Unleashing the Power of Local Community Engagement: A Guide to Small Business Success

Running a business is all about finding ways to properly engage your customer base. From your products to your marketing, you want everything to be as narrow as possible. The question isn’t “What does it take for a coffee shop to be successful?” It’s “What does it take for this coffee shop in YOUR town to be successful?

The answer? Let the good people of YOUR town tell you. Modern community engagement is data-driven. As a business owner you need to understand your customer base and be able to use that information to both anticipate their wants and meet their basic needs. 

In this article, we take a look at how you can make your small business flourish by engaging your community. 

READ: How Brands Can Grow Customer Loyalty and Build a Positive Reputation in 2023

Localized marketing strategies

Marketing used to rely very heavily on the “throw things on the wall and see what sticks,” approach. The digital world has changed things. Consumers are now used to having a highly personalized experience with the brands that they frequent. 

You don’t have to be a big business to use data as a way of meeting your customers where they are. There are plenty of data programs out there that provide an affordable and accessible way to understand your shoppers and cater to their desires. 

Taking a look at your sales-related data is a simple way to understand what is working and what is not. Social media can provide an even more granular look at what piques your customer’s interest. Most social media platforms provide analytic tools that will allow you to see how your marketing messages are doing based on a wide range of criteria. 

If you do not feel confident in your ability to comprehend and apply data, there are also professionals available who will consult with your business on a freelance basis. Though not cheap, data-driven consultants provide a valuable service that can be particularly valuable when you are trying to revamp your business. 

READ: How Retail Business Intelligence Drives Customer Experiences and Boosts Sales

Community involvement

Customers value businesses that feel like they are a part of the community. To that end, “market engagement,” is not only about catering your product to the needs of your customers, it is also about catering your brand identity to the wants of the community. 

In other words, ingrain your shop in the lives of the people who use it. Support public initiatives. Cooperate with similar establishments. Contribute to fundraisers. Sponsor town marathons. Set up booths at community events. Do what you can to reach beyond the mere transactional aspect of your relationship with the community. 

Customer relationship management

Customer service is more important than ever. As a small business, you are uniquely positioned to provide a custom and familiar experience to the people that you serve. Get to know regulars. Respond quickly and professionally to phone calls and emails. Be friendly but professional. 

Keep in mind that part of the appeal of small businesses from a community member’s perspective is that they improve upon the faceless and devoid experience of shopping at big-box, international retail conglomerates. People want to feel seen, so use your customer service approach to inject a human element into your business practices. 

READ: 5 Tips for Overcoming Customer Service Obstacles as a Small Business

Collaboration

Market engagement also clues you into the greater business community. In the small business setting, it can be very valuable to have cooperative relationships with other shops in your area. It’s a form of networking. 

Getting to know other business owners can help you better understand the town that you are serving. It can also give you unique insights into the local supply chain, while further improving your ability to provide a unique and bespoke approach to the town you are serving. 

The Bottom line

Local market engagement is an intangible consideration that can have a significant impact on the overall health of your operations. By taking a data-driven approach to how you serve the public, you not only operate more efficiently but also establish yourself as an integral part of the town you serve. 

Community is a vital aspect of small business. By engaging with your market, you will improve sales while also deriving more joy from the process of being a business owner. 

 

Andrew Deen HeadshotAndrew Deen has been a consultant for startups in a number of industries from retail to medical devices and everything in between. He implements lean methodology and is currently writing a book about scaling up business.

Stand Out From the Crowd: 5 Must-Have Promotional Products for Small Businesses

In today’s competitive market, small businesses often struggle to stand out and attract customers. Promotional products can be powerful in creating brand awareness and fostering customer loyalty. Small business owners can effectively promote their brand by choosing the right items while providing value to their clients.

Here are five promotional products that are ideal for small businesses. Each item has unique qualities that make it a good fit for promoting your business.

READ: How Event Planners Nail the Hotel “Room Drop” Welcome Gift

1. Pens

Pens are a classic and timeless promotional item. They are practical, portable and frequently used, making them an excellent choice for any small business. By featuring your business name and logo on pens, you ensure that a wide audience sees your brand. Pens are often shared, allowing your message to reach even more potential customers. Whether used in the office, at home or on the go, pens keep your brand in constant visibility and improve brand recognition.

2. Umbrellas

Customized umbrellas may seem unconventional, but they offer exceptional visibility for your business. You turn your business name and logo into a walking billboard by imprinting your business name and logo on an umbrella. During rainy days, umbrellas are necessary; people often carry them outdoors, exposing your brand to a larger audience. Umbrellas are versatile promotional products that can be used by individuals from various demographics, making them an effective choice for businesses targeting a wide range of customers.

