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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.

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.

Managing your Reputation Online

What is your company’s online reputation?  If you Google yourself or your brand name what is it that you find? Do you see positive comments on social sites or negative comments on review sites like: RipOffOnline, Yelp or the Better Business Bureau? Worse yet, is your knowledge limited of what customers, clients, vendors and employees are saying about you? Here is a quick guide to help you and your brand manage your online reputation.

In the past few years having an online presence has changed drastically. What used to be static sites and little user interaction has blossomed into daily interactions and comments on social sites and review sites. These types of sites are easily accessible to the public and can show up on a general search for your company, name or brand. No matter the size of your business, people are talking about you. If it is positive, then great. But if it is negative, you better have a way to take control of your reputation. Using Online Reputation Management Tools is probably the best way to go for busy business owners.

According to research and tutorials from Neil Patel at QuickSprout online, there are several steps to taking control of your online reputation. Most of them are fairly simple and will save you money in the long run.

Google Yourself

The first step is to Google yourself. Literally type in your name, brand or email address and see what comes up. There should be social media profiles, your web page and all the good stuff that you want potential customers to see about your and your brand. This is the information you can control.

Manage your Reviews – 

One great tool that’s free is called “Me on the Web” by Google. What you want to do is log into your Google account and your Google dashboard and then click on “Me on the Web.” The main features of this tool allows you to search for yourself and most importantly get alerts when your name is mentioned on the web. This includes your name, email, business name or brand. 

One of the most important things you want to be alerted to is if there are any negative mentions or reviews of you or your brand so you can respond quickly and professionally. There are so many review sites out there like Yelp, RipOffOnline, BBB and a host of others. You can choose to go to each, individually, to view what is being said about you, or you can get help with an online tool such as  Go Fish Digital or Mention.net. Sites such as these can search all the complaint sites at once or alert you by email if it has found your name mentioned. Being proactive can save you time and money. Companies who have not reacted quickly have seen consumers react in powerful ways such as taking their business elsewhere or even escalating negative reviews.  

 

BLS Provider CPR (1-day Initial or Renewal Course, multiple sessions available)

(Initial or Renewal Course based on the 2015 AHA Guidelines)
Basic Life Support (BLS) is the foundation for saving lives after cardiac arrest. This course teaches both single-rescuer and team basic life support skills for application in both in-facility and prehospital settings. This course is designed for healthcare professionals and other personnel who need to know how to perform CPR and other basic cardiovascular life support skills.

In addition, BLS training can be appropriate for first responders, such as police officers and firefighters, as well as for laypeople whose work brings them into contact with members of the public, such as school, fitness center, or hotel and restaurant employees.

Students must pass a written exam and skills test in order to qualify for a BLS Course Completion Card.
Upon successful completion of this course, students will receive a completion cad valid for 2 years.

Conveniently scheduled on Saturday, please choose the session that works best for you.

REGISTER NOW!

Best Business Apps for Business Leaders

Business leaders play many roles such as: problem solvers, financial wizards, customer relations gurus and of course the captain of the ship. With all these roles to play, it is no wonder that business leaders depend heavily on mobile apps to keep them organized, stay on top of budget issues, plan business trips and communicate properly. Here are a few of the top apps that are helping successful business leaders juggle it all.

Financial Apps

  • Expensify – This app provides for easy scanning of receipts, organization of spending and categorizing of reports. You can link your credit or debit card to your Expensify account so that the app will place charges directly on an expense report.
  • PayPal – This convenient platform lets you link your credit, debit and other bank accounts to your PayPal account, making paying people and getting paid quick and painless. PayPal’s standard merchant service plan is free and allows you to accept credit cards and PayPal on your site and in store. The Pro plan costs $30 per month and comes with added features.
  • Square – This great small business app is great for companies that are on-the-go and need to be able to make transactions and payments. Square can attach to a phone or another mobile device to take fast, convenient payments.

Organization

  • Evernote – This is the app for syncing notes across mobile and desktop devices. Evernote’s free version lets users upload up to 60 megabytes of data per month.
  • Trello Trello is an easy-to-use project management app that tracks your team’s workflow. Each card you create on a Trello board represents an assignment or task.
  • Dropbox – Dropbox is the most popular platform on which to store and share files on the cloud. It’s especially useful for companies that need a reliable way to share information with telecommuters.

Communication

  • Mail Chimp – This email marketing tool helps you build and manage your mailing lists, and easily create and send newsletters. You can also build and customize email templates and view performance reports about your emails. This information can help you send your customers more relevant emails.
  • Constant Contact – Constant Contact is an email marketing tool that allows businesses to create content for clients using special features such as: email templates, email editors, contact lists and easy-to-generate reports.

