Learn how to win construction bids

For construction contractors, learning how to win bids and deal effectively with general contractors is the key to success. A good place to learn these and other business management skills is the Construction Contractors' College, a program of The Entrepreneurs' Learning Center at The Kingdom Builders' Center.

The third year of the program launches on May 3, 2016, with a curriculum shaped by representatives from certifying agencies, experienced contractors and successful small businesses. The program's major sponsor is Capital One Bank, and it's free to participants. Qualified graduates have access to more than $750,000 in funding to assist in expanding their businesses.

The overall goal of The Construction Contractors' College is to help small and minority business owners in construction and construction services prepare to bid on contracts in the public and private sectors.
The comprehensive curriculum was designed to provide relevant and useful information that can be practiced immediately. The curriculum has been developed and will be taught by experienced business leaders to achieve the following objectives:
  1. Develop sound business practices.
  2. Improve the credit-worthiness of the individual owner and the business.
  3. Position businesses for bidding opportunities.
  4. Take the owner's business to its next level, particularly in the area of economic development, enabling these businesses to become employers increasing the financial stability for themselves and their employees.
  5. Give business owners face-to-face time with general contractors.

Course topics include credit awareness, specialized business plan development, certification, bidding, project management and access to capital.

Participants will learn to develop a business structure around their skill or trade, improve their likelihood of securing financing, have direct access to the Metropolitan Transit Authority's express certification process and receive coaching and counseling from experienced professionals, including SCORE and other seasoned consultants.
Results to date have included increases in credit scores, certifications with the City of Houston and other major certifying bodies, and contract bids. Some graduates have bid on and won large contracts with a mid-tier contractor, in the medical industry and with the federal government since completing the classes.
The seven-month program is for small construction contractors who have been in business at least a year and have filed tax returns in their business names. Classes will meet on Tuesdays at The Kingdom Builders' Center, 6011 W. Orem Drive. Application for the next term closes on April 4. Only 20 slots are available to the best-qualified candidates. Learn more and apply online at  www.thekbc.com or call 713-726-2519. ____________________________________________________________________________ SCORE is a nonprofit association whose volunteers help start and improve small businesses. Send questions or volunteer inquiries to scorehouston@gmail.com.

Create a Social Media Policy for Your Small Business

Social media use by employees—posting on their personal accounts during work hours and mentioning your company on social media outside of work hours—presents opportunities and challenges for small business owners.

Creating a social media policy for your employees can give your staff clarity on what is or is not acceptable. While social media policies must meet legal requirements, they should also provide opportunities for employees to support your company’s social media efforts.

Here are some general tips to consider as you develop a social media policy for your business.

Realize that in protecting your company from lost time and reputation damage, you need to heed the rights of your employees as well. Research how federal and state laws will affect your company’s social media policy. The National Labor Relations Act's rules protect employees’ freedom of speech and the Federal Trade Commission has rules on what’s required in the way of disclosures for endorsements, promotion, reviews, and other circumstances where there are incentives for social mentions.

Explain expected behaviors and uses of social media. This includes addressing use of social media during work hours. Also, educate employees about when they need to disclose their association with your business when they personally post, share, or comment about your company’s products, services, events, etc.

Craft a “general” policy for the majority of employees and one specifically for employees who manage your business’s social media accounts. Team members who have the responsibilities of posting to and monitoring your accounts will require some flexibility and additional direction in the way of an internal strategy and a style guide.

Encourage employees to ask questions to help you identify if any elements of your policy may need clarification. It’s critical to keep everyone on the same page, so communicate additional details with all team members.

As with any other policy that might have a legal impact on your small business, it’s wise to consult with an attorney and/or human resource professional when crafting and implementing your policy.

Also consider getting free guidance from a mentor at the Houston chapter of SCORE. SCORE mentors have a broad range of small business expertise and can provide valuable input and feedback.

To learn more attend the SCORE class “Facebook for Business: Use Social Media to Promote Business & Increase Sales” at The Woodlands Chamber of Commerce, Wednesday March 23 from 9:30 - 11:30 AM. To register go to houston.score.org / Local Workshops.
____________________________________________________________________________ SCORE is a nonprofit association whose volunteers help start and improve small businesses. Send questions or volunteer inquiries to scorehouston@gmail.com.

Achieving Product/Market Fit

For any startup to succeed, achieving a good product/market fit is among the most vital of goals. But verifying that your product meets a strong market need and can stand up to competitors is not an exact science, nor does it typically happen in one grand a-ha moment. Likewise, building momentum in a market requires patience and comes with no guarantees as customers’ needs, regulatory landscapes, and competitive pressures change over time.

“Consider that your business will only succeed if it adds real value for the user. In this case ‘value’ means that businesses or individuals will understand they need or want it enough to pay you a price that will give you profit and success,” advises SCORE mentor and marketing expert Sue Phalen. “Start by understanding your target market's need and then whether you will be a better solution than your competition.”

There are some actions you can take to increase your success in accomplishing product/market fit.

Do your homework to understand your customers’ current needs and anticipate what they’ll need in the future. Research your target demographic by spending time with prospective customers, read industry blogs and print publications, attend industry tradeshows and webinars, and seek out a professional in your industry who might serve as a mentor to you as you develop your products and services. SCORE is a good place to seek a mentor with the background you need.

Focus on one primary and critical value proposition. It’s impossible to be all things to all customers. By homing in on what’s most important to your target customers, analyzing significant trends in your industry, and identifying where competitors are falling short in solving customers’ problems, you can deliver value out of the gate. If you’re solving a pain point for your customers from the start, they will be more patient in waiting for you to add other features and options.

Have a business plan, but be open to change as you listen to feedback and ideas from your early customers. Learning from what they’re telling you can improve your products or services. And be prepared to adapt your systems and processes to make your business more viable and sustainable. 

According to Phalen, “Good planning and research will pay off in costs avoided and a far better marketing strategy and tactics that will resound in your customers’ minds. It is not ‘how’ you bring your product or service but rather what the benefits are in the language the customer understands.”
____________________________________________________________________________ SCORE is a nonprofit association whose volunteers help start and improve small businesses. Send questions or volunteer inquiries to scorehouston@gmail.com.