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6 Goal-Setting Tips for Small Business Owners

As 2020 ramps up, now is the time to think about what you want your small business to accomplish before 2021. But goal-setting (and hence, goal-achieving) can fall flat if you don’t approach it without a plan.

Let’s explore some “goals” to consider for your goal-setting activities.

Six Tips to Help Small Business Owners Set Goals that Matter

  1. Focus on what’s critical to your business’ success.

Having too many goals can be overwhelming, making it difficult to concentrate on any of them effectively. And, setting arbitrary goals that won’t make a difference to your bottom line will create meaningless busywork. Before you sit down to set your goals, think carefully about what really matters and can make a difference to the health of your business.

  1. Make sure your goals are specific and measurable.

Vague goals won’t do your business any favors. For example, “reduce operating expenses” leaves things wide open for interpretation. On the other hand, “Reduce office supply costs by 10 percent” provides a specific and measurable goal.

  1. Make sure your goals are attainable.

Don’t chase unicorns. You should have to work to reach your goals, but if they’re so far out there that there’s nearly no chance of achieving them, you’ll set yourself up for failure. Be realistic and reasonable.

  1. Break things down.

Setting an annual numerical goal can be helpful. However, it may seem impossible to reach that lofty number in the early months of the year when you’re starting at ground zero. Consider breaking yearly goals down into monthly—or even weekly—targets to put them into a shorter-term perspective. For example, an annual goal of “add 100 new prospective customers as connections on LinkedIn” may seem daunting. But when distilled down into a weekly goal of adding two new prospects as contacts per week, reaching the annual goal becomes far less intimidating.

  1. Create a strategy for achieving your goals.

Create a roadmap for what you and others must do to meet your goals. What has to happen daily, weekly, and quarterly to get you to the finish line? Create to-do lists to help keep you and your employees on track.

  1. Set time aside for assessing your situation.

Carve out time monthly or at least quarterly to review whether you’re on target to meet your goals. Are stakeholders following through on their responsibilities? By monitoring your progress regularly, you’ll know if (and why) you’re veering off-course. Then, you can evaluate options for getting back on the right path before it’s too late.

SCORE Can Help You Reach Your Goals

SCORE mentors offer objective guidance and insight to startups and existing small businesses of all sizes and kinds. Contact us for help in taking an objective look at your business as you set your goals for 2020.

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Marketing Trends and Tips for 2020

2020 is fast approaching! That means it’s time to tune into marketing strategies and tactics that can boost your business in the coming year. Of course, there’s a wealth of information online, but only limited time to research it all.

To help you stay on top of the latest best practices and trends, we’ve curated a list of helpful marketing articles below.

Marketing Wisdom to Help Your Small Business Succeed in the New Year

Marketing (all-encompassing)

Marketing Trends for 2020: Here’s What Will Happen That Nobody is Talking About –  Neil Patel, co-founder of NP Digital, recently published this insightful article. In the article, he describes what he sees coming down the pike in 2020.

4 Key Digital Marketing Trends – Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBiz Media and blog contributor at SCORE.org, touches on four evolving areas of digital marketing. You may want to consider implementing them to improve your chances of getting noticed online.

Blogging

What Can You Blog About When All the Good Ideas Are Already Taken? – If you have a business blog, you know the struggle of consistently creating content. In this article, ProBlogger’s Darren Rowse shares six tips to help you never run out of fresh ideas.

Guest Blogging: A Step-by-Step Guide – Guest blogging on reputable industry websites can expand awareness of your business to more of your target audience. This article by Ann Gynn, editor of the Content Marketing Institute Blog, walks you through the process.

Content Marketing

8 Content Trends for 2020 – This article shares the Convince & Convert Consulting team’s insight about what businesses should make their top priorities in the New Year.

5 Big Content Trends for 2020 – Search Engine Journal also offers valuable food for thought about what businesses need to consider when creating content in 2020.

Email Marketing

9 Email Marketing Best Practices for 2020 – Social Media Today provides a helpful list of what to do to make your email marketing efforts pay off.

Three Email Trends Retailers Should Keep in Mind for 2020 – eMarketer highlights three top-of-mind trends that will shape email marketing best practices in the year to come.

Influencer Marketing

Why the Future of Influencer Marketing Will Be Organic Influencers – Influencer marketing is evolving. In this article, Social Media Today explains more about the power shift from traditional influencers to organic influencers.

What Will Influencer Marketing Look Like in 2020? – HubSpot’s Kristen Baker shares interesting stats about influencer marketing. Also, she offers tips for working with different types of influencers.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

11 Deadly SEO Mistakes to Avoid in 2020 – Often, avoiding worst practices is the ideal way to make sure you are doing the right things. This Search Engine Watch article tells you what NOT to do to improve your visibility in Google searches.

The Definitive Guide to SEO in 2020 – Backlinko has developed a comprehensive guide packed with SEO trends and tips for improving your search rankings.

Social Media

6 Key Social Media Trends to Watch in 2020 – What will make your social media presence stand out in 2020? In this post, Lucy Rendler-Kaplan discusses the trends shaping what businesses will need to do in the New Year.

