Incorporating Your Business: Are you locked in, or can a business entity be changed?

As an advisor to startups, I see some common challenges many early companies face. One of the first is the decision on how to incorporate the business.

Since there are likely few employees (if any), and likely no revenues for a newly formed startup, it feels like overkill to register as a corporation and submit to annual meetings, reports, and filings as such. In addition to some extra annual filings, a C-corporation will also file its own tax return, and founders will pay taxes both as the corporation and on their personal tax returns. A limited liability corporation (LLC) has fewer requirements and a more streamlined tax process, and as you’ll see later in this article, comes with its own drawbacks as well.

Do your homework, but don’t get side-tracked

These decisions can get confusing and it’s good to find some resources to get informed before filing. Here’s a good video on how to choose between a C-corp, S-corp, and LLC for your business type:

Choosing a business entity video

Video: How to choose a business entity

I’ve been there. In 2008 when I started my first business, I felt nervous and confused, wanting to get everything right. Over a period of weeks, I agonized over making the right decision, trying to get all the information I needed and researching how to make all the proper filings. During that time I was completely distracted from the actual work of getting my small business off the ground.

Stick with what you know, outsource the rest

After starting two more businesses since then, I’ve learned not to get side-tracked by the busy-work of filing, and outsourced that work to someone who knew the regulations and required filings a lot better than me. In fact, there are companies which specialize in managing the incorporation process along with a whole list of other compliance issues which will come along with any business.

Don’t sweat the decision

Sometimes what seems right at the start doesn’t always stay that way. In 2016, a company I was advising was considering an expansion which would require additional funding. When incorporating however, the two founders had chosen to form a limited liability corporation (LLC). Because of the number of investors, they were not able to issue shares for the fundraise. After a brief panic and an expensive visit to a lawyer, they discovered conversion to a C-corp was not very difficult at all, and they engaged a compliance agency who made the switch in time for the funding.

What’s the lesson here? Don’t over think it at the start. Just focus on validating your product-market fit, and getting to your go-to-market strategy as quickly as possible. There are lots of great resources out there to help you with managing the corporate issues and they are worth every penny in terms of time they save and in the protection they provide by going to an expert. I’ve spoken with the experts at CT Corporation, a corporate compliance and registered agent provider. They provide a lot of good information on all these topics right on their website, and it’s free to call and just ask them what your options are on any business compliance issue. They also have an online chat feature for any quick questions you might have as well.

What are the takeaways?

  • Do your homework, but don’t let the paperwork keep you from getting your business started
  • Stick with what you know, outsource the rest to people who know more than you
  • Don’t sweat your choice when getting started, changing your corporate formation is not hard when you have help

Resources from this article:

Do you have an experience to share? Have you experienced a pivot which required changing your corporate status? Let me know your experience in the comments!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of CT Corporation. The opinions and text are all mine.

Product Review – FlexiSpot Deskcise Pro

The following is a sponsored post in which the opinions expressed are 100% my own and not those of the sponsor.

I love tech gadgets. The holiday season is the time of year I love to look at the new tech offerings and pick my favorite new tech product for the holidays. This year my favorite new tech product is actually pretty low-tech, it’s the FlexiSpot Deskcise Pro exercise desk.

Last year FlexiSpot asked me to try out their standing desk and I’ve loved using it all year long. When they asked me to try the Deskcise Pro, I was more than happy to give it a try.

FlexiSpot Deskcise Pro

I’ve been trying to have a healthier lifestyle this year and have had some success at losing weight, but I still have a way to go to meet my goals. I’ve tried running but couldn’t sustain a regular schedule between my travel and the weather. It always seemed that as soon as I got a rhythm going, a week of rainy days, or a speaking trip, or on-site client engagement would break my habit.

I’ve had the Deskcise Pro for about a month now and I’ve managed to get on it 5 days a week for an hour or more each time. It’s been so easy to just hop on and catch up on my emails, do some research, or even watch a little Netflix while I ride. The small bike computer on the base keeps track of my time, distance, calories burned, etc.. I’ve lost six pounds in the four weeks I’ve used it and I’m definitely a satisfied user.

Although FlexiSpot was nice enough to send me this bike, I have not been paid for my opinion and FlexiSpot understood that I would share my thoughts good or bad. Fortunately, I’ve really enjoyed this product and would definitely recommend it to a friend.

