Monthly Archives: January 2017

Choosing the Best Web Host for Your Small Business

What do you know about web hosting? If you’re the normal non-tech-company small business owner, probably not much. And you shouldn’t. Your job is to run your business—not be an expert in how web servers work.

But at some point, the decision will be in front of you. You will decide where your website will live—and it’s a bigger decision than you think.

The Basics

Let’s break it down into the simplest terms. You live in some sort of home—an actual house, an apartment, a condo, or maybe one of those new trendy tiny houses. Your life would likely be very difficult without a home. Same with businesses. Can you imagine a grocery store without a physical location? That would be chaos!

Your website works the same way. To work, it has to be housed somewhere. A web host places your site on their web servers. Without a web server, your site wouldn’t make it to the internet. It would go no further than your computer.

Unless you own your own server, (you probably wouldn’t be reading this article if you did) you have to rent space on somebody’s else’s servers. But how do you know who to use and what you need?

1. Don’t Use Your Web Person

Sorry if we make any web designers mad but putting your site on somebody’s private server is usually a bad idea. What if you later have to fire your web person? Think of how awkward it will be to fire them and then ask them to be part of moving your site to another host?

Or even worse, what if they’re mad and try to charge you and outlandish fee to move the site? You ALWAYS want your website on neutral ground. You should retain total control of your web host. If you have to fire the person, you simply remove their access to the host.

2. Use a Big Company

Small business owners understand the difficulty of growing a business but web hosting is best kept with large companies. Large companies offer 24/7 tech support, guard against cyberattacks, purchase the newest technology, and generally offer the most reliable service at the best cost.

Smaller companies will be more friendly to talk to on the phone or through chat but they don’t have the resources to offer the technology services of larger web hosting companies.

3. Use a Managed Server

Don’t let the term intimidate you. Think of it like this: If you know very little about something, do you want somebody who knows more than you as your manager? Of course you do. That’s what a managed server is—a server with an automated and human management team keeping it running for you. Management services might include automatic backups, virus scanning, software updates, server health monitoring, and more.

With an unmanaged server, the only management you get is a guarantee that the server will work. You even have to install all of your own server software in most cases. Do you know how to install things like Apache, Ubuntu, MySQL, and other super techie things like that? If not, you want a managed server.

Who would use an unmanaged server? Anybody who has somebody on staff or hired as a contractor to manage the entire web presence including the server. Unmanaged servers are often better-performing servers at a fraction of the cost—sometimes 1/5 the cost of a managed server. If you have somebody you’re already paying monthly, they might recommend an unmanaged server.

4. Know Your Choices

When signing up for managed web hosting, there are 3 basic types: shared hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated hosting.

Think of shared hosting like an apartment complex. A whole lot of people share the same building. In this case, your website runs on a server with a bunch of other people’s websites. You might only pay a couple dollars per month for shared hosting but it can sometimes run slower than you would like. If you have a super-simple site that doesn’t have any high-end programming running along with it, shared hosting is probably fine for you.

VPS, or virtual private serving hosting, gives you control over how the server is configured. You have your own space but you’re still sharing the server with other people—although far less people than with shared hosting. It’s often faster but also more expensive. Plan to pay between $25 and $50 per month.

Dedicated servers are like living in a home. It’s all yours. Nobody else shares it. That comes with a lot of advantages but it’s more expensive. Plan to pay $80 per month on up. And you’ll need your own tech person managing the server for you.

Unmanaged hosting doesn’t come with all of these options. If you’re considering managed hosting, talk to your tech person.

As a general rule, very small businesses are fine with shared hosting. If you run an e-commerce site or have more advanced needs, move to VPS hosting. When you need dedicated hosting, your hired team of tech people will let you know. You may never need dedicated hosting.

5. Consider Managed WordPress Hosting

If you’re the do-it-yourself kind of person, you might have considered building your own website. This is entirely possible with wix, Squarespace, and some other builders. If you want to be slightly more techie, you might have looked at WordPress, the most popular website software in the world. Because of its popularity, some webhosts now offered managed WordPress hosting plans.

These plans completely manage WordPress for you including software updates, daily backups, security, and speed. Speed is of particular importance because WordPress sites tend to run slowly without some tweaks from a tech person.

The downside to Managed WordPress hosting is that it’s going to cost around $30 per month but site speed is become an increasingly important consideration so the cost could be worth it.

