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May 21st, 2022
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Guest Post by Alan Godfrey, CEO of Swyft Filings Launching a new business during most years is difficult enough. Add in a pandemic, and starting a company becomes exponentially more complicated. In 2021, many industries faced challenges that might cause prospective business owners to reconsider. Entrepreneurs continued to be resilient and rose against any roadblocks. The following five sectors saw the most growth in new business applications in 2021, according to the annual State of Swyft Industry Report. The report, which reviews data from new business applications filed across the United States, offers insight into the status of the country’s top industries. Warehousing Though the volume of new business applications in warehousing was the lowest of major sectors in 2021 — coming in at 18th — the sector saw the most substantial year-over-year growth. According to Swyft Filings’ data, this amounted to a 46.43 percent increase since 2020 in business applications. Reasons for the exponential growth in applications tie into increased e-commerce. As online shopping became common during the pandemic, new business owners could see a straightforward way to open and run successful warehousing businesses. While the warehouse industry experienced steady growth before the pandemic, this percentage jumped significantly as warehouses saw an increased demand for goods of all kinds. COVID-19 spikes caused stores to place larger grocery, pharmaceutical, and household product orders. Quick delivery also fueled growth as new warehouses and fulfillment centers opened throughout the United States to meet demand. At the same time, the capabilities of warehouse automation have made opening a warehouse more enticing for many new business owners. According to the U.S. Census Bureau Department of Commerce, the U.S. retail e-commerce sales estimate for the fourth quarter of 2021 increased by 1.7 percent. While new business owners can cash in on the increased business in warehousing, challenges remain. As retail footprints shrink and more customers purchase online rather than brick-and-mortar, warehouses must store larger quantities of products. This will require locating and securing affordable and ample space to handle the influx. These shifts will also make embracing automation essential. Transportation The transportation industry has experienced consistent gains in business applications over the past two years. In 2020 and 2021, the sector hit #2 in growth rank, increasing 31.92 percent in 2021 and second in volume. E-commerce played an integral role in expanding the transportation industry, particularly freight. Over the last two years, there has been an increased need for transporting various in-demand products, including fast fashion and home goods. With online shopping looking to grow year-over-year, there will likely be an increasing demand for transportation services. According to ReportLinker, the transportation services market expects to reach $7.8 trillion by 2027. This growth will spur the need for increased tracking and logistical technologies. It will also demand that transportation companies incorporate the latest in automation technology. Fuel prices will continue to create challenges for freight companies in the short-term and foreseeable future. This will require new and established business owners to find ways to cut shipping costs wherever possible and adjust in other areas to offset. Rental and leasing The rental and leasing industry ranked #3 in growth in 2021, with a 26.85 percent increase in new business applications. Last year, the sector also ranked 11th for volume in new business filings. The total volume of new business formations in the rental and leasing industry is modest compared to other industries tracked by Swyft Filings. However, the sector grew exponentially throughout 2021, and we expect it to continue doing so. According to Business Wire, they project the global leasing market to go from $1,352.88 billion in 2021 to $1,528.03 billion in 2022 and, by 2026, hit $2,403.84 billion. The rental car sector significantly impacted the 2021 rental and leasing industry growth. When the pandemic cut the need for domestic travel in 2020, rental car companies sold vehicles. A year later, in 2021, demand increased once again as Americans became vaccinated and started traveling. The limited supply of cars led to increased rental prices. Data collected by Auto Rental News shows rental car revenue for 2021 at $28.1 billion, a 21 percent gain over 2020. Insurance After ranking 18th in growth in 2020, the insurance industry jumped up to #4 in 2021. Insurance came in nearly last in the volume of new business applications but saw a 24.37 percent increase in yearly applications. A study by Deloitte points to much of the insurance industry’s overall growth in 2021 stemming from carriers benefiting from the technological investments and operational efficiencies spurred early on by the pandemic. Insurance providers substantially ramped up digital offerings in response to the necessity of being more nimble and agile in an overnight virtual market. This resulted in exponential growth in 2021. The ability to operate more efficiently and effectively in the digital insurance arena likely attracted new business owners to the industry. Now that pandemic restrictions have lifted, moving forward, insurance companies will need to ensure that the lifeblood of their business, customer service, remains a top priority. Though business was primarily conducted virtually during the pandemic, there is a current need to reassess customer interactions. For instance, many insurance companies are now considering the value of incorporating face-to-face interactions once again. Accommodations The accommodations industry saw substantial growth in 2020, but that slowed the following year considerably. In 2021, the sector ranked 16th in the volume of new business applications and placed in the #5 spot in growth, increasing 15.21 percent. The result was new business applications that were flat and behind other industries. It’s no secret that accommodation businesses across the board faced monumental challenges because of COVID-19. While historic lows in property loans and grants in 2020 likely resulted in business applications for new accommodation-related businesses, it hit the industry hard. A dramatic slowdown in travel and a labor shortage has left many accommodation businesses fighting to remain viable. A 2022 State of the Hotel Industry Report by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) confirms that hotels struggle to keep their doors open. However, with the U.S. Travel Association predicting domestic leisure travel will surpass pre-pandemic levels in 2022 and beyond, the landscape will likely change over the coming months. To stay open, today’s accommodation companies will need to embrace digital trends that help ensure consumer safety yet provide convenience. Closing the wide labor gap will also be a necessity. New business owners up for the challenge and with an eye to the future are likely to dive into the accommodations industry, eyes wide open. Through technological advances and digital transformations, businesses adapted to keep their doors open and continue growing despite setbacks. These five industries are on track to continue their exponential growth, with more and more entrepreneurs ready to jump in on the opportunity. Alan Godfrey is the CEO of Swyft Filings, an online incorporation, compliance, and SMB services provider based in Houston, Texas. The company analyzed more than 63,000 new business applications filed in 2020 and 2021 to determine the year-over-year potential for new business growth and volume. You can read the complete analysis in the Swyft Filings 2021 State of Swyft Industry Report.
Here at Best Company, we’re all about helping consumers access accurate information and helping businesses establish their online reputation. At the heart of these aims is a commitment to real reviews — especially when it comes to significant financial decisions, like taking out a business loan. ROK Financial CRO Patrick Manning understands the importance of customer voices for establishing trust, improving processes, and educating prospective borrowers about what to expect when they finance through an alternative lending broker. Manning walks us through these concepts and more in this interview with Best Company’s Head of Product Marketing, Justin Ashby. Ready to take the next steps for your business? Visit ROK Financial's profile to learn more about the company, its reviews, and its products. Learn More Topic guide by segment: Traditional lending vs. alternative lending (0:20)ROK as a comparative online marketplace (1:50)How reviews can build trust and assist prospective borrowers (3:50) How ROK has made improvements based on customer feedback (6:05)What makes ROK different from other companies (7:35) Tips for business loan comparison shopping (10:15) The transcript has been edited for length and readability. Ashby (BC): So talk to us a little about ROK Financial, how you may be different than some of your competition. It's an interesting industry that you work in — you do help quite a few customers as well. So, talk to us a little bit about your business. Manning (ROK): Absolutely. How are we different, right? And this [ROK Financial and Best Company] relationship really speaks directly to how we're different. You know, when it comes to business finance outside of traditional lending, which is where we operate. . . traditional to me is the Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo's of the world. When those options are not in play for a business owner, there's this alternative world that they have to turn to. And in that alternative marketplace, there are so many different lenders, there are so many different products. It's really hard to determine the real from the fake or where you should go. And the reason why it's so difficult is that these lenders that are in this private sector — they're not in the local community, they're not on the corner of Main Street, right? So when these business owners are searching for these options, they're looking online, they're not able to walk into a physical location. It's hard to know who you're interacting with and if they're the right company or not. What really separates us is number one, the fact that we put a big focus on having an online reputation, partnering with companies like Best Company, where we can be very transparent with business owners that are out there and say, “Hey, you know, don't take our word for it, don't just listen to our marketing.” Yeah, we do marketing because we need to let you know that we're here and what we offer. But at the end of the day, the reason why you should choose to work with us is for that reputation that we've put in place because of the fact that we are transparent and we get testimonials from our past clients. So you know what type of experience you know to expect with us. But what is ROK Financial? ROK Financial is a leading online marketplace for alternative business solutions — for any different type of business financing. We offer things from SBA lending to term loans, lines of credit, and even specific equipment financing. So, you know, various financial products that we offer specifically for small businesses. And what's really cool about us is we're a one-stop shop. So we offer this online marketplace that consists of 75 different lenders that offer 6 to 10 different products. And instead of searching for all these lenders and brokers who I mentioned have no online reputation or you're not really sure what you're going to get, you can come to ROK and you know what they're all about. They are very transparent. The reviews are online. But most importantly, we'll do that comparative shopping for you. You know, we'll get to understand your business, your needs, the opportunities or challenges you may be facing. And then we hand-select a group of lenders that we feel is the best fit for you based on what you qualify for and what you're looking to accomplish. And then we ensure we get you the best offer. So we're a service provider to small business owners. We go out there and we bring the best offers — the best lenders — to the table. We make them compete against each other to ultimately drive you, the business owner, the best offer. And this way you can cut down on time shopping and going through paperwork and you can stay focused on running your business and trust ROK to bring you that best financial product. If you're looking to expand the business or purchase inventory or do a remodel, there are so many different reasons as to why a business would need to borrow capital. And we're just here to ensure that when that time comes for you, that you're getting the best offer, you're not overpaying, and ultimately your information is protected and you're getting the best deal for your business or the best bang for your buck. Ashby (BC): Yeah, that's great. And I'd like to talk a little bit about that trust that you've built. You know, there's a lot of ways that you can kind of pay for reputation if you will. There are a lot of websites, a lot of places that will kind of prop up your brand. Now, you've utilized the Best Company platform because we don’t do that. There are no payment platforms so that you can get elevated in some type of rankings or anything like that. And you've got a lot of great reviews. I think you guys just surpassed more than 100 positive reviews and especially for your industry, where you're not dealing with millions and millions of customers, it's amazing how many of your customers have been willing to leave you positive reviews. Have you guys read those reviews and actually adjusted your product and offering according to what your customers have said? What have those reviews really meant to you? Manning (ROK): Oh yeah, I mean, absolutely. You've absolutely hit the nail on the head there. You know, we've used this platform and I also appreciate you pointing out that Best Company specifically is a platform where there's no pay-to-play model. This isn't a situation in which we're paying a fee to have positive reviews or a reputation built for us. This is very organic and is really built off the work of the team here internally and what they carry out on the phone with their clients. But yeah, this has been a huge opportunity for us to hear from our client base. Of course, we read every review. We're a smart group of people, right? We understand that the scariest thing for a business owner is borrowing money and sharing personal information online with somebody that