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Plan today to generate profits tomorrow

Ask SCORE

 

A business plan is an indispensable management and operating tool for using your time, capital and energy the most effectively. This plan of action for building a successful small business examines the environment in which you expect your business to operate, including potential problems, cyclical trends and opportunities.

If you plan to see financing, it is all but certain that a lender will require a business plan as part of the loan application. Putting your objectives in writing as you build a business plan also forces you to think realistically about sales, expenses, and short and long term goals. The more specific and measurable they are, the better. A complete business plan should identify target customers and how you will attract them; timelines for adding staff and infrastructure; approaches to differentiating your products and services from competitors’; and a host of other considerations. Ideally, it will show anyone who sees it that you’ve done your industry research, too.

Every business plan starts with a cover page containing your contact information (vital to loan officers and any other financial backers) and a warning that the document contains private information. The sections that follow include:

  •     Table of contents
  •     Executive summary
  •     Description of the company and its strategy
  •     Overview of the market
  •     Specifics of the product or service
  •     Plan for sales and promotion
  •     Financial issues and projections
  •      Appendix

A business plan benefits startup businesses as well as established enterprises that need to reassess their goals and strategies. SCORE counselors provide free, confidential counseling to help you develop, prepare, and improve a winning business plan.

SCORE’s counselors are ready to help you with any other aspect of your business, whether it is still a dream or has become your livelihood. For the SCORE chapter nearest you or to find a counselor online visit www.scoregr.org.

Get free and confidential counseling with SCORE, 111 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. Call (616) 771-0305. Visit our website at www.scoregr.org or email us at score@grandrapids.org.

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Tips to save money and time running your small business

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(StatePoint) Being at the helm of a small business can be overwhelming. Whether you’re already your own boss or are thinking of making the leap, these tips from small business owners can help you get organized and boost productivity.

Make it Official

“If you’re thinking of starting a business, the simple act of making business cards will make you feel so much more official,” says Laura Essl, owner of “Blue Eye Brown Eye,” a calligraphy and design service.

Essl, who recently partnered with Staples as part of their #MakeMoreHappen campaign to help small business owners learn about resources to help them get things done, suggests the Staples Copy & Print Center as a go-to destination for business cards, note pads and other customized supplies. Like others too busy to go to the store, she calls their online ordering system and takes advantage of free delivery for orders over $49.99 as “the cherry on top.”

Make the Effort

If you are newly taking a crack at operating a business, you may quickly notice the little things you took for granted as an employee. No longer relying on someone else to provide basics like pens, paper and file folders, it’s important to supply your office cost-efficiently.

Buying supplies haphazardly while you happen to be grocery shopping, for example, as interior designer Anissa Zajac, owner of House Seven was doing at first, is neither a good strategy for staying organized or on-budget.

“I spend most of my time visiting clients and so I don’t need a lot of supplies, but I’ve discovered that making a special trip to an office supplies retailer is well worth it for the money I will save in the long run,” says Zajac.

Get Professional

When working from home, it can be tempting to let things lapse into chaos. But if you video conference, meet with clients or just want to get serious, it’s important to differentiate your home office from your home, at least mentally.

“What I previously called my office was a makeshift desk in my son’s playroom. It worked fine for me, as my requirements and hours were flexible, but now that my husband is working from home and conducting online business meetings and conference calls, we quickly discovered that toys in the background was just not a professional look,” says Shannon Peterson, lifestyle blogger behind “Much Most Darling.”

When upgrading your office, Peterson suggests stretching dollars by taking advantage of resources like the Staples Rewards program, which offers rewards on purchases, cash back on recycled ink cartridges and special coupons and deals. She also points out that you can enjoy further cost-savings when opting for the generic store brand, which, in most cases, is as high quality as name brand alternatives.

More cost and time efficient ideas for small businesses can be found by visiting Staples.com and by following #MakeMoreHappen on social media.

