Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How To Get Your Foot in the Door As A Government Contractor

Whatever your product or service, and whatever the market – whether it be federal, state or local government – winning a share of government business can be a complex and time-consuming process.

And no matter how lucrative government contracting can be, for many small business owners the prospect of contracting directly (called 'prime contracting') with a government agency is simply not within their capacity or scope.

This is where government subcontracting comes into play.

As a small business, your best bet for winning a government contract can often be to partner or subcontract with another government contractor – one who has experience and an established network of government contacts.

And this doesn't mean that you'll get a smaller piece of the pie either. The government's goals for subcontracting to small businesses are actually higher than they are for prime contracting. For example, the Department of Defense subcontracting goal for small businesses in 2011 was 31.7 percent, compared to 22.3 percent for prime contracts (source).

Not only can subcontracting be profitable, the experience gained can help you improve your government procurement know-how and prepare you for prime contracting opportunities down the road.

Below are some tips to help you understand the process of government subcontracting and where to find the opportunities.

1. Laws that Support and Enforce Subcontracting to Small Business
Over the years, several laws have been passed regarding subcontracting to small companies. These laws require that prime contractors who have contracts exceeding $500,000 (or $1,000,000 for construction of a public facility) must provide 'maximum practicable subcontracting opportunities to small businesses'. For the purposes of government contracting, a small business is defined by the Small Business Administration (SBA) according to these guidelines.

2. Finding Subcontracting Opportunities
Finding subcontracting opportunities requires a multi-pronged approach.
a) Follow the Opportunity Databases
You can find out about potential subcontracting opportunities through the GSA Subcontracting Directory, which publishes subcontracting opportunities with General Services Administration (GSA) prime contractors, or the SBA's own Subcontracting Network (SUB-Net) that is designed to help prime contractors and subcontractors find each other.
b) Identify the Movers and Shakers
However, as with prime contracting, you need to be in front of your target long before these opportunities are published. This means building relationships and networking with these prime contractors well in advance.
A good way to do this is to reach out to those prime contractors who are winning government contracts in your industry. To get the pulse on who's who in government prime contracting take a look at FedBizOpps' award announcements and the Federal Procurement Data System. These sites publish information about government contract awards and usually include contact information for the prime's procurement manager – the person who negotiates the contract and the subcontracts that support it.
c) Network, Network, Network
Last but not least, pick up the phone, network at government and prime contractor events, and evangelize your pitch. Don't forget to include any kind of status such as woman-owned, small disadvantaged, veteran-owned, or HUBZone business information to your business card.

3. Teaming Agreements
Another variant of subcontracting is to form what is known as a teaming arrangement. However, you'll need to get a GSA Schedule contract for this, since Contractor Team Arrangements (CTA) involve two or more GSA Schedule holders coming together with complementary solutions or services to meet an agency's particular requirements. Find out more about teaming arrangements here.

4. Always Read the Fine Print
If you do engage in subcontracting, be sure you understand the terms and conditions of your contract with the prime contractor – including methods of payment. It's important to know that if the prime is late to pay you or stops payment altogether, as a subcontractor you will have no way to seek recourse from the government. The SBA advises subcontractors to review this payment checklist with a prime contractor prior to signing any agreement:
  • How and when will I receive compensation?
  • What is the paperwork process?
  • What are my options for payment?
  • Will I be paid via Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT)?
  • Will I receive progress payments (for percentage of contract completion)?
  • Will I receive partial payments (for partial delivery of usable items)?
  • Will I receive payment via government credit cards?

5. Get Government Procurement Assistance in your Community
Another great resource for small businesses is the mentoring advice offered by local *Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, which can help you get set up to do business with the government and start building some connections.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How To Set and Negotiate Your Franchise Rates

One of the most critical steps involved in planning and growing your freelance business is setting your rates. However, when you are charging for a service, this is easier said than done and getting it wrong (either way) can compromise your worth, your cash-flow and your business.

Here are three tips for setting your freelance rates, structuring your pricing, and negotiating with clients.

Setting Your Freelance Rate

Pricing the service you provide as a freelancer isn’t easy and is influenced by several factors:
  • What is the going market rate?
  • What experience do you have, both in your line of work and in working with clients? Both are a significant part of your value – someone with experience can command higher rates and clients want to know that you are also self-directed and able to work well on your own.
  • What rate do you feel comfortable with and will sustain your business?

If you are coming out of full-employment and starting on your own, a good rule of thumb to follow when determining your hourly rate is to:
  • Calculate what your annual salary equates to as an hourly rate ($x divide by 52 (work weeks), divide by 40 (week work hours).
  • Then mark it up 25-30%. This piece covers both your value and experience, but also takes care of our business costs such as networking, proposal writing, and other administration, not forgetting your self-employment tax obligations and healthcare insurance costs.

