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Do you Extend Credit or Bill Your Customers Later? What You Need to Know About the FTC’s Red Flags Rule

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: June 6, 2012

Identity theft is on the rise. Impacting more than 10 million consumers each year, it also costs businesses an estimated $221 billion annually. To help combat this threat, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has just implemented new regulations designed to help prevent identity theft, known as The Red Flags Rule.

If you are a small business that provides products and services to your customers and bills them later, there’s a good chance you need to comply with these new requirements.

Read on to determine if the Rule applies to you and how to comply:

What is the Red Flags Rule?

The Red Flags Rule requires many businesses and organizations to implement a written Identity Theft Prevention Program to detect the warning signs, or "red flags," of identity theft in their day-to-day operations, such as an impostor trying to defraud you while using someone else’s identity. The rule went into effect on June 1, 2012.

Who Needs to Comply

The rule applies primarily to organizations you might expect to be typical targets for identity theft, like “financial institutions” (banks, credit unions, etc.) and also to “creditors.” But it applies to a much broader base of businesses, too.  The key term here is “creditor.” The rule’s definition of “creditor” is very broad and includes businesses or organizations that regularly provide goods or services first and allow customers to pay later.

For example, law firms and accounting firms that receive payment after a service is completed are considered creditors. Likewise, if your business extends credit, makes credit decisions, or processes credit applications, you are also covered by the rule.

NOTE: Simply accepting credit cards as a form of payment does not make you a “creditor” under the Red Flags Rule. But if a company offers its own credit card, arranges credit for its customers, or extends credit by selling customers goods or services now and billing them later, it is a “creditor” under the law.

NEXT: If you think your business falls into any of these buckets, you’ll need to determine whether the accounts you maintain fall under the FTC’s definition of being at-risk for identity theft. These are called “covered accounts” and include:

  1. Consumer accounts designed to permit multiple payments or transactions
  2. Any other account that presents a reasonably foreseeable risk from identity theft. Examples include small business accounts or single transaction consumer accounts that may be vulnerable to identity theft.

If you have “covered accounts,” you’ll have to develop and implement a written program to detect and respond to the red flags of identity theft and update it periodically. 

How to Comply with “The Red Flags Rule”

Many observers doubt that the FTC will focus enforcement efforts on small businesses. However, it is the law; if you think you fall into any of the groups covered by the rule, then you’ll need to develop a written Identity Theft Prevention Program.

A good starting point is this plain language guide for businesses: Fighting Fraud with the Red Flags Rule: A How-To Guide for Business (PDF). This FTC Red Flags Rule FAQ can also help.

The Good News:  The FTC has also created a do-it-yourself template to help low-risk businesses create a plan. There are also many commercially available services and toolkits that can help businesses manage compliance. 

Essentially, your program should enable your business to:

  • Identify relevant red flags – Identify the red flags of identity theft you’re likely to come across in your business.
  • Detect red flags – Set up procedures to detect those red flags in your day-to-day operations.
  • Prevent and mitigate identity theft – If you spot the red flags you’ve identified, respond appropriately to prevent and mitigate the harm done.
  • Update your program – Keep it current based on emerging risks.

Failure by anyone in your business to recognize and report identity theft red flags can be costly, with both FTC fines and potential liability litigation from impacted consumers. If you think the Red Flags Rule applies to your business, take some time to read the business guides from the FTC, and if necessary, consult your attorney.


About the Author:

Caron Beesley


Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

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Franchise Lawyers: When To Use One

By FranchiseKing, Guest Blogger
Published: June 5, 2012 Updated: January 3, 2013

Are you headed towards the finish line? Are you at the point in your franchise business exploration where your yes or no decision on a particular opportunity is imminent? If so, read on…

In my capacity as a franchise ownership advisor, I’ve had several clients hear variations of the following declaration from their franchise development representatives;

You are welcome to pay to have a franchise attorney look over our Franchise Disclosure Document as well as the franchise agreement, but everything in our agreement is etched in stone.”

