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40 Posts authored by: Bank of America SB Team

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Are you ready for retirement? Small business owners need retirement plans not only for themselves, but often for their employees. On the latest episode of, “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Merrill Edge executive and retirement pro, Matt Gellene, discusses what you should look for in a retirement plan for yourself and for your team.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Matt Gellene:              Any company, even a sole proprietorship, can implement a retirement plan, just like a large company. In fact, they can implement a 401K plan, and that can really benefit their business, not only personally and what they can save for themselves, but also their employees and really help their business overall not only attract great talent, but really help them through a variety of different ways. Deductions for their potential taxes, you can deduct contributions, etc. It's something that I think a lot of small business owners don't realize.

 

Narrator:                      Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I'm here on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. Matt Gellene joins me. He is the head of Financial Center Merrill Edge and National Performance Executive. We are going to talk about retirement planning, particularly for small business owners. But Matt, before we go there, I want to welcome you, and I also want to have you tell us a little bit about your job and your title.

 

Matt Gellene:              Yeah, well first, Gregg, thanks for having me. I appreciate that, joining you today. Yeah, as far as what I do, I'm in charge of all of the Financial Solutions Advisors. These would be the financial advisors that are out in our financial centers, our banking centers throughout the entire country. We have 2500 of these individuals, and they're out there helping our clients solve their financial problems.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well, that's a huge job that you have. You must know on a day-to-day basis how you're doing, because you must get a lot of customer feedback.

 

Matt Gellene:              Yeah, we do. It's great. We've had lots of our clients speak to us through, certainly the way that they interact through our client experience partners, but even directly with me, they talk about all the great things that our advisors are doing, the way that they are helping with their financial lives. It's really gratifying to see the work literally every day.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well, one of the things I want to talk about today is the difference between retirement planning for someone who's an employee, say an executive, and for the person who actually owns the company, because it's very different when someone else has created the plan for you than when you are, in a sense, in charge of both running the company and creating the plan for yourself.

 

Matt Gellene:              Yeah, without a doubt. I mean, most people participate through the retirement plan through their company. In that case, it's already set up for you. It's a way for you to participate in your retirement savings through a really prescriptive way. But if you are your own business owner, if you are running your own company, now you really have to think differently about the way you engage with it, because in most cases, it's not already set up.

 

                                   The good news, Gregg, is any company, virtually any business, even a sole proprietorship, can implement a retirement plan like a large company. In fact, they can implement a 401K plan, and that can really benefit their business, not only personally and what they can save for themselves, but also their employees and really help their business overall not only attract great talent, but really them through a variety of different ways. Deductions for their potential taxes, you can deduct contributions, etc. It's something that I think a lot of small business owners don't realize. We would be happy to explain that to anyone who is interested.

 

Gregg Stebben:          So let's say I'm a small business owner, I'm listening, and I just heard you say, "Gee, Gregg, this is something you should be doing, because you own a small business, and there's some real advantages to it." Who do I call and what do I ask for? Can you help me with that first step so that I start talking to the right person to get the kind of assistance I need?

 

Matt Gellene:              Absolutely, absolutely, Gregg. Thanks for bringing that up. As I mentioned on the outset, we have more than 2500 individuals throughout the country that actually have the ability to help any small business owner go over their options and talk through these types of solutions. The first step is trying to understand, really, what the plan is, what the small business owner is trying to accomplish. Then we can direct them to ways that they can use some of these things I said to help them do that plan. It's certainly something we do here at Bank of America Merrill Edge. We'd be more than happy to help.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Do you find that this is a common thing, that small business owners are so wrapped up in running the business and keeping it growing and successful that they actually neglect to think about themselves and their own future?

 

Matt Gellene:              Yeah, completely. I think any small business owner would tell you that so much of their time and their energy, really all of their mind share, is spent trying to grow and build their business. Even more so, I think many small business owners think that this business, in and of itself, is their retirement plan. They think that everything they do to grow that business ultimately will have some sort of retirement payoff, if you will. But it's important for everyone to sort of separate out their great work they might be doing to build their business and the plan they have to put in place for themselves for retirement, really separate and apart from what they're driving with their business. This is really a challenge for many small business owners.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well, let's dig into those challenges a little bit. So, let's say I own a small business, I've been thinking that, you know, at some point this is the retirement nest egg that I need to grow for myself. You're saying, "Well, that's probably not the right way to be thinking about it." What kind of things can go wrong if that is the extent of by retirement planning?

 

Matt Gellene:              Yeah, if you really don't think separately about the way you save and the way you plan for your retirement, you could be overemphasizing your current projects for your business, and you might not have the right discipline to create that separation over time. So what I would always suggest, and frankly this goes not only for small business owner, but frankly anyone who is looking to save for a very specific goal to get, as I said, specific. Think about how much needs to be put away, how you're going to account for that, and really separate and apart from your other endeavors. Make the time and the energy to build a plan around that goal. You're going to be able to have a much better discipline over time to insure you reach that goal.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well, as I'm listening to you, I'm also realizing that if I own a small business and I'm counting on it to support me in retirement, I'm also banking on the fact that my business is going to continue to be successful without me there, because now I'm retired, or I'm counting on the fact that there will be a successful exit.

 

Matt Gellene:              Right. I mean, I think ultimately every small business owner certainly has to have that optimism about the future, but in order to make sure that you can, as you say, continue on either after you've left the business, post retirement, you have to make sure that you have a great plan in place in case that doesn't come to pass. To your point, there are some businesses where you have succession challenges, and what's going to happen after I leave or directing the business—that's why we really, really want to sit down with the business owner. Create that plan, make sure that they have that benefit laid out, and really start to work through the contingencies that might happen if it weren't to come to pass as they envisioned.

 

Gregg Stebben:          We're talking with Matt Gellene. He's the head of Financial Center Merrill Edge and National Performance Executive. This is “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. I want to ask you a more general question, Matt. That is we've been focusing so far on small business owners, but let's broaden the scope. What is it that most people get wrong when it comes to retirement planning? Then I went you to drill in and say, "This is what most people do wrong. Now this is what most small business people do wrong." Because I think we're either going to learn that they make the same mistakes or very different mistakes, but it will very, very useful, either way.

 

Matt Gellene:              Yeah, thanks Gregg. I think that there's sort of two big areas that most people, as you say, quote on quote, "get wrong," when they're thinking about retirement planning. The first is they begin to save, but they save just to save. What I mean by that is they're not laying out a full plan. They're not laying out an end goal and starting to plan for how much they'll need, how much they need to put away, what the rate of return will be necessary to get to that number. Unfortunately, they think, well, just putting a little bit away or making it a regular activity is going to get them to their goal. Frankly, it's because they haven't thought through the plan or the end result. That's the first thing.

 

                                   The second thing is a little bit of a derivative of that. It's the whole notion of, "Well, set it and forget it." I will tell you, this happens to a lot of people who have a 401K and are contributing regularly. They are doing the right thing by setting that savings plan in place, but they're not looking at where that money is going or looking at where those investments have led them and what the returns are. I will tell you, as you go through your sort of economic life as you're proceeding through your career, you have to make sure that you're constantly looking at your portfolio and getting advice as to how it might need to be rebalanced. As you know, the investments and the markets change. The allocations of where you want to put your money will certainly change over time based on your risk tolerance and when you're going to need it. Too many people do the, "Set it and forget it," notion, and then when they go back to look at it when they're now ready to access it, it might not be where they need it to be. So saving to save and setting it and forgetting it are the two big items that I think many good savers who are planning don't do enough analysis to insure that they're going to be okay.

 

Gregg Stebben:          It also seems to me that for a small business owner, their success in business could be very helpful here if they were focused, but I would imagine for some successful business owners, it could also be a trap. In other words, I know how to build a successful business. If I apply those lessons to my retirement, I'm probably going to have a very successful retirement plan. But on the other hand, you may think you know how to plan a retirement plan because you've been successful in business, but what made you successful in business may require a whole other set of skills.

 

Matt Gellene:              You said it really well. I mean, ultimately, what you should be looking to do is seek out expertise in the areas that you really need help. In fact, the small business owner who's great at running his or her business may not necessarily have the right level of expertise to do the things that I just said. Set the right plan, make sure you're doing the rebalancing, re-evaluate the investments to make sure that they come out the right way, so to speak, when retirement comes around. That core is the expertise that we offer here at Bank of American and Merrill Edge. So we can deliver that for our clients while they spend all of their time building their business.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I would also imagine that not all investing is about retirement, either. I mean, in many cases, when you're a successful business owner, you have money you should be investing for things other than retirement. Can you talk about things you've learned by dealing with small business people?

 

Matt Gellene:              Completely. You know, I think one of the things that we will find is when you talk to a client, whether it's a small business client or an individual client, the most important thing is to find out what their priorities are. What's their, what we like to call, "their life priorities," where they're putting their energy and what's most important to them, because as we will talk to, especially business owners, we know that clearly their work and their business is probably an overarching, if not the first, priority, but there are going to be others as well. It could be how they educate their children, it could be, as you say, retirement planning. It could be simply to create some extra wealth to pass on to future generations.

 

                                   We have to get to those pieces as well, because once you create that life priority framework, then you begin to be able to plan appropriately for each need. As I said earlier, you can sort of separate out the way you're approaching that, because they may have different plans, they may have different sort of investment profiles, so to say, they may have different risk tolerances. They could be customized depending on what the goal is. It's so important to have that perspective so someone can really own their financial life.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well and what's interesting here ... again, I'm talking with Matt Gellene. This is “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. What's interesting here is that thing that makes successful business owners successful, in many cases, starts with this vision and drive to accomplish the goal. Really, what you're saying is broaden your ability to make goals, and make a goal for yourself personally financially as well, not just a goal for your business.

 

Matt Gellene:              Yeah, that's really well said. You know, ultimately, you have to make sure that you set the right goal, create the right plan, and make sure you've got the right level of priorities. Along with your advisor, create the right level of interaction and constantly evaluate so you can get to those goals, whatever they may be.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I'm going to ask you one more question, Matt. I want to boil this down into one thing to do today. So for anyone listening who realizes now, "I have not been planning adequately for myself, and my family, and even my business," the one piece of retirement advice you'd like to leave them with. I want you to close with, "Here's how you can reach out to us at Bank of America and Merrill Edge."

 

Matt Gellene:              Yeah, well, thank you for that. I think the most important thing I would say is ... and you've heard it throughout thematically here ... is make sure that you have the right level of plan in place to meet that life priority. For us, I think the best way to do that is to be informed and to access the right level of expertise. At Bank of America Merrill Edge, we have that for you. Certainly, as I mentioned, we have 2500 Financial Solutions Advisors that are out in our banking centers, our financial centers, as we call them, but you could do it simply by going to merrilledge.com to begin the journey, see what we have to offer to help you in that regard. If you so desire to speak to someone, we can connect you right through that website to someone locally to help you.

 

Gregg Stebben:          He's Matt Gellene. This is “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. Matt is the head of Financial Center Merrill Edge and National Performance Executive. Thanks so much for joining us. Great tips.

 

Matt Gellene:              My pleasure. Thanks, Gregg.

 

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

Learn more about Merrill Edge® at www.merrilledge.com/small-business.

 

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Now on the Small Business Community, listen to part two of Exploring Veteran Entrepreneurship. In addition to gaining insight on the entrepreneurial mindset of the men and women who have served their country, learn practical tactics for managing your business like a veteran. Did you miss part one? Tune in here.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through adedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Marcus Flakes:          I was deployed three times in my military career in the Navy. One thing I want to point out is that what I learned from these deployments. I learned sacrifice, mission, and core values.

 

                                  Now, there were a whole lot of different things that I learned, but one of the few things that stuck with me was sacrifice, mission, and core values. I use these traits to develop an organizational culture within my company as well.

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.comand Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm here with Marcus Flakes, the CEO of Commercial Sanitation Initiative. A company that, frankly, I think is on the cutting edge and doing some really exciting things, but rather than me talk about it, Marcus, welcome. I want you to tell us about your business and what you're doing.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Thank you, Gregg. I appreciate it. Well, a little bit about my business. The umbrella company is CSI US Military Maintenance. We're a cleaning maintenance and remodeling company. We hire local veterans and their families as well as patriotic non-veterans with the mission of giving back to the community. We do this through industrial and military training for economic development projects, i.e., restoration of homes, cleaning, commercial cleaning, remodeling commercial buildings and things like that. Since our company's inception, which was February 2017, we've grown significantly with small business partnerships that have also enabled us to start a subsidiary venture known as Commercial Sanitation Initiative, CSI. CSI is a North American distributor of EnviroCleanse. This company is a combination of veteran entrepreneurs and small business owners distributing cleaning products and organic disinfectants nationwide.

 

Gregg Stebben:         One thing you said, Marcus, that I'm a little unclear of—and I did not serve in the military—and that may be why, but there's lots of people like me who may not understand some terminology. Did you say that you use military training with your employees? If that's the case, explain how that works because it's not clear to me.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Okay. Absolutely. The military training, as you well know, it's called Military Occupational Specialty, MOS. Within the military there's a myriad of knowledge, skills, and abilities that we acquire. One of the things I was focused on is how we can use the exact training from the military and transition that into civilian sector. I created this company around what the military actually does. Not in all facets, in a good piece, cleaning for instance. We learn that going into the military. I don't know a better cleaner than a military person.

 

Gregg Stebben:         We all know the ability of soldiers to do things like make beds and shine shoes and things. It's legendary to all of us just through what we see on movies and on TV. I suspect there's a lot more to it than what we see and what you've done is, I think, is actually recognize that those are highly valuable skills, and that once people are out of the military, you are able to put those people and those veterans and those skills to work.

 

Marcus Flakes:          That is absolutely correct. That's what we do.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I want to hear about your military background, but before we do, I want to pick up on something you mentioned, which is a product called EnviroCleanse. I think you said you're the North American distributor?

 

Marcus Flakes:          Correct.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I want to know a little bit more about that including, this really caught my eye on your website, and by the way, Marcus' company is Commercial Sanitation Initiative, the website is commercialsanitationinitiative.com. One of the things that caught my eye on your website is that there's some relationship between your company, EnviroCleanse, and Warren Buffett, or Berkshire Hathaway. Can you just explain that because I find that very, very interesting?

 

Marcus Flakes:          Yes, absolutely. EnviroCleanse LLC, it's a division of Charter Brokerage LLC, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Which is owned by Warren Buffett.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Yeah, which is owned by Warren Buffett. Yeah. Absolutely. I have not yet talked to Warren Buffett. Very large company. I'm just one of the smaller entities down here making the mission happen for EnviroCleanse. With all due respect to Warren Buffett, he is the man behind the scenes making a lot of things happen for EnviroCleanse. I consider CSI as having an intricate role to distributing these products on a national level. When I say on a national level, I'm talking about the many industries that this product intersects.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Which are?

 

Marcus Flakes:          Which are retail, commercial, and industrial. You think about population health, I have a master's in public health so I think very broadly on these topics, but I'll make it very, very simple, is that everybody is seeking organic and sustainable products. I'm sure whoever is listening to this call could actually agree with me on that.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yes.

 

Marcus Flakes:          We provide just that. We provide a product that is an organic disinfectant and we provide green cleaning, de-greasing formulas within another product. We've had a lot of traction from retailers and commercial and industrial. We're on the growth side at this point.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I think when you pick a product like EnviroCleanse and it has essentially not just the endorsement of Warren Buffet, but the fact that he owns that company and the product that the company makes, I think that for a lot of people is a level of validation that's untouchable. It's the gold standard. You know that if Warren Buffett has put his name on it essentially, it must be a great product and you're now the distributor for North America and I assume using it in your cleaning for your clients yourself at CSI.

 

Marcus Flakes:          That is absolutely correct. We've seen nothing but success when we talk to our clients about cleaning contracts. Not only do we offer our services with a good work ethic, but we also offer this product in conjunction to the contract. It gives them a double-edged view of what they're getting from us.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm talking with Marcus Flakes, the CEO of Commercial Sanitation Initiative. It's commercialsanitationinitiative.com. Tell us about your military background because it's a very big part of your story.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Okay. Well, I'm a 22-year veteran. I have a very wide background. My experience is within the Navy, Army, as well as full-time employment with the Texas Air National Guard. I was also a food program manager for the state of California Army National Guard as well. I was deployed three times in my military career in the Navy. One thing I want to point out is that what I learned from these deployments. I learned sacrifice, mission, and core values. Now, there were a whole lot of different things that I learned, but one of the few things that stuck with me is sacrifice, mission, and core values. I use these traits to develop the organizational culture within my company as well.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Would you say that as a business owner if you hadn't had that military training your business would be running very differently and would you actually look at your military training and say, you know, if I hadn't got those years of training in my 22 years of service to my country, I might not actually know how to be successful at running a business or starting a business?

 

Marcus Flakes:          You know, there's a true and false to that. The truth is that I gained the confidence from the military. Some of the things that they teach us, they teach us resiliency. They teach us leadership. They teach us sacrifice. Not being all about yourself. It's that selfless service that comes into play. It really brings on your ability to mentor others, which I do on a daily basis for other business owners that seek me out and want to know what I'm doing and how I can help them. But, as far as false, I would say if I never had gone to the military, I had interest prior to enlisting in the military and it was business and health. Looking in hindsight, I think I would've gone to school a lot earlier than I did and picked up a lot of knowledge, skills, and abilities and perhaps just like every other small business owner who doesn't have a military background, they're very successful as well. I really can't take that credit away.

 

Gregg Stebben:         What you're pointing to is that by serving that time in the military, in a sense, you sacrificed something else that was of interest to you for a long, long time, for 22 years, which was your interest in business and health. It's just interesting hearing your perspective on this because I think frankly for many of us, if we haven't served, we don't think about the idea ... We know that veterans come out of the military and then most of us in business know that they make great employees, particularly in the areas where they have trained, but I think most people today don't yet have the idea of what great entrepreneurs veterans make. Did you find in starting your business, and I don't know if this was your first business or you've started others, but in your time as a veteran starting businesses, have you found that there are certain hurdles that have been bigger hurdles for you because you were a veteran?

 

Marcus Flakes:          I have. I have. Starting out with employment. Usually when a veteran comes off active duty or gets out of the National Guard, they're taking on a new journey so to speak. We close that chapter and we start a new chapter here. One of the first attempts is getting a job. Not just any job, but a higher-paying job using the skillsets that they have acquired from the military. Now, when they get that, this is where the problem starts. Either you're over-qualified or you just don't have what that company is looking for. It's been a question for a long time as to why is it like that.

                                    Now, what happens to that veteran after they get so many No’s it becomes very frustrating and they start to ... their resilience, their resilience training starts to kick in because they're not gonna give up. They have no quit in them. They turn to entrepreneurship. There's groups out there. I'm a member of several groups with over a million veterans involved sharing information with one another, trying to make it easier on their comrades because quite frankly one veteran has more experience than the other. It's a beautiful thing because they're able to share that.

 

Gregg Stebben:         You know it's interesting. There was a study published by the Department of Veteran Affairs in 2017 last year that said that veterans are nearly twice as likely to be self-employed compared to non-veterans. I looked at that and on one hand I was surprised and on the other hand I wasn't. I could see a case being made either way. But that's the statistic. It never occurred to me that the process might be as you're describing that veterans get out of the service and then actually have a hard time getting an appropriate and better paying job given their skill level. They might be over-qualified. That only after that experience do they turn to entrepreneurship. I just assumed that a lot of veterans got out and when surveying the landscape of opportunity might think, oh, I can get a job, I can go into this kind of industry, or I can start my own business. Do you have a sense of how many veterans go through that process of having a hard time getting a job because they're over-qualified and turning to entrepreneurship versus taking that on as their first thing directly out of coming out of the service?

 

Marcus Flakes:          I think the percentile is pretty high having a problem finding a job initially. I think that percentage is somewhere around 40%. Then after that is when different veterans will think about different opportunities. Some start in the civilian sector and start looking for a private-owned company and want to work for them. Maybe a food distributing company or something like that. If they don't have any luck there, they usually turn to federal employment. Now, there's a lot of veterans looking for federal employment. Unfortunately, these federal agencies can't hire everybody. They can't hire everybody. They get very, very picky and selective about which veteran they’re going to hire. That's why they have those preferences. If you're service disabled, 50% or 100%, those go to the top. The people who don't have a disability, they're competing with the rest of the applicants with only a five point preference or so.

 

                                  Other than that, when they exhaust those opportunities, then they start looking at, okay, what can I do. It's usually entrepreneurship. They start thinking about what did I do in the military. Maybe I can start up a security company because I was a military police. Maybe I can start up a restaurant because I was a culinary specialist. You see the correlation of why they select different industries to start a business in.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm wondering if you have ideas ... I'm gonna ask this question in three levels. I'm wondering if you have ideas for things we as the individuals listening can do to help veterans either overcome the hump of getting a job because of what you said among other things being over-qualified, or more quickly move to the idea of being an entrepreneur. What can we as individuals do because we all have family and friends who are veterans and many of them are returning veterans or veterans looking for different career opportunities? I'm also wondering beyond us as individuals, and some people listening to this own small businesses or would consider starting another small business or another division as in a sense you've done, but I'm also wondering if you think there's things that government should be doing like Veteran's Affairs, and if there's things the federal government should be doing to make this process better for veterans who are no longer serving.

 

Marcus Flakes:          That's a really good question, Gregg. Not sure if I can fully answer that, but I'm gonna definitely give you my take on it. Whether it's government, nonprofit, or corporate entities, personally I'd like to see them as stakeholders such as theSBAand investors taking interest in business plans that are developed by veterans. The reason I say that is because I think that idea funding is more accessible than credit-based funding.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Really good point. Was access to capital an issue for you?

 

Marcus Flakes:          Access to capital is an issue for everybody. I don't know a business owner who doesn't need capital. When you're out there looking, where are you supposed to be looking? You could be a part of groups. You can put it in there. You can go on LinkedIn. You can say it there. There's just so many places you can say it, but that's social media. You're not having that conversation with that investor who gets the opportunity to sit at the dinner table and actually spell out what you want done for your business with the intention of that investor potentially wanting to help you. That opportunity doesn't come often.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm really interested in what you just said, Marcus. I'm talking with Marcus Flakes. He's the CEO of Commercial Sanitation Initiative. It's commercialsanitationinitiative.com. I'm really interested in what you said about idea-based funding versus credit-based funding for veterans. Are there programs like that that exist that veterans know about? I know, for instance, right here on Bank of America's “The Heartbeat of Main Street” that we do here with ForbesBooks with Bank of America, and they've rolled out a $20 million program for lending to US military veteran entrepreneurs. I know those kinds of programs exist, but I'm wondering to veterans know they exist and could part of the job here be just to do a better job of making them aware of it?

 

Marcus Flakes:          Yes. I've been doing my part as far as spreading the word out about this funding that's available to veterans for starting businesses. But I think this, they're hesitant because this is what they're thinking, is this just another hype about supporting veterans? Because to be honest with you, they're not really looking for a handout. I'm gonna give you a scenario. If you told me that I can give you money and you pay me back versus I can give you this account and we'll utilize your services and we'll benefit from your services while you earn money, I probably wouldn't go for the loan. I'd probably go where I'm earning revenue. I'm actually working for that capital.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I may be wrong about this, but I'm speculating you may actually be describing something that doesn't exist today, which is you mentioned idea-based funding. There's credit-based funding. But you're really describing a scenario where it's a work for funding. Does that exist or is this something that you have conceived of yourself?

 

Marcus Flakes:          This is something that I conceived of myself. You sit here and brainstorm about how do you access capital. There's no rule to how you access capital as far as I'm concerned. Accessing capital, I do it every day. The reason I say that is because I opened up another business so that it can be funded by the umbrella business. Listen, for instance, if I go out and get a $50,000 contract and it lasts for maybe two months or something like that, remodeling a home, what happens is that I take that revenue from a founder's perspective, I take my percent and I reinvest that back into the company. That's not capital. What I've done is I'm also increasing my percentage of injections into my asset ability of my company. Now I'm able to go to the bank and say, hey, look what I've been doing

 

Gregg Stebben:         A scenario where someone is just starting out, I think what you're suggesting is if there was a program that said you're going to get the $50,000 contract and the $50,000 access to the $50,000 today so that you can tool up to get the job done. You've just reverse-engineered the process you just said. It just involves having access to the capital upfront instead of at the end when the job has been complete.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Exactly. Because when you think about it, if an opportunity were to be presented to any veteran, or any small business owner for that matter, if it were to be presented that way, now you know you have revenue. Planned revenue. What do you do? You take that and now you can use invoice factorization to make sure you're able to take care of your employees. Now you're managing a business and you're not just looking for funding.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I want to ask you one other thing, Marcus, because this is really a fascinating conversation. As you're talking with other veterans, do you find that there are similar things that they say that prevents them from doing what you've done, which is starting a business that we as friends and family of veterans could hear? You might've already said this in a way, but I want to drill into it very specifically. As you're talking with veterans and they're thinking about starting a small business, are there certain things that stop them that you think we as friends and family should hear so that we know how to give the best encouragement to those veterans who are perhaps the next best greatest entrepreneurs?

