Prepare for a conference

7 Quick Ways to Prepare for a Conference (& Stand Out From the Crowd)

Prepare for a conference

You’ve registered for the event, booked your flight and scheduled the time off in your calendar. Done, right? Not quite. There are some quick and easy things you can do right now to prepare for a conference in the future.

Whether you’re looking for a new business opportunity, sourcing inventory, learning about tools of the trade or running a booth on the exhibition floor, there’s so much more you can prepare that will help you learn more and connect with the right people. Most importantly, you’ll stand out from the crowd, and that can help you close deals.

These seven things will make a big impact.

1. Set a goal for the conference

 prepare for a conference set goals

Time required: 15 – 30 minutes

Go into the conference with a purpose. What do you want to achieve? Who do you want to meet? How will this connect to the big picture strategy for your business?

Write these goals down — and if you’re attending with others, make sure you’re all on the same page. Just like a pilot needs a map and navigation tools, these goals will keep you on the right course.

2. Write on your business cards in advance

 Prepare for a conference business cards

Time required: 10 minutes

Personalize a batch of business cards before you pack your bags. If you have a booth, write your booth number or location, along with the conference name on the back of your card. People will be able to find you easier if you meet them away from the booth, and they’ll remember you when back home updating their contacts.

If you’re on the sales side, you could provide a special “conference-only” discount or product offer on the back of your card. Or simply write your basic goal such as, “Looking to improve our manufacturing automation.” Your card will instantly be seen with more value.

3. Connect on social media in advance

Prepare for a conference social media 

Time required: 30 minutes

Check out the conference schedule and website. If there are keynote speakers, particular vendors and industry experts that will be in attendance, reach out and connect with them online.

Your best bet to start is on LinkedIn and Twitter. Influencers and keynote speakers will usually be listed on the event website, so feel free to reach out and let them know you’re looking forward to their session. Mention you’re hoping to say hello during the event, and this sets you up for a familiar in-person chat when you get to the event. That can be a helpful icebreaker.

4. Start setting up meetings

 Prepare for a conference meetings

Time required: 1 hour

Time will be a hot commodity, and the most prepared attendees will book meetings and prep their schedules in advance. Do a bit of homework to target your must-meet attendees, and then reach out to set up a meeting.

Add all your meetings to your calendar, and include blocks of time dedicated to taking impromptu meetings. Also schedule your preferred keynotes and breakout session directly into a calendar that syncs with your smartphone. Now you’ll have a customized, ready-to-go schedule that you can reference at a moment’s notice.

5. Add the LinkedIn app to your phone

 Prepare for a conference LinkedIn

Time required: 3 minutes

If you haven’t done this already, download the LinkedIn app and login so you’re all set up. This is one of the easiest ways to connect with people in the moment — sometimes even a replacement for exchanging business cards.

At the conference, simply add new connections to LinkedIn when you meet them. This shows you’re actively engaged, taking an interest in building a mutually beneficial relationship, and it can simply help confirm you’re connecting with the right contact. This little tactic will make a follow-up touch-point that much more seamless, and you’ll be a step ahead for a continued relationship after the conference.

6. Prepare for a conference by learning about the city

prepare for a conference boston

Time required: 15 – 30 minutes

If you’re heading somewhere new to you, research the history of the city, main attractions, fun facts and little-known trivia. Why? Aside from finding a great restaurant in the off time, it’s a perfect conversation starter or icebreaker with new contacts.

Undoubtedly, you’ll chat with people about and make casual conversation — discussing the conference center, the hotel, where you’re from and if you’re doing anything else while in town. Having an interesting tidbit will keep your conversation lively, give you a back pocket conversation topic, and most importantly, will make you memorable.

7. Perfect your elevator pitch

Prepare for a conference elevator pitch 

Time required: 30 minutes

You’ve set key goals, are an expert in your field and know the value you can provide others. Wrap those three things up into a 30-second statement that you can easily repeat when you meet new contacts.

Think from your audience’s perspective as you develop this pitch. They will be asking themselves, “What value can this new person provide me?” Answer that question in your elevator pitch — keeping it succinct and bold. People will instantly see what you can offer and want to learn more.

 

Follow these steps and you’ll be ready to get the most out of your conference experience, connect with new prospects and help grow your business through those new connections.

Notebooks and group of business people shaking hands

Improve Your Financial Skills (With Free Premium Online Courses)

Improve financial skills

All business owners are finance experts, right? For some, yes. But for many, this is a lifelong learning experience. There is always more to learn, and everyone can agree that it’s a necessity to constantly improve your financial skills. After all, your competition is going to be doing just that.

However, you might also be laser-focused on other priorities, and financial education has been pushed lower on your list. How can you spend less time (and money) to improve your financial skills?

No problem.

Improve your financial skills by taking advantage of these five online resources and accreditations. Once you top up your skills, you should also show them off and update your LinkedIn profile and resume. And the best part…these courses are all inexpensive or free.

1. LinkedIn Learning – Finance & Accounting

LinkedIn Learning

LinkedIn recently purchased famous training site Lynda.com to beef up their LinkedIn Learning platform. Their “Finance and Accounting” section includes courses in corporate finance, small business finance and accounting, all designed for you to start with the basics and work your way up to more advanced topics. Learn about financial analysis, bootstrapping businesses, income tax planning, personal finance tips, managerial accounting and creating KPIs.

Cost:

  • One month free trial, then $20 – 30 per month to access 1000+ business courses.
  • Annual subscriptions available.
  • Bonus: If you’ve subscribed to LinkedIn’s Premium membership, you already get LinkedIn Learning access for free.

Benefits:

  • Stay on top of current trends in finance and a variety of other fields
  • Learn outside the box: Brush up on marketing, sales and operations.
  • Be more efficient in your job, whether that’s interviewing employees, building spreadsheets or persuasive selling.

