Search engine optimization (SEO) is vital for maximum online impact for your small business. It’s also one of the hardest skills for busy entrepreneurs to master. Our content partner Nav makes it simple for you to get started with 3 easy tips for managing local SEO.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is vital for maximum online impact for your small business. It’s also one of the hardest skills for busy entrepreneurs to master. Our content partner Nav.com makes it simple for you to get started with 3 easy tips for managing local SEO.

Did you know that nearly half of all Google searches are local? Or that the 50% of consumers who perform a local search from their mobile device end up visiting that store within a day? Local search is on the rise, and for most smartphone wielding consumers, that’s probably not a surprise.

Many of us turn to our smartphones to help guide our purchasing decisions, whether that’s finding the perfect place to dine or to locate a good or service we need. Just type a few keywords into the Google search bar, and contact information, maps, reviews, and even some photos are at our fingertips, helping us decide where to go. Of course, chances are that if a business hasn’t taken the time to optimize their local search efforts, then they’ll go unnoticed by the tech savvy consumer. And that’s a shame.

Optimizing your Google local listing and capitalizing on the growing consumer base that relies on local searches is easy and yields big results, especially when it comes to foot traffic and conversions. Here’s a few simple ways to make sure your business is visible to all the customers near you.

Sign up for a Google My Business Account

In today’s mobile based economy, signing up for a Google My Business account is as important as unlocking your doors every morning or getting a telephone number. It’s essential for success.

The free service allows businesses to list all relevant details, making their info readily available for consumers searching within your geographic location. This listing includes vital contact information (address, phone number, website) as well as reviews.  It also will place your business on the map, literally, at least on Google Maps and any app that utilizes Google Maps (Yelp, for example).

Provide thorough and precise information about your business

Google uses search algorithms to serve its users with the most accurate results it can, and for those hoping to optimize their local search efforts, that means including all relevant info. Business owners must provide accurate information for their business (phone number, address, hours of operations, and any URLs available (for example, if you’re a restaurant, you’d want to link to your menu where applicable) if they want to increase the their chances of appearing in top search results.

It also means choosing terms to accurately describe your business. Take for example a furniture store that specializes in vintage or refurbished pieces. It’s not enough to simply describe your store as a “furniture store.”  Instead, specific words, like “vintage furniture” can improve search results by funneling relevant traffic to your listing, putting your store information in front of the exact consumer base you want to reach.

Be mindful of your reviews

According to a recent Pew study, 82% of consumers consult reviews before making a purchase. And almost 50% of consumers are using their mobile devices to check reviews while they’re in the store. Reviews are integral to the overall success of a business, and that’s true when it comes to attracting customers via local search results.

Remember that Google algorithm we talked about briefly above? Reviews are factored into that algorithm and impact rankings; good reviews bode well for businesses and help establish themselves as top in search results.

Great reviews do help businesses gain traction in search results, but reviews are important for another reason. Reviews create unique content that is often, by proxy, filled with keywords that help you rank better. Google sees unique and relevant content as a major plus, so reviews can help drive your campaign (so can your responses).

To leverage the power of reviews, be sure to stay engaged with your customers. You can even consider developing a campaign that incentivizes your clients to leave reviews.

I know what you’re thinking: what about bad reviews? Despite the fact that there will always be customers who are simply impossible to please, responding to poor reviews is important, and over time, customers can see that you’ve made attempts to reach out and remedy any issues (you’ll also be creating more unique content); they may even consider changing their review once you’ve addressed their concerns.

For businesses that rely on local clientele and regular foot traffic, local SEO is essential for success and must be part of long- and short-term marketing strategies.  While some facets of online marketing, particularly SEO, may seem daunting, these three simple yet powerful local SEO tips can help any business stake a claim in their local economy.

This article originally appeared on Nav.com and was re-purposed with their permission.

For information about Opportunity Fund’s small business loans, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or loans@opportunityfund.org.  For questions about your existing loan or other customer service questions, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or sbhelp@opportunityfund.org.


Opportunity Fund is California’s largest and fastest-growing nonprofit lender to small businesses.  In FY16, we made $60M in loans to help more than 2,200 small business owners invest in their businesses.  Opportunity Fund invests in small business owners who do not have access to traditional financing. As a founding member and signatory to the Borrower’s Bill of Rights, we believe in the important role small businesses play in our community and the economy, and we aim to help owners financially succeed.

Visit us online at http://opportunityfundloan.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Running a business is a lot of work if you are the sole proprietor. Even if you have a partner and excellent staff, sometimes you need the support and opportunities of external groups. Our content partner Nav introduces four online groups you can join to network with other small business owners and resources.

Running a business is a lot of work if you are the sole proprietor. Even if you have a partner and excellent staff, sometimes you need the support and opportunities of external groups. Our content partner Nav.com introduces four online groups you can join to network with other small business owners and resources.

 

The work of entrepreneurs and small business owners is filled with pitfalls and challenges, and sometimes you just need to talk to someone who can share a few pieces of good advice. Business networking groups are a great way to meet advisors and mentors who can help during the journey, as well as to find new professional connections, opportunities and ideas.

Whether you’re looking for suggestions for your next product, emotional support or advice on taking your business to the next level, there’s a variety of small business groups and associations willing to assist. Even better, many of them allow members to join and access resources for free. Here’s a list of four organizations with free services for small businesses that can help no matter where members are on the path to entrepreneurship.

