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|// by Bridget Weston Pollack / Oct. 2, 2015 0 comments|
Want to grow your small business, but not sure how? A SWOT analysis can help you choose the right direction for your company.
SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats; examining these four elements will provide an overview of the health of your business. Your strengths and opportunities offer avenues for growth, while your weaknesses and threats present warning signs meant not to deter you, but to inspire improvement.
You probably completed a SWOT analysis as a part of your initial business plan, to help determine your place in the market and focus your ideal customers and offerings. Now that your business is established, it’s time to do a new SWOT analysis to determine growth opportunities.
How SWOT analysis can illuminate paths for business growth
The SCORE SWOT analysis worksheet is a free download to help you think about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in six categories: product/service offering; brand/marketing; staff/HR; finance; operation/management; and market.
Your responses in each category can help you refine short- and long-term goals for your growing business and determine the action steps to help you reach those goals.
Growth opportunities may not always make themselves known as a grand change such as launching a new product line or expanding your number of locations. Growth for your business might mean hiring a part-time staffer to help with marketing tasks, or purchasing a new piece of equipment that will help you fill orders faster. In many cases, simply refining trouble spots may offer the greatest opportunity to growth. If you see an opportunity to streamline the way you create or deliver your products or services, doing so won’t just make your life easier -- it’ll make your customers happy, too.
Don’t think of your SWOT analysis like a re-brand or a remodel for your business. Think of it as checking the route on a map.
Cross-check your SWOT results with external circumstances
You’ll also be able to compare the results of your SWOT analysis with external factors that could affect your business. If you need capital to grow, what is the lending environment like? Could other economic factors, like the housing market, inflation, or interest rates hinder or help your growth?
You might feel excited about your goals and want to work toward them immediately, but in some cases, waiting a few months or years to implement parts of your growth plan can offer stability. Your SCORE mentor can help you determine the best approach.
To learn more about how a SWOT analysis can help your business grow, join our webinar on October 8. John Harmon, a mentor with the Fairfield, Connecticut SCORE chapter, will discuss how to perform a SWOT analysis and how doing so can benefit your business. Click here to register.
|// by OnDeck / Oct. 1, 2015 0 comments|
Your personal credit score is very important for most small business owners looking for a small business loan. Many lenders still use the personal credit score as a go-no-go metric for business loan approval. Even through your personal credit score offers an incomplete picture of your business’ credit worthiness, for most small business owners the need to build and maintain a good personal credit score is likely never going to go away. With that in mind, it’s important to understand how your credit score is calculated and how it could impact your ability to get a business loan.
What Does My Personal Credit Score Say About Me?
Your personal credit score gives a lender a look into your past to help them predict your credit behavior in the future. While there are some circumstances that negatively impact the credit score of an otherwise good borrower, here is what most lenders see when they review your personal credit score and how that could impact your ability to find a small business loan:
Below 579: Bad
There is some financing available for borrowers with this type of credit score, but it’s considered a high-risk loan and will likely come with higher interest rates. It’s very unlikely this borrower would be able to qualify for a traditional bank loan or a loan from the SBA.
Although there are financing options available, it is unlikely this borrower would find success at the bank. And, a borrower with this credit score should expect to pay a high interest rate. This score is also considered a higher-risk credit score.
This is considered a moderate-risk credit score. A small business loan is very possible, but will likely not come with the lowest interest rates. If your personal credit score falls within this range, expect to pay a moderate to high interest rate. A 650 credit score is the bottom threshold the SBA will typically consider.
This is considered a good score and many in the U.S. fall within this range. A borrower with this type of score can expect to see more approvals and better interest rates. A score of 680 is typically the lowest a bank will consider.
720-799: Very Good
If your credit score falls within this range you are considered a low-risk borrower and will be able to find a loan just about anywhere. A borrower with this credit score should expect to be offered excellent interest rates along with other possible perks.
Above 800: Excellent
If your personal credit score is above 800 you can expect lenders to roll out the red carpet. Borrowers with this credit score will be offered the best interest rates and the most favorable terms.
How is My Credit Score Calculated?
The formula used today to calculate your personal credit score was first introduced in 1989. Unlike your business credit profile all three of the major personal credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and Transunion, use a very similar system to calculate your score. While there are some slight differences, the information they look at is pretty straightforward:
How Can I Improve a Low Score?
