Items tagged with SBDC Business Tips Articles
Attention all Entrepreneurs!
In an effort to further business development in San Angelo, The Business Factory, ASU Small Business Development Center, and the ASU College of Business are bringing back the San Angelo Business Plan Competition for new ventures. Winners will be rewarded with cash and other in-kind services.
The goal of the competition is to give startup entrepreneurs and existing business owners an opportunity to build new ventures in San Angelo. Contestants will develop viable business plans and compete for first and second place prizes.
The initial entry will cost nothing more than time to put together a two page overview of their proposed business venture. The overview should briefly address the essential elements of the business plan as outlined in the competition guidelines. If selected for advancement to Phase II, there will be a $50 entry fee. Phase II is drafting a business plan and Phase III is the finalization of the business plan and a formal presentation of the business plan to the judges.
A critical element to any successful small business is developing a marketing plan. Large businesses have the ability to invest massive amounts of resources into their marketing efforts while most small businesses do not have that luxury. The key for smaller businesses is to figure out how to get the best bang for their marketing buck.
Linda and Mike Boyd own a small business in Colorado. They say the key in coming up with a good strategy is not be intimidated by the marketing process. Mike says, “For many years we let what we didn’t know about that discipline stop us from doing anything. Once we stopped trying to figure out marketing and instead did things that would make us more visible to the people who wanted to be our customers, stuff started to happen.”
Online marketing plays a vital role in the overall marketing plan for your small business. If you are wanting to attract new customers, see more traffic online and in stores, increase sales and keep people coming back for more, then you may want to explore Google Ad Words. Google Ad Words is a form of online advertising in which you are able to select specific target markets and locations that you can advertise to directly. You can select your target audience by choosing keywords your potential clients would already be searching for. You are able to focus your ad on specific geographic areas or span your marketing across the globe.
Creating an account for Google Ad Words is free. You can sign up today and explore the site and the different options available to you. You only pay for advertising once you have set up a campaign and people begin to click on that ad in order to view your website or call you directly. These type of ads are called “pay per click”. Once you are ready to begin a campaign you will be asked to set a budget. This will give you the control as the business owner to determine how much you would like to spend and over what period of time. The standard ad will run for at least one month. Google will ask you to determine how much you are willing to pay each time someone clicks on your ad. When you create an average daily budget Google will multiply that by the number of days in the month and that will create your actual budget. Some days your ad may perform better than others, this means one day you may spend a little over your daily average and some days you will spend less. This allows flexibility in your advertisement. Ultimately you will not be charged over your per month maximum budget. Please keep in mind that even if a potential customer does not click on your ad they have still seen it and this is called an impression. Impressions paly a huge part in creating your top of mind awareness of your services in a potential clients mind. So the next time they need something they will think of your business first.
I can say emphatically that I have never utter the phrase, “Well, that’s not in my job description.” Perhaps it’s because I have had jobs that span the entire working spectrum – delivering furniture, to cleaning boarding and kennel runs and working with a chain saw. With each one of these jobs, I was one of the owners of the particular business.
As an owner, you perform all the jobs which your business requires you to do in order to keep the business running and being profitable. As your business grows, you will find yourself considering hiring an employee.
In order for you to hire an employee, you will need to write a job description. Job descriptions serve a myriad of purposes. Having a job description will help you write your help wanted ad, ensure your applicants and employees understand their roles and serve as a basis for performance expectations.
This past week I had the opportunity to spend some time defining what “leadership” meant to me and how it is important in the work environment. Leadership is a term we use very often, but many times we miss perspective of its real meaning. As business owners, we encourage our staff to be leaders,to set an example. But, it is also common to see some businesses missing that key component, leadership, to be successful. If you are in business or planning to be in business, you might find yourself looking for leadership, either in staff, mentors or even within yourself. The idea of leadership can be overwhelming for many. Therefore, after reading different articles, I found the following important things to remember when talking about leadership.
