Author Archives: aliasimpson

3 SEO Tips to Help Your Small Business Stand Out Online

As more and more consumers look online before buying products and services, basic search engine optimization is essential for your business. If you don’t prioritize your company’s visibility in online searches, you could end up at a competitive disadvantage.

According to a consumer survey by BrightLocal, “97% of consumers looked online for local businesses in 2017.”

SEO is a complex and multifaceted discipline, but by following just a few best practices, you can help boost your business’s chances of getting found in searches on Google.

1. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly yet, make it so.

Fifty-seven percent of all online traffic comes from smartphones and tablets. Google has estimated that 9 out of 10 people will leave a website if it isn’t easy to use from their mobile device. So, even if your company has better products and services than your competitors, you could miss out on business opportunities if you don’t have a mobile-ready website.

Mobile-friendliness also affects your website’s ranking in Google searches. Beginning in April 2015, Google began giving mobile-ready websites an edge over sites without mobile support on the search engine results pages.

Adding to the importance of having a mobile-ready site is the rollout of Google’s mobile-first indexing, which began in March 2018. In Google’s own words, “Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.”

Although mobile-first indexing has not rolled out to all websites yet, Google is encouraging webmasters to make their content mobile-friendly to perform better in mobile search results.

You can check to see if Google considers your site mobile-ready by using Google’s free Mobile-Friendly Test. If your site has room for improvement, talk with an experienced web development resource to discuss your options.

2. Establish a business profile (or claim your business listing) on online directories and review sites.

Well-known sites such as Yelp, Facebook, Citysearch, and TripAdvisor, often rank higher than business websites in search results. If you’re listed on them, prospective customers will have an easier time finding you. Also, the links to your website from these sites (“backlinks”) can help improve your website’s ranking in search results.

The benefits of better visibility and backlinks also apply to listings on local directory sites like those provided by your chamber of commerce, tourism bureau, and other organizations.

If you operate your business from a physical location, you’ll also want to make sure you appear on Google My Business. Doing so will help your business show up higher in local search results, including on Google Maps.

Important Note: Wherever you list your business online, make sure your NAP (name, address, phone number) information is consistent. If you’ve moved or changed your name or phone number, you’ll want to update that information on every website that lists your company. Most SEO experts agree that search engines look for uniformity to validate that a business is legitimate. Inconsistency can result in your business information showing up incorrectly—or Google might choose to omit your business from the search engine results page altogether.

3. Have a keyword strategy that goes narrow rather than broad.

Keywords remain critical for helping Google determine what your website pages are about. However, they need context and must appear naturally in content that satisfies what your audience wants to know.

Rather than use keywords that consist of only one or two general words, focus on long-tail keywords that more closely resemble—in your customers’ words— the exact types of products and services your customers are looking for and the area where they hope to find them.

So, say you have a dog training business in Portland, Maine. Rather than using the general keywords of “dog training” or “dog trainers” (which have a tremendous amount of competition in search results), consider using wording that’s reflective of what your customers will be looking for online. For example,

  • Dog trainers in Portland Maine
  • Aggressive dog training Maine
  • Therapy dog training Portland Maine

While these don’t have the same amount of monthly search traffic coming to them as “dog training” and “dog trainers,” they have far fewer businesses competing for them and will better your chances of ranking higher in search results. Also, they will help ensure that the people who do find your website are potential customers for the services you provide.

Brainstorm on your own to determine some relevant keywords, and do some keyword research by using tools like Google Adwords Keyword Planner, SEMRush’s Keyword Research tool, or Moz Keyword Explorer.

Bonus Tip: As you’re deciding which long-tail keywords to use, also consider the increase in voice-activated searches. Think about how people talk, not just how they type!

Where Can You Find More Information About SEO Best Practices?

If you want to learn more about ways you can improve awareness of your business online, consider following SEO and digital marketing blogs like Yoast, Moz, Search Engine Land, and Search Engine Journal. Also, contact SCORE to talk with a mentor who can direct you to reputable SEO specialists in your area, and who can advise you on all aspects of your business’s marketing endeavors.

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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. 

 

 

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.