Blog/News

Boosting Morale

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

Is your workforce happy?

Many businesses struggle to answer that question, and those who don’t usually know the answer: “no.” Contrary to popular belief, people aren’t categorically miserable in their day-to-day work. Generally, they find specific aspects of it frustrating, but managers and business owners often fail to identify the components that need to change. A happy workforce is a productive workforce, so taking an active interest in your employees’ satisfaction is both kind and shrewd. Here are a few ways to keep tabs on morale and address issues as you learn about them:

  • Ask your employees what they want.

Most CEOs and managers assume their employees want more money, but the reality may surprise you. The solution is often simpler (and cheaper). Although most entry-level employees wouldn’t argue with a pay raise, they’re usually more concerned with things like life-work balance, health benefits, and other resources like childcare, transportation assistance and higher education for themselves and/or their children.

Giving your employees a voice allows you the opportunity to address the actual problems your workforce faces instead of guessing and potentially wasting money on the wrong solution. Distribute a company-wide survey or implement a suggestion box to let your employees air their thoughts and concerns anonymously, the results will inform your next move.

  • Make sure they know their work is appreciated.

In the day-to-day hustle and bustle, it can be easy to take your employees’ work for granted. However, appreciation for hard work done well can make all the difference to a dedicated employee. Make a point of showing your appreciation in whatever way possible; whether it’s a large-scale reward system like “employee of the month” or smaller rewards like a free lunch for the most productive team members, make sure your highest performers know that you appreciate them.

  • Offer discounts and sponsorships for day-to-day essentials.

Offering to help your employees with daily expenses like transportation or childcare demonstrates an appreciation for their concerns outside of work. Employees, particularly in large-scale businesses, often feel that their humanity is ignored in the workplace. So, helping them with a non-work aspect of their lives will make them feel seen and appreciated.

  • Take a vested interest in your employees’ futures.

This may sound difficult, and it will be at the beginning, but taking an interest in your employees’ dreams and future plans will tell them that their job, whatever it may be, is a means to their personal ends. This goes back to listening to your employees. If you can find out what their aspirations are, you may be surprised how easily you can facilitate them. For example, if you have employees who’d like to receive higher education of some sort, you may be able to work out a deal with a local community college or state school to get your employees access to cheap or free classes.

  • Make time for fun experiences that bring your team together.

Although company outings and team building activities are often seen as cliché, it’s important to establish trust and a friendly rapport among your employees. Whether you decide to institute a pet-friendly office (after inquiring about all office workers’ allergies, of course), install a foosball table, or occasionally plan social gatherings, your staff will appreciate the stress relief and the opportunity to bond with one another. Even just one casual gathering (IE a bowling night, board game night, or potluck dinner) per month can make a dramatic difference in a team’s ability to work together.

No one expects their workforce to be overjoyed all the time, but taking steps to keep your employees happy and motivated is easier than you think and will do wonders for your team’s productivity. All you have to do is listen.


Financing With Poor Credit

Sadie Keljikian and David Estrakh, Express Trade Capital

Let’s say your business needs financing, but has bad credit, meaning your FICO score is somewhere between 300 and 629. You may think that there aren’t any financing options that will allow your business to grow. However, alternative lenders can offer your business options of which you may not be aware.

Most traditional lenders require good credit and years of robust positive returns. Basically, they’re highly useful once you have a track record of sustained success on the books but are virtually non-existent on your way there. To fill this gap, alternative lenders have developed more flexible formulas and creative means for funding businesses. This means that although your credit may be too depleted to secure a traditional-style loan, you still have alternatives to enhance your capital and cash flow.

Here is a quick overview of your options from traditional lending to alternative lenders:

Bank Loans

Although they may seem like most straightforward resource, banks aren’t always the most practical options for business financing, particularly if your credit is poor or you don’t have much history. As regulated entities banks have rigid underwriting standards and procedures and offer inflexible terms, which will leave you with little recourse if you need flexibility or higher loan amounts down the road.

SBA

New businesses can take advantage of loans from the Small Business Administration. SBA loans are federally guaranteed and offer a variety of loan options and payment terms. Available lending structures include traditional-style loans with more generous payment terms, loans against commercial real estate or other valuable property, fixed or revolving lines of credit, export loans, microloans, and disaster loans.

To the SBA’s credit, interest on these loans is typically low and repayment terms are longer than other lenders can generally offer. However, as with bank loans, the terms of an SBA loan are usually inflexible because the SBA is a heavily regulated government agency.

Collateralized Loans – Invoices

When banks aren’t an option, but you’ve got open invoices with your customers, you can generally get cash advances against those invoices. Stagnant or inconsistent cash flow is a common problem among wholesalers who sell on open terms, so receivables factoring was created as a way to bridge the cash flow gap from when an invoice is first created to when it is finally paid by the customer.

