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Set realistic goals for your website

From SCORE Grand Rapids

The advantages of having a business Web site have been well documented. For some customers, your site is the first place they will gain awareness of your company. From there, the opportunities appear endless.

An effective Web site is one that is meeting both your business’s needs and the informational needs of visitors to the site. Assuming that you already have established a Web site, how do you think it’s doing on both fronts? Clearly, an unproductive Web site will be a waste of your money and your visitors’ time.

Here are some factors for objectively evaluating your site-to see it not only through the lens of your business goals but also through the eyes of a prospective customer. It should:

  • Be current. Making regular changes to the home page is vital to sustain the interest of regular visitors.
  • Be located easily using the major search engines. ·
  • Have working hyperlinks to other relevant sites, such as a trade or professional association whose members are potential purchasers.
  • Be easy to navigate. The files and graphics should be small enough that most visitors can download them quickly. Links within the site should make it easy for a visitor to get back to your home page.
  • Offer customers and prospects relevant information-that is, material that will help them understand your products and services and their potential value to them.
  • Be a secure site, if you are conducting e-commerce on it.
  • Personalize or customize information for different segments of your market.
  • Use cookies or other features to capture information about your site visitors and their buying habits without costing them significant time.
  • Offer customers an easy way to contact you with questions or feedback without their having to leave the site. (And you should be able to respond promptly.)

To sum up, you want your Web site to work for your visitors if your larger goal is to maximize your business potential. So every now and then, step back and become the person you’d like to visit your site.

To learn more about the many dimensions of marketing on the World Wide Web, contact SCORE. SCORE counselors donate their time to consult with and mentor entrepreneurs providing free and confidential business counseling to America’s small business owners. Call the Grand Rapids SCORE chapter at 616-771-0305 or find an online counselor at https://grandrapids.score.org.

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Make Time for Marketing

From SCORE 

If you operate a home-based business, there are more demands on your time than time to go around. But there’s one business activity you can’t afford to defer if you want to stay in business: marketing.

For any small business, marketing has many facets, and it’s a more complex proposition than just selling what you’re already offering customers. Marketing is the set of activities that attracts customers to your product. In a home-based business, that’s not going to be signs in front of your house and a parade of customers coming through your doors every day. The challenge is to adapt sound marketing techniques to your business’s unique circumstances and offerings. And that takes time.

Here are six tips for making time for marketing:

  1. Convince yourself that marketing is worth the time. When you don’t think a task will contribute to your bottom line, it’s easy to go on to the next item on your to-do list. If marketing is outside your so-called comfort zone, examine why you feel that way.
  2. Have a marketing plan. Invariably, a good plan is at the heart of personal productivity. Examine your business goals and determine how marketing can help fulfill them. As a new business owner, you may need a crash course in marketing. If so, that becomes part of your plan.
  3. Be open to new ideas. How are competing businesses getting noticed by customers? If they’re using techniques or media you never considered, take time to study and learn about new approaches. Experiment with marketing ideas that are low cost and low risk.
  4. Dedicate the time. By reserving the time, you’re less likely to procrastinate. Once you’re committed to marketing, block out time for it just as you would any other important task. Whether the task is market research or cold calling, know what you want to accomplish-in that period of time, and anticipate the distractions that are most likely to interfere.
  5. Stay connected. Take time to be at meetings and other gatherings of your professional and community groups. Yes, this presence takes time away from other business activities, but it keeps you in front of prospective customers and creates opportunities for you to sell yourself as well as your business. A home-based business is especially likely to benefit from this exposure.
  6. Celebrate your marketing successes. Pay attention to when your marketing pays off. You’ll discover that as effective marketing leads to better exposure and more sales, it becomes easier to justify the time you spend to promote your services.

“Work smarter, not harder” is an expression that applies to marketing as well as other facets of entrepreneurship. Make time for marketing, use that time wisely, and you’ll hone your competitive edge. For more insights on making a home-based business succeed, contact SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” SCORE is a nonprofit organization of more than 10,500 volunteer business counselors who donate their time and talents to assist entrepreneurs in starting, growing and operating small businesses.  All counseling is free and confidential. For the SCORE chapter nearest you, call 1-800/634-0245, or find a counselor online at www.score.org.

