Entrepreneurship While You are 20-Something – Go For It!

If you just cannot fathom working for someone else and making them rich; if you are an independent sort who works best on your own schedule; if you have one or two ideas for ways to make money – things that you are passionate about, then you are probably ripe for being an entrepreneur. And there is no better time than now to pursue that dream. Here’s why:

  • Statistics tell us that only 39% of you 20-somethings are married. This means that you have not responsibility for anyone but yourself. So if you eat Ramen noodles for a while, at least you are not forcing anyone else to do the same.
  • You can be selfish right now – you are pursuing things that make you happy and fulfilled.
  • You are young and have the energy, the risk-taking mindset, and you know that if you fail, you have lot of options for the rest of your life.

Recipe for Success

Over half of small business startups fail within 5 years. You don’t want to be a part of that statistic, so here are some important tips that will get you on your way:

  1. Base Your Business on Something You Love: Perhaps you have a hobby about which you are passionate. Is it something that others will value? Suppose you love to cook up great stuff. Opening a restaurant may be a bit ambitious, but how about a food truck? Do you have a specialty food that your friends rave about? Colonel Sanders ran a gas station and cooked his chicken in the back, eventually selling it to customers. Jessica Eckstrom had a passion for kids with cancer when she began her Headbands of Hope company – a multi-million dollar enterprise today. And she began her business at the age of 19. Can you turn your passionate hobby into a product or service for others?
  2. Start Small: You will probably not be the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. But you can begin locally and move to a larger audience gradually. Many small businesses have failed because they were too grandiose in the beginning. Start small, build gradually, and then look for investors. Suppose you develop a very cool app or game. This is known as a “pop up” business. Get it out there on the Apple store and then begin your marketing campaign. And that campaign can be almost fully conducted via social media, the cheapest way to go. You will need to become a bit of an “expert” on social media marketing, but there is plenty of education out there for the taking.
  3. Remind Yourself of Your Goals Daily: You became an entrepreneur for a reason. When you become discouraged, think about why you became an entrepreneur in the first place. Do you now want to compromise those principles and goals? Of course not. You may need to re-group; you may need to pivot a bit. But always keep in mind the overriding reasons for what you are doing.
  4. Embrace Rejection: You may not be an overnight success. Those to whom you try to market your product or service may not be receptive. J.K. Rowling had over 200 rejections before a publisher took her first Harry Potter Think about that when you get discouraged about rejections and move on. You are young and resilient, and that is certainly in your favor.
  5. Use Your Social Media Presence: More than all generations before you, you have grown up with a web presence. Learn how to promote your business on social media. You have the skills – you just need to learn the strategies. Again, there is a wealth of training for free at your fingertips.
  6. Make Connections with Other Successful Entrepreneurs: If you want constant support and encouragement, you need to dump those friends and perhaps family members who are negative and naysayers. You cannot be around those attitudes. Join networking groups of other entrepreneurs both online and in person. Once you surround yourself with other successful entrepreneurs, you have a cheerleading section that won’t quit. And you’ll learn quite a bit.
  7. Promote Your Brand Everywhere: Never attend a social event or go to a bar without an “elevator pitch” and a business card. People will ask you what you do. You need an exciting and compelling 30-second pitch to present, along with your card. You never know who you may encounter. 

If you are really serious about this “being on your own” stuff, and if you have the passion for what you are offering, the rest is all detail. Get going on your dream now – you are at exactly the right point in your lie to do so.

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5 Strategies To Streamline Your Small Business in 2016

Operating a business is a time consuming venture no matter how large or small your business is. Until we figure out how to extend the hours of a day, streaming business operations is your best way to maximizing productivity and profitability.

There are literally dozens of ways to streamline your business operations. Trying to implement them all can quickly become another time suck. Instead, focus on the five strategies below to start streamlining and saving time instantly:

Streamline Contact Management With a CRM

Leads and referrals are the lifeblood for all businesses. Managing contacts is something that has to be taken seriously, but doesn’t have to become a time-consuming burden. Customer relationship management (CRM) software makes staying in contact and nurturing leads an autopilot experience.