U.S. Small Business Administration

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is an independent U.S. federal agency that aims to help people start, grow, finance and sell their small business. The agency’s website contains valuable information in written and video format about a variety of topics, from drafting a business plan and registering your business to obtaining permits and applying for SBA loans. Those who are interested in a more personal approach can visit one of the SBA’s district or regional offices nearby, as well as connect with business centers supporting female entrepreneurs and military veterans.

The SBA is also known as a great resource for business financing. The agency guarantees billions of dollars in small business loans every year and can help you understand how to qualify for an SBA-backed loan or other types of business financing (here’s a comparison chart for a quick guide). SBA loans require an established business credit score —specifically, the FICO SBSS score — to secure financing. (You can check your personal and business credit scores for free on Nav.)

SCORE

SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) is a U.S. nonprofit association that provides members with free business mentoring and education, thanks to the support of the SBA and more than 11,000 volunteers who have signed up to share their expertise. The organization provides free, confidential business mentoring in person or online, as well as free resources, tips and tools through its website. Those willing to invest a little money in their education can also sign up to attend local workshops or webinars about topics as diverse as social media, taxes and branding.

Meetup

Meetup is a social network that allows members to find others who are interested in the same topics and activities and meet them for offline events and activities. To date, the website has helped organize more than 25,000 entrepreneurship meetups on six continents, from massive chapters in cities such as New York, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco to smaller and more specialized groups across the U.S. Most scheduled meetups are free to attend, with annual larger events charging admission to cover costs throughout the year. Meetups can be a great opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs, recruit from a specific talent pool or even market your business.

StartupNation

StartupNation is a website and content platform for current and aspiring small business owners that offers a wealth of information about a variety of topics, authored by industry leaders and visionaries. The community was founded in 2002 by Jeff and Rich Sloan, brothers who also host the nationally syndicated StartupNation radio program. Users who sign up for the StartupNation newsletter can receive free content such as articles, case studies, podcasts, book excerpts and webinars directly in their inbox.

Final Thoughts

Running a small business can sometimes seem overwhelming, so it’s comforting to know that these and other associations are available when entrepreneurs are looking for advice, insights or new contacts. After all, the importance of having a community where members can share experiences and knowledge with other business owners can’t be overstated.

 

This article originally appeared on Nav.com and was re-purposed with their permission.

For information about Opportunity Fund’s small business loans, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or loans@opportunityfund.org.  For questions about your existing loan or other customer service questions, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or sbhelp@opportunityfund.org.


Opportunity Fund is California’s largest and fastest-growing nonprofit lender to small businesses. In FY16, we made $60M in loans to help more than 2,200 small business owners invest in their businesses.  Opportunity Fund invests in small business owners who do not have access to traditional financing. As a founding member and signatory to the Borrower’s Bill of Rights, we believe in the important role small businesses play in our community and the economy, and we aim to help owners financially succeed.

Visit us online at http://opportunityfundloan.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Your small business is always changing to improve and adapt. You might want to change the name of your business, but doing that can be challenging. Our content partner Nav explains how a name change affects your business credit and how to protect your good standing.

Your small business is always changing to improve and adapt. You might want to change the name of your business, but doing that can be challenging. Our content partner Nav.com explains how a name change affects your business credit and how to protect your good standing.

 

Changing your business name can be a lot of work, and, quite frankly, a hassle. But can it also put your business’s credit history at risk?

Kimberly Wilson is about to find out. In 2006, she started First Step Therapy, a counseling and training business, and grew it into multiple locations. A few years ago she took a hiatus from that business to earn her doctorate degree, and now she’s ready to relaunch her business. She has chosen a new name that reflects her new vision for the company. It will be called First Step International Consulting & Counseling Services and will offer training for individuals, businesses, and professionals.

However, she’s worried about what will happen to her business credit when her name changes. “I am concerned that if I retain the same federal tax ID but change the name, I will lose my business credit rating,” she wrote in an email. “How do I prevent that from happening?”

Wilson built a positive business credit history in her first business. She established business credit by using trade credit—purchasing things she needed for her business, such as supplies or printing—with payment terms of net 30 or net 60. She paid those bills on time, and as her business credit scores improved, she was able to access even more credit. Eventually, she used business credit to finance computers and other equipment.

Older is Better

Wilson is right to be concerned about keeping her credit history, since age is a factor that often affects business credit scores. Scoring models often evaluate age in a few different ways:

  • Age of the business—How long has the business been open?
  • Time in file—When was the first account opened?
  • Age of accounts—What is the average age of all accounts?

Since small businesses often fail in their first few years, businesses with older credit histories benefit from well-established credit histories.

The good news is that Wilson doesn’t have to sacrifice her business credit history when she changes her business name. But she’s smart to be proactive, because by doing so she is more likely to ensure her complete credit file will follow her business.

Steps to Take

If you find yourself in a similar situation as Kimberly Wilson, here are several steps you can do to help the process move smoothly:

Submit a name change to the Internal Revenue Service if necessary. You’ll find instructions and guidance on the IRS website.

Update your name with state and local agencies as required. If you have registered your business with your state Department of Corporations, for example, and/or you must have a local business license, you may need to update your business name with either or both.

Notify your creditors. Let your creditors know about your name change so when they report your account in the future, it will be reported under your new business name. Hopefully this will also help associate your old credit history with your new business, although that is not guaranteed. Do the same with companies through which you process payments, such as credit card processors, your bank or credit union, etc.

