Down to Business: Has Your Mission Statement Changed?

Questions and Answers signpostAwhile back, we wrote about how an important part of starting your business is creating a mission statement identifying the proverbial “who, what, where, why, and how” of your business.

Now that your business is up and running, however, have you noticed that the snapshot vision you created for your future doesn’t align with the reality? If this sounds familiar, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I reaching the target audience I thought I would?
    • Perhaps you were targeting Baby Boomers and ended up servicing more Millennials instead – have you updated your vision, plan, and marketing to reflect this adjustment?
  • Who runs the business?
    • Have you added new employees to your leadership team whose decisions add value to your business?  Do you need to?
  • What is the business? What is the product?
    • Ultimately these might not have changed significantly since the launch of your business.  But should your company or product be altered to meet new demographics you did not realize you would reach?
  • Why does the business exist?
    • You started this business because you had a dream and a market to enter.  But now that you have been operating for awhile, what makes you competitive enough to stay in the marketplace?
  • How does the business operate?
    • Is it time to hire a new manager?  Are you solely an online business and would like to move to a storefront – or vice versa? Could you cut costs or do you need to develop your inventory more?

Admittedly these are a lot of questions; however, it is crucial to question your business several times per year to justify the sustainability of your company.  If you aren’t questioning it, someone else could be, as well as developing their own company that might be your direct competitor.  Questioning your mission statement that you created with the original bullet points gives you a chance to look at your business as if you were your own competitor.  The best way to maintain your mission is to stay ahead of it!

Feel free to register for our upcoming business seminars – click on the links below for more information:

Have a question about business planning, products, or services? Contact Business Development or leave a comment below.

No Business Owner is an Island – Tips for Getting the Right Advice from the Get-Go


Starting your own business is one of life’s most exciting and harrowing experiences.  Good planning is essential to helping you stay on course and deal with unexpected hurdles. Research is the first step in the planning process and you don’t have to go it alone.

While you should be an expert on your industry, products and services, there is no way that you could be an expert on everything that running a successful business requires, particularly the financial, legal and tax requirements.   You may waste precious resources – your time, energy and possibly money- in the long run trying to do things yourself that you are not qualified to do.

Outside experts can include bookkeepers/accountants, lawyers, web designers and business coaches.  Too often, we think we have all the answers and are the only people who can really get things done.  The reality is that we are in danger of stretching ourselves too thin, and can risk the potential success of our business by not utilizing outside expertise.  Consider hiring on a consulting basis to keep costs low until your revenues start growing.  Look to your industry for references – the ideal professionals are those who have specialized in yours.

Unless you are a numbers whiz or have a degree in accounting, it is advisable to get a professional to set up your accounting system.  Each start-up is unique but generally most start ups can begin with a bookkeeper.  The bookkeeper will help start you off with a good record keeping system, handle financial transactions, and produce financial statements.  An accountant will cost more, especially if you plan to aggressively grow.  To keep costs down, you can use an accountant for year-end tax planning; the right accountant will not only help you with tax returns, but also with longer term tax planning and networking.

Good legal advice is worth its weight in gold; bad advice can destroy your business.  A good business lawyer will provide vital assistance in almost every aspect of your business, from basic zoning compliance, copyright and trademark advice, to formal business incorporation, lawsuits and liability.

Hire a web designer who can design both your logo and website.  You want a website focused solely on your company that is easy to navigate and full of useful information.   Before the designer gets started, think about exactly what you want someone to do and how they should feel logging onto your site.

Get a coach.   Even if at first you don’t get a business coach to help you and guide you in your planning and operation, get someone who is objective and outside of your business whom you can rely on for nitty-gritty business advice and to hold you accountable for getting results.    Another set of eyes can work wonders for how you operate both for you and your business.  An outsider can also make sure you are getting the numbers you need both on the top line and the bottom line to survive.

Working with these professionals from the start will not only increase your business success factor, but also free you to thrive in doing what you do best – your business!   Remember no successful business owner is an island; plan to utilize financial, legal, technical and marketing professionals from the beginning.

Have a question about business planning, products, or services?  Contact Business Development or leave a comment below.

