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// by Aliana Marino / Mar. 27, 2015 0 comments
HR Infographics

This month’s SCORE Infographic shows the impact of human resources on small business development for 2015.

Small Biz ChallengesOf the biggest challenges for small businesses, hiring new employees ranks second:

  • 45% report growing revenues as their major concern
  • 42% say hiring new employees
  • 37% say increasing profits

Social Media Helps Small Businesses Find Today's Talent:

  • 94% of recruiters use or plan to use social media for recruiting.
  • Employers who used social media to hire found a 49% improvement in candidate quality over candidates sourced only through traditional recruiting channels.

...And Small Business Employees Are Generally Happier Employees:

  • 81% of small business employees are satisfied with their job
  • Only 68% of ALL full-time U.S. workers are satisfied with their job.

Small Biz Challenges

Download this month’s SCORE infographic for more details on these statistics. If you need help developing your marketing strategy, contact a SCORE mentor. You can also get tips from our free online workshops.

 

Aliana Marino
Communications Manager
SCORE
Aliana is passionate about helping small businesses thrive and getting the word out about the great work SCORE mentors do across country. 
score.org | Facebook | @SCOREmentors | More from Aliana                   
// by Michelle Van Slyke / Mar. 26, 2015 0 comments
Start

Working full time doesn’t have to mean giving up on your entrepreneurial dreams. In fact, starting a business while working full time is a great way to test the waters of entrepreneurship and gradually grow your startup into a full-time business.

You may need to keep your day job while you prepare your new business venture for success, but with the right preparation your business ownership dreams can come true.

Growing up, my parents owned a franchise, so I got to see both the rewards and the difficult challenges of business ownership firsthand. Ultimately, working alongside my parents helped me see how planning and connecting with other business owners are essential success factors in running a small business.   

Recently, The UPS Store did a survey of small business owners and people dreaming of becoming business owners. The survey revealed 55 percent of current small business owners felt prepared when they were first starting their business. And more than 50 percent of current small business owners say they were actually better prepared to start their business than they thought they were. This shows there is a large window for improvement in the small business preparation area!

Preparation and planning are vital to starting your new business off on the right foot. This is especially important if you plan to work a full-time job while you get your business started. Many people work full-time in order to keep a steady paycheck coming until their new business venture is up and running. And working may help you network, build a potential client base, further develop business skills or even learn more about the business you want to open while you work in that same industry.

To help up-and-coming business owners, The UPS Store partnered with SCORE to offer a webinar and guide on “16 Steps to Starting a Business While Working Full-Time.” This guide can help you think through your preparation needs, your business plans, your goals and how to manage your brand.

Our survey shows that the top three areas small business owners would have liked to have been better prepared in are branding/marketing, management of finances and time management. These are all areas where expertise can be gained from SCORE, from your mentor, and from other free resources.

Beyond preparation, it’s also important to understand how critical experience is – yours and learning from others’ experiences.  Learning from experience is the reason you need mentors. Mentors have different viewpoints and experiences that can help push you in the right direction. They, too, may have been challenged with working full-time while they started their businesses and understand how to work through the fears small business owners face. They can share their mistakes and may save you from the same errors. According to our survey, 82 percent of respondents who had a mentor while starting their business found mentorship very influential in helping them through the process. Furthermore, approximately one-third of those who did not have a mentor while they started their business wish they would have had one.

SCORE can help you find a mentor. If you are just dipping your toe in the water and not ready to find a mentor yet, join an online community. Connecting with others is the easiest way to learn more and hone your skills. 

Small business owners often find it difficult to improve efficiency and productivity because you’re busy with the day-to-day tasks of running your business. You wear a lot of hats – oftentimes, you’re not just the restaurant owner, but you’re the cook, the server, the bookkeeper and even the cleaning crew. Mentors can help you think through options for partnering with outside resources to help make your day-to-day life easier.

Under mentors, you have the ability to learn from their life experiences, both in and out of the workplace. I have my mentors to thank for teaching me how to work smarter and accomplish more.

Michelle Van Slyke
VP Marketing and Small Business Solutions
The UPS Store
Michelle spent the first 15 years of her career at Ford Motor Company and more recently at Jacuzzi Group Worldwide and Raley's, a supermarket chain. She holds a bachelor’s degree from University of Southern California as well as a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame.
// by Cindy Bates / Mar. 25, 2015 0 comments
Tele-Worker

Do you still hit the road five days a week, retreat into a maze of cubicles and then watch the time tick by as you make your way home during the height of the evening rush hour? If so, you’re part of a shrinking majority. In recent years, there has been a steady rise in the number of people who commute only a few steps to their home offices instead of hitting the highways.

