Category Archives: tips

6 Spring Cleaning To-Dos

As springtime brings the promise of warmer days and longer stints of daylight, now is an ideal time to get cracking on your spring cleaning responsibilities—both at home and at your small business!

 

Six Small Business Spring Cleaning Tasks to Tackle Now

 1. Tidy up your online presence.

Check to make sure your NAP (name, address, phone) info is consistent and correct across all platforms where your business appears online. This includes any online directories and review sites, such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, Citysearch, and others. Most SEO specialists agree that Google and other search engines look for NAP consistency across the web as a way to validate that a business is legitimate. If your NAP info is outdated or incorrect on various sites, Google might reflect the wrong information in (or omit your business from) search results.

Also, review your website for broken links and other errors that should be fixed. The more hassle-free and user-friendly your website, the more likely potential customers will make repeat visits to it.

 

2. Review your business plan.

Revisit your business plan and identify any sections you should update to better reflect your aspirations and goals. A business plan is meant to be a living document that changes over time. As a roadmap for your company, it may need to be tweaked to reflect a modified course that will help you overcome competitive pressures, regulatory changes, and other influences.

 

3. Assess your cash flow.

Are you receiving income from your customers in time to meet your expense obligations? If not, you might want to consider updating your payment policy (or creating one in the first place). Some potential ways to fix a sluggish cash flow are requesting a down payment or full payment in advance of providing products or services, invoicing immediately after you’ve provided services (rather than waiting until the end of the month), and following up with customers sooner rather than later when invoices are past due.

 

4. Eliminate clutter.

This is spring cleaning in the literal sense. Clear your desk and files of unnecessary paperwork that’s taking up space and creating a distracting environment. Declutter your digital files, too. Identify and delete messages in your inbox that no longer require your attention. Archive and organize the files on your computer or in the cloud for easier access.  If you need to keep a record of them, consider creating a special folder for that purpose or using an online app like Evernote or Dropbox to save them.

 

5. Be a task master.

Explore productivity and task lists apps like or Hours or Todoist, or a good old fashioned desk calendar and notebook to keep yourself on track.  Consider new, streamlined ways to work with your team with task management software such as Asana or communication apps such as Slack. Identify you or your teams obstacles (prioritizing tasks, delegating tasks, meeting deadlines) and create a system to overcome them.  Remember, it’s all about creating a system that works best for the way you work and your goals.

 

6. Get a fresh perspective.

Contact SCORE to connect with a business mentor. SCORE mentors provide unbiased feedback that can help your company succeed. From marketing to product development to pricing to customer service and more, SCORE mentors have expertise in all aspects of running a small business.

No matter what the season—spring, summer, fall, or winter—SCORE can help your business move in the right direction and achieve its goals.

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4 Social Media Enhancements Worth a Look!

This year, several social media platforms added new features and improvements that could benefit your small business’s Internet marketing efforts in 2018.

Let’s take a look at the changes and how they might help you gain a stronger following and improve engagement on your social media channels.

1. Instagram’s introduction of the capability to follow specific hashtags.

In December 2017, Instagram introduced a new way for users to interact with hashtags. You can now follow hashtags—in the same way you can follow Instagram accounts. After you follow a hashtag, Instagram curates highlights from posts with that hashtag and places them into your main feed.

What does this mean for you and your business? It is now easier for people who are interested in the types of products and services you provide to discover you on Instagram. If you use hashtags that your customers and prospective customers are following, you will increase brand awareness and likely gain more followers to your Instagram account.

Which hashtags will work best? You may have to experiment and gauge how much interest you’re getting with various hashtags. One way to zero in on the best hashtag contenders is to use the search feature on Instagram to research specific hashtags to assess their popularity and relevance to your business.

2. Twitter’s tweet length has extended from 140 characters to 280 characters.

In early November 2017, Twitter expanded the character limit for tweets from 140 characters to 280 characters. This is good news for brands and business professionals who struggled to fit meaningful information into the confines of 140 characters. With the extended tweet length, you have the opportunity to share more detailed insight. That can help you better demonstrate your expertise and value to your followers.

