Small Business Benefits of Using Customer Relationship Management

Small Business Benefits of Using Customer Relationship Management

Wouldn’t it be great to have one tool that can host your customer database, act as a sales funnel for your website, send follow-up customer emails, and aid in structured marketing campaigns for your business? There’s good news: This tool already exists! 

All this marketing can be done under one platform called a CRM, which stands for customer relationship management

In this article, you’ll learn how a CRM tool helps companies manage their interactions with customers at all points during the customer life cycle; keep them engaged from discovery to education, purchase, and post-purchase; and improve the overall customer experience. 

What Is a CRM?

The goal of customer relationship management is to improve business relationships to grow the business. When you hear the term “CRM,” it usually refers to a CRM system, which is a tool that companies use to manage all their relationships and interactions with current, past, and prospective customers. 

A CRM helps companies stay connected to their customers and streamline processes and touchpoints, including providing support and additional services throughout the relationship.

Who Is a CRM For?

There is a CRM system for every business type. A CRM helps organize customer information and stay connected to customers at different milestones before, during, and after your sales or purchase process. 

If you’re a product-based business, you’ll want to pick a CRM that’s specific to product sales, and service-based businesses should choose one specific to services. There are also CRMs that are specifically designed for industries, so you’ll want to do your research upfront. 

Having a CRM system gives your sales, customer service, business development, recruiting, marketing, and other roles in your company a better way to manage the external interactions and relationships that drive your business’s success.

CRM systems allow you to see how customers have interacted with your company, milestones in their journey, what they purchased, when they last bought from you, how much they’ve spent, and so on. 

It also stores their contact information, which helps you identify sales opportunities and manage marketing campaigns more effectively, while also making this data accessible to anyone else in your company when they need it.

The right CRM can help companies of all sizes drive growth, but it can be especially beneficial to a small business that must find ways to do more with a much lower budget.

How Does a CRM Add Value to Your Small Business?

Implementing a CRM system for your business offers a lot of value. Below are some of the benefits that a CRM solution can provide your small business:

  • Improved customer service: Customers don’t have to repeat their stories over and over each time they contact your company. With a CRM system, you can address issues more quickly and effectively, leading to better customer support. 
  • Increased sales: Using CRM to improve and streamline the sales process, build a sales pipeline, automate tasks, and analyze sales data leads to more sales. A CRM allows you to have all your customer-facing voice, chat, and email touchpoints accessible in one place and deliver the right message on the right channel at the right time in the sales life cycle.
  • More customer retention: CRM tools can show you when customer churn happens, which is when customers stop using your company’s product or service or stop subscribing, so you can identify and address those pain points.
  • Analytics you can use: CRM tools make your data accessible, understandable, and relevant to your business needs. All your sales data, finance data, and marketing data flow into the CRM to become metrics that help you make sense of everything and use it to your business’s benefit for customer acquisition and retention.
  • Better business efficiency: Having all your day-to-day business functions in one place creates a better workflow, improved project management, and enhanced team member collaboration. CRM automates tasks to eliminate menial, repetitive work. 
  • Improved knowledge sharing and transparency: Collaborative CRM tools help you build a knowledge base, establish best-practice workflows, and facilitate frictionless communication among team members. A CRM platform allows everyone in your organization to gain visibility on your business processes, fostering better collaboration. 

Types of CRM Systems

CRM software compiles customer information in one place. Having this data handy helps your employees interact with customers, anticipate their needs, record customer updates, and track sales performance goals.

CRM solutions can be categorized into three primary types: collaborative, operational, and analytical.

1. Collaborative CRMs

Collaborative CRMs, also referred to as strategic CRMs, centralize customer data where your marketing, sales, and service professionals can all access it. 

They provide visibility into all customer communications, purchase history, service requests, notes, and other details, so customer support reps are better prepared to solve customers’ problems. Collaborative CRMs can also act on this information automatically to expedite service.

As this data is shared across the organization, each department can act on it as needed. For example, at a car dealership, the service department can use sales data, like when a car was sold, to automatically contact the customer to schedule their service appointments.

2. Operational CRMs

With sales and marketing, operational CRMs automate processes related to identifying prospects, keeping tabs on customer interactions, forecasting sales, evaluating marketing campaigns’ performance, and more.

This way, your sales team can spend more time cultivating relationships with customers, while your marketing team can target specific audiences with personalized messaging.

3. Analytical CRMs

Analytical CRMs aggregate customer information from various sources to identify patterns relating to customer trends and behavior. 

These insights can be used to generate and convert more leads, develop smarter marketing campaigns, and enhance customer service. They can also help with sales forecasting, budgeting, and reporting.

What Is the Best Free Small Business CRM Software?

Many CRM services offer free plans hoping that you’ll eventually upgrade to a paid plan.

Free CRM systems allow you to try out the platform with your team to see if it provides value that makes sense for your needs—especially if you’re a small business or a startup on a small budget. Since it’s free, there’s really nothing to lose. 

Below is a list of some CRM providers that have tools for product- and service-based businesses. We recommend that you explore these and other CRM services to see which features align best with your company’s CRM goals.

  • Freshworks: Features basic contact and deal management functionality, but remains competitive with in-built calling, webform lead generation, and allowing unlimited users.
  • Zoho CRM: Features workflow automation and can work with Zoho Campaigns to send up to 12,000 bulk emails a month.
  • HubSpot CRM: Offers contact storage of up to 1 million records, custom data fields, website marketing, and up to 2,000 bulk emails a month.
  • Insightly: Has advanced project management tools, including post-deal tracking, as well as customized reporting and bulk email marketing. 
  • Agile CRM: Includes customizable data fields, one workflow automation, and bulk email marketing.

Finding the best CRM solution for your business will require some comparison shopping. But whichever CRM product you choose, your small business will quickly see its advantages, and you may wonder how your company operated without a CRM in place!

Need Assistance?

The Oregon Small Business Development Center Network is committed to building Oregon’s best businesses.

