How the SBA Can Help You Get Your Business off the Ground

It is no secret that the U.S. government is a massive buyer of services and commodities. Government contracting exceeds half a trillion dollars each year and a major focus by the government, through the Small Business Administration (SBA), is that a portion of these funds be dedicated to small businesses. Currently, “the government-wide procurement goal is that at least 23% of all federal government contracting dollars should be awarded to small businesses (sba.gov).” The 23% mentioned here is in regard to prime contracts. Often prime contracts for large dollar projects will require that the prime or general contractor subcontracts small businesses at percentages higher than the 23%. In fact this percentage can be as high as around 80% of the work or procured items must be provided by small businesses.
 
So what does this mean for your startup? This emphasis on small business by the federal government means there are a lot of opportunities for small businesses. In fact, any government procurements between $3,000 and $150,000 are set-aside for small business prime contractors (sba.gov).
 
Your small business has two routes through which it can tap into these funds the government sets aside for small businesses. First, is to become a prime contractor and the second is to subcontract with a prime contractor. Both can be very profitable for your young business and provide early cash flow for future expansion.
If such opportunities fit your profile, visit SBA.gov to learn more about how you can be considered for government contracts. As well the website has databases for both prime and subcontract listings where you can search by your expertise, location, and other criteria.
 
While government contracts have a large upside, they also have their caveats as well. Generally, they are more heavily regulated, require more extensive external reporting, and business processes can be directed by the government.
 
Small business opportunities are many through government contracts and, despite caveats of working with the government, can provide great opportunities for building a foundation for your small business and potentially future expansion.

Not Just About the “Like”

“Social media are not the powerful and persuasive marketing force many companies hoped they would be…”

 
Gallup Inc. summed up their recent report on social media and its influence on buyers’ decisions with those words. The report shows that 62% of consumers say social media has no effect at all on their purchasing decisions. That is staggering considering the amount of time and resources many companies, especially startups, are investing into social-media marketing campaigns. So what does this mean for companies going forward? Let’s dig into Gallup’s report a little further.
 

Social Media Marketing Shouldn’t Be Just About the Numbers

 
“Of the consumers who reported “liking” or following a company, 34% still said that social media had no influence on their purchasing behavior, while 53% said they had only some influence.”
 
Many of us are probably guilty of simply seeking a substantial social media following by simply focusing on quantity. But just because somebody “likes” a Facebook page does not mean that they are more likely to purchase from that company. In fact, polls find that people are still more likely to seek advice from family, friends, and experts before they seek advice from a Facebook page. This isn’t all that shocking, but by simply focusing on the number of “likes” companies are missing the greatest potential social media has to becoming a force within marketing strategies.
 

People Talk

 
The old-fashioned tune still rings true, people talk. Conversations among friends and family are still the driving force in customer persuasion. Social media facilitates these types of conversations and provide an opportunity for companies to take part in the conversation. As Gallup says, “Yet, many companies continue to treat social media as a one-way communication vehicle and are largely focused on how they can use these sites to push their marketing agendas.”
 
Social-media marketing should be a conversation that companies appear honest and informational without pushing an agenda too rigorously.
 

The Need for More than Social Media

 
One last interesting idea presented by Gallup is obvious, yet very important. Customer engagement needs to take place online and offline. Gallup states that time and time again that the success of customer engagement is determined by how well they “align all their touch points.” Customer purchases are still driven more by in-store displays and interactions than social media and will probably remain this way.
 
A large part of marketing is creating an experience for the customer through your product and service. It still remains difficult to do so through social-media channels. As we shape our social-media strategies, we must understand that social media is only a small portion of an overall strategy that must include the creation of a customer experience. The priority must be quality over quantity so that our online and offline interactions match to create a single, memorable experience that users will share with their family, friends, and acquaintances. Possibly through social media outlets.

It Still Pays to Be Human in Today’s Start-up World


 

Set Yourself Apart by Giving People What They Want: The People Behind the Product

 
Every week more and more tech start-ups are launching all over the world. Supply chains have become global and businesses are pieced together with customers, partners, suppliers, and manufacturers based all over the planet. This even includes company employees being located all over the globe serving out their functions from separate locations miles and miles away.
 
