Tips & free stuff

After Big PR Fail, United Airlines Tries to Fix Its Customer Service

United Airlines is Trying to Fix Its Reputation

Weeks after the company’s PR nightmare stemming from a video of a customer being dragged off an overbooked plane, United Airlines (NYSE:UAL) has been doing some soul searching.

The company just released 10 new policy changes aimed at improving customer service. Some of those changes include limiting use of law enforcement personnel to safety and security issues only, not requiring seated passengers to give up their seats involuntarily, increasing incentives for those who do give up seats, and making sure that crews are booked onto flights at least 60 minutes prior to departure.

After the initial incident, the company stumbled over its response. Messaging from Unites Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz was inconsistent and, in the eyes of many customers, inappropriate. So calls for boycotts and lawsuits ensued.

Hopefully, your small business will never experience a PR nightmare that’s even close to the one United has found itself in. But at some point, you may experience some negative press or customer sentiments toward your brand. And when that happens, it’s important to come up with a satisfactory solution and response quickly.

United Airlines is Trying to Fix Its Reputation

This new plan from United is a decent example of showing customers some changes stemming from a negative experience. It shows that the company can potentially learn from its mistakes and won’t let a similar incident happen again. However, in the case of the United debacle, it might have been better — and less damaging to the company’s brand — to have come up with that solution sooner.

United Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “After Big PR Fail, United Airlines Tries to Fix Its Customer Service” was first published on Small Business Trends

Tax Cuts, Lending Upticks Make Small Business Headlines

Small businesses got some welcome news this week — in the form of President Donald Trump’s proposed tax cuts.

In addition, a recent report suggests that small business loans at institutional lenders and small banks are on the rise. You can read about these news items and more in this week’s Small Business Trends news and information roundup.

Finance

Small Businesses Big Winners in Proposed Trump Tax Cuts

Historic tax cuts for American small businesses could be just around the corner. In an announcement at the White House today, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin unveiled proposed sweeping reforms to the tax code for all U.S. businesses. At the same time, President Donald Trump’s chief economic advisor Gary Cohn presented proposals to overhaul the personal tax code.

Small Business Loans at Institutional Lenders, Small Banks on the Uptick

The latest Biz2Credt Small Business Lending Index shows a positive outlook for small business loans based on their approval rates. Specific upticks were measured at institutional lenders and small banks.

Economy

National Small Business Week: The History of an Entrepreneurial Tradition

A lot has changed in America since the 1960s and while many things are different in today’s United States, at least one of the fundamentals driving us all forward is still the same.

Residents of This State Want to Work from Home More than Anyone Else in the US

A not-so-surprising trend is gathering steam across the U.S. The trend, which is indicative of what is happening in other markets around the world, is that more and more workers want to work from home. To better understanding how this trend is taking shape in the U.S, a New York-startup called AND CO set out to identify the states that have the most residents who want to work from home.

Marketing Tips

Chocolate Rain 10th Anniversary Calls Attention to Power of Viral Marketing

This week marks the tenth anniversary of viral sensation “Chocolate Rain” by singer and internet personality Tay Zonday. And this milestone isn’t just about celebrating a flash-in-the-pan online hit. It also serves as an important reminder for businesses. Chocolate Rain was one of the first truly viral internet sensations.

How to Use Different Types of Content When Marketing Your Small Business (Infographic)

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past 6 years, you’ve probably heard about using content marketing to promote your small business. Even as a solopreneur, content marketing works to bolster brand awareness, build your reputation, attract customers, and keep your website fresh. However, with all the noise online, content marketing has gotten harder.

Retail Trends

Amazon’s New Subscription Service Should Have You Rethinking Your Products

Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) just added a new marketplace, Subscribe with Amazon, to help consumers find digital subscriptions, highlighting a potential opportunity for companies to increase ongoing revenue streams. Subscribe with Amazon Digital subscriptions can include things like Amazon’s Prime service, music streaming services and even online newspaper subscriptions.

New Trend: Marijuana — at the Drive-Thru?

Ever since states like Colorado started legalizing marijuana for medical and/or recreational use, most customers have had to go into stores to make their purchases. But that’s no longer the case for customers of one Colorado business. Tumbleweed Express is a drive-thru marijuana dispensary in Colorado. It’s housed in an old car wash.