 

Marcus Flakes:          I have not met a veteran that I've talked to that just stopped in their tracks because maybe it was something they read or something that they heard. They usually go into the startup. They have X amount of dollars to start. It's not very much usually, but they're all in. They're all in. What happens is that when they start, without the right mentor letting them know where those forks in the road are gonna be, that's when the confusion starts for them. There's this thing called business lifecycle stages. I don't think that veterans ... This is not to discredit any veterans. There are some great veterans out there that are doing some great things better than myself, but business lifecycle is an education in itself. It'll teach you a lot about startup, the growth maturity, and the acceptance and renewal by consumers. This is where you're able to understand where your business sits in the marketplace.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yeah. Really what you're saying is for a veteran who wants to start a business, grit is not the problem. Getting started is not the problem. At some point though, they just may not know what's coming next or what they need to prepare for. That's where something like a mentor and business lifecycle, as you're describing it, can really make a difference.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Absolutely because they'll go from startup and skip growth to maturity. You miss the growth. This happens a lot. This happens a lot. They're good companies. They're solid. They're making connections. They've got leads and they're making money. Money is not really being invested back into the business, so you're not growing.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yes. Yes. They have all the pieces, they just need a road map or help creating the appropriate road map to keep going forward and continue to build on that success.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Absolutely. Here's a gem. If they miss the investment, the injection back into their company, when they go to the table for a loan, they will be denied because there's a certain amount of injection percentage that the banks must see from your business. If it's not there, you don't have the tools to generate these financial statements, PNL statements, balance sheets, and all of that. If you don't have the tools to generate that, then you're gonna get overlooked anyway.

 

Gregg Stebben:         By skipping a step, there's downstream consequences you might not even understand until somebody stamps denied on your application.

 

Marcus Flakes:          Exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:         That's a lot to think about. He is Marcus Flakes. He's the CEO of Commercial Sanitation Initiative. Commercialsanitationinitiative.com. Making a really great case for why veterans make such great business leaders and entrepreneurs and things they need to know about to ensure their success even if they're at the point where they started a business and it's doing well, being able to look forward. I think mentorship is a really great point you make. I want to thank you, Marcus, for joining us here on the Heartbeat of Main Street.

 

Speaker 2:                 Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.comand Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

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Did you know veterans are twice as likely to be self-employed as non-veterans? Listen to part one of the latest podcast episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street” to hear about the entrepreneurial priorities, drive and future of the men and women who have served their country in the military.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Jeff Cathey:               You know they've fought for this country and now they can maybe own part of it or run a piece of it. Some that we talk to are very interested in coming back maybe even to their hometown into the community and helping their own reintegration efforts in that respect.                         

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.comand Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Kate Delaney:            Boy, I'm so excited. This time around we're diving into something really close to my heart to be honest. Jeff Cathey joins us. He's a Senior Military Affairs Executive for Bank of America and a former Navy captain. I'm married to an ex-Navy guy so I know what that's like. It's interesting because what we're going to talk about with Jeff is so, so significant. According to a study published, Greg, in 2017 by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, when you look at the veterans they are twice as likely to be self-employed compared to non-veterans. This does not surprise me. So, Jeff, first of all, welcome, and do you think this status really widely known by veterans themselves?

 

Jeff Cathey:                I think it is. We know that about 180 to 200,000 service members leave the Army and the Navy and the Air Force and the Marines every year. And as they do formerly they go through a transition assistance program in their individual services. And about 10% of them raise their hand and say, "I want to start my own business. I want to get in there and run a franchise or start my own business, and I'm very interested in receiving an initial primer on what that is all about. What are the resources out there? What are the barriers are there to either help me or hinder me in going forth with my efforts?" So it's a strong cohort that's interested in it.

 

                                   And the services have set that up to kind of segregate them off to the side and say, "Okay, if you're interested in starting your own business come over here and we'll start talking about business plans, and marketing plans, and so forth."

 

Gregg Stebben:         So Jeff, you're a former Navy captain, you're now the Senior Military Affairs Executive for Bank of America and I mean this is really what you focus on every day. I'm wondering looking back on your past as a Navy captain and now interacting with these veteran entrepreneurs every day, are there certain things that draw people to military service that then lead them to become great entrepreneurs? Are there things that happen in the training or in the course of their years of service that make them great at being entrepreneurs? Can you kind of see it as a whole or as a whole process for them?

 

Jeff Cathey:               Gregg, you know I would say that those who want to come out and start their own business really probably want to control their own destiny. And maybe in some ways quit taking orders and start giving them, right? And they're going to be successful. Employers are looking for talent, work ethic, and attitude. And 70% nationwide survey of companies are looking for primarily work ethic and attitude. So, I think the ones who raise their hand and want to start their own company, that work ethic will transfer over. It’s up to them to keep the attitude on because there are going to be starts and stutters and so forth. And then the talent portion of it, that's the neat part where they're going to be intellectually curious. They're going to have to go and start a new mission, and they're going to have to learn all this stuff from the business plan to the marketing plan, to how to raise capital and so forth.

 

                                  I just see them as they fought for this country and now they can maybe own part of it or run a piece of it. I think they don't lack confidence. I think they've had a ton of responsibility in the service. They've had global exposure. They worked in diverse environments. They've done some crisis action planning and they've made some decision making at high rate of speeds. So, I think they can jump right into it. Some that we talk to are very interested in coming back maybe even to their hometown into the community and helping their own reintegration efforts in that respect.

 

Kate Delaney:            Jeff, I referenced this in the beginning because of my own family I saw this, and I talked about this study that was published in 2017 by the US Department of Veteran Affairs, and in that study they also found that self-employed veterans demonstrated higher levels of gratitude, community integration, and altruistic service to others. I'm not surprised by that because of what I've seen. Can you talk about how supporting veteran entrepreneurs and encouraging other vets to become entrepreneurs and small business owners also brings great benefits to the community at large?

 

Jeff Cathey:               It does, Kate. To get out there and ... there's less than one percent of Americans that are putting the uniform on. And so, they are highly trained, they're very specialized, their operational tempo is high, they deploy a lot. Americans nationally and in the local communities want to support the troops so to speak, but they can't find them. And so, they're just gone. And to be able to come back and self socialize and to start up through your own initiative your own company, and get rid of the national tendency towards isolation whether you're on a military installation or you're on a Mac flight going overseas, or you're on the ground deployed in South Korea or Germany, or you're in a combat zone. That isolation has just really got to be peeled back. And to start your own company, and to put a sign up on the window kind of demystifies the whole thing. I think so many of the veterans, they're community integrators, they're going to be contributors. They want to get in there whether it's on the little league field, at the church, any kind of associations to include in the business community.

 

Gregg Stebben:         We're talking with Jeff Cathey, the Senior Military Affairs Executive for Bank of America—he's a former Navy captain. We're also talking about how and why veterans become so great at being small business owners and entrepreneurs. And one of the things I want to ask you Jeff is, what are some of the challenges that veterans face? And when I Googled this I actually came up with the term “vetrepreneurship,” so there's clearly a movement here, but what are some of the challenges that veterans face in starting a small business or continuing to run one, and what kinds of programs are out there? For instance, I know that BofA just launched a programto help military veteran entrepreneurs.

 

Jeff Cathey:               We did and it's exciting. And let me just table that for a second, Gregg. But I would say the barriers are access to capital. Really where are the dollars, number one. And number two I think inside the military we have appropriated dollars from the tax payers through the Congress. And so, it's a budgetary sort of exercise, large budgets but it's different then the raising of capital in the generation of revenue. And so that is something that the vetrepreneur sort of has to learn, and then also how to manage expenses, and how to borrow money to grow that business. So I think those are the barriers. And then that business acumen part, now it's, "Okay, I gotta develop a business plan. I've gotta know my marketing plan and who's the competitors, who else is already out there." Maybe this market in Des Moines, Iowa, is saturated or over saturated in trying to do mobile automobile detailing or dog grooming, or whatever it is. So, those are the things that are out there.

 

                                   And then as I said the access to capital is the big one. So, if they come to most banks, they leave the Army on Friday and want to start their business on Monday and they walk into the bank, they're just not bankable. So, a lot of them will go over to other sources of capital or maybe even a credit card and pay pretty high rates to borrow that money, and sometimes that can be crushing and put them out of business before they even start.

 

                                   So, Bank of America on the 8th of June announced a $20 million veteran entrepreneur lending program whereby the non-profit lending arm of the company and some community development financial institutions, CDFI's, are out there. We funded five of them over seven states: Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, California, New York, and both Carolinas. And it's a real solution. At about an eight percent plus or minus percent type of lending for the veteran. And so, we lent about zero to one percent to those CDFI's who turn around and lend to the business owner once they vet them and look at their credit scores, and their business plan, and all that, that we mentioned. You can start at eight percent, it opens the door, it gets them to meet their financial needs for the capital upfront and off they go. So, we're very excited about that CDFI program called Veteran Entrepreneur Lending Program. $20 million dollars over those five CDFI's, and it's just started and we're very excited about it.

 

Gregg Stebben:         You know what's interesting Jeff is as I've been listening to you—and I did not serve in the military, I am not a veteran—I've learned so much by listening to you. And I was really excited to talk to you because I realized folks who have not served and our not veterans have so much to learn from this conversation. And one of the things I started thinking as I've been listening to you here is, there are probably some real advantages to being in the military and then getting out and starting a business, but there are probably some disadvantages.

 

                                  And one of the disadvantages I thought of as you've been talking is, if I go the traditional entrepreneurial route, which I think for many people is you go to college and maybe you're studying business maybe you're not, but you're networking with other potential entrepreneurs in the community perhaps or you're just focused on a very specialized thing because you have a college major. Then maybe you go on to get a master's degree and a PhD. You've been building this whole network around you that's going to support you in your business. That's not necessarily true I would think for a veteran, so that could be a disadvantage that they're not in the same environment. And do you think programs like this BofA program or are there other programs from like the SBA that help support veterans to eliminate that disadvantage and turn it into an advantage?

 

Jeff Cathey:               Yeah, no I hear you Gregg. And the sequence just comes in different orders. And so, I agree with you. There's a very hierarchal way and build the triangle like you said on one side. The other side is go over there and defend your countrymen and do what you're asked to do from a military for deployed perspective and so forth. And you're sort of losing ground along the way when you come back.

 

                                   And that's why it's so exciting to see these veteran entrepreneur programs that have been established mostly at the land grant colleges like University of Florida, Oklahoma State University, University of Southern Calthe Marshall School of Businessand at Syracuse University at IVMF, and even here locally where I am at Hillsborough Community College they have Operation Startup. Not a set aside, but just a veteran entrepreneur program. Even Stanford has Ignite.

 

                                   There's 1.1 million veterans on college campuses executing the GI Bill and most of these courses ... and I've been to the one out in LA and up in Gainesville and Stillwater, Oklahoma and most of these. There's about 80-90 veteran entrepreneurs either current existing ownership, have a business fledgling in their first or second year, or brand new. And those usually go eight or nine months or so, and they'll come in for a week and get to know the instructors, the expectations and so forth, and have some academics there. And then they'll go back to their hometowns through some online academics and some mentorship along the way, and some checkpoints and so forth. And they'll come back and graduate. So, it's good. There's a buzz around it. There's strength in numbers. Popping out of that is going to be sort of the evening out of those sort of two different paths to owning your own business.

 

Kate Delaney:            So, Jeff I can imagine you just talked about some of the programs that are there, can you share with us some stories from some of the vets, some of the entrepreneurs and small business owners that you've worked with in your position with Bank of America?

 

Jeff Cathey:               You know Kate, I’d say most of those that I know that are running organizations, and I'd equate them to a small business, they're leading non-profits. And these are sort of millennial led non-profits that Bank of America's associated with such as Student Veterans of America, such as America's Warrior Partnership, or Team Red, White, and Blue, or Mission Continues, or Team Rubicon. And these are young men and women as executive directors of these organizations that essentially are doing the same thing. Even a non-profit, you've gotta generate revenue, you've gotta fundraise, you've gotta control expenses, and staffing, and travel, and everything else, and you have to lead a team. And that's exactly what they're doing. And so, we have great partnerships, long lasting partnerships sustained with all of those non-profits, and some of the smaller veteran owned businesses.

 

                                   We went out to People Fundwhose one of those five CDFI's that we spoke about. They're in Texas, they're in Austin, Texas. And we went out and met Gary Lindner and he runs them. And we looked at all their books, met some of their veteran entrepreneurs. Looked at how they vet who they're going to lend to. We looked at their loss rates. We looked at their sustained efforts to support these veterans as they start up their business, because it's more than just veteran entrepreneur leadership program I talked about. It's more than just writing a check and the $20 million dollars to those five CDFI's. It's lending, and learning, and technical assistance. And so, that is a huddle up, that's support network, that is we've all go the same target, but there's going to be some off ramps, there's going to be some unexpected barriers and so forth. But this is the learning part of it through Syracuse University, and IVMF the Institute of Veteran and Military Families, their V-Wise, their women veterans programs. There are ways and technical assistance for those business plans, and control of money, and expenses, and so forth to make this a go. So it's not “here's your check good luck, see you later.”

 

Gregg Stebben:         Well that makes perfect sense. And in fact, Jeff when I was getting ready for this interview and just Googled the phrase military veteran entrepreneurs and veteran entrepreneurs, that's when I began to discover that there's this whole world that includes networking, and programs like you've described for learning in addition to access to capital and things like that.

 

                                   We're talking with Jeff Cathey, he's the Senior Military Affairs Executive for Bank of America, and a former Navy captain. I want to ask you Jeff, we're talking here about veterans starting businesses or continuing to run businesses and getting the kind of support that can help them continue to be successful. I'm wondering if you have any suggestions for people who are listening who are family or friends of a veteran and they know that their family member or their friend has always talked about or dreamed of starting a business, but maybe just needs a little bit of a push. Are there things those of us who are family or friends can do to support that veteran to enable them to take the first step?

 

Jeff Cathey:                I think so, Gregg. I think beside lending them a few dollars is to really get them into the community and even the SCORE. The senior former executives that are out there in most markets around the country that lend their expertise, so they have come and gone in their business entrepreneurship and been successful, and they know what the minefields are, and they know what the success metrics are. These are companies big and small. If you look back at current or recent executives, CEO's of large companies like Lockheed Martin, and FedEx, and Proctor and Gamble—Proctor and Gamble's Bob McDonald is a West Point graduate who was most recent secretary of the VA. And so, these are good leaders. Bank of America was run by a Marine, Hugh McColl, General Motors same thing. And so, they all somewhere in there whether they served like I did for 29 years or they came in and did an honorable service for four years and then left, and struck out on their own.

 

                                   As I said, everybody's wanting to support the troops and more than just writing a check. So, if you get in the local area, what is it that community ... and these are where communities can be led by all of us as collaborators and integrators through the economic development part of a local community, or the Chambers of Commerce and other ways to do this, and figure out where the belly button is to push it to collaborate, because it's just really a bit of an opening of a door just like our CDFI program. Just open that door, get it going, and it's going to flush out in the right direction. And it's really just the socialization, sort of a networking, the exchange of ideas, the engagement. As I said, these veterans and these former servicemen, they're going to come and they're going to contribute. They're going to show up early, they're going to wrap it up, they're going to work on a weekend, they're going to figure it out until it goes. And just a little bit of a push from those in the know, this is an economic stimulator, this is a very good and a righteous way to help veterans reintegrate into the community and not be so isolated.

 

Kate Delaney:            I can only image what it's going to look like in 10 years, so exciting. Jeff Cathey, Senior Military Affairs Executive for Bank of America, former Navy captain. Thanks so much for joining us.

 

Jeff Cathey:               Kate, thank you very much. Gregg, likewise.

 

Narrator:                    Thanks for listening to “the Heartbeat of Main Str”et" with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.comand Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

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Halloween Tips for Small Business: “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Episode 11

 

Is your business making the most of the season? Tune in to the latest podcast episode from “The Heartbeat of Main Street” to find out. No tricks – just treats and must-have tips from Small Business Community contributor, Steve Strauss.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Narrator:                     Welcome to "The Heartbeat of Main Street," with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com, and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I am here, on "The Heartbeat of Main Street," with ForbesBooks and Bank of America, with Steve Strauss. He's the best-selling author of the book Small Business Bible and just wrote an article for USA Today called Tricky Halloween Season Can Be a Treat for Small Businesses. First of all, Steve, tell us about the story. For how long has Halloween been a significant holiday for small businesses?

 

Steve Strauss:            Well, first of all, Gregg, thank you for having me. Great to be here. Love the show and happy to be on it. Yeah, I was talking to my editor and we were talking about upcoming events. I always try to make the column timely. I've been writing it for a long time, and Halloween was a little ways away. When you start talking about Halloween, it turns out Halloween has changed significantly, especially in the last 10 years or so. Look, not to date myself too much, but it will never be the holiday it was when we, as kids, ran rampant over hills and dales.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And made our own costumes out of junk in the garage or what have you.

 

Steve Strauss:            Right. Yeah, it's increasingly interestingly become an adult holiday in a lot of ways. I saw this one statistic that said since 2009, Halloween spending by adults has doubled from about four billion to almost 10 billion, actually almost tripled. Last year half of all adults bought Halloween costumes. And I love this stat, twenty percent of us plan on outfitting our pets in Halloween costumes, so it's definitely changed.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well and the whole pet market, that's a whole other conversation we could have because

 

Steve Strauss:            Right

 

Gregg Stebben:           That is a fast growing market as well, I understand.

 

Steve Strauss:            Absolutely, so yeah I think it's definitely changed and it's for the small business person, that presents an opportunity, and that's what we tried to cover in that column.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well, so my first question for you, Steve, given how much Halloween spending is growing particularly among adults, here's my big question, how come I'm getting invited to the wrong parties?

 

Steve Strauss:            I don't know. You'd have to ask yourself that question.

 

Gregg Stebben:          So, then in all seriousness, I mean there's a chart in USA Today with your article that shows, spending in 2005, $3.3 billion in 2005, and 2018 projected $9 billion, so tripling in 13 years. That's a pretty exciting market, if I own a small business or I'm an entrepreneur, I want to take advantage of that so what kinds of things do I need to know? And I'm glad you published this a little early. You mentioned it being a little early, but the fact that its early gives me a little time as a small business owner to actually take advantage of the lessons in your article, and maybe not plan something that's a bad idea. So let's talk about some good ideas first.

 

Steve Strauss:            Sure, there really are all sorts of things. It's just the idea of getting into the holiday spirit, and this is a great holiday because, it's a nondenominational holiday. Who doesn't like Halloween, right? Decorating the store or even the office in some Halloween decorations, for example is a really easy thing to do. Adding a little orange and black to the windows, or putting pumpkins on the stoop, whatever the case may be. You know just adding Halloween.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Right, and going to a party store to find great decorations is also, it's an hour of time, but it's going to make a big difference.

 

Steve Strauss:            Well yeah, and then you're creating kind of a culture and a vibe around your store, that it's a fun place to be. Of course this applies to a retail store, for sure. But it can also apply to an office, also the other advantage of it is besides getting your customers excited, and maybe giving them a reason to come shop with you if you want to start stocking supplies that are maybe a little Halloween, or beyond that you can just create a culture in your office that allows people to have fun. So maybe some of your employees dress up, and you have some decorations in the office, and people who come in to your office also are in the holiday spirit. It creates a nice, happy thing. People like happy offices, and happy offices create happy employees, and happy employees create happy customers. Happy customers are repeat customers. So it works all the way around.

 

Gregg Stebben:          What a beautiful recipe you've come up with there.

 

                                   You know, I was actually visiting a friend who is in the medical services, so in a sense retail, in the sense that they have medical professionals and clients or patients come to visit, and what they were doing that I thought was really fascinating is, they're having the medical staff and the office staff have a pumpkin carving contest, and the clients get to vote in advance on who will carve the best pumpkin.

 

                                   RELATED CONTENT: How to Host a Successful Event for Your Small Business

 

Steve Strauss:            So that's a great idea. I love that idea. And aside from making it festive, and fun for the customers and all of those things, it does double duty as something that you can post on your social. You know, you have this great pumpkin carving contest and then next thing you know it's on your Instagram page, or on your Facebook page, and you're getting a little more love that way from it as well, I suppose.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well, and in fact they're even leveraging it in social media before Halloween and before the pumpkin carving contest because, they're promoting it in social media now. And people are actually betting, and it's becoming a rivalry and so this kind of good-natured competition, which is also great in social media to build some anticipation, and excitement, and get attention. So it's worked out really well for them, and I think even the people in the contest who are carving the pumpkins are kind of sharing little teases of their designs, and things like that, so it's got a lot of leverage leading up to Halloween, and then of course they'll have the leverage afterwards, and the engagement with the customer.

 

                                   RELATED CONTENT: The Small Business Owner's Guide to Social Media

 

Steve Strauss:            I think that word that you just used, engagement is so key. When we talk about social media, and we talk about using social media to promote your business and get some attention to your business, the word we use is engagement. Well what is engagement? You don't want to just tell people oh I'm having a sale. You don't want to just talk about your business. But if you're having a contest it's a nice thing to be sharing, and doing. Posting the pumpkins or posting the costume contest, and while people are paying attention to you it's not show off-y, it's not salesy, and so it really works to create some social media love, I think.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yeah and the interesting thing about this contest is it's actually two contests, because there's the pumpkin carving contest and then they're getting the patients, or the customers involved by letting them, in a sense, bet on who the winner will be in advance, so that's another contest. So everybody has a way of winning here. So, if I'm kind of a curmudgeonly person and I own a small business, does it say something about me or have a negative impact if I do nothing for Halloween, and encourage nothing, either for my customers in my store or amongst my employees, even if we're in an office setting?

 

Steve Strauss:            I don't think it says something negative about you, but I think you're missing really a great opportunity. There is so much competition now for people's attention in the small business world. I'm going to say there's 30 million businesses in the United States, 99% are small businesses and that's not even looking at the online world. That's not even looking at the competition you face, you know, the internet. And then getting people's attention and getting them to find, and choose you is increasingly challenging for the small business person. So a holiday like Halloween presents you with an opportunity to standout a little bit.

 

                                   To get some attention, as we were just talking about, to get people to pay attention to you, notice you. And if you really want to do it right and you have the kind of store that lends itself to this, then you start stocking some Halloween treats, or themed items, or themed products, and then you're creating another profit center out of the Halloween holiday. So it's an opportunity. I don't think anyone's going to think bad of you if you don't do Halloween at your store, but they'll think better of you if you do. That's how I see it. Would you agree, disagree?

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well I think that's really well said. I mean it is a lost opportunity, and in business can you afford to lose opportunity? Especially given the amount of money and enthusiasm we talked about, $3.3 billion in 2005 up to $9 billion in spending in 2018.

 

                                   We're talking with Steve Strauss, here on "The Heartbeat Of Main Street," with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. He's the bestselling author of The Small Business Bible, he's written 16 other books as well. He's USA Today's small business columnist, so you've certainly seen him there. He's also a keynote speaker, an entrepreneur, a thought leader, a spokesperson. He's at mrallbiz.com, @stevestrauss on Twitter and Steve Strauss on LinkedIn, as well @theselfemployed on Facebook. He's just recently written a story as one of his columns for USA Today, Tricky Halloween Season Can be a Treat for Small Businesses.

 

                                   I want to change gears here a little bit, Steve, and I want to ask, what are the worst things you've seen or heard small businesses do to take advantage of Halloween? What could I do to really shoot myself in the foot, because I want to make sure I avoid that.

 

Steve Strauss:            One thing you want to avoid doing is, people like to encourage costumes, for example, at the store, but you have to have, I think, a limit on what you allow and that's hard to do. You don't want to censor your employees and nevertheless, you don't want them to wear something to a costume contest, or maybe it's the week of Halloween and you're letting everyone dress up, and that seems really festive, and then all of a sudden they come into the store wearing something inappropriate. In whatever way, maybe it's political, or maybe it's religious, or maybe it doesn't look right, whatever the case may be. Then you don't want to have to reprimand your employee, or maybe you're not there and they're wearing this at the store and, your employees are a part of your brand.

 

Gregg Stebben:          So, the lesson here is set ground rules for people so they understand that these things are great, these are off limits, this is why they're off limits, make it common sense and just tell them in advance so you don't have to correct them later.

 

Steve Strauss:            Absolutely, and I do think that's the biggest mistake I've seen. Other mistakes people can make is not using social media right. Social media is a challenge for a lot of small businesses. They want to use it. They know they're supposed to use it. That message certainly has gotten through, but figuring out how to use it effectively during a holiday, like Halloween, it can be the challenge. So it's not as much of a mistake, as again when we were just talking about, lost opportunities. If you are doing something within your store to promote Halloween, maybe you even have a Halloween sale make sure you're using your social properly to get that message out there and, you're sharing your costume contest and things like that because it would be a waste to do those great things in the store in the other hand and, not share them and not get the social media attention you might be able to get out of it as well.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I'm glad you brought up the use of social media because when you think about a holiday, like Halloween, it’s easy to imagine a retail store, or an office where people are working together so there's some physicality to it, but what tips can we offer to businesses that are online? Or even b-to-b businesses who might want to use this, not in a retail environment but with their customers even though their customers, maybe their customer are all remote. Are there things they can do as well? Starting probably with social media.