Why You Should Become a SEG: Features and Benefits

downtobusinessheader-resized-600In 2012, we focused on how to build, plan and market your business. This year, we’re going to change direction a bit and narrow in on employee relations and how that matters to a business. Something you may want to consider is becoming a financial partner, what we call Select Employee Groups (SEGs). A SEG is a group of employees or members of an organization that is based in, or has an office in Monmouth or Ocean County. SEGs offer Credit Union membership as a no-cost benefit to their employees by working together with First Financial to create a cooperative financial services program.

The products and services offered by First Financial to its SEGs when a partnership is formed can add real, direct value to the organization’s benefit package – resulting in a stronger, more robust benefits package and a more effective way to attract and retain the best and brightest individuals.

We provide employees with the education, tools and resources to gain control over their financial lives, and as a result become more productive while at work. Educational blogs are available on diverse topics that benefit our members’ financial well being. The services offered go well beyond traditional banking products to include free financial education seminars, such as budgeting and credit management. Personalized seminars can be offered at convenient times at each business’ location. If you are interested in setting this up for your company, please contact Business Development or call us at 866.750.0100.

Join us next month for these great seminars:

Your employees will also have the opportunity to use these great financial tools available on our website 24/7:

As a SEG, you will also have access to our Ambassador Portal, a free tool available to all Ambassadors/SEGs which offers a desktop presence of the Credit Union that can be used at your place of business in order to keep up to date on:

  • Our current promotions
  • Events and seminars
  • Online account openings
  • Downloadable First Financial brochures
  • And so much more!

By becoming a SEG it will offer your employees financial peace of mind knowing they are getting the best financial service and benefits possible.Take advantage of this great opportunity and become a SEG today!

Disaster Recovery for Small Business

downtobusinessheader-resized-600Not since 1962 has the Jersey shore experienced the devastation of a hurricane the size and scope of Hurricane Sandy. Like many of you, we here at First Financial experienced disruptions in power and other critical services, while at the same time, dealing with employees and members impacted by the crisis.

While many didn’t plan for the crisis, it’s probably a good idea for any small business to take a look at what can potentially happen & how to plan for it.

 Start by minimizing the risks:

  • Develop a sound Disaster Recovery Plan – review and test it annually. This will help insure that systems are in place to help minimize the interruption in service that you provide to your clients and also providing valuable information to your employees that will give them both direction and peace of mind during a crisis.
  • Go out of your way to take care of employees
  • Make deposits in the bank of good will
  • Monitor industry news coverage, conditions and situations
  • Set up systems for early detection and warnings about crises
  • Identification and/or reduction of eventual risks
  • Establish good contacts with media and community
  • Conduct a vulnerability audit

When and if a crisis occurs, carefully evaluate the damage and prioritize your responses to employees, vendors, media and the community at large (or any other critical audiences).

What can we learn specifically from Hurricane Sandy in terms of planning?

  • Create employee and business evacuation plans
  • Review remote office resources
  • Consider cloud-based client and project management systems
  • Make employees a first priority
  • Ensure an uninterrupted payroll
  • Establish a mobile work environment

What should we consider in regard to technology in the wake of the hurricane?

  • What tools are best for communicating? For example, cell vs. satellite vs. text messaging
  • Phone system: do we have voice activation, an 800 #, forwarding, online voicemail?
  • Do we have remote-access to an e-mail server?
  • What if we need to transition to a virtual office?

Some other advice:

  • Be proactive and routinely discuss, practice and implement your plans ahead of time
  • Ensure you have established clear, defined tasks and functions for everyone
  • Prepare strategic messages for every problematic, hard question imaginable
  • Be able to track and communicate with employees, clients and vendors
  • Realize planning is a best case scenario: what you least expect will happen, and most often what you think may happen may not.

If your business was impacted by Hurricane Sandy, the SBA may be able to help. Click here for more details. Additional details about SBA disaster loans are available on this fact sheet.

If you have questions related to any of your First Financial business accounts or loans, please Contact Business Development or leave a comment below.

It’s Time for a Third Quarter 2012 Review of Your Business Plan

downtobusinessheader-resized-600The third quarter wrap-up is quickly approaching therefore it’s a good idea to review the progress on your business plan again. Your business plan should include short-term goals (3-6 months) as well as annual goals and long-term goals (two years or longer). It’s important to understand not only whether you’re meeting your goals, but why or why not and what changes need to be implemented to make sure you meet those goals.

