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Boots to Business Reboot to Expand its Offering to More Veterans

By Barbara Carson, SBA Official
Published: November 2, 2015

During the third annual celebration of National Veterans Small Business Week Nov. 2-6, the Small Business Administration will host 30 Boots to Business: Reboot entrepreneurship training events nationwide.

We’re proud to announce that thanks to a partnership with First Data Corporation, The Marcus Foundation and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), the Boots to Business Reboot program will be able to expand. 

This coming year, the SBA will be able to present more than 100 Boots to Business: Reboot entrepreneurial training workshops.  The other big news is that for the first time, the program will be available to military veterans of all eras. This also includes service members (including members of the National Guard and reserve members) and their spouses.

The Boots to Business: Reboot curriculum will introduce veterans to the fundamentals of business ownership, including evaluating business concepts and developing a business plan. Course participants will be introduced to their local SBA resource partners, consisting of Veterans Business Outreach Centers, Women’s Business Centers, Small Business Development Centers and SCORE.

Additionally, upon completion of the introductory course, participants will be eligible to register for “Foundations of Entrepreneurship,” an eight-week, online course

taught by professors from a consortium of accredited universities, and led by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.  The course offers in-depth instruction on the elements of a business plan and techniques, and tips for starting a business.  

Thom Besch is a proud graduate of Boots to Business: Reboot program. After retiring from the Army, Thom decided to find what he was excited about, and then build a business doing just that.  He learned all he could about renewable energy and the technical side of installing residential solar systems.  A year after starting his company Veteran Solar Systems in Albany, New York, he decided he needed training on how to grow his business. 

The local Small Business Development Center connected him to the Boots to Business: Reboot program.   There, he learned how to get financing to expand his business and the advantages of having a targeted business plan.  Being in an environment where you’re able to discuss different aspects of starting your own business—especially if you have no experience, said Thom—is what makes Boots to Business: Reboot such a  great resource.

To learn more about the Boots to Business: Reboot entrepreneurship training program, visit www.sba.gov/bootstobusinessreboot or contact the SBA district office in your local community.  

About the Author:

Barbara Carson
Barbara Carson

SBA Official

Barbara Carson is the Associate Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Veterans Business Development.

Woman Owned, SDVOSB, and Minority Owned: Are Business Designations Necessary?

By mbramble, Contributor
Published: October 29, 2015

There are a variety of programs to help diverse groups of business owners procure work from government and private entities. For the record, the business registration process for women, minority, and service-disabled veterans does not differ from the standard process all businesses follow. You still need to register your business, obtain pertinent certificates, licenses, and permits in order to legally operate. Here are resources for getting your business started.

While the designations are not necessary, applying for these designations can provide a wealth of additional opportunity for your business both in the government and private sectors. Certain government contracts are set aside for businesses with these designations on the federal and state levels.

For more information on how to become eligible for set-aside federal government contracts, see SBA’S Government Contracting Certification guide.

In addition to the federal government, your state government offers a wide variety of opportunities for small businesses to compete for government contracts.  See this list of state procurement agencies and information on how to register as a contractor and bid on opportunities.

It is important to note that this process is a large time investment. Requirements are very stringent and must be met entirely at the time of the application. Start the process as soon as possible! If you think you may want to get certified in the future, it is advisable that you create a binder when your company is young and start storing all the necessary documents, such as your incorporation paperwork, for the application processes.

Understanding the Federal Marketplace

Contracting Resources for Small Businesses


Service Disabled Veteran Owned Business (SDVOB) Eligibility

In order to be eligible for the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Concern Program (SDVOSBC), the Service Disabled Veteran (SDV) must have a service-connected disability that has been determined by the Department of Veterans Affairs or Department of Defense. Your business must be at least 51% owned and controlled by a SDV, and the SDV must hold the highest officer position in the SDVOSBC.

Click here for more information eligibility and the application process.


Woman Owned Small Business Eligibility

To be eligible, your business must be at least 51% owned and controlled by one or more women. The women must be U.S. citizens. The business must be “small” in its primary industry in accordance with SBA’s size standards for that industry.

