More small business owners and professional marketers are saying video is a must these days, and that they value video marketing above all other marketing skills for new hires, according to a recent survey by cloud-based video creation service Animoto . Video Marketing Trend Animoto’s Social Video Forecast for 2016, which is compiled from the online survey of more than 1,000 professional marketers and 1,000 small- and medium-sized business owners (SMB owners), shows that video has reached new heights in marketing. Fifty-five percent of SMB owners and 84 percent of marketers said that they created or commissioned a marketing video in the past 12 months. New Heights in Video Marketing As marketers see good returns on their video investments, they plan to invest further. According to the survey, nearly two-thirds of all marketers are planning to incorporate video in their campaigns for the coming year, as well as invest in video promotion on social media channels. Additionally, the marketers are planning to invest in talent to support video campaigns across the board. “Social video has become a must-have for businesses of all sizes,” Animoto CEO Brad Jefferson said in a press release announcing the video marketing survey. “While professional marketers are leading the charge in terms of where and how much to invest, small business owners are not far behind. That is a testament to the growing ease and affordability of video distribution on social media platforms, as well as consumers’ inclination towards video content.” Animoto’s 2016 Social Video Forecast Animoto’s Social Video Forecast builds on the findings of the 2016 Social Media Marketing Industry Report (PDF) released last month by SocialMediaExaminer.com. The Social Media Marketing Industry Report details how marketers and SMB owners are using social media to grow their businesses, including where they will focus investments in social video to gain a competitive edge. As it turns out, Facebook continues to dominate as the leading marketing platform for sharing and distributing video content, although professional marketers are beginning to adopt and invest in newer channels like Snapchat and Instagram. Moreover, YouTube remains a stronghold for marketers, and is gaining in popularity with SMB owners, according to both reports. “This year, we’ve seen social networks such as Facebook prioritize video content and optimization like never before,” said Mari Smith, Facebook marketing expert and social media thought leader. “This prioritization, paired with the rise in video consumption on nearly every social network, has made it impossible for marketers to ignore the importance of consistent video creation and promotion. Animoto’s forecast underscores that ‘social plus video’ has truly arrived.” 2016 Social Video Forecast Infographic Animoto’s online video creation service offers apps for web and mobile to help anyone easily turn ordinary photos and video clips into professional-quality HD videos. The company fielded its survey between April 25 and May 6, 2016, and created a beautiful infographic capturing its key findings. Check out the infographic below: This article, ” Survey: 55 Percent of SMBs Say Video Marketing a Must (Infographic) ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Approval at institutional lenders and at big banks ($10 billion+ in assets) increased in May. Meanwhile, credit unions, small banks and alternative lenders recorded a drop in their approval rates. Those were the findings of Biz2Credit, the online resource for small business finance, in their monthly lending index released this month. Biz2Credit Lending Index May 2016 In its review Biz2Credit found that loan approval rates at institutional lenders rebounded from their first drop in over two years. The one-tenth of a percent gain to 62.8 percent matched an all-time index high. “For the better part of the last two years, institutional lenders have been one of the stronger driving forces in the industry. The rebound in May is encouraging. High yields and low default rates allow this category of lenders to continue to thrive,” stated Biz2Credit CEO Rohit Arora. Small business loans at big banks also recorded a significant increase, up one-tenth of a percent to reach an all-time index high of 23.2 percent. It was the seventh time in the last nine months that lending approval rates increased at big banks and in a year-to-year comparison, they are now approving six percent more funding requests on average. “Big banks have demonstrated their commitment to small business lending over the last two years with investments in automation that have resulted in higher profit margins,” Arora said. Alternative lenders on the other hand took a hit in May, only approving on average 60 percent of small business loan requests. For the past two and a half years the alternative lender’s approval rate has declined by more than 7 percent from 67.3 percent to the current 60 percent. More so, for the fourth time in the last five months, the loan approval rates at small banks dipped to 48.7 percent. “As big players such as J.P. Morgan and Wells Fargo expand in small business lending, it continues to negatively impact small banks. When lenders invest in technology, small business owners can now receive funding in a matter of days. This has led to higher quality borrowers gravitating to the larger financial institutions” Arora stated. Like alternative lenders and small banks, credit unions had also continued their long decline in loan approval rates, only approving 41.7 percent in May, going down two tenths of a percent from April. For the past year the approval rates at credit unions have dropped every month. From Biz2Credit’s report, it is evident that small business owners that are looking to lend would have a better chance of getting approved by institutional lenders and big banks. Image: Biz2Credit This article, ” Biz2Credit: Institutional Lenders Bounce Back after April Drop ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Want to have great copy? You either need to learn how to create it yourself, or you need to hire a great copywriter. The right copywriter can help your business increase sales , build brand recognition and garner a number of other positive results. So how do you find the right copywriter for your business? Here are some key things to keep in mind during your search. 