How to Stand Out as a Brand When You’re a Young Company

By Rachel Fowler

A Princeton survey reported at SmallBusiness showed that not less than 67% of Americans favor small business.

With this in mind, I decided to try my best in small business in America right after graduation. It has been a long journey with lots of painful mistakes. So to save you time, I decided to give you some of my personal tips on how to stand out as a brand.

Make it clear what your brand is. Merchandising, products and logo are very important but not as important as your brand. It is mostly about the experiences of your customers summed with visual elements and customers’ interactions. Take into account that your PR company, your internet publications, mentions and even your social media should be presented in the exact same tone to get your customers’ trust.

Stand out from the crowd of competitors. Unless you have designed a new source of power that can replace oil and gas, you have to be different in order to stand out from the crowd of competitors. Pinpoint your strong sides that make your brand unique. Don’t forget to include your differentiation in your marketing materials.

Make great products. No one will doubt that the key to being successful among small business companies is to have great products. If your product is lacking quality or service, no PR company will help you. Word of mouth is the best marketing tool and you should use it well. Getting your customers to recommend you to their friends is a big deal, which shouldn’t be underestimated. 

Ensure that your customers know the face behind the product. Most small businesses fail because of the repetitive absence of the owner. Take the “Kitchen Nightmares” television show as a simple example- no restaurant can stay open, if the business is being run by itself. You have to be everywhere and literally know everything that goes on in your company. Your employees will look up to you and if you are not engaged, neither will they be.

Make a recognizable name and logo. It is important to make an effective logo at the beginning. Changing logo and worse the name of the company can be quite costly down the road. It should be recognizable and reflect the nature of your product as much as possible. For example, if you have a dog company, your name should be closely associated and recognizable among your target audience. Take “Woofies” and “Doggone Natural” as examples. Both names reflect the nature of the product and are easily recognized by customers.

Make a value proposition. This shouldn’t be confused with a price. The value means to think what your customers need, instead of thinking what you want from them. Put yourself in their shoes, spend a day with your customer, and see what he/she likes, what are his/her hobbies, day routine, job, budget problems. Only after you understand the needs of your customer you will understand the value of your product.

What are your lessons learned starting out as a young brand/company?

This is a post by Rachel Fowler, a recent graduate from NYU. Right now she works as an independent contributor at

Featured image via Flickr CC: kenda bustami

10 Tips: How to Stay Focused through the Coming Year

By Robert Morris

We are already almost one month into the new year, so it’s time to really buckle down and make sure we can stay focused in 2014. Many people make resolutions and they promise to realize them every New Year, but somehow those aspirations tend to fade away after the first few months.

Don’t you wish to do things differently this time? The following practical tips will help you work on your habits that will help you stay focused on the aims you set.

1. You need daily rituals

No matter how spontaneous you want your life to be, sticking to daily routines is what will get those things of the list realized. You cannot have high levels of focus if you don’t follow a routine that will keep you within the boundaries of productiveness. Pay attention to your sleeping and eating patterns, plan some time for personal satisfaction and make sure to plan breaks that will give you more energy to tackle all daily challenges.

2. Visualize your goals

Creating a vision board will give you a great presentation of your dreams and goals, making them more real. You can add images, as well as souvenirs, articles, or quotes related to your great yearly goals. When you visualize your aims clearly, you will work harder towards their achievement.

3. Don’t set too many BIG goals

Your list has to contain one or two big goals that you plan to accomplish. Don’t set too many of these big goals, because you will overwhelm yourself and then end up disappointed, but don’t leave your list without any great expectations either. Check in on those goals every month and think about what you have done up to that point.

4. Don’t leave things uncompleted

The only way to stay focused on your goals is to complete everything you start. Don’t give up on a task you have started, because that will weaken your mental strength and leave you with diminished self-confidence. Stay determined and always do your best to complete every single task you start. Success in life is guided by a simple rule – without doing your best, you won’t achieve the best possible outcome.

5. Give yourself some daily time alone

No matter how active your life is, you won’t get anywhere without spending some time with yourself and your thoughts. Constant involvement in social life depletes you and results in an inevitable burnout. If you are overly active, it’s only a matter of time when your body and/or mind will give up. Spend some time doing things you love – take long walks, listen to good music, read great books, meditate, do yoga, or whatever else that pleases and relaxes you.

