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.

 

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Does Your Website Need to Be HTTPS?

“HTTPS” (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), those first few letters that you see at the start of many Internet addresses, have gotten a lot of press lately. Recent statistics as of November 2017 indicate that nearly 70 percent of web pages are now using HTTPS.

So, what does this mean for you if your small business website is still HTTP rather than HTTPS? Let’s take a moment to explore what HTTPS is and how it might affect your business.

What does HTTPS do?

HTTPS websites provide more security for users than do HTTP websites. They have an SSL certificate that activates a secure connection from a web server to a browser. HTTPS is especially beneficial on pages where users will be sharing personal identity, credit card, or bank account information.

HTTPS provides multi-layered protection through encryption, authentication, and preservation of data integrity. It prevents users’ information from becoming stolen by hackers or compromised by scammers who try to steal info by tricking users into thinking they’re on your website.

How can switching to HTTPS help your company?

With concerns rampant about data breaches, gaining customer trust is a big deal. When website visitors see HTTPS in your web address, they will feel more confident that your site is a safe place to enter their information.

If your business sells products and services online, customers may be more inclined to buy through your site if it’s HTTPS. Conversely, customers may seek other options if they see your site is only HTTP. Most website browsers (including Google Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer) readily identify HTTP sites as insecure with a symbol (an i with a circle around it) in front of the website’s address.

Going HTTPS may also give your website a small boost in its placement in online search results. Studies have shown a slight correlation between HTTPS and websites’ ranking in searches on Google.

How do you convert your website to HTTPS?

The process to migrate a website to HTTPS requires technical know-how, so you might need to enlist the help of a website development professional. As an overview, the steps involved include getting the required SSL/TLS certificates on your web server, deploying them correctly, generating a new sitemap, updating images and links on your site, testing, and fixing any issues.

Next Steps

If your website accepts payments from customers, you should (at a minimum) have HTTPS on the pages of your site that ask for that information.

You most likely won’t need HTTPS for security reasons if your website only collects email addresses to subscribe to your blog or email newsletters. But the trust factor and potential search engine placement benefits still make HTTPS a good idea even if you don’t ask for credit card information through your site.

For help in understanding HTTPS more thoroughly and what it will take to convert your website, contact SCORE for recommendations on expert resources who can assist you.

 

 

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.

 

Maine Client Named SCORE Outstanding Young Entrepreneur for 2017!

 

Tristan Corriveau of Scarborough accepted his national award for Outstanding Young Entrepreneur with a boyish grin. 

“So, this is really cool!” he said.

The 2017 SCORE Awards celebrates the best in small businesses from across the country and honored Corriveau and his SCORE Maine mentor, Donna LeBreux for their work in launching Corriveau’s innovative business, The One Gallon Soap Company. 

 The One Gallon Soap Company with its environmental mission, produces liquid hand soap made from recycled bars of hotel soap.

Corriveau started his company in 2016, inspired by checking out of a hotel room and realizing he was leaving a nearly entirely unused bar of soap behind. After he discovered over two million such bars of soap are discarded by hotels every day, Corriveau’s passion for the environment drove him to figure out a way to repurpose them. He got to work experimenting, partnering with the Press Hotel in Portland and working with students at the University of Southern Maine (USM). His efforts led to a grant from the Libra Future Fund, which enabled The One Gallon Soap Company to move forward in its mission to perfect its process for recycling the used soap.

The aptly named One Gallon Soap Company exclusively packages its 100% recycled, premium liquid hand soap in gallon jugs. Selling soap by the gallon enables the company to sell the same amount of soap as other companies while only using one-tenth of the number of bottles.

Corriveau credits his SCORE Maine mentors, LeBreux and Chuck Grossman, for their roles in helping him start and grow his company.

“In every moment of doubt, frustration, and confusion, my mentors have stepped up and pushed me, listened to me, advised me, and cheered me on. They’ve been key to The One Gallon Soap Company’s success. It’s a privilege to be a part of SCORE.”

Corriveau’s mentors connected him with USM to identify a scalable method to sterilize used soap and facilitated valuable local partnerships. Through meeting with him about every two weeks (and sometimes more if there’s a particular issue to address), they continue to provide guidance and insight about finances, marketing, and more.

Lead mentor LeBreux thinks that Corriveau’s award was well deserved.

“Tristan encompasses the success characteristics of some of our most successful entrepreneurs. He has a passion for his business, he has intensity, and he has commitment to his ideas,” LeBreux said. 

We hope you’ll join us in congratulating Corriveau on his business success and celebrating how SCORE mentors can help entrepreneurs realize their dreams!

