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2020

Winning Corporate Clients.jpgWhat is the best way to grow your business?

 

If you are like a lot of small business owners, you are often trying to answer this question. Should you upsell more to current clients, offer new, better, cheaper, or more expensive products or services, or what?

 

Let me suggest a simple, proven, powerful answer: go out and get corporate clients and/or sponsors.

 

Corporate clients have bigger needs, more money and bigger budgets than individuals or other small businesses. That means they have more money to spend hiring or buying from you, and that in turn means that you can grow your business faster and more easily with a few corporate contracts.

 

Just ask Bill Gates

 

Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft, but it was just a dinky little business with a couple of employees and an algorithm that analyzed traffic patterns when Gates’ mom learned that Xerox was looking to buy an operating system for its nascent home computer line. Bill learned of the opportunity from her, got an interview, pitched, and landed a huge corporate contract.

 

This one contract was the catalyst that would eventually see Gates named the second richest person in the world.

 

So, where do you find such sweet deals? There are many options:

 

1. Prospecting: Essentially, there are two ways to find corporate clients and sponsors. Either you find them, or they find you. For most small businesses (unless your business has a well-known brand or high social-media reach, see below), the fastest way is to go out and find them.

 

Corporations have many reasons to contract with small businesses. Not only do they have needs that small businesses can best fill (e.g., supplies, services, etc.) often there are legal and tax benefits to the corporation for hiring a small business. Your job is to help them help you. The steps are:

 

  • Research: Look for companies that you like, are close by, and may need what you sell. Use Google, websites, and social media to learn about the company
  • Find the purchasing people: Look especially for executives with titles like VP, head of procurement, purchasing manager, etc. LinkedIn is great for this.
  • Pitch them: Email is fine, but a physical package will get you noticed.
  • Meet them and sell

 

2. Check out supplier diversity programs: A “supplier diversity” program is a corporate platform that offers contracts with minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned, LGBT-owned, service-disabled veteran-owned, etc. small business. Literally, billions of dollars of contracts are given out this way every year.

 

3. Marketing and advertising: Owning a small business can be a lot like being in a dark room by yourself – you know you are there, but no one else does. They only way to get noticed is to turn on the light, and the only way to do that is to market and advertise your business, and then do it some more.

 

And then do it some more.

 

4. Actively pursue corporate sponsors: You may have noticed that corporations love to sponsor events, websites, programs and so forth. I could write a whole column on this alone, but a better use of our time is to have you go to the expert, Linda Hollander, and her Sponsor Concierge website where she teaches people how to get “$10K to $100K from corporate sponsors, even if you’re just starting out!”

 

5. Leverage search engines: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of getting your web pages to rank high on Google. It’s a slow process, but once it happens, your brand and sales will explode.

 

6. Build your brand: As I mentioned, the other way to get bigger clients is to have a name and brand that attracts attention. When corporations knock on your door, that’s when the magic really happens.

 

 

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 Asksteve strauss headshot.png an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss./servlet/JiveServlet/downloadImage/38-3359-412423/steve+strauss+headshot.png

 

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

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide materials for informational purposes only, and is not responsible for, and does not guarantee or endorse any of the third-party products or services mentioned.  All third-party logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used under license from Steve Strauss.

 

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

What if I told you there was a company - whom you know well - that spends $2 billion a year hiring and contracting with small and diverse businesses? And what if I further told Diversity Suppliers.jpgyou that this company is always looking to expand its network of small business suppliers and that your business could be one of them? Would you be interested?

 

Of course you would.

 

That company happens to be our friends at Bank of America and these contractors are hired through its small business supplier diversity program. The bank puts it this way:

 

In 2020, Bank of America celebrates 30 years of commitment to engaging with diverse-owned companies. Through our Supplier Diversity program, we support the growth of minority, women, veteran, disabled, service-disabled veteran, LGBT+ and other diverse-owned suppliers.”

 

Bank of America is not the only one doing this. Most large, Fortune 500 companies have their own supplier diversity programs for the same reason: To get the products, supplies, and services they need to run their businesses, while also supporting local and historically underserved business.

