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Why Your Small Business Needs to Consider the Customer Testimonial

customer testimonial

By Austin Miller, Content Marketing Manager

These days customer testimonials have become standard practice for nearly all business models. From big time investment firms to sellers on Amazon, everyone’s looking for a blurb telling you why you should trust their service. Customer testimonials serve several applications that will boost your business’s success. We will go over these uses and how you can solicit them from customers.

Validation:

Validation is two-fold in its service. Not only is it important for your customer, but it can serve as fuel for your business as well. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re an established company rolling out a new product, there’s always that anxiety of wondering how something will be received by the public. Getting positive feedback from consumers will give you the confidence to keep pursuing the avenues that are working. 

Just as important if not more so, is the confirmation potential customers will get, knowing that they’re not alone in their decision to purchase your product. It’s no secret that humans like to belong or fit in with others. There have been numerous psychological studies proving that in times of uncertainty, people will tend to copy others' actions. (You can read about one of these experiments conducted by Opower’s Alex Laskey by following the link.)

*Scenario* Imagine you’re on a road trip and you’re in the middle of nowhere when you pull over for food. There’s two BBQ joints that look similar, except for one’s completely empty and the other is full. Barring that there’s no line, which one will you choose? 

That’s the power of validation, that's the customer testimonial. 

Vantage Point:

Whatever our title, we all experience it—tunnel vision. We see things through a particular lens because that’s what our professions teach us to do. As hard as we try, we can never quite see things the same way someone else does. And when it comes to business, no one’s viewpoint matters more than the customer’s. Customer testimonials will allow you to see things through the eyes of someone else and provide you with unique insights you couldn’t get in any other way. Which brings us to our third and final point.

Unique Insight:

You’re sure everyone loves your product because of it’s beautiful design. You’ve even poured thousands of dollars into marketing based on that singular fact. And then you speak with your customers, not one mention of design. In fact, some people don’t even like the look of your product—but they love how sturdy it is. 

Get the picture? Customers see things you can’t. And even if you're aware of all your product's uses, can you be sure which one is driving them to purchase it?

Customer testimonials can give you a sense of what makes your product shine, how people are using it, and how you need to market it. 

Conclusion: 

  • Use customer testimonials as a mini compass for your business. They will help you and your customers consistently make smarter decisions. 
  • Basic web analytics can measure a lot things, but hearing testimonials directly from the mouth of your consumers can reveal things numbers aren’t always capable of doing.
  • Be wise and diversify your strategy. Customer testimonials aren't a magic bullet for all your marketing woes. A well rounded plan that includes analysis of KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) and traditional word of mouth will be the most advantageous. 

A Sit-Down With Studio Mcgee

Studio McGee owners Shea and Syd Mcgee

Studio McGee owners Shea and Syd Mcgee

By Austin Miller, Content Marketing Manager

Studio Mcgee is a full service design company run by husband-wife team Shea and Syd Mcgee. They sold their home and moved to Utah to follow their dreams. With 18 employees, clients all over the country, features in Domino Magazine, and a social media following that might even make Kim K bat an eye—things are paying off in a big way. 

Recently we got a chance to sit down with the couple who's making waves in the interior design industry. We talked design, business, and how to keep family relationships going strong when you're both needed at the office.

Before you started Studio McGee you guys both had your own successful careers…What made you come together and decide to start a business?

We had successful careers in extremely different fields – Syd managed an affiliate marketing startup focused on email marketing and I ran a busy interior design business out of our home. After Syd’s company was acquired, it was time to figure out his next project. I was supporting our family during the transition and couldn’t keep up with the number of client requests I received.

We soon realized that our skill-sets complemented each other really well and that he could run the business and allow me to focus solely on the design. We sold our home in Southern California and moved to Utah to start our design firm in a more business-friendly state. A year later, and a lot of late nights hunched over our laptops, we have 18 employees and a quickly growing business!

Studio Mcgee Office Interior by  Lindsey Salazar

Studio Mcgee Office Interior by Lindsey Salazar

When did you know that going into business together was the right decision? Was there ever an “Ah-ha” moment?

We toyed with the idea for months, but shied away from taking the leap because it sounded crazy! We decided to test the waters and Syd started by helping me get the business more organized (it was a mess) because I was a typical creative and had a lot more interest in designing homes than organizing invoices! We discovered that we actually work quite well together and that gave us the encouragement we needed to go into business together.