Small Biz Spotlight

Spotlight: Brickell Men’s Products Offers Natural Grooming Options

There are plenty of natural and luxury grooming products out there for women. But the market for similar men’s products isn’t nearly as robust. Enter Brickell Men’s Products. The company started because of a lack of natural skin care options and has started to offer more and more grooming options without all the chemicals found in most other men’s products.

Social Media

LinkedIn Reaches 500 Million User Mark; 9 Million Businesses Use Site

LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD) has hit a major milestone. The social media site just hit the half-billion user mark. That’s right — 500 million users. Further, there are now 9 million businesses actively on the site. The power of this community benefits a global audience, allowing businesses and their perspective employees and clients to connect like never before.

Startup

What Makes a Successful Entrepreneur? (INFOGRAPHIC)

What separates successful entrepreneurs from the rest? Among other things, prior work experience seems to be a key deciding factor. According to data gathered by accommodation booking agent Central London Apartments, 96 percent of successful entrepreneurs credited “prior work experience” for their success.

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, Leveraged a Local Market for Global Success

Jack Ma built one of the world’s largest eCommerce companies, Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) by leveraging opportunities in a local market. Ma was born in Hangzhou, China, in 1964. He grew up poor and started off by giving English tours to foreigners for free. Today, his net worth amounts to approximately $28.

Technology Trends

Google Says Websites Shouldn’t Mark Republished Content for Index

Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) recently suggested more steps toward eliminating duplicate content across the web. And website owners, including small business owners, may want to pay attention considering the search engine has a history of eventually penalizing sites for not taking heed.

10 Ways Digital Signatures are Changing How Contracts are Signed

Development in digital technology has introduced new levels of efficiency across almost all industries. In the business world, everything from the way companies communicate to accounting, HR, marketing and even how documents are signed has been improved.

YouTube Provides Update on Restricted Mode Filter

YouTube is making more changes to the now-controversial Restricted Mode. YouTube Updates Restricted Mode In an official post on the YouTube Creators Blog, the site’s vice president of product management, Johanna Wright, says the algorithm that filtered content out of Restricted Mode was wrong.

More Entrepreneurs Hiring Help for DIY Website Builder Tools

DIY website builder tools have seen amazing growth in the marketplace. And it’s no surprise why. With tools from vendors such as Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Jimdo and WordPress.com, you build your own website through a do-it-yourself experience. With them, it’s possible to have a classy-looking website online in a matter of a few hours or less.

Infusionsoft Propel Supplies Mobile Marketing Experience

Infusionsoft used the kickoff of day one of  #ICON17 to announce Infusionsoft Propel, the latest mobile based solution from the company. “You need to be connected and present with your customers in the ways they want to be connected,” said COO Terry Hicks in an announcement streamed on the company’s Facebook page.

WordPress Announces Yet Another Maintenance Update

WordPress 4.7.4 is now available. The release contains 47 maintenance enhancements and fixes. Chief among them includes a visual editor compatibility fix for an upcoming version of Chrome. With the new update, uploading audio and video files will no longer result in broken thumbnails.

Guru Introduces New Feature to Get Paid As You Complete Tasks

Starting May 2, all freelancers working in the Guru platform will be able to create task-based agreements that will see them get paid once they complete their tasks. Guru Task-Based Agreements “We already introduced recurring billing to give you greater control over how you get paid,” said Guru’s communications manager Anna Bassham in an official post on the Guru blog.

Have You Seen the New Home Page for Google Analytics?

Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) has a new home landing page for its popular analytics service. The page features clear data sets and simplified language, generally making it easier for anyone to navigate and understand.

Image: WhiteHouse.gov/YouTube

This article, “Tax Cuts, Lending Upticks Make Small Business Headlines” was first published on Small Business Trends

Finally! Etsy Launches New Studio with Supplies, Tutorials

Etsy Studio Launches

Following the original announcement in February — Etsy Studio is officially open.

Etsy Studio Launches

The much-anticipated marketplace dedicated to craft supplies is the perfect companion to Etsy’s business model. Before Etsy (NASDAQ:ETSY), there wasn’t a large dedicated platform where makers of handmade and vintage items could buy and sell their wares. The potential was always there but it was Etsy that turned it into a global movement.

