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Economic indicators show it’s a prime time for women to bring their business dreams to fruition. Our business guru offers several creative ways to find funding.

 

You’re a creative go-getter with a great business idea, a plan to get it rolling, and the energy to sustain it through the best and worst of times. Great! Economic indicators are showing that now is the time to get started on bringing your business dreams to fruition. “Women’s entrepreneurial appetites are at an all-time high,” explained Carla Harris, chair of the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC), a nonpartisan federal advisory council, during a workshop speech at the 2015 Lead On Conference for Women

Information released by NWBC shows that women-owned firms have an economic impact of $3 trillion that helps create and/or maintain 23 million jobs, 16 percent of all U.S. jobs. “But women continue to face challenges accessing capital and other obstacles to growth” Harris said.

Additional research further supports the financial obstacles many would-be female business owners face. In fact, a policy report issued by the Kauffman Foundation states that when it comes to funding, women on average start their businesses with half as much capital as men. They also have only a 30 percent chance of attracting angel and venture capital funding.

Never mind the disheartening statistics. The good news is that as a female entrepreneur you do have options. Some traditional banks, such as PNC Bank, have specialized lending programs for women while non-traditional enterprises, such as Lendio and MoolaHoop, offer small business owners a more flexible approach to funding. Whether you choose to go the traditional or non-traditional route, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and always take advantage of supplementary services. For instance, in addition to providing access to funds, Lendio does much of the leg work for you by providing a pre-vetted list of non-traditional lending options, such as peer-to-peer, which pairs you with a private lender. Lendio also focuses on recommending SBA Microloans that offer small loans (Maximum of $US 50,000) to new businesses by pairing you up with non-profit organizations that offer government funding to entrepreneurs in specific counties. Better still, advisors are on hand to help you understand the nuances of the terms and conditions and to help you select the best loan option for your needs. Pick these expert’s brains.

With the proliferation of crowdfunding models, sometimes money is available right in your own community. MoolaHoop puts you on the crowdfunding path by providing a platform where you essentially build a campaign by posting a description of your business, how much money you want to raise, and what you can offer in terms of reciprocity, such as deals on products or services. Capitalizing on the power of excitement and urgency, you have 21 days to complete your fundraising.

 

While knowing your business may seem obvious to you, it won’t be to others. Regardless of their flavor, lenders are still lenders and they want some guarantee that you understand the dollars and cents aspect of your passion. Before seeking a loan, begin refining your business plan to include a company overview, a description of your employees, details about your market and your business’ financial history, including why you think there’s opportunity to grow.

 

During a recent interview with the Huffington Post, the NWBCs Harris emphasized that now is the time for women to jump onto the economic wave. “We’re in a great economic environment for women-owned businesses, possibly a perfect storm,” said Harris. “Our research suggests there is a direct correlation with access to capital and revenue generation, we believe that it is imperative to get more capital in the hands of women entrepreneurs at the outset in order to improve the sustainability for women owned businesses, enhance greater revenue generation and increase job creation.”

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Our business guru tackles the topic of networking. Read on for his tips on how to make the right connections, find your core, and organize the rest.

Tony Roma

When asked about the greatest challenges faced by female business owners, Carolyn Leonard, CEO of DyMynd, told Business News Daily, “One of the biggest challenges for a female entrepreneur is not understanding how important it is to have networks and trusted advisors.” Networking is vital to any form of career success, and it’s especially important when you have your own business. By following through on introductions and referrals and being open to new meetings, you will always gain new knowledge and possibly gain new connections that will help you grow your business. Expanding your current network can happen organically, but it’s important to take steps to meet people who can help you out.

At a high level, there are many resources to help small businesses get off the ground, from government associations to trade groups to academic institutions, and it’s the people you’ll meet through these organizations that will make all the difference. Dr. Deborah Osgood, president and CEO of Knowledge Institute for Small Business Development (KISBD), recently put together a list of groups that can help you establish new connections and obtain assistance and information. As an expert in small business development, Dr. Osgood has contributed to many small business success stories. She recognizes that there are bumps in the road for any business and advises “don’t try to do it alone.”

There are many national and local organizations that focus on providing resources and information to help women-owned businesses, in particular. For example, the U.S. Small Business Administration offers resources and advice on finding a mentor for women who are starting a business. But what if you find that there isn’t a group that suits a specific need or niche, or there’s something lacking in the network you’ve established? While it is a lot of work to start your own networking group, it can be accomplished with passion and focus. The fact that you recognize the need for a new kind of organization means you’ve done the informal research to get one started, and it’s likely you’ve found other women in the same boat.

As you speak with more people in your business circles, start thinking about who can help and how they can contribute. One fellow business owner may have a space where she can host group events, while others may be the perfect speakers on topics like taxes or small business loans. You’ll find that when you ask for help, your fellow business owners will be willing to pitch in to connect with other entrepreneurs and share the lessons they’ve learned. It’s certain that your new network will grow as others join you to expand their connections and share information that can be difficult to get otherwise.

Frederique Irwin had that realization and established Her Corner to expand “access to other motivated and ambitious women business owners.” By establishing a resource to organize events, share information, and facilitate locally-organized group meetings, Frederique has brought together like-minded female business owners to collaborate and expand their businesses. Building new communities isn’t easy, but her advice to find experienced partners, build a core group, and keep your focus on your members will help you make new connections for yourself and for the rest of your business community. With dedication and connections to the right people, you can build a core team that will establish a wider network and help you and your business grow.

