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46 Posts authored by: Bank of America SB Team

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After ending 2018 on a high note, small business owners are optimistic about the year ahead. Small business owners reported confidence in the economy and their hiring plans. But how will the tightest labor market in decades impact their search for talent? Sharon Miller discusses this and more from the Fall 2018 Small Business Owner Report.

 

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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:            Most business owners expect that the end of this year, their revenue expectations for 2018, 80% of them believe that their year-end revenue will exceed 2017, and that's pretty powerful. So, they're thinking this year's better than last year, and they're thinking next year will be even better.

 

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

 

Kate Delaney:            It's always a good time when we can be joined by Sharon Miller on the show, Bank of America, head of Small Business. She's here with some great news about small business. The US small business sector looks to end 2018 on a pretty high note according to the Fall 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report. Sharon, so first of all, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Sharon Miller:             Thank you so much for having me.

 

Kate Delaney:            We have all kinds of questions and it sounds like entrepreneurs and small business owners are feeling really good about the economy. So, what are their expectations for revenue growth and hiring for 2019?

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, confidence in the economy, it does remain strong and their revenue expectations, the confidence in the economy, hiring plans, all of that is up since last fall, so we do see an uptick in positive sentiment from business owners and by all accounts, from our most recent survey, the confidence remains very, very strong.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I know we've asked you this before, Sharon, but I'm going to ask again just for anyone who hasn't caught our earlier discussions about previous reports, how is it that you do these reports and compile this data, because I think it's really helpful for people to understand where this information is coming from.

 

Sharon Miller:             So we survey 1,000 small business owners across the country and we do it twice a year. It's from all different types of industries, from all different types of sectors and geographies so that we can really get a pulse on how business owners are feeling.

 

                                   At Bank of America, we have 3.3 million small business clients that we serve, and so every single day we're sitting down with business clients understanding, are you looking to expand your business?Do you want to apply for a loan? How is your working capital? What about your cash flow? These are the questions and discussions we're having every single day. But then we go in twice a year and we want to make sure that, you know, this is how the sentiment is across the United States, and we over-survey in 10 major markets as well, just to see if there's some geographic differences.

 

                                   And by all accounts the whole country is very strong. We see very strong optimism and sentiment from business owners—hiring is there, plans to apply for a loan, that's up, and so all of the different aspects of the report that we're asking, they look better than they did the last six months.

 

Kate Delaney:            Sharon, it's fascinating how you pull all this together, and talking about the 10 major markets and compiling all that information. When you do that, and since you've had such great success with it, this is just kind of a sidebar question, and I think the listeners will find this fascinating: Do you then go back and recalculate, okay, something's changed here or something's moved here with business, so we're going to instead focus on this area? How do you do that when you go into the next year and you plan for the next time around?

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, it's the basis of everything we do. I mean, we have to listen to our clients. We need to understand what's happening in the economy, how business owners are feeling, and so we adjust our ongoing continuing education for our bankers. We may adjust the types of information that we're delivering in that city because we operate in 90 local markets across the country and we know that every market is unique. And so, I'm sitting here today in San Antonio, Texas, and there's a lot of building. There's a lot of growth happening, hiring, expansion, and we have a heavy oil industry. We've got a diversified economy, we’ve got financial services here, we've got a lot of tourism. And you may go to another city and it may be very strong in technology, whereas San Antonio, the number one cyber security university sits in our backyard here at University of Texas San Antonio.

 

                                  In San Jose, California, you've got an incubator of high tech and what's happening with the newest wave of devices, so every city's a little different and we want to make sure that we're training our bankers to be able to interact and not just interact with clients, but to get ahead of them and to help them think through their business plan. What's next? Should you apply for a loan, should you use your working capital, what can you expect in the year ahead? And so, that's where we have and use these insights every single day to plan for the year ahead and quite frankly, the next three to five years.

 

Gregg Stebben:         We're talking with Sharon Miller. She's the head of Small Business for Bank of America. We're talking about the Fall 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report, a report they do twice a year.

 

                                    And Sharon, whenever business people get together and whenever there's headlines about business and the health of businesses, there's a couple of issues that always come up, especially in 2018, 2019, and two of those issues are taxes and healthcare. What did you find small business owners thinking and doing, and what would they like to see change there when it comes to those two issues, taxes and healthcare?

 

Sharon Miller:            Sure. So, as far as healthcare is concerned, we've been doing this survey for the past six years and for every single survey result, healthcare is the top of the list of concerns for business owners.

 

                                  While healthcare costs remain the top concern during this survey, what we found—and that was at 63% of business owners, they’re concerned about the cost of healthcare, about the complexity—this has dropped to the lowest level at 63% in the six years of this history of the survey. So, that's actually down nine percentage points from the fall of 2017.

 

                                   So, while it remained a top concern in the fall of '17, 72% of business owners were very, very concerned. This time 63%. So it's dropped nine percentage points from our last survey. But again, it's the number one concern.

 

                                   When it comes to your taxes and concern over corporate taxes, that also reached a five year low. And this was at 37% this fall, and that's down 14 percentage points from the fall of 2017. So, although there are concerns and these are still the top two concerns of business owners, it's dropped significantly since last survey.

 

Kate Delaney:            Sharon, when you look at that, what are some of the other things that small business owners are concerned about? What else is on their mind?

 

Sharon Miller:            You know, there's concern about trade policy, tariffs, there is concern about commodities prices, the dollar, the stock market, compliance and government regulation. So, all the things that I sort of bucket into, as really not controllable for business owners. And so these are things going on around them in the economy and the broader market, they have a lot of control over their business plan, around their business. But a lot of these issues and we can't control what's going to happen with the stock market. It's up, it's down, it's going, it's cyclical.

 

                                   And certainly with tax rates, where the government is setting those. So yes, we got to get out and vote, we've gotta do all those things. But when it comes to can a business owner directly control that? They can't, and so the focus in my conversations with business owners, it's about their business, how do they, in spite of everything going on around them, continue to drive forward, to grow and expand and do better this year than they did last year?

 

                                   And most business owners expect that the end of this year, their revenue expectations for 2018, 80% of them believe that their year-end revenue will exceed 2017, and that's pretty powerful. So, they're thinking this year's better than last year and they're thinking next year will be even better. And so, that to me is what they can directly control.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I love hearing about that kind of optimism. We're talking with Sharon Miller, the head of Small Business for Bank of America and the Fall 2018 bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report. It's interesting, Sharon, you mentioned what are the things that business owners can and cannot control? Well, one of the things they can control, I would think, is how they make it through a period where hiring is so challenging and so competitive. What kinds of things did you hear from small business owners there?

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, they are experiencing it. You're right. We are in one of the tightest job markets out there. Unemployment rate falling to 3.7%. That's the lowest since 1969. So, that was in September where we had the 3.7% unemployment rate. We are at a historical time within our economy where you know, if you want to work, you're employed. And so, it's really up to the business owners that need to focus on retention.

 

                                   And small businesses are experiencing a very high rate of personnel turnover. They are. I mean, just as in corporate America. So we're seeing more people going to different companies, whether it’s be they're getting more money, they get better benefits, whatever it might be. But I would say that what small business owners are thinking about in order to retain, they're talking about how do I implement a retirement package for my employees? How do I give them healthcare? How do I perhaps think about giving them a more flexible work culture?

 

                                   And so, there are some hiring challenges, but I think that when small business owners focus on the perks of what they can deliver, like flexible hours, maybe giving them some professional development and then when you go a step further and say why do people go to work for a small business? They go to work because they believe working at a small business has got some advantages, including the ability to have less bureaucracy. They have a more collaborative environment, more responsibility.

 

                                   When you're working in a company that has less than 100 employees, you're certainly going to have some greater responsibility and more impact or at least feel that you have more impact for that company. So, there can be some certainly some strategies that business leaders can implement over and above what they're doing, but I think they also have to go with what they already have and press that advantage, which is a smaller environment, less bureaucracy, more freedom for creativity, entrepreneurial and creativity development. All those things that really we hear from Millennials, from people entering the workforce. This is what they want. So, I think small business owners should be proud of that and this should be something that they can use to attract better employees.

 

Narrator:                    We’ve been talking with Sharon Miller, head of Small Business for Bank of America. This has been Part 1 of our interview with Sharon about the Fall 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report. You can hear Part 2 of the interview on January 2nd, here on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.comand Bank of America at BankOfAmerica.com.

 

 

Stay tuned for part II

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Slow down, reflect, and plan. Make sure your small business has a successful new year. Roger Forman, a Bank of America Small Business Executive, shares key resolutions. Tune in to the latest episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street.”

 

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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.

 

Roger Forman:          The reality is a small business owner is the accountant, the Chief Operating Officer, they're the CEO, they're a mom, they're a dad, they're a janitor, they've got to do it all. Those that do it best are those that make a conscious effort to slow down, reflect, and plan, and many of them will schedule it. So I talk to business owners that say, "Hey, I've got a period of time between 5:30 and 6:00 on my drive home where I don't take a call, I'm not sitting in front of any kind of social media, and I just think about the business and what I need to get done," but it has to be a conscious effort. It's got to be something that you have top of mind because it's very easy to get passed up.

 

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 Roger Forman. He's the SVP and Northwest Small Business Division Executive for Bank of America. This is “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. We're deep into the holiday season, and I think, for small businesses in particular, it's an important time to start thinking about, well, what do I want to do, and what do I have to put in place to be prepared for a great new year ahead? And Roger, we invited you here to talk about some New Year's resolutions we might make for our small businesses. Welcome. And let's talk about this, starting with what is a good mindset for small business owners to have now in the middle of a holiday season to make sure they make the most of this season and make sure they're really prepared for the new year?

 

Roger Forman:          Yeah. Gregg, well, first of all, thank you for having me, and three things that I would tell you that we talk to all of our clients about that are important, frankly, at any time of year, but especially in the context of New Year's resolutions, and they're relatively simple, it's: slow down, reflect and plan. When we think of the beginning of any new year, it's the perfect time to sit back and reflect on the successes and struggles of your business of the last 12 months and really make plans for the year ahead, so we'd recommend you take time to organize your priorities, set realistic long-term goals, and implement ways of measuring progress along the way to keep you on track.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Roger, it's really interesting. The first thing you said here was slow down and then reflect and plan, and I have to think for many small businesses, those are three of the hardest things for them to do. So, can you almost get into the psyche of the small business owners that you talk with and help us with some secrets or tips about how to do those very specific three things? Slow down. I own a business, when do I have time to slow down? Reflect? When do I have time to do that? I always have to be looking ahead and planning. Can you give us some insider, some tips for that?

