Author Archives: aliasimpson

4 Tips for Creating a Work Friendly Culture

Finding and training the right employees requires time and money. After you’ve invested the resources and effort to bring the right people on board, the last thing you want is for them to leave you high and dry. 

Regrettably, there’s a good chance that they might. Approximately one-third of new hires quit their jobs after just six monthsEmployee retention can be a challenge—especially for small business owners who neither have the deep pockets to pay as handsomely as some big corporations nor provide the same level of benefits and other incentives. 

Although it may be difficult for your business to keep up with the Joneses from a monetary standpoint alone, you can implement some strategies to provide value to employees in other ways.

 

  1. Engage and ask for feedback!

Demonstrate that you value their input by asking for their feedback on opportunities and challenges that they observe.  This doesn’t mean you have to act on every suggestion made, but it will foster an culture  of open communication and collaboration. By encouraging their ideas and feedback, employees will feel more engaged and invested in your success.

 

  1. Offer flexibility in their work schedule and location.

If possible, provide opportunities to adjust their regular work schedules and where they report to work. Flex-time and telecommuting can help lower the stress employees feel when juggling personal and professional obligations. It may also enable you to reduce some of your office overhead costs in the process.

If that’s not feasible, consider allowing flexibility to accommodate unexpected situations. For example, if an employee’s child is ill, you might give the OK for that team member to work from home or come to your business after hours when the employee’s partner can take over on the home front. In the case of positions that require availability during specific hours (customer service reps, servers, etc.), consider allowing for employees to switch shifts with other employees when the need arises. The key is to set clear expectations and guidelines so that your flexibility serves both your employees and your business.

 

  1. Provide perks and pleasant surprises.

Little things can make a big difference in how employees view their work environment. Delighting your team members with small tokens of appreciation will garner goodwill and show you care.

A few employee appreciation and recognition ideas that don’t cost a bundle include:

  • Celebrate employees’ birthdays with cake and ice cream.
  • Write “thank you” notes (even if only on sticky notes) for a job well done.
  • Bring bagels, pizza, or some other treat to the office every Friday or another day of the week.
  • Act spontaneously by letting employees leave an hour early so that they can get outside and enjoy a beautiful day.

 

  1. Give back together.

Facilitate a sense of community by coming together as a team to rally behind a worthy cause. Involve your employees in helping you choose a charitable organization your business will support, and then enlist their help in planning how you will do that. Depending on the cause, it might take the form of a food or coat drive, donating a percentage of a product’s proceeds to a nonprofit, or collecting supplies for a local pet shelter. Regardless of the cause, you and your employees will have an opportunity to bond as you contribute to making life better for others in the community.

 

Resources to Help Evaluate and Improve Your Employee Retention

Enlisting the help of a human resources consultant can shed light on what you can do to make your business a place employees will want to stay for the long term. Also, remember that SCORE is here with mentors who have expertise in all aspects of starting and running a business, including hiring and retaining employees. Contact us today! Meeting with SCORE mentors is free, confidential, and it can provide valuable guidance to help your business succeed. 

 

 

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Broaden your Professional Development – Become a SCORE Volunteer!

You are good at what you do. Your skills, talents, and business savvy are valuable resources that Maine entrepreneurs can tap into. As a SCORE volunteer, not only do you use your knowledge and experience to help others succeed, you also support the community in a meaningful way. You can gain a tremendous sense of personal satisfaction from nurturing businesses as they grow and thrive.

When you become a SCORE volunteer, sharing your time and talent can present valuable opportunities for professional development:

  • Learn new skills
  • Hone existing skills
  • Expand your knowledge of small business resources
  • Network in the business community
  • Leverage your professional talents

The Portland Chapter of SCORE is seeking a few exceptional volunteers

Requirements

  • Business experience
  • Effective communication skills
  • High social IQ
  • Sincere desire to help someone succeed
  • Computer literacy

Volunteer Roles

  • Business mentors
  • Workshop presenters
  • Subject Matter Experts (social media, finance, marketing)​
  • Community ambassadors
  • Chapter leadership​

Call us today! (207) 772-1147 or apply online.

Are you Keeping Up? Track your KPIs

Small businesses, just like mega-corporations, need to keep a pulse on whether they’re on the trajectory toward meeting their goals. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are tools that can enable them to do that.

What are Key Performance Indicators?