Project Rates versus Hourly Rates

Many factors determine whether it’s better to price by the hour or by the project.

For example, if you have a stable relationship with a client and regular work coming in, quoting work by the hour can work in your favor because there is consistency in work flow and therefore cash flow. However, if you are good at what you do and work quickly and efficiently, pricing work by the hour can potentially result in under-cutting your own revenue opportunity – simply because you can get done in one hour what others take three to complete. Of course the flip side is that the client simply loves you because you deliver quality work in less time and at a lower cost than other freelancers might!

Pricing a flat project fee, regardless of the hours involved also has its risks and benefits. If you are working with a new client, you probably need more time to come up to speed on the project and the client’s work methods than you would do with an existing client. In this case, pricing your work on a project basis can give you the wiggle room you need to research and produce quality work. It also gives the client the benefit of knowing they are working with a fixed cost. However, this can play against you if “project creep” rears its head and you find yourself putting in more hours than you originally anticipated, essentially cutting your profit margin.

A good rule of thumb is to price your work with some structure built-in that clearly lays out the scope of what you will deliver. For example, if you are a freelance copywriter and a client wants you to price out the cost of researching and writing a product brochure, you might structure your pricing proposal as follows:
  • Research: 2 Hours
  • Produce First Draft: 4 Hours
  • Incorporate Edits and Produce Second Draft: 2 Hours
  • Incorporate Final Edits and Produce Final Copy: 1 Hour
  • Total : 7 Hours @ $x hourly rate = $x

Use your normal hourly rate to calculate the flat project fee and only state how many hours each stage of work will take if the client asks for it. By putting some parameters around the project, the client can agree to a clear scope of work at a fixed price.

If you are presenting this type of project-based pricing, be sure to add a caveat that any work done over and above this scope of work will be charged at an hourly rate.

Negotiating Your Rate

Negotiation your rate with a new client is always tricky. There often comes a perception that freelance services come at a low rate, and economic factors invariably mean that clients will try to negotiate you down – whatever number you put on the table.

If you value the new relationship and the opportunity that the work brings, always be open to negotiation. If your client counter-offers your rate but you still feel that it is too low for you to compromise your time and your perceived value, try to stand your ground (if you just accept the lower rate you will always feel that you had to compromise yourself, not to mention how hard it will be to re-negotiate a rate-hike down the line). If the client won’t budge, consider potential compromises – if you are a writer, could you write a shorter, less well researched piece at a rate slightly above what the client proposes. That way you maintain your cost-efficiency with the potential for more work down the line.

Alternatively try to agree to a “ramp-up fee” that gives you a chance to come up-to-speed on the project and the client’s product or service. This can sweeten the deal for you, especially if this is a client who you have no pre-existing relationship with, and who you otherwise might turn away.
Once you have built a foundation of work and decide that this is a client you want to continue to do business with, you may want to negotiate a long-term rate that is a little less than your advertised rate. BUT – only go this route if you think your new client is able to provide you with a solid pipeline of future work.

Remember, freelancers can go for long periods without work and quite often, swapping less work at a higher rate for consistent hours at a lower rate can make good business sense.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

3 Ways to Never Worry About Cash Flow Again

More than half of all microbusinesses routinely face cash flow struggles, according to a study from the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED). Some of the problem is because of lack of financial savvy; some is the result of inaction. If you routinely face cash flow challenges, you gain control over the situation with these 3 actions.

1. Create a savings fund

Unfortunately, 55% of microbusinesses (5 or fewer employees) don’t have enough savings to pay for even one month of expenses. So building up savings is key to being able to stay ahead of cash flow demands.

Of course, creating a sa vings fund is easier said than done for many microbusiness owners. Here are some no-brainers to help:
  • Put any tax refund into the savings fund. The refund is essentially found money. Do the same with any other found money, such as rebates on purchases and bonuses or extra payments from customers.
  • Reduce expenses and add the savings to the fund. Eliminate a monthly bill and then pay that same amount into the fund.
  • Add savings to the business’ budget. Just like individuals are advised by financial experts to build savings into a family budget, business owners should also regularly set aside funds for savings and not spend the money on other items.


2. Get a line of credit

Borrowing isn’t always a great strategy, but having a line of credit in place is an excellent cushion for cash flow challenges. You pay interest only on the funds drawn on the line.

Qualifying for a line of credit depends on your company’s overall financial situation. You’ll have to provide financial data and tax returns for at least the last two years. And in most cases, you’ll have to provide your personal financial information and give your personal guarantee for the line of credit.