Although the term “telework” was coined by Jack Niles in 1972, the idea really began to take hold in 1996 when the National Telecommuting Initiative was implemented. Since 2005, tele-commuting has grown by nearly 80 percent, according to Global Workplace Analytics.

With the increasing popularity of working from home, many SMB owners and HR executives find that strong telework policies empower employees to be more productive. If you already have an effective policy in place, below are three trends to consider incorporating today to help your business thrive with employees in multiple locations, including home.

Smaller or nonexistent offices. Without the need to house every employee during every business hour, businesses are moving away from traditional office spaces. SMB owners can save thousands by renting smaller spaces, utilizing co-op offices or running their entire operation from home. Office décor is evolving as well as more people adopt to the world of telework. If you have a small space, consider incorporating farm-style tables that can accommodate a number of people instead of traditional desks. These tables are inexpensive and can serve multiple purposes – from work space, to meeting space, to lunch area.

Weekly meet-ups. In my fast-paced, high-tech business, remote work is very much supported. Still, I recognize the value in connecting with colleagues face to face. Weekly team meetings, whether at your office or a local coffee shop, can help employees form better connections and inspire better productivity. Think outside of the box during these meetings and use the time together to foster creativity through brainstorms and fun activities. Incorporate short teambuilding exercises and take photos that each team member can take back to their respective locations.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). Gartner calls BYOD the “most radical change in the economics and the culture of client computing in decades” and expects that, by 2017, half of all companies will have mandatory BYOD policies. The BYOD revolution will not only save your business money, it will save time on training and implementation. By encouraging employees to bring their own devices, you can take into account how employees want to work since they’ve most likely spent the time and effort to find technology that’s perfectly suited to their style. Your business provides access to the productivity software and employees can access the infrastructure as needed.

Incorporating these trends into your telework policy can allow you to do more, increase employee morale and attract new talent. For more information on how to make the most of a mobile workforce, click here.

Cindy Bates
Vice President
Microsoft SMB
Cindy Bates is the vice president of the U.S. Small- and Mid-Sized Business (SMB) Organization at Microsoft. Cindy and her team serve millions of SMBs in the U.S., helping them start, grow and thrive by utilizing today’s powerful and affordable technologies.For small business resources & information on the pending end of support for Windows Server 2003, click here.
// by Rieva Lesonsky / Mar. 24, 2015 0 comments
Cyber Attack

There’s lots of good news for small business owners these days. In a January survey by the National Small Business Association (NSBA), entrepreneurs reported more confidence than they have in years. But one thing could be hampering their confidence: Concerns about cybersecurity.

More than 90 percent of small business owners in the study cited cybersecurity as a concern. No wonder: half of them report they’ve already suffered a cyberattack, with 61 percent of those taking place in the last 12 months.

A service interruption was the number-one result of a cyberattack; the second most frequent result was the business’ website going down. In addition, 19 percent had their business credit cards or bank account hacked.

The cost to small business of cyberattacks is on the rise. The average cyberattack cost a small business $20,752 in 2014, a substantial increase from the average of $8,699 per attack in 2013.

What do you need to know to prevent a cyberattack?

First, know that small businesses are actually more likely than big ones to suffer an attack—and more likely to go out of business as a result. Taking data security seriously is the first step to success. Fortunately, once you accept the risk, it’s fairly easy to protect yourself. Follow these security basics:

  • Make sure your business computers and software are up-to-date, with the latest updates, security patches and bug fixes installed. You can set your software to update automatically for best results.
  • To protect your computer network, install a small business security suite and implement a strong encryption plan. Encryption scrambles data so it can’t be deciphered if intercepted by hackers.
  • Choose and use a secure backup system that allows you to save your business data off-site and restore it quickly and easily in the event of a cyberattack. For those of us without a big IT staff or loads of time to manage backup (that’s all of us, right?), cloud backup services offer a simple, affordable way to protect your business information from loss. Just make sure you know what you’re getting from a cloud backup service before you sign on—how is your information stored and protected? How fast can you get it back? How frequently can you back up?
  • Train your employees in cybersecurity. Unfortunately, people are still the weak link in cybersecurity. Make sure employees know not to click on links in emails, download anything from unfamiliar senders or send sensitive company or financial information on public wireless networks when they’re working out of the office. All it takes is one employee to let a hacker into your network, and your entire business could be at risk.
  • Do a security audit every month, looking for viruses, malware and anything suspicious such as unusual transactions.