Our 20 regional Centers assist small businesses throughout Oregon with advising, classes, and access to the resources they need to be successful. Each Center is backed by our statewide support network, helping small businesses access the proper assistance wherever they are in Oregon. 

If you have any questions, connect with your local SBDC at OregonSBDC.org.

Why You Need Small Business Insurance

Why You Need Small Business Insurance

Small business insurance, also commonly referred to as commercial insurance, is designed to protect the business you’ve invested your time, money, and effort into building. Having insurance assures small business owners that they’ll be safeguarded against claims and lawsuits.

Why Do You Need Small Business Insurance?

Business insurance is highly recommended for all businesses. In fact, it is required by law for certain professional fields, such as healthcare, which also requires professional liability coverage. This is also known as malpractice insurance. In other professions, a contract may require that businesses be insured.

Unfortunately, businesses can be sued for almost anything, even if they’ve done nothing wrong. For instance, if someone slips and falls in a place of business, or if a client feels that they were not provided the services committed to them, a business could find themselves facing an insurance claim or possible lawsuit.

Without the protection of insurance, a small business owner would likely have to pay out of pocket when facing insurance claims. Should your small business not have the resources to be self-insured or the capital to cover such claims, it could lead to business failure.

The good news is that business insurance may cover the majority of these expenses, including legal defense for the business owner. This is why small business insurance is an important and necessary investment to protect a business and its assets.

What Kind of Business Insurance Do You Need and How Much Does it Cost?

The business insurance a company needs depends on the type of business it is. Most businesses need general liability insurance. If you offer professional guidance, you may also need professional liability insurance. If you own equipment to operate your business, like computers or machinery, you may consider a business owner’s policy (BOP) which combines general liability with business property coverage. Small business insurance costs depend on the business type and size, the policy and coverages selected, and many other factors.

The 10 Most Common Types of Small Business Insurance

These are the top 10 types of insurance coverage to consider for your small business, some of which may be required by Oregon state law:

1. General liability insurance

General liability insurance helps protect businesses from claims relating to bodily injury or damage to someone else’s property. For example, if a customer gets injured in your store, this coverage may help to pay for their medical costs.

Many small business owners get a general liability policy that includes product liability insurance. This can protect your business against bodily injury or property damage claims caused by your company’s products.

2. Professional liability insurance

Professional liability insurance, also known as errors and omissions insurance or E&O insurance, can cover claims on mistakes made in the professional services your business provides. Doctors, accountants, lawyers, and architects are often targets for these types of claims.

This is because the errors made by these professionals end up being quite expensive for their clients to resolve. If a client or customer sues your business, professional liability insurance can help cover your legal costs.

3. Business income coverage

Business income coverage, also known as business interruption insurance, can help replace lost income if your business becomes unable to operate due to property damage caused by a fire, storm, or theft. For example, a florist whose flowers die after their refrigerator malfunctions may be able to recoup lost income with this type of insurance.

4. Commercial property insurance

Commercial property insurance, also called hazard insurance, can cover your owned or rented business space and the equipment used to conduct your business. For instance, if someone breaks into your office and steals your business computers, commercial property insurance can help cover the costs to replace this equipment.

5. Workers’ compensation insurance

Many states, including Oregon, require businesses with full-time or part-time employees to have workers’ compensation insurance. This kind of insurance can cover medical bills for on-the-job injuries and work-related illnesses and provides disability benefits to employees. Many policies include employers liability insurance, which may help to cover costs when an employee blames their employer’s negligence as the cause of their injury.

For business owners who do not have employees, you may need to self-insure for worker’s compensation depending on your industry. Be sure to address your individual needs with an insurance professional.

6. Commercial auto insurance

In Oregon, all business-owned vehicles must have a commercial auto insurance policy, which covers the cost of accidents involving work vehicles. Oregon has minimum requirements for auto liability insurance, which include:

  • Bodily injury liability
  • Property damage liability
  • Uninsured motorist coverage
  • Personal injury protection

The minimum requirements may not suffice, though, so be sure to get the right amount of coverage for your individual business needs. Trucking companies may need additional coverage to comply with state regulations.

If a business owner or their employees use their personal vehicles for work purposes, you may also consider hired and non-owned auto (HNOA) insurance, as personal auto policies usually exclude business use. This coverage can be added to commercial general liability insurance or business owner’s policies (BOPs).

7. Data breach insurance

Data breach insurance, also called cyber liability insurance, can help your business respond to a breach of personally identifiable information getting lost or stolen. It helps cover costs for actions such as notifying impacted customers or clients, running a public relations campaign to repair your business’s reputation, and/or offering credit monitoring services.

8. Commercial umbrella insurance

Commercial umbrella insurance extends the limits of certain liability policies that your business already has. For instance, if a claim’s cost exceeds your policy’s limit, a commercial umbrella policy can help cover the difference.

9. Employment practices liability insurance

Employment practices liability insurance, also referred to as employers’ liability insurance, helps cover the costs resulting from employment-related claims, such as discrimination, sexual harassment, and wrongful termination.

10. Business owner’s policy

A business owner’s policy (BOP) is one of the most common types of business insurance. It combines general liability insurance, commercial property insurance, and business income insurance into one policy.

Do I Need Insurance for My Oregon Small Business?

The short answer is yes. Most small businesses may need some type of coverage that protects against:

  • Bodily injuries
  • Property damage
  • Car accidents
  • Lawsuits

Your home and your business are likely your largest investments, and having the right business insurance is just as important as protecting your home with homeowners insurance. Without insurance, you risk financial losses or even the shutdown of your business.

How to Get Small Business Insurance

The following steps can help you find an insurance policy that best meets the needs of your business:

1. Conduct a risk assessment.

Determine what kind of accidents, natural disasters, or lawsuits could damage your business. Once you assess your risks, it can help you determine what aspects of your business need the most protection.