When attempting to define leaders it can get confusing because they fluctuate from position to position, from range to range; they fluctuate according to the goal you want to meet. Leadership has nothing to do with seniority or one’s position in the hierarchy of a company. Leadership doesn’t automatically happen when you reach a certain pay grade. Hopefully, you find it there, but there are no guarantees.
We first begin learning about competition in our youth. Maybe it is with our siblings, neighborhood or school friends, or other family members. For some, it was about who was the best batter, or fastest runner, or mud pie maker. Later, this carried over to classmates as we entered and progressed in school. It became about who made the highest grade, or was the best trumpet or flute player, or who could throw the ball the farthest, or make the most goals.
Hopefully along the way, we learned to be good sports in both winning and losing. Competition has one a benefit. When we are striving to be competitive we are working hard at improving ourselves and getting better at a given task. In the end, whether we win or lose, we are better and stronger. So, competition is a good thing.
One of the things that small business owners have told us they like is networking with each other in order to learn about and implement new and better ways of running their business. At the ASU Small Business Development Center, we are good sounding boards for our small business clients. Besides helping them with various technical business issues, we share ideas we have learned from our business ownership and management experience, as well as things we have learned over the years. Clients have told us many times this is a valuable part of our services that help them expand or start their businesses.
Networking events are important and lead to valuable resources, connections, and opportunities. Small business owners want to meet with other owners, to share ideas and learn new and better ways of solving their business problems, and to take advantage of opportunities. These opportunities can mean working together as business owners. They can also mean coaching and mentoring each other.
Services now make up a majority of our nation’s economy and service industry employment accounts for over 84% of all private sector jobs according to 2010 numbers from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most would agree ours is a service economy. Marketing your service business is necessary because of increased competition for services.Before you embark on marketing your service business, it is important to understand how a service business differs from a tangible product-based business. The factors that make a service business different are: services sell intangibles, employees and the business are inseparable, services are variable, and services are perishable. Below is a brief discussion of these four factors.
You want to open a business. You know almost exactly how much it will cost to start; supplies, furniture, rent, utilities, etc. But, what about sales tax? As a new business owner this will be one of the first taxes you will pay once you start selling your product or service. After setting up your company either as a sole proprietor, partnership, LLC, etc., you will need to visit the State Comptroller’s Office to find out about your sales tax responsibility.
Unfortunately, collecting, calculating, reporting and paying sales tax can be confusing, overwhelming, and sometimes complicated for first time business owners. To help you understand sales tax, I would like to share some general information I discuss with my clients during their visit for an advising session.
As a young professional, I am constantly striving to find the perfect work-life balance! It seems like a simple concept, but in reality it can be very difficult to achieve. As entrepreneurs and small business owners, you probably face this challenge daily. You probably find yourself always asking what the formula is and how you can keep your family, clients, and yourself happy. As you try to balance your duties in the different areas of your life such as work, family, and friends, it can become extremely overwhelming. The idea of the perfect balance is different for each individual. In trying to create that perfect balance for myself, I try to follow a few basic steps to help keep me moving towards a balanced work-life.
Focus on the things that matter to you….
See if you can solve this riddle: “I will work for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. I will never call in sick and I am never late for work. I will even be at work while you are home and I will attract the attention of 80% of the mobile market.” Who am I?
If you guessed… a sign, you are correct. This riddle was adapted from the Signage Foundation for Communication Excellence and the International Sign Association, ISA. According to the ISA, your business sign is your handshake with the buying public. This visual “handshake” directly impacts the success of your business.
Consider the information from the University of San Diego study of 187 businesses and their usage of signage. The study indicated the addition of a pole sign will increase gross sales by 15.7%. Even with compelling research, some business owners fail to recognize the importance of an effective sign.
At the Angelo State University – Small Business Development Center, we will interact with over a thousand people each year that either want to start a business or are in business. Of those that want to start a business, a small percentage will come in and tell us they have an idea for a business but they do not know if it is a good one and want to know our thoughts about their idea.
