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Do you ever feel that you’re the only business out there who can’t invest much right now, and who believes a recession might be around the corner? sophie-rey-CkJu0b3Kt_M-unsplash.jpg


And if your hunch becomes reality, does your business have all it needs to survive – and perhaps thrive?  There are three questions you should ask yourself when thinking about what you have versus what you want:


The first question is this: who does this help?


If something helps customers (especially the acquisition of more customers), that’s likely where your dollars should flow versus when it’s something that improves the quality of business and life for employees.


The second question, will this make us money?


Let’s say you run a business that accepts cash and credit/debit cards, but your customers are saying that if you accepted alternative funding like Venmo or PayPal, they’d be more inclined to do business with you. Naturally, it’s worth considering.


Hardest of all to answer is can we make do?


I’ve never met a company that doesn’t hate its current website design. Usually the second day after you launch a new website, you start to hate it. The layout is wrong, or you worry people can’t find what they need and so on. Almost always, your site is “good enough” to earn attention and guide people where they need to go.


And sometimes, thinking about making do requires creativity.


Resourceful People Thrive in Tough Times


It’s amazing what we think we need until we’re forced to consider operating without it. When I launched my business in 2009, I had an office in Massachusetts and an office in Maine to house my small team. We rolled along doing our work for a while before three important details dawned on me:


1. Rent costs a lot.

2. No customers ever came to our offices. We went to them.

3. Working at home is almost everyone’s preference.


I saved about $8,000 dollars a month almost instantly. Now, your business might not be something that can be run virtually. You might have to find another area to be resourceful and clever. But it’s out there.


Does your business really need a printer? Think about the money saved in ink and paper expenses monthly. Are you traveling to four or five conferences this year? Can you skip two?


Make Do In Marketing and Advertising with Technology


Marketing and advertising can cost a lot of money. Or it can be free. You might be inclined to think that paid efforts are better than free. Sometimes, that’s a very true fact. Other times, our free efforts land us more success than when we spend.


Is what you sell something visually appealing like food or clothes or even construction? Instagram is a great platform to earn some attention that can translate to business.


Have you used LinkedIn to publish interesting articles and videos? More and more people are slowly learning that LinkedIn isn’t that old site where you stick a digital copy of a resumé. It’s a thriving content hub where people go to learn and explore.


Recommended Reading:  Top 5 LinkedIn Strategies to Grow Your Business


Do you have a YouTube channel? YouTube is the No. 2 search engine in the world (Google is No.1 and they own YouTube). Publish how-to videos and interviews with satisfied customers and behind-the-scenes videos and so much more. This costs nothing more than some time, getting a little better with your smartphone, and being brave.


Recommended Reading: Tips and Tricks for Fast, Easy Video Content


Don’t forget Facebook. In my small town, a very small local store throws events so often that you wonder whether they ever have a “regular” day without one. The events are free to post on Facebook, and with just a little bit of ingenuity around thinking up themes, they have a constant stream of people stopping by the store for the themed experience that matches their interest.


Read articles from Mari Smith, Premier Facebook Marketing Expert


Spend a little time on Twitter search ( and type in your locale and see what comes up. A restauranteur friend of mine used to “stalk” people coming to Milwaukee and then personally invite them into one of his four restaurants. It got him on ESPN, then another larger news story, and eventually brought him so much success he can hardly catch his breath. All from Twitter searches (and good food).


Constraints Are your Creative Best Friend


To stay on the theme of restaurants a moment longer, it turns out that most of the restaurants succeeding right now are those with smaller and more specific menus. Barring the typical Chinese Restaurant experience which has endless pages, most of the growing food chains in the U.S. sell just a few items and do it well.


By looking at your business the same way, you might find areas to consider cutting to focus on growing one aspect even more.


Constraints are great for being creative. If you must do more with less, it pushes you to consider methods and means that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.


Can you make do? Of course you can!


You’ve got a lot to offer your customers, and they look forward to seeing you ride out any potential recession and make it through to better times again.


About Chris Brogan


Chris Brogan is an author, keynote speaker and business advisor who helps companies update organizational interfaces to better chris-brogan-headshot.jpgsupport 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 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: 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

Caulipower founder and CEO, Gail Becker, wasn’t afraid to tap into the competitive food industry when she launched her successful company that took the frozen food section by storm. This episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street” covers the goal and vision behind Caulipower, the obstacles Gail Becker faced as a new female entrepreneur, and the support she found through NAWBO.




Narrator:                     Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at and Bank of America at And here's your host, Greg Stebben.


Gregg Stebben:          I'm here with Gail Becker. She's the founder and CEO of the company, Caulipower. I'm going to say that again in case you think I said cauliflower. I didn't. I said Caulipower. The website is They're on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram @Caulipower. Gail, welcome.


Gail Becker:                Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.


Gregg Stebben:          I want to start this interview by saying that you and your company, you and your team, are 100% responsible for my dinner last night.


Gail Becker:                That might be the best interview start I've ever heard.


Gregg Stebben:          Well, you can hear the bag. I'm wrinkling it in the background here. I had the Spicy(ish) Chicken Tenders, and they're pretty spicy for spicy-ish.


Gail Becker:                You know what? Some people think they're spicy. Some people think they're not spicy, so we decided to beg the difference and call them spicy-ish.


Gregg Stebben:          I'm going to really heap a lot of praise on you, your company, the product that I had for dinner last night, and what you've done. But I have to tell you one of the best advertisements I've seen in a long time was on your website. So, I knew I was going to be talking to you today. I was doing my research yesterday, and I said I'm going to go get some Caulipower product to try before we talk, because it would be rude of me not to.


Gail Becker:                Thank you.


Gregg Stebben:          And there was this ad on your website of a woman holding a bag of your chicken tenders. And it said, "I can't believe I ate the whole bag." Only ... I'm looking for the number here. 490 calories? I mean, I've memorized the ad. Only 490 calories. And I knew when I saw that that two things were going to happen before I went to bed last night.


                                    I knew I was going to have some Spicy(ish) Chicken Tenders. And I knew, knowing myself as I do, that I was going to do just as she did and I was going to get the entire bag.


Gail Becker:                And you didn't have to feel too bad about it.


Gregg Stebben:          No, I felt ... First of all, delicious. Easy to make. And the other thing that was interesting to me ... and I just want to say this because it was kind of a real lesson for me in this. I never eat frozen food. Just going to that aisle was an eye-opener for me of all the probably really unhealthy food, and there I was with your chicken tenders reading the back of the bag, and thinking of myself, "This, as promised, is a really healthy option." And it was delicious, too.


Gail Becker:                Thank you. That's such a nice thing to hear. The frozen food section has changed a lot over the years for the better, definitely. There's some room to go, but the point is there's something for everybody.


Gregg Stebben:          Yes, yes. Well, I discovered that. I think I found my go-to. I do not think we will ever have a freezer without at least one bag of your chicken tenders for an emergency dinner.


Gail Becker:                Oh my gosh. Made my day.


Gregg Stebben:          Yes.


Gail Becker:                Today is all downhill from here.


Gregg Stebben:          So, you're ... I hope not. I hope it only gets better and better during the course of this interview. So, the company is Caulipower. What is Caulipower? What is the company? What are your products? And how on earth did you come to make a company called Caulipower?