2. Find a licensed insurance agent.

Commercial insurance agents can help you find the coverage that best matches your business’s needs. Remember that insurance agents receive a commission from insurance companies they sell policies for, so it’s essential to find a licensed agent who keeps your best interests in mind. It’s recommended that you meet with your insurance agent on an annual basis to review your policies and find the right coverage as your business continues to evolve and grow.

3. Shop around.

Insurance quotes can vary significantly from one insurance provider and policy to the next. You should always compare the rates, terms, and benefits of various policies from multiple agents. If you choose not to work with a licensed insurance agent, it’s recommended that you get at least three business insurance quotes to find the best rate for the coverage you’re seeking.

4. Reevaluate each year.

The more your business grows, the bigger your liabilities become. If you have purchased or replaced equipment or expanded your operations, you’ll need to inform your insurance agent of these changes and how they may affect your coverage and insurance costs. Be sure to include this as part of your annual business plan review!

Need More Advice?

Having small business insurance is a crucial aspect of protecting your business. Be sure to seek expert advice from your licensed insurance agent for any questions relating to your unique needs as a small business owner.
The Oregon Small Business Development Center Network is committed to building Oregon’s best businesses. Our 20 regional Centers and Global Trade Center assist small businesses throughout Oregon with advising, classes, and access to the resources they need to be successful. Each Center is backed by our statewide support network, helping small businesses access the proper assistance wherever they are in Oregon. Connect with your local SBDC at OregonSBDC.org.

How to Prepare Your Business for Capital Funding

How to Prepare Your Business for Capital Funding

Financial Literacy Month

By Noah Brockman, Oregon SBDC Network Capital Access Team

There are several steps small business owners seeking funding should take to prepare for acquiring capital. In this article, you’ll find a checklist of “to-dos” for accessing capital. If you have questions or need support, the Oregon SBDC Capital Access Team is here to help!

Revisit Your Household Budget

Consider your monthly income and expenses. Have there been any changes recently? Think about how business income contributes to your household income, and make sure to review your personal and business credit. With these factors in mind, consider whether your financial profile will be acceptable to prospective lenders.

Get Clear About Your Funding Needs

Having clarity about how much you need and how funds will be used is vital as you prepare for business funding. How much cash do you already have available, and will you have sufficient personal and/or business cash reserves after your cash injection? It’s also important to think about the time frame for funding.

Create a Startup Budget

If you’re just starting your business and need funding to launch, this to-do is for you! If you haven’t already, make a startup monthly budget that indicates all revenues, cost of sales, and expenses. It’s helpful to prepare a list of any new business assets you need to get started, such as inventory and equipment.

Create a Project Budget

For those who are already in business and require capital to grow, make a project budget to outline your funding request by asset type—such as inventory, equipment, tenant improvements, and/or permanent working capital.

Evaluate Your Current Situation

Already in business? Need cash for working capital? Take a look at your business to see where you might already have some cash tied up, such as A/R or inventory. Review your fixed overhead expenses to assess any cuts you can make to reduce your cash expenditures. You may also want to look at your gross profit margin to see if it’s on par with your industry average and determine if you need to make any adjustments to COGS or pricing.

Determine Your Financial Projections and Cash Flow

Whether you’re starting or growing your business, it’s a good idea to put together at least a 12-month financial projection/cash flow budget showing anticipated revenue, cost of sales, expenses, profits, owner draws, and debt service payments to share with funders. If possible, a 24-month projection is even better. Try to be conservative, and make a list of your underlying assumptions.

Understand the Types of Funding Available to You

Familiarize yourself with different types of funding and how they fit with different scenarios. For an overview of traditional and nontraditional funding, click here.

Assess Your Position for Debt or Equity

Are you in a position to borrow? What collateral will the lender use to secure the loan? How will you pay it back? Pull your credit report to ensure that there are no hidden surprises. Consider whether you have owner equity (cash) to put in. Having at least 10% is a great start.

If you’re already in business, is the business profitable? If you’re not interested in taking on debt, are you seeking an equity investment? Ask yourself what return on investment you can offer to investors.

Develop or Update Your Business Plan

Whether you are starting or growing your business, it’s vital to develop a business plan to share alongside your financial projections to help funders understand your vision. At the Oregon SBDC Network, our business advisers can help you create a comprehensive plan to move your business forward.

Organize Your Business Documents and Paperwork

For existing businesses, make sure your financial statements are up to date, and gather past year-end business financials, as well as personal and business tax returns. For new businesses, gather your organizing documents, any industry-specific licenses, and any insurance or lease documentation.

If you are seeking guidance on the best path forward, the Oregon SBDC Network can provide assistance. Connect with your local Center and register for confidential, no-cost advising on your funding options and in all areas of your small business.

How to Prepare a Small-Business Marketing Plan (2022)

How to Prepare a Small-Business Marketing Plan (2022)

What a SWOT Analysis Is, and How Best to Utilize It When Creating Your Marketing Strategy

One of the most valuable tools for Oregon entrepreneurs is a comprehensive small-business marketing plan. Why is it so critical to your success? Because without potential customers having awareness of your offerings, even the best product or best service will languish.

An effective small business marketing plan is not about having a big marketing budget—it’s about determining the right marketing strategies for your business, understanding your competitive advantages, and developing tactics to support your visibility and marketing goals.

In this guide, we’ll share some tips on preparing your small-business marketing plan, including how to:

  • Evaluate your business by creating a SWOT analysis
  • Determine your small-business marketing budget
  • Identify the target audience for your small business
  • Set marketing goals and build your marketing strategies
  • Finalize your small-business marketing plan

Evaluate Your Business by Creating a SWOT Analysis

The first step to creating a small-business marketing plan is to understand where your business stands. An honest assessment of internal and external factors will help you put together a strategic direction for your business.

One way to begin is by creating a SWOT analysis, which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

For Strengths, consider what your business does well. What qualities separate you from others in your industry? What internal resources do you have that serve as an advantage? What tangible assets do you have, such as intellectual property, capital, or proprietary technologies?

