Get the latest on COVID-19 guidelines and resources to aid in business recovery here.
Hatching a great idea for starting a business? Here are 10 questions you need to sit on first.
Thinking of starting or need to grow your business? Here are seven reasons why working with the Valley SBDC is a smart idea.
Running on empty and feeling like you could use some fresh ideas to revitalize your business in 2021? Adding a couple inspirational and informative business podcasts to your personal routine may be the ticket to renewed enthusiasm. We have cross-referenced five “Best Of” lists to reveal 10 popular podcasts that consistently make the cut. […]
Business advisor Don Crawford talks about taking an inventory of your business sales tools to create a proven and repeatable selling process.
There is no shortage of advice on how to fit social media marketing into the busy schedule of a small business owner. Often it is difficult to carve out time to post, much less keep up with trends and skills needed to be effective. The good news is that successful social media automation just takes a little planning and a commitment to keeping it on your to-do list in order to keep your social media channels working for you.
START BY REMINDING YOURSELF OF THESE IMPORTANT PARAMETERS
What you are trying to accomplish? A clear objective will help crafting your content go a lot faster. Some common social media objectives are:
- Brand building to increase name recognition and associate it with your product.
- Attracting new customers by driving people to social sites or website.
- Educating about a product, service or industry.
- Supporting sales by answering customer questions and showing them how to use your products or services.
- Leveraging customer loyalty by giving them a place to talk about their experiences and encourage others to purchase from you.
Who you are talking to? Knowing who you are talking to on social media can help you avoid wasting time on content they don’t care about.
- What’s their point of view? What do they care about, what do they do? What problem can your product or service solve for them?
- Consider influencers, buyers and end users. Who is making recommendations and sharing content with your current or potential customers?
- Know where your audience engages on social media. Compare social site demographics with target market demographics to determine the best channels to reach your target market.
CREATE CONTENT “POCKETS”
Develop categories of hot topics, frequently asked questions, & key messaging you want to convey. What kinds of things do your customers want to know about you, your staff, your products, services, and related subjects? Make a list. These will act as prompts for content creation.
Use and reuse what you have. Develop an eye for aspects of your daily routine that could be converted to social media posts. You don’t need to post them immediately, just create a way to save the ideas for later.
Use Facebook Business Page News Feed, hashtags, curation sites, and Google Alerts to collect content. Using the categories you’ve created, spend a little time researching applicable social accounts and hashtags to follow that will yield good shareable content.
- Like possible content pages as your Business Page INSTRUCTIONS
- View your business page news feed by adding “/news_feed” to the end of your Business page URL. EXAMPLE: https://www.facebook.com/ValleySBDC/news_feed
- Follow hashtags on Twitter and Instagram for ideas.
- Find a content curation site you like. Here’s a list of some of the best, many are free.
- Set up Google Alerts for key topics.
- Smartphone apps and browser buttons let you save or post content on the go rather than searching for it later.
PUT IT ALL TOGETHER.
Include social media content creation and scheduling on your work calendar like other tasks, using shortcuts wherever possible.
- Don’t post separately in multiple places. Choose a content scheduler that suits your needs (free or paid). This article showcases 15 of the best.
- Review your content categories and items you’ve saved, then organize them for posting. Write lead-ins that apply to your business for each item you want to use, paying attention to character requirements and image sizing.
- Write any “sales” related content that needs to be included like new products, special deals, or upcoming events.
- Make use of services like canva.com to make sizing and graphics for different types of posts easier.
- Organize and enter content into the scheduler. This becomes your content calendar and dashboard for monitoring all things related to social media.
Measure success regularly. View your social channel analytics periodically to see what posts are working best and adjust your content accordingly.
Need a little more help in developing your own social media routine? Watch the Valley SBDC Events & Workshops page for upcoming trainings you can use.
Whether you’re a seasoned small business owner looking to increase sales by adding an online store or a newbie just starting your business, having an ecommerce option for customers is more important than ever. Even though building a web store for customers is a no-brainer, sorting out the options is more like a brain cramp! Because getting an online store up and running can be such a big commitment of time and money, and choosing a platform prematurely can be a difficult hurdle to overcome later, it’s especially important to understand the terminology, differences between platforms, and perhaps most importantly, your operational capacities for adding ecommerce.
FIRST THINGS FIRST – Know the Terms
What’s the difference between an ecommerce platform and an online marketplace? An online marketplace has multiple sellers like eBay, Amazon, Walmart, and Etsy. An ecommerce platform is software that allows one seller to create and operate their own online store.
Do I need one or the other to sell online? The short answer is yes. The only other options to using a marketplace or ecommerce software are to build from scratch (expensive) or use a plug-in to your website (severe limitations).