15 Tips for Hiring a Great Copywriter Be Specific About What You Need There are plenty of different copywriters out there with different skills and specialties. So before you even start looking, consider what it is you’d actually like your copywriter to do. If you’re looking to spruce up copy for your company’s online ads, find someone who specializes in that format. If you’re looking for someone to write product description, then find someone with similar items in their portfolio. If You’re Not Sure, Find Someone to Guide You Of course, there might be situations where you’re not exactly sure what you need or where you might need several different types of jobs covered. In those situations, it could be beneficial to find a copywriter with experience in different areas who can help you decide the best route to take for your copy. You may need to pay extra for this type of guidance though. Consider the Required Skill Level You’ll also need to decide how much experience you need in a copywriter. Not every job necessarily requires a seasoned veteran. But if you want your entire web copy revamped, that could require you to hire someone with more experience than if you were just looking for someone to create a single ad. Have a Budget in Mind Before you start your official search, consider how much you can afford to spend on a copywriter. Or at least consider what you are able to spend on an overall project. For example, determine your budget for your overall marketing campaign. Then consider any other costs involved in the campaign and figure out how much you have left to set aside for a copywriter. But Ask for Their Best Quote You can also ask the copywriters you’re considering for their best quotes based on the work that you need done. That doesn’t mean that you should necessarily just choose the cheapest bid. But make sure that you understand what all is included in the quoted price and then use that to make an informed decision. Consider Hiring Someone for Regular Work In some cases, you can get better prices and a copywriter that has a better understanding of your brand if you hire someone for regular work, if your business needs copy written on a regular basis. If you can’t afford to hire someone full-time, consider at least creating a relationship with a freelancer who you can contact whenever you have new copy needs. Get Someone Who Understands Your Audience Great copy looks completely different from business to business. What constitutes an effective ad for a computer company probably wouldn’t work as well for a clothing retailer. So if you want copy that’s going to resonate with your audience, you need to find a copywriter who knows how to write for that audience. Take a look at their past work or ask about any experience in your industry to see if they’d be a good fit. Ask for Examples of Their Work Even if a copywriter doesn’t have experience in your exact niche, you can get a feel for a copywriter’s strengths by looking at their past work. See if they have a portfolio on their website or ask them for samples. Then see if their writing includes the type of voice and format that you’d like to see in your own copy. Keep Real Results in Mind Even if you think a piece of copy in someone’s portfolio sounds good, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to help your business. So you have to consider the results you want your copy to garner. Is a stronger voice going to resonate with the specific audience you’re looking for so that you can grow your customer base? Or are you looking to increase immediate sales through stronger ad copy or product descriptions? Emphasize Headlines and Calls to Action Depending on what type of copy you are looking for, there are a few very important sections that can help you grab customers’ attention and get the results you’re looking for. Headlines and calls to action especially can make a big difference. So put special emphasis on those in your search for copywriters. Learn About Their Preferences For some copywriters, their personal styles and preferences can make a big difference in how much care they put into their work. So when vetting copywriters, consider asking them about what types of subjects and formats they enjoy the most. Conduct a Test You can also ask potential copywriters to work on one job before hiring them for a larger project to see how they do and how their style matches with what you’re looking for. Be Clear About Revisions Even great copywriters need guidance from time to time. If you want someone to write in exactly the tone and style you’re looking for, then you need to make that very clear to them. So after you ask a potential copywriter to create a sample piece of copy, go back to them with any revisions and feedback so that they know what you like and don’t like and how they can improve going forward if you decide to hire them. Let Them Stick to Writing It can be tempting to ask your copywriter to focus on additional things like SEO or conversion rates. But having a SEO or sales expert try to write copy may not be the best route if you want your copy to really be effective. Instead, let your copywriters focus on writing copy that is actually well constructed and quality. Maybe give them a few keywords to include wherever possible. But search engines tend to prioritize good copy over keyword stuffed generic content anyway. Have End Goals in Mind Throughout the process, make sure that you keep your original goals in mind. Not only should you have an idea of the type of copy that you want, but also what you want it to accomplish. If you want to improve your product or ad