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2020

by Rieva Lesonsky

 

National Women’s Equality Day is celebrated every August 26 to commemorate the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. That amendment  Sharon Interview.jpgprohibits the denial by the federal government and the states of the right to vote on the basis of sex.

 

While more recently women have made great strides in the world of entrepreneurship, we still have a ways to go. I recently sat down (virtually) with Sharon Miller, Head of Small Business at Bank of America, to talk about how women can continue to thrive—even during this global pandemic.

 

The last time Sharon and I spoke all signs pointed to a strong 2020 for women business owners. Obviously, the coronavirus has dimmed that outlook, making it a challenging year for all business owners.

 

Women: Timing is never perfect to start a business – Just start

 

Rieva Lesonsky: Before the pandemic, were you seeing more equality when it came to women-owned businesses getting funding?

 

Sharon Miller: Our last survey of women busines owners showed access to capital for women had improved over the last decade. But, in that survey, nearly 25 percent of the women said, “We women will never have equal access to capital.” There’s still a perception among women that money is harder to get.

 

Women think they have to have it perfectly right before they go to the bank. Many men come in without even having a concept.

 

Women need to get there [to the bank] sooner. Don’t wait until it’s perfect. Go now so you can get advice from professionals and learn what you will need to do to get funding. It’s never going to be perfect. Don’t be afraid to come in.

 

Today, women own about 40 percent of the small businesses in the country and that’s accelerating. Women are a force to be reckoned with. Women understand they can do this. And when we at Bank of America can’t provide help directly, we will be a resource to get women what they need through organizations like Vital Voices and NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners).

 

Lesonsky: You believe “confidence” is a big factor in women achieving success. How can we better instill confidence in younger women and girls, so they grow up more confident about pursuing entrepreneurship?

 

Miller: One of my favorite quotes—I have this pinned to my bulletin board—is from Henry Ford—"Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” My daughter is 11, my son is 14, and I already can see the difference. I tell them, “You can do anything.” It’s really important to instill that in our daughters, nieces, and families.

 

We need to have role models who have achieved and accomplished at the highest levels—women who are helping their communities. We need to keep breaking glass ceilings so we can show what can be done.

 

Advocacy moves women forward

Lesonsky: Can you speak a little about the power of mentorship in helping women business owners succeed?

 

Miller: Mentorship—to have like-minded people and resources to help advise you and give you information and help with problems you’re not seeing or don’t know about—is important.

 

But what’s more important is advocacy. We can be mentors all day long, but as women, ask yourself, how can I be an advocate, how can I move them along? Be a referral source. In the corporate world, ask how you can help advance other women. We need to pull through women and minorities and make sure they have access.

 

Lesonsky: Bank of America was investing in helping women by sponsoring conferences and events. Now that the pandemic has played havoc with in-person meetings and conferences, how do we best connect and support one another?

 

Miller: Everything is virtual now. We’re the title sponsor at the upcoming NAWBO conference. And it’s going to be virtual, which means more people can participate. Human connection is important, but we have to adapt to the new normal. This is a time of self-reflection and everyone needs to define the new normal for themselves.

 

Finding work-life balance in the current environment

 

Lesonsky: I have read that while many women and men have been working at home these last few months, many of the responsibilities of taking care of the kids (teaching, etc.) have fallen disproportionally on women. This goes back to something you said last year. This question was asked: “I believe X will be impactful in helping women in business over the next five years.” And the No. 1 answer was achieving work-life balance. How do we do that in these pandemic times?

 

Miller: That was an optimistic conversation, but all of a sudden the world changed. I’m a mom of two and found out over spring break they were not going back to school. I thought, “What am I going to do?” My office became a classroom and I was balancing work with making sure the kids do what they’re supposed to.

 

Lesonsky: Do you have any tips for working moms?

 

Miller: You have to be even more structured in your day. Try to be the best mom and the best at work. Just do the best you can.

But you also need to pull away every now and then. Exercise. Take time for you. We all need time to refocus. You can’t do your best if you can’t be at your best.

We have to tell ourselves, “I can’t control this, so focus on what you can control.”

 

Investing in our communities

 

Lesonsky: In the podcast, you mention that women invest more in their communities than men. Today in particular, it seems especially important to invest in our communities. How can we business owners’ best do that?

 

Miller: Despite the challenges, there have been a lot of positives. There’s always a silver lining. We need to help businesses in our communities. Order take out from local restaurants. Raise funds for community programs.

