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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!

3 Personal Branding Tips for Small Business Owners

As a small business owner, you are the face of your company. That comes with opportunities and challenges as people may view you and your business as one in the same.

You have the power to single-handedly make a direct impact on your business’s credibility through your personal branding efforts.

So, how can you leverage your personal brand to enhance your company’s reputation?

3 Tips for Making Your Personal Brand Work For Your Business

Don’t be a stranger.

By getting involved in local business groups, you can build vital connections in the community. However, being on the membership roster of organizations isn’t enough. It’s important to be present at events and activities regularly so that you can nurture relationships and raise awareness of your expertise and your company’s offerings.

Choose where you network wisely because your time is precious. Seek out groups that have a strong representation of community partners, potential and existing customers, vendors, and influencers to make sure your outreach efforts are worthwhile.

 

Make some media inroads.

Look for windows of opportunity to share your expertise with the local press, online media outlets, and industry blogs.

  • Pitch newsworthy story ideas to local reporters that can draw them to you for expert input on topics. By being quoted in articles, you gain free publicity in exchange for minimal effort.
  • Reach out to the editors of reputable blogs in your industry to see if they accept guest blog posts. If yes, propose several topics with short summaries about each to give the publications several options for consideration. Guest blogging expands your audience and can help your business’s SEO efforts since most publishers allow a link back to your website from your author bio.
  • Look for relevant media inquiries through HARO – When you sign up as a source on HARO (which stands for “Help a Reporter Out”) you get an email three times a day with a list of requests from media for sources of expertise. When you set up your HARO account, you can identify the types of industries and topics you’re interested in. Getting picked up as a source by a reporter through HARO can potentially give you—and your business—national exposure.

 

Play it smart on social media.

Perhaps the most powerful place for personal branding is social media platforms. Sadly, this is where too many business owners run into trouble.

You may have the right to say whatever you want on social media, but realize that heat-of-the-moment status updates and comments about highly emotional topics like politics and religion may have a negative impact. You’re bound to alienate some people (including customers, vendors, project partners, etc.) if you’re not careful. Also, ranting about business issues or airing other grievances online can serve to make you appear unprofessional. For those reasons, consider your intent before making any post or comment. If your motive is self-serving to get something off your chest or get under someone’s skin, it’s best to walk away from your screen and re-engage when you’re in a less volatile frame of mind. If you find it difficult to do that, you may want to reconsider “friending” clients and professional contacts through your personal social media accounts.

 

A Blurred Line That Can Build Your Business

With some focus and effort on your personal branding, you have the potential to build greater exposure and respect for your business in the process. As you look for opportunities to leverage your personal brand in-person and online, reach out to SCORE for guidance from a small business mentor. SCORE mentors work with business owners in all industries, and they can help you formulate a personal branding strategy that can effectively enhance your business’s other marketing efforts.

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 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.

Build Your Brand through Face-to-Face and Online Networking

Networking – face-to-face and online – is essential for not only building awareness of and trust in your brand, but also in you as a small business owner. According to a survey referenced on the Business Networking by Dr. Ivan Misner blog, professionals who said they spend a little over six hours a week networking gained nearly 47 percent of their business via networking activities and referrals. Wow!

The not-so-secret benefits of what networking can do for you:

• Raise awareness of your business and what you do.

• Build credibility.

• Let people get to know the face behind your brand. (Remember, people do business with people.)

• Extend your reach and can lead to referrals. (Expand the possibility of you knowing someone who knows someone who can use your services.)

Combining face-to-face and online networking optimizes business development efforts.
Your involvement in networking in person and your online networking support and reinforce each other. When your contacts cross over from one realm to the other, you build multidimensional relationships. That gives you more options for interacting – and it makes it easier to stay top of mind with prospective clients and existing customers.

Networking opportunities to consider as a small business owner:

Face-to-face networking groups
Availability of networking groups can vary depending on where you live and your specific industry. Here are a few types of networking groups to consider:

• Chambers of commerce
• Industry and trade associations
• Small local networking groups
• Community service organizations (like Rotary clubs, Lions Club, etc.)

Online networking opportunities

As you know, there’s no shortage of social media networks available to businesses. Which networks will give you the most return on your investments of time and effort depends on a number of factors, including your type of business. Most likely, you’re already using one or more of these platforms:

• LinkedIn (the one network we encourage every professional to consider)

• Facebook

• Twitter

• Pinterest

• Google Plus

• Instagram

• SnapChat

• YouTube

• Vine

• Foursquare

When networking inperson or online, you’ll want to get the most from the time and energy you spend. Here are a few tips for making the most of your networking efforts:

Think of networking as a process, not as an event.
Networking is about building relationships. You can’t do that by attending one or two meetings or mixers. Only through consistency of involvement will you reap the rewards that networking offers. This is true of both face-to-face and online networking.

Cross-connect when possible.
Whenever possible, connect with face-to-face networking connections via social media. Vice versa, if you have an opportunity to have coffee with a social media contact, take it! Cross-connecting will give you more opportunities to stay top of mind with contacts.

Choose platforms and organizations carefully.
Research which will provide the most opportunities for you to interact with your target market. Also, consider how much time you have available for networking and when you’re available to network. Not all online social networks demand the same amount of time and attention. Some networking groups require substantial time commitment and attendance at meetings. Before joining, find out if they hold their functions primarily during the work day or in the evenings. Which work best with your schedule?

Also, find out how much of a financial investment you’ll need to make. Some networking organizations require membership fees which then enable you to attend certain events “for free” as a member, but you might also have to pay for some events and activities. Make sure a group is within your budget so you can actively participate.