 

Steve Strauss:            Absolutely, well let’s think about how we can use the online world to grow our business, and then how Halloween might play into that. So one thing you can do is, most of us have an e-newsletter, and if we’re good with our e-newsletter we're using the 80/20 rule, and the 80/20 rule in this case is you want to make 80% of your newsletter about your customer, about what they're thinking about, about what they're doing, or in this case maybe about Halloween and 20% about you and your sale and your business. If you use that ratio, then you can use Halloween in your e-newsletter, and maybe you create some Halloween themed sales, or maybe you have some Halloween themed content, or you found some content online that you just thought your customers might find interesting, you share it via your e-newsletter. And then you use a Halloween template for your e-newsletter and then you're all of a sudden part of the Halloween conversation.

 

                                   I think that's really what we're talking about. We want to be part of the conversation, not be left out of the conversation. And it's not so hard to do online, you can update your website with some appropriate decorations or sales or products or things like that, but I really think the idea of using your e-newsletter as a way to get ahead, and get attention works really well.

 

Gregg Stebben:          We're talking with Steve Strauss, he's the best-selling author of the Small Business Bible. He's also USA Today's small business columnist, and we're talking about a column he wrote for USA Today, Tricky Halloween Season Can be a Treat for Small Businesses. Steve, you actually gave me an interesting idea, which is, and this is probably more for someone in the b-to-b environment, but what you might do, is take your article from USA Today and send it to your customers with the idea of “hey did you know how big a market Halloween is? I wanted to make sure you saw this so you are thinking about how to take advantage of it for your business.”

 

Steve Strauss:             Well I think that's a fine idea.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I mean I thought you might. But in all seriousness sometimes our customers love it when they see we're thinking of them and we've identified something that can help them in their business, even though it has nothing to do with them buying something more from us.

 

Steve Strauss:            Malcolm Gladwell has a name for what you're talking about, and it is connectors, and to be really good as a connector, to create tipping points in your business, means that you're going to be sharing information to your customers that have nothing to do with you, but has everything to do with them. So this idea that you just shared, whether it's my column or any column, or any kind of content to grow their business

 

Gregg Stebben:          Let's stick with your column.

 

Steve Strauss:            Great. I agree, that's a fine idea. You take my column and you share it with your customers, and here if you have a b-to-b business and here’s some ideas you can use in your business, well they're going to love you for that. And you can certainly do that and it makes a lot of sense, and it's going to create good will and good will goes a long way in a lot of ways.

 

Gregg Stebben:          All right, so we're talking about Halloween it's kind of obvious, right? I mean it's a holiday that almost everybody gets excited about it. There's opportunity for a lot of participation and engagement, but I also want to kind of step back and talk theoretically about how do I think about, and identify other opportunities like this for my small business? You know Halloween's a national thing, and everybody's participating at the same time, so of course you, as the USA Today small business columnist, are going to write about it because it's a big deal. But sometimes there's local events or local news that we can take advantage of as well. Do you have any tips for people so that they can just hone their ears and eyes for watching for those opportunities, so they don't miss out on those?

 

Steve Strauss:            Yeah, I think that's a really good point, and it's a matter of being tuned into your community, so if you're not part of the local Chamber of Commerce or business association, I think it would behoove you to do that, for all sorts of reasons. There's networking opportunities available, and there's business seminars that would be available, and you're going to learn about activities that you otherwise may not know about and then you can become part of that community. In the case of Halloween, here's one thing you can do, because kids now go to safe places to trick or treat, one idea you might want to think about is using your store or your office or your business to become part of that. So you team up with other businesses in your area and you decide you're going to be a Halloween go to place, and you're really going to decorate and you're going to hand out candy on October 31st, and you're going to be a destination.

 

                                   And then you're going to one, work with other companies, other businesses, you're going to make those connections, that's great. Two, parents are going to love you and you're going to get the word out that you're going to be part of this community, and three, you're part of the community. So this idea of working with the community on a very local level certainly reaps a lot of benefits.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And to that end, a friend of mine with some small children just told me that she took her kids over the weekend, so really early, to a trunk or treat.

 

Steve Strauss:            What is a trunk or treat?

 

Gregg Stebben:          I said "What is a trunk or treat?" Yeah I didn't know either, but it was at a, it was exactly following along with what you just said. A group of businesses opened up their parking lot for a trunk or treat and the idea here, this might be a local thing just in my community, but the kids and the parents each decorate the trunk of the car, that's the trunk, and then they fill it with candy, the kids show up in costumes and they all run from car to car to car to car, but it's in a sense been vetted for safety. It's a safe environment. You come and you park and there's no more cars. And I'm guessing it's all parents that know each other, or clients of the businesses so you're not worried about any candy problems or anything. And that would be a great opportunity for a company with a parking lot, and if you don't have a parking lot, you could certainly get together with other businesses and have a Halloween party that worked the same way but within your retail establishments.

 

Steve Strauss:            That's a very clever idea.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I wish I could claim it but, I'm just showing up to the next one for the candy.

 

Steve Strauss:            You know my sweet grandfather just, apropos just a little bit, had in his trunk this box called the magic box, and whenever he would drive over to the house and we would see him, he would open up his trunk and we'd open the magic box, and the magic box was always full of candy. And it was never empty, and I guess at eight years old we never figured it out but we thought it was the greatest thing we ever knew. So we were trunk or treating all year long with my grandfather.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Little did your grandfather know that he invented trunk or treat.

 

Steve Strauss:            Right.

 

Gregg Stebben:          All right, we're talking with Steve Strauss. This is "The Heartbeat of Main Street" with ForbesBooks and Bank of America, he's the best-selling author of the Small Business Bible. He's USA Today's small business columnist. I want to ask one last question. You have such a deep background in small business, and I'm just wondering away from the subject of holidays and Halloween what is the single greatest piece of advice you could offer our listeners that you have learned about small business, that you wish everyone who was a small business owner knew and knew today?

 

Steve Strauss:            I love that question and I'm going to give you an answer kind of like you couldn't take credit for trunk or treat I can't take credit for this tip, but it's nevertheless the best tip anyone ever gave me so. One of the first books I ever read when I was getting ready to start my first business and this is back when I was practicing law. I don't anymore.

 

Gregg Stebben:          That came from left field. I wasn't expecting that.

 

Steve Strauss:            Many years ago I came to my senses and I don't practice anymore, but my first business was my own law firm and at the time I was working at a big law firm in the big city, quote unquote, making the big bucks and I was big time unhappy. I really hated it, so I was trying to figure out how to venture off and start my own law firm.

 

                                    So I read a book called Making a Living Without a Job, by a woman named Barbara Winter, and it kind of just gave me the blue print for how to leave the gig I was in and start what I really wanted to do which was be my own boss. And I love this book, and one of the things Barbara said in that book is you need to have multiple profit centers.

 

                                   If you're going to be successful in your business whether you're going to be a solopreneur or you're going to have 50 people work for you, you need multiple profit centers. That is, it's kind of like a stock, you'd never just own one stock because that stock could go up and that stock could go down. You diversify your portfolio so that when one part of your portfolio might be down a little bit, the other part is up. The same idea is true in our businesses, You want three or four or five different ways of bringing money in the door, so in the case of my law firm I started out doing a wills and trust practice, and then I started doing a bankruptcy practice, then I started doing a little p.i. I did a little bit of everything, but when one part was down the other part was up and when that part was down the other part was up. And it kept money coming in the door all year long, and I think for any small business, I think it's one of the best things you can do, cause it's going to ensure your long term viability, it's going to keep your business more interesting and more creative for you, you're going to have a more diversified client base. So to me that's what I think works best. If I was going to give one tip, I think that's my favorite tip ever.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And you know what's really fascinating about that, Steve Strauss, is here's multiple revenue streams. No, in all seriousness, I think

 

Steve Strauss:            It's true.

 

Gregg Stebben:          You model this right? Best-selling author Small Business Bible, he's written 16 other books, there's 17 streams of revenue. USA Today small business columnist, another stream of revenue. A global speaker, a keynote speaker, there's another source of revenue. Entrepreneur so you probably have your fingers in other pies, entrepreneurially speaking. You're also a spokesperson, so you have multiple ways of bringing money in under the umbrella of Steve Strauss. His website is mrallbiz.com it's M R A L L B I Z.com. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn @SteveStrauss on Facebook, oh you'll love this now that you heard what you just heard, the ex-lawyer is on Facebook @theselfemployed. It all makes so much sense now Steve. Thanks

 

Steve Strauss:            I practice what I preach.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yeah thanks for joining us. Thanks for talking about Halloween and things we can do and things we should avoid within that holiday, and how to take advantage of other events and holidays around us. Thanks so much for being here.

 

Steve Strauss:            My pleasure. Thanks for having me and keep up the great work.

 

Narrator:                     Thanks for listening to "The Heartbeat of Main Street" with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

 

 

About Steve StraussSteve Strauss Headshot New.png

 

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 also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success. © Steven D. Strauss.

 

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

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

You can listen to the Bank of America Small Business Podcast, hosted by Steve Here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

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Women like Nicole Centeno, CEO and founder of Splendid Spoon, inspire confidence in the young women who work for her.  Nicole is featured in the Bank of America National Women’s Small Business Month video currently running in Times Square and here on the Small Business Community.

 

 

 

 

My name is Nicole Centeno, and I’m the CEO and founder of Splendid Spoon.

 

Women lead differently. We need male leaders, and we need female leaders, and unfortunately, there is a dearth of female leaders, especially at the very top right now, so there’s an imbalance. What I have found growing my business is that I’m able to inspire confidence in the young women who work for me to be truly themselves, and to lead in the way that is truly right for them.

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Much has improved for women small business owners over the past 30 years. At the recent NAWBO 2018 National Women’s Business Conference, women business leaders discussed this progress and remaining challenges, with a spotlight on HR5050. HR5050 addressed the needs of women entrepreneurs and business owners – giving them recognition and resources, while eliminating discriminatory lending practices. On this episode of "The Heartbeat of Main Street," Jill Calabrese Bain discusses the recent conference, the doors opened by HR5050, and the path forward.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Jill:                  The big buzz at the conference this year was around the celebration of a very special anniversary if you work in the small business space, and that was the passage of the Women Business Ownership Act, which is really commonly referred to as HR 5050. Thanks to folks within NAWBO who helped get this legislation passed, it was, for the first time, the ability for a woman to apply for and secure credit without having a male relative cosign. It was not that long ago, it was in 1988, so it was a very short 30 years ago.

 

Narrator:          Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com, and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Gregg:             I'm here with Jill Calabrese Bain, she's the Managing Director, Head of Wealth Management Banking and Lending for Bank of America. This, of course, is “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America.

 

                        Jill, welcome to the show. You were just out in Spokane, Washington, and you were speaking at the annual conference for the National Association of Women Business Owners, or NAWBO. Welcome home, first of all. Tell us about the conference starting with the theme and what you were speaking about while you were there.

 

Jill:                  Great. Thank you Gregg. It was really an exciting time for us. We've been partnering with the National Association of Women Business Owners, informally known as NAWBO, for many, many years. Every single year they have and host an annual conference. We've had the pleasure of hosting that conference with them for the past six years.

 

                        For those who don't know, NAWBO has been in existence for many decades. It's just celebrated its 43rd year. They really came together, initially, in the early '70s as a way for women entrepreneurs to come together, to share best practices, to talk about public policy, so we were out there together in Spokane, Washington. The really wonderful thing about the conference is that it creates an opportunity for women business owners across the US, and sometimes across the globe, to come together and tackle issues, conversations, what in fact is facing small business owners today. They have the opportunity to spend time on different thought leadership pieces with different presenters, and really different opportunities not only to talk about what the challenges, but what are some of the successes that they see, and how do they share that as a best practice?

 

                        We're always happy to partner with those guys, and this year the theme of the conference was Work Well, Live Well. The way I think about it, if you want to live well you’ve got to work better, and if you want to work well you need to live better, so that theme was completely integrated. Female entrepreneurs they have a journey, it's really never a destination, they're all running businesses, they're all managing households, they're giving back to their communities, and they're advocating for a lot of different causes, so this was really an opportunity to take a pause for just a bit, have an opportunity to refocus, nurture what it is that they're doing. We were just excited because it really brings together wellness, and wholeness, and how we approach our business from a strategic perspective, but also what we need to do every single day to deliver for clients. 

 

                        This year the keynote speaker was Liz Gilbert. Many might know Liz as the author of the bestselling book Eat, Pray, Love, which-

 

Gregg:             Who doesn't? Who doesn't know her as the author of Eat, Pray, Love?

 

Jill:                  Exactly. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to spend a little time with Liz and introduce her to the broader group of women business owners. She really encouraged everyone to embrace their curiosity, and let go of certain things. She really showed everyone how to be creative, tackle what they do, to face down what they most fear, so she was just a great speaker, and great representation of the theme Work Well, Live Well.

 

Gregg:             You've been going to this conference, it sounds like, for many years. I'm curious to know how you found this year's conference relative to others? What were particular themes, or issues that women were talking about this year that seemed to be new issues or new topics?

 

Jill:                  Gregg, it's always interesting. There's one prevailing theme, no matter if it's male or female, but the prevailing theme is always around access to capital. Although I would say, in reflection, that women have made significant progress over the years, in fact, we just released the Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight that we issue annually and that really takes a look at goals, and challenges, and experiences of women. What was most interesting to many of us is that this year's report found that while an overwhelming majority of women business owners believe access to capital has improved over the last decade—in fact 84% of them believe it improved—the majority still feels like it is more difficult to secure financing than it is for their male counterparts.

 

                        The big buzz at the conference this year was around the celebration of a very special anniversary if you work in the small business space, and that was the passage of the Women Business Ownership Act, which is really commonly referred to as HR 5050. Thanks to folks within NAWBO who helped get this legislation passed it was, for the first time, the ability for a woman to apply for and secure credit without having a male relative cosign. Think about that.

 

Gregg:             I have a hard time even thinking of that as being possible in my lifetime, and I have a feeling you're going to tell me it wasn't that long ago that that was passed. What year was that?

 

Jill:                  It was not that long ago, it was in 1988, so it was a very short 30 years ago. When I have this conversation with my children who are teenagers they can't even fathom this as a thing.

 

Gregg:             I'm not a teenager and I'm having the same problem.

 

Jill:                  That is cause for celebration, but it is a chance to look back and say, "Okay, well progress has been made over the past 30 years, but there is still so much work to be done."

 

Gregg:             I guess, one of my questions, because I have to be honest and I'm sure partially because I'm a man and wasn't impacted by this in the way that women business owners were, it took a law to make that possible? Or it took a law to remove the requirement legally?

 

Jill:                  It took the passage of legislation to enable the ability and to eliminate the barriers that once existed around securing credit, so that is, in fact, what it was meant to do. What was really wonderful is that we had about five women who were really the pioneers of helping to support this legislation 30 years ago and they were all there at the conference this year, and they all got to tell a little bit of their story, and it was absolutely fascinating, and educational, and inspirational to hear what their experience was, and a real lesson for women business owners today that you never really can give up. You always have to go after your passion.

 

Gregg:             It also seems, to me, that it's an opportunity for younger entrepreneurs, and younger business owners, in this case women entrepreneurs and women small business owners, to really understand you don't want to take things for granted that you have today. As you said, you also want to look ahead and say, "You know, there's still things that are unjust, or there are still any qualities, and we have to keep working on those too. Look, it may be a lot easier for women today, but the playing field should be level, and we have to keep working."

 

Jill:                  Yeah, and I believe that an organization like NAWBO does create the ability to pull together women such that there is critical mass and thinking around a topical issue, and gives us an opportunity nationally to be better informed around what it is that we could do differently to help accelerate growth for women. We do know that women are the fastest-growing segment of the small-business space and of the small business economy.

 

Gregg:             Even more reasons to encourage them for all kinds of reasons, because it's the right thing to do, but it's also better for all of us including the economy itself.

 

Jill:                   Exactly.

 

Gregg:             Interesting.

 

                        Previous to this year's conference, what have been themes even the actual formal themes of the conferences? What have been the topics of big buzz? Obviously, access to capital always, and this being the 30th anniversary of HR 5050, but can you just think back and hit on a couple of other major themes, so we get a sense of what these events are like, and the things that are on the minds on the members of NAWBO?

 

Jill:                  Yeah, absolutely. The women business owners are always looking for opportunities for how do they improve upon themselves, and how do they improve upon what they can do for their businesses, and what they can do for their communities? The conferences always take on different themes, the themes that are always critical and essential for women. One thing that has struck me over the years is just the diversity in the type of businesses that we see, and it's everything from what one might think of nontraditional for women like construction management, to legal, to HR staffing.

 

                       The beauty of the opportunity to get together on an annual basis, and this always comes through, is that despite the fact that we might have somebody who is managing a bakery versus somebody who is managing a dental practice, some of the themes are always the same. Everyone is very proficient at whatever their technical discipline is, but then as it relates to business, that's where sometimes they need more support. How do we think about and plan for the next 12 months, the next 18 months? Throughout the conferences there are breakout sessions, and workshops that really hone in on wherever a business owner is in the maturity of their business, there's usually something for them that will allow them to think about: how do we get to that next level?

 

Gregg:             You know, what's interesting as you're talking it seems, to me, that one of the obvious things for you and I to talk about is why women entrepreneurs and small business owners who are not members of NAWBO should really consider it. I want to throw out the website for NAWBO, it's nawbo.org. I'm talking with Jill Calabrese Bain. Of course, we're here on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America.

 

                        Can you speak to the kinds of benefits women might immediately enjoy as a result of becoming a member of NAWBO? Do you hear from women there, "Oh, I just joined in the last year, and here's how it helped me, and boy was I surprised at how much value I got out of this"?

 

Jill:                  Yeah, absolutely. It's always a great opportunity to speak directly to women business owners, and I have that opportunity with my colleagues across Bank of America and Merrill Lynch US Trust every year. What we hear is that they get a lot of leverage and opportunity within their own community, so if they're Chicago-based, or Columbus, Ohio based, or Cincinnati-based, wherever they might be there's a local network that they built, and then with the umbrella of NAWBO, at national level, there's opportunity then to not only learn from business owners in your community, but then learn from business owners across the country. NAWBO does make available in addition to local membership access to different partnerships and different alliances, and how you might be able to secure thought leadership on a topic that you might not be able to secure on your own. There's online resources, and there's also timely communications of things that impact business owners across the board.

 

                        What I would say is that I think there's a great local and national opportunity that might not otherwise be afforded, and there's tons of great networking opportunities, and the ability to really step up in your community, or at a national level to address and influence policy.

 

Gregg:             What's interesting about this is as you're talking about NAWBO and Bank of America's long relationship with NAWBO I'm realizing that for many small business owners and entrepreneurs there can be a tendency to actually put your head down, even though in this interview we're really focused on women because NAWBO of course is the National Association of Women Business Owners, but for both men and women for many entrepreneurs and small business owners there's a tendency to just put your head down and just keep working, and going at it alone. One of the things I'd like to hear you talk about both in terms of women supporting women but small business owners getting support from a community, wherever that community may be, the benefits of not just putting your head down and going it alone, but really getting involved in a larger community, not just for what you can get from the community, but what you can also give, and by giving getting even more.

 

Jill:                  I think that's a really great point. What happens with the business owners and anyone who works within any type of establishment, what happens is we always get focused on what is the day-to-day necessary thing that needs to happen or else your business shuts down? What are all the tactical things that you need to do to make sure that your employees are happy, your clients are happy? Sometimes what that doesn't afford us the opportunity to do is take a step back, and think very strategically about the business, and what the priorities are both personally and professionally because those two do interact with one another.

 

                       When business owners allow themselves to take a broader view of their business, to think more strategically, they can better plan for the future. They can better plan for the way the market might be changing around them, or the competitive or client appetite, or dynamic might be. It's so critically important to be able to work and live well together such that we afford ourselves the opportunity to think about our business, and what it is that we want to do short-term and long-term. That goes for all business owners and anyone who's part of a business establishment.

 

Gregg:             That's really well said. I'm talking with Jill Calabrese Bain, she's the Managing Director, Head of Wealth Management Banking and Lending at Bank of America. This is “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America.

 

                        Jill was just at the annual conference of the National Association of Women Business Owners or NAWBO, NAWBO's at nawbo.org. What's interesting, when you talk about not just looking at what I need to do today to make my business a success, but looking into the future and being part of a community to do that. I would imagine for some small business owners there's both “I don't know what to do next,” but “I don't even know how to go about figuring out how to know what to do next.” I think just putting yourself in a position of being part of a group just surrounds you with lots of people who have been where you have been, and just formally, or informally having those conversations is going to empower you, and then give you a group of people to check in with so that they can support you in going to the next level, or the next step, and you can then do the same for others.

 

Jill:                  Yeah, absolutely Gregg. I think that's so well said because one of the biggest challenges for business owners, male and female alike, is that they don't often ask for help. There's nothing wrong with asking for help to taking a little bit of a pause, looking around, looking at your network and saying, "Okay, there is someone who has walked in my shoes, let me just ask." I know that you probably feel the same way, when somebody raises their hand and asks for help we'll always help them, we'll always talk to them. That's really a culture that I believe that we need to continue to nurture.

 

Gregg:             Yes, and when you're part of an organization like this it's actually one of the things that's at the core of the organization is I help you, you help me, we all help each other, and we succeed together.

 

                        I want to ask a question just based on your experience at the NAWBO annual conference, could you pick one piece of advice, or one lesson learned that you learned at this event, or you heard others talking about that you wish all small business owners and entrepreneurs knew? Was there one key thing that you think could make a difference for almost anyone who owns a small business?

 

Jill:                  That is such an important question. I think of really two things that come to mind just based upon our experience at Bank of America with clients. Business owners really need to create a plan, but essentially goals and strategies that are achievable and measurable in both the short-term and the long-term. The second thing I would say is never give up. Just to provide some context around that, when we set goals for ourselves that we really can't measure and seem out of the spectrum of possibility that just doesn't create a lot of confidence, and doesn't really keep us on the right path. When we see business owners are very clear on what it is that they would like to be able to experience, and they have a measurable goal around it then they're going to be willing to try different things because if plan A doesn't work, and we know that a lot of times plan A does not work, that's not a failing, but there's an inherent learning in that around how to move forward. I would say create a plan that's actionable and measurable and two, don't give up.

 

Gregg:             That's really great advice. I'm talking with Jill Calabrese Bain Managing Director, Head of Wealth Management Banking and Lending at Bank of America.

                        I want to take this one step further Jill, and that is what kinds of things is Bank of America doing with small business owners, women small business owners beyond things like the NAWBO partnership?

 

Jill:                  I am so lucky to work for the company that I do, and at Bank of America we are committed to providing women entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners with the tools, advice, and funding that they need to be successful. When we think about our portfolio of clients we have 3.3 million small business clients, 40 percent of them are women, and so I know I don't need to do the math, but that's over ... we have the opportunity to serve over 1 million small business owner clients. When we think about the opportunity that we have in front of us, and the learnings that we have, we've been able to build and tailor programs that really support women.

 

                        For instance, we have The Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program. Through that program we've loaned over $40 million to nearly 2000 women business owners since 2014. We also have a supplier diversity program, $2 billion supplier diversity program where we extend opportunities to women business owners, and we have other programs, both domestic and globally, global ambassador Cherie Blair. These are all foundations for women to help them succeed. Last but not least, what I'm really excited about is just this past April we announced a partnership with Cornell University to launch the Bank of America Institute for Women's Entrepreneurship at Cornell. This is an amazing opportunity where we are establishing an online learning portal that provides women at all stages of their development, and their entrepreneurial skill set with more knowledge, more resources. It is a 12-month certification course, there is no fee up front, or no fee at all to actually participate, and we really are looking to help build and manage into a small part in helping women be successful.

 

Gregg:             You shared a lot of different things with us. Is there one place on the Bank of America website where women can go to find out about all of these programs?

 

Jill:                  All of these programs are on the website, bankofamerica/women, and anyone can access them, and look at any of the programs that we sponsor or support, so I encourage everyone to check that out.

 

                        In closing Gregg, just thinking about this conversation and thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to have the talk today, but we believe it is critically important for us to invest in women. When we invest in women we invest in our communities, and we invest in our future.

 

Gregg:             That's really well said. Jill Calabrese Bain, we're here with “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks, and Bank of America, she's the Managing Director, Head of Wealth Management Banking and Lending. She was just at the annual conference of the National Association of Women Business Owners or NAWBO, NAWBO's at nawbo.org, and she did the opening remarks for Elizabeth Gilbert who, of course, everyone knows as the author of Eat, Pray, Love and was portrayed in film by Julia Roberts, which has to be a thrill, in of itself.

 

                        Jill, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Jill:                  Thanks so much, Gregg. I enjoyed it, thank you very much.

 

Speaker 2:       Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com, and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Read next:

Gaining access to capital is not as difficult as it may seem, but you should make sure you’re checking all the right boxes. In this podcast, Charlotte Business Resources sat down with Jacob Pezold from Bank of America to dive into the 5 C’s of credit. Tune in to find out what you need to do before applying for a loan.

 

Listen here!

