Why December is a Great Time to Review Your Business Plan
While December is a busy time for small businesses trying to end the year on a high note, it should also be a time for introspection and review. After all, December is National Write a Business Plan Month!
You might think this occasion is reserved for new, aspiring business owners. But a business plan is so crucial for success that it’s also a good idea to take time to review your plan on a regular basis. This month is a great time for that.
Here’s how to review your business plan to prepare for success in the coming year.
1. Set aside one hour to review your business plan
Yes, you can make progress in just one hour! Set aside quiet time to read through your business plan — no matter how old it is — cover to cover.
Don’t be hard on yourself if your current business reality isn’t the same as your plan projected. Celebrate your successes, of course! But your real task here is to read and contemplate your plan. Pay attention to how you feel as you do this, and jot down any ideas or thoughts that come to mind.
2. Step away from your plan for a short time
Don’t rush to any conclusions or judgments when you finish reading your plan. Set aside the document. Take a walk. Get back to work for a few hours.
See what thoughts bubble up about your plan. Do any ideas spring to mind to improve your business plan?
If you find yourself feeling frustrated during this step, remember that your business plan is a living document that can be changed at any time. No plan is set in stone unless you want it to be.
3. Set goals for 2017
It’s time to set goals for 2017. What do you hope to accomplish? Do those goals fall in line with your original business plan, or is it time to draft a new version?
One of the best ways your business plan can guide you in setting new goals is by reviewing your weaknesses.
Your business plan includes a SWOT analysis, evaluating the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for your own business compared to your competition. Go back to the “weaknesses” portion of that report. Do you still agree with what you listed for your business? Are those weaknesses still true for your business, yourself as the boss, or both? Whether you’ve added skills and strengths to your business endeavor or you’re still struggling, think about how you can grow — or ask for more help — in 2017.
When you’re finished, you’ll probably have a lot of ideas for your business for 2017 and years to come. The beginning of the year is a great time to set up a meeting with a SCORE mentor to talk about how to help your business grow. Anxious to get started right away? Don’t wait! Volunteer mentors work all year round — including around the holidays — to support small business.
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10 Reasons All Business Owners Should Plan
Whether you're just starting out, growing your business or seeking outside help, good business planning will help you achieve that goal. And take note: this means you, business owners. The startups know why they need a plan, but we business owners often think planning is just for startups. That’s not the case.
Also, to be clear, I’m writing about planning, not just a plan. That’s an important distinction. It’s almost 2017. Planning means planning process, a lean business plan with monthly reviews and revisions to guide management. Planning is not a document that you use once and throw away. It’s an ongoing management process.
Furthermore, I’m not talking about a big formal business plan. I’m talking about lean business planning, with a simple plan that is just big enough to manage the business.
- Manage cash flow. Profits are accounting creativity, while cash flow is your bank balance. You can’t spend profits. Plan cash flow with linked projections of sales, spending, and cash. It’s the number one essential of business planning.
- Set strategy. Strategy is focus on specific differentiation points, target market, and business offerings. Most business owners want to do everything for everybody; but success requires focusing on doing the right things for the right market segments. So we write down the key points. Then we refer back to them, regularly, as reminders.
- Match tactics to strategy. Tactics are decisions you make on product or service, marketing, pricing, promotion, financing, and so forth. Too often we forget the strategy while executing tactics. Does pricing match differentiation and target marketing? Does promotion?
- Set specific milestones, metrics, tasks, responsibilities, dates, and deadlines. Management is about setting expectations, tracking results, and comparing the two. So expectations need to be specific, trackable, written down, and communicated. So do results. Accountability requires specific metrics and task responsibilities. All of this happens with planning. Use planning to get everybody in your team on the same page. Communicate expectations and results as part of the planning process.
- Deal with displacement. You can’t do everything. You have your strategic focus laid out, so then you decide what you can and can’t do, realistically, in the context of strategy. The principle of displacement says that everything you do rules out something else that you can’t do because you are doing that first thing.
- Manage fixed costs, locations, and spending. Use your planning process to put numbers on key concepts to guide decisions about new locations, upgrades of equipment, and so on.
- Know when and why to hire new people. Use your planning process to pinpoint needs for new hires, functions required, and related expenses.
- Manage a team. People work better when they know their specific metrics, tasks, and expectations. Use the planning process to keep those clear and share with the team. Accountability is a lot easier when you have numbers and tracked results. Your review process gets a boost when it links to the plan vs. actual numbers in your planning.