Which is best for my business? This is where understanding your business capabilities comes in. In brief, online marketplaces generally have more traffic, provide some marketing and customer service support, and offer simplified store creation. They do not assist with inventory management, charge a commission, and inherently create more competition among sellers. On ecommerce platforms, there is inventory support, but the seller is responsible for a more complex store set-up, attracting traffic, generating leads/sales, and customer service support. Fees only apply to hosting/maintain the site or special added features.
CONSIDERATIONS – What does your business need?
Revisit what you sell, how you source it, and who your audience is. If you have been or will be operating a brick and mortar retail store, look again at your products, supply chain, and customer profiles.
- Which of your products lend themselves well to online sales? Is your unique selling proposition the same instore/online? How do you know that?
- Do you have enough profit margin in those products to add the expense of set-up, listing, managing, packing, shipping, and providing customer service required for online selling?
- Who are your potential online customers, where do they shop, and what are their expectations?
- Is your brick and mortar store name right for your online store? If it does not make what you are selling online immediately apparent, you may want to explore an alternative domain name for your ecommerce store.
Take a hard look at your technical capabilities, staffing, equipment, and space.
- Is the technical side of listing and promoting products online a challenge for you?
- How strong is your existing marketing plan? Do you have a robust social media presence and decent website traffic? Do you have ideas for generating online traffic and sales?
- Do you have or can you hire the staff or help you needed to manage the tasks of online selling?
- Do you have the right equipment/systems for great photographs, inventory management, and easy packing/shipping?
- Where will you do these extra tasks?
Make a budget for costs associated with adding ecommerce.
- Figure the costs of changes required to add online shopping to your existing operation.
- Based on your reexamination, decide what your goals and expectations for your e-commerce effort should be.
WHEN TO CHOOSE A MARKETPLACE OPTION
- You don’t have many different items to sell online and can manage inventory on your own.
- You are limited in time, expertise, or the ability to hire help, but want to make some products immediately available online.
- You don’t want to invest in ramping up your online marketing effort right away.
- You’re willing and have enough profit margin to pay a commission.
- You understand and have a plan for maximizing your use of the marketplace platform.
Top Marketplace Sites
We looked at current comparisons/ratings of the top marketplace selling platforms, and the following were consistently ranked tops for fast-startup, established programs, and large customer bases.
Check the detailed reviews of marketplace sites below for more information.
- You have a lot of different items to sell online and would benefit from inventory assistance.
- You have a strong marketing plan and web presence that will transition well online.
- You can create or can hire someone to create an online store that fits your brand.
- Your business has the capacity, space, and time to integrate online selling into your operations.
Choosing an Ecommerce Platform
If you’ve decided ecommerce is for you, it’s time to choose a platform for putting it all together. Fortunately, there are some great ways to break into ecommerce that will get you up and running in no time. When looking at the various options, be sure to think about the following (besides cost):
- Is it easy to use and have adequate support features?
- Are there design options to complement your brand?
- Does it have the integrations you want such as payment options, social selling capabilities, or apps?
- Is it scalable? How many products can be listed?
- Are there Search Engine Optimization and customizable URL features?
We looked at four different comprehensive independent reviews of multiple ecommerce platforms and “compared the comparisons.” Given that this decision is always something very personal to your business, it would be worth digging through the articles provided below to learn more for yourself.
If that’s more than you want to tackle and want to just investigate the top performers of 2020, the consensus of the experts seems to be that these four platforms (in no particular order) offer the absolute best tools for launching an online store.
Have questions? Schedule a session with one of our business advisors to discuss what’s right for your business.
Looking to take your ecommerce global? Take this webinar. Learn how to make your ecommerce strategy a gateway to global markets. Discover simple and incremental ways you can start selling online and go global by attending The Fundamentals of International eCommerce webinar on March 11 at 2PM. Register HERE. Ready to get started? Apply […]
Do a web search of inspiration when starting a business, and you’ll realize there’s no lack of advice for entrepreneurs or strange metaphors for what starting a business is like. Yet sometimes nothing helps a small business owner navigating tough times better than knowing others have struggled through it too. Here are just a few thoughts we’ve collected to inspire and motivate when those inevitable challenges roll in!
