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2014

QA_Janet_Harris_Lange_body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

 

As president of the nonprofit National Women Business Owners Corporation, Janet Harris-Lange has made it her mission to help women grow their companies. A prime way of doing that is via the organization's national certification program, which gives women in sectors that range from construction to defense, the access to secure government and/or private sector contracts.

 

A small business owner for over four decades—Harris-Lange is president of Agenda Dynamics, a meeting and event management firm based in West Palm Beach, Florida—she is well versed when it comes to discussing the challenges that women face when they decide to launch a business. Recently, Harris-Lange shared her unique insights on this topic with business writer Iris Dorbian. She also revealed some surprising sectors in which women are thriving as business owners.

 

ID: What are your thoughts on the state of women-owned small businesses in this country?

 

JHL: The women-owned companies that we see are very strong and growing at a good pace. They've had struggles with the economy just like every other kind of company. That's not new to anyone. But I think they've been clever about surviving it and coming out on top. I look at our women and am so proud of what they do because if they don't have the skill set to go to the next level, then they enlist the people to help them do that. We’re also seeing a lot of growth in nontraditional companies. It’s not in the traditional kinds of women-owned companies that you might think.

 

ID: Can you give some examples of this?

 

JHL: We have a company that we certified that is the only U.S. company to make parts for B52 bombers. I think that's pretty unusual. We have another company that designs the insides of elevators. [The business owner] is certified and winning stadium contracts. We have other companies that do museum exhibits—they set up displays for dinosaurs and so forth. We also have a lot of construction, manufacturing, and information technology companies as well as women-owned trucking companies where they're transporting goods, whether it's for the military or the private sector across the ocean.

 

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ID: What are the biggest challenges women face when launching small businesses?

 

JHL: Capital is always a challenge and that remains so. Also, we hear adequate staffing [can be a problem]. They have trouble finding good staff so they're always worrying about that. Sometimes it's making that introduction. Just because you get certified doesn't mean that doors are going to swing open for you. You still have to market your company; you still have to get through the door. There’s that proving yourself stage you have to go through.

 

ID: Geographically, which areas in the country have the largest concentration of women-owned small businesses?

 

JHL: Obviously, California, Florida, New York, Georgia, throughout the Midwest, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, that area. Also, in a lot of areas where there's a high concentration of population. But we are seeing a lot more women-owned small businesses in rural areas. And we've certified people in Hawaii, Alaska and all 50 states.

 

ID: Are the small business owners who should get certified those who are specifically looking for private sector or government contracts?

 

JHL: Yes, but you never know when the right opportunity will come along. There may be a company out there that has a large contract but then they're required to do a percentage with all of these different groups. If you get certified and you're able to get that small piece of that contract, you never know how much that small piece can grow in the future. You prepare for the opportunity instead of scrambling in a week. You can't certify in a week.

 

ID: Based on your expertise and insight, what tips would you give to women seeking to launch small businesses? What should they do and what should they avoid doing?

 

JHL: I think a lot of times you know your craft but still you don't have all the business acumen you might need. You have to know how to run a business and make sure that your company is set up properly. Certainly surround yourself with an advisory group or a board of directors—people who have the skills that you may not have or you're not great at. It's also important to network and do business with one another. I'm a great proponent of women doing business with other women, minorities, and disabled veterans.

Not long ago, I heard about a very interesting study that really sheds light on what makes great small businesses, well, great. A franchise association wanted to figure out why some of its franchisees were consistently more successful than others. What set the best of these small business owners apart from the rest?

 

The association looked at all sorts of things: The history and experience of the franchise owners, locations, advertising and marketing strategies, as well as other factors. The association wasn’t sure what to expect, but it certainly did not expect the results that came in.

 

It turns out that the best franchise owners had one thing in common: They were great bosses. The owners whose stores were consistently successful, who had the lowest turnover and best overall results, were run by owners who managed in an open, friendly, participatory manner.