In other words: the franchise agreement, (contract) is non-negotiable.

While that may be true, (for the most part) these documents are not that easy to read, especially since a majority of the wording is in legalese. The Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD), combined with the actual franchise agreement itself, can easily be 200-300 pages long. You probably won’t be able to digest all of it in one sitting.

Look at all of the items that are included in every FDD:

·        The Franchisor, its Predecessors, and its Affiliates

·        Business Experience

·        Litigation

·        Bankruptcy

·        Initial Franchise Fee

·        Other Fees

·        Initial Investment

·        Restrictions On Sources Of Products And Services

·        Franchisee’s Obligations

·        Financing

·        Franchisor’s Obligations

·        Territory

·        Trademarks

·        Patents, Copyrights and Proprietary Information

·        Obligation To Participate In The Actual Operation Of The Franchise Business

·        Restrictions On What The Franchisee May Sell

·        Renewal, Termination, Transfer And Dispute Resolution

·        Public Figures

·        Earnings Claims

·        List Of Outlets

·        Financial Statements

·        Contracts

·        Receipt

That’s a lot of information for you to go through, especially if you’re new at reading franchise business documents. That’s why you need to hire a franchise attorney to look the franchise documents over. A franchise attorney knows what to focus on in the FDD and in the actual contract. They’ve probably written a few themselves. They can also lay out exactly what your obligations are going to be to the franchisor.

But, you don’t need to hire a franchise attorney right way. Follow these steps first:

·        Figure out what your top skills are, business-wise

·        Choose a few franchises in which those skills can be utilized

·        Learn all you can about the ones you’ve chosen

·        Do great franchise research

·        Visit* franchise company headquarters

Once you’ve done those things and are pretty much ready to move forward with your chosen franchise opportunity, hire a franchise attorney. A good one will make sure you haven’t missed anything in your research.

As far as I’m concerned, using the services of a qualified franchise attorney is the only thing that should be non-negotiable (in your eyes), if you’re buying a franchise.

One more thing

Are franchise contracts really non-negotiable?

According to Charles Internacola, a New York franchise attorney, they absolutely are:

It is not illegal for a franchisor to negotiate the terms of your franchise agreement. While you must be reasonable with your expectations about the franchise agreement terms that a franchisor may or may not be willing to negotiate, review the franchise agreement with your franchise lawyer and develop an approach to address and negotiate some strategic points that may enhance your rights as a franchisee.”  

Read about the seven things that Mr. Internacola feels are negotiable in a franchise contract on his New York Franchise Law blog*.

Finally, I don’t want you to get the impression that franchisors are out to get you. They’re not. They just want every franchisee in the system to be on the same page. Doing so can help preserve and even strengthen the brand.

They’re just trying to protect themselves. You’re doing the same thing by hiring a qualified franchise attorney.


*Non-US Government link


About the Author:

Joel Libava

Guest Blogger

The Franchise King®, Joel Libava, is the author of Become a Franchise Owner! and is a franchise ownership advisor. He shows people how to carefully choose and properly research franchises.   

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Priming the Lending Pump for Small Business: SLA 2.0

By Jeanne Hulit, Former Acting SBA Administrator
Published: June 4, 2012 Updated: June 8, 2012

SBA prides itself on opening more doors to more dollars in every community, creating an American economy built to last. Expanding access to capital and opportunity is critical to fulfilling SBA’s mission- especially in underserved communities. Knowing that we can do more, SBA is constantly working to remain responsive to the needs of small business owners and the lenders who serve them daily. 

Studies have shown the importance of low dollar loans to small business formation and growth in underserved communities. However, low-dollar loans can be costly to lenders- processing a $50,000 loan costs nearly as much as processing a $1 million loan with less profit.  Last year, in an effort to encourage more small-dollar lending in underserved communities, SBA rolled out a new program called Small Loan Advantage (SLA). The program simplified the application process for 7(a) loan up to $250,000. SLA offered lenders the opportunity to invest in neighborhoods hardest hit by the recession- putting more loans into the hands of small businesses and entrepreneurs through a faster, streamlined process.

