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Automation Crucial to Growing Your Small Business

There’s a tale of two small businesses. They’re the same type of business with one big difference. One is growing and another is stagnant and making more work for itself than it’s worth.

The reason for that big difference: automation.

That’s the gist of the new Small and Medium Business Trends Report from Salesforce. Salesforce surveyed nearly 500 small business owners and leaders for the second annual report. Companies between 2 and 199 employees were included.

According to the report, small businesses that are automating certain processes are growing. Businesses that aren’t, are floundering.

The survey reveals that small businesses automating their processes in some way are 1.6-times more likely to be growing than those that don’t. Likewise, growing small businesses are twice as likely to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) as stagnant businesses.

That’s not to say that all small businesses that fail to automate processes and adopt AI tech are doomed to never grow. But for companies finding themselves in a rut, it appears automation may be a solution.

“When we look at SMBs in the category of ‘growing businesses,’ there are more than a few common characteristics; they’re more likely to prioritize CRM in their budgets, to use helpdesk software, and to focus on providing consistent and personalized customer experiences,” notes Marie Rosecrans, Salesforce’s senior vice president of Small Business Marketing.

Take, for instance, those two similar small businesses — the growing business and the stagnant business (those that showed a 1 percent drop in revenue over the last two years).

Salesforce finds that it’s most likely they’re undertaking the same processes. That includes tracking customer data. The Small and Medium Business Trends Report finds that 95 percent of all small businesses are aware of the benefits of doing this.

How they accomplish this is a different story.

The growing business is likely using automation via a CRM platform, like Salesforce, to track customers. However, only one-third of small businesses surveyed by Salesforce actually use a CRM platform.

The rest are likely tracking their customers using non-automated technology, like a spreadsheet. And they’re tracking communications through their inbox.

It’s CRM where the growing business sees the need to automate. Salesforce found that growing small businesses are more than twice as likely to pick CRM as their top automation priority.

A small business that adopts automated CRM can provide more personalized customer service without a lot of the hassle of tracking conversations with customers and having their data at the ready.

Brent Leary, the co-founder of CRM Essentials, reviewed the data from the Small and Medium Business Trends Report and notes, “Many small businesses aren’t addressing customer acquisition and retention issues as if they’re at the highest levels of importance, or possibly don’t equate CRM as a solution to those challenges.

“The importance of providing customers quick answers to questions they have cannot be overstated, as it can be the difference between a one-time customer transaction, or a long-term customer who not only spends more with you, but also refers business to you – thus lowering customer acquisition costs,” Leary added.

The irony is that automating key business processes is designed to save small companies the time they desperately need. Of those responding to Salesforce’s survey, 66 percent of small business leaders say they’re responsible for at least 3 parts of the company.

And more than half of the companies asked (55 percent) say that time just isn’t on their side when it comes to accomplishing what they need to do every day.

Automation is clearly the answer. Small businesses spend an average of 23 percent of their day manually entering data into different systems. That’s nearly 2 hours of an 8-hour day!

So, what’s the problem here?

A stagnant small business that fails to adopt any automated processes is struggling to keep up with its own pace. It’s so bad, it’s dragging the business down. And the company’s team can see a competitor automating and growing. What possible reason is there not to automate the key business processes?

In a nutshell, the Salesforce Small and Medium Business Trends Report finds that the stagnant business doesn’t have the time or budget to implement an automated process like CRM.

Price was picked as the main reason a small business doesn’t adopt automated technology. Right behind that is how easy (or not so easy) it is to get a small business started using an automated process.

Sixty-two percent of the small businesses surveyed by Salesforce say that training would help them adopt automated technology faster. However, the same small businesses that say they need training on adopting and implementing automation don’t have time for it or can’t afford it.

Just 26 percent of those surveyed say they have more than one IT person on staff to help with that training and implementation.

Leary suggests these reasons for not adopting automation and AI at stagnant small businesses should not be excuses. He says, “The willingness to invest in automation, AI, and other technologies to improve customer engagement, and the ability to consistently provide valuable experiences over time, separate growth oriented small businesses.”

