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Don’t Overlook Local Marketing to Take Your Brand Farther

March 26, 2013

Sure, there’s a lot of emphasis on online marketing to expand your brand’s reach and find customers who otherwise might not become aware that you exist. But that doesn’t mean you should downplay the importance – or the impact – of marketing locally. There are a variety of ways that you can use local marketing tactics and strategies to build awareness of your brand in your own backyard – and far beyond.

Check out this article by YFS Magazine for tips and ideas that you can put to work for your business.

Announcement On Our Open House Luncheon

February 24, 2013

SCORE Lancaster will hold an Open House Luncheon for prospective new members on Thursday, April 25 from 11:00 am to 1:30 pm at Four Seasons in Landisville. If you’re interested in volunteering to mentor small business entrepreneurs, join us! Come meet our counselors, hear about our effectiveness from several successful clients, share lunch with local community and political leaders, and learn about the requirements and expectations of SCORE membership. For more information, e-mail scorelancaster@verizon.net or call the SCORE office at 717-397-3092. 

Some Thoughts on Local Social Marketing

January 28, 2013

Monday rise and shine! It is the beginning of new week. To many of us, especially small businesses that maintain relationship with a large group of customers/partners via social media, Monday morning means scheduling new Tweets via Hootsuite, scouring for a rejuvenating article to share on Facebook, or contributing insightful comments on new articles shared by our connections on LinkedIn. The emergence of social media suddenly opens up this immense opportunity to reach out to a much larger audience just by the move of your fingers. It makes keeping in touch easier, more efficient.

Yet, somewhere in this seemingly too-good-to-be-true interconnected world, more and more people start to realize the importance of in-person interactions. On the business level, this means a return to some “traditional” forms of social marketing – namely events where the company, its partners and customers can come together and develop deeper bonds. Not only a meaningful way for people to connect at a more personal level, the beauty of those events lies in their sense of locality. If digital media allow you to reach out to audience on a national, sometimes international, scale, events tend to attract certain geographical groups. In this way, events gives you a chance to create deep relationship with the local community where they are hosted. This is crucial to small, local businesses. 

In this article, Carol Aubitz listed several ways companies can bring social marketing to a more local, intimate level. She also shared ideas about how to make those events engaging, fun, and memorable for those who attend. Certain practices such as product samplings/demonstrations, hosting contests, and linking the event with related social cause can be used to create a lasting impression on the audience.

What do you think about the importance of in-person meeting for businesses? What ideas do you have in terms of connecting with customers and partners in a personal, meaningful ways? Please share with us in the comments section.

 

For more information about how SCORE Lancaster can help you develop your business, please visit us here or give us a call today at  717-397-3092. We are happy to assist you on your way to greatness!

A Basic Guide to Bonding for Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners

December 20, 2012

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I would like to introduce this week’s issue of the Guest Post Series on SCORE Lancaster’s blog contributed by Sara Aisenberg. Sit back and enjoy!

Many entrepreneurs need surety bonds before they can open a new business, and many must then renew them periodically to remain in compliance with industry regulations. As such, the term “surety bond” should be a part of every entrepreneur’s vocabulary. Unfortunately, most people don’t know much about surety bonds until they try to establish a start-up. To educate small business owners about this unique risk mitigation tool, the following guide will explore the who, what, when, where, why and how of surety bonds.

Who needs a surety bond?

Across the country, business professionals in certain industries must obtain surety bonds before they can be licensed to legally work in their respective cities and states. According to various laws enforced by government agencies in Pennsylvania, contractors, mortgage brokers, auto dealers and lottery retailers are just a few types of professions that must be bonded. To find out if you work in one of the many industries that require a surety bond, contact the local government agency that handles licensing and registration for your industry.

What is a surety bond?

A surety bond is a legally binding agreement that reinforces industry regulations and protects businesses, consumers and/or government entities from financial loss. Depending on the type of bond and how it functions, a surety bond can do the following:

  • protect consumers from fraudulent or unethical business practices performed by a company
  • protect companies from fraudulent or unethical business practices performed by an individual
  • protect government agencies from businesses and working professionals that break the law

Individuals in need of a surety bond should know that a bond legally and financially binds three parties together. The principal party purchases the bond, the obligee party requires the bond, and the surety company produces the bond. When the principal party purchases a bond, it pledges to the obligee that the job in question will be done ethically and according to the bond’s terms. The surety backs up this pledge by producing the bond.

When do I get a surety bond?

It’s always smart to seek out a reputable surety company to work with well in advance of when you need your bond. Although it’s best to apply for your surety bond prior to business licensing and registration deadlines, some surety bond providers can help customers get bonded in just 24 to 48 hours.

