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Networking For Your Small Business 

Being a small business owner can mean long hours and taking on many different roles, especially when starting out. For many small business leaders juggling it all, the thought of networking on top of all the others things to do is too much. Networking is, however, a great way to generate leads, stay up-to-date on trends in the industry, and gain helpful hints or creative ideas. 

According to a survey sponsored by American Express, 9 out of 10 Americans agreed that it was important to support the small businesses in their community, and 73% consciously tried to do just that. The people around you want you to succeed – they want to book your services. But they can’t do that if they don’t know about you! And that’s where it helps to network in your own community.

Here are several ideas of how to make networking seem like less of a chore and to get the word out about your business. 

Commit to Local Networking Groups

Whether it is a monthly breakfast meeting or a bi-monthly coffee-house get together, commit to attending these networking gatherings on a regular basis. It is a great way to start to meet other small business owners in your area as well as people within your industry. If your time is extremely limited, be sure to research which local organizations you want to take part in. Even just participating in an industry-specific organization, small business associations, or your local chamber of commerce can be beneficial for your business.

Attend Conferences 

In addition to meeting other professionals in your area and industry, you may also want to expand your networking by attending conferences that are industry specific. Conferences are a great time to catch up with people in your field who are influencers or innovators as well as solidify friendships with local or regional professionals in your field. 

Exhibit at a Trade Show 

Once you get more experience networking with local businesses and industry specific businesses, you may want to exhibit your services or products at a trade show. Don’t forget to bring your business cards and a partner to talk up your business with attendees. 

Volunteer in Your Community 

One of the best ways to make genuine connections with other small businesses and potentially clients in your area is to take part in some form of community outreach. The level at which you decide to volunteer depends on your schedule, but check out local charities or nonprofits that could use your expertise and provide some pro-bono work to not only feel good but to make connections that are meaningful. 

If you need further ideas on networking and connecting with your local community, check out the small business association for more helpful hints. Also check out our calendar of events for great workshops and networking opportunities. 

 

LinkedIn to Grow Your Business

Running your own business can be challenging. There are so many components to consider from staffing, to marketing, and all the minutiae in between. It can get overwhelming. That’s why we love LinkedIn for small business owners. Not only is it a great place to network with other like-minded professionals but it is a forum that can help your business grow. Read on to find out more about how LinkedIn can help your business.

There are two major ways that business leaders can use LinkedIn to help grow their business. One method is the passive method of joining LinkedIn to read what others are posting, hunt for products, services, or employees for your company, and even keep the business page up-to-date. The other is a more active approach where a business owner or leader joins groups, participates in discussions, and posts articles that encourage interaction. Which method you choose is up to you and your business’s needs.

Either way, your business can benefit from your participation on LinkedIn. Here are three ways that LinkedIn can help promote your brand and your status as a businessperson.

Solidify Your Professional Status

Since LinkedIn is a social media platform, it is important that those who hope to make their mark in their chosen industry contribute engaging and interactive content. In this way, professionals can “show what they know.” For example, if your field of expertise is in marketing, your business profile and content on LinkedIn can showcase your successes through posts, blogs, and sharing articles. LinkedIn is a great place to illustrate to others in your field that you are an innovator or, at the very least, a business leader who is on-the-rise.

Connecting With Other Professionals

LinkedIn is the perfect social media platform to expand your business circle. LinkedIn hosts thousands of online groups, enabling professionals to network within their respective niches. Participate, add content, exchange information, and engage with others who are in your field or who are vendors that help support your type of business.

Give and Get Endorsements and Testimonials

LinkedIn enables your peers to endorse your skills and write up recommendations, and you can do the same for them. People who are searching for networking connections or job candidates will take these recommendations into consideration.

If trying these methods is not your thing, you may still want to consider trying LinkedIn advertising. Paid advertising on LinkedIn is still a relative bargain and can get your business in front of your market quickly.

