Veterans Use the Internet to Expand Skill Set and Boost Income

Happy Veteran US Army
As a war veteran, Shane Thomason knows firsthand what it feels like to experience victory in battle. After being home for nearly ten years from the Iraqi War, Thomason now spends his time giving back to the community and expanding his occupational skill set via the internet. Owning more than 250 websites, including RandomVeteran.com, Thomason enjoys working from home and has found much success in being able to sell unique t-shirts and other novelty items online.

Thomason isn’t the only veteran taking advantage of the internet to boost his annual income. There are veterans located all across the globe who sell items and services online as a way to supplement their earnings, and for many of them, they simply do this for the same reason Thomason does — to pass the time and keep their minds occupied.

A former civil engineer for the US Navy, Zachary Scheel, says, “Veterans are comfortable operating in high-pressure environments that are changing rapidly, where they’re constantly forced to make decisions with incomplete information.” And while many common internet users may not think of the online world as being high-pressure, Thomason is sure to tell you different. From selling websites at exactly the right moment to creating content on a consistent basis, operating businesses and sites online is a full-time job that requires much attention, and more so, much intelligence.

There are many skills learned through the military and overseas that can be used in business. Six of the most valuable skills veterans can carry over from the battlefield are integrity, dependability, sharp decision-making, the initiative to go above and beyond, tenacity, and adaptability. The capability to take advantage of technology is also another skill that veterans are familiar with, making them all the more apt to find success. Whether it be learning new software or performing website coding, veterans often have a knack for training themselves.

Thomason wrote articles for his local newspaper, the Grayson County News Gazette, while serving in Iraq, which greatly improved his ability to write and has translated into an exceptional skill for being able to create web content, including home pages and product descriptions, which he uses to sell t-shirts and other items on RandomVeteran.com.

One of Thomason’s most valuable pieces of advice to other veterans who are considering using their skills for work is not to become a recluse. Thomason says, “helping the community by being actively involved is the primary way I am able to sustain peace in my life. Sure, working from home is great, but getting out in the community and working with the children and other veterans is what keeps me moving forward from one day to the next.” Thomason is the Commander of American Legion Post 81 and spends a great deal of time giving back to his community when he is not working.

Generating business is simple when veterans take advantage of the existing skill set that they acquired while serving in the military. Veterans can also find an abundance of resources available to them. From online training courses to website builders, many of these resources are available free of charge because they have served in the military.


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Social Media and Your Marketing Strategy

Women sharing social media images.

When you are trying to reach a wide demographic for your business, you must get on social media. By developing a following on social media and learning how to use text messaging to get customers interested in your brand, you’ll be on your way to building up a solid customer base.

Do You Have Followers on Your Facebook Page?

Most businesses use their Facebook page to post links to informative blog posts on their website or to share relevant news about their industry in general. To gain followers, you will need to get people to share the posts that you create and to gain interest by advertising your page. You can also gain followers by creating printed marketing materials that provide information on how to find you on Facebook. Almost all of your printed marketing products should contain information on all of your social media accounts to encourage customers to sign up.

Utilizing an Opt-In Texting Campaign

Think about how you currently communicate with your customers. In any business, the ability to ask questions and to get those questions answered quickly is important. When you create an opt-in texting campaign, you build a list of subscribers that you can send marketing materials to through text messages. You can grow this list of subscribers by creating a short code and printing it on your marketing postcards. For example, “To learn more about our business, text the word SHOP to 12345.” You can send text messages that point people to your social media pages and share links to your social media accounts that will allow them to sign up for your campaign.

Consider Trying Twitter

Twitter can be a very useful platform for your industry once you can gain an audience and you learn how to strategize hashtag phrases. If you’ve ever seen a person write a status on Facebook such as “I love my dog, #labsrule, #dogsarethebest, #familypet,” these hashtags do more than confuse people who don’t know what they are. Hashtag use started on Twitter, and this is one way people follow industry news. People can search hashtags on Twitter. Anyone that types in “#labsrule,” or any of the other hashtags written, will see the post written by the Twitter user that wrote the hashtag after their post.

