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2014

 

Small Business Social Series: Women in Business: Rising Revenues, Optimism, and Power – How to Take Advantage of This Momentum  If you were unable to join our live video event, you can watch the replay right here. In this event, panelists shared time saving tips and products to help you better manage your small business.

 

Description: Welcome to the Small Business Social Series sponsored by Bank of America.  The panel will explore trends, hot topics and concerns among women small business owners and will be moderated by Carol Roth.

You will hear from:

  • Jill Calabrese Bain: Small Business Banking National Sales Executive, Preferred & Small Business Banking, Bank of America
  • Kimberly Weisul: Editor-at-Large, Inc. Magazine
  • Darla Beggs, Chair, National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO

Jill-Headshot_SM.pngBy Jill Calabrese Bain

 

While the media flashes a spotlight on women cracking the notorious glass ceiling of the Fortune 500, you might argue that it’s really the female small business owners who are blazing a trail by creating companies in record numbers.  Not only are women-owned small businesses expanding rapidly, women small business owners are also among the most optimistic. In fact, the Bank of America® Spring 2014 Small Business Owner Report, found that 70 percent of female entrepreneurs expect their revenues to increase over the next 12 months.

 

This month, both The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and Inc. magazine held prominent industry conferences for female entrepreneurs. Having attended both events, we heard from many women during morning walks, networking events and fireside chats.  We discussed everything from access to capital to empowering female entrepreneurs, but an interesting topic that arose was the different approach women take to their businesses compared to their male counterparts. For instance, women rank empathy, creativity and multi-tasking as key qualities, while men value their confidence and tech-savviness more than their female counterparts (2014 Small Business Owner Report).  Here’s what else we heard:

  • Improving Time Management:  Women seem more likely to sacrifice time for themselves to run their businesses, while men are more likely to sacrifice relationships with their spouses/partners and time with their children. To get more time back, we all need to be willing to invest in our people. Women are far less likely to do this than men, with only 14 percent saying they would invest in employee training if they had a loan (versus 29 percent of men who said the same).  Employee training is critical, and we can empower our teams to get the work done while we focus time on the larger, more strategic issues.
  • Using Innovation: Technology is extremely important, however, only one in four women (27 percent) invest in new equipment.  Investing in new technology is vital for an efficiently run company and can allow you to stay connected as you grow.  At the NAWBO conference, Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne, founders of Georgetown Cupcake, discussed ways to better leverage technology and data to manage their business and position the company for growth. New technology helped them track and utilize the number of customers who come in the door each day to the cost of materials.
  • Seeking Financing:  Nearly one in three women (29 percent) feel they have less access to capital than their male counterparts. What can we do about this, and how can women entrepreneurs find confidence when applying for financing? One way is to look to organizations that understand, encourage and actively help women-owned businesses achieve their goals. I am proud to say that Bank of America recently teamed up with the Tory Burch Foundation to form Elizabeth Street Capital, an initiative that’s designed to boost female-owned businesses through mentorship, networking and access to capital.

 

As the business world is ever-evolving and women continue to take a leading role, take pride in what makes us different, as entrepreneurs and as women.

 

I recently participated in a Google Hangout with NAWBO Chair, Darla Beggs; Inc. magazine Editor-at-Large, Kimberly Weisul; and CNBC correspondent and moderator, Carol Roth.  You can watch a recorded replay of that event by clicking here.

Trade_Shows_body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

Once a much vaunted marketing staple, trade shows have largely fallen out of fashion the past few years. There are two reasons for this: first, the cost for exhibiting can be prohibitive for some firms, particularly cash-strapped small businesses. The second is due to the rise of virtual conferences and webinars that have all but eliminated the need to attend trade shows. Yet when you consider the potential return on investment that can result from attending a trade show, these drawbacks can seem short-sighted.

