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// by Bridget Weston Pollack / Apr. 29, 2016 1 comments
Giselle Chapman, Monica Kang, David Bobbitt

(pictured above: Giselle Chapman, SCORE client; Monica Kang, SCORE client, founder of InnovatorsBox and 2016 American Small Business Champion; David Bobbitt, SCORE Foundation President)
 

Washington, D.C. is a city known for its power. Although it’s home to plenty of inspiring museums, it’s not usually a city known for its creativity.

Monica Kang wants to change that. She’s experienced the struggle between practicality and innovation firsthand as a former government affairs professional who felt creatively stifled.

Kang founded InnovatorsBox last year to nurture a community that empowers professionals to practice creative skills.

InnovatorsBox hosts workshops, meetups and coaching programs, providing tools and techniques for members to be creative in a supportive, encouraging community.

“It’s difficult for professionals working in traditionally non-creative industries to practice creativity,” Kang, the founder of InnovatorsBox, recognizes. “This is especially challenging in a city like D.C. where a majority of professionals work in government, international development and banking — industries where creativity is often hampered.”

She understands that not everyone can attend InnovatorsBox live events. So she figured out how to send some of the concepts from her workshops on the road in the form of a fun game.

SPARK is a deck of cards, each one printed with a question about curiosity, reflection or creativity. The set, which was designed by local artist Monica Escobar Beasley and printed in the U.S., is ideal for small groups wishing to share meaningful conversation, either in work or social settings.

Kang envisions eventual growth of InnovatorsBox to foster creative communities on a global scale. She also hopes to allocate funds for scholarships for potential innovators who can’t cover the full cost of her programs.

An American Small Business Champion

InnovatorsBox was named a 2016 American Small Business Champion by SCORE and Sam’s Club. Kang will undergo a year of focused mentoring and will use a $1,000 gift card from Sam’s Club to purchase artistic materials to help her participants in their creative projects.

“Already, the online resources and webinars from SCORE have helped me immensely in navigating the waters of entrepreneurship,” Kang says.

She works with Karen Williams from SCORE’s Washington, D.C. office and recently attended SCORE’s Spring Training program for American Small Business Champion winners from around the country. Kang hopes to learn more about fostering a sustainably as the sole founder of her company.

Want to learn how your business can grow? Contact a SCORE mentor today.

Bridget Weston Pollack
Vice President of Marketing & Communications
SCORE
Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing & Communications at the SCORE Association. In this role, Bridget is responsible for all branding, marketing, PR, and communication efforts. She focuses on implementing marketing plans and strategies for the organization to facilitate the growth of SCORE’s mentoring and trainings services.
// by Rochelle Robinson / Apr. 28, 2016 0 comments
tools

Being a small business owner requires a great deal of work, especially when you have lots to do but limited support and hours in a day.

Here is a list of free or low-cost tools that can help you better manage your business:

1. Project Management - Trello

Trello allows you to view your project goals, tasks and assignments in a single glance. By using the visual boards, you can collaborate with an unlimited amount of people, drop and drag cards and create checklists for better project management. Trello offers a free version that integrates with Dropbox and a Business Class version for under $9.

2.File Management - Dropbox

Access documents, photos, videos and music from anywhere using Dropbox. If you have large files to share, you can upload to your Dropbox account, and give the link with anyone.  Dropbox Basic is free for individuals offering 2GB of storage space and 30 days of unlimited file recovery.  Paid plans are available which offer more storage space and additional features like password protected links.

3.Financial Management - Wave

Wave is a free cloud-based small business accounting software that can generate accounting reports, like balance sheets and accounts payable reports. It also supports billing and invoice reminders and payroll integration. Wave can by synced up to online payment systems, like PayPal or your bank account.

4.Communication – Google Voice

Google Voice provides a centralized way to manage your phone numbers. Google Voice provides a telephone number based on you selected area code. Users can make calls and texts and receive calls through the web portal. Google Voice also transcribes voicemails to text and lets you forward calls to another number.

5.Human Resources – Zenefits

Zenefits is a human resources information system offering free management services. Zenefits covers human resource tasks, like payroll, benefits, time, staff and compliance for the Affordable Care Act and COBRA. It also provides management solutions, like paystubs, employee handbooks and tax withholding forms.