Try to engage your customers by asking questions or sharing interesting news either through social media links or text messages. If customers start commenting on posts, keep the conversation going by responding. The more you can get your customers interested in your brand on social media, the larger the following you will create.


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3 Easy Time Management Tips: How to Create More Hours in a Day

Time Management
The one natural resource there never seems to be enough of is time. There are only so many hours in a day. You don’t need to wish that tomorrow will suddenly be a 35-hour day to get all of your work done. Instead, you need to start using a few small, yet critical, time management tips today to work smarter, not harder, with the hours that you DO have available to you. Here are three tips to get you started.

1) Learn How to Travel Productively

These days, a significant portion of your work probably isn’t taking place within the confines of your office. Whether it’s meetings with clients or unexpected personal issues, you likely find yourself stepping away from your desk more and more. The key to time management isn’t learning how to keep up with your obligations in spite of these sudden duties. It’s learning how to fit in work time around them.

Even if you don’t have a mobile tablet that you carry around with you wherever you go, it’s still easier than ever to work remotely. If you’re not already using a cloud-based file sharing service like Dropbox or iCloud, you need to start. Changing a document on your work computer makes those adjustments instantly available to every other device you have. Likewise, services like Dropbox for Business allow for real-time collaboration on files, letting people get together to work on a project even when they don’t have the time to literally “get together” at all.

Remember, the smartphone that you likely carry around with you is more powerful than the technology that NASA used to send men to the moon in the 1960s. There are hundreds of thousands of apps that are available in the iTunes and Google Play app stores right now for you to use to customize that device in any way you see fit. Stop thinking about it like a device that you merely use to send and receive calls and start looking at it as your office on-the-go.

2) Hold Better Meetings

Meetings are just a fact of life. But one of the many reasons why people tend to dread that weekly “catch-up” gathering is because they’re huge drains of productivity. The answer to this problem isn’t to stop holding meetings altogether; it’s to start holding better meetings.

Think long and hard about why you’re having a meeting. If it’s just to convey information, you could probably save everyone a lot of time and just send a lengthy email or inter-office memo instead. A meeting should always justify its existence. If it doesn’t, it needs to drop off the schedule. Likewise, plan out an agenda for your meeting ahead of time and stick with it. Make sure everyone who needs to contribute knows what is expected of them before you all walk into a room, giving everyone a chance to be as prepared as they need to be.

3) Get Organized and Stay That Way

Again, time management isn’t about finding more hours in a day; it’s about working smarter, not harder with the hours you already have. One study estimates that as much as thirty percent of our working time each day is spent looking for misplaced items. It stands to reason that if you never feel like you have enough time to get things done, the true issue might just be that you need to take a look around and organize your life more effectively.


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Learn How to Communicate on a Case-by-Case Basis for Better Results

Listening is important

To say that communication is important in the workplace is an understatement. This is true regardless of the type of business you’re running or even the industry you’re operating in. One study from McKinsey Global Institute found that not only does active communication bring people closer together in the workplace but in these types of situations productivity tends to improve between 20% and 25% on average.

At the same time, there is no “silver bullet” method to communication that will instantly get everyone on the same page. Only by looking to your employees as individuals, and playing to their own individual strengths and preferences, will you finally be able to see the communication gains that you so richly deserve.

Let the Employee Be Your Guide

Perhaps the most important thing for you to understand is that communication no longer means face-to-face conversations, -or at least it doesn’t exclusively. This is particularly the case regarding introverted employees, a staple at any organization.

Just because Ryan from Accounting doesn’t like to speak up in meetings doesn’t mean that he lacks communication skills. It just means that speaking in front of a group isn’t necessarily his forte. Instead of trying to force Ryan to adapt to your wishes, consider how Ryan would prefer to communicate.

Emails, memos, texting, one-on-one meetings, phone calls: these are all viable options regarding getting ideas across in the modern era. As a business leader, it’s not your job to get everyone to communicate the way you want to just because you prefer looking someone in the eyes when you tell them what they need to do next. It’s your job to make a note of the conditions that a person excels under and then do whatever you can to facilitate those needs whenever possible.

