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5 Useful Apps for Small Business Owners

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

In today’s society, technology is everything. People use it to track their finances, communicate with everyone, track their health goals, and even wake them up in the morning. Technology can come in all forms, and small business owners have many opportunities to take advantage of the ever-advancing technological world. Apps are an easy and effective way to utilize technology, so here are five apps that are great for small business owners:


  1. Gusto: Similar to Quickbooks, Gusto is an app that streamlines the entire payroll, tax, and benefits process. The app can help you with employee onboarding by automatically reporting new hires to the government along with their tax information. The app costs a base of $36 per month plus $6 per month per employee, but if accounting isn’t your thing, Gusto is worth every penny.

  2. Slack: Slack is a communication platform you can use to keep in contact with all of your employees. You can create groups based on projects or departments, and keep track of workflow. You can also use the app to send direct messages, and there’s no limit to how many employees you can add. You can try Slack for free or get more features for only $8 per month.

  3. RescueTime: This app tracks and records how much time you spend on different sites. You will receive daily reports on how you spent your time that day, which is great for improving efficiency. You can get the app for free, but for $72 per year, you get access to added features like alerts and the ability to block websites.

  4. Square: For businesses like food trucks, retail shops, or salons, Square is a great go-to payment app. Users receive a portable card reader that they can attach to any mobile device for easy payments. Square costs $49 upfront and 2.75% per transaction, but it’s free to download and works on all devices.

  5. MailChimp: MailChimp is an email managing app that can help you send out newsletters and other mass communications over email. This email marketing app can help you keep track of all your contacts on email lists. Pricing depends on the number of subscribers you have, so look at the website for more information.


Being a small business owner means you have to wear a lot of hats. These apps can help you get organized, communicate with your employees and customers, and keep track of payroll and workflow, so take advantage of them because you can!


10 Ways to Recognize Employees for Free

Friday, May 26, 2017


Article by Reagan Freed, Solvere HR Consulting

Reward and recognition should be individualized to be effective. What motivates one team (or person for that matter) won’t be as effective for another. It’s worth the effort to find what motivates each of your people. Further, consider that not all employees appreciate a public display of recognition. It’s equally as important to find out HOW they like to be recognized in addition to learning WHAT type of rewards motivate them. Asking these questions in the form of a survey is a very effective method to gather the intel you need.

Reward and recognition doesn’t have to be expensive! In fact, sometimes it’s the most basic forms of appreciation that make the biggest difference. When crafting your rewards and recognition programs, also consider what is in-line with your company values. Some types of rewards will map directly back to your company culture. And the way you recognize your employees should line up too.

Here are 10 effective and FREE ways to recognize your employees:

  • A sincere “thank you” and handshake face-to-face.
  • Write a personal note specifying exactly what the employee did that you want to recognize.
  • Recognize a job well done in a meeting or get others involved in applauding the great work.
  • Send a shout-out around in your company’s private social site or other public social media channel.
  • Mention an employee’s success story in a presentation, webinar or even in the company newsletter.
  • Give a long lunch, an extra break or a get-out-of-work-free day.
  • Offer a stretch goal or even let an employee take on a more managerial role—like a team lead.
  • Arrange for the CEO or other top manager to stop by and say, “Great job on _________!”
  • Offer extra flexibility or more chances to work from home if desired.
  • Create a “Wall of Fame” or white board where you display what employees do that’s extraordinary.


Solvere HR Consulting provides powerful HR solutions that optimize your organizational capability and profitability through your most valuable asset -- your employees. Learn more at

Reagan is an accomplished HR executive with extensive experience supporting small, mid- and large businesses develop people strategies that support organizational goals. Her experience ranges across a wide variety of industries including engineering, construction, telecommunications and business process outsourcing (BPO).

She has experience working in the United States and internationally in Europe, Middle East, Australia/New Zealand, Liberia and many countries in Asia.

