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Cultivate Your Leadership Skills

 

As a small business owner, strong leadership skills make or break your company’s chance of success. Without them, you risk missing your goals and not gaining the cooperation you need from employees and project partners.

Not everyone is a born leader but with some effort, you can develop essential and improve upon essential leadership skills.

Here are several leadership skills you’ll want to hone as you build your business:

 

  • Listening

As important as it is to share your guidance and thoughts, listening to what others have to say is equally—if not more—important. Your customers and the people who work with you have valuable insight that can help you make decisions that can improve your business. Want to learn how to be a better listener? Forbes has some helpful tips for strengthening your listening skills.

 

  • Communication

The importance of expressing your goals, guidance, and vision clearly and professionally should never be underestimated—whether through email, phone, face-to-face interactions, or in presentations. Improving communication skills requires a multi-focused effort involving attention to: organizing your thoughts, keeping emotions in check, refining grammar and spelling, and more. This list of 17 tips offers ways you can give your communications skills a boost.

 

  • Time management

Without a grasp on how to effectively manage your time, critical tasks and responsibilities can fall through the cracks. The keys to time management are being organized and knowing how to prioritize your to-do’s. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for managing time, these six tips provide a good foundation upon which to improve your ability to make the most of your time.

 

  • Delegation

Even if you’re a solopreneur, you can’t always do everything on your own. Whether you have employees or opt to use subcontractors, there will be tasks and responsibilities that should be done by someone other than yourself, so you have time to focus on critical business-building objectives.

While this Harvard Business Review article addresses delegation from the perspective of larger companies, it provides many takeaways that small business owners can consider for improving their delegation skills.

 

  • Motivation and self-discipline

Leading also requires maintaining enthusiasm and embodying the drive to accomplish what needs to be done. When you’re the boss, you’re responsible for motivating yourself and staying on track. Contributing editor Geoffrey James at Inc.com has shared an interesting perspective and helpful tips to help entrepreneurs strengthen self-motivation skills. This thought from his article might help motivate you to become more self-motivated: “Use self-motivation to make yourself successful at life rather than just at work.”

 

Don’t believe “leaders are born not made.” While leadership is easier for some small business owners than others, you can get better at it with effort and practice. If you need guidance on ways to become a stronger leader, contact us about talking with a SCORE mentor. Our volunteers have a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of starting and growing a business.

Professional Development Benefits Your Business

Whether you’re a brand new entrepreneur or a small business owner who has been in business for years, expanding your knowledge and fine-tuning your skillsets are crucial for sustained success.

Professional development never goes out of style, and if you make it a priority, it can set your business apart from your competitors. Dedicating time and energy on a continual basis to honing your talents and learning new things will show your customers that:

  • You’re dedicated to providing them with the best products and services.
  • You can provide them with more value than your competition can.
  • You have a grasp on the bigger picture and are better able to propose solutions.
  • You’re worth every penny they’re paying you.

Finding Opportunities For Professional Development Isn’t Difficult. Finding Discipline To Follow Through With Professional Development Can Be.

As you explore how you might boost your knowledge and improve your skills, consider these effective and affordable options:

  • Reputable industry or topical blogs—Look for blogs that specifically address topics related to your types of products and services and for those about managing a business.
  • E-books—Ditto on what we said about blogs.
  • Business podcasts—With a vast selection of podcasts about leadership, marketing, business, and industry trends out there, you have plenty of options. To stay productive when you sit down to listen, consider hitting “play” while you’re taking care of “no brainer” busy work.
  • SBA online training center courses—In addition to a wealth of informative articles, the SBA also offers a number of free online courses to guide you through different aspects of starting and managing a business.
  • Local lunch & learns, seminars, etc.—Chambers of commerce often offer these types of programs to help their members manage their businesses better. They also provide the opportunity to network with other professionals in the community.

To make the most out of any of the above professional development tools, also consider signing up for free face-to-face or email mentoring with certified SCORE mentors. They have knowledge of and experience in every aspect of starting and running a business, so they’re well equipped to guide you as you navigate the opportunities and challenges of entrepreneurship.

Ready to get your small business off the ground or take it to the next level? Contact us to get started!

Is Email Marketing Worth the Investment?

With social media, texting, and other instantaneous ways of marketing your products and services, you might be wondering if anyone really pays attention to emails anymore.

Statistics say they do.

  • According to eMarketer, 69.7 percent of internet users say email is their preferred method of communicating with businesses.
  • And Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s 2015 State of Marketing report shows…
    • Seventy-four percent of marketers believe email produces (or will produce) ROI.
    • Seventy-three percent of marketers agree that email marketing is core to their business

How Could Email Marketing Help Your Small Business?

You can use email marketing to fulfill a number of objectives. For example you can…

  • Introduce new products and services.
  • Announce special offers, promotions, and contests.
  • Provide tips to help customers use your products and services more effectively.
  • Share industry news that will affect your customers.
  • Share event highlights.
  • Introduce new team members.
  • Highlight recent awards or press coverage your business has received.