6. Multitasking is good, but do it less!

Multitasking is sometimes a beneficial skill to master, but the truth is that you cannot accomplish your best at everything when doing too many things at once. When you focus your brain on a single task, you will devote yourself fully to it and the outcome will be much better.

7. Make daily to-do lists

Making daily to-do lists is a great strategy to train your brain to stay focused. When you end the day with all tasks crossed out on the list, you will have a feeling of accomplishment and you will be happy to repeat that every single day. Plan your goals by organizing your tasks into a few categories and separating the things you need to do today, tomorrow, this week, and this month. Making to-do lists is also a great way to make priorities and keep your energy focused on the most important tasks.

8. Have goal buddies

When you have people with similar goals, you will support and motivate each other to stay focused on their achievement. Your “goal buddies” will remind you about the things you promised to achieve, and their success will push you to keep up.

9. Learn how to avoid distractions

You convince yourself that checking your e-mail, Facebook and Twitter every few minutes relaxes you, but the truth is that this bad habit is a huge distraction from the really important things. Make sure to complete every important task you have for the day before you allow yourself the luxury of spending time on Facebook. When you finish everything faster and more efficiently, you can reward yourself with virtual socializing.

10. Learn how to be focused on staying focused

Staying focused is a skill that’s really simple to explain: you concentrate your mind on a single thing and don’t allow it to be disturbed by anything else. It’s not impossible; it just requires a lot of practice, commitment, and dedication. Your daily relaxation or meditation will help you free your mind of all distracting thoughts, and you will soon notice how you are getting better in controlling your habits and emotions and staying focused on your goals.

Be prepared for the fact that the upcoming year won’t be free of distractions and problems no matter how hard you work on your goals, but the most important thing is to stay within the routine you establish and don’t attach yourself to the results.

Author’s Bio: Robert Morris is a freelance writer from essay writing service NinjaEssays. He loves writing tips and tricks for students. He is interested in improving his writing and learning through technology. Follow @Ninjaessays on Twitter!

Savvy Blog Growth Tips for Small Businesses

By Christopher McMurphy

The phrase “adapt or die” has proved true in the animal kingdom, and it has a place in the wild world of marketing as well. Monumental shifts in the advertising landscape since the advent of the Internet have only served to buttress this point. And while larger organizations often have the full weight of entire marketing departments at their disposal, it can be difficult for smaller operations to keep up with the trends. And failing to move with the times can spell certain death for any outfit.

But those small businesses that feel they lack the means to mount an effective online marketing campaign are sorely mistaken. Any organization, big or small, can utilize modern, proven methods to convert leads into customers and generate that attractive ROI. Here’s how.

Set a schedule

Those running an operation themselves may rightly feel they don’t have much time to commit to crafting and posting regular blog posts. That said, there’s no need for the frazzled business owner to overextend him or herself. Owners should commit to a preliminary schedule that involves making at least one post per week. Once a firm schedule has been set, owners can then focus on increasing the output over a period of time, such as to multiple blog posts per week.

Hire out

Some owners may simply be too busy to even commit to one or two posts per week, and that is understandable. However, that is no reason to forgo a blogging strategy entirely. Time-strapped owners can outsource their needs and hire writers from across the web. There are plenty of quality guest bloggers out there, all with the skill and expertise required to contribute authoritative, original blog posts on a variety of subjects.


In the world of blogging, the hard sell is anathema to success. The most successful bloggers reach large audiences by getting personal with their readers. When it comes to small businesses, owners are going to want to craft an overall theme to their blog posts (helpful DIY tips, Top-5 lists, etc., etc.) and engage while staying on message. Oftentimes owners find success in this manner by adding personal details and experiences within the content.

Offer help

The best (and most successful) blogs contain content that is of some use to the reader. The average web surfer is highly likely to bypass all blog posts that contain nothing more than sales pitches on their way to more helpful content. That means the blogger needs to be credible in the field in which they write about. An auto parts business, for example, should consider publishing posts on DIY auto repair, as this is of use to their target audience.

