What is an H1B Visa and Will Proposed Changes Affect Your Business?

What is an H1B Visa and Will Proposed Changes Affect Your Business?

President-elect Donald Trump has suggested changes to H1B visas that could impact some small businesses and their employees.

But if you’re busy running every other aspect of your small business, you probably don’t have time to keep up with all the country’s complex immigration laws. So here’s a simple explanation of the H1B visa program and what proposed changes could mean for small businesses.

What is an H1B Visa?

An H1B visa is a program for businesses hiring foreign workers for specific positions in the U.S. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Immigration Attorney Paul Goldstein explained in an email to Small Business Trends, “The H 1B visa are non-immigrant visas for foreign workers in ‘specialty occupations.’ While there is no set definition for what … a ‘specialty occupation’ [is], the position must meet one of the following criteria.”

Goldstein explains that:

  • The position must require a baccalaureate or higher degree or its equivalent
  • Or it must have a degree requirement that is common in the industry for similar positions, or be a position that is so specialized that it can only be performed by a person with a degree
  • Or it must be a position for which the employer normally requires a degree or equivalent
  • Or the nature of the job or its duties are so complex that the knowledge required to perform those duties would normally be associated with a baccalaureate or higher degree.

Essentially, the job should be something that requires or would normally require a college degree.

What Types of Employees Do H1B Visas Cover?

Essentially, any business that hires people for positions that require a college degree could apply for H1B visas.

However, there are certain types of businesses that tend to use them more than others. For instance, tech companies like IBM tend to apply for a good portion of the allotted visas.

In addition, certain physicians and non-profit and government researchers can also fit within the program. But some of those positions aren’t restricted by the annual cap on H1B visas.

What Might Changes to H1B Visas Mean for Businesses?

President-elect Trump’s suggested changes involve investigating “abuse” of H1B and other visas.

Currently, there is a cap for H1B visa applicants each year.

Goldstein says, “Congress has placed a cap on the number of visas that will be issued for a fiscal year starting on October 1st at 65,000. There are an additional 20,000 visas for foreign workers who have earned a master’s degree or higher from a United States institution of higher learning. The USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) will accept H1B petitions for the fiscal year beginning April 1st with employment start date of October 1st.”

However, there aren’t any other specific changes that are already in the works as far as H1B visas are concerned. There may very well be new restrictions in the coming years, potentially including a smaller cap or increased fees for applicants. But Goldstein says it’s too early to anticipate what those changes might actually entail. However, applying as early as possible is the best route for businesses looking to utilize the program.

Goldstein says, “As the incoming administration under President- Elect Trump has promised changes in the immigration laws, we would have to wait and see what is proposed for H1B visas and voted on by Congress. I can tell you that if a business wants to file a H1B they should start early to have the submission ready to be filed by April 1st.”

Statue of Liberty Photo via Shutterstock


7 Step Email Marketing Checkup for Retailers

Given the importance of email marketing for retailers, your email strategy needs to be up-to-date. Here's a seven-step checklist to see how you're doing.

What’s the best way to stay in touch with your retail customers? According to a recent study, email blows all other marketing methods out of the water. Respondents of all generations, from Generation Z to Baby Boomers, prefer email communications from retailers by a wide margin.

How wide? Overall, 68 percent of consumers surveyed prefer to receive brand communications from retailers via email; just 6.9 percent prefer the next most popular method, in-store communications. (Rounding out the list, 5.6 percent prefer text messages and 4.5 percent prefer communications via Facebook.) This is one instance where the generation gap is quite small: 73 percent of Baby Boomers prefer email communications from retailers, and 62 percent of Millennials do, too.

Given the importance of email marketing to retailers, your approach to email needs to be on point. Take this seven-step email marketing checkup and see how you’re doing.

Email Marketing for Retailers Checklist

1. Are your emails segmented? Segmenting, or separating your email subscribers into different lists, helps you deliver more relevant emails. Subscribers may segment themselves based on how they opt-in to your emails, or you can segment them based on data you gather. You can segment subscribers in many ways, including:

  • Demographic information, such as age, gender, marital status, children
  • Location
  • Transaction-related information, such as how often they buy from you, when they tend to purchase, and their average purchase amount
  • Behavioral information, such as what pages they view on your website, what emails they open and what previous email offers they’ve acted on.

2. Are your emails personalized? Personalization is key in getting results from your email marketing. It’s also part of what customers like about email: For example, 64 percent of Millennials in the survey say email is the marketing channel that feels “most personal.”

The basic element of personalization, of course, is using the recipient’s name in the body of the email and/or in the subject line. Email marketing programs make it easy to personalize your emails this way; you can even add references in the body of the email to things like a recent purchase or visit. However, you should also personalize emails based on how you have segmented your customers (see above). For example, if you own a boutique that sells infant and children’s clothing, you might personalize emails differently based on whether the recipients are parents or grandparents.

3. Do your emails offer perceived value? One company whose emails I subscribe to sends multiple emails per day — each touting an offer such as “20 percent off today only!” or “$10 off your purchase today only!” It’s blatantly obvious that these “one-day only” prices are not really deals, and I’ve begun simply deleting the emails altogether.

In order for your emails to be perceived as valuable — rather than pesky annoyances — make your offers meaningful. In addition to discounts or sales, also send emails with useful information. For example, the infant and clothing retailer I mentioned could create a list of “10 top kids’ fashion trends for 2017,” complete with photos of products you sell in your store. Don’t have time to create such a list on your own? Then link to an article elsewhere online — it’s fine as long as you credit it properly.

4. Are you using triggered emails? E-commerce companies use triggered emails frequently. For example, if you’ve ever abandoned an online shopping cart, you probably got a reminder email asking you if you still wanted to make the purchase. Brick-and-mortar retailers can use the same principle, creating triggered emails based on customer behavior. For instance, if a customer who used to visit your shop regularly hasn’t come in for several months, send a “We miss you!” email with a tempting offer. Collecting customers’ birthday dates and sending emails with a discount good for the birthday month is another smart tactic. Or take a cue from cosmetics retailer Sephora and offer a small free gift during the birthday month — no purchase needed.