She is recognized for being a multi-talented and versatile problem-solver with a proven track record of increasing employee engagement and enhancing leadership capabilities that directly impact bottom line results. Reagan’s broad knowledge of business disciplines enable her to develop unique people strategies designed to contribute to overall strategy.

Reagan earned her Bachelor's in Business Management from the University of Colorado, Denver and is a certified SHRM-SCP. She is passionate about advancing the HR profession, and serves as a volunteer for the Boulder Area Human Resources Association (BAHRA) as the Director of Communications & Marketing.

How To Focus Your Marketing Budget

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Not all customers are created equally.

No matter how advanced we get with technology, we’ll never be able to predict how much a specific customer will spend. However, there are ways to analyze existing data to help profile customers and determine where your marketing budget should be focused.

The fact remains, not all customers are equally profitable, nor do they all have the potential to become your most profitable customers. This is a fundamental tenet of marketing, which is why it’s critical to continuously improve the impact of every marketing dollar spent. 

By utilizing your database to communicate the right offer, to the right person, at the right time, you can effectively influence customer decisions. It all begins with segmenting customers to deliver the right message at the right time.

Your budget will likely dictate how sophisticated you can be in your data segmentation. The three most basic forms of data segmentation are:

1) Demographic – Age, Income, Net Worth

2) Attitudinal – Psychographic, Clusters

3) Behavior – Lifestyle, Buying History

Once you’ve developed your segmentation, RFM analysis, and cluster analysis, predictive modeling can be used to measure and identify segments with the most relevance.

RFM looks at customer history to determine recency, frequency, and monetary value.  Customers are then scored and a contact strategy can be developed.

A cluster analysis can assist you in developing “clusters” or groups of customers with similar characteristics, but who are different from members of other clusters. By differentiating, messaging strategies can be better developed.

Lastly, predictive modeling identifies multiple variables that may or may not relate to buying behavior. Variables are fed into a statistical program and the output provides a score for every record. When compiled correctly, this is a powerful tool that can improve customer acquisition and decrease customer attrition. 

In the end, knowing your customer can be a critical aspect to developing a loyal base from which your business can grow.

Joe Contrino is CEO of The Contrino Group, a direct marketing agency located in Lafayette, CO.

Joe is an award winning direct marketer with over 32 of years of experience.   Prior to founding The Contrino Group, Joe was a Senior Partner at Suite 700 Direct, Integrated Marketing Solutions Manager at Henry Wurst, Inc., and CEO and owner of Contrino Direct Marketing, Boulder, CO.

Joe is a Direct Marketing Association Certified Direct Marketer Professional, Industry Co-Chair of the Denver Postal Customer Council Board of Directors, and speaks regionally and nationally on direct marketing topics and trends.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Tradeshow

Friday, May 12, 2017

Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Tradeshow

Tradeshows are great for any business. Not only are they an excellent place to display your business, but they make networking easy and they’re fun. If you’re new to the tradeshow circuit, the idea of presenting your business at such a platform can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few tips to help you get started and make the best of your tradeshow experience:

1.     Have at least two people from your business attend if you can

One person will need to attend your booth at all times to talk about your business and answer questions anyone might have. The second representative will be responsible for networking: they should explore the tradeshow with business cards in hand, meet people, and try to acquire some clients or business partners. They can also attend any lectures or workshops at the show. Both of your representatives need to be knowledgeable enough about your business to answer any questions and thoroughly explain what you do.

2.      Pay attention to aesthetics

Your booth needs to be attractive, since that’s what initially attracts attendees. Use colorful banners and large printed photos. Use technology if you can: running slideshows or videos on a TV always creates a crowd. Make sure your company’s logo is clearly visible. Also make sure your representatives are dressed nicely and in a way that represents the attitude of your business (however, sweatpants are never acceptable). Just being there isn’t enough: your display needs to be noticeable.

3.     Prepare your people

As previously mentioned, whoever is representing your business at the tradeshow need to be well versed in all aspects of your business. If you are featuring specific products, write a short script for the person/people presenting it at your booth. Rehearse a quick introduction for your booth and for networking. You can also create a spec sheet for any details that are important or any questions that might be asked. Just make sure your representatives don’t say the wrong thing.

