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5 Tips for Successfully Running Your Business from Home

Whether you’re running a home-based business by choice or the COVID-19 pandemic has made working from home mandatory, you may find it’s more challenging than you anticipated. To optimize productivity and operate professionally, you have to establish good work habits and treat your at-home office as seriously as one at a commercial location.

A 5-Point Checklist for Home-based Office Success

✔ Establish a dedicated working space.

Consider transforming a spare room into a space solely used for business purposes. If that’s not possible, a portion of a quiet room that doesn’t get heavy family foot traffic can work well. Either way, equip your home workspace with all of the office equipment and supplies you’ll need to manage your business activities.

✔ Set boundaries for family and friends.

Some people in your family and social circles may not understand (or respect) that you need dedicated time and space to concentrate on your business. You may find that relatives and friends think that because you’re home, you can run errands, meet up for coffee, or chat on the phone whenever they want your undivided attention.

 

Set expectations with your loved ones about:

 

  • Your work hours (i.e., when you will not be available for social activities)
  • The estimated timeline for when you’ll respond to non-emergent requests
  • How to reach you in the event of an emergency or urgent need
  • What qualifies as an emergency or urgent need

If you have small children or other family members who need your care, you may have to go easier on your boundaries. However, having some house rules—even if they’re somewhat lax— will help you maintain focus.

✔ Manage your time.

Generally, working from home offers greater freedom to set your own schedule than working in a traditional office environment. That freedom, however, can create a lapse in productivity if you don’t manage your time well. Consider scheduling dedicated blocks of time on your calendar for specific business tasks. Doing so will help you stay on track with deadlines and help you navigate setting the boundaries we discussed in the point above.

✔ Get proper licensing and insurance for your home business.

States, counties, and local municipalities may have license or permit requirements for operating a business from home. It’s critical to check with the government agencies that preside over your jurisdiction to learn if you must obtain any to run your company legally.  Also, especially if customers will come to your home to pick up products or attend meetings, consider talking with an insurance agent about policies to protect you in the event of accidents or property damage. Many homeowners insurance policies have exclusions for business property and activities. Ask about your options, for example, adding business coverage to your homeowners insurance policy, general liability insurance, or a business owner’s policy. The business activities you perform, your industry, and your location will affect your licensing obligations and the insurance type that will best protect you.

✔ Keep excellent accounting records.

Numbers aren’t every entrepreneur’s cup of tea, but it’s essential to keep careful bookkeeping records. Maintain separation between your business and personal accounts and financial transactions so that it’s clear how much money your business is making and spending. This will help ensure that tax preparation activities go smoothly and that you don’t miss out on using any qualifying home office expenses as business tax deductions.

Start and Grow Your In-Home Business With SCORE’s Help

No matter what challenges you face in starting and running your home-based business, SCORE is here to assist you. Our mentoring services are free—ALWAYS—and will give you expert guidance based on years of experience advising small business owners. Also, explore the many other ways we help entrepreneurs start, grow, and succeed. Contact us today to talk with a mentor!

image of woman pointing at sign about national volunteer month and business mentoring

The Good Karma of Being a Business Mentor

April is National Volunteer Month, a time to recognize the people who give their time and talents to benefit others. At SCORE, our volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization as they enable us to fulfill our mission of helping entrepreneurs start and grow their small businesses.

 

SCORE Maine’s volunteer business mentors have provided guidance and resources to more than 3,768  entrepreneurs in 2019. In 2019, SCORE Maine volunteers helped create 356 businesses and 923 jobs. Our clients aren’t the only people who reap the rewards from mentoring, though. Our volunteers also gain some valuable advantages through doing their good work.

 

If you have thought about volunteering as a business mentor but haven’t quite decided whether you want to get involved, consider the following ways mentoring enriches volunteers personally and professionally.

 

Instills a sense of personal accomplishment.

Being a mentor brings a sense of achievement as you help aspiring entrepreneurs and existing small business owners overcome uncertainty and obstacles. Whether you’re assisting someone to navigate the uncharted territory of launching a startup or offering guidance to help an established company market itself more effectively, you gain the satisfaction of knowing you’re making a positive difference in the lives of people within your community who are, in turn, improving the local economy.

Provides camaraderie.

