Do Your Market Research! 8 Resources that Can Help.

Market research is an essential part of a business plan or developing a new product or service. By doing market research, you can:

  • Confirm or deny that there’s a need for your products or services;
  • Zero in on your target market;
  • Learn more about your target market’s needs and wants;
  • identify the price points the market will bear;
  • discover industry challenges; and
  • shed light on other critical success factors.

Market Research Basics

There are two types of market research:

  • Primary
  • Secondary

Primary Market Research

This involves getting information straight from your potential customers. Focus groups, online surveys, personal interviews, telephone interviews, and direct mail questionnaires are all examples of primary research methods. If you have an existing business, you can also use information about your current customers. Online reviews, notes about customer feedback, and other data that you’ve collected might provide valuable insight.

By doing primary research, you can learn directly about your target audience’s need for your product or service, lifestyle, buying habits, perception of your brand’s marketing assets (e.g., business name, logo, taglines, etc.), sensitivity to price, and more.

Secondary Market Research

Secondary research involves pulling together information from external sources to learn about opportunities and challenges within your market and industry. Studies, statistics, surveys, and other data from organizations that have conducted research can help you assess how much competition you face in your market, the size of your market, average earnings, and profitability of businesses like yours, regulatory factors that may affect your company, and other information.

Market Research Resources

So, where and how do you begin? As for primary research, a tool such as Survey Monkey can help streamline the creation and analysis of online surveys. If you’re not sure what to ask in your surveys, you can find articles to guide you in the types of questions to ask. In using focus groups, you might consider contracting someone with expertise in planning and executing them effectively. If your business is up and running, leverage data within your customer relationship management (CRM) system (if you use one), your accounting software, point of sale records, website analytics, inventory management system, and other programs.

For secondary research data, consider tapping the following resources:

These represent a small sampling of organizations and online resources that might help you in your efforts. For additional insight into where you might find the information that you’ll need to launch or grow your small business successfully, ask a SCORE mentor for guidance. With experience in providing direction and feedback to entrepreneurs in all industries, SCORE has the knowledge and connections to help you no matter where you are in your business journey.

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7 Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Cash Flow in 2019

No matter how big a company is or how much revenue it generates, it can fail if it has a cash flow problem. Cash flow is the amount of money flowing in and out of your business during any given time period—and you need to keep an eye on it. It’s critical to have enough money entering your business in time for you to pay your bills and cover other expenses when they’re due.

Cash Flow Statement – A Tool for Monitoring Your Small Business’s Cash Flow

The cash flow statement is a financial report that enables you to see the sources of cash flowing into your business—and how you are using your money—over a specified period of time. Businesses that have enough working capital available at all times to cover their operating costs are said to be “cash flow positive.”

Cash flow statements provide critical insight into the financial health of your business that you cannot alone get from looking at balance sheets and profit and loss statements. For example, if you’re a sole proprietor or single-member LLC owner who takes owner’s draws rather than paychecks from your business, your owner’s draw amounts probably aren’t included in your P&L. However, they do show up as money flowing from your business on cash flow statements.

If you’re using accounting software like QuickBooks, FreshBooks, XERO or another tool, you can easily generate cash flow statements. If not, SCORE has a template you can use to create a 12-month cash flow statement.

Because most businesses receive income and pay bills monthly, it’s beneficial to review cash flow regularly throughout the year.

How to Improve Your Small Business’s Cash Flow

What if you find your monthly cash flow is negative or barely covering costs in time? Below are some ways to improve cash flow.

1. Ask for down payments on projects.

If your business invoices customers on a project basis, ask for a portion of the billable amount upfront. Doing so will help ensure you’re not waiting until project completion for all income. Also, consider billing for any completed work to-date when clients delay an assignment mid-project. The key is to try to have your customers pay you for your goods and services as close as possible to when you provided those goods and services.

2. Send invoices immediately.

Rather than sending all client invoices at the end of the month, consider sending them as soon as you’ve finished your work or provided a product to a customer.

3. Adjust your terms of payment.

Another way to convert sales into cash more quickly is to shorten your net due date on your customer invoices. If your contracts allow it, for example, consider changing from a net 30 to a net 15 due date.

4. Accept payment by credit card or PayPal.

Although these options come with a small transaction fee, they can help you get paid more quickly than waiting for a customer to process a check payment.

5. Offer a discount for paying early.

To incentivize customers to pay quickly, consider offering a small discount. For example, some companies provide a 2 percent discount if an invoice is paid in 10 days.

