Friday, May 25, 2018

How to Build a Better Business Plan - and Why It's Important


As a Certified Business Advisor, whenever I bring up the words "business plan" it inevitably evokes sighs and even groans.  Most small business owners haven't done a BP unless they needed it for a course in college or they are applying for a loan.  There are many reasons to create one, however - and I wanted to share a few compelling ones here:

  1. To clarify your strategy
  2. To raise capital
  3. To attract collaboration
First, a business plan is your road map. It is a way to convey to yourself, your partners, and your employees what you do and why you do it.  As Simon Sinek tells us, the why is much more important. Often, it is difficult to articulate why you do what you do.  "To make money" doesn't seem like a very PC answer.  I coach my clients to start with what societal problem they are trying to solve.  For example, if you own a carpet cleaning business - it is fairly straightforward - you clean carpets. But why?  We can look at deeper consumer needs of hygiene/health, beautifying the home, impressing the in-laws, etc.  When you identify your why in your business plan, you are creating content to be used in all of your marketing materials - from your website to your brochures to your social media pages.  #timesaver You are also making sure that everyone in your organization - your employees, suppliers, and customers are on the same page with your company vision.  It is all spelled out in one document so there is no question as to what products/services you provide and their differentiating factors.

Second, at some point in your business lifetime you may need to raise capital. (shocking, I know). Maybe it is for start-up costs, maybe it is for expansion, or maybe it is to position the company for sale or acquisition.  If you already have a formal business plan in place, it is easy to re-configure it to be a Pitch Deck for angel investors, an Executive Summary for a potential landlord, or a captivating one-sheet for a broker. Your business plan clearly outlines why your company has value and is worth investing in. Having to do this deep dive into your company's financials and think honestly about cash flow, seasonality and sales forecasts can reveal some powerful information. If you're not a numbers person - have your accountant help you or take a class such as Profit Mastery.

Third, perhaps you need to garner some buy-in for reasons other than revenue production.  Maybe you are looking for that perfect new Board member. Maybe you are looking to partner with another business on a project. You may be putting together a proposal for a large contract or you need to find the perfect wording for your bio or press release.  Once you have created the content, it can be re-purposed over and over.

Okay, so you are on board with having a business plan.  But where to begin?  Here, Google is your friend. Do a simple search for a business plan and you will get thousands of results, many of which are ads for expensive software or high-prices consultants.  Here's a trick: Go to Google Images.  Search for your specific industry, i.e.: Carpet Cleaning Business Plan pdf. and Viola!  you will have downloadable documents that give you a jumping off point.  Do not copy them word for word! The whole idea is to set yourself apart from everyone else out there.  When you have the basics components of your document down, you can use a template like the ones found on the Washington Small Business Development Centers website. YouTube is also a great resource if you are a visual learner, or you can download my presentation on the subject here.

Finally, once you have taken an initial stab at it, have a friend or trusted advisor look it over. It should be someone not intimately involved with your business so that you have fresh eyes and an unbiased perspective.  The SBDC provides no-cost advising services and can do this as well.  Like a website, the business plan will take some time to complete, and it will continually need tweaking or tinkering as your business evolves.  Be sure to enjoy the process! Committing to the task is a great way to remind yourself why you started this business in the first place, and can renew your enthusiasm and provide insights as to areas of improvement.

If you would like a free business plan template or to set up an appointment please visit the Highline College SBDC Facebook page or call us at 206-592-4150.  We would love to help!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Actions to Offset the Slow Season


With the sunny days of summer coming what does that mean for your service business? When there is a material change in the routine of our customers (like heading into summer or back to school) we often see a slow down or a drop in business. Most businesses have some seasonality in their sales.  The key is to know when those take place and to build in activities to counteract those slow seasons.
Rather than say “it’s our slow season” and accept it, let’s see if we can build in activities to offset the slow down.  Notice I said activity.  That means we need to do something more than we have been doing. But let’s start by understanding where we are.  The table below is a simple way to understand your seasonality and to check the year over year change in our business.