All SCORE counseling is offered as a free and confidential community service. There are 389 SCORE chapters around the country assisting entrepreneurs. While counseling is always free-of-charge, local SCORE chapters also offer small business workshops and seminars for modest fees.

To learn more about SCORE and its counseling services, call 1-616-771-0305, or email your questions to the Grand Rapids Chapter of SCORE  at https://grandrapids.score.org/.

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Manage your working capital to maintain business success

As the owner of a small business, you may think it has little in common with a large corporation. While it is true that you will likely rely more on trade credit, bank financing, lease financing and personal equity, your long-term investment decisions require the same kind of analysis used by large firms. The key is understanding those factors that affect financial decisions, how they apply to your business’s short- and long-term goals and strategies, and any other influences that may be unique to your situation.

Working capital is the difference between current assets and current liabilities. Lack of close control on working capital is one cause of business failure. The small business owner must be constantly alert to changes in working capital, the reasons for them, and any resulting business implications.

It is helpful for the owner to think of working capital in terms of its six components:

1.  Cash and equivalents. This most liquid form of working capital requires constant supervision.  A good cash budgeting system addresses many important considerations: whether the cash level is adequate to meet current expenses as they come due; timing of cash inflow, cash outflow and peak cash needs; amount to borrow to meet cash shortfalls; and the timing of repayment of loans.

2.   Accounts receivable. Almost all businesses extend credit to their customers. Make sure the amount of accounts receivable is reasonable in relation to sales and that receivables are being collected promptly. Identify slow-paying customers and have a strategy for dealing with them.

3.   Inventory. Inventory often constitutes as much as 50 percent of a firm’s current assets. Is the inventory level reasonable compared with sales and the nature of the business? Know the rate of inventory turnover compared with other companies in your type of business.

4.   Accounts payable. Financing by trade is common in small business and is one of the major sources of funds for entrepreneurs. Understand whether your business’s payment policy is helping or hurting your credit rating. Know the timing pattern between payment of accounts payable and collections of accounts receivable.

5.   Notes payable. Notes to banks or other financial sources represent a popular alternative financing source. Note whether the amount of borrowing is reasonable compared to the equity financing of the firm. Look at when payments are due and whether the money will be there to make these payments on schedule.

6.   Accrued expenses and taxes payable. These are obligations of the firm at any given time and represent expenses already obligated, even if payment is not yet issued.

If you would like to discuss business financing, understanding financial statements or budgeting, contact SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” SCORE has volunteer business counselors who provide free and confidential advice to small business. For the SCORE chapter nearest you, call 1-800/634-0245, or find a counselor  online at www.score.org.

All SCORE counseling is offered as a free and confidential community service. There are 389 SCORE chapters around the country assisting entrepreneurs. While counseling is always free-of-charge, local SCORE chapters also offer small business workshops and seminars for modest fees.

To learn more about SCORE and its counseling services, call 1-616-771-0305, or email your questions to the Grand Rapids Chapter of SCORE  at score@grandrapids.org.

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Manage your working capital to maintain business success

As the owner of a small business, you may think it has little in common with a large corporation. While it is true that you will likely rely more on trade credit, bank financing, lease financing and personal equity, your long-term investment decisions require the same kind of analysis used by large firms. The key is understanding those factors that affect financial decisions, how they apply to your business’s short- and long-term goals and strategies, and any other influences that may be unique to your situation.

Working capital is the difference between current assets and current liabilities. Lack of close control on working capital is one cause of business failure. The small business owner must be constantly alert to changes in working capital, the reasons for them, and any resulting business implications.

It is helpful for the owner to think of working capital in terms of its six components:

1. Cash and equivalents. This most liquid form of working capital requires constant supervision.  A good cash budgeting system addresses many important considerations: whether the cash level is adequate to meet current expenses as they come due; timing of cash inflow, cash outflow and peak cash needs; amount to borrow to meet cash shortfalls; and the timing of repayment of loans.