6. Follow up with customers who have overdue accounts.

Sometimes invoices slip through the cracks and well-meaning customers forget to pay them. A polite reminder may be enough to get that money flowing into your business.

7. Negotiate with vendors and suppliers.

Adjustments on the accounts payable end of things can make a difference in cash flow, too. Consider asking your vendors and suppliers if they’re willing to extend due dates to accommodate your receivables better. They may also be willing to offer your business more favorable pricing if you commit to a longer-term agreement.

“Cash is King,” So Treat Your Cash Flow With Respect

If you need help understanding the financial health of your business, seek the expertise of an accounting professional. Also, contact SCORE; our experienced mentors are here to offer insight and guidance to help your business succeed.

 

How to get five stars on managing your online reviews

In today’s market, consumers read online reviews before buying products and services whether they’re buying an item on Amazon or scoping out a local small business. You can’t afford to miss out on what people might be saying about your business online.

Online Reviews Wield Word-of-Mouth Power

According to BrightLocal, “Nearly every consumer now conducts regular local searches, placing expectations on businesses to be visible online. Some businesses can struggle to differentiate from their competitors, so a positive online reputation is useful to help customers make a choice.”

BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey – 2017 found that 85 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.”

Online Reviews Help SEO

Online reviews may also help a business get found in online searches. According to the Moz 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors study, review signals are among the top 8 ranking factors used by Google.

The number of reviews, diversity of reviews, and review velocity (the rate at which a product garners new reviews) all have an impact on where on the search engine results pages a business will appear.

Which Review Sites Carry the Most Weight?

The 2018 ReviewTrackers Online Reviews Survey: Statistics and Trends found that Google has become the preferred review site for consumers. “63.6 percent of consumers say they are likely to check online reviews on Google before visiting a business — more than any other review site.”

Facebook is the most popular online space for leaving reviews. Although growth has slowed for sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and CitySearch, many people are still using them, and they continue to have an impact on companies’ reputations and ranking in online searches.

A Few Things to Keep In Mind

1. If you haven’t established or claimed your business on Google My Business and other review sites, consider doing so.

On some sites, such as Yelp, customers might be leaving reviews even if a business hasn’t established an account there. Realize that people can and will talk about your business online, so it’s in your best interest to know where that’s happening.

2. Be careful about soliciting reviews from customers.

While Google allows businesses to encourage customers to leave online reviews, some other review sites prohibit it. Some review sites prohibit asking customers to leave reviews. Always check the website’s terms of service to make sure you follow their rules.

3. Make sure that your business information is consistent across review sites.

Use the same company name, address, and phone number (NAP) information across all of them. Many SEO experts say that search engines view consistency in NAP information as a sign that a business is legitimate. If your NAP info differs from one site to the next, people might see incorrect information about your business in search results—or your business might not turn up on the search engine results page at all.

4. Pay attention to when someone leaves reviews.

Stay tuned into notifications when someone leaves a review of your business so you can respond—particularly if it’s a negative review. According to the ReviewTrackers survey, 53.3 percent of people expect a business to respond to a negative review within 7 days. By acknowledging customers’ dissatisfaction and taking action to remedy it, you’ll demonstrate integrity…and those people might be inclined to remove their negative review and write a more favorable one.

If you do get a few negative reviews, don’t fret. It’s likely it won’t permanently damage your reputation. In fact, several critical reviews may even help your business. Reviews, whether positive or negative, increase the overall number of reviews and they may enhance your credibility. Some people might suspect that a company with all glowing reviews is “too good to be true.”

5. Watch out for fake reviews.

Positive and negative fake reviews can do damage to your business’s credibility online. On many sites, anyone (whether a customer or not) can write a review. Some have automated mechanisms in place to detect and remove fake reviews, but their methods aren’t always 100 percent effective. If you find that someone has left a fraudulent review about your business, follow the review site’s process to launch an investigation.

 

6. Monitor your online reputation so you can detect when people are talking about your business.

Besides checking activity directly on the review sites, also consider setting up a Google Alert on your business name to notify you whenever someone has mentioned your business online. The more you know about what people are saying about your business, the better able you’ll be able to understand what you’re doing well and what you might improve. Online reviews and conversations can provide valuable feedback to help your business serve your customers better.

If you have questions or need guidance about managing aspects of your business online (and off), contact SCORE to talk with a mentor.

