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Finding Value Through Outsourcing

 

By Jerry Sarno
Strategic-Partner, Schooley Mitchell of St. Joseph

Being successful in business is rarely a solo endeavor. It usually takes a team: trusted mentors, solid employees, good leadership, the right financial backing. Even though we know it’s hard to go things alone, we lose sight of this when faced with day-to-day tasks.

Most businesses have meager beginnings. Often the founder is in charge of everything from accounts payable to HR, marketing to IT. It’s understandable – we try to do as much as possible ourselves in an effort to save money. Eventually, that strategy usually backfires. As the business grows, demand grows with it and soon, a single person just can’t keep up.

Enter outsourcing. Many business owners may be reluctant to outsource or hire outside help out of fear – scared they’ll lose control or look vulnerable. Perhaps they’re nervous the person they bring in won’t have their best interests at heart or will cost them serious coin in the long run. As an independent consultant, it’s something I see all the time, especially small and medium-sized business owners who fall into the trap of thinking they can do everything themselves.

The truth hurts: no one can do it all. Albert Einstein had it right when he said, “Genius is the ability to focus on one particular thing for a long time without losing concentration.” He understood the concept of jack of all trades; master of none. By spreading ourselves too thin, we end up doing nothing well. We forget what we’re good at and truly passionate about. Those tasks, not coincidentally, are usually what make us the most money.

By identifying tasks and seeking outside assistance, business owners can realize plenty of benefits. Some include:

  • Time – It is the scarcest resource in today’s economy. An outsourced expert can save you substantial time by handling tasks that interfere with the work you should be – and need to be – doing to make your business thrive. Engagements can be of varying length, but for complex projects consider partnering with someone who will stick with you in the long run to ensure demands continue to be met.
  • Money – Outsourcing can help you mitigate operating costs. Too often we mistakenly think the cost is too high to engage an outside consultant when, in fact, it is far more economical than hiring a full-time staff member to handle the task. That is, of course, if you can find someone with the credentials needed and keep them busy enough to justify adding another salary to the books.
  • Security – There are so many aspects to running a successful business, it is unlikely someone is an expert in all of them. Enlisting the help of an expert gives you peace of mind knowing you’ve made the right decisions and taken the right steps to take care of business. No longer will those nagging questions keep you up at night.
  • Knowledge – There are so many aspects to running a successful business, it is unlikely any one person is an expert in all of them. Enlisting the help of an expert gives you peace of mind knowing someone with specialized knowledge is giving you proper advice tailored to your specific needs.

Even the strongest companies can benefit from outside assistance. In my work as cost-reduction consultant, I routinely encounter businesses who think they have their expenses and services under control when, in reality, there is plenty of room for improvement and cash savings. Next time you’re facing a challenge or hit a roadblock, consider outsourcing it to a professional in the field. Then spend your time focusing on what you do best: growing your business.

 

Jerry Sarno is a Schooley Mitchell Strategic-Partner based out of St. Joseph, Michigan. For more information on how Jerry can reduce your costs and save you time, visit www.schooleymitchell.com/jsarno

Free shipping: Taking advantage of the demand

free shippingAccording to an investigation from Stitch Labs using data mined from more than 1 million US Shopify orders, small businesses are three times less likely to offer free shipping than their larger counterparts. However, the same study showed that customers avoid paying for shipping at all costs, with 44 percent of all ‘shopping cart abandonment’ being due to shipping costs.

Here are a few things to consider when attempting to take advantage of the overwhelming demand for free shipping – without it costing you too much revenue.

Shipping-Included

Obviously, one way or another, someone is paying the cost of shipping. But offering something for free can influence your customers into thinking they’re getting a better deal – even if, in the end, they’re paying the same price.

By using a shipping-included strategy, you avoid the gut check that online shoppers experience at the checkout screen. That jump in price when the shipping is calculated is when the majority of people will back out of the purchase. Shoppers are more likely to buy a 20 dollar item with free shipping than a 15 dollar item with a shipping fee of $4.99.

Free shipping increases your conversion rate at checkout – and you can bet that if your competitors offer free shipping, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not offering it as well. And don’t make the mistake of assuming your customers won’t shop around. According to AdWeek, 81% of shoppers conduct online research before purchasing.