Do you try and keep work-family life separate? Or is that just an old platitude…

For us, there is no separation! Perhaps it’s because the business is so new, but we discuss business all the time – dinner dates, family walks and most times in between. That said, we get a lot more family time because of our flexible schedules. The only time we really get a separation is by going on vacation and making a conscious decision to clear our minds and take a break from work.

How do you leverage your strengths and weaknesses as a couple?

Our strength is that we have a unified vision and goals for the business. Our weakness is that we are so comfortable around each other that it can be easy to speak bluntly where other business partners would be more professional!

Studio Mcgee Office Interior by  Lindsey Salazar

Studio Mcgee Office Interior by Lindsey Salazar

What are some of the struggles of running a husband-wife business? The benefits?

The biggest struggle for us is that running a business is extremely demanding both on our time and emotions! When we’re tired or stressed, it’s easy to bicker over little things. However, for us, the benefits far outweigh the struggles. We get to work together doing something we’re both passionate about, our daughter can ride her scooter around the office while we have a quick meeting, and we get to celebrate big and little wins together every day.

What advice can you give others who are considering going into business with their significant other?

My best advice is to only go into business together if your roles in the company are very separate and distinct. Although we keep each other in the loop and make big picture decisions together, we rarely venture into the others’ business territory – Syd never picks out tile and I don’t develop project management systems. For us, the separation of roles has been key to a happy work/marriage life.

 

Check out our post "Utah's Top 5 Workspaces" to see a in-depth look at the Studio Mcgee's HQ. 

 

Please note that KPMG Spark’s sponsorship of this blog article is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual or entity and does not constitute an endorsement of any entity or its products or services. This content represents the views of the author, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG Spark.

 

How to Neuromarket the Proper Way

neuromarketing

By Austin Miller, Content Marketing Manager

What is neuromarketing?

For the uninitiated, Neuromarketing is a field of research that studies the subconscious habits and responses of consumers. This is done through a mix of psychology and controlled experiments using machines like fMRI’s which scan the subject’s brain.

In his book Brainfluence (which we highly recommend), Roger Dooley cites that around 90% of consumer decisions are made at the subconscious level. That means that the “common sense” approach to marketing is not the most prudent strategy. In fact, many of these studies show how unpredictable we as consumers really are. 

NEuromarketing: Know the Data

It goes without saying that living in a data vacuum will not help you take advantage of the “90%.” Sites like Marketing Sherpa and books like Brainfluence or The Buying Brain are great places to start. A mix of psychology and quantitative data are the two ingredients required to concoct an elixir of marketing success. 

NEUROMARKETING: Apply and Monitor

Business does not occur in a controlled setting. Just because an experiment showed that consumers preferred water over juice, does not mean they will choose water over juice in your market setting. Variables are numerous and often unpredictable especially in a business environment.

What did they eat before the experiment? What was the temperature of the lab? Is your presentation the same as in the experiment’s? 

If you think a Neuromarketing statistic will help your business, try it out but monitor it closely. If things aren’t happening as planned, experiment with different variables. AB test in small samplings before choosing to overhaul your entire business strategy. Tamper with variables and find out what succeeds. Many email marketers for example, will experiment with changing just a couple of words to see how it affects engagement. If they find response trends, they will use those findings in their future email campaigns. 

Neuromarketing Application Tips:

In 2012 The New York Times published a piece by MP Mueller from the Ad Agency Door Number 3. Mueller sat down with the French researcher Christophe Morin who offered these six steps to extract pain from the marketing to sale process.