copy so that you can increase sales, then you need to keep an eye on any changes so that you can evaluate the results. Writer Photo via Shutterstock This article, ” How to Hire a Killer Copywriter ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Good news for small retailers (and, indeed, for all small businesses): Consumers prefer local businesses to national chains, according to a new study by GoDigital . How can you capitalize on this preference, and more effectively market your retail store to local customers in a way that appeals to their natural preference for shopping local? Here’s what the report had to say. First, consumers don’t need a lot of extrinsic motivation to patronize local businesses: 55 percent say they do so because they like to support their local communities, and 30 percent say they do so in order to support small businesses (even if those businesses aren’t right in their local area). The factors you might think would make a big difference in choosing where to shop — such as convenience, product selection, staff knowledge and prices — are far down the list of consumers’ reasons for shopping local. The takeaway: As long as you sell what they’re looking for, consumers are predisposed to shop at your store simply because it’s a small, independent business. The key to building on that natural desire, the study says, is to make connections with prospects and build lasting rapport with customers.  Here’s how. Customers Support Local Business so Make that Work for You Facebook is by far the most popular social network among surveyed consumers, with Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram tied for second place. Start your social media outreach by building a strong presence on Facebook. To get more interaction on your Facebook page, the report suggests emphasizing your independent, small business status. You can do this by sharing photos, quotes or information about yourself, your employees and your store. The goal is to make customers feel like they know you personally so they’re comfortable walking in. Don’t forget about Facebook advertising, either: nearly half of respondents in the survey say they are somewhat or very likely to click on relevant Facebook ads. Although your Facebook presence should be your primary social media outlet, the report also recommends having a presence on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter as well. Fight Showrooming “Showrooming” is a legitimate concern for local retailers. Some 31 percent of survey respondents say they use their smartphones to look for better prices on products sold in-store. However, you can counteract this tendency by using pay per click (PPC) mobile ads that target a very specific radius around your store. When a prospective customer searches for a better deal for product you’re selling, the ad will serve up a discount at your store. It doesn’t have to be a big discount to get results: Most respondents say just 10 percent off is enough to sway them to shop at a local retailer. Get Good Reviews A whopping 92 percent of respondents say online reviews factor into their decision to patronize local retailers at least some of the time. Just eight percent never look at reviews when deciding where to shop. Be sure to claim your store’s listing on ratings and review sites, and monitor your reviews daily to make sure you quickly respond to any negative reviews or complaints. Use window stickers, decals or text on your receipts to encourage happy customers to “Review us on Yelp” (or whatever review sites you use. Watch what people are saying about you on social media, too: Two-thirds of survey respondents say they would review businesses on Facebook or Google+ in addition to the typical review sites. Plan Your Promotions Although 27 percent of consumers don’t need the motivation of discounts to shop at local stores, 73 percent say they are interested in promotions (even though that’s not their primary motivator). Discounts and loyalty programs are the most effective promotions your retail store can offer — and it doesn’t take a huge discount, either (remember that 10 percent rule). You don’t need to try to beat big retailers at their game of 40 percent, 50 percent or even 60 percent off. Instead, the report suggests, save big discounts for slower months when you need to bring in customers, or for highly competitive times of year such as the holiday shopping season. Shop Small Photo via Shutterstock This article, ” 4 Ways to Capitalize on Consumers’ Desire to Support Local Business ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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What does it take to succeed in business today? Increasingly, one of the most important skills you can have is digital literacy. According to Cornell University, digital literacy is defined as: “the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.” Nearly 8 in 10 middle-skill jobs now require digital skills, according to recent research by Burning Glass. What’s more, those jobs requiring digital skills pay an average of 18 percent more than those that don’t . If you read my blog posts regularly, you’ll know  I’m a HUGE fan of coding  as the most important skill an entrepreneur or employee can have today. Learning to code offers so many valuable benefits, including allowing you to save money on marketing and web design functions, and giving you better perspective when hiring out coding tasks. But when it comes to specific programs, one of the  most important ones to master  is that old Microsoft standby: Excel. In fact, 67 percent of jobs that require digital literacy also require proficiency in both Word and Excel. Maybe you used Excel in college but haven’t touched it since, or perhaps it’s something you struggle with (and despise) on a regular basis. It’s not really known as a program people  love  working in, but you can’t deny the sheer power of Microsoft Excel. In fact, WordStream was born out of my own need to automate a lot of the