How many potential customers are you losing because you don’t have a website? How many are moving on to competitors because your small business website looks more at home in the 1990s?
While these questions are impossible to quantify, they are possible rectify.
Recent research by the domain registrar GoDaddy showed 59 percent of Australian small businesses still don’t have a proper website. Forty-four percent of businesses surveyed believed their business was too small to justify investing in a website, and the vast majority of businesses surveyed said they use social media sites to communicate with customers.
Despite websites having a higher barrier for entry than a social media account, there are number of compelling reasons to make the investment. According to the same survey, 61 per cent of business owners said their websites had a significant impact on their businesses, contributing up to 25 per cent growth.
Here are five other reasons you need a business website:
- Another marketing avenue: A company website is another place where you can showcase your goods and services. The more, the merrier.
- Credibility: When a customer is appraising your business, they may believe your operation is less reputable if they cannot find a corresponding website.
- Misunderstanding: You may be missing out on customers who believe you are out of business if they cannot find a website or if it appears outdated.
- Security: Some customers feel more comfortable shopping for goods or services through a secure company website instead of external services.
- Data: Not having a website, or not having one properly optimised for collecting customer information, means you’re missing out on valuable data that you can use to boost sales.
For those who do have a website, but have not updated it in some time, here are the key characteristics consumers look for in a strong, modern company website:
- Purpose and user experience: Make sure your company website reflects the point of your business. If you’re selling a good or a service, make sure that this is immediately clear on your homepage, and that your goods and services are clearly showcased, explained, and easy to find. Also ensure your customers’ experience when navigating the website is simple and intuitive.
- Domain: Make sure you have a professional, easy to remember domain name.
- Security: If customers are given the ability to log in and can make purchases directly from your site, make sure your customers’ data is secure via features like password protection and encryption.
- Reliability: Include important sections such as “Contact Us”, “About Us”, and “Terms and Conditions” pages. Customers may look for these sections to determine your reliability.
- Data collection: Don’t forget to include a system for collecting customer email addresses and other information that will help you target them for repeat sales, special offers, or to adjust your products based on your customer’s interests.
Selling yourself is a part of every business, and marketing is the way it’s done at scale. But how much should a small business spend on marketing?
Like any question worth asking, the answer depends on your situation. Read on for some insight into what businesses are spending on marketing today, and what you need to think about before setting your own marketing spend.
Define your needs
What you want to achieve goes a long way to determining your budget. Your needs are different from other companies and will change over time. You may want to:
– Grow fast
– Grow sustainably
– Build brand awareness
– Maintain an established presence
These are all very different goals, with different associated costs. If you’re just starting out, every company needs a cohesive brand and a functional, professional website. Beyond that, your needs are completely custom.
With that caveat, there are some standards you can use to set your expectations.
How much should a small business spend on marketing?
Marketing budgets are normally measured as a percent of company revenues. To get a dollar amount from the percentages below, multiple them by a firm’s gross revenue.
The August 2018 CMO Survey from the American Marketing Association found an average marketing spend of 7.3% of company revenues from 324 respondents across the US.
The chart below shows this is lower than recent years, but still within a typical range of 7-9% of revenue (source page 26).
Marketing for startups vs established firms
The report calculated average marketing spend by company size, as seen below (source page 27). Generally, smaller firms spend more on marketing than larger companies.
The first step of marketing is brand awareness, so smaller businesses without established brands are wise to spend more on marketing. Established brands can get away with a more efficient budget.
Ryan Flannagan of Nuance Media writes startups should expect to spend 12-20% of gross revenue on marketing, while noting a larger firm may only spend 6-12% of gross revenue on their marketing budget.
When the rules don’t apply
Knowing the rules helps you know when to ignore them, and a standard marketing budget won’t suit every company.
The CMO Survey breaks down marketing budgets as a percent of firm revenues by sector, below (source page 27).
Clearly there are situations where a big traditional marketing spend isn’t as useful. B2B services like mining, manufacturing, and professional services for instance typically rely on sales teams to attract new clients (with sales rarely included in marketing budgets).
You can over-spend on marketing. First, there’s the opportunity cost of a high marketing budget that may be better spent on product or business development.