1. Don’t use the word “we” or start off your pitch with a corporate overview that lasts 10 minutes. Focus instead on how to relieve your customers’ pain. Our brains are extremely self-centered, and we care most about our own survival.
2. About 10,000 messages are sent to our brains daily, so get to the point. “When you sell to the lower brain structure, you must say, ‘This is your life with our product or service, this is your life without,’” Mr. Morin said. He cited a successful campaign that helped a client that was selling home flood remediation services to major insurance companies. The campaign featured a traveling exhibit that showed a flooded home and how the company had mastered the art of drying home interiors. “The reptilian brain gets very stimulated by this kind of disruption. Stay away from, “We are one of the leading providers.” It’s the marketing equivalent of sugar — empty calories.
3. Make your points visual. Remember the “See and Say” books from childhood? Don’t just tell; show. “We are visual people, and the eyes are directly connected to the reptilian brain,” he said.
4. Stay concrete and make it tangible. The primal brain isn’t able to understand complex language or metaphors. As much as we love word play, if it’s too complicated, it doesn’t get processed by the parts of us that make decisions. Creating ads with facial expressions is good. “Facial expressions help us decode what people’s intentions are,” he said.
5. Gain attention quickly in your advertising or marketing and make sure you have a strong close. The brain pays the most attention at the beginning and end of an event. It’s important because the brain needs to recap and store.
6. Use emotion. It creates disruption, a contrast with what we expect — surprise, laughter, fear, disgust, anger, it really doesn’t matter. If there is emotion, we are more likely to remember the message. Nothing happens in the brain unless some chemical process has found a code to create memories. To create a memorable brand, therefore, you have to use emotional connectors in your advertising. Don’t just give your audience the facts, tell them how it will make their lives better and solve their pain.

NEUROMARKETING: Use Your Compass

We don’t want to make you think that Neuromarketing is akin to Luke Skywalker’s use of the force. But it is and can be a powerful tool. Don’t use any types of tactics you wouldn’t want to be used on you. Remember your job is to provide value—not to deceive. After all value is the bridge builder of trust, and trusting your brand is the first step a consumer makes on the path to becoming a customer.

Is your inner nerd begging for more information about Neuromarketing?

For more answers to "What is neuromarketing?" and "How to apply neuromarketing principles?" check out Patrick Renvoise's Tedx Talk:

3 Things You Should Know About 'Charitable Contributions'

charitable contributions

Charitable contributions are a seemingly magical thing—give to the poor and save money in return. And although this sounds wonderful in principle, there’s more to charitable contributions you should know before forming a business strategy around them. To help you, we've created a list of 3 things that will make navigating the tax waters a lot simpler. 

1. Documentation

Documentation is key. Many business owners think they can wait till the end of the year to make an estimated guess on charitable donations. Wrong, only those who itemize their deductions will get a tax benefit. 

2. Deduction Amounts

You might not be able to get a deduction for the full amount of expenses at a charitable event. If you receive any benefit from a donation, you can only deduct the difference between the value of the benefit and the cash you donate. If for example you host a charitable dinner, you will not be reimbursed for the food since it provides you with direct value. 

3. Appreciated Property

When people think of charitable contributions, they often think of tangible objects or money. But you can also make donations with appreciated property like stocks. In return you should get a deduction for the current value without having to pay taxes on the gains. 

As an aside, we believe that no matter the economical benefits to be gained from charitable contributions—there are intangibles that simply can’t be written in numbers. 

5 Ways to Stay Healthy When Chained to a Desk All Day

girl sitting at a desk

Staying Healthy at the Workplace

There are serious health risks associated with long periods of sitting—heart disease, cancer, and muscle degeneration just to name a few. According to fitness.mercola.com—the average American is sitting for 9-10 hours a day, a period of time that not even a 60-90 minute workout can offset. Simply put, the human body just isn’t meant for a sedentary lifestyle. Here’s 5 ways to fight against the rat race and stay healthy at the office.

1. Maximize your circumstances

At KPMG Spark, we take work-place health seriously. Sure we down our fair share of soda—but we also create opportunities with impromptu wall-sits, ping pong matches, walks, bike-rides, stair runs, and games of catch. These things combined with an encouraging environment make for plenty of opportunities to stay fit at work. But what if you're workplace isn't so accommodating? 

The responsibility still falls on you. 

Are you taking the elevator up to the 3rd floor? Are you always scrapping with coworkers for the closest parking spot? These are missed opportunities. 

Look for ways to turn everyday activities into mini workouts. It may not sound like much, but adding 50 ft. to your parking lot walk or an extra flight of stairs a day can really add up overtime. 

2. Commit to short workouts

It’s unlikely that your boss is willing to give you an hour and a half to pump iron everyday. And even if he did, would it be the best way to maximize your workouts? According to many researchers—no

Short high interval workouts have been clinically proven to be more effective as Dr. Izumi Tabata proved in the 90’s with his experiments on Olympic speed skaters. His work has inspired other popular workout gurus and styles to adapt this same format in what they refer to as “interval training.” 

Besides—Who wants to work out for an hour and a half when they can get the same results in less than half the time? 