- Plan and execute financial needs. Know ahead of time before you need a loan or seeking investors. Understand the relationship between growth and working capital. Fill financial needs before your back is against the wall.
- Grow your business. Your planning gives you a forum to review strategy and results, review tactics, and develop plans for growth into new markets or into new business offerings.
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Veterans: SBA Has Tools to Build a Successful Business
The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Veterans Business Development is proud to provide entrepreneurial counseling and training to veterans, service-disabled veterans, military spouses, and National Guard and Reserve service members through programs like Boots to Business, Boots to Business Reboot , and the Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOC).
This week the SBA celebrates National Veterans Small Business Week. SBA district offices are hosting events nationwide that connect current and future veteran entrepreneurs to entrepreneurship resources while highlighting the accomplishments of veteran small business owners, such as:
- Michael and Kerry Stacks - Bold Mariner Brewing Company – Leveraged assistance from his local VBOC to secure an SBA-backed loan to start a brewing company with his wife, Kerry.
- Torrance Hart - Teak & Twine – Built on the training she learned in the Boots to Business entrepreneurship training course, and counseling from her local VBOC, she stared a successful e-commerce business when she left the Air Force.
- Tony Turin - Mt. Hood Eye Care - Attended a Boots to Business training course to learn the basics of opening an optometry business with his wife, Kim. His business plan received a $15,000 grant from Citi Salutes.
- Thom Besch, Col. (Ret.), US Army - Veteran Solar Systems – Contacted a local VBOC and attended a Boots to Business: Reboot class to find resources for his existing solar panel business.
During National Veterans Small Business Week, and going forward, share your veteran small business success story or show your appreciation for veteran entrepreneurs by joining the conversation online using the #MyVetBiz hashtag.
Celebrate this National Veterans Small Business Week by visiting www.sba.gov/myvetbiz to learn more about events, courses and resources available to support your entrepreneurial success.
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SBA Extends Resources to Service-Disabled Veteran Entrepreneurs
This year, to support current and future service-disabled veteran entrepreneurs, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) awarded three institutions and one business the Service-Disabled Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program (SDVETP) grant.
Offered by the SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development, this grant assists the grantees in providing entrepreneurial training to service-disabled veterans looking to start or grow a business. The awardees include:
- Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV): Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Syracuse, N.Y.
- Veterans Entrepreneurship Program: Riata Center for Entrepreneurship, Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Okla.
- Veterans Entrepreneurship Jumpstart Program: St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, Pa.
- Dog Tag Bakery, Inc.: Washington, D.C.
Despite the challenges they faced, service-disabled veterans have pursued entrepreneurship and established successful companies nationwide. Veterans like Dr. Ray Jardine, Staci Redmon, and Quiana Gainey--all of whom have used the resources available at Veterans Business Development Centers--have leveraged the skills and experience they gained in the military to accomplish their dreams of small business ownership.
The SBA looks forward to working with these outstanding awardees to create opportunities for service-disabled veterans and their families who want to start or grow a small business.
The SBA celebrates service-disabled veterans, as well as all-era veterans, service members, and military spouses during National Veterans Small Business Week, Oct. 31-Nov. 4. SBA district offices are hosting events nationwide that will connect current and future veteran business owners to entrepreneurship resources, while highlighting the accomplishments of veteran small business owners.
During National Veterans Small Business Week, and going forward, share your veteran small business success story or show your appreciation for veteran entrepreneurs by joining the conversation online using #MyVetBiz.
Celebrate National Veterans Small Business Week by visiting www.sba.gov/myvetbiz to learn more about events, courses and resources built to support your entrepreneurship success.
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Can You Really Start a Business With Just a Smartphone? Yes!
It might seem a bit surprising it’s absolutely possible to start and run a business from your smartphone. At the very least, you can start a business and run the majority of it from a smartphone and without a computer, from your home.
Imagine for a moment that you don’t have a full-fledged computer, and you can’t afford expensive equipment. That’s not so far fetched, because many budding entrepreneurs have minimal resources, yet most of us have a smartphone these days.
Or perhaps you simply love the idea of being a mobile. You want the freedom that comes with running a business from your phone.
With the right idea and the right mobile tools, you can run a business without investing in tons of expensive equipment or tying your business to one specific location. Here are some tips for starting a business from your smartphone.