 

Joseph:           Hey, I’m Joseph and I’ll be hosting this episode of CBR’s B2U Podcast, presented by cbrbiz.com. Bringing Charlotte’s business resources directly to you. Running a small business is no easy feat. From staffing to operations to sales, it all falls on you as the business owner. And the same is true for your financials. And when we’re just getting started, access to capital can be very critical and challenging, but it’s accessible if you understand what banks are actually looking for. In today’s podcast, we’re going to be helping you do just that. And now, I’d like to welcome today’s special guest, Jacob Pezold, small business banking manager for Bank of America. Jacob, thanks for joining us today.

 

Jacob:             Thanks for having me, Joseph.

 

Joseph:           To get started, can you tell our guests a little bit about yourself?

 

Jacob:             Yeah, thanks. Thanks for having me again. I’m the small business market manager for Bank of America here locally. I reside here in Charlotte and oversee the Charlotte Market for all our clients in the small business segment. And I’ve been here in the local market for going on about three years.

 

Joseph:           Great. So Jacob, what do banks look for when considering a new credit application?

 

Jacob:             Joseph, that’s a great question. We look at numerous things. Some of the most important that we focus on is the five C’s of credit, that’s what we call it. So it’s capacity, capital, collateral, conditions, and character. So, capacity. Capacity is essentially the analysis of whether or not the business has the financial capacity to support the debt and expenses. Typically a business we want to show from an income perspective has a dollar and a quarter coming in to support every dollar going out in debt payment. The extra 25 cents in question there, it’s there to support and provide a cushion for the business to absorb unexpected expenses or a downturn in the economy.

 

Joseph:           Okay.

 

Jacob:             Capital. So what’s capital? Capital is the business’s capital assets, such as cash and equipment. And what we’re looking at is whether or not there’s enough there to help support the financing that you need, right? That’s what backs the loan and the asset that you’re looking for. 

 

                       RELATED CONTENT:  Learn more: Learn about working capital and why it's important. 

 

Joseph:           Okay.

 

Jacob:             You and others may have invested capital in your business, but how much? Right? So the answer says a lot about whether the business is one in which the banks want to invest.

 

        1. Collateral. So collateral is a…there’s many forms of collateral. Some of the key ones in components that we look for from a business finance perspective is accounts receivable, inventory, cash, equipment, and commercial real estate. Those are all acceptable forms of collateral that banks typically look forward to leverage to secure financing.

 

Joseph:           Okay.

 

Jacob:             In addition to that, we like to look at the value of the collateral in comparison to the loan and use that as a measurement on the amount we’ll extend out.

 

Joseph:           Makes Sense.

 

Jacob:             Absolutely. Conditions. So we talked about conditions. Conditions are sometimes things that are outside or are items that are outside the control of the business, such as the economy, trends in your specific industry and any pending legislation relative to your business are all conditions that we evaluate. A lot of these factors are out of your control at times, and they may affect your ability to make payments. And then lastly, character. Character is rather robust and it is an incredibly important and a key conversation for us today. So character can include experience in owning and operating a business that you’re in, and then ultimately your personal credit history, which is incredibly important in what banks will consider. Personal integrity and good standing are essential for starting out with obtaining business credit.

 

Joseph:           Okay, that makes sense. So the five C’s flow into what type? If our business owners get everything together with the five C’s, then what type of business loans or financing should they look at? 

 

                       RELATED CONTENT: Get answers and information about business financing. 

 

Jacob:             Yeah, and another great question. There’s so many different forms of credit available to small business owners. Some of the main ones that we see clients leverage and offer vary across the board, right? So there’s also business stages and life cycles. So whether your business is starting out or you’re in growth mode or sustaining or even working on an exit plan, there’s multiple different formats of financing available. Speaking towards clients that may be starting out, right? So we can look at options from a business credit card. And a business credit card is not just necessarily for a client that doesn’t have established credit history, it’s also an excellent cash flow mechanism, right? So, to support the payables process and provide a float for the business to bridge the gap from the receivable process.

 

So, a credit card is also there to establish credit, right? So it could be the first form of credit that you have as a small business owner.

 

Joseph:           Okay.

 

Jacob:             It really is a universal tool that is essential to any business operation. Not only does it provide you a necessary breathing, the breathing room when you’re working through your business cash flow cycle, but it can also provide you with robust rewards if you’re in the right credit program that you can instill back into the business.

 

Joseph:           Makes sense.

 

Jacob:             Yup. And then there’s lines of credit, right? So that’s another really popular form of credit for a small business to use. A line of credit is really a…it’s somewhat of the Swiss army knife of the business finance world. What it can do is provide you ultimately with the monthly cash flow tool, it can provide you the ability to go out and make short-term expenses and handle accordingly. But ultimately what a line of credit is there for is to help bridge the receivable and payable cycle, right? So how quickly can a business get the money paid to them after they’ve paid the money out to render services?

 

Joseph:           Okay.

 

Jacob:             And what a line of credit can do, Joseph, is it will actually give you the ability for the business to float money to itself, and payback accordingly when they receive payment for the work rendered.

 

Joseph:           Okay. So kind of similar to a credit card but a little bit more robust.

 

Jacob:             Yeah, with a credit card, you’re going to want to use that for eligible expenses that a vendor or a client can accept card, right? If not, you would be looking at pretty steep cash advance fees as opposed to with a line of credit, you can advance cash at a low-interest rate.

 

Joseph:           Okay.

 

Jacob:             In comparison. The main difference there is that a credit card, within a statement cycle if it’s paid in full, you don’t pay interest. Lines of credit are…the interest is accumulated from the moment that the cash is advanced, but typically at a lower rate.

 

Joseph:           Okay, makes sense.

 

Jacob:             Yup. And then a secured loan. So a term loan financing is really, it’s there for so many different reasons, all the way from working capital to financing a piece of property, right? And everything in between. So really common needs that a term loan would fit, so if a business is currently leasing a space and paying high rent, I mean being here in Charlotte, we’re in a really competitive real estate market. So all those business owners out there listening know what I’m speaking towards.

 

                       RELATED CONTENT: Buying vs. Leasing Property: What You Need to Know

 

Joseph:           Yeah.

 

Jacob:             Oftentimes, you know, when you’re operating a business, you’re thinking about the day-to-day, but also out there, you’re, paying rent to somebody else. A term loan, you know, either leveraging the Small Business Administration or conventional financing to secure real estate collateral, can really help you build equity in a tangible asset that you can utilize for the long run, right? So build your own equity into a piece of real estate and that’s a really common need for a small business owner looking to leverage term loan financing.

 

Another format would is to use equipment that’s necessary to grow and expand the business, right? So if a client needs to purchase a piece of equipment and doesn’t want to deplete their capital or their cash reserves, it can give them the ability to finance that equipment and grow the business and grow revenue while paying a low monthly fixed cost rate. And then ultimately we can finance working capital, you know, cap cash injection to the business to grow organically. There’s multiple different ways that you can leverage bank financing. I would heavily recommend that you take that opportunity to sit down with your CPA or your accountant and your small business banker at any time you can to discuss your goals when it comes to all those different opportunities.

 

                         RELATED CONTENT:  Get the equipment your business needs.

 

Joseph:           Okay. It does definitely make sense. And so to actually secure credit, we know the importance of having a great credit score or a good one. So what are the things that business owners can do to maintain their good credit score or improve their credit score?

 

Jacob:             Yeah, there’s several things you can do and all of them are somewhat equally important, right? So first and foremost, make sure you pay your bills on time.

 

Joseph:           That’s the biggest one.

 

Jacob:             That’s a big part of the character that we talked about earlier and the ability to pay back, not just creditors, right? So conventional banks and finance companies, but also your vendors. Sometimes our clients or business owners don’t realize that there are vendors and that they can report them just as easily as a creditor can.

 

Joseph:           I didn’t know that.

 

Jacob:             Yeah. And that’s a key difference between a personal credit report and a business credit report is you’re not only just being measured for your payback on conventional credit, but also too from potential vendors. Also, reduce your debt. If you’re showing that you’re consistently over-leveraged and you’re not making any type of principal pay down, it can show a bank or another lender that you’re really not making the right steps to reduce debt and retain more capital. And that can cause a red flag.

 

And then what’s really important ultimately as well as that you’ve got to check your credit report regularly. If you’re not checking it consistently and looking at it and looking how vendors or creditors are reporting you and your creditworthiness, you really are leaving it up to chance. And there’s inaccuracies out there and it’s really important that you’re on top of it and can understand it and check that. And then a big one that’s, I think universal, whether it’s a business or personal credit is, make sure that you have multiple forms of credit and that you can show the repayment history at handling multiple forms of credit. Oftentimes when we pay something down really quickly, we want to close it down and show that, hey, I’ve paid that obligation and I’ve closed the account.

 

It’s really important to not do that.

 

Joseph:           Okay.

 

Jacob:             And the big reason for that is to show that you’ve got your age of your accounts and your ability to hold an account open, is at least scrutinized. So when you pay down an open trade line, like a line of credit or a credit card, first and foremost, don’t close that down from the perspective of an age trade line, but also too, that’s accessible capital for your business that you may need at some point.

 

Joseph:           Okay.

 

Jacob:             Some of the most important parts is to update your business profile, which is a little bit unique in comparison to your standard credit report is making sure that your business profile’s up to date.

 

Joseph:           That makes sense. Now, you kind of mentioned a couple of things that seemed very similar to your personal credit score or your personal credit report.

 

Jacob:             Mhm.

 

Joseph:           What would a business credit report kind of look like versus a personal?

 

Jacob:             Sure. So a business credit report is going to be a little bit different and unique compared to a personal credit report as there really isn’t any standardization in it, right? So a report from one vendor, it may include information from a vendor that’s not choosing to report to the other agencies.

 

Joseph:           Okay.

 

Jacob:             So it’s really important to make sure that you’re checking on the main key ones, which would be Dun’s and Brad’s or LexisNexis are two main ones that the banks use, all those should ring a bell. But the variation between the two and then the, ultimately the business profile that is updated by you as the owner is something that’s a key difference.

 

For a personal credit report, you know, it’s reactionary. You make payments, creditors either tell you, tell the agencies, which is Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax that you either paid them or you didn’t.

 

                       RELATED CONTENT: How Your Personal Credit Impacts Your Business Credit.

 

Joseph:           Right.

 

Jacob:             And it’s rather seamless process for us as consumers.

 

Joseph:           Right.

 

Jacob:             What’s really important for a business owner is that they actually create and update their business profile. It’s essentially them telling the story to the agencies to report to us as lenders.

 

Joseph:           Okay, makes sense. So something that may be kind of new for our listeners is a business profile.

 

Jacob:             Sure.

 

Joseph:           So what should be included in someone’s business profile?

 

Jacob:             Yeah, another great question. And this is something that, you know, when I’m around in the market, I actually get these questions quite often, and exactly what is in a business profile or you know, when we go to reference the information that might be on Dun and Brad’s, they say, well, I don’t know where that came from. And it’s really interesting to know that you actually have to go in and update these agencies, right? So you have to go in and provide your business profile. So that’s the first thing to discuss is that you actually have to go in and provide the information necessary. It might be reported, but it’s not your story. So you wanna’ make sure you tell it.

 

But in a business profile, what it does, it helps banks determine how much credit to extend and whether or not to approve you for credit essentially, right?

 

Joseph:           Okay.

 

Jacob:             Your ability to handle business debt. Your profile can include things like the size of your company, the number of employees you have, and where you are located.

 

Joseph:           Okay.

 

Jacob:             A big part of that is how we evaluate is the size of the company. How do we segment and size you into a relationship at a bank or how do we handle the amount of employees and the needs that you have on that side? So it’s really important to update that information, so banks can leverage it and make sound decisions.

 

And then ultimately what you need to do is you need to contact the major bureaus and ask for your company’s profile. That would be a great first step. Find out what actually is being reported about you if you don’t know, that would be a great initial step. And then take necessary steps and get advisement from either a small business banker or your accountant or just a trusted adviser in the small business community about how you should properly update your profile and reflect with the agencies.

 

Joseph:           Okay. So before applying for credit, what is one of those things that you think that all business owners should know or kind of take the step to do right before applying for a business credit?

 

Jacob:             Yeah. This is a question I could probably expand on for quite awhile, but again, it kinda goes back to the stages and life cycles of the business at hand. You know, again, whether you’re starting out or you’re in growth mode or you’re winding down or even exiting, there’s so many different formats in financing available. It’s really important to understand where you’re at in your business life cycle and what your priorities are. When you’re starting out things that are really important, items that are really important are personal creditworthiness. Oftentimes, you know, when there’s a lack of business history or there’s a track record there to show that you’ve operated and owned a business and you have a financial backlog to show it and your ability to effectively grow a business, your personal credit is leveraged. It’s what we have to go off of. And it goes back to that character thing again, right? So, how you’ve handled your personal debts, how you’ve handled your personal finances are critically important to obtaining financing. And it can even be in the form of a business credit card when you’re starting out.

 

                       RELATED CONTENT:  Building credit for your small business. 

 

You know, if you’re in a growth model and you’re trying to grow your business and expand, you know, what type of capital have you used and what kind of capital do you have? How are you handling your income as opposed to debt? Are you reporting enough income on your returns to show that you can support the debt that you’re trying to obtain? Right? That’s really important. We definitely leverage the business reported income and the personal reported income to service both the personal and business debt. And that’s a really important facet of it as well.

 

But again, going back towards all of these different items, it goes back to the five C’s, right? Pay attention to the request in hand, you know.

 

Joseph:           Right.

 

Jacob:             Seek out the credit opportunity early and get the advisement early on. And the more you’re prepared to go into an application to obtain financing, the better. So if you have a goal in mind, whether it’s, you know, next month or two to three, four or five plus years out, it’s really important to vocalize that with the individuals that are here to help. Because our job and what I so passionately teach and educate my folks on is that you are aware of what your client’s needs and goals are. You have to know what your priorities are and know how we can help accommodate them. And the earlier we know that, the more that we can help better prepare and that’s so important. Being prepared for obtaining credit and going into it is almost everything, right? You don’t want surprises. So meet early and often with your accountant, your banker, anybody that’s a trusted adviser in your small business community and just vocalize about what your goals are and seek advice from multiple different channels on how to obtain them.

 

Joseph:           Makes a lot of sense. Now in a perfect world, everybody’s going to get approved.

 

Jacob:             Sure.

 

Joseph:           But sometimes people won’t. And so if a small business owner is turned down for credit, do you have any advice for them or what their response should be?

 

Jacob:             To your point, it’d be great if we could extend financing to anybody that needs it. But unfortunately, that’s not the case. And one thing I would just want to educate a small business owner on is to, don’t be dejected, don’t take it personal. There’s typically a root cause to it and there’s typically a solution to it, right? And it’s what you do after that point that’s important. How much more education can you have? How could you remedy the situation at hand? It could be for multiple different reasons as to why we weren’t able to obtain or give financing to you at a certain time, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible with a little bit of work and attention to what caused the decline in the first place. Some different reasons that a client could get declined could be issues with the personal credit. If they have a bankruptcy on file or some negative information being reported about payment history.

 

                      RELATED CONTENT:  What to do if you get declined for business credit.

 

Joseph:           Mhm.

 

Jacob:             Or it’s simply if they’re over-leveraged on as an individual.

 

Joseph:           It kind of flows into the character part.

 

Jacob:             Exactly, right. It’s a big part of that. And then whether or not we can even finance your industry type. Or, we talked about the conditions, right?

 

Joseph:           Right.

 

Jacob:             So there are some things that are out of even your control as an owner, right? Or the business operator that our economic conditions or industry regulation that arises and that can heavily impact a business, depending on their client base. So that could be out of your control. And then also if there’s issues with your business financials, right? So maybe you don’t have enough income on display to cover the debt that you’re seeking or the finance structure that you need. All those are different reasons. But again, all of them are an opportunity to look at it in the future and continue to work into a place that you can obtain financing in the future.

 

Joseph:           Okay. So sometimes you won’t get the financing from a traditional bank. Are there any other options for small business owners if they can’t get approved with a traditional bank?

 

Jacob:             Yeah, there absolutely is. You know, if a business has been turned down by a bank, we always want to recommend a community development financial institutions, often referenced as a CDFI. These are great options for clients. They are lenders that help certain small business owners gain access to capital, right? So Bank of America works with many of them. For example, here locally we have a partner in Charlotte. It’s the Carolina Small Business Development Fund.

 

Joseph:           Okay.

 

Jacob:             The approval rates with CDFIs are typically a little bit higher, and they’re geared towards, you know, all different facets of the business life cycle, but typically where they really help is the early stages of a company or a startup. And they also, in conjunction to providing possible financing, they offer education, support, and in a lot of different areas that we talked about earlier that can get a business geared up and ready for conventional bank financing.

 

Joseph:           So before we wrap up, is there any other advice you would give our small business owners?

 

Jacob:             Yeah, I have a lot of advice. I would love to expand and, you know, just know that you know more than anything, there’s a lot of resources available to you when it comes to lending advice, support, and guidance. The one thing that’s great about the local small business community is it’s a passionate group. There’s so many different network opportunities and it’s just a wonderful small business community here that we have in Charlotte. So take advantage of those opportunities, right? It doesn’t always just have to necessarily be with a banker or your accountant. There’s just so many different great, excellent groups to be a part of. For example, NAWBO here locally is the National Association for Women Business Owners. Actually not local. A national organization with a local chapter here in Charlotte, where they provide a ton of great resources and education and just peer to peer networking, as just an example. But also to meet routinely with your small business banker and do so in conjunction with your accountant or your CPA or your trusted advisers.

 

But that should be at a minimum, a biannual review of your business. You know, oftentimes we field requests and are reactionary to them, as opposed to help prepare. And I feel that it’s necessary if you really are looking to grow and establish a business and obtain financing, you do so through the proper preparation. And that includes just communication and advisement, with your advisers, right? Or your trusted advisers. But there’s also a lot of different resources here that we have at the bank for the small business community. You can go to our website to review these. It’s bankofamerica.com/sbc. And with that, there’s a ton of resources for our clients to leverage, and in addition to meeting with their local banker.

 

Joseph:           I appreciate it. I think our listeners are going to really enjoy getting some additional information in regards to business financing and thanks so much for joining us today, Jacob. Listeners, if you have any questions after this episode, tweet us @CBRBiz. This has been CBR’s B2U podcast, brought to you by cbrbiz.com. Until next time, we mean business.

 

 

Learn more about business financing from Bank of America.

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Forty-thousand lives could be saved each year with widespread access to defibrillators. Jane Gonzales is on a mission to help save these lives. Her company, MEDwheels, provides mobile automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and training where they’re needed most.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Jane Gonzalez:          Working with their county, where they didn't have any AEDs, and so we worked with them, side by side, gave them recommendations, this is how many you need, these are the locations that you need. They took our recommendations, we installed the AEDs.  Three days after we installed our AEDs, a high school student went down with a sudden cardiac arrest. And, we saved his life.

 

Narrator:                     Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” with ForbesBooks, at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankOfAmerica.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I'm here with Jane Gonzalez, thanks for joining us on “The Heartbeat of Main Street.” She's the president and CEO of MEDwheels of San Antonio Texas. MEDwheels.com. And, Jane, welcome. We're going to hear all about what you do at MEDwheels, how you started the company, and things you've learned over the course of the years since 2005, but the first thing I want to ask you, as you introduce yourself is, tell us about the statistic on your homepage that says an additional 40 thousand lives could be saved each year, in the U.S. alone, with widespread access to-

 

Jane Gonzalez:          Defibrillators. And it's, really amazing, because the defibrillator, the term AED, which is Automatic External Defibrillator, and it's been proven that sudden cardiac arrest, apply CPR strictly, does not save a life. The heart essentially has stopped and so essentially you're kind of deceased, your body is not producing any movement at all.

 

                                   The AEDs, what it does, is it kind of resets the heart and so they have become very, very instrumental in saving lives. That, schools now, throughout the whole United States, from Kindergarten all the way to 12th grade, are required to have AEDs, that's how important they have become in saving lives.

 

Gregg Stebben:          So, your company, MEDwheels, I want to read part of the mission statement of your company. "To provide all facets of an AED program, including products, services, and training to consumers and to ultimately help save lives." Help save some of those 40 thousand lives a year, and you know, just as you were talking about how important AEDs are, I was thinking to myself the training must be as equally as important as the devices themselves, because in that moment, is probably not the best time to start reading the instructions.

 

Jane Gonzalez:          Well, that is a true statement. Interestingly enough, there was a study that was done by one of the largest manufacturers, the three largest manufacturers of AEDs are Stryker, Philips, Zoll, you have Cardiac Science. And they did a study, and they put citizens in a room and they said, "Okay, here is the AED, go operate it." And, the instructions tend to be very simple, that should there be an emergency, and someone's down with a sudden cardiac arrest, normal layperson person, pulls the AED, I believe that there's going to be a very good chance that, that layperson person will be able to use it effectively.

 

                                    Although, if you are going to put an AED like in a school, for example, typically what they'll do is that they'll do the CPR training, because it's pretty important. CPR and AEDs go hand and glove. So, they'll do the CPR training, and then they'll have the AEDs to do a training session strictly on how to do use the AEDs.

 

Gregg Stebben:          That is a big part of your mission at MEDwheels. Tell us about how you came to create this company, MEDwheels, and how you came to see this mission as what you should devote your business and your life to.

 

Jane Gonzalez:          You know, it's really interesting. I was born in San Antonio, and after I graduated from college, ended up in Philadelphia, worked for corporate America. In my early 30s I heard the Holy Spirit say, "You're going to own a business." Now, I'm working in corporate America, owning a business was not even in my radar. Doing some financial analysis work.

 

                                   In the meantime, my brother and my sister-in-law, live in San Antonio, and they had experience working with a Medicare, Medicaid company. Well, in 2005, my mom got very, very ill, and I ended up in San Antonio, where my brother approached me about starting a business. And, I said, "For sure." So, they had some background with Medicare, Medicaid processes and billings, and I had the corporate America experience, there we created the seed, MEDwheels.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And, did the company start with ... Well, it couldn't have started with programs focused on AEDs, because I don't think the industry was anywhere near where it is today? Or perhaps, I'm wrong about that.

 

Jane Gonzalez:          No, you're exactly right, and so, this is phenomenal how a company like ours, a family operated business has been able to survive, because keep in mind, what has happened in corporate America from 2005 to today, 2018. So, we were doing pretty well in 2005, we started the business, we were billing Medicare and Medicaid, we're serving patients here in San Antonio with diabetes, with cardiology, with mobility problems, we were helping veterans with vehicle lifts, we would install them onto their vehicles. But then, the financial crisis, the regulations, health care regulation came in, and it put a lot of strain on the business in 2008. To the point that it would cost us more money to buy a piece of equipment before we added all the additional operating cost to it, than it was the reimbursement.

 

                                   And, Medicare put all this regulation in place, that the administrative cost to operate it also went through the roof, because we would go bill to get paid, and the insurance providers would not pay us, give us several reasons why not to, so then we would have to go back and spend more additional man hours, working with the providers and the doctors, and everybody involved just to get reimbursed for that delivery that's already been done.

 

                                   So, we began to pivot, we had to pivot. We had to take a real hard look at our business model and that's why we, in 2009 and 2010, we started looking at distribution.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And so, it was around that time, that you also realized what a big, not just business, an entrepreneurial opportunity, this was, but also what a big life-saving opportunity it would be?

 

Jane Gonzalez:          Life-saving opportunity is a critical point, it's something that I want to share with you. The mission of MEDwheels, is much bigger than me.  The purpose is really to have an impact in our community. My company is located in a very distressed neighborhood, multi-generational poverty, illiteracy, a high drop-out rate, drugs. But, I chose to be embedded in the middle of a community because I want to have an impact. And so, it's really interesting. We had just put in the AEDs, our company at a high school here in San Antonio.

 

                                    Three days after we installed our AEDs, a high school student went down with a sudden cardiac arrest, and we saved his life.

 

                                   I had so much passion and enthusiasm, that I know that I'm doing what I need to be doing when something like that happens. There is a mission and a purpose, and it is to make a difference in our community. To do whatever we can to save a life.

 

Gregg Stebben:          As I'm listening to you, Jane, I'm talking with Jane Gonzalez, she's the president and CEO of MEDwheels in San Antonio, it's Medwheels.com. As I'm listening to you, I'm thinking to myself, I'm looking around and I'm saying, I'm sort of filling in here for our listeners as well, there are no AEDs here. So, if I'm with a company or my kids go to a school, where there are not AEDs, how does that conversation begin? I mean, before a company or a school, or a school district, or a government agency, can reach out to you, there must be some internal conversations as well. You must have some insight into the kinds of things, for instance, I might want to get my company talking about so we can get ourselves to a point where we should reach out to you to talk to you about this.

 

Jane Gonzalez:          Absolutely. And it starts with ... That's one of the areas that we're working with, because keep in mind, we just saw hurricane in North Carolina, and you've got people with disabilities, so, that you're talking about a facility, I don't know if it's one floor or if it's two floors, three floors, 10 floors, I have no idea. But, the other piece of equipment that is critically as important as an AED in a facility would be evacuation chairs. So, that if you have somebody with disabilities up on the 10th floor, and need that chair, can permit that person with disabilities to be taken down the stairwell, with minimal possibility of injury. So that, the conversations typically would begin with whomever is operating the facility, typically that would be the person in charge of making those kinds of decisions.