Under Weaknesses, write down what challenges you have, whether they are something your company lacks, limitations in resources, or advantages your competitors have over you.

Identify Opportunities for your business, such as underserved markets for your products or services, favorable market trends for your products or services, and other external factors that may have a positive impact on your business and industry.

For Threats, take a look at what factors can negatively impact your business and industry, such as emerging competitors, changes to laws and regulations, and changes to customer sentiment.

Generally speaking, strengths and weaknesses should speak to internal circumstances, and opportunities and threats will focus on external factors that affect your small business.

Determine Your Small-Business Marketing Budget

Marketing costs money, so once you have a clear understanding of the circumstances of your small business from creating a SWOT analysis, it’s time to set a budget for your marketing plan.

As you begin to determine your marketing budget, be realistic about what you should invest. If you own a new business that is working to establish itself, you might consider allocating a higher percentage of your gross revenue as compared with an established business.

In addition to setting a monetary budget, consider the amount of time you plan to spend marketing your business each week. Oftentimes, busy entrepreneurs put their marketing efforts on the back burner as they get bogged down by day-to-day tasks. It’s crucial to apply enough time and resources in this area to move the needle for your business.

If marketing is not your forte and you don’t have time to focus on executing marketing strategies on your own (or don’t have a dedicated staff member to help you), your budget might include hiring specialists to assist with your marketing efforts.

Identify the Target Audience for Your Small Business

With your SWOT analysis complete and a marketing budget in mind, the next step in how to prepare your small-business marketing plan is to identify who you will target through your marketing efforts.

A small business’s target market is determined by many factors. You can consider specific demographics such as:

  • Geographic location
  • Business type
  • Gender
  • Income level
  • Marital or family status

You can also consider the psychographics of your target audience, which include:

  • Values
  • Interests and hobbies
  • Lifestyles
  • Behaviors

When you know who your target is, you can then determine which channels you will focus your marketing strategy on.

Set Marketing Goals and Determine Your Marketing Strategies

You’ve conducted a SWOT analysis. You know who your ideal customers are. Now it’s time to determine how you’ll reach them and set some benchmarks.

Some common examples of marketing goals include:

  • Increasing website traffic
  • Generating leads
  • Increasing social media followers
  • Growing an email list
  • Improving conversion rates

While setting specific goals is a vital aspect of the strategic planning process, it’s just as important to break down each objective into small, actionable steps to help you reach your goals.

Many small-business owners implement the SMART method (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-based), which can clarify each goal, focus your efforts, and efficiently allocate time and resources.

Consider these questions as you create your goals:

  • What is the goal? Be Specific.
  • How can my progress be Measured?
  • Do I have the skills and resources for this goal to be Attainable?
  • Why is this goal Relevant to my business needs?
  • What is the Timeframe for achieving this goal?

Once you have your goals in place, you can determine the best channels and marketing tactics to reach your target audience and make progress toward reaching your goal.

Here’s an example of a SMART goal, and some marketing tactics that can be employed:

Goal:
Increase unique website visitors by 10% in 2022.

Marketing Tactics:

  • Create a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
  • Create a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign to drive new users to your website.
  • Implement a social media advertising campaign to create awareness and increase traffic.
  • Review progress on a monthly basis.
  • Finalize Your Small-Business Marketing Plan

The final task in the planning process of your small-business marketing plan is to prioritize the tasks you want to accomplish. Having a to-do list to reference takes the guesswork out of deploying your marketing initiatives while running your business.

As you finalize your plan, you may wish to have a mentor review your small-business marketing plan, particularly if you are a new business owner. The Oregon SBDC Network offers no-cost, confidential advising services in all areas of business to help Oregon entrepreneurs succeed.

For established businesses that anticipate growth, the network’s Market Research Institute provides customized, data-based reports to help business owners build a customized marketing plan based on their needs and goals at no direct cost.

Contact your local Center to get started!

Small Business Development Center Approved for Columbia County, Oregon

The Center will be the Oregon Small Business Development Center’s 21st location in the state

The Oregon Small Business Development Center Network (Oregon SBDC) announced the approval of a new Small Business Development Center in Columbia County, Oregon. The Columbia County Small Business Development Center (Columbia County SBDC) is the first new center formed in Oregon since 2013. It marks the network’s 20th Center offering core business advising services in the state of Oregon.

The Columbia County SBDC will combine with a newly formed Business Resource Center (BRC), co-locating small business advising and coaching with economic development, business retention, recruitment and expansion, and tourism. The Center and staff will have access to all programs, protocols, systems, training, and software within the Oregon SBDC to enhance its already considerable capacity.

In addition, the new Columbia County SBDC will collaborate with BRC partners to conduct outreach and client recruitment that will serve every community throughout Columbia County. The advising services provided will be consistent with the other Oregon SBDC offerings, which include—as mandated by the federal Small Business Administration—no-cost advising and coaching to any business.

The Columbia County SBDC will be operated under the direction of Columbia Economic Team (CET) Executive Director Paul Vogel.

“This exciting development really is all about timing, and the timing is just right,” said Vogel. “Historically, our county has been difficult to serve by the Portland Community College SBDC due to geography and population factors. We’ve been experiencing significant growth, however, and the COVID pandemic both underscored the glaring need for business support and provided funding sources to make it possible,” Vogel added.

The Columbia Economic Team, a private/public membership organization serving Columbia County launched an initiative to form the Business Resource Center and SBDC after filling grant making and other small business assistance gaps during the pandemic and economic downturn.

“On the road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Columbia County SBDC is a much-needed and anticipated resource for local small-business owners,” said Mark Gregory, state director for the Oregon SBDC. “With the new SBDC’s presence in Columbia County, there will be opportunities to expand and create new businesses, and provide business support solutions for the many challenges Oregon’s small-business communities face as they emerge from the pandemic in 2022.”