The Larger Implications of Communication

Consider the fact that according to one survey, an incredible 46% of employees said that they “rarely, if ever” leave a meeting knowing exactly what they’re supposed to do next. This is the danger of a “one size fits all” approach to communication. You end up becoming something of a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

One study revealed that 26% of employees think email is a major productivity killer. But when you reverse that, it means that 74% of employees think email is just fine. But it’s important not to create an “either/or” situation where one doesn’t have to exist. If you know that Robert is going to get the information he needs from an email, send away. If you know that Brenda is the type of employee who needs to sit down and talk out her next objective in person, be sure you make time for her in your schedule.

It’s up to you to find the right communication method that works for the individual so that everyone can be on the same page when it comes to contributing to the whole.

It’s important to remember that according to a recent Gallup poll, 70% of employees in the United States said that they just weren’t engaged in work anymore. Creating an environment of open and honest communication is one of the keys to combating this issue head on. But you must also remember that no two employees are created equally. An approach that works great for getting one employee to open up and become engaged in their work may be woefully inadequate for the next.

Only by making an effort to communicate on a case-by-case basis will you be able to generate a workplace where success is no longer a question of “if” but “when.”


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4 Stubborn Business Myths

myth

Entrepreneurs know that owning a small business takes dedication, passion, and hours of concentrated work. You may run into obstacles that test your business and your perseverance, obstacles that are norms in the world of business which each entrepreneur must learn to navigate. However, there are some obstacles that you may be facing without realizing it. Those barriers are stubborn business myths that just won’t go away because people believe them, even though they aren’t true.

1. It’s not what you know but who you know.

In the course of doing business, business owners or potential business owners come up against this belief time and time again. However, while it is true that knowing the right people may help you get started or get access to some deals, in most businesses it is expertise, experience, and skill that propel you forward in business. If you can provide the solutions customers want, they will refer you to their friends and family.

2. Nice guys finish last.

This myth is a holdover from the era of Western movies and superhero comics. Nice guys (always portrayed as pushovers or wallflowers) finish last because the villains and heroes walk all over them. In film, this may be true. After all, Tony Stark isn’t a nice guy. He is an arrogant, self-centered genius. However, The Avengers aside, in real life, nice guys finish first quite often. While a person with low self-esteem who doesn’t speak up will not be successful without change, a courteous business owner is appreciated immensely by customers and vendors.

In today’s modern world, people are used to dealing with machines, poorly-paid clerks, and online shopping. Finding a business person who is willing to offer them genuine customer service, build a relationship and spend time getting to know them to better serve them is rare. Many people are happy to pay more for real customer service. Therefore, being a “nice guy” is valuable to your contacts. They will remember your excellent service and come back for more.

3. Don’t work hard. Work smart.

This myth is one of the worst business myths out there. There is no way you can run a business without working hard. Hard work is what separates the “men from the boys” as entrepreneurs. Successful entrepreneurs put in hours of labor to get their businesses off the ground. Working smart is just another way to say that there is a workaround or that you can find a way to skip the hard work. It just isn’t possible in reality. If you aren’t willing to work hard, you won’t make it in business.

4. It’s called work for a reason. It’s not supposed to be fun.

All work has elements that workers do not like to perform. It might be the paperwork that you need to fill out for each customer or the data entry on your last case. However, why can’t work be fun?

People who find work that satisfies them are much happier in life. That happiness translates to their work and their interactions with co-workers, customers, and vendors. If you love to sell, create graphic designs, or help customers find what they are looking for, then you ARE having fun at work. In fact, many companies are now providing their employees with ways to have fun at work to help reduce stress and fatigue.

So go ahead and have fun while working! It can only improve your outlook and production. Work can be fun.


