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National Small Business Week Roundup: May 3

This week is National Small Business Week, and we’re celebrating by rounding up some of the best posts from our archives and combining it with posts from other websites we think you should see.

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National Small Business Week Roundup: May 2

This week is National Small Business Week, and we’re celebrating by rounding up some of the best posts from our archives and combining it with posts from other websites we think you should see.

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The Solo Entrepreneur's Notebook: Keeping the Passion High in Good Times and Bad

Guest post from Lori Wagoner

Solo entrepreneurs

A solo entrepreneur’s journey is unlike any other journey. The trials, tribulations and elations are the same, but the difference is that you don’t have someone who commiserates or celebrates with you.

When you set out on the path of becoming an entrepreneur, you know the journey is going to be difficult. From obtaining legal permissions to finding new hires, nothing is easy. This difficulty rises to altogether new heights if you are a solo entrepreneur. While Paul Graham proclaimed not having a co-founder the top mistake that a startup could make, Mark Taber wrote otherwise. Brittany Hodak, Co-Founder of ZinePak, likened starting a company alone to raising a child as a single parent. And I think there is no better comparison.

Passion burnout is real and it can wreck your startup. However, my intention is not to scare you — the solo entrepreneur or single founder — away, but express my empathy. I know how lonely it gets at times and how difficult it is for you to keep going. (Sometimes, you secretly wish there were two of you, don’t you?) But, it is indeed possible to keep your passion high in good times as well as bad.

Before we try and do that, let’s get this small obstacle out of the way: ask yourself these three questions:

  • Would I have been happier in my old job / another career?
  • Is this worth the blood, sweat and tears?
  • Are my goals too lofty?

These questions will help you to reflect upon your past decisions, weigh your present situation, and set a corrective course for the immediate and long-term future of your business.

The fact is no matter how down you are feeling right now, you wouldn’t have traded places and if you were given a second chance, you would have still chosen this path and shed blood and tears all over again. It takes a few minutes of introspection to make you realize that you are not on the wrong path and revive your confidence.

Sometimes, you will find that you have set the bar too high not only for your business but also for yourself. Understand limitations and boundaries: there are only 24 hours in a day, your employees are bound to make mistakes; in fact you are prone to make more mistakes yourself.

Once you take stock of your situation, revise your goals and then try again. Once you have a clear picture in your head, you can try these awesome, actionable tips to revive your passion and confidence:

1. Be OK with Being Wrong

Learn to accept that you are a human being and it is human to err. Don’t judge or criticize yourself too harshly. Most of the time, you feel low because you are beating yourself up about something or the other.

My advice: Simply note down your mistake and the lesson learned and stick it on a board where you can’t see it all the time. This way, it will be less about the mistake and more about the lesson learned.

learn from your mistakes solo entrepreneur

2. Circumvent Decision Fatigue

Entrepreneurs feel real burnout when they are burdened with decision-making. From selecting the font for the new microsite to hiring developers, decision-making can cause fatigue. So how do you reach decisions faster and avoid decision fatigue?
The answer lies in plain sight – in technology and automation.

Instead of lingering over every detail for your branding and website, get feedback directly from your target demographics, using usability testing services and survey tools. You'll remove the fear from your decisions, because you'll have data to rely on. 

3. Seek an Advisor

If you are finding yourself at crossroads one time too many and your instincts are particularly silent, trust an advisor. Don’t have one? Get someone onboard now. It could be anyone from your spouse to your best friend, or a senior whom you particularly respect.

A lot of startup incubators help startups not only with funding but also mentoring, so an alternative method would be to get help from these incubators and angel investors.

advice for solo entrepreneurs

4. Do Something Totally Different

At times, you may feel you are stuck in a rut with the same old problems and challenges staring you in the face. This can be also one of the reasons why you may find the flame of your passion dwindling. At times like this, take a break from your current task and do something creative (if you are doing something creative, try some arithmetic). Take up physical exercise or sports. Take a day or weekend off if your schedule allows you. The idea is to break the chain of thought and recharge your brain cells.

If you don’t feel like getting up from your desk though, try simple games that can make you smile and rekindle your passion again.