These systems keep all of your contacts organized, keep track of when and what contact is made and help the sales team connect on a more meaningful level. These systems have a variety of functions, but one of the most popular CRM features is marketing automation tools. This allows you to create email campaigns that are automatically sent and provide automatic follow up anytime someone fills out a form or calls your business.

With a CRM, a lot of the contact management work is done for you after the initial setup. Reports can also be generated to provide valuable insight into marketing and sales with minimal effort.

Use a Cloud-Based Phone System to Bring All Your Calls Together

The latest technology in telephone communication is cloud-based calling systems. Instead of your cell phone, office phones and home phone being spread out and under different plans, everything is brought together in the cloud. Calls to your business number can be routed to any phone in any location.

Now there’s no telephone lines or equipment tying things down to a particular place or phone. Better still is that cloud-based phone systems are much easier to manage while providing more features. All of your voicemails, call recordings and call tracking data for all of your phone numbers can be found in a single online account. Reports can be generated with a click of a button so you can analyze phone leads, sales and marketing efforts all at once.

Use an Accounting System to Put Payments on Autopilot

If you’re spending more than a few minutes creating invoices, making payments and reminding customers and clients that payments are due, it’s time to invest in an accounting system. Today there are accounting software options that can do it all for you.

Look for an accounting system with the following capabilities:

  • Generate invoices
  • Send email reminders when payments are late
  • Alert you when late payment reminders are sent
  • Process electronic transfers to make your payments
  • Keep records of all transactions and create reports

A dynamic accounting system will make balancing the books every month a breeze and really pays off during tax season.

Hire Outside Help

There are three things that businesses can leverage to increase productivity: time, money and people. Hiring full-time employees is not always necessary or financially feasible. But hiring outside contract workers is a smart streamlining strategy.

Not only will outside help free up your time, it can also save you money and help you implement other streamlining systems. Three areas to consider outsourcing are administrative work, technical functions and specialized tasks.

Desk-based work can take up to 32% of an entrepreneur’s day, and is often busy work that can easily be handled by someone else. Tech issues can be completed in a matter of minutes by someone that knows what they’re doing, and they can help to future-proof systems. The same goes for other specialized work that requires expertise. If the task isn’t directly making money or helping grow your business it’s time to delegate.

Create a Customer Portal

You can help customers and clients help themselves with a customer portal. This is a portion of your website that’s dedicated to answering questions and providing information. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. It just needs to act like a help desk that customers can browse on their own.

Something as simple as an FAQ page can dramatically cut down on the number of customer calls that have to be fielded. You can beef up your customer portal by making it interactive. Allow customers to submit support tickets, fill out forms and complete transactions to streamline several processes simultaneously. In addition to streamlining your customer service this will also help boost customer satisfaction.

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Would you like to find out more about Entrepreneurial Spark?

Entrepreneurial Spark are offering you the chance to have a look around the accelerator, speak to one of the team and discuss joining the programme or how you/your business can become involved with Entrepreneurial Spark.

Whether you have a business yourself that you are looking to take to the next stage, you are considering becoming a mentor or believe you could help support the entrepreneurs within the Entrepreneurial Spark programme then we would like to invite you to join one of our tours.

Each group tour will last no longer than one hour and the tour will be conducted by Lynsey Cunningham, Belfast Entrepreneur Development Manager.

Please note that the hatchery tour is not on one to one basis and there will be approx 15 people on each tour therefore all questions and answers will be given in a group.

Entrepreneurial Spark is non – sectorial, equity free business growth accelerator based in physical spaces – Hatcheries. We accept entrepreneurs and businesses of all genres. We are more focused on the individual and how we can develop them as entrepreneurial leaders.

And everything is absolutely FREE.  

Entrepreneurial Spark – Lombard House. 5th – 6th Floor, Lombard Street. Belfast BT1 1RD GB


26 February


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Expert Tips for Small Business Owners

Are you looking forward to having your own startup? That’s simply grand, as there are only a few things that are as liberating as being your own boss. However, now that you have left your job and eyeing the startup as your sole source of income, you have to be really strategic at every step. The post below details some expert tips that will help you to kick-start your new venture on a confident note.