 

Roger Forman:          Yes, you bet. It's interesting. So in my job, I get the opportunity to sit in front of small business owners every day of the week, and I'm in awe of the responsibility that they have. The reality is, a small business owner is the accountant, the Chief Operating Officer, they're the CEO, they're a mom, they're a dad, they're a janitor, they've got to do it all. So the reality is keeping everything together can be much like walking a tight rope.

 

                                  The reality is those that do it best are those that make a conscious effort to do exactly those three things: slow down, reflect, and plan, and many of them will schedule it. So I talk to business owners that say, "Hey, I've got a period of time between 5:30 and 6:00 on my drive home where I don't take a call, I'm not sitting in front of any kind of social media, and I just think about the business and what I need to get down," but it has to be a conscious effort, Gregg. It's got to be something that you have top of mind because it's very easy to get passed up.

 

Gregg Stebben:         One of the things I hear you saying is that business owners should not think about these things, again - slow down, reflect, and plan - you shouldn't think of them as nice to do or optional, but these are essential steps for you to be successful, and so you should not consider them as optional, but you should consider them as essential, and as you just described, make time in your day or in your schedule specifically for this and make a commitment to it 'cause if you don't make a commitment to it, it's not gonna happen. I think we all know that.

 

Roger Forman:          Yeah, exactly. It can't be reactive, it's gotta be a proactive, conscious effort. Absolutely.

 

Gregg Stebben:         And if you don't make time and schedule it regularly, you'll never get in the habit of doing it, and I suspect that business owners who are in the habit of slowing down, reflecting, and planning get the greatest benefit from it.

 

Roger Forman:          It's like going to the gym. Exactly.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Oh, you had to bring up going to the gym around a conversation of New Year's resolutions, that's very scary.

 

Roger Forman:          That will be on mine, I'll tell you that much, Gregg.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So this is a time of year where I think all of us begin to kind of lose the pieces of the organization around our lives. There's a lot of things going on that only happen once a year, it's real easy to begin to lose your routine, it's easy to get disorganized, and that certainly can happen in a small business. I'm wondering if you have any tips for small business owners about, okay, just maybe the thing to do is to accept that things are going to get a bit disorganized around this time of year, but do you have tips for how to get back on track so you don't start the new year in a state of disarray, but start it in a really good, solid place?

 

Roger Forman:          Yeah, absolutely. During this time of year, the reality is we've got a lot of competing priorities, and I think we can all relate to exactly that. We're disorganized. So a couple ideas I would offer up. Number one, we've gotta set and keep a budget and keep it on track. So we believe that it's important to regularly review your organizational budget and update your year-end productions and your financial plans according. One of the things that we always recommend to our clients is when estimating for the upcoming year, evaluate last year's year-end projections in revenue to ensure that you've got the most accurate predictions.

 

 

                                  Secondly, we would tell you, "You gotta optimize your cash flow," and we hear from customers all the time that cash flow is king. We would agree, and we think that cash flow management really cannot be overstated, and New Year's is a perfect time to assess your business cash flow and find opportunities to improve your current situation. I would recommend that business owners determine how much working capital they need as well and be knowledgeable about how many days of expenses they can cover with their current cash on hand. If you're struggling with cash flow management, or if you're just even concerned about it, you should speak with your small business banker, who is an expert on the subject.

 

 

                                   Additionally, there are some great tools out there than can help. We are incredibly excited. In 2019, Bank of America's launching a new digital tool called Business Advantage 360, and it's been completely designed to help small business owners manage all financial aspects of their business through one single digital platform built directly into our online and mobile banking systems.

 

                                   And finally, Gregg, I'd end with this. It's relatively simple, but manage your goals. As a business owner, it's not enough to just set the goal, your planning has to include tangible steps to meet those goals, so whether it be studying sales trends, taking stock of your industry or your competition, or even exploring ways to expand your customer reach, having clearly outlined tasks will help any small business owner stay on track during these busy periods, holiday rush not to be excluded from that, and remain organized and hit their goals.

 

 

Gregg Stebben:         We're talking with Roger Forman. He's the SVP and Northwest Small Business Division Executive for Bank of America. This is “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. Roger, it's really interesting to hear you walk through these things, starting with slowing down, reflecting, and planning, and then keeping your budget on track, optimizing cash flow, not just setting goals, but managing your goals because if you're a small business and you've had a great year in 2018, one of the things you may be thinking about, one of the goals you may be setting is it's time for me to grow by hiring more staff. What should I know about the job market at the end of 2018 that will help me be successful at adding to my head count in 2019?

 

Roger Forman:          Gregg, to say that the current hiring environment is competitive would be an understatement. We're in a historically very tight job market right now. Being on the plane last night, I think unemployment is in the threes somewhere, 3.7. don't quote me on that, but good, right?

 

Gregg Stebben:        Yes.

 

Roger Forman:          So owners really shouldn't-

 

Gregg Stebben:         Good and bad, right?

 

Roger Forman:          Good and bad. That's true. Bad if you're trying to hire people. Owners, all of us, and anybody leading an organization should not take talent retention and acquisition for granted. We just did a Fall 2018 Small Business Owner Report, and nearly a quarter of all small business owners have lost at least one employee in the last 12 months, and of business owners who sought to hire in 2018, half of them believe the tight labor market had a direct impact on their ability to find and hire qualified people. So business owners who are looking to hire should be thinking about setting themselves apart from other employers. Competition's gonna be fierce, right? So, things like offering perks and benefits, flexible hours, flexible work locations. In addition, additional employee training, development programs, bonuses, things like that can go a long way towards generating loyalty.

 

Gregg Stebben:         One of the things I hear you saying is it's not all about the salary…

 

Roger Forman:          No, absolutely not.

 

Gregg Stebben:         ... think about the perks.Roger Forman:Some of the benefits and the stock benefits of a company can be just as important.

 

Gregg Stebben:         Can you offer suggestions of resources where we might go to get ideas for perks we may wanna use in hiring, or frankly, even for retention of the staff that we have?

 

Roger Forman:          Yeah, couple things that I will tell you. When I talk to clients about where they get ideas and inspiration, it comes from multiple different facets. Some of it is other business owners, the local business owner community that they work in, the chambers have lots of activities, and then we also have the Small Business Communitythrough our bankofamerica.comsite that can give lots of tips and ideas. The reality is there's a ton of information out there. It's picking the one or two things that you can manage and that will work for you and your business and executing them better than your peer group.

 

                                             Learn more about hiring  and rewarding employees:        

 

Gregg Stebben:         One of the things that I wanna talk about is it's been a great year for business, and so a lot of businesses are looking forward to a great year ahead, and let's say I've done all of the things that we've talked about here. I've slowed down, I'm reflecting, I'm planning, I'm setting time to think about my business in the future, I'm doing all of these things. Are there things that you're hearing from businesses that they're doing to get ahead that are more creative that we should be thinking about?

 

Roger Forman:          Yeah, a couple of thoughts I would share with you at top of my list is consider creating a referral rewards program. When you think about your customers, oftentimes your best and most dependable consistent business comes from referrals. I know much of ours do. So consider creating a consistent type of system for staying in touch with current customers and then rewarding them when they send new business your way, and that's gonna vary depending upon the business that you're in and you may have to get creative, but it's one of the single best ways to drive new business.

 

 

                                   Second piece is reconnect with a mentor or become one. Mentors can give incredible feedback, they can make introductions, they can open doors, they can teach lessons, so it's as easy as setting up a coffee date with a mentor that you've fallen out of touch with, or if you have one and you feel like that's going well, be a mentor for someone else. You'll get as much out of that as you're putting into it.

 

                                   And then finally, I would say evaluate next steps to grow and expand. So if you're sitting out there saying, "My business is in pretty darn good shape," I'd encourage you to start thinking about expansion, and now is the time. If your cash flow and your business plan are up to par, let's look at obtaining more capital in order to take your business to that next level.

 

 

Gregg Stebben:         I wanna go back to a couple of things you've said here. I'm talking with Roger Forman. He's the SVP and Northwest Small Business Division Executive for Bank of America here on “The Heartbeat of Main Street.” One, I want to talk about the idea of having a mentor or being a mentor, specifically being a mentor, because I think sometimes in business, we think A, I don't have time, or B, I'm not really an expert or I don't really know anything that would be helpful to someone else, and I suspect that many people who are a mentor for the first time discover that, not only are they giving incredible value to someone else, like someone else probably did for them as a mentor for them, but also, they get incredible value out of it that they never would've expected and maybe discovered things about themselves and their business that they never would've discovered had they not been a mentor for someone else. Can you talk about that?

 

Roger Forman:          Yeah. It goes back to that slow down, reflect, and plan conversation we had earlier, and I think people overcomplicate the mentor arrangement in my view. At the end of the day, it's about creating a connection with someone and having a conversation that will ultimately lead to learning. I have multiple mentors and coaches in my life, some of them in financial services, many of them in very different industries, yet we all have parallels in everything that we do. It may be the core parallel is how do you manage work and life and how do you keep that balance together, but being able to talk to someone else, listen to other ideas, is incredibly valuable, it's cathartic, and it's one of those things that you've got to put discipline around and you’ve got to be proactive with and go out and find it, but I find that that is one of the most valuable uses of my time today.

 

 

Gregg Stebben:         So one of the things you're saying is don't make it into a big deal. It really can just be a relationship where you have someone you can talk with.

 

Roger Forman:          Yeah, don't overcomplicate it. At the end of the day, maybe it's just that you have a great conversation then you realize you have someone in common or they can make a referral for you. You just never know where these things are gonna go, so don't overengineer it.

 

Gregg Stebben:         The other thing is that we were talking earlier about evaluating next steps for your business to grow and expand, and I would imagine having conversations with others in your industry and outside of your industry so that you can get other perspectives would be hugely valuable in being able to really evaluate effectively where am I today, where could I go, and where are there opportunities to grow, because if you're doing that by yourself, you're kinda stuck with the same thoughts you've always had. You really need to bring the eyes and the insight of others into that conversation, and one or many of those conversations may be with people who are your mentors or who you might be mentoring.

