Your small business trademarks have an untold amount of potential value. Who knew 10 or 20 years ago that the Google and Apple brands would be worth tens of billions of dollars each? Every brand has to start somewhere, including yours. That’s why it’s critical to protect your brands with trademarks. If you don’t, you could not only lose the opportunity to profit from their future value but also, you could get into a lot of very expensive trouble. Fortunately, all of that trouble is avoidable. All you have to do is properly clear and register your trademarks. But that’s exactly where many small businesses set themselves up for problems and begin making small business trademark mistakes. Rather than investing the time and money to protect their businesses and brands the right way, they use free (i.e. do it yourself) or cheap (i.e. legal document services providers) methods to search the availability of their business and brand names as trademarks and to register those marks. It’s a recipe for disaster that has created an entirely new type of legal services, do-over legal services. This is a vertical that should not exist simply because if people got the help they needed to do things correctly the first time, they’d avoid the problems that create the need. With that in mind, I’m going to teach you about common small business trademark mistakes in an effort to stop some small businesses from making them. These small business trademark mistakes could cost you money. And I’m not talking about a small amount of money. I’m talking about a massive amount of money. Let’s put it this way, the $500 or $1,000 you save today by going the do-it-yourself or cheap route to search and register your business and brand names could cost you tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars in the future. I’ve seen too many businesses forced to close their doors because they’ve made one or more of these completely avoidable mistakes. Don’t be another victim. Educate yourself and avoid these common small business trademark mistakes: 1. You registered your trademark but didn’t secure your name in URLs or social media profiles. Once someone else registers a domain or snags a social media profile using your trademark, it can be time-consuming and costly to stop them. Imagine if they start publishing content using a domain or social media profile that matches your brand name. If that content is inappropriate or confuses consumers, you could lose business. Develop a domain name strategy now so you can avoid this problem! 2. You never trademarked your business name. Just because you registered your business name so you could start operating in your state doesn’t mean that you own the trademark. You still need to register your business name as a brand name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)! Learn the difference between a trade name and a trademark , so you don’t make this mistake. 3. Your business or brand name is descriptive. The more descriptive your business or brand name is, the less likely you’ll be able to trademark it. In fact, you might not be able to trademark it at all! Learn how to choose a strong name that you can trademark before you fall in love with it and invest time and money into promoting it. 4. You assumed that since you made up a word or logo that you own it and trademark registration is unnecessary. Nope. Even if you make up a word, you still need to register it as a trademark to be able to fully protect it and enforce your rights to it. Common law will be on your side, but you still have to register your trademark if you want to collect money damages and recoup lost profits in an infringement lawsuit. 5. You searched your name in the USPTO database or on an online search site and found no matches, so you assumed it’s available for you to use. The USPTO database is just your first step in conducting a trademark search. For one thing, it doesn’t include potentially conflicting marks due to common law. Furthermore, an online search using other free or cheap service providers will give you limited results. That’s because these search providers don’t conduct comprehensive trademark searches . There is a huge difference between a comprehensive search and any other type of search you conduct yourself or pay someone else to conduct for you. If you do nothing else, invest in a comprehensive search before you start using your name in the marketplace! 6. You think because your business or brand name includes your personal name (first or last) that you don’t have to register it. Business and brand names that include your first or last name are typically considered to be descriptive and can’t usually be trademarked (although it’s not impossible). A descriptive trademark is not distinctive, which means it’s weak and difficult to protect. See #3. 7. You assumed that your trademark covers your use of your mark for everything and everywhere. Not even close! Your trademark only covers your use of the mark for the goods and services specifically described in your trademark registration. This is why it’s so important to work with an intellectual property attorney to write the goods and services description section of your trademark application! Using a generic classification of goods and services won’t give you the protection you need and is unlikely to scale effectively with your business. 