Today, taking into account feedback from our lending partners, SBA is re-launching the Small Loan Advantage program as SLA 2.0. SLA 2.0 makes it even easier to process low dollar 7(a) loans by expanding the pool of lenders to include entities outside of our Preferred Lender Program . We also increased the loan limit for the program to $350,000, lining it up with our other loan products. These changes allow banks to use their own documentation underwriting process. Further, the SBA will credit score each loan in advance of approval which enables us to better manage the agency’s risk, while ensuring an efficient process. This creates a win-win situation for lenders and communities- establishing a streamlined process that reduces lender transaction cost and increases access to capital for small businesses and entrepreneurs in underserved communities.

Today, small business optimism is at its highest level since 2008 and we see the recovery taking hold where we need it the most, on the Main Streets of America. With innovative programs like SLA 2.0, SBA and the Obama Administration remain committed to seeing that trend continue in our underserved communities across this country, creating a resilient, robust national economy built to last.

About the Author:

Jeanne Hulit

Former Acting SBA Administrator

Jeanne Hulit is the Acting Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA helps both Main Street and high-growth small businesses get access to capital, counseling, federal contracts, disaster assistance and more.

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Equipping Small Business With More Tools: Procurement Day at National Small Business Week

By John Shoraka, SBA Official
Published: June 4, 2012 Updated: June 4, 2012

2012 NSBW National Procurement Award Winner Management Solutions, LLC.If you were to ask a small business owner to identify a top priority on his or her wish list, undoubtedly they would say “to get more business!” We know that one way to get more business is to contract with the Federal government - the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world. In FY10, nearly $100 billion federal contracting dollars went to small businesses. During this year’s National Small Business Week, the Small Business Administration worked to ensure small businesses made the right connections and gained access to federal contracting opportunities.

Matchmaking Procurement Opportunities

On May 22nd, during Procurement Day of National Small Business Week, SBA hosted a Business Matchmaking event that allowed small businesses to discuss procurement opportunities with major corporations and federal agencies. The event gave more than 150 small businesses from across the country an opportunity to have face-to-face meetings with major corporations and federal agencies to learn about specific contracting opportunities.  

SBA’s Procurement Day also featured federal contracting panels on gaining access to federal prime contracting and subcontracting opportunities. During these panels, small businesses learned how to market themselves to the federal government and go after government contracting and sub-contracting opportunities. Small businesses heard from SBA experts about the agency’s contracting programs for small businesses. SBA officials walked small businesses through the federal procurement process as well as small business contracting programs such as the 8(a) Business Development program, HUBZone program, Women-Owned, and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Programs. Small businesses heard first-hand how they can to gain access to federal contracts to grow and create jobs.

Small Business Advocates to the Federal Government

In addition to SBA experts, small businesses heard from the officials responsible for advocating for small businesses from within  Federal agencies. The Directors of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) at DoD, DHS, GSA, HHS, and USAID explained how they promote the maximum practicable use of all designated small business categories in the Federal Acquisition process. Federal OSDBUs shared tips on how to do business with the federal government, market to the federal government, and prepare winning proposals.

Breaking into Corporate Supply Chains Promotes Growth

One goal for many small businesses contracting with the federal government is to develop their business and build revenue from sources other than the federal government. Small businesses that are able to break into corporate supply chains often experience phenomenal growth. One study even shows that after small suppliers link up with larger companies, they can experience 250% revenue growth and 150% job growth in just a few years. Panelists from Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, AT&T, IBM, Booz Allen Hamilton, and L-3 Stratis shared their insights and perspectives on mastering the challenges of getting into the supply chains of large primes, and shared tips on how small businesses can better take advantage of both prime and sub-contracting opportunities.