 

With experience in all aspects of launching and running a small business, SCORE mentors offer valuable guidance and feedback. If you need help starting a new business or overcoming a daunting challenge in your existing business, contact us today.

 

3 Essential Financial Reports You Need to Thrive

Hard work and motivation will take you far as a new entrepreneur, but they’re not enough! To grow and sustain your small business, you need to know how to manage your money. Even if you enlist the expertise of an accounting professional, you as a business owner should have a fundamental understanding of how well your company is doing financially.

 

These three basic accounting reports can help:

1. Profit And Loss Statement (a.k.a. Income Statement)

This report shows your revenue and expenses during a given period. It answers the question, “Is my business profitable and how profitable is it?”

The math within a P&L statement is rather straightforward; your company’s revenue is added in one section, all of your expenses are added in another, and then a profit or loss is calculated by subtracting total expenses from total revenue.

Entrepreneurs often refer to their P&L report on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. Comparing recent Income Statements with those for a past period (such as the month, quarter, or the year prior) will allow you to see how your company’s profitability has changed over time.

According to Russ Smith, SCORE Maine mentor and financial workshop presenter, “The income statement is one the most important tools you have at your disposal for managing your business. If you spend time with your income statement, it will not only help you identify problems, but it will also provide insight into how profitability can be improved. It will help you evaluate the success of new products, services, and locations.”

Smith shared the following “case study” of how a P&L statement helped a SCORE client:

“We had worked with a client who owned a pub restaurant that was famous for its steak tips dinner. The client had recently hired a new cook and noticed that his food costs on the income statement had increased dramatically as a percent of sales. We observed the new cook, a large man with equally large hands, grabbing a handful of steak tips and putting them on the grill. When we weighed the handfuls, we discovered they averaged 14 ounces—which was 5 ounces more than the 9-ounce portion that was supposed to go into the tips dinner. A scale and some plastic bags quickly solved the problem and put costs back in line. Without his income statement, our client may have never known his costs were escalating.”

 

2. Cash Flow Statement

This report provides a list of your company’s incoming and outgoing transactions and identifies how your business is spending money and earning money over a period of time. It allows you to see when and from where cash is flowing into your business and when and to where cash is flowing out of your company.

Even if your business appears profitable on your P&L statement, you could run into financial issues if your revenue doesn’t arrive in time to cover expenses when they’re due. Your cash flow statement can help you detect problems with cash flow, so you can take measures to fix them before you become delinquent in paying your vendors.

The ability to forecast what will happen and how shortfalls will be covered is critical to the survival of a business.

“Maintaining sufficient cash reserves in the business to meet anticipated demands is a recurring issue for business owners,” shared Smith. “How do I balance my need to take home a paycheck against the needs of the business? The cash flow statement can be very helpful in helping you figure out how to answer that question.”

Smith offered another case study of what can happen when you don’t mind your cash flow:

“Failure to manage cash flow can have both dramatic and painful consequences. Several years ago, a client had borrowed $200,000 through a home equity loan to finance the start of their family business. The business accelerated quickly, but within six months they had exhausted their working capital and had gone back to the bank for an additional loan. The bank turned them down. After extending payment due dates to two customers that owed them $40,000 at the time, the clients were unable to pay their suppliers. Suffice it to say it all ended very badly.”

 

3. Balance Sheet

This snapshot report shows the financial health of your company at a given moment. It details your assets, liabilities, and equity—as of a specific date. Typically, accountants and business owners will run a Balance Sheet report at the end of a month, quarter, or year, but it can be useful at any given point in time. A balance sheet most often is laid out with company assets listed on the left and liabilities and equity on the right. It represents the basic accounting equation:

Assets = Liabilities + Owners’ Equity

The totals on both sides of the equation should match, hence the name “balance” sheet.

Balance sheets summarize what your company owns and what it owes—something investors will want to know if they’re considering providing funding to your business.

“It is important to remember that strong personal and business balance sheets are critical when approaching lenders about borrowing money to grow your business or to finance gaps in your cash flow,” Smith said. “During the last recession, we saw many otherwise survivable businesses with decent balance sheets fail because their owners made bad decisions in their personal lives. The businesses may have been ‘bankable,’ but the owners were not.”

Knowledge is Power!

With a working knowledge of these three reports, you will have a better handle on whether your company’s performance is on target to achieving your financial goals. The accounting software you choose to use for bookkeeping will allow you to run these reports or you can ask your bookkeeper or accountant to run them for you. Now that you know about the three key financial statements, take these steps to take charge of your businesses financial destiny: