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Creating a Useful Business Plan

If you hear the words “business plan” and immediately think, “Ho-Hum, boring” then your business plan is being done wrong. A business plan is a vital part of your company and it should live in the daily operations of your business as well as guide you when there are setbacks or hurdles to overcome.

This living document can be an integral part of your company and keep you on track for years to come. That means regular reviews of the document and how your company needs to adjust, or it needs to be changed.

The Small Business Association (SBA) recommends that a business plan include the following areas:

  • Executive summary – a snapshot of your business
  • Company description – describes what you do
  • Market analysis – research on your industry, market, and competitors
  • Organization and management – your business and management structure
  • Service or product – the products or services you’re offering
  • Marketing and sales – how you’ll market your business and your sales strategy
  • Funding request – how much money you’ll need for the next 3 to 5 years
  • Financial projections – supply information like balance sheets
  • Appendix – an optional section that includes resumes and permits

Now that you know the categories, how do you go about drafting a business plan? Our first suggestion is to NOT do it in a vacuum. Talk to other people who are in your field, including accountants, financial advisors, potential clients, trusted advisors, and anyone who will listen. The more you learn and research, the better off you will be with understanding how your business will come together. Here are three simple things to keep you focused as you write your business plan.

Keep it Simple and Straightforward

First of all, no one has the time or energy to read hundreds of pages of your business plan. A lengthy plan also makes it pretty unlikely that you will review it annually. Keep it short and simple, and get to the point. Bullets and charts can get your content across easily and make it reader-friendly.

Know Your Audience

As with presentations and sales, it is a good idea to know who your investors and business partners will be. Keep the language simple if your investors do not follow the lingo of your industry. This is especially true if you have a scientific or complex business plan.

Pick the Right Format

Not all businesses have the same needs or information. Choose a format that can bring out the unique aspect of your business. Check out the SBA’s types of plans such as a traditional or lean format that can convert what you need to in an easy to understand manner.

Working on a Business Plan? Check out our 2019 Business Plan Program and Competition Pitch Panel on June 12, 2019, from 8:30 am –  Click here for additional information including eligibility requirements and application.

Franchising 101: Things To Consider

The franchise industry is a $2.3 trillion industry, with one out of every six jobs relating to franchising. Statistically speaking, therefore, a franchise has a better chance of succeeding than most small business start-ups, due to the support and name recognition. If you are considering getting involved in a franchise, now is an excellent opportunity, but there are also things to consider before you take the leap.

What is a Franchise?

Before we take a look at whether a franchise might be right for you, let’s examine what one is and how common they are. Drive down any main street in America and you will see a Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, McDonald’s, a UPS Store, and a CVS. See, you didn’t have to go far to find a franchise, did you? Franchises are an extremely common way of doing business.

A franchise is a type of license granted by an initial business owner (the franchiser) to other business hopefuls (the franchisee). The license is sold to others who will continue to use the name, logo, and business model.

Things to Consider:

Is a franchise the right fit for me?

Franchising is not for everyone. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, “Some see it as a way to venture out and become their own boss, but at the same time have the safety net a franchisor provides. While as a franchisee you will be the boss, you’ll still have the franchisor to deal with – so, you won’t be totally independent of oversight.” Most people who join a franchise do not want to change the system of work but rather believe in the business model that is already there and want to become a part of that system.

How hard do you want to work?

If you are choosing to work within a franchise, don’t go into it with the mental idea that the work will be easier because the company is already formed and a blueprint for success is already there. That would be a big mistake. Any new franchise still requires long hours and dedication. Don’t confuse a system that is already set with coasting into your own franchising success.

What is the risk?

Before you sign on the dotted line, do some research. What is the failure rate for this particular franchise? What do you know about the community you will be working in? What is that community’s turnover rate for this type of business? Do your homework before you jump at the opportunity to franchise.

Do you have questions about franchising? Check out our event, “Is Franchising Right for You?” on June 4 from 8:30-10:30 am. See our website for more details.

 

A Quick Guide to Presenting

Whether you are a first-time speaker or someone who does this regularly, presenting can be nerve-wracking and stress inducing. The old advice of “picture them in their underwear” does little to allay fears and nothing to improve your speaking skills. Instead, we offer a quick review of things to do before and during your next big presentation. Don’t worry, you’ve got this!