 

When you think about it, it’s actually not that surprising. Friendly, happy managers, and those who take care of their staff, create employees who tend to be happy. Happy employees treat customers better, and happy customers become repeat customers. How you treat your employees has a very real, bottom line effect on the success of your business. Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

However, the type of boss you are is only one part of your overall business culture. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, a business culture is “a blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time.” The interesting thing to note there is the phrase “all companies.” The fact is, all small businesses have a culture. But, only a very few small businesses have a culture by design, which is really too bad because your culture sets the stage for many other aspects of your business.

 

Entrepreneur Magazine adds, “Whether written as a mission statement, spoken or merely understood, corporate culture describes and governs the ways a company’s owners and employees think, feel and act . . . Whatever shape it takes, your corporate culture plays a big role in determining how well your business will do.”

 

Why is that? Well, consider these two businesses:

Company A promotes creativity and having a good time at work. Managers treat employees well, folks aren’t beaten up over sales quotas, and camaraderie is stressed over competition.

 

Company B is all about the bottom line. Everyone (not just the sales staff) has strict, quantified, performance standards, and employees who don’t meet their quotas might be fired. Work is about work and any non-work related activities are strictly prohibited.

 

Which company would you rather work for? Well of course the answer is Company A. And, as indicated by the franchisee survey above, customers would rather do business with Company A as well.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

So how can you promote that sort of positive corporate culture? Here are a few ways:

 

Encourage teamwork: By fostering a sense of cooperative teamwork amongst your staff, you forge connections, both with each other, and for the business.

 

Value your employees’ opinions: You can create a workplace where employees feel valued if you genuinely ask for, listen to, and value their opinion. When people feel like what they think makes a difference, work ends up having more meaning.

 

Foster fun: Many big companies that are consistently ranked as amongst the best to work– places like Google for instance – know that people who enjoy their work are far more productive than those that don’t. So whether it is adding a foosball table to the break room or a basketball hoop in the parking lot or taking the gang to a game, if you create a fun place to work, you will go a long way towards creating the sort of culture that makes a difference for your employees.

 

Give incentives: People work for many reasons, and of course a main one is money. Giving financial incentives for a job well done is smart, but it doesn’t have to be the only incentives that you offer. You can give people more time off, extra training, promotions, etc. When people know that their hard work will be rewarded, they tend to work hard.

 

Recognize excellence: Aside from money, the other way to reward employees is to recognize, both publicly and privately, work well done. People appreciate that.

 

The bottom line is that if you treat your staff right, they will return the favor multi-fold, and you, and your business, will be better off as a result.

 


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 column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

http://www.smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/people/Steve%20Strauss/content

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here






Most successful business owners work hard for many years to build a company that provides for the well-being of themselves, their families, and their employees. But what happens after that? As a business owner, it’s important that you take steps to protect the assets your business has created against potential claims of creditors and other third parties, and that effort should begin well before your planned retirement.

 

In fact, it should begin very early, with the selection of the right type of business entity. The best type of entity for any individual business is dependent to some extent on the type of work it does, says Jamie Hopkins, assistant professor of taxation at The American College of Financial Services. For example, partnership is not the best choice for some businesses because liability passes on to the individual partners. “As such, incorporating as an LLC (limited liability corporation) or a C corporation may provide higher levels of personal asset protection,” he says. “However, it does not always add any more business asset protection.” The choice of business entity is also influenced by state laws, which can tilt the balance of power between asset holders and creditors, so it’s important to work with a professional familiar with those laws in your state, he adds.

 

Business owners should also tread carefully in this area, warns Peter Kravitz, chair of the corporate fiduciary and restructuring practice at Province, a consulting firm specializing in financial advisory, corporate reorganization, and trustee-related services. “Asset protection is really an obsolete term,” he says. “I prefer wealth management.” Kravitz is wary of the term ‘asset protection’ because it might suggest suspect motives on the part of the business owner in certain situations, such as a bankruptcy or a legitimate inter-generational transfer of assets.

 

Obtaining sound legal advice is critical in formulating an effective asset protection—or wealth management—strategy, but skimping on good legal representation is a mistake Bobby Harris, president and CEO of BlueGrace Logistics, a fast-growing transportation management company, sees too many of his peers make. “You can’t put a price on a great attorney and their legal advice. Sound legal advice is paramount to any business owner,” he says.

