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3 Tips to Boost Your Linked In Profile

With over 300 million users, it’s no secret that LinkedIn is one of the most effective online social networking platforms around. But could you be missing out by not paying attention to some simple details? Even if you don’t have a lot of time to devote to interacting on LinkedIn, tending to some basic “housekeeping” on the platform can help boost your credibility and make people more inclined to connect with you.

  1. Put a face to your name. Use a professional-looking headshot. Other professionals are more likely to connect with you if you’ve taken the few minutes it requires to replace that generic shadowy silhouette with your photo. A profile with a photo is 11 times more likely to be viewed than one without. It’s a rookie mistake not to have a photo. Likewise, steer clear of using profile pictures like couple’s photos, glamour shots, and anything excessively casual (e.g. wearing a t-shirt and baseball cap while proudly holding up a 4-foot sailfish).Need help?  Check out the pointers for choosing the best LinkedIn profile photo in this SlideShare from SUCCEED Powered by Staples.
  1. Use first-person voice. Yes, LinkedIn is a professional platform, but that doesn’t mean you need to sound overly formal. Your profile is YOU sharing your professional experience. Avoid sounding aloof by writing it in third person. Which of the samples below sounds more open and engaging?  For over fifteen years, Joe Smith has worked with clients, helping them increase sales and improve productivity. He is dedicated to educating and empowering business professionals with game-changing knowledge, tools, and resources.orFor over fifteen years, I have worked with clients, helping them increase sales and improve productivity. I’m dedicated to educating and empowering business professionals with game-changing knowledge, tools, and resources.Your LinkedIn profile’s purpose is for you to connect one-to-one with other professionals. You’ll risk appearing disconnected if your profile reads like you didn’t write it yourself.
  1. Include your contact info. Nothing is more frustrating than looking up a public LinkedIn profile in search of a phone number or an email address and discovering the person hasn’t included those things. Go to your profile RIGHT NOW and add that info if it’s not already there. Remember, it’s not just your first-level contacts who might seek someone with your credentials and expertise. Make it as easy as possible for any prospective clients to find and contact you.

While none of the above action items take a lot of time or effort to tackle, they can make a big difference in how others perceive you on LinkedIn. They’ll make you more approachable and accessible to other professionals, so don’t wait if your profile needs those basic updates. And remember, SCORE mentors are here to provide feedback and advice as you hone your presence on LinkedIn and your other social media platforms.
In fact, we’re here to help you with all aspects of starting and running a business. Learn more about SCORE’s FREE mentoring, affordable workshops, and other resources.

How to Pitch Your Business

When you have been developing a product for months or years, there comes a time when you have to focus on getting seed funding or other sources of investment. Pitching, just like networking in general, is about building relationships and communicating well about why your product or service is a winner. Take the time to hone your pitch and try to avoid common pitfalls.

Consider these tips:

  1. Focus on the problem you’re solving.

New entrepreneurs often talk about their companies in terms of what they do (“we make X, we offer Y”). Instead, focus on describing WHY your product or service matters. Frame your story from the end user’s perspective, e.g. “Dog owners are struggling for control when walking their pet, so we help them by…” Explain the pain point, and how you’re solving the problem. Use stories to help bring concepts to life. Bill Feldman, Portland native and entrepreneur, created the Liberty Wristband after walking his dog Henry. His dog was constantly pulling the leash of out of his owner’s hand, and Bill engineered a unique solution that he is now taking to market.

  1. Don’t use jargon.

Ditch the buzzwords, acronyms and any industry jargon that requires a dictionary or advanced degree. You want everyone to understand and connect with what you’re saying instantly.

  1. Adjust your pitch to each situation.

You likely have an elevator speech you’ve practiced. This pitch makes a compelling investment case in a minute or less, and there is a time and place to use it. When you are engaged in casual conversation, be sensitive to the give and take; don’t deliver a monologue about your idea.

  1. Don’t pitch your resume.

A good pitch focuses on what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how it’s going to make a difference. This isn’t the time to cover the general work and educational background of everyone on the team. Don’t include all the companies where you worked or schools you attended during initial conversations.

  1. Hold off on the crazy projections.

Perhaps your friends and family are impressed with how you will grow from 10 to 10 million users in two years. Investors and experienced businesspeople don’t want their time wasted with growth projections, which are best guesses. Describe your business now and what resources it will take to scale.

  1. Consider feedback a gift.

There’s a lot of personal pride involved in any venture. Put it aside when pitching your company. Expect people to have tough questions. They’re not attacking you personally; rather, they’re thinking about your idea from their points of view. Learn how to take critical feedback to make improvements.

