Business Tip Tuesday – Get to Know Your Customers

Getting to Know Your Customers

One of the best ways to know if your business is going to be successful or not is to find out who your customers are and what they like. Without knowledge of your potential or current customers, it is very difficult to provide a good product or service. Without even knowing it, you may have already conducted market research. By asking or listening to people talk about what type of product or service they are looking for, you have an idea what people want. Market research is a good way to gather information that can be used to define opportunities and problems for your business.

When you begin to perform your market research, you want to first define the problem. You want to decide what you are trying to get information about. What flavor ice cream do your customers prefer? What trends of jewelry are your customers looking for? Some research can be done to find out what is going on in your industry and some research can be conducted to determine customer satisfaction or level of happiness with a certain product or service. After you determine what the problem is, you have to define your research plan or your ways of collecting the data and information. You can use information that already exists through other research or you can collect the information on your own. If you want to collect the information on your own, you can use a number of different methods: focus groups, interviews, surveys, questionnaires or observations. Once you have collected all of the data and information, it is time to analyze it and decide what, if any, changes need to be made in your business to better accommodate new or current customers.

Another way you can find out more information about your potential customers is to study your competition. Take a look at the products or service they are offering, their pricing, and marketing techniques. You may even want to go to their location and buy their product or use their service to have firsthand knowledge of what they are offering.

To collect the best information about your customers, you may need some help. There are many organizations that collect data that you can turn to for assistance: the census bureau, your local chamber of commerce, your local library, trade and professional organizations and (of course!) your local SBDC.

No business can be successful without customers. So getting to know who your customers are and what they like is one of the most crucial aspects to any business. Even the most simplistic research can be helpful for a business owner. Don’t be afraid to ask your customers what they like or don’t like. The more feedback you can get the better you can meet the needs of your customers.

Leigh Magnotta
Business Consultant
The University of Scranton SBDC

Artwork adapted from freepik.com

#smallbiz #opportunity  #nepa #Research #Marketresearch #scranton #sbdc #smallbiz #entrepreneur #asbdc #business #boss #impact #goals #businessplanning #management #targetaudience

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Customer Relationship Management (CRM) For Small Businesses

The customer they say is king. They are the reason for your existence as a business. But it is one thing attracting the right customers and it is another thing keeping or holding onto them. Therefore, coming up with the right strategy or approach to manage your customers is key to your business.

This fact clearly highlights the importance of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to all businesses. Customer Relationship Management may be defined as a marketing strategy that involves maximizing shareholder value through winning, growing and keeping the right customers. Big businesses have marketing departments that invest heavily into this strategy. However small businesses most likely don’t have a dedicated marketing department. This does not restrict the execution of this strategy to big businesses alone. It is open to all because the central idea is “The Golden Rule”. Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Treat the customer the way you would want to be treat if you were in their shoes.

Some affordable software packages that small business can use for their CRM include;

  • Insightly
  • vTiger
  • Really Simple Systems
  • FreeCRM
  • ZohoCRM
  • Raynet

They have free versions that have limited functionalities. The prices for their basic sign on versions range from $12 – $40 per user per month. Other package options are available.

CRM caters for both new and existing customers. They are both very important. However CRM prioritizes existing customers because;

  • It is more costly to attract new customers than it is to retain old customers.
  • Existing customers usually spend more money or patronize your services more than the new customers.
  • Happy customers recommend your business to others. They market for you.

Two things you can do to build a good CRM are;

  • Have a good knowledge of your customers’ behavior – Have some knowledge about what their needs are and how you are or can satisfy that need. Have some idea about their perception(s) of your products and services.
  • Build an outstanding transactional relationship with your customers – Make their business experience with you very pleasurable and memorable. This is where small businesses can excel over bigger ones.

Reference: Longenecker, Justin G., Moore Carlos W., et al. Small Business Management: An Entrepreneurial Emphasis. Thomson South-Western, 2006. Print.