Watching the Margins

When you’re competing with e-commerce titans like Amazon with their Prime offering – who are willing to do things like swallow a $7.2 billion loss on shipping costs in order to maintain their massive market share – you need to find a balance between your margins and your conversions.

Eating the cost of shipping will have a much bigger impact on the bottom line of a small business compared to a large one. For high-ticket items, it can be easier to offset that cost with markups because they’re less noticeable and you need to make fewer sales overall to cover the costs. For shops that sell less expensive items, markups are more noticeable and could lead to an overall decrease in sales – even if you’re offering free shipping.

Minimum Order Thresholds

For those businesses that can’t get away with markups, one way to help offset the cost of offering free shipping is by offering it for those who spend over a minimum dollar amount in total. Not only can this save you money overall, but it also encourages your customer to buy more then they initially intended.

The psychology behind the minimum threshold is clear – people want to take advantage of a deal if they can, and they’re more than willing to convince themselves that spending extra in order to qualify is the right move.

In fact, a study from Comscore and UPS came to the conclusion that 52 percent of American online shoppers purchased more than they intended just to hit a minimum threshold for free shipping.

Conclusion

Of course, there are several other options. Offering free shipping to qualifying members, free shipping only for specific items, free shipping if you buy within a certain period of time, or even free shipping to your nearest brick-and-mortar store for pickup. The best way to find out the offering that is right for you is by testing different methods and collecting the sales data.

Whether you’re offering free shipping on all purchases, a minimum purchase threshold, including shipping costs in your pricing, or some other method, one thing is clear: shoppers really love the word ‘free.’

The pros and cons of payment processing integration

Payment processing integration can be very valuable to your business. It allows for transaction data to transfer automatically into your accounting or ERP system when you make a sale – whether its online, through a mobile app or using a point of sale terminal. Here are a few of the pros and cons of integration.

Time and Money

Payment processing integration can save your business valuable time that would otherwise be spent manually entering transaction data.  This not only reduces the cost of labour and frees up your employees to tackle other tasks, but also eliminates human error. While there is usually an upfront cost for setting up integrated payment processing, it’s generally affordable and will likely save you money in the long run.

Security

Integration can also help with your data security. End-to-end encryption provides a high standard of security while still giving you visibility and access into your business operations and sales records. This security protects your business from threats that are outside of your control, so you can worry less about data breeches and fraud that could potentially compromise your private information.

Customer Service

An integrated payment solution will give you more data to analyze in order to improve your business. Tracking sales can improve your targeted marketing and promotions while giving you a keen insight into your inventory and deliveries. Tracking this data efficiently can have a huge impact on your customer service that will ultimately drive more business to your company.

Vendor Negotiation

Unfortunately, despite all the benefits of payment processing integration, it can also put you in a terrible situation when it comes to negotiating your rates and services with your vendor.

While software integration can be very valuable, you need to be very aware of its potential for exclusivity before you commit. Otherwise, you could find yourself in a position further down the line where your rates have increased but you have no feasible way to switch vendors. Your hardware is integrated with your current vendor and swapping would both be expensive and cause a massive interruption in service.

Conclusion

The best bet is to do your research and find a payment processing integration solution that is not exclusive to any sole vendor or system and has clear guidelines in place in regard to switching vendors while maintaining your data and integration tools.

The end-goal is to have your point-of-sale integrated with a secure yet flexible software suite that will help you save time and money, but not at the expense of locking you in with any one specific vendor. That way, if you end up needing to negotiate rates or services, you’re not stuck in a situation where your vendor is firmly holding all the cards.

What does 5G mean for you and your business?

smartphone-5g

For months, major carriers have been hyping 5G networks and their potential offerings: faster speeds, more stable data connections, and (another) massive influx of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. 5G networks have been in development for a while, and they’re expected to launch worldwide by 2020, working in tandem with current 3G and 4G tech.

Despite the hype, we haven’t seen much in the way of proof apart from some basic tests and fixed rollouts to certain cities in 2018.

However, that’s all about to change. On April 3rd, three major telecom carriers in South Korea abruptly launched the first real 5G network — just an hour before Verizon tweeted that they launched their own 5G network in Minneapolis and Chicago.

With these high-profile launches, 5G suddenly feels very real. Here’s how it’s going to affect you and your business going forward.