Start with a “phone friendly” business model
This part is essential.
Certain types of businesses naturally lend themselves to being run on mobile devices, whereas others may present more challenges.
For instance, you probably cannot start a full-service web design firm with just a smartphone. You’d need a desktop computer and some professional software in order to really get the job done. However, if you want to develop mobile apps, there are tools available for you to do that on a mobile device.
Some other businesses that you could potentially start with just a smartphone include:
●Social media marketing
●mCommerce (mobile commerce)
Think also about business professionals who don’t require a computer or a place of business that customers visit, and require only a small amount of supplies and equipment. Types of businesses include handymen, maid service, gutter cleaning, home decorator, seamstress and car detailing to name a few. These are still low cost businesses to start and run, and it’s not absolutely necessary they have a computer; instead they can rely on a smartphone. You can often get leads through home-services sites, online yellow pages, social media or word of mouth, directly to your phone– and you can work out of your home or by visiting clients at their residences or places of business. Be sure to check on any licensing and other requirements in your locale.
Get the right apps
A smartphone is made more powerful and versatile by choosing and using the right software apps.
For some businesses you definitely will need add-on apps. For example, to run an mCommerce business (the term “mCommerce” stands for a mobile based eCommerce business) you will need a commerce application that is mobile friendly, and a fulfillment or drop ship service. And as a writer, it might be possible to type by hand on your smartphone’s on-screen keyboard, but wouldn’t it be so much better to use a voice transcription app of some kind?
Also, you will need basic apps necessary to run a business today. For example, you might need a note taking app to keep track of information and organize tasks. You probably will need some kind of expense tracking, invoicing and/or accounting software app to keep your books straight and get paid. And many businesses could use a cloud project management app, especially for businesses like event planning where organization skills are central to daily execution.
Master mobile communication
Communication with team members, customers or potential clients is an essential part of running any business, whether you have tons of expensive equipment or just a smartphone to work with.
You’re going to have to work around the limitations of a small keyboard.
Email is one of the most popular communication methods for mobile professionals. While a quick response with some abbreviations or spelling errors might be okay if you’re sending a quick message to your business partner, that’s unlikely to go over well with clients or customers. So if you’re communicating with clients or anyone who might expect a detailed response, you need to take the time to communicate in a way that’s satisfactory. And if you use a voice app to dictate responses, be sure to review the communications for accuracy before hitting “send.”
Consider storing canned responses so you don’t have to always fully type out long emails.
You can also shore up your mobile communication strategy with apps like Google Hangouts, Skype or Apple FaceTime that let you communicate with others on other devices through voice, video or text chat.
Being active on social media is an essential activity for a lot of businesses, regardless of whether or not they’re run on smartphones. But luckily for mobile business owners, most popular social platforms have comprehensive mobile apps to make this function fairly straightforward.
In fact, some social apps like Instagram and Snapchat are only really available for full use on mobile devices. So if you’re running a business on your smartphone, take full advantage of those social platforms by using them to showcase your social media strategy, branding and marketing from anywhere.
Back up important data
While smartphones can be great business tools, many aren’t known for having enough storage space. And what space you have may be eaten up by adding multiple apps. If you’re running a business, you’re going to need a place to store all of your important documents, images, videos and other files.
For ample storage, add a large data card, but one flexible and secure option is to expand your data storage to a secure Cloud storage app. That way, even if your smartphone drops into the river or is lost, your important business files will still be available and protected.
Some smartphone companies, including Apple and Samsung, have some cloud storage options that you can use for certain items. But you might also explore apps like Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive to store some of your important items in the cloud. With these services, you can also potentially share items with team members using other mobile devices.
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8 Tips for Building Your Business Support Network
Whether you are just branching out or gearing up for your umpteenth year in business, it never hurts to have a supportive network around you. Owning a business can not only be stressful but lonely. Not every family member or friend will understand or emphasize with your entrepreneurial journey. The key is to surround yourself with like-minded individuals who can offer advice, share opportunities and listen to your big ideas. Go beyond your typical inner circle and broaden your network of support.
Consider the following strategies in either engaging with people you hope to connect with or need to re-engage to strengthen the support around you as well as to look for new business opportunities.
1. Alumni: Reconnect with college and/or high school staff and classmates by letting them what you are doing now and what you have accomplished or plan to accomplish in your business. There might be opportunities to collaborate with university or community college by speaking at the school, hiring seasonal workers or bidding on a project.
