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Saturday, June 27, 2020

Wilson Raj of SAS: Customer Data Privacy is the New Experience Differentiator

Wilson Raj of SAS: Customer Data Privacy is the New Experience Differentiator

Link to Small Business Trends

Wilson Raj of SAS: Customer Data Privacy is the New Experience Differentiator

Posted: 26 Jun 2020 09:00 AM PDT

wilson raj sas interview

COVID-19 forced many of us to shelter-in-place, and caused us to do things like shop for groceries digitally. And while it took a pandemic for many of us to do that, now that we have  done it, many will continue grocery shopping online long after the pandemic is over.  Just as people who went into an office to work before COVID might never do that again now that working from home has been great for many folks who never imagined doing it before COVID-19.

The pandemic has sped up the move to a digital-first economy.  But there is more needed to be done before you can successfully transform your organizations to thrive in post-COVID era. And earlier this week I talked about this during a LinkedIn Live conversation with Wilson Raj, Global Director of Customer Intelligence for analytics platform provider SAS.


Below is an edited transcript from a portion of our conversation.  To hear the full interview click on the embedded SoundCloud player below.

Small Business Trends: What impact has the pandemic had on your business customers so far?

Wilson Raj: Oh, absolutely. I think what has happened with this pandemic is it forces organizations of all sizes, whether you’re a midsize or a Fortune 500 to really go digital-first. That’s the mentality. I think for SAS going digital-first means being data-first. That’s where it all starts. It’s not so much of the digitalization of channels, it is using the data that’s coming from digital, that’s coming from within the organization.  Digital-first means being data-first, which means we have to have analytics at the core to unlock all that. So in terms of responding to the pandemic, every key aspect in terms of dealing with recovery, whether it is optimizing hospital beds, whether it’s doing contact tracing, it’s all data-first.

And it’s fast. It is automated, is aggregated, and is actionable. We’re seeing that in use cases, not just in the pharma or the healthcare space, but in optimizing supply chains, looking at inventory supply, how do you optimize that, looking at pricing, how do you optimize that and predict in lieu of what’s happening now, how the organization can take advantage and start to thrive. So in all these areas of recovery, whether it’s supply chain, merchandising, pricing, financial stability, healthcare, we were able to bring that whole notion of data-first powered by analytics very quickly. What was really cool was that these solutions were brought in sometimes within weeks, sometimes within days to the marketplace. That was really a huge testament to the agility of the platform, the automation that’s built into it. I think the third thing I would say is the very rich knowledge set that we had from an analytical perspective in manufacturing, in retail, in utilities, and in healthcare, that really galvanized, and we were able to do to help our customers that way.

Small Business Trends: You say part of being digital-first means data-first. When you look at what’s been happening with the pandemic … We’ve talked about digital transformation for a number of years, but has the talk of digital transformation changed in some ways because of COVID-19? And if so, how do you see COVID-19 changing the definition and the approach to digital transformation?

Wilson Raj: I think the COVID-19 clarified the definition of digital transformation. It really did, because it showed how using data at the core, the companies that were effective were able to start to recover and reimagine three areas of the business. One is obviously, the way they were relating with customers, going digital-first, having digital channels to be able to identify needs, and service the customers. The second area of that transformation was in operational management. We talked about processes being digitized, being accelerated, efficiencies being squeezed out within minutes. And the last one is around innovation. That’s another aspect of digital transformation using data. For me, innovation is just coming up with the new way of doing the first two things, right? It’s a new way of connecting with your prospect and a new business model, right?

And so that to me, those three areas around customer experience, around process improvements, around new business models, all were expressed, and you can see this Brent in the last three months across all sectors. It doesn’t matter, we saw elements of all those things. I think now the question becomes, do brands now go back to normal, or are they going to sustain the advances that they have gained during this period?

Small Business Trends: What impact will Google going away from using cookies have on SMBs?

Wilson Raj: Yeah, Brent, I think this balance… We’ve chatted about this several times, around this balance between personalization and privacy, right? Where’s the line? What’s creepy? What’s relevant? I think today with everything going digital-first where the physical aspect is completely non-existent, at least for now or in the near term, there might be some elements of that coming up maybe, I don’t know, in the near mid-future, but for the most part, it is screen interaction, or using apps.

What we’re finding is that that third-party cookie has always been sort of a panacea, unfortunately, seen rightly or wrongly by companies, certainly the mid-sized enterprise as well as to be used for better targeting. Now, unfortunately, I mean, the research has shown third-party cookie tracking, and the way we do metrics and you really do attribution has been sketchy at best, right? Because when you look at the ad-tech environment in terms of how third-party cookies are measured and how digital properties are synced to that, there’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of grayness in terms of how do you really map that? Are you really doing that one to one? And so with Google just recently announcing the demise or the lack of support for the cookies, the first knee-jerk reaction is like, “Yike, how am I going to track people on my website?” That’s the first thing people are screaming or, “There goes my digital identification, tracking mechanism.” But when people calm down, you could see that, you know what? There is a world beyond third-party cookies. I would call that first-party consent, not first-party data.

