We Can Make Our Businesses More Sustainable. Here's How to Start

As the U.S. faced ever more extreme weather this fall – fires ripping through California, hurricanes and cyclones devastating coastal communities, and the aftereffects surging into disaster flooding in their own right – a group of scientists wrote a message to the government.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been working on the content of the report Global Warming of 1.5°C  for years. The takeaway inside is clear and alarming. It says that by 2050, if humans continue to heat the world at our current rate, humanity will be overwhelmed by events that will resemble Hollywood blockbusters.

The world is at a critical tipping point, but our ability to enact change is, fortunately, greater than ever. Green technologies are now more available and effective than ever. Diverse forms of energy have become viable. Plus, true financial drivers for being sustainable now exist. The cost of avoiding green technology is high, and the potential reward for embracing it wholeheartedly is massive.

Business owners can help thwart climate catastrophe

While the report is directed at policymakers, it has the business community in its sights too. In fact, it has historically been business owners and entrepreneurs who can take policy and push it into practice. And because small businesses are nimble, they can adopt new technologies and strategies relatively quickly. It’s these small-scale changes that can drive global shifts.

Business owners are uniquely positioned to stimulate the global economy for low-impact development and sustainable technologies. Some experts are even pushing for small- to medium-sized enterprises to be officially recognized by governments as significant actors and “core economic engines” of climate change reduction.

Five ways to kick-start your sustainability journey

Both staying competitive and making a difference for future generations depend on fostering a green mindset and putting it into practice. Here are a few simple actions you can take.

1. Make sustainability a core value.

All action begins with admitting a need. To start making sustainability a business practice in your organization, you first need to identify the need for it.

This means making a proud and deep commitment to sustainability as one of your core values. Talk about this value with your team and get approval from each member. Then you can begin to view all your business decisions through this lens.

This perspective shift is financially costless, and it will allow your employees to connect the work they do with its effect on the planet.

2. Aim for low-impact printing and packaging.

Gradually adopting more sustainable printing and packaging options is an easy, low-cost way to make a huge dent in your carbon footprint.

First, you could aim to make your office paperless within the next few years. Use recycled content in your packaging whenever possible, or commit to printers that use chemical-free inks. These are small actions that reduce waste and add up over time to make a big impact.

3. Talk to your neighbors.

If you’re in a co-working space or a building with other companies, talk to your neighbors about what you can do together to become more sustainable.

Could you set up a common recycling center or collection area? Could you share printing resources or start a ride-sharing program? Solicit other ideas from employees and those around you to turn sustainability into a creative business practice.

Creating relationships that check your accountability can have a profoundly positive effect on your business while also helping the planet.

4. When you build, build green.

As a small business, you may not be able to drastically change your community’s architecture. You live and work where you can afford to, right? But as you grow and build out the spaces of your business, consider incorporating green energy and technology. Alternately, if you are renting space, push the building’s owners toward adopting these solutions.

Start small: Reduce the amount of hardscaping around your business and add grass-filled permeable pavers instead. When you’re resurfacing your parking lot or driveway, ask your contractor to use only sustainable, recycled or porous materials.

Afterward, you can incorporate other technologies into your business. Green roofs and insulation, low-water toilets, and heating and cooling systems aligned with the natural patterns of the sun are all viable options.

5. Offer work conditions for the eco-minded.

Work atmospheres have shifted as millennials have come of age, and by 2025, this generation will make up 75 percent of the U.S. workforce. Millennial dominance brings with it an emphasis on sustainability. Young employees have grown up aware of the startling effects of climate change and are eager to stop it.

To attract and harness the power of these young people, businesses should consider offering a more sustainable workplace. Offer remote or flexible work policies if you can. This cuts down on overhead and transport needs.

But beware cutting corners to appear sustainable or merely selling the idea of sustainability. Millennials are acutely attuned to authenticity, and they’ll be a strong team player only if your motives are genuine.