When money and time is tight, as it often is when running a small business, turn to smart strategies to take your business further with fewer resources.

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Small steps to take today to improve your retirement tomorrow

(c) Stephen Coburn - Fotolia.com Whether you plan to take it easy in your retirement or travel the globe, you will need sufficient resources to have the retirement you envision. As you make plans to meet your short- and longer-term savings goals, remember that saving for retirement is important.

(c) Stephen Coburn – Fotolia.com
Whether you plan to take it easy in your retirement or travel the globe, you will need sufficient resources to have the retirement you envision. As you make plans to meet your short- and longer-term savings goals, remember that saving for retirement is important.

(StatePoint) While it is never too early or too late to prepare for retirement, today is always the right day to take action.

“Saving for retirement can seem overwhelming, but don’t wait to get started,” says Jamie Ohl, president, Retirement Plan Services, Lincoln Financial Group. “The sooner you start making contributions to a retirement account, the more opportunity you have to grow your savings.”

Unfortunately, only 19 percent of Americans say they are very prepared for retirement, according to the “2016 M.O.O.D. of America Survey” from Lincoln Financial Group. This National Save for Retirement Week, held October 16-22, learn some valuable steps you can take today to count yourself among the prepared.

  • Meet the match: Sixty-eight percent of Americans say trying to understand their retirement plan options can be an overwhelming process, according to a recent Lincoln Financial study. If there is one principle to remember when mulling over your options, it’s to take advantage of a match if it is offered by your employer. Not doing so is leaving money on the table.
  • Increase your contribution: Whenever there is an opportunity to put more into your retirement fund, take it. When you get a raise or a bonus, consider increasing your contribution. If you save money on other expenses in your budget, for example, canceling a cable subscription you don’t use, try to set aside a portion of the saved money for your retirement fund.
  • Meet with an advisor: Consider turning to a professional. The great majority of Americans—95 percent—trust their financial advisors and 90 percent say their advisor helps them achieve financial security. Relying on their expertise can help position you for a more comfortable retirement.

More retirement tips and resources can be found at LincolnFinancial.com.

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CS Brewing Company honored again

 

BUS-CSBrewery-front-viewNamed #5 in top 10 new breweries in Michigan

The Cedar Springs Brewing Company continues to win accolades from loyal customers and critics alike. In May, customers voted it the best brewery in West Michigan. In June/July, customers nominated them for their fried chicken and MLive visited and named them as one of the best (#11 out of 52) in their search for Michigan’s best fried chicken, calling it absolutely delicious. And now, they’ve done it again, coming in at number five out of MLive’s top 10 new breweries in Michigan.

Customers nominated their favorite new breweries all across the state (from 2012 til now), and then MLive reporters Amy Sherman and John Gonzalez visited 30 finalists before making their decision on the top 10. When writing about Cedar Springs Brewing Company, they talked about how owner David Ringler learned to brew in Germany, and how his love for their country, traditions and traditional beers is infectious. They called his German beers excellent examples of classic styles, and called the Cedar Springs beer, CSIPA, a subtle, clean, quality beer. “The beers have nothing to hide behind, and don’t need to,” they wrote. “Their taste speaks volumes.”

The top ten new Michigan breweries named by MLive were:

#10-One Well Brewing, Kalamazoo

#9-Territorial Brewing, Springfield

#8-Cognition Brewing, Ishpeming

#7-Tapistry Brewing, Bridgman

#6-Grand River Brewing, Jackson

#5-Cedar Springs Brewing Company, Cedar Springs

#4-Hop Lot Brewing Company, Suttons Bay

#3-Batch Brewing, Detroit

#2-Transient Artisan Ales, Bridgman

#1-Stormcloud Brewing Frankfort

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Rotary Honors Pat Capek

 

BUS-Rotary-Pat-CapekBy Tom Noreen

The Cedar Springs Rotary Club honored long time Rotarian Pat Capek at their July 27 meeting with an honorary Paul Harris Award for her many years as program chairman. Since 1990, Pat has arranged for programs at least three times a month for the club’s weekly noon meeting. Programs have included a group that brought a flock of parrots that chatted the entire meal, updates by regional non-profits, introduction of new businesses, mission trip reports, unique vacation experiences, students on schooling, exchange students, and the club’s Boy Scout Troop and Venture Crew.