Be honest

One of the best ways small business owners can achieve success through blogging is by being honest. The most successful blogs around are transparent and forthcoming about what it is they represent. Fine print doesn’t translate in the blog world, so business owners should air on the side of prudence and gain trust through total honesty.

In the end, if there’s one thing that all small business owners and operators should take away from this article, it is the need for consistency. All the content in the world won’t matter much unless it is visible on a regular basis. That means being diligent in adhering to a firm blogging schedule is paramount for any successful content strategy.

Author’s Bio: Christopher McMurphy is a seasoned blogger and expert in the field of digital marketing. Among other things, he focuses on SEO, copywriting and social media.

15 Ways to Zig When You Want to Zag

When you woke up this morning, did you grab your robe, shuffle to the kitchen, and press the Brew button? (Mine was a Starbucks Verona K-cup.)

How to zig when you want to zag

Most people spend their entire lives in that same state of semi-aware robot sameness. They do the same thing every day, say the same things, write the same things, look the same way.

And then they expect something to change.

They’re stuck.

My suggestion is: zig when you want to zag.

  1. Have tea tomorrow morning instead of coffee.
  2. Wear an acid green shirt.
  3. Drive a different route to work (or hitch a ride with a colleague).
  4. If you always write about marketing, write a post about neuropsychology or ant farming.
  5. Practice a new response to “how are you?” Instead of “fine, how are you,” what if you said, “I’m FANtastic!”
  6. Floss tomorrow.
  7. If you’ve been afraid to submit a guest post to your favorite blog, just do it.
  8. When you normally would say “no thank you” to something, go for it and say “sure, thanks!”
  9. Go for a full day without typing minimizing words in any emails (like “just” or “sorry”).
  10. Have lunch at a place you’ve never been.
  11. Have you become afraid of talking on the phone? Call three clients out of the blue.
  12. Mail a handwritten thank you note to someone.
  13. If you have a habit of checking email first thing in the morning, wait until noon.
  14. Pick a new habit to incorporate into your routine (listen to this awesome podcast from Michael Hyatt for some help with that).
  15. Choose one task you need to get done, and ask someone for help with it.

Get unstuck. Out of the rut.

Things will change if you change them.

The Successful-Blog community is here to help. What can we help you get unstuck from?

Author’s Bio: Rosemary O’Neill is an insightful spirit who works for social strata — a top ten company to work for on the Internet . Check out the Social Strata blog. You can find Rosemary on Google+ and on Twitter as @rhogroupee

Photo Credit: purplemattfish via Compfight cc

How to Avoid the 6 Most Common Business Blogging Mistakes

By Landon Lourell

If you have your own business, then you’ll definitely want to make sure that you use all of the tools available to you in so that you can reach as wide an audience as possible and start building up a platform. One of the most powerful platform building tools out there today is blogging.

Before you jump in and unleash your first blog on the business world, you’ll want to make sure that you’re doing it the right way. Put your excitement to the side for just a moment and do some research to see what makes a blog popular and what makes a blog a complete waste of time for you and your audience. There are six mistakes in particular that a majority of bloggers seem to make that can tarnish your business blog.

1. Neglecting to Include a Bio

It doesn’t matter how magnificent, insightful and informative your blog posts are, readers want to know who you are and what kind of business you have. Be sure that you have a full ABOUT US page somewhere on your blog, preferably in a location that’s easy for readers to see. On the ABOUT US page, include a bio and either a picture of you if you’re the sole proprietor of your business, or a picture of you and your staff. Doing this allows your readers to connect with you and your business instead of you just being a faceless, nameless blog.

You should also be sure that you have either your name or the name of your business prominently on your blog. The header is one of the best spots for this. By including your name in the header, you’ll make it easier for search engines to find you and your awesome blog posts. Your name and the name of your business are your brand, always remember that.

2. Lack of Contact Information

Think of what it’s like reading one of the best blog posts you’ve ever read and wanting to get in touch with the author only to find no sign of contact information. Readers shouldn’t have to spend time going over your blog with a digital fine-tooth comb trying to find an email address, website address or phone number where they can reach you or a representative of your business. You never know how many valuable business connections you can make with your blog, but you won’t make any at all if no one can reach you. Be sure to add contact information on your ABOUT US page.