Ben Landers can certainly attest to that. As president and CEO of Blue Corona, a digital marketing and analytics solutions provider, he attends three to five trade shows a year. For him, trade shows offer excellent opportunities to meet face-to-face with prospects that virtual conferences, e-mails, and phone calls simply can’t match.

"We are typically able to talk to and engage with 30 to 50 qualified prospects per show," says Landers who has two offices (one in Maryland and the other in North Carolina) and approximately 30 to 40 employees. "Some of the people we have met have become clients shortly after the show and we usually get another sale or two up to 12 to 18 months after the show."

So how can small business owners contemplating attending trade shows figure out how to get the best return on the time and money involved?  Following are a few tips from trade show veterans and experts.

Do your research
The first step after deciding to attend a trade show is to find one that targets your desired customer base.

Marc Scherer, president of Event Management, a trade show producer, agrees. “Select an event that has a proven track record of delivering the decision makers that can effectively purchase your products or services,” he advises.

If you’re undecided about which trade shows are worth your while, call their PR contacts and ask them to send you recent registration or post-show survey results that contain specific demographic data. Scherer, who will be hosting the 10th New York Business Expo and Conference this October, says this information should be easily obtainable.

“Annual revenue, industry, decision making authority, years in business all can offer insight into what is and is not a targeted lead base,” he notes. And, always check the attrition rate among exhibitors. “Ask for the exhibitor list of the previous year's show and compare it to the current exhibitor list,” suggests Scherer. “A significant fallout (over 40 percent) is a good indication of a show not delivering on its exhibitors’ expectations."

Trade_Shows_PQ.jpgAsk clients which trade shows they attend
In addition to scouring demographic data or statistical surveys, talk to existing clients and customers about which shows they attend. This is another effective way of ensuring that your business is getting in front of the right audience for your product or service. Justin Dixon, president of Little Rock, Arkansas-based Snyder Environmental, an asbestos removal firm, echoes the sentiment. When his company experienced a change in leadership over five years ago, the new owner identified trade shows as a key marketing tool.

“At that time, no one in our industry, at least in our region, was participating in trade shows, so it seemed like a good opportunity to get out of the gate in front of the competition,” says Dixon.

To determine which shows would be worth his firm's attention, he asked some of his school clients for their recommendations.

“By talking with these folks, we learned that most school district facilities managers are members of their state's school plant managers association, which puts on an annual trade show,” he continues. “By sponsoring and exhibiting at this trade show, we get front and center access to the key individuals that purchase the services we offer for their respective school districts.”

Don't view it as a numbers game
Think about why you're attending the trade show. Is it to build awareness of your company? Increase your customer base and boost sales? Most likely, it's for all of these reasons. If so, then you will need to look at the bigger picture.

Landers contemplated these questions after his first trade show, which he says cost his firm more than $10,000, an expense he attributes to having to purchase his firm’s initial display.

“Post show, we thought it was a disaster because we only generated about 15 qualified prospects,” he recalls. “Within six months of the show, we'd gotten one client. Within another 6 months, we'd landed a second client. To date, they've both generated more than $50,000 in revenue and $20,000 in gross profit. That's an incredible ROI when you consider that half our cost was buying the tradeshow display—a display we've continued to use in all shows since.”

Steve Levine, CEO of Fairfield, Connecticut-based Atmos Air Solutions, which makes air purification products, keeps an open mind when participating in trade shows. Whether it's to educate customers, introduce new products, or meet potential clients, influencers and vendors from around the world, Levine makes attending trade shows a mainstay of his company’s marketing strategy. He attends about six trade shows a year and at most of them he is an exhibitor.

Although he has often used the number of clients and prospects he has engaged with as metrics in figuring out if a show has been successful, he recently discovered that this particular benchmark is not always an accurate indicator of ROI. Sometimes, piquing the interest of one or two important contacts might be all you need, he says.

For example, at the last trade show Levine attended, both the engineer and architect of a specific project that his firm was working on were present.

