Small Business Makeovers in 2015: Advice taken to heart after makeovers of 3 Miami-Dade companies

In 2015, Miami Herald makeovers gave small business owners across Miami-Dade County the opportunity to work, free of charge, with retired business experts to make their companies better. The Herald partnered with certified counselors from the Miami-Dade Chapter of SCORE, a nonprofit organization of volunteers who have been successful entrepreneurs. SCORE volunteer counselors use their experience and expertise in business to offer free mentoring services that help small businesses grow, improve and succeed. For each makeover, SCORE put together a team to dispense advice and assistance that helped small businesses like AAA Million Auto Parts in Little Havana, A-KiD’s Party Express in Hialeah and C.S. Orchids in Miami to develop comprehensive business plans, embrace social media and find new ways to engage their customers.

Recently, the Herald sat down with Orlando Espinosa of SCORE to take a look back at how a few of these small businesses that received a makeover in 2015 are doing today.

A-KiD’s Party Expressemineo media A-Kid's party express Miami Herald

Back in March, SCORE counselors Doug Shavel, CEO of Galante Studio Distribution; Jorge Gonzalez, founder and principal of Vermis Analytics; and Senen Garcia, a Miami-based attorney, helped Daniel Guzmán and Isabel Arias, owners of A-KiD’s Party Express in Hialeah.

As often happens with small businesses, the owners do multiple jobs within the company. Guzmán and Arias were no different. They were so busy running the business day-to-day that marketing often fell by the wayside. They purchased the company from its previous owners in 2004 and never looked back. The SCORE team recommended that Guzmán and Arias use social media to market their business. The team advised Guzmán and Arias to create a Facebook page and to get a Twitter account. They showed Guzmán and Arias how easy it is to use these free options to reach out to customers. The team also suggested that Guzmán and Arias revamp their website and enable online payments.

Although the business had been around for over 25 years, Garcia also recommended a name change to take advantage of the history of the old name, A-KiD’s Party Express, while introducing a new one. Garcia recommended rolling out the name as a new division of the company as this would enable a slow transition out of the old name while building the brand of the new one. Guzmán and Arias were hesitant about changing the name and weren’t committed to doing it.

“This business is a great story of what you accomplish when you buy a company from someone else,” Espinosa said. “They have revenue between $500K to $1 million annually and that is due to their hard work. With the SCORE counselors as part of their team, Mr. Guzmán and Ms. Arias were able to get a clear picture of what they needed to do to grow their company and promote it using social media, which is relatively cheap to do.”

At their first meeting with SCORE, Guzmán and Arias admitted that they did almost everything related to their business, which was tough. After talking with the counselors, they both realized that social media would be a great way to get their business out there without incurring much cost.

As a result of working with SCORE, Guzmán and Arias created a Facebook page and integrated their existing website with PayPal to take online payments. They did not, however, change the name of the company.

AAA MILLION AUTO PARTSemineo media aaa million auto parts miami herald

In July, SCORE counselors spent three weeks working with Margarita Hernández and her daughter Cristina, owners of AAA Million Auto Parts in Little Havana. The SCORE team included Espinosa; Althea Harris, assistant district director for Marketing and Outreach for the Small Business Administration Area 1 in Miami; Julio Canas, business development director for Harbor Ithaka Wealth Management; and Raju Mohandas, senior business consultant for International Services Inc.

Hernández was tasked with accomplishing three key things to grow her business: revamp her website; create a business plan; and consider automating the manual processes that were consuming a great deal of her time.

“With Margarita, we were able to take someone who had an interesting business with a long history that began in Cuba and work with her to do the things that were needed to see real future growth in her company,” Espinosa said.

Today, nearly five months later, Hernández has taken the SCORE counselors’ advice and is working with the team to implement their suggestions.

“We are helping Margarita develop a new brand identity and a new business plan that serve as a road map for her in the future,” Espinosa said. “We are also working on a new logo, a new website and delegating the work that is involved with running the company day-to-day so that she can concentrate on marketing her business.”

“Working with SCORE has been an amazing experience,” Hernández said. “The caliber of experts that small business owners get to work with is excellent.”

C.S. ORCHIDSemineo media cs orchids Miami Herald

In September, SCORE worked with Carmen and Carlos Segrera, owners of C.S. Orchids in Miami. When they contacted the Miami Herald for a makeover, the Segreras were looking to expand their company, which offers a variety of services including custom arrangements that can be purchased or leased and maintenance of private orchid collections. They also wanted advice on how to develop a business plan, use social media to engage their customers on a consistent basis and apply for government grants and contracts.

The SCORE team for this makeover included Sandi Abbott, the owner of Xpresso Content Café, a digital marketing agency that specializes in helping small businesses grow their sales and referral network by using the latest online marketing tools; Lorinda Gonzalez, a grant writer and owner of Grant Ink, a firm that provides clients with access to quality grant-writing services; and Sam Shirley, an associate with Prudential who has worked in the financial sector for major banks including Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

“It was great working with the Segreras,” Espinosa said. “The SCORE team is working with them on improving their cash flow so that they can expand in the future. We’re also helping them apply for grants and identify opportunities for government contracting.”

Now, anyone interested in orchids can check out the company on Facebook. “The Segreras were able to get their Facebook page going quickly,” Espinosa said. “We helped them with a content strategy and they have been posting on a consistent basis, which has resulted in an increase in followers for them.”

WHAT’S AHEAD?

For his part, Espinosa is looking to seeing what the 2015 class of makeovers will accomplish in the future.

“It’s exciting to see these companies take the advice they’ve been given and run with it,” Espinosa said. “What’s great about SCORE is that businesses don’t just get advice, they get a partner. Our counselors are with the business owners every step of the way, offering guidance and support.”

[divider_top]

5 Ways to Find the Right Niche

One of the first steps in the business planning process is determining who your target market is and why they would want to buy from you.

emineo media nicheIt sounds simple, but do you really know what you are selling and to whom? Is the market you serve the best one for your product or service? Are the benefits of dealing with your business clear and are they aligned with those or your target customers?

If you aren’t sure about the answers to any of these questions then you need to step back and revisit the foundation of your business plan.

The following tips can help you be clear about what your business has to offer, identify the right target market for it and build a niche for yourself there.

Be Clear about What you Have to Offer

Sounds obvious, but more than just a product or service, what are you really selling? Think about it.  Your town probably has several restaurants all selling one fundamental product—food. But I’ll bet one sells drive-thru fast food, perhaps another sells pizza in a rustic Italian kitchen, and maybe there’s also a fine dining seafood restaurant that specializes in wood-grilled fare. All these restaurants sell meals, but they sell them to targeted clientele that is looking for the unique benefits each has to offer. What they are really selling is a combination of product, value, ambiance (or not), and brand experience.

So, if you are starting a business, be sure you understand why anyone would buy from you. What needs does it fulfill? What benefits and differentiators will you bring to the table that will help you stand out from the crowd?

Don’t Become a Jack of All Trades, use Strategy to Focus

One of the pitfalls of not defining what you have to offer is that you can quickly become a jack of all trades and master of none and this can have a negative impact on business growth.

Think about it from the perspective of a consumer. How often do you see marketing flyers promoting the service of a local handy man who claims to be an expert in everything from drywall installation to plumbing repairs, and so on? Now, this handyman may get some business out of his efforts, but he’d win a lot more if he specialized in doing one or two things well, building a reputation for himself, and fine tuning his marketing message.  This is why you need a strategy: it will focus you.

Identify Your Niche

The flip side of being a jack of all trades is finding your niche and playing to your strengths within that niche.  Creating a niche for your business is essential to success. For example, say you want to quit your day job and become a freelance writer. You know there’s a need in the market for a trustworthy, reliable, and consistently good technical writer – and clients are willing to pay a certain price point for that quality and value.

Now you could simply advertise your services on an online freelance marketplace, as many do, and hope to pick up any business from any customer anywhere on the map. But by identifying your niche and choosing to attract customers who will value your services, you will quickly build on that niche and be on the path towards business success.

Source SBA

[divider_top]

5 Tips for Using Competitive Differentiators to Build Your Business Brand

Are you effectively using competitive differentiators to stand out from the crowd and win customers? Can you or your sales team clearly explain to customers why your build-brand emineo mediabusiness is different from the competition and why this should matter to them (i.e. the “so what” factor)?

Here are some tips for incorporating your differentiators into your sales and marketing strategy.

1.  Examine Your Differentiators and What They Mean to Your Customers

Very few businesses can sell and survive on a price differentiators alone. And even if your business operates in a saturated and highly competitive market, there are always facets of your business that can make you stand apart from your competition.

For example, consider the service contractor market. If your customers live in a town, city or suburb, then there’s a good chance they have plenty of choice when it comes to painters, landscapers, plumbers and so on. And while price is important, it’s important to be clear on what else you have to offer.

How can you really help your customers? Are you consultative? Can you advise them on the best solution for their needs rather than always trying to upsell unnecessary work? Is there a product that would be a better fit for their needs than the one they’ve requested a quote for? Do you have a strong reliability record? Do you supervise all work? Are you a good communicator?

Then ask yourself what these mean to your customers – what is the “so what” of your approach? Is it money-savings, quality workmanship/products that will last, etc.?

This is just the first step, and you may find your differentiators vary depending on who your customer is and what they need. But the important thing is they are starting to emerge; next you’ll need to define these differences in the contrast to what your competition is doing.

2.  What is the Competition Doing and How Can You Sell Against Them?

To help refine your differentiators, it’s important to identify the differentiators your competitors are claiming for themselves. Competitive weaknesses are just as important as strengths, so try to uncover your competitors’ vulnerabilities too and where your strengths come into play against these.

Ask around, ask your customers and check online reviews (Google+ Local, Yelp.com, Angie’s List, Service Magic and community discussion forums). If you lose a deal, ask why.

3.  Which of Your Differentiators Matter to Your Customers?

What matters to you doesn’t always matter to your customers. Listen to your customers’ needs, survey them or post a poll on Facebook asking what they value about your business. Use what you find out to further refine your differentiators.

4.  Integrity Matters

One of the most important distinctions between small businesses and larger companies is the role that the small business owner plays as a brand advocate. As a small business owner, the reputation and success of the business hinges on you. So be true to your business values as you work to define and communicate your differentiators. Avoid glibness, have integrity and be honest. Be prepared to explain why you are better than the competition without walking all over them – define your positives in the light of their negatives and back up your claims with customer testimonials and references.

5.  Ensure Everyone is Singing off the Same Hymn Sheet

To help you really define your differentiators, write them down. Prepare an elevator pitch and consistent marketing messages that can be rolled into your web copy, emails, phone calls and so on.

Source SCORE

[divider_top]