Notify the credit bureaus, as necessary. We asked the major commercial credit agencies to clarify their policies and procedures regarding a business name change, and here are their responses:

  • Dun & Bradstreet does not require business owners to notify them of a name change unless it involves a change of ownership. If it does, visit Dun & Bradstreet’s free company update page here.
  • Experian recommends small business owners visit BusinessCreditFacts.com to update their reports.
  • Equifax does not require a business owner to report a name change. As long as the business uses the same credit accounts and does not use a different tax ID number, the reporting members will report the credit history using the new name. The business credit report will also reflect the previous name (similar to how a former name is reflected on an individual’s credit file).
  • LexisNexis does not require a business owner to report a name change.

“Information on small businesses is in constant flux as they change or add locations, evolve into new entity types (e.g., from sole proprietor to LLC), change leadership, grow their assets, and more,” says Ben Cutler, Senior Director of Small Business Risk with LexisNexis. “It’s even common for a small business to change its DBA and/or its name. But these activities leave ‘footprints’ in the data ecosystem, and LexisNexis Risk Solutions relies on its Big Data technology and sophisticated, statistically based record linkage models to uncover and combine these footprints across billions of data records.”

Check and monitor your business credit reports. Review your business credit reports before your name change to see which accounts report, then continue to monitor them afterward to see whether those accounts are reported under your new name. If not, you can contact your creditors and ask them to make sure your accounts continue to be reported under your new business name.

There are many more steps you need to take to successfully navigate a business name change, but with the right planning, you should be able to keep your credit history intact.

 

This article originally appeared on Nav.com and was re-purposed with their permission.

For information about Opportunity Fund’s small business loans, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or loans@opportunityfund.org.  For questions about your existing loan or other customer service questions, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or sbhelp@opportunityfund.org.


Opportunity Fund is California’s largest and fastest-growing nonprofit lender to small businesses. In FY16, we made $60M in loans to help more than 2,200 small business owners invest in their businesses.  Opportunity Fund invests in small business owners who do not have access to traditional financing. As a founding member and signatory to the Borrower’s Bill of Rights, we believe in the important role small businesses play in our community and the economy, and we aim to help owners financially succeed.

Visit us online at http://opportunityfundloan.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Stuck with a bad business partner? Our content partner Nav offers advice for how to find out if you need to buy out your partner and how to protect yourself from future problems.

Stuck with a bad business partner? Our content partner Nav.com offers advice for how to find out if you need to buy out your partner and how to protect yourself from future problems.

 

Businesses fail for a variety of reasons and many times the reason for failure had nothing at all to do with the market, the products, lack of capital, a bad location, nor any of the other “major” reasons for failure, but many times the reason for failure was due to the bad dynamics between the owners themselves.

Let’s face it, people change.

You meet them one day and they are a smart, intelligent, competent, responsible, respectful, and ambitious person—just the type of person (you think) that you would like to form a partnership with to build an enterprise. But for reasons beyond your control, this partner changes down the line into a sneaky, lying, con-artist that’s sucking money out of the business and about to cost you the time, energy, and investment you’ve put into the business.

So how do you get out of this situation? How do you buy-out a current bad partner, and avoid signing on with another bad partner in the future? Here are some ideas.

Determine If A Buy-Out Is Needed (Hire An Attorney)

Before you do anything, make sure you have the proper legal representation working on your situation because your Attorney can determine if a buy-out might be in your best interest.

The cost of an attorney of this nature might cost you a couple thousand dollars, but they would be well worth the investment if they can make sure everything is sorted, organized, and efficient in relation to the buy-out procedure (again, if a buy-out is even the best option). Your attorney can review partnership agreements, ensure compliance with state/local laws, and more.

For example, if you have a good partnership agreement drafted, you might be able to dissolve the partnership without a buy-out, or you might be able to change the weight of ownership within the partnership agreement giving you more control without having to buy-out the other partner’s equity.

If Going Forward With The Buy-Out

If you are indeed going forward with a buy-out, here are some procedures you want completed:

  • File all paperwork and transfer accounts: All paperwork needs to be filed properly and the other partner’s name needs to be removed from your business accounts. More likely than not, this would mean that you might have to establish new business accounts in which the other partner doesn’t have access to said account numbers, passwords, etc. Your hired Attorney and CPA/Accountant should be able to assist with this process.
  • Complete an efficient business valuation: In addition to hiring an Attorney and bringing in a CPA/Accountant, you also want to hire an Independent Consulting Firm to provide a business valuation which will give you the full value of the business (including the worth of your brand). This will help you decide if buying out your business partner is a good investment or not.
  • If needed, seek the right funding: This can include a variety of sources, such as your personal savings or debt financing options such as a business loan, line of credit, or business credit card. Before you spend your time searching for financing, check your personal and business credit scores with a free Nav account—our financing marketplace uses your business and credit data to match you to financing offers you’re more likely to qualify for.

Protect Yourself In The Future

If you are going to bring on a prospective business partner again in the future, you should approach the situation as if you are entering a marriage and structuring a pre-nup.

While similar to a marriage, your prospective business partner might inform you of how they “don’t believe in a break-up and would never leave you”, and while they might have every intention of never leaving you, sometimes disagreements about how to conduct business can unfortunately lead to a disastrous business partnership.

Before you bring on any prospective business partner, make sure you hire an attorney to draft up your Partnership Agreement to outline investments, responsibilities, and a dissolution process that provides an outlined exit strategy that everyone agrees to upfront. This allows you to negotiate the exit strategy at the beginning while everyone has good feelings towards each other, rather than at the end.