3. Increase revenue

Many small businesses, especially consultants, undercharge for goods and services. Review your current pricing strategies and make revisions if warranted. Check:
  • What competitors are charging (this information often can be found online)
  • Whether your current prices reflect your increased costs (e.g., higher gasoline prices)
Another issue for some small business owners is balancing the opportunity for income with the opportunity for tax savings. For example, those on the cash basis may delay year-end billing so that payments are received, and taxes deferred, until the next year. This obviously is counter to smart cash flow planning, which dictates collecting payment as soon as possible for work performed.



The inability to meet cash flow demands can all-too-quickly put a company out of business, regardless of how great the business concept or the people involved in it. Work with a tax, business, or financial expert to help you get control of your finances so that cash flow will never give you concerns again.

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SEO Tips for Your Small Business

 Every small business with an online presence has to deal with the issue of SEO. Most, however, haven’t a clue where to begin. As you delve into the topic across the endless articles on the subject, a feeling of being overwhelmed can easily taint the process; for many, the task seems daunting and endless.

In truth, SEO is not rocket science. While it can be a complicated formula, there are very clear and effective ways to kick start your SEO efforts. In other words, there are SEO tactics that are absolutely essential to success, and they provide the perfect foundation from which to build your strategy.
Don’t be overwhelmed. Be educated. Take the list below and implement each suggestion, one by one, and your rankings will reflect your efforts. They may not land you at the number one position over night, but they will give you a boost and provide insight on what’s working and what’s not. Having a place to start from is priceless. It’s time to dive in and master SEO.

#1: Webmaster Tools are Your Best Ally
If you only use one tool for your SEO, make it Google’s Webmaster Tools. These handy free gizmos help you perfect on-site optimization, which include all the technical details that assist in boosting your site’s ranking. Spend a chunk of time setting up your site on both Google and Bing, and if you’re not familiar with the tools, educate yourself through guides and videos about how critical things like your site’s crawl errors, speed, and overall health really are.

#2: The Key to Great Keywords
If you’re just starting out, or revamping your SEO strategy, it’s not necessary to do a complete comprehensive deep dive into keyword analysis. What is essential is that you get into the mind of your ideal target customer. Start by creating a list of words you feel searchers would use to find your goods and services. Then see how your site ranks for those search terms, and identify areas where improvement is required.

In the old days, Google Analytics was a great tool for identifying top keywords for your site, but not anymore; they’ve kicked into sleuth mode and made it difficult to ascertain key phrases. You can, however, use Google Analytics to identify the content on your site that is attracting the highest volume of traffic. Then work backwards; determine what keywords are drawing that traffic to your site, and duplicate them throughout.

Want to know where your main keywords should be placed? Here’s a handy list:
  1. Title Tag – The text that appears in a browser’s heading that describes your site’s content
  2. Image ALT Tags – This tells search engines what your images display
  3. Page URL – Never use spaces or underscores, but do use keywords wherever possible
  4. Image File Names – Just like ALT tags, these indicate how your site’s pictures relate to your overall theme
  5. Meta Description – This is the text searches see in results; it’s imperative your keywords appear here
  6. Keyword Density – More is not necessarily better. 5% is sufficient – make sure your content has your keywords, but reads very well to an actual viewer, not a search engine bot.
  7. Page Content – By far the most important aspect; your content must be compelling and valuable, in addition to containing your keywords

#3: Make Content Easily Shareable
Social signals continue to become more weighted when it comes to search engine results, so each piece you publish should be very easy to share across social networks. Share buttons should be highly visible – studies have shown that posts with share buttons generate 7 times more mentions, so this simple step is incredibly powerful. Don’t forget to make images shareable too; more and more users are showcasing pictures that pack a punch over words, so give your visitors the option and your social signals will soar.

The same is true for your social media efforts. Tweets with images received 150% more retweets than those without. Finally, don’t forget to perform A/B testing with text on both your website and your social marketing campaigns. Don’t just ride on assumptions – test your theories and make sure your audience is responding as expected.

#4: Create Knock-Their-Socks-Off Content
There’s simply no replacement for stellar content. Your website should be brimming with valuable knowledge shares, infographics, slideshows, podcasts, and videos that entice your viewers to keep coming back. Great content creates viral sensations that can spike your traffic and revenues astronomically. Nothing is more vital to your SEO health than current, wow-worthy content. The Content Marketing Institute tells us that 92% of marketers are using content to boost their sales, and 60% intend to boost the amount of content they create in the next 12 months. If you spend money on only one facet of your marketing, hiring great content writers and marketers is the ideal bang for your buck decision.