The Oregon SBDC would like to thank several state and local partners and investors. These partners include:

  • Columbia County Board of Commissioners
  • Columbia Pacific Economic Development District (Col-Pac)
  • The City of St. Helens
  • The City of Scappoose
  • The City of Clatskanie
  • The City of Vernonia
  • The City of Columbia City, Oregon
  • Sen. Betsy Johnson
  • U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici
  • The Columbia Economic Team
  • CET Executive Director Paul Vogel
  • Tammy Marquez-Oldham, PCC SBDC Director

For all press inquiries please contact Paul Vogel at paulvogel@columbiacountyoregon.com.

Tips on How to Start a Small Business in Oregon in 2022

Tips on How to Start a Small Business in Oregon in 2022

Everything You Need to Know About Starting a Small Business

In order to become a successful entrepreneur in Oregon, it’s important to first understand how to start a small business.

While some of the steps to bring your small-business idea to market will depend on the type of industry you choose and the products or services you will be providing, every business will need to follow these essential steps:

  1. Identify your business idea.
  2. Research your idea.
  3. Refine and test your idea.
  4. Set up your business.
  5. Write your business plan.
  6. Get your finances in order.
  7. Choose a business location.
  8. Build your website.
  9. Find your customer base.
  10. Prepare for challenges.

Read on to learn more.

Identify Your Business Idea

When considering how to start a small business, it’s important to remember that a great business starts with a great idea. However, even in the ideation stage, there are several approaches you can consider.

When developing your small-business ideas, you can take something you’re passionate about—like a hobby—and turn it into a business. For example, if you love puzzles and care about quality and design, you might consider manufacturing your own brand of puzzles. If you love to bake, perhaps you have a dream to open your own bakery.

Another way to approach your small-business idea is by solving a problem. Perhaps your area is growing in tourism but doesn’t have enough accommodations. If you have extra space at your home or can buy an investment property, this may be an opportunity for you to explore hospitality as a business venture. Finding a need in your community is a fantastic place to start.

You can also generate small-business ideas through brainstorming. Write down any idea that comes to mind—big or small—and refine your idea in the next phase.

No matter how your business idea comes to mind, remember to be realistic about the demand and scalability of your potential business.

Research Your Idea

The next step in how to start a small business is to do some market research and take a hard look at the demand for your business idea in order to ensure that it’s viable before you spend time and money developing your business.

Questions you should seek answers to during this phase include:

  • Is there a need for this product or service?
  • What is currently available in the market?
  • How competitive is this industry, and who are my top competitors?
  • What is needed to turn my idea into a reality?

Conducting market research for your small-business idea will be helpful when you begin writing your business plan.

Refine and Test Your Idea

Testing your idea is a crucial aspect of starting your business. You can provide your service to a few people and get valuable feedback on how it’s working. If you are manufacturing a product, you can create a prototype and learn what works—and, just as importantly, what doesn’t. You can also find out how much potential customers might pay for your product or service. From there, you can refine your business idea.

Set Up Your Business

Next, it’s time to set up your small business, which has several steps within this phase.

You will first want to choose a business name. It’s important to choose a business name that is available for use in Oregon, which you can check through the Oregon Secretary of State’s website. Businesses can also obtain a federal trademark, so it’s a good idea to search the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for similar business names to yours.

Next, you will need to choose your business structure. Your business structure will influence your registration requirements, your tax responsibilities, and your personal liability. Choosing the right business structure will provide the right balance of legal protections and benefits.

Common business structures include:

  • Sole proprietorship
  • Partnership
  • Limited liability company (LLC)
  • C corporation (C corp)
  • S corporation (S corp)
  • Benefit corporation (B corp)
  • Close corporation
  • Nonprofit corporation
  • Cooperative

Once you have identified your business name and business structure, you can apply online for your business’s federal employer identification number (EIN) through the IRS and register your business in Oregon. This will allow you to apply for the necessary business licenses and permits.

Write Your Business Plan

Writing a business plan is a crucial step to starting any business. It’s a foundational tool that helps to map out your plan for success and guides you through the stages of beginning and operating your business.

There is no right or wrong way to write a business plan—it simply needs to meet your needs and the needs of your business. It can cover anything from high-level overviews about various aspects of your business to more detailed information such as your operational plans and finances.

Topics you may consider including in your business plan include:

  • Executive summary
  • Overview of the company and its objectives
  • Market analysis
  • Company organization
  • Overview of services or products
  • Marketing and sales strategy
  • Logistics and operations
  • Financial projections

You should think of your business plan as a living document, designed to be reviewed and adjusted over time.

Get Your Finances in Order

Being able to manage your finances well will be critical to the success of your small business. One way to get off to the right start is to ensure that you separate your personal and business expenses.

Open a separate business checking account, which can be used to receive payments and to pay for business-related expenses and overhead. LLCs, partnerships, and corporations are required by law to have a separate bank account for business. While sole proprietors are not legally required to have a separate account, it’s highly recommended, and your future self will thank you come tax season!

You may also want to consider opening a business credit card and will be required to do so if your business structure is a corporation or an LLC. Building credit is important for having the ability to secure future funding should you need it.

You’ll then need to develop a bookkeeping system and set up important processes, such as how you’ll get paid by your customers.

At this stage, consider your knowledge, skills, and abilities to:

  • Keep accurate records
  • Analyze timely financial reports
  • Prepare sales forecasts and budgets
  • Track and analyze key financial indicators
  • Structure debt effectively

If you’re unsure about how to manage the day-to-day bookkeeping and accounting responsibilities for your business, you should know that the Oregon SBDC offers resources and ongoing classes for small-business owners to get a handle on their finances and accounting basics, including the Small Business Management Program, which provides a combination of a classroom setting and one-on-one coaching to help make you and your business more successful.

Additionally, businesses will need to secure external business financing through a line of credit, a small-business loan, or other means. The Oregon SBDC’s Capital Access Team can help you access the funding your business will need through specialized business advising.