 

They do this in a variety of ways. One way, yes, is that they contract with smaller companies to get goods and services, but often these sorts of programs do much more. As an example, look at BofA’s program:

 

  • Delivering training to small and diverse businesses with insights on accessing capital and credit, expanding their businesses, and creating a local economic impact
  • Supporting non-minority owned businesses use of diverse-owned businesses in their supply chains”
  • Encouraging participation in our Supplier Diversity and Development Mentoring Program – a high-touch mentor program customized for each company to drive optimum developmental impact

 

Supplier diversity programs exist to help businesses owned by traditionally underrepresented or disadvantaged people get better contracts and grow their businesses: Women, minorities, LGBQ, veterans, and so on. For large corporations, it is a no-brainer: There is a trackable high return on investment by using supplier diversity programs. And for you, the small businesses, these sorts of larger contracts are a great way to take your business to the next level.

 

3 Tips to Get Started

 

Here are three tips on how to get going with corporate supplier diversity contracts:

 

1. Register with a certifying organization: Although you can self-certify as a diverse supplier, most businesses like to hire small businesses that are certified as diverse to meet their legal diversity benchmarks and requirements. Such organizations include, but are not limited to: the Small Business Association, Vets First, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the National Women’s Business Council. Certification varies from organization to organization, but generally, it requires documentation of one’s status and having the required diverse ownership.

 

2. Attend diversity supplier events: Events where organizations actively look for diverse suppliers happen regularly, often under the penumbra of “Business Matchmaking” or “Supplier Diversity.” The CVM blog is a good resource for this. Events happen often - look up when the next one is in your area online, or here.

 

3. Do your homework: While yes, these programs are designed to help small businesses get big contracts, the first issue is how well you, as a supplier, are able to fulfill these corporate needs. This is not charity and there is competition. So do your homework. Read up on supplier diversity programs, learn the requirements of each company you are interested in, find out what a successful bid looks like, speak with others who have successfully navigated this path, and so on.

 

If you do, congratulations, because it’s worth it. Indeed, getting one of these sorts of contracts can be, if not life-changing, then business changing.

 

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 steve strauss headshot.pngExpert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss./servlet/JiveServlet/downloadImage/38-3359-412423/steve+strauss+headshot.png

 

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

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide materials for informational purposes only, and is not responsible for, and does not guarantee or endorse any of the third-party products or services mentioned.  All third-party logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used under license from Steve Strauss.

 

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

Compelling Facebook Ads.jpgby Mari Smith

 

The secret to creating engaging offers for your Facebook ads is not really a secret. It’s knowledge.

 

Know your prospects and customers, know your business, and know the value of experimentation. When you do your research, as well as your due diligence, you are more likely to come up with successful Facebook ad campaigns for your business.

 

Here’s how to create irresistible offers for your Facebook Ads.

 

1. Know Your Audience Well

 

In order to craft the right offer that meets the needs of your prospects, clients, and customers, you first need to know who they are.

 

Facebook’s Audience Insights, accessible inside Ads Manager, is an excellent first step. As you fill out various parameters you already know about your audience, the tool will start showing you a variety of other data points that you may not have known. Of particular interest:, note the other businesses, brands and more that your audience is interested in. You can also garner demographic information from your Facebook Business Page Insights, too. But don’t stop there.

 

To really get to know your audience, do your homework.

 

Create Surveys.

 

One of the best ways to find out how to help your fans is to ask them. Use a tool, such as SurveyMonkey, or create a Facebook poll, to hone in on what your fans want and how your company can provide that. You can also ask more open-ended questions through Facebook posts.

 

Research Topics.

 

Every industry has people who share common challenges. Rather than ask your community, “ask the public.” Answer the Public is a search insight tool that shows you real Google and Bing searches. The tool helps you find common questions surrounding a keyword or phrase as it pertains to your product or service. For instance, say your business offers healthy cooking classes, Answer the Public will show you questions, which range from “which appliances cook healthy food,” to “which is the best oil for healthy cooking.” When you know your customer’s concerns, you can answer their questions in your ads before they have a chance to ask them.

 

Review your FAQs.

 

If you do not already have a file documenting all your frequently asked questions and regular requests from customers, start one today! Keep all emails and inquiries together and then, when you are looking to create new offers and ads, review your file for ideas.

 

Remember, there’s no such thing as having too much information about your community. The more you know about your audience, the more creatively you can craft offers just for them.