5. Get a Liberal Dose of Positivity and Energy

Be around people who are excited or positive about their life and career. As you stay in the company of highly motivated people, you will find their enthusiasm rubbing off on you. Famous American entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn put it very nicely,

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

If you find yourself surrounded by toxic people who are sapping passion out of your life, whether they are buddies you drink with at the pub or business associates, make a point to minimalize contact with them and find better, positive company.

Clichéd or amateurish as it might sound, binging on motivational quotes works like a charm all the time. As attributed to Henry Ford,

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right.”

Stick your favorite quotes up on the wall or read them whenever you are feeling the blues. Here are some of the most inspirational quotes by business giants that you can relate to at different steps of your entrepreneurial journey.

Over to You

None of the ideas we discussed chew away at your time. And all of them are easily actionable. If group talks are not helping you or you can’t hit the gym regularly, these small but effective pointers will keep your passion running high. I’ll let you get back to work now. All the best!

Image credit: Entrepreneurfail.com
 

Lori Wagoner is a market research consultant. She advises small businesses on new ways to find local and national business. She's an avid blogger and writes for sites such as Small Business Can, Tweak Your Biz and Customer Think. You can catch her on Twitter @loridwagoner.

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Invoice templates vs online invoice software, what do I choose?

An invoice template in Microsoft Word or Excel can seem like a great option. After all, an invoice is just a one-page sheet of paper with some numbers and descriptions, right? 

Actually, that piece of paper is just one part of the process of running your business and getting paid, and using a Word or Excel template creates as many problems as it solves. Online invoice software is much more efficient for invoicing purposes than traditional invoice templates.

Made to get you paid

Simply put, invoice software is made to get you paid faster.

Professionally designed invoices give your customers clear information, focusing on the action that matters most: Pay this invoice now, please.

Unlike Excel and Word invoice templates, with invoice software you can provide your customers with the convenience of paying by credit card. Invoices viewed online can have a “pay now” button with a credit card form attached to it, so customers can pay on the spot when they view your invoice.

For instance, when your customer (let’s call her Jane) is in the line at Starbucks, with a million other things to get done during the day, she can access her invoices on her smartphone and PAY before she even orders her coffee. She gets the convenience, and you get money in your pocket faster.

Not only does invoice software process the transaction and generate a receipt for Jane, but you will also see when Jane received (and read) the email, when she paid, and how much she paid. Can your PDF do that?

Automatic

Online invoice software is designed with automated features to help you process invoices with ease and efficiency.

There’s nothing more uncomfortable than chasing down your customers for money. With invoice software you can send automatic reminders to customers who haven’t paid yet, slimming the chances of getting your money late.

For your regular customers, you can automate your invoices so that they send on a regular schedule (say, the first of every month). According to our data, three quarters of Wave users have repeat relationships with their customers. These are situations that beg for recurring invoices — a feature that invoice software provides with just a few clicks.

The best invoice software has real accounting functionality built right in. With all your financial information in one place, you can sail through tax season with less worry and stress.

Powerful tools

Invoice software stores your products, prices, customers, and taxes, so each time you create an invoice, you can do it in a few clicks. It also provides you with insight to help you identify where the majority of your income comes from; which clients pay on a consistent basis; and what products sell the most. Additionally, customer credit card data is stored in a PCI-compliant way that puts security first. (Did you know it’s illegal for you to write a customer’s credit card number down on a piece of paper and store it in your files? Scary but true…) 

With many online invoice software options (such as Wave), your data is stored, managed, and processed in the cloud. In other words, your information is stored online as opposed to your computer’s hard drive. So if your computer goes BOOM!! you have nothing to worry about... all your data will be safely tucked away in the cloud, backed up on multiple servers so your business records remain safe.

On the go

Whether you are at home or on the go, online invoice software allows you to record your invoices with ease and convenience. You can process your transactions from your laptop from any location — no need to wait until you get home to bill your customers.  Better still, if you’re an iPhone user, you can invoice right from Wave’s mobile invoice app.