If you have great keywords and amazing, easily shareable content, you are literally light years beyond most of your competition. SEO doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. Focus on these key attributes, and utilize Google’s free tools, and you have a fighting chance to gain the lion’s share of your audience’s attention.

What other simple yet effective SEO tools have you discovered?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Could You Quit Facebook for 99 Days ?

The Quit Facebook for 99 Days Movement

99 Days of freedom

Facebook is the site millions of visitors love to hate. Strike that: billions of people actively use Facebook – 1.23 billion at the end of 2013. That equates to 757 million daily logins, and 640 million minutes spent (wasted?) on the site monthly. A whopping 48 percent of users login every single day, spending an average of 18 minutes doing status updates, liking content, and posting compromising photos from last night’s drinking binges.

But with all the endless lamenting over how Facebook is a waste of time, the question remains: does it really make you happy? Do all those political rants and kitten videos enhance one’s quality of life, or is it all just part of the incessant clutter that weighs us down?

A creative agency called Just out of Leiden, Netherlands starting pondering that possibility in recent months. Spurred on by reports that Facebook has purposely manipulated users’ emotions, Just has not only posed the happiness question to all of Facebook’s 1.23 billion users, they’ve also challenged us to give up the addiction for 99 days and monitor emotional responses, sans manipulation. For many, the results have been like digital Prozac.

The Birth of an Anti-Facebook Movement
While this isn’t the first time folks have tried to rally against the habitual usage of this mammoth social network, it is unique in studying happiness levels throughout the process.

Because of the recent news about Facebook intentionally changing users’ streams to showcase either negative or positive content, the folks at Just started seriously considering the ramifications. Art Director Merijn Straathof describes how the movement came to be:

“Like a lot of Facebook users, many of us were bothered by reports of secret mood experiments. As we discussed it internally, we noted an interesting tendency: Everyone had at least a ‘complicated’ relationship with Facebook. Whether it was being tagged in unflattering photos, getting into arguments with others, or simply regretting time lost through excessive use, there was a surprising degree of negative sentiment.”

Rather than just lament the addiction, they decided to dig into what really happens emotionally when Facebook is out of the picture. Just is now on a crusade to document what life is really like when one decides to break-up with the biggest social network on the planet.

Join the Crusade to Give Up Facebook for 99 Days

Here’s how the “Quit Facebook for 99 Days” movement works:

1) First, visit the movement’s website, called 99 Days of Freedom. Register as a bona fide participant, and commit yourself to ceasing all Facebook usage for the duration. No cheating, as that will unfairly skew the results. Feeling a bit of panic over the withdrawals? You’re not alone.

2) Next, post a “time-off” image from the site on your Facebook profile; this both evangelizes the movement and communicates to all your Facebook friends why it is that you are no longer commenting and posting up a storm. It may even inspire some of them to join you in liberation.

3) You can also set-up a personal countdown on your profile, indicating your triumphant return (assuming you don’t discover life without the digital leash is simply not worth giving up.)

4) Anonymous “happiness surveys” will then land in your inbox at the 33-day, 66-day, and 99-day markers. These are crucial to the study, so answer them honestly. Although this movement did start out as a joke of sorts, Just is now very serious about logging tangible results in this study, hoping to prove whether or not the social network is a blessing or a nuisance to our overall mental health.

5) Feel free to post early and often on their message boards too; this is a way to share in real-time how the time-off is affecting your life, for better or for worse.

Ask Not What You Can Do for Facebook, but What Facebook Can Do for You
Here’s the thing about Facebook usage: it’s obvious to see how it benefits Facebook itself (they had over $7.8 billion in revenues last year). Have you ever really thought about how Facebook benefits you?

If you’re strictly a Facebook user, that can be a legitimately tough question to answer. Maybe it keeps you more connected to friends and family you would otherwise not have in your life. Maybe it’s your primary source of entertainment. But at what cost do these benefits come at? And is the good and bad in balance, especially now that we know Facebook is not above manipulating our streams and experiences. These are worthwhile questions to consider.

Businesses obviously love Facebook for the massive potential reach, but have you quantified the actual financial impact the site has on your bottom line? As ads have become more costly, is the ROI still worth all the hassle? For many, efforts in Facebook advertising are all in vain, yet it seems like the place to be, so marketers are hesitant to pull out.

Regardless of whether or not you join the movement, it’s a fabulous opportunity to re-evaluate precious time, money, and other resources spent on this insanely popular network. If there’s obvious value in your continued usage, march ahead with full force. But, if you’re one of the thousands of folks who have discovered life is better without Facebook, you now have a movement to prove you’re not crazy.

What is your take on the 99 Days Without Facebook craze?

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