READ: Tips for Marketing During a Downturn

3. Sticky Notes and Notebooks

Sticky notes and notebooks are practical and widely used for promoting your small business. They are essential for jotting down reminders, making lists and organizing thoughts. You associate your business with productivity and organization by featuring your brand on sticky notes and notebooks. These items are often shared, seen by multiple individuals and used in various settings, such as homes, schools and offices. They provide repeated exposure for your brand and constantly remind you of your products or services.

4. Water Bottles

In the recent past, water bottles have become increasingly popular due to the growing emphasis on the health benefits of taking adequate water. By offering branded water bottles, you align your small business with a healthy lifestyle and showcase your commitment to enhancing your client’s well-being. Water bottles are highly functional, long-lasting and portable, making them ideal for promoting your business on the go. Whether used at the gym, office or during outdoor activities, branded water bottles offer your business much-needed advertising.

READ: How Brands Can Grow Customer Loyalty and Build a Positive Reputation in 2023

5. Tote Bags

Tote bags are amazing promotional products that offer a large branding space for your small business. They are eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastic bags and have gained popularity recently. Choosing a well-designed tote bag with your business logo promotes your brand and highlights your commitment to sustainability. Tote bags are used for grocery shopping, carrying belongings and everyday accessories. They provide your business with unlimited advertisements on the go, creating widespread brand visibility and leaving a lasting impression on potential customers.

How Effective Are Promotional Products for Business?

Promotional products have proven to be highly effective tools for business promotion. They create a positive impression of the brand and increase the likelihood of customer loyalty. Customers feel valued and appreciated by receiving a promotional product, fostering a stronger connection with your business.

These items serve as tangible reminders of your brand, reinforcing brand recognition and recall. Unlike other forms of advertising, promotional products have a higher retention rate. Customers are more likely to keep and use them, extending your brand’s exposure to a wider audience.

Moreover, promotional products offer long-term visibility. Whether it’s a pen, umbrella, sticky note, water bottle or tote bag, these products promote your business long after the initial interaction. They act as constant reminders, reinforcing your brand message in customers’ daily lives.

Promotional products also generate word-of-mouth advertising. When customers use or display these items, others notice and inquire about them, creating opportunities for organic brand conversations. This word-of-mouth exposure can lead to increased brand awareness and attract new customers.

Investing in promotional products that align with your brand values and resonate with your customers can effectively promote your business, increase brand recognition and drive business growth. Embrace the power of these simple yet effective promotional products to create brand awareness and propel your small business toward remarkable growth.

 

Katherine Robinson HeadshotKatherine Robinson is a writer for Freadom Promotions, a custom promotional products manufacturer committed to dedicating 100% of net profit in support of bold literacy initiatives throughout America.

Batten Down the Hatches: Fine Tune Your Small Business Plan for Any Economic Environment

In recognition of the more than 33 million small businesses in the U.S., we are sharing helpful best practices to fine-tune your small business plan to weather economic shifts. 

Responsibly manage your business debt

Interest rate changes have significant impacts on business lending. To effectively manage your debt, consider these financial tactics before applying for a business loan: 

READ: Higher Interest Rates — What Does It Mean for Consumers, Bond Investors and the Stock Market?

Convert floating debt

Consider converting any floating-rate debt to fixed-rate debt, which flips the mindset from short-term financing to a longer-term solution that may be more suitable for your small business paln. Although many borrowers use their investment portfolio as a natural hedge for floating-rate debt, it may still make sense to lock in a low, fixed-rate now for any variable-rate debt you may have.

Consolidate debt

If your company has extensive overhead costs with bills and outstanding balances, debt consolidation could be a smart strategy to move existing debt into one streamlined payment. Debt consolidation can potentially provide a longer repayment period and/or lower interest rate — both of which can help improve available liquidity. 

Clean up your credit and tax liens

A tax lien is the government’s legal claim against your property when you fail to pay a tax debt. Make sure your credit and tax debt are up to date and tidy to ensure you’re getting the best rates available. 

Transition from alternative lending sources to conventional

If your business has alternative financing on the balance sheet, but you’ve been able to stabilize your profits and expenses, now may be the right time to convert your debt to more traditional loans and lending. 

READ: How Colorado Businesses Can Benefit from Nontraditional Funding and Private Equity Firms

Be honest with your banker

This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many business owners inaccurately fill out loan applications whether intentionally or inadvertently. Filing for bankruptcy or having a tax lien is not an automatic disqualifier in the application process. With that in mind, it’s better for your relationship with your banker to be transparent about details. 

Strategies to improve income

If cash flow is top of mind, take inventory of your equipment and see if there is anything old or outdated that can be sold, refinanced or salvaged. Also, spend time reviewing your assets to determine how they can help the business work smarter and improve liquidity with your small business plan in mind.

If your business is inventory-based, assess your supply regularly and consider buying in bulk or shopping around to get the best purchase price. Another option is to restructure your pricing to align with the current market, inflation and competitors. However, be wary of aggressive price increases to avoid upsetting your current customer base. 