In fact, there would be a greater reliance on first-party data. That’s the data that the grocery store or the mid-market brand would use as the customers or prospects interact with them digitally. Correct? Absolutely. You’re tracking that stuff now. That’s behavioral. But then when you talk about first-party content, that’s the data that is provided by the consumer as a tacit invitation to say, “Hey, I want to know more.” Right? It could be as direct as texting Brent and say, “Hey, give me information.” That’s very direct. Or it could be through other kinds of behavioral footprints or sentiment that the brand can capture to say, “This person is giving me tacit approval to engage with you, to do something, to provide information.” So if you’re a bank, maybe how do you change your account number, or how do you add more services?

It could be for a transaction. “I want to pay a bill. I want to split this investment portfolio into five pieces.” Whatever that is, or it could be something from a support perspective. “I need to talk with someone to help me make some smart decisions about my investments.” You can use that same informational, transactional, and support moments of truth in any industry. In those interactions, you have what I call first-party consent. I think to do that again, you’re collecting that data, and then, how do you use that? That becomes a question, and that’s where things such as predictive analytics, things such as lookalike modeling, things such as churn analysis, or sentiment using AI can help you get that consent, and then you’re able to hopefully use that in the right way.

Small Business Trends: It’s all about trust, and if you don’t have the trust, I don’t care… If you become digitally transformed and you are digital-first, if nobody trusts you, no customers trust you, who cares?

Wilson Raj: Absolutely. Who cares, right? That trust is not… We have talked about this, and I’m glad we’re bringing this up because even more so today, trust is not a theoretical concept here. Trust is not this warm, fuzzy, cozy feeling between a brand and a consumer. It would be things such as, boy, from a data governance perspective, how are these folks managing data? How are they protecting it? How are they cleansing it? Do they have very clear-cut definitions in terms of retention dates, how they are used, when they’re used, where they’re not to be used? All of those so-called legal, data governance, boring things are absolutely critical. On the other hand, from a experiential perspective, how is the organization communicating the value of data collected? Not just in terms of being very succinct in terms of what consumers are going to get, what they’re going to experience, but also provide protocols where you and I can vet, we can audit our own data preferences through a contact or a data preference center to say, “You know what? I’m not going to say it shared this anymore. I’m not going to share this piece of data anymore. I’m going to time out on this one.”

That is now giving the power back. And so by a combination of what I call internal governance initiatives through data management and security and so on, and then through an external way of providing that flexibility and choice to customers, you can make trust a little bit more tangible, I think.

We did research late last year in terms of what the future of customer excellence looks like between an organization and the consumer. One of the themes that came up is the balance between privacy and personalization. You can see the industries that are more trustworthy; healthcare providers, food providers, and so on. And then on the other side of the spectrum those which are less trusted, because there’s a notion that these folks on the right are not necessarily communicating what they’re doing with the data, number one. Number two, they’re just using it for other financial purposes, right? Selling it to third parties or other entities without your knowledge.

Small Business Trends: Consent first, if you can build that into your corporate culture, your DNA, then you have a solid foundation to move forward and put all these other pieces into play. But if you don’t do that, you might as well not do anything at this point.

Wilson Raj: Right.

Small Business Trends: It’s that important to me, I think.

Wilson Raj: You’re right. Brent, A great customer experience is not just one P, personalized. It’s not just that. It’s the second letter P, is privacy-aware. We have to do privacy. We have to go first. We don’t want the customer to make those choices, right? We want to meet with privacy first. I think as we go through this disruption and into future state, whatever that looks like, privacy can now become the new customer experience differentiator. It is no longer the backroom topic where the lawyers and the governance folks talk about, right? It is front and center of the chief marketing officer, of the chief executive officer. It has to be that vital and visible.

This article, "Wilson Raj of SAS: Customer Data Privacy is the New Experience Differentiator" was first published on Small Business Trends

In the News – Small Business Recovery Funds Still Available, More on the Way?

Posted: 26 Jun 2020 05:00 AM PDT

ppp loan deadline

Not every small business in the US is back to full operations. In fact, there are many still operating under tight restrictions. And it’s putting a dent in their finances.

However, there are opportunities for those small businesses continuing to struggle through the pandemic.

Early next week, June 30, is the final day to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan from the Small Business Administration. And the SBA just brought back a tool on its site that can help any small businesses seeking one of these loans to get matched with a lender quickly. Check out our report on the deadline and the Lender Match tool: PPP Loan Deadline in June 30 – Still Time to Apply.