3. Lack of Information About Your Services

Let readers know what type of services you offer. Be as specific as possible when describing your services, so that you don’t confuse anyone and make sure that your blog posts are relevant to the kinds of service you offer and the industry that you’re in. You’ll get a lot of raised eyebrows if you’re an economist writing blog posts about how to put antique cars together.

Your blog should be a place where you share information, interact with your audience/potential customers, and offer free tips. Readers don’t want to feel like they’re reading a sales ad for your business every time they visit your blog. There’s nothing wrong with a plug here and there, but focus more on giving than getting.

4. Having Too Many Blogs

There’s no need for you to have multiple blogs if you have multiple services; all that does is give you more posts and things to write about on the one blog that you have. If you decide to have multiple business blogs, one or more of them is sure to be neglected. Some blogging platforms give you the option of having more than one page for your blog where you can post about different subject areas. Readers don’t want to have to bookmark all three of your business blogs when it’s better and easier for the both of you for you to just have one blog. If your readers receive an email notification every time you post a new blog and you update all of your blogs on the same day, you’ll clutter up their inbox, which is a huge no-no.

5. Not Including a Link to Your Website

Be sure that you include a link to your business website on your blog. Think of your blog as another chapter in your novel. Give your readers a table of contents so they know exactly where to go when they’re in need of a certain type of information. With links, you’ll want to be careful that you don’t have too many of them as this can potentially scare readers off. In today’s fast paced world where most people have a short attention span, who has the time or the desire to click through ten different links? Besides a link to your business website, include links to any articles or guest blog posts that you’ve written or that your business is mentioned in.

6. Making Commenting All But Impossible

Making readers jump through a variety of hoops just to leave a comment will more than likely frustrate them and cause them to abandon the whole thing. When you get a sizeable audience, you might have to be more diligent about keeping out spambots, but in the beginning you don’t really have to worry about them too much.

While these are the most common blunders to avoid on your business blog, a few more you’ll want to avoid include filling your blog with unnecessary graphics, having long load times for your blog and blogging inconsistently. Have fun with your blog and make it your own, but make sure that you have a few ground rules in place before you start.

What are some of the most glaring errors and missteps that you’ve noticed on other blogs, business or otherwise?

Author’s Bio: Landon Lourell is a marketing associate with MonsterDisplays, an online source for trade show displays. Landon is passionate about all things business marketing related and enjoys sharing his knowledge with others through blogging.

How to Get Customers to Open Your Email

By Mark Saghy

Email is, has, and continues to be, one of the best ways to retain customers. It reminds them you’re still around. It reminds them they need to purchase something from you that they may otherwise forget about. It is often the single greatest way to highlight a new product, promote a new brand, or inform about an upcoming sale or event.

How to get your email opened

A person’s inbox is, for many, a sacred space; for most of us, we check it daily, hourly, or even more frequently than that. The advent of smartphones makes it impossibly easy to stay connected to our flow of email coming through.

Despite the benefits, sending your customers an email can be a very sharp double-edged sword. With the increased ease of email use and access can often come a heightened sense of intolerance about the amount of business or advertising that flows through it.

Even with your most dedicated and loyal customers, there is a fine line between informing them and annoying them. One extra email, one unhelpful or confusing title, one tiny mistake noticed at an otherwise bad time, and bam–that customer has deleted the email without even opening it, or worse–they have permanently unsubscribed from your mailing list.

Here are some ways to keep that to a minimum, while encouraging customers to open as much of your email as possible.

Remember the Value of Quality over Quantity

Clearly, one of the best ways to lose customers is to inundate them with email. Again, a customer’s inbox is their personal space; they don’t want it being tied up with marketing campaign after marketing campaign. Unless the customer has specifically requested to receive a particular quantity of email from your company, it’s pretty safe to assume that you should pick and choose your battles very carefully when sending out a message. Consider the following:

  • Think about why you are emailing-is it a friendly “hello”, or do you have very important news you feel your customers would like to know?
  • When was the last time you sent an email out, and why? Is your message informing them of something new or exciting, or has business slowed down a bit, prompting you to send out a communication?
  • The last time you sent an email, did you check the number of mailing subscribers afterwards, to see if you lost any? If you did, how many did you lose, and what percentage of the total was that?