Since its founding in 2005, Etsy has brought together more than 28 million active buyers with 1.7 million sellers. This unique platform designed for the creative entrepreneur grossed more than $2.84 billion in 2016.

The peer-to-peer, eCommerce platform on which Etsy operates has made it possible for creators to turn their hobbies and passions into a viable business.

A survey of Etsy sellers showed that 76 percent of them consider their Etsy shop account a business, and more than 30 percent of them consider it their primary source of income.

Etsy’s success comes from the company’s people-powered approach. The ecosystem operates on a sustainable model that empowers the creators and the new Etsy Studio plans to bring it all together.

Etsy Studio

The newly launched Etsy Studio is a natural evolution in the Etsy network. Stocked with more than seven million items, DIY artists are bound to find what they need for their creations.

Branded as much more than a marketplace, Etsy Studio aims to create a one-stop destination for all things creative. Shoppers will be able to search with detailed filters such as material type, colors, sizes and more. And the new platform will provide pinch and zoom features for the closest look possible.

The project is a culmination of thousands of interviews and research into what the craft supply community was searching for.

Etsy Community

The community aspect of Etsy will carry over into Etsy Studio. Sellers and their customers will have the ability to directly communicate with each other in a conversational tone.

Etsy Studio will also have tutorials with step-by-step instructions for craft creation. The launch will include 70 original craft projects with a new tutorial added every week. The aim is to continuously inspire, not only the experienced makers but also those new to DIY.

The $44 billion industry has seen weakening in-store sales in some sectors, although most buyers still prefer to physically purchase their materials. The new Etsy Studio will inevitably increase the shift of craft supply purchases from offline to online.

Image: Etsy

This article, “Finally! Etsy Launches New Studio with Supplies, Tutorials” was first published on Small Business Trends

The Firm’s Success Did Not Come Without Setbacks

Oxford Comma Business Cartoon

So this is a fairly normal cartoon. You take a phrase, play with the language, add a little surprise. Standard issue.

Unfortunately, upon taking another look at it, I noticed that while someone snuck in a however, I apparently left out a few commas. The caption should read “We did it, no ifs, ands, or buts. But …”

As a huge proponent of the Oxford comma, my apologies.

This article, “The Firm’s Success Did Not Come Without Setbacks” was first published on Small Business Trends

How To Manage Your Budget as a Freelancer

3 Budgeting Tips for Freelancers

Alysse Dalessandro doesn’t have a conventional budget. This is in part because she doesn’t have a steady income. The Ohio-based writer is a full-time freelancer.

Her situation isn’t unique. Roughly 55 million Americans freelance, and 25 percent report doing so full time, according to a 2016 survey by Upwork and the Freelancers Union.“I don’t know when my money is going to come. I don’t know if it’s going to come sometimes,” Dalessandro says. “So a traditional budget doesn’t work for me.”

Budgeting Tips for Freelancers

Irregular paychecks make budgeting difficult, but they also make it essential. These tips can help freelancers and contractors create workable spending plans.

1. Track Your Cash Flow

Those with a regular paycheck often know their monthly income to the penny. For freelancers, it’s more of a guessing game.

Dalessandro makes that game easier by recording each assignment, the date she invoiced her client and if and when the invoice was paid. That way no money falls through the cracks.

“I try to be really conscious of where the money is, where it ends up and making sure that I’m putting money aside,” Dalessandro says. “There was a time I was paycheck to paycheck, and that’s freelance paycheck to paycheck, which is scarier.”

While Dalessandro keeps records of all her business expenses, she’s not great about logging personal ones.

“I do that all in my head and I wouldn’t advise that,” Dalessandro says. “People use planners for a reason.”

Robert Reed, a partner at Partnership Financial LLC, a financial planning firm in Columbus, Ohio, says tracking outgoing money is as important as tracking what’s coming in.

“People quite often don’t know what they spend or more importantly, what they spend it on,” Reed says. “You need to know how much it costs you to live.”

