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4 Tips to Cut Back on Paperwork

Posted by Ashley Choate on Feb 3, 2016 12:44:28 PM

2752095700_1afd58f595_mWe could all use more time. Unfortunately, since we all lack the ability to add more hours to do the day, most of us struggle to find a spare moment for the neglected tasks that always need doing.

The answer to this dilemma, then, is to work better with the time that we have. How many hours a day do you waste? You might not even realize, because most wasted time results from inefficient use of time. So, yes, you’re working incredibly hard, but are you working smart?

Effective time management is key for every industry, every home, and every individual in creating a successful and productive environment. Years ago that still meant long hours and sleepless nights if you hoped to have a truly successful business, or simply a very meticulous personality. Since most of us lack that level of focus on detail, technology has stepped in to level the field and offer a variety of time-saving solutions for business owners who enjoy sleep and sanity.

Below are some general suggestions you might consider for your business if time management has become an issue.

Automate Inventory Tracking. Many modern POS systems are also incorporating inventory tracking systems. You can save a lot of time and money here, since inventory is a major part of any retail environment. No more spreadsheets and manual counting, a smart POS system will adjust inventory based on sales. This one is a no brainer.

Automate Employee Time Management. Another huge task for many business owners is managing employee schedules, performance, etc… Modern technology can make all of that easier. There are also programs built in to new POS systems available that allow for quick clock-ins and time management, as well as quick scheduling tools that provide easier visual reference. These systems also offer analytics programs to help you track employee sales and performance over short or long periods.

Automate Performance Analytics. On top of it all, often a good POS system will also offer you the ability to track sales performance. With the right reporting, managers can draw reports based on employee or overall monthly totals. This information is vital for tracking your business and ensuring that your focus is where it should be, or identifying high or low traffic times and seasons. Good time management also requires an understanding of the big picture of your business and automated tracking of performance analytics provides that insight.

Automate Customer Loyalty and Promotions. Many retail businesses are still punching cards to give loyal customers discounts or freebies. Not necessary. Let technology do it for you, there are POS systems that can not only manage your customer loyalty programs but can also offer insight in to helpful promotions and marketing opportunities.

We all want less paperwork in our lives. Good time management certainly demands it. And with modern technology, both are possible. With the right programs that work with each other, you can have less paperwork and a business that functions better than ever before—and the left over time to do that little bit “more” you can never seen to fit into the day.

Six Business Functions on an iPad

AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Isaac Bowen @ Flickr CC.


Tags: business tips

6 Ways Online Marketing Is Helping Restaurants Grow

Posted by Ashley Choate on Jan 27, 2016 9:51:28 AM

ThinkstockPhotos-482569031web.jpgThere’s no escaping the presence of the online world in today’s society. The internet has become a vast entity with the ability to influence decisions and power cultural trends across the world. Restaurants, as with most businesses, can either benefit or fall behind, depending how they decide to tap into this modern era resource.

Below are some suggestions on how to use the internet and modern mobile technology to build up your restaurant business. Effective online marketing and internet resources can help you stimulate growth, create a strong “brand” or image, and effectively encourage both new and return customers that will sustain your restaurant for years to come.

1. Make your website easy and classy.

The website is key for any business, and restaurants are no exception. In fact, a clean and easy-to-use website might mean getting a customer’s visit that night, or not. Your website is basically your representation to the online world. Imagine the first website visit as the first date. You need to make a good impression, “dress” nicely, and make sure they have a reason to remember you. Your website should reflect the soul of your business—whether you’re funky or traditional. But tastefulness is key. Sloppy lines, links that don’t function, or blurry images are all big no-no’s. Being classy means that no matter your style, you do it well and in good taste. Your restaurant’s website should reflect your restaurant’s style, theme and dedication to quality.

2. Offer Online Ordering.

While you’re classing up you website, make sure it’s super functional. A website is necessary, certainly, for presenting your image, posting your menu options, and giving directions, but setting up an online ordering pathway is just another example of high level functionality that many restaurants will need to achieve to be competitive online. We live in an online, mobile world. Make sure your patrons have the easiest options available. Everyone likes easy, especially when they’re hungry and looking for food.

