Category Archives: Uncategorized

Customer Feedback: Four Easy Ways to Get It

Every small business owner knows that success can’t happen without satisfied customers. Yet, many entrepreneurs get so busy paying attention to the multitude of tasks they need to accomplish day to day that they neglect to ask customers for meaningful feedback.

Advantages of Asking for Customer Feedback

Some ways that customer feedback can help your small business include:

  • Allows you to identify how to improve your products and services. Feedback can shed light on your company’s offerings’ strengths and weaknesses. Armed with this knowledge, you can determine what improvements or changes will better serve your target market and keep customers happy.
  • Attracts new customers. For example, in the case of online reviews, positive feedback can help your company gain trust and influence prospective customers’ buying decisions.
  • Improves customer loyalty. By asking for feedback, you show customers that you value what they think. Customers who feel appreciated are more likely to stay loyal to your brand.

Four Ways to Get Customer Feedback

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to find out what customers think about your company and your products and services.

1. Online Reviews and Social Media

Often, customers will do this on their own without prompting, so stay alert to what they’re saying about your business online. Several sites to watch include:

Even if you haven’t claimed your profile on a review website or social media platform, don’t assume customers aren’t talking about your company there. To make sure you don’t miss out on potentially valuable feedback, consider setting up Google Alerts to detect when someone mentions your company in reviews and on the web.

Be sure to read review websites’ terms of use carefully, some strictly prohibit businesses from asking customers to leave reviews.

2. Email Surveys

Email surveys give customers a convenient and fast way to respond to your questions about their experience with your company. Several platforms have a free option with basic features, a limited number of questions, and a limited number of emails per month. They also offer subscription plans that provide more capabilities and the ability to send a larger volume of emails. A perk of most email survey platforms is that you get analytics to summarize how respondents collectively feel about your company, products, and services.

Several email survey sites you may want to explore include:

3. Survey Cards

Asking customers to complete a short survey card at the point of sale enables you to get instant feedback. If you believe that requesting feedback on the spot will cause inconvenience for people who may be short on time, consider sending cards by snail mail instead if you have customers’ mailing addresses in your records.

4. Phone Follow-up

Especially for professional services businesses who don’t have massive amounts of clients, phone calls can be a viable way to touch base about customer satisfaction. A one-on-one conversation can deliver more in-depth insight and strengthen the business relationship.

How to Make it Matter

When asking for feedback, it’s critical to ask questions that will return the information you need to understand what your business is doing well and what it needs to improve. Below are several articles that provide helpful food for thought about crafting questions to gather customer feedback:

Also, consider talking with a SCORE mentor. SCORE volunteers have the expertise and experience to help guide you in all aspects of running a business—including improving and maintaining customer satisfaction.

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4 Tips for Choosing Your Business Name!

Who knew? April 9 is “National Name Yourself Day,” a day when you’re encouraged to give yourself a new name for one day. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? And if you search for the hashtag #NameYourselfDay on Twitter or Instagram, you’ll surely have a few laughs upon seeing the new names people adopt for the day.

But selecting a name for your business is no laughing matter. It requires serious thought because a business name serves as the cornerstone of your brand.

  • It serves as your brand’s first impression, affecting how prospective customers perceive your company.
  • It differentiates you from your competitors.
  • It affects your company’s capacity to become memorable.

Tips for Selecting a Business Name

With so much riding on a business name, how do you go about choosing the right one? Consider the following tips:

1. Think about your company’s culture and vibe.

Make sure your name authentically projects the tone of your business and your approach to what you do. Consider how you would describe your company’s aura (such as formal, edgy, academic, approachable, serious, or light-hearted, etc.)—homing in on some adjectives can help you assess whether potential names will be a good match. Having a name that reflects the vibe of your business will help customers know what they might expect from buying your products or services.

2. Be mindful of cultural and societal sensitivities.

Take care not to select a name that will offend, alienate, or outrage the public at large or segments of your market. Unless your brand will be intentionally controversial, names that hint of political, religious, ethnic, or other biases will hurt rather than help you build your business.

3. Keep the future in mind.

Most businesses evolve over time. So when you decide on a name, think about your long-term vision. Avoid choosing a name that will limit you as our business grows or changes. For example, the name “Smith’s Hockey Shop” would become obsolete if the Smiths decide to expand their offerings to equipment and accessories for a variety of sports.

4. Check availability before putting the name on a website and marketing materials.

This is critical because if another business is using your desired name, you may not be able to use it legally. You’ll find free name search tools online, and many states offer a name search option on their websites so that you can see if any other businesses in your state have claimed the name you want to use.  

If you believe you may eventually want to expand your business in other states, you can check on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website to see if anyone else has registered for or been granted a federal trademark for your proposed name.

You Decided on a Business Name. Now What?

Attorneys that specialize in business formation and trademarks can guide you in taking steps to protect your business name.

Sole proprietorships, if they use a name other than their owner’s legal name, must get approval to use that name by filing a DBA (“Doing Business As,” also known as a “fictitious name”).

By registering a business as a legal business entity (e.g., LLC, Corporation), a business name becomes protected within the state of registration, helping to prevent any other registered entities within the state from using it. Obtaining a trademark protects a name throughout the entire United States.

SCORE, of course, can also help you as you decide on your business name. With expertise in marketing and branding, our mentors can offer valuable input and feedback. Contact us today to connect with a SCORE Maine mentor!

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.

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

lending-money

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.