3. Deskercise

Move over Zumba and SoulCycle...“Deskercise” is the next big thing. There are dozens of workouts you can perform at your desk to help stay in shape without distracting those around you. 

Greatist.com has a well...“great” list of 33 exercise you can do from the comfort of your cubicle. Make sure to check out the list to some unique ways to stay healthy at the desk.

4. Speak with HR

If you think upper management doesn’t have a vested interest in your health—you’re wrong. That’s not to say they all recognize the benefits of a healthy workforce, but they are exactly that—benefits. Being a healthy employees means being a productive employee, and productivity means profit. A healthier workforce could also mean less insurance payouts for the employer. 

Many companies are trying to find innovative ways to keep employees healthy including programs like HealthyWage that reward employees monetarily for losing weight. Here at KPMG Spark, the employees are provided company bikes and encouraged to use them often to keep health and spirits high. 

If upper management is stuck in the era of smoking jackets and mahogany wood, perhaps you might consider bringing these facts to HR’s attention—tastefully of course. 

5. Bring your own lunch. 

Lunches have come a long way since the days of a PB&J’s, high fructose juices, and chips. Granted, PB & J's are still delicious and cheap, but there are dozens of healthier alternatives that are relatively easy to make. 

Diet is just as important as exercise. And if you plan on staying healthy at work, you better incorporate a well-thought out diet. Preparing your own lunch will not only help you control what goes into your food, but it will also help you control your portions so you aren’t tempted to eat more than you should. 

Not to mention, bringing your own lunch will help you save a substantial amount of money. TIME Magazine reports that taking your food to work will save you on average $2,500 dollars a year. That’s enough to buy one of those trendy Segway ripoffs all the celebrities are using like the IO Hawk. Heck, after that, you’ll even have a nice chunk of change leftover to put towards your kid’s college fund.

How to Cultivate Your Brand's Voice

business branding

Cultivating Your Voice

Let’s face it, a Nike sweatband isn’t always so different from a Reebok sweatband, and a Ford isn’t always so different from a Chevy. But what is different, is the marketing team behind them and the stories they tell. It's precisely these narratives that appeal to our emotional side and eventually our wallets. 

Alright, alright, we know that our voice is important. But exactly how important is it?

Wordpress reports that on their platform alone, 52.4 million new posts are created monthly. With dozens of other blogging platforms, social networks, and media vehicles—a unique voice has never been more relevant to a brand’s success. 

When evaluating your brand’s unique voice, there are a couple of things you must ask yourself: 

Who’s Your audience? 

It’s much easier to convert consumers within your niche than converting and educating new ones. If you’re looking for fast returns, consider your audience carefully. Do your research, using tools like Google Analytics and questionnaires to find out who and where your customers are. Be sure to reward your customers for their time if you choose to use the latter method. 

What value does Your content provide?

Notice how we used the word value instead of difference? That’s because too many companies think being different means being unique without evaluating whether or not that difference adds value to the consumer. Research your competitor’s and find out what you offer that they don’t. Use that information to focus in on customer reviews and surveys to see if that’s a valuable difference you need to exploit—this will be the central focus of your brand’s voice. 

How should You convey that value?

How you convey your message can distinguish you just as much as the message itself. Sure you’re probably going to use many of the same platforms as your competitor’s, but you should also consider the avenues your competitor’s are not yet dominating. MacWorld for example, reports that there are only 250,000+ podcasts whereas according to Adweek there are 42 billion Facebook pages. As a business owner you need to evaluate the competition—less competitive platforms are not always better, but they have the potential to give you a solid edge. 

It’s also important to consider content length and digestabilibty. Does your audience prefer long form? Short form? Videos? Text? Again, use analytics to evaluate these things to see what content your audience is consuming, and the length of time they’re consuming it. Adjust accordingly. 

Takeaways: 

  • With market saturation, finding a unique voice is more essential than ever.
  • Consider your audience.
  • Consider your service/product.
  • Exploit the areas where you are strong and your competitors are weak. This will be the central focus of your brand voice. 
  • Tailor your content to your audience’s attention span, and mediums of choice.

Should Spouses go Into Business Together?

business partners spouses

Working Together as a Couple

As a husband-wife business duo, you're not just business partners you're partners for life. And while there are success stories like Adi Tarako and Alan Cohen (the husband-wife owners of the $2 billion site Houzz), there are also horror stories like the founder’s of Burt’s Bees—Burt Shavitz and Roxanne Quimby. The business owner-spouse dynamic can be a strange and rewarding relationship where what happens at home can affect what happens in the office and visa versa, and it goes without saying that starting a business together is not a light decision. 