5. Do your openers get attention? Focus your copywriting energies on creating good subject lines that clearly sell the benefit of the email and its value to the customer. Because the first line of an email’s body text often displays before it is opened, make it powerful, too.

6. Are your emails mobile optimized? More than half of all survey respondents primarily check email on their smartphones. The younger the respondent, the more likely they are to do this: 59 percent of Millennials and 67 percent of Generation Z primarily check email on their phones. Make sure that your emails display well on smartphones, with enough white space to be readable, and buttons or hyperlinks that are easy to click on. Equally important, any links that take customers to your website should go to a mobile-friendly webpage.

7. Do you make it a priority to build your email lists? Getting new customers to sign up is essential to maintaining a healthy email list. Always ask customers at checkout if they’d like to sign up to receive emails from your store. While you should never make this a requirement for the sale (or make customers feel like you’re being pushy), you can incentivize sign-up by sending them a discount offer as their first welcome email or explaining that by signing up, they can get digital receipts instead of or in addition to paper ones. Provide a sign-up sheet near checkout or, for more accuracy, use a point-of-sale system that enables customers to input their own email addresses.

Email Photo via Shutterstock


How To Maintain Your Small Business Focus

The lack of consistent business focus has real consequences for small companies. Growth is often slow and frustration is high. Do you have business focus?

Like most people, I thought I understood what Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) was all about. After all, the conversation about why some kids have a really hard time settling down and focusing in the classroom has been going on since the 1980s.

Over the years, I’ve had classmates and colleagues who were diagnosed, and through interactions with them I thought I knew what the situation was. It wasn’t until I started living with my beau, Rob, who has ADD, that I began to truly appreciate the magnitude of the condition and how it impacts everyday life.

ADD isn’t about a lack of focus. Rob can be exceptionally focused. However, his intense focus only lasts for a brief period of time. Then, in what feels like the blink of an eye, Rob’s focused on something else … and then something else, and then something else: it’s easy to see why it’s hard to get things done. The constant change in focus means using up a lot of energy without seeing a lot of results.  Luckily, there are treatments for ADD. It’s absolutely amazing what a difference medication and behavioral strategies have made in Rob’s life. With them, he can control his focus and achieve his goals.

The other thing I found amazing about this whole situation was how familiar it all seemed. The rapid changes in focus, the inability to see a task through from beginning to end, the frustration that comes with never being able to accomplish desired goals … I’d seen all of this before, among my small business clients.

Small Business Focus: Understanding What’s Happening

I have worked with small business owners for over twenty years, and I can count on one hand the number who have had a clear vision for their company. Much more common is the scenario where an entrepreneur has a good idea and decides to run with it — they’re not exactly sure where they’re headed, but they have enough energy and enthusiasm to get things started.

Along the way, challenges arise and different opportunities present themselves. The business owner’s attention is drawn in a million directions. Every concern has its turn in the spotlight — but it’s only a brief shining moment before some other issue takes the stage.  If an organization could be diagnosed with a behavioral disorder, these companies might have Small Business ADD.

This lack of consistent focus has real consequences for the business. Growth is often slow. When goals aren’t met, owners become frustrated. Feeling like they’re falling behind in the marketplace can lead to reactive decision making. Rather than focusing on a long-term strategy, choices are made based on what a competitor is doing, industry buzzwords, or whatever bright and shiny solution happens to capture the owner’s attention at that moment. It’s an impulsive process that easily becomes a business behavior, as one rapidly-made bad decision leads to another.

Do You Have Small Business Focus Issues?

Relying entirely on self-diagnosis is not a good idea in healthcare. The same is true for business. Before you decide your company does or doesn’t have Small Business ADD, it’s a good idea to talk with one of your trusted advisors. Discuss the goals you have for your company, and the progress you’ve made toward them. If things haven’t gone as you would have liked, is an identifiable lack of focus part of the reason why?

ADD management involves learning how to be more aware of one’s behaviors, as well as strategic decision making processes. Business owners who have a hard time maintaining focus can benefit from both of these. Simply logging all the issues that capture your attention over the course of a day can be an eye-opening exercise.

Small Business Focus: It Helps To Get Help

Learning to make more strategic decisions is a long-term process. Many people find it helpful to work with a business coach or mentor to develop a clear vision for their company, as well as techniques for consistently focusing efforts in a way that will allow organizational goals to be achieved. Non-profit small business development organizations like SCORE can be a very valuable resource if you don’t have those support systems in place already.

Another resource is the professionals you’re already working with. Vendors and agencies may be able to help you stay on track as well but you have to be willing to let them remind you of what your stated priorities and goals are.  These reminders can slow down the decision-making process enough to ensure you’re clear that the choices you’re making are choices that move your company in the direction you want to go.

It’s Never Too Late to Make Changes

Many people who have ADD are diagnosed with it as children, but many don’t find out why they have a hard time maintaining focus until they are adults. The good news is that it is never too late to start proactively managing ADD. The same is true for Small Business ADD. Even if you’ve been in business for many years, you can make the organizational changes that will result in improved performance.

Bored Photo via Shutterstock


Gmail Undo Send, New Tech Partnerships Make Headlines

Pretty much every business owner and professional has experienced the horror of sending an email only to find moments later that it included a mistake, typo, or even the dreaded unintentional “send all.” But now there’s a new solution for Gmail users in the form of an “undo send” button.

In addition, WordStream and Constant Contact and Bing and AOL announced partnerships this week that could impact small businesses. Those items top the list of headlines in this week’s Small Business Trends news and information roundup.

Technology Trends

Do-over! Gmail Undo Send Feature will Save You From Embarrassment

Intra-office sniping accidentally slip into an email? Get a little too frank in an email and instantly regret hitting Send? Gmail Undo Send has been a feature on Google Labs since 2009. But Google has now officially made Undo Send a Gmail feature now giving Web users up to 30 seconds to change their minds on hitting Send.

