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You. Twitter. Get Noticed!

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.

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.

Eight Ways SCORE Can Help You Succeed in the New Year

 

Whether your New Year’s resolution is starting a new business or you want to grow your existing one in 2017, you’re smart to seek expert guidance and resources that can help you. That’s exactly where SCORE , a national non-profit offering free, confidential mentoring and business education comes in.

 

For more than 50 years, SCORE has helped entrepreneurs like you navigate the challenges of launching and building their businesses.

 

As a local chapter, we at SCORE Portland Maine find that not all small business owners in our community are aware of how we can help fuel their success. You might say one of our New Year’s resolutions is to change that!

 

SCORE Portland Maine’s services include:

 

  • FREE mentoring – That’s right. For absolutely no charge, you can consult our mentors for as many sessions and for as long as you feel you need to. Our volunteers come from diverse professional backgrounds and collectively have knowledge and expertise in every aspect of starting and managing a business. You can meet with mentors in person, by phone, by video call or receive counciling via email.

 

  • FREE Workshops – We offer several workshops to guide you through the steps of starting a business and help you learn how to more effectively run a business. From digital marketing to financial projections, our workshops offer something for everyone.

 

How can SCORE services help your small business succeed in 2017?

 

  • You can share your business concept with a trustworthy, objective third party who can help you see if your idea is viable.

 

  • You can learn how to develop a business plan to guide your efforts.

 

  • You can get valuable input and feedback to help you make smarter business decisions.

 

  • You can learn about best and worst entrepreneurial practices, which can help set you on the right path and avoid disaster.

 

  • You can access small business resources recommended to you by your mentor.

 

  • You can gain an understanding of how financial reports work and how they measure the health of your business.

 

  • You can learn about tried-and-true and cutting-edge marketing and advertising tools and tactics to generate leads and boost sales.

 

  • You can learn management and leadership skills from experienced professionals.

 

  • You can count on getting a realistic picture of the benefits and challenges of entrepreneurship. SCORE mentors are honest and won’t sugarcoat the hard work it requires to build a sustainable business.

 

Ready to get your New Year off to a stellar start?

Contact us and set up an appointment with a SCORE Portland Maine mentor. And don’t forget to check out our upcoming workshop offerings. Whether you’re in the beginning stages of exploring entrepreneurship or you have an existing small business you want to take to the next level, we’re committed to helping you succeed.

Business Model or Business Plan? You Need Both!

 

As a startup entrepreneur, you’ve likely heard and seen the terms “business model” and “business plan” in conversation and online.

 

While they sound nearly the same, they’re distinctive in their structures and purposes. When used together, they can help you keep your small business focused and on the path to success.

 

The Big Picture View: Your Business Model Canvas

A business model canvas is a one-page diagram of the essential components your business needs.

A business model should answer important questions, such as:

  • Who are your customers?
  • What do those customers expect and what do they value?
  • What is your value proposition? What problem are  you solving?
  • How will your business make money?
  • How do you intend to deliver value to your customers while making a profit?

It should also identify:

  • Customer segments
  • Customer channels
  • Revenue streams
  • Key vendors and partners
  • Cost structure
  • Value proposition
  • Resources
  • Key activities

 

The Roadmap For Staying On Course: Your Business Plan

A business plan is meant to help you navigate to where you want to go in your business. As important as it is for starting a business, it’s also a valuable tool for managing and growing a business.

A business plan includes:

  • Your business opportunity
  • Your products and services
  • Your marketing strategies
  • Your financial projections
  • Your staffing needs

In relation to your business model, a business plan defines how you intend to operate your business. The length of your business plan can vary—it just depends on the size and complexity of your business and the depth of information investors ask for.

 

Together, a Business Model Canvas and Business Plan Provide a Strong Foundation to Build Your Business

Having a business model canvas and a business plan can help you operate your company with purpose so you stay on track to accomplish your objectives. If you have one without the other, you might put time, effort, and money toward resources and initiatives that won’t sustain or grow your business. And when you do that, you risk missing out on opportunities, falling short of goals, and losing morale.

If you’re worried about the time it takes to develop a business model and business plan, relax. You don’t have to tackle them in one fell swoop. Work on them in smaller bits and pieces and set aside time on your schedule for them. To help you structure your business model and think through your business plan, consider using the Business Model Canvas. Also, explore the various business plan templates and software available online.

And remember, our SCORE mentors have experience in helping small businesses of all types start and run their companies. Contact us today to schedule a free mentoring session. We’re here to provide you with expert guidance as you work on your business model and business plan.