they've never met face-to-face, right? So the biggest reason why we've utilized the platform is to bring that sense of security to those that are looking for financing and give them that layer of comfort — hey, here's past reviews. Here's what people who have worked with us, what they said. You will know that by applying through us, your information will be protected, you will have a positive experience. So number one, it's been a great way for us to bring that comfort level to our customer base. But then, more importantly, once we raise that comfort level we start to work together now — we want to learn from you. We have a saying here internally where we say, “Cover your belly button” and basically what that means is to be open to the feedback. We understand that there's always room for improvement — that's a core belief of ours, that we can always get better. This has been a great platform to hear from our customer base and empower them to give us that feedback. You know, we have heard certain things from our clients like, “Hey, at this point of the process, I would rather hear about a more confirmed offer before I share certain banking information.” So we took that feedback, and we instantly implemented it into our process. And we've gotten a lot of positive feedback since making that adjustment. Ultimately, what our business comes down to is efficiency. We want our application process to be fast and easy, so we're always looking at ways to innovate our process and new technologies that we can implement to make it a simple application or borrowing process. Hearing back and getting testimonials from our clients has honestly been like a cheat code in that sense because we're hearing exactly from the horse's mouth: “Hey, this is what we think would work best.” “This would really make our experience enjoyable.” And we take careful consideration to all of that feedback and try to implement as much of it as we can, all while maintaining the integrity of our process. You know, we do need to be a structured-process business. Ashby (BC): Yeah, that makes sense. My other question for you is, a lot of potential customers who are on Best Company are learning about different ways to access financing and they will come across ROK Financial and they may come across other companies as well. What would you tell those customers that are kind of analyzing the playing field, what other options are out there? How do you feel like ROK Financial really differentiates itself from the field? Manning (ROK): Yeah, it really keeps going back to this online reputation and the reviews and what people are saying, I mean, what else can you go off of? I mean, you don't know any of us when you start applying for financing, whether it's my company, another broker out there, or a direct lender. You don't know any of us from a hole in the wall, and with the direct lenders, there's this negative connotation around brokers at times. But we scream from the rooftop, we love to be the broker because to us, that's where we can provide the most value to you as the borrower. We’re able to gather a variety of offers from multiple lenders, then we get them to compete against one another to ultimately drive you, the end-user, the borrower, the best product possible. And then with the direct lenders, they have their product. When you're a direct lender, you can’t have 80,000 products, you have your product, and either that works for a particular borrower, or it doesn't. So for us, being a broker makes us very dynamic in what we can offer back to our customer base and ensure you that you are getting the most competitive offer that's out there. But like I was mentioning, just based on the reviews, right? And don't ever put all your eggs in one basket, you know. If you're watching this video, don't take my word for it, and it’s very nice for you to have us on here, but this isn’t about us just promoting ourselves and saying how great we are. By all means, look us up. There are multiple platforms that you can search “ROK Financial” and you'll see that we have thousands of reviews that maintain five stars or better, so we really do back our word in that sense. And you know, the proof is in the pie, we always say. Go look for yourself, don’t take our word for it. But that's the first thing you're gonna find: you should look at multiple options. I'm telling you to look at multiple options. But when you look at those options, if you see ROK Financial has thousands of reviews, a five-star rating, a huge online presence, social media, and constantly sharing content transparency into the workplace, this is their team, this is who you're talking to and working with. And then you look at the other companies and they don't even have a website or they have no reviews? Don't take that lightly. Don't be the guinea pig with something as important as your business. You know, most business owners have sacrificed something personal to get that business off the ground, whether it be their personal finances, their savings, or their personal credit score. A lot of people leverage something personal to get the business off the ground. This is your baby. This is something that's very important to you. So when you do finally decide to put your trust in somebody, definitely look at the reviews and start there. And then if you see multiple companies with good reviews and good feedback, then my advice from there is to go with the field. You know, if the reviews are real, you're clearly in good hands, there are other people outside of us, and we're not for everybody, we know that. But we're direct, we're honest, we're to the point, and even sometimes negative information could be good information. Some people will tell you, “Hey, you just don't qualify for this and you're getting that.” Well, we always believe in putting education behind that. Like, “Hey, do X, Y, and Z for your business. This is why you're not qualifying. This is what we can do to get you to qualify for that. But in the meantime, here's a plan that we can execute and get you going on where you're looking to go.” So that's just our approach. Definitely lean on the reviews — any company you decide to give your personal information to or apply for financing should be somebody reputable and there should be a track record of that listed somewhere online. Start there. Ashby (BC): Right — perfect, Patrick. That was great for any potential customers that are watching this. Obviously, if you're on ROK Financial’s profile page on Best Company, scroll down, read more about them, and check out the reviews. If you're seeing this anywhere else online, there is a page for ROK Financial and Best Company where you can learn more and get a hold of them that way. Patrick, thanks for spending some time. Hopefully, this gives some more context about your business and how they can access financing. Manning (ROK): Thank you. Visit ROK Financial's profile page for more information about their products.
Guest Post by Brad Anderson, President of FAMR The federal contracting marketplace is massive: the federal government awarded an eye-popping $5.4 trillion of contract work to certified businesses in 2019. Companies that can capitalize on any portion of this economic boon, from small businesses to large corporations, are well-positioned to scale and succeed. Additional benefits of working with the federal government include preferential bidding, subcontracting, set-aside grants, and a few others that we will detail further below. To vie for federal contract work, though, a business must first register with The System for Award Management (SAM). SAM acts as a platform where government officials and associated contractors can search for vendors based on varying factors. Registering with SAM is an ongoing process as businesses must update or renew their registrations annually. Read on to learn about federal contracts and also how various businesses that meet specific criteria are eligible for receiving supplementary benefits from the federal government. These businesses include women-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses, businesses run by socioeconomically challenged owners, and all businesses conducted within a historically underutilized zone. Why register to do business with the federal government? Well, let’s touch on the numbers again. As mentioned above, the government spent $5.4 trillion on contract work in 2019. How about in 2020? If you think that spending went down amongst a global pandemic, you’d be wrong. The government spent $5.6 trillion of its budget on purchases from domestic businesses. The bottom line is that the federal government is the largest purchaser in America. Any business selling to the largest buyer has a straightforward path to success. Outside of the numbers, the reasons to work with the federal government include securing exclusive grant and certification opportunities. An additional reason is particular to small businesses. The U.S. Small Business Administration is keenly interested in the bolstering of small businesses across the country. In fact, 23 percent of all federal contracting must be allocated to small businesses annually to support small business growth. The benefits keep coming for federally registered businesses. Federally registered businesses are allowed to access valuable business opportunities in the private sector through private sector bidding. Federally registered businesses also benefit from preferential bidding, which empowers them to win federal business over the non-registered competition. Subcontracting is also legally encouraged by the federal government for registered businesses, which increases a registered business’ influence in its industry. Okay, so we’ve covered the why to register federally. Let’s take a look at the how. How do I register to do business with the federal government? Business owners and operators have multiple options for registering their business with the federal government. For starters, business owners can self-register or partner with a professional group to advise them throughout the process. The process consists of acquiring a DUNS number with the Data Universal Number System (DUNS), getting SAM-Registered, and submitting for a Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) code. Data Universal Number System (DUNS) The first step in the process of registering to contract with the federal government is to acquire a Data Univeral Number from the Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS). These unique, nine-digit numbers empower the federal government to track the financial stability and reliability of businesses. System for Award Management (SAM) Registration Upon acquisition of a DUNS number, businesses can self-register with the System for Award Management (SAM). Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) Code Once a business has successfully registered via SAM, they can use their DUNS number to request a Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) Code. This code which was designed to be public information is distributed by the Department of Defense. It enables the government to keep a watchful eye on every company that does business with the government. And that’s it. Once a business has secured its CAGE code with the government, they’re ready to jump into the Federal Marketplace and start competing for federal contracts. Additional certifications for small businesses Certifications can help businesses excel even further within the federal marketplace. If a business is declared small via the U.S. Small Business Administration’s sizing standard, a business may be eligible to receive additional benefits via a small business certification. The litany of certifications afforded to businesses awarding them various benefits target underrepresented groups, including women, veterans, underutilized zones, and socioeconomically underprivileged entrepreneurs. Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Certification Businesses owned by 51% women and operated by women executives qualify to receive the Woman-Owned Small Business certification. This program, established in 2011, guarantees that 5% of annual contracts allocated will be with WOSB-certified businesses. Veteran Owned Small Business (VOSB) Certification Businesses that are majority controlled by Veterans, that are operationally managed by Veterans, and have a Department of Defense Form 214 are eligible to join the VOSB program. The VOSB certification affords Veteran owned and operated companies to leverage exclusive contracting opportunities. HUBZone Certification When U.S. Congress launched HUBZone Empowerment in 1998, it did so with hopes of assisting business owners in traditionally underutilized business zones. Certified businesses within these zones can vie exclusively for 3% annually of the federal government’s contracting budget. 8(A) Certification Born out of the civil rights movement, the federal government’s 8(A) Certification aims to give minority entrepreneurs and small business owners additional support. Certified 8(A) businesses are awarded an exclusive 5% of the federal government’s contracting budget. Federal contracts benefit American businesses The federal government is the largest spender in the United States annually, and those businesses that work to service the federal government are in an incredibly advantageous position. Additionally, the federal government aims to support small businesses with its spending by exclusively reserving varying degrees of its budget to support domestic small businesses. We’ve covered the steps necessary to register with the federal government for federal contracting: acquire a DUNS number, register with SAM, and be dispatched a CAGE code. Business owners can complete this process on their own, or they can seek professional advisement throughout the registration process. Regardless of the method of registration, the potential benefits of working with the federal government are paramount, and any relevant business should pursue this opportunity. When domestic businesses — and small businesses, in particular — thrive, we all succeed. Brad Anderson is the President of Federal Award Management Registration, a trusted, family-oriented business dedicated to assisting businesses in navigating the Federal Marketplace. FAMR’s mission is to efficiently and accurately guide dedicated businesses through the complex series of requirements and red tape the government requires for Federal Contracting, Registrations, and Certifications. Established in 2015, FAMR has assisted thousands of successful businesses over the hurdles placed before them in any of these processes. Brad is at the helm of this industry-leading business, adapting and growing every step of the way to ensure clients succeed.