Do what you are passionate about

Your business theme must circle around a theme that you are truly passionate about. Don’t go for a business idea simply because it sounds glamorous. A startup involves challenges and a great deal of hard work leading you to exhaustion at times – and you would soon lose interest midway if you are not genuinely interested about the theme. Life seems much easier when we get to do the things that we actually care about.

Enhance your knowledge

This is a vital tip when you are about to start something new. You have to increase your know-how on the business theme and follow the industry trends. Study relevant books, talk to experts in the business, keep an eye on the related news, and visit the business’ expos to enhance your exposure.

Create a concise sales pitch

Your sales pitch is an important tool when you have to create awareness about your business. You have to keep on delivering your business to customers, investors, and even potential employees to make them aware of the opportunities in your venture. But then, it’s a busy world today and people have no time to sit for prolonged sales talk. Thus, you have to bring up something that is both informative (with your main goals, mission, and service potential) and concise- the sales pitch must not exceed 30 seconds to a maximum of one minute.

Be frugal in the initial stage

Small business owners are usually tight on capital in their primary years and hence, you should act accordingly. There is no need to set fancy offices; watch each dollar that you spend and check all the expenses thrice. Maintain low overhead – your customers are primarily interested in your service, not how your office looks. You can obviously consider great decoration later on when you have enough profits to think of trendy shades for your office wall.

Hire smart

Your employees would form the pillar of your organization and hence, you must be really careful here. It’s obvious that you will look for seasoned tradesmen, but the experienced ones would definitely charge higher. So, added to the seasoned experts, you should also focus on potential freshers who would be eager to work at lower rates as well.

Workforce management is a big deal and thus, it’s smarter to invest in a workforce management software which can help with all important employee management activities like absence management, employee scheduling, time, and attendance etc.

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Help entrepreneurs to grow, mentors wanted

Helping 80 entrepreneurs to grow

The World’s largest free business accelerator, Entrepreneurial Spark, is opening its doors to exciting and dynamic businesses in Belfast this February (and we can’t wait!). Powered by Ulster Bank, we are offering free office space, a 6-18 month programme of hands-on enablement, a start up boot camp and regular events that will help the 80 entrepreneurs build and grow their businesses.

Looking for mentors

In addition to all of the above, we are on the look out for experienced mentors to support, coach and help the businesses- are you the person to make this happen?  The right mentor can provide expert support and ultimately increase the likelihood of businesses becoming a roaring success and we are looking for passionate people who have the skills and experience to share with Entrepreneurs, giving them the extra edge.

You are invited

Join us for a light lunch to find out more about the programme and see our state of the art Hatchery. It’s also a brilliant opportunity to tell us a bit more about you and how you could support the entrepreneurs, as well as meet other potential mentors.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016 from 13:30 to 15:00 (CST) Add to Calendar
The Belfast Hatchery – Lombard House. 10-20 Lombard Street. Belfast, Antrim Bt1 1RD GB


Hope to see you there.

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5 Essential Customer Service Skills Your Team Needs

Customer service is an extremely important aspect of running a business, which is why companies invest huge amounts of time and money in customer service courses and training methods. However, building a strong team can be a real challenge, as there are a number of essential components.

Here, we take a look at five skills that any good customer service team needs.

1. Communication Skills

The ability to communicate effectively is an absolutely crucial customer service skill for your team to possess. This includes having team members who can convey information in a clear way – whether it is through speech, letters, emails, or on social media – but also requires the ability to obtain and retain information from customers as well.

Someone with good communication skills will be a good listener, will utilise positive rather than negative words, and will make effective use of body language. Ideally, they will also have a strong talent for persuasion, allowing them to convince interested customers that your products or services are right for them.

2. Knowledge of Products and Services

While it may seem like an obvious point, good customer service relies heavily on the individual team members knowing what they are talking about when dealing with customers. This, in turn, requires a detailed knowledge of the products and/or services your business has to offer.

For that reason, a huge part of your customer service training should focus on educating staff members. Their knowledge should be based on what a customer may want (or need) to know, meaning it probably won’t include the intricacies of how a product is made, but must include a deep understanding of how a product actually works.

3. Patience

Patience is a vital asset for anyone working in a customer service role and its importance should be stressed to your team. Customers will often only reach out to staff members if they are angry, confused or desperate, and patience makes dealing with emotionally charged people significantly easier.