 

At Bank of America, we don’t just serve clients, we serve communities. We’ve launched a billion-dollar commitment for racial equality. We’re not just having a health care crisis in America. We have to ask, “What do we stand for?” We may not understand someone else’s situation, but we can open our hearts and minds.

 

We can listen and make our communities better. We can make it a better world.

 

 

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. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, it's affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2020 Bank of America Corporation

There was a time not so long ago when owning a small business was a lonely affair. In those pre-Internet days, there were very few resources for an entrepreneur to get advice, iStock-1224041142.jpglearn new skills, or find a community.

 

Things are much different now; indeed, one of the great things about owning and running a small business today is that there is just so much help available, much of it free.

 

One of the best and one of my favorites is SCORE. SCORE is the country’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors and is committed to helping small businesses start, grow, and achieve their goals. It does s

o in several ways:

  • SCORE has chapters of volunteer mentors throughout the country. Its more than 10,000 volunteers give small business owners free, confidential mentoring and training (both online and off) on virtually any subject – marketing, advertising, hiring, firing, business plans – you name it.
  • SCORE offers workshops and webinars
  • Its website is loaded with great articles, blogs, and other content.

 

I recently chatted with the new CEO of SCORE, Bridget Weston, to ask how it is helping entrepreneurs through this pandemic. She is a dynamic, resourceful and creative leader fully committed to helping small businesses.

 

Q: Hi Bridget. How has the pandemic changed what you are doing?

 

A: As you know, SCORE has been around since 1964 and for much of our existence, our mentoring was done live, in-person. If it can be said that there is a silver lining in this pandemic for us, it is that we were well prepared for this moment. We have increasingly been moving online and two years ago we created a virtual, on-screen mentoring process. Our training, tools, and system were all in place long before the coronavirus hit.

Q: How does it work?


A: Using either Skype or Zoom, our mentors and their clients can have a virtual coaching session. Being accessible to clients really matters and what makes that possible now is technology. And one of the great things about video mentoring is that our surveys find that it is just as effective as in-person sessions.

 

Q: Have you seen an increase in requests for mentoring since the pandemic began?


A: You bet, there has been a tremendous increase in demand the past few months. Initially, people needed help navigating the PPP. Now a lot of the questions are about sources of alternative funding and how to re-open safely. Other topics that we help with routinely are startups, business planning, finance, getting and keeping customers, and marketing and sales.

 

Q: Have you created, or do you have, any programs specifically for this crisis?

 

A: Yes, we have a few things. For starters, we have a Small Business Resilience Hub. The idea is that we know economic downturns bring unprecedented challenges. Our resilience hub offers training, resources and remote mentoring to help a small business not just survive but adapt and succeed.

There are several parts of the hub: Remote mentoring, resilience training, and a resource portal. As part of this, we offer real-time online mentoring each day. Business owners can find out more or sign up on our homepage.

 

Q: Could you tell us a bit more about SCORE’s work generally?


A: Sure. Last year we helped start 30,000 new businesses and create 100,000 jobs. In addition, 67% of our clients report that they increased their revenue as a result of working with us.

 

Q: Well, as you know, I love SCORE and what you do. Keep up the great work.

 

A: Thank you!

 

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 steve+strauss+headshot.pngcolumnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss

 

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

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide 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. 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

Retailers are on a roller coaster ride. And, while the reopening strategies are different across the country, for many small businesses reopening is unsettling, especially with worker/customer fears of infection and the possibility of closing again. rieva keeping retail customers.jpg

 

A successful reopening encompasses three major strategies: compliance to local health guidelines, setting expectations for customers and employees, and creating a comfortable and safe in-store customer experience.

 

Reopening Guidelines

 

Most local governments  have very specific reopening guidelines on best practices for reopening retail stores. Search your county website for a protocol checklist for retail establishments. Your county’s public health department has the jurisdiction to make sure businesses are following protocol, so contact them if you have questions about possible violations.