Building a good credit score or rebuilding a less-than-perfect score isn’t something that happens overnight, but there are some things you can start doing right away that will yield results fairly quickly. Here are four things you can start doing today:
1. Know Your Score: The best place to start is by looking up your current score. The three major credit reporting agencies all offer a free annual credit report as well as other services to help you keep track of where you are. They also offer an alert service that notifies you any time your credit is checked or changes. There are several other places that offer the same type of services at very low or no cost.
As you review your report and your score, look for errors. It’s not uncommon to find mistakes on your personal credit report. The major reporting bureaus all have dispute procedures in place and will correct any verifiable errors on your report.
2. Keep Your Personal Credit and Your Business Credit Separate: While it’s tempting (especially in the early years) to use your personal credit to cover business expenses, it’s not a good idea in the long term. It doesn’t help to build your business credit and the higher balances usually associated with paying for business expenses can actually hurt your personal credit. Remember 30 percent of your personal credit score is a reflection of how much credit you actually use verses how much credit you have available. In other words, if you’re maxing out your personal credit cards every month, it will hurt your personal credit score. This is true even if you pay the balance down every time a payment is due.
3. Don’t Apply for Credit You Don’t Need and Don’t Jump Around: Every time you apply for new credit it impacts your credit score. Applying for credit you don’t really need will hurt your score. And, moving balances around is not a good strategy to improve your score; it’s considered a very transparent gimmick that will hurt your score. Plus, don’t forget the longer you’ve had a credit account the more positive the impact on your score, so closing one credit account to open a new account doesn’t help you.
4. Stay Current on Every Credit Account: The single biggest thing you can do to improve your personal credit score is to make timely payments on all your credit accounts. Once you start missing payments, it doesn’t take long for your score to drop. If your credit score is suffering, you won’t be able to change things overnight, but your diligent efforts will yield results. Before too long, consistent monitoring and good credit practices will help you improve your score.
Don’t believe anyone who claims they can drastically improve your credit score overnight. Aside from correcting errors on your report, there are no quick fixes. You should also know that it’s against the law for anyone who claims they can fix your credit to ask for payment before they go to work. Additionally, it’s against the law for you to use an alternate social security number to create a new credit alias. Fixing a less-than-perfect personal credit score simply takes time and good credit practices.
Learn which of the 9 most common business financing options your business may qualify for with this free Fundability Quiz.
|// by Michael Katz / Sep. 30, 2015 0 comments|
As it turns out, I’m not actually ambidextrous, as I had long believed.
Ambidextrous, as defined by Dictionary.com, means: “able to use both hands equally well.”
That’s not me.
I don’t use them “equally well” – I use different hands (mostly my own) for different things, a tendency which, strictly speaking, makes me “Cross-Dominant.”
So, for example, I’m a lefty when it comes to throwing a Frisbee or football, playing basketball, holding a lacrosse stick, drinking coffee or speaking on the phone.
On the other hand (HAHA!!!), I’m a righty when it comes to eating, writing, shaving, bowling, throwing a baseball, brushing my teeth and, were I invited to, polishing a hippo.
All in all, I consider my cross-dominance to be an advantage.
First, because it seems to me that as long as you have two hands, you may as well maximize body performance and efficiency by distributing the workload evenly.
Second, because it forces me to think.
When I try a new activity for the first time, and because I’m not sure if I’ll be a righty or a lefty in a given situation, I’m forced to ignore convention and just figure things out for myself.
It may take me a little longer to get the hang of it, but the extra time and effort ensures that I’ve fit the situation to my particular skills and orientation. In the end, I’m always better off than if I had simply done it the right (or left) way.
Likewise, as professionals, we have (nearly) unlimited freedom to decide how we do what we do. The problem though, is that most of us, in most situations, simply follow the herd:
… The life coach in the process of building a web site visits the sites of other coaches, to “see how you’re supposed to do it.”
… The consultant dipping her toe into social media, first checks out how other consultants tweet, post, link and perform similarly social-media-related verbs.
… The aspiring financial planner reads the right publications, uses the right lingo and even buys the right car, all in the hope of knowing what he’s supposed to know and looking the way he’s supposed to look.
Following the pack is a strong, reasonable, natural tendency and one that I don’t claim to be immune to either. It took me over a year as a solo to realize that I didn’t have to be in my office 8 – 6 everyday, and another year after that before I noticed that my company doesn’t actually have a dress code.
But it’s a problem, nonetheless.
Because when we do things based on “how it’s done,” we give up the opportunity to fit our business lives to the way we prefer to work, think, talk and behave.