Guest post by Jonathon Morgan, CEO at Yonder The Information Age has ushered in a golden era of interconnectivity. Astute observers of this phenomenon are aware that the new reality is both a blessing and a curse. The most creative and innovative brands have been strategic about using the internet as a platform to create community and meaningfully connect with their audience. At the same time, this interconnectivity means that all types of information — true, false, helpful, and harmful — can spread in the blink of an eye. According to a 2021 report by Visual Objects, 67 percent of consumers try to understand a company’s online presence before even considering the brand, further proving the importance of ensuring the most accurate information is being shared across the web. For communications teams, this challenge presents a tremendous opportunity to step up and lead their businesses as the first responders in mitigating brand risk. Communications professionals are on the front lines of protecting brand integrity Communications professionals are typically the first to see when a viral narrative is emerging. Perhaps your brand is suddenly trending, a spokesperson for your company is being targeted online, or your brand is being boycotted, as seen when Coca-Cola held a stance against the Georgia Voter Law earlier this year. The first step is to identify the origin of these online conversations. Because strategic communications teams typically serve horizontally across organizations, they are uniquely positioned to work cross-functionally and coordinate a response in the event of a crisis. However, “crisis” is the keyword here: It may not be worth your time and your company resources to overreact when something about your brand goes viral online. Social intelligence tools can play an unprecedented role here. First and foremost, effective social intelligence tools can determine whether these online conversations are authentic or inauthentic. Modern marketing and communications teams are adopting social intelligence tools in order to know what’s coming day-to-day, make strategic daily decisions that mitigate risk, and stay in control of their brand’s image. Why do viral incidents still catch brands off-guard? Unfortunately, it’s still very common to see these incidents catch communications teams off guard. This is because most teams only have traditional social monitoring and listening tools in place. While these systems tune into keywords, trends, and hashtags on mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter, they have a huge blindspot: they can’t monitor fringe channels online. Remember when QAnon conspiracy theorists targeted Wayfair, claiming that the company was trafficking children through their website? Although this claim was blatantly false, this faction knew that using a well-known brand as a vehicle to spread disinformation would garner more attention for their conspiracy. And it worked: What started out as a single Tweet quickly turned into mass media headlines and primetime coverage. Online chatter that appears to come out of nowhere can shape a brand’s reputation and bottom line in a matter of days or even hours. Another way that brands get caught off guard is when factions troll their company executives, employees, and other spokespeople. Factions are often able to get an off-the-cuff reaction out of them, further spreading their agenda through this opportunistic publicity. Most brands have executives, board members, and spokespeople that have established some political affiliations, either through communicating their stance on hotbed issues online, through charitable giving, or through their informal relationships with organizations. And who could forget how the “WallStreetBets” subreddit boosted GameStop’s shares in defiance of all market norms, eventually costing hedge funds billions of dollars? The most influential internet factions are experts at tapping into the infrastructure of private forums and chat rooms to rapidly spread their message. How to make your brand less vulnerable to viral stories online With a social intelligence tool, your brand can determine where a viral event was initiated, who started it, and who is amplifying it. Traditional social analytics tools are not capable of answering these critical questions. Once your brand’s marketing or communications team understands the motivations of the online faction responsible for starting a petition, spreading a hashtag, or otherwise sharing some kind of viral message, they can determine what sort of impact their actions online could have on the narrative and your brand’s integrity Based on the faction’s historical track record, your team can assess the likely trajectory of the narrative: Will it spread to channels or audiences that matter to your brand? If the viral narrative is authentic, it’s imperative that you take action. Inauthentic conversations are spread via bots, low-quality accounts, and other methods for making a few voices sound much louder online. But even an inauthentic narrative that’s being manipulated to appear authentic can be a threat to your brand’s reputation and valuation. At times, addressing the narrative can further incite it. Social intelligence platforms can provide your brand with insights that can help decide whether or not to take action by activating your leadership and communication team. For example, Yonder can monitor the source of the information and other non-mainstream channels (think: 4chan, Gab, and Parler) in case the narrative takes a turn that would represent a crisis for your brand. Social intelligence can empower your strategic communications team to completely avoid these incidents. If an incident has already occurred, using these same social intelligence tools can provide data-backed answers and a plan. With these tools, communications teams can provide insights and data that are relevant across many different company functions, including public relations and analytics. Incorporating social intelligence tools into your communications strategy can also monitor emerging narratives around high-level issues that impact your industry, making sure you don’t get caught in the crosshairs of advocacy groups that are instigating petitions and boycotts. It has been clear for some time that managing these communications crises is a high-level process, not a one-time effort. Brands that are doing the work now to preemptively prepare for viral online stories will be less vulnerable than those that try to default to their gut instinct.Jonathon Morgan is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at Yonder. Prior to Yonder, he published research about extremist groups manipulating social media with the Brookings Institution, The Atlantic, and the Washington Post, presented at NATO’s Center of Excellence for Defense Against Terrorism, the United States Institute for Peace, and the African Union. Mogan also served as an adviser to the US State Department, developing strategies for digital counter-terrorism. He regularly provides commentary about online disinformation for publications such as New York Times, NBC, NPR, and Wired.1.