Social Media Trends for 2020 and Beyond – This Influencer Marketing Hub article shares eight social trends you should expect and prepare for.

Next Steps for a Merry and Bright Future for Your Business

Digging into the resources we’ve shared above is a great first step toward making 2020 your most successful year yet. Next, take action with the help of SCORE! Check out our upcoming workshops to learn more. Or, visit our site to request a SCORE mentor. Our mentors have the knowledge and experience to guide you in all aspects of starting and running your small business.

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Six Small Business Startup Resources for Veterans

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.

7 Ways to Control Your Small Business’s Overhead Costs

 

Whether you’ve just launched a startup or have been in business for years, it’s critical to control your company’s overhead costs. Overhead expenses, the fixed costs (rent, insurance, etc.) of operating your business, have a tremendous impact on your bottom line. How effectively you manage them can mean the difference between profitability and extinction.

It pays to carefully review what you’re spending on overhead and find ways to reduce those costs. Not sure where to start? Consider the following ideas:

7 Tips for Trimming the Fat From Your Small Business’s Overhead Expenses

1. Explore sharing marketing costs with complementary businesses in your local area.

Brainstorm ideas with fellow entrepreneurs about how you can cross-promote each other and get exposure through collective efforts.

For example, a bed and breakfast that serves as a wedding venue, a photographer, and a florist could all save money by splitting the bill and running an ad featuring all three businesses in the local newspaper.

2. Keep a tight rein on travel and entertainment expenses.

Have a clear policy and budget for these expenses. Under some circumstances, it might make sense to hold business meetings that involve treating clients to lunch or dinner, but be judicious in determining when that’s necessary. Wining and dining costs can add up quickly when no guidelines or boundaries are in place.

3. Reduce the need for office space by having a virtual team.

As your business grows and you need to add headcount to your team, consider allowing employees to work remotely. This can help you avoid needing to lease or buy a larger office space, and it will help you reduce the costs of office supplies and utilities, as well.

4. Be selective about the memberships and subscriptions you maintain.

Besides the challenges of finding the time to participate in multiple networking groups and professional organizations, the membership fees can put a strain on your budget. Strategically choose the organizations you join by considering whether they provide ample opportunity to build relationships with your target customers and whether they are necessary for your professional reputation.

For example, the owner of a tour company would likely benefit immensely from a membership to the local visitor bureau whereas professional organizations not focused on the travel and tourism industry might not offer as much return on investment.

5. Pay the annual fee rather than on a monthly basis for cloud-based software.

Even though the lump sum annual cost may sound like a lot of money compared to the monthly fee for online software programs, paying for a year upfront can often save an appreciable amount of dollars over time.

For example, a subscription to Evernote Plus costs $3.99 per month with the month-to-month plan and the equivalent of only $2.92 per month by paying $34.99 for the annual plan—a savings of 27 percent.* Similarly, Hootsuite offers its Professional subscription for $14.99 per month, or you can choose to pay for an annual subscription for $119.88, which is the equivalent of $9.98 per month—a 33 percent savings.*

By switching from month-to-month plans to annual subscriptions for several or all of the software solutions you’re using, you may discover you’ll cut costs considerably.

6. Collaborate by phone and email when it can be just as effective as meeting face-to-face meeting.

With the high price of gasoline, it makes good economic sense to reduce how much you drive. While some business dealings require face-to-face interaction, many collaborative efforts can be accomplished through a phone call or email. When appropriate, suggest that you talk with customers and project partners via phone or exchange information through email. You might find that they, too, would rather converse that way. Not only does cutting back on driving decrease your mileage costs, but it also saves valuable time and wear and tear on your vehicle.

7. Leverage rewards programs.

Take advantage of free rewards programs that retailers, your credit card, airlines, and other businesses offer. From office supplies to business furnishings to discounted airfare to cash back, these programs enable you to get exclusive deals, rebates, and other incentives that can save your business money.

Where to Turn for More Tips on Running a Profitable Business

For more insight into how to manage your business’s overhead costs, contact a SCORE mentor for guidance. With experience in all aspects of starting and running a small business, our mentors can help you objectively review your spending and brainstorm ways to run a more profitable company.

*According to the company’s website on 8/30/2018

SCORE Maine Resources for Small Business Owners

 

Since 1964, more than 10 million entrepreneurs across the United States have launched their companies and overcome challenges with the help of SCORE’s free guidance and resources. Yet everyday, we receive calls and emails asking what we do, how to access our services, and if our services are really free (yes, they are). Read on to learn how SCORE can help you achieve your small business goals.

 SCORE can help you with:

  • Determining the steps that need to be taken to launch a business
  • Developing a business plan
  • Creating a marketing plan
  • Making realistic financial projections
  • Understanding the basic elements of accounting and bookkeeping
  • Understanding the basics about different business entity types
  • Identifying funding options to start or grow a business
  • Conducting industry research
  • Analyzing the competition
  • Identifying a business’s target market
  • Developing product pricing
  • Navigating hiring and human resources challenges
  • Managing vendor relationships

SCORE Maine Services and Resources – How can we help you?