Here are a few ideas that you can review and add to your daily activity:
  • Go to more networking events – 
One way to find more networking events.  A good place to start is on a site like Meetup.com.  Search for a group by key interests.  For example if you live in Burien and your ideal client is a woman in her 30’s, 40’s and interested in healthy and wellness
  • Join an entrepreneurial focused group on Facebook –
Ask the group if they have any recommendations for events
  • Brain storm events your ideal client might attend
  • Systemization -

For example:  If you are a carpet cleaning company start a Gold Service membership where clients who sign up would get a discount if they cleaned their carpet twice a year.
  • Contact current and former customers in a different way -
Create a direct mail post card (assuming you have built a customer database) telling them thanks for being a customer and have a call to action
  • Sell additional products or services – 
By asking the equivalent of “would you like fries with that” you increase the potential for additional income from your current customer
  • Up your sales and marketing activity - 
Do 10 Acts of Marketing per day
Create 3 new solid leads per day
Get visible!
  • Do what others are not willing to do - 
Next time you finish a meeting with a client, go next door or in the same area and introduce yourself.  I was in the area doing some work with a client…I just wanted to introduce myself and leave this offer for you.

If you would like a copy of the sales tracking chart that is editable for your business give us a call at
206-592-4150 or 206-592 4153 or email us at SBDC@highline.edu

Written by Rich Shockley, CBA, CGBP


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Five Scary Truths about Small Business Marketing


Trying to find new customers in the age of information can be daunting. So many businesses are competing in the same place, and when you are a small business owner, finding the time to commit to marketing can be difficult.  Here are the top five scary truths you need to know:

  1. Simply having a website is not enough.  So often my clients will say "I've created my website, why aren't they calling?"  Essentially, your website is a living, breathing billboard for your business.  If you hang a sign on your window, only the passersby or the people who had already planned to visit you will see it.  Your website is the same way. You need to drive traffic to it! Whether you use social media, marketing collateral such as brochures, flyers and business cards, or e-mail marketing - you can't rely on someone randomly stumbling upon you. If you use Google AdWords or Facebook Ads, know what your ROI is by tracking the insights and analytics. Unsure how to calculate that or know what to spend? Ask your advisor.
  2. Keywords and SEO matter. Many times when creating a website, we fall into the trap of "knowing the lingo".  If you are an accountant, and you use a keyword like "Form 2235" (which is the form an LLC uses to elect S-corp status) it is highly unlikely that your customers are searching for that term.  Using long-tail keywords like "how do I file my business taxes" is a better bet.  You need to put yourself in your customer's shoes and decide what it is exactly that they are searching for.  If you're not sure, ask them!  Be sure that your website contains enough industry-specific language that you appear an expert or thought leader, but also make it user-friendly and easy to understand for your target market. There are many keyword search tools out there to help you find the most frequently searched terms for your industry. A few of my favorites are: Google Keyword Planner, Moz's Keyword Explorer, and Keyword Tool.
  3. Social Media only works if you post great content consistently. So many of my clients fall into the trap of using all the social links on their website.  If you aren't going to update (or even create) social media sites, you should not have links to them.  Broken links will hurt your page ranking and frustrate your customers.  Know your target audience and only use sites that they would most likely view.  This will save you lots of time, too! Share articles, pictures and video from other sites as well - you don't have to create everything yourself.  
  4. Yes, Virginia - you have to have a Marketing Plan. I understand that it's a lot of work.  But, in the immortal words of Ben Franklin: "If you fail to plan - you plan to fail".  It doesn't have to be 50 pages, just a simple calendar is better than nothing. My favorite example is one put out by ThriveHive. But as with all plans - you need to have a goal in mind. Let's say you want to increase your sales by $20,000 this year.  That is roughly $400 per week (if you are in the 0.000654% of business owners who take vacations).  So, how many widgets do you need to sell at a cost of $40 to reach this goal? Just 10 per week.  How many leads would you need to sell those? Let's say your average closing ratio is 33%.  You would need 30 leads to average 10 sales. Easy math, right?  But how many touchpoints or Acts of Marketing does it take to get those 30 leads? This is a little tougher to determine. Which leads me to the final Scary Truth:
  5. Successful Marketing requires Daily Effort. "But I have a business to run!" you exclaim. You can get amazing results with just 30 minutes a day.  One of my mentors; Black Belt and Coach Tom Callos  shared this simple Daily Action Plan with me years ago, and I have put it in a checklist form for you to use.  It is just four steps: 
  • First; Do Ten Acts of Marketing a Day. This can be handing out a business card, networking, writing an email, a blog post, a phone call, a social media post, sponsoring an event, hanging a flyer, mailing a postcard - you get the idea. Ten. Log them. Delegate if you must.
  • Second; from those (or from previous days) create 3 solid leads per day. These are acts that you firmly believe will turn into sales and/or customers. Log them.
  • Third, once a week, Analyze your Customer Database. Whether you have 50 or 5000, spend the time to look through your list and group them into Good, Inconsistent, or Zombies (could go at any moment).  This should give you ideas for #1. If you don't have a good CRM tool, or In-House method of tracking them, visit your local SBDC advisor and we can help you.
  • Fourth, once a month - Make Contact with Every Single Customer. This is critical because it is much easier to sell to someone who already has benefited from your product or service than it is to mine new customers.  Plus, they are your best source of referrals and reviews. Don't be afraid you are "bugging them" by contacting them once a month!  They have lives, too, and it takes some effort to be top of mind.  I bet your competitors are spamming them...
I hope that this article has inspired you to develop your marketing plan, or at least startled you out of paralysis or complacency. ;) If you would like a copy of the Daily Action Plan, please email me at Jennifer.Dye@wsbdc.org. If you are in need of a Certified Business Advisor, you can find us here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Structuring your Partnership