6.Email Management – MailChimp

MailChimp is an email marketing service that lets users create, design, share and track several email newsletters. MailChimp offers pre-designed templates or allows you to enter your own HTML code from any location. Users can track the open rate, click-through and various analytics through their custom reports dashboard. MailChimp is free to users with up to 2,000 subscribers and allows for 12,000 emails per month.

What business tools would you add to this list?

Rochelle Robinson
Business and Wealth Advisor
WealthSide Capital
Rochelle Robinson is a business & wealth advisor serving as a CEO of WealthSide Capital, a pioneer in business and financial management services and Managing Editor of WealthSide.com, a leading interactive financial empowerment community. Rochelle is focused on small business solutions, personal finance management, and achieving financial freedom through wealth creation.
www.robuildswealth.com | @robuildswealth | More from Rochelle 
// by ATT Business Circle / Apr. 27, 2016 0 comments
web analytics

One of the most important steps in any marketing campaign is measuring the results.  Using web analytics allows you to measure the results of your online marketing and your website’s effectiveness. Sound intimidating? It isn’t. Google Analytics is free and is a good place for most small-business owners to get started. Google also provides a lot of guidance on how to use it.

Here are tips for using web analytics to measure your online marketing results:

Set up your analytics based on the goals for your website. Those might include generating leads, actually making sales, educating customers about your product or getting customers to fill out a contact form. You may have different goals for different website pages. Be sure to measure data that’s tied to your goals. For example, if your goal is to educate customers, pay attention to the amount of time customers spend on the site and how many pages they view. Those numbers will show if they’re interested enough to keep digging for more information.

Understanding analytics terms

Here are some things you can measure using Google Analytics.

  • Visit: Any session in which a visitor interacts with your website
  • Unique visitors: the number of individuals who visit a website during a specified time period. (If the same person visits more than once in that time period, he or she still counts as one unique visitor.)
  • Page views: Each time a visitor views a page of your site, it counts as a page view. One visit may contain dozens of page views.
  • New visitors
  • Returning visitors
  • Bounce rate: This refers to the number of users who exit your site after only viewing one page.
  • Pages per visit: How many pages users view in one visit
  • Average time on site: The average time a user spends on the site
  • Exit page: An exit page is the last page of your website that a visitor views before leaving your site. If certain pages keep showing up as exit pages, it could be a sign something is wrong with those pages. Perhaps it’s too hard to find the information visitors are looking for, so they get frustrated and leave. On the other hand, if your most common exit page is your contact form and visitors leave after filling it out, that’s a positive result.
  • Traffic sources: There are three kinds of traffic sources. Direct Traffic (people who literally type in your URL), Referring Sites (people who come to your site by clicking a link on another site), and Search Engines (people who visit your site because it showed up in their search results). Direct traffic can indicate customer awareness of your website and show the effectiveness of advertising. For example, if your cable TV ads repeat a custom URL and lots of people type in that URL, that means it’s working. Measuring search engine traffic shows you how SEO effective your SEO is, and measuring referral site traffic indicates how strong your online presence is.
  • Keywords: The keywords you use in your marketing, advertising and your website may be different than the words people are actually using when they search for what you sell. Web analytics can provide these keywords, which you can then use to improve your search engine rankings.
  • Conversion rate: This is the percentage of people who did what you wanted them to do (“converted”), whether that’s registering to download a free e-book or buying a sofa.

What do these numbers mean?

The most important measurements for your website will vary depending on your business and your website goals. For example, if you want to expand your business nationally, measuring how many people visit your website from out of state, and which states they come from, could be important.

Whether your measurements indicate success or failure will also vary. If your goal is to get customers to your website to fill out a contact form, a high bounce rate isn’t a bad thing as long as the one page most visitors go to is the contact form. On the other hand, if your goal is to sell products, a high bounce rate is bad, because it means few visitors are buying.

With web analytics information at your disposal, make adjustments to your website and your digital marketing efforts to improve results. For instance, if most of your visitors come from your email newsletter and very few come from search engine results, find out why. Maybe you’re not posting on Facebook® often enough or aren’t including enough calls-to-action in your posts.

Remember, web analytics display trends over time. Review your analytics at least once a month to get a better overview of what’s happening. Then, make changes as needed, and use your analytics to see how well they succeed.