Pros:

  • Well built, sturdy bike platform
  • Wide desk for large laptop and cellphone
  • Adjustable desk and seat height for my 6’3” frame
  • Folds up and out of the way when not in use

Cons:

  • Cup holder is not very deep and I sometimes knock my water bottle out by accident
  • Trip computer is really basic but functional

Price: $499.99

Overall I give the bike 5 stars for convenience, build quality, and utility.

There is currently a Black Friday sale and you can use the discount code JED100OFF to get $100 bucks off until Nov 27th.  Here’s the Link: https://flexispot.com/all-in-one-desk-bike/

Feel free to ask me any questions you may have in the comments below.

7 Critical Business Tools for Building Awareness

Building awareness around your business, brand or products and services is key to demand generation and ultimately increasing sales. The internet has democratized the playing field for businesses of all sizes to expand their reach and awareness globally at a reasonable cost. The following seven tools can help nearly any business reach new customers at little cost, or in some cases, no cost at all.

Buffer – Buffer.com

Building awareness on social media requires consistency. Posting every day on multiple channels, or even multiple times a day can quickly become unmanageable. Buffer lets you schedule content to go out on your social networks on a regular schedule that you define.

WordPress – WordPress.com

The number one thought leadership tool in content marketing is a blog. An active blog gives your website visitors a reason to come back and provides regular content updates for your social media channels, as well. WordPress is not only the number one software used for websites, but it’s also the top blogging platform.

Live Video – Facebook.com/livePeriscope.tv

Facebook live mapWhether you use Facebook Live, Periscope, Snapchat or Instagram Stories, live and near-live video content can boost your visibility in a big way. Live video is especially engaging, and its authentic nature allows you to build a close connection with your audience. Live video also receives a boost from the Facebook feed algorithm, which gives you more visibility than you would normally receive with a traditional post. Visitors can also subscribe to your broadcasts on Facebook and Periscope, which notifies them every time you go live again in the future. Live video platforms provide a great opportunity for marketers who are looking to build their audience.

Google Business Listing – Google.com/business

If you have a physical place of business where customers come to you, then Google local search should be an important part of your marketing program. Creating a Google business listing for your company allows you to provide frequently requested information to your customers, such as your address, phone number, website and hours of operation. Most importantly, however, it allows you to be found easily! More and more searches are moving to mobile devices, especially local search. Having a Google business listing increases your chances of being discovered, and provides a placeholder on Google maps when customers are searching for a business nearby.

HARO – Helpareporter.com

Help A Reporter Out (HARO) is the best resource available for doing your own public relations work for your business. With an account on HARO, you can register to receive updates from reporters when they are writing a story about your industry. Journalists go to HARO to find sources to interview for their news stories, providing you with a great opportunity to get valuable mentions in the press for free.

Google Adwords – Google.com/adwords

If you want to drive traffic to your website and build awareness quickly, Google Adwords delivers. These pay-per-click ads are not the cheapest way to build awareness for your product, but they could be the fastest. By targeting people who are actively searching for the terms that depict the problem your product solves, you can quickly gain targeted impressions to a relevant audience. The only limits on your potential impressions are the size of the segment and the size of your budget.

Facebook Ads – Facebook.com/business

Like Google Adwords, Facebook Ads allow you to target a specific audience for your message. The difference is that you will reach this audience in a less relevant context than a Google search. Your limits here are the same: budget and segment size. However, your ads will show up in or beside a persons’ Facebook feed, which is a much different context than that of a search result. It’s likely that you will need multiple social ad impressions to impact awareness for each viewer.

Bonus: Canva – Canva.com

While you are creating awareness material for these content channels, you should be sure to include high-quality images, as well. Canva is a great tool for creating shareable graphics quickly, without the knowledge and training of a graphic designer. This makes it a powerful tool for the marketing manager who doesn’t have in-house design support.

What about you? How many of these tools do you currently use? What are your favorites that I am missing? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to get your input!

Content Marketing Strategy for Small Business

Do you have an audience?

Before the onset of digital media (websites, blogs, and social media), traditional media channels such as television, radio and newspapers were the primary places to reach large audiences with your message. These media outlets owned the platform, and as an advertiser, you paid to rent space there for your ads. Today, digital media channels for publishing content abound, and many of these channels are available for you to publish your content at relatively little or no cost. In fact, you can now own the platforms yourself by creating your own websites, microsites, and blogs about your company, industry or customers.