By: Ekow A. Aikins, University of Scranton MBA student and WEC intern

Artwork adapted from freepik.com

#smallbiz #opportunity  #nepa #CRM #customerrelationshipmanagement #scranton #sbdc #smallbiz #entrepreneur #asbdc #business #boss #impact #goals #businessplanning #management #population #demographics #targetaudience #customerservice

 

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#BusinessTipTuesday – Celebrating #WorldPopulationDay

What better way to celebrate World Population Day than to get to know the population your business serves? Demographics are the statistical characteristics of human populations (such as age or income) used especially to identify markets. Knowing who your target market is and where to find it is important on the road to success for your business. If a town is mostly made up of people over the age of 55, would you want to open your apparel store aimed at 20-somethings in that area? Would a luxury boutique do well in an area with an average household income of $40,000? When you are aware of demographics you can either cater your business to fit the needs of the population in which your business is located, or, if you are not yet in business, you can decide on a different location that better fits your business’s needs.

When you are aware of demographics you will be able to market your business more efficiently. For example, an older crowd is more likely to see an advertisement if it is posted in a newspaper, whereas a younger crowd is more present on social media platforms. Knowing your target market and knowing their habits will make for a much more effective marketing plan.

Here are some resources The University of Scranton SBDC uses to help you navigate demographics.

  1. Alteryx- A tool used when looking at demographics of a specific area. Shows breakdown of age, gender, income, household size, education, and more. Charts, tables and maps provide an easy to use format.
  2. Culturegrams- One of the most trusted and widely used cultural reference and curriculum products in the education, government, and non-profit arenas. Used when looking for international information. If you are considering exporting, this resources can help learn more about the culture and how business transpires in a particular country.
  3. First Research- Extensive industry research written from an objective business perspective. Each report consists of key statistics and analysis on market and competitive landscape characteristics, operating conditions, business challenges, industry trends, current and historical industry growth, and more, updated monthly. This source is extremely useful when preparing a business plan and/or financial projections.
  4. Hoovers- The most powerful business research database & sales acceleration platform. Find sales leads & industry insights. The SBDC has used Hoovers to create a data base of potential customers as well as to find a list of potential suppliers for a variety of industries. Contact information, names, positions and more can be accessed easily using Hoovers.

In addition to these resources, The University of Scranton’s library has an extensive collection of databases. Working with The University of Scranton’s Small Business Development Center allows you access to all of these resources and more. Visit www.scrantonsbdc.com to learn more about how the SBDC can help your business Start, Grow and Prosper.

Amy Simpson, B.S. Business Administration 2018
Intern

Artwork adapted from freepik.com

#smallbiz #opportunity  #nepa #July11 #scranton #sbdc #smallbiz #entrepreneur #asbdc #business #boss #impact #goals #businessplanning #management #population #demographics #targetaudience

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A Hail to #Freedom! #Independence! #SmallBusiness!

With #July4th upon us, The SBDC celebrates both the independence of our nation, and the #independence that exists in our small businesses. Anyone who knows a small business owner knows they are often incredibly independent. Is it nature or nurture? Is the yearn for freedom to work on his/her own the same yearn which inspired our leaders to create our nation? We say, yes!

To say entrepreneurs are typically empowered by freedom and independence is mild. Generally, they’re completely energized by it to a level that can be overpowering! It’s why people ‘get into business’, right? The freedom to not have a boss over your shoulder! The freedom to make your own decisions! The freedom to create your own destiny! As consultants, we sometimes have to wrangle this exuberance with helping them with the most crucial points of business – operations, budgets, and workforce. We often talk with our business owners about how they can shape their strong independent streak into business success, and how they can use it to positively influence others. Here are some suggestions of how you can use your #independence to make a difference in your business and your community…

  1. Create. Being self-aware and flexible to your own independent nature can help you create a culture within your business where independent ideas are appreciated. A meeting structure where open comments are welcomed and not scoffed at, a leadership expectation of acceptance that all staff understand and follow, and regular positive affirmations by you to your workforce can catapult productivity – and will ultimately grow your business!
  2. Mentor. Taking time to mentor a newer employee or even another newer leader in the community can be your form of community give-back, even if you aren’t in the same business or trade. A cup of coffee and great discussion about how to make good decisions in business or funnel a strong personality into a team environment or project may be just what this person needs – and you probably have more perspective than you know. Don’t forget your industry association or local membership-driven groups are also a good outlet. End bonus – you’ll feel rewarded, too!
  3. Maintain. You can’t forget that creating and mentoring often take a ton of brain power, energy, and even emotion – which we often see in exhausted clients. They’ve worked so hard in and on their business and community efforts that they’ve drained themselves. If you’re daydreaming of working for someone else while sitting at your desk, recognize that all of us who are wired-for-independence need maintenance (i.e. dependence) from time to time – allow and ask for some help to get something done or to take a few hours off. Begin a new project or hobby?! Spend time with people who re-energize you. You’ll be back in action in no time!

