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|// by Rieva Lesonsky / Sep. 1, 2015 0 comments|
Are you braver than the average American? According to a new survey by insurance company Hiscox, the average small business owner is 17 percent more courageous than the general population. Even the fallout from the Great Recession hasn’t dampened entrepreneurs’ enthusiasm: Twice as many small business owners as non-business owners feel “very confident” about the strength of the economy in the next six months (21 percent vs. 10 percent).
Entrepreneurs polled by The American Courage Index (ACI) are demonstrating their courage and confidence with high hopes for the rest of 2015. Fifteen percent expect so much growth in the last quarter of the year they’re planning to borrow money to expand their businesses, and 14 percent plan to hire more employees in the coming quarter.
How are small business owners expanding their companies? Fourteen percent of respondents introduced a new product line in the past year, and 15 percent expect their companies to make a move into a new market in the coming year. Even more courageous, 10 percent plan to expand into international markets.
Some specific demographics are feeling more courageous than others. For example, Millennials (ages 18-34) are more likely to be taking action to grow their businesses. Almost one in three Millennials report having purchased or launched another business in the past year, compared to 13 percent of those over 55. In addition, entrepreneurs in the Western US showed the highest business-related courage and the greatest optimism about the economy—more than twice as much as entrepreneurs in the New England region.
However, when it comes to business, courage doesn’t mean foolhardiness. The small business owners surveyed turned out to be financially savvy and focused on smart growth rather than taking unnecessary risks to grow their companies. For instance, in the next quarter, more than one-third of respondents plan to take steps to pay down debt. About one-fourth plan to increase savings, while 20 percent say they will cut overall spending.
As fall approaches, are you feeling courageous and confident? I sure am. The economy is recovering, Americans are spending, and now is the time to take action to move your business forward. Create a plan for growing your business wisely—but don’t let fear hold you back from taking calculated risks and seizing opportunities.
Hiscox has developed a self-assessment tool you can use to gauge your entrepreneurial courage. Visit EncourageCourage.com to find out your courage score. If you need some help getting your courage up, visit www.score.org to get matched with a mentor today. SCORE mentors can help you make smart decisions, plan for growth and—most of all—shore up your confidence by acting as a sounding board for your thoughts and ideas.
|// by Jeanne Rossomme / Aug. 31, 2015 0 comments|
Below is an excerpt from a recent interview I had with Terri Holley, owner of two successful businesses, the popular blog, Revolution Gray http://goinggrayblog.com/ and digital marketing firm Holley Creative www.holleycreative.com/. Terri shares her process and a great tool list for growing a business from scratch.
So Terri, I know that you have seen amazing success with your blog Revolution Gray. Could you talk a bit about how you got the idea for your business?
In 2007, I wrote a blog post about a Time magazine article that discussed women going gray. I noticed that days later my handful of readers had turned into hundreds. I was amazed that people were finding my little blog by searching for key terms like "going gray", "how go gray" and "transitioning to gray." As an experiment, I started a separate blog http://goinggrayblog.com/ focusing on this single topic. As it turns out I came across a HUGE need I had no idea existed.
How did you grow your readership?
Honestly I have just continued to really tune in to my audience. If they have a question on shampoo or how to transition to gray, I write in response. I have just listened to this community, followed their lead and that has been successful over anything else.
I have also fostered two-way communication via very active communities on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter. The unique theme also picked up numerous press mentions and has been featured in such publications as USA Today, Daily Finance, Huffington Post, and AARP’s Life after 50.
The website now boasts a loyal and engaged readership from visitors all over the world (over 110 countries to be exact) with over 45,000 page views per month. I think the success was due to focusing on a real need in a niche market.
What tools have been useful in helping you turn an article into a business?
To get a list of Terri’s favorite (and often free) internet marketing tools, click here: https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/holleycreative/102-tools-holley-creative.pdf
|// by Bridget Weston Pollack / Aug. 28, 2015 0 comments|
B2C businesses, you’re on the top of your content marketing game. In our latest content marketing infographic, we’re looking at best practices for consumer-serving businesses.
While 86 percent of business-to-business marketers use content marketing, business-to-consumer firms come in at 77 percent for content marketing use. But B2C marketers take advantage of a wider range of content types, including e-newsletters, articles, illustrations and photos, videos, and even in-person events. Blogs, of course, rate high on the list -- 67 percent of B2C businesses maintain a blog.
Why is content marketing so important to build business? 70 percent of customers prefer to get information about a company from content rather than through advertising. Businesses are responding: 48 percent of B2C firms publish content daily, or several times per week. Customers want a steady stream of unique information about a business’s offerings -- not just the same ad design over and over.