8. You’re not using your mark as it was registered. You can only protect your mark as it was registered, so you need to use it that way. You should use the trademark symbol to put others on notice that you registered the mark. But that’s not the only reason you should use the trademark symbol! If you don’t use the symbol, it could be a lot more difficult to collect money damages or recover lost profits in an infringement lawsuit. 9. You’re not maintaining your trademark. Did you know you could lose your trademark if you don’t maintain it? First, you need to continue using it in commerce or you could lose your rights to it. Second, you have to renew and update your registration. Between the fifth and sixth year and between the ninth and tenth year after you register your mark, as well as every ten years thereafter, you have to file specific registration renewal documents or the USPTO could flag your trademark as abandoned and cancel it. That means someone else could register it. If you want to get your trademark back, you have to re-register your mark from scratch. 10. You’re not monitoring and enforcing your trademark. If you’re not monitoring your mark for potential infringements (both online and offline) and responding to those infringements to enforce your mark, then you could lose your ability to protect it. Develop a process to monitor use of your mark online by doing regular searches using the USPTO database, Google, and social media. If possible, invest in trademark monitoring with an intellectual property attorney or use a third-party watch service provider like Thompson CompuMark or Corsearch that has access to far more online and offline databases than free or cheap providers offer. Mistake Photo via Shutterstock This article, ” 10 Small Business Trademark Mistakes that Cost You Money ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Sponsored Post This article was provided by Funding Circle , the leading online marketplace for small business loans. Ever feel like it’s gotten more difficult to find affordable financing to run your business? Don’t worry — it’s not just you. Traditionally, small businesses were able to rely upon traditional banks for loans and refinance options. Then the Great Recession hit. Since then, banks have dramatically reduced their lending to small businesses. After getting the cold shoulder from their banks during the credit crunch, many entrepreneurs turned to other, higher-interest lenders or credit cards instead to fuel their business. In fact, about one in five business owners report becoming overly reliant upon credit cards or lines of credit last year.* There are plenty of responsible ways to use credit cards — but depending on short-term financing to cover your long-term business needs just isn’t sustainable. If you’re feeling stuck in a downward debt spiral, it might be time to consider refinancing your debt with a lower-rate business term loan. But don’t just take it from us. More than 50 percent of our borrowers use their Funding Circle loan to refinance tedious debt — and many, like Anna Larsen, owner of Siren Fish Co., feel a sense of relief immediately: “As a small business owner, I like that my fate is in my own hands. Funding Circle gave me the freedom to refinance bad offers and plan for my business’s future, not just worry about day-to-day debt and expenses.” Here are Four Reasons to Refinance Today Make Your Life Easier Tired of juggling multiple bills, due dates, and interest rates? If you have debt with more than one credit card or merchant cash advance, refinance to keep track of just one payment, instead of several. Simplifying your financial life via consolidation can make it easier to plan your budget ahead of time. Save Money with Lower Interest Rates One of the biggest reasons to refinance your debt? Switching to an interest rate that’s lower than what you’re currently paying. Interest charges can keep you in debt much longer than you need to be, and decreasing your rate by even a few points can save you big bucks in the long run. Win-win: reinvest your savings to pay off your debt principal even faster! Focus on What Matters Most Growing your business. Refinance your short-term debt into a longer term loan with lower payments to improve your current cash flow. With more working capital available month-to-month, things like payroll and slow account receivables don’t have to feel like an existential threat. Bonus: paying off short-term creditors can help shield you from unnecessary collections lawsuits! Improve Your Credit Score Last but certainly not least, consolidating your credit card and short-term debt could also rejuvenate your credit score. When you refinance with a business loan , you may see a jump in your score within a few months because you’re reducing your credit utilization ratio. Your credit utilization ratio is the amount you owe on your credit cards relative to the total amount of credit you have available — and it affects a whopping 30 percent of your credit score! If you’re ready to refinance your business debt, apply for a term loan with Funding Circle today ! It only takes 60 seconds, and doesn’t ding your credit score to check your eligibility. * – National Small Business Advocate,  2015 Year End Economic Report . This article, ” 4 Reasons To Refinance Your Small Business Debt ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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National