Choose a Business Location

If you are planning to operate a brick-and-mortar business, choosing a business location is one of the most important decisions you will make before launch, because it will determine the taxes, zoning laws, and regulations your small business will be subject to.

Consider your business’s target market, your personal preferences, and the costs, benefits, and restrictions of different government agencies.

Costs that can vary significantly by location include:

  • Standard salaries
  • Minimum wages
  • Property values
  • Rental rates
  • Business insurance rates
  • Utilities
  • Government licenses and fees

Additionally, local zoning ordinances, taxes, and government incentives will also vary.

Build Your Website

Regardless of what type of small business you’ll be operating, having a website as part of your online presence will be important in building your credibility with your customer base.

As you prepare to build your business website, the first step is to obtain a good domain name. That means finding a URL that is easy to spell, as short as possible, and memorable. Be sure to research the domain name to see if a similar web address already exists. Additionally, check with the USPTO to ensure that you haven’t included any registered trademarks.

Your website should clearly showcase your business products or services in an memorable and engaging way that drives results. Beautiful graphics that are compressed and optimized for fast loading, easily accessible calls to action (such as “Buy now” or “Call now” buttons), and an intuitive navigation system should all be considered as you create your site. Implementing search engine optimization (SEO) practices to ensure that search engines index and rank your website will also help with your business’s visibility.

Find Your Customer Base

Now that the groundwork of how to start a small business has been laid out, it’s time to find your potential customers.

Before you can build your customer base, you will need to know who your ideal customers are. Develop a plan for acquiring customers by understanding how your typical customer would find a product or service like yours. This may include building a presence on social media, using email marketing, working with local newspapers, or finding in-person networking opportunities.

It’s also helpful to research successful competitors to see where they advertise and other strategies they use, as those may be beneficial for your own business efforts.

Prepare for Challenges

When you’re learning how to start a small business, one thing to keep in mind is that there will always be unforeseen obstacles. The market and technology are constantly changing, and the most successful entrepreneurs are ones who are flexible and willing to adapt to their customers’ needs.

As a new business owner, you may also learn that there are aspects of your business that you aren’t sure how to manage. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! The Oregon SBDC is here to support entrepreneurs as they prepare to start their own businesses and can provide crucial business advising at no cost.

No matter the type of challenge you may be facing with opening your small business, the Oregon Small Business Development Center Network can help you turn your small-business idea into a reality! Connect with your local SBDC to learn more at OregonSBDC.org.

6 Strategies for Successful Business Planning

6 Strategies for Successful Business Planning

Running a small business is never easy. Whether you’re just starting out or have been running your own company for years, whether you have a few loyal clients or a whole lot, whether your overhead is minimal or substantial, running a successful and profitable business takes a lot of work—rewarding work for sure, but hard work nonetheless.

Luckily, there are some ways to make it easier. While the Oregon Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has loads of resources—some we’ll tell you about here—that can help small-business owners, the best step you can take to improve your odds of success is to plan properly. In this article, we’re outlining six strategies you can implement for successful business planning.

1. Start Planning Early

It’s never too early to start planning. Never. Whether you have an idea you want to turn into a business, you have a business ready to launch, or you already have a successful business and are thinking of what to do next, a strategic plan is crucial.

The Oregon SBDC is here to help with your business planning at any stage. From startup to scaling, our advisers have the tools to help you build a solid foundation for your business. Tools like LivePlan simplify business planning, budgeting, forecasting, and performance tracking for our clients.

GrowthWheel is another tool our advisers use that provides a visual toolbox to help business owners make better decisions and take action in their businesses. Both of these tools are offered free of charge exclusively to Oregon SBDC clients.

2. Set Your Goals

Your strategic business plan needs to include more than just ideas. While the vision of a business is an important component, a key factor to success is setting SMART goals—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.

Oftentimes a big goal is tied to several smaller goals you need to achieve along the way. For this reason, some business owners set goals by month or quarter, while others set goals for the year. The right timeline to choose depends on you and your business goals.

3. Identify Your Staffing Needs

When people think about goals for businesses, they typically think about financial targets they want to hit, potential physical expansions, new strategies for upcoming product launches, and the like. But another factor that merits consideration and forward planning is your business’s future staffing needs, especially in today’s climate.

If your business goals include expanding your operations, the number of full-time, part-time, and/or contracted workers will likely change. The cost and time it will take to hire for your staffing needs requires planning.

4. Understand Your Financials

Awareness of your business and personal finances is a vital part of successful business planning. Even if you’re “in the black” and seeing profits, understanding your finances is important when making decisions and planning for the future of your business. And this means knowing more than just what’s in your bank account.

Understanding how much money is coming in and going out each month, product costs, the cost to manufacture, the cost of goods sold, labor costs, fixed and variable costs—these are all numbers you need to know so you can make decisions for your business. Your financial indicators are the drivers of your business, and if you don’t understand them, it can be easy to make a costly mistake.

5. Put Together Your Marketing Plan

A marketing plan may sound like the kind of thing that only big businesses with their own massive internal marketing departments need to do. But small, local businesses need a marketing plan, too. And just like any other part of running a business, your marketing requires a carefully thought out and meticulously detailed plan.

From the channels you will use to the creative you want to deploy to your monthly marketing budget—write it down. Building and implementing a successful marketing plan can help your business grow exposure and revenue.

6. Evaluate the Previous Year

When you’re running a small business, there are times when you’ll need to look back in order to move forward. Looking back can be fun, especially if you’ve experienced growth in your business and can count your wins over the year. It can also be hard, if you’ve experienced a challenging year that didn’t live up to your expectations.

Oregon Resources for Veteran-Owned Businesses (2021 Guide)

Oregon Resources for Veteran-Owned Businesses (2021 Guide)

Our nation shows its appreciation to the men and women who’ve worn the uniform of our armed forces in many ways. From the wide range of discounts for military families to free grub on Veterans Day, your selfless military service has earned you some perks and assistance. If you happen to be a veteran who owns an Oregon business—or is thinking of starting one—you should be sure to take advantage of the state, regional, and national resources that apply directly to you. Here are some of the best Oregon resources for veteran-owned businesses.