When it comes to cybersecurity, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you’re not IT-savvy, it’s well worth hiring an IT consultant to get you set up properly.

Or consult SCORE mentors, who can show you what you need to do to protect your business and data. Visit www.score.org to get matched with a mentor today. 

Rieva Lesonsky
Columnist and CEO
GrowBiz Media
Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship. She was formerly Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine and has written several books about small business and entrepreneurship. 
// by Steve Strauss / Mar. 23, 2015 0 comments
Worker

Q: I work harder than anyone I know and yet I still seem to be stuck in the same place in my business as I was five years ago. I don’t know what I am doing wrong.

Raymond

A: We live in a culture where hard work is revered, and for a good reason too – it usually pays off. I love this quote from Vince Lombardi, “The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work.”

There is no doubt that, especially, if you are going to be an entrepreneur, you will need to work hard. It is also true that a new business in particular is sort of like an airplane lumbering down a runway, gaining speed. It takes a lot of ever-increasing energy and effort to get that plane to go fast enough so that it will take flight.

But then what?

Once that plane is in the air, the laws of aerodynamics help it stay aloft. It takes no extra “work” per se for the pilot to keep that plane flying, but what it does take is a lot of smarts, applied properly.

Sometimes, you need to work smarter, not harder. In fact, especially in this information economy, working smarter can often pay bigger dividends. Now, let’s be clear, work – hard work – is necessary. But working hard will only get you so far. At some point, you have to be like the pilot and work smart if you want to keep your small business plane flying.

For instance

Get the help you need: My pal Gene Marks is a contributor to Entrepreneur magazine. He recently wrote a piece that explains the concept of working smarter, not harder, vis-à-vis employees. Says Gene:

There was once a time when it was just me. I was providing computer services. I was working a lot of hours. But I wasn’t making any money at it.  Today, I’m making money. Why? Because I’m supervising 10 people who are providing computer services for me. I’m making money off of them.

Want to quit your job and be a freelancer, a one-person shop? I have bad news for you, and you need to hear it now, before it’s too late. You won’t be able to make a lot of money if you’re running a one-person business.

Indeed. You will be far more able to grow your business if you let go of some control and hire the help you need.

Get a handle on technology: Whether we like it or not, these days, if you want to be successful in your own business, you need to be part entrepreneur and part cyber-geek. What I mean by that is that technology now plays a huge part in almost every business, and it would therefore behoove you to understand just how many ways it can help your business:

  • Software makers put a ton of time, effort, and money into making programs and apps designed specifically to make you, the small business owner, more productive and successful. Learn what they are and how to use them.
  • Mobility can be a boon to any business, both in terms of their own workforce, as well as a way to get customers. In fact, it is the future of your business. Learn it, live it, love it.

Get bigger and better customers: Customers with bigger budgets make your job so much easier; they buy more, and more often, and often with less hassle and effort.

Where do you find these bigger fish? Check out these resources:

Search engines: Make a list of companies with whom you might like to work and start searching. Find the right department within those organizations, and the exact right people to pitch, and send them a proposal.

Books: One book I like a lot in this regard is Bag the Elephant: How to Win & Keep BIG Customers.

Corporate supplier programs: Corporations want to hire your small business. They have contracts to give you. If you become certified and learn how to navigate the maze, significant corporate and government contracts can be yours.

So go ahead, it’s OK, safe, even wise. Take flight by working smarter.

Today’s tip: It is conventional wisdom to say that business people feel overtaxed. But maybe that’s not true. According to the latest Small Business Index by Office Depot, More than half (57%) of small business owners say the amount of federal income tax they will pay this year is fair and will enable continued business investment.

Steve Strauss
Founder
TheSelfEmployed.com
Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading entrepreneurship and small business experts. He is a lawyer, public speaker and author, speaking around the world about entrepreneurship. He has been seen on CNN, CNBC, The O’Reilly Factor, and his column, Ask an Expert, appears weekly on USATODAY.com.
// by Jennifer Riggins / Mar. 20, 2015 0 comments
Performance

You started your small business because you wanted to be your own boss - not necessarily because you wanted to be a manager. But here you are, growing your team with some really promising new hires. In fact, things are going so smoothly, so quickly that you barely have time to stop and review your own goals, let alone worry about someone else’s. But if you don’t set up your plan for performance management now, you are going to lose those new teammates sooner or later.