governments, non-profit organizations, and international development agencies have invested considerable resources in programs to train developing country entrepreneurs in the hope that these efforts will improve small business performance in these nations. An article  (PDF) published last year in the World Bank Research Observer by two excellent development economists – Chris Woodruff of the University of Warwick and David McKenzie of the World Bank — indicates that these efforts are not as successful as policy makers have hoped. The authors reviewed 16 randomized experiments – the gold standard for research designs — that they found have been conducted to examine the effect of business training on the performance of entrepreneurs in developing countries. Most of this training was conducted by banks or microfinance organizations to borrowers or would-be borrowers, though the providers varied across studies, as did the format, content, and length of training. The authors found that training: Increases the probability that people will start companies, though the effect might be to accelerate the formation of businesses by entrepreneurs who would have started their companies anyway. Boosts the use of business practices – such as keeping financial records – that are thought to improve business performance. Does not improve the survival of women-owned businesses, and has a limited effect on the survival of men-owned companies. Does little to increase the sales, profitability, or employment of the businesses. Why does careful scholarly research find so little evidence that business training improves the performance of developing country entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs? Being academics, the authors’ explanation is largely focused on the limitations of the research itself. Small samples, high rates of attrition, limited time horizons, and great variation in kinds of training conducted, entrepreneurs participating and outcomes measured, make it difficult to find evidence of the benefits of business training, the authors explain. As an academic myself, I am sympathetic to the authors’ need to be cautious in a scholarly publication. It’s difficult to conclude that something does not work from null findings because errors in measurement can always be the reason. However, in a blog post, I can ask the question: Is the reason that business training has so little effect on the performance of developing country entrepreneurs because small business training doesn’t work? What do you think? Training Seminar Photo via Shutterstock This article, ” Does Small Business Training Help Entrepreneurs in Developing Countries? ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Your winning in business cannot depend on others taking a lot of time to understand you and what you mean. If you have had a cover letter and resume simply go into the email trash bin of an HR department, without your receiving even an acknowledgment of your existence, you know you haven’t mastered the language of getting attention, much less a positive response. Saying what you mean — and getting a positive response — is akin to winning at Scrabble or Words with Friends. You have to be strategic in your thinking. You have to play the game, being tactically superior to others. Words are what make the difference between your getting what you want or not. It’s not your good intentions that gets you a job or a new client. It’s not your sincerity. It’s not your big heart. It’s not your ability to work hard. You must frame your position, argument or proposition in a winning way, one that generates a specific, positive response. Here are three wordplay tricks that you might put to use. Take out as many pronouns as possible when you tell a story. Make it less about you, and more about the recipient of your effort. Big tip: don’t start with “I.” For example, DON’T SAY: I volunteer every Monday evening at the food pantry on Main Street, because I want to give back to people. I am especially drawn to families with kids, who are struggling to get on their feet. I worry they only have that one meal to look forward to, and I want to make a difference in their lives by bringing groceries and serving them dinner. DO SAY: One out of every six kids in America is “food insecure.” It’s hard to believe, but that many kids wake up not knowing if they’ll have a meal that day. So you’ll find me every Monday evening at the food pantry on Main Street, bringing groceries and serving dinner to families gathered there for perhaps their only meal of the day. Lead with what your recipient gets, rather than frame your offer about what you receive. For example, DON’T SAY: I want a compensation package of $117,000 annually as well as a modest moving allowance and a guaranteed expense account of $2500 per month for client entertainment. DO SAY: It’s great to have the opportunity to discuss compensation with you. I can meet all the job objectives as well as the quotas for production you have outlined and arrive ready to work on the day you prefer, for a salary of $117,000 annually as well as a modest moving allowance and a guaranteed expense account of $2500 per month for client entertainment. Kill your habit of saying: “like,” “you know,” and “I mean.” For example, DON’T SAY: At my last job, you know, I had a lot of responsibility. I mean, I worked overtime like three days a week for like months. DO SAY: At