2. Set Financial Priorities

The 50/30/20 budget is a good way to allocate your income, even if that income is irregular. Using this model, you’d spend 50% of your income on needs, such as housing, insurance, food, transportation. Take care of fixed expenses, including your car payment and rent or mortgage, as soon as money comes in to ensure they’re paid on time. Then you’re free to spend 30% of your income on wants, such as clothing or a gym membership. The remaining 20% goes toward savings and debt payments.

Dalessandro tries to save 50% of her income each month. That 50% goes to her emergency fund and her tax fund, a must-have for freelancers and contractors, who are responsible for paying quarterly estimated income taxes.

Whatever Dalessandro has left after paying bills and saving is her spending money — and sometimes even that goes into savings.

In 2016, for example, she saved $1,522 for a trip to Italy using the 52-week challenge. Each week, she put money into a jar. The amount corresponded with the week, so she put $1 in during the first week, $2 during the second week, and so on until week 52. Every dollar came from her spending money.

“This worked for me because it forced me to save money I wouldn’t have otherwise,” she says, adding that once the money was in the jar, it was out of play. “I was really, really good about not touching the money.”

3. Keep It Simple

“I’m a big believer in baby steps,” Reed says. “Starting off and setting up some complicated tracking system never works out.”

So skip the complicated software. Instead, start with a simple spreadsheet or free service — something you can stick with.

Level Money is a great bare-bones budgeting app that shows how much you have to spend at any given moment. Mint allows you to track spending and pay bills, and alerts users to low funds and due dates. Both are free and offer a good starting point.

Dalessandro says her system works for her. She’s never paid a bill late and she’s setting money aside.

“You’re told unless you create this perfect budget, that’s the only way you can save. That is overwhelming,” she says. “I think you need to meet yourself where you are.”

Budgeting Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “How To Manage Your Budget as a Freelancer” was first published on Small Business Trends

Entrepreneur Launches Global Business in Her Kitchen with Less Than $500

Example of a Simple Innovation

Not all new innovations need to be expensive, high-tech products. As one entrepreneur recently showed, you can solve some seemingly complicated problems with a more simplified approach.

Example of a Simple Innovation

Kavita Shukla is the founder of FreshPaper, a product that is intended to help food stay fresh longer. But it’s not a complicated, technical gadget. It’s simply a piece of paper infused with spices that you can put anywhere you store produce.

And although this business aims to take on a pretty serious world problem, Shukla didn’t need to put much into the product initially. She started with less than $500 and created the product in the kitchen of her studio apartment. And now, FreshPaper ships to farmers and families in 35 different countries around the world.

Food waste due to spoilage is a huge problem in many parts of the world. And organizations and startups have spent tons of money trying to innovate new ways to keep food from going to waste. But this product shows that sometimes answers to big problems can be solved simply — by entrepreneurs with a flash of inspiration.

In fact, FreshPaper was inspired by a home remedy from Shukla’s grandmother. So even when your business is trying to solve a seemingly insurmountable problem, remember the lesson from this example of a simple innovation: the answer might actually be simpler than you think.

Image: Fenugreen

This article, “Entrepreneur Launches Global Business in Her Kitchen with Less Than $500” was first published on Small Business Trends

How to Strengthen Customer Relationships When Time is at a Premium

How to Strengthen Customer Relationships When Time is at a Premium

As a small business owner, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of your business. And while the things that go on behind the scenes certainly matter, you can’t focus on them at the expense of your relationships with customers.

Small Businesses Are Built on Relationships

When people think about small businesses, a certain image is conjured up in their minds. They picture a quaint storefront on a main street in a small town. They see friendly storeowners who know customers by their first names and interact with them as they walk in. They picture handshakes, smiles, and promises that are always honored.

See, small businesses are all about interpersonal relations. They thrive on connections and conversations. But somewhere along the way, companies moved away from the heart of small business. With so many different forces and distractions competing for attention, small businesses have started spending less time focusing on relationships and more time dealing with “important” administrative tasks and responsibilities.

The problem with this shift in small business management is that nothing is more important than customer relationships. While payroll, accounting, digital marketing, website analytics, paid media, hiring, and training matter, they can’t take away from the focus on customer relationships. As soon as relationships erode, the business follows closely behind.

Do yourself a favor and conduct a quick analysis on your small business. Are you so wrapped up in the day-to-day tasks and managerial responsibilities that you’re no longer fostering healthy relationships with new and existing customers?