Enjoy your #IndependenceDay!

Gretchen Kukuchka
Business Consultant
The University of Scranton SBDC

 

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June 29th is #CameraDay – #BusinessTipTuesday

They say “a picture tells a thousand words”, and never is that more true then when putting photos of your products on your company website. Many times we see start-up, entrepreneurs trying to save some money by creating their own website. While it’s penny wise it is sometimes dollar foolish.

The real question is what is the vision of your business do you hope to portray with your business website? Is it that of an amateur, or do you want a professional looking site?

One of the most important things you can do to look professional is make sure you have professional looking photos on your website.

So today, our latest #BusinessTipTuesday for June 29th or #CameraDay we will give you some pointers in how to take professional looking pictures. Of course our first recommendation would be to hire a professional or look into purchasing stock photographs.

However, if you are going to take your own photos here are some tips:

  • Use a solid white or lite grey background. Avoid background images that distract from your product.
  • Use good natural light to avoid shadows. Nothing says amateur photographer like having shadows hovering over your product.
  • Always use a tripod to avoid taking blurry photos. Stabilty is key, so using a tripod gives your camera a steady start and helps avoid an itchy trigger finger when taking your photos.

Best of luck, and remember, feel free to contact The University of Scranton SBDC for all of your business consulting needs.

Keith D. Yurgosky
Business Consultant
The University of Scranton
Small Business Development Center

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#BusinessTipTuesday – Digital Marketing Tips

6 Affordable Marketing Hacks

Starting or growing a small business can be daunting. Often times business owners do not have the time, money, or capabilities to produce professional marketing materials. However, creating and marketing a unique brand identity is essential to the success of any small business. Thankfully there’s an app (or website) for that! From do it yourself templates to hiring virtual freelance help, you have dozens of options that range in both price and services. These are some our favorites:

  1. 99 Designs.com
    This site allows the user to create a ‘design brief’ that tells the potential designers about your business and what you need designed. You then pick a design package ranging from $299 to $1,299. The larger the package, the more designer entries you will have to choose from. After that, you launch your design contest. Designers from all around the country will enter designs for you to choose from. After seven days, you choose the best design. Your designer gets the prize money and you get full design copyright to use for your business.
  2. Typorama
    This iPhone app allows users to create visuals by automatically transforming your text and photos into beautiful typographic designs. Just choose a background, type in your words and your creative typography is ready. The app is free to download with in-app purchases.
  3. Fiverr.com
    This site offers a variety of freelance marketing services including graphic design, digital marketing, copywriting, video production and web design. You set price you want to spend and when you need the work completed. You are able to read reviews and ask questions directly to the designers. This site was specifically designed for the small business owner in mind. You can create logos for as little as $5.
  4. Canva.com
    Their business motto says it all: Canva makes design simple for everyone. This site helps create designs for web or print. They offer templates for all social media platforms as well as posters, billboards and infographics. Many of the graphics and designs are free with the ability to purchase designs for a few dollars. This sites allows you to create professional posts and marketing materials for very cheap.
  5. PicMonkey.com
    This site offers photo editing, collage making and graphic design services. This service is free but they also offer a monthly subscription service with prices ranging from $3.99 per month for the premium service to $8.33 per month for the Supremium service. 
  6. Animoto.com
    This fun and cost-effective video making site allows users to create professional videos on a computer or mobile device. There is a tab specifically for business owners to help turn photos and video clips into shareworthy marketing videos and slideshow videos, designed to stand out on social media. This subscription service ranges from $8 for the personal service to $34 for business services.

Whether you are looking for a website designer, a graphic designer, or just some help with a do it yourself campaign, these tools will guide you along the way!

Leigh Magnotta
Business Consultant
The University of Scranton Small Business Development Center

Artwork adapted from vecteezy.com

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#BusinessTipTuesday – Managing #Summer Vacation Schedules

When the winter or summer holidays arrive, staff members are thinking about one thing and one thing only: taking a long, well-deserved break. With summer upon us, the nightmare of planning and managing vacation time is right on the horizon. With a majority of the SBDC staff out of town this past week for a conference, we can’t help but wonder, how do businesses handle employee vacation time? Here are a few tips to help manage this hectic time of year.