Another way to improve cash flow is to streamline your accounts payable and accounts receivable processes. Review timing, steps and ways to reduce your business bank account churn. 

Combat supply chain challenges

Small and large businesses alike are being impacted by supply chain disruptions like slow manufacturing and delayed shipping. As a result, we continue to see increases in shipping costs, storage expenses, delivery delays and logistics issues.

To combat the supply chain challenges, consider ordering material further in advance than typical so you can more confidently predict what you need. This can impact upfront costs, but can also help assuage concerns about products, parts and shipping timing. 

Implement employee-retention strategies

With unemployment in the U.S. at 3.5%, it’s important as a business owner to develop employee-retention strategies to not only keep your employees but ensure they are happy in their roles. With nearly historical lows and despite some recent softening, the labor market remains competitive.

READ: Navigating the New Era of Employee Engagement — Everything You Need to Know

Here are some financial considerations in today’s labor market: 

  • Invest in and strengthen your current team through talent development, wage reviews, internal promotions and hires to help retain your current workforce. 
  • Recognize that hiring costs have increased and plan accordingly. If raises and promotions are not in your small business plan, focus on benefits to make up any difference in salary or hourly pay.
  • Embrace the hybrid home-office schedule and provide flexible work environments. Consider how the work-from-home shift can help you cut costs if your industry allows for virtual or asynchronous work.
  • Be shrewd in your resourcing forecasts knowing you may not have the upper hand in resignations and new hire negotiations.

Maintaining an effective small business plan requires an immense amount of discipline and perseverance, even in the best economic conditions. In today’s volatile environment, this is more important than ever. As a business owner, you must be willing to adapt to any changes that come your way and pivot to ensure your business is successful. Strategize and plan well by having a strong relationship with your banking partner, managing your debt, improving cash flow, finding alternative financing options and focusing on employee retention.

 

Jake Hymes HeadshotJake Hymes is the senior vice president, director of small business at UMB Bank.

Unlocking the Power of Data for Small Businesses: How Data Implementation Drives Business Growth and Success

Formerly an advantage, data is now a mandatory aspect of doing business at the highest level. For many small business owners, it’s a word that sounds expensive and maybe even a little intimidating. Both feelings are valid. Data implementation can be very complicated, and in certain cases, pricey. 

However, you don’t have to be on the Fortune 500 list to use it either. In this article, we take a look at how businesses of any size can use data to improve their operations and grow. 

READ: Battling the “Data Wheel of Death” in Business Development

Myth: Only big businesses can use data

Fact: Data implementation is more accessible now than it ever has been before. Say you own a coffee shop. 

Actually, I own a boutique—

Coffee shop. And you want to open up a second location in the town of Smallville. You’re excited, but also nervous. What if our opening doesn’t go so hot and we never take off? To make sure that doesn’t happen, you decide to take to social media. 

Your plan is to launch a month-long ad campaign that will generate awareness and get a little bit of a buzz going so that you have a full house on opening day. You aren’t a marketing professional, but you know your way around a tweet. This might work.

And for the first week, it does… some of the time. And other messages? Well, they don’t seem to get noticed at all. What’s going on here?

The answer to that question lies in the data. By looking at the numbers that almost every social media platform supplies either for free or at a low cost to business accounts, you can see when your users are active, and what type of content they gravitate to.

Knowing this, you can further hone your communications efforts so that all of your messages land. You’re using data, and it’s hardly costing you a dollar. 

READ: Don’t Get Left Behind — Top 8 Social Media Trends for 2023

Hiring a business analyst

A business consultant will take data implementation to the next level by using advanced business algorithms to help connect you with solutions that are specific to your goals. Small businesses often hire them at times of great change. Maybe you are expanding. Maybe something in your business model just isn’t clicking the way you expect it to. 

The business consultant will come in, take a look at the numbers, talk to your staff and help you come up with a bespoke solution that is specific to your needs. 

Really big companies might have a business analyst on staff. Most will just hire them on a freelance basis. This is definitely a financial step or two up from using the free analytic tools that come with most social media companies, but at the same time, it is more accessible than many people might first assume. 

And the best part is that like so many other data implementation practices, it will pay for itself in the long run. 

Data in accounting

Data is also used on the financial side of things to help make revenue more predictable. You are a subscription meal plan service. 

I thought I was a coff—

Sending your subscribers food. Your pricing model is such that you have a basic subscription cost, and then optional upgrades. The customer pays a little bit more, and they get premium ingredients or tools that are necessary for the meal or organic ingredients or — use your imagination. 

As a subscription business, your revenue should be easy enough to calculate. Except it isn’t. Because new people come in, but old people leave. Payments come in late, or not at all. Summer months seem to be slow for some reason and — and the bottom line is that you never know exactly how your finances are going to look at the end of a given month. 