If you are interested in joining LinkedIn or expanding your reach, get started on LinkedIn by finding out how LinkedIn works, creating a LinkedIn login, and if you’re not already a member create a great LinkedIn profile that focuses on growing business. Contact the Enterprise Center page for help getting started.

Accessibility in the Digital Space

Your business office is probably physically accessible for clients or employees who have a disability. The accessibility components might include handicapped parking, curb cutouts, ramps, or elevators. This is not news, though. In 1990, the United States Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, commonly referred to as the ADA. The ADA mandates that public and private spaces be made accessible to individuals with disabilities. But is your company website digitally accessible? 

What Does Digitally Accessible Mean? 

If you are not quite sure what it means to make your business or business website digitally accessible, whether it is viewed on a smartphone, tablet, or desktop, then read on. According to MediaWire, Digital Accessibility addresses the ability of people with visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive disabilities to access electronic resources such as the Internet, software, mobile devices, e-readers, etc. It also includes people with changing abilities due to aging or illness. Basically, digital accessibility is technology put into place to allow a wide range of users to easily navigate the digital space.

Think for a moment about your digital correspondence and website. Are there text or audio alternatives for someone who can not visually focus on small letters? Can your website be navigated without using a finger on a touchscreen but rather the arrows of a keyboard? Is the text written in an easy-to-read font and color? These questions probably have you thinking about how someone with a physical, cognitive, or sensory impairment views or navigates your digital world. 

How Can You Make Your Website or Digital Correspondence More Accessible? 

Thankfully, as technology evolves, so too does the assistive tech that can help make the digital world easier to manage. Assistive software has come quite a long way since the digital world came on the scene. Now, there are technologies or programs that include: programs for screen magnification, screen reading, speech recognition, text-to-speech, Braille printers, Braille scanners, touch screen displays, oversized mice, and oversized joysticks. 

Another example of universal design that can adapt easily to different users’ needs or preferences is the alt text tags for graphics or videos. For the hearing impaired, videos are unusable. For the visually impaired, images on a website are extraneous. Alt text provides captions for the hearing impaired trying to watch a video and audio alternatives for the visually impaired. 

Some users have physical difficulties navigating a website using a cursor alone. Digital accessibility means that websites are now able to be navigated using only the arrow keys on the keyboard. 

When the ADA was created in 1990, the Internet as we know it now did not exist and there is now a great need for updated laws concerning accessibility in the digital realm. The ADA requires that “places of public accommodation” be accessible to the disabled. Most businesses are now beginning to access their digital accessibility. Do you need to reassess your website in business digital realm? Check out our workshop on this topic on October 17, 2019. 

Organizing a Business Event 

If you work for a small or medium-size business, chances are that your staff does not include a professional party planner to organize those all important seminars, networking events, open houses, customer appreciation events, or company dinners. That means that planning corporate events falls to one (or several) employees that have a handle on details and can stay organized. If that person is you, read on for tips to organize your next business event. 

Corporate events can be tricky to plan since they have so many different components including the venue, budget, food, technology needed, atmosphere, guest lists, speakers, and the list could go on and on depending upon the type of event being planned. Here are some of our suggestions on how to get your ducks in a row and plan your next business event. 

Start With the Big Picture and Your Goal 

Start with what you hope to accomplish during the event. Ask yourself what the purpose of the event is and things will be clearer on how you should proceed. For example, if the goal of the event is to host an educational seminar for your clients, then the venue will be different than a black tie cocktail event. Or, if the goal is to have a social atmosphere and network with other companies in your field, then you know that you will have to find an appropriate venue for that. 

Create a Calendar and “To Do” List 

Once you know what the goal of your event is, you can plan accordingly. You will want to create a list of things to accomplish and give each a suitable deadline. This could include booking a venue if you are not hosting it in-house, finding a caterer and ordering food, creating a guest list and sending invitations, booking speakers, lining up any technology you need and, of course, staying within the budget set for you. 