Format:

Video content makes up the majority of this site.

Time commitment:

  • Courses range from 5 minutes to 20 hours.
  • Take it at your own pace: Start a course and LinkedIn Learning will hold your place until your next login.

2. MOOCs – University Level Finance

MOOCs

Yes, it’s a weird name, but it’s also incredibly valuable.

MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses, and include university courses from reputable institutions that have been posted online, complete with lecture notes and quizzes. Outside of attending university in person, this is an incredible resource for learning.

Check out this list of finance courses from institutions like the Yale, Stanford, MIT and Caltech.

Cost:

Many courses are completely free, with a paid option for verified certification.

Benefits:

  • Get a university level education for free.
  • Stay ahead of the curve, and the new competition that will be hitting the job market.
  • Access educational resources in other cities and countries.

Format:

Downloadable course materials, streaming video, audio clips and resource pages.

Time commitment:

  • Aim for around 6 hours per week and 8 weeks on average per course.
  • Each course displays the number of weeks and hours per week needed to complete.

3. Hootsuite Academy – Social Selling & Networking

Hootsuite Academy

As a business pro, you’re likely already a great networker, but it never hurts to brush up on your social networking skills.

The Hootsuite Academy offers a variety of beginner and intermediate social media courses to get you up to speed and in the groove when it comes to online networking. Learn how to optimize your social media profile, grow your followers, publish the right content and use advertising to connect with new customers.

As an added level of education, you can enrol in the Hootsuite Social Selling and Certification to obtain your status as a “Certified Professional” in social selling. “Hootsuite’s course on Social Selling teaches Sales Professionals to leverage social media to save time, drive a larger number of better-qualified leads, and increase deal sizes.”

Cost:

  • Hootsuite platform and social marketing training are free.
  • The social selling course costs $299.

Benefits:

  • Improve your social networking skills.
  • Proactively find new clients with the right conversations.
  • Be discovered more easily by prospects.

Format:

Short videos, articles and interactive quizzes.

Time commitment: 

4 – 8 hours per course.

4. Google Analytics Academy – Digital Analytics

Google Analytics Academy

If you have a website or blog and want to learn more about who visits your site, why they visited and what they did on your site, then you need to know Google Analytics.

The simplest way to learn is through the Google Analytics Academy that offers training in every aspect of the platform. With four official courses to choose from, you can learn about the digital analytics fundamentals, the Google Analytics platform itself, e-commerce data decision-making and how to use Google Tags properly.

Google is about to launch revisions to their programs, offering even more incentive to get cutting-edge training. In the past, you could also obtain certifications for completion of your training, so keep an eye out for that to return.

Cost:

Free

Benefits:

  • Get advice and lessons directly from Google’s experts.
  • Improve your online discoverability.
  • Understand who your customers are and why they are (or aren’t) finding you online.

Format:

Videos, transcripts, quizzes and blog posts.

Time commitment:

Set aside 6-10 hours to properly complete each course.

5. Alison – Financial & Economic Literacy

Alison Finance

Alison offers a similar formula training to LinkedIn Learning, but all of their courses are offered free of charge. On the downside, you’ll have to watch brief ads before each course module, but they aren’t that obtrusive.

In return, you get access to a wide selection of course – in particular, check out the “Finance” section. The strength of these courses lies in their plain English approach so you can understand and retain the knowledge. They also offer study groups for those who like to learn alongside others.

To cap it off, they also offer certifications and Alison diploma courses.

Cost:

Free

Benefits:

  • Real-world terminology.
  • Join or create a group of like-minded learners to study together.
  • Community hub provides extra motivation & success stories from Alison students.

Format:

Videos, slides, animations, interactive quizzes and assessments.

Time commitment:

Courses can range from 1 – 10 hours.

 

Daily learning can be a challenge, faced with time constraints, high costs of continued education and difficulty finding great courses or expert trainers. By starting one of the above online courses, you will hopefully find the motivation and material to improve your financial skills without cutting too far into your schedule or budget.

 

Time management tips

Need more time? Get these 5 quick time management tips

Time management tips

Whether you own your own business, freelance or work for an employer, your productivity often carries significant weight in your career and income success. Learn to maximize your schedule each day, and achieve your goals with time management tips.

The following is a look at five of the most important time management strategies to reach your highest daily productivity levels.

1. Prioritize High-Value Tasks

Successful professionals are usually creative people with vision. If that’s you, it’s likely that you want to accomplish more each day than time and practicality allow. Sound familiar? There’s an easy escape, and it’s relatively simple.

Step one is to prioritize critical tasks in your calendar, which helps you achieve the greatest benefits from the time you do have. As you contemplate which tasks to rank at the top of your list, focus on the impact to your bottom line and your personal satisfaction. Ideally, spend more of your time on high-value tasks that you give you great personal satisfaction when you complete. Then delegate the smaller and less enjoyable activities, or figure out ways to eliminate them altogether.

2. Minimize Your To-Do List

A to-do list is an important time-management tool because it helps you identify tasks and create an order for their completion. To streamline your workday, complete the quick and easy tasks right away to avoid building up your list. As soon as you cross a couple lines off your list, you’ll be mentally in the groove to keep going. Then start to tackle the bigger items by aiming for at least one major task before lunch and one after.

But a word of warning – don’t get too carried away with the small tasks. From a psychological standpoint, piling little items on your day increases the likelihood that you will feel overwhelmed. If it takes almost as long to record the task than it does to do it right away, just cut to the chase and get it done immediately.

Related: Learn 21 ways to get more accomplished every day.

3. Plan Ahead

Know what you want to accomplish at the start of each workday. Depending on when your mind works best, you could start your morning early or prepare your to-do list at the end of each day.