Here are six things you should consider before throwing all of your life savings into a “sure thing”:

1. Zoning

It will be tempting to bring business matters home but this simply isn’t an option, especially if you have employees. It’s important to maintain a professional demeanor, any tension between spouses can and will carry over to others. Such tension can cause employees to feel awkward or compelled to “choose a side." 

Inversely, when at the dinner table there will be times you’ll want to discuss unresolved business. And although in special circumstances this might be necessary—it’s important to set boundaries early on. Failing to do so will cause your relationship to suffer. After a long day of work, your mind and body need to decompress, and focusing on your relationship can only benefit your business in the long run. 

2. Comfortability

As spouses you will share a level of comfortability that you won’t share with others including clients, employees, and strategic business partners. Talking down to each other, complaining about your spouse when they aren’t in the office, or too much public affection can all be cause for loss of professionalism. Keeping a professional demeanor will help you command more credibility and respect at the work place. 

3. Skill Set

Once you have a well thought out business plan that includes the hows of business and not just the whats—it’s time to make an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. This crucial step will help you know what to expect in the way of expenditures. If you need a programmer and neither of you know how to program—you’re going to have to calculate that cost and adjust accordingly. If there are shared gaps in expertise, look to small business outsourcing as an easy way to save time and headache. 

4. Shared Vision

The last thing you want is for both of you to be working your tails off while heading in opposite directions. Before you begin producing, hiring and investing—it’s important to make sure you're working together as a couple. Take some time, in fact, take a lot of time to draw out a well designed plan. Start with a long term vision and then work your way down to hyper-focused goals. This will assure that your end goal is the same and the only question left to ask is “How do we get there?” 

5. Home Life

This may seem like an obvious one, but it just might be the most important. Have you talked about who will watch the kids when they're home? Are you going to hire a babysitter—and if so, can you afford it? Who’s going to do the chores? Are you going to hire a cleaning service? Or will you have enough energy to do the dishes after both of you have been working all day?

Working together as a couple has the uncanny ability to make you take an analytical look at the day to day. Make sure you discuss these things in detail so there's no confusion when things "fall through the cracks." This is especially true when it comes your children's health and well-being.

6. Power Balance

Is one person going to take the lead? Should one person take the lead? Or will you work together as an equal partnership? 

It's easy to say you’ll have an equal share of power but when it comes to actively carrying out policies—sometimes one partner will take a natural leadership role over the other. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Remember consideration number 3? Play to your strengths as a partnership. Being master of your natural domain can be a bigger help to your brand’s success than being alpha dog. 

If one of you does take a more public leadership role in the company, it’s important to try not leverage the cache that come’s with a position of power over the other. When you walk through your home's door your position as manager ends.

Pros and Cons of Hiring Independent Contractors

independent contractors

Whether you're launching your first startup or managing an established small business, you know that overseeing your business is no easy task. When the workload becomes too much, having some help can make your job easier and relieve some pressure and stress. As your business evolves, you may find that you do not have the skills to tackle every task. 

Remember that instead of taking on too much work or tackling tasks beyond your skill set, you can turn to skilled individuals to help your small business excel. Independent contractors can help you better manage your workload or address those job tasks that aren't your strength. The IRS generally defines independent contractors as those individuals whose job tasks are controlled by the individual rather than the employer. Evaluating the pros and cons of using independent contractors is essential before hiring a freelancer. 

Pros 

Additional Help

Independent contractors can provide the manpower your small business needs to thrive. When work picks up, you might need extra hands to pitch in, and an independent contractor is a no-obligation way to find that help. You can enjoy the benefits of assistance without bringing on additional full-time employees.

Cost Savings

Independent contractors can be a cost-effective way to add to your small business team. Because they are not full-time employees, you do not have to offer benefits like paid vacation, worker's comp, health insurance, or a 401(k). You can also save on payroll expenses. Instead, you simply pay the contractor at the agreed-upon rate, whether it's hourly or per project. The freelancer is also responsible for paying any self-employment taxes, taking the task of withholding deductions off your hands.

Flexibility

Working with independent contractors offers flexibility as you staff your small business. You can hire a variety of contractors on a per-project basis rather than committing to them for the long term. Mix and match talent as your business needs change. You might establish ongoing relationships with some independent contractors or seek out new freelancers when you need help in a new area of your business.