Today’s technology allows for business to thrive in such an interesting environment but can also complicate how business is carried out. As probably all of us have experienced, most business is carried out via email, text, etc. without any kind of face-to-face contact.
 
On top of all of this, it can be costly and difficult to arrange physical meetings, conference calls, or even phone calls. In terms of cutting costs, all these alternatives are much cheaper.
 
This recent trend has made it even more important for us to find new ways of humanizing ourselves with our contacts, customers, and partners. Attempts are made through blogs, social media, vibrant websites, and some innovative marketing strategies.
 
In an unprecedented fashion, consumers have so much information at their disposal, making it vital that they get to know us. Easily-accessible information has suddenly put every business on a level playing field, making it harder and harder to gain competitive advantage. That battle can still be won by providing a personal touch to business and expanding beyond online selling and communication only.
 
We just need get out there. Attend events, trade shows, and other gatherings where your individual consumers, suppliers, partners, and contacts may be. It is time to step out of the office and give them a face to put with a name.
 
Even as times change people still love one thing more than the product itself: The people behind it.

Getting to Know Your Business: It May Just Make or Break It

Starting out we all have an idea of how we want our business to be, what it is, and what it is going to become. The funny thing is it never seems to turn out to be exactly what we imagined, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be the best thing that ever happens to you and your business. The truth is businesses, like people, have growing pains, changes, and evolve. In those initial months, or perhaps years, there is absolute need to get to know your business.
 

Keep an Open Mind

 
No market or business landscape is stagnant. Consumer wants change, opportunities come and go, and innovation occurs. Naturally your start-up is going to change with these external changes as well. At least it should. Really, we just never know what opportunities may arise. New product possibilities and potential partnerships can happen at any time. These discoveries can lead to fruitful success and are definitely a part of getting to know your business. The bottom line, don’t be afraid to adapt and pursue new opportunities that you may not have planned on originally.
 

Finding Your Niche

 
Within your industry there are several strategies to gaining market share. To name a few, you can pursue new technologies and have a first-mover advantage, you could simply do the same thing as others but cheaper, or you could create a specialized product that fills the need of a very specific submarket within your large scale market. All have their advantages and potentially lead to success. Your job is to pick one. This also is a process of simply getting to know your business. What do you do especially well? Are you more cost-efficient? Do you fill a special need somewhere? Or do you have the latest and greatest trend?
 
Most business professionals will tell you to pick one and run with it. This is great advice whether you are just starting out or are an established business. Don’t try to wear too many hats. But sometimes as your business progresses your niche may not be what you thought it would. This is a process of getting to know your business over time. A few months or years in you will probably have to adjust your niche market in some way.
 

Hold on Loosely

 
Your business is your baby. Most entrepreneurs feel this way and have a tight grip on the reins. As cheesy as this may be, I think some great advice for entrepreneurs comes from some old song lyrics, “Hold on loosely, but don’t let go.” In sports you often hear coaches say, “Don’t force it.” This is true in the business world. Often we try to force plans or deals like a quarterback trying to squeeze a pass in a hole that isn’t there or a baseball player trying to hit every pitch out of the park. Every once in a while we need to take a risk but most often it’s best to take what the defense gives us. Sometimes we just need to take a step back, assess the situation for what it is, and then make some objective decisions about where we are and where we are going.
 
The growing pains of a business can be hard, but if we make an effort to get to know our business as it evolves our chances of success will increase. As you keep an open mind to new opportunities you will be pleasantly surprised as to what you accomplish.

Why Retaining Customers Is Important for Any Start-up

Customer Retention Creates Recurring Revenue

 
As a manager there are predominately two sources of business; new customers and returning customers. Both are needed to succeed and generate growth. New customers often require greater external efforts and tend to be more expensive than retaining new customers. Retaining customers is an important revenue source that can be controlled almost exclusively by internal forces. If a company is successful at retaining customers it can create a recurring revenue source month to month or year to year.
 
