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Tips from SCORE

TIPS FROM SCORE

Hints, Tips and Techniques

for owning, managing and growing your small business

 

By SCORE Cape Cod and the Islands

Shakespir Edition

Copyright 2016 Marc Goldberg for SCORE Chapter 225

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

 

Thank you for downloading this free ebook. Although this is a free book, it remains the

copyrighted property of SCORE, and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for

commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage

your friends to download their copy at Shakespir.com.

 

SCORE offers free confidential mentoring – www.capecod.score.org

 

Thank you for your support.

TIPS FROM SCORE

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

PLANNING

I’m Doing God’s Work But He forgot to Leave Me the Business Plan

Business Planning

Focusing on Your Business Vision

Exit Strategies

Mistakes in Business Planning

Future Business Plan

Business Strategy

Hot Business Trends

Required Research Before a Business Launch

Small Business Resources Online

The Home-Based Business Startup

FUNDING

SBA Funding

MARKETING

Exhibitor Marketing

Marketing and Pricing

Brand Management

Do I Need a Marketing Plan?

Small Business Marketing Doesn’t Cost it Pays

Increasing E-blasts Open Rates

Make Small Business Saturday (Nov. 30) a Year-Round Event

Social Media

Small Business Marketing Plans

Marketing – Updating Your Website

Content Marketing

Managing Yourself

Branded Signage

Social Media 2

What You Need to Know About Website Design

Building an Awesome Brand

How Does Integrated Marketing Apply to Digital Marketing?

Vertical Integration with Digital Tools

Startup Marketing Checklist

Marketing 2

E-mail Marketing for Small Business

Marketing Strategy for Growth

Marketing Strategy

Marketing the Small Business

Marketing Customer Service

Naming Your Business

Sales and Marketing

Memorable Message

Integrated Marketing

Marketing a Home-Based Business

Marketing Basics for New Businesses

Marketing to the Target Audience

Marketing Website Promotion

Marketing Your Brand

Website Design

Website Marketing

Creating a Company Brand

Focus on the Target Market

Promoting Small Business

What is Branding

Don’t Let Price Derail Your Sale

Marketing Plan Budget

OPERATIONS

The Real Reasons Why Businesses Fail

Retail

Hiring

Tips for Bettering Your Business

Managing Your Business

Best Practices in Garning Attention for a New Storefront

Trade Shows

Time Management

Advisory Boards

Couples as Business Partners

Ensuing for a Happy Staff

Evaluating the Competition

Family Business

Home-Based Business or Rented/Owned Space Business

How to Welcome Interim Staff

Online vs. Brick and Mortar Business

Reduce Shoplifting

Retail Startup

Startup Mistakes

MANAGEMENT SKILLS

Why Find a Mentor?

Customer Loyalty

Customer Service

What to Consider When Interviewing

Listening

Managing the Business

Managing Yourself 2

Managing Your Business 2

Work-Life Balance

Small Business Owner’s New Year’s Resolutions

Managing the Ongoing Business

Partnerships

From Owner to Leader

FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT

Business Startup Lean Startup

Manage the Numbers

Financial Management Cash Management

Management of Financial Woes

Finding Money Losses

Cash Management During Startup

Loan Options to Fund Small Business Growth

Managing the Ongoing Business 2

Women Owned Business

Buying, Starting a Business or Franchise

Startup Capital

Why a Financial Plan is Important

GROWING

Business Development

Growing Your Small Business

Franchising 101

Growth for the Ongoing Business

Growing Your Business – Mystery Shopping

Networking

Startup Advice

Personnel

Startup

Startup 2

Learning from Failure

Growing Your Business

Expanding Your Business

Learning From the Pros

Changing the Culture

Networking 2

Growing Your Business with a Sales Force

NOT FOR PROFIT

Nonprofit Startup

 

PLANNING

 

I’m Doing God’s Work, But He Forgot To Leave Me The Business Plan

Always ask your client if they have a business plan. Many don’t have one complete enough or clear enough to guide them properly. It’s your job to convince them of the need for one and then to help them create one.

Your clients most often have an abundance of compassion and zeal for their work. They are optimists who believe that all will be well if they just keep on concentrating on service delivery alone. They need to embrace better the relationship between using good business practices and their continued capacity to keep delivering that service.

Just as you would advise your small business clients, your nonprofit clients need achievable business plans, well-defined, written and with measurable outcomes.

Some will not have a “Mission Statement,” or if they do, they have strayed far from it or haven’t revisited it for a long time, missing the fact that it no longer describes the work they are doing.

The revenue and expense part of the job is often your client’s least favorite thing and managing that part of their business sometimes creates a level of anxiety disproportionate to its actual nature.

Some of your clients will be reluctant to market their organization because they feel it sounds too much like a business. Your job is to persuade them there are many positive outcomes for their organization that comes from “marketing the product.”

 

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Business Planning

Question: I have been in business on the Cape for five years. We have never had a business plan. What are the mistakes that others have made when attempting to implement a planning initiative?

Answer: Winston Churchill said, “he [she] who fails to plan, plans to fail.” So no matter how detailed your planning initiative will be, commencing and executing it is a positive step.

The bigger issue is that 90% of completed plans will not be executed since there is a little commitment, nor organization internally to manage the process. So, if you are going to enter into a planning process, have a plan in place with metrics and benchmarks to assure that you execute.

Here are some mistakes that are common to business planners according to Cliff Ennico (www.succeedinginyourbusiness.com):

Assuming that everyone is a potential customer. Your customers are in defined categories or niches. Seniors, teens – aged 13-19, veterans, working moms. Your sales and marketing initiatives need to be focused.

Understanding your customers. Not only who they are, but why they buy. Are their purchasing decisions based on price, quality, timeliness, experience? What are their motivations to commit to you? What will cause your customers to part with their cash to make a commitment to you?

Failing to consider the competition. We all have competitors, and you need to be aware of who they are, what they do, what is their geographic sphere of influence? Some are direct competitors, i.e., they do precisely what you do. Some are indirect.,i.e., they offer a wider range of services that include what you offer. You also have to consider your customers and prospects as competitors since they can say “NO.” What will cause them to say no and how do you overcome their resistance to buying?

 

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Focusing on Your Business Vision

Question: There are so many opportunities to start a business. How do I maintain my focus to achieve my goal of becoming an entrepreneur?

Answer: The best advice any entrepreneur can get is: Focus, Structure, and Discipline. Jackie Nagel, Synnovatia has looked at the issue of focus. While the mission of your business centers on what you define as objectives, your vision is the result of all that you desire to accomplish. It is your idea- your future. The number 1 exterior house painter on the Cape. The leading landscaping and irrigation professional on the Cape. The leading human resource service provider on the Cape and Islands. The source of digital marketing content. The vision you create for your business is the sustaining force that stimulates innovation, communicates your passion and inspired customers to action. It is the vacuum that pulls you and others forward.

There is an argument in business today as to what is the appropriate planning horizon when owners are impacted by so many issues. Three years, five years, ten years? Some think that business planning is only realistic for 18 months, but your vision might have a three-year horizon. Much of the decision of what your horizon should be depends on the type of business. If your business is plumbing, much of the demand for your services is not based on planned purchases. A homeowner finds a puddle of water in their kitchen; they need you. But if you’re a building contractor focusing on remodeling, the purchases are planned and based on referrals. A different set of environmental factors that impact the decision. In the former, the $90 for an emergency plumbing call comes from one less dinner out, but to remodel a kitchen that needs a contractor can be impacted on how well the stock market is performing so the homeowner has the thousands of dollars it will take to execute the project. What are the environmental factors that impact your business? How you can adjust your vision to them as they change.

As you launch your business, you are so engaged in making it a success your vision doesn’t seem to present itself as important until you are on a path you didn’t intend. It is easy. Ask any entrepreneur how easy it is to take an “opportunity” that comes along that will help generate revenue and takes you down a path that distracts you from your original mission and vision for the business.

Most small businesses on the Cape are focused on sustainability. Generating as much revenue from May to October to maintain themselves through the year. Creating a business vision and having the tools to stay focused on this vision will help in not only sustainability but growth.

Think about these questions as you develop your tools to maintain focus on your business vision:

1. What are you working on that is making a profound difference to you and others?

2. What are the gifts and talents that you are you currently using and not using that you would like to put into your operation?

3. What does creating a vision for your business mean to you?

4. Where do you want to be in three, five, ten years or even twenty years?

5. If you were ten times bolder, what would you like to achieve?

6. What do you want more of or less of?

7. If you only had one more year to live, how would you like to live it?

8. What theme consistently runs through your life?

9. What one thing or thought do you want to leave to others?

Check out: Jackie’s blogs – http://www.synonovatia.com/business-coaching-blog

 

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Exit Strategies

Question: I have been in business for 15 years, and I am ready to consider exiting my business and retiring or maybe doing something else. Any tips?

Answer: Most small business owners don’t have a business plan, marketing plan, strategic plan or a plan for exiting their business when the time comes. This is not unusual. Many entrepreneurs come to SCORE to learn how to start a business but rarely do business owners consider mentoring as they plan their exit. Sooner or later business owners will confront the question of, “what do I do with my business?” Do I sell my business? Have my children or relatives taken over the business to keep it a functioning enterprise? Or prepare an employee to take over the day-to-day with an ultimate sale? Or do I just liquidate?

Part of the planning process in starting a business is creating an exit strategy. When planning the possibilities up front, the final decision, and the act becomes a more manageable condition. At launch it seems difficult to consider “exit,” but considering the options early, forces a business owner to think through the various alternatives that will cover short and long term goals, asset protection, the age of exit, tax, and legal consequences.

Here are seven strategies for exiting your business:

Shutting down / liquidation “We hate this business” or “we’ve got to get out of this place.” You hate the rat race and have no succession plan. You may be losing money and using your retirement savings to keep the enterprise afloat. The quickest exit strategy is to liquidate to get the most out of the business’ assets. It may not be the most profitable way to depart, but it is the fastest.

Sell to a 3rd party – To get the best return, selling your business to a third party is an option to consider, however, it may take time. From the time you decide to take this option, it may take several years to close the deal. A third party may be a financial investor rather than one that will run the business. This may entail continued connection with the business for 2-3 years.

Sell to your partner – With this option, you have someone who is familiar with the business which is good and bad news since they know the business issues and condition as well as you which may reduce your final financial reward.

Sell to a competitor – Competitors are familiar with the industry and what it will take to assimilate your business into theirs. They will understand economies of scale. But remember, if the sale is not closed, you have exposed your business and all of its issues to a competitor.

Sell to your employees – Some employees have the financial capacity to undertake a purchase or you can make the terms work for this option to become a possibility. They know the business, the customers, and the industry. They know how to make it a continuing entity.

Sell to a family member – If there is someone in your family that has an interest in the business, train them early on to learn everything about the business. This will ensure an orderly transition from one generation to another. Having a conversation early on to assess if they are interested, if they plan to stay in business for the long run is important. Do you need money from them or treat it as an annuity where you get your funds over a longer term? The BIG question: Are you willing to transition the business and step away allowing the next generation to run the business?

You might think about preparing your business for sale by:

Preparing a confidentiality agreement, so you feel more comfortable sharing sensitive business data. This is commonly termed an NDA, Non-Disclosure Agreement

Have the business valued by your CPA, Business brokerage or a CPA that specializes in business valuation, so you have a specific selling price.

Create a PowerPoint presentation describing the industry, competition, nature of the business, key customers

Generate accurate and historical financials (restated, if necessary to reflect the business without owner benefits, such as leased cars, life insurance, etc.to show the true profitability of the firm.

Three years of tax returns

Written policies and procedures so that an outsider can see how the business functions.

One rule of thumb is to keep the process confidential within your organization to reduce the risk of losing key employees for fear of the unknown in the sale of the business.

Part of the planning process for any business is an “exit” strategy to assure that you preserve the value of your business through the life of the business.

 

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Mistakes in Business Planning

Question: I am starting a business and want to create a business plan. What mistakes have others made in planning their business?

Answer: The task of creating a business plan is awesome, because it requires the business owners the dig deep, research, and validate the proposed business concepts. Consider the following when commencing the process.

Not writing one – The most common mistake is not to write one at all. Because many entrepreneurs are action oriented, they want to “get on with it” rather than take the time, up front, to research the market, the competition, understand the market and the customers and validate their value proposition. Winston Churchill once said, “he who fails to plan, plans to fail.”

Not having a clear vision – The reason for creating a plan is to create a roadmap to make your vision of a business into a reality. The plan is to provide investors a clear understanding of your business venture so they can decide if they will provide you the funds you need. It is to determine the risks associated with your business venture to determine if a bank will loan you the funds you need for start-up. It is for you to guide you from point A to point B in the launch of your venture. If it is later, then using the Business Model Canvas is an alternative to the traditional full-blown business plan. (www.strategizer.com) And, to present your concept you might consider PItchDeck. (https://pitchdeck.improvepresentation.com/what-is-a-pitch-deck)

Not having a clear business model – If the basic goal of business is to generate a profit, then you have to have a model that is well thought out and can be executed to show positive results. Selling a product or service is one element of business, but have a plan that allows you to generate a profit over the long term means having a business model that performs. The business model is how you are going to get from launch to an on-going profitable enterprise.

Not doing the requisite research – Answering the question, “Will this work”? Is the key issue a business plan answers. But, it takes research to do it. If you are planning to open a BBQ restaurant on Main St. in Hyannis, what do you need to know? Are there any other BBQ restaurants already on Main St? How many restaurants are there already on Main St? How many are for sale? What is the traffic flow in and out of season? How do potential customers find out about restaurant offerings on Main Street in Hyannis? This takes legwork. Without the research, you are working in the blind.

Ignoring realities – You have a great idea. YOU know it will work. But, is there a need that the business concept fulfills? Will customers pay for what you have created? Do the realities of the market support your business concept? Is there room for one more landscaper in the Cape Cod market? Is there a need for a kosher deli restaurant on Cape Cod? Is there the need for one more jewelry shop on the south shore? What are your differentiators that will generate uniqueness and therefore attract buyers?

Not creating financials – When you create your business plan, have you created a cash flow statement? Do you know where funds will come from and where they will go? Projected income statement? And proforma balance sheet? These are the metrics that will determine whether you are successful or not. In creating the statements, have you tested the reality of the assumptions? If not, make a high/low/probable approach, so you look at it from all angles. There is a threat of being too optimistic in your projections.

Not using it once completed – The purpose of a plan is to guide the launch and growth then become the foundation for metrics. Too many plans are finished, then put on the shelf. Make it a living document that keeps you grounded and focused on being a useful reference document.

All plans should not be finished – One of the advantages of the Business Model Canvas approach is that it encourages “validation” at each step of the planning process. The planning process will answer whether the business can succeed. If validation cannot be achieved, then starting over before launching is a lot less expensive than launching to find there is no market, no customers, no sales, no business. Discovering there is no market while planning the business, you can pivot to take another approach. Once you have launched, it is far more difficult.

As an entrepreneur, you can have all the passion and drive, but if you don’t have a roadmap that is a functioning guide, you will wander from point-to-point trying to figure out how to make your business work. It is far easier and cost far less in human and financial resources to test your ideas and concepts in the planning of your business.

 

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Future Business Plan

Question: Although we haven’t reached Labor Day, I am beginning to think about my 2017 business plan. Any suggestions?

Answer: Jackie Nagel, Synnovatia, (+][+www.synnovatia.com) suggests, “think clearly, act boldly and achieve calmly.” As Winston Churchill once said, “those that fail to plan, plan to fail.” She suggests that you undertake a year-end assessment of where your business is, in regards to where you want it to be, taking into consideration where you have been and what you achieved during the past year. To do this, you have to carve out time to think and then plan. Without taking the time to think through where you are and where you want to go, you have just murkiness of the brain and blurred vision of how to get to your goal.

Your Assessment tool might look like this:

Revenue & Profitability: (1) What was your revenue and profit? (2) How does it compare to your projections and the past year? (3) If you were leaking cash, do you know where? (4) Did your pricing strategy hold up all year? (5) What was your average revenue per client? Is it up down?

Sales: (1) What marketing methods did you use to generate sales? (2) What metrics did you employ to determine which tools worked? (3) What marketing methods should be eliminated due to their ineffectiveness? (4) What is your conversion rate: leads to consummated sales? (5) What is the average lead time for the lead generation to a closed sale?

Client acquisition: (1) How many new clients were acquired this year? (2) What is your gain/loss of clients?, (3) What is your average length of client engagement?, (4) What type of client(s) is most profitable for your business? (5) What type of client has the highest potential for growth? (6) Which clients are most enjoyable which with you work?

Products and Services: (1) What products and services are most profitable for your business? (2) Which products and services are the least profitable for your business? (3) Which 20% of your activities represent 80% of your revenue goal? (4) Which product and service have the highest growth potential? (5) What new product and service would meet the ever changing needs of your clients?

Small Business Ownership: (1) What accomplishments are you most proud of this year? (2) What is your greatest learning? How will it be applied to the coming year? (3) What is working well and producing positive results? (4) What makes your business most enjoyable? (5) What is fostering your personal, professional or company’s growth, profitability, and effectiveness?

Business Goals and Plans for the coming year: (1) What modification to your vision, mission objectives or strategies would you make to achieve your 2017 goals? (2) What elements of your business are your critical success factors, i.e., what factors are critical to your business’ success? (3) What internal and external opportunities exist? How can you capitalize on them? 4) If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you achieve? (5) Where is the greatest undeveloped potential in your business? (6) What are your 2017 goals? (7) What actions and resources are needed to achieve your goals? (8) How will you measure your progress against your goals? (9) How often will you measure your progress? (10) What will you do to achieve your goals?

Use the SMART objective setting method: SSpecific goals with enough detail that it can be well understood by you and your team over time. MMeasurable how will you know if the goals have been accomplished if you don’t have a metric to assess progress. A – Attainable tough objectives are OK, but they must be attainable otherwise no one on your team will take them seriously. R –

Relevant – All goals and objectives need to be in alignment with your organization’s mission.

T-Timely – Does the goal have a target date for completion?

Personal Goals for the Year in Owning and Managing a Small Business on the Cape

Be a lifelong learner by continuing to develop the skills needed to effectively and efficiently manage and grow your business. Attend workshops (local Chambers of Commerce Short Courses and the 6 Week SCORE Small Business Management Workshop)

Network with other small business owners through business roundtables, networking groups such as BMI. Join your local Chamber of Commerce and take advantage of learning (workshops) and networking (Before or After Hours events). Or join a Meetup (Cape Cod Small Business Owners: Growing by Connecting)

Collaborate with other small businesses in your area to learn from one another what works and what doesn’t in owning and growing a small business.

Plan for “me-time” so you can recharge your batteries periodically.

Review your personal goals and objectives vs. your business goals and objectives to assure they remain in alignment.

Decide what personal goal you want to achieve in the coming year and generate a plan that you review periodically to assure that you are on track.

 

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Business Strategy

Question: What do I need to know about business strategy to start my own business?

Answer: I don’t know. But, here are ten quotes that might put an answer into perspective

“I don’t know the secret to success. But, I do know the secret to failure is trying to please everybody,” Bill Cosby.

“People don’t want quarter-inch drills. They want quarter inch holes,” Theodore Levitt.

“Speed, price, quality: pick two,” quoted in the Economist.

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally take a look at the results,” Winston Churchill.

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do,” Michael Porter.

“A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all,” Michael LeBoeuf.

“It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want,” Steve Jobs.

“In preparing for battle, I’ve always found that plans are useless, but planning is essential,” Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“Displacement: in the real world of small business, everything you do rules out something else you cannot do,” unknown.

“There’s only one growth strategy: work hard,” William Hague

(Another way of looking at this recommendation is to focus on what is important and vital and work hard at doing that.)

Source: SBA.gov

 

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Hot Business Trends

Question: As a small business owner, what trends should I be aware of as we start this New Year?

Answer: According to America’s Nonprofit Entrepreneurial Education Network, here are six you might consider:

1. Virtual Business Mentoring Sources: entrepreneurs need someone who is experienced and can be confidential about their communications to test ideas, learn from and solve operating issues: SCORE, Small Business Development Councils, Women business centers and your local Chamber are a few to consider.

2. Business assistance programs: there are online communities tailored specifically for Veterans, Small Businesses (SCORE), Women, Youth and Minorities that can provide one-on-one or group mentoring.

3. Alternative Funding: raising capital today is changing as well: merchant advances, supplier credit, AR financing, and crowdfunding are all available.

4. Keep overhead costs down: outsourced services or virtual office solutions continue to offer benefits for small businesses to lower operating costs.

5. Cloud-based applications: there are new small business apps that look as though they will improve efficiency in areas of bookkeeping, expense control, CRM and project management.

6. Network, Network, Network. Remember the broader your personal reach is the sounder your base of information as well as gather and decision making will become.

 

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Required Research Before a Business Launch

Question: Before starting a business, what kind of research should I do?

Answer: Getting from the business idea stage to business reality begins with understanding how your idea fits into the market in which you will function. If you are a local business, then the task is much more simplified than if you are going to go national or even international. Your research should look at the growth, profitability, demographic, economic, cultural and psychographic [life styles] trends, and life cycle analysis.

Where is the market for your product idea in the life-cycle of the industry it serves? Ideally, you want to find an industry that is in the early stages of its life cycle in the rapid growth stage so you can benefit from the industry momentum. Entering a mature industry, unless you have a blockbuster idea will make market penetration very difficult. There is a variety of sources from which you can do your research: (1) find the NAICS (North American Industry Classification System for your business classification. Our NAICS number is 611430 – Professional and Business Management. Search for it online at www.census.gov/eos/wwww/naics. Then identify the trade associations that represent your industry and go online to their websites or trade directories.

Source: Simple Steps for Starting Your Own Business – SCORE/BoA

 

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Small Business Resources Online

Question: Where can I go online to get some help in starting a small business?

Answer: There are a number of sources you can easily access:

www.sba.gov The Small Business Administration. The SBA works with private lenders and community development corporations through a network of offices throughout the country to guarantee loans. The SBA also offers low-interest loans to assist in disaster recovery. Start with the SBA site to learn about their loan options: 7(a) and 504.

www.sba.gov/small-business-developoment-centers-sbdcs SBDCs offer one-stop technical services to entrepreneurs. The centers are collaborative with the SBA, private sector, and government.

http://www.seedcorp.com/ South Eastern Economic Development Corporation. A top small business lender in MA and RI. A nonprofit that focuses on job creation by financing all types of businesses in MA and RI. SEE makes loans from $1,000 to $5.5 million SBA 504 loans.

www.sba.gov/content/womens-business-centers Women’s Business Centers. Nearly 100 educational centers are offering assistance (training and counseling) to women entrepreneurs including helping to gain access to capital.

www.capecod.score.org SCORE a nonprofit SBA partner who offers free and confidential mentoring (advice and counsel) online or in person via a network of chapters. Volunteer business mentors/coaches can help in assessing an idea, writing a business plan and locate funding.

www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/how-to Bizjournals. Find practical advice for entrepreneurs on topics ranging from how to market your product and the use of social media tools to locating the right funding for your product/service and hiring smart.

 

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The Home-Based Business Startup

Question: I want to start a home-based business. Are there some first steps I need to consider?

Answer: Starting a business in your home sounds like a good idea. After all, it saves money since there is no rent or costs associated with an office or storefront. You save time and money without a commute. Here are some things to think about in starting a home-based business.

(1) Determine if your business will function in a home-based environment.

(2) Find out from your local town if you need a license to operate your business from your home.

(3) Outsourcing your address might be appropriate for deliveries or meetings. Using a PO Box will work.

(4) Once you have decided to have your business in your home, make sure you have enough room to conduct your business.

(5) You need to look like the BIG guys – a dedicated phone line with appropriate messages, answer the phone professionally with the name of your business, and create professional business cards, digital stationery, and a website.

Source: 10 Simple Steps to Finding Customers and Delivering the Goods

 

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Funding

SBA Funding

Question: I heard the SBA is a source of start-up funding. Can you explain what is available and how to apply?

Answer: Most business owners consider SBA the most affordable option available. The loans are guaranteed by the SBA and they are noted for reasonable monthly payments and low-interest rates. The SBA does not loan funds. They set the guidelines that are made by its partners which include lenders, community development organizations and micro-lending institutions. The guarantees reduce much of the risk for the lenders.

If you have access to reasonable term financing, you may not be eligible for an SBA-backed loan. But for those that don’t have a source of funding, there are four loan programs available:

7(a) Loan Programs: The most basic, flexible and most commonly used type of loan. The money can be used for a variety of general business purposes: working capital, machinery and equipment, furniture and fixtures, purchasing and renovating land and buildings, leasehold improvements and debt refinancing. Loan maturity: 10 years for working capital and up to 25 years for fixed assets. The application can be made through participating lending institutions.

MicroLoan Program: Offers very small loans to startups, newly established or growing small business enterprises. The loan proceeds can be used for capital for the purchase of inventory, supplies, furniture, fixtures, machinery or equipment. The funds are available through designated intermediary lenders, who are nonprofit organizations experience in lending and technical assistance. Loans are made up to $50,000 with an average of $13,000. Loans cannot be used to existing debts or purchase real estate.

CDC/504 Loan Program: Long-term fixed rate financing for major assets, like land and buildings, machinery, construction to renovate facilities, or refinance debt in conjunction with the expansion of business. The 504 loans cannot be used for working capital or inventory. 504 loans are typically structured with the SBA providing 40% of the total project costs, a participating lender providing 50% and the entrepreneur putting up the remaining 10 percent. To qualify, the borrower’s must have a tangible net worth of less than $15 million and an average net income of $5 million or less after federal taxes for the two years before the application for the loan program. The maximum amount loaned is $5 million.

Disaster Loans: The SBA also offers a fourth option for businesses that have been affected by a declared disaster. Low-interest loans can be used for repair or replacement of damaged real estate, personal property, machinery, equipment inventory or business assets.

What you need to apply: Personal background & financial statements, business overview and history, business financial statements (P&L, projected P&L, IRS returns), Ownership and affiliations, business certificates/licenses, loan application history, resumes of key personnel, leases.

Questions you need to be prepared to answer: Why are you applying for this loan? How will the proceeds be used? What assets need to be purchased and who will be the suppliers? What other business debt do you have and who are your creditors? Who are the members of your management team?

Another tip: Bring a business plan with you to share your concept of your business. It is the roadmap for your business and will show the lender you have a vision, direction, objectives and strategies for achieving your business objectives. Check in with SCORE www.capecod.score.org to get help with your business plan development.

 

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Marketing

Exhibitor Marketing

Question: I am going to be exhibiting at a Home and Garden Show on the Cape in the spring. Any hot tips for more profitable exhibiting?

Answer: from the pages of the CMO network, the following are hints, tips, and techniques for profitable exhibiting:

Guide your actions by the answers to these questions: (1) Why are you going to the show? (2) Who is your target audience? (3) When you engage a target, what do you want to communicate to them? 4) When the show is over, what is your measure of success?

Everyone involved in the outcome of the event, especially sales and marketing must be involved from the get-go. Marcomm may be responsible for the event, but they need to include the other functions to make it work for all involved.

The work of managing trade shows is not administrative; it is strategic.Trade shows must be looked upon as a venue for business opportunities. Most events fall short of their goals since there is no closed-loop lead management system.

Generating a return on your trade show investment starts with business objectives. Then you must create supporting strategies and tactics. If your objective is to lead for sales, then what are you going to do to generate leads (strategies) and how are you going to do it (tactics)?

What you use to attract, is who you will attract. Food attracts hungry people, not qualified prospects. Find the attraction that will draw your target audience, then create a plan around the attraction.

Be open to welcome and talk to everyone, but don’t get bogged down with someone who cannot help you meet your exhibiting objective(s). Determine what characteristics determine a qualified attendee and ask good questions before committing to spending any more than a few minutes with someone. Time is your competitor.

Go professional. If you show up with a table and wrinkled banner pinned to the drape, you don’t look like you are in business. Invest in a lightweight display with high-quality graphics. There are many sources of great graphics on the Cape.

Pre and post-event communication are critical to attracting the right visitors and to reinforcing the messages delivered at the show to the audience.

Divide and conquer, don’t sit with your teammates, eat with show attendees. You are there to network with customers and potential prospects. What better way than to “break bread” together.

Measure everything, the number of leads, the value of the leads, the number of people that stop to talk to you, sales generated from the show leads

Train your staff – prepare them to work the show by transitioning skills from the field to the show floor.

Always have a Plan B. Your original plan may not work out for any number of reasons. Seamlessly you need to move to Plan B.

If generating leads are your objective, determine who will be responsible for lead follow-up before you go to the show. If personal follow-up is required, bring a calendar and make an appointment while the attendee is at your exhibit.

Differentiate yourself. Make your exhibit, your staff and your presentation stand out so that visitors will take notice and remember you.

Promotional products can deliver higher quality returns than most forms of advertising. Industry research has found:

84% of respondents said that a branded promotional gift increases brand awareness 66% of respondents said they could remember the brand on a promotional product for at least a year.

87% said they kept a promotional product longer than 12 months

79% said they would likely do business with the company in the future

Effective giveaways are not a last minute decision. They need to be part of the overall plan. They are part of the promotions planning.

The first job of your exhibit is to attract attention. The second is to be the stage upon which your staff does their work in engaging, qualifing, communicating and closing on a commitment.

 

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Marketing – Pricing

Question: I am just starting my small business. Tell me how to price my services?

Answer: This is a question that every small business has to answer before they make their first sales pitch and get their first contract for services. One axiom of pricing – you can always lower your prices, but increasing them is very difficult. So how much do you charge? Try answering these questions:

How much value does the customer perceive in your services offered? Is it just a dollar per hour valuation or is the expertise that you offer part of the value equation when buying?

Do you need a price schedule? Sometimes it is easier to discuss price when you use a schedule, and the buyer can select the offering or combination of offerings from a menu to satisfy their needs. A schedule also prevents variation from customer to customer. People do talk and if you are not consistent it will come back to you with dissatisfied customers.

What are your payment terms? Cash on delivery? Net 30 days, 50% in advance and the balance upon completion of the services? Decide what you need to generate the flow of cash necessary to support your business. The most prevalent reason for small business failure is running out of cash.

Is it necessary for you to offer any guarantees? If so, what are they specifically? For what reasons? And what are the remedies?

Are you offering any discounts or introductory offers? Discounts may be appropriate if a buyer contracts with you for the entire season vs. one-off services, but you need to be specific about the terms of the discount, so it is not perceived as perpetual.

Developing a pricing strategy is based on the foregoing questions, but also is founded on the type of service, your costs to provide the service, your anticipated gross profit margin and what your competition is charging. Sometimes finding the right level is more art than science. You need to use accurate cost information to develop your pricing schedule. Guessing doesn’t work. It is best to test your pricing before launching your service or selling your product. Test it with friends, family or selected potential customers.

The most common misstep in pricing at the early stages is to price your offerings to low. You might price your services too low in an attempt to attract customers. Going low to attract your initial sales will not always work because the customer expects that pricing forever and they will most likely abandon you if you try to raise the price after an introductory experience. Being in the service business, this is especially dangerous since you only have time to sell, so you cannot make up any shortfall through selling more volume.

Perception is a big determinant in developing your pricing strategy. You want customers to perceive there is a true value when they say “yes.” If you want to be perceived as the premier provider, you want your brand to have high perceived value and your pricing may be higher than your competitors. By understanding where your competitors’ price points are, you can set yours appropriately.

And, pricing is an on-going process that demands your constant attention. If you begin to lose business, question whether pricing was the cause. All businesses are affected by environmental factors, so be aware of what elements impact your business. On the Cape, you need to consider the seasonality of business as the primary determinant. You might have a schedule that segregates services in-season, shoulder season and out of season.

Pricing is a critical element in the business equation. Take the time necessary to develop pricing that will generate the needed cash flow and profit to sustain your business.

 

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Brand Management

Question: I know that making a good first impression is critical to your small business when selling. What tips can you give to assure that we are making that impact on current and potential customers?

Answer: You are right. There is an axiom in business and life, “you only have one chance to make a great first impression.” The challenge is that if you don’t make that great impression the first time, there may not be a second chance and it takes a lot of energy and resources to change an impression that is askew. Consider the following:

Smile the first and most effective tool for making a good impression is to smile. A smile says, I am warm, comfortable and relaxed. I am to be trusted and want to connect with you. When you smile, others will smile in response and therefore feel more connected.

Be punctual no one likes to wait past an agreed upon time to meet. If you schedule an appointment for 9 am, then arrive at 8:50 am to assure you are ready when your customer is ready. If you know that you are going to get hung up in traffic due to an accident, call and advise your customer in advance of the appointment time. It is not only courteous but signals you value them and their time. If you say you need 30 or 45 minutes of their time to complete an estimate, make sure you take just less than the allotted time to again signal your appreciation of them. If you say, you will call back in a day or two to discuss the proposal or corrective action, make an agreement on the day and time when the call will take place to assure you both are on the same track.

