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Break Through

Digital marketing basics for businesses

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

(Family Features) Consumers today increasingly rely on connected devices to research products and services before making purchases – so it’s no secret that small businesses need to focus more of their marketing resources than ever before on online strategies.

As the journey from consumer query to purchase becomes more complex – incorporating multiple devices, websites, apps and offline activities – so too do the options for tracking consumer behavior and leveraging online media for targeted advertising.

There are companies today specializing in almost every aspect of online marketing, leaving business owners with a dizzying array of options. For many the question is not the value of online marketing, but rather where to start and how much they need to do to accomplish their marketing objectives.

Fortunately, there are some foundational activities that are effective, manageable and comprise an important starting point for leveraging digital media to grow your business.

Here are four basics you can focus on right now to promote your business and grow your customer base online:

Mobile mindset

Mobile is quickly becoming the device of choice for consumers to search the web. According to research by International Data Corporation on behalf of YP, nearly one in three consumers uses two or more devices when looking for information about products and services; and in 2015, Google announced that it receives more searches from smartphones and tablets than from computers. Yet many businesses are slow to adapt.

If your website is difficult to navigate from a mobile device, you can lose business to your competitors – especially since mobile searches are often about more than finding information. Consumers are using their mobile phones to take action after visiting a site, including calling a business, checking store hours and mapping directions. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly and easy to use from a variety of devices so you don’t miss out on potential customers.

Simple search

Search marketing is a powerful tool to drive quality leads. At minimum, you need to optimize your web presence to make sure people who are looking for the types of products and services you sell can find you through the major search engines. After that, you can supplement your organic search engine traffic with paid search ads during peak seasons, special promotions or when you have budget to invest. In any case, the first step is to form a clear vision of your target consumers and the keywords that drive searches in your industry. For additional ideas, consult others, such as customers, relatives, competitor websites and industry news.

The time and money you invest in search marketing can be undermined if you neglect the basics such as making sure your company contact information is accurate, consistent and easy to find on your website, in online directories and anywhere else your business appears on the web. Think about what makes your life easier when you’re searching for a product or service that you need and then strive to provide that same experience on your own website.

Social graces

Social media is a great platform to connect and engage with potential customers. The key to making it work for your business is to listen first. Look for social media groups related to your industry, the services or products you provide, or the interests of your target consumers, and observe conversations to find out what’s important to the people you need to reach. Avoid promoting your business in these settings, but look for opportunities to add value and expertise to the discussion. In time, this will help to build a community of followers.

Keep in mind that each social media channel has its own rules and user base, and not all may be a fit for your business. Find the channel(s) that makes the most sense for you and your business, and be sure to incorporate social links in all of your marketing efforts to further grow your network.

Content and character

In the age of information, every small business needs to be a content publisher. Good content serves many purposes, from attracting higher search engine rankings to helping prospects choose your products or services, and reinforcing your brand. A good start is to look for opportunities to educate and share your expertise. How-to videos, FAQs or links to informative resources about your industry are great ways to add value and encourage people to come back to your website. Other content, such as seasonal greeting videos or stories about work you’re doing in the community, may serve to humanize your brand and build authentic connections with your customers.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Does a local business really need a website?

When your business is primarily focused on local clients and you don’t sell products online, you may wonder whether your business even needs a website. The answer is unequivocally yes.

Websites are how local businesses get found via directories and search engines. It’s the “home base” for pertinent information about your business, including hours, location, products, services and more.

Remember that keeping your website information current and correct is extremely important. Inaccurate information can get picked up by other sites and directories, which, in turn, makes it harder for your potential customers to find and engage with your business.

Summit fuels growth

For business owners looking to grow their businesses, the Local Breakthrough Summit organized by YP may deliver the knowledge and tools they need. The series of nationwide events brings together leaders in digital marketing, including Bing, Google, Verve and Yahoo, while also giving small business owners the opportunity to share best practices and gain insights about their communities.

For more information on YP’s Local Breakthrough Summit, visit adsolutions.yp.com/breakthroughsummit.

 

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ASK SCORE: Do I Need a  Corporation, a Partnership or an LLC for my business?

by Bob Cooper, SCORE Counselor

Prior to starting a new business it is important to select the proper legal structure.

