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How to Get Banks to Say Yes to Your Small Business Loan

A thorough business plan is a crucial part of any application.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In my experience in banking, more than three-quarters of business plans that come with projection-based applications fall short in one or more key areas. Many of the plans I see consist of a few pages of hastily produced bullet points, falling well short of the detail and color about the business that banks need to make a credit decision.

Business plans are critically important for startups, high-growth companies or buyers seeking to finance the purchase of a business. In fact, they are a useful planning tool for any business, but especially for startups since they have no financial track record for a bank to examine.

Established companies that are planning for accelerated growth often need working capital, equipment or real estate financing to keep growing, and they need a solid business plan that identifies what will drive the planned growth and shows that their plan will result in adequate cash flow to assure repayment of the requested loan.

Related: 7 Steps to a Perfectly Written Business Plan

Businesses seeking loans to acquire other businesses (or individuals looking to buy a business) will need a thorough plan to describe the new ownership, and how they’ll successfully manage the firm, and what they see as their market opportunities and key clients.

A business plan is for the bank and your team.

Having a business plan is not just part of a bureaucratic check-list to secure a loan. Rather, the business plan can be a guiding document for the enterprise — one that communicates critically important facts and ideas to management teams and employees. Writing the plan can be a crucial exercise in helping owners to think through the details as they plot their business’s future.

There are several core elements that a strong business plan needs to have. They apply equally to applications for loans backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and for regular commercial loans:

1. Detailed projections

To get to a “yes” on a loan request, banks need enough detail to be assured that your business will have enough profit and cash flow to service the debt. The plan should flesh out precisely how a company will attain its revenue goals and expense estimates, and how it expects to succeed over the long term, not just the next couple of years. It’s not enough to say “the total market for our service or product is $100 million, and we expect to get 5 percent of it.” Your banker needs to know exactly how you plan to achieve that revenue level by describing key relationships and how they will be converted into clients. The business plan should also provide a detailed analysis of the anticipated costs of operating and should consider the effects of economic and market trends. If your local job market is tight, for example, you should say so (your banker likely already knows), and say what your plan is for hiring employees and how that will affect labor costs as the company grows. The real point of the plan is to identify your key assumptions and provide the thought process behind them.

2. Marketing strategy

The plan should also outline the company’s marketing strategy in as much detail as possible. Before committing capital, a bank wants to know how the business proposes to market its products or services and the specific opportunities that it is trying to fill. The plan should answer the questions: What is the need for the company’s products or services in the area, and how will the company get its message out?

Related: Need a Business Idea? Here Are 55.

3. Management and ownership experience

To approve a loan, banks want to know that owners have the right background and experience to make the business work. That helps to assure banks that the projections have been thought through and can be successfully implemented. Different types of businesses call for different skills. An owner with a lengthy resume as a manager in a big firm may not have the ideal experience to start a restaurant. If the business is in a high-volume, low-margin industry, banks would feel more comfortable with an owner who has proven experience in managing costs. For business acquisitions, it is important to provide details on the plan for management transition.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

4. Location, location, location 

Depending on the type of business, small details about its physical location can be surprisingly important. If you are a breakfast café or coffee shop, you want to be located on the side of the street that people use for their morning commute. If the business is a road-side restaurant relying on passing drivers, it needs to be easily accessible for cars. Even for “destination” businesses that attract customers based on their reputation, location can be important. If you are a high-end hair salon, you don’t want to set up in a down-market strip mall. The plan should identify the location and why you believe this location supports your business model.

Related: Learn How to Make Smarter Real Estate Investments

For entrepreneurs who lack the time or expertise to craft a business plan, there are two options backed by the SBA that provide expert assistance to small businesses free of charge or at very low cost. One is the Service Core of Retired Executives (SCORE), whose experienced volunteers will help clients ask the right questions needed to formulate a plan. The other is Small Business Development Centers, which have a variety of useful databases and systems to help in the planning process.

