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I’ve long been a big fan of ‘90s and ‘00s hip-hop music and I often make friends suffer through my quoting of lyrics. So small biz community, why not make you think about this hip-hop wisdom with me?

 

I promise there’s a small business nugget of great importance to you in this story. black-and-silver-cassette-player-159613.jpg

 

I Need a Doctor

 

In February of 2011, musician and business mogul Dr. Dre teamed up with another rap legend and protege Eminem and singer Skylar Grey to release the song “I Need a Doctor.” Now, I’m sure you played this a lot when it came out, but here’s a refresher.

 

The idea behind the song is that Eminem is pleading with Dr. Dre to come back to music and release the very, very, very long overdue next album he’d been promising fans for years. Here’s a little snip of lyrics I want you to read:

 

But you’re either getting lazy or you don't believe in you no more

Seems like your own opinions, not one you can form

Can't make a decision you keep questioning yourself

Second-guessing and it’s almost like you’re begging for my help

Like I'm your leader

You’re supposed to f---- be my mentor

I can endure no more

I demand you remember who you are

 

That last line: I demand you remember who you are. That’s the heart of the nugget.

 

Eminem is saying that when you get lost and start second-guessing yourself, go back to your roots and reset. Get your feet under you.

 

It’s important and useful advice. Unless it’s not.

 

Maybe We Didn’t Need a Doctor

 

At the time of this song’s release, Dre was working on other projects. Five years after “I Need a Doctor” came out (where Dre promises he’s back), he launches Beats by Dre and releases premium headphones to the world. They’re an overnight hit. He sells the company to Apple for over a billion dollars.

 

He thrives in a whole new direction, a “pivot” as the kids call it.

 

Dre released only one more album in 2015 when the movie “Straight Outta Compton” came out. It debuted at No. 2 and sold enough units. But it wasn’t exactly like the old days.

 

It didn’t matter. We didn’t need a doctor. Or at least, let’s say it this way: Dre knew where he was going even though no one around him was ready to accept that’s where he’s headed.

 

That’s the other big yellow highlighter I need you to take from this:

 

People won’t always see where you’re going, and they might inadvertently try to hold you back.

 

Your notes, then, should read like this:

 

  • I demand you remember who you are - go back to basics any time you feel indecisive.
  • People won’t always see where you’re going - your vision comes to you long before others see you at the center of it.

 

As a small business owner, sometimes you get thrown far off the deep end of ideas. You chase what customers need and that can muck up your business. Sometimes we add and add and add and lose sight of what our business needs to be (I demand you remember who you are). 

 

Other times, we should accept people won’t see the next big turn in the road and that we’ll have to earn our way into people’s minds once we start executing a new vision (they won’t see where you’re headed).

 

This isn’t some list of five ways to get people to answer an email. It’s more than that. The risk is that you’ll just read this and take no action. But if you had even five minutes, I challenge you:

 

Are you back in your roots? And are you working on your vision?

 

 

About Chris Brogan

 

Chris Brogan is an author, keynote speaker and business advisor who helps companies update organizational interfaces to better support chris-brogan-headshot.jpgmodern humans. The age of factory-sized interactions is over. We all come one to a pack. And it’s time to accept that we are all a little bit dented. Chris advises leadership teams to empower team members by sharing actionable insights on talent development. He also works with marketing and communications teams to more effectively reach people who want to be seen and understood before they buy what a company sells.

 

Web: https://chrisbrogan.com Twitter: @ChrisBrogan

Read more from Chris Brogan

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Chris Brogan to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. The third parties within articles are used under license from Chris Brogan. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

A new year is on the horizon—along with a whole new decade. If your business brand is in need of a makeover, now could be the perfect time to shake things up.drawing-feedback-logos-critique-17845.jpg

 

Here are six reasons you should consider rebranding your business in 2020.

 

1. You’ve added a new product line or service to your business. Does your current brand fully convey these new additions? For instance, if your pizza restaurant is now brewing its own beer, incorporating that into the overall brand could attract new customers. Alternately, you might want to develop a separate, but related brand for the new products or services.

 

2. You’ve narrowed your focus. If your business originally was trying to be all things to all people, but now you’ve found your niche, rebranding to emphasize that change is a smart move. For example, if your general tutoring business now focuses on prepping high school students for the college entrance exam, you need to refocus your marketing efforts to reach that new demographic.

 

3. You’re expanding into a new market. If you’re expanding geographically, a brand that’s too locally or regionally oriented may limit you. You also need to make sure your brand resonates with prospective customers nationwide—or even worldwide—which probably requires some adjusting. For instance, international expansion may require a logo that conveys meaning without words.

 

4. Your brand is inconsistent. Due to budget issues, small businesses often update their marketing materials piecemeal, over time. Eventually, you can end up with a hodge-podge of logos, fonts or taglines that are all slightly different. If this sounds like you, either choose the most current brand identity you want to focus on or start fresh. Either way, you need to bring all your marketing materials in line.

 

5. Your brand is easy to confuse with a competitor. A new business copying your name, logo or brand isn’t the only thing that can confuse your customers. As you expand to new target markets or locations, you may suddenly be competing with businesses you never knew about whose brands are similar enough to yours to cause confusion.

 

6. Your brand is outdated. Every brand needs a refresher from time to time. If your logo was cutting-edge 10 or even five years ago, it probably looks pretty dated now. You might need a new look to fit in with current design trends or create a logo that reads well as a small online icon. If you’re too close to your brand to be impartial, try conducting customer surveys or calling in a focus group to give you their honest opinions.

 

How to make your rebrand work? Try these tips:

 

  • Go slow. You don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Small changes can be more effective at freshening up your brand while still retaining its value and familiarity to customers. If you want to modernize your brand, for instance, try updating fonts or taglines while retaining basic elements like colors.
  • Stay connected to your roots. If you rename your business, maintain a connection with your old name. For instance, co-working company WeWork recently announced it will be rebranding
  • Build anticipation
  • Involve customers in the rebrand. Give customers a stake in the rebrand by getting their input. Share potential logo designs or new business names for a vote or to get feedback. Customers can tell you if your new brand accurately conveys the message you want to send. After all, they’re the ones you need to please!

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

 

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and Rieva+Lesonsky+Headshot.pngentrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.

 

Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

Right out of law school, I got a great job in a big law firm handling insurance defense. Being young and arrogant, I used to say that my job was to “deny claims.”matthew-waring-MJAoiige14E-unsplash.jpg

 

Now, years later, that embarrasses me.

 

Denying claims was not my job and not what I was expected to do. I was

expected to read the file and figure out whether the claim was legitimate and whether the company had reasonable grounds to deny the claim.

 

Here is what I know now: By the time a business insurance claim gets to the point that it is being litigated over, you are in trouble. Either the business bought the wrong insurance and filed a claim that wasn’t covered, or it filed a frivolous claim, or it didn’t have enough coverage, or something else went wrong.

 

Here is what else I know: Insurance companies do NOT want to deny claims. They are in the business of covering risk and accidents and expect to pay legitimate claims; that is what they do and that is what keeps them in business.

 

So, what you need is to have a “legitimate claim.” Let’s look at how that works:

 

Let’s say your business was injured or damaged in some way. The first thing you need of course is a policy. But not just any policy, you will need a policy that covers – and doesn’t exclude – the type of damage you have. (More on that exclusion word in a sec.)

 

Small business can get all sorts of different types of coverage, for example:

 

  • Liability: Comprehensive General Liability (CGL) is a type of catch-all policy. It is “a standard insurance policy issued to business organizations to protect them against liability claims for bodily injury and property damage arising out of premises, operations, products, and operations.”
  • Commercial auto
  • E&O: Errors and Omissions insurance is for professionals and service businesses for claims arising out of allegations of sub-standard work, i.e., negligence and professional malpractice
  • Property: Protects business property and assets
  • Business interruption insurance: If a disaster or catastrophic event does occur, your operations and income may be interrupted. This covers that.

 

The first thing is to buy the insurance that provides the widest net for the types of foreseeable risks that your business may encounter.

 

As for exclusions, almost every policy will exclude certain risks/coverage. It is akin to a health insurance policy that excludes certain types of drugs, surgeries, etc. Make sure the exclusions in your business policy do not prevent the type of claim you may have.

 

Next, consider the amount of coverage. The amount and types of things covered are often constrained by what you can afford. Of course, you can’t insure against everything but the risk is not buying enough insurance. If you buy some cheapo policy that limits coverage of a claim to $10,000 and your damage is $100,000, you are out of luck.

 

Best practice: Buy as much insurance as you can afford.

 

Finally, consider the deductible: One common way to reduce costs is to have a high deductible. Smart, until you need to file a claim.

 

This is how it is supposed to work: You buy some insurance. Something happens that damages your business. You file a legitimate, covered claim. Your insurance reviews it and pays you the amount of your damage, less the deductible.

 

As you may gather, a lot can go wrong in that process. It could be that your deductible is too high, or your coverage is too low, or your type of claim is excluded, or that you may have waited too long (the statute of limitations has run).

 

There are two additional things you can do to protect yourself:

 

  1. At the start, before you buy, meet with an insurance broker. As opposed to an agent, who only represents one company, a broker can steer you to the right company and the right type of coverage.
  2. If your claim is denied, hire a lawyer. Period.

 

And hopefully, your attorney will understand insurance better than I did when I began those many years ago.

 

 

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert  Steve+Strauss+Headshot+SBC.pngcolumn is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2017 Bank of America Corporation

One of my clients sells a small appliance to help people sleep better by creating an improved oxygen flow. She’s a dentist and has decades of experience with medicine and science. When she talks about this product, she can go on for hours about the appliance’s health benefits.

 

But I gave her a different approach to consider.pexels-photo-963056.jpg

 

There’s Your Brain and There’s Your Belly

 

We all want to think we buy with our brain, but that’s so rarely true that I swear there’s a “brain lobby” out there paying for advertisements to make us continue to believe it. We buy from our belly, our guts. We buy from desire, more often than not.

 

Sure, when you go to the hardware store to replace a blind the cat knocked down in a frenzy, there’s not a lot of belly there. But when you buy a coat, a new car, a pair of shoes, or anything where one of the options is “I don’t really need to get this,” it’s your belly that does most of the thinking.

 

So why, then, do we try to market from the brain? If I tell you the easiest way to lose a lot of weight is to eat whatever you were going to eat but also add eight cups of broccoli to your daily consumption plan, you’d hate the advice. Even if you like broccoli. But it’s reasonably good advice (barring some medical afflictions).

 

But if I tell you that you can eat a cookie every day and drop some weight, you’re all over that cookie. (There was a cookie diet, and at least two companies sell protein cookies instead of bars the last time I checked.)

 

Bellies Buy. Brains Justify

 

Your brain works to justify things. But what I love to tell my clients is always the same: once you hook the belly, the brain just needs the paperwork to sign off.

 

In a business-to-consumer setting, you have to convince the significant other. In business-to-business, you might have five significant others to convince. But it works both ways.

 

We use our brains a lot when we don’t want to buy something, or when we feel threatened. We use our brains when we find ourselves startled into a sales pitch when we weren’t ready for it.