It is possible to start a business by yourself without creating any separate structure; this type of structure is commonly called a “Sole Proprietorship.” In a Sole Proprietorship, all income and expenses are recognized by you on your income tax return, and the business tax ID number would be your social security number. The Sole Proprietorship is the simplest form of business structure, and works well if the business has little likelihood of incurring liability or costs, if something going awry. The owner is liable for all debts and obligations of the business, and therefore the owner’s property is subject to claims of business creditors.

A husband and wife filing jointly can be a Sole Proprietorship. A name for the business can be adopted by the sole proprietor and an assumed name certificate is filed with the County Clerk’s office.

Every form of business structure, other than the Sole Proprietorship, is formed by making application to the State of Michigan, because every other form of business must receive approval from the State before operating. Also, every other form must receive a tax ID number from the Federal Internal Revenue Service in order to file documents with the IRS.

A second form of business structure is a general “Partnership” which is formed by two or more people who will own and operate the business together. The Partnership is controlled by a formal partnership agreement stating a partner’s contribution, control, management and the sharing of losses and profits. The agreement should also attempt to spell out what happens when a conflict arises, such as death of a partner or disagreement between the partners. A Partnership continues by agreement of the partners, unless it is ended by certain acts, such as the death of a partner, as provided by State law. All partners in a general Partnership are liable and responsible for all obligations of the Partnership. A name for the business can be filed as an assumed name with the County Clerk’s office.

A third form of business structure is a Limited Partnership which simply means that one or more of the partners operate the business while others are strictly investors.

Another form is the “Limited Liability Company,” commonly called an “LLC.” The benefit of the LLC is to limit the liability of the owners. When someone has a claim, the claim must be made against the company and not against the owners, as long as the company is operated correctly. The management of the LLC is defined by a management agreement and filed with the State at the time the LLC documents are filed. An LLC files an information return with the IRS. This return tells the IRS the names of the owners and the percentage amount of the income received by the business upon which each owner must pay the taxes.

A “General Corporation” is another type of business structure. The Corporation is the most widely used but the most complex form of structure from the standpoint of paperwork and administration. However the Corporation allows for easy investment by the use of stock or shares in the company. The Corporation has an identity and existence separate from its owners or shareholders. The Corporation gives the most protection to the owners, or stockholders, from claims, which can only be filed against the Corporation. The corporate structure shields the owners and/or stockholders from liability for wrongful actions of the corporation. The Corporation can have a perpetual existence, unlike the other types of business structure. A Corporation is required to file a tax return separate form the tax returns of the stockholders, and is subject to taxation on its income. The Corporation must request permission from the State to do business under a different name.

In the business structures that provide a shield from liability for the owners, the owners must operate the business separately and distinguish it from themselves, as a separate entity.

Get free and confidential counseling with SCORE, 111 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. Call (616) 771-0305. Visit our website at www.scoregr.org or email us at score@grandrapids.org.

 

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Admiral Petroleum purchased by Sun Capital

BUS-AdmiralWhen gas prices go up, many people flock the Admiral gas station at the corner of Main and Muskegon to get a good price on gas.

Sun Capital Partners, Inc. (“Sun Capital”), a leading private investment firm specializing in leveraged buyouts and investments in market-leading companies, announced last month that an affiliate has bought Admiral Petroleum Company & Lemmen Oil Company, a leading convenience store business based in the Midwest.

The Company, which had been family owned and operated since the 1950s, became incorporated in 1956, with its first gas stations in Greenville. It is now headquartered in Coopersville, Michigan, and includes 130 Admiral-branded gas and convenience stores, as well as nine Lemmen-branded gas and convenience stores across Michigan and Indiana. Admiral was one of the first pioneers of the milk, bread, and egg concept in gas stations, which eventually became an industry standard. The Company today employs approximately 1,400 people.

Industry veteran Jeff Turpin, who has more than 20 years of experience in the convenience store industry, will lead growth initiatives at Admiral as CEO. Turpin previously served as Chairman and CEO of VPS Convenience Store Group, a former affiliated portfolio company of Sun Capital.

“Admiral has been an innovator in the convenience store sector, and we look forward to building on the business’ strong reputation as it explores new growth opportunities,” said Marc Leder, Co-CEO at Sun Capital. “We’re excited to once again partner with Jeff Turpin, whose proven track record in this industry is second to none. I’m confident his deep experience and operational know-how will be invaluable as Admiral charts an exciting course forward.”

