I regularly find myself in the position of giving advice to retailers—and I love it. The passion and drive that natural products retailers possess is truly marvelous, and the work they do to transform storefront locations into a local treasures of health-enhancing products is inspiring. So if ever there’s something I can do to help these amazing men and women, sign me up.
Many times when visiting with store owners about growing their business, we come across concepts that seem like they’ll work, but are uncharted territory. Often these are good ideas, but ones that need additional practical input to put into place.
I’d like to share some great small-business resources I’ve found online. Some of them, along with the type of services they provide, have been around for a long time, while others are fresh tools that offer input into new market opportunities.
Short for Service Corps of Retired Executives, SCORE has been in existence for more than 40 years. According to its website, score.org, SCORE is a “nonprofit association dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and helping small businesses start, grow, and succeed nationwide.”
SCORE connects retailers with one of 13,000 mentors, all experienced professionals with personal track records of running successful businesses. You can meet with them personally and confidentially at one of 364 SCORE offices to discuss various aspects of your business, be it marketing, finances or expansion plans. Best of all, their advice and input are free. These mentors may not know much about herbs, genetically modified organisms or how to source local, organic produce, but they will know about cash flow, setting up budgets, borrowing money to expand and so on.
Score.org also offers a wealth of information and tools for small-business owners, such as financial-plan templates, checklists, how-to articles, workbooks and more. Plus, you can start the process of finding a mentor to meet with in person.
2. American Express Open Forum Crash Courses
American Express’ Open Forum offers many resources for small business. One I recommend is its set of online Crash Courses. Hosted at veri.com, these free crash courses cover relevant, timely topics such as Facebook for Your Business, YouTube Marketing, Search Engine Marketing, The Art of Hiring and Local Marketing. These courses are designed to take essential learning and make it fun, so they are very interactive—you can answer questions, move on, collect points, compete against others, etc. There are even Facebook and Twitter links for you to share your progress.
3. How to Use Facebook for Business
HubSpot, an Internet marketing company that focuses on assisting small businesses, offers a free ebook, How to Use Facebook for Business, on its website. Given Facebook’s exponential growth and its influence on so much of the population, consider incorporating this social media site into your marketing program. The book starts with the basics of setting up a Facebook page, walks you through many interesting topics and explains how to measure and analyze your Facebook presence. The book is free, but you have to register for it.
4. QR code–creation tools
At Natural Products Expo East last month, I learned about the many innovative and useful ways in which quick-response codes—those square-shaped bar codes we’re starting to see everywhere—can help your customers connect with you. QR codes are not as big as Facebook (yet), but are being used more and more every day. QR codes are great additions to your printed ads, barcodes and in-store signage.
Don’t know how to create a QR code? You are not alone. Check out paperlinks.com, where you can generate codes for free. You can also check out QR Code Generator, a free app I use on my smartphone.