A recurring revenue source from retained customers will be a source of constant revenue, providing the backbone a business needs to begin planning new growth strategies for the future. The constant revenue source helps a business go from focusing on surviving to focusing on growth.
Thinking of retained customers in this sense provides a great incentive for businesses to focus on retaining customers. It will ultimately build a stronger foundation for future growth.
 

Plan for Retention

 
A vital inclusion to any business plan is a marketing plan. Unfortunately, an error commonly made by many entrepreneurs is to only plan how to obtain new customers but fail to plan on how to retain those customers.
A common assumption is that the only way to grow a new business is through new customers. While every business must start with new customers, truly growth cannot take place till at least some of those customers come back for future business or a constant pool of customers must be created. With this in mind, retention must be included in any solid marketing plan.
 
As stated before, retention can be controlled predominately by internal action. Within your marketing plan and in implementation, actions must be taken to heighten the customer experience within the purchasing or service process. This can be done through customer service, great products, great prices, speed, or by meeting any customer need specific to your industry. Remember than any interaction or engagement with the customer is a marketing opportunity. Within these interactions find the customer’s touch points for immediate and future reference. As these are better understood the marketing plan can be adjusted to meet these needs.
 
Retained customers provide the backbone and life every business needs to begin creating strong growth going forward. It provides a recurring revenue source which allows for deeper resources and enhanced strategies for generating new customer bases. Customer retention is not simply done without any effort though. Like anything else it must be planned for and carried out by constant action by management and employees. As you plan for growth within your own company, look at your own customer retention rates and ways in which you can improve them going forward.

Business Plan to Be Different

Business Planning for Market Share

 
A tendency when creating a new business plan is to simply mimic a previously successful plan created by someone else. While sometimes this can lead to financial success, more often than not this will not lead to high profit margins that others are enjoying within whatever industry it may be.
 
Within industries where firms enjoy high profit margins, profits are often maintained because it is very difficult to enter those markets or in economic terms, barriers to entry exist. Incumbent firms experience large profits because they have been very successful at keeping other companies from entering and taking market share. Your business plan should address this very issue of market share and how you plan to obtain it.
 

Copying is Easy to Counteract

 
The reason that new firms cannot enter the market so easily using previous business plans is simple: The incumbent firms have already done it and know exactly how to counteract it. Their scale, lead time, and price capabilities simply outmatch new, up and coming firms making entry through similar strategies very difficult.
 

Find a Niche

 
The key for a new entrepreneur with a business plan is to find a niche. This niche can come in various facets of the business whether it is access to resources, new technologies which cut costs, an exclusive or specialized customer base, or product features that other firms do not produce. Look for a target market that does not necessarily appeal to the mainstream customer base but has potential to grow.
 

Find Creative Solutions

 
At the end of the day an entrepreneur looking to crack into an industry must be creative. Try marketing a product to a different customer base or applying a business plan that has been successful in another industry to your industry, etc. Success comes in being different because different is difficult to react to and protect against.
 
Business is a competitive, never-ending process full of success and failures, new faces and old, and changes. Just because something has worked before cannot promise that it will work again. As you sit down to write out your next business plan, be creative, analyze the edges, and look for your niche that can lead to long-term success.

Improve Online Marketing Skills for Cost Effective Marketing

Marketing Your Small Business

 
The business environment has changed drastically over the last decade especially in terms of marketing. Social media, search engines, and other outlets such as Youtube have made information easier to publish and access. Nearly all companies across the board have integrated these new resources into their marketing strategies. But these resources are even more advantageous for start-ups and small business and really even the marketing playing field. Learn to utilize search engines, social media, and other online outlets to market your brand in a cost effective manner.
 

Enhance Your Website Searchability

 
It is important to increase traffic to your website and this is done by boosting the ability to search for your site through search engines. Search engines use complex algorithms to index content online and feed the most relevant information to the searcher. Understanding how this search engines work is a complicated task and basically all search engines keep their algorithms secret in order to keep companies from manipulating their pages solely to increase searchability.
 