Dress for the occasion there is another saying, “you are what you wear.” The first impression of a salesman entering a prospect’s office is “shined shoes.” Many times whether you are seriously considered is a function of how you appear visually to the buyer. If you are a tradesman or woman wearing a clean, pressed shirt with your company logo emblazoned on the pocket, across a sleeve or on the collar, you are dressing to impress. You might even do as Starboard Side Landscaping in Dennis does by assigning one person to the initial customer contact and preparing quotes who are not involved in the actual execution of the work. They are dressed to impress.

Listen with the intent to understand, not just reply. Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talked about how important being an empathic listener is to both sides of the conversation. Most salespeople are not good listeners since they have an agenda they hope will culminate in a good sale. However, if you are not tuned into the buyer and their agenda, you will miss their needs for which your product or service will provide a solution. Selling is all about finding a need and filling the need. You have to be a good listener to achieve that customer service goal.

Don’t pitch your product or service. Provide solutions in response to stated needs. It is easy to pitch your product. You know the features, functions, and benefits of what you offer and it is easy for you to expound upon them. The challenge is to internalize prospect needs and then customize your offerings, so they see the solution and buy into your ability to fulfill their needs.

Lastly, nonverbal communications – your first impression is capped by not only what you say and how you say it, but your nonverbal communications. 55-60% of all communications is nonverbal. While your buyer is explaining their situation, they are taking in the nonverbal messages you are displaying while listening. They can tell if you are tuned in or tuned out just waiting for your turn to talk. If you are looking off into space, they know you are tuned out. (Make positive eye contact throughout the conversation.) However, if you are stroking your chin as they talk, they know you are interested and considering what they are saying. If you interrupt them, you have just destroyed the value of the communication. And it is rude. ( If you think they have finished their commentary, count to 3 to yourself. If they haven’t resumed talking, they are finished, and you can talk without interrupting them.) Think about the words you use, the nonverbal messages you deliver and how you listen as a total package to create a positive first impression.

 

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Do I Need a Marketing Plan?

Question: I have a Business Plan for my small business. Do I need a Marketing Plan, as well?

Answer: The answer is YES. A business plan is a compass to provide focus and direction for the entire business. The marketing plan is the guide for promoting your enterprise. These plans are not only linked but should be supportive of one another. In the early 1950’s Phillip Kotler, at Northwestern University defined marketing as, “everything an organization does from the time it perceives the need for a product or service until it is in the hands of the ultimate consumer.” Marketing includes sales, advertising, sales promotion, market research, social media, brand and logo, buyer behavior analysis, plus many more elements. Creating a marketing plan is a way to layout the steps in brand development, product/service introduction, brand, company and product awareness and demand generation.

A marketing plan should cover the entire year or at a minimum your selling season. If you are a Cape Cod retailer, then your marketing plan might focus on the May-November time frame, but also include off-season tactics to keep you top of mind for the next selling season. Most Cape small businesses are sole proprietors, so get some help in creating your plan by reaching out to your webmaster, your printer, your marketing specialist or your advertising specialist at the Cape Cod Times. Effective planning cannot be completed in a vacuum.

Your marketing plan can be as short as one page or several pages depending on your business. The length is not important, the formalization of your ideas that captures the creative ideas for promoting your business is what is important so you can monitor and measure your marketing investments to know what works and what doesn’t.

The marketing plan starts with some very simple steps much like the business plan:

Why? Why are you in business? The “why” is your organizational purpose. The answer to this question needs to be front and center each day to assure that you are applying the right type and amount of resources to the marketing of your enterprise. The “why” provides the focus that is critical to allow you to maintain the path for your business that can be maintained.

Who? The Market. Who are the types of people that will buy your product or service? What characterizes them differently from other buyers? If your business is landscaping and not just lawn mowing, how are your buyers different? Are they more affluent, knowledgeable about shrubs and flowers or more focused on the look of their property?

Where? Research. Where is your target market? Where are they physically? Are they all over the Cape or centered in the Upper Cape or Lower Cape? Where do they get their information? What newspapers do they read, websites do they visit, are they tuned into social media? How can you reach them?

What? Strategies to reach your marketing objectives. Strategies are the “what” you are going to do to achieve your goals. What will you do to earn their business? For example, if your objectives are to increase your volume by 10% this year, what are you going to do? A strategy might be to increase name awareness.

How? Tactics to support your strategies. Tactics are the “how” you are going to achieve your strategies. If your strategy is to increase name awareness, then your tactics might be to upgrade your website by doing a keyword analysis, update the images on your home page or perform SEO optimization. You might execute a postcard campaign to existing customers to encourage referrals and word of mouth promotion.

How much? What will it cost to execute the marketing tactics you have detailed? How much will new customer acquisition cost? If your objective is to increase sales volume by 10% from a combination of selling more to existing customers and acquiring new customers, how much will that cost? Then calculate how much value is generated by adding a new customer. If your price point for lawn maintenance is $85 per month for five months, the value added to your company is $425. How much did you have to invest to add that new value? When looking at your budget, analyze your marketing investment in recurring fees (ads in Cape Cod visitor magazines) and one-time fees (advertising in the Cape Cod Times for spring clean-up specials.)

Your marketing plan is your guide to reach current and potential new customers for your business.

 

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Small Business Marketing Doesn’t Cost It Pays

Question: I hear lots of talk about marketing my company’s brand. Can you share any tips on marketing tactics that truly work?

Answer: Marketing is your toolbox to position your brand in the mind of buyers, so they see no suitable substitute. You must be perceived as the best painter, landscaper, window washer, provider of accounting services. When you achieve that status in the mind of buyers, your competition will find barriers they cannot overcome.

Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals in what you want to achieve and be sure to share those goals with your entire team.

Co-market with non-competing businesses with similar clients. If you are a restaurant in a business zone that also has a bookstore, co-market so clients to both are rewarded for shopping in each business.

Offer bundled products and/or services vs. offering only individual services. Give your customers choices and reward them for buying bundled services. You offer seeding and fertilizing and lawn mowing. Buying them bundled you get a better deal than selecting individual offerings.

Get and promote customer reviews. Word of Mouth (WOM) is your most powerful marketing tool. You don’t get reviews unless you ask for them and share them so that others can pass them along to friends and neighbors. You need to proactively promote WOM by creating referral programs that incentivize your current customers to pass the word along to others. The best way is to ask for the referral immediately after the completion of a project since the experience is fresh on the mind of your customer. Their satisfaction will be an incentive to them to refer you to others.

Find a market niche and keep focused on it. The more focused you are on a market niche, the more valued you appear to buyers since they see you as “the expert” in that niche. You are not just a landscaper; you are a specialist in “organic” gardening.

Sponsor a local event in your business district that will create visibility for your business and generate the perception that you are involved in more than selling a product or delivering a service.

When there is a mistake made, overcorrect it. Make sure your clients see you as value conscious.

Look to see where your competition is promoting their business and find new channels where you might be unexpected to appear. If you are a landscaping business, you regularly advertise in the Cape Cod Times, but none of your competitors are sponsors of the Harwich Cranberry Festival. You will be positioned without the marketing communication noise of competitors. Volunteer to speak at Chamber meetings. If you are a painting contractor, volunteer to speak on tips and techniques for selecting contractors. Your competitors are not doing this, so you will have that channel to yourself.

Get published. Your local paper is always looking for quality content from and about local businesses. If you are not a writer, you might communicate your idea for an article to a staff writer or editor and have them interview you and write the article. If you write the article, position your primary message, then write the story around it. Every Sunday, the Cape Cod Times features a business. Send your story to the business editor, [email protected] and see if there is interest.

Track the “return” you are getting for all of your marketing tactics. If you are paying for a marketing tactic, like a postcard campaign or advertising campaign in the Cape Cod Times or sponsoring an event, you need to determine if it worked or not to determine if you will do it again. The only way you can do that is to measure the impact it made on your company or brand. If you invest $1000 in a postcard campaign to bring buyers to your store on Small Business Saturday and 100 potential buyers take the call for action, you cost per person reached $10.00. The question is: how many dollars in sales did those 100 buyers represent on the targeted Saturday and second can you attract 100 buyers to your door any other way for less?

Join and be active in your local Chamber of Commerce to promote your company and brand with other business owners so you can share leads, co-promote or just become aware of one another’s business so you can cross-refer. Be a networker. Connect with members you don’t know and see if there is a connection.

Annually do a SWOT analysis to increase your organization’s Strengths and minimize your Weakness. Identify and confirm your opportunities and keep your threats on the top of your mind. Doing this regularly, allows you to stay connected to the environments that impact your business and make timely changes as appropriate. Include all of your team members. They see the environment differently than you do.

Over service existing customers. When your team arrives to mow a customer’s lawn this summer, assign one of the team to personally connect with the customer either before the service or immediately afterward, so there is always a face to the company brand. By doing this simple gesture, you are providing a forum for your customers to communicate “real time” with you. Provide your team with 3×5 cards and pens to take notes so if they have something of important to say your customer service ambassador records it, which says, you also believe it is important and it will get to the owner of the company.

Small businesses can be effective marketers if they are creative and aware of opportunities around them that can be obtained with a moderate investment.

 

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Increasing E-blast Open Rates

Question: I use email to communicate with my prospects and clients. How can I increase the number of opens, messages read, and recipients that are taking the call to action?

Answer: Email is the most frequently used communication vehicle in most small business’ marketing communications toolbox. It is less intrusive than a phone call or a text message and is convenient providing an easy method for a response. Here are some ideas for getting more of your messages opened and read:

Target your subject line and make it specific. Most email recipients read the subject line and make a decision whether to hit the delete button or read the message. Make the subject line short, specific and about your target audience. In the subject line promise something beneficial to the reader, “if you read this email, you’ll learn three ways to write more effective emails.” Use power words, i.e., action words like “learn” and use digits “3.” These power words will help your reader focus on your message.

Keep it brief. Most people don’t like to read long missives. Stick to the topic. State your position and ask for the action. Sometimes the entire message can be in the subject line? “Free to talk now? It’s 10:00 am.” Sometimes the best way to achieve your email goal is to ask questions of the reader, Pretend you are face-to-face. What would you ask them to achieve your goal?

Don’t be a time waster. Time is the most precious commodity that people have today. Time poverty affects us all. Send an email only when you have something important to say. Don’t try to be clever. Simple, straightforward communications work best. The easiest way to be on someone’s “delete” list is to send them messages that have no value to them.

Include bullet points. Some recipients get bogged down in reading paragraphs of information. State your position and then use bullet points to provide details. It makes it easier to read and easier to respond and take your call to action.

Include a reference. If you are emailing someone you don’t know personally, identify how you are connected. “We met at a reception for the Philanthropy Partnership.” Give them a hint of how you know one another. Personalize the email. “Good AM. I hope it is as beautiful a day in (wherever they are) as it is here on Cape Cod.” They will tend to read messages from someone they know or have some connection vs. a cold call email.

Be trustworthy. If you are trying to sell something to someone, tell them up front that this is a solicitation for sales or that periodically in our monthly newsletter, you will be offering specials for our products and/or services.

Learn from those that do it well. Subscribe to a variety of email newsletters and see how others entice their audience to open and read their messages.

Be aware of the “tone of voice” of your email. Your choice words, phrasing, punctuation, capitalization all meta-messages. If you are sending an email that is critical in its nature, then you might want to re-read the message before sending to make sure its tone is acceptable. Remember, emails are copied, forwarded and saved.

Check for typos. An easy way for your email to be deleted is to have typos and grammatical errors that are a turn-off to the reader. Proofread your emails before sending.

Everyone’s email inbox is overflowing. Nobody is sitting waiting for your email. Because time is precious, make sure your email messages are important, timely, focused and communicate easily what you need or want from the recipient.

Sources of additional information on email marketing: Henneke Duistermaat http://www.cityblogger.com and Jacqueline Whitemore http://www.entrepreneur.com

 

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Make Small Business Saturday (Nov 30) a Year-Round Event

Cooperate with other businesses to promote “local first” concepts among buyers.

Communicate as one larger voice “buy local” vs. as a single business owner with a smaller voice.

Knock on doors, invest in bumper stickers, placards, and signs – get the word out.

Extend the day. Don’t limit it to Small Business Saturday. Have a “buy local month.” The goal is to change behaviors.

Create local events to heighten awareness of “buy local.”

The key is to organize to make “buy local” a movement that changes behavior, not just a slogan.

Source: Your Business, MSNBC 11/10/13

 

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Social Media

Question: I am exhibiting at a local Home and Garden Expo. How can I strategically use social media to enhance my traditional trade show promotion and marketing communications?

Answer: We live in a connected society both in business and personal endeavors. If you want to reach your target audience, you have to consider being connected through both traditional and digital media. Today that includes primarily a website, a blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can use these media to communicate brand messages, announcements, post white papers, take positions on industry issues, or invite the audience to visit you at your business’ location or trade show.

Some of these outlets are appropriate for your business. Some are not. A lot depends on your overall sales and marketing objectives, what content you want to deliver and how you want it delivered, as well as how your target audience prefers to receive information.

You might want to consider using social media pre-show/at show and post show:

[Pre-Show
**]Photos of staff
Teasers
Promote specials
Involve partners
Ask questions to get audience thinking about YOU

At Show[
**]Announcements
Extend your event to non-attendees
Be a source of news
Build sign-ups for the future
Give social media physical presence in your exhibit

Post Show[
**]Payoff from the live event
Post inside information
Ask for feedback
Post recaps of key show events via a video of demos
Say thanks
Source: Richard Norby

Here are some thoughts on the major business social media tools:
Facebook[
**]Low volume / high value
Minimum: 3 x per week
Quality vs. Quantity
Like a mini-website for sharing event assets and keeping followers up-to-date.
Use to build loyalty and awareness
Make it easy for others to share content

Best Practices[
**]Get likes, shares and comments
Be useful and informative
Make it about your business with a “call to action.”
Twitter[
**]High volume / low value
Minimum: 5 x per day
Maximum: none
Quantity is key
Best social media on-site tool for event engagement
Great for disseminating news & promoting special offers
Good for connecting to other social channels
Excellent for quick, real-time conversations & monitoring the pulse of your audience

Best Practices
Create vs. curate
Retweets=sharing the love
Hashtags

LinkedIn[
**]Low volume / high value
Minimum: 2 x per week
Best platform for thought leadership through discussion groups
Good for providing status updates
Leverage targeted adds
Build and deepen relationships

Best Practices
Post at least 2x per week
Share content that is about you
Post something useful for your audience

Pinterest
High volume/ high value
Minimum: 5 x per day
Quality images are important
Source: Adrienne Baumann, 508Marketing

Best Practices for the use of Social Media[
**]Use actionable lingo
Keep it simple
Be specific
Be giving
Offer real value
Make it painless and convenient
Make it urgent
Be different

Be open to all the newest digital communication tools that are available to support your traditional methods for reaching out to your current and potential customers.

 

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Small Business Marketing Plans

Question: I am just planning to start a small business, do I need a marketing plan?

Answer: Absolutely. Getting your name out into the community so they know who you are, where you are located, how to contact you and what you offer is difficult and expensive. Without a plan, you’ll be spending lots of scarce capital and flailing at the proverbial wind rather than being focused on your approach to potential customers. Think about creating a simple plan with the following ingredients:

(1) Who is my target customer? Who will potentially buy my products or services? If you are a stone mason specializing in stone walls and patios, then your target audience is most likely high-end homeowners.

(2) Can you define your products and services? Define in regards to the benefits that they offer your target audience? Your differentiator(s). Making your home and garden more livable or creating an atmosphere of old Italy in your backyard.

(3) How do your customers receive their information? What are their channels of choice? Newspapers, newsletters, email, websites, blogs, TV, radio, mailed brochures. If you don’t know, test the market to find out before you invest in any marketing communications.

(4) How much can you afford to invest in marketing your business? Define the budget and then determine what channels into the budget. Remember to use the KISS approach to planning to Keep it Short and Simple.

Source: Simple Steps for Starting Your Own Business – SCORE/BoA

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Marketing – Updating Your Website

Question: When I started my business three years ago, I invested in a website. I keep hearing you need to update it. Can you give me any good reason to invest in updating my website?

Answer: Your website is like a virtual storefront. It must be interesting and attracting to get your potential buyers to take your call for action to call or go to the next page. You need to provide visitors to your site with a reason to stick around and explore more than your home page.

According to expert Jayson DeMers, Founder, and CEO or AudienceBloom, there are four signs that your site might need revamping, which means additional investment in your website.

1. The site isn’t being responsive. Once upon a time, mobile devices were a wonderment. Today they are commonplace. They are constantly being updated to undertake more and more tasks that were once relegated to your desktop or your notebook. Today the majority of web traffic is from mobile devices. Your website must appear just as vibrant on a smartphone as it does on a desktop. It is critical if you want to stay in the technology loop with your customer base, you update your site to be responsive otherwise it will phase out. Make sure you have metrics in place to determine if the site is working for you in generating opportunities for sales.

2. Your sites unused features. When you created and launched your website, you decided what should be included. Over time some of those features may infrequently be visited, and therefore are superfluous. Any portions of the site that are not being regularly used are a waste of space. Eliminate them and redesign the layout to optimize its use.

3. Your site takes too long to load. The trend is not to have so much content that needs to be downloaded when opening that it takes too much time. Time that your visitors don’t want to spend waiting. After about 5 seconds, visitor interest begins to wane. Internet providers and smartphone carriers are limiting the amount of data that is to be downloaded. If your site is taking, more than 5 seconds seek out a web designer to assess your web site’s health.

4. Visitors are not getting passed your home page. Check out your site analytics (Google Analytics) and check out where visitors are going to your home page. If you are losing visitors after their homepage stop, take a look at your home page and explore how to make it more inviting or consider a redesign that will allow visitors to explore more easily with incentives to get them beyond the home page.

5. Are you losing visitors over time? Do visitors come once and return or never visit again. Maybe your SEO is not functioning, or your site is becoming stale. When was the last time you inputted anything new on your website? Without new materials, the site loses traction and therefore visitors won’t come back.

6. The purpose of your site may have changed. You may have launched your site to raise awareness of your organization, its products, and services. Today, it might be for e-commerce. In that case, you need to rebrand and redesign your site.

7. You are experiencing high bounce rates. If Google Analytics indicated a high bounce rate, you need to take note. This represents the number of site visitors that leave your site after visiting one page. If you bounce rate is above 75, your site needs a facelift.

Before doing any of the above and check to see if the search engines, Google, Yahoo, or Bing even know your site exists. If you find this might be the issue, remember to update the site regularly with new and fresh information and make sure it is coded correctly. If you are nowhere on search engines, then it might be time for a website overhaul.

If you entertain a facelift or redesign, consider these essential tips:

Pay attention to aesthetics. Visitors want functionality, but they want an attractive landing page.

Improve your site speed. Nothing will discourage visitors from exploring your site faster than slow processing speeds.

Provide easy navigation. Speed does nothing for your visitor if they cannot find what they are interested in seeing.

Update it frequently. Take the trouble to update your site frequently to stay in the forefront of the technology your site visitors expect.

 

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Content Marketing

Question: Everyone at Chamber meetings is talking about content marketing. What is it? How important is it? How can I capitalize on it if it is important to my Cape business?

Answer: Content is king and distribution is queen in the game of marketing. A well-produced, authentic brand story is the main focus of a good marketing campaign. However, it’s only a success if it reaches its audience. Effective content distribution is paramount in achieving this goal.

Distribution ensures that content is consumed and appreciated by the right audience by targeting readers who are already viewing articles relevant to the brand’s content.

Currently, 87% of marketers are using social media to distribute content. This approach is now proving somewhat ineffective as it’s becoming much harder to gain attention when competing with, for instance, photos of your customer’s friend’s new puppy.

Fortunately, new distribution platforms are available and can help brands reach audiences showcasing content where it will be seen – and appreciated.

Taboola – provides the “from Around the Web” and “You May Like” recommendations on publications such as USA Today, TMZ, and NY Times. It recently released an API that will allow publishers to integrate Taboola’s recommendations into their mobile apps, giving brands the opportunity to reach smartphone readers as well.

Taboola averages 3 billion daily recommendations to over 300 million monthly visitors. By considering many factors including currently trending stories, reader content consumption history, and past user engagement, Taboola surfaces content that’s most likely to keep a user engaged. This allows for one quality piece of content to be reused and distributed across multiple audiences.

Outbrain – is the content discovery platform behind the articles and videos you see labeled as “from Around the Web.” It works with over 10,000 publishers, including The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, US Weekly and Rolling Stone, recommending brand content to millions of engaged readers.

Outbrain prides itself on successfully recommending the right content to the right audience, optimizing engagement to increase circulation and duration of stories. If an article is gaining traction, Outbrain highly recommends it – allowing brands to extend the shelf life of their media coverage. An in-depth analytics dashboard is included which allows users to learn the value of their highest-performing content.

Adblade – is a content-style ad platform presenting content in the form of “News Bullets.” Designed to look more like news blurbs than ads, they deliver three times more clicks than regular display or banner ads. They work with top tier online publishers including Yahoo, Hearst, and Daily News. The Bullets are leveraged on Social media as well.

Adblade uses geo-targeting, interest targeting, and retargeting to place content where it will find the most success. Their analytics include the number of impressions, click-through rates, cost per action, and cost per click. These metrics are refreshed every 15 minutes.

OneSpot – takes text or video content (blogs, videos, infographics, Twitter feeds, press mentions and testimonials) and makes ads out of these content sources. Its unique content sequencing engine essentially moves potential customers through a brand’s sales funnel. For example, it can know if a reader is at the top of a sales funnel, so it delivers him thought leadership pieces. If that reader then moves to the middle of the sales funnel, he will see case studies, webinars, and whitepapers.

This is an extremely interactive, results-driven platform, which not only optimizes content engagement but maximizes content’s ability to garner sales leads as well.

Sourced from: IF CONTENT IS KING, THEN DISTRIBUTION IS QUEEN by John Hall, CEO of Influence & Co. via LinkedIn

 

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Managing Yourself

Question: I know that I need to learn more about managing my small business. What books are recommended for entrepreneurs?

Answer: Josh Patrick listed “10 Books Business Owners Should Read” in his 10/10/14 New York Times article:

Here are a few that we think are appropriate for Cape-based small businesses:

The E-Myth Revised by Michael E. Gerber. Many small businesses fail due to the lack of systems vs. making it up as they go. Mr. Gerber explains why it is important to have, as well as how to install systems that will make their businesses better and more predictable.

Every Family’s Business by Tom Deans. If you own a family business and are considering passing one on to your children, this is a must read. Mr. Deans asks questions that every family business owner needs to ask every year in preparation for transition. The answers will help family members to focus on the roles they want to play in the business and get prepared to execute them. What Mr. Deans does best is the foster healthy discussion among family members.

Traction by Gino Wickman. Business owners are led to believe that they have to do everything and most try to do everything.. They have too much on their plate to do all jobs right. Mr. Wickman focuses on the 10 % of the time entrepreneurs have to be more strategic. He helps small business owners manage their meetings, why every employee needs a project they own and why all employees need to focus on metrics.

Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port. Selling and cash management are the two most important activities for entrepreneurs. This is one of the best books on selling. Mr. Port helps the reader understand that selling is not just about getting a new customer walking through the door. You’ll figure who is the right customer for your business, where they hang out and how to attract them.

The Goal by Eliyah Goldratt. Every business has bottlenecks in its operations. Mr. Goldratt has taken a complicated subject, business operations and put it in the form of a novel. Find a problem, fix it and move on to the next problem. In this interesting novel, Mr. Goldratt fixes bottlenecks to save the company.

What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith. This book is about managing change. Mr. Goldsmith emphasizes that most problems in business are caused by the person running it. Want to look at managing your business from a new perspective, try this book.

How to Run Your Business So You Can Leave It in Style by John H. Brown. Exit planning should be part of every successful business plan. Mr. Brown invented the exit planning profession. In this book, he walks readers through seven things they need to do to leave the business on their terms, including calculating the worth of the business and finding the best buyer.

Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. The Heath brothers are known for writing interesting books. Their first, Made to Stick, is a landmark publication about creating messages that are not only received but retained. In this 2nd book, they focus on change management. You’ll learn about the elephant and the rider. The elephant is your business and how hard it is to change. You’ll learn about the process of change to make it easier to effect.

As a small business owner being a life-long learner is a critical ingredient to success. You cannot possibly know everything you need to know to manage your business even though you might be an expert in your trade. Reading books, magazines, listing to webinars or podcasts or reading blogs are excellent ways to stay ahead of the wave and make the changes necessary to meet the future needs of your customers.

 

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Branded Signage

Question: We use signage in our retail store windows, on our counters and out in the community to attract buyers to our store. What are some keys to creating high impact signage?

Answer: Be bold and concise. Make your signage copy easy to read from 10-15 feet away so that the 3 seconds customers give to take in messages on signs, placards and poster achieve its goal. But, be consistent with the remainder of your branded messages. All your communications should have the same look and feel and deliver the same visual impression regardless of the medium or vehicle. Your website, Linked-in entry, Facebook page, and all promotional materials should be visually integrated.

Placement is crucial. Your signs and posters need to be where buyers will see them without assistance. Start with signage in the parking lot on light posts. Make your storefront posters visible from the street or sidewalk. Your in-store signage can be used to guide visitors to where you want them to notice and buy featured products. Signage also can act as a substitute for your sales attendants who are busy with other customers. A word from the experienced retailers: make sure you understand your town’s rules and regulations regarding signage and posters.

Highlight your differentiators. Show how you compare to your competitors. People buy out of differentiation, so make sure your customers know why they should buy from you and not your competitor. “Money back guarantee. No questions”. “Fully assembled, delivered with a full tank, your old gas grill removed and the first-year service free.”

Make sure your call to action is prominent. Buyers need to know without exerting much energy to know what you are offering them. Use action words to which your customers can relate. “Take advantage of this limited time offer.” “Two dinners for $19.95 with a glass of wine, eaten on premises.” “Buy now! Sale ends Saturday at 6 pm.” To generate impact, tell stories. If you are featuring an artist’s or craftsman’s work, give a short biography or story about the creator or creation. Try having your employees tell stories about products through signage. If young women’s clothing or accessories, have sales personnel who use and are wearing individual pieces tell their story reinforced through signage.

Test the impact. Train your staff to ask everyone who comes in: (1) Have you purchased here in the past? If so, “welcome back” (2) If not, how did you hear about us? You can determine what tools are working best. Is it the signage in your parking lot or window that stopped buyers? Is it the advertisement you ran in the Cape Cod Times that caught their attention? Was it a radio spot? Or was it the direct mailer you sent last week? When you know what is working, you can do it again.

Attract attention. Buyers are bombarded with marketing images and breaking through the blur of messaging is vital to the success of your campaign. Big, bold, clear fonts that are easy to read captures visitor attention. Colors that are bright and bold captures buyer interest.

Promote your brand by displaying your logo, your tagline and remind buyers of who you are, what you do and what you offer.

Your signage communicates your brand. Your brand lives in the mind of the buyer and how you communicate reinforces that brand perception. After you have generated your signage test it with someone who can address how your brand is communicated. If it tests positive, move forward. If not, modify your “voice” to reflect your brand image.

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Social Media 2

Question: As a small business on Cape Cod, I know I have to use social media to reach my buyers. But what exactly do I need to do?

Answer: Listen to the experts and follow their advice. Adrienne Baumann, a Cape-based social media guru, suggests the following:

Content Marketing comments on Facebook (B to B and NonProfit preferred):

If you are B to C (Business to Consumer), 89% of your audience uses Facebook.

If you are B to B (Business to Business), 81% of your customers are on Facebook.

If you focus on nonprofits, 91% of your customers use Facebook.

Content best practices: Get likes, shares, and comments. Be useful & informative. Make the content about your business.

Content Marketing comments on Twitter (the B to B preferred):

If you are B to C (Business to Consumer), 80% of your audience uses Facebook.

If you are B to B (Business to Business), 85% of your customers are on Facebook.

If you focus on nonprofits, 69% of your customers use Facebook.

Content best practices Twitter requires content creation (therefore staff) and is appropriate if you want to be a thought leader.

Content Marketing comments on Linkedin (the B to B preferred):

If you are B to C (Business to Consumer), 71% of your audience uses Facebook.

If you are B to B (Business to Business), 91% of your customers are on Facebook.

If you focus on nonprofits, 53% of your customers use Facebook.

Linkedin is right for your business if you are B to B and want to be a thought leader.

Content Marketing comments on Pinterest (the B to B preferred):

If you are B to C (Business to Consumer), 53% of your audience uses Facebook.

If you are B to B (Business to Business),34% of your customers are on Facebook.

If you focus on nonprofits, 24% of your customers use Facebook.

Pinterest is right for your business if you have products to sell, images to share and if you want to build brand awareness.

Content best practices: Visual content is important. 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Photos are 2x liked more than text updates. 67% say images are very important in selecting products to purchase.

Whichever social medium you choose, make sure you have a measurement plan to know if it is working or not. You also might use worksheets to help with content ideas and keep track of audience engagements. For more information on how to use social media effectively to market your business contact Adrienne Baumann Constant Contact partner, www.constantcontact.com or [email protected]

 

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What You Need to Know about Website Design

Question: I am launching new consumer based business. I hear that a website is mandatory. What do I need to know before I have a website created for my business?

Answer: Almost the very first impression consumers have of you, and your business is through the portals of your website. In the past, the Yellow Pages served that function, but today, if you need a painter, landscaper, carpet cleaner or electrician all you need to do is “Google” it, and you find a connection to a variety of website for suppliers in your vicinity. However, there are many misconceptions that need to be corrected so that you drive traffic to your business vs. steering them away. Whether it be the appearance, content or strategy for your website you will need to address these common misconceptions:

It is easy, right? – The only simple part of developing a web presence is the time and resources needed to obtain a domain name (GoDaddy). Countless hours are required before, during and after in the site’s creation and maintenance. A good website is needed to communicate your brand’s values.

I don’t need to be mobile responsive. Many small business owners believe that you don’t have to be mobile responsive at the beginning of the site’s life. That is wrong. Most people head straight for their smartphones and tablets to find the websites for the services they need.

What I like is what my users will like. Wrong. The most important element in web design whether it be color, layout, font choice or content is that it appeals to users and will attract and keep them on the site. It must communicate your brand in terms that relate to potential users, so they buy into your unique selling position.

I don’t need to worry about SEO until after the site is built. Your total social media strategy is one part website and many parts other applications. SEO starts before your site is constructed by doing a keyword search, during the construction by using keywords on all your content development and post launch to get website ranking on the various search engines.

The bigger, the better. Having oversized logos and supersized images is no replacement for a well thought out, professionally designed site that is easy to navigate and keeps site visitors interested in your offerings by moving from page to page, then taking the action you planned.

Contact info belongs on the “contact us” page. Your goal is to get potential buyers to contact you. Your contact information needs to be on every page starting with the home page. It needs to visible, yet subtle.

Website development is a one-time charge. False. You have to keep your site updated and changed regularly with content additions, blogs and new offerings, images, and messages. It becomes a marketing line item albeit much less of an investment over time than the construction phase.

Pulling images off the internet is OK. It is not! Images have licensing obligations and not paying for their use could result in huge fines. Investigate the terms of usage of all images you pull off the internet. Some are FREE others are not.

I can use content from the internet. Just like images, content is protected by copyright laws. Get permission before using published content on your site.

One final thought, get professional help. Feel free to roll the dice and do-it-yourself, but if you want an effective online presence to contact a professional web designer to construct your site, perform SEO services and give you feedback regularly on the work you do to maintain it.

To find a mentor to assist you in managing your business contact SCORE at (508)775-4884 or

 

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http://www.capecod.score.org/

Building an Awesome Brand

Question: I used to think that the issues related to brand management were only for large consumer marketers. How important is it for my Cape-based service business?

Answer: One word. Vital. Your brand is what resides in the mind of every buyer that defines your organization about whether they will want to do business with you in the first place and then if they want to do business with you again.

If you are landscaper and you show up on time, do the work for which you were contracted, meet person-to-person with the customer to assure them you are focused on their needs now and in the future, your brand will live well to get another contract.

To have an awesome brand according to www.machwebsolutions.com, you have to focus on your organization’s goals, not the tools that are available to it to promote the brand.

Try these hints to building an awesome brand:

Define your business objectives and create a unique selling position that differentiates you from other organizations in your segment, i.e., painting contractors, landscapers, chimney sweeps, and breakfast shops. If you can define how the conversation between you and the buyer takes place to achieve top of mind awareness and thus business, you can position your brand effectively.

Hire a team that is passionate and committed to the values that define your brand and empower them to communicate your brand through their actions. Do all that it takes to make them one team, not internal and external vertical groups.