State, Regional, and National Resources for Veteran Business Owners

The Veteran Entrepreneur Portal

Easily access the resources you need to help your business succeed via the VA’s Veteran Entrepreneur Portal (VEP). With a layout that’s simple to understand and use, this website should be one of your very first stops as a military veteran looking to start a business in Oregon.

Veteran Business Outreach Center

From pre-business planning workshops to classes on how to expand into international exports, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Veteran Business Outreach Center (VBOC) offers training and expertise to those at every stage of getting a company off the ground. Whether you’re a vet long out of uniform, a reservist, or a military spouse, they’re here to offer help in building, maintaining, and expanding your business.

Vets First Verification Program

An initiative of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Vets First Verification Program is more than just a certification system. Any enterprise that qualifies as a veteran-owned small business (VOSB) or service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) and receives certification through Vets First will be considered first for contracts with the VA. It’s a great way to make sure you get priority access to any VA work your company may be able to carry out.

Business Impact NW

A nonprofit dedicated to helping people in traditionally underrepresented communities—including military veterans—to successfully create and run small businesses, Business Impact NW is a great resource for veterans in Oregon and throughout the Pacific Northwest. It provides both training and advice for entrepreneurs, as well as technical and financial support, and it works directly with the VBOC, serving as their regional partner. So while this is a regional organization, it has national support and connections to help Oregon veterans build businesses.

Oregon COBID

Oregon’s Certification Office for Business Inclusion and Diversity is a statewide initiative that mirrors parts of the Vets First Verification program, providing those who qualify with special access to government contracts. It also shares Business Impact NW’s goal of helping business owners from underrepresented communities. For a veteran-owned business to qualify for assistance, the owner must have a VA disability rating letter demonstrating any percentage of disability, between 0% and 100%. Learn more about the application process and get yours started at Oregon’s Service Disabled Veteran (SDV) Certification site.

Make the Most of the Benefits You Earned

This is by no means a comprehensive list. There are many other organizations and resources, both national and regional, aimed at helping small-business owners succeed. Some are targeted at veterans or other specific communities like these; others are available to anyone with that quintessential American dream of running their own business. So take these tips as just a starting point to seeking out all the Oregon resources for veteran-owned businesses—and remember that you’ve earned this assistance through your selfless service.

How to Write a Business Plan for Your Oregon Startup

How to Write a Business Plan for Your Oregon Startup

If you’re not sure how to write a business plan for your Oregon startup, it’s pretty simple once you know the general structure it should have. As for why you should take the time to write a business plan, well, think of it as a framework to guide you through the stages of beginning and operating your business.

Plus, a business plan shows people that you’re prepared with a plan for the future of your business, and that’s important for everyone from potential investors to employees to partners.

A well-written business plan is just one tool for building a successful business, but it’s a really important one for the foundation of your business.

There’s no right way or wrong way to write a business plan for your Oregon startup. The most important thing is to craft a document that meets your needs and the needs of your business. Here are some things you might consider including in your plan.

Executive Summary

An executive summary is an eagle’s eye view of the company—think of it as the CliffsNotes version of your business plan. It should include:

  • An outline of the company’s goals
  • An outline of the company’s goals
  • A summary of the products and services the company offers
  • A brief description of the market the company serves
  • A projection of the company’s potential growth
  • Basic info about your leadership team and employees, as well as the business’s owners
  • Any plans related to asking for financing or pitching the company to investors

Overview of Company and Objectives

Now, it’s time to dive in and talk about the problem your company solves. Who do you serve and how do you meet their needs? What advantages do you have that will make you a success? It’s time to boast about your strengths and what makes your company a valuable addition to the business landscape.

If you’re already in operation, it’s a little easier to talk about what you do and how you do it. If not, summarize what you hope to accomplish and how you’ll get it done. This is where you should talk about goals, listing milestones with specific steps you’ll be taking in the future.

Market Analysis

Here’s where you let all that market research shine to show you understand what businesses similar to yours are doing. What are their strengths, and why do their businesses work? What are you doing better, and what are you bringing to the market that doesn’t already exist?

Summarize your market demographics and talk about how those demographics fit into what your business sells. Give an overview of your target market’s purchasing habits, buying cycles, and willingness to adopt new products and services. What is the trajectory of your target market—is it growing, stable, or in decline? Quantify your market with as many details as you can.

Ideally, you’re focusing on segments that can support the growth of your business. It’s much easier to serve a market you can define than to have nothing but a vague idea of who your market is.

Company Organization

Describe your type of business—are you a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a corporation, or a limited liability company? Mention your registered agent here, as well (if you have one).

Next, create an organizational chart that shows who holds each position in the company and how their experiences are a key part of the business. If you want, you could include resumes or key stats for each member of your team (this could be helpful if you are presenting the business plan to a possible investor).

It’s also helpful to include a breakdown of what each member of the team does—a basic job description works well here.

Overview of Services or Products

What is your service or product? What is the lifecycle of that service or product? Discuss how what you sell benefits your customers. How is it different from what’s already on the market? If no market for your product or service currently exists, define the opportunity for entering the market and explain why you believe people want what you will sell.

Do you have any research or development in progress? If you’re planning to offer new products or services, give an overview of the timeline and implementation needed to make that happen.

Last, list any trademarks, patents, or copyrights the company owns.

Marketing and Sales Strategy

Your business’s marketing and sales strategy will evolve to fit the needs of your business and your offerings as you grow and as marketing trends change, but it’s good to have a starting point. This section should discuss how you’ll attract customers, retain them, and upsell them. Here are some important talking points when discussing a marketing and sales strategy:

  • What’s your budget for marketing?
  • How will you know if your marketing is successful and how will you adapt if it isn’t successful?
  • What platforms will you be on and how are they relevant to your audience?
  • What will you do for advertising and how will you get the word out?
  • How will you measure return on investment (ROI)?
  • Do you need people to promote your products? How will you form these partnerships?

