How to Use Content Marketing to Increase Sales

May 28, 2019 by Comerica Bank

Content marketing is the process of creating and sharing written and visual content with the aim of gaining new customers.

The ultimate goal of your content marketing strategy should be to increase sales. How your business goes about this is a personal decision, but there are a few methods you can follow to enhance your chances of creating successful content.

Create content that leads to sales

Content remains king – especially when it comes to getting potential customers to your website and interested in something you sell. It’s important to always have an end goal for what each piece of content you create is trying to achieve. For most pieces, you’ll want them to ultimately evoke sales.

To generate content that aligns with your business’s objectives and what your customers want,  you need to determine what content types appeal to your target market. For example, if you own a top-of-the-line hotel, professional images and flawless video will most likely appeal to your target market.

Each item of content you develop should lead to a product or service. For instance, you could produce content that:

  • Tells your business story, so your prospects can relate to your business.
  • Solves customer pain points by targeting consumers who are at certain life stages, or if you’re selling B2B, at various stages of the business cycle.
  • Demonstrates the benefits and features of your goods or services.

Engaging content can draw direct purchase decisions and generate high conversion rates. It can even outdo your best salesperson. The challenge is to create interesting and entertaining content that’s valuable to consumers.

Consider the following steps to achieve your content goals:

Outline a specific topic

Determine what topic (or theme) your content will have. The important part is to first settle on a subject. For example, if you have an art and graphic supplies store, you might think about developing a blog that features great works of art made of products you sell in your store.

After your business begins growing, you could even consider creating some case studies of well-known artists who utilize your goods.

If you plan on writing an e-newsletter to your customers and future prospects, it’s a wise idea to design a monthly schedule outlining the general topic for each month.

Make your content a lead magnet

How people buy has changed – consumers have become wiser about filtering out advertising and using tools to block web adverts. They search the web for items of interest and when they find what they want, they look for a way of making contact that could lead to a purchase.

Sales leads will now have a tendency to come through your business’s website, social media platform or blog. Aim to maximize the number of targeted leads your business can get via your content marketing in these channels.

You can try synchronizing your content messages by using automation tools to enhance your digital presence.

An effective content marketing automation package will give your small business an avenue to motivate, capture and nurture leads online. You can set up a schedule of when and where certain content will be posted to your website, blog and social media platforms.

Decide which medium to utilize

The variety of online content continues to grow, giving your business a number of mediums to try and connect with your target consumers. They include:

  • Infographics, which are visual representations of data and information.
  • Videos and images.
  • Guides and articles.
  • Case studies of some of your highly appreciative customers.
  • White papers and eBooks, which are informative documents that highlight the usefulness of your products or services.
  • Interactive content like training videos, quizzes, or participation videos.

Make your content easy to find

There’s no point creating great content if no one sees it. After all, there’s no return on investment in content that your target market isn’t reading.

By making your content as accessible as possible and building a reputation for worthwhile content, you’ll start to develop a standing of being a thought leader in your field.

Decide on the strategy you’ll adopt for putting your newly released content in the hands of your target customers. For example, place it on your home or landing page, your main social media platform and offer links to it through your e-newsletter.

Amplify your content

Advertising your content will help make it easier to find for prospective customers. Your options include advertising through:

  • Search engines. Most people don’t go beyond the first page of a search result, so paying for a Google ad could significantly increase the number of people viewing your content.
  • E-newsletters. As mentioned above, this can be used as bait to hook in your catch of new sales leads.
  • Social media. Whenever you release new content it should also be featured on your social media platforms.
  • Print media. Don’t forget print media still has its place, particularly for target markets with older people.
  • Other websites, such as strategic partners so you’re linking to each other’s sites.

Create awareness

Reach potential customers at the very top of your sales funnel before they’ve even made a decision on what they need.

The key is to use the right content with the right voice to reach out to your target market and begin growing your online traffic. Educate your prospective customers so you build trust and long-term relationships. Then, reinforce your brand and retain customers by using content marketing post-sale.

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. While the information contained within has been compiled from source[s] which are believed to be reliable and accurate, Comerica Bank does not guarantee its accuracy. Consequently, it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter nor be relied upon as such. 