As a SCORE mentor, you are part of a dedicated and accomplished team of more than 130 Maine volunteers who share your passion for seeing small businesses succeed. Mentors draw from each others’ strengths and proficiencies as they help entrepreneurs tackle their challenges. SCORE has 300+ chapters across the United States where mentors meet face to face or virtually, to collaborate, learn from each other and build lasting friendships.

Strengthens communications skills.

Mentoring can help you fine-tune your ability to communicate clearly with others. Through in-person mentoring sessions with clients, leading workshops, conducting roundtable groups or getting involved in other initiatives, you can become stronger and more confident when speaking and writing.

Enhances leadership skills.

As a business mentor, you have many opportunities for honing your ability to lead others. Not only can you develop your leadership skills by providing guidance and feedback to clients, but you can also participate in other roles (such as heading a committee) that allow you to engage and motivate other volunteers.

Expands connections within your community.

Mentoring opens the door to meeting a wide variety of individuals and organizations. From community leaders to chambers of commerce to economic development groups, you’ll diversify and expand your personal and professional network, which could lead to new opportunities.

Offers continued learning opportunities to enhance your own business acumen.

As you guide business owners, you also expand your own expertise. Every SCORE client brings unique questions and situations to the table. While mentoring, you will learn and continually stretch the boundaries of your entrepreneurial know-how through your work with clients and the educational resources available through SCORESBA and other organizations. SCORE’s webinarslocal workshops and online business resources are marvelous professional development tools.

Provides a point of distinction on your professional resume.

If you aspire to advance in your career, serving as a SCORE business mentor will give you a credible and highly regarded community service talking point for your resume. Mentoring demonstrates an ability to lead, solve problems and collaborate productively with others—all traits employers value in prospective job candidates.

 

As you can see, mentoring generates some good karma. Not only is it a win for the entrepreneurs SCORE serves, but also for the volunteers who enhance their own knowledge, skills and connections through the experience.

Thinking about volunteering?

National Volunteer Month is a perfect time to find the best volunteer position for you. SCORE invites you to join our community of dedicated business mentors so you can enjoy the benefits that come from volunteering while helping small businesses succeed. Become a SCORE volunteer today.

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Marketing Tips for the COVID-19 Crisis

COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for small businesses everywhere. As business owners are concerned about the health of their families at home and employees at work, many also face impending financial struggles. Sales are taking a hit as brick-and-mortar companies are forced to cease or limit operations and customers become more judicious about spending money. Fortunately, there are some relief efforts underway (which you can learn about through SCORE’s Coronavirus Small Business Resource Hub to help struggling entrepreneurs. Also, there are some marketing strategies you can use to help keep your business on customers’ radar during the coronavirus pandemic.

7 Marketing Tips to Help Small Businesses Weather the COVID-19 Storm

1. Show Compassion and Humanity

Resist the urge to go full-on into “sales” mode. The coronavirus crisis is affecting people everywhere in a very personal way. If you ignore the situation at hand, your brand will appear tone-deaf and unconcerned. Rather than pushing your products and services, consider expressing your heartfelt concern and camaraderie. Then, tactfully sharing how you can still serve your customers’ needs during this time (or after any restrictions on your business have passed).

2. Don’t Let Your Business’s Social Media Presence Slip

While at home, waiting to go back to work after “stay at home” orders are lifted, people will be spending more time than ever on social media. Seize the opportunity this gives you to stay connected and raise awareness of your brand. As we mentioned above, show compassion and humanity in your status updates. Project how you relate to what your followers are going through, share positivity, and focus on how you can serve them to make their lives easier during these difficult times. If you have employees working from home, consider involving them in your posts. That will help to demonstrate the human element of your business and reinforce that your team is doing their part to flatten the curve through social distancing.

3. Freshen Up Your Website

As you experience some downtime, consider cleaning up and updating your website content. Especially pay attention to details that have changed as a result of the coronavirus.

  • Location closures
  • Hours of operation
  • Contact numbers
  • Ordering information
  • Response times

4. Proactively Communicate with Your Customers

Whether it’s by email, phone, social media messaging, or otherwise, reach out to customers to keep them informed about how COVID-19 is affecting your operations. Of course, also make sure you express your hope that they are staying safe and healthy. In all that you do during this time, showing your care and compassion will be critical.

5. Offer Your Services Virtually

If it’s a good fit for your type of business, consider going digital in how you deliver services to your customers. For example, personal trainers, physical therapists, and others are holding client sessions through apps like Zoom, Skype, Facetime, and Google Hangouts. First, make sure there are no legal restrictions that would prevent you from doing so legitimately.