Gail Becker:                The last question is probably the most tricky. I'll start with the easy part. Caulipower is a company that, quite simply, brings meal hacks to life. Better for you, easier, more convenient, and never sacrificing taste for nutrition or convenience. It's a frozen food company. I started it in ... I had left corporate America in May of 2016 and launched the company in February of 2017.


Gregg Stebben:          So, you're a newbie at this.


Gail Becker:                Super newbie.  We punch above our weight.


Gregg Stebben:          I want to take note of the fact that you're new in this business, and getting in the food business cannot be easy. I mean, there's a lot of hurdles you have to jump through far beyond making more common, unregulated consumer products.


Gail Becker:                Yeah, no. There are definitely easier industries to go into. I will not lie. But I have to say, it's also an industry that is very welcoming of innovation, welcoming of entrepreneurs, and new blood. While in some ways it's one of the more challenging to break into, in other ways it's actually very welcoming of the innovation that is often brought by small businesses.


Gregg Stebben:          Your original product, if I understand correctly, was cauliflower pizza crust under the name Caulipower. Correct? I eat a lot of cauliflower. I make cauliflower rice and things like that. I didn't know that cauliflower pizza crust was a thing. How did this become such a thing that you thought you should start a business revolving around it?


Gail Becker:                I'm the mom of two boys with celiac disease, and they were diagnosed at such a young age that there was no gluten free food in the store. Every time they needed something, I would have to make it from scratch, or order it from some funky company that you never heard of online. What I began to notice over the years was how much junk the industry was putting in gluten free food. More fat, sugar, and calories, and less nutrients.

                                    I sort of waited for the industry to do something about it. And when I saw that they never did, I decided to leave corporate America and do it myself. Now, I didn't invent cauliflower crust pizzas. I tried it one time. I've actually only made it at home one time. People find that hard to believe, but it was only one time. And-


Gregg Stebben:          You mean the traditional from scratch way?


Gail Becker:                Well, yeah.


Gregg Stebben:          I'm assuming you've eaten your product many times.


Gail Becker:                My product many, many, many times. But I'm saying when I first started, I made ... there were 569,000 recipes online. I just picked one. I couldn't even tell you which one I picked. I made it. It was okay. My sons asked if I would make it again. And I said, "There is no way I'm making that again, because it took 90 minutes to make the crust after I got home from a full day of work."


Gregg Stebben:          Right? And you still have to make the pizza.


Gail Becker:                And you still have to make the pizza. By the way, it's kind of insulting that people even think that I have time for that. I thought, "Well, I can't be the only one." Clearly there's all these people who are struggling to do this. I was disenchanted with corporate life. I was ready for a change. My father had just passed away, and I was really looking to do something more meaningful. I put all of those three things in a blender, and basically what I came out with was, "Hey, I know. I'm going to quit my job and start a company called Caulipower." And that is exactly what I did.


Gregg Stebben:          Looking at your background and looking at it on LinkedIn ... I mean, you have a fascinating background that includes ... you were a reporter, you worked on the Clinton/Gore campaign, you made a transition from there to the Department of Health and Human Services. Then you ended up as the president of Strategic Partnerships and Global Integration for Edelman, which is a huge global ... I guess, would you call it a communications company?


Gail Becker:                Yeah. It's the largest PR firm in the world.


Gregg Stebben:          Okay, so the largest PR firm in the world. What's interesting is on one hand I would think, "Well, there's probably some things there that would make it easy for you to start a business." Or at least you would have some insights that others might not. But there would have been nothing there to make me think you would, again, start ... not just a food company, but a very, very specific type of food company making very specific products with this real promise. I think you called them food hacks.


                                   But really, when I look at your product line, I think what you're really promising to do is to give me a better way to eat at home conveniently and in a very healthy way. How much of an impact, or how much of a benefit do you think you got from your previous experience? And what were the things that were the hardest for you to learn that nothing had ever prepared you for?


Gail Becker:                I would say in terms of my background, the things that probably helped the most was actually my time in the corporate world. At my prior job, I ran a lot of the businesses for the company. But I also worked on a lot of clients. I had a lot of exposure to how to build a brand, how not to build a brand, and things to do from a marketing perspective that would help tell your story to consumers.


                                   That was a huge benefit to me in starting my own brand. And it's funny when you come from the consulting world, because you sort of spend all those years giving advice to people. Sometimes they take it and sometimes they don't. One of the great things about starting your own company is you get to always take your advice.


Gregg Stebben:          Or sometimes you take it and sometimes you don't.


Gail Becker:                Yeah, exactly. Sometimes you regret taking it. So, that was a huge help. I would say everything that was difficult had to do with the specific food industry. Being a manufacturer in that industry, making stuff ... making stuff is just hard, whatever it is. I mean, maybe food in particular. But being a manufacturer of anything is really, really tough. I had no idea.


                                    And then learning the industry ... you know, I would go into the early sales meetings with different retailers and so forth. There were so many acronyms, and so many ways of doing things, and saying things in this tight knit community that ... I actually would leave a meeting and I had no idea what people were saying, because there were so many words that I had never heard before. So, really learning the industry, learning the jargon that went along with it, and battling it up against the big boys, as it were. When you look at the frozen pizza space, for instance.


Gregg Stebben:          But you actually probably went into one of the most competitive frozen food fields, other than ice cream, that exists.


Gail Becker:                Yes. I wish I had known that then. I didn't. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose. You are right. The frozen section overall is the most competitive space in the grocery store, because there's the least of it. Anyone that's in there, there is very limited space. If you come in, someone else has to go out. Today we are right up there next to the big boys, I like to say, but it certainly it wasn't like that in the beginning. It's been quite a journey, but a really remarkable one.


Gregg Stebben:          I want to call out the fact that you started by making ... tell me if this is correct. Essentially, pizza crust made out of cauliflower. Hence the name Caulipower. And you were making that because you recognize that there were families like yours where flour was not a possibility. But you've expanded now.


Gail Becker:               You know what? I would never say that ... I certainly didn't make it for only the gluten free community. That's why I went into it. But my thing was far more… I mean, we don't even market it as gluten free products. We market it as better tasting, better-for-you products that happens to be gluten free.


                                   I did that because my insight as a mom of two boys growing up with celiac was that there was always ... there's an art. There was always everybody had to eat something different. My insight at the time was: wouldn't it be great if we could all just eat the same thing even if we had different reasons for eating it? Why do you have to eat something that's specifically gluten free? Why do you have to eat something that's specifically lower in calories, or lower in fat? I just thought: let's make products that really everybody can enjoy even if they have different reasons for enjoying it. Nobody has time today to make three different meals. There's something really nice about sharing from the same plate.


Gregg Stebben:          Well, to an equally important if not more important business point, is when you look at it that way, the market is exponentially larger. Correct?


Gail Becker:                Correct.


Gregg Stebben:          Which we all love that.


Gail Becker:                We also love that.


Gregg Stebben:          One of the points I want to make is you went from pizza crust, to pizza, what you were saying. Now you're next to the big boys.


Gail Becker:                We launched with four pizzas. Three tops, and one plain crust.


Gregg Stebben:          Okay. And now there's-


Gail Becker:                Now, we have more flavors of pizza, and we have tortillas. We have our brand new chicken tenders, which just launched a few weeks ago. We also have our sweet potatoes, which are a bread replacement made from sliced sweet potatoes.


Gregg Stebben:          I will confess, I had some sweet potatoes last night, too. Because once I started down the Caulipower road, it was hard to stop me. I had a really great and healthy dinner last night.