WordStream and Constant Contact Announce Partnership

WordStream and Constant Contact are announcing a new business partnership. As part of the partnership, WordStream and Constant Contact will develop an integration that brings new customer leads collected via WordStream Advisor seamlessly into Constant Contact, letting small businesses engage with those leads without any extra steps.

Bing Beats Out Google in AOL Deal

Bing has trumped Google with the announcement of a new Bing AOL partnership. The 10-year deal will be effective Jan. 1, 2016, with Bing powering search and search listings across the AOL portfolio of sites. Google previously held the AOL deal since the early 2000s. The company may not view being outed as a great loss.

Using Windows Server 2003? Microsoft Will Drop Support Soon

The end of support for software comes after a long period of warning from the companies selling these applications. In the case of Microsoft, it makes the announcements many years in advance, giving users ample time to make perpetrations for the migration to the latest platform. However, we are all very busy and before you know it is time to make the upgrade.

Mobile Technology

Sprint Announces Wireless Industry’s First-Ever “All-In” Pricing Plan

Recently, Sprint introduced what the company’s calling the wireless industry’s first-ever “All-In” pricing plan. The company claims that its All-In campaign counters the wireless industry’s current way of advertising by providing one monthly price for a smartphone and unlimited talk, text and high-speed data.

Microsoft Introduces 4G LTE Version of Surface 3

Fans of Microsoft’s Surface 3 might be excited to hear the company is beginning to roll-out a new 4G LTE model. But if you want to get your hands on one, you might have to wait a few weeks. Microsoft is taking its time bringing this latest model to market. The Surface 3 (4G LTE) has already been on the market in Japan through Y!Mobile for the last two weeks.

Your Surface 3 Can Now Have Windows 10

Microsoft has released updates for its Surface Pro 3 devices, allowing the tablet/laptops to run the new Windows 10 operating system. That’s one of the changes the company announced this week with its new firmware for the Surface Pro 3 and its sister product, the Surface 3.

Lenovo ideacentre Stick 300 is a PC in the Palm of Your Hand

The idea of taking your computer with you wherever you go is as old as the laptop. The notion of a computer so small it fits in your pocket — i.e. the “PC on a stick” isn’t novel either. So what makes the new Lenovo ideacentre 300 special? For one thing, the price. When it hits shelves next month, it will sell for $129.


Santander and Monitise Team Up to Invest in Fintech Startups

A major bank and an innovative financial technology platform are getting together to invest in fintech, a fancy name for financial technology companies. These are businesses largely centered around use of software for the delivery of financial services. The new partners are Santander Bank, a large North American lender, and London-based Monitise, an innovator in so-called mobile money.


Many Small Businesses Aren’t Marketing to Millennials, Says Manta Report

Small business owners are missing out on a potentially big piece of the action by not marketing to millennials, a key consumer demographic, according to a recently released survey. Only 15 percent of small businesses across all industries are marketing to millennials, the survey results reveal.

Learning by Doing and Entrepreneurship

A few months ago, I did a non-scientific survey on this site asking the following question of anyone who wanted to answer it: “What’s the best way to learn more about entrepreneurship?” I promised to present the results in a post. I’ve finally gotten around to doing that and have included the results below.

Retail Trends

Small Retailers Make Up Their Own Minds on Confederate Flag Debate

Larger retailers like WalMart and Amazon have already made up their minds. They’ve decided to stop stocking the Confederate flag and related merchandise. The decision follows the tragic shooting of nine people, all black, in a predominantly African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month.

Small Biz Spotlight

Spotlight: Win Social Media Marketing Freedom with DrumUp

Social media is becoming a more and more essential part of running a business. But it can also turn into a time consuming task. That’s the problem that management tool DrumUp is looking to solve. The company provides a social media management tool that is specifically designed to help businesses and professionals save time on their online marketing efforts.

Small Business Operations

Check Out These Business Travel Horror Stories

Each month SurePayroll produces its SurePayroll Small Business Score Card. And this month the company was kind enough to allow Small Business Trends to add some questions posed to small business owners and managers about their practices and policies for business travel.

Social Media

Could Facebook Video Be Serious Competition to YouTube?

The rocky start of Facebook’s IPO has done very little to discourage the company from charging full steam ahead and going after its competitors. With its billion-plus users in its back pocket, the company has the confidence to challenge even the likes of Google and its video outlet, YouTube.


Serious Accident Leads to Life-Changing LeanOnWe Startup

Ron Gold was riding his bicycle in Northern New Jersey when an SUV struck him head-on without braking. The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. And Gold, having just come around a curve, didn’t have enough time to change course. By all accounts, the accident should have killed him. But his active lifestyle before the accident essentially saved his life.

Cafe Finds Perfect Location — In an Old Train Station?

This cafe has a unique location — inside a nineteenth century train station. The Market Cafe is located in the sleepy little town of Topton in eastern Pennsylvania. When you visit, one of the first things you might notice are the two very active train tracks. The second would be the old train station that now serves as the cafe.

Gmail on Mobile photo via Shutterstock


Techieworks: Providing Seniors with Online Tech Help

When Anant Vats was working for Infosys in Houston, he once took the bus with some friends to go to dinner in town.

Suddenly, an old lady sitting next to them asked them if they could fix her computer. Pleasantly surprised at this request, Anant asked her what led her to believe they could.

“Because you are Indian!” she said.

The incident stuck in Anant’s mind. So two years later, when he quit his job at Infosys, it was to co-found Techieworks, a venture that fixes computers remotely for seniors in the U.S. and Canada.

More Seniors Online

The need to keep in touch with family and friends is leading an increasing number of seniors to use the Internet. A Pew Research Center report says that more than half of American adults over 65 years of age are active online.