my last job, the amount of responsibility given to me required my working overtime three days a week on average for several months. Some people don’t like these types of wordplay “tricks” because they believe it’s not authentic to change your natural speaking pattern. However, consider that your aspirations may have outgrown the way you express yourself. It may be time to strategically approach communication. These three tactical changes may jumpstart your success. Republished by permission. Original here . Winning Photo via Shutterstock This article, ” Use the Right Words for Winning Business ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Small businesses have been at the core of America’s economy since people started calling this place America. If you weren’t making it yourself, there was a shopkeeper in the middle of town peddling the wares you needed. Wagon running a little wobbly? Take it to a wheelwright. Well, you’d be hard-pressed to find a qualified wheelwright today. Some jobs that were essential at the time of the American Revolution don’t really have a place in today’s world. But a lot of them do. And some trades and businesses have never been without demand. Here are 13 trades and businesses popular at the time of the American Revolution and again today. Homefront Carpenter There was no sense coming all that way from England if you weren’t going to put down roots in the New World. And as the colonies grew, so did the demand for new homes. Carpenters, of course, were the ones to call to build those homes. Has a carpenter ever not been in demand? And as the housing market fluctuates, the demand for carpenters and builders can sometimes not be met. Lumberer This may be the one and only category where the same product could be sold both then and now. Demand for new homes meant demand for lumber. Lumber mills supplied most, if not all, the lumber used in early American home construction. And in a unique spin, some of the lumber that was sold in the 18th Century is still being sold today. Architectural salvage has become an industry on its own. When a home – some dating back to Colonial times – is being demolished, it’s picked to the studs for anything salvageable. Those old home parts become part of new homes or restored older homes. And buyers are still paying handsomely for the products. More companies are specializing in colonial and 19th Century American architectural items . That includes some late-1700s attic flooring or some vintage pine floor boards. These businesses will take anything from an older home – doors, window frames, fixtures – and find a new owner for it. Farmer If the colonists were intent on staying, they were going to have to eat. Farming wasn’t the glorious life, though. And while they were busy feeding their families and growing cash crops like wheat or tobacco, there was also worries about the impending war with the British. If farmers were called in to help the war effort, that put the onus of running the farm on family members. One thing that could be said of colonial farmers is that there certainly weren’t any concerns over GMO foods or harmful pesticides used on crops. It was farming the so-called old-fashioned way. Public skepticism that continues to grow over what’s going into our food has created a demand for a truly wholesome homegrown food. And the rise in organic farms is testament to that. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that organic farming and agriculture generates $35 billion annually. Freedom Gunsmith The need for a quality gunsmith is as American as well … the need for a quality gunsmith. There was no talking our way into a revolution and we couldn’t very well ask our enemy, at the time, for arms to take up against them. So the need for a gunsmith, and many of them, was integral to the revolution. Gunsmiths still play a vital role and are people whose services are very much in demand. Facts provided by the American Gunsmithing Institute reveal that there are 60 million gun owners in the U.S. Many of them are first-time gun owners who purchased their first firearm since 2012. The organization says on its website: “If you’re a firearms enthusiast, you know that guns need constant attention: repairs, cleaning, customizing etc. There is a tremendous need for competent, knowledgeable gunsmiths. There are opportunities in your own business or working in gunsmith shops or firearms dealers.” The Institute says that all these new guns require constant upkeep and maintenance to ensure they’re in proper working order. And right now, there may not be enough gunsmiths to keep up with demand. Printer, Publisher If you’re to believe the legends as fact, then you’ll know that newspapers were influential in our staving off the British forces in the late 1700s. And, of course, they’ve always played a role in keeping colonists and Americans informed on local news and events. Today, a lot of people believe that print is dead. But Small Business Trends found a small-town newspaper business that’s showing the printed news is still alive and well and serves a definite purpose in the community. Hand Crafts Silversmith Like a lot of industries in Colonial times, the popularity and demand for products of silversmiths was mostly based on need. Remember, we’re still just a startup company, relatively speaking. All these new homes and new families created a need for things like eating utensils