functions I was doing regularly as a search marketing consultant. I spent entire days (and nights) wrangling Excel and making it do backflips in the mid-2000s. Conditional formatting, pivot tables, forecasting and other functions can be crazy difficult to learn, but are so important to know. So I get it. I feel your pain … I understand that knot in your gut when you hear the word “Excel.” It can be super complicated, there’s no question. But  Microsoft Excel can also help you save time , make better business decisions, and ultimately be a more valuable asset in the office, whether it’s your own company or someone else’s. That’s why this infographic I came across is so good. UK training company STL compiled their top seven Excel tricks in a visual guide called “7 Essential Excel Tricks Every Office Worker Needs to Know.” In it, they offer super simple shortcuts to powerful Excel functions like VLOOKUP, Quick Analysis, Power View and more. Check it out: Republished by permission. Original here . Featured Image: WordStream; Infographic: STL via WordStream This article, ” 7 Ways to Use Excel Like a Boss (INFOGRAPHIC) ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Brand loyalty is never more important to consumers than when buying a car, choosing between Coke and Pepsi , or upgrading a smartphone. Whether you are a hyper-loyal iPhone user or you prefer an Android or other device, there is one admission that we all, as smartphone users, must make. Apple’s original iOS, and the interface and environment that it existed within, laid the necessary foundation that allowed the rest of our future mobile and smartphone devices to propagate and thrive. Before you jump ship, this is not a fanboy love letter to Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and the iPhone, but rather an engaged look at how Apple’s first iOS altered the smartphone culture and where the future of that now present culture is headed. Life Before Apple’s First iOS A lot of big changes and industry-altering innovations come as a result of a void needing to be filled. In 2007, there certainly existed one of these voids in the smartphone world. At this time, mobile devices had a lot of the same utilities and capabilities as our present ones. Sure, the app boom had yet to crest the horizon, but they were able to perform all of the necessary functions: e-mail, text messaging, web browsing, calendars, solitaire, video, etc. In other words, everything we need our smartphones for, they were capable of doing it. The issue was how they did it. Whether it was BlackBerry’s track ball, the scroll wheel or a stylus, every proposed innovation was typically overshadowed by its own drawbacks. For instance, the stylus created an almost touchscreen-like interface that made moving from application to application much smoother, but they had the immediate drawback of being easy to lose or misplace (I actually remember a time when the grocery store sold a three pack of styluses in the checkout aisle). The void began to grow as smartphones got smarter and smarter, but devices and their interfaces remained clunky and rifled with drawbacks. Enter the OS X or, How Apple Changed the World of Smartphones The very first iPhone operating system was, at the time, named the OS X, before later adopting the iOS label that Apple now uses. In a lot of ways, save for one, this now-prehistoric iPhone was mediocre. It did not have a lot of the same capabilities as other smartphone devices at the time. It did not have 3G connectivity, it lacked the ability to take and send quality pictures or video and it had a shortage of other useful apps and utilities, like GPS. Basically, in almost every category that we typically judge a smartphones performance or capabilities , the original iOS and iPhone fell well short, except for one. The Touchscreen Environment What Apple succeeded at ­—what they created and revolutionized — was the touchscreen environment . They were not the first device to have this technology by far, which is why the word “environment” is included, because that properly describes what the OS X achieved. Where other companies simply leveraged touchscreen technology, only Apple was successful at creating an interactive world that users manipulated and changed to their own liking. They managed to create an illusion and a good one at that. The magic of the first iOS was its ability to import on users the feeling that every button, icon, page or other clickable had its own weight and size. A lot of this “magic,” we take for granted now, but at the time it was truly incredible. Even the act of using two fingers to zoom in or out, which has been adopted by every smartphone on the market, created an incredibly clever shortcut because it continued this illusion that you were interacting with an object and not just an organized collection of pixels. It was also an effective way to make map navigation and zooming better. To express the effectiveness of this small innovation, we need only look at the BlackBerry Curve 8300, which was arguably the biggest competitor to Apple’s first smartphone devices. While the Curve had GPS capabilities, unlike the iPhone, zooming or moving around on the map was such a complex process that you practically needed a professional cartographer and a BlackBerry programmer on hand to figure it out. After the iPhone’s release, every touchscreen and smartphone design became a dinosaur. Even though the original iPhone had its own drawbacks and deficiencies, the experience of using it was superior and unmatched by any device that was currently on the market. Why iOS Versus Android Matters Less Now The impact that the seemingly physical environment created, by Apple’s touchscreen and OS X, had changed the way we looked, and continue to look at, smartphones. Detractors of Apple often suggest that they have not innovated much since and have even copied many of their competitors emerging and existing technologies. Yet, to do this, we take away from the tremendous