Image: Salesforce

This article, "Automation Crucial to Growing Your Small Business" was first published on Small Business Trends

In Demand Jobs Without a College Degree

Not every small business is looking to fill its IT department with some new recruits.

In fact, there are thousands of small businesses right now looking for employees who don’t possess a college degree.

Leading online job site Indeed.com pulled another set of figures and found which non-college degree jobs are most in demand among small businesses.

In Demand Jobs Without a College Degree

Indeed finds that truck drivers are the most sought after talent at small businesses. In fact, truck drivers are some of the most in-demand workers right now, no matter if a job requires a degree or not and no matter the size of the company. Drivers, in general, are the third most in-demand worker. And delivery drivers, as the jobs are listed on Indeed.com, ranked nine on the site’s 10 most in-demand positions.

Customer service reps are the second most in-demand workers among small businesses in the U.S. Restaurant managers are fourth and retail sales associates are fifth.

To pull this list, Indeed calculated the percentage of small business job postings that do not require a degree by job title over the last year. The jobs were all posted by businesses with 200 or fewer employees.

Babysitters and nannies, restaurant servers, administrative assistants, and warehouse workers round out Indeed’s 10 most in-demand jobs at small businesses.

“These roles may not require degrees, but they require a specific set of skills, experiences, or in some cases, professional training or certification,” Indeed senior vice president of HR Paul Wolfe told Small Business Trends.

Hone Your Hiring Process

With so many small businesses looking to fill these positions, competition is stiff. It’s likely your competitor may be looking to fill the exact same role and you may be interviewing the same person for each of your positions. In that case, it’s best to have your company’s hiring process down pat.

“Businesses looking to hire these in-demand roles should be very clear about what their requirements are in order to attract the best candidates for their open roles,” Wolfe added.

This article, "Truck Drivers Most In-Demand Among Small Business Jobs Not Requiring a College Degree" was first published on Small Business Trends

Trump Executive Order on Health Insurance Aimed Directly at Small Business

Obamacare still hasn’t been repealed. And the chances it happens before the end of the year seem unlikely.

Executive Order on Health Insurance

However, last week President Donald Trump performed a bit of an end-around on the stifling healthcare bill by signing an executive order aimed specifically at providing small businesses some relief — and more affordable health insurance options.

In a ceremony at the Oval Office, Trump signed an executive order that does a few things to directly impact small businesses.

Association Health Plans (AHPs)

The order directs the secretaries of the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury to re-establish health care associations, or association health plans (AHPs).

The groups that typically would buy an AHP are trade organizations or other business groups, though Trump’s executive order does allow for the creation of new groups to purchase insurance.

“We aim to allow more small businesses to form associations to buy affordable and competitive health insurance,” Trump said. “This would open additional options for employers to purchase the health plans their workers want.”

Trump also specifically directed Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to work toward making these associations available to small businesses and their employees across state lines. This falls back on a campaign promise Trump repeatedly made to “erase the lines” that prevented health insurance companies from operating much the same way auto insurers do.

“The competition will be staggering,” Trump added. “This will allow thousands of small business employers to have the same purchasing power as large employers to get more affordable and generous insurance options for their workers.”

Conceivably, this would allow small businesses across the country in the same line of work to band together to purchase health insurance with the same leverage as a larger company would.

A written statement from The White House states: “By potentially making it easier for employers to band together, workers could have access to a broader range of insurance options at lower rates in the large group market. Employers participating in an AHP cannot exclude any employee from joining the plan and cannot develop premiums based on health conditions.”

The President says these healthcare associations were in place for small businesses prior to Obamacare being signed into law. They quickly became unaffordable to many who were enrolled, specifically the small businesses that benefited from them.

“People had plans that worked and they were suddenly cut off,” Trump said.

This part of the executive order is being received well by some business organizations already. The International Franchise Association was in attendance at the signing of the executive order. The IFA is an example of such an association.

IFA President and CEO Robert Cresanti said, “President Trump’s move to improve association health plans is a step toward ensuring a competitive market that would demand flexibility and affordability for small business owners. We look forward to working with the Administration to implement this important policy.