and service ware. In steps a silversmith and suddenly colonists are importing one less thing from Europe. The desire for hand-crafted items is driving silversmiths today. And handmade jewelry is one trend that’s paying off for some. The New York Times reported on several young, independent jewelry designers who are competing right alongside industry standards and true iconic American brands. Blacksmith During Colonial times, the blacksmith’s main focus was helping the war effort. Often, it was the blacksmith’s duty to create the tools used in other jobs that were supplying or running the war machine against the British. In non-war efforts, the blacksmith forged a lot of tools that were used around the house and farm and by other industries. Today, blacksmiths are generally hobbyists. They have a skill and there are a growing number of people who will pay more for an item hammered by a blacksmith over some machine. Like most other hand-crafted items, those forged by blacksmiths today are becoming more desirable. Milliner You can’t go to a tea party wearing that ! Pride in appearance was definitely part of the revolutionary spirit. And milliners dotted the early American landscape. Nearly every milliner’s shop in colonial America was owned and operated by a woman, too. Early American milliners produced many of the clothes and accessories worn by the 18th Century colonist. The business owner would buy garments from street merchants and then fashion them into something ready to wear. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation even notes that shop owners also imported a lot of wares from England to sell alongside their creations. Today’s independent fashion designer is alive and well. The litany of e-commerce sites to sell handmade goods – especially fashion – along with our society’s fascination with the fashion industry have created immeasurable opportunities for the independent designer or small clothing label. Chandler No, not that Chandler. More like chandlers, or candle makers. Commercial candle making only became popular in the late-1700s. Prior to this, it was a household chore. It coincided with colonists realizing that a substance from whales produced better candles. According to PioneerThinking.com, men with molds to pour the whale-based candles would travel from town to town, really establishing candle making as a viable business. The traveling drummers eventually settled down and opened the first candle shops in America. Today, candles are still popular despite not being essential as they once were. The National Candle Association says American consumers spend $2 billion a year on candles. And with the rise in e-commerce sites, more handmade candle makers are bringing their creations to a much larger audience. In fact, there are currently more than 170,000 items for sale in the handmade candles category on Etsy.com right now. Hospitality Inn Keeper Master of the house, quick to catch your eye … Wait, that was France. But inn keepers in the colonies were certainly aplenty, too. Any sort of traveler during this era was more likely to stay in a small boarding house or inn that catered to not only a room and comfortable place to rest, but meals, too. Travel is another industry that is seeing some interesting turnabouts from Colonial times. Room shares are on the rise. Travelers can save big bucks if they’re willing to sleep in someone else’s quarters. This has turned a lot of homeowners and property owners into part-time boarders, too. A rise in the popularity of sites like AirBnB are certainly evidence of that. Brewer/Distiller Since long before the days of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson – heck, even before the days of Miles Standish and Sir Walter Raleigh – the people who eventually became Americans enjoyed an adult beverage every once in a while. So in the days of early America, the brewer and distiller were popular folks. They created the libations that wet the whistles of colonists. And these weren’t the big brands that eventually became known as American icons. Today’s alcohol industry is another that’s trending back to the real olden times. As Americans’ tastes and palates have expanded, so too has their taste for a different brew. The craft beer industry is booming. According to recent data from The Brewers Association, craft beer sales in 2014 accounted for 11 percent of all beer sales by volume. That totaled $19.6 billion in the U.S., alone, in 2014. And that was a 22 percent rise over the previous year. And it’s not just limited to craft beer, either. Apparently there has been a noticeable rise in the amount of craft bourbon being produced, too. (See Cooper for more on this trend.) Cooper Back then, the alcohol didn’t flow from the faucets. It had to be stored somewhere, namely a cask or barrel. In fact, back then everything was kept in casks or barrels. And for a good barrel, you’d need to visit the local cooper. Coopers were tapped – often – for their services. The growing band of colonists required the use of more and more casks. Casks were used for transporting various goods. They were, in essence, the precursor to today’s shipping container. Today, the country’s thirst for a truly American libation is unquenchable. Bourbon sales since 2010 are booming. That’s in large part due to a rise in the number of craft distillers. These distillers, like the colonists nearly 250 years ago, need