4.     Bring your products

If you have a product, it needs to be presented at your display. If your product is small enough, bring a lot. If you have a larger product, like a piece of equipment, ask for some outdoor space to do a demonstration or film it working and have the video rolling at your display. There is no point of presenting your business if you don’t have your product clearly visible somewhere in your display.

5.     Have fun

Tradeshows are fun. They are a meeting of people and businesses with similar interests. They are a place where you can get excited about what you do and show off your business. Networking is important, but being personable and having fun with the experience makes it easier to talk to people. The same goes for presenting your business at your booth: being confident in your knowledge and expertise will make people feel more comfortable interacting with you. Explore and smile, and you will certainly get the most from your tradeshow experience.

Tradeshows are a great opportunity to humanize your business and get your company more facetime. Tradeshows cost money, and they aren’t always cheap, so make sure you take full advantage of the opportunity.

Colorado Celebrates 30 Years of SBDC Services

Thursday, March 23, 2017

On March 22, the Colorado Small Business Development Center Network was honored for 30 years of service. Since 1987, Colorado’s SBDC network has helped aspiring and emerging small business owners achieve the American dream of entrepreneurship. The SBDC network in Colorado is the only statewide program of its kind with nearly 70 locations across the state.

In 2016, Colorado’s SBDCs provided 12,000 hours of consulting to 6,236 client businesses, resulting in 3,770 jobs created, $95 million in sales growth, $122 million in capital investments, and 451 new businesses started.

Boulder’s SBDC provided almost 3,000 hours of consulting to 621 client businesses, produced 85 workshops for 1,046 attendees, and helped start 31 businesses, create 259 jobs, and retain another 463 jobs. With the help of the Boulder SBDC, local businesses infused almost $44 million of capital, increased sales by over $6.5 million, and were awarded over $3.3 million in contracts.

Colorado participated in the first National SBDC Day on March 22 to celebrate the collective impact and success the SBDC has had across the state. SBDC Day is a national movement to help share small business success stories and notable impact SBDCs have fostered in communities across the country.

"For the past 30 years, the SBDC has worked to make Colorado a nationwide leader in job creation and small business growth," said director of the Colorado SDBC Network, Kelly Manning. "We are very proud of the work we have accomplished. Small business is the backbone of Colorado's economy."

Colorado's SBDC is the only SBDC program in the nation housed within the Governor's office and is one of only a handful of programs nationally accredited in technology development. It provides free, confidential consulting and no- or low-cost training programs and workshops.

"We are continually helping businesses bring new ideas and technologies to market and further escalating Colorado's innovative spirit," Manning said. "Our SBDC Network team of more than 250 staff and certified business consultants work in partnership to provide entrepreneurs with crucial information that can mean the difference between success and failure. "

Over 560,000 small businesses employ over 1 million people in Colorado.

"Our experts assist small businesses in every county throughout Colorado to create and retain jobs, increase sales, secure contracts and infuse capital into the economy," Manning added.

"We are thrilled to see SBDCs around the country working together to celebrate their clients and showcase the work they do for America's small businesses," said Charles "Tee" Rowe, America's SBDC President & CEO. "SBDC clients see an average job growth of 15.5 percent versus the national job growth average of just 1.9 percent. There is no denying the impact SBDCs have on the success of the small businesses in their communities and their local economies."

To learn more about Colorado's SBDC network visit

Busting the Small Business Myth: "We Don't Do That Here"

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Limited resources and size constraints often force small businesses to forgo a formal sales, marketing, or product development team.  With that comes the claim, “We don’t do that here.”  But if the company has at least one paying customer, someone has defined the product or service that someone promoted for someone to sell.  So, it is safe to proclaim that any small business DOES “do that here,” even if it is the same person that does all three and limited or sporadic effort is applied.