If this is the case, you aren’t alone. It’s an epidemic in the business world and you’ll find thousands of other business owners in the same boat. However, at some point, you have to make the conscious decision to get out of the boat and return to what made you successful: relationships.

4 Ways to Strengthen Customer Relationships

You can’t snap your fingers and wish your way into stronger customer relationships. What you need is a customer relations strategy that targets particular weaknesses in your business and builds on the strengths that you already have. And while every business will have different needs and action steps, the following tips should provide you with a solid footing on which you can build for the future.

1. Use CRM Software

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a term used to describe the handy tools small businesses utilize to streamline the management and nurturing of customer relationships.

“It’s usually a cloud-based system that stores information about your clients, potential clients and contacts in one central safe place that everyone in your team can access and update wherever they are,” small business expert Nadia Finer says. “A CRM can also help you grow your business and keep customers happy by keeping track of interactions and tasks, and giving you a clear view of your sales pipeline.”

What Finer is really getting at is this: CRM makes it easier to manage customer relationships when you don’t have the time to manually handle every task.

As a general principle, most businesses extract 70-80 percent of their profits from 20-30 percent of their customers. One way to maximize the value of your CRM system is to use the built-in analytics tools to keep track of who your most valuable customers are.

As marketing manager Christopher Meloni explains it, “This sort of tracking, with the help of your CRM software, will in-turn enable you to allocate your resources in such a manner that those 20-30% of your customers get the best customer service, always. This is called target-based allocation, and it can prove wonders for you and your business organization.”

CRM can also be used to help you handle customer complaints in a swift manner. By delivering fast responses, you can deal with problems as they arise (instead of letting them fester). Other valuable uses – depending on the CRM system you use – include the ability to analyze customer buying patterns, send out automatic updates, and keep track of who customers are and how they’re likely to respond in certain situations.

2. Invest in Business Intelligence

Are you currently invested in business intelligence? This is the fastest developing trend in small business and you have to make it a priority if you stand any chance of acquiring and maintaining a base of loyal customers that continue to come back time after time.

“Business intelligence for small business helps to gather data about your customers’ behavior and structure it in a clear form so that it can be analyzed fast and easy,” explains Heiko Troster of datapine. “With insights about your customers’ behavior you can make effective business decisions.”

Data is the ammunition of your communicative efforts. When you understand who your customers are and what they want, you can effectively forecast needs and satisfy their desires. You still have to strategically act on the information you have, but at least business intelligence tools can provide you with valuable data that you’d otherwise miss out on.

3. Gather More Information on Customers

Customers want to be known as more than an invoice number or receipt. They want to be seen as individuals with personal lives, needs, and sensitivities. When you have advanced CRM and business intelligence tools in place, you can tactfully gather more information on your customers and gain a fuller picture of who they are and what their needs are. This will benefit you in the long run by allowing you to interact with customers on an individual basis.

4. Reshape Your Social Media Strategy

What does your current social media strategy look like? If you haven’t made a conscious effort over the years to make your social media presence about your followers, then your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles are probably self-serving. All of the content you post is about your brand and you aren’t adding any real value to your customers. Sound familiar?

If the goal is to strengthen customer relationships, you’ll need to reshape your social media strategy and make it less about you and more about them. Make it an avenue for two-way conversations to take place.

“Unlike a one-way conversation where a company typically dominates the narrative and doesn’t really acknowledge or interact with visitors/followers , a two-way conversation directly connects brands and consumers,” says Carolyn Edgecomb of IMPACT. “A two-conversation is a dialogue, where brands speak and listen to their audience, responding directly to their wants and needs.”

The classic rule of thumb is that 80 percent of your social media posts should add value to your brand without directly promoting your products and services. Try your best to meet this goal.

Make More Time for Customers

Forging strong relationships with customers takes effort. But thanks to the technologies you now have available to you – such as CRM systems, business intelligence tools, and social media – it doesn’t have to require a ton of time.

Now’s the time to create a game plan for success. How are you going to handle the many needs of your company without compromising on the customer relationship front? It’ll take some trial and error, but you can find a solution.