You can get the most from your email marketing efforts when you integrate them with your other online marketing strategies. For instance, you can share links to your blog posts and other pages of your website in your email marketing messages, share your email marketing message links on social media, and incorporate links to your social media accounts in your email marketing messages. All of those things will boost the visibility of each platform you’re using.

Small Business Email Marketing Platforms

Several small business email marketing solutions exist. Some are free, and some have fees (which typically start out small and increase as you increase the size of your mailing list).

As you explore the options, consider these things:

  • Your budget
  • The frequency at which you’ll be sending email marketing messages
  • Your level of comfort in using technology tools (some platforms are more user-friendly than others)

Most importantly, know the rules and regulations set forth by the Federal Trade Commission for email marketing. There are laws in place to protect people from unwanted solicitation emails. Fail to comply with them and you could find yourself paying a hefty fine. No small business owner needs that!

If you’re considering making email marketing part of your business marketing strategy but don’t know where to begin, talk with a SCORE mentor. At SCORE, we have a team of dedicated volunteers who can help guide you in your marketing efforts and help you with all other aspects of growing your business.

3 Ways to Monitor Your Online Business Reputation

People are talking about your business—whether you’re aware of it or not.

According to the 2014 Global Customer Service Barometer by American Express and Ebiquity, people share their experiences with others face to face (54%), through company websites (50%), text messaging (49%), and social networks (46%) and consumer review sites (46%).

Even if you aren’t particularly active online, you can bet that customers will share their impressions of—and experiences with—your brand there.

While it might not seem fair, the reality is they’re more apt to share the bad and the ugly than they are the good.

In fact, the American Express and Ebiquity study found consumers are 2 times more likely to share their negative customer service experiences than they are to talk about positive experiences. “On average, consumers tell 8 people about their good experiences (15 in 2012; 9 in 2011), and over twice as many people about their bad experiences (21; 24 in 2012; 16 in 2011).”

Whether positive or negative, online mention of your company affects how others view your business.

That’s why it’s so important to monitor what’s being said about you.

How do you do that?

Here are a few free ways to tap into what people are saying about your brand:

Set Up Google Alerts.

Google Alerts is a tool that enables you to track mentions of you, your business, and your products by simply setting up notification criteria. In Google’s own words, “You can get email notifications any time that Google finds new results on a topic you’re interested in. For example, you could get updates about a product you like, find out when people post content about you on the web, or keep up with news stories.”

Use Social Mention.

Social Mention lets you enter keywords, phrases, names, Twitter handles, etc. and view where they were mentioned in content on social media networks, review sites, blogs, and more. It even assesses whether mentions are “positive,” “neutral,” or “negative.”

Stay Tuned Into Your Social Media Accounts And Blog.

Don’t neglect these things. They are likely to be one of the first places customers will let you know if they have a problem. If you ignore their requests for help or don’t acknowledge their complaints, your business will appear uncaring and apathetic. Social media and blog comments also bring opportunities, making it even more important to keep up with what’s happening there. If you don’t, you could miss out on addressing questions and requests for more information from prospective customers.

 As you strive to build and grow your small business into one customers will respect and trust, don’t underestimate the power that your online reputation holds. Ignoring what people are saying about your brand can do a lot of damage and prevent you from seizing opportunities to interact and generate goodwill. Keep in mind that what happens on the internet stays on the internet—and it’s there for all to see. That’s why it’s worth your time and effort to monitor and manage your online reputation.

Want expert guidance on starting and growing your business? Contact us about our FREE mentoring services!

7 Tips for Getting the Most from Mentoring

Working with a SCORE mentor can help you as you navigate the path of starting, managing, and growing a business. Mentors provide guidance, align you with resources, and share expertise in every aspect involved in entrepreneurship.

You get a lot of  engagement,  but to really benefit from your mentoring relationship you need to put effort into preparation for your meeting.

According to SCORE Maine Certified Mentor Bill Goodspeed, SCORE clients can get the most from working with a mentor by coming prepared and considering seven key activities.

  1. A concise description of your business or business idea.

Goodspeed says to include a concise statement of how you will add value. This is called a “value proposition” and is an important lynchpin for both communications with your mentor and the building of a business plan.

“Whether in a new business or existing business, I always say, ‘Genius is making the complex simple.’ It’s also critical for customer understanding and brand consistency and development.”

  1. Focus is everything..

“Many new clients are so passionate about their industry or idea that they try to do everything possible with the business,” explains Goodspeed. “Dilution can be death in business.”

He suggests to instead concentrate on the key elements and critical value proposition of the business. You have limited time and resources—so it’s important to use them wisely by retaining focus on what matters most.

  1. There is a time and place for giving back.

Many clients are extremely passionate about their communities and want to start giving back right away.

“While this is admirable, it is premature,” shares Goodspeed. “The best way to give back to a community is to make your business successful first.”

He advises putting your resources and energy into creating valuable products and services, which will translate into creating jobs and markets for suppliers.

“Once you are successful, you can contribute more to the community through various programs. However, it’s better to wait until you are successful.”