But there’s also the risk of growing too fast. If your marketing is too effective, you may face more growth than you can handle. That can cause serious cash flow problems that undermine other parts of your business, potentially sending you out of business.
Avoiding this isn’t difficult. First, don’t borrow more than what you need for the growth you can handle. If you’re using Marketlend to access flexible, peer-to-peer finance, don’t over leverage yourself. Make your repayments and you can always extend your line of credit later.
If you do have cash flow issues as you grow, a service like UnLock can provide extended payment terms to supercharge your cash flow, like a corporate version of buy-now-pay-later.
Pay it smart
The key element when setting a marketing budget is to be deliberate. Approach your marketing spend with a critical mind and a clear vision of what you want to achieve, and you’ll be miles ahead of the competition already.
While some debt is necessary to fund a business, if you’ve ever found yourself turning to a personal credit card to stay afloat… it’s time to stop for a moment and consider your options.
Here’s a sobering statistic: Last year, a survey of 1,200 Australian SMEs showed about two thirds of small business owners rely on credit card debt to maintain cash flow in their business. Just two years earlier, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found only a third of SMEs would use credit cards to maintain cash flow.
That means the number of businesses turning to credit cards to keep their businesses afloat has doubled in two years.
While there’s a certain convenience to using the credit card, the ensuing interest rates can put a business under even more financial pressure. Instead, here are a few tips to smooth out cash flow, and start to pay off business debt in your firm.
- Are your costs too high?
Reevaluate your regular expenses. Are you paying too much for supplies or materials? Research new suppliers and see if you can get similar materials elsewhere for less.
You could also reduce your office space and sell off equipment you don’t need or no longer use, or look into reducing your energy consumption.
This will result in savings you can put toward reducing your debt, or for maintaining cash flow in lieu of entering into even more debt.
- Can you buy now, pay later?
When looking at supplies and materials, have you considered services like Marketlend UnLock? Launched late last year, UnLock is similar to consumer ‘buy now, pay later’ models like Afterpay, except it is designed for small businesses.
In effect, Marketlend pays the supplier upfront for the materials, then gives your SME extended credit terms to pay the amount back – typically 90 days instead of the usual 30-day time frame.
This longer credit term allows businesses more time to repay, thereby smoothing out cash flow.
- Can you prioritise paying off your debt?
If you’re going to owe money, then you should know how much you owe and to whom. If you’re accumulating so much debt that it’s becoming challenging to keep track of what payments you must make every month, it’s time to take stock of your debt in order to prioritise your payments. Generally, when looking at loans it’s best to pay off those with the highest interest rate first.
Also consider consolidating loans if possible. Not only are consolidated loans easier to manage, as there are less people to pay, but you can typically find a lower interest rate – depending on the circumstances.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, butit’s the three best places to start. If the debt your business carries is slowing you down, the best thing to do is take steps to pay it down today. Even if those steps are small at first, they’ll compound into giant leaps over time.
A new year, a fresh start!
As you think about New Year resolutions in your personal life, consider also what new goals you can also apply to your business in 2019. New Year resolutions can include reevaluating goals to make sure that you are growing and staying on track. They can also include getting important logistical tasks out of the way for the year so that you can focus on what’s most important for the rest of the year.
What are your small business New Year resolutions in 2019? Here are a few suggestions:
- Take a fresh look at your business plan
You think you know where you want your business to go, and you’re already on the way there. But now that you’re back in the office from the holidays, it never hurts to take another look at your business plan with a fresh set of eyes. It’s okay to change goals slightly from year to year depending on the progress you’ve made last year, or based on changes in the market. Make sure your business plan is always in tune with your customers and with the market.
- Decide on new goals and how to accomplish them
Once you’re sure your business plan is exactly what you want, then evaluate your progress in 2018 and develop your goals for 2019. Think about what kind of business you want to have by January 2020, and ask yourself what you need to do to get there. This may involve things like hiring new staff, upgrading your office space, or investing in more advertising or marketing. Figure out the specifics of what needs to be done, and how you will go about it.