While performance management is sometimes more of an art than a science, there is still a formula behind how you can handle performance appraisals and talent management. Today, SCORE offers you an outline on how to overcome the dread of performance management and make sure you take care of your start-up’s great resources: human resources.

How you pay says a lot about who you are

“A good compensation plan is not only fair, but also supports the culture of the organization,” wrote John Welch, ex-CEO General Electric, in his book Winning.

Paying a fair market value and paying it on time is the bare minimum for retaining employees. But you have to take it further to gain long-term commitment and to attract new talent. In Welch’s vast experience coaching organizations, he has found that only around ten percent of U.S. employees have had “an honest, straight-between-the-eyes-feedback session” in the last year.

While he admits that there is no perfect formula for performance management, Welch offers four ways to ensure these feedback sessions are at least productive and fair:

1. Performance management should be clear and simple. No long, drawn-out forms that have managers putting it off til the last minute.
2. Performance management must be quantitative and qualitative. Your company has to be more than numbers - ask, how is employee behavior supporting our values?
3. He says performance management should be at least once or twice a year. We say at least every three months.
4. A good evaluation system should include a professional development component.

As long as each performance evaluation contains these four pillars of integrity, you have some room to experiment with different styles like one-on-one coaching, peer reviews, and written feedback. But your performance appraisal system itself much be under constant scrutiny. Welch offers you questions to re-evaluate your system often:

1. Does the evaluation system really measure company values or just financial results?
2. Does everyone see your appraisal system as valuable? Or is it just a waste of time?
3. By the end of the evaluation, do people really learn what they can do to improve?

Annual performance appraisals are about nine months too late

“After believing in annual reviews for most of my career, I don't really believe in them anymore. Not timely enough, demoralizing in general (everyone thinks they're above average), and just a hell of a lot of work for everyone,” wrote John Lilly, software investment partner, in his comment on Quora.

In reality, people think they are doing better than they are because they’ve never heard differently, or they think their work is completely unappreciated because they never receive praise. Plus, how could a conversation about an entire year ever be accurate, detailed or productive enough?

It’s insane to think of once a year as being often enough to give - and receive! - employee feedback. In the lean start-up world we live in, we are pivoting every three months or even every three weeks, our objectives are constantly changing, and our job roles are continually evolving. At maximum in this agile world, we need to do formal performance management and goal setting every three months. This guarantees objectives are clearer and more realistic and feedback is more likely to be contextual and understood.

Performance management isn’t just about what happened

“Developing employees’ skills is often overlooked in startup organizations for fear of the costs involved; however, creating a culture that fosters development doesn’t have to break the bank,” CRG emPerform online performance management software wrote on their blogpost, “The Biggest Talent Management Mistakes that Startups Must Avoid”.

If you want someone to grow with your company, you have to focus on how they will grow. Particularly in a start-up, where just about everyone has room to take on new responsibilities and opportunities to learn, you need to make sure you are helping people head in the right direction. In reality, a performance appraisal is going to go one of two ways - talking about their exit from the company (when things just aren’t working out) or talking about where they are headed. Talking about an employee’s future is the only way to make sure you’re a part of it.

Here are some ways you can foster your talent during performance management and beyond:

1. Senior employees can mentor junior employees.
2. Encourage your teammates to further their learning with free MOOCs (massively open online courses) like Coursera or edX.
3. Have lunch with them! Or play games like Moving Motivators to learn what really moves them.
4. Conduct regular on-the-job training.
5. Teach each other! Offer what API platform director Bruno Pedro calls “Friday Sessions,” where colleagues volunteer to hold workshops on something they know a lot about - usually over beer.

Written feedback is more likely to be acted upon

“Written feedback also helps you to keep proper documentation, to think more carefully about delicate issues, and to report on observations, feelings and value in a well-balanced manner,” wrote leadership coach Jurgen Appelo in his book #Workout.