4.  Give your mentor(s) an opportunity to ask clarifying questions.

After you’ve provided information about your business and idea, your mentor will ask you questions to hone in on opportunities and issues, some you may no  have considered. This is an important step because it allows you to consider  new frameworks and/or possibilities for growth and improvement.

“Later, ask your questions and don’t be shy about it,” says Goodspeed.

  1. Be clear about what follow up work you should do as a result of the meeting and before the next session.

You will get a lot more out of your time with your SCORE mentor if you check your understanding about any action items you need to accomplish between meetings.

  1. Plan ahead and schedule the next meeting.

Goodspeed suggests scheduling a follow-up meeting on the spot before you finish your current meeting          with your mentor. “I recommend planning to meet again between three to four weeks out, depending on        the work that needs to be done in the interim.”

  1. Give plenty of advance notice if you need to reschedule a mentoring session.

“Mentors often travel to the SCORE office (or other meeting place that you’ve agreed upon) for the sole purpose of meeting with you,” explains Goodspeed.

To ensure your meeting can be rescheduled as soon as possible—and to respect your mentor’s time—communicate with your mentor immediately when you know you won’t be able to attend a scheduled session.

By following Goodspeed’s seven simple tips, you can make sure you’re getting the most from the time and expertise that SCORE mentors provide. A little preparation and focus will go a long way in ensuring you benefit fully from the insight and resources available from your SCORE mentor.

If you haven’t yet taken advantage of SCORE Maine’s free, confidential mentoring services, contact us for an appointment!

 

About Bill Goodspeed, SCORE Portland, Maine Mentor

William Goodspeed has been a SCORE mentor since spring of 2014. He is an expert in family-owned businesses, having considerable experience as family member, executive in family businesses, board member, and next generation developer. He is a fourth-generation member of the Huber family, which owns the J.M. Huber Corporation, a large international family company founded in 1883. Mr. Goodspeed serves on the board of Huber, as well as the boards of four other family-owned companies and on the Huber Family Education & Development Committee, whose mission is to develop fifth-generation Hubers for future roles as board members, executives and educated shareholders.

To devote time to family business, Mr. Goodspeed retired as Corporate Vice President of IDEXX Laboratories, a $1.2 billion worldwide leader in animal diagnostics and water testing. At IDEXX, Mr. Goodspeed managed three businesses: Livestock and Poultry Diagnostics, the world leader in farm animal diagnostics; Water, the world leader in testing for microbial contamination; and Dairy, the second largest producer of milk contamination tests.

Before IDEXX, Mr. Goodspeed held several positions in the J.M. Huber Corporation: Sector CEO of Natural Resources (Timber and Oil & Gas); President of Huber Wood Products (Engineered Woods and Timber). He joined Huber in 1994 as the Vice President of Strategy and Business Development.

Before Huber, Mr. Goodspeed was Executive Vice President of Pasona International, the international arm of Japan’s Pasona Group, then the largest human resource staffing firm in Japan.

Mr. Goodspeed was also a management consultant at McKinsey & Company and an attorney. He received a J.D. from the University of Michigan and a B.A. from Dartmouth College.

 

Manage Your Time Effectively

Small business owners and solopreneurs are eternally challenged to get the most done with the limited time available. With responsibility for all aspects of their businesses, using time—or not using it—as wisely as possible can mean the difference between success and failure.

If you or someone you know is struggling to keep up with all there is to do in managing a business, adopting some good time management habits can help.

Time Management Tips For Small Business Owners And Solopreneurs

Say Goodbye To Multitasking

Unlike the word implies, “multitasking” doesn’t help you get multiple tasks done more quickly. In fact, studies have shown that it kills focus and people get less done, not more, when they attempt to multitask.

Prioritize Effectively

This may seem like stating the obvious, but it’s easy to get distracted from doing what’s most important  when you’ve got a long list of to-dos. Consider deadlines and the financial impact projects and tasks will have as you decide which should get your attention first.

Reserve Time

Intentionally dedicating time on your calendar for projects and tasks will help you stick to your priorities and meet deadlines. It can also help you better identify when you’re over-committing.

Outsource When It Makes Sense

Speaking of which, another way to avoid over-committing is to outsource tasks that are keeping you from revenue-producing activities and that don’t specifically require you to complete them. Examples might include bookkeeping, writing and/or proofreading, social media, data entry, etc. Outsourcing work to an independent contractor or agency for even a few hours a month can help prevent you from getting overwhelmed.

Try A Tried-And-True Time Management Technique

Practicing the Pomodoro Technique or something similar to improve mental acuity could also help you make your time more productive.  It involves breaking the time you work into a series of short intervals intermixed with short rest periods. The premise behind it is that you’ll stay more fully focused and not allow interruptions when on task because you’ll have set periods (held true by using a timer) of work and rest.

As the new year is upon us, now is an excellent time to gauge your time management skills. Did lack of productivity and organization hold you and your business back this past year? If yes, perhaps it’s time to pick up some new habits in 2015.

If you need a little guidance,  you can always meet and talk with a SCORE mentor. Through our free mentoring services and one-on-one coaching, we’re here to help small business owners navigate the many challenges of entrepreneurship.

Happy New Year!

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.

 

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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