New Business StartUp Costs

While every entrepreneur knows starting and running a business isn’t free, not all realize the variety (or breadth) of costs that come into play. That’s not surprising considering all that’s involved. If you’ve never been down the road to entrepreneurship before, you don’t know what you don’t know. But lack of experience doesn’t mean you can’t educate yourself so you’re better prepared for the small business journey.

To get you started, here’s a checklist with some of the costs entrepreneurs face when starting and operating their companies.

Fixed Costs

Fixed (indirect) costs are those that are not affected by the volume of products or services you make or sell. They might change over time due to other factors (like vendor pricing, economy, etc.), but they’re not tied directly to your level of production or amount of sales.

EXAMPLES OF FIXED COSTS INCLUDE:

  • Rent or office mortgage
  • Insurance
  • Bookkeeping and accounting fees
  • Legal fees
  • Licenses and permits
  • Utilities and phone
  • Dues for memberships to professional organizations
  • Office equipment leases
  • Salaries
  • Marketing and advertising

Variable Costs

Variable (direct) costs are those that rise and fall as a direct result of your production and sales volumes. When production and sales increase, your costs increase. When production and sales decrease, your costs decrease.

EXAMPLES OF VARIABLE COSTS INCLUDE:

  • Raw materials to make a product
  • Inventory
  • Packaging supplies
  • Shipping expenses
  • Hourly wages associated with making a product
  • Sales commissions

Costs: A Major Consideration As You Explore The Feasibility Of Your Business Idea

As you’re determining the viability of your business idea, think carefully about the costs that will affect your company. Not devoting the time needed to determining costs can result in unwelcome surprises that could put your business model in jeopardy.

That may sound a bit overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it all alone. Consider asking for guidance from a SCORE mentor.

SCORE mentors can help you determine the fixed and variable costs your business will face. They can also help you identify how much you’ll have in startup costs to open your doors and ongoing operational and administrative expenses. Best of all, mentoring from SCORE is free of charge.

With over 6 locations  in Maine you can easily find a SCORE mentor near you.   SCORE can help with all aspects of starting and running a business. Mentors can meet with you face to face or over the phone, or  via email.

Mobile Apps: Small Business Owners, Don’t Leave the Office Without Them!

Managing time – and finding enough of it – stands as one of the biggest challenges small business owners face. With the demands of running all aspects of your business, it takes more than just time to accomplish all that you need to do; it also takes tools. Mobile apps can be a life saver for on-the-go entrepreneurs. There’s a plethora of free apps available for both Android and iOS mobile devices to help you take care of business no matter where you are. Best of all, you can turn what might otherwise be wasted time (waiting for a client or standing in line at the local deli) into productive time by having some key apps on hand.

Consider these mobile apps for your business:

Social Media Management Apps
No matter which social networks use in your marketing efforts, there are mobile apps for them. Facebook Pages Manager, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram…all have free apps you can download to your smartphone or tablet. Capabilities vary from app to app, but they all give you the ability to post updates to your social accounts and monitor and interact with the activity of others in your newsfeed.

You might also want to check out Hootsuite and Buffer. Both are social media management tools that enable you to not only post to social networks in real time, but to also schedule future posts.

Blogging Apps
Both WordPress and Blogger enable you to create new blog posts, edit existing posts, upload images to your blog, manage comments, and publish posts directly from your mobile device. From crafting new posts to putting the finish touches on drafts, you can tend to your blog from anywhere.

Note-taking Apps
For capturing ideas and making to do lists, check out Evernote or Microsoft OneNote. Both enable you to create text notes, audio notes, and check lists that you can tag and organize into notebooks for easy reference and retrieval. From within the apps, you can take photos of documents, receipts, post-it notes, etc. to store them electronically and eliminate the clutter of paper in your office.

The beauty of all these apps is that they sync across all the devices you access them from so you can effortlessly and conveniently stay on top of things no matter where you are. It’s a very good reason not to leave the office without them!

What mobile apps have helped you manage your business on the go?

Successful Business Startup Questions

Starting a successful business requires much more than a great idea. Can you define your innovation in the market?

Most people start with a predefined idea in their head about what they want to sell.  The reality is the world may not be waiting for your product or service. Define what you will you do, what value will you create that makes you different from similar businesses?  Identify exactly what benefits you are delivering:  better service, more convenient location, innovative design, hands on training? The process to determine your product involves testing, searching and reacting to feedback provided by your target customers. Never assume you know what your customer wants. unless you have asked.  Invest time upfront asking questions to potential customers. Data driven decisions will beat guesswork every time.

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