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Helping your Business Grow

Success! Your small or medium-sized business has made it through the first few “lean” years and has managed to thrive. You know it is time to take steps to grow your business but you are not sure what direction to take. We suggest first meeting with your financial advisor to find out just where you can stretch yourself and where you should play it safe. Here are a few ideas from the Small Business Administration and other entrepreneurs on areas where you can begin to grow your business.

  • Trade Shows – For the first couple of years, you may have been too busy to attend trade shows so start making a name for yourself now. Trade shows are a great way to expand your market. This is also a great time to increase your community activities.
  • Expand your Product or Services – Now that you have successfully gotten your business off the ground, you may want to consider expanding your product line or services. Consider services or products that align with your current offerings.
  • Open Another Location – If your current location is running smoothly and your employee numbers are growing, you may want to consider expanding to another location.
  • Merge or Partner – Many growing companies that have proven that they can be successful find that growing their company may be more successful with a partner or merger with another company potentially in a similar industry.
  • Expand Area – Local businesses often think about expanding the area that they service. This may mean opening a franchise opportunity or seeking funding to open a regional office.
  • Expand on the Web – Your website may need to be updated or expanded if you plan to grow your business.

SEO Actions

Just a few years ago, businesses were ahead if they had their own website and were finding leads online. In 2017, most companies are online and if your company is not hard at work at improving SEO for your modern and easy-to-navigate website, then it may be floundering or worse, failing. Search Engine Optimization is the best way to help people find your company and become loyal customers.

Google, Yahoo and Bing, the top search engines, have specific algorithms to calculate where your company ranks when search parameters are entered. Unfortunately, these parameters change and evolve, so staying on top of your SEO plan is critical. Here are a few tips to help keep your business SEO plan on track!

  • Content – For years we have heard that content is king. When it comes to SEO, relevant content is key to increasing your ranking. When you provide useful content, visitors tend to stay longer on your website to consume the information and therefore increase the “on site” time. Regularly updated content whether it is a blog, newsletter or How-To videos are viewed as one of the best indicators of a site’s relevancy.
  • Keywords – Placement of relevant and useful keywords throughout the website is perhaps one of the most important SEO tactics. Use online and Google tools to determine what words someone would use to conduct a search to find your specific service or product.
  • Page Load Speed – We have all been there waiting for a page to load and decide to move on to another page because it was taking too long. Even just a few seconds can mean losing a visitor. There are many ways to increase page load speed, some of which include using a caching plug-ins, making sure the code is clean and streamlined, optimizing image sizes, reducing the number of plug-ins, and minimizing redirects.
  • Links – To make your content more useful and relevant, you can link out to authority sites for more in-depth information your readers can use. Don’t forget to continue to maintain a list of links to directories associated with your industry.
  • Tags – Use header tags and others ways to organize the information on your website so that it is easy to navigate.

Performance Reviews

Whether it is called an “annual review,” “performance review,” or a “salary adjustment meeting,” these workplace events can be stressful for both the employee and the manager. These meetings may seem like a blip on the radar as they usually only happen annually or bi-annually, but they can set the tone for your company and the expectations that you have for your employees across the entire spectrum of leadership. Here are a few tips to help make performance reviews positive and motivational.

  • Prepare in Advance –  Never go into a performance review without preparation. Both the manager and the employee should plan in advance with a worksheet that they can fill out prior to the review that lists major accomplishments, strengths, weaknesses and future goals going forward. This will give both the employee and the reviewer a good way to organize their thoughts.
  • Keep Things Positive – Avoid heading right into the areas where you would like to see improvement. Instead spend the vast amount of time during  the review talking about what went right during the year, accomplishments, and improvements that you have seen since the last review. Everyone wants to know that their hard work has been noticed and find that it is rewarding when a leader in the company has taken note.
  • Talk About Struggles – Every employee, including yourself has some area of the job that they struggle with. Talk about what those are for this particular employee and how the company can be of assistance to guide, mentor or support so that these things are less of a struggle.  This may include assisting with a class on a topic that impacts your company or potentially arranging for a training session.
  • Create Goals – During the review, be sure to talk about future goals that the employee has as well as what you see on the horizon. This is a great way to set your agenda out and let your employee know that you see things moving forward for them. They may have ideas that can build up your business as well.
  • Be Ready to Do a Balancing Act –  Be prepared to be constructive in your discussions but also be ready to hold your ground. The more prepared you are the easier the conversation will go. If you have questions talk to your HR department or representative.

Business Plan Elements

Being an entrepreneur of a small or medium sized business means that you need to have a broad range of skills and the right people on your team to make a successful run at starting your own company. Part of the success in the first few years of any new business can be tied back to the details and pre-planning of the main elements of a business plan.  Here are the critical main elements that every business plan should have as well as some tips to get you started on the right foot.