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How to Live Your Passion in Any Profession

find_passion

We all want to live a purposeful life. Some individuals are lucky enough to be in a professional role that allows them to live out their passion through their profession. Even if you aren’t able to make money while at the same time living your passion, you can still integrate your passion in your current profession. After all, “Often finding meaning in life is not about doing things differently; it is about seeing familiar things in new ways,” says author Rachel Naomi Remen. More on this below:

Understand You Don’t Have to Change Careers:

No matter what your current profession might be, you have the propensity to make a difference and live your passion. This means, living your passion doesn’t have to include a career move. Not everyone can get a job that embodies their passion. That’s why it’s good to “bloom where you’re planted” so to speak. Whatever your profession, find ways to live your passion within it. The following are a few ways to do that:

Treat People Like They Matter:

To live a life of purpose, you should treat those around you like they matter. For example, a cafeteria worker might feel her job doesn’t matter. Yet, what if while doing her job, she gives kids the only kind words and the most genuine smile they will get each day? Doesn’t that make her job of serving food more purposeful? Another example could include a handyman that takes the time to talk to the widow whose house he is repairing. It might not seem like much to the man, but to the lonely widow who was yearning for company, it can make a great difference. In the service industry, each customer served is another opportunity to make a difference.

Volunteer Your Time To Causes You Believe In:

If your nine to five job isn’t world-changing, that doesn’t mean you can’t still make a difference and live out your passion. Find organizations that are addressing the areas you feel need attention. Join their cause through volunteering your time. If possible, you can find ways to combine your day job with your volunteer efforts. For example, let’s say you work in an office and you want to give back to kids who have cancer. Ask your co-workers to make donations along with you. Organize a visit to a local hospital and take gifts to the kids. Make baked goods, sell them to your co-workers, and then give the proceeds to the organization. You could also take part in a run that benefits the cause and ask your co-workers to join in. The main thing to remember is you don’t have to keep your passion and your profession separate. In fact, many businesses are more than willing to give back to worthy organizations. It’s good PR, and they can write it off on their taxes.

Don’t Give Up:

Above all else, to live a life of passion and purpose, you can’t give up. Even if things haven’t worked out exactly as you would have planned, you can still live a life that changes the world. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to remain in the same career, but you shouldn’t feel the only way to live a life of passion is to change your profession.


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It’s Okay to go Niche: How One Unusual Brand is Turning Trash into Specialty Surf Bags

fish-school

Sometimes, we stumble across an answer to a problem that we did not know existed. Alec and Aric Avedissian are solving two problems at once with their business Rareform. Rareform’s customers get durable, one-of-a-kind surfbags while the company helps reroute some of the thousands of pounds of billboard material that is discarded in the U.S. every day.

The average billboard goes up for four to eight weeks, then is discarded. While there are no firm figures on how many billboards exist in the United States, the number is high. The Los Angeles area alone is host to over 6,000 boards. Since billboard material does not decompose, that is a lot of waste.

Inspiration in the Strangest Place

Avedissian stumbled on the idea of surfbags from billboard vinyl after spending time volunteering with a fishing cooperative in El Salvador. While there, he saw people using discarded billboards to make roofing. The sight was a revelation. He’d previously never considered the material and had thought that billboards were made from paper. The discovery that this durable material was being discarded every week spurred his innovative idea.

While the bags offered a durable product at a reasonable price, the company was having a hard time finding their footing. They’d had $1.1 million in sales over three years, but saw that sales were slipping. Had they reached saturation? They decided to go on Shark Tank to see if they could find the funds that would bring them growth. Two out of the three judges did not bite; they were concerned not just with the falling sales, but with the complexity of the concept of Rareform’s product. However, Kevin O’Leary was not dissuaded and made an offer. And, it turned out that the best benefit for the product was appearing on the show.

Before their Shark Tank appearance, Rareform would recycle anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of vinyl each month. With the added visibility provided by the show, they’ve increased their monthly recycling to 50,000 pounds.

When It’s Okay to Go Niche

Surfbags are already a niche item, appealing only to the approximately 23 million surfers worldwide. By adding the factor of the recycled bags and their one-of-a-kind nature, they become even more niche. However, faith in their product and a willingness to seek out new opportunities to get their wares in front of the audience worked out.

Small businesses should never shy away from a niche product as long as it has a few things going for it. The questions you should ask:

  • Is there an audience? Rareform built their early success with the help of dedicated hobbyists.
  • Do you have a platform that can get you attention? Their appearance on Shark Tank was just what was needed.
  • Do you have reasons for making your product the way you do? Rareform’s founders said they were committed to the cause of recycling. While this was a turn-off for some investors, it is what makes their product appealing and unique.