Kicked off by a morning session honoring federal contractors, subcontractors, and winners of a variety of procurement awards, Procurement Day combined valuable education with unique opportunities for one-on-one access to Federal agencies and large corporate prime contractors


About the Author:

John Shoraka

SBA Official

John Shoraka is the Associate Administrator for Government Contracting and Business Development at the U.S. Small Business Administration.

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Is Your Company Prepared to Respond After a Disaster?

By Carol Chastang, SBA Official
Published: June 4, 2012 Updated: June 11, 2012

When a disaster occurs, it’s often the misleading bit of information shared by an outsider that gins up rumors about a damaged business shutting down.  Obviously, this situation undermines the company’s ability to recover. That’s one big reason why precise, effective communication – within the organization, and out to the public – is vital during an emergency.

Now that the Atlantic Hurricane season has begun, it’s a good time to set up an effective crisis communications strategy.  You want to develop a plan to make sure your employees, customers, vendors, contractors – everyone you do business with – is aware of the progress you’re making as you recover in the aftermath of a disaster.

Here are a few tips to get your company’s crisis communications plan started:

  • Develop and regularly update an Emergency Contact List that includes a home phone, alternate mobile, personal email, family contact information, and the evacuation plan.
  • Establish an email alert system capable of multiple means of communication to employees, stakeholders and clients.  Test the alert system regularly.
  • Consider an online social network platform for web-based crisis communications (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Having a plan to deal with local media is also essential. With a good strategy in place, the media can become a supportive function as you rebuild after a disaster.
  • Designate primary and secondary spokespersons, and give them training in dealing with the media. Make sure all employees know the name of the spokesperson.
  • Create key message and talking points to ensure consistent messaging.
  • Continuously monitor what’s being said and written about your company both online and offline, so you can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your strategy and messaging.

After the crisis, notify all critical people of your next steps. It’s also a good idea to do a debrief with your staff to evaluate lessons learned, and how to improve the plan if necessary.

There’s a great crisis communications checklist on Agility Recovery’s website.  Use it to create your own plan.

About the Author:

Carol Chastang

SBA Official

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5 Tips on Starting Your Hurricane Season Business Continuity Plan

By Carol Chastang, SBA Official
Published: June 4, 2012 Updated: June 4, 2012

While weather experts NOAA are predicting a “near-normal” 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, last year’s Hurricane Irene is a reminder of the erratic and devastating nature of tropical storms.  The six-month season, which began June 1, typically peaks between August and October, notwithstanding the two named storms in the last weeks of May. Now is a good time to put a disaster preparedness plan in place to protect your employees and your business.

SBA and Agility Recovery Solutions recently hosted a free webinar giving tips on how to prepare for Hurricane season.  But it doesn’t matter if you’re in the Gulf Coast or the Upper Midwest – all kinds of risks exist, and small businesses are particularly vulnerable. Go to this link to download the slides from the recent “Protect Your Business This Hurricane Season” webinar.  You can also view the recorded Webinar at any time. You will need Windows Media Player 9 or higher.

Meanwhile, there are a few things you can do, at no cost, to jump-start your business continuity plan:

·             Determine your greatest risk potential.  It might come from wind damage or inland flooding that typically follows a tropical storm’s heavy rains. Your business could suffer financial losses due to road and bridge closings in the aftermath of a hurricane. Power outages are a major threat, especially to businesses in the food and hospitality industries. What would happen if you had to shut down your business for several days?  Look at the building where you do business – inside and out – and assess the risks. If you do this early enough, you’ll have time to do structural upgrades – like impact resistant doors and windows – that can prevent possible future storm damage.

·             Calculate the cost of business interruptions for one week, one month and six months.  Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able investigate insurance options or build a cash reserve that will allow your company to function during the post-disaster recovery phase. It’s also a good idea to develop professional relationships with alternative vendors, in case your primary contractor can’t service your needs.  Place occasional orders with them so they regard you as an active customer when you need them.

