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Category Archives: SBDC News & Info

A road map to creating the all-important business plan

By Chemeketa SBDC

The most frequent questions we get at the Small Business Development Center are, “What is a business plan?” and “Do I need a business plan?”

The business plan can be used in many ways over the life of your business. It can provide you with the information you need to make critical decisions such as a “go” or “no-go” decision. It can function as a management tool to describe the way you intend to commit your resources and measure the success of your business. It can be the “selling tool” you use to convince your banker or investors of the worthiness of your ideas and of your business.

The business plan is the “road map” you’ve designed to make informed, strategic choices throughout the life of your business. It also should allow you to be flexible and respond to the changing needs of your market.

Developing a business plan is an intensive process and requires dedication, research and a commitment of time from you. So, let us look at a way to “begin the business plan.” For purposes of clarity and simplicity, concentrate on the following four major areas and the five questions assigned to each area:

I. The Business

• What specific product/service will I offer?

• What experience do I have in this field?

• What skills will I need that I do not have? Where/how will I get these skills?

• Specifically, who will perform what duties?

• Where will I locate my business? Why?

II. The Customers

• Who is my customer? (age, gender, income, occupation, location, etc.)

• Why will my customer buy my product/service?

• How often and in what quantity will my customer buy my product/service?

• How many potential customers are in my market area?

• How far is my customer willing to travel?

III. The Competition

• Who are my major competitors?

• What are their strengths? Weaknesses?

• Are the numbers of competitors growing?

• Have any gone out of business in the past two years? Why?

• Is demand expanding/shrinking? Why?

IV. The Financial Plan

• How will I fund my business? (Personal, loan, other.)

• What are my start up expenses?

• What are my projected sales for the first twelve months?

• What are my projected expenses for the first twelve months?

• What is my projected monthly profit?

 


Three great surprises when you sign up for our new newsletters!

By Chemeketa SBDC

We are customizing the information we send to you based on your business needs.

To get up-to-date tips and information about upcoming SBDC events, follow this 4-step process:

1. Click this link
2. Enter your email address and click continue
3. Enter your first name and choose the list that best suits your business needs
4. Click Sign up

Sign up before March 25th to be entered to win one of the following three prizes:

1. Lunch with our director, Marcia Bagnall
2. $25 Amazon gift card
3. Collection of three great business books

Each month you will receive tips on topics relevant to your business needs (marketing, human resources, accounting, customers, management/leadership, etc.).

 

 


Getting Your Business Ready for the Upcoming Holidays

By Chemeketa SBDC

For some businesses, particularly those in the retail sector, the holiday season can be an important period. By now, most businesses owners already have thought about the inventory side for the season. But here are a few added things that might need to be on your planning list.

• Make sure you know your target market. Has your customer base shifted over the years or does it shift a little during the holiday season? Do you need to adjust your marketing to include a slightly different type of consumer or focus?

• Get social. The holidays will be busy, so plan ahead on how to handle social media. Make sure to check online reviews so you can take action if it appears a problem is brewing. Do you need to add a festive picture or let people know you have this year’s “hot” item in stock? Do your product descriptions need a little fine-tuning? How are you going to communicate specials? How and when are you going to allocate the time to update Facebook or Twitter?

• Evaluate your staffing needs and have a staffing plan. Decide whether you will need some temporary help. Know how much a new hire really costs when you take into account hiring, training, employment taxes, etc. Is it better to pay some overtime? This also may be a busy time for your existing employees, and being forced to work a lot of overtime might lead to a disgruntled staff.

• Give great service. It is all about customer service at the holidays, and here is where a small business truly can excel. Go out of your way to provide a personal touch. If you are hiring extra help, look for friendly people who won’t get rattled by tired and stressed-out customers who may not be exhibiting the season’s joy.

• Get found. Check your website, Facebook page, Google Places, Yelp.com and other online places where your company information can be found. Does it still show the correct address, telephone number, store hours, etc.? If you have satisfied customers, you can subtly encourage them to do online reviews — but don’t be pushy.

• Get ready. Create a warm and welcoming atmosphere in your store that encourages customers to linger. Use creative window displays to lure people in, and music, scents and décor to keep them browsing inside. “Read” your customers — providing good customer service doesn’t mean being overly pushy or always looking over the customer’s shoulder. Some people find this annoying and will try to rush out rather than leisurely lingering and looking.