Karen Kerrigan, the president and CEO of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, says she hopes to work with Trump administration officials to finally make HRAs purchasable by small business owners, too.

Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs)

The executive order signed on Oct. 12 also calls for the creation of Health Reimbursement Arrangements. These would allow small business owners to reimburse their employees for their healthcare expenses.

Specifically, these expenses include the co-payments and deductibles that an employee would have to pay out-of-pocket for their healthcare.

Trump says these HRAs would benefit the two-thirds of small business employees who do not receive health insurance coverage through work. Those employees not getting health insurance through work are forced either pay for Obamacare through the exchanges or pay the individual penalty.

Kerrigan applauded the executive order signed last week, specifically on HRAs and short-term insurance.

In a written statement, Kerrigan said, “The various measures in the executive order address the different needs of entrepreneurs and small business owners, and we especially applaud efforts to expand health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) and allow for short-term insurance. These measures can provide more flexibility, and directly empower entrepreneurs and individuals in their health care decision-making based on their financial resources and health coverage needs.”

Short-term Limited Duration Insurance (STLDI)

Trump’s action last week also called for the creation of short-term limited duration insurance (STLDI) plans.

These plans are suited for people between jobs, who have limited options available through the ongoing Obamacare exchanges or who missed enrollment periods and need a short-term health insurance plan.

Kerrigan added that STLDI plans address the changing look of the American workforce and the needs of entrepreneurs. She said, “Our regulatory systems need to allow for how people currently work, and how they will work. As they cycle between full-time jobs and gig work, more affordable and flexible health coverage is desirable. This is a vital option for startups and the newly self-employed.”

Image: The White House/Twitter

This article, "Trump Executive Order on Health Insurance Aimed Directly at Small Business" was first published on Small Business Trends

Do you enjoy attending business conferences on behalf of your small business?

The first time you went, you were probably excited. Then you go to one or two and you start to find the reasons to not go to future conferences. Or maybe you like the first experience and make them regular parts of your agenda.

Whatever your experiences have been with business conferences in the past, we want to know this week WHY you’re going to these events.

Even if you dread going, sometimes your presence is absolutely necessary.

You might find them motivating. Or perhaps you enjoy networking with small business owners just like you.

Your business could be in a little rut, too, and needs some inspiration. The right business conference is a great place to find it.

If you’re a leader in your industry, a business conference is an excellent place to spread your influence. Some might even pay you to speak at them.

And then, let’s be honest, a trip to a business conference is a chance to get away from the office for a few days. It’s a cleverly disguised working vacation.

Tell us your approach and the reason you attend business conferences in this week’s poll question.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

Business Conference Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "What’s Your Number 1 Reason to Attend Business Conferences?" was first published on Small Business Trends

Ecommerce Safe Zones Popping Up Around the U.S.

If your fledgling ecommerce business sells to a local clientele — through sites like Facebook or Craigslist — you’ve no doubt worried about your safety when meeting a buyer.

Reports of crimes associated with these meet-up transactions should create a healthy skepticism of conducting business this way.

Now, a number of communities are taking steps to make selling products online a bit safer. They’re creating ecommerce safe zones.

Charlotte County in Florida is one of the latest to establish these ecommerce safe zones. They are established by local authorities to allow ecommerce sellers and buyers to safely meet.

The ecommerce safe zones are well lit and under constant video surveillance.

In Charlotte County, these ecommerce safe zones are under the supervision of sheriff’s deputies and a zone has been created at each of the deputies’ district offices. But these ecommerce safe zones have been popping up all over the country.

In this Florida community, these safe zones are simply parking spaces. In other areas, they’re in a lobby of a police station or in some areas where authorities are nearby, either physically or virtually.

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Police Dept. also joined the trend and created some ecommerce safe zones, too. At the time of their creation, the department said, “It is the intent of the Los Angeles Police Department that the utilization of these zones by the community will reduce robberies, thefts, and violence that often occurs during these transactions.”

To find an ecommerce safe zone in your area, there is a website, SafeDeal.zone, that allows you to find a location closest to you.

Image: City of Arlington (Texas)

This article, "Ecommerce Safe Zones Popping Up Around the U.S." was first published on Small Business Trends