Remember, unlike investors, the highest priority for banks when lending is to ensure a return of capital, not a return on capital. With the right plan and demonstrated financial capacity to repay the debt, the chances of obtaining needed financing will go way up.

Source: Entrepreneur
Author: Mark Abell

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4 Ways Artificial Intelligence Is Shaping the Future for Businesses Big And Small

Harness the power of artificial intelligence and reap a competitive advantage.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming not just a curious concept, but a business asset worthy of every entrepreneur’s attention. A. is making headway in topics from behavior-based email sequences and opt-in popups to savvy messaging bots and even internal employee satisfaction analysis (IBM says they can determine with 95 percent accuracy when a person is planning to quit),

You can use AI to increase customer retention, NPS, sales close rate and pre-qualify leads. It’s hard to know where AI will be in a decade or two. But, it’s already playing a big role in many business’ daily operations. It can play a big, beneficial role in your business as well, now and well into the future. Here are four ways.

1. Emotional analysis

Annette Zimmermann said in 2018, “By 2022, your personal device will know more about your emotional state than your own family.”

Emotion AI, also known as affective computing, is an iteration of AI capable of detecting human emotions and responding to those emotions accordingly. And while it’s not perfect yet, the technology is staggering. One study from the University of Ohio claims that AI is now better at detecting emotions than humans are — a remarkable feat considering our millions of years of evolution for that sorta thing.

I believe these emotionally intelligent bots transform your business operations, and this is why I have created an AI startup that is rooted in this technology.

Imagine being able to collect the emotions of a viewer watching a video online, or using email sales sequences, messaging bots, and even customer support telephone options that adapt automatically based on the users emotions. How would that change your business?

A study that analyzed 1400 case studies of top advertising campaigns over the last 30 years found that ads which triggered human emotions were about 100 percent more like to report “very large profit gains.”

What if you could trigger the right emotions at the right time?

2. Customer support

Efficiency is perhaps nowhere more important than in customer support — the place where people want answers and they want them right away. And while pleasing those needy customers might seem like a business revenue afterthought, it isn’t.

According to a report by Temkin, a moderate improvement in customer experience can massively improve revenue. In the study’s own words, “Our analysis shows that NPS is strongly correlated to customers’ willingness to spend more with tech vendors, try their new products and services, forgive them after a bad experience, and act as a reference for them with prospective clients.”

I’ve used companies like Forethought, for instance, who are leading the charge into customer support AI products with their flagship answer recommendation tool, Agatha Answers. Designed as a plug-in enterprise solution that can be installed in two days and improve customer support time-to-resolution by up to 30 percent, Agatha gained widespread attention as it propelled Forethought to victory at the 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield.

“Agatha Answers recommends answers to customer support tickets, decreases time to resolution, and increases agent productivity,” said Forethought Founder, Deon Nicholas during the TC competition. “Forethought uses AI to augment knowledge professionals.”

With 33 percent of Americans citing poor customer service experiences, reported by Business Insider, as the only motivation required to jump ship, clearly, AI has a significant role to play in the future of the customer service industry.

3. Sales and lead generation

AI is making big splashes in business-to-business (B2B) sales and lead generation. Harvard Business Review reports, for instance, that businesses which use AI can reduce call time by up to 70 percent and increase number of leads by 50 percent. Additionally, one source believes that 85 percent of sales-related tasks could be outsourced to the robots by 2020 (without a loss — and likely an improvement — in close rate).

Take LeadFuze, for example. This tool is an AI-based product focused on sales improvement, and finding the right customer segment and lead. It is the first and only lead generation software tool of its kind that combines data aggregation from multiple trusted sources while offering unlimited access and complete list building automation.

I use this product and it means that we spend less time on prospect research and contact gathering and more time on actual sales conversations. Insights-focused businesses, like LeadFuze, are projected to pull in more than $1.2 billion annually by 2020. And that’s for good reason — businesses like mine benefit from that kind of automated lead-generating intelligence.

4. Talent intelligence

Recruiting the right talent for your company can be a frustrating experience. Massive online search engines for jobs like Indeed or Monster can help source candidates, but many times, parsing the thousands of potential applicants is an exceptionally time-consuming task. Fortunately, AI products can offer some assistance.