 

Roger Forman:          Yeah, they give inspiration at the end of the day and inspire you to do things you're not thinking about.

 

Gregg Stebben:         One of the things you talked about, Roger, is, for instance, having a mentor who may help you manage both the combination of your personal life and your business life, as you said, manage work and life. I want to hear from you how you view your job and how you manage it with your personal life. So, since we've been talking about New Year's resolutions, can you talk about a personal New Year's resolution that you have for yourself? Let's say it's personal or even work-related.

 

Roger Forman:           Is this some sort of forced accountability session? Maybe if I put it out there, I'll-

 

Gregg Stebben:          I'm your new mentor.

 

Roger Forman:           All right. I'll take it. I'll take it. Yeah, so here's the two things I'm thinking about now, and I will just declare, 'cause I'm sure my wife will listen to this, my pull-through ratio on some of my past personal resolutions has not been so hot, so I'm gonna keep it simple and easy. Here's the two things I'm thinking about: Number one: I've gotta get more quality sleep. It sounds sort of basic, but eight hours, apparently, is what the sleep gurus tell you is the magic number, and I'm not getting that today, and I challenge many of us, especially small business owners ... I bet there's a lot of people in that same boat. So here's what I'm thinking about. I think it's gonna be easier said than done, but no smartphone, no TV, no laptop after 10:00.

 

                                   That's gonna segue into my number two, which is second priority for me, is I wanna start reading more. As I talk to you, business owners, and peers, a lot of people are bookworms. I know my wife is, and I'm jealous of her curling up on the couch with a great book and getting lost in a story, and I don't give myself the time to do that. I know it's great for your brain, it's great brain food, and frankly, there's a million topics out there to help me learn. So that's my plan: more sleep, no artificial light, turning off the laptop, and grabbing a book.

 

Gregg Stebben:         So first of all, being part of ForbesBooks and this is “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America, we love the idea that you're going to read more. We think everyone should adopt that resolution. I just wanna say that I think you've set the stage for others to look at their life and their lifestyle and think, "What could I do to make myself a better person at home, a better person at work, and frankly, a healthier person," which is going to help in every avenue of your life. Those sound like really great resolutions. I wish I had a great answer to the question. I was thinking of volunteering what my resolutions were, but I don't have a great answer, so what I've learned, so you've been a mentor to me, is I need to work on this between now and January 1st. We've been talking with Roger Forman. He's the SVP and Northwest Small Business Division Executive for Bank of America. This is “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. Roger, thanks so much for being here, and happy holidays and a great new year to you.

 

Roger Forman:          Gregg, likewise. Thank you for having me.

 

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

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Through the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program, Bank of America has committed $50 million in loans since the program’s start in 2014. So far, more than 1,400 women entrepreneurs have received affordable loans across 16 states.

 

 

 

 

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John Purcell, president and owner of Elite Orthopedics, knows passion drives success. On the latest Bank of America Small Business Podcast episode, Steve Strauss sits down with John to discuss the ambition and persistence that continue to propel him forward, with tips and inspiration for others striving to succeed.

 

 

 

John Purcell:              I love what I do, and I think that is something important for everybody to think about is, you gotta love what you do. When you love what you do, you have the passion to do it 24 straight hours if need be, but at the same time, you know, there's times when it gets really tough. And those are the times when loving what you do that really kind of helps pull you through. When you are having a situation and you're kind of wondering, am I in over my head? Is this too much, or whatever has you down in the dumps that particular day. If you love what you do, that'll keep you going.

 

Steve Strauss:            Hi. I'm Steve Strauss, and you're listening to the Bank of America Small Business Podcast, a podcast where we speak with small business owners about their journey and uncover useful tips for entrepreneurs and small business owners everywhere.

 

                                    And today we are really excited to be speaking with John Purcell, the president of Elite Orthopedics. Elite Orthopedics is an agency exclusively representing Arthrex. Arthrex is a global medical device company started in 1981, and what began as a company with a focus on emerging procedures has since pioneered the field of arthroscopy. And personally, having had a couple of those, I'm glad they've done that. Arthrex has developed over 10,000 innovative products and surgical procedures to advance minimally-invasive orthopedics worldwide.

 

                                    John, it's great to have you with us.

 

John Purcell:               Thanks for having me, Steve. I appreciate the opportunity.

 

Steve Strauss:            So why don't we just start at the beginning a little bit, and why don't you tell us how you got started in the business and how you came to be the owner of Elite Orthopedics.

 

John Purcell:              Sure. Well I went to Pittsburg State University in Southeast Kansas and had a couple of undergrads in business and completed my MBA, and it was time to find a job and get in the real world. I would have tried to obtain a PhD in business if my parents would have kept paying for college, because I was having a heck of a time, but they were not onboard with that idea. So real world, here I come.

 

                                   I was literally chatting with a buddy of mine who was a business owner, and he turned me on to the idea of sales, and he thought I'd be good at it. He plugged me in with a guy that I knew, or a guy he knew, and that turned into an interview. And literally, a little bit of flexibility is what caused me to get the job. I think I talked enough in the interview that they were interested, but when they asked me where I needed to live, I asked them where they had openings. They named Kansas City, St. Louis, and Columbia, Missouri. All were far bigger than anywhere I'd ever lived in my life, so I told them any of the three would work, and they hired me on the spot and told me they'd tell me where I was moving to once they filled the other two spots. So it's good to be flexible.

 

Steve Strauss:           Flexibility works.

 

John Purcell:              It sure does.

 

Steve Strauss:            So was that with Elite Orthopedics, or who was that with?

 

John Purcell:               No. So Arthrex is the $3 billion company today that makes the orthopedic surgical implants that we sell, and they have kind of a unique distribution model where they have distributors or agencies that cover certain states and zip codes. And at that time, the distributor that I started my career with was called TASA Medical, and I worked for them up until about 2011, and then started Apollo Surgical Group, which then became Elite Orthopedics, and essentially that was my own distributorship or agency for Arthrex.

 

                                   Today my company Elite Orthopedics…we cover the east half of Missouri and the southern third of Illinois, and I think we've got 67, 68 employees now covering that area. Mainly most of those are our technology consultants, which are our sales reps, and they're in the operating room all day every day, helping orthopedic surgeons with consulting and surgical carpentry questions, I guess.

 

Steve Strauss:            So that's really interesting. I mean, you actually went from an employee to becoming an owner of your own business within that group, and that's kind of a different model for a lot of people. Did you grow up in a family where entrepreneurship thrived? Did your parents own small businesses, or is this just something that you were fortunate enough to get into?

 

John Purcell:               No. That's a great question, and I would say yes. I grew up in a business family. My grandfather was the president of a local banking system and the chairman of the board after he stepped down as president for a long time. My mother was actually a high school teacher who taught general business, and my father, who had a business degree and a master's in engineering from Pepperdine, owned and operated his own driving range, golf shop, golf business. So even when I was 11 years old, I was putting in about 30 to 40 hours a week working at my dad's business, helping shag golf balls and you know, dusting golf clubs. I did minor club repair and you know anything he needed me to do. I learned at a young age that work ethic is king in this world.

 

Steve Strauss:            So far for you what we've learned is being flexible works for you, and having a good work ethic works as well.

 

John Purcell:               Yeah, absolutely.

 

Steve Strauss:            Nice. I'm wondering if you could tell us little bit about your journey as a business owner. You started Elite Orthopedics three to five years ago. Was it just you when you started? How big or small was it when you actually became an owner of this business?

 

John Purcell:               Sure. So I actually started my initial company, was called Apollo Surgical Group, and we started that in 2011. I had a partner who lived in the Kansas side, and we owned the company together. And I think when we started we were about 20 million, and together we grew that business to roughly 45 million. And then ultimately decided, you know what, we've both got a great formula, and we've got our own sale's management infrastructure. We're probably best if we divide and conquer and each have our own piece to focus on. So we did that in 2015, and Elite Orthopedics was born. And essentially in 2015 ... We've had some pretty explosive growth. In 2015, I want to say we were doing close to 24 million in revenue, and this year we'll do 45. And back then I want to say I had 30 employees, and this year we'll probably end the year closer to 75.

 

                                   So we've had some pretty explosive growth. It's all thanks to Arthrex and the products that they make. We cover everything in orthopedics from sports medicine injuries like ACL reconstructions, Tommy John surgeries, rotator cuff surgeries, to total joints, hand and wrist, foot and ankle. We sell a lot of the large capital equipment items that they have. You know, Arthrex has put a ton of money into the research and development, and we have the benefit of being the sales force for them. So literally every day our guys wake up and go try to educate more surgeons and customers on the Arthrex product offering.

 

Steve Strauss:            So that's really interesting. You're doing one thing that I often counsel small business owners to do, and that is to find a great brand that they can co-brand with. One of the challenges small business people have is that they're small, and they don't have a huge brand. But what you've done, and what you've done well and right is teamed up with this amazing brand in your world, Arthrex, and together they've helped you grow your brand, and you've helped them grow their brand. Has that made a difference for you?

 

John Purcell:               Absolutely. I couldn't have done it without them. Whatever initiatives or stock that they have of what they want me to do, I do it every time. I don't question what it is. We just find a way to get it done. They do stuff the right way, and literally they are what makes Elite who it is, their product portfolio. Our number one greatest asset is our employees, and without our employees and reps and the Arthrex portfolio, Elite wouldn't be able to do any of what it's done so far.

 

Steve Strauss:            So it's also got to be true that there has to be a lot of competition for what you're doing in your space. So what is it though that makes Elite Orthopedics unique and different? You have a great brand and a great partner, but you must be doing something different and better.

 

John Purcell:               Well I feel like we're constantly trying to see three to five years down the road, and I think if you think about the growth we had where we've literally doubled in size in the last three years, and then when I look at the region that Elite is, the three years before that we doubled in size. So my toughest challenge is trying to think big enough and stay ahead of the game. It's real easy to get behind when you're trying to keep up with a machine like Arthrex. The owner of Arthrex, Reinhold Schmieding, is the Steve Jobs or the Bill Gates of orthopedics.

