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Monthly Archives: December 2016

7 Great Small Business Ideas

Online retailer

You don’t have to be a big-box retailer to start an online store. Whether you sell directly to consumers or use a drop-shipping service, all you need is a website and the right e-commerce software to get started. You can sell your own products or items from niche suppliers.

Yard work

Got rake, will travel? Most landscapers will cut grass, but they don’t necessarily do the stuff that most homeowners don’t have time to do themselves, such as weeding, planting, leaf raking, snow shoveling, hanging or removing holiday decorations. With little more than some work gloves and a ladder, you could be in business in no time.

Errand service

With most people working long hours and juggling personal responsibilities, there’s a lot that gets left undone in the modern household. There’s a growing demand for errand services (picking up dry cleaning, going grocery shopping, etc.), and it only requires having a car and cell phone. Start small, do a good job and word of mouth will spread quickly.

Virtual assistant

If you’ve got a background in administrative work but want to work for yourself, this might be a perfect opportunity for you. Virtual assistants work remotely and do all the things a business owner or manager doesn’t have time to do, such as open and answer emails, follow up with customers, invoice customers or pay bills.

Computer maintenance

Got a tech background? With the proliferation of tablets, smartphones and laptops for every member of the family, there are lots of opportunities to provide private computer services such as anti-virus software installation, desktop cleanups, software downloads and printer hookups.

Bookkeeper

Very few businesses can live without a bookkeeper. But that doesn’t mean they have to have one on staff. If you’ve got a background in finance, you can offer affordable bookkeeping services as an independent contractor. You may have to log a few in-office hours during tax season, but in most cases, the work can be done remotely.

Social media consultant

If using social media comes as naturally to you as breathing, you may have a career as a social media consultant. There’s no doubt that social media offers unprecedented marketing opportunities for businesses, but only if they know how to use it. Offer your services to help existing businesses integrate social media into their marketing plans.

7 Challenges Women Entrepreneurs Face

Entrepreneurship was once considered a man’s domain, but the tide has shifted: More than 9 million U.S. firms are now owned by women, employing nearly 8 million people and generating $1.5 trillion in sales, according to 2015 data from the National Association of Women Business Owners. “While the numbers are growing, there are still too few female investors and startup entrepreneurs, which can make it more challenging to raise capital and find mentors,” said Megan Smyth, CEO and co-founder of FitReserve. “Network and you will discover that there are plenty of women and men who are eager to advocate for and mentor female entrepreneurs.”

Although more women are embracing entrepreneurship, they often face challenges not typically shared by their male counterparts. To shed light on some of these disparities, female CEOs spoke with Business News Daily about the key challenges women entrepreneurs face and how to overcome them.

1. Defying social expectations

Most female business owners who have attended networking events can relate to this scenario: You walk into a crowded seminar and can count the number of women there on one hand. When women entrepreneurs talk business with primarily male executives, it can be unnerving.  In this sort of situation, women may feel as though they need to adopt a stereotypically “male” attitude toward business: competitive, aggressive and sometimes overly harsh. But successful female CEOs believe that remaining true to yourself and finding your own voice are the keys to rising above preconceived expectations. “Be yourself, and have confidence in who you are,” said Hilary Genga, founder and CEO of women’s swimwear company Trunkettes. “You made it to where you are through hard work and perseverance, but most importantly, you’re there. Don’t conform yourself to a man’s idea of what a leader should look like.” Some women also may worry about coming off as too aggressive. But Alexandra Pierson, founder and CEO of social media app springpop, urged fellow female entrepreneurs not to be concerned about this. Pierson noted that, during early negotiations for app development deals, she often was afraid to be firm and clearly state what she believed to be fair. “I eventually learned that, woman or not, my business would fail if I refused to defend or fight for it,” Pierson said. “Since then, I no longer worry about being seen as aggressive.” [See Related Story: 17 Reasons Women Make Great Leaders]