This gave us the opportunity to explain to both of them the value of our system,” says Levine, who has a staff of 15. “Now they were able to go back to the end user and say with confidence, yes this is the right company to do business with. It was great to have both influencers at the trade show that validated our technology.”

Trade shows can be a highly effective marketing vehicle for your company. But always do your homework beforehand. As Levine cautions, “The right trade shows can be very meaningful to any business; and the wrong trade show could be a potential waste of resources.”

Want to make more money? Well, step right up. There are no shortages of articles, systems, podcasts, videos, infomercials, webinars, books, and schemes all designed to show you how to do just that. If it’s not someone sharing the latest and greatest multilevel marketing organization, it’s someone showing you how to quickly buy and flip real estate.

 

Do some of these ideas work? Sure. But, as you well know by now, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Especially when it comes to business, the hard truth is that there are not many shortcuts. Business success and growth usually takes hard work and persistence. Let me suggest that if you are in business for yourself, there are really only four ways to make more money:

 

1. Sell more: The bottom line is that you need to sell more of something to make more money. If you are a business owner, you don’t need someone to tell you that or to try and sell you his or her wares: You already have products and services to sell.


Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

So the first trick is to expand the business you already have. There are a couple of ways to do just that:

 

  • Get more customers: Easier said than done, you say? Maybe, but maybe not. They key to getting more traffic in the door is to expose your business to new people. Market more, make more, it is (almost) as simple as that.
  • Create a new division of your business: All great businesses figure out new products to sell and new services to offer. GE sells dishwashers yes, but it also sells jet engines and real estate financing. If you want to grow, you need to expand your offerings too.

 

2. Sell bigger: This can mean two things:

 

First, you can sell to bigger clients and customers – in other words, those with bigger budgets. For instance, if you primarily sell to consumers and other small businesses, you might find that selling your wares to corporations and government entities will yield bigger revenues.


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

 

Second, you can sell products with a bigger profit margin. Even selling the same amount of such products will result in more net income. I love to share the story of the real estate agent who finally figured out that selling commercial buildings was about the same amount of work as selling houses, but that commercial buildings usually had an extra zero at the end of the asking price. The agent did the same work, but made a lot more money.

 

3. Spend less: The third way to increase your profits is to cut your overhead. If you haven’t done an audit of your business expenses recently, consider doing so now. There are probably many areas where you could cut some costs:

 

  • Insurance
  • Labor
  • Rent
  • Office supplies
  • Product line

 

The important thing to keep in mind when cutting your overhead is to do so intelligently. You certainly do not want to cut back too much on those areas that generate revenue – advertising, for example.

 

4. Invest: Of course, investing is always a smart individual wealth-building strategy, but in this case, I am talking about investing in your business.

 

When I was younger, I would see a business going through, say, a big remodel and I would always wonder why the owner would undertake such an expense when it did not seemingly affect the bottom line.

 

Except that it did of course.

 

By investing in your business, be it remodeling the premises, paying off debt or buying new equipment, you increase its equity value. Eventually, that equity will become even more valuable down the road.

 

So there you have it. If you want to make more money from your business, you’ll have to do it, in the words of the famous commercial, “The old fashioned way: You will have to earn it.”


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

 





Selling_to_the_Government_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

In the search for new customers and new sources of revenue, some small businesses forget that the largest buyer of goods and services in the world is the United States federal government. According to the General Services Administration, small businesses were awarded $83.1 billion in contracts in fiscal year 2013. Still, many businesses don't pursue government work because of the misperception that the paperwork and other hurdles are too daunting. While setting up your business to be eligible for government dollars does require following strict guidelines, there are many resources to make the process easier—and, as many businesses that sell to the government will attest, worth it.

 

Seek out help

"I often recommend that small businesses go to the Small Business Administration and to their local procurement technical assistance center first before they even start the process and have a conversation to determine if federal government contracting is where they want to be," says Stephanie Wilson-Coleman, senior advisor, office of small business utilization with the General Services Administration.