The issue is whether these commercial activities – sales, marketing, and product definition – are being done well enough to reach revenue and profitability goals.  The famous quote, “Nothing happens until someone sells something,” sums it up nicely.  Commercial activities that are subpar will make the life of small business owners even more challenging.  Missing revenue goals can only be addressed by revising the commercial elements of the business.

What are the fundamental commercial actions?  There are three.  First, marketing leads to compelling messaging that resonates with and attracts customers.  Second, product development is about implementing “just right” solutions that meet unmet market needs.  Third, sales brings it home by diagnosing prospective customer needs and prescribing the best solution: yours!  This even applies to businesses where such activities might not seem obvious, like a retail shop or professional services business.

Get commercial activities on track by asking three questions:

  1. Why should someone buy your product or service instead of the next best alternative?

  2. What is the most compelling way to lead people to choose your offering?

  3. How do you supply products or services that customers will consistently purchase?

Answers to these questions may uncover areas of the business that need focused improvement efforts.  The Boulder SBDC offers free business consulting, practical workshops, events and connection to resources that can help shore up commercial activities of your small business.


Erik Host-Steen is founder of SMP Alignment, a firm that helps leaders of small to mid-sized businesses grow the top line and bottom line by focusing on improving sales, marketing, and
product definition.  Erik has been selling, marketing, and developing products for 20 years and has become tri-lingual in these disciplines, proficient in all three areas and capable of translating between and across them.

 Look him up on LinkedIn or his website.

The Basics of Writing a Press Release

Friday, February 10, 2017

Writing press releases is a staple skill of public relations specialists. However, any business can utilize them if they know how to properly write and distribute them. Anyone can write a simple press release if they have the right content. Distributing press releases can be a little bit of a challenge because you need to make sure you are reaching the right target audiences, but with enough practice and know-how, press releases can significantly help your company grow.

There are a few things to keep in mind while writing a press release. First of all, your press release should include an interesting title and subtitle. Don’t just title it after the name of your company; make sure it is relevant and descriptive of the topic you are covering. The subtitle should be a short sentence clarifying your topic and relevance to your business or a newsworthy subject. It should look like something you see on a newspaper headline.

Even though you might think your company is worth a story, the media might not. In order to make your press release more appealing to journalists, it needs to be newsworthy. Newsworthy topics include new advances in technology and science, food trends, celebrities, breaking news, human interest stories and other topics you might see on the news or in newspapers. The best approach is to find a newsworthy topic to write about and simply mention your company.

You should also include quotes in your press releases. You should feature at least one internal quote from someone in your company and at least one external quote from an outside source or expert. Make sure that if the quotes mention your company, they are relevant to the topic of the press release. They should also have some substance. For example, instead of using a quote that simply comments on how well your company is doing, use a quote that compares your company’s efforts or successes to the relevant market.

Your press release should also include boilerplates. A boilerplate is a quick blurb at the end of the press release with a description of your company. This could be your mission statement or your vision or something else prefabricated from your company’s existing website. In addition to a description of your business, include contact information for yourself or someone within your company who can answer questions a journalist might have.

Distributing your press release can be the most challenging part of the process. If you are a new business, chances are you don’t have many relationships within the media. Building those relationships will be essential if you want press releases to be a significant part of your business. It will take some effort to build a good list of media contacts, but it is an obtainable goal. If you have a publication or media outlet in mind, it’s a good bet that the right person to contact will be on their website. Sending them a personalized email or phone call is a great way to start building a relationship with them.

Finding the right media outlet is also important. If you are the owner of a new restaurant, for example, it’s probably not a good idea to send your first press release to a major news channel or Forbes. Instead, try reaching out to local newspapers or search Google for local food bloggers. If your topic is newsworthy and relevant to their existing content, there is a decent chance that your press release will be used. Bloggers and local news outlets will be your best bet as a new business, but as your company grows, you can also look to larger media outlets, like bigger news stations, trade journals, magazines and more.