Nearly 86% use e-mail for communication, with 48% accessing it every day. More than 39 million from this group use social networking sites such as Facebook, Skype, and Twitter. Their presence on social networking sites such as Facebook has tripled to 43% during the last four years making them one of the fastest growing demographics in this space.

However, they are often at a loss when they encounter technical problems.

It was to solve these problems specifically that led Vats and his brother, Abhinav, an advertising and copywriting professional, to found Techieworks in 2011.

Based in Gurgaon, India, the company offers remote technical assistance services including PC optimization, anti-virus support, operating system support and troubleshooting. The company also helps with data backup, transfer of contacts and multimedia from phone to PC, application installation, home or office network setup and and other tech updates.

Need for Online Technical Help Grows

Techieworks is not alone in providing online tech help.

There are several remote technical support firms operating out of India. But what sets Techieworks apart is its specific targeting of the senior niche.

The company is sensitive to the needs of its ideal customers and so has evolved an intuitive, simple service model.

It offers multiple touch-points to reach out to customers eliminating the need to remember and write down numbers. It also offers chat support for customers who find it difficult to talk. And it eliminates waiting queues by allowing customers to leave a request to be called back.

Bootstrapping Model Leads to Profitability

The two brothers bootstrapped the company with their own funds.

They hired their first two employees in a coffee shop even before they had any office space. And they pushed themselves to be austere in their expenditures by using second hand furniture and by renting IT infrastructure instead of buying new.

The money they saved was used to build their knowledge and expertise in areas where they could gain a competitive edge. The company is currently generating revenue and profitable. And it owes this profitability to the cost-saving methods established in its early days.

What Comes Next?

So, what’s next for Techieworks? Vats says the company will continue to offer new products and services that address the needs of the senior market.

The company is not yet ready to look for external funding. And Vats says he believes that external investors take the fun and freedom out of building a company.

The founder adds that he does not harbor dreams of becoming a multimillionaire overnight. Though making more money is certainly a consideration, he says he wants to be in a situation where he can decide the kind of culture he will build for the members of the Techieworks family.

As a fan of bootstrapping entrepreneurs, I am delighted to see a company generating revenue and reaching profitability without external financing. And the secret is catering to the needs of an under-served segment.

Senior on laptop image via Shutterstock


Why B2B Startups Fail – And How to Prevent It

Process improvement

why startups fail

Why do startups fail in the B2B world?  Any number of reasons.  Today we’re going to take a look at some of the main reasons, and more importantly, what you can do about it.

The numbers are daunting.  Startup failure rates indicate 50% of small businesses are out of business within five years.

However, rather than focus on the negatives, you can learn something by looking at WHY startups fail.  As you structure your startup, you want to keep those common failure reasons in mind.  Anticipate them. Avoid them. Compensate for them.

For anyone who doesn’t know what B2B stands for, it means businesses that sell to other businesses, rather than to consumers.  Example:  a marketing agency sells services to other businesses. Therefore, we refer to it as business-to-business, or B2B for short.  On the other hand, a restaurant or gift shop sells to individual consumers. We refer to a business like that as business-to-consumer, or B2C for short.  The challenges faced by each type of business are different.  That’s why I want to focus just on B2B businesses today, so I can be more specific.

Here are five reasons why startups fail in B2B markets — and how you can avoid becoming a statistic.

1. Making the Buyer’s Decision Too Hard or Risky

This is a challenge that tends to afflict consultants selling services.  Unless you’re selling to a former employer who already knows your capabilities, the buyer is a taking a risk on your startup consulting business.

Jill Konrath, author of Selling to Big Companies and SNAP Selling and someone with deep sales expertise, has advice. In an interview at Management Consulting News she notes:

“You need to think small, not big. Basically your goal should be to get an initial project that gives you a chance to prove your value and establish a relationship with someone in the company.

With that in mind, review your portfolio of services and ascertain which might be the easiest to get as a first project. It shouldn’t have a huge price tag.

And, it’s best if you don’t try to immediately dislodge a consulting firm that has a long-term relationship with the company. Instead you need to think about a possible business issue that the incumbent may have overlooked and slip into the account under the radar.”

While her advice was intended toward selling to large customers, it applies equally well when your target customers are small businesses.  A narrowly defined starter project should be in your set of offerings.  It should be something that doesn’t require too much commitment from the buyer, can be completed relatively quickly, and doesn’t cost much compared to the buyer’s budget. I’d add this:  it should be something you shine at doing, so you can delight the customer on your first project.

Here’s another option to de-risk the buying decision:  offer the traditional “money back guarantee.”  Joel Libava, the franchise expert in residence here at Small Business Trends, has an email signature line that says “My Franchise Ownership Advisory Services Come With A 100% Money-Back Guarantee.”

But what if you’re not a consultant – you sell software?  You, too, need to de-risk the transaction.  It’s one reason that online cloud software has become such a popular business model. Instead of  requiring a payment of hundreds or thousands of dollars for a software license, a customer can sign up online in minutes and pay a modest monthly fee.  The buyer is taking a smaller chance. It makes his decision process less risky, especially if the price is under $50/month.

Offer a free trial and now you’ve made it even easier for the customer to try your product.  Make your free trial one where no credit card is required for the trial — and now it’s almost completely risk-free to try your product.

An alternative to the free trial is the freemium business model. In freemium, you offer a product online for free.  Users who want coveted extra features have to upgrade to a paid premium level. The beauty of freemium is that it lets the customer try it for free.  Better yet, a freemium model develops an ongoing relationship. That gives you ongoing opportunities to convert users to paying customers. Eventually they may be asking you to develop features they’d pay for.

Freemium is a popular model, but not right for every B2B startup.  For instance, if you’re selling a complex product into the large enterprise market, freemium may not be a good choice.

Remember, too, that even if you have no product but sell services, it may be possible to turn that into an online monthly-recurring model.  Think outside the box about “productizing” your service (see #5 below).