Wave in action

With Wave, it’s easy to be organized, look professional, and get paid faster. Here is an example  of what the workflow can look like for you:

  1. Create and send an estimate for a customer. You look like a pro for doing this, and you and your customer both know what the job looks like and what it includes, to avoid headaches down the road.
  2. The customer approves.
  3. You do your work, and then convert your estimate into an invoice with just one click!
  4. You send your customer the invoice via Wave, with another couple of clicks. You get to track when the invoice was sent, and when it has been viewed by your customer.
  5. Since you’ve enabled Payments by Wave, your customer can pay you immediately, via credit card, rather than waiting until they find a check, an envelope and a stamp and get it in the mail.
  6. All your accounting records are updated automatically. Say goodbye to messy paper files where you keep track of the money you’ve received.

Online invoice software does all of the above by the click of a few buttons. Not only will it save you time and effort, but you’ll also get insight to your invoicing process that is impossible to get with invoice templates. But most importantly, it makes life easier—both for you, and for Jane.

Stewart Escalona

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The Hidden Cost of Checks

Back in 2009, Britain made a surprising announcement: they would be phasing out checks, with the goal of making them completely extinct by 2018. They later backtracked, but the decision to eliminate checks shows that they’re no longer an essential part of the economy.

Small businesses tend to accept checks more often than major chains. There’s a bit of a misconception that checks are more reliable and more secure than cards. The truth is, there are actually a lot of problems that come with the use of checks, especially for a small business. Here are just a few:

Inconvenience for your customers, unnecessary delays for you

When you pay for something by check, there are a lot of extra steps that you don’t need to worry about if you pay by card: finding your checks, finding and addressing an envelope, buying or tracking down a stamp, and then physically taking the check to the mail. None of these are particularly difficult tasks (although there’s no guarantee these days that you’ll be able to find a check, an envelope and a stamp quickly!), but the time it takes to do all of these adds up.

Your customers don’t want to go through this, and you might even lose them to a similar business that offers a more convenient way to pay. 

Long Processing Times

When you get paid by cash or a card, you get the money you deserve for your work quickly. That’s not true when it comes to checks. Even if you take a check to the bank immediately, your funds won’t arrive in your account right away.

If all goes well, the check will clear by the end of the next business day. The problem is, it doesn’t always go well. If the bank decides to hold the check, it can be up to eight business days before the hold is removed. That’s assuming that your check isn’t crossing any borders. If it is, it can be held for up to thirty days.

We did the math based on payments made to small business owners who use Wave. 75% of payments by credit card are deposited in seven days or less. It can take up to seventeen days for payments made by check.

When you’re counting on payments from every customer, you just can’t wait that long for your payments to come through. Late payments from customers can have a huge effect on your cash flow. You’ve got bills to pay. Maybe you have some employees who need their paycheck. Problems with your cash flow can cut into your profits, and checks just aren’t reliable enough to guarantee that this won’t happen to you.

Tricky Customers

Accepting checks can also unfortunately leave room for malicious customers to take advantage of you and your business. If a check bounces, it’s your responsibility to track the customer down and ask them to pay. The alternative is letting the payment go and accepting the loss.

Maybe you’ll get your payment eventually, if you’re willing to put up a good fight. But you could be spending that time and energy on a new customer who deserves your attention instead.

This isn’t a problem with debit cards, which won’t be accepted if there are insufficient funds. It’s also not a problem with credit cards. If someone pays you with a credit card, but then can’t pay their bill, it’s up to the card provider to collect the payment. The money from the card is already in your account, and it won’t be taken back.

Alternatives to Checks

One of the easiest options is to only accept cash. However, if you hope to grow your business, this may not be a long-term solution. More and more people are beginning to move away from using cash at all. USA Today reported that 33% of people use a card for every purchase they make, even purchases under $5. Younger age groups in particular are more likely to use cards on small purchases. This can make it difficult for a cash-only business to attract new customers. And if you’re not doing business face-to-face with your customers, it’s probably not possible at all.

In many cases, the best option for a small business may be to accept credit cards. It’s convenient for your customers, you get your money quickly, and the fees are affordable.

With Wave, you can accept credit cards for 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction. You only pay for what you use — there are no monthly fees or hidden charges. Get started and begin accepting credit cards in under 60 seconds. Customers in the U.S.* get their funds in 2 business days (after initial account review and setup).

Kevin Manning

* Not in the U.S.? Check out pricing here, and contact us for details.

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