barrels. The rise in popularity of bourbon, and the craft spin-off industry, has led to a renewed demand for a well-crafted barrel at the hands of a cooper. And small cooper shops are meeting that demand. NPR’s Noah Adams reported : “At the Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville they are working overtime, but there’s so much demand that the company estimates they could sell all the barrels they could make next year, 10 times over.” Tavern Owner You think traveling I-95 or I-81 is a pain now, imagine how rough it was in the days before highways … or paved roads. The colonial tavern was a welcome sight for any traveler. And there were taverns from the north to the south. Remember, it took days to go a few miles. Today, the pub culture is experiencing a resurgence. The craft brewing industry’s good fortunes have spawned a need for places for beer aficionados to meet. Images: Kelvin Cooperage, AirBnB.com, Brewers Association,  Paul Revere statue Photo via Shutterstock, Blacksmith Photo via Shutterstock, Carpenter Photo via Shutterstock, Gumsmith Photo via Shutterstock, Ben Franklin Printer Photo via Shutterstock This article, ” 13 Colonial Small Businesses Making a Big Comeback Today ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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A few years ago, anyone looking to buy razors had to go to their local drug store and pay exorbitant prices. But over the last couple of years, Dollar Shave Club has begun changing that reality. The company’s success, however, would likely not have been possible without the video below going viral in 2012. The video shows Michael Dubin, who is the founder of Dollar Shave Club. In the video, Dubin explains the idea behind Dollar Shave Club in a way that’s both concise and humorous. It’s not often that the founder of a company will get in front of the camera and explain his or her product while being carted around on warehouse equipment, cutting packing tape with a sword, and hanging out with a person in a bear suit. But those unusual factors all came together to create a video that people not only noticed, but also shared among their friends. Dubin explained the idea behind the video in a recent edition of Inc: “I studied sketch and improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade training center in New York City for eight years. I know humor is a very powerful device in telling a story. I never thought twice about appearing in the video; I wasn’t really going to hire someone else to do that. I didn’t necessarily think that I was going to become the spokesman of the company in addition to the CEO. I was just really trying to find a fun, resonant way to tell the story of what our business did and why it existed. We chose YouTube as a platform to spread the word about DSC because, three years ago, YouTube was the only place to go if you wanted any hope of going viral.” Though you can’t ever create a video with a guarantee of it going viral, there are a few factors that can improve the odds. Dollar Shave Club’s video, which is aptly named “Our Blades Are F***ing Great,” includes a few of those factors, including humor, concise content, and of course, an eye-catching title. Not every business will necessarily lend itself to creating a viral video that includes a bear throwing money into the air (aka “making it rain”) while you wield a leaf blower. But there are a few key things you can take away from this story if you use video marketing and would like your content to go viral, too. The bear suit isn’t necessary. But something unusual to catch people’s attention can certainly be helpful. Dubin’s mannerisms, comedic timing, and ease in front of the camera are also important factors. If you’re uneasy in front of the camera, viewers will notice that. So, even if your jokes or other lines are spot on, it’s not likely to have the same effect. And finally, the most important part of the video is the actual information presented. Among the jokes and unusual imagery, Dubin actually does a very good job of explaining — in simple terms  —  what Dollar Shave Club offers its customers. Without that aspect, the video could have gone viral without actually providing any benefit to the company that created it. So, if you’re able to create a video that’s eye-catching, funny, simple and informative, you’re likely well on your way to a formula for going viral. Image: Dollar Shave Club This article, ” This Video Shows the Secret Formula for Viral Success ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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It seems that despite the growth of mobile shopping technology, retail customers still like to “get physical” when it comes to shopping — and they aren’t planning to stop any time soon. In a new study by TimeTrade Systems, The State of Retail 2015  (PDF) ,  87 percent of consumers plan to shop in physical retail stores at least as often this year as they did in 2014. For Millennials, the percentage is even higher. Ninety-two percent of them plan to shop in-store this year. That’s as often as they did last year, or more often. Even when a product they want is available online as well as in a nearby store, nearly two-thirds of respondents in The State of Retail 2015 survey would prefer to buy it in the store. (In fact, more than 70 percent of consumers say they’d rather shop at a physical Amazon