Writing a press release can seem like a pretty daunting task, but practice makes it easier. Distributing your press release can seem like an even bigger challenge, but as you build better relationships with the media and network more, chances of your press release being used will increase.

Why Infographics are an Excellent Marketing Tool

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Infographics are a great marketing tool that every business can utilize. They break down complicated data into simpler, easy to understand visuals. People love to look at them and love to share them, which provides your business with more referral traffic.

In this day and age, social media is a popular and useful marketing tool. Unfortunately, wordy posts often get passed over in favor of photos or videos, which are more fun and interactive. If you want your consumers to see any data or ideas that you might have, but aren’t sure what photos to share or you don’t have time to make a video, infographics are a great option. They are easily shareable on all social media platforms and tend to spread the word a little faster than wordy posts.

Infographics can be challenging to make, which is why some businesses often hire graphic designers to make them. However, small businesses sometimes don’t have the budget to hire someone solely for the creation of visual marketing materials. Luckily, there are a few resources that you can use to make them yourself. Here’s a list:

  1. Adobe Illustrator: Illustrator is commonly used in the world of graphic design. Adobe is a universally recognized brand in the business world and learning how to use it can be very beneficial. That being said, it is a little bit complicated to use and it might not be the best option if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands. However, it is a great option if you want to get serious about graphic design.

  2. Google Developers: Google is another very familiar brand. This app is free and works with the cloud like any other Google app. It’s also pretty simple to use. They have a variety of templates for you to choose from and extensive options so your chart matches your website.

  3. is another web app. It lets you upload your own images and videos and also offers a wide variety of templates for charts, graphs, and maps. This one is great if you have experience with Excel, since it uses the same format to upload data and create your charts.

  4. has an expansive selection of fun templates to help you create your infographic. It’s super simple to use and doesn’t take a lot of time to figure out. There are plenty of options with the free version, but you can go pro for only $3 a month if you want more.

Infographics are a fun and useful piece of any business’s marketing plan. Just make sure the information you use to make it is relevant and accurate. Most importantly, make sure it reflects the goals and brand of your business.

Government Grants: A Source of Funding to Move Forward with your Technology

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs can be a great way to fund technology development without giving up equity in your company or taking on debt. These programs serve as a great source of non-dilutive capital for your business.

These are three-phase programs where your company can identify and service government needs to fund development of technology you can then move into a broader market. Phase I is a proof-of-concept phase where you can test the scientific, technical, and commercial merit and feasibility of a concept that lasts roughly six months. Award of a Phase II grant depends on your success with Phase I. This is a two-year prototype phase where you mature your technology to the point you can pursue non-SBIR revenue. Phase III is the capture of this non-SBIR revenue. This revenue can in the form of B2B or B2C sales, or can consist of follow-on government contracts to deploy the technology.

Funding is available from most of the major government agencies. The key is determining research of interest to one or more government agencies from the published research topics that aligns with your company’s goals and core competencies. It is important to realize that more than one agency could have an interest in your technology. For example, a device that is of interest to NASA might also be of interest to the DoD for the Air Force.

Keeping in mind that the goal is commercialization, you will need a short commercialization plan for your Phase I proposal, and then a more detailed plan for Phase II. For best results from start to finish, it is best if you have the technology roadmap and market introduction thought through at the onset. Presenting a comprehensive, well-considered plan at Phase I that remains consistent into Phase II and can be executed to achieve Phase III revenue increases your chances for success, both in winning an SBIR award and in actually bringing your technology to market.

As part of rating your proposal, your commercialization plan will be rated on your knowledge of the market, not just your technology. Being able to clearly elucidate your target market, its size, forecasted growth, market drivers, and barriers to entry, as well as including a competitive analysis demonstrate you’ve done sufficient market research. Giving consideration to required regulatory approvals, channels strategies, and partnering opportunities lend credibility to your ability to realize revenue by commercializing your technology.

To add a cautionary observation, from start to finish, Phase I through Phase II to achieving Phase III revenue can be a three-year process. If your window of opportunity for your technology in your target market is shorter, then SBIR funds can supplement other sources of funding, but the prolonged timeline precludes you from relying solely on SBIR / STTR funding.

