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Get To Know Your Customers Day!


It seems there’s a special day to honor just about everything from National Grilled Cheese Day to National Hug a Drummer Day. It’s impossible to keep up with them  all, but there is a particular day that small business owners should observe every day:

Get To Know Your Customers Day

Recognized on the third Thursday of each quarter (January, April, July, and October), Get to Know Your Customers Day is a day to make an effort to learn more about your customers.

In the last half of 2017, it falls on July 20 and October 19 (past dates in 2017 include January 19 and April 20).

But why only strive to get to know your customers once per quarter? Having a pulse on what your customers need, want, and will pay for is something entrepreneurs should strive for every day. Knowing your customers is critical to your business success because without doing so you cannot be sure you’re meeting your target market’s needs.

When you know your customers, you have the insight you need to:

  • Adapt your products and services to meet your customers’ changing wants and needs.
  • Deliver the value your customers expect.
  • Build customer loyalty.


How can you get to know your customers better?

Not all customers will freely tell you about themselves, their lifestyles, what they’re looking for, or how they feel about your products and services. Fortunately, with relatively minimal effort, you can gather that information.

  • Look at online customer reviews for information about their lifestyles and preferences. Besides sharing customers’ level of satisfaction, reviews can also educate you on how, where, and why customers are using your products and services. That can give you perspective on how you might improve or expand your offerings.


  • Email individual customers “just because” to see what’s new with them. It’s a no-pressure way to show customers you value and care about them and to discover opportunities to serve them.


  • Schedule one-on-one coffee dates or lunch meetings to catch up with them. If the nature of your business makes this feasible, consider setting aside some time to catch up face to face and learn what’s on your customers’ minds.


  • Hold a customer appreciation event. This type of gathering will enable you to mix and mingle and learn more about your customers in a laid-back, friendly setting.


  • Attend other organizations’ social events. Consider attending chamber of commerce mixers, non-profit golf outings, and other activities when you know your customers will be there. These occasions provide opportunities for casual conversation rather than just “talking shop.”


If you haven’t made getting to know your customers a priority in your small business, July’s Get To Know Your Customers Day is a perfect time to start.

For more ideas on ways to get to know your customers, talk with a SCORE mentor. With experience in all aspects of starting and running a business, SCORE volunteers can provide valuable guidance and feedback through every phase of your entrepreneurial journey.

Four Benefits of Being a SCORE Volunteer


With April’s status as National Volunteer Month, what better time to show appreciation for the contributions SCORE volunteers make to the business community? At SCORE Portland, our team of more than 60 certified volunteer mentors has counseled and provided small business advice to thousands of entrepreneurs who wanted to start a business or had a business challenge to overcome.

Through sharing their expertise, experience, and guidance, SCORE’s volunteers assist local businesses as they prepare to launch and grow. Not only are our volunteers an invaluable resource for current and aspiring entrepreneurs, but they learn and grow as well! Here are just a few benefits of becoming a SCORE volunteer:


  • Hone your leadership skills.

Through providing guidance and feedback to SCORE clients and serving in leadership roles, you strengthen your skills and community connections.


  • Fine-tune your business acumen.

As you work with clients and other SCORE mentors, you develop your collaboration and communication skills. You also increase your knowledge about varied aspects of starting and operating businesses in a variety of industries.  Life long learners will enjoy the constant stimulation.


  • Connect more extensively with the business community.

Volunteering with SCORE opens the door to meeting a wide variety of local entrepreneurs, community  leaders, public officials, and other organizations who share the mission of providing resources to the small business community. You never know where those connections can lead!


  • Learn new technology tools and apps.

Depending on your involvement in SCORE, you could learn to use (or boost your proficiency at using) new software, App’s and other technology tools.

All of these opportunities to add to and improve your knowledge and skills can give you an advantage not only from a volunteer standpoint, but in your own professional pursuits.


Want to be a SCORE Volunteer? Here’s How!

If you’re ready to help your community thrive and learn new skills, consider volunteering with SCORE Maine or your local SCORE chapter.