READ: How To Deliver a Personalized Subscription Experience

An accountant can help you get to the bottom of things by taking a look at your data. Good, tech-driven analytic reporting will provide charts that help you understand where your money is coming from. They will also supply context. 

For example — each month you get X number of new customers. Y number of customers leave. Z number of customers sign up for premium products. 

Seeing this breakdown, you’re not only well-positioned to plan for the future, but you can also work on boosting the good numbers and reducing the bad ones. “Oh, man. The reason we couldn’t calculate revenue before was because our churn was super high. We need to work on retention.” Or…

“It turns out upper-middle-class women really don’t mind paying a little bit extra for premium mushroom sauce. Maybe we can find a way to expand our sales in that department.”

In business, information is power. Use everything available to you. 

 

Andrew Deen HeadshotAndrew Deen has been a consultant for startups in a number of industries from retail to medical devices and everything in between. He implements lean methodology and is currently writing a book about scaling up business.

4 Tips for Rebranding Your Business – And What It Reminds Us About Entrepreneurship

As entrepreneurs, our businesses grow and evolve in ways we never expected. Our business plans, products and services, even the very identity of our ventures, are constantly changing — that’s why rebranding your business at the right time is so important.

So when was the last time you considered if your logo is still an accurate representation of your business? 

Your logo is the face of your business — but even the prettiest ones can do with a facelift. For example, 74% of the S&P 100 companies rebranded their business within their first seven years. If you haven’t turned a critical eye to your logo since you printed your first business cards, then it might be time to consider a rebrand. 

READ — What Are the Safest Industries to Start Your First Business in 2023?

And as it turns out, an experiment in rebranding can remind you of the fundamental principles that made your business successful in the first place. 

Why Rebrand? 

Growth and adaptation are the foundations of a successful business. Those that do it well thrive, while those that don’t struggle to survive. Think back to the early days of your business. How much has changed? 

Our real estate brokerage, LUX Denver, is celebrating its tenth birthday this year, and it got us thinking about how different our brand is today compared to when we started. We’ve expanded, our clientele has changed, and our vision for what we want to achieve has clarified and sharpened. 

Last year, we began to feel that our logo no longer reflected the business in its current form. So we embarked on a journey to bring it up to date, and along the way, we picked up a few valuable tips for anyone considering a refresh of their brand. 

Start With Your Vision 

Why do you do what you do? Why is it important? And how has that changed since the early days of your business? 

Rebranding is an abstract experience that requires us to reflect deeply on the core values of our business so we can be sure they remain at the forefront of everything we do. So before you start sketching and brainstorming, take some time to explore your vision for your company’s future, and let that be your compass throughout this journey and beyond. 

Know Your Audience 

Who is your audience now? What do they have in common? And what do they expect?

Over the last decade, our brokerage has refined our niche in the luxury homes market, so we needed to modernize our logo to meet those standards. In addition, we recently expanded to new markets, so our branding needed to symbolize that our services have grown beyond the Denver Metro area. 

Take the time to describe your ideal client. This will inform your design choices as you explore new concepts for your logo and cue you into what clients expect from you in everything you do. 

READ — Determining Your Business’s Target Market: Why It’s Necessary and How To Do It

Stick to What You’re Great At

If you’ve never worked with design software before, let us clue you in on something: it’s hard. Take our advice and hire a professional designer to help bring your ideas to life. 

When you were a new entrepreneur with razor-thin margins, you likely had to do much of the heavy lifting yourself. But now that you’ve “made it,” recognize that you can create the most value by sticking to what you’re exceptional at and delegating the rest. 

Trust Your Instincts

So, after all that brainstorming and a few dozen mock-ups of a new logo, how do you know when you’re done? The same way you knew it was time to rebrand in the first place: you trust your gut. When you feel like you’ve found the right design, the one that resonates with you, listen to that feeling. 

Our instincts are all we have as entrepreneurs. They tell us which risks to take and which to avoid, which deals feel right and which don’t. Listen to those feelings. 

To help you conceptualize all this, here’s where the process took us.

From this:

Unnamed 2

 

 

 

To this:

Final Lux Logo Logo Denver Black

 

 

 

 

 

And ultimately to this:

Unnamed 1

 

 

 

 

 

The central, continuous line creating “LUX” conveys the forward momentum and growth we’re striving for, a theme reinforced by dropping the period that once followed the name. The ideai – for our company, our clients, and this new logo – is to create connections. Whether at home, at work or in the community, connecting with the people and places that create Inspired Living is the ultimate purpose of our brokerage, and we love how this logo conveys that.

Rebranding our business reminded us of the fundamental lessons of entrepreneurship that are all too easy to forget when you’re in the daily grind. A refresh of your logo is an opportunity to get out of a rut and explore new possibilities for you, your brand, and your business. So what are you waiting for?