Gail Becker:                Oh, fantastic. Okay. Well, welcome to the family.


Gregg Stebben:          Thank you. We've been talking about scale here, and one of the things that impressed me ... because you started the business in 2016, really launched the products in 2017. So, two years plus. I went to Walmart to get your products after printing out a coupon. My understanding, particularly of the food industry, is it's really hard to get into Walmart. And there you are after just two years.


Gail Becker:                Yeah. It's interesting. Walmart actually brought us in pretty early. We launched in February of 2017. We were in some Walmart stores as early as October of that same year. They've been a great partner to us. One of my objectives for building Caulipower was I wanted to make better-for-you food accessible to as many people as I possibly could, and that's accessible in a number of ways. The way that the product looks, the way that it tastes, the way that our packaging is, the stores that it's sold in, the price that it's sold for, and the fact that we give a percentage of sales to help build Teaching Gardens and underserved schools across the country. Accessible nutrition is a key platform of who Caulipower is.


Gregg Stebben:          You've just brought up a point about scale that I think is worthy of a little conversation here. You not only had to master the food business, but by getting into Walmart that quickly, you had to scale in some pretty dramatic ways, I would think, in terms of production and ... I don't know. Raising capital and hiring.


Gail Becker:                Yes. You name it.


Gregg Stebben:          I mean, Walmart does not take a chance on you. You have to prove that you're ready, I'm assuming.


Gail Becker:                I think it was both. I mean, they were looking to expand their better-for-you options, so it was a really nice partnership early on. They did take a bit of a chance on me. Luckily, we've been able to prove ourselves and make the relationship work. But you are right. Scaling as fast as we did was just huge when I think back.


                                   And we're still doing it. We're still scaling at a rapid rate. It's very much like building the plane while flying it, you know? We're trying to make it bigger, but we're also trying to run the day-to-day business. It was a huge hurdle for us. But I'm just thrilled and so proud of the team that we were able to manage and keep up.


Gregg Stebben:          I'm talking with Gail Becker. She's the founder and CEO of the company Caulipower. It's If you think I said cauliflower, I didn't. It's Caulipower, spelled exactly the same way but a 'P' instead of an 'F.' on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at Caulipower.

                                   So, this year as a sign of your success and your ability to have successfully scaled, you were awarded the Woman Business Owner of the Year award by NAWBO, the National Association of Women Business Owners. Can you talk about how a professional network like NAWBO became a very important part of your success?


Gail Becker:                One of the things that struck me early on about coming into the food industry is I sort of thought, like all the other industries that I had encountered, this is one where there'd be a lot of women at the top and involved in sort of every level. Because somehow I thought, "Oh, it was food. Clearly there's going to be a lot of women running the industry." And maybe not surprisingly, I didn't necessarily find that to be true. Obviously there are some, but not nearly enough.


                                   I also struggled with seeing how difficult it was for female entrepreneurs to raise VC money. When I started to read some of the statistics, it blew me away. Only 2% of VC money goes to fund female-led companies. That's outrageous. Even though they perform better. So when I started to put that all together in my head, it really became important to me to support other female business owners and entrepreneurship.


Read next: Angel Investors Seek Women-Owned Business Startups: How to Find a Match by Steve Strauss


                                   As I always say, if you want to see more female businesses, there is only one thing you can do. That is support more female businesses. Buy their products, tell your friends, share their social media. That's the only way that we're going to ever break the cycle.


                                   As it relates to NAWBO, NAWBO was really a strong part of that. It's so interesting to me because I am new to NAWBO, but obviously now I'm forever a fan and a member. But when I went to the conference, I have to say I was just blown away by what I saw there. I have never been in a business setting like that where so many people were just cheering each other on. Doesn't matter who won the award for whatever category. People were dancing for each other and cheering each other. I had people fixing my jacket before I went on stage. I mean, when does that happen? It doesn't ever happen.


                                   I was just blown away by the camaraderie and the generosity. I have since had several other female business owners reach out to me that maybe we could do work together through Caulipower in some vendor relationship, and what have you. It's just this wonderful network to be a part of. And to remind each other that we're all in this together and we're all trying to make this world a little bit better than we found it.


Gregg Stebben:          I find it really interesting that a large part of your initial motivation for going to your first NAWBO meeting and other organizations like that was not to get something, but to give something. Because I think ... I mean, it's a bit of a stereotype, but I think we find in business that often women just have a very different view of the world of business that men do. I think you've really just illustrated that.


Gail Becker:                Well, it's so interesting because there's been a lot written about this. This is not me saying it. But whenever you talk to female entrepreneur ... I've sat on a number of panels now and I've heard a lot of stories. They're always motivated by trying to improve people's lives, trying to make things better, trying to make things easier, trying to help people.


                                    I can't tell you how much I hear that motivation over and over again. I think that's one of the reasons that actually accounts for the success of female business owners, which has a better rate of return from venture capitalists than actually men do. I think the reason is is because that mission is so clear, and so empowering that it just ... you can't help but succeed. It's really quite remarkable.


Gregg Stebben:          Okay. So I have one last question for you, Gail. She's Gail Becker. She's the founder and CEO of the company Caulipower. It's on Twitter, and Facebook, and Instagram @Caulipower. The question is this: you've grown so fast, what's next?


Gail Becker:                Sleep.


Gregg Stebben:          It sounds like you've earned that, and I'm not surprised to hear you say that. But once you wake up ... and I'm sure you're looking ahead to a new year-


Gail Becker:                I'm kidding. I'm kidding. I'm kidding. No, I would say that we have a lot of new products coming out that we're super excited about. Our chicken tenders, which are baked, not fried. And really a huge category buster in terms of what else is out there. Those are just launching now. We also have some new products coming out next year, which we're very excited about. And just continuing to grow our footprint, and help people, and most importantly, build a lot more Teaching Gardens.


Gregg Stebben:          I want to mention the name of the product, the chicken. We've been calling them chicken tenders, but the name really deserves to be called out.


Gail Becker:                I like it. Go for it.


Gregg Stebben:          The name of the product is New Chick on the Block. And part of your advertising slogan is, "No Clucking Way!" I mean, you have just really ... I'm sure your background at Edelman didn't hurt. From the name of the company, Caulipower, to New Chick on the Block. No Clucking Way. You've really clearly identified a market. We know you have, because look at your growth, and your sales, and your success. But everything that I looked at in preparing to talk to you spoke to me exactly the way it should after identifying me as a potential customer. Really, I'm very impressed and I'm not surprised at all with the success that you've had. I want to thank you for joining us.


Gail Becker:                Well, thank you. That's really lovely to say. The industry has to remember that food is never precious, that the only thing precious about food are the people that you share it with. We like to have fun. We don't take ourselves too seriously. We remind people that food is joy, and there's nothing wrong with having a bag that makes you smile.


Gregg Stebben:          New Chick on the Block. I hope you don't mind me mentioning, I did not realize that the chicken tenders were just a few weeks new on the market.


Gail Becker:                Yeah, I know. Oh my gosh, I love it.


Gregg Stebben:          Great, great. If you go to the website, again, it's Just like cauliflower, but it's Caulipower. A 'P' instead of an 'F.' And when you get there, you can do what I did. There's a $2 off coupon for the chicken tenders. Very cleverly, you've picked a great vendor for managing that. Because when I printed out the coupon, it also gave me the address of the four closest stores. No matter which direction I went, I had to drive past a place that I knew I could get the chicken tenders, and I'm so glad I did. I had a great dinner last night. And I've had a great conversation with you, Gail. Thank you so much for joining us, and thank you for enriching my when-I'm-home-alone-and-hungry dinners. Because I'm going to be eating a lot of your Spicy(ish) Chicken Tenders.