Also, check out this report on the success rate small businesses that apply for PPP loans are seeing: 64% of Companies Applying for PPP Funds Got Money

The SBA also recently re-opened its EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) program. This provides another option for small businesses struggling financially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read more details on that loan program and how much is available in this report filed recently: EIDL Program Reopened for Eligible Small Business Companies

In other news this week, one industry advocacy group says the businesses it supports deserve some type of break or incentive from a potential future pandemic stimulus bill. And more companies are releasing tools and assistance in their own way for small businesses plotting their recovery plans.

You can check all this out in our weekly small business news roundup below:


Square Introduces On Demand Delivery Service

Square, providers of innovative processing solutions to help sellers grow their business, has introduced on demand delivery for Square Online Store sellers. Square On Demand Delivery Service Launched Sellers are now able to dispatch delivery drivers for orders placed directly on their website.

70% of Americans Want Travel Business Stimulus

It’s summertime but Americans simply aren’t traveling the way they normally do. And the travel businesses catering to those journeying here and there are hurting because of it.

Applications for New Businesses Dropped Considerably at Height of Pandemic

According to LendingTree, new business applications saw a record plunge in April at the heels of the pandemic outbreak. States hit hard observed new business application fillings had dropped showing the least number of applicants. The report reveals eight of the top 10 states where businesses applications dropped the most are located in the Northeast.

LinkedIn Makes Resources Available for Small Business Recovery

LinkedIn, the social network platform for business and business professionals has launched an online resource dedicated to small businesses for navigating the post lockdown period. LinkedIn for Small Businesses is offering free services that include tips, resources, business tools, courses, and recruiting services to help small businesses.

Auto Insurance Rates Worry Small Business Owners

The cost of auto insurance is a leading concern for small business owners. This was the finding of a study by vehicle and fleet safety specialists, CameraMatics. CameraMatics asked around 600 small business owners in the US, UK, and Ireland about the challenges surrounding busines vehicles. The responses were overwhelming related to the rising cost of auto insurance.

83% of Employees Rate Company Culture Very Important

Creating and maintaining a positive company culture is vital in the race to attract and retain valuable talent and employees. With US unemployment at an all-time high and working practices changing, the company culture of many businesses is evolving. In the current environment, company culture has never been so important.

Workplace Options Adapt is a Stress Test for Your Employees

Workplace Options just launched a tool to test your company’s reopening readiness. Adapt, as it’s known, is like a stress test for your company. And it’s really just a questionnaire. It helps measure employee and management experiences during quarantine phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. And it assesses readiness for future changes.

3 Customer Experiences That Get Social Media Attention

What gets your customers to share their experiences at your store with their friends? That’s what Avionos wanted to know in a recent survey it conducted.

Zenreach Predicts Retail Industry Returns to Normal on September 9

The marketing company Zenreach predicts a date when retail business will finally return to normal: September 9. That must be the one question weighing on every retailers mind right now. When will things go back to normal? Well, Zenreach is at least trying to pinpoint a date.

How to Limit Your Company’s Liability for COVID-19

On the Small Business Radio Show this week, I interview attorney Eric Swan and discuss steps that companies can take to limit their liability. States are finally moving to reopen their economies, and this means that many small business are inviting their employees to their office or retail site.

SAP Brings Enhancements to Business Technology Platform at Sapphire Now

SAP announced several improvements to its Business Technology Platform at its recent SAP Sapphire Now Reimagined virtual conference. The improvements include enhanced workflow management capabilities within the SAP Cloud Platform Extension Suite, simplified pricing for the Cloud Platform Integration Suite, and enhanced product integrations.

Federal Judge Rules in Favor of American Small Business League FOIA Request of Pentagon

U.S. District Judge William Alsup has ruled in favor of the American Small Business League (ASBL) in a case against the Department of Defense (DoD) over a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) issue.

Paysafe Introduces Skrill Money Transfer for Zero-Fee Transactions to 18 Countries from the US

Small businesses often hire freelancers from overseas countries to cut operating costs. If you also do the same, then the latest news from Paysafe can delight both you and overseas freelancers who you hire. Recently, Paysafe announced the U.S. launch of its Skrill Money Transfer service.

This article, "In the News – Small Business Recovery Funds Still Available, More on the Way?" was first published on Small Business Trends

Not Exactly the Nuclear Family Business (CARTOON)

Posted: 26 Jun 2020 03:00 AM PDT

Friday, June 26, 2020

Square Introduces On Demand Delivery Service

Square Introduces On Demand Delivery Service

Link to Small Business Trends

Square Introduces On Demand Delivery Service

Posted: 25 Jun 2020 10:30 AM PDT

On Demand Delivery

Square, providers of innovative processing solutions to help sellers grow their business, has introduced on demand delivery for Square Online Store sellers.