Booking a Venue

Many corporate events happen outside of the walls of your typical office and finding the perfect venue is something you will need to arrange well in advance, depending upon the popularity of the spot you are choosing. Be sure to take into account travel time, how many people the venue can accommodate, and the atmosphere. When you book a space, an event planner may be assigned to your event and thus make your job a bit easier. If not, you may be required to work through even the smallest of details. 

Guest List and Invitations 

The venue and purpose of your event will help determine how many attendees your business can handle. Be sure to give ample time for a response from the people on your list. Remember that the average “no” response is usually around 20% when making your final guest list. Keep accurate records of who will be attending for a food, drink, or snack count. It will also help you when it comes time to print up any brochures or paperwork that will be a part of the event. 

Food and Drinks 

Depending upon the type of event you are having, food and drink is usually an aspect that needs consideration. Be sure to find out if any guests have allergies or any special food considerations. Venues are usually good about making special meals and will work with you on how to identify those guests when serving time approaches. As for drinks, this one is something your business leaders will need to decide. Do you want your guests to have the option to a cash bar, open bar, or are you having a dry event. All of these decisions need to occur early in the planning process as to allow for the budget to remain on track. 

Tech and other Materials 

Many events focus on some aspect of business and, as such, require technology, whether it is a presentation board, slide projector, smart board or, at the very least, a podium and sound equipment. Be sure to make a list of all the equipment and specialists you will need for your event so they can be secured well in advance. 

Presenters and Schedule of Events 

Once you have the venue, catering, guest list, and technology all set, you will want to line up who will be the master of ceremonies or presenter(s). A run through of the schedule can help ensure that things go smoothly on the day of the event. It will also ensure that small details like name tags, table gifts, and printed materials are ready to go for the event. 

Do you need help planning your events? Check out our workshop on Planning Events from Start to Finish on October 2, 2019. 

 

Social Media – Where to Begin 

Yes, everyone is doing it! Social media is a beast and if you haven’t gotten on board yet, then you may not even know where to begin. What channels should you choose? How often should you post? How can you know if your campaign is successful? Let’s take a closer look at how to get started on a social media campaign. 

Determine Your Goals and How to Measure Them

Before you even login or download an app, start brainstorming with your team about what your goals are. Do you just want to increase brand awareness? Or perhaps you want to drive more traffic to your website? Maybe you want a way to connect with your target audience and supply them with deals and savings? Social media may be your way of generating leads. 

Once you set out your goals, you will be able to determine how those goals will be measured. Google Analytics can help as well as the individual page manager section to each social media platform like: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Those stats can tell you how many people are engaging in your social media posts as well as how many likes, shares, and retweets. 

Know the Pros and Cons of Each Platform

Get to know what the basics are for each type of social media and whether they attract your target audience. For example, Instagram tends to attract millennials and is visually based. Facebook, on the other hand, draws in an older crowd that are looking for content sharing. LinkedIn is more business connection-based. Twitter can be a mix but leaves out the longer content. Before you start setting up your profile or business page, make sure the platform you choose is the right one for your demographics and your service/product. Find out how much advertising costs and what the return is. 

 

Make Your Posts Worthwhile 

Viewers on social media have become quite savvy and are mostly against pages that advertise constantly, or sound like a robot. Be human in your posts and give the readers something worthwhile to read. Make it worthwhile by adding content that your followers will be interested in, or by running promotions/discounts for followers who mention a post. Do something to get your followers to engage with you by retweeting, sharing, or commenting on your posts. 

 

Measure Your Success

At regular intervals measure how your campaign is doing. How many more followers do you have? What is your engagement number like? Should you shift your content or offer more things that encourage followers? Your analytics page can help. 

Need help getting started on your social media campaigns? Check out our calendar of events. We often host workshops on social media and how to boost your business with an online campaign. 

