5 Ways to Target the Right Audience
What is a business without customers? The most important step in business planning is finding out who your customers are, what their needs are, and why they want to buy from you. Is the market right for you? Are you targeting the right customers? Do they identify with your value proposition and your brand promise? If you don’t know the answers to these questions you may want to revisit the planning stage.
1) Be clear about whom you are and your unique value proposition
Sounds obvious, but more than just a product or service, what are you really selling? What problem are you solving and why would your product or service resonate with your customers? What unique benefits do you offer? This is what you must lock down in your brand promise.
Think about it. Take a look at some of the businesses and brands that you resonate with. What about their brand keeps you coming back for more? Certainly you have other options to choose from, so what is it that keeps you coming back for more, what is their unique benefit? What they are really selling is a combination of product, value, ambience (or not), and brand experience.
Take a look at this blog about the power of emotional marketing. This blog offers tips on how you can develop and capitalize on these elements of value.
2) Stay Focused
One of the pitfalls of not defining what you have to offer is that you can quickly become a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. This can have a negative impact on business growth.
Think about it from the perspective of a consumer. How often do you see marketing flyers promoting the service of a local handy man who claims to be an expert in everything from drywall installation to plumbing repairs, and so on? Or the restaurant that offers Chinese food, pizza, and subs. You wouldn’t choose either of these, because they have no specialty. You’ll win a lot more business with a strong strategic focus on something specific.
3) Identify Your Niche
The flip side of being a jack-of-all-trades is finding your niche and playing to your strengths within that niche. Creating a niche for your business is essential to success. For example, say you want to quit your day job and become a freelance writer. You know there’s a need in the market for a trustworthy, reliable, and consistently good technical writer – and clients are willing to pay a certain price point for that quality and value.
Now you could simply advertise your services on an online freelance marketplace, as many do, and hope to pick up any business from any customer anywhere on the map. But by identifying your niche and choosing to attract customers who will value your services, you will quickly build on that niche and be on the path towards business success.
4) Find Your Target Customer
Identifying and finding your ideal target customer is a process few businesses can’t afford to get wrong. A few simple steps can help get you along the way and are covered here in this SBA guide: Identifying Your Target Market.
5) Tailor your brand promise
Now that you’ve identified your target market you’ll need to craft a message that reaches and speaks to that market while reinforcing your brand identity. It not only explains what you have to offer, why you’re different, and why anyone should buy from you, but it should communicate the promise you’re making the customer. This promise speaks to the integrity of your business.
The moral of the story is be clear, be specific, and communicate your unique value. Here are some additional resources to help you on your way.
Established business owners: how did you establish your target market? What are some of the lessons you learned?
Top 10 Traits of Successful Business People
Setting out to become an entrepreneur requires a great deal of determination and hard work. You will need to set goals, take action, assess your progress, make adjustments, and have a clear financial map drawn out.
Motivational speaker, personal finance instructor, and self-help author Tony Robbins says, “Success leaves clues, and that people who produce outstanding results do specific things to create those results.” Regardless of your definition of success in business, there are common traits that are shared among many successful business people. Here are the top ten most common characteristics:
- Passionate – “If you just work on stuff that you’re passionate about, you don’t have to have a master plan with how things will play out” says Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. Successful entrepreneurs aren’t driven by money, they are passionate about their idea, by the opportunity to solve a problem and make a difference.
- Courageous – Starting a business and accepting the fact that you will have challenges on the way takes courage. It shouldn’t surprise you that being fearless is a trait shared among many successful entrepreneurs. The good news is everyone has the capacity for being courageous.
- Trustworthy – Building trust is paramount to the success of a business. Successful business owners know the value of building trust. They understand that people don’t invest in companies, they invest in people. Whether they are pitching an idea to potential investors or convincing a banker to issue a business loan or line of credit, successful entrepreneurs exemplify trustworthiness.
