Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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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.

 

Funding Your Business: Borrowing from Friends and Family

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Many startups struggle with financing their small businesses. With the average cost of starting a business approximately $30,000, most entrepreneurs need to seek some source of funding beyond their own coffers. For some, borrowing money from friends and family may be their only option.

 

According to credit analyst and volunteer SCORE Portland mentor Matthew Buonopane, “The five Cs of credit are of primary concern to banks when lending to businesses. These C’s include: character, capacity, capital, collateral, and conditions. While character, capital, and conditions may be in place to the bank’s satisfaction, collateral and capacity, or a history of good operating performance, are often absent or difficult for small business owners to obtain.”

 

Using funds from relatives and friends comes with unique risks and benefits, so carefully consider the pros and cons before asking Aunt Jane to float you a loan.

Pros

  • Borrowing from friends and family may give you quicker access to cash. They probably won’t demand as much documentation about feasibility and your business plan before helping you financially.

 

  • You may have more flexibility in setting the payback arrangements so you’re not feeling strapped or overstressed as you start and grow your business.

 

  • When friends and family invest in your business, you may find they have an abundance of enthusiasm about your endeavors. Having their moral support and encouragement can keep you motivated and optimistic.

 

Cons

  • If your business fails or hits hard times, you risk hurting the financial security of those you love if they extended themselves to support you.

 

  • Borrowing from loved ones may cause your relationships to become strained if your near-and-dear lenders feel—since they loaned you money—they have a right to tell you how to run your business.

 

How Can You Borrow To Build Your Business Without Breaking Trust

First and foremost, be upfront about the risks and challenges involved in starting a business so your friends and family know what they’re getting into.

 

Also, consider these other tips before you accept funding from them:

 

  • Conduct research and do your due diligence before asking for money. Do you feel confident your business will succeed? Ask yourself, “Would I invest in this business if someone asked me to?”

 

  • Be realistic when considering what funds your business will require. Get a good handle on the costs your business will have to cover so you’re asking for an amount of money that’s in line with your needs.

 

  • Determine if the funding will take the form of a loan or a share in your business.

 

  • Craft a contract and lay out a payment plan. This will ensure you and your friend or family member are on the same page and have the same expectations.

 

Get Help In Considering All Options

Even though you may think borrowing from friends and family is your only option, there may be other viable funding resources that you’re not aware of. By contacting SCORE and setting up a time to meet with a mentor, you might learn about alternative financing opportunities. Reach out to us today. Mentoring is free of charge, and our mentors have experience in all aspects of starting and growing a small business.

Does Your Small Business Need Licenses or Permits to Operate?

e-business

Before your business starts selling its products and services, you may need to have certain licenses or permits to legally operate. Licenses and permits are often for the protection of customers. Some are to identify you and your business for the collection of sales, local, income and other taxes. Federal, state, or local licensing and/or permit requirements might apply, depending on the type of business and where you’re located.

You definitely don’t want to find yourself not in compliance with the regulations. If you fail to maintain the required licenses or permits, you could face some hefty fines and penalties, or you might be forced to stopped doing business.

 

Where do you start your research to figure out if your business needs to have licenses or permits?

You can start by visiting the Small Business Administration’s website. On the site, you’ll find information about the federal licenses and permits required of businesses operating in certain industries, including transportation, agriculture and alcoholic beverages.

The SBA website also provides an online list of links to where you can find specific information about business licenses required in your state. On that list, you’ll find Maine.gov’s website, which walks you through how to get a business license in the state of Maine.

Individual towns, cities, townships and counties have their own requirements. Generally, the best way to find what applies to you is to contact the offices directly or review the information on their websites (be sure to confirm with them that the information is up to date). Throughout Maine, general licenses to operate businesses are handled at the local town or city level. For information for the city of Portland, click here.

As you research and complete the paperwork to obtain the licenses and permits you need, make sure you give yourself some time—and expect to exercise some patience. The registration process could take days or months or longer, depending on the nature of what you’ll need. For example, to gain zoning clearances, it might take up to a year if you meet resistance and hearings are required.

Although figuring out what requirements will apply to your business may seem daunting, remember professionals and resources are available to help. Consider consulting with an attorney to make sure you know what you need to do to be compliant. SCORE mentors are here to help you cut through the confusion. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with a mentor who is knowledgeable about your industry and can help you move your business forward.

Five Tips to Improve Local Business Search Results

SEOFor businesses serving their local communities, ranking near the top of Google search results provides a key marketing edge. According to Google research into local search behavior, 4 in 5 consumers use search engines via mobile devices and computers to find local information such as store addresses, business hours, product availability, and directions. People choose from the first few search results rather than dig deeper in the search engine results page (SERP), so it is vital to get your business near the top of  the searches.

Here’s a checklist of simple steps to help ensure your company doesn’t get lost in the local search shuffle:

    1. Make sure your business information is accurate and complete—everywhere that it appears online. If you haven’t already, make a list of all the places your company is listed online and verify you’ve provided up-to-date and consistent information across all channels. Google My Business, industry directories, social media channels, Yellowpages.com, etc.—your name, address, phone number, website URL, and other information should be uniform and relevant.
    2. Focus on delivering ease-of-use to your website visitors—and avoid applications like Flash media. Usability of your website can play a role in how long website visitors stay on your site, which in turn plays a role in the online authority Google attributes to your company. Flash media may create some fancy visuals, but it can slow the load time of your pages and detract from the user experience.
    3. Optimize your website for search. Aside from consulting an SEO (search engine optimization) specialist to help you with this, you can take some measures on your own. Pay attention to the page title tags on your site so they provide not only your company name, but also give a brief description of your business (just be sure to stay within 50–60 characters so your title isn’t cut off in the results). Your meta descriptions, the 150–160-character long snippet that displays with your title in search results, should provide searchers with information that captures their attention. And on your website, make sure you include contact info on every page.
    4. Blog consistently, so you’re regularly adding fresh content to your website. A website that updates its content often will stand a far better chance of ranking higher in local search than one that is stagnant. Your blog posts will enable you to provide fresh content targeting local keywords and search terms related to your business. Not only does blogging provide SEO benefits, but it also gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and build trust with your audience. And don’t forget to share your blog posts via your social media channels to generate more traffic to your website. Engagement on social media in combination with blogging works well in boosting your local search mojo.
    5. Make sure your website is mobile friendly. Google’s research revealed that 88 percent of local searches are done via smartphones. And those local searchers tend to take action quickly when they find what they’re looking for. According to their study, 50 percent of consumers who performed a local search on their smartphone proceeded to visit a store within one day. Those statistics say it all for stressing the importance of having a mobile-friendly website!

When you sell your products and services to a customer base that’s primarily local, these small efforts can make a big difference in your success in securing business through online searches. If you need guidance in getting on the right path with your online and other marketing efforts, remember that our SCORE mentors bring a broad spectrum of expertise and experience to small business owners in all industries. Contact us about our free mentoring services.