The ROI on content marketing is all about clicks. 65 percent of B2C content marketers want to convert visitors on their website, and clicks from shared content are five times more likely to result in a purchase.
One major aid in content marketing: using a tag management service to streamline the analytics, affiliate, conversion, and other tracking codes on pieces of content like blog posts or videos. A tag management service can provide more agile tracking for web content, and cut down the time you need to spend on your site performing tedious tasks. 47 percent of content marketers reported better campaign measurement and 33 percent reported better campaign ROI as the primary benefits of using a tag management service.
Is it time to reevaluate your content marketing strategy? If you’re not measuring the return on your various marketing channels, sit down with a SCORE mentor to discuss ways to maximize your marketing efforts. Download this month’s infographic for more details.
|// by Michael Katz / Aug. 27, 2015 0 comments|
I could be wrong, but it seems to me that if you’re selling a professional service, you’re going to be most convincing when you “walk the talk,” modeling the behavior you claim to teach.
Which is why you’ll be happy to learn that after reviewing some of my past posts, I found that I pretty much follow my own advice.
Pretty much. Because I realized that there is one particular area in which I knowingly and willfully ignore my own suggestions: E-Newsletter Subject Lines.
As I’ll explain in a minute, when it comes to the subject line – the short phrase that is visible in the recipient’s in-box – there’s a best way to do these.
But I don’t follow this best way. Not because I don’t want the maximum number of people to open my newsletter, but because I can’t seem to stop myself from sacrificing effectiveness for the sake of coming up with a catchy title.
So I end up with things like “Singing in the Rain,” or “What a Difference a Difference Makes,” or “Hairy Party to You.” Clever? Maybe. But cryptic and lacking any real indication of what’s to be found within.
As a practical matter, that’s a problem. Our newsletter subscribers get lots and lots of e-mail; they’re constantly deciding what to open, what to save for (maybe) later and what to delete.
So when your E-Newsletter arrives in someone’s in-box, not only do you want them to recognize that it’s from you, you want them to put it in the “open now” category.
A good subject line – like a good headline on the front page of a newspaper or the outside of a magazine – entices people to read further.
Consider the following four, sample subject lines:
I think you’ll agree that the second is more compelling than the first, the third more than the second, and the fourth most of all (still with me?).
Three things that make it so (and that I recommend you use in crafting your own subject lines):
1. Specificity. The first example doesn’t tell me anything other than who it’s from. Using this approach, the subject line of this issue, the next issue and every issue until the end of time will be exactly the same. Kind of like Stephen King calling his next book, My Next Book. Nothing here that makes you want to go further.
2. Numbers. I don’t really know why this is, but apparently it’s been well tested that numbers in headlines – odd numbers in particular – are very effective in drawing people in.
3. Negatives. If I say “Here are some things you should do regarding X,” you might pay attention. But if I say instead, “Here are some things you should never do regarding X,” you’re even more likely to listen – you want to make sure you’re not already doing any of those things.
Here’s the bottom line. When it comes to creating an effective newsletter, I put subject lines somewhere in the middle of the list: not the most important thing, but certainly worth paying attention to. And whether you decide to follow in my playful footsteps or instead do something more deliberately strategic, it’s worth giving some thought to how you show up in your reader’s in-box.
|// by Mary Juetten / Aug. 26, 2015 0 comments|
In my previous blog, I wrote about the importance of intellectual property (IP) and the ways in which small businesses can go about protecting their own. But often many businesses fail to recognize the importance of their intangible assets, instead overlooking them in favor of more immediate concerns. But failing to recognize the value in intellectual property can lead to mistakes that put businesses at risk. Here are some of the most common causes of IP mistakes and how to avoid them.
Not doing the necessary research before starting a business
Many entrepreneurs don’t think to do research on their business idea before they set out to build the company. Others feel as though research is a waste of time and resources. Some even feel that doing research into existing intellectual property could hurt their long-term prospects if a similar product already exists, as though ignorance is a shield from market forces or an IP lawsuit.
The truth is that proper research is critical to the success of your business. You need to make sure that you are not infringing upon anyone else’s IP and that you understand what ideas belong to you. A clearer understanding of what you own and are able to protect will give you a clearer understanding of your company’s value. If you feel uncomfortable doing a thorough search yourself, you can pay to have an expert do one for you; while it’ll cost more, it is a relatively minor investment in knowing your business is on solid footing.
Not understanding how to protect intellectual property
Where entrepreneurs run into trouble is failing to understand the different types of intellectual property and the protections available for each. By not knowing what type of intellectual property they have, businesses risk making a costly mistake by choosing the wrong type of protection for their work and leaving it vulnerable to theft.