Pat was one of the first three women to join the club. She joined in 1982 with Dorothy Bishop and Linda Hunt. She also past served as club president.

Her dedication in arranging these presenters definitely illustrates the Rotary motto: Service above Self.

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Did you do business with these two closed dealerships?

 

BUS-Sec-of-StateCall Secretary of State office for assistance

LANSING—Secretary of State Ruth Johnson today encouraged customers of two out-of-business west Michigan auto dealers to call her office so they can obtain proper title and registration for their vehicles.

Some customers of Wayland Motor Sales in Wayland and the Patriot Auto Group, Inc. in Hastings may have been issued improper temporary registrations or license plates as part of their vehicle transactions. Affected consumers risk having their vehicles impounded if stopped by law enforcement.

“Consumers who may have been victimized need to call to ensure they receive the correct ownership documents for their vehicle,” Johnson said. “Without proper title and registration, they will have difficulty proving they own their vehicle or getting a plate for the vehicle in the future.”

Buyers who received a vehicle from either dealership and have not received a title and registration are asked to call the department’s Office of Investigative Services at 517-335-1410 for assistance.

Secretary of State staff investigated both dealers and found a number of significant violations:

Wayland Motor Sales, 159 N. Main St. in Wayland. Secretary of State investigators found that the dealer poorly maintained records and repeatedly failed to apply for title and registration within the required 15 days of vehicle delivery. The licensee allegedly claimed that only four title transactions had not yet been processed but investigators discovered an additional 15 unprocessed tax, title and registration transactions from vehicle sales. The dealer had a former employee pretend to be a representative of Patriot Auto Sales Group, Inc. and purchase temporary registrations for customers. After customers drove off the lot, the dealership never submitted paperwork for them to receive their permanent title documents from the state. Johnson issued a summary suspension of the dealership.

Patriot Auto Sales Group, Inc., 490 S. M-37 Highway in Hastings. During the investigation of Wayland Motor Sales, the licensee for Patriot Auto Sales Group, Inc. allegedly denied knowing anything about the temporary registration purchases for Wayland Motor customers and submitted a close-out statement for the business. Investigators discovered that the dealership had seven unprocessed sales transactions, leaving customers without proper documentation for their vehicles. The dealer could not provide funds to pay for the tax, title and registration.

As part of her focus on strengthening her office’s consumer protection efforts, Johnson created a new office, which investigates and inspects automotive-related businesses. Already Investigative Services staff, acting on consumer complaints in many cases, have taken strong action against dozens of problem auto dealers and repair shops.

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Ask SCORE for sound small business advice

 

If you have dreams of someday owning your own business, or if you’re already an entrepreneur and want to sharpen your management skills, keep an eye on this space. Here, you’ll find concise answers to common small business questions, tips on finding new customers and keeping old ones happy, and insights into business-related issues you may never have thought of, but should.

This space is where you will find “Ask SCORE,” a series of informative columns provided by SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to the success of small business in America. The “Ask SCORE” columns address a wide range of business topics and provide insights into how to address particular business situations or issues. The columns also provide a sample of the kind of business advice an entrepreneur can expect from a SCORE business counselor.

Even with these regular columns, there are many other topics and issues small business owners need to consider. Feel free to call SCORE for assistance. Nationally, more than 10,500 volunteer business counselors donate their time and expertise to provide advice, explanations and information about small business ownership. SCORE business counselors are working and retired business owners, executives and managers-who have real-world knowledge and experience to share with you.