“Also be sure to take the time to truly figure out what they want,” says Gregory Ciotti, a marketing professional for Help Scout. “They’d rather get competent service than be rushed out the door.”

4. Attentiveness

When it comes to discussing examples of poor customer service, people often cite times when they felt ignored, or as though their needs were not deemed to be important. Repeated studies have also shown that ignoring customers is extremely damaging to the relationship between a business and its clients, so avoiding it should be a priority.

In fact, research carried out by Conversocial found that more than 1 in 4 customers would stop doing business with a company if they were ignored, while almost half would be less likely to do business with a company if they saw other customers being ignored. Therefore, it is important to have attentive staff, who are always willing and able to offer help, anticipate problems and generally engage with your customer base.

5. A Calming Influence

At those difficult times when things become heated, staff members who have the ability to defuse a situation are invaluable. As a result, you need team members who are not only able to keep their cool under pressure, but who also have a calming influence on those around them.

The ability to stay calm, no matter what the situation or how intense a customer is, can help to make sure any solutions are completely rational and carefully thought through. Moreover, that calm approach can easily rub off on other staff members and on customers, making the entire situation a whole lot less volatile.

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7 Great Tips for Better Invoicing for Start-ups

Invoicing is among the most important aspects of operating a small business.  However, it can be such a big hassle at times- particularly if you are a start up company and new to the process.

So what is the best way to avoid having to spend so much time on the minor details of generating and sending out invoices and needing to chase late payees down, so that you have more time to focus on the important aspects of your business?

Looking Professional – Stay Consistent With Your Brand

Whenever you are generating invoices, it is very important to ensure that they look as sharp as possible.  If you send a customer something that has an amateurish and cheap appearance, they might not feel so inclined to pay you as fast as if they receive a more professional-looking bill.

Make sure that your invoices have your logo on it and also ensure that the amount you are owed is clearly spelled out.  Your brand should be reflected in the wording and colours of the document.  For example, if you happen to be a copywriter and using plain English is something you take great pride in, don’t add a lot of legalese to your invoice.  Save that for your terms and conditions, or have a good lawyer translate the legal terms into plain English.

Keep Things Legal

You want to ensure that your invoice is correct and in compliance with VAT requirements and with company law rules as well since it is a legal document.  If your business is a limited company or LLP, your business’s registered number and address should appear on the invoice.  It should also show any directors or members as well.  Fortunately, if you are using an online accounting system, it will all be done automatically for you.

Consider The Numbers

According to HMRC rules invoices are required to have “unique sequential reference numbers.”  However, the same sequence does not need to be used across your entire business.  For example, a different sequence can be used for every project or customer.

Select Your Pricing Structure

There isn’t anything illegal that prevents you from requesting a deposit from your customers, or for full payment upfront prior to you doing the work.  It confirms that your customer is committed to the project as well as being easier on your cash flow.  It also helps to spread financial risk between your customer and you.  If your customer isn’t required to pay until the work is complete, and then refuses to pay or disappears, you won’t have leverage any longer to stop the work- since it is done already.

If you are concerned that you may lose customers by asking for an upfront payment, then think about offering your customers a money-back guarantee if they aren’t satisfied with the service that you provide.

Make Sure Your Payment Terms Are Clear

Before doing any work, you should have informed your customer about what your payment terms are.  However, it still is important for this information to be included on your invoice.

If you have a 30-day payment period set and are expecting your invoice to be paid by the deadline, be sure this information is included on your document to make things as clear as possible to ensure that your client sees it.  Also, if you plan to make any late payment penalties or charges, be sure to make them as clear and prominent as you can directly on the invoice.  That way your client will have a reminder that the bill needs to be paid promptly.  Here are some good tips.

Follow Up On Invoices Right Away

Get into the habit of doing your bookkeeping at least once a week.  You should invoice at least that frequently.  Your invoices should ideally be sent out as soon as you have completed the work (unless your customer already paid you in advance).  That way, it will be one less thing that you need to worry about.  However, hopefully your customers will be pay you sooner than that.