One common mistake is thinking that a patent is a catch-all protection for intellectual property. But the patent is just one tool in protecting your intangible assets. When evaluating your work, you need to know whether it falls under the protection of a copyright, trademark, patent, or trade secret, or even trade dress. Again, this is an area where it is a good idea to rely on the expertise of a professional. Even if you know what type of protection you need, having someone who knows the process and will avoid the mistakes of a “DIY” filing can be worth the investment.
Not creating an IP strategy
In line with overlooking key intangible assets at the outset, many startups fail to create an IP strategy. And many that do fail to look beyond the outset of the company, thinking that IP is only an early-stage concern. The truth is that your company is always creating, and with that comes new IP. And without a strategy in place, you could be failing to capture all of the value your company continues to create.
While you might not have the resources to hire someone as a full-time IP specialist, you can avail yourself of the services of a law or consulting firm that specializes in IP to help manage your company’s needs. Having either an IP specialist or outside firm as an advisor on IP matters will help you avoid costly mistakes as well as identify all of your innovation. Knowing what you have and the importance of protecting it is a good start towards growing your business and ensuring the future of your company.
|// by Rieva Lesonsky / Aug. 25, 2015 0 comments|
By now you’ve probably read about the “Target troll” who created a fake Target Customer Service account on Facebook, complete with the company’s bulls-eye logo. Inspired by angry customers complaining about the company’s plan to remove “Boy’s” and “Girl’s” labels in its toy section in favor of gender-neutral labeling, Mike Melgaard took to social media to make fun of them with snarky responses.
For 16 hours, Melgaard replied to some 50 posts before the fake account was shut down, fanning the flames by claiming that Target also plans to eliminate gender labels on its clothing departments and even institute unisex bathrooms.
While the Internet is abuzz with the humor of it all, for a small business (or any business) who finds their social media persona hijacked by an outsider, the story is no laughing matter. Sure, Target is big enough to weather any negativity the incident may engender (no pun intended), but what about a small business with a smaller customer base?
The Target troll incident points out the importance of vigilance when it comes to your social media accounts. Here are some steps you can take to ensure something like this doesn’t happen to your business.
Limit access. Be cautious about who you allow to post on your social media accounts. Only trusted employees should have this privilege. If anyone leaves the company, make sure their social media username and login are closed down.
Create and use strong passwords. Don’t share the same username and password for everyone in your business who posts on social media. Require each person to create their own (or generate one for them) and make them complex with symbols, numbers and capitalization. Change passwords once a quarter.
Customize privacy settings. Don’t just go with the default options. Use the maximum possible privacy settings in each social media account to protect your business.
Log out. Make sure employees log in and out as they use social media. Staying constantly logged in is just asking for trouble. Password management tools can make this easier by enabling employees to log in quickly while still maintaining security via complex passwords.
Pay attention. Lots of small business owners get so busy scheduling and posting social content they forget to keep an eye on what users are saying in return. It’s vital to monitor the status of your social media accounts at all times. The good news is, this is actually an area where a small company may have an edge over a big one. With fewer accounts and interactions happening, it should be easier to see when something unusual pops up. Using social media tools such as Hootsuite, SproutSocial or Mention, which show you all your social media accounts in one place and provide real-time alerts, will help you stay on top of things.
Make it easy for customers to contact you. Posting several ways to contact your business on your website—email, chat, phone, etc.—means customers can contact you directly if anything seems wrong on your social media page.
Respond quickly. If you see something odd on one of your company’s social media accounts, take charge to edit, remove or reply to the post or tweet—whichever is most appropriate.
If the worst does happen and your social media accounts get hacked, take steps to control the damage by letting customers know what is going on and how you’re handling the situation.
Your SCORE mentor can help you make sure you’re using social media wisely. Visit www.score.org today to get matched with a mentor.
|// by Rochelle Robinson / Aug. 24, 2015 0 comments|
Do you know what current and potential customers will find when they do an online search for your business name? As much as the Internet can help build your small business, it can also cause irrevocable harm if you’re not actively taking the steps to protect your online reputation.
Secure Your Online Brand
Part of establishing your brand requires securing your online entities. Securing your business name on multiple platforms can prevent brand confusion.
If you’ve been in business a decent amount of time, your business is probably listed in an online directory waiting for you to claim it. Popular search engines offer business directory listings that allow you to claim your business information, ensuring it appears on maps and search engine result pages. Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, YellowPages, and TripAdvisor are a few popular sites that allow you to claim and edit your online business profile.
Monitor Your Online Brand
Monitoring your brand is an essential part of protecting your reputation. You should always know what people are saying about your business online. You can hire a company to manage your online reputation or you can do it yourself.