In today’s highly connected world, there is room for every well-made product, even if your audience is small. By focusing on what you bring to the table, you can find your audience and build success for your brand.


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3 Tips for More Emotional Print Marketing Collateral

brain

Despite what you may believe, most people don’t rely on information when it comes to making a purchase. While people do love to do research in advance of parting with their hard-earned money, they rely much more heavily on emotions to guide their decisions. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you want to motivate someone to take action, you should work hard to inject as much raw emotion into your print marketing collateral as possible. Luckily, there are a few key tips you can start using today to accomplish exactly that.

It’s All About Those Colors

Even if you don’t want to fill your marketing collateral with text that drives home emotions, there are a number of subtle steps you can take to instantly provide a richer, fuller experience for your readers. Case in point: depending on the colors that you choose, you could be saying a great deal with your marketing collateral without actually saying anything at all.

Do you want to create a sense of urgency, for example, to really sell how important it is that someone place an order RIGHT NOW before your inventory is gone forever? Rely heavily on the color red to do exactly that. Note that red is also a great way to encourage someone’s appetite, which is why it’s used so heavily in marketing campaigns for fast food restaurants in particular.

Do you want to leave someone feeling calm, tranquil, and powerful? Green is the perfect way to do that. Black is often associated with authority and stability, while purple is a perfect way to signify wisdom and respect. Even oranges and yellows can be a great way to promote optimism, something that would be ideal if you’re sending out marketing materials in advance of a product or service launch to build anticipation.

It’s Not About “Me.” It’s About “You.”

If you really want to convey emotion in your print marketing collateral, shift the focus of your copy to place the emphasis squarely on your consumer where it belongs. Don’t speak to a large group of people; speak directly to one person for more intimacy. Don’t write copy filled with technical specifications about the product; write directly about the experience someone gets and the problem it solves when using it.

At the end of the day, you’re conveying all of the same information; you’re just doing it in a more emotional way. It’s the difference between “this great new product has X, Y, and Z features” and “you have an important problem, which this product solves in X, Y, and Z ways.” Both are technically correct, but only one cuts right to the heart of the matter (no pun intended).

Tie Emotion Into Your Call-to-Action

Finally, learn how to insert as much emotion as possible directly into your call-to-action for the best results. Don’t just say “Contact us today for more information.” Think about the emotions you’re trying to play to, first. If you want to create a sense of urgency, say “to find out how you can take advantage of this deal before it’s gone, contact us today for more information.”

Always try to leave someone with a strong feeling when they get to the end of your copy, be it happy, sad, excited, etc. Exactly what they will feel will vary depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, but if you can leave them feeling SOMETHING, they’ll be much more likely to take that next step.


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Packaging as a Marketing Tool: Because Innovation Waits for No One

ThinkstockPhotos-638447812Marketing is all about relationships. You’re not just selling to someone; you’re informing them. You’re providing them a service that extends beyond the literal product or service that you’re selling and into the realm of education. People want to make informed decisions, and a properly executed marketing campaign plays a role in that. To that end, it’s important to talk about an essential element of marketing that far too many people tend to overlook: product packaging. Sure, packaging has a physical function in that you can’t get a product onto store shelves (or directly into the hands of consumers) in one piece without it. However, it also has the potential to be an incredibly powerful “last second” marketing tool if you approach it from the right angle.

Why Packaging Matters

Few things are more important than a first impression. According to a study conducted by Business Insider, customers usually only take about seven seconds on average to develop a first impression about a particular product or brand. When that first impression comes in the form of a well-designed piece of direct mail collateral, that’s one thing. But what happens if that first impression occurs in the aisle at a customer’s local retailer?

The answer is simple: product packaging becomes the single deciding factor as to whether or not someone makes a purchase.