ATT Business Circle
SCORE Corporate Patron

Business Circle is a community where Small Business Owners can share stories and glean information to better understand how technology can address key business challenges, so they can trust in the solution and focus on what matters most of all: running their business.
bizcircle.att.com | @ATTSmallBiz | Facebook | More from AT&T Business Circle

// by Rieva Lesonsky / Apr. 26, 2016 0 comments
digital marketing

Are you a digital marketing ninja, a novice or somewhere in between?

A recent survey of small business owners from Yodle has some insights that will help you see where you stand.  

Most small business owners claim to be familiar with the basics of social media, content marketing and email marketing. In fact, nearly one-fourth say they are either advanced or "an expert" when it comes to email marketing and social media.

As for social media, 80 percent of small business owners are using it for marketing purposes with varying degrees of effectiveness. 51 percent have seen either some or “a lot of” new clients as a result; however, nearly three in 10 say they aren’t getting any new clients as a result of their social media outreach.

Only 40 percent of small business owners say they are satisfied with their current business website. 48 percent don't have a mobile-optimized website yet, 14 percent don't send mobile-optimized emails, and 40 percent admit they don't know much about pay-per-click ad campaigns.

Entrepreneurs in the survey say the hardest parts of acquiring new customers are "Finding and targeting new leads" (38 percent), "Getting noticed over our competition" (30 percent) and "Costly ad campaigns" (28 percent). Digital marketing can help with all of these challenges—and getting savvier about online marketing can help you get better results.

How does your online marketing knowledge compare to that of the entrepreneurs in the survey — and how can you improve your results? Here are some tips:

  1. Keep your website up-to-date. A mobile-friendly website is a must these days, so if your website still isn't using responsive design (which responds to the device a person is using to deliver an optimal viewing experience), it's time to make some changes. But updating your site doesn't just mean technology updates: The information on the site is just as important as how it looks. Regularly review your website for broken links, outdated information or other errors that could be keeping potential clients and customers from contacting you. A monthly review doesn't take long, and could pay off big.
     
  2. Make your email marketing work. Having a mobile-optimized website is wonderful, but if your emails aren't mobile-optimized too, prospective customers may never make it to your website. Your email marketing messages should be fast loading, readable at a glance and designed so users can easily click on buttons or links no matter what type of smartphone they’re using. (Once they click on that link, be sure they go to a mobile-friendly landing page, too.)
     
  3. Put in the time. Online marketing doesn't cost much in financial terms, but it does require an investment of time. While time is always in short supply for entrepreneurs, there are ways to get around this. For example, you can use social media management tools, such as Buffer, Hootsuite or SocialOomph, to automate things like monitoring and scheduling posts. While you shouldn't expect instant results, if you continuously monitor the results you do get, you should see additional leads, customers and sales as a result of your online marketing efforts.
     
  4. Tie it all together. The cool thing about digital marketing is how easily it can all work together to get exponentially better results. For example, you can use your business blog for content marketing, link to your blog content in your email newsletters, share that content on social media, encourage social media followers to sign up for the email newsletter, and so on. Every piece of online marketing links to every other piece, all of it ultimately driving prospective customers to your business website where they can take action.
     
  5. Keep learning. Digital marketing changes faster than you can refresh a webpage, and if you want your business to stay competitive, you need to keep pace. Devote time—say, an hour a week—to reading and learning about new developments in the world of online marketing that affect small business.

One easy way to stay on top of what you need to know: Talk to the experts at SCORE. They can show you the ropes, and connect you with resources to take your digital marketing to the next level. Visit www.score.org for 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. 
GrowBizMedia.com | @rieva | More from Rieva

// by The UPS Store / Apr. 25, 2016 0 comments
doing office paperwork

Creating a new business can be a tough journey. Doing so while working full-time may seem tougher, but this route actually offers several benefits. You can continue earning money to put towards your startup. But even if you only work an hour a week building your company, you still need a business plan.

A business plan is critical to every small business, even for pre-startups. Why do you need one so early? It serves as your map through what might be a bumpy journey. A business plan gives you the best shot at a smooth ride.

Business plans typically have four sections: the Executive Summary, the Business Details, Financial Forecasts and Supporting Data.

The Executive Summary

The summary does just what the name implies: sums up all the information in the business plan. It works as a short sales pitch for your business. Also, if you need funding, this is often the most important (or only) section potential lenders will read, so include all major information.

You want to write this last after you’ve finished the other sections.