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New Lions Club members

BUS-Lions-club-new-members

Here we GROW again! The Cedar Springs Lions added more new members last month. Pictured from left to right is: New members Bud Robinson and Kerri Mayo, and President Jerry VanderWal.

If you still don’t know who or what the Lions are come to a meeting, or check us out on Facebook! The Cedar Springs Lions meet the first and third Tuesday of the month, at 6:30 p.m., at the North Kent Senior Center (44 N Park St).

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May Women’s Club Celebrations

Pictured in the photo (from left to right): Grandson Alec Falicki, daughter Soonja Koole, Woman of the Year Carolyn Davis, husband Dan Davis, daughter Kelli Koole Clark.

Pictured in the photo (from left to right): Grandson Alec Falicki, daughter Soonja Koole, Woman of the Year Carolyn Davis, husband Dan Davis, daughter Kelli Koole Clark.

By Sue Harrison

The May meeting of the Cedar Springs Women’s Club was full of celebrations.

Every year one woman of the Cedar Springs Women’s Club is recognized for her exemplary spirit in the promotion and support of Cedar Springs Women’s Club and her involvement in community activities. This year’s recipient of the 2015-2016 Outstanding Women’s Club Member is Carolyn Davis. Carolyn has been active on the Women’s Club CAN committee, has volunteered at North Kent Service Center, has held the offices of 1st and 2nd Vice President, and served as Club President  from 2012-2014. Her husband Dan, daughters Kelli Clark and Soonja Koole, and grandson Alec Falicki, surprised Carolyn at the ceremony and luncheon. Past Woman of the Year recipients, Penny Darling, Caroline Bartlette and Sue Harrison presented Carolyn  with a dozen roses (the Club flower), as well as a certificate and wall plaque designating her as the 2015-2016 award winner.

Thelma Morris celebrated her 95th birthday on May 2 and was presented with a bouquet of flowers.

The Cedar Springs Women’s Club celebrated the election of a new Board of Officers for 2016-2017.  They are: President Sue Harrison; 1st Vice President Penny Darling; 2nd Vice President Donna Clark; Secretary Caroline Bartlette; Corresponding Secretary Sally Grayvold; Treasurer Char Heim; Directors: Kristina Kornoely, Louise King, and Kathy Anderson. The officer installation ceremony takes place at the June meeting.

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CS Brewing Company in running for best brewery

post photo by J. Reed

post photo by J. Reed

What is the best brewery in West Michigan? WZZM13 is asking people to tell them, and, according to voters in West Michigan, Cedar Springs Brewing Company is one of the top four contenders.

The other three are Pigeon Hill Brewing Company, in Muskegon; Founders Brewing Company, in Grand Rapids; and Fetch Brewing Company, in Whitehall.

According to WZZM13, 2,800 people voted in the initial poll, nominating 98 different breweries. They narrowed it down to the top ten with the most votes, and Cedar Springs Brewing Company was on the list. They then had another round of voting, and narrowed it to the top four.

This is the final round of voting, and you have until Friday, May 20, at 4 p.m. to cast your vote. The winner will be announced on Saturday, May 21, and be featured in a “Taste of my town” segment on May 28, and the other three will be featured in subsequent segments.

To vote, go to: https://polldaddy.com/poll/9416880/

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Health Department receives grant 

 

To enhance emerging disease preparedness

GRAND RAPIDS–The Kent County Health Department (KCHD) is one of only eleven local health departments in the United States, and the only one in Michigan, to be awarded a $25,000 grant to enhance coordination for preparedness and response to infectious disease outbreaks. The grant is awarded by the National Association of County and City Health Organizations (NACCHO).

With support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Lessons in INfection Control (LINC) Initiative awards recipients will test new approaches to prepare for and respond to healthcare-associated infections and other emerging infectious diseases.

“Not only will this funding increase KCHD’s capacity to respond to healthcare associated infections (HAIs) and other emerging diseases,” says Brian Hartl, Supervising Epidemiologist at KCHD, “it will also increase collaboration and communication between public health and health care facilities across West Michigan to strengthen HAI surveillance and control activities.”

The LINC Initiative supports local health departments in improving healthcare and community infection control practices by working with hospitals, long-term care facilities and other healthcare settings to identify and address the needs and opportunities. KCHD and other award recipients will test creative solutions and ways to combat the estimated 700,000 healthcare related infections in the U.S. each year.

