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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.

Customer Feedback: Four Easy Ways to Get It

Every small business owner knows that success can’t happen without satisfied customers. Yet, many entrepreneurs get so busy paying attention to the multitude of tasks they need to accomplish day to day that they neglect to ask customers for meaningful feedback.

Advantages of Asking for Customer Feedback

Some ways that customer feedback can help your small business include:

  • Allows you to identify how to improve your products and services. Feedback can shed light on your company’s offerings’ strengths and weaknesses. Armed with this knowledge, you can determine what improvements or changes will better serve your target market and keep customers happy.
  • Attracts new customers. For example, in the case of online reviews, positive feedback can help your company gain trust and influence prospective customers’ buying decisions.
  • Improves customer loyalty. By asking for feedback, you show customers that you value what they think. Customers who feel appreciated are more likely to stay loyal to your brand.

Four Ways to Get Customer Feedback

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to find out what customers think about your company and your products and services.

1. Online Reviews and Social Media

Often, customers will do this on their own without prompting, so stay alert to what they’re saying about your business online. Several sites to watch include:

Even if you haven’t claimed your profile on a review website or social media platform, don’t assume customers aren’t talking about your company there. To make sure you don’t miss out on potentially valuable feedback, consider setting up Google Alerts to detect when someone mentions your company in reviews and on the web.

Be sure to read review websites’ terms of use carefully, some strictly prohibit businesses from asking customers to leave reviews.

2. Email Surveys

Email surveys give customers a convenient and fast way to respond to your questions about their experience with your company. Several platforms have a free option with basic features, a limited number of questions, and a limited number of emails per month. They also offer subscription plans that provide more capabilities and the ability to send a larger volume of emails. A perk of most email survey platforms is that you get analytics to summarize how respondents collectively feel about your company, products, and services.

Several email survey sites you may want to explore include:

3. Survey Cards

Asking customers to complete a short survey card at the point of sale enables you to get instant feedback. If you believe that requesting feedback on the spot will cause inconvenience for people who may be short on time, consider sending cards by snail mail instead if you have customers’ mailing addresses in your records.

4. Phone Follow-up

Especially for professional services businesses who don’t have massive amounts of clients, phone calls can be a viable way to touch base about customer satisfaction. A one-on-one conversation can deliver more in-depth insight and strengthen the business relationship.

How to Make it Matter

When asking for feedback, it’s critical to ask questions that will return the information you need to understand what your business is doing well and what it needs to improve. Below are several articles that provide helpful food for thought about crafting questions to gather customer feedback:

Also, consider talking with a SCORE mentor. SCORE volunteers have the expertise and experience to help guide you in all aspects of running a business—including improving and maintaining customer satisfaction.

9 Cybersecurity Tips to Protect Your Business

Hackers don’t only set their sights on mega-corporations with massive amounts of data. In fact, approximately half of all cybersecurity attacks target small businesses. Why? Small businesses are less likely to have sophisticated digital security measures in place. Also, criminals focus efforts on cracking into small companies to make it easier to hack into the networks of the large businesses that small businesses are connected with.

Data breaches have the potential to impair or destroy your business. According to the National Cyber Security Institute’s findings, 60 percent of small and mid-sized companies go out of business within six months after getting hacked. With the survival of your business at stake, it’s critical to take measures to protect your information. Fortunately, by taking some simple steps, you can decrease your company’s risks of falling prey to hackers and unauthorized users who want to steal to your data.

9 Tips for Protecting Your Small Business from Cybersecurity Threats

  1. Keep computers and other devices out of reach of anyone who is not authorized to use them. Set up a lock-screen so others cannot access your computer when you step away from your desk.
  2. Update computers and other devices with the latest security software. Utilize up-to-date browsers and operating systems for optimal security, as well.
  3. Secure your Wi-Fi connection: create a unique password for your router, change your wireless network’s name (SSID), enable network encryption, and upgrade your router’s firmware.
  4. Have a firewall in place to protect your Internet connection. Set up a firewall at your office, as well as home offices, if you and any employees work remotely.
  5. Educate employees about best practices regarding creating and storing passwords for various accounts. Keep passwords strong and use two-factor authentication when possible, as recommended by Security Today.
  6. Show employees how to recognize phishing and scams. According to Symantec’s February 2019 Internet Security Threat Report, employees of small organizations were more likely than those in large organizations to be hit by email threats—such as spam, phishing, and email malware—in 2018. Employees need to be on alert for emails with zip files and attachments (such as invoices or receipts) with malicious code that will download malware to the user’s device when the attachment is opened. In addition, it is important to avoid clicking links that look suspicious.
  7. Protect mobile devices and set up passwords to unlock devicesencrypt data on mobile devices, install security apps to prevent unauthorized access to data when a device is on, and install anti-virus and anti-malware software on devices.
  8. Choose your bank and credit card companies carefully—look for those with the best anti-fraud protections.
  9. Be selective about who you allow to access your data and the degree of access you give to individuals. In other words, only grant access if it’s absolutely needed.