Keep in mind that studies have also shown that 64% of consumers will sometimes purchase a product off a shelf WITHOUT having any prior knowledge of it. When it comes to being satisfied with a particular product, most consumers rank packaging as almost important as the brand itself and what it represents. How easy a product was to open, how informative the copy was, what color it was, whether or not they could re-use it, these are all important factors that play a vital role in the decision-making process.

Product Packaging: Innovation by Design

It’s clear that product packaging is an opportunity that you just cannot afford to overlook. Aside from the actual functionality of the packaging, you need to think about it the same way you would any other piece of print marketing collateral. Pay attention to color choice – use red and yellow to invoke feelings like excitement or happiness, while relying on white to convey cleanliness and simplicity.

Don’t try to overload your product packaging with paragraph after paragraph of technical specifications. Brevity is the soul of wit. Think about it the same way you would your next big direct mail project. You would never just send the customer a manila envelope filled with reams of paper containing spec sheets and other advanced product information. You would keep it short and straightforward. You would give them everything they need to know to make the most informed decision possible in bite-sized chunks. How you approach the copy on your product packaging should be no different.

In the end, part of what a brand offers is an experience that transcends the actual product or service on display. Brand loyalty is built on emotion and relationships, and the key thing to understand is that this experience begins from the marketing arm of your business. The right packaging design won’t just help get your product to store shelves in one piece. It will separate your product from competitors in the minds of consumers. It will attract the right type of attention. It will inform and educate and help sell the experience you’re offering.


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To Grow or Not to Grow; That is the Question

arrowBooster Juice started off in 1999 as a one-store operation with a lot of questions about whether it would burn out as a fad. Their product was a juice smoothie (a fruit, vegetable, or plant-based drink shake). However, by 2016, Booster Juice had over 330 stores across Canada, and they are now looking at entering the U.S. market for even more expansion. How did this company go from one small outfit to a mega corporation franchise, and what did Booster Juice’s management do right to maintain growth successfully?

Dale Wishewan, Booster Juice’s owner, was a mechanical engineer by training, being naturally geared to decisions based on analysis. However, he also realized that just running a business by not taking any risks or having the cash on hand to pay for those risks, was never going to produce fast, exponential growth.

A Path for Growth

So, Wishewan settled early on franchising. The franchise decentralization of daily work and keeping an eye on the big picture kept Wishewan and Booster Juice on track. However, the fact that the daily store management was placed with franchisees who had “skin in the game” also meant that Wishewan didn’t have to worry about the loss of loyalty or control.

The above said, Wishewan still avoided high risk markets, especially overseas like China or South America. While these emerging market venues seemed to offer faster growth, the risk level was higher with control issues. Distance and language also presented major management hurdles as well. So, Wishewan wisely turned down those markets to continue growing in Canada alone. It was a smart decision proven by Booster Juice’s metrics and profit figures.

It’s All About the Plan

Scaling up is as much about planning and strategy as it is understanding one’s current capability and cash flow. There is no one aspect of business an owner or manager focuses on; it’s a multi-faceted challenge to meet the increased sales demand promptly and plan logistics correctly while not ending up going bankrupt in the process. As was seen in the above franchise example, not every opportunity was pursued. The business owners had to do some hard research and probability testing to determine which markets were their best choices for solid growth versus high risk and potential failure. By doing so, they avoided common mistakes in fast growth, such as over-commitment and unreasonable sales targets in the process.

Have an Objective Perspective

Exponential expansion can seem alluring, even addictive. After all, with accrual accounting, things can look pretty rosy for a business once projected sales are included in the numbers, and they’re boosting the revenue side of the accounting reports. However, cash is the killer that brings back reality like a bucket of cold water in the face. When payroll, supplies, liabilities, loans and leveraging can’t be paid timely because the projected sales haven’t materialized yet, a company can fold very quickly, even within a thirty to forty-five day time cycle, just from lack of cash. Ideally, a business should have sufficient resources to take on extra growth, but that’s not how real business works. Risk and taking logistical bets are common which makes planning wisely crucial to not betting the farm on “maybe” revenue.

Wishewan and Booster Juice provide a clear example of why, even with positive growth, a business owner or leader has to judge ventures carefully before jumping in. Sometimes some revenue opportunities do need to be passed up to stay successful overall.


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