It is never a simple question to answer. There is no way to just say yes or no. Making the decision to start a business requires a lot more than just having a good idea. It involves a lot of research into the industry and into the market. It involves understanding the difference between the industry and the market.
Beyond understanding that difference is that you have to decide if the idea is an opportunity. What is an opportunity? For businesses, an opportunity is a problem for which you have found a solution. Ideally, you solution either the only solution to the problem. The next best situation is when your solution may not be the only solution, but it is the best solution.
In his books Borrowing for Your Business, and Borrowing to Build Your Business, former San Antonio banker George M. Dawson discussed seven questions asked in any borrowing situation. I believe these seven questions can help any business borrower better understand how lenders evaluate their loan proposal. Below are some thoughts using the seven questions.
First, how much money do you want? This question seems straightforward but some borrowers have not determined how much they really need. Lenders want to know the borrower has taken the time to pin this down as accurately as they can. Remember to allow for contingencies, as the unexpected may happen. Another key is to borrow enough so you do not have to go back to the lender asking for more right away. Borrowing too little may just be enough to get you in trouble.
There are many things that are great about owning a small business, but entrepreneurs say there are many aspects that aren’t as glamorous. Running a small business requires considerable sacrifices, according to a new study from email marketing provider Constant Contact that surveyed business owners. Specifically, 56 percent of the small business owners surveyed said they feel like they can never be away from their business, while 51 percent don’t have time to focus on themselves. Also, more than 40 percent don’t take vacations or see family and friends as much as they would like.
Owning a small business can also be a drain on your personal finances. The research discovered 41 percent of owners have all of their money tied up in their business. In addition to all the sacrifices they make, small business owners face a variety of challenges. Because most owners are in charge of everything from sales, marketing and operations to customer relations, payroll and accounts payable, the entrepreneurs surveyed think the struggle of having to wear so many different hats is the most difficult part of their job.
One day you may be able to purchase stocks in order to support a local business. If State Representative Tan Parker’s HB 3425 continues to make headway, investors in the Concho Valley area would be able to purchase local stocks through an exchange with a name such a Concho Stock Exchange, Tom Green Stock Exchange or even San Angelo Stock Exchange.
What make this bill so attractive to investors? Currently, an investor in an initial public offering would be required to be a certified investor with $2M in assets and over $250K as yearly income. It is estimated that only 2-2.5% of investors in the United States qualify to invest at this level. The remaining 97.5 to 98% of investors are locked out of the market.
Recently, Google made an exciting announcement in the way of changes to how users discover mobile-friendly websites. So what does this mean to the user and to the small business relying on potential customers accessing their information from Google searches?
Today, more and more individuals are using mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones to search the Web for information. What this means to the user is that Google is working to provide the best results to you on your mobile device.
The next time you bring up a search on your mobile device you might see the tags “mobile-friendly.” This designates that the page results will be easily viewed on your device. Don’t spend your time fighting with websites that require you to zoom in and out to read the page; simply choose a “mobile-friendly” website for easier use.
How does this affect your small business’s website?
A famous and humorous quote from the baseball legend, Yogi Berra, is “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” It leaves out, of course, the reality that the fork in the road creates uncertainty.
When a business encounters uncertainty in the market, which fork to take is the question. It’s an indication of time to regroup, scan the horizon to uncover what’s happening in your environment, and look inward at your business to move in the right direction. We call this process strategic business planning.
The first thing to do in strategic planning is to gather those in the organization who can provide information and insight. They include owners and managers as well as those closest to the customer. Revisit your mission and vision as a business. If you do not have a mission and vision, consider developing one. These can provide a guiding light for the company and help everyone understand what the firm stands for, what’s important, and how you will conduct business.
When it comes to marketing and advertising your business, it is easy to fall back on colloquial phrases as justification for not being willing to try different techniques or channels. Probably for some more established businesses or business owners, phrases like “That’s the way we’ve always done it” or “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” are tossed about to keep from having to explore other marketing or advertising channels.