- Work out a 2019 budget
This one goes hand in hand with number two. Once you know what you need to do, calculate how much money you’ll need in order to achieve it, and plan for where those funds will come from. Don’t get your hands dirty before you have a budget, or you risk overspending and ending up with a deficit. Make sure you have the money to tackle all your goals, whether it will come from personal funds, the profit from your business, loans, or from outside investors. If you need more funds, then plan for how you’ll acquire them. Marketlend is on hand to help you acquire financing by connecting you with the right investors.
- Update the online side of your business
These days you can’t run a business without having the right presence online. Brick and mortar sales are still important, but making sure customers recognise you and can find you online is a must. As 2019 begins, it’s a good time to check your Google analytics to make sure you’re attracting enough web traffic, and that this traffic is translating into sales. Look at how your online customers behave in order to see if you need to change the way you target them. Also check if your website is properly optimised for search engines, and that you’re well-positioned on the major social media sites. If you already have an online brand growth plan, then revisit it and make sure you’re on track to where you want to go.
- Evaluate how you use resources and energy
Have you ever thought about how you use your office space, or how much energy your business consumes? At the start of the year, it’s a good idea to check that no space or supplies are being wasted, and review how much power you’re using. This can include things like moving to a more space-efficient office, reducing supplies that you’re not using, changing your electricity provider, or even looking into using alternative energy sources. Reevaluating what you consume and how you consume it can translate into major savings, which equals money you can put right back into your business.
Once the year starts in earnest, day-to-day business needs often take precedence and its hard to carve out time for any planning or business self-reflection. With the start-of-year seasonal lull many businesses experience, its perfect time to take a step back and map out the year ahead.
Government getting too heavily involved in business isn’t always a good idea, as it risks eroding the free market’s power to innovate. However, there is a place for regulation that gives all business the best chance to succeed.
When it comes to small business lending, Marketplace CEO Leo Tyndall says one simple change would make a huge difference to Australian SMEs, the requirement of a small business comparison rate. Watch the video or read the transcript below to learn how government can unlock the potential of small business.
I’m never a big fan of pushing government to do a lot of things because the the more involvement government has on business the danger it is that it actually doesn’t operate in a capitalistic environment. But what I do say the government need to do is ensure that there is a level playing field. To ensure that the SME’s able to make the right decisions.
What I mean by that is the SME itself should be able to within a very short period of time look at all the finance options and then go, “Yes. This is the price. This is the real price of my funds.” And to do that at this present moment, there isn’t a framework for every SME to be able to give a comparative rate.
So if we look in the mortgage market, you go and look at the advertising in mortgage market, you can say, “Well what’s the comparison rate?” and you can match them all and put ’em in a line and then say, “This guy’s got the cheapest rate ’cause this is his comparison rate and it’s the lowest.” We don’t have that in the SME market. And that’s what’s needed.
The SME market needs the requirement. What the government needs to do is say to SME lenders, “You must give a comparison rate. You must tell them what is the real cost of funds.” [The] very immediate time that [SMEs] touch base with you you should say, “This is what your cost of funds will be”, and so therefore the SME can quickly make a decision whether it is the cheapest or more expensive. Now you can say that you’re more expensive than the others and say these are the reasons why you’ve got all these other benefits. But you do need to give a true, clear price.
And that’s unfortunately not available at this time. So this is where I think the government really does need to step in and it’s only an extension of the Trade Practices Act or the the consumer laws. So it’s not like there’s a lot that they need to do there.
Small and medium sized business don’t get a lot of tax incentives in Australia, both compared to larger firms and overseas competitors. One of the few SMEs can claim is the Australian Reasearch & Development tax incentive. But Marketlend CEO Leo Tyndall says the R&D tax incentive needs to be improved for SMEs. Watch the video or read the transcript below to find out how.
One of the issues than an SME has when they start up for the first one to, say, five years is that the only tax breaks that are available to get is if they’re determined to be an R&D company or something similar. Now ironically, if you’re an R&D company in Australia, unless you can prove that your R&D is out of Australia, and for a lot of these, especially in even our space where the technology’s not here, it’s offshore, you can’t get the benefit. You can’t get a tax break. So if you look at other countries where, you know, SMEs or people have actually started up some type of new business that is a new concept, they’ve been able to get that break and that enables them to grow.