Gail Becker:                Oh, well that's the best kind of endorsement I can hope for. Thank you so much. I had a great time.

Gregg Stebben:          Thank you.


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

At a recent event the CEO and Founder of Her Agenda, Rhonesha Byng, sat down to talk about how her organization is working to bridge the gap between ambition and achievement among women business owners.





Kate Delaney:             I'm Kate Delaney with Gregg Stebben. We're from “Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America, and we're so pleased to be here at Luminary for the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, and we have Rhonesha Byng with us. Think, wow. I scribbled that down when that was mentioned.


Rhonesha Byng:         Oh wow.


Kate Delaney:             Because I thought it was so interesting.


Gregg Stebben:          I love the name.


Kate Delaney:             I do too. So tell us about


Rhonesha Byng:         Her Agenda is the digital media platform, bridging the gap between ambition and achievement for millennial women. We really believe in the concept that you can't be what you can't see. So every Monday we have a story called, “A Peak Inside Her Agenda,” where we feature a different woman in a position of power, from education to entrepreneurship to the C suite. We featured women like Arianna Huffington, Misty Copeland, Nadia Lopez, who went viral after being featured on the Humans of New York Instagram page.


                                   So it's very diverse. We feature diverse women across industries, across backgrounds, and the idea is to give you everything that you need to achieve whatever is on your agenda. And the motto is, no one ever slows her agenda, which was a personal motto that I came up with from a nickname of mine. My name is Rhonesha. My nickname is Nesha. So that acronym it stands for No One Ever Slows Her Agenda, and that means whatever your goal is, go for it. Don't let anyone or anything stop you. And we live in this age where media has the power to shape perception and has a power to shape how we think of ourselves and how the world thinks of ourselves. And we want to change how ambitious women are seen by the world and how ambitious women have access to resources and opportunity. So we also, in addition to our articles, have a database of event panels, networking and also a private community called Her Agenda Insiders, which act as a peer mentorship community where you get access to the hidden job market and exclusive events that we can't post publicly on the website.


Gregg Stebben:          Sometimes I want to be a woman.


Rhonesha Byng:         Wow!


Gregg Stebben:          This is so beautiful.


Rhonesha Byng:         I get why you say that, but the reason we exist is because we live in a society where for a man this is easily attainable, and accessible, and for women it's not unfortunately.


Gregg Stebben:          I was not diminishing what you're doing at all. It's beautiful though. And I guess I want to hear from you. What was the vision or the catalyst for you to see this idea and then that it was possible and then take the steps to do it?


Rhonesha Byng:         Well, it started a long time ago, way back when I was in high school and I was one of those young women that were ambitious and, as soon as I found my purpose in life, which was journalism, I hit the ground running. So at 16-17 I was at press conferences. At the UN, I was covering funerals of major figures like Gordon Parks.


                                   And I was really taking myself seriously as a journalist and I got all these mentors who were editors of publications. I was also modeling for Seventeen Magazine, literally, I guess you could say. The media world was just so accessible to me because I'm from New York City and I got all these mentors. Then I go to college and take a women's studies class and it was almost like a slap in the face. Like wait a second, I was in a bubble. The world does not look like that. Women are not in power, and I just could not understand why. And so for me, I knew that my talent and my superpower was media. And so I knew the influence impact media had, and so I thought if more of my peers, and more of the world could see these powerful women and they were more accessible and at the forefront, then it could change the ratio of women in power ultimately across the board.


                                   Because like I said, you can't be what you can't see. So I literally as a college student was talking about this idea, and it was a friend that was like, you should start a website, and I said, "Oh, someone probably started something," did some market research. No one started it and looked up the URL, HerAgenda, because that was already tied to my motto I had for myself, didn't exist, created it and slowly but surely put it together and it grew into now what it is today. But it started from the fact that I was just shocked that there were not more women in positions of power because all the women I personally knew were empowered. They were in charge. They were not taking no for an answer. They were to me like how celebrities are to kids. Like if you see Beyonce, you're like, "Oh my God!"


                                   For me back then, I would freak out to see Danielle Smith who at the time was the editor in chief of Vibe, or someone who was more behind the scenes but had the power to make decisions. That was something that I wanted to see more of and it didn't exist at the time. That was in 2008.


Kate Delaney:             What's your ultimate goal for


Rhonesha Byng:         My ultimate goal is for us to be more global and just more known and to reach women. Every woman, no matter where she is. If you have internet access you know about Her Agenda in terms of if you're looking for inspiration, if you're looking for information, it's just really to continue to grow what we're doing. Reach more women and have more resources and ultimately we actually want to do is we want to use that platform as a gateway for a pipeline to leadership.


                                   And so, we want to do more direct partnerships with companies like Twitter, like Google, like Microsoft that claim that they can't find women. Well, the women that read our website are the women that you want, and so why don't you partner with us, post your jobs with us so that you can reach those women.


Gregg Stebben:          Will you make us a promise?


Rhonesha Byng:         Okay.


Gregg Stebben:          We need to talk to you every three or six months.


Rhonesha Byng:         Okay, great.


Gregg Stebben:          Because you're the beacon, first of all, but you also have your pulse on something. I think you created something that's a pulse taking environment that maybe nobody ever had a way of taking a pulse of before. I'm stunned by what you've done.


Rhonesha Byng:         Can I take you everywhere with me?


Gregg Stebben:           I want to take you with me everywhere I go. I'm really blown away by what you've done.


Rhonesha Byng:          Thank you.


Gregg Stebben:           I can't tell you how impressed I am.


Rhonesha Byng:         Thank you. It has not been easy. I started out, like I said, in college, so this was built from my college dorm room, went out into the working world, I thought I was a complete failure because I had branded myself as Her Agenda. No one ever stops her agenda, so I thought I'd be doing that full time after I graduated from college, and I ended up working as a producer at NBC. Now that is not a failure. But at the time I was like, I'm not living what I said I was about, and so I did that. But that in hindsight ended up being the best thing for me because I really got more experience as a journalist and more experience within a corporation itself. Then I went on to be an editor at The Huffington Post, which was also a whole other experience in terms of seeing the digital side of media at scale.


                                   And then at that point I got into an accelerator that allowed me to transition to full time. So that was 2015, so I started in 2008, side hustle up until 2015 and then full time in 2015 didn't make money for the first year. And then 2016, 2017 was when the transition in terms of becoming a profitable media company became more of a reality.


Kate Delaney:             What do you hope happens when people get in your funnel? I mean you hear their stories and that has to get you excited when there's someone who connects to, and because of you, they get the education, they get the mentorship, they figure out what it is they need through what you've given them and what you've written. What do you hope ultimately happens for those women that get in the pipeline?


Rhonesha Byng:         Simply that they achieve whatever their goal is. And then once they do that, naturally as women, our natural instinct is to give back and to pour into others. And so, that's really what the hope is, and with the insider community that we created, that private network - first you had the page to opt into that. And so that's something that's a value add service. But also in the community, we always say the mindset to get in is that you have to have the mindset of lifting as you climb. And so, really that's the idea is just to pour into others, share a resource, share an opportunity, invest in another entrepreneur once you've made your first $1 million. It's really just to pour back into the economy as a whole. And there's that statistic where if you invest in a woman, you invest in a whole community, versus if you invest in a man, you invest in that man. That's what the data says. That's not what I say.