 

That’s why the smartest salespeople (and marketers) work on the belly first. Our bellies talk to our hearts, to our fantasies and to the prospect of possibility. We love language that helps us see ourselves in the future we want to imagine. And once we’re done with filling up the belly, we give the brain the paperwork it needs to close the idea.

 

Two Different Languages

 

Bellies like different words than brains. A belly wants words like:

 

  • Hunger
  • Desire
  • Sexy
  • Champion/Winner/Boss
  • Optimal
  • Professional
  • Unique

 

Brains, on the other hand, prefer sensible words like:

 

  • Affordable
  • Effective
  • Secure/Safe/Protected
  • State of the art
  • Reliable

 

And so on.

 

Look at how various products are marketed:

 

  • Buick: At the heart of every Buick SUV is you - belly
  • Milwaukee Sawsall: Best in class performance - brain
  • Four Seasons Hotel (NYC): A landmark hotel on billionaires’ row - belly
  • Lenovo Yoga: Smart, sleek and secure - a mix of two belly, one brain

 

The more you start looking for this, two distinct experiences will happen for you:

 

1. You’ll notice more when people are trying to appeal to your belly and you can decide whether to let them.

2. You’ll believe you’re now immune to marketing to your belly (and you’ll be wrong).

 

Marketing works because our brains and bellies want it to work. We need shortcuts throughout our daily processing of information so that we can decide whether we want to devote any time or effort into thinking about something.

 

You might be a “buy a bag of black socks” person or the “I love funky fancy socks and I show them off at conferences” type. Marketing lets you choose which person you want to be and how you want to feed those interests.

 

How are you selling to people? Are you aiming for their bellies or brains? And why?

 

About Chris Brogan

 

Chris Brogan is an author, keynote speaker and business advisor who helps companies update organizational interfaces to better support chris-brogan-headshot.jpgmodern humans. The age of factory-sized interactions is over. We all come one to a pack. And it’s time to accept that we are all a little bit dented. Chris advises leadership teams to empower team members by sharing actionable insights on talent development. He also works with marketing and communications teams to more effectively reach people who want to be seen and understood before they buy what a company sells.

 

Web: https://chrisbrogan.com Twitter: @ChrisBrogan

Read more from Chris Brogan

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Chris Brogan to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. The third parties within articles are used under license from Chris Brogan. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

Duane Topping.pngVeteran and small business entrepreneur, Duane Topping, didn’t let PTSD get the better of him. This episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with Forbes Books dives into how he conquered his challenges and went from army veteran to a debut at New York Fashion Week.

 

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Narrator:                     Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com. Beginning in November 2019, US veterans are eligible for Bank of America's small business veteran's discount initiative, featuring an exclusive 25% origination fee discount for their Bank of America small business loan or line of credit. Visit bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness for more information.  And here's your host, Greg Stebben.

 

Greg Stebben:            I'm here with Duane Topping. His company is Topping Designs, his website, duanetopping.com. He's on Instagram @duanetopping. Let me spell Duane. It's D-U-A-N-E, Topping as you would expect, T-O-P-P-I-N-G, duanetopping.com and on Instagram @duanetopping. Duane, first of all, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

 

Duane Topping:          Oh, thanks for having me. It's a pleasure, and it's always an honor to be able to really share my story.

 

Greg Stebben:            Well, your story, actually, there's more than one story, I'm going to say. So, first of all, I want to introduce you by saying Duane is a fashion designer, and there is a story about how he got there. But before we even get to your story, Duane, I want to say, first of all, I'm not the most fashion-conscious guy in the world, but when I went to your website and your Instagram and checked out your Facebook account and your Twitter, what I saw there, the photos of the clothing you're making for women, they made me rock back and go, "Whoa." You create some very, very beautiful clothing for women.

 

Duane Topping:          Well, thank you. Thank you so much. Yeah, I think the only one not well-dressed on the website is myself.

 

Greg Stebben:            Well I will also, just as a tease, say that it's worth going to the website to see the clothes and also to see Duane and his t-shirts, because you have a pretty special collection of t-shirts, from what I could see.

 

Duane Topping:          Absolutely.

 

Greg Stebben:            So I think it's fair to say you do not have the typical fashion designer story. Do you want to tell us how you got into the world of fashion?

 

Duane Topping:          It's certainly not a typical story. Just to start off, an overview, I retired from the army in 2012, and, as you can imagine, I did three deployments while I was enlisted. After about 11 years, I retired medically, and I struggled. I struggled reintegrating myself back into the community, back into civilian life. I really struggled with mental illness, and I really struggled with PTSD.

 

Duane Topping:          I spent a number of years running from those demons, and I tried so many of those one-size-fits-all, out-of-the-box treatments that the VA passes off to you. None of them were really working. I went back to school. I went to try… I thought to myself, "Well, I'll be a writer." So I went back, and I went back to school. During that portion, I actually had a minor in philosophy. I took my first philosophy class. I hated it, absolutely hated it.

 

Greg Stebben:            But still got a minor.

 

Duane Topping:          No, actually. So here's the story. So I actually transferred over to feminist theory, and I ended up getting a degree in gender studies. During the course of that is really when I turned my own perspective around and realized, "You know what? I don't have to try all of these out-of-the-boxes things." They weren't working. So, by the last semester, I said to myself, "You know what? I really need to try something new, something different, something really out-of-the-box."

 

Duane Topping:          I've always been an artist, and I've always had this really subdued level or love of fashion. Even when I was deployed, I would be getting the women's magazines and pouring through them and cutting them out and making collages and sending them home and critiquing the garments. So I paired up. I said, "You know what? I'm an artist. I can do fashion."

 

Duane Topping:          So I thought I was going to teach myself to sew. I literally came home one day, and I told my wife ... I said, "Listen, I'm going to teach myself to sew." She turns around and she says, "Well, when are you going to do that?" Well, I held up my sewing machine, and I said, "Well, I'm going to do it right now." So I sat down at a TV tray, and I made a purse.

 

Greg Stebben:            So, before you go on, did you buy the sewing machine that day, or did you already have one?

 

Duane Topping:          I literally bought it that day. On my way home, I said to myself, "I'm going to teach myself to sew." I swung into Walmart and bought my first sewing machine.

 

Greg Stebben:            And made a purse.

 

Duane Topping:          And I made a purse. This was the fall of 2016. Well, I just fell in love with sewing. Yeah, 12 inches is something I could control, and I really found peace in that creative process. As I began to develop my sewing skills, I made a dress for my wife. I got tired of patterns. I started draping, and she says, "You know what? Why don't you just make a collection?"

 

Duane Topping:          So I did. I made a little six-piece collection. I got a photographer, and there's a funny story with my first model. She was actually in my English class, and I came to her after class one day and I said, "Hey, listen, I'm going to try to do a fashion line for women, and I'd like to use you as inspiration. Do you want to model for me?" The poor young woman looked at me crazy, but you know what? She took a leap of faith, and we did that first photo shoot the next spring.

 

Duane Topping:          In 2017, I did my first runway, and we've just exploded since then. We've done New York Fashion Week, two seasons. We've been published in Vogue, been in shows from New York to LA. We just absolutely exploded. So that's sort of the short version.

 

Greg Stebben:            Well, and you know what's amazing is, I'm thinking back on what you said. You started in 2016.

 

Duane Topping:          Yes.

 

Greg Stebben:            That was only three years ago.

 

Duane Topping:          Oh, man, and it's been a wild ride. I tell you, I've really had to learn a lot, and there's been a lot of obstacles along the way. Primarily, I don't look like a typical fashion designer.

 

Greg Stebben:             I will vouch for that. You don't look like a typical soldier, either.

 

Duane Topping:           Well, no, but I retired, and I protested haircuts and shaving. So you can imagine what I look like now, seven years later.

 

Greg Stebben:            Yeah.

 

Duane Topping:          So, yeah, I've got the long hair, the beard. I'm the typical biker. I ride every day. I don't even own a car. So when I would go to shows, even now, I'm mistaken for the maintenance man or I'm the doorman taking IDs, or I've been the janitor. I did a interview with Telemundo six months ago, and they thought I was a contractor there to fix the building.

 

Greg Stebben:            No, you were the guy that designed all of those beautiful clothing that they had B-roll of in the background.

 

Duane Topping:          Well, and it's funny, though, because, in the beginning, I was kind of offended by that. Then I realized, "You know what? It's that contrast that really leaves that mark, that people immediately have to question their perspective."

 

Duane Topping:          So since then, the brand has really evolved, and now I have to remind people that I'm more than the label, just like you are. I'm more than the aesthetic you see, and you can be, too. Don't let people tell you who you are, what you can be, because it's that depth of character in all of us that really makes life beautiful.

 

Duane Topping:          Yes, I'm a biker. Yes, I'm a veteran. Yes, I've struggled with mental illness. But you know I'm also an artist. I'm a fashion designer. I can be a diva. I can be a photographer. I can do any number of things. So there's no holding you back. You're only limited by your own imagination, really.

 

Greg Stebben:            I actually want to read something from your website. I'm talking with Duane Topping. His company is Topping Designs. The website is duanetopping.com. He's on Instagram @duanetopping. Many, many, many beautiful photos of the beautiful ... Beautiful is not even really the right word for the clothing you're designing. What came to me as I was looking at the photos is that there's a sense of airiness and freedom to what you're designing, and I want you to comment on that.

 

Greg Stebben:            But first, let me read something from your website. It says, "While on my path," and, as you shared with us, when you got out of the army in 2012, you struggled with PTSD. "While on my path, I found I could be more than expected, more than a veteran with PTSD. I discovered that I am not a label. I hope you can be motivated through this collection to say, 'Neither am I.'" That's really what I see when I look at the photos. So talk to us a little bit about the inspiration for the clothing. Where is that coming from, inside of you?

 

Duane Topping:          So much of the inspiration for the designs come from my story. They come from my journey. I always take just a little snippet of it. The fall/winter collection that you see on the website now is really a representation of my struggle with PTSD and with mental illness. In the beginning, I felt trapped, locked in the dark, and it was through fashion that I was able to escape that and find a freedom and make my way out into the light.

 

Duane Topping:          So if you look at that collection in its totality, I think you can see that story, because each piece represents a chapter, a sentence, a part of that journey. It starts out with simple lines, but the detailing is ... You've got belting and straps that look very confining, and then, as the collection progresses, it begins to open up. There's some runway pieces that really reflect that notion of freedom.

 

Duane Topping:          For me, the inspiration always comes from some portion of my story, some notion of perspective, some way in which to reevaluate how you not only see yourself, but see the world. I tell people, "You're never going to get people to stop putting labels on you, and the trick is to not start to believe them. You've got to shut those off and start creating your own."

 

Duane Topping:          That's what I'm about, and I think that's what the clothes are about. Each collection is a representation of a part of that journey. Then, as you add them together, at some point, it'll be a story. It'll be my life story, and I think that that drives my purpose, because, even now, while I love the artistry, I love the clothes, I love seeing faces of my customers when they're wearing them, it's still so much about that message of not being a label.

 

Greg Stebben:            What's interesting is you came from a world that ... I've never served, but my impression of the military is it's largely about labels and rank and things like that, and probably necessary in that environment. So one of my questions is, how did your army service help you with the business part of your business, and maybe even the creative part of your business? I'm really interested in hearing if and how the army part of your life has really helped you become who you are, doing what you're doing today.

