Shoeboxed Organized Fridays: “How can I organize my thoughts?”

Every Friday Shoeboxed speaks with organizational guru Samantha Bennett and asks her a question submitted by one of our users.

“My office is organized, now how can I organize my thoughts?”

— Kate, Madison, WI

Do you have an organizational question you want answered? Submit it below!

A Bank Robber, Small Business and Online Marketing

bank robber

When asked why he robbed banks, urban lore has famed bank robber Willie Sutton responding, “because that’s where the money is.” The same thinking can be applied to internet marketing. Why, if you run a business, do you need a robust web presence? “Because that’s where the traffic is.” Most small business owners, struggling in a post-yellow pages world, know this.

Unfortunately, the web is an inefficient marketplace in some respects. The best information doesn’t always rise to the top in both earned and paid digital media.

Earned Media

There are various forms of digital earned media, but one of the most prominent is organic search on engines like Google. In theory, create good content and you or your business will rise to the top of the search engine rankings for a particular keyword or query.

Online Marketing Earned MediaHowever, theory and practice don’t always play on the same field. For example, there are many factors that influence search engine rankings, from social signals to links, even domain age. As a result, big companies like Amazon monopolize search engine results pages (or SERPs).

It’s also rumored that Google has a preference for big brands, which dovetails with Google’s former CEO and current executive chairman Eric Schmidt’s now infamous “brand” comment. “Brands are the solution, not the problem,” he said. “Brands are how you sort out the cesspool. Brand affinity is clearly hard wired. It is so fundamental to human existence that it’s not going away. It must have a genetic component.”

Unless you’re a major shareholder in Amazon or its brethren, these are scary words, particularly if you run a small business.

Paid Media

Given the intense competition for organic search rankings, many small business owners turn toward paid media, specifically pay-per-click (PPC).

It’s a basic equation – you pay Google (or if you’re adventurous, Bing) for a click, and it sends you a visitor. Your hope – expectation – is that the visitor will buy from you.Online Marketing Paid Media

For a small business pressed for time, PPC might seem like the best solution. You only get charged when Google sends you traffic. Further, the clicks are a function of the keywords that you bid on. Are you a dog walker in Durham, NC? Then you might, so the thinking goes, bid on “dog walker” and attract dozens of dog owners to your business (if you’re smart, assuming decent traffic, you’d attach a local modifier, like “Durham”).

Unfortunately, the simplicity of PPC is deceptive. A click might sound cheap at two dollars. After all, the lifetime value of a pet owner could be thousands of dollars. Clearly, the ROI on a two dollar investment could be enormous. However, multiple factors contribute to a successful PPC campaign, including cost-per-click, conversion rate and search volume for a particular keyword.

As a result, many people spend a lot of money quickly with PPC, often with few conversions (or sales) to show for their investment. The same holds true for other paid media channels, including media buys on ad networks.

So What’s the Solution?

Given the difference in relative business models, skills, budgets, geography and industry, there’s no single path that a small business can take to achieve success online. Further, any low-hanging digital fruit – easy sales – are eventually converged upon to the point where all the profit is bled out of it.

So each small business owner needs to find his or her own path to success. The best way to do so is through rapid testing across multiple channels. Buy PPC traffic, test banner ads, create good content, engage in social media.

Online Marketing MixFinally, never rely on one single channel. Even if, for example, you were fortunate enough to find a few profitable keywords from your first foray into PPC, it’s important that you also produce good content for your site. You never know how long those keywords will produce for you. Only through testing can you find the opportunities that produce a positive ROI for your unique business.

Despite the risks and complexity outlined above, I think digital marketing holds immense opportunity for anyone who takes the time to test and learn. I’m actually pretty convinced that if Willy Sutton were alive today, he’d be an online marketer.

How to Organize Your Small Business Finances

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Whether you’ve been running your small business for a decade, or you’re just now getting the ball rolling, determining how to organize your finances is an ongoing concern for all SMBs and freelancers. Our handy checklist will help you decide where you are now, where you’d like to go, and how, exactly, to get there.

1. Is it time to grow?

When you’re first starting out, the only person worrying about how to organize your finances may be you. While many small businesses begin as sole proprietorships, it may be time to consider becoming an LLC or some other form of corporation.

Incorporating yourself protects your personal assets if your business should fail. It also may provide additional tax breaks that you don’t qualify for as an individual. Many banks and other lenders won’t grant small business owners a business account unless they are a legal business entity.

Speaking of which, it may also be time to get yourself an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. An EIN is a free tax number assigned to your business by the IRS. It’s helpful for separating business income from personal income, opening business bank accounts, and creating retirement plans for yourself and your employees. To get your own EIN from the IRS, visit

2. Keep ‘em Separated

Still using a single checking account for your business and personal life? When determining how to organize your business finances, opening a separate business checking and savings account should be first on your list after incorporating yourself. Once you’ve established yourself as an LLC or other entity and obtained an EIC, open a separate checking and savings account for your small business.

You may also want to get a credit card that is solely for business expenses. Separating business income and expenditures from personal finances will make organization much easier come tax time, and many business credit cards offer rewards like cash back and free flights.

3. Does everyone have their head in the cloud?

Are you, your partners and employees all tracking expenses and invoices using the same cloud-based application? When wondering how to organize the many daily transactions of multiple parties, consider a web-based platform like Freshbooks for invoicing, or Shoeboxed for creating expense reports.

Freshbooks has accounting functions that allow users to track time and expenses, invoice clients, make secure payments through Paypal, and even manage projects. In addition to the ability to generate expense reports, Shoeboxed lets you create digital receipts with your desktop scanner, smartphone, or by mailing hard copy receipts to us in a prepaid envelope. Everyone will be able to utilize the mobile apps that come with these programs, making organization and consistency a cinch, no matter where you are.

4. Have you consulted an expert lately?

Whether you have an in-house accounting department, an on-call CPA, or just wear that hat (and many others) yourself, it’s always good to get a second opinion. An accountant who specializes in small businesses can show you how to organize your finances for maximum deductions, will have tips and tricks you hadn’t considered, and may be able to save you money in ways you never imagined. Make the most of your write offs while giving your accountant (or yourself) time to work on everything else on their plate.

5. Self-employed retirement plans

Just like business checking and savings accounts, there are retirement accounts geared toward small business owners and self-employed individuals. These plans may have specialized benefits for small businesses, like tax deferrals and higher contribution limits.

Think you can’t afford a retirement plan? Consider a SIMPLE IRA. This plan lets you match your employees’ contributions to their retirement fund, but it caps how much they can contribute per year. This plan is also exempt from the reporting required by the IRS for 401(k) plans.


What are your tips for organizing your SMB finances?