According to a survey of 1,000 C-Level executives of large companies performed by Eightfold, 78 percent of surveyed businesses cite talent programs as “very important,” but only 44 percent say that the one they use is effective. Evidently, there is significant room for improvement with talent curation, something that Eightfold’s AI-based solution is intent on providing.

Called their “Talent Intelligence” platform, Eightfold’s AI product delivers a talent pipeline that reduces the time from engaged candidate to interview, curates relevant candidate lists, eliminates bias with blind screening, and drives attention with internal mobility among other features. All relevant data perspectives can be ported into a single interface, making the entire talent process much more manageable.

After all, the faster and easier you find the right people for your business, the bigger, more successful business you’ll be able to build.

Source: Entrepreneur
Author: Andrew Medal

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Successful People Often Share These 2 Traits

A good leader recognizes the importance of pace and intensity.

2 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In this video, Entrepreneur Network partner Mike Phillips explains two key leadership behaviors: pace and intensity. Phillips points out that successful people often have high energy and move quickly. They’re often intense, and Phillips recommends a few tips that can improve the pace and intensity in your life.

In business, working on yourself is integral to getting better in your business. Start by gaining knowledge and confidence in your abilities. Then, focus on training your employees. 

Click the video to hear more.

Related: Are You Properly Focused on Your Goals?

Watch more videos on Lead the Team’s YouTube Channel.

Entrepreneur Network is a premium video network providing entertainment, education and inspiration from successful entrepreneurs and thought leaders. We provide expertise and opportunities to accelerate brand growth and effectively monetize video and audio content distributed across all digital platforms for the business genre.

EN is partnered with hundreds of top YouTube channels in the business vertical. Watch video from our network partners on demand on RokuApple TV and the Entrepreneur App available on iOS and Android devices.

Source: Entrepreneur
Author: Mike Phillips

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5 Data-Driven Reasons You Should Build a Mobile App for Your Business

If you’ve thought about building an app for your business in the past, these five reasons might be enough for you to finally make that happen.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We all use ’em: They’re the lifeblood of our smartphones, the gadgets that keep us staring at our screens and even using our thumbprint to make quick purchases. I’m talking of course about … mobile apps.

Related: Does Your Business Really Need a Mobile App?

For many businesses, mobile apps represent an opportunity for serious growth. Tools that enable a better user experience, push-notifications, more consistent communication with customers and quick payment options are already making many businesses loads of money. Amazon and Facebook are two typical examples.

But there are also many smaller businesses (B2C, B2B, SaaS, PaaS and others) building (and benefiting from) mobile apps. So, should your business join them? Should you too build a mobile app? Here are five data-driven reasons why you might want to do just that.

1. The average cost to get a user to install an app is just $2.89.

Advertising is one of the largest overhead costs for businesses, especially for startups trying to establish themselves as the go-to provider in a given industry. Fortunately for startups that have built and optimized mobile apps, the average cost to get a user to install that app is just $2.89, according to the 2018 Mobile App Engagement Index.

That cost, of course, is usually just the first step in a larger sales funnel. But once someone has installed your app on a smartphone, he or she can visit that app over and over again — bringing your business free attention and maybe even sales.

Related: 5 Marketing Tips to Strengthen Your Position in the Mobile App Industry

Here’s how Eric Wise, president and co-founder of ISBX, a company that builds mobile apps for other brands, explained it to me in a recent email: “The wonderful part about building a mobile app for your customers and prospects is that, once installed, those people can continue to use your app, see your brand and interact with your business day-in and day-out without any further advertising,” Wise wrote.

“If it’s a helpful app that keeps users interested, it’ll bring those people back over and over again.”

2. The average smartphone user has 80 apps and uses about 40 of them every month.

Mobile apps are nothing if not intertwined with most Americans’ daily lives. There’s even a word, now, for the fear of being away from one’s smartphone: nomophobia.