Square On Demand Delivery Service Launched

Sellers are now able to dispatch delivery drivers for orders placed directly on their website. With the on-demand delivery service, sellers with a Square Online Store can dispatch a courier through delivery partners for orders that are made online.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a new challenging business environment. Within these uncharted waters, it is importantthat sellers have access to tools they need.

Meeting Customer Demands for Speed and Efficiency

Greater efficiency and affordability are required like never before. Square aims to provide small businesses with the efficiency and speed of dispatching orders the current climate demands.

As Wally Sadat, CMO of a local chain of restaurants in California and Texas known as The Kebab Shop, commented,“This new feature helped us keep our doors open and continue serving our customers during the recent downturn. The ability to customize delivery limits and costs to our customers was especially powerful, as it helped us remain competitive at a cost our business can afford.”

Square’s On Demand Delivery feature means sellers can forgo having to use food delivery platforms to list their menu and deliver food due to their restaurants not having their own couriers. As platforms charge a commission to fulfill delivery orders, this approach can be expensive.

Square Online Stores provides sellers with ecommerce store tools they need to launch their online store. Dispatching and delivering goods quickly can be expensive for many sellers. In the current climate where many small businesses are having to make cutbacks on budgets, costly delivery services are even more challenging.

Taking Control of Fulfillment Process

The on-demand delivery feature allows sellers to offer delivery to customers from their own website. This effectively cuts out the middleman and enables sellers to take control of their fulfillment process.

When an order is placed on a seller’s Square Online Store, a delivery partner courier is dispatched to the location of the business. The courier picks up the order and delivers it to the buyer’s address. The buyer receives updates on the order via text and a link to a map showing the progress of the delivery.

Sellers pay a fee of $1.50 per order for the delivery service. A fee is also made to their delivery partner based on distance and other factors. Sellers can pass on the fee directly to the buyer, as well as offering customer delivery promotions. This, in-turn, can make sellers significant savings on order costs.

Overcoming COVID-19 Hurdles

Many businesses felt the impact of the health pandemic. That happened if they operate online, offline, or both. In this business climate, companies must adjust to new consumer demands and be extra efficient.

Square’s On-Demand Delivery service helps Square Online Store sellers generate greater efficiency in online business operations. By fulfilling their own orders, sellers can save on delivery costs.


Image: squareup.com

This article, "Square Introduces On Demand Delivery Service" was first published on Small Business Trends

How to Conduct a Focus Group

Posted: 25 Jun 2020 09:00 AM PDT

How to Conduct a Focus Group

Focus groups are useful for businesses that want to learn more about their customers or a potential target audience. They allow you to gather insights and engage in interactive conversations that can shape your business decisions.

So what are focus groups, exactly? Generally, it’s a guided discussion with a representative group of consumers about a new product, initiative, or marketing campaign. You ask questions and facilitate a dialogue among your target market to learn about their opinions and then use those insights to shape your campaigns or launches going forward.

Once you’ve decided that your small business needs to hold focus groups, you need to figure out how to get it done. Here’s how to run a focus group.

How to Run a Focus Group

Not all focus groups are the same. But there is a general list of steps that can help guide your journey toward gathering useful information from target customers.

Set Goals

Every focus group should have a specific goal. Don’t treat it as a general market research session; instead, use it as an opportunity to learn about consumers’ opinions about a specific part of your initiative. For example, if you’re thinking about implementing a new product line full of eco-friendly items, your topics of discussion should focus on how much customers value this quality, rather than other aspects of those products.

Specify Your Target Market

You also need to think about what target customers you want to learn from. If a new product is mainly just aimed at an older demographic, you should focus on this group. Generally, you want a representative group, so try to get people from every demographic or interest group that might make up your relevant customer base.

Choose a Location and Time

You need a physical location large enough to accommodate your participants in one space, like a hall or large meeting room. Generally, you just want about five to fifteen participants in each conversation. However, you should make it easy for everyone to get to, with ample parking or close to public transit. When scheduling, be mindful of the time when your ideal participants are likely to be available. For example, if you’re marketing to professionals, it should probably be after work hours.


Then it’s time to actually invite people to take part in your focus group. You can reach out directly to customers from your email address or list, or advertise the opportunity in publications or outlets that are popular with the group or target market. For example, if you’re looking for pet owners in your community, put up ads around local veterinary offices. Ask people to reach out to confirm, and you might even offer a small gift or incentive for participating.

Write Questions

Once you have your goals and participants in mind, you need to get more specific about what you want to ask. All questions should be focused on your objectives, with each designed to spark deep conversations. Try to keep everything unbiased and open-ended, like “why” and “how” questions.

