Who Needs A Business Plan?

If you are an aspiring entrepreneur or own an existing business, December is a great time to write a business plan or, if you have one, to dust it off and revisit your plan. You may ask why December?

Because December is National Write a Business Plan Month.

December is National Write a Business Plan Month

This can be a start for your business plan. Then you need to put it on paper.

The old saying, “if you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to get there?” applies to travel as well as business plans. Without a plan, the business death rate is more than twice as high as businesses that have well thought out and written plans.  And think about this – investors and banks won’t loan you money if you can’t support the need for capital with a rationale that makes sense.

Does the plan have to be very long, complicated and intimidating? The answer is an emphatic NO! But it does have to be well thought out, and incorporate the following:

Company Description, market analysis, service or product line, marketing and sales, financial projections, and funding request.

Another way to look at this is to answer the following questions:

  • What is the customer’s problem?
  • What is your solution?
  • What is your business model? (How will you make money)
  • Who is your customer and how many of them are there? (Target market)
  • What is your competitive advantage?
  • Who are your management team members?
  • What are your financial projections?
  • What funding do you require?

You can make your business plan stand out among the reams of business plans if you incorporate the following:

  • Be clear about what you have to offer. What are you really selling? What is your market niche?
  • Understand what makes your business unique. What needs does your product or service fulfill?
  • Understand your competitors, which areas they focus on, which areas they ignore, and your potential opportunities.
  • In other words, what benefits do you offer customers, what differentiates you from the others, and how will your business stand out in the crowd?

Whether it’s a brand new business or an effort to put new vitality in an existing business, December is a great time to initiate a plan to achieve success, or greater success in 2015. Your investment in time will pay big dividends.

SCORE, a resource partner of the US Small Business Administration, can provide expert advice (FREE!) to help you create a “great” business plan. With more than 70 mentors in Greater Phoenix SCORE can help you execute your plan to maximize your success.

2 steps:

  1. Click here to download free business plan templates from SCORE.
  2. Start writing your plan, filling out all applicable information
  3. Click here to schedule an appointment with a SCORE mentor to have your plan reviewed for free.

About the Author:

George Obst, Certified SCORE MentorGeorge Obst is a Certified SCORE mentor with more than 30 years experience profitably managing and growing businesses, including start-ups, purchasing, financing and selling businesses.

 

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5 ways to Spruce up Your Product Descriptions to Boost E-commerce Sales

By Maxym Martineau, GoDaddy
5 ways to Spruce up Your Product Descriptions to Boost E-commerce Sales

You rock! You’ve completed the monumental task of opening an online store and you’re ready to start making a profit. You’ve uploaded your merchandise, maybe (hopefully) even included a couple of images for each item. And while you know all of the benefits for each and every one of your products, your customers might be left wondering exactly why they should buy from you.

Product descriptions are a must in the e-commerce world; pictures alone can’t sell your products. You’ll need to generate creative, unique descriptions that focus on both features and benefits for all of your products. Awesome descriptions are vital to boost e-commerce sales, so here are some hints and tips to make writing those blurbs a little bit easier.

  1. Personality is key – If you haven’t already done so, you need to identify your ideal buyer. Once you’ve done that, you can tailor your product descriptions to fit your customers’ lifestyles. Shopify’s blog is quick to point out that “the best product descriptions address your ideal buyer directly and personally.” Don’t use filler text you copy straight out of the manual; instead, be conversational and have fun with it. If you take the time to write compelling content, we’ll take the time to read it.
  2. KISS: Keep it simple, silly – Customers don’t come to your site to read novels every time they browse to a product; they are here for you to convince them they absolutely can NOT live without your merchandise. Keep your wording simple and short – there’s no need for a novella and you’ll be quick to lose the interest of your viewers with long-winded paragraphs.

Try to make each sentence worth its weight in words.

If you feel like you need a longer description section, make sure it is engaging and draws your readers in. You might also want to think about a shorter header or description for your viewers to initially land on, followed by the option to read the full, more inventive blurb about the product.