Appelo strongly suggests offering written feedback as there’s a paper trail and it’s more likely to be understood and acted upon - IF it is done right. He offers five tricks to make sure emailed performance management is taken in the right way:

1. Describe Your Context: What is your state of mind as you’re writing the feedback? What were your expectations and assumptions during the examined time period?
2. List Your Observations: Don’t give your opinion on right or wrong. Focus on examples of what you have actually seen in the work done.
3. Express Your Emotions: Written feedback can be quite two-dimensional. Adding descriptive words - annoyed, angry, delighted, confused - helps clarify context.
4. Sort by Value: Since we read from top down, emphasize first where your teammate added value and work your way down to where they subtracted value.
5. End with Suggestions: Constructive criticism is only constructive when you share actionable proposals.

How do you improve performance management without breaking the bank?

Tell us below how you make sure you encourage employee engagement and retention through better performance management.

Jennifer Riggins
Marketing Consultant
eBranding Ninja

Jennifer Riggins is a Jersey Girl in Barcelona, using her passion for writing and marketing to help small businesses define their vision and brand. This eBranding Ninja has a special love for Spanish start-ups, SaaS, and any innovation that helps you grow your business.​ 
Connect with Jennifer on Google PlusLinkedin, and Twitter.

// by Aliana Marino / Mar. 19, 2015 0 comments
Employees

In the SCORE online workshop, “Hiring the Right Employee,” Tricia McLaurin, Senior Human Resources Representative at Paychex, Inc. explains the best practices of recruiting, interviewing, selecting and retaining your most valuable assets: your employees.

The Society of Human Resource Management suggests that “direct replacement costs can reach as high as 50% to 60% of an employee’s annual salary, with total costs associated with turnover ranging from 90% to 200% of annual salary.” This statistic emphasizes the importance of finding and retaining the right member of your team. McLaurin says, “The bottom line can be negatively affected by bad hires and employee turnover.”

Why do you need this position in your business?

Follow these three steps to clarify the importance of hiring a new employee:

  1. Identification. Don’t just say you need help. Be specific and ask yourself what kind of help? What is the role of the position and its impact on the organization? How would this position benefit the company?
  2. Actual need. What job tasks need to be accomplished? What skills are required?
  3. Definition.  Define the position not the kind of person you visualize doing the job. This is not about replacing the person currently in the position but finding someone who can fulfill the job’s duties and company needs.

Writing a job description will help you establish the position’s details. Use descriptive and objective language. Be clear of expectations and concrete deliverables. Determine the essential and secondary functions. Verify that your language is compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act and Fair Labor Standards Act. You also must remove all discriminatory language. A SCORE mentor can help you with appropriate wording.

Job descriptions can also list soft skill requirements, like the ability to work in a team, time management, strong communication skills, etc.

How do you find the right candidate?

Once you know the specifics of the position, it’s time to advertise. McLaurin explains that attracting your target audience can be challenging. This is the first time in history five generations are in the workforce: Silent traditionalists (ages 65 and older), Baby boomers (ages 45 to 64), Generation X (ages 30 to 44), Millennials (ages 16-29) and Digital Natives (ages 15 and younger.)

Each person uses different techniques in their job hunt, so your goal is to attract as many candidates as possible with different advertising outlets. Remember that the best employee might not look like the person you thought you would hire.

McLaurin recommends using a job application. This way you request the same basic information from all applicants. Candidates can also submit resumes to provide additional details such as employment gaps and previous job duties.

Interview Process

McLaurin recommends a two-step process of interviewing: the phone interview and, when needed, the face-to-face meeting. For phone interviews, prepare four or five objective questions and document the responses. Consistency of questions between applicants helps in making the final decision. You can often learn more about soft skills and personality through open-ended questions. For instance, you can ask “What was your biggest challenge?” or “How did you deal with an irate customer or client?”  These questions can indicate problem-solving and leadership skills.

Making the Job Offer

Once you’ve found the best candidate, send a letter which confirms the details of employment, such as job description, hourly pay rate or salary, benefit and vacation information. Include an “at-will” employee clause which should also appear in the employee handbook.

On the employee’s first day, introduce him/her to the people, things, procedures and processes required for the job. He/she should complete new hire paperwork such as I-9’s and benefit enrollment forms. Review the job description and employee handbook. Discuss opportunities for continual education such training and seminars, and how you want to see your newest team member to evolve.

Watch the full online workshop: “Hiring the Right Employee.” Connect with a SCORE mentor with any HR questions and get more HR tips for small businesses.

Aliana Marino
Communications Manager
SCORE
Aliana is passionate about helping small businesses thrive and getting the word out about the great work SCORE mentors do across country. 
score.org | Facebook | @SCOREmentors | More from Aliana                   
// by Cindy Bates / Mar. 18, 2015 0 comments
Telecommuting

After a particularly brutal winter where record snowfall and treacherous ice storms made travel nearly impossible in many states, SMB owners and HR departments are looking for new ways to incorporate telework and ensure their business aren’t ensnarled along with the traffic.