Facilitate the Group

Now you get to actually run the event. Ideally, you should have two or more team members present. One is there to ask the questions and facilitate discussions. The other should take notes, record, and provide support throughout the session. While it’s important to stick with a general outline and list of topics, you should also stay open-minded and allow participants to bring up points that they think are important. You might be surprised by what you learn if you simply follow a thread and give people a forum to share openly.

Analyze the Results

Your focus group is only effective if you’re able to act on the information provided. Take some time afterward to go through the notes and recordings to dig into the information that participants provided. You might notice trends that shape your campaigns or initiatives or note interesting points you hadn’t thought of before. Then you can act on that information to improve your new products or marketing campaigns based on the results.

Focus Group Tips

Running a successful focus group takes a lot of careful planning and finesse. If you’re new to this concept, take these tips to heart as you plan, facilitate, and analyze this useful market research method.

1. Prioritize Objectives

Aside from your general goal for the focus group, create a shortlist of questions you want to answer by the end. These aren’t necessarily the exact questions you ask; those should be designed to facilitate conversations surrounding your objectives.

2. Break Down Customer Groups

You also need to evaluate what demographic groups you want to include in your focus group. Then determine what percentage of each group should fit with each type of customer.

3. Separate Groups If Necessary

If you want to get information from multiple groups but you’re worried about customers not sharing honestly with the full group present, consider separating them and running different groups. For example, certain topics might not be comfortable for men and women to discuss in the same room, so you might separate them into two groups.

4. Choose a Convenient Location

You need to make it as easy as possible for participants to show up. So choose a public place that’s easily accessible and won’t take too much time for people to travel to and from. Then provide clear directions so everyone knows exactly how to get there. Bonus if there’s free parking or access to nearby busses or trains.

5. Create a Comfortable Atmosphere

You want your participants to feel comfortable so they can speak openly and stay focused throughout the session. Set a comfortable temperature and provide nice seating with enough space for everyone. To make people feel socially comfortable, set out name tags for everyone so they can get to know each other and introduce yourself in a friendly way as they arrive. You might also provide light refreshments, especially if you plan on keeping them for an hour or more.

6. Invite More Participants Than You Need

Even if you provide an incentive, some of your participants might not show up due to last-minute schedule conflicts, so you may want to invite more people than you can actually use for the focus group. Don’t go overboard, because you don’t want the room to be too crowded, but if you want a group of 10, consider inviting 12 or so just in case. Ideally, create a range of acceptable groups and then invite the highest number you’d be comfortable with.

7. Start with the Most Important Questions

Participants are likely to be most focused and open to discussion early on. So prioritize the questions you really want to cover upfront. This will also help you make sure those get answered just in case other topics run longer than expected or discussion veers off course in an unexpected direction.

8. Word Questions to Facilitate Discussion

Steer clear of yes or no questions as much as possible, and try to keep everything open so people talk for as long as possible. The whole purpose of a focus group is to gather information, so diving deep is almost always beneficial. Try to use topics that start with “what,” “why,” and “how” as much as possible.

9. Vary Question Types

However, you can keep people’s interest better if your questions vary in format. For example, you might go with some open-ended questions, some word association games, and some loose discussions. Try to evenly spread these question types out throughout the session. Create different sections so people don’t get bored and the focus group doesn’t feel too repetitive.

10. Keep Questions Neutral

You should also avoid biased wording. If participants think you’re looking for a specific response, they’re likely to tell you what you want to hear. Since your goal should be to gather honest feedback, stay away from questions that include wording like “Wouldn’t you say…?” or “Don’t you think…?”

11. Ask Follow Up Questions

Your focus group might reveal topics or information that you didn’t expect, so you should be open to asking questions not on your list. You might prepare a few potential follow-ups, but you should also be prepared to think on the fly.

12. Speak Directly to Quiet Participants

Sometimes, one person might dominate the discussion in a focus group, so make sure to address other participants directly so you can gather insights from everyone. You don’t need to be rude or demanding, just go around the room or direct certain questions to specific individuals.

13. Consider Quick Ice Breakers

At the beginning of the focus group, you might consider going around the room and asking people to introduce themselves or share quick ice-breaker questions. This can help people feel more comfortable opening up with other participants.

14. Take Notes

Even if you’re recording the session, noting specific parts of the session can help you refer back to useful insights later on. Have a team member who’s not facilitating the session listen in and call attention to points that seem important.

15. Record Sessions

Even with notes, you may want to go back and listen to the full discussion later on. An audio or video recording can help you go back with other team members so you can analyze everything carefully.