At  SCORE Maine, we are always seeking qualified individuals who can serve as mentors (in-person or virtual) and/or lead SCORE workshops. What makes a great mentor? We look for individuals with professional knowledge, skills, and experience (either as business owners or working for others) that can be applied in helping startup and established entrepreneurs.  Social EQ required.

If that sounds like you, please contact us to apply. We would love to talk with you about how your business insight can help others succeed and grow.

Funding Your Business: Borrowing from Friends and Family


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.


  • 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.



  • 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.

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.

Small Business Saturday: How To Generate Buzz and Attract Customers


Small Business Saturday, the Saturday that’s after Thanksgiving and on the heels of Black Friday, falls on November 26 this year. As one of the busiest shopping days of the year, it presents a wonderful opportunity to springboard your business into a successful holiday season.


Are you preparing to make the most of it?


If you haven’t given it much thought, there’s still time! The American Express Shop Small® website has numerous ideas and resources to help you make this Small Business Saturday the best ever.


Here are some additional tips to help you gear up for the day and build excitement that will last into the weeks that follow:


  • Craft a Small Business Saturday promotional offer to draw customers to your business that day. Shoppers are always looking for great deals around Black Friday, so make yourself stand out with an offer they can’t resist.


  • Create flyers to advertise your Small Business Saturday offerings and drop them into customers’ shopping bags in the weeks leading up to November 26.


  • Partner with other small businesses to promote each other’s products and services. Share each other’s marketing materials and talk up your fellow merchants to customers. Small business is all about mutual support. Everyone in the local business community wins when that happens!


  • Use social media aggressively to promote Small Business Saturday and your special offers. On Facebook, consider paying to boost posts so they’ll have greater exposure. On Twitter and Instagram, use the hashtags #SmallBizSat and #ShopSmall in your updates so people looking for participating businesses and special offers can find you.


  • Run an email marketing campaign to raise awareness of Small Business Saturday and the special deals you’re offering to customers that day.


The Shop Small website has free customizable Small Business Saturday marketing materials (for your website, social media, and your storefront) that you can download and print to help you in your efforts to promote the event and your business.


And don’t forget to tap the knowledge and experience of a SCORE mentor as you formulate a plan for driving sales this Small Business Saturday. SCORE volunteers offer expertise in all aspects of starting and running a small business. Who better to help you make this Small Business Saturday a success?

Time for Your Business End-of-Summer Checkup


With the end of summer closing in and fall just around the corner, now is a perfect time to pause for a moment and assess what’s working and what isn’t for your business. Although most of the year is behind you, you still have time to make adjustments that could save costs, drive more revenue, and improve profitability for 2016.

Time for a Small Business Checkup

By performing this end-of-summer checkup, you’ll assess where you might have fallen behind, so you can take action and get your business back on track this fall and winter.


  1. Evaluate your sales efforts. If you’re behind on revenue, it might be because you aren’t reaching out to as many prospects as you need to, or you might not fully understand the needs of your potential customers. No one ever said selling is easy. It’s hard work and it demands a willingness to recognize, accept, and fix weaknesses in the sales process.


  1. Review marketing tactics and initiatives. Look carefully at the collateral you’re presenting to customers, the marketing channels you’re using, and the brand message you’re communicating. Is your brand image consistent across all fronts? Are you seeing results in the way of brand awareness and revenue generation from your tactics and strategies? Review and assess how your website, social media, and print marketing materials are performing, so you can identify where you need to make changes.


  1. Improve customer relationship nurturing. Customers who feel they’re appreciated and wanted will always be more likely to stay for the long term. By making customers understand that they truly matter, you increase loyalty and satisfaction. A stellar customer experience drives existing clients to buy more—and it prompts them to happily refer others to your business. If you haven’t been making an effort to nurture your customer relationships through post-order phone calls or emails, periodic check-ins to ensure they’re happy with your services, updates about what’s new and exciting, and other efforts—it’s time to start.