I mean, the Googles of the world and all of these type of guys. You know, this is something that the government should really have a better look at and say, “Okay. We’ve got these incentives, these grants, and R&Ds, but if the R&D grant is only working for if the R&D’s done here, how can I do that when the R&D doesn’t come from here?” What you want to say is, “Okay. Are they taking R&D from offshore and then putting it in here so that then they can develop their own R&D here?”
Listen to CEO and founder of Marketlend, Leo Tyndall, discuss the biggest mistake an SME can make when it comes to its financial health, and why time management and decision making are critical. If you want to read the full transcript please see below.
I think it’s difficult to say it’s a mistake. I think it’s, it’s unfortunate to say a mistake. I think what’s happened is that SMEs don’t have a lot of time to actually make decisions. And the biggest problem they have is that the options for them to pick the right financier are just not in their face, so the mistake they do is not enough due diligence.
Now, is it a mistake or is it just a difficulty? I think it’s more like a difficulty they have in their space that the first thing most SMEs think when you’ve asked them about finance is “The bank.” And then they’ll go to their bank and they could waste a lot of time where they could find they don’t have probably collateral and can’t even get a loan, or you have this thing that they go on the web and they see an SME lender, and they click a few buttons. Go, “Whammo, I’ve got my money.” But they don’t look at the implications and how that affects their business as a whole.
So the biggest problem that I think we have in Australia, which is a very unusual problem in Australia, is that we don’t have a very deep equity market for small SMEs and we don’t have a very deep debt market for SMEs. So, as a result of that, they don’t have the option say like in the US or something similar where they can actually bring on venture capitalists, or they can bring on other funders to help them with the funding. They have to essentially just take what’s right in front of their face, and the problem being what’s in their face is whoever makes the biggest noise. It’s the SME lender that’s charging 40%. He’s the one who’s going to get the biggest, you know, hits because he’s the one that’s in everyone’s face. They’re not doing enough due diligence.
This week The Fifth Estate is reporting about Marketlend’s new clean energy funding option GreenLend, which has garnered the participation of leading Australian renewable energy company Planet Ark Power. The new funding plan is on track to connect more environmentally conscious investors with green businesses.
Investors are increasingly looking to invest “beyond” their checkbooks and with their consciences, but they can also find it difficult to find and fund businesses that align with their values. In particular, many investors are seeking to invest in solar and renewable assets, while also looking to avoid big banks and high interest rates.
That’s where GreenLend offers a solution since it was designed to accelerate the expansion of solar capacity and other clean energy in Australia. It helps sophisticated and wholesale investors directly fund clean energy SMEs by offering them a special interest rate on loans from Marketlend’s investors.
According to founder and CEO of Marketlend, Leo Tyndall, Marketlend has always taken a long-term view when it comes to financing SMEs.
“We want businesses to thrive long into the future,” he says. In fact, since its launch in 2014, Marketlend has funded over AUD$56 million to Australian SMEs. But GreenLend specifically targets Australia’s energy future by “ensuring today’s energy innovators get the access to capital they need so they can continue addressing one of the world’s most pressing concerns – climate change.”
SMEs can apply for funding on Marketlend’s online lending platform, and those businesses in the clean energy space will be marked with a special badge to help investors identify them. This will be based on criteria that will include supporting SMEs largely or wholly focused on clean energy, sustainable products, recycling and energy efficiency. Once identified as ‘green’, these borrowers receive an attractive interest rate of 8-9 percent while investors in these clean energy businesses will typically earn a return of between 5 percent and 7 percent.
The funding plan’s first borrower, Brisbane-based Planet Ark Power, has received a $500,000 loan from fifty investors through GreenLend. It will be use the money to improve cash flow, trade credit, and working capital. Planet Ark Power’s mission is to help businesses, governments, and individuals reduce their impact on the environment. Executive Director Richard Romanowski explains that the energy provider’s main focus is making renewable energy as efficient and hassle free as possible. The greater the uptake of renewables, he explains, the greater the benefit to the planet.