B2B startup value proposition

2. Having an Unclear Value Proposition

Sometimes it’s just not clear what the business is selling, who the proper target customer is, and the problem you solve for them.  Sounds crazy doesn’t it?  Here you are in business but you’re still trying to figure out who your customer is or what the product should look like.  But it’s a common scenario.

David Cummings, founder of Pardot, writes that the first 1 to 2 years in a B2B startup are spent finding a product/market fit.  You need to get the first 20 customers signed up, and gain a better understanding of  them and their needs.

Startups often look very different a few years after launch. What I mean is, the product is different or the market being served is different, compared with the initial vision.  That’s because after being in business for a while, actually dealing with customers, you understand the market better.

Whether you’re a service provider or starting a tech company, once you go to market you figure out exactly what your offerings should entail. You discover which targets value the product — and which parts of it they value. You understand which vertical markets to serve.  Sometimes the startup evolves to focus on a narrow niche. Other times the product is scrapped completely and something new takes its place, based on that early learning.

If you can’t pin down what the customer truly values and is willing to pay for, and who your customer really is, then you may never make it past that initial stage.

Sales cycle

3. Too Long A Sales Cycle

A couple of years ago, a consultant worked with me in a business development and strategic planning capacity. His expertise was in a consumer-based industry.  As we evaluated different opportunities and tried to forecast sales, one day he just blurted out, “Wow, it takes a long time to move the revenue needle, because it takes a long time to close a sale to another business!”

Now, to me, it didn’t seem that long.  In that case, we were looking at 90 days.  I’ve known B2B sales cycles that can take a year or more.  But when you’re used to retail sales that are made on the spot in a matter of minutes, then 90 days seems very long.

As a broad rule of thumb, the bigger the sale amount, the longer the sales cycle.

One danger with long sales cycles is that it just takes too long to get your first customers. When I worked in a software business, and we introduced new products, we called that “getting referenceable customers.”   With a completely new product you need early customers, for a number of reasons. One reason is so that you can point to those early birds in other sales calls. Prospects always ask, “How many customers do you have?” “Who else is using your product?”   Startups with a long sales cycle get caught in a catch 22:  they need customers to point to, but it takes too long to get them.

Another danger, of course, is that your business will run out of cash.  You have to invest up front in development, marketing and sales, even before a single sale is closed. And that takes money.  Even if you have a full pipeline and interested prospects, your money may run out before you close enough sales.  The runway is not long enough.

So what do you do?

First of all, try to shorten the sales cycle.  Re-evaluate your business model. For this it helps to have someone — a mentor, a smart colleague, a business coach — look at your “quote to cash cycle” with fresh eyes.

For tech companies, a cloud services business model where customers pay a small fee monthly instead of one large up-front free, may help. At least then it’s easier to get those all-important first customers. Plus, a cloud model often makes marketing easier. The only proviso is, that it’s like building a castle a grain of sand at a time. Monthly recurring revenue models are very profitable in later years, but can take a long time to generate meaningful monthly revenue.

It’s not always possible to abbreviate the sales cycle enough to solve cash flow issues. In that case, you’re going to need a source of funding to get you through the early days (personal savings, friends/family, angel investment).  If that’s not possible, then you’re going to need to find something easier to sell, while you’re waiting for the big ticket sales to close.

For instance, if you are developing a product that simply will take a long time, perhaps offer freelance programming services or consulting on the side.  If you are a former corporate employee, doing some consulting for your former employer may provide needed cash flow while your pipeline fills and eventually sales start to close.

As I was growing Small Business Trends, for years I wrote freelance articles, served as an editor for another site, and consulted on the side.  It was like I had two jobs – one for the services I hired out, and one growing my business.  Sounds like a drag, doesn’t it?  It was.  But I was faced with the reality of  needing cash flow while my site grew large enough to attract sponsors and sustain revenue.  To deal with the workload and drudgery, you need a strong vision and sense of optimism to sustain you.  And there are trade-offs.  Growth took longer than if I had obtained outside funding.  But the advantage is that I didn’t have to give up equity.  I didn’t have to go into debt.

Startup s pending

4. Spending on the Wrong Things in Your B2B Startup

There’s a way to start a business — and a way not to start a business.

You could spend the first six months outfitting your business with expensive equipment, furniture and office space.  Or you could focus on getting sales instead.

Inexperienced business owners, especially those who come from a corporate background where offices are fully tricked out with staff to spread the work around to, often spend too much in the beginning.  Not only do you waste precious cash, but it’s the wrong mindset. Startup founders need to be focused on money coming in the door, not money going out.

Some businesses have no choice. Retail, restaurants, medical, manufacturing — they need to be outfitted in order to open the doors.  But many B2B businesses can be frugal.

Try to get by with little infrastructure in the beginning. For instance, businesses such as Web design, marketing agencies, consulting, publishing, writing, virtual assistant services, and event management do not require you to have an office with full-time staff. Using the power of the human cloud, you could look for freelancers all over the world (or locally).  Assuming you are disciplined enough, you could work out of your home instead of investing in office space.

The same goes for hiring. Getting your first employees is both exhilarating and challenging. Yet, hiring too quickly can be expensive, and can distract and derail the company.  And since it is hard to scale back once employees are on the payroll, hiring too fast is the fastest way to recurring monthly losses.

Patrick Hull suggests on Forbes that you should hire slow and fire fast.  He writes, “When it comes down to it, employees can be a huge cost for your business and can become an even bigger cost if they don’t fit. That is why it’s important to take a step back and really think about each and every hire you make.”  I definitely agree with the “hire slow” part.  However, firing fast is easier said than done. Firing often brings drama, legal entanglements and expense — three things that can devastate a small company.

Noted startup investor Paul Graham points out that hiring a lot of people paradoxically can slow you down.  It takes time to recruit and onboard your new hires, communicate with them, and get them buying into the vision. And you probably aren’t going to be ready for them at first, unless they are selling, building your product, or delivering your service.