splash that the first iPhone had. This importance is often lost in the iPhone versus Android debates. The extreme brand loyalty for our chosen smartphone provider makes it hard to admit the opposition’s upsides and advantages. This sort of competitive comrade is, at least it should be, diminishing the number of debates we have regarding what smartphone is best. Arguably, a lot of these conversations circulated around the apps each brought to the table. Yet, Android and iOS have both emerged as the undisputed leaders that nearly every app has cross-platform capabilities and updates. Thus, it really boils down to preference. Nearly every hand in the smartphone industry has done something, big or small, to advance the mobile device environment as a whole. Rather than continuing to look at the differences between each, we should be welcoming the advances that the competing brand makes because they are ultimately driving all mobile devices to be better. In essence, they are all looking at what the next void will be and how to fill it as perfectly as the original iOS did. What Will the Next Void Be? While the future of anything is always simple speculation, there are two emerging cases, as to what the next big innovation will be that surges smartphones into the next generation. A lot of experts believe that this will be the transformation from the current swipe, pinch and zoom, touch, hold, press, etc. functionality, to say and do processes, which is why we have seen so many digital assistants (Siri, Cortana) emerging lately. The goal of these digital assistants is very similar to that of the original Apple iOS; they are trying to make things faster, simpler and more cohesive. For so long, our phones have operated through buttons (touch and physical) and we often fall short of unlocking their true potential out of simple ignorance. In other words, we do not even know everything our devices and apps are capable of. A digital assistant can help close this loop because they know all the functions, you need only ask it of them. The second possible innovation, which Apple is already working toward , is alpha apps . In short, these apps compound a number of pre-existing programs under one umbrella. It is based on the premise that our apps today are very separate from one another and rarely play with each other. For example, you open Google Maps to find a new restaurant in your area. Then, you have to open an entirely new application to find reviews or a menu about the restaurant(s) in question. Finally, you have to open a browser because you see a dish on the menu you have never seen before and need to investigate it. We are constantly doing this; we open several apps during the journey of achieving a single, simple objective. Similar to digital assistants, alpha apps also aim to close the loop and ultimately make life easier and more productive for the user. It also solves the common problem that many smartphone users have with regards to dead or unused apps on their device; many of these come preloaded onto the phone. Alpha apps would better utilize these programs, even deem some of them obsolete, and ultimately make our smartphones cleaner and more organized. Conclusion All three of these past, present and future technologies (the original Apple iOS, digital assistants and alpha apps) all have one thing in common. We do not realize we need them until they are here.  The world was content with the smartphone technology before the iPhone. While our BlackBerry and Motorola phones were far from perfect, considering the current market of smartphones, they satisfied our needs at the time. What Apple did to truly alter the smartphone industry was only achieved by understanding that innovation was not in the hardware or making phones smaller or sleeker. It was about changing the culture and the way people thought of, interacted with and how they understood the device in their pocket. They filled a void before we, as consumers, knew there even was one. Collectively, the leaders of the smartphone industry are going to continue to push the boundaries of our mobile devices.  It is not clear yet, which way the industry is going to pull next, whether its alpha apps, more effective digital assistants, or something entirely different. What is certain, however, is there are more moments to come that will be as earth shaking as when Steve Jobs first swiped to unlock the iPhone. Apple Photo via Shutterstock This article, ” How Apple Changed the World of Smartphones ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Running a business requires you to manage so many different functions at once. That often leads to businesses relying on multiple apps or tools to manage everything from invoicing and scheduling to marketing and sales. But now there’s a tool available to help more small businesses condense the amount of tools needed to manage that daily workflow . MyBusinessGenie MyBusinessGenie is an online platform and iPad app to manage small business workflow from beginning to end. It’s not just a software program for managing invoices or scheduling appointments. You can actually use it to showcase products or services through saved photos or even websites. You can capture lead data and make notes about interactions or even assign tasks to your team members. From there, you can manage client communications, allow them to schedule meetings or appointments with your team and even collect and manage payments. Founder and CEO of Genie Labs Venu Gooty created the tool after working on a way to improve his own workflow as a professional photographer. Because Gooty found it difficult to manage his business while out on shoots and working in ever-changing locations, he decided to create his own tool to help. But he didn’t go right to creating MyBusinessGenie. Instead, Gooty created StudioGenie , a tool meant specifically to help professional photographers manage their businesses while going out on shoots. After launching, however, he realized that a lot of