- Tenacious – Ever hear the expression the journey to success is a marathon not a sprint? Entrepreneurs who have achieved success are persistent and have that never give up attitude. They push through those times of uncertainty and tackle obstacles for years on end. “Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success,” says Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter.
- Accountable – Being accountable starts when you assume responsibility for the outcome of your actions. When it comes to accountability in business, successful business owners know the buck stops with them. Taking responsibility and being accountable for financial decisions you make or don’t make is the key to business success.
- Flexible – Be willing and prepared to wear many hats as an entrepreneur. You may need to jump into all aspects of your business. It’s all about being able to adapt, improvise and overcome any of the challenges you face as you grow your business.
- Confident – Entrepreneurs face doubt and fears throughout their entrepreneurial journey, not only from other people but also from themselves. It’s the successful entrepreneurs who have confidence when the going gets tough, and stick with it, that reach the highest level of success.
- Self-Disciplined – Being in business for yourself requires discipline since you’re the only one looking over your shoulder. Successful business people are notorious for staying on task and avoiding distractions. They work hard and long hours and continue to strive to take their business to the next level.
- Decisive – You’ll need to develop a comfort-level with uncertainty at times. Successful entrepreneurs work at gathering as much information as possible, and then make a move. They don’t sit around being indecisive; they are decision makers and get things moving in a timely and efficient manner. “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing” says Walt Disney, co-founder of the Walt Disney Company.
- Forward thinking – Entrepreneurs see things so much differently than most people do. Where people see problems, they see opportunities. The most successful entrepreneurs all started with a great idea but most importantly had the mindset and vision to see that idea through. They are thinkers, innovators and doers that blaze a trail. Entire industries have started from ideas that others once thought were crazy. Some of our country’s most successful entrepreneurs are the most ambitious and creative people.
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What to Consider Before You Price Your Products
Pricing your products as you launch your small business? It may be worth taking a second look at your pricing strategy.
Sure, you could count your material costs and base your price on that alone, leaving yourself a small profit margin. But have you included the cost of your time and labor? How about transportation, shipping, and taxes?
A holistic approach is necessary to ensure the long-term viability of your business. Failure to consider the full scope of your pricing needs could mean smaller profits, a customer base that dwindles, or even that you might not get a paycheck.
Before you start printing price tags, consider taking an hour to explore a few pricing lessons. The SBA’s Introduction to Pricing self-guided course takes about 30 minutes and illuminates the impact of your pricing strategy on your overall business. SCORE’s Pricing Products and Services webinar lasts about an hour and reviews a variety of pricing scenarios you may encounter.
Whatever your product or service, here are a few items to remember when you’re considering your pricing strategy:
Research the market
Developing a pricing system that works for your business requires taking a critical look at both your competitors and your target market. What are customers willing to pay for what you have to offer? Checking out how much they’re paying at your competitors can help you figure out whether it’s best to compete on price, quality, or overall value.
Consider your sales method
Are you selling directly to customers, or wholesaling your products to retailers? Are you paying sales representatives, or closing deals on your own? Direct sales can ensure that more money stays in your business, but your product may have limited reach.
If you’re selling directly to customers, can they purchase online, or in-store only? If the former, you’ll want to consider the costs of shipping supplies in your pricing formula.
If your product or service is unique, don’t feel pressured to lower your price. Instead, focus on the value of your unique product so potential buyers understand what they’ll get for their investment.
Avoid one-size-fits-all pricing
Think about how you like to purchase products or services. Can you offer packages and a la carte buying options for your customers? Having a variety of options ensures that customers find the right fit for them. In addition, offering a package at a slight discount can serve as a low-pressure opportunity to upsell.
Account for sales
If you plan to offer discounts during special promotions, anticipate those discount rates to make sure you won’t lose money during those periods. You may have to raise your prices slightly to account for any discounts offered.
Have a question about how to price your product or service? Call a SCORE mentor to talk through your pricing strategy.