Upload and Download Speed

According to a study by Ericsson, 50 percent of US customers will have access to 5G in as little as five years. 5G represents the next generation of data and will eventually replace your basic 4G LTE connection. This means drastically faster download and upload speeds. Average download speeds of 1GBps are projected to be the norm, which is very fast for mobile connectivity.

The benefits of increased average speeds are self-explanatory — the less time you have to spend fighting with the internet, the more time you have to spend on running your business.

Latency

One of the less obvious benefits but perhaps the most substantial when it comes to tech innovation is the reduced latency that 5G will bring. Latency is how we measure how long it takes for a packet of data to travel from one point to another. The lower the latency, the faster your device can communicate with its target.

Not only is this extremely important for businesses that rely on IoT enabled devices, but it can also strengthen your company’s tech infrastructure and lower the vulnerability of your devices.

Reliability and Flexibility

5G is expected to be very reliable when it comes to connectivity. That means your connections will stay strong and drastically cut down on interruptions. The benefits of this reliability are most clear when considering their application in devices relating to self-driving vehicles or medical support.

In addition, 5G networks promise to be much more flexible then their 4G counterparts. For example, businesses will be able to create multiple virtual networks with just a single physical system. This is called Network Slicing, and it will lead to a better user experience for your customers and provide a robust and cohesive infrastructure for you.

Capacity and Energy

5G is being designed to have a much greater capacity, which means that a single network can better support multiple resource-intensive items at once. HD streaming, IoT devices, virtual reality, high-speed data transfer — all these services can be very demanding. With 5G, you will be able to maintain high speeds even when multiple users on your network are running demanding software at the same time.

Despite all these perks, 5G will be a benefit to your energy consumption. It’s being designed to demand less power from your devices, meaning 5G will actually extend your battery life instead of draining it faster.

Conclusion

From secure banking and automation to digital medicine and self-driving cars, 5G will have a major impact on the world. It’s the catalyst for the jump that fast, reliable connectivity will make from our desks to practically any device on the planet, mobile or stationary. It will be one of the most impactful changes to the internet since its invention.

5G will affect everyone, from the Fortune 500 to your local grocery store. It’s important that you consider how this new technology might affect your industry, because those that are most prepared to take advantage will surely prosper.

Maximizing the Probability of a Safe Delivery

Anyone who has ever packaged an item for shipping has had the same thought at least once; I hope this doesn’t break before it gets there. When you’re shipping small packages to customers on a regular basis, it becomes less of a fear and more of an inevitability.

The shipping industry has thousands of moving parts and facets, and it’s impossible to guarantee the safety of items flying across the globe. No one likes to receive a call from a customer informing them that their product was smashed before it even got to them – it simply happens. However, what you do before you send the product off can make a big difference in how often you get that phone call.

Here are some tips on how to make sure you’re properly packaging your items in order to maximize the probability of a safe delivery.

Packing, wrapping, and marking

When you’re packaging an item, you can generally split your packaging into three different categories: outer packaging, packing material, and special markings.

For example, according to packaging suggestions from Canada Post, fragile items (e.g. china) should use outer packaging consisting of a rigid, good quality, corrugated cardboard box along with reinforced tape on all seams. They should be packed with bubble wrap, tissue paper or newspaper, and they should be clearly marked with the word “FRAGILE” on the top and on one side.

All major carriers will have shipping guidelines and suggestions for how to package and wrap items on their website. While these suggestions don’t guarantee the safe delivery of your items, they’re worth following to better your chances.

It’s worth noting that a study by Popular Mechanics showed one disheartening result in regards to special markings: after mailing a bunch of sensors across America using various major shippers, they found that their packages marked “FRAGILE” actually received more abuse in transit.

According to them, “the carriers flipped the package more, and it registered above-average acceleration spikes during trips for which we requested careful treatment.”

Of course, this experiment consisted of only 12 trips, three carriers, and three cities – not exactly enough for statistical significance. Despite their findings, it’s still best practice to properly label your packages, from “FRAGILE” to “PERISHABLE” to “HANDLE WITH CARE.”

You should also use “fresh” boxes whenever possible. According to UPS, the more times a box is used, the more it loses out on its “original protective qualities.” A previously used box might not adequately protect your product.