store than at Amazon.com.) Why do consumers still care about brick-and-mortar stores? It’s not just the ability to get the product immediately. As consumers in all age ranges do more and more of their pre-purchase research online, the report concludes that “more than ever, customers are looking to the in-store experience to help them validate their final purchasing decisions.” Even better news: Once customers go to a physical store, a whopping 82 percent of them end up spending more than they planned. In other words, making the trip to a store isn’t just for discovery anymore. It’s an indicator of serious intent. That doesn’t mean you can sit back, do nothing, and still expect to make the sale. What factors convince customers to buy once they’re in your store? Touch The number-one reason customers go to physical stores is to be able to touch and feel the merchandise. Eighty-five percent of respondents overall and 92 percent of Gen X respondents in the survey cited this ability. Several studies  (PDF) have shown that customers are more likely to buy products after they have touched or picked them up. How can you make it easier for customers to get a tactile experience? Consider: Displaying products in piles (a tactic many clothing stores use) to inspire touching. If products are wrapped or sealed, unwrap one of each item so customers can touch it or open up a “tester” item. Let the store get a little bit messy. A slightly “lived-in” atmosphere encourages customers to touch and play with the merchandise. If employees are constantly straightening things up, customers might feel like they can’t touch things without annoying the staff. (Just make sure the store doesn’t look like a tornado passed through.) You can even encourage salespeople to touch the customers if appropriate. For instance, if you sell skincare or cosmetics products, you could offer mini-makeovers, or salespeople could rub lotion into customers’ hands. At clothing stores, employees could help a customer put on a jacket. Some studies  (PDF) suggest this type of touching can make customers more receptive to buy. Personalization Apparently, the personalization offered by technology (websites that offer suggestions for what to buy, emails offering deals based on your last purchase) can’t quite compete with the personalized service offered by, well, a real person in your store. Especially when that person can access customer data such as prior purchases or information in the store’s loyalty program to offer the customer exactly what he or she wants. Knowledge With an overwhelming number of options available online, consumers are turning to physical stores where salespeople can offer recommendations and help them make decisions. Nearly 90 percent of consumers in The State of Retail 2015 survey say they’re more likely to buy when assisted by a knowledgeable associate. What exactly do shoppers expect your store salespeople to know? Which product is the best value : 65 percent Which product is the best quality : 64 percent Which product is the most reliable : 56 percent Which is the best product for my specific needs and budget: 47 percent Millennials have even higher expectations: 74 percent expect salespeople to know the best value, 69 percent think they should know the highest quality products and 62 percent want them to know which products are most reliable. Assistance When They Need It Our expectations for instant gratification have trickled into the brick-and-mortar retail arena. Not only do your salespeople need to be educated about your products, they also need to be available and ready to help at all times. Be sure you schedule adequate staff so customers can get assistance quickly. Spread employees throughout the store in different departments or quadrants so there is always someone available to offer help. Keep employees near areas where customers are likely to need assistance, like the point-of-sale or the dressing rooms, so customers who are ready to make a decision aren’t slowed down. Also train employees to be vigilant but friendly when approaching customers. Reading body language is a good skill for employees to have. One study  (PDF) found that mirroring customers’ body language and mood helped lead to increased sales. So, for example, if a customer entering the store looks as if she doesn’t want to engage with a salesperson, your salesperson can still busy herself near the customer and offer a friendly smile, but not a “Can I help you?” that might annoy the customer away. Retail Shopper Photo via Shutterstock This article, ” Let’s Get Physical: Why Shoppers Still Love Real-World Stores ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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It’s no longer solely about asking primary research questions. In part 2 of the interview series Greg Heist of Gongos, Inc. talks about exploration across silos, disruption and decisions, and decision science as an inspiration for innovation. Continue reading →