·             Review your insurance coverage.  Contact your agent to find out if your policy is adequate for your needs. Consult with a business insurance expert to advise you on the right coverage for your situation. When buying insurance, ask “How much can I afford to lose?”  It’s a good idea to know the value of your property.  Floods are the leading cause of natural disaster losses in the U.S., according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and many property insurance policies don’t cover flood damage. 

·             Build a crisis communications plan so you’ll be able to make sure your employees, customers, vendors, and contractors know what’s going on.  Establish an e-mail alert system.  Make sure you have primary and secondary email addresses for your employees, and everyone you do business with.  Create a Facebook page, and use Twitter to keep the public aware you’re still in business and in the process of recovering after the disaster.

·             Consider a Telework Policy.  Prepare for the possibility that employees won’t be able to get to work by developing an emergency telework policy. Read “How to Make Telework Work for your Small Business” for more information.

Each month SBA and Agility Recovery hosts a free webinar providing business continuity strategies. The June 12 webinar will focus on effective leadership during hurricanes and other disasters, with a discussion led by former FEMA Administrator David R. Paulison. The hour-long webinar begins at 2 p.m. ET. Space is limited, so register now.

Related Resoures

About the Author:

Carol Chastang

SBA Official

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How to Set a Marketing Budget that Fits your Business Goals and Provides a High Return on Investment

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: June 4, 2012 Updated: January 9, 2013

Whether you run a small business or a multi-million dollar corporation, marketing is essential to your profitability and growth. Yet many small businesses don’t allocate enough money to marketing or, worse, spend it haphazardly.

I recently got to know a business that was investing heavily in developing a hip, niche product to add to its already very cool product line. Seemed like a sure winner. However, it quickly became apparent that product development had occurred in a silo, while sales and marketing were off doing their own thing. The result? The week before launch, the business found itself with a fantastic product on its hands, but lacked a go-to-market plan or promotional material for the new product. 

In a panic, an expensive PR firm, social media strategist, and marketing consultant were all pulled in to help drive awareness of the new product. Within a few weeks, the budget had run dry and the business had to quickly revisit its overall operational and sales and marketing strategy, while moving forward on a shoestring.

Products and services don’t sell themselves. By ignoring marketing until it’s too late, many small businesses risk hitting a brick wall and, quite possibly, failing. A hip and trendy product line shouldn’t rely solely on ongoing product investment and word of mouth.

But how much money should you allocate to marketing? And how can you spend it wisely? Here are some tips that can help you do both:

How to Calculate your Marketing Budget

Many businesses allocate a percentage of actual or projected gross revenues – usually between 2-3 percent for run-rate marketing and up to 3-5 percent for start-up marketing. But the allocation actually depends on several factors: the industry you’re in, the size of your business, and its growth stage. For example, during the early brand building years retail businesses spend much more than other businesses on marketing – up to 20 percent of sales.

As a general rule, small businesses with revenues less than $5 million should allocate 7-8 percent of their revenues to marketing. This budget should be split between 1) brand development costs (which includes all the channels you use to promote your brand such as your website, blogs, sales collateral, etc.), and 2) the costs of promoting your business (campaigns, advertising, events, etc.).

This percentage also assumes you have margins in the range of 10-12 percent (after you’ve covered your other expenses, including marketing).

If your margins are lower than this, then you might consider eating more of the costs of doing business by lowering your overall margins and allocating additional spending to marketing. It’s a tough call, but your marketing budget should never be based on just what’s left over once all your other business expenses are covered.

Spending Your Budget Wisely

Knowing how much you have to spend on marketing is critical; even more critical is how you spend it.
This means having a plan.  Your small business marketing budget should be a component of your marketing plan, outlining the costs of how you are going to achieve your marketing goals within a certain timeframe.