 

Next, Wilson-Coleman says that every business needs to get a DUNS Number for identification purposes and then choose a NAICS code that best describes the product or service they sell. With these classifications in place, the business can register online with the System for Award Management in order to interact with the government.

 

Federal agencies are required to put out quarterly reports of goods and services they intend to buy, which can help businesses decide which contracts to apply for. Wilson-Coleman recommends checking out these websites, along with her comments, to familiarize yourself with the federal procurement process:

 

Acquisition Central: "This will take you to the procurement forecasts of all the agencies, so you can get an idea of what solicitations or proposals you need to be geared up to respond to."

 

FedBizOpps: "A portal for advertising government-wide information about federal contract solicitations and awards that have an estimated value of $25,000 or more."

 

Federal Procurement Data System: "To see a history of how federal agencies buy certain things. For example, if you sell Widget A and you notice that these four agencies buy Widget A in April, then the procurement process could be six to nine months prior to April. That's when you can start to make contact with that federal agency so they'll know you're out there and you can get acquainted with the agency itself."

 

Small businesses must adhere to the dates in a solicitation—such as when the contracting officer can be questioned and the final date for submitting proposals—and to read the solicitation carefully. "In the beginning, I would encourage small businesses to limit their reach to one or two agencies," Wilson-Coleman says. "They need to give themselves the opportunity to learn how an agency works before they move to another agency which might work totally different."

 

Show your dedication

"The government is very risk-averse. When they get comfortable with organizations that have a track record of delivering, they tend to keep them around awhile," says Kevin Lancaster, CEO of Winvale, a Washington, DC-based firm that supports and advises government contractors.

 

Selling_to_the_Government_PQ.jpg

Still, Lancaster warns that securing a government contract is not an excuse to rest on your laurels. Small businesses should be proactive in providing exceptional service, getting to know procurement officers, and building dependable relationships. "That's how you'll expand your footprint within an agency. You become a trusted advisor and demonstrate that you're able to mitigate their risk," Lancaster says.

 

A simple but often overlooked way for a small business to show their openness for working with the government is to say so on their website. "These end-users and procurement officers do their research like everybody else," Lancaster explains. "Make sure you have at least a little callout or tab or an industry page that talks about government because you want to speak to your audience. They're looking for vendors that have a commitment to the space."

 

An alternative to direct solicitation of the government is to work with a reseller or subcontractor. Small businesses usually encounter less scrutiny of their operations and sometimes more flexibility in terms of pricing. "We can get our partners on our schedule within two to three weeks compared to three to 12 months if you're going after a schedule [yourself]," Lancaster says. "You have a broader sales reach and faster time to market going through a third party."

 

Be a PEST

Some small businesses are able to build their livelihood almost entirely on government contracts.

 

"Around 2003, my company was asked to join a group that was working on a Congressionally-mandated study to see if you could take industry best practices in medical case management, which I do, and apply it for civilian federal employees of the Army," says Lisa Firestone, CEO of Managed Care Advisors, a Bethesda, Maryland-based company that designs and manages compensation programs. "That's how I got my start. I saw this as an opportunity and an unmet demand and jumped on it."


Today government work accounts for about 90 percent of her company's revenue. To help other small businesses navigate government contracting, Firestone came up with a four-part strategy that she calls PEST:

 

Persistent: The sales cycle can be longer than in the commercial environment. Following up with key buyers and staying positive are paramount.

 

Education: "Understand the different types of contracting models and be aware of the avenues that exist for small business set-asides," Firestone says, such as contracts for women-owned businesses, HUB zones, and service-disabled veterans.

 

Specific: Focus on the specific product or service that you offer and show how it can adequately address the needs of the agency.

 

Transparency: "You need to show them your products and be able to prove what you do," Firestone says. "Be transparent about what you do and how you do it, especially in a proposal."

 

Surrounding yourself with advisors—accountants, lawyers—who understand government contracting can be a major advantage in navigating federal requirements over the long haul. "This was probably the biggest surprise, that I really needed to have advisors that understood the government," Firestone says. "But it's made a world of difference."