Develop a strategy for your business that breaks down the goals into actionable pieces. If you are launching a new offering, decide what are the elements of your promotion campaign, i.e., direct mail, email blasts and personal letter to current customers announcing the new offering’s launch. Then, create a schedule of when you will execute the elements of the campaign and lastly, how will you determine what elements worked so you can repeat those tactics.

Be a lifelong learner of your industry. Stay on top of what is happening, so you can be of added value to your customers. Read your industry websites, blogs, newsletters even books. Network with others in your industry segment to learn from them in meeting their customer needs.

Use the 80/20 rule of brand management. 80% share other people's stuff, 20% share their remarkable experiences. Be among the 20% that differentiates you and your brand

You can build and foster the growth of your brand if you: feature people experiencing your brand, acknowledge the awesome, hold events, help others, be human and give back.

The last elements of building a brand into awesomeness are to measure and analyze your efforts. Once you have determined what worked and what didn’t, you can fine-tune your brand strategies.

Effective brand management is all about mind share. Be proactive about managing your brand with both current customers and potential buyers.

 

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How Does Integrated Marketing Apply to Digital Marketing?

As you may know, integrated marketing means that marketing methods should be in sync. They should also lead to each other in some way. This is no different when it’s done digitally. Online marketing efforts should be just as in-line as that which is done offline. In fact, smart companies will integrate digital effort with those that occur offline.

In the same ways one would use exact logos and slogans offline, it applies digitally as well. The website, digital display ads, and emails should all use these. While methods will vary for each specific type of marketing, advertisements should focus on the same message. Calls-to-action should involve varying methods and sources, both digital and print.

For instance, if there’s a magazine spread, the same spread design could be used in a digital display ad format. The idea is to create the same experience and feelings for the potential audience no matter where they come in contact with a company. Consistency is key to ensuring people have the same or similar idea of what a given company stands for. This is where a professional can come in handy. Not every business or individual can handle all aspects.

A customer should be able to access digital information about a company in print marketing campaigns, like newspaper ads and fliers. They should also be able to learn about any print content (such as a magazine subscription) in that company’s digital campaigns. Bringing them together keeps customers and clients with varied preferences connected to a particular company. Integration and familiarity give them many ways to keep up and lets them know that company’s a trusted source across the board.

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Vertical Integration with Digital Tools

Question: People talk about integrated marketing. How does that apply to digital marketing for a small business?

Answer: As you may know, integrated marketing means that all marketing techniques used to promote your business, build your brand and advertise your offerings should all be in sync. When they are in sync, you have vertically integrated your marketing initiatives. They should also connect one to each other in some way.

When someone sees your ad in the Cape Cod Times, they should see the same message in the direct mailer you send. When they see a sign in your window, they see the same image that is in Variety magazine. This is no different when you employ social media or digital marketing. Online marketing efforts should be just as in-sync as that which is undertaken offline. In fact, smart companies will integrate their digital effort with those that occur offline. For example, the advertising in the daily paper will have a link to your website or your LinkedIn page.

The rule of using the exact logos and slogans offline applies digitally as well. The website, digital display ads, and emails should all use these. While methods will vary for each specific type of marketing, advertisements should focus on the same message. Calls-to-action should involve varying methods and sources, both digital and traditional methods.

For instance, if there’s a magazine spread, the same spread design could be used in a digital display ad format. The idea is to create the same experience and feelings for the potential audience no matter where they come in contact with a company. Consistency is key to ensuring people have the same or similar idea of what a given company stands for and what they offer. This is where a professional can come in handy. Not every business or individual can handle all aspects of vertically integrating your marketing efforts.

A customer should be able to access digital information about a company and in print marketing campaigns, like newspaper ads and fliers. They should also be able to learn about any print content (such as a magazine subscription) in that company’s digital campaigns. Bringing them together keeps customers and prospects with varied preferences connected to a particular company. Integration and familiarity give them many ways to keep up and lets them know that company’s a trusted source across the board.

 

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Startup Marketing Checklist

Question: I know that I need to promote my new business. Are there ways to spread the word about my new business with a minimal investment in marketing?

Answer: Yes, however, all marketing requires an investment either in time or financial resources.

Your website is the front door of your business. It has to be inviting and attractive to potential buyers. Make sure it looks and is current. Keep your website speed updated. If it is too slow, visitors will depart and may not come back. Make sure your website is user-friendly so that anyone interested in your product or service can navigate your site easily.

Find a market niche and focus on it. Know where your high-profit customers are and keep your promotions focused on them.

Blog. If you aren’t blogging, do it. If your website doesn’t have a blog, do it. Share your knowledge and make it easy for your buyers to access it. If they get into a habit of checking your blogs, they will be drawn to buying your products or services.

All messages don’t have to be original content. Sometimes just spreading the “news” is enough to get followers.

Buyers like exclusivity. Make your offers appear exclusive, and you’ll get followers to see what’s next.

Amazing customer service cannot be over emphasized. If you say, you are going to return a call at 9 am. Call at 8:59. If you are scheduled to perform your work on Monday at 8 am, be there ready for work at 8 am. When the service is completed or the product delivered, check to make sure the buyer’s expectations have been exceeded.

Make it easy for buyers to share customer satisfaction ratings. The easier the process, the more feedback you will receive.

Provide content in your marketing messages. The messages should be short, focused and filled with information that will make your buyer’s lives better.

Be a participant in industry discussions. LinkedIn has many discussions that buyers of your products or services will be participating or watching. If you share your expertise, they will see it and reach out to you.

Use Social Media where your buyers visit. If your buyers are a Pinterest user, spend time there yourself. If they use Linked In, be there. Find out where your buyers spend time and be there.

Generate your own buzz. If you are opening a restaurant get an article written about the establishment and offer to share recipes that will raise awareness and provide value to potential users.

Allow your customers to voice their opinions on your website. Part of your blog should be a comments section so readers can share their input with your other readers.

Create a monthly or quarterly newsletter. If you are a landscaper, share some tips on what your customers can do to improve their landscaping in between your service. If you are a carpet cleaner, share hints, tips and techniques for home carpet and flooring care. The more knowledge you can share, the more valuable you become.

Be a conduit between your customers and other services they may need. Share a list of recommended suppliers where they can go to get the same quality of service you provide.

Get your influencers to share their impressions of your products or services with others by getting testimonials or WOM (word of mouth) communications. Incentivize your influencers to take the call to action by sharing their impressions.

Know what your competitors are doing so you can eclipse their promotion activities.

Measure everything. “If you don’t measure it, you cannot manage it” is a business axiom that never fails. Every initiative should be measured to determine if you should continue doing it or move on to another approach that might generate a greater return.

The most important. Be out there. Be visible. Be vocal. Let buyers know what you have to offer, the need it fills and how to buy it from you.

Check out: Jason James Delodovici, 51 Ways to Acquire Your First 100,000 Customers Without Any Marketing Budget. justjasonjames.com/ways-to-acquire-your-first-customers

For free and confidential mentoring, contact Cape Cod SCORE at 508/775-4884 or visit us at http://www.capecod.score.org/

 

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Marketing 2

Question: We know that marketing is important for a small business. What should I consider in marketing our small business on the Cape?

Answer: Heather Jackson, Constant Contact, the emailing partner for small business made this comment about marketing in today’s environment. “The most common mistake small businesses make, and it’s an understandable one is to focus their message solely on their own products and services. After all, it is natural to want to promote what it is you sell or offer so that you can grow your business. But that’s not necessarily what is going to capture your customers’ and potential customers’ interest. Remember, people do business with people that they know, like and trust. The nature of social media is so powerful because you can efficiently help so many more people get to know you better, like, and trust you more. The key is to provide content and messaging that is valuable to the end user thereby showing them that you are authentic, likable and trustworthy. So providing tips, answers to frequent questions, insights into changes in your industry and how they will affect your customers is a good place to start. I like to think about it this way: if the content you are offering will help your customers live a little easier today, then you improve the likelihood that your audience will open your email and engage with your posts. They will also get to know, like and trust you.

Focus on the customer needs and how you can fill their needs. Your business is about the needs of your customers and not yours. To maximize your resources, you need to learn and stay abreast of the needs of your customers, so you are stocking what they want, offering what they need and being top of mind when they want to buy.

Connect with current customers and prospects based on the values that represent your brand. What values does your brand represent? Do they represent the values your customers look for in a brand for which they have an affinity? If they are looking for customer focused, knowledgeable, reliable, and responsive values in their service provider, how does your brand represent those brands? Your brand is represented not just in graphics and images but in the actions of your team.

People buy from sellers or service providers they trust. Trust starts with doing what you say when you say you are going to do it.

Content has to be valuable. Otherwise, it becomes a blur along with thousands of other messages buyers are exposed to each day. The average adult is exposed to 1500-2000 marketing messages a day. Without content that communicates the values, your brand represents, your messages have no chances to stick. What content do your customers want to receive? What interests them and what will they value, read, and share with others? When you know this, then you can exponentially expand your sphere of communications and visibility.

Your content has to drive buyers to your website, your door and your cash register. The mission of all of your marketing communications has to be revenue. You get revenue when your messages drive visitors to your website, and they click through to a special, and they take your call to action and buy. You get revenue when your messages stick and buyers make your store a destination and make a purchase. You get revenue when your content gets shared, and that results in an action by new buyers to make a purchase or at least review what you have to offer.

Your marketing has to be integrated so that it includes traditional marketing as well as social media. Integrated marketing is not new. Every place you see Toyota, Honda, Ford or Chevy you see the same messages, logo, images, color, and theme. Every place a buyer sees your ads, billboards, emails or storefront they need to see a coordinated singular image and message, so the continuity builds top of mind awareness and brand recognition. You want your name, your products or services to be first to come to mind when buyers think of plumbing, landscaping, accounting services or window washing. Check out www.cleangreencapecod.com

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E-mail Marketing for Small Business

Question: I know that email marketing is very powerful, but how do I apply it to my business?

Answer: email marketing is often either overlooked or overdone by small business marketers. Generating online leads or feet through the front door of your business starts with a good list of opt-in prospects. The keys are having compelling content, delivering your message that will result in an action and the ability to track your performance so you can do it better the next time. In the age of social media and connectedness, email is still king

Why? According to Rich Brooks http://twitter.com/therichbrooks you own the platform. You don’t share it with anyone. You are in control.

When you get a prospect or customer to opt-in, they have given you access to their front door their inbox. An email that ends up in a potential buyer’s inbox requires a “click” to move forward or trash the message. This means the recipient at least saw your brand. Even if they aren’t ready to buy, they are reminded of your solution when they have the need.

The first step is to choose a provider – an ESP (email service provider). You can choose Outlook, Gmail or even AOL. But, even better investigate an ESP like Constant Contact who have tools and metrics for email marketing. Make sure that your provider will allow bulk email otherwise they will shut you down for unauthorized use. You will have responsive templates, scheduling tools, metrics, the ability to segment your contact lists, and being able to manage your sign-ups, opt-ins, and bounces.

Customize your experience. The more you can personalize your experience the greater the response. Use the “sign-up box” feature on your website. Your call to action “Join Our Mailing List” must include a benefits statement about why they should sign up, so it doesn’t appear like spam. Let them know what to expect like frequency of delivery, what great content they will receive. Create a landing page on your website for sign-ups that will give more information about the benefits being offered.

Make your website more than your front door, but the hub of your marketing efforts. Most of your email sign-ups will take place here. Put your sign-up messages on your home page. Most visitors come to your website once, but with an opt-in, they will continue to visit your business’ digital front door.

Use blogs for more email sign-ups. If you are blogging, then you are already creating the content that can be used in your email marketing. The blog is fresh content; your email marketing is the delivery system. You can have a call to action or sign-up box on each blog, as well.

Create lead magnets – buyers in-boxes are filled with offers, some legitimate others spam. So getting sign-ups are getting increasingly difficult. You need to trade something of value. Sign-up for our email newsletter and we will send you a “white paper” or “how to.” Or even a discount in your store or for their next service. How to winterize your home to save money. This is a lead magnet. When using your landing page ensure you have an accurate email address that is being automatically entered into your ESP database.

Getting your email delivered. Your email might be blocked by their Internet Service Provider (ISP) or firewall or overactive junk filter. Alert new subscribers to look out for your emails. Ask them to “whitelist” you. Also, watch your subject line. “Free” or “today only” are solid clues for spam filters

Getting your emails opened and read – just because the email is in the inbox doesn’t mean it will get opened. Two key ingredients: (1) a recognizable email address and (2) a compelling subject line. “Monthly Newsletter” never got interested enough to open an email, but “10 Keys to Selling Your Product” just may get your email opened. Sometimes it’s intrigue or maybe it’s something personal that attracts attention enough to get your emails opened. Engaging your audience to read your email also entails planning: Have a responsive email template. Use the image to engage the reader. Keep it short. (Title it, Take Two – 2 minutes to read). Include a clear call to action they see first. “Download our white paper here.”

To learn more about email marketing, read: Back to Basics: Email Marketing for Small Business: http://www.takeflyte.com/home.

 

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Marketing Strategy for Growth

Question: I have a small business, and I am getting ready to expand. Do I need a formalized marketing strategy to target my growth plan? 

Answer: Philip Kotler, in the middle 1950’s defined marketing as “everything an organization does from the time it perceives the need for a product or service until it is in the hands of the ultimate consumer.”

A business will not succeed because the owner wills it. There must be a market for the product or service. Otherwise, there is no chance of success. To determine your market, you need to consider primary and secondary market research to understand the nature of your market, customer and the competition.

If you were in the pre-launch stage, you need the following information: Is what you are offering something that buyers will want and pay for? How many people want it? Is that sufficient to generate adequate revenue? Who are the potential customers and how do you reach them? How do your potential customers shop? In stores, online, via telephone? Can you create demand for the product or service? How many competitors will you face? How will you compete on price, reliability or quality? Who will our suppliers and partners be and how good are their services?

Since your business is on-going, your marketing efforts should be to identify, satisfy and follow-up on customer needs at a satisfactory profit. This includes market research, marketing strategy, target marketing and managing the marketing mix. It is almost impossible to sell a product or service that people don’t need, and marketing will help you maintain your product line focus to offer products and services that buyers will purchase.

Market Research – you need to systematically gather, record and analyze information regarding your target market and the problems you face in addressing needs. Primary research is “first hand.” A focus group or a survey is primary research. Talking directly to the customer is primary research. Secondary research is gathering and analyzing information generated by others in newspapers, online in blogs, reports or articles, or in magazines. It might be generated by attending Chamber events or conferences where subject matter experts are presenting information about your business segment. Some research is undertaken by just observing. A restaurant owner can observe what is left on customers’ plates and thus modify the menu offerings. A retailer can watch customers as they shop in their store. Where do they go? How are they dressed? Are they alone? What did they buy? And, what didn’t they buy that they looked at?

Marketing Strategy – business planning starts with your objectives and then is further defined by strategies and tactics. Strategies are “what” are you going to do to achieve your objectives and tactics are the “how” you are going to fulfill your strategies. The first element of creating a marketing strategy is to target your market. Most small businesses start out by just selling to anyone who will buy. If your marketing objective for 2016 is to increase awareness of your new product offer that you will use to expand your business, then you will need tactics to execute the strategy. Tactics might include both traditional and digital methods: space advertising Cape Cod Times and Cape and Plymouth Business magazine, launching a Facebook page and becoming more active on LinkedIn. You might also begin blogging and starting a digital newsletter focused on current customers. Growth doesn’t happen by chance.

In the growth stage, you need to think of more targeting and focusing of your sales and marketing initiatives. You can target by geography – Cape and Islands or Cape, Islands and South Shore or Cape, Islands and all of New England. You can target by demographics. By identifying those groups who most likely to buy you can focus your marketing, e.g., high-end boat owners, snowbirds, or sports bikers. A third target category might be product or service attributes. Focus on an attribute that is not offered by others to attract buyers and then move them to a broader offering. Or target your marketing based on psychographics, i.e., lifestyles. This category might be conservationists or health conscious individuals.

A marketing strategy has four ingredients: Product (what are you offering?), Price (how much will you sell your offering for?) Place (where will your offering be available for sale?) and Distribution (how will you get your offering in the hands of the buyer?)

 

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Marketing Strategy

Question: What are the critical elements in generating a marketing strategy for a small business

Answer: Product, Price, Physical Distribution, and Promotion are the 4Ps of marketing. Every decision you make that is customer focused has its beginning in these four fundamentals of marketing.

Product/service strategy – the most fundamental of all business decisions is what product or service to offer. Many times the passion of the entrepreneur allows them to go down a path of offering some products or an array of services to find that their buyers have something else in mind. As you launch a business, you have to be true to yourself. You need to offer products and services that you are excited about and provide real value to your targeted customers. You will find some buyers who are as excited as you and others that turn to another source. As long as you understand why those that are drawn to you, buy, you can build on that population to create a revenue stream. Small business owners may decide on a product strategy that focuses on a narrow product line or servicing a niche market.

Price strategy- pricing is one of the most difficult marketing decision. There are three basic pricing strategies: luxury, middle of the road, low cost. The pricing model you adopt depends on your target market and how they calculate the value. Pricing needs to take into account the costs associated with offering the product and service as well as the competitive landscape. Constantly monitoring competitive pricing will provide you with a roadmap of future pricing strategies. How your customers buy and the quality of the delivered offering play into pricing. The most important element in developing your pricing strategy is to clearly define your differentiators. That is how people buy.

Place or distribution strategy – how you get your product or service in the hands of the ultimate consumer. If your initial portal for customer interaction is your website, then it is one part of your channels of distribution. You have to determine in your growth strategy if selling direct is still viable or do you need to find intermediaries or distributors. Be careful to research all prospective intermediaries involved in your supply chain before making a final decision.

Promotional strategy – use of advertising, sales and promotional activities increases awareness of who you are, what you do and what your offer is to prospective buyers. The big mistake small business owners make is they spend too much on marketing that produces no tangible returns. Today you have traditional approaches such as advertising, signage, print, radio, TV, trade shows and direct mail, as well as digital media via social media to promote your small business.

Murray Newlands, a contributor to Inc., shared his best marketing strategies that can be applied to small businesses on Cape Cod.

1. Partner with allies.

Marketing partnerships have some benefits to push a marketing campaign. For starters, when you collaborate with someone else, you tend to deliver better content. On top of that, marketing partnerships are cheaper to create, see success more quickly, and expose your brand to a new audience. If you own a bookstore, you can partner with a restaurant so that customers of one can benefit by shopping at the other.

2. Embrace user generated content.

According to a survey of 839 millennials (smart blogs), they spend 5.4 hours a day with content created by their peers. Get your customers, to generate content for your website and Facebook page.

3. Help customers solve a problem and let them interact.

As perfectly stated on HubSpot, “You’re in business because you provide solutions.” Some of the ways you can help customers solve a problem are by creating how-to-content; offering exclusives that make their lives easier; listening/responding to them; or creating apps/tools.

4. Experiment with new channels and platforms.

Don’t hesitate to try out new channels and platforms to promote your brand. As a plumbing contractor, try Pinterest of Snapchat. Social media is where the American buying public lives today. But don’t forget more traditional platforms, like direct mail and the daily newspaper.

5. Have some fun.

You probably never heard of Dollar Shave Club until the company released that humorous YouTube video. The company continues to have its way with the shaving industry. Who do you know that is having fun with their marketing campaigns you wouldn’t expect are getting in on the action? Emulate them.

6. Don’t forget about existing customers.

I know it is important to obtain new customers if you want your business to grow. But don’t forget about the customers you already have.

You need to be thinking strategically about everything you do and building a strategic culture with your business. What tactics do you use to breathe life into your marketing?

 

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Marketing the Small Business

Question: I launched my small business a year ago on the Cape and had limited marketing funds. Any thoughts on inexpensive, yet effective marketing approaches?

Answer: You are not alone. Most small business launches have limited marketing funds. However, there are many tactics that can be employed. The whole idea is to stretch what few marketing dollars you have to maximize your impact.

Learn all you can about digital marketing/social media. Try these free online workshops.

1 Social media for beginners, [+ https://www.udemy.com/learn-social-media-marketing-strategic-guide-for-beginners/+]

2 Creating a website using WordPress, https://www.udemy.com/wordpress-for-beginners-course/

3 A basic introduction to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at https://udemy.com/whiteboard-seo/. (4) For measuring social media, learn about Google Analytics at [+ https://www.udemy.com/the-complete-google-analytics-course-for-beginners/+]

Publish great content. In social media or digital marketing, content is paramount. You know your business best, and you can create content that is dynamite by attracting buyers to your differentiators or your uniqueness. When you create content, think about what your buyers want to know and give it to them. It might be tips, hints, and techniques to use your products or services more effectively or efficiently. It might be collections of information from others in your industry. You also might want to view this free online course https://www.udemy.com/how-to-create-high-quality-blog-content-that-gets-shared/ to create great blogs.

Create your videos. Video content gets the greatest visibility because blog and web users like to see action, motion, and how-to-dos. You can spend lots of your resources hiring a professional videographer, or you can do it yourself. Making a YouTube video and posting it on how to use your product or seeing your service in action confirms the value in the mind of the potential buyer. If you are unsure of how to shoot a video go to Wista and view the tutorial.

Become a savvy social networker. Don’t use your personal accounts. Create business accounts to participate in sites that can add to your business’s awareness – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and LinkedIn. If you have a visual business, like a women’s apparel or jewelry business, add Instagram to the list of “must be on” social media sites.

Try Infographics. We live in a visual world. Just like videos attract attention, Infographics are powerful marketing tools. They tell stories visually. They add value because they give information on your behalf that will benefit your current customers or potential buyers.

Ad content by breathing new life into old blogs or articles. Recycle your content. Since hiring a content writer can get expensive, you might take what you wrote two years ago and reconstitute it, update it, give it a different slant and reuse it. You might research your industry and find a study that will be of interest to your customers and focus the results on your business. By using the most important elements of the study results as the core of your message you are providing value and promotion at the same time.

Actively participate in LinkedIn discussions. The most underutilized element of LinkedIn are the discussions. If you are a business-to-business marketer, then your customers want to deal with a leader. You gain value amongst your buyers by being viewed as a subject matter experts. When you participate in industry-wide discussions, customers will be reaffirming their choice in working with you, and potential buyers will see that working with you will yield more than just a product or service.

Ask for referrals. One of the easiest and least expensive ways to increase your awareness is to create a referral program that incentivizes current clients to refer prospects to you. Word-of-mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool in the quiver, so use it by offering your current clients a bonus for passing on a name and contact information for someone they have talked to about your products or services.

Generate strategic partnerships. One way to reach out beyond your current circle of clients is to create partnerships with others in your industry sector that can refer you and you. If you are a landscaper, create a strategic partnership with a lawn and garden center. If you are a painter, create a partnership with a builder or paint supply company. Find those who are not competitors, where your referral will mean business for them and you. When you partner, you are getting twice as much exposure since they are promoting you and you are promoting you.

Host an event. Open houses are more than parties. Unlike trade shows, private events are a controlled environment where everything from the attendee list to the content delivered, are controlled by you. When you position yourself as the host, attendees remember what is communicated since there is no competition for their time or attention.

There is a myriad of ways you can market your small business without investing your retirement funds.

 

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Marketing – Customer Service

Question: I have been told that my customer service needs some attention. Any tips?

Answer: Nothing substitutes for great customer service. It is the lifeblood of a small business. And, it can be the differentiator between you and your competition. Many more customers leave their preferred provider due to poor customer service than over price. In fact, only 1/3 of customers who have a bad experience complain. So, how do you know? Ask. Good customer service can retain and even give rise to having past customers return after a less than stellar experience. If you are a good salesperson, you can sell anything to anyone once, but if they don’t receive great interaction post-sale, it will be a one and done sale. Consider these tips:

Answer the phone – An unanswered phone just says, “We don’t care.” Have call forwarding to your cell phone, subscribe to your phone provider’s voice mail service or buy an answering machine. Then return the call within the workday. If you have heavy phone traffic, hire temp staff just to answer the phone and take messages or teach them a preliminary response to FAQs. If possible have a live person answer your phone.

Don’t promise what you cannot do – If you cannot call back within the workday, but can within 24 hours, say so on your outgoing VM message. Don’t make promises you cannot keep. If you say you are going to be at a prospect’s house at 9 am to do a quote and you cannot get there, for whatever reason, until 9:30 am, either find another day and time or say so upfront. If you cannot get to a client this week as they desired to have a tree removed, but can get to it next week, say so upfront.

Listen, Listen, and Listen – Steven Covey in his “7 Habits…advises to listen with the intent to understand, not just reply. Good customer service starts with understanding the needs of the customer and we cannot do that by doing all the talking. We have to consciously listen to our customers and prospects. We can learn a lot by just listening.

Deal immediately with complaints – The best time to deal with complaints is when they are identified. No one likes to hear them, but acknowledge them, address them and position your business as responsive to customer needs both positive and negative.

Adopt a “helping” culture – There may not be any immediate payback, but offering a helping hand creates a positive image for your brand. Even if it is not in your mainstream, but it helps a customer or prospect, they will tell others. And, word-of-mouth is still the best method of marketing.

Make training your staff a pillar of success – Take the time to onboard new staff, so they are knowledgeable about your business philosophy. If a retail business, make sure new staff understand your stocking and return policies and how important being helpful and courteous are to the customer experience. Do the training yourself so your employees understand your commitment to good customer service. By training them, you are empowering them to make positive customer interacting decisions.

Give them something extra – When shopping at GreenSpot in South Yarmouth, you get a coupon for purchases from May 1 through June 30th that you can redeem from August 1st to September 6th and between November 25th and December 5th. Collect the Bucks for future discounts. Everyone loves them. They produce a smile and benefits the business in continuing the loyalty to the GreenSpot brand.

Go the extra mile – Take a page from Home Depot by escorting a customer to the exact location to find what they are seeking vs. “it’s on aisle 4”. If you don’t carry something teach your staff to ask you or someone more knowledgeable where they might find what they are seeking. If they are seeking directions to a location, write down the directions or look it up on MapQuest and print it out. Going the extra mile says, “I care.”

Customers can be broken down into five categories. Loyal customers they statistically represent 20% of a customer base, but 50% of revenue. Discount customers they shop frequently, but are price buyers. Impulse buyers they buy on a whim. Need-based customers they have a specific need and shop for it and only it. Wandering customers they are interested in the experience without a specific need. Each requires a different approach to service. Knowing who is buying and their motivations will help you and your staff focus on what will work with each type of customer.

You want to earn dividends by providing good customer service. You can sell a product or service once. If you want to sell it twice, provide great customer service. It produces good will, word-of-mouth promotion and the continued growth of your small business.

 

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Naming Your Business

Question: I have an idea for a new business. What tips do you have in naming it?

Answer: The right name for your enterprise will distinguish you from your competitors, make it easier for buyers to find you and give customers a reason to continue to buy from you since they can easily remember who you are and what you do. It is also easier to brand your name because if selected right you can position yourself in the mind of buyers, so they see no suitable substitute. There are some critical elements in creating a name for your business:

First, look at your mission statement: Who are you? What do you do? Why are you in business? What do you offer your customers that differentiates you from your competitors?

What do you want your business name to communicate? The name you choose for your business will convey its identity. It should reflect something about your business so that buyers will be able to form a mental hook that connects their needs with your brand identity and the solutions you provide. Since your business name will appear on all of your collateral materials, such as your website, letterhead, business cards and promotional materials it has to communicate independently who you are, what you do and what you offer without pages of explanation. Examples: Cape Cod Celebrations = events. Cleangreen = residential and commercial cleaning services. Alison Caron Design = marketing design. Safe Harbor Eldercare in Falmouth= senior services. Caution, there is some danger in using ME, Inc., in the name. Can it be pronounced? Will it hinder your exit strategy? A lot to think about in selecting the name of your fledgling enterprise.

Think about promoting your business. – When customers have a need, and they look for a provider, choose a name that instantly links their need with your solution. The name has to have “stickiness.” It has to have memorability, therefore cannot be so obscure that buyers cannot relate to it. The name shouldn’t be too cutesy or confusing. The root of the naming process is the customer, not what you are selling. Good Friends Café in West Dennis is a good example of focusing on the customer, not the food, as is The Corner Store in Chatham. The name you choose needs to be inviting and approachable that invites investigation. One last word about promoting. Make your name web friendly. Your web address should be the same as your company name. 20/20 Window Cleaning in Hyannis uses – http://www.2020-inc.com.

Brainstorm ideas. – Once you have established the guidelines for your name, you might organize a creative brainstorming session that allows free thinking with colleagues, partners, and professionals who focus on marketing communications. Then, use some web tools to test the results of your session: Dot-O-Mater Web 2.0 Name Generator, Name Thingy, Rhymer, and Wordlab Business Name Generator.

Check to see if the name is already trademarked. – The next step after you have selected a name is to check its availability. Search the federal database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Run a Google search, as well as searching alternative search engines. Then, check to see if there is a domain name via GoDaddy. If a website is in your future, which it needs to be, searched to see if your name/domain name is available.

Use a DBA if a sole proprietor – If you are a sole proprietor, you might consider a DBA or “does business as” name vs. the legal name registered with the Commonwealth that includes your first or last name. Does your name attached to what you do differentiate your business adequately?

Consider acronyms – You need to consider the acronyms your name creates (the first letter of each word in your name). Buyers will use the acronym even if you don’t. Choosing a name that creates an acronym you don’t want being used hurts your promotion. Even if you don’t use it, your customers will. Think about International Business Machines (IBM). Customers use IBM almost exclusively. American Automobile Association (AAA). Same thing. And don’t rely on “AAA” to get listed first. In the days of the phone book, that worked, but today when consumers are searching for a product, they use a search engine for window washing or house painting or plumbing.

Think long term – Today your business might be landscaping, but over the longer term you might undertake landscape design or hardscaping or land management. The impression or memorability of your name that is broader than what you do today is important in naming it in the first place.

 

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Sales and Marketing

Question: I spend most of my time trying to increase my volume by selling more. I get the appointments, but don’t seem to get the sales closed. Any tips?

Answer: There is no magic to closing a sale. The magic is having enough prospects in the sales funnel that will result in enough prospects who have a need that your product or service fulfills and are willing to part with their dollars to commit to a purchase. You need to keep in mind that prospects go through a mental process of being unaware of you, to becoming aware of you, to understanding what you offer and how it will benefit them, to trying your offering, being satisfied and then buying again and ultimately recommending you. Understanding closing techniques is an important part of helping buyers take the step of “trying” your product or service. A good closing cements the deal. Here are some to consider to increase your close rate.

SPIN CloseSPIN is a selling concept Situation, Problem, Indication, Needs/Payoff. A SPIN close goes something like this, “If we can show you how we can rid your lawn of pesky weeds, would you sign up for the Super 5 treatment plan, today?” Open the door for the buyer to walk through in answering their question, but leave the door open for their response. “Yes, I am prepared to move forward, but I think you are $25 higher than I was planning to spend.”

Assumptive Close – You have a relationship with a client. It is your third call, and you think the client respects your judgment and knowledge. When the time is right to hand, a preprinted sales agreement to the client for their signature. Assume you have the order and position yourself for the next step and take it.

The Ben Franklin close – while talking with a client, list the pro’s and con’s, making the pro’s the longer column, then show the client the longer pro’s column to get their agreement that moving forward NOW is the right move.

Impending Event Close – You are a wedding planner. You are 12 months out from the planned event. Use a timeline to show when the decision needs to be made to reserve the venue, band, caterer, etc., to assure that everything can come together 12 months from now. Making the commitment today is what it will take. Or if you are an arborist and are giving a quote to a prospect. Timing is a question. “We are going to have a team in West Dennis next Monday, Tues, and Wed. Would Wed afternoon work for you to have the trees we just marked removed?”

Soliciting Objections Close – You have completed the Understanding step in the buying continuum and are confident the prospect understand who you are and what you offer, and it addresses her needs, ask for the sale by asking if there are any objections. Remember objections are another way of asking questions. “I like the process you described, but your competitors have given me dates within the next two weeks when they can schedule the work.” Or “Is there any reason why we cannot schedule your window cleaning?” If there is an objection, they can air it without saying NO.

Level with Me Close – You are at the end of the process, and you get the all too familiar, “let me think about it.” Your response needs to be: “You indicated you like our service and it meets your needs, can you level with me and tell me what is bothering you to commit to proceeding?” Be prepared to hear the rationale for delaying, so you have to be flexible and adaptable to the response.

The Fuller Brush Close – If you have ever bought a Fuller Brush product it happens inside the house with a brush in the hands of the customer. Buying a car begins with understanding the desires of the customer and then putting them behind the wheel for a test drive. Get the customer to try the product or show them where the product/service has been used and how well it worked.