Check out my list of 18 startup costs to avoid – especially in the first 6 months.  They include office space, trademark filings, large print runs and more.

5. Not Having a Scalable, Profitable Process

This is a huge issue with service providers such as marketing agencies.  All too often you hear about small businesses where the owner succumbs to the straw that breaks the camel’s back. One day she decides to close up shop and get a job.  Why?  She and her team are working hard, but barely making money.  After another sleepless night worrying about how to make payroll that month, she has just “had it.”

A few years ago, John Warrillow, a very successful entrepreneur in the business services space, wrote a book called “Built to Sell.”  In it he discusses why so many service businesses have a hard time. After years of struggling often the owner can’t even sell the business – because there’s so little value in it.  And the owner never seems to get ahead and earn enough profits.

For profitability and growth, you want to create a business that is scalable, with replicable processes.  Otherwise, too many projects are one-offs.  That’s a problem for two reasons. (1) It hamstrings profits – you never gain efficiencies if you’re always doing something new.  (2) You’ll never develop deep expertise that differentiates your business, either, if you’re forever dabbling here and there.

Here are just some of his lessons about creating replicable, profitable processes:

  • “Being a generalist forces you to hire generalists and your offering will be average at best.”
  • “If you run a service business that’s highly dependent on a single client who depends on you personally to tend to their account and you compete with a lot of other players who provide similar services – your business is virtually worthless.  Make sure that no one client comprises more than 15% of your revenue.”
  • Define your service as if it were a product.  “Productize it.”  That means that you describe your unique service process as features that are unique to you. If you’re selling a product, you can create a flat fee as a price and get paid up-front.
  • “Prove that you’re serious about specialization by turning down work that falls outside your standard service.”

Those are important lessons for all service providers, if you want to get past living from hand-to-mouth in your business.


These five are not the only reasons B2B startups fail.  I won’t kid you.  Other things can get in the way.  Maybe it’s the economy, or maybe you launched before the market was ready for your product.  Despite your best efforts, a business may still fail.  But armed with knowledge, perseverance and a positive attitude, you may be able to avoid becoming a statistic.

Images via Shutterstock:  Startups, value, solution, chart, process

More in: Small Business Growth


Small Businesses Can ‘Take Their Offices On The Road’ With New Broadband Data Bundle From AT&T

Dallas (PRESS RELEASE – August 7, 2010) — In today’s economy, small businesses are demanding “on-the-go” high-speed connectivity more than ever before to stay competitive, enhance productivity and grow their businesses. Thanks to a new bundled offer – “AT&T Broadband on the Go” – announced today, the options companies use to keep in touch with their office, customers and business partners just got better.

The new bundle includes high speed Internet access, Wi-Fi, and mobile broadband, plus unlimited online computer data backup with remote access from any broadband web-connected device, starting at an introductory price of less than $90 a month through August 31. “AT&T Broadband on the Go” is now available to small businesses across AT&T’s 22-state local footprint. The services, which enable small businesses to access their data from anywhere while staying connected to the Internet and their corporate applications, include:

  • High Speed Internet from AT&T: Available with downstream speeds up to 24Mbps (on the U-verse platform) to help accommodate the needs of any small business, the service includes U.S.-based business-class technical support, all-in-one protection suite for selected tiers, and up to 11 e-mail accounts.
  • Mobile Broadband with AT&T LaptopConnect: Offering the nation’s fastest mobile broadband network, AT&T LaptopConnect creates the opportunity for small businesses to stay productive when away from the office.
  • AT&T Tech Support 360(SM) Backup and Go: With automatic online backup of computer files, the service protects data, while enabling small businesses to remotely access saved files from any web-connected laptop or mobile broadband device and send links to files or folders for sharing and collaboration.
  • AT&T Wi-Fi(SM) : Basic connectivity at more than 20,000 hot spots at convenient locations nationwide.

According to Compass Intelligence, a high-tech market analytics firm, small businesses (less than 100 employees) spent $5.6 billion in 2009 on wireless data services and expect to spend $18.9 billion in 2014, resulting in a compound annual growth rate of 27.6 percent.

“We estimate that small businesses make up roughly 38 percent of business wireless subscribers, while comprising about 45 percent of wireless data spend,” said Kneko Burney, president of Compass Intelligence. “As such, small businesses are a crucial segment of the wireless data market, and these customers’ spending is only expected to rise in the coming years. Additionally, our research shows that small businesses spend more on average per user for wireless data than their enterprise counterparts, primarily because a greater percentage of their workforce is mobile and likely to rely only on wireless for their business connectivity.”

According to the AT&T Small Business Technology Poll, a national study released earlier this year by AT&T, 71 percent of small businesses responding indicate they use laptop data cards and nearly 79 percent indicate they use Wi-Fi hotspots to conduct business-related activities. Moreover, 60 percent of small businesses indicate they use their laptop more now to access data through mobile networks than they did two years ago and nearly 68 percent use Wi-Fi hotspots more now to access data than they did two years ago.

In addition, the study revealed that nearly 85 percent of small businesses feel that recovering data would be important following a disaster. Yet only 30 percent of small businesses use off-site data backup, such as online backup. So in the event of a disaster that destroys their office, a majority of small businesses might well lose critical data because they’re not fully prepared. The Tech Support 360 Backup and Go component of the new broadband bundle addresses that potential risk.

“In today’s highly connected marketplace, small businesses need to be plugged into their work at all times,” said Ebrahim Keshavarz, Vice President, AT&T Small Business Marketing. “Through our widespread service capabilities, robust mobile network, and a comprehensive product portfolio second to none, this unique bundle enables small businesses to work with their data on the road, anytime by giving them the tools to maximize efficiency and productivity on their terms and schedule.”

“We understand the challenges small businesses face in balancing their business and personal lives, and the importance of giving them the freedom to conduct business how they choose.”

For more information or to purchase AT&T Broadband on the Go, small businesses should call a small business advisor toll-free at (888) 423-9129 or visit Broadband on the Go.

