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Six Small Business Startup Resources for Veterans

man in suit - half soldier uniform and half business suit

According to a Small Business Administration (SBA) report, veteran-owned firms represent 9.1 percent of all U.S. businesses. They employ more than five million people and have an annual payroll of $195 billion. Indeed, veteran entrepreneurs have a positive impact on our economy.

In efforts to support veteran entrepreneurs—the SBA, SCORE, and other organizations have developed resources targeted to veterans’ small business startup needs. In this post, we’ll highlight some of the websites, programs, and organizations available to help veterans launch and run their businesses successfully.

Resources for Veteran Business Owners

1. SCORE

In the “Resources for Veteran Entrepreneurs” section of the SCORE website, you’ll find webinars, blog posts, and articles that are focused on a broad range of topics. From funding to franchising to transitioning from a military career to entrepreneurship, there are ideas and information to help prepare veterans for business ownership.

SCORE Maine and other SCORE chapters across the nation offer workshops, roundtables, seminars, and other programs to help entrepreneurs start and run their businesses. All SCORE chapters also offer free mentoring, which can be especially helpful as veterans navigate the opportunities and challenges that come with starting and running a business.

2. SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development

The OVBD works to maximize the “availability, applicability, and usability” of small business programs for veterans. The OVBD has a Veterans Business Outreach Center Program, designed to make business development services available locally across the United States. Veterans Business Outreach Centers provide services such as business workshops (e.g., Boots to Business), entrepreneurial counseling, business plan preparation, feasibility analyses, and mentorship.

The OVBD website also shares information about funding resources, veteran entrepreneurship training programs, and more.

In addition, the SBA has a program for service-disabled veteran-owned businesses that want to procure federal contracts. The Service-Disabled Veteran-owned Small Businesses program allows agencies to set aside contracts specifically for veteran-owned companies.

3. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Veteran Entrepreneur Portal

The Veteran Entrepreneur Portal gives access to various business tools and services. It links to websites and information with details about government programs and services created for veterans.

4.  National Veteran Small Business Coalition

The NVSBC is a non-profit trade association that advocates for policies that encourage veteran-owned businesses’ participation in federal contracting opportunities. Veterans that join the NVSBC gain access to resources and information to help them compete in the federal marketplace.

5. Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship

V-Wise is an organization open to all women veterans, active-duty female service members, and partners of veterans and active service members. It offers entrepreneurial courses and resources in cities across the United States.

6. Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities

Developed by the EBV Foundation, this educational program is offered at various universities in the United States. It provides training in entrepreneurship and small business management to post-9/11 veterans with service-related disabilities. The EBV Foundation provides grants to graduates of the program, helps with business plan development, and provides other services to support disabled veterans in their entrepreneurial efforts.

Your First Step to Starting a Veteran-Owned Business

SCORE mentors have knowledge and experience in starting businesses in a broad range of industries. They can provide valuable insight to help you successfully launch your veteran-owned business. Make SCORE the first step in your journey to entrepreneurship. Contact us today!

Are Your Employees Delivering?

Small business owners invest a lot of time, energy, and resources to onboard employees in hopes that new hires will become long-standing, productive team members. Unfortunately, sometimes things don’t work out. Occasionally, there may be an employee with a poor attitude or qualities that don’t suit the workplace culture.

 

However, sometimes there may be an employee who has potential but isn’t quite reaching the expected performance level. How can business owners who have hired a “diamond in the rough” get that new hire up to speed?

 

As you start and grow your business, you will likely encounter this situation. So, let’s take a look at some of the ways you can help underperforming employees become the team members you need them to be.

 

9 Tips for Dealing with Underperforming Employees

 

1.  Don’t wait.

 

 The longer you wait to have a conversation, the more difficult it will be to broach the topic. Employees may not even be aware that they’re not doing as well as you expect them to. The longer their underperformance continues, the longer it will have adverse effects on your business.

 

2. Write it down.

 

Document what’s lacking in their performance. But also make notes about some positive traits so that you can offer some good feedback with the not-so-good.

 

3. Provide specifics.

 

Be clear about what employees need to do to improve. For example, “We need you to pay more attention to detail” is not as clear as “We need you to double-check your math when closing out the cash register at the end of your shift.”

 

4. Keep emotions out of the equation.

 

Plan to talk with underperforming employees at a time when you can approach the topic calmly without yelling or appearing overly frustrated. Remember, you’ve decided the person is worth keeping around if they can improve in some areas; it will be counterproductive if they feel attacked.

 

5. Determine if external or internal factors are at play.

 

Ask questions. If a performance problem suddenly appears, there might be a personal situation creating distraction temporarily. Or perhaps within your company, there hasn’t been enough training, or there’s an interpersonal issue with another employee. Knowing what might be contributing to the poor performance will help you understand what can be done to get over the hurdle.

 

6. Get a pulse on what motivates them.

 

Sometimes, employees need some incentive to step up their game. It might be as simple as getting more feedback and encouragement regularly or having a discussion about what opportunities exist in the future if they excel in their position.