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Start the New Year Off Right: 5 Resolutions for Better Business
Happy New Year! While everyone is making a slew of personal resolutions it is time for you to make some resolutions to get your business on track. The New Year is the perfect time to reaffirm your business lifestyle and make changes for the betterment of your business. Here are a few tips and resources to help you get started and continue to make progress.
1. Hire New Employees the Right Way
If the New Year means new hires for your business learn more about the process from start to finish. Beginning with the job description all the way to making sure the lines of communication are open with clients and existing employees. The key to this resolution is transparency. Keeping the lines of communication open between all parties benefits everyone in the end.
2. Review Your Benefits Package
Tailor your benefits plans to the needs of your staff and to your pocketbook. Remember that health coverage and retirement plans are the top two most-valued employee benefits. Having a well thought out, robust plan can be a draw for gaining new employees and maintaining existing ones. Of course you must stay within your means, but reviewing your options before the enrollment period especially with a growing workforce is best.
3. Invest in Marketing
In the New Year it is time to upgrade your marketing efforts. Now is the perfect time to take stock of the previous year and set some new goals for this year. Investing a little more time and money can go a long way. Set a few goals and be sure to check in regularly to make sure you stay on track.
4. Reach Out More
While your chugging along with day-to-day business it’s easy to forget about the smaller things that can make a real impact on your business. Take some time out to schedule things like networking and training for you and your employees.
5. Get Serious About Expanding Your Business
There are a number of ways to expand your business. Learn how to decide what the right choice is for your business and how to get started.
6 Steps for Opening a Fitness Center
Getting fit and staying fit is a state of mind and an entrepreneurial opportunity. According to IHRSA, in the beginning of 2015 there were almost 35,500 U.S. Health clubs, which was up 6.4% over 2014. In 2014, this accounted for a total U.S. Industry Revenue of over $24 billion!
The success of the fitness center Industry has been fueled by many factors – not the least of which is the growing trend among the 80 million plus baby boomers who see staying fit and healthy as an absolute necessity and daily routine. Also, attrition has gone down because members are reluctant to give up their health club memberships choosing to save money instead on big ticket items such as vacations – reaffirming the fact that “buying” fitness is no longer perceived as a luxury item but a fundamental part of our everyday lives.
If you are interested in serving this large and ever growing market, below are some things to consider while starting your fitness business.
1. Do Your Homework
Before you get a loan and open your doors, do your market research. You will need this information for your business plan. SBA offers a guide to writing your business plan for help getting the foundation of your business built.
Two of the most important factors you will consider are:
Deciding on your Target Market
You will need to decide which group of people you will serve and how you will serve them. For instance, you may decide that your passion is in indoor cycling and your research shows that there is a need for indoor cycling studios in your target location. You can use free consumer demographic data available through SBA.gov for your research as you narrow down your target market.
Location, Location, Location
Having the right location for your fitness center can make or break your success. If you are difficult to get to or don’t have easy parking you may lose your members. Given that rent may be your biggest expense, finding the right place for the right price in critical. Read ‘Tips for Choosing Your Business Location’ to get more information and explore any additional information you may need.
2. Staffing Your Fitness Center
The next biggest expense after rent is staff costs. You may choose to hire your own fitness instructors, trainers, membership and maintenance staff. Each of these employee groups could be structured differently. Some as full-time employees, some as part-time employees and other as contractors. Choosing and managing this employee structure can be daunting as each has their own taxation and regulatory requirements.
Below are some resources to help you in this process:
- Hiring and Retaining Your Employees
- Hire Contractor or Employee
- 5 Things to Know Now about Hiring Temporary or Seasonal Workers
3. To Hire or Buy Fitness Equipment?
With fitness technology evolving everyday, how do you balance expenses while still providing your members with the latest fitness equipment and technology. This will depend on your business goals and strategy. But to better understand the leasing process read “Leasing Business Equipment”.