 

This article originally appeared on Nav.com and was re-purposed with their permission.

For information about Opportunity Fund’s small business loans, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or loans@opportunityfund.org.  For questions about your existing loan or other customer service questions, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or sbhelp@opportunityfund.org.


Opportunity Fund is California’s largest and fastest-growing nonprofit lender to small businesses. In FY16, we made $60M in loans to help more than 2,200 small business owners invest in their businesses.  Opportunity Fund invests in small business owners who do not have access to traditional financing. As a founding member and signatory to the Borrower’s Bill of Rights, we believe in the important role small businesses play in our community and the economy, and we aim to help owners financially succeed.

Visit us online at http://opportunityfundloan.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter

The way credit agencies report public records is changing this summer. Our content partner Nav explains what is changing and how it might help your credit score!

The way credit agencies report public records is changing this summer. Our content partner Nav.com explains what is changing and how it might help your credit score!

 

A slew of changes to how credit reporting agencies will handle public records could help millions of Americans improve their credit scores this summer.

For decades, the major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — have included public records like parking tickets and fines in consumer credit reports. But, as a result of a settlement with the New York Attorney General in 2015, the bureaus announced plans to update and modify their data collection and dispute processes to improve credit report accuracy.

Changes under the National Consumer Assistance Plan actually began rolling out in September 2015, with another round of changes taking effect September 2016 and the final round occurring on July 1, 2017. This final group of reforms mainly pertains to public records like tax liens and civil judgments. It includes two major policy shifts:

  1. Public records will now be required to list the name, address, Social Security number and/or date of birth of the consumer.
  2. The records will need to be updated every 90 days in order to remain on consumers’ credit reports.

The Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade group representing the major credit bureaus and other data companies, estimates that this change could result in the removal of 96% of civil judgments and 50% of tax liens currently appearing on consumer credit reports due to insufficient personal identifying information (PII) under the new standards. Bankruptcy records will not be impacted by the data standard changes as they already comply with these policies.

This isn’t the only consumer-friendly credit reporting shift that’s happened recently, though. The July 1 shift has been planned for a while, but, as we first reported on Nav, consumers got an additional boost late last year from a handful of major debt collection companies who decided to stop reporting on paid collection accounts after 2 years, or to not report collection accounts that were paid in full or on a payment plan if the consumer started paying within 3 months of the initial collection notice. Though not all collection agencies are following this policy, it’s a major shift for one of the top credit report issues — unpaid collection accounts — and one source told Nav that the decision has already removed more than a million derogatory accounts.

The impact of the CDIA changes in July compounded with the recent debt collection shift means millions of Americans could see a credit score lift in 2017. The impact goes beyond just consumer credit scores as well — while businesses have their own credit scores, nearly half of small business owners use their personal credit scores to secure business financing (many business credit cards, for example, require a personal credit score to get approved). So a major lift to a personal score could make a big impact on small business owners looking to secure business financing in the future as well as under the July changes. (You can check your personal and business credit scores for free on Nav.)

 

This article originally appeared on Nav.com and was re-purposed with their permission.

For information about Opportunity Fund’s small business loans, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or loans@opportunityfund.org.  For questions about your existing loan or other customer service questions, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or sbhelp@opportunityfund.org.


Opportunity Fund is California’s largest and fastest-growing nonprofit lender to small businesses. In FY16, we made $60M in loans to help more than 2,200 small business owners invest in their businesses.  Opportunity Fund invests in small business owners who do not have access to traditional financing. As a founding member and signatory to the Borrower’s Bill of Rights, we believe in the important role small businesses play in our community and the economy, and we aim to help owners financially succeed.

Visit us online at http://opportunityfundloan.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Getting a small business loan is more than collecting the right documents and providing financial information to your lender. Our content partner Nav explains five actions you should stop doing that will negatively impact your ability to get a loan.

Getting a small business loan is more than collecting the right documents and providing financial information to your lender. Our content partner Nav.com explains five actions you should stop doing that will negatively impact your ability to get a loan.

 

Lenders are going to looking at a number of factors to determine your eligibility for a loan, including your personal and business credit scores, your business banking information, personal and business tax returns, P&L statement and more.

If this seems overly complicated, never fear. While you can’t make all of these factors perfect overnight, you can exercise control over some, which will greatly improve your chances of getting the financing you need to make your business strong. Let’s take a look at five things you should definitely avoid before applying for a loan.

Missing a Payment

Don’t miss a payment on your personal or business credit cards, vendor accounts or any accounts that report to personal or business credit reporting agencies.

Payment history is the most important factor in both personal and business credit scores. Although it varies by score, payment history accounts for about 35% of your personal credit scores and 50% of your business credit scores. Just one late payment can bring down your scores significantly.

Most lenders are going to look at least one, if not both, credit scores. Most financing types will require you to meet a minimum credit score requirement — the SBA’s most popular loan program — the Advantage loan program, for example, has a minimum FICO SBSS score of 140 or above.

Making Large Purchases on Your Credit Cards

Large purchases can also affect your credit scores if you’re not carefully paying them off. This applies to purchases made on both your personal and business credit cards. Large purchases run up your credit utilization, which is an important factor influencing both personal and business credit scores.

Here’s a tip if you need to make large purchases on your credit cards: find out when your card provider reports to credit reporting agencies, and pay off your balance before that date so your high credit card balance is not reflected on your report. Often, this is the date your statement is issued.