Your web designer might recommend it if they aren’t hired to maintain the site.

Overall, it’s more expensive but if you rely on your website as an important part of your business, it’s probably worth the cost.

Microfinancing Of Small Business

Venture capital may be the hot, sexy funding route that helps a few businesses and grabs a lot of headlines every year. But it turns out another type of funding works out better for most entrepreneurs: microfinance. Microfinance loans are small loans typically in the range of up to $50,000 in the United States, with an average loan amount between $9,000 and $10,000.

Non-bank lenders such as Accion USA provide loans that average just $7,000. Here’s the funny part: The businesses they lend to have a survival rate that’s twice the national average. Repayment rates are on par with traditional banks, too.

Why do micro-borrowers do better than owners who use traditional bank loans or credit cards? Here are three reasons:

1. Better vetting. Microlenders tend to spend more time getting to know a business owner one-on-one, which usually doesn’t hap­pen at major banks. These microlending institutions often take bigger risks on unproven startups, but because they take the time to learn a lot about the person seeking the loan, they form a more personal connection. With those closer ties having been forged, entrepreneurs will go the extra mile to avoid disappointing the person who approved their loan.

2. Support groups. Most microloans are made in a group setting. The business owners in a lending circle support one another and, in some cases, are financially responsible for each other’s loans. This web of interconnected responsibility helps keep them on track and provides moral support.

3. Smaller loans. When entrepreneurs only have a small sum with which to start their businesses, they watch every dime carefully. Too often, landing a big loan can lead to profligate spending rather than growth and productivity. Small borrowers also don’t get delusions of global domination — they take it one careful step at a time, so they don’t stumble into overexpansion.

Inside PayPal’s microlending program
As the owner of Crisloid, a maker of high-end backgammon, checkers and cribbage sets, Jeff Caruso knows that if he buys more raw materials in late summer, he can make more money during the holidays. The problem is coming up with the extra cash. That’s why he borrows from PayPal, which began issuing single, fixed-fee loans of $1,000 to $20,000 to qualifying customers in 2013 through its Working Capital program. (The cap was raised to $60,000 in 2014 and was $97,000 as of this writing.)

Caruso has taken out three business loans through PayPal’s microlending program, borrowing $10,000 to $15,000 a pop — $35,000 in all. He uses the money to meet his Providence, Rhode Island-based company’s fourth-quarter spike in demand, which helped revenue exceed $500,000 in 2014 for the first time.

“Come August, if I can take $12,000 and turn that into finished goods, it’s all going to sell,” Caruso says. “It helps us finish the year that much stronger.”

Since launching the Working Capital program, PayPal has paid out more than $1 billion, granting loans to over 60,000 U.S. small businesses. In 2014, PayPal expanded the program to the U.K. and Australia.

More than half the borrowers use PayPal loans to buy inventory, says Darrell Esch, the company’s vice president and general manager of PayPal’s SMB lending. Other popular uses for the money include temporary hires, warehouse expansion and website overhauls. Esch adds, “It really helps merchants grow.”

How it works
PayPal lends approved borrowers up to 18 percent of their annual sales made through the platform (with a $97,000 limit), the equivalent of one month’s processing volume, according to Esch. There’s no due date on the loan; instead, PayPal automatically draws payments from a borrower’s account when a sale is made, until the loan is repaid. (Borrowers get a reprieve on days with no sales.)

Borrowers can elect to designate from 10 to 30 percent of their daily sales as repayment; Caruso, for example, chose to repay 15 percent of daily sales and has paid off each of his loans in three to five months. Borrowers can make extra payments or pay a loan off early at no additional charge.

“Once the loan is paid in full, you can come back and apply again,” Esch says, noting that about 80 percent of people who close loans take out another one.

PayPal loans run from 2 to 11 percent APR of the money borrowed. The higher the percentage of each day’s sales that goes to repayment, the lower the loan cost. If PayPal tries to retrieve a payment after a sale but the account balance is insufficient (presumably because you moved the money elsewhere), the platform will withdraw the necessary funds the next day, Esch says. There’s no charge for these “catch-up” payments.

Loan applicants must have at least $20,000 in sales through PayPal during the previous 12 months and at least 90 days of processing history on the platform. “It doesn’t take long to build it up,” Caruso says. (Esch points out that PayPal doesn’t prohibit borrowers from using other transaction platforms.) PayPal also checks applicants’ identity and credit history.