3. Encourage positive customer reviews.

Few business owners make the mistake, these days, of underestimating the power of the online review. It’s an incredible tool. The big problem is that most people are more likely to post a negative review than a positive one. Do the smart thing and either encourage positive reviews or, the even smarter thing, give a small discount, free dessert or coupon to people who post positive reviews. This can really encourage a better online presence and give you ratings that accurately reflect the quality of your restaurant, instead of from the few disgruntled customers you may have had (hey, you can’t please everyone).

4. Buy into Social Media.

Social Media is the cheapest tool to online marketing that the world has ever created. It’s amazing how many people talk about where they’ve eaten, what they liked, and then will link to that restaurant. They check-in, they chatter. You want to be a part of this. If you’re not already on social media, get a profile on facebook, set up Instagram, and get to posting. Create your own fun hashtags and get people talking. Have fun with it, and your customers will have fun too. Don’t let such a beautiful and free online marketing opportunity pass you by.

5. Understand your customers better.

Another great thing about the modern digital world is the fact that you can gather information on your customers and better understand the analytics of how to grow your business. Every restaurant will draw in a certain clientele over others, in general. The problem is that it’s not always predictable. Your best customers may be from the business district right up the road, and you’d never know if you didn’t collect more information. Creating a digital customer loyalty program, which you encourage membership for by making sure servers discuss it or cards with the details are readily available, can allow you to understand much more about your customers. That deeper level of understanding can help you market in ways you hadn’t considered previously.

6. Get creative—and give them what they want.

A final thought for all restaurants is to remember that supply and demand are what makes the business world go around. You have to offer the supply for what your customers demand, which means you need to understand and offer items that cater to trends in dieting and lifestyle that have recently arisen. More and more people are becoming vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or have been diagnosed with health issues such as diabetes. They want health conscious food items for their children, too, and some patrons even prefer dog friendly environments, with porches that allow for outdoor lifestyles. If you want to encourage the widest range of patrons possible, make sure you at least have a few options for people with more specific dietary preferences.

It’s a great big world of online interaction out there. Make sure your restaurant takes advantage of the newest trends in mobile technology, social media, and dietary preferences. In doing so, you might even find it hard to handle all those hungry customers who heard about you, either online or from a friend, and had to check it out for themselves.

  restaurant marketing online

AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood.


Tags: restaurant marketing

Could Online Ordering Boost Your Restaurant’s Profits?

Posted by Ashley Choate on Jan 15, 2016 8:36:54 AM

restaurant marketing onlineMany businesses fail within their first few years. For restaurants, that number is more than half--over 60 percent within the first 3 years. Those numbers don’t mean good odds for aspiring restauranteurs. Even those that survive the initial sink or swim period often struggle to keep the business profitable and thriving.

Enter a new era in restaurant sales options – digital ones.

Today, basic technology like websites and online ordering tools actually allow restaurants to reach out to a whole new group of hungry people: the I-wanna-stay-at-home-but-don’t-wanna-cook constituency. Other online features can also boost sales simply because of easy interaction and basic marketing opportunities. Online ordering, online menus and loyalty programs are incredible tools that could draw in new customers and inspire the old ones to keep coming back.

Website Customization
In this day and age, every restaurant needs a website. If you haven’t built up your restaurant’s online presence yet, start now. It’s nearly impossible to take advantage of all the free promotional or online advertising options if you don’t have a central source of information for your restaurant.

According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Technology Trends, the availability of technology options is an important factor when choosing a restaurant for nearly one-third of all adults and more than 40% of millennials. For many people, if a restaurant doesn’t have an online presence or they can’t check out the reviews, it hardly becomes an option when considering a meal.

Pictures and Menus
Many online food scavengers are looking for two very specific things: pictures of your food and a menu. Vibrant images help hungry customers see your product while detailed menus give them the ability to see the variety of choices available to them, whether they are ordering takeout or getting ready to dine-in. Many times, customers will choose a restaurant that has provided the ability to preview the menu before choosing a recommended eatery without an online menu.

Online Ordering
Welcome to America, where we like everything quick and easy – and our food is no exception. Especially in the age of the millennials, where most opt for text or email before making a phone call, online ordering is king. For takeout businesses, giving customers the ability to order online offers a major convenience over most competitors. With a click of a few buttons customers can place an order, avoid a lengthy phone call or reading credit card numbers allowed. Restaurants save time and money on labor costs. With one less person tied up on the phone. Online ordering is a win for both customer and business.