 

Duane Topping:          Oh, certainly. The army broke me. There's no doubt, and I came out wounded. You can't see all of those wounds, but they're there. But I'm thankful to it, because, in particular, the business side is easy - the discipline, the organization, the motivation to push for a goal and not stop until you complete it. So that's really what I took from the military, in terms of the business side.

 

Duane Topping:          It's interesting. So many people assume that that structured environment is difficult to then match with the creative side. For me, I think one of the things that that structure allows me to do is it allows me to create that purpose that I have in the creative. It allows me to start with a story and then develop the creativity from that framework. Then, that way, the clothes themselves still represent ... Like you did, you can see what I'm trying to do. So that's kind of a nuanced way to see it, but certainly purpose, because the army only tells you purpose, direction, motivation. So you still carry that.

 

Greg Stebben:            My understanding is that being a veteran also helped you raise capital for your business. My understanding is you got a $10,000 loan from a CDFI, the Colorado Enterprise Fund, as part of Bank of America's Veteran Access Loan Opportunity Resource Program?

 

Duane Topping:          Oh, 100%, and I think, without that, we wouldn't be where we're at now. That was very, that was very good.  Particularly as a veteran, you come out of the military, and you're sort of left to fly in the wind. There's a lot of things about the civilian world that they don't tell you, because in the military, everything's structured. You know what's coming. In fact, you know what you're going to wear every single day.

 

Greg Stebben:            Yes.

 

Duane Topping:          You know what time you've got to be where you're going to be. Everything is structured. You know who's going to be there, and there's no deviation from that. So when you get out into the real world, the civilian world, so much out there feels like it's left to chance. But it's just because you don't have the knowledge, and it took Colorado Enterprise Fund and Bank of America to really say, "You know what? We appreciate your service, and, honestly, we believe in what you're doing. Let us help you."

 

Duane Topping:          The money was wonderful, and we've been able to utilize that very effectively. But I think more importantly is the support, even after the loan process, because, in fact, just yesterday ... and I sit down with their financial advisors. When I have questions that nobody else will answer for you, they're there to answer that for you, and I think that that's essential for a veteran in particular, because you've come from such a unique environment that really doesn't allow you to acclimate easily to a less structured world.

 

Greg Stebben:            I want to ask you two more questions, Duane, and one of them really builds on what you just said. That is, you came out of the service. You had the struggles that you did. You found something that really enabled you to get beyond that and create a successful business.

 

Greg Stebben:            I'm talking with Duane Topping. The company is Topping Designs. The website is duanetopping.com, D-U-A-N-E Topping, T-O-P-P-I-N-G, dot com, duanetopping.com. You can see many photos of the beautiful clothes that he's designing on Instagram @duanetopping.

 

Greg Stebben:            But the question I want to ask you that really builds on what you said is, when you think about the process you've been through in starting and building your business and getting it to the point where it is today, what advice would you give to fellow veterans who are in a place similar to where you were a few years ago, thinking, "Maybe I could start a business. Maybe I could fuel my passion as well"? What kinds of words of wisdom could you share with them now, knowing what you know?

 

Duane Topping:          Well, knowing what I know now, I think one of the key elements is you have to be able to go out and get those questions answered that you need answered. Don't take that first answer you get and run with it, because, oftentimes, there's many different ways to do things, and there's many entities out there that don't necessarily want to jump right into business with you. The Colorado Enterprise Fund was literally the sixth or seventh bank entity that we had tried to develop some funding.

 

Duane Topping:          So take that military training, that tenacity, that motivation, that purpose-driven, goal-oriented lifestyle that you came from, and carry that through to your business. Don't stop until you get those questions answered in a way that's positive and meaningful to you, because, eventually, you will find somebody who's going to reach out, because, unfortunately, you don't know what you don't know. So you've got to ask those questions, and it is. It's a lot of pride-swallowing, in terms of going into someplace and saying, "Listen, I don't know anything. Can you teach me?"

 

Duane Topping:          I think that's with any business, because not only did I not know the business world, but I didn't know anything about fashion - absolutely nothing. I knew nothing about balance. I knew nothing about construction, the marketing plans, any of that. Then, on the business side, I didn't know retail map. So all of these things, I had to keep asking and keep asking until I was able to get the questions, and don't be afraid to take that help, because, ultimately, small businesses thrive in a community. You have to begin to build that community, and a lot of that takes courage to open up, again, to that community.

 

Greg Stebben:            It's really perfect to hear you say that, because the last thing I want to ask you is really about the larger community. I mean, you came from a world of veterans. We know that lots of veterans start businesses because ... You talked about discipline. I think there’s sometimes it's a challenge to assimilate into the civilian world. But when you own your own business, you have control, and that feels more comfortable.

 

Greg Stebben:            But I'm guessing that, today, you find that you're a role model for all kinds of people, whether they served or not, and I'm just wondering, when you are talking to other small business owners and aspiring small business owners in your community, do you find that there's a big difference in the kind of questions they ask, whether they are veterans or not?

 

Duane Topping:          Actually, no. I really don't, because business ... I'm always surprised. When I got into fashion, I thought to myself, "Well, fashion is a different kind of business. There's so many different nuances, and a lot of this general business information is not going to translate," and it really is.

 

Duane Topping:          But I don't think that there's different questions. I think the problem is that, oftentimes, veterans run into the scenario where, because they don't have experience in the civilian world, they often don't know what questions to ask. So I think that that's the struggle. I think that the problem that veterans run into is just that when they get out there, they know that there's things they don't know, but they just don't know how to ask the question.

 

Duane Topping:          So, in that sense, I think it's different going in. Then, once they develop a fundamental knowledge of the direction they're going, some of the questions start being the same. "How do I get financing? How does that look, in terms of my business? How do I pay that back? How do I guarantee that the business is going to thrive in the future?", these kinds of things. "How do I market my product? How do I market my brand?" or whatever, those kinds of things.

 

Duane Topping:          The questions are similar, even without a veteran. But the problem is I don't think the veteran is given the tools to know that "marketing" is the word that they need to use or things like costing sheets. They have an idea of what the end product is going to look like. They just don't know how to ask the questions, necessarily.

 

Duane Topping:          But that's the nice thing about entities like Colorado Enterprise Fund, is that they will sit down with you and say, "Okay, these are your goals. Let me help you along the way and get you to ask the right questions to the right people."

 

Greg Stebben:            That's really well-said, because I realized, as you were talking, that if you're in the civilian world, even when there's things you don't know, you've seen other people do them, and you've been around the language and the vocabulary and the concepts, whereas when you're coming from the military world, it's a very different world.

 

Greg Stebben:            So, in a sense, you get some advantages, as you talked about. For instance, that's a great place to learn about discipline and things like that. But, on the other hand, there are some disadvantages, which is, in a sense, kind of playing catch-up with the civilian world and how the civilian world operates.

 

Duane Topping:          Oh, unquestionably. I mean, especially for soldiers who've been deployed, I mean, I don't think people can imagine being completely out of the loop for a year. I remember when cell phones first started doing texting and having email integrations and things, and we had no idea what that was. We had a whole conversation about ... We saw a headline about soldiers addicted to BlackBerries. Well, we didn't know what BlackBerries were, and we argued for three weeks, "Why blackberries? Why not strawberries? Why not raspberries?" We had no idea.

 

Duane Topping:          Then we went back to the same place where we saw the headline, and there was another soldier in front of the line. He turns around. He says, "Hey, you guys know that's a phone, right?" We're like, "Well, what's so big about the phone?" "Well, you can text." "What's text messaging?" I don't think people realize that that literally was ... So much of what you take for granted as a civilian, the world sometimes passes you by, and that is definitely a distinct disadvantage.

 

Greg Stebben:            Well, thank you for doing what you're doing. I really do want to encourage everyone listening to go to Duane's website. Again, it's duanetopping.com. Duane is D-U-A-N-E, Topping, T-O-P-P-I-N-G, duanetopping.com. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful fashion for women. You can also find him on Instagram @duanetopping, the company Topping Designs. He's Duane Topping. Duane, thank you so much for joining us.

 

Duane Topping:          Oh, thank you for having me. It was such a pleasure, and it's always an honor to be able to share my story. Hopefully, I can inspire somebody else to take that leap.

 

Greg Stebben:            I know you have. Thank you.Duane Topping.png

 

Narrator:                     Beginning in November 2019, US veterans eligible for Bank of America's Small Business Veterans Discount Initiative, featuring an exclusive 25% origination fee discount for their Bank of America small business loan or line of credit.

 

Narrator:                     Visit bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness for more information, and for more great small business tips check out Bank of America’s online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

 

Read next: A Plethora of Resources for Women and Veteran Entrepreneurs by Steve Strauss

Vetlinks.jpgOn this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Steve Strauss speaks with Jessica Kavanagh, founder of VetLinks.org, and Lieutenant Colonel Kirk Duncan, the military affairs director of the organization. Listen to learn about the journey to create VetLinks and discover how it empowers veterans – with tips to help entrepreneurs everywhere thrive.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Narrator:         Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com. Here’s your host, Steve Strauss.

 

 

Steve:             Jessica and Kirk, great to have you on the show. Welcome, Kirk Duncan and Jessica Kavanaugh, of VetLinks, VetLinks.org. Jessica, let me begin with you. VetLinks is an amazing organization. What inspired you to help create it?

 

Jessica:           My husband, Brian Kavanagh, he was an Army infantry officer, he was a ranger, and back in 2014 he came home one day and he was asking for help with his post-traumatic stress. And so we called the VA, and they had put us on a six week wait time for mental health. So we took matters into our own hands and we found him a place on our own for private care, and got him help. And after that, we called the VA again and they put us on another six week wait time, and so we've started our own private treatment again for mental health appointments.

 

Jessica:          By the summer of 2015, things were not getting much better by any means. So this time we called the VA and we kept our six week wait time appointment, which ironically fell on September 11th. And then when we went to the appointment, I was so hopeful that she was going to give us this magical place that was going to help Brian with his post-traumatic stress, and his substance abuse, and instead, all she could offer was a psych unit. So I started calling anyone, everyone who would listen to me. And finally, this woman called me from Texas and she said, "I've heard your story from two different people, one in Florida and one in California, and you really need to go down to Washington DC to a Congressional hearing on October 7th, and Bob McDonald's going to be there." Bob McDonald was the former secretary of the VA.

                                                                     

Jessica:          So I went down, and I went into the Congressional hearing, and I met with every single person in there. I had written out our story, typed it out, gave it to everyone. I introduced myself to Bob McDonald, and I told him our story and said that we needed help right away or that Brian was going to die. And in three days, he got him into an inpatient facility out in West Virginia with the VA.

 

Jessica:          So Brian went into the 90-day program. And he was meeting veterans left and right who weren't getting help additionally with benefits that they deserved, so he started holding classes on how to get these resources until finally, someone said to him, "Brian, you're a patient here, you can't just hold these classes." And so when he got out of the inpatient, he told me of the idea that he wanted to help these veterans. And he wanted to help take care of them and get them the resources that they needed. And of course, I was so supportive, but at the same time, I thought well, great, let's add caregivers to the list because I couldn't get you help, it took me months to get you into a facility.