Guest Post by Sheryl Pflaum, President, Americas at Collinson One year from the WHO’s confirmation of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, the world has shifted and responded to unforeseen challenges in ways we never could have predicted. Like many organizations, when the virus first started to spread across the world, our traveler experiences company immediately adapted to the changing travel ecosystem. We used our global expertise in medical assistance, including epidemic and pandemic management, as well as our knowledge of traveler experience to support getting the world traveling safely again. Now, after a year of living with the pandemic, we’re thinking back on what we’ve learned — and asking important questions about what’s coming next for the travel industry. There will continue to be implications for businesses across the travel industry and within the finance sector as well, including small to large businesses within transportation and hospitality, as well as financial services like credit card companies with travel rewards. Lesson #1: Collaboration beats competition As it became clear that COVID-19 would not be contained within borders, we saw challenges arise as organizations and governments around the world attempted to collaborate in unprecedented ways to protect public health, and address how to restart travel with health and hygiene as the priority. While efforts at collaboration did not always succeed, the partnerships that did have led the way in responding to the pandemic. Collinson's efforts included launching the first COVID-19 testing centers in the UK’s biggest airports and partnering with Singapore Airlines for its pre-departure testing offer. These would not have been possible without collaboration. We continue to work closely with governments across the globe, airlines, and other key industry players in order to make these initiatives a reality and to constantly adjust our service to meet the swiftly changing needs of destination governing authorities to comply with their latest requirements for travel. Closer to home, we’ve been encouraged by many of the steps taken by the U.S. government in recent months to help travelers, including President Biden’s Executive Order in February 2021 requiring individuals to wear a mask at TSA airport screening checkpoints and throughout the commercial and public transportation systems. We look forward to continuing conversations with U.S. officials, U.S.-based airlines, and U.S. airports to offer testing and other solutions to help travelers feel safer on their journey. Looking ahead, collaboration will only be more important for the travel industry: across teams, across sectors, and across the world. Tackling the challenges of a safe return to travel necessitates a global approach. We will need standards around requirements for vaccines and testing and a feasible way to certify travelers’ status. Each country around the world will need to help develop these standards around vaccines and testing, but the private sector has a role to play too and is currently leading the way in terms of innovation aimed at recovery through its various collaborations. Digital health passports, for example, are likely to become an important tool in helping the industry to rebuild. The key to introducing these passports will be to remove obstacles to a passenger’s right to travel, ensuring travel is boosted rather than restricted. This is why Collinson is already collaborating with leading providers, including CommonPass. However, global coordination and bilateral agreements between worldwide governments and travel companies are paramount to ensure these can prove successful in the long run. Key Takeaway: Government agencies can’t facilitate travel recovery on their own. Travel companies need to work together — and with global governments to create solutions that help travelers feel safe. Global standards and procedures that are agreed to by travel industry leaders and governments — such as digital health passports — may be key to the post COVID-19 recovery. Lesson #2: Recovery starts with testing In 2020, testing emerged as indispensable to keep people and borders safe while restarting trade and travel; enabling travelers to comply with various country-by-country requirements and in some cases bypass or reduce quarantine restrictions that may have otherwise prevented the trip. With no clear end in sight for the pandemic, the move into testing on a global scale can now be seen in departure and arrival testing facilities in airports around the world, "rest and test" offers from hotels, and test-to-release centers outside the airport. While we’re all hopeful for widespread vaccine rollouts and verification protocols, it won’t happen overnight or in equal pace across the world. Even then, vaccination and testing will no doubt co-exist for some time, as healthcare and policy situations continue to shift. We already know from a Priority Pass survey that 74 percent of frequent flyers identify quarantines and border controls as their top concern about returning to travel and half are willing to pay for a COVID-19 test to help ease travel restrictions; indicating the important role that testing will continue to play in restoring traveler confidence and re-opening travel routes. Moreover, testing itself is quickly evolving for the better. First, there has been a considerable shift in attitude from government authorities across the globe as they better understand the varied roles played by different testing technologies and how these can be used to ensure public safety while supporting the aviation sector and all those sectors and livelihoods that rely on it. Second, testing technology itself is evolving. Six months ago, approved tests were largely limited to RT-PCR — still a great option and the gold standard test — but today, test services can be further bolstered with rapid testing. RT-LAMP tests, for example, can deliver sensitivity and specificity rates very close to RT-PCR, but with results available in as little as 90 minutes, compared to the several hours an RT-PCR test requires. Rapid testing is therefore playing a key role in airport environments. Access to these rapid tests in both airports and other locations will only become more essential as travelers make the gradual return to air travel amidst an ongoing pandemic and shifting country requirements. In the same way you can buy a toothbrush at the airport should you forget it, very soon, travelers who aren’t test-ready will expect to be able to get a test at departure. For travelers coming to the United States, having this type of easy access to rapid testing is a high priority, since the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires all air passengers entering the U.S. to present a negative COVID-19 test, taken within three calendar days of departure or proof of recovery from the virus within the last 90 days. Key takeaway: Even with the global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, COVID-19 testing will be a component of travel for the long-term. Travelers will expect easy access to testing facilities and it is incumbent upon the travel industry to ensure that tests continue to be made available to travelers throughout their journey. Lesson #3: Confidence comes from the customer journey Last year we saw the importance of traveler confidence for the industry. If travelers don’t feel safe to travel, no special discount or exclusive reward will change their minds. This led to considerable action from brands across the travel ecosystem: introducing health and hygiene standards, contactless solutions, and other initiatives aimed at helping travelers feel safe, comfortable, and reassured. For example, in the United States, these initiatives have included everything from the installation of face mask vending machines to the use of Gita follow-along robots that are being used for contactless delivery of meals and retail items. However, there’s still great opportunity for brands to reduce stress and friction and create even more confidence at multiple touchpoints in the traveler’s customer journey. Health and the customer experience must work hand in hand because while heightened health protocols are here to stay and travel must consequently evolve to take this into account, the overall quality of the customer experience must also be taken into consideration. Airlines can seamlessly connect passengers to a COVID-19 test-booking platform as soon as they purchase a plane ticket, as in the pilot service launched by Singapore Airlines and Collinson. Further information surrounding testing can also be introduced into the ‘ready to fly’ pre-flight checklist, FAQ, and check-in process, as demonstrated by Collinson’s airline partners in Europe, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Airport lounges, key locations for alleviating customer stress, can pivot to digitally-driven services that deliver the little luxuries travelers expect but with less contact, such as the ‘Ready 2 Order’ Food and Beverage solution that is currently piloting in select Priority Pass lounges, including The Club JAX at Jacksonville International Airport. Through this program, lounge visitors can scan a QR code or tap an NFC-enabled device on signage at each seat/table within the lounge to select their food and beverage order from the lounge-specific menu. Once the order has been assembled, it is then either delivered directly to the visitor’s table or to an assigned pick-up point. Ultimately, it’s about placing travelers at the heart of the journey to ensure that industry recovery is built with them in mind, thereby avoiding a situation in which the hassle of traveling outweighs the benefits. Enabling traveler confidence is also imperative for the financial services sector. Pre-pandemic, the evidence was clear that premium-card holders placed substantial value on travel-related benefits. Over the past year, card rewards pivoted to bring new points-based shopping options to grounded travelers. Yet surveys show that consumers miss travel and intend to resume traveling as soon as possible. Banks and credit card companies are therefore united in their goal of helping their customers return to the travel they love: so in the year ahead, we should expect to see an expansion of card rewards that directly tie back to traveler confidence, such as access and discounts for testing when traveling. More medical travel benefits from cards will create a halo effect for all, as more testing means more confidence, which means more travel and spending. Key takeaway: To get back on the road, travelers need to know that the travel companies they work with are committed to safety. It’s incumbent upon the travel industry to help travelers feel safe and secure throughout their journey. As a baseline, the travel industry can help travelers feel safer by adopting health and hygiene standards and by employing contactless solutions for ticketing and food and beverage service. Final thoughts: Working towards the new normal As we look to the future of travel, we know that the road to recovery for travel-related businesses will be less of a bounce back and more of an uphill climb to reach a new normal. It will take consumer education, particularly surrounding testing — most of which is an entirely new concept for customers — as well as trust and renewed customer loyalty to get there. For brands, flexibility, resilience, innovation, and collaboration will all continue to be critical in adapting to ever-changing situations and ensuring the travel experience is as smooth as possible. We all know the pandemic was unprecedented and the travel industry has already changed in response to it. But as we focus on the lessons of the past year, we are confident that travel will recover. Sheryl Pflaum is the President of Collinson, Americas, and has been with the company since 2005. Collinson is a global leader in the provision of traveler experiences including airport lounge access, medical and security assistance, and travel medical services. Collinson’s traveler experiences include the world’s leading airport lounge and experiences program, Priority Pass, as well as travel insurance, identity assistance, flight delay, international health, and travel risk management solutions.