 

2. Decide on Your Offer

 

Once you have an idea of what your audience wants, use that information to create an offer. But what would your prospects consider irresistible?

 

Is your community budget-conscious?

 

Are they seeking tremendous savings? A one-time, limited offer? Only a certain number available? A one-day only promotion?

 

Is exclusivity a factor? What about trends?

 

Whether your audience likes things that are one-of-a-kind or they can’t stand missing out, offer them something that appeals to their basic human nature.

 

Are they seeking solutions?

 

Sometimes the best thing you can offer your community is a fix for their greatest challenge. When you can use your resources to create a much-desired solution, your product or service itself may be the only offer your customers need.

 

When considering any offer, ask yourself, “Would this make my audience stop scrolling through their feeds long enough to check it out?” If you answer “yes,” then you know you have a winner.

 

3. Craft your Compelling Facebook Ad

 

Once you have your actual offer ready, you’ll need to create your ad. Write an engaging headline and description, then choose a photo or video for the paid campaign. Using an eye-catching and relevant visual asset can make all the difference, whether an image or a video.

 

Keep in mind, any ad you create should be in the tone and style of your business, whether it’s formal, abstract, fun, educational, quirky or a mix. It needs to be in line with your branding for that all-important recognition factor.

 

No matter what your budget, you can still be creative. Embrace your scrappiness - or high production value - and come up with something that will blow people away. You want your ad to be so compelling, it makes people want to share your offer. Getting organic reach on your paid content (ads) is the Holy Grail!

 

One of my favorite examples is the video commercial from Chatbooks. It’s a fun, funny, and realistic slice-of-a-mom’s-life with a simple problem: no time to edit, organize and print photos. And, an even more simple solution: Chatbooks. The Facebook video alone has over 72 million views.

 

The company hired creative agency Harmon Brothers to come up with this hilarious storytelling video. The offer itself is compelling. But the video ad is so brilliantly done that it made for a very irresistible campaign that went viral.

 

Granted, getting millions of views on organic or paid content might be a tall order for most small businesses, but we can learn a lot about what really worked with Chatbooks’ campaign. And humor was a huge part of that! People love to laugh.

 

4. Include Dynamic Targeting

 

Facebook Dynamic Ads automatically show your products to people who have already expressed interest in it on your website, in your app, or on the internet.

 

To run Dynamic Ads you will need to install the Facebook Pixel on your website, sign up for a Business Manager account, and either create and upload your product catalog or automatically set it up through your Shopify, Magento, or BigCommerce account.

 

Dynamic Targeting is magic, because it seeks out certain customer segments and shows them an irresistible offer that seems tailor-made for them.

 

For instance, a Facebook ad for TushBaby, an ergonomic strapless baby carrier (with built-in storage) that makes it easy to tote around young children, ended up in my friend Ginny’s feed. While the packaging for TushBaby has a young mother on it, the ad Ginny was served had a photo of a grandmother using the product. Ginny is in her 60’s and posts about her grandchildren. The ad showcasing a more mature person with a grandchild was much more relevant to her.

 

A compelling and creative ad can only do its job if it is seen. Dynamic Ads give you the edge by showing your ads to the right audience.

 

5. Test, Test, Test!

 

Just as research will help you hone in on your prospects’ demographics, interests, and needs, experimenting with ads will tell you what content actually speaks to them.

 

Sampling.

 

Before pulling the trigger on your Facebook ads, send your prospective offer via email to a sampling of your database. This experiment can give you valuable insights into your ad’s effectiveness prior to monetary investment.

 

Split Test.

 

Before going too crazy with big ad budgets, take advantage of Facebook’s split test feature. Try variations on your headline, description, and graphics (photo or video). It’s helpful to do multiple tests, and see which ads get the most shares and engagement, before committing to a long-term ad campaign. The good news here is that Facebook automates the split testing for you and chooses the winning ad in your split test campaigns.

 

Create a Focus Group.

 

This option harks back to more traditional marketing days. Reach out to some of your most loyal customers and ask for their feedback. Chose three to five ads that you want to test out. Then, invite a small group to your office or shop for lunch, a presentation, and an incentive offer for their participation. Their feedback will be invaluable.