6. Look for Ways to Do More for Less

Some social media and marketing platforms are offering programs to help business owners that are feeling the financial crunch of COVID-19. For example, Facebook has launched its Facebook Small Business Grants Program, which provides cash grants and ad credits to eligible small businesses. Check with the platforms you use to see if they will offer discounts or deals that can help you keep your marketing efforts going at a lower cost.

7. Reach Out to a SCORE Mentor for Ideas

Realize you don’t have to go it alone during this challenging time! A SCORE mentor can help you through it by offering fresh ideas, providing valuable feedback, and aligning you with resources. Contact us today to talk with a mentor about what you can do to survive and succeed!

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6 Ways to Leverage Customer Testimonials

Word of mouth remains a powerful force for attracting new customers. Recent studies show that 72 percent of consumers trust a business more if it has positive testimonials and reviews. Customer testimonials can reinforce your value, validate your expertise, and build trust. However, they can’t do those things unless you find ways to use your customers’ glowing remarks to your advantage.

In this post, we’ll share ideas for encouraging customers to share their positive experiences. We’ll also offer suggestions for how to leverage customer testimonials to attract more business.

Tips for Encouraging Testimonials from Your Customers

While many people are quick to leave negative feedback for businesses, they may need some nudging to take the time and effort to write about their positive experiences. A few ways to get more testimonials include:

  • Ask them for feedback at the point of sale by having survey or comment cards available.
  • Send an email survey after customers visit your location or make a purchase.
  • Tell them which social media platforms you’re on, and invite them to share their thoughts in a post and tag your page or account.
  • Post a sign with the review websites you participate in (for example, Yelp, Google My Business, Citysearch, TripAdvisor, etc.). Just be careful with how you word your signage. Some review sites—Yelp, for example—prohibit asking customers to leave reviews. Yelp does, however, allow the use of some of its brand assets so that businesses can let customers know they can be found there. Also, never pay or offer other incentives to customers for writing positive reviews.

6 Suggestions for Leveraging Customer Testimonials

Before using all or parts of customer testimonials for your marketing purposes, get permission from the people who wrote them. This applies to the online reviews that customers post publicly, as well. You might consider creating a testimonial release form to protect your business legally and ensure customers know how you will use their testimonials and where they may appear.

Here are some tips when using testimonials to highlight what’s terrific about your business:

  1. Feature the most compelling part(s) of testimonials—especially those that are long-winded. If you pull out various snippets from different places in a testimonial and piece them together, get approval from the customer before using your amended version.
  2. Fix spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. As long as you’re not changing the meaning of their testimonials, customers will likely welcome proofreading edits. Again, share any changes that you’ve made to get approval before publishing testimonials.
  3. Publish testimonials on the pages of your website that they are relevant to. For example, say someone raved about a bike shop’s repair services in their testimonial. By prominently placing that testimonial on its Repair Services page, the bike shop will give site visitors interested in repair services confirmation of its competence.
  4. Include one or two compelling quotes from customer testimonials in your email signature. Every time you send an email to prospects, they will get a glimpse of how happy your customers are with your business.
  5. Share them on social media. Weaving testimonials into your social media content will serve to humanize your brand and reinforce your value to customers. Consider strengthening the human connection to your brand by asking customers if they will provide or allow you to take a photo to accompany their testimonial.
  6. Record them on video. Consider asking a few customers if they’d be willing to share their testimonials in a video message. These could take the form of amateur snippets recorded with a smartphone and used in social media posts. Or, they could be professionally captured by a videographer and woven into an impactful story that you can feature on your website’s home page, on YouTube, or in TV spots.

The Most Important Testimonial Tip Of All

Your business must earn positive testimonials. Customers will only give them if you deliver excellence, so make sure you provide the best customer experience possible. If you need guidance on what your business can do to achieve a higher level of customer satisfaction, connect with SCORE.  Visit the SCORE website to get a mentor or sign up for workshops.

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6 Goal-Setting Tips

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

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

Six Tips to Help Small Business Owners Set Goals that Matter

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

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

  1. Make sure your goals are specific and measurable.

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

  1. Make sure your goals are attainable.

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

  1. Break things down.

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

  1. Create a strategy for achieving your goals.

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

  1. Set time aside for assessing your situation.

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

SCORE Can Help You Reach Your Goals

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