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How to Run a Virtual Business Successfully

May 24, 2019 by Comerica Bank

How can you use technology to make your business life easier, faster and more efficient? Transforming it from a central place of work into a "virtual" business may just be the answer.

Building a virtual business

Several trends are rapidly driving the business world towards a more efficient and connected future. These days your smartphone can be set up to be your mobile office. You can use it to:

  • Keep organized. For storing the contents of your projects you can use applications like Box and Google Drive.
  • Manage projects. For managing projects there are online tools like Trello, Freedcamp and Wrike.
  • Communicate. For interacting with your staff members more directly, there are business models of popular apps like Skype or Viber.
  • Track expenses. For keeping your accounts in order there are cloud accounting solutions such as Xero and Wave.

Online banking tools can also help your business accelerate its receivables process.

Is your business able to transform into a virtual business? And how will you go about operating it successfully?

Embrace cloud-based services

Cost, reliability and security are just a handful of advantages the cloud can offer. It can also allow your business to become virtual by transforming some important aspects of your office into cloud tools.

Tap into the freelance market

It’s easy to find highly skillful and experienced workers, and to hire them on contract for a certain amount of time or for particular projects. These workers don’t even have to live in the same city or town as you – they could be anywhere around the world, as long as they have access to the internet and your business’s cloud systems.

The idea of social collaboration is at the heart of the growing freelance market, where businesses can harness the specific talent and skills they need to get a job or project done. In a virtual office, you can pay for what you need on an a la carte basis as your business requires it.

Embrace social collaboration and move your business forward to a more efficient place.

Build a responsive website

To avoid falling behind your competitors you need a truly responsive website – one that adapts as your customers embrace new technology, and smaller devices.

Mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and phablets are now dominating the market. This has huge ramifications for any small or medium business that uses the Internet to sell their goods or services.

Building a business website with a responsive design is easier said than done, but to achieve a design that adapts well to device changes and switches seamlessly between landscape and portrait views, think about:

  • Setting content priorities. When the screen size changes, your business’s visible content will be either reduced or increased. Decide which content will be lost on smaller screens and consider collapsing some content into dropdown navigation.
  • Using a "mobile first" approach. This involves designing around smaller, mobile screens first. You’ll also want to consider where your potential customers are using their devices (like on the train or while walking), so you can help them navigate your site more quickly.
  • The speed of your site. Load speeds can be triggers for consumers to stay on your website or leave and try a competitor’s site. Compress images and use plug-ins to minimize loading delays.

Learn to delegate tasks to your virtual workforce

It’s important to be able to let go of the reins and allow your other staff members to take care of the areas of your business that they specialize in.

For your business to grow, particularly within a virtual workforce environment, try to focus on the aspects of your company that only you can deliver. That could involve you concentrating on generating new business, or simply being the face of your business – the person who instills potential customers with the confidence to buy your goods or services.

Delegating effectively to your virtual staff will help increase efficiency within your business.

Watch out for virtual business pitfalls

Be aware of some of the dangers of moving to a virtual business, such as:

  • The potential loss of efficiency. Measuring productivity can be an issue for some virtual businesses. Carefully choose online tools that will help you measure your team’s performance.
  • Your customers’ negative perceptions. Many potential customers will still assume that a successful business has to have a physical place of work. Be proactive about educating your customers about the merits of why you conduct business virtually.
  • Less camaraderie amongst your staff. Building a connected team environment when your employees work from different locations isn’t easy. However, there are social networking tools that can help make project collaboration (and social work chats) real-time events.
  • Your employees failing to comply with your business’s guidelines, and issues around trust. Establish procedures and best practices to encourage secure, remote work.

Rise above any virtual stigma

You could have potential customers that don’t believe you run a real business and that you won’t be around for very long – all because your business is virtual.

Overcome this by being honest with your customers, sharing your vision and goals and offering references and testimonials from your satisfied customers.

Next steps

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. While the information contained within has been compiled from source[s] which are believed to be reliable and accurate, Comerica Bank does not guarantee its accuracy. Consequently, it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter nor be relied upon as such.