16. Notice Body Language

Not all of your insights have to come from things that were actually said during the focus group. Sometimes, you can learn just as much by looking at people’s faces and noticing their body language as they talk. Have your note taker specify things like facial expressions and posture throughout the session. For example, a person who sits up and gets wide-eyed during a specific ad or question shows that they’re especially interested in that area. And if possible, a video recording can help you more effectively analyze this aspect of the focus group later on.

17. Keep It Short

Time is an important element of planning focus groups. The longer your focus group runs, the more likely your participants may start to get bored or disengaged. This can lead to less accurate insights or less engaged discussion. To keep everyone’s attention, try to keep it to about an hour to an hour and a half. Practice the session beforehand and keep an eye on the time throughout the discussion to keep it moving along.

18. Wrap Up Key Points

During the discussion, participants may sometimes make points that are a bit complex or disconnected. To keep other participants engaged and clear up everything for you and your team members, try to wrap up these points periodically. Just summarize in your own words in a simplified manner. Then you can ask to make sure you have a clear understanding of what they meant.

19. Look for Overall Themes

As you go through and analyze the discussion from the focus group, try to look out for recurring themes or points that multiple participants have used or made. You don’t need to act on every single point that each individual makes, but those that come up, again and again, are likely worth at least exploring.

20. Collect Personal Information

You need to collect consent from each focus group participant. You should also gather some basic personal information so you can break down insights even further. Before you get started, have each person fill out a quick form that grants you permission to use their insights and asks about their email address or contact information and basic demographic data. This can help you notice deeper trends from the sessions. For example, you might notice that older participants tend to feel more positively toward your potential new product than younger participants. This could allow you to more easily determine who to market your new product to.


Focus groups are a popular market research method used for learning more about your customers. If you’ve never hosted a focus group for your small business before, the tips above can allow you to stay organized and actually pull valuable insights from the participants that can make your new initiatives successful. Once you host your first focus group, you can learn what strategies you used worked best for your business and then make adjustments as you move forward. Each time you conduct focus groups for your business, you’re likely to get even better at each step and ultimately gather more beneficial results.

Image: Depositphotos.com

This article, "How to Conduct a Focus Group" was first published on Small Business Trends

70% of Americans Want Travel Business Stimulus

Posted: 25 Jun 2020 05:00 AM PDT

travel business stimulus

It’s summertime but Americans simply aren’t traveling the way they normally do. And the travel businesses catering to those journeying here and there are hurting because of it.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association says a new survey it commissioned found 70% of Americans support some type of economic stimulus to keep those travel businesses open – even during this particularly rough patch.

As the idea of another major economic stimulus package are debated in Washington DC, the travel industry certainly wants its voice heard.

Americans Support Travel Business Stimulus

Of all the travel and hospitality businesses across the country, many of them are small businesses. The AHLA says the travel and hospitality sector supports millions of jobs nationwide. Hotels, they say, support 1 in 25 American jobs. And there are numerous other small businesses that rely on travelers and tourists.

But during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, no one was traveling anywhere. While business, travel, and social restrictions have eased, recovery in some industries hasn’t been as quick as it has in others. about 8 in 10 hotels were forced to lay off employees this year, AHLA says.

“As communities reopen, we are encouraged to see people begin to travel and some hotel jobs return, but make no mistake, most hotels are still trying to survive,” says Chip Rogers, the president and CEO OF AHLA. “The hotel industry was the first impacted by the pandemic and will be one of the last to recover.”

AHLA’s new data – from a survey conducted by Morning Consult for the industry advocate – shows that Americans want the many companies to get some form of financial help to keep their doors open until travel returns to normal. Their survey shows that 70% of Americans want hotels and other travel and hospitality businesses to get some relief.

What form would that stimulus take? AHLA found that Americans support different measures that could entice travel and take some financial stress off businesses like hotels:

Debt and Mortgage Relief

The survey found 63% favor banks offering debt relief to hotels and for banks to offer forbearance on hotel mortgages. Just 16% oppose this form of relief for travel industry businesses.

New Travel Tax Credit

Another idea that got majority support from the public is the idea of a new federal tax credit to Americans to encourage them to travel more.

Restore Business Entertainment Tax Credit

More than half of those asked (57%) said they believe restoring the business entertainment expense deduction could also help travel businesses. This would allow businesses to deduct more expenses related to their travel.

During the pandemic response, many popular business conferences and seminars have been postponed or canceled and turned into virtual events. This negatively impacts the cities playing host to these events. And when these events don’t happen, major blocks of hotel rooms aren’t sold. And local small businesses near conference sites suffer, too.

According to a recent Yahoo report, another round of economic stimulus could include another direct payment to Americans. However, that’s receiving a lukewarm reception right now.


Small Business News

This article, "70% of Americans Want Travel Business Stimulus" was first published on Small Business Trends

Applications for New Businesses Dropped Considerably at Height of Pandemic

Posted: 25 Jun 2020 03:00 AM PDT

new business application slowed

According to LendingTree, new business applications saw a record plunge in April at the heels of the pandemic outbreak. States hit hard observed new business application fillings had dropped showing the least number of applicants.