  1. 5 ways to Spruce up Your Product Descriptions to Boost E-commerce SalesFeatures vs. benefits – It’s easy to tell us a feature of your product. Let’s say you sell women’s clothing. I’m interested in a blouse you’ve featured, so I wander on over to the page and find that it is a collared, button-up shirt made from silk. Dandy. Some buyers might be satisfied with this, but most of us are going to want a tad more. Tell me why I should buy it from you. What about your silk shirts sets you apart from other online boutiques? Maybe your shirt’s stitching is custom crafted to provide the most comfortable, durable fit. You want to highlight the features of the product, followed with an emphasis on its benefits; this will set you apart from your competitors and drive your customers to hit the “Buy Now” button.
  2. Wording is everything – Stay away from dry, boring language and lean toward compelling descriptors. Make each blip for your product count so that is both fun and informative. In 3dcart’s online article they speak to the necessity of “selling the product without hitting you over [the head] with marketing mumbo-jumbo.” Use adjectives that speak to our senses or dazzle us with humorous text. Either way, you’ve captured our attention.
  3. 5 ways to Spruce up Your Product Descriptions to Boost E-commerce SalesThe power of sharing – In today’s day and age, social media has a profound effect on whether or not your products will sell online. Buyers are constantly reviewing, researching and sharing products to see if other buyers have already put in their two cents. Definitely make sure your product descriptions are shareable on major social media platforms like Facebook® and Twitter®, but you might also want to think about creating a “Reviews” page or an “As Seen In” page. Testimonials are a great way to promote a positive image and make your viewers more comfortable with the quality of your products.

About the Author:

Maxym Martineau Maxym Martineau is a content writer for Professional Web Services at GoDaddy and a freelance writer based out of Arizona. She’s an avid reader with a love for social media and blogging. Connect with Maxym on Google+. The world’s largest domain name registrar and Web hosting provider, GoDaddy gives small business owners the tools to name their idea, build a beautiful online presence, attract customers and manage their business. To get more tips for your small business—including articles, videos and webinars—check out the GoDaddy Training Hub.

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Save Money on Healthcare During Open Enrollment

By Tracie Rollins, Infusionsoft

Save Money on Health Care During Open EnrollmentFor coverage starting in 2015, the Open Enrollment runs from November 15, 2014 to February 15, 2015. If you’re a young tobacco-free whippersnapper, your rates will be the best. If you’re not, there are tips that might save you some money.

The purpose of the Affordable Care Act (also well known as Obamacare) is to provide more Americans with access to affordable health care, improve the quality of health care and health insurance, regulate the health insurance industry and reduce health care spending in the United States.

Prior to the implementation of this law, insurance carriers used medical underwriting as a way to assess risk and calculate premiums. If you had a pre-existing health condition, an insurer could either refuse to sell you coverage or charge you a higher premium. With the Affordable Care Act, there are only five factors that affect pricing and here’s your best opportunity to get the lowest rates.

Save Money on Open Enrollment

Tip #1 Age: Older people can be charged up to 3 times more than younger people. Obviously, you can’t change your age so you’re out of luck on this one as an individual shopper. However, if you’re a business owner you might decide to hire someone younger if their qualifications match your needs.

Tip #2 Location: Competition, local regulation and cost of living is reflected in the price so you might consider moving a few miles to save some money. People just a few miles apart can pay significantly different amounts for insurance according to Business Week. Minnesota residents enjoy some of the lowest insurance rates. A 40 year-old person can buy a silver plan for $155 a month in Minnesota, but if you’re right next door in Wisconsin, the same plan costs $465 per month. That’s one of the highest rates in the nation.

Tip #3 Tobacco Use: Tobacco users pay up to 50% more than those who don’t use tobacco. It’s time to switch to the “healthier” alternative, e-cigarettes because evidence suggests that e-cigarettes may be safer than regular cigarettes. According to WebMD, smoke is the biggest danger from tobacco and e-cigarettes eliminate that risk. Tests show that the levels of dangerous chemicals they give off are a fraction of what you’d get from a real cigarette. I’m not advocating that you start vaping, but your insurance rates will drop if you do.

Tip #4 Family size: Plans that cover a spouse and dependents cost more. It’s probably too late to sign the kids over to the parents or file for divorce, so you might just have to deal with this one for 2015. At least there’s always next year!