Each of these questions should be analyzed, a clear answer formulated, and those answers compared with one another. This should typically be done before every email you send out. Remember, you want to focus on the quality of emails being sent, while also keeping a close eye on the quantity emailed over a period of time. Even the best-crafted emails will start being ignored if you send too many of them.


No matter how far we have advanced technologically, some of the basic tenets of sales and customer service still apply to the business world today. Even though email cannot create the same kind of in-person relationship that a brick-and-mortar store can have, you can still try to recreate a perceived sense of a personal relationship with your customer. Done right, this can still be one of your most important retention tools.

One great way to help personalize emails is simply to use names. “Dear Customer” is one way to ensure the customer knows you don’t care enough to address them by name-even if their name is sitting right there in your mailing list database. Why not use “Dear Shirley” instead? It’s a simple fix and, presuming there is indeed a database of names, it can be computer automated.

Furthermore, consider having a name in the “from” portion of the email, too. Rather than, consider using “Paul D. in Sales” or “Maggie,’s VP”. In addition to encouraging the customer to open the email, doing this makes it sound more personal, more relatable, and less like a standard form letter-even if you send this same exact email to hundreds of your customers.

Keep It Simple, Keep It Clear

People are busier than ever before, and as such, people are more connected to their inboxes than ever before. Mostly gone are the days of walking out of the office and leaving that world behind until the next morning; for many of us, we are expected or required to maintain email communication with our jobs, no matter where we are-including a the dinner table, while traveling, or while watching our kid’s baseball game. Therefore, it is arguably more important than ever to keep the emails you send your customers as simple, clear, and effective as humanly possible.

You will need to use a little bit of psychology here: instead of thinking about the message from your company’s perspective, consider it from the customer’s point of view. Answer the one very important question your customer is often thinking when staring at your email: “why should I open this?” Whatever you want the answer to be, make that the primary focus of the message.

  • Want to pitch a new product? Make the title pop, give as little background information as is needed in the intro, then pitch that product immediately.
  • Upcoming sale? Make sure the customer knows it within the first few seconds of reading.
  • Just checking in to say hi and keep in touch? Do it quickly; skip the fluff.

Keep your email as short as you can, and get your point across in as few words as possible. After you have composed your email, a great way to edit it for clarity is to go back and remove anything that isn’t absolutely relevant or necessary. When possible, bring in a second set of eyes to help with editing and whittling down the language.

Want to share some of your best email tips? Do you have a favorite subject line?

Author’s Bio: Mark Saghy is a marketing executive at He is constantly learning and finds joy in sharing his knowledge with the blogging world. You can find him on Google +.

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4 Key Time Management Tips for Even the Busiest Business Owner

By Jennifer Dunn

Owning your own business is amazing, but there are times when it’s practically a nightmare. Sometimes it gets so hard you just want to give up and go back to a 9 to 5. This usually comes after you’ve tried and tried to catch up on tasks but can’t seem to find any time to keep your head above water, much less actually get ahead.

It doesn’t have to be like this! With a few simple tips you can turn your frazzled brain into a relaxed center of productivity. Don’t give up on your entrepreneurial dreams just yet – check out the following tips and see if any of them can help you.

Get Organized

This seems like an obvious thing to say, but it’s an important point to make nonetheless. Most business owners waste so much time searching around their office, store, or home for a paper or object that should’ve been properly stored away (think: tax time). Eventually you’ll waste so much time on this that other tasks fall to the wayside as you struggle to keep up.

Get an organizational process in place for whatever’s driving you nuts – for example, receipts should all go into a folder so you can find them easily. Alternatively you can use a service like Shoeboxed to digitize receipts for super easy retrieval. Are you always searching for files on your computer? Create a digital filing system. Do you spend hours resetting your passwords? Check out a password management system like LastPass.

Once you have this organization in place, keep it up! Don’t let it slip or you’ll go right back into your old habits.