Gregg Stebben:          I feel it's getting hot in here.


Kate Delaney:             Wow. Just absolutely amazing.


Gregg Stebben:          Yeah. The website is and I'm telling you, this is one of the best things…I talk to a lot of small business owners, a lot of founders. This is one of the most beautiful stories I've ever heard. I can't wait to hear more.


Rhonesha Byng:          Well thank you. And we'll be in touch. This won't be our first conversation.


Gregg Stebben:           I have a feeling we'll hear from you if you don't hear from us. Thank you.


Rhonesha Byng:          Thank you.


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

Supporting women in business is the main goal of NAWBO and their NYC chapter president, Elizabeth Foster. She came on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” to discuss the tools the organization provides to women and the community that they’ve built together.




Narrator:                     Now let’s hear from Elizabeth Foster, the President of NAWBO NYC, and CEO and founder of Maison Visionnaire, talking with us from the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight


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 wow, we have a great guest with us. Elizabeth Foster, Gregg, I mean, I'm telling you, people beat the drum for this woman. All I did was tweet something out, and the people are all over me.


Gregg Stebben:          It helps that she is the President of NAWBO NYC. Elizabeth, welcome. And I think first, let's talk about NAWBO, and then we want to get into your career. Tell us about NAWBO. Not everyone's familiar with it.


Elizabeth Foster:        NAWBO is a National Association of Women Business Owners. That's what it stands for. It actually came into creation in 1975, when a woman business owner could not get a loan without a male family member co-signing. And what happened, there was a woman that went into a bank, she had no male family member. The bank manager said, I'm really sorry. These are the rules. Isn't there somebody? She had a 17 year-old-son, and the bank manager said he'll do.


Gregg Stebben:          Are you serious?


Elizabeth Foster:         I'm serious.


Gregg Stebben:          So I want to interject, that I think a year ago, this was a very big anniversary for NAWBO, or maybe it was two years ago, you'll correct me, but we just celebrated the 30th anniversary of making those rules go away. Correct?


Elizabeth Foster:        Correct.


Gregg Stebben:          So only 30 years ago?


Elizabeth Foster:        Well actually yeah, it's actually less than 30 years ago. NAWBO started in '75, and what happened was, this event happened in '75, and she went out, she said, no, you're not going to have my son as a guarantor. And basically what happened was that she got together with a group of other businesswomen and she said, we need to do something about this.


                                   So she was a woman of action, and she met with other women of action, and they got together and they created NAWBO. Then, it took them 13 years, 13 years, till 1988, which was 30 years ago last-


Gregg Stebben:          I knew there was a 30 year anniversary. Listen to Gregg’s interview about the 30th anniversary of HR 5050 on “The Heartbeat of Main Street”


Elizabeth Foster:        That was the one. Yeah. And it's crazy. I'm like, seriously? It took you 13 years to pass a bill to say that women had the equal rights? 1988? I'm like, shame on you.


Gregg Stebben:          A creditworthy woman.


Kate Delaney:             That's just sad.


Gregg Stebben:          If you were not creditworthy, that's another conversation. But you could have the greatest credit, and you still couldn't get a loan because you were a woman.


Elizabeth Foster:         Correct, correct.


Kate Delaney:             And obviously you have a beautiful accent, so we know that you were born and raised in England, I'm guessing, and I bet you had that entrepreneurial spirit as a young woman. And I know that you got into the fragrance business. How did that start? Tell us about your journey.


Elizabeth Foster:        You're right. I'm not a native New Yorker. I was born in Bath, and grew up there, and then went to London as soon as I could, basically. And I started…I had a few jobs doing this and that, whatever. And then I found a product, and I really wanted kind of came to me as there was something, and this is a skill that I have: I kind of look at something, and then I'll say, well, if you just did this, and if you did this, and if you did this, then you could make a whole different product, and it would be, oh, so much better.


Gregg Stebben:          So you're good at leveraging assets.


Elizabeth Foster:        Correct. So that's exactly what I did. And the product was an aroma therapy-based product, and I knew a lot about aromatherapy anyway, just out of personal interest. So that was something that was very near and dear to my heart.


                                   And we just basically started on the kitchen table. We started at very, very, very humble beginnings. And then, within two years, we had a billion-pound turnover, which is kind of cool actually.


Kate Delaney:            So your journey, I mean this has to be more than near and dear to your heart, to see women thriving in entrepreneurial spaces all over the place, right?


Elizabeth Foster:        Yeah. Well, very much so. And actually going back to me being here as well. So I've been here for five years now, and I was kind of "fresh off the boat." And I met a woman at an event and I'm like, where do I meet some smart savvy businesswomen? And she's like, you need to go to NAWBO. I'm like-


Gregg Stebben:          What's NAWBO?


Elizabeth Foster:        What's NAWBO? So she said, she told me what it was, and I'm like, huh, I can give that a go. And then you know, I think the thing is, that you need to be open as well. You need to be understanding and give things a go. So from that point of view, that's what I did. I was open, I went along, and I found my tribe.


                                    I found those women that were smart and savvy, and I do consider myself that as well. And I fit in, and it was great. And then they obviously saw potential in me, and they're like, “Hey, you want to come hang out with us?”


Gregg Stebben:          Well, so I want to make an observation here. You earlier used the phrase, I think you referred to yourself, as a “woman of action,” right?


Elizabeth Foster:         Correct.


Gregg Stebben:          And what's interesting is, you moved to an entirely new, not just to a new city, but to a new city in a new country five years ago, and you're now the President of NAWBO NYC. My guess is, they saw in you a woman of action, and you saw in them a lot of women of action, and I'm bringing that up just to really say to other women who are not familiar with NAWBO, if you want to meet like-minded, savvy businesswomen, women of action, NAWBO's the place to go, whether you're in New York City or not.


Elizabeth Foster:        Absolutely, yeah. We've got 60 chapters around the country, and even if you're in the middle of nowhere, we have virtual membership too, so you can still connect with us women, no matter where you are in America.


Kate Delaney:            What do you think is the most difficult thing that women entrepreneurs go through? What stops some of them from achieving what they could possibly achieve?


Elizabeth Foster:        That's a very good question, and I think there's various answers to that. I think that often for women it's actually confidence. I hate to say that. We still don't believe in ourselves enough. And when we don't believe in ourselves, others don't necessarily believe in us. So I think that level of, you've got to just go there, you've got to put yourself out there. That’s what you know…don't hold back.


                                    And if you struggle with that, if that's something that you know you struggle with, then get some support. Get a coach, get a whatever you need, even just a friend, like a good strong friend.


Gregg Stebben:          And I would imagine also…again, not to spend the whole interview plugging NAWBO, but if one of the things you need is confidence, go be with other women who are being successful.


Elizabeth Foster:         Correct.


Gregg Stebben:           They'll tell you what you're great at and support you in the things that you need to grow in.


Elizabeth Foster:         That's exactly the case. Exactly. And no, we're not just plugging NAWBO, but they are a great organization. So, hey.


Kate Delaney:             So we have one last question for you.


Gregg Stebben:          You haven't even told us about your business.


Elizabeth Foster:         That's because I'm such a good advocate for NAWBO.


Gregg Stebben:           You are, but you should tell us about your business.