 

A E PhotoIn 2014, Colorado native Aaron Cummins and Emily Duke founded LUX Denver Real Estate Company. As entrepreneurial-minded individuals with backgrounds in psychology, both were seeking a business that would enable them to create meaningful relationships, make a difference in an industry they loved and find Inspired Living in their lives and business. You can learn more at luxdenver.com.

Is the Small Business Service Economy Poised for a Massive Comeback in 2023?

There’s an old saying: The (small business) show must go on. Well, that’s not exactly how it goes, but it’s the truth. Unlike other industries that are much more dependent on the whims of the stock market, the small business service economy remains steady despite volatile economic periods, like the one we are currently facing.

Small business revenues rose by an average of 87% between July 2022 and the previous year, and 80% of small business owners were confident they could withstand a potential U.S. recession, according to a recent report from American Express and Kabbage. Owners in the small business service economy are looking to leverage this growth by leaning into digital transformation, and integrated SaaS solutions may be the key to helping them scale.

READ — Half Full or Half Empty? Denver Business Owners Split on Optimism

What’s Fueling the Small Business Service Economy Growth?

Experts point to the post-pandemic reopening of events and travel as one source of renewed optimism. Jeff Keer, CEO of Planning Pod, an all-in-one event management SaaS for event planners and venues, couldn’t agree more. “Right now, we’re going through a period of fast growth,” said Keer. “Events are back, and they’re back better than ever — many of our clients are booked until 2023, some of them 2024.”

Travel is also booming. A recent report by Bank of America Institute showed small businesses signs of resilience, including increased credit and debit card spending and business travel expenditures. The number of travel transactions in the small business economy, per client, is at its highest level since the pandemic began.

Small Service Businesses Scale Using Digital Tools

Service business owners enjoying this period of growth know that what got them to this point may be different from what allows them to keep growing in the future. Customers have different expectations post-pandemic. Business owners are surviving by investing in digital transformation, prioritizing mobile and strengthening their data analytics capabilities. 80% of businesses fast-tracked at least some digital transformation programs in 2020 according to a recent survey from Dell Technologies. 

Matt Kauzlarich, founder of The Studio Director, a dance studio management software, saw how the pandemic impacted dance studios. “While there have been so many sad, unfortunate instances where studios were forced to close, it’s not been anywhere near our original predictions,” Kauzlarich said. “Studio owners were incredibly resilient, pivoting to meet the moment.”

Kauzlarich sees data as one major tool for small business growth. “I ask owners, ‘how much money does the average student bring in? What’s your retention rate?’ A robust studio management software can give them insights into making better business decisions and driving revenue.”

Moving from low-tech, high-touch business processes to an integrated software solution is helping many businesses exponentially drive growth.

“Whether you’re planning an event or you’re running a venue, having all those parts and pieces scattered across many different applications, pieces of paper, Post-its and emails, it gets so cluttered that it’s frustrating for these people, but it’s also a bit terrifying because if some of those details fall through the cracks,” said Keer.

READ — 4 Content Management Trends to Consider in 2023

The Customer is King

Ultimately, those small businesses that survived the pandemic and came out on the other side thriving did so by prioritizing the customer experience. “We’re going to double down on serving people in the events industry, in the live events industry,” said Keer. “We’ve built out more and more tools to help maintain and sustain their businesses after the pandemic was over, and it’s paid off for us.”

In particular, consumers are craving payment flexibility, including mobile wallets and the set-it-and-forget-it payment plans they enjoyed during the pandemic. Owners in the small business service economy that offer digital payments provide a better customer experience, increase customer stickiness, reduce churn, and improve customer satisfaction. 

Exemplary customer service is also top of the list for Kauzlarich. “Savvy studio owners know that change is inevitable,” he said. “Being resilient means staying on top of trends and solving problems for families and their students. The right management software will remove friction for customers and drive communication.”

For small service-based businesses, the future looks bright despite the recent economic woes. The industry is growing and looking for new ways to serve their customers.

“We’re growing pretty quickly in an industry that’s really coming back after COVID,” said Keer. “It’s almost overwhelming the backlog of all of that event activity that was on hold. People want to be together. That’s the biggest thing that everybody missed during the pandemic.” 

 

David Sharp PaysimpleDavid Sharp is general manager, payment solutions at EverCommerce. He has 26 years of experience in the payments and software industry and has led business development for payment network processing, agent bank and ISO programs, as well as a variety of alternative payment solutions.

The Serious Business of Shopping Small

We all know the benefits of shopping small – it supports members of our own community, puts money directly into the local economy, and is the best way to discover unique, not-found-elsewhere gifts. Over the past two years, we have also learned both how essential these businesses are to our communities, and how critical it is for us to support them.