Letting Your Business Bank Account Dip Below $1,000

Lenders like to see that you have enough free cash flow available to meet current debt obligations. A low balance (generally below $1,000) is a sign to lenders that maybe your business isn’t in the best shape financially.

Obviously, negative balances are even more of a red flag. Negative balances tell a lender that your business doesn’t have enough money in the bank to cover loan payments.

Here’s a tip if your business account balance is low: transfer a cushion of cash into your account, or secure a line of credit from your bank so your account doesn’t dip too low during cash-flow emergencies.

Applying For Certain Types of Loans

A Merchant Cash Advance (MCA) has been described as a “payday loan” for small businesses. How it works is an MCA provider pays a one-time lump sum, often instantly or the same day as the application, to a merchant in exchange for a percentage of future credit or debit card sales.

Fast money comes at a price, however, and MCAs usually charge high interest rates of 50% or more. If a business has outstanding MCAs it’s a sign to lenders of financial volatility, similar to the way a personal lender might view you as an individual if you’ve take out multiple payday loans.

Here’s a tip to avoid taking out an MCA: Consider applying for a business credit card before any potential cash emergency so you’re prepared should that time come.

Not Checking Your Business Credit

You’ll want to check your business credit scores and reports before you apply for any business financing so you know where you stand. If your scores are bad, and making a couple of small moves like paying off a credit card or asking for a credit limit increase will improve them, you could score better interest rates and terms. (You can check your personal and business credit scores for free on Nav.com.)

Also, checking your credit report ensures the data is accurate and up to date. Some negative items may still be on your report causing headaches despite the fact they should have dropped off. UCC filings are a good example of this.

When you take on financing that requires collateral, the lender places a legal document called a UCC filing on your business credit file, which signals to other creditors that they have a legal right to your collateral specified in the filing if you fail to pay your bills to the lender.

If you already have a loan that required collateral and are looking for another loan, you’ll find that many lenders are unwilling to lend to your business if they are second in line to the creditor that placed the initial UCC filing. UCC filings can last for 5 years (or more if the lender files a continuation of the UCC).

 

This article originally appeared on Nav.com and was re-purposed with their permission.

For information about Opportunity Fund’s small business loans, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or loans@opportunityfund.org.  For questions about your existing loan or other customer service questions, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or sbhelp@opportunityfund.org.


Opportunity Fund is California’s largest and fastest-growing nonprofit lender to small businesses. In FY16, we made $60M in loans to help more than 2,200 small business owners invest in their businesses.  Opportunity Fund invests in small business owners who do not have access to traditional financing. As a founding member and signatory to the Borrower’s Bill of Rights, we believe in the important role small businesses play in our community and the economy, and we aim to help owners financially succeed.

Visit us online at http://opportunityfundloan.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Training your employees will improve efficiency, foster company loyalty, and increase the skills your business can utilize. Investing in your employees’ knowledge doesn’t have to dig a hole in your budget. Our content partner Nav offers four affordable online resources for inexpensive training.

Training your employees will improve efficiency, foster company loyalty, and increase the skills your business can utilize. Investing in your employees’ knowledge doesn’t have to dig a hole in your budget. Our content partner Nav.com offers four affordable online resources for inexpensive training.

It’s likely that you’ve hired your employees based on their skill set and experience, and sometimes that past experience is enough to make the perfect fit. But more often than not, even the best employees can benefit from training opportunities, and those benefits will extend into the product or service your company provides.

In the past, training wasn’t always financially feasible, and the costs may have outweighed those benefits. Fortunately, today’s employers can tap into online education services that are offered for free or next to nothing.

From coding classes to writing courses, these four sites can offer your employees quality skill building opportunities that will have a big impact in the workplace.

 

Microsoft Virtual Academy

Microsoft programs are so widely used that it seems commonplace to see things like “proficient in Microsoft Office” on a resume.  It’s also fairly common to find varying definitions of “proficiency.”  At the Microsoft Virtual Academy, students can hone those skills and truly become proficient at programs like Excel and Word.

Of course, the course offerings extend well past the Office suite, and are available for most Microsoft products including Exchange, Visual Studio, and SharePoint.  More in-depth courses for IT pros and developers are available as well.  The best part? They are all free.

edX

As someone who has opted to use edX in my quest for professional development, I can say that edX is a favorite; most critics agree. The open source operation makes it possible for schools like MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, and Boston University to provide willing students with quality instruction.

From business management and data analysis to the humanities and language development, students have the opportunity to engage in 4 to 12 week courses. Courses can be self-paced or users can commit to a schedule.  Many classes are free, but those wishing to receive a certificate to validate completion can typically expect to pay between $49 and $90 (although it does vary).

Coursera

Similar to edX, Coursera has a significant course catalog that spans a wide range of disciplines and includes top schools like Duke, UC Davis, Stanford, and U Penn.

Though Coursera does offer free access to course material, users do need to pay for access to the complete course offering, which includes graded assessments and certificates. Additionally, most courses are offered during scheduled sessions, meaning users need to complete them during the posted dates.

Employers interested in providing multiple employees with access to courses can pay for their enterprise service, which caters to both small and large businesses.  Small business owners can expect to pay between $100/pp (1 course each) to $400/pp (6 courses each). A free trail that provides access to enterprise level features is available.

Codeacademy

Once upon a time, coding was something left to developers, but simple skills, like HTML, can be extremely useful (formatting emails, making quick fixes to website, etc.). Codeacademy offers users the opportunity to become proficient in 12 coding languages including Java, Python, and SQL as well as common markup languages like HTML and CSS.