 

Steve:             Your husband had the inspiration to create VetLinks, and I know he's not with us anymore, you carried it on. Could you just maybe tell us about that a little bit.

 

Jessica:          Yeah, absolutely. So when he passed away, I vowed to take over the nonprofit in his honor, and I wanted to carry his vision on. So after the funeral, a bunch of us were just sitting around the table, and I was telling a lot of Brian's friends about his vision, about what he wanted to do with VetLinks, and they said, "Let's do it." So we decided right then that we were going to take the nonprofit and move it in the right direction.

 

Steve:             Well it's so admirable. And VetLinks has been around for how many years now?

 

Jessica:           It'll be two years on December 20th.

 

Steve:             Way to go. Kirk, let me ask you this. How did you meet Jessica and how did you get involved with VetLinks?

 

Kirk:                Well first Steve, I want to echo Jessica's sentiment and just thank you for the opportunity to be on the program.

 

Kirk:                The short answer to how Jessica and I met was through her relationship with my best friend, Brian Kavanagh. Brian, as Jessica mentioned, was really the inspiration behind VetLinks.org. The slightly, I guess, longer version of how we got together, Brian and I grew up in a small town in Pittsburg, Kansas. We did everything together, hung out, we played sports, found creative ways to get in trouble at times. We were basically together almost every day from preschool really through high school graduation. So about as tight as two guys could be.

 

Kirk:                Flash forward a couple of years, and Brian had gone through the ROTC program at Pittsburg State University in our hometown, got commissioned, and eventually the Army stationed him over in Baltimore where his relationship with Jessica begins. And about that same time, I was also on active duty and serving in Iraq at that point. And honestly, Brian had dated other people, but when we communicated on email and phones, there was just something different about the way he was talking about Jessica. He was certainly smitten with her, head over heels.

 

Kirk:                So I returned that deployment in May of 2011, and Brian brought her to our good friend, Pat McNally's wedding, and that was the first time that we met in person.

 

Steve:             It must have been so hard for you to see your best friend, your pal, suffer from such severe PTSD.

 

Kirk:                Yeah, you know, it's hard to imagine knowing someone for over three decades, and then seeing their personality almost fundamentally change in front of you. It's one thing to hear words like post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, but to see the effects of that on someone you care so much about, it's almost impossible to describe. It was like when I'd go out to Baltimore with friends to kind of help Jessica intervene a little bit, and get Brian to realize what was going on, it was almost like a shell of himself. You look behind his eyes, and it just wasn't the same man that I'd grown up with and grown to love.

 

Kirk:                The other thing that was interesting for me in my initial journey with VetLinks, was it was hard for me to kind of understand their struggle. As an active-duty Army officer, the healthcare that I'm provided and still am has been phenomenal, the Army really takes care of its soldiers. But you know, when Brian left active duty he kind of gave up that camaraderie that is so unique to soldiers, you know, the bond that you form when you're in combat with somebody, it's indescribable for someone who hasn't been there. And so when Brian left active duty, he left that kind of network, that camaraderie of veterans.

 

Kirk:                And then the second thing is, when you leave active duty, the level of care that's available to veterans just is not up to par compared to what's provided for us on active duty. And so what I kind of came to realize in seeing Jessica and Brian's struggles, is ... it's difficult for the VA to provide the individual, necessary support, if you will, that our veterans deserve.

 

Steve:             So Jessica, let me ask you this, clearly you created VetLinks in honor of our husband and to help other soldiers like your husband. Can you tell us though a little bit more about what exactly VetLinks does, and who it's for, and how it helps them?

 

Jessica:          So VetLinks is for veterans, it's for our caregivers, it's for family members. And we want to be able to provide the immediate resources that they may need in a very immediate fashion. Whether that may be an inpatient stay, whether that might be therapy, alternative treatment, whether that's just getting a massage or acupuncture, or having a babysitter come over to the house so the couple can go get the couple's therapy they may need. Or as a caregiver, getting a flight to be able to go see their veteran while they're in an inpatient center. I mean, it really could be anything. As long as ... our criteria is based off of our story, as far as post-9/11, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, TBI-related. But however and whatever resources they need, we want to be able to provide.

 

Kirk:                Like any small business or nonprofit starting out, kind of identifying that target audience and developing our niche was hugely important for us. There's a lot of great nonprofits that do some really amazing things to assist veterans. So as we sort of developed our initial focus as a board, we thought let's model our target customer, if you will, on the Kavanagh family. So as Jessica mentioned, that's a combat veteran and their families who are struggling specifically from the effects of post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and substance abuse.

 

Kirk:                And our original thought was, hey, if we can save one veteran, we can impact one family's life, we'll be successful. And so as we progressed a little bit, the other thing we came to realize is that one of the forgotten parts of this epidemic involves those caregivers that Jessica talked about. Those persons, or people that live day in and day out with their veteran.

 

Kirk:                The other thing we learned is that the effects of post-traumatic stress can have profound impacts on the children of those veterans as well. So some of our focus has been specifically for those caregivers and children of veterans, in addition to trying to help veterans themselves.

 

Steve:             So you make a really great point, Kirk. I mean, one thing I always talk about to my small business brothers and sisters is that you have to serve the market, and find a need and fill it. And clearly there is a great need for the work you are doing. I'm going to ask this question to both of you, and Kirk, I'll go to your first. What is it you find most rewarding about your work with VetLinks?

 

Kirk:                Well I think first and foremost, it's the realization that we're helping people through our work. We've helped some people in some big ways, paying for inpatient treatments and such, and also in smaller ways. If I could I'd like to tell you a story about one of the first people that we helped. He was a Marine combat veteran named Matt. And when Matt got out of the Marine Corps, he really struggled with that transition back into civilian life. He had the telltale signs of suffering from post-traumatic stress, and was really abusing alcohol.

 

Steve:             Right.

 

Kirk:                And when we learned about Matt's story, we said, "Hey, this is exactly who we're trying to take care of." So VetLinks’ board kind of looked at the case, we voted wholeheartedly, let's get Matt some help. So we were able to provide six months of inpatient treatment therapy out in California. And Matt really took the treatment really well. And so we kind of followed his story as a new nonprofit startup, and I'm so proud to tell you, Steve, that he completed the six months of treatment, he got sober, and more importantly he got employed. And I'll tell you the great thing about that employment, Steve, is that he's actually employed with the VA right now. So it's about a story going full circle. Here Matt is struggling and we were able to help him through that struggle, and now he's living proof of what nonprofits like VetLinks can do, and we're so proud of the work he's doing in the VA to help his fellow vets out.

 

Steve:             Well that's fantastic, and congratulations, and it's stories like that that are so heartwarming. I'm sure, Jessica, that is the kind of thing that you find incredibly rewarding as well.

 

Jessica:          Yeah, absolutely. We get emails and text messages and phone calls all the time, thanking us for everything. So it's really rewarding.

 

Steve:             Jessica, I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about some of the unexpected challenges you have faced along the way. You know, it's not easy to create a business, it's not easy to create a nonprofit, an organization, a website. What unexpected challenges have you found?

 

Jessica:          Yeah, absolutely. Well, I personally think that one of the biggest challenges we have is dealing with getting past the stigma of these men and women wanting to get help. I know Brian never wanted to get help, he never wanted to talk about his struggles, or his issues, until he finally did, and hit a wall, and then it was too late. So there's a stigma overall, I think, with people struggling with mental health.

 

Jessica:          But just reaching them, and getting them to want to you know accept help, and get help has been one of our biggest challenges.

Steve:             Clearly you're getting there. And Kirk, what about you? What do you think?

 

Kirk:                Yeah, you know Steve, surprisingly, one of the unexpected challenges that we've faced was actually finding veterans and their families to help. As we started our nonprofit and found some initial success raising funds, we then had to figure out well how do we connect our resources, our monetary resources to those that need it? Reaching our target customer, if you will.

 

Kirk:                Another challenge involved the need to screen veterans' requests, kind of ensuring that we were in compliance in terms of like the regulations safeguarding peoples' private information, their identity, and their health information. And luckily, these are both kind of challenges that we've been able to work through by our networking efforts.

 

Kirk:                One thing that I think is valuable, whether you're serving the Army like I am, running a for profit enterprise, or working in a nonprofit like VetLinks, is really the power of networking. I think Jessica has been an absolute pro at networking in the Baltimore and greater Washington DC area. Her efforts and relationship building skills allowed us to connect with a great partner, and this organization that's called Code of Support. And Steve, what Code of Support and their partners do is they basically link together different veteran's charities, and are able to leverage the capabilities of each nonprofit in this collective partnership.

 

Kirk:                So if a veteran reaches out through Code of Support and has the need that fits our model and our criteria, they pass that referral on to us and we're able to connect our resources with that veteran's specific needs.

 

Steve:             Nice. Well clearly, Jessica, you are a master networker. Your story of how you went about helping your husband is pretty incredible. And if you brought those same skills to this endeavor, I'm sure you guys have an incredible network.

 

Steve:             I'm wondering, in fact, how creating this organization and VetLinks has impacted your personal life. It began as a personal story, you and your husband, and you taking the mantle from your husband. How has it affected your personal life since then?

 

Jessica:          You know, it's a challenge. I feel at this point I'm basically running three full-time jobs between our two little girls, and I work for a medical sales company that I've been with for 14 years, and that, of course, pays the bills, and now running the nonprofit. So it's just ... the challenge is time management, and just figuring out the priorities for the day. And that's all I do, is I just take it day by day.

 

Steve:             And Kirk, you, I'm guessing, have never started a business before, never created something from scratch. This has to have affected your personal life in ways you didn't expect either.

 

Kirk:                Yeah, it's really brought into focus the criticality of managing the work/life balance. Like Jessica, I have children, I have four kids, and they're all active and doing sports and school activities, and so trying to fulfill my duties as an active-duty Army officer, balancing that with being a husband and a father, and having such passion to try to help veterans that are like my best friend, Brian, it's been a challenge. But what it's taught me, as far as helping VetLinks, is just learning to balance and manage my time better.

 

Kirk:                The other thing that kind of comes out of this is actually learning how to say no. When we first started out, we took every opportunity we could, we'd go speak to any group, big or small, and then now we have to really kind of weigh our opportunities, because our time is limited and we have to choose those opportunities that give us kind of the best return, if you will, on that precious resource which is time.

 

Jessica:           Absolutely.

 

Steve:             And Kirk, would you do anything differently now two years in that you think people might want to know about?

 

Kirk:                You know, it's ... when you start any business, there's going to be certain things that you're good at, your core competencies, those things that you inherently feel comfortable with doing. And looking back, we were blessed to have a group of friends that had some unique talents that all contributed in meaningful ways to us starting VetLinks.org. But the one kind of, I guess, missing component was someone in our group, our initial Board of Directors, that had true nonprofit experience. It's different than running a for-profit business. So if I could rewind time a little bit, the one change would've been to reach out to a mentor, or someone with that nonprofit experience to really be an initial guiding hand, as we launched this journey that is VetLinks.org.

 

Steve:             That's a great tip. And I'm wondering about you Jessica, anything you might do differently and any advice you would give entrepreneurs or other people listening to our show today?