Take care not to overdo it, though. Because of Twitter’s fast-moving nature, followers might not have the patience to read long-winded tweets—especially if you constantly push yours to the limit.

3. LinkedIn’s has introduced in-app LinkedIn video for uploading/recording videos in posts.

In late August – early September 2017, LinkedIn began allowing users to either upload videos from their camera rolls or record videos via LinkedIn’s video feature. With this new capability, consider the many ways you might use it to bond with your audience:

  • Behind-the-scenes videos of your team helping customers
  • How-to videos to demonstrate your expertise and empower your audience.
  • Celebrations of key milestones along your business journey
  • Video bios of your team members to help your audience get to know the people behind your brand

4. Facebook allows people and brands to create polls that can use GIFs as response options.

Although Facebook offered a feature with a polling function in the past, it nixed it in 2014 when rolling out other updates. In the last quarter of 2017, however, it added a new, improved poll feature—following its acquisition of polling app tbh.

As a result, brand pages and individuals can again post polls to entice interaction from fans and friends. Besides giving text-only response options to poll participants, poll creators can offer photos or GIFs as possible choices. This gives your business an opportunity to add an element of fun to your Facebook posts and get your fans excited about interacting and sharing your content.

What Role Will Social Media and the New Capabilities Play in Your Marketing Efforts?

As you’re assessing your current social media strategy and what you’ll do moving forward in 2018, remember that SCORE is here to offer guidance and feedback. Contact us today! With mentors who have experience in all aspects of starting and growing a business, we can provide insight and direction as you develop your marketing plan for the New Year.

 

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.

Communication Tips Part 1: Write Like You Mean Business

writing

Among the many skills small business owners need to hone, communicating like a pro is one of the most critical. Whether crafting an email to a prospective client or delivering a workshop to peers at a chamber of commerce event, your prowess in communicating affects how others perceive you.

This blog post is the first in a two-part blog series sharing practical tips to help entrepreneurs write and speak better.

 

Six Tips To Help You Write Like You Mean Business

  • Set aside dedicated time, so you don’t have to rush through it. The phrase “haste makes waste” is true when writing anything. If you try to squeeze writing in on the fly, you won’t have time to gather your thoughts properly, you’ll struggle to find the right words to get your point across, and you’ll make silly mistakes. That means you’ll need to spend extra time editing—and maybe even completely rewriting—what you originally wrote. Instead, block out some time to tackle writing projects when other priorities—and people—won’t distract you.

 

  • Organize/outline the key points you want to communicate. Never underestimate the power of planning. Before you start writing, think about your purpose and the specific details you want to share. Also, consider in what order you should write about those details, so they flow seamlessly and won’t confuse your audience. A good way to do this is to prepare an outline or simply create a list of bullet points that put your main points and key details in logical order.

 

  • Make sure you clearly state any action you need readers to take. If you need your audience to do something after reading your email, memo, letter, or other written communications piece, say so openly. Consider making calls to action more prominent by using bold font. If you have multiple action items, put them in a bulleted list. Also, make sure you share the dates/times by which you need responses or tasks completed.

 

  • Use tools to edit and proofread. After you’ve written drafts, take advantage of apps and software available (many offer free versions) to help you fine-tune them. For example, the spell check features in Word and email platforms can help you detect misspellings and some basic grammar errors. Also, take a look at Grammarly. It offers a browser extension that checks grammar in your online communications (e.g., when crafting emails and social media posts) and a downloadable version that allows you to check grammar in Word documents. Realize you should still review your writing in addition to using tools. Tools can save time and pick up on items you might otherwise miss, but they’re not 100 percent accurate all the time.

 

  • Read your writing out loud. Vocalizing what you wrote will help you ensure your writing projects the right tone. If your “voice” comes across harsh or angry, you may want to make adjustments to soften your approach. When you read your communications out loud, it also enables you to flag anything readers might misinterpret or not understand.