If you want to learn more about how to protect your business, consider visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s CyberSecurity for Small Business online education and resource guide. It covers a full range of topics to help you put a plan in place. Also, reach out to your SCORE mentor for input and feedback as you take action to safeguard your business.

Eight Ways SCORE Can Help You Succeed in the New Year

 

Whether your New Year’s resolution is starting a new business or you want to grow your existing one in 2017, you’re smart to seek expert guidance and resources that can help you. That’s exactly where SCORE , a national non-profit offering free, confidential mentoring and business education comes in.

 

For more than 50 years, SCORE has helped entrepreneurs like you navigate the challenges of launching and building their businesses.

 

As a local chapter, we at SCORE Portland Maine find that not all small business owners in our community are aware of how we can help fuel their success. You might say one of our New Year’s resolutions is to change that!

 

SCORE Portland Maine’s services include:

 

  • FREE mentoring – That’s right. For absolutely no charge, you can consult our mentors for as many sessions and for as long as you feel you need to. Our volunteers come from diverse professional backgrounds and collectively have knowledge and expertise in every aspect of starting and managing a business. You can meet with mentors in person, by phone, by video call or receive counciling via email.

 

  • FREE Workshops – We offer several workshops to guide you through the steps of starting a business and help you learn how to more effectively run a business. From digital marketing to financial projections, our workshops offer something for everyone.

 

How can SCORE services help your small business succeed in 2017?

 

  • You can share your business concept with a trustworthy, objective third party who can help you see if your idea is viable.

 

  • You can learn how to develop a business plan to guide your efforts.

 

  • You can get valuable input and feedback to help you make smarter business decisions.

 

  • You can learn about best and worst entrepreneurial practices, which can help set you on the right path and avoid disaster.

 

  • You can access small business resources recommended to you by your mentor.

 

  • You can gain an understanding of how financial reports work and how they measure the health of your business.

 

  • You can learn about tried-and-true and cutting-edge marketing and advertising tools and tactics to generate leads and boost sales.

 

  • You can learn management and leadership skills from experienced professionals.

 

  • You can count on getting a realistic picture of the benefits and challenges of entrepreneurship. SCORE mentors are honest and won’t sugarcoat the hard work it requires to build a sustainable business.

 

Ready to get your New Year off to a stellar start?

Contact us and set up an appointment with a SCORE Portland Maine mentor. And don’t forget to check out our upcoming workshop offerings. Whether you’re in the beginning stages of exploring entrepreneurship or you have an existing small business you want to take to the next level, we’re committed to helping you succeed.

Simplify and Focus

Take the time to think about your goals for the new year.  Identifying and implementing something new requires focus.  When tackling a long list of nonessential, tedious tasks, focus is mission critical. Whether the bull’s-eye on your back is a hefty goal or a bunch of minutiae, adopt these tips to sharpen your focus.

Start by defining you what you want to get done. Goals are the big chunks of stuff you want to get accomplished, like find a new job, train for a race, or hire a new employee.  Now cull that list of goals into what is most important right now. It doesn’t mean you are abandoning the other goals. It means you are making a choice.  Too many goals sap your energy and dilute your resolve to achieve anything. Simplify! Pick one goal and identify it as the #1 priority.  You will now have laser-like focus on what you plan to accomplish. Goals without action steps are just words.

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Evaluate Your Competition

You are ready to launch your business in a growing niche market. Out of the blue a friend sends you a link to a similar new product or service.  After your initial shock, head over and evaluate the competition. Move into discovery mode and look under the hood of the competitor’s engine.  That knowledge may add a creative spark to your thinking.  Or it serves to confirm that you’re bringing an authentic solution for a customer want or need at precisely the right time.

Take a short drive  and see what makes them tick.  Scope out their website and metatags.  Appraise how they tell their story. Are they solving the pain point in a novel way?  If you compete in a new market segment with low barriers to entry, understand the incremental features and benefits promised.  How does that compare to the “must have” features you learned in your customer discovery?  Tap into their social networks and get a feel for their buzz.

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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.