 

Jessica:          Yeah, absolutely. You know, I would say if you have a conviction about what it is you're trying to accomplish, you're going to get there. I know we had a problem, and we still have a problem today, taking the proper care of our veterans and caregivers. But that caused us to learn, and to put one foot in front of the other. So if you believe in your product, don't be afraid to go for it, because success can only come from taking action.

 

Steve:             You know, one of the things I love most about meeting the people I get to meet on this show is their enthusiasm and the initiative they take and creating something out of nothing. As I mentioned, it's not an easy thing to do. And so, whether that's a small business or a nonprofit, it really makes no difference. And what you're doing is admirable and great, and you're doing it so well too, so I would just recommend to anybody listening who has a veteran who needs help, VetLinks.org is a great website and a great organization, and we are all lucky to have you doing the work you're doing.

 

Steve:              So Kirk Duncan and Jessica Kavanagh, thank you both so much for being with us today.

 

Narrator:         For more great small business tips check out Bank of America’s online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

 

Related resources:

Veterans Make Ideal Entrepreneurs: Here are the Resources You Need to Start a Small Business by Steve Strauss

“The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Episode 3: Exploring Veteran Entrepreneurship Part I

“The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Episode 3: Exploring Veteran Entrepreneurship Part II

See how Bank of America shows its support and commitment to veterans and their families.

  Learn more about the Bank of America $20 Million Lending Program for U.S. Military Veteran Entrepreneurs

As every small business owner knows, referrals from trusted connections or past customers are one of the best ways to get new business.

 

Building a strong local community network can help. Creating a local network has other business benefits as well. It provides a support system to encourage you and offer advice when you need it and exposes you to new ideas that can help grow your business.photo-of-people-doing-handshakes-3183172.jpg

 

How can you build a stronger business network in your local community? Here are three ideas.

 

1. Join local business organizations: Even if you’re already involved in national organizations such as your industry association, joining local business groups can have additional benefits. It doesn’t have to be an organization for your industry; the local Chamber of Commerce, leads club, Rotary club or other service organization are all great ways to meet other business owners, professionals and community leaders.

 

BNI, a worldwide networking organization, has a unique focus. Each local chapter allows only one member from each industry to join. Members focus on referring business to each other. Since you’re the only representative of your industry in your chapter, you won’t be competing with other members for customers or referrals. Also consider joining local organizations targeted to your own special interests, such as groups for women in business, Hispanic people in business or business owners under 30.

 

Can’t find such a group? Consider starting one. Whether you’re joining an existing group or starting one of your own, taking on a leadership role is the best way to get to know others and the most out of your membership.

 

Read next: Small Business Networking Plays Vital Role in Growth by Joel Comm

 

2. Get involved in a community-based social networking group: Sometimes it’s surprisingly hard to meet other business owners just down the street. After all, you’re both busy running your businesses, and if you’re in different industries, you may not belong to the same organizations.

 

That’s the problem Alignable, an online social network of over 4 million small business owners, was launched to solve. Joining Alignable is free and you can connect with other local business owners to get referrals, build relationships, spread the word about your business and get advice from your peers.

Townsquared is another free site that offers similar features to help small business owners make connections. If you’re already on LinkedIn, use it to search for other business owners in your area and get connected with them.

 

Many small business owners lack the time to physically get out and attend local business events. If that’s you, an online social networking group that’s focused on your local area is a way to accomplish many of the same goals without leaving your office.

 

3. Hold a networking event at your business: Often, the best way to meet other business owners is to make the first move yourself.

 

Get the addresses of local business owners in your area and stop by in-person to introduce yourself and invite them to a special event at your business where they can get to know lots of other local entrepreneurs. Hand out your invitations well in advance so you can plan for the appropriate number of people.

 

At the event, make it easy for people to network by planning some icebreaker activities or playing games. Provide refreshments, music and drinks to make it feel festive. Ask attendees to bring their business cards, share product samples, be ready to do a demonstration or otherwise find a way to bring their businesses alive to the others. Try holding a contest or giving prizes for the newest business, oldest business, most unusual business, etc.

 

If you’re having trouble finding local business owners to invite, you can try using Meetup, a social network that helps people connect for real-world activities.

You’ll never regret forming new relationships, and the beginning of a new year is the perfect time to do so. Start planning your community-building activities now and you can start 2020 off with more support than ever before.

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

 

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Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.

 

Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

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To celebrate women business owners, Bank of America and ForbesBooks took time to speak with small business experts at their recent panel event. Panelist Cate Luzio, founder and CEO of Luminary, created the female-focused collaboration space for professional women to network, develop, and connect.Tune in to this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street” for Cate Luzio’s entrepreneurial journey.

 

Listen next: Stories from the Spotlight, Part 1: Deepti Sharma & FoodtoEat

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Transcript:

Narrator:                   Now, let's hear from Cate Luzio, founder and CEO of Luminary, the venue hosting the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owners Spotlight.

 

Kate Delaney:           We're at a very cool place, Greg, called Luminary.

 

Gregg Stebben:        That is very cool. Luminary.

 

Cate Luzio:               Yes.

 

Kate Delaney:           Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Luminary. Who's here with us?

 

Kate Delaney:            Cate Luzio's with us. She is the founder of this place.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And CEO. Founder and CEO of Luminary.

 

Kate Delaney:            Yes. And she's a 20-year banker.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Before Luminary.

 

Kate Delaney:            Yeah.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Cate Luzio:                 I quit my job to do this.

 

Gregg Stebben:          So, I want to hear the whole story.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:          How did you get here? Actually, you know what? Before you tell us that, tell us what Luminary is so people understand. I mean, we are in this  beautiful brick, I guess ... Is it loft-ish or a loft?

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yeah. Well, we're 15,000 square feet, so you guys have only seen one part. We've got a fitness studio, we have a beauty bar-

 

Gregg Stebben:          Oh, my gosh.

 

Cate Luzio:                  ... we have a dozen meeting rooms, we have a dozen phone booths, we're opening up our rooftop. It'll be open all year round.

 

Gregg Stebben:           Now, wait a minute. And I'm not invited. Well, no, I am invited.

 

Cate Luzio:                  No, men are absolutely welcome.

 

Gregg Stebben:           Oh, it is. Okay.

 

Cate Luzio:                  100%.

 

Gregg Stebben:           So, it's not a women-only co-working staff. Okay.

 

Cate Luzio:                 We're not. So, we are a female-focused collaboration space for professional women to network, develop, and connect. We're built on programming and content. So, we think of ourselves as here's a community gathering hub for women and male allies where you can come and learn, develop, and connect with other women, no matter if you're a banker, an entrepreneur, a yoga instructor, a teacher, really breaking down the silos that women face all over, no matter what profession they're in, especially for those that we’re trying to retain in the workforce, and then women entrepreneurs. So, we do workshops and courses, almost 20 a month.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Wow.

 

Cate Luzio:                 So, we've already done 150 this year. We've been open nine months. So that, whether it's professional and career development, small business entrepreneurial, personal wellness, and career changer and pivoters, we're supporting the woman, not a specific woman.

 

Kate Delaney:             Did you decide you were going to do this because you saw the need for women?

 

Cate Luzio:                 Very good question, Kate.

 

Kate Delaney:            Yeah. No man would have figured out that question.

 

Cate Luzio:                 No. You know, actually, I had this amazing career, 20 years. I spent a number of years at BofA, JP Morgan, and HSBC, and what I saw was that there were a lot of focus on the senior women and the junior women as they're coming in and as they have reached the top, but what about the pipeline. So, how do you invest in the pipeline of women in particular? Women are raising their hands all the time saying, "I want more. I want to do more. I want to learn more." So, how do we advance them into leadership roles in whatever they want to do so that we can change those numbers at the top that we keep hearing about? That's the gap. It's the same whether you work for a bank or you're an entrepreneur. How do you get access to the tools to develop yourself, to develop your business, develop your acumen?

 

Gregg Stebben:          It's interesting, Cate. In a way, that's a big focus of what Bank of America-

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:          ... is reporting in the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, which is why we're here. But I have kind of a two-part question for you based on what you just said.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Sure.

 

Gregg Stebben:          One is I want to know what the ramp up was for you to go from, "I'm committed," to actually opening the door.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:          But on top of that, I'm just wondering, we're in this place right now, we call it the war for talent, right? Was that one of the factors for you, that companies are struggling so much to get great talent? Was that a piece of your thinking?

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yeah. So, I'll take that question first. I think companies have the talent, they're just not investing in the right way. So, we see so many recruiters out there, they give a woman a call or even a person of color or men, too, and say, "Hey, come to this great company." Well, are you looking in your pipeline? I've been doing this for nine months, right? We're open nine months. I still get calls from recruiters about banking jobs.

 

Gregg Stebben:          For you?

 

Cate Luzio:                 For me.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Hello? LinkedIn.

 

Cate Luzio:                 There's women right-

 

Gregg Stebben:          In your company.

 

Cate Luzio:                 ... in your company.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Which is, really, the bigger point here.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Absolutely. So, they're right there. In banking, if 51% of the workforce is women, how are we still saying there's not a CEO out there that's a woman for any of the big banks, right, the top Wall Street firms. Stop looking outside and look inside, right?

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Cate Luzio:                  Also, give opportunity. But I think-

 

Gregg Stebben:           And groom.

 

Cate Luzio:                  And groom.

 

Gregg Stebben:           But groom opportunity.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Really invest, right, and developing them. I think, to your point, where did I come from? I had a great conversation with a male mentor of mine in early 2018. I was still in my job. I quit. There's a long story behind that, but I quit. Then, a month later, I wrote a business plan for Luminary. I decided to self-fund it, so no outside investors because I wanted to build a community that was maximizing the value for our members versus an investor, and there's nothing wrong with taking on money. I had made a very good career and wanted to invest and put my money where my mouth is. So, nine months later, we opened. So, it was a pretty fast ramp. We've been open nine months and we've got over 600 individual members and we also do corporate memberships. So, we have JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs and Unilever and others that are corporate members because they're looking at different ways to invest in their own talent, and Luminary's a great space to be able to deliver that.

 

Kate Delaney:             We're speaking with Cate Lucio, and she's the founder and CEO of Luminary. As you just heard the tale, funded it herself. Wow. That's so admirable. When you launched this, did you expect it to take off the way it has so fast? It hasn't even been a year and you've got all these big things happening.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yeah. You know, actually, I hoped, but what I think is there is a real need for this, back to the earlier question, and I think women are looking for community, they're looking for connection, and they're looking for tools to continue to advance themselves in whatever they do. I think we have to stop siloing them and bucketing them in this one thing. "Kate, you do this. Jane, you do that." Let's bring women together. We can all learn from one another and really propel each other forward. Oh, by the way, let's make sure men are at the table helping us, right? That's one of the reasons we don't exclude men. It's really important in building a really inclusive, diverse space. We don't have an application process. I don't want someone to apply to become part of our community. That's not a community. That's already excluding people. So, we are a “join now” and we have just unbelievable members from all different places.

 

Gregg Stebben:          You mentioned your corporate sponsors.

 

Cate Luzio:                  Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:           What is it that they're bringing to the table and getting from Luminary that makes it an attractive opportunity for them as well?