 

Many business owners plan to rely on an income stream from their former company in retirement, but there is some risk involved with that strategy. If performance weakens for any reason, that income stream could be substantially reduced or even eliminated, says George Menden, founding partner of MendenFreiman LLP, a legal firm specializing in estate planning. Thoughtful business, estate, and retirement planning should include consideration of all available defensive strategies, such as trusts, annuities, corporate entity type, qualified retirement plans, portfolio diversification, and more.

 

Two strategies in particular are frequently mentioned by asset protection specialists as being very valuable to business owners: LLCs and irrevocable trusts. “An LLC gives the individual (business owner) corporate protections from creditors, while at the same time the business is taxed like an individual,” says John Amorison, a bankruptcy attorney. If you own your building, the land it’s on, and/or any other commercial real estate, it may make sense to place each of those holdings into its own LLC, separate from the business itself. The first LLC that you create for your business can act as a holding company for the others, he suggests. Of course, that strategy would not make sense in all situations, so you should seek advice from a qualified expert before pursuing it.

 

Irrevocable trusts also offer strong protection for assets against creditors, but it’s important to note that putting assets into an irrevocable trust requires you to cede control of them to an independent trustee, Amorison adds. Obviously, the choices you make about which assets to place in an irrevocable trust and the trustees who will control it are very important.


Article provided by Inc. © Inc.

Content created exclusively for Bank of America.

 

SBOR-Inforgraphic.jpgWe are pleased to share the spring 2014 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, a semi-annual study that uncovers the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners around the country.

 

Our industry is seeing an exciting shift – a rise in the growth of women-owned businesses. As such, this report takes a special look at female small business owners, and how they deal with the demands of running their own business – from family dynamics to aspirational goals.

 

We also compared attitudes of female and male entrepreneurs and found that women show more optimism than their male counterparts about the future of their businesses.  Yet across the board, they are more concerned about broader economic issues including health care costs, interest rates and the strength of the U.S. dollar.

 

 

 

 

Click Here to Download the full Spring Small Business Owner Report.


Investors_body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.


It's a scenario that viewers see every week on the popular reality TV show, "Shark Tank." Aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their company or product to a panel of tough-minded investors that include billionaire mogul/Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and real estate magnate Barbara Corcoran. Offering a percentage stake of their business at a certain valuation, entrepreneurs will often encounter resistance from the "sharks" who may either not be interested in their startup or want a higher equity in the business to justify their investment.


Although the show's fans might consider the entrepreneur/investor dynamic to be exaggerated and full of histrionics created to appeal to a TV audience, the truth is that it's not that far from the reality. Yet there is one glaring difference. Where the show's investors tend to gravitate toward companies that have proven profit potential as demonstrated by six- or seven-figure sales, very often in the real world that isn't the case. Sometimes, an idea is all it takes to catch an investor's interest.


John Frankel, a founding partner at the New York City-based venture firm ff Venture Capital, has funded many startups and early-stage firms and says it's a fallacy to think that investors will only back companies generating healthy revenue streams. In fact, he says, small business owners should approach investors early on.


"We believe you should talk to investors early to get a sense of what they're looking for," he maintains. To illustrate his point, Frankel cites the $80 million in venture funding that was recently raised by Quora, a five-year-old question-and-answer website that he says, "still doesn't have a revenue model." (Translation: It has yet to generate revenue or even create a plan on how to do so).


Find investors who have an interest in your industry

Just as you would investigate a company thoroughly before a job interview, you should also learn all you need to know about a potential investor and their history before you even consider phoning him or her.


“Do your homework. Don't waste your time or theirs on meeting someone not interested in you,” advises Panu Keski-Pukkila, CEO and co-founder of Caktus, a startup that provides “optimal hydration” solutions for health-conscious consumers. Recently, Caktus received $200,000 in seed funding where the lead investor was European venture firm Kima Ventures.


Frankel strongly agrees. “If you're trying to approach an investor, find out everything about them,” he urges. “What do they like? What interests them?”