Tip #5 Plan category: Categories reflect how you and the plan share costs. Plans are available in five categories: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and catastrophic. The more you’re willing to pay out-of-pocket, the better chances that you’ll receive a plan with lower premiums.

Based on these factors, your premiums stand to decrease you’re a young, vapor-inhaling divorcee with no kids living in Minnesota. But, be careful here; there isn’t a discount in the world that would offset that kind of weather. It’s a chilly 8 degrees as I write this post.

If you’re looking for more information on Obamacare including penalty information, tax credits and a comprehensive list of sites, I complied more tips for you here. Whichever tip you choose, I hope you find favorable rates this year and beyond.

About the Author:

Tracie Rollins of InfusionsoftTracie Rollins has focused her professional efforts on bridging the gap between knowledge and performance. She applies over 18 years of experience to marketing strategy, research, and development of content that educates, influences and improves the lives of others. She believes that education provides knowledge, knowledge drives actions, and actions change the world.

As the Content Strategy Manager at Infusionsoft, Tracie Rollins helps small businesses succeed by developing e-learning and authoring content for small business consumption and application.

As an entrepreneur, Tracie has appeared on KTVK’s Good Morning Arizona show, and has been featured in the Institute for Industrial Engineering magazine, Woman’s World, Arizona Republic and multiple local publications. She and her husband, Lonny help small business stand out amongst the competition with The Rollins Advantage, LLC. You can connect with Tracie online at LinkedIn or on Google+.

 

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Pics that Pay – 5 Tips for Using Images in your Online Store

By Andrea Rowland, GoDaddy

‘Tis the season for online shopping. I love it. Sipping hot cocoa in my PJs while I scroll through pages of kid-sized metal detectors, men’s watches and gemstone rings. I like to shop local, but I also know that I can find whatever’s on my gift-giving list without leaving the comfort of my home. But I only click “Add to Cart” if it looks great, from every angle.

Here’s where you come in. As the owner of an online store, it’s up to you to sell people like me on your products. I can’t touch them or smell them or taste them, but I can zoom in and hover over them to my heart’s content. The better the pics, the more likely I’ll be to buy. It’s that simple.

”While you can get away with cutting product photography corners, there’s one thing you have to remember: to sell online, the way you present your products is just as important as producing high-quality goods.” ~ Genevieve Tuenge

Sure, you might decide to go the professional route and hire a photographer to shoot your inventory. That’s awesome. Your pics will look great. But if you’re on a limited budget or have an affinity for photography, do-it-yourself could be the way to go.

In a recent GoDaddy Garage post, Genevieve Tuenge offered up five pro tips for using DIY images in your online store. If you’re going to take charge of the pics on your e-commerce site, these practices can help you do it right.

  1. Find a well-lit space. It’s hard to gauge the quality of a product that’s overexposed or swathed in shadow. “Both scenarios make for disastrous product images, unhappy photo enthusiasts (like myself) and bewildered customers,” Genevieve writes. Take a few minutes to brush up on lighting techniques to ensure higher-quality images.
  2. Use a backdrop. Keep your products in a starring role by eliminating unnecessary background noise; busy backgrounds distract from your featured products. Use a solid colored backdrop to make your products pop.
  3. Pics that Pay – 5 Tips for Using Images in your Online StoreGet shots from various angles. It’s all in the detail. Customers want to see if a product’s well made and has all the bells and whistles. If they can’t inspect your goods in person, at least give your customers some images that put their online buying reservations at ease.
  4. Pics that Pay – 5 Tips for Using Images in your Online StoreRecruit a model. Ask a friend to model that crocheted beret or gemstone necklace. It’s a lot easier to visualize what we might look like wearing or using a product when we see someone else doing it. You don’t need to recruit models for every product, but you should consider taking this next step for items you want to highlight in a special way.
  5. Write compelling product descriptions. Yes, this is a little off-topic, but even stellar product photos might not sell the featured goods without remarkable accompanying descriptions. “Your images should do the talking, but they should be paired with descriptions that pique your customers’ interest,” Genevieve says. “Keep them short and compelling with words that have personality and emotion.”

To learn more, check out our list of 8 inexpensive tools for creating pro product photos.