It might sound odd, but hiring an independent contractor can also provide flexibility in terms of firing. When independent contractors come on board they know (or should know) that they are not beholden to the same perks as those who actually form part of the company. The temporality and need to renew contracts is telling in terms of uncertainty. Firing a independent contractor is in actuality discontinuing service with another company who doesn't meet your needs. It can, and should be a lot less emotionally taxing than firing an in-house employee.

Protection 

Hiring an in independent contractor can be an added measure of protection as it provides less exposure to employment related lawsuits. 

Cons 

Lack of Control 

When you welcome an independent contractor to your small business team you don't have much control over that individual. They are able to set their own schedule, time frame and work environment when it comes to completing the actual work. Additionally, while you might have a professional relationship with the contractor, your perceived authority may be limited. If the individual goes on vacation for three weeks or is slow to respond to emails you simply have to wait, or find a new contractor to take his or her place. 

Search Process

Independent contractors aren't always knocking on your door looking for work. When you're hiring a full-time employee, you can place an ad in the local paper or on the web and quickly get responses from many qualified applicants. Because fewer individuals are seeking contractor jobs, you're recruiting from a smaller pool. While you still might be able to find the right freelancer, the search process may take longer or require more work than you anticipate. 

Turnover

Independent contractors will likely come and go more often than full-time employees depending on the project at hand or natural churn since some might not be the right fit for your business' needs. Others might find full-time work or simply move on. Since turnover is more likely with independent contractors, this staffing solution might not work well for small business owners who do not want to regularly look for assistance. 

Intellectual Property

Similar to "lack of control," is the possibility of not owning the IP your independent contractor creates. This can cause significant losses is their creation becomes integral to your business and you lose the right to the IP.

Increased Scrutiny

By hiring an independent contractor you open your business to more scrutiny by the government for improper designation. There can be severe penalties for business owners who pay individuals who should be designated as employers as if they were independent contractors. 

How to Evaluate Independent Contractors 

Now that you know the pros and cons of working with independent contractors, you can decide whether this staffing solution will work for your small business. Weighing three factors can help you identify the right staffing solution for your needs.

Type of Work 

Consider the type of work you need assistance with. Are the tasks well suited to an independent contractor? If there's a significant learning curve a full-time employee may be a better fit. However, if a skilled independent contractor can step in and offer immediate help, this type of staff member may be suitable for your small business or start up.

Timeframe

How long do you need assistance? If you expect to need help for the foreseeable future a reliable full-time employee may be the most practical choice. However, if you have a busy season or a big project that requires temporary additional manpower, an independent contractor is a no-obligation way to help your business through those busy times.

Budget

How much can you afford? An independent contractor should generally cost you less than a full-time employee, which can be appealing to small businesses on modest budgets. 

Of course, you'll need to shop around and find out the going rate for an independent contractor in your field. Overall growing your small business does not always require a staff of full-time employees. Relationships with reliable and skilled independent contractors can potentially help your small business grow. Determining whether or not this type of staff works for you is the first step toward expanding your small business.

Your Holiday Guide to Client Gift Giving

Holiday List

The holidays can be a great way to reinforce your relationship with your clients… or a land-mine. Do you send a gift? If so, what? How much do you spend? What will stride that fine line between thoughtful and self-promotional? While it’s up to you to choose just the right thoughtful client gift, we do have some tips and tricks for anyone struggling with this big holiday question. 

Client Giving Tips 

Personalize every gift

How well do you know your client? When dreaming up client gifts this year, think of ideas that will show your client you pay attention and value the continued business relationship. Even if you decide to get all of your clients the same gift, personalize each one with a handwritten card. 

Don’t limit the holidays to December

You’re thankful or your clients, right? Then maybe a Thanksgiving card or gift would be appropriate. Think outside the box to delight your customers this holiday season. 

Be culturally sensitive

And we’re not just talking corporate culture. Be sensitive to people of different faiths and values. For example, avoid sending a leather business card holder to a client you know is Hindu or a Christmas ham to a client you know to be Jewish. 

Reach out to past clients

The holidays can be downtime for many client-driven companies. Don’t limit your holiday outreach to current clients. Use this opportunity to send a card or a small gift to past clients and rekindle the relationship. 