If you try to think of things to do one at a time, you slow down your productivity because you aren’t able to ramp up to full speed. Instead, use a tasks list in your email software like Outlook tasks, or try a free online task list that syncs with your phone and tablet, like Any.do or Wunderlist.

4. Include Your Breaks and Non-Work Activities

Finding balance in your daily schedule is an important, often overlooked factor in entrepreneurial efficiency. This point is especially true if you work from home. Integrate your work, individual and family responsibilities into your plan.

Specific to your work regimen, plan in time for breaks so you aren’t stuck at the desk all day. Taking periodic breaks to move around and refresh yourself helps you sustain adequate energy. Scheduling rests helps keep you fresh and mentally looking forward to breaks in the day, as opposed to developing a tendency to routinely distract yourself from work that needs to be completed.

5. Turn Off All the Notifications

Ever catch yourself reaching for your phone with no real purpose? Our phones have turned into the biggest distraction and time vampire of the modern age – and the constant notifications aren’t helping.

It’s time to cut them from our workday. That means turning off or muting any non-critical app notifications like Facebook, Instagram, games, weather and sports updates. Without the constant pings telling you about a friend’s status update, the latest scores and reminders to play your daily Lumosity game, you’ll be less inclined to check your phone and then waste more time staring at your screen without a purpose.

Business critical apps and functions like your email, calendar, Slack, text messages, phone calls and even What’s App (if you use it to collaborate with team members) can be left on so you don’t miss out on important events and conversations. But cutting the mental clutter of all the countless other notifications will help you break away from that phone addiction.

Time Management Tips Take-Away

Take the time to implement these five primary time management tips into your daily routine and you’ll be amazed at the difference in what you can accomplish. New habits take as much as three weeks to become part of your natural routine and prove effective. But you will never regret working hard at improving your time management and productivity.

Grow your business, satisfy your clients or employer, reach your professional goals and earn optimum income.

Get more accomplished

21 Effective Ways to Get More Accomplished Every Day

Get more accomplished

What secrets do the world’s most top people in business use to be hyper-productive? How do they seem to fit so much into every day, week and year to get more accomplished than the average business pro? The answer is in the small tasks they do to stay focused on their goals, priorities and the outcomes that will progress them to the next level each day.

Here are 21 of the greatest tips that elite entrepreneurs and business people do that have put them on top.

1. Get more accomplished with an ultimate to-do list

Create a master to-do list, not a variety of different lists in multiple formats and locations. Stick to one, preferably online that syncs across all devices and that is available when you’re offline — so even when you don’t have Wi-Fi you can keep adjusting your task list.

2. Prep every night

Start the night before by answering three questions for the next day: 1) What will you work on first thing tomorrow? 2) What do you hope to accomplish during the day? 3) What must get completed tomorrow, in priority? The answers should feed into your to-do list.

3. Your routine is key

Establish a daily ritual. For example, you may start your day by pouring a coffee, putting on instrumental music and reading your favorite newspaper online. Then move straight into your most critical task of the day. By mid-day, you may decide to always take lunch and a 15-minute walk, and on the way home you catch the latest podcast on your list.

4. Learn on the go

Speaking of podcasts, listening to them on your commute to or from work is a great way to research and learn. Don’t waste that time on Google or Candy Crush though, when you can be getting in some professional development time or improving an important skill. Listening to podcasts like HBR Ideacast and Outside In will get you thinking a step ahead of your competition.

5. Power hour

Schedule a “power hour” for the first 60 minutes of every morning — where you work diligently and uninterrupted on the most important task on your list. Avoid checking email and doing the little tasks that can veer you off course all day long.

6. Satisfy the stomach

Never ignore a rumbling stomach. This doesn’t mean you should satisfy every snack craving, but make sure you’re staying fuelled up during meal times throughout the day. Working straight through your day without a meal can be the ultimate crush to productivity. So scheduling those meals into your calendar can also be a nice reminder.

7. Get away to recharge

Get in a couple mini-breaks throughout the day, whether that’s just to step away from the computer for 10 minutes, or a walk around the block. Establish a “break habit” by scheduling them into your calendar or using an app to keep track of your time — and potentially to signal when a break is needed.

8. Emails can be your worst enemy

Enforce a personal email strategy, where you set certain times on your calendar to check email — and don’t spend any more time than allocated. Process the emails according to priority and pick up the phone for emergencies, rather than resorting to typed messages.

9. Time to tidy

Organize your workspace. It doesn’t have to look as clean as an office showroom, but your space should be tidy and uncluttered, which helps you focus on the tasks at hand. Nothing is more stressful than searching tirelessly for your office supplies, working files or phone when you need to get things done in a hurry.

10. Zero distractions

When you’re in true work mode, close down any distracting Internet browsers, email programs or other software. At the very least, minimize them from your computer screen so you won’t get the urge to click elsewhere.

11. A “social” reward

Treat social media like a reward. It’s easy to get distracted by eye-catching headlines and notifications on your phone, so shut those off and save the fun stuff for when you accomplish a task. Then, when you complete each major task, you can reward yourself with your favorite distraction — like a quick one-minute video of a cat being cute. Just make sure you shut it down after the reward to stay productive.

12. One task at a time

Stop trying to multitask. Studies show it actually can make you pay less attention and have troubles recalling information. You may feel like you’re getting more done, but in reality it could slow your performance down.

13. Just say ‘no’

Contrary to what you may have been taught, it’s not impolite to say ‘no’ to tasks that derail your productivity. You may want to help others out with their requests, but sometimes you need to decline their request in order to get your work done. By saying ‘no’ you can free up future time for something you really want to say ‘yes’ to — and that will be more fulfilling in the long run.

14. Like Costco for your calendar

Schedule time slots to work on things in bulk. Like many people, you may have had days where you jump so quickly from task to task that you never have a chance to sink into any of it. Instead, schedule multiple working time slots in one to two-hour segments throughout the day where you can have uninterrupted work.