Be Prepared

No matter what the topic of your presentation is, be prepared. Have your presentation deck organized, technology all set, and handouts ready to go. Know your content inside and out to the point that you don’t even need to look at your slides. Go deep into your research so if questions are asked you will have the answers.

That takes us to the next way that you should be prepared – know your audience. Take a serious look at who your audience is and why they are coming to your presentation. What are their needs and what do they hope to get out of it? Obviously, a presentation to a group of CEOs will be dramatically different than one to first-time clients.

 

Start Strong

There is nothing worse for an audience member than hearing a speaker drone on from the start to the end of a presentation without showing passion or a love for what they are discussing. For this reason, start your presentation off strong. We live in a world of immediate gratification and constant entertainment. Start your presentation off with a bang and get their attention from the very start. Start by connecting with the audience through a story, an engaging slide, or information that they may not have heard before.

Keep It Simple and Straightforward

Most people in the business world have limited time as it is, so stick to a core message. It may help to tell the audience what the three main things are that you want them to take away from your presentation. Tell them upfront what you plan on talking about and then get to it. Try not to take a detour and chat about irrelevant information.

Be Personable

Smile, make eye contact, and speak naturally. These are three things you can do to relate to the audience and be personable. This can build rapport and actually make you less nervous.

A Word About Slides

Many great orators use slides, while others just talk. If you are going to use slides to complement your presentation, Guy Kawasaki of Apple suggests that slideshows should:

  • Contain no more than 10 slides;
  • Last no more than 20 minutes; and
  • Use a font size of no smaller than 30-point.

Giving a presentation doesn’t need to be unnerving. Following these simple steps can get you on the path to giving professional presentations. Need more information on being confident when presenting? Check out our seminar on “Presenting with Confidence” with Jim Ognibene on May 28 from 6-9pm.

 

Drones for Business Use

Over the past several years businesses have cultivated new and interesting ways to add drone technology to their critical tasks. Amazon Prime Air Service is planning to offer fast delivery turnarounds with a drone prototype. Shell Oil Refinery uses drones to complete safety and compliance inspections. Walmart applied for a patented drone system to carry items around the store. And the British Broadcast Company (BBC) uses drones in order to broadcast events happening in real-time.

These companies are just examples of how business leaders have utilized unmanned aerial vehicles to bolster sales, get a jump on the competition, and be an innovator in the area of drone technology. Is your company considering using drones for transport, surveillance, safety, imaging, or any other reason?

The idea of using unmanned aerial vehicles is not a new one. In fact, the earliest unmanned aerial vehicle in the history of drones was seen in 1839, when Austrian soldiers attacked the city of Venice with unmanned balloons filled with explosives. As you can imagine, some of the balloons hit their targets, while others did not. Even then, drones had dangers associated with them.

Today’s businesses are looking for any means necessary to get ahead, cut costs, and make a name for themselves. Drones may fit the bill in many of those instances. However, there are some caveats to drone flying. Drone flying must meet the requirements put forth by the FAA – Federal Aviation Authority. Some of these requirements include an age requirement of 16, a remote pilot’s certificate, passing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) vetting process, meeting a weight limit, conducting a pre-flight check, obtaining an operating license depending on the class of drone, and a myriad of flying rules once in the air.

In more recent news, commercial airline pilots have complained about having near misses with drones upon landing or having drones flying in restricted space. Know Before You Fly is a great place to start if you are looking for more requirements and regulations when it comes to drone use for your business. It is a great resource to connect with before you begin your business drone planning.

Are you considering integrating drone use into your business? We suggest checking out our seminar on May 13 entitled “Drones for Municipalities: What You Need to Know in Order to Fly (Hands-on Workshop).” Check out all of Enterprise Center’s seminars on our events page.

 

Getting Real about Goal Setting

Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.” — Fitzhugh Dodson

 

At the end of every fiscal year, do you find that you are just short of the goals that you so neatly created months ago? Or do you find that your business team took a left turn and went way off course and have not revisited the goals since the last time they created them? These are two extremely common problems when creating goals for your business.