SCORE business counselors have particular expertise in business planning and help numerous business start-ups through the detailed and time consuming task of preparing a business plan, complete with financial projections. Often, start-up companies need to seek out sources of capital. SCORE business counselors will assist the aspiring entrepreneur with the preparation of the loan application package, which includes a business plan. Many clients request team counseling, in which several counselors with varied business experience will meet with a business owner to review strategies and plan for future business growth.

All SCORE counseling is offered as a free and confidential community service. There are 35 SCORE business counselors in the Grand Rapids SCORE chapter. While counseling is always free-of-charge, local SCORE chapters also offer small business workshops and seminars for modest fees.

To learn more about the Grand Rapids SCORE Chapter and its counseling services, call 1-616/ 771-0305, or go to at http://www.scoregr.org./

 

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North End Tire and Auto

BUS-NorthEndTire-logo

Are you looking for a new place to get tires or get your car repaired? North End Tire and Auto, located at 3665 17 Mile Road, across from Meijer, may have just what you need.

North End Tire is an independent dealer that has access to all brands of tires. They say they can recommend tires for your type of car, or for your budget. Each set of tires also comes with free rotation and flat repairs. They also have certified mechanics that can diagnose and repair your car at a reasonable rate.

The owners are Cedar Springs natives that know the community and are glad to be operating in their hometown. They say that because they are independent, they have access to more tire brands, and can custom fit your car for your unique driving needs and wants. Give them a call today at (616) 439-3400.

Hours are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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How do I decide on a business for me?

 

By Bob Cooper, SCORE Counselor

Deciding on the product or service that you can form into a business, starts by looking at yourself. What skills and interests that you possess? You are going to devote a lot of time and energy to the enterprise, so it is necessary that you enjoy doing the activity that will be your business.

For example, don’t decide to operate a restaurant just because you love to eat. You might even be able to make a super hamburger on the grill, but to translate that into a full time occupation of operating a restaurant, with no knowledge of the restaurant business, would be a mistake.

Therefore, the first job is to investigate you to determine your skills, interests and desires. The best of entrepreneurs love their chosen business, and are prepared every day to be challenged by the tasks that need to be done.

If you are presently employed, keep your present job while you start your new business. Calculate the amount of money it will take to keep you and your family afloat for at least six months. This is the amount of money you need in the bank before you should leave your present job.

Almost everyone starting a business needs support. That support may take the form of money; however the best support takes the form of an experienced entrepreneur with whom you can discuss your ideas. When you are starting a business a person with experience can be the best support system of all.

Once you have an idea for a business that you have an interest in, and that you feel you have the experience to excel in, you must determine the strengths and weaknesses of the competition. As part of your marketing effort, list all of your potential competitors and their strengths and weaknesses, and then compare your product or service to your list of competitors. Will you be better, cheaper or faster than your competition? In other words, why will your customers buy from you? It is important to recognize that the day before you started your business, all of your potential customers had the products and services that they needed from someone else. Then why should those customers, a day later, need your product or service?

The other side of your marketing effort is to determine who your customers are and how you will connect with them. Keep in mind that every person or company is not your customer. Make a list of the demographics that best describe your customers, and based on that list, determine how you will connect with them.

Do research on your product or service to determine how successful and needed it may be in the marketplace. The world will not beat a path to your door just because you are in business To develop customers, you need to market your product or service to your network of potential customers.

Be professional. You are planning to start a business and that business is a reflection of you, so treat the business and yourself professionally. You want people to know that you are serious, and that you will treat the business and your customers as a professional. That includes having business cards, a business phone, a business e-mail address and having a website on the Internet. Part of being professional is building a business plan and planning ahead regarding the management and operation of the business. Do your homework before starting a business.

Get free and confidential counseling with SCORE, 111 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. Call (616) 771-0305. Visit our website at www.scoregr.org or email us at score@grandrapids.org.

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Break Through

Digital marketing basics for businesses

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

(Family Features) Consumers today increasingly rely on connected devices to research products and services before making purchases – so it’s no secret that small businesses need to focus more of their marketing resources than ever before on online strategies.