15. Cut your low-value tasks

High productivity people follow the Pareto principle — 80% of your results can be driven by 20% of your effort. The key is figuring out what the other 80% of your effort is spent on, and then systematically delegating, deleting or diminishing those from your schedule so your day becomes more valuable.

16. High-impact times of day

Discover your productivity rhythm — that is, the time of day that you are most impactful. People can be classified into three categories: the morning crush-it, the high noon heavy hitter, or the night owl ninja. Find out which one you are and schedule your tasks accordingly.

17. Always be goal oriented

Never lose track of your long-term goals. Too often, we move from one thing to the next just trying to get through the day. But by integrating your yearly objectives into all your meetings and activities, you’ll be more prepared to cut unnecessary activities and keep your teams (and yourself) focused on the right priorities.

18. Positively priority proficient

As new tasks arrive, reprioritize with speed and ease. The trick is giving every task an A, B or C rating (or 1, 2, 3 if you prefer). The As will get ultimate priority as your most important tasks — so if a new B task comes in and you’re working on an A, that new B task can wait. But conversely, if an A task arrives, you better hop on it.

19. Make meetings count

Make sure your meetings are efficient and worth every minute — otherwise, they won’t be worth your time and you should cut them from your schedule. Every meeting must include an agenda with clear objectives, and schedule less important meetings into the second half of your day so you have more time in the morning to complete key responsibilities.

20. High gear afternoons

An hour and a half before the end of your workday, you have a perfect window of opportunity to kick your productivity into high gear. Get your affairs in order by checking your email and drafts folder, finishing those last messages and then completely closing your Inbox. Then, your last hour of work can be spent entirely undistracted.

21. Final 10 before freedom

The last 10 minutes of your day can set you up for a more productive tomorrow. Make sure your to-do list is finalized, clean-up your workspace, sign out of every app and program (including on your phone), and then do a brain dump — where you jot down anything left on your mind so you can go home with lighter shoulders and enjoy your night.

Group of businessmen on top of a mountain illustration

How to build one of the best sales teams in the world

teamwork

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” –Henry Ford

Team building is an ongoing process for large and small businesses alike. The right team can be the difference between success and failure, or scalability and stagnation.

Sales people are empowered entrepreneurs, but they can also build a team around them to support their professional and personal goals — and that approach can help them strategically fast track their next moves. Let’s take a look at how the right approach to team building is just as important to growth as the right working capital.

Great leaders build great teams

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and it sure as heck wasn’t built by one person.

Great leaders are the lifeblood of great teams, but that doesn’t happen by accident. So it helps to understand the ways in which teamwork is literally wired into our brains.

There is a fundamental importance of rewarding your team’s ‘collective success’ versus just the ‘individual performance.’ Psychology Researchers and Neuroleadership experts Jay Van Bavel and Dominic Packer revealed in the Harvard Business Review why focusing on collective success makes all the difference.

“Although leaders are concerned with collective success, most organizations — from sports teams to universities to global companies — still focus on rewarding individual performance. The majority of Fortune 500 companies reward the most productive individuals, not the most effective groups or indispensable group members. We believe that leaders at these organizations are overlooking something fundamental about human nature — our tribalism.”

Buck your traditions

Van Bavel and Packer led their research with an example of a nearly 50-year old Ohio State Buckeyes football tradition — and it’s the reward system behind all those Buckeye stickers on players’ helmets (you know, the ones that look like little hemp leaves — both amusing and beneficial).

Buckeyes

So what’s the story behind this?

In 1968, the Buckeyes coaching staff wanted to reward exceptional plays and encourage their team to keep winning — and so a new tradition began. Individual players were rewarded with Buckeye stickers to place on their helmets — a visible reminder of their success. The system paid off in spades, and the team won the championship that year. They continued a dominating streak in the league, but it wasn’t ever lasting. Over the next few decades, the system was failing and the team was, too.

In 2001, a new head coach flipped the way players earn Buckeyes. Instead of their old system of rewarding a player for scoring a touchdown or other individual victory, every player on the offensive unit would get a sticker if the team scored more than 24 points.

The purpose? The idea of favoring teamwork over individual performance was the real goal. And it paid off almost immediately. The team not only won a national championship the following year, but the Buckeyes have been one of the most successful teams in the country ever since.

Your team members want to fit in

Belonging to a group is a deeply rooted aspect of who we are as individuals. Van Bavel and Packer further explained how managing this mentality is a major role that leaders will play.

“Great leaders are “entrepreneurs of identity.” They embrace our tribal nature and seek to shape the identity of fellow group members,” they elaborate. “Human beings evolved in groups, and most of us still work in groups every day. … This is why sports fans can show up to a stadium and immediately share a common purpose with 100,000 complete strangers.”

That might be the case at a sports stadium, but how about at the workplace? The researchers clarify that it is quite similar.

“When a person starts to identify with a group, it triggers a fundamental shift in their goals. Events and decisions that were once evaluated with reference to oneself (“what’s in it for me?”) are now evaluated in reference to the group (“what does this mean for us?”).”

That shift to a healthy team mentality is one of the most important psychological breakthroughs a company can have.

Does your team feel safe?

What’s more, business leadership expert Chee Tung Leong illuminated the fact that today’s average lifespan of an S&P 500 company has fallen from 67 years to just 15 years.

“The marketplace is much more unforgiving towards companies that take too long to learn their lessons,” Leong explained. Creating a culture of learning at your company is key to success.

As entrepreneurs, we talk a lot in business about the virtues of bold thinking and risk taking, but what Leong uncovered while studying team dynamics at Google, is that you must create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable taking those bold chances.

Chief among these key dynamics was this idea of ‘psychological safety.’ To build the best teams in the world, Leong explains that “team members needed to feel safe enough to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.”

