U.S. politics isn’t slowing down business travel from India

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

Immigration reform. White supremacy rallies. Trade wars. Tariffs. Protectionism. Nationalist rhetoric. Has any of this deterred foreign entrepreneurs from doing business with the United States? Maybe. But for some, it’s just business as usual.

Take India. The giant democracy, according to the United States Trade Representative, is our ninth largest goods trading partner, encompassing a total of almost $68 billion in imports and exports in 2016 – and supporting an estimated 197,000 jobs here. With all the political turmoil here, you might think that some business travelers from India would be deterred. But not so. Read More…

How Google Will End Those Annoying Pop-Up Ads…And Other Small Business Tech News This Week

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(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

Here are five things in technology that happened this past week and how they affect your business. Did you miss them?

1 — Google launches an initiative to tell websites they serve annoying ads.

Nobody likes pop-up ads, and Google has launched a new initiative that could reduce their numbers. In the next few weeks, it will begin telling websites whether they serve ads that people tend to find annoying. Those websites can then visit their Ad Experience Report for more info and screenshots of the advertisements in question. (Source: engadget)

Why this is important for your business: Read More…

Europe has got a butter problem

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

Now is not a great time to be a baker or a restaurateur in Europe. The entire continent’s running out of butter and it’s a “major crisis,” says the Federation des Entrepreneurs de la Boulangerie, an industry group for French bakers, in this CNN report.

The shortage comes at a time when demand for butter is booming. For  years, margarine and other butter substitutes were the rage. But now consumption of the real thing around the world is on the rise. Both Europeans and Americans are consuming a half a pound of butter more than they were back in 2010 according to government reports, and the Chinese are thirsty for more milk products now more than ever. Overall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting a jump of about three percent in global butter consumption this year. Read More…

Google just made its Play Store apps a little better

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

Just this past weekend I went to the Google Play Store to download a better clock and alarm app (don’t ask) and was overwhelmed by the options. Who knew there were so many different ways to view a clock on your smartphone? As a consumer, the Play Store is daunting. For an entrepreneur that develops apps, it must be frustrating too. Imagine that your product is truly better and more reliable than all the rest, but it’s so far down in the list that hardly anyone finds it.

There’s good news for both users and app developers. Google is changing that. Read More…

These Are 5 Great CRMs For Your Small Business

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

Research firm Gartner predicts that the Customer Relationship Management market will be about $37 billion in 2017. That’s a huge number and consistent with the industry’s past double digit growth every year since 2011.

The reason why CRM applications are so popular is pretty understandable. When used the right way a good CRM system will ensure that everyone that comes in touch with your business are engaged, marketed, sold and serviced. To be sure, these systems are nothing more than databases that hold information (contact, activity, calendar, notes, email, service, campaigns, opportunities, etc.) about anyone (customers, prospects, vendors, partners, influencers, friends) that comes in contact with your company. If your company has the discipline and the culture, your CRM system will become the core of your sales, marketing and service efforts. And, in this big data world, you will find it will also create a significant intangible asset in your business.

So is your business too small for a CRM? Absolutely not. My company sells five CRM applications and our clients come from all industries and range in size from one user to hundreds. Having said that, there are certain considerations you should make if your company has less than 25 users of a CRM system. You don’t need to drive a minivan if you’re just young couple with no kids. Same goes for CRM systems — there are some that are better suited to small business because they’re simpler and priced more affordably, with a focus on the features that most small businesses actually use.

There are dozens — literally dozens — of excellent CRM applications for small (less than 25 users) businesses. The below list includes five that I trust and run into frequently. All of the “most popular for small businesses” versions of the software I list below come with the functions that you would expect: contact, activity, campaign, opportunity, lead and sales management as well as email integration, workflow/automation, alerts, and mobile apps. They also (with the exception of GoldMine) integrate with hundreds of other, third-party applications.

My company, The Marks Group PC, sells and implements CRM systems and currently serves about 600 active clients. These opinions are MY opinions and have been accumulated over the years based on my review and use of these products as well as feedback from other small business owners that use them. Rest assured, the five I selected are all great applications and even the cons — I bet — can be overcome with the help of a product expert or consultant. You be the judge.