Elizabeth Foster:         I can do that. I'm the founder of Maison Visionnaire, and what we did is, we invented the reed diffusers.,So it's a home fragrance business. What we did, is we brought art to fragrance, and we made it a whole experience for your home. So instead of, I'm sure you've seen them, you know the jars with the oil and the sticks. Well, I'm sorry, but they're not very beautiful, and they're not creative, and they're kind of ugly, and you want to hide them away because you want the fragrance, and you want the benefits.


                                   So I decided to make it beautiful. So it's a wooden art piece that has been carved, and that acts as a diffuser, but it's also beautiful to look at. And it also, it's a fusion that accentuates the home. So we also have a product behind it. It's a CDF, a composite diffusion fiber, which kind of acts like the fragrance engine, so to speak. It really pumps out the fragrance, and it's totally natural. So, that's what I'm doing here. That's my business.


Gregg Stebben:         And the website for it?


Elizabeth Foster:


Gregg Stebben:          Spell it for us.


Elizabeth Foster:        M-A-I-S-O-N-V-I-S-I-O-N-N-A-I-R-E .com.


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


Read more about Elizabeth Foster, Founder of Maison Visionnaire, on The Small Business Community.

Women entrepreneurs are continuing to grow their leadership stake in the small business market. Bank of America Head of Small Business, Sharon Miller, spoke about how she’s seeing more opportunities for women, including increased woman-to-woman mentorship opportunities, and the positive impact its having.




Kate Delaney:             I'm Kate Delaney with Gregg Stebben. We're from Heartbeat of Main Street with ForbesBooks and Bank of America, and we are so pleased to be here at the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight. And we are with, I've got to call her my nickname, the grand dame of banking, Sharon Miller, who is the head of Small Business for Bank of America. It's so great to meet you and be here at this fabulous event.


Sharon Miller:             It's so great to be here, Kate and Gregg. Thank you so much for having me.


Gregg Stebben:          Absolutely. This is one of your premier events of the year.


Sharon Miller:             It is. It is.


Gregg Stebben:          So tell us about the event and about the data and the statistics and the research behind it.


Sharon Miller:             For the last four years, we have produced a Women Business Owner Report just to understand how women are feeling about the economy, about what's happening with their own business and their revenue outlook. And this time, for the first time over the last four years, women have a higher expectation for hiring plans, for revenue growth of their business and the outlook than their male counterparts. So, that's a pretty fascinating data point when you think about the optimism out there in the economy and what's happening in the political climate right now.


Gregg Stebben:          You talk to a lot of women business owners. Do you have theories of your own about why there would be that change?


Sharon Miller:             You know, women, I mean Kate, we're women, right?


Gregg Stebben:          I'm always the guy here.


Kate Delaney:             Yes, you are.


Sharon Miller:             You're always the guy.


Gregg Stebben:          The lone guy.


Sharon Miller:             You're the lone guy. And we are sitting in a fabulous place that is dedicated to women, Luminary, that is a co-op of women entrepreneurs working together, that's why we chose this spot in particular here in Manhattan. And to me, women, we are more and more getting out there, starting our own business, wanting to take control of our own destiny. And I think that as that settles in, as you see sustainability, women are understanding, "Hey, I can do this. I feel confident, I feel good about what's going on." And I think it's just time.


Kate Delaney:             I love numbers and I'm wondering if there's some trends or stats from the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight that we should look at, that we should call attention to for people who are listening to us.


Sharon Miller:             Well, 84% of women told us that they expected their revenue to be higher at the end of this year in 2019 versus last year. So, that's a pretty good majority of business owners out there.


Gregg Stebben:          It's also—they're predicting that for themselves after a previously great year.


Sharon Miller:             That's right.


Gregg Stebben:          So, it's not a reaction to something bad, but it's a greater reaction to something great.


Sharon Miller:             It is. It's continuing that increase, it's continued optimism. And we're already in October.


Gregg Stebben:          Right.


Sharon Miller:             So when you think about, a lot of the year has passed. We're in the 10th month of the year and we're hearing this from business owners, so that's a pretty good indicator of how they feel they'll end the year.


Gregg Stebben:          One of the things I want to ask you about, Sharon, because this really fascinated me, partially I think because I am a man, but I think it's going to be really eye-opening for women as well. One of the things you asked as part of this was, "I believe blank will be impactful in helping women in business over the next five years." And first of all, I love the question, I love the collection of responses you got, but I love the fact that the number one thing that women said they thought would be impactful was achieving work-life balance. Because I think that's also aligned with more and more people, thanks to millennials, are looking for in their business whether they own it or they're an employee. And I want to hear you talk about that.


Sharon Miller:             I agree, and I think that's not just for entrepreneurship, but it's for corporate America.


Gregg Stebben:          Yes.


Sharon Miller:             And I think about Bank of America and the benefits we give: 16 weeks of maternity or paternity leave when someone has a baby. Whether you're the man or the woman, you get that leave, you get to spend time with your family. More and more, people want to spend time with their family, and it's a blurred line of work and life. And when you can have it both together, and you can do what you love and still be with your loved ones, and your company is committed to that, or you're an entrepreneur and you lead that type of organization, he's got greater followership and greater commitment. And especially in the millennials, we're finding that.


Kate Delaney:            Talking about the millennials, here at the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, what would you tell young women as they jump into owning their own businesses?


Sharon Miller:             I think it's important to be positive. Be confident. Follow your passion, follow your dream. Because the more I hear and I read articles and I listen to business owners about, "Why did you do it?" "Well, I followed my dream, I followed my passion." Then don't limit your dream and don't limit what's possible, because when you got into this business, you felt the sky's the limit.


                                   So keep dreaming, keep thinking about how I can do things differently, how I can continue to expand or go into different markets, and don't ever stop that creative engine that got you here to begin with. Because when you just get stale and you don't keep thinking, "Okay, how can I do this better, faster, more efficient?" You're not going to keep growing. And so that's what I would encourage any business owner to do, but especially millennials as they're getting into the start of their own business.


Gregg Stebben:          Millennials, yes, and women, yes. Because one of the things you mentioned early on as we've been talking today, and I think one of the things that's so visible at this event today is that—and you found this in the report—the more there are women who are successful in business, the more it impacts other women and empowers them to do the same thing. For a lot of reasons, including, "Oh, there are lots of mentors now. There's lots of women that have experienced this. There's more women in banking, so that I do have access to capital," on and on and on and on. And I want you to talk about the network effect of that for women, that your report really beautifully displays.


Sharon Miller:             I think it's important, and especially when you think about networking and mentorship and connecting with other women, many times when you have a man and a woman coming together to network or mentor, you're going to have differences. And what we found from clients, and we talk about this a lot, many times men are talking to women about, "Okay, maybe you need to navigate this politics or that," versus the tactical, operational, "Here's the finances, here's the P&L-


Gregg Stebben:          Oh my gosh, you sound like my wife and I.


Sharon Miller:             "Here's how you operate a business." I mean, so it's important. And I think the more women that know those types of functions and how to do it and how to drive it, they're going to be able to pass that on and understand that, you know what, yeah, there's politics involved, but there's also brass tacks of how to run a business, how to operate a company. And that's all very, very important.


Gregg Stebben:          You're talking about a cultural shift as a result of more and more women being in business and owning business and being in positions of leadership.


Sharon Miller:             Absolutely. And what we find is that women bring that back to their communities more so than men. Women are coming back, they're investing in their communities.