Testing

So you’ve done your homework – your outer packaging and packing materials are appropriate for your product and you have the proper markings on a fresh box. If you’re shipping the same type of item regularly, it’s time to conduct the drop test.

As you might be able to guess, a drop test consists of packaging up your product, then dropping it to see what, if any, damage has been done to the product. The drop needs to be made from a realistic and significant height – at least 4 feet. You should also drop the box on the seams and corners as opposed to just the sides.

With thorough testing, you can ship your products with a good idea of what kind of punishment they can take. If your product is damaged in the drop test, then it has not been adequately packaging and you need to reconsider your method and materials.

A drop test is especially important if you’re shipping fragile electronics or liquids that could leak in transit. Slips, falls, shifting packages and careless handlers are all possibilities, so it’s important to make sure your package can take some light abuse without harming the product inside.

Mailer’s Responsibility

According to section 1.4 of the United States Postal Service Basic Standards For All Mailing Services, “it is the mailer’s responsibility to refrain from depositing nonmailable matter in the mail.”

In other words, if you’re shipping packages, you can’t send anything illegal and you must comply with applicable postal laws and regulations governing mailability and preparation.

There are several different categories and types of items that have their own shipping standards, such as high-density items, aerosols, perishables, and biological materials. If you’re not entirely sure on the shipping standards for something you need to mail, it’s always worth looking up before getting yourself in trouble.

Best Practices

Some things are just more likely to break than others. Liquid containers and glass are always risky to ship, but there are a few things you can do on top of proper packaging that can help make a difference.

If you’re shipping bottles containing liquid, make sure they’re standing upright and the top of the package is clearly marked with “THIS SIDE UP.” Also, ensure that your inner packaging can contain any leaks so you’re not destroying other packages in the event that a leak occurs.

If you’re shipping anything with glass panes such as framed photos or mirrors, you should apply masking tape in a crisscross pattern across the surface to reduce the chance of it cracking.

You should also always enclose an extra label with address and phone number for both the shipper and recipient inside the package before shipping it. An outer-label can get torn off, ripped up or otherwise become illegible. By packaging a label inside, you ensure the product can still get to its destination even if the outer label is lost.

Conclusion

Expedited shipping is a technological miracle, but at the end of the day, things are still going to break. It’s the price we pay for being able to ship an item across the globe in 1-3 business days.

By ensuring you’re following packaging guidelines, testing your packaging thoroughly and taking extra precautionary steps for particularly fragile items, you can keep your packages safe and avoid that angry customer phone call.

Six Tips To Minimize Credit Card Processing Fees For Non-profits

Keep More of Your Donation Dollars

No one knows the importance of cutting costs wherever and whenever possible more than those who work in the non-profit sector. At their core, many non-profits function thanks to donations. Unfortunately, in our modern world where credit and debit reign supreme, cash donations are few and far between. Since donations keep many non-profits afloat, it’s very important to make sure you’re reducing your card-processing fees as much as possible.

If you’re a non-profit that relies on funding, you know the uncertainty that often accompanies it. When you’re not sure if funding levels will be maintained year after year, it’s imperative to free up as much room in your budget as possible. Reducing overhead costs such as telecom expenses and processing fees on donations can help to offset the unknown and give your organization some much-needed wiggle room.

Here are six tips to reduce processing fees and make the most of your donation dollars.

You can’t get what you don’t ask for:

In some cases, you can lower your processing fees by asking nicely. If you can provide proof of your non-profit status, (such as your 501(c) status in the United States) your processor could be willing to lower your rate. If your processor is unwilling to offer a lower rate, don’t be afraid to apply pressure and look for other options. They want your business, and they’re often willing to negotiate if they think they’re going to lose it. Remember, your goal for seeking the most competitive processor is finding the one with the lowest markup and greatest value. Some things aren’t negotiable when it comes to processing fees – the markup is not one of them.

Keep an eye on your rates:

Complete monthly audits of your merchant services statements to check for billing errors and avoid rate creep. Processors usually offer seemingly standard contracts, but many contain provisions that allow them to increase your rates. This often comes with the caveat they must notify you first – but those notifications could appear in small print on one of your statements. Be sure to read your statements for notification of rate increases and periodically check your rate to see if it has mysteriously increased. Often, all it takes for them to waive the rate increase is a phone call to object.