what he created could also be useful to business owners in other industries. Gooty said in a phone interview with Small Business Trends, “Really soon after that I realized that people in other industries were creating accounts and they also had the same set of challenges for how to manage their businesses on the go. So we got a lot of feedback from other industries on how to simplify their experience to keep up not just with photography.” Gooty says that the tool can benefit any businesses that see team members spending significant amounts of time in the field. Instead of relying on software and programs that are made for office workers, MyBusinessGenie gives you the chance to manage all of those tasks right from your iPad. The simplification of that process is one of the main benefits. Instead of you or your team members having to remember or take down information then updating it when you get back to the office, you can update that information right in the app while you sit with the customer or client. Some of the businesses that might be able to benefit from such a tool include event planners, contractors, interior designers, landscapers and any other businesses that often meet with clients outside of a traditional office environment. Since the entire business world is getting more mobile, a tool like this makes sense for a wide variety of businesses. There are some accounting tools and project management apps that also offer mobile versions. However, Gooty says that MyBusinessGenie’s ability to manage workflow from start to finish sets it apart. Businesses interested in the mobile tool can sign up for a free account now. Free accounts cover one user and charges a fee for paid invoices. There’s also a professional plan available that includes the field app and unlimited team members. MyBusinessGenie also offers customizable enterprise solutions. So it’s something that can scale with your business as it grows. Image: My Business Genie This article, ” MyBusinessGenie Offers Invoicing, Scheduling, More From iPad ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Two weeks ago, news broke of the pending acquisition of the business social network LinkedIn by Microsoft . This article serves as a follow-up and asks what the purchase means for business professionals and small businesses in particular. In addition to comments from the two company’s CEOs, Small Business Trends has added comments from several small business owners, who shared their thoughts on its implications. Microsoft-LinkedIn Acquisition Deal Key Elements To recap, the key elements of the deal are: Microsoft will acquire LinkedIn for $196 per share in an all-cash transaction valued at approximately $26.2 billion; LinkedIn will retain its distinct brand, culture and independence; Jeff Weiner will remain LinkedIn’s CEO and report to Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, and join the Senior Leadership Team; The transaction is slated to close by the end of 2016. Microsoft-LinkedIn Share Common Mission When you read the joint announcement, letters from the two CEOs to their respective staffs or their blog posts adding personal insight, one message comes through loud and clear: Microsoft and LinkedIn share a common mission — empowering people and organizations to be more productive. For Microsoft, empowerment comes from the use of cloud-based Office 365 and Dynamics CRM software. For LinkedIn, it comes from connecting professionals in a business-based social network. Put the two together, and you have the potential for a technology platform that fosters office collaboration, sharing and productivity at a scale heretofore unseen. “Over the past decade, we have moved Microsoft Office from a set of productivity tools to a cloud service across any platform and device,” said Microsoft CEO Nadella in a letter to LinkedIn employees . “This deal is the next step forward for Microsoft Office 365 and Dynamics as we connect them to the world’s largest and most valuable professional network — LinkedIn. I know we’ll invent new ways to help professionals achieve more as we reinvent selling, marketing and talent management business processes.” Commenting on the reason for the acquisition, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said in a blog post : “[W]e had virtually identical mission statements. For LinkedIn, it was to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful, and for Microsoft, it was to empower every individual and organization in the world to achieve more. Essentially, we’re both trying to do the same thing but coming at it from two different places: For LinkedIn, it’s the professional network, and for Microsoft, the professional cloud.” Benefits of Microsoft-LinkedIn Acquisition – A Peek at the New LinkedIn Benefits to Microsoft and LinkedIn Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn hopes to pay each company the following dividends: Increased engagement across LinkedIn as well as Office 365 and Dynamics.  Microsoft and Linkedin stand to make money through a more seamless access to each other’s customer/member base as well as through individual and organizational subscriptions and targeted advertising. Larger Total Addressable Markets (TAM).  Microsoft’s and LinkedIn’s markets are both large, bringing in billions per year to each company. Combined, the TAM increases to $315 billion. Brings together the professional world. “Today, all the information a professional needs to be successful lives in silos,” said a Microsoft document outlining the details of the acquisition. “By connecting the world’s leading professional cloud and professional network, we can create more connect, intelligent and productive experiences.” Benefits to Users While the acquisition is beneficial to both Microsoft and LinkedIn, the marriage of the two ecosystems also promises to enhance the working lives of business professionals, in the following ways: Increased reach and engagement. Microsoft can use LinkedIn to power the social and identity layers of its ecosystem of over one billion customers. “Think about things like LinkedIn’s graph interwoven throughout Outlook, Calendar, Active Directory, Office, Windows, Skype, Dynamics, Cortana, Bing and more,” said Weiner in the blog post. Ubiquitous profiles. Professional profiles will be unified so that the right data surfaces at the right time, when it’s needed, whether that’s in Outlook, Skype, Office or elsewhere. Intelligent newsfeed. Microsoft makes a point of saying that, today, information lives in silos causing business professionals to miss relevant news and waste time. With a more intelligent newsfeed that combines industry news with work-related event announcements, that will no longer be the case. Predictive digital assistant. Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant will keep users updated on appointments, events and activities, as well as provide background information on the people they meet — colleagues, coworkers, prospects and others in their network. Social sales tool. Sales professionals will move from “siloed” selling to “social” selling thanks to a connection between Dynamics CRM and LinkedIn Sales Navigator, which, according to Microsoft, will “transform the sales cycle with actionable insights and enable the building of deeper relationships, to accelerate sales.” Better organizational insights. Leaders can get a better view of their organization’s capabilities and talent through the connected, collaborative environment the merger of the two platforms will foster. Enhanced learning opportunities. LinkedIn Learning (Lynda.com) will integrate into Office, enabling users to have a more seamless experience and access to on-demand courses. Other benefits. LinkedIn can utilize Microsoft’s field and distribution channels to reach new audiences and more customers. For Microsoft, the platform merger provides the opportunity to increase Bing usage through integration with LinkedIn’s professional search. What Small Business Owners Have to Say Small Business Trends asked several small business owners to share their thoughts about the acquisition and its implications. To a person, they were skeptical that it would provide any benefit at all. Here’s what they had to say: “Nadella talks about serving more newsfeed posts and ‘expert’ help suggestions,” Toby Bloomberg, president, Bloomberg Marketing told Small Business Trends. “I can’t help but wonder if the ‘feed me more algorithm information’ and LinkedIn’s ‘expert suggestions’ will lead to a loss of subscribers. Also, I’m damn curious as to who will be tapped as an ‘expert?’ Those who pay or those who LinkedIn deems an expert by some algorithm.” “Small businesses don’t use LinkedIn — it’s a personal product not actually built for business use in my opinion,” added Jach Jex, principal at Jex Law Firm, PLLC . “If a business is using LinkedIn to recruit they are usually big enough to not be a ‘small business.’” “I have not worked with a single small business client that used LinkedIn for much more than creating a business page and making a few random posts (which got no action),” agreed Pamela Hazelton, ecommerce consultant at PamelaHazelton.com “From a small business owner, I only see that it helps to get my blog posts out there, by using Pulse,” explained Jeff Belonger, social media marketing consultant . “Other than that, I don’t think it does much good. Regarding Microsoft, I feel they had too much money to burn, so they took a gamble.” “I am interested to see if Microsoft will utilize the big data they have to create a stronger ad program to give small business owners a voice in the ad market,” offered Toby Boyce, Real Estate Broker, Delaware Real Estate . “Other than that, I don’t see it changing much.” Conclusion Perhaps Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder and chairman of the board, should have a talk with these business owners. His enthusiasm, as expressed in the following comments , may be enough to change their mind: “Think about what happens when we combine our network, our platform of identities with Microsoft’s world-leading set of productivity tools, ranging from Office to Dynamics to Communications to Cloud to Windows to Cortana to Bing,” Hoffman said. Hoffman continued, “Consider, for example, LinkedIn’s network enabling Active Directory and integrating into Office Productivity. Consider, additionally, connecting LinkedIn identities to Outlook and Skype. Moreover, Microsoft has a great suite of technologies, such as artificial intelligence and Cortana technology, that can add game-changing new capabilities to LinkedIn.” For Nadella, Weiner and Hoffman, connecting the professional cloud with the world’s largest professional network holds great promise both for Microsoft and LinkedIn. Let’s hope that it contains equal promise for the millions of business professionals the acquisition affects. Image: Microsoft This article, ” The New LinkedIn: What Will Microsoft Ownership Mean? ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Innovation is never risk-free. That doesn’t mean you have to throw money away every time you want to try something new. Follow these tips to think more like an entrepreneur, and watch as your company begins to solve more problems more quickly. Continue reading →