Guest Post by Jo Barnes If you're one of the many millions of people finding yourself throwing on a shirt over your PJs at three in the afternoon for a Zoom meeting with your boss, you're not alone! The work from home/remote working trend has only just started and will undoubtedly grow over the coming years as companies realize the economies of scale this "new normal" brings. But don't despair! While adapting to this new style of work may, at first, feel isolating, it also brings with it a host of opportunities, and not just for the big corporations anymore. If you've ever thought about starting a side hustle, now is the time. The current situation has given rise to dramatic increases in online shopping, socializing, working, and everything in between. As long as you have a computer and a decent internet connection, the online world is waiting for you! You may be able to manage your workload easier from home, giving you extra time to focus on generating an additional income. If that's where you find yourself, here are five online side hustles you can start today from the comfort of your kitchen table: Blogging Social media management Freelancing eCommerce Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) In time, you can reap the rewards of sufficient, consistent income to sustain a more flexible lifestyle conducive to your travel, family, and personal goals. 1. Blogging In my experience, there is no better business model online today than the world of blogging. By purchasing your own little space on the web by way of a domain and creating a branded website, you can talk about, write about, make videos about, and publish pretty much anything you want to! Your goal is to build an engaged audience around a specific interest or niche via your content. It’s your site; the choice is yours. Here's how I recommend you start your blog: Choose your topic or niche. Pick a name and register a domain. Browse web hosting platforms and sign up with your favorite. Install a website builder and design your site. Start publishing amazing content. Promote your content via search engine optimization (SEO) and social media. As your audience grows, you can monetize your blog via ads, affiliate offers, sponsorship, or even your own products. 2. Freelancing Are you a whiz at graphic design? Perhaps you love building websites, have a talent for digital marketing, or are an organizational wizard? No matter your skill set, the gig economy is alive and well, and more businesses than ever are choosing contract workers over full-time staff. Here are the steps to finding work as a freelancer: Create a portfolio of your work including examples, testimonials, and anything you feel might be relevant to any potential client. Sign up and create a profile on a freelance website. Search or bid for job requests which suit your skillset. Focus on getting five-star reviews to increase your chances of getting gigs. As your contracts grow, create a website showcasing your success stories and promoting your services. 3. Social media management Do you love scrolling Instagram, documenting your days, creating stories and TikTok videos, or chatting on Facebook? If so, social media management could be right up your alley. Imagine managing the Facebook and Pinterest accounts of a local business, spending your days coming up with creative images, posts, and videos to amuse and entertain. What fun! Here are the steps to becoming a social media manager: List out your top skills and platform knowledge. Create a compelling profile on a few freelance websites. Search for job posts from companies looking for social media specialists. Stand out from the crowd by researching each company, creating a personalized response, and showcasing your skills pertinent to the job post. (Tip: The more personalized your response to a job request, the greater the chance of getting the gig.) Focus heavily on getting great reviews as soon as possible. 4. eCommerce Did you know you can upload a design to a website and sell t-shirts, caps, journals, pillows, towels, mugs, and much more with your design on it, without ever touching or paying for products upfront? It’s called "print on demand" and is one of the fastest ways to start an eCommerce business, selling physical products online. An alternative eCommerce business model is dropshipping, which involves sourcing products designed and manufactured by other companies and advertising those products on your website at a higher price. When a customer makes a purchase, the product is sent directly from the manufacturer to the customer, and you keep the profits. Like print on demand, dropshipping is a super-fast route to setting up an eCommerce store. Follow these steps to start an eCommerce store: Choose your eCommerce business model: print on demand, dropshipping, selling your own products, etc. Register for an account on an eCommerce platform of your choice. Add images, logo, and store information. (Tip: Create a logo on Canva for free and use free images from a stock photo site for beautiful headers and graphics for your store.) Add your product descriptions and images. Promote your products on social media or using influencer marketing. 5. Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) If you have a bit of cash, you can have specific products manufactured and branded to sell on Amazon, who will do all the fulfillment side for you. (If you're imagining boxes of products in your garage, don't worry: this is not that.) Your products are sent directly to the Amazon warehouses and packed, picked, and distributed by the folks at Amazon. Your job is to let the world know your products exist and let Amazon handle the rest. My partner and I built a seven-figure FBA business in twelve months. Here's how you can do it, too: Choose your niche and product line: analyze Amazon itself to see what's selling well. Choose your first product. Aim of something that is light, small, easy to ship, unbreakable, and can sell for $20–$40. Source a supplier. Alibaba is the quickest and easiest place to start. Order a small amount of stock (500–1000 units) to test the market. Create an Amazon seller account and a product listing. Utilize eye-catching product images, a keyword-rich headline, and bullet points. Ship products to Amazon. Promote your products using Amazon PPC and influencer marketing. The sky's the limit These are just five ideas from the hundreds of options available online. Open your mind, get creative, and start following people online who've done what you'd like to do. In no time at all, your side hustle could be generating more than your day job! Now wouldn't that be grand? Jo Barnes is the founder of Your Lifestyle Business, a blog dedicated to empowering solopreneurs to build a business they can run from anywhere in the world. As a globe-trotting lifestyle entrepreneur, Jo has explored more than 30 countries in the last 10 years while building six- and seven-figure online businesses. She is currently locked down in Thailand.
Guest Post by Nick Hill What exactly is an online brand community and why do you need one? First, let's start with some definitions. To begin, what's an online community? Put simply, it's a site where a group of people who have a common purpose interact with each other online to share knowledge, build solutions, and get help. There are countless familiar examples: Reddit, Yelp, Facebook Groups, or even threads on a company's Twitter. While many of these forums host vibrant communities, they can also be fragmented experiences, rife with information accuracy issues, data privacy challenges, toxicity, and abuse. And many rely on volunteer moderation. For a company, investing in its own online community — or an online community that is owned and managed as a brand’s own digital property — solves these issues for their customers and grants them unparalleled access to customer experience data that can unlock phenomenal growth. Outstanding examples include the Spotify Community, lululemon’s Sweat Collective, and Sephora’s Beauty INSIDER Community. By creating a brand-owned community, you bring together people from all walks of life (customers, partners, experts), who share a set of common goals but don’t know each other. Here, they can safely interact and build relationships around a shared hobby, profession, cause, or brand — like yours. Now you have a place where customers are more than just likes or followers, they are contributing members to your community and part of your brand. Starting an online branded community can sound like a daunting task. It certainly requires participation from many areas of a business — from the development work and strategy to employing the community moderators who will monitor it. However, when you take a deeper look into some of the many benefits of a branded community, the goal becomes obvious. Benefits of online branded communities Valuable customer insight Communities can be an excellent source of data for your company. Let’s say you have a huge product update, but on the day it rolls out, it comes to light that a certain aspect of it is causing extreme confusion for customers. This was the case for one of our customers who released a mobile device software update to tens of millions of customers globally. In East Asia's morning hours, several early users found a major bug in the update and posted it in the brand’s community. With engineers engaging in the community, they could quickly pause the rollout of the update before the rest of the world woke up. This resulted in only a few thousand people encountering a negative experience, instead of millions. You can also set up your community to help you avoid this altogether. If you have an established community, chances are you have a few users who are already active brand advocates. Use those people as a test group before you officially roll out your update, new product, or service. They are some of the best resources to understanding where the snags might be and what is important within the community. Not only do these interactions provide valuable insights, but they make sure your customers know how much you value them and their opinions. When your customers feel appreciated and heard they are more likely to stay loyal to your brand. Better customer service Another major benefit to having an active brand-owned community is that it can better your overall customer experience, including the ability to foster customer self-service and peer-to-peer connections. The demand for self-service is increasing among all audiences. When people ask and answer questions in a community, those conversations are recorded for everyone to find in the future. Furthermore, peer-led conversations offer a more positive experience than being on hold with a customer service agent, and it also helps people feel more connected. It's not just the people who ask questions that improve the experience. Answering questions also fulfills people's intrinsic motivation to help fellow humans. By fostering peer-to-peer collaboration, a branded community allows your customers to feel like they're more than a digital transaction. These interactions strengthen the connection within your community and allow you to build more human relationships with customers, leading to a positive customer experience. Financial benefits Communities can actually save you money. The more questions that get resolved in your community, the less time your customer service agents have to spend answering the same questions. This is usually called “call deflection” or “prevention,” and there is a helpful model to help you calculate the value easily. The self-service customer care model offered by a brand-owned community allows you to strike the balance between being helpful and not spending valuable human resources answering repetitive questions. In other words, when the answers to simple problems and questions are housed in your online community, customer service agents can focus on more complex queries. Not to mention, your employees will likely thank you for reducing the stress that comes with these types of redundant interactions. As an added benefit, the knowledge shared in an online brand community supports other customer service platforms, providing a resource for customers reaching out via social or a brand's contact center. The reusable, living knowledge base of the community improves other customer care initiatives to expand on its direct financial benefits. For example, SAS, a leader in business analytics software and services, utilizes its branded community for global customer care as well as engagement. In a 12-month period, 74 percent of customers using the SAS Community were able to find the answers they needed, powering an estimated $7 million in cost savings to their tech support team. In addition, the average brand community sees about 70 percent to 85 percent of traffic coming from public search queries. This means these people are coming to your site organically and getting questions answered there instead of submitting support tickets, sending emails, or getting frustrated with long response times or lack of information and going to a competitor’s site. How to establish a successful branded community Now that we’ve covered the major benefits of having an online branded community, let’s talk about what makes one successful. Measurement and value — Establish a shared value statement between your community members and the brand. Focus on the metrics that effectively tell that story, like traffic, content, members, liveliness, interaction, and responsiveness. Promotion — Communities require awareness on the part of your potential customers. Ultimately, SEO will drive a significant amount of traffic to the community but embedding community on your .com and promotion via email and social sets you off on the right foot. Structure — Your community needs to be structured in a way that invites participation. This extends to an architectural structure, like making sure your community is mobile-friendly, as well as to topical structure. You want people to discuss the topics that matter. Motivation — All successful communities bring into alignment their members' reasons for participation with a rewards and recognition program that highlights and amplifies their contribution. In fact, if you encourage and showcase your ‘superusers’ (significantly active community members), they can become one of your greatest assets — from testing opportunities to resourceful community content that helps other members and customer service reps be more successful. Take Microsoft, as an example, which has one of the world’s largest superuser programs. Because of their engaged MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals), 65 percent of forum questions are resolved through peer responses. What’s more, Microsoft’s community has also resulted in over $1 million in support costs savings each month. Many of these MVPs also leverage the community to grow their own businesses and networks, which helps further Microsoft's impact around the world. Moderation — Communities do require care and feeding. Part of that is ensuring all members have a safe and respectful environment to talk to one another in. While there are plenty of other important community features to consider, I highly recommend considering these five areas when strategizing how to build your community properly. Creating your community It might seem like a heavy lift at first, but ultimately, an online branded community brings a lot of benefits to a business. From creating peer-to-peer collaboration and valuable relationships to cost savings, a community improves customer experience on all fronts. If you are excited to get started on creating your online community, the first thing you should do is find an appropriate partner to help build it out. Then, I suggest perusing some well-established company communities for inspiration, so you can host your own successful community to help create customers for life. Nick Hill is General Manager of Khoros Communities where he focuses on helping companies leverage their community to grow their business. Nick started his career in Communities when he joined Jive Software as a Software Engineer. He developed the first version of the Jive Platform with a few engineers and helped grow the company from a startup to a publicly-traded company. Nick’s passion for creating quality products comes from working in leadership across Engineering, Design, and Product Management.