Don’t Multitask

If you want to get more things done, common sense tells you should just do more things at once. This way you get done with tasks quicker, right? In fact, the evidence says otherwise – multitasking does more harm than good.

It’s all about spending energy – if you give 33% to three tasks, they may not turn out any better than if you spent 100% on one thing at a time. If something gets messed up, you just have to start over again anyway. Learn how to tackle one thing at a time properly so you don’t spread yourself thin. Welcome to “unitasking.”

Get Apps to Help

Tired of doing everything yourself? You may not be able to hire any help, but you can certainly afford to acquire some robots to aid you. Oh, you don’t have a connection to someone at a robotics factory? Then settle for the next best thing and grab some apps.

Whether you have a smartphone, a tablet, or laptop, there are hundreds of applications (and other software) you can grab to help you do simple tasks that eat up your time. Whether it’s financial tracking, task management, shopping lists, or a thousand other things, there’s a way to streamline it.

Step Away

Another bit of “common sense” that can get you into hot water is attempting to power through a task that’s driving you nuts. Once you get into the habit of doing everything yourself you tend to want to get it all out of the way as quickly as you can. However, like multitasking, this can actually do more harm than good.

Instead, take a nice break once in a while. Go outside, take a walk, play a game, read a book, or just stare at the wall – as long as it’s not about work. This break can not only give you a nice physical stretch it can free up your brain to come up with solutions to your problems quickly.

What are your time management tips for time strapped business owners?

Author’s Bio: Jennifer Escalona Dunn is the owner of Social Street Media where she writes about small business, tech and finance for sites like WePay and Outright. You can find her on Twitter @jennescalona.

10 Step Half-Year Blog Checkup – How YOU Doin?

It’s almost the halfway point of 2013–time to take stock and make sure you’re putting your best foot forward. Remember those shiny dreams and goals you came up with in January?

To quote my favorite Friend, Joey, “how YOU doin?”

Let’s find out by running through 10 quick checkpoints. There’s still the whole second half of the year to do a course correction and kick butt.

10 Step Half-Year Blog Checkup

  1. Go into your Google Analytics and find your most popular post. Use that as a jumping off point for more content. Update the topic, do a “part two,” or simply re-promote it via your social channels. You might be able to get more juice out of it.
  2. Run a poll or send an email to get feedback from your readers about what they need. Use the results to guide your writing for the rest of the year.
  3. Make sure you are up to date with your software and plugins. When’s the last time you updated your WordPress? Are there better plug-ins you could be using? Do you need to renew any licences?
  4. Check current best practices for your sidebar, ads, and extra content. Is it time to delete some of those old conference badges, test removing your social profiles, or add a promo for your new e-book? There’s a great blog/community review video at Live Your Legend.
  5. Do you need to update your logo, tag line, or branding? When is the last time you refreshed your graphics?
  6. Is your editorial calendar set for the rest of the year? You don’t have to have a headline for every day of the week, but it might be good to sit down and come up with broad topic areas for each week or even each month. You’ll be sitting pretty if you feed your stockpile of headline ideas at the same time. How is your blog draft “slush pile?”
  7. Check in with your goals from the beginning of the year. How have you done? Do you need to make any course corrections? Pat yourself on the back if you’ve checked any big goals off the list already. It’s so important to take time to celebrate your wins. If there’s something on the goal list that you haven’t accomplished, think about whether it was a good goal to begin with.
  8. Update your social sharing tools and make sure you’re taking full advantage of new developments. All of the major social networks have undergone major changes since January. There are now verified Pinterest pages for your business, Facebook has changed its cover photo policy to allow more text, and Twitter now has interactive “cards” available to embed in blog posts. Have you looked at yet?
  9. Get up to speed on disclosure regulations. Are you compliant? It might be time to take a moment and read the updated FTC guidelines.
  10. Is your mobile experience optimized? Check your Google Analytics again and note how much of your audience is reading your blog on a mobile device. My guess is that it’s a big chunk! Take time to ensure that your site is mobile-ready.

Let’s use the rest of 2013 to inspire each other to success!