 

The rules vary by location, but most follow similar procedures in five key areas:

 

  1. Workplace policies and practices to protect employee health
  2. Measures to ensure physical distancing
  3. Measures to ensure infection control
  4. Communication with employees and the public
  5. Measures to ensure equitable access to critical services

 

Within each key area, there are specific policies for retail owners to follow. A few policies of note:

 

  • Employees who are not needed in the store should continue to work from home.
  • Symptom checks – fever, cough or shortness of breath – should  be conducted before employees enter the workspace. You should check for employees with a cough, shortness of breath or fever. Note other symptoms the employee may be experiencing.
  • Employee breaks should be staggered, and employees must stay 6-feet apart.
  • All store entrances should be monitored in order to track occupancy.
  • Check-out stations should minimize exposure between cashiers and customers and use barriers, such as ones made from Plexiglass.

 

Suggested Reading: Here’s what to Consider as You Re-Open Your Business

 

Setting Expectations

 

Employees and customers will invariably have mixed reactions about returning to retail stores. Some may be incredibly nervous to be around others while others may feel they want to get back to “normal.” In any case, it is the responsibility of the retailer to follow government reopening guidelines and set realistic expectations.

 

By clearly communicating your expectations to employees and customers, you can reduce or even eliminate confusion and increase the possibility of a successful reopening.

 

Be Aware

 

The new rules of retail go beyond complying with government regulations. Working in a time of crisis means employees may have to deal with:

 

  • Stressed-out customers. Whether customers are unnerved by being in public or impatient due to longer lines, employees need to know how to deal with potential conflict or tension.
  • Staying home. Gone are the days of coming to work when you don’t feel well—and that includes you, the boss. You might want to update your sick day/PTO policy to make sure sick employees don’t feel financially pressured to come to work.
  • Doing jobs not in their job description, such as deep cleaning.

 

Customers should also know what is expected of them while shopping in your store. Best practices include sending emails informing them about your policies regarding social distancing and wearing masks. Post information on the store’s website and social media channels.

 

Also, promote the other ways consumers can buy from you, whether from your website or social channels. Are you offering curbside pickup? That can attract shoppers who don’t want to shop in-store.

 

Finally, post signs about your new procedures and policies around your store.

 

Create a Winning Store Experience

 

Despite defining what they can expect, many customers will still feel uneasy shopping in-store. They’re concerned about:

 

  1. Being indoors in a place with strangers
  2. Being near employees and other customers
  3. The length of time they’re in a store

 

It’s a good bet that customers will have a better experience if their shopping outing takes place quickly and can be accomplished while maintaining safe social distances.

Make sure you keep the occupancy down to a level comfortable for all involved. Consider widening shopping aisles or adding one-way arrows on floors to direct the flow of traffic so customers can social distance properly.

 

If your location is conducive, put samples of your merchandise outside your store, so customers don’t have to step inside. If you can, arm employees with tablets to check in-store inventory and allow them to process transactions remotely. Make sure employees are extra helpful and patient and thank each customer for their business.

 

Remind customers they can “click and collect,” via BOPIS (buy online/pickup in-store) or curbside pickup. You could also temporarily offer free delivery for online orders.

When business actually gets back to normal, customers will remember the extra steps you took to keep them safe and reward you with their loyalty.

 

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

 

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

 

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

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide 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. 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

Expanded Talent Pool Hiring.jpgby Rieva Lesonsky

 

Economic slow days can give your business a lucky break—at least when it comes to hiring skilled talent.

 

It sounds bad but there’s a positive side to this for small business owners. You have a larger and more experienced talent pool to hire from—and that’s just in the U.S. With more businesses working virtually today, it may not matter if your worker is in New Zealand or around the corner.

 

Even if you’re still stuck in survival mode, it makes sense to think beyond the current conditions and consider how your business might seize the opportunity to grab accessible talent while it’s available.

 

What to Know About the Newly Unemployed

 

According to a LiveCareer national survey of people who became unemployed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, most are unsure how to relate their skills on a resume or even how to apply for jobs in other industries. In addition, job seekers are not comfortable speaking with potential employers about their key skill sets.

As an employer, that means you may have to read between the lines on potential candidates’ resumes or think outside the box when looking for certain skills acquired in other industries. Start with the skills you want candidates to have and then look for clues, such as:

 

  • Longevity at jobs. If the candidate job hops, are they for higher-level jobs?
  • Responsibilities. Was the candidate working with detailed information or expected to multitask?
  • Did the candidate work with complex equipment?
  • Did the candidate work directly with the public? With vendors? In sales?
  • Did the candidate work in a physical capacity or sit at a desk for long hours?

 

Every job has transferrable skills if you know how to look for them and nurture them.