Those looking to utilize Codeacademy for free have access to the lessons and exercises as well as active forums.  However, employers looking for something a bit more structured can opt for a paid Pro account which runs $16.67 for individuals and $25 for teams of 5 or more.  This allows for program monitoring and directed learning experiences.

Growing your employees skill set can be great for everyone involved, and the great news is that it doesn’t need to cost you an arm and a leg. These websites can help you track down robust course offerings that can take your employees and your company to the next level.

 

This article originally appeared on Nav.com and was re-purposed with their permission.

For information about Opportunity Fund’s small business loans, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or loans@opportunityfund.org.  For questions about your existing loan or other customer service questions, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or sbhelp@opportunityfund.org.


Opportunity Fund is California’s largest and fastest-growing nonprofit lender to small businesses. In FY16, we made $60M in loans to help more than 2,200 small business owners invest in their businesses.  Opportunity Fund invests in small business owners who do not have access to traditional financing. As a founding member and signatory to the Borrower’s Bill of Rights, we believe in the important role small businesses play in our community and the economy, and we aim to help owners financially succeed.

Visit us online at http://opportunityfundloan.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter

You can have too much of a good thing. Our content partner Nav will help you figure out if you have too many business credit cards and how they could be negatively affecting your business.

You can have too much of a good thing. Our content partner Nav.com will help you figure out if you have too many business credit cards and how they could be negatively affecting your business.

 

A business credit card can be an incredibly powerful financial instrument, and some business owners wonder how they can best leverage these tools. One way to get the most value from your business credit cards is to open several different accounts for a larger line of credit or to receive the rewards and benefits offered by different cards.

But can you have too much of a good thing? And how will having multiple business credit cards affect your credit history and credit score when you apply for a loan?

If you’re wondering if you have too many credit cards for your business, ask yourself the following questions.

Am I having trouble managing my business credit card accounts? When using either business or personal credit cards, the most important consideration is paying your bills on time. When you make late payments, you will incur costly charges at the penalty interest rate, as well as expensive late fees. And if you miss multiple payments, your personal credit history will suffer. If you are unable to manage all of your business credit cards responsibly, then you definitely have too many.

Am I being surprised when I receive the statements? If you receive credit card statements with larger balances than you expected, then you might have too many small business credit cards. Being surprised each month is a symptom of not keeping close tabs on your small business credit card spending, and that of your employees. One way to mitigate this problem is to configure alerts that notify you when your spending reaches a certain level. But even if you configure alerts on all of your accounts, it will be easier to manage your spending with fewer small business cards.

Am I getting value from all the credit card annual fees that I am paying? Even when you are able to manage all of your credit card accounts successfully, you might still have too many cards if you are paying unnecessary annual fees. For example, a premium travel rewards card for small business will typically offer airport business lounge access for a $450 annual fee. But if you haven’t been regularly using the lounge access, then there’s no reason to continue to pay the fee to keep the account open, especially if you have other cards with smaller annual fees. You shouldn’t be paying an annual fee for many small business credit cards unless you are receiving value from each one of them.

Business Credit Cards and Your Credit Score

When you are thinking about how many small business credit cards you need, an important consideration is how your cards will affect your credit history and credit score. Each credit card you have, including both personal and some small business cards, adds to your personal credit history (find out which business credit cards report to personal credit here). As long as you continue to make on-time payments, each account will benefit your credit history and credit score, but with diminishing returns as the number of accounts increases.

Having multiple small business credit cards will also increase the total amount of credit available to you. And as your total credit limit is extended, it will reduce your debt-to-credit ratio for a given amount of debt. Having a lower debt-to-credit ratio is a significant factor in your credit score.

Holding several small business credit cards will offer you a strong credit history and make it easier to have a low debt-to-credit ratio, but there are other things to consider, especially when applying for a home mortgage or another major loan. After applying for a major loan, you will want to abstain from applying for any new lines of credit until the loan closes, including small business credit cards. If you’re considering applying for a major loan in the near future, it can also help your credit score to pay off as many accounts as possible.

There can be advantages to having many business credit card accounts open and in good standing. These include the ability to earn rewards and receive cardholder benefits, while increasing your personal credit history. But when you have trouble managing all of your accounts, or you are paying too much in annual fees, then it’s a good indication that you have too many small business credit cards.

 

This article originally appeared on Nav.com and was re-purposed with their permission.

For information about Opportunity Fund’s small business loans, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or loans@opportunityfund.org.  For questions about your existing loan or other customer service questions, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or sbhelp@opportunityfund.org.


Opportunity Fund is California’s largest and fastest-growing nonprofit lender to small businesses. In FY16, we made $60M in loans to help more than 2,200 small business owners invest in their businesses.  Opportunity Fund invests in small business owners who do not have access to traditional financing. As a founding member and signatory to the Borrower’s Bill of Rights, we believe in the important role small businesses play in our community and the economy, and we aim to help owners financially succeed.

Visit us online at http://opportunityfundloan.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Have you been asked if you have Apple Pay, Square, or Google Wallet? Many of today’s customers are looking for different ways to pay for goods and services. Our content partner Nav lays out a few alternatives to cash or card that could help you draw customers with unique, modern point-of-sale experience.

Have you been asked if you have Apple Pay, Square, or Google Wallet? Many of today’s customers are looking for different ways to pay for goods and services. Our content partner Nav.com lays out a few alternatives to cash or card that could help you draw customers with unique, modern point-of-sale experience.