Be genuine – and genuinely interested.
People can detect a fake. Be real; be you when networking. Also, make your interactions about them not you in the beginning. Make it a point to ask questions and show an interest in other people before you jump in to share about yourself. It builds goodwill and makes a great first impression.

Follow up.
After meeting face to face, connect on social media (particularly LinkedIn) or send a friendly email. By doing so, you can build on that one-time meeting and open the door to communicating on an ongoing basis.

While successful networking comes easier to some business owners than others, it’s rare – if not impossible – to build a brand without it as part of a business’s strategy. If you’re not sure which networking groups, platforms, and activities might work best for your business, reach out to a SCORE mentor for guidance. We’re here to help!

Invest in Your Career in 5 Steps

If you have a job, you might not be thinking about your career. Having a good job today doesn’t guarantee you will have one tomorrow. You might  transition to a new role or jump into a new field or  industry. Perhaps you are moving on to unfamiliar territory. Whatever your current path, consider these steps to invest in your career:

Learn  how to be indispensable to your employer. An intrapreneur figures out how to turn an idea into a profitable product or service   When there is no rule book,  can you figure out the problem and suggest a constructive solution?  Become the solution provider.  You add value to your team and co-workers when you are seen as a problem solver.  Common sense is not negotiable. Be uncommon.

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Build Brand Evangelists

You launched your business and sales are starting to ignite.  It’s time to discover your brand evangelists.  These are your customer champions!  Motivated users who are passionate about your product or service.  Initiate these 5 steps to capture their memorable user experience:

Reach out to 2 new customers each day. Pick up the phone and make that call. Start by thanking them for their business. Show some love, because customer shelled out hard earned money to buy your product.  Ask what they liked best about your product.  Before customers buy from you they have to KNOW you.  Followed by LIKE and finally TRUST.  If you have fostered trust,  you have made a sale. Discover what led them to your product.

Gather meaningful feedback.  Identify precisely how your product has improved their life in big or small ways. Did you save them time, money, or provide a new experience that was a WOW? Tease those pearls of information from their lips to your ears.  How did they find you?  That is a critical insight to understand. If someone else spread the word you now have another person to call and thank.

Ask for any improvements.  This may seem like a risk, but maybe there is a tweak or two or three that you may have not considered important when you launched.  That  feedback is critical as you improve your product or service further down the line.  Passionate customers usually have a lot to share.  Start by asking what would make it better.  Listen, learn and adapt.

Ask for a testimonial.  When a customer is genuinely excited about your product, it is time to spread the word.  A word of mouth recommendation is the single best marketing gift you can receive.  Recommendations lead to customer engagement, which reinforces the positive image of your business.  More new leads, more new customers, and more referrals.  All because you published trusted testimonials on your website, and/or on your blog.  Social proof delivers the credibility,  and starts the KNOW, LIKE, TRUST cycle all over again.

Offer a small token of appreciation.  Thank your customer for their time and their endorsement. Offer up a small measure of happiness, a coupon towards a discount on a future purchase for example.  It’s not the monetary value, it’s the thought that counts.

Continue to engage with your evangelists.  That’s a how small business wins in a socially connected universe.

Ready to Switch Careers After 50?

Changing careers after 50 can be intimidating.  A new approach may be required. Kindle your reinvention with these high energy tips:

Embrace  lifelong learning..  Seek the unexpected.  Cultivate a curious mindset and READ.  We live in a digital age. The sheer volume of information is fertile ground for learning about unique cultures, places, experiences and opportunities. Read constantly;  articles, blogs, books, and blather.  Your capacity to learn is as great as it ever was.  Continue to stretch and grow by examining the world from a different perspective.  If you are an interesting person,  others will seek you out for all sorts of reasons. Which leads me to the second lesson.

Network like you mean it.  Most people network when they are unemployed, or soon to be.  They reach out with their self serving contact requests.  Networking is being engaged with other human beings.  Old school networking is transactional.  New school networking is figuring out how you can collaborate and help the other person get where they are going.  Take time to see how you can make a small difference in someone else’s life.  It’s not about YOU, it’s about them.  Learn the skill, you are never too old.

Hone your technical skills.  If you are not e-relevant, no one will hire you.  Take the time to learn about social media and how to brand yourself in the market.  Computer skills?  Mandatory!  Buy a smart phone, learn to tweet and text.  Stay current, stay engaged in technology!

Stride with confidence.  Learn to sell yourself, your ideas and your solutions for your next adventure. Want to change fields or industries?   Apply for the job and sell yourself to the hiring manager. Fear is a great motivator.  By 50, you should be using fear to your advantage.  Find solutions for a company, use your skills and talents to add value to the bottom line.  Discover a nonprofit you believe in, and give it the energy and passion it requires.  Will you stumble along the way?  You can count on it.  By now you are working on making a difference, not just a contribution.

Be an agent of change and get moving.  Find your own true North.

Networking Karma

Networking is an essential skill in growing your business.  It starts with building a relationship based on an honest connection.  To be an asset versus a one time conversation, start giving before you get.   Figure out how to collaborate with the other person before thinking about what’s it in for you.  Determine what value you can add and dish it out freely.  Maybe your help is in the form of good advice, or in the form of  simple, honest appreciation.   Are you a relationship connector?  Facilitate that connection for someone else.  Access to a key resource is priceless.  Embrace the premise that you will help them move forward.  Then deliver on your promise to connect.  Your success correlates to your network.  Connected people understand the power of relationships to engage and enlarge their network.

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