Do you dream about crafting a sustainable, flexible full-time or part-time job fueled by your true personal or professional interests? You're not alone. Many of us are continually seeking a change from the 9 to 5 grind. If only we had the extra time, ample resources, and a brilliant idea, we would get started, right? Caila Zappala is living proof that even with the constraints of a busy schedule, it's not unrealistic to hope, plan, and work for a new and fulfilling career. And hers started from a side hustle. Zappala was working full-time as an IT project manager in New York City when she started teaching neighborhood group fitness classes in the mornings and evenings. She followed this routine for several years until she realized her love for fitness and helping people trumped what she was doing in the office, and her budding interest and expertise in prenatal and postnatal health could dramatically improve lives. "Getting up and going into the office started to feel torturous because my heart and focus were truly somewhere else all day," she explains. "I was mentally creating my new day to day well before I made that jump." Now a PregnancySāf Elite Coach with additional corrective exercise certifications, Zappala is a trusted resource for new and expectant mothers, sharing her knowledge through one-on-one training, group classes, social media, and a podcast. She left her IT job just a few months before the pandemic, so like most business owners at the time, she had to quickly pivot to become an online virtual training business. Thankfully, her skills as an IT professional helped her to transition quickly. Her advice to readers is the perfect prelude for the other stories that will follow: You've got to give it a try! "Otherwise, you'll just always wonder," Zappala says. "I feel like we wait until things feel 'that bad' to make a change. This side gig to full-time adventure has been one of the most difficult yet most rewarding experiences of my life. I wouldn’t change a thing about it because I’ve learned so much about myself, my business, and dreams for the future!" Benefits of a side hustle Also called a side gig, side job, or microbusiness, a successful side hustle has the potential to create space in your life for one or more of the following: A passion-guided project dictated by you alone A new hobby or area of expertise — or income for the hobbies you’re already pursuing Additional income to supplement what you’re already earning Replacement income for your current job The flexibility to pursue interests or to rest from over-busy-ness A fulfilling business partnership with a friend or family member A novel trajectory for your day job or other new career opportunities Basically, if you want to earn more money outside of the 9 to 5 or if your day job just isn’t fulfilling your need for creative expression or autonomy, you could benefit from starting a side hustle. If you’ve considered starting a side hustle of your own, this guide — full of real-life examples from people in the trenches of supplemental entrepreneurship — will excite, educate, and empower you to do so. Download and print our companion worksheet to jot down your own ideas as you follow along. Key Takeaways Create the resource or service you wish you had Improve upon a product or service you already use Test your concept before investing a lot of time and money Look for existing opportunities within your network of family and friends Join a community of like-minded entrepreneurs for ideas and support Utilize in-person and phone communication to maximize your impact Use a stepping stone side hustle to finance a bigger goal Be willing to “time hustle” to upgrade your clientele Be patient as you build (and rebuild) a foundation for growth Start small, but be willing to take a risk when it’s time to go “all in” Pick a lane: Identify side hustle opportunities 1. Create the resource or service you wish you had What would make your life easier? When marketing manager Giuseppe Frustaci wanted to learn how to drive stick shift (a manual transmission car), he struggled to find a teacher. "Driving schools don't offer it, and it was really hard to find a friend or family member who had a stick shift car and was willing to teach,” he recalls. So about a year after he learned how to drive stick shift, he took advantage of the lack of resources available by creating one himself. His stick shift driving lesson business began as a side hustle in 2017. He partnered with someone who had a stick shift car and wanted to make some side money teaching, put up a website, and ran some ads on Google. Frustaci established his business as an LLC for legal protection reasons but didn’t file as a corporation because he doesn’t expect to raise money or grow the business much more. “Although it has now become my full-time job," he explains, "I just don't see investors wanting to invest in what could be considered a dying art.” But that doesn’t mean the customer demand isn’t still there. Since the summer of 2018, Frustaci’s business has grown to be in 48 cities nationwide with 170 instructors and has sold about 2,000 lessons. And Stick Shift Driving Academy continued to thrive during the pandemic since there was a surge of new instructors looking for side gigs of their own. 2. Improve upon a product or service you already use What improvements could you make, big or small? Scott Penick had always wanted to start a business but never knew what it should be. And as an attorney, he didn’t have a lot of extra time to devote to a side project, so he put it off. But when his dad passed away from cancer in 2019, Penick realized that he needed to stop waiting for the “right time” and take action, even if it meant the risk of failure. As meal replacement shake fans, Penick and his wife decided to create some of their own. “As we learned more about nutrition and read labels more closely, we started to realize that a lot of the meal replacement shakes were not all that healthy and that even the healthiest ones could be better, he explains." They started researching and making a chart of potential ingredients and their macronutrient profiles to determine the perfect nutrition shake formula. At the same time, they shopped out potential manufacturers for what would become Soul ShāXe — name idea number 94. The Penicks formed Soul ShāXe as an LLC, which would provide some insulation from personal liability without adding a lot of complexity to their finances with taxes. And they decided to begin by selling their product direct-to-consumer online to allow for enough margin to be profitable without needing to sell tens of thousands of units per month through a wholesaler. The moment of truth was placing their first order for production. “It was a five-figure bill, and we did not have that kind of money just laying around, but we did have equity in our home,” Penick recounts. “If you are married, you absolutely have to have your spouse's buy-in on this; but we took out a home equity line of credit to fund the first production run. It was nerve-wracking and exhilarating at the same time.” But just as they were getting ready to place the order for the first production run, the pandemic hit, prompting fears about the home equity, stay-at-home orders, and job security. They decided to look at the situation this way: “Some people are going to hide and push pause for the duration of this pandemic. If those people are lucky, they will come out of hiding at the status quo, wipe their brows, and be thankful they survived. Others are going to decide that this is a time to be bold, forge ahead, and grow through the adversity. We decided to grow.” They have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from customers so far, and the goal is to continue to get the word out to prospective customers. Soul ShāXe’s biggest challenge is standing out in a crowded online market. Based on what he’s experienced, Penick would have made one decision differently when starting out: order less inventory upfront, invest more in marketing, then find a way to finance inventory to meet order demand. 3. Test your concept before investing a lot of time and money You may not need to come up with a new idea at all. What successful business models do you see that you might want to replicate? Nick Loper side hustle Expert Expert Tip Don’t get too deep into a project before you have any real validation that this is something the world wants. Are people already paying for something similar? On the surface, that looks like competition, but it's also proof of concept. Don't spend a ton of time or money on your idea before you're reasonably certain the demand is there. Nick Loper is not only an experienced side hustler but also an entrepreneurship expert. He is the founder of Side Hustle Nation and has been helping a community of people earn more money and build businesses they love since 2013. As a former zone manager for Ford Motor Company, his original corporate getaway vehicle was a comparison shopping site for footwear. It was three years of nights and weekends before Loper felt comfortable leaving his full-time job to focus on his side gig. Years later, he started Side Hustle Nation to showcase this “lower-risk brand of entrepreneurship” and the stories of others getting it done. Loper has directly interviewed and interacted with thousands of other side hustlers over the years, so he's identified countless tips and guiding principles that can aid aspiring side hustlers. Along the lines of starting small with your business concept, it makes the most sense for most side hustles to start as sole proprietorships. "Unless there are specific licenses and registrations required in your local area, sole proprietor status is automatic when you start to make income outside of your job," Loper explains. "An LLC may afford you some personal liability protection, but probably won't save you money on taxes since it's a 'pass-through' entity." As your business grows, consider incorporating as an S-corp or an LLC with an S-corp election, which should allow you to save on some self-employment taxes.* Loper aims to teach business concepts through others' experiences via his podcast and blog but also through sharing his own struggles in various ventures. "A classic failure of mine in this space was rushing to sell my condo in Atlanta when I moved across the country," Loper laments. It could have been a cash-flowing rental, but he was afraid of the prospects of trying to manage it remotely. Loper continues, "Turns out, there's this thing called property management built to solve that exact problem! Odds are, someone somewhere has already overcome what you're struggling with, and so your job as the entrepreneur is to seek out those solutions." *Not intended as legal or tax advice. Consult a CPA or other tax or legal professional as you consider business registration. 4. Look for existing opportunities within your network of family and friends Could any of your connections use some assistance with their own projects? Think about the personal and professional conversations you’ve had recently. “I had always wanted my own business but struggled to find the right combination of product or service with high demand, accessible market entry, steady supply line, and the ability to bring a value-added component into the mix," explains Jay Jermo. "Honey was the perfect find and, in truth, it found me.” Ten years ago, Jermo was just making ends meet while working for a bank, and in search of an opportunity. He found it when he stopped at a cousin’s house on a tour around the state to connect with friends. Jermo’s cousin, who is a commercial beekeeper, had created some flavored kinds of honey he was selling at a local market and suggested Jermo sell them in the Detroit area. One farmer’s market gig turned into eight, and eventually, four flavored honeys turned into 70. He created a webstore for the honey products, memorable branding, and has since expanded to selling different floral types of honey from around the world. He says, “Now this is all I do, and the idea of going back to a day job is a distant memory.” Jermo operates as a sole proprietor of his eCommerce store because there is a tax advantage at this stage. Sales are direct to consumers, so he can capture more margin without involving third parties. For marketing, he includes customers on a mailing list to engage future and repeat sales. Suit up for the race: Start your side hustle 5. Join a community of like-minded entrepreneurs for ideas and support Who do you know who does what you might want to do? Enter keywords on a search engine or social media to pinpoint relevant groups. Content creator Jessica Ashcroft knows the value of strategic pivoting, a diversified skill set, and, above all, community. Ashcroft started her own blog as a way to document her life as a newlywed. When fashion blogging started gaining traction, she switched up her blog focus to include fashion content. And after having her first baby, she transitioned her blog one last time to a pregnancy and motherhood blog. Through the years, Ashcroft has found ways to keep up with the ever-changing rules, best practices, and strategies of succeeding in the blogosphere. "Blogging has a steep learning curve," she explains. "You have to know SEO, website design, HTML coding, marketing, photography, and social media — on top of the actual writing." Aside from trial and error, one thing that has helped