A mission statement serves as a way to differentiate your business from your competitors. It also serves as a guidepost for your business. Before you make decisions that will impact your business, evaluating your options to determine if they line up with your mission statement can help you determine the best course of action. If something doesn’t align with your mission, it’s likely it will confuse customers, derail other initiatives, or overtax your resources.
While industry associations, chambers of commerce, Rotary, and other professional groups offer opportunities to make new connections and gain knowledge, not all will give you the same bang for your buck.
In today's market, consumers read online reviews before buying products and services whether they're buying an item on Amazon or scoping out a local small business. You can't afford to miss out on what people might be saying about your business online.
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
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.
As more and more consumers look online before buying products and services, basic search engine optimization is essential for your business. If you don’t prioritize your company’s visibility in online searches, you could end up at a competitive disadvantage.
According to a consumer survey by BrightLocal, “97% of consumers looked online for local businesses in 2017.”
SEO is a complex and multifaceted discipline, but by following just a few best practices, you can help boost your business’s chances of getting found in searches on Google.
1. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly yet, make it so.
Fifty-seven percent of all online traffic comes from smartphones and tablets. Google has estimated that 9 out of 10 people will leave a website if it isn’t easy to use from their mobile device. So, even if your company has better products and services than your competitors, you could miss out on business opportunities if you don’t have a mobile-ready website.
Mobile-friendliness also affects your website’s ranking in Google searches. Beginning in April 2015, Google began giving mobile-ready websites an edge over sites without mobile support on the search engine results pages.
Adding to the importance of having a mobile-ready site is the rollout of Google’s mobile-first indexing, which began in March 2018. In Google’s own words, “Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.”
Although mobile-first indexing has not rolled out to all websites yet, Google is encouraging webmasters to make their content mobile-friendly to perform better in mobile search results.
You can check to see if Google considers your site mobile-ready by using Google’s free Mobile-Friendly Test. If your site has room for improvement, talk with an experienced web development resource to discuss your options.
2. Establish a business profile (or claim your business listing) on online directories and review sites.
Well-known sites such as Yelp, Facebook, Citysearch, and TripAdvisor, often rank higher than business websites in search results. If you’re listed on them, prospective customers will have an easier time finding you. Also, the links to your website from these sites (“backlinks”) can help improve your website’s ranking in search results.
The benefits of better visibility and backlinks also apply to listings on local directory sites like those provided by your chamber of commerce, tourism bureau, and other organizations.
If you operate your business from a physical location, you’ll also want to make sure you appear on Google My Business. Doing so will help your business show up higher in local search results, including on Google Maps.
Important Note: Wherever you list your business online, make sure your NAP (name, address, phone number) information is consistent. If you’ve moved or changed your name or phone number, you’ll want to update that information on every website that lists your company. Most SEO experts agree that search engines look for uniformity to validate that a business is legitimate. Inconsistency can result in your business information showing up incorrectly—or Google might choose to omit your business from the search engine results page altogether.
3. Have a keyword strategy that goes narrow rather than broad.
Keywords remain critical for helping Google determine what your website pages are about. However, they need context and must appear naturally in content that satisfies what your audience wants to know.
Rather than use keywords that consist of only one or two general words, focus on long-tail keywords that more closely resemble—in your customers’ words— the exact types of products and services your customers are looking for and the area where they hope to find them.
So, say you have a dog training business in Portland, Maine. Rather than using the general keywords of “dog training” or “dog trainers” (which have a tremendous amount of competition in search results), consider using wording that’s reflective of what your customers will be looking for online. For example,
- Dog trainers in Portland Maine
- Aggressive dog training Maine
- Therapy dog training Portland Maine
While these don’t have the same amount of monthly search traffic coming to them as “dog training” and “dog trainers,” they have far fewer businesses competing for them and will better your chances of ranking higher in search results. Also, they will help ensure that the people who do find your website are potential customers for the services you provide.
Bonus Tip: As you’re deciding which long-tail keywords to use, also consider the increase in voice-activated searches. Think about how people talk, not just how they type!
Where Can You Find More Information About SEO Best Practices?
If you want to learn more about ways you can improve awareness of your business online, consider following SEO and digital marketing blogs like Yoast, Moz, Search Engine Land, and Search Engine Journal. Also, contact SCORE to talk with a mentor who can direct you to reputable SEO specialists in your area, and who can advise you on all aspects of your business’s marketing endeavors.
Finding and training the right employees requires time and money. After you’ve invested the resources and effort to bring the right people on board, the last thing you want is for them to leave you high and dry.
Regrettably, there’s a good chance that they might. Approximately one-third of new hires quit their jobs after just six months. Employee retention can be a challenge—especially for small business owners who neither have the deep pockets to pay as handsomely as some big corporations nor provide the same level of benefits and other incentives.
Although it may be difficult for your business to keep up with the Joneses from a monetary standpoint alone, you can implement some strategies to provide value to employees in other ways.
Engage and ask for feedback!