Business Woman Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “How to Strengthen Customer Relationships When Time is at a Premium” was first published on Small Business Trends

LinkedIn Reaches 500 Million User Mark; 9 Million Businesses Use Site

 

LinkedIn Reaches the 500 Million User Mark

LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD) has hit a major milestone. The social media site just hit the half-billion user mark.

That’s right — 500 million users. Further, there are now 9 million businesses actively on the site.

The power of this community benefits a global audience, allowing businesses and their perspective employees and clients to connect like never before.

LinkedIn Reaches the 500 Million User Mark

“We now have half a billion members in 200 countries connecting, and engaging with one another in professional conversations and finding opportunities through these connections on LinkedIn,” the company says in a statement.

LinkedIn continues to lead the professional sector of social media. Since being acquired by Microsoft in 2016 for $26.2 billion, LinkedIn has added features that are tailored to businesses. For instance, the LinkedIn Small Business area of the site provides resources in three key areas: branding, marketing, sales, and hiring.

Branding

The vast network of users creates an audience for business to tell their unique story. Considered the Facebook of business, LinkedIn creates a platform to showcase your business model as well as the faces behind the scene.

Marketing

With a pool of 500 million users and more than 9 million business, the marketing potential within LinkedIn is huge. Marketing campaigns have the potential to create more meaningful relationships when compared to standard methods.

Sales

The LinkedIn space creates an unspoken environment of trust. Transactions are initiated on an even playing field with direct access to customers and decision makers.

Your business can use the LinkedIn Sales Navigator to create filters and reach your chosen prospects.

Hiring

Recruiting is where LinkedIn shines and the basis of its platform. With the new milestone of half a billion users, you’re guaranteed to find the right candidate.

LinkedIn’s blog publishes more than 100,000 articles every week, making it a one-stop resource worthy for small businesses to visit.

These are just some of the services available to small businesses on LinkedIn. Are you one of the half-billion active users on LinkedIn? When is the last time you logged in to the site? And is your small business or brand active on the site?

Image: LinkedIn

This article, “LinkedIn Reaches 500 Million User Mark; 9 Million Businesses Use Site” was first published on Small Business Trends

The Ultimate Guide to Green Practices for Your Small Business

The Ultimate Guide to Green Practices for Your Small Business

Adopting greener working practices that prioritize creating a more sustainable business which is kinder to our environment, is becoming a leader concern for small businesses. Not only can crafting sustainable practices help businesses save money on the likes of energy bills, but it also ensures a business adapts a more environmentally-responsible reputation.

Green Practices

If you’re looking for ways to make your small business greener, check out Small Business Trends’ ultimate guide to green practices for your small business.

Recycling

Recycling is one of the easiest and most effective ways for a small business to become greener. Simply placing recycling bins next to photocopiers and in other strategic places in an office or work premises will encourage employees to place waste in an appropriate recycling container.

Recycling comes with multiple tangible benefits for small businesses, including lowering waste costs, making savings on new purchases, increasing morale within the workforce, improving the image of a brand, and, of course, meaning the business is doing its bit to help conserve energy and materials, and save the environment.

As the Environmental Protection Agency states, approximately 75 percent of solid waste that’s thrown away is recyclable. By being savvy about recycling at work and encouraging workers to adopt recycling practices will ensure a small business starts to positively contribute to the environment.

Energy Saving

When you’re not at your desk, why does your computer need to be switched on? Similarly, when the office is empty, why do lights need to be left on? Energy is an unavoidable business expense but fortunately there are many ways a business can make energy savings and thereby reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

One of the simplest ways to reduce energy consumption is to switch off. Whether it’s appliances, lights, heating or the radio, switching off equipment when it’s not in use will save on power.

Instead of relying on artificial lighting, use natural daylight whenever possible. Why? because it’s free! So, open the blinds and clear the windows to let as much natural light filter into the office as possible.

Switching to energy-efficient equipment might require a fairly large initial investment but can save your small business money on energy bills in the long-term, not to mention ensure you operate a greener business. As can installing occupancy sensors in rooms that are not constantly occupied, such as bathrooms, cloakrooms and conference halls, which automatically switch off the lighting when the room becomes vacant.

Going Paperless

We’re firmly entrenched in the digital era, so why not ditch the use of paper almost entirely and opt for solely digital forms of communication and paperwork, an accomplishment that will not only save a small business money but put it on the environmentally-friendly business highway.