As summer closes and you gear up for fall, you want to look at your progress on some crucial priorities in your business plan. This should start with your revenue and profitability. Are you meeting the targets you set at the beginning of the year? If not, it’s worth looking at how you’ve done on your other priorities to see if you can determine the reason.

This is the time of year when you should evaluate your marketing efforts. If you devised a marketing plan in January, maybe it’s worked out exactly as you had hoped. But nine months have gone by and the realities of your business are not always what you thought they were going to be. You need to consider whether that marketing plan requires an adjustment.

Remember, your business plan doesn’t have to be set in stone. You can see it as a living document that is open to amendments. If we can amend the Constitution, you can amend your business plan if it needs it!

You should also look at whether you’re hitting your target demographic. A simple but tailored customer survey – possibly conducted online or via phone, can help you find out. These techniques can often help you understand if you’re reaching the people you need to reach, and whether you need to tweak your approach to do so more effectively.

Take a step back and ask yourself, are you hitting your target demographic or do you need to tweak it? Create an online survey and/or make a follow up call to see if your customers are happy with your service and if you are meeting their needs/expectations.

Recently, one of our team members visited a local hair salon. She received a follow up call within the week to see if she was happy with the service they provided, and if she had any recommendations to improve the experience. Small businesses that follow up are smart, usually among the first to recognize the adjustments they need to make and tend to be more successful than those who do not. So, make it your priority to review your business plan before the year comes to a close and adjust wherever you may need to!

Have a question about business planning, products, or services? Contact Business Development or leave a comment below.

Turning Your Customer Database into Business Growth

downtobusinessheader-resized-600In June, we focused on promotional programs that would allow you to build a database of followers. Once you have that database, of course, you’ve only achieved the first step. Now you need to use it effectively to build your business.

There are several ways to do that, but you must know what’s strategic for your particular business, and you must execute them well.

Loyalty cards can be effective because they draw your customers into your business with discounts and/or rewards programs, and will keep them coming back. Many of the cards are able to do more than just earn loyalty through discounts. They can help businesses understand the buying habits of their customers and market to them more effectively.

Social media can also be a very beneficial tool, and allows you to engage your customers. In one innovative promotion we saw, a store invited customers to comment on the store’s Facebook page about their experiences with the store, and those who did were automatically entered into a sweepstakes competition. In another, a restaurant invited customers to post photos of their meals and comment on them for a chance to win a prize. There is almost no limit to what a business can do using social media. A clothing store could invite customers to post photos of themselves in their new outfits. It’s the sort of thing that can generate energy and buzz, and the best part is that the customers do most of the work for you!

Email is also very effective if you use it correctly. You don’t want to constantly invade your customers’ inboxes, but when you have something that is truly of value to them, email lets you get it to them directly. You can offer them coupons and promo codes for birthdays, anniversaries or other special occasions – or even just for the season at hand.

Speaking of promo codes, there’s no reason not to add them onto the back of your business cards as well. You hand them out all the time, after all. Give recipients an easy way to try out the experience of doing business with you.

Of course, so much of modern communication is now happening in the mobile environment, it also makes sense to communicate with people on their mobile devices. Again, you have to be careful because they may not respond well if they’re constantly receiving promotional texts from you. But there’s a right way to do it, and Derek Johnson, CEO of SMS marketing software Tatango, explains it here.

It’s all about getting permission to capture customers’ information, and then making sure they understand how you’ll use it. And of course, quantity is not what gets results. Quality is – and that means useful, relevant messages that offer value to the customer, including worthwhile discounts, deals and other offers the customers have already told you they want.

Finally, customer referral programs offer a win-win, as you can reward customers with discounts when they refer a friend – and of course, you get a new customer in the process.

Customer referral programs can keep your customer focused on promoting your business. Referring a friend can not only benefit the customer but also the business as well.  If they tell their friends and offer them an incentive, customers will be more engaged and more likely to keep spreading the word.  The business will make more money as a result.  It is a win-win for everyone.

Your customer database is a tremendously valuable asset! But like any asset, you have to use it wisely and effectively to get the value out of it.

Have a question about business planning, products, or services? Contact Business Development or leave a comment below.