Every business owner knows that creating and sticking to goals are what drive a business. Without goals, it’s difficult to identify ways you can grow, develop, and move toward continued success. Sometimes, however, when it comes to goal setting, it is easier to take a look at the mistakes that are common rather than the other way around.

Let’s take a look at a common personal goal that thousands of us make every New Year’s Eve and see how we can make it better. Many of us make it a goal or resolution to lose weight every year. While this is a wonderful goal that more of us should attempt, there is something wrong with the goal. Do you know what the mistake is?

The goal of losing weight is too broad. Most business owners make similar mistakes. Goals should be: achievable, measurable, and specific. Let’s rewrite the weight loss goal and see how we can improve it.

How about we change it to, “I will lose 15 pounds within three months.” Or, “I will lose at least two inches off my waist.” Or, “I will be down a dress size,” in the same time frame. Each of these is measurable, achievable, and specific.

Business owners should do the same thing when creating sales goals or any other kind of goal depending upon your field or industry. Each goal should be narrow in scope, have a time frame, and have a way to measure whether the goal has been reached.

Many business leaders use the SMART business model for goal setting. What are your biggest mistakes when setting goals? Do you get overwhelmed with the scope of a project? Do you make the goals too broad? There are a million mistakes that can be made. If you need help, you may want to attend one of our seminars on Setting and Achieving Transformative Goals.

 

Common Issues of Start Ups

Starting your own company can be time consuming, stressful, and costly. On the other hand it can also be exhilarating! The idea of being your own boss and launching your own business can be the experience of a lifetime especially if it is something your feel passionately about. For many young entrepreneurs, starting a business is a mix of emotions. There will be hurdles to conquer and also successes to celebrate. Here are some of the more common issues that you should be aware of before you crack open the champagne for your newest business adventure.

  • Financing – Whether new businesses have done their research or not sometimes financing becomes the biggest problem. The market can fluctuate and lenders and/or investors can change the terms of agreements. Financing is one of the biggest issues most startups encounter so be sure to have your homework done about what things will cost and when you hope to turn a profit.
  • Marketing – If selling a product or service is your business be sure to have a solid marketing plan set before day one. This will take lots of research on the competition and what consumers really needs. Look at digital marketing and well as traditional print media.
  • Doing It All – As a new business owner there is a temptation to do it all from crunching the numbers as your own accountant to being the man who replaces the ink in the printer. Rely on people who can do things for you, which means hire the right people who can take on some of the responsibilities.
  • Location – Believe it or not the old adage of, “Location, Location, Location” applies to companies as well. Choose a location where your company can profit the most whether it is in a cost-effective, low rent building or on a main street where your name will be out there. Think before you chose a location.

Pinterest for Business

Chances are that if you own a business website, you also have links to social media or at least some presence on one or more of the social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter and LInkedIn are the common choices for many small and medium sized businesses. Have you considered Pinterest? Here are a few compelling statistics that may sway your social media choices.

  • Pinterest has 150 million users as of January 23rd of this year. Seventy million of them are in the United States. That is a lot of traffic that could be seeing your products and ideas.
  • Millennials use this social media platform as much as Instagram so if your target audience is in the age bracket consider becoming a pinner and poster.
  • 87% of Pinners have purchased a product because of Pinterest.
  • 93% of active Pinners said they use Pinterest to plan for purchases and 87% said they’ve purchased something because of Pinterest.
  • What’s unique about this mode of communication compared to most social media websites, is that it reduces the number of steps from discovery to conversion. This means that visitors from Pinterest convert into leads or sales faster than from other social media sources.
  • About 95% of the images were either pinned or re-pinned from the web which means you are building valuable links to your site daily.
  • The half-life of a pin is 1,600 times longer than a Facebook post.
  • The average pinner user spends 14.2 minutes pinning every time they log in.

Convinced? Check it out and see how it can work for your business at PinterestBusiness.

Boost Your Company’s Cyber Security

Taking a risk in business comes with the territory for small and medium sized business owners, but taking a risk with your company’s assets online can be downright perilous. With news of spyware, hackers, ransomeware and data breaches making the news practically nightly, now is the time to beef up your cyber security. Here are a few tips from Forbes and cyber security experts on ways you can safeguard your business assets.