Overcoming Fear and Uncertainty
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill
“Fear is the disease. Hustle is the antidote.” – Travis Kalanick
“As ever, the accountant in me saw the risk, the entrepreneur saw the possibility. So, I split the difference and kept moving forward.” — Phil Knight, chairman emeritus of Nike
“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” – Zig Ziglar
When You Just Need an Attitude Check
“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” – Henry Ford
“Ignore the hype of the startups that you see in the press. Mostly, it’s a pack of lies. Half of these startups will be dead in a year. So, focus on building your business so you can be the one left standing.” – Jules Pieri, Co-founder and CEO of The Grommet
“Passion, creativity, and resilience are the most crucial skills in business. If you’ve got those, you’re ready to embark on the journey.” – Jo Malone, Founder of Jo Malone
When You’re Stumped on Selling and Understanding Customers
“Everyone is not your customer.” – Seth Godin
“Wonder what your customer really wants? Ask. Don’t tell.” – Lisa Stone, co-founder and CEO BlogHer
“No matter how many customers you have, each is an individual. The day you start thinking of them as this amorphous ‘collection’ and stop thinking of them as people is the day you start going out of business.” – Dharmesh Shah, Co-Founder of HubSpot
“Selling is not a pushy, winner-takes-all, macho act. It is an empathy-led, process-driven, and knowledge-intensive discipline. Because, in the end, people buy from people.” – Subroto Bagchi, Co-founder of Mindtree
Facing Change with Resiliency & Perseverance
“It starts with not having a hangover with the way things used to be.” – Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of Under Armour
“Don’t try to do everything by yourself, but try to connect with people and resources. Having that discipline and perseverance is really important.” – Chieu Cao, Co-founder of Perkbox
“If Plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters.” – Claire Cook
“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.” – Simon Sinek, motivational speaker
“Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.” – Guy Kawasaki, co-founder Alltop
“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” – Wayne Gretzky, Hockey Star
SBDCs launch COVID-19 recovery initiative to promote economic stability, sustainability, and growth.
The GO Virginia State board has approved an $81,813 grant proposal submitted by a regional partnership between Harrisonburg Economic Development, Frederick County Economic Development, Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center (SV SBDC), and Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center (LF SBDC). This grant creates a Small Business Resiliency Team (SBRT) program with the goal of providing expanded business support services and technical assistance to area businesses in the wake of COVID-19 challenges. The program will deploy Business Resiliency Navigators to guide growth-oriented businesses through a dedicated and well-designed process for achieving incremental and sustainable growth throughout the pandemic recovery period.
Business Resiliency Navigators will work directly with small businesses, assisting with E-commerce, Financial Management, and Marketing needs. The SBRT’s focus is on tourism, retail, healthcare, and professional services businesses, however other companies will be considered. In addition to providing assessments, development of action plans, strategic counseling, and targeted training, the program will provide for services such as accounting, bookkeeping, website development, or e-commerce assistance rendered by industry experts as recommended by the SBRT.
The Virginia Initiative for Growth and Opportunity (GO Virginia) is a business-led initiative that was formed to foster private-sector growth and diversification across nine economic development regions in the Commonwealth. The GO Virginia Board administers state financial incentives designated for regional projects in order to encourage collaboration between private sector companies, workforce, education, and government.
Participating localities include the counties of Augusta, Clarke, Frederick, Rockbridge, Rockingham, and Shenandoah; and the cities of Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, and Winchester. Patrick Barker, CEcD, Executive Director of Frederick County will administer the grant.
“This partnership will be able to provide significantly more assistance to keep businesses healthy and growing in spite of the pandemic. Our SBDCs can collaborate and meet needs of Economic Development Offices throughout the Shenandoah Valley. Our goals include improving the local economy, assisting the participating businesses, and providing contracted work to local vendors for professional services,” said Joyce Krech, Director of the Shenandoah Valley SBDC.
The SBRT program supports GO Virginia goals by expanding regional capacity to coordinate and deliver business support services; helping businesses utilize e-commerce to increase sales; reducing service and production disruptions; encouraging the use of a remote workforce to keep workers employed and productive; and expanding existing training programs that are mission-critical. Expected results from dedicated participants include overall average business growth and retention of their current workforce.
“This grant award will help us keep many of the region’s growth-oriented businesses on a positive financial trajectory towards sustainable success. We will leverage existing resources and utilize GO Virginia funds to provide focused, hands-on consulting, training, and contracted work,” states Christine Kriz, Director of the Lord Fairfax SBDC.
For more information on the Small Business Resiliency Teams, click the SBRT tab on the navigation bar above.
For more information on GO Virginia, visit the Shenandoah Valley Partnership or the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
About Small Business Development Centers. The SV and LF SBDCs are two of 27 Small Business Development Centers across Virginia providing professional business advice, training, and information resources to help grow and strengthen local businesses and Virginia’s economy. They are hosted respectively by James Madison University and Lord Fairfax Community College in partnership with George Mason University and funded in part by SBA and local governments. The Virginia SBDC Network is the most extensive business development program in the Commonwealth and part of America’s SBDC – the nation’s proven, cost-effective, and accredited infrastructure focused on small businesses – America’s job creators.