Contact several underwriters to find the best rate possible for your bond. When applying for most types of surety bonds, you’ll need to provide the following information:

  • the state where your business will be located
  • the amount in which you need the bond
  • who is requiring the bond
  • your personal and professional financial histories
  • your credit score

Where do I submit my surety bond?

Once the bond is in your hands, you’ll need to submit it to the agency requiring it (the obligee). If you’re a contractor who needs a bond for curb and sidewalk work, for example, you’ll send your paperwork to the City of Lancaster at 120 N. Duke St., P.O. Box 1599. If the state of Pennsylvania requires you to post a surety bond, you’ll submit your bond form to the appropriate state agency.

Why do I need a surety bond?

In the same way that surety bonds protect consumers, companies and government agencies, they also help individuals build credible and ethical business reputations. If you’re a contractor, for example, being bonded tells future employers that you have a history of finishing construction jobs successfully, on time and on budget. If you’re a mortgage broker, being bonded tells your clients that you have a history of conducting business ethically and lawfully, which includes handling funds appropriately and advising clients to make smart decisions with their money. Whether you’re an MMA promoter, a grain warehouseman or a travel agent, surety bonds help consumers and your state and/or city trust you with their business.

How much will my surety bond cost?

The cost of your surety bond depends on several factors, including:

  • the type of bond
  • the amount of the bond
  • the associated risk of the bond
  • the duration of the bond term
  • your personal and professional financial credentials
  • the surety company you choose to work with

Because so many factors impact bond rates, surety bond costs can be difficult to predict. Many surety bond companies work with a number of underwriting markets, some of which specialize in nonstandard or bad credit bonds. For this reason, individuals with poor credit can often still get bonded if they work with certain surety bond producers. Depending on the bond company you choose to work with, some bond types can even be written freely without a credit check.

To ensure that you have the resources you need to get bonded as quickly and easily as possible and, therefore, start your business venture off on the right foot, account for your surety bond cost in your start-up budget. It’s always better to over budget for bonding, licensing and registration fees than to be blindsided by unexpected costs during the start-up process.

Although most business professionals aren’t initially aware of the bonding requirements for their industries, entrepreneurs should fully understand them before embarking on a new business venture.

Sara Aisenberg is a member of the educational outreach team at SuretyBonds.com, which is a nationwide surety bond producer. Through her writing, Sara helps entrepreneurs and small business owners better understand bonding requirements, which helps them get their businesses up and running as smoothly as possible. Keep up with Sara on Google+.

 

Lesson Learn from Small Business Saturday

November 27, 2012

Congratulations small businesses across the nation for a successful Thanksgiving sales season.

American Express first started Small Business Saturday (SBS) in November 2010 to show support of the small and local business sector. Sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, SBS gives small, local shops an opportunity to compete with major retailers such as Walmart and Target in one of the biggest sales seasons of the year. According to The Washington Post, Small Business Saturday 2012 attracted up to $5.5Billion revenue from supporters – or 10% of total weekend sales. President Obama has been showing support of and shopping at local stores during SBS.  This year, Mr. President reportedly bought Christmast gifts for his daughters at One More Page Books in Virginia.

Now that the hype over an eventful sales season is slowly subsiding, it is time for small business owners to ask a crucial question: What’s next? Unlike large corporations and retailers who have the resources to keep the sales momentum going strong until Christmas and beyond, smal business owners need to look beyond the glory of Small Business Saturday. After the sales are gone, how to keep customers coming back without exhausting the seasonal deals?

Carminie Gallo of Forbes shed some light on how small businesses could use Small Business Saturday as a chance to create a first-impression among customers and leave an unforgettable mark in their memory. In his article, Gallo argued that it was the atmosphere and the whole in-store experience that would distinguish small, local shops from large physical and online retailers. He cited One More Page Books as an example of an in-store experience deliberately conceived so that no online stores could replicate. This is particularly relevant at a time when tablets such as Kindle and Ipad significantly increase the popularity of digital contents and pose a threat to traditional publishing models. Gallo went on to list certain factors that made some local stores his favorite. Be it impressive interior design or unique hospitality, a unique in-store experience will stay in the memory of customers much longer than a generic shopping session at Walmart.

Now that the last orders of Cyber Monday have been made and the industry is gearing up for the next giant shopping season – Christmas, it is the perfect time for small businesses to emerge as an option worth considering among holiday gift-buyers.