I grew up the son of a furniture and floor covering store manager in a time where there were three primary means of advertising in a small town. Our small town (less than 10,000) had two small newspapers and one AM radio station. So, we had print and radio advertising available. The third means was posters. Big Posters. These had a simple message and filled most of the large plate glass windows on the storefront. The messages were things like “Clearance Sale,” “Recliner Sale,” or “Mother’s Day Sale,” and were always in two to three foot tall letters on white paper.
Effective communication can be the single most important key to the success of your business. Being prepared for each type of communication is the foundation for being effective.
Whether you are asking a client to pay their bill, or justifying a fee increase, it is the preparation before the call that can secure your success. There are techniques available to assist you. “Lifescripts” authors Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine offer guidance on “What to say to get what you want in life’s toughest situations.”
The authors divide the process into three parts: strategy of the situation, tactics and a flow chart of probable conversations.
Let’s explore the guidance the authors offer when asking a client to pay their bill. The strategy is that frequently there has been a clerical mistake, whether actual or pretend. Allow the client to check on it but schedule the second call. “Lifescripts” authors suggest:
Email marketing fills our inbox on a daily basis, so why is it so important to incorporate it into your small business marketing plan?
The answer is simple: because it works! Email marketing is extremely effective when done correctly. It is one of the most cost-effective marketing tools and is also highly measurable because you are able to follow exactly how many individuals receive the message and whether they engage with its content.
The best way to increase engagement is to have a clear call to action within your email. A “call to action” encourages the reader to follow through. There are different ways to engage the audience, such as posting a link to follow your business on social media, purchase a product or call for more information about a service. A clear call to action can make the difference between gaining new customers or being sent straight into the “delete” file of their inboxes.
Search engines and small business truly have a mutually beneficial partnership when it comes to accessing local information from the Internet! Most search engines offer a free listing service in which a business owner can claim a listing and add pertinent information about the business, such as location, hours of operation, contact information, and even a link to their website. The key to keeping a successful relationship between business owner and search engine alive is in the hands of the business owner. Search engines rely on business owners to help keep their information up to date, thereby making the search engine itself more credible. It is your responsibility to take advantage of this free service to help increase your online presence.
There are many ways to go about claiming a listing. Different websites will have various procedures to follow to claim a business and add up to date information. Today I will focus on one of the most popular search engines, Google.
Unless your business is in a monopolistic market, you are in competition with other businesses for your customers’ dollars. Each of you is vying to be the favored one with whom the customer will choose to spend his hard earned money. Various strategies are employed by you and each of your competitors.
What is your — and your competitors’ — ultimate goal? The answer is obvious: to gain competitive advantage. It is to be the choice of your customers.
What strategies are you using to gain competitive advantage? Are you offering products not available to competitors through agreement with your vendors? This is fairly common practice in local and regional markets and can be successful if it is a product or service in high demand. It can be especially successful when the product can’t be replaced by a comparable product from a different manufacturer or provider.
It is a new year and now is time for tax planning for your small business. I recently attended a seminar on tax planning. The CPA who taught the course did a great job of explaining the elements of good planning for the tax year.
She highlighted the importance of good bookkeeping. In order to do their job properly, accountants need a current and reliable set of books. In addition, they like to see reconciled bank statements, credit card statements, and note balances either in manual or software form. Completeness is necessary for your accountant to assist you.
Too many small businesses decide to write a business plan only when they have to. Unless you need to seek assistance from a lender or investor, there is no plan. Don’t wait to write a business plan until you think you’ll have enough time. The advisers at the Angelo State University Small Business Development Center hear small business owners say, “I can’t plan. I am too busy getting things done.” If you are indeed that busy, it is imperative to plan.
Writing a business plan is not the easiest thing to do and mistakes can and will be made. Let’s take a look at some of the common mistakes that are made when writing a plan and try and make this easier and more understandable.