If You Post It, They Will Come
Social media platforms can work hand in hand with restaurant websites to draw new business, run promotions and spread the word about specials and events taking place at your business. This is one of the easiest and cheapest ways in the world to draw in customers. Make sure everyone knows about your awesome recipes or your unique environment. Post pictures, interact with customers, and get people talking with special promotions or offers. If you post it, they will find it, and you can easily draw in hungry customers from within your area who will respond well to being able to order the food they want with the click of a button.

The reality is that much of our lives are housed online and revolve around being able to order what we want through a digital interface. By offering more ways to order, your restaurant will benefit from the newest generation of hungry customers, who prefer convenience and speed. If you can offer the quality they’re craving as well, you can bet they’ll be lining up, digitally or otherwise, to see what you’ve got cooking.

restaurant marketing online

AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood.

Tags: restaurant marketing

Three Ways to Cut Costs for a Growing Business

Posted by Ashley Choate on Jan 13, 2016 10:12:00 AM

6413733409_45f9ef62a4_m.jpgBuilding a business is hard. The first few years can mean the difference between success and failure, but even after those initial years, keeping a business growing and thriving is a major challenge.

One of the bigger concerns for most business owners is the cost vs. gain ratio and ensuring that your profit margin is large enough to allow for investment. Those additional investments are what can secure future growth and success. A good business owner doesn’t think only in short term goals. Instead, he/she considers how to ensure the business is thriving five years from now. A healthy profit margin that allows for new investments and developments is crucial for making that happen.

One way to increase your profit margin is to cut costs. By “trimming the fat” or cutting down on unnecessary expenditures, you can save a little more of your budget and use that money in other ways that are beneficial to your business
While that seems like a tall order, you’d be amazed how often businesses funnel money into unnecessary or wasteful purchases that don’t really help the business at all. Below are some key spending areas for every business. Take a look at how your business is channeling money into these areas, and you might be surprised where you can save a few dollars—and where you can save a lot.

Acquiring the Customer – One of the primary costs for every business is getting the customers in the door (or to the web page). It can be expensive if you go traditional, general means to advertise and get your business’s name out there, but there are so many other ways to make yourself known. The best way: word of mouth. And how do you make that happen? Find the right people and infiltrate. Most of this can be done through online social networking, or by attending markets or other events that draw crowds. Make an impression and you will find people returning. You know your business better than anyone else, so take some time to look into how you’re attempting to draw customers in, how your business is presenting itself to the larger world, and consider some new and more creative ways to make that happen. There’s a whole online world of free and easy interaction waiting for you. Make yourself known.

Branding and Marketing – Some companies think that hiring a marketing firm to design and market a brand or image is the best way to go. And for larger companies, maybe that’s easier. But your business probably isn’t some conglomerate with extra cash to spend on advertising execs. You can do this on your own. Take a look at the soul of your business and consider your customer base and the image you want to present. I have a good friend who is just starting up her business right now, but she’s been talking to people for months about it. It’s a yarn shop. I mean, nothing special, right? But she has made it special. She has a logo and a quirky, bright environment, as well as classes planned and all of this has been cycling through certain communities and groups for months. Her business has personality and image, and she’s figured out exactly who to target and the exact area of town she needs to stick to in order to keep her business growing. It’s brilliant. You can do this too. Give your business an image, an association, and then find the right people and get them excited about what you have to offer. Conversation costs nothing and you will save money by simply talking, through social media or open conversation.

Employee Training and Development – The right employees are crucial to a successful business, and one major investment, either in time or money, is training new employees. One sound piece of advice here is to make sure you hire someone who is not only self-driven, but already has certain skills. I don’t mean that this person should be able to do your job on day 1. But, he or she will need to have the basic set of skills to work within your business without having to be coddled. It stinks to say it, but you aren’t in business to be a humanitarian to the unskilled professional world. And you’re certainly not able to carry dead weight. There are hundreds of free courses for basic skills, so a person has no excuse for being incapable of running a computer these days. Beyond that, the right employees should be able to pick up skills quickly. If it’s a complicated task, make sure they have prior experience. If they don’t but you have a gut feeling this person is the right one, just make sure you and the employee are aware of a trial period and that there are certain expectations. Don’t get stuck with someone who presents a good face and then ends up being a dud. You will end up paying more in the long run, instead of finding an employee who will help you grow your business and who will draw in the right customers.

Cutting costs for a growing business is truly a matter of knowing your business. The areas above are the 3 major areas of spending for most businesses, but every business is unique and it’s hard to give truly correct general advice. Look into your business and open your mind. Look online and look for ways to connect with others.