It’s no surprise then, that by 2021, the number for total mobile app downloads is expected to reach 352.9 billion per year, according to a Business of Apps report.

That’s a lot of downloads … and a lot of opportunity for the businesses that create and optimize those apps to create conversions. Plus, the average smartphone user doesn’t just download those apps, he or she uses almost 40 of them every single month, according to an App Annie report.

The point is, people — your customers — love downloading and using great apps. And since you want to get in front of them, you might as well be where they’re already looking.

3, Consumers spent $100 billion on or in mobile applications in 2018.

At this point, the average skeptic will think, “Sure, people spend a lot of time on their smartphones using apps … but how much do they actually spend?”

And that’s a great question: The answer? Anecdotal evidence shows that many of us don’t feel that we spend much money at all using or purchasing mobile applications. But while that might feel like the case, it isn’t true. In 2018 alone, consumers spent $100 billion on or in mobile applications according to App Annie. And mobile app consumer spending increased by 75 percent in 2017 and 2018, to $101 billion, according to the same source.

Of course, some apps are more suited to consumers making purchases than others are. Amazon’s shopping app, for instance, generates much more revenue than Gmail does. But that’s because one directly sells products while the other offers a free service. For those who build their app to generate revenue, there’s plenty of opportunity.

4. Eighty-three percent of people polled believed a seamless experience across all devices is “very important.”

People in today’s world have a smartphone in their pocket or purse, a tablet in their backpack and a laptop on their desk. And the average person alternates among these devices for different purposes. In fact, the typical U.S. household has five of these smart devices, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a finding that again illustrates people’s varied use of devices, 83 percent of people surveyed counted a seamless experience across devices as “very important” for businesses they work with, according to an overview of data by Toptal.

And while having a mobile app solves just one piece of that pie, it might be the biggest piece, considering that 85 percent of households surveyed had two smartphones and the average person polled reported spending nearly three hours on their phone every single day, according to another overview, by Hackernoon.

5. Ninety percent of people polled who described a mobile experience as “helpful” would purchase from that brand again.

Here’s the reality: Not all mobile apps are created equal. While some of these apps create a remarkable user experience, others leave us confused and frustrated. For the latter, the result is usually an app that users quickly delete.

Yet seeing their poor-performing app deleted isn’t a company’s only concern; 90 percent of people, according to App Annie, who described a mobile experience as “helpful” would purchase from that brand again and — same source — 62 percent of people who had had a bad experience on mobile said they were less likely to purchase from that brand in the future. This means that if you do create a mobile app for your customers and/or prospects, quality is king.

Apps are everywhere.

Big businesses and small businesses alike use apps to generate leads, convert prospects and upsell customers. And the above five data-driven reasons prove just how powerful building a mobile app for your business could be.

Related: Here’s Exactly What You Need to Do to Launch a Mobile App

Just make sure that that app you build is one people want to use.

Source: Entrepreneur
Author: Lucas Miller

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How to Use Google Reviews to Increase Customers and Sales

Strategies to ramp up your SEO to produce more foot traffic and site visits.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When someone wants to learn more about a business or find a product, their first step is usually a Google search. That’s why getting your store to show up in Google search results should be a top priority for any business owner, especially those with brick and mortar stores.

Marketing data accumulated by Hubspot reveals that 28 percent of searches for products “nearby” or “near me” lead directly to a purchase. An incredible 72 percent of local searches result in a consumer visiting a store within five miles of their location.

As such, improving local SEO so your business shows up in these searches will have a significant impact on your bottom line. One of the best ways to improve your SEO (especially locally) is by acquiring more Google reviews.

Related: 7 Reasons Why SEO Matters for Every Startup

Of course, Google reviews don’t just help you show up in search results  — they also have a direct impact on customer decision-making. A 2019 survey by BrightLocal found that “91 percent of 18-34-year-old consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations,” with over half not using businesses with less than 4-star ratings.

Needless to say, gaining positive Google reviews could easily make or break your business. Here are some strategies to get some momentum. 