The report reveals eight of the top 10 states where businesses applications dropped the most are located in the Northeast.

New Business Applications Slowed by Pandemic Response

While out of the 10 states where business application rates rose or dropped the least, seven are in the South. This according to the Census Bureau designations. There was also an upswing in the number of applications in some states. The report attributes this to a possible pent-up demand from earlier in the pandemic economic cycle.

During that period small businesses were forced to shutter as stay-at-home orders were instituted. In fact, a report by MetLife and the US Chamber of Commerce in May reveals  29% of businesses said they closed their businesses temporarily by Mid-April. Furthermore, the US economy contracted by 5% in the first quarter of 2020 signaling a possible recession in the making.

The decline follows a 2.1% increase in the nation’s economy during the fourth quarter of 2019. As a consequence, many small businesses turned to the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to meet their immediate cash flow needs. One third (32%) of the small business population has applied or tried to apply, for a PPP loan. The period also saw a decrease in consumer spending and exports.

How States Fared

New York State tops the list, with the number of new applications plummeting by 35.5% in April 2020 compared to figures from the previous year. Last year it ranked fourth amongst the states with the highest number of new applications being filed at 19,120. That number has since declined to 12,330 in April 2020.

Montana and New Jersey follow New York as seeing fewer applications in April this year compared to figures from last year. This year Montana saw only 840 applications down by 28.2% from last year’s 1,170. New Jersey is ranked third after seeing 6,780 application this year compared to 2019’s 9,430 applications, a drop of 28.1%

Conversely, the state of Wyoming saw a 24.6% increase in business applications this year compared to April 2019. A stark contrast to this year’s March figures where the state saw the number drop by 9% last year. In the same thread, Mississippi’s overall business applications in April was up 12.5% year over year. Georgia is first across the states, with nearly 1,200 more business applications in April 2020 than in April 2019. Other states saw an increase during the same period including Louisiana (up by 5.4%) and South Carolina (up by 1.9%).

LendingTree looked at the number of new business applications filed in each state in April 2019 compared to April 2020 using data of applications for an Employer Identification Number (EIN).

Understanding the Loan you Apply For

Many small businesses use loans to fund their businesses so they can access that extra bit of capital to fund an expansion or take out a lease for their new location. While loans could be great for business growth, they could also prove detrimental if not planned and managed well.

The key to navigating through your debt paying process is to understand the terms of your business loan. Simply put the term is the amount of time that the loan lasts. As a borrower, you must pay back the money within that specific timeframe. Different loans have different terms which state how you pay the loan, the amount of interests due, as well as penalties associated with it. Failing to understand the details of your loan contract could mean that you have exposed yourself and your business to risk because of a bad deal.

If your expertise lies elsewhere hire an accountant, financial advisor or even a lawyer to explain what you are signing.

Image: Depositphotos.com

This article, "Applications for New Businesses Dropped Considerably at Height of Pandemic" was first published on Small Business Trends

Thursday, June 25, 2020

64% of Companies Applying for PPP Funds Got Money

64% of Companies Applying for PPP Funds Got Money

Link to Small Business Trends

64% of Companies Applying for PPP Funds Got Money

Posted: 24 Jun 2020 11:00 AM PDT

ppp loan success rate

A survey by Paychex reveals 64% of companies applying for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan found success.

The data for the survey comes from owners the SBA classifies as small businesses.

By mid-June, a third (34%) of respondents applied for a PPP loan and of those who had applied 64% received payment. And another 15% of them had their applications approved and are awaiting payment. Only 10% of them submitted their paperwork and are waiting for approval.

PPP Loan Application Success Rate

Among the business owners surveyed a resounding number of them (90%) say the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act’s provision extending the forgiveness period from eight to 24 weeks would be impactful to their business. A further 82% say the same about the loan repayment term being extended from two to five years. They say it will also have a positive impact.

Additional perceived benefits of the Flexibility Act include payroll taxes being differed (80%) and forgiveness being allowed even if the full workforce doesn’t return (78%).

More than half (60%) say the PPP will help them retain or rehire all of their employees. While another 28% say it will help them retain or rehire at least half of their pre-lockdown workforce.

“The PPP Flexibility Act has eliminated some of the barriers to businesses getting the most out of their PPP loans during the reopening phase and beyond,” said Martin Mucci, Paychex president and CEO.

PPP Giving Businesses a Leg Up

As of mid-June, almost half (49%) of those in the survey say they are fully open and operational. Almost the same amount (42%) say they are open on a limited basis. A fraction (9%) say they are currently not open, but do have plans to reopen.