Research programs that can reduce your fees:

Many programs out there are tailored to reducing fees for non-profits. One processor covers the majority of fees for donations made through its donation processing page. Others have programs where donators can opt to use their reward points to cover the processing costs of their donations. Do your research, find out if your processors offer these programs, and if they do, put them in to play as soon as possible.

Make sure PCI Compliance is up-to-date:

A vendor will incur monthly fees from the Payment Card Industry (PCI) if its compliance questionnaire is not completed annually. These fees will continue to build up indefinitely until compliance forms are completed. The online questionnaire usually takes less than 30 minutes and saves hundreds of dollars every year. By completing the questionnaire, you assure your credit card processor that you are taking the proper steps to keep customer information safe and minimize the risk of fraud.

Swipe cards and answer questions:

Credit card fees are primarily based on risk. This means you’re better off swiping or inserting a card than entering the number manually. Whenever a number is entered by hand, your processor considers it a higher risk transaction and may charge a higher fee. However, not all organizations have the resources to physically swipe or insert a card. If you’re inputting the card number manually, answer as many of the processor’s questions as possible. Providing information such as the customer’s zip code, debit vs. credit, and the three-digit or four-digit code on the back of the card are all designed to lower the risk of fraud. By entering as much information as possible and lowering the risk, you’ll see reduced transaction fees!

Hire a professional:

An independent merchant services consultant will find you the lowest rates possible in your area, and can also track your rates going forward to make sure you’re never paying more than you should. For example, Schooley Mitchell looks out for your best interests by providing objective advice to reduce your electronic payment processing spend and improve service.

Systematic analysis and auditing will:

  • Uncover and eliminate hidden fees
  • Identify and recover overcharges and billing errors
  • Select and apply appropriate rate categories
  • Ensure government legislation is properly applied

Should you purchase device insurance?

broken-phone-insurance-stock-photoUnless there is a compelling reason to carry insurance for your mobile devices, it is typically not cost effective for most people; its shortcomings outweigh its benefits in most situations. Here are a few reasons why we recommend self-insuring instead.

No Guarantees On Replacement Quality

The replacement phones that are provided are typically refurbished and may not even be the same model as the one they are replacing. They often have limited battery life and most device insurers have no obligation to guarantee you any specific make or model to fulfill their end of the bargain.

Your insurance premium is based on the value of your device – not the device you may receive in a replacement claim. Chances are, simply saving the same amount of money each month could pay for a similarly refurbished device, and give you more options to choose from.

Non-Refundable Deductibles

The deductibles that are required for a lost, broken or stolen phone are quite high and may approach the cost of buying a refurbished phone in the open market. These deductibles can range from $150-$250 depending on the version of the device, which is money wasted whether you make a claim or not.

An Ounce Of Prevention…

In most circumstances the likelihood of a phone that is given proper care breaking down is quite small and does not warrant the expense of the insurance. While accidents do happen, mobile devices that are properly cared for usually reach the end of their average lifespan, or at least until most people decide to upgrade. Chances are, you’re never going to make an insurance claim on your mobile device.

…Is Worth A Pound Of Cure

Unfortunately, if you are accident prone, most device insurers won’t put up with you for long. If you do need the insurance and file multiple claims, the insurance company is very likely to drop you. If you’re insistent on insurance, a “maintenance” section in your budget will keep you covered for the same amount as your premium while keeping control of the funds purely in your hands.

Common Problems Don’t Require Replacement

Many problems for personal phones can be resolved at the carrier’s retail stores, the manufacturer’s retail stores, or licensed repair stores. On average, battery, camera, microphone, headphone jack, power button, speaker, charging port and volume button failures can be repaired for under $100. Screen repairs can average anywhere from $150 to $300. It is usually much cheaper to pay for a repair for these common issues than paying an insurance premium over the course of the agreement.

In Conclusion

Most people are better off self-insuring; unless there is a compelling reason to have the insurance coverage you are likely to save money by foregoing the carrier insurance offering. In fact, phone vendors aren’t shy in admitting that device insurance is one of their most profitable services.

Wireless Phone Service tips

wireless-iphone

A typical personal phone bill is made up of several components, each of which can be managed to provide maximum service at minimal cost. Business plans can be even more complicated thanks to the sheer number of lines associated with a single account. Recent plan changes by the carriers offer consumers new ways to reduce costs and increase user accountability.