 

                                   You mentioned there's a lot of competition. There's a boatload. All of my competitors are the big boys in this industry doing you know four and five times the revenue of Arthrex for each one of those companies, and so for me, I always try to stay ahead of them by acquiring the best talent. We have a robust medical education department where I have a full-time medical education manager that literally trains new sales reps on the anatomy, surgical procedures, all day, every day. It's more than just selling to the physicians from a growth perspective. I've got to keep up with rep education, which as you can imagine, the learning curve is pretty stiff in this business.

 

Steve Strauss:            I bet it is. It is interesting though that sales are the biggest part of your business maybe. What do you look for in a good salesman? What could other small business people who do sales learn from your explosive growth insofar as what it takes to make a sale and repeat a sale?

 

John Purcell:               Well I think a lot of it has to do with hard work. It's easy to say, but at the end of the day, if somebody puts in the time to cover the cases they need ... Our reps are constant students of the game. They're always trying to sharpen the sword, learn about new surgical procedures, learn about new techniques with current products, learn about all the new products.

 

                                    Arthrex is incredible. They launch over a thousand products a year. So literally at some places, it'd be a full-time job just trying to learn all the new stuff, and our guys are doing that in addition to servicing all of the current surgeries going on every day, and at the same time, picking up all these new ideas and these new techniques, and then disseminating them down to the physicians to determine if it's going to help them treat their patients better.

 

Steve Strauss:            Interesting. We are speaking with John Purcell, the president of Elite Orthopedics, and we will get back to my conversation with John in a second.

 

                                   But first this from our friends at Bank of America.

 

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                                   Interested? You should be. Learn more about Business Advantage Relationship Rewards at bankofamerica.com/relationshiprewards. That's bankofamerica.com/relationshiprewards.

 

Steve Strauss:            So John, while you clearly have had some amazing growth, I am sure that it has also come with some unexpected challenges. Could you tell me what those have been and how you've met those?

 

John Purcell:               Well, we get challenged every day in the operating room. There will be a patient that will present with a unique situation, and what makes our sales reps, or our technology consultants as we call them, great is their ability to think on their feet. So when I was a technology consultant or a sales rep, I felt that one of things I did well was I knew my products, I knew how they were used, and I was good at thinking on my feet. So when the surgeon wasn't prepared for something, we were able to think of a way with our widgets to help bring value and help throw-out some ideas or solutions that they could employ to try to get out of that jam.

 

                                   I wish running a business was as easy as it was for me thinking out of those mechanical jams. But every day is a new challenge, and I honestly believe my biggest challenge would be trying to think big enough to keep up with the growth of Arthrex. So literally hiring, staying ahead on the hiring curve, and making sure we've got high quality individuals ready to step in when an opportunity presents. And I would say the other challenge is just my business infrastructure, and making sure that we've always got room for expansion whether it's in the operations department, the accounting and financial analyst department, operations ... I mean just trying to think large enough of where we're going to be.

 

                                   I was recently at a meeting, and the president of Arthrex was talking about how we're going to plan to double in the next five years. And all of a sudden while everybody else was thinking, "Wow, that's great news!" I had this small moment of panic where I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh! I just bought a facility and a building, and now I'm going to need to have one that's double the size. I'm going to need twice as many reps." And so I start thinking through all of the layers of infrastructure and what that looks like. It's a good problem to have. I'm not complaining, but it's difficult to think that far ahead and to think that big and be comfortable with what you need to do to get there.

 

Steve Strauss:            Well this kind of growth and expansion must have had an impact on your personal life. People always talk about the balance, and I don't think…I don’t think you really can have a great balance. At some point family takes priority. At some point the business takes priority. Balancing them is never easy. How has the growth of your business impacted your personal life?

 

John Purcell:              You're right. It's definitely a challenge, but I have the world's most amazing wife. She's very understanding of my business and my hours. She's very supportive. She helps tremendously. But you're right. There are certainly times when I'll be gone for five or six days to a convention or on a trip for work, and I'll come back and I need to basically just shut work down for a little while and reconnect with my wife and the kids and give everybody the quality family time that they deserve. And it's a constant challenge, but in order to keep up the pace that we move at and to keep up the ability to have things keep moving the way they are, there's some sacrifices that you have to make, and it's unfortunate. But I always try to make sure that whenever I get back from one of those events that I really focus on my family and make sure they're getting what they need as well.

 

Steve Strauss:            You know, I'm wondering the role technology plays in your business. Obviously you have a technology business. But insofar as the business-side of the business goes, do you use tech to help create this infrastructure? Do you use social media maybe in any way to grow your business? Or maybe it's all a more personal touch kind of business. You tell us.

 

John Purcell:               Well you know, that's a good question, and I have a second company that I own a piece of that does lawn and landscaping. And in that business, you know, social media marketing, can really impact the bottom line. However for Elite Orthopedics, social media marketing doesn't necessarily impact the bottom line because I'm selling to a very specific audience of doctors.

 

                                   However, it has been very important for me over the past year and a half or so where we have been relying on social media between Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and some subscription software pieces that I utilize to help keep up with the recruiting and the hiring ways. So I can't say that they've helped impact the revenue from bringing on sales, but it's absolutely been critical to impact the revenue from helping me find the personnel to keep up with this wave of growth.

 

 

Steve Strauss:            Is there anything you would do differently having done this for several years now? What might you have changed, or what might you think you're going to change in the future?

 

John Purcell:               You know, this past year I had a moment where we'd recently brought accounting in-house. And I had a third-party company that I was working with previously. They were unbelievable. They were incredible, but when the day arrived that we needed to bring accounting in-house, I did that and then quickly realized, "Why didn't I do this sooner?" So I think for me, a lot of times, I might not feel it's the right time to do something, or I might be hesitant about it, but once I've done it, there's been a few occasions where by the time I actually pulled the trigger on a new position or whatever it was, a couple months later I'm thinking, "I should have done that sooner."

 

 

                                   So I think the times I just need to just trust my gut a little bit more, or listen more to what others are doing and give it a shot and get out of my comfort zone a little bit more and think bigger.

 

Steve Strauss:            Think bigger. That's a great theme, and I love that you keep saying that. I'm wondering, any other advice you might give entrepreneurs who are listening today? Clearly you love entrepreneurship. You love your business. You've been very successful at it. What do you think people could take away from your journey?

 

John Purcell:               Well, I feel like I got lucky in a sort, but when I was in college and I mentioned I had that conversation that my buddy plugged me in with a guy that was in surgical sales. And as I think back, you know what? I was in the right place at the right time and knew the right guy, and then when I got my opportunity, it was all about demonstrating the work ethic and essentially being flexible. And then once I got into that role and started getting to know the job a little bit, I really fell in love with it, and I love what I do.

 

                                    And I think that is something important for everybody to think about is, you gotta love what you do. When you love what you do, you have the passion to do it 24 straight hours if need be, but at the same time, there's times when it gets really tough. And those are the times when loving what you do that really kind of helps pull you through. When you are having a situation and you're kind of wondering, am I in over my head? Is this too much, or whatever has you down in the dumps that particular day. If you love what you do that'll keep you going, and you can live to fight another day. It's always darkest before the dawn.

 

Steve Strauss:            Nice. Well we here at the Bank of America Small Business Podcast love what you're doing, we love talking to entrepreneurs who are getting the job done and making a difference and helping everyone in the process. And that's clearly what you're doing. So John, if people want to find you or Elite Orthopedics, where should they go?

 

John Purcell:               eliteorthollc.com. We're always looking for talented individuals that can help make us better.

 

Steve Strauss:            Fantastic. Keep up the great work.

 

John Purcell:               Thank you very much. Appreciate the opportunity.

 

Steve Strauss:             For Bank of America, I'm Steve Strauss.

 

 

Up next:

 

 

About Steve Strauss

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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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Season’s greetings from the Small Business Community!

 

The holidays are in full swing on Main Street and it’s time to check in to make sure your small business is ready. Brent Tilson, CEO of Tilson and author of “Go Slow to Grow Fast,” shares holiday best practices for small businesses on this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street.”

 

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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.

 

Brent Tilson:               When you're thinking about the holiday season, start all inclusively with everybody that you're going to communicate with so that you can be sensitive to not only your employees and the impacts around what could be a morale issue in the company ultimately, but also your customers.

 

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 Brent Tilson. He's the president and CEO of Tilson, tilsonhr.com, also the author of the ForbesBook Go Slow to Grow Fast, How to Keep Your Company Driving and Thriving in a Fast-Paced, Competitive Business World.

 

                                   Brent, we're thrilled you're here, and we invited you here to talk with us about some HR issues that are particularly relevant today as we're getting closer to the holidays. The holidays can have some really ... companies can handle the holidays with their teams and their employees in a very successful way, I would imagine, or they can really step in it and make some real mistakes.

 

                                   And interestingly, as I've been reading your book, Go Slow to Grow Fast, your book actually centers around a company having what they think is a morale issue. Hint, hint, it's not really a morale issue. That's just a symptom, but it's so perfectly aligned with the idea of making sure that you do the right thing for your employees during the holidays, that I wanted to talk with you both about the book and things we can do as companies to handle the holidays appropriately.

 

                                   And when I bring up the idea of the holidays and dealing with employees, is this a common conversation that companies have or should have?

 

Brent Tilson:               Well thanks, Gregg. And it is a conversation that companies should be having, especially this time of year. I don't necessarily find where companies have written policies about what they should or shouldn't say during the holiday season, so it's important that people talk about it and that the management teams understand what's important, that they share with the employees, and really have a conversation around those pitfalls. As you said, they could really step in it, and people get really excited around the holiday season.

 

                                   In fact, not too long ago, we celebrated Halloween, and, years ago, Halloween was something that was very commonly celebrated. Well there's also a little darker side to Halloween, and so companies today are starting to be mindful that certain employees don't want to have these Halloween celebrations. And it's the sensitivity issue that we ... I wouldn't have imagined years ago, but so many things I see today, I would never have imagined years ago.

 

                                   And so it's important that companies have these conversations to begin to think about their employees and the excitement that they have to celebrate, but just because they may have that personal excitement at home, they have to somewhat tamper it down a little bit when they're in the office or at work.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well, right, I mean, one of the things is you have to make sure that these kinds of things within the office are inclusive because people have different religions, different celebrations, different customs, and different traditions. And if I'm listening to this and I'm an HR person, what kind of advice can you give me for helping me discuss this with my management team to make sure we're doing the right thing when we approach it with our employees?

