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A key to starting and building a successful business is planning. Sometimes, a business plan is required, but it’s not always the answer to creating a successful business. Sometimes, you need to think lean.
In this session, SCORE Mentor David Terrell will walk you through a Lean Canvas to help you create a “blueprint” of your business. He will provide practical tips and tools and teach you how to:
Determine the key categories of starting, testing and growing your business
Identify your target customers and what you need to do to get them to buy from you
Recognize your customers’ problems and how your product or service will solve them
Communicate your value propositions that set you apart from your competition
Test your solutions and get valuable feedback
Determine your cost structure, runway and revenue streams
Monitor key metrics to determine your business’s initial and ongoing success
Let’s get back to the basics and best practices of networking.
Here are my three tips for effective networking – the old fashioned way.
First, you must be committed. You aren’t networking if you’re out for instant gratification. An effective network is built upon a solid foundation of relationships that are built over time. When you make a new business acquaintance, take time to learn as much about them as you possibly can. Don’t look at them with dollar signs in your eyes. Take time to get them talking by asking open ended questions and listening! Are there common interests you share? Do your children go to the same school? Remember, people do business with people they like — with friends.
Second on my list of best practices is to follow-up after the meeting and be the first to provide assistance. Stacking business cards on your desk or scanning them into your Outlook doesn’t create a network. Sending your new acquaintance a brochure or sales letter doesn’t develop a relationship. And calling to set an appointment or make a sale is really not going to do the trick. However, taking time to develop a relationship is. For example, let’s say I meet you at an event and during our conversation you mention you are a dog lover. Guess what, so am I. We have a nice conversation and you tell me you’d like to know more about creating a dog-friendly office environment. So what do I do? I go back to my office and send a “nice to meet you” email, but in addition I include a link to an article with advice for pet-friendly workplaces. Continue reading →
Embracing direct feedback from your customers can help you learn a lot about what your company is doing right and what you might improve upon to be more successful. Online customer surveys are one way to gather insight.
Like any method of customer research, their usefulness depends on how well they’re planned and executed. And one of the most important components of planning a survey is crafting the questions it will include.
Tips for Creating Effective Customer Survey Questions
Know What You Want to Accomplish.
Developing a survey that gives you helpful answers starts with knowing what you want to learn. Do you want to get insights into how you might improve the overall experience your customers have? Do you want to focus on product enhancements that would better satisfy your customers’ needs? Or do you want to find out if your customer support services are meeting customers’ expectations?
As you begin to prepare your survey, consider your end goal and eliminate any questions that don’t align with it.Continue reading →
This simple strategic planning technique can help you identify what your business is doing well, what it needs to improve, where it needs to grow, and what could be its undoing.
Choosing the right direction for the future of your company can be a daunting task. Should you add services? Is your team staying competitive? How can you improve cash flow?
All of these questions and more can be answered by performing a regular SWOT analysis.
What is a SWOT Analysis?
SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Taking a deep look into your business by examining these four elements will provide you with an overview of the health of your company. Your strengths and opportunities offer avenues for your company to flourish, while your weaknesses and threats can inspire improvement and help you recognize emerging competition.
It’s likely that you completed a SWOT analysis in the beginning stages of your business plan to help determine where you stood in the market and identify target customers. Now that your business is established, it’s imperative to conduct regular SWOT analyses to help improve your operations and systems and stave off problems.
How to Get Started with a SWOT Analysis
The most vital step in conducting your SWOT analysis is determining what your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are, but sometimes they can be hard to narrow down. Continue reading →
The odds are that there are a lot of other businesses in your market providing similar products or services. So what is compelling about your firm that sets you apart from your competition and entices potential customers to buy from you?
Many business owners will answer with the “soft” differentiators, such as reputation, good service and high quality. These are all great characteristics (and absolutely necessary!), but do they really set you apart? I’ll bet that if you ask your competition what sets them apart, you will get similar answers.
The fact is that highly differentiated firms are generally more profitable than their counterparts. Their overall market may be smaller than a less differentiated firm, but they have more of it (the proverbial big fish in little pond). And, they most likely charge more and spend less on advertising and marketing. Continue reading →
What makes or breaks a successful small business? There are several key commonalities among businesses that succeed, according to several studies polling entrepreneurs.
Here’s a closer look at four things successful business owners do right—and one thing they need to do better.
What successful entrepreneurs do right
They start strong. In a poll of 500 successful entrepreneurs, a whopping 84% of respondents say their companies achieved profitability within their first four years in business. In fact, 68% became profitable within the first year. Only 8% became profitable after their fifth year in business, suggesting that the first years in business are make-or-break ones for most entrepreneurs.
They focus on finding new customers. Small business owners in the survey say finding new customers is their top business challenge—far ahead of cash flow issues or dealing with the competition. Smart entrepreneurs stay focused on continually generating new leads and closing new business.
They put cash back into the business. Forty percent of business owners say whenever they have surplus cash, they put it back into the business rather than paying themselves, a separate study found. What’s more, 47% tap into personal savings to finance their businesses at one point or another.
They work hard. Never let it be said small business owners are slackers. Some 86% work on the weekends; 23% take fewer than two vacation days total all year long; and of those who do take vacations, 75% work during their time “off.” Continue reading →
Cash is the fuel that makes a business run. It is needed to pay salaries including your own, fund marketing programs to acquire and retain new customers, invest in equipment and facilities, pay rent, supplies and many more day-to-day activities. Most financial experts recommend three to six months of operating expenses, but using this for every business in every situation is misleading.
To determine how much cash you need, you must look at the following key areas.
How Much Cash Have You Been Using?
If you’re an established business owner, look at your monthly cash flow report (or go to the next paragraph if you’re a start-up). This report will provide an historical and seasonal perspective. Note the cash received from sales and the cash spent. The net of these two is often referred to as the “net burn rate.” For example, if you have $50,000 in sales and $30,000 in expenses, then your net burn is +$20,000
Your “gross burn rate” only takes cash expenditures into account; in our example, that’s $30,000 and is the more conservative amount, since it does not assume any sales are made. Historical spending patterns are a good starting point in considering future spending plans. Continue reading →