 

5 Common Mistakes When Starting a Business

Starting a business comes with a learning curve – often a steep one. There’s a lot to consider, research, and execute. It’s not surprising that new entrepreneurs make mistakes along the way.

According to Alan Shaver, a SCORE Portland Maine mentor for the past 15 years, there are five key mistakes many new startup business owners make.

If you or someone you know is starting a small business, knowing what missteps to watch for can help you avoid getting your business off on the wrong foot.

Top 5 Mistakes New Business Owners Make

 1.   Underestimate the time, effort, and energy required to start and run their businesses.

“They don’t realize it will be as all-consuming as it is,” explains Shaver. “They underestimate the demands it places on them, particularly how it will impact their family relationships and their financial resources.”

He says a lot of people going into business fail to estimate that accurately, so he encourages new entrepreneurs to connect with existing business owners in similar types of businesses who have gone through the process. That can serve as a helpful reality check.

  1.  Fail to conduct sufficient research about the industry and their type of business.

Without researching the business arenas they’re entering, new entrepreneurs often don’t have an adequate understanding of what they can expect.

Shaver explains, “A lot of people don’t want to do that kind of work, but it’s necessary to understand their business and the industry in which they’ll operate.”

“SCORE counselors direct them to various resources to enable them to learn a great deal about their proposed business and its industry.”

One that Shaver regularly shares is an online resource available at the Portland Public Library, Reference USA. It offers a wealth of information to help new business owners understand the metrics, price points, margins, and more that are usual for their types of business. Reference librarians can also assist new entrepreneurs in researching their industries.

  1. Understand the potential limitations of their business.

Will your business be able to sell enough to meet your income needs? Does your location provide an opportunity for growth? What qualifications do your employees need?

The above are tough questions to begin to answer unless a new business owner does financial projections and talks to others in the industry to learn from their experience.

“I had worked with a client who had a successful restaurant with a strong clientele, but his location wasn’t large enough,” shares Shaver. “As a result, he couldn’t turn tables fast enough and couldn’t achieve the revenue goals he wanted to. Sadly, he closed his business. If he had done more homework about the efficiency of a venue his size, he might have chosen a different location and remained in business.”

Similarly, but fortunately with a more successful outcome, Shaver also worked with a thriving coffee shop client who decided not to open another restaurant because he did his due diligence and projected he wouldn’t turn a profit until after three years.

According to Shaver, SCORE mentors help new entrepreneurs tackle challenges like those. They can facilitate connecting new business owners with existing business owners, and they also point entrepreneurs to the Financial Projections template on the SCORE website. By taking advantage of those resources, startups can make better decisions.

  1.  Fail to develop an adequate business plan, specifically the financial projections. 

“A lot of people allow themselves to be overwhelmed about creating a business plan,” says Shaver. “At SCORE, we encourage them to do it in small steps – to tackle it in reasonable workable bites.”

According to Shaver, seriously thinking about your business finances is crucial.

Will you make the money you intend to – or need to – make? Will you be able to pay back your investors and lenders?

Only by preparing realistic financial projections can you determine the appropriate capitalization and most efficient operation of your business.

“Business plans help you measure your own progress against your goals. It’s important to remember a business plan is not cast in concrete. You can change it as you learn more, but it’s essential so you can track if you’re achieving what you set out to do. And if it isn’t working, you need to explore why isn’t it working.”

SCORE provides tools to help entrepreneurs development business plans (such as templates for the narrative portion and financial projections) and offers workshops to guide them as well.

  1. Neglect to review and understand the financial performance of their businesses.

When new business owners don’t obtain financial reports and pay attention to them from the outset, there can be disastrous results.

Shaver warns, “If you don’t look at financial results regularly or faithfully. You don’t really know the score. You’ll have no idea if you’re winning or losing.”

“When small businesses are not winning, they need to figure out why – before they run out of money.”

Shaver encourages new entrepreneurs to reach out for assistance from SCORE counselors to understand what their financial statements reveal about the performance of their businesses.

Bonus Tip:

This doesn’t apply to all entrepreneurs, but if you’re going to have a partner in your business, Shaver recommends getting a written agreement in place from the beginning.

“It’s absolutely essential to have a written agreement that defines ownership and responsibilities. Do it upfront because waiting until there are disagreements or problems in the business relationship is too late

About Alan Shaver

  • Shaver has been a SCORE Mentor for 15 years. He leads several workshops at the SCORE Maine Chapter in Portland.
  • Now retired, he was a corporate lawyer with a large law firm in New York and had a private law practice that served New York and Connecticut. For ten years, he was also a partner in a franchise auto service business in Maine.
  • His areas of expertise include business planning, financial projections, and business funding.
  • One of Shaver’s SCORE clients, Garbage to Garden, was nationally recognized by the SCORE organization as “2014 Outstanding Green Small Business.”

