects with interesting and engaging content. Whether this is an interactive game, funny video, a little creativity can go a long way in getting you noticed by more users.

A great ad with eye-catching imagery, compelling copy or an irresistible offer is only the beginning. If you promise something in your ad, be sure you’re delivering on the other end through a custom landing page, a digital storefront or an information request form. The last thing you want is to get your prospects to act only to find the destination confusing or completely irrelevant. http://www.forbes.com/sites/drewhendricks/2014/02/28/5-landing-page-mistakes-that-are-killing-your-chances-at-conversions/ And it doesn’t end after “going live,” don’t forget to test your ad to ensure everything is working properly!

Measure Your Success
A challenge marketers face with traditional forms of advertising is navigating the murky waters of the measurement. This can make it difficult to determine the return on investment and overall effectiveness of a campaign.

However, you can track and trace you online efforts easily with the help of tools like Google Analytics http://www.google.com/analytics/. The wealth of information in these reports can provide you with data and insights you can learn from to help sharpen your strategy and improve your messaging and conversion rates over time.

Do you plan to include online advertising to help your boost your business’ bottom line?

How to set (and stick to) a budget

How much do you spend? How much do you earn? If one equals the other, you’re in trouble. And, if you spend more than you earn, you’re in really big trouble.

The solution? Set a budget, and stick to it!

The goal? Live within your means, avoid falling off a cliff and into debt, and start saving https://www.cbtc.com/personal/savingsTypes.aspx?id=14 – for emergencies, special occasions, and for your future.

Easier said than done? No. All it takes is a little time, a little patience, and a little commitment. And, taking that first step.

Getting started
Check these 8 easy tips for creating a personal budget http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2013/10/18/8-steps-to-creating-a-personal-budget. Pay particular attention to Step #8: “Don’t set yourself up for failure. Making sacrifices is part of managing expenses, but if you set restrictions too high and too soon, you will be less likely to follow your budget over the long term.”

The first step to successful budgeting is knowing, and tracking, where your money goes. You can do it with pencil and paper, or consider one of the personal finance software programs http://www.forbes.com/sites/moneywisewomen/2012/01/03/budgeting-software-options/ such as Quicken or Mint.

Setting priorities
The second step is to set priorities. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/money101/lesson2/index4.htm Try to cut back your spending to about 90% of your income.

Stretching that dollar
If you think it’s impossible to save anything, or to save more than you’re saving now, you might be surprised that it is possible and, maybe, painless. Here are 10 tips for saving on a tight budget. http://americasaves.org/for-savers/make-a-plan-how-to-save-money/saving-on-a-tight-budget

And, if you simply can’t image how to spend less than you’re spending now, start thinking about new ways to reduce your monthly bills. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/money101/lesson2/index5.htm

Sticking to it
Don’t get discouraged. If Plan A doesn’t work, come up with a Plan B to focus on your finances http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/family/budget/stick-to-a-budget .
Budgeting will be easier once you find the path that works the best for you.

7 Ways to Keep Your Credit in Check

Keeping your credit in checkWhether you’re looking to obtain your first credit card, purchase a car, or even buy a second home, at one point or another in your life, you will need to borrow. To be able to borrow affordably you’ll also need a strong credit report. A credit report is the tool that lenders use to determine whether to grant you a loan and the interest rate to offer you. Continue reading

Telecommuting: Is it good business for you?

There’s a popular trend that’s taking place in companies today; a growing number of employees are trading in their cubicles for their living rooms and working at home for at least part of the time. According to a report based on U.S. Census report statistics, 50 million U.S. employees hold jobs that can be conducted from home.

It’s easy to see why employees like working from home. They get to eliminate commuting time, save money on fuel and clothing, and gain valuable time in their personal lives. But what’s the impact for employers? Is allowing your employees to telecommute good or bad for your company? Here’s a look at the pros and cons:

The Pros

Increased employee productivity. Research has shown that employees who work at home are often more productive. When they are in the office, they have to stretch out work over an eight-hour day, whereas at home, they have an incentive to get their work done in less time. They also don’t have normal office distractions, such as socializing with co-workers and taking long lunches. Research has shown that employees who telecommute are also less likely to take sick days.

A valuable work/life employee benefit. One of the biggest benefits of telecommuting is that it reduces the time employees have to spend commuting to work, giving them more time in their personal lives. As a result, telecommuting can be a smart and cost-effective benefit for attracting and retaining employees, particularly those who have young children.

Cost savings. Telecommuting can impact your bottom line by allowing you to reduce expensive office space and other overhead costs, including office supplies and equipment.

Improved morale. Employees who have a work life balance are likely to be happier, and work harder to maintain their jobs.