Logistics and Operations

Provide an overview of the workflows you need to run your business smoothly. Cover all the components you think you need for your planned business operations (or document them, if you’re already in operation), including things like:

Facilities: Where will you work? Do you have actual retail space, and where is it?
Suppliers: For products, where do you get the materials you need for production (if you produce them yourself)?
Production: How are your products produced? How will you handle spikes in demand?
Equipment: What equipment do you need to run your business?
Inventory: Do you have an inventory management system?
Shipping: Do you have a fulfillment process for shipping products to customers?

This section of your business plan shows that you have a solid understanding of your supply chain and have a plan in the event of any spikes in business or sudden growth.

Financial Projections

Here’s where you talk about the projected financial success of your business. If you’re already up and running, include income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow documents. You may also want to include any relevant information about capital expenditures.

If you’re just getting started and don’t have historical information, you may want to get more specific with your projections. You could project quarterly or even monthly information for your first year after starting the business.

A Final Note

Know that although a business plan is an important map, it isn’t meant to be perfect or permanent. It’s designed to be reviewed and adjusted regularly so you can stay on track. Without this baseline, it will be much more difficult to adjust and have a historical reference for making decisions. A business plan shows you where you’re going and where you’ve already been, and that’s key for building a successful business.

If you have any questions about how to write a business plan for your Oregon startup, get in touch with your local SBDC at OregonSBDC.org.

Small Business Tips for 4th Quarter Planning

Small Business Tips for 4th Quarter Planning

Time flies when you’re running a business—it’s hard to believe we’re heading into the 4th quarter! To ensure business success through the end of the year, NOW is the time to prepare if you’re a small business owner. Here are some small business tips for 4th quarter planning:

  • Check in on your inventory and operations.
  • Organize your 4th quarter marketing strategies.
  • Plan your year-end client and customer appreciation.
  • Review your year-to-date goals.
  • Get your financials in order for tax planning.

Check on Your Inventory and Operations

Small business owners should ask themselves these questions NOW to build their 4th quarter plan and to save time and money in the long run:

  • Do you have the inventory you need?
    Supply chain issues are causing delays across the board, regardless of industry, so it’s important to plan ahead for your inventory needs.

  • Is your online store ready?
    Review your website and ensure the user experience is simple and in working order. Having an online store is one way to pandemic-proof your business as we move into the winter season.

  • Have you factored in your staffing needs?
    Many industries in Oregon are experiencing labor shortages at the moment, making it important to think ahead about your labor needs.

Organize Your 4th Quarter Marketing Strategies

The holiday season offers many opportunities for small businesses to amp up their promotions. Planning your marketing strategies ahead of time will help business owners make the most of 4th quarter sales.

Some specific days small business owners should consider taking advantage of in the 4th quarter include:

Black Friday, November 26, 2021
Black Friday is one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Last year, consumers reportedly spent $9 billion on this day alone! Plan ahead, and be prepared for an influx of business.

Small Business Saturday, November 27, 2021
Small Business Saturday is a day to celebrate and support small businesses and all they do for their communities. Think about how you can participate and encourage your community (and beyond!) to support your small business.

Cyber Monday, November 29, 2021
Consumers are increasingly going online to shop for items big and small, and Cyber Monday has gained popularity over the years for online sales. If you have an online store, think about ways your small business can participate on this day.

Ideally, your holiday marketing strategies should encompass all of your communication channels, including your website, social media, and public/media relations.

If you have an email marketing list, think about how you might nurture your current and potential customer relationships through holiday messaging as part of your marketing strategy. If community engagement is a focus, consider partnering with a local charity to spread the holiday cheer! Just be sure to plan ahead, as these types of initiatives can take time.

It’s always a good idea to map out your marketing strategies in advance.

Plan Year-End Employee and Customer Appreciation

Speaking of the holidays, the 4th quarter is a great time for small business owners to show employees and customers your appreciation for their support throughout the year.

If you’re planning to give holiday gifts, set up a holiday function, or provide bonuses, be sure to plan well in advance so that any gesture of appreciation is well thought out and doesn’t feel rushed to the recipient.

As mentioned earlier, inventory is being impacted and delays can be expected, so if you’re planning to give physical gifts, it’s especially important this year to order these gifts ahead of time.

Evaluate Your Year-to-Date 2021 Business Goals

Small business tips for 4th quarter planning wouldn’t be complete without checking in on where your business stands:

  • Have you met your goals?
  • Does something need to shift to stay on track?
  • Set aside some focused time on your calendar to review your business plan and check in on your goals year-to-date.

This is the time for small business owners to finish up any business projects in progress. You might be in the middle of redesigning your website, or maybe you’re integrating a new point of sale system.

Whatever the task, this is a great time to wrap up any projects that may be lingering in the background so that you can take time in the 4th quarter to focus on setting yourself up for business success in 2022.

Get Your Financials in Order for Tax Planning

Tax planning takes place year-round, but it’s especially important in the 4th quarter if you plan to make investments in your small business before the year ends.

Here are some small business tips related to tax planning:

  • Be organized
    It’s key that your receipts and all important documentation you’ve collected throughout the year are neatly organized for tax season. It’s a good idea to use accounting software (e.g., QuickBooks) to track your finances.

  • Be ethical
    Report all income and business expenses. Do not mix your personal expenses with business expenses.

  • Plan ahead
    Learn of any recent tax code changes, and find out how these changes will impact you and your business. Now is the time to get your finances in order and set an appointment with your trusted bookkeeper, accountant, or CPA.

Following these small business tips for 4th quarter planning will help you finish the year strong and set yourself up for business success in 2022.

The Oregon SBDC Network is here to help small business owners plan for success throughout the year. Find the SBDC closest to you to access the resources you need for your Oregon small business to grow and thrive by visiting OregonSBDC.org.