• Think safety and convenience. Try to keep sidewalks clear from ice and snow, both for your customers’ and your employees’ safety and convenience. Think ahead and plan on who will be responsible for snow removal.
With the shorter daylight hours, make sure outdoor lights are working.

• Get involved with Small Business Saturday. Started in 2010 and sponsored by American Express, this nationwide initiative is aimed at encouraging consumers to buy local and support small independent businesses.
Occurring on the Saturday after “Black Friday” (November 24th this year),
promote this event and concept at your business. Over one hundred million people were part of Small Business Saturday in 2011, and the initiative is supported by President Obama and SBA Administrator Karen Mills. Find out more about this event at www.smallbusinesssaturday.com or www.facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday

Marcia Bagnall is Director of the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center and instructor of Small Business Management Program . The Small-Business Adviser column is produced by the center and appears each
Sunday. Questions can be submitted to SBDC@chemeketa.edu. Visit the SBDC at 626 High Street NE in downtown Salem or call (503) 399-5088.


How to Audit Your Marketing Plan

By Chemeketa SBDC

It’s always a good idea to audit your marketing plan to see how its working, and update as needed. Here’s a systematic way to do that.

Start with ROI (return on investment). Are you getting the results you are looking for from your plan? Can you track the dollars coming in to specific marketing campaigns or pieces? Can you quantify results in some other way (“likes” on Facebook, referrals from existing customers, etc.)? Can you tie results to specific marketing efforts?

Next, take a look at all the marketing materials you use, brochures, website, ads, etc. Are they fresh? Are they working for you? Do they speak well for you? Does anything need to be reworked? Marketing is a continual process, and that includes bringing your materials up to date on a regular basis. What’s on the hit list?

How are your employees assisting in your marketing efforts? Do they clearly understand what you’re trying to achieve through marketing? Do they have the tools and knowledge to be able to assist with this? Do you need to invest in them in some way to make this happen? They can be wonderful marketing assistants, but you need to be intentional about getting that from concept to reality.

Are you making good use of your current customers to help spread the good word about your business? Are you keeping in touch with them on a regular basis? Are you asking them for referrals and incentivizing this process? Have you asked them lately for feedback about what you’re doing well and where your challenges are? Perhaps it’s time for a survey, or a simple request for their opinions.

What are you competitors doing these days? Watching them go about marketing can help you spot trends in your industry, provide ideas for your own campaigns, and give you leads to their customer bases. Where are your competitors getting their information, industry associations or trade groups? Industry publications? Are you following these things too? They can be a powerful source of inspiration.

Go back to your plan and start reworking it with the new information you’ve just gathered. Map out the activities you’re going to engage in, and set deadlines and goals. Watch what happens and measure results over the next three to six months. Then start this process all over again!

Marcia Bagnall is Director of the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center and instructor of Small Business Management Program. The Small-Business Adviser column is produced by the center and appears each Sunday. Questions can be submitted to SBDC@chemeketa.edu. Visit the SBDC at 626 High Street NE. in downtown Salem or call (503) 399-5088.


Learn to Ask Customers Better Questions for Testimonials

By Chemeketa SBDC

For small businesses, a well-written testimonial has one job: to build trust in the minds and hearts of your would-be customers. Potential customers are nervous. They’ve been burned before, perhaps, or are skeptical. When they can see that past customers have tried your product or service and left satisfied, it helps them feel confident that your offer is right for them.

A really great testimonial is worth its weight in gold, but most of us don’t have the first idea how to get one. It’s common to use spontaneous praise which falls flat because of its vagueness. Enthusiastic sentiments (You’re great! Your business is the best! We love you!) are not specific enough to reassure a fence-sitting customer. Many business owners are too busy or too self-conscious to ask for something better.

Don’t let excuses keep you from having this powerful trust-building, sales-generating tool. Think for a minute of the customers you’ve truly enjoyed and who were pleased and satisfied with their experience. Write down at least three names. Today, write them an email asking if they’ll send you their responses to the questions that follow.

1. What problems were you facing before you found Business Name?

2. What did you feel skeptical about before purchasing from us?

3. How has working with Business Name helped you? How much time, money, or sanity has it saved you?

4. What do you like about our business, our products and/or our services?

5. Have you been pleasantly surprised by any part of your experience? What have you found remarkable?

6. Where do you think you’d be today if you hadn’t found Business Name?

7. Anything else you’d like to share?

These seven questions give satisfied customers an easy way to share their experience. When a customer completes the questions, you’ll have a compelling statement of the doubts they had before deciding to purchase, a summary of the satisfying outcomes, and very specific examples of how your business exceeded their hopes.