The Data Plan

The major carriers have made changes to their data plans that can provide some significant benefits to the consumer, but only if the consumer asks to be put on a new plan.

  • The cost per gigabyte of sharable data can be slightly lower than on legacy plans
  • The new plans allow for “Carry Over” data for unused data from the prior month
  • The new plans also have “Safety Mode” which will protect you from overage charges by offering slower data at no charge when limit is reached or purchase of additional data
  • Some plans offer free international calls to Canada and Mexico with the new data plans

Recommendation:  Know how much data you need and make sure that you are on the right plan to support it. If you have family members that are streaming a lot of music and/or video, understand the costs and manage their data usage.

The Equipment Charges

The major wireless carriers have been making a lot of changes to separate the cost of the equipment from the cost of the service.  This offers consumers an opportunity to lower their costs if they can keep their phones longer than the time it takes to pay them off.  Most carriers will charge a monthly equipment fee to pay off the cost of the equipment which is typically between $20-$30 per month depending on the phone.  In exchange for separating the equipment cost from the service cost the carriers have been able to reduce the monthly cost for just the service.

Recommendation: Don’t feel the need to rush out and get a new phone just because you are eligible for an upgrade. The differences between some of the newer smartphones is negligible and often not worth the additional expense of getting a new phone.

The Per-Device Charge

With the equipment costs being separated out from the service costs, the actual cost of the service drops dramatically and becomes quite predictable. The latest plans offer monthly service costs for smartphones at $20 per month, and tablets and other wireless devices at $10 per month.

Recommendation: If you are paying more than $20 per month for your smartphone make sure you understand why. Smartphones can provide the same functionality that a hot spot device does; in most cases there is no need to keep the hot spot device. Tablets can function on WiFi without the need for any carrier fees; if you are paying for service for your tablet make sure that it is really necessary.

Applications and Features

If you find that you are paying for applications and/or vanity features make sure that you are truly getting the value for what you are paying. There are options like Verizon Navigator that made sense before smartphones were the mainstay, but have been since superseded by free-of-charge apps like Google Maps and Waze.

In Summary

The recent move towards separating service and equipment costs makes it much easier to manage the costs of providing personal cell phones to a family or to establish guidelines for reimbursing wireless phone expenses in a business environment.  The account holder can provide a sharable data plan and suitable service plan for each device while holding individual users accountable for new equipment charges, insurance and personal apps and features.

The carriers will not make these changes for you by default, but they are out there for the taking.

New Nokia 9 allegedly first smartphone to use OZO Audio

nokia_logoThe Nokia 9 hasn’t been officially announced yet, but it has already generated quite the buzz. There are lots of rumors about its potential specs, but the newest one is very interesting. According to SlashGear, the Nokia 9 will allegedly be the first smartphone to use the company’s new OZO Audio technology – a software based, VR-targeted development that promises to enable any camera to record 360-degree or full spatial audio.

For OZO audio to work, the Nokia 9 would need at least two microphones, but ideally four. It would also probably require a beefier processor than previous Nokia phones. However, it would mean that Nokia could advertise its latest device as not just a smartphone, but a portable multimedia studio.

This could be good news for Nokia, which failed to make a splash with its last three Android phones – the Nokia 3, 5, and 6. As a company that has yet to develop a premium Android smartphone, Nokia is looking to prove they can hang with the big dogs with the Nokia 9.

Amazon Storywriter Officially Launched

amazon_logo_RGBAmazon has launched its new Storywriter program, offering free, cloud-based screenwriting software. It’s the media giant’s latest effort to expand its original video and TV content. It will now also accept drama series submissions, in addition to the comedy and children series submissions.

This is part of Amazon Studios, which launched in 2010 as a way to crowdsource the process of finding new material for film and television programs. Writers can upload and make their works public, gain feedback, and ultimately have the opportunity to have their script purchased from Amazon. The children’s show Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street came to Amazon through this medium.

The software is aimed at newcomers who haven’t made a name for themselves in the screenwriting world. It coheres to the strict screenwriting form that some might not know despite their interest in getting into the craft. Amazon Storywriter auto-formats, supports the import and export of PDF files, FDX files, and Fountain formats. It saves work online, and includes an app for Chrome on both Mac and PC.

*Source: TechCrunch