1. Ask your customers how you’re doing.

According to Search Engine Land, 70 percent of customers are willing to leave an online review if you ask them. Sounds easy, right? However, if you want to get reviews left on your Google My Business account, you need to ask at the right time — and in the right way.

“Business owners should be mindful of ways they can ask for reviews both in-person and online,” Gregory Ortiz, founder of Digital Rooftop explained to me in a recent email.

“Many companies find success in sending a followup email shortly after the product was delivered or the service was completed. But you could also make the ask while a customer is in-store by working the request into your conversation. If they’ve had a positive experience, they will be far more likely to respond well to your request.”

Business owners should use multiple touch points to ask customers for reviews, but be cautious to not come across as annoying or overbearing. Whether in an email, a phone call or even an app, make sure your request is short and polite. Your request will be even more appealing when you explain how feedback helps you improve your services.

2. Make it easy to leave a review.

Customers can sometimes feel that leaving a review is too much effort — so don’t be afraid to simplify things for them. Quickly demonstrating how to leave a review can go a long way in encouraging customers to give feedback.

When making your requests, remind customers that reviews can be only one or two sentences, or even just include a star rating. Of course, specific feedback will always be best for SEO rankings and your own evaluation of your performance.

Sometimes, easy access to the review link can make all the difference. Copying the URL from your Google listing’s “Write a Review” button and embedding the link when you send an email request will further simplify things for your customers, making it far more likely that they will actually do so.

Related: How to Protect Your Website from Negative SEO

You could even incorporate this URL link in your email signature, so it is automatically present as a call to action each time you message a customer or vendor. With more reviews, your brand becomes more prominent and more likely to appear in local searches.

3. Be responsive to your customers.

While increasing your number of reviews is a good start for enhancing your local SEO, Google will further boost your brand if you are engaging with your customers.

Google My Business’s support section actively encourages brand managers to engage with customer reviews, stating: “Interact with customers by responding to reviews that they leave about your business. Responding to reviews shows that you value your customers and the feedback that they leave about your business.”

You can’t control what customers say about your business, but you can control how you respond. This is especially important when dealing with inevitable negative reviews. A proactive, non-defensive response to a negative review can demonstrate your commitment to making things right for your customers.

Related: 7 Best SEO Tools to Help You Rank Higher in Google

When done right, you can improve your services and the reviews themselves. A study by Mack Collier found that of customers who received a response to their negative review, 33 percent changed their review to be more positive, while another 34 percent deleted their negative review entirely. The right response can completely alter someone’s perception of your business!

A study published by the Harvard Business Review further found that responding to reviews can increase both the number of reviews and a brand’s overall rating. The study, which focused on hotels, noted a 12 percent increase in reviews and a 0.12 star rating increase when the hotels actively responded to customer reviews.

Getting customers to leave Google reviews for your business will require a continual effort on your part — but it is well worth the investment. As you generate more reviews, you will be able to create greater trust with flesh-and-blood customers and Google itself, helping drive new business to your site.

Source: Entrepreneur
Author: Imran Tariq

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Deepak Chopra on Motivation, Meditation and Finding Peace in the Information Age (Podcast)

Technology can be a hindrance to mindfulness, but Chopra has identified ways to help make the two work in tandem.

1 min read

We’re smack-dab in the middle of the Information Age, and it can feel like a flood where we’re barely staying above water. On this episode of How Success Happens, spiritual guru and bestselling author Deepak Chopra shares his advice for finding peace in a constant stream of data and how to decide which information we allow to affect us. He also details his morning routine, habit-building strategies and how entrepreneurs facing obstacles can tap into long-term motivation. The episode concludes with a guided meditation led by Chopra.

Source: Entrepreneur
Author: Hayden Field

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She Won $1 Million for Her Big Idea at WeWork’s Global Pitch Competition. Here’s How — and Her Top Pitching Strategy. (Podcast)

Chloe Alpert, CEO of Medinas Health, shares her pitch tips on this episode of ‘How Success Happens.’