So here’s what I recommend: Spend a little less time figuring out how, and a little more time asking why:
Here’s the bottom line. There’s nothing wrong with learning from the example and experience of others. But all too often, we just blindly follow the lead of those who’ve come before.
Take it from a cross-dominant professional and do as much of your own trail-blazing as possible. I’ll leave it to you to decide which hand you swing your machete with.
|// by Rieva Lesonsky / Sep. 29, 2015 0 comments|
There’s good news about entrepreneurship in the United States: It's on the rise. According to the just released 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) from Babson College, 14 percent of Americans were involved in starting or running a new business last year. That's the highest rate of entrepreneurship the Monitor has recorded since 1999—the height of the dotcom boom.
Americans seem to have recovered from their recession-driven fears that caused the rate of new business startups to take a nosedive in recent years—12 percent of those surveyed plan to start a new business.
More than other countries in the global survey, Americans actually make good on their intentions to start businesses. What do U.S. startups look like?
Overall, U.S. entrepreneurs are more ambitious, more optimistic and more successful in starting businesses than entrepreneurs in other developed nations. But there are still some areas that could be improved.
One, of course, is the relatively low rate of entrepreneurship among women. Another is the fact that even though more than three-quarters of Americans have positive opinions of entrepreneurs, and see entrepreneurship represented in the media as a positive choice, the percentage of people who actually know an entrepreneur in real life has declined to 29 percent. That’s problematic because, as the study notes, positive real-life role models are invaluable in successfully starting and running a business.
What does this mean to you?
Looking for a mentor? You can find one at SCORE. Visit www.score.org to get matched with a mentor and get free business advice 24/7.
|// by Raj Tumber / Sep. 28, 2015 0 comments|
Social collaboration mimics real life team and project collaboration except that it is done on the Internet or on the company network. Yes, we all agree that there is nothing as good as face-to-face meetings, but what if the team members reside in different parts of the region or the world? How will they access tasks, documents, projects and real-time updates remotely?
This is where social collaboration comes in. It is often setup as a secure centralized workspace on the Internet, also referred to as the cloud. The secured cloud portal is accessible from anywhere as long as you have Internet access.
Here are some of the core features and advantages of social collaboration tools:
Every social collaboration solution is different. Some offer the same features as their competitors within a different user interface. In order to understand some of these services, I highly recommend looking up cloud based service providers such as Podio, Btrix24, Mangoapps, SocialText, Liquid Planner, Wrike, Igloo and Casual.
How do you know which one of the networks or cloud enterprise is right for your business?
The four most important factors to consider in decision-making are:
1.Usability: Does it offer a user-friendly interface for you, your employees, associates and clients? Do you find it easy to learn and teach others how to use it? Is it simple to understand how it works? Use a free trial or other means of evaluation to get answers to these questions.
2.Features: Learn and compare the features of similar solutions. Then, assess your needs to understand which one of the networks or cloud enterprise fits your business needs.
3.Cost: Does it meet your budget? And more importantly, will it help you be more efficient and improve productivity?
4.Credibility: If you are a small business then it is important for you to know if they offer reliable support. Do they offer a secure interface? What are other users saying about their experience?
Like anything else, there are some learning curves in the beginning to fully understand social collaboration. What collaboration tools have worked best for your business?
|// by Bridget Weston Pollack / Sep. 25, 2015 0 comments|
Eighty-eight percent of rapidly growing small and midsize businesses use social media. If you’re reading this blog post, you’re probably one of them! As we wrap up our set of infographics covering content marketing best practices (see parts one and two), it’s time to think about how you’re targeting your business’ ideal demographic through social media.
When are you most likely to get distracted at your computer? Or quickly scroll through your phone to check Twitter or Facebook while in line at the store? Did you know that people share social media content 49 percent more on weekdays?
While you might think that social media use peaks over the weekend when people have more free time, that’s not the case — many take a break over the weekend when they’re not at their desks and surrounded by electronic devices.
One report from Social Media Today found that sports content gets clicked four times more on Mondays and Tuesdays, but has the lowest click rates over the weekend — probably when everyone’s at the game. Meanwhile, food content is 10 times more likely to get clicked on Thursdays than Saturdays.
Those examples can help you think about how you connect with your clients and customers through social media. By tailoring your content to anticipated needs, you have a better chance to make a meaningful connection that gets your content shared and remembered. Take the food-content statistic. On Thursdays, people who love to cook are probably combing through their recipe bookmarks and pins, looking for a new dish to try over the weekend. On Saturday, without the pressure of the workweek, they’re not scrambling to find those recipes — instead of browsing social media, they’re already cooking!