But small business owners also understand the significance of making the shopping experience a memorable one, in hopes that customers return multiple times; and they are investing more time, effort, and budget than ever before in creating those meaningful interactions. Cultivating customer loyalty is as critical as attracting the attention of new customers; and these initiatives accomplish both goals. As corporate marketing gets louder, bigger and more prevalent, small businesses must continue to be creative in their efforts to attract and retain customers. Below are several ways to create unforgettable experiences that extend beyond simply shopping for items on a list and keep people coming back.

Capitalize on the Personal Connection

One of the key differentiators of small businesses is shoppers are very often interacting with the business owners themselves, people who have deep knowledge of the products they are selling – which allows for a more personal and meaningful shopping experience than relying on online reviews or big discounts.

But most small businesses are known for their personal touches and the relationships they build with their customers, so what else can they do keep their stores top-of-mind for consumers?

Enter: placemaking.

READ — 5 Tips for Overcoming Customer Service Obstacles as a Small Business

Become a Destination – Not Just a Stop

Creating a sense of place within your own community, a destination people are proud of, feel welcome in and want to return to, possibly with friends and family, has become increasingly popular among small businesses. Bonus if they can partner with other small, locally-owned spots to leverage the placemaking feel.

We have embraced placemaking at Stanley Marketplace: in addition to the gifts and services offered by our boutique retailers, local restaurants, fitness studios, salons, and service providers, we offer free events and creative activations to keep the community engaged, interested and excited to visit again and again.

Give Back to The Community That Gives to You

Of course, giving back to the community is a priority to small business owners and employees. They want to reflect and return the support they receive from their neighbors back into their own local communities and continue to strengthen those ties.

The benefits of providing unique, curated experiences for consumers who shop small are significant. You create memorable traditions for neighbors and community, turning your business into a must-visit holiday destination while emphasizing the importance of shopping small. As a result, at Stanley Marketplace, we welcomed more shoppers than any past holiday season in 2022 — a refreshing difference from the relative quiet of the past two pandemic-affected years.

As small business owners and supporters, the goal in implementing these creative initiatives is to create return guests who are inspired to make your business a treasured part of the holidays each year, supporting their neighbors and community along the way. Through these efforts, we also hope to remind people to shop small and local year-round.

 

Allyson Fredeen
Allyson Fredeen

Allyson Fredeen is the General Manager at Stanley Marketplace in Aurora, CO, a community gathering place which houses 50+ independently-owned businesses including retail shops, restaurants, bars, fitness, services, and classes.

2023 Will Be the Year of the Earndown: What Every Colorado Small Business Owner Needs to Know 

Even with whispers of a possible recession on the rise, there continues to be high demand in the Denver metro and Front Range areas from buyers looking to buy all kinds of small businesses, at any price point. However, as we look ahead to 2023, small business owners in Colorado hoping to sell their business soon should know that we are about to enter a very interesting time in the transactional marketplace. I’ve coined 2023 “the year of the earndown.” So, what does that mean, and what do small business sellers and buyers need to watch out for?

READ — What Does a Recession Mean for Your Finances?

The Pandemic’s Impact on Small Business Revenues

It’s no secret that some businesses absolutely killed it during the pandemic. One example is businesses in the home renovation space.  During the pandemic, consumers found themselves stuck at home and unable to spend money on travel, dinners out, sporting events, cultural events, etc. The result? They plowed their money into improving their homes. As a result, many businesses in the home improvement space likely have three years of financials showing significantly better numbers than their previous three years. What will that mean when those businesses come to market in late 2022 and 2023?

Increased Pandemic Revenue – Is It Sustainable?

Every seller who had a great three years will want a sales price that reflects the business’s performance during this timeframe. But potential buyers looking at the company will likely have concerns. Will the business stay at 2020 – 2022 levels, or will it revert to pre-pandemic 2019 levels? Will the business decline due to the dual problems of inflation and recession? And, with higher interest rates increasing the cost of loans to pay for the business, how much purchase price are they able to offer? Each of these factors is likely to negatively affect the purchase price a buyer is willing to pay.

Doing the Deal – Earnouts vs. Earndowns

So, how does this relate to the term “earndown”? To explain, let me back up and tell you what an earnout is. An earnout is a provision in a transaction that provides that the purchase price will go up based on the performance of the business after closing. I coined the term “earndown” to refer to what happens when the purchase price is reduced after closing due to the performance of the business after closing.

For example, let’s imagine a business that the seller thinks is worth $5,000,000 based on its 2020–2022 performance. However, the buyer thinks it’s only worth $4,000,000 based on its 2019 performance, and the buyer is not willing to guaranty the seller $5,000,000 because the buyer is concerned that the 2020–2022 performance is not sustainable. What’s the solution?