Among those businesses that are closed, 12% plan to open this month. A further 27% plan to reopen in July while the same amount (27%) plan to reopen after July. However, there are still 19% of these businesses waiting on conditions to improve before they reopen.

Already 30% of businesses have said they are already profitable. Despite the optimism, businesses expect to experience reopening challenges. Almost a quarter (26%) are concerned too few customers might be returning to them when they open. Others anticipate customers might not be comfortable coming to their place of business (20%). And others are grappling over how to get the word out when they actually open (18%).

On communicating with customers when they are open. 28% say they are using the opportunity to put to rest concerns by addressing their safety and social distancing practice. While 22% are being transparent about their cleaning practices. The top three means of communications businesses are using to engage with customers on these issues are through email, word of mouth and phone calls.

Surprisingly, 35% of business owners have not used any promotions to notify customers that they have reopened. A further 35% said they aren’t advertising any differently than they were before the pandemic.

What are Businesses Doing Differently

According to the survey, 24% of businesses are allowing employees to work from home permanently during the post-lockdown period. From an industry perspective, professional services businesses are far more likely (36%) to institute permanent work from home policies than their peers in other industries.

Businesses are also planning on permanently increasing their use of technology to increase employee productivity (23%). A small portion (18%) have said they plan to offer flexible employee scheduling moving forward.

The crisis has also strengthened community spirit with businesses recognizing they are in this together. Some 70% of those in the survey say they are making an effort to support other local businesses during this time.

The Flexibility Act enacted on June 5, 2020, made key changes in the program that makes it easier for small businesses and self-employed individuals to comply with the Program requirements and obtain forgiveness of the loan. Additional changes include more PPO lenders being made available as well as an extension on the period to spend the loan.

With an average loan size of $113,228 and 5,458 lenders participating in the program so far more than 4.6 million loans nationwide have been approved. Remember loans are eligible to be fully forgiven if businesses spend 60% of it on payroll; paying interest for mortgage, rent and utilities. The program officially runs out on June 30, 2020.


Image: Depositphotos.com

This article, "64% of Companies Applying for PPP Funds Got Money" was first published on Small Business Trends

Spotlight: Big E-Z Helps Small Businesses Make Sense of Bookkeeping

Posted: 24 Jun 2020 06:00 AM PDT

Big E-Z Helps Small Businesses Make Sense of Bookkeeping

Businesses need bookkeeping. And many don’t have the time or patience to deal with complicated tools or spreadsheets. That’s why Big E-Z Bookkeeping Co. provides hands-on service and support for customers of their bookkeeping software.

Small Biz Spotlight – Biz EZ Bookkeeping

If you’re interested in learning more about this small business and the founder’s journey to entrepreneurship, read on for this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

What the Business Does

Provides simple accounting software for small businesses and organizations.

Business Niche

Providing personal, hands-on support.

Founder Michelle Carley told Small Business Trends, “We want businesses to succeed and will hand-hold (so to speak) until they have their accounting set up and customized for their needs. We offer a free half hour screen sharing demo before the purchase and one half hour after. We have an extensive knowledge base and support by email or phone. Support staff is all bookkeepers and located in the U.S.”

How the Business Got Started

Through a series of job changes.

Carley says, “I was always good with numbers but my family did not have money to send us 7 kids to college, so I took a job bottling windshield solvent. Before you know it, they were asking me to bottle muriatic acid. So, I asked if they had any other jobs open and they said sure, in the office. I said I’d take it. After keeping the books for many small businesses, I volunteered to help at the local Small Business Development Center. I spent a lot of time helping owners reconcile their checkbooks and decided I needed to come out with a bookkeeping system to simplify the process. I didn’t want any scary terms like “debits” and “credits,” just plus and minus.”

Biggest Win

Winning recognition and clients.

Carley explains, “Last year, I won an award from the National Entrepreneurs Association for 2019 Best Business Practices and I added a few more clients, which actually doubled my sales around the same time.”

Biggest Risk

Creating a new solution during an uncertain time.

Carley adds, “It’s important that we listen to our customers, therefore we just spent thousands of dollars developing a new version of the software that operates with Google Sheets for Google enthusiasts. Just as my programmers and I were wrapping up the new software, COVID-19 hit. I don’t know the end result yet. Time will tell.”

How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000

Promoting a new product.

Carley says, “I would use it to increase our marketing department and promote Big E-Z Accounting for Google Sheets, our new product, further.”

Company Motto

This is bookkeeping, nobody thinks it’s fun but me!

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Find out more about the Small Biz Spotlight program

Image: Big E-Z Bookkeeping Co, Michelle Carley

This article, "Spotlight: Big E-Z Helps Small Businesses Make Sense of Bookkeeping" was first published on Small Business Trends