 

A Final Thought

 

Before pulling the trigger on any Facebook Ads, take the time to really create something special that shines a light on what your business has to offer. When you hit upon the right thing and have the perfect balance of organic and paid reach, you’ll know that your effort and energy was well worth it.

 

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Mari Smith to provide materials for informational purposes only, and is not responsible for, and does not guarantee or endorse any of the third-party products or services mentioned.  All third-party logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used under license from Mari Smith. 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. ©2020 Bank of America Corporation

Corporations spend millions on Super Bowl ads every year and few businesses have been bigger spenders than beer companies in general and Michelob in particular.

 

So it was altogether very interesting that in this year’s Super Bowl, aside from a very funny commercial with Jimmy Fallon, Michelob Ultra ran an ad about . . . organic farming.

 

Now, why is that?

 

Because Michelob knows that, these days, cause marketing is smart marketing.

 

Michelob Ultra Pure Gold is the first national beer to be certified organic by the USDA, and so the ad showed how the company is helping farmers transition in their efforts to grow certified organic produce.

 

Companies are realizing that younger consumers – Gen Z and the Millennials – want and expect more from the businesses with whom they shop; they want those companies to stand for something.

 

Indeed, a recent survey found that 91% of Millennials prefer brands that have a cause associated with it.

 

Hence, a beer ad about organic farming.

 

All of which then begs the question: How do you, as a small business, show these younger consumers with disposable dollars, that you too are committed to making the world a better place and not just selling them a better widget?

 

And the answer is: Pick the right cause. Cause marketing is a way for any businesses to show their commitment to not only the bottom line, but their desire to better the world in the process, and that is what your new, younger customers want to see.

 

In fact, as a small business, you are uniquely situated to very much benefit from this advent of cause marketing. Showing that you are committed to the bigger picture is almost easier for a small business because your relationship with your customers is so personal. They will know and appreciate your efforts.

 

That said, there is an art to picking the right cause. Like Goldilocks’ porridge, you do not want one that is too hot (because it will turn people off) or too cold (because no one will care) but instead, one that is just right.

 

Here’s how to choose wisely:

 

1. Be Authentic. Young consumers are savvy and crave authenticity. They will smell a phony cause a mile away, so the first step is to choose a cause that:

 

  • Resonates with your customers,

 

  • Dovetails with your brand

 

An outdoor adventure business can donate to environmental causes. A men’s or women’s clothing store can donate a portion of each purchase to its local Dress for Success branch. A restaurant could create a dish where the proceeds go to its local food bank.

 

Choose something different, memorable, but which also stays true to you and your brand.

 

2. Make it win/win. Choosing the right cause or non-profit to donate to or otherwise work with should mean you both will benefit from the arrangement. The non-profit of course gets funds and publicity, but at the same time, your business should generate some buzz too. The only way to accomplish both is by publicizing your participation and making sure the recipient organization does as well.

 

Ultimately, you’re going to want to do something that not only benefits your nonprofit of choice, but also you.

 

3. Encourage customer participation. Nearly 70% of millennials want businesses to “make it easier for consumers to do their part in addressing issues such as health, the economy, and environmental sustainability.” So being able to allow your customers an easy gateway to do so with your cause marketing is crucial to its success.

 

 

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, steve strauss headshot.pngincluding his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

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

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide materials for informational purposes only, and is not responsible for, and does not guarantee or endorse any of the third-party products or services mentioned.  All third-party logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used under license from Steve Strauss.

 

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

 

 

I just survived Super Bowl Sunday as I’m writing this. I live about 100 steps from a small-town grocery store. Right outside, stuck in a little clump of February 1st snow, was a Kid entrepreneurs.jpghand-made sign: Get Your Girl Scout Cookies Inside.

 

It’s the second of February, for Buddha’s sake! Most people’s willpower for their New Year’s diet resolutions is as dirty and stunted as the snowbank that sign was stuck into. Sure, I went into the store for berries and carrots and a veggie platter.

 

But if you think I came out of that store having purchased just one box of Thin Mints, then you don’t know a single thing about my willpower.

 

I bought two boxes of Thin Mints, one of the lemonades, one shortbread, and whatever that coconut one is called.

 

Why? Because these girls did a bang-up job of selling me on this. They asked, “Are you having people over for the Super Bowl?”

 

“Yes,” I lied. My two kids and I were the “people.”