Holding Productive Staff Meetings

When employees hear the word staff meeting the first thing that may come to mind is . . .  “time waster.”  According to a recent survey of U.S. professionals by Salary.com, meetings ranked as the number one office productivity killer. For many employees, staff meetings are seen as a time when a manager may drone on and on, or “Bob” from marketing hijacks the meeting or worse yet, when they are continually asking themselves “why am I here?”  There’s no quicker way to sap employee morale and productivity than by convening a meeting that fails to produce results. However, this doesn’t need to be the case.  If done correctly, meetings can be effective, spark creativity, unite the group and prompt meaningful action.  Let’s look at some suggestions to keep your meetings on track and make them fruitful and productive.

  1. Purpose – Every meeting should have a purpose or goal.  It should not just be held because it is Monday and meetings are always on Monday.  That purpose should be laid out in a written agenda that clearly states what will be discussed and materials that employees will need with them.  Tell them your time frame so they know how much time to block off for the meeting.
  2. Involve Everyone – There really is nothing worse than going to a meeting where an employee feels invisible.  Don’t let one person hog the show or overrule others.  Make sure you hold a meeting where everyone’s voice is heard.  Meetings that offer everyone a chance to voice their opinions and insight are much more productive than meetings that only have one or two voices in conversation.
  3. Ban Distractions – With so many people tethered to their smartphones, it is no doubt that they are a distraction.  Ask that phones, tablets, or other devices be put aside while discussions are happening.  Note taking is usually allowable but during brainstorming or back-and-forth discussions assign a note taker so others can concentrate on the task at hand.
  4. Follow Up – One chief complaint about meetings is that items that were discussed and actions that were decided upon somehow don’t get done. Compile the meeting’s notes into action items and distribute them to everyone who attended. Appoint someone to keep track of who’s responsible for doing what and by when. This helps people understand that the end of the meeting signals the start of taking action.
  5. Give Credit Where Credit is Due – Sometimes staff meetings get caught up in the minutia of everyday workplace activities.  It is a good idea to spend some time during each meeting doling out praise for a job well done or a key project completed.  The positive reinforcement will go a long way to keep morale up and employees inspired to do more.

Leadership Styles

imagesThroughout history leaders have: inspired followers to work hard, motivated followers to succeed at a common task, guided followers toward a common goal and challenged followers to be the best at what they do as a part of a larger team.  Leaders use their strengths to accomplish all of these things including their: charisma, values, intellect, and vision.  Business leaders are no different in that they use their strengths to mold their leadership style.  Read further to see what style of leadership you posses and how the style can impact your workforce.

There are no good or bad leadership styles and ideally most leaders have a combination of several styles unique to who they are as a person . Most leaders, therefore will use a mixture of styles at their disposal to engage and motivate a team depending upon the project or ultimate goal. A good leader has many methods to bring out the best in his/her employees and find their strengths.  Let’s examine some leadership styles and see where you fit in. . .

  • Charismatic leaders – We have witnessed this type of leader both in the boardroom and repeatedly in the course of human events,  John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Ghandi, and even Adolf Hitler were charismatic leaders. This type of leader uses their personality to inspire others and draw out the passion in someone to work harder and spur others into action.  Team members who work with this style of leader may rise to the occasion and have a high level of morale in the workplace but one warning for this style is the fear of “what happens if this leader leaves the group?”
  • Pace-setting leaders – Pace-setters, like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, set high performance standards for themselves and the group. They demand highly skilled and self-motivated workers. While this style has many benefits such as speed and good overall results for a goal, there may be burnout working for this style of leader.
  • The Laissez-Faire leaders – This style of leader knows exactly what is going on in the workplace but does not micromanage or get directly involved unless absolutely needed. This leader monitors and watches that goals are set and met by giving feedback.  This style may be advantageous if there are multiple locations for a company or when employees are skilled, experienced and enjoy the freedom to be productive on their own.  This style may leave employees who desire direction and a little hand holding feeling ignored.
  • The Coaching Leader – The coaching style is summed up as asking employees to “try something new” in order to bring out their strengths.  The feeling that “we are all in this together, so lets learn together” is also a good way to think about this style and may be advantageous when the entire team needs to learn a new technique or technology.  This technique may not work with employees who are resistant to change or learn new skills.
  • The Democratic leader – This style of leadership uses the idea that employees will participate and give their all if they feel like they are a part of the process.  The democratic style is most effective when the leader needs the team to buy into or have ownership of a decision, plan, or goal. This style is not a good match when time is of the essence or an executive decision is critical.

Benefits of an Editorial Calendar

Looking for ways to stay organized in your business?  Many companies use document management tools, password tools, and financial tracking apps to stay orderly.  If you need a way to manage content such as your business blogs, publications, and social media postings, an editorial calendar may be the right choice. An editorial calendar is an excellent place to brainstorm, track and arrange the content your company publishes. Let’s review the function and benefits of an editorial calendar whether it is a simple spreadsheet that can be shared online through your company cloud or a purchased app to keep your company headed in the right direction.