The Business Details

In this section, explain your business model, what your business does and how you will make money.

  • Description: What are you offering and why? Be specific. Let’s use an example: You want to create monogrammed silk neckties in bold colors and prints.
  • Need: Explain why the world needs your product or service. What’s special about it? For instance, your neckties offer a mix of tradition (monograms) with modern style (bold colors and prints).
  • Marketing: Who is your target customer, and how will you market to them? Where do you plan on finding them? In our example, are they millennials, grooms, dads, CEO’s?
  • Sales: How do you plan on selling your product or service? For the ties example, will you sell online, in small boutiques, in department stores?
  • Competition: Who are your competitors, and what sets you apart? How can you compete and win?
  • Experience: List your experience and background and that of any co-founders. Let’s say you’ve worked as a tailor for ten years, and your partner is an accountant. You both have tremendous experience to run this tie business, so highlight your skills.

The Financial Forecast

Another necessary section in your business plan is the financial forecast. Here you detail how much it will cost to start the business, where the money will come from and how you will spend it. You also include financial projections for growth.

  • Equipment: What do you need to buy to start? Do you need a commercial sewing machine? What about the fabric?
  • Startup money: Where will the money come from? Personal savings? You salary? Friends or family?
  • Other funding options: Do you have other ideas of where you can get financing if needed? Perhaps outside investors?
  • Projections: Forecast your income and expenses for your first year. Estimate how long it will take to break even.

Supporting Data

This critical part provides backup evidence for everything you included in the business plan. Some data includes the size of the market for your product or service.

Creating a solid business plan will help you focus on what’s necessary to succeed. Read the remaining steps to entrepreneurship in the “16 Steps to Starting a Business While Working Full Time” guide. SCORE and The UPS Store partnered to create this ebook to help people like you realize the dream of business ownership. Remember that you don’t have to go on this journey alone. Connect with a free business mentor at SCORE, and use the small business resources at The UPS Store near you. For more guidance on business plans, see SCORE’s business plan template gallery. Good luck on your exciting endeavor!

The UPS Store
SCORE Corporate Patron

The UPS Store comprises the nation’s largest franchise system of retail shipping, postal, printing and business service centers. In addition to packing and shipping services, your locally owned The UPS Store offers professional printing services, mailboxes with a street address, notary, direct mail services, and more.
The UPS Store | @TheUPSStore | Facebook | More from The UPS Store

// by Bridget Weston Pollack / Apr. 22, 2016 0 comments
ecommerce button

You’re ready to offer ecommerce to expand the reach of your small business. Congratulations! Now, which ecommerce solution are you going to choose?

Don’t worry — we don’t expect to see you hand-coding your own online shop. So many ecommerce platforms have popped up in the past few years that there’s a fit for almost every type of business.

Which ecommerce option is best for your small business?

Online merchant account

If your needs are simple -- perhaps you’re scheduling appointments and require a deposit at the time of booking -- consider an online merchant account. A payment processor can help you open an online merchant account, or check with the bank you already use for your business.

PayPal offers another method of integrating ecommerce into your website without needing a merchant account.

Major online merchant account options include Cayan, Quickbooks Payments, GoEmerchant and Flagship Merchant Services.

Online shopping cart or ecommerce software

They have many names, but these tools help you build an online shop into your existing website or alongside it. Online cart options can offer beautiful layouts, high-resolution images and plenty of space to describe your products or services.

If you’re offering digital products, check out options like eJunkie, ClickBank, Gumroad or Fetch.

If you offer physical products, consider Shopify, Big Cartel, Volusion or Bigcommerce.

Website builder

Where did you purchase your domain or web hosting? You might be able to sign up for ecommerce features in the same place you built your business website. Ecommerce offerings might not be as vibrant as choosing a specialty ecommerce software solution, but you can rest assured your online shop will match the look and feel of your entire web presence.

GoDaddy, Squarespace, Wix and Weebly all offer ecommerce integration.

Ecommerce marketplace

Want to get your niche, handmade, or vintage products in front of as many viewers as possible? Turn to ecommerce marketplaces like eBay, Etsy, Amazon Handmade or StoreEnvy. These platforms may have limited customization offerings and usually live separately from your website. But great minds think alike, and if your audience is already shopping on one of these sites, you may want to join them there.