 

Seven Writing Tips for More Effective Communication

Building a successful business requires building relationships. And building strong relationships requires effective communication across all fronts: in person, phone, web meetings, social media, and email.

When you’re exchanging information via email with prospects, clients, employees, and vendors, tone and intent can get lost in translation.  Without the benefit of facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses, and inflections to gauge emotion and intent, your audience could get confused or misinterpret your meaning.

Simple changes and 7 quick tips will make you a more effective communicator:

  • Stick to the point.

Addressing too many things and running off on tangents within your emails will make it difficult for your readers to home in on what you’re trying to communicate and your purpose. Don’t confuse them; keep your emails brief and to the point.

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Pricing Your Professional Services: Your Time is Money!

If you’re a new small business owner offering professional services and are struggling with nailing down your pricing, you’re not alone. At SCORE Maine, we talk with a lot of new services providers who find arriving at the right rates a mysterious endeavor. With no inventory or cost of goods sold to deal with, you’d think pricing professional services would be easy. But that’s not the case!

Time and value stand as the predominant considerations when determining rates for professional services. Assessing each correctly involves understanding all the factors  involved in providing the services you offer,  as well as the value you bring to your clients.

As you consider the time spent in delivering your services, there’s one component a lot of new professional services providers fail to consider.

The time they’ll spend collaborating with clients.

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Is Crowdfunding Right for Your Business?

Startup (and even established) entrepreneurs often struggle in obtaining funding for their business growth.  Many get frustrated trying to obtain financing  traditional financing.   That’s why some entrepreneurs are turning to crowdfunding (also known as “crowd financing” or “crowd sourced capital”) as a viable way to raise capital to launch or grow their businesses.

What is crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is a way to raise money for your business through a collective effort (primarily online via social media) that leverages your network of friends, family, customers, etc.  Online crowdfunding platforms expand your network and put your business in front of other potential individual investors who you otherwise wouldn’t have connected with.    Crowdfunding allows you to showcase your business to – and collect contributions from – many investors in a central place online.

Crowdfunding for businesses is usually approached in two ways:

Reward-based gives backers a reward of some sort, usually the product or service you offer, for contributing funds.

Equity-based allows contributors to become part-owners of your company. In other words, they trade money for equity shares of your business.

If you’re starting or running a non-profit or charity, there’s also donation-based crowdfunding. Donation-based means backers do not receive any rewards or equity when contributing.

A SCORE Maine client’s experience with crowdfunding

Kate Anker, owner/creative director of Running With Scissors Artist Studios & Community in Portland, Maine, has successfully used crowdfunding to help fund improvements to her dedicated work space which serves over 50 artists. In March of this year, she launched a 30-day fundraising campaign through the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to raise money to build out the infrastructure of her studio space and buy new equipment.   By the end of the campaign, she exceeded her goal of $25,000 with the contributions of 284 donors.

“Those funds are helping us to better serve our core community and enhance their creative process, accessibility and growth,” explains Anker. “Specifically, we are developing a small photography shooting studio, a screen printing room, a safer and fully-functioning wood shop, lighting for our gallery, and a glaze spray booth and kiln hook up for our ceramic department.”

Anker shares that anyone starting a crowdfunding campaign of any kind must be prepared to devote a significant amount of time to its creation.  Communication is key throughout a crowdfunding campaign. You need to be diligent about keeping donors and potential donors informed and aware, and keeping your message fresh and engaging. She also recommends you have your planning and preparation done in advance – including attention to back-end details like your website, blog, community connections, press releases, and marketing strategies and ideas.

Crowdfunding platforms for small businesses

Below is a list of several crowdfunding platforms (shown in alphabetical order) you might consider for your business. Finding the best fit will depend on your type of business and your goals. The various crowdfunding sites’ fees (percentage of contributions and processing fees) you would pay as a campaign creator vary. We suggest you explore the options thoroughly before deciding to use one of these or other available platforms.

CircleUp

Crowdfunder

Crowdsupply

Fundable

Fundrazr

Growth Venture Community

Indiegogo

Kickstarter (for creative ventures)

MicroVentures

Peerbackers

Sprowd 

While participating in crowdfunding as a source of financing doesn’t guarantee a business will be funded, it could improve its chances because of the sheer volume of potential investors it’s exposed to.