Collateralized Loans – Purchase Order Funding

Some lenders will lay out funds to pay for cost of goods, shipping and related expenses required to fulfill the demands of a customer purchase order. Although purchase order funding loans are essentially loans backed by inventory, there are a few differences: (a) PO funding loans are made before the client has purchased inventory; (b) goods are presold to credit-approved retailers before purchase; and (c) the end customer who issued the PO will typically repay the lender directly rather than repayment by the PO funding client-borrower, as is the case with most loans.

Collateralized Loans – Inventory

Depending on your industry and sales volumes, you may be able to secure financing against inventory that you’ve yet to sell. Generally, lenders can offer cash lines secured by inventory only if their clients meet certain minimum sales volumes or revenues. They use your sales the same way other lenders would use your credit score: to confirm that you are likely to repay the loan, in this case, by asking you to demonstrate sufficient velocity of inventory sales which will generate enough revenue to repay the obligation.

Collateralized Loans – Equipment

If you operate a manufacturing facility or other processing facility and own (or plan to buy) your own equipment, you may be able to finance your business by using your equipment as collateral. The loan operates much like one against a car or other piece of valuable property. Provided that you make your payments on time, your equipment will be undisturbed, allowing you full use of the equipment while giving you access to the cash you had to freeze to purchase that equipment in the first place.

Collateralized Loans – Property

A number of bank and non-bank institutions will lend against existing equity in property or finance the cost of property acquisition in exchange for equity in the property once acquired. Such loans are typically lower interest rate due to the perception that property is a relatively stable asset. Formulas like loan to value ratios (LTVs) are created to account for possible price fluctuation. For example, if a lender has a 70% LTV, they will only lend 70% of the value of the property and the remaining 30% provides a cushion in case of price fluctuation, so as long as the value of the property doesn’t drop by more than 30% the lender can be compensated by selling off the asset.

Merchant Cash Advances (“MCAs”)

MCA’s are essentially loans extended to businesses in exchange for a percentage of the businesses’ daily or weekly credit card revenues. MCAs loans are typically repaid either directly by the credit processor who agrees to send a portion of the funds to MCA provider according to the terms of the MCA contract or from the bank account which receives proceeds from the credit card processor.

While MCA loans are expensive and often exceed state usury limits when viewed as loans, the MCA loan structure has some major advantages over that of conventional loans. First, payments to the MCA company fluctuate with the borrower’s sales volumes, giving them more flexibility to manage cash flow while repaying the loan, particularly during slow sales seasons. In addition, MCA loan approval process is substantially quicker than typical loans, allowing faster access to funds.


To discuss any of the above options further and get more specific details, please contact one of our financial specialists at Express Trade Capital.


Marketing From Scratch: Part 2

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

The following is a continuation of our previous article on building a marketing department from scratch when resources are limited.

Step 5: Content rules.

When you start building your marketing materials, remember that content is your best friend, whether it’s material on your website, a guest blog post or article, or any of dozens of other varieties of marketable content. Each variety serves you in a few ways:

-Visually Appealing

At least some portion (i.e. more than one piece of media) of your marketing content should be visually driven. Infographics, videos, even written articles with photos or other visual components (diagrams, graphs, charts, etc.), are enormously helpful in driving traffic and, ultimately, bringing in new business.

This kind of content is usually best left to designers and branding professionals, since it requires an eye for detail and knowledge of effective imagery. However, there are several websites that provide templates and user-friendly design software, allowing those less experienced in design to create effective visual materials.

-Informative

Although advertising is a good idea, content like blogs and articles should not be sales-driven. Why not? First, regardless of your industry, chances are there is at least one vital area of your business that clients/customers do not understand. Think of the concepts you end up explaining to every client or customer. It doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated; a lot of businesses use language or systems of which customers are simply unaware. Secondly, advertising is typically brief and to the point. The most effective ad campaigns are usually the simplest because readers/browsers don’t want to read a long-form piece with sales-y language. If a reader finds a longer piece online, they are typically looking for information. Thus, the reader will be much more receptive to a piece that gives them the information they seek without trying to sell them on a specific product, service, or business.

Finally, informative content is good for your business’s reputation. The more genuinely valuable information you provide, the more trustworthy your image and the more likely it is that potential clients or customers will actually choose you.

-Straightforward Sales

This is where your content can be as sales-oriented as you like. Although longer written pieces should be informatively-driven, advertising materials like brochures, email blasts, and online advertisements like banner ads and Google AdWords are quick and to the point. Advertising materials should always include all important details of your business (name, industry, a phone number, or “contact” link online) as well as at least a few words about what makes your business unique.

As mentioned, the key factor in content like this is keeping things brief. No one wants to read an extensive blog entry or article full of sales language because it invariably ends up boring and repetitive. Less is truly more in this case.