Demonstrate that you value their input by asking for their feedback on opportunities and challenges that they observe. This doesn’t mean you have to act on every suggestion made, but it will foster an culture of open communication and collaboration. By encouraging their ideas and feedback, employees will feel more engaged and invested in your success.
Offer flexibility in their work schedule and location.
If possible, provide opportunities to adjust their regular work schedules and where they report to work. Flex-time and telecommuting can help lower the stress employees feel when juggling personal and professional obligations. It may also enable you to reduce some of your office overhead costs in the process.
If that’s not feasible, consider allowing flexibility to accommodate unexpected situations. For example, if an employee’s child is ill, you might give the OK for that team member to work from home or come to your business after hours when the employee’s partner can take over on the home front. In the case of positions that require availability during specific hours (customer service reps, servers, etc.), consider allowing for employees to switch shifts with other employees when the need arises. The key is to set clear expectations and guidelines so that your flexibility serves both your employees and your business.
Provide perks and pleasant surprises.
Little things can make a big difference in how employees view their work environment. Delighting your team members with small tokens of appreciation will garner goodwill and show you care.
A few employee appreciation and recognition ideas that don’t cost a bundle include:
- Celebrate employees’ birthdays with cake and ice cream.
- Write “thank you” notes (even if only on sticky notes) for a job well done.
- Bring bagels, pizza, or some other treat to the office every Friday or another day of the week.
- Act spontaneously by letting employees leave an hour early so that they can get outside and enjoy a beautiful day.
Give back together.
Facilitate a sense of community by coming together as a team to rally behind a worthy cause. Involve your employees in helping you choose a charitable organization your business will support, and then enlist their help in planning how you will do that. Depending on the cause, it might take the form of a food or coat drive, donating a percentage of a product’s proceeds to a nonprofit, or collecting supplies for a local pet shelter. Regardless of the cause, you and your employees will have an opportunity to bond as you contribute to making life better for others in the community.
Resources to Help Evaluate and Improve Your Employee Retention
Enlisting the help of a human resources consultant can shed light on what you can do to make your business a place employees will want to stay for the long term. Also, remember that SCORE is here with mentors who have expertise in all aspects of starting and running a business, including hiring and retaining employees. Contact us today! Meeting with SCORE mentors is free, confidential, and it can provide valuable guidance to help your business succeed.
As springtime brings the promise of warmer days and longer stints of daylight, now is an ideal time to get cracking on your spring cleaning responsibilities—both at home and at your small business!
Six Small Business Spring Cleaning Tasks to Tackle Now
1. Tidy up your online presence.
Check to make sure your NAP (name, address, phone) info is consistent and correct across all platforms where your business appears online. This includes any online directories and review sites, such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, Citysearch, and others. Most SEO specialists agree that Google and other search engines look for NAP consistency across the web as a way to validate that a business is legitimate. If your NAP info is outdated or incorrect on various sites, Google might reflect the wrong information in (or omit your business from) search results.
Also, review your website for broken links and other errors that should be fixed. The more hassle-free and user-friendly your website, the more likely potential customers will make repeat visits to it.
2. Review your business plan.
Revisit your business plan and identify any sections you should update to better reflect your aspirations and goals. A business plan is meant to be a living document that changes over time. As a roadmap for your company, it may need to be tweaked to reflect a modified course that will help you overcome competitive pressures, regulatory changes, and other influences.
3. Assess your cash flow.
Are you receiving income from your customers in time to meet your expense obligations? If not, you might want to consider updating your payment policy (or creating one in the first place). Some potential ways to fix a sluggish cash flow are requesting a down payment or full payment in advance of providing products or services, invoicing immediately after you’ve provided services (rather than waiting until the end of the month), and following up with customers sooner rather than later when invoices are past due.
4. Eliminate clutter.
This is spring cleaning in the literal sense. Clear your desk and files of unnecessary paperwork that’s taking up space and creating a distracting environment. Declutter your digital files, too. Identify and delete messages in your inbox that no longer require your attention. Archive and organize the files on your computer or in the cloud for easier access. If you need to keep a record of them, consider creating a special folder for that purpose or using an online app like Evernote or Dropbox to save them.
5. Be a task master.
Explore productivity and task lists apps like or Hours or Todoist, or a good old fashioned desk calendar and notebook to keep yourself on track. Consider new, streamlined ways to work with your team with task management software such as Asana or communication apps such as Slack. Identify you or your teams obstacles (prioritizing tasks, delegating tasks, meeting deadlines) and create a system to overcome them. Remember, it’s all about creating a system that works best for the way you work and your goals.
6. Get a fresh perspective.
Contact SCORE to connect with a business mentor. SCORE mentors provide unbiased feedback that can help your company succeed. From marketing to product development to pricing to customer service and more, SCORE mentors have expertise in all aspects of running a small business.
No matter what the season—spring, summer, fall, or winter—SCORE can help your business move in the right direction and achieve its goals.
This year, several social media platforms added new features and improvements that could benefit your small business’s Internet marketing efforts in 2018.