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Get referrals

Ask trusted colleagues and friends for names of investors you should approach. Solicit feedback from industry peers who are familiar with these investors.


“This works so much better than cold-calling,” says Keski-Pukkila. “If someone is ready to give you an introduction, the investors will be willing to find that 10 to 20 minutes to review your deck [from your PowerPoint presentation] or executive summary.”


Because Keski-Pukkila's company Caktus was part of an accelerator program, which offers resources and advice that help small businesses grow, he says they were constantly being introduced to potential investors as well as being mentored by them.


In addition to asking people you know for referrals, Keski-Pukkila also recommends having a presence on AngelList, a website that helps startups raise funding from accredited investors (defined in the U.S. as having a net worth of at least $1 million or an income of at least $200,000 for the last two years).

“Investors will contact you if they like what you do,” he says. “That's how our lead investor got into touch with us.”


Be truthful

Whether it's overstating your company's revenue projections or obscuring a detail concerning your product, never mislead potential investors when meeting with them. Chances are more than probable that your deception will be discovered, which will be the end of your ever securing funding from these backers. Many of them are shrewd and savvy and will ask for evidence to support your claims. Avoid the temptation to lie to impress. You will only hurt yourself in the end.


Keski-Pukkila echoes this sentiment, qualifying it with a warning.


“[Investors] will call your bluff, sooner or later,” he cautions. “The word will spread in the investor circles and you won't get any further meetings.”


Adjust your pitch to your audience

In general, your pitch should contain the basics: brief company history and overview that explains why you are keen about this product or business, market projections, and exit opportunities for investors (how the investor will recoup their investments). However, depending on the audience, you might want to tailor your pitch based on what you think will resonate with them.


For instance, if your company is a tech startup and you're meeting with investors that have a history of backing these types of firms, then you'll want to play up the tech components of your company. However, if you're meeting with early-stage investors that are far more eclectic in their investments, you may do a general pitch that either de-emphasizes the technology or puts it on an equal footing with the other elements you're covering.


Although he admits it's an ongoing challenge, Ben Hertzog, president and CEO of Procyrion, a Houston-based medical device startup that recently raised $2.9 million, finds this best practice to be an imperative for all entrepreneurs who are serious about getting outside backing.


“Do your best to tweak your pitch to the audience,” he counsels. “But don’t get caught in the endless cycle of reactionary edits. Just because a potential investor on Monday told you that your presentation was too technical, doesn¹t mean that the potential investor on Tuesday will agree."


Pay attention to feedback or lack thereof

If an investor thinks you're not ready to raise funding for your company, then you will need to respect that. Don't overstay your welcome. Thank him or her for their time and leave. You will not help your case if you press on, notes Frankel.


“Sometimes investors might say this is not a good fit for them and [the entrepreneurs will] carry on and be like a broken record,” he adds.


If investors offer you constructive criticism, listen to them. Use the takeaways as invaluable lessons learned the next time you meet with investors.

However, if they do like you, make sure you remain on their radar, exhorts Keski-Pukkila.


“If you like a potential investor and get useful feedback, ask him to join as an advisor,” he says. “That way he is more committed to your startup, but does not have to invest money yet.”


Approaching an investor can be an exciting and heady proposition for a small business owner. Do your due diligence and always be honest in your meetings. And who knows, you might end up securing a considerable amount of funding.

Logo_body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

When New Jersey native Jessica Hausner launched her picture framing business Artisan Gallery Framers two and a half years ago, she did so with a hastily put together logo she was less than enamored with.

"I felt like it didn't represent my business very well," she recalls. "It felt a little stiff, almost like a logo for a college or a corporation."

Frustrated, Hausner began scouring other sites to check out their logos.

"I knew what I wanted my logo to say about my business which was sophisticated, but not uptight," she explains. "I also wanted it to reflect my artistic side, considering I'm first and foremost an artist and am in an art business. But I didn't necessarily know what I wanted [the logo] to look like, so looking at what others created was a big help."

Then inspiration struck when Hausner saw a logo from another business, this one in the health and wellness space. Although not in the same industry as her own business, Hausner says the logo's “fun, bright and whimsical” qualities resonated with her.