 

                                   And, we would be glad to communicate and support, in terms of what we recommend might be a good need and location where to put them.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well, part of what you're telling us is, even though we've all seen AEDs at the airport and other places, there's actually, this is actually a much bigger conversation than that. There's other things, a company or an organization should be thinking about, to make sure that they are prepared.

 

Jane Gonzalez:          Right, I mean look at the violence that is happening. Before I came onto this podcast, there's another shooting that happened in Maryland, the other thing that I am very passionate about is that people are dying from bleed-outs, because by the time the police can get into an area that's been subjected to violence, that person, if there's nothing in there that's going to stop that bleeding, potentially may not make it, right?

 

                                   So then, what I'm recommending to all ... especially in the school districts, where we have so many kids that are facing this dilemma, is that I encourage everyone, not only to get the AED, you're going to have the automatic electronic defibrillator, that's awesome, fantastic, but I'm also encouraging everyone to put at least one stop-the-bleed kit at a minimum inside of that cabinet.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Inside the AED cabinet?

 

Jane Gonzalez:           Inside the AED cabinet.

 

Gregg Stebben:           So, I have to confess, I've never heard of a stop-the-bleed kit. What is that?

 

Jane Gonzalez:           So, stop-the-bleed kits, let me walk you through a scenario. Wherever you're sitting at, somebody walks in, they bust the door open, they have a gun pulled, they shoot and they hit you on the leg, okay? So, now you've started bleeding you're bleeding right now, they're calling 911, "Police, can I get in there to provide you aid?" No one can get in there to provide you aid, because that area is still a crime scene. 

 

                                   If you had a stop-the-bleed kit, there could be a tourniquet in there, so that you can get that tourniquet, wrap it around where the bleeding is at, tie it really good, it will stop bleeding. Or if it's hit in the chest, there's also something called a chest compression, so that you can get that ... like a gauze, and you apply it to your chest, wherever that bleeding is at, wherever the gun shots at. You press it down, it will stop the bleeding.

 

Gregg Stebben:          You're opening up this whole area of, I'm sure in most cases, it's probably an HR function or an Operations function, but I think, I mean for me, you're really opening my eyes to things I had never thought about. And of course, the worst possible time to be thinking about things like this is when it's too late.

 

                                   She's Jane Gonzalez, she's the president and CEO of MEDwheels, Medwheels.com. I want to ask you to look back, over the years, since you started your business in 2005, and I'm wondering if there's one thing you learned, that you wish you could share with other small business owners. And share with folks who may be thinking about starting their own businesses, is there one lesson that you've gained, that you just wish everyone knew, because you knew their journey forward would be more successful?

 

Jane Gonzalez:          You know, that's a very, really fantastic question. And, thirteen years of business, I use this analogy, football. You're in a football field, and you're a running-back, and you're running down the field, suddenly, there's going to be this big guy coming at you, the train's coming at you, right? And when a train's coming at you, you're going to have to pivot to the right, you're going to have to pivot to the left, you're going to have to do something, because if you go head on, something’s going to give.

 

                                   And so, my advice is that, create that business plan. It is very important, especially for new companies, to have a business plan. And, create that strategy. One thing that I've learned is that how can I pursue something if I don't have it in writing and I'm going to be committed to the perseverance to make sure that I achieve those goals. So, then create that business plan, but then also, life is gonna happen. We're a family run business, my business company has gone through deaths, it's gone through sickness, it's gone through adversity, it's gone through challenge, and then you've got government regulation where we had to look at government policy, then you have financial regulation, so that all these things are going to be happening as all of these things are happening, the company moves on in years, it's going to be important to update that business plan and modify it, adjust, based on the current conditions that are affecting the continuity of that original business plan.

 

Gregg Stebben:          So, your advice is, get it down in writing in a business plan, because without that, you're constantly going to be reacting to things without going back to the very foundation of the thing that you started.

 

Jane Gonzalez:           Exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:          When you started MEDwheels, did you have a written business plan? Are you speaking from experience of, not having a business plan, or we had one and boy am I glad we did?

 

Jane Gonzalez:          Well, I'm talking from experience in that I did have the business plan originally, but in the middle of ...you know, companies are going to go into the valley, they're gonna go through the fire, are you gonna have enough money to meet your payroll? What is your balance sheet looking like?  Are your payments going out the door more than the money that's coming into the door? So, there's a lot of these things that are happening, and I'm talking from experience, in that during those very critical times, when we were totally stressed, when Medicare changed regulation and the gross margin that we're making slowly has been taken from under our feet, the administrative costs are going through the roof, I don't have enough money, I gotta go get my line of credit to pay my payroll. And what is the company going to do to survive? And so, creating that business plan, changing that business plan, updating that business plan, during that dark, dark time that we were going through was very important.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And, might have determined whether MEDwheels would even be here today, or not?

 

Jane Gonzalez:          Yeah, if we had not, on the grace of God, by the grace of God, if we had not taken a really hard look at the stress that the Medicare regulation was having on our business, and if we had not updated our business strategies, we probably would have gone bankrupt.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well, what's really fascinating about that, Jane, Jane Gonzalez, the president and CEO of MEDwheels, Medwheels.com. It's fascinating to hear you say that, because I'd go back to your mission statement, which includes, "To provide all facets of an AED program, including products, services, and training to consumers and to ultimately help save lives." And then, the statistic on your home page, "An additional 40 thousand lives could be saved each year in the U.S. alone, with widespread access to AEDs." I'm thinking to myself, that if you had not had that business plan and been able to use it to make that successful pivot, there are people alive today, who would not be alive today, if you had gone bankrupt instead of found a way and the will to go forward, and I wanna thank you for that.

 

Jane Gonzalez:          Oh, thank God, for that. I'm a steward of the assets that I'm being provided, and I hope every day that I do a good job of it. I hope every day I make a difference in somebody's life. I hope every day, that this company is in business, can make a difference, and leave some kind of legacy behind.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I can't think of a better place to leave it than that. Jane Gonzalez, thanks for joining us on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks, and Bank of America. MEDwheels is at Medwheels.com. She's the president and CEO, Jane, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Narrator:                     Thanks for listening to the Heartbeat of Main Street with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com, and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

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Women Business Owner Spotlight: “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Episode 8

 

Women entrepreneurs are optimistic for the year ahead. Tune in to hear Sharon Miller, Bank of America’s Head of Small Business, share insights about economic outlook, access to capital, and the ongoing digital transformation as highlighted in the 2018 Women Business Owner Spotlight.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Sharon Miller:            I think as a woman it's increasingly—we have so much more ability I should say to be able to manage our life, and that's what a business is. A business owner is not thinking of themselves in terms of “I own this consulting firm,” they're saying, “I have a life, I am a mother,” could be a father, right if we're talking about men. But we're focusing on women here, and I need to manage my whole life, and my business is part of that life and so technology helps me to do that.

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Kate Delaney:            Always a pleasure to talk to Sharon Miller, Bank of America, Head of Small Business. She's back to talk about the 2018 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight. I love this. Before, Sharon—first of all welcome to the show—but before we get into your findings, can you give us a little background on this annual report, your Women Business Owner Spotlight?

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, this is the third annual Women Business Owner Spotlight, and we conduct it just to understand how women are feeling about their business and how they’re feeling about the growth and what's coming for the next year ahead, including their revenue and hiring expectations, so really just getting our finger on the pulse, to understand what's happening, what's on the mind of women across America.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And how do you do this, this kind of an annual report? In this case, the Women Business Owner Spotlight. How many women do you talk with, and I'm assuming you talk with a good number of men as well. How does it work?

 

Sharon Miller:            We do. So every year, twice a year, go out and survey business owner across the United States and some of them are women, some are men, and then we take those results and we pull out the information specifically pertaining to the questions around women and how they're feeling. And so, we do the study twice a year at Bank of America, and this is the third year we are surveying and focusing specifically on women. And we've been doing this survey, Gregg, since 2012. So over the past three years, it's been increasingly interesting to understand what's on the minds of women and Hispanic business owners and to really start cutting our data into more information around those subsets.

 

Kate Delaney:            So let's dive into this. Can you give us a broad overview, Sharon, of what you found with the 2018 Women Business Owner Spotlight?

 

Sharon Miller:            I can, Kate, and just to add to what we were just talking about as well, at Bank of America we have 3.3 million small business clients and 40 percent are women-owned. So that's also why it's so important to us to really understand what's on the mind of women. Of the 29 million small business clients across the United States a third are women. Bank of America has been serving women and we certainly want to make sure we understand what's on their minds, so that we can help them and we can help them with their business and to continue to achieve their goals.

 

                                  And so Kate, for the top headlines this year, we found that women entrepreneurs are much more confident on revenue expectations compared to last year, and their growth plans and their economic optimism is up year-over-year as well.  I would say a tone of positive, a tone of growth, a tone of we can-continue-to-grow-our-business-in-spite-of-any-challenges-we-might-face.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And what do you think, Sharon, is driving that optimism about things like revenue?

 

Sharon Miller:            You know, we’ve seen the economy continue to improve, not only in our surveys, but in national surveys: for example, for the NFIB, the National Federation of Independent Business Owners, are finding all-time highs in their survey results as well. So, people are spending, people are traveling, we see consumer stability across the board when it comes to employment, and that is a key. People have money coming in, they're earning paychecks and they have more discretionary income to spend.

 

Kate Delaney:            And what are they spending the money on as far as the business is concerned, Sharon, how are women using it? I would imagine technology would be part of a cost.

 

Sharon Miller:            It is. In fact in our survey we always ask about how technology is impacting your business, how is it helping to improve your business? And we found that women entrepreneurs are increasingly dependent on capabilities related to technology. So for instance, when you think about the digital transformation, 33 percent of women entrepreneurs use a mobile device to process financial transactions within their business versus only 25 percent of men. So, they're way ahead. And they also foresee over the next five years a complete shift to digital payments. So, as we think about serving these clients so that they can serve their communities in the businesses that they lead, we have to make sure we're keeping up with how they want to help their clients. If clients are coming in and they're using their phone to pay for goods and services, we've gotta be able to help and partner with the business owner to be able to accept payments that way.

 

                                  These are some of the insights and how we use this data in real time to get better at what we do at Bank of America to serve the businesses so they can serve the community.

 

Gregg Stebben:          We're talking with Sharon Miller, she's the head of small business for Bank of America, we're talking about the 2018 Women Business Owner Spotlight and being the one male voice here in this interview, I have to ask because what may seem obvious to the two of you as women who are deeply immersed in the world of business—and I being a man so completely looking from the outside—how do the two of you look at things like the technology gap that you've just been describing, Sharon? How do you explain why women are ahead of men in many of these ways? Do you have any insight into that?

 

Sharon Miller:            We are ahead in a lot of ways, frankly.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well I was getting there. Right.

 

Kate Delaney:            We're just gonna focus on technology today, okay.

 

Gregg Stebben:          For those kinds of things where women excel, I think the more we talk about them the better it is for all businesses in technology and all kinds of areas because then businesses can get better at identifying best practices and who should implement them because they tend to have an advantage there.

 

Sharon Miller:            Yeah, I think so, and you know we just had a discussion in New York a week ago with women business owners and entrepreneurs across the country, and we asked that question: how are you using it, why are you using it? And I think that, some of the answers that came up that evening were around “I want to make sure I'm understanding all the ways to make it more efficient for me. I may not just be the owner of this consulting firm, but I also have a family, a life, I'm a wife, a mother, I go to school, I'm still doing all” ... so all these other elements of a life came up.

 

                                  It kept coming up in that conversation, and I think as a woman it's increasingly—we have so much more ability I should say to be able to manage our life, and that's what a business is. A business owner is not thinking of themselves in terms of “I own this consulting firm,” they're saying, “I have a life, I am a mother,” could be a father, right if we're talking about men. But we're focusing on women here, and I need to manage my whole life, and my business is part of that life and so technology helps me to do that.  I can do business wherever I want, whenever I want, however I want, and that's what my clients are telling me and asking me to do.

 

                                    I don't know Kate if you have any other thoughts on there, I know-

 

Kate Delaney:            Oh no.

 

Sharon Miller:            You certainly talk to a lot of business owners as well.

 

Kate Delaney:            I do, and I talk to a lot of women, and I think, how can we do it bigger, better, faster, and for the reasons you said you're pulled in a lot of directions and I know for myself, I love technology. I didn't start out that way because I would get frustrated not learning it because I wanted to know it right away, but the more patience you have and the more that you embrace technology the easier it becomes to do the things that you need to do and all the things on the list I do, from mobile payments to whatever on down, to CRMs to using Zoom or other forms of technology to do what I do. So, I completely agree with it. I love that your survey found this because I think it's absolutely on point from everything that I've seen with my own friends who are either heading up big corporations or they have their own business.

 

Gregg Stebben:          It's fascinating as a man, we hear stereotypes of course, and they've been around for a long time about how men are traditionally out of balance in their lives, completely focused on work, not balancing their family life well and I think what you might be suggesting, Sharon, is in the future we're going to see more and more emphasis on the healthy part of balance, work/life balance and that we're largely going to be thanking women in business for bringing that trend.

 

Sharon Miller:            Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think it's healthy. I think it's balanced. It's bringing your whole self to work. It's bringing your whole self to your business and I think it makes for better corporations and it makes for better business.

 

Kate Delaney:            How about this, this of course is on the minds of many. Sharon, access to capital. That's a big challenge for women business owners, or is it? What did you find this year?

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, you know, access to capital is improving, and we did hear that loud and clear from business owners. But they do feel that they're facing bigger challenges when it comes to access to capital than their male counterparts. At Bank of America, we see our lending business is up. We see high demand for capital, and we are finding that for women, who represent 40 percent of our business, and I feel like we have a very strong representation of women coming to us every single day. However, at Bank of America we know that there are some issues and there are some items that we can help with, and so from our survey results we do hear that training or education or knowing what to ask for, when to ask for it, has been in the past perhaps a road block.

 

                                  So, we have recently launched the Bank of America Institute for Women's Entrepreneurship in partnership with Cornell University, and this focus is going to be all around access to capital as one element, training, education and making sure that women have all the information, because as women, and I read about this a lot, women want to make sure that every single box is checked, all 10 items if that's what's required for this, versus a male who may come in with two done and eight left undone. We're certainly hearing this from the panels we have, and so perhaps the male counterpart would understand that okay you have to have this, this and this, because they're getting the education along the way. Whereas a woman may wait till they have everything done and they still realize, oh, there was something else I needed to do. So, I think just that conversation, the dialogue, the information, whether it be online, across the desk from an advisor, is gonna be helpful in closing the gap on access to capital.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Wow, perfect place to wrap this up, Sharon Miller, Bank of America, head of small business. Fascinating always to talk to you, and this information is fabulous from your 2018 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight. Thanks so much for coming on.

 

Sharon Miller:              Gregg and Kate, thank you so much for having me.

 

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

                                  Check out our Small Business Story Collection:

 

                                  The Unique Values Women Bring to Small Business Ownership on the Bank of America Small Business Community. 

 

                                  Learn more about how Bank of America invests in women.

In the latest Bank of America Small Business Podcast episode, Reema Shroff, owner of Frost 321, shares how she beat the competition by turning liquid nitrogen ice cream and cocktails into an experience that tantalizes the senses and leaves a lasting impression. Listen to her story—and get great tips for standing out from the crowd—below.

 

 

 

Reema Shroff:            The reward is that when people try it, when people see it, when people talk about it, that's really what's satisfying, and that's something that I couldn't as easily get in being a lawyer. So here every day, no matter what the challenges I face are, there's definitely something very rewarding at the end of the ... To have been creative and have someone taste the product.

 

 

Frost-321d.jpgSteve Strauss:            Hi. I'm Steve Strauss, USA Today's senior small business columnist, and you're listening to the Bank of America Small Business Podcast, a podcast where we speak to small business owners about their journey and uncover useful tips for entrepreneurs and small business owners everywhere.

 

                                  Today we're really pleased to be speaking with Reema Shroff of Frost 321. Frost 321 uses an innovative technique to create ice creams, sorbets, and I like this one, frozen cocktails, right before your eyes at events. How do they do it? Well, by using liquid nitrogen at negative 321 degrees, Frost 321 creates these unique concoctions.

 

                                  They have been doing this at corporate events and important celebrations and backyard gatherings and all sorts of other places for years, and they don't just deliver delicacies. Frost 321 brings a unique ice cream and cocktail bar designed to be chic and sophisticated, blending with any event's distinct look, and letting the experience itself really shine. So Reema, great to have you on the show today. Welcome.

 

Reema Shroff:            Thanks Steve. Great to be here.

 

Steve Strauss:            So I explained a little bit about what makes Frost 321 unique, but I think it would be far better if you did it. So tell us about your ice cream and your cocktails and how you make them and what is different about them.

 

Reema Shroff:            Absolutely. You're right on the mark. What we do create is unique cocktail and dessert experiences. What we're doing is using liquid nitrogen as a freezing agent to freeze right in front of our guests frozen cocktails, sorbets, ice creams, boozy snow cones. The newest thing that's hot for the summer, a drink called a Frosé.

 

                                  What we can do is take an experience, take a menu, take an event, take a celebration, take a company gathering, make it unique, make it customized, and do this right in front of our guests. So what it is, it's not just a great product, it's not just a great frozen cocktail or an ice cream, but truly what it is is an experience. So when we have the gathering, when you see us, you not only remember the product, you remember the experience. This is an experience you can share with your friends, you can share with your co workers, you can tape on social media.

 

                                  That's what we love about it and that's where we get most of our repeat business from, is that memorable piece of this which is the experience. Now what makes the difference is liquid nitrogen has been used for years by chefs in their back kitchen. It's truly a great way to make an ice cream or a frozen cocktail.

 

                                  However, what we try to do is also to make it truly an experience where people can enjoy seeing it being made, where we can tailor the experience to the actual event. Also what we've done is, because my background is ... I'm a lawyer, and my business partner is a West Point grad and an amazing engineer ... We have tried to make this as safe as possible and as scalable as possible.

 

                                  So let me kind of explain on that a little bit more. From a safety standpoint, you are dealing with liquid nitrogen that's a negative 321 degrees below zero. So what we want to do is just make it safe, make it where any staff member we can train on safely operating this machinery, to make it safe at any event.

 

                                    As you know, we have done this in backyards, we have done this on golf courses, we've even done it on a yacht, on top of a rooftop, so we have to make it safe in a lot of different instances. Then on the scalability standpoint we can do parties of 500, but we've done parties of 5,000. So we need to make sure that we can produce these cocktails and ice creams in a very efficient manner.

 

                                  In fact, the way that we've designed the machines is one of our machines taken to its capacity could easily make about 500 servings in an hour. And when we do very large events, like our 5,000 person events, for example in Vegas, we can put several machines on and make this experience for all of our guests.

 

Steve Strauss:            Oh, that's super. You're doing lots of things right, but one of the things I really love that you're doing that other people can learn from is you're personalizing it and you're making it an experience. Those are kind of the buzzwords in small business these days. Because there is so much competition and there is so much technology available, people love a personalized experience and they love an experience experience.

 

                                  So you're doing that right, and I must say as a former lawyer myself, I love that you too have come to your senses and found something better to do. So let me ask you this Reema, how did you get started? How did you leave the legal world and end up becoming an ice cream entrepreneur?

 

Reema Shroff:            Well, as fellow lawyer you know one of the big things in being a lawyer, and I was a healthcare lawyer, and especially in the healthcare sector you're always telling physicians what not to do, what business they should not engage in, here are the risk factors, all of that.

 

                                  Whereas I loved that ... Both my parents are physicians, my husband is a doctor and all of that, I wanted to actually create something. I mean there is ... Every day as an entrepreneur working in this business there's a challenge, there's a reward, there's an opportunity, and it's really, really satisfying to me to be able to create something, to go to an event and see what we have created.

 

                                  The reward is when people try it, when people see it, when people talk about it, that's really what's satisfying, and that's something that couldn't as easily get in being a lawyer. So here every day, no matter what the challenges I face are, there's definitely something very rewarding at the end of the ... To have been creative and have someone taste the product.

 

Steve Strauss:            Absolutely. I mean that's what I love about it too, working with entrepreneurs and being one, is the idea of you're creating something. But how did you come up with the idea of creating ice cream at negative 321 degrees? That is really different.

 

Reema Shroff:            Well, that is a great story. You never know how things happen, but truly this was a great story. I was actually in Paris. I was at an amazing wedding and I saw this in a certain way being made, using liquid nitrogen to create this experience for great cocktails. You know, it's something ... On the way back from Paris to Texas, you know, we had an eight hour flight, so over a glass of champagne just kind of talking about the wedding, what really stood out was this really interesting cocktail.

 

                                  You saw it being made, you saw the mist, and it was a good cocktail. So it's actually funny, my family was like, "Wow, you like cocktails and you like parties. This is something you should try." It really started with something like that.

 

                                  So I started researching it, found a couple of articles on it, found some companies that actually were working on these type of systems, and literally ordered one and started in my kitchen. Invited friends over for a party, got some feedback on it, and it really just kind of took off from there. But I had no idea of kind of where this would be four years later, but it's something that I just had to try.

 

Steve Strauss:            Did you ... Obviously your parents aren't entrepreneurs. They're both physicians, your husband is a physician. Did you have entrepreneurial bent earlier in life or was this all together something out of the blue for you?

 

Reema Shroff:            You know, looking back on it I think that ... You know, I was fine being a lawyer, but I think that there was always something missing. I'm pretty social. I'm an extrovert. I like to engage and be with people, so I think this type of business for me allows me to really, you know, focus on what I really enjoy and I think what my forte is.

 

                                  So it just kind of all came together, and I'm so happy that I had the support of my family, my friends, and I was in a position to be able to reach out to my network and be able to develop this. So it's been a great ride.

 

Steve Strauss:            Yeah. In fact you've grown it pretty substantially pretty quickly. You're not only in Texas now, but you're also in Las Vegas, and I think you're branching out into San Diego, if I'm not mistaken?

 

Reema Shroff:            Oh, yeah. So I mean we started this in San Antonio. We've grown to Dallas, Houston, Austin, and then slowly took this to other markets, I mean Vegas, Miami, Phoenix, Chicago. So it's been an amazing journey and I think what we've right now done is hit national markets.

 

                                  In fact that's a great question, because what we've been wanting to do is figure out how to expand this nationally, and in fact in about mid-October we're working with a franchise company to be able to franchise this and expand nationally, so we're really excited about that.

 

                                  But the key to all of this was ... And this is a very interesting story. It comes to how I met my business partner. As I mentioned, I was still practicing as a lawyer in the early days of Frost and I actually was working on a legal case, and I happened to sit next to a gentleman, Mark, who was helping on that same case, and we started talking about my business and he said something very interesting, and that is, "Wow, you're working with liquid nitrogen. It seems like a great concept. You've actually done a lot of events. You seem to be moving quickly, but hey, you should own your own system. You shouldn't rely on other people to do that. You should actually build your own. That's the core to your business."

 

                                    Of course I laughed and I said, "Hey, that's easier said than done. I don't really have manufacturing contacts. I'm not an engineer. I've never designed anything before. My forte is marketing, business development, creating these experiences," and he basically looked at me and he said, "Well, guess what? I have those contacts and I would love to be able to help with this."

 

                                  So it's one of those really amazing moments where I sat next to the right person at a business dinner, and it has been a great three years, where we complement each other very well. He is the technology, the brains behind the operation. He's a former West Point grad and a engineer, and he's developed the whole liquid nitrogen system. So where he has the strength on the technology and operations, I'm able more to focus on the marketing and the business development. So it's been really, you know, a great combination of strengths and attributes that really have helped us along quite well.

 

Steve Strauss:            Boy, everything is really working out so well for you, because that's exactly what I think you want in a partnership. You want somebody who fills in your gaps and can do things that you can't do, and then all of a sudden the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts, and obviously you're doing that well.

 

                                  Can you tell me a little bit about the alcohol aspect of it? Because you're not just making ice creams, but you're making adult beverages with your technology. How did that come to be and how is that ... How popular is that among your clientele?

 

Reema Shroff:            Well, I cannot underscore more that alcohol really is what drives a lot of our business. Almost 80% of our revenue comes from our spirited ice cream, our frozen cocktails, our boozy snow cones, our spirited floats. So yes, because that is really what's unique about this, because there's no other way you can freeze alcohol.

 

                                  So when we actually do one of our most popular items, is our wicked chocolate whiskey with Maker's Mark. That is a true shot of Maker's Mark in your chocolate ice cream. It's an awesome after dinner treat. People love their Maker's Mark, so here now we're putting it into ice cream. We do the same with tequila, with rum, with vodka. We've been able to partner with a lot of different alcohol companies because it's a different way to feature and showcase their spirit.

 

                                  Remember, we can do this not only with the liquors, but we can do that wine and champagne and, gosh, even a great beer for a stout ice cream. So we've really tried to come up with innovative ways to do frozen cocktails, to bring something new to the market on the spirited ice cream side, and really that's been ... That's done very well at our corporate events and galas and parties and all of that.