 

  • Ask someone else to review. This added measure of review provides valuable insight. By getting a third-party point of view, you can get impartial feedback that enables you to fine-tune your writing before you send it to your intended audience.

 

No matter what type of business you run, you’ll need to write to some degree. You don’t need the skills of Ernest Hemingway to do so, but you do need to give the task some concentrated attention. By devoting enough time, organizing your thoughts, checking your tone, and carefully reviewing your content, you can communicate professionally and successfully.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in this two-part series: Tips to Help Small Business Owners Communicate More Effectively: Part 2 – Speaking

 

 

Is It Time For Your Business To Hire?

If you’re like many small business owners, you started out as a  “solopreneur”—a one-person bands who does it all. However, as your client lists and product or service offerings grow, there comes a point where you can’t do it alone.

Some signs that may indicate it’s time to expand your team include:

  • Tasks are slipping through the cracks.
  • You’re missing deadlines.
  • You’re making silly mistakes.
  • You’re finding it difficult to stay organized.
  • Customers and vendors are getting frustrated because you don’t respond promptly.
  • You’re working constantly and beginning to feel burnt out.

If any combination of the above sounds familiar, consider delegating some work. Whether you decide to add employees to your payroll or work with independent contractors, by making others a part of your team you’ll be able to focus on what you do best and ensure other responsibilities don’t go undone.

So, should you hire employees or outsource work to independent contractors? Both have their advantages and potential disadvantages.

Pros Of Hiring Employees

  • Because they’re part of your business, they stand to gain a stronger understanding of your business’s internal processes, needs, and expectations than an independent contractor might have. Therefore, they will know how to do their work and understand how that work fits into the big picture.
  • The hourly rate you pay them will probably be less than you would pay to a contractor.
  • You have more control over the work. As an employer, you establish how you want tasks done, what technology and tools to use, office hours, etc.
  • When your workload increases, you have someone who is readily available to assist. Your work is their priority; they aren’t dividing their working hours between you and other clients.
  • If you need to step away for a day or go on a week-long vacation, you have someone you can rely on to keep the business operating while you’re gone.

Cons Of Hiring Employees

  • In addition to wages, you may also be required to provide certain benefits to employees. That can add additional cost to your bottom line.
  • You add the complexity of payroll to your business. Certain paperwork is legally required and you’ll need to withhold employees’ federal, state, and local taxes; social security; and Medicare from their paychecks.
  • Even if your business experiences a drop in sales or profitability, you still need to pay your employees their wages and salaries.
  • If you discover an employee isn’t a good match for your business, terminating that worker might not be a simple process.

 

Pros Of Hiring Independent Contractors

  • You don’t have to commit to paying them regular wages or a salary, nor are you required to provide benefits. So, even though you’ll likely pay them more per hour than you would employees, they could save you money overall.
  • If things aren’t working out with an independent contractor, you simply don’t have to work with them anymore (after any contractual obligations are met). You don’t have a termination process to adhere to as you would with an employee.
  • It brings in someone with the specialized skills you need for a particular area of your business. That may mean little to no training necessary.
  • They are responsible for their own permits and professional licenses.

 

Cons Of Hiring Independent Contractors

  • You lose some control over the work. Independent contractors typically have the autonomy to work from where they want, use the tools and technology they want, and work the hours they want.
  • Independent contractors often work remotely, so it may be difficult to know exactly how work is progressing.
  • Because they serve multiple clients, independent contractors may not be able to meet your deadlines as quickly as you would like.
  • Unless you have an agreement with an independent contractor that explicitly states it, you may not own the copyright for works that an independent contractor creates for you.

 

To make sure you make the right choice for your business, consider the type of work you need help with, the amount of work you need to delegate, whether the work is recurring or sporadic, how much control over the work process you’re comfortable with, and the legal and financial impact your choice will have on your business.

 

A SCORE mentor can serve as a valuable sounding board and source of insight as you begin working through all of that. Contact us today to schedule free counseling from our volunteer mentors who have knowledge and experience in all aspects of starting and running a small business.