Search Engine Results
Monitoring the online reputation of your small business should become a routine task that you perform on a regular basis to provide quick damage control and address customer concerns. Set up Google Alerts to receive e-mails each time your business name is mentioned online. Perform an online search for your business name on a routine basis to monitor the results. Use tools like Topsy, Trackur, and Social Mention to monitor references to your business.
Social Media Tracking
Be Ready for Damage Control
Establish a plan to address comments or answer customer questions and concerns.
Negative Comments or Reviews
Positive Comments or Reviews
Show appreciation for people who leave a positive review or comment. Acknowledge any favorable mentions by responding and thanking the user for taking the time to share an experience. Encourage more customers to leave positive comments on your online profiles to show the value of your business.
Monitoring your online reputation is critical to the success of your business. Customers search the Internet with regularity and a review -- negative or positive -- can impact your business. Creating a strong and consistent online presence and regularly monitoring it can help ensure accurate online mentions, counteract negative comments, and encourage positive reviews.
|// by Shashi Bellamkonda / Aug. 21, 2015 0 comments|
Google co-founder Larry Page recently announced a new parent company for many of its projects, named Alphabet. Google’s core online technology business, which includes tools like Gmail, Google Search, Android, and Maps will remain the focus of the Google brand, while its scientific research projects, X Labs (where Google Glass, drone project Wing, and Google’s driverless cars were developed) and investment projects like Google Ventures will be housed under Alphabet’s umbrella. Page will serve as CEO of Alphabet.
Although Google has been around for 17 years and is a household name, the announcement was still surprising. As the commotion settles, there are some lessons from Alphabet’s introduction that can be applied to small businesses.
1. Aspire to become the advisor: Your growth may develop in the same line of business as your original focus, or you may decide to work on other big ideas — “moonshots,” as Google calls its forays into medical research, drones, and more. You cannot follow through on every idea if your business is fully dependent on you. You may need to hire someone to handle day-to-day operations, while you step aside to work on the company’s big-picture innovation efforts.
2. Never name the business after you: I learned this early on from a friend of mine, Alan Glazier, who decided to call his business Shady Grove Eye and Vision instead of Glazier Eye Clinic. His business has grown to include several doctors, and he works as the CEO, complete with his own version of “moonshot” projects. Imagine a search engine called PageBrin after Google’s founders? We’d use it, but who wants to think about the company’s founders every time they perform an online search?
3. Succession takes time: Google kept its plans under wraps for four years. CEO Larry Page spent the time to slowly move away from operations to groom his successor, Sundar Pichai. It’s worth implementing changes over a longer period of time if your business will be more stable in the long run.
4. Different lines of business need different types of focus: The press has compared the Google restructuring to that of Berkshire Hathaway, in which Warren Buffet invested in a variety of completely different businesses. In that case, the companies did not merge together, but instead run independently with their own CEOs. If you decide to diversify your business goals, you may be better off starting a new line of business as a separate company.
Are you thinking about restructuring your business? SCORE mentors can help you build, expand, and enhance your business. Making plans for your business now can ensure success as you grow.
|// by Gregg Schwartz / Aug. 20, 2015 0 comments|
Lots of small business owners like to give themselves the job title of “CEO” or “President,” but the truth is, as a small business owner, your first job title at your company needs to be “sales person.” If you don’t feel comfortable doing sales, it’s hard to really get your business off the ground. Making sales is the most important thing your company does, and it’s crucial for entrepreneurs and founders to take an active role in the sales process. Even if you don’t have prior sales experience, it’s not too late to learn.
Here are a few key tips for small business owners and startup founders for how to be better “sales people” for your company:
Create a formal sales process
Put a rigorous, methodical, repeatable process in place for how to work with clients at every stage of the buying process – from the first phone call to the first conversation to the final deal closing. Map out your sales process in a way that’s relevant to what you sell. What are the steps involved? And at each step of the sales process, what is the “next step” that you need to ask your buyer to agree to?
Here is a simplified example of what your sales process might look like:
1. Initial contact with prospect (inbound, where the prospect contacts you – email, phone inquiry, PPC response; or outbound, where you contact the prospect – cold call, trade show, referral) – ask the prospect to agree to set up an initial sales presentation or product demo.
2. Initial presentation/product demo (online or in person) – demo the product, then ask to meet with other stakeholders/decision-makers at the prospect’s company.
3. Stakeholder meeting – show your solution to other people within the company who help with the purchase decision – other departments, teams, etc. Ask the prospect to agree to an ROI demonstration.