 

Steve Strauss:            It sounds like that's probably a unique niche to you. Is there a lot of competition for that aspect of your business?

 

Reema Shroff:            Most of our competition is on the ice cream side. There's a lot of brick and mortars in the space and different types of franchises that you have, or there's retails that are serving ice cream. I think on the special events and catering where our focus ... A lot of it has been on frozen cocktails and the spirited ice cream. We don't find as much competition, but what Mark and I tired to do very early on is to forge really good relationships and partnerships with hotel groups, convention centers.

 

                                  For example, we work in McCormick Place, one of the largest convention centers in Chicago, where they offer our services. The same thing with the MGM group. The same thing with Marriotts all over the country. So that's been very nice, is that they are able to sell our services as part of their catering and special events menu.

 

                                  That has helped us, where now we have a lot of different arms, a lot of different sales and catering departments selling our services, and we can focus on what we do best, and that is executing and doing our special events and focusing on our creative ice creams and frozen cocktails for the events.

 

Steve Strauss:            Super. We are speaking with Reema Shroff of Frost 321, and we will get back to her in a second, but first I want to ask you this.

 

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                                  So Reema, I want to ask you a little bit about the challenges you've faced as a small business owner and entrepreneur, because as we all know it is not just a clear path from idea to execution, right? There are bumps along the way. What are maybe some of the bumps along the way that you faced and how did you overcome them?

 

Reema Shroff:            That's a great question Steve. What I would say is, especially with a small business, you wear a lot of hats. You do operations, you do marketing, you do finance, you're HR, and that all can get overwhelming and sometimes maybe some of these are not your key strengths.

 

Steve Strauss:            Now let me get back to our special guest, Reema Shroff of Frost 321.

 

Reema Shroff:            We've had to learn along the way all these different aspects, all these little departments that usually you could call HR or you could call somebody to help with, and now that's it. You're on our own. So what I've learned from that is it's essential to listen, it's essential to build the right team, and whereas you might have weaknesses in certain aspects, there are others that can fill in those gaps for you.

 

                                  Mark and I, our biggest challenge is we had no experience, prior experience, in the food and beverage industry, so the first thing we did is try and surround ourselves with the right mixologists, the right chefs. Our biggest consultant when we came to designing our menu is one of the top pastry chefs in the country. We listened to people that have worked in retail and worked in food and beverage before, because those were not our areas of expertise.

 

                                  So because we were dealing with so many things that were unknown to us, we didn't know what was out there in all these different landscapes because those weren't our prior specialty, what we needed to do was create the right team and build the right network to fill in those gaps.

 

Steve Strauss:            Yeah. I think that's a common lament from many small business people. I guess the good news is you have to become or like being a lifelong learner if you're going to be a small business owner, because you're always having to learn something new, whether you want to or not, right?

 

Reema Shroff:            Yes. Really what I've also learned from that is people are to help. I think there are a lot of resources out there. I think that it's ... Now with the internet, with technology, you can always go onto social media, you can read blogs. There's so much you can do to give you ideas and to help strengthen your position on things and to really every day, just like you said ... I mean we're learning something new every day, so we never stop reading, we never stop talking and building relationships and learning from people around us.

 

Steve Strauss:            Like going to the Bank of America Small Business Community site, right? Exactly like that?

 

Reema Shroff:            Exactly. Exactly.

 

Steve Strauss:            I love that site. I love writing for them and I love what I learn there. So let me take a few minutes to ask you some final questions about what you've learned along the way and get some insights there. How has technology affected your business? I mean obviously you have kind of a technology business I guess, but have you used technology in ways ... Aside from making ice cream?

 

Reema Shroff:            Absolutely. Technology makes our life easier, it makes us more efficient. It allows me to balance my personal life and business life. A perfect example, I'm in the carpool lane waiting ... Sometimes you got to wait for about 30 minutes ... To pick my daughter up, who's nine. And I'm really on a Bank of America website and make payments to our staff, to check my balances, to pay bills to vendors.

 

                                  I mean that's something before you would never be able to do and that 30 minutes is just wasted, but here, you know, at the touch of my hands I'm able to do all of that, and I think that really helps, because that's time then that I can dedicate towards other things when I get home.

 

                                  Also especially when we travel on the road and we're between all the multiple cities, to be able to use technology, to be able to communicate with your employees, to be able to FaceTime at events ... All those things have been such a great benefit for us, to be able to official run operations across all the different cities.

 

Steve Strauss:            In fact how do you get customers, right? If you're branching out into Vegas and you're branching into an area you've not gone before, what ... Is it social media, or how do you attract new people to your business?

 

Reema Shroff:            It's a combination. It's a combination of number one is we focus on our relationships, so we work with people maybe we've worked with in different cities. For example, different hotel groups that we might have worked on in Dallas, we reach out to them when we're in different cities. We think one of the biggest ways that you can grow is by cultivating relationships, making them feel comfortable to trust you and your business to execute events, what they've been doing for years and you're a newcomer. They need to trust you, they need to know that you would do a good job, that you will be on time, that you will be able to execute the way they and their clients will be happy.

 

                                  So that's number one. However, with social media we're able to post a lot of the things that we do all over the country, so that's a great way for others to see the different types of parties we can do, the different types of venues we serve, the different types of frozen cocktails and ice creams that we can create to customize their events.

 

                                  So that is a great tool, because that's constantly being updated, and it's a great resource for really anybody who's throwing an event to think of us, because not only are we tagging ourselves, but others are reporting on us and taking visuals whenever we go and do an event for them.

 

Steve Strauss:            Reema, you're doing great work. I love your business and I love your energy and passion for it. We're unfortunately out of time, but I could listen to you for a long time. Let me ask you this in closing. What maybe do you wish you had known about being a small business owner, about being an entrepreneur that you didn't know when you started, and what do you think people can take away and learn from your experience that might help them grow their business?

 

Reema Shroff:            I would it's the importance of having a network, having a support structure. I think that it's so important, and I think in this day and age especially with technology and use of email and texting and all that, it's really important to develop personal connections. I think that being in this business kind of underscored the importance of that for me, because it's very easy to sit at your computer and send out emails and do direct marketing and then text people, and I think people forget sometimes that even though technology has allowed us to do amazing things, that critical to all this is that building a connection and building a relationship. I think that that brings me a lot of joy, I think there's a lot of reward in that, but I think that it's also been critical to the success of our business.

 

Steve Strauss:            Fantastic. Reema, if people want to know more about you, about Frost 321, where should they go to learn more?

 

Reema Shroff:            Our website is a great place, frost321.com. We can answer any emails, we answer any event requests, and we would love to personally speak to anyone that has questions on our business.

 

Steve Strauss:            Fantastic. Thank you so much for being with us today, and continued success to you.

 

Reema Shroff:            Thank you so much Steve, appreciate it.

 

Steve Strauss:            And thank you everybody for tuning in for the latest episode of the Bank of America Small Business Podcast. For Bank of America, I'm Steve Strauss.

 

 

 

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 also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

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

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Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

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What defines a great leader? This week on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” podcast, Adam Witty – founder of Vantage Media Groups and ForbesBooks – dives deep into leadership. Tune in for great tips and insights for entrepreneurs and business owners.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Adam Witty:                Leadership is a journey that candidly does not have a destination. You will not be crowned king or queen as a leader. You will not arrive as a leader. Whether you're 30, 40, 60, or 70, no matter how old you are and how many years of experience you have, the leadership journey will continue because there are all these new things that you can learn, there's new insights you will glean, and there are better ways for you to lead.

 

Announcer:                 Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Adam Witty is the Founder and CEO of Advantage Media Group and ForbesBooks. Advantage Media Group is one of the largest business book publishers in America. In fact, just a few weeks ago it was named to the Inc. 5000 List of America's most rapidly growing private companies for the sixth time. His latest book is “Authority Marketing: How to Leverage 7 Pillars of Thought Leadership to Make Competition Irrelevant,” with Rusty Shelton; the forward was by Steve Forbes. No surprise, Adam is the CEO of ForbesBooks.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I want to say, Adam, we're thrilled to be doing this “Heartbeat of Main Street” interview with you. Of course, we're doing it in partnership with Bank of America and ForbesBooks. I've known you for a long time, and only recently have I been part of a ForbesBooks team, but one of the things I have always admired about you, marveled, is that you are an incredible leader, and my sense is you have always been working to be a better leader every day. So when we, here at “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” decided we wanted to do an interview about leadership, I knew you were the guy to talk to.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Welcome to the show. And I want you to talk a little bit about your interest in leadership and how that drove you to create a company like Advantage Media Group and ForbesBooks.

 

Adam Witty:                Well, if you think about any business in the world that's world class at what it does, and if you think about any business that's a big business, there's one thing that they all have in common, and that is that they all require lots of skills and talented people on a team working together towards one mission and goal. As an entrepreneur who is an ambitious guy, who has a dream and a vision to create a very, very large company that makes a significant impact on the world, I think a long time ago I came to the realization that if I was going to build a large world class organization, the one skill that I would have to have that would be better than any other would be that of a talented leader, and understanding what true leadership is.

 

Adam Witty:                So candidly, in a selfish manner, I really pursued a path of learning, and I took my own leadership journey. But as I've now realized as our company has continued to grow quite rapidly, is that at the time, before it felt selfish, now it's a gift that I realize that I can share with others, and creating a world class company is not something that's selfish at all. In fact, it's something that's very selfless because when you have a world class organization that's filled with skilled and talented people that are working together to achieve something far greater than anybody could achieve on their own, it has a pretty significant impact, a positive impact on the lives of not just the people within the organization, but all of the people that are a part of your team members' families and close centers of influence.

 

Adam Witty:                So it's become quite a fulfilling journey for me, and it's reaped a lot of benefits, not just for me, but for everybody associated.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well, and you've said two things, Adam, that I think are really interesting. Just everyone associated with you benefits. But I want to paint a picture of how big I think that circle is, because there's lots of leaders in the world, and there's lots of leaders that share their leadership through their company or their organization, or in other ways that are very focused. But you became a great leader and built a company that empowers other great leaders to share their expertise.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Were you always planning on publishing books on leadership and business books? Was that a coincidence that that's where you took your publishing company, or was that always the goal?

 

Adam Witty:                Well, I've always been a great lover of books. I've always been a voracious reader myself. Each year, I'll typically read somewhere between 25 and 40 books, and in most cases, almost all of those books are business books or leadership books or some type of nonfiction topic related to personal achievement or personal bests, if you will. So I've always had an interest in books, and what I realized was that some of the greatest wisdom in the world, some of the greatest knowledge that I believe can propel society forward is contained within the pages of books.

 

Adam Witty:                And to have the privilege to lead a company that helps entrepreneurs and business leaders and CEOs share their story, their passion, and their knowledge with the world, it's a really great honor because I truly believe that books are our windows to the world, and I believe that the right book in the right person's hands can change that person's life forever. So having the great responsibility to lead a company that this year will publish over 200 new books into the world, and those 200 books will sell hundreds of thousands of copies into the marketplace and affect so many lives, it's a pretty awesome responsibility.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I'm talking with Adam Witty. He's the Founder and CEO of Advantage Media Group and ForbesBooks. ForbesBooks is at ForbesBooks.com. Advantage Media Group is at AdvantageFamily.com. Adam's latest book is “Authority Marketing: How to Leverage 7 Pillars of Thought Leadership to Make Competition Irrelevant.”

 

Gregg Stebben:          I want to go back to something you said, Adam, that really interests me, because not everyone in a leadership role is actually a very good leader, and many of them don't know they're good leaders, or they know they're good leaders but they don't even know where to turn to transform themselves from where they are to a great leader. There's also a lot of people that are just young and being put into positions of leadership that also don't know what to do to be the great leader that their job will call on them to do.

 

Gregg Stebben:          What would you suggest for people who recognize in listening to you the value of being in great leadership, the recognition that they could and should be doing better? Where do they go? How do they start to get started on the kind of journey that you've been on?

 

Adam Witty:                Well, the first thing I would say is I believe that most people in some type of leadership position want to be a good leader. If they want to be a great leader, to your point, Gregg, they may not know how, and they may not know what to do. But I think most people genuinely want to do good as a leader. The second thing that I would say is being a leader in any size organization, whether it's five people, 50 people, 500, or 500,000, leadership is one of the greatest responsibilities that there is. And the person that holds the baton, the person that leads the charge in any size organization, they number one have to see it as the honor that it is. The second thing that they need to know is to serve is to live, and leadership is one of the greatest services that you can give to your fellow teammates. So pursuing a path of improving and growing as a leader is simply pursuing a path of increasing your service to the world.

 

Adam Witty:                So I would say, to answer your question directly, the first thing is, you got to want to be a better leader. The second thing is you got to be self-reflective and have enough self-awareness to know that no matter how good you think you are, number one, you're probably wrong, and you're probably giving yourself more credit than you deserve, but there's always ways to be better.

 

Adam Witty:                If I look at myself and the leadership journey that I've been on since I founded Advantage and ForbesBooks, this was in 2005, that was now 13 years ago, the leader that I am today pales in comparison to what I will become, but if you look at where I am today to where I was 13 years ago, it's amazing the strides that I have made. So as I like to say, as a leader, I'm not where I want to be because I know there's so much growing that I have to do, but I'm certainly not where I used to be. I've made tremendous growth as a leader.

 

Adam Witty:                That's what I think every leader should attain for, is that leadership is a journey that candidly does not have a destination. You will not be crowned king or queen as a leader. You will not arrive as a leader. Whether you're 30, 40, 50, or 70, no matter how old you are and how many years of experience you have, the leadership journey will continue because there are always new things that you can learn, there's new insights you will glean, and there are better ways for you to lead.

 

Adam Witty:                So to me, the sign of the best leaders are the ones that are always wanting to learn and grow because they know that they have not arrived, they are merely on a journey.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Your latest book is titled “Authority Marketing,” and I want to talk about that because just as we just talked about people who are in leadership roles who should or can know that there's more they can do to be better leaders, in fact you're encouraging that forever, but I also suspect that there are people who are leaders in their company, in their industry, where have you, that are afraid or timid or don't understand the value to the world of making their position as a leader, as a thought leader, as an authority, available to the rest of the world. I imagine that that was probably at the root of what had you start your company Advantage Media Group and then ForbesBooks, was that recognizing there's people who know things that should be shared with their world to make their world, and perhaps the bigger world a better place. Can you talk about what you mean by authority marketing and why it's so important in business today?

 

Adam Witty:                Well, to your point, Gregg, there are so many leaders that have so much incredible knowledge and great passion. They have phenomenal stories that can educate. And unfortunately, most people feel very reticent about, let's call it tooting your own horn. So because we're humble and we don't want to toot our own horn, we leave the music inside of us. It never comes out. I believe that there are so many phenomenal leaders that have so much to share that if they did share, they could have a very positive impact on others. That is what we hope to accomplish by helping leaders become authorities in their field.

 

Adam Witty:                Now, from a technical side, Gregg, authority can be manufactured. What I mean by that is that authority marketing, as defined, is a strategic and systematic process of positioning a person as a leader and an expert in their field. And the reason people want to be seen as a leader and an expert is because of the influence it gives them, and the, for lack of a better word, unfair advantage it gives them over their competition. But between us, the other big reason, the important reason is because these people have incredible stories, passion, and knowledge that can and should be shared that can help others improve their lot in life.

 

Adam Witty:                The others that they improve can be customers, they can be employees and teammates, they can be spouses and children. So we take our authors on a journey where we help them strategically and systematically build their authority status in the world, and we help create a leadership and expertise halo that surrounds them, that makes them magnetically attractive to customers, to prospects, to future employees, the people that want to work with them because they're an authority in their field.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And part of what you're saying is recognizing that you have within you or your organization or your company that kind of authority, and not to share is, you're wasting an asset, you're not leveraging an asset. So when you say it's manufactured, of course, one of the most important raw materials is actual authority to start building with.

 

Adam Witty:                That's right. You're doing yourself and the world a disservice by keeping that knowledge bottled up inside of you. And when we help business leaders build authority, how do we do it, Gregg? We first help them author a book, because when you write the book on the topic, not only is that a great piece to then amplify your stories, your passion, and knowledge with the world, but of course, you know and I know that people perceive authors as experts. Because you wrote the book on it, you must know a lot about this topic. So by writing a book and getting a book in people's hands that you can truly help, you're immediately doing the world a service, but in addition, you're doing yourself a great service because now as the author of that book, you're the guy or you're the gal that everybody wants to talk to and everybody wants to work with because you wrote the book on it.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Will you talk a little bit, Adam, about the relevance of books today in 2018? Because most people think we live in a world that's 90% digital today and it'll be 100% digital tomorrow, and books can be digital, but that's not really the root of them, and I think statistically, we're even reading more and more hard copy books today than we were a few years ago. So can you talk about the relevance of books today and why they are not only so important today, but why they're going to be even more important in the future?

 

Adam Witty:                Books are extremely relevant and continue to be relevant. In fact, the percentage of all book sales that are digital, electronic books, right now is at about 27, 28%. So that means that about one out of every three books purchased are digital. It hit its peak three years ago when that number was 31%. Over the last three years, the percentage of book sales that are digital have actually declined slightly. It looks like, based on trend lines, that it's going to stay in that 28 to 30% range.

 

Adam Witty:                So, this, of course, has confused and confounded so many all-digital folks that thought by the year 2020, physical books would all but disappear. As it turns out, we humans really love the tactile feel of a printed book in our hands. And sitting on the couch or curling up next to a fire where you have a book where you can literally flip the pages, there you can take notes, it still is something that is really, really important to people.

 

Adam Witty:                So I believe that physical books have a story place in our history and will continue to have a significant place in our future. I can tell you that based on the number of books published and the number of books that are consumed, whether it be electronic or physical, books will remain a very, very relevant way in which we as society learns, grows, and educates the next generation.

 

Gregg Stebben:          We're talking with Adam Witty, he's the Founder and CEO of Advantage Media Group and ForbesBooks. ForbesBooks is at ForbesBooks.com. Advantage Media Group is at AdvantageFamily.com. Adam, I'm going to ask you a couple of loaded questions because you're the publisher of a lot of business books, and you have been for a long time. Is it fair to ask you which business books have had the greatest influence on you and others in the field of thought leadership and leadership that have had a great influence on you so others can check them out and learn from them as well?

 

Adam Witty:                Absolutely. I do have my favorites. I try to temper that as the publisher of now over 1,000 business books. I try not to pick favorites, just like a parent ought not choose a favorite child. But I do have some books that have had a significant impact on my life, so I'll throw out just a couple.

 

Adam Witty:                One of my favorite leaders, and one of the leaders that I've studied intimately over the last five or six years is a guy named Alan Mulally. Alan Mulally was the CEO of Boeing, and he was also the CEO of Ford Motor Company. Probably listeners would remember Alan Mulally because he was the guy that saved Ford from bankruptcy when GM and Chrysler both declared bankruptcy. In fact, Alan Mulally is largely credited with saving the American automobile industry. And Alan is an incredible leader. A great book was written about him and his leadership skills, and how he put those to work turning around the Ford Motor Company. The title of that book is “American Icon,” subtitle is “Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company.” That's a phenomenal book that has had a deep impact on me as a leader.

 

Adam Witty:                Another book that I really like, titled “Scaling Up.” “Scaling Up” is one of my favorite books because it really gives a phenomenal blueprint on how entrepreneurs of fast growth companies can scale up their business. The reason most businesses don't get big is because there's so many traps, there's so many potholes, and there's so much danger as we try to grow. And the book “Scale Up,” which was authored by a gentleman named Verne Harnish, really goes a long way in providing a blueprint and an operating roadmap of how entrepreneurs can take that growth journey and do it successfully.

 

Adam Witty:                The final book that I'll share with you is titled “The Discipline of Market Leaders.” “The Discipline of Market Leaders” was a phenomenal book written many, many years ago, where it emphasizes that leaders in businesses must choose what category of business they want to create: product innovative companies, customer intimate companies, or operationally excellent companies. The author makes the point that most businesses try to do all three and they fail at that. Instead, pick one that you're extremely good at, and be mediocre at the rest. That's how the true world class companies created industry dominating strategy that makes them world class and a leader in their field.

 

Adam Witty:                So there you go. There's three quick book recommendations to help your listeners on their road and leadership journey.

 

Gregg Stebben:          He's Adam Witty. He's the Founder and CEO of Advantage Media Group and ForbesBooks, ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com, Advantage Family at AdvantageFamily.com. Adam's latest book is “Authority Marketing: How to Leverage 7 Pillars of Thought Leadership to Make Competition Irrelevant.” Adam, I want to thank you so much for joining us, and we hope you'll come back and join us again on “The Heartbeat of Main Street.”

 

Adam Witty:                Thank you, Gregg.

 

Announcer:                 Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

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Maintaining a robust cash flow is crucial to keeping a business healthy. However, business owners often wear so many hats that they neglect to focus on the most important thing – generating revenue. Join Will Barr, Small Business Deposits Executive from Bank of America, for an in-depth look with practical tips for managing your cash flow.

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Will Barr:                    Particularly for a small business owner you have to wear so many different hats every day running and managing all aspects of the business that, from time to time, you hear that business owners have just taken their eye off of what's the most important thing, and that's generating the revenue. No matter how much you cut and trim expenses, if you don't have more coming in than going out, you're not going to last long.

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I am here with Will Barr. He's the Small Business Deposits Executive for Bank of America. Thanks for joining us on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with Bank of America and ForbesBooks. Will, we are going to talk about some tips for helping small businesses manage their cashflow. Before we do, though, I'm already curious about your job and your title. You’re the Small Business Deposits Executive for Bank of America. What does that mean? What do you do?

 

Will Barr:                    Gregg, thanks for having me on. Our team is responsible for the products and services that we offer to small businesses. Those are focused on the deposits that our clients bring to the bank and the way that they access those funds and transact with the bank. It includes checking accounts, savings accounts, debit cards as our primary products, and then the services that we wrap around them. Think about online banking, things like mobile check deposit, remote depositare the specific products that we offer that allow customers to deposit their money with us and then access those funds when and where they need them.

 

Gregg Stebben:         It's really interesting. We're going to have this conversation about managing small business cashflow. I am betting that the technology available today that is part of your purview as the Small Business Deposits Executive makes managing cashflow a lot easier, a lot more effective, a lot more efficient for small businesses if small businesses know to use those tools and pieces of technology.

 

Will Barr:                    Absolutely. We talk a lot within my team about small business owners and why they open a small business. Never on that list is because they enjoy banking. We think about it in the context of, how do we help them conduct their banking activities more efficiently, more quickly, so they can get back to why they opened and run their business, whether that's a love for what they do, to provide for their family, to be a part of other people's lives. That's why they're in business, and it's our job to let them get back to that.

 

Gregg Stebben:         You're in a situation where you're interacting with small businesses all the time. I am guessing that for many small businesses, managing cashflow is sort of like a problem they know they have, they don't know what to do with it, and they just sort of put up with it. Maybe there's even some small businesses that don't even understand that the problems they're having with the revenue and expenses of their business is cashflow. Do you find that even on the branch level that one of the things business bankers are doing is helping educate small businesses sometimes from the foundation up on why cashflow is so important?

 

Will Barr:                    It is. We hear about that. As you said, it's the number one thing that our clients tell us they struggle with. One of the things we have done across the bank over the last couple years is really invest in building expertise in small business so that we can give exactly the advice that you're talking about when a client comes to us and has a problem, has a challenge that they're facing. We've got the products and solutions that then help address that. We spend a lot of time. We talk about things like remote deposit, other capabilities that allow clients to deposit stuff without actually having to come to the bank. How do we educate our sales force so then when a client is talking about struggles they have with cashflowas an example, that they can articulate ways that we have solutions that help solve for that problem or help them address those challenges? That's something we've really made a big investment in as a bank, both in technology and then in the sales force and the expertise to engage the client in solving those problems.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Because I know we spend a lot of time talking with folks from the SBA, the Small Business Administration, for instance. I know that cashflow problems always rank as the number one or one of the top reasons why businesses fail. This is not something to be treated lightly. It's fundamental. If you own a small business or you're even thinking about starting a small business, this should be a number one priority of something you address, understand, and take care of.

 

Will Barr:                    I think for most business owners cashflow and the challenges it represents is something that never goes away.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm talking with Will Barr. He's the Small Business Deposits Executive for Bank of America. We're talking about tips for better managing small business cashflow. Let's start at the beginning here. Cashflow really involves two things, and each business may have a problem with one of these things or both of these things. It's accounts receivable, money coming in, and paying your expenses, money going out. Are there different tips for different parts of that equation?

 

Will Barr:                    I think there are. I think particularly for a small business owner you have to wear so many different hats every day running and managing all aspects of the business that, from time to time, you hear that business owners have just taken their eye off of what's the most important thing, and that's generating the revenue. No matter how much you cut and trim expenses, if you don't have more coming in than going out you're not going to last long. You've got a real challenge that you're going to face.

 

Gregg Stebben:         But generating revenue, there's really two pieces to that. You might be generating tons of revenue but it's not coming in. You're not managing your receivables well, so you made the money, you just don't have the money, so you can't pay your bills.