 

Upping Your Communication Skills 

Do you make presentations to clients often or meet face-to-face with consumers? How effective do you feel your presentations are? Even if you have worked in your field for years, and know your service/product well, you may still need to sharpen your communication skills. Here are a few ways to can hone those skills while still sounding natural and genuine. 

Learn the Basics of Nonverbal Communication 

Some studies show that communication is only 7% verbal and 93% non-verbal. That means that what you are saying is such a small fraction of what your audience is getting from you. They are, however, paying close attention to your body language and vocal variety. That means that the majority of what you say is communicated not through words, but through physical cues. To garner full attention many body language experts suggest making eye contact as much as possible with your audience, having good posture, not slouching, making your voice larger than normal, not crossing your arms, and moving around the space if you are talking to a large group. 

 

Don’t Go Overboard on Visuals 

Sure, having a visual aid can help you stay on message and focus the audience’s attention. However, do not wholly rely on visual aids, like PowerPoint, to get your message across. There really is nothing worse than having a presenter read from the slides. Not only is that boring but it is degrading to the viewers. Instead integrate storytelling into your presentation. Your audience is more likely to remember the story than the slides. If you really want to hook the group, ask them to be a part of the discussion or to relay their own stories about the topic. Once they have made a personal connection, they will be dialed in to your presentation. 

Master Your Timing 

Understand the attention span and needs of your audience. Not all people who have come to a presentation have an hour to listen to you. Remember that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was 286 words, about two minutes long. Realize that timing is everything. If you can simplify your message, do so. Short and sweet can sometimes help an audience remember what you said. 

Check out our calendar of speakers every month, we often have workshops on improving your communication skills or honing presentations. 

 

The Benefits of CEO Groups

We have all heard the old cliche that, “it’s lonely at the top.” It really is an accurate portrayal of life for most CEOs. Not only can executive officer feel lonely in their specific business, but they may also be in need of peer relationships that bring with it sharing of business acumen, professional experience, and insights that can help grow and mold a successful business. The roles of executives today have never been more daunting or fraught with disruptions. Let’s take a look at how joining a peer group of other CEOs can help.

Having a leadership resource can be just the solution for executives who need to make a connection, want to grow their company, and often don’t have the time during the regular business day to make those connections organically. Joining a peer group can be the answer for several reasons.

CEO Groups Serve as a Sounding Board

During the course of a typical work day, most executives are busy handling day-to-day operations. There is not often the opportunity to call a friend in a similar circumstance to talk about future business questions or concerns. The CEO groups run by the Enterprise Center are a great chance for business leaders to communicate with other business leaders. Peers can act as a sounding board for ideas where CEOs are able to confidentially get feedback from people in similar positions. Other business leaders can add to their experiences and warn of potential pitfalls. The conversations can be incredibly valuable and may even help move your company forward.

 

CEO Groups Can Help with Scaling

One of the more difficult aspects of leading a business is learning how to scale. Oftentimes, CEOs do not have peers that can help them learn how to grow a business by getting more out of the people and resources or by employing better systems and methodologies. A peer group of other CEOs can provide insider access to insights learned from others’ experiences.

 

CEO Groups Can Help with the Big Picture

Often, business leaders do not take the time to plan for what lies ahead. This is especially true for small and medium-sized businesses that are still evolving and finding their niche. Peer groups of other business leaders can be a great chance to plan, organize, and take a look at the bigger picture. Being a part of an executive group means that monthly you will hear about other businesses’ successes and setbacks that can give you a sense of where your company may be heading. It is almost like taking a look into the future when hearing about where other executives are in their journey.

 

CEO Groups Can Provide Support, a Sense of Belonging, and a Little Bit of Fun

Joining one of the Enterprise Center’s three CEO groups can give the support that many executives need – even if it is once a month. These peer groups can not only be substantive in that they allow for professional support but also can spark humor, fun, and a sense of belonging to a group that can help in what can only be described as one of the more challenging positions in business.

Are you interested in joining one of our CEO Groups? Check out the programs page on our website and register now.

 

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.