One of the most common entity structures in Washington State is a Limited Liability Company (LLC). As a business advisor we work with some startup businesses just forming their entity.  In these cases we can give them some guidance as to the type of issues they should consider and questions they should ask their partner when forming their entity and a list of business attorneys who they can consult to help draft the LLC agreement.  Other times, and far too often, we work with businesses in turmoil. In these situations it’s common that there are partnership issues at the root.

When the entity is formed everyone is friendly, on the same page, excited about the new business and ready to work hard.  Then business and life happen and somewhere along the lines things are not as rosy anymore.  One partner is burning the midnight oil while the other is leaving at noon on Fridays to play golf.  Commonly one partner thinks they are carrying all the load. Other times the entity was structured as a 50/50 partnership and there was never any consideration on decision making, roles and responsibilities or how to deal with a disagreement and how to exit the partnership is needed.

Many times a partnership will eventually work itself out, but only after much stress and expense for all parties involved.  Businesses close because of the inability to reach common agreement. 

Recently we came across an article written by Dick Bartram of HenkeBartram PLLC.  In this article he addresses some mistakes commonly made when forming or joining an LLC.  Please spend a few minutes and review his article.  Hopefully you are reading this in time to save yourself and your partners significant heartache.

Company Counsel by Dick Bartram


Written by Rich Shockley, CBA, CGBP


Monday, November 14, 2016

How to Wrap Up Your Year for Small Businesses

As we approach the end of the year, it is time to take stock of what we've accomplished and of what we need to do in the coming year to reach our goals. Here is a quick Top Ten List of things you should be evaluating:

  1. Walk in your front door as a customer. See through their eyes, as if you've never been there before. Does your store/office/warehouse seem orderly? Is it clean, inviting, and safe?  Now is the time to take inventory of anything that may need replacing and put it in the budget!
  2. Look over your marketing plan from this past year. Did you run all of the campaigns you intended to? Why or why not? Can any of them be salvaged or reworked? Take a look at the upcoming year and begin to plan your outreach. Need help? See your Advisor.
  3. Take a look at the price trending for your Cost of Goods Sold.  Do the costs seem reasonable? Are you getting discounts for buying in bulk, and if so, are you accounting for storage costs and waste? It may be time to renegotiate with your major suppliers, and it is definitely time to express your thanks. Having a good relationship with your vendors is key.
  4. How does your pricing compare with the market? Are your competitors offering anything that you aren't but should be? When pricing your products and services, be sure to keep your profit margins where they need to be and compete on quality, reliability, and timeliness rather than price alone.
  5. Take a look at your lease rate as a percentage of your gross revenue.  Even if you are locked in, being aware of this is important as it is typically one of the larger expenses. If you had to move, where would you go? Always keep alternate locations in mind.
  6. Measure your employee satisfaction rating. There are many free tools to do an anonymous survey or questionnaire. Your staff can be the most valuable part of your operations, so it's important to keep the lines of communication open. Schedule regular performance evaluations to make sure that they feel their voices are heard.
  7. Re-visit your job descriptions, employee handbook, and company policies. Has anything changed that needs to be updated? Is everyone clear on their responsibilities? Do you have processes in place to deal with violations? If you're unsure of what to do, there are many free resources available online for Human Resource questions.
  8. Check with your accountant about any changes to the law regarding employees, taxes, minimum wage, etc. that could affect your bottom line. Also check with regards to their fees or payroll service fees. Will there be increases in the coming year that you need to plan for? Little things can add up quickly.
  9. Stay involved in your community so you can be aware of any changes to zoning regulations, utility rates, transportation issues, or city events that could be good marketing opportunities. If you aren't networking with your Chamber of Commerce, service club (Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary) or Business Networking groups, you should consider this an investment of your time and money that could make a big difference to your company's reputation and brand.
  10. Have you taken a vacation?  Entrepreneurs are chronically overworked! Keeping the work-life balance is imperative to a healthy and prosperous business.  Be sure to schedule some down-time and consider a retreat to give you time to plan your coming year. If you need help setting goals, seek out an advisor or mentor that will help hold you accountable.
There are so many considerations to running a small business, it can be overwhelming.  At year-end it is important to take stock in what you did well, what you can do better, and whether or not you are heading in the direction you planned.  If you haven't set concrete goals, you can't reach them. "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail". Let us help you with your dreams for the coming year. Contact us at sbdc@highline.edu.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

How to Market to Actually Make Money

I was recently honored to speak at the Federal Way Library's Small Business Workshop series, and I wanted to share portions of my presentation and some of the great questions and answers with you.

The entire presentation slide deck can be accessed here:


One of the things I've discovered in speaking  with my clients re: marketing is that they often fall into the trap of buying marketing and promotional materials without looking closely at WHO it is that they are trying to attract, WHERE is the best place to reach them, WHAT it is exactly that they are trying to sell or promote, HOW to best reach them (through which media), WHEN is the ideal time to schedule their promotion or contact, and, most importantly - WHY they are marketing in the first place!

There are many free or low cost resources out there that should be your first go-to when you are a small business with a limited marketing budget. I will cover many of them here, but remember that you can always make an appointment with an SBDC advisor to go over your specific situation.

WHO - Whenever we begin a marketing campaign, knowing who you are trying to reach is paramount.  Unlike the past, when we had to blanket-market to everyone, we are now able to target a specific audience to make better use of our time and money.  Creating a customer Avatar is a great exercise to help you understand your ideal prospect. You should include their age, gender, interests, affiliations, profession, education, and buying behavior.  Both Facebook and Google have great ad tools to help you market directly to your ideal customer once you have defined them.

WHERE:  Do you want to reach your customers at their home, place of business, online, via mobile, or all of the above?  Understanding where they will be most likely to notice your marketing is crucial. For example, if you own a landscaping business, it may be that lawn signs would be more effective than flyers.  If you are a graphic designer, an online presence will better showcase your work than a door-hanger.  If you are selling personal products, you may not have much luck marketing in the workplace, etc.

WHAT:  Are you marketing to expand your brand presence, to drive customers to your website, to increase engagement? Or are you promoting a specific event or new product? Your efforts will be more effective if you are clear on the goal of your campaign.  One example of how this can backfire is if you are giving a special promotion or discount to your new customers and it reaches your existing customers. They will not be happy.  Having distinct campaigns that are designed to reach only certain audiences can eliminate this predicament.