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As mentioned previously, the fact that I live in South Africa means that I do not prejudge a book by the reputation of the author. For those like me who have never heard of Eric Casaburi, he is an entrepreneur of note, having founded Retro Fitness in 2002 and which now has 140 franchise units throughout the U.S. If you aspire to become a successful entrepreneur, and want to know what it takes, “ Just Make Money!: The Entrepreneur’s Handbook to Building the Life of Your Dreams ” by Eric Casaburi delivers just that. Through his personal experiences and enthusiasm for success, Casaburi takes the reader through the various stages of the business cycle, and passes on a wealth of knowledge and useful advice. “Just Make Money” commences with the author outlining the qualities that an entrepreneur will need to possess to become successful. Passion, determination and true enthusiasm, together with a desire to learn through reading, networking and observation are all common traits of the more accomplished entrepreneurs. Such skills states the author are not learned by going to college, and it is those entrepreneurs who do not really possess “that extra special quality of enthusiasm” who tend to fail: “your enthusiasm and experience as an entrepreneur will take you much farther than your degree — it will take you as far as you want to go.” Continuous Evaluation Casaburi is keen to highlight the need to continuously evaluate your business and those of your competition. Good entrepreneurs never switch off and are always looking for information that will help to improve their business, whether it is through reading, attending seminars or watching other businesses in action. The key, explains the author, is to keep yourself at the peak stage of your business cycle. This can be achieved by being innovative, knowing what your customers want before they do, and by never getting complacent particularly when things are going well.  “You can never stop improving in business. You can never rest on yesterday’s success. Being an entrepreneur is about continual growth.” Debt is Not Always a Bad Thing Many new entrepreneurs are reluctant to borrow money when starting up or expanding a business. They endeavor to keep costs as low as possible from the outset, with the intention to spend more money on the business when it is established and making money. The point that the author makes in “Just Make Money” is that you need to spend money to make money. To delay doing so leaves you open to the risk that someone else will see the same opportunity and grasp it before you do. With a solid business plan and through demonstrating your enthusiasm and belief in your business idea, money can be readily available. “If you show a bank or a prospective business partner that you are a diligent, hardworking, consistent, and successful planner, you will get results; they will throw money at you.” Never Neglect Your Marketing Casaburi spends much time on the subject of marketing in “Just Make Money.” He explains how much a business should allocate to marketing, and the how to target your marketing to get the best results for the money spent. Again, at the outset entrepreneurs often make the mistake of keeping their advertising and marketing costs to a bare minimum. Additionally, every business and entrepreneur will go through difficult times, and at such times cutting back on marketing and advertising costs are often seen as a way to save money. He states: “Too many new business owners make the mistake of cutting their marketing budget once things get tight, or their marketing budget is the last thing they add when starting out. Most people don’t realize it should be the reverse: money for marketing and advertising has to be the last thing that gets cut when times are tough.” The Life/Work Balance As I myself can attest, when starting a business it can be extremely difficult to strike the right balance between the time that you spend working on your business and the time you set aside for your personal life. In “Just Make Money” the author supplies advice on how this may be achieved, urging the reader to remember why they are working in the first place, and to recognize that there will come a point in time when there will be a need to have trust in others and the ability to delegate.  “You can’t be working on your business if you are working in your business every day.” Conclusion If there is one thing that stands out when reading “Just Make Money” it is Casaburi’s willingness to trust his instincts and to strive to take every opportunity or offer. He is a calculated risk taker, passionate, and almost addicted to doing business and making money. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and many of the things that I have either experienced or witnessed are detailed within. For anyone looking to start a business, this book will leave them with much to think about. Additionally, it should speed up the learning curve of any new entrepreneur, minimize the common mistakes made, and enable the newcomer to get their business off the ground on the right foot. About the Author Eric Casaburi ( @ ECRETRO ) opened his first business at just 23. He is the CEO and founder of Retro Fitness, which employs more than 1,200 people throughout the country. This article, ” Read “Just Make Money” to Find Out What it Takes to Become Successful ” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Innovation is such a heady, ill-defined concept. Innovation is one of those words – like strategy or creativity – that means either nothing or something different to anyone who hears it. But when handled correctly, genuine innovations are the lifeblood of any company’s continued health and success. Continue reading →

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