 

Cate Luzio:                 So, every company, if they're even at the mid size and large size, has a women's group, right, and it's usually back on those women to deliver the programming and the content and the speakers. We believe that we're an extension of these women's groups. We take the heavy lift off, but then it puts the individual back in the driver's seat around what types of skills they want to focus on versus just what their company is offering. So, that's one way on the employee engagement experience. There's a huge opportunity around brand awareness and engagement for these companies around, again, putting their money where their mouth is to support their women. Then, third, there's a great opportunity for both customer and talent acquisitions. You never know who you're going to see or meet in the space.

 

Kate Delaney:             Yep. Absolutely.

 

Cate Luzio:                 For me, as somebody who worked in corporate America for over 20 years, it's kind of a no-brainer.

 

Kate Delaney:            Last question, and this is a tough one. What keeps you up at night?

 

Cate Luzio:                 Honestly, as a self-funder, founder, and CEO, everything. I want to make sure that we really live and breathe what we're saying in the community and not diluting. How do you keep growing without going too fast?

 

Gregg Stebben:          Want to make one last point before we wrap this up. You talked about self-funding.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Yes.

 

Gregg Stebben:          The point I want to make is that getting funding may not be right for every business. Self-funding may not be right for it.

 

Cate Luzio:                  Oh, exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:           That's a consideration that every small business should think about, is not just, "I need money," but where's the money coming from?

 

Cate Luzio:                  And why do you need it?

 

Gregg Stebben:           And why do you need it is essential. When it's your money, I bet you treat it a lot differently.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Absolutely. But I think there's a huge opportunity for banks to play in this space versus everyone just looks at, "Oh, I've got to raise a bunch of money."

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Banks have amazing tools, and we need to educate mainly women business owners on what tools that banks can offer so that you can grow your business.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Beautiful.

 

Kate Delaney:             Yep. Thank you so much. This was terrific.

 

Cate Luzio:                 Thanks for having me.

 

Kate Delaney:             Thanks.

 

Narrator:                     Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

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To celebrate women business owners, Bank of America and Forbesbooks took time to speak with small business experts at their recent panel event. Panelist Deepti Sharma, founder of FoodtoEat, is creating opportunity and increasing the odds of success for caterers and restaurants. Tune in to this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street” for Deepti Sharma’s entrepreneurial journey.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Transcript:

Kate Delaney:             I'm Kate Delaney with Gregg Stebben. We're from “Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. We're here at the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, and we're here with Deepti Sharma. She is the founder and CEO of FoodtoEat. What is FoodtoEat?

 

Deepti Sharma:          So, first of all, thank you for having me.

 

Gregg Stebben:          You're welcome.

 

Deepti Sharma:          FoodtoEat is a corporate catering concierge service where we partner with immigrant women and minority-owned restaurants in New York City. Essentially, we help them by taking over their sales and marketing for catering and help them book catering opportunities at large clients. And we're getting these corporations that we feed to do two things. One, we help them consolidate their food and beverage programs, so they don't have to go to 10 different restaurants in order to book catering opportunities, and then two, we're helping them look at diversity and inclusion through the lens of food and beverage, so thinking about how they can invest by using their purchasing power in small businesses in the community and the businesses we represent, as I said, are immigrant- woman- or minority-owned, and two, we're also allowing them to think about inclusion. So, inclusion is not just hiring women and people of color, which is how D&I is usually looked at. So, we say, "How about you do that through your food and beverage programs?"

 

Gregg Stebben:          Culture.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Yes, culture. Exactly. Get the people you've hired to feel as if you're actually trying to think about where they're from and the cuisines that they grew up eating. So, again, it's such a simple thing. Food is sustenance, but it's always put on the back burner. What's the least amount of money I can spend on food? But at any event, good food and good drinks, people remember that.

 

Gregg Stebben:          It also brings the best out of people. So, you're probably going to have some really great gains in productivity and-

 

Deepti Sharma:          Absolutely.

 

Gregg Stebben:          ... and engagement amongst your employees-

 

Deepti Sharma:          Absolutely.

 

Gregg Stebben:          ... that produce results that frankly were unpredictable around a pizza.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Absolutely. As you're talking about that, one of the things we've done to humanize the experience is we started a campaign called I Made Your Food where we photograph all the owners, chefs, and operators holding the sign called “I Made Your Food” because we want those photograph to be in front of the catering and people to look at it before they pick up that free food and say, "Oh, wow. This is the person that has literally had something to do with putting my food together." You see these people standing in line, they're like, "Oh, what is that? I'm so curious and interested." We've even had companies send out the links to the blogs of the interviews that we've done because they want to promote the D&I experience, and they want to promote that they're actually doing this for their team inside.

 

Kate Delaney:             What a brilliant idea and with, of course, the explosion of social media, all different platforms, I would imagine that really took off like wildfire.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Yeah. I mean, a lot of the companies that we're feeding loved it and, essentially, have literally switched over from other organizations that they used to work with to us because they loved that we actually care about the vendors that we represent, that we care about the businesses that we work with, because we don't want to be seen as a third party to them. We want to be able to be seen as an extension of their business.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Talk to us about the kinds of restaurants and food companies you're working with. Would they be in the catering business if they had not created a relationship with FoodtoEat?

 

Deepti Sharma:          Yeah. So, some of them are ... We're in New York City, so we work with some local chains like Dos Toros or fresh&co, which are ... they have above 10 locations in New York City alone.

 

Gregg Stebben:          That's still local or regional companies?

 

Deepti Sharma:           Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:           Okay.

 

Deepti Sharma:           They are still local, regional companies.

 

Gregg Stebben:           So, not Taco Bell or-

 

Deepti Sharma:            No. No.

 

Gregg Stebben:            ... Chili's?

 

Deepti Sharma:            No.

 

Gregg Stebben:           Okay.

 

Deepti Sharma:          We try to avoid those. But we do have clients that have requested them sometimes. Again, we don't want to be representing those businesses, but we have mom and pops, organizations like Ja Dijo Dom (Owner/Chef Charles Chipengule). He's an individual that actually used to work for another vendor of ours. He learned everything he could, left, and started his own business. He's from Botswana and wanted to bring the cuisine of not just Botswana, but the continent of Africa and he wanted to educate people because he himself wanted to educate himself about what the cuisine all over Africa is like. So, he started a catering company. So, we have vendors like him, Mamagyro, which is a mother/daughter-owned Greek restaurant and catering business.

 

                                   So, those are the stories that I feel like are the fabric of our country. When people think about what's American food, I don't think it's burgers and fries. I think it is the cuisine of the world, right, because that's who we are. We're immigrants. That's why, as a first-generation woman of color, I think it's really essential for me to represent where I come from, which is ... Obviously, I'm In ... not obviously, but I am an Indian American.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Not as obvious to a radio audience.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Yeah. Not as obvious, but I am Indian American, and so I wanted to represent that, but I wanted to represent people from all over the world.

 

Gregg Stebben:          What fascinates me about what you've done is you're actually creating opportunity and increased odds of success for the caterers and the restaurants that you work with and, at the same time, creating this opportunity for inclusion and understanding and opening people's minds about food and culture on the company side, and on top of that, we also have a much more diverse workplace. So, it must be very thrilling for people at a company to have their culture represented from time to time as opposed to the standard stuff you get from a company.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Absolutely. We want them to not only do it when it's Hispanic Heritage Month or Black History Month. We want them to know that every one of these restaurants or caterers that we work with should be represented throughout the year, right? It's not just these specialty moments or months to celebrate them. So, that's when ERG groups do it. So, we, again, are changing that conversation to say, "You should have cuisine from all over the world all the time."

 

Gregg Stebben:          All the time.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Exactly.

 

Kate Delaney:            I mentioned at the top that, of course, we're here at the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight event, and Deepti, for you, obviously, there has to be a connection. What would you advise young women who want to be entrepreneurs, who want to be business owners like yourself, what would you advise them to do?

 

Deepti Sharma:          I was talking about this earlier with someone. I always try to tell them to be passionate, but passion isn't enough to run a business. So, what I think is really important is when you're walking into a room, be able to back up anything you do with facts. People will always ask, "Why you? Why now? Why does this business need to be started now?" and, "Why does it have to be you?" So, just make sure you have the facts of why it is you should be this right person and have those facts of what is the problem that you're trying to solve and why is it now that's most important to get it done.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Okay. I'll take the bait. Why you? Why now? What happened in your life to make you see that this was an opportunity?

 

Deepti Sharma:          When I started FoodtoEat, it was a very different business. I started as an online ordering platform for food trucks and carts, like a Seamless for food trucks. Why me? Because I'm a New Yorker, I absolutely love this city, community has always been a big part of whatever I've done, and I wanted to help create opportunities for underrepresented, marginalized communities. I've worked in politics before it. I had seen what it was like to bring people together for one cause. So, why me? Because I've done it in the world of politics, where I've worked on a number of campaigns. Why at that time? Food trucks were booming. It was 2011 and it was an interesting time and I wanted to help grow and scale them, but not the hippy, the hipster type of food trucks. I wanted to help the small business owners that technology was emerging, but they weren't actually using it-

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Deepti Sharma:           ... so I was sending them, through our system, text messages with orders from people that were sitting in their offices. So, why me? Because I've done things before where I've brought people together for a cause and I felt like I could do it for these people to help them grow in scale. At the time, like I said, food trucks were hot. Then, we solely pivoted for a lot of reasons, which we could spend another 30, 40 minutes-

 

Gregg Stebben:          I'm sure we could.

 

Deepti Sharma:          ... but the pivot was great for us because we were able to continue helping the food industry in a different capacity.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I love the fact that in your original model, you were helping the food trucks and hungry people and now you're helping a very specific set, immigrants, women, on one hand grow their business with your help and expertise, but also, there's this whole inspirational, educational, cultural enlightenment part, which, if I had to choose one of those models to motivate me to get out of bed in the morning, I would definitely pick what you pivoted to. I really want to congratulate you for that.

 

Deepti Sharma:          Yeah. Thank you. I mean, we always worked with immigrant women, minority, but the funny thing is it was always something I knew I was doing, but it wasn't a part of my branding.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Deepti Sharma:          It became more a part of our story because we saw that that's what would really push our business and that's what would really get the habits of corporations to change.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yeah. Because you have two tribes now, and one of them is very big and powerful and well-funded.

 

Deepti Sharma:           Exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:           That's very exciting.

 

Deepti Sharma:            Corporations needs to spend their dollars in the right places.

 

Kate Delaney:              Yeah. Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:           So, let's help them.

 

Deepti Sharma:           The challenge is always with Fortune 500 companies. There's always a lot of red tape. How do we break that? How do we get them to change the habits of conforming to what they're used to, which is working with companies like Aramark and Sedexo?

 

Gregg Stebben:          The thing I love about, I think you said, the hashtag or that what you put in the photo is I Made This.

 

Deepti Sharma:           I Made your Food.

 

Gregg Stebben:           I Made your Food. What I love about that is so often, the food we eat, nobody made it.

 

Deepti Sharma:           Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:           A machine made it. A robot made it. It's not even really food.

 

Deepti Sharma:           It's processed. Yeah.

 

Gregg Stebben:           It's processed. You're delivering real food made by real people-

 

Deepti Sharma:           Exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:           ... that provides real jobs and real opportunity. That is very exciting.