Small businesses looking to find information about other AT&T products and services can visit www.att.com/smallbusiness. For free business resources such as webinars, white papers, training, case studies and best practices, they can visit www.att.com/smallbusinessinsite.

Additionally, real-time information can be found on the AT&T Small Business Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ATTSmallBiz) and Twitter channel (www.twitter.com/smallbizInsite).

  • AT&T products and services are provided or offered by subsidiaries and affiliates of AT&T Inc. under the AT&T brand and not by AT&T Inc.
  • Depending on customer location.
  • Laptop Connect – Coverage not available in all areas. See coverage map at store for details. Limited-time offer. Other conditions & restrictions apply. See contract & rate plan brochure for details. Subscriber must live & have a mailing addr. within AT&T’s owned wireless network coverage area. Up to $36 activ. fee applies. Equipment price & avail may vary by mrk & may not be available from independent retailers. Early Termination Fee: None if cancelled in the first 30 days, but up to $35 restocking fee may apply to equipment returns; Thereafter, the ETF will be up to $325 if purchasing certain specified equipment (check www.att.com/equipmentETF for list) or up to $150. Independent agents may impose additional equipment-related charges. Early Termination Fee subject to change. Some agents impose add’l fees. Offnet Usage: If your mins of data use on other carrier’s networks (“offnet usage”) during any month exceeds your offnet usage allowance, AT&T may at its option terminate your svc, deny your contd use of other carriers’ coverage, or change your plan to one imposing usage charges for offnet usage. Your data offnet usage allowance is the lesser of 24 MB or 20% of the KB incl’d with your plan). DataConnect Plan is not unlimited and substantial charges may be incurred if included allowance is exceeded. Sales tax calculated based on price of unactivated equipment. AT&T Wi-Fi – A Wi-Fi enabled device required. Other restrictions apply. See www.attwifi.com for additional services, restrictions and locations.

About AT&T

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is a premier communications holding company. Its subsidiaries and affiliates – AT&T operating companies – are the providers of AT&T services in the United States and around the world. With a powerful array of network resources that includes the nation’s fastest 3G network, AT&T is a leading provider of wireless, Wi-Fi, high speed Internet and voice services. A leader in mobile broadband, AT&T also offers the best wireless coverage worldwide, offering the most wireless phones that work in the most countries. It also offers advanced TV services under the AT&T U-verse and AT&T | DIRECTV brands. The company’s suite of IP-based business communications services is one of the most advanced in the world. In domestic markets, AT&T Advertising Solutions and AT&T Interactive are known for their leadership in local search and advertising. In 2010, AT&T again ranked among the 50 Most Admired Companies by FORTUNE magazine.


People More Likely To Choose a Smartwatch Over Glasses

Sure, it seems these days that Google Glass grabs the headlines. But it turns out more people say they would be likely to choose smartwatches over glasses, when it comes to wearable tech. Perhaps more surprisingly, most said they were unlikely to choose either.

Of 417 consumers surveyed, 411 respondents answered questions about wearable technology recently posed by the tech news site JessicaLessin.com.

The site’s editors insist the survey is important because of the number of hardware and software developers seeking to enter the market.

The information may also be enlightening to small business owners and entrepreneurs when evaluating their future tech investment and when anticipating the kinds of devices on which others will likely be consuming their content.

Here’s how the numbers broke down.

Most Consumers May Not Use Either

Early adopters in the survey group clearly favored smartwatches over devices like Google Glass. According to the survey:

  • 39 percent said they would choose to wear technology on their wrist.
  • Only 10 percent chose smart glasses like the Google device.
  • 6 percent chose both.
  • 45 percent (the clear majority) chose neither.

In the long term, smart glasses seemed to fair only slightly better.

When asked whether they might own a smartwatch in the next 5 years, 62 percent said it was possible. Meanwhile, when asked a similar question about smart glasses, only 41 percent said they could see these devices in their future.

Even Tech Savvy Types Prefer Watches

Drilling down a bit, the survey also identified 112 out of more than 400 respondents who identified themselves as “quite” or “extremely” tech savvy, and even in this group, smartwatches were the winner.

Here, 38 percent of respondents chose the smartwatches and 17 percent the smart glasses.

What This Means to You

It’s interesting to note that, for now at least, smartwatches are still being used in conjunction with phones. So the increased popularity of smartphones and tablets may also make watches more popular as an accessory.

Small business owners and entrepreneurs may want to concentrate on the interaction between these two devices. This will help you better understand how your customers communicate and might possibly communicate as the market evolves.

Wearable Tech Photo via Shutterstock


Start-up Failure Rates Vary — Choosing the Right Industry Matters

I’m following up my posting of a few weeks ago on new business failure rates where I said that there are considerable differences across industry sectors in business failure rates.

Below is Figure 7.1 (p.113) from my book Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths that Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By. The data come from an article by Amy Knaup in Monthly Labor Review and look at the 1998 cohort of new businesses.

Business failure rates by industry

(Click for larger image)

Source: Adapted from Knaup, A. 2005. Survival and longevity in business employment dynamics data. Monthly Labor Review, May: 50-56.

The data show that the four-year survival rate in the information sector is only 38 percent, but is 55 percent in the education and health services sector. That is, the average start-up in education and health sector is 50 percent more likely than the average start-up in the information sector to live four years. That’s a huge difference.

Moreover, most of the sector trajectories don’t cross; the sectors that have lower initial survival rates generally tend to continue with these lower survival rates every year.

In short, the sector of the economy in which you start your business has a huge effect on the odds that your company will still be around several years in the future.

* * * * *

About the Author: Scott Shane is A. Malachi Mixon III, Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of eight books, including Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths that Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By; Finding Fertile Ground: Identifying Extraordinary Opportunities for New Ventures; Technology Strategy for Managers and Entrepreneurs; and From Ice Cream to the Internet: Using Franchising to Drive the Growth and Profits of Your Company.