Gregg Stebben:           Why are you both looking at me?


Sharon Miller:              We're not trying to!


Gregg Stebben:           But you, I mean it is, there's research to support that. Women share, and men don't.


Kate Delaney:             But that's exciting, because that means that the more of those tactics that spread, the more the fear or the barrier to entry will lower, I think, for women. What do you think?


Sharon Miller:             Yeah, because I see someone, "Oh, they're like me. They can do it, I can do it." You have to, when you can see what's possible and people paving the way, these great women, then you can say, "Wow, I can do that, because I see they're like me."


Gregg Stebben:          What kind of programs do you have at Bank of America that are taking advantage of the things you're learning from the report?


Sharon Miller:             Well, my favorite is the Women Ready to Lead Conference, and we do this in various cities across the country. And really it's about women understanding that, you know what, you don't have to have all of it right here and there. Raise your hand, let us know you're ready to lead, let us know you want to grow with the company, and we're going to support you, and we're going to help you get to where you want to go.


Gregg Stebben:          So in other words, what you're doing is saying, "If you have the right mindset, we'll help you get the right skillset."


Sharon Miller:             Absolutely. Absolutely. And we're here to support you, to train you, to mentor you, to connect you with other women within the company. When I think about Bank of America, 40% of our management team is women.


Kate Delaney:             Wow.


Sharon Miller:             I mean, it starts at the top with Brian Moynihan and our board setting the vision. 30% of our board, women. You don't find that in corporate America. So it's not just we talk about supporting women, we are-


Gregg Stebben:          You're doing it.


Sharon Miller:             ... a company made of great women and men.


Gregg Stebben:          You mentioned few minutes ago about mentors. And you told us off mic that you know, you had had some great mentors or still have great mentors that were men.


Sharon Miller:             Yes.


Gregg Stebben:          It's easier and easier for women to have great female mentors, because there's women who have now succeeded at higher and higher levels. But it also occurs to me that there will be another shift culturally when men can find great female mentors. Because now you're cross-pollinating all of these things in a very deep way.


Sharon Miller:             You are. And I think you're bringing together the best.


Gregg Stebben:          Yes.


Sharon Miller:             Because women and men, they bring together different perspectives, and different backgrounds, and that's what diversity inclusion is all about: bringing your whole self to work and feeling comfortable doing that. So it may not be just a man, woman, it might not be just race. It's where did I grow up, am I from the Northeast, am I from the West coast? Very different, very different culturally. And I think that the best companies and the best organizations allow that to come through so that you're able to get the best outcome.


Kate Delaney:             What's your ultimate vision? What would make you get up in the morning and say, "Wow, I just completely have nailed this. I am so happy with where I'm at." Because you're growing, growing, all these different programs.


Sharon Miller:             I think every day we have to get up and say, "What can we do more of?" I don't think you ever arrive and say, "Hey, it's here," right? We've got to keep thinking and keep getting better and keep growing, because every day, you learn something new, and how can we be better at supporting all people?


Gregg Stebben:          Everybody.


Sharon Miller:             All people.


Gregg Stebben:          Everybody. And I want to ask you about one last thing. We've talked about this with you before in previous interviews. The program you just told us about, it's called Ready for Leadership?


Sharon Miller:             Women Ready to Lead.


Gregg Stebben:          Women Ready to Lead. It reminds me of something you told us about before, the Bank of America Institute for Women's Entrepreneurship at Cornell.


Sharon Miller:             Yes.


Gregg Stebben:          Can you update us... first of all, remind people what it is and then update us on what's happening there today?


Sharon Miller:             So it is a program that we put together in partnership with Cornell University to help women entrepreneurs. Anyone can access the program, but we put it together with women in mind around education, around training, around how to access capital. Because in this report too, we talked about access to capital, and it's still a barrier or a perceived barrier of many women. And so it is an online institute where you can sign up, your company can. We've got courses and professors and students that are coming together, every single session that we have. And there's different sections, there's different focuses, but what we've heard from business owners going through is, "It has made the world of difference to my business." We have over 13,000 businesses that are in the queue going through this program, which, that's, doesn't sound like, I mean it's a lot of businesses, but how many more can we reach?


Gregg Stebben:          How much bigger is the opportunity?


Sharon Miller:             How many more can we reach?


Gregg Stebben:          How do you scale?


Sharon Miller:             That's right.


Gregg Stebben:          Yeah. The website is,


Kate Delaney:             Perfect place to end us. Sign up.


Sharon Miller:              Thank you so much.


Gregg Stebben:           Thank you Sharon.


Sharon Miller:              Thank you.


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



Sometimes, when I write for you, my customer for worthy content, I look around to see if there’s a trend emerging worth considering for your business. tim-mossholder-JfO62I4YRnY-unsplash.jpg


Today was like that. And I concluded maybe the time for making everyone love your brand is over. Work through this with me. It’s important.


Be Who You Are and Who You Want to Attract


There’s a weird fast-food war going among sellers of chicken sandwiches.


One company is thriving because their food is high quality and because they are very open about their religious values. While another has had much success introducing a tasty alternative for those who don’t want to support the other company.


In the sneaker business, one shoemaker supports a man who has made headlines standing against police violence. It’s a strong stance and revenue has gone up a lot because of it. Yet a different global firm sold sneakers made from ocean clean-up materials and easily sold 2 million pairs.


You don’t have to pick the same fights. You can support what makes sense for your brand.


Yet one detail is true: You must support something these days.


Reflect Your Buyer


This isn’t a piece about what’s right and wrong. Your business is yours to run.


Some companies thrive because of their commitment to inclusion. My schoolmate Doug Quint successfully launched a food empire with his Big Gay Ice Cream company, which started as an ice cream truck in New York and is now a regional staple in restaurants and grocery store freezers.


Maybe your buyer comes from a different upbringing than the whole Brady Bunch life that was reflected so often in advertising. Maybe they didn’t see people that reminded them of themselves in commercials or representing products they love.


Be Bold but Mean It


In 2019 and beyond, more buyers than ever say they prefer to buy from companies who share their values. But if your company doesn’t reflect any obvious values, how will someone know that they align?


The idea of this piece is to ask you to think about who you support and who might find strength in your alliance, and it’s to dare you.


You don’t have to be controversial, but please find ways to connect with and support people who will benefit from the association. Microsoft, for example, supports many different groups, including women in the gaming industry and fostering gaming inclusively for people with physical disabilities, and more. Where’s your group?


Put the Eggshells Away


Put the eggshells away and support a group that you feel aligns with your company’s beliefs and values. Purpose and beliefs and just plain support are the way forward.


Be more than just another place we can buy from. Be the place we want to support any day of the week. Your customers want to believe.


About Chris Brogan


Chris Brogan is an author, keynote speaker and business advisor who helps companies update organizational interfaces to better chris-brogan-headshot.jpgsupport 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 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: 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

Ya gotta believe!” While this was the rallying cry of the 1973 New York Mets, it also serves as an entrepreneurial mantra for many. If you want to succeed in business, it helps to be optimistic. Optimism is what allows small business owners to surmount sometimes impossible odds to achieve improbable outcomes.


According to the just-released 2019 Bank of America Small Business Owner Snapshot, “Entrepreneurs remain optimistic about the strength of their local economies” and 82% mike-petrucci-c9FQyqIECds-unsplash.jpgsay they’re “poised to end 2019 on a high note…anticipating higher revenue” than last year.