Plan Ahead: Ask employees to try to provide as much notice as possible so you can prepare for their absence. Planning for vacations in advance gives you plenty of time to review everyone’s requests and, if necessary, allows employees who have requested conflicting weeks to find alternate dates. Encourage employees to list second and third choices for days off because rejecting a vacation request outright due to overlaps is bad for morale.

Cover the Workload: Before staff members take time off, ask them to address critical duties before they leave or line up some of their colleagues to cover the workload. Be sure they inform their backups of deadlines, client contact information, location of relevant files and other important details.

Temporary Employees: Temporary employees come in handy when you are facing heavy seasonal workloads, so why not use them to cover vacations as well? If you know a large chunk of your staff will be planning vacations during this time of year, it is a good idea to keep a pool of part-timers that you can tap into whenever you know you will need extra help.

Don’t let vacation requests catch you off guard. To ensure that all your bases are covered and you remain sufficiently staffed, plan ahead for your staff’s summer breaks.

Amy Simpson, B.S. Business Administration 2018
Intern
University of Scranton Small Business Development Center

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#Business Tip Tuesday – Summer State of Mind

A little late #Business Tip Tuesday… Summer State of Mind

Welcome #summer! While everyone looks forward to carving out some much-deserved break time, summer is also a great time to ponder some #planning coming into the Fall. Some deep thought to your #smallbusiness now to regain your momentum later will be something you thank yourself for! This week, here are my…

Top 5 Summer ‘Thinkables’ for Small Business Owners

  1. #Budgets – With about a ½ year to go in the calendar, now is a great time to take your financial reports to the porch. Consider how well you’re doing at managing your money. Look for big changes in line items, scribble a short list of questions to answer, and set 3 improvement goals for greater net income or better money management. All can be done by the time you finish your ice tea!
  2. #Inventory – Take stock in your stock! If it hasn’t sold by now, figure out why. Pull a list of your purchases since January. Look at individual sales to assess what’s sold. Make a list of your top 5 selling services/products. Is it different than last year? Grab a napkin and pen 3 sales practices you can make a fast change to to try to move underperforming services/products.
  3. #Roadblocks – Everyone has them – Seek clarity in that beach chair by answering “What are 3 roadblocks to success my business encounters on a regular basis?” Maybe your once-great location is now challenged by a change in traffic patterns. Perhaps your big vendor isn’t shipping fast, and it’s holding up your ability to serve your market. Jot 3 roadblocks down and add a “opportunities” column – defining these is half the battle to solving them!
  4. #Growth Opportunities – Part of being a #smallbusinessowner is to be progressive. What are the opportunities or solutions within the roadblocks you just considered? Grab a tablet and check out a new podcast, industry association, or technology related to your service or product. Ask your #SBDC consultant to look at some demographics or buying trends with you. What could you do if you increased your employee base or floor space?
  5. #Culture – Lastly, consider what your day-to-day is really like when you’re not in the throes of it. I like to think of culture as the goods of the business, your employees, and your happiness. It’s what keeps your business running through #1, 2, 3 & 4. What kind of new inspiration can you infuse into yourself, the business and your staff this second half of the year? Sometimes, simply bringing your employees together for a regular Friday lunch picnic can give you some insight. Plan some open-ended time to communicate. Be encouraged by feedback.

Here’s to you and your #smallbusiness being refreshed by the sunshine and results!

Gretchen Kukuchka
Business Consultant
The University of Scranton
Small Business Development Center
www.scrantonsbdc.com
(570) 941-4151

Artwork adapted from freepik.com

 

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#BusinessTipTuesday – #RockyRoadDay June 2

For this week’s #BusinessTipTuesday we look at #RockyRoadDay celebrated on June 2.  As you know, Memorial Day always serves as the unofficial First Day of Summer and when we think about summer, one of the firs things that comes to mind is ice cream ! At the SBDC we have helped many entrepreneurs start their ice cream shops and we have learned a few lessons along the way.

  1. Write a business plan – As with any new business our SBDC business consultants always advise our entrepreneurs to write a business plan to guide them in understand all the steps involved in running a business.
  2. Seasonality – The ice cream business isn’t as simple as it seems. As with any seasonal business , a business owner needs to understand how income and expenses will fluctuate based on the season.
  3. Licenses & Permits – Anyone thinking about selling ice cream should become familiar with the licensing and permit requirements involves in the handling of food related products,  particularly the Frozen Dessert License.
  4. Pricing – Once of the most difficult lessons for a business owner to grasp is how to price their product.  Just because “this is what everyone else charges” doesn’t necessarily mean that price will work for your business.  There are many different items to consider when setting a price for your product.
  5. Staffing – Time and again we here from our SBDC clients that finding good employees is always their biggest challenge. Finding and retaining good employees is essential to any successful business.