About the Author:

Andrea RowlandA former small business owner and newspaper journalist, and a published nonfiction author, Andrea Rowland helps craft compelling communications for today’s go-getters through her work as a copy editor at GoDaddy. Connect with Andrea on Google+. The world’s largest domain name registrar and Web hosting provider, GoDaddy gives small business owners the tools to name their idea, build a beautiful online presence, attract customers and manage their business. To get more tips for your small business—including articles, videos and webinars—check out the GoDaddy Training Hub.

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The Power of Saying Thanks

By George Obst, Certified SCORE Mentor

One of the most powerful rules for successful entrepreneurs is “show appreciation” often and sincerely. Psychologists confirm that this single act can do more to foster great attitudes and this leads to better performance. In employee surveys, time and time again , over 50% of the respondents are dissatisfied with the recognition they receive. Appreciate everything your employees, suppliers and customers do for your business. Your successes result from a group effort.

The Power of Saying Thanks

The Power of Saying ThanksAs we celebrate Thanksgiving, it is a natural time to express our appreciation, not only to our families, but to employees, customers and suppliers for their support. Our thanks should not be delivered solely when it is expected on Thanksgiving or year-end. Thanks to the folks that help make a business successful should be given often and when it’s unexpected.

Saying thank you helps motivate employees, encourages suppliers to go the “extra mile” with their service and helps create loyalty among customers.

Entrepreneurs need to develop a culture of meaningful appreciation.

Spontaneous, sincere personal touches go a long way to acknowledging employee contributions. And, employee satisfaction is directly tied to customer satisfaction.

Don’t miss an opportunity to thank when thanks are merited. Put it in writing, be specific, be personal and be unexpected. “Old fashioned” personal notes are better than e mail or text messages. But e mails are better than not doing anything. Thank employees, vendors, and customers for specific actions that were positive and beneficial.

Companies that foster a climate of appreciation and reinforce it often, generally have lower employee turnover, higher customer retention, and more committed vendors

We want to take this opportunity to thank you, our readers, for your encouragement and feedback. Our idea is to help make your business idea or business more successful. We are dedicated to making our Greater Phoenix SCORE Blog specific, educational, and beneficial to you personally and your business. Our circulation now totals over 12,000 readers, a significant accomplishment during these hectic times when it’s difficult to find time to “keep up”. Thanks for making our Blog part of your weekly reading ritual. As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions.

About the Author:

George Obst, Certified SCORE MentorGeorge Obst is a Certified SCORE mentor with more than 30 years experience profitably managing and growing businesses, including start-ups, purchasing, financing and selling businesses.

 

 

 

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Video: Barbara Corcoran – Inspiring Entrepreneur

Shark Tank Sharks including Barbara CorcoranYou know her as one of the lady sharks on “Shark Tank” and the Real Estate expert on the Today Show. She’s Barbara Corcoran who took a $1000 loan and built a billion dollar empire. This video is an overview of her business life filled with advice for budding entrepreneurs.

In her updated book, “Shark Tales” you can read about all the ups and downs, the good, bad and the ugly of taking a business from a dream to a multi-billion dollar success.

As a “shark” she not only invests in a business, but mentors them. You can have a mentor without having to get a “shark”.

Greater Phoenix SCORE has over 70 mentors in the Phoenix Valley at various locations who will mentor you for free! Whether you’re just thinking about starting a business and are trying to figure out if it’s a feasible idea to a fledgling start-up to a business who is a couple of years old and going through growing pains. A SCORE mentor can help you! Click here to schedule an appointment with a SCORE mentor in a location near you!

SCORE also has free business tools. Click here to access them.

 

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Don’t Neglect Your Social Media When You’re on Vacation!

By Giselle Aguiar, AZ Social Media Wiz

Beach vacation? Don't forget to schedule your social media!Whether you’re heading for the beach, the slopes or over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, the last thing you want to think about is your social media and marketing. But…..

Social media doesn’t stop just because you’re on vacation!

Ski vacation? Schedule your social media in advance!If you don’t keep being social, blogging and posting, you’ll risk losing followers — the followers that it took so long to get! Not everyone goes on vacation. Many people use this down-time to catch up with their to-do list, do research or get organized.