 

Consumers can use a variety of payment methods for purchases at small, medium, and large businesses across the United States and globally across the world. Among the options are the more traditional or conventional payment methods, as well as what’s known as alternative payment methods. Offering more payment methods to your customers might translate into more sales for you, so it might be worthwhile to consider which options appeal most to your customer base.

I’ve defined an alternative payment as a payment method that’s outside of the traditional or conventional payment method marketplace. I consider the traditional/conventional payment methods to be the most popular and most used forms of payment methods today across the United States and global markets. This includes: cash or checks at point of sale or sent through the mail; credit or debit cards processed through landline, wireless, computer, or internet terminals; and ACH and wire transfers.

If you’re wondering whether other payment options would work for your business, here are some options you might want to incorporate to provide your customers the ultimate experience in point-of-sale convenience.

Consumer Installment Programs

This is a payment method where, as a merchant, you can set up partnerships with various consumer lending platforms which can help you close bigger sales with customers. You sign up with one or multiple consumer lending platforms, which requires approval, then when customers seek to make a purchase for let’s say $2,000, they would fill out a very short online loan application while at the point-of-sale at your location.

Approval (or decline) comes from one or more consumer lending platforms within seconds. Once approved, the terms would be provided and the customer can decide to accept or decline the terms, including how much interest they’ll pay. The loan would then be used to pay for the related $2,000 product or service from your location. This program helps you close larger ticket items as well as provides additional convenience to customers, allowing them to spread out payments for your products or services over six-, nine-, 12-, or 24-month terms.

Cash on Delivery

  • For this payment method, a customer orders a product, but payment for said product does not occur until a mail carrier delivers the items to the customer. The customer would pay at delivery instead of providing payment upfront. This provides additional convenience to customers who might want to inspect items before making purchase.
  • Some customers might prefer this type of transaction over credit or debit cards. However, keep in mind that accepting c.o.d. payments means your payment is delayed. You should also consider the costs of paying for a courier service that collects c.o.d., and the possibility of a higher rate of returns or cancelled orders. However, you might find that the benefits outweigh the risks if this model is popular with, and makes sense for, your customers.

Mobile Payments

Mobile payments include a diverse category of methods, but the most central categories are Near Field Communication (NFC) as well as digital wallets.

With NFC, you’ll have a contactless terminal that allows a customer to wave their Apple or Android phone or device in front of the equipment to process transactions. For in-person transactions, the business should set up a contactless payment terminal through their payment provider.

The customer’s credit card information is already stored in their device, so the transaction can be processed without the customer having to hand over their card, or having to carry their cards around in a physical wallet or purse.

Digital wallets are programs such as Google Wallet, which are online programs that allow customers to register using their telephone number or email. Once registered, the customer receives a PIN code and is allowed to input their credit card information into the online program for storage.

While at various merchant websites or in person, the customer would be able to make payments using the digital wallet by verifying said payments with their unique PIN code.

Cryptocurrencies

A cryptocurrency is an alternative digital currency that operates on a decentralized transaction database, which is a much different type of operation than traditional money, which operates on centralized banking systems. Accepting cryptocurrency payments provides additional convenience to customers who might carry around these types of currencies. Bitcoin (created in 2009) is the most popular type of cryptocurrency, with a market cap in the $12 billion dollar range. Besides Bitcoin, there are a number of other types of cryptocurrencies including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Litecoin
  • Namecoin
  • Peercoin
  • Freicoin
  • Primecoin
  • Ripple
  • Sexcoin
  • Quark
  • Mastercoin
  • NXT
  • Dogecoin
  • Monero
  • BlackCoin
  • Dash
  • Auroracoin
  • Ethereum
  • Zcash

Accepting cryptocurrencies can potentially increase your sales, especially if your customers, or potential customers, prefer this payment method. The cryptocurrency market comes with its own special set of risks—particularly in terms of security and the volatility of the exchange rate. It’s important to become well versed in how to manage those risks before you make this an option for your customers.

 

This article originally appeared on Nav.com and was re-purposed with their permission.

For information about Opportunity Fund’s small business loans, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or loans@opportunityfund.org.  For questions about your existing loan or other customer service questions, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or sbhelp@opportunityfund.org.


Opportunity Fund is California’s largest and fastest-growing nonprofit lender to small businesses. In FY16, we made $60M in loans to help more than 2,200 small business owners invest in their businesses.  Opportunity Fund invests in small business owners who do not have access to traditional financing. As a founding member and signatory to the Borrower’s Bill of Rights, we believe in the important role small businesses play in our community and the economy, and we aim to help owners financially succeed.

Visit us online at http://opportunityfundloan.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter

If your small business needs financing, you will need to be able to describe what kind of business entity you own. Our content partner Nav explains the differences between the main types of business entities.

If your small business needs financing, you will need to be able to describe what kind of business entity you own. Our content partner Nav.com explains the differences between the main types of business entities.

 

Late comedian and actor Milton Berle famously said: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” While about 124 million Americans are classified as full-time employees, over 23 million Americans have decided to operate their own business, which is basically “building their own door” rather than waiting for opportunity to knock.

As you set out to “build your own door,” you will be faced with a variety of tasks that must be completed upfront, such setting up your business bank account, finalizing your business plan, making growth projections, constructing your capital structure, and more. You must also decide which business entity to use to structure your business.