According to Entrepreneur Online, there are seven key parts to any business plan. Each part is fairly complex and needs to be planned and executed carefully.

  • Executive Summary – In the words of the entrepreneur, what is this business all about and what is the main product/service that will be offered? Where does this business fit in to the industry? This should be short and to the point in very professional language. Within this summary should be: a description of the business concept and an overview of the financials that relate to the company. Include an outlook of major achievements and goals for the first year(s).
  • Company Description – Start by describing the industry that you are joining and how your company will fit into or make its mark on that industry. Be sure to include in the description the structure of the company as well as the legal form that it will take. Give specifics of how your company will have the edge over its competitors.
  • Products/Services– In this section, describe in detail your service or product. Emphasize how your product or service is unique. Show how your company will do or sell things in its own way and differentiate from competitors.
  • Market Analysis-This section should illustrate your knowledge about the particular industry your business is in. Explain your target audience and how pricing, distribution and marketing strategies will make your company profitable within a competitive environment.
  • Strategy and Implementation – Explain your marketing strategy from traditional print and store front strategies to the complex strategies that come with your website, social media and paid advertising.
  • Organization and Management Team – Describe in detail how your company will be structured. Who are the key members of the team and who will be responsible for what?  Allow for evolution of this section as things may change throughout the growth and success of the company.
  • Financial Plan and Projections – Develop financial projections that look one year, three years and five years into the future.  This section will probably need the most revision as the industry and market fluctuates.

Organizational Skills for Leaders

Have you ever gone through your work day putting out the proverbial “fires” only to wonder at closing hour what you accomplished? For many business leaders this lack of focus and sense of always being “behind” could be due to the nature of your industry, or it could have something to do with your organizational skills. Let’s take a look at organizational skills for leaders and see where you fit in or if you need to up your game.

According to LeadershipGeeks Online, “Organization skills are about knowing what you want, and then prioritizing your activities and planning your time around activities that will help you achieve those goals.” Do you have set goals in your office or a mission that drives you or are you constantly multitasking and juggling items? One of the steps to becoming an organized leader is to have a set of goals that are prioritized. Great leaders know what is most important and know how to get to that end goal. 

In addition to having a goal oriented workplace, organization means having a workspace that makes sense. If your desk and office in general looks like a tornado recently rolled through then you have some work to do. Start by developing a system that works for everyone in the office. For example, if there is paperwork that needs to be disseminated then find a common area or a method to do so. When everyone in the office knows how things are done then things tend to work better and more efficiently, instead of taking a half hour to find a file, now you have it handy.

Most professionals who are organized use tools to keep them that way. For example, there are dozens of apps and software out there to keep you organized from a detailed calendar that can be shared with employees to customer relations management tools to keep track of client information and expenses. Figure out what tools may work best for you by using a few for the trial period before making up your mind. Organization can be simple with the right mission, a clean workspace and tools to help you.

Communication: Best Business Practices

Communication is the life of any company whether it is communicating with employees or clients. Business leaders are expected to be able to effectively and clearly communicate with stakeholders, customers and employees. While many business leaders have found their own unique skill of communicating through years of practice, there are some common strategies that they all seem to master. Let’s take a look at the best practices of communicating skills. 

  • Be Clear – If an employee leaves a staff meeting not quite sure what you mean then you are not being clear enough in your speech. When speaking and giving directives to employees give clear and precise points. Many successful business leaders find that being repetitive about goals, work habits, and projects can help employees understand what they need to accomplish.
  • Be Approachable – As a business leader, you want clients, employees and business partners to feel that they can come to you for clarification about an issue without feeling like they are in trouble or bothering you. Be open and understand that clarification can only mean that they are trying to give you what you are asking for.
  • Use Many Communication Formats – While it may seem that everyone is on technology these days, communication should come in all different forms from: emails, inter-office communication, newsletters, phone calls and in-person visits. Different personalities respond better to varying forms of communication.
  • Be Present and Timely – When clients, employees or others need to talk with you, be present with them instead of trying to juggle multiple activities at once. In addition to being present, respond in a timely to questions or issues whether it is via email or in person.
  • Listen and Ask – One of the most important parts of communicating is not talking, but rather listening and asking questions to find out the heart of the matter.

Common Mistakes of Social Media

Social media is fast becoming a cost effective marketing tool that can help increase traffic to your website, give your company brand exposure and convert viewers into consumers. So if you are jumping on the social media bandwagon and don’t quite know what to do, here are a few tips of mistakes to avoid as you navigate the social media world.