 

“Oh, then you know they’ll want these! Maybe for the halftime show!”

 

Entrepreneurship - Learn from A Kid

 

Kids are so much smarter than we are. They don’t worry as much (about the same things grownups worry about, at least). They don’t care about whether they need an LLC or an S-Corp. They don’t rush to Staples to print business cards and buy up some variant URLs.

 

They act like entrepreneurs:

 

  • Here’s a need
  • I can fill that need
  • That need generates a reward
  • Sure, there’s some risk but I’ll try it
  • I’ll fix what breaks

 

That’s it. That’s how kids do what they do. They want money to pick up a new game for their Nintendo Switch? They walk around and ask, “What can I sell?” “Who needs something?”

 

My kids are 14 and almost 18. They’ve had Redbubble accounts and Bandcamp accounts and all kinds of platforms where they can sell art and music and creative products online for years now. They spread the word with their friends. But because they’re kids, especially teenagers, they make it all “no big deal” and just talk about it matter-of-factly.

 

Kids Don’t Care About Forever

 

One absolutely beautiful detail about how a kid treats entrepreneurship is that it’s about serving a customer and their need, not about building some kind of “forever” business. Grownups treat it that way because it’s the most often cited example. Companies form in someone’s garage and then go on to become blue chips and massive.

 

But plenty of companies do their job well and then vanish. Netscape changed the world by delivering the best and most people-friendly Internet browser back in the day. It changed the world. And then shut down, all within five years.

 

What we forget to think and believe and accept is that we are not our companies. That’s the point of entrepreneurship. We serve a need. We work to fulfill that need. We create or shut down companies to support the structure of that need fulfillment.

 

Kids Aren’t (as) Self Conscious

 

Kids just put it out there. Sure, they can be shy. But kids just say, “Hey, I made a thing. Want one?” They know that people either do or they don’t. And for the most part, they don’t tie their self-worth to the product they’re selling. Even (and this is vital) if what they’re selling is their own creative output.

 

Kids are willing to sell because they think you might also have a similar need or interest. They’ll tweak their product to match your need. It’s not exactly about landing the sale. It’s about whether you helped out.

 

Kids love to feel pride and a sense of accomplishment, but when they lose, they don’t fixate on it as much.

 

And that brings me to a very important point: kids are more used to failure when they’re younger because they’ve had fewer deeply life-changing experiences as a result of failure.

 

It's worth learning this part alone.

 

Entrepreneurship is Vital, Even for Employees

 

For well over a decade, I’ve taught big companies to think more like an entrepreneurial endeavor. Why? Because corporations get too locked into any one system and forget the simple rules of entrepreneurship: there aren’t any rules - just sell someone something they need.

 

Strip it down to these five guideposts:

 

  • Here’s a need
  • I can fill that need
  • That need generates a reward
  • Sure, there’s some risk but I’ll try it
  • I’ll fix what breaks

 

From that, you’ve got a chance of teaching grownups to be as good at running a straightforward business as a kid might. It’s worth the effort.

 

Oh, and if I put the Girl Scout cookie boxes in the recycling, it’s almost like we didn’t eat all of them.

 

 

About Chris Brogan

 

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

 

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

Read more from Chris Brogan

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Chris Brogan to provide materials for informational purposes only, and is not responsible for, and does not guarantee or endorse any of the third-party products or services mentioned.  All third-party logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and 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. ©2020 Bank of America Corporation

If you are a professional – a lawyer, web designer, consultant, or some similar occupation (as opposed to owning a product-based business) – I don’t need to tell you there is a Personal brand.jpglot of competition out there.

 

So how do you compete when everyone else in your field is trying to reach the same clients and eyeballs?

 

You have to create a great personal brand.

 

Creating a great personal brand is the secret sauce to getting noticed, standing out, attracting top-tier clients, and making more money. Indeed, once you build your personal brand to the point where you are spoken of in the same breath as those at the top of your field, then you do not have to compete on price. In fact, you can charge more because your clients will value your work above others’.

 

Charging a premium for your services is but one of many reasons you should consider working on your personal brand. In addition, a great personal brand:

 

  • Gives you added credibility
  • Keeps you top of mind
  • Results in consistent business
  • Ups your income potential

 

Consider Martha Stewart for a moment. Her personal brand was so strong that she could go to jail, come out, and not miss a beat.