Set bite-sized, attainable goals.

The biggest mistake a lot of small businesses make is expecting too much too quickly. Granted, it can be difficult to know how quickly things should move, especially when you don’t have previous experience in marketing.

While you absolutely shouldn’t waste time, quantity and speed should never take priority over quality of your marketing materials, particularly the content that you plan to distribute on a large scale. Remember that all content you release will represent your business. Make sure everything looks polished and is correct and well-written before you put it out into the world.

Get out there.

Once you’ve got a reasonable amount of marketing materials and feel comfortable with your pitch, don’t be afraid to put yourself and your business out there. It may be scary at first, but contact-based sales techniques (in-person networking, phone calls, emails, etc.) are the most effective in getting you customers. Here are a few ways to get yourself and your brand out there:

-Trade Shows/Expos

This, of course, depends on your industry, but it is an excellent idea to attend relevant trade shows whenever possible. The benefits are numerous: you can meet new customers/clients, network with similar businesses in your industry, look around for marketing tips and tricks, and work on your in-person pitch.

-Email blasts/CRM

Email blasts and CRM systems are particularly useful if you are in a B2B (business to business, meaning you don’t sell to consumers directly) field. They allow you to contact large numbers of prospects at once and track your progress as they become clients or customers. You should, however, be careful in executing email blasts and/or CRM. Try not to email anyone who hasn’t given you permission. An easy way to make sure that everyone has opted in is to create a newsletter or something similar and allow people to sign up on your website. Carefully choose your email blast/CRM software, as some sites are more likely to end up in your contacts’ spam folders. If you do your homework, this option will serve you and your business well.

-Ad Space

Advertising campaigns that are worth running are going to use a significant portion of your marketing budget. This means that you should research all advertising methods thoroughly before you start spending money. Find out what kinds of ads are most effective in your industry and at your level. If you run a pay-per-click campaign, find out how much you need to spend for your ad to get valuable attention without surpassing your budget and keep your eye on the numbers. You should never spend more on advertising than you will reasonably make back in sales. This will obviously take some time and a bit of experience to nail down.

The world of marketing and advertising is intimidating, but if you pace yourself and stay as informed as possible, you can build a solid marketing department and increase your sales enormously. Use your time and resources wisely and don’t be afraid to spend a little extra time and/or money to prepare yourself and your materials.


Click for details on Express Trade Capital’s trade finance solutions.

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Marketing from Scratch: Part 1

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

Your small business is growing and you suddenly need to consider long-term marketing tactics. If you already have a website and any basic promotional materials, you’re off to a good start. However, it is important to devote resources to high quality, specifically driven content. Unfortunately, your budget won’t allow you to hire an experienced marketing professional, so what do you do?

I began working for Express Trade Capital with no prior finance experience. In fact, I hadn’t worked in an office at all. I was already a capable writer, but had yet to write anything journalistic or formal beyond written assignments in college. Initially, I thought this job would be a stepping stone and a good place for me to get my feet wet as an office worker. I hadn’t the slightest notion I’d move up in the company or stay long-term. Then, the business needed a marketing department and things changed very quickly.

Step 1: Look for hidden talent in your existing workforce.

When I began at ETC, I was the receptionist. Most of it came naturally; I’ve always been an extrovert and had worked in service previously, so most of my initial learning was devoted to familiarizing myself with trade finance. Not long after I started, however, my superiors decided to investigate my other skills. Within a few weeks, one of the VPs asked me if I would be willing to write a blog post for the company website. I immediately agreed, eager to demonstrate my value as a writer, and soon I was producing blog entries at least once a week. Gradually, I took on more and more new responsibilities.

The primary lesson here is that you should never take your administrative employees for granted or assume that they won’t be willing or able to do more. Offering me the opportunity to use one of my strongest skills, especially in an unexpected context, gave me a new perspective on my job. Suddenly, moving up in the ranks didn’t seem so unlikely. When you discover valuable skills in your existing employees, you gain on-site resources, save the money and hassle involved in hiring someone new, and encourage your workforce to take advantage of their strengths and grow with the company.

Step 2: Research, research, research.

If you’re building your marketing department from scratch, meaning you don’t have any employees with marketing experience and don’t plan to hire an experienced marketer, research is key.

In my case, I came in with the ability to write well, but with very little marketing knowledge beyond that of an average person who encounters ads and branding every day. When I was still in my original role, I researched as many marketing methods and resources as possible and worked with my boss to form a plan. Although he also had minimal experience in marketing, he is a lawyer with several years of experience in our industry, so he provided context for a lot of our efforts. I then spent the bulk of my time researching marketing techniques best suited to smaller, niche businesses and building a database. Throughout the process, my boss and I spoke periodically to fill each other in and brainstorm effective ways to use the methods I’d researched within the scope of our business.

