Category Archives: business building

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.

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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 Ways to Control Your Small Business’s Overhead Costs

Whether you’ve just launched a startup or have been in business for years, it’s critical to control your company’s overhead costs. Overhead expenses, the fixed costs (rent, insurance, etc.) of operating your business, have a tremendous impact on your bottom line. How effectively you manage them can mean the difference between profitability and extinction.

It pays to carefully review what you’re spending on overhead and find ways to reduce those costs. Not sure where to start? Consider the following ideas:

7 Tips for Trimming the Fat From Your Small Business’s Overhead Expenses

1. Explore sharing marketing costs with complementary businesses in your local area.

Brainstorm ideas with fellow entrepreneurs about how you can cross-promote each other and get exposure through collective efforts.

For example, a bed and breakfast that serves as a wedding venue, a photographer, and a florist could all save money by splitting the bill and running an ad featuring all three businesses in the local newspaper.

2. Keep a tight rein on travel and entertainment expenses.

Have a clear policy and budget for these expenses. Under some circumstances, it might make sense to hold business meetings that involve treating clients to lunch or dinner, but be judicious in determining when that’s necessary. Wining and dining costs can add up quickly when no guidelines or boundaries are in place.

3. Reduce the need for office space by having a virtual team.

As your business grows and you need to add headcount to your team, consider allowing employees to work remotely. This can help you avoid needing to lease or buy a larger office space, and it will help you reduce the costs of office supplies and utilities, as well.

4. Be selective about the memberships and subscriptions you maintain.

Besides the challenges of finding the time to participate in multiple networking groups and professional organizations, the membership fees can put a strain on your budget. Strategically choose the organizations you join by considering whether they provide ample opportunity to build relationships with your target customers and whether they are necessary for your professional reputation.

For example, the owner of a tour company would likely benefit immensely from a membership to the local visitor bureau whereas professional organizations not focused on the travel and tourism industry might not offer as much return on investment.

5. Pay the annual fee rather than on a monthly basis for cloud-based software.

Even though the lump sum annual cost may sound like a lot of money compared to the monthly fee for online software programs, paying for a year upfront can often save an appreciable amount of dollars over time.

For example, a subscription to Evernote Plus costs $3.99 per month with the month-to-month plan and the equivalent of only $2.92 per month by paying $34.99 for the annual plan—a savings of 27 percent.* Similarly, Hootsuite offers its Professional subscription for $14.99 per month, or you can choose to pay for an annual subscription for $119.88, which is the equivalent of $9.98 per month—a 33 percent savings.*

By switching from month-to-month plans to annual subscriptions for several or all of the software solutions you’re using, you may discover you’ll cut costs considerably.

6. Collaborate by phone and email when it can be just as effective as meeting face-to-face meeting.

With the high price of gasoline, it makes good economic sense to reduce how much you drive. While some business dealings require face-to-face interaction, many collaborative efforts can be accomplished through a phone call or email. When appropriate, suggest that you talk with customers and project partners via phone or exchange information through email. You might find that they, too, would rather converse that way. Not only does cutting back on driving decrease your mileage costs, but it also saves valuable time and wear and tear on your vehicle.

7. Leverage rewards programs.

Take advantage of free rewards programs that retailers, your credit card, airlines, and other businesses offer. From office supplies to business furnishings to discounted airfare to cash back, these programs enable you to get exclusive deals, rebates, and other incentives that can save your business money.

Where to Turn for More Tips on Running a Profitable Business

For more insight into how to manage your business’s overhead costs, contact a SCORE mentor for guidance. With experience in all aspects of starting and running a small business, our mentors can help you objectively review your spending and brainstorm ways to run a more profitable company.

*According to the company’s website on 8/30/2018

SCORE Maine Resources for Small Business Owners

Since 1964, more than 10 million entrepreneurs across the United States have launched their companies and overcome challenges with the help of SCORE’s free guidance and resources. Yet everyday, we receive calls and emails asking what we do, how to access our services, and if our services are really free (yes, they are). Read on to learn how SCORE can help you achieve your small business goals.

 SCORE can help you with:

  • Determining the steps that need to be taken to launch a business
  • Developing a business plan
  • Creating a marketing plan
  • Making realistic financial projections
  • Understanding the basic elements of accounting and bookkeeping
  • Understanding the basics about different business entity types
  • Identifying funding options to start or grow a business
  • Conducting industry research
  • Analyzing the competition
  • Identifying a business’s target market
  • Developing product pricing
  • Navigating hiring and human resources challenges
  • Managing vendor relationships

SCORE Maine Services and Resources – How can we help you?

Mentoring

The cornerstone of SCORE’s services is our free business mentoring. SCORE volunteers have experience and expertise in all aspects of starting and running a business. No matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, what type of industry you’re in, or what obstacles you’re facing, we have mentors who have the knowledge and connections to assist you in moving forward.

Workshops

We regularly hold workshops on a variety of topics of interest to new and existing business owners. They serve as valuable, interactive opportunities to boost your business acumen and connect you with other entrepreneurs in your community.

Articles, eGuides, and More

Our library of blog posts, checklists, infographics, videos, podcasts, and other resources offer diverse ways for you to gain knowledge about business planning, marketing, sales, funding, accounting, operations, and the many other essential aspects involved in successfully launching and running a business.

Templates

We help you save time and effort by providing templates to help you as you tackle:

  • Developing a business plan
  • Forecasting revenue and expenses
  • Settting prices for your product and services
  • Writing operating agreements

Get Started. Get Growing.

Contact us for more information about how SCORE’s services and resources can help you make your entrepreneurial dreams a reality. Whether you’re just beginning to explore a business idea or have an existing company that you want to take to the next level, we’re here to offer insight and direction!

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.