4. Understand Your Financing Options
If traditional financing options aren’t for you, you may look to a government-backed loan. The Small Business Administration (SBA) provides a guaranty to banks and lenders for money lent to small businesses, rather than lending the businesses money directly.
There are many different types of loans, including the SBA express loan that offers small businesses the chance to get an SBA-backed loan of up to $350,000 to start-up or expand. The “express” piece refers to the fact that your loan can be turned around in 36 hours.
5. The Critical Steps to Starting A Business
Just like any other business, there are a few steps that every entrepreneur needs to take when starting a business. Make sure to have all your boxes checked before opening your doors. Read “10 Steps to Starting A Business” to ensure that you have covered all your bases.
6. Business Insurance
One last thing to ensure that you have covered is your business. Look into the insurance requirements for your state and the available insurance to protect you against workplace injuries and accidents. To learn more about Small Business Insurance read:
- What Kind of Business Insurance Do You Need?
- Business Liability Insurance: It’s Not One Size Fits All - Tips for Choosing the Right Coverage
The International Health, Racquet & Sports club Association (IHRSA) offers a wealth of information for fitness center owners including:
A Simplified Approach to Setting Small Business Strategy
One of the ironies of strategy, especially in small business, is that it can seem deceptively simple when it’s done right. When it works, it seems like it was always obvious. And yet there are people doing PhD theses on business strategy.
It’s too easy to see when it’s done wrong. For example, the restaurant that wants to appeal to gourmet foodie couples but also has a kids’ menu. Or the idea of discount day-old sushi. Or the computer business that touts great service but fails to install and check the hardware it sells, then hounds customers for slow pay.
Strategy is what you’re not doing. My favorite metaphor is the sculptor with a block of marble — the art is what he chips off the block, not what he leaves in. Michelangelo started with a big chunk of marble and chipped pieces off of it until it was his David. Strategy is focus.
Strategy has to be easy to define. I like with my own identity-market-offering (IMO) method, which is pretty simple. But I’ve also worked in depth, during my consulting years, with several competing strategy frameworks, and every one of them works well if it’s applied correctly and executed.
Every business has its core identity. How are you different from others? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What is your core competence? What are your goals?
As an example, imagine the difference between a bicycle retail store owned and operated by a former professional bike racer, and another one owned and operated by a couple with children who like bicycles as a family activity.
Your business is unique. Think about your goals, your definition of success, and of courses your location, your resources, everything that makes you different. That’s identity.
Your identity influences your choice of target market. The bike racer focuses on attracting enthusiasts, offering expensive high-end bicycles and equipment. The couple focuses on attracting parents with kids, concentrating on medium-level bikes, trailers, and family-friendly accessories.
Keep your business focused on specific target markets. That bike racer shop owner has to know his products are too expensive for the families, and the families bother the high-end enthusiasts. The family bike shop can’t scare away its target market with very expensive racing bikes.
Your business offering is your product or service. You can already see with the bike shop example how one shop needs one kind of inventory and the other needs a different kind. That’s strategy at work. Your identity influences your choice of market, which influences your choice of product. Your choice of product influences your choice of market. They have to work together.
Understand that you can’t do everything. The bike shop that caters to families and racers is likely to fail. You can’t credibly offer high-end bicycles at bargain prices in a family-friendly atmosphere. If you say you do, nobody believes you anyhow. So you have to focus. Make this focus mesh with your choice of key target customer and your own business identity. All three concepts have to work together.
Roll Them Up Together
These three things are your business strategy. Don’t pull them apart. Don’t take them one at a time. Don’t ever stop thinking about them. Remember, in planning as well as in all of business, things change. Keep watching for change.
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The Rise of Online Business Lending and What to Look Out For
Small businesses are the lifeblood of the U.S. economy, and financing is the viability of a small business. Small business owners rely on business financing to fuel their growth, to purchase new equipment, hire additional staff, and invest in new opportunities.