 

7. Make a plan.

 

After you’ve assessed underperformance situations, create a plan for getting employees to a higher performance level. Map out how training, additional practice, webinars, more constant feedback, etc., whatever you’ve determined you need to provide, will happen. Set a timeline for when you will re-evaluate performance, and explain the next steps if performance continues to be sub-par.

 

8. Follow-up.

 

Provide feedback as your under-performing employees follow the improvement plan. Also, keep an open door for them to ask questions and discuss challenges.

 

9. Ask a SCORE mentor for guidance.

 

SCORE mentors provide business consultation to entrepreneurs in many industries and can provide helpful insight. Mentoring is free and can help you overcome whatever challenges you’re facing in your business. Contact us to set up a time to meet with a mentor.

You. Twitter. Get Noticed!

woman and man in office

Twitter can be a powerful marketing tool, but many  entrepreneurs find it challenging to build
a following and stay top of mind there.

Five Twitter Tips to Help You Get Noticed

 

1. Increase your tweeting frequency.
Twitter has a faster, more dynamic pace than Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. To get on
people’s radar on Twitter, you need to post more often than on other networks. How often,
you ask? After analyzing the results of 14 different studies, CoSchedule (a social media posting
platform) says 15 tweets daily (spread out throughout the day/night) is ideal. That may sound
overwhelming but see tip five below for a way to make it manageable.

 

2. Tweet what matters to your target market.
Think before you tweet. What is your audience interested in? What are they hungry to learn?
Mix things up by tweeting not only your own content but also content created by other reliable
resources. Appeal to users with different preferences by posting tweets with various types of
content (e.g., blog articles, infographics, videos, etc.) Also, consider what people may not want
to see; political commentary and other hot-button content can drive away followers.

 

3. Use hashtags.
Including hashtags in your tweets will help people find you and increase engagement. Go easy,
though. One or two will do the trick. More than that can be a turn-off and cause followers to
tune out.

 

4. Follow companies and people you want to interact with.
Make a list of clients, prospects, vendors, business partners, influencers, and others with whom
you would like to establish or maintain a relationship on social media. People and brands that
are active on Twitter will often reciprocate and become your follower after you follow them.
Besides following other accounts, take a few minutes each day to interact with their tweets
(either retweeting, liking, or replying to them). The more you engage with others on Twitter,
the more engagement you will get in return.

 

5. Use a social media management tool.
Tools like Buffer, Hootsuite, and SocialOomph offer free versions and can save you a lot of time.
They allow you to schedule tweets and posts across multiple social networks, enabling you to
get back to business while maintaining an active social media presence. Hootsuite’s dashboard
functionality also makes it convenient to keep track of key followers’ activity on Twitter. Free
accounts on these platforms have limitations, and other plans are available (for a fee) that offer
expanded capabilities. Other social media platforms with subscription plans that you may want
to look at include SproutSocial and CoSchedule.

 

Ready to give it your best shot? 
As with any form of networking, building awareness and trust on Twitter requires time and
repeated exposure. The above tips will help you gain traction, but you’ll still need some
patience. For more advice on marketing your business online (and offline), contact SCORE to
talk with a mentor.

Getting Paid the Cool Kids’ Way: Venmo and Apple Pay

In today’s environment of instant gratification and demand for convenience, small businesses must make it as convenient and safe as possible for people to pay for products and services. As new platforms emerge, businesses that target millennials and Generation Zers (known for being early adopters of technology) need to stay in the know about the cutting edge options out there.

Two innovative payment methods that have been getting a lot of press include Venmo and Apple Pay.

Venmo

What Is Venmo?

Venmo, a mobile-only app owned by PayPal, is part social network/part digital wallet. After a user sets up a Venmo account and links it to their bank account or debit card, they can transfer money to and accept money from other Venmo users.

Available on Android and iOS devices, the Venmo app is also used to pay for purchases made through mobile browsers or mobile apps—and to split the cost of expenses such as rideshares, pizza delivery, and movie tickets via mobile apps (e.g., Uber, Papa John’s, Fandango).

With a growing user base (PayPal recently reported the app has over 40 million users) and the social aspect of the app, Venmo has the potential to generate exposure and a steady dose of word of mouth for businesses that sell products and services online.

How Can Your Business Accept Venmo Payments?

If your business accepts payments via your mobile website or app, you may want to explore adding Venmo to your list of payment options. You can connect with the payment gateway Braintree to accept Venmo at checkout on your mobile site or mobile app. Or you can add Venmo as a payment option at PayPal checkout.

How Much Does It Cost To Receive Payments Through Venmo?

When customers pay through Venmo, the merchant is charged 2.9 percent of the purchase price plus a transaction fee of $.30.

Is Venmo Secure?