Relationship Close – Customers rarely buy from sellers they don’t like. Spend the time it takes to create a relationship with your prospective buyers. They tend to buy from those with whom they feel comfortable and trust. It takes more than one call to create a relationship. It takes the time to position yourself as having value beyond the delivery of a product or service.

Direct Close – The best close is, “What will it take for us to do business?” Ask for the business.

The sales process fails when sales personnel quit too soon and don’t ask for the order. It takes more than one call to close a sale, and it doesn’t happen without asking the buyer to make a commitment.

 

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Memorable Message

Question: How can I communicate my company’s message so that it is memorable and effective?

Answer: The answer to this question is not straightforward since there are some variables that need to be taken into account in developing and delivering your message. Who is your specific target audience? What communication vehicle will best deliver your message? And what call to action are you seeking? There are variety of tools you have available to you to reach your target market:

Word of mouth

Digital marketing (the web and social media)

Shows, conventions, fairs, association meetings

Sales reps, distributors, retail outlets, collateral material

Promotions

Store signage

Newspaper and trade press advertisements

Public relations

Repetition

Once you have answered these questions, you can then begin to look at how to craft a message that will stick.

First, you have to make sure the message you want to deliver is clear and easily internalized by your customers and prospects. If you follow the advice in Chip and Dan Evan’s landmark book Made to Stick, you’ll create a message that will be received, retained with sales to follow:

Make it Simple – the age old adage, Keep It Simple is really true. The more straightforward your message, the easier it will be to reach and make an impact on your customers and prospects.

Create unexpectedness – don’t say what everyone expects. Create an “ah-ha” moment in your messaging to create memorability.

Be concrete – messages that are not focused do not hit their mark and are not retained, so the call to action is executed. Avoid the abstract.

Be credible – when you see advertisements or marketing messages that are full of hyperboles and exaggerations they are not believable and are cast aside. Use client endorsements to help people believe your claims.

Seek an emotional connection – when you appeal to your target audience’s emotions that are likely to respond to your call to action. When you make people care, they will connect with you.

Tell stories – the issue all marketer’s face is to capture a prospect’s attention. Most products and services are viewed as commodities. We can capture buyer attention by being unexpected in our approach and weave a story around our message so that the message comes to life creating an event in the mind of the buyer.

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Integrated Marketing

Question: “People talk about integrated marketing. How does that apply to digital marketing?”

Answer: As you may know, integrated marketing means that marketing methods should be in sync. They should also lead to each other in some way. This is no different when it’s done digitally. Online marketing efforts should be just as in-line as that which is done offline. In fact, smart companies will integrate digital effort with those that occur offline.

In the same ways one would use exact logos and slogans offline, it applies digitally as well. The website, digital display ads, and emails should all use these. While methods will vary for each specific type of marketing, advertisements should focus on the same message. Calls-to-action should involve varying methods and sources, both digital and print.

For instance, if there’s a magazine spread, the same spread design could be used in a digital display ad format. The idea is to create the same experience and feelings for the potential audience no matter where they come in contact with a company. Consistency is key to ensuring people have the same or similar idea of where a given company stands.

 

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Marketing a Home-Based Business

Question: I want to start a home based business. Are there some first steps I need to consider?

Answer: Starting a business in your home sounds like a good idea. After all, it saves money since there is no rent or costs associated with an office or storefront. You save time and money without a commute. Here are some things to think about in starting a home-based business.

1 Determine if your business will actually function in a home-based environment.

2 Find out from your local town if you need a license to operate your business from your home.

3 Outsourcing your address might be appropriate for deliveries or meetings. Using a PO Box will work.

4 Once you have decided to have your business in your home, make sure you have enough room to conduct your business.

5 You need to look like the BIG guys – a dedicated phone line with appropriate messages, answer the phone professionally with the name of your business, create professional business cards, digital stationery and a website.

Source: 10 Simple Steps to Finding Customers and Delivering the Goods

 

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Marketing Basics for New Businesses

Question: What is the bare necessity I need to start marketing my new business?

Answer: Before you do anything in the way of marketing or selling, have a business plan with a marketing sub-plan in place. Remember it is living document that must be adjusted as you move through time.

1 Acquire a domain name, www.godaddy.com and create a website. You can use a simple WordPress template for the website, which is free. It is easy to learn and easy to use.

2 Set up a professional email account [email protected], not aol.com, yahoo.com or gmail.com. Use Go-Daddy and buy a domain name (approx. $12.00 per year) and locate a reputable web/email hosting site, like HostGator.

3 Have a logo designed. Use a local reputable graphic designer who knows how to listen to you about the values your brand represents to create the visual image of those values.

4 Get some business cards. Professionally printed, not one off your office computer and printer. VistaPrint www.vistaprint.com or MooPrinting www.moo.com are two good and reasonable sources. Use your logo as part of the business card.

You don’t need printed stationary or sell sheets since they can be generated via your computer transformed into .pdf’s and sent as attachments to prospective customers. Use the graphic elements you have created for your logo, website and business cards for your sell sheets.

If you are going to a trade show have some of your sell sheets printed on high-quality paper, but just enough so you don’t have to bring any home with you.

Source: Mark Collins, SCORE Orange County, CA

 

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Marketing to the Target Audience

Question: I hear about focusing on my target market. What is meant by this?

Answer: Every business has at least one target market – the people you really want to reach. Your target might be homeowners with at least a half-acre of lawn if your business is lawn maintenance. Or your target market might be women golfers and tennis players if your business is a women’s sports shop. Your target market is that portion of the total market that specifically needs your product or service. Try these questions:

Are my best customers local, national or international?

What are the characteristics of your “best” customers?

What do these customers have in common?

How can I reach these customers?

Who are my competitors?

Why should consumers buy from my business?

Identify your target market and stay focused on it.

Source: 10 Simple Steps to Finding Customers and Delivering the Goods

 

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Marketing Website Promotion

Question: How do I promote my new website?

Answer: Just because you build it, doesn’t mean potential buyers will visit your site. Advertise your website on your stationary, email correspondence, on your business card. In fact, have a special business card that just has your name and website address, so buyers you give it to will take the one action you want – visit your site.

If you have a retail location, promote it on your windows, on placards, in your yellow page ads, and on posters. You will want to link to other websites and have them link to you, so if potential buyers visit a complementary website, they will see your address and visit you with a click of their mouse. Direct mail, word of mouth and email marketing are other ways of promoting your site. If you are adventurous, you might even consider “pay-per-click” offerings that will increase awareness and drive potential buyers. Don’t expect overnight success. It takes time and takes work, but in the end, it is a great tool to increase brand awareness.

 

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Marketing Your Brand

Question: What is a brand?

Answer: A brand is a perception in the mind of a buyer as to – who you are, what you do, and what values you offer. A brand is how you present your business. It is your policies, your customer service, your location’s appearance and convenience, pricing, and quality, as well as the attitude of your employees. It’s about how you present your business to the world. You have standards and codes of ethics. Those are the value that your brand represents. People know you for your strengths and attributes. In creating a brand, it’s what you want your customers to think about you and then talk about you to others who may be your next best customer. Think about the brands that are part of your life and what they have done to create an image in your mind that renders them irreplaceable. Then look at your competitors and ask what they have done to create a brand that works for them.

Source: 10 Simple Steps to Finding Customers and Delivering the Goods

 

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Website Design

Question: If I need a website, where do I go to get one designed and constructed?

Answer: You have several choices:

1 you can build it yourself using WordPress, Adobe Dreamweaver, CoffeeCup or WebPlus. There are some do-it-yourself tools available to you. This requires some technical knowledge and design experience

2 you can hire a web designer. This option is recommended if your primary selling will be over the internet.

3 You can do a combination. When we redesigned our decade old website, we hired a web designer to oversee the design, and we used WordPress to generate all the content. Frequently we go back to the designer to help with changes and upgrades that are beyond our expertise. However we insert our monthly blog, change our home page offerings, and add new products and services to those pages without their assistance. During the development of your site, you will have to investigate the keywords that potential visitors use to find you. Those words will be used on every page, in every description and be key to them finding you on the internet. Then, you will want to have a web designer to conduct Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to assure that the keywords you are using are directing visitors to your site and getting your site listed high on the first page of each of the keyword pages. Six months of SEO will give you insight into how well your newly designed page is working. Keep it up-to-date and refresh it regularly to get maximum exposure.

 

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Website Marketing

Question: Why should I have a website? My business is local and service oriented.

Answer: The answer is simple. The first place consumers look today for service providers is the web, not the yellow pages. It might be Google or Angie’s List or town service providers. It differentiates you, and if created properly, clearly states who you are, what you do and what your offer is to satisfy buyer needs. But, realize that having a website is not a one-time event. You cannot create it and forget it. To be an effective marketing tool, it takes work and constant work to keep it current.

A website can increase your overall exposure and reach beyond your local word of mouth market boundaries. It allows you to play in the field with larger competitors and can even provide interaction with prospects and current customers by replying to information requests, downloading free offerings, holding contests or even polling site visitors. But, a website is not a substitute for a marketing plan with strategies and tactics that support your overall mission. It is another viable tool to help you achieve your marketing plan.

 

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Creating a Company Brand

Question: How do I create a brand for my company, product or service?

Answer: Brand is a perception of how visitors feel about your company, its products, and services. When a brand is positioned in the mind of buyers, there is not a suitable substitute for your brand for them. It starts with understanding what the values are that your brand represents. Is it Quality, Reliability, Speed of Service or Economy? In creating a brand, you need to think about the following.

1 What do you want your company to be known for? What do your customers value in a brand?

2 Define the benefits that your customers derive from buying your products and/or services the features of your product or service are only important to you. It’s the benefits that they are buying.

3 Is this your brand or are you a reseller of a well-known brand like Scotts-Lawn Products?

4 What is the message you want to “stick” when potential buyers see your brand or your messages?

5 How are your competitors communicating their brands? By creating a brand and brand messaging that sticks your marketing communications will have legs and longevity.

Source: Simple Steps for Starting Your Own Business – SCORE/ BoA

 

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Focus on the Target Market

Question: I hear about focusing on my target market. What is really meant by this?

Answer: Every business has at least one target market, the people you really want to reach. Your target might be homeowners with at least a half-acre of lawn if your business is lawn maintenance. Or your target market might be women golfers and tennis players if your business is a women’s sports shop. Your target market is that portion of the total market that specifically needs your product or service. Try these questions:

Are my best customers local, national or international?

What are the characteristics of your “best” customers?

What do these customers have in common?

How can I reach these customers?

Who are my competitors?

Why should consumers buy from my business?

Identify your target market and stay focused on it.

Source: 10 Simple Steps to Finding Customers and Delivering the Goods

 

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Promoting Small Business

Question: How do I best promote my small business if promotional dollars are minimal?

Answer: There are some low cost/high impact promotions that are available to small businesses:

1 Word of Mouth (WOM) is the least expensive, yet most effective. What better way to hear about a business service or product than from a friend, relative or business associate. Get your customers talking to their friends and associates about you and your service. You might even consider rewarding them. If a new customer is generated as a result of their referral, they get a percent off their next product or service purchase. For example, think of a restaurant. A satisfied customer is asked to “secret shop” them and give feedback about the quality of food and service, environment and overall experience. Reward them, then reward them again further for additional referrals.

2 Almost everyone “shops” the internet before making a physical purchase. You need a new lawnmower. You shop what’s available and what are the competing benefits, then go to your local hardware store that carries the brand you want to buy. Having a simple website that focuses on who you are, what you do, what is your offer and the benefits derived from buying from you goes a long way to promote your products and services.

3Join a Linked-in group and participate in the discussions to get your name and your knowledge and values promoted.

4 Use Print options. A business with a local focus has local readers. Find out when your local paper is highlighting news or features about your business or even better suggest to a writer to generate an article about you and your business.

 

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What is Branding

Question: What is a brand?

Answer: A brand is a perception in the mind of a buyer as to who you are, what you do, and what values you offer. A brand is how you present your business. It is your policies, your customer service, your location’s appearance and convenience, pricing, and quality, as well as the attitude of your employees. It’s about how you present your business to the world. You have standards and codes of ethics. Those are the value that your brand represents. People know you for your strengths and attributes. In creating a brand, it’s what you want your customers to think about you and then talk about you to others who may be your next best customer. Think about the brands that are part of your life and what they have done to create an image in your mind that renders them irreplaceable. Then look at your competitors and ask what they have done to create a brand that works for them.

Source: 10 Simple Steps to Finding Customers and Delivering the Goods

 

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Don’t Let “Price” Derail Your Sale

Question: How do I prevent our “price” from derailing a potential sale?

Answer: Teri and Rob Swette, Sandler Training, mailto:[email protected] have some thoughts on preventing the price from being the primary determinant if you close a sale or not.

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve had a series of great discussions with a prospect, taken lots of great notes, and you’ve developed the proverbial “killer presentation.” You’ve started to deliver that presentation, and you’ve gotten all kinds of positive signals from the prospect: encouraging body language, words of approval, that kind of thing. Things seemed promising. Then you got to the price.

And all the positive signals stopped cold.

The meeting [on the front lawn, in the living room, in your showroom,] ended without a commitment. The prospect had to think about it, had to talk to people, had to check the numbers, had to do any number of things other than say “yes” or “no” to your [proposal] pricing. And you left without any timeline. And the deal died.

What happened?

You made a classic mistake. You saved the money discussion for last.

HAVE THE MONEY DISCUSSION BEFORE YOU PRESENT YOUR PROPOSAL

Once you have uncovered pain that can be successfully addressed by your product or service, you must discover the prospect’s expectations or limitations regarding the financial aspects—the price, costs, terms, fees, etc.— associated with the acquisition of your product or service. Why would you save that discussion for the final element of your presentation? Doing so only produces the perfect opportunity for a “Let me think it over,” moment.

Many salespeople (perhaps you as well) feel uncomfortable discussing money issues with prospects and customers. The discomfort is most often the result of early childhood messages, primarily received from parents, which suggest that it is not appropriate to talk about money. Can you remember your parents telling you that it is not polite to ask someone how much money he earns or how much something costs? Were you taught that money was the root of all evil?

Not all money messages were negative. Perhaps you were taught that “it takes money to make money,” or “money is a well-deserved reward for hard work.”

These messages – both positive and negative – were most likely appropriate in the context in which they were conveyed. In the sales arena, however, it’s important to understand that talking about money – fees, price, terms, etc. – is an integral part of selling, and that this discussion must take place before the presentation.

If you are very comfortable discussing money issues, you want to make sure that you don’t appear insensitive to your prospect’s concerns. Conversely, if you are uncomfortable, you must be aware of your tonality and body language. You don’t want to telegraph your discomfort because it could undermine your credibility and possibly cast doubt on the validity of your price or fees.

Having a strategy and a prepared set of questions can help ease this discomfort (for you or your prospects) and make the financial conversation a natural part of the selling process. The most direct strategy for uncovering a prospect’s budget situation is simply to ask.

HERE ARE SOME EXAMPLES:

Do you have a budget for this purchase?

Are there budget limitations about which I should know?

If your prospect’s answer to your budget question is “yes,” appropriate follow-up questions include:

In round numbers, at what amount are you looking?

Perhaps you can give me a ballpark idea of the amount of which you have to work.

Using terms like “round numbers” or “ballpark” take the pressure off the prospect to commit to a specific amount.

If your prospect’s answer to your budget question is “no,” or he is reluctant to share the information, you can “test the waters” using third-party stories. Reference one or two similar sized projects or sales you completed with other clients and disclosed an investment range within which those transactions took place. Then, ask your prospect if he would be comfortable making a similar size investment if he felt your product or service was the best fit for his needs.

For instance, you might say:

Jim, the last two tree removal projects that we completed that were similar in scope to what we are discussing came in between just over $1,000 and $1,500. I suspect that you’d be looking at a similar size investment. Are you comfortable with an investment in that range? If not, you should probably tell me now before either of us invests any more time in something that will never get off the ground.

[Jim indicates he is comfortable with the range.]

Where in that range do you suppose your budget will fall once it’s established?

QUALIFIED PROSPECTS ONLY

If, after all, that your prospect still won’t share any budget information with you, you’re not ready to present anything. This person has disqualified himself from your sales process. Instead of investing lots of time, energy and resources and setting up a presentation that won’t close, make “Let me think it over” a thing of the past. Disengage politely. Work with a qualified prospect who will discuss budget issues directly, and who will commit to giving you a clear “yes” or a clear “no.” Your closing numbers and your personal income will improve as a result.

 

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Marketing Plan Budget

Question: How do I create a budget for my marketing plan?

Answer:

1 You start with your marketing message – what do you want to say to your target audience?

2 What channels of communication will you use to reach this audience?

3 Create a budget. There are: (a) One-time costs, such as a booth at a trade show, website design or generating the creative for a brochure. (b) Periodic expenses, such as website maintenance, monthly ads, annual catalog listings, © The time spent on marketing activities and what it will cost and other promotional activities.

Part of the planning is to create a metrics for each marketing activity to determine its effectiveness. If you have an ad running in the Cape Cod Times on Thursdays, how many leads are generated from the ad? How many phone calls are received as a result of the ads? How many closed sales were generated from leads from the ads in the newspaper? You can generate your metrics to determine that tactics effectiveness.

Remember: your plan begins with your business (marketing) objectives, the strategies to achieve the objectives (what will you do) and the tactics (the how) to achieve the strategies. If your objective is to increase sales by 10% in the next fiscal year, a strategy might be to increase the number of qualified leads by 25% and a tactic will be to increase your advertising in the Cape Cod Times to 7x per week from 3x per week.

Source: Simple Steps for Starting Your Own Business – SCORE/BoA

 

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Operations

The Real Reasons Why Businesses Fail

Many people think that a lack of capital is a major cause of why businesses fail. But after 30 years of running several businesses, I respectfully submit that these are the real reasons, most of the time.

1. An unwillingness to get “down and dirty.” In the beginning, the owner needs to be willing to do everything that needs to get done.

2. Underestimating the time commitment. Running a business is not 9 to 5. Corporate hours are out the window.

3. No follow-through. It pains me when fellow business owners don’t follow through right away when inquiries come in. People want an answer, not tomorrow, but right now.

4. Horrible cash flow management. This one almost did me in. It’s human nature to overestimate how much money we have, or how much we think will be coming in, and underestimate expenses. Unless it’s essential to the business, the answer is NO. Ask for a deposit on new accounts and offer as many payment options as possible (PayPal is a must). You need to get as much cash in as quickly as you can once a contract is signed.

5. Bad tax management. Don’t hire an accountant. The vast majority could care less how much tax you owe. Hire a tax professional who can structure your business for the least amount of taxes legally owed. Many businesses with great revenues still go under because of taxes.

6. No value proposition. Saying that you will be an IT consultant isn’t good enough. What value do you bring to the table? Are you faster or better, and in what ways? What is your specialty (or specialties?) Do you offer a guarantee? Are you more flexible, more available? Will you save me money and time? If so, how? Can you prove it?

7. No sex appeal. By this I mean there is no enthusiasm, personality or positivity. People are not drawn to indifference.

8. Big mouth. Ego must be replaced by confidence. There’s a big difference between the two. Don’t strive to be “important,” strive to be “relevant.”

9. Horrible online presence. While the hype is about social media, it’s your website where people will make the buying decision, so you need to focus on that first and foremost. You need to be on the first page of Google with a site that’s inviting and easy to use.

10. Reluctance to apply for bigger jobs. It often takes as much time to write a quote for a $100,000 contract as it does to write one for a $500 contract.

11. High maintenance clients. Clients who eat up all of your time and don’t pay their bills on time need to go. Most businesses think that any client is good. I totally disagree. Some customers years ago almost put me out of business. Treasure your best clients, make them feel important. Get rid of any client who, in the end, costs you money and prevents you from securing and keeping high-quality clients.

12. Hiring people, you don’t trust. Jack Welch said, “If you don’t trust them, get rid of them.” Hiring a “bad employee” can destroy your business overnight.

13. Working to please the client. No – instead, work to please you. Your standards will always be higher than those of your clients. Set the bar higher than where they set it. Then – if you’re happy, your clients will be happy. (Whatever you may think about Apple, that is essentially how the company grew).

14. Trying to compete on price. Don’t do it, or you will become a commodity (lowest price wins). Compete on value-added. Stress your “smallness” because your flexibility and availability are advantages over large corporations.

Cory Galbraith is CEO of Galbraith Communications and The Paradigm Institute.

 

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Retail

Question: Even if the summer season is almost over, once I get customers in the door of my retail store, how do you get them to buy?

Answer: This is an age old question. People buy from other people, and they buy what fills a need, want or desire. Conversion is the name of the game in retailing. The key is to convert your store visitors into customers. If prospective buyers enter your front door, make a loop through your store and leave without stopping to look, ask a question or ponder a purchase, they don’t understand what you are selling. Everything they see becomes a blur and doesn’t connect with them.

Talk to your customers. It is no secret that customers are the lifeblood of your business. Without talking to them, finding out what they want or need and having it in inventory will go a long way to converting browsers into buyers. Get feedback from your buyers. Ask for their email addresses and survey them about what they liked, didn’t like and what they would like to see in your store. You cannot possible read the minds of potential buyers, so ask them.

You need to plan their journey, so they instantly know what differentiates your store from others of similar offerings. By having the appropriate level of stock and signage directing visitors to specific categories of products helps them on their buying journey. Then observe their journey. Watch how prospects visit your store. If they don’t buy, why not? If they do, what did they do differently than those that don’t buy?

First five feet keep open to take in what you sell. They can see your merchandise, and you can see them. Keep the first five feet open so that visitors are not overwhelmed with merchandise and make a conscious decision if you have what they are looking for. If not, you can see their visual confusion and interact with them.

Avoid a tidal wave of merchandise that overwhelms store visitors as they enter your establishment. Your merchandising plan should tell stories about what are you selling. If you have women’s accessories, then having a display that features some of all of what you are offering works. If you have just one category on display, it may not resonate, and visitors will turn and leave without fully comprehending what you are offering.

Separate colors so they are not a blur. Colors communicate, so create displays that feature specific colors that connect with the product offerings that attracts and interests buyers.

Use signage so people know what’s what when you are not there. You cannot be everyplace at your shop, so use appropriate signage that is attracting and communicates with buyers so they can find what they are seeking or find what they might not be seeking but interests them. Start with your front window and create integrated signage to leads from one to the other making the journey one that pays in them buying.

Use upper and lower case in your signage. All upper case, “screams” at buyers and most don’t connect with all upper case even though it might be more visible. Use both upper and lower case in fonts large enough to be read from 10-12 feet away. Your signs are like mini-billboards. Shop visitors only have 3 seconds to engage and communicate before they are looking someplace else.

Make the visit to your store just one of the channels where they experience your enterprise. Be online with a website, a Pinterest and Facebook page. Use email newsletters and be on their smartphones. All directing people to the portal of your business.

Less can be more visually. People can see more even if it is less. Sometimes it is just as important to have lots of open space on a rack or shelf so visitors can see what you are offering vs. having stacks or rows of merchandise. Visitors can take in more of how the purchase will satisfy their need if you give them the visual space to internalize it.

Prepare for your customers. Do all the logistical tasks like stocking shelves, pricing, receiving deliveries and placing signage before or after shop hours so that you are totally tuned into store visitors when they enter the store. If they see you are focused on them, that will give you more time to direct them to a possible sale. Also schedule your staff to be there when buyers are there. Lunch can be taken either before or after the noon hour is that is when traffic is heaviest. Also, watch how many people are in line waiting to pay. If this happens and the result is buyers leaving without consummating the sale, have a 2nd POS unit that can be put into service to avoid this conversion leak.

Train your staff. Personnel working your store are much more than just check out, stock or sales clerks. They make your visitors feel welcome. They make them feel special. They are ambassadors. They are the store guide to direct potential buyers to specific products that will fill the visitor’s need or desire. They are the face of the store. They are your brand. They represent the values that define your brand. Make sure that everyone who has customer contact (and everyone else) is trained to address the needs of the lifeblood of your enterprise.

As a final thought, consideration needs to be made whether the store will close for the season, stay open for the shoulder season or stay open all year. This will dictate what you do with your current assortment either by adding new and fresh merchandise if staying open through the holidays or all year and how aggressive you need to be to move older and slower moving merchandise.

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Hiring

Question: What are the characteristics of a good employee and how do I know a candidate has them?

Answer: Good employees all display qualities such as dependability, punctuality, reliability, initiative and positive attitude. Some other qualities you might look for are flexibility, motivation, organization and being able to complete assigned tasks. The question is: what qualities do you need in your employees? You are not going to train a new employee to be motivated, but you will train them to work a specific piece of machinery or explain your company’s offerings to potential prospects. So hire for the qualities and train for the skills.

The best way to assess whether a candidate has the qualities you are seeking is to ask open-ended questions, provide scenarios and ask them how they would handle them and get them to explain experiences in their life that will demonstrate the qualities you are seeking. As a small business entrepreneur, you have to hire well. You don’t get many chances to hire the right employees. So you need to be focused on the results that the new employee can accomplish for you. Bill Barman recommends six traits that every new hire needs to demonstrate: Aptitude, Intelligence, Attitude, Intensity, and Integrity. He recommends having a second person with you during the interview process to capture what you don’t observe and rate them on these six characteristics 1-5. Then compare your results.

 

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Tips for Bettering Your Business

Question: I am a small business owner on Cape Cod. I have never had any management training. What tips do you have for me to manage my business better?

Answer: Here are ten tips that will help you focus your team to become more efficient, productive and profitable.

Share information – it’s all about communicating with your employees as much as you can. The more they know, the more they can stay focused on getting the job done.

Give feedback – not just once a year, but regularly. Set time aside when you can provide feedback to your employees as a group and one-on-one. Your employees want feedback. They want to know where they stand about your expectations.

Say thanks – employees want to be appreciated. Customers want to be thanked. A simple thank you note for a job well done or for purchase will go a long way in making a difference. And, it doesn’t cost anything to sit down and write a short note of thanks.

Delegate – don’t keep all the work for yourself. Share the load. You will be happier and more productive, and your team will see that they are contributing more to the organization’s results.

Set objectives – small one, but set them – create small goals and objectives that can be met. Employees want guides, and if they are tough, yet achievable, they will rise to the occasion.

Constantly adjust your management style – there is no one style that works for everyone since your employees are motivated differently. They communicate differently and have varying personalities. You have to adjust how you approach them.

Remove obstacles – Red tape and bureaucracy get in the way of productivity and workplace satisfaction. Remove as many as possible.

Have fun – set time aside when you and your team can have fun. A Friday afternoon cookout to celebrate a great week goes a long way to having happy employees.

Get involved – Tom Peters called it “managing by walking around.” Show that you can jump in and help in a pinch, put in the hours your employees are expected to. In an unusual situation volunteer to help when needed set a positive management tone for your employees to follow.

Stay focused and manage your time – time is your competitor, so you need to stay focused on the most important issues of the business. Cash management and sales are the two top issues that management needs to maintain focus to remain viable. It is easy to stray from the urgent issues of business because they aren’t necessarily easy to undertake. They may not be your favorite activity, but without them, failure is in your future.

 

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Managing Your Business

Question: I started a business last year and tried to keep the books myself. It is time I find an accountant. How do I find one and what questions should I ask of a professional accountant?

Answer: Having an accountant during the start-up phase is important to get specific tax issues addressed from the beginning. However, you might think about starting with a bookkeeper to monthly review and audit your QuickBooks entries, then use the accountant you select for taxes and period end reports.

After you get some recommendations, try these selection criteria when shopping for a professional accountant:

1 Get a referral from a banker, attorney or businesses using the accountant currently.

2 Check with the Massachusetts Society of CPAs for any information they may have on the accounting firm.

3 Ask what the client mix is that the firm represents. If the firm works predominantly with not for profits, this firm may not have the experience to work with a manufacturing business, a restaurant or a service business.

4 Determine what expertise the accountant or members of his/her firm may have i.e. tax, audit, accounting, bookkeeping, financial planning, systems experience, and estate or succession planning. Because of the various complex areas out there, one person can’t know everything.

5 How does the accountant stay current in accounting, tax and other special areas like business valuation, estate, etc.? MA CPA’s are required to have 80 hours of continuing education every two yrs.

6 What is the size of the staff? Who will be the contact person and the backup if a pressing need arises?

7 How often will the accountant meet or be available to meet with me?

8 How will the accountant stay in touch with me? Most accountants try to reach out to a client at least 12 times a year. How will they reach out to you? Telephone, email, face to face, or newsletter?

9 If the business is a start-up, does the accountant have the experience to deal with the issues a new business may have, filing requirements, review agreements, structure stock redemption agreements, etc.? Be aware: Hand holding, if the proper staff person is not experienced, could run up sizeable fees.

10 Ask about the fee structure and how/when you can I expect a bill. Some firms are now going to Value Billing and not billing by the hour.

Entrepreneurs are not expected to be able to do all the functions of managing and growing a business. They are expected to be responsible for the results. To be effective and efficient you need a team of professionals supporting you. An accountant at your side is critical, so taking the time to select one that meshes with your organizational culture is important.

 

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Best Practices in Garnering Attention for a New Storefront

Question: I just opened a retail store on Cape Cod. What best practices can you share with me regarding attracting attention to my store?

Answer: One of the real challenges for all business whether you are in a retail storefront in a strip center, a stand-alone establishment, a mall kiosk or store or any other type of business is getting attention in this “blur” society we live in. We are bombarded with marketing messages every day. The average adult receives 1500-2000 marketing messages a day. On top of that getting a buyer’s attention is a full-time task. Signage is one-way retailers can capture buyer’s attention. The keyword to promoting your message through signage is FOCUS.

Plan your promotions. First, decide what message you want to deliver and second, what is the call for action? What do you want them to do once you have their attention and they take in the sign’s message? Buy today. Stop now. Small Business Saturday Specials. Get Ready for Summer Special. Choose your Meal from our Gluten Free Menu.

Tie your brand into the signage. Your brand communicates who you are, what you do and what are the values your business represents. Include your brand image in the signage to deliver a complete message.

Integrate your signage. You have to have an integrated approach to marketing your business so that every time someone sees your brand and your messages they receive the same message. You need consistency in message delivery to achieve memorability and for buyers to take your call for action.

Visibility. From what distance do you want potential buyers to view your signage? If they are drivers motoring at 30 mph along Route 28, the distance might be 20 ft. If they are strollers along the sidewalk in Dennisport, the distance might be 10 ft or less. A good rule of thumb is fonts should be san-serif and at least 3 inches in height.

Location, Location, Location. Where is the signage? In the front window? On light posts in the parking lot directing potential buyers to your store? On a sandwich sign along the street? You need to do a line of site analysis to see where the best location is for the signage so buyers can see it and then take your call to action.

Think about using 3D signage. If you want a viewer to see your signage from head on only, then the two-dimensional design is OK, but if you want a passing driver to see your signage 3-D might be in order so they can see it from a distance and in both directions.

The background matters. If you want passers-by to see into the store’s interior, then make the size of the sign appropriate to view the store’s merchandise. If not, make sure any signage has a solid background with contrasting color fonts. Use the KISS approach to design. The simpler, the better so buyers can focus on your specific message.

Remember the word FOCUS. Make sure there is a focal point of your signage, so the viewer’s eye is directed to the message or the image to deliver your message.

Light the signage. If you expect visitors to receive your message day and night, light the graphic so your message is delivered independently on the time of day.

Signage is an important part of your promotion plan. Take the time to determine what you want to communicate, how and where you want to communicate it and what vehicle will you use to deliver your targeted message?

To learn more about small business signage check out http://smallbiztrends.com/2015/02/creating-a-window-display.html, Rieva Lesonsky.

 

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Trade Shows

Question: I use trade shows to reach my audience. What are the most common mistakes that small businesses make when exhibiting?

Answer: Whether you are small or large, the mistakes are very similar. Whether you have a table top at Philanthropy Day or an exhibit at the Rotary Club’s Home and Garden Show or a table top at Enterprising Women, the best practices are the same.

Not planning ahead – Time is a major competitor for the small business owner. How do we get it all done with so little time? If you are not starting your trade show plan six months in advance of the show with 3, 2 and one month milestones you are in trouble from the start. Part of the planning process is to set specific, focused, quantifiable and measurable objectives.

Researching your target market – Make sure that you understand who you are trying to reach and that they will be attending. If you offer residential cleaning services, will visitors to the Rotary Home and Garden Show be looking for your service? If you sell ductless air conditioning systems, will visitors to the Expo be in your target audience? Understand who attends and what they are looking for while visiting the show before buying space.

Going Cheap, Looking Cheap – You need to look like you are in business. Like you are a professional organization. If you focus on the cost of exhibiting, not how the message you are communicating by your presence, you will not appear to be best in class among competitors.