2. Accounts receivable. Almost all businesses extend credit to their customers. Make sure the amount of accounts receivable is reasonable in relation to sales and that receivables are being collected promptly. Identify slow-paying customers and have a strategy for dealing with them.

3. Inventory. Inventory often constitutes as much as 50 percent of a firm’s current assets. Is the inventory level reasonable compared with sales and the nature of the business? Know the rate of inventory turnover compared with other companies in your type of business.

4. Accounts payable. Financing by trade is common in small business and is one of the major sources of funds for entrepreneurs. Understand whether your business’s payment policy is helping or hurting your credit rating. Know the timing pattern between payment of accounts payable and collections of accounts receivable.

5. Notes payable. Notes to banks or other financial sources represent a popular alternative financing source. Note whether the amount of borrowing is reasonable compared to the equity financing of the firm. Look at when payments are due and whether the money will be there to make these payments on schedule.

6. Accrued expenses and taxes payable. These are obligations of the firm at any given time and represent expenses already obligated, even if payment is not yet issued.

If you would like to discuss business financing, understanding financial statements or budgeting, contact SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” SCORE has volunteer business counselors who provide free and confidential advice to small business. To learn more about SCORE and its counseling services, call 1-616-771-0305, or email your questions to the Grand Rapids Chapter of SCORE  at score@grandrapids.org.

For the SCORE chapter nearest you, call 1-800/634-0245, or find a counselor  online at www.score.org.

All SCORE counseling is offered as a free and confidential community service. There are 389 SCORE chapters around the country assisting entrepreneurs. While counseling is always free-of-charge, local SCORE chapters also offer small business workshops and seminars for modest fees. 

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Counselors to America’s small businesses

Establish a line of credit to manage the unexpected

A line of credit, sometimes called revolving debt, enables a company to draw against a pool of money as it needs to. That line of credit is invaluable for protecting your business from emergencies and stalled cash flow because it extends the cash available in the business checking account to the upper limit of the loan contract. Essentially, the line of credit is assurance by a bank that as long as your company is financially healthy, it can borrow money whenever it needs to.

This form of short-term borrowing is an excellent way to establish a relationship with a bank and demonstrate the creditworthiness of your business-especially if you have but don’t use the line of credit. Moreover, by virtue of having this relationship, your banker can become a sort of silent partner, giving business operation advice as well as money.

You’ll find many variables in a line of credit, such as the period of time (short or intermediate), whether it is renewable or nonrenewable, and whether it has a fixed or fluctuating rate of interest.

A short-term line of credit typically is 60 to 120 days, whereas an intermediate-term line may be as short as one year or as long as three. You’re most likely to want the line of credit to purchase inventory and to pay operating costs-not to purchase equipment or real estate.

To negotiate a credit line with your bank, prepare to hand over your current financial statements, latest tax returns, and a statement of projected cash flow.

What collateral will you use to secure your loan? You’ll need more than the assets you may be purchasing with it, such as the company’s accounts receivable, equipment, and real estate. The loan agreement and related documents will be designed to ensure that your loan payments are on time and have priority over noncritical expenses, dividends and employee bonuses.

This is a key point for avoiding confusion and resentment over what your bank is willing to do for you. Some small business owners think the loan officer doesn’t understand their business requirements. At the same time, the loan officer doesn’t think the borrower is making realistic projections for anticipated cash flow, profitability, and the like.

As loans go, banks tend to view line-of-credit loans as low risk, so they carry the lowest interest rate. The bank may reserve the right to cancel the loan if it thinks your business is in jeopardy.  You’ll make interest payments monthly, regardless of when you expect to pay off the principal. For an annual fee, most banks will allow one-year lines of credit to renew almost automatically. However, they may require the credit line to be fully paid off for between seven and 30 days each contract year.