Being green is good for business at large. It speaks loudly to customers about you and your values, demonstrating that beyond profit, you care about the world we all share.

When you’re a small business, everything you do is especially visible and important. If your parking lot is made from recycled plastic, if you serve locally sourced food, or if your office lights are solar-powered, customers will see that you’re forward-thinking and engaged in the mission to end climate change.

How Can Millennial-Led Businesses Succeed in 2019?

Millennials, it’s time to show us what you’ve got with your small businesses. This year, Chase for Business released a Spotlight on Millennial Business Leaders (MBLs), the millennial edition of their Small Business Leaders Outlook survey. This edition explores the world of small businesses powered by millennials, and the findings have been fascinating.

Once regarded as a novelty to hire in the workplace, millennials have now entered the 30-something bracket of their lives. As small business owners, they stand out because they’re tech-savvy, have high growth expectations (which their tech-savviness contributes toward) and are very optimistic. With small business optimism at record-breaking levels in 2018, you do have to wonder how much of that sentiment came from millennial entrepreneurs.

As the new year approaches, so does another year in business for millennials and their companies. It’s shaping up, in the words of Frank Sinatra, to be a very good year. However, it can be even better if millennials prep their small businesses for long-term success. Using the findings from this survey, here’s what millennials can take care of now to ensure their companies continue trending upward.

Partner or collaborate with like-minded businesses

According to the Spotlight on Millennial Business Leaders, 82 percent of millennial-led businesses expect to see an increase in their profits. This, ideally, would happen over the course of the next 12 months.

There are a variety of ways millennials can strategize this approach, from upping the price tags on their products to expanding their existing offerings. Another beneficial strategy is to consider collaborating or partnering with a like-minded business. These two approaches differ slightly from one another.

A collaboration may be a one-time only situation, or occur as needed. Take a small, successful business that specializes in high-end stationery. The business may need a bit of a sales boost. The organization notices a well-known lifestyle social media influencer, who also loves stationery and fits the business’s overall brand aesthetic, follows them on Instagram. The small business may follow the influencer back, begin sending messages to the influencer to establish a rapport and attempt to collaborate on upcoming initiatives for an agreed-upon price. The influencer creates content that puts their own signature spin on the company’s products. This content promotes the influencer’s social handles while tagging the company at the same time. This increases the amount of eyeballs viewing, and learning about, your business. As a result, the stationery business gains more awareness, traction, site traffic and potentially sales from its target audience.

A partnership is structured a little differently because it can be long-lasting. Listen to your customers to find out what they need. What does your business not offer that another like-minded organization does? Identify a business that offers what you need, and review its offerings to see if yours would be a fit. Reach out to see if the business would be interested in forming a mutually beneficial partnership that works for each business and benefits both sets of customers.

Get active on LinkedIn

Millennials, not surprisingly, enjoy being active on social media platforms. The survey revealed that 65 percent of millennial-led businesses find that social has had a positive impact on their business. 

There’s a number of approaches MBLs can take in 2019 to keep their social media accounts thriving. My personal recommendation, and one I find works quite well for myself, is to reengage on LinkedIn. Don’t use the site to simply aggregate contacts. Share updates about your business. Comment on the posts your contacts share. Congratulate connections that take on new jobs or positions. And, whenever you’re able, write and publish articles. Share the stories of your successes, thoughts on trends within your industry or further explore topics you’re interested in. Being active on LinkedIn allows you to establish a stronger footprint within your industry and helps professionals that use it sporadically notice you as a business leader.

Find more opportunities to give back

Fifty-five percent of millennial-led businesses will prioritize a vendor that gives back to the community over one that does not. It’s not uncommon to see consumers today seeking out businesses that are transparent or authentic with their practices and beliefs. Consumers want to support businesses that share their values. The same can be said for businesses that want to work with vendors operating with similar values.

Most millennial-led business owners are well past the stage of creating mission statements. They’ve talked the talk. Now, it’s time to walk the walk. Being in business is about more than revenue and sales growth, especially for small business owners.