Let’s take a look at the changes and how they might help you gain a stronger following and improve engagement on your social media channels.
1. Instagram’s introduction of the capability to follow specific hashtags.
In December 2017, Instagram introduced a new way for users to interact with hashtags. You can now follow hashtags—in the same way you can follow Instagram accounts. After you follow a hashtag, Instagram curates highlights from posts with that hashtag and places them into your main feed.
What does this mean for you and your business? It is now easier for people who are interested in the types of products and services you provide to discover you on Instagram. If you use hashtags that your customers and prospective customers are following, you will increase brand awareness and likely gain more followers to your Instagram account.
Which hashtags will work best? You may have to experiment and gauge how much interest you’re getting with various hashtags. One way to zero in on the best hashtag contenders is to use the search feature on Instagram to research specific hashtags to assess their popularity and relevance to your business.
2. Twitter’s tweet length has extended from 140 characters to 280 characters.
In early November 2017, Twitter expanded the character limit for tweets from 140 characters to 280 characters. This is good news for brands and business professionals who struggled to fit meaningful information into the confines of 140 characters. With the extended tweet length, you have the opportunity to share more detailed insight. That can help you better demonstrate your expertise and value to your followers.
Take care not to overdo it, though. Because of Twitter’s fast-moving nature, followers might not have the patience to read long-winded tweets—especially if you constantly push yours to the limit.
3. LinkedIn’s has introduced in-app LinkedIn video for uploading/recording videos in posts.
In late August – early September 2017, LinkedIn began allowing users to either upload videos from their camera rolls or record videos via LinkedIn’s video feature. With this new capability, consider the many ways you might use it to bond with your audience:
- Behind-the-scenes videos of your team helping customers
- How-to videos to demonstrate your expertise and empower your audience.
- Celebrations of key milestones along your business journey
- Video bios of your team members to help your audience get to know the people behind your brand
4. Facebook allows people and brands to create polls that can use GIFs as response options.
Although Facebook offered a feature with a polling function in the past, it nixed it in 2014 when rolling out other updates. In the last quarter of 2017, however, it added a new, improved poll feature—following its acquisition of polling app tbh.
As a result, brand pages and individuals can again post polls to entice interaction from fans and friends. Besides giving text-only response options to poll participants, poll creators can offer photos or GIFs as possible choices. This gives your business an opportunity to add an element of fun to your Facebook posts and get your fans excited about interacting and sharing your content.
What Role Will Social Media and the New Capabilities Play in Your Marketing Efforts?
As you’re assessing your current social media strategy and what you’ll do moving forward in 2018, remember that SCORE is here to offer guidance and feedback. Contact us today! With mentors who have experience in all aspects of starting and growing a business, we can provide insight and direction as you develop your marketing plan for the New Year.
It seems there’s a special day to honor just about everything from National Grilled Cheese Day to National Hug a Drummer Day. It’s impossible to keep up with them all, but there is a particular day that small business owners should observe every day:
Get To Know Your Customers Day
Recognized on the third Thursday of each quarter (January, April, July, and October), Get to Know Your Customers Day is a day to make an effort to learn more about your customers.
In the last half of 2017, it falls on July 20 and October 19 (past dates in 2017 include January 19 and April 20).
But why only strive to get to know your customers once per quarter? Having a pulse on what your customers need, want, and will pay for is something entrepreneurs should strive for every day. Knowing your customers is critical to your business success because without doing so you cannot be sure you’re meeting your target market’s needs.
When you know your customers, you have the insight you need to:
- Adapt your products and services to meet your customers’ changing wants and needs.
- Deliver the value your customers expect.
- Build customer loyalty.
How can you get to know your customers better?
Not all customers will freely tell you about themselves, their lifestyles, what they’re looking for, or how they feel about your products and services. Fortunately, with relatively minimal effort, you can gather that information.
- Look at online customer reviews for information about their lifestyles and preferences. Besides sharing customers’ level of satisfaction, reviews can also educate you on how, where, and why customers are using your products and services. That can give you perspective on how you might improve or expand your offerings.
- Email individual customers “just because” to see what’s new with them. It’s a no-pressure way to show customers you value and care about them and to discover opportunities to serve them.
- Schedule one-on-one coffee dates or lunch meetings to catch up with them. If the nature of your business makes this feasible, consider setting aside some time to catch up face to face and learn what’s on your customers’ minds.
- Hold a customer appreciation event. This type of gathering will enable you to mix and mingle and learn more about your customers in a laid-back, friendly setting.
- Attend other organizations’ social events. Consider attending chamber of commerce mixers, non-profit golf outings, and other activities when you know your customers will be there. These occasions provide opportunities for casual conversation rather than just “talking shop.”
If you haven’t made getting to know your customers a priority in your small business, July’s Get To Know Your Customers Day is a perfect time to start.
For more ideas on ways to get to know your customers, talk with a SCORE mentor. With experience in all aspects of starting and running a business, SCORE volunteers can provide valuable guidance and feedback through every phase of your entrepreneurial journey.