Through a referral from the business owner, a former classmate, Hausner subsequently got in contact with the graphic designer. After discussing myriad concepts via e-mail, the designer presented Hausner with a logo that was perfectly aligned with the image she wished to convey of her business.

Having worked on logos for a number of small businesses, Jon Feagain, an art director at the Houston-based Adhere Creative, a branding and marketing firm, says Hausner's sentiment is exactly what every small business owner should feel about his or her company logo. “It's an extension of your business," he says. "Often your logo is your first interaction with a client. Potential clients will look up your company online before they ever interact with you. So your perceived view of who you are is often based on your logo and your website."

Here are several best practices for small business owners needing guidance on how to find or develop the ideal logo:

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Consider your audience
Before you sit down with a designer and start hashing out concepts, ask yourself the following question: who is your target market or who do you wish your target market to be? Then frame your vision around those demographics.

Feagain says this takeaway is imperative for any small business thinking about creating a logo.

“A logo is the face of your company and therefore it needs to match your mission statement,” he explains.

To prove his point, he recounts an example involving a local client Relative Home Systems, which specializes in home theater design and installation.

“When they came to us, they had a logo based on an entirely different audience than who their target market was,” he relates.

According to Feagain, the company's logo looked “corporate and stale,” which clashed with the idea of the business being “digital and edgy.” Also, the logo's look was at odds with the target market Relative Home Systems was going after—the affluent homeowner.

After conducting focus group sessions with this demographic, Adhere Creative presented various concepts to Relative Home Systems. Eventually, a design was chosen by the client that reflected both the client's perception of the business and its target audience.

Always choose a professional to create your logo
It might be tempting for some financially pinched small business owners to avoid paying a professional by attempting to craft a logo from a generic software program. The experts say it’s best to avoid this route.

“There is a level of refinement in developing a logo that can only be achieved using professional design software,” says Palm Beach, Florida-based advertising veteran Gil Lavelanet. As president of Intermatch Marketing, he feels small business owners should seek out professional services within their budget. “Even a less experienced designer is better than someone with no design experience,” he says.

Just as Artisan Gallery Framers' Hausner did, Lavelanet urges small business owners to solicit recommendations from fellow business owners about designers they've used. See if their fees are within your budget.

“Typically, the more experienced the designer, the higher the cost,” notes Lavelanet.

However, if money is a sticking point, Hausner advises business owners to check out crowd-sourced marketplaces, such as 99designs, in which designers submit competing designs in response to a customer's request. The business owner can set a cap on the price he or she is willing to pay for the design. For small business owners on a tight budget, this could be an attractive alternative to the traditional, but far more costly, route of using a design firm or a seasoned professional. 

Keep logo simple and uncluttered
If you need better proof of this maxim, consider Apple's fabled logo—a silhouette of an apple with a bite taken out of it. The image has become so universally identified with the tech heavyweight that it has caused the public to forge a deep and visceral bond with the brand as a result. Similarly, Google's classic homepage, with its stark and unabashed simplicity, is another example.

Even if you have no ambition about becoming the next Silicon Valley giant, it is important to steer clear of fanciful designs or elaborate fonts.

Lavelanet strongly agrees, citing not only the lessons learned by Apple but in general “any large company in the last 20 to 50 years.”

He also warns against incorporating photos in logos. If you must, do it “only if it's absolutely essential to your branding,” he says. (And, of course, use only high resolution images that will not pixilate if reduced or enlarged.) Lavalanet recalls a medical startup that pulled Leonardo DaVinci's “Vitriuvian Man” drawing from the Web “because it was interesting and free in the public domain” and used it in their logo.

Although the idea might have worked in theory, it didn't in practice.  
 


“The rough and blurry lines of that image consistently posed many problems when printing, especially when being reduced onto a T-Shirt or hat,” continues Lavalanet.

Whether your company is a small retail storefront or a multinational healthcare corporation, a logo is the face of your business and the cornerstone of your branding. Treat it with the gravitas it deserves and it may lead you to the audience you desire.

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