But each website owner/maintainer can increase online traffic through Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies and techniques. In fact, many firms have people dedicated to SEO tasks and website development as their daily job but you can do it for your business rather simply with a few basic strategies. Such as,
 

  • • Use short, descriptive titles for content that includes keywords.
  • • Use basic HTML tags for sections and subsections, bolded or italicized font, bulleted lists.
  • • Use some sort of WordPress site for other optimization features.
  • • Share your information through social media outlets.

 

Quality over Quantity

 
Another important thing to remember is that online marketing is indeed strategical for your company and you are trying to create a following. This is done best by providing first a great website and content. A better website and content will keep users coming back time and time again while also making it more likely they will share your website with friends, family, and colleagues. There is still something old fashioned about the internet and word of mouth marketing still goes a long way (even if it is done through shares, likes, +1’s, etc.).
 

Engage Consumers

 
The online world is an excellent place to engage consumers, get to know them better, and establish yourself as a real market player. Social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Youtube allow businesses to directly engage consumers in real time; answering their questions, getting to know them, and them getting to know you. Social media is a great place to build brand awareness, trust, and loyalty. Keep up on trending topics and place yourself among key market players in these online conversations.
 
Online marketing is a low-cost option for all start-ups and small businesses. It provides the perfect landscape for small players to compete for market share with big industry players and really levels the marketing playing field. As you master online tools and resources you enhance your ability to build market share through, all while keeping marketing costs down.

Startup Branding Tips to Make a Big Impression

The branding of your startup business should be given careful attention during the business planning phase. Branding alone may very well determine the viability and sustainability of the business itself. If you have budget allocated for branding, it could be well worth your investment to work with a talented creative agency. If you’re on more of a bootstrap budget as most startups are, then giving some careful thought and planning will get you started on the best foot.

The typical process is an easy one to fall into. First you pick a name you like for your venture. Then you rush to GoDaddy and check for the closest domain name available. If you have more budget you buy a premium domain in the secondary market. Next you would move on to turn that name into a simple logo by selecting a font you like, grabbing a related image mark to put next to it and voila – you’ve got branding taken care of. Well, there is definitely more to consider for a lasting brand that will have the positive impact you’re looking for.

Something important to consider as you plan is that your brand is not just your logo. Your logo is certainly a part of your brand, but only the visual representation. A better indicator and measure for your brand is how people feel and what people think when they see that logo – that is your brand.

Your brand is your company’s personality. It’s how people relate to your company and how they feel about your company. You need to make some conscious decisions about how you want your company to be perceived by your target market. How do you want your company described as people tell their friends, family, and contacts about you? Think about how you would describe a friend. How they talk, how they dress, the things they do, etc. In a similar fashion, you would want to establish a personality and image for your company. Do you want your voice to be conversational or business professional? Do you want to be known for taking care of your customers? Being involved in the community? Whatever the values that you want to infuse into your organization, they will be part of your brand.

Once you’ve decided how you want to be perceived by your target customers, you need to commit to infuse that brand into your entire organization and everything you do. If your top value is customer satisfaction, but you hire low-paid, part-time, hourly workers to handle customer support, you will likely fall short and end up with a brand that is known for poor support and low satisfaction. Be sure that you are ready to invest in the areas that support the brand image you are trying to create.  By paying attention to branding in the business planning stage, you’ll be more likely to succeed.

How to Make a Big Impact with Small Marketing Budget

Guest Post by on behalf of BYU Center for Entrepreneurship, that builds great brands.

If you have a small business, it does not mean that you have to do all your operations on a small scale. You do not need a huge budget to make a big impact if you plan well. Effective marketing is the one activity that will result to the prosperity of your business. Promotions can take up so much of your cash if you do not strategize well. However, there are strategies that can help you create a big impact even when working with a small budget. Social media is one of them.

How To Use Social Media

The Internet is increasingly become a preferred advertisement medium and is gaining ground on TV and print media. There are millions of people who use various social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter daily. These create a perfect platform for any form of advertising. You can engage your customers one-on-one through social media at low costs.
You can use social media to find out what customers say about your brand before you kick off your marketing campaign. Many big companies have succeeded by first determining the image their brands portray before embarking on strengthening or adjusting it. Also, you can find out your customers’ needs and wants and then tailor your marketing activities to meet them.