Want to learn more about crowdfunding? Check out these resources and articles:

Introduction to Crowdfunding for Entrepreneurs via U.S. Small Business Administration

Crowdfunding – Is it Right for Your Business? Where Do You Start? via U.S. Small Business Administration

The JOBS Act: Crowdfunding for Small Businesses and Startups (Book)

Respect Your Competition

You launch your business in a growing niche market. Out of the blue, a friend tells you about a new similar product or service. After your initial shock, do you obsess about losing your edge or embrace the opportunity? At SCORE, we say “FEAR not your competition!” The right move is to transition into discovery mode. Knowledge about similar businesses may add a creative spark to your thinking or confirm that you’re bringing an authentic solution to a customer want or need at precisely the right time.  Read more

5 Tips to Make Your Small Business Better Prepared for the 2014 Tax Year

With the 2013 tax season over for small biz owners, it’s time to put focus on being better prepared for when the 2014 tax year wraps up next April.

What are some things you should keep top of mind for the remainder of 2014? Here are a few tips to help keep you and your business on the right track.

• Keep good – really good – accounting records

Accurate and timely bookkeeping needs to be a priority so you capture your business revenue and expenses throughout the year with precision. Have a system in place for tracking the money that comes into and goes out of your business. You might want to consider Quickbooks or Freshbooks to serve that purpose. And if you’re not sure about how to set it all up or use it, consider outsourcing that work to a bookkeeping professional. Yes, it will cost you something, but it could save you time, hassles, and money (think forgotten tax-deductible expenses) in the long run.

• Ask for W-9s from independent contractors

If you’re outsourcing any work to independent contractors or freelancers, ask them to complete and send you a W-9 form. W-9s document their Taxpayer Identification Number or Social Security Number. They indicate those people are contractors/vendors, not employees, and taxes will not be withheld from the compensation you’re giving them.

• Send 1099s to independent contractors after year end.

If you pay independent contractors and vendors (other than most corporations) more than $600 throughout the tax year, you’re required it issue them a 1099-MISC form. That form identifies how much you paid that vendor during that tax year. You can find more information about them and when there are exceptions on the Internal Revenue Service’s website.

• Remember, the business mileage deduction rate decreased from last year.

When tracking your business mileage and deduction amounts, you’ll need to use $0.56 per mile this year instead of the $0.565 per mile you used to calculate your deduction last year. The deduction for volunteer mileage remains at $0.14 per mile.

• Keep tabs on your quarterly estimated tax payments

If you’re self-employed, a sole proprietor, S-Corp shareholder, or partner and are making quarterly estimated tax payments during the year, let your tax professional know if your taxable income is trending differently than forecasted. Depending on the variance, you may want to adjust the amount of your quarterly payments going forward.

While most small business owners generally don’t enjoy tax return filing time, good preparation makes a difference. With your i’s dotted and t’s crossed throughout the year, you’ll find it a much smoother – and less stressful – experience.

Disclaimer: The information in this post is for general information purposes only and is not meant to serve as a substitute for professional accounting and tax advice.

Find Your Business Mentor

Whether you are starting or growing a business, it pays to have a mentor on your side. What is a real business mentor? Someone with more experience than you…someone who offers not only knowledge and support, but also perspective and insight. A mentor should be a savvy business veteran who can help you navigate business challenges. Mentors do plenty of cheerleading, but their real value is in the objective, unvarnished advice they provide…they often tell you what you need to hear about your business (not necessarily what you want to hear). Let’s be clear, mentors aren’t parents, friends or even supportive investors…they need to be much more objective than that.

The benefits of a mentoring relationship are compelling:   revelant perspective and advice, skill improvement, networking contacts and encouragement.     Here’s how to find the right mentor for you:

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Home Business or a Hobby: Is it Time to Take the Leap?

Maine is a place that seems to bring out creativity in people. It’s brimming with artisans, inventors and culinary creators who dabble in ventures at all levels. For many, it’s the genesis of a burgeoning small business; for others, it’s destined to remain a hobby. How to you know when it’s time to make the leap from an enjoyable pastime to a professional pursuit? Taking a close look at the key drivers for long-term success and asking yourself the difficult questions are the first steps in making a rational, objective decision.

1. Nail your idea      

Does your hobby involve a brand or service that someone would pay for?  Crafting a product or service that is enjoyable for you does not guarantee you will be paid for your efforts. In the business world, it’s called a value proposition: defining the problem your business is solving. Engage family, friends and potential customers to provide critical feedback on your product. Ask what they like most about your product, how it helps them solve a problem and what they might pay for this product. Ask no fewer than 25 people and jot down their response. 

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