Author Archives: aliasimpson

How to Write A Stellar Mission Statement

Marketers and branding gurus throw around term “mission statement” so much that it has almost turned into yet another bit of jargon. However, a mission statement, when created with intention and careful thought, serves a valuable purpose for all small business owners.

What is a Mission Statement?

A mission statement is a short sentence or a short paragraph that summarizes what a company does, what its business philosophy is, who it serves, and what value it offers.

In short; it captures the essence of why the business exists. Sometimes, a mission statement also includes what the organization aspires to be upon achieving its mission, or that might appear in another statement (vision statement).

Some businesses publish their mission statements for all the world to see, while others keep within their companies as a tool for their leadership team and employees.

Why Should Your Small Business Create a Mission Statement?

Mission statements aren’t only for big corporations. They are useful tools for small business owners as well.

A mission statement serves as a way to differentiate your business from your competitors. It also serves as a guidepost for your business. Before you make decisions that will impact your business, evaluating your options to determine if they line up with your mission statement can help you determine the best course of action. If something doesn’t align with your mission, it’s likely it will confuse customers, derail other initiatives, or overtax your resources.

4 Tips for Writing a Mission Statement

Getting started can be the most challenging and exciting part of the process as you take a blank slate and craft what will be at the foundation of everything your business does. Keep the following tips in mind as you sit down to write your business’s mission statement.

1. Keep it real.

Authenticity is essential for a mission statement. If you write something that you don’t believe or intend to strive for, you’ll create a piece of fiction rather than a meaningful mission statement. Be true to what your company stands for and what you envision for it.

2. Make sure it can’t be just anyone’s mission statement.

Think through what’s unique about your business and how you can bring that into your mission statement. Perhaps it’s your backstory, your approach to providing your products and services, the atmosphere you offer, or something else that makes you stand out. Your mission statement should be a perfect fit for your company and not one that could reflect what any of your competitors stand for.

A few examples of unique mission statements in competitive industries include:

  • Arby’s – The Arby’s brand purpose is Inspiring Smiles Through Delicious Experiences®. Arby’s delivers on its purpose by celebrating the art of Meatcraft® with a variety of high-quality proteins and innovative, crave-able sides, such as Curly Fries and Jamocha shakes. Arby’s Fast Crafted® restaurant services feature a unique blend of quick-serve speed combined with the quality and made-for-you care of fast casual.
  • Bass Pro Shops – To be the leading merchant of outdoor recreational products inspiring people to love, enjoy, and conserve the great outdoors.
  • Ford Motor Company – Our belief: Freedom of movement drives human progress. Our aspiration: To become the world’s most trusted company, designing smart vehicles for a smart world.

3. Keep it simple.

A lengthy and elaborately written mission statement might sound impressive, but the simpler and more straightforward the language you use, the easier it will be for your employees and customers to understand it.

For example, Nike’s mission statement, Bring Inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world, says a lot in only a few words. The same is true with IKEA’s mission statement, To create a better everyday life for many people. And TED, says it all in just two words, “Spread ideas.

You might find it difficult to sum up your mission in such short order, and that’s OK. But strive to keep your mission statement as concise and clear as possible.

4. Ask for Feedback from a SCORE Mentor.

Creating a mission statement can be a frustrating process for business owners. It requires taking a step back from everyday minutia and tasks and looking at the big picture. Consider asking a SCORE mentor for guidance as you craft your mission statement. With experience and expertise in all aspects of starting and running a business, SCORE mentors can offer valuable input and feedback to help you develop a mission statement that captures your purpose and inspires you and your team.

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4 Tips for Choosing Your Business Name!

Who knew? April 9 is “National Name Yourself Day,” a day when you’re encouraged to give yourself a new name for one day. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? And if you search for the hashtag #NameYourselfDay on Twitter or Instagram, you’ll surely have a few laughs upon seeing the new names people adopt for the day.

But selecting a name for your business is no laughing matter. It requires serious thought because a business name serves as the cornerstone of your brand.

  • It serves as your brand’s first impression, affecting how prospective customers perceive your company.
  • It differentiates you from your competitors.
  • It affects your company’s capacity to become memorable.