Missing deadlines – One way to drive up your exhibiting costs is to miss the shows deadlines for submittal of forms and show service orders. Read the exhibitor’s manual and keep the schedule for submittals top of mind. And by the way, understand the show rules. Saves lots of headaches on set up day.

Not starting the conversation before the show open – for buyers to know you are exhibiting, you need to tell them by pre-show promotion. Whether it emails, a postcard campaign, personal invitation, or advertisements in the Cape Cod Times, you need to give good reasons for buyers to come to the show and specifically visit your exhibit.

Bad graphics – Your graphics are the magnets that attract visitors to your exhibit. They communicate who you are, what you do and what it is your offer. And, your graphics need to be large and legible from 10-15 feet away. They need to be professionally designed and produced.

No follow-up system in place – Nationally 86% of exhibitors go to trade shows to generate leads for sales, but 79% of those leads are never followed up. You need a follow-up plan before going to the show so that as soon as it is over, you are following all categories of leads.

Not taking detailed notes – Once you disengage with a visitor to your exhibit take notes if you expect to remember what action you agreed upon or you’ll lose out on the opportunity to make a sale. Take notes on your lead form, so you can have the details to make a meaningful follow-up.

No measurement in place – Without measurement, there is no way to know what worked and what didn’t work in the way of strategies and tactics employed while exhibiting. Did your preshow promotion attract visitors to your exhibit? If so, how many? How many of those were converted into the qualifiable leads?

Forgetting about Social Media – Do your customers use Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Twitter. Find out where your customers get their information and be there, before, during and after the show. Take pictures in your exhibit and post them during the event to drive traffic to your exhibit to find out what you are offering. Use technology to your advantage.

Not preparing your staff – Just because your staff can sell every day in the field to your customer base, doesn’t mean they can be successful at your exhibit at a trade show. They need to have their skills transitioned to the unique selling environment of the trade show through training and preparation.

Not having a Plan B – What happens if one of your staffers gets the flu or has a sick child and cannot work the show? What happens if your exhibit violates show rules? You need to have a backup plan for all of these situations.

Not listening – Exhibiting is all about listening to customer needs and filling those needs. It is about not doing all the talking and doing an information dump, but listening and understanding the buyer’s perspective.

 

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Time Management

Question: As a small business owner and solopreneur, I have so much to do. Any thoughts on time management that I might consider?

Answer: Lifehack gives us some insight into how we might manage time more effectively and become more efficient.

Create a daily plan

Target a time limit for each activity

Define what is important and what is urgent

Use a calendar

Use an organizer

Know your deadlines

Learn to NO by saying YES

Plan to be early

Keep time (a clock) in front of you

Set reminders – 10 minutes – before the next scheduled event

Stay FOCUSED

Reduce the number of distractions

Keep track of your time, so you know where you spend it

Don’t fret the unimportant

Delegate

Stop when you need to do so to refresh yourself

Leave some safety zones (buffer times) between activities to adjust for the unknown

 

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Advisory Boards

Question: As a small business can an Advisory Board help me?

Answer: Being a small business entrepreneur is a lonely occupation. You have no one but yourself to bounce new ideas off, evaluate new opportunities, consider new directions, and assess the strengths and weaknesses of potential employees. You are too small for a Board of Directors. So why not an Advisory Board? How is this different from a Board of Directors? It is more informal and made up of people who can provide regular advice and counsel. It is your best source of advice if constructed correctly and that means keeping your advisors engaged in your business. How do you execute this strategy?

1. Choose interesting people with a range of skills which will complement your strengths and shore up your weaknesses.

2. Ask people to participate who are unafraid to tell you the truth, as they see it, not what they think you want to hear to make you feel good.

3. Select participants who will feel pride in serving in this capacity.

4. Set expectations from the start.

5. Never be afraid to ask your advisors for help, not matter how small the issue. If it concerns you and your businesses health and welfare, it is a topic they might be able to address.

6. Have a regular and scheduled time for dialogue. Schedule a meeting at least two times per year face-to-face and monthly via distance communications, i.e., conference call, FaceTime or Skype or more often if appropriate. The timing and regularity of your sessions depend on the stage of development in which your business is.

 

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Couples as Business Partners

Question: What do I need to know if my wife and I want to partner in starting a business?

Answer: There is no easy answer. You have to enter the partnership with your eyes open and with a clear plan that includes scope and division of responsibilities.

Business relationships don’t save personal relationships. Make sure your personal relationship is sound before thinking about forming a business partnership with your “life partner.” You need a trusted business partner, your spouse or significant other is the best partner you can have so long as you and your partner have a clear understanding of your business objectives, your strengths and weaknesses and how you will make decisions.

Having a partnership is stressful, but having your life partner as your business partner can even be more stressful if you don’t keep the following in mind:

1. Define your roles – who will do what and what decisions will be made by whom. One of you needs to be responsible for sales, marketing, personnel, financial and administration.

2. Don’t make it totally about money. Start the business with enough money in the bank, so you are not struggling and therefore arguing about money from the get-go. Once you start making money, decide what to do with it – retain it for growth, pay yourself a dividend.

3. Prioritize your relationship – make your personal relationship come first. Being in business is stressful and can suck up all your energy. Keep your personal and business lives as separate as possible. When the office door closes, at the end of a day, turn off the business discussion. Make a date night to keep the personal flames alive.

Source: Launching With a Loved One? Five Lessons from Successful Startup Couples by Rebekah Iliff AIRPR

 

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Ensuring for a Happy Staff

Question: My staff is the key to the success of my business. How can I make sure they don’t leave for a competitor or a better opportunity?

Answer: A survey conducted by a 3rd party for Robert Half International (staffing company) found the following. Good performers leave their employment for the following reasons: (1) Limited opportunity for advancement. (2) Unhappy with management (you). (3) Lack of recognition. (4) Inadequate salary/benefits. (5) Bored with the job. (6) Lifestyle changes such as moving. This means that you must consider the following in managing your staff:

Help your staff set objectives for themselves in their jobs that are tough, yet achievable and reasonable. Review their objectives with them on a periodic basis.

Communicate with your team regularly – as a group and one-on-one. Have a lunch with the boss once a month. And, listen don’t just talk.

Understand how your employees perceive you and your business. Constantly feed back to them what you are doing to improve and grow the business.

Try to avoid burnout of your most productive employees by bringing in temps to reduce the workload.

Mix fun with work. Mix up the work by cross-training personnel so that they switch jobs for a day a month. See how the other part lives and works.

Tom Peters several decades ago talked about managing by walking around. If there is anything to be learned from the “undercover boss” series is get out from behind the desk and know what is going on in your business with your team by being among them day-to-day.

 

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Evaluating the Competition

Question: What do I need to research to evaluate my competition

Answer: It is critical that you understand what to expect your competition to do when trying to win business. How do you know? Research the competition. Know them as well as you know yourself. Sun Tsu said “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself, but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

When researching your competition consider:

1 What is their business model – how are they organized and how do they sell their products and services?

2 How big are your competitors – the same as you are planning, larger or smaller?

3 Where are they located – single location? Multi-sites, regional, national or international?

4 Are they profitable?

5 What features do their products/services offer? What are the benefits they convey to customers?,

6 What is the prices your competitors charge? – are they higher or lower than your planned pricing?

7 How are you competitors staffed – full-time, part-time, out-sources, contractors, the number of employees?

8 Overhead – what are your competitors’ overhead expenses?

Source: Simple Steps for Starting Your Own Business – SCORE/BoA

 

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Family Business

Question: A relative wants me to take over the family business. What are some considerations I should be aware of?

Answer: When a relative asks another to take over the family business, this means they have great trust in the person’s ability to do so. The original business owner may have certain ways they handle the business. Often, people would rather these things not be changed too much. Entrusting operations to a family member can be helpful in this and other ways.

Remember that this isn’t just a family exchange. Treat it seriously, as you would any business transaction. Business is a big responsibility. If at any time you feel like you’re the wrong person for the job, don’t be afraid to say so. Otherwise, move forward, gaining as much knowledge as you can along the way.

Think about how your relative runs the business currently. If things are going smoothly, you may not want to change very much. On the other hand, if the business is in trouble and your relative is asking for help, change can be good. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The last thing you want to do is upset the person whose business you’re taking over -- especially a relative. You’ll need their advice and information. You also don’t need a family member upset.

Some important things you should ask about include tax information and past returns, business accounts, employee records, accounting methods, and current vendors (if applicable). Your relative should go over details on running the business with you. If you’re unsure about anything, speak up. Consider not only the customer experience but the employee experience, as well as how your relative feels about everything.

There is no such thing as being too prepared or asking too many questions.

 

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Home-Based Business or Rented/Owned Space Business

Question: Should I consider a home-based business vs. one that is located in rental or owned space?

Answer: If you have walk-in customers or customers come by appointment to meet with you, a home-based business might not work for you. If you do not have a space that can be sectioned off to avoid distractions, namely family, then a home-based business might not be right for you. If you have zoning restrictions about the use of your home for residential only, then you might reconsider the choice of a home-based approach. For those entrepreneurs that need companionship, then a home-based environment may not work, but an executive suite arrangement may be the answer. However, working at home is convenient, and saves the money for operating expenses. You don’t have to dress every day, so your investment in business dress, laundry, and dry cleaning is diminished. Working at home allows for a very flexible schedule. And, if done right, you can deduct the expense for the space within your home that you have devoted to the business.

Source: Simple Steps for Starting Your Own Business – SCORE/BoA

 

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How to Welcome Interim Staff

Question: We need to add some interim staff, but don’t want our current staff to treat them as “temps,” any suggestions?

Answer: Bob Nealon, Regional Manager for Robert Half International capeplymouthbusiness.com, has some thoughts that might help.

1. Understand exactly what you need in skills, experience and required duration in an interim staffer before advertising or contacting a staffing firm.

2. Communicate your plans to your existing employees. You might even involve your staff to define the skills and experience that would be appropriate for the interim staff.

3. Be prepared. Make sure the physical elements of your business are prepared to receive the interim staff, whether it is office space, uniforms or equipment. Not being prepared sets the wrong tone for everyone from the outset.

4. Make introductions. Either do the introductions yourself or assign the responsibility to a staffer to introduce the interim staffer(s) to everyone else. If you assign the task, make sure it is someone that is fully knowledgeable about the work to be performed. A quick orientation to the workplace will also make them productive faster.

5. Explain the task. Interim staffers are normally very flexible and able to adapt to a variety of different working conditions. But, they are not mind readers. You need to make sure they understand the challenge of the tasks you are assigning to them.

6. Maintain a dialogue. Since interim staffers are “outsiders,” they might not be as willing as your employees to identify issues, so maintain open lines of communications with them. This feedback will be invaluable to maximize your investment in additional staff. Outside eyes often view things from a different perspective. You may gain additional insights into your business.

7. Make them a part of the team. Invite them to team meetings and special events. This will help them feel connected, boost their satisfaction and boost their productivity. You also can evaluate them as a potential full-time employee should the need arise.

 

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Online vs. Brick and Mortar Business

Question: How do I know if I can conduct my business online vs. brick and mortar?

Answer: The answer is dependent on what the products and services are and how they are purchased. Before going the online route, one has to remember:

1 Less than 2% of visitors to the site actually purchase, especially if touching and feeling is an important part of the buying process.

2 There are low barriers to entry. Therefore when someone else sees your offering, it would not take much effort or investment to replicate the offering.

3 Online customers have high expectation and are not tolerant of complications and will leave as fast as they arrive. Start-up costs are much lower for online business, and your market is not limited geographically. Just as your customers can access you from everywhere, you can do business wherever there is an internet connection. There is an advantage of offering 24/7 access that is not available in brick/mortar businesses – always open for business.

Source: Simple Steps for Starting Your Own Business – SCORE/BoA

 

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Reduce Shoplifting

Question: What can I do to reduce the impact of shoplifting at my retail store?

Answer: Here are some simple tips that come from a respected owner of a Hallmark Crown Store:

1. Have a welcome mat out – the one element that most shoplifters want is to be anonymous. Have a person at the front door welcome and make eye contact with every customer entering your establishment. If you cannot have one person doing this, have whoever is at the register welcome newcomers to your store. If you want to see this in action, visit a Wal-Mart. Their greeter in the blue vest that is emblazoned with “How can I help you?” is there to make eye contact and reduce the potential for shoplifting as well as putting a basket in your hands.

2. Keep your shelves neat – to easily see if items are missing or rearranged.

3. Add lighting to dark or limited light areas so all areas of your store are visible.

4. Have a secret code – create a signal that is only known by you and your employees to signal a potential shoplifting situation.

5. Have a clear line of sight – reduce access to areas without clear lines of sight. Secluded areas promote shoplifting. Have clear lines of sight from the register to all areas of your store.

6. Stay alerted – shoplifting is one of the biggest profit drains on retailers’ bottom line. Stay alert to all activity in your store without being judgmental.

 

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Retail Startup

Question: I am a startup retailer, what do I need to know to be a success, i.e., make a profit and stay in business.

Answer: Bob Nelson, President of Power Retailing, has 12 tips that should help you in managing and growing your retail business.

The purpose of your business is to bring in customers, and you accomplish this through marketing. If sales aren’t meeting your expectations, you need to quickly identify what’s wrong. Successful retailers aren’t any more talented or intelligent than you are, they’ve simply learned to do things in a different way and make money in the process. By using the following 12 steps to improve your retail sales, you’ll simplify your efforts, multiply profits, and increase the odds of success.

1. Know Yourself

Your basic business roles are in marketing, finance, and administration including personnel. For best results, it’s rare that one person can play all these roles equally well. It’s best to identify which parts you can handle and which parts you’re going to need help with.

2. Plan Ahead

To be successful, you need a clear idea of market segmentation, target markets, customer service, product selection, marketing mix, promotional activities and pricing tactics. A well thought out business plan will help you make the right decisions.

3. Know the Industry

You can gain the greatest competitive edge if you have an intimate knowledge of your business. To thrive and prosper you must be committed to learning and to have the desire and energy to accomplish your goals. Below are five main reasons why most business fail:

Lack of Industry Knowledge

Lack of Vision

Poor Market Strategy

Failure to Establish Goals

Inadequate Capitalization

4. Understand Your Customer

The products and services you provide should reflect your customers’ needs and wants. Give them what they want, and they will buy from you. Think in your customers’ terms; buy, show, sell and say things that interest them, not just what interests you. Remember, it’s the customer that determines whether or not you succeed.

5. Keep Good Financial Records

Know where your money is going, or it may soon be gone. Good financial records are like plane instruments; they alert you to height, direction, and speed. Without them, you’re flying blind with no controls to guide you to your destination.

6. Manage Your Cash

No matter how unique and wonderful your store, your business can’t survive without cash flow. Money coming in is a vital component to staying financially healthy. If you budget wisely and know the interval of your monthly income and expenses, you won’t have to worry about running out of money.

7. Use Sound Management Practices

A store owner is also a manager whose duties include making decisions, offering customer service, managing time and resources, knowing how to merchandise and run the business profitably. Give your employees the opportunity for growth, treat them fairly, pay them what they’re worth and they’ll support you in making your business success.

8. Develop a Distinctive Image

Your image is an important function of your marketing efforts and materials. Customers create their perception of your business from your name, website appearance, store location, products, prices, visual merchandising, signs, displays, business cards, newsletters, advertising material, customer service, and anything else that relates to your business.

9. Control Your Inventory

Inventory management is crucial. Inventory is your money sitting on a shelf. Without adequate control, slow-moving inventory becomes dated and very costly.

10. Buy and Price for Profit

To understand retailing, start with the concept that price is nothing more than a temporary estimate of what the customer is willing to spend. To devise an overall pricing strategy, a practical approach can be based on the function of supply and demand. Join buying groups and seek out manufacturer discounts that allow you to purchase merchandise below wholesale prices. Offering better prices attracts more customers and offers more opportunities to shop at your store.

11. Learn from the Pros

Today’s fast moving markets require making the right moves as an absolute essential. Knowing how to navigate them is crucial since there is little room for error. Having fresh ideas with an impartial business position can help avoid making errors due to emotional or difficult decisions.

12. Ask for Help When You Need It

Results are what count – don’t be too proud to ask for help. Recognize what you don’t know, so it doesn’t wind up costing you money, hurting your odds of success, and greatly reducing the achievement of your business goals. Hiring an expert with specialized skills can be the most profitable decision you can make to protect both your business and financial future.

Sourced from an article by Bob Nelson, President, Power Retailing

 

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Startup Mistakes

Question: I am about to start my own small business, are there some mistakes that I should avoid?

Answer: Barry Moltz in his new book, How to Get Unstuck: 25 Ways to get it growing again details a number of mistakes every small business owners should avoid.

Hiring only employees that know less than you – the owner. As a rule, you should only hire “A” players. Those that are more skilled than you in areas that are your weaknesses will support your entire business. When you complement your skills with employees who bring those that you don’t have to your organization, your entire enterprise improves.

Allowing employees who are sub-par performers to stay on the job. Everyone in the company knows who are the high and low performers. If the sub-par performers are left to continue without any repercussions, it can only lead to low employee morale. Have a formalized performance review system, take corrective action when necessary and remove low performers to communicate the message that you only want high performers representing your business’ brand.

Hiring for skills, not attitude. If you don’t hire for attitude, then you are submarining your company’s culture. You can train for skills; you cannot change personnel attitudes.

Allowing personal use of electronic devices, like cellphones on the job. This provides grounds for distraction and for customer perception of being 2nd place to personal communications. If you have a retail establishment and allow personal use of cell phones during business hours, then having an associate answer their phone while working the cash register displays poor customer service. You might restrict their use to your breakroom, but make it a conscious policy otherwise you will see abuse.

Don’t know how to read their financial statements. And, they don’t ask for help to understand what their statements mean for their business. Subsequently, they make decisions based on hunches or make them blindly without the facts that financial statements offer. They buy capital equipment without analyzing ROI or hiring a new sales rep without analyzing increased sales potential and therefore ROI.

Being afraid of failure, so they don’t know when to admit it’s over or time to quit. Or they stop taking risks, and therefore their businesses stagnate. What happens is the business owner keeps going even when the chances of success are low or nonexistent.

Marketing without a strategy. They apply social media without understanding how to use the tools. They use new technology because everyone else is, and they feel it is cool to use them, not knowing how to integrate these tools with traditional methods to capture buyer attention.

So what are five actions that every small business owner needs to undertake to be profitable without burning themselves out?

Have a business operating plan – a daily plan and stick to it to avoid interruptions. Review it regularly and adjust when needed.

Educate customers instead of selling them. Based on the information you communicate, let them come to a conclusion to buy from you.

Sell based on a value proposition, not price. If you base everything on price, you are in a constant auction. If you base the buyers’ decision on value, then you are allowing your differentiators to come into the buying equation.

Find a mentor and use them to help you address the tough issues. One of the most difficult situations facing entrepreneurs is that is lonely. Find someone with complementary skills which you can share your ideas and get unbiased feedback.

Let go of failure and try again. To grow your business, you need to be creative, and every idea does not meet with success. Learn from the failures and try again.

 

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Management Skills

Why find a mentor?

Question: I have been in business for two years. It has been suggested that I seek out the advice of a business counselor. Can you give me some ideas of how a mentor will help?

Answer: According to the SBA Office of Advocacy only half of all small businesses survive more than five years. 30% won’t last more than 24 months.

According to the UPS Store Study, 2014, 70% of mentored businesses survive more than five years. That same study says that 88% of business owners say having a mentor to lean on is invaluable.

Jean Mojo, a Certified SCORE Mentor, shares “Why is having a mentor so effective?”

An objective resource: Mentors are objective about your business and can open your mind to new solutions, new ways of doing business. Mentors have worked with suppliers, understand customer dynamics and can help you understand how to best deal with these individuals.

Experienced: Take advantage of a mentor’s experience. They’ve already made the mistakes you want to avoid. Learn from them. As a small business owner your friends and family provide more advice than you could need but what advice should you be listening to? Mentors can use their business experience to help you sort through all that advice and advise you on more complicated matters than your friends and family can help you with.

An impartial confidant: It’s lonely going solo—your family and your employees don’t understand the stress and difficulty of a startup. A mentor is more likely to understand the issues and help you get through the tough times. Sometimes you also need to vent and venting at your family or your employees isn’t productive. Mentors can help you work through that nasty problem whether it’s frustration with under-performing employees, lack of sales success or product issues. Mentors can give you the confidence you need when facing difficult times and recognize the great decisions you make every day.

Skill Builders: Small business owners are rarely experts in every area. Often, a small business owner is an excellent chef, jewelry maker or landscaper but doesn’t have the required skills of daily business management or accounting or human resources. A mentor can work with you gain the skills you need to better run your business.

A growth resource: You’ve had some success on the smaller level, selling out at the farmer’s market or your products have been a hit at a few outlets. Now you want to expand. How do you write the necessary business plan? Create the right brand strategy for the next generation of your products? Think about hiring the right people? This is where a mentor can provide critical assistance as they help you navigate the tricky waters of growth.

An ongoing resource: Mentor relationships can bear the test of time. Mentors have no motive other than your success. If you have a strong relationship with a mentor, you may continue to collaborate for the life of your business. That relationship can help you maintain a consistent approach to your business and help you gain the resources you need during every stage of business growth.

And importantly:

Mentors don’t cost anything except time. Most mentoring relationships are grounded in mutual respect, not money. You may find that you have a specific expertise need that requires compensation. Depending on the situation, it may be advantageous.

You can determine how often you need to meet with a mentor, whether it be every week, monthly, quarterly or even yearly. It’s when you feel the need to discuss a business issue.

Numerous sources of support in the Cape Cod Community:

SCORE: volunteers share their expertise through online and in-person counseling. You’ll have a primary counselor to guide you, but SCORE can also provide the range of expertise that you may need for your business over time. Contact them at www.capecod.score.org

Community Development Partnership on the lower Cape. Contact them at www.capedcdp.org

Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) available at several locations on the Cape. Contact them at www.msbdc.org/semass

Cape Cod Young Professionals at [email protected]

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Customer Loyalty

Question: Does customer service yield customer loyalty?

Answer: Not necessarily. Loyalty is generated not simply by insuring great customer service. There are three core measures in developing advocacy and loyalty for your company and its brand:

1 Risk – what is the risk to the customer to become a fan?

2 Brand – what values are associated with the brand?

3 Longevity – what is the potential of my long term relationship?

Satisfaction with a business’ products and services, unfortunately, is loosely connected to future buying behavior. Will you like it? Buy again? Or Recommend? To add loyalty to customer satisfaction, you have to build relationships with your customers. That means knowing them well enough to know how they will make decisions about doing business with you. Knowing where they go on vacation, what types of movies they frequent, what types of books they read, where they go out to eat forms the basis of creating a relationship that yields loyalty. If you are a landscaper, it is ok to connect with your customers by showing interest in their lives. By doing this, you show it is more than their yard that forms a lasting connection. If you can talk with your customers in the chair at your beauty salon about more than the length or color of their hair, you are creating a relationship that yields loyalty. When a customer complains about your service or your product quality, their loyalty will depend on how you address the issue at hand. As an entrepreneur, you have to have everyone on your team having one shared vision – the same understanding of what level of customer service is to be delivered and therefore what will be drive customer loyalty.

 

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Customer Service

Question: Customer service is very important to my small business. I hear from others that “the customer is always right.” Should I follow that advice?

Answer: The customer is not always right. Period. But, and it is a big “but,” you have to address the customer service issue with finesse and smarts since we are dealing with human beings in business relationships. Everyday situations can get out of hand quickly if you don’t take the high road and address them head-on. How you address customer service issues affects how customers and potential buyers perceive your brand.

Depending on the type of business, you can more easily address an issue than others. If you have a restaurant and the wrong meal is served, you can easily remake it and serve the correct one. If you are a hardscaper and use the wrong bricks for a patio, the cost and time to correct the error are much harder. If you are a barber and the customer tells you how they want their hair styled and it doesn’t come out as instructed, the correction takes two weeks, i.e., time to let their hair grow out. At times the customer doesn’t always know what they want to ask for it, and it becomes your responsibility to figure out what they want and deliver it.

The best way to address this issue is to learn to say “no.” You can say no by saying yes, but you won’t get into a deep customer service hole. If a customer feels they did not get what they expected and wanted a discount or added service to make up for their perceived disappointment, it is ok to say no. But in saying no, you say yes by providing a solution, you might save the client. However, there are times when it is appropriate to “fire” the client because over the long run they will be less value than if you save them. Saying “yes” means validating the customer’s feelings. If you can relate to them in a manner that allows them to know that you understand how they feel, you are starting your solutions process with a “yes,” not a “no.” “I fully understand how you must feel. Let’s talk about some ways to correct this situation.”

It is also a good policy to leave customer service issues in your hands vs. the hands of your employees. Good customer service is everyone’s job, but addressing the issue is the owner’s job. If issues are not addressed appropriately, it might cost you the customer. You can avoid many customer service issues by training and educating your staff how to work with the customers. If they perceive that you have their interests first, then they will give you the benefit of the doubt when it comes to disappointment.

Time is a healer and time propagates the severity of an issue. If a customer calls with a customer service issue, the time to address it is NOW, not next week or when I am in your neighborhood. Many times in service businesses where time is your number one competitor, you put off addressing what is a simple issue that becomes a relationship ending catastrophe. You have a commitment to do ten lawns today and if you take an hour out to address an issue, you either won’t get finished with today’s lawns or work way after dark. If you have promised a customer to finish her painting job and you take two hours off to drive to a customer’s home to address an issue, you won’t finish the current job as promised. Time is your competitor, but there is nothing more pressing on a customer’s mind if they have an issue that only you can address. If want has caused a customer service problem, the best policy is to send someone to address it personally NOW.

How do you address customer service perceptions?

Be clear about the expectations and firm on your boundaries. Don’t let customers take advantage of you, because they will.

Be respectful and courteous, but firm in what you will do and what you won’t do. If the issue is severe, ask yourself, “Are they worth keeping as a customer?” Some customers are habitually unsatisfied, and they will cost your far more in the long run than having them remain a customer.

Recognize that there are emotions connected to dissatisfaction. If they wait 30 minutes for their meal and it comes out wrong, they are emotionally distraught aside from disappointed in having to wait for the meal to be corrected or recooked.

When you have decided on a solution, make sure you keep to the facts by peeling away any emotion.

 

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What to Consider When Interviewing

Question: What key elements do I need to consider when interviewing a potential employee for my business?

Answer: Hiring for your team is one of your most important roles as a business owner, and most of us don’t bother to change gears from our everyday activities to effectively identify potential eployees who will compliment your skills.

1. Remember you have to position your company or organization, and you represent its culture. (Silence, the phone, to show your total focus on the interviewee.) Give a brief overview of the company, but remember you need to give the interviewee time to talk.

2. You need to set the stage and clearly state the objective of the interview – hiring a hostess, or an inside sales consultant or a trim trimmer.

3. Clearly, reiterate what skills are required for the position.

4. Identify what skills are needed on day one and what can be learned OJT

5. Have a conversation with the candidate, not just Q&A session. Use words in your question that will elicit dialogue. Why? Tell me? What made you…? Make your questions very specific and get to the meat of what you are seeking in a new employee.

6. Have the interviewee cite a case where they have demonstrated key strengths (don’t ask the too often asked…what are your strengths/weaknesses – they are most probably prepared for that stereotypical question. Ask questions they cannot prepare for in advance that will give you insight into the candidate.

7. Don’t let a candidate get away with vague answers. Force their critical thinking, so you will know how they will represent you and your organization’s culture.

8. Have others in your organization interview the candidate to see how they perceive the fit.

A final thought. To get the most out of an interview, plan to spend as much time in preparation for the interview as you will be interviewing. Aside from sales and cash flow manager, this is your most important task as a business owner.

 

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Source: MSNBC Your Business 9/1/13

Listening

Question: I have heard that the most important personal skill in selling my product and service is “listening.” Is that true?

Answer: You cannot sell anything without being a good listener. You have no idea what the customer wants if you don’t listen. But first, you have to learn how to ask the right questions. Closing the sale is dependent on having the right information about the customer’s needs. Every sale begins with a discovery process, and that means asking questions. But most people are afraid to ask the tough questions? What are your expectations if you make this purchase? What are you willing to spend to achieve this level of satisfaction? What will it take for us to do business?

So what are some of the elements to asking the right questions?

1 Ask open-ended questions, so the customer has to talk to you and “tell” you about their situation, the problems they are facing and what they want or need in the way of a solution.

2 Start with simple questions: What is your current situation? What problems does this cause for you? What are the implications of having those problems? What do you see as a potential solution? Then get to more difficult questions.

3 Remember, “why” as a way of getting the prospect to talk more to you about their buying motivation. What will cause them to buy from you?

4 Don’t be afraid that the prospect will be put off if you ask some tough questions. They expect it. They know you are there to sell them and you cannot provide them with a solution that will work if you don’t ask good, probing questions. Just make sure the potential buyer understand that the purpose of your questions is to more fully understand how you can serve them more effectively. Information is the tool of sales and the only way we can get the right information is to ask.

 

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Managing the Business

Question: I was recently asked to stop a partially completed client project and leave without finishing. What might I have missed that caused this embarrassing situation?

Answer:

Admit there is a problem. It may have been caused by you. “You are right; this project is not going as planned. Let’s figure out what went awry and decide on a corrective plan we both can live with.” It may have been caused by the client who didn’t understand your bid and the amount of “project management” you would provide. Or it might be due to neither of you. But, admit there is a problem that you will address and correct. How? That is what you need to work out together.

You probably missed being customer focused. Standing in the shoes of your client and seeing issues from his/her perspective is the first issue you may have missed. You are thinking, “this project is costing ME money out of MY pocket.” “This project is taking too much time away from other profitable projects.” These thoughts are all ME focused, not THEM focused. To be customer focused, you have to ask, “Tell me your concerns and let’s see how we can work through them.” The solution needs to be one that both you and your customer can live with and satisfies their issues with your performance.

Own the problem. You are the expert on whatever it is, painting, contracting, landscaping. You know more about what to do to correct the issue. Own the solution. When you do that, the client will see that you are seriously customer focused.

Apologies need to be genuine. When you say, “I am so sorry to hear that you are not satisfied. I am here to make sure this project ends correctly with you being happy with our work,” customers know that you are serious about making the situation right. By apologizing you are owning the situation and defusing the customer’s dissatisfaction.

Put your best people on the solution. Not only should be they be good at their craft but good at customer interaction; talking to the customer; advising them of the steps you have taken and are going to take makes for a more satisfied customer. Much of customer dissatisfaction comes from not knowing what is being done to correct an issue or not know where you are in the project.

There are some keys to building a customer-focused team that you might consider if you have faced an issue as described above:

Hire for attitude, train for skills

Train for culture. If employees have the right attitude, you can train them to be customer focused.

Everyone must be on the same page. Every team member needs to understand and internalize your company’s mission, vision, and objectives and they need to be able to articulate your mission in all that they do.

Create a learning environment with empowered employees. Provide them opportunities to learn and allow them to experiment in solving customer service issues on their own. Let your team learn from one another by sharing customer experiences.

Check out Shep Hyken’s http://www.thecustomerfocus.com

Make the time to read these great customer service books and share them with your team:

Hey, I’m the Customer, Ron Willingham

Customers for Life, Carl Sewell

Remember, when someone is dissatisfied, they tell more friends and family about the poor performance or customer service than they do when they are satisfied. Word of Mouth (WOM) is your most powerful marketing tool, and you don’t want it to be negative if you are done address head-on customer issues.

 

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Managing Yourself 2

Question: I know that I need to learn more about managing my small business. What books are recommended for entrepreneurs?

Answer: Josh Patrick listed “10 Books Business Owners Should Read” in his 10/10/14 New York Times article:

Here are a few that we think are appropriate for Cape-based small businesses:

The E-Myth Revised by Michael E. Gerber. Many small businesses fail due to the lack of systems vs. making it up as they go. Mr. Gerber explains why it is important to have, as well as how to install systems that will make their businesses better and more predictable.

Every Family’s Business by Tom Deans. If you own a family business and are considering passing one on to your children, this is a must read. Mr. Deans asks questions that every family business owner needs to ask every year in preparation for transition. The answers will help family members to focus on the roles they want to play in the business and get prepared to execute them. What Mr. Deans does best is the foster healthy discussion among family members.

raction by Gino Wickman. Business owners are lead to believe that they have to do everything and too many try. They have too much on their plate to do them all right. Mr. Wickman focuses on the 10 % of the time entrepreneurs have to be more strategic. He helps small business owners manage their meetings, why every employee needs a project they own and why all employees need to focus on metrics.

ook Yourself Solid by Michael Port. Selling and cash management are the two most important activities for entrepreneurs. This is one of the best books on selling. Mr. Port helps the reader understand that selling is not just about getting a new customer walking through the door. You’ll figure who is the right customer for your business, where they hang out and how to attract them.