HOW:  Each campaign should have its own media platform(s) and this will depend on the WHY of your campaign.  Want to increase traffic to your website?  Google My Business or AdWords may be your best bet. Want to increase customer engagement? Social media such as Facebook or Twitter allow customers to reach you directly.  Want to drive your reputation? Consider review sites such as Yelp, Angie's List or Thumbtack. Looking to just bring awareness around your neighborhood? Old-fashioned methods such as flyers, door-hangers, or shopping cart ads may work best. VistaPrint has some wonderful, affordable printing and promotional items. Do you need to improve your community engagement? Consider joining your local Chamber of Commerce, civic organizations, or BNI group. Need to improve your retention and stay in touch with your customers? Using email marketing tools like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp will save you time and effort.

WHY:  Understanding why to market is easy, but making it a priority is difficult for many small business owners.  I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard "But I'm not a salesperson". Yes, you are!  You are the only one with a passion and vision for your business and there is no one better suited to promote it than you!

If you are uncomfortable with marketing, get a coach, mentor or advisor to help you with the basics. Did you know that there are 3.5 Billion internet users and 3.8 Billion mobile users worldwide? We have the ability to reach customers more easily and more affordably than ever before!  At the SBDC, we have a great tool called the Digital Analyzer that will show you what your company needs to be digitally ready to reach this e-commerce market. If you don't yet have a website, or Facebook page, we can help you build one on your own or direct you to a professional designer.

I hope this article has got you excited and thinking about how to best market your business.  If you have questions or need help, visit www.wsbdc.org and set up a no-cost appointment with an advisor in your area.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Three Trees Yoga - Highline SBDC Success Story

A long term client of Highline SBDC, Three Trees Yoga has partnered with the City of Federal Way to offer Yoga and Tai Chi as part of the celebrated opening of Town Square Park. “Peace in the Park” classes will be offered August 2nd – September 29th. http://www.threetreesyoga.com/upcoming_events/workshops.html#peace.

Three Trees Yoga expands on their mission:

“Our primary intention before opening the doors of Three Trees Yoga was that it would be a place of community connection, and a resource for people looking to enhance well-being…”



After ten years of offering yoga and yoga teacher certification, Three Trees Yoga sees another opportunity to serve their members and community in a broader way. Observing how yoga improved the overall physical and mental health of their members, the founders still felt there was more that could be done. They began to explore a clinically proven method to improve one’s ability to cope with and decrease work-related stress and burnout. That’s when they reached out to the SBDC.

“The SBDC has been an integral part of the growth and development of Three Trees Yoga over the past 11 years. The majority of decisions effecting our business were first discussed in the Highline SBDC office”, said Suzy Green - one of the three partners of Three Trees Yoga. “So it was only natural to seek guidance and support of the advisors from the SBDC as we launched the new corporate wellness business, Work Well NW.”

Work Well NW is a corporate wellness business focused on the restoration and prevention of clinical burnout in the medical and professional fields. Strategy sessions with the SBDC resulted in some key actions to move the company toward being a fully integrated Health and Wellness company. Recommendations included setting up a Board of Advisors familiar with the demands and need of medical professionals, sales and marketing for this new market sector, and to seek accreditation for their program through Physicians Insurance, thus allowing nurses and doctors to use this training for their required CE credits.

Today, Work Well NW is actively working with St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way Washington; a division of CFI Franciscan Health, Physicians Health Insurance, other regional hospitals and corporations in their wellness programs. 

Attorneys are seeing a similar need as they are witnessing depression and suicide rates increase among their practitioners.  Also of concern is the high turnover of female attorneys who are leaving the profession.  As companies see this growing trend of burnout and stress they are acting to counter the situation through assisting their staff to recognize and deal with the daily stresses. Work Well NW is perfectly positioned to fill this market need.

For more information about Three Trees Yoga and Work Well Northwest contact Suzy, Jeni or Karen at 253-815 YOGA(9642) or visit http://www.threetreesyoga.com/about_us/contact_us.html.

Article written by:
Rich Shockley, Certified Business Advisor
rshockley@highline.edu