Category Archives: goals

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

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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.

Your Year-End Checklist: Items to Review with Your SCORE Mentor

As 2017 winds down, it’s time to think about what’s ahead for your business in 2018. The best way to start is by reflecting on what went right—and not so right—for your company over the past year, and considering where opportunities lie in the new year.

Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone. SCORE mentors are here to serve as sounding boards and advisors as you evaluate your business and plan for the future.

Here’s a checklist of essential items a SCORE mentor can help you assess:

  • Your business plan (road map)

It’s rare that a company writes a business plan that completely stays the same over time. With so many internal and external influences, your company’s procedures, goals, and objectives are bound to change. Now is the perfect time to revisit your business plan and update it, so it accurately reflects the roadmap you’re envisioning for your business in 2018.

  • Your budget

Take an objective look at your financials (including comparing your actual revenues and expenses to those that you budgeted in 2017). Use that information to identify discrepancies that need further analysis and to realistically forecast your budget for 2018.

 

  • Your marketing strategy and tactics

Consider how effective your efforts have been throughout the year. What campaigns and activities have provided the most ROI and what has fallen flat? Are you on the right social media channels to reach your target audience? Identify your successes and failures so that you can develop a solid marketing plan for the upcoming year.

 

  • Your products and services

Will it make sense to expand or enhance the portfolio of products and services that you offer? Consider what customers have been asking for and market trends. Also, identify any products and services that are failing to sell or that sell but aren’t profitable. You may want to consider removing them from your offerings.

 

  • Your market

Sometimes the difference between the success and failure of a product or service can lie in reaching the right prospects. Are you targeting the ideal market segments in your marketing and sales efforts? You may find you need to change your focus or extend your brand’s reach to obtain better revenue opportunities.

 

  • Your systems and processes

Your business’s profitability can depend upon how efficiently you run your company. Are you able to keep up with sales inquiries? Are you able to fulfill the demand for your products and services? If you’re having issues with these and other aspects of running your business, you may need to implement (or fix) processes and systems that enable you to operate your business more effectively. Or you might discover you need to outsource some tasks or hire employees.

 

Owning a business requires an open, objective mindset and a willingness to adapt if you want to put it on a trajectory of success. SCORE mentors can help you down that path by providing insight and guidance as you review your business’s past performance and goals for growth. Mentoring is free, so there’s no reason not to take advantage of SCORE volunteers’ expertise and experience in all aspects of starting and running a business. Contact us today.

 

Get To Know Your Customers Day!

It seems there’s a special day to honor just about everything from National Grilled Cheese Day to National Hug a Drummer Day. It’s impossible to keep up with them  all, but there is a particular day that small business owners should observe every day:

Get To Know Your Customers Day

Recognized on the third Thursday of each quarter (January, April, July, and October), Get to Know Your Customers Day is a day to make an effort to learn more about your customers.

In the last half of 2017, it falls on July 20 and October 19 (past dates in 2017 include January 19 and April 20).

But why only strive to get to know your customers once per quarter? Having a pulse on what your customers need, want, and will pay for is something entrepreneurs should strive for every day. Knowing your customers is critical to your business success because without doing so you cannot be sure you’re meeting your target market’s needs.

When you know your customers, you have the insight you need to:

  • Adapt your products and services to meet your customers’ changing wants and needs.
  • Deliver the value your customers expect.
  • Build customer loyalty.

 

How can you get to know your customers better?

Not all customers will freely tell you about themselves, their lifestyles, what they’re looking for, or how they feel about your products and services. Fortunately, with relatively minimal effort, you can gather that information.

  • Look at online customer reviews for information about their lifestyles and preferences. Besides sharing customers’ level of satisfaction, reviews can also educate you on how, where, and why customers are using your products and services. That can give you perspective on how you might improve or expand your offerings.

 

  • Email individual customers “just because” to see what’s new with them. It’s a no-pressure way to show customers you value and care about them and to discover opportunities to serve them.

 

  • Schedule one-on-one coffee dates or lunch meetings to catch up with them. If the nature of your business makes this feasible, consider setting aside some time to catch up face to face and learn what’s on your customers’ minds.

 

  • Hold a customer appreciation event. This type of gathering will enable you to mix and mingle and learn more about your customers in a laid-back, friendly setting.

 

  • Attend other organizations’ social events. Consider attending chamber of commerce mixers, non-profit golf outings, and other activities when you know your customers will be there. These occasions provide opportunities for casual conversation rather than just “talking shop.”

 

If you haven’t made getting to know your customers a priority in your small business, July’s Get To Know Your Customers Day is a perfect time to start.

For more ideas on ways to get to know your customers, talk with a SCORE mentor. With experience in all aspects of starting and running a business, SCORE volunteers can provide valuable guidance and feedback through every phase of your entrepreneurial journey.

6 New Year’s Resolutions for Small Business Profitability

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Succeeding in small business requires constant attention to detail and a willingness to adapt along the way. With a new year upon us, what better time to aspire to make your small business more profitable than ever before?

 

How can you get there? Here are six steps to put you on the right path.

 

  1. Evaluate your processes and systems and identify which are providing efficiency and which are holding back your productivity.

Specifically consider replacing manual processes that consume a lot of time with solutions that can automate them and that integrate with the systems your business uses. Accounting, sales, marketing, etc…where can you find efficiencies?

 

  1. Take a close look at your expenses.

Go line by line on your expense report and ask yourself what’s necessary and what is not. What’s driving up your business costs but not giving you a return on your dollars? Be honest, and consider kicking “nice to have” but unnecessary expenses to the curb in the New Year.

 

  1. Assess your pricing.

If you’ve grandfathered clients into rates from years gone by, it may be time for an increase. If you decide to raise your rates, make sure you’re providing enough advance notice to your clients (review the contracts you have in place!) and provide an explanation as to why you’re increasing pricing. And of course, thank them for their understanding and for the continued opportunity to work with them.

 

  1. Remain objective.

As the year begins and moves forward, question yourself and those you work with (employees, vendors, project partners, etc.) when things aren’t progressing as you had hoped. Are your expectations too high? Do team members have too much on their plates? Are those involved not pulling their own weight? Do your products and services need improvement? These are tough questions that need to be asked and answered honestly for you to gain an understanding of what you can do better to improve your business results.

 

  1. Take action

After figuring out what changes could benefit your business’s bottom line, you’ll need to make a plan and follow through on executing it. Write it down, breaking it down into clear, actionable steps and tasks. Then, share those action items with those you’ll depend on to help you succeed.

 

  1. Take responsibility.

As the owner of your business, change starts with you. Take responsibility and set a positive example for others to follow. By demonstrating enthusiasm and dependability, you’ll facilitate a company atmosphere that has a firm foundation of cooperation and accountability.

 

If you need guidance in making 2016 the best year yet for your small business, contact us at Portland Maine SCORE. Our certified mentors are knowledgeable about all aspects involved in starting and running a business.