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Finding Your Business's Break-even Point

May 15, 2019 by Comerica Bank

Before you start a business - and perhaps leave a job to do so - make an effort to determine if your idea will be worth the risk.

If you’re confident there’s a genuine demand for your potential product or service, at the price you seek to elicit, the next step is to work out how much you need to sell each month to make a profit.

Will your business venture be worth it?

It’s unlikely your business will be profitable from day one. Sales are likely to be slow at first, but you’ll be hoping they gain momentum.

Meanwhile, you have certain fixed costs (overhead) that you have to pay each month to keep your operation running. These include:

  • Rent or mortgage payments.
  • Utilities.
  • Interest on debt.
  • Communication costs.

You'll also have other expenses that will vary with sales levels. These variable costs include supplies to make a product or to stock shelves (if you sell more, you’ll need more), freight, commissions and extra labor to produce your goods.

When sales equal costs

All of this means that a typical business in its early stages will run at a loss until the point at which sales match costs. This is known as the break-even point. If sales continue to climb after that, you'll start making a profit each month.

Below are two quick and ready ways to test the feasibility of your business. They presume you know both the fixed costs of running your business and the variable costs of producing a product or selling a service.

How a manufacturing business breaks even

Here’s an example of a business making garden benches out of wood.

First, work out the gross profit on each bench - the difference between the product's sale price and its variable production costs.

The cost of each bench

Your research shows a realistic market price for each bench is: $120

Labor cost ($40) and materials ($25) for each chair come to: $65

The difference between $120 and $65 is your gross profit: $55

What you want from your business

To justify the risk, you want a salary each year of: $80,000

The overhead costs of running your business are: $20,000

Therefore, the annual gross profit you need on sales is: $100,000

How many sales do you need?

To find out how many benches you have to sell each year to meet your salary goal, divide the required $100,000 gross profit by the gross profit per bench of $55. The result shows you need to sell 1,818 benches a year.

How does that average per week? If you decide you want at least a four-week break every year, divide 1,818 by 48 weeks, which makes 38 benches a week your break-even sales target. Do you think you can meet that?

Remember, this is a break-even point only. It will pay your required salary, but there’s no extra profit margin in there to grow your business.

Try your own figures to determine what your company's break-even will be.

How service businesses break even

In a service business, you’re selling time, so you take a slightly different angle. Let’s presume the goals remain similar and you’re working alone, except for one part-time employee who handles office tasks so you can spend more time with customers. This salary adds $20,000 to your overhead.

What you want from your business

To justify the risk, you want a salary each year of: $80,000

The overhead costs of running your business are: $40,000

Therefore, you need to bill out: $120,000

What time do you have available

You decide to work 5 days a week for 48 weeks, or 240 days a year. Subtract another 15 days for sickness and holidays, leaving a total of 225 working days.

You plan to put in at least 8 hours a day, but allow 3 hours for travelling and work such as marketing and quotations. This leaves 5 billable hours a day.

Your hourly charge-out rate

Now you’re ready to calculate your charge-out rate.

Billable hours per year = 5 hours per day x 225 working days – or 1,125 billable hours.

Divide your goal of $120,000 by 1,125 billable hours, and your minimum charge-out rate per hour must be $107. Again, this is just the break-even figure to cover costs and salary, with no profit involved.

Some questions to ask include:

  • How does an hourly rate of $107 compare with the industry average? Is it competitive?
  • Can you feasibly bill out $535 a day (107 x 5 billable hours) or $2,675 each five-day workweek?

Try your own figures to see what hourly rate you come up with and decide if it's both competitive and feasible. Will you be able to meet that goal of 25 billable hours each week?

Use our break-even template to calculate your business’s break-even point.

Use a cash-flow forecast

Use a cash-flow forecast to check your break-even calculations. This will force you to think more carefully about both variable and fixed costs. Get advice from an accountant if necessary, because a portion of some costs, such as extra power use, may belong in variable costs of production rather than fixed expenditures.

Completing the sales side of your cash-flow forecast will also help you identify how long it might take for your venture to break even.

For example, in the manufacturing example above, the business needs to sell 1,818 garden benches over the course of the year. However, demand would likely be slow in the winter months before picking up again in the spring, and the business’s running costs must still be paid. The bottom-line figure for each month will show you both when your business is likely to break even and how much funding you’ll need to keep your business going until then.