Venmo uses encryption to help protect users’ account information, and they store account data on servers at secure locations. Users may set up multifactor authentication and add a PIN code in the app for additional peace of mind. Also, Venmo monitors activity to help detect unauthorized transactions. Visit the Venmo website for more information about the protections they have in place.

 

Apple Pay

What is Apple Pay?

Apple’s payment platform, Apple Pay, gives iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch users a convenient way to make secure purchases in stores, online, and in apps. Apple Pay accounts can be connected to most credit and debit cards from most U.S. banks. Apple has announced it will introduce Apple Card later this summer as a new way to pay with Apple Pay. Many major retailers, restaurants, and service providers—brick and mortar, online, and in-app—accept Apple Pay at checkout.

Apple Pay also has a peer-to-peer component, allowing users to send money to (or receive money from) other Apple Pay users through Apple Messages or by asking Siri.

How Can You Accept Payments Through Apple Pay?

Unlike Venmo, Apple encourages brick-and-mortar stores to accept Apple Pay. Merchants must have a contactless payment–capable point-of-sale terminal to do so. If you have one but haven’t yet been accepting contactless payments, ask your payment provider to enable that capability. The Apple website shares additional information that stores need to know about Apple Pay. It also provides details about implementing Apple Pay in your app or website.

How Much Does It Cost To Receive Payments Through Apple Pay?

According to Apple Pay’s info for merchants, “Apple doesn’t charge any additional fees” to accept Apple Pay. Merchants will pay the same fees as usual to banks and credit cards (those that customers access through their Apple Pay accounts) for transactions.

Is Apple Pay Secure?

In addition to the security features built into the hardware and software of Apple devices, Apple Pay requires users to have a passcode on their device. Further security options include facial recognition and fingerprint identification.

Apple does not store the numbers of the credit, debit, or prepaid cards that people use with Apple Pay, nor does it retain any transaction information.

For more details about Apple Pay’s security and privacy protections, visit the overview on the Apple website.

How Can a SCORE Mentor Help?

As you consider which payment methods will benefit your customers and your business, remember that SCORE mentors can offer valuable input and feedback to help you make an informed decision. Contact us today!

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.

9 Cybersecurity Tips to Protect Your Business

Hackers don’t only set their sights on mega-corporations with massive amounts of data. In fact, approximately half of all cybersecurity attacks target small businesses. Why? Small businesses are less likely to have sophisticated digital security measures in place. Also, criminals focus efforts on cracking into small companies to make it easier to hack into the networks of the large businesses that small businesses are connected with.

Data breaches have the potential to impair or destroy your business. According to the National Cyber Security Institute’s findings, 60 percent of small and mid-sized companies go out of business within six months after getting hacked. With the survival of your business at stake, it’s critical to take measures to protect your information. Fortunately, by taking some simple steps, you can decrease your company’s risks of falling prey to hackers and unauthorized users who want to steal to your data.

9 Tips for Protecting Your Small Business from Cybersecurity Threats

  1. Keep computers and other devices out of reach of anyone who is not authorized to use them. Set up a lock-screen so others cannot access your computer when you step away from your desk.
  2. Update computers and other devices with the latest security software. Utilize up-to-date browsers and operating systems for optimal security, as well.
  3. Secure your Wi-Fi connection: create a unique password for your router, change your wireless network’s name (SSID), enable network encryption, and upgrade your router’s firmware.
  4. Have a firewall in place to protect your Internet connection. Set up a firewall at your office, as well as home offices, if you and any employees work remotely.
  5. Educate employees about best practices regarding creating and storing passwords for various accounts. Keep passwords strong and use two-factor authentication when possible, as recommended by Security Today.
  6. Show employees how to recognize phishing and scams. According to Symantec’s February 2019 Internet Security Threat Report, employees of small organizations were more likely than those in large organizations to be hit by email threats—such as spam, phishing, and email malware—in 2018. Employees need to be on alert for emails with zip files and attachments (such as invoices or receipts) with malicious code that will download malware to the user’s device when the attachment is opened. In addition, it is important to avoid clicking links that look suspicious.
  7. Protect mobile devices and set up passwords to unlock devicesencrypt data on mobile devices, install security apps to prevent unauthorized access to data when a device is on, and install anti-virus and anti-malware software on devices.
  8. Choose your bank and credit card companies carefully—look for those with the best anti-fraud protections.
  9. Be selective about who you allow to access your data and the degree of access you give to individuals. In other words, only grant access if it’s absolutely needed.

If you want to learn more about how to protect your business, consider visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s CyberSecurity for Small Business online education and resource guide. It covers a full range of topics to help you put a plan in place. Also, reach out to your SCORE mentor for input and feedback as you take action to safeguard your business.

How to Write A Stellar Mission Statement

A mission statement serves as a way to differentiate your business from your competitors. It also serves as a guidepost for your business. Before you make decisions that will impact your business, evaluating your options to determine if they line up with your mission statement can help you determine the best course of action. If something doesn’t align with your mission, it’s likely it will confuse customers, derail other initiatives, or overtax your resources.

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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!