Here are a few steps to take before you hang up the “gone fishing” sign:

  1. Plan ahead – At the end of every month, you need to review site statistics and analytics, review your marketing plan and adjust and plan for the next month accordingly. If you know you’re going to be away, take that into consideration and plan for it! Related: The Power of a Good Marketing Plan
  2. Schedule posts – use free tools, Twitterfeed, HootSuite and TweetDeck to schedule posts to go automatically while you’re away. Related: What’s the Best Time to Tweet? ; Video: How to Use SocialBro & HootSuite to Schedule Posts & Tweets in Bulk
  3. Schedule blog posts – make time before you leave to write a few blog posts and schedule them to post in the future. Use that wait-time at the airport to write quick blog articles. Related: WordPress Tools
  4. Get the mobile apps – all the networks are available for iOS and Android – not all are available for Windows phones. Most of the tools are also available for mobile: Feedly, HootSuite and even WordPress.
  5. Post about your trip – you’re human, you connect with humans – humans have fun on vacation – have fun with social!

If you plan ahead, you’ll be able to relax and worry, if people will think you fell of the face of the earth – even if you want to actually do that.

About the Author:

Giselle Aguiar, AZ Social Media WizGiselle Aguiar, founder of AZ Social Media Wiz is a social media, inbound and content marketing strategist & trainer helping small to mid-sized business owners learn how to leverage the power of social media marketing, increase traffic to their websites, generate leads, increase brand awareness and establish themselves as experts in their fields. As with anything in business, using the right tools in the right way and at the right time are critical parts to your success. Learn from someone who’s known the Internet since it’s infancy. Official Social Media, Newsletter and Blog Manager for Greater Phoenix SCORE and Adjunct Faculty at Phoenix College. Social media training – 1-on-1 or for groups. WordPress sites and blogs. http://azsocialmediawiz.com 602-738-1700. You can connect with Giselle online at LinkedIn or on Google+.

 

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10 Things Every Business Website Needs

By Andrea Rowland, GoDaddy

10 Things Every Business Website NeedsLet’s say you own a bakery and you’ve got website for your small business. To you, it might be most important to showcase your amazing triple chocolate cupcakes. After all, you worked hard to make them and stage them just so for a recent photo shoot. Why not fill your website’s home page with enough photos of chocolate cupcakes to satisfy a chocoholic’s craving just by looking at your site?

Your customers, on the other hand, might just want your phone number — which is now buried beneath all those delicious images.

To be successful online, your small business website must have these 10 things:

  1. A great domain name. You need a domain name that shows who you are and what you do at a glance. It’s got to be easy to remember and type into a browser. With the availability of hundreds of new domain extensions, it’s never been easier to get just the right domain. To learn more, check out some strategies for registering a domain.
  2. Your phone number. It should be highly visible on your front page and, if it’s a primary mode of contact for your business, you also should include it on interior web pages. If you don’t offer phone consultation or support, make sure people know how to reach you.
  3. Your address. If you have a physical address, list it right next to your phone number on the home page.
  4. Your hours of operation. Customers want to know when you’re open (if you have a brick-and-mortar store), so make sure you make it simple for them to find out by including your operating hours on your home page.
  5. An email address.  Sometimes, people don’t want to pick up the phone. Make sure they can reach you via email. Using a free email address that doesn’t include your domain name? Perhaps you should reconsider.
  6. What you do. If you’re a bakery, this can be incredibly simple. If you work in a niche legal market, spell it out for visitors because if someone’s not sure, they could take their business elsewhere. Include a succinct description of what you do on your home page and more in-depth information on your products and services page.
  7. Who you are. People connect with people — that’s why social media is so popular (more on that to follow). Make sure your website says something about the people behind the website, preferably on a dedicated About Us page.
  8. Clear navigation. If visitors to your website can’t easily move from one page to another, they aren’t likely to stick around for long. Read more about navigation for your website here.
  9. Easy-to-read content. While it might seem like swapping links with other sites or creating a lot of advertising space is a good idea, if it makes your website hard to read or navigate, you’re working against yourself. You don’t need to be a professional writer to create strong website copy, but you should do a bit of planning in advance.
  10. Compelling visuals. Well-executed (i.e. sharp and well-lit) photos and videos can help turn browsers into buyers. They play an important role in telling your business’s story, and make a website more enjoyable to view. You can even create them yourself with your smartphone.