Before you sign up for the first ecommerce platform you stumble upon, consider the following:

  • Cost. Don’t just look at the cost of initially setting up an ecommerce service. Is there a monthly or yearly fee? Is there a fee per transaction? Is there a fee that goes to a third-party payment processor? Fully explore each option’s true cost as a seller. If you can’t get a clear picture of how much will come out of your pocket, get in touch with that solution providers and ask for example scenarios.
  • Room to grow. Everyone wants their business to get bigger, right? But outgrowing your ecommerce solution can cause major growing pains. Anticipate future products, styles and packages you may want to offer in your online store. Can your ecommerce solution of choice grow along with you? What extra costs may be involved?
  • Aesthetic. A potential customer won’t touch a website that doesn’t match the expectations they have about that business. A mom-and-pop hardware store may be able to get by with a bare-bones ecommerce platform that’s efficient, but less than glamorous. On the other hand, a glossy beauty company should have a website and online shopping experience to match.
  • Ease of use. Your ecommerce system is useless if the thought of editing a single product description makes you want to run away. You should feel comfortable working with your system on a daily basis to maintain a consistent pleasant experience for your customers. Many ecommerce solution providers offer demonstrations or free trials of their products to give you an idea of what’s under the hood. If you’re considering an option that doesn’t offer demos, search for video tutorials made by fans or experts.
  • PCI compliance. Any ecommerce solution you consider should be upfront about PCI compliance. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) must be maintained by any payment processor handling customer credit card information. Look for platforms that are transparent about security practices and advertise Level 1 PCI compliance.

What ecommerce solution is best for your small business? Meet with SCORE mentor to review your products, services and goals.

Bridget Weston Pollack
Vice President of Marketing & Communications
SCORE
Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing & Communications at the SCORE Association. In this role, Bridget is responsible for all branding, marketing, PR, and communication efforts. She focuses on implementing marketing plans and strategies for the organization to facilitate the growth of SCORE’s mentoring and trainings services.
// by Jeanne Rossomme / Apr. 21, 2016 0 comments
to-do list

Growing your small business is exciting and challenging, but with growth, comes more work. And the number of hours in a day remains the same. How can you do it all?

Here are some resources for tackling that task list as effectively and cost efficiently as possible. 

Resources are listed from least expensive (but less skilled and needing more specificity and direction) to most expensive (but self-directed and with expert knowledge).

Local college interns

University students are desperately looking for meaningful work experience to add to their resumes.  Post your project on internship boards at your local university or community college.  You can get interns for free, but paying at least minimum wage is a good way to keep things professional and keep everyone motivated.

TaskRabbit

“We do chores. You live life.” TaskRabbit finds you help for those not-tough-but-time-consuming tasks that sap your hours and energy. You can hire a person to help gather business cards at your next event, deliver items to clients or organize your contacts… and all at a reasonable price.  For example, one owner uses TaskRabbit to help her with set up for trade shows and cooking demos.

UpWork

“Where will great work take you?” Whether you need a writer to knock out a 500-word blog post or a full-fledged software development team to support your business, UpWork allows you to easily search for freelancers with specific skills.

HourlyNerd

“Business experts on your terms.”  HourlyNerd is great if you are looking for a consultant to create a polished pitch deck, conduct a sophisticated market analysis or just has loads of experience at an executive level in a given industry.  I recently used HourlyNerd to find a cluster analysis statistics expert.  You can hire amazingly highly qualified people for a select project – and therefore at a fraction of the cost of an employee.

But how do you vet the many options presented at these sites?  Here are a few best practices from owners who have learned from good and disappointing experiences:

  • Clearly define the work needed to be done, especially the results you expect.  Be clear on what people, time or inputs you will provide, and what the freelancer is expected to produce.
  • Start with a low risk project that is not on a time crunch or needed to land your biggest client.  You can stay in charge without feeling desperate if things do not go well.
  • Consider giving a “try-out” to select among several candidates.  Ask for samples of past work or for a paragraph based on a writing prompt.  You can agree to pay them for a few hours and a specific task to evaluate the quality of the work.  This step can take longer but ensures that you’ve seen the quality of the work and are not surprised (and stuck) later.
  • Pay attention to the “how” of the response.  Do they have a good website or profile?  Do they respond quickly?  How is the quality of their email responses?  Work ethic, responsiveness and communication can often be as important as the actual output. Early interactions are good indicators.