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. While the information contained within has been compiled from source[s] which are believed to be reliable and accurate, Comerica Bank does not guarantee its accuracy. Consequently, it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter nor be relied upon as such. 

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How To Get Asset Financing

May 14, 2019 by Comerica Bank

Review your options carefully when considering asset finance for your small business.

Many businesses don’t have enough money to consider an outright purchase, making asset finance a necessity. You have a number of options.

Should your consider asset finance?

Asset finance makes sense for many businesses. Even if you have enough capital, investing your cash in assets leaves you with less working capital to finance operations or explore new growth opportunities.

The flexibility of asset finance options (with different cash flow and financial implications) can allow you to grow your business faster, generate more profit or simply make better purchasing decisions.

First decide what assets you need

Start by listing the assets you need in your business to:

  • Operate more efficiently by using the latest technology.
  • Grow – perhaps by using equipment to overcome current production constraints or to enter new markets.
  • Become more competitive by matching the capability of your key competitors.

Calculate your return on investment (ROI)

It’s important to make a case for each asset purchase. Investors and lenders may want to see the evidence, but it also helps you make the right decisions.

Requiring staff to make a case for asset acquisitions is a useful discipline for those lobbying for new equipment. It can sort out a genuinely productive investment from a vanity item. For example, most employees would like the latest smartphone or a new company vehicle, but would this purchase really add to the business’s bottom line?

Should you lease rather than buy?

Sometimes leasing an asset can make more sense than owning it. For example:

  • A lease agreement that includes upgrading fast-changing technology such as computers at agreed intervals can make more sense than owning these items. You don’t want to be stuck owning equipment with little resale value.
  • Leasing expensive production machinery when you know that more efficient models will be coming shortly makes better sense than buying the machinery and then facing additional costs to compete with others.
  • Leasing vehicles such as trucks can give you more flexibility than buying the vehicle, especially if demand is seasonal and surplus trucks would be standing idle.

Speak to your accountant or financial advisor about any tax implications before deciding to buy or lease.

New vs. secondhand assets

Do the assets you need really have to be brand new or would secondhand equivalents serve your purpose? Startups especially need to save every dollar to market and grow their business.

Most businesses can save considerably on everything from office furniture to production equipment by:

  • Attending local auctions and closing-down sales.
  • Bidding on online auction sites such as eBay.
  • Attending local closing-down sales or reviewing classifieds in industry journals.

Consider taking out a loan

Taking out a bank loan can be an effective way to finance business equipment purchases that you need, especially if it’s important to you to own the asset from the outset.

The advantage of a loan is that it:

  • Doesn’t tie up any capital and may not require additional security.
  • Enables you to use your existing working capital and credit lines to generate income.
  • Allows you to take advantage of cash discounts offered by the seller.

Loans should be structured to match the expected life of the asset – long-term loans for long-lasting assets such as a building and short-term loans for assets with a shorter useful life.

Our range of finance options

Comerica offers a range of financing solutions, including a business line of credit and term loans.

Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans

We’ve worked hard to establish ourselves as an SBA preferred lender. Whether you’re looking to expand your business, or purchase equipment or real estate, a Comerica Small Business Administration (SBA) Loan can assist with financing to help your company grow.

We’ll work with you to evaluate your needs and find an SBA Loan for your situation.

Nearly 90 percent of all businesses are eligible for an SBA loan program. The general qualification standards for SBA lending are less stringent than many other types of loans, but the same issues are considered such as:

  • Acceptable personal and business credit history.
  • Owner-occupied business.
  • Past earnings and/or estimated future earnings sufficient to repay the loan on time.
  • A list of available business assets and (in some cases) personal assets to secure the loan.

Be sure to prepare your case

Chatting to your accountant, financial advisor and your bank will help to ensure you get the right asset finance package tailored to your budgets and your business needs.

You can assist your case for asset finance if you come prepared with:

  • An updated cash flow forecast and business plan.
  • Evidence that the business generates sufficient spare cash to service the loan.
  • A pledge of available assets.