her expand her knowledge of these topics and others has been joining online blogging groups. That's her top piece of advice for individuals pursuing a side hustle: "Try to find a community of like-minded entrepreneurs. I've learned so much from the Facebook groups I'm in with other bloggers that I would not have known if I was going about this on my own." While she tried to spend as little money as possible initially, Ashcroft realized that to make money you have to spend money. So she used some of the income she was making from her work-from-home job in the finance sector to pay for monthly costs to improve her blog and expand its reach. It took some time to get there, but Ashcroft eventually started making a full-time income from her blog via sponsored blog posts as well as monetizing blog traffic through an ad network. At that point, she felt it was time to leave her other job so she could use her time to be doing what she really loved: blogging. And things are only looking up from here: Ashcroft has started a second blog, this time featuring favorite family recipes, with hopes to get it qualified for her ad network as an additional source of income. As a full-time teacher, Shaun Morgan wanted a side hustle to earn some supplemental income, but most things he looked into required too much time or capital upfront. He listened to Nick Loper's Side Hustle Nation podcast as a place to learn about new opportunities. One day, he heard a notary public loan signing agent, Mark Willis, talking on the podcast about his work. "The job is flexible, pays well, and it takes very little start-up capital," Morgan explains. "I was sold.” It wasn't long before he had a notary business of his own. Notaries get paid for walking people through documentation, including mortgage documents, and making sure everything is completed and signed correctly. To get started, he needed to take just a few steps: Become a registered notary Establish a sole proprietorship Acquire a printer and other basic office supplies It cost Morgan just shy of $2,000 in startup capital, which he put onto a 0% interest promotional credit card. Since it is a business that hinges on perfection, Morgan relies on the Loan Signing System, a community the aforementioned Mark Willis created for notaries seeking help when starting out: “I recommend that anyone just starting out in business find a group of people they can turn to for support and advice because of how invaluable that is.” And now? “Having this side hustle has given me more flexibility to pursue other goals, such as starting a blog." Need a loan for your small business? If a lack of financing is preventing you from pursuing your side gig or another business goal, know that you have options. Learn more about business loans by looking at the top-rated companies, seeing what they have to offer, and reading reviews from other borrowers. View Top Lenders 6. Utilize in-person and phone communication to maximize your impact What are your networking connections, skills, and assets? Jot down the individuals and organizations that come to mind. As a cocktail enthusiast, brand strategy leader Jessica Miller saw the explosion of ready-to-drink cocktails hitting the market and felt there was an opportunity for a wine-based cocktail that paid greater attention to flavors and had higher alcohol content like a true cocktail. Miller and her husband founded their wine wholesale business as partners. They had always wanted to run a business together and were able to launch their side hustle with the financial assistance of a very close friend. Miller says the most difficult aspect of starting a business, if you’re not taking on outside investors, is asking friends and family for help. Aside from the one loan from a friend, Miller tapped into savings, credit cards, and even cash advances on cards with a low-interest rate. Of the financial sacrifices involved, Miller says, “All of it can be a bit daunting when you are pulling all of your resources and are leveraged to the hilt, but we wouldn’t have done it any differently! There is a different kind of pressure when you bring on outside investment, and you may lose control or need to compromise your vision.” Colony Cocktails is a wine wholesaler, so they sell their products to distributors who sell to retailers, who then sell to consumers. Miller structured her business as an LLC because it offered the best structure as a two-member partnership and with enough legal protections in place. It was also easier for her to apply for federal alcohol permits with an LLC, avoiding the complexities of a corporation structure. Like Soul ShāXe, Colony Cocktail’s first production run was scheduled right when COVID-19 hit. In Miller’s case, this forced Northern California, where her copacker is located, into lockdown. Thankfully, they were still able to manufacture the cocktails, but they also encountered challenges shipping and sourcing ingredients due to the pandemic. According to Miller, pushing through and launching a product during a pandemic was nothing short of a miracle. “It required us to stay nimble, solve problems rapidly and, honestly, inspire our vendors to push harder for solutions as deadlines approached,” she explains. “Picking up the phone and having a conversation with someone helped some of these big companies make an effort to help our little craft cocktail business. There is a humanity that is removed from email communications; speaking over the phone helped us build those relationships and ultimately achieve what we thought was impossible.” While the business is still challenged by COVID limitations, Miller is finding interesting ways of engaging new consumers on a smaller scale than their preferred cocktail tasting events, such as working with realtors to be featured at open houses. 7. Use a stepping stone side hustle to finance a bigger goal What resources do you have to start your side hustle, and what else do you need? How could you come up with the finances you need? When engineer Anders Helgeson started working from home in March 2020, he found he could get his work done in a couple of hours and have the rest of the day to work on other projects. With that time and with plenty of motivation, he seized the opportunity to flip couches with his buddy to earn some extra cash. The end result? “My business partner and I fully financed our startup junk removal business last year after spending about 14 weeks flipping couches off of Craigslist and OfferUp,” he explains. Their process involved the following: Scour the free sofa ads on Craigslist and OfferUp. Pick up sofas that were still in pretty good condition (Both friends already owned small trucks and Helgeson had a spare room for storage in his house). Vacuum the couches. Take much better pictures (just with an iPhone). Repost for sale, priced to include free delivery to discourage people wanting to haggle. But just how much can you make by selling free couches? In just over three months, they acquired and sold 43 couches at a total profit of $15,870 — enough to pay for the following startup expenses: LLC formation Business and commercial auto insurance Truck and trailer Polo shirts and hats Website Business cards And they had a cushion of money left over for emergencies, which came in handy. “I haven't quit my full time job yet, and currently junk removal still sits as a bit of a side hustle for us. However, we are starting to gain traction in San Diego, and I fully expect that within the next year, this will be a full-time job for the both of us!” Sprint or marathon: Grow your side hustle 8. Be willing to “time hustle” to upgrade your clientele What are some to-do items that have the potential to help you grow? Jot them down and work them into your schedule. It’s impressive that Rebecca Lake’s six-figure personal finance writing business — involving writing, ad revenue, and affiliate sales — started as a side hustle. She started freelance writing when she decided it made more sense financially to become a stay-at-home mom rather than pay for daycare for two kids and drive a two-hour commute to work each day. Other than some writing she’d done in college, Lake started with no real experience but was able to quickly make a part-time income ghostwriting from home. After her divorce in 2014, she decided to try to grow the side hustle into a full-time business so she could continue to stay home with her kids. After about a year and a half after deciding to take her side hustle full-time, she had her first $10,000 month as a freelance writer. "That was the point at which my investment of time hustling and networking started to really pay off," Lake says. "I continued to focus on upgrading my clientele and becoming a sought-after writer. Now my business brings in $20,000 to $30,000 a month, and I still run it with just a laptop and internet.” Lake continues, “I didn't invest in any training or special equipment; the biggest investment I made was time. I spent time every day pitching new clients, replying to job postings from job boards, and growing my network on LinkedIn. I was taking care of my two kids full-time, homeschooling them, and running the business solo while living on a single-parent budget.” Time management has been the biggest challenge to growing Lake’s business. While she works about 25 to 30 hours per week now, it used to be much more than that, and limited childcare options made it imperative that she create routines to get all of the work, mom, and homeschooling tasks done each day. Even with older kids now, routines continue to be imperative to her successful work and home operations. 9. Be patient as you build (or rebuild) a foundation for growth What obstacles have you faced or could you face? What is your plan for pushing through? When Kristin Mastoras moved to New York in 2011, she had a great job, but money was still pretty tight, so she used an Etsy design shop she started during college to earn some extra money. She explains, "I was working in pharmaceutical advertising which was not the most creative, so my side hustle was also a way that I could do more work that excited me.” It took about four years to grow Miss Design Berry into something Mastoras was able to take full-time, but it was worth the wait. She incorporated her business as an S-corp so she could pay herself as an employee of the business. Through the years, she’s encountered obstacles shared by many eCommerce businesses: trademark infringement from competing businesses, online client harassment, and a failed business partnership. These challenges make it all the more impressive how far the design business that started as a small Etsy shop has come over the past decade: 2014 — Hired her first part-time employee to help while still working full-time. 2015 — Left her advertising job to make her side gig her new full-time gig once she could pay off student loans and earn as much with the side hustle as her former job. “I also really wanted to get a dog, but could not do so unless I was working from home, so this was a big motivator for me!” 2016 — Built a team of more than 10 employees. 2017 — Brought a partner into the business, which ended up not working out. 2020 — COVID-19 dealt a hard blow to the business, dropping revenue by over 50 percent. But the story didn’t end there. Regarding the impact of COVID-19, Mastoras had to pivot and make her design products work for virtual weddings and events as well as rely on help from the PPP and other government assistance. “It will be a long road back to solid ground, but we made it through 2020, and now I know we can make it through anything,” she says. 10. Start small, but be willing to take a risk when it’s time to go “all in” At what point, if any, would you want to quit your day job? Note the financial gains you hope to consistently achieve with your side hustle and imagine what steps you might take personally and professionally when you reach that point. While they both had other full-time jobs, Jamie King and her cousin and co-founder worked on building a yoga and fitness community at nights, on weekends, and whenever else they could spare some time. They started what is now Flex & Flow after an "inspiring and wine-filled evening" about 10 years ago. “I have especially fond memories of the many late evenings and weekends we spent tagging thousands of pink shoelaces and handwriting cards, which is how we initially grew our community,” she reminisces. "While we both bootstrapped from our own savings, we definitely know how lucky we are to have supportive partners who encouraged us and helped us continue to make our dreams a reality.” After more than a year of working full-time, investing their own money back into the business, and hustling every spare moment, King knew it was time to quit her job and face the music. “It felt like it was time to commit or fail,” she explains. However, she stayed on as a consultant for an additional year to make ends meet and keep floating the business. Last year, Flex & Flow’s flagship studio in northeast Portland was forced to close, halting in-person yoga and other fitness classes. However, the business has been providing virtual classes globally with its pay-per-month digital studio membership model. “Ten years and one pandemic later, we're still standing!” says King. Ready to work on your own side hustle? If you missed the link at the beginning, here's our brainstorming worksheet to help you take your first steps.