When you receive a testimonial from one of the customers you chose, be sure to get it on your website as soon as possible. Consider giving these customers a thank-you gift for taking the time to write about their experiences. It’s just one more way to wow them.

As a business owner myself, I find that the more I ask for testimonials, the easier it gets. Your satisfied customers would like to see you stay in business, and this is one way they can help you. Go ahead. Close the paper and get writing.

Jennifer Hofmann is a business adviser at the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center and the owner of Inspired Home Office. The Small-Business Adviser is produced by the center. Questions can be submitted to SBDC@chemeketa.edu.


Carefully Consider Business Partnerships Before Tying the Knot

By Chemeketa SBDC

Let’s face it, you need every break you can get when starting or expanding a business. One oversight that gets businesses into trouble is not having written agreements with business partners. Written agreements are essential for creating general partnerships or multiple member limited liability companies and for relationships with financial investors. The lack of clearly written agreements can eventually lead to dysfunctional management and possibly early business closure. When it results in fighting partners or unhappy relatives you have a disaster.

The case for solid business agreements should seem pretty obvious. So why do people ignore the obvious and continue to ‘tie the knot’ with business partners without them?

One reason: business partners are frequently close friends or family members. Owners enter into oral or handshake agreements and think they both have the same understanding of what they just agreed to. Most likely their perceptions differ, and the realization of this only comes after work has been performed and problems arise. The belief that because they know each other makes written agreements unnecessary is frequently wrong.

Another reason: fear that suggesting written agreements in close relationships might be embarrassing or seem like a betrayal of trust. Good relationships stand the test of exploring agreements and disagreements, and putting them on paper. If it strains the relationship, they probably shouldn’t be in business together.

The process of having good business agreements starts by talking with each other. This helps identify how to do business together and what should be in the agreement. It helps identify areas of potential disagreement and avoids the need to solve these things later.

Some things that partners might include in a written agreement are:

•  How decisions are made. The daily operation of the business sometimes requires prompt decisive action.

•  How work is divided. When one partner thinks they are working harder than the other there will be conflict. Clear descriptions of the work each partner will be responsible for are needed.

•  How long the agreement lasts. Even if business owners remain on good terms, death, disability, divorce or other life changes are common. If there is no written agreement in place to protect the other owner, disasters can occur. Unintended consequences like children, heirs or former spouses having an involvement in the business can result.

•  How the finances are handled. Identify each partner’s investment, percentage of ownership and compensation. Also identify how banking and recordkeeping will be handled. Keep in mind that profits as well as losses will be shared.

•  How disagreements are resolved. It will be beneficial for your business agreement to identify a dispute resolution process. This might include mediation .

When problems arise the best thing is to do is keep talking. Most people are initially willing to extend some measure  grace. But that grace quickly ends when communication stops.

Forrest Peck is the MERIT Program Director at the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center. This column is produced by the center and appears each Sunday. Questions can be submitted to SBDC@chemeketa.edu. Visit the SBDC at 626 High St. NE  or call (503) 399-5088.


SBDC client in the news! A new twist on delivery

By Chemeketa SBDC

Casablanca Meal Delivery Services’ business is based on a simple model: provide fresh, healthy meals delivered to customers homes.

The Salem company takes a burden off clients, such as Joy Tuff and her husband, Richard. Shopping and cooking can be difficult for the Tuffs, who are in their 80s and require special diets for medical reasons.

“It’s really hard to cook the things that both of us can have,” Joy Tuff said.

The meal delivery service, which has been in business for a year, charges its clients monthly fees. For one senior, a subscription for Monday through Saturday dinners is about $240 a month.

For the Tuffs, the expense is worth it. They get appetizing meals, served on a white china plates, that follow doctor’s orders.

Casablanca Meal Delivery began out of necessity. Company founder Crystal Gonzalez, a mother of five, had lost her job, and the outlook was bleak. The family had little money and was living at a relative’s house.

“I knew that if there wasn’t a job out there I could get, I needed to create a job for myself,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez, 32, had never run a business before. She hadn’t done well in school and had overcome a drug addiction. But she was certain of a couple things: her insurance industry background taught her about customer service; and she knew how to cook.