Make 2019 the year that your business gets involved with its community. Find ways to give back as a team. Support charities, volunteer at soup kitchens during the holidays, clean up highways or work with Habitat For Humanity. Teamwork, after all, does make the dream work.

 

Make More Sales With More Ecommerce Payment Options

It may seem apparent that modern consumers are all about paying with their credit cards. But according to a Bizrate Insights study and contrary to popular belief, additional ecommerce payment solutions such as PayPal are disrupting the industry landscape and are used almost as often as plastic money. PayPal’s own research reveals that 32 percent of millennials use its services, and 25 percent of them prefer to use it over other options for sending and receiving money. Furthermore, 67 percent of millennials and 56 percent of Gen X spenders prefer to buy on ecommerce sites rather than in stores.

These data points demonstrate a need for multiple ecommerce payment methods. For ecommerce companies, customer convenience must be a priority, and how you handle and process payments affects not only your customer’s experience, but your business’s overall success.

Your customers have unique payment needs.

There are different aspects to consider when choosing an ecommerce payment system for your website. Among the most important are your customers’ ages, the countries they live in, and your security and fraud prevention efforts.

Age

Providing your customers with a great shopping experience depends partly on their age. If your target audience is in the older, high-income bracket, for example, they are a lot more acquainted with using their American Express credit card. Including it as a payment option may help your senior shoppers feel more comfortable buying from you. On the other hand, if your audience is younger, PayPal will help increase purchases and customer satisfaction.

Country

Research which type of payment is the most popular in the country where you sell your products. Pulling out the plastic, so to speak, varies significantly from one country to another. It may be the most popular ecommerce payment option in the U.S., Canada, Brazil and China, but credit cards are used less often in Japan, Germany, Russia and the U.K.

Security and fraud prevention

People are not going to hand over sensitive financial information to a website they’re not sure they can trust. That’s why you need a gateway that’s trustworthy and legitimate to provide a safe checkout experience. For additional security, some ecommerce payment options offer data encryption, which helps you meet certain online security standards.

Give your customers the payment options they need.

When it comes to ecommerce payment methods, the more, the merrier. After all, consumers are likely to abandon their carts if their preferred payment method isn’t available. By equipping your site with a payment gateway that includes an array of payment methods, you give your business more opportunities to gain sales.  

Debit and credit cards

Paying with a debit or credit card is a standard option, and for the majority of online shoppers, it is an expected ecommerce payment option. Visa holds the biggest market share across the globe, followed by MasterCard, American Express and then Discover.

Online payment gateways

Payment gateways are a service that acts as a sort of liaison to process information at checkout and authorize payments made to e-businesses. Their major advantage is securing sensitive data, such as credit card numbers, and streamlining the processing of information on your end, which helps eliminate manual input.

  • Amazon Payments is an API-driven gateway, allowing for complete integration into your site’s interface; it’s just like adding a plugin. Transactions are finalized on your site, and it’s available across multiple devices.
  • PayPal is a veteran in ecommerce and one of the most commonly accepted online payment methods in North America. It offers fraud protection, 24-hour support and cart flexibility. It’s compatible with all major ecommerce platforms. PayPal does not have monthly charges, nor does it have setup expenses or gateway fees.
  • 2Checkout offers deeply customizable onsite checkouts and a seamless shopping experience. Its key features are a demo of a checkout, support for different languages, and a sandbox feature that links you to the marketplaces.

Cash on delivery

In the U.S., cash on delivery (COD) is a payment processing service that’s rarely used; however, COD rules supreme in Eastern Europe and India, as well as in many other places in the world. To enable its use, you have to use a courier service that takes cash and will issue you a check showing the value of the goods you ship. FedEx is the best bet because it accepts cash, unlike other couriers that only take checks and money orders.

Alternative methods

We live a technology-driven world. To better serve your customers, you have to keep up with their technological demands.