To learn more about lines of credit, contact SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” More than 35 volunteer business counselors in the Grand Rapids SCORE office donate their time to consult with and mentor entrepreneurs (In person or Virtual). Contact the Grand Rapids SCORE office at 616/771-0305 or go to www.scoregr.org.

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Build wealth by investing in your own company

As your business matures, the time will come when you will see excess cash and steady profits. Then the question arises of how to further increase the profits of your company. The stock market in recent years has been particularly unkind to the large companies that invested heavily in it. So plowing your profits back into your company may be the shrewdest move you can make in good times.

Lowering your overhead is a logical place to start, particularly if your rental payments keep going up. That may suggest to you that it’s time to buy your current building or look for one to purchase, so that you acquire a manageable mortgage that costs you less per month than renting. And once the space is yours, you can design the layout that will best maximize productivity. Longer term, you benefit from having the value of the building on your balance sheet and may be able to protect some of your profits from taxes due to the depreciation allowance.

Another approach to building value for your company is taking advantage of down markets to buy additional inventory-taking advantage of volume discounts and discounts at the end of a supplier’s selling season-or acquire better equipment. The latter approach might include computerized and electronic systems that can improve internal processes-again enhancing productivity.

However, another use for excess cash is to invest in financial instruments. You may decide, for example, that excess funds are best kept in treasury bills or certificates of deposit (if you can keep them there at least 90 days). Most likely, with available funds in excess of $100,000, you can make transfers between your checking account and your interest bearing investment account, despite the limit on the number of checks you can draw on the interest bearing account.

Lastly, you may want to consider acquiring a smaller company as a way of growing your business and expanding market share. If you go this route, prepare to learn more about business valuation at the same time you’re scrutinizing such assets as property, equipment and inventory, to be sure you really need them.

To learn more about sound financial management practices for your business, contact SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” SCORE is a nonprofit organization with more than 35 volunteer business counselors in Grand Rapids who provide free, confidential advice. Note Score now uses Zoom For the Grand Rapids Chapter of SCORE, call1-(616) 771-0305, or find a counselor online at www.scoregr.org.

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Ask SCORE: Read between the lines of your balance sheet

For newcomers to business, a balance sheet may appear at first to be a complex and confusing collection of numbers. However, this financial statement contains valuable information for assessing the health of your company and making decisions on which direction to take.

A balance sheet is like a snapshot of your company at a single moment in time. The balance sheet shows how the capital within your business is distributed over the various accounts. A surplus of assets over liabilities indicates profitability. If the statement shows more liabilities than assets, however, your company is at a loss position–not necessarily cause for alarm, depending on the longer trend. For example,  a business  may have a month with high expenses and a net loss that may be more than offset by five months of profitability. On the other hand, three consecutive losing months should prompt the owner to make serious decisions about how to overcome the negative cash position.

Compare balance sheets over a period of time for the big picture of your assets and liabilities. By comparing these on an item-by-item basis, you can spot trends that will affect your firm’s overall financial health. For example, larger quantities of merchandise on hand from one period to another may reflect a decision to buy ahead because of continuing inflation. Receivables may show a continuing upward trend when collection of outstanding accounts exceeds 30 days. Debts may run higher when the firm expands or makes capital improvements.

Much like the balance sheet, the profit and loss statement (or operating statement) totals the result of operations over a selected time period. This statement will show sales volume, cost incurred and the amount of profit or loss. Comparing the monthly or quarterly profit and loss statements can be revealing. Why was there a lower gross profit for several quarters? Did price cuts decrease per sale profitability? Was a higher proportion of sales spent on operating costs such as personnel, rent or insurance?  Are overhead costs increasing routinely?

Do not rely solely on your accountant for advice and guidance in understanding your balance sheet. As the decision-maker for your company, you need a clear understanding of how to read, interpret and act on financial information.  For assistance, contact SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” SCORE is a nonprofit organization having more than 35 volunteer counselors in Grand Rapids who provide free and confidential business  advice to veteran entrepreneurs and those just starting out. For the Grand Rapids Chapter office of SCORE, call 1-616/771-0305, or find a counselor online at www.scoregr.org. Rockford Chamber of Commerce 1-616/866-2000.