The Goal by Eliyah Goldratt. Every business has bottlenecks in its operations. Mr. Goldratt has taken a complicated subject, business operations and put in the form of a novel. Find a problem, fix it and move on to the next problem. In this interesting novel, Mr. Goldratt fixes bottlenecks to save the company.

What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith. This is a book about managing change. Mr. Goldsmith emphasizes that most problems in business are caused by the person running it. Want to look at managing your business from a new perspective, try this book.

How to Run Your Business So You Can Leave It in Style by John H. Brown. Exit planning should be part of every successful business plan. Mr. Brown invented the exit planning profession. In this book, he walks readers through seven things they need to do to leave the business on their terms, including calculating the worth of the business and finding the best buyer.

Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. The Heath brothers are known for writing interesting books. Their first, Made to Stick, is a landmark publication about creating messages that are not only received but retained. In this 2nd book, they focus on change management. You’ll learn about the elephant and the rider. The elephant is your business and how hard it is to change. You’ll learn about the process of change to make it easier to effect.

As a small business owner being a life-long learner is a critical ingredient to success. You cannot possibly know everything you need to know to manage your business even though you might be an expert in your trade. Reading books, magazines, listing to webinars or podcasts or reading blogs are excellent ways to stay ahead of the wave and make the changes necessary to meet the future needs of your customers.

 

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Managing Your Business 2

Question: I read a lot of hints, tips, and techniques for small business owners. What is the latest thinking in increasing the chances of success during the first year of business?

Answer: Frances Schagen, author of Your Effortless Business, synthesized the most often cited “truths” we tell small business owners and how to look at them differently which will maximize your potential for success.

You have to wear many hats. There is a myth that is passed from generation to generation of business owners that entrepreneurs need to do everything. Who can know it all? This attitude can only make a business owner feel inadequate if he or she needs to seek help. So, seek help in the areas where you are not strong. There are two functions that are necessary for small business success – sales and cash management. Everything else can be outsourced. You can do the financial data entry and have a bookkeeper reconcile the entries at the end of each month. You can hire a web designer to maintain your website and execute search engine optimization. Decide where you need help and get it early.

Invest in yourself. Too many small business owners don’t start with enough capital to survive the first year and pay or invest in themselves. SBA reports that 50% of small businesses fail in the first year. When you work and don’t pay yourself, the value of your contribution is diminished. And, you feel even more stress than is normally felt in the startup months. When you don’t have enough cash to allow you to attend continuing education classes to stay abreast of your industry trends, you cannot stay competitive. If a 3 hour QuickBooks workshop is available that requires a fee to be paid and you don’t take advantage of it, you are shortchanging your business’ chance of success. If you don’t plan to invest in yourself, you won’t improve your skill level and the value in the business.

Marketing, finance, operations, and HR are the fundamentals of business. These are central functional areas of business. In the early stages of any business, the important work is that of the business, not managing the company. During the first few years, financial statements are only needed for filing taxes. What you need to do is what you do well, the work of the business and not try to focus on those areas you don’t do well – farm them out.

After you get the hard skills down, you can indulge in soft skills. Courage, wisdom, truth and beauty are soft skills vs. marketing, finance, operations and HR are hard skills. You cannot manage your way around difficult issues of startup. However, with the soft skills you have empathy for your customers and your employees. All the hardcore skills will not get you close to employees and customers.

Profit is the most important number. The most important metric in a start-up is cash flow, not profit. Why? Every possible dollar needs to be re-invested in the startup and the growth process.

A business plan is mandatory. Planning gives you a guide or compass to get from point A to point B. A business plan gives you the ability to generate investment dollars. Unless you need investment in the start-up or growth stages, you probably don’t need the traditional business plan. You might think about using the Business Model Canvas that condenses the business plan into one page, (email us and we’ll send you a template: [email protected]) The more important activity is to understand your market, your customers, where they are, what they want, can you fill that need and how to reach them. When you have the answers to these questions, you can test your business concept which will provide you all the information you need for the full business plan (if you need one at all).

Work hard. There is no question about it whatever way you look at it starting up, growing and managing a small business is hard work. We have lots of workshops on management of small businesses, but we don’t address fear and courage. Business ownership is fearful and takes courage to get up each morning and face the issues that arise each and every day. Small business owners need to focus on:

What are my clear and measurable objectives?

What are the fewest tasks I need to undertake to get to those objectives?

How can I get those tasks done vs.? How can I do it all?

One of the keys to entrepreneurial success is to take time away from it periodically and regularly. Re-creating time. Think time. Time to allow you to focus on the issues from afar.

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Work-Life Balance

Question: I cannot do everything in managing my business. What can I safely outsource so I can have some balance in my life between my small business and my family and time for myself?

Answer: One of the big misconceptions that are told to all small business owners is that they have to do it all. You cannot do it all. The two most important tasks of any entrepreneur in launching and managing an on-going small business are (1) managing the business’s cash flow and (2) being the face of the business by generating sales (revenues).

One of the rules of thumb is: whatever you do best, keep it in the house. Whatever you don’t do well, outsource it.

As you plan the ongoing operation of your business whether you are a startup or an ongoing enterprise, consider the following for outsourcing:

Payroll – outsource your payroll services to a company like Paychex or anyone of 21 local payroll services on Cape Cod. Not only do they execute the weekly, bi-weekly or monthly payroll, but they submit your tax forms and facilitate payment for state and federal taxes. When selecting a company to provide this service for you, consider the following: Security and Reliability, other services offered (HR, 401K), regulatory compliance capability, technology and accounting interfaces. This service might seem costly, but they keep you out of trouble by avoiding costly mistakes and late submittals. Too many small businesses get into payroll disasters by not paying attention to the details that payroll professionals do on a daily basis.

Bookkeeping – Most small businesses use Quickbooks or a similar accounting software system to keep track of transactions, but when it comes to assuring that your records are “tax ready” having a bookkeeper reconcile your entries monthly and then have a CPA prepare your year end records and taxes are expenses worth having. You can do all the entries and have a bookkeeping professional assure that you are coding them properly and training you how to do the entries correctly. Over time you will find that you will need this service less and less for entry help and use your bookkeeper to reconcile your books. Again, these two professionals keep you out of trouble.

IT (information technology) – having an information technology professional on your staff may be beyond your bandwidth during start-up. But, if you don’t know intimately how to generate a website, create content for your blog or newsletter you might consider looking for an IT professional. If you are not a computer “jock,” then an outsourced IT professional is in your future to keep your computers running and up-to-date. This activity is easily outsourced to any one of a number of independent IT professionals on the Cape. When you have reached critical mass, you will want to have your own IT staffer, but until then outsourcing makes economic sense.

Marketing – if you are a marketing guru, you might not need either someone on your staff or an outsourced pro. But, if you are not a marketing specialist, then this is a must since you need to raise awareness of your organization’s brand and availability to generate sales. You might need someone just to work on building a brand. Having someone who can be your social media content provider (web blogs, Tweets, Pinterest, Linked-in) might be another outsource possibility even if you are a marketing pro. Don’t skimp on marketing during startup. Include it in your startup expenses. You might have the best product or service, but if no one knows about it, you cannot generate revenue.

You cannot do it all! Face that fact early and get help so you can concentrate on growing your business and sustaining it through the rough first five years of existence.

 

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Small Business Owner’s New Year’s Resolutions

This is the time of year we close the books on another year of business. For some, it was a great year. For others, it could have been better. But, the good news is that we all start each January 1st anew.

Here are some resolutions that will hold you in good stead for the coming year.

Remember, “happiness is positive cash flow” – Review your outstanding payables, your days outstanding for 2014 payables and your account receivable policies to assure that you are receiving what is owed to you and when it is owed. You also should address head-on slow pay accounts to implement changes to assure that you are receiving timely payments. On the other side, you should review your cash flow, month-to-month, especially if you are a seasonal business to assure you have adequate cash during the slower winter months.

Keep sales generation on your personal agenda - As a business owner/manager, you have two management fundamental functions – cash management and sales generation. Analyze where your sales come from. Most of us get 80% of our sales from 20% of our customers. If you are a retail business, analyze how you are driving sales to your door and modify your marketing strategies accordingly. If you have a service business, make sure all of your 2014 customers know you appreciate them, so as they evaluate their service providers they are aware of your appreciation of their business. Be up front and center, personally with your customers.

Stay focused – Business gurus are often quoted, “stick to your knitting.” Opportunities will come along that seem almost too good to pass up. Dust off your mission, your objectives, and available resources before starting something new or expanding into a new venture. Make sure it doesn’t dilute your mainstream business and take your eye off the ball.

Hire for culture, train for skills – The people you hire make up your team that represents your business. Your team represents your brand’s values to the buying community. It is much easier to hire members of your team that has the values you want than to try to change their attitudes and approaches. You can always train them for the skills you need.

Hire slow, fire fast – Take the necessary time to evaluate the personnel you are hiring. Use your valued team members to interview candidates, as well as yourself to make sure you are hiring the best. And, if the decision is wrong or the performance of an employee is not up to par after appropriate counseling, fire fast. A festering sore becomes an infection in the body of your organization.

Take ownership of your customer service issues – Accept accountability for what goes wrong, and there are times a project does go wrong. Your customers will stick with you if you work out the issues upfront and quickly, then move ahead. If you don’t, they will look someplace else to get the services or products you offer.

Plan your way to growth – You cannot get to the end game of your business goals by hoping you will get there. Create a business plan. Treat it as a living document. Review it regularly. Update it as appropriate. If you do, you’ll have a guide to get you to your company goals. The “maybe syndrome,” (maybe we should advertise, maybe we should add sales personnel, maybe we should buy an additional service truck) of business operations will be supplanted with a viable business plan. Investigate Business Model Canvas concept vs. traditional business planning for your next operations plan https://canvanizer.com/new/business-model-canvas.

Use social media to stay connected to your customers -Your customers are connected. If they are not connected to you, they are connected to your competitors. Use all the social media that you think your customers and prospects are linked to so you can stay top of the mind.

Get feedback from your customers to keep your offerings fresh – There is nothing more valuable than hearing how your customers feel about you, your company, your team, your offerings and what you can do to make their experience with you more fulfilling. Ask them. Then ask them again. When you show you are interested in their input, they will give you the most valuable insights about how to maximize your impact on them. Your interest in them will also create WOM (word of mouth) about how customer focused you are. Try it. You may not like everything you hear, but it is far better than just guessing and being wrong.

Make time for yourself -"me time" - Invest in yourself, just as you would in equipment or marketing. Take time to learn something new each day. Take time to go to the gym each day to keep your body healthy and ready for the rigors of small business ownership. Take the time to be with your family for dinner each day. Be present. Take time to get away from the business at least once a year. Be up. Be fresh and ready to tackle the challenges of entrepreneurship.

 

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Managing the Ongoing Business

Question: I am good at my craft, but I have never managed people before. I now have six people working for me in my home remodeling business. What tips do you have to get the highest performance from them?

Answer: Every member of your team is different. Therefore you have to spend time with each of them to get to know what motivates them to get out of bed each day so you can adapt your management style to supervise them appropriately. Here are some thoughts that might work for you:

Hire slowly and choose the right people for your team. Make sure they understand your vision and the objectives you have set for your business. You need to provide them with clear directions, training and then let them do their work. Think of each employee on your team as a valued subcontractor – a professional responsible for getting their tasks done efficiently and on time.

Give them feedback regularly. Be an active listener. Make it a 360 Degree Evaluation where they are an active part of the appraisal so they can give you feedback about how they perceive they are being managed, as well as you sharing your impressions of their performance.

Try not to micromanage them. Give them direction, set the expectations, provide the appropriate training, then get out of the way. Check in on your team periodically, pay attention to the results and give feedback.

Managing is a skill, and sometimes it is necessary to get help. Your local SCORE chapter and Chamber of Commerce Small Business Development organization are sources of help if you are struggling with team management. Get yourself a SCORE mentor to coach you in developing your team.

Make sure your team knows who the boss is – the customer. Being customer focused makes for an effective team. As a small business, word of mouth (WOM) is the most effective marketing you can do. If customers perceive your team as being customer first, that gets communicated to others who will be new business for your enterprise.

Get input from your team. When making a decision about a new product or service offering, about a change in policy or approach, or making a change in direction ask your team for their input. When you make the decision in a vacuum, you are not taking advantage of the first line communicators – your team. By getting their input, you are getting buy-in from the get-go.

Show your team, don’t just tell them. Lead by example. Be firm, but fair in all of your actions.

 

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Partnerships

Question: Can you advise what I should consider in forming a partnership and if I do what recommendations do you have if it doesn’t work.

Answer: First, if you don’t think it will work, don’t do it. But like all relationships, business partnerships have ups and downs and both ends of the spectrum need to be addressed.

According to the Company Warehouse, forming a partnership has both advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages

Capital – Due to the nature of the business, the partners will fund the business with startup capital. This means that the more partners there are, the more money they can put into the business, which will allow better flexibility and more potential for growth. It also means more potential profit, which will be equally shared between the partners.

Flexibility – A partnership is easier to form, manage and run. They are less strictly regulated than companies, regarding the laws governing the formation and because the partners have the only say in the way the business is run (without interference by shareholders) they are far more flexible in terms of management, as long as all the partners can agree.

Shared Responsibility – Partners can share the responsibility of the running of the business. This will allow them to make the most of their abilities. Rather than splitting the management and taking an equal share of each business task, they might well split the work according to their skills. So if one partner is good with figures, they might deal with the bookkeeping and accounts, while the other partner might have a flare for sales and therefore be the main sales person for the business.

Decision Making – Partners share the decision making and can help each other out when they need to. More partners mean more brains that can be picked for business ideas and for the solving of problems that the business encounters.

Disadvantages

Disagreements – One of the most obvious disadvantages of the partnership is the danger of disagreements between the partners. Obviously, people are likely to have different ideas on how the business should be run, who should be doing what and what the best interests of the business are. This can lead to disagreements and disputes which might not only harm the business, but also the relationship of those involved. This is why it is always advisable to draft a deed of the partnership during the formation period to ensure that everyone is aware of what procedures will be in place in case of disagreement and what will happen if the partnership is dissolved.

Agreement – Because the partnership is jointly run, it is necessary that all the partners agree with things that are being done. This means that in some circumstances there are fewer freedoms with regards to the management of the business. Especially compared to sole traders. However, there is still more flexibility than with limited companies where the directors must bow to the will of the members (shareholders).

Liability – Ordinary Partnerships are subject to unlimited liability, which means that each of the partners shares the liability and financial risks of the business. Which can be off-putting for some people? This can be countered by the formation of a limited liability partnership, which benefits from the advantages of limited liability granted to limited companies, while still taking advantage of the flexibility of the partnership model.

Taxation – One of the major disadvantages of partnership, taxation laws mean that partners must pay tax in the same way as individuals.

Profit Sharing – Partners share the profits equally. This can lead to inconsistency where one or more partners aren’t putting a fair share of effort into the running or management of the business, but still reaping the rewards.

In forming a partnership, you have to evaluate what are your skills, what are your potential partner’s skills and how do they mesh? Are they complementary, similar or in competition with one another? You want to have skills that complement one another. If one is good at sales, the other should be good at operations.

Try this checklist if you are considering a partnership:

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1. Name of partnership

2. Duration of the partnership — number of years or “until dissolved.”

3. Location of office

4. Capital contribution of each partner

5. Whether partners may make additional contributions

6. The level at which capital accounts of the partners must be maintained

7. Participation of each partner in profits and losses

8. Salaries, if any, to be paid to partners and whether or not these salaries are to be treated as expenses in determining distributable profits

9. The amounts of any regular drawings against profits

10. Duties, responsibilities and sphere of activities of each partner

11. Amount of time contributed by each partner

12. Prohibition against outside business activities by partners that would be in competition with the partnership business

13. Who is to be the managing partner and whose decision will prevail in case of a tie or dispute?

14. Procedure for admitting new partners.

15. Methods of admitting junior partners without capital if such a procedure is to be considered desirable

16. Methods of determining the value of goodwill in the business in case of death, incompetence, or withdrawal of a partner or dissolution of the partnership for any other reason.

17. The method of liquidating the interest of a deceased or retiring partner.

18. Age at which a partner must withdraw from active participation and arrangements for adjusting his salary and equity.

19. Whether or not surviving partners shall have the right to continue using the name of the deceased partner in the partnership name.

20. The period in which retiring or withdrawing partners may not engage in a competing business.

21. The basis for the expulsion of a partner, method of notification of expulsion, and the disposition of any losses that arise from the delinquency of such a partner.

22. How will the event of the protracted disability of a partner be handled?

23. Whether the accounts are to be kept on a cash or accrual basis and, if on the cash basis, the method of compensating partners who withdraw or retire for income realized on services rendered, but not invoiced at the time of their withdrawal or retirement.

24. The fiscal year of the partnership.

25. Whether or not interest is to be paid on the debt and credit balances in the partners’ accounts.

26. Where the partnership cash is to be deposited and who may sign checks.

27. Whether or not all partners shall have access to the books of the account.

28. Under what conditions limited partners may be accepted into the firm and, if so, who shall be designated as the general partner.

29. Prohibition of the partners pledging, selling, hypothecating, or in any manner transferring their interest in the partnership except to other partners.

30. Identification of material contracts or agreements affecting the liability or operation of the partnership.

 

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Create a partnership agreement. How will you organize? Who plays what roles? How will the work be divided? When a key decision needs to be made, how will it be executed?

Be honest about the relationship

If every day is a toxic day, then it’s time to re-evaluate the partnership. You need to make all efforts to salvage the relationship, but in the end, it might be best for the company to go to Plan B.

In generating a plan B, ask yourself if you partner wasn’t there, how will you get the work done? What skills need to be outsourced?

 

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From Owner to Leader

Question: I have owned my business for five years. We have grown from 3 employees to 30. I need to think and act more like a manager, not a worker. Any tips?

Answer: An insightful book titled Tribal Leadership defines the three stages of a business owner’s journey: (1) As a Technician. (2) Becoming a Manager. (3) Evolving into an Entrepreneur. You seem to be ready to move from the expert in your field and doing the work you love and have a great passion for to becoming a manager who organizes and leads. It is somewhat scary making this move since you know exactly what you are doing as a “technician,” but as a manager and leader, you are on fertile untested ground. Here are some thoughts that Liz Ryan shared on what managers do wrong. From what they do wrong you can convert to what you need to do to be doing it “right.”

They see their workers as part of “production,” not collaborators. They see them as the function in their work scenario that gets the work done. Make them collaborators in your customer service planning and your business growth strategy. They are on the front line and talk with customers more than you. Employ them in the process, and you’ll get more from them overall. Ask for their opinion or suggestions. When you make them collaborators, they will grow, and you will grow, too.

They just talk and don’t listen. Listen to your employees. When you make a statement regarding “the work” or a policy change that impacts them. Ask them, “How do you feel about this?” They might not like it or see another angle that you didn’t consider. So asking them before your policy change is cast in concrete gets them involved and gives them an opportunity to communicate to you. So listen to them.

They don’t get feedback on their leadership style. Take the time to ask your employees, how they feel about how they are managed. A one-on-one, once a year to get feedback on your management style will give your insight into how to maximize your human resources.

They focus on the goals and numbers, not the energy behind the numbers. They don’t ask, “What do we need to be talking about that we are not talking about?” Most employees won’t share with the boss their feelings and opinions without being asked. Take the time to ask. Ask them about what customers are saying about your product or service. Ask them about what they think you might do to increase your share of current customer business. Ask them what you need to be doing to increase WOM of your offerings to gain increased market share. You’ll be surprised how the numbers exceed, and the goals are achieved.

They focus on what is not working vs. celebrating what IS working. Too often the boss is focused on what is not working and berating their employees regarding their deficiencies rather than focusing on what is working and determining the source of the deficiency then making their corrections in a constructive manner. Great managers celebrate everything. New business, exceeding weekly sales goals, meeting renewal goals or the customer service employee of the week or month. Find something to celebrate every week. It makes your team feel their worth, and you’ll find they will extend themselves to greater lengths in the work they do.

They get tunnel vision. They forget the team MOJO and what it takes to keep the business moving forward. They get hung up on minutia. Take the time to manage the people. Manage their expectations and their feelings. When you do that the numbers work out. The objectives get accomplished. Clients get serviced beyond their expectation.

They keep employees in the dark. Some bosses feel the only thing that separates them from the worker bees is “knowledge.” Wrong. Some elements of your business are private and are not necessary for your team to know, but if you are open and share with them the realities of what you are facing, they just might help you come up with solutions that will correct the course of your business.

They forget the commitments made to their team. Commitment and loyalty are two ingredients that separate a well-functioning team from one that “shows up for work” and “can’t wait for the day to end.” If you make commitments to your team. Follow through on them. If the circumstances change and you for financial reasons, cannot fulfill the promise, let them know. When you do that their commitment and loyalty to you remains intact.

They ignore boundaries. Managers and leaders set boundaries. They don’t go out with the boys after work. They don’t spend leisure time with their employees. Those boundaries allow them to make the tough decisions. The boundaries allow them to lead and not be “one of the boys.”

They are short term thinkers, ignoring the longer term. As a manager, you are responsible for meeting your weekly, monthly, or quarterly financial goals to keep the business well- funded. But if you make decisions that focus on the short term, you are ignoring the impact on the longer term that may be terminal for a small business. When you can look out over the horizon to what will be and not just focus on what is, you have reached stage 3 in Tribal Leadership. Entrepreneurial leadership.

They don’t own up to their own shortcomings. A manager needs to constantly be looking in the mirror and asking the question, “How am I doing?” They need to have a one-on-one with key employees and ask, “What can I be doing better?” Asking customers, “what can I do that I am not doing in managing my business to satisfy you better.”

Making the leap from technician to the manager is tough, but if you focus on the principles of thinking and acting strategically, not just tactically, you’ll get there.

 

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Financial Management

Business Startup – Lean Startup

Question: I live on Cape Cod and want to start my own business. I have very little capital. What ideas can you share that can help me get to my personal goal of business ownership?

Answer: There are many ways you can become an entrepreneur without having a bucket of cash for investment. You might consider a “lean startup” using the crawl, walk, then run approach. Here are some ideas from Edwin Dearborn http://www.EdwinDearborn.comaround which you can build a business using a lean strategy:

Build your business on what you know or what you are drawn to. If you are a good baker and make outstanding cheesecakes, then start small by making them in your kitchen, selling them at fairs and farm markets. When you have generated enough revenue, you can then think about a commercial kitchen with the appropriate permits and licenses.

Create an authentic and compelling branding story of why you are in this business. The brand is the image or perception you have in the mind of buyers that render you as unique or sufficiently different to drive them to buy from you.

Have a written business and marketing plan that you follow. Winston Churchill said, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.” A business plan using the Business Model Canvas https://canvanizer.com/how-to-use/business-model-canvas-vs-lean-canvas is a great way to create a plan when no outside funding is being sought.

Write down what you want to accomplish for that day. Refer to it and hold yourself accountable to making those goals occur. The very first task of any business operation is to create short and longer term objectives and at the same time create metrics to determine if you accomplished them. For example: Generate two new customers per week. Add 20% to the average ticket value over the next 60 days. Objectives that are specific focused, quantifiable and measurable.

Tell everyone you know what you’re doing. Often. Word of mouth (WOM) is the best, most effective and least costly marketing. If you are becoming a landscaper, roofer, handyman, finish carpenter or carpet cleaner, you need to have a strategy for creating WOM brand awareness.

Avoid unnecessary expenses. Live lean. Only invest in what you need to commence business and add to that investment as you build your revenue. If you don’t need an office at the beginning, work out of your house. If you can work out of a rented space, avoid buying brick and mortar. Crawl first, then walk, then you can run.

Don’t get buried in credit card debt or loans. Get used to paying off each month’s bill as they come due. If you are in a seasonal business where cash flow is slow in the offseason, plan for cash conservation during the active months, so you don’t have to rely so much on your credit cards. Use them for emergencies during the slower months.

Make sure your receivables policy won’t sink you. Up front decide on your terms of payment. Do you want payment upon delivery of service? If you are repairing lawn mowers, do you want to receive payment upon pick up of the mower or invoice with 30 days payment? If the project is large, do you want a deposit upon contract signing so you can pay for materials with the customer’s funds? If you don’t know the customer is offering, credit terms can be dangerous and impact your cash flow. Have a receivable policy and stick to it.

Establish a budget and follow it. After you create a business plan, create a line-item budget and review it regularly to assure that you are controlling your expenses and that revenue is building according to plan. If not, adjust the budget to reflect the reality of your business.

Take advantage of free advertising and marketing, such as blogging, social media, public speaking and networking. All promotion doesn’t have to be paid promotion, like ads, direct mail or trade show participation. Use all the FREE promotion you can, so you build brand awareness with minimal out-of-pocket expenses.

Get ready to hustle. Service and help those you meet with enthusiasm, purpose, and commitment. When customers see you enthusiastic, they feel good about their choice of you to perform the service or delivery of a product. If you can give each customer one new idea about using your service every time you engage them, they will see the real benefit of doing business with you.

Listen more, talk less. People will determine whether or not to do business with you on how you communicate with them more than any other factor.

Take time to enhance and educate yourself. Make it a daily habit to become smarter or better in some way. Personal development always pays off. You need to be a lifelong learner. Carve out some time every day to learn something new about your industry, your customers or marketing techniques. The more knowledgeable you are, the more valuable you are to your customer base.

Persistence is more valuable than education. Stay the course and remain focused. It is easy to veer off course and chase opportunities that are not in your mainstream and get you into trouble as you launch your business.

Ask for referrals on a continuous basis. WOM promotion is key to building a business. Getting referrals from satisfied customers, convince others to do business with you.

Act, measure, review, adjust, act again. Review your actions on a monthly basis. Discover what you are doing right and strengthen those actions. Moreover, look at what is not working for you and change those immediately.

 

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Manage the Numbers

Question: I own a service business on the Cape. I am good at what I do but have a tough time when it comes to managing the numbers. Any suggestions?

Answer: Remember, you cannot be good at everything in running your business. You don’t have the time to do all either. So, first remember there are two functions of business owners that he or she cannot delegate: (1) managing the cash to assure you have enough all the time to cover your expenses (including taxes), pay your employees and pay yourself, and (2) customer relations/selling. All other functions like accounting, marketing, PR can be outsourced. The second task is to conduct an inventory of what you like to do, what you are good at and what you would like to outsource. If your financial resources allow it, then outsource what needs to be done that you either don’t have the aptitude for, don’t have the time to do or just don’t want to undertake it

You need to have a clear picture of how your business is doing. You might be busy 24/7 or close to it, but not making any money. You might be working as many hours as humanly possible and not having enough cash at the end of the week to pay your employees and yourself. So you need to manage the numbers. If accounting is not one of those tasks that you like to, and/or don’t have the aptitude, then hire a bookkeeper who can come in once a month to review your entries. The bookkeeper can cleanup the issues and make sure you have a good picture of where the business is at any one time, plus get your books ready for your accountant at tax time. Whether you do the books yourself, get a bookkeeper full or part time, get a quality software package that both you and the bookkeeper feel comfortable using.

What are the key financial statements you need to know about to manage your business?

Balance Sheet – a summary of your business assets, liabilities at a specific time. It is also known as the statement of financial condition.

Income Statement – a report to summarize your revenue minus cost of goods sold to determine your gross profit. It is also known as P&L.

Cash flow statements – sources of revenue coming into the business (where is the revenue coming from?) and where is it going to?

Terms you need to know:

Equity – what your business owns.

Debt – what your business owes and must be repaid.

Accounts receivables – money owed to you as a result of a sale from clients/customers.

Accounts payables – money owed by you to your suppliers.

You also need to manage by metrics. What are the key performance indicators (KPIs) that allow you to know how healthy your business is at any one QA time? By having someone working with you to oversee the input of financial data you will find you can manage by metrics rather than by gut feel or by the seat of your pants. Some of the more common KPIs are Sales, cash flow forecasts, debts outstanding (days it takes clients to pay you), inventory days (days inventory remains in-house before being sold), Gross profit margin on sales, Profit before income tax as a percentage of sales.

What are the KPI’s you might consider?

Cash flow: where is the revenue coming from and where is it going? When is it coming in and when is it required to be paid? Having a good cash flow analysis allows you to know when to say no to something that looks too good. The local business press offered you’re a super deal to advertise with them. If the payments are due monthly will you have the cash on hand to pay each invoice? If they are due quarterly will that work better? Do you need to negotiate payment of the year’s investment during the months of March – November?

Part of cash flow management is to assure you have enough money each month to pay the state and federal taxes owed. You don’t want to wait until the end of the quarter to assess if you have enough free cash to pay your taxes. The best policy is “pay as you go.” There is always something that needs cash. You don’t want to be the small business that is closed due to failure to pay taxes whether they are state or federal

Marketing expenditures as a percent of sales. Most small businesses invest between 2-3% of sales on marketing initiatives. Some are traditional like direct mail, space advertising, radio advertising, or even billboards. Some are digital marketing, like email, social media such as Facebook, Pinterest or LinkedIn. Whatever the mix the business owner needs to have a marketing campaign plan so he/she can estimate the financial requirements per month and throughout the year. Why? To plan on the availability of the funds and to have a metrics plan in place to determine if this was a worthwhile expenditure of funds.

Profits. Even though cash flow is critical, your small business needs to make a profit to sustain itself through the long winter months where there is limited to no revenue coming into the business. Does your model allow you to make a sustainable profit?

When you think about managing by the numbers, it is a discipline that you establish and dedicate yourself to monitor. Look at your cash every morning or at least every week. What came in? What didn’t that should have? What corrective action do you need to take? Knowing how much you have in the bank, what is owed to you when and what is due to be paid, allows you to make more informed financial decisions

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Financial Management – Cash Management

Question: I have heard from many of my peers that managing cash is the most important element in assuring the success of my business. For a small business, “Happiness is positive cash flow.” Focus on cash management, not profit. Most small businesses fail due to running out of cash, not because they are not generating profit. What are some hints that experienced small businesses use to manage their cash flow?

Answer: Plan your need for cash. Generate a source and use of funds so that you don’t experience any surprises regarding the working capital needs for cash resulting in an operating crisis. If you have the need for inventory of fertilizer for fall lawn maintenance, then you need to plan the ordering and payment of your inventory so you have the cash on hand to pay for the product and not put you in a bind not being capable of providing the contracted services since you don’t have the materials needed. Plan your cash needs month by month. On Cape Cod, most businesses are seasonal with high cash flow in during the season and lower during the off season. You need to plan your cash, so you have adequate cash to manage your business in the lower cash flow months.

Decide on your terms of payment up front and get an agreement with your customer. If your terms are payment at the time of service or pick-up, i.e., no credit, stick with it. If your terms are net 30 days, on the 30th day call if you don’t have a payment. Don’t wait 45 or 60 days before you call. If you are signing an annual contract for window cleaning or lawn maintenance or computer service and your terms are net 30 days, and there are net 45 days, don’t assume your terms will be accepted. Negotiate upfront when you will get payment. If you invoice for your services on a monthly basis, define upfront if payment is not made within ten days of receipt of the invoice. No surprises.

Invoice quickly. Set up automatic invoicing for long term contracts, i.e., seasonal programs. If the service provided is on-off, then invoice immediately. The quicker you invoice, the quicker you have cash in your account.

Make it easy. If you expect payment upon completion of service, accept more than just a check. Set up an online payment service such as a “Square” account so you can accept credit cards from your mobile device or PayPal or sign up for an AMEX phone-in service. The easier you make it, the faster you will get paid. You can also set up a direct debit arrangement, where the client’s account is automatically debited the amount you and the customer agree up. Check with your bank to see what services they offer.

If you have an ongoing relationship, i.e., bi-weekly lawn service, arrange for a specific payment plan up front. For example, you will invoice monthly with payment due in 10 days after receipt. If payment is not received in 10 days, what will the consequences be? Define it upfront. If you do not receive payment in 10 days will you call to check that they received the invoice? If you allow the payments to go unpaid, it will get more and more difficult to get payment. Staying ahead of the payments is your best policy.

Provide rewards for on-time payments. For example payment upon receipt (received within ten days) will receive a 2% discount or rebate at the end of the season or on-time payments for the lawn maintenance season will receive one complimentary fall fertilizer treatment.

It is OK to “fine” those that are perpetually late but make sure the “fine” is defined up front. If your terms are net ten days, and if the payment is not received within 20 days of invoicing a 5% penalty for late payment will be added, not to exceed $25 and invoiced the following month.

Check your bank account daily. Stay on top of cash flow. No one else will.

Always look for ways to reduce your cash outflow. Negotiate credit terms with your suppliers the same as you negotiate payment terms with your customers. Delay outlays as long as possible to assure you have adequate cash-on-hand to deal with operating issues Day-in and day-out.