Just be sure you don’t get in over your head. Caruso suggests initially borrowing less than you’re approved for and repaying at a lower percentage. “Start small,” he advises. “Make sure you know your margins. Plan what you can handle for a repayment so you don’t choke yourself.”

Startups offer microloan options for entrepreneurs
Microloans actually started as a solution for impoverished borrowers in underdeveloped countries. These borrowers typically lacked collateral, steady employment and a verifiable credit history, making them difficult candidates for traditional financing options. Microloans have been successful in helping to support entrepreneurship and encourage economic growth in these developing nations.

In more recent years, microlenders have been establishing themselves all across the United States. Some microlenders are finding creative ways to improve and streamline this already simple process by offering unique services.

For instance, TrustLeaf.com extends microloans through crowdsourcing. What makes TrustLeaf.com unique is that business owners only borrow from friends and family. Their campaigns aren’t publicly available, protecting the borrower’s privacy.

Borrowers simply set up a campaign on TrustLeaf’s site, providing all the necessary information about their business and select the loan terms. Potential borrowers can pick from a few lending options with different interest rates, minimum amount due and various repayment terms. The borrower and the lender come to an agreement about which loan terms make the most sense for both parties.

Once the borrowers have set up their campaign, they can invite friends and family to view it. “Friends and family don’t like to haggle because it makes them uncomfortable,” says Daniel Lieser, co-founder and head of business development for TrustLeaf. “Having this system in place prevents those awkward conversations of attempting to collect money when it’s due because it’s all laid out on our platform. Funding comes straight from the lender, a peer-to-peer system.”

How To Keep Audience Attention

Want to keep your audience’s attention beyond the first few minutes of your speech or presentation? These three suggestions can help you keep them engaged all the way to the end.
Business leaders often ask me this: “How can I sustain the audience’s attention throughout my speech?”

They go on to say: “Most audiences will be courteous enough to give the speaker a fair chance by listening closely for the first few minutes. Yet after that, I see their attention weakening. One person might be ignoring the host’s instructions about texting. Another is looking out the window. A third one is writing something, and I don’t think she is taking notes on my speech.”

With exasperation, they ask: “Do you have any strategies that will increase the attention span of my audiences?”

Fortunately, I do have recommendations that have worked for me and many presenters. Here are three of them.

FIRST: Move and keep on moving

Our eyes and our attention do not remain with still objects very long, yet we will stay focused on objects in motion. For example, suppose you and I are standing at the dock where cruise ships come in. We are watching a ship gliding across the horizon. Are we going to stop doing that, and begin looking at a docked ship? That’s not likely. Movement grabs us, not inactivity.

When you speak, get bold enough to walk away from the lectern, podium, table or wherever you have your notes and materials. Sure, this takes considerable courage at first. As happens with most changes, you will feel awkward initially. Before long though, going out into your audience will become easier.

Note how the eyes of your listeners follow you. Their minds will stay attuned as well.

TWO: Tell a compelling story

True, statistics can be impressive. When I read recently that 5.6 million Americans endure paralysis and that this number represents 1 out of every 50 citizens, that startled me.

Shortly afterward I read a heartwarming story about Devon Gales, a Southern University football player who was injured a season ago in a football game against the University of Georgia. Ever since that impact, he has been going through intense physical therapy, in hopes of regaining use of his limbs. Members of the Georgia football team have forgotten he was an opponent. They have visited him, comforted him, and encouraged fans to contribute toward purchasing a home for Devon.

Note how the statistic about paralysis could alert my audience for a couple of minutes, while the story about Devon will keep them enthralled and inspired for as long as I describe his quest for recovery.

Remember how children gave parents full attention when the parents said “Once upon a time”? That response does not disappear when we become adults.

THREE: Involve your audience

The era when audiences would sit passively for extended periods while a speaker remained the whole show has ended. As beloved comedian Jimmy Durante said frequently, “Everybody wants to get into the act.”

So find relevant, interesting, and tasteful activities that foster interaction. For example, if you are talking about customer service, give these instructions: “I’m sure that many of you have experienced great customer service. For the next five minutes, at each of your tables take turns identifying the companies that have given you the best customer service, and tell what made the service so impressive and memorable. So five minutes from now, we will have a leader you appoint at each table report the highlights of your discussion.”

During a half-hour presentation, design two or three interactive exercises, spacing them at intervals that provide a refreshing change.