Also make it as easy as you can for your customers to pay.  Include payment details, such as an online payment link or your bank account information, either on your covering email or on the invoice itself.  If you use a specific invoicing system for generating and sending out your invoice, check to see whether you can set automatic emails up to follow up on late payers.  That will help you save additional time.

Get A Technological Boost

Remember that it isn’t necessary for you do your invoicing from scratch on your own.  If you can possibly afford it, you should invest in specialist accounting or purchase management software to make this process much easier and convenient.

It can be especially useful if you will be send out invoices on a regular basis to the same client (for example, a monthly retainer fee) and would like to set up recurring invoices that are automatically sent.  Or if you want to include multiple expenses and would like to easily and quickly attach digital copies to your invoice of your expense receipts.  If you would like your client to pay faster, you might want to include a link to Stripe or PayPal, or some other online payment option so that they can pay you with one click of a button.

Be sure to do your homework first and check out all of the different options that are available to you to figure out which system will work the bet for your business’s requirements and you.  Over the long run, it can help to save you many hours of hassle and administrative work.

Invoicing is a crucial aspect of any business’s administration, since without invoices there isn’t a way for your customers to know how much to pay you, and if you don’t have money coming in, your business won’t be able to survive for very long!

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How Big is Your eCommerce Market?

After only 30 years of the internet, there are now just under 1 billion websites in the world. Of those, only 173M+ are currently active. That may seem like an overwhelming number when trying to find new leads online and quantify the size of your eCommerce market, but this task doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming, writes Liz Fulham from SalesOptimize.

Do you know how many eCommerce websites there are in the world? Less than one percent of the active internet is eCommerce i.e. 1.7M websites and growing. For sales executives and businesses in all industries, it often feels like you’re searching for a needle in a virtual haystack the size of Mount Everest. A person can only qualify 100+ websites a day, which is a big problem facing companies when trying to find sales leads using conventional search engines.

How Does this Impact Your Business?

Let’s say a camera manufacturer, Max Speed, a jovial fellow, would like to know the true size of his worldwide market online. He wants to know how many websites in the world might be interested in reselling his Max Speed cameras.

The Average Joe Way: Max Speed enters “Camera shops” into a search engine and it returns about 624,000,000 results. So many of these results are duplicates. Remember there are only 173M + active websites. That’s an almost infinite amount of man-hours of work for the (no-longer) jovial Max and his newly hired team to sift through, pull their hair out and silently scream about.

Lead Generation – Where Do You Find Your Next Sales Lead?

After finding some quick wins using Google, Max’s team wants to find more sales leads. Businesses can look to LinkedIn, Kompass, Experian, Dun & Bradstreet etc. to do this. While these options are better than a Google search, the complete answer is still not there. The reason is that thousands of eCommerce sites are missing from these searches. eCommerce merchants live in the world of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter etc. How does Max and his team search these platforms for eCommerce sales leads?

New Options

The good news is that there are major developments in data mining and deep web analytics. This is a big investment area globally. Using some of the new search engines, Max and his team can now enter “Camera shops” into a business search engine and, in just a few seconds, they can find thousands of results for camera shops that are active and selling to his market right now. As a result, Max gets rich all by himself, keeps his hair and gets home early! He no longer needs to hire an army to search the internet to find quality sales leads.

It is estimated that 2015 saw over $1.7 trillion traded by online businesses. In the UK, Black Friday broke the £1bn ($1.4bn+) threshold in sales. When you look at the global sales opportunity of $1.7 trillion, only a very few of the large online merchants pull in more than $20 million a year. Instead, the large sales figures come from a combined larger number of online businesses (albeit lesser-known) that are consistently doing in excess of $250K a year.

Again, this goes to show that there are lots of sales leads out there still to be found – and a need for much more refined search engines/databases to identify those sales. Of the ones that are out there today let www.SalesOptimize.com be an option for consideration.

Finding new sales leads can be challenging for many businesses, but the advances in data mining and analytics means there are new opportunities for savvy business owners to narrow down their potential eCommerce market and identify leads to foster further growth.

Written by: Liz Fulham, Founder and CEO, SalesOptimize – helping businesses to quantify the true size of their B2B eCommerce market and identify new online shop leads.

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