KPIs are measurable values that demonstrate how effectively business activities are helping a company achieve its objectives. By measuring defined criteria, they help gauge performance. One company’s KPIs may vary significantly from another’s depending on their industry, size, where they are in their business life-cycle, their location, what they want to accomplish, and other factors.

How Can KPIs Help Your Small Business?

KPIs provide a clearly defined way of assessing the progress a business is making toward its strategic or operational goals. KPIs link to target values that determine whether an activity or area of operation is or is not meeting expectations. When reviewed on a monthly, quarterly, or semi-annual basis, KPI results can help a company identify areas of weakness and enable it to make adjustments before those shortcomings result in missing critical business objectives.  

 

Examples of KPIs

Some examples of KPIs that a business might use to monitor its effectiveness include:

Marketing KPIs

Marketing KPIs like those below can shed light on how effectively and cost-efficiently a business’s marketing and advertising efforts are contributing to reaching company goals.

  • Number of unique website visitors
  • Number of guest posts published on industry blogs
  • Cost of new customer acquisition
  • Number of new email subscribers
  • Number of whitepaper downloads

 

Sales KPIs

A business might use various KPIs to help determine if sales efforts are meeting expectations for prospecting, closing, and upselling.

  • Number of new leads
  • Number of new customers
  • Monthly revenue per customer

 

Product KPIs

KPIs related to products can help a business monitor potential gaps in meeting target market needs, quality issues, and production inefficiencies.

  • Cost per unit
  • Number of customer issues or complaints
  • Number of product returns

 

Financial KPIs

Financial KPIs can help a company track if it is growing its revenue at an acceptable rate. They can also help determine if product/service pricing and expenses are in line.

  • Revenue growth rate
  • Gross profit margin
  • Net profit margin
  • Cash flow

 

Customer Service KPIs 

KPIs that measure customer service activities can help reveal how well and how efficiently a company is serving its customers.

  • Average time per customer call
  • Number of repeat customer calls
  • Customer retention rate
  • Customer satisfaction rating (perhaps through an online customer survey)

 

The list above isn’t exact nor exhaustive; a business might track different or additional KPIs based on its unique situation.

Tips for Establishing KPIs

Before a business can decide on its KPIs, it must first have clear goals—for instance, “for 2018, increase service revenue by 4 percent over 2017” or “increase net profit by $100,000 this year.”

KPIs must be:

  • Relevant to the business goals
  • Specific (have a target value)
  • Measurable
  • Time-sensitive
  • Achievable (not outside of the realm of possibility)

Fortunately, if you aren’t familiar with goal-setting or working with key performance indicators, you don’t have to go it alone. Our SCORE mentors have experience in all aspects running a small business, and they are here to help by providing guidance, input, and feedback. Contact us today to schedule a time to talk with a mentor who can help you develop your KPIs and stay on the road to success.

Back to the Basics: What is a Business Plan?

If you’re driving cross-country to a destination you’ve never visited before, would you want to leave home without your GPS?

Probably not.

However, new business owners sometimes make the mistake of accelerating at top speed to launch their companies without having a business plan to guide them.

A business plan serves as your roadmap. It describes your objectives and the strategies you’ll use to achieve them. Like a GPS, it offers assistance to help you get to where you’re going. And like a GPS’s directions—which change depending on traffic conditions, detours, and other unexpected circumstances—a business plan is a flexible tool. As you encounter market demand changes, new competitive pressures, altered regulatory requirements, and more, you can revisit your business plan and make adjustments to reset your course.

What does a good business plan cover?

What a company includes in its business plan depends on the nature of its business, whether it wants to pursue funding, and other factors. Some companies might find that a simple two-page business plan provides enough direction while others will need one that’s far more extensive and detailed.

The following elements are commonly found in business plans:

  • Executive Summary
  • Business Details
  • Market Analysis
  • Management and Organization
  • Description of Products and Services
  • Marketing and Sales Strategy
  • Financial Projections
  • Supporting Data

 

Executive Summary

This section of a business plan summarizes what your company is, what it does, where it’s located, and its mission. You might decide to include an overview of your leadership team, staff, finances, and growth objectives.

Business Details

This includes detailed information about your company and the problems it solves for its customers. In this section, share about your business’s competitive advantages (e.g., team expertise, use of advanced technology, etc.)

Market Analysis

To complete this section, you’ll need to do some research to learn about your target market and industry outlook. This is where you’ll identify what your competitors are doing, the market challenges you anticipate, and how you intend to successfully compete in your market.