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Tips for driving small business success with strengths-based leadership

ASK   SCORE

SCORE, Counselors to America’s Small Business

You may be familiar with Gallup’s international bestseller, “Strengthfinder 2.0,” which has been helping professionals not only identify their strengths in the workplace but also how to further develop them. Not surprising, Gallup scientists have also been studying leadership and how a strengths-based approach to management can fuel the success of businesses.

“The data shows that organizations that work from a strength of their people are more profitable, productive, and have a higher level of employee engagement,” explains SCORE Mentor Jan Makela, who recently completed a Gallup Strengths coaching course.

How might you approach managing your small business with a strengths-based approach?

Here are five simple, practical tips from Makela to get you started:

1. Know your own top five dominate strengths (i.e., the themes that are your natural strengths). Focus on growing and getting better at what you already do well.

2. Don’t focus on what are not your strengths. But learn how to minimize your weaknesses by using your strengths to overcome areas that are not naturally strengths for you. 

3. Realize your talents give you a unique and powerful edge. The wonderful thing about talents is that they hold great potential for us. It is through our talents that we tap into our greatest potential for success.

4. Learn to recognize the formula for a strength: 

5. Skill + Knowledge + Experience (also known as Talent Xs) = Strength

6. Don’t try to fix your own weaknesses—or those of others. It can’t be done. Prove it to yourself: Rewrite this sentence three times with your non-dominant hand. How does it look, and how easy was it to do? Compare it to your dominant hand. See the difference? Focus and grow your strengths. 

Transitioning your leadership style to one that recognizes and nurtures strengths may require a shift in thinking and some extra work in the beginning. But the more you practice it and see positive results, the more natural a part of your company’s culture it will become. 

“You grow people from their strengths not from their weaknesses,” says Makela, “So find out what your employees’ strengths are and what they do best. Given the opportunity to excel, they will exceed your expectations.”

Further advice on doing business from a strength-based approach is available from SCORE, a nonprofit association offering a wealth of information resources, training, and free counseling designed to help entrepreneurs nationwide build productive, profitable businesses. 

A SCORE Counselor can serve as a sounding board and will provide valuable unbiased feedback on how to improve things. The SCORE Counselor can also look at the business from the perspective of a bank or other investor, and raise questions you may have overlooked.

All SCORE counseling is offered as a free and confidential community service. There are 30 counselors in the Grand Rapids office of SCORE. Call 616-771-0305 for an appointment with a knowledgeable counselor or e-mail us at score@grandrapids.org.

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The Advantages of hiring a multigenerational workforce

When many people think of diversity in the workplace, what often comes to mind first is hiring employees of different race, gender, and ethnicity. You can also achieve a richly diverse workforce by hiring employees from various age groups. Multigenerational hiring enriches the work environment, providing a wider range of knowledge, skills, creativity, perspectives, and work styles. When you have a broad range of ages represented in your workforce, you get years of experience and maturity along with youthful enthusiasm. 

What Beneficial Traits Do the Various Generations Offer?

While generalizations don’t hold true for all individuals, some common strengths within each of the categories include:

  • Traditionalists (Born before 1946) – These employees hold respect for authority and have a desire to preserve traditions and follow rules. They value teamwork and are task-oriented.
  • Baby Boomers (Born 1946 – 1964) – These individuals are often resourceful and disciplined. They typically exhibit a strong work ethic and drive to achieve goals.
  • Generation Xers (Born 1965 – 1976) – These self-sufficient workers are usually versatile and receptive to learning new skills. They accept change and have a generally good grasp on using technology.
  • Millennials (Born 1977 – 1995) – Employees in this age group are known for bringing a collaborative attitude and strong technology skills to the table. They tend to value openness of communication and candor. Most have a keen interest in advancing in their careers.
  • Gen Edgers (Born after 1995) – Also known as Generation Z, these individuals have strong self-reliance instincts. As early adopters, they aren’t afraid of trying new approaches for fear of failure. They are adept at using technology and tend to be well-connected and influential socially.