1 min read

In January, Medinas Health CEO Chloe Alpert won $1 million at the WeWork Creator Global Finals. Her big idea? A data-driven marketplace that aims to help healthcare organizations resell and purchase medical equipment and supplies. (By some estimates, the U.S. healthcare system wastes about $765 billion a year.)

On this episode of How Success Happens, Alpert shares her strategy for a winning pitch, how to surround yourself with a team that complements your strengths and weaknesses and how to disrupt a relatively traditional industry. 

Source: Entrepreneur
Author: Hayden Field

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The Link Between CBD and Sleep

CBD is a low-risk alternative to over-the-counter insomnia treatments.

4 min read

Brought to you by MARY

If you’re struggling to sleep, CBD could offer some relief. CBD, also known as cannabidiol, has found popularity as a treatment for pain, anxiety, insomnia, and more. But how exactly does it help? And does it live up to the hype?

Insomnia is a Serious Problem

A lack of sleep is something many adults just brush off and trudge through. But insomnia is practically an epidemic and can have serious implications for your physical and mental health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three adults aren’t getting enough sleep (at least seven hours per day). So you’re far from alone if you’re struggling to sleep. But insomnia can lead to chronic conditions including mental distress, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, so you can’t just ignore it.

Related: Move Aside, CBD: New Data Finds THC Is the Real Medicine in Medical Marijuana

CBD Sleep Research

New research from Kaiser Permanente shows promise for CBD as a treatment for sleep. With a calming effect for the central nervous system, adults in the study who used CBD were able to alleviate anxiety and sleep during the first month of the study.

Why CBD is Helpful

CBD is helpful for sleep because it can alleviate conditions that complicate sleep. Namely, anxiety, stress, and pain. Calming your central nervous system can have a relaxing effect, helping you let go of stress and anxiety, and even calming painful inflammation from conditions such as arthritis or low back pain.

Using CBD may be helpful for improving sleep directly, even if you don’t suffer from anxiety, stress, or chronic pain. CBD is believed to interact with receptors in the body, including receptors that govern your body’s sleep and wake cycle.

Related: 16 Things That Lack of Sleep Can Do to You, According to Science

CBD as an Alternative to Sleep Medication

Sleep medication can have interactions, may not be effective, and frequently comes with side effects. Additionally, you may be limited in how much you can use sleep medications, as they can be habit forming. But research suggests CBD comes with few side effects, such as fatigue, diarrhea, and changes in appetite. If you’re struggling to sleep and considering sleep medication, CBD could be a low risk alternative to try out first.

Tips for Using CBD as a Sleep Aid

With these tips, you can use CBD more effectively to support healthy sleep.

Use CBD as a supplement to healthy sleep habits. CBD can be a tool for good sleep, but it shouldn’t be a crutch. Make sure you’re practicing good sleep habits, such as shutting down screen time at least an hour before bed, avoiding caffeine in the evening, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine. An overall healthy lifestyle with physical activity and good diet can be helpful for sleep as well.

Don’t overdo it. While a too small dose might not be effective, using CBD could prove to be too much of a commitment if you regularly take a large dose for sleep. Try a dose of about 25 to 30 mg and increase as needed.

Plan your delivery method. Edibles and oils can offer sustained delivery of CBD that might help you stay asleep later into the night. But vaping could offer faster relief, even if it wears off more quickly. Consider your needs and whether you need help falling asleep, or staying asleep, when choosing which way to consume CBD as a sleep aid.

Only use CBD when you need it. CBD isn’t a recreational drug and doesn’t offer the psychoactive effects of THC. Though it’s low risk, it’s possible to do too much. Though you might not worry much about overdosing on CBD, you should be concerned about lowering its effectiveness over time. The Kaiser Permanente study suggests that CBD’s effectiveness as a sleep aid could drop off after about a month of regular use. So using it only when needed could ensure that it delivers consistently.

CBD can be a good choice for sleep, particularly if you struggle with anxiety, stress, or pain at night. Use it carefully to improve your sleep and feel more rested each day.

Source: Entrepreneur
Author: Amy Highland