 

Having a great personal brand is even more important for us mere mortals when online reputations are so central and when online networking and social media play such a vital part in our lives and businesses.

 

So, how do you create that valuable personal brand?

 

To help us understand, I recently chatted with an expert in the field.

 

Dan Schwabel is a leading expert on personal branding, with a very popular blog, The Personal Branding Blog, and a successful book on the subject (Me 2.0). Dan says the key to personal branding is authenticity; “your brand must honestly represent you and your value and values.” It must also be, he says, “transparent, and visible.”

 

Here’s how  you create that powerful, authentic, personal brand:

 

1. Be bold and authentic: “Wallflowers and shrinking violets don’t build brands,” Dan notes on his site. “People who are bold and enthusiastic do. For executives looking to make their mark and build a brand, being a hands-on, in the trenches type of person translates into authentic experience.”

 

2. Help, and then help some more: “If you want to really stand out, you must be useful and add maximum value at all times. Do this by offering free info, training, and content about your industry and share that info while speaking at events and on podcasts.”

 

3. Use all available tools: Apropos of #2 above, the way to build a brand is by consistently getting your name, message, tips, content, and information out there using all of the tools available to us today – a personal website, blogging, social media, podcasts, videos, etc.

 

4. Get a logo and catchphrase: Old school tools work. A well-done logo creates an immediate graphic representation of you and your business.                                          

 

5. Monitor:Google alerts” let you see what is being said and written about you online. “Twitter search” does much the same for its service. By following these prompts, you can positively inject yourself into any online conversation about you, your services, and your business.

 

A top-notch personal brand can skyrocket your business to the next level. Yes, it takes time, but the results will pay dividends for years.

 

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 /servlet/JiveServlet/downloadImage/38-3352-408614/Steve%2BStrauss%2BHeadshot%2BSBC.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.steve strauss headshot.png

 

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

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide materials for informational purposes only, and is not responsible for, and does not guarantee or endorse any of the third-party products or services mentioned.  All third-party logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used under license from Steve Strauss.

 

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

Whether you’re a mentor or a mentee, being part of a mentoring relationship is powerful. The American Psychological Association says having a mentor can be “lifechanging.” Mentorship.jpg

 

According to Bridget Weston, the acting CEO of SCORE, the country’s premier source of free business mentoring and education, “Entrepreneurs who work with a mentor are five times more likely to start a business than those who do not have a mentor. And, small business owners who receive three or more hours of mentoring report higher revenues and increased growth.”

 

Mentorship can take many forms. But for small business owners, getting assistance from successful entrepreneurs (like at SCORE) or corporate giants can be especially helpful.

 

Imagine getting advice (and more) from one of the most successful American companies—Procter & Gamble, a multinational consumer goods corporation, founded in 1837. Sound like an impossible dream? It’s not. P&G Ventures is the internal startup studio within Procter & Gamble. Established in 2015, it “partners with entrepreneurs and inventors to discover and create consumer products, brands, and businesses that solve people’s needs in categories new to P&G.”

 

P&G Ventures has created a unique partnership model, “providing funding and access to their experts, resources, and capabilities to help partners find their best customers, prove their technology, and create their brand.” The idea is to marry P&G’s many decades of business expertise with the “scrappy entrepreneurial approach.” As a result, the partners are able to develop their products with the full force of P&G’s consumer insight, branding, and regulatory expertise behind them.

 

The core belief at P&G Ventures is that great ideas can come from anywhere—which is one of the reasons they created the Innovation Challenge, an annual event taking place during the Consumer Electronics Show.

 

Lauren Thaman, Director of Communications at P&G Ventures, says the Innovation Challenge is a great opportunity to reach entrepreneurs and inventors. Companies that are chosen to participate in the Challenge are flown to Las Vegas, given access to CES, and pitch their idea. The winners are chosen and get $10,000 on the spot.

That’s when the mentoring kicks in. P&G executives are there to offer advice. Thaman says they’re “committed to helping entrepreneurs. Sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know.  [We help] them understand what’s possible.”

 

Sometimes partners get seed money; other times they need marketing help. The partnerships, says Thaman, are a “win/win for the partners and us.”