Establish a Content Marketing Program

Content marketing takes advantage of this shift of power in media. As a result, firms can now become publishers, owning their own channels and lowering the cost of reaching new prospects. This changes the game for marketers, and impacts marketing outcomes in a number of areas:

• Lowering marketing costs
• Building a captive audience
• Connecting marketing and sales
• Communicating with customers and prospects

Buying ads works, at least in the short run. A content marketing program, however, can lead to sustainable demand generation at half the cost of advertising when measured on a longer time frame. Developing strong evergreen content for your website, blog, podcast or other platform helps you get found more frequently in search and leads to more organic (free) search discovery. Quite often SEO (search engine optimization) and PPC (pay per click, also known as paid search) can be the largest portion of a company’s digital marketing budget. Reducing the need for paid results in search can really make a positive impact on the bottom line.

Build Your Audience

Great content attracts an audience. By using storytelling and creating useful content for your industry, you can begin to build your own captive audience of followers. Marketing to this group can be as simple as making a blog post or sharing a tweet. You can grow this audience by creating useful, customer-focused content and encouraging your followers to share it with someone who might have a similar problem that your product can solve. This type of word-of-mouth marketing is exactly how social media can help amplify your content marketing campaigns.

As your audience grows, you can use some of your better content as an incentive for people to join your permissions-based prospect list. Typically, marketers are forced to buy a type of lead list. Your own personal email list, however, provides you with an audience of customers who have already opted in to receive your content. This creates a messaging channel for you with active prospects to whom you can send offers again and again. Email automation software that connects to your CRM system can update your sales team when new leads are found, helping to close the gap between sales and marketing teams.

Enjoy the Compounding Returns

One of my favorite outcomes of a winning content marketing strategy is the ability for a firm to stay connected with its customers and prospects. Customer advocacy programs, like those that encourage sharing user-generated content from satisfied clients, are a fantastic way to generate new testimonials, recommendations and positive experiences for prospects to see. If for some reason the time is not right for customers to purchase today, having content to share over time is perfect for nurturing relationships with prospects until they reach a buying decision.

With all these benefits, it seems crazy that some firms have yet to embrace a content strategy of their own. This is usually due to the fact that content marketing takes time to deliver on these opportunities. Smart firms can mitigate this by continuing their ad budgets until their content efforts begin to take hold. Most firms will continue to incorporate advertising into their content strategy as a way to amplify their content, rather than a primary channel for brand messaging.

Do you have questions? Would you like me to expand on this topic? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Taking My Data on the Road – Product Review

This post is sponsored by SanDisk®, a Western Digital brand, and includes affiliate links. I received compensation in exchange for writing this review. All opinions are my own

Recently I visited Montana with my family where we enjoyed a week of horseback riding and fun in the Big Sky state. Prior to leaving for the trip, Western Digital sent me one of their new SanDisk flash drives called iXpand™. In this article, I share my experience using the iXpand™ flash drive in a sponsored post on behalf of SanDisk, a Western Digital brand. The opinions, photos and text are all mine.

Leaving for Montana

My family sets off on vacation!

If you’ve travelled with kids on a plane before, then you know how useful having an iPad can be. When they start asking “Are we there yet?”, it’s time to hand over the tablet and let them play some Slither.io or watch a movie. I was too cheap to buy the iPad with extra storage, and that 16GB gets filled up pretty quickly. Lucky for me the iXpand™ flash drive has 128GB of portable storage. The iXpand™ flash drive is a small portable USB drive which connects both to your PC/Mac and your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. The model I’m using has 128GB of space, which was more than enough to hold a few movies for my daughter to watch and room left over for storing extra photos. We were able to watch Disney’s Zootopia right from the iXpand™ flash drive itself, without filling up the storage on the mini.

iXpand™ flash drive and devices

Trying out the iXpand™ flash drive with my iPad mini in rubber case, iPad mini in hard case and my iPhone 6+ with its case.

You may know already I take a lot of photos, and if you follow my Instragram account you probably know that I try to add three to four new photos every day. That can fill up my phone pretty fast. In fact, I need to move photos off my phone much more frequently than I actually connect it with iTunes for syncing. That’s where the iXpand™ flash drive comes in handy. The iXpand™ flash drive has a bendable neck which allows the Lightning connector to connect to the phone and download my photos quickly without me having to take the phone out of its protective case. When I plug the drive into my phone I’ve set it up to automatically download all the photos on my phone. Then I just plug it into my MacBook where the photos get moved into my archive.

