Category Archives: tips

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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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.

How to get five stars on managing your online reviews

In today’s market, consumers read online reviews before buying products and services whether they’re buying an item on Amazon or scoping out a local small business. You can’t afford to miss out on what people might be saying about your business online.

Online Reviews Wield Word-of-Mouth Power

According to BrightLocal, “Nearly every consumer now conducts regular local searches, placing expectations on businesses to be visible online. Some businesses can struggle to differentiate from their competitors, so a positive online reputation is useful to help customers make a choice.”

BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey – 2017 found that 85 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.”

Online Reviews Help SEO

Online reviews may also help a business get found in online searches. According to the Moz 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors study, review signals are among the top 8 ranking factors used by Google.

The number of reviews, diversity of reviews, and review velocity (the rate at which a product garners new reviews) all have an impact on where on the search engine results pages a business will appear.

Which Review Sites Carry the Most Weight?

The 2018 ReviewTrackers Online Reviews Survey: Statistics and Trends found that Google has become the preferred review site for consumers. “63.6 percent of consumers say they are likely to check online reviews on Google before visiting a business — more than any other review site.”

Facebook is the most popular online space for leaving reviews. Although growth has slowed for sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and CitySearch, many people are still using them, and they continue to have an impact on companies’ reputations and ranking in online searches.

A Few Things to Keep In Mind

1. If you haven’t established or claimed your business on Google My Business and other review sites, consider doing so.

On some sites, such as Yelp, customers might be leaving reviews even if a business hasn’t established an account there. Realize that people can and will talk about your business online, so it’s in your best interest to know where that’s happening.

2. Be careful about soliciting reviews from customers.

While Google allows businesses to encourage customers to leave online reviews, some other review sites prohibit it. Some review sites prohibit asking customers to leave reviews. Always check the website’s terms of service to make sure you follow their rules.

3. Make sure that your business information is consistent across review sites.

Use the same company name, address, and phone number (NAP) information across all of them. Many SEO experts say that search engines view consistency in NAP information as a sign that a business is legitimate. If your NAP info differs from one site to the next, people might see incorrect information about your business in search results—or your business might not turn up on the search engine results page at all.

4. Pay attention to when someone leaves reviews.

Stay tuned into notifications when someone leaves a review of your business so you can respond—particularly if it’s a negative review. According to the ReviewTrackers survey, 53.3 percent of people expect a business to respond to a negative review within 7 days. By acknowledging customers’ dissatisfaction and taking action to remedy it, you’ll demonstrate integrity…and those people might be inclined to remove their negative review and write a more favorable one.

If you do get a few negative reviews, don’t fret. It’s likely it won’t permanently damage your reputation. In fact, several critical reviews may even help your business. Reviews, whether positive or negative, increase the overall number of reviews and they may enhance your credibility. Some people might suspect that a company with all glowing reviews is “too good to be true.”

5. Watch out for fake reviews.

Positive and negative fake reviews can do damage to your business’s credibility online. On many sites, anyone (whether a customer or not) can write a review. Some have automated mechanisms in place to detect and remove fake reviews, but their methods aren’t always 100 percent effective. If you find that someone has left a fraudulent review about your business, follow the review site’s process to launch an investigation.

 

6. Monitor your online reputation so you can detect when people are talking about your business.

Besides checking activity directly on the review sites, also consider setting up a Google Alert on your business name to notify you whenever someone has mentioned your business online. The more you know about what people are saying about your business, the better able you’ll be able to understand what you’re doing well and what you might improve. Online reviews and conversations can provide valuable feedback to help your business serve your customers better.

If you have questions or need guidance about managing aspects of your business online (and off), contact SCORE to talk with a mentor.

 

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

3 Personal Branding Tips for Small Business Owners

As a small business owner, you are the face of your company. That comes with opportunities and challenges as people may view you and your business as one in the same.

You have the power to single-handedly make a direct impact on your business’s credibility through your personal branding efforts.

So, how can you leverage your personal brand to enhance your company’s reputation?

3 Tips for Making Your Personal Brand Work For Your Business

Don’t be a stranger.

By getting involved in local business groups, you can build vital connections in the community. However, being on the membership roster of organizations isn’t enough. It’s important to be present at events and activities regularly so that you can nurture relationships and raise awareness of your expertise and your company’s offerings.

Choose where you network wisely because your time is precious. Seek out groups that have a strong representation of community partners, potential and existing customers, vendors, and influencers to make sure your outreach efforts are worthwhile.

 

Make some media inroads.

Look for windows of opportunity to share your expertise with the local press, online media outlets, and industry blogs.

  • Pitch newsworthy story ideas to local reporters that can draw them to you for expert input on topics. By being quoted in articles, you gain free publicity in exchange for minimal effort.
  • Reach out to the editors of reputable blogs in your industry to see if they accept guest blog posts. If yes, propose several topics with short summaries about each to give the publications several options for consideration. Guest blogging expands your audience and can help your business’s SEO efforts since most publishers allow a link back to your website from your author bio.
  • Look for relevant media inquiries through HARO – When you sign up as a source on HARO (which stands for “Help a Reporter Out”) you get an email three times a day with a list of requests from media for sources of expertise. When you set up your HARO account, you can identify the types of industries and topics you’re interested in. Getting picked up as a source by a reporter through HARO can potentially give you—and your business—national exposure.

 

Play it smart on social media.

Perhaps the most powerful place for personal branding is social media platforms. Sadly, this is where too many business owners run into trouble.

You may have the right to say whatever you want on social media, but realize that heat-of-the-moment status updates and comments about highly emotional topics like politics and religion may have a negative impact. You’re bound to alienate some people (including customers, vendors, project partners, etc.) if you’re not careful. Also, ranting about business issues or airing other grievances online can serve to make you appear unprofessional. For those reasons, consider your intent before making any post or comment. If your motive is self-serving to get something off your chest or get under someone’s skin, it’s best to walk away from your screen and re-engage when you’re in a less volatile frame of mind. If you find it difficult to do that, you may want to reconsider “friending” clients and professional contacts through your personal social media accounts.

 

A Blurred Line That Can Build Your Business

With some focus and effort on your personal branding, you have the potential to build greater exposure and respect for your business in the process. As you look for opportunities to leverage your personal brand in-person and online, reach out to SCORE for guidance from a small business mentor. SCORE mentors work with business owners in all industries, and they can help you formulate a personal branding strategy that can effectively enhance your business’s other marketing efforts.