Perhaps the most important part of using these resources is letting go.  You can start leveraging others and as they say, working “on” rather “in” your business.

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

// by ATT Business Circle / Apr. 20, 2016 0 comments
cloud backup

Play it safe by implementing smart data backup procedures right from the start of your business.

No matter what kind of small business you’re starting, protecting your computers and data from theft, viruses or disaster is critical. You’ll have customers’ financial information, personal information and your own business information, such as bank accounts, to protect. That’s why planning and implementing a business backup system should be part of every startup plan today.

There are two aspects to business data backup: backing up and storing your data, and then being able to retrieve and restore it if needed. The most basic form of business backup is plugging an external hard drive into your computer. While this certainly is a good first step, it also has limitations—a lot of them. You’ll have to configure the drive, set up the backup and regularly check to make sure it’s working. Hard drives can fail, which leaves you without a backup. And the biggest limitation, of course, is that if a fire, flood or other disaster destroys your business, it will also destroy that hard drive—and all the data stored on it. Having a local backup is only half of the equation.

More and more small businesses are turning to cloud backup services, which offer convenience, simplicity, and reliability. Cloud backup means your data is backed up into the cloud—that is, online—rather than onto a physical server or drive on your premises. Although there are many offerings in this space, some focused purely on backup services include CrashPlan, BackBlaze, and AT&T Tech Support 360 Backup and Go.

Not all cloud backup solutions, however, are created equal—and while it’s simple to sign up with a backup service, switching to a new one if you’re dissatisfied can be quite a hassle.

Before you choose a cloud backup provider, ask yourself these questions:

Where do you store the data?

Some companies store data offshore, which can be riskier because there is less regulation overseas. For best results, use a provider that stores your data in the U.S.

How is the data backed up?

Good cloud backup providers will have redundant systems, so there is backup of your backup in case something happens on the cloud company’s premises. Ask what kind of disaster recovery plan the company has in place. Does the service support file revisions? This allows you to go back to an earlier version of a file, which can be extremely helpful.

How much will it cost?

Do they charge per GB (gigabyte) or is it a flat rate for unlimited storage? Is there any fine print for “unlimited” backup? And do they back up all types of files? Some providers will skip larger file types, such as videos or digital software downloads, which means you don’t have a complete set of your data backed up. Some providers might charge you to download your data which could become expensive.

How quickly can my data be restored?

Just because your data is backed up doesn’t necessarily mean you can instantly get it back. Find out how long it will take to restore lost data, whether that’s immediately, a matter of hours, or a matter of days. Time is money; being without critical information for days or weeks can hamstring your business. Some cloud backup providers have an option to courier your data on a hard drive, so you’ll have it all back within one or two days.

If your industry requires you to meet certain security standards for your data, make sure the provider you choose can help you meet your compliance requirements.

Once you’ve selected a cloud backup provider, the rest is simple—all you have to do is sign up for the service, then select the data you want backed up and how often. A popular option is backing up and syncing continuously. This means you always have the most recent data stored, which is great if you frequently update files.

Choosing the right backup solution that allows you to “set it and forget it” takes one startup hassle off your hands.

ATT Business Circle
SCORE Corporate Patron

Business Circle is a community where Small Business Owners can share stories and glean information to better understand how technology can address key business challenges, so they can trust in the solution and focus on what matters most of all: running their business.
bizcircle.att.com | @ATTSmallBiz | Facebook | More from AT&T Business Circle

// by Rieva Lesonsky / Apr. 19, 2016 0 comments
social media computer screen

Small business owners have adopted social media marketing in a big way, according to the results of a recent survey by Clutch. Almost three-fourths (73 percent) of small business owners surveyed say they either use social media for marketing purposes or plan to start doing so this year. That makes social media the number-one marketing tool for small businesses. (By comparison, 65 percent of small business owners surveyed have a company website.)

But how well are small business owners using social media, and what kind of return are they getting?

In general, small business owners are focused on the basics. Facebook is by far the most popular social network; 89 percent of companies in the survey use it. Twitter is used by 49 percent, LinkedIn by 42 percent, Pinterest by 31 percent and Instagram by 28 percent. Less popular (at this moment) are Snapchat (11 percent), Vine (8 percent), Medium and Reddit (both 6 percent) and Periscope (4 percent).