To end on a high note, many companies have successfully leveraged SBIR / STTR funding to develop and advance a technology and achieve commercial success. Developing a well-considered commercialization plan with measurable milestones and tracking to it are good business practices in general, but will certainly serve you well for success within the SBIR and STTR programs.


Ed Kase has been focused in strategic marketing and business development for more than 20 years, helping companies understand market conditions and implement go-to-market strategies. His expertise includes commercialization of government-funded technologies, with particular focus on the SBIR program. Technologies include software, medical devices, scientific instrumentation, aerospace systems, and pharmaceutical technologies. 

Tips for Improving Efficiency in the New Year

Friday, December 16, 2016

With the New Year approaching, it is important not only to come up with resolutions for yourself, but also for your business. Efficiency is on the minds of many entrepreneurs this year. Not only will new efficiency and productivity measures make running your business slightly less stressful, but they might increase profitability for you as well. While coming up with fiscal goals for your businesses, consider these tips for improving efficiency.

1. Get rid of inefficient employees

Bad employees could be restricting efficiency for your business. Not only are they themselves inefficient, but they could potentially impact your other employees by promoting poor work habits. Whether they’re not showing up, slacking off or just not doing their job right, it might be time to relieve your business of that burden.

2. Rethink your hiring process

Maybe you’ve had a pattern of bad employees or maybe you’ve seen high turnover rates of employees in your business. That might be because your hiring process needs to be revamped. If you want the best people working for you, you need to conduct thorough interviews to make sure they are the best. You could also revise your employment application to make sure you are asking the right questions from the beginning. Maybe you need to conduct more interviews or look more into potential employees backgrounds. Whatever your specific employment process problems may be revisiting your strategies could help you hire better employees and create a more efficient business.

3. Shorten your payment period for clients

If you give your clients a months long payment period, your business could be suffering. Giving your clients lots of slack with payments might improve your relationship with them slightly, but chances are it hurts your business financially. Your clients rely on you for quality products or services and you rely on your clients to pay you in a dependable manner. It might be time to shorten the deadline you give your clients to pay you so that you can handle your own financials in a timely manner.

4. Look into cost cutting measures

Look at last year’s financials and see if there is anything you can do to cut costs. Maybe you can try to go paperless and save on office supplies or get rid of other unnecessary purchases. Whatever you do to cut costs, make sure nothing you get rid of is vital for employee morale or client satisfaction. Hurting those relationships could hurt your efficiency in the long run.

5. Buy better equipment

With a new year comes new technology, including better equipment for businesses. If your computer systems are slow, it might be time to invest in some new software or hardware. If your machinery just isn’t working like it used to, it’s probably time to buy some new equipment. You can also look into task management apps and productivity monitors to make sure your staff is on track and on budget. Any product you purchase to help your business’s efficiency is money well spent.

6. Analyze your marketing efforts

Collect all of last year’s marketing materials and data and analyze it to see what you can do better. Look at the evaluation of your campaigns and projects to make sure they reached their goals. If you are looking to implement similar projects in the upcoming year, maybe those goals need to be readjusted. Or maybe your efforts weren’t efficient at all and you need to come up with new ideas. Figuring out what worked and what didn’t can help you plan for a more successful year for your marketing

7. Dust off your business plan

Whether you’re just starting out in the industry or you’ve been in business for a while, your business plan generally has room for improvement. It is especially important to reevaluate your goals if your company has expanded or shrunk in the last year. Revitalizing your business plan will mobilize your staff and encourage your employees and yourself to do the best you can to achieve your goals for the upcoming year.


If you are one of the millions of businesses in the United States looking to improve efficiency for your business in the next year, these tips are a good place to start. It might benefit you to get some one-on-one help from an expert as well (especially when it comes to taxes and cutting costs). Whatever you do to improve your business, good luck and have a happy New Year!


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