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Securing funds to either start or grow business was once every entrepreneur’s worst nightmare. In the past, big banks and credit unions often rejected loan applications, leaving business owners with the only option of borrowing from friends and family or borrowing against receivables. A lot has, of course, changed mainly because business owners today have more options than before. Alternative lenders and institutional investors have made it easier for entrepreneurs to access funds and grow. For a small business owner, it pays to understand how institutional lenders and alternative lenders differ and the best options available to get funds. Small Business Funding Options Alternative Lenders Alternative lending took off during the 2008 financial crisis when big banks backed out of small business funding. At that time, online lenders stepped in to fill the vacuum and assist small businesses. They created web-based lending platforms that facilitated a faster loan application process and provided the much-needed respite to small businesses. Today, alternative lenders are the new normal for small businesses looking for funds to meet their financing needs. Some of the well-known alternative lenders include Kabbage, OnDeck and CAN Capital. There are four main types of alternative lending options available to small businesses. These are: A line of credit that provides access to a set amount of cash that’s mostly used to meet short-term financing needs. A term loan that allows business owners to borrow and repay the loan amount in about four or five years. Invoice factoring that helps businesses deal with unpaid invoices. Merchant cash advances that help businesses get an advance on future credit card or debit card sales. Pros and Cons of Alternative Lending Alternative lending is a good option when you are looking for funds to address an urgent business need. To give an example, if there is a plumbing issue that needs to be fixed immediately, you can use alternative lending options to secure funds in no time. Another big advantage of alternative sources of financing for small business is simplicity. Unlike big banks, alternative lenders require fewer documents to process loan requests. That’s because for the alternative lenders, the main focus is whether you have the cash flow to repay the loan. Alternative lenders also offer longer-term loans to invest in your growth. For example, if you want to recruit more workers or open a new store, you can opt for alternative lending options. For all the benefits associated with alternative lending options, it’s important for businesses to know that the interest rates are extremely high. Most alternative lenders offer business loans with double-digit, sometimes even triple-digit, rates. For a small business owner, such steep rates are not always the best option. Institutional Lenders Institutional lenders refer to hedge funds, family funds, insurance companies and other non-bank institutions. These lenders have slowly but steadily emerged as important players in the small business credit marketplace. Some of the well-known institutional lenders include StreetShares, Funding Circle and Kickfurther. An increasing number of small businesses are opting for institutional lending options because approval rates are high. Institutional lenders are, in fact, surpassing alternative lenders, including merchant cash advance companies and other non-bank finance companies. In July last year, institutional lenders approved 61.7 percent of small business loans, up from 61.4 percent in June. Pros and Cons of Institutional Lending Because institutional lenders invest heavily in technology, they act promptly and approve loans faster than alternative lenders and big banks. “These pools of money have never been available for small businesses,” Biz2Credit CEO and co-founder Rohit Arora tells Time.com. For new entrepreneurs, institutional lending is a feasible option because the interest rates are considerably low. That’s because institutional lenders usually have access to a comprehensive profile of businesses that approach them for loans. Moreover, institutional lenders don’t ask for any specific collateral to approve loans. They mostly require a personal guarantee and may place a lien on your business assets. On the flip side however, institutional lenders place some very specific requirements to qualify for loan approvals. Further, these loans have typical terms of 1-5 years or even a shorter span. This means they are not ideal for businesses looking for big investments. How to Seek Small Business Loans from Alternative and Institutional Lenders To qualify for a loan or small business line of credit, it’s always advisable to know the right way to go about it. While it is true that your chances of getting approved by an institutional or alternative lender are greater than big banks, it’s important to make note of a few things to ensure you qualify. To begin with, you should know that unlike traditional lenders, alternative and institutional lenders depend on technology to determine whether or not you can repay the loan amount. They use sophisticated software tools and data metrics, including social media interactions to assess businesses. If you have just started out, you probably won’t qualify for a big loan. Conversely, if your business is up and running and you can show a good track record of revenue performance, you will find it easier to secure funds. What’s worth noting is that you need a good business plan in place to increase your chances of qualifying for a loan. It’s also advisable to know which lender is your best option before you approach them. For example, Kickfurther is ideal for small businesses looking for inventory financing. There are similar lenders who specialize in real estate business, purchase order financing and other kinds of small business loans. It’s important to maintain a good credit score because most alternative and institutional lenders carry out credit checks to ascertain a customer’s credit worthiness. Another good option for small businesses is to consider collaborative lending opportunities. Banks like JP Morgan Chase are partnering with alternative lenders to offer loans customized to the needs of business owners. In certain instances, such options would make more business sense. Armed with enough information and insight, you can easily secure funds without borrowing from your IRA or approaching big banks and community banks. Loans Photo via Shutterstock This article, ” Alternative and Institutional Small Business Funding Options ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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