 

Brent Tilson:               Well the first thing I like to tell people to think about is to approach it both for internal and external. So when you're thinking about the holiday season, start all inclusively with everybody that you're going to communicate with so that you can be sensitive to not only your employees and the impacts around what could be a morale issue in the company ultimately, but also your customers. Because your customers have to be ... You need to be sensitive with them because they also have personal, whether it be religious or other sorts of traditions that they are mindful of.

 

                                   So my advice would first be think about it from encouraging the employees to see it through the lens of the recipient, the person they're talking with. So if they're certainly in an internal employee situation, be mindful that not everybody is going to be the same faith, and that we are a melting pot, and that we need to be very mindful of the words we use, how we say them, maybe even the greetings and the goodbyes, because this is the time of year when things, people tend to say different things when they meet somebody.

 

                                   And so it's about understanding through the eyes of the recipient is the first thing that they should do. And then also just be sensitive that, in the holiday season, not everyone is excited about the holiday season. So you have to be sensitive to people, how much are they really wanting you to be engaged in those sorts of discussions with them.

 

Gregg Stebben:          You made an interesting point about ... I've been asking about internal communications and relationships between employees, but there's also employees interacting with the public or the company interacting with the public, and that's another place where, if you don't manage it well, you can really alienate some very important people in your business, which is your customers.

 

Brent Tilson:               Well and people, they get lazy. I was in a very ... what I would consider somewhat of a high profile meeting this last year over the Easter time period. It was just a mixed group, and the individual who was hosting the meeting just was careless in comments towards the end, and this was actually an elected official who wasn't really thinking about what he was saying at the time, he was trying to be ... wishing everybody a good weekend. And afterwards, he reflected on what he said and he's like, "I can't believe I just did that." So just careless in reading and understanding the room, and the things you may say or may not say.

 

                                   And so, it happens to everybody, no matter where you may be, whether it's in business or in some other situation, it's just being careful of really understanding the audience that you're in, and making sure the message is tailored for that audience.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well, two words come to mind as we're talking about this. One is training. I mean, there must be some ... there has to be some way of communicating this with your employees, or you're leaving it up to chance that they're going to get it right. So you need to, I would think, in some way or another, let employees know this is what we think is appropriate, and we want you to act in the following way.

 

                                   Which is built on awareness, because I think sometimes people say things like this elected official you were mentioning, sometimes it's just a lack of an awareness that there could be sensitivity, and once you're aware that the sensitivity is there, you think, oh, I never would've done that if I had thought about it, but I didn't have the awareness to think about it.

 

Brent Tilson:               Well, and many people ... and you're right, the training is very important, and the reason the training is important, or at least to make people aware of it. And it certainly should be done not just in a holiday spirit, it ought to be more from a sensitivity and diversity training that's all encompassing so that it's not just specific to the holidays. The holidays are an example, they certainly are a placeholder in the training for people to have to understand that there are different times of the year that you have to be even more aware of the activity, and what you might say or do.

 

                                   So in those trainings it's important to have these pieces, but it just goes so much more than that. Think about it this way, that people are at work, are in the office, far more than they are at home. But yet they bring from their home their personal beliefs and experiences, and not everybody wants that shared in the office environment. And so it's really important to understand that there's that line that individuals have to manage and monitor themselves when they bring in their personal beliefs, if you will.

 

                                   And so it's really important to understand both sides of that. There's that line that you do cross when you walk through the door.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I'm talking with Brent Tilson, he's the president and CEO of Tilson, they're at TilsonHR.com. He's also the author of the Forbes Book, Go Slow to Grow Fast, How to Keep Your Company Driving and Thriving in a Fast Paced, Competitive Business World.

 

                                   Brent, I want to change gears here a little bit and talk about another big part of the holidays in the workplace, and that is: I'm an employee, I have an expectation that I'm going to get a bonus, a gift, a raise, or maybe all three. This seems to me another place where employers have to be really strategic about what they do. I want you to talk a little bit about the things you do at Tilson, so we can then understand the kind of advice you offer to your clients around these kinds of year end issues.

 

Brent Tilson:               These are great issues to address, because you think first about raises. It's one of those things that some people just expect it annually, I'm going to get a raise. The cost of living increase or whatever it may be, and we're always very clear to articulate in our organization that while we do try, and want to be giving raises, and certainly want to keep up with the cost of living, so there's certainly that as an element, so we make sure our staff understands there's an element of raises that are a part of the overall compensation that will happen year after year.

 

                                   But then on top of that, it's going to be merit based. So if you're improving, and you're moving from one level to another level, and you've actually improved your position and/or your overall performance, then yes you will be justified to get a possibly higher raise. So we make sure it's very clear that there's a merit component to the raise piece, that way we set expectations.

 

                                   Now come to bonuses, you have those performance based bonuses and discretionary. So performance based, once again, it's going to be based on the merits, so it's very clear and they should be very clearly articulated as to when those bonuses will be paid out, so that they understand how they're doing, so you're rewarding the right type of thing.

 

                                   Oftentimes in the holidays, we get into the discretionary bonuses, and that's where people can get themselves in trouble, because if they do discretionary bonuses, and they've done it for five straight years in a row, it starts to be expected. And if some reason the company doesn't do well, or some change happens that that isn't paid out, then employees' expectations have to be better managed so that people know that it's not going to happen. We see that as a real problem, companies tend to just habitually do these year-end bonuses, they do it as a discretionary, they don't communicate it that this is not to be expected every year, then people start to think it's a part of their income. And it can be really problematic as people think they're going to use that money for Christmas gifts, or whatever they may be doing.

 

                                   So certainly those things are an issue that management really needs to talk about, because to set expectations early, and frequently, because you can't just say it once, you're going to have to say it multiple times.

 

Announcer:                 As a professional employer organization, Tilson, and one of the services you offer are payroll and benefits administration, is this the kind of thing that you and your team end up talking with your clients about?

 

                                   Want an alternative to giving bonuses?  Try these 6 easy employee benefits to reward employees from Steve Strauss. 

 

Brent Tilson:               It is. Yes, our HR team will work with our clients and we'll talk about best practices, things to think about as they're getting ready to roll out their bonuses. Because it's not just a bonus, it could be ... when you get on the technical side, sometimes bonuses are tied to 401k programs, and so that's going to be money that they think they're going to get, or making sure they articulate, okay, you're going to get $1,000.00 bonus but once taxes are done, it's not going to be that full amount, so what is your real intent? Are you wanting them to take home a full $1,000.00? Well then we have to talk about the financial implications, and the taxes, and what we call grossing it up.

 

                                   So yeah, we talk about everything from the tactical and technical components of how and what amount you want to give, to the strategy of what that impact is on the workforce.

 

Gregg Stebben:          And there's another wrinkle to this, I'm referring to a statistic from the Fall 2018 Bank of America Small Business Owner Reporthttps://newsroom.bankofamerica.com/system/files/Small_Business_Owner_Report_-_Fall_2018.pdf, which reports that 83% of small business owners planned to offer holiday related perks this year, 83%. And I'm relating that to the headlines we read about there being real problems hiring talent. I would think that if you're a small business owner, and you're not offering appropriate bonuses, gifts, or raises, you probably run the risk of losing employees.

 

Brent Tilson:               That's a real issue today. So many companies, that's one of the ... probably the number one thing we hear is keeping employees, and trying to get the talented employees to replace them when they're gone. It's a real issue. And what we're starting to see is some pressure on compensation. We're seeing companies having to put a little more money behind these roles, and these jobs that are open, and/or with the people they have today, to keep them. Because people are being pried away, and the way the world is today with the pace of things, the really top talent is being pursued.

 

 

                                   And so giving perks, and as you said, the bonuses, or gifts are just ... when you think about it at the end of the day, it's a very small gesture, but very valuable in the eyes of the employee. And things that we can do today to help keep our teams is important. Now, we don't want to buy their happiness, that's not what we're suggesting. But what we're seeing in the economy is such a strong business environment, and the economy's performing well, profits seem to be up. And if that is then likewise shared with everyone who's contributing then there starts to be a little bit of a disconnect between the employees and the employer.

 

                                   So it certainly is something that we see companies thinking more about doing this year.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well and I would imagine at Tilson, one of the things, one of the conversations you're having with clients is even helping them quantify the cost of losing someone, or to say it another way, what's the cost of hiring somebody else? Again, in the Fall 2018 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, 24% of small business owners said they have lost at least one employee in the last year, and 58% said they were having difficulty finding qualified candidates. So you have to factor those kinds of statistics into if we lose someone, particularly a key employee, someone with great talent, it's ... you're not only losing a person who's doing some work today for the team, you also have to factor in the time and the amount of money that it costs to replace them, if you can replace them.

 

                                   Read Rieva Lesonsky’s article, 6 Things Entrepreneurs Can Do to Attract and Retain Good Employees.

 

Brent Tilson:               Well, if you can replace them then the ramifications last for years. If you have really top talented people, when they leave, it's not just getting to that next person in the seat, it's all that knowledge that they walked out the door with. And especially if they've been there years with the company, and someone comes and kind of takes them away for a better opportunity, then the cost of turnover is substantial, and we do, we work with our companies and our clients to help them understand what are they doing, what are they putting in place to really make sure that they're keeping their top talent.

 

                                   In my book I talk about building a high performance team, and to do that you have five major categories for working with employees. How do you find them, develop, direct, motivate, and retain, and those five pieces are so critical. And companies need to make sure that they have things in place at each place along the way so that retention at the very end, is you're retaining, you actually have a strategy and a program to retain employees.

 

                                   And of course, those that are not performing, well, that falls under how do you direct them, eventually you direct them out if they're not the right people, because they can cost you dearly as well, if you have the wrong people. But those five pieces of the employment lifecycle or so critical to have it right.

 

Gregg Stebben:          I'm talking with Brent Tilson, the book he mentioned is Go Slow to Grow Fast, his new book, How to Keep Your Company Driving and Thriving in a Fast Paced, Competitive Business World. Brent is the president and CEO of Tilson at TilsonHR.com, on Twitter and Facebook @TilsonHR.

 

                                   You know, one of the things we're talking about, we can talk about here as we talk about the holidays, is how to use the power and the spirit of the holidays to actually inspire and motivate employees. Do you have tips there so that we can actually take that spirit of the holidays, and the togetherness, and use it to make our company even stronger?