As the journey from consumer query to purchase becomes more complex – incorporating multiple devices, websites, apps and offline activities – so too do the options for tracking consumer behavior and leveraging online media for targeted advertising.

There are companies today specializing in almost every aspect of online marketing, leaving business owners with a dizzying array of options. For many the question is not the value of online marketing, but rather where to start and how much they need to do to accomplish their marketing objectives.

Fortunately, there are some foundational activities that are effective, manageable and comprise an important starting point for leveraging digital media to grow your business.

Here are four basics you can focus on right now to promote your business and grow your customer base online:

Mobile mindset

Mobile is quickly becoming the device of choice for consumers to search the web. According to research by International Data Corporation on behalf of YP, nearly one in three consumers uses two or more devices when looking for information about products and services; and in 2015, Google announced that it receives more searches from smartphones and tablets than from computers. Yet many businesses are slow to adapt.

If your website is difficult to navigate from a mobile device, you can lose business to your competitors – especially since mobile searches are often about more than finding information. Consumers are using their mobile phones to take action after visiting a site, including calling a business, checking store hours and mapping directions. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly and easy to use from a variety of devices so you don’t miss out on potential customers.

Simple search

Search marketing is a powerful tool to drive quality leads. At minimum, you need to optimize your web presence to make sure people who are looking for the types of products and services you sell can find you through the major search engines. After that, you can supplement your organic search engine traffic with paid search ads during peak seasons, special promotions or when you have budget to invest. In any case, the first step is to form a clear vision of your target consumers and the keywords that drive searches in your industry. For additional ideas, consult others, such as customers, relatives, competitor websites and industry news.

The time and money you invest in search marketing can be undermined if you neglect the basics such as making sure your company contact information is accurate, consistent and easy to find on your website, in online directories and anywhere else your business appears on the web. Think about what makes your life easier when you’re searching for a product or service that you need and then strive to provide that same experience on your own website.

Social graces

Social media is a great platform to connect and engage with potential customers. The key to making it work for your business is to listen first. Look for social media groups related to your industry, the services or products you provide, or the interests of your target consumers, and observe conversations to find out what’s important to the people you need to reach. Avoid promoting your business in these settings, but look for opportunities to add value and expertise to the discussion. In time, this will help to build a community of followers.

Keep in mind that each social media channel has its own rules and user base, and not all may be a fit for your business. Find the channel(s) that makes the most sense for you and your business, and be sure to incorporate social links in all of your marketing efforts to further grow your network.

Content and character

In the age of information, every small business needs to be a content publisher. Good content serves many purposes, from attracting higher search engine rankings to helping prospects choose your products or services, and reinforcing your brand. A good start is to look for opportunities to educate and share your expertise. How-to videos, FAQs or links to informative resources about your industry are great ways to add value and encourage people to come back to your website. Other content, such as seasonal greeting videos or stories about work you’re doing in the community, may serve to humanize your brand and build authentic connections with your customers.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Does a local business really need a website?

When your business is primarily focused on local clients and you don’t sell products online, you may wonder whether your business even needs a website. The answer is unequivocally yes.

Websites are how local businesses get found via directories and search engines. It’s the “home base” for pertinent information about your business, including hours, location, products, services and more.

Remember that keeping your website information current and correct is extremely important. Inaccurate information can get picked up by other sites and directories, which, in turn, makes it harder for your potential customers to find and engage with your business.

Summit fuels growth

For business owners looking to grow their businesses, the Local Breakthrough Summit organized by YP may deliver the knowledge and tools they need. The series of nationwide events brings together leaders in digital marketing, including Bing, Google, Verve and Yahoo, while also giving small business owners the opportunity to share best practices and gain insights about their communities.

For more information on YP’s Local Breakthrough Summit, visit adsolutions.yp.com/breakthroughsummit.

 

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