 

The unemployed are also invariably feeling stressed and anxious from not having a job at a time of high unemployment. According to MedicalXpress.com, being unemployed may cause feelings of:

 

  • Loss of identity and sense of purpose
  • Unappreciated and a loss of feeling essential
  • Anger, fear and jealousy at others who can still work
  • Being lost and not knowing what will happen next.

 

Of course, not everyone feels this way, but as an employer it’s important to understand that  new employees might need more encouragement and patience than in normal times.

What can your company do to attract potential talent? A recent Robert Half survey found post-pandemic employees want more telecommuting opportunities, a COVID-19 safe work environment and fewer business travel trips.

 

Where to Find Talent

 

COVID-19 related job losses quickly filled the job boards with qualified talent looking for work, but there are other places to find employees. Here’s a quick rundown. Take a look at any job website and:

 

  • Online job boards. The highest volume of candidates is likely on Indeed.com, but you should also check GlassDoor and ZipRecruiter. Popular specialty job boards include SalesJobs.comJobsOnTheMenu.comTalentZoo.
  • Social media. Post your open positions on your social media platforms. LinkedIn is the best platform for making work connections.
  • Schools. Contact college, high school and trade/vocational schools and check with  their career centers.
  • Employees. Your employees likely know people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Put the word out about open positions.

 

Make it a Win-Win

 

You need talented employees and the growing talent pool wants a stable job. Work provides an atmosphere of belonging and the current unemployed talent pool wants a team to be part of. Your mission is to find and convince candidates your business is the place to put down roots, return to some version of “normal” and show off their skills.

 

 

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. 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

emergency Fund.jpgBy now, more than a few businesses have realized that they need – or needed – an emergency fund.

 

According to the SurePayroll Small Business Worry Index, “Due to the nature of small businesses, it can be hard to ensure there is enough cash on hand for business expenses and payroll. One finding from the study showed that 1 in 4 small business owners worry about being able to cover payroll at some point in the year.”

 

All of which begs the question: How do you create a rainy-day fund and how much do you need? It’s really just a simple 4-step process.

 

Step 1: Analyze your core expenses: Make a list of the expenses that you have to cover every month, things like:

 

  • Payroll
  • Rent
  • Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Utilities

 

Other items, the ones that are more wants than needs, should not be on this list. That would include items such as marketing and entertainment.

 

Now, multiply that core number by three. That is the number of months of overhead you ideally will (eventually) set aside.

 

If your core expenses are $5,000, you need to begin to save $15,000.

 

Step 2: Chunk it down: If you look at $15,000 by itself, it will likely look like an insurmountable mountain. But guess what? No one climbs a mountain in one step. Mountain climbers chunk it down.

 

According to the outdoor adventure retailer REI.com, there are several steps to take when planning to climb a mountain. Three of the four are relevant for our analogous purposes:

 

  • Get a guide. See Step 3, below.
  • Start training. This is essential in mountain climbing as it is in saving. For many people, saving does not come naturally. Neither does mountain climbing. The only way to climb that mountain is to begin small, practice, and get in shape. Start saving small, but get in the habit.
  • Choose a route. There are several routes to get to the top of a mountain. Some are easier than others. It begins by planning the trip, picking out a base camp, and plotting rest areas and important markers along the way. Again, this is the same process for creating a rainy-day emergency fund. Pick a reasonable path and start climbing.

 

So that’s the idea. Come up with a savings plan, start small, get in shape, and then begin to execute on your plan step by step. Yes, it will take practice and hard work. Climbing a mountain is not easy. But others have done it and you can too.

 

Step 3. Get help: Making and hitting financial goals can be challenging, and that is why bringing in an accountant or financial advisor makes sense. Meeting with a financial advisor can help you understand how best to begin, where you can safely cut back, how to save, and will help ensure that you are saving the right amounts.

 

And, having an advisor who understands the finances of your business can also help if and when you do have an emergency down the road. An expert teammate can give you expert advice.

 

Step 4. Commit. The key here is to save a bit each month. That takes good old-fashioned commitment. So consider and remember the wise words of W.H. Murray in his book, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition (1951):

 

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.

 

In the end, by committing to this plan, not only will you have learned a new skill (how to save) but you will not be caught off-guard the next time your small business faces an emergency situation.

 

Note: If you’re interested in seeking Small Business banking help through Bank of America, please feel free to reach out to a small business specialist on their team.

 

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 steve+strauss+headshot.pngcolumnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss

 

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

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide 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.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

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