Small businesses can adapt paperless principles through a myriad of efforts. Some of the most effective ways to ditch paper in favor of digitalized communication is by sharing files digitally, storing files in the cloud-based systems, such as Dropbox, phasing out photocopying and faxing, swapping paper bills and statements for digital ones, encouraging digital communications, generating digital business cards, using electronic signatures, making meetings paperless and training staff to be ore digitally competent.

As well as helping to save the environment from man-made demise, going paperless at work comes with other advantages, such as improving collaboration among members of staff.

Reducing Heating and Cooling Costs

Cold winters and hot summers take their toll on a business’s energy costs. Whilst heating and cooling expenses are unavoidable for most businesses, there are a number of fairly simple techniques you can implement to help reduce such costs.

According to the Department of Energy, warm air escaping from a building equates to around 20 percent of heating costs. Preventing drafts by weather-proofing doors, sealing window frames and other leaks can significantly reduce heating costs in a building.

Smart thermostats, which enable businesses to set temperatures for different times of the day can help a business save hundreds of dollars throughout the winter. As can ensuring the company’s boiler is running efficiently!

In the summer, the cooling demands in offices can be equally as energy-draining. Using ceiling fans and encouraging the use of desk fans will mean the workspace is less reliant on costly air-conditioning to cool the building down.

Utility companies often offer energy saving incentives, which are worth investigating. For example, some energy suppliers will lower a commercial customer’s energy bills in return for allowing the business to cycle off air conditioning during peak time periods.

Greener Ways to Travel

Commuting to work by vehicle and going on business trips can wreak havoc on a company’s carbon footprint.

Counter the negative effects of business travel by walking or cycling to work and encouraging colleagues and employees to travel to work by such methods. If cycling or walking to work isn’t possible, encourage staff to share lifts with one another to help cut down on the emissions being produced on the commute to work.

A World Economic Forum Report from 2008 revealed that business travel accounts for an average 15 percent – 20 percent of a company’s total carbon emissions. If your business does require a hefty amount of business travel, opt for greener ways to travel other than planes. Trains, for example, use 50 percent less fuel per passenger than an airplane for the same trip, making trains a much greener choice for business travelers.

Virtual Staffing

Hiring virtual staff that work remotely and provide virtual staffing and reception tasks opposed to in-house employees that require office space, comes with a number of benefits to small businesses. As such virtual staff do not have to travel to work and can conduct business tasks from their own locations, virtual staffing can be an effective way for small businesses to reduce their carbon footprint and become more environmentally astute.

Donate to Earth Tax

Another lesser known and lesser practiced ways companies can go green is to donate a percentage of its profits to Earth Tax. The clothing brand, Patagonia, has introduced a new way to raise money for environmental causes — an earth tax. The outdoor clothing brand calls for business to donate 1 percent of their annual sales to grass root organizations dedicated to environmental causes and promoting sustainable agriculture practices. As of 2016, Patagonia had donated $70 million to such initiatives.

With a little time, effort and imagination, there’s plenty of ways small businesses can become greener and save money and expand their credibility in the process.

Save the World Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “The Ultimate Guide to Green Practices for Your Small Business” was first published on Small Business Trends

10 Ways Digital Signatures are Changing How Contracts are Signed

Sponsored Post

10 Ways Digital Signatures are Changing How Contracts are Signed

Development in digital technology has introduced new levels of efficiency across almost all industries. In the business world, everything from the way companies communicate to accounting, HR, marketing and even how documents are signed has been improved. Digital signatures like those offered by Eversign or Docusign took some time before gaining wide acceptance, but small businesses and large enterprises alike now use the technology instead of overnighting documents back and forth.

Here are 10 ways that digital signatures like the options Eversign or Docusign offer are changing the way that contracts are signed and the impact they have on small businesses.

Changes in Legality

It goes without saying, the most important element of a contract is its mutually accepted legality. Both signatories and any overseeing governing bodies have to agree to its legitimacy.

Since their inception, digital signatures have been recognized as legitimate and legally binding representations of an agreement. Where applicable, digital signatures have clearly altered the definition of “signed” when it comes to contracts.