2. Limited access to funding

Not all startup founders look for investors to help get their businesses off the ground, but those who do know how difficult the pitching process can be. Raising capital is even more difficult for women-owned firms: A 2014 Babson College report found that less than 3 percent of venture-capital-funded companies had female CEOs. Bonnie Crater, president and CEO of sales and marketing analytics company Full Circle Insights, said venture capitalists tend to invest in startups run by people of their own “tribe” — for instance, a Stanford-educated investor will want to back a Stanford alum’s business. This means that VC firms with female partners are more likely to invest in women-run startups. But according to the Babson report, that accounts for only 6 percent of U.S. firms. Women looking for business investors should build confidence through a great team and business plan, Crater advised. Investors typically look for businesses that can grow their valuation to over $1 billion, Crater said. “Think about how to do that,” she advised. “If you have experts on your founding team that can execute the business [operations] well, investors will have confidence in those people. [You also] need a good product market fit.” Another way to overcome this issue is by working to get more female investors involved in supporting one another, said Felena Hanson, founder of Hera Fund, a female angel investor group. According to Hanson, groups like hers are “looking to not only inspire and encourage female investors, but to grow and support other female entrepreneurs through both funding and strategic educational workshops.”

3. Playing with the boys

Most would consider any given field to be male-dominated. It’s even more of a challenge when you’re coming in as a female having to give direction to males that may not want any direction. Alison Gutterman, CEO and president of Jelmar learned just that early in her career. “As a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry, earning respect has been a struggle,” she said. Early in her career at Jelmar, she was managing men in their 40s when she was only 25. “They were more experienced than I and often dismissed my new ideas about marketing and sales, and some assumed I didn’t have the drive to put in the long hours and hard work they did.” She notes she’s heard it all: from being dismissed as just the boss’ daughter to presumptions that she was living off her father’s and grandfather’s reputation, as they were the previous owners. “I was more than willing to put in the work to create my own reputation for being a hardworking, honorable businessperson in my own right,” Gutterman said.”To overcome this, I have had to learn to build my confidence and overcome my negative self-talk, or as I like to call it, ‘head trash.’” Gutterman defines “head trash” as all the negative comments from yourself, likely stemming from others, you have let build up in your head. “They’re stopping you from reaching your full potential. One of the best things I’ve done to help me in this area is joining a variety of women entrepreneur groups,” she said. “These groups have provided me mentors and peers to inspire me, hit me with reality checks on my capabilities and successes and help be grow and learn from their outside perspectives and experiences.”

4. Owning your accomplishments

The communal, consensus-building qualities encouraged in young girls can leave women unintentionally downplaying their own worth. Molly MacDonald, founder and CEO of The Mobile Locker Co., a startup that provides personal storage for events, said she has always found it difficult to convey her own worth as a leader. “When I talk about the company … I always find myself saying ‘we’ instead of ‘I,'” MacDonald said.

“I know I have fallen into this pattern for two reasons: Using the first person to discuss successes feels to me as if I’m bragging, and I cannot shake the idea that if someone knows it’s just me in control, the value of what we do will go down. As I grow the business, I am making an effort to own what I’ve accomplished.” Similarly, Shilonda Downing, founder of Virtual Work Team, advised women to recognize the value of their creative ideas.

“I’ve had to catch myself on occasion when I noticed that I’m giving away too much without a financial commitment from a potential client,” Downing said. “[I] recommend other women value their knowledge as well.” Sharon Rowlands, CEO of digital marketing firm ReachLocal, agreed that confidence is the key to success, even when you’re up against a boardroom full of men. Rowlands noted that when she was a newly appointed CEO, she often felt her ideas received more scrutiny than those from her male colleagues. However, she didn’t let that discourage her from being a great business leader.

5. Building a support network

Forty-eight percent of female founders report that a lack of available advisers and mentors limits their professional growth, according to Inc. “With the majority of the high-level business world still being dominated by men, it can be hard to blaze your own path and facilitate the introductions and connections into some of the more elite business networks,” said Hanson, who established the Hera Hub co-working space to foster support and collaboration among female entrepreneurs. “As most of business today still rings true with the philosophy that ‘It’s not what you know; it’s who you know,’ this can be a huge factor in your ultimate success.” Knowing where to find the right support network isn’t always easy. A few good places to start include women-focused networking events — such as Womancon, Women in Technology Summit and WIN Conferences— as well as online forums and groups created specifically for women in business, such as Ellevate Network.