Local health departments that received the award include the following:

• Barren River District Health Department (KY)

• Clark County Public Health (WA)

• Eau Claire City-County Health Department (WI)

• El Paso County Health Department (CO)

• Flathead City-County Health Department (MT)

• Florida DOH Pasco County

• Kent County Health Department (MI)

• Marion County Public Health Department (IN)

• Kanawha-Charleston Health Department (WV)

• Public Health – Seattle & King County (WA)

• St. Louis City Department of Health (MO)

The awardees will implement this project throughout 2016.

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Lions Club inducts new members

BUS-Lions-Club

Wow, look at us grow! The Cedar Springs Lions added some new members recently. In the picture from left to right is: new members Sue Norton, Patricia Miszewski, Tammy Metzger, Brynadette Powell, Liz Becker, and President Jerry VanderWal. If you still don’t know who or what the Lions are come to a meeting, or check us out on Facebook! The Cedar Springs Lions meet the first and third Tuesday of the month, at 6:30 p.m., at the North Kent Senior Center (44 N Park St).

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Shared Advertising Helps You Gain Larger Audience Share

Even on a limited budget, every retail business must advertise to keep new customers coming in the door. Co-promotions and cooperative advertising are two approaches to maximizing the value of your advertising  dollars by sharing the costs. The supplier (typically a manufacturer  or distributor) benefits because its product gains greater exposure at the same time its sales are increasing.

Co-promotion  may be an option if you can split your ad costs with another local business serving your same target audience. Those costs could include sponsorships, ads, newsletters, fliers and bill stuffers. You may identify one or more vendors who are willing to share the cost of a trade show booth as well as the printed materials and staffing required for the booth.

With cooperative advertising (also known as co-op advertising), two or more parties are sharing certain ad costs. This arrangement may take the form of an incentive program, with manufacturers  contributing dollars to the ad campaigns of distributors or retailers to encourage the promotion of certain products.

Suppliers who participate in co-op advertising programs usually give the retailer credits for purchasing their products  or services. Those advertising credits can amount to 3 percent to 5 percent of the total purchase. The credits can be redeemed when the business owner buys advertising that the supplier approves. Often Yellow Pages advertising qualifies for co-op money.

The supplier sets the guidelines. Usually the ads eligible for co-op dollars feature the supplier’s brand exclusively. In addition the supplier may have to sign off on the ad and the chosen medium being used if not also the frequency. Sometimes suppliers have ad copy or scripts that must be used to qualify for a reimbursement. If not, the supplier probably will want to approve of the ad before it runs. Remember, however, that the ad should feature your business prominently in addition to playing up the product.

How do you get reimbursed for co-op advertising? There are two approaches. You may have to pay for the ad up front and then give the supplier a copy of the ad. For radio or TV ads, you’ll probably need to show the script and proof of the dates and times the ads were aired. Some suppliers, however, may issue credits that equate to their agreed-upon share of the advertising. Then the business owner can make future purchases  from the supplier at a discount.

The great thing about shared advertising is it enables a business owner to spend less on advertising and use those savings to grow the business in other ways.

If you would like to discuss advertising strategies, including cooperative advertising, contact SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” Call1-616-771-0305 for the Grand Rapids SCORE chapter, or find a counselor  online at http://www.scoregr.org./

Get free and confidential counseling with SCORE, 111 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. Call (616) 771-0305. Visit our website at www.scoregr.org or email us at score@grandrapids.org.

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Tip income: how it affects your taxes

Tax tip 2016-54

If you get income from tips, you should know some things about tips and taxes. Here are a few tips from the IRS to help you file and report your tip income correctly:

  • Show all tips on your return. You must report tip income. This includes the value of non-cash tips such as tickets, passes or other items.
  • All tips are taxable. You must pay tax on all tips you received during the year. This includes tips directly from customers and tips added to credit cards. This also includes your share of tips received from a tip-splitting agreement with other employees. 
  • Report tips to your employer. If you receive $20 or more in any one month, you must report your tips for that month to your employer by the 10th day of the next month. Only include cash and check and credit card tips you received. Your employer must withhold federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes on the reported tips. 
  • Keep a daily log of tips. Use Publication 1244, Employee’s Daily Record of Tips and Report to Employer, to record your tips. This will help you report the correct amount of tips on your tax return.

For more on this topic, see Publication 531, Reporting Tip Income. You can get it on IRS.gov.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

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