I watched as my six year old granddaughter wiped the flour off the table. With a dish towel in hand, she approached the spill from the back side and worked it towards the table’s edge. She then took her other hand, placed it below the edge and swept the flour off the table into the waiting hand.
I was surprised at her efficiency and her accuracy. I asked, “Hannah, how did you learn to do that so well?” With a smile and an inquisitive look she answered, “Boppi, don’t you remember? You taught me!” Talk about giving me the right answer! It may have not been me, but the point is simply that she had been taught.
It could be said the ability to learn how to do a job is contingent on the ability of someone to teach how to do the job. Getting a seasoned employee to train a new employee is usually a good arrangement.
The Angelo State University - Small Business Development Center will celebrate its 25th anniversary on January 15th. As we celebrate this milestone, I thought it appropriate to reflect and give thanks to the many small businesses and organizations that have made the program a success.
First and foremost, I believe the economic progress and health of our area is greatly due to the dedication, drive and determination of our small businesses and the people that own and manage them. I am always humbled by their tenacity and resourcefulness, as well as their willingness to take risks to make their dreams happen. Where would our economy be without them? I applaud their accomplishments and feel honored they allow us to serve them. They are true champions in our eyes and they are the reason we exist. I want to thank them for what they do for the economic health and quality of life in our area. As many have said before, small businesses are the backbone of our local economy.
As one year ends and a new one begins, it is a time to visit with some key people that influence your business decisions. Someone has said that success is a journey and not a destination, and I believe that to be true. Every day that you are able to open your doors is a success. To help insure success, it is important to visit certain individuals on a routine basis.
We are all aware of the leaps and bounds technology has made over the years. There are so many great tools out there today, and I wonder why more small businesses do not take advantage of the countless opportunities.
When it comes to technology, I feel sometimes we let our fear get the best of us. I hear all the time that software is too expensive and not worth it. This is true; some software can be extremely pricey. However, I have found that my time is very valuable to me, and if I can spend a little extra on a product that will help me be more efficient, then I consider it money well spent. There are also many different products on the market that are reasonably priced, as well as some open- source software that you can download for free.
These amazing productivity tools can help you run your business more efficiently using technology. I have listed some of my favorites below.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the connection between good customer service and the reduction of shoplifting in a retail store setting. Today I want to continue the discussion of customer service with tips any business can use, especially as we enter the time when many renew commitment to their business through New Year’s resolutions.
Make your customers feel welcome. It sounds simple and it should be routine to make your customers feel welcome, but some businesses have challenges with this. Making your customers feel welcome fulfills a basic human need and it is important at every point of contact, whether it is in person, on the phone, or with email and other electronic communication. It sets the stage for everything to come with the customer relationship. This needs to be in place in order to be perceived as having good customer service. Hiring good employees who are naturally friendly and helpful at every point is a good start at insuring this is in place. In addition, reinforce to employees on a regular basis how important it is to make every customer always feel welcome. Remember to model the behavior you want your employees to imitate. When we as customers encounter a business that makes us feel welcome, we cannot help but walk away with a good feeling.
To many small business owners, this is a crazy time of year. You are pushing projects across the finish line. Completing performance reviews with employees. Finalizing plans and budgets for next year. Oh, and the holidays are coming to bring even more chaos onto your over-scheduled calendar. Some companies are not running what is called a “lifestyle business.” They are running businesses that are being milked by owners, partners or a few leaders in order to take lots of cash and cool perks for the few.
Most small business owners are committed to growing their businesses. They want to create jobs for lots of people. They are working on leaving a legacy of significance and pouring everything they have into making their business a success. The big mistake successful small business owners must avoid is working so hard there is little time or energy to enjoy what they have achieved. This risk is amplified during the holidays when the pressure of business can be greater than at any other time of the year. There are opportunities outside of business hours that are more plentiful than ever and time seems to be in shorter supply than usual. Let’s look at ways in which to make your holiday season a little less stressful and more enjoyable.