Tips for Selecting a Business Name

With so much riding on a business name, how do you go about choosing the right one? Consider the following tips:

1. Think about your company’s culture and vibe.

Make sure your name authentically projects the tone of your business and your approach to what you do. Consider how you would describe your company’s aura (such as formal, edgy, academic, approachable, serious, or light-hearted, etc.)—homing in on some adjectives can help you assess whether potential names will be a good match. Having a name that reflects the vibe of your business will help customers know what they might expect from buying your products or services.

2. Be mindful of cultural and societal sensitivities.

Take care not to select a name that will offend, alienate, or outrage the public at large or segments of your market. Unless your brand will be intentionally controversial, names that hint of political, religious, ethnic, or other biases will hurt rather than help you build your business.

3. Keep the future in mind.

Most businesses evolve over time. So when you decide on a name, think about your long-term vision. Avoid choosing a name that will limit you as our business grows or changes. For example, the name “Smith’s Hockey Shop” would become obsolete if the Smiths decide to expand their offerings to equipment and accessories for a variety of sports.

4. Check availability before putting the name on a website and marketing materials.

This is critical because if another business is using your desired name, you may not be able to use it legally. You’ll find free name search tools online, and many states offer a name search option on their websites so that you can see if any other businesses in your state have claimed the name you want to use.  

If you believe you may eventually want to expand your business in other states, you can check on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website to see if anyone else has registered for or been granted a federal trademark for your proposed name.

You Decided on a Business Name. Now What?

Attorneys that specialize in business formation and trademarks can guide you in taking steps to protect your business name.

Sole proprietorships, if they use a name other than their owner’s legal name, must get approval to use that name by filing a DBA (“Doing Business As,” also known as a “fictitious name”).

By registering a business as a legal business entity (e.g., LLC, Corporation), a business name becomes protected within the state of registration, helping to prevent any other registered entities within the state from using it. Obtaining a trademark protects a name throughout the entire United States.

SCORE, of course, can also help you as you decide on your business name. With expertise in marketing and branding, our mentors can offer valuable input and feedback. Contact us today to connect with a SCORE Maine mentor!

Thinking of Joining a Networking Group?

For many startup entrepreneurs and business owners, time and money are in limited supply, so it is essential to spend both wisely when trying to advance your business.

While industry associations, chambers of commerce, Rotary, and other professional groups offer opportunities to make new connections and gain knowledge, not all will give you the same bang for your buck.

What to Consider Before Investing Time and Money into a Networking Group

1. Will it cost you more than just the membership fee?

Organizations typically offer free registration to various events if you’re a member. Then, there are usually some activities that require a fee to attend. The balance of “free” and “paid” events varies from group to group. Before joining, do some math to get a sense for what your actual costs will be.

2. Is the caliber of seminars and presentations at a level that will be beneficial?

Review the group’s calendar of events and speak to members to find out if the quality of programs is at a level that will provide value. Do they cover topics that you’re interested in and that are relevant to you? Are the presenters respected, reputable subject matter experts?

3. Does the membership have a healthy mix of industry peers and prospective clients?

A group with both can open doors for your business in two ways. You’ll have opportunities to learn from and exchange ideas with other professionals facing the same challenges you face. Also, you’ll encounter potential customers with whom you can begin to build mutually beneficial business relationships.

4. Are events held at convenient locations and on dates and times of the day that cooperate with your schedule?

What good is membership if schedule conflicts prevent you from attending the group’s activities? Being present regularly is the key to making connections, so review the organization’s calendar to make sure the events you’re interested in are held when you’re available to participate

5. Do you feel welcome?

Attending a group’s event before joining is a good way to gain a sense of how members interact with one another and newbies. While it’s always somewhat awkward to walk into a crowded room and know no one, being a first-timer at an event shouldn’t leave you feeling like an outcast.  Give the group a “test drive,” to find out if existing members are welcoming and open to forming new relationships.

Final Thoughts on Small Business Networking

Despite all of the online networking entrepreneurs can do through social media, there will always be a place for networking face to face. The key to optimizing in-person opportunities is to find and join groups that offer the programs and membership diversity that will fit your needs, schedule, and budget. If you need help figuring out which groups might best align with your objectives, ask a SCORE mentor for guidance. With vast connections within your business community, SCORE can offer insight about organizations that might be the right fit.

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.

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.