Click here for more information on eligibility and the application process.


Minority Owned Business Eligibility

Some minority groups are presumed to be socially and economically disadvantaged and can qualify for the 8(a) program. These groups include: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Alaska Native Corporations, Indian Tribes, Native Hawaiian Organizations and Community Development Corporations, Asian Pacific Americans and Subcontinent Asian Americans. Individuals who are not members of one or more of these groups can be considered for the 8(a) program, but they must provide substantial evidence and documentation that demonstrates that they have been subjected to bias or discrimination and are economically disadvantaged.

Click here for more information on eligibility and the application process.

In addition to working with government agencies, you can register your business with non-government organizations and certification agencies. Each certification body offers different benefits for those who qualify, including business fairs, networking opportunities, training programs, financing options and more.

For example, the Minority Business Development Agency directs minority business owners to the National Minority Supplier Development Council where they can register their business as a certified minority-owned business and taking advantage of the benefits.

About the Author:

Mariama Bramble


5 Real World Examples of Forecasting a New Product

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: October 27, 2015 Updated: October 27, 2015

“How do I forecast a new product, with no real data to call on?” you ask. I’ve dealt with this a lot through the years. It began several decades ago when I had the job of forecasting new products for high-tech companies that were clients of the consulting firm I was with. It continued as I did business plan consulting for more than a decade, back in the 1980s and 1990s. Now I get it as questions my readers and it’s my favorite question. To this day my answer hasn’t changed.

First, it comes with the territory. Don’t think you’re not qualified because you can’t do econometric models or data smoothing, or you don’t have the MBA degree or CPA certification. You are. You know your business better than anybody else. Data analysis is all based on massaging past data, and you’re looking forward into the future. You can do it.

Second, the real goal of forecasting a new product isn’t the accuracy of a fortuneteller or a crystal ball. It’s about understanding what drives sales. Here are some specific examples:

  1. Focus on capacity. For example, you’re starting a restaurant and you want to say you have no idea what you can realistically sell. So draw a map of chairs and tables, figure out how many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you can serve in your opening hours, then go from there to coffees and drinks based on the meals. Use realistic averages. Guess how many settings for each meal as an average, then multiply the hours and days to get months. Guess units and prices based on a reasonable sense of ramp-up.
  2. Focus on traffic, probably web traffic, but maybe auto, foot, or walk-in traffic. For example, a subscription-based web business ought to be able to project website views based on its organic search placement, pay-per-click advertising, email marketing, and related promotions. Make a projection of traffic by adding up your sources, then estimate conversion rates, and that gives you unit sales.
  3. Focus on contagion. Think of your product as a disease, in which one customer infects friends, family, and the world of word of mouth and amplified word of mouth through social media. Estimate a starting number of buyers and then how many new buyers each existing buyer will recommend (infect) each month. If each buyer infects five or 10 others, you’re happy. If each buyer infects nobody in a month, keep your day job.  
  4. Extrapolate from somebody else’s history. You may not have history, but is there somebody else’s history that tells you something? I’ve been working lately with an entrepreneur who justifies her ambitious early sales forecast with data on what happened to a somewhat similar product in a similar market a few years ago. It’s not my favorite technique, but it is convincing to see how this forecast mimics real data from the recent past.   
  5. Look at sales structure and channels. Especially for physical products that are supposed to sell through distribution channels, project how long it takes to get a distributor to carry your product, then how long it takes to get retail stores to carry it, and project the gradual increase of stores carrying it and a reasonable number of unit sales per month, per store. Getting into distribution doesn’t happen from one day to the next. The stores involved increase over time. And the direct sales process in an enterprise business-to-business launch has its structural numbers too. Think about how many deals per salesperson, how long the decision takes, how much pending business (called pipeline) at any time, and how the structure grows.