What Can Your Small Business Gain from Hiring Inter-Generationally?

The diversity in abilities and attitudes among employees of different age groups can create a more dynamic atmosphere within your business environment. With a healthy mix of traditional approaches and innovative thinking, you can strike a successful balance without becoming too stuck in your ways or too far out of the box. From your sales and customer service efforts to your product/services development and operational processes, having diversity can help you better recognize deficiencies and make improvements to your business by tapping the unique ideas and frames of reference within your team.

A Reminder

Remember that in all your hiring efforts, you need to follow all the applicable federal, state and local anti-discrimination and other labor laws. To understand the requirements, consider talking with a human resources consultant and/or an attorney. A mentor at your local SCORE chapter can assist you in locating trusted resources in your area and provide you with additional guidance and insight about starting and running your small business.

A SCORE Counselor can serve as a sounding board and will provide valuable unbiased feedback on how to improve things. The SCORE Counselor can also look at the business from the perspective of a bank or other investor and raise questions you may have overlooked.

All SCORE counseling is offered as a free and confidential community service. There are 30 counselors in the Grand Rapids office of SCORE. Call 616-771-0305 for an appointment with a knowledgeable counselor or e-mail us at score@grandrapids.org.  

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Considerations When Marketing A Niche Product

ASK  SCORE

SCORE, Counselors to America’s Small Business


While no product or service can be a good fit for everyone, niche products have an even narrower market than most.

If your business is focused on meeting a specialized need in a specialized market (for example, wholesale vegan spa products), the strategies and tactics others use to market their products and services may or may not be as effective for you. Marketing a niche product starts with creating a marketing plan that’s in step with your business plan.

Begin with rigorous market research. Resources like Reference USA and RMA financial profiles can provide valuable information, and, finding answers to these questions:

• Is the product new to the world, or are others like it already available for sale? 

• How can you differentiate your product from those that are similar? 

• How large is the niche, is it growing, and at what pace? 

• What’s the buying process? 

When you’re targeting a niche market, having a detailed profile of the customers to whom you’re selling is also essential. 

For starters, ask yourself these questions about the customers in your niche market:

• What are their needs?

• What are their expectations in terms of quality, price, speed of delivery, etc.?

• Where can you find them (virtually and physically)?

• How do they shop for products and services like yours?

Answering these and other questions will help you determine the ways to most effectively attract the attention of potential customers. 

Some possibilities might include:

• Networking at events and industry conferences that draw your target market

• Targeted social media advertising (online social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. offer pay-per click and pay-per-impression opportunities to present ads to customers who are in specific geographic areas, who fit certain demographic criteria, who have specific interests, etc.)

• Editorials in industry and trade magazines

• Radio spots during a program that draws listeners from your target market

• Guest posts on well-respected blogs that customers in your target market follow

Niche product marketing can be very cost-effective because you don’t waste time and money on people who have no interest in or need for your product in the process of reaching those that do. 

Test market your product…your unique selling proposition…your customer value to confirm your assumptions and validate your marketing assessment,” advises Burgum. “Although you can never be 100 percent certain about your conclusions, don’t be a victim of paralysis by analysis. Learn what you need to in order to minimize risks…and then go!

If you need guidance in marketing a niche product for your small business contact SCORE, a nonprofit association offering a wealth of information resources, training, and free counseling designed to help entrepreneurs nationwide build productive, profitable businesses. 

A SCORE Counselor can serve as a sounding board and will provide valuable unbiased feedback on how to improve things. The SCORE Counselor can also look at the business from the perspective of a bank or other investor, and raise questions you may have overlooked.

All SCORE counseling is offered as a free and confidential community service. There are 30 counselors in the Grand Rapids office of SCORE. Call 616-771-0305 for an appointment with a knowledgeable counselor or e-mail us at score@grandrapids.org.  

Free and Confidential Counseling

SCORE, 250 Monre Street NW

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

616-771-0305

www.grandrapids.score.org

e-mail: score@grandrapids.org

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