But in the past financial hurdles had hindered growth plans, which is why Marketlend’s GreenLend can help the company. The funding plan connects Planet Ark Power directly with investors, and helps the company rapidly increase recruitment and installation of more rooftop solar panels across Australia.
“In turn, we’re able to save households and businesses millions of dollars while reducing our carbon footprint – it’s game changing stuff,” Romanowski says.
While Planet Ark Power is one of the first companies to receive funding, Marketlend is uniquely placed to connect more SMEs with needed funding, helping them progress across their growth curve and achieve scale in ways they couldn’t before.
By all accounts, Australia is poised to become one of the world leaders in fintech. We’re an incubator for new ideas and experimentation. Despite this, an inadequate regulatory environment and lack of support for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) continues to put the fintech industry, and the small business community, at unnecessary risk.
The stakes for Australia’s economy are high. Small businesses, which employ half of the nation’s workforce and make one fifth of its domestic product, remain vulnerable to the loan shark practices of fintech bad guys.
That’s true even with a new voluntary code of lending practice that Fintech Australia recently put in place to self-police albeit not all lenders are even members of the organisation. The code claims to standardise transparency and create a mechanism to resolve disputes, but only six fintech companies have signed on and it has no real teeth.
While the code includes a pledge to lend only to SMEs that have the capacity to repay, there is no mechanism to stop loans to SMEs that have outstanding loans from other fintechs — a practice known as “stacking.” Nor does the code address some lenders’ insistence on repayment by relentless direct debits that can drive SMEs out of business. Finally, it’s not clear whether the code can be enforced or is merely a set of guidelines.
In other words, we’re not signing up because it is not a legitimate attempt to enable responsible lending — it’s an empty gesture for a quick PR hit. As mentioned it does not apply to non-Fintech Australia members. Furthermore, its definition of an SME loan excludes the majority of the lending in the SME arena.
In effect, then, the problems that brought on the code still exist. As an experienced SME lender, we are gobsmacked how anyone can suggest that the majority of SMEs will understand the real cost when a loan is offered on a factor rate (shouldn’t it be as simple as the question, what is the interest rate after all costs?). In fact, reports of ASIC’s recently completed review of one of the most prominent fintech SME lenders are notable for absenting lender’s factor rates from review and thus excluding what is arguably the most problematic and damaging part for SMEs from scrutiny.
While fintechs can still serve startups as an excellent alternative to traditional banks, particularly if they’re small- or medium-sized, some startups will likely still fall prey to unscrupulous practices. We have seen SMEs who have had their cash flow drained by frequent debits they could not afford and literally have to close up shop, and, even more unbelievably, it was accountants and other financial advisors who recommended these kinds of loans for their unsuspecting clients.
So the regulatory environment needs to be strengthened, and Australia needs to provide more education and better support for small businesses. The reality is, it’s easier to start a new business in Australia than it is to get a driver’s license, and that’s not a good thing.
There’s a big difference between having a good business idea, and having the business acumen to get it off the ground. More than half of SMEs close within the first three years, and the most common reason is financial hardship.
There are some simple steps that the government could take to address these problems. It could apply the National Credit Code for Retail to SMEs, so they would come under its protections, at least for loans under A$100,000. These include a bar on extending credit to consumers who are likely to have difficulty making payments. Further, the code of lending practice should be amended to forbid loan stacking and mandatory debits. It could remove prepayment penalties, why should an SME suffer to paying a loan out early. Isn’t this a sign of a well run business?
The government should also support SMEs with a licensing and education. With such a program, new entrepreneurs could have a better understanding of money, marketing, cash flow and lending — including the ability to spot a bad loan a mile off.
Why is this so crucial?
It’s crucial because SMEs serve as the economy’s engine. If too many SMEs go belly up from poor business decisions, including bad loans from shady fintech lenders, it affects a fundamental base of our economy and it hurts Australia’s reputation as a fintech innovator.
Our fintech industry now ranks among the top ten in the world. If we pay attention to the small businesses upon which it is built, Australia can further strengthen its reputation. Everybody wins: The SMEs, which will be less likely to go out of business; the lenders, who will be less likely to lose money on bad risks; and the nation, which will continue to thrive as a world leader in fintech.