So the key, in all of these five cases, is connecting the dots. Don’t just take a wild guess; figure out the factors that drive sales. Build a sales forecast that you can use to track actual results, broken into variables like units, price per unit, stores, channels, web visits, or opening hours. Get it down at the beginning and then make sure to review once monthly to adjust your plan to accommodate ongoing actual results. You’ll be wrong at the beginning, but every month, you get closer to right. In the meantime, as you track results and make adjustments, you have managemen.

About the Author:

Tim Berry
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 46 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including his latest, 'Lean Business Planning,' 2015, Motivational Press. Contents of that book are available for web browsing free at leanplan.com .

How to Start a Consignment Business

By mbramble, Contributor
Published: October 14, 2015

Getting Started

Are you interested in opening your own consignment shop? Consignment shops can offer lower overhead cost compared to traditional retail stores, because a consigner provides your inventory and they are paid out only when the item sells. Shop owners resell items from multiple consigners and share a portion of the profits. While the business model might be slightly different than a traditional retail shop, starting a consignment business still involves planning, development, making key financial decisions, and completing a series of legal activities.

Follow these 10 steps to prepare your business.


How it Works

Consignment shops commonly sell clothes, shoes, and housewares, but the there is no limit to the items that you can sell. Crafts, music, toys, antiques, and cars old and new can be sold.

While the items are in your possession, legally you do not have ownership. The consigner maintains ownership until the item is sold at which point you earn a commission on the sale and pay the consigner the rest.

If the item does not sell within the timeframe allotted by your consignment agreement*, then the contract should be renegotiated or the item returned to the consigner.

Startup costs for a consignment business are often less than say thrift or pawnshops, since you do not own the items, you do not incur the cost of purchasing inventory. Additionally you are not obligated to purchase the items if they do not sell. After the agreement time is up you can return the item if you do not think it will sell. 

Understanding your customer


Keeping up With Your Inventory

In general retail businesses should invest in a point of sale or (POS) system. This is especially important with a consignment business because you do not own the inventory. Having documentation on the item’s description, the agreed upon price, and condition is an important part of the process.

POS systems can also help you determine what types of items you have a need for in the shop with up-to-the-date, accurate assessments of your inventory. When shopping for an inventory system you want to think of function and price; a good system should be a balance of both. You want to be able to set alerts, add new items, and print out price agreements. If your budget is a concern you can always start with a basic system and then add more robust features as your business grows.


National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops*

*Links to a non-government website

About the Author:

Mariama Bramble


Top Tips to Lead and Empower Employees

By sfield, Contributor
Published: September 25, 2015 Updated: September 25, 2015

Employees are an essential part of your business and brand.  If they come across as unwelcoming or uninterested, you run the risk of rubbing your customers the wrong way.  Unhappy employees can lead to assumptions about whether or not your business is a great place to work – and whether or not customers want to give you their business.  There are countless studies highlighting the links between strong employee morale and satisfaction and customer satisfaction. So how do you make sure your employees are happy and satisfied?

“Happy” and “satisfied” are subjective terms, but typically, satisfied employees are those with a sense of well-being.  This includes the presence of positive feelings like joy and interest, and the absence of negative feelings like apathy and sadness.  In the same way that positive feelings can enhance an employee’s ability to find meaning in his or her work, those feelings can also play a role in that employee’s performance and growth.

Here are some tips to foster a positive work environment and empower your employees:

1.  Start by being a good leader.  You might be a good manager, but are you a good leader?  It’s often said that while managers manage people, leaders lead people.  In addition to managing projects and workload, make sure you’re also focused on inspiring your team to excel and succeed. 

2.  Give them quality time with strong leaders.  As a leader, it’s important for you to listen and show that you care about your employees’ work, concerns, and aspirations.  Whether you introduce a mentor/ protégé program or a few extra one-on-one meetings, your employees will be more engaged and productive when they feel seen and heard.  If you have a larger business with a hierarchal reporting structure, it’s also important to give recognition to your management team.  If they already get workplace face time with you due to their positions, consider a social outing like a lunch or a social event for the entire management team.