That friend of mine who is opening the yarn shop, she is a part of a social group of bicyclists and every single individual in that group will be supporting her business by word of mouth or by direct participation/purchasing. Find that niche or social group that will make your business strong, either online or through direct interaction. It’s a free, fun, and easy way to make your business grow and thrive, and you’ll save money in the long run because the right people will be surrounding you and bringing in others who will support your cause.

Five Ways Your Business Is Losing Money Without Knowing It

Ashley.jpgAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood.

 Top Photo Courtesy of Becky Stern @ Flickr CC.

Tags: business tips

Lineup of Free Online Business Courses

Posted by Ashley Choate on Jan 6, 2016 9:57:44 AM

74907741_c2d59deb64_m.jpgBusiness changes constantly. As a business owner or manager, you’ll want to take hold of that change so you can harness its power for good, to grow and improve your business. The alternative is to look up one day and realize your business has changed in ways you didn’t expect—and maybe in ways you don’t like.

One way to get ahead of the changes in business is to keep current on trends in technology, marketing strategies, and other general business practices. While this can often be expensive if you go the traditional university route, the prevalence of internet-based interactions and new technology have given rise to free online courses called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) that are sometimes offered by major universities such as Stanford. Through these MOOC’s, you can take a variety of refresher or new concept courses that will help you keep your business booming.

In fact, January will see the debut of nearly 50 business MOOC’s. These courses will cover everything from marketing strategies using YouTube and social media—making things go viral—to analytics for accounting and operations. These courses are in addition to the hundreds already offered by websites such as the Khan Academy and Coursera.

Below are a list of some of the more relevant MOOC’s coming up in January. For these, you’ll need to register at the links below. Explore the course descriptions carefully to find which courses are right for you. Be advised that while taking these courses is free, some may allow you to purchase a statement of accomplishment or certificate of completion for a small fee. Course formats, requirements, and options vary.

This course focuses on consumer behavior and product adoption, specifically targeting the power of word of mouth marketing. A major tool for this type of marketing is social media and “viral” posts and videos. This course discusses the science behind how concepts “catch fire” in popular media.

This course discusses individual and group behaviors, including what drives these behaviors and particular examples of how these behaviors have manifested and the results. The focus of the course is on understanding various perspectives, as well as the organizational theories that can be applied.

This course discusses the concept of leadership. Is a person born with it or does a person develop the skill over time and experience? Students will enhance pre-existing leadership skills and develop new techniques for encouraging and attracting the interest of others.

This course discusses the intricacies of developing a startup plan and the process of generating startup income from investors and other sources. Students will create a pitch for the company as the final project and will practice deal closing techniques.

This course focuses on the way we think, encouraging an analysis of the thinking process and the ability to push outside of predefined bounds. The course will specifically address how to apply “design thinking” strategies to problem solve and synthesize information for a more complete understanding of the issue and a better approach to creating an ideal solution.

Many of these courses are actually housed on the Coursera website, which is known for offering hundreds of different course options from prestigious universities across the United States. If there is another topic that you’re interested in exploring, take a look at their course descriptions or look around the web. The odds are in your favor that you’ll find a MOOC that will give you just the information you need. As an added bonus, some of the courses can actually be submitted for college credit, so depending on your needs, this could be a win-win.

  Six Business Functions on an iPad


Ashley.jpgAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of dc john @ Flickr CC.

Tags: business tips

2016 New Year’s Resolutions for Businesses

Posted by Ashley Choate on Dec 30, 2015 8:40:03 AM

11666917314_6e574ef624_mAs the end of 2015 approaches, many of us are starting to reflect on the past year with either pride or reluctant chagrin. Many of us feel a bit of both. In a personal sense, that’s all fine and well. Personal growth is a constantly shifting and fluid process. In a business sense, however, the line between regret and reward is often a little clearer—though both began with the choice of taking a risk.

So, as 2016 rolls into being, now is the time to consider what risks you plan to take with your business in the new year—and which types of risks you’ve learned to avoid. While much of social media mocks the New Year’s Resolution with an almost maniacal fervor, there’s something to be said for planning ahead and resolving, in specific terms, to make an effort towards improvement.

The following resolutions are some that most businesses should consider for the coming year. Several new trends are growing in popularity, and you don’t want your business to be left behind as the old is washed away and the new rises up.

