Are you Keeping Up? Track your KPIs

Small businesses, just like mega-corporations, need to keep a pulse on whether they’re on the trajectory toward meeting their goals. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are tools that can enable them to do that.

What are Key Performance Indicators?

KPIs are measurable values that demonstrate how effectively business activities are helping a company achieve its objectives. By measuring defined criteria, they help gauge performance. One company’s KPIs may vary significantly from another’s depending on their industry, size, where they are in their business life-cycle, their location, what they want to accomplish, and other factors.

How Can KPIs Help Your Small Business?

KPIs provide a clearly defined way of assessing the progress a business is making toward its strategic or operational goals. KPIs link to target values that determine whether an activity or area of operation is or is not meeting expectations. When reviewed on a monthly, quarterly, or semi-annual basis, KPI results can help a company identify areas of weakness and enable it to make adjustments before those shortcomings result in missing critical business objectives.  

 

Examples of KPIs

Some examples of KPIs that a business might use to monitor its effectiveness include:

Marketing KPIs

Marketing KPIs like those below can shed light on how effectively and cost-efficiently a business’s marketing and advertising efforts are contributing to reaching company goals.

  • Number of unique website visitors
  • Number of guest posts published on industry blogs
  • Cost of new customer acquisition
  • Number of new email subscribers
  • Number of whitepaper downloads

 

Sales KPIs

A business might use various KPIs to help determine if sales efforts are meeting expectations for prospecting, closing, and upselling.

  • Number of new leads
  • Number of new customers
  • Monthly revenue per customer

 

Product KPIs

KPIs related to products can help a business monitor potential gaps in meeting target market needs, quality issues, and production inefficiencies.

  • Cost per unit
  • Number of customer issues or complaints
  • Number of product returns

 

Financial KPIs

Financial KPIs can help a company track if it is growing its revenue at an acceptable rate. They can also help determine if product/service pricing and expenses are in line.

  • Revenue growth rate
  • Gross profit margin
  • Net profit margin
  • Cash flow

 

Customer Service KPIs 

KPIs that measure customer service activities can help reveal how well and how efficiently a company is serving its customers.

  • Average time per customer call
  • Number of repeat customer calls
  • Customer retention rate
  • Customer satisfaction rating (perhaps through an online customer survey)

 

The list above isn’t exact nor exhaustive; a business might track different or additional KPIs based on its unique situation.

Tips for Establishing KPIs

Before a business can decide on its KPIs, it must first have clear goals—for instance, “for 2018, increase service revenue by 4 percent over 2017” or “increase net profit by $100,000 this year.”

KPIs must be:

  • Relevant to the business goals
  • Specific (have a target value)
  • Measurable
  • Time-sensitive
  • Achievable (not outside of the realm of possibility)

Fortunately, if you aren’t familiar with goal-setting or working with key performance indicators, you don’t have to go it alone. Our SCORE mentors have experience in all aspects running a small business, and they are here to help by providing guidance, input, and feedback. Contact us today to schedule a time to talk with a mentor who can help you develop your KPIs and stay on the road to success.

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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.

 

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.

 

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.