“While self-preserving behavior is natural in the workplace, it can erode the foundation of effective teamwork.” This can damage the culture you are trying to build – where team members can learn from one another. “The safer team members feel with each other, the more likely they are to collaborate, admit mistakes, and take new opportunities.”

Leong advocates building the culture of psychological safety on your own teams through three fundamentals:

  1. Encourage failure
  2. Admit your own mistakes
  3. Hold “anxiety parties”

The latter, while admittedly unconventional, allows team members to openly share things that make them feel vulnerable and anxious, allowing for immediate 360-degree feedback with the team. Leaders can then address issues head-on and avoid wasting time on assumptions about the team’s feelings — instead, focusing on the real problems at hand.

Transform your clients into your teammates

Taking this strategy a step further, as a leader you can encourage your team to look outside the organization. Sales experts Barry Farber and Robert L. Shook argue that one of the most effective yet overlooked sales techniques involves teaming up with customers.

“Outsource your customer. Let the customer solve problems for you,” explains Shook and Farber. “A salesperson’s job is to create a vehicle that lets the customer solve his or her own problems.”

This out-of-the-box thinking can take your sales organization to a new level. “When a customer becomes involved in finding a solution to his problem, he or she takes ownership, which is the foundation of a solid salesperson-customer relationship.”

At the end of the day, a winning teamwork philosophy is one that encourages both parties to work together to solve a mutual problem. The best teams are as unique as you and your company, and making these proven team building concepts parts of your company’s direction will serve everyone well.

Chained computer illustration

Are Your Clients Safe from Hackers?

hackers and cybersecurity

When it comes to cyberattacks, the targets are typically the behemoth companies and organizations you read about in the news. But according to IBM, small and mid-sized businesses are the target of 62 per cent of all cyberattacks – which equals about 4,000 attacks per day. The reason? They are an easy target.

Can your company or clients be under attack?

We hear a new story about cyberattacks almost every day. A business gets hacked — allowing sensitive proprietary and customer data to be accessed and compromised. The list of the world’s biggest data breaches is littered with recognizable names, including Anthem, JP Morgan Chase, and Target.

But don’t think for a second that hackers only target large organizations. In fact, small businesses are often just what hackers are looking for. Why? The main reason is that small businesses often have inadequate online security, and with sensitive data housed in the cloud they become an easier victim.

A quick night’s work for a hacker can mean disaster for your business. According to a report by the U.S. National Cyber Security Alliance, 60 percent of small businesses that suffer a cyberattack are out of business within six months.

Nobody will protect your business except you

Banks and the government haven’t done much to assist small businesses with hackers and data breaches. The recently introduced MAIN STREET Cybersecurity Act in the United States will help small businesses protect their digital assets from cyber threats, but it’s far from a silver bullet. Businesses of all shapes and sizes need to start taking data security seriously — proactively and with full accountability.

Now is the time to put together a solid security plan.

Don’t just go with the first solution you find. Instead, take the time to find the approach that fits your business, customers and industry. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. More importantly, don’t leave data security to just the IT staff. Get everyone involved — including your managers and all levels of employees. Train each of them on protection measures and show them how to stay compliant. For example, teaching employees to avoid opening suspicious email attachments can be a safeguard against malware that could easily creep into your network.

If your workforce is highly mobile, you may want to consider the rules around any bring your own device (BYOD) program you may have in place. Security Magazine explains how a BYOD program, whether formally in place or not, could create unintentional risk within the organization — simply based on the lack of awareness of such programs. The publication states that, “17.7 percent of survey respondents who bring their own devices to work claim that their employer’s IT department has no idea about this behavior, and 28.4 percent of IT departments actively ignore BYOD behavior.”

Once you start protecting your company, you must take the next steps to stay safe.

Obtain cybersecurity insurance, create a strong password strategy for your users, and utilize virtual data rooms (VDR). For in-house IT departments and office managers, it’s important to upgrade your tech as well. Start with this list of five tools and services your small businesses can use to protect against cyberattacks.

Taking cybersecurity to the next level

web security and hackers

Want to dig deeper? Consider employing an ethical hacker — a cybersecurity expert who works within your company to locate weaknesses and vulnerabilities by duplicating the intent and actions of hackers.

Also talk to a company that specializes in cybersecurity protection. Many of these businesses will offer free vulnerability assessments to give you an idea of where your weaknesses may lie. They’ll also explain how they can help you manage those threats. If you don’t currently have an in-house IT team, outsourcing the work could be an efficient option.

As if all that wasn’t enough, here’s one more thing to consider. When crafting a data security policy, make sure you’re actually protecting data privacy by including the following nine elements in your policy, as detailed once again by Security Magazine. It’s crucial to consider your policy from all angles – after all, your data can make or break your business.

1 Ensure Data Security Accountability All IT staff, workforce and management must be aware of their responsibilities.
2 Create Policies that Govern Network Services How to handle remote access, IP addresses, routers and network intrusion detection.
3 Scan for Vulnerabilities Have a routine in place for checking your own networks regularly for hacking vulnerabilities.
4  Manage Patches Implement code to eliminate vulnerabilities that can help to protect against threats.
5  Create System Data Security Policies Rules around company servers, firewalls, databases and antivirus software.
6  Have a Response Plan for Incidents If a security breach occurs, have measures for handling the issue along with evaluation and reporting.
7  Educate Staff on Acceptable Use Employees should understand and sign an acceptable use policy, which includes disciplinary action.
8  Monitoring Compliance Regular audits to ensure staff and management are complying with the data security policy.
9  Account Monitoring and Control Designate someone to monitor and control users, and keep track of active and inactive user accounts.

It seems like a lot, but it can be done. More importantly, it must be done. When it comes to today’s advanced hackers, organizations must be prepared for when — not if — they will have a data breach. Taking small steps now will ensure you’re not facing bigger problems down the road.

Working desk illustration

7 proven cash flow tactics every CFO needs to know

CFO cash flow

The CCC is your “cash conversion cycle” (or simply referred to as the “cash cycle”) and it tells you how many days it takes for your company to turn your inventory purchases into cash. The shorter the CCC, the more flexible your working capital, and that is every business owner and CFO’s dream.

With a shorter CCC, you’ll be able to pay bills, make payroll, take advantage of supplier discounts, order new product or inventory, and execute on your growth strategy with much more ease.

But to shorten the cash cycle, you need to first find a way of adjusting these three key variables:

  1. DIO: Days Inventory Outstanding.
    • The average # days you turn inventory into sales.
  2. DPO: Days Payable Outstanding
    • The # of days it takes to pay your accounts payable.
  3. DSO: Days Sales Outstanding
    • The # of days it will take to collect on sales after they’ve been made.

Want more details on CCC including DIO, DPO and DSO? Read part 1 now.

To positively impact the three variables and shorten your CCC, you have multiple options:

1. Improve sales times

If your sales team can speed up the time to make deals, you’ll be shortening your DIO – the time it takes to turn your inventory into sales. Sell faster – it’s every company’s goal, but often easier said than done.

2. Enhance supplier relationships

Likewise, improving your supply chain can create efficiencies in your DIO. By developing good relationships with suppliers you can take advantage of just-in-time inventory practices, where your goods arrive only as needed. This may already be a common option for some industries, like manufacturing and perishables, but it is also becoming more popular in retail with the rise in drop shipping, where companies never handle their own inventory – instead, when your customer orders arrive you’ll purchase the inventory from a third party who ships directly to the end customer on your behalf.

3. Better credit and collection process

There’s no doubt that an effective collections department will improve your ability to collect customer invoices on time. Effective collections can help create a more stable and reliable DSO. However, this requires staff training, likely more personnel hours (translating into payroll costs) and leadership’s time to make sure this process is effectively managed.

4. Ask for extended payment terms

Extending your accounts payable will increase your DPO, and help offset the other two factors of your CCC. But this could negatively impact your relationships with suppliers if you extend too much, and breaching the terms could put you at risk of becoming the delinquent account you’re trying to avoid in your own A/R.

5. Reduce your 30/60/90 day payment terms

Fortunately, you’re in control of your accounts receivable terms and can shorten them to receive payment earlier. By reducing your terms, you lower your DSO and speed up your cash cycle.

Unfortunately, many customers request and expect longer terms. Some industries abide by certain time frames to pay, which may not match up with your cash flow needs. And other customers will be delinquent on payment no matter what terms you agree upon. You may risk losing sales to competitors offering better terms.

6. Early pay discounts

These are generally not very effective at reducing your DSO and some customers take the discount even when they pay on normal schedules. Overall, this can lead to lower revenue than expected, which doesn’t amount to a cheap option.

7. Smart & strategic financing

Being strategic with your billing and collections is one of the most accessible ways to improve your cash cycle, and you can use commercial finance solutions to dramatically shorten your DSO. In fact, instead of having a DSO of 30/60/90 or more days, you can have a DSO of one day.

Up Next: Learn how to calculate your cash cycle with this key formula.

cash cycle

ultimate entrepreneur mindset

Do You Have the Ultimate Entrepreneur Mindset?

ultimate entrepreneur mindset

How do your entrepreneurial skills, personality, motivation and drive stack up against your peers? Do you have the qualities of the best in the business?

Check out the highlights from our roundup below. Explore what 15 of the hottest entrepreneurs do every day to keep on schedule. Learn the five must-have skills for every top businessperson. Then see if you’ve adopted the entrepreneur mindset to take full control of your business – or if you’re actually thinking like an employee.

Are you starting your day off right?

From Medium

It’s fascinating to see how some of our favorite entrepreneurs, creatives, and thought leaders spend their time every day. What are their morning routines like? What time do they rise in the morning? When are they most productive? How do they relax? …

Some wake up by 4am; others don’t start the day until closer to 11am. Some exercise every single day; others write or meditate. … What’s clear, is that having a routine of some sort matters. Routines help us get into a flow state that unlocks our ability to be happy and effective every day. While there weren’t any across-the-board consistencies, there were some themes:

  • Get a decent amount of sleep
  • Read things that are interesting to you
  • Try to break a sweat daily
  • Spend time with people you love
  • And when you really need to kick into gear, there’s nothing that a good cup of coffee (or an ice plunge) can’t help with 😉

Read on for a glimpse into the daily routines that successful entrepreneurs, creatives, and thought leaders swear by.

Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator

I try to do the things that I think are important, and be ruthless about not doing things that I don’t think are important. This sounds easy in theory, but requires a lot of discipline in practice. I generally have about three big goals and 20 small to-do items for each day.

Steve Schlafman, VC at RRE Ventures

I’m up every morning at 6am. Hot yoga at 6:30am. Breakfast meeting by 8:30am. Back-to-back meetings from 9am–6pm. I might get 30–60 minutes for email in between. Go to a work-related event or dinner with a founder, executive, friend, etc. Spend time with my wife. Read a book from 10:30–11ish. Bed by 11pm. Rinse and repeat.

Joel Gascoigne, Co-founder & CEO of Buffer

These days, I generally have a lot of quick meetings with different people on my team. I’m mainly focused within product/engineering, customer service, hiring, and then on the higher level. My calendar is open to people on the team, and it generally gets quite booked up. I have quick 20-minute sessions to give advice on a specific challenge. I also have 1:1s with several people on the team, so I usually have one of those each day, too. Other than work, I try to exercise several times a week (either strength training at the gym, running, or doing a bodyweight workout at an outdoor gym).

Read full story & all routines…

The 5 skills of the most successful entrepreneurs

From Influencive

In today’s economy, workers cannot depend on having a stable, full-time job with benefits until they retire. Most people will go through times in their career when they work freelance or are considered an independent contractor. Many of us will also begin our own business at some point. In a gig economy, everyone needs to know how to create their own brand. We are all entrepreneurs. …

Most people who go into business have entrepreneurial figures they admire. … Look at what they do and figure out what works for them. You will notice how many entrepreneurs have similar skills.   Once you notice that, you can apply those skills to your own work.

Concentration

Concentration is an important skill for successful entrepreneurs. For our purposes, concentration has two meanings. The first is your ability to focus. Our digital world is full of distractions. We have all experienced the time suck of the internet. Moreover, we are constantly distracted by our phones and keeping in touch with family, friends and co-workers. …

Leadership

Leadership is a vital trait for entrepreneurs. After all, anyone who wants to succeed in building their own brand and/or business should expect to be in a position of authority and to have other people working for them at some point. That means that you need to be able to lead. … Most people need to work at developing leadership skills. Even people who are natural leaders can benefit from working on improving their leadership skills. …

Organization

Organization is a significant trait of successful entrepreneurs. You need to have your ducks in a row if you want to accomplish everything you need to do in a timely enough manner. Organization is another skill that you might have a natural aptitude for, or it might be something you struggle with. Either way, you should view organization as a skill you can learn and improve upon. …

Read the full story for all five skills…

Do you think like an Employee or an Entrepreneur?

From Eric Tippetts

While every human being is different, we do have certain similarities that can set us apart from other groups of people. One of the primary items that group people together are their mindsets.

Entrepreneurs must have mindsets that are quite different than an employee.

Herein lies a common problem I have recognized with new entrepreneurs… They jump into the entrepreneurial world with an employee mindset.

The Key Mindsets of the Entrepreneur:

  • Entrepreneurs focus on the important things: A large percentage of employees are focused on the job they have to do whether it is important or not. The mindset of the entrepreneur requires them to focus on what is the most important, profit making task.
  • Entrepreneurs do not procrastinate: While an employee may put off a task until tomorrow, the entrepreneur is all about doing it NOW! Procrastination is NOT in the entrepreneur dictionary.
  • Entrepreneurs rely on their “gut”: The entrepreneur has to make split-second decisions on a daily basis.
  • Entrepreneurs own their failures: Many employees tend to find excuses for failures, but successful entrepreneurs have learned the success only comes because of multiple failures. The entrepreneur mindset is to own the failure and not put the blame elsewhere.
  • Entrepreneurs set high, but reachable goals: Personally, I believe every person should set goals, but few do. Successful entrepreneurs understand that each day, week, month and year must be a series of high, but reachable goals.

See the full article & all 17 entrepreneur mindsets…

 

Entrepreneurs also need to have their sales pitch perfected and polished – ready to sell their products and win new customers. Learn how to craft the ultimate 60-second elevator pitch that will capture attention, generate interest and grow your client base.

factoring vs bank loans

Need a Bank Loan? 16 Ways Factoring is Better

factoring vs bank loans

If you own or operate a company, you probably know the challenges of finding business funding. Relationships with banks are important, but sometimes bank loans don’t work out. That’s where alternative financing options like factoring, also known as accounts receivable financing, come in handy.

Factoring allows you to leverage your existing and ongoing customer invoices into financing. You’ll work with a factoring partner who will provide you working capital and take over the collections of those accounts receivable in return for a professional services fee.

When a company needs cash flow, factoring can be the quick and reliable solution to keep your business heading in the right direction. Here are the additional bonuses to using factoring that you may have never considered:

1. Get faster funding

If you need to urgently buy supplies, order product, make payroll or repair key equipment, factoring can be easier and quicker to secure than traditional loans – sometimes as quickly as 24 hours after submitting your invoices. Unlike a traditional loan, you don’t need to submit tax returns, detailed financial statements, business plans or your financial projections – saving you a lot of time and hassle. Banks can also take longer to approve your requests, potentially making you wait for fiscal year end or the results of an audit. Instead, your factoring partner will perform an initial underwriting process to approve your application – then you’re all set.

2. Flexibility – Borrow more when needed

The amount your company can borrow will actually grow the more you sell. As your business grows, you’ll need even more cash flow to pay for supplies as you wait for customers to pay their invoices. So factoring gives you the immediate ability to borrow more, and keep the growth going. Compared to traditional banks, you will never outgrow your line of credit, as a big enough factoring company can accommodate all your growth needs.

3. No other assets required

Factoring only requires that you have customer accounts receivable to secure your funding. You don’t need other assets like real estate, equipment or inventory to apply. That means your personal home or property doesn’t have to be offered up as collateral, which may sometimes be the case with traditional bank loans. (If you do have those other assets, you can also qualify for additional funding options like Asset-Based Loans).

4. Cash flow boost when you need it – now or ongoing

Whether you need a longer-term solution or a temporary boost in cash flow, factoring can help you out of a tricky working capital dilemma. Every business will eventually run into the need for more cash on hand – so with factoring, as soon as new orders are invoiced you can have cash released into your business account. This gives you the chance to take advantage of growth opportunities that require more consistent cash flow.

5. Get larger funding than banks

Unlimited funding sounds amazing. With factoring, lending power is dependent upon the size of your accounts receivable – so an abundance of working capital is possible. Banks qualify you based on your business credit strength, whereas your factoring partner looks to your accounts receivable and your customer credit strength. If you’re selling goods or services to financially strong customers and have ongoing invoices, you can get substantially more financing than you’d qualify for with a traditional bank lender.

6. Grow your business the way you want

Instant cash means you can accelerate your growth strategy. Some companies need to hire more sales people to secure new accounts. Others will need additional equipment to manufacture their product. Still others may need working capital for marketing and advertising, office upgrades or new project development. Whatever the need, you’ll have the working capital to execute and grow the business.