To get a sense of what your plan should include, take a look at this article from SBA guest blogger, Rieva Lesonsky: Does Your Business Have a Marketing Plan? Also check out How to Cut Your Marketing Budget and Build Your Brand Profitably.

Revisit Your Plans Often and Track ROI

Once you have developed your marketing plan and budget, remember that it needn't be fixed and inflexible. There may be times when you need to throw in another unplanned campaign or event. At the end of the day, knowing whether it your spending is actually helping you achieve your marketing goals is more important than sticking to your budget.

Have a plan in place for measuring your spending and the impact that activities have on your bottom line. Compare tactics, analyze seasonal effects – was one quarter more profitable than another? Why? Above all, have patience and follow through on all your marketing efforts across the organization – it takes a village to build and grow a brand.

Some tactics are hard to measure, like the efficacy of print collateral, but you need to consider the impact of not having these branding staples in your tool kit before you reign in your graphic design and print funds.

Marketing plans should be maintained on an annual basis at a minimum, and revisited if you launch a new product/service, or if the market landscape changes.

Helpful Resources


About the Author:

Caron Beesley


Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

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SBA Learning Center

Non-Manufacturer Rule Primer

This course is designed to provide an overview of the Non‐Manufacturer Rule, describing what it is, why it’s important and how it’s applied.   See the Government Contracting Classroom for more information.

Duration: 00:18:01

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Free Training Resources on Financial Management Available to Small Business Owners

By CeceliaT, SBA Official
Published: May 31, 2012 Updated: May 31, 2012

Are you looking for financial and business management tips and advice to help get your business off the ground? If so, there is a new tool to add to your small business tool belt. Money Smart for Small Business is a brand new training for new and aspiring business owners that introduces you to the day-to-day operations, organization and planning of a business from a financial standpoint.

Money Smart for Small Business, created with you – the entrepreneur – in mind, is an instructor-led financial education curriculum to help you with financial management to better operate your business. It was written for entrepreneurs who have no prior formal business training and offers practical information that can easily be put in place.

Why Money Smart for Small Business?

The Money Smart for Small Business training curriculum is an easy-to-follow structured program that covers 10 key areas of finance needed to organize any business. The 10 financial-related areas covered in the training are:

  • Insurance                                
  • Selling and Succession
  • Financial Management             
  • Organizational Types
  • Time Management                               
  • Tax Preparation
  • Banking                                               
  • Record Keeping
  • Risk Management                                
  • Credit Reporting

The training prepares you on the basics of financial management and lays a foundation for your ongoing training and technical assistance. It was developed mainly for new and aspiring entrepreneurs by the SBA and the FDIC, and is the latest in the FDIC’s Money Smart program.

The training gives you a full-range of business and financial resources, and gives you information about financial education programs provided by SBA and the FDIC to help strengthen and improve your ability to start, grow and compete in the global marketplace.

How does the Training Work?

Money Smart for Small Business starts with a core curriculum of the 10 modules that give you a first look at running a small business from a financial standpoint.  The modules can be taught in any order and are designed to give you the most necessary information in an hour-long period.  Each module has a scripted instructor guide, a participant manual and useful overhead slides that make it clear and easy to understand.

But the end of the training is just the beginning. Instructors are invited to consider organizing and hosting peer learning-type forums to give participating business owners the chance to meet regularly to support one another during their first year.

Also, instructors who lead the training curriculum will share their best practices, problem-solve common issues, and give their feedback to continuously improve the core of the training curriculum.

Is there Special Eligibility to Receive the Training?

Instructors who lead the trainings will likely find it helpful to have experience in conducting trainings, providing technical assistance or coaching small businesses. But no certifications are required to use or to order the training curriculum.

You should also know that the training is not intended for use by individual entrepreneurs on their own. Training on the Money Smart for Small Business program will be provided by a wide variety of organizations across the country such as financial institutions, small business incubators, city and county economic development offices, faith-based organizations, and similar organizations that teach workshops to entrepreneurs and small business owners.  Training will also be provided by SBA Resource Partners, which include SCORE, the Women’s Business Centers and the Small Business Development Centers.