  • Back Up your Data – In the case of something small like a power outage or catastrophic like a major hacking, is your business data backed up regularly? Consider automatic back ups and redundancy plans to make sure your data can be recovered quickly.
  • Passwords and Authentication – Require that your employees use strong passwords that are created by a password manager and saved separately. The majority of password managers save and generate strong, random passwords for each of your web accounts. In addition, enable two-factor authentication on any website or system that supports it.
  • Maintain Updates – Always update and use the latest versions of software. The latest versions of software have the newest security protections that can save you time and headaches later.
  • Cyber Security Training – Train all employees on the security protocols that you will be using in your office and train them for red flags and what to look for. This is a great way to stop a breach while it is happening or catch it before it can do damage.
  • Employ the Best Security – If you think that just because you are a small or medium sized business means you are invisible or exempt from security issues,  you are wrong. Make sure your IT department is using the best security safeguards possible and maintaining them. Review these programs regularly to see if you need further security or better training for employees.

 

 

 

Managing Conflicts at Work

No matter what size your business is there are bound to be conflict between employees. Everyone comes to the table with different experiences, beliefs and expectations. Your job as a business leader is to find a way to cultivate and enjoy those differences without having to manage conflicts constantly between team members. It is pretty much inevitable that conflict will arise in times of stress or change. How you deal with it will determine the extent and impact on your company. Here are a few tips from experts at Forbes, Time, and U.S. News on what to do (and what not to do) in times of conflict.

  • Be Prepared – Honestly, you know it is practically inevitable – so plan ahead. Talk to your Human Resources personnel, who are experts on dealing with many personalities and are usually good under pressure. They may have courses or suggestions for how to handle day-to-day conflicts or larger disagreements. They can also be excellent mediators in the  event of a larger conflict.
  • Stay Calm – Conflict can quickly escalate if all parties are not dealt with in a calm manner. Your leadership skills of listening, problem solving and finding a common ground will be tested. Most of all keep your cool and check yourself before dealing with any crisis, big or small.
  • Document – One of the hallmarks of a great Human Resources department is documenting any conflicts so that they can be handled correctly. Be sure your HR department or specialist keeps a written log of what the conflict was and how it was handled. You may need this documentation later if the conflict comes up again or if a legal situation arises.
  • Do Not Avoid – Some business leaders make the all-too-common-mistake of trying to avoid the conflict and let it solve itself. Experts warn against this because what may seem like it is settled may rear it’s head later and cause even more problems later.
  • Follow Up – Many conflicts can be solved quickly and rather quietly. However, as a business leader, you should make it a priority to check in with concerned parties to make sure all is well or at least getting better. HR should also follow up and conclude documentation on the conflict.

Increasing Sales for Small/Medium Businesses

Small and medium sized businesses that are just starting out or even those who are several years into development usually start looking for was to increase sales and grow the market they currently have. Increasing sales can mean many things such as: increasing foot traffic to an actual brick and mortar shop, increasing online sales for ecommerce businesses , optimize conversions or sell more to existing customers. Here are some tips from the U.S. Small Business Association and other experts in marketing and sales.

  • Nurture Loyal Customers– While finding new customers is always a good idea, listening to the needs of loyal customers and satisfying their requests means not only do they stay happy customers, but they are more likely to spread the word and talk you up to friends, relatives and co-workers. Creating long-lasting relationships with your current customers will pay off in the long run.
  • Revisit your Web Strategy – Businesses have the potential to reach thousands, if not millions, of customers on the web. Think of the number of people who are married to their phone. The numbers are increasing practically daily of the consumers who purchase not only on the web but via mobile devices. Make sure your web strategy has taken the mobile industry into account.
  • Pay Attention to Metrics – You really can’t improve what you haven’t measured. Keep collecting data on sales that come in via the website. For example, what brings visitors to your website? It might be your blog articles, pay-per-click advertisements, or referral program. You could be great at building brand awareness, but you don’t know until you measure your efforts.
  • Step Up your Marketing – Evaluate your current marketing strategy to see if it needs some tweaking. Have you taken advantage of Google ad Words, Facebook Ads, email campaigns, traditional mailers, local search listings, and/or loyalty marketing? Take time as a team to examine what methods are working and what has not been  tried yet. Don’t be afraid to try something new for a few months.