The Boston Globe recently reported that “a one-day storm in Massachusetts cost the state economy about $265 million.” Offering remote work options not only makes sense for the potential cost savings, it also can be a major perk for recruiting purposes as more and more people prioritize flexibility when looking for a new job.

As someone who leads a large team and is often on the go, I embrace mobility solutions because they allow me to be more productive. Many employees find that a change of scenery – whether that means taking in the sunshine on their porch with their laptop in tow or setting up camp in a local coffee shop – improves their focus and creativity.  It’s nice to offer telework options but the number of full-time work-from-home employees is projected to rise as well. In fact, the number of full-time telecommuters should reach about 5 million in 2016, up 69 percent from 2011, according to the Telework Research Network.

Some executives remain skeptical of implementing remote work policies, commonly citing loss of oversight and a perceived loss of control as barriers. In my conversations with SMBs, I often find the opposite to be true. When employees are happier they tend to perform better and be more loyal to the company. In fact, if you’re not currently utilizing a flexible, remote working policy, you may risk losing some of your best employees to a business that has telework policies in place.

Each business’ remote working policies and arrangements will vary, depending on the nature of an organization’s services and products. For example, a flower shop will always need employees present during business hours, as the functions of food service demand the physical presence of employees. But, with the right technologies in place, flower shop employees also could easily conduct behind-the-scenes tasks, such as accounting and marketing, from remote locations. 

As you begin or refine the process of developing your business’s remote-working strategy, consider the following: 

  • Does your company have a formal or consistent policy around telework? If not, take steps to develop one. Establishing telework policies will help employees better understand their privileges and limitations and will also set a foundation for technology implementation.
  • What are your business’ internal and remote technology capabilities? For instance, how easily can your employees communicate and collaborate with one another inside the office, and do they experience the same capabilities outside the office environment? Incorporating internal collaboration tools and leveraging cloud-based software that’s accessible anywhere will enable them to conduct business with greater efficiency and speed both in and out of the office. 
  • How secure are your internal and remote systems? In an effort to increase accessibility and enable instant collaboration, many business decision-makers err by relying on public networking or social media platforms, even though these solutions are not appropriate venues for the exchange of sensitive ideas and information. Therefore, invest in communications technologies with heightened security protocols, always prioritizing the integrity of your business’ information rather than getting sidelined by free solutions that can’t guarantee the protection your business needs to succeed. 

For today’s SMB, the good news is that technologies that support telework are rapidly advancing and also are becoming increasingly affordable for smaller organizations. There’s never been a better or more pivotal time to capitalize on a mobile workforce to attract top talent both near and far. Find out what three items are needed for your teams’ remote work toolkit here.

Cindy Bates
Vice President
Microsoft SMB
Cindy Bates is the vice president of the U.S. Small- and Mid-Sized Business (SMB) Organization at Microsoft. Cindy and her team serve millions of SMBs in the U.S., helping them start, grow and thrive by utilizing today’s powerful and affordable technologies.For small business resources & information on the pending end of support for Windows Server 2003, click here.
// by Rieva Lesonsky / Mar. 17, 2015 0 comments
Loans

Small business owners are feeling optimistic—any number of surveys has shown that. But despite that optimism, CNN notes, they are by and large not looking for small business loans. The most recent Private Capital Access Index shows demand for loans is down by 12 percent compared to 2012, with more than half (52 percent) of small business owners surveyed reporting they won’t seek financing in the next six month.

What gives? Several theories exist: Perhaps small business owners are optimistic, but still don’t have enough need for capital to take out business loans. Perhaps they’re gun-shy after the Great Recession, when so many banks called loans and tightened their lending standards. Or perhaps these small businesses are able to finance their current activities with only their own capital.

If you’re planning a business expansion in the coming year (and I hope you are), it’s smart to have access to capital before you actually need the money. If you don’t want to approach a bank for a traditional small business loan, there are plenty of alternative lending options out there. Though crowdfunding has gotten lots of attention in the past few years, there are many financing methods that, while not as “sexy,” are more reliable. Here are a few to consider:

Equipment financing: Much like taking out a car loan, in equipment financing the equipment itself serves as collateral for the loan. You’ll typically have a fixed monthly payment, allowing you to spread out the cost of needed business equipment over a longer time period than buying it outright.

