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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!

image of customer giving five star review

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.

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Marketing Trends and Tips for 2020

2020 is fast approaching! That means it’s time to tune into marketing strategies and tactics that can boost your business in the coming year. Of course, there’s a wealth of information online, but only limited time to research it all.

To help you stay on top of the latest best practices and trends, we’ve curated a list of helpful marketing articles below.

Marketing Wisdom to Help Your Small Business Succeed in the New Year

Marketing (all-encompassing)

Marketing Trends for 2020: Here’s What Will Happen That Nobody is Talking About –  Neil Patel, co-founder of NP Digital, recently published this insightful article. In the article, he describes what he sees coming down the pike in 2020.

4 Key Digital Marketing Trends – Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBiz Media and blog contributor at SCORE.org, touches on four evolving areas of digital marketing. You may want to consider implementing them to improve your chances of getting noticed online.

Blogging

What Can You Blog About When All the Good Ideas Are Already Taken? – If you have a business blog, you know the struggle of consistently creating content. In this article, ProBlogger’s Darren Rowse shares six tips to help you never run out of fresh ideas.

Guest Blogging: A Step-by-Step Guide – Guest blogging on reputable industry websites can expand awareness of your business to more of your target audience. This article by Ann Gynn, editor of the Content Marketing Institute Blog, walks you through the process.

Content Marketing

8 Content Trends for 2020 – This article shares the Convince & Convert Consulting team’s insight about what businesses should make their top priorities in the New Year.

5 Big Content Trends for 2020 – Search Engine Journal also offers valuable food for thought about what businesses need to consider when creating content in 2020.

Email Marketing

9 Email Marketing Best Practices for 2020 – Social Media Today provides a helpful list of what to do to make your email marketing efforts pay off.

Three Email Trends Retailers Should Keep in Mind for 2020 – eMarketer highlights three top-of-mind trends that will shape email marketing best practices in the year to come.

Influencer Marketing

Why the Future of Influencer Marketing Will Be Organic Influencers – Influencer marketing is evolving. In this article, Social Media Today explains more about the power shift from traditional influencers to organic influencers.

What Will Influencer Marketing Look Like in 2020? – HubSpot’s Kristen Baker shares interesting stats about influencer marketing. Also, she offers tips for working with different types of influencers.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

11 Deadly SEO Mistakes to Avoid in 2020 – Often, avoiding worst practices is the ideal way to make sure you are doing the right things. This Search Engine Watch article tells you what NOT to do to improve your visibility in Google searches.

The Definitive Guide to SEO in 2020 – Backlinko has developed a comprehensive guide packed with SEO trends and tips for improving your search rankings.

Social Media

6 Key Social Media Trends to Watch in 2020 – What will make your social media presence stand out in 2020? In this post, Lucy Rendler-Kaplan discusses the trends shaping what businesses will need to do in the New Year.

Social Media Trends for 2020 and Beyond – This Influencer Marketing Hub article shares eight social trends you should expect and prepare for.

Next Steps for a Merry and Bright Future for Your Business

Digging into the resources we’ve shared above is a great first step toward making 2020 your most successful year yet. Next, take action with the help of SCORE! Check out our upcoming workshops to learn more. Or, visit our site to request a SCORE mentor. Our mentors have the knowledge and experience to guide you in all aspects of starting and running your small business.

man in suit - half soldier uniform and half business suit

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.

woman and man in office

You. Twitter. Get Noticed!

Twitter can be a powerful marketing tool, but many  entrepreneurs find it challenging to build
a following and stay top of mind there.

Five Twitter Tips to Help You Get Noticed

 

1. Increase your tweeting frequency.
Twitter has a faster, more dynamic pace than Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. To get on
people’s radar on Twitter, you need to post more often than on other networks. How often,
you ask? After analyzing the results of 14 different studies, CoSchedule (a social media posting
platform) says 15 tweets daily (spread out throughout the day/night) is ideal. That may sound
overwhelming but see tip five below for a way to make it manageable.

 

2. Tweet what matters to your target market.
Think before you tweet. What is your audience interested in? What are they hungry to learn?
Mix things up by tweeting not only your own content but also content created by other reliable
resources. Appeal to users with different preferences by posting tweets with various types of
content (e.g., blog articles, infographics, videos, etc.) Also, consider what people may not want
to see; political commentary and other hot-button content can drive away followers.

 

3. Use hashtags.
Including hashtags in your tweets will help people find you and increase engagement. Go easy,
though. One or two will do the trick. More than that can be a turn-off and cause followers to
tune out.

 

4. Follow companies and people you want to interact with.
Make a list of clients, prospects, vendors, business partners, influencers, and others with whom
you would like to establish or maintain a relationship on social media. People and brands that
are active on Twitter will often reciprocate and become your follower after you follow them.
Besides following other accounts, take a few minutes each day to interact with their tweets
(either retweeting, liking, or replying to them). The more you engage with others on Twitter,
the more engagement you will get in return.

 

5. Use a social media management tool.
Tools like Buffer, Hootsuite, and SocialOomph offer free versions and can save you a lot of time.
They allow you to schedule tweets and posts across multiple social networks, enabling you to
get back to business while maintaining an active social media presence. Hootsuite’s dashboard
functionality also makes it convenient to keep track of key followers’ activity on Twitter. Free
accounts on these platforms have limitations, and other plans are available (for a fee) that offer
expanded capabilities. Other social media platforms with subscription plans that you may want
to look at include SproutSocial and CoSchedule.

 

Ready to give it your best shot? 
As with any form of networking, building awareness and trust on Twitter requires time and
repeated exposure. The above tips will help you gain traction, but you’ll still need some
patience. For more advice on marketing your business online (and offline), contact SCORE to
talk 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.