  1. Find ways to streamline operational and administrative processes. Wasted time prevents businesses from growing to their potential. When excessive paperwork, duplicated work, and inefficient systems slow processes down rather than improve productivity, you need to find a better way. Carefully look at the various systems and processes (such as accounting software, project management apps, customer data management, lead generation, etc.) you use in your business and look for ways to streamline activities and save time.


  1. Evaluate expense habits. Your business’s spending habits directly affect your bottom line. While it’s important to stay on top of your expenses year-round, it’s especially critical as the year is winding down. If your profit and loss statement doesn’t look as favorable as you had hoped it would by now, dig into what you’re spending money on and identify what you might cut back on.


With the kids back to school and summer vacations now just memories, now is the time to get back to business and back on track to reaching your goals. By doing an end-of-summer checkup, you’ll have a head start in finishing strong when the year is at its end.

If you need guidance to help you keep your business on the path to success, contact SCORE about our free mentoring. Our mentors have knowledge of every aspect involved in starting and running a small business. 


6 Things Your Customer Expects from Your Business Website


Small businesses that cater to local customers can benefit from a solid web presence. Even if you’re strictly a brick and mortar operation and not selling your products online, customers will expect your website to provide enough information to satisfy their curiosity and compel them to visit your location rather than your competitors’.


Does your small business website have what it takes? Here’s a checklist of the basics to include:


  • Your address, phone number, email address, and a contact form
    Customers expect it to be easy to find out where they can visit you or reach out to you for more information. While that seems like common sense, according to a 2015 SCORE Association report, 27 percent of small businesses surveyed didn’t include a phone number on their websites.


  • Your hours of operation
    Nothing will aggravate customers more than driving out of their way to your location, only to discover your business closed early on that given day. Always post your hours of operation on your website—and update them immediately if you’ve changed your schedule.


  • Photos that are an accurate representation of what you sell or services you provide
    “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and customers will expect your website to give a glimpse of what they’ll see and what they can buy when they visit you. To ensure images are of good quality and reflect your business at its best, consider having a professional photographer take photos of your store/office and products.


  • Content that shares what’s in it for them
    As tempting as it may be to go on and on about how great your business is and how wonderful your products and services are…easy does it. Turn your focus toward your customers. Tell them how they will benefit from visiting you and buying from you. What’s in it for them? Choose wording that makes them the center of attention, for example: “You’ll discover…” and “You’ll get…” versus “We have…” and “We do….”


  • A sense of the customer experience they will have
    Customers care about what they will get, but they also care about how the experience of doing business with you will make them feel. Including customer testimonials on your website can help convey that. Photos and videos can provide an open window to the customer experience, as well.


  • Up-to-date information about what’s new and special sales and deals you’re offering
    This gives customers a reason to visit your website often…and your business location. Always keep this content current. Otherwise, you’ll have unhappy customers when they come to your location expecting a deal that’s no longer available.


  • Links to your social media accounts
    This makes it convenient for (and encourages) your customers to find and connect with you on the social media platforms you have in common.


  • Simplicity
    A website that’s too cluttered with wordy content or that’s difficult to navigate can frustrate visitors and cause them to tune out. Think “user friendly” and don’t overcomplicate your website with pages and content that aren’t going to provide value to your customers. If you’re not sure about what customers care about or whether or not your website is too complicated, don’t guess. Talk to a few customers to find out.


Just like your brick and mortar location, your website is an important piece of real estate for your business. Get the most from it by making sure it’s meeting your customers’ needs and expectations. If you need guidance about website best practices, contact us to talk with one of our SCORE mentors. Our mentors have knowledge and experience in all aspects of marketing and are here to help you grow your business.

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.

Two Ways to Reduce Your Small Business’s Income Tax Liability


Whew! The headache of filing our 2015 income tax returns is over. But for small business owners whose bank accounts were hit extra hard, the pain isn’t over.


If you experienced an unwelcome surprise and had to write out a big end-of-year check to the IRS, you may be wondering, “What can I do to lower my tax liability for year 2016?”


While there’s no magical way to make your tax burden shrink, you could potentially benefit from making one or both of the following changes:


  1. Reinvest more of your profits into your company by buying things that will help you grow your business and run it more efficiently.