6. Balancing business and family life

Work-life balance is a goal of many entrepreneurs regardless of their gender, but mothers who start businesses have to simultaneously run their families and their companies. And in this area, traditional gender expectations often still prevail. “Being a mother while running a business is very challenging,” Genga said. “There are ways to balance your time, but the perception is that you could be more effective running your business if you didn’t have to deal with kids.” Genga said she has learned not to take shortcomings on either front too seriously, and to not beat herself up over the little things, such as missing a class trip with her children. “Mompreneurs” have dual responsibilities to their businesses and to their families, and finding ways to devote time to both is key to truly achieving that elusive work-life balance, she said.

7. Coping with a fear of failure

According to Babson College’s 2012 Global Entrepreneur Monitor, the fear of failure is the top concern of women who launch startups. Failure is a very real possibility in any business venture, but Delia Passi, CEO of WomenCertified and founder of the Women’s Choice Award, said it shouldn’t be viewed as a negative. “You need to have massive failure to have massive success,” Passi said. “You may need 100 ‘noes’ to get one ‘yes,’ but that one ‘yes’ will make you more successful tomorrow than you were today.” Pierson offered similar advice for female entrepreneurs, encouraging them to work through the moments of self-doubt that every business owner faces. “I have stopped worrying if people will treat me differently in business because of my gender … and have stopped comparing myself to others, including men,” she said. “The bottom line is, if you’re successful, no one cares whether you are man or a woman.”

7 Tips for Accessing Public Procurement

Winning a public contract can be a huge boost to any business, particularly SMEs. The procurement process, however, is often criticised for being unnecessarily onerous and difficult to navigate for many businesses. Nonetheless, the potential benefits from a winning tender means that public procurement is something that a business cannot afford to ignore.

These are our top tips for accessing public procurement:

1. Register on eTenders

eTenders is a central Government website where all public sector contracting authorities advertise procurement opportunities and award notices. The site displays, on a daily basis, all Irish public sector procurement opportunities currently being advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), as well as other lower-value contracts uploaded to the site from awarding authorities. Businesses should register on eTenders to make sure they are kept up to date on any potential procurement opportunities.

2. Make yourself aware of current procurement practices

In recent months, the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) has made a number of changes to their procurement policy to make it more transparent, efficient and, importantly, to improve access for SMEs. However, recent research shows that many businesses are not aware of these changes and what is expected of contracting authorities when evaluating a tender. Keep up to date on current developments by checking the latest news on www.procurement.ie. One of the most recent guidance notes, Circular 10/14 is of particular relevance for SMEs.

3. Be aware of the requirements for each individual tender

Each individual tender will have a range of specific requirements. These can range from evidence of experience and organisational capacity to turnover requirements. Drafting a tender can be a long and time-consuming process, so make sure that your business meets all of the basic specified requirements before applying for a contract.

4. Be prepared to partner

Many SMEs have the ability and skills to undertake a contract but may lack the capacity to completely fulfil it. While some contracts might be divided into lots to facilitate smaller suppliers, SMEs may need to partner with other companies when bidding for a contract. Forming consortia of smaller businesses is an excellent way to pool expertise and resources to bid for larger contracts.

5. Make use of the supports available to SMEs

The Office of Government Procurement, Enterprise Ireland and InterTrade Ireland, amongst others, have a wide range of supports for SMEs looking to win public sector contracts. These include Meet the Buyer events, Go-2-Tender Workshops and more general information and advice. Make use of the expert knowledge and advice available to improve your tendering chances.

6. Use your size to your advantage

While many SMEs feel excluded from the procurement process, they have a number of advantages relative to larger firms that they can capitalise on. Contracting authorities are encouraged to accept new and innovative solutions, and SMEs developing new technologies can use procurement as an opportunity to demonstrate the merits of their product. Having a successful public contract with the Irish State can open doors internationally if and when the SME decides to expand overseas.