If you have children or are engaged in your local community, this strategy applies to reaching out to the parents and teachers association (PTA) or a similar group within the school.
2. Chamber of Commerce: Join a local or state chapter and meet and support business leaders. Becoming an active member can expose you to other industries, opportunities and like-minded contacts.
3. SCORE: Supported by the SBA, SCORE is a nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs launch and grow their business. There are SCORE locations throughout the U.S. Between workshops and mentorship business owners can access professional support year-round.
4. Faith-based community: Your spiritual relationship with the members at your place of worship can have a positive effect on your personal life and business goals. Lean on faith-based organizations and activities that promote a healthy, productive lifestyle.
5. Extracurricular groups: It’s easy to forget that we form bonds with people we meet through leisure activities like sports leagues, volunteer and travel groups. When not working on or in your business, it’s essential to have a release.
6. Former co-workers: If you’ve shared ideas or worked well with previous coworkers and staff, re-engage them to share your current business venture. Their skillset might be useful in your next idea or they can provide insight or contacts that you may have not consider.
7. Professional organizations or conferences: Depending on the nature of your work and business, there might be an established network of professionals who meet annually. Conferences and professional groups are instant support systems because they bring together small and large crowds of people who are similar. You can get a lot of inspiration and information by not only attending events but potentially sponsoring or speaking at one.
8. Online groups via forums, private Facebook groups or Slack communities: Thanks to the internet and social networking, interfacing with other business owners across the world is reality. Building connections that go beyond day-to-day business matters, can provide new ideas and a different perspective.
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How to Organize Your Small Business Startup Costs
Launching or transitioning your side job into a full-time venture is stressful, demanding and exciting. One of the first steps is to consider your startup costs, or expenses in the beginning phases of entrepreneurship.
Startup costs will vary from industry to industry and may fluctuate during different seasons within any given year, but particularly the first few years of operation. Think about some of these questions:
Do I have enough capital or other resources to maintain a living? Do you have marketing materials? Should I invest in training programs or professional conferences? Is a lawyer necessary? What are my liabilities? Are my contracts protecting my business and assets? Should I hire staff or do all the work myself?
These type of questions and this line of thinking is good to establish early on to avoid messy financial situations. To keep yourself accountable and organized, place startup costs in categories included but not limited to the following list:
Legal/Paperwork– lawyer meetings and fees, business certificates and related documents
Taxes and any documents related to business-generated income as well as 1099 or similar forms from contracted workers and employees
Professional Development & Education like conferences, trainings, certificate programs
Transportation costs like traveling via train, plane, or cab as well as parking fees.
Equipment like office furniture, trucks, vans, real estate, phones, etc.
Marketing materials such as business cards, website(s), social media management, etc.
Miscellaneous items like business clothing, paying for lunch or dinner meetings, etc.
By listing groups of related business activities and then categorizing them, you can begin to shape the areas in which you need to prioritize your finances, save for a rainy day or completely eliminate or postpone costly expenditures.
For example, if your business focuses on providing creative services like web development, you will need to strategize on what resources you need upfront to complete the job as well as how to minimize expenses to keep more money in your pocket. Unforeseen situations like website or server crashes or hiring additional staff can hurt your income projections but preparing in advance with either a business savings account or itemizing potential expenses, that includes unexpected issues, can alleviate stress and help create efficient systems.
Instead of waiting to cover costs later or jumping into projects without thinking through the financial implications. Entrepreneurship is an ongoing learning experience and journey that involves successes and failures from the very start.“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”, a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin that still rings particularly true for small business owners.
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Summer Reading for the Business Minded
Whether you are on a much needed vacation or in an effort to spur inspiration, the summer months provide an opportunity to reflect and re-engage. From starting a home-based business to handling taxes, these top SBA blog posts will give you options to rethink, reimagine and perhaps recommit yourself to your business needs and goals.
7 Inspiring Home Business Ideas for Stay-at-Home Moms or Dads
Being a parent is a full-time job but if you carve out time and some office space, you can use your parenting skills, network or other professional resources to launch a venture from kitchen.
How to Change Your Business Name – Legal and Regulatory Steps Explained
If you have set up shop for some time but recognize a shift in your business or industry, then perhaps you will need a new business name. Make sure to do it the right way!