3.  Encourage empowered behaviors.  Employees who have a strong sense of well-being are also more likely to take on new challenges and to play a wider role in the success of your business.  When possible and with parameters, let your employees make some decisions independently of you when they are closer to the action than you are and may be more likely to know the right call to make.  Remind them that as they make decisions that they need to consider customers, the team, and your business profitability. 

4.  Encourage creativity.  There are always new challenges to address and better ways to do things; let your employees get creative when it comes to dealing with common business issues.  Whether it’s suggesting a process improvement for managing inventory or researching a new technology solution for your invoicing system, give your employees room to creatively address everyday challenges. 

5.  Hold “lunch and learn” sessions.  These meetings give your employees the opportunity to learn and connect with one another during the lunch hour.  Determine a clear topic ahead of time and tee the sessions up to be both informative and interactive.  Whether you’re discussing team goals and performance, holding a “show and tell” with a partner or a particular team, or bringing in a guest speaker or outside resource, getting everyone together in one room can shed light on new ways of doing things and make the lunch hour energizing and engaging.   

6.  Don’t forget to say thank you.  We all appreciate being thanked, but taking the extra step to use a hand-written note, a gift card, or other gestures to recognize achievement can make a big difference in making employees feel appreciated. 

About the Author:

Sarah Field


I am an author and moderator for the the SBA.gov Community. I'll share useful information for your entrepreneurial endeavors and help point you in the right direction to find other resources for your small business needs. Thanks for joining our online community here at SBA.gov!

10 Quick Tips on Business Plan Summaries

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: September 22, 2015 Updated: September 22, 2015

In this instant-update world we live in, life in 140-character bursts, it’s just a fact of modern life: you have to communicate faster. The whole world has attention deficit syndrome. So that’s as true for business planning as for most other things in business.  Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned about business plan summaries.

  1. I’ve never forgotten what they told us decades ago in the resume clinic at business school: “Even the President of the United States can do a one-page resume.” Step back and appreciate the meaning of the word summary.
  2. There’s way too much vague and fuzzy vocabulary around summarizing business plans. A one-page business plan is a summary, not a plan. So too, an elevator speech, elevator pitch, business pitch, pitch deck, executive summary, and summary memo.
  3. As we use them these days, you can think of the lean canvas and lean business model as summaries. They focus on strategy and in some cases tactics. But they lack the milestones, tasks, performance measurements, budgets, and forecasts of a real business plan.
  4. Keep your summary short, cover the highlights, and assume key people will read this summary and nothing else. It’s a front door. Whether it’s an executive summary that comes first in a document, or a summary memo, make that reader want more information.
  5. A good summary is a collection of tips of icebergs. Each one has enough information to imply its entire iceberg, but it can’t go too deep, and it has to leave the iceberg somewhere. Don’t promise in the summary anything you can’t back up in the document or following discussions.
  6. Real business plans change often. It’s planning, not just a plan. And as your plan changes, rewrite and revise your summary to keep it fresh and keep it aligned with the plan.
  7. Different experts have different opinions on the ideal length of a summary. I’ve always recommended a summary of 2-5 pages, which can be used as a stand-alone summary memo where that’s appropriate. For example, in my angel investment group, we don’t read full business plans of all the startups that apply for investment. We eliminate some proposals just from reading the summaries. We read the full business plan only after deciding, from the summary, that we want to know more.
  8. A generalized summary will include the obvious information such as essential business details, what you sell, what locations, projected sales growth, profitability, and news you don’t want anybody to miss. It’s a good place to put a highlights chart, a bar chart that shows sales, gross margin, and profits before interest and taxes for the next three years. You should also cite and explain those numbers in the text.
  9. However, generalized summaries are as rare as generalized business plan events. Write a new summary for each time you need one. Tailor it to match the requirements of your specific business need. The summary you show angel investors is different than one you show a bank loan manager, and different again from the one you show a potential partner, employee, or attorney. How? How can you tell? Think what’s most important for each audience, in each context. That changes depending on the occasion. 
  10. What you highlight depends on the context, as in point #8, but also on the specifics of your business. Highlight what serves your purpose best. For example, if you’re looking for investment and have a venture already backed by major brand-name backers, say so early in the summary. If you’ve got a founders team that includes several known entrepreneurs with good track records, then put it up front. If you have a good business track record, like impressive early sales or landmark deals with major channels, corporations or governments, put that first. If you have an amazing new invention or break-through technology, lead with that. Use good judgment. You’re an editor, at this point, looking at things through the audience’s eyes.