Be prepared also to demonstrate:

  • Why you need the asset.
  • What contribution it will make to your business’s growth and profits.

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. While the information contained within has been compiled from source[s] which are believed to be reliable and accurate, Comerica Bank does not guarantee its accuracy. Consequently, it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter nor be relied upon as such.

 

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Finding Good Mentors and Business Advice

May 10, 2019 by Comerica Bank

Tapping into experience

You probably get well-intentioned advice from family and friends. However, good business advice spoken from commercial experience is another matter entirely.

That’s not to say it’s hard to find, but discerning the wheat from the chaff in the internet age is sometimes less than straightforward – especially if matters are pressing. This is why, for good times or bad, developing a network of peers or seeking out a business mentor can be a great idea.

It’s important to decide on what you’d like to achieve by the end of the mentoring process, so be clear about your objectives. Brainstorm a list of the attributes and qualities of the ideal mentor for your business.

There are two main types of mentors: paid professionals and fellow small business owners who are happy to share their experiences. Both have advantages and disadvantages.

Government-sponsored mentors

The U.S. Government offers a wide range of free resources and services to support small business owners, and is a great place to start.

  • SCORE Mentors
    This agency provides free counselling, mentoring and advice for small business owners throughout the U.S. Their experienced mentors provide advice on every aspect of business planning, start-up, management and growth. You can search for one, or request one, through the Find A Mentor section of their website.

  • Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)
    SBDCs provide management assistance, including financial counselling, marketing advice and guidance. Some provide more specialized advice, such as on exporting or manufacturing. You can find out more about them and how to contact one of the 900 service delivery sites through their section on the U.S. Small Business Administration website.

  • Women’s Business Centers
    These focus on women entrepreneurs, designed to assist women in starting and growing small businesses. They seek to ‘level the playing field’ for female entrepreneurs, and help them overcome obstacles they face in the business world. They’re located throughout the U.S., and you can find one near you via their search tool.

  • Veterans Business Outreach Centers
    These agencies provide veterans with business training, counselling and mentoring. They’re located throughout the U.S., and you can find one near you via their search tool.

  • Minority Business Development Agency®️
    MBDA advisors hep minority business owners gain access to capital, contracts, and market research, as well as providing business counselling and mentoring. They have a comprehensive website that outlines their services and resources.

BusinessUSA.gov also has a list of federal counselling programs that are worth checking out.

Finding a business mentor online

For financial or legal advice it would be best to meet face-to-face with your banker, accountant or lawyer, depending on the sort of advice you need. But there are a number of additional resources you can turn to for assistance.

  • MicroMentor®️
    Whether you want to find a mentor or be a mentor, this is one of the top sites from which to get started. The free community of mentors offers advice on all aspects of business management.

  • Entrepreneur Mentor Society (EMS)
    EMS is a non-profit organization that aims to foster the education and development of young and aspiring entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area.

  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce
    This is an organization all small business owners will benefit from by becoming a member. Their networking and programs are ideal opportunities to find a business mentor in your industry. If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to join today.
  • The more involved you are in your industry, the better you’ll get to know people and tap into their knowledge and experience. That’s why it’s important to get out and network – go to as many industry events, trade shows, seminars and workshops that you can. You’ll find business mentors in people such as:

    Bank managers: It’s important to develop a good relationship with the small business advisor your bank has assigned you. They’re experienced in small business, they’ll take the time to get to know you and your business, and they’ll have great advice in terms of management and growth. They’re well worth taking advantage of.

    Professional consultants: These people aren’t free, but their expertise is well worth paying for. An online search will help you find professional consultants near you.
  • If you maintain your networking contacts, you’ll already be in touch with many business colleagues whose advice you can make use of.

Summary

Business mentoring can give you a fresh perspective on your own business. It can propel your business into profitable areas that you didn’t consider before. Take the first step towards finding a business mentor today – you and your business will benefit greatly in the future.

Next steps

  • Investigate all the options for business mentoring and decide which one is right for you.
  • Talk to our small business advisors about ways to meet other small business owners.

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. While the information contained within has been compiled from source[s] which are believed to be reliable and accurate, Comerica Bank does not guarantee its accuracy. Consequently, it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter nor be relied upon as such.

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