4. ROI demonstration – create a document to show the prospect how much Return on Investment they can expect from buying your solution. Ask for a final sales presentation.
5. Final sales presentation: Sum up the ROI information, answer questions, discuss implementation timeline, and ask to close the sale.
Not every sale will go through every step – some customers are more immediately ready to buy than others, while other customers need time and nurturing to build a relationship before they’re ready to buy – but it’s good to have a road map for what to expect so you can work through the steps with your clients. Every individual sale can be unpredictable – some deals might fall through with no real reason given; some opportunities will materialize when you least expect it. But by creating a formal sales process, you are helping to impose some consistency and structure on the overall work of building relationships with new prospective customers. You’re helping to control more of what’s within your control -
Write an elevator pitch
Every sales person needs a concise “elevator pitch” that can articulate the key selling points of your product or company within the short timeframe of a single elevator ride. Unfortunately, many small business owners struggle with this – you might not have a clear enough idea of what your company’s key selling points really are. Too many small business owners want their businesses to be all things to all people, but you really need to focus and differentiate. What do you do best – better than any of your competitors? Can you clearly, concisely explain what your company does and why it’s important? Can you say all of it in 30 seconds or less in a way that makes people want to learn more? If not, chances are your customers are feeling confused by your sales pitch. You need a tight, focused value proposition. Spend time writing, editing, and rehearsing in front of the bathroom mirror if needed. Practice with a friend. Ruthlessly edit – make sure you’re clear in your own mind about why people should buy from you, and then it will become clearer in your customers’ minds as well.
Cultivate a sales mentality
The best sales people have a certain energy about them that is uniquely focused on building relationships and closing sales. They’re great at working with customers and solving problems and establishing trust. And this sales mentality permeates everything that they do – you can often tell that the best sales people work in sales before you even see their business card. Even if you consider yourself to be more of a “technology” person who understands the nuts and bolts of your solution, or more of an “executive” who sees the big picture of your company, or more of an “artisan” who relishes the details of creating new products, you need to put “sales person” at the top of your list of roles as a business owner.
Sales cannot be an afterthought. Sales needs to be at the center of everything that happens at your company. If you get more comfortable and proficient at selling your product, your business will grow much faster. Even when your business grows to the point that you start hiring full-time sales staff, it’s still a good idea to stay in touch with the daily work of selling – because that will keep you in touch with the fundamentals of what makes your company succeed.
|// by Mary Juetten / Aug. 19, 2015 0 comments|
If you have a small business, you might think that your assets are limited to what you have on hand or can see. But the reality is that intangible assets are tied up in your business that you haven’t considered. Even if your business is just getting started, the overwhelming majority of your company’s value comes from your intellectual property (IP). But despite their importance, most small businesses don’t do enough to protect their IP because they don’t know enough about it or in some cases, what IP even is. Here are a few basics to help you get started.
Copyright extends to words or images that have been created by you or your company. Copyright can prove especially important if you work in a creative field, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter for the average business. Chances are you have a company blog, or even marketing emails or print collateral that you use in your business. When considering the copy, pictures, or videos that were created by you, or that you own the rights to, remember to be vigilant against potential infringers taking those materials off your site for their own use without permission.
Your trademarks are the words, symbols, or designs that you use to identify your business and distinguish yourself from the competition. When looking to protect your trademarks, there are two ways you can go about it. If you have a mark that you’d like to trademark, you can use the TM symbol to claim an unregistered or common law trademark. Once you’ve federally registered your mark with the USPTO, you can begin using the ® symbol to indicate that it is a registered trademark. Having a registered trademark makes protecting it easier should you have to take legal action to do so.
A patent is the type of protection that is most often thought about as IP, as it is associated with inventions and innovative products. When you patent something, you are granted exclusive rights to that creation by the government for a period of time (usually 20 years.) An important distinction to note is that a patent isn’t the right to produce or sell an invention, but rather the right to exclude others from doing so. This right allows you to take legal action against companies that are infringing upon your patent. Also noteworthy is the fact that for an invention to be patentable, it has to be both new as well as non-obvious to someone of an average level of skill and ability in that field.
Trade secret protection
Trade secrets are the special processes and know-how that set your products and company apart from your competitors. A trade secret differs from other types of IP protection in that you do not register a trade secret. Quite the opposite, actually — in order to maintain a trade secret, it has to stay secret. That means keeping it under lock and key and restricting access to those who need to know. If you’re looking to take legal action against someone who has stolen your trade secret, you’ll need to prove that you took great care to protect it.
Being aware of your own intellectual property and what you can do to protect it will allow you to create even greater value for your company. It will also help you protect against those who would try to exploit your hard work for their own gain.