  1. Expand your technology. This past year was amazing in terms of innovation, new models, new programs, and advancements in technology never before seen. Things that were mobile became even more mobile and smart computers became even smarter. There’s no doubt this trend will continue in 2016. Technology, in all its various forms, will advance even more in the coming year and your business will want to be on the front line, so you can catch the wave instead of being bowled over by it. Look into creating apps, consider your mobile purchasing vendor and how effectively your customers can purchase through mobile channels, and explore the yet untried technological trends that might be released in the future. People are developing incredible tools all the time, so be sure that you are researching and staying abreast of the newest innovations for your business. You’ll be happy you were aware, at the very least, and even happier if you latch onto the right trend at the right time to benefit your business.


  1. Create an incentive-based, employee-centered workplace. As a business owner, you want the best staff possible to keep your business running smoothly and comfortably. The fact is that some individuals are worth more than others because of their attitudes, their work ethics, and their dedication. You cannot take these people for granted because they’re worth more than you might realize. Now, you might already realize who these individuals are, or you might be in the situation that you want to attract the right individuals. To do this, retain the right people and attract more right people, it’s important that your workplace reflect an environment of encouragement, supportiveness, and gratefulness towards employees who perform their jobs with excellence and smiling faces. To do this, your benefits package is important, as is your ability to be flexible when possible and your level of communication with each employee. Setting clear boundaries and expectations is important, but so is understanding when flexibility will gain you greater ground with someone who has already established themselves as dependable and hard-working. It’s all about context, so take a moment to consider your employees, their faults and points of excellence, and what you can do to encourage improvement or draw in the right people to do the job well.
  1. Analyze and respond to the challenge. Adaptability has always been the key to survival. Darwin had it right in many ways, and the world of business is definitely its own ecosystem of organisms. With all the technological tools available today, there are still some businesses that are not utilizing the different analytics tools available to catalogue and understands different trends within the business. These trends could be positive or negative, they could relate to sales, seasons, or even particular staff members, but until you’ve taken the time to look them over, it’s impossible to make truly informed decisions about your business on a month-to-month basis. If you are not currently utilizing any analytics tools to improve your business, now is the time to start. The information age will charge forward no matter what you do, and the rest of the herd is charging with it. Don’t get left behind or trampled beneath them.

A new year is just a change in numbers on the calendar—if you want to be a cynic. But it can also be the new start that traditions have labeled it for centuries. You can embrace that spirit of change, growth, and new beginnings if you choose to. If your business has taken some turns that you would have preferred to avoid, make the choice to embrace this spirit, and start by considering what changes you can make in the New Year to steer your business onto steadier ground. What have you got to lose?

Six Business Functions on an iPad

AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of James Niland @ Flickr CC.




Tags: business tips

Is Chip and Pin Making Online Shopping Riskier This Holiday Season?

Posted by Ashley Choate on Dec 16, 2015 2:31:21 PM

10873901266_86266d2b6f_mOnline shopping has always had its risks. Ensuring that card payment information is secure has become a major undertaking the past few years, with the switch from magnetic stripe cards to the new chip and pin system, but the security measures embedded in the new EMV (EuroPay, Mastercard, and Visa) cards are reportedly less effective for mobile and online shopping.

The chip and pin systems, aka EMV cards, were designed with a special chip that encodes the data and ensures that the actual card details are not passed along with every transaction. Instead unique codes are generated for each transaction to prevent interception of the card information. Additionally, the cards are nearly impossible to replicate.

Unfortunately for online sales, that same protection is absent since online purchasing still requires the input of reusable card details. These details can be intercepted through hacking or special equipment to note keystrokes and transmit those details to criminal parties.

With the increased security of face-to-face payment cards, many criminal hackers have turned their attention to online and mobile purchases. They’re targeting many online purchasing venues with increasing scrutiny and success.

Mobile purchasing has increased drastically since 2011. In fact, the National Retail Federation has labeled the 2015 Christmas season as the “digital holiday” and predicted that roughly half of the shopping this season will be conducted through mobile channels.

With the focus on hackers turned towards infiltrating online payment systems, online shopping has become riskier than ever.

But there are some steps you can take to protect yourself if you plan to online shop this holiday season. Using some of the precautions below, you can make sure to avoid spending part of your holidays sorting out fraud charges or theft issues.