First stop on Gonzalez’s path to becoming an entrepreneur was the MERIT program, part of the Chemeketa Center for Business and Industry in Salem. The program provides training to help turn ideas into new businesses.

After devising a business plan, Gonzalez obtained a small loan to launch Casablanca Meal Delivery.

It quickly became apparent that delivering hot meals wasn’t the way to go. From a practical and food-safety standpoint, it’s easier to deliver chilled, prepared foods that customers can re-heat at their convenience.

Entrees, such as apple-stuffed pork chops and Parmesan tilapia, are delivered to customers up to three times a week. Two meals, with side dishes, are delivered at a time. If customers are away from home, meals can be placed in a cooler outside.

“What I wanted was a service to make people feel as if the meals were prepared in their homes,” Gonzalez said.

Meals are made from fresh ingredients in the kitchen at the Broadway Cafe in Keizer, a space Gonzalez subleases. The company has retained a dietician to design its menu, although Gonzalez and a relative do the day-to-day work of running the company.

For now, the small company has focused on serving the Salem-Keizer area.

After one year in business, Casablanca  has more than 20 monthly subscribers. It’s too early to declare the company a financial success, but it has a built a loyal clientele among seniors.

“It just made it easier by not having to fret and worry about getting to a grocery store,” said Diane Colbath, a Keizer senior who signed up for the delivery services after her husband, Ben, was put on a low-sodium diet.

“This is what I wanted—good food, healthy food,” said Helga Hillig, an octogenerian who lives at the Salemtowne adult community in West Salem. She doesn’t drive and uses a walking cane.

The over-65 crowd, however, isn’t the company’s only customers.

Casablanca Meal Delivery offers postpartum and post-operative meal services. It also markets its services to busy families and singles.

In some respects, operating a food delivery service is even more problematic than running a standard restaurant. Delivery costs, such as labor and $4 a gallon gasoline, have to be taken into account.

“You have to do a lot of volume to make up for the expense of delivery,” said Bill Perry, a vice president with the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Offering prepared meals-to-go certainly isn’t a new idea. Grocery stores long ago picked on the idea that consumers wanted a “home-cooked” meal and expanded their deli sections. Delivering meals to customers who pay monthly subscription fees seems like a natural progression of that trend, Perry said.

Casablanca recently has found money in its shoestring budget to purchase newspaper and radio advertising. Word-of-mouth advertising might be its best marketing tool, as its senior customers tell their friends about the service.

“They want me to stick around,” Gonzalez said. When she visits customers in their homes, they rarely allow her to leave without a hug.

mrose@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6657 or follow on Twitter at mrose_SJ


Incubation helps business take flight

By Chemeketa SBDC

As local, state and national government agencies examine ways to create jobs and turn around the struggling economy, business incubation programs are featuring prominently in the debate — as well they should. For 50 years, incubators like Chemeketa’s EDGE Business Incubator have been helping entrepreneurs turn their ideas into viable businesses, promoting innovation and creating jobs by providing emerging companies with business support services and resources tailored to young firms to increase their chances of success.

As any entrepreneur can attest, starting a new business isn’t an easy task. Most business owners know every detail of their product or service, but many lack all of the skills they need to turn their ideas into successful firms. Business incubation programs are uniquely positioned to help entrepreneurs’ access resources through the incubator, business community, local colleges other business assistance programs to help them develop the skills they need to grow successful firms.

Around the world, entrepreneurs are playing an increasingly important role in transforming economies. Rather than relying solely on efforts to attract existing businesses from other locations, many communities like Salem are recognizing the need to help local residents build new businesses from the ground up through business incubators.

By focusing on developing a new generation of entrepreneurs, most of whom have ties to the local area, communities are helping to build companies that will create jobs and spark economic growth in the region for years to come. And because these programs provide targeted business assistance to young firms at their earliest stages of development, when they’re most vulnerable, business incubators help support new ventures that have a greater-than-average chance of success.

A 2008 study conducted by consulting firm Grant Thornton for the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration found that business incubators produce new jobs at a low cost to the government. The report, “Construction Grants Program Impact Assessment Report,” found that for every $10,000 in EDA funds invested in business incubation programs, an estimated 47 to 69 local jobs are generated. As a result, business incubators create jobs at far less cost than do other EDA investments, such as roads and bridges, industrial parks, commercial buildings, and sewer and water projects. In fact, the study found that incubators provide up to 20 times more jobs than community infrastructure projects at a federal cost per job of between $126 and $144, compared with between $744 and $6,972 for other infrastructure projects.