Management and Organization

This section explains how your company is structured and managed. Will you operate as a sole proprietor, partnership LLC, or some form of corporation? It should also share about the people who are running your company, including their level of experience, education background, and skills they bring to the table.

Products and Services

In this part of your business plan, share details about the products and services you offer. How do they benefit your customers? Are you safeguarding your intellectual property by applying for patents or copyright protection? What is your research and product development process? What is your pricing strategy?

Marketing and Sales

Describe your strategies and tactics for attracting new and retaining existing customers. How will you reach your target audience and what does your lead generation process look like?

Financial Projections

This portion of the business plan has a two-fold purpose. It’s for your own benefit (to help you establish your financial goals and expectations) and for potential lenders who want to assess how well your business might perform financially. Within this section, businesses often include sales and income projections, an expense budget, cash flow statement, balance sheet, and break-even analysis. Graphs and charts can be particularly helpful in this section to aid understanding and highlight key information.

Supporting Data

Having an appendix at the end of your business plan will allow you to provide supplementary documentation and information, such as credit history, resumes, patents, licenses and permits, contracts, product guides, or items specifically requested by a lender or investor.

Where to Find Help in Developing Your Business Plan

You can find many online resources that offer business plan templates. For example, the Small Business Administration has a Build Your Business Plan tool, which provides a step-by-step guide for creating a business plan. Also, SCORE has a downloadable Business Plan Template for startups. As you use these tools to get started with your business plan, consider reaching out to a SCORE mentor for guidance and feedback, too. With experience in helping business owners in nearly every industry start their companies, our mentors can offer valuable insight as you develop your business plan and use it as your company’s GPS to success.

 

4 Social Media Enhancements Worth a Look!

This year, several social media platforms added new features and improvements that could benefit your small business’s Internet marketing efforts in 2018.

Let’s take a look at the changes and how they might help you gain a stronger following and improve engagement on your social media channels.

1. Instagram’s introduction of the capability to follow specific hashtags.

In December 2017, Instagram introduced a new way for users to interact with hashtags. You can now follow hashtags—in the same way you can follow Instagram accounts. After you follow a hashtag, Instagram curates highlights from posts with that hashtag and places them into your main feed.

What does this mean for you and your business? It is now easier for people who are interested in the types of products and services you provide to discover you on Instagram. If you use hashtags that your customers and prospective customers are following, you will increase brand awareness and likely gain more followers to your Instagram account.

Which hashtags will work best? You may have to experiment and gauge how much interest you’re getting with various hashtags. One way to zero in on the best hashtag contenders is to use the search feature on Instagram to research specific hashtags to assess their popularity and relevance to your business.

2. Twitter’s tweet length has extended from 140 characters to 280 characters.

In early November 2017, Twitter expanded the character limit for tweets from 140 characters to 280 characters. This is good news for brands and business professionals who struggled to fit meaningful information into the confines of 140 characters. With the extended tweet length, you have the opportunity to share more detailed insight. That can help you better demonstrate your expertise and value to your followers.

Take care not to overdo it, though. Because of Twitter’s fast-moving nature, followers might not have the patience to read long-winded tweets—especially if you constantly push yours to the limit.

3. LinkedIn’s has introduced in-app LinkedIn video for uploading/recording videos in posts.

In late August – early September 2017, LinkedIn began allowing users to either upload videos from their camera rolls or record videos via LinkedIn’s video feature. With this new capability, consider the many ways you might use it to bond with your audience:

  • Behind-the-scenes videos of your team helping customers
  • How-to videos to demonstrate your expertise and empower your audience.
  • Celebrations of key milestones along your business journey
  • Video bios of your team members to help your audience get to know the people behind your brand

4. Facebook allows people and brands to create polls that can use GIFs as response options.

Although Facebook offered a feature with a polling function in the past, it nixed it in 2014 when rolling out other updates. In the last quarter of 2017, however, it added a new, improved poll feature—following its acquisition of polling app tbh.

As a result, brand pages and individuals can again post polls to entice interaction from fans and friends. Besides giving text-only response options to poll participants, poll creators can offer photos or GIFs as possible choices. This gives your business an opportunity to add an element of fun to your Facebook posts and get your fans excited about interacting and sharing your content.

What Role Will Social Media and the New Capabilities Play in Your Marketing Efforts?

As you’re assessing your current social media strategy and what you’ll do moving forward in 2018, remember that SCORE is here to offer guidance and feedback. Contact us today! With mentors who have experience in all aspects of starting and growing a business, we can provide insight and direction as you develop your marketing plan for the New Year.