The more business expenses you have, the lower the taxable portion of your business income will be. But make smart decisions so you’re spending your hard-earned revenue on products and services that will truly make a positive difference in your business. For example:


  • Bring on a sub-contractor to help with bookkeeping, social media marketing, or another task that may be taking your time away from the things you do best.
  • Replace old, unreliable equipment (printers, phone, etc.) with new, fully functional devices.
  • Update your business cards and other print marketing collateral.
  • Give your website a facelift.
  • Invest in office renovations or remodeling to make your space more inspiring and functional.
  • Schedule a consultation with a tax professional or accountant to discuss how you can better manage your tax liability and maximize profits.


  1. Change your business’s legal structure.


If you’re a sole proprietor, you’re paying the 15.3 percent self-employment (Social Security and Medicare) taxes on all of your taxable business income. That can add up to a big chunk of change. By changing your business structure from a sole prop to an S Corporation, you might potentially decrease your tax bill.


With an S Corp, you have the option to take a portion of your profits as your salary and the remaining amount as a distribution. An S Corp only pays self-employment taxes on the salary portion of its profits. So, if your company made $90,000 in profit and you paid yourself a salary of $50,000, the other $40,000 would not be subject to self-employment taxes. Realize that you do need to issue yourself a reasonable salary that reflects the market rate for the services you provide to your business. You could land in trouble with the IRS if you try to game the system by paying yourself a ridiculously low salary in an attempt to avoid paying self-employment taxes.


Don’t Go It Alone

Before making any significant changes to how you operate your business, consider talking with tax, accounting, and/or legal professionals for expertise and guidance. SCORE mentors can help connect you with reputable experts in those fields—and they can help you with the many other aspects of starting and running a small business. What are you waiting for? Contact SCORE today.

Blog Brainstorming Tips


Ask nearly any small business owner and you’ll find that most struggle with keeping their company blog up to date. Although it may be tempting to forgo maintaining your blog in the midst of all else you need to do in running your business, research shows blogs boost business. Companies that blog regularly experience 97% more inbound links to their websites, and, according to HubSpot, marketers who have made blogging a priority are 13 times more likely to enjoy a positive return on investment.


While writing and publishing posts requires time, half the battle of blogging consistently is finding ideas for what to write about.


Here are some quick tips to help you land winning blog topic ideas:


Tap into FAQs

What types of questions do you often field from prospects and customers? Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) can be a virtual goldmine of potential topics because they’re undeniably centered on services, products, and processes your audience has interest in.

Check out what’s trending on Twitter

Even if you don’t have a Twitter account or actively engage with customers on the social network, you can still use it as a resource for discovering what’s hot in your industry. Search various hashtags related to the products and services you provide to see what others are writing about. Of course, you never want to steal anyone else’s content, but you can get inspiration and ideas for what you might give a fresh perspective on.

Think about how industry-related news affects you and your customers

Whether your industry is undergoing regulatory changes, supplier difficulties, or other developments that affect your company, you have a prime opportunity to share your insight to inform, educate, and sometimes put customers’ minds at ease if they’re worried about how the changes might affect them.

Talk up technological advances

Readers love to know what’s new and cutting edge. As with other industry-related news, improvements in technology that make your products, services, or processes better serve as worthy blog post topics.

Go behind the scenes

Prospects and customers love to get the inside scoop. Consider sharing an insider view about how you create your product or deliver your services.

Get personal

Brands that connect with prospects on a personal level are generally more likely to gain customers when all things otherwise are equal with competitors. To create stronger customer relationships, allow readers an opportunity to get to know the people in your business. Consider sharing about their unique interests or hobbies (with their permission, of course!), their volunteerism efforts, or distinctive aspects of their professional credentials.


There’s plenty to draw from as you brainstorm topics for your blog. The key is to become more attuned to recognizing ideas when they present themselves—and taking the initiative to write them down before they escape your memory.

If you struggle with thinking of creative and relevant blog topics, we have SCORE mentors with marketing know-how and a broad range of industry experience who can help. Contact us to schedule a free mentoring appointment today.