Have a good accountant that can assist you in managing your cash. If an accountant is not in your operating plan, then find a bookkeeper than can help you keep an eye on cash and give you a heads-up when issues arise.

Whether your short term goals are maintaining your business as is or growing it, managing your cash is second only to generating sales as the primary role of a small business owner.

 

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Management of Financial Woes

Question: How do I reduce my financial woes and still grow my business

Answer:

1. Remember the guiding credo of small business, “happiness is positive cash flow.” Know what is owed to you and when you can expect to receive payment. That way you can determine how much cash you can devote to expansion vs. day-to-day business operations.

2. Make sure you have a strong customer base in your existing business before trying to expand and grow. The one will give you a greater negotiating position especially if you are trying to expand your business nationally through retail distribution.

3. Use your peers as advisors – seek out networking opportunities to test your ideas and approaches for growth. Other business owners have similar issues and are normally welcoming when finding people like yourself with whom to network and get ideas of their own aired.

4. Using investors is only one way to finance growth. The first option should be to reinvest profit from the business to help grow your enterprise. That way you retain as much ownership as possible.

5. If you chose the investor route, get an experienced negotiator to help you structure a deal that won’t leave you doing all the work and getting none of the rewards. You may know your business, but financing a business through private investors is a slippery slope and one you may need help in navigating.

6. Look for investors who will provide more than money. Sometimes having investors who can invest their experience in your type of business to help you expand.

7. Create a board of advisors who can guide you through the growth curve.

Associates who have varied experience, interested in donating their time to assist you is sometimes more valuable than investing dollars.

8. Many “boomers” are considering becoming entrepreneurs in their post-retirement years. Beware of franchise or business opportunities that are suggesting to invest your retirement savings in a venture. It is all RISK, no matter how well you have planned your venture.

Source: USA Today Money 9/23 Laura Petrecca Smart Small Business

 

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Finding Money Losses

Question: My small business is losing money, and I can’t put my finger on the cause. Any ideas of where to look?

Answer: It is not always obvious why a business is losing money. When it occurs in your business, it’s important to step back from the day-to-day activity and look at everything you are doing. Get your accountant involved and contact SCORE for a Mentor to help evaluate what is causing the loss.

Jackie Nagel, Small Business Strategist & Coach at Synnovatia, suggests investigating these potential causes for your loss of money:

Cash flow. As we have stated in previous columns, happiness is positive cash flow for a small business. Many small businesses start off undercapitalized and continue to operate from month to month on a wing and a prayer. When you’re busy with the day-to-day operations of your business, it’s easy to overlook cash flow.

a. Establish a budget that includes sales projections.

b. Develop your cash flow projections. If you’re uncertain how to do this, your accountant or SCORE mentor can assist.

c. Monitor the financial health of your business regularly.

Organizational disorganization. If you, or those around you, are disorganized, it costs you money unnecessarily. For example, failure to order supplies at optimum levels costs your money. Chasing down subcontractors costs you money.

Set up systems to prompt consistency and foster quality.

Rid yourself of service providers, subcontractors, and suppliers who resist building in systems or support.

Hire a professional organizer to review your office systems and make appropriate changes.

Not paying attention to detail. As a small business owner, you’re the eyes at 30,000 feet, and you’re also the boots on the ground. It’s not uncommon to miss some of the important elements contributing to your loss of money. When you miss enough details, you’re going to feel the pinch.

Hire additional help to manage office details.

Schedule regular, uninterrupted time to check email.

Stop multi-tasking. It’s over-rated. Focus on one activity at a time.

Allowing your business to grow unchecked. “Scope creep” is a giant hole that sucks cash like a powerful vacuum from your business if not managed closely.

For instance, a client, for whom you’re doing lawn maintenance, asks for you to do a “small” painting job. Sounds simple enough. Plus it keeps your client happy and generates a little extra cash.

You’re not on the job long before the client asks if you can paint this, that, and the other thing. Before long, the “small” paint job has morphed into a “large” paint job, consuming your time and resources – to the detriment of your core lawn maintenance business!

Develop an accurate bidding system to allow for client changes

Communicate your “change order” policy clearly at the front end of any project.

Initiate a conversation with your client of the additional charges at the first sign of scope creep.

Failure to capture your soft expenses. Do you belong to your local Chamber of Commerce? Did you capture the annual membership fee? How about the after-hours event expenses? Did you remember to include your time spent working on the Chamber fundraising or membership activities?

To fully account for your business expenses, you cannot overlook the expense of your time on ancillary activities.

nclude the cost of your time when planning marketing initiatives.

Reset your goals to ensure a good rate of return.

Value your time. It comes with a price tag.

Lack of strategic thinking & planning. It’s easy to do whatever comes to mind or spend all your time to put out fires. It’s hard work to think through and plan how to get from point a to point b in your business.

Without strategic thinking, i.e., testing the assumptions you use to manage your enterprise, you jump from one activity to another without measurable accountability or a clear path. In fact, lack of time dedicated to strategic thinking and planning costs most small businesses their greatest loss of money.

Schedule a regular appointment with yourself for strategic thinking.

Connect with a SCORE Mentor for an objective look at your business.

Understand the time invested in strategic thinking is the best money saver any small business has.

If you want to put a stop to the unnecessary cash loss in your business, check the cash holes and take action to plug the holes. You also might contact Cape Cod SCORE at www.capecod.score.org

 

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Cash Management During Startup

Question: How can I be smart about managing my cash during the start-up phase of my business?

Answer: As an entrepreneur, you can have the most fantastic business idea, but without adequate cash management planning the business might be like 50% of others who fail due to cash mismanagement

Marc Price co-author of “Business Finance Basics” (Nova Vista, 2014) shared five common financial management mistakes small business owners make, and how to avoid these errors.

1. Not having enough cash reserves. Entrepreneurs know that they’ll probably need cash to invest in the start-up of their business, but it may take several fiscal quarters to realize a steady income from the company, let alone to make a profit. Before creating a Business Plan, you should generate a Source and Use of Cash analysis. That way you will start with adequate operating cash. Don’t fool yourself into wishful thinking that the money will somehow be there. Being a seasonal economy with the majority of the income producing time between April and October, you will need to plan for the needs in the off-season when you are operating at a much slower place so you can make it to the next.

2. Being plastic dependent. Some small business owners are forced to turn to credit cards for early stage survival, especially when they haven’t planned properly. Credit cards carry a high-interest charge and annual fees. Before using credit cards to finance your business, consider the various sources of capital that are available to you. You have options: a family bridge loan, a variety of small business (SBA) loan options. A capital infusion or your savings will ensure having sufficient operating capital and can save you from getting into credit card debt.

3. Mixing personal and business finances. On the fundamental axioms of business is to keep your personal and business finances totally separate. It’s tempting to cross the line, but keep these two entities completely separate. It makes it easier for accounting, budgeting and reconciling both sets of books, and assists in determining actual profits and losses for the business.

4. Shorting yourself on compensation. When you create your Source and Use of Funds analysis, you need to include a line in the Use section for owner’s compensation. Even if it is a smaller amount than you might like, paying yourself is both a structural and emotional must. In the early stages of business, it may seem like a solid decision to redistribute any and all of your profits back into your business. But not compensating yourself along the way could harm your personal finances and good financial standing. It also is very deflating to know that you are working 24/7 and not generating anything in return.

5. Not having an organized accounts receivable system. One the fundamental principles of cash management are managing your accounts receivables before your first sale. Print your payment terms on the back of every invoice, and follow a clear process in collecting payments. Negotiate your terms of payment with every client so that there is no misunderstanding. Cash on completion of the work, invoicing after completion with payment on receipt, Net 30 days (for long term customers or commercial accounts). Invoice immediately. Make sending prompt reminders part of your business. Getting behind in your receivables is the easiest way not to have cash when you need it.

Price said his best advice to new and aspiring entrepreneurs is to learn from fellow business owners and financial professionals. “Learning from others can never be underestimated,” Price said. “Make it a habit to reach out to other small business owners and ask for advice and opinions on their previous experiences. Additionally, seek out industry professionals [such as lawyers, accountants, bankers and real estate experts] to help guide you through the labyrinth of the endless financial pitfalls that could be looming. This process greatly mitigates your failure rate and puts you on a proper path for financial success.”

Source: Marc Price’s article was originally published on Business News Daily.

Have a question about common money mistakes? Connect with a Cape Cod SCORE mentor. www.capecod.score.org

 

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Loan Options to Fund Small Business Growth

Question: I started my business about two years ago and wanted to expand it, but need financing. What loans are available to small businesses on Cape Cod?

Answer: You might consider an SBA loan product or a direct loan provided by local banks such as Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank or Coastal Community Capital (Lenders). The first step is to contact your lender or Coastal Community Capital for advice on the type and term of loan best suited for you and your business. Term loans are good for real estate, equipment, and permanent working capital. Lines of Credit are excellent for seasonal working capital needs. Sometimes, a term loan and a line of credit are what is needed by the businesses. Both banks and Coastal offer complimentary advice.

SBA 7A Loan Guarantee – This loan is provided by a Lender and guaranteed by the US Small Business Administration. The maximum loan amount is $5,000,000 with an SBA loan guarantee limited to $3,750,000 per borrower. Rate, terms, and amortization are negotiated by you with your lender and are generally up to 7 years for working capital, ten years for equipment and 25 years for real estate. Some of the SBA’s requirements are: the business has to be profitable and demonstrate the ability to repay which may require projections, the borrower must be a citizen or have a valid “green” card and be of good character, and not be involved in real estate speculation. You can use the proceeds for working capital; equipment, business or real estate purchase; refinance existing debt; lines of credit; and most legitimate business purposes. Collateral is required to the extent available and subject to the lender’s collateral policies. Coastal may work with your bank to secure the loan, and SBA guarantee or Coastal can produce the loan and the loan guarantee. If a business plan is needed, Coastal can help.

SBA 504 Program – This loan is provided by a Lender and Coastal, in conjunction with the SBA. The bank provides 50%, Coastal 40% and the borrower 10%. The 504 is a long-term financing tool providing long-term, low fixed rate financing to acquire owner-occupied major fixed assets like land, buildings or modernization. It can also be used for debt refinancing when there is a business expansion for up to 80% of the projected expansion costs of up to $5 million. Most of the requirements of the SBA 7A program are applicable to this program as well. The benefits of the 504 are low down payment and fixed rates for up to 20 years. December’s rate was 4.885%. Startups are eligible.

Non-Profit financing is also available through the USDA-Rural Development. Contact Coastal for more information on these programs.

When you are ready for growth, look at all available funding sources, including SBA loan products which are quick to obtain and advantageous.

Funds are available for small business growth on the Cape.

For more information on financing your small business growth contact: SCORE – (508) 775-4884 or visit us at www.capecod.score.org.

 

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Managing the Ongoing Business 2

Question: I am good at my craft, but I have never managed people before. I now have six people working for me in my home remodeling business. What tips do you have to get the highest performance from them?

Answer: Every member of your team is different. Therefore you have to spend time with each of them to get to know what motivates them to get out of bed each day so you can adapt your management style to supervise them appropriately. Here are some thoughts that might work for you:

Hire slowly and choose the right people for your team. Make sure they understand your vision and the objectives you have set for your business. You need to provide them with clear directions, training and then let them do their work. Think of each employee on your team as a valued subcontractor – a professional responsible for getting their tasks done efficiently and on time.

Give them feedback regularly. Be an active listener. Make it a 360 Degree Evaluation where they are an active part of the appraisal so they can give you feedback about how they perceive they are being managed, as well as you sharing your impressions of their performance.

Try not to micromanage them. Give them direction, set the expectations, provide the appropriate training then get out of the way. Check in on your team periodically, pay attention to the results and give feedback.

Managing is a skill, and sometimes it is necessary to get help. Your local SCORE chapter and Chamber of Commerce Small Business Development organization are sources of help if you are struggling with team management. Get yourself a SCORE mentor to coach you in developing your team.

Make sure your team knows who the boss is – the customer. Being customer focused makes for an effective team. As a small business, word of mouth (WOM) is the most effective marketing you can do. If customers perceive your team as being customer first, that gets communicated to others who will be new business for your enterprise.

Get input from your team. When making a decision about a new product or service offering, about a change in policy or approach or making a change in direction, ask your team for their input. When you make the decision in a vacuum, you are not taking advantage of the first line communicators – your team. By getting their input, you are getting buy-in from the get-go.

Show your team, don’t just tell them. Lead by example. Be firm, but fair in all of your actions.

Strive for continuous improvement. If you ever get complacent, your business will suffer. Look for improvement in some way, some place, every day.

Hire employees that are smarter than you. Surround yourself with team members that are thinkers, innovators and visionaries. They don’t have to be sophisticated, but have skills and ideas and are willing to share them with you so you are constantly looking beyond today for what “can be” tomorrow.

 

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Women Owned Business

Question: I am a Cape Cod-based woman who is interested in starting a business that has been a part-time interest of mine for many years. Any tips?

Answer: Women have made significant progress in the world of business and becoming entrepreneurs. According to Jackie Nagel, Synnovatia, there is an average of 1200 new businesses started each day by women in the U.S. This is an increase of 740 more businesses than last year and this trend shows no sign of slowing down. Four in ten new businesses are women-owned businesses. Why? A greater desire for Work/Life balance is the driving force, and the cost of living requires two incomes for a family to thrive financially. For these reasons, women are starting their own businesses.

Plan your way to success. The Business Model Canvas is the best approach to testing your business concept and approach. www.strategyzer.com.

Research your idea, yourself.

Launch as a lean startup, but have growth in your startup plans. The National Women’s Business Council report found that the average woman owned business (WOB) has not grown. Why? Most launch their businesses with their savings and fail to reach outside their financial comfort zone to grow. To undertake this strategy (1) Fine tune your business story and vision and sell it to potential investors. Make it short and focused. Prepare a professional presentation of your business plan and needs. (2) Know your market. Do the research to prove you understand the environment in which you will compete. (3) Understand and be conversational with your business’s current finances and potential needs. Your most important financial tool is your Source and Use of Funds. What funds you will need to grow and how you will use them. (4) Use your network first to find investors. People who know you and your skills will be more willing to listen to your story than strangers. (5) Have a personnel plan. What skills do you need, when do you need them and what will be the investment to achieve your human resource needs? Check out Jeanne Sullivan, http://www.linkedin.com/in/jeannemsullivan, and Kerry Hannon http://www.linkedin.com/in/kerryhannon, for more insights into financing women-owned businesses.

Surround yourself with experienced business advisors. Use a board of advisors. Most small businesses are not large enough or organized to have a board of directors, so identify 3 or 4 experienced business professionals to guide you through the process of launch, start-up, and growth. Cape Cod SCORE mentors help entrepreneurs with the Advisory Board function.

Women business entrepreneurs are the best sources of advice. Here are some tips and hints:

Dream big. Don’t limit yourself. Nothing is impossible. WOB generate $1.4 trillion in sales each year.

Research your business idea. Do as much research as possible upfront.

Owning a business (and especially starting one) is the loneliest endeavor in the world. Surround yourself with a network of contacts with whom you can test ideas and approaches.

Never stop believing that you can do it. Having the confidence that you can overcome the obstacles especially in the start-up phase is critical. It is not easy in the beginning, nor is it after you are underway. When you get up the morning, tell yourself, “I can do it.” If you maintain this self-confidence, you won’t give up. Failure is a natural part of business development. All your ideas won’t be winners.

Define your business’s brand early and commit to it. This means what values your brand represents. Everything you do should be consistent with those values, so the brand lives in the mind of the potential buyers of your products or services.

Maintain focus. Small business owners are tempted to take on activities outside the defined scope of the business. It is a slippery slope. Once you veer from the plan, getting back on track is very difficult. This is the value of having a functioning business plan.

Keep a healthy work/life balance from the start. It is very easy to suck the life out of your personal life during the start-up. Identify what defines balance to maintain relationships with family and friends.

on’t let what you don’t know scare you. When you identify functions you don’t feel competent, such as accounting or marketing, either get outside help or get training in the function, so you become proficient. While you are researching your business concept, get educated on Entrepreneurship. Consider schools like Babson, online or take SCORE’s 6-week workshop at 4C’s and Upper Cape Tech.

Sources: Amy Vetter, Xero, Jackie Nagel, Syhnnovatia, Kerry Hannon

 

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Buying, Starting a Business or Franchising

Question: Should I start a business, buy an existing business or purchase a franchise?

Answer: When you either start a business or buy a business you are pretty much on your own, but if you buy a franchise, you are part of a network of other franchisees with a brand and proven formula for sales. The power of the franchisor is behind you in your sales and marketing efforts. In starting or buying a business, you are all alone, but with a franchise you get training and guidance from the franchisor. The loneliest part of business ownership is not having a network for advice and counsel, but with a franchise, you have other franchisees. Remember, just like buying or starting a business there are financial commitments that have to be made. In a franchise, you have a franchise fee and on-going royalties. Those need to be thoroughly evaluated. And, with those fees and royalties come a contract that restricts what you can do vs. the freedom you have when you are on your own. Making sure you understand all the details is vital to your success.

Source: Simple Steps for Starting Your Own Business – SCORE/BoA

 

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Startup Capital

Question: I am planning to start a small business on Cape Cod. I have little to no start-up capital. What are some of the musts I should keep in mind?

Answer: Jonathan Long, Founder, and CEO of Market Domination Media suggests the following:

Create a comprehensive business plan. No matter how great your business idea is if you don’t create a well thought out comprehensive business plan, no amount of capital will matter. If you have a great idea and little capital, don’t let that stop you. Sweat equity and creativeness will help to overcome the lack of funds, but you need a plan that will act as a compass, a guide, a measurement tool and keep you focused. BTW, comprehensive doesn’t mean long. It means well thought out and having enough detail to get you through the startup mode and into the growth stage.

Know what you know and find others who contribute what you don’t know. There is a saying that businesses succeed when they “stick to their knitting.” Don’t venture far from your individual expertise. The less you have to rely on outside resources at the beginning, the better chances for getting through the start-up stage. You can always find outside resources after you get the cash flowing. However, before you even enter start-up, get a good accountant who can guide you.

WOM is the most powerful startup marketing. Tell everyone you know about your enterprise. Network with anyone and everyone who can drive traffic to your business. Use emails, social media, and your website to communicate your message that your doors are open for business. Don’t forget to include your network from your past life. Let them help you get the word out.

Be frugal. If you don’t have to spend on whatever it is, don’t do it. You need six months of operating cash to protect for the downside. If you don’t have it, then every dollar you can save by not spending, is a dollar you will have to become your safety net when the situation arises. And, it will arise.

Plan your receivables to generate the needed cash flow. Make sure it is clear with customers what the terms of payment are before you begin the work. If you are painting a house and want 50% up front and 50% upon completion, put it in your bid. If your business is residential window washing and you want payment upon completion of each job to avoid invoicing, state so before beginning. Have invoices available in your truck so you can write out an invoice and accept a check upon completion. If you are giving credit, make sure they understand net 30 days is not net 45 or 60 days.

Take advantage of anything that is FREE. Your goal is to generate brand buzz with the minimal amount of financial investment. Social media requires sweat equity, but not as much financial investment. Use it if it fits your target market. Local media are always interested in a story. Get them to write a story about your business. The email also can be inexpensive if you manage your own list and email content creation.

It doesn’t take a lot of capital to get going, but you need a plan for how to use your capital, where it will come from and where it will go to survive the start-up

 

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Why a Financial Plan is Important

Question: What is a financial plan and why do I need one?

Answer: A financial plan is a roadmap or compass that gets you from one financial period (1/1/xx) to another (12/31/xx). It defines what revenue you will generate. In other words, what will your projected sales be and break down the sales by category? For example in our business, we project sales for training programs, measurement projects, consulting assignments and product sales. Four sources of income. Your financial plan will also assign expenses needed to generate those sales. Many times they are called operating expenses or “sales and general administrative expenses.” They include rent, auto, insurance, payroll and taxes, office/administrative, such as stationery, copy paper, printer cartridges and promotional expenses like radio, newspaper advertising, trade press advertising, trade shows and your sales force. A financial plan will also include the need for capital equipment (printers or fork trucks). A projection should also be done for a balance sheet to show assets, liabilities and equity. When I started my business, my father gave me a plaque that reads, “Happiness is Positive Cash Flow,” so you will want to do a source and use of funds or a cash flow statement, which will end up in a “break-even” analysis. This will enable you to know what is the size of the “nut” you will have to cover in starting your business and then financing it.

Source: Simple Steps for Starting Your Own Business – SCORE/BoA

 

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Growing

Business Development

Question: Are there any tips you can share in launching my new business?

Answer: There are many sources of hints, tips, and techniques for launching a new business. Dave Kerpen. CEO, Likable Local, shared some of his tips in a recent blog.

Find a niche

When planning your venture identify a focused market segment, a niche, you can service where there are fewer competitors, where barriers to entry are higher and where you will be selling your product or service based on value delivered, not dollars per hour or price alone. The agility of a small business allows it to “bob and weave” as the dynamics of a niche market as it experiences changes.

Differentiate yourself

Most people buyout of differentiation. In building your business model, you need to focus on how you differ from others who are vying for the same business. Is it your experience in the market, your approach, the skills of your team, your location, your ability to offer your service through a variety of different approaches? Whatever it is, highlight your differentiators in developing your brand.

Make a face behind the brand visible People buy from other people. You can spend thousands of dollars developing a logo, brand image, but people who buy from you want to know is who is behind the promotion.

Build a brand based on values

When customers and potential buyers interact with your brand what values do they attach to it? Brands are perceptions, and they live in the mind of the buyer. They are how they see you and your business. Step back from the logistics and operations of your business and ask yourself what is the perception you want buyers to hold when they interact with you? Reliable, dependable, provider of value, trustworthy, knowledgeable. After you have determined what they should be periodically tested, with customers, whether your brand is delivering those values.

Find trustworthy partners

If you are planning to start up your business with others, you need to consider all the benefits each person brings to the venture and evaluate their individual strengths and weaknesses to assure they are complimentary to yours. Your business partners may be long time personal friends which make the challenge evaluation more daunting. In the case of a friendship, do your analysis to determine if they would be appropriate partners before you begin any serious dialogue. That way you avoid ruining a good friendship if they don’t have the requisite characteristics.

Crawl, Walk, then Run by creating Strategies

Small business success is all about staying focused and being strategically centered in your planning process. Being strategic means: leading, analyzing, questioning, planning and collaborating. It means understanding where you are today and where you want to be tomorrow and how you are going to get there.

Learn to Say No!

There are two mantras of small business success: managing cash flow and staying focused. Where most small enterprises get lost and the crash is when they lose focus and take on either more than they are capable or take on more than their cash flow will support. Anytime a client asks if you can help out by taking on one small project that is not in your mainstream, you risk losing focus and therefore control.

Find peer support

Entrepreneurship is lonely especially if you are a sole proprietor. Even if you are a start-up with employees, you need to think about having a peer support group that can provide you a sounding board for ideas, issues, problems, and risk assessment. They might be from a networking group or your local Chamber of Commerce. They should be people you feel comfortable reaching out to on a regular basis or an as-needed basis.

Form a board of advisors

When starting out you don’t need a Board of Directors, but having a group of advisors that meet with your on a regular, but the periodic, basis to review the status of your business, test your objectives and assure that the planning assumptions that formed the basis of your business plan are still in place. A Board of Advisors can help you think through issues that are impacting your forward progress and even advise you if you are not on track.

 

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Growing Your Small Business

Question: I have been in business for about five years and profitable for 3. Now that I am established, I want to grow my business. Any tips?

Answer: Now that you are beyond being a fledgling venture, there is no specific formula or magic recipe to follow in taking your business to the next level. A lot of growth strategy has to do with whether you make and sell a product or offer a service. It has to do with the general industry trends in which you function. Is your sector growing, stable or in decline? The most important element in growing your small business is a growth plan. Just like you had a plan for starting and launching your business, you will need a plan for growing your business. And, it starts with growth objectives. Is its geographic expansion, i.e., across the bridges or sales volume growth from your current market? What milestones do you want to reach and by when?

Here are some specifics you want to keep in mind as you plan your enterprise growth.

Stay focused on your business mission. When attempting to grow a business, it is tempting to branch out into unknown waters. Try to stay focused on who you are, what you do and what is your core offering. When your mission becomes unfocused, you tend to make costly errors.

Have the right team in place. Hiring the right people is a great place to start. You need to assure that you have the right skills and a firm foundation of culture in place before attempting to grow. In creating your growth plan, consider what skills are needed to assist you in reaching your formalized objectives? When looking beyond a solopreneur organization, you need staff that are multi-taskers and are not afraid to get their hands a little dirty to make the leap to the next level of sales or production.

Determine what your source for growth revenue will be and focus on it. Most businesses look to increased revenue to grow their businesses by finding and selling their new products or services to new buyers. It is more productive to grow your business through existing customers who are already sold on you and your business and sell them more of what you are offering. Focus on your established market and established channels.

Reduce your risks. All business is risky. And risk is an inevitable part of growing an existing business. However, you must know what the risks are and know how to limit them, so the downsides are controlled. Some of the risk management might be through your insurance broker, but others are through careful, planned expansion. Employ the adage, “think twice, then act,” or as strategist Peter Johnson advises, “Accuracy before momentum.”

Be adaptable and flexible. There are times when you will need to switch directions. Your plan just might hit a “bump in the road” that is beyond your control, so you need to be adaptable and flexible and change with the internal and external environmental shifts. You might always have a plan “B” in your pocket to use when the need arises.

Always have a Plan B. Just like in the start-up phase, in the growth phase of business, you never know what will change your direction due to unforeseen situations. Some are obstacles. Some are opportunities. Regardless, one of these situations will occur, and you will need a plan that allows you to pivot. With a Plan B, you have the ability to move in a different direction or adjust your strategies and tactics in managing the growth of your business.

Focus on the customer and their experience. What people remember most about their interaction with you is the experience. Many products today are viewed as commodities with little differentiation. Perceptions about how you engaged, serviced, and reacted to them will help you grow your business through word-of-mouth promotion. When you see a need, go for it. The most successful small businesses are the ones that capitalizes on opportunities that are presented to them. If you listen to your customers not only will they be committed to you, but you will find what the next opportunity for your business will be since they will tell you. If you are not listening to your customers, you may not get to the next stage in growth.

Become a life-long learner. Invest in yourself. Take courses at Cape Cod Community College’s Center for Corporate and Professional Education. Enroll in a workshop offered by Cape Cod SCORE and Coastal Community Capital, co-hosted by your local Chambers of Commerce. Read industry magazines and stay tuned into e-zines that will give you greater insight into business growth options. Participate in online discussions via LinkedIn groups. All it takes is 30 or 45 minutes per day to get new ideas about solving your growth issues

Growing an existing business is not for the faint at heart. It takes a plan, persistence, ingenuity, and determination.

 

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Franchising 101

Question: I have been thinking about starting my own business. Friends have suggested buying a franchise. What questions do I need to know before taking this path?

Answer: You have three alternatives: start your business from scratch, buy an existing business or buy a franchise. Too many franchise purchases are done on a whim, so you are on the right track thinking about what questions to ask before investing your hard earned retirement funds. The one advantage of a franchise over starting your own business is that if you excel at the business side of the enterprising equation, the franchisor provides the technical side. If you excel at the technical side, then the franchisor can provide you with systems that have proven successful. After you have found a business of interest, then think about these questions to ask when evaluating a franchise.

Read the Franchise Disclosure Document. By law, each franchisor must have a formal Franchise Disclosure Document. After you have thoroughly reviewed it and noted your questions, locate a franchise law attorney and have the document reviewed. Why a specialist? Because franchise law is a specialty and your investment requires the best advice you can get. Get an estimate beforehand, so you know what your investment will be to get a legal opinion on the franchise.

Talk to current franchisees. What is it like to be a franchisee? What is the typical day like? How many hours per day, week, or month does the franchise require? Would you buy this franchise again? What is it like to work in this franchise environment? What are the most common issues a new franchisee will face? If there is a conflict, how is it resolved? Check out http://www.bluemaumau.org/ and www.unhappyfranchisee.com. Look for negative chatter about the franchise. All before you have a detailed discussion with the franchisor.

Find out what the turnover rate is or how many units changed hands in the past year? If there are a lot of sales of existing franchises, this is a sign of trouble. The Franchise Disclosure Document will disclose this data. At the same time, investigate the failure rate and what was the cause of failure? Find a franchisee that failed and ask them about the issues surrounding their ownership.

What support does the franchisee get beyond the initial training?

You also will want to do the following:

Visit a franchise in a geographic area other than your own. See how it operates and assess how you will function compared to the one observed.

Speak with owner/operators (of your choosing, not the franchisor) to fully understand the finances of opening and sustaining yourself while you grow your business. Find out how many months did the franchise take to break even? What kind of revenues and gross profits can be expected in years 1, 2 and 3?

Find out if there were any expenses that were unexpected during the startup and ramp-up?

And, after you have reviewed everything you can, would you recommend a friend buy this franchise?

If you are a prospective franchise purchaser. Enter the process with your eyes wide open and make sure you leave your rose colored glasses at home.

 

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Growth for the Ongoing Business

Question: Where can I get financing help to expand my small business?

Answer: There are a number of resources on Cape Cod that are available to help you grow your business:

Small Business Administration – an independent federal agency, the SBA helps entrepreneurs start, and small business owners grow their businesses through field offices. Their local office is in Boston. However, SBA representatives are on the Cape regularly. The SBA works with private lenders and community development corporations to guarantee loans. (Coastal Community Capital was featured in a previous Tips as a resource for loan assistance.) They offer training programs and session to help small business compete for Federal contracts. www.sba.gov

SCORE is a nonprofit association that offers free and confidential business advice either online or face-to-face via a network of 43 volunteer Mentors on Cape Cod and the Islands. As an SBA partner, SCORE Mentors can help entrepreneurs vet their business ideas, write a business plan, finding funding or planning the expansion of an existing business. SCORE has an office in Hyannis and can be reached via phone (508)775-4884 or www.capecod.score.org.

Coastal Community Capital structures loans allowing for low-interest only payments during the offseason preserving cash to cover monthly expenses when cash flow is tight. Their project size for business growth loans for start-ups and existing businesses is $10,000-$500,000. Terms vary depending on the application of the capital borrowed. Coastal also offers real-estate equipment acquisition loans over $500,000 with a maximum participation of $1,500,000. Terms vary from 10-20 years with low-interest, long-term, fixed rate financing. Visit http://www.coastalcommunitycapital.org for more detailed information on how Coastal can assist in business growth.

Small Business Development Centers offer one-stop services to small business and entrepreneurs. The centers are a cooperative effort among the private sector, educational institutions and government. SBDC’s can help with feasibility studies and organization analysis. The MA SBDC offers to counsel at the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce offices in Hyannis. http://www.msbdc.org/semass/aboutus.html

Women’s Business Centers -WBCs represent a national network of nearly 100 educational centers throughout the United States and its territories, which are designed to assist women in starting and growing small businesses. WBCs seek to "level the playing field" for women entrepreneurs, who still face unique obstacles in the business world. The district office is located at 10 Causeway Street Room 265, Boston, MA 02222, Phone: (617) 565-5590 – www.sba.gov/content/womens-business-centers

SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO) oversees the WBC network, which provides entrepreneurs (especially women who are economically or socially disadvantaged) comprehensive training and counseling on a variety of topics in several languages.

 

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Growing Your Business – Mystery Shopping

Question: I am a new restaurateur, should I consider “mystery shopping” my business to gain insight into customer satisfaction?

Answer: The quick answer is yes, mystery shopping has benefits for you and your staff. However, there are several ways to address the question in adding mystery shopping to your quality program. What is mystery shopping? It is having someone shop your business as a typical customer and audit it against a set of defined expectations that will give you insight into how customers perceive their experience dining with you. So how do I entertain this metric?

1. Make a list of all the elements that are involved in making a positive, memorable customer experience. This list will be the audit outline the mystery shopper uses. In a restaurant it might be: (1) welcoming at the door, (2) honoring reservation times, (3) having the servers introducing them-selves before taking an order, (4) checking on continued satisfaction during the dinner without being intrusive. (5) Clearing the table after everyone is finished. There are others depending on your specific business model, but these might be a start.

2. Communicate to your employees that the restaurant is going to be “mystery shopped” sometime in the next few weeks. You don’t have to tell them when, but that it is going to be done so that it is not a surprise.

3. Conduct some internal training so that employees are reminded of what makes a great customer experience.

4. Share the results of the mystery shopping with your staff – make it a learning experience for everyone involved – you and them.

5. If there is an issue identified that is specific to one employee, then provide that feedback one-on-one so as not to embarrass them and making it a learning experience.