Guest Post by Lauren Wiseman Technology is the future of humankind, and in the years to come, it will become an even bigger part of our everyday lives. Aside from its obvious benefits in our daily routines, it's important to note that technological advancement is revolutionizing the modern business sector, as well. Currently, there is no industry in the world that doesn’t stand to benefit from the implementation of some form of software or hardware. From cybersecurity to manufacturing, from marketing to sales and HR, all the way to your digital presence, there are countless ways investing in technology can help your business reach new heights of success. Let’s talk more in-depth about these opportunities and uncover the most interesting ways that technology is transforming the way we do business on a global scale. Be sure to implement the following yourself to ensure growth and success in 2021. Unifying business communications with VoIP Let’s talk about the importance of communication in business. Internal and external communication are the two basic pillars of efficiency and productivity on one hand, and marketing, PR, and sales on the other. Remote work has become the norm, and companies are becoming more and more decentralized. Unfortunately, the first thing that starts to deteriorate is communication. Deterioration doesn’t just occur because of the physical distance between employees or the distance between you and your customers — it also happens because you’re using too many communication tools at once. If you don’t unify your communication system in a centralized solution like VoIP (voice over internet protocol), your expenses can skyrocket and internal and external communication may be impossible without sizable financial investments. With a system like VoIP, though, you get low-cost national and international calls, a mobile app, video and audio conferencing, auto-attendants, and a myriad of other centralized tools to make global communication efficient and effective. Automating some crucial and some menial processes Automation is a word you’re probably hearing a lot, and for a number of important reasons. Rather than looking at it as just another buzzword, you should look at it as an opportunity to make all of your departments more efficient and productive in the months and years to come. Automation has revolutionized many industries, and innovators are now coupling it with AI and machine learning to create automated solutions for everything. If you’re in manufacturing, you have robots as well as cloud-based supply chain management. If you need to make marketing processes more efficient, you have everything from email automation to social media, analytics and reporting. There is an automation tool for every need, so sit down with your department leads, and talk about the kind of tools they need to deliver better results and make the lives of your employees easier, and their work more rewarding. Personalizing the user experience on business websites Whether you’re a solopreneur or you’re a part of a big corporation, you can’t deny that having a website is one of the most important elements of digital success. Your website is your storefront, your portfolio, and your brand’s image — so it’s important to make it as impactful and memorable as possible for a global audience. If you’re running a solo business venture bearing your name, then creating a unique personal website is paramount to long-term success and growth. Building a personal website is also the only way to really personalize the user experience. If you’re managing a corporate website, then you still need to personalize the user experience as much as possible. You can start by personalizing the domain name with a .me top-level domain that will improve domain name stickiness, and then move on to creating personalized website copy to engage the right customer demographics. All in all, your digital presence relies on having an amazing website, so make sure to leverage the right tech tools to build and manage a site that Google and the online audiences will love. Ensuring cybersecurity in a dangerous digital environment Speaking of managing a website the right way, don’t forget that the online world is becoming a more dangerous place by the day, which is why investing in the right cybersecurity tech is paramount. Cybersecurity is becoming a more pressing issue every year, because you have to make sure that you’re able to protect sensitive consumer and business data, and prevent data breaches that could ruin your brand’s reputation. Now that hackers and scammers are becoming more tech-savvy than ever before, you need to respond with your own tech countermeasures. You can invest in automated early warning systems, a secure web gateway, as well as hardware and software firewalls to keep your network safe at all times. Leveraging big data analytics along with artificial intelligence The online world has become an overly saturated place teeming with useful information about your customers, the industry, your competitors, and more. If you are to make data-driven decisions, you can no longer manually collect and analyze data, simply because there is so much of it right now in the digital space. Well, you might not be able to do it on your own anymore, but AI certainly can. Bringing artificial intelligence and big data analytics together allows you to collate vast amounts of industry data and create detailed reports and forecasts. In turn, this allows you to capitalize on the emerging trends and opportunities that your competitors know nothing about. Technology is transforming the global business landscape in a myriad of ways, but that doesn’t mean that you need to jump on every tech innovation that hits the market. Instead, invest in these tech solutions and implement the tips we talked about today to secure your position in the industry and ensure success in the years to come. Lauren Wiseman is a marketing specialist, contributor to bizzmarkblog.com, and entrepreneur. She helps clients grow their personal and professional brands in fast-changing and demanding markets, strongly believing in a holistic approach to business.
Guest post by Parag Patel Doing business in the digital age comes with many benefits, including technological advances that simplify complex or tedious tasks. One of the best examples of this is automated financial technology. This includes AI-driven automation advancements in bookkeeping, accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll administration, financial planning and analysis, and more. Intelligent financial platforms like these have risen in availability and popularity over the last several years, but many companies are still behind in implementing financial automation as it can be difficult to make big changes to core operations. However, it doesn’t have to be. The following paragraphs will outline five key ways in which financial automation can improve your business, making it a worthwhile investment to consider. Benefits of financial automation technology 1. Improve productivity The number one benefit of implementing financial automation is an immediate improvement in productivity. Automating high volume, repetitive business tasks that involve processing data, like bookkeeping, accounts receivable, payroll administration and more will save your business both time and money. Simply put, with the implementation of automated software and services your finance department will be able to process more work, but in less time and with less overhead. 2. Refocus skilled staff on strategic work With the time freed up by the productivity improvements mentioned above, businesses can refocus their skilled staff on work that adds more value to the company, rather than tedious, repetitive tasks. For example, instead of having your talented finance team spending time chasing down late bill payments or processing payroll, you can automate these tasks and shift their focus to responsibilities that require more critical and creative thinking and will propel your company forward. 3. Reduce human error Another key benefit of financial automation is the reduction of human error. It’s a simple fact that the more manual a process is, the more prone it is to mistakes. In the case of a business’ finances, a human error can result in delayed cash flow, time wasted, and distortions to the financial health of the company. Leveraging financial automation technology is guaranteed to improve accuracy throughout your finance department. 4. Improve cash flow In short, financial automation helps businesses get paid and pay their own bills faster, which means having a more accurate understanding of cash flow each month. Technological advances in the accounts receivable and accounts payable fields are primary drivers for this benefit. Utilizing automated accounts receivable platforms results in a streamlined invoicing process that reduces compliance and administrative issues that commonly delay payments. On the flip side, accounts payable automation allows companies to process and pay their own invoices seamlessly and in a timely manner. 5. Build better customer relationships Financial automation inevitably means moving processes online. That translates into customers having access to important information, such as invoices and transaction histories, and the ability to execute important actions, like bill payment, at the touch of a button. This results in a convenient and straightforward user experience which can lead to higher customer satisfaction and, ultimately, better customer retention. Additionally, as outlined above, automation improves productivity and efficiency. The time and overhead savings you find in your finance department can mean more resources going towards nurturing current customer relationships and taking a proactive approach to new client acquisition. Taking the first step towards financial automation If your curiosity into financial automation is piqued but you’re unsure of the next steps, my best piece of advice is to select one area of focus and conduct a cost analysis to uphold your status quo. Having a smaller target for improvement will be less overwhelming than trying to overhaul an entire finance department and the cost analysis will be crucial as you price out different automation solutions. Oftentimes, businesses start their automation journey with more repetitive processes such as invoice processing and bill payment, rather than more complicated tasks like financial planning and analysis, because they result in a quick return on investment. In fact, an Invoiced study found automated accounts receivable and automated accounts payable technology have the highest adoption rates among financial automation at 49 percent and 47 percent respectively, and also earned the highest satisfaction levels among those using them. Overall, investing in financial automation technology will save your business time and money, give you a competitive edge and help you create a better customer experience. So the question is not whether you should implement it, but rather when will you take the leap? Parag Patel is Co-Founder & COO of Invoiced, a leading Accounts Receivable Automation platform. Parag teamed with co-founder Jared King in 2014 to help the popular platform make the transition from breakthrough product to category-leading company. With thousands of clients around the world now relying on Invoiced for billing, collections, and payment acceptance, Parag leads Invoiced’s customer care organization including professional services, customer success, and support.