There are some other features I didn’t mention in this article including the ability to backup and restore your photo library, backup photos from social media accounts, backup your contact lists and more. To see all these features and find all the geeky technical specs, check out the product page here.

USB 3.0

Inserting the iXpand™ USB 3.0 flash drive into my MacBook

Ligntning adapter

The flexible Lightning connector fit all of my Apple devices even with the cases on.

 

Currently (July 2016) the iXpand™ flash drive is $129.99, which is a little expensive for flash memory, but you get the convenience of a Lightning connector for your Apple mobile devices and USB 3.0 interface for connecting to laptops and pc’s which I haven’t seen anywhere else. I do have a $50 off coupon code for you if you are interested in this product (nearly a 40% discount). You can click on this shortcut link: https://goo.gl/2UBo8p which will take you to the coupon code. I’ve tried it myself and it works, this is not an affiliate link, but it’s only valid through August 31st.

I hope you found this info useful. I wrote this post because I experienced the value of the iXpand™ flash drive myself. I may even get another for our other iPad using the $50 off coupon, that’s a pretty nice deal. Please let me know what you thought of this review or feel free to ask any questions about it in the comments below.

*1GB=1,000,000,000 bytes. Actual user storage less.

SanDisk is a trademark of Western Digital Corporation or its affiliates, registered in the U.S. and other countries. iXpand is a trademark of Western Digital Corporation or its affiliates. iPhone and Lightning are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the US and other countries. Other brand names mentioned herein are for identification purposes only and may be the trademark(s) of their respective holder(s).

Western Digital Technologies, Inc. is the seller of record and licensee in the Americas of SanDisk ® products.

A Social Media Strategy MUST Include These 3 Stages

When developing a social media plan it’s important to recognize there are stages of development that your social profiles and audience will go through. The process of building a social media program changes over time, and failure to recognize this will most certainly result in failing to meet your goals on social media.

A brief overview:

Find Your Voice –> Build an Audience –> Monetize Your Audience
These steps are sequential and cannot be skipped. For example you won’t begin to build an audience until you’ve found your voice and begin telling a coherent story about who you are and what you do. Likewise, you cannot just skip to monetizing an audience that hasn’t developed yet. If you have 20 likes on your Facebook page or 50 followers on Twitter, sending out promotions to this audience will not likely cover the cost of doing so. Don’t worry though. The nice part about this process is when you succeed in completing one stage, you are very likely to have success on the next.

Find Your Voice

Finding your voice is critical on social media. You will never be able to rise above the noise of the crowd until you are able to develop your own unique voice and message that sets you apart from everyone else. What is the unique mission or set of values that your company lives by? What is unique about your company culture or style? How do you differentiate from competitors? What is the relationship like between your company and its customers? Answering these questions can be a good start to finding a unique voice for you or your company on social media.

Build an Audience

You can’t build a loyal audience without a unique message. Once you’ve found that message which resonates with your customers on social media, you will notice followers and/or likes to your page will begin to rise. Start to become more analytical in your approach at this stage. Begin measuring likes, comments and sharing of your content. Discover what motivates your audience to share and engage with your content. Review your audience and make sure they resemble your target market segments. Begin to build processes which ensure you are sharing high performing content more often, and that content producers are informed about what is working best.

Monetize Your Audience

You will know you’ve built a successful audience when your campaigns result in more revenue than your on-going activities are costing you. How big this audience will be is anybody’s guess, but it’s likely to be a bigger number than you first anticipated. By monitoring conversion rates on campaigns and your audience growth rate, you may be able to predict future revenue with some degree of accuracy, but it takes a while to get to that point. In my experience it is not unusual for it to take 1 to 3 years before an audience reaches a stable mass, but once they do, social media platforms can yield extraordinary returns. This is why a strong commitment at the outset is needed to ensure you get there.

To recap:

Find Your Voice –> Build an Audience –> Monetize Your Audience
It is important to communicate expectations throughout a long term social media implementation. Understanding these stages can be critical in the success or failure of a social strategy. It is true that audience growth & monetization can be augmented with paid ads. However, if you start spending on those ads before finding your voice which resonates with your target audience, you will end up paying just to be part of the noise. Track your progress through these stages. Create processes for repeating what works, and be sure not to jump ahead.

Was this helpful? Could it be improved? Share your thoughts in the comments below and I will to respond to your feedback.