Traditionally, the solution would be the inclusion of an earnout provision in the sales contract, which provides that the purchase price will be payable as follows: $4,000,000 at closing, and additional payments after closing, up to an additional $1,000,000, based on the performance of the business after closing. However, the fly in the ointment with earnout provisions and small business transactions is that many small business purchase and sale transactions are financed with SBA-guaranteed loans—and Small Business Association rules prohibit earnouts in deals financed by SBA-guaranteed loans. But, SBA rules permit earndowns.

So, what does an earndown provision look like? The buyer could offer the seller $5,000,000, but pay $4,000,000 at closing and $1,000,000 in a promissory note, with the promissory note having terms that could cause the amount paid under the note to be reduced to zero if the business’s post-closing performance does not exceed 2019 levels.

If you are thinking about buying or selling a small business soon, it’s essential to understand how these factors may impact the deal. As an expert in small business purchases and sales who has closed over 1,000 deals, I have seen earndowns used many times to bridge the gap between a buyer’s and a seller’s expectations.

READ — Exit Planning: New Study Shows Most Colorado Business Owners Are Not Ready to Sell Their Businesses

Still, both buyers and sellers need to be realistic about the valuation of a business being sold. While sellers will hope that buyers see their increased revenue as a sign of continued growth and pay top dollar for their business, buyers are likely to be more cautious due to concerns about whether or not the increased revenue is here to stay. A great potential solution is including an “earndown” provision in your purchase agreement to help address the concerns of both buyer and seller.

Julian IzbikyJulian Izbiky is an exceptionally experienced and well-respected mergers and acquisitions attorney. Throughout his career, he has closed more than 1,000 business purchases and sales, varying in size from several hundred thousand dollars to tens of millions of dollars.

Maximize Your Charitable Giving Donations: Aligning With Your Budget and Passions

If you have the means and desire to financially contribute to charitable organizations, it’s important to understand how and why you are allocating your funds to the causes you care about. Here are a few considerations and tips to ensure you’re making the most impact when planning your charitable giving.

Giving USA 2022: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2021 reported that total charitable giving in 2021 grew 4.0% from 2020 to a total of more than $484 billion. As needs and donations increase nationwide with inflation on the rise and a potential recession ahead, it’s important to understand your personal goals and desires to ensure your contributions are making a meaningful impact on the causes you care about.

READ — Snooze Partners with World Central Kitchen to Support Ukraine

Pick Your Passion

With all the options to make an impact, it can be overwhelming to decide where to donate your funds. Consider the causes you are passionate about and identify organizations that match the cause.

From healthcare studies to humane societies, there is sure to be a charity that fits your passions. As part of your research, determine the organization’s public presence by reviewing annual giving reports, social media, press releases and partnerships. Also, review ratings given by third-party sources, such as Charity Navigator and other rating organizations. These ratings can help individuals understand how efficiently a charity will use its support, how well it has sustained its programs and services over time and their level of commitment to good governance and openness with information.

Spread the Love

You don’t have to limit yourself to one charitable organization. If you’re passionate about different causes, consider splitting your contributions between various charities to spread the love and make more of an impact.

You can also consider donating to one organization while volunteering your time to another. Giving back with your time can be just as meaningful to the charity and gives you a chance to develop a meaningful connection with the organization you decided to support.

Consolidate Your Giving

Rather than donating smaller amounts annually, consider consolidating your giving to every three or five years to make a bigger impact on one organization or cause. This could also help you reach the annual amount for a charitable giving tax deduction. For 2022 taxes, single filers may claim a $12,950 standard deduction, while married couples filing jointly can claim a $25,900 standard deduction. Compared to 2021, this is an increase of $400 for single filers and $800 for married couples. This method also provides a significant boost to your selected charity.

Budget for Giving

If you’re ready to begin consistently contributing to these causes, consider making charitable giving part of your budget. Using the spend, save and share budget method can help you create a formula that works for your personal finances. For example, you can allocate 50% of your take-home pay to your spending funds, 30% to savings, and 20% to sharing or donating.

While your personal breakdown might look different, the underlying philosophy for planned giving remains the same. Also, be sure to maximize your giving by taking advantage of any employer match programs your company may offer.

Take Advantage of Employer-matching Gift Programs

If your employer offers an employee matching gift program, be sure to review the criteria to ensure your cause and/or charity qualifies. From there, you can leverage your employer’s match each year to avoid leaving donation money on the table. These programs not only bolster your donations to do more good, but also help your employer contribute to worthy causes in their communities.

Involve the Whole Family

Talk with your family and children about your charitable giving plans and why giving is important. Include them in your plans and invite them to volunteer alongside you. Also, discuss what causes are important to them—especially if they are different from your own—and let them pick who they want to support. This will set a strong foundation of charitable giving and volunteering for them as they grow older.