 

Committed to women

 

Mentorship at P&G Ventures goes far beyond the Innovation Challenge. P&G Ventures teamed up with Vinetta Project, a chapter-based organization that connects women founders to capital and resources to scale their businesses.

 

Betsy Bluestone, the Commercial Discovery Leader at P&G Ventures says gender equality is incredibly important to P&G, and they weren’t seeing a lot of deal flow from female founders. So they teamed up with Vinetta Project to help female founders scale.

 

Vinetta Project holds pitch events, dinners and boot camps. They pair founders with “coaches” within P&G. Bluestone says this helps them “understand the challenges [the founders] are facing.” They had their first official cohort last year, but Bluestone says, “many of the relationships continue informally.”

 

Madelaine Czufin, Director of Platform for Vinetta Project says, “There’s a funding gap. Less than 3% of VC [venture capital] money goes to women.” By creating a platform that provides programming, networking, mentoring and more, it’s about “what will allow female founders to get access to growth.”

 

Bluestone underscores the power of mentoring. “People don’t think about strategic partnerships or how corporations can be a supportive partner” for small businesses. Helping with “brand building can be as valuable as giving money. Plus, there are “other ways to provide resources to help their businesses grow, such as paying for clinical trials or doing consumer testing” for their products.

 

Vinetta and P&G are “looking to support product-driven, consumable companies with recurring revenue models” in eight areas:

 

  1. Sleep
  2. Menopause
  3. Pain
  4. Aging
  5. Male Wellness
  6. Performance
  7. Skin
  8. Non-Toxic Home

 

As a Vinetta Project mentor, Bluestone advises her mentees to “think about what your potential exits are and to build relationships with those targets early.”

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

 

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

Rieva headshot.png

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

 

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

 

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide materials for informational purposes only, and is not responsible for, and does not guarantee or endorse any of the third-party products or services mentioned.  All third-party logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky.

 

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

All entrepreneurs dream of hitting it big. But building a successful company based on a fad is different from building one based on prevailing trends. It’s more crapshoot than a Business Trends.jpgsure thing.

 

When I first started writing about entrepreneurs, people were still buzzing about the man who made millions from a rock. Yes, a rock. Pet Rock came on the market in August 1975. It was a rock cleverly packaged in a small cardboard box designed to look like a pet carrier, complete with air holes. The rock retailed for $3.95. Sounds silly, right? Well, sales were meteoric—millions were sold immediately after its market debut. Pet Rocks had a strong Christmas season, and then sales slowed.

 

The creator of the Pet Rock was hailed as a successful entrepreneur. But it’s not the kind of success you can predict—or easily duplicate. (Can you imagine writing a business plan for a rock?) The Pet Rock was a fad. And while you can make money from a fad, you can also lose your shirt.

 

The difference between trends and fads

 

At a glance, trends and fads may seem like the same thing. It can be confusing since we usually describe the latest thing as “trendy.” Fads and trends often emerge the same way—a new product or service suddenly becomes popular and generates a lot of buzz. It’s what comes next that marks the difference.

 

Fads have a half-life, while trends boast some staying power. Trends can last a decade or more and even when they do end, they tend to fade away more slowly.

 

Sometimes something starts as a fad, becomes a trend, and then morphs into a solid business. Think Uggs. Or a trend loses its buzz, but becomes entrenched in our daily lives, like cupcakes.

 

Fads are not bad

 

There’s nothing wrong with investing in a fad. The problem arises when entrepreneurs mistake a fad for a trend and put all their eggs in that basket. Remember, the life cycle of a fad is short. They burn bright; then they burn out.

 

Timing is everything. If you hit it right, you can make a lot of money, but it’s risky business. Success is really a matter of serendipity. You not only need to know when to get in, but more importantly, you need to know when to get out. If you don’t time your exit right, you can end up with warehouses full of expensive excess inventory.

 

Becoming a trendwatcher

 

Trendwatching is not complex. It’s simply about paying attention and being proactive. Here are some things you can do to become a trendwatcher.