What exactly does an editorial calendar do?

If you regularly publish blogs, email newsletters, or posts on social media, there should be central location where you list the topics, dates, and publication locations.  For example, if you blog weekly, a calendar would include categories that show what blog topic was covered, what date it was published and where it was published. This calendar could also have a link to topics that may be used in the future. Think of the many times an idea has hit you while working.  Now there is a place to jot down the idea where you will find it when you need it,  instead of on a stick-it note somewhere on your desk. Next time you sit down to write a post or blog you will have a list of topics handy to use. A properly updated calendar can also stop duplicates of the same content from being accidentally published.

An editorial calendar is also a great place to edit your content.  If you use Google Drive or other sharing sites, multiple contributors and editors can work on the same publications.  If there are many people managing your online community, it is a great way for them to chart the progress of the publication and add their “two-cents.” A final edit, copy edit, fact checking, and rewrites can be completed as a link to the calendar.

Editorial calendars are outstanding for tracking short and long term writing goals.  For example, with a calendar shared by many at your business, content can be aligned with major holidays, events and milestones significant to your field or company.  If your field of work has an annual trade show, content for publications during the weeks and months leading up to the event can reflect topics and discussions that will be held at the show. The ability to plan ahead and publish content relevant to current events shows the professionalism and organization of your business.

Creating an editorial calendar is not hard and will help keep your ideas, content and links to content locations in an easy-to-find folder right on your desktop or mobile device.  Use this spring as a time to get yourself organized and try using an editorial calendar for all of your businesses publications.

Establishing an Employee Handbook

One of the essential features of a successful business is a trusting and professional relationship between employer and employees.  One of the best ways to ensure that this relationship is properly established from the very beginning is the use of an employee handbook.  While it is definitely not the most interesting document to read(or write for that matter), it is a document that is necessary to establish a uniform, well-defined personnel policy.  It is a convenient method to clearly communicate employer standards, legal obligations of the employer, legal rights of the employee and many times can reduce the risk of employee lawsuits.

Using tips from Human Resources online, the Employment Law Network and the U.S. Small Business Administration, we have crafted a list of items you will want to consider including in your employee handbook.

  • Company Goals and Mission – While reading a lengthy document about company rules and regulations may not sound thrilling,  a short mission statement will help introduce your company to the employee officially.  This list of goals will give the employee a better sense of what should motivate them and where he/she fits in the larger purpose of the company.
  • Anti-Discriminatory Policies – Employers must comply with the equal employment opportunity laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. Handbooks are a perfect place to spell out these laws and how employees are expected to comply with them.  Read More about Discrimination and Harassment Policies.
  • General Policies and Procedure – This is a great place to go over the basics such as: dress code, pay periods, time sheets, company holidays, defined work hours/week and other incidentals. This may also include computer use and telephone usage.
  • Employment Policies– This section of the handbook should include items such as: employment eligibility, job classifications, employee referrals, employee records, job postings, probationary periods, termination and resignation procedures. Read more about Labor Laws.
  • Employee Benefits – Detail any benefit programs for employees and eligibility requirement including: health insurance, retirement plans, wellness plans and other optional benefits.  Be sure to include a list of legal benefits.  Here is a list from the US Small Business Administration of required Legal Benefits.
  • Safety and Security – We all want employees to be safe at work so include your policy for creating a safe environment for employees.  Include compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s laws (OSHA) that require employees to report all accidents, injuries, potential safety hazards, safety suggestions and health and safety related issues to management.
  • Leave Policies – Your company’s leave policies should be carefully documented, especially those you are required to provide by law. Family medical leave, maternity leave,  jury duty, military leave, and time off for court cases and voting should all be documented to comply with state and local laws. This is also a good section to include vacation policies.
  • Problem-Resolution Procedure – Even with all of these rules and regulations  spelled out completely in writing, there will always be questions and issues raised throughout the year.  Create a procedure, whether is is within Human Resources (or with someone in a leadership position if your company does not have HR) of how you will deal with such issues.

Business Plan Finalists Announced!


New! 2015 Finalists Announced!!

Congratulations to the following companies for making it to the Finals!

  • Bonaloop is a Beverly company connecting residents with local students to complete odd jobs using web and app technology.
  • Far From The Tree produces hard (alcoholic) cider in Salem, MA, using natural, locally sourced ingredients and traditional cider making methods.
  • InsomniSolv, Inc. is based in Beverly and is developing a proprietary wearable medical device that helps people sleep without taking drugs.

You’re invited! The Business Plan Competition Finale is a great way to get involved, get inspired, or to observe this year’s finalists pitch their plans to a group of seasoned judges.

Which company will win $10,000? Find out on April 16, from 3:00-6:00 pm at the Salem State University Recital Hall.

Register Here!