Invoice-based financing: Factoring—in which a factoring company buys your accounts receivable for a percentage of their value, then handles collecting on the accounts—is the traditional method of invoice financing, but more flexible variations are popping up all the time. Companies such as BlueVine, Fundbox and Dealstruck offer invoice-based financing plans to suit your needs, but all have one thing in common: you can get paid right away instead of waiting for customers to pay you.  

Purchase order financing: Sort of the opposite concept of factoring, which advances you cash based on product you’ve already sold, purchase order financing advances you cash to buy materials or products for which a big customer has given you a firm purchase order. In essence, the product you’re buying is the collateral for the loan.

Merchant cash advance: If your business is new or doesn’t have the greatest credit rating and you do a lot of your sales using credit cards, a merchant cash advance on future sales can give you access to quick capital.

Unsecured business line of credit: Similar to a home equity line of credit, a business line of credit doesn’t have to be used until you need it. Once you borrow on the line of credit, you’ll need to start paying it back. Once it’s paid off, you can borrow on it again. This is a good tool to have in your pocket to cover unexpected expenses of growth.

Be aware, many of these alternative financing methods cost more than traditional small business loans, meaning they shouldn’t be used without a good reason. However, the approval process is much faster than traditional loans (as short as 24 hours in some cases), making alternative financing options a good way to get the money you need quickly and easily. It takes money to make money—so make sure you have access to the money you need to take advantage of opportunities to grow your business.

Your SCORE mentor can explain your financing options and help you select the right choice for your business. Visit www.score.org to learn more. 

Rieva Lesonsky
Columnist and CEO
GrowBiz Media
Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship. She was formerly Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine and has written several books about small business and entrepreneurship. 
// by Jeanne Rossomme / Mar. 16, 2015 0 comments
Trends

What are the marketing trends you should be focused on?  The media is sure to cover the latest cool artificial intelligence device or data from wearable devices but what marketing trends should business owners pay attention to? After reviewing several expert articles (see the sources below), the following themes seem most relevant to entrepreneurs looking to get more customers without enormous marketing teams or budgets:

Digital marketing is just plain marketing.  With most people on the globe having a digital device in the palms of their hands, access to customers is, at least in part, through the Internet.  Your business web presence (via a website, rating sites and social media) matters a lot so your marketing needs to focus on how customers will find you online and offline.

Mobile marketing is just plain marketing. Following on the paragraph above, if you do not look good on mobile you are losing an ever-growing number of customers. And by the way, this is a real opportunity for local businesses who can speak directly to customers close by.

No more market segments.  Your customer now expects you to speak specifically to her. The buzz word is “personalization” and which means serving customers relevant individual content wherever they are physically (such as mobile content and offers based on physical location), who they are (demographic understanding), and where they are in their user journey (awareness, information gathering, social and in-store shopping).

Customers can and will block out marketing gobbledygook.  According to a recent study, 84% of Millennials don't like traditional advertising nor do they trust it. In general consumers are more savvy to overt product pushing than ever before and they are very vocal about brands that push self-serving content on them. In order to build a real relationship with your customers online, you need to be offering them content with real value.  The lesson is here is not more, but better, emails and social media posts.

Good content depends on good storytelling.  If you look at what got attention in terms of videos such as this UPS campaign, and this customer experience minisite from Apple, compelling stories draw in the viewer or reader. And you can share the work by taking advantage of customer-generated content in your marketing.

A picture tells a thousand words. Visual marketing via such sites as YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Vine will play a greater role in content marketing, as well as individual pieces of content like infographics and data visualizations. 

Design and User Experience matter. Consumers are now used to online experiences that are effortless, transparent, and not requiring too much thought or too many decisions.  Fortunately there are many more tools to create clean websites (like http://www.squarespace.com/ and a plethora of Wordpress themes) and landing pages (http://unbounce.com/ and https://www.leadpages.net/products/ ).

If you would like to delve deeper, here are my source trend articles:

Jeanne Rossomme
President
RoadMap Marketing

Jeanne uses her 20 years of marketing know-how to help small business owners reach their goals. Before becoming an entrepreneur, she held a variety of marketing positions with DuPont and General Electric. Jeanne regularly hosts online webinars and workshops in both English and Spanish.
www.roadmapmarketing.com | @roadmapmarketin | More from Jeanne