29 Places to Market Craft Tutorial Videos to Attract Buyers

Let’s face it, there are a lot of people selling crafts online. It’s hard to break through all that noise, but it can be done by pouring some of your amazing creativity into marketing handmade crafts online. How? By discovering the best places to market craft tutorial videos.

DIY (Do-It-Yourself) crafting is a hot topic. According to Google’s Keyword Planner, the term, “DIY crafts” was searched an average of 60,500 times per month over the past year. That’s a lot of interest and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. A number of craft tutorial video sites have sprung up and by uploading and sharing your own DIY craft tutorial videos on those sites, you can leverage that interest to your benefit.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You create craft tutorial videos (a combination of video, text and images).
  2. Next you publish your craft tutorial videos in one of four places:
    1. Upload it to one or more of the sites where you can publish your DIY craft tutorials listed in the first set of sites below.
    2. List it on one or more of the sites where you can sell your DIY craft tutorials listed in the second set of sites below.
    3. If it’s all video, upload it to a social video network such as YouTube, DailyMotion, Vimeo and so on.
    4. Add it as a post on your website’s blog.
  3. Then you promote your craft tutorial video by sharing it everywhere you can:
    1. Submit it to one or more of the sites where you can list your DIY craft tutorials included in the third set of sites below.
    2. Publish an update on social media networks such as Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and so on.
    3. Use other marketing channels such as email marketing, an advert included in your packaging, etc.
  4. Now the magic happens — those 60,500 people who search for “DIY crafts” each month discover your craft tutorial videos, at which point you can lead them back to your site/shop to learn more about you and your handmade products.

The best part of this strategy is the fact that the folks who click through to your site are qualified. They’ve already shown interest in what you do by looking at your craft tutorial videos. Qualified leads are much more likely to buy from you, so you want as many of them as you can get.

Ready to sell your crafts online? Below are the best places to market craft tutorial videos.

Places to Market Craft Tutorial Videos

These sites are social networks for crafters. The one thing they all have in common is they allow you to publish your DIY craft tutorials to their collection. This is super-handy because they’ve already done the hard work of building their search engine rank and gathering an audience. By uploading here, you’re riding their coattails and will garner much more attention than you could otherwise.


The giant in this category is definitely Instructables. They make it easy to publish your tutorial, have a large community and even have contests you can enter and win truly useful prizes.

Best of all, Instructables is mobile on both iOS and Android devices so people can find your tutorials even on the go.

craft tutorial videos


As it’s name implies, VideoJug offers tons and tons of videos on every subject. Crafters will most likely be interested in their Scribble channel where your own DIY craft tutorial videos can find a home.

craft tutorial videos


The home improvement site Hometalk has a whole area for crafts just waiting for your DIY craft tutorial. This is one site where using videos is easy. So if you like creating video tutorials, you should definitely check them out.


Kollabora is a unique site as you can add tutorials on projects, techniques and skillsets. You can also buy and sell PDF patterns here. This site is somewhat of a hybrid as you can either publish your entire tutorial here, or publish a tease video that then links to the full tutorial elsewhere.


The home of truly step-by-step tutorials, CraftStylish is definitely the place to show off your stuff. If the number of comments per post is any indication, this site is a lively and often-visited spot to engage potential customers.

craft tutorial videos

Cut Out + Keep

As you can see below, Cut Out + Keep makes it super-easy to add your own DIY craft tutorial videos to their site and with tons of categories, this is a good spot to consider.

craft tutorial videos


craftbits adds a different spin to the whole “add your DIY craft tutorial” thing. You can submit your tutorial and get paid or submit it for free (or as they say, “for the glory”).

The advantage of submitting your tutorial for the glory is that it’s published immediately with no review. If you submit to get paid, your craft tutorial videos will go through an editorial review process. The choice, of course, is yours and in the end, neither is a bad one.


Anyone can submit craft tutorial videos at FaveCrafts. However, all submissions must pass through a review process and are published based on timeliness, quality and overall need on the site.

Sites Where You Can Sell Your DIY Craft Tutorials

You can sell your DIY craft tutorial videos on both of the sites listed below. This approach enables you to supplement your income while marketing yourself at the same time.


The special crafts section of Tuts+ is a well-designed marketplace for DIY craft tutorials. If you’re interested in creating a tutorial for sale, start here.


Patreon is the latest crowdsourcing phenomenon online. Essentially, your “patrons” pledge to support your creative efforts and some crafters, such as these guys – leveraging this system to make bank while also promoting their wares.

Sites Where You Can List Your DIY Craft Tutorials

No matter where you’ve published your DIY craft tutorials online, you can list media rich (e.g. with images) links to them on the sites below. This is an easy way to promote your tutorials so more prospective customers find you.

This is a long list so we’re just going to provide links to the sites, most of which will take you directly to the spot you need to be in order to submit your tutorials.

  • 30 Minute Crafts
  • And Sew We Craft
  • craftgawker – register then select “Submit” under their menu.
  • Crafttuts
  • Copycat Crafts
  • DIY Cozy Home
  • DIY Crush
  • DogTipper – if you create crafts for pets, this is the site for you!
  • Dollar Store Crafts
  • Geek Crafts
  • Hideous! Dreadful! Stinky!
  • Looksi Square
  • Roadkill Rescue
  • Recyclart
  • Serger Pepper
  • Suzy’s Artsy-Craftsy Sitcom – look at question 6 on this FAQ page.
  • Tangled Happy
  • Totally Tutorials
  • What the Craft – they offer free advertising in exchange for 1 month of exclusive use of your original tutorials.


Creating, publishing and promoting your own online DIY craft tutorial videos is a creative way to attract the attention of your targeted craft customers.

The best part is that the folks who find you this way are qualified. They’ve already shown interest in what you do by looking at your craft tutorial videos – and qualified leads are much more likely to buy from you.

Additional Reading: 25 Places to Sell Handmade Crafts Online

Craft Image via Shutterstock