Unfortunately, major financial institutions are not lending in amounts under $1 million like they were pre-recession, which means they aren’t lending much to small businesses. “While large business loans have soared to record levels, small business lending is losing ground,” writes Ann Marie Wiersch, a senior policy analyst in the Community Development Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
In response, a rise in online business lending is sweeping over the small business lending space. In a recent Federal Reserve survey 18% of small business owners reported looking for capital online with a 38% approval rate, compared to a 31% approval rate at large national banks. A new generation of online lenders is surfacing with the promise of an efficient, streamlined application process with quick turn-round (turnaround?) times and higher approval rates.
With online business lending a small business borrower fills out an online application, which generally takes 30-60 minutes. They get a response within hours and can be funded in a matter of days. This process is an attractive solution for small business owners who on average spend 26 hours on the traditional loan process and wait weeks or even months for an answer from a bank.
Many online business lenders use technology to evaluate the risk of a business differently from traditional lenders. For example, online business lenders may access a company’s online payment transactions and cash flow via their bank accounts or analyze other digital data points to review a business.
Although online business lending offers speed, convenience, and the opportunity to get funding fast, there are important factors small business owners need to look out for.
These factors include but are not limited to the following:
Terms of repayment – Online lenders provide business owners with a variety of repayment terms. Depending on the lender, the short-term business loans may range from 3 to 24 months while the long-term loans range from 1-5 years. It’s also important to note that methods also vary depending on the lender. Some online business lenders require a fixed amount to be paid on a daily or weekly basis via ACH, while others require a traditional monthly payment.
Interest rates – Online business loans tend to have higher interest rates compared to traditional bank loans. Look for online lenders offering competitive interest rates, and keep the loan amount small. Instead of paying thousands of dollars in interest, find a loan with a good interest rate. Although the rates offered online are higher compared to bank loans, they are typically lower than options such as merchant cash advances.
Security – When you apply for a business loan online, it requires you to furnish sensitive data, such as a Social Security number, business information and bank account details. Look for encryption or security measures on the site such as SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption and privacy measures – which should be disclosed on the website.
With banks maintaining a tight grip on loans, more and more business owners are turning to online business lending and non-traditional lines of credit for their financing needs. While online business lending has its place in the alternative lending landscape; it’s crucial for small business owners to do their due diligence and research.
Online business lending can be an attractive and viable option. But, hiding behind the flashy websites, impressive videos, and the promise of instant funding, are pricey products that can quickly get a business into trouble if they are not used in the correct way.
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The Dos and Don’ts of Conducting Background Checks
There are many negative consequences of making the wrong hire. And you want to make sure that you have all the right information before you make the decision. Skipping out on this process can affect your employee’s morale, productivity and impact customer relations. Not to mention the cost of replacing experienced workers can be extensive.
There are many things you can do to ensure you make informed decisions and hire quality employees and one of them is to use background checks.
Of course if your employees work with children or in other care positions, it is worth doing the most extensive check possible and make sure you know what the state requirements are.
The most important aspects are to always stay within the law and to do your due diligence so that you don’t allowing hiring to become a headache.
Do conduct a pre-employment background check. A background check can also provide insight into an individual’s behavior, character, and integrity. Making the right hiring decisions for your company is critical to your business success.
Do conduct a criminal background check. To what extent, will vary state by state. Since it is not consistence you should consult with a lawyer or do further legal research on the laws of your state before exploring whether or not an applicant has a criminal past.
Do communicate. If and when you find something on a background check that may impact the decision to hire an applicant, you should — at a minimum — engage in a conversation with the applicant.
Do outsource to an agency to perform complete background checks. Great screening companies will do a far better job of locating the information you want. They have the experience and processes to be accurate and efficient. They also prevent you from viewing data that might be a violation of state or federal law.
Don’t run a limited search yourself. You can’t find everything online. So much of the concrete, legally obtained data for background checks can only be conducted by a licensed firm.