 

  • Read. To stay in the know, check out newsletters, magazines and websites of your industry and related ones. Read your local newspaper and regional magazines. Follow influential bloggers and business thought leaders on social media.
  • Hit the road. Attend conferences and go to trade shows. But, realize products you see at trade shows could be fads that have already peaked. Two years ago unicorns were all the rage, only to quickly be replaced by llamas.
  • Pop culture. Movies, TV shows, etc. offer a treasure trove of clues. In 1995, a new haircut worn by Jennifer Aniston on Friends quickly swept the nation. Women demanded “the Rachel.” Hairstylists who were out of the loop instantly seemed old-fashioned and clueless. Fast forward a decade and in New Moon, the first book (and later movie) in the mega-popular Twilight series about a teen falling in love with a vampire, the girl wore lots of plaid shirts. Within months teens girls across the nation were snapping up plaid shirts faster than retailers could keep them in stock.
  • Listen to your customers. Often the easiest way to know what’s hot (or not) is to track your own sales trends. What’s selling? What’s not? Which of your products are your customers talking about?
  • Research. Regularly check out Google Trends, Bing Keyword Research, the most popular Pins on Pinterest or the Pinterest 100.

 

The thrill of the fad

 

There’s no real science to picking winning fads or trends. You can play it safe or you can take a leap. For many, the risk of embracing a fad is part of the thrill of being an entrepreneur.

 

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

 

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

 

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

 

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

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide materials for informational purposes only, and is not responsible for, and does not guarantee or endorse any of the third-party products or services mentioned.  All third-party logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky.

 

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

“I wake up every day, right here, right in Punxsutawney,

and it’s always February 2nd, and there's nothing I can do about it.”

 

– Phil Connors (Bill Murray), Groundhog Day

 

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So many small business owners are like Bill Murray in that fantastic movie. They are stuck, doing the same thing and making the same mistakes, over and over, and thinking there is nothing they can do about it.

 

The good news: Like Murray’s character, there actually is something you can do about it.

 

You have to learn your lessons.

 

There are all sorts of things business owners do that get them stuck in a time loop:

 

Not changing your marketing: Typically, when someone starts a business, they learn a few marketing tricks. It could be a Facebook ad campaign, or a stall at the local Saturday Market, or attending a regular networking event, etc.

 

Whatever the case, discovering a strategy that works is marketing gold because it allows you to live the dream.

 

Until it doesn’t.

 

What Groundhog Day’s Phil Connors learned, and what we must learn, is that doing the same thing again gets stale. Not only do you as the marketer get bored, but more importantly, so do your customers.

 

Marketing campaigns have a shelf life, and woe to small business owner who waits too long to realize it. In that case, their customers will be like “Phil, Phil Connors?” when he sees Ned Ryerson for the 119th day in a row.

 

Not firing employees . . . or customers: Yes, we all have people in our business lives who are, shall we say, challenging. And yes, loyalty is good. But again, until it is not.

 

Employees who don’t pull their weight can cost you a lot of profit and customers. Bored and under-achieving teammates are a drag on the business and shouldn’t be the norm if they create a negative time loop.

 

By the same token, we all know the customer who demands too much time and who takes too much effort. Yes, we like their business, but the truth is, it is often far better to cut ties with the cumbersome client.

 

But fret not; like the universe, business abhors a vacuum and the time you free up will be taken up by more useful ventures.

 

Not getting rid of the clutter: Aside from troubling clients and employees, there is other deadwood that doesn’t really serve us.

 

  • That room full of stuff
  • That perpetually messy desk

 

Clutter, in whatever form it takes, is a sign that fresh ideas are needed.

 

Sticking with old systems: Yes, we all get used to doing things a certain way, but one of the joys of having a small business these days is that there are so many great tools designed to make our business lives easier, to help small businesses look and act big.

 

An aging culprit could be:

 

  • Some analogue filing or inventory system from another century, or
  • A way-out-of-date computer or software system

 

Whatever the perpetrator, it is wise to reboot and update.

 

So, while yes, Groundhog Day the movie is very funny and even profound, Groundhog Day the life is not. The good news is that learning a few lessons and making a few simple changes can get you out of a tired loop. The bad news is that you won’t end up with the charming Andie McDowell at your side, but hey, at least you won’t be doing the time warp again (or mixing your metaphors!)

 

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 Steve+Strauss+Headshot+SBC.pngExpert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

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

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide materials for informational purposes only, and is not responsible for, and does not guarantee or endorse any of the third-party products or services mentioned.  All third-party logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used under license from Mari Smith.

 

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

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