While you’re thinking about how your customers are using social media, have you considered which tools social media channels they prefer? A quick look at the demographics for each of the major social media players can help you fine-tune where you post your social media messages.
Pinterest and Facebook have begun to cater to older crowds, with higher rates of use in the 35+ and 65+ demographics, respectively. Twitter is most popular with the 18-24 group, but is growing in older demographics as well. YouTube, Tumblr, and Snapchat have much younger audiences ranging from 18 to about 30.
Above all, remember that posting frequently is key to getting your message seen by your fans and potential customers. About half of businesses, whether B2B or B2C, post to social media accounts several times a week or even daily.
|// by Kevin Foley / Sep. 24, 2015 0 comments|
It’s rare to hear of a stellar athlete that hasn’t completed years of training or a chef who hasn’t gone through several versions of a recipe to get it just right. There are many examples that demonstrate how training can pay off and improve results, so why not consider it as a small business owner?
A small business owner can have the dedication to succeed, but without training and business experience, it can be a challenge to achieve results. As Vice President of Human Resources, Training & Development at The UPS Store, I know the importance of training and skill development for small business owners. Business acumen and operational skills are essential skills for any small business owner to have when seeking out their next venture or sustaining their current business. At The UPS Store we want our franchisees to be as educated on the business as possible. We offer a comprehensive training program for new franchisees designed to help them develop the business acumen and day-to-day operational skills and knowledge needed to own and operate a The UPS Store location. Here are few reasons why maximizing training can help you achieve desirable results for your business.
Set goals and achieve results
My favorite piece of advice to give small business owners is to set a goal and then have a plan to achieve that goal. This is no different for training and skills development. Training establishes a foundation for small business owners to develop themselves, learn new skills and stay relevant to their niche. It provides the tools for small business owners to really understand what it is to run a business – from the internal mechanics of running a business to the front of the house customer service and management. If you really understand the fundamentals of business, it allows you to take risks and grow your business.
Training can also lead you to really examine why you want to own a small business. In some cases, people are looking to buy a job rather than an entire business. By going through the training process, you can examine your motivation, develop your knowledge and skills step-by-step and focus on serving your customers.
Customers are essential to any small business, which is why training should be centered on customer engagement. It’s important that small business owners understand the motivation of their customers. It’s also critical that owners make training their employees a priority. Your employees are often the first touch point for the customer, so they need to fully understand your business model and goals. They also need to know how to communicate with customers. Training can provide employees with an arsenal of tools to be effective communicators and help grow your business.
Before you manage an employee, you have to find a good one. Finding the right person with the right skill set is the first step. Once you have the right people, create a positive work environment to motivate and encourage your employees. At the end of the day, if you have trained your employees with your business model and goals, you can hold them and yourself accountable.
Training also offers a great opportunity to network within your community and make new connections. Organizations such as SCORE and the Small Business Administration (S.B.A.) can be a great way to learn about training resources. It can also allow you the opportunity to get involved in community events. Additionally, industry newsletters and magazines can keep you up to date on the latest trends and alert you to local events that might help you expand your entrepreneur network.
At the end of the day, training is one of the greatest resources to aid success. Understanding the fundamentals of running a business allows small business owners to set goals, educate their employees and better serve their customers.
|// by Rochelle Robinson / Sep. 23, 2015 0 comments|
Social media is often the most affordable marketing tool available to small businesses. Businesses have hopes of gaining tons of followers and generating new business. Unfortunately, you may not be getting your desired results because you may be making one or all of the following social media blunders.
1. Failing to Develop an Authentic Brand
People want to do business with those they know and trust. Develop a consistent brand so users can get an idea of who you are. Your mission statement may be well-crafted, but does it offer insight into who are you, the culture at your business, and why people should do business with you? Your brand voice can be described as an adjective that’s appropriate for your target audience. Will you be playful, sarcastic, or strictly professional? A playful mortician may not be appropriate. Your tone should mirror how you interact with customers – formal or casual? Developing content based on how you speak will keep your brand consistent and authentic.
2. Winging It Without a Social Media Plan
If you’re just getting started on social media, you need to address the Five W’s before you start posting.
3. Not Having Enough Content
Your business social media profiles should have a purpose – gain attention, attract new customers, or answer customer questions. Social media requires having content that’s informational and easy to share. Often business owners fail to create the content that will generate more business.
Here are some ideas to help get you started.