Although business incubation is still a relatively new industry, programs around the world have racked up impressive results that demonstrate the important role incubators play in stimulating economic growth and creating jobs. For example, the National Business Incubation Association estimates that in 2005 alone, North American incubators assisted more than 27,000 start-up companies that provided full-time employment for more than 100,000 workers and generated annual revenue of more than $17 billion.

The nation’s existing network of business incubation programs and the many new incubators under development can assist entrepreneurs in growing new businesses that can help put many people back to work.

For more information about Chemeketa’s EDGE Business Incubator visit our website www.edge.chemeketa.edu or call (503) 399-5088.

Scott Sadler is a business adviser at the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center and owner of Sadler Business Coaching. He can be reached at sbdc@chemeketa.edu.


Forecasting Sales Benefits Your Business

By Chemeketa SBDC

Even if you are an existing business, you should be forecasting — projecting your sales. You may use actual numbers if you have historical financial records. But what do you do if you have nothing to refer back to? You will need to determine how many potential customers are there, how many of these potential customers are likely to buy from you, decide the average sale per customer and then project this out for the year. Try this:

First: Determine the total number of potential customers living in your territory. (Don’t forget — the more clearly you can define your customer, the more realistic your research.) If you sell to the public, you need to find the information from the new U.S. Census data for your market area.  You can find this information at www.census.gov or at the library.

If you sell to other businesses, there are many potential sources of information; one of the best is a trade association that represents your industry. You also can find this information through a web search or at the public library. After you have determined the total number of potential customers living within your geographical area, you have the base to begin narrowing down your target market.

Second: Determine the number that likely will buy from you. You need to be realistic. Consider your competition (in number and quality), consider that some of the people will not buy from you or your competition, and consider people will find substitutes for your product.  What percentage of the total available population will you be able to attract?

Third: Determine your average customer sales per year. How many purchases will your average customer make in a year? How much will they spend on each purchase? Is this a repeat business or once and only once. Does the average customer buy the same product/service or will they need other complimentary services? Trade associations are good sources of information to help answer these questions.

Fourth: Determine your annual sales volume. You have determined the number of customers and determined the average amount each customer will spend per year.  Multiply these two numbers together to calculate your expected annual sales volume.

Finally: Evaluate the annual sales volume figure. Does the number you calculated make sense? If not, go back and work the numbers again. What assumptions have you made about your customers? How accurate or risky are these assumptions. You can guess, and this is not a bad place to start. But — then — you need to back up your assumptions with actual figures to gain the greatest degree of reality for your projections.

Marcia Bagnall is director of the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center and instructor of Small Business Management Program . The Small-Business Adviser column is produced by the center and appears each Sunday. Questions can be submitted to SBDC@chemeketa.edu. Visit the SBDC at 626 High St. NE. in downtown Salem or call (503) 399-5088.


Buying Locally Boosts Community

By Chemeketa SBDC

Are you still shopping for the holidays? What a ridiculous question! Of course you are! And no doubt you have heard the “buy-local” messages that have been so prevalent this year. So, as if you needed them, here are a few reasons to do your shopping with local merchants. Make everyone’s holiday season a little brighter, right here at home!

-Practicality and convenience. First, you usually can see the item before you buy it to make sure it’s perfect. And then consider that your time and car expense can be saved by shopping locally. If you need to return it, you can avoid the hassle of packaging and shipping it to get it back to the store. You save time by not having to drive long distances to exchange or facilitate the return. Need to make a special request? In a small business, the decisions are made locally; no waiting for “management” in some other location to decide if your concern warrants attention.

-Environmental reasons. Not driving all over the place saves fuel and cuts down on air pollution. You also eliminate the wasteful packaging (Styrofoam peanuts, plastic wrap, etc.) that comes with items you order online and have sent to you.

-Community support. I have to admit, this is my favorite reason. It has been reported that a locally owned business returns approximately 80 percent of each dollar spent back to the community, and your dollars spent in locally owned businesses have three times the effect on our community as dollars spent at national chains. Your dollars are kept in your community. This creates more commerce and more jobs here. Likewise, local stores pay taxes and in doing so help support a stronger infrastructure in the area. Many local merchants support your fundraisers and community events, but they need your consumer support in order to continue to do so. Remember that you shouldn’t complain about the schools, the roads, and local services if you don’t support your local businesses.