  • Bitcoin made a lot of waves in 2018. While there is still uncertainty about its long-term price stability, it is inarguably one of the cheapest and fastest ways to transfer payments around the globe. Implementing Bitcoin on your ecommerce website can potentially attract a highly educated, tech-savvy customer base. A platform like BitPay can help you to integrate payments with Bitcoin.

  • The Intuit Payment Network is a bank-to-bank electronic funds transfer solution that also allows you to create an ecommerce button on your website. For businesses that have intensive invoicing and accounting activity, Intuit features simple integration with QuickBooks. It transfers money directly to the business’s bank account.

  • Ecommerce financing, also known as “buy now and pay later,” is gaining more traction. It can increase online sales and order sizes because ecommerce financing gives customers the opportunity to shop now and pay later. Online stores can use this method for promotions and sales events, and may be able to sell more inventory thanks to easy financing terms.

Ecommerce payment options help businesses make more sales.

Regardless of what kind of ecommerce payment solution you decide to use, it’s critical to offer multiple methods that reflect your customers’ demands. If you decide to sell to an international market, you need to research the top payment methods in your target markets and adapt your site to accommodate them.

After all, completing a payment should be the easiest part of your customer’s journey. Try to make it as fast and straightforward as possible for them.

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How to Be a Better Negotiator

In today’s globalized economy, negotiating effectively is imperative if you want to be successful. In most fields, negotiating is part of the job, and you have to learn how to argue your points adeptly; otherwise, you can be on the losing end on deals, money and opportunities.

In normal, everyday life, negotiating is also important, because it’s required in many different scenarios: When you buy a car, want a higher salary or to dispute your cell phone bill. Whatever the case may be, the ability to negotiate is a highly sought-after skill that more people should develop and refine.

To become a better negotiator, here are three tips to help you get started.

1. Plan ahead

You wouldn’t go into an important exam without studying beforehand, so why would you enter a negotiation unprepared?

Researching the company or individual(s) you will be negotiating with is absolutely essential if you’re going to get the deal you want. Map out what they’re looking for, what they need, what their limit may be and other factors that’ll help you determine where you stand in the deal.

The more you research those with whom you will be negotiating and their options, the better the outcome will be for you. You will enter negotiations more confident and prepared.

2. Be a good listener

They say we’re born with two ears and one mouth for a reason, and when it feels like someone has been talking for ages, this advice comes in handy.

Negotiations aren’t about dominating the discussions. It’s more about understanding your opponent and the factors that attribute to their position and their offer. A lot of the time, you’ll find out plenty of information just by sitting back and listening to what the other person has to say.

Follow the 70/30 rule of communication: Talk 30 percent of the time during your discussion and listen for 70 percent of the time. Show your opponent that you care about their offer and the reasons behind their offer by giving them your undivided attention.

By actively listening, you’re showing respect for the other person rather than dismissing them, something that is far too common in negotiations. When you listen, communication and understanding improve, and you’re both better able to see where the other is coming from. This allows for both parties to leave feeling satisfied and content with the outcome.

3. Anchor your position

Harvard Business Review describes anchoring as a cognitive bias that occurs when too much emphasis or focus is put on the first number or offer – known as the “anchor” – submitted in a negotiation. Often this information, or number, then skews one’s judgment.

Making the first offer in a negotiation has its benefits because it puts the person making the offer in a position of control. It automatically leads the discussion in their favor.

But when do you know if you should drop your anchor or hold out on your offer? Harvard University says the final agreement reached should be based on two things: the range of options acceptable to both parties and your opponent’s zone of possible agreement (ZOPA). ZOPA is the bargaining range created by the two opposing sides, or how much each side is willing to bargain their offers.

If the size of your opponent’s ZOPA is on the lower end – meaning they are less willing to negotiate – it’s more difficult to drop your anchor.  If you know your opponent’s ZOPA has a higher range and they’re more flexible, stating your offer first will likely turn out in your favor.