So your launch was a success, and your new business is now at cruising altitude. Celebrate, by all means. But keep an eye out for tendrils of smoke in the vents.
That’s because some problems in a growing business are like a smouldering fire: you’re often unaware until it’s too late. If you know their early warning signs, though, and have plans in place to counteract them, you shouldn’t be taken by surprise. Here are some of those signs and the best countermeasures:
1. You’re starting to pay your bills late
If you’re starting to having trouble paying creditors and employees on time, you might be developing major cash-flow woes. Cash is everything to your small business, and you need to figure out where the problem lies right away.
Ask yourself: Are you billing your clients quickly enough, with timely invoices? Are you checking the credit histories of your big customers instead of just giving them the benefit of the doubt? What about collections procedures for the deadbeats? Do you have those in place?
Cut costs wherever you can. The little expenses add up. Barter with other businesses for services; buy your equipment gently used; install a ‘smart’ thermostat; get a solar water heater; make staff turn off computers at night; employ freelancers for suitable tasks. You can even borrow items from a tool library so you don’t have to buy them.
Check your financial statements religiously. Identify any possible opportunities to boost your income, but don’t even think about trying to grow right now. If you’re having cash flow problems, now’s not the time.
You should be able to pay your bills, your employees, and even yourself–on time.
2. You’re always reacting to emergencies
If you’re starting to respond to business emergencies day in, day out, something’s not right.Things should be running smoothly enough to let you plan and think strategically much of the time, and focus on building your business.
Perhaps you’re trying to have the business do too many things at once; or maybe you’re bad at setting priorities and managing time.
The Eisenhower Matrix
Have you heard of the Eisenhower Matrix? It’s a formula developed by Dwight Eisenhower, the American World War II general, more than 60 years ago that has stood the test of time. Basically, Eisenhower split his workload into urgent tasks (returning a phone call from Winston Churchill, say) ) and important tasks (such as planning for D-Day)). He made sure to schedule time for his important tasks and to delegate the unimportant ones. What he accomplished with this approach is none too shabby: he vanquished Hitler, became president of the U.S. and developed its highway system, among other things. And his formula is still alive today.
Eisenhower didn’t even have the benefit of project management apps, but you do. These can help you and your staff work together efficiently. Eisenhower also knew that having too many meetings in one’s schedule is a bad idea — they suck up lots of time.
Be realistic about your own weaknesses, and consider hiring someone to help set priorities and establish your office systems.
3. The staff you just hired is leaving
Once you’ve invested in training good people, you want them to stick around. If
they’re leaving sooner than you’d like, schedule exit interviews with them to ask why. Then ask yourself what you can do to improve staff retention.
And take a look in the mirror. A good boss fosters enthusiasm, sets clear expectations, gives timely feedback and conveys a sense of mission. Then he or she gives the employees room to get the job done. If they do their jobs well, don’t micromanage.
Let your employees know you value their efforts (or at least, let the good ones know); pay them a decent wage; express an interest in them. They’ll reward you with loyalty.
If these strengths aren’t yours, consider hiring someone else to manage your staff. Outside consultants can also help identify why employees keep heading for the door.
Turnover rates vary by industry, so you might want to call your industry’s trade association, if there is one, to see how your rate compares.
4. You experience a sudden drop in sales
A sudden drop in sales could be just a hiccup, but it could also be a sign of bigger problems, so investigate immediately. Have your competitors beat you to the punch in some way? Is your product or your way of selling it outdated? Do you need to adjust your pricing or your marketing? If you have sales staff, are they hitting their quotas?
Are you targeting the right customers? Is technology revolutionising your industry in some way and changing your customers’ buying habits or methods?
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and try searching for your product and business online. If you sell online, make sure everything on your website functions smoothly, from landing to checkout.
Check in with your industry’s trade association, if you have one, to find out if the drop you’re experiencing is part of a bigger trend, or perhaps customary at this time of year for reasons you might not have thought of.
Now you have it — four situations, each of which could be a wisp of smoke telling you your engine’s on fire. Ignore them at your peril.