Author’s Bio: Rosemary O’Neill is an insightful spirit who works for social strata — a top ten company to work for on the Internet . Check out the Social Strata blog. You can find Rosemary on Google+ and on Twitter as @rhogroupee

3 Tips for More Customer Referrals

By Jennifer Dunn

You need more clients, but what’s the easiest way to get them? Simple – through clients you’ve already done business with! However, what isn’t simple is obtaining customer referrals when you don’t know how to go about it. Here are three things you can do to ensure you’ll get a great referral at the end of a job.

1. Knock Their Socks Off

There’s absolutely no way you will get a referral from your client if you don’t do the job they wanted correctly. Would you give a carpenter a referral if they only fixed 3/4 of your floor? Of course not – it would severely hurt your reputation as a business owner and as someone to be trusted.

Make sure you’re doing absolutely everything your client wanted you to do. You may think you’ve completed a job but later discover you forgot a few things. These “few things” can be disastrous – not only to your chances of a referral but also to the client ever knocking on your door again.

2. Follow Up

Most jobs end when the client pays and you go your separate ways. The work is done and the client goes to see if what you’ve done will improve their business, life, or both. You go and try to find someone else to hire you so you can keep paying the bills.

However, that’s not really the end of it all, is it? The client doesn’t really know if what you’ve done has worked until it’s been road-tested. If you’ve created a new front page for their website, they could experience severe backlash to it even though it’s amazing. Their customers might rail against it for a myriad of reasons and you don’t know until it’s out there.

If you follow up with your client, it shows you’re actively invested in their business and not just a passing face in the crowd. Ask them how things are going and if they need any further help. If you see some interesting news they could use, send it along. It shows you care about them and your relationship with them, which can lead to good things down the road.

3. Ask and Offer Incentives

Your client probably has no clue you would like a referral. You can’t just assume they can read your mind no matter how heavily you hint. You just need to come out and ask.

Timing is key, though. If you haven’t completed the above two steps don’t even think about asking your client to refer you to his or her colleagues. On the other hand, waiting too long can be just as bad. The client may not even remember you if you wait half a year to contact them about it!

Sometimes incentives can do the trick. For example, offer your client a discount for the next job they need done if they refer a friend or two. If they’re a repeat client and they regularly bring in more work you can up the ante even more. Rewarding them for maintaining a good relationship with your company is never a bad thing!

Do you regularly ask for client referrals? How do you do it?

Author’s Bio: Jennifer Escalona Dunn is the owner of Social Street Media where she writes about small business, tech and finance for sites like WePay and Outright. You can find her on Twitter @jennescalona.

What All Freelancers Must Know About Tax Season

By Adria Saracino

To the new and veteran freelancer alike, tax season can be a time of dread. While there are many tax benefits to be taken advantage of, it can be difficult to navigate the maze of regulations surrounding each deduction–not to mention you have to make sure you’re sending all of the correct forms to the correct places.

But it doesn’t have to be a complete headache — not with the right resources. That’s why we’re recommending the seven tips below, which cover all of the essentials, as well as the documents available in this extensive tax resource center. With these two sources, you’ll find answers to all of your most burning freelancer tax questions — and a few you didn’t even know to ask.

1. Know What Taxes You’ll Need to Pay

If you’ve ever worked directly for an employer, you’re probably used to paying income, social security and Medicare taxes. As a freelancer, you’ll also need to pay a self-employment tax. This is because you are your own business, and therefore have to match your tax contributions in the same way your employer would have, for a total contribution of 15.3%. That’s 12.4% for social security and 2.9% for Medicare tax.

You’ll also have to pay an income tax, for which you can use your last year’s rates as a guide, or you can check the IRS site for income bracket cutoffs. Lastly, it’s important to check with your state revenue department and municipality to determine whether or not they are expecting taxes from you as well. For most freelancers, you will make the bulk of these payments in the form of estimated taxes at the end of every quarter — that’s the 15th of every January, April, June and September — using form 1040-ES.

2. File the Correct Forms

Every time a new client hires you as a contractor, they will have you fill out a W-9. That’s so that when tax season rolls around, they can send you a 1099, which will state the amount of money they’ve paid you. Note: You won’t receive this form for total income of less than $600.