If your opponent beats you to the punch and drops their anchor first, the most important thing is not to give in right away. This can be difficult when you feel the pressure and demands from the other side, but the calmer and more collected you remain, the better results you’ll get.

Instead of saying yes or no right away, suggest finding a middle ground by continuing the conversation. You might say something like, “I see where you’re coming from, but let’s discuss X and Y a bit further so we can come to an agreement we’re both happy about.”

It’s all about reading your opponent and, as mentioned earlier, doing your homework.

Over to you

Negotiations aren’t about talking over the opposing side or expecting certain outcomes without doing your homework. A successful negotiation requires research and the confidence that an agreement can be reached that is positive for both sides.

How will you handle your next negotiation?

4 Ways to Apply Machine Learning to Business Problems

The technology boom is surging, and machine learning is the core way that businesses are taking this once new technique and turning it into something amazing.

As a testament to this growth, MIT Sloan Management Review reported that 76 percent of companies now use machine learning as a normal part of their business model to boost revenue. Maybe you’re new to using machine learning in your company, or maybe you’re looking for ways to improve your already established system.

There are a number of ways that you can apply this revolutionary model to your business and start getting results. We are going to look at some of the top ways to apply machine learning to your business problems and how this will benefit your company.

Detecting fraud

Let’s talk numbers. Americans spent – brace yourself – 11,000 years shopping online just during Cyber Monday 2018. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about how many and how often people are shopping online, you should also know there were 7.9 billion dollars in sales during that day.

What does this mean? It means that depending on the website, it could be a hacker’s paradise.

Machine learning can help curb the risk of fraud while customers are shopping on your website. Take PayPal, for example. They recently added new algorithms to their transaction process to prevent money laundering to and from unsuspecting customers.

The algorithm looks for data points that spark the system, such as first-time transactions,  the amount of money sent, sender/receiver location and more. PayPal has an automated, filtered system that flags specific transactions so humans can double-check them for fraud.

Cross-selling

It’s astounding to think about how far online businesses have come over the past few years. At one time, you had what was on the storefront and that was that. Now, with machine learning, your system is constantly running data points on customers based on their profile and the type of things they search for on your site/store.

You can change your algorithm to target customers who view certain content pages in your blog. For example, if you sell pet products, you can use machine learning to sell cat products to people who view your articles with cats in the title.

This is a win-win situation, because you can link to your products within your blog post. Machine learning is expanding in leaps and bounds and able to offer customers the right products at the right time.

On-the-fly pricing

On the fly pricing or dynamic pricing, is another feature found in the world of machine learning. In the old days, we had to offer everyone a flat rate. This takes the cross-selling aspect to a brand new level. Now, not only can you offer the right product at the right time, but you can offer it at the right price based on your user.

Airbnb is a great example of this type of machine learning, and it’s carrying over to airlines and ride-sharing services like Uber. The artificial intelligence built into Uber’s program analyzes each person, their route, other routes in the area and how they can offer their customers amazing deals that will keep them coming back for more.

The pricing structure can change depending on a variety of factors, including location, time, customer frequency and more. You can apply this type of pricing structure to your product through machine learning and build a business that really caters to every customer’s needs.

Customer service

Finally, you may want to consider using machine learning to help build your customer service presence. There are many businesses that use online chatbots to help answer customer questions.

There’s no doubt that chatbots are boosting sales. Sites like Sephora, which sells beauty products, saw an 11 percent increase in sales when they switched to a bot to help customers on their Facebook page.

It’s possible to build these chatbots from the ground up to reflect the personality of your business, help build rapport, acknowledge human slang and jargon and to carry on an online conversation as human-like as possible without a human on the other end!

If it wasn’t clear before, it should be clear now that machine learning is only getting better as time goes on. You can use this technology to grow your business, protect your customers, offer the perfect products to people on your site and more.

There’s no mystery – machine learning is here to stay.

 

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