How Can I Receive the Training?

Money Smart for Small Business can be ordered free of charge directly from the FDIC.

- - -

The support given by the U.S. Small Business Administration to this activity does not constitute an express or implied endorsement of any cosponsor's or participant's opinions, products, or services. All SBA programs or cosponsored programs are extended to the public on a nondiscriminatory basis.

About the Author:

Cecelia Taylor

SBA Official

CeceliaT is a moderator for the SBA Community. We appreciate your participation and feedback on how we can continually improve the community to meet your small business needs.

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Where Does Social Media Fit Into Your Business Plan?

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: May 31, 2012

What started as college kids on Facebook has grown up. At first it was updates and gossip and who’s a couple and who’s not. Then came Twitter and now Google+ and the reminder that LinkedIn, which started years earlier, was there too. Somebody named it social media. And now almost every business in the world is either participating, thinking about participating, or explaining to itself why not. And it’s time to relate that back to your basic business planning.

So the question is actually three questions:

1. How does your social media strategy fit into business strategy?

Like all elements of strategy, your social media has to address needs and goals. Are you looking at it to affect marketing, sales, customer service, or something else? You need to think this through.

The most common use is as a part of your marketing. Businesses use social media to reach more people and to present the business as a persona, participating in public discourse. Does it replace other more traditional marketing programs for you?  Or is it an extension of other programs? Determine how it relates to the strategic marketing process of getting people to know, like, and trust you.  Set realistic goals for realistic business functions and benefits.  Social media doesn’t do advertising well. It’s about participation and discussion, not just selling. It broadens your voice, but that doesn’t mean you’re able to just shout ad slogans at people.

Social media can extend beyond marketing into other functional areas. My favorite example is the taco truck using Twitter to announce its location every day. And we can all see some larger companies using it to soften the tone of complaints. Make sure you include these elements in your social media strategy if they fit your business and your overall strategy.

What matters is that you position your social media with its business function in your business. It’s not just doing it because everybody says you should. Think of the business benefits.

2. More important, how will you execute that strategy?

Social media is littered with the remnants of business efforts that failed. That includes blogs with only a few posts, Facebook pages left unattended, Twitter accounts that are inactive, and so on. That’s because so many people think it happens automatically, when in fact you need to manage the work involved.

One of the biggest fallacies in business social media is the idea that it just happens in your spare time. The accounts are free, but the updates take time and effort.  Here’s where your business planning becomes very important: figure out where that time and effort is coming from. Who is going to do it and where will they find the time to do it? If you and your people are already working well, how then do you add this new set of duties into the mix? Is there spare time to dedicate to this? What will people not be doing so they have time to do this?

Good business planning involves not just high-level strategy but also day-to-day execution. Make sure your plan includes the details of what you expect to do with your various social media accounts, who is responsible, and how will you measure results.

3. And even more important, how will you track results?

This is always a good question for business planning: As time goes on, how will you know whether you’re executing or not? With social media, as with any other component of your business plan, you develop your metrics as part of the plan. By metrics I mean numbers such as Facebook likes, Twitter followers, mentions, retweets, pluses, and so forth. There are tools for social media measurement available on the web (just search social media measurement and you’ll see).

The main thing is having the discipline to not only track but also to follow up with reviews and revisions.  Your original plans will need changing. Unforeseen factors will require reviewing goals and metrics, changing responsibilities, and adjusting the strategy. Like everything else in your business, the planning, which includes regular review and course correction, is what ends up generating the management and steering the business. 

About the Author:

Tim Berry

Guest Blogger

Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at timberry.bplans.com. His collected posts are at blog.timberry.com. Stanford MBA. Married 44 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including The Plan As You Go Business Plan, published by Entrepreneur Press, 2008.

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