Social Media Does Not Need To Be Time-Consuming With These Tools

November 1, 2012

Maintaining brand presence on social media is becoming a time-consuming task for many small businesses, especially with the rapid rise of various social media platforms and the cluttering brand messages on each platform. Online marketing company Vertical Response surveyed 500 small companies and found the following trends among small businesses:

  • Spend more time on social media, but many struggle with the added workload.
  • Focus on Facebook and Twitter, while adoption of Pinterest and Google+ remains slow.
  • Realize the value of content – but, again, time is an issue.
  • Find value in paying for social media tools.

According to the survey, 43% of small businesses spend at least 6 hours per week on social media and 1/3 of CEOs want to spend less time on social media. The most widely used channels include Facebook (90% of small businesses are on Facebook), Twitter (70%), and blog (55%). The most time-consuming task is finding &  posting content, followed by learning & education and analyzing. The least time-consuming task is responding to questions.

The following illustration lays out the details of the findings. You can find the complete survey here.

Fortunately, there are a lot of tools available to small businesses to help them use social media more efficiently. Ian Cleary, founder of Razorsocial, shares eight of his most favorite tools to manage social media in this article published on Business Grow. From finding and sharing great content to maintaining contact with influencers, these tools not only reduce the time spent on social media but also help small businesses reach out to the right community and participate in the right conversation.

In its essence, social media is similar to a large networking event. It can be overwhelming if you do not have a strategy and a purpose. However, if you know who to talk to and what you should talk about, it can be a very rewarding experience.

Woman-owned Small Business, Challenges and Potentials

October 18, 2012

October is the National Woman’s Small Business Month. It is a time to celebrate women in the currently male-dominated world of small business owners. Women leaders of small businesses have gone a long way to achieve what they have today, yet their role is limited. This article by Jon Cook for Reuters helps us look back at the journey that female entrepreneurs have gone through up to this point. He points out the gender gap in the entrepreneur and small business owner community. In the article, Hedy Ratner, founder of the Women’s Business Development Center, shared some statistic insights:

Men are twice as likely as women to own a business that brings in $1 million in revenues (6 percent versus 3 percent), according to a 2009 survey of 417 women-owned small businesses by the Center for Women’s Business Research. The study also found women-owned firms generated just 4 percent of all U.S. business-related revenues

According to the article, a third of small businesses in the US is owned by women, compared to 10% twenty five years ago. The most substantial reason for women lagging behind is lack of funding, Jon said.

Dana Pinkava of the Washington Post does not have an optimistic view of woman-owned small business, either. In her article tilted “Woman-owned small-business program a work in progress, Dana pointed out the disappointing results that the SBA-led initiative in favor of women business owner achieved in the last 1.5 years since its implementation. Despite the effort to establish a fixed percentage of contracts to be awarded to women-owned small businesses every year, the initiative still lacked diversity in participating industries and did not increase  the actual number of contracts women-led companies.

However, we should not disregard the incredible growth of the female business owner sector in the past decade. The good news is a lot of organizations and initiatives have been formed to support the advancement of female entrepreneurs. This article by La Mancha Sim suggests some resources that woman business owners can employ to find funding. The SBA set up a series of webinars focusing on finding capital and scoring contracts. SCORE Lancaster have had many female clients in the past; and many of them have been running a very successful business of their own. In the spirit of October, we hope that the upward stick trend in woman-owned small business will continue its momentum.

Beyond “Like” and “Follow” – Measuring Success on Social Media

September 28, 2012

Social Media has lowered the barriers for small and local businesses to enter the world of digital communication and engage with consumers in real-time regardless of physical distance. Popular platforms such as Facebook and Twitter promise a low-cost and supposedly effective means for companies, especially those running on tight marketing budgets, to reach out to a broad audience. Small businesses everywhere are embarking on this otherwise too-good-to-be-true trend in brand-customer interactions.

However, social media success is still a myth to both marketers and service providers. While Facebook have been struggling to roll out an ads placement strategy with enough ROI to calm investors after the disappointing post-earning calls, marketers are finding “Likes” less appealing as an indicator of social media success. Twitter is following suit with a new interest-based strategy, in a series of efforts to boost its “still nascent advertising sales.”

The question remains – How to measure success on social media? This article by Patrick Murphy on Business2Community provides some practical indicators beyond “Likes” and “Follows” to help refine social media strategy. The four metrics suggested by Patrick Murphy include Engagement, Share, Sentiments and Referrals – all aiming at a more meaningful and long-term relationship with customers. Simple as they may sound, these metrics lie at the core of sustainable branding strategy using social media.

However, there is no one-size-fit-all solution to this question and that is why SCORE is here to help. Come to us with any questions or concerns relating to your business and marketing strategy. Our volunteers/business veterans are happy to help you create a strategy that caters to your unique needs.