  • Failure to Make a Plan – Don’t just start tweeting, posting and pinning without having a plan. Knowing which social media platform is the best for your demographic is a good place to start. In addition your company should plan when and what to post. This may involve doing some serious research about who your target audience is as well what they will find valuable on social media.
  • Failure to Interact – Many companies post on social media without interacting with followers or fans. Don’t miss this opportunity to respond and speak with your audience. Interactions can build valuable relationships so don’t miss out!
  • Posting to No One –  While it is great to have posts scheduled and visible on your page or wall, it is more important to grow your followers. If you are posting with no fans, then you are wasting your time and money.
  • Having Incorrect Info on your Page – Have you updated your company profile lately?  Chances are something has changed on the contact information that could cost you customers.
  • Irregular Postings – Fans and followers tend to be creatures of habit. if they can anticipate when you will post whether it is weekly or daily then they are more likely to check in with your page. Postings should also include content that your readers will find meaningful, useful and valuable.

Email Marketing 101

Email may seem a bit old-fashioned but, for now, email marketing is still around and very effective.  According to experts at CopyBlogger and Constant Contact, the return on investment is amazingly cost effective. With an ROI of around 4,300%, email practically pays for itself and saves a tree or two. Email is a direct line of conversation with your consumers so use it wisely instead of the annoying sales pitches of the last generation of email newsletters. Here are some smart ideas to get you started on the right path of email marketing. 

  • Have  a Strategy – Instead of randomly sending out an email that will be one of millions in a readers “inbox” have a plan. Decide on the frequency of the emails whether it is weekly or monthly. Plan a newsletter that has interesting content and a call to action, possibly with a coupon or coupon to get consumers to act.
  • Use Visuals – We are a society that likes images and graphics. Avoid lengthy content and rather choose visuals that can catch the attention of the reader. Keep in mind that the images, logos and color palette should be in line with your brand. An interactive element such as a video or survey can keep readers on your newsletters longer.
  • Don’t Forget a Call to Action and Contact Info – Many readers scan emails and look for the bottom line so don’t forget your call to action and methods for readers to easily contact you. Calls to action action should include words such as: shop,  buy, click here, look, find out more etc.

 

Writing a Great Press Release

A press release is a short, compelling news story written by a public relations professional or marketer and sent to targeted members of the media. The ultimate goal of a press release is to pique the interest of a journalist or publications enough so they print your company’s news. This means free advertising as well as brand name exposure. These short releases, known as PR, can be a wonderful bonus for companies to be recognized by trade papers, journals or even local newspapers. So what should be put into a press and release and how should it look in order to catch the eye of the intended media? Lets’ take a look at the components of a press release. 

  • Contact Information – Right at the top of the page include your contact information including the name of the company you are writing for and the email/phone number. This is important because anonymous releases are a “no go” in the publication world. Make it easy for each publication to know who you are. Include the data as well so they know the information is current.
  • Be Short and To the Point – No journalist has the time to read lengthy press releases so get to the point in the first sentence. Let the reader know the big news right in the opening and use all pertinent facts, so if they do choose to run with the information they will have the correct facts, names and information. This is a good idea as it is an attention grabbing way by having a strong headline.
  • Give Statistics – Give the reasons why your announcement is important and who it will impact. Many PR firms suggest doing this by giving statistics or percentiles that show off just how important the information is.
  • Use Quotes – Save the journalist time by including a human element.
  • Be Precise – Proofread the release so there are no grammatical mistakes.

Social Media Analytics

So you own a small or medium sized business and you understand the importance of being a presence on social media. In fact, you have created business pages on the top social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Maybe you even have joined industry specific platforms like Houzz or Doximity. But how do you know exactly how well your pages are doing? What you really need to do is study the analytics of your pages and see if they are making an impact. Evaluating social media analytic data will tell you whether your pages are performing well or falling flat.

Analytics will help your company focus on what your goals are in regard to being on social media. For example, is your goal to increase “likes” or “tweets”? Is the goal to convert viewers? Is the goal to increase brand awareness?  Analytics can help you fine tune those goals and help you keep track of your performance. In addition analytics will help your company keep track of key performance indicators (KPIs). These can be broken down into: likes and shares your posts receive, replies and comments and (most importantly) clicks your links and content.

If you are a novice to social media analytics you will want to start with some research into what the numbers mean and how to translate those numbers into actions. Google Analytics is one of the most popular analytics tools out there. It can report most anything about your website and traffic, including all the necessary social referrals you’re interested in. One feature of Google Analytics is the ability to create custom dashboards of just the metrics that matter to you. In addition to Google, Buffer (a social media management tool) and True Social Metrics (a dashboard of analytics) can help you examine whether your efforts on social media or working or whether you need to go in another direction.