About the Author:

Tim Berry
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 46 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including his latest, 'Lean Business Planning,' 2015, Motivational Press. Contents of that book are available for web browsing free at leanplan.com .

Starting a Business in the Trucking Industry: Part Two

By sfield, Contributor
Published: September 16, 2015 Updated: September 16, 2015

Earlier this week, we talked about the highly competitive trucking industry, and some guidelines that will hopefully save you time, money, and energy if you’re hoping to start a trucking business.  Today, we’re picking up where we left off with some of the specific rules and regulations of this industry.

Trucking Specifics

Starting a trucking business may require locating and purchasing specific equipment to get started.  If you choose to operate a private fleet with your own drivers, you’ll need commercial vehicles.  Different types of cargo require different equipment – if you’re transporting food, you may need a refrigerated truck.  If your cargo is oversized, you might need flatbed trucks.

In addition to specific equipment needs, the trucking industry comes with its own set of tax, license, and permit regulations.  Depending on the type of trucking business you’d like to start, important regulations could include:

Beyond operational requirements, if you choose to employ private drivers, those drivers will need to obtain special driver’s permits or endorsements such as a commercial driver’s license in order to legally operate your vehicles.

The good news is that each state has a portal dedicated to commercial transportation.  For example, Idaho’s government site has a trucking portal with detailed information on commercial driver’s license requirements, rules and safety information, permits and licenses, taxes, and other related topics.  Before you get started, be sure to visit your state’s transportation portal to ensure that you understand your state’s requirements and available assistance. 

As always, the best step you can take to ensure you are meeting all requirements is to consult a compliance professional. 

Time to Go Find Those Contracts

The trucking industry is competitive, and tracking down those first contracts can be difficult.  As a new business, you won’t have the reputation you need to secure large accounts – but don’t be afraid to start small and utilize local contracts and small business trade shows to build up your client base.  As you successfully complete your first jobs, you’ll be able to grow your business and contract larger jobs each year.

If you own a trucking business, what best practices would you share with someone who wants to get started in this industry?

About the Author:

Sarah Field


I am an author and moderator for the the SBA.gov Community. I'll share useful information for your entrepreneurial endeavors and help point you in the right direction to find other resources for your small business needs. Thanks for joining our online community here at SBA.gov!

Starting a Business in the Trucking Industry: Part One

By sfield, Contributor
Published: September 14, 2015

Commercial goods and products will always require transportation to new locations.  In a growing marketplace, this need presents a great opportunity for new transportation businesses – but the transportation industry in the United States is also highly competitive – particularly in the trucking industry. 

The American Trucking Associations reports that in 2012, trucks moved 9.4 billion tons of freight, or about 68.5 percent of all freight tonnage transported domestically.  Motor carriers collected $642 billion in revenues, or about 81 percent of total revenue earned by all domestic transport modes.

If you’re looking to throw your hat into the highly competitive trucking business, are some guidelines that will hopefully save you time, money, and energy.

Operation Options

Put simply, trucking companies operate by bidding on, winning, and fulfilling transportation accounts and contracts.  Most trucking businesses operate in one of two forms, depending on how they acquire drivers to fulfill contracts:

Sub-contracted drivers: With this option, business owners use sub-contractors as drivers. While the business owner runs the business and receives the contracts, the drivers are not actually employed by the company.  The up side?  This option can cut down on start-up costs, insurance costs, and required equipment.  The down side is that it also gives you less control over your drivers and can cut into your profits. 