Mentoring

The cornerstone of SCORE’s services is our free business mentoring. SCORE volunteers have experience and expertise in all aspects of starting and running a business. No matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, what type of industry you’re in, or what obstacles you’re facing, we have mentors who have the knowledge and connections to assist you in moving forward.

Workshops

We regularly hold workshops on a variety of topics of interest to new and existing business owners. They serve as valuable, interactive opportunities to boost your business acumen and connect you with other entrepreneurs in your community.

Articles, eGuides, and More

Our library of blog posts, checklists, infographics, videos, podcasts, and other resources offer diverse ways for you to gain knowledge about business planning, marketing, sales, funding, accounting, operations, and the many other essential aspects involved in successfully launching and running a business.

Templates

We help you save time and effort by providing templates to help you as you tackle:

  • Developing a business plan
  • Forecasting revenue and expenses
  • Settting prices for your product and services
  • Writing operating agreements

Get Started. Get Growing.

Contact us for more information about how SCORE’s services and resources can help you make your entrepreneurial dreams a reality. Whether you’re just beginning to explore a business idea or have an existing company that you want to take to the next level, we’re here to offer insight and direction!

Are you Keeping Up? Track your KPIs

 

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

What are Key Performance Indicators?

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

How Can KPIs Help Your Small Business?

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

 

Examples of KPIs

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

Marketing KPIs

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

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

 

Sales KPIs

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

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

 

Product KPIs

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

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

 

Financial KPIs

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

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

 

Customer Service KPIs 

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

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

 

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

Tips for Establishing KPIs

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

KPIs must be:

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

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

Back to the Basics: What is a Business Plan?

If you’re driving cross-country to a destination you’ve never visited before, would you want to leave home without your GPS?

Probably not.

However, new business owners sometimes make the mistake of accelerating at top speed to launch their companies without having a business plan to guide them.

A business plan serves as your roadmap. It describes your objectives and the strategies you’ll use to achieve them. Like a GPS, it offers assistance to help you get to where you’re going. And like a GPS’s directions—which change depending on traffic conditions, detours, and other unexpected circumstances—a business plan is a flexible tool. As you encounter market demand changes, new competitive pressures, altered regulatory requirements, and more, you can revisit your business plan and make adjustments to reset your course.

What does a good business plan cover?

What a company includes in its business plan depends on the nature of its business, whether it wants to pursue funding, and other factors. Some companies might find that a simple two-page business plan provides enough direction while others will need one that’s far more extensive and detailed.

The following elements are commonly found in business plans:

  • Executive Summary
  • Business Details
  • Market Analysis
  • Management and Organization
  • Description of Products and Services
  • Marketing and Sales Strategy
  • Financial Projections
  • Supporting Data

 

Executive Summary

This section of a business plan summarizes what your company is, what it does, where it’s located, and its mission. You might decide to include an overview of your leadership team, staff, finances, and growth objectives.

Business Details

This includes detailed information about your company and the problems it solves for its customers. In this section, share about your business’s competitive advantages (e.g., team expertise, use of advanced technology, etc.)

Market Analysis

To complete this section, you’ll need to do some research to learn about your target market and industry outlook. This is where you’ll identify what your competitors are doing, the market challenges you anticipate, and how you intend to successfully compete in your market.

Management and Organization

This section explains how your company is structured and managed. Will you operate as a sole proprietor, partnership LLC, or some form of corporation? It should also share about the people who are running your company, including their level of experience, education background, and skills they bring to the table.

Products and Services

In this part of your business plan, share details about the products and services you offer. How do they benefit your customers? Are you safeguarding your intellectual property by applying for patents or copyright protection? What is your research and product development process? What is your pricing strategy?

Marketing and Sales

Describe your strategies and tactics for attracting new and retaining existing customers. How will you reach your target audience and what does your lead generation process look like?

Financial Projections

This portion of the business plan has a two-fold purpose. It’s for your own benefit (to help you establish your financial goals and expectations) and for potential lenders who want to assess how well your business might perform financially. Within this section, businesses often include sales and income projections, an expense budget, cash flow statement, balance sheet, and break-even analysis. Graphs and charts can be particularly helpful in this section to aid understanding and highlight key information.

Supporting Data

Having an appendix at the end of your business plan will allow you to provide supplementary documentation and information, such as credit history, resumes, patents, licenses and permits, contracts, product guides, or items specifically requested by a lender or investor.

Where to Find Help in Developing Your Business Plan

You can find many online resources that offer business plan templates. For example, the Small Business Administration has a Build Your Business Plan tool, which provides a step-by-step guide for creating a business plan. Also, SCORE has a downloadable Business Plan Template for startups. As you use these tools to get started with your business plan, consider reaching out to a SCORE mentor for guidance and feedback, too. With experience in helping business owners in nearly every industry start their companies, our mentors can offer valuable insight as you develop your business plan and use it as your company’s GPS to success.