You may be used to filing a 1040A or 1040-EZ form; as a freelancer, you’ll have to switch back to the original 1040 form, as you’ll be reporting self-employment income. To account for taxes related specifically to your business you will also need to file a Schedule C, though those with relatively simple businesses like writers or graphic designers will be fine filing a less complex Schedule C-EZ.

Lastly, you will need to calculate your self-employment tax on Schedule SE form.

Note: These forms and types of taxes paid will differ slightly for freelancers who have filed as a corporation — something all freelancers should consider for tax and liability purposes — but that is an article unto its own.

3. Take Advantage of Deductions

Now for the fun part! There are a number of juicy deductions available to freelancers. That said, it’s important to know the difference between what counts as a business lunch and what counts as a “ridiculous splurge that will anger the IRS.” And we can’t say it enough: keep your receipts.

  • Office Supplies: From the furniture in your office to that colorful new packet of Post-Its, office supplies are fully deductible. However, if you’re just starting out, you may want to brush up on the differences between current and capitalized expenses.
  • Advertising and Internet Expenses: Billboards, fliers, leaflets, online ad campaigns, and the internet connection itself. Add the expenses up, and deduct away.
  • Professional Services: Whether you’ve employed a bookkeeper to keep track of your finances or you’ve taken a continuing education course to further your career, the costs you paid are all deductible.
  • Insurance: If you have business insurance, it’s fully deductible. Health insurance is as well on form 1040 as an adjustment to income.
  • Home Office: You can deduct a percentage of your rent and utilities, based on the size of your home office.
  • Travel: If you travel to clients, track your mileage for a deduction at the 2012 rate of 55.5 cents per mile. Travel for business trips is also deductible, as are any meals and hotel rooms related to business travel.

This is just a sampling of the deductions available. You’ll find a more extensive guide here.

4. Be Wary of Audit Red Flags

One big caveat to all of these deductions: the IRS keeps its eye on freelancers for any kind of fudging, so you’ll want to make sure you’re not setting off alarm bells. A few common triggers include:

  • The Home Office Deduction: This is by far one of the most commonly abused deductions, partially because the regulations concerning just what you can and cannot claim are both strict and a little difficult to understand. The gist of it is that the area you claim as a home office needs to be used exclusively for business, and you need to stick quite tightly to obvious borders. Read more about these regulations in IRS Publication 587.
  • Mileage: While we highly recommend you deduct mileage, if you use your car for both business and pleasure, you’ve got to do a good job of tracking and separating the two. Keep in your car a little book with columns for start and end mileage, date, and description.
  • Meals and Entertainment: Again, deducting for this is perfectly acceptable, as long as it’s within the realm of reason. Deducting for a good meal with an important contact is fine, but perhaps not if it costs several thousand dollars. Use a good dose of common sense to avoid this trigger.

5. Sign Up for Electronic Filing

Repeat after us: filing your taxes electronically will make your life infinitely easy. Through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, you’ll even be able to file your estimated taxes. It takes a little time to set up, but will be well worth it in the end.

6. Use Tax Software Made for Businesses

Likewise, tax software can make your life so much easier, as can accounting programs that automatically create reports and forms for you. File for free through the IRS, or compare a number of good tax programs here.

7. Hire an Accountant

You’re in business for yourself, and you may very well enjoy being totally self-sufficient. But hiring an accountant can mean outsourcing many of these steps. It can also ensure you’re not missing anything, especially in terms of new tax laws. Lastly, a good accountant will find you deductions and loopholes you could have never known existed (unless you wanted to read through a mass of byzantine tax documents in your free time…). All of these things make hiring an accountant an expense that pays for itself, at least in the beginning of your freelance years. Just make sure to do so early before they book up.


Filing taxes as a freelancer can be complicated, but doing so allows for numerous personal benefits. Take the time to learn the regulations and get to know the forms so you can take advantage of all there is to offer and also cover all of your bases.

Still Confused? Check Out This Tax Checklist

Author’s Bio: Adria Saracino is a marketer, blogger, and occasional freelancer. When not consulting on best business practices, you can find her writing about style on her personal fashion blog, The Emerald Closet.