 

Will Barr:                    That's right. You've got to get paid. Managing those receivables, particularly in ... Perhaps in a retail situations it's less of an issue in the sense that you should be getting paid right then, and maybe it's a couple days later based upon how you're collecting those funds and how you're getting paid. But that's very different than someone who may be performing a service and leaves the invoice with the customer and they've got to figure out how do they collect 15, 30 days later, hopefully if all goes well. That becomes a significant effort on their part to manage that while also generating the future flow of business. Being a small business owner is pretty darn complicated.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Let's talk about ways to get the money coming in if we've earned it. For instance, one of the things you recommend ... We're looking actually at an article on the Bank of America Small Business website, Six Tips for Better Managing Your Small Business Cashflow. You talk about switching to electronic invoicing. Now, some small business owners may feel like there's going to be a steep learning curve or this is going to be intimidating. Tell us why whatever learning curve may be there, why it's worth doing, and also give a sense of is it really as hard as people might imagine to make that switch?

 

Will Barr:                    We've met with a number of providers in the industry of fintech-type firms that provide these electronic invoicing services, and our clients who've used them tell us it really helps them get an understanding of the status of their receivables at any specific point in time. The modern technology allows you to go in and see all the invoices that have generated. A lot of these electronic providers provide you visibility, tell you whether or not even the e-mail that you sent with the invoice has been opened and read. Have they scheduled to pay it? If they have scheduled to pay it, when is it going to be paid and when will you receive the funds? Those are things that you can see at a moment's notice that otherwise might take you making several phone calls, the back and forth phone tag with your client that takes time.

 

                                  These tools don't solve for all of that, but can give you some insight into where do you want to spend your time? Where do you focus? Where do you need to make the phone call to the guy who has never even read the e-mail that you sent on your invoice? That's where you want to spend your time, versus the individual who has already scheduled to pay it. You're going to know you're going to get those funds. There's some capabilities there that’ll replace a lot of the hard work that has to go into managing those things, but actually tells you where to focus your time and effort and can give you that snapshot much more quickly than it might take you to review a stack of papers on your desk.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I would imagine one of the greatest benefits, two of the greatest benefits for a company that's switching to electronic invoicing is, first of all ... I have a lot of friends who own small businesses. It amazes me how hard it is for them to create an invoice because they've never automated it, so they don't do it, so they get backlogged, so their cashflow is messed up. A really good electronic invoicing system should enable you to make an invoice in a minute or two. Everything should be standardized in a couple of options and print the thing out and send it, or just send it without printing it. Then it should also follow up. It should know when things have been paid and automate the process of, frankly, nagging companies that are not paying in a timely way, or just reminding them to pay in an important way. I would imaging picking the right electronic invoicing program is important.

 

                                  I also want you to talk about the benefit of doings things like actually offering small discounts to your customers if they pay in a very timely way, because that guarantees the money's coming in. The future value is worth a little bit of a discount, and it takes a lot of cashflow worries off the top of your head.

 

Will Barr:                    Gregg, I think you said it very well. I want to be clear when we talk about this, going back to my point around small businesses, being a small business owner, being very difficult. I know that time is at a premium, and there are times where setting up some of those electronic invoicing capabilitiesinvolves that upfront investment that folks may not feel like they have today. But I do think they're things that, when appropriate and when you can carve off the time, will pay those dividends down the line. I don't want to take away from a lot of the stuff that we're talking about. I think there are tools and techniques built into these electronic invoicing or we see as standard practice within our clients to give a client incentive to pay attention to the invoice. Discounts is one way to do that.

 

                                  What we try and do is help our clients understand, even when they're paying invoices, the cost savings that that can represent to them versus whether they have to use credit and the cost of credit. Sometimes we encourage clients to use credit that they have available to pay an invoice earlier because if you look at the discount in the short period of time that you're paying versus what you're paying on an annual percentage rate for that credit, a lot of times you can come out ahead just doing that math, and so there's an opportunity for our clients to do that same kind of conversation with their clients. Then, it helps them to understand and predict when they have needs or how do they manage their cashflow by be willing to giving up some of their margin to make sure that they have enough funds in their account that week to make payroll.

 

Gregg Stebben:         One of the things you talked about earlier ... We're talking with Will Barr. He's the Small Business Deposits Executive. We're talking about a story on the Bank of America Small Business site. It's actually at bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/education: Six Tips for Better Managing Your Small Business Cashflow. One of the things, Will, you mentioned very early on in this interview was remote deposit capture. I always wonder, how many individuals and how many businesses are actually using their phone or some other digital means to deposit checks versus going to the bank? I don't know if you have that statistic. But talk about why this is such an important tool for efficiency for a small business.

 

Will Barr:                    Gregg, I'll give you a very personal example, as you did. You know many small business owners. In my job, I try and convert as many of my friends who are small business owners to become clients of ours. I have a neighbor who used to tell me about the effort he'd go to to make a deposit at one of our branches. It required him to leave his business, because he needed access to those funds. The check that he'd just received in the mail, he needed in his account to be able to pay his bills and his payables. He would stop what he was doing at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon to drive 10 minutes to our branch, make a deposit. Then, by the time he'd gone back to his work, was settled back in, it'd cost him as hour.

 

                                  What we were able to do through the result of that conversation we had one afternoon in the street in front of our house was put a scanner on his desktop that moves that activity from 1:00 in the afternoon, 2:00 in the afternoon, which is a prime time for him to be building and growing his business. He now does it at 6:00, 6:30, 7:00 at night, makes that same deposit. The funds go through that night and he's kept that time open in the middle of his day to really focus on driving his business. For him, that's a time-saverthat's really accomplished the same thing as dropping what he was doing and entering the bank. We developed technology like that where we have a desktop scannerthat sits on a client's desk and they can make deposits or is, as I think you're aware, people can use their mobile phones to make a deposit right when they get that check. Both those ways are ways that we've completely changed the dynamic of getting money into the account and getting access to those funds.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Let's change the conversation to payables, the things we pay. We're talking about a story called Six Tips for Better Managing Your Small Business Cashflow. It's on the Bank of America Small Business site, bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/education. I'm talking with Will Barr. He's the Small Business Deposits Executive for Bank of America. How do we apply the same kind of efficiency of thinking and these tools and these processes to the part of our business which is where we pay our bills? What kind of things can we do there to be more efficient?

 

Will Barr:                    A couple thoughts in that regard about being smarter with the way that you pay for things. In our space, we've built online and mobile capabilities that can do a couple things. They can, one, help our clients avoid incurring late fees and penalties. But they can also manage when you make a payment and actually holding onto your funds longer. Think about that, Gregg, in the sense that a lot of folks are very financially responsible and will want to pay an invoice the minute they get it so they can move it from the inbox to the outbox. I think that's a great practice. But that doesn't mean that the funds that you're paying have to go out today, and that you can schedule that payment to say, "Hey. I got this bill today. It's August the 7th. It's not due till August the 31st. Why do I want to pay that guy before August 30th?" I can do that. I can go into online banking and I can schedule that payment. I get an e-mail confirmation that it's going to go out.

 

                                  But that gives me access to those funds over the course of the month if I may need them for other things or I need ... something comes up that's more urgent. A lot of these capabilities can help somebody hold their money longer, or setting up those same type of scheduled payments can make sure that you don't miss important dates that might ... a rent payment or a mortgage payment. Those types of things are other ways that people use these electronic tools and reminders to make sure they're not missing those dates.

 

Gregg Stebben:         One of the things you suggest in this article is to negotiate with vendors. Is that something I do now or is it something I do when I'm having a cashflow problem? Or do I do it now so that when I have a cashflow problem we already have a good friendly relationship?

 

Will Barr:                    I think it's something you want to do in advance, in the sense that you want to understand and communicate to your vendors that being timely, being responsible is something that's of critical importance to you. That openness in many ways will generate that sense of trust with the vendor. I think it's always important to have that conversation upfront. Certainly the particulars of any given situation may be hard to cover or anticipate when you're initially doing that. But as soon as you know you're going to have a problem, I think vendors will appreciate that transparency, and that trust that's built as a result of that is likely to get you ... not a guarantee by any means, but is likely to get you the break that you're looking for or the patience or the understanding on the part of vendors.

 

                                   At the same time, Gregg, you've got to realize that those vendors are in business and they want to get paid on time. You need to be thoughtful and careful about how to do that, when to do that. But I'm of the opinion that upfront communication anticipating if and when those situations may occur, you've already had the conversation, is advantageous.

 

Gregg Stebben:         It seems to me that this is one of those times where if you think about how you would respond to this circumstance will be really helpful. Obviously if someone's going to have trouble with a payment, you'd rather know earlier than later. You'd rather have it be transparent. You don't want to feel like they're trying to pull the wool over your eyes. So treating those vendors like you'd like to be treated is probably a really good way of figuring out the best way to proceed.

 

Will Barr:                    I agree. This probably applies in a lot of different aspects of life. But if a due date for a bill comes and goes and you don't hear anything, there's much more consternation on your part than if somebody has called you in advance and said, "Hey. I'm working through a bit of a tough time. It's three days before it's due. I'd like you to know I need a couple more days and I'll plan to get it to you on this date." They're much more inclined to understand that than they are if they just never hear from you.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Absolutely. One of the other things you suggest in this article, which is called Six Tips for Better Managing Your Small Business Cashflow, it's at bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/education, you suggest upgrading your payroll system. I think that's a much longer conversation, and I hope we can have that conversation sometime. I want to move on to the last part of the article, which is you suggest that during periods of positive cashflow that small businesses make sure they're setting aside some money as a financial cushion for when there might be a down cycle. Do you find that even on the branch level this is something that your business bankers are able to coach your business clients through to help them understand how to do it, how much to set aside, and where to put it?

 

Will Barr:                    I do. I think this is something that we talk about both on the personal and the business side of our role as a financial advisor to our clients, is really understanding the priorities that you face, the stages of where you are both from a business and a personal lifecycle standpoint, and this is a key component. Saving for that rainy day. Recognizing that when times are good there may be times that are not so good, and how do you prepare now for those? In many cases I recognize this is easier said than done, but it is something that we're prepared to talk about and help clients understand how best to use excess funds that they may be holding, whether it's to save them, save portions of them, use that frankly in those good times to apply for credit that you may need in a later date. Those are all things that we really spend a lot of time with our sales teams talking about and helping them prepare for these conversations with our clients.

 

Gregg Stebben:         He is Will Barr. He's the Small Business Deposits Executive. We're here on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with Bank of America and ForbesBooks. We've been talking about an article on the Bank of America Small Business site. It's at bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/education. Six Tips for Better Managing Your Small Business Cashflow. Will, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Will Barr:                    Gregg, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

 

Narrator:                     Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks, at forbesbooks.com, and Bank of America, at bankofamerica.com.

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How do you take an after-work hobby and capitalize on it to create an empire? This week’s podcast episode details how one man did exactly that, board by board.

 

Listen to valuable advice for hopeful entrepreneurs from Brandon Greba, founder of West Georgia Cornhole.

 

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Brandon Greba:         We started in 2009, and from there I was doing it as a hobby. So, up until July of 2013, finally I just made the leap of faith, and I quit my good corporate job. And I was excelling, I was at the top of my team, and I was making decent money at it, and stuff. On the other side of that, I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, and it was instilled in me at a young age ... my dad owned his own business, so it was instilled that, hey, you're going to own your own business one day.

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com, and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I’m here with Brandon Greba, he is the owner of West Georgia Cornhole. Their website is westgeorgiacornhole.com, also well worth checking out on Twitter, wgcornhole, on Facebook, West Georgia Cornhole and Instagram, which we are going to talk about because, Brandon, I have heard you are a marketing whiz, or you and your team are when it comes to Instagram. That's West-Georgia-Cornhole.

 

                                   Brandon, thanks for joining us and I have to start by asking what may seem like a really obvious question to you, but I'm not sure everybody in the United States or in the world knows what cornhole is. So give us a real quick rundown of how the game is played.

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. Well, thanks guys, for having me on first off. It's a privilege to be in this position so definitely appreciate that. So, yeah. Cornhole is a game that is primarily played at an outdoor event, tailgates, family functions, but over the past three or four years it's really gained in popularity as far competition-wise. It started as a backyard game and now it's kind of turned into big money where you can actually win some prize money and things.

 

Gregg Stebben:         There are pro cornhole players?

 

Brandon Greba:         Oh yeah. Yeah. I mean it's on ESPN now.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Then it's hard to top that, right? That's pretty much pinnacle.

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. Yeah. Exactly, but you know, the premise of it is you have eight bean bags. You usually play against another opponent and you have two boards that are spread out 27 feet apart. The boards themselves are two foot by four foot and they've got a six-inch hole towards the top. So, similar to horseshoes. You can transport it very well and then you throw the beanbags and try to get it in the hole. So, one bean bag on the board is one point, and one bean bag on the hole is three points. So you just kind of go back and forth playing your opponent until you get to 21, typically. First to 21 wins, so it's pretty simple in kind of theory but as you get more involved in it, there's a lot of strategy and competition involved.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And of course, we should point out that a big difference between cornhole and horseshoes is in horseshoes usually you're driving a stake into the ground or the sand or something and throwing them. Here, there's a board and that board ends up being really important in this conversation because that's really what your company does—you make cornhole boards, correct?

 

Brandon Greba:         Yep. Yep. So, absolutely. So we can get as basic as just a plain board, natural wood, spray some poly on it, to getting very elaborate, doing corporate logos, sponsors, teams, and things like that. So, it's kind of all up to the customer, the end customer, the company that we're dealing with but that's what makes it cool, so everyone is unique.

 

Gregg Stebben:          So, are your customers a combination of just regular folks like us who want to play in the backyard or with friends, all the way up to corporate? And I could even imagine ... I mean I think I've seen cornhole boards with team logos on them. Pro teams, college teams, things like that?

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. So, absolutely. We have an online retail site so anybody off the street can go on there, log on and customize a board and then that goes straight to us and then usually within two weeks, we'll have it delivered to your doorstep, so that's the process and then we have larger bulk orders that we do for corporations, for promotional events, giveaways, things like that. So, definitely, two good markets that we're in.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Help me understand how you got into the business of building cornhole boards. I'm talking with Brandon Greba. He's the owner of West Georgia Cornhole at westgeorgiacornhole.com. You can check him out on social media too, wgcornhole on Twitter, West Georgia Cornhole on Facebook, and on Instagram, West-Georgia-Cornhole. How did you get into this business?

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. So, I've always kind of been a hands-on guy, liking to build things. So, really it started probably around 2008, 2009. One of my friends asked me to build a cornhole set for their parents for Christmas, so I went ahead and did it, made a nice set. She presented it to her parents for Christmas. They loved it, fell in love with it. They told some of their friends, "Hey where'd you get this?" You know, mentioned my name, so really from that point on, it was word of mouth. I was working out of my garage and had a corporate full-time job, trying to manage that and orders started flowing in, started picking up, word of mouth.

 

                                   I would make some local classified posts, kind of starting real small and then things really just escalated. Cornhole was getting popular. We were making a product. Or at that time I was making a good product, and it just really scaled from there. You know we started in 2009, and from there I was doing it as a hobby, so up until July of 2013. I finally just made the leap of faith and I quit my good, corporate job that I was excelling in.

 

Gregg Stebben:         What was your good corporate job?

 

Brandon Greba:         I was working for a company called Fastenal. It's a rather large industrial supply company, so I was a project manager for them at that time.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So, you were at a place where you had to make a tough choice, or maybe it was an easy choice.

 

Brandon Greba:         Oh yeah. It was tough because I was in a position with my job and I was excelling. I was the top of my team and I was making decent money at it and stuff, but on the other side of that, I come from a long line of entrepreneurs and it was instilled in me at a young age and my dad owned his own business. So it was kind of installed that, "Hey, you're going to own your own business one day." So, at that point, it was like, "Okay. I know I can do this. I know I can make money at it." You've got the work ethic to do it, let's do it and then I talked to my boss. He thought I was crazy but it was a long process.

 

                                  Me and my wife talked about it for six, seven, eight months and just got plans together and made sure the financials worked out and made sure we weren't going crazy doing this thing, you know?

 

Gregg Stebben:         So, when you made that leap around July 2013—so about five years ago—were you still making the boards in your garage? Did you have any employees? Where was the business at that point, and then help us understand what you've built it into today?

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. So at that point we were still in my garage and it was considered a hobby at that point.

 

Gregg Stebben:          So, you and Steve Jobs started the same way.

 

Brandon Greba:         Yep. Yep. Two car garage. Yep, out in Georgia. I didn't have any employees. I mean I had some people, some friends, that would lend a hand on the weekend if I was backed up or during the summer I would hire some buddies that were teachers that had the summer off, so kind of that model. And usually the summer is our busier time, so it kind of helped out, you know, them making a little extra money and then helping me out when we were busy. So, but nobody full time at that point so as soon as I ... we formed an LLC and then started July '13

 

                                             Related Content: Why Your Small Business Should Participate in Facebook or Instagram Live Streaming Events. And Tweet Chats, Too!   

 

                                   A month or two later, I hired a part-timer. He was a work release student in one of the local high schools. So I hired him on. He was going to be graduating later in the spring. So, we kind of mentored him and trained him up so hired him on. And then in ... I guess it was October, November of '13, so a few months later, we moved into a commercial space of about 5000 square feet, so you know, at that point we were able to really expand and spread out, create some more efficiencies and not be so crammed and then really just kind of make the stepping stones of what we needed to do to grow the business to where we wanted it.

 

                                   That was a big move, getting into a building and out of the garage.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Signing a lease is a big deal.

 

Brandon Greba:         Yep. Yep. Absolutely. So, that was ... You know, we made the move there towards the end of '13 and started ramping up, getting ready for Christmas. Usually Christmas is pretty big and then went full steam at it January, February of 2014 and just kind of started hiring people. I had one part-time employee. He turned into a full-time after he graduated high school. He stuck with me after that for about three to four years, so he was definitely a good hire and kind of got me going as well, so it was a good investment there.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And so how big is your company today?

 

Brandon Greba:         Right now, we actually, two months ago, acquired a new building so we're building. Square foot now, we are about 15, 16 thousand square feet. We have a mixture of part-time, full-time. Right now probably 20 to 22 employees right now, so looking to bring on a few more here before the year is over. I would say by the end of the year maybe 23, 24 employees. Definitely a big uptick in five years, so it's something to be very proud of.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So, I have to ask. Do you have a sense of how big the cornhole market is?

 

Brandon Greba:         The cornhole market ... We've got a few competitors of mine that are out there, but the market's kind of really split because you've got these garage hobby builders, like I came out of. So from the garagers ... There's still a lot of those guys out there that are doing that across the country. But we kind of estimate the cornhole yard game market. Because we do a little bit more than just cornhole. We do a lot of other yard games as well. So, we anticipate the yard game market anywhere between 20 and 40 million dollars a year.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I have heard that you have done very well, very, very well, using Instagram as a marketing tool. Can you talk to us about things you tried in the beginning? What worked, what didn't, and what you're doing today?

 

                                             Related Content: 5 Ideas to Use Instagram Stories to Drive Small Business Growth

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. So, you know, we use social media is huge for us. You know we use it as a way to connect to our followers and not just followers, but potential buyers. And a lot of people out there will try to push product down people's throats on social media. We kind of take a different angle, you know. We want to just engage with those people. You know, we want to get them to know our business and then hopefully, at that point we have an emotional connection with them and then they make the sale. They want to be connected with company in the sale.

 

                                   It's just not some random cornhole board off an internet site. We want to let them know how the process is, behind-the-scenes pictures, kind of stuff like that. It's important to put a face behind the product, really. That's kind what we really like to do with it. And then Instagram and Facebook is an easy way to do that.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yes. And so, has that ... First of all, are you the one who's managing your social media and whether you're the one doing it today or not, were you doing it in the beginning?

 

                                            Related Content: The Small Business Owner's Guide to Social Media

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. I handle a lot of it now still. I have a little help from one of my other guys but it's you know, it's probably about 50-50 between both of us as far promotion we're going to do on there or any type of ad spend or anything like that or pictures or what not we're going to put on. But yeah, in the beginning it was all me. Everything really, was all me in the beginning, you know until…

 

Gregg Stebben:          It's the nature of being an entrepreneur.

 

Brandon Greba:         Oh yeah. Yeah. And until you realize, "Hey. I can't do all this anymore." Then you start hiring people, so hiring good people that can do the job that you used to do. So, that was a big thing too.

 

Gregg Stebben:         When you started the company in 2013, were you already a big social media user? Or did you have to learn the rules of the game around the time you launched or started to use it for your own company?

 

Brandon Greba:         I wouldn't say I was good. I was probably average, you know. Just being young, knowing that kind of stuff is an advantage and then it starts changing every day. You know, the aspect of the new sites that are out there and how people interact an all the hashtags, the algorithm, all the hot stuff behind the scenes. All that stuff's changing every day. You know, you got to kind of stay on top of it. We have some outside help that kind of helps us with some of the guidance on that stuff. But yeah, it's all learning. Every day is change. You got to learn new things every week.

 

Gregg Stebben:         How would you categorize the importance of social media in the marketing of your company? Is it your main thing or is it part of a larger mix?

 

Brandon Greba:         I wouldn't say it's everything but it is a lot. It's a big nest, but you don't want to put all your eggs in that basket.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Yes. Yes. Well, I'm imagining that if you're in what you call the backyard game industry, that there's a lot of other ways to connect with fans, and friends, and customers. Events, leagues, celebrity clients ... Do you see yourself doing things like that?

 

Brandon Greba:         We host tournaments. We have a weekly league that we host in our local city. You know we are for hire for different corporate events or tournaments that people want to point on. At that point, you know, people are actually playing on our boards. They get the chance to talk with us, interact with us, play with our product so it's a good way to get people to actually use our stuff before the buy it and then they can ask us how to purchase these things at that point. So, it's just another avenue. You know, another avenue as far celebrity clients ... We'll occasionally get clients that will purchase some of our cornhole boards.

 

                                   At that point it's pretty cool. You know, we try to jump on it, try to leverage that as far as making posts or what not or trying to get them to take pictures with the product and tagging us. It is pretty cool and if there is a potential buyer that sees that they're going be like, "Wow. Okay. You made this so and so." For us it's just another way to go to market there.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm talking with Brandon Greba. He's the owner of West Georgia Cornhole. It's westgeorgiacornhole.com. If you're needing a board, that's the place to go. On Twitter, wgcornhole. Facebook, West Georgia Cornhole, and on Instagram, West - Georgia-Cornhole.

 

                                   Brandon, I noticed on your website that you are actually doing a lot of work for big name, big brand companies like Coca-Cola and American Express, Adobe, Google Fiber. Tell us about how you got started in the corporate market.

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. So the corporate market has really come on, probably in the past two to three years. So, that's a totally different ball game as far as going to bat with those guys but we just reach out to them. We try to make some calls. A lot of times they're finding us on Google searches, sending us emails that way. But it's just, when you get those emails, you get those inquiries, you know we try to jump on them, take extreme care of them. We try to take care of everybody but really focusing and making those relationships work.

 

                                   And then a lot of times, it's reoccurring purchases that they're doing. You know, they have events throughout the year, do promotions or giveaways. So we just want to make sure that they are 100% taken care of. It turns out to be an ongoing relationship that we have with them.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Which is a beautiful, beautiful, thing. I want to ask you two other things, Brandon. One is, now that you've built this company up, essentially in about 10 years, right ... 2008 or 2009 ... you're 10 years in. You've grown. You're having a remarkable success. Where do you see yourself and the company in five years, 10 years?

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. So, I'm always ... one of my things is I always dream big. You know, set big goals, obtains those goals and then once you do that, set even bigger goals after that. So, in five years, I would be like to be doing close to $10 million in sales, be looking for a bigger building at that point, outgrow this building. I want to have probably 30 to 40 employees, so double the employee base. So those are just some of the five-year goals. After that it's probably the 10 years goals. After 10 years I want to be at the point I'm letting this ... this thing is smooth sailing. I'm looking into possibly purchasing other business or building another business kind of similar that can complement this. You know, that's where we're at.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Sounds like a great goal. The last thing I want to ask you because of the success you've built in the last 10 years is, when you think back to those early days, and then in your mind kind of fast forward to today ... Has there been one or two of the most valuable lessons you've learned about owning, starting, or running a business that you wish everyone knew?

 

Brandon Greba:         Yeah. I've got quite a bit of them. Yeah. I guess one of the biggest things, you know ... Don't let anybody tell you, you can't do it. When I started off, "Oh. What are you doing, man? You're crazy. Why are you quitting this job, doing this?" Don't let anybody say you can't do it. There's always going to be naysayers and stuff out there, so put that aside and then five, 10 years down the road, say, "Well, look what I've done." Don't let anybody put you down. Don't let anybody say it can't be done. I said it before. Dream big, set big goals. Obtain those goals and then set new ones, really.

 

                                   And a big one too is, it's not all peachy and peachy as a way it's going to be you know. There are going to be rough times. Everybody thinks owning your own business, "Oh, man. You own your own business. That's awesome." It's got its bad days just like anybody else. Those bad days are bad.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Well, for you, and for your company ... For West Georgia Cornhole, what's a bad day look like?