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

GoldMine
(Disclosure: The Marks Group sells this product)

Price:
$2,995 one-time fee for a five-concurrent-user system (there’s also a 3-user package). Licenses are $695 per license after that, plus maintenance.

Most Popular Version for Small Businesses:
GoldMine Premium is the company’s flagship. There are also cloud and mobile versions.

Pros:
On-premise (not cloud, although there are cloud options) means lower long term cost and control over data. Strong contact management. Built-in email client (and Outlook integration). Fast performance. Easy to use. Strong partner channel.

Cons:
Older architecture. Difficult to integrate with other applications. Few third-party integrations. Limited ability to customize.

Insightly

Price: 
$12-$99 per user per month (free version also available).

Most Popular Version for Small Businesses: 
Professional ($49 per user per month with annual subscription).

Pros:
Excellent Google (Gmail) and Slack integration. Simple interface. Great video tutorials. Fast performance.

Cons:
No partner channel. Reporting capabilities are limited. Some users complain of “too many screens.”

Nimble

Price:
$22 per user per month (one version).

Most Popular Version for Small Businesses:
There’s only one version of Nimble.

Pros:
Nimble founder Jon Ferrara is a CRM icon and a passionate advocate. Very strong social media integration. Tracks customer “value” based on engagement. Searches across all social media platforms.

Cons:
More 3rd party integrations needed. Limits to customizable fields, views and workflows. LinkedIn integration limited due to LI’s relationship with Microsoft.

ProsperWorks

Price:
$19-$119 per user per month.

Most Popular Version for Small Businesses: 
Professional ($49 per user per month).

Pros:
Arguably considered the strongest Google-based CRM application around. Also includes a Chrome extension. Very easy to learn.

Cons: 
Still a young product. No partner channel. Limited number of custom fields. Data migration challenges.

Zoho
(Disclosure: The Marks Group sells this product)

Price: 
Ranges from $12-$50 per month (free version also available).

Most popular version:
Enterprise ($35 per user per month with annual subscription).

Pros:
Large user base. Very customizable. Built in e-mail client (and Outlook integration). Part of a suite of other Zoho products that includes accounting and project management. Strong partner channel.

Cons:
Overseas-provided support can be slow and unsatisfactory. E-Mail sharing among teams is cumbersome.

The takeaway: if implemented the right way, any of the above five applications will work fine for your small (less than 25 user) business. These companies compete and watch what each other is doing. When one company adds a feature you can bet the others will follow shortly. Every business needs a CRM. Your business needs a CRM.

The One Big Thing Missing From Allan Domb’s Plan to Grow the City

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(This post originally appeared on PhillyMag)

As we’ve unfortunately learned, some business leaders may not be the most effective political leaders. But Allan Domb doesn’t fall into that category.

Since taking office as an at-large City Council member last year, Domb has dived into the job with enthusiasm, commitment, and energy. He doesn’t need to be doing this. He’s made plenty of money selling and managing real estate over the past few decades. But clearly he wants to make a difference. He wants Philadelphia to grow — and not just because the city’s growth will help him sell and manage more real estate. But because he cares about the city’s future. Read More…

This Bakery Owner Refused to Give Away Freebies. She’s Wrong.

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

If the producers of a popular TV show asked you to provide free product in exchange for “promotion” would you? Laura Worthington refused.

Worthington owns Laura’s Little Bakery in Liverpool, England. Recently, she was asked to bake a cake for one of the stars of a popular British TV show called Love Island. Her payment? “Exposure” on the show’s social media accounts, she was promised. Worthington was not impressed.

“Exposure doesn’t pay my bills,” she told the show’s producers, according to this Buzzfeed News report. “And I’ll be honest I think it’s a disgrace that companies like you go to small independent businesses asking for free stuff.”

It’s not the first time this has happened to her. Worthington claims she gets a request for free cakes “at least once a week.” The requests come from individual people, organizations seeking donations, discounts requested by customers making big orders and even other TV shows, like the X Factor. Read More…