 

Deepti Sharma:          So, for us, that's what I'm thinking about, is that how do we change the conversation, and that's why we really started investing our time in D&I because we realized that people ... It's a hot topic. Everyone wants to be a part of it and everybody wants to be doing something new and different. So, it's still tough, right? Corporations don't change with the snap of a finger, even though I wish they did.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Not even when Deepti snaps her fingers.

 

Kate Delaney:             That's right.

 

Deepti Sharma:           Yes.

 

Kate Delaney:             Thank you very much. It was lovely meeting you. I love your mission. I can't wait to see where it all ends up.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I want lunch.

 

Deepti Sharma:           Thank you.

 

Kate Delaney:             Yeah, so do I.

 

Deepti Sharma:           I'm always hungry.

 

Narrator:                     For more great small business tips check out Bank of America’s online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.

 

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

10 million people. 35,000 different events. More than 165 countries. 1 week.

 

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Yes, Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) is coming to a city near you the week of November 18 and there is a ton of information and events to help you grow your business.

 

We are living in an amazing moment in which the world is changing before our very eyes. Countries and leaders rise and fall. Whole continents are melting, oceans rising, and coasts receding. Yesterday’s third- world economies become today’s global economic powers. It is a time of tremendous, momentous, global, transformational change.

 

We also live in a time of tremendous opportunity: Modern medicine and travel are a marvel. The Internet has allowed us to learn almost anything and connect with almost anyone, anywhere. Many people the world over are living longer, healthier, and more productive lives.

 

And that is what Global Entrepreneurship Week is all about.  According to the GEW website,

 

Global Entrepreneurship Week is the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare.

 

During one week each November, GEW inspires people everywhere through local, national and global activities designed to help them take the next step in their entrepreneurial journey.

These activities, from large-scale competitions and events to intimate networking gatherings, connect participants to potential collaborators, mentors and even investors — introducing them to new possibilities and exciting opportunities.

 

So, how can you get involved, learn more, or give something back? There are four ways:

 

1. Register: Go to the Global Entrepreneurship Network and create a profile. “The more information you provide, the more you will be able to engage with the community and stay up-to-date on the GEW activities happening simultaneously around the world.”

 

2. Organize an event or activity: By organizing an event, you can inspire your local entrepreneurial community while also connecting them to potential collaborators, mentors and possible investors. You would also be strengthening your local startup ecosystem while being part of a global movement.

 

       What sort of event could you host? Almost anything:

    • Create a pitch competition
    • Have an entrepreneurship film festival
    • Organize a hack-a-thon
    • Create a speaker series
    • Have a policy roundtable
    • Offer a workshop

 

3. Find an event or activity: Thousands of events, activities, and competitions will be taking place during Global Entrepreneurship Week. Look for the ‘Find an Event’ button on the gew.co homepage.

 

4. Connect: In addition to connecting face-to-face during GEW events and activities, you can also connect using the GEW social media channels:

 

 

Go ahead and jump in, have some fun, get inspired, meet a new friend, and grow your business. And who knows, you just might change the world.

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steve Strauss Headshot New.pngSteven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice. Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.  ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

So just what is a man who was the captain of an Indian naval warship of 85 men and officers, doing running a women’s healthcare company in Boston

Changing the world, and changing his world, that’s what.Prakash.jpg

I’m not sure which part of his story is more interesting –

 

  • That Prakash Veenam went to India’s equivalent of West Point
  • Or that he captained that naval warship
  • Or that he left his military career to move to America to start over as an entrepreneur by getting his MBA (at the prestigious Babson College)
  • Or that, one year out of school, he was chosen to become the CEO of a high-tech Boston-based women’s healthcare product business

 

The fact is, it’s all damn interesting.

 

To start, let’s dip into the company he leads.

 

Maternova was founded in 2009 by two women and it does two things exceptionally well.

 

  • It manufactures and sells an array of innovative women’s health and medical products, like a combined Hep B and C and HIV tester, or an armband that detects childhood pneumonia.
  • It consults with medical caregivers around the world, like midwives in South America and Africa, on health and product issues.

 

So just how did Mr. Veenam end up as the CEO of this fascinating company, especially when his background did not lend itself to women’s health issues?

 

Upon concluding his naval career, Prakash decided he wanted to become an entrepreneur. This makes a whole lot of sense of course. Veterans are known to be excellent entrepreneurs as they have a certain set of skills that dovetail nicely with business life – they can create a plan and follow it, they know how to build and lead a team, they know how to analyze and accomplish projects and missions, and so forth.

 

While he was at Babson as a business development “fellow,” the founders of Maternova were hunting for a CEO. This makes a lot of sense because  often the skills a founder has that are well suited to starting a company are not the same as those needed to run a growing business.

 

A CEO with that second set of skills if often sought out and hired.

 

The two Maternova founders went to Babson, first looking for someone to help them with some special projects. Babson specifically sought out Prakash, as they thought his background gave him the leadership skills needed for the assignment.

 

The two Maternova founders agreed and after only a few months doing the special projects assignments, he was asked to interview for the job of CEO. The founders loved him, loved his naval background, loved his management style, and loved working with him.

 

He has been the CEO for over a year now. As he told me, “Although Maternova is not a startup, it is like a startup. It is an innovative, forward-looking company. And it is a very good fit.”

 

Prakash explained to me that his naval background made him uniquely prepared for this job. “As with a business, when I was out at sea, I needed to plan, yes, but I also needed to be creative and have a willingness to think on my feet, and pivot to solve problems. I also had to learn how to give orders, get people to carry out those orders, and work as a team.”

 

Sounds like business to me.

 

 

As for what’s next, he points to his vision for his company. “We are looking to grow, to find investors, and great partners, and to create new products.” Indeed, they now have 60 products in the pipeline.

 

“It’s all part of the challenge that is entrepreneurship,” Prakash says.

 

Resources for Veteran Entrepreneurs

 

What with their ability to follow a mission, their commitment to teamwork, and mastery of follow-through, veterans make great entrepreneurs. Here then are some of the best small business resources available to them:

 

Bank of America:

Bank of America has special benefits for U.S. veterans, including new discounts on select loan products.  To learn more, visit us online or reach out to a Small Business Specialist.

 

SBA Veteran Programs:

Not surprisingly, that best friend to small business, the Small Business Administration, has a lot of resources for the veteran entrepreneur. For example, Operation Boots to Business is a program for military service personnel transitioning to civilian life.

 

The Veterans Administration:

Similarly, the VA has a great small business resource center, the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal. Offering help for everything from starting, to financing, to growing a business, this is a great place for the fresh and seasoned veteran entrepreneur alike.

 

Veteran Entrepreneurship Courses:

According to Bunker in a Box CEO Todd Conner, “Bunker in a Box is designed to be a first-stop for exploring entrepreneurship.” Using videos, online tutorials, and articles, veterans can embark on 14 “missions” that teach entrepreneurship. Along the same lines, but in person, Patriot Boot Camp offers entrepreneurship training programs in various cities nationwide.

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steve Strauss Headshot New.pngSteven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice. Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.  ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

Kara Goldin was on a personal quest. She left her job at AOL in 2001 to start a family. And she “wanted to make a difference in the world.”

 

The family part came first. Then Goldin “found herself overweight, low energy and suffering from adult acne.” The culprit, she decided was diet soda—so she quit cold turkey.

She also was worried about the sugar-laden beverages her kids were drinking. The solution to the beverage problems was water, but water is bland, and Goldin didn’t think it would be a long-term fix. So she started “cutting up fruit and throwing it into pitchers of water.”

 

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When a friend noticed Goldin’s water with fresh cucumbers in it, she said, “Someone should bottle that.” That’s all the motivation the former tech exec needed. While pregnant with her 4th child, Goldin traveled halfway across the country to find a bottler who would make her calorie-free flavored water with no sweeteners or preservatives.

 

In 2005 she launched hint water—water with a “hint of fruit.” When I first met her in 2013, she admitted she was a little naïve. She had to battle the big guys (Coke and Pepsi) for shelf space, particularly in the big grocery chains. One of her first big breaks came when she landed a deal with Whole Foods. Today, her lines of hint waters (still, sparkling, kick and kids) is on the shelves of grocery stores nationwide.

 

In 2017 Goldin had some pre-cancerous cells on her nose. She didn’t like the sunscreens on the market and, once again, motivated by a personal quest—she created hint sunscreen.

 

What drives Goldin? I caught up with her a few weeks ago to find out.

 

Rieva Lesonsky: When I first interviewed you in 2013, you were well on your way to success. Since then Hint has experienced explosive growth.

 

Kara Goldin: We are [now] a thriving and expanding company with 200 employees. Today we’re the largest independent non-alcoholic beverage company in the country that doesn’t have a relationship with Coke, Pepsi or Keurig Dr Pepper.

 

Lesonsky: When you launched you didn’t “know anything about beverages.” What gave you the courage to keep going?

 

Goldin: I thought if Hint could make me drink more water and get healthier, then it would help others too. All along we had to educate the consumer. I figured out that “diet” wasn’t necessarily healthier. So we focused on having a great-tasting product with no sugar or sweeteners of any kind. If you have a great product, the consumer will tell you whether or not it’s good. We even created a new category called “unsweetened flavored water.”

 

Today, more than ever, people actively choose a healthy option if they don’t have to compromise on enjoyment, or, in this case, taste. Hint has always been ahead of the market and Hint’s mantra “Drink Water, Not Sugar” has caught on. We led the way and continue to innovate by offering more options to more people, reaching every generation, every demographic, every ethnicity, everybody.

 

Lesonsky: Now the company is branching beyond water, introducing kids water and sunscreen. Why these products?

 

Goldin: It’s always about solving a problem that’s personal. I had a bout with skin cancer, I couldn’t find a product that didn’t contain ingredients dermatologists told me to avoid including oxybenzone and parabens. So it always starts like that.

 

Lesonsky: Do you plan to introduce other products at a future date?

 

Goldin: Yes, deodorant is on the way very soon and we are always thinking about innovations to make it easier for people to be healthier. There is definitely more to come.

Lesonsky: Seems to me you take the ordinary and turn it into something extraordinary. How do you look at it?

 

Goldin: I try to remember what really matters, why we started Hint and what keeps us inspired—helping people lead healthier lives without compromising on enjoyment.

Lesonsky: Business history is full of examples of entrepreneurs with great ideas who were able to start and grow but weren’t capable of scaling their businesses. You’re an exception. How have you avoided the problems so many others experience?

 

Goldin: Passion trumps experience. Trust your gut. Develop a network of people who can help you figure stuff out.

 

Lesonsky: Back in 2013, you told me your philosophy was being “scrappy” is what it takes to be an entrepreneur. How would you describe your philosophy today?

 

Goldin: I’m still scrappy. I tell entrepreneurs all the time that I never said to myself, “I want to be an entrepreneur” or “I want to be a beverage entrepreneur.” I never take “no’s” as an answer, I solve problems and give people irresistible solutions.

 

Lesonsky: You wanted to “make a difference” in the world. You obviously have. What drives you to keep going?

 

Goldin: I just thought if I could actually get people to enjoy water again, instead of drinking all those other things that not only have sugar, but also diet sweeteners, then we could actually change health. I ultimately want to help make everyone healthy.

 

Lesonsky: What has been your greatest challenge and how did you solve it?