25 Questions to Improve User Experience

September 24, 2012

In the digital time, the website is one of the main points of contact between a company and its customers. The experience that a customer has with your online presence can determine not only the length of time that he/she would spend on the page but also his/her attitude towards your brand. This is why user experience (UX) is becoming an important ingredient for modern business success. A lot of companies nowadays hire professionals to handle UX. However, this poses a problem to small businesses that cannot afford to add an UX designer to the team. The good news is UX does not need to be some kind of specific knowledge circulated among professional designers and those working in the field. For the decision makers of small businesses, there are certain paths you can follow to refine your web presence and make the virtual interaction with your customers/visitors more fruitful. This article by Lisa Barone, VP of Strategy at Wed design and development firm, suggests the 25 questions that your website should address in order to create and maintain customer retention. From cyber security concerns to product demands and ease of use when navigating within the page, there are a lot of questions that a first-time visitor of your website may ask and you only have one chance to satisfy all of the possible concerns. When it comes to user experience, no detail is too small.

Rise Above Any MBA by Paying Attention to Company Culture

September 13, 2012

In 2011, SCORE posted a blog about how businesses can create and maintain company cultures of winning. In today’s post by Julianna Davies, a researcher and writer for the MBA resource, http://www.mbaonline.com, she further explores the subject of company culture and why it is an important, but too often neglected, key to success in business. As both Julianna and the SCORE post point out, although company culture is experienced by the organization at large, it is the responsibility of executive and management teams to spearhead the foundation of and adherence to a positive company culture.

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Rise Above Any MBA by Paying Attention to Company Culture

Many businesses have achieved success in large part by building a strong company culture – and by the same token, businesses that overlook this aspect of workplace management are often prone to failure.

 

According to a recent Huffington Post interview with Executive Coach Meredith Haberfield, ‘company culture’ starts with leaders and ends with the entire organization. CEOs, managers and other superiors must be clear about company values and how employees are expected to represent them. But the workplace environment should also inspire creativity and innovation – not fear of one’s boss. Key intermediaries between employers and workers, she says, are ‘influencers,’ or key stakeholders within the company. Ultimately, the strongest cultures are built when every employee understands and respects their employer’s vision. Haberfield notes, “Where a company’s culture can go awry is if it has people in it who don’t value the things that the company esteems.”

 

Company culture is much more than just a buzz-term. According to a Harvard Business Review report titled, ‘What Great Companies Know About Culture’, companies with “effective culture” stand to outperform “unremarkable competitors” by a margin of 20 to 30%. There are several reasons for this strong performance. First, employees are much more productive when their company provides incentives like work-life programs, flexible schedules and health benefits. Second, companies that “communicate brand mission and provide career development opportunities” are seen as strong and financially viable by the individuals who work for them, a key consideration during an economic recession. Third, employers that recognize the importance of company culture also tend to fare well with employee recruitment and retention. Finally, a strong company understands that culture should ultimately cater to its audience, namely, customers, investors and other stakeholders.

 

Hewlitt-Packard is one example of a corporation that attended to its unsatisfactory culture after experiencing a series of financial problems. The company effectively changed its culture to cope with these losses. A key factor in this shift was a program that encouraged employees to formulate three personal goals and three professional goals each year. Two years after the program was launched, no losses had been reported and employee retention rates had increased.

 

In an article by Diana Ransom, she writes that culture-driven companies often succeed because they are able to connect with their audiences more effectively. She notes that recreational clothing supplier, Patagonia, appeals to a customer base best defined as “outdoorsy types,” a demographic, it turns out, that also works for the company. Vice President Rob BonDurant says individual time away from the office is essential for productivity; this led to the company’s implementation of ‘Let Me Go Surfing’ days, which are periodically available to more than 1,300 employees. “The time we spend outside the office helps us manage the storytelling process around our products,” he said.

 

On the other hand, some companies choose to either foster negative company culture or completely ignore the importance of positive culture. Both attitudes can lead to detrimental consequences.

 

For instance, clothing brand American Apparel has suffered in recent years due to a series of missteps based in the company’s culture. First, in 2010, the company was under fire for several sexual harassment lawsuits; allegedly, the CEO himself would often walk around the office in only his underwear and refer to female employees by derogatory names. The following year, a company employee made disparaging remarks about plus-size women. Despite these controversies, the company apparently took no action, and its ‘cultural’ reputation has remained tarnished ever since.

 

Investing in company culture is a process that takes time, energy and focus from company leaders – but the impressive returns make the whole undertaking worthwhile. For further reading, please consult the following resources:

 

 

 

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