They’re not quite as confident about the national economy, with 49% saying it will improve, down from 55% in last fall’s Snapshot. The political climate in the U.S., GDP growth rate, inflation and interest rate concerns have impacted their national outlook.


Trade Winds


Nearly half of the small business owners (44%) report being affected by “recent U.S. trade tariffs and policy.” Of those affected, 19% experienced a negative impact, 16% said the impact was “mixed” and 9% claimed a positive impact.


Put Adam Rizza, Chief Creative Officer of Sunscape Eyewear, in the negatively impacted bucket. Tariffs have affected his business—and what’s worse, he doesn’t think they’re going away anytime soon—if ever.


“The tariffs were inevitable,” he says, “and they’re here to stay. Sunscape currently manufactures their eyewear in China and Rizza says the factories there have “been advised not to give discounts” to American companies. Companies like his are “being squeezed,” he says. Retail buyers don’t want to pay more for wholesale goods and consumers don’t want to pay more for products in-store or online. “So ultimately,” he adds, “we’re going to have to eat it. Small businesses will suffer. The big guys have ways to get around it.”


But being the quintessential entrepreneur, Rizza found a solution. “We had to adjust, so we cut overhead and operational costs. But we can’t jeopardize quality, so we have to look outside China.” Sunscape, which has been doing business with Chinese factories for nearly 20 years, is now looking at moving production to Vietnam and is already manufacturing a new line of products here in America.


Like Rizza, the Snapshot shows 61% of small businesses have experienced an increase in the cost of goods. Most (55%) have raised their prices and 24% have lost customers as a result.


Tis the Season…


And while the Snapshot shows small business owners intend to enjoy the holidays (38% are going on vacation), 54% are stressed. Some are worried about balancing work and life (42%) and staffing issues (18%). To combat these concerns, they’re embracing some extra self-care (48%) and hiring seasonal employees (15%).


Other holiday season challenges are more customer-centric, such as creating customer demand (37%), keeping prices competitive (36%) and competing with the big box stores and online retailers (15%).


How will they cope with these challenges? Some plan to power through by developing new processes to handle a business influx (25%) while others, like me, will just guzzle more caffeine (21%).


Developing a 2020 Vision


What comes next? Despite those holiday stressors, as we head into the new decade, the entrepreneurs are embracing their inner Pollyanna – 80% plan to grow their businesses next year. Their top three goals: significantly increase revenue (47%), prioritize their online/social media presence (28%) and expand into new markets (23%).


Marketing smarter can help small business owners achieve those goals. Consider:


  • Embracing digital marketing. According to The Performance of Small and Medium Sized Businesses in a Digital Worldmall businesses that use digital tools are three times more likely to experience customer growth and two times as profitable.
  • Personalizing your emails. Instapage82% of marketers have reported an increase in open rates through email personalization. Plus, personalized email marketing generates a median ROI of 122%.
  • Increasing video marketing. According to HubSpot, 56% of 25-34-year-olds and 54% of 35-44-year-olds would like to see more video content from businesses.


For a better 2020, you’ll need to combine a positive outlook and practical business solutions.


About Rieva Lesonsky


Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business Rieva+Lesonsky+Headshot.pngand entrepreneurship, and the blog 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: 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

SBOR-Callout-sm.gifThe bi-annual Small Business Owner Snapshot, conducted by Bank of America, explores the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners throughout the U.S. and across 10 major cities. The fall report explores a range of topics important to the constantly evolving small business landscape. Some important insights from this report explore:


  • Strong business growth indicators despite continued concern about economic factors
  • The impact of U.S. trade tariffs on small businesses
  • Both challenges and excitement linked to the Holiday and New Year seasons


For additional insights, see the Small Business Owner Snapshot infographic below.  For a complete, in-depth look at the insights of the nation’s small business owners, download the Fall 2019 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Snapshot here.

I was a full-time lawyer for over a decade and one thing that always surprised me was how often the people sitting across from me in my office should not have been there; a little legal education would have helped them greatly.


There are simple legal tips and business strategies you can undertake to help yourself avoid potential legal trouble. Here are my top legal tips that can make your small business life easier:



1. Do it yourself: Yes, of course sometimes you need a lawyer – that vendor did you wrong and you need to sue or whatever. But just as often, you don’t. Indeed, there are plenty of times when you can save significant amounts of money by doing it yourself. For basic needs such as forming an LLC or creating a will, do-it-yourself sites like LegalZoom can really help.


2. A strongly worded letter can get you far: When someone owes your business money, it is understandable that you may want to sue them. “Suing the guy” can be cathartic. The bad news is that the guy can sue you back. And even if they don’t, lawsuits are usually pernicious and expensive. Often, a strongly worded letter from a lawyer can provide a result that ends up almost as satisfactory, and at a fraction of the cost.


3. Don’t settle for the fee quote a lawyer gives you: If you do actually end up needing a lawyer to sue or handle a case, there is a secret that lawyers don’t want you to know. Their fees and costs, although high, are not written in stone. You can often negotiate cheaper prices. They may not reduce their hourly rate, but you can bet that paying 50 cents per photocopy is negotiable.


4. Always put it in writing: This is one of those commonsense tips, but it’s amazing how often it is overlooked. To truly protect yourself, always make sure to put things in writing. Memories fade over time, people remember things differently, and people lie. A written record prevents all of that.


5. Protect your intellectual property: If you are a creator or inventor (and these days, many of us are creating content online), it is vital that you protect your copyrights, patents, or trademarks. Patents typically require professional legal help, but copyrights and trademarks can be registered and handled on your own at (Note: One good thing to know about copyrights is that they need not even be registered with the USPTO to be legal; They are created as a matter of law at the moment of creation. This sentence is being copyrighted as I write it!)


6. Stop creditor harassment: If bill collectors are harassing you, you can invoke the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act to stop the phone calls. If you say or write something along the lines of, “Pursuant to the FDCPA, you are to never call me about this debt again,” they must stop calling. Two things of special note:


  • First, this statement has to be made to 3rd party bill collector and not the original creditor
  • Second, once the bill collector has been given notice, while they must stop calling, they still have other remedies available, such as lawsuits


Read next: Why you got declined for business credit (and what you can do about it)


7. No contract? Maybe no problem: This is a lesser-known fact – sometimes you can enforce someone’s promise to you, even if you do not have a contract. It’s called “promissory estoppel” and happens when you rely, to your detriment, on someone’s promise. Example: Let’s say a contractor asks you, a subcontractor, for a bid on a project and you give a very low bid for whatever reason, maybe you really want the gig or whatever. The contractor then gets the project and wants you to perform, but you realize that your bid was far too low. Too bad. Even though there is no formal contract, you still may be forced to live up to the low bid because the contractor relied to his or her detriment on your promise.


8. Know when to admit blame: When you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and when that’s the case, your best bet is to lick your wounds, call it a day, and call it off. Fighting will only cost you time and money. Settling may be the best, most affordable, legal advice you can receive.



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: 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

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: 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 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: 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: 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: 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.




Narrator:                     Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at and Bank of America at 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 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, 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, 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 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, D-U-A-N-E Topping, T-O-P-P-I-N-G, dot 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 Duane is D-U-A-N-E, Topping, T-O-P-P-I-N-G, 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 for more information, and for more great small business tips check out Bank of America’s online Small Business Community at Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at and Bank of America at


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, 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.




“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 and Bank of America at 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, 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 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 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


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, 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 Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at and Bank of America at


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

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