 

Goldin: My main challenge was mass producing our flavored water without adding perservatives or sweeteners. Everyone said it couldn’t be done. Frankly we had no idea, because the industry experts didn’t have any idea how to develop a product without using preservatives. But we researched how fruit juice is pasteurized to extend its shelf life and went on to devise a similar technique for our waters and the rest is history, as they say.

 

Lesonsky: Any advice for startup women entrepreneurs?

 

Goldin: Find a problem that needs to be solved and go do it. If you can solve the problem, like I’ve done with drinking water, you can help millions of people.

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

 

Rieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.

 

Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

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National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) hosted its annual National Women’s Business Conference to bring together women entrepreneurs from across the country to learn, network and share their ideas for the future. NAWBO, which is celebrating its 44th year as an organization, chose “Our Time is Now” as this year’s theme—and our team fully embraced that sentiment! Marking Bank of America’s seventh year as the presenting sponsor of the event, our team walked away energized, empowered and inspired by the incredible women business owners who are making strides across the country.

 

One of the highlights of the conference was the presentation of the annual Woman Business Owner of the Year award. From hundreds of nominations submitted from NAWBO Chapters all over the country, the field was narrowed to three finalists: Gail Becker of CAULIPOWER; Merrilee Kick of Buzzballz/Southern Champion, LLC; and Lynn Weirich of Business Financial Group (BFG). Gail was selected as this year’s winner.

 

While on the ground, we had a chance to talk with the three women and get some advice on business best practices and advice for building a successful small business:

 

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Gail Becker, CAULIPOWER – 2019 winner of the Woman Business Owner of the Year Award

 

Prior to founding Caulipower, Gail’s career covered media, politics and business. However, as a mom of two boys with celiac disease, she couldn’t find pizza options that were tasty and gluten-free. So, she left her corporate job to launch CAULIPOWER, with a mission to reinvent favorite foods one healthy meal hack at a time. In two years, she turned her idea into the No. 8 best-selling frozen pizza brand in the United States, extended the product offerings and created a $100 million-plus company.

 

What advice would you give prospective or new women business owners looking to start and grow their businesses?

 

Never be afraid to bet on yourself, because if you don’t, no one else ever will!

 

What skills or characteristics are foundational to be an entrepreneur or small business owner?

To be an entrepreneur today you have to be pretty fearless. I inherited my fearlessness from my father, who came to this country as an immigrant with absolutely nothing and built a small business, which I got to work in every Saturday for $20 plus lunch. When he passed away, he really passed along onto me this fearlessness, which I’ve used every single day in building my business.

 

Merrilee Kick, Buzzballz/Southern Champion, LLC – Finalist

 

Merrilee is CEO and founder of BuzzBallz/Southern Champion, the only woman-owned distillery/winery in the United States. BuzzBallz/Southern Champion makes ready-to-drink cocktail brands and premium spirits brands sold in 43 states and seven countries. The company is family operated out of the Dallas area. Merrilee is a winner of the 2018 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award Southwest, EY’s Winning Women Award 2016, and many other accolades.

 

What moment would you say has had the biggest impact in shaping your professional success?

One of the most important things that happened to me in my professional career was attending a trade show. I was having a hard time getting sales in different states. We barely had any money when my son and I hoofed it to that trade show, got a tiny little booth, and then overnight we had 15 new distributors for our product. They were statewide distributors, which was a big deal for us. That’s when I knew we were going to make it.

 

Lynn Weirich, Business Financial Group (BFG) – Finalist

 

Lynn is president of BFG, a human resource consulting firm she co-founded in 1997. BFG helps business owners manage their back-office issues related to their most important asset: their people. Services include payroll processing, timekeeping, onboarding, training, HR information systems and more. Lynn is one of three founding members of NAWBO-San Antonio and she has won numerous awards, including the San Antonio Business Journal’s leadership award.

 

What would you say has had the biggest impact in shaping your professional success?

I would say that it’s recognizing that my internal clients come first and foremost. If they are happy and they’re productive and the culture is right, then my external clients will be well taken care of too.

 

For more from this year’s finalists, check out NAWBO’s September interviews with them here.

Years ago, when I ran an event with Jeff Pulver, he told me, “You live or die by your database.”

 

hivan-arvizu-soyhivan-MAnhvw0nDDY-unsplash.jpg

He meant the list of prospects, customers and companies acquired over time and through hard work. The contacts in your phone. Your email newsletter list. Your alumni databases from college. These are all databases you have access to in one way or another. But what value does that bring?

 

It’s Always the Database

 

I recently started a partnership in a company where we build skill and knowledge transfer using augmented reality tools for big companies like manufacturing, aerospace, and so on. As it happens, I’m friends with someone from Boeing, know a guy who builds massive supply chain projects for big companies, and I have a list of about 600 highish-level people in other places that should also be a good start for this project.

 

I have these because I nurture relationships all the time, and not just in my business vertical, but anywhere someone is doing interesting work and might be a good ally later on. The more I reach out and connect with people in various verticals, the more I earn the opportunity to offer up my services where it makes sense and I can be helpful.

 

It takes more than just striking up conversations, though.

 

What to Do and How

 

No matter the size of your business, you can do what I’m about to recommend. And you can use whatever you want for this kind of project, but if you use something built for the job like customer relationship management (CRM) software, there will be all kinds of benefits, such as  the ability to take notes, search, gather group information, and so on. Hubspot offers a free CRM software program. Zoho has one that’s free or inexpensive. If you search for “free CRM,” there are plenty. Or heck, just open a spreadsheet and fill in someone’s name, email, phone, and then a spot for notes with dates and you’ll be ahead of the curve.

 

Let’s say you’ve picked the tool for the job (it’s okay to change later). The next goal is reaching out, connecting and nurturing contacts. This isn’t all that hard. You can do a little of this each day. Pick 10 names of people you know (I’ll explain who this is further in a moment) and reach out in some form or another. Call or text or email. Drop them a line.

 

What should you say?

 

“Hi (important person)!

I’m just reaching out to check in. I wanted to know what you’re working on and see if I can be helpful. What’s new and exciting in your world?”

Can’t wait to touch base,

(Your name.)”

 

Something like that. Vary it up. Try different messages. But note what I’ve done. The message isn’t selling anything specific. It’s offering to help. It’s asking about the person. The most important part of making connections is being personable about it and not sounding like a sales creature.

 

How often should you connect with the same person? Once a month is usually plenty, believe it or not. So, if you’re doing 10 contacts a day, that’s 300 a month. You can even cycle this to be once every two months. But that’s still a lot more contacts than you’re making right now, I can bet you that.

 

Who Should You Contact?

 

Most people think this is easy: reach out to customers and prospective new customers. Well, sure. That’s definitely one group to reach. But it goes further than this.

 

Reach out to past coworkers. Reach out to peers in your industry. Connect to people in other industries and geographies. Look to people you aspire to grow into being and look for people who are just getting started. I find people’s contact information on Twitter, on LinkedIn, through Google searches, and then I start with a personable introduction letter. This has served me well over the years.

 

And because you’re only doing five or maybe 10 of these contacts each day, it’s not all that super challenging. Your goal isn’t anything in specific beyond making contact and getting conversations started.

 

But Won’t This Snowball into a Crowded Inbox?

 

People stun me when they ask this question, because think about what you’re asking. “A lot of people are giving me their attention and offering an opportunity to connect. Will that be too much?”

 

NO. Never.

 

It’s the best thing in the world to have lots of active conversations with people from all over. Especially when you finally start piecing together ways to help others.

 

Imagine you talk to someone in Lawrence, Kansas, who just lost her job as CEO of a dairy plant. You hear from a friend in Bend, Oregon, that they’re looking for someone to run a new bottling operation for their beverage company. Kapow. You can offer to make some introductions. The more times you’re at the elbow of helping others, the more opportunities just naturally start clicking into your own life and business.

 

It’s About the Database

 

And by that, I mean the list, and by that, I mean people. It’s about keeping a lot of connections warm, and nurturing relationships at a variety of levels. This keeps your business alive in multiple ways, and it gives you many more ways to help others thrive.

 

This is the kind of extra work that brings business success if you give it a try. Are you ready?

 

About Chris Brogan

 

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Chris Brogan is an author, keynote speaker and business advisor who helps companies update organizational interfaces to better support modern humans. The age of factory-sized interactions is over. We all come one to a pack. And it’s time to accept that we are all a little bit dented. Chris advisesleadership teams to empower team members by sharing actionable insights on talent development. He also works with marketing and communications teams to more effectively reach people who want to be seen and understood before they buy what a company sells.

 

Web: https://chrisbrogan.com Twitter: @ChrisBrogan

Read more from Chris Brogan

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Chris Brogan to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. The third parties within articles are used under license from Chris Brogan. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

For a range of historically disadvantaged small business owners, Supplier Diversity programs present an opportunity to get a leg up in a very competitive landscape.

Specifically, benefits include:

 

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  • Access to supplier diversity and procurement executives at hundreds of major U.S. corporations and some federal, state and local government entities
  • Formal and informational opportunities to pursue business deals with National Corporate Members
  • Access to mentoring, education and capacity development
  • Opportunity to promote your business through event participation

 

It takes tremendous effort and dedication to get any small business off the ground, and supplier diversity programs are intiatives to help expand business opportunities, such as help for bidding on large contracts. These opportunities for growth bolster both the small business itself and local communities through job creation and revenues that are shared across the local economy.

 

The support and advantages these programs provide are vital to the select small business owners who may face additional challenges in getting started and expanding their operations.

 

The eligible groups are:

 

  • Women-owned Small Business - Owned and operated by a woman or women
  • Small Disadvantaged Business -  Owned and operated by socially and economically disadvantaged persons
  • Service-disabled Veteran-owned Small Business Concern - Owned and operated by U.S. military veterans who acquired a disability during their service

 

A Banking Partner

 

Small businesses with diverse ownership have a well-equipped ally in Bank of America. BofA’s Supplier Diversity Program, which works with those businesses to ensure that they are afforded opportunities to participate in competitive  bids and/or aid in assisting them grow their existing business with BofA.

To participate in BofA’s program, small businesses must become certified as a diverse supplier, which can be done through one of several organizations like:

 

 

     These organizations help confirm that the business fulfills all of the criteria necessary. Bank of America supports categories including:

 

    • Minority-Owned
    • Woman-Owned
    • Veteran, Disabled Veteran, and Service-Disabled Veteran
    • Disabled-Owned
    • LGBT-Owned
    • HUBZone Businesses (Historically Underutilized Business Zone)

 

     From there, a small business can begin to work with BofA under the Supplier Diversity Program.

 

Why Participate

 

Bank of America works with suppliers to understand their capabilities and to align them with upcoming opportunities where the needs of their business fit the services and/or products that the supplier provides.

 

Bank of America works with both buyers and suppliers to develop the best business matches and foster diversity in the supply chain. To successfully do so, the team at Bank of America has added resources like legal services, marketing and advertising support, digital and social media staffing, design & construction, promotional products, office supplies, global tech and ops and call center support.

 

Starting a small business is never easy but finding the right tools and partners can help diverse businesses  start strong while building a vibrant and thriving business.

For further information, please visit the Bank of America supplier page.

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