  • Shop only at websites you know you can trust. Stick with well-known companies that you are certain exist as actual companies. Also, be careful of the websites. Be smart about which ones you even visit, especially if they pop up as advertisements on other websites you might frequent.
  • Only enter credit card information through a secure site. A website starting with “https” instead of “http”, for instance, will encrypt your data to add an extra layer of protection.
  • Look for two-factor authentication systems. These will ask for either pin from a profile and/or email and password information. If the required pin has a minimum length of 8 characters and requires a separate symbol and number combination, then you can expect it to be a fairly safe level of security.
  • Utilizing secure sites such as Paypal and/or Apple Pay are usually safer than more unfamiliar sites. Often sites that house personal information have added layers of security that won’t exist in many online shopping forums where you’ll have to enter payment card information directly.

This time of year, it’s more important than ever to make good choices about how you spend your money, either online or in the store. The last thing anyone wants to deal with during the holiday season is a phone call from the bank saying your card information has been stolen. Be cautious how you do your online spending and buy in-store when you can, especially if your card has been updated to the new chip and pin system.

If all else fails, just be aware. Check your accounts frequently to confirm that all the charges on your card are accurate. Unfortunately, this time of year is a very active time for thieves of all types, so do your best so stay safe in all ways this holiday season.

Five Ways Your Business Is Losing Money Without Knowing It

AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Serge Kij @ Flickr CC.

Tags: EMV, Chip and PIN

Hottest Business Trends for 2016

Posted by Ashley Choate on Dec 9, 2015 6:33:23 PM

5791228117_155ed7c23d_mBusiness is an ever-changing beast—the high-tech horse of different color—and it’s definitely the changes in technology that are fueling some major adaptations in how we do business.

Nearly every year over the last two decades has brought amazing technological developments, and 2016 will be no exception.

Just this last year, we’ve witnessed the creation of hundreds of new apps and services, a few new phone releases, the introduction of the AppleWatch, and a thousand other little changes and advances that have continued to push the evolution of business and the technological services that support it.

So, what kinds of trends can we expect over the next year?

In technology, the following are most likely:

  1. Mobile technology will overtake all desktop trends. We already have smart phones, but now there are tablets, cars with Bluetooth, and cloud servers with several layers of security that allow for many employees to shuck off the yoke of the cubicle world and move on to completing all sorts of tasks at any number of locations. For sales, these mobile trends have been especially encouraging, as ‘cash only’ is a thing of the past. In terms of marketing, Google has already announced that mobile traffic overtook desktop traffic in 10 different countries during the past year. With the phasing away of sites that are not supported on mobile devices, known as “Mobilegeddon” in some circles, it’s clear that mobile is trending strong as we move into the New Year.
  1. Virtual reality devices are released. We’ve been seeing them for decades on sci-fi movies—as well as a few horror films—and 2016 could finally be the year that virtual reality devices start to become a realistic option for video gamers in homes across the nation. A device called Oculus Rift is actually scheduled to release early next year, so we’ll find out very soon if the devices pick up steam and interest, or if they pass quickly as a temporary fad. The likelihood of the latter might be pretty low, though, as Xbox Live and other very interactive and communicative ways to play have become extremely popular. The Oculus Rift allows for much of that interaction, as well as integration with some social media platforms. It will be an interesting year for gamers.
  1. Wearable technology will grow and advance. The newest Apple trend, the AppleWatch, was released this year and has already drummed up a bit of interest. With Fitbits already boasting a high level of popularity, the likelihood of wearable technology expanding is fairly high. So far, Apple has had great success with most of their innovations, and while the AppleWatch is a little on the trendy side at the moment, the chances of tech savvy consumers snatching them up and asking for more are pretty good for the current outlook. It’s America. The more convenient and portable the device—if the price is reasonable—the more likely it is to grow in popularity. The AppleWatch is likely to be no exception and, as new companies develop other options, we’re going to see an influx of highly functional wearable devices within the next few years.

But the changes for next year will also be extending beyond advances in technology. The availability of increasingly mobile technology, augmented by a budding cultural shift that has been growing through social media and other conversational circles, is starting to push businesses to be more flexible, to encourage more family-centered work schedules, and to embrace more collaborative approaches. The negatives of the next year center around issues with healthcare costs and the potential loss of some jobs to automation, as technology is a double-bladed tool—it makes some jobs easier, but has the potential to take over others entirely.