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How can you leverage software to increase your productivity and boost your bottom line? Our business columnist offers insight.

 

Our business columnist
Our business columnist shares how businesses can increase productivity by connecting their software.

When you’re running a business, there’s a lot to keep track of: accounting, sales, deliveries, customer service and so much more. You’re probably using all kinds of mobile and online applications to manage the work you do, but are you connecting them together to save yourself valuable time and effort?’

Imagine that you change a contact’s phone number in your CRM and your address book is automatically updated with the new information. Or as you compose an email to schedule a meeting, you insert your availability into the message without switching to your calendar. Or you process a credit card payment and it’s automatically registered in your accounting software. All of these things can be accomplished with integrations, plug-ins, add-ons or extensions—different ways of sharing information between apps.

Browser Extensions
Every popular desktop browser has a way of adding new functions to it, like Firefox’s Add-Ons or the Chrome Web Store, and there are a number of extensions that improve your experience with applications you’re already using. For example, if you use Gmail, there are loads of browser extensions that will add tools directly to your inbox. Boomerang for Gmail lets you schedule outgoing emails or “boomerangs” incoming messages to the top of your inbox at a later time. And Boomerang Calendar allows you to propose meeting times right in an email message for easy scheduling. There are tools for monitoring and publishing to your WordPress blog, accessing LinkedIn profiles and signing documents—all from within your current browser window.

Product Integrations
It’s common for web-based software (or “SaaS software”) to include connections to other online apps, from marketing to accounting to file storage. The next time you open an app, check for integrations on the company website or in your settings. Our Insightly’s integrations page is a good example, where we list connections to and from our CRM for software like QuickBooks Online, Dropbox, Boomerang for Gmail and many more. With our QuickBooks Online integration, you can view a customer’s invoices and payments directly from their CRM record, so there’s no need to log in to QuickBooks to check on an invoice status. Some of these integrations are built by Insightly and others are built by the connecting services, all to make our common customers’ lives easier. Using integrations to connect your apps is a smart way to boost productivity and keep your data updated in multiple places.

Integration Services
If the product you’re using doesn’t have the integration you need, there are still other options to explore. Integration services like Zapier, FlowXO and Podbox can be set up as bridges between applications. They work by creating a trigger in one system that prompts an action in another system. One example is adding a new contact in your CRM, which could trigger a welcome email from your marketing software. Another would be to automatically create a Facebook post on your company page whenever you have a new blog entry on WordPress. It’s not a bad idea to map out the triggers and actions on paper or a whiteboard to help you plan the setup. Integration services fill in the gaps when there is no other option available.

Ultimately, there is no single application that includes every tool you need to run a business, so integrations can help you reduce data entry time and be much more productive. Some of these options will take effort to set up, but it’s likely you’ll see a payoff very quickly. Think through the possibilities: If it takes you 30 minutes to set up an integration and it saves you only 5 minutes a day, you’ll already be saving time within the first week of using it. That’s a great return on the time you invest!

About the author: Tony Roma is Insightly’s Content Manager. With a knack for finding the best way to accomplish a task, he’s been helping businesses improve their workflows for over ten years.

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Our business guru explains the four most important steps that every business needs to get organized and be managed like a well-oiled machine.

062215INSIGHTLY

Any business, over time, develops a database of clients and various organizational needs that gets more complex as the business gets larger. The issue is that a disorganized approach can cost money in lost productivity, lost opportunities, and lost clients. Any company that wants to succeed needs to embrace the idea of better overall information management. By using tools that are readily available, a growing company can utilize all of its business resources and find ways to develop more profitable relationships with clients, vendors, and business partners.

Inspire Organization Among Your Employees

You can take charge of every detail by inspiring your employees to be organized. Simple tactics can include an end of the month desk cleaning event. This helps ensure a neater, more organized appearance to office space and it helps employees get into the routine of being organized. You can also provide training on such things as how to utilize in and out file baskets and also on how to keep computer records organized.

Utilize the Cloud

Cloud storage is an excellent way to centralize all of your company’s digital files and as a way to keep all of your company files organized. Options include Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, and Google Drive. You can develop a storage system that employees will follow and that will allow you and your employees to be able to access important company files on the go. Online storage options make files easier to find and easier to access, whenever you need them.

Integrate Your Management Platforms

When you utilize strong customer relationship management software, you are able to keep all of your customer contact details in one database. But there are other factors that work on that database which need to be considered as well. You should also consider integrating other software with your CRM to keep all of your client interactions as up to date as possible; these can include billing/accounting applications, email marketing platforms, and the cloud storage solutions mentioned above. In addition, it’s critical to make sure that each department in the company is constantly utilizing and updating the CRM database. This ensures that you have current information to work from.

Manage Your Social Media Presence

Your social media networks can get out of hand if you don’t take the time to organize them properly. You need to prioritize your contacts and constantly clean out the contacts and files that you no longer need to have on your social media pages. You also need to integrate your social media activity with your CRM platform; this is a proactive way to develop a comprehensive profile of your customers. By mixing these two platforms together, you can significantly expand your understanding of your clients and develop more effective marketing programs. CRM solutions that allow you to integrate your social media presence into your customer management practices help you become more efficient at delivering marketing messages.

Implement these practices with tools like online storage and a quality CRM program to develop a customer management strategy that will grow your business and significantly enhance your revenue.

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