Thereafter, you can start your campaign by joining the social networking sites. You need to research well first though. Find out the demographics of the site you want to join. Is the population large enough for your marketing efforts? You can create a Google Analytics account for the business to determine what is being said about you and your competitors.
Next, create at least three accounts in different social networking sites and link them. Linking will give you the following advantages:

• You will only have to update one account at a time and have the same message broadcast on the other accounts.
• It saves you time.
• It makes it easier to manage all the accounts.

Forming a Community

Having created the accounts, you should also form an online community where you will be communicating and interacting with the members. This is basically a fan or customer base and should be targeted to your prospective customers. Spend ample time in developing this fan base because a disgruntled community can lead to your down fall.
Here are some of the key things you should do to ensure you succeed in making a big impact with a small marketing budget through an online community:

• Know why you are building the community and what exactly you want to promote.
• Anticipate who will be using the social site to help you make informed decisions.
• Prepare for criticisms and strategize how to deal with them.
• Determine the ideas you will be sharing with the community beforehand then stay consistent and on point always.

If managed well, an online community presents a great marketing opportunity for your business. Besides, since you are the founder, the ideas you share should be of value always.

Online Video Promotion

When using social media to market, you need to s engage your audience or else you will lose them. Creativity is necessary to make a big impact with a small marketing budget. Audio and video promotions are very vital and cost-effective. Take advantage of these.

Create a high quality video or audio broadcast and then post it on your accounts and let the community share it. This will ensure that you have a marketing tool online for a very long time that will be shared by numerous people within and outside your community. If the video or audio broadcast is interesting, you will get a stream of new fans. However, you should first inform your audience that the broadcast is up.

Blog

Creating a blog or guest blog in one of your established websites is another way of creating a big impact at the lowest costs. Just with social networking accounts, you need to stay consistent with the flow of ideas and information you blog about. Choose a topic and stick to it to remain relevant.

Conclusion

Every business can make a big impact with a small marketing budget as long as the strategies employed are viable. All you have to do is define your niche and stay relevant with your social media marketing efforts.

4 Tips to Improve the Visibility and Production from Your Website

Are you having a hard time ramping up visitors to your website? For those who want to make some progress with their site without hiring an internet marketing agency, here are four key tips for updating your website to draw more attention and results:

1. Refresh the Copy
Has it been a months since you’ve read your own content pages? Most of us tend to publish content then move on to other things. Stop and take a close look at the content on your site. Look for terminology that may be outdated, updates in your product or service offering, etc. Even if you do some basic re-wording with your content it will show the search engines that your site is alive and well.

2. Add Images
People are often visual creatures and enjoy seeing more life and color on a web page. One fundamental tip for updating your website is to add more photos, graphics, and illustrations. For additional value with the search engines, which will drive more traffic for you, be sure to name the image files with descriptive text and use the “alt” attribute for the image. By adding these two “keyword signals” to the search engines, your site will clearly communicate what these images are and will attract more visitors.

3. Add New Pages and a Blog
Another solid tip for updating your website is to add more pages or expand the ones you have. Ask yourself what search terms you wish people would find your site for when they are looking for information on Google. Do you have a page of content that matches up with that search? Try to come up with one new page each month, or add a few new pages each quarter.

Another great way to add fresh content to your site without worrying about adding new pages and how they’ll fit in the navigation structure is to add a blog. Search engines love to see a steady stream of content on a domain. A blog is the easiest way to manage that content. You can talk about a broad variety of topics that relate to your business that your target market might find interesting.

4. Free Download to Build a List
As you get more visitors to your website, the next step will be to engage them and get more out of them. Since you have expertise in your subject area, why not write an ebook or guide that thoroughly discusses or explains an aspect of your business or industry? By offering a digital product of value, you can capture names and emails from your website visitors for follow up. Deliver great content to them for free to build trust with them and follow up with special offers and more great content.

If you apply any of these tips for updating your website, it will make a difference. When applied together, you’ll see a meaningful improvement to your website’s performance that will impact your business.

For other marketing ideas, be sure to check out our marketing plan template!