Social media is a valuable tool for small businesses and is constantly changing. By planning ahead, you can attain better results and generate more interest in your business.
|// by Rieva Lesonsky / Sep. 22, 2015 0 comments|
One of the first questions you have to ask yourself when starting a business is where you're going to locate. For some business owners, the answer is obvious. For example, if you're starting a restaurant or a retail store, you're going to need a commercial location.
However, for the vast majority of new entrepreneurs, the answer is not so clear-cut. If you're starting an accounting business, a consulting firm, a graphic design company or other business that basically entails sitting in front of a computer all day, do you really need to rent office space to do that?
Fortunately for startup entrepreneurs—especially those on a budget—there are now more alternatives for locating your new business than ever before. Here's a closer look at some of your options and the factors to consider.
So what are your options when it comes to office space?
Commercial space: A traditional office provides stability, professionalism and the space you can decorate to suit the business image you want to convey. You can also modify it to the needs of your growing business. On the downside, renting a traditional office can quickly become expensive, especially when you include factors such as utilities, maintenance of common areas and the possible need to update the space. You also have to commit to a lease, which may feel too restrictive when you're just starting out.
Home-based office: This can be a good option for those who have a dedicated space to work. It will definitely save you money on rent, as well as time spent commuting. However, in addition to the downsides mentioned above, working from home can make it hard to “turn off” your business at the end of the day.
Co-working spaces: A relatively new option for entrepreneurs, co-working spaces have really taken off in recent years. You can find a wide variety of co-working spaces, including ones tailored to different industries such as technology, design and more. Typically, these spaces offer common work areas that include cubicles, enclosed offices, meeting and conference rooms, and business equipment such as copiers and fax machines. Unlike traditional commercial office space, co-working space can be rented on a short-term, monthly or as needed basis.
Co-working spaces are an offshoot of what have traditionally been called executive suites—places where you can rent enclosed offices in close quarters with other businesses and gain access to common services such as a receptionist, copy machines and phone service. However, the vibe of co-working spaces is generally looser, younger and hipper. If you like rubbing shoulders with other entrepreneurs and benefiting from the creativity that can result when ideas are shared, a co-working space might be a good option for you. To find a co-working space near you, just search "co-working spaces" online. You'll likely come up with dozens of options nearby, especially if you're close to a major city.
Need help assessing your options? A SCORE mentor can guide you to the right decision. Visit www.score.org to get matched with a mentor today.
|// by Jeanne Rossomme / Sep. 21, 2015 0 comments|
Have you just been asked to lead a key project? After years of creating RoadMaps for companies and projects big and small, here are my 10 steps to make sure the “big rocks” are considered:
1. Spend time clearly defining the end goal and WIIFM. Most projects fizzle rather than fail due to ambiguous definition or lack of commitment by team members or company leaders. Spend considerable time in advance clearly answering these questions:
2. Define success and make sure you can measure it. How does this project play a role in the overall big picture or important work of the organization? How can you quantify or make tangible a successful outcome? Can you collect the right data that will really measure this metric? Estimate the time and money will it take to collect, synthesize and report this metric and incorporate this into the project plan.
3. What are the project deliverables? Keep the project scope manageable. Is it a presentation, a prototype, a series of recommendations? If you can define this clearly (even providing a template), you can much more quickly focus your team and reign in tangential discussions.
4. What are your assumptions and risks? As you move through a project, document your assumptions or risks (for example, product “x” will be launched in December). This will help you later when you are trying to explain changes in timing or cost.
5. What are the needed resources? What budget, person-hours and skills are needed? These can also be part of your project assumptions.
6. Set milestones or progress markers. To make sure you can more quickly assess changes that need to be made in scope, budget or expectations, establish interim goals or milestones in advance.
7. Define the project’s managing process. Follow-up is critical to projects being completed, on-time and within scope. How often will the group meet and report progress? How will interim questions be handled? Get dates on everyone’s calendar up front to ensure a fast start.
8. Pick the right project management tool. The goal of a project management tool is to help organize the information and reporting so it is easy to see what each person needs to do and the due date. The best tool is one that will be actually be used by each person in the team. To select a tool…. What information needs to be shared? How much training is needed? Do you need to bring in outside people at times? Is there a special need for information security?
9. Learn. In our ever-fast-paced working world we often finish one project and immediately jump to the next. Take time to look over the project. What went well? What could have been improved?
10. Celebrate. Schedule a team celebration to mark the successful completion and publicly give thanks to key contributors.
Click here for a copy of SCORE’s Successful Project Management Guide.