At this point, the changes are still settling in, but 2016 promises a host of interesting advances that sci-fi lovers might have begun dreaming about 15 years ago. For many millennials, who have often chafed under the yoke of the remaining traditionally-minded baby boomers, the next year will also see shifts in both ideology and management styles as the remaining boomers retire and millennials take over the reins. For both groups—good news: the changes, they are a’comin.

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AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Paul Bica @ Flickr CC.

Tags: Business

CPAs Offer Business Tax Tips

Posted by Ashley Choate on Dec 2, 2015 3:51:35 PM

4122172006_0c704ae171_mTax season is a trying time of year for most businesses, especially if they haven’t taken the time to prepare for the inevitable annual event. Paperwork, receipts, loopholes, business-specific rules, etc. can become daunting for the average business owner to sort through.

Fortunately, there are Certified Public Accountants (CPA’s) who can help you make sense of the details, help handle the tedium of paperwork, and help you understand the qualifying rules that could be applied to your business. Even so, many business owners still prefer to complete their returns on their own and today’s technology has made that much easier with the use of tax preparation software.

Regardless of whether you choose to defer to a professional or complete your taxes independently, there are some important steps every business owner should take in order to prepare for tax time.

In a recent interview with Carson D. Sands, CPA and Bill Caton, CEO of Caton Consulting Group ,NTC Texas discovered several useful tips for easing these looming tax season woes. Sands and Caton confirmed that some of the most important things for businesses to remember are preparation, timeliness, and knowledge of the rules—all of which are key for tax time success.

In the questions and answers below, business owners can find practical tips from real CPAs about how to make tax season a much less painful experience.

1. What steps should small businesses take throughout the year to prepare for tax season? In what ways can businesses be proactive to get the most out of their taxes, or pay the least?

Small businesses should try to keep a tax folder that contains items specifically related to tax. It can be difficult in February to remember transactions that occurred over a year ago in January of the prior year, however this is about as early as most tax returns can be prepared.

Throughout the year make a record of large purchases of any kind, but especially any new furniture or equipment. Keep your receipt, as your CPA will need more than just the amount spent on the item. Other factors that the CPA must consider are the date purchased, if it was new or used, and what category of asset is the item.

In order to be proactive and avoid unnecessary taxes, taxpayers should always consult with their CPA prior to year-end. There are so many more options for tax savings before year end, and not much we can do to help out in the current year once the year is over. Better still, it might be worth a phone call to your CPA before any major actions are taken.

2. Can you tell me, in general terms, about a situation in which a business could have prevented serious penalties or losses, or perhaps some general pieces of wisdom you’ve gained from working with businesses and some of the basic circumstances that inspired those lessons?

One of the most common mistakes that business owners make is to go out and spend a lot of money unnecessarily at year end. This is a mistake that is born out of frustration with potential tax bills. It is true that yearend tax planning can include the option to move up large expenditures from early next year into the current year in order to delay taxes. However, oftentimes business owners will spend money that they do not need to spend to save taxes. The problem with this is that even in the top tax rate (currently just under 40%) you are still throwing away 60 cents of every dollar you spend. Worse still, often times these yearend expenditures are on some sort of asset that must be depreciated, so they don't even get to take the entire expense in the year of purchase. Avoid this mistake by simply looking into what might be spent in the first quarter of the next year regardless of taxes, and then work with your CPA to determine what (if anything) should be moved up to the current year.

3. What are 3 major “don’ts” you can think of for small businesses with regards to their taxes, either in preparation for doing taxes or the actual completion of the tax process?

First, don't wait until the last minute to provide your information to your CPA. While there are many options that go away when the year is over, there are still some that are available after year end, but your ability to utilize these is made more difficult as the deadline approaches.

An example that comes to mind is the funding of certain retirement plans. Small businesses have some pretty interesting options available in the form of retirement plans depending on the number of employees, the structure of the entity, and the profitability. Regardless of which plan you use, you do NOT want to miss the deadline to contribute which is usually extended past the end of the year until you file your tax return. You could miss out on massive tax savings in the current year and great retirement funds in future years, simply because you waited until the last minute. If you bring in your information on the 15th a good firm will do their best to help you if at all possible. However, if you were planning to contribute to retirement by the deadline you will definitely not be able to get a plan funded in time, even if your Investment Counselor is as accommodating as your CPA.

4. What characteristics do you think businesses should look for when seeking a good accountant? And what advice would you offer those who might prefer to do their taxes on their own?