 The Cons

Decreased personal interaction. The most successful companies are those that foster a spirit of collaboration and teamwork with employees. Having employees physically separated can limit their personal interaction.

Reduced control. When your employees aren’t physically present, it’s more difficult to monitor their work and progress. You can counter that by arranging to have in-person meetings from time to time and regular check-ins.

Security risk. At many companies, employees have access to critical and sensitive data. Providing remote access to this data on their home computers or allowing them to bring home confidential information can put the security of your information at risk.

Do your homework before allowing employees to work from home.

For more information on telecommuting, including helpful strategies, check out these articles from Monster.com http://hiring.monster.com/hr/hr-best-practices/workforce-management/employee-benefits-management/telecommuting-strategy.aspx and Mashable http://mashable.com/2014/01/27/employees-work-from-home-considerations/

Friday Focus: The Greenwell Foundation

Located alongside the Patuxent River, Greenwell State Park provides St. Mary’s County residents with year-round opportunities for recreation and leisure. While the land itself is managed by the state of Maryland, the programs offered by the park are coordinated and funded by the Greenwell Foundation, a nonprofit organization. This week’s Friday Focus interviewed Cara Fogarty, Director of Communications for the Foundation. Cara GreenwellFoundation_horse and barnspoke with us about the Foundation’s work and some upcoming events, and also shared her favorite story about how Greenwell’s summer camp program was able to touch a local family in a special way.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: The Greenwell Foundation, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to providing accessible and inclusive programs, services and facilities for all community members, with and without disabilities, in Southern Maryland. The Foundation operates in Greenwell State Park, a 600-acre property located along the lower Patuxent River in Hollywood, Maryland.

The Greenwell Foundation offers therapeutic and recreational horseback riding, summer camps, nature programs, veterans’ programs, accessible site rentals and regularly develops new programs—often in collaboration with area agencies and nonprofit organizations—to meet community needs. All programs are designed to be inclusive, allowing people with disabilities to fully participate. Additionally, the Foundation serves veterans, at-risk children and transitioning youth with disabilities.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: There are several, but one that sticks out in my mind comes from a family with three children. One of the children has Down syndrome. The mother discovered that he could attend Camp Greenwell alongside his two sisters. She didn’t have to put him in a “special” camp. She didn’t have to undergo an interview/intake process. She could simply sign him up as easily as she did her other two children. For the first time in his life, she said he was treated equally and given the same opportunities in the same environment as every other child. Our mission is to create this environment that allows all children to play and experience camp together.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: There are many challenges, but I would have to say that funding is perhaps the biggest. Many people think because we are in a state park that we are funded by the state of Maryland and that their tax dollars support us. In actuality, the Greenwell Foundation is a small, private foundation that relies on donations, memberships, program fees, grants and facility rental fees. We receive no funding from the state of Maryland. The state takes care of the park itself, but the Greenwell Foundation runs the programs. We have an excellent relationship with the Department of Natural Resources/Maryland Park Service, but we are on our own! A nine-member Board of Trustees and an executive director oversee the work of the Foundation. We maintain a very small permanent staff and add a seasonal staff. This is purposeful to help us maintain costs.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: We have a few events coming up this spring:

Every second Sunday of the month we have “Sundays in the Park” when we open the doors to Rosedale Manor from 1pm-4pm. People are welcome to browse through this historic building which was the summer home of John Philip Greenwell, the gentleman who donated his property to the state of Maryland. Our next “Sunday in the Park” day will be this Sunday, May 11.

On Saturday, June 7, we’ll be hosting our second annual 5K Fun Run & Dog Walk, held in conjunction with Dr. Tim Modic of Mechanicsville and Smiles for Life. People can run or walk the 5K, or they may bring their dog(s) for a nice trail walk with their best friend! This event also features raffles, kayak rides, soccer and other field games, water balloon archery, tie-dying shirts and pony rides. These are many of the same activities that take place at Camp Greenwell, so it’s the perfect opportunity to get a sneak peek at camp! The event is a benefit for the Greenwell Foundation’s Therapeutic Riding Program and Smiles for Life.

We also have our largest “event” of the year coming up—summer camp! Nine weekly sessions of Camp Greenwell and many specialty camps (Horse Camp, Fishing Camp, Kayak Fishing Camp, Nature Time Camp and Adventure Camp) begin June 16.

Visit http://greenwellfoundation.org/ for more information on any of these events and programs.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: We have an active and growing volunteer program. Volunteers are the heart and soul of Greenwell. Our volunteer coordinator helps people find the right fit, whether it is volunteering with the Therapeutic Riding Program, Vets Helping Vets, gardening, construction projects, etc. We also have a Camp Buddy program for 13-16 year olds who volunteer with our summer camps. It’s valuable experience for the young teens and a tremendous asset to our campers.