 

Brandon Greba:         You know, you may lose a sale, you may lose a customer, you may lose a bigger customer. You know may have some machinery that goes down. You're going to have to jump on that, spend money on that. You may have some employees that on a big day you needed them to be here, they didn't show up, something happened. So, there's always crazy things like that. It's never all ups. But with those rough times, you know, learn from those mistakes and what happened in those rough times and how you can avoid them in the future. You got to do that.

 

Gregg Stebben:         In other words, when things are tough, make sure you learn from them so you don't repeat the same mistakes.

 

Brandon Greba:         Exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Brandon, thanks for joining us. He's Brandon Greba. He's the owner of West Georgia Cornhole. Westgeorgiacornhole.com. On Twitter, @wgcornhole. On Facebook, at West Georgia Cornhole and on Instagram at West-Georgia-Cornhole. Go to any of those social media sites or directly to westgeorgiacornhole.com, you will see some beautiful boards and if you want to have a great summer and you don't have a cornhole board or you're ready to update, these are the guys to go to.

 

                                   Brandon, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Brandon Greba:          Yes sir, thanks for having me.

 

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

 

 

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Many entrepreneurs turn to their bank for a loan when starting a small business. On the latest podcast episode, Chris Ward, Small Business Credit Executive from Bank of America, explains what banks are looking for when making loan decisions.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Chris Ward:                If you have an accountant, that's your business partner. If you have an attorney to help represent you, that's your business partner. Think of your banker the same way, one of the three trusted business partners for you to be successful as a small business, because every small business owner wants to grow their business over time and wants to have a positive impact on the community. So how can your banker help you with that?

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm here with Chris Ward, he’s the Small Business Credit Executive at Bank of America. We're going to talk about something, Chris, I know all small business owners think to themselves and always wonder who I can ask? Here's the question. When it comes to a bank like Bank of America making business loans, what is the bank looking for?

 

Chris Ward:                Good question Gregg. It's hard for small businesses, because there's not a lot of information out there to help them like there is on the consumer lending side. What are banks looking for? They're primarily looking for the five C’s of small business credit. What are those five C’s of small business credit?

 

                                   It's about capacity, collateral, capital, conditions and character, and if I could throw in one more, it's also about communication, so let's just call it the six C’s of small business lending credit.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Okay. I'm game to call it the six C’s of small business credit. Let's take them one at a time. You said the first one is capacity. What do you mean by that?

 

Chris Ward:                Capacity really is about whether the revenues, the income that your business generates, is enough to cover your debts, so your business debts and also your personal debts. Because if you're a small business owner, your business is your personal income as well. So, it's about the cash flow that your business generates and is that cash flow getting better, is it getting worse, is it stable, is it unstable, is it volatile? It’s things like that we’re looking for to determine the capacity that a business has for handling its expenses and its liabilities.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Do you find that many people who are looking for a small business loan are surprised that their personal credit situation is also a factor?

 

Chris Ward:                A lot are. A lot don't realize that. But if you think about it, if you're a sole proprietor, it makes all the sense in the world, because on your tax returns on your personal side you're going to have your business. But when you're a Subchapter S or LLC, a lot of those businesses—because of the way they're structured—they have to pass through the retained earnings back to the personal side.

 

                                  Because in a small business loan, as owners, you're going to be personally guaranteeing that loan, we have to look at both sides, both the business side and the personal side to see how you're managing your entire financial well-being.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Are there certain benchmarks or rules of thumb that I, as a small business owner, should be looking at to recognize whether I'm in a good situation to be going to a bank for a small business loan?

 

Chris Ward:                Yeah. There's a general rule of thumb, and it's really about the income divided by your total debt. We call it debt coverage ratio. In general, in the industry you're looking for about $1.25 to cover at least every dollar of liabilities out there. That way you have a little bit of buffer, a little bit of wiggle room, if you will, on your cash flow to manage your debt and provide some working capital for the business so it can keep on growing.   [GK4]

 

Gregg Stebben:          Then the next C of the six C’s of small business credit is capital, so talk about that.

 

Chris Ward:                Capital is really about your business assets, what the business owns, what the business has generated. Is it greater than the total liabilities the business has out there? Think of your business assets. Think of what the business owns. Think of inventory. Think of real estate. Think of retained earnings, the cash, the checking account balances. Is that more than what the business owes to others? So, whether that's an actual loan or maybe it's just your accounts payable, and does that capital also have enough to show how much you as a business owner have invested in that company that you own?

 

Gregg Stebben:         Which I think would tie into the next C, which is collateral.

 

Chris Ward:                Collateral, right. Capital helps to generate collateral, at least generate the means to grow your collateral. It's accounts receivable for a business. It's inventory. It's cash. It's equipment. It's real estate if the business actually owns its property instead of leases. It's an automobile that might be in the business name or a truck, depending on the type of business.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I'm talking with Chris Ward. He's the small business credit executive at Bank of America. We're talking about ... I think classically they're called the five C’s of small business credit. We've talked about capital, we've talked about capacity, we've talked about collateral. There's also a C, which is the fourth C, which is conditions. What does that refer to?

 

Chris Ward:                That's really about the economy and the type of industry that you are. A lot of industries could be very seasonal. You think of industries that rely upon tourism, very, very seasonal. So that means the cash flow, the revenues, could be somewhat volatile if we look at the entire year.

 

                                   It also could be about the type of industry such as a gas station or a convenience store. You might be handling very dangerous liquids—obviously a gas station would—so there's legislation, there's regulations involved. So, it's really understanding not only the business itself, but also the type of business it is and how it impacts our local communities.

 

Gregg Stebben:         It's interesting, when you talk about something like seasonal industries, are you suggesting that there's a best time of year for me to be applying for a loan, or just that I am addressing it well when talking about the need for the loan or in the written materials I might submit to the bank?

 

Chris Ward:                It's more about addressing it well with your banker, making sure they understand the type of business you are, when your revenues come in if they don't come in as a straight line. And no business has revenues coming in in a straight line every month, month over month. You think about it, just the American economy. People spend a whole lot of money in the fourth quarter for the holidays and then they turn around and they have to pay all their bills in Q1, and the tax time comes, so that also relates to small businesses in general from my opinion.

 

                                  Help your banker understand how your revenues come in, how your expenses go out, and how does time and the time of year impact how your business runs.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Chris, as I'm listening to you, I'm thinking that you're suggesting that I be prepared to answer the same questions a rich uncle would ask if I went to my rich uncle for a loan.

 

Chris Ward:                Yeah. Exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Is that actually ... Could that be a good way to approach this? Just imagine that I'm making a case for a loan for my business to another person versus a bank? Because everything you've said so far is really common sense.

 

Chris Ward:                It is common sense, but you're dealing with your banker, and so how you have that relationship with your banker, how you build that partnership with your banker, is really important. Getting them to understand how your business runs, because every business is different. There's over 28 million small businesses in America today. They're all different. Some are businesses at home. Some are businesses with an actual storefront. Some are businesses where the owner is more of a consultant and traveling all the time.

 

                                   So, help that the banker understand how your business runs, how it operates, how it generates cashflow, and what is the ultimate goal and purpose of your business.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Okay. Let's move on to the fifth C of the six C’s of small business credit. It's character. That's got to be a big one.

 

Chris Ward:                It is. It's probably one of the most important, if not the most important. It's all about you as a business owner and your history. It's tied so closely to the success of your business. It's actually critically important.

 

                                  It's factors such as your personal integrity, your industry experience, your good-standing. It's about your credit history, both your personal and your business credit history, and the factors that impact your credit score, because there are small business credit scores out there as well as the credit bureau agencies.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And the sixth C you have said is communication, and I would think that that fits in with character as well. Talk about why that's so important.

 

Chris Ward:                Well, it's a little bit different, and here's how it's different. Communication is first you have a business plan. It's significant if you have a business plan where you've been, where you are today, and where you're going, and how are you going to continue the success of your business, and then can you communicate and share that business plan with your small business banker? Because your small business banker is your business partner in many, many senses. They're there to represent you with the bank and to cut through the red tape of banking, because banking is not easy nowadays.

 

                                   It's gotten a lot better because of mobile technology and mobile banking or remote deposit capture and things like that, but it's still complicated, especially for a small business owner, because there are so many factors that impact you as a business owner. So that communication, that relationship, that give and take that you have with your small business banker to help you get the proper products, to make sure that you're lining up the right type of lending products to the needs that you have, that's what communication is all about.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Chris, I want to ask you two more questions. I'm talking with Chris Ward. He's the small business credit executive at Bank of America. I want to ask you two other questions. One is what is the best way for me to begin building a relationship with my local bankers now, so that when I'm ready to ask for a loan I'm not walking in for the first time, so that I know them and they know me?

 

Chris Ward:                That's a great question. So here's my suggestion. Where you have your business checking account today, get to know that bank, the bankers there that represent you at that local branch, and get to know their products and services. Then ask them questions about how to run your business better, how to have a better business banking relationship.

 

                                   So think of things like merchant services. If you accept credit cards from your customers, are your merchant services to accept those credit cards with the bank that provides your checking account? Do you have a business credit card? Business credit cards are a very popular way of helping to finance small dollar expenses for a business. If you don't have a business credit card with your bank today, why not? Look into it.

 

                                   Does the relationship you have with your bank reward you, so the more that you have at that bank, does it give you discounts and fee waivers? The larger the relationship with your bank, the better that you get from that bank, the better the relationship, but also the more that you know about that banker and how they can help you.

 

Gregg Stebben:         It sounds to me like I should really be thinking about the bankers in my local branch almost as consultants when it comes to managing the money of my business. There are ways they can help me that I might not know unless I made the effort to ask them.

 

Chris Ward:                I totally agree. I actually think they're your business partner. If you have an accountant, that's your business partner. If you have an attorney to help represent you, that's your business partner. Think of your banker the same way, one of the three trusted business partners for you to be successful as a small business, because every small business owner wants to grow their business over time and wants to have a positive impact on the community. So how can your banker help you with that?

 

                                   If you have a banker that can help you with that, it's going to help your business. It's going to help make your life easier as a small business owner. So making sure that you have a banker who's competent and knowledgeable and dedicated to small businesses I think is super important.

 

Gregg Stebben:         The last thing I want to ask you, Chris ... Chris Ward, he's the Small Business credit executive at Bank of America. The last thing I want to ask you is this. I'm sure many people listening have never applied for a business loan before from a bank. What is that process like? Can you give us a brief overview?

 

Chris Ward:                Every bank is a little bit different. It's not as common and streamlined as it is in consumer lending, say as an auto loan. But a lot of banks are dedicating a lot of time, money and technology to improve in the small business credit application process.

 

                                   So the first thing I would ask that you all do is that you go to the bank's website and see what their capabilities are and are not. For example, go check out Bank of America and compare it to the competition. Do they have an easy way to apply for credit? Do they have a learning section with really good general industry information that helps you understand how to establish and maintain your business credit?  How to apply for  business credit

 

                                   Then does it also list out all the different types of small business credit products that are out there, from a small business credit card, to a real estate loan, to a business auto loan, up to an SBA, a Small Business Administration loan? Do they have those capabilities? That's a great place to go and to start the process, to educate yourself and making sure that you're dealing with a bank that is full-service and has industry experts to help you with your small business.

 

Gregg Stebben:         That's really great advice. I've been talking with Chris Ward. He's the small business credit executive at Bank of America. Chris, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Chris Ward:                Thank you.

 

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

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In the latest episode of The Heartbeat of Main Street, a small business podcast series by Bank of America and ForbesBooks, entrepreneurs were given a wealth of information about how their businesses can benefit from banking rewards programs. Tune in to get insights about how loyalty programs with vendors can play an important role in the growth of a small business and hear about how you can earn benefits from Bank of America by taking advantage of their new Relationship Rewards program.

 

The Heartbeat of Main Street delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that impact revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and past episodes, as well as episodes from the BofA Small Business podcast, can be found here. Each new episodes will appear on the Small Business Community, or on iTunes, GooglePlay and SoundCloud. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

 

Kevin Condon:            Entrepreneurs are among the busiest people out there and the program has to be simple, easy to understand, and easy to enroll. When we took a step back we said, “Can we design a program that spans across all the products and services of the bank that meets those three tests? That's easy to understand, that provides incremental rewards, and really appreciates the loyalty of our clients?” That's what we did with Relationship Rewards.

 

Narrator:                      Welcome to The Heartbeat of Main Street with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com, and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Talking with Kevin Condon, he's the Senior Vice President of Rewards Programs for Bank of America. It's interesting that the name of this program is Business Advantage Relationship Rewards because at the core of all this is, frankly, what all business people want to have with their customers, which is a relationship. That must be what was behind the research and must've been what was behind the creation of this product. What kind of research did you do as a team to determine what would be the most valuable things you could offer your small business customers?

 

Kevin:                         Greg, we talked to many small business owners, many of our own clients at Bank of America, and clients of other banks. We gained a few keen insights from that research. The first was, as I mentioned, perhaps more than anyone entrepreneurs appreciate the value of loyalty because they're working so hard to earn the loyalty of their customers. Any offering that they have with their suppliers or their partners that recognizes the value of their relationship is something that they'll be interested in. The second thing we gleaned from that insight is those rewards or that loyalty program needs to be incremental, meaning the more business I give you the more I get from you, and if the business I give you increases a lot I want the value of that reward to increase even more than that.

 

                                   Then, the third thing that we learned from them is entrepreneurs are among the busiest people out there and the program has to be simple, easy to understand, and easy to enroll. When we took a step back we said, “Can we design a program that spans across all the products and services of the bank that meets those three tests? That's easy to understand, that provides incremental rewards, and really appreciates the loyalty of our clients?” That's what we did with Relationship Rewards.

 

Gregg:                        This whole conversation about rewards is really interesting, and before we get into the specifics of your new program at Bank of America, I'm wondering what other kinds of rewards small business people told you were most valuable to them? I'm really asking because I suspect some people who are listening could learn oh, I didn't realize I could take advantage of rewards in other parts of my business, and obviously we want to talk about the banking rewards from Bank of America as well. What other kinds program did you hear small business owners talking about and really appreciating the value of?

 

Kevin:                         Greg, we found that through our discussions with our clients that there are a growing number of great loyalty benefits in the marketplace, and I would encourage every small business owner to ask their partners and suppliers if those suppliers offer such a program because they are on the increase. What we heard though is the characteristics of those better programs tend to be, as I mentioned, those that offer incremental value when I do more business with you. The more I give you the more I want to get from you, and those benefits need to increase the more business I give you. Think of the frequent flyer program at an airline, the higher your level of status you achieve, the better the benefits you get each time you fly. You get a bonus on the rewards, you get earlier boarding, you get incremental free bags that you check, that's an example of those incremental benefits the more business I give you.

 

                                   Second key element were those rewards programs that focus on what's most important to the small business owner tend to do the best. For example, if your business requires you to be on the road a lot and buying or purchasing a lot of gas at gas stations, a program that offers benefits such as cash back on gas purchases is critical. It's something that the small business owner is doing every day and it provides tangible benefits where they don't have to change their behavior. All they have to do is reward that provider with more of their business.

 

                                   The third key element we found was small businesses want programs that recognize the full value of the relationship. Rewards programs that omit a part of the relationship with the small business tend to be viewed more skeptically, so if there's one part of the business that's rewarded and one part that's not small business owners tend to take a step back and view that a little bit more skeptically.

 

                                   Finally, those programs without a lot of fine print or exceptions are the most successful. The easier the program is to understand, the easier the program it is to enroll, and the easier it is for the benefits to be tangible and meaningful to the small business owner without having to do a lot of research analysis are the programs that tend to do the best in the marketplace.

 

Gregg:                         Let's talk about the specifics of your new program. It's called the Business Advantage Relationship Rewards, it's a new program that, as you've now said, offers small business clients a lot of different benefits, frankly, to help them grow their businesses. Let's talk about some of the specifics. What are the things that your clients are going to enjoy as participants in this program?

 

Kevin:                         We tried to act on the feedback and the best practices that our clients told us about rewards programs when we launched Business Advantage Relationship Rewards most recently. The program recognizes and rewards our small business clients across the products and services that Bank of America offers them, so there are benefits on small business deposit accounts, investments, credit cards, and loans. It's simple to understand. Starting at $20,000 of any combination of deposit or investment balances that a client has with Bank of America they start earning benefits. Those benefits span the entire relationship across those products and services that I just mentioned. From fee waivers on your checking accounts, to cash rewards on merchant services processing, to interest rate discounts on loans, to higher rewards bonuses on the credit card purchases. You receive benefits across all the services we have to offer.

 

                                     It's a tiered program so we provide those incremental benefits, the more and deeper your relationship with us there are three tiers and when your qualifying deposit and investment balances reach the next tier the value of those benefits across the services I mentioned go up. The higher the tier you qualify for the greater those benefits become. We launched it most recently after extensive research across those three areas, we tried to reflect that in the program, and we're very excited with the results so far.

 

Gregg:                        When you talk to small business owners in doing your research on this would you find that they, on their own, could point to specific parts of the banking relationship where they would benefit from rewards or was it more of a give-and-take with you suggesting what if we did this and what if we did that? I'm just wondering how prepared were small business owners to dive in and help you address places to create rewards versus you coming to them and making suggestions based on your own internal research?

 

Kevin:                          Our small business clients were very eager to help us in our research. We found that the critical elements where they found that they could get the most was, as I mentioned, recognizing the full value of the relationship. What they felt was most financial institutions provide rewards on one particular aspect of their relationship, be it the credit card rewards programs that most of us are familiar with both in our consumer lives and in our small business. What our small business owners said is, "Hey, we'd like to see you recognize the full value of what I bring to you not just credit card, but also those deposit balances I have with you, my investment relationship I have with you, and any lending I do with you with your bank. We want to see benefits across the whole spectrum."

 

                                    Based on that overarching theme and feedback we got from our clients the rewards program that we designed really became easy and our clients were more than happy to react to the specific benefits that we brought, but it's simple to understand. If you purchase one of any one of those services with Bank of America you'll receive a benefit and the deeper that relationship goes the greater that benefit becomes. That was the keen insight that we got from our clients.

 

Gregg:                        One of the things that I really admire about this program, I'm talking with Kevin Condon, he's the Senior Vice President of Rewards Programs for Bank of America, one of the things I really admire about this program is that it really is focused on many parts of a business including not only having the businesses' relationship with Bank of America grow, but helping the business grow itself so that it grows as an entity in the market marketplace, which then of course naturally creates a growing relationship with the bank. One of the places where I think you've done that very successfully is by actually offering interest rate discounts because, as we all know, if you own a small business there are times when if you're getting a small business loan that capital is essential and you're really, as you said, you're looking at every place where a small business can have a relationship with a bank, but I would suspect that for many small business owners having an interest rate discount on a small business loan is one of the most exciting things you're offering here.

 

Kevin:                          It is, and our small business clients were excited to give us that feedback when we laid out the options before we launched our Relationship Rewards program. Clearly, as you mentioned, a loan, be it a auto loan if they're requiring an automobile to help run your business, a commercial real estate loan, or an everyday loan for a line of credit clearly that's a need that many of our small business owners have to grow their business. We want to be in the business of helping our business owners grow their business, so a discount frees up some cash flow, helps our clients invest their funds back into growing their business, and if their business grows Bank of America grow along with them, so we're more than thrilled to work with our clients to do that.

 

Gregg:                         I'm curious to know the actual process you go through to talk to small business owners about programs like this. Are there a lot of face-to-face meetings? Is a lot of it done by email or electronically, by phone? If somebody's listening and thinks, "I would love to be able to give feedback to my bank or Bank of America as well," are there ways for small business owners to give you feedback today?

 

Kevin:                         When we designed the program we did extensive in-person discussions with multiple small business clients, so we would have groups of small business clients come together and talk about what's important to them, what needs they have from their financial institution, where they feel some of those gaps had been in recognizing that full value of the relationship, and what benefits would help them bring more of their business to Bank of America. We found that those in person, face-to-face discussions were a great opportunity for us to get really deep insights on how we can better serve our clients going forward.

 

                                    In terms of ways that a current small business client could come and talk to us, we'd recommend you setup an appointment to speak to a Bank of America employee, if you go to bankofamerica.com there's an opportunity to schedule an appointment with a customer. We'll be happy to talk with either a small business specialist or a specialist in one of our financial centers, we take that feedback on a day in and day out basis and act on it to try and increase the value of the services and products, and the rewards programs that we're bringing to our customers.

 

                                    Additionally, as the program matures for Relationship Rewards over the next weeks and months we'll be gaining direct client feedback on their customer experience on everything from enrollment to how our associates explain the program, to how we could offer even more value on different benefits going forward. We'll be back in the marketplace doing those group discussions in short order.

 

Gregg:                         This program is brand-new, I think you just rolled it out a week or so ago.

 

Kevin:                          We did. We launched it on March 26th and we're very excited about the results we’ve seen in the first two weeks.

 

Gregg:                        You mentioned the word “as the program matures” and I think that's another important thing to small business owners. Just in the conversation we're having here there's a clear commitment to this program and having it evolve over time into something that increases in value and so when you describe it as maturing can you look out and see where this program might be in a year, 5 years, 10 years from now? Do you have thoughts on what the future may be for the Business Advantage Relationship Rewards Program?

 

Kevin:                         We're always looking to expand the value of our rewards programs with our clients, and so the best roadmap we have for seeing how Relationships Rewards may evolve will be looking at the rewards program we had in our consumer space. Relationship Rewards is modeled after our consumer Preferred Rewards program, which was launched a little over three years ago and in those three years we've done the same process of gaining client insights and feedback, and we've adjusted the benefits of the program during that time. We've adjusted how we've communicated, how a customer can enroll, we've adjusted how we communicate what the benefits have actually been. We've changed, in fact, some of the benefits themselves adding additional lending benefits to the consumer space. What we found is the best way to draw that roadmap is to continue to talk to our customers and clients, and so I can't tell you how the program will change in Relationship Rewards, but I can tell you it will change, and the people that will help us change it are our small business clients.

 

Gregg:                        When you encourage people to reach out and talk with someone at Bank of America about things they see that could be a benefit or an addition to the program you really mean it because that feedback is going to go right back into the R&D loop.

 

Kevin:                          Exactly. In fact, the reason we've launched Relationship Rewards was based on feedback that our small business clients, who were also consumer customers, told us. They said, "I love the fact that I have a rewards program for my consumer business. I would love it if you could bring it for my small business relationship well."

 

Gregg:                        He is Kevin Condon, he's Senior Vice President of Rewards Programs for Bank of America. We're talking about the Business Advantage Relationship Rewards program, it's a new program for small business clients of Bank of America and it offers all kinds of benefits to help them grow. I guess, the last question, Kevin and it's obvious one, is if I want to become part of the Business Advantage Relationship Rewards program, what do I do?

 

Kevin:                         The easiest thing to do is go to bankofamerica.com and click on the small business tab and schedule an appointment to talk to one of our small business specialists or one of our financial center associates. They'll take you through the process of how to enroll, answer any questions you have, and talk to you about the core products and services that go into Relationship Rewards where you receive all those incremental benefits.

 

Gregg:                        This is, frankly, a different type of process than I might go through opening and a consumer account because, in this case, I'm speaking to someone who is a specialist in working with small businesses?

 

Kevin:                         That's right. We have several thousand small business specialists located across the country and available via phone. We want to make sure that we're putting our small business clients in the right services that best meet their needs, so we'd like to have a conversation with our small business clients to ensure that they're in the correct core product offerings before we enroll them in the Relationship Rewards program where they get those added benefits on those offerings.

 

Gregg:                        You mentioned earlier that this service grows with you as your business grows. Can you mention those tiers again and if there are fees associated with being part of the program, could you tell us about that as well?

 

Kevin:                         There are no fees associated with being enrolled in Relationship Rewards. As I mentioned, it's a three-tiered program we have Gold, Platinum, and Platinum Honors. Our Gold program, a customer qualifies with $20,000 of combined deposit and investment balances, if those balances increase to $50,000 the client moves to Platinum, and at $100,000 of deposit and investment balances you become eligible for the Platinum Honors program.

 

                                   You asked me about fees, Gregg, and are there any fees. In fact, the fees on your core deposit account are waived as a client who's enrolled in the program. The value of the benefits across lending, merchant services, investments, credit card, and deposits increases as you move up those tiers. For example, at the Platinum level you receive the benefit of no fees on non-Bank of America ATM transactions. There's a limit on how many of those fees are waived. When you move to Platinum Honors that a limit is waived, so the value of the benefit growth as our relationship with our client grows as well.

 

Gregg:                        It's a really interesting and clearly valuable program. I love the fact that as you move up through the tiers the value of the program itself increases and, as you said, there's no fee to be part of the program and in fact, in a way, you're actually saving on fees. He is Kevin Condon, he's Senior Vice President of Rewards Programs for Bank of America. We've been talking about the Business Advantage Relationship Rewards program. Kevin, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Kevin:                         Thank you for having me.

 

Narrator:                     Thanks for listening to The Heartbeat of Main Street with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com, and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.

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