Any eSignatures by Eversign, for example, all meet the strict security and authentication requirements  required under U.S. and European law.

The United States Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (ESIGN) Act and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) have requirements before an electronic signature can be recognized as valid under U.S. laws. These include the intent to sign, consent to do business electronically, association of signature with the record and record retention.

If both parties agree to these, digital signatures are then valid and legally binding.

Changes in Security

The security threat in today’s digital landscape is no secret, but physical documents are just as vulnerable or more. In addition to theft or being misplaced, paper can be damaged in a flood, fire or other unforeseen disaster.

With digital signatures, documents are no longer aimlessly floating around waiting for a signature like a physical document, and once they are signed they can be stored digitally for safe keeping. Best of all, they can be accessed from anywhere at any time.

Greater Efficiency in Multi-Transaction Contracts

The power of digital signatures is evident in how they’ve changed the way multiple businesses sign contracts. Internal and external parties can sign contracts regardless of location faster than ever before.  Because of digital signatures, local, national and international parties are able to more easily finalize a deal and expedite the signatory process.

Changes in Controls and Audits

Digital signatures make it easier to manage a wide range of record keeping practices. It quickly turns contracts into excellent sources of documentation, whether the contract is an internal agreement between employees or an external one with another organization.

The technology has changed the way contracts are managed and archived, so they can be accessed immediately for e-discovery or when there is an audit.

Greater Efficiency in Internal Contracts

Digital signatures have also altered the internal operations of businesses. The efficiency and convenience the technology offers has seen its use increase dramatically. More companies are using contracts to enforce general operations, which in the past didn’t require such agreements.

Internal contracts include everything from basic assignments on a project to more formal agreements, such as promotions and employee contracts. Digital signatures deliver an aspect of formality and accountability to the day-to-day operations of a small business that are legally binding.

Improvement in Company Image

Implementing digital signatures lets your customers, vendors and partners know your company has the latest technology in place when it comes to finalizing a contract.

All things being equal, the fact that your small business uses digital signatures could be the differentiator to get that deal. The additional expense of the back and forth of a physical document, whether it is local, in another part of the country or around the world, is one more task or expense everyone would rather avoid.

Improved Corporate Social Responsibility

A certain level of CSR is expected from businesses when they enter into a partnership with organizations in different industries. With digital signatures, you are showing your level of awareness about the environmental impact of using paper and the associated costs that go along with it.

It is not just the paper, but the transportation of a document, especially if the other signatory is far away. All of this has an environmental impact. For many of today’s businesses that are already going paperless, using digital signatures lets them know you are on the same page when it comes to the environment.

Better Time Management

Physical document management is time consuming before and after signing a contract. The physical signing, handling and managing of paper contracts as well as the pre and post signing tasks often go unnoticed.

Once the document is signed, the inefficiency also extends to the life of the contract. If one of your employees needs to see a contract at a later time, make a copy and send it to a client, the process can take a minimum of 20 minutes to find, fax, send a copy and put it back. If you add that to all of your physical documents, you can see how the time can quickly add up. This of course doesn’t take into account a lost or misplaced document.

With digital signatures, it is as easy as finding the contract on a server and sending it in an email in less than one minute.

For example, Eversign securely stores your documents after completion and makes them available in your Eversign account. You can also manage your documents by setting them to auto-expire, exporting the to private location or permanently removing them from the Eversign system.

Better Cost Management

For a business, implementing a policy that saves money without affecting the overall efficiency and functionality of a service is great all around.

Digital signatures  are much cheaper. Not having to pay postage, courier, storage, management and other document handling fees is definitely a plus.

Accelerated Company Evolution

Digital signatures provide a fundamental shift in how a business signs contracts. Implementing this solution also makes the organization evolve technologically because solutions also have to be integrated.

Digital signatures and cloud-based contract management are designed to work well with other applications by automating repetitive tasks and making resources available remotely.

On the surface, digital signatures may seem to only change the way a company signs contracts, but the fact is they change the way businesses operate for the better in general.

In addition, to improving how contracts are signed, platforms like Eversign or Docusign introduce new levels of efficiency, save costs, and improve the image of the company, among other benefits.

Signing for Shipment Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “10 Ways Digital Signatures are Changing How Contracts are Signed” was first published on Small Business Trends