Bookkeeping Basics for Small Business
Bookkeeping is vital to properly managing your business resources. Additionally you will need these records for tax purposes. Whether you DIY or hire someone to keep track of everything you should understand the importance and the basics of bookkeeping.
Keeping good records of operations will alert you to any cash flow issues and potential legal problems as well. Here are a few basics that should always be standard practice to keep in your books.
Revenue and Expenses
Every transaction should be recorded. How much is coming in and how much is going out and where is it is all coming from and going to.
It is important to record the cash your business spends so you'll have an accurate number of expenses each year. Writing reimbursable checks and keeping detailed petty cash records are both valid methods of documenting cash expenditures.
Maintain records of all inventory! This will help you to forecast for the upcoming year by tracking trends, prevent stealing and misplacing merchandise, keep inventory holdings to a minimum. Dates purchased, stock numbers, purchase prices, dates sold, and sale prices are all relevant information for inventory records.
Accounts Receivable and Payable
Always keep track of what customers owe you and what debts you owe others. It's prudent to record as much data as possible including invoice dates, numbers, amounts, terms, dates and amounts paid or due, balances, and client information in real time.
Hiring even one employee invokes your responsibility to file and pay forms and payroll taxes and each state has its own tax obligations. Employers are responsible for maintaining employee forms such as the W-4 (Withholding Allowance Certification) and the I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification). You are responsible for maintaining records on withholding, employer matching, unemployment, and worker's compensation.
If you decide to do your own bookkeeping you should consult with an expert especially at the beginning to make sure that you are on track. As your business grows you may want to bring someone on and/or deploy more sophisticated bookkeeping software.
How do you keep your books up to date and on track?
3 Tips for Taking the Stress Out of Business Planning
If you’ve got a great small business idea, everyone will tell you that you need a business plan. But the process of creating a plan for a business that’s just a spark in your mind can be scary.
But writing a business plan isn’t like taking a test. There are no right or wrong answers, and everyone’s looks a little bit different when it’s finished. And unlike a test, your business plan can -- and should -- change over time. It’s a working document you’ll revisit over the life of your business to refine and adjust your path to growth and continued success.
It’s not a process to take lightly, but business planning doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. If you’re feeling nervous about getting started on your first business plan, remember these three tips to take the frustration out of your business planning experience.
Take your time
If you’re anxious to get your business idea off the ground, you might feel like you need to complete a business plan overnight. Working quickly can be helpful, but rushing through a business plan can leave your enterprise hurting later on.
Don’t try to complete your business plan in one sitting. Instead, spread your workload out over several days or even a week or two. Researching the competition in your target market might take a few hours to consider. Meanwhile, you might get carried away fiddling with the numbers for your financial projections, and figuring out the right combination for success in that section alone could take a few days.
By plotting out a schedule for completing the sections of your business plan, you can pace yourself to think clearly about your business goals.
Use Samples and Templates
Starting a business plan from scratch can be daunting. By using a business plan template tailored to your type of business, you can start planning with an idea of what a typical business plan looks like, how long it might be, and what type of language to use.
If math isn’t your strong suit, you’ll find financial templates to be particularly helpful. These spreadsheets already include the formulas you need to make estimates about your business costs and potential for growth.
But even if you use templates, don’t get caught up in what your business plan “should” look like. There’s no perfect business plan, and you shouldn’t expect the first draft of your plan to reflect your dream exactly.
Get Help Along the Way
You might write your business plan on your own, but you shouldn’t keep it to yourself. Share your early drafts with friends and family members who are invested in your small business success. These trusted people will ask you tough questions that will strengthen your plan -- and they may recall elements you’ve forgotten to include.
If you feel stuck on one portion of your business plan --or simply want a fresh set of eyes -- call on a SCORE mentor. These seasoned professionals have seen countless business plans and can guide you toward completing a plan you’re proud of.
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