Ideally, you want to have at least one person responsible for marketing skills and at least one person with more experience in your specific industry so that each can fill in the other’s knowledge gaps. Communication is key. If the two (or more) individuals fall out of contact even for a few days, the whole process can be halted. Don’t adhere yourself to deadlines too severely, especially if you’re building on scant knowledge. It’s always better to take care in structuring your marketing plan than to rush to implement systems you haven’t adequately researched.

Step 3: Plan budgets and targets carefully.

Marketing budgets can get out of control very quickly. If you don’t plan carefully, you could find yourself spending too much on components that won’t get you anywhere. If your business is rather small, it is particularly important to be extremely selective with your choices and vet thoroughly.

You should not try to compete with heavy-hitters in your industry unless you have an exorbitant marketing budget to work with. Try to gather a side-by-side comparison of your budget and plan with a competitor that deals in similar amounts to your business. See what businesses like yours are doing and, if possible, how much they’re spending on advertising and marketing. Look for comparable businesses that you would like to emulate and find a similar approach.

Beyond choosing marketing components, you should also select your audience and marketing channels carefully. Consider whose attention you’re trying to attract. Are you selling a consumer product that could be considered an “impulse purchase”? If so, you’ll probably want to invest in advertising on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. If you are a B2B business and require contact with executives to make sales, you’ll probably want to focus more of your attention on sites like LinkedIn and review sites like Yelp. LinkedIn allows you to curate your ad’s audience to specific industries and job titles, so you can target businesses that might require your service and the decision makers within those businesses. Yelp and similar review sites help to simplify your prospects’ efforts in vetting you before they get involved.

Step 4: Don’t outsource unless you must.

Although this step is just a word of caution, it warrants some explanation. Varied degrees of outsourced marketing – whether you’re just hiring a graphic designer to make a logo or signing on with a full-service marketing firm – can be a brilliant resource for small businesses. Understandably, not all companies can afford to pay an entire department to build a website, extend their reach, and continually produce content.

The problem is that when you outsource, it’s often difficult to know exactly what you’re getting. This may seem obvious, but a marketing professional won’t be as familiar with your industry as someone on your staff. In other words, they may know how to market businesses generally, but they probably won’t have any detailed knowledge of the innerworkings of your business.

Different kinds of marketing companies will approach marketing for your business differently. Basic SEO will usually offer suggestions and amendments to your online content to include more keywords and move your site up in search engine rankings. More comprehensive marketers will come up with a fully-fledged marketing plan, including branding. If you absolutely must outsource aspects of your marketing, vet marketers thoroughly and insist on case studies and/or references from your industry before you sign anything. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. Failure to fully understand your outsourced marketing resource’s strengths and weaknesses can result in your wasting a lot of money (particularly if you are bound to a minimum contract with them) without gaining any useful materials or customers.


Check in for part 2, coming next week!

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First Year Of Business Survival Guide

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that only 50 percent of business startups make it through the fifth year. If your startup is real estate, your chances are a little better (58 percent); if you are in retail (47 percent) or information (37 percent), the odds are a bit worse.

The first year of business sets the tone, and companies that start off on the right foot improve their chances of not only surviving, but also thriving. The infographic below, “First Year of Business Survival Guide,” gives entrepreneurs foundational survival advice in all key areas of the enterprise — at a glance.

The infographic format was selected for this topic because entrepreneurs with new ventures are busy enough setting up shop without the added burden of dissecting a 10,000-word textbook about business organization. To make your job as easy as possible, we created an infographic that distills the business knowledge and experience of our organization down to the must-do actions that make or break a new enterprise. Without doubt, there are many, many other bases that need to be covered — but without these 11 items, entrepreneurs will have a difficult time staying in the game no matter how well they run those other bases.

Another advantage of boiling down the survival guide to a manageable number of 11 items: One of the biggest missteps a new business can make is trying to do too much and overcomplicating the effort.

For instance, from an executive leadership perspective, it is far more effective to emphasize a handful of goals than a wheelbarrow full. Too many goals makes focus difficult, and more often than not confuses the team (if not the business owners themselves) — the upshot of which is not merely falling short of every goal, but often working at cross purposes. A small set of goals — provided they are the right ones — give new businesses the best chance of success, by far.

Another widely applicable example of simplicity trumping complexity is in the IT function. Many startups get wrapped up in their own wiring, trying to hit the ground running with complex, state-of-the-art information technologies and operating platforms. The real survival issues are much simpler: keeping the computer system up and running and phone lines open. As many a former entrepreneur can tell you, upsetting prospects with website pages that don’t load, being unable to process orders and dropping the call when they want to phone in an order are sure ways to go out of business — quickly.

Succeed with simplicity. This more than anything is the key to success in the first year of operation — and we hope this infographic makes yours a smashing success.

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