 

Steve_McClatchy_QA_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

Knowing how to make decisions that lead to constructive results is a vital tool in your professional and personal life. But how many of those decisions bring you closer to achieving your goals? What does it take to render decisions that significantly improve your life? Steve McClatchy, founder and president of Alleer Training & Consulting, a Malvern, Pennsylvania-based firm that specializes in improving results in leadership, personal growth, and work/life engagement, tackles these questions in his new book Decide. Business writer Robert Lerose spoke with McClatchy about the difference between managing and leading, when it pays to delegate, and the little-known strategy for preventing an interruption from throwing you off stride.

 

RL: Your personal definition of leadership is "improvement." What did you mean by that?

SM: The leader is the person making things better. It's not about the title. It's about the result you produce. Anybody in an organization can be a leader. You never arrive at leadership—never. As soon as you arrive, you're now managing. So leadership is a continuous commitment to make things better. It's an exhausting responsibility, but it's very rewarding. When your life—your relationships, your business—gets better, the natural byproduct to that is excitement.  

 

RL: You say that we pursue something either to move toward a gain or to prevent pain—and that tasks driven by the former produce more significant positive results. Why?

SM: Gain is really connecting our goals and improvement. For example, I wrote Decide. That’s a gain task. It was something I didn't have to do. It was something I wanted to do. When I'm 100 years old, I'll remember that I wrote this book. But will I remember that I took out the trash today? No. It's a great example of a maintenance task. We do it because we think of what will happen if we don't do it. Gain tasks produce such significant results because they're in the improvement mode.

 

RL: You've found that delegation gives us the time to move things forward. How can we decide how and what and when to delegate?

SM: Delegation starts with understanding the opportunity cost of your time. Whenever you're tending to a maintenance item, you're neglecting something else that only you can do. There are a lot of things to consider when you're delegating. Is someone more available than me and does time matter? Is someone better at the task than me and does quality matter? Does someone need the task to learn, to grow, to develop, to be engaged? What is the cost of me doing the task versus someone else doing the task? But the biggest thing to consider is: What else could you be doing with your time if you were not doing that task? If you get back that time and do something in your business that only you can do, you will never regret that decision. If the answer is improvement, it's a great decision.

 

Steve_McClatchy_QA_PQ.jpgRL: Other than our brains, you say that there are only two tools that help us make decisions. The first is a to-do list.

SM: The to-do list is for maintenance items. You create it for speed, not for quality or success. You can group like tasks together. You can choose the best time to do a maintenance item where it would take the least amount of time. You don't forget anything when you have a list. The transition time between tasks is faster when you have a list. 

 

RL: The second tool is a calendar. How does that assist with making decisions?

SM: The calendar is for our goals and improvement, not maintenance items. Use the calendar to make an appointment [for yourself]. We get into a completely different mode when we have an appointment. If the reason you're falling behind on your maintenance items is because you're working on your life or business, it's a great decision. Ask yourself: Are you working on the business or working in the business? There's a process to see gain and improvement in your life. First, schedule the goal. Second, defend it until you get to it. If you fail at these steps, there's another: pay somebody to make you do it. Owe your goal to somebody else. If you have to pay them to hold you accountable to your goal, it's worth it. As long as the reason you're spending the money is [to achieve] the goal, you'll never regret that decision.

 

RL: You wrote that there are some benefits to procrastination. For example?

SM: Procrastination is motivation by fear. As you get closer to that start time before the task is due, you start to think about what will happen if you don't do it—the apology, embarrassment, repairing of the relationship, the loss of trust, the time involved in doing that. Now you're scared, and the adrenalin releases to give you energy to do something you didn't want to do.

 

RL: And the downside to procrastinating?

SM: When the task deadline arrives, you are no longer in control. Now you're under pressure. When something is controlling you, there's resentment. Pressure influences quality and pressure is present when you procrastinate. 