When it comes to activity on social media, small business owners are doing very well. Just 11 percent of those who are active on social media say that they post inconsistently. The vast majority of entrepreneurs post at least once a week or more often: 35 percent post weekly, 26 percent post several times a day, and 18 percent post once a day.

As for social media metrics, small business owners still have a ways to go. Their primary means of tracking the success of social media is measuring views (51 percent), posts and interactions (34 percent), audience growth (32 percent) and shares (30 percent). Only 28 percent of the small business owners surveyed say they measure the relationship between social media activity and actual revenue generation; 22 percent say they measure conversions.

Are these the most important metrics to measure? Well, it depends. If your goal is just to generate chatter, measuring likes and shares could make sense. However, most of us want social media to accomplish more than just getting people talking. We want to attract new customers, make sales and increase revenues. If this is the case, you're better off tracking metrics such as conversions and sales that reflect more important actions than just clicking “like.”

Clutch offers some guidance for small business owners hoping to get better at social media marketing:

  • Understand the unique benefits of social media, such as its ability to build close relationships with your customers and to enable direct communication with your target audience.
  • Ask yourself: Who is my audience, where is my audience on social media, and how do they like to get content? This will help you identify the appropriate social media networks to focus on. For example, if your business benefits from sharing images, you might prefer Pinterest or Instagram to Twitter. If your audience likes to read long articles, LinkedIn might be better for you.
  • Follow some basic rules for posting. Post at the times of day when your audience is most engaged on each social platform. Don't post too often. Focus on quality rather than quantity.
  • Don't forget about online review sites. Depending on the nature of your business, review sites such as Yelp may be important social media channels for you. For example, if you own a restaurant, Yelp should be part of your social media marketing, because many consumers use it as a social tool.
  • Measure the right metrics. Know your goals for social media, and measure the metrics that are relevant to those goals.

Don't get discouraged: Although most of the businesses surveyed had fewer than 10 employees, the report notes that even larger companies have difficulty properly measuring and quantifying the results of their social media marketing efforts. Social media is most effective when it is part of a larger online marketing strategy, so make sure your social media posts are in tune with the rest of your marketing. Need more help fine-tuning your social media strategy? Visit www.score.org to get advice from a SCORE mentor for free.

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. 
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// by OnDeck / Apr. 18, 2016 0 comments
financial literacy

Did you know that April was Financial Literacy Month? I was tempted to call it a celebration, but admittedly, “celebration” would have been an overstatement. I understand that most entrepreneurs are more excited about their core business rather than the financial responsibilities like doing the books, filing taxes or financing their businesses—but they are all part of the package and keys to success.

Understanding how business credit works is an important part of the financial literacy you need for when borrowing capital makes sense to help your business grow and thrive. If you’re unsure about how business credit works, we recently hosted a webinar discussing how your business credit profile is created and used by lenders to evaluate your credit.

We also identified five things you can start doing right now to build or maintain a strong business credit profile:

  1. Make sure your profile is accurate: The credit bureaus like Dun & Bradstreet, Experian and Equifax (the big three) are motivated to maintain accurate information—so they want business owners to review their profiles, and correct any errors.
     
  2. Keep your business credit and personal credit separate: The higher balances that often accompany business expenses can hurt your personal credit, and they don’t help you build a strong business credit profile.
     
  3. Establish trade accounts with your suppliers: This is a fairly easy way to start making a positive impact on your credit profile. 30- or 60- day payment terms with suppliers can be an important step to build a strong business credit foundation.
     
  4. Make sure your suppliers report your good credit behavior: If they don’t report to the bureaus, you may be building a good credit reputation with that particular vendor but aren’t doing anything to build a good credit profile.
     
  5. Use the credit you need and stay current: Building a strong credit profile is about demonstrating that you can use the credit you need and stay current with all your credit accounts.

If you have any questions about how business credit works, or how to build a stronger profile, join us for a live Twitter chat on 4/20 at 1:00 pm EST. We’ll be there to answer your questions. I hope you’ll join us using the hashtag #AskTy.

OnDeck
by Ty Kiisel
SCORE Corporate Patron
Ty Kiisel contributes to the SCORE blog from OnDeck. OnDeck offers business loans and business lines of credit to small businesses across the United States. OnDeck analyzes businesses differently than traditional lenders, which means that they can make more loans than traditional lenders, and they can fund businesses within hours or days – not weeks or months.