 

Brent Tilson:               Absolutely. I think what we like to do, I know what I like to do, and encourage others, is this is a great time to reflect on the successes. There's so many negative things that we see in the news every day, and people ... If we just came out of an election cycle where we're all just beat up over all the negativity that can be out there, and this is a time in the holidays where people are excited. They're ready for celebration, at least you can't assume everybody, but there's a sense of that in the air.

 

                                   And so, what I like to do is let's look back and celebrate the successes we've had over the last year. Let's make sure we call these people out, and explain, and share, and celebrate with them. Whether we do it publicly in holiday parties, or you do it with a little private note that you write to them individually. But there's also things that people can do, encouraging to give back, because oftentimes when people give back, they get more out of it than just receiving. So we like to recommend, and we do internally, we do a number of different programs where we help maybe a family in need, they have different programs, I think they call them Christmas Angel type environments where a family that's in need will have a list of all the things that they could really use to help their family, and so we've done that. And people ... the generosity that flows from the staff to help these other groups just warms them, and makes them feel better about it. And it just helps create this sense of pride, as well as fellowship and kinship when people are participating in activities such as those.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Within an organization, can that kind of participation in a program kind of come from the bottom up, or the top down? I mean, could it be HR saying, "We've identified this program and we're going to participate," or is there a way to encourage employees who have ideas of their own, here's how to suggest a program that the company or your department might want to participate in?

 

Brent Tilson:               Well, in fact it is both ways. So in our company, we do have things that we suggest corporately, "Hey, this is something that we want to get involved in," typically we put it out for discussion and see kind of what we would like to celebrate and participate in this year, whether it's simply making donations to certain charities on behalf of employees, or possibly it's actually, like I just mentioned, actually doing an event where we're gathering donations.

 

                                   But what we also have is we actually have a program that we implemented in our company, where we allow people to basically, they submit a request, they can do it individually, but they get a day of paid time off for them to go to a ... either a local charity, or something that they want to give back. So they just submit it, it gets approved. It can be individually or they can do it as a group effort. And so they go and find these things, because we want people to be involved in the community, because we know the value that it provides to them and to the community. So it can be done both ways.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Well I really like the sound of that, because I ... when someone, a team or an individual sources it, and then it gets embraced by the company, even if it's just a few people within the company, that then is going to be very empowering to that person, beyond the spirit of giving, but making them feel like, "Wow, I made a real contribution both to my community, but also to my company."

 

Brent Tilson:               Oh, that's absolutely true. There's so many different programs that we've done over the years, it's fun. When they're ... when the employees and the team choose to do something, then you can see the spirit, because they have a little competition amongst themselves, they make it more fun, they ... who's going to out donate who, and you find that they've been hiding some of their donations so no one really knows how much they have until the last day, and everything shows up and one department's so thrilled that they've outdone everybody else. And it's just ... it's a camaraderie, there's so many things that it does, over and above and beyond merely just the time of giving, but there's also so many other things that just really help employees and people feel a part of something bigger than just themselves.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Brent Tilson is with us on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with Forbes Books and Bank of America. He's the president and CEO of Tilson, they're at TilsonHR.com, he's also the author of the Forbes book, Go Slow to Grow Fast, How to Keep Your Company Driving and Thriving in a Fast Paced, Competitive Business World.

 

                                   I think we need to talk about people within your organization who, frankly, may be dreading the holidays. For one reason or another, this may not be a time of happiness for them, but it may be a time of sorrow, or struggle. And what's the best way for us as individuals, as managers, even as ... a C suite executive, to make sure those people are being acknowledged and helped in whatever way that they may need?

 

Brent Tilson:               It is a tough time of year. Many people talk about how, or you see reports, where depression actually goes up during the holidays, because possibly someone ... this is the first holiday, first Thanksgiving, without Grandma, the first time that they're not going over to somebody's house to celebrate one of the holiday events and parties. And there are so many things that are personally tough this time of year, sometimes there are great celebrations, other times they're not so.

 

                                   And I think the first thing we have to do as organizations is not be ... make things mandatory, and all inclusive, you have to allow people to make decisions on what they want to participate or not participate in. Because just purely mandating may put somebody in a really awkward situation, or trying to encourage ... we want to ... 95% participation at the company's holiday party, well, who's doing that? Is that because you want the bottom line to justify the money you spent? Or are you trying ... what's the intent there? So as managers and leaders, we really need to acknowledge that some people in the organization really just want their space, and their time.

 

                                   The other part is being sensitive to that. So if you're a manager of an organization, of employees, you may be aware, personally aware, that somebody's going to go through a tough time, so maybe it's a handwritten note, just offering them words of encouragement, without getting into specifics and details, let them know that you're thinking about them during this upcoming year, and holiday season, and just offer that open hand of a gesture of just being here to help if there's anything we can do to help.

 

                                   So it's more of just being aware, and just good, human kindness.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Is there a way, or should we be thinking about a way to make sure everyone in our organization knows that there's an easy, risk free way to ask for help if they need it? Is there a way to offer that, that's ... that will be effective, and not ... not intrusive?

 

Brent Tilson:               Well, there are. There are many programs that are just available, companies offered, often known as employee assistance programs, EAP programs, that's a little more structured, but they're designed to allow because our professionals who can actually participate in ... and you can say, "Okay, you're going into this time of year, recognize that there may be a need for you to reach out and have a conversation," and so the counselors, through these EAP programs, can talk with the employees, let them kind of work through. So it's not something that's being done internally, it's not being done by the HR manager, or really ... it could be, but really oftentimes this is such a personal thing, it needs to be done in a manner that is supportive of them, and help them, and that's why those programs are important to have for employees. Because you just really don't know all the things going on in somebody's life. And to be able to extend, and remind people, "Hey this is a time of year, don't hesitate to reach out to the EAP group and they can help you."

 

                                   And certainly there's fliers, and a lot of times there's documentation. I know we have some in our office that we circulate around, just reminding people of this information so that they receive it in multiple fashions, not just like somebody standing up, or telling people, it's actually, hey, it's on the bulletin boards, it's on the intranet site, or wherever. "Hey, don't forget about these tools that are available for you."

 

Gregg Stebben:          That way you are never singling someone out, you let them self-identify as, "Oh yes, that would be valuable to me, and I get to approach it, or take advantage it in whatever way makes sense for me, and is private, or public, a way that I want to."

 

Brent Tilson:               Well that's exactly right, I mean you may have an employee in the office going through a divorce and nobody knows about it, they've kept it quiet, but it's being very disruptive, and it's like during the holidays, and everybody's trying to figure out who's doing what, and when, and where, and that's not something you would want to single out.

 

Brent Tilson:               But if they knew they had the availability to go to ... through a program, or have somebody to talk to, to work through those needs and issues that are professionals, it certainly allows those individuals that to work through their items and not make it a part of the office.

 

Gregg Stebben:          He's Brent Tilson, he's the president and CEO of the professional employer organization, Tilson, at TilsonHR.com, on Twitter and Facebook @TilsonHR. He's also the author of the ForbesBook, Go Slow to Grow Fast. It seems counterintuitive.

 

Brent Tilson:               Well, and that's why the book title, I think works, is people want to say, "What does that mean? What do you mean go slow to grow fast?"

 

Gregg Stebben:          That's what I'm asking, what does that mean?

 

Brent Tilson:               What it means is people really need to slow down, understand their surroundings, what they're doing, where they're going, making sure they're doing the right planning, have the right things in place, put the right measurements, and tools, and think about their business before they just try to grow. I see so many companies go out and try to grow as fast as they can, only to become just a wreck on the side of the road because they just weren't prepared for what they were doing.

 

                                   So the idea of going slow is to really take the time, understand the business, understand those forces around you. I like to tell people that every year you should ask yourself what will put you out of business? And really think about those issues, so you can better prepare, because once you've thought about that, and you've done the right planning, then go grow as fast as you can.

 

Gregg Stebben:          It's interesting, as I'm reading the book, one of the things that I've really been left with, the book is called Go Slow to Grow Fast, he's Brent Tilson, he's the author. One of the things that it's really left me with that, frankly, I had never completely thought through for myself, is that growth has consequences. It has rewards, of course, but it's also not without consequences, and so if you grow too fast without the planning, that growth can actually kill you. You think it's the thing that's going to make you successful, but it may actually be the thing that kills you, because you didn't plan for it, and therefore you can't handle it.

 

Brent Tilson:               And I've seen it time and time again. And maybe it doesn't put somebody completely out of business and cause them to fail, but they grow to a certain level, they outgrow the capability of the organization, the customers get upset, they start leaving, morale starts dropping. And all the sudden the company has to move backward to re-establish itself, to try to get its feet under it again, and then they start growing. But they lost all that time because they tried to grow too fast, and they just got ahead of themselves. And it happens time and time again. And it's the idea of let's anticipate the future. If you're going to grow at 30% a year, well, what do you have to have planning wise done, you have to do even more than what you're doing if you're growing at 10% a year.

 

                                   But that doesn't happen. And so my encouragement is people really do go slow to understand, so that you don't have that high growth put you out of business.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yeah, and the kind of problems you can have if you're not prepared for the growth is anything from cash flow to client satisfaction and losing your clients, which again, can be devastating.

 

Brent Tilson:                Absolutely.

 

Gregg Stebben:          So my last question, and this is a fun one. I hope. You've seen a lot of things in your years, and we've been talking largely about the holidays, and how to approach them from an HR perspective. Have you seen any just like really funny, or common but they shouldn't be, HR gotchas around the holidays that you can share with us? Both to entertain us, but also frankly, so that we can learn something from the story.

 

Brent Tilson:               Yeah, well one of them is I remember walking in an office, and they had mistletoe hanging, and I thought, "No, no, no, no, get that out of here." We don't need mistletoe hanging around the office.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Especially in 2018 it sounds like a really bad idea.

 

Brent Tilson:               Bad idea. So certainly that's an easy one, but that did happen, I just had to laugh.

 

                                   We all know the holiday parties, those are the things that get people in trouble. They maybe have a few too many drinks, maybe a little too comfortable in the environment, forget who they're talking to. The attire that they wear, I mean, I've been places where it's like, "Oh my goodness, I cannot believe somebody showed up wearing what they're wearing," and it's just, everybody's embarrassed by this whatever, and however.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Everybody but the person wearing it, because they don't even understand that it's embarrassing.