7. Make use of the new Tender Advisory Service

The Tender Advisory Service is a new service launched earlier this year, which allows suppliers (especially SMEs) to raise concerns about a particular live tender process with officials in the Office of Government Procurement. The service is free of charge and allows suppliers to raise any concerns or issues they have with an open tender. The service was developed with SMEs in mind and the OGP intends to analyse the issues raised during the ongoing reform of the public procurement process.

Public procurement in Ireland is a big business – one which SMEs must to be part of. Chambers Ireland continues to work with the Office of Government Procurement to support better access and consideration for SMEs in the public procurement process.

6 Tips When Using e-Commerce to Export

Irish SMEs have taken to e-commerce relatively more readily than those in most other EU countries, with 24% of Irish SMEs selling online and generating 37% of their sales from this source, according to the latest Eurostat survey. This is significantly above the average for the EU of 15%. In addition, 11% of Irish SMEs sell internationally; again this is well above the EU average of 8.8%.

An e-Commerce business model allows companies to be established anywhere there is a good internet connection and a computer-savvy population willing to buy off the internet. But selling internationally presents many potential pitfalls for the unwary.

The harsh reality is that, to build a good long-term online export business, a number of key matters must be addressed:
1.
As of 13th June 2014, customers are no longer bound by online contracts unless information on the goods, provider, pricing, delivery, method of payment, withdrawal period, complaints handling, after-sales services, duration of contract and functionality or interoperability (in the case of digital products) is provided in a clear and comprehensible manner.

2. Be aware of the 30 day period for order completion. If you trade with customers within the EU, purchased products or services must be delivered within 30 days from the day after the placing of the order, unless otherwise agreed. If you are unable to uphold your end of the contract, you must inform the consumer who then must agree a revised date of delivery. If the contract is not fulfilled during this additional period of time, the customer will be entitled to terminate the contract. In reality, most on-line shoppers expect a same day service for perishable goods such as food stuffs and a three-five day delivery on other goods. Hence, it is essential to put in place an efficient logistics service system. DHL and An Post have good low cost services in place to support internet sales with delivery services across the EU and USA, as do a number of other international express delivery companies.

3. In the EU, customers have 14 working days within which to cancel or withdraw from a purchase without having to give any reason. When a customer exercises this right, traders have 14 days within which to refund the money. The only charge that may be made to the customer is the direct cost of returning the goods unless the trader has agreed to bear them or the trader failed to inform the consumer that the consumer has to bear them.

4. Contract terms should always be drafted in plain and intelligible language, and any ambiguities will be interpreted in favour of consumers. Protect your customers’ data and publish a privacy statement. As part of your long-term strategy for selling products and services, include steps to protect your customers’ data. As a trader, you are responsible for the type of data that you collect and the reason why.

5. Effective from 1st January 2015, all businesses that sell their electronic services online within the EU must charge VAT at the rate applicable in the consumer’s member state rather than the seller’s. The rules are introduced to stop companies that trade online – from multinationals like Amazon, Apple and Google to start-up businesses – from routing purchases through low-VAT countries such as Luxembourg. VAT on digital products such as e-books, music downloads and apps were previously charged in the country of the supplier. However, from 1st January 2015, VAT will be payable in the country where the digital product is bought. The EC ruling is that electronic services from here on will “always be taxed in the country where the customer belongs” – regardless of whether the customer is a business or consumer or whether the supplier is based in or outside the EU.

6. Be aware of fraudulent practices, as the risks arising from fictitious addresses or fraudulent use of credit cards are usually borne by the seller. If a card has been used fraudulently, the buyer’s liability cannot exceed €150 under EU Recommendation 97/489/EC. However, in Ireland, in practice the liability is generally lower. Remember your buyers are protected by the European Directive on consumer rights (Directive 2011/83/EU) – known as the Consumer Rights Directive – which aims to ensure that consumers can expect the same minimum level of protection no matter where a trader is based in the European Union (EU).