Just like owning a small business, creating and maintaining a successful website is an ongoing process of love and labor. But if you nail these 10 content basics, you’ll be well on your way to a website that’s as sweet as the icing on those triple chocolate cupcakes.

About the Author:

Andrea RowlandA former small business owner and newspaper journalist, and a published nonfiction author, Andrea Rowland helps craft compelling communications for today’s go-getters through her work as a copy editor at GoDaddy. Connect with Andrea on Google+. The world’s largest domain name registrar and Web hosting provider, GoDaddy gives small business owners the tools to name their idea, build a beautiful online presence, attract customers and manage their business. To get more tips for your small business—including articles, videos and webinars—check out the GoDaddy Training Hub.

From Lead Generation to Lead Capturing – the Role of the Website

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Got Problems – Solve them Fast!

By George Obst, Certified SCORE Mentor

Got Problems – Solve them Fast!No matter what industry, no matter what business you are engaged in, unresolved problems will fester like an infected sore.  Problems may seem easy to fix, but all too often the symptom may be fixed and the underlying problem is still there.  To effectively solve problems, you need to find their underlying cause. 

Every business, no matter how big or small has processes.  Some may be written as procedures and others may be unwritten but repeated every day.  When something goes wrong with a process, you have a problem.  Generally, unresolved problems lead to poor quality and service, and may lead, ultimately, to the failure of the business.

Let’s take an example of a business process failure.  The delivery of the flowers was late, after the customer’s promised delivery date.  The customer refused to pay.

There are a number of effective problem solving techniques and the one described here is both simple to apply and effective.  It is described, along with other problem solving techniques,  on the Mind Tools, Ltd. web site, an excellent source for management training.

Ask the why question, four or five times to get at the root of the problem.  Why won’t the customer pay for the flowers?  Answer – The flowers were delivered after the promised delivery date.  Why was the delivery late? Answer – An employee was out sick.  Why didn’t another employee fulfill the order?  Answer – The back-up employee needed roses and the roses in stock were not fresh.  Why couldn’t the supplier replace the roses?  Answer – The supplier required a full day to deliver flowers and this order was placed late, as a consequence of the absent employee.

Now, we observe there are two underlying problems, what to do when an employee is absent, and, second, in case of an unexpected event, how can expedited flower delivery in less than a day become an expected outcome.  In today’s competitive world, the businesses that bat near 100% are sure to flourish, while others that give clients excuses for bad service will come in second or maybe even last.

The flower shop initiated a new procedure.  At the start of every business day, all orders will be reassigned immediately if an employee is absent. Secondly, the shop owner researched other suppliers and found one that had an operating policy to fulfill any and all emergency orders within four hours, not a full day.  The flower shop switched to that supplier.

This “why” technique for solving problems was started in the 1930’s by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of the Toyota Motor Company.  It was revolutionary in its day, as most businesses simply lived with mistakes that were repeated time after time.  The premise of the “why” technique is that the answers to most problems come from the people who are working within the process being examined.  Indeed, this was the beginning of problem solving teams. Once the “why” questions are answered, steps can be taken to ensure that the particular problem does not repeat itself.  Businesses that have this problem solving mentality may deal with a myriad of problems over time, but they are different problems.  The old ones have had corrective procedures or processes put in place.

Problem solving businesses have competitive advantage as their products and services are better and more consistent, resulting in more satisfied customers.

If you want to improve your quality and service, contact a SCORE mentor today.  SCORE , a resource partner of the US Small Business Administration, can help you solve your business issues, Or, if you are starting a business, SCORE can help get your business  launched successfully. SCORE has more than 70 certified mentors skilled in most business applications, who will meet with you, at no cost, as often as you feel it is beneficial.  Call 602 745-7250 or click here to make your appointment with a SCORE mentor today.

About the Author:

George Obst, Certified SCORE MentorGeorge Obst is a Certified SCORE mentor with more than 30 years experience profitably managing and growing businesses, including start-ups, purchasing, financing and selling businesses.

 

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