Privately-owned drivers: With this option, the business owner privately runs his or her business and all operations, using their own equipment, paying higher insurance prices, and hiring a fleet of private drivers who are employed by the company.  This option gives you total control over your business and its employees, and promises the most return on profits.  The down side for this option is more obvious, as it requires significantly more start-up capital and has higher operating costs. 

Getting Started

As with any other business, it’s important to understand the basics of starting a business before researching the additional steps specific to your field of interest.  Once you’ve determined which type of trucking business you’d like to start, you can follow these 10 Steps to Starting a Business for great tips on how to finance your business, hire employees, and ensure that you are complying with tax obligations.

You’ll also need to consider insurance requirements.  The very nature of the trucking industry creates strict insurance requirements on businesses because you own and oversee the operation of commercial vehicles. 

In addition to your insurance responsibilities, your employer responsibilities require you to comply with health and safety standards and regulations. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides compliance assistance for the trucking industry to meet these expectations.

That’s all for today – tune in later this week for part two of this blog post, where we’ll outline the specific rules and regulations of the trucking industry.

About the Author:

Sarah Field


I am an author and moderator for the the SBA.gov Community. I'll share useful information for your entrepreneurial endeavors and help point you in the right direction to find other resources for your small business needs. Thanks for joining our online community here at SBA.gov!

Sales Tax and Small Businesses – Part Two

By sfield, Contributor
Published: September 4, 2015 Updated: September 4, 2015

Questions about sales tax are among the most frequent inquiries from small business owners across the country.  In part one of our “Sales Tax and Small Businesses” post earlier this week, we defined sales tax, explored state-specific permit and sales tax requirements, and reviewed common situations in which sales tax does not apply.  In today’s post, we’ll pick up where we left off with four additional lessons when it comes to small businesses and sales tax.

Lesson 5:  When your business sells online

If your business sells goods and services online, you will likely still pay sales tax, but not necessarily on all transactions. E-Commerce tax laws can be confusing, but typically, you charge sales tax for customers located in states where your business has a presence.  For example, if you only operate out of Virginia but sell your product to customers across the country, you would only collect and pay sales tax for customers located in Virginia.  However, if you have your headquarters in Virginia, a warehouse in Ohio, and a distribution center in Arizona, then you would pay sales tax on any transactions that originate from those three states.  Check out this article for more helpful tips on when to collect sales tax for online transactions.

Lesson 6:  Time to pay your sales taxes

Depending on your state’s requirements, your business probably has an option to pay monthly or quarterly.  Monthly payments may help you track your expenses more regularly and avoid a bigger tax bill to pay three times a year.  Some states and localities may require businesses with larger tax liability to make electronic payment, while others do not have the infrastructure in place to support electronic payment.  Regardless of which schedule and process you follow, make sure you know your state’s sales tax deadline to avoid costly fines.  

In addition to paying the state sales taxes your business owes, you will likely need to file periodic sales tax reports to your state department of revenue.  Most states now allow businesses to pay and report sales tax online – a great, time-saving feature – and some states also give a discount for prepayment of sales taxes.  If you can swing it, it will save you money in the long-run to pay in advance.

Lesson 7:  Relying on accounting software may not be enough

Your business may use accounting software, but it’s critical to also keep track of your accounting personally.  An incorrect entry could mean not collecting enough tax from customers, yet still having to pay state taxes.  While technology can be an incredibly helpful tool, make sure you also keep track of your numbers to give yourself a backup method for avoiding mistakes when technology is being less than cooperative.  This planning guide outlines more helpful tips to keep your business on top of its numbers.

Lesson 8:  Document in case of an audit

The word “audit” can strike terror into the heart of a small business owner, but if you have a reliable process for keeping track of sales taxes, it will serve you well in case of an audit.  The current economic client has increased the chances of small businesses being audited as many states work to balance their budgets and locate unpaid taxes through audits.  If your business takes the time now to review its process for keeping sales records, it could go a long way in minimizing your costs and time wasted in the event of an audit.    

That wraps up our list of top lessons when it comes to small businesses and sales tax.  Sound overwhelming?  It can be – there are thousands of sales tax jurisdictions in the United States, which makes this topic a challenging one.  Just remember that there are also dozens of resources available to help you with this process from start to finish. 