 

Make “Shop Small” a Big Win for Your Business November 24th

Since American Express launched Small Business Saturday in 2010, it’s mantra “Shop Small” has become the rallying cry to encourage the support of local small businesses in communities across the nation.

According to the Shop Small website, a 2017 survey found that 90 percent of consumers believe Small Business Saturday has a positive impact on their community.

With this year’s Small Business Saturday approaching on November 24, 2018, are you prepared to seize the momentum and boost your business?

Fortunately, there’s still time—even if you haven’t given it much thought yet.

5 Tips for Making Small Business Saturday a Success for Your Business

  1. Make your place of business a Small Business Saturday destination.

Give consumers some extra incentive to stop by your location on Small Business Saturday. Some ideas to make your store or office a Small Business Saturday destination include:

  1. Partner with other local businesses in your community.

When you and the other local businesses in your town support each other by cross-promoting  the diversity of offerings in your business community, everyone wins. Consider sharing other businesses’ marketing materials at your location, and tell customers about the different stores near you—with the understanding, of course, that they’ll do the same for you.

  1. Power up your social media efforts.

Social media is a powerful medium for generating buzz about Small Business Saturday and promoting what you and the rest of your business community have planned for that day. If you’re on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, use the hashtag #shopsmall in your updates to encourage engagement from other small businesses and people who are actively seeking out to support small businesses on Small Business Saturday. To boost the number of people who see your posts, consider spending some dollars on social media advertising in the weeks leading up to Small Business Saturday. For example, Facebook’s advertising options (ads and promoted posts) can expand your reach significantly—to a very targeted audience—for a very minimal investment.

  1. Use the free marketing templates available on the Shop Small website.

American Express offers free Shop Small and Small Business Saturday templates that you can customize and download for use on your website, email marketing messages, social media, and in your print marketing efforts.

Some examples of what’s available there include:

  • Website badges
  • Email template
  • Email header
  • Shop Small video (10 seconds)
  • Social media profile and cover images
  • Social media post content and images
  • Event flyer
  • Poster
  1. Ask a SCORE mentor for guidance and ideas.

SCORE mentors have experience in all aspects of running a business, and we’re here as a resource to help you formulate your marketing and sales plans. Contact us today as you develop your Small Business Saturday ideas.

 

4 Tools to Help You Write Better Content

Writing content isn’t every entrepreneur’s strong point, but bootstrapping startups don’t always have the funds to hire professional writers or marketing firms to craft content for them.

Fortunately, some online tools are available to help even the most unaccomplished writers among us improve our writing and make a great impression.

4 Writing Apps to Help You Create Better Content

Hubspot’s Blog Ideas Generator

When you’ve hit a wall and can’t think of what to write about, Hubspot’s blog topic generator can help you break through writer’s block. It prompts you to add up to five different nouns of your choice, and then it will generate seven blog topic ideas related to those nouns. While some of them might not be a perfect fit at face value, you can modify them to your liking, or they might help you develop new ideas.

Hemingway Editor

The Hemingway app helps ensure your writing isn’t too complicated and over the heads of most readers. It assesses your content and tells you at which grade level it is readable. Anything above a grade-9 reading level is flagged as less than ideal. Hemingway also alerts you to overuse of adverbs, use of passive voice, and complex phrases and sentences.

Power Thesaurus

If you love the assistance of online thesauruses but get annoyed by the advertisements on their websites, meet Power Thesaurus. For the most part, the app is ad-free (except for some non-intrusive advertisements by premium sponsors). It has a simple, uncluttered interface that suggests synonyms for whatever word you type in its search box. Fast and effective, Power Thesaurus helps you power through finding just the right word more quickly than when using other thesaurus websites.

Grammarly

Grammarly is quickly becoming a tool of choice (for writers and non-writers alike) for fine-tuning writing. Its free version detects critical grammar and spelling errors. Grammarly Premium has enhanced capabilities including offering vocabulary suggestions (if you appear to have used words out of context), flagging complex sentence structure, and evaluating content according to its intended purpose, audience, style, and emotional impact.

Bonus Benefits

Not only can these tools help you fix weaknesses in your content, but also they can help you improve your writing skills over time. As you use them, you have an opportunity to learn to think out of the box, increase your knowledge of grammar rules, and broaden your vocabulary.

Of course, apps can’t do it all! Another resource available to help you assess the content you create for your business is a SCORE mentor. SCORE volunteers have experience and expertise in all aspects of entrepreneurship, including marketing, and they are here to offer honest feedback to help your business succeed.