Related: How high-growth companies can get unlimited cash flow

7. Take advantage of supplier discounts

Volume discounts, early payment discounts or special supplier offers are attractive options – but only if you have the capital available at that moment in time. Traditional bank loans are often not fast enough to allow you to take advantage of these discounts. But now, you can factor invoices quickly and free up cash flow to jump at the opportunities when they present themselves.

8. Shorten your cash cycle

Waiting for customers to make payment is a burden. With factoring, you can significantly shorten your cash cycle. Instead of waiting 30, 60, 90 or more days for traditional payment terms, you can receive that payment from your factoring partner in as little as 24 hours. By the time your original terms would have come due, you could have now been able to purchase more goods, make more sales and earn higher profits.

9. Free up your time

Searching for funding and traditional bank loans is a time-consuming process. Meetings, business plans and applications take up a lot of your valuable schedule that could be spent on other areas of the business. With factoring, you’ll have to complete the application process, but once approved you can regularly factor your credit eligible invoices and save time while improving cash flow.

10. Lower your overhead costs

Since your factoring partner takes over the management of your invoices, including handling customer payment and collections, your costs in these departments will likely lower. This can help offset any fees and makes factoring an even more attractive solution. You won’t get that service at a traditional bank.

11. Focus on new revenue

You and your team likely already spend a lot of time processing customer invoices and collecting payment – maybe too much time. With those duties removed from your to-do list, you can now work on other tasks that will improve your revenue like sales, marketing and building new client relationships.

12. Faster collections

Prompt and professional collections can be a big bonus when you work with the right factoring partner. With a reputable company handling customer collections, the result can be more timely payments (customers don’t want to risk a poor credit report). Once the customer makes their final payments, you’ll also receive your reserve funds from the factoring partner – so on-time collections are important to everyone.

13. Improved credit checks

Your factoring partner will also be responsible for credit-checking your customers. That gives you the advantage of having valuable intelligence about the credit worthiness of your clients, including new customers you may close. That can help improve the quality of accounts you take on, improve your credit decisions and advance your business’ debt security.

14. Less costs than equity investments – and you keep control

Equity investments and venture capital can be alternatives to traditional bank loans, but they can also demand much higher returns than the costs associated with factoring. In addition, you may be required to give up shares in your company, and that dilutes your ownership stake. It may even shift control of your business to the investors. But with factoring, there is no requirement to give up a stake in your business.

15. Protect against bad debt

In certain circumstances, some factoring companies offer non-recourse factoring, which means the factoring partner will take on the risk if any invoices are left unpaid. This type of factoring offers you additional protection against bad debt – a level of protection can be very important to some companies.

16. Improve your balance sheet

Factoring is not the same as receiving a loan. On your books, a loan would get recorded as a “debit,” which is considered a liability. Instead, with factoring there is no debt incurred. Your factoring partner is purchasing your accounts receivable with cash, and that reduces your balance sheet debt. The result will be a lower debt to equity ration, and that can actually improve your financial position on the books.

 

Factoring can be a highly attractive option for companies at any stage in business. If you’re interested in learning exactly how it can work for your business, get in touch to learn more. We’re always happy to chat.

Conference room

A Presentation That Pays Off with Future Sales

The success of a presentation begins with its very first sentence. Ask yourself what will be most interesting to your attendees. Is there new research or data within their industry that can help their businesses run more efficiently? Maybe there’s a recent success story that may impact their mindset about a new technology in the marketplace?

Not every presentation needs to be exactly like Steve Jobs would have done it, or in the style of a famous TED Talk, but there are some key points that will captivate your audience and keep their attention — helping you close deals. Follow the tips below to prep for your next presentation and stand out in front of the crowd.

What makes an amazing presentation?

Experts at CustomShow, a sales presentation platform, stress that capturing your audience’s attention with a strong opening will engage their minds, enabling the presenter to effectively convey his entire message. Their advice: “In general it is not a good idea to memorize your entire speech. It is, however, a good idea to memorize the beginning four to 10 sentences. This is critical because it allows you to feel confident and ride the wave of confidence as you continue your presentation.” For additional ideas, view How To Start A Presentation Tips And Tricks – 22 Powerful Strategies on their website.

The mechanics of speaking will in itself make a difference in the effectiveness of your presentation, too. Your voice speaks volumes about your confidence and will reflect, rightly or wrongly, on how you feel about the topic. Therefore, speaking clearly and confidently is important.

4 ways your speaking voice matters

You’ll find many useful tips for prepping your voice at SkillsYouNeed.com. Its primer on Aspects of Effective Speaking provides useful exercises on increasing your comfort in developing a speaking voice, using breath to improve your voice and the four important aspects of voice when making a presentation:

  1. Accents
  2. Finding your voice
  3. The effect of breath on voice and speech
  4. Vocal production

One example of how your voice matters is inflection. For example, when a person asks a question, the last word of the sentence typically goes up in tone at the end. Sometimes when speakers are uncomfortable with a subject or nervous about their situation they fall into a rhythm that ends every sentence on a high note, whether it’s a question or a statement. This leaves an impression of uncertainty. Practice your presentation, record it and listen for proper inflection. Strong statements should finish with a steady or lower tone. Make sure your voice varies appropriately.

Make the content memorable

Equally important, of course, is the content. You have earned a precious opportunity to stand in front of an audience that includes prospective clients. Show them how much you value their time and how you intend to make it pay off. Talk with knowledge about the audience’s industry or needs. Share important trends or information relevant to their needs.

While your talk may include a scripted explanation about your company’s services, make certain the bulk of your presentation offers in-depth information that makes for useful takeaways. When you do so you’ll build trust and that is the first step toward opening the door to business after the presentation.