For help with these items as well as a number of any other items that pop up when you run your own business, contact The University of Scranton Small Business Development Center.

Keith D. Yurgosky
Business Consultant
The University of Scranton
Small Business Development Center
www.scrantonsbdc.com (570) 941-4150

Artwork adapted from freepik.com

 

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#BusinessTipTuesday – #BrothersDay, May 24th

The bond between brothers is like no other. Throughout history many great stories and tales have started with a brothers bond; Cain and Abel, Remus and Romulus, Zeus and Hades, etc. Similarly, many great businesses have also started with a brothers bond, think Walt and Roy Disney. However, not all brothers are meant to start a business together. Famously, Adolf and Rudolph Dassler started Adidas together, but ultimately decided they could not work together and Rudolph went on to establish Puma, creating a fierce rivalry.  This is why before getting into business with a partner it is essential to write a partnership or operation agreement. If you are getting into business with a brother, sister, friend, or acquaintance, it is crucial to protect each owner in the case that the business or business relationship does not work out.

A partnership or operating agreement is a legal document that defines each person’s or partner’s roles and responsibilities in the business. It also details the day-to-day operations of the business and what happens in the event that someone dies or the company dissolves. It’s one of the most important things you can do before you start investing time and money into a business. Although partnership or operating agreement are not legally required, we strongly recommend completing one to prevent conflicts within the business.

Here are a few things to consider when crafting a partnership or operating agreement:

  • Responsibilities. Decide who is going to be responsible for which parts of the business.  You should list out any areas that need to be covered and decide who is going to be generally responsible for those areas.
  • Workload. How will the workload be shared? Are partners expected to work set hours? Does one partner plan on working more or less than the other partners? How much vacation is allowed?
  • Contributions. Determine what each partner is bringing to the business in terms of money invested into the business, equipment and intellectual property. Who owns the equipment if the business dissolves? How do you split the businesses assets if the business dissolves?
  • Ownership Split. Once you determine what each owner is bringing to the business, you must decide how the ownership will be split. 50/50. 60/40. 75/25. Is one partner bringing more assets/equipment/intellectual property into the business that warrants a higher ownership percentage?
  • Disputes. Disputes are inevitable in any partnership. The key is to have a mechanism in place to resolve these disputes as quickly and painlessly as possible. If the business is split 50/50, how will you resolve disputes? Does one owner have the ability to break a tie vote? If not 50/50 split, will the owner with a higher percentage have the final say in disputes? Will you use a third party mediator to resolve disputes?
  • Compensation. Do you plan to invest profits back into the business? Will you split profits and losses according to the ownership percentage?
  • Partner Death/inability to work. If one partner dies or becomes unable to work, does that person’s ownership pass to a family member? Does the other partner have to ‘buy-out’ the other partners shares in the business?
  • Partner Exit. What happens if one partner wants to leave? What happens if one partner wants to force the other partner out of the business? You should have something in place in either case.
  • New Partners. What is the process for bringing on a new partner? Do all other partners or owners need to agree?
  • Selling the business. Much like bringing on new partners, what is the process for selling the business? Do all partners need to be in agreement? What is one partner wants to sell and one does not? How do you break the tie? This goes back to dispute resolution.

Creating a partnership or operating agreement is essential to running a business with multiple owners. Every partnership or operation agreement will be different much like every business and every relationship is different. What works for one business or relationship may not work for all. Communication is key for not only crafting the partnership agreement but also running a successful business. This may not be the most fun or enjoyable part of starting a business, but it will save everyone involved from headaches down the road.

Leigh Magnotta
Business Consultant
The University of Scranton SBDC
800 Linden Street
Scranton, PA  18510
570-941-7588

Artwork adapted from freepik.com

#BrothersDay #partners#organized #smallbiz #opportunity  #nepa #May24 #scranton #sbdc #smallbiz
#volunteer #entrepreneur #organize #asbdc #business #boss #impact #goals #businessplanning #management #disputes

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