Did you learn something new through part one or part two of this series?  Do you have a great lesson to add to the list?  Share your small business sales tax takeaways in the comments below.

About the Author:

Sarah Field


I am an author and moderator for the the SBA.gov Community. I'll share useful information for your entrepreneurial endeavors and help point you in the right direction to find other resources for your small business needs. Thanks for joining our online community here at SBA.gov!

Why Your Business Needs a “Content First” Social Media Marketing Strategy

By bridgetwpollack, Guest Blogger
Published: September 3, 2015 Updated: September 3, 2015

Social media marketing takes more than signing up for a free account and waiting for followers and fans to materialize.

But where do you start creating content that resonates with your audience on social media?

You need a content-first business. But while content-first usually refers to brands that develop content to build an audience before launching products or services, you can also think of the concept more widely to guide the development of your social marketing efforts.

Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute, explained the steps of creating a content-first strategy in a recent SCORE online workshop.

Great social marketing starts with expertise and passion

Pulizzi’s first step in developing shareable, engaging content comes down to you as an entrepreneur. Think about your knowledge base and expert-level skills. In what topic areas do you have authority to speak as an expert? What aspects of your industry are you most passionate about?

Match your passion and expertise with what you know about your customers. What are they passionate about? What pain points can you help them solve? Together, these elements of your expertise and your customers’ needs create what Pulizzi calls the sweet spot – the basis for your content marketing.

Once you find the sweet spot, go beyond it to narrow your efforts. Go an extra step to determine your content tilt: the thing that makes you not just an expert, but a leading expert in some aspect of your line of work. “Everyone stops at the sweet spot,” Pulizza explained. “You have to tilt it to find your leading area of expertise, and differentiate.”

Once you’ve solidified your sweet spot and content tilt, it’s time to develop a brand content mission to guide the content you create and share. This mission can be brief, but it should outline your target market, what you’ll offer (ex: blog posts, a podcast, three YouTube tutorials per month), and the outcome for the audience – the value they’ll take away from the experience.

By narrowing your focus with the content-first method, you can spend less time wondering what to post on social media, and spend more time connecting with your audience in a meaningful way.

Pulizzi warns that monetization of the content-first marketing plan takes 15-17 months. But once your audience builds in support of your consistent, compelling content, you’ll see an increase in social media followers, customer engagement, and, of course, revenue. If your business is already selling products, you may see results quicker, but more gradually.

Put your content-first strategy to work

Once you’ve mastered your content strategy, it’s time to communicate! On Twitter, search for and follow other leaders in your industry or region. Accounts with overlapping audiences can offer content to share and respond to. On Facebook, you’re not tied to a character count, so feel free to ask questions, respond to customer queries, and solicit ideas for additional content. Create photo or video posts, or keep tabs on shareable content your colleagues and industry partners are making. Sharing relevant content from others bolsters your own content-creation efforts by offering new items to click and comment on during lulls in your marketing calendar. Sharing also strengthens your reputation as someone who pays attention to their industry – and appreciates their colleagues.

With a steady stream of great content, you’ll not only continue to excite your followers, you’ll also be prepared when social media channels change. Twitter and Facebook have evolved, and Instagram, Snapchat, and Periscope have joined them. Other tools, like Google Plus, have begun to fade out of daily use.

Who’s to say what social channel will be next? By focusing on your sweet spot and content tilt, you’ll have content that transcends specific social media tools, enabling you to adapt it to whatever social channel is all the rage on any given day.

Not sure how to turn your passion and expertise into a marketing strategy? A SCORE mentor can talk through your ideas and help identify a niche audience.

About the Author:

Bridget Weston Pollack

Guest Blogger

Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the SCORE Association. She is responsible for all branding, marketing, PR, and communication efforts. She focuses on implementing marketing plans and strategies to facilitate the growth of SCORE’s mentoring and trainings services. She collaborates with SCORE volunteers and develops SCORE’s online marketing strategy.


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