Client Giving Taboos

All but the prickliest of clients will accept gifts in the spirit they’re intended – even if they have no use for a French press or a pound of Argentinian cookies. But keep these client giving taboos in mind to ensure your client is truly delighted. 

Avoid alcohol

Unless you and your client have discussed his love for dry gins, be wary of alcohol. You never know who’s recovering, or even has religious or cultural objections to the hard stuff. 

Watch out for perceived insults

While offered with the best of intentions, a gift card for self-improvement, such as for a spa or a new hairstyle, may be perceived as a slight. 

Keep it professional

There’s a fine line between giving your client a thoughtful gift and giving them an intimate gift. 

Avoid things like cologne or fancy jewelry – these gifts are usually traded between spouses, not business colleagues. It should go without saying that anything sexual or risqué is a no go. 

Deducting Client Gifts on Your Taxes In general, client gifts are tax deductible as long as they were given for the purpose of promoting your business. Gifts to employees are deductible, but to the extent they exceed $25 you must calculate payroll taxes and include the amount in W-2 earnings.

How to Find the Perfect Office Space

office space

Maybe your growing business ready to leave the nest–AKA your spare bedroom. Maybe you’ve outgrown your current property. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between. Whatever the case, in order to reach its maximum potential, your business needs the right physical location in which to thrive. With so many options out there, you’re bound to find the perfect office space with a little research–that is, if you ask the right questions. 

Here are a few popular choices in the current market.

Coworking

This recent trend in office space offers a flexible approach perfect for independent workers who want out of the coffee shop and into something more professional. Locations vary from purposefully planned business centers to extra rooms in existing offices. You can often pay month-to-month for the flexible space while enjoying a professional atmosphere and potential in-person network. For resources about coworking, check out The Coworking Wiki. Their comprehensive directory features websites (like Pivot Desk) to help you find the perfect coworking environment.

Shared Space

Are you drawn to the flexibility and cost benefits of coworking but need more from your office than a quiet desk? A shared space could be a great fit. By sharing space with other companies, you reduce costs but still have a physical location to call your own – a place to host clients, design your environment and hang a sign. Both companies split utilities, rent and other common expenses. Seek out a business roommate who works in a complimentary field, and you may end up benefiting from synergy and referrals. For example, an event planning business sharing space with a printing press can easily cross-pollinate with projects and clients.

Subleasing a Traditional Space

If you want your own property but aren’t ready for a five-year lease, a sublease might fit your needs. Just like a renter subletting an apartment, you take on a portion of someone else’s lease, typically for six months or a year. If your company predicts needing a change soon, you’ll sooner have an opportunity to make a move by keeping the rental term shorter. Subleases add another level of legal complication, so make sure all parties are in on the negotiations (including the property owner and manager), and don’t hesitate to involve a lawyer. If flexibility is at the top of your list of needs–subleasing might be just the right option for finding that perfect office space. 

Traditional Leases

A traditional lease is perfect for the company that doesn’t expect to increase its workforce and can handle the pros and cons of a traditional lease term (usually five years or longer). Consider a long-term lease only if your business plan requires it. If you don’t have a business plan, devote some time to mapping out the short and long-term future of your company before making a hasty and potentially costly decision. 

Essential Questions Before Signing the Papers 

1. How do other tenants feel about this property/shared space? Ask around – are the fellow renters happy with the HVAC? The elevator? The property manager? 

2. Can you and your employees get there and park easily? If your employees work late hours, are the parking lot and surrounding areas secure and well lit? Are necessary businesses like banks, restaurants, drugs stores and postal services nearby? 

3. Can my clients get here and park easily? If your business runs on frequent in-person meetings with customers, does this property make it easy for them to find you? Does it strike a good first impression? 

4. Is this space big enough for your foreseeable needs? Does it allow between 70 and 125 square feet per employee - not including shared spaces like kitchens, recreational areas and meeting rooms? Consider how your clients and employees interact with the space – do large open spaces or small private offices suit your needs? 

5. Are there hidden costs you’re ignoring such as trash removal, use of dedicated parking, or landscaping? What fees will security, utilities, furnishings and interior design add to your bottom line? 

6. Perhaps most importantly, will you be happy to come to this location every day? Will you be proud to show it off to your clients and employees? 

Consider your options as well as the trajectory of your business. As long as you keep these questions in mind, and are realistic in your assessments–you should have no problem finding the perfect office space for your company.