6 Things You Need to Know About Your Tax Responsibilities as an LLC
Establishing a limited liability corporation is a popular choice for small business owners and entrepreneurs. With that in mind, understand the financial and tax implications of an LLC. Consider seeking professional advice to cover your bases.
Three Popular Start-Up Financing Options
How to Estimate the Cost of Starting a Business from Scratch
Depending on the type of business or industry, starting a new business can be costly. Explore different financing options beforehand as well as determine upfront expenses.
How Do I Find an EIN?
If you have a checklist of items to take care of as you launch your business, securing an EIN should be near the top.
Use the summertime to unwind and catch up on the numerous resources that SBA.gov has to offer new and experienced business owners.
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Email Marketing Basics for Small Business
Email marketing is just one of many ways to engage customers and ultimately lead them to purchase a product or service. Building and maintaining a healthy email list is important in learning more about your customer base and how they respond to your business, as well as generating potential new business. If your business has not explored nor maximized the possibilities of email marketing, read more about how to leverage your existing and future contacts. If you are a small business owner looking to try a different tactic or introduce something new, why not use a change in season to test new ideas.
Test and then test again
Once you focus on the subscribers who remain on your list, regardless of how many subscribers, there is an opportunity to experiment with different type of sales copy, promotions, visuals, etc. A simple way to test subject lines or a specific merchandise is to A/B test a call-to-action (CTA), time of day, or even the email’s layout. Send two emails to similar groups within your email list but hold a variable for testing. Make sure to have predetermined goals and review the analytics of open and click through rates of hyperlinks, especially those tied to your website.
Incorporate seasonal trends
If weather or the time of year affects your sales or potential new business, tailor email marketing accordingly. For example, if you manage a summer camp for teens, then you may target different groups to include school staff, parents, and community officials to inform them of your offerings, cost and availability. A common example of seasonal emails is small businesses and big brands using holidays like Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day to generate sales and customer interest about their products and store specials.
Integrate email marketing as part of an entire plan
A small business may not have a lot of marketing resources but to maximize your efforts, it’s important that email marketing and subsequent campaigns are connected to other business goals and marketing objectives. Think about social media, advertising, events, SEO, and other strategies that can work in tandem with your email marketing.
Email marketing can have many layers and may require knowledgeable staff or additional resources. Starting with the basics can help small businesses take advantage being present in their customers’ inboxes. Don’t lose sight of the chance to engage them, delight them and to make a sale.
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Are You Keeping Up with Your Business Cybersecurity Needs?
The increased connectivity provided by the internet has vastly changed the way we do business. But while most of the effects are for the better — ease of information exchange, ecommerce capabilities and customer service come to mind — there are still negative aspects small business owners should know about.
Cybercrime is one of the biggest threats businesses of all sizes face. More than 75 percent of data breaches target small and medium-sized businesses which can cause major havoc for your business operations. Sixty percent of small businesses affected by cybercrime will close within six months of the breach, according to a study by McAfee.
Here are a few tips for protecting your business from cybercrime.
Protect Your Business
First and foremost: Create and maintain a secure network for your business operations. A password may seem second nature for log-on, but do you have a firewall? Only twenty percent of small businesses have network security encryption. Contact your internet service provider to check on your security options, and find out where your network protection may be falling short.
Next, talk with your employees about keeping your business safe. They should create strong passwords for work-related accounts, and avoid completing personal tasks on company computers to reduce vulnerability.
Resist the urge to provide your Wi-Fi password to customers or visitors; if you wish to offer Wi-Fi to visitors, create a second network for guest use.
Finally, encourage your staff to backup data regularly, either to a cloud service, to a backup hard drive or both. Consider scheduling a regular backup day each week to get employees in the habit.
Protect Your Customers
Once you’ve taken steps to protect your business from cybercrime, it’s time to extend that protection to your customers. For the most part, your attention to cybersecurity to protect your business will flow over to your customers as well. But even the most web-savvy customers may need reassurance.
Be sure to communicate your online safety policies and measures to your customers especially if you’re offering ecommerce services. Be open with customers who may have questions about the security of their orders or personal information, and welcome discussion.
Don’t Let Your Small Business Get Complacent
One of the toughest parts of avoiding cybercrime is keeping up with the changing landscape of how we do business online. By keeping up with business news, you’ll help yourself stay aware of potential threats to your cybersecurity system.
Not sure if you’re doing enough — or the right things — to protect your small business? Get in touch with a SCORE mentor who can help you review your practices.
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