This same process can be used by retailers, as well as, restauranteurs. If you have telephone based business, you can also “mystery shop” it by having your shopper contact your internal sales personnel to address an issue and measure their performance. You might also consider – comment cards; email surveys sent after customer visits to your establishment or if a service after you have provided the service. Whether it be using a mystery shopper or some other feedback vehicle, your future customer satisfaction will be driven by how satisfied your current customers have been.

Source: MSNBC: Your Business

 

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Networking

Chamber events are great for meeting people and sharing ideas. The key skill that is needed to make them successful for you is NETWORKING.

Sam Zamarippa, an Atlanta-based networking guru advises, “networking is being interested in other people and having something interesting to say.” That means you have to prepare for the next Chamber event not just show up. First, be focused on others and what is important to them and second come to the event with something they will be interested in talking about. For example, books you have read, movies you have seen, vacations you have taken or even TV shows that have captured your interest. There is a rule in networking: stay away from topics such as sex, politics, and religion. Once you know what interests them, you can adjust your dialogue to be “them focused.”

Don Newman, Bank of North Carolina executive, provides tips to supercharge your networking.

Prepare for the event by setting objectives.

Make the mental shift from, “what can I get from you” to “what can we create together.”

Go to the functions alone.

If there is a seated portion of the event, put yourself next to someone you don’t know.

In your preparation, have some “go to” questions that are open ended.

Practice being interested vs. being interesting.

Passion is what drives people. Probe for their passions.

The key is asking “what can I do for you?”

Be authentic.

Take notes

Read More Tips from SCORE #94 Marketing – Networking.pdf

Networking is a skill that needs to be practiced to positively impact the development of relationships with new connections. So get out there and work the groups to increase your sphere of contacts.

 

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Startup Advice

Question: What tips can you share about starting a small business?

Answer: Where better to get the answer to this question but ask small business owners and those that support small businesses in their start-up stage. Alignable is a community of small business owners that share ideas. These are tips and suggestions made by members of the Alignable community www.alignable.com.

Concentrate your resources where they count. (1) Identify your ideal audience and their needs. (2) Build a beautiful/professional brand visual identity. (3) Work on the whole branding experience (visuals, message, customer service, etc.). (4) Have a strong social media presence (in not all, but on the right medias) and connect with the right people. (5) Constantly share value. (6) Be consistent. Be unique. Do the work! Prioritize the work. Do what is important first, even if it is the hardest.

Create a value proposition that resonates with your target market. What are their needs? How can you solve their pain points? What is it they want from you that will equate to a buying decision for you? Creating a value proposition that is customer focused will generate sales. Value propositions need to be clear, concise and benefit based statements that define what customers can expect when doing business with you.

Think twice before you forego or shortchange marketing your brand. Think about the following questions as you consider your marketing investments: (1) What is your cost per lead? If you are using email blasts, direct mail or a local home and garden show to generate leads for sales, what is your cost per qualified lead from each medium? (2) What is the lifetime value of a customer? If you perform fertilizing for clients and the average annual invoice value is $500 per year per customers, and you have most clients an average of 10 years, then the lifetime value of a client is $5,000. Looking at a client from this perspective is different from looking at them at an annual value. (3) What percentage of my budget should be apportioned for marketing? The amount depends on what works and what doesn’t and investing again in what worked. There is no optimal approach or amount. It highly depends on your business and market. (4) Your marketing objective is to create a sustainable competitive advantage. Positioning yourself in the mind of buyers, so they see no suitable substitute for you, you have achieved your goal.

What are some of the common misperceptions about marketing? (1) Expecting too much too soon, then giving up when results don’t happen instantaneously. And, doing just way too much with no focus. (2) The opposite: doing a campaign once and then quitting. Marketing requires repetition. (3) Not understanding your marketing and your ultimate consumer. (4) Not tracking the results so there is little understanding of what worked and what didn’t. Or, tracking, but not adjusting the media campaign.

Follow-up, Follow-up, Follow-up. Most sales are lost because the seller gives up too soon. It may take up to 7 contacts with someone new before you get them converted to using your product or service. Use all the tools to follow-up the initial contact, so they see you on social media as well as traditional communications tools, like postcards, advertisements, and flyers. Follow-up every sale with a personal thank you note so show (1) you valued them as a customer and took the time to write them personally and (2) they remember you in a different dimension other than performing the work.

Ask for the business. Many individuals forget – it’s called “the closing” portion of the sales process. Yes, you are going to be a sales person unless you can afford to pay real sales people. Actually, the two most important functions of small business owners are (1) sales and (2) cash management.

The number one thing that trips up businesses is scalability. When you start your business, you have a lot of time and no customers. As you build your business, it starts to reverse. Putting in good processes right from the start is key. Also, stay away from busy work. Ask yourself with every task or process, why am I doing this and if I stopped, would it negatively impact my business? If the answer is no, stop doing it.

 

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Personnel

Question: What are the characteristics of a good employee and how do If know a candidate has them?

Answer: Good employees all display qualities such as dependability, punctuality, reliability, initiative and positive attitude. Some other qualities you might look for are flexibility, motivation, organization and being able to complete assigned tasks. The question is, what qualities do you need in your employees? You are not going to train a new employee to be motivated, but you will train them to work a specific piece of machinery or explain your company’s offerings to potential prospects. So hire for the qualities and train for the skills.

The best way to assess whether a candidate has the qualities you are seeking is to ask open-ended questions, provide scenarios and ask them how they would handle them and get them to explain experiences in their life that will demonstrate the qualities you are seeking. As a small business entrepreneur, you have to hire well. You don’t get many chances to hire the right employees. So you need to be focused on the results that the new employee can accomplish for you. Bill Barman recommends six traits that every new hire needs to demonstrate: Aptitude, Intelligence, Attitude, Intensity, and Integrity. He recommends having a second person with you during the interview process to capture what you don’t observe and rate them on these six characteristics 1-5. Then compare your results.

 

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Startup

Question: I am planning to start my own business on the Cape with a launch date of March 2015. What do I have to consider to assure that I survive for at least the first year?

Answer: The easy answer is (1) have a well thought out business plan. (2) Be well funded. (3) Know who and where you customers are and sell, sell, sell, then perform above and beyond. Let’s look at some other elements of first-year success.

Plan your way to success. Many entrepreneurs think they have a great idea, but don’t fully vet it through a well thought out plan that fully explores the strategies and tactics for launching and operating the business. If an idea is not well thought out and planned, no amount of money, sweat or prayer can make it a success.

Stick to your knitting. If your life experience is in construction, don’t venture into landscaping where you have no experience. You can rely on outside resources to help you with what you don’t know like bookkeeping, but you need to build a business around what you know to have a firm foundation for success.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Tell your friends, family, and associates, past business colleagues about your new venture. Get on social media that is frequented by your future customers. Use a website as your gateway to customers. Use email to introduce you to your target market. Positioning yourself in the market is critical so that upon launch you have a brand that buyers want to experience.

Crawl, walk, then run. Don’t bite off more than your can chew at one sitting. If you are launching a lawn service, start with a truck, trailer, and equipment, when you get to the point where you cannot service any more customers with the initial equipment and know that this level is sustainable, invest in the next level of service. If you have window cleaning business and one team can handle 25 customers, when you get to 26 customers consider expansion, not before since customers come and go and you don’t want a team waiting for the next customer.

Be frugal. Owning and operating a business is expensive. If you don’t need an office, don’t rent one. If you need one truck and trailer, don’t buy two. Buy your business cards online or from a printer that will deliver for the same price. Use the promotional piece that has multiple uses vs. designing something new for each promotion. Test the market to determine what promotions work and what don’t. There is a saying, “Happiness is positive cash flow.” Sales generate cash in, but cash out is a management issue that you can control.

Use your personal credit cards conservatively. You can be smart or suicidal. You can go out and buy everything you possibly could use at one time and load your credit card or time your purchases so that you buy what you need to start and then add to it as you generate cash flow. Let your business income fund the acquisition of needed equipment. This approach to debt reduces the stress level of managing your cash.

Manage your receivables. If there is any one element of the year, fundamental to survival it’s to manage your receivables. Negotiate your payment terms up front. If it is payment upon receipt of services or receiving a deposit and then payment upon completion of house painting or home renovation, then make sure you and your customer agree up front. If you are going to invoice, then make sure there is agreement on the terms, net 30 days or payment upon receipt. Know what your cash needs are and then stay on top of receivables.

Take advantage of any free promotions. Social media requires “sweat” investment. If your customers are connected via social media, use it. If they are newsletter readers, then create your email list and send a monthly newsletter with hints, tips, and techniques for managing one’s garden. Network anyplace you can get increase brand awareness. Get the buzz going about your venture by word of mouth that networking generates.

Get ready to work harder than you have ever worked before. Much of your success will be the “sweat equity” that you put into the enterprise. If you think you worked hard for someone else, you have no idea what it is like to be your own boss. It is long days and some part of seven days a week. When you are away, you are still there mentally. If you are ready for this type of commitment, then your friends and family need know the commitment you have to make to launch and succeed in your business.

Business on Cape Cod is different. No matter what your business: consulting, life coaching, bookkeeping, house painting, window washing, music lessons or event planning, you need to understand in launching a Cape-based business that you will have more defined swings in both sales and expenses. From May to October you are flat out. From November to April you are in a sustaining mode and preparing for the next season. It takes a different approach to operating and managing your enterprise. Be prepared before launch.

For more information on launching a business: Jonathan Long, Founder, and CEO, Market Domination Media.

 

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Startup 2

Question: I am planning to start a small business on Cape Cod. I have little to no start-up capital. What are some of the musts I should keep in mind?

Answer: Jonathan Long, Founder, and CEO of Market Domination Media suggests the following:

Create a comprehensive business plan. No matter how great your business idea is if you don’t create a well thought out comprehensive business plan, no amount of capital will matter. If you have a great idea and little capital, don’t let that stop you. Sweat equity and creativeness will help to overcome the lack of funds, but you need a plan that will act as a compass, a guide, a measurement tool and keep you focused. BTW, comprehensive doesn’t mean long. It means well thought out and having enough detail to get you through the start-up mode and into the growth stage.

Know what you know and find others who contribute what you don’t know. There is a saying that businesses succeed when they “stick to their knitting.” Don’t venture far from your individual expertise. The less you have to rely on outside resources at the beginning, the better chances for getting through the start-up stage. You can always find outside resources after you get the cash flowing. However, before you even enter start-up, get a good accountant who can guide you.

WOM is the most powerful start-up marketing. Tell everyone you know about your enterprise. Network with anyone and everyone who can drive traffic to your business. Use emails, social media, and your website to communicate your message that your doors are open for business. Don’t forget to include your network from your past life. Let them help you get the word out.

Be frugal. If you don’t have to spend on whatever it is, don’t do it. You need six months of operating cash to protect for the downside. If you don’t have it, then every dollar you can save by not spending, is a dollar you will have to become your safety net when a situation arises. And, it will arise.

Plan your receivables to generate the needed cash flow. Make sure it is clear with customers what the terms of payment are before you begin the work. If you are painting a house and want 50% up front and 50% upon completion, put it in your bid. If your business is residential window washing and you want payment upon completion of each job to avoid invoicing, state so before beginning. Have invoices available in your truck so you can write out an invoice and accept a check upon completion. If you are giving credit, make sure they understand net 30 days is not net 45 or 60 days.

Take advantage of anything that is FREE. Your goal is to generate brand buzz with the minimal amount of financial investment. Social media requires sweat equity, but not as much financial investment. Use it if it fits your target market. Local media outlets are always interested in a story. Get them to write a story about your business. The email also can be inexpensive if you manage your own list and email content creation.

It doesn’t take a lot of capital to get going, but you need a plan for how to use your capital, where it will come from and where it will go to survive the start-up.

 

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Learning from Failure

Question: I am sure that there are entrepreneurs that have failed during their startup or even failed when bringing a product or service to market. What did they learn from those experiences?

Answer: There is an axiom in business, “If you are not making mistakes, you aren’t doing anything.” Growth in a business occurs when you fail, acknowledge it, own it and learn from it. Every business owner can relate to a failure they experienced during startup or after launch in bringing a product to market that wasn’t fully vetted or tested. Winston Churchill was quoted as defining success as “the ability to go from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.” After screwing up, you can only learn from it, get back in the saddle and do it better the next time. Dan Rockwell, Leadership Freak [email protected] commented on failure in a recent blog is sharing some of his ideas for this column.

Consider the following:

Own the error by taking full responsibility for the misstep, or you will surely repeat it in the future. If you fail to own it, you won’t learn from it and will, therefore, fall into the same pattern that got you to that situation in the first place.

Be courageous. Be Proactive. Take action to own and correct the error before someone else takes it from you and forces you in a direction you don’t want to go.

If it was a performance issue, like losing a sale, view the entire experience through the eyes of a “super salesperson” and assess what they would have done differently. Then adopt those steps in future interactions.

Be courteous and analyze the impact of the failure on others, especially those who trusted you to perform in the first place.

Evaluate the expectations. What was the level of performance that was expected? Was it understood?

Focus on the event and the performance of the event or lack thereof. If you personalize it, you won’t learn from it. If you beat yourself up about it, you cannot be objective about corrective action for the future.

Complete these three sentences: I learned to …, I learned not to …, Next time, I’ll …

Be accountable without offering excuses. Create a company culture that allows for error and failure by being accountable for one’s actions.

Look at your systems if the failure is a recurring one. If you find a step was missed, maybe a checklist will help the next time, so you don’t skip the step or forget something.

If it looks like the failure was due to personal weakness, try delegating. Don’t let personal ego get in the way of achieving the “prize” whatever that might be.

At times understanding a failure or misstep requires outside assistance.

 

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Growing Your Business

Question: I have a business that is five years old. We are profitable and want to grow. Any tips on how to achieve growth.

Answer: Rieva Lesonsky, www.growbizmedia.com, has a few tips that we have modified to apply to Cape Cod businesses.

Expand geographically. We talk about being a Cape Cod business, but if you really want to grow your enterprise, you cannot let either bridge be limitations to your growth. Consider yourself a South Shore business based on Cape Cod. Consider the Islands as part of your sphere of business. Consider the world as an opportunity via e-commerce.

Expand demographically. If you started off cleaning homes for high-end customers, create an offering from working families or for businesses. Look at other target markets that can benefit from your service. Explore other segments of business that relate to your business. A bike rental business can offer men’s, women’s and then children’s bikes – bikes with even training wheels for true beginners. They can offer three-wheeled vehicles for senior-seniors who want to bike, but two-wheelers are no longer safe.

Expand by adding products to your services or vice versa. If your offering is window cleaning, then you might offer to clients who are on monthly contracts, cleaning products for their cars or boats. You have a hardware store where the core business is sales, but why not offer equipment rentals?

Expand by moving to e-commerce. One way to grow your business beyond the geographic boundaries of the Cape and Islands is to use e-commerce. You might select specific offerings from your boutique to offer on-line vs. the entire store’s products. Getting followers of your website is an important first step, and that can be done through adding a blog or content that will appeal to your clientele.

Expand by moving from e-commerce to brick and mortar. Many new enterprises start using e-commerce since the fixed investments are less. If your e-commerce revenue is plateauing, you might think about brick and mortar in a fixed location where you can expand your e-commerce offerings.

Expand by hiring. You have been a solo practitioner since startup. If you have a marketing services studio if you add a graphic designer so you can spend more time selling, can you expand your business profitably? If you can project an increase in revenue and profit to justify hiring staff that will increase your flow through, then it might be time to hire. You have a landscaping business and are turning down (profitable) work since you don’t have the staff, then adding a truck, equipment and personnel might be in order. Doing a break-even analysis is the first step to determine if, in fact, the addition of capital and human resources will benefit the business.

Expand by changing the organization of your business. Is it time to find a partner? Can a partner provide skills that will allow you to grow your business? A partner that is good at administration and organization that can run the office, manage your Accounts Receivables, work team scheduling may give you time to increase revenue and profits by meeting with more clients, executing more proposals, and doing more face-to-face customer contact. It may not be a partner, as in investing to achieve a share in the business, but it might be someone who is an associate who receives incentive compensation based on increased revenue and profit.

Expand by adding an Advisory Board. Being an entrepreneur is a lonely business. Analyzing growth, managing an expanding business, evaluating options is very difficult and dangerous if you are doing it by yourself. Create an Advisory Board of experts who can advise you. At SCORE we offer Advisory Boards to clients who are beyond the monthly mentoring and are ready for quarterly updates and reviews. For one client we have three Mentors: a CPA, a marketer and a general management specialist. Meeting Quarterly gives both sides time to digest change and evaluate next steps in growth.

 

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Expanding Your Business

Question: I have a successful small business on Cape Cod. I am thinking about expanding to a 2nd location. What hints, tips or suggestions do you have?

Answer: You have several options to grow a business when you have reached the limit of market penetration in your current location. Move to a 2nd location, increase the size, depth, and breadth of the business in the original location or do nothing and remain the same size. Here are some thoughts to consider:

There are risks to expanding a business that is healthy, but there are also benefits of expanding. You can:

Become a regional business vs. a local business. You can reach the South Shore as well as the Cape and Islands with an additional “off Cape” location.

Meet customer demands more efficiently if you have Upper, Mid, and Lower Cape locations.

Generate buying leverage by having multiple locations and therefore buying more, less expensively, to support your multiple locations.

Shift inventory from location to location to maximize cash flow.

Move managers from one location to another depending on individual location needs.

Share employees from one location to another to meet demand and service needs.

Have common POS (point of sale systems) to maintain inter-unit flexibility

Increase brand awareness across the region.

The important issue for most small businesses is to know when to expand by:

Establishing milestones in revenue and profitability to know when it is time to expand. Demonstrate at least three years of profitable business, and you are not considering expanding just to satisfy a sudden surge in demand. If the demand is temporary or seasonal, then investing to grow or expand might not be justified. However, if you find that you have more business than you can handle at your one location and that some customers are coming from other geographic regions, then expanding might be the next step. For example, if you are currently located in Yarmouth and you have an overwhelming number of customers from the Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet area, you might consider researching a 2nd location in the Orleans/Eastham area.

You are in an industry that is growing, nationally. If you see your industry or industry segment growing then expanding your business to additional outlets may be a worthwhile investment in financial and human resources. If you are doing residential cleaning and the number of year-round residents continues to increase, and you see that your customer distribution is getting more geographically dispersed, expanding might be appropriate. It is in your best interest to do your own research on the Cape and Islands to assure that a national trend is, in fact, being experienced here before investing in growth.

Maximizing the geographic area. You have maxed out the area in which you are located, or there are so many competitors that you cannot expand, so looking to adjacent geographic areas works to create a new base of business.

Creating a sustainable business so it can function on its own while you are expanding to a new location where your energies will be focused. In having a strong core business, you have a loyal customer base that demonstrates an ongoing demand for your products or services. Another factor in sustainability is to have a strong, dependable team that can operate independently of your continuous on-site management.

Customers are asking you to grow. They are seeking you out from geographic regions you don’t currently support such as the South Shore.

Codifying everything. Make sure you formalize all processes and procedures making them independent of outside influences.

Having multiple accounts for social media. If you have different brands, maintain their individual identifies. Be focused on each brand’s need in each location. If appropriate, show the interrelationship between the brands, but make them separate regarding the brand identity.

Growth in any business is a choice. Some businesses purposely stay small. Some choose growth by expanding in their original location. Others expand by opening 2nd, 3rd, and 4th locations. Growth is a conscious decision founded on research and analysis.

 

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Learning from the Pros

Question: I hear lots of hints, tips and techniques from other businessmen and women at networking groups. What do the pros have to say?

Answer: Those entrepreneurs that have made it big and continue to make it big off the following:

Learn from others. What has worked and what hasn’t. Richard Branson – Continue what you are doing by attending networking events to share your experiences with other business owners who are experiencing the same challenges you are to learn how what they did to address them. Be a life-long learner. Read as much as you can either in periodicals (Business Week, Fortune, Inc., Wired, Fast Company), in books (eMyth, Selling the Invisible or Tribal Leadership), in newspapers (Wall Street Journal, Cape Cod Times Business section) or on-line (Linked In). You can even learn by watching TV (Shark Tank, or Your Business – Sunday at 7:30 am on MSNBC) Connect to as many as possible to continue to learn.

You have to be passionate about your business. Magic Johnson – to invest the resources – human and financial – you need to have a passion for the mission of your business. Starting and managing a small business is a 24/7 adventure and investment. Some part of every day must be committed to the launch or growth of your business venture. To maintain the stamina that it takes to achieve your business objectives, you have to have passion. Deep, driving passion.

You need a well thought out a business plan that keeps you on track. Martha Stewart -Many small business owners don’t think they need a plan. They just start. They have a truck, a trailer two mowers, assorted tools and they are in the landscaping business. But, no plan. They don’t know who their target audience is. They don’t know how to reach them. They have not thought through where they are going to get their income and where the cash is going to go to support the business startup. Business plans don’t have to be voluminous documents. They can be one sheet as demonstrated by using the Business Model Canvas. It has nine blocks that represent the foundation of a well thought out plan. Don’t take step one, invest one dollar until you attempt to answer the nine questions that form the lean startup approach.

Your brand needs to be nurtured. What’s next? Stay a step ahead – Communicate your brand in an honest, straightforward way. Ben and Jerrys – What is a brand? It is the values that your customers and potential customers perceive that your business represents. It is a perception that becomes a fact in the mind of your buyers. It is what gives you a competitive advantage over others and drives customers to your door. Your brand needs to be well thought out, designed and tested so that it represents what you want it to communicate. You want your name to be the first name buyers think of when they think of filling a need.

Quality starts with your commitment. Your commitment will provide continuous improvement Jim Koch, Boston Beer – Quality is an overused word to describe a business offering, “We build quality products.” Everyone claims to offer quality service or build quality products. It is the job of the business owner to set the standard of quality so that everyone who comes into contact with the business feels the “gold standard” of quality. When you enter a restaurant and are greeted by the hostess and seated and the waiter or waitress starts by introducing themselves communicating they are here to assure you have a great experience….you just engaged in quality. If you engage a landscaper and before leaving after their weekly serve, they stop to inquire about your impression of the service or are asked if there anything else they can do for you, you experienced service.

Stick with your core knowledge. Wolfgang Puck – one the most important lessons all business owners learn is the “stick to your knitting.” Know what you are good at. Know what you are not good at. When you do that, your risk of taking on too much in areas for which you are not qualified is reduced. When you stick to your knitting, you stay focused and staying focused is critical not only in the startup phase of your business but throughout the life of the business. When you take on tasks that are not in your mainstream, you are taking unnecessary risks and diverting your resources to areas that might not pay off in the end.

Ask for and take the advice of others. Jason Mraz – Somebody, someplace has gone down the same path you are going. Find them and keep them close to you. SCORE’s mission is to mentor small businesses through the expertise of its mentors who have decades of business experience. Having an Advisory Group made of the three or four business professionals is the best way to test your ideas. Business ownership can be very lonely since there are few people you can rely upon for advice and counsel. Contact SCORE to form an advisory group or find a mentor to address the issues you are facing.

Let others take the first step. If it works, improve upon it Gene Simmons – The one step many entrepreneurs fail to take is the first step. They over plan, over analyze, over scrutinize their business concept. Complete the Business Model Canvas plan. Try it. If it works, keep going. If it doesn’t figure out what didn’t work, adjust and try it again.

 

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Changing the Culture

Question: I have been a small business owner for the past five years. We are starting to grow and need to add personnel. What do I need to be aware of in addressing the culture of my company as it grows?

Answer: The best source of organizational culture change available recently is vested in a book titled, Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan and John King. The authors talk about organizations in terms of tribes. The first question is, what stage defines your company? What defines the culture of your organization? Whatever the answer, it’s the language and the personal behavior that defines the stage. How the people in your organization talk and act.

There are five stages in tribal culture: Stage one - Life sucks, Stage two - My life sucks- the boss is an idiot, Stage three - I'm great, you're not - it's all about me, Stage four - We're great. They are not. Stage five - Life's Great! What stage are you in? Is your organization in more than one? Of course, you are since each person is different, they have varying roles and perceive the organization differently. Each employee is in a different stage, and you need to recognize the stage and adapt your management style to move them from stage to stage and most importantly dealing with stage one and two employees since they are lethal to growing organizations

As your organization grows, you need to challenge your core assumptions. Why are you in business? Who is your target market? Is it the same or different than when you started your enterprise? What skills are needed now that we’re not needed when you started up your operation? Then, ask yourself, what’s the real goal of your business? What is the value proposition that drives you? Is different or the same? And, then what are your key success factors? How do you know if you are successful? Is it money in the bank? Is it satisfied customers who readily refer you? Is it winning awards? You need to define success in the different stages of business growth.

What are the core values that drive you and your team to succeed? Communication, Collaboration, Partnering, Making a difference, Lifelong Learning. Your brand represents these values to your customers and prospects, as well as your employees and investors.

How do you take your growing entity to the next level? It’s all about the language you use. It’s all about stepping back and assessing each person on your team and what you need, what they need and then taking action. The tribe is more productive when we understand the players.

So what are the actions? (1) Meet people where they are and listen to them-- listen to them, (2) carefully, slowly, model the next stage and (3) Reaffirm your values.

 

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Networking 2

Question: I have tried “After Hours” events and other Cape networking experiences. They have not been successful for me. Any hints or tips?

Answer: The best advice comes from Atlanta-based Sam Zammarippa, ”Be interested in other people, and have something interesting to say.” This says it all. Networking is not about you. It is about them and what interests them.

Here are some other tips to getting ready to network.

Don’t go in cold. Research the event. You want to go to the right event. Attending an event without investigating who participates could be a giant waste of time. If those attending cannot get you to the next step in your business or personal objectives, don’t go. Find another event. Also, have a plan. Just like any other business activity, enter the world of networking with a plan. Try to learn something new or meet three new people at each event.

Travel light. For men wear a jacket with pockets. For women carry a leather portfolio with pockets for business cards, collateral materials for more detailed discussions. But, be selective about whom to give your business card. It is best to wait to be asked for your card than to offer it too early. And, turn off your cell phone. Nothing is a bigger turn-off that when trying to create the foundation for a relationship than a ringing phone that you are tempted to answer.

Walk, the walk. Look confident and ready to connect. Look like you are enjoying yourself and want to share that feeling. Get a feel for the landscape of the event, then engage. Come prepared to dialogue. Don’t sit down right away. Mingle and meet new contacts.

Start your networking where the food is. If you are at an event where you don’t have any connections, then start at the food area. People are more likely to talk to others as they are “food grazing.”

Who’s attending? Browse the floor and see who is attending. Name badge shopping is a no-no so look to see who is there before you engage in a dialogue. Once the conversation starts looking at the name is too late. It is not important to network based on a hierarchy of positions, but base your networking based on who can connect you with whom that will expand your strategic reach.

Spot the loners. Sometimes the best connects are those that are not connected. They will feel good about being engaged and reward you with a new connection that can be the quality you are seeking. If you are attending with someone else, split up so you both can meet new contacts. Also, you want to look approachable. Be open to engaging with those you don’t know. They will welcome it because they are most likely in the same situation, not knowing many attendees.

Ask about interests. Easy connecting questions, like: What kind of books do you like to read? What is your favorite vacation spot? What movies have you seen that you would recommend? These questions are them, not you. And, when you get an answer, explore then answer. “Oh, you like mysteries. Who is our favorite author?” After you learn who it is, you can add your favorite author. But, then return to their interests. They will then probe your interests.

Press the flesh, but not at the expense of quantity over quality. It is more important to leave a networking session with one valued connection that will extend your community of contacts rather than have a handful of business cards.

Get an introduction. Before disengaging with a new connection, ask them to introduce you to someone else you might connect with at the event.

Networking is all about dialogue. Too many networkers practice their elevator pitches and end up doing monologs not involved in dialogues to produce quality connections vs. contacts. It is important to be “present” when in a dialogue. It’s not about promoting yourself as much as creating the basis for an expanded network of relationships. Focus and concentrate on the individual in which you are engaged. Wandering eyes looking for your next target is very obvious to the other party. Looking over the other person’s shoulder for other attendees is a recipe for disaster in creating a new relationship.

Offer referrals. When conversing with someone and they indicate they are looking for a specialist in SEO optimization or branding, have your referral list with you. Offering to help someone else builds their perception of your personal brand.

Follow-up. When the networking event is over, the relationship building begins. The next morning, a handwritten note thanking them for their time and interest at the event will go a long way in building bridges to expanded relations.

 

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Growing Your Business With a Sales Force

Question: How do I build a sales force as I grow my business?

Answer: It is never easy. It’s like mining for diamonds. You search, hire, evaluate and then decide if the person fits or not. If not, you do it all over again. MSNBC’s Your Business advisors recommend the following:

Understand the dynamics of the purchasing decision on your customers’ behalf. It is quality, delivery, reliability or price that drives your customers to buy? Is it a long purchase decision or one made in a relatively short time frame? These dynamics will determine what characteristics your sales personnel should possess.

How is the customer served? Is it a personal sales call? A visit to the customer’s home to explain your service or product and then prepare a quote and explain it? Or is it primarily a telephone contact? Or is it via electronic media with a customer service interaction for questions? How you service customers and what vehicles you use to connect with customers and prospects will determine the type of sales personnel needed.

The workload will determine the number of personnel and type. Is the work predominantly field work with some inside sales support? Or is it primarily inside sales contact with customers with an occasional field sales call? The answers will determine the number and quantity of sales personnel needed.

What tools are needed? Desktop computers, laptops, tablets?

What type of personality is needed? Go back to the initial considerations – the dynamics of the buying and how the customer is served. If the sale is primarily in the field in someone’s living room, you will need a different personality than if it is primarily a telephone contact with an inside sales person who needs to be able to create a customer relationship without ever meeting the customer face-to-face.

As a business owner, your first and most important role are sales. But at some point, you are going to need help if you want to grow your business. Hiring sales personnel is sometimes an iterative process. The first person you hire may not work. Recognize that fact fast and adjust.

 

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Not For Profit

Nonprofit Startup

Question: I am considering forming a not for profit. Any tips from those that have gone before me?

Answer: Richard Brothers and James Lehane have five tips that they think every not-for-profit should consider whether it is a startup or an ongoing enterprise.

Not all not for profits are created equal.

There is a misconception that all not for profits are all social service agencies. Some are foundations, research centers, schools, conservations trusts and even golf clubs. Some are very, very large, but most are small.

I’m doing G-d’s work, but he forgot to leave me a business plan

The only difference between a not-for-profit and a for-profit organization is their tax status. A not for profit needs a business plan (albeit smaller and maybe less complicated) just as much as a for-profit organization. It is all about setting objectives, creating strategies and tactics to achieve those objectives and having defined metrics related to achievement of the objectives. Most not for profits have an overabundance of passion and zeal but have less enthusiasm for process and procedure that will keep them solvent.

Having a mission statement is not a perfunctory requirement for a not-for-profit since it is the guide to the purposeful work of the organization. However, it is a living document and needs to be regularly reviewed.

There is a reluctance for not-for-profits to look and sound too much like a business, but it is a business, and if it is not viewed that way eventually it will find itself wondering “who are we, what do we do and what is our value to our community” and then become irrelevant.

Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest.

Unfortunately, there are too many independent not for profits for a small community like Cape Cod to adequately fund and maintain. Collaboration and cooperation are two key words that must be in every organization’s vocabulary to attain efficiency and serve their constituencies most effectively. Barriers to collaboration such as geography can be overcome, but not without a cooperating Boards of Directors that can see beyond their parochial biographies.

Business focused board members, are people, too.

Successful not-for-profits are governed by a cross-section of professionals representing experience in law, accounting, business management, and fund-raising, as well as directors who have a passion for the organization’s mission. Directors on not-for-profit boards are not ceremonial positions. Board members have a fiduciary relationship to the organization to provide oversight and apply sound management principals to operations that include more than fundraising.

Show me the money – “I’m not asking for me. I am asking for them”

Just like any business, cash management is the key to success. Understanding the sources and uses of funds is the beginning of the fundraising process. Right up there with life fears like snakes, flying and death, is asking other people for money. Fundraising is an integral part of a not-for-profit’s fundamental operations. But, one of the key roles of a Director on any not-for-profit Board is to help raise the funds that are integral to funding the organization’s mission.

 

 


Tips from SCORE

Tips from SCORE is an amazing compilation of How To's for the small business owner. This volume is packed with information, links and resources, a must have for anyone considering starting a new business, or striving to advance an existing business. SCORE is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides free business mentoring services to entrepreneurs in the United States. The organization also presents business workshops and seminars for a fee. Business mentoring services are provided by both active and retired business executives and entrepreneurs who donate their time and expertise as mentors to assist new and established small businesses. SCORE is a resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration

  • Author: tammykoelling63
  • Published: 2016-11-06 20:05:33
  • Words: 61444
Tips from SCORE Tips from SCORE