 

RL: What are some diplomatic ways for managing interruptions?

SM: One of the best tips I teach is: don't be available for the interruption. If you're always sitting at your desk, go into the conference room and work on something for two hours. Shut your door and put a sign up that you're not available until later. But the number one missing ingredient in a managed interruption is what is being interrupted. If you're interrupting someone who's mowing the grass, you can see physically what you're interrupting. The problem with information work is that you can't see it. Nobody thinks anyone's working because we can't see it. So one of the most effective things you can do whenever you're interrupted is just share with the person what it is that's being interrupted. We respect our own time when we do that.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

My wife and I saw a fun sci-fi summer blockbuster about an alien invasion starring Tom Cruise (who really seems to love starring in this genre of movie.) Almost everything about it was great – the CGI was believable, the Groundhog Day premise was made fresh, the story went in unexpected directions. Everything was good, except the name of the movie:

 

Edge of Tomorrow.

 

One would be hard-pressed to come up with a less interesting, more generic name than that. The flick could just as well be a Nicholas Sparks tearjerker, or a documentary about Google.

 

I mention this because it is a reminder of just how important names are in business. Whether we’re talking about the name of the business, a product, or even a service, while a mediocre name may not be lethal, a great name can be a homerun.

 

Before your name your business, ask yourself the following questions:Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

Does it explain what the business is and does? Jiffy Lube is a perfect example. Pretend you have never heard of Jiffy Lube and you are driving down the street, your car needs servicing, and you see two places next to each other that offer automobile oil and lube services. One is called “Al’s Auto Repair” and one is called “Jiffy Lube.” Which one are you likely to choose?

 

Jiffy Lube, for a few reasons. First, you can assume from the name that the process will be fast (“Jiffy”), and it will probably  be affordable and done right since that is what the place seems to specialize in. Al might do good work, but we don’t really know anything extra from the name.

 

Other examples of businesses that use their name to offer both benefits and branding:

 

  • Baja Fresh
  • Toys-R-Us
  • YouTube
  • Internet Explorer

 

Is it memorable? According to Business Insider, when Jeff Bezos was launching Amazon.com, he “originally wanted to give the company the magical sounding name ‘Cadabra.’ Amazon’s first lawyer, Todd Tarbert, convinced Bezos that the name sounded too similar to ‘Cadaver.’ Bezos also favored the name ‘Relentless.’ If you visit Relentless.com today, guess where it navigates to? He finally chose ‘Amazon’ because he liked that the company would be named after the largest river in the world.”


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

 

Not only is a business named “Amazon” memorable, but it also works because it follows the first rule: it implicitly implies something big, or, as Bezos says, “an everything store.”

 

Some entrepreneurs think that they can be memorable by creating a unique, different name: Xerox, for example. (Created, by the way, by a linguistics professor who combined the Greek words for “dry” and “writing.”) The problem with a name like this though is that if you don’t have the budget to get people to remember it, it is just an odd name that no one remembers.

 

I interviewed a guy not long ago whose company made commercial and residential fans. The name of his business? Big Ass Fans. That’s memorable, and it explains exactly what the products are.

 

Is it Web friendly? When I was launching my recent business venture, the website TheSelfEmployed, the original name I chose was Self-EmploymentCenter.com. An associate pointed out that it sounded a lot like “Unemployment Center” and it was especially cumbersome as a URL to boot. Point well taken.

 

In this day and age, you cannot ignore just how important the Web translation of your business name is. Short and snappy usually does the trick best.

 

Is it too “punny”? Small businesses seem to love a good pun. If done right, it can be memorable (“Pane in the Glass”), but if done wrong, it’s a wasted opportunity:

 

  • A Salt and Battery
  • Florist Gump
  • Nin Com Soup

 

The bottom line is that the naming of your business or product is a huge opportunity to brand and promote yourself. Don’t waste it.

 


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



 


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