Some entities protect you from the liabilities of the business, while some don’t, so understanding all of the business entities are essential to your planning. Here’s a look at sole proprietorships, partnerships, corporations, LLCs, nonprofits, and co-ops.

The Sole Proprietorship

The sole proprietorship is a business entity that actually does not require incorporation, state filings, etc., which makes the accounting-related expenses for this entity very low. This entity structure is basically set up the moment a business owner just “decides” they are ready to go into business (unless there is any specific industry licensing that’s required). There’s only one owner in this entity, and all profits/losses are passed through to the owner’s tax return. However, there’s no liability protection for the owner against potential debts, lawsuits, and other obligations of the business, which means the owner can be sued personally for said commercial obligations.

The General Partnership and Spin-off Partnerships

The general partnership is a business entity that does not require incorporation, state filings, etc., which makes the accounting-related expenses for this entity very low. The structure is set up the moment two business owners decide they are ready to go into business (unless there is any specific industry licensing that’s required). All profits and losses are passed through to the tax return of the owners, based on their share of ownership. There’s no liability protection for the owners against potential debts, lawsuits, and other obligations of the business, which means one owner can be sued personally for wrongdoing coming from the acts of the other owner. There are also two additional types of partnerships:

  • The Limited Partnership has just about all of the general partnership characteristics, except that it also allows for the addition of what’s known as “limited partners” who can invest in the business model to share in profits, but have no say in the day-to-day operations of the business, nor are they liable for any debts/obligations. The actual general partners would still run the day-to-day operations and still be held liable for the debts/obligations of the organization, just like in the traditional general partnership structure.
  • The Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) has most of the characteristics of the general partnership, except the general partners are actually afforded liability protection from the debts and obligations of the organization. Creating this entity requires state registration.

The C-Corporation

The C-corporation is a traditional incorporation structure, with no limit on the number of shareholders and is the best entity to use if you might issue stock later on. The entity provides liability protection to the directors, shareholders, and officers, along with excellent tax benefits and higher levels of credibility with prospective suppliers/financiers. However, the C-corporation is the most expensive entity to start, there’s a potential of double taxation, and required corporate formalities are extensive, which increases accounting-related costs.

Owners of the C-corporation can be non-U.S. citizens, and the C-corporation can be owned by another business. You should use this structure if you have growth projections of sales going over or near $7 million to $10 million in revenue, and if you might potentially issue stock for further growth.

The S-Corporation

The S-corporation brings liability protection with excellent tax benefits, without having the owners of the corporation go through potential double taxation as the C-corporation, because profits/losses are passed through to the owners (shareholders) of the S-corporation. However, unlike the C-corporation, there can only be up to 100 shareholders within the S-corporation at one time and issuing stock isn’t as efficient with this entity as it is with the C-corporation.

Also, accounting-related expenses will be high with this entity, as S-corporations have many of the same required corporate formalities as the C-corporation. You should use the S-corporation if you believe you will mainly operate a small business without the need to issue stock, with under $5 million in annual revenue, and with less than 100 owners of the organization.

The Limited Liability Company (LLC)

The LLC provides liability protection to the owners along with excellent tax benefits, and without the potential of double taxation as profits/losses are passed through to the owners of the LLC. However, unlike the C- or S-corporations, an LLC does has few required corporate formalities, such as the need to record minutes or hold meetings, thus, using this structure will save you significantly on accounting costs. In addition, there’s no limit on the number of owners within an LLC, owners can be non-U.S. Citizens, and the LLC can be owned by another business. You should use the LLC if you believe you will mainly operate a small business with under $5 million in annual revenue and without the need to issue stock. There’s also another type of LLC structure in existence, called The Series LLC.

  • The Series LLC is basically multiple, independent, and separate LLCs filed under one main business entity structure (hence the name, “Series LLC”). This structure might be used by holders of real estate where the owner wants to hold each individual property in its own separate LLC, so the debts/obligations of one property doesn’t do harm to the other properties.

The Nonprofit

The nonprofit is an organization that’s formed not to generate profit, but instead to carry out some intended purpose within either an educational, religious, charitable, literary, or scientific category. If a nonprofit applies for and is approved as a 501(c)3, then it will be exempt from taxation. Nonprofits raise money for their intended causes through seeking foundation or other sources of grant money, as well as through requesting direct donations from a donor base in which said donors can deduct their donations if the nonprofit is a 501(c)3. If your business is one that looks to carry out a specific type of community development-related cause rather than generate a profit, then the nonprofit is the best entity choice–especially if you can achieve 501(c)3 tax-exempt status.

The Co-op

With a co-op, the operators of the business, along with members or clientele of the business, all share in a portion of the profit stream. The organization is seen more as a “let’s work together” type of deal, with a focus on sharing the success of the organization with all those involved in its progression.

 

This article originally appeared on Nav.com and was re-purposed with their permission.

For information about Opportunity Fund’s small business loans, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or loans@opportunityfund.org.  For questions about your existing loan or other customer service questions, please contact us at 866-299-8173 or sbhelp@opportunityfund.org.


Opportunity Fund is California’s largest and fastest-growing nonprofit lender to small businesses. In FY16, we made $60M in loans to help more than 2,200 small business owners invest in their businesses.  Opportunity Fund invests in small business owners who do not have access to traditional financing. As a founding member and signatory to the Borrower’s Bill of Rights, we believe in the important role small businesses play in our community and the economy, and we aim to help owners financially succeed.

Visit us online at http://opportunityfundloan.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Opportunity Fund. Working Capital for Working People. opportunityfund.org