Build your Legacy

Depending on your financial situation, ensuring your donations are continuing once you’ve passed is a great legacy to leave, but does require thoughtful planning. There are many options to achieve this. For example, consider including charitable contributions in your will or establish a dedicated memorial fund in your name where people can submit donations.

READ — Guest Column: UMB Bank — How to Select a Fiduciary

Wherever you are on your charitable giving journey, taking the time to think through where you most want to make an impact and what charities align with your passions is a great start to ensuring you are making the most of your dollars. Remember even a small donation can have a big impact on an organization as we navigate the cycles of the economy together.

 

Wendel AbbyAbby Wendel, president of consumer banking at UMB Bank.

5 Ways Small Business Owners in Colorado Can Survive Inflation

More than 50% of American small business owners who responded to CNBC’s latest “Small Business Confidence” survey think the U.S. economy is in “poor” condition and say inflation is their top challenge. Time has proven that the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans weren’t a cure-all for pandemic-related issues small business owners in Colorado are facing. The good news is there are a few things well-meaning business leaders in a bind can do now to improve customer relations and cope with higher federal reserve interest rates.

READ — How the Inflation Reduction Act May Impact Your Business

Think Like a Pilot — Get a Line of Credit Now

Would you rather fly with a pilot who stares at the controls or is constantly scanning the horizon for unexpected obstacles? The answer is obvious, yet many small business owners in Colorado lack a strategy for weathering economic shifts. The pandemic proved how important it is for small business owners to monitor their expenses, know which levers they can pull to generate cash flow and have a financial safety net independent of government aid. Vigilant scanning allows for earlier detection of challenges, while a line of credit can provide a short-term path for adjusting strategies. Small business owners who opened lines of credit before COVID-19 were able to absorb rising costs over time to help bridge the gap between when they paid their vendors and when they could pass the increased cost along to their customers. The best time to apply for a line of credit is when finances are stable. Once disaster strikes, it’ll be more difficult to get it approved or get help financing losses. 

Know Which Levers to Pull to Generate More Cash Flow

  • Increase gross profit (for example, by increasing your prices or reducing your cost of sales.)
  • Improve accounts receivable collection (i.e., shorten your cash operating cycle) by shortening the payment terms you offer your customers or making a stronger effort to collect overdue balances
  • Increase accounts payable turn rate by paying bills at the latest allowed time and renegotiating terms with your suppliers 
  • Invest your spare cash. If your cash flow has become stable and predictable, you can consider investing your excess cash. You can earn additional interest income as well as have the necessary cash to dip into during tough times.

READ — Choose Your Own Adventure: What’s Your Investment Path? 

Be Transparent

Being candid with your customers is essential for relationship building. Small business owners in Colorado should be forthcoming about challenges they’re facing that impact the customer experience, share what steps they’re taking to address them, admit mistakes, encourage feedback and show gratitude for customers and staff at every opportunity. Customers want to know you’re making choices that align with their wants, needs, values and charitable interests. 

Don’t Cut Corners With Culture and Talent Management 

American small business owners have a reputation for paying minimum wage and expecting maximum commitment from staff. That doesn’t work in the era of “The Great Resignation,” even in Colorado where the minimum wage will increase 8.68% to $13.65 per hour in 2023. To attract and retain top talent, small business owners in Colorado need to cater to what today’s workers want — and it’s not just more cash. The pandemic increased demand for better health benefits, work-life balance, flexible schedules, empathetic leadership and respect. About 58% of U.S. workers polled for the Argyle-Leger Confidence Report cited respect as their top work-related work motivation. 

READ — The Great Resignation’s Untapped Talent: The Autism Community

Prove Your Product/Service Is Worth the Price

Small business owners generally want to provide quality goods and services at affordable prices but may not know how without hurting their profits. Some simply can’t for reasons beyond their control, like chronic supply chain disruptions. So, what can a small business owner do to calm a customer who balks at, say, a $20 sandwich? Show how increased prices come with increased value in the form of customer experience, customer satisfaction, customer service and community support. For instance, that $20 sandwich would be easier to swallow if customers knew it was made with high-quality ingredients sourced from ethical ranchers and farmers based in Colorado. Providing a unique experience and outstanding customer service is one of the few advantages small business owners in Colorado have over impersonal online competitors. 

Keep Calm and Call Your Financial Partner

It’s a tough time for small business owners in Colorado. However, help and peace of mind can be found. We encourage you to bring your questions and concerns to a business banker who is uniquely equipped to debunk scary news reports with facts that enable small business owners in Colorado to make educated decisions.

 

Nadine Trujillo Rogers Nadine Trujillo-Rogers, Business Banking Sales Manager, Elevations Credit Union

Paul Watkins HeadshotPaul Watkins, Senior Commercial Loan Officer, Elevations Credit Union

Gytis Tuminas HeadshotGytis Tuminas, Vice President of Finance, Elevations Credit Union