When searching for a CPA it is always good to look for someone who has a desire to help you understand your tax situation. You should not use someone who wants you to blindly follow his/her advice. Instead, seek out someone who listens to you completely and teaches you along the way. Your CPA should provide you with the facts and let you make the decision rather than telling you what to do. My goal is always to educate my clients as much as possible because they are on the front lines of their business and can see things that the CPA in the office can't possibly know.

For those who prefer to prepare their own tax return, I think that it is a good option for some people. Most successful business owners are intelligent and have the ability to figure out the tax return with reasonable accuracy. What we often see is that business owners prepare their own until the tax return becomes too complicated, or too time consuming. Once you are dealing with separate returns for your business and personal returns it is probably time to seek help. For those preparing their own return I would use one of the big name brand software, but don't get up sold to the higher options that are offered unless you fully understand what you are paying for and know that it is worth your money. Don't let the advertisement of guarantees and 100% accuracy sway your choices. All of the major tax software providers will be 100% accurate if the information you feed it is 100% accurate. Make sure that you understand all of the deductions that you are entitled to and maybe every few years have a professional look it over and make sure that you aren't missing out on any big savings.

For additional questions or tax tips, feel free to contact Caton Consulting Group at (972) 650-1900.


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AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood. .

 Top Photo Courtesy of Alan Cleaver @ Flickr CC.

Tags: taxes

Tips For Launching a Facebook Store

Posted by Ashley Choate on Nov 25, 2015 8:48:48 AM

7749079028_9867d8dfed_mYou’ve probably seen the multitude of ads, promotional pages, and general product-pushing that pop up all over the place on Facebook. It makes good marketing sense. People aren’t necessarily looking to shop but they’re cruising Facebook in search of distraction, and your products could be just the distraction they need. With that in mind, Facebook programmers decided to take it a step further.

Drum roll, please . . . . Introducing: the Facebook store.

The crazy thing is that Facebook stores, known as F-commerce, have been around since 2011 or earlier. If you’re new to the entrepreneurship gig, the existence of these stores is probably news to you. Many people know very little about creating a Facebook store or the major selling points, so here’s a bit of information that might help you get started with creating your own Facebook store and getting into the business of F-commerce and social selling.

Why a Facebook store?

Before we get into the how, it’s probably best to address the why. No doubt you’ve already set up a banging website for your business that has all the bells and whistles and will provide you with a great source for online sales and ecommerce. Go you.

And that is definitely a great foundation—ecommerce is the lifeblood of modern sales—but Facebook stores have the added advantage of being plugged directly into social media. They are great extensions of a strong marketing and growth plan and can help your business reach millions more customers than you could with a website and basic marketing promotions alone. Facebook stores also connect to:

  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus

Whether small or large, your business can get benefit from social selling via a Facebook shop, through simple exposure and access to a convenient payment portal. The more convenient, the more likely Facebook perusers are to make that quick, must-have purchase.

How to get started?

  • Pick a creation app or website. There are several to choose from online and basically these sites act as creation/support platforms and will help you connect your site to basic payment processors such as Paypal, etc. Depending on your current payment processor for ecommerce, you may want to ask their advice for a Facebook store creation site/app that supports their payment system.
  • Organize, load product images and descriptions—and make it pretty. Remember that Facebook is a social media site and many people are drawn to attractive images more readily than blocks of text. Also be sure to load up all the important details, like shipping options, and to familiarize yourself with the analytics tools. Managing your orders and analytics are key for ensuring success with your social selling experience.
  • Promote, promote, promote. While your Facebook store will be contained and easily accessible within the social media site, you have to put yourself out there and make it interesting. Consider a funny or interesting social media approach, either with strange or fascinating bits of information or very good graphics/memes. Blogs are also a good way to go when trying to drum up business in a social media setting.

The presence of a Facebook store, a place for commerce with social media, is a beautiful thing for small and medium businesses. Your business, which is probably not a major conglomerate, now has a chance to attract business in an environment that is essentially an equalizer—as long as you’re creative and active in promoting your store.

So get out there and check into your options. You have little to lose and a lot to gain by making social media work for your business in this new world of social commerce, where the most interesting and most persistent business usually wins.

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AshleyAbout the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood.

Top Photo Courtesy of Jurgen Appelo @ Flickr CC.

Tags: Ecommerce

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