 

Brent Tilson:               Well, yeah, they thought that was a fun outfit for the evening.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes.

 

Brent Tilson:               It's like, "No, that was not quite right." So certainly you get into the gotchas of just unwelcome affection, where people just get comfortable, they think it's a fun time of year, maybe they do have an attraction to somebody, and they just kind of ... just a little overzealous, so we see those types of things happening, certainly.

 

                                   The gotchas from an HR perspective is just you want everybody to remember to keep their ...

 

Gregg Stebben:          It's a work event.

 

Brent Tilson:               It's a work event, this is not a party. This is not a night club event, and just remember that. And so, but I think the businesses owe it to themselves to make sure ... you know, like for us, we have a holiday party, we'll do a two drink ... you know, "Here, everybody gets two tickets, that's all the company's providing." And one of the things that's being recommended this year for companies is to use shared services, like the Ubers, and the Lyfts, and those types of things. And say, "Hey, go ahead as a company and pay for it." If somebody shows up, don't even hesitate to give them the opportunity, why would you want your employee to take a chance even if you're not participating in the purchase of anything, you don't want to put yourself on the front page of the paper because somebody made a mistake and it comes back on you. And so take those necessary precautions so you don't get yourself in trouble. And just don't hang the mistletoe up.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yes. And I think Uber and Lyft is a really great idea for holiday parties. The last thing I want to ask related to this, is do we as the people at the top of the company, or the organization in the C suite, should be assume that we should be very explicit about, for instance, what is appropriate attire? Or what is appropriate behavior? So that no one can come back and say, "Well, I didn't know."

 

Brent Tilson:               Well, that's best practice. The best practice is when we have these events, and it's clear to what the attire is, what's appropriate, what's not appropriate, oftentimes that's in the dress code. But we have ... when it says that it's evening attire, or black tie, or festive, or whatever, there's so many different varieties of names, you can Google them and look. And then you can get lots of different outfits. So it's really good to be very clear as to what's expected. It just takes the pressure off of everybody.

 

                                   Also what's expected at the event. Whether or not ... be mindful, this is going back to the alcohol reference, but you are at a company event, and some companies don't have alcohol, they just, they avoid it, they don't want the issues at all. But that doesn't mean the employee's not going to have some cocktails maybe sitting there before everyone gets there. So there's elements you can't control.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Yeah.

 

Brent Tilson:               So it's important to really communicate, and that's a best practice. For all of us who are the leaders of the company, we also set the example. So while we're at these events, we also have to be mindful, everybody's watching us. And from the clothes you're wearing, to the things you're saying, to the things you're doing. So it's very important for the leaders to set the example. And the staff will follow. And I've seen certain leaders who have a little too much fun, well it doesn't take long for the staff to follow in that front. And so I think it's important for us to exhibit it.

 

Gregg Stebben:          It's funny how culture has a way of showing up everywhere, isn't it?

 

Brent Tilson:               That's why it's called culture.

 

Gregg Stebben:          Exactly. Well Brent Tilson, that's for joining us on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with Forbes Books and Bank of America. He's the president and CEO of the professional employer organization, Tilson, at TilsonHR.com, on Twitter and Facebook, @TilsonHR. He's also the author of the Forbes book, I, I highly recommend it, How to Keep Your Company Driving and Thriving in a Fast Paced, Competitive Business World.

                                    Brent, thanks so much for joining us, and happy holidays.

 

Brent Tilson:               Thanks Gregg, appreciate it so much. Have a great holiday season.

 

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

In the latest Bank of America Small Business Podcast episode, Steve Strauss speaks with Jessica Kavanagh, founder of VetLinks.org, and Lieutenant Colonel Kirk Duncan, the military affairs director of the organization. Listen to learn about the journey to create VetLinks and discover how it empowers veterans – with tips to help entrepreneurs everywhere thrive.

 

 

 

Kirk:                The one kind, this missing component, was someone in our group, our initial Board of Directors, that had true nonprofit experience.  It's different than running a for profit business. So if I could rewind time a little bit, the one change would've been to reach out to a mentor or someone with that nonprofit experience to really be an initial guiding hand as we launched this journey that is VetLinks.org.

 

Steve:             Hi, I'm Steve Strauss, and you're listening to the Bank of America Small Business Podcast, a podcast where we speak with small business owners about their journey and uncover useful tips for entrepreneurs and small business owners everywhere.

 

Steve:             Today we're speaking with Jessica Kavanagh, founder and president of VetLinks.org, and Lieutenant Colonel Kirk Duncan, the military affairs director for the organization. Today's guests play a hugely important role for veterans across America through an amazing organization called VetLinks. VetLinks is a 501c3 nonprofit that bridges the VA mental health care gap for veterans with PTSD by connecting veterans, families, and caregivers to post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury alternative treatments, programs, and resources.

 

Steve:             VetLinks.org educates and empowers veterans and their families by linking them to services, support, and programs in order to enrich the quality of their life.

 

Steve:             So Jessica and Kirk, great to have you on the show. Welcome. Jessica, let me begin with you. VetLinks is an amazing organization. What inspired you to help create it?

 

Jessica:          Yeah, no, thanks for having us on the show tonight. My husband, Brian Kavanagh, he was an Army infantry officer, he was a ranger, and back in 2014 he came home one day and he was asking for help with his post-traumatic stress. And so we called the VA, and they had put us on a six week wait time for mental health. So we took matters into our own hands and we found him a place on our own for private care, and got him help. And after that, we called the VA again and they put us on another six week wait time, and so we've started our own private treatment again for mental health appointments.

 

Jessica:          By the summer of 2015, things were not getting much better by any means. So this time we called the VA and we kept our six week wait time appointment, which ironically fell on September 11th. And then when we went to the appointment, I was so hopeful that she was going to give us this magical place that was going to help Brian with his post-traumatic stress, and his substance abuse, and instead all she could offer was a psych unit. So I started calling anyone, everyone who would listen to me. And finally, this woman called me from Texas and she said, "I've heard your story from two different people, one in Florida and one in California, and you really need to go down to Washington DC to a Congressional hearing on October 7th, and Bob McDonald's going to be there." Bob McDonald was the former secretary of the VA.

                                                                     

Jessica:          So I went down, and I went into the Congressional hearing, and I met with every single person in there. I had written out our story, typed it out, gave it to everyone. I introduced myself to Bob McDonald, and I told him our story and said that we needed help right away or that Brian was going to die. And in three days, he got him into an inpatient facility out in West Virginia with the VA.

 

Jessica:          So Brian went into the 90-day program. And he was meeting veterans left and right who weren't getting help additionally with benefits that they deserved, so he started holding classes on how to get these resources until finally someone said to him, "Brian, you're a patient here, you can't just hold these classes." And so when he got out of the inpatient, he told me of the idea that he wanted to help these veterans. And he wanted to help take care of them and get them the resources that they needed. And of course, I was so supportive, but at the same time I thought well, great, let's add caregivers to the list because I couldn't get you help, it took me months to get you into a facility.

 

Steve:             Your husband had the inspiration to create VetLinks, and I know he's not with us anymore, you carried it on. Could you just maybe tell us about that a little bit.

 

Jessica:          Yeah, absolutely. So when he passed away, I vowed to take over the nonprofit in his honor, and I wanted to carry his vision on. So after the funeral, a bunch of us were just sitting around the table, and I was telling a lot of Brian's friends about his vision, about what he wanted to do with VetLinks, and they said, "Let's do it." So we decided right then that we were going to take the nonprofit and move it in the right direction.

 

Steve:             Well it's so admirable. And VetLinks has been around for how many years now?

 

Jessica:          It'll be two years on December 20th.

 

Steve:             Way to go. Kirk, let me ask you this. How did you meet Jessica and how did you get involved with VetLinks?

 

Kirk:                Well first Steve, I want to echo Jessica's sentiment and just thank you for the opportunity to be on the program.

 

Kirk:                The short answer to how Jessica and I met was through her relationship with my best friend, Brian Kavanagh. Brian, as Jessica mentioned, was really the inspiration behind VetLinks.org. The slightly, I guess, longer version of how we got together, Brian and I grew up in a small town in Pittsburg, Kansas. We did everything together, hung out, we played sports, found creative ways to get in trouble at times. We were basically together almost every day from preschool really through high school graduation. So about as tight as two guys could be.

 

Kirk:                Flash forward a couple years, and Brian had gone through the ROTC program at Pittsburg State University in our hometown, got commissioned, and eventually the Army stationed him over in Baltimore where his relationship with Jessica begins. And about that same time, I was also on active duty and serving in Iraq at that point. And honestly, Brian had dated other people, but when we communicated on email and phones, there was just something different about the way he was talking about Jessica. He was certainly smitten with her, head over heels.

 

Kirk:                So I returned that deployment in May of 2011, and Brian brought her to our good friend, Pat McNally's wedding, and that was the first time that we met in person.

 

Steve:             It must have been so hard for you to see your best friend, your pal, suffer from such severe PTSD.

 

Kirk:                Yeah, you know, it's hard to imagine knowing someone for over three decades, and then seeing their personality almost fundamentally change in front of you. It's one thing to hear words like post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, but to see the effects of that on someone you care so much about, it's almost impossible to describe. It was like when I'd go out to Baltimore with friends to kind of help Jessica intervene a little bit, and get Brian to realize what was going on, it was almost like a shell of himself. You look behind his eyes, and it just wasn't the same man that I'd grown up with and grown to love.

 

Kirk:                The other thing that was interesting for me in my initial journey with VetLinks, was it was hard for me to kind of understand their struggle. As an active duty Army officer, the healthcare that I'm provided and still am has been phenomenal, the Army really takes care of its soldiers. But you know, when Brian left active duty he kind of gave up that camaraderie that is so unique to soldiers, you know, the bond that you form when you're in combat with somebody, it's indescribable for someone who hasn't been there. And so when Brian left active duty, he left that kind of network, that camaraderie of veterans.

 

Kirk:                And then the second thing is, when you leave active duty, the level of care that's available to veterans just is not up to par compared to what's provided for us on active duty. And so what I kind of came to realize in seeing Jessica and Brian's struggles, is ... it's difficult for the VA to provide the individual, necessary support, if you will, that our veterans deserve.

 

Steve:             So Jessica, let me ask you this, clearly you created VetLinks in honor of our husband and to help other soldiers like your husband. Can you tell us though a little bit more about what exactly VetLinks does, and who it's for, and how it helps them.

 

Jessica           So VetLinks is for veterans, it's for our caregivers, it's for family members. And we want to be able to provide the immediate resources that they may need in a very immediate fashion. Whether that may be an inpatient stay, whether that might be therapy, alternative treatment, whether that's just getting a massage, or acupuncture, or having a babysitter come over to the house so the couple can go get the couple's therapy they may need. Or as a caregiver, getting a flight to be able to go see their veteran while they're in an inpatient center. I mean, it really could be anything. As long as ... our criteria is based off of our story, as far as post-9/11, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, TBI-related. But however and whatever resources they need, we want to be able to provide.

 

Kirk:                Like any small business or nonprofit starting out, kind of identifying that target audience and developing our niche was hugely important for us. There's a lot of great nonprofits that do some really amazing things to assist veterans. So as we sort of developed our initial focus as a board, we thought let's model our target customer, if you will, on the Kavanagh family. So as Jessica mentioned, that's a combat veteran and their families who are struggling specifically from the effects of post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and substance abuse.

 

Kirk:                And our original thought was, hey, if we can save one veteran, we can impact one family's life, we'll be successful. And so as we progressed a little bit, the other thing we came to realize is that one of the forgotten parts of this epidemic involves those caregivers that Jessica talked about. Those persons, or people that live day in and day out with their veteran.

 

Kirk:                The other thing we learned is that the effects of post-traumatic stress can have profound impacts on the children of those veterans as well. So some of our focus has been specifically for those caregivers and children of veterans, in addition to trying to help veterans themselves.

 

Steve:             So you make a really great point, Kirk. I mean, one thing I always talk about to my small business brothers and sisters is that you have to serve the market, and find a need and fill it. And clearly there is a great need for the work you are doing. I'm going to ask this question to both of you, and Kirk, I'll go to your first. What is it you find most rewarding about your work with VetLinks?

 

Kirk:                Well I think first and foremost, it's the realization that we're helping people through our work. We've helped some people in some big ways, paying for inpatient treatments and such, and also in smaller ways. If I could I'd like to tell you a story about one of the first people that we helped. He was a Marine combat veteran named Matt. And when Matt got out of the Marine Corps, he really struggled with that transition back into civilian life. He had the telltale signs of suffering from post-traumatic stress, and was really abusing alcohol.

 

Steve:             Right.

 

Kirk:                And when we learned about Matt's story, we said, "Hey, this is exactly who we're trying to take care of." So VetLinks’ board kind of looked at the case, we voted wholeheartedly, let's get Matt some help. So we were able to provide six months of inpatient treatment therapy out in California. And Matt really took the treatment really well. And so we kind of followed his story as a new nonprofit startup, and I'm so proud to tell you, Steve, that he completed the six months of treatment, he got sober, and more importantly he got employed. And I'll tell you the great thing about that employment, Steve, is that he's actually employed with the VA right now. So it's about a story going full circle. Here Matt is struggling and we were able to help him through that struggle, and now he's living proof of what nonprofits like VetLinks can do, and we're so proud of the work he's doing in the VA to help his fellow vets out.

 

Steve:             Well that's fantastic, and congratulations, and it's stories like that that are so heartwarming. I'm sure, Jessica, that is the kind of thing that you find incredibly rewarding as well.

 

Jessica           Yeah, absolutely. We get emails and text messages and phone calls all the time, thanking us for everything. So it's really rewarding.

 

Steve:             We are speaking with Jessica Kavanagh and Kirk Duncan of VetLinks, Vetlinks.org, and we will get back to that in a moment. But first I want to tell you a little bit about our friends at Bank of America.

 

Steve:             I want to ask you this, have you heard about Business Advantage Relationship Rewards from Bank of America? It's a new program that rewards eligible small business owners with benefits and rewards that grow as their BofA business deposit, or their Merrill Edge, or Merrill Lynch investment balances increase. You can read about it at BankofAmerica.com/RelationshipRewards. There are all sorts of benefits, including no fees on select services from Bank of America. Including monthly maintenance fee waivers on up to four checking accounts and four savings accounts. A 25% to 75% rewards bonus on the base earn of every purchase you make with your eligible Bank of America credit card. Cash rewards based on your Bank of America merchant services monthly payment processing volume. Up to 20% interest booster on a Business Advantage savings account. And interest rate discounts on new loans and lines of credit.

 

Steve:             Interested? You should be. Learn more about Business Advantage Relationship Rewards at BankofAmerica.com/RelationshipRewards. That's BankofAmerica.com/RelationshipRewards.

 

Steve:             Jessica, I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about some of the unexpected challenges you have faced along the way. You know, it's not easy to create a business, it's not easy to create a nonprofit, an organization, a website. What unexpected challenges have you found?

 

Jessica:          Yeah, absolutely. Well, I personally think that one of the biggest challenges we have is dealing with getting passed the stigma of these men and women wanting to get help. I know Brian never wanted to get help, he never wanted to talk about his struggles, or his issues, until he finally did, and hit a wall, and then it was too late. So there's a stigma overall, I think, with people struggling with mental health.

 

Jessica:          But just reaching them, and getting them to want to you know accept help, and get help has been one of our biggest challenges.

 

Steve:             Clearly you're getting there. And Kirk, what about you? What do you think?

 

Kirk:                Yeah, you know Steve, surprisingly, one of the unexpected challenges that we've faced was actually finding veterans and their families to help. As we started our nonprofit and found some initial success raising funds, we then had to figure out well how do we connect our resources, our monetary resources to those that need it? Reaching our target customer, if you will.

 

Kirk:                Another challenge involved the need to screen veterans' requests, kind of ensuring that we were in compliance in terms of like the regulations safeguarding peoples' private information, their identity, and their health information. And luckily, these are both kind of challenges that we've been able to work through by our networking efforts.

 

Kirk:                One thing that I think is valuable, whether you're serving the Army like I am, running a for profit enterprise, or working in a nonprofit like VetLinks, is really the power of networking. I think Jessica has been an absolute pro at networking in the Baltimore and greater Washington DC area. Her efforts and relationship building skills allowed us to connect with a great partner, and this organization that's called Code of Support. And Steve, what Code of Support and their partners do is they basically link together different veteran's charities, and are able to leverage the capabilities of each nonprofit in this collective partnership.

 

Kirk:                So if a veteran reaches out through Code of Support and has the need that fits our model and our criteria, they pass that referral on to us and we're able to connect our resources with that veteran's specific needs.

 

Steve:             Nice. Well clearly, Jessica, you are a master networker. Your story of how you went about helping your husband is pretty incredible. And if you brought those same skills to this endeavor, I'm sure you guys have an incredible network.

 

Steve:             I'm wondering, in fact, how creating this organization and VetLinks has impacted your personal life. It began as a personal story, you and your husband, and you taking the mantle from your husband. How has it effected your personal life since then?

 

Jessica:          You know, it's a challenge. I feel at this point I'm basically running three full time jobs between our two little girls, and I work for a medical sales company that I've been with for 14 years, and that of course pays the bills, and now running the nonprofit. So it's just ... the challenge is time management, and just figuring out the priorities for the day. And that's all I do, is I just take it day by day.

 

Steve:             And Kirk, you, I'm guessing, have never started a business before, never created something from scratch. This has to have affected your personal life in ways you didn't expect either.

 

Kirk:                Yeah, it's really brought into focus the criticality of managing the work/life balance. Like Jessica, I have children, I have four kids, and they're all active and doing sports and school activities, and so trying to fulfill my duties as an active duty Army officer, balancing that with being a husband and a father, and having such passion to try to help veterans that are like my best friend, Brian, it's been a challenge. But what it's taught me, as far as helping VetLinks, is just learning to balance and manage my time better.

 

Kirk:                The other thing that kind of comes out of this is actually learning how to say no. When we first started out, we took every opportunity we could, we'd go speak to any group, big or small, and then now we have to really kind of weigh our opportunities, because our time is limited and we have to choose those opportunities that give us kind of the best return, if you will, on that precious resource which is time.

 

Jessica:          Absolutely.

 

Steve:             And Kirk, would you do anything differently now two years in that you think people might want to know about?

 

Kirk:                You know, it's ... when you start any business, there's going to be certain things that you're good at, your core competencies, those things that you inherently feel comfortable with doing. And looking back, we were blessed to have a group of friends that had some unique talents that all contributed in meaningful ways to us starting VetLinks.org. But the one kind of, I guess, missing component was someone in our group, our initial Board of Directors, that had true nonprofit experience. It's different than running a for profit business. So if I could rewind time a little bit, the one change would've been to reach out to a mentor, or someone with that nonprofit experience to really be an initial guiding hand, as we launched this journey that is VetLinks.org.

 

Steve:             That's a great tip. And I'm wondering about you Jessica, anything you might do differently and any advice you would give entrepreneurs or other people listening to our show today?

 

Jessica:          Yeah, absolutely. You know, I would say if you have a conviction about what it is you're trying to accomplish, you're going to get there. I know we had a problem, and we still have a problem today, taking the proper care of our veterans and caregivers. But that caused us to learn, and to put one foot in front of the other. So if you believe in your product, don't be afraid to go for it, because success can only come from taking action.

 

Steve:             You know, one of the things I love most about meeting the people I get to meet on this show is their enthusiasm and the initiative they take, and creating something out of nothing. As I mentioned, it's not an easy thing to do. And so, whether that's a small business, or a nonprofit, it really makes no difference. And what you're doing is admirable and great, and you're doing it so well too, so I would just recommend to anybody listening who has a veteran who needs help, VetLinks.org is a great website, and a great organization, and we are all lucky to have you doing the work you're doing.

 

Steve:             So Kirk Duncan and Jessica Kavanagh, thank you both so much for being with us today.

 

Steve:             For Bank of America, I'm Steve